The Importance of Updating

Well, hello there! Did you miss me? I was locked out of my blog for more than a month. Yes, I was hacked but it was also my own fault: I’d ignored the pesky reminders to install updates. The format or something that I was using became so out-dated that I was no longer able to upload posts. What a perfect metaphor for my life. I need to keep up with the program. Lesson learned? I hope so but this feels harder as I get older. Does it for you?

I used to be adept at change, regularly going somewhere or doing something different. In my youth, I moved every few years – often to another state or country. The grand finale before settling here in Connecticut, was in Molly’s first year of life when we moved four times, three different countries. Same with jobs. A year in one place was my average until I landed at the United Nations where after a few years at the NYC headquarters, I left to work out in the field. Boyfriends? Rarely did I hit the six month mark with any of them. Friends are different – I’ve treasured and nurtured those loves and they’ve sustained and supported me for decades.

Physically COVID makes the advisability of change questionable. Time to hunker down and hang onto whatever is working and hibernate through the seasons. Luckily I adore being in my sweet house with porch and garden and the Long Island Sound only minutes away. I miss sharing meals and drinks with friends but not being able to meet up in big groups is not a hardship for me as I am more on the introvert than extrovert scale. My daughter is with me – a joy of daily laughs and hugs. Molly’s cheerfully helpful, running all errands including braving the grocery stores. She cooks gourmet meals and makes a mean cocktail. We have become YouTube fix-it experts with the latest accomplishment: replacing our toilet! And she’s my IT specialist — the reason why I am here with you today.

But: this is not what’s supposed to happen. She should be launching into her own adventures and discoveries – not stuck at home with mom.

We are in a kind of forced meditation, aren’t we?

I don’t hate it. I appreciate being forced to look inward. The search of self and being feels rich and interesting to me and if anything, I wish I had more time for that. But of course, I am distracted by practical questions too. How do I hope to spend whatever years are left to me? What can I sustain? I used to feel stressed going down this path — regularly doing math as if the answer lay in a budget I don’t have. But these days, I worry much less. So little and yet so much is possible. Does that make sense? What can we control, anyway? Breathe – because we know how precious that is, don’t we?

These days, as I imagine my daughter’s eventual adventures, I remember my once intrepid self and realize that gal, that ME is still here. A little rusty but that’s what happens when you fail to move. What’s next? I’m not sure but as my blog reminded me, it’s impossible to move forward if you don’t refresh and update. And dream!

What’s happening in your COVID world? Are you taking good care of yourself?

Late Summer: Sunset and Moonrise Magic

moonrise kayaking

Yesterday Molly and I went for a sunset kayak — a stunning finale to a beautiful breezy day with a bittersweet hint of autumn. We are nearing the end of this season of light.

Low tide meant a short paddle would land us on a grassy sandbar that only surfaces for a few hours a day. We spotted the little empty beach and made straight for it. After ten minutes of paddling we pulled our boats onto the rocky shore, spread a towel and settled in for the sunset show. No sooner had we clinked glasses when a rowdy trio of adult boys pulled up in small motorboat. Without so much as a ‘are we disturbing you?’ they unloaded their cooler and a gigantic speaker blasting bad music feet from where we sat. Rolling our eyes at each other then giving them side-eyes they ignored, Molly and I rolled up our towel and left them to the shrinking patch.

Back on my boat, I imagined what might have happened with different company – thinking who might have angrily engaged the inconsiderate nincompoops escalating the experience and our blood pressure. And surprised that I did not. Instead I felt lucky to be with good-natured Molly, peacefully exiting while exchanging jokes and laughter about the rude interlopers. Then, we felt glad to be sitting on the water instead of beside it. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, a full moon cast another kind of glow on the Sound. Intoxicated by the cocktails we sipped from mason jars and from the stunning scene unfolding all around us, we let ourselves be jostled about by the incoming tide. The sky took over.

The sun left a skirt of pink fading in the West. I looked East and in what seemed only a blink, I felt a shift, a change to night and something more — another season, another state of being. So simple and quick I might have missed it — whatever that moment was — no more, no less than a sense of something. Slipping my paddle into the water, I positioned my kayak head-on into the trail of moonlight as if I might follow it to somewhere beyond the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn appeared twinkling like the stars they might be mistaken for.

Closer overhead, flocks of birds passed across a stretch of sky as if on a feather highway. First came half a dozen egrets, long legs dangling behind them. Following the egrets came a larger flock of frantically flapping terns. The birds silently followed each other into the deepening blue night and I felt a reverence in their flight as if they might feel as grateful for the day as I. Were they off to sleep on one of the islands? Turning my gaze back to the water, shimmering like giant fish scales or sequins of dark blues and blacks,  heaving beneath us in giant breaths. And at the center of it all, a hypnotizing path of moonlight.

