Friday, May 8, 2009

Theme week 16 Journaling

And They Pay Me, Too


As a teenager, I was in great demand as a babysitter. As a waitress, I couldn’t carry coffee and was a bit flitter-headed. I worked piecework in a shoe shop. Mindless work is not as bad as most people think. There is something Zen-like about using your hands and letting your mind drift. Over forty hours a week, however, the mind drifting becomes mind numbing. As an Early Childhood Education Technician, I think I’ve found my fit. It fills the void in me that needs children and grandchildren. I’m valued as an asset to the classroom. The children know me as the other teacher in the room. I feel I make a difference, if not in their lives, then in their day.


He hasn’t had his meds. That’s obvious. And the teacher is leaving for the afternoon. He can’t stop talking, can’t keep his hands to himself. We need to call his mother, but that’s not my job. I gently take his arms and place him in his seat. I say, “I’m going to ask you to sit in your seat. I’m going to ask you to do that a lot today. Not because you’re bad. You’re being as good as you can be. I’m just going to help you. You can take your chair to story time.” He earnestly peers into my face, eyes big behind his glasses and quietly says, “Thank you Mrs. Linda.”


“I used her chapstick and now the guys are telling me I’m a girl.”
“ How many days this year did we talk about germs and not sharing chapstick?”
“It’s O.K. it’s not germy. I wiped it off.”
From another corner, “Haven’t you heard about the Wine Flu?”


I am in my chair taking a quiet breath. On my left, the teacher and the reading specialist are having a slightly heated discussion about the writing rubric. I contribute some to the conversation, while to my right controlled chaos reigns. Two little girls come to give me a hug. One hops away to join the chaos, but the littlest one stays. I feel her feet slide up into my lap as she curls up and begins to rock me. We enjoy a quiet minute until the controlled chaos becomes a mob scene and we have to rejoin the real world.


Love recess duty. Love the playground that businesses in town bought for our children. They love it too. Scare me by climbing too high, but I love watching them run and scream and play. But that didn’t happen today. Today was the dreaded indoor recess.
Open the door between the rooms and let them start dragging out toys and blocks
Indoor bowling with plastic bowling balls and pins
One hundred matchbox cars
Two hundred blocks
Little dinosaurs and teddy bears
Plastic medical equipment
Stay out of the loft, that’s for reading

Thank God it’s time to ring the bell. They have been dragging stuff out for twenty-five minutes. They’ll put it away, all exactly in the right place in five minutes.


Friday assembly. The entire school all meeting in the gym. All the children sitting on the floor by grade level. All the teachers sitting in chairs behind them, close enough to hiss a name, use a repertoire of facial expressions or get to them quickly if those things don’t work. Oddly enough the boys are paying polite attention. The girls, however, are fighting over a bag of lip-gloss that one of them has sneaked by the teacher. I creep forward to kindly confiscate it and remind them about being a good audience. It doesn’t do much good. Here comes one to tattle.

Theme week 15 Juxtaposition

Sister friends and Friend sisters

The friend that is hard to get to know, but in the end is worth it.

The friend that will cry with me when I need it and the other one that will make me laugh over the same situation.

The baby sister, ten years younger, now age matters less, now friends.

The one that you really have to get to know to understand what a good friend she is.

The sister that is in little contact, but if I need her, she’ll be there. To make me a meal or clean my house.

The friends that are sisters because we share the bond of the pink t-shirt at the Komen Race.

The sister that will join me in that pink shirt this year.

The friend that sent her a card with a picture of us at last year’s race with a caption, “I’ll have another Pink Lady please.”

The sister that we think is weak and wishy-washy. She may the strongest of us all. A core of steel. Living her life just the way she needs to.

Friends who sat beside me in Kindergarten. Still friends today.

The sister that moved very far away for a very long time, but never really left me.

The friends that meet once a week for breakfast. Can’t explain why it is so important, but it is.

The friend that meets me at the end of the hall for bus duty and debriefing about our day.

The friend that teaches beside me daily and can drive me crazy, but still loves me when I go over the edge.

All my sister friends and friend sisters that know me so well and still love me. At my worst and at my best. When I’m lovable and when I’m not. They are like Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish. They have all given me one of their shiny scales.

Theme week 15, Juxtaposition II

Cancer, Out The Other Side

No such thing as a bad day. If it’s not Chemo, it’s not a bad day.

Learn what is a big deal. If it’s not cancer, it’s probably not a big deal.

I’ll never complain about my hair again. O.K. That one didn’t last, but it seemed like a good idea.

Love being a strong, healthy ray of hope to others who are starting the process.

Never take energy and strength for granted.

Decide what I really want to do in my life. Do not waste my time doing what I do not want to do.

How can people hate birthdays? Birthdays are to be really celebrated.

Can I say I’m glad I had cancer? No, but I can say I’m glad I’m a survivor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Theme week 14, Second Story

Bone White, Blood Red

He’s gone into the pain. The bone white, blood red pain. He talked to his wife long enough to let her know he would survive the night, but he had to go back in to deal with the pain. The only thing in the outside world that he can see is the red light on the morphine drip. Watching for it to turn green so he can hit that button. But it’s not touching the pain.

He knows that tomorrow he’ll watch the sky lighten up and he will be outside the pain just a bit. He’ll smile as he tells the nurse about his dog. He’ll think of his wife and miss her but hopes she will stay home, enjoy her day and take his dog for a walk.

The next day he’ll be on top of the pain and start to think about getting all the tubes and needles out so he can go home. He’ll ask the therapist, “How many of these fucking stairs to I need to do so I can get out of here?” And he’ll find the strength to do them.

