Musicality

Listening to music while driving is one of my favorite things to do. I’m a regular accompanist for Adele, Frank Sinatra, Pure Prairie League, Norah Jones, Journey, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Marshall Tucker, Dylan LaBlanc, Neil Young, and The Indigo Girls. To me we sound pretty good together, but what do I know?

During one of these mobile mini-concerts, I realized that the songs on my playlist were time – travel conduits, instantly zooming me back to great memories of moments in time. Conjuring up a connection to a person, group of people, or peak experience turns a mundane errand like running to the grocery store – into time well spent.

Music does all that. It never fails to lift me up.

Here are some personally notable melodies, in loose chronological order:

You Are My Sunshine, Bicycle Built for Two, Sparrow in the Treetop, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Erie Canal, and more…(My parents) – random and countless long car rides in the station wagon

Best of My Love (The Eagles) – silk-screening in junior high print shop

China Grove (The Doobie Brothers) – marching onto the field with the twirling squad for my first home football game

California Girls and Don’t Worry, Baby (The Beach Boys) – hometown summer carnivals

How Deep is Your Love? (The BeeGees) – making deliveries on my brothers’ paper route with my sister

Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty) – zipping down the parkway to the Jersey shore with high school girlfriends

Rosalita (Springsteen) – dancing on a rooftop in Morgantown, WV

Into the Night (Benny Mardones) – late night walks home from Sunnyside

Brown-eyed Girl (Van Morrison) – singing with friends in the back of a pick-up truck on a dirt road in rural Abaco, Bahamas

Already Gone (The Eagles) – Kawagama Lake camping trip with with friends, northern Ontario

You’re Just to Good to Be True (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) – dancing with my husband on our wedding day

Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison) – winter solstice celebrations with neighbors

Just One Look (Linda Ronstadt) – kitchen clean-up dance at Lake Placid with lifetime friends.

And the following songs remind me especially of my kids:

I Am Light (India Arie) – for my daughter, Joy

Bennie and the Jets (Elton John) – for my son, Ben

Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra) – for my son, Luke

There is so much more music both before and after these snapshot memories because to me, the music never ends.

I wonder –

what are the songs you live by?

Soul Flower

When my mom was dying, a friend suggested that I ask her how I will know she is still with me after she is gone. As nice as that sounded at the time, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Real life is not like the movies. On film, everyone seems to know how near the end is and how much time is left: weeks, days, hours, moments. I don’t think it’s like that in real life – it certainly wasn’t that way for us. Maybe because my mom’s death was our first one. Even though we are a big family – eight in all – it was all horribly novel for us. On top of that, I didn’t know if she understood how little time was left, and I didn’t want to be the one to tell her, if she didn’t. So, I never asked.

In retrospect, it didn’t really matter that we never had that conversation because I think I knew the answer as soon as my friend posed the suggestion. My mom’s connection to me would be sunflowers. For several reasons, I knew that she would reach out to me with sunflowers.

She died on July 2, 2013.

It seems like ages ago and also just yesterday. Is that funny? On one hand, it seems like she has missed so much time with us – things that she should have been here for and wasn’t. On the other hand, it’s as if she was here just yesterday, and I expect her to walk through the door with a blueberry pie or her famous broccoli-raisin salad in hand.

The weeks following her death were strange – an existence in an altered state. Everything seemed flat and lifeless. I got by in a fog, faking it through the motions of everyday life as time crept forward through summer days and nights.

On one of those balmy nights I found myself cleaning up after a backyard BBQ. Friends had left and the house was asleep. The kitchen was finally put away and I went outside to take out the trash and cover the grill.

On my way in, I checked my sunflower patch.

This is how all of the buds looked that day.

I was in the habit of counting my sunflowers daily because hungry critters often enjoyed them for snacks. These were my 22 survivors, and I knew them all. I had sown them as seeds and watched them grow from sprout to stalk. At about five feet high, they were now beginning to sprout nubs that would bloom in a month or so. The buds were still small – walnut-sized and spikey.

All except one.

I noticed it only then. For as many times as I checked those plants, I had never seen it before. There – floating above the patch – was one open-faced, enormous sunflower – blooming in all its glory. I won’t stop here to say how I felt. You can imagine. I stared up at its shadowy orb swaying silent against the night sky and pushed my way into the surrounding stems until I found that one stalk to grab on to.

I held on with both hands and cried in the moonlight.

The date was August 2nd – one month to the day that she left.

Years later, I was showing the photo of the lone sunflower to a friend. I had taken it the morning after as proof to myself that the whole thing hadn’t been a dream. Once again, I noticed something that I had not seen before. On the face of the flower was a single, large bee.

This would not seem significant to most, but to me, it was, because of my name.

Deborah – the queen bee.

No kidding.

