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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Tenth of December ~ Acting My Age

     Today is my birthday  ~ and despite the piling of years, (and the need to enlarge the font on my phone), December 10th continues to hold a certain curative magic. The nature of birthday magic may have evolved through the years - packages and parties may have become far less important than simply spending time with my family and friends - but I do admit that I still enjoy brightly wrapped presents (and birthday cake). Thankfully, the years have matured me enough to realize that the real birthday gift,  the real birthday sweetness is the reminder that in this crowded, turbulent world, I have scratched out my own small space. I love and am loved. I've been touched by countless lives, and each one of those lives matter to me.

     Lots of people bemoan the trappings of our digital world ~ the lack of real communication, the seeming farce of friendships which in another era would have been lost to time or distance. But when I woke to phone calls from relatives and friends, when I read the fb messages from former classmates and former students, from co-workers and friends I haven't seen for years, from writers and illustrators whom I've met only briefly but who have enriched my life with their tender words and visions, I am awestruck. When family members come laden with exquisite gifts and treat me to lunch at my favorite restaurant, I am humbled. Each visit, each phone call and fb message is like a birthday balloon spreading untethered joy. 

     One of these birthdays, I may begin to act my age...but certainly not yet...not this birthday ~ I'm still too dazzled by cake and birthday balloons ~ real and virtual!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rhinebeck Boys Soccer ~ Team of Champions

Rhinebeck Photographer Kathy Cassens captures the thrill!

     The Rhinebeck Boys Soccer Team has just won the Class C New York State Championship, and if ever there was a championship team, this one is it. I was unable to go to the games this year, but my son's retelling certainly kept me in the loop. I knew every amazing kick, every heartstopping save. In the post season, I heard about the games and about life on the bench. I watched my son learn the meaning of teamwork ~ teamcare
     Whether he played ten minutes or not at all, we won, was my son's grinning refrain. While I worried about the pressures of success piled on success, he shrugged it off - we play hard. We're good. We're going to states. We play hard. We're good. We're going to win.
  Soccer is a team sport, and the Rhinebeck Boys Soccer Team played as a team. Coach Wiesenthal is to be commended not only because of his championship win, but because of the value he instilled in each player, whatever their position. 
  I've also learned something from Coach Wiesenthal and his Championship Team. 
  On Saturday, the last game before the final, Rhinebeck was down with a little over a minute left to play. I could feel the collective heart of Rhinebeck breaking. But the boys kept playing. Playing hard. Playing their best.  80 seconds. 60 seconds. 50. 40...  Somewhere, time stopped ~ the tying goal was made, and Rhinebeck won in overtime. 
  Sunday, Rhinebeck won the championship. But Saturday showed why the Rhinebeck 2014 Boys Soccer Team is a Championship Team. 
     We tell our kids to try their best, to never give up, to believe in themselves. But do we believe it?  Or do we temper our enthusiasm to allay our disappointment? Do we let our worries diminish our hopes?
  Losses come. Invariably losses come and when they do, we need to deal with them. But while the game's still on, while the clock's still running, we've got to keep moving, keep trying, keep believing. That's what makes a championship team. That's what makes a champion. 
     Truly, the boys on the Rhinebeck Soccer Team are champions! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Prayer for Caroline

It's November. Browning leaves cling to barren branches. The skies have turned a resolute steel-blue.  Darkness comes too soon and a cold shiver spreads across our land.  Winter is on her way. 

Once upon a November, decades ago, there was a little girl with short blond hair wearing a blue wool coat, standing beside a woman draped in black.

Once upon another November, my own father died.  It was November 22, the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. 

Unlike the girl in the blue wool coat,  I was an adult when my father died. Because of the date, the newspapers were filled with retrospectives of that dreadful day in Dallas. Having just lost my own father, I wondered how Caroline felt remembering the loss of hers. Despite the unbridgeable chasm in our social standing and sphere of influence, I felt a connection to the bereft little girl with the blond hair barretted on one side, the little girl who once basked in the love of a doting father. 

My father never sailed New England Waters. In all my childhood, we never afforded even one family vacation. Nor did we mingle with kings and princes. 

And yet, my father treated everyone he met as royalty, and he taught me to do the same. Everyone has their story, my father said. With an empathetic heart, he told me about the immigrant who cleaned his office at night and the taxi driver  haunted by his memories of the Holocaust. My father listened to everyone's story, and with a rosary in his pocket, he tried to make his world a better place. 