The day after that he’ll sit outside in the wheelchair while his wife brings the car around. He’ll feel the sun on his bones. He’ll listen to the birds sing. The contentment of being outside those walls will wash over him. Spring has arrived in the last four days just for him.

But right now, he’s gone into the pain.

Theme week 14, First Story

The Longest Minutes of a Lifetime

She hears the screams as she crosses the bridge, the large dog slowly walking by her side. “My boy! My baby! Someone help me!” The worst thing that can happen to a parent has happened to this mother. The distraught mother runs out to the road. She grabs the woman walking her dog. “Will that dog sniff a child? Will it help me find my boy?”

“Have you called the police?”

“Yes, they’re on their way, but help me.”

Oh, Lord, she thought. This was Gretchen, the stupidest dog she ever owned. Gretchen was sweet and tried so hard to figure out what you were saying but really only ever learned three words. She knew “go lay down” and she was so happy to do that for you. Gretchen was a foster dog, left with the woman “for just the weekend” by her sister who had moved to California, two years before. She called her the city dog. The first weekend in her new home, Gretchen, who had never seen water not coming out of a tap stepped off the rock on the riverbank like she was going to walk on water. The woman had to run down the riverbank calling the dog’s name and clapping her hands as the dog’s head went under again and again. Finally the dog came close enough for the woman to grab her and pull all of her wet one hundred pounds out of the water. It took weeks for the dog to learn that walking across the bridge in town was safe.

But the out-of-her mind mother doesn’t need to know all this. She just needs hope and help. So the woman walks the St. Bernard down the riverbank pretending that the dog is searching while her heart pounds with fear. She sees something white floating in the river. No, thank God, just a plastic bag.
With relief she hears the police sirens come closer, almost drowned out by the screams of the grandmother coming into the drive.

Gretchen could have redeemed herself by finding that child and becoming a hero for the rest of her life. She could have been in the paper and on the local news. That didn’t happen and Gretchen didn’t care. A happy ending is a happy ending. The little boy crawled out from under an overturned boat on the riverbank on his own, having finished his nap or been awaken by the screaming. He has no idea what all the excitement is about but is really glad to see the big doggie.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theme week 13 Big to Small, Small to Big


Mine! Possibly the third word every American child learns to say. Mine! My momma. My daddy. My toy. “Mine, Mine, Mine” the seagulls squawk in Finding Nemo, jumping up for food.

“He took my snow ball!” The playground is covered in thirty inches of new snow. I look around for the trouble spot. “I made a snow ball and he took it.” “He shouldn’t have done that. Tell him how that made you feel.” “It was mine!”

“Stop pushing up there!” I yell in another direction looking up at six-year-olds on the top of the snow bank. “We’re playing King of the Mountain!” they yell back. “You can’t play it that way. We need to find new rules. Come on down, let’s talk.” “Can’t. It’s mine”

One might think that humans would outgrow this behavior as they learned that you couldn’t own people and pieces of ground, but no. The new mom looking down at her child secretly and gently says it. The newly married couples think it as they slip rings on each other’s fingers. I said it as I signed the papers on my new house. From a family of nine, I had never had my own bed now a whole house was mine. I feel it in my soul as I turn the corner at the top of my walk and look down at my town and my river. Or as I come across the bridge at my lake.

As old as time, across all cultures. People fighting for what they perceive as theirs. “Mine,” they said as they landed on the shore of the new world. “Mine,” they said to the Native Americans, the French and the Spaniards as they headed West and South for new land to claim as theirs. And then invented new guns to make sure they understood.

“Mine,” they said as they tried to draw lines in the ocean. My place to fish, my place to keep my shore safe from people like you, my place for my boats. And then invented better boats, airplanes and submarines to make sure they could keep it.

“Mine,” we said as we shot ourselves into space to the moon and planted a flag that proved it was ours.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Theme week 12. Taking risks, humor, exaggeration, juxtaposition.

Men, all true, not all my man.

Overheard in the mall:

Male voice in the stall, “Honey would you bring me a size 38 so I can see how they look?”
Wife as she walks away, “No Honey, they’ll look awful.”
I can just wonder how long he stood in there in his underwear wondering what she means and if she is coming back with pants.

Man, “You can’t keep leaving my mother alone in the store. She gets confused.”
Woman, “Her pocket book has been up my ass all day. I’m just trying to leave her with you for a minute.”

Forgetful man:

Husband reading the court news in the newspaper, “Honey, what’s Christopher’s (their son) middle name?”

Retired too long man:

Every time I get in the car I hear the passenger door slam and his voice say, “Where’re we going?” I can no longer shop by myself. I walk through the store and he just keeps breathing behind me. I just keep hearing him breathe.

I can cook man:

Husband standing in the kitchen with a puddle of melted cheese on the floor at his feet, eating a sandwich. “How much cheese to you put in a grilled cheese sandwich?”

I can cook and suck the joy out of your day man:

Wife, coming home to camp after a golf game, “Honey, wait until I tell you about my game!” Husband, “I cooked your supper and got tired of keeping it warm, so if you want your hotdog, it’s in the lake.”

Women have no sense of humor man:

Wife coming home with groceries, calling out his name, finds him face down on the cellar stairs. He realized it was not a good joke only when he heard the bloodcurdling scream and the potatoes hitting the floor.