Molly’s boat was too far away for us to talk to each other but we were both content in our own meditations. But as the flash of blue and red police lights from shore signaled the beach was closing, we called to each other — agreeing it was time to paddle back even as the pathway to the moon enticed me away.

I’d been on the fence about going kayaking – laziness and a little chill in the air as my excuse. What I would have missed! Out on the water I marvel, dream, think and wonder  — about life — the present, the future. Last night I considered where to be and how to live this (last!) leg of life. But do we get to curate our own lives, really? So much is a crapshoot, the luck of the draw or whatever version of God or not, one believes in. Having moments like last night are enough for me. In spite of – or maybe because of the goofs who drove us out into the water, their Lord of the Flies like howls always audible as we communed with the poetry of the night.

Disaster Preparedness

Tree damage in graveyard

Nature is boss. In case we’d forgotten, she recently blasted the Northeast with gale winds and a few tornado touch-downs. Uprooting trees and knocking out electricity and even taking off the roof of a local (unoccupied) house, she reminded us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we are in control. Heeding this kick in the ass, I am both practically and spiritually rethinking how I live.

When the whistling wind turned to a roar and our cell phones blasted a tornado warning, Molly and I descended into the dark, old-house basement with dog, water bottles and flashlights. We felt sure the house would blow down on top of us. It did not and except for a few downed branches we made it through intact. Power was out for 3 days — a minor inconvenience compared to many who are without almost 2 weeks later. We were without internet for 11 days and since I work at home these COVID days, that was tough in a first world problem way.

I have lived without electricity and water for long stretches, including in winter during the war in the Balkans. Nothing like being in the cold and dark with the rattle of machine guns and an occasional thud of mortar fire shaking the walls. But not having water is the worst. These recent days in the dark, even as I stumbled to the sink, I felt grateful as I turned on the faucet or hopped, gasping into a cold shower. Temporarily losing these conveniences I take for granted is a great exercise in gratitude. So many around the world, because of war, poverty and injustice, (thinking here about poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and Navajo Nations with no running water!) lack this basic necessity and it’s criminal.

It seems a little crazy that we are so electricity dependent and all of that can be undone in a flash. Even in my life with wood stove and clothesline, I found those few days challenging. I am, like many, addicted to the internet. My phone is never far away from me and for no particular reason. I am rarely expecting a call. But there are so many pictures to look at! News and gossip to follow! I still had phone service and while it was charged squinted at the little screen for updates on my corner-of and the rest of the currently sorry-world.

Solar light shot

Evening entertainment during electric-free days, we enjoyed light-pollution free star-gazing and reading on the front porch. Only days earlier, I’d presciently installed solar motion-sensor lights so we settled in the evening breeze with our books and took turns waving our arms every few minutes to reactivate the light. (photo above)

Have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I wasn’t reading that on the porch– in fact, it’s a book I tried and abandoned years ago because it was so bloody bleak. I mean, I appreciate dark but I can’t do apocalypse. But I’m still haunted by what I did read. Too real? Too possible? These days, I’d say yes. But I’m a practical gal and a survivor and I’ve started to plan.

What I missed the most during the 3 day blackout was my own food and cups of tea and the electric bidet toilet seat. (you mean you don’t have one?)  I’m working on preparing solutions for next time. In my Kyoto kitchen there was a hatch door in the middle of the floor that opened into a little ground storage space perfect for keeping food cool.  Isn’t that brilliant? I won’t be digging any holes outside but I might get another cooler and lots of ice. As for cooking, I don’t have a grill but am researching little hibachis and for morning caffeine fixes, a butane burner with shelf-life milk. And there are simple bidet options that don’t require electricity. Note: all bidets online are currently sold out – no surprise after COVID scramble for toilet paper.

Now that I have internet back, I’ve been able to do a lot more research on how to weather storms and in considering other possible catastrophes, what countries in the world I could escape to. Frankly, I’d rather stay here in my country in my sweet house, but I know it’s better to be prepared. 

Any suggestions on preparing for storms, elections and other possible disasters?

 

 

On the Water

gorgeous Sound

We get to the beach early, landing a parking spot right next to the kayak launch spot. Molly hauls our boats to the shore and I ferry the life jackets, paddles and water bottles. Within 20 minutes of leaving our house we are floating on the Long Island Sound.

