Dog and Other Walks

My daughter brought Rufus home for Thanksgiving and when she flies back to California later today, he will remain with me. Molly will return for Christmas and will bring him back to his west coast life in January. Meanwhile I have the pleasure and responsibility of taking care of this sweet dog.

Rufus smiling

While I haven’t missed his 6 AM demand that I take him out, I don’t hate being forced to see the sunrise. While he angles his leg towards the hedge to pee, I yawn and look up at the sky. This morning the sky was glorious – a deep navy blue in the west as night moved out and a glowing yellow of a new day in the east.

Getting outside also gets me out of my head when I am more inclined to retreat to full hibernation mode. Especially in winter, I get lazy and I don’t love the cold and there have already been days when I barely step out of the house. That’s not good. Even a short walk around the neighborhood gives me a spark of energy along with a fix of fresh oxygen. Having Rufus around with his multiple required outings each day, reminds me that I need to fan these sparks into flames.

Rather than letting the days simply pass, I want to savor each as precious. Even the physical movement of opening the door changes the energy, creates an atmospheric shift reminding me that I am part of something bigger than myself. Walking through the neighborhood, exchanging a few words with a neighbor or venturing down to the river to note the tide and maybe glimpse the great blue heron who seems to be wintering nearby, all give me a sense of well-being.

Stepping outdoors with no other intent than to follow this pup around in his wander, no matter how self absorbed I was minutes earlier, the wind against my cheek, light in my eyes, crunch of leaves under my feet, keeps me present.

Rufus surveying the estate

It’s not that I don’t go for walks when Rufus isn’t here. I’m pretty disciplined about getting up and out and there are advantages to doing this solo. While I like the purpose a dog brings, walks alone are easier. Without him, I walk at my own pace instead of being pulled along, stopping abruptly so he can sniff every few feet. Alone, I can drive the 10 minutes to the beach and walk where dogs aren’t allowed but the views are spectacular. I do like the freedom of not having a pet – but I miss the rituals, the weight of him on my lap, his sweet devotion.

No, I do not want to adopt another dog right now. But I do love having him visit and I do love him. But right now I am learning who this new me is that need only take care of myself and it’s very interesting and a little luxurious. Today it is rainy and Rufus, not a fan of getting wet, won’t want to venture further than the yard to do the necessary. I may just have to leave him at home and go for a walk by myself. (Or not!)

Pets or no pets?

Windows in My Life

Summer view

As if nature saw the calendar memo, autumn landed and the temperatures dropped. So I bought a few mums and closed my windows for the first time since May. They’re the old wooden kind that stick whether you’re trying to open or close them. Some need propping up with a piece of wood. Functionally, they all suck. Still, I’m not changing them.

Summer View 2

Window salespeople make a bee-line to my house to try and convince me to get their more energy efficient, very ugly plastic products. Religious proselytizers who knock on my door have a better chance of converting me – I love my old wooden windows that much. Most rooms have three windows giving my little cape an abundance of light and views. Downstairs I can look out at the garden and bird feeders and from upstairs, I live with the branches through the seasons. From the window at the top of the stairs I see the peach and pear trees and have a birds eye view of resident groundhogs as they snuffle around their estate.

Winter friends

These windows are drafty as hell – single glazed, some with cracked panes and at least one with a gap at the top no matter how hard I try shoving it closed. All need re-puttying. In another month or two I’ll be covering them with plastic vowing that next Spring, I’ll wash them. I can tell you right now, that’s probably a losing bet.

Bedroom light

The sun has an easy entry into all of my rooms. On a summer morning, the light that pours through my bedroom windows shines right through my closed lids. I like waking up like this – to the glowing gift of a day. With upcoming changing clocks nonsense, the hour I wake will soon be pitch dark. I can already feel a shift in my morning mood. Waking with the light brings me joy and I would not last long in a windowless cell. Just a skylight is not enough and no alley windows for me.

Winter tree view

My view of the trees is sweet and branches are a first marker of the seasons. But to have a view of water is a dream! A pond or a river or best yet, the sea. Always, at least – the sky. This is a requirement for any other real estate I ever move into. Plenty of windows. Quaint trullis and European cave houses so common in the hot regions of Italy, Spain, Portugal – with rooms with thick windowless walls like a tomb – do not tempt me. My happiness directly relates to being able to feel the strongest pulse of nature involving as many of my senses as possible. While my first choice is always to be able to step right outside, a window I can open is the next best thing.