The queen bee finds the sunflower.

So, there you go.

Call it crazy, call it what you will. For me, the whole thing was Mom.

She was sending me sunflowers already.

It’s All in the Name?

Yoga and my husband have both given me many things for which I am grateful, and on this occasion the two of them combined to give me a good laugh. Two years ago, my asana practice moved from the studio to an-at-home practice for obvious reasons. At the time, I was lucky enough to find a terrific yoga app that continues to enhance my practice. With each use, the app generates a unique session based on the user’s specifications. Among other things, I can choose the level of difficulty, background music, cueing intensity, the voice of the instructor, and the duration. And after shavasana – if I really like the practice – I can opt to save it to my “Favorites” list for future use.

Once a practice is “Saved to Favorites,” I can rename it – which I always love to do. I love to rename the practices that I love. I try to make each new name as appealing as possible and reflective of it’s unique sequence of poses. If I’m lucky, I’m able to come up with a moniker that hints at what is in store during the session. That way, I have an idea of what to expect when I choose that exercise again. For instance, the name “Sole Sundial” tells me that this one has a “sundial” stretch in it as well as padahastasana pose, which is one of my favorites. Padahastasana is when the yogi slides the entire palm of each hand under the sole of the corresponding foot while in a forward fold position (hence the “sole” part of the name).

Makes sense, right?

So one day, I was telling my husband how much I love this app and that this was evidenced by the long list of “Favorite” practices I had accumulated and redubbed.

“Would you like to hear some of the names?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Okay, great. Here’s one –

Heart Flow,” I said.

“Hmmmm….”

“Here are a few more….Airy Asana, Humble Warrior, Plentiful Portion, and Bliss Balance.”

“Pretty good,” he responded. “Mind if I try a few titles?” he asked.

“Oh, sure!” I squealed in excitement (maybe he is finally seeing the real benefits of a consistent yoga practice, I thought to myself).

“Okay,” he said, “toss out a name.”

Me: Soul Swirl

Him: Call an Ambulance

Me: Wistful Willow Wander

Him: Jaws of Life

Me: Luxurious Immersion

Him: O.M.G.

Through tears of laughter I had to admit; though he may not take to the mat, he does have a way with words.

If You Have to Like Numbers, Here Are Some Tips

Numbers are utterly annoying in their chronic demand for precision.

One would think that with googolplex possibilities, there would be a loosening of the ridiculous accuracy required of math. Does it not seem a bit unrealistic to demand such exactitude for every single answer when the possibilities are literally infinite?

Am I missing something here?

A little gray area, a smidgen of latitude, or a range of acceptability certainly seems reasonable.

Who knows? It might even result in more people liking math.

Since numbers are basically so irritating, I thought that I would provide some tips for trying to like them a bit more. This is not easy to do, because half of them are odd, which is in-and-of- itself a problem. Odd numbers are cliquey, exclusionary, and snobbish. They leave others out and always have – that’s just the way they are. Prime numbers are even worse. They are completely anti-social and actually downright rude. Don’t even try – they snub even the most gracious efforts and are completely un-accomodating.

Even numbers – although unceasingly rigid (not surprising) – tend to be a bit more welcoming and inclusive. Take your basic 8, for example. Even looking at it, you know it’s a jolly dude.

As for specific numbers? Well, they are relegated to personal preference; you’ll have to decide how you feel about them on your own. If you try hard enough, you can often find something good about most of them, believe it or not. The trick is to associate them with something you love. You’d be surprised at how much less intimidating they are when you look at them that way.

Here are my “Helpful Positive Number Associations” from one to ten:

1 is our dog Ollie.

2 is my husband and me.

3 is our children – two boys and a girl.

4 is our fruit trees – two apples and two plums.

5 is our family, all under this one roof.

6 is my five siblings and me.

7 times around the sun for my second graders.

8 is my family growing up – two parents and six kids.

9 steps up to the bedrooms

10 months in a school year.

See?

Not so bad, right?

Sure, numbers will always be inflexible and set in their ways. They will continue to be uber-demanding and super picky about

“There is only ONE right answer! Blah. Blah. Blah,”

and

“Close enough only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

But if you try really hard, well – who knows?

You might just find a number to love.

Heartfelt

now that

“It is finished'”

I go back to that night

in the upper rooom

and fade away the others

to freeze-frame

just you two

companions of old.

He kneels before you

as a servant

holding your muddied foot in

cleansing hands:

it is

a final act of intimacy

between friends.

Can you meet His gaze?

Is your heart fleeting

as the silver

you will pocket tonight?

Or

in that single flutter

do you

desperately wish

too late

to reverse history

and undo

your fatal choice?

Judas –

what were you thinking?

.

Owling

I can’t do it.