The I’ll just make them laugh man:

I get a call from my friends husband saying, “She’s on her way over. She just got a call. Her brother does not have long to live.” I meet her in my driveway. We grab each other, hold on tight and cry. My mom and her brother on death beds. When we get ourselves under control and stumble into house, my husband says, “You’ve got to stop doing that. The neighbors think you’re gay and I’m a bit excited.” God bless him. We did laugh.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Theme week 11 When words mean something beyond themselves

Birth or Death

I headed for my favorite debriefing place. My lake. Everybody needs a place to go to be alone when times get tough. And this had been one tough day. A piece had been busted out of the circle of life. The lake was working its magic. I sat enjoying the way the wooden dock stretched out before me into the blue of the water and the blue of the sky with nothing but green of trees to break the blue.

As I sat contemplating nothing but the blue and green, an ugly black bug crawled up from the water and attached itself to the dock by its picky feet. I knew it was a Dragonfly bug. I had read that they live in the water for about five years before coming out on land and morphing into large blue-green Dragonflies to mate and lay eggs. I watched the back of the bug split open like something from a horror movie. Iridescent colors started out of the black. I was amazed at the size of the Dragonfly that unfolded its body from the ugly bug. It has to be three times the length of the bug, which was now only a bug shell. It looked like a wet newborn baby. For hours I sat and watched as its body filled with life giving blood, it's wings the last to dry and open.

As I watched, my mind drifted back through my day. Life and death. I wondered if the black bug knew that by crawling out of the water he was going to a new life; a life with wings, trees, blue sky and a mate. Did the bugs left below know that he went to a new life or did they just know he was gone? Which is the true life? The one crawling around underwater or the one flying in the sunshine?

What is this new blue? A flash out of the tree beside me. A Blue Jay swooping down.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Theme week 10

Fragile as Hope

We’re all set for the party. The family loves an excuse for a get-together. Chocolate cake. A must for this family. All the party foods lined up on the buffet. Finger sandwiches with paprika. (Why? Can you really taste it?) Chips, dip, squares of cheese, crackers, ham, pork roast, beans, chili (with a disclaimer about the bear meat for the squeamish). Birthday decorations, but no black, even though she’s sixty. No black.

Here she comes! Surprise! I hope she doesn’t mind. I would. I hate surprises, even good ones. I need more control over my life. God, she’s thin. Tears in her eyes as she sees all her friends and family, but laughing. I put my arm around her. Feel her bones under my hand. Guide her into the room. Point out friends from the campground. Somebody get her a glass of wine. I’ll have one with her.

Here we are for the pictures. Old Dad with his cane. Happy to have so much of his family in one place. The crazy brother. Already with his hat on backwards and huge crazy sunglasses he found somewhere. The quiet brother, happy to be in the background, drinking soda, knowing he will once again drive the crazy, fun loving brother home. The other two sisters and me, smiles plastered, making sure the food is set, the people are having drinks, the cake candles are lit.

And the birthday girl. Thin. Hair just starting to fall out. Each breath an audible drawing in.

I should be able to help her with this. I’ve survived it. I’ve helped her through other things in our life. She’s older, she’s smarter, she’s always been more talented. But she’s fragile. As fragile as hope. Always has been. I’m the strong, tall, athletic one. She’s mentally fragile. There's a medication for Failure to Cope. We laughed when the doctor put her on a pill for that. She's physically fragile. She’s never been healthy. Always smoked too much, drank too much. Chased demons that I never understood.

Tomorrow, she’ll do the next round of chemo. She’ll call me. We’ll talk of hair and eyelashes. And fragile hope.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Week 9 Theme, Vignette, Pointillism

Because I Can

I make supper like it’s any other day. I’ve talked to friends and family. Convinced them that I’ll be fine. Try not to say cancer, just say lump. My husband comes through the door. Green Dickie work clothes laced with welding holes, lunch pail on counter. Dirty, tired like any other day. I drop the tomato-y spoon. I point to my neck, words yip out that make no sense.
In my mind think I’ll ski full and strong as I’ve done for years. Close to home this time in case it doesn’t go well. Weak and not admitting it. The skis slip ahead of the body and down I go. Terror strikes as my head falls back. Terror all out of proportion to the fall. Thirty stitches across the front of my throat hold. What did I think, that my head was going to fall off?
Head strapped to the table. Nurses caring, touching, loving my hair. They are happy for me that I won’t lose it. They are more accustomed to older and balder. Or little bald children, children must be the worst. The nurses like me. I look healthy and happy. A nice break from their normal. Strange green and red lights. Hard to believe lights will kill cells.
Midnight all the time. Never have been so tired. People expect things I can’t deliver. Just too tired, can’t even explain how tired a strong, always been fit, in the prime of her life woman can be. Everyone so kind, but needing things. Needing me to be healthy. Needing me to be happy. Needing me to pretend. Just go, let me be. Let me be tired.
Skiing across the lake, heading for beautiful, snow capped Mt. Katahdin. Won’t really make it to the mountain, but I can ski toward it. Skiing hard and fast and alone, celebrating the fact that I can. Healthy sweat steaming up from the jacket, working too hard, going too far, because I can.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Theme Week 8 Vignette

What a Job

Here they are. All on one side of six years old or the other. Most with at least one tooth missing. The one whose mom spent hours French braiding her hair, the one who slept and peed in the clothes he wore yesterday, got up this morning and got himself off the school in those same clothes. The one sitting quietly waiting for the next direction, the one crawling under the table and the one tapping me on the butt for attention. There is a little group of boys at the cubbies exchanging Sponge Bob stories. One sitting with his hands over his ears, over-sensitive to a sound I can’t hear and he can’t tolerate. It may be a toilet flushing down the hall or a train too far away for me to hear.