Winter view

The first thing I do when I go downstairs in the morning, if it’s warm enough, is open the windows and the front door. In winter, I pull back the heavy curtains to let the light in. Always, I try and shrink the space between me and the natural world even if it means throwing another sweater or blanket on.

The sun porch wins for windows

My front porch gets a lot of use. Whenever I can, I like to sit out on the old glider to feel the air while I eat and drink. I like to read out there and take at least one nap each summer. The clothesline runs from the porch to the crabapple tree trunk and I hang my laundry until it freezes. The porch is where I welcome visitors and watch the birds and the neighbors go by. And when it rains or the mosquitos get bad, the sweet breezeway area off the kitchen is perfect. In the winter it becomes a quick pass through area to pull off boots and for over-wintering plants. There are plenty windows.

The kitchen sink.

While washing dishes, there’s an unexciting view of the garage but crane your head a little and look to the right to glimpse the great old oak tree. Raptors like to hang out there to watch for prey and when the leaves fall, there’s an easy view of them. I always plant my window boxes and they’re easy to water through the screens using the sink spray hose.

A summer eve.

Of course windows are also for looking in. When I’ve traveled alone in the past and been homesick and during unhappy times in my own home, I peered at and in (from a distance!) the windows of strangers, sure their lives were better than mine. As the day disappears and windows begin to glow, it’s easy to imagine the happy cozy lives within. And yet – I know that’s not always true. While the total number of happy days lived in this house now outnumber the troubled ones, there were tough times that the luminosity of these windows did not reveal. But now, in this home, what you see from outside is a life of serenity, sweetness and joy. With the approach of winter, my windows may darken at night but the warmth and love inside is bright and true – if a little drafty.

True answers only: How often do you wash your windows?

Changing Direction

My friend texted me as I waited at the light to turn left towards the highway – the quickest route to the community garden. She’d just watered my plot. We do that for each other sometimes. Now what? The light changed and I turned right. I’d take care of different errands instead. But what? I had enough to eat at home, plenty of toothpaste, whatever. There was nothing I really needed and nothing, now that the garden was taken care of, that needed me. A simple text exchange launched me into an existential crisis.

This summer most of my weekends have been busy and more social than the norm for me, with lots of meeting friends and an otherwise full to-do list. This Saturday morning the only pressing thing was watering the garden and now that was done. There’s been a crazy drought this summer and I hadn’t been up there since early in the week. I could have gone there anyway to pick a tomato or two, pull a weed, maybe catch my pal while she was still there. And I actually have two plots and only one is right by my friend’s – the other one is in the lower garden area. I could have and maybe I should have, gone and watered that one. But I didn’t – I abandoned my plan and turned in the opposite direction. And promptly felt lost.

The ‘lower’ garden

I continued driving right past the farmer’s market where I had been thinking of going although I didn’t really need to because I have enough food. What was the point? What was the point — of anything and of any of us? Of life? What are we all doing here on this planet? For at least a minute, I felt this question profoundly in my body. Here I am busily moving about the world taking care of tasks, my job, different roles to different people. What for? Then I remembered that my gas tank was very low. Phew! A distraction that made sense – a need. I turned right at the next intersection and drove to the cheapest but best gas I could get. It was almost $50 to fill my tank and yes that’s painful but I used to live in countries where fuel has been pricey for a long time so I’ve been trying to get over it and drive less. Shame on us for not being more adaptable and innovative and making the changes necessary for our poor thirsty or drowning earth. (depending where you live)

Back to my crisis. Saturday-morning-temporary-insanity aside, I really am at a crossroads in my life. For years my purpose felt clear – based on being needed. Now I live alone, my daughter and Rufus are happily living life on the West coast and while we talk daily, she doesn’t need me. I know my dearest and beloved daughter – I hear you in my head scolding – ‘yes I do need you’! But you don’t and that makes me happy. You are creating your own life, taking care of yourself and our sweet pup and I’m proud and know that is how it should be.

