Sunday, December 30, 2012

White Out

Snowfall Estimates Reach Up To A Foot; Numerous Car Crashes Block State Roads
Weekend snow slows the holiday pace . Hartford Courant map
The non-stop holiday pace was upon us. Christmas had replayed itself over and over again at my sister-in-law’s house (two weeks ago), my daughter’s house Christmas Eve, and my brother’s Christmas Day, all back and forth over about 250 miles. When I settled in back home, the day after Christmas, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law from California flew in just an hour or so before an ice storm. The family re-gathered then and again yesterday.

Whole lot of visiting going on. So much so, it almost turns into a blur. A merry blur, yes, but a blur nevertheless.

A snowstorm broke up yesterday’s afternoon gathering. After a week or two of driving here to there, and back again, in the fast lane, there was no choice but to slow up on the road. With inches of snow steadily accumulating, we said our goodbyes and crawled home. Took me twenty minutes, twice as long as usual. Would have taken my daughter and her family a couple of hours, but the storm was so intense, they stopped halfway – at her mother-in-law’s house – for a spontaneous overnighter. They had passed just too many spin outs and abandoned cars on the highway.

The snowstorm slowed the season down a bit , whited-out the evening obligations. Will get me to stay put a day or so. Take in the purity of the snow and the season.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Give the Gift of Comfort

I bet you haven’t completed your holiday shopping yet. There probably are a few names on your list especially difficult to shop for. They are the ones who aren’t into the merriment of the season as much as the memories of past seasons; the seasons before they suffered the loss of a loved one whose absence has made every holiday season since incomplete. Or maybe it’s a number of losses of family and friends. I think that as we get older, we get filled with our losses.

These special names on your list might do well with a gift of comfort that comes from reading a memoir of loss and recovery. I suggest my memoir of loss and recovery Staying Alive: A Love Story, nominated for the 2012 Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year.  Called, "a beautiful reminder of what really matters," the book also received a Readers Views 2012 Award and the recommendation of the American Association of Health Care Professionals.

You can read an excerpt and readers' comments on Staying Alive: A Love Story, available in print and ebook formats, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the iBooks Store. For even more information on the book, go to my website.

Staying Alive: A Love Story might be the right read for a special person on your holiday list. The one seeking comfort as much as joy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn?

wWill we ever look at a six-year-old the same way again? Will we ever feast our eyes on the child’s spontaneity and spunk without thinking of 20 kindred spirits? Twenty children caught up in their morning lessons: sounding out storybooks, counting beyond their fingers and toes, arts-and-crafting, singing seasonal songs.

Will we ever be able to keep ourselves from then snapping our mind’s eyes shut, contorting our faces into countenances of disgust and sorrow, as we recall the horror that invaded the world of of twenty first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

Will we remember to keep in our hearts the other children and teachers of Sandy Hook? Hundreds, besides the twenty children and five educators who lost their lives, who - every day, as survivors-  will relive the terror they felt as they crouched in hiding or ran to the firehouse for sanctuary.
Will we finally come to our senses about the lethal mix of guns and mental illness ?  In the last few days President Obama and former senator Joe Scarborough have  eloquently voiced the tipping point Sandy Hook has tragically brought the nation to, the President during the memorial service in Newtown Sunday night and the senator at the start of his morning show, Monday.
Will the rest of us then reopen our eyes to the statistics that have been mounting for far too long,? The numbers linking kids with guns ( listed below). Newtown's  gunman was only 20 years old.-a  troubled young person still living with his mother, whose life he took using her gun, before moving on to Sandy Hook Elementary School with her arsenal in hand.
Each year, there are 34,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. How many of those deaths are children, and has that number increased in the last few years? Here are the facts.
Safety Expert Gavin de Becker has found in researching his books, The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift that:
  • Everyday, about 75 American children are shot. Most recover –- 15 do not.
  • The majority of fatal accidents involving a firearm occur in the home.
  • Gunshot wounds are the single most common cause of death for women in the home, accounting for nearly half of all homicides and 42 percent of suicides.
  • An adolescent is twice as likely to commit suicide if a gun is kept in the home.
  • More teenage boys in America die from gunfire than from car accidents.
  • Gunshot wounds are now the leading cause of death for teenage boys in America (white, African-American, urban, suburban).

Researchers at have collected the following statistics on kids and guns:
  • Twenty-nine percent of high-school boys have at least one firearm; most are intended for hunting and sporting purposes.
    Six percent say they carry a gun outside the home.
    The National Institute of Justice, 1998
  • From 1980 to 1997, gun killings by young people 18 to 24 increased from about 5,000 to more than 7,500.
    During the same period, gun killings by people 25 and older fell by almost half, to about 5,000.
    The US Department of Justice
  • There are about 60 million handguns in the United States.
    About 2 to 3 million new and used handguns are sold each year.
    US Senate Statistics
  • Nearly 500 children and teenagers each year are killed in gun-related accidents.
    About 1,500 commit suicide.
    Nearly 7,000 violent crimes are committed each year by juveniles using guns they found in their own homes.
    Senator Herb Kohl, sponsor of the safety lock measure.
  • In 1994, every day, 16 children age 19 and under were killed with guns and 64 were wounded in this country.
    National Center for Health and Statistics, 1996
Will we ever learn?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

As Senseless as it Gets

Hartford Courant photo of Sandy Hook service
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is about as senseless as senseless can get. After killing his mother at home the murderer travels to the school to deliberately target the kindergarten students.There is still a question as to his mother's connection to the school.