Suddenly it’s there welling up from somewhere under my heart. Not a hot flash, but they can bring it on. Not anger, but the butt tapping may put me over that edge. No, a wave of love. Suddenly I absolutely love every child in the room. A love that extends out the window to the white birches against the blue sky.

I still for a breath, letting the children’s voices take over while I enjoy the feeling.

The door opens and the classroom teacher walks in. We look at each other and take a deep breath.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Theme week 7, Character

Crazy Lou

“Why is my sister friends with this man!” That was my first impression of Lou. A big, loud, Italian that I initially thought may have been abusive to his wife and children. It was not long before he won me over with his obvious love of his family, the worry and responsibility masked by loud gruffness. Won me over with his loyalty to my baby sister (closer to fifty that any of us want to think about, but still the baby) that included her family and friends. Won me over with his “Let me cook you a meal.” I learned about the real man as he watched his wife die of lung cancer. A man who does not do well alone, he married a friend of mine, helped her raise her girls and his two boys. Then, in far too short a time, watched her die of breast cancer. Through it all he is still big, loud, crazy Lou. Loves big, gets mad big, lives big.

But trouble started when the California sister came home for a visit. The newly divorced, never going to do it again, had it with men, sister. The baby sister and I saw it coming from a mile away. Just like a freight train and just as impossible to stop. The California sister and Crazy Lou were madly in love before nine days had gone by. We tried to head it off. We tried to get them to listen to reason. We said it could never work. He could never make it in California. How could a federal fire arms dealer who likes to target practice from his front porch live in Southern California?

She could easily come home. After having her too far away for twenty-six years, we would love that, but what about the children? An almost adult child living with his father and a twelve year old living with her. Her boys both loved Maine. The youngest especially understands the joy of extreme changes in weather. But there is a big difference between visiting Maine in the summer and surviving winter. The in-love adults were beyond reason. Obstacles fell out of the way and there was no stopping them.

The California sister moved home with her youngest, a beautiful, sensitive, mixed race child. She moved directly into marriage with Crazy Lou, both of them ready to laugh, love and heal. She could survive most anything, she had proven that, but I had concerns about the mocha boy. I was in closer contact with his home room teacher than anybody knew, wanting to make sure he was happy and safe. Moving from upscale Yorba Linda to rural Maine would be a real culture shock for most anybody. There is a redneck element here that definitely filters to our schools. We could not let him be hurt. He seemed to be doing all right. He slowly and steadily made friends. Friends from all walks of life. He evolved from a child who sat for hours in front of games to a child who loved the outdoors and team sports. The child who had never known rough physical contact that did not involve his big brother even joined a football team. His asthma became a non issue as he breathed in the fresh Maine air.

Life in school was one thing, life at home with Crazy Lou was something else. It became sport for the nephew to shoot decorated pumpkins after Halloween and undecorated Christmas trees after Christmas - from the front porch. He and Lou even shot partridge from the back deck and sent the Springer to retrieve them. Many reasons for our new saying, “You’re not in California anymore.” The step dad that he called Coo Coo Lou turned out to be all about safety under that anything goes attitude. He taught his new charge, loudly, about four wheelers, guns and snow sleds and then let him enjoy them safely. One young visitor who mishandled a gun got such a loud lesson in safety that he has never been back. That young man did not know that it is a common saying around three towns, “That’s just Lou being Lou.” Still, I saw no sign of unhappiness in the growing nephew. He missed his brother and father, but he loved it here.
One day we stood on his porch with a view that looks over miles of trees from Brownville to the K.I. mountain range. Mocha boy takes a deep breath, smiles slightly, obviously enjoying the view and says, “I just got an e-mail from my buddy in California. He says they just planted a tree in his back yard.”

The day I really stopped worrying about the major change in this boy’s life was the day he and his mom let me read a piece of writing he had done for a school assignment. He titled it, “My Mother Married a Madman, A Love Story.” It was a wonderful story about the big changes in his life. He was happy. He was going to be fine. Crazy Lou will make sure of that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Theme week 6, Place

My Lake

My lake. It’s been my lake since I was ten years old. Then it was a wild place with three tents for the seven wild children and the two parents brave enough to take them to a place with no road and no people.
I vividly remember the first time we made the trip to the side of the lake we had only viewed from the other shore. A Mom two months away from birthing number seven. A Dad unafraid to take six small children and a pregnant wife into uncharted territory. A hot walk around the shore and through a brook when the family got lost trying to find a dry way around. Dad at one point sat us all down under a tree while he went on without us to see if we were anywhere near our own three hundred feet of shoreline on our lake. I didn’t mind taking my turn carrying a younger brother. It was an exciting adventure.
Then, we were at the shore. All of us stripping off what clothes we didn’t need and walking into that water. The coldest, clearest water I have ever felt or seen. The sun shining down through the water to the rocks. I didn’t know it was not normal to be able to see through twenty feet of water to the rocks below.
The adventure just got better as the summer went on. We came back later with supplies brought over by boat. We put up the three tents. One for the boys, one for the girls and one for the parents. My Dad built a road that was semi-assessable if you had a four wheel drive. When that last baby girl was born before the summer was over, they made a hammock out of a clothes basket covered in cheese cloth to keep the mosquitoes from carrying her away and hung it in a tree. I’m happy to say she did get to go in a tent at night, but I wonder now what Child Protective Services would have thought of the whole deal. That summer we helped Dad build the camp on the weekends. We passed boards and pounded nails. During that summer and for many summers after we owned that shoreline. There were no other camps near us until years later. We made pathways up and down the shoreline with our little bare feet. We found where the big high bush blueberries were. An especially big pine tree became my special place. I would sit for hours with a book, my back to my tree, the lake stretching out in front of me. One summer I buried a bag of lemon drops under the tree roots so I had my little stash of sustenance while I read. We swam with the loons. One of the most magical memories of my life was swimming underwater with a loon streaking underwater beside me. At night I would lie on my back on the mossy bank and watch the stars. I could picture how it must have looked when it was populated with the Native Americans. (The Indians to me then.) How their campfires would reflect off this very water. How they might have picked blueberries off these same bushes.
Gradually other lots sold and we had to narrow down our ownership. That was alright. We were older and made many friends as others built their camps.
I now own my own one hundred feet of shoreline. There is a cute little bridge over the brook. The four-wheel drive road in now just a path. The lake is still the clearest lake I’ve ever seen. It’s still the coldest, spring fed water that the hottest days of August can‘t warm up. Like sitting in a hot fudge sundae.
It wasn’t bad when I had to share my shoreline with other camps every one hundred feet, but now the houses are going up. Big view-changing houses. With street lights in the front and in the back drowning out the stars. Street lights shining down on the aluminum docks. They’ve cut down trees on the little camp road to widen the way for the v-plow so people can live there all winter.
Oh, I do hate change. I’ll hang onto my little brown camp while houses go up around me for as long as I can. I’ll fight for my old, heavy, wooden dock beyond the point where it’s too heavy for my husband to deal with. I fought with people about the bug zappers that killed good bugs and made that annoying zt,zt,zt noise. My new crusade might have to be those damned streets lights.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Theme week 5 Narrative, action

Looking back on this day, the first thing that surprises me is that friends were letting me drive. Evidently these friends hadn’t yet talked to other friends that had learned their lesson. I have to admit I’m a bit of a flake when it comes to driving. Too much to pay attention to. Which lane? What right turn? Where’d that car come from? Plus, I was driving a Chevy Celebrity, a shit box of a car with eroding brakes.
We had a wonderful day planned. My friend MaryLynn is a great planner. Newly moved to Maine from New York, she could not believe we had never visited the Roosevelt summer home on Campobello Island. My friend Barbara had found an article in Down East magazine. There was a golf course nearby and we were good to go.
We golfed an interesting little course in Roque’s Bluff. It’s interesting because the water hazards change with the tides. MaryLynn is the most consistent player I play with. One hundred and twenty yards straight ahead. Over water, sand, rocks, one hundred and twenty yards. Barbara is a long straight ball striker. As long as most men and straighter. We call her “Easy Trail” because she’s not into working too hard. She doesn’t like to sweat. We think that’s why she hits so long and straight. It’s just easier. I don’t think I need to talk about how she falls apart around the greens. It’s what keeps her playing with us mortals. My ball is apt to be most anywhere. There is consistency only in my inconsistency. We had our usual great time at the little course and moved on the cottage where we all wanted to live.
The Roosevelt cottage is amazing. The grounds so well designed, the architecture of the cottage so beautiful. The large oval captain’s window frames the gardens and lawn stretching down to the harbor. The cottage inside is stuffed full of comfortable looking period furniture in big colorful patterns of the time. Cabbage roses all over the place. The wallpaper has big sprays of lilacs, Eleanor’s favorite. We were surprised to see steps throughout the house, down into the living room, up into the hallway. It could not have been easy for a man in a wheelchair. Everything was so comfortable and old-elegance until you get up the back stairs to the servant’s rooms with their little iron beds and one dresser.
We moved on from there although we hated to go. MaryLynn wanted to visit the Sunsweep Trail friendship plaque. I believe the sign said it was a .25 mile walk to the plaque, but old Easy Trail was starting to whine. She was hot and tired and mumbling something about shopping in air conditioning. We insisted that she put her hand on the friendship plaque and smile damn it for the picture. We laugh every time we see that picture.
We are ready to call it a day. However, fate intervened on the way through Columbia Falls. What is that big deer doing in the middle of the day, almost in the middle of town, running on a collision course with the shit box Celebrity? I frantically check for an exit. Too much traffic, no where to go. I start saying SHIT every time the deer bounds which was about six times. I pull back on the steering wheel of the shit box thinking that will help the eroding brakes do their job. Nobody can tell me animals don’t know mortality. I can see the face of that deer change as we both realize there is no avoidance. The terrible thump, the tinkling glass, the deer rolling over my fender, into the windshield and off the side of the car into the ditch. I pull over, look at Barbara beside me and we both burst into tears. As I keep repeating unnecessarily, “We hit a deer!”, MaryLynn, the practical one in the back seat keeps asking, “Is anyone hurt?” Finally she says, with love, “Stop that blatting you morons. Is anyone hurt?” That changes the tears to laughter.
We decide the car is o.k. to drive down the hill to a store to make a call to the powers that handle these things. The nice lady tells me that an officer is on his way. By the time we drive back up the hill, pick up trucks are stopped and men with missing teeth and hammers in their hands are offering to take that deer off my hands and take care of it. Scanners? Radar? Or just driving around looking for road kill? I’m sure there are hack saws in the back of the trucks. I tell them an officer is on his way. They stand back a little.
The police officer is, of course, a cute young thing. We are at that age where doctors and officers look like boy scouts earning merit badges. He is very nice, asking me, after the paper work, if I want the deer. The pick up men are very interested in my answer. I say, “How would I get it home, strap it on the hood of the car? The trunk is full of golf clubs.”
He said, “You could put it in the back seat with Mary.” She hates being called Mary, but didn’t seem to mind when he said it. Mary and the pick up boys are happy with the deer disposal decision.
The car is drivable, but with only one headlight. That would have been fine except that by Ellsworth and dark we realize the remaining headlight goes out with every bump. MaryLynn has taken back some measure of control of the day, not by driving, but by sitting in the front seat with a flashlight and shining it out the windshield every time we hit a bump. At one point, from the back we hear from Easy Trail, “Why aren’t we stopping to shop?”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Theme week 4