A morning harvest

I now have a new freedom and can start figuring out what this new, old-me wants to do with the rest of my life. I confess to feeling slightly unmoored anticipating the next thing but I don’t hate it. Life now is fascinating and exciting and terrifying, all at once. I feel on the brink of changes. But of what? How? Where? Why? These are the questions I have ideas about but no answers. For now, I continue to plod on with the daily routine of the dutiful worker, doing some iteration of what sustained my little family and this little house for the last 25 years. Am I passionate about it? Never. It’s a job. I love books. I don’t love sales but I am conscientious and interested in other people so that’s translated easily enough. And I am loathe to give up the regular paycheck not to mention health insurance. But it’s never been who I am and now that it’s only me that needs supporting, I have been trying to figure out how much do I need? When can I stop? Not knowing how long I have on this planet makes calculations challenging. But if I knew, I’d claim my time back and have every day be like a Saturday when no one but me owns my hours.

On this past Saturday, I think I had a taste of what’s to come – when I have figured enough out and am brave enough to take the leap. I will have those existential questions for longer than a drive in the car: who am I? That’s kind of the point, though, right? I want to think about that question. I have always likened anticipated life changes to changing the gears on a bicycle. You have to work up to the right gear and there’s a certain amount of grinding until you get to the place where it’s comfortable to pedal. (at least on my old bike!) That’s where I am. I don’t know what’s at the top nor the bottom of the hill so I’m staying alert and ready for anything.

Any advice from my retired readers?

Languishing To-Do Lists

Weekends are never long enough. (Is that a chorus of ‘amens’ I hear out there?) Not just for fun and relaxation but for getting life things done. If you’re a homeowner with yard maintenance to add to the to-do list, the issue of not enough time is even larger. Especially in summer. My monster hedge grows like crazy and currently, there is a corner of my property choked with weeds including thistle plants as tall as my pear trees. Plus there’s the lawn in addition to the needs inside my shabby house. Some tasks have languished on my ‘list’ for years.

This summer’s drought has at least meant a reprieve from mowing my lawn much. I haven’t yanked on that starter cord in about a month. Yesterday I did tackle the hedge for about an hour but finished only a quarter of it. And inside, also for the first time in a month, I vacuumed up some robust clusters of dust bunnies. No drought to blame for that neglect. I even cleared a few things out of the garage. AND managed to go kayaking and swimming. Today is Sunday and I’m taking rare guidance from the bible and mostly resting and writing this. The hedge will wait.

Before – from the archives. It’s taller now.

To be clear, I don’t have the neat-and-clean standards of many of my friends and neighbors who have immaculate lawns, clear kitchen counters, neatly filed (plus likely paid) bills and nary a dust-bunny in sight. That’s never been my style or my forte. Of course, in my corner of Connecticut many have housecleaners and lawn people or no longer (if they ever did) have jobs. That’s not my life this go-round; I have neither time nor enough money to spend on keeping things looking that good. I like to think that when the day comes and I can reclaim my time every day of the year (retirement — where are you?) then my house will be more orderly, my bookshelves, cupboards, basement and garage purged and neat, flaking ceilings repaired and painted. There’s so much to do around here, always. And it’s just me to do it. So if you come for a visit, please don’t judge me.

After – from the archives. I haven’t gotten this far yet!

Particularly if someone hasn’t been to my house before, I judge myself in anticipation of their judgement. I’ll usually do some kind of tidy-up, wash the kitchen floor and definitely clean the bathroom. I imagine my visitors seeing the wasted potential here in this darling cape on a generous corner plot. How great the hardwood floors would be if only they were refinished, how a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen would really brighten things up. The windows need refurbishing or maybe replacing (I’m attached to my old wooden sash windows, some need propping up and all are drafty as hell) and it would be so easy to put a second bathroom in. I imagine my visitors thinking about what flower beds they’d plant, what trees they’d trim or maybe even cut down. (gulp! not the trees!) I know this is nutty thinking and not fair to my dear friends who love me and my home.

All of those improvements would be great and I’d like to do them – except for cutting down the trees. But I will leave most of this to the next owner. Even if that’s Molly, when she hits the big time. (She adores this house and I can feel her heart sink every time I mention leaving.) But other than taking care of the basics, it’s unlikely to be me. Has anyone filled their oil tank lately??? Or ordered firewood for that matter? (can you say ‘gouging’?) $$$

Did I mention that even after living here for more than 20 years I still have a mortgage now pretty close to what it was originally? Yes, I have lived here for a long time so that’s a little crazy. But I still have a house and if you have followed this blog or know some of my story, you will understand why I am proud of that. So come visit, sit on my porch where the breeze is lovely. I’ll make you a drink or a cup of tea – just don’t judge or I’ll put you to work! 🙂

Memories of a Rough Start

My first glimpse of Molly – this photo brought to me by Neil the morning after I gave birth to Molly.

