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

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 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!

A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

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.

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!

Where in the World? (Suggestions Welcome)

Forgive me for not being faster about updating you on the results of my previous post, but as you probably gathered, alas, I did not win the contest for an all expenses paid month in Portugal. A heartfelt thank you, for voting and kind words of support. It was actually quite a fun little adventure! And the winning couple seem perfect – both are writers and she’s already a travel blogger. I look forward to their insights on Portugal. And yes, I think I will also go see for myself – although winning would have given me the kick in the pants to get started.

It’s exciting being in the running for things, don’t you think? I love a good raffle and will buy the occasional lottery ticket for the thrill of a chance. Similarly, when I used to send queries to agents about my memoir, the let-down of rejection was less than the excitement of possibility. Entering the Portugal contest reminded me of the joys of having my hat in the ring. And I’m not giving up on the move overseas-for-retirement notion.

I’ve had this idea percolating for over a year as I try and figure out how life can be less expensive so I can stop working sooner than later. Where would be a more suitable place for the next, increasingly creaky chapter of my life? I look at Europe because I love so much about being there and because I have Irish citizenship.

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Anyone else have photo albums of weirdly colored photos from the 70s?

I have mostly been looking at Italy because it’s familiar to me and has always brought me (mostly) comfort and joy. Even my daughter Molly decided it was the place to be, appearing almost 2 months early rather than sticking to our birth plan for Cambridge, England. My very first taste of Italy was at 18 when, halfway through a solo 4 month trip around Europe, exhausted and lonely in cold and grey Germany, I hopped on a night train to Venice. I can still conjure the heat of the stone beneath me as I stepped out of the station and sank down on the steps to marvel at the canal, the light, the warmth and a palpable joy. Neil and I used to drive from Zagreb to Italy to escape the weight of the war, even for a night and once just long enough for lunch – and as soon as we crossed over the border from Slovenia to Italy, everything seemed brighter, including our spirits. It’s a place that has always made me feel good. And the food can’t be beat.

Always, the question is where? Ostuni the village in Puglia where Molly’s name is written into the book of births is stunning, but I’d need a car there. I’m more drawn to northern Italy for living. Trieste, an elegant city on the edge of the water is a maybe and of course who doesn’t adore Florence? On another break from the war in Bosnia, I hitched a ride on a French transport plane out of Sarajevo to Ancona and took a cab to a place called Senegalia with sweet beaches on the Adriatic. I like the sound (and apartments) of Livorno and the Mediterranean coast too. I am more of a sea than a mountain gal. And I want to be close enough to a big airport that getting to my loved ones here doesn’t seem overly arduous. So no Greek Islands for me, I’m afraid, as much as I’m tempted.

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My sweet porch. But I’d have to keep working forever to keep living here.

I like to be cozy in my home and want to ultimately live in a place kind of like I live now, (if my house was paid for and if there was national healthcare, I could consider staying – I mean… look at that porch!) or where I lived in Kyoto or in Zagreb or Brindisi. On the outskirts of, or in a not-too-big city because – practical for my aging self. Preferably with even just a small outside patch so I can plant things, have a bird feeder and putter about with a cup of tea or evening drink. And I need to be able to walk or bicycle or bus/train everywhere as I will never, ever be able to drive stick shift. (trust me, I have tried!) I would do a little vespa. Can you see me with my grey hair blowing in the wind?

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Climbing the 100 plus steps to our amazing flat in Zagreb. 1994

I spend a ridiculous amount of time scouring the real estate listings in Europe including Cheap Italian Dream Home. More than once I’ve fallen in love like with this place – yes, it’s cluttered and crazy looking but look at that fireplace! More practical because of space might be this one. I’d need at least one extra bedroom for Molly and other visitors. I must have light. Lots of light – a view. And a fireplace or wood stove.

So where should this sweet flat or house be? Scanning the listings I get sent by this newly launched site I subscribe to Bargain Homes Abroad, Scandinavian houses really appeal to me – but that part of the world flunks on sun and food and, well … brrr! France also has some beauties but my terrible high school level attempts make me feel inept in a way that Italians nor the Spaniards made me feel while butchering the language. Spain? My friends who are the most inspiring and joyful couple I know, just bought a place there. Ireland wins on delightful people and of course being able to speak the language plus the bonus of wonderful family — but while the light is pretty when the sun shines, it doesn’t do that enough for my ‘SAD’ inclined soul. And it’s not cheap. Same goes for England – where I count friends and beloved family – dearest Zoe and Gemma and their beautiful broods.

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Loving sisters play the who’s tallest game. (aren’t they beautiful?)