I think of my father ever day and miss him tremenously. I miss his honey voice, his kindness, his stories. I'm sure Caroline thinks of her father every day as well. When the skies turn steely blue and a cold shiver spreads across our land, I’m quite certain that the man Caroline misses isn’t a President, but a Father ~ a man who in everything important, was not much different than my father, a good man who modeled a life dedicated to the understanding and service of others. 

It's November. Soon the newspapers and blog posts will recall John F. Kennedy's assassination. On that day,  I'll be thinking of my own father. But I won't forget to say a prayer for Caroline.  May the tender ache that accompanies browning leaves and barren branches be assuaged by a joyful appreciation of our wonderful fathers ~ a gift more precious than any financial holding or social standing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Choosing Sides

Mid-October. My wooden birdhouse is still hidden beneath a thick drape of arbor vines, but a few leaves and berries have started to yellow. In the distance a solitary crow squawks his long, lonesome lament. 

On Sunday it was cold enough for us to have our first fire, but today a warm, soggy wind is blowing. Summer and autumn seem to be battling for control. 
     Let me stay awhile longer, summer begs. 
     It's our time, the yellowing leaves gently whisper.

No matter how we feel about each changing season, whether we're summer people, fans of fall, or even snowbirds who winter in a warmer climate, nature continues to move forward at her own pace. Thankfully she allows each season their own brilliance.

The gifts of autumn are many. The copper glow of morning. Corduroy jackets. Crisp apples. The crackle of burning logs, their smoky scent warming the house and mingling with the smell of pumpkin spice and cinnamon.

I'm ready. I've packed away my ocean memories and my long summer nights. Autumn is here. I'm eager to enjoy the time we spend together!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Dolphins Cycling Challenge ~ Cycling for Barb

If you read my blog in May of this year you are already familiar with the beautiful spirit of Barb Burg. In her memory, my husband Marc and I have joined TeamBarb in the Dolphins Cycling Challenge.  On February 8 of next year, we will be joining other family members and friends to cycle from Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale to the Sun Life Stadium in Miami. We were originally supposed to cycle 50 miles (construction and safety concerns have resulted in a lucky-for-me shortening of the route to 25 miles) so Marc and I have been training all summer. My husband may have athletic bones, but I definitely do not. My athletic/biking experience brings to mind shoulder-length pigtails and multi-colored handlebar streamers. If it weren't for my friend Elaine's generous pink hand-me-down, I would be training with my 10th-birthday, footbrakes-only, blue Schwinn.

Pink was Barb's favorite color so I think it's fitting that I should be training on a pink bike. And I'm proud to say that I've gone from a single panting mile in the beginning of summer to last weekend's twenty-two miles (only a few of which required some not too serious huffing and puffing). 

A few weeks ago I took a wide-turn tumble which skinned my knuckles and dislodged my handbrakes - which led to a more frightening fall (what happened to my brakes?) - which led to a sprained ankle and bruised leg - which reminded me why I was cycling in the first place.

There are stumbling blocks on every path we take. There are rocks in the road and snags in the pavement. Instinctively we pedal our way up, around, and through our lives. Sometimes we recognize the difficult terrain and move slowly, carefully.  Other times the view before us is so breathtakingly beautiful that we zip along happily, not noticing the stumbling blocks until we take the fall. But as noted many times before ~ by people far more eloquent than me ~ it isn't the stumbling that defines us. It's the what we do next, the staying down or the getting up. The giving in to despair or the continuing on in hope.

In every step of her journey with cancer, Barb continued on with hope. The Dolphins Cycling Challenge gives us an opportunity to continue honoring Barb's hope.

Please follow the links below 
to donate or to to learn more about the Dolphins fight against cancer. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September Lullaby

Where are the stars on this dark, dark night?
Where is their tiny twinkling light?
Where is the music?
Where is the song?
Where are the colors?
Something feels wrong.
Sometimes stars hide in the clouds,
and their light seems far away.
Sometimes voices are hushed and still,
and the rainbow fades to gray.

Sometimes the world is topsy turvy,
and nobody quite knows why;
Sometimes sad things happen,
and even grown-ups cry.
But always, my child, always,
You are safe here in my arms ~
The world may be topsy-turvy,
but I will shelter you from harm.

Always the stars are twinkling,
Even when clouds hide their light;
I promise you voices will sing again,
And colors again shine bright.