The entire month of June slipped by without me writing a word here and being my favorite month, it deserved at least a nod. June is also when my favorite season begins but much more significantly, June is when my daughter was born. This year, perhaps because she is across the country and we did not get to celebrate together, I was recalling our rocky start. Because she was born almost 2 months before her due date of August 1, Molly did not get to leave the hospital until July 5. Not until then did I feel like she was mine. The hospital was in charge and I felt like a devoted visitor.

Finally home. July 3.

During the weeks after her birth, I went to the hospital as if to work – although with infinitely more love and excitement than any job I’ve ever gone to. Neil worked at the United Nations base in Brindisi which is also where the only hospital in the area with a neonatology department was located. He would drop me off at the hospital gate by 8 AM and I’d take the elevator up to the ward, my heart pounding. You know, when you first fall in love and feel the thrill of getting closer and closer to your adored one? That was the feeling. After hurriedly scrubbing up and putting on a green gown, I’d go in to the room where her open incubator was, lean over and aiming between tubes, kiss her impossibly soft skin. My day of vigil sitting would begin.

First meeting.

Molly’s eyes were covered to protect them from bright lights shining on her to get rid of jaundice. It was days before I got to hold her and see her gorgeous blues. One of the nurses placed her carefully in my arms, tubes still attached. She was lighter than our smallest cat. When the nurse lifted the gauze off her eyes and blinked at me like a little bird, I wept.

Proud and loving dad.
Proud, loving Dad.

I always get a pang watching on-screen birth scenes (Call the Midwife anyone?) when the baby is handed over to the mom for a first cuddle, all swaddled and wet. No such luck for me. Molly was swept off in an ambulance to Brindisi, 40 minutes away from the teeny hospital in Ostuni where they kept me for 3 days. Neil followed the ambulance to the hospital and because of visiting hour restrictions, did not return until the following day. Pre-cell phones, I didn’t know a thing until the next morning when Neil came in with the polaroid photo of her all tubed up. I thought she was beautiful even then.

Betty and Molly.

I’ve never been one to get too excited about babies – or even kids. But I really wanted this child and I fell hard for her during those weeks in the hospital. Being a parent of a premie is initially different, from what I can tell. That is, until they catch up to where they should be. And then you mostly forget that they ever were behind and forget that you once were worried sick about them 24-7. Until then, the fragility of their life is non-stop right in front of your nose and terror always lurks around the corner. Those weeks, sweltering in the south of Italy, in antiseptic rooms darkened to keep the heat out, I existed in a kind of other-zone. Progress was measured by weight. We were lucky with Molly’s little lungs and our brilliant neonatologist who was a believer in low-intervention and never intubated her. She was a champ but we kept a nebulizer around for a few months anyway. It’s all about the breath, life.

The life-saving team at Brindisi Hospital. The Doctor hero is holding her. The best.

It’s also all about feeding and as a UNICEF project officer, I knew the benefits of breast milk and was determined. And bless those Italian nurses who did everything to support us moms. It took about a week before Molly was released from the tubes and I was encouraged to try and breast feed. The routine was, all of us mothers would take over the nurses’ rickety chairs and wait for the nurses to weigh our infants. Then we’d get our breasts out and give it our best try for about 10 minutes. But premie babies usually aren’t very good suckers as the follow-up weighing revealed. While in the hospital it was rare that I ever received any report besides ‘niente‘. The scale revealing no intake. That’s when the bottles of breastmilk we’d pumped for back-up were brought out. Now I understand this weighing business is flawed but at the time, it was disheartening. Still, I persisted and by the time Molly was home, she was breast-only baby and I continued nursing until well past a year and yes, I’m still proud of that.

From the time I was 28 I knew I really wanted to be a mother. Of course deciding you want a family and making it real are two different things so I was in my mid thirties by the time I became a joyous mom to my beloved girl. I was ready, so ready to welcome this girl into my life. At 18, I was not ready. To this day I am grateful that I had a choice. My daughter should have a choice. EVERY woman should.