The Mama Mitten
She is skiing alone on a familiar trail. She is looking at animal tracks as she pushes the skis ahead of her. She hears a blue jay. She has skied further than usual. She is too warm so she takes off the first layer of mittens. She thinks of the mom who had made the mittens before she passed away. It is getting dark and she is almost back to car. She stops because the sun is going down and she is cooling. She reaches in her pocket for the mittens and realizes one has fallen out of her pocket. She turns back, retracing her ski trail. She is about to give up, when she sees the mitten half buried in the snow. She is so glad to have found it, but knows she is going to really tired by the time she gets back to the car.

The Mama Mitten
She is skiing alone on a familiar trail. She doesn’t mind the aloneness. She is looking at animal tracks as she pushes the skis ahead of her. Today there are only coyote tracks and tracks of small animals, maybe rabbits. There is a foot of fresh snow and the deer and moose must be still bedded up, not moving around much this afternoon. She often imagines they have just stepped off the trail ahead of her and are watching her ski by. She hears a blue jay. “EEE-AY, EEE-Ay.” calls the raspy, raucous voice. She has skied further than usual and is sweating in the seven degrees. She stops to take off the brown and white double knit mittens that her mom had made before she passed away. She watches the steam rise off her hands as she thinks of her mom. She is still taking care of her Cindy Lou, keeping her hands warm. She remembers when she was a child and had so much trouble getting to sleep. Her mom would come into the room, rub her back and say, “Turn your face to the wall Cindy Lou and shut your eyes. You have nothing to worry about. I’m here. Go to sleep.” She remembers that she used to have a gold locket with her mom’s picture in it. It was lost somewhere in the childhood. She would love to have it around her neck instead of in her memories. It is getting dark and she is almost back to her car. She is glad to be back because the sun is going down and she is cooling rapidly. She reaches in her pocket for the mittens and realizes one has fallen out of her pocket. She is so tired that the snow begins to look like her white down comforter on her bed, but she turns back, retracing her ski trail. She imagines that if she doesn’t find it the little night animals will make a home in it like in a Jan Brett book. But there, half buried in the snow, looking like a snow covered pine cone, is the mitten. She turns toward home, the Mama mitten keeping her warm once again.

The Mama Mitten
She is skiing alone on a familiar trail. She doesn’t mind the aloneness. She is looking at animal tracks as she pushes the skis ahead of her. Today there are only coyote tracks and tracks of small animals, maybe rabbits. There is a foot of fresh snow and the deer and moose must be still bedded up, not moving around much this afternoon. She often imagines they have just stepped off the trail ahead of her and are watching her ski by. She hears a blue jay. “EEE-AY, EEE-Ay.” calls the raspy, raucous voice. She has skied further than usual and is sweating in the seven degrees. She stops to take off the brown and white double knit mittens that her mom had made before she passed away. She watches the steam rise off her hands as she thinks of her mom. She is still taking care of her Cindy Lou, keeping her hands warm. She remembers when she was a child and had so much trouble getting to sleep. Her mom would come into the room, rub her back and say, “Turn your face to the wall Cindy Lou and shut your eyes. You have nothing to worry about. I’m here. Go to sleep.” She remembers that she used to have a gold locket with her mom’s picture in it. It was lost somewhere in the childhood. She would love to have it around her neck instead of in her memories. It is getting dark and she is almost back to her car. She is glad to be back because the sun is going down and she is cooling rapidly. She reaches in her pocket for the mittens and realizes one has fallen out of her pocket. She is tired, but she turns back, retracing her ski trail. She is close to the end of the trail, still not finding the mitten. The snow looks so soft, so much like the white down comforter on her bed and she is tired, so tired. She will just lie down for a minute. She hears the blue jay again. This time he is saying, “This way, this way.” in his raspy voice. She starts to ski. It is like nothing she has ever done before. There is no friction under her skis. It is as close to flying as she has ever felt. She uses her poles just to steer as she flies across the snow. Coyotes run out onto the trail beside her. She is not afraid. They are like friendly dogs. Tongues rolling, eyes dancing. Rabbits appear and join the coyotes. A small family of deer step out to watch the group, nodding their heads, their big brown eyes enjoying the sight. Suddenly there is no earth under her. She has skied out into the air. A white hole opens in front of her. She feels herself falling. She is on the white comforter again, warm and sleepy. She feels something brush her cheek. She opens one eye. The blue jay is here again, so close she can smell the fresh, wild, feathery scent of it. It has something in it’s mouth. It looks like a snow covered pine cone. No, it is the mitten. She slips her frozen hand inside and feels warm metal against her fingers. The down comforter turns cold and wet as snow as she takes the locket out and opens it to see her mother’s miniature face. The face turns to her and starts to speak. “Turn your face to the sky, Cindy Lou. Open your eyes. It’s not time for you. Don’t worry. I’m here.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Theme Week 3 Scene Setting and Dialogue

