Off the Couch

I don’t mind walking when it rains as long as it’s not torrential. The other day in a soft rain, protected only by my hooded jacket, I decided to walk along the river to the farmers market on the green. My desire was to vegetate at home doing a lot of nothing on the couch, but I forced myself to go out.

After following the river past the condos where the ducks hang out waiting for stale bread to be tossed from balconies, I dashed across the street to the secret path that climbs up behind the church in front of which, the market is held on Saturdays. The path opens out onto the parking lot next to the place where Molly spent a year in daycare. Most of the time when I pass this way, long-ago memories don’t register but this day I remember a time that Neil never picked Molly up so I was called at work to rush over and get her. In the early winter darkness, her teachers stood next to their cars right here, waiting with little Molly. They were kinder than I might have been at the inconvenience.

Another time I remember joining the parade of toddlers crossing this lot to the senior home to trick or treat and sing a song. Molly as a princess, wore a favorite blond wig of curls over her still barely-grown, short brown hair and a too-long Disney dress, now dirty at the hem. Perhaps because there were no grandparents in her life, the sight of all the old folks in wheelchairs, some with obvious dementia, completely freaked her out and she looked up towards me as if to rescue her from where she sat on the floor with the little group of costumed toddlers. Her face was crumpled in tears. Always an empathetic soul, maybe the scene felt too sad, as it did for me. The sweet babies in the middle of all these decades of life was a stark snapshot, the extreme passage of time, too much.

The path I walked isn’t really secret, it just feels that way because I never see anyone else. It’s a short stretch of tarmac leading up an incline along a stone wall. Exiting out of the path into the side street leading to the church, I saw the street was empty – the farmer’s market was not there either because of the rain or the season being over. All I’d needed was a few eggplants. Plan B meant walking out to the noisy street to the much busier nearby store. I mostly avoid this street on my walks as it requires crossing 4 lanes in front of determined and often distracted drivers who largely ignore the flashing yellow light I activate by pressing a button. I step out cautiously, trying to make eye contact with the driver to determine they’ll be slowing to a stop or at least to a miss-hitting-me speed.

This is my neighborhood where usually, I too am a driver. But I walk a lot even without a dog. Sometimes with friends. Our gabbing makes the time fly by and I don’t even glance at my phone to see how many steps I’ve wracked up. I try for the max. I almost never make it to 10,000 steps when I’m alone and am satisfied if I get in 2 miles. I don’t listen to music or podcasts because I mostly like to hear the sounds of the world around me and don’t like the feel of having earplugs in.

If I don’t get too distracted by all the memories my neighborhood evokes, my solitary walks are meditative. I try to concentrate on my breath and if I’m walking around the track (very conveniently located right next to my house) sometimes I’ll close my eyes as I go round and round the gravel circle. I practice booting out annoying thoughts that pop-up like a merry-go-round. I’m rarely inclined to walk on the track, the endless circling less appealing than exploring the world outside of me, but after a few rounds with a periodic glance at the changing sunset sky, I discover that the round and round can lead to an interior quiet that is very sweet. Even in the rain.

Blazing New Trails

Inspired by recent travels, I am trying to approach my weekends with curiosity and gusto rather than days to do laundry and errands. I love to take long walks in different places so on a recent beautiful day with the slightest hint of autumn, I visited a nearby national park where (shame on me) I’d never been.

Weir Farm – “Visit the home and studio of America’s most beloved Impressionist, J. Alden Weir, and walk in the footsteps of generations of world-class artists. Set amidst more than 60 acres of painterly woods, fields, and waterways, you’ll soon see why Weir described his home as the “Great Good Place.” Weir’s farm is a national legacy to American Impressionism, the creative spirit, and historic preservation.”

The kind park ranger at the visitor’s center walked out on the porch to point me in the right direction of the long hike he said was his favorite. He gave me a laminated map to be returned that I promptly tucked it into my bag with water bottle, journal and phone. I brought said-journal all through Greece and Italy last month and barely filled 3 pages. I had high hopes for this hike, imagining myself so inspired I’d perch on a rock to scrawl. I took the journal out of my bag even less than the map: 0 times.