Planned Parenthood

Magical Thinking in May

Neil & Molly – Metkovic Croatia

This is Neil, my husband, holding our beautiful daughter. May 1st marked the 18th year since his death. I have been working on this post all month, stumbling along with lots of pauses and endless re-writes, beginning with these first sentences. Died, passed away, left us, ended his life, committed suicide – so many word choices. I always hesitate – realizing the impact when someone doesn’t already know the story. The word suicide is particularly harsh, sad, terrible. The reality will always be stark but with time, the way his life ended is no longer the thing. The wound of his leaving will always exist but the memory of him has become lighter. The idea of who he was and the ways that I miss him have become stronger. The dark stuff – of which there was a lot – has faded. The years have given me a gift of healing and renewed love for the man he was, the joy and fun we had.

Zagreb apartment.

Please indulge me as I leap into a complete fantasy of what life might be if he were still here and healthy.

Neil with kids somewhere in Bosnia.

The truth is, I think if Neil were alive today he wouldn’t be here with me now. He’d be volunteering in Ukraine using his ace logistics skills to move aid in or people out and in the course of a day, he’d be dashing into harms way to rescue anyone who needed rescuing. The riskier and more dramatic mission the better and him mentally crafting the story he’d tell us afterwards. Along the way, he’d find a way to make people laugh momentarily helping them to forget their own fear or pain. This was the man he was when we met in Sarajevo in 1992.

Maybe if he’d stayed living a life of peril instead of trying to tame his energy and demons into the routine of supporting and raising a family in Connecticut, maybe then, he’d still be with us. As dangerous as life in war is, for him the addicting mix of adrenaline and danger and purpose was less destructive than the self-medicating that eventually destroyed him.

Neil with ICRC Sarajevo pals

There’s no sense to magical thinking but anyone who’s lost someone to suicide lives with ‘what-if’. We all have a carousel of thoughts about what might have been done, what we might have done differently to prevent that ending.

Neil and Molly – CT

With the passage of time and because I have much more of it to myself, my memories and sense of his spirit have become more lucid. I share these thoughts with Molly. Last week she sent me video of an owl that was lingering on the roof of her apartment building and I told her how Neil had saved an owl that was caught in a fence during the early days when she in an incubator in Brindisi hospital. Of course this LA owl was her Dad watching over her! I believe it.

An owl rescued from a barbed-wire fence by Neil – Ostuni, Italy

Molly has many moments of Neil showing up in her life. I suspect the girls in England, Gemma and Zoe must too. On Molly’s plane ride when she moved to LA, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was one of the film choices and of course, she watched it. There he was on the airplane screen, accompanying his youngest girl out on the launch of her California adventure! (see the last photo below of him getting kicked in the face by Jessica Rabbit ) On another flight she took a few months later, she watched him appear in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ another oldie that happened to be a selection on the flight. Coincidence?

On the set of Jeeves & Wooster – taken off of Molly’s phone – obviously!

Before I knew him, Neil was a film and television extra in England. Handsome and tall and charming, he worked on lots of now-classics at Pinewood studios in England. He was a storm trooper in Star Wars and there’s debate whether he was the guy who knocked his head on the door frame because he was so tall. So of course he harbored fantasies of moving to LA himself – now his spirit is cheering his girl. Maybe a little ‘woo-woo’ but I believe this.

Neil with ICRC armored Landrovers

He is with me randomly – as a song comes on the radio when I’m thinking of him, when I’m watching an English mystery, as I work in the garden. Driving today I saw a vintage Land Rover Defender and he was craning his head out the window to get a better look, calling out his appreciation to the driver, probably making a new friend. When I feel like I need a protector – like a scary moment driving on I-95 0 it’s him I sense with me. I wrote before of the time I asked for him for help in finding Rob’s car key that had fallen into the Long Island Sound when we were kayaking. Finding it seemed impossible. I found it. (Here’s that post)

Neil would be thrilled to be a GIF. Here’s a still of his – getting kicked in the face by Jessica Rabbit.

What would Neil have made of social media? He loved television so much that I’m sure his screen time would have been off-the charts. He’d have the fanciest phone and would be a TikTok famous old guy with tons of followers. He’d certainly have figured out how to use it to make a few quid. Handsome, exuberant, funny in his outrageous English humor on-steroids way, he would likely have gotten into a trouble too! But maybe if he stuck to dancing. He was an excellent dancer in an 80’s kind of way. Remember those dance shows in the 70s and 80s? He’d have one of those solos with his own little stage – he was that good. Social media would have given all the attention and fame he delighted in.