No matter how I try to get through it, my breath catches, my voice cracks, my eyes well up. I pause, taking a silent inhale to collect my bearings. Clearing my throat I continue – bereft of composure until the whole darn thing is over.

I am reading Owl Moon by Jane Yolen to my class.

Being the cohort that they are, most of them are blissfully unaware of my stifled trauma, but there’s a chance the more attentive notice. Thankfully, they just wonder and wait until their teacher pulls her act together. At that age, you don’t question too much – adults are kind of weirdly random as a rule, anyway.

My original Owl Moon has my maiden name written inside the cover; it must be at least 30 years old. I don’t remember how I first came upon the story, but it was long before it became a mentor text for our second grade reading curriculum. I imagine that it was the illustration on the front cover that drew me in, and I was surely smitten with the turn of every page. By the end of the first read, I was probably a soggy mess.

It was published in 1987, just one year after leaving my Grade 1/2 position at a three-room schoolhouse in rural Vermont for a teaching job elsewhere.

Everything about that story resonates, echoing that time. The winter farmland scenery, the blanketed quiteness, the reverance for nature, and of course – owling.

One cold starlit night, a native Vermonter – a good friend of mine – took me owling.

We didn’t see an owl, but we heard one.

He and a Barred Owl conversed back and forth for quite some time.

Who who who whoooooo – Who who who whoooooaaaahhhh….. He called into the blackness.

(Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?)

The call of a Barred Owl weaved its way through the dark forest back to us.

Who who who whooooo – Who who who whooooooaaaahhhh……

He called again, and again it answered.

Who who who whooooo – Who who who whooooooaaaahhhh……

Magical, mezmerizing, magnificent.

As I said, we never saw the owl, but we didn’t need to.

To be in conversation with an owl talking about…

“…supper,

or about the woods

or about the moon

or the cold,”

was a moment in time, and a perfect memory.

I was there for that one owl, that one night, and I am there in that scene again, every time I read Owl Moon.

It takes my breath away.

And as humbling as it is, I don’t ever want it to change.

It’s Still Us

Senior Cut Day – 1978

We hit the ground running – forward focused – not keeping track of where each other was going, spraying out in all directions for colleges, careers – somewhere, anywhere, – determined to not look back.

In hindsight, we were probably all hoping to find friendships pretty much like the ones we were leaving behind.

Years smoothed into decades, and here we are – not too far away from half a century later. Not all of us keep in touch, but a meaningful some of us still do.

Curiously enough, the virus has enabled us, or compelled us – to talk even more. Maybe we have new time on our hands, and certainly the kids getting older has afforded us extra hours to fill, and wouldn’t it be nice if we have grown a little wiser to realize that this is a thing worth holding onto – this friendship.

We hop on a Zoom meeting once a month or so, and in that space there is quick comfort and familiarity.

Her giggle is still the same, her sound effects are still hilarious, her wiseness remains the calm voice of reason.

We laugh and and joke and reminisce.

We see each other now, but woven into that view is how we knew each other then; it’s all melded into an admirable notion of who we are to each other. Not many have the privilege to receive or bestow a perspective that is layered with time like that.

We tell each other how we were back then.

“What? I did that? Are you sure? I don’t remember that!”

“Well, you did and you were!”

We fill in the gaps and laugh some more.

It never gets old – even though we are kind of getting that way.

We make bridges to guide each other over the years we were apart, having gone separate ways for decades, pusuing careers, meeting spouses, discovering ourselves. How fortunate we are to be navigating a circle that still embraces each other as it comes around again.

We catch up about jobs, retirement, family, kids. Who’s moving out, who’s coming back, and how they are doing. We muse aloud about when to step in, and when to step back and let them figure it out – those kids. It’s a grand comfort to learn that my thoughts are often their thoughts, and my challenges are lighter carried on the shoulders they offer me, rather than just my own.

The time we shared back then was an investment we didn’t even know we were making.

It was a frenzied collision of fun, spontaniety, and drama. It opened up a space that – over time and through living – has become a treasured cache of who we are as individuals, and who we are to each other. Not many know us as well as we know each other.

This fellowship is irreplaceable by virtue of the sheer amount of time it has remained intact, substantive, and life-giving. And in spite of the years and because of those years

it is delightful to find

it’s still us.

Best Colors

The best red is our new washable livingroom rug.

The best orange is my husband’s quarter zip sweater (in his favorite color) that he wears a lot.

The best yellow is our house of eighteen years.

The best blue is the memory of my Mom’s eyes.

The best green is soon-to-be leaves on awakening trees.

The best Violet is my niece by that name.

The best pink is Peppermint Stick ice cream on a sugar cone.

The best white is the hammock chair that hangs under the silver maple all summer.

The best black is a tiny box that holds my hearing aides.