Off I went, gravel crunching underfoot, ready to disappear into the woods. Well, almost ready. I should have worn long pants. Some of the trails were vague and a little overgrown. With every brush against grass, leaf, branch, I imagined microscopic ticks leaping onto my bare calves. I periodically scanned between my freckles and age spots for ticks, brushing my hands across them as if I might whisk them away. Little bastards!

I live in an urban suburb, if that make sense. I am lucky to have my own little patch of green. Today I picked a few pears from my pear tree. But the hum of the highway is ever present as are neighbors, sirens, lawn mowers, and those infernal blowers. I’d forgotten the bliss, the soar of my heart, the serenity yet excitement of being surrounded by woods and sky. The creak of a branch in the breeze high over my head. The quiet that when you listen hard enough, is full of sounds like a familiar but unknown language. The chickadees doing gymnastics almost close enough to touch, the distant woodpecker, the bird song I didn’t recognize through the rustle of leaves.

Initially I walked a sweet trail – wide and welcoming. Map forgotten, I just walked, periodically noting a dash of color on a tree marking a way. The ranger told me the white and purple trails were his favorite so I thought I’d follow those. I never saw purple – sure looked blue to me – and then some yellow and soon, I was just following whatever looked like a trail, climbing stony hills, gingerly stepping over mossy rocks across a stream, probably following deer paths. I was in heaven. Surrounded by forest quiet. Almost. There was the distant sound of a blower. Of course – it’s CT and a suburb still even here in a national park.

Worse than the blower was the noise in my head that briefly shouted louder than anything. For a moment my exhilaration was drowned out by a fear that hit me like a rogue wave. What if I twist my ankle on this now-narrow trail? Or fall down this rocky slope? At the entrance I had seen a sign about recent bear sightings. What if I encountered a bear? No – even worse: a bear and cubs with a protective mother! She’d destroy me! I stopped in my tracks and googled – what to do if you encounter a bear. Go back the way you came, don’t run but keep an eye that it’s not following you. If it does approach you, make a lot of noise and throw things at it. What would I throw? I picked up a stick that would easily snap over my knee and make great kindling. I guess I’d throw my metal water bottle.

What the hell? For a start, I had no interest in returning the way I’d come from. That’s a policy I like to follow both physically and metaphorically. Mentally I yanked myself up by the collar – why this sudden crazy anxiety? Get back to blissing out in nature! The self-scolding worked pretty well, with worry mostly banished. I’d like to disconnect that synapse in my brain connecting to imagined disasters. It’s so… old lady and I am trying to buck that trend for as long as I can.

I got lost twice (the second time with people I met on the trail – so that time, not my fault!) and ended up clocking close to 5 miles – which is weird because when I finally looked at the laminated map, no trail is much longer than 1.5 miles. That’s a lot of criss-crossing or something. When I handed the barely-glimpsed-at map back to the ranger and told him where I’d been he seemed amazed and told me almost no one goes that direction. I guess he must have decided I was a really serious hiker because he went to a back closet and gave me my very own trail map. Not laminated so I can fold it up even smaller into my bag. For next time!

Jet-Lag

Treacherous spiral staircase at a favorite airbnb.

Barely awake at a dark sleeping hour, I need to find my way to the bathroom. Eyes closed, I do a rolodex spin of recent steps to map out the way through unfamiliar rooms I’ve stayed in over the past 2 weeks. Opening my eyes a crack I realize I am in my own bed. I am home after adventures in Athens and multiple Italian towns and cities.

A day later and the liminal space between sleep and waking is like a sci-fi film of images and moments and dreams of Italy and home, blurry and stretchy, my subconscious grasps on to time and space of my recent journey. As full consciousness moves in I appreciate the familiarity and comfort, my things, my language, but dread the inevitable hum-drum and stress of routine, what needs to be done, of work life. Traveling again after so many years made my heart beat stronger. It felt good, especially this trip with the best company.

What fun we have together – lucky us! photo credits to Molly!