After the Storm

I stand in my on my snowy deck, my flannel pajamas cozy under my ski pants. I am leaning on a shovel. I will clean off this deck, but first I need to enjoy the quiet that only comes when the snow is still falling, but the sun is just visible behind the milky clouds. Soon I will hear snow blowers and plows start all up and down my street. But for now, here I am on the dead end of my street, looking at the frozen river. The husband, the dog and the cat are just behind me in the house, but I get this moment.
“So, if you clean the cars off and move them, I’ll start snow blowing.” he says as the well trained Springer tumbles out the door in front of him, ready for whatever fun is in store.
“Do you think I need to roof rake this storm?” This is a job he has allowed me to take over as it gets harder for him. Not easy for him to admit that he needs help with these outdoor chores.
“Just take a little off the edges.”
I have just started on a small roof, not even near the main part of the house when I hear what sounds a lot like an avalanche. “What the hell?” Every piece of snow has come off the roof of the main part of the house in a big thump. Wow that was cool. Oh no, where is that little white dog. Is she under there? “Where’s the dog!?” I yell, but of course he can’t hear over the noise of that snow blower. Oh good, there she sits on a snow bank at the end of the walkway. Sitting so cute and safe watching the snow fly out of the end of the snow blower chute. My relief changes to horror as I see the big wing of a plow thundering toward us down the street.
“Come!” My voice more screech than command.
She calmly turns her head and looks at me as if to say, “I love you, but he told me to stay. I really want to come see you, but you know how he is about that whole stay thing.”
“Come now!” Another screeching command that never fails when he does it.
She now looks like she may be considering it. “Well maybe, but it’s really better for all concerned if I listen to him.” Her eyes roll toward the plow truck. “I’m pretty sure that big, noisy, plow thing is going to miss me.”
Of course it did and neither one of them realize how my morning has gone from peace to terror and back again.
“Hey, is this raking good enough? M.L. called and wants to go skiing.”
“Ya it’s great. How did you get snow off way up there?”
My friend and I are compatible ski partners. Our conversation in short bursts because we both know the zen of listening to just the swish of the skis and squeak of the poles in the cold snow. The snow carries millions of diamonds. The pine trees are latticed with snow.
I see something up ahead on the quiet trail. A red color seldom seen in nature and certainly not in the blue, grey and white of winter. My senses are confused. It must be a sled, even though I hear nothing. I yell, “Sled!” As we dive off the trail, it comes closer and becomes clearer to me. “Dogs!”
Four dogs pulling a sled with a lady standing on the runners. She is quietly saying, “Go by, Shane. Go by, Alice. Go by, Mable. Go by Riley.” The dogs roll their eyes at us and want to stop, but they go by. The lady says even more quietly to us. “One more sled coming with my little girl on it.”
“We see her,” We speak quietly also. The little girl has a smaller sled and two dogs that look heavier, older and more settled than the mom’s four. She too, speaks quietly to her dogs, “Go by Mary. Go by Sadie.”
It is a quiet magical moment.
“I think that may be my next sport.” I say as we step back onto the trail.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Theme Week Two Coming of Age in the Sixties

Rural Maine in the sixties was a lot like the rest of the country in the fifties. Families with a mom, dad and their children. Not many blended families. Dad went to work. Mom stayed home. For the most part, people stayed married. Parents expected that their daughters would work in an office after high school, get married, have children. Boys would go to college or the draft would grab them. The parents had done their part, raising them through high school.

Was it a rising social consciousness or a changing world that changed my television viewing from From Dick Clark's Band Stand to Laugh-in. They were so irreverent and caused me to question things I never thought to question. I didn't have much, but I did have to have those white vinyl boots. Not good in winter in Maine. From Leave it to Beaver to the Vietnam war in my living room, not knowing it was going to come even closer in my life. From Rin Tin Tin to dogs biting Afro-Americans. There were no black people in my town. Not one. I had no real reference, but couldn't imagine why I would be mad at them. My father told me years later that he thought I would end up married to some kind of minority. No, that was the other sister. I was stuck between loving Elvis Presley and Dean Martin when The Beatles hit town. Look at that hair! Simple songs. She Loves You, Ya,Ya, Ya. What was there about them that we loved? We did not know how brilliant they were. They grew and evolved with us. They never stopped learning about themselves or their craft.

Real life came off the television when I met the older brother of a friend. Newly back from Vietnam, trying to drink away the smell of Napalm and the sight of ruined villages. Drink away the memories of the armed guard walking him through the protesters in the airport. Trying to retain the memories of people he wasn't mad at who were just trying to farm their beautiful land. Retain the memories of the Catholic churches and the Mountanard people who befriended him. Retain the memories of an America he loved and respected that asked him to go do this thing. Trying to make this narrow minded, opinionated new girlfriend understand that he went there with all good intentions. Able to quit the drinking long before coming to terms with it all in his head.

The sixties. Ten years. Years when I went from ten to twenty years old. From an innocent child happy in the woods, fields, and rivers of my little town. Through high school with my basketball team and my cheerleader friends, my boy friends who were my age and just friends and the older boys that I loved. Married, still in the sixties, to the young man newly back from Vietnam. A whole life in one decade.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Theme Week 1 Know Thyself , Know Thyself?

Back to work for the week. Sixteen kindergarten children. Do no harm. They love school. They have so much to learn about how to be citizens of the school and still have to learn reading and math. They come in so happy to be part of the school system. What do we do to them to make them hate it by 5th grade? Work with a teacher that I love. I go between thinking she is whacko and thinking she is a brilliant teacher. Both true. Love her. Love the children. Love my job. Having a Merlot while I do my homework. Love this class.