The best brown is our good buddy Oliver – who is mostly brown and softly furry.

The best tan is the warm sandy beach at the Jersey shore – under my feet.

The best gray is our bedroom – painted by us last summer.

The best color mix is the unlikely rainbow on the first anniversary of losing my mom.

The best colors are everywhere because they are in the things I love.

All You Need

Joe and Rudy walked our neighborhood most afternoons. Joe usually in flannel and tweed, his stooped progress steadied with help of a cane. Rudy at his feet taking ten steps to Joe’s one, matching the measured cadence in spritely rhythm; the perennial energy of a Yorkie belying his age. Truth be told, I don’t know exactly how old either of them was, but guessed they had spent the better part of the last score of years together.

The time of Joe and Rudy was about the time we got Oliver. From the beginning, our daily forays with Ollie mimicked Joe and Rudy’s path. I sometimes watched the two elders from behind, the haphazard ball of puppyhood at the end of my leash a glaring contrast to their dignified roving. I wondered if there would ever be a day when we would forego the leash like Rudy and Joe. Rudy’s only priority was to be near Joe, period. When Joe stopped, so did Rudy, and when he resumed, Rudy did likewise, always untethered but never more than a snuffle away. Such single-minded loyalty in a dog was impressive to me, and I wondered what it took to get to that point, where a walk around the village in each other’s good company was of singular enjoyment and the only goal.

Years have passed since then, and Ollie is nearly twelve. We’ve been on scads of adventures in countless places, but our walks around the neighborhood remain mostly unchanged. Same path, same general time of day and twice on most. Our conservative calculations log us close to 3,000 miles around the circuit in Ollie’s lifetime, and we’re still adding to that number – walking Joe and Rudy’s way.

And guess what?

We don’t really use the leash anymore.

It seems now, that a walk in each other’s good company is all we need.

The Stories That Grew Me

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss was the first book I remember choosing from a collection and reading by myself. I embrace it with great fondness, and use it frequently with my readers even now. Just last week one of my students read it for the first time by herself, and so that story continues to be relevant for readers today and readers of the future.

Bracketing the Carrot Seed was an early reader called Benjamin in the Woods by Eleanor Clymer. I recall working steadily through its pages with my Dad, and then reading it many times over on my own, exploring forests and encountering woodland creatures with the main character as if it were happening to me. Our son Ben owes his name to that book.

A few years after those seminal samplers, I became the neighborhood voyeur courtesy of Louise Fitzhugh and Harriet the Spy. Notebook in hand, I took to peering from closets to spy on siblings, and hunkering in bushes to peek at neighbors, taking copious notes all the while. I filled pages and pages of composition notebooks just like Harriet, and reveled in my deliciously covert existence, which was not an easy task in a family of eight.

Harriet offered a compelling segue into blissful years solving countless mysteries with the titian-haired sleuth – Nancy Drew. This partnership started unassumingly enough with the purchase of a tattered copy of The Mystery of the Tolling Bell pulled from a cardboard box for $.25 at a neighbor’s garage sale. The adventures that inaugural book spurred were priceless. Sadly, over time – and hours of careful tapping – I was forced to conclude that there were no false walls, revolving bookcases, or loose bricks revealing secret passageways in our suburban New Jersey home, but the mere possibility borne of those pages was captivating.

When I was twelve, I fell desperately in love with Johnny. I am not sure if it is typical to fall in love with a fictional character, but I sure did. S.E. Hinton wrote him off the pages of The Outsiders, and into my heart, and I was smitten. I remember the heartache of that impossible love and devastating tears over his death. The emotion was no less real because it came from a book – my imagination filled in the rest.

Perhaps it was Meg and her brother Charles Wallace that drew me out of the funk. A Wrinkle in Time whisked me off the planet in spine-tingling suspense and I am grateful to L’Engle for an unparalleled dip into science fiction and fantasy. Years later, I find myself still trying to wrap my head around the tangential treasure When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

In young adulthood, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman introduced me to astounding new perspectives I had never encountered, and to this day my copy of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift From the Sea remains a coveted talisman from a friend gone too soon.

A quartet of best bud books that have stayed with me through adulthood remain Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv, Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’ Brien, and Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe by John McPhee, and Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. It’s a challenge to name just four, but to me, they deserve a secure spot on the shelf.

Even just last month, I found novel kinship in the pages of The Long Loneliness. Rarely have I experienced such instant affinity as I have in getting to know Dorothy Day; not a day goes by when I don’t think about her still. I have an inkling it may be a relationship that bears the test of time.

So, these are (some of) the stories that grew me. They taught me, stretched me, informed me, hid me, transported me, comforted me, and shaped me. I am who I am partly – and maybe largely – because of what I have read.

These are the stories that grew me.

What are yours?