I promise there is always tomorrow 
For starlight and rainbows and song;
My love will surround you always
unchanged, unbroken and strong.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Making Peace with Robin Williams

Last week we lost a beloved comedian and movie icon whose wild antics and stunning dramatic performances impacted generations. Quite a number of years ago, in an airport in Pittsburgh, I met Robin Williams. Considering all that I've learned about him this past week, I now realize that I met him on what must have been a very off day. 

Even though Robin was wearing a somber colored bomber jacket, the child I was with immediately recognized him as Mork. I'm not usually celebrity conscious and under most circumstances would not approach a TV or movie personality, but I was amazed that Robin had been identified despite his lack of colorful suspenders or red and silver suit. I myself was young and naive enough to think that Robin would also be amazed and delighted, that he'd chuckle and offer us a  cheerful Na-Nu Na-Nu.  But Robin was surprisingly sullen. Now if  he recognized me from The World According to Garp, I'd be impressed, he muttered, turning his bomber-jacketed back on us.

At the time I attributed Robin's response to celebrity snootiness. Through the years, when people raved about his zany humor or poignant portrayals, I remained unimpressed. What did great performances matter when he had literally turned his back on a child?

That was before I learned about the girl with cancer whom he visited because she was too sick to achieve her make-a-wish dream. Before I read about the grieving family that he consoled at a late night diner. Before I knew of the generous, loving but tortured spirit that we've all been reading about. 

We lionize our actors and athletes, our writers and rock stars. Because they're famous, we expect superhuman feats, exceptional behavior. As decades went by and I learned of Robin's struggle with alcohol and depression, I should have better understood his sullen lapse at the Pittsburgh airport. Despite money and mansions, sparkling jewels and private jets, celebrities are human beings who deserve their privacy, who suffer the same insecurities as the rest of us, and who must often struggle to present a brave face despite their own cracked and broken hearts.

Suicide occurs when the pain inside of us is greater than our ability to carry it. How heavy must that pain be? Certainly heavy enough for me to forget a single rude moment in a lifetime of generous deeds. Heavy enough for me to liberate an insignificant lapse wedged between the cracks of a broken heart. 

Last week we lost a beloved human being. It's time for me to remember and celebrate the zany humor and poignant portrayals that Robin Williams generously shared and will continue to share with untold generations.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Morning Reflection/Another Lesson from Nature

     Still feeling the effects of our harsh winter as the tree man is cutting down three trees which didn't survive the cold. They weren't big trees but they filled their space with a delicate, youthful beauty and the yard seems empty and bereft without them. The tree man pointed out another tree with a huge split down the center. Winter wind damaged this tree, he said, but it should survive. He did suggest we cover its roots with mulch to keep them better protected. Hopefully, this tree will, as the tree man suggested, heal itself.
     I'm learning, of course, that there are no guarantees. Nature can be as devastating as it is breathtakingly beautiful. 

          The moods and mysteries of nature tender a vivid reflection of our own.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons from a House Wren

shyly at first...
For a little less than a week last month, I had a daily visitor to my back porch ~ a small bird who quite literally spent each entire day serenading one of two dragonfly screen patches on my back door. Most of my day was spent trying to capture the sweetness of the bird's small form, the beauty of her simple serenade. I wondered if the little bird believed that the dragonfly was alive... was she trying to illicit a response? extending an invitation? Hour after hour, day after day, she came ~ shyly at first and then more closely, more boldly, more insistently. I got little writing done as I watched and snapped pictures when she visited, waited and deleted my blurry attempts when she left.

..and then more closely, more boldly...

 On the morning the bird stopped coming, I missed her. I still miss her and can scarcely let my mind wander beyond the screen without wondering where my little visitor is and what she wanted.

A friend of mine believes that the bird was a house wren and suggests I find consolation knowing that she, most likely, continues to nest somewhere in my yard. The thought does cheer me although my blue dragonflies are a daily reminder that my little companion is gone. How silly to become so attached to one little bird who didn't even know of my existence, to care so much about a tiny wren when so many bigger, showier birds visit my yard daily.  

My little house wren left her mark. I'll think of her often and recall the lesson she taught me by her simple presence. Life is beautiful and fragile, full of unexpected loveliness and tender song. It should be appreciated moment by exquisite moment. 

The wren's devotion to my blue dragonfly evoked another lesson as well. Like the wren, I've sometimes found myself pitching and  pleading to an unresponsive block of stone. Like the wren, I've learned that sometimes, it's best to spread our wings, to fly away and find companions who will understand and cherish us.

