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’

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-5127-scaled.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-5139-1-scaled.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_5069-scaled.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-1806-scaled.jpg
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?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-2905-scaled.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-2127-676x1024.jpg
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!



What Next? (Help! Time’s Running Out!)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-4990-scaled.jpg
Just Married – Sarajevo 1994



I’ve spent the last twenty-five years working at the same job as the sole support of my little family. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that along with the joy there have been challenging and tragic times. Life is good now and the past feels lighter. Most importantly, my cherished daughter is launched, happy and solvent so I have started to think about what I want my future to look like. A future that I accept becomes more finite with every year. So – what next?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2943-1024x768.jpg
Out in the field as a UNICEF Program Officer – Croatia

Do I (CAN I?) retire? Or should I keep working until they send me off with a piece of cake in the break-room? Are you in this boat too? Chances are at some point either we or our employers will decide that it’s time for us to move along. I don’t know about you but the thought of living my life without a regular paycheck and benefits makes me nervous.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-0194-765x1024.jpg
Dubrovnik – on to another adventure with Molly in tow. 1995

But an even bleaker thought is working until I drop — even if my excellent employer will let me. I LOVE the thought of having my days to myself to write, to read and maybe I’ll even start painting again. Sleep late and spend the day puttering? Travel to see my friends around the world? No problem! Sounds dreamy to me.

However, the fact is that no matter how much I do the math, without my current income I would not be able to live for very long in my beloved little house in my wonderful community.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-4989-scaled.jpg
Premie Molly’s first day out of Brindisi Hospital – home in Ostuni, Italy.

But there are options and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Mostly, my scheming includes moving to Europe. Did you know that there are places we can live that are cheaper, charming and maybe, a little warmer than where you live now. Not to mention that the healthcare is excellent and affordable. I have experience in this and I can vouch that it’s true. Back in my earliest travel days I successfully applied for and now have Irish citizenship – certainly making it easier to dream about this.

In the Japanese Countryside

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’ve happily lived and traveled in other countries. I dug out some of these old snapshots and you can tell it’s been a long time so I’m pretty rusty. For inspiration, I subscribe to International Living magazine – to get a sense of what people like me – my age and with a taste for adventure and maybe not the biggest bank account – have figured out. I recommend at least following them on social media.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG-4988-1-scaled.jpg
Leading a tour in Yalta – in the last year of the Soviet Union’s existence.

I’ve never been to Portugal but it’s one of those places where the living is cheaper and it sure looks lovely. I’d love to go try it out and that’s why I need your help! I entered a contest that would allow me to do just that: a ‘trial retirement’ in Portugal. In the link below, you’ll find my entry video. I promise if I win, I’ll post like crazy all about the good food, drinks, views and share lots of tips with you – in case you might be tempted too!

Please ‘LIKE’ my video — before November 22 when voting closes. Three finalists will go on to the last round. THANK YOU – for sharing with your friends – any help you can give in making me one of them! xxx

https://internationalliving.com/win-a-dream-retirement-overseas/