I have never laughed so often and hard – nor cried as much – as during my life with this man. There was no in-between – no boring. When things were bad, I longed for boring and I still appreciate the predicable cadence of my life. But I miss him. I miss the him that I married in Sarajevo, that I lived and traveled through Europe with. I miss the dream of sharing life adventures, wandering the world, the promise of a partnership. I miss the laughing. I miss the heavy weight of his arm over me at night, his 6 foot 4 presence beside me. But I am grateful for the light and love of his spirit that I feel.

Do you still feel the presence of someone you lost?

Winter’s End

I cut-up the last of my firewood and am ready for the final cold nights of the season. Here’s my firewood tip: check size and seasoned status before they drop 2 cords of wood in your driveway. I did not and the pieces were too long for my wood stove and much of it was not seasoned. But what was I going to do, have the guy reload it all? Not me, I’m a sucker. I’ll be more careful this year. Meanwhile, this season my chainsaw skills have improved and I learned some tricks to speed up drying.

I appreciate all the steps that go into heating my house with wood – from stacking logs, collecting small branches for kindling even cleaning out the ash. I sprinkle this around my blueberries, hydrangea and pine trees and they thank me for it. The outside activity on a cold day feels productive and invigorating and the resulting crackling fire brings me joy as well as warmth. A stove or fireplace will be a requirement for any future home I may live in.

There’s enough chill predicted in the week ahead for me to fire up the stove but the light is changing, days are longer and daffodils are in bloom. Spring is showing up. I pulled the plastic off of one window downstairs to let fresh air in and was reminded that along with breezes and fresh air comes a lot more noise. The thrum of traffic on nearby I-95 can sometimes sound like a roar and how I hate the relentless grind of leaf blowers! But it was sweet to hear the birds again and soon there will be the rustle of leaves – a good trade-off.

There have been some recent mornings warm enough to sit outside on the porch steps with a cup of tea. Through the bare branches of the Norway maple I can easily watch nuthatches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers and plenty of other birds as they poke and peck around. But the tree is now heavy with buds and soon my bird visibility will be limited.

Yes, I’ll miss these easy views of bird-life and the lights of houses two streets away as layers of green grow in and hide it all. I surprise myself with how much I have come to appreciate naked, cold aspects of winter. In years past I’d be irritated by these lingering cold days and now, I feel almost wistful. And I no longer feel like I can change into my pajamas at 6 PM. I’ll miss that.

Are you sorry to see winter go?

The Impossibility of a Simple Morning

Kyev – taken by me in … 1989? 1990? During a 10 day, 4 city trip – I led to what was then USSR.

Last night was cold enough for my furnace to kick on. I woke to a warm house and made my way downstairs. I switched a lamp on in the living room. In the kitchen, I filled the electric kettle from the faucet and then washed the glass and plate I’d left in the sink last night. The feeling of my hands in the hot water was soothing. Kettle ready, I filled the teapot and then added half a cup of boiling water into my mug to warm it up. After a few seconds, I emptied that water into the sink. I took the milk from the refrigerator and poured in a splash then filled the rest of the cup with steaming tea. Hot mug in hand, I paused at the window and looked out at dawn cracking red on the horizon. I returned to my still-warm bed to indulge in the luxury of a Saturday morning. At every step of these simple tasks and throughout the day, I am newly conscious of just how damn fortunate I am.

One of countless destroyed villages I traveled through in Croatia and Bosnia.

Dawn broke hours ago in Ukraine and brought no relief from the nightmare the rest of us watch from afar. I think of a woman in one of the places under attack and imagine what her morning is like. If she is still in her home, if she managed to sleep at all, it is cold enough inside for her breath to be visible. There is no water coming out of the tap – never mind, hot. Maybe she had the time and forethought to collect water in the bath and buckets but that won’t be good for drinking when there is no way to boil it because there is no electricity, no gas. If she is lucky, she will have bottles of water to use sparingly because who knows how long this will go on for. The collected water will be for washing – cold sponge baths at the sink, washing dishes, clothing. Maybe this already feels like an indulgence. The refrigerator is dark and functions only as a cupboard. And anyway, there’s not much in it. Food is getting scarce and fresh produce near impossible at this time of year with roads and supplies being blocked by the Russians.

More ruined homes – Bosnia – I think around Mostar? From Neil’s photos.