I hope my little visitor has found a companion worthy of her sweet song!

I'll think of her often!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Quick Nod to Summer, Hope & Birthdays

I was about to post a rather long blog entry honoring my dad but most print publications won't publish material that's been printed elsewhere and I decided that I was going to send this particular piece to the New York Times. Ages ago, I sent a poem to The Times. Of course I knew that the The Times didn't publish poetry, but the enclosed poem was about my father, the consummate New Yorker, and I thought that the editors might make an exception. Not surprisingly, I was wrong.  I did, however, receive a hand-scribbled note on the bottom of my rejection ~ if The Times did print poetry, the note said, it would certainly have accepted the enclosed poem. A hand written rejection was almost as exciting as publication and it gave me courage to submit other material to the prestigious paper ~ all of which have received the more conventional, less personal rejection.  I guess hope really does spring eternal. Anyway, I'm still waiting to hear from The Times (though my expectation is that I'll be blogging the piece I wrote for my dad very shortly)...

meanwhile, my wip, as well as skype visits, school visits, birthday celebrations and beach preparations will keep this blog entry short...

Hooray for summer!
Green abounds 'n crickets sound
notes of carefree cheer!!!

Happy June ~ and Happy Birthday to my lovely sister whose birthday is today!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Remembering Barb Burg

For days I've struggled to find the words to capture the immense feeling of loss at the death of my extraordinary sister-in-law, Barb. Barb has already been eulogized as amazing, awe-inspiring, a force of nature. Her accomplishments ~ only partially listed in her obituary ~ are staggering.
     But even as I listened to words of praise and read the list of her achievements (every word of which was true), even as I sat among the hundreds who came to honor Barb and support her family, my own grief remained tight-fisted inside me.The Barb I knew wore a different cloak.
     The Barb I knew was the growing-up-in-Woodstock Barb, the daughter-of-a-country-doctor Barb, the Barb who grew up the only girl among four brothers. The stories she shared sparkled with wit, but had little of the glitz and glamor of her professional life.
  Barb was the younger sister of my husband. When I first met her, I was intimidated by her success, by her self-confidence her bossiness. Bossy Barb was my private nickname for her as she told me where to sit at social gatherings, and what to eat at ritzy restaurants. Don't you think Barb is a touch bossy, I'd ask my husband. He'd shake his head. That's just Barb being Barb, he'd say.
     As the years went by, I came to appreciate and genuinely love Barb being Barb. Happily, I realized that Barb appreciated and loved me too. Oh, you're a writer, someone once said at a Westchester party. Did Barb help you get published? From behind me, I heard Barb's response, No, she did it all by herself! I couldn't help but hear the pride in her voice. Lot's of people say they are going to write a book, she said later, but you actually did it.
     Barb and I came from different ends of the personality spectrum, but we shared the same fulcrum. Both of us believed in an individual's power to overcome adversity. Both of us believed in following one's heart and surrounding ourselves with people who loved and supported us. Both of us believed in being truthful and finding joy in simple things. 
  Cancer challenges the belief that every sad story is a stepping stone to something better. But even in this saddest of stories, Barb was never  dying from cancer. From the initial moment of her diagnosis until her last days, Barb fought with courage and grace. She continued to work, to succeed, to accomplish, to love, and to live
  My grief is deep and personal and spills out in quiet recollections of  Woodstock stories and Westchester memories. But I owe it to Barb to continue on the path, to overcome my sadness, to follow my heart, to always be truthful, and to find joy in the simple things.
  Barb's dying has taught me ~ has taught all of us who love her ~ how to live. This may be her greatest achievement of all. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Helen Grace ~ The First Poet I Loved

To celebrate National Poetry Month I'm posting a poem written by my mom, the first poet I loved. Throughout her life, my mother marked ordinary days and special moments with words and thoughts which expressed her tender love and abiding faith.  This is the poem she wrote for me when I was born.

Ann Elizabeth

On the tenth of December,
cold and clear,
an angel bent down 
and whispered
Your child is here,
Your child is here.
So off we went,
both Daddy and I,
to claim you my darling
and breathe with a sigh.
At last she is with us,
so sweet and so dear;
we waited so long
and now she is here!