The more we hear about this horrific crime, the more incomprehensible it gets.  

Four trauma units were readied at Danbury hospital. Over 80 staff members waited for an expected influx of injured. Only a handful arrived. Most of the 28 fatalities (mostly children) had died at the scene.  

This all happened at a time when the parents of most early elementary school children worry more about challenges to their sons and daughters belief in Santa Claus, than their safety at school. Yet, less than two weeks before a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of a Child, twenty Sandy Hook five-year-olds have been robbed of their lives. Their surviving schoolmates, stripped of their innocence.

The hurt will sting even more as the shock factor wears off and even as it begins to heal. As the feeling comes back we must start to try to make some sense of the senseless. Look deep into the most obvious causes of the tragic effects: troubled individuals, troubled families, troubled times and the too accessible means to act out one’s inner demons: guns. Ask ourselves how we can prevent mass killings of innocent lives, a crime that occurs more and more often.   

But for now, for this weekend, and through the weeks of this holy season that has turned to a mourning season for our nation, let us pray for the peaceful repose of the children and adults who lost their lives and for the comfort of those who loved them.    

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let it Snow, Let it Snow - My Way!

Snow that doesn’t stick is my kind of November snow. I think of it as confectionary sugar snow because most of it disappears, the way powdered sugar melts into a cake top that isn’t entirely cooled. After the cake loses its oven warmth, a light dusting – maybe through a pretty stencil – is just enough to perk up the presentation a bit . A case of less being more, like November snow.

My preferred dusting would work for skiers too. Even though little or no snow would have accumulated – outdoor temps would be cold enough to fill ski resorts with snowy trails.

Confectionary sugar snow eases me into the changing winter landscape. It reminds me that the view out my window is about to turn to monochromatic grays. That’s a pretty drastic change from summer’s multicolored gardens and fall-blazing trees. We try to brighten up the graying of city and countryside with a pop of holiday color here and there, but it takes a knack to keep the ornamentation from getting too kitschy, if you know what I mean.   

If I could plan the winter snow the way I plan out a course syllabus, I’d start with a (preseason) late November dusting followed by an inch or two, a week or so later. Just enough to cover errant oak leaves that continue to fall through the winter. Roads would still be passable  (like my course!). Make-up days would not have to be added on to the school calendar.

Christmas Eve – let it snow. There are carols in the air and the spirit of a blessed birth in our souls. Why not cover the outdoors  in a blanket as pure as the Christmas story as families nestle around fireplaces and into their warm beds?  Santa’s sleigh out-maneuvers  any weather. The rest of us can stay put. That is, if we are not essential  hospital or transportation workers. Added Christmas Blessings to them - every one.
Just after the holiday, most of us could make do with a Norman Rockwell kind of snowfall through late December. One that keeps the  landscape white, but the roads safe.  I like to think of that last week of the year as a designated “reading” week, up to – but not including New Year’s Eve.

January??? Wouldn’t mind a prolonged thaw while the mountains stay just frigid enough for snowmaking.  A true blue storm could pass through February's President’s weekend. A last hurrah for winter. Sort of a final exam on getting through the elements of accuweather.

Then I’m ready for an early Spring break from Winter's course.

If Mother Nature follows my syllabus , I'll give her an A+ !

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unconditional Thanks

In the late summer of 1988 my father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He was only 68. He had not felt well through the summer and recently had gone through a series of tests and x-rays. He and my mother drove straight to my house after receiving the terrible news at a doctor’s appointment.

Mom and Dad walked in. Both looked tired, Dad more drawn than Mom. We went into the family room where Dad sat on the couch and softly conveyed the unwelcome news. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said something I’ll never forget.

He said, “I’ve had a good life.” One of the bravest single sentences I have ever heard.

A month or so later, we all sat around my dining room table for my family’s annual Saturday-after-Thanksgiving visit, since it was impossible to be two places at once on the traditional holiday.   When Dad brought a forkful of food to his mouth, he looked noticeably older to me than that afternoon in my family room.

My mind involuntarily jumped ahead a year. I felt like Scrooge when he foresees a vacant seat at his family table except that, unlike Scrooge, I could not change the future by remedying my selfish ways. Yet, I realized  I could change my mindset on the future the way my Dad had done a few weeks ago. I forced myself to focus on the present and the  three generations of my family seated around my dining room table, feