A Closet of Journals

Stashed in my closet is a plastic bin overflowing with journals of scribbled emotions, recordings of events, travel notes. From adolescence up until a few years ago, I compulsively filled notebooks with thoughts, thrills, anxieties and dreams. It was as if by recording it, I might save my life.

College journal.

Early journals have the curvy writing of teenage angst, annoyance with my parents, first love, terrible heartbreak. College – more adventures in love, discovering and floundering on my own. Studying was eclipsed by my desire to travel the world, so for a few months at eighteen, I traveled alone through Europe, a lined notebook (now missing) my constant  companion.  The next batch of beat-up spirals are scrawls of years in Kentucky where I enjoyed the friendship and support of the community of fellow Studio 70 artists. Kyoto is next – bicycling through the narrow streets, hours sitting in gardens – dream-like musings. Returning to New York, I filled books with my life in the city, job at the United Nations.  Pages brim with romantic thrills followed by heartbreak. Then, the war in Croatia and Bosnia – meeting and marrying N, having Molly.  The joys of being a mother, the pain and confusion of living with addiction. All of it jotted into these books.

From today I will try to write every day as a way of taking time for myself, of touching/listening to something from within, as a way of organizing my time in a way that some ‘work’ is possible. I would love to write – to have the life of a writer. For this I think I need not only discipline and stories to tell but an ability to listen and to tell, of the inner life. So from today I will take at least half an hour every morning, if not more, to keep this little journal. I can do this now as Molly sleeps…  a way of not just getting swallowed by the daily chores of my life.

I wrote this when Molly was 4 months old. The rumbling of desire to write a book –  I imagined a love story about  meeting and marrying N in Sarajevo during the war, giving birth to Molly prematurely in Italy. I thought I had the elements for a good story — little did I know of  the drama yet to unfold.

I no longer keep a journal. No time? No inclination? Because I blog instead? Perhaps a little of each. I think the answer is in the closet — that bin of books. I will probably just burn them one day. Braver now and less inclined to keep secrets, I am ready to move beyond the closet – and write with the hope of being read.

What Next?

As my daughter enters her last year of high school, I’ve joined her in pondering the question: where do I see myself in 5 years time? While I love this little house and neighborhood, the idea of no longer having to stay in one spot or to live life according to a school calendar, excites me. So just like Molly, I am researching and dreaming.

While floating out on the Long Island Sound, Rob and I sometimes concoct crazy ideas. He likes barges and imagines us living on this big metal stretch planted with a garden. No groundhogs – I like that. But where to dock? I’ve trawled around houseboat blogs that make it look enticing, but honestly, I think the perpetual rolling motion of being on water would get to me. I love a few hours of heaving-about but mostly, prefer land.

So my latest favorite fantasy involves a RV. Vintage Airstreams appeal to us  but we’re more inclined toward the less-cool, all-in-ones rather than dragging something behind us.  Tootling around at our leisure, we’d explore the country, scour garage sales and thrift-shops for hidden treasures we’d then turn into lamps, chairs and tables to sell to Anthropologie-type stores.

Tetley could come with us… but who would feed the birds?

Too Much Sun

Finally – rain! After more than a week of perfect sunny days, today the sky is heavy with the promise of more precipitation. Last night’s showers have left the air sweetly smelling of earth. I planted seeds for an array of garden greens the other day.  The soil was so sandy, I covered each patch lightly with mulch lest the whole lot get blown away. Verging on drought around here, we desperately need this rain.  And I am glad to be forced indoors to take care of neglected tasks.

Today ends a blissful vacation week, mostly spent running my daughter around to look at colleges. I’ve lost track of the days and abandoned my usual schedule. But when I stayed up too late some nights, I just crawled back to bed for an extra hour in the morning if I needed more snooze. I puttered, read, wrote, drove and drove and drove, and wandered around college campuses in all their spring glory. Each day was mine to plan according to needs and desires of me and mine.

I’m melancholy about going back to work – as much as I like my job. And I fantasize about what it would be like not working. That is, not working because I have enough money. (The scenario of losing my job and being unemployed and broke is, of course, not the fantasy.) I fuel this dream by occasionally buying lottery tickets. But perhaps the sweetness would fade, grow dry and dusty like too many sunny days… do you think?

A Homecoming (Of Sorts)

This was the plan: I would have my baby in beautiful Cambridge, England. Not too far from N’s family in England, but most importantly, home to Chloe, a friend I’d made on the job at UNICEF-Croatia. A breast-feeding specialist as well as a mid-wife, I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d rather have deliver my baby. There was no way I wanted to give birth in Zagreb where I was still living, especially after my obstetrician there prescribed tranquilizers for me, 6 months into my pregnancy. As a program officer for UNICEF I’d been in plenty of hospitals in Croatia and would prefer not to cross a maternity ward threshold as a mother-to-be.  Then, my husband landed a plum (and turned out, very temporary) job in Brindisi, Italy.  The baby’s due date was August 1. There was time.

In early June, I left Zagreb and joined N in the small town of Ostuni where he’d splurged on an incredible villa. I picked cherries and limes from the garden, filled vases with just-cut roses. I read and napped on the balcony, gazed at the fields of sunflowers and the shimmer of the Adriatic Sea in the distance. Seduced by the beauty and bliss of the place, I quizzed Chloe about what she thought about staying in Italy for the birth. She suggested a comparable choice might also be Sarajevo — still very much under siege. Southern Italian hospitals were poor and birthing attitudes very behind in terms of best practices for the mother.

So we stuck to our plans. I would depart for England in early July. There, I’d finally read the final chapter – about the 9th month – and face up to what I was in for. I’d bond with other pregnant women and learn to breathe and pant correctly. I’d eat fish and chips to my hearts content and revel in finally completely understanding everything said around me for the first time in almost 4 years.

Molly had other ideas: she was born almost 2 months early on June 13 in a tiny hospital in Ostuni. Whisked away from me to Brindisi Hospital, I barely glimpsed her, did not touch her. Chloe was right about the momma-care (it sucked) but not the neonatology department of Brindisi Hospital. Fancy facilities aren’t everything and the doctors and nurses who took care of (including singing to) my too-early Molly, were superb.

As I write, my daughter is back in Italy for 10 days with her high school’s Italian class. I mentally track her there – imagining what she is seeing, hearing, smelling, eating. I know she must be falling deeply in love with Italy. I can’t help but think she chose to be born there. The Puglia region is not on the school itinerary but Florence is – where I purchased a pregnancy kit that read “Si”. In Rome now, she probably sat on the Spanish steps, threw coins with her wishes, into the Trevi fountain. If the weather cooperates, she will visit Capri. We lost our camera on the boat back to Naples where her birth certificate and first passport were issued. Molly will cross the country by bus all the way back up to Venice, and every mile passed will pull her more deeply in love with this place of such rich beauty and spirit, this place where she first glimpsed the world. And in so many ways, this is a wish come true.


Writer’s Block

This morning, I’m stumped. I write a sentence, start an idea and delete. Inspiration eludes me. I try to be disciplined about posting to this blog at least once a week and usually, something is percolating by the time I sit down at my keyboard. Something.

Nature never lets me down – some sweet moment in the yard sets me off on a trail of thought leading to something else I can put into words. Yesterday I picked a salad’s worth of arugala from beneath the newly fallen layer of leaves but beyond that, I don’t know what to write.

Arugala gets me thinking about food. I love to read about food but hesitate to write about it since I’m not really a foodie. But I do make a delicious and always different granola. I need to make a batch today as this bowl is the last of it. Oats mixed with a neutral tasting oil, honey, a dash of vanilla and cinnamon spread on a baking sheet in the oven. Turn often until browned to your taste. When cool, add the rest — nuts, raisins, coconut, flax and wheat germ for an even healthier boost.

So easy to make and much cheaper than buying it. I’ve also started making my own yogurt (also featured here sliding in next to my granola) seduced by this video from this site The Daily Grommet I sometimes visit when I should be doing other things.  It’s a simple thermos kind of thing easily improvised – but I was a sucker and bought the whole shebang. It came with two packets of yogurt mix made from the milk of New Zealand cows and did make 2 perfect batches – but buying more of these packets is pricey and defeats the purpose a bit. I’ve used a few recipes from other websites and have come up with some delicious, although still slightly runny batches.

If I wasn’t slightly embarrassed to tell you what I was reading I could write about it. But put it this way: I am reading said unnamed book (currently on the best-seller list) while I watch television (Jon Steward, Stephen Colbert) – it’s not deep or particularly good and we’ll leave it at that. I did read a delightful book (not in front of the tv) recently by a Jennifer Wilson who took a sabbatical from her life in the States to go live with her husband and two little kids in the little town in Croatia where her ancestor’s came from. Running Away to Home  often made me laugh out-loud – she’s very funny with a self-deprecating humor. Jennifer affectionately captures this tiny little village and the characters who live there. I appreciated the glimpse of Croatia – so much a part of my life still tangled with memories of sadder times.

Were I traveling of course there would be no shortage of inspiration, but for now I am content with armchair journeys and following the delightful accounts of not one, but two of my friends’ trips to Thailand. Coincidentally, they were both there in the middle of record rains and floods — but still had great adventures. Check them out.

So there, I’ve written a post. A reminder to myself to just start writing.

Stories to Tell

For ten years now, I have been a board member of a group that works to give little libraries to children who might otherwise not own a single book. The goal is to give at least 10 books over as many months to a child participating in some kind of literacy program. Hopefully, they will develop a life-time love of reading. First Book Fairfield County has provided about 10,000 books a year to children living in financially challenged communities that border the wealthiest towns in this county.