She is not having a Saturday like mine or probably, yours. No lolling about, no anticipation for the day, only dread. She has already learned how to identify proximity and risks for all the terrifying new sounds around her – shells whistling through the sky until they land in horrible explosions, endless gunfire. How close? What got hit? Who lives there? Have they gone?

I imagine this based on flashes of my life in Croatia and Bosnia during the war. These memories surface easily as I watch the news or check my phone to see reports and images – with deja vu, my stomach in knots. But it is Ukraine being bombarded. Hospitals, homes destroyed in minutes. (What Geneva Convention?) Women and children are being targeted. Familiar scenes and familiar tactics of terrifying bullies. Tyrants who murder and lie without flinching. I’ve seen this horror, these actions, before. But never, never at this level and before, there were no iphones, no social media with almost minute to minute updates. And so we watch. What else can we do?

On the streets of Sarajevo.

During my 4 years in former Yugoslavia, I was incredibly privileged as a well-paid international staff member with a diplomatic passport. I could and I did – leave when it became too much. My life and my perspective was not comparable to anyone from there. When it became too much for me, it was because the picturesque village outside of Sarajevo where I was based began to ‘clean’ the surrounding area and village right before our eyes. That’s the language shamelessly used to describe murderous ethnic cleansing. Can you imagine? It wasn’t because of a lack of basic services or the danger that got to me, it was the sadness and the shame and frustration of how ineffectual I was – that’s what broke me.

On the road to Pale. This is one of the guns that Serbs use to bombarded Sarajevo for 3 years.

What could I do to stop the madness, provide assistance or at least some kind of relief to the suffering? I never found that answer and so thoughts and feelings about myself in that time are complicated. And now, these questions are front and center again as is the question of how can I go about living my life so normally while this insanity is going on in Ukraine?

Sarajevo. From Neil’s photos from when he was with the ICRC.

Hell if I know anymore than I did 30 years ago. But here’s what I do know: send money (not your expired medicines or children’s old toys!) to organizations on the ground that you think are reputable and that spend most of their money on action, not bureaucracy. When I was in the field, a NGO (non-governmental organization) that was always the first to get into a troubled area, and the last to leave, capable, able to pivot and good people – is MSF (Medecine San Frontiers – Doctors Without Borders). I also support the vision and speedy action of Chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen (click on either link to get to site). What’s your go to?

Sarajevo. From Neil’s photos.

Certainly we need to make sure our representatives are doing whatever is necessary to support Ukraine in meaningful ways. And if you believe in prayer, say one for all the brave journalists and photographers bearing witness, and for the relief workers and most of all, to the incredible Ukrainian people — so many ordinary folk-turned soldiers and my lord — their incredible leader. And then – with all you can muster – send every hex and curse to the horrible, hideous man in the Kremlin.

The Weekend Blizzard Report

Without a dog to take out I was able to spend all day yesterday inside. After writing that I thought I really should go out at least for a minute, so went on the porch to fill my lungs and looked around. I am glad I did. A glorious sunset was cracking through the grey of the day and the cold air felt exhilarating. I looked off across the yard, smelling, feeling, and hearing what was going on out here. For two days I had only been looking out my window missing the full experience of nature that I used to have regular doses of, even if just for a quick step-out with the dog. And listen to the wind!

Blizzard Sunset

The sound of wind through trees is one of my favorite things. Nature communicating loudly here – trees, wind – whose voice is whose? Together, they’re magnificent, if a little terrifying. I’m pretty sure the pine trees up in that patch (although not visible in the video) are the main noisemakers.

I’ve been checking out evergreens a lot recently. Maybe one day I’ll get to hear the wind whipping through the 3 foot White Pine I bought as our crooked Christmas tree this year. I felt quite virtuous buying a live tree but did not think through where I might plant it on my .24 acre already crowded with 8 very large trees and many more smaller ones including the 2 pear and 2 peach trees out back. I took this shot of the not yet planted, snow-logged darling from my bedroom window. If I’m still here in 12 years or so I will have a front seat to wind-through-pine tree concerts.