As we push into the heaving tide my mind-muddle of to-do tasks is left on shore. At high tide our usual spits of land and sandbars that inspire lazy paddling, were nowhere to be found so we head to a more distant island with an inviting empty beach. This stretch can feel like Grand Central Station at rush hour on a sunny weekend day but in the morning, there are only a few oyster boats probably out before the sun. We have a few hours before motorboats with loaded beer coolers begin tearing through the water and we savor the quiet, only the lapping waves and sea-bird shrieks.

me on grassy island

Terns and gulls swoop across the sky. The rhythm of paddling returns even after a year. Pushing through the water feels good. Molly is usually ahead of me because she’s younger and stronger but also because I periodically pause to just float, my plastic boat bobbing, the morning sun warming my bare legs and arms. When I open them again, Molly is near the island. I straighten up and paddle hard to catch up with her.

Me and my gal

We pull onto the sandy beach. This island is city owned – it’s possible to camp here and the thought of sleeping on this patch of wild in the water has appeal – an easy getaway with only nature’s luxuries. For now we are happy to unpack the fruit and coffee we carried with us. We sit on our towel and marvel at the beauty until we are discovered by horseflies. To escape their nasty bites, we strip to our bathing suits and make our first plunge of the season. I am not much of a swimmer, but there is something about that deep breath and dunking into the muffled, other-world of underwater that shifts my brain immediately into vacation mode. My summer baptism.

 

Temporarily Out of Stock

I sell books. Selling houses, cars, clothing, even towels would earn me more money than books, but that stuff doesn’t stir my soul. Being a salesperson doesn’t come naturally to me but my love of reading allows me to convince myself it’s a good cause. Of course it helps that I sell mostly to teachers who have the mission of teaching kids to read. I know so many remarkable ones determined to mobilize the power of books to open minds and hearts. I’m lucky to tag along on their great work.

The perks of being a bookseller include a great discount and free advanced readers copies, ARCS – a sneak peek at soon to be published books. I’m just finishing The Buddha on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place by David Sheff (also author of one of the finest books on addiction, Beautiful Boy). Sheff’s newest title is a blend of social justice and Buddhism – a good read in my quest to live life from a place of peace and love rather than fury. Jarvis Masters has managed to do this through meditation and Buddhism, while living on death row in San Quentin. For 30 years and still today, this Black man has been denied a fair hearing and remains on death row for a crime he did not commit. Yes, more fuel to take to the streets.

book stack

I look to books to help me be a better person, to explain the world. And it makes my heart sing to report that I am not alone: last week, bookstores across the country sold out of  books on racism. Take a look at the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list transformed into a veritable what-to-read to know How to Be an Antiracist – my next read. What are you reading?

**In support of #BlackoutBestsellerList and #blackpublishingpower, we are encouraged to purchase two books by Black writers between June 14 – June 20. (Happy to recommend titles!)**

 

 

 

A Sadly Prescient Post from November 2016: Caution – Danger Ahead

kiseljak

I am re-posting something I wrote and posted in November 2016. Four years later and the predictable tyranny, chaos and destructive forces are now in full gear. Did you vote for this?

I support peaceful protest and support my Black brothers and sisters with love. You lead the way – I am listening and I will stand with you. As a veteran of a war fueled and led by bandits who benefit by fanning the flames of division with nationalistic lies, racism, militias armed with assault weapons is familiar territory. We are in a very dangerous place. Pay attention — it is happening here. Where do you stand?

*************************************************************************************

This is an excerpt I’d edited from my memoir The Things We Cannot Change:

From my window, rooftops are visible against a ribbon of the almost-green trees muting the incessant drone of the highway. Everything appears serene and lovely this early spring morning but I cannot help and wonder what goes on inside these houses. What hatred, prejudice, violence might simmer under those roofs? Could this community in Connecticut combust? Might neighbors turn on each other in violence? Of course not – that seems impossible. We are sure we are different. That is not who we are. Yet I have seen what darkness can reside in homes with roofs just like ours and know such horrors are possible anywhere.

***

My apartment sat on the main road of this tiny predominantly Croat town in Bosnia. I heard everything. Nights, I hid under a ridiculous number of blankets for warmth and to try and drown out the drunken shouting and yelling of local soldiers in the street. The next day at work, I knew I’d be reading UN military reports of Moslem families being bullied from their homes, men taken away in the night. It could not just be me listening but doing nothing about the evil soundtrack of those sleepless hours? What about my neighbors? Under the veil of darkness, families were forced from homes they’d lived in for generations. The Croats were ‘ethnically cleansing’ the town of Moslems – right on the UN’s doorstep.