Our group of volunteers has worked together for years. We get together once a month or so for about an hour to review grants, award them or to organize our next fundraiser. We are fond of each other and share a passion for getting books to kids. We also share an easy, warm rapport. But I recently discovered, there’s plenty we probably don’t know about each other.

Last night we held a wine tasting at a beautiful space at Bridgeport University with a view of the Long Island Sound to knock your socks off.  While moving glasses and spreading table cloths, one of my fellow board members and I gabbed about our high school juniors and their college search process. He is a fantastic mortgage guy, warm and generous and funny. He grew up around here, and I always presumed, had spent his life in these suburbs working conservative banking jobs to provide a good life for his family.  The usual story. But I was wrong.

“I told my son, he can go anywhere he wants — and he says he wants to go to Sacred Heart and live at home! As soon as I turned 18, I was on a ship to Africa,” he said.

“Really? Where in Africa did you go?” I asked, always curious to hear about people’s world travels.


“Why Senegal?” I asked.

“I’m a tap dancer and I went to meet up with a cruise ship. You didn’t know I was a dancer?” He looked at me incredulously. But how would I have known he was tap dancer? He’d never shared this information, turns out, with any of our group – but I quickly did and we all looked at our friend with new eyes.

An award winning tap-dancer, he worked on cruise ships, traveling all over the world. He was once in a movie with Sandra Bullock. But the best part of the story was:

“I met my wife on that first cruise. I was 18 and she was 16 and lived in California. But we wrote letters for 2 years before we saw each other again – and now we’ve been married for 20.”

With a look of love he glanced over into the corner where his beautiful, vivacious blond wife laughed with friends.

“A tap dancer!” I kept repeating – retrieving my jaw from the carpet. I watched my friend move throughout the night, his grace, his ease, his adoration for his wife and it all made sense. Knowing just that little bit about his adventures has lent a richer dimension to my perception of him. And now, I wonder what amazing stories you have to tell?

No Place Like Home

Here I am, getting all women’s magazine-y, between yesterday’s travelogue and today, I cannot resist posting these photos of our corner of summer bliss. But how better to illustrate why I am happy enough to be an armchair traveler these days. After a few hours of kayaking around the beautiful Norwalk Islands – only minutes from this magical spot under our grape arbor.  

For dinner I grated summer squash and a let it simmer in the skillet in a bath of olive oil and a massive clove of garlic.  This I mixed with the garlic scape pesto I’d made earlier in the week and a few cherry tomatoes thrown in for color to coat the pasta.  Between bites, we wondered what to do with all these grapes.  Any ideas? 

Vicarious Travel – Croatia

A friend’s daughter is traveling in Europe – now in Italy, next stop – Croatia. I thought about that beautiful place where I lived from 1992-1996 as a UN staff member and with pleasure, imagined myself a 20-something with a back-pack. Here’s what I would do:

Travel via often overlooked city of Trieste  for a last taste of Italy  (James Joyce is just one of the many writers and artists who spent time here.) Or maybe, stop in Slovenia — I hear the main city, Ljubljana is now full of hip, young people hanging at the outdoor cafes. Cross over into Croatia and explore Istria – this sweet bit of coast with Pula at the tip of it, has an abundance of rocky beaches and tourist-ready spots – very Italian influenced as once-upon a time, it was part of Italy. Then, high-tail it to the Dalmatian Coast – in my opinion, one of the most beautiful stretches in the world. Maybe ferry-hop (from Rijeka?) through the islands all the way down to stunning Dubrovnik – an incredible stone city in a fortress – right on the sea.  Perhaps a stop in Split, worth checking out for Diocletian’s Palace and Mestrovic museum. Or pause at any of the charming fishing villages to eat great seafood (Risotta – black with squid ink) swim – dive off rocks for a swim in the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

The Adriatic Sea is the most amazing mix of blues, emerald greens lapping up against the largely-undeveloped, dramatic landscape of Croatia.  The food may not knock your socks off and last I remember, the people were not the jolliest, but the country is gorgeous.

If it’s possible to leave the beautiful coast, travel inland to Plitvice National Park. Pass through bucolic, gorgeous countryside, full of rocks, fields and flashes from another time – scenes of ancient women in black herding goats, horse drawn wagons overflowing with hay. Plitivice is a great place to hike — trails lead through lush forest and open up at regular intervals onto lakes and waterfalls that seem to be a moving weave of rainbows. This park – in fact – much of the country was closed to tourists when I was there so we went (wary of landmines) we would only see the odd soldier or other UN folk. Still, I imagine that even now there are not too many tourists.

From Plitvice, go to Zagreb – a charming and cosmopolitan city with trams, lots of art museums, great Austo-Hungarian architecture and plenty of busy squares with cafes to sit and people watch. Start with a cup of two of the dark, silty coffee then switch over to the good local beer and breathe deeply and savor it all.

That’s what I would do.


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