Beautiful moon last night and walking across the parking lot into work was a beautiful sun and moon. Good day today. No crazy teacher. A sweet substitute. Too quiet, too sweet. Children turning to chaos. Tried to hang back and let the sub learn. Couldn't. Had to step in and take control. Better for everyone. The children appreciate boundaries. Went for a nice walk after school. Met my friend, unplanned. Had a walking visit. Met a boy and his Lab. Little visit. Going to the basketball game tonight. Watching my wonderful, beautifully mixed raced nephew play. Hope he gets some playing time. He's quietly good, not flashy.


Work was good. Getting really cold. Went to sister's house to siphon wine. Sacred Sisters winery has 12 more gallons bubbling. Really glad she's come home after 26 years in CA. Fun. Had a birthday visit with friends I don't visit with much. Love them, but not into the sitting and drinking coffee visit thing. Friends need to move to hang with me.

Started a weight lifting class. Feeling good and strong. Joke is that I don't want to blow out a pec and end up with an implant near my belly button. Breast cancer, not enhancement. New exercise buddies. We had so much fun. Laughing, teasing. Something to add to my skiing, walking, snowshoeing, golfing, kayaking. Staying strong, staying healthy. Never take movement for granted. Home this evening, glad I don't have to go anywhere. Enjoying a Dean Koonz book. Just finished a Stephen King. In between, I read a book called The Shack, a novel about the Trinity and forgiveness. Still thinking about it. Haven't been to church for months since my priest shot himself after allegations of child abuse over 20 years ago. Loved and respected him. Looking forward to bed and book. When your body is tired exercise your mind, When your mind is tired exercise your body.

Yay, Friday! The forty year husband crashed his jeep into a tree. More like backed into a tree. Always bragging about never having an accident. (I have, of course, hit 3 deer) Always telling me I need to learn to use my mirrors. (I turn my head) My first thought was "deductible!"Cold, cold. The thermometer wouldn't even register this morning. The basketball game tonight was special, like a movie. The JV game. Mocha nephew having fun. Team losing by over 20 points. Small boy with Autism and no playing time in the game. Last minute of the game. The boy with Autism makes a beautiful 3 point shot. The first stringers on the bench go wild. The coach stations the boy on the 3 point line while the rest of the team work to get the ball to him. Beautiful fade away jump shot. 6 points in seconds. The team goes wild in the center of the court, piling on the boy, trying to lift him up, celebrating a 20 point lose, while the opposing team looks on bewildered, wondering who won.

Too cold even for me to go out until around 11 that is. Went to another friend's birthday party. Beer, wine, pizza. I have so many friends that get me through so many facets of my life. Don't know what I'd do without them. Friends to talk over problems, mine and theirs, friends to cry with, laugh, with exercise with. A husband that is the soft place to land friend when I'm done flying around in my day. Sweet, simple guy almost always easy to be with. The birthday girl is the exercise friend. Then went for my weekly nursing home visit to my 91 year old mother in law. Aways enjoy my visit with her, but that is no way to end your life. She says she is living to long. I have to agree with her inside my heart.

To the restaurant for coffee with friends, skiing with the exercise friend, sweating the zero degree. Husband and little dog ice fishing. Hope he doesn't let the babydog get cold. She's not like the previous big lab. Bread raising on the counter. No bread machine in this kitchen. Love the feel of the almost alive dough, the ancient ritual learned from my sweet mother, the smell of the grain sometimes reminding me of the bin in the neighbors cow barn when I was a child.
I've read over my week of journaling. The shallowness has fleshed out a bit. The pollyannaness is true and absolute and well earned. Whether it is surviving cancer 4 times or simply living long enough to learn what is important in this life, I never have a bad day. Interesting moments, but no bad days.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Week 1 Part 1 What's the story?

I must have been around eight years old. I remember that I had recently discovered reading real books, beyond Dick and Jane. Remember, I am an older student. I even wanted to read The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck. My mom told me I would not understand it. I remember reading it. I don't remember if I understood it. Because of the reading, I wanted to write. There was a book in my head about all the things I was doing in my day. It was all I knew. "She walked around the lilac tree on the lawn and there was her sister. She said hello to her." For a while, in my mind, I was a writer.

You are a student in Early Childhood. You are a writer. Your mom, dad, and grandparents have always loved your stories. They believe you are brilliant and one of a kind. They are amazed at your imagination. Last year's teacher loved your writing. She loved your ideas. She was interested in what you had to say every day in your journal. She talked about uppercase letters, punctuation and words you should know how to spell, but she mostly said what great ideas you had. She was enthusiastic to such a degree that you just stared at her, shaking your head. But you felt great. You felt like a writer. This year the teacher is different. She writes all over your page in red ink. She crosses out words and you don't know why. She writes words over your words and you don't know what they say. She says, "Don't use conversation. You don't know how to do it." She says nothing about the heartfelt story you have worked so hard on. She passes the paper back and says rewrite it with the corrections. You hate writing and you'll never do it after you leave this school.

She sat in an ITV classroom, a class of one. The teacher in the television was re-explaining an assignment that the student had already passed in. It was a psychology class. The student had written a piece on a subject she felt passionately about. She felt she might have been a bit preachy. She was bored with the re-explanation and booted up an abandoned computer in the corner. She was very involved in a solitaire game when something the teacher was talking about caught her attention. The teacher was reading her piece! It sounded good! The student threw her hands up and shouted to nobody, "It's mine! She's reading mine!" The teacher finished and said, "That, students, is what I was looking for in this assignment." The student felt like a writer for the first time.