Man’s inhumanity to man being played out so close around me, overwhelms what should be memories of my excitement of new love. Instead, an icy fear and anger clutched at my throat and tightened with every night.

Years later, I remain haunted by that Bosnian-Croat town – the dark secrets and nights of violence spilling into daylight.

destroyed-village

This chapter selection is from my time there when Central Bosnian villages were being ‘cleaned’ out. During the day, from the safety of the UN armored car, what from a distance looked sweet bucolic cottages, up close became surreal scenes of horror. Windows smashed – ruffled curtains flapping like surrender flags flown too late. Some houses burned. Doors left open – chickens wandering the yard, a dead dog. No human in sight. Eerie. The village had clearly just recently been ransacked – the people fled, taken prisoner, killed? Any of those was possible — all of it happened. We sped on to our meeting.

kids-in-sarajevo

The beauty of the places I lived and visited in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Slovenia during my four years there is unforgettable. But the hatred between those cousins wore my soul out. In 1996, I was ready to come home and glad to settle in the diverse, welcoming community I now love and call my own. While racism and prejudice has always existed in the United States, in my experience, it was rare to encounter it as shameless. There was at least a sense of being wrong and certainly some modicum of legal protection against hate crimes, discrimination. That’s what I thought in 1996 as I packed my bags to move back to create a life with my new family in my home country.

I’ve gotten a glimpse of what can happen when government leaders and their propaganda machines fan the flame of fear and hatred. I’ve seen what happens when citizens feel free – even encouraged – to harass (and worse) their neighbors with impunity. It’s more terrible than you can imagine. Let’s not go there.

Silver Lining: ZOOM Yoga with Robert

I love being at home, especially now as Spring explodes with flowers and my little patch turns into paradise. Pre-pandemic, I rarely wanted to venture out into the world beyond my little house and yard.  I was happy to clock every hour of the weekend at home. When the weather was cold and miserable, I was inside by the wood stove, sometimes climbing back into to bed after a quick dog walk. Days like we’ve been having, I’m outside for hours, pruning hedges, pulling weeds and sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper while the birds sing and the squirrels tear through the trees torturing Rufus. I am very lucky: while the reason is bleak, it remains a pleasure for me to spend every day and hour at home.

But there is one weekend outing I made religiously pre-Covid that I have missed. Every Saturday, earlier than I left for work most mornings, I was out the door to go to the gym. Yes, the gym. I’ve had a membership for at least 10 years. For a few of those years, the neighborhood gals would inspire me (meaning pick me up in their cars) to join them for a weight and a even a few zumba classes. (you don’t want to see me dance — sadly, I suffer from serious white girl-disease) Sometimes I forced myself to get my heart beating by huffing and puffing on the elliptical. Ten minutes was about all I could ever muster and that ten minutes felt like eternity. The only reason I kept my gym membership and got up and out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning was for Robert’s yoga class.

I’d wager Robert’s following is larger than any other yoga class at the gym although not everyone loves him. It’s not unusual for a new person to pack up their mat and leave the class early because they wonder what the hell this guy is up to. And Robert jokes about it. Light’s are dimmed and like most classes, each session begins with a few minutes of meditation. But he doesn’t play any woo-woo music and his non-stop talking veers from the profound to the irreverent — weighing more on the side of irreverent and to me, he is laugh out loud funny. No sun salutations for us — we may spend 3/4 of the class sitting on our mats twisting and leaning and stretching only inches at a time – and always, he’s talking.

By listening to him, I have learned to listen to myself. And the next day, I’m pleasantly sore and grateful.Robert’s quirky, warm and wise guy reminders motivate me. Since going to his classes, if I feel a pain anywhere in my body, I almost always know how to figure out what is causing and how to fix it. These days, sitting for long hours in front of my tiny work laptop, it’s not hard to know why my shoulders are tense or my hips tight. And I know what to do about it. I credit Robert for teaching me this.

But here’s the thing – a silver lining to the current state of things: Robert is teaching on ZOOM twice a week. So now, I enjoy his class in my own cozy room with the sound of birds wafting through the open window rather than the clank of weight machines outside the freezing cold room at the gym where we met for a mere 40 minute class. Robert’s classes are over an hour – that flies. And YOU can join too – no matter where you are in the world! There’s a class on Tuesday at 12:30 PM or Saturday at 11:45 AM Eastern Standard Time. This will be the best $15 you’ll spend in a week — you should try it – no matter how creaky and stiff and challenged you might feel. All the better – as Robert says – use it or lose it! Even if you have never done yoga. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you the info. It would be fun to see you there!