While unpacking and taking stock of what I need in the refrigerator, I do my best to hang on to the magic. Jet lag helps – a dreamy state with odd waking times. I try to keep my shoulders and jaw relaxed and maintain the strength my legs after clocking in an average of 8 miles a day walking. This is how I want to continue to live: healthy and paying attention! Eating good food when I’m hungry, out each day in the fresh air. Listening to my body. Well, mostly – my feet are still mad at me for ignoring them too often.

I guess I look a bit like a turtle, don’t I?

For 2 weeks I lived happily out of a carry-on backpack and now I feel ambivalent about my stuffed closet and bureau of so much clothing. I am happy for my bed although every Greek and Italian one I slept in was excellent. I delight in my garden’s bounty – bursting with tomatoes and lettuce and squash. There are even a few peaches left on my trees and pears not yet ripe that I may be able to get to before the resident squirrels. But the food tasted better over there – all of it. Even the paltry cheese toast sandwich on the train to Brindisi. They do many things much better than we do. The trains were on time. I remember there used to be jokes about Italian train times. I have no such tales to tell you from our trip except for the train we took to Rome arriving early.

Cool restaurant courtyard in Brindisi.

Yes, it is good to be home but oh, I really love Italy! This was a pilgrimage of sorts – launched in Athens for an amazing gathering of neighbors and friends to celebrate a spectacular wedding before Molly and I crossed the Adriatic over to Puglia, Italy to visit where she was born and lived for the first 4 months of her life. That will be another post. (at least) Meanwhile, I am treading in the in-between time, not ready to leave the dreamy space of the trip that was a journey of love and history and fuel for future chapters.

The Sounds of Summer

As soon as the plastic sheeting came off the first window, the atmosphere changed. After a bang or two and lots of heaving, I prop open the wooden frames that have been sealed with tape and plastic for winter. Breezes and blossom and newly mown lawn scents flow through the house. And noise. So much noise!

There are construction sounds from endless roadwork, trucks plowing up and down I-95 and a steady whoosh of cars. Lawnmowers and the hated leaf blowers are back in action. Some days, there’s the barking dog (no longer mine) and the crack of bats on baseballs from the nearby field. And just now, a siren of an ambulance careening through the neighborhood followed by the 6:55 morning train whistle stopping to pick up commuters into the city. It’s not as bad as the constant racket that’s the background noise to every telephone conversation I have with my sister in NYC, but it’s still urban cacophony.

In time, I grow used to the sounds of summer and adore the airy lightness in my home with doors and windows open and space between inside-outside, blurred. (Although after a chipmunk scurried across my living room last week, I’ve become a more cautious about leaving the back door open!) I am sad when it becomes time to close up when it grows chilly. And likewise, I feel a little shock when taking down insulation, ending the-almost silence in opening the house in spring. And why is the ice cream truck playing bad Christmas music?

I have become increasingly sensitive to sound even as my hearing deteriorates with age. This I can measure by watching television with my daughter: How can you hear what they’re saying, I ask as I crank up the volume. My tolerance for socializing in a crowded setting is low – restaurants and bars not so much fun. I hate having to scream and strain to hear what someone is saying over music. Listening to music is mostly done while driving although when I need to pay close attention, like going in reverse, I turn it off.

Silence is tough to find and sometimes, it’s what I crave more than anything. A reason to move to the country, live in the woods. Or at least visit more often, disappear into a forest and listen to the trees. Noise is one of the top reasons I never want to live in NYC again.

Who else here remembers this commercial?

Am I turning into a crank or what?

Windows in My Life

Summer view

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

Summer View 2

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

Winter friends

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

Bedroom light

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

Winter tree view

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

Winter view

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

The sun porch wins for windows

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

The kitchen sink.

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

A summer eve.

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

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

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.

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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

Summer’s (almost) Here!

And like that, we are into another season. When I attempted this post a few weeks ago, spring was in full bloom with summer just licking at its heels. This weekend we made the leap into July-like heat. Garden season.

I can barely keep the English Ivy from swallowing up my property at home yet signed up for not one but two community garden plots. The new one is in the upper field where animals seem to be less of a problem. Almost no one has a fence up top and the bounty seems better than what us poor neighbors below harvest. Or maybe it’s just me. I’ve been at this for years but am not a particularly skilled gardener.