Helen Grace Marotta ~ my beautiful mother & the first poet I loved!
Happy Poetry Month! Here's hoping April showers all of us with tender thoughts and beautiful words!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Seems I'm just getting in under the wire for my March Musings. When I was teaching, March always seemed to be the longest month, but this year, March winds just whisked the days away like so much (snow-covered) dust. It's still bitterly cold (today, especially so) but paths in our snow garden are widening; brown patches of earth are everywhere.
   Nature was a harsh task master this winter ~ all that snow to shovel or plow ~ all that ice to chip or salt ~ I wonder, too, how many ancient furnaces coughed and creaked themselves to a costly death.  But Nature is also a kind teacher. Hold on, she whispers. Keep you eyes open. Have you less courage than the tender blossom who bravely pokes through the cold brown earth?
   On one my recent school visits, a student asked me where I found my inspiration. It was hard to answer because I'm inspired by so many things ~ my family, my friends, by the open faces and open hearts of the students I visit, by the readers who send me their heartfelt thoughts in letters and emails. E.B. White said, All I hope to say in books, all I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. Like Elwyn, I love the world; my books are little more than an  expression of this love. I'm inspired by unexpected kindnesses, moments of grace, and nature's eternal promise that however blustery the winds blow, however long the snows linger, one day, the tenderest blossom will peek out and transform the world.

...the widening path

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another Snowfall ~ Another Lullaby

     Lots of people are grumbling about the so-much, had-enough-of-it snow. Hopefully, there's comfort in remembering that the snow won't last forever, that somewhere, deep beneath winter's blanket of  "alabaster wool" (thank you Emily Dickinson for that lovely metaphor), springtime is getting the rest she needs. Soon she'll awaken, refreshed and exhilarated to cheer us with her fragrance and color.
     John Steinbeck asked What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness? Long before I saw this quote, I wrote this lullaby:

This time when winter comes
We will not be afraid,
This time when winter comes, 
We know we will be brave.

For we know, in the snow,
Is the soul of summer rain,
Bitter winds may blow,
But spring will come again.

So close your eyes my child, 
It’s been a long, long day,
Rest a little while,
We’ve come a long, long way.

This time when winter comes,
We know we will be brave.
This time when winter comes
We will not be afraid.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Outside the snow is falling...

Snow's been falling steadily since before daybreak so it's a quiet, all-day-fire, crock-pot-chili and homemade-cornbread kind of day.  I'm especially happy because everyone is safe at home.

Of course, I know that not everyone considers days like this one a treasure. For every happy-to-be-home baker, for every skier and snowboarder celebrating on the slopes, there's a single parent worrying about child care, a minimum wage earner shoveling in haste and coaxing a tired, worn-out, temperamental car to please start. There are the homeless and the hungry. On days like this, I think of them and say a prayer that they find shelter from the cold. 

A long time ago, I wrote this lullaby for a little girl who is now a beautiful young woman. As with all my lullabies, I remember where I was when the melody and words came to me. I remember the snow falling soft and deep outside the nursery window. In the moonlight each flake seemed weighted with beauty and wonder. I was grateful to be home,  grateful for the curly-top nestled in my arms.

Outside the snow is falling,
so white, so deep.
Inside a mother's rocking
her child to sleep...
Let every snowflake 
be a prayer
that children,
children everywhere,
might know 
how sweet it is to sleep
safe in their mother's arms. 

Outside the snow is falling,
So soft, so deep.
Inside a mother’s rocking
her child to sleep.
And every snowflake’s 
like a prayer
that mothers,
mothers everywhere,
might know 
how sweet it is to keep
their child sheltered from the storm. 

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you shelter and peace!

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Microphone

At the end of the month, I’ll be visiting a group of 8th graders in New Jersey and have been thinking back to my own eighth grade year. I was a pretty shy student whose heart pounded ferociously whenever I gave an oral report or was called on to answer a question. I was so quiet, that on the last page of our mimeographed yearbook, I was bequeathed a microphone so that my voice could be heard.

The years have made me braver. Giving a presentation or facing a crowd still makes me a bit anxious, but my heart doesn’t beat quite as ferociously.  I’ve looked up from my notes long enough to realize that a crowd is usually a collection of kind faces, encouraging smiles and reassuring nods. I’ve discovered that life is so much better when we aren’t too scared to open our eyes and see.

Not everything I see is beautiful. We live in a deeply blemished world.  In large and small ways, it often seems that the truth gets buried in lies and love is crushed by ignorance and hate. It often seems that way, but I truly believe that goodness will always triumph.

I am still only one small voice, but writing is my microphone.