White Pine Tree Buried in Snow

I grew up in a 7th floor apartment in the Bronx but when I was still in elementary school, my parents bought a country house in the Berkshires that we’d drive up to on weekends and summers (my parents were NYC school teachers and had off). There was a White Pine tree on the property, perfect for climbing and I did so, sitting and daydreaming or sulking, depending on the day. I’d have to pick the stubborn sap off my hands, arms and legs for days. It was there in Canaan (yes, really) that I became a nature lover, learned to identify trees and birds and became a devotee of Euell Gibbons, fascinated by the idea of foraging my own food and living off the land. I regularly wandered into the woods behind the house saying I was ‘going up the hill!’ rather than my apartment call of ‘going downstairs!’ as I left the house. In these woods I learned to walk quietly, to listen and watch. I read nature books like crazy, including one on animal tracks. I was reminded of those days when I ventured out into the snow today.

Bird Tracks

Yesterday’s ‘red sky at night’ (sailor’s delight!) definitely delivered and while it’s cold, it’s bright and not a cloud in the sky. Coming down the stairs to make my tea this morning, I peeked out at the back deck. I often see creatures there, usually the big old groundhog, that I’ve resigned myself to being my tenant, will be sunning itself. Across the deck were tracks. After donning my boots and coat I went out and found proof of many little creatures who have been wandering around my estate. My friend who lives in the woods upstate recently set up a camera and captures some great footage of coyotes and a gorgeous bob cat passing through. Even in this city of more than 88,000 there have been coyote and bobcat sightings. But these prints are mostly wee ones of chipmunks and there’s obvious bird activity although there’s not much action at the feeder today. I suspect my feathered friends are still hunkered in their nests. I couldn’t identify whatever crossed and went under the deck but I doubt it’s groundhog who must still be asleep.

Rufus at the Airport

So yes, I miss having little Rufus around to force me into the world but I am adjusting. And somehow, because I have to be intentional in my outings and he’s not here to distract me with his cuteness, I think I pay better attention. And in case you’re wondering, while he hates flying, he is embracing his new life of peeing on palm trees and being utterly adored by Molly and her dear roommates in sunny California. And as any parent knows, when they’re happy, we’re happy. Although, I do consider fostering some sweet old dog…

A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

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This first morning of this new year is shrouded in fog and wet with drizzle. Rufus made it only as far as the hedge to lift his leg before heading back inside. The gloomy weather suits my inclination to draw inward. I have faith the sun will break through soon enough with warmth and light so I am grateful that today, nature has provided this close-up lens to better see what’s outside and within me.

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I write this from my bed, luxuriously and without guilt. The three windows in my bedroom have the best view although I mostly stare at this screen until distracted, then inspired, by bird activity. Who is zooming back and forth? Tossing off my quilt, I pad barefoot into Molly’s room for a view of the driveway and front yard. I peek down at the feeder where a squirrel, upside-down and glommed on, is successfully keeping the sparrows and downy woodpeckers watching from the hedge for the rodent to be done. The birds that roused me out of my own perch, are grackles. A group of grackles is called a ‘plague’ and a few dozen cover the lawn and driveway busy getting tipsy on fermented crabapples. I watch until they lift off together, their wings flapping so furiously in unison, it sounds like a gust of wind! Watch and listen!Listen! At the end you’ll hear the gust as they lift off!

I could spend my day bird and tree watching and would consider it a good one. This is who I have always been and am increasingly embracing: content to watch the wildlife, the seasons, the light. It is almost noon and I might remain here even longer to watch the slow drama of rain droplets, glistening like ornaments on branch tips, hanging on even with the swaying of a breeze or the raucous swarm of birds. I admire the fractal genius and grace of these branches, even the tiniest lifting towards the sky. Curiosity? Longing? Joy? And imagining down below, beyond my view, magnificent roots mirroring this reach – but into the darkness, for sustenance, history, love. A marvel.

It is a good morning after a good night. In past New Year’s eves I have set expectations for myself – to do the ritual cleaning, make some meaningful food like lentils or noodles, black-eyed peas – whatever good luck meal I’d read about that sounded delicious. Likely, I would spend the evening drinking and eating with generous friends, forcing myself to stay up to midnight for the countdown with not-my-music blaring, noise-makers at the ready. Not this year. In bed before 11, I read before turning the light off to sleep — only vaguely aware of the amp-up of firework explosions marking midnight. Cozy, so content to be doing exactly what I wanted. It feels like a gift of aging that has been hurried along by the restrictions of this pandemic: ignore the expectations of others and (harder) myself and follow my true nature. I know that more social beings have been suffering in this plague and I am sorry for that.

My wish for us all in this new year is joy, LOVE! and so much laughter – but also plenty of contemplation, flora and fauna filled hours!