I thought I was clever when I planted a cover crop of rye last autumn. I did no research beyond reading the package I’d picked up from the cool, organic local herb farm. As you can see from the photo above, it made a lovely thick lawn in my limited square footage. After earning nice blisters trimming the grass with hand clippers before it seeded, I left the clippings to dry and a few weeks later turned them into the soil. As you can see below, now it looks like a great mess. I’m hoping all the great rye grass nutrients in the soil (along with seaweed Molly and I gathered from the beach) will make for some tasty vegetables. I’ll keep you posted.

I can’t help noticing that everyone else’s plots look more organized than mine. This won’t surprise anyone who has ever seen my work desk. My neighbor’s gardens have rows marked with string and little markers identifying what is planted where. I imagine their kitchen shelves are similarly organized. I admire, maybe even envy a little, that way of being but I have never been that person. With anything. I made a conscious effort to try and wrap the hose in a nice loop when I was done with it and this is how it ended:

Seedlings are starting to sprout in the new patch – and I’d tell you what they are but I made no sweet tags to remember what’s what. In the past I stuck a stick through the seed packet that usually fades or blows away in the first storm. I didn’t do that this year. I vaguely remember planting carrots in here and beets there. Or the other way around. I was strategic in how I planted the lettuce – sprinkled where they might benefit from the shade of tomato plants. They don’t appreciate the hot sun for too long. Spinach and peas I think are in the middle. It will be a mystery until the first true leaves are visible. This is the way I garden. A little chaos to keep things exciting. No need for perfection in my life.

Any gardening tips?

Nurtured By What Used to Be

Barely awake, I pull a coat on over my pajamas, leash Rufus and step out into the frosty morning. A red sky announces the sun is on its way and today’s weather should be fine. Rufus does his usual pause a few steps from the house, lifting a leg for a long pee on the hedge. The bushes are dripping from last night’s rain and I walk gingerly over a slippery mat of leaves. We are only half-way down the driveway before the stubborn dog turns back to go inside. He’s persnickety about getting his feet wet.

I see the orange of my bagged newspaper at the end of the driveway and drop the leash so he can wait by the door rather than me drag him the five extra steps. Paper in hand, I turn back towards the house when something catches my eye just above the hedge next to the oak tree. I have a sense that something is missing but where I stare is only empty space. Yes, the leaves are newly gone everywhere but that’s not it. Something should be there next to the slowly rotting tree trunk. In decay, it has slowly been separating from the oak. I can’t place what caught my eye, what I think is gone. Did something disappear during the night?

There used to be three trees where now there is a only an oak tree and the rotting trunk of the elm that died when Dutch Elm disease hit the Northeast hard a few years ago. Ever frugal, I chose the bargain tree removal, leaving the branchless body of the tree in place. The trunk is a great playground for the squirrels and a smorgasbord for the birds and recently, a rabbit has found haven in the hollows of the roots. For a few more years, the oak and Norway maple stood together with this dead but lively sentinel.

Then two years ago, the Norway maple fell under the weight of an early snow, crashing through the hedge and landing in the street. Within 24 hours, the city cut it up and dragged it away – a gift – costing me only my tax dollars. This was the dramatic end to decades of togetherness. Three different trees – elm, Norway maple and the oak fused together, trunks and roots entangled.

Now, only the oak continues on – surviving longer because oaks do.

This morning, I think I ‘saw’ the other trees there- some essence – like a phantom limb. Or a flashback of the past. A flicker of movement that made me look again. A shift in light maybe? Or simply a reminder that I am not alone, that what is there cannot always be seen. These moments remind me that I live with benevolent ghosts.

Recently I read this piece in the New York Times Magazine – how forests, trees, communicate and support each other, even in death – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a birch tree or an elm, a maple, an oak. My scrappy oak is probably being supported by the fungus of the long gone trees. Perhaps beneath the earth, their roots embrace. And maybe what caught my eye was a glimpse of love.

I like to think that it’s always love that lurks beneath, love that remains.

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?

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