Maybe the Portugal venture was my prompt to explore a place that ticks so many of my boxes, with no memories that might inspire melancholy. Someone who has done more recent traveling than me said her vote is for Portugal – saying that everything works better there. And a writer I know who moved there from these parts a few years ago says she knew immediately it was right and it still is. Politically and socially it’s more progressive than the other southern European countries and certainly, more than we are and that’s important to me. And it sure looks pretty. Time to add Portuguese to my language learning app? Now if only this damn pandemic would settle down…

Okay friends, what do you have for me? Taking all suggestions!



Fruit and Labor

My daily clock is managed by our dog and I don’t hate it. Yes, I’d rather get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and I grumble when I hear that nudge-bark at 5:30 in the morning, but once I’m up and on the street, I appreciate the early start. This is precious time I claim for me before work or house duties take over my life. With Rufus’s help I move into the day yawning out of a fog of quickly fading dreams. I throw a jacket over my pajamas, fill the kettle, snap Rufus’s leash on and wander down the street. He walks slowly, sniffing the weeds for clues of who might have visited during the night, then lifts his leg to reclaim the neighborhood as his.

The early summer mornings are light as we meander besides a stretch of city land, overgrown with bittersweet and poison ivy. Last year we had regular face-offs with a fox and though disconcerting, I miss those mystical encounters. Lately there are only bird and bunny sighting as we wander only half way down the street because I am in my pajamas after all.

We turn back into our driveway and take a detour up the three steps to where the blueberry bushes are heavy with fruit. So is the mulberry tree and the garage roof is covered with smooshed and decaying berries. Look up and you can spot at least 3 birds between the branches, gorging themselves before flying off to leave their purple waste on our cars and always, the white laundry on the clothesline. I leave the mulberries to the birds but will compete for the blueberries. Lifting branches, I find a small handful to throw into my yogurt. Last year we covered the bushes with netting but not a day went by without having to release catbirds that always found a way in but not out. And we still didn’t get any more berries than now. Besides, I adore our resident catbirds and am happy to share with them.

I am a little annoyed about our pears. There’s not a single piece of fruit left on our two trees and there were at least 50 perfect little (still green) pears. The peaches, while diminished in number, are still there. In an attempt to taste at least a few, Molly and I are trying a trick that her friend Lily shared with us. After months of saving plastic fruit and salad containers, we taped them around a few of the peaches as protection from critters.

We’d like to at least get a taste of a few fruits off these trees. We’ll see how it works. Do you think it will?

Today is my final day of vacation so I climbed back into bed to drink tea, maybe read, maybe fall back asleep. I’ll do whatever I want! Bliss. It took 6 days to detox from work-mind and I can already feel it creeping back in. I am grateful for my job and the paycheck but I need to remind myself that my job is not who I am. Working from home is a pleasure but my boundaries have blurred. Ten hour days have become normal and even during down time, my mind is full of thoughts of what needs doing. During my first days off, my inclination to check emails was overwhelming and it took all my self-control to let the phone battery die and not open the computer. Day 6 and the work anxiety is now a simmer, not a roar. I remind myself I am not a heart surgeon and no one will die because of what I do or do not do. Still…

I vow to guard my life and soul as I guard my peaches – save some fruit for my own pleasure and sustenance.

If you have a job, how’s your work-life balance? Do you have boundaries? Any tips on fruit, labor or both?

A March Salute

I’ve always considered March, my month. My birthday is only one day but I claim the entire wild month, famous for gusty winds, changing clocks, unpredictable weather and betrayal. Even in the darkest days, there is a promise of light and warmth. Frigid temperatures and the threat of snow may still be in the forecast where I live here in New England, even into April — but the end of winter is well in sight and any fluke-flakes soon melt in the warmer rays of the sun.

Yesterday, strange hot winds gusted through in the afternoon, as if to shift the seasons, pushing the last of winter’s stale air out. This morning on my sunrise walk down the street with Rufus, I gathered branches blown into the middle of the street as a neighborly deed and as kindling for cold nights yet ahead. I’ll hold off pulling the plastic off the windows as March is a fickle month and there are still cold days and nights ahead.

But signs of spring appear rapidly around the garden. Like victors in the battle of the seasons, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths push through decaying leaves. Branches are softening, new buds pushing through in reds and greens, softening the look of shrubs and trees. Of course I’ll love the return of leaves to the trees, the sounds like voices as they move in the breeze, the dappled light through their canopy – but I have come to love what bare branches have to offer. Better to admire fractals and easily spot a bird and see off into the distance.

March is the month that cracks winter, starting slowly, some days fooling us that spring is here on schedule before drawing back again as cold and gloom settles in for another stretch. We worry about the survival of crocuses and daffodils in night frosts. And then, like a bicycle spinning faster and faster down a hill, the weather shifts and before we know it the lawn needs mowing, tulips are spent and it’s too hot for a sweater. April and May are gone in a blink. But in March, things are still going slowly, the shift over is gradual – even teasing us, reminding us with taunts of winter-cold that now is our chance to savor renewal, re-birth and the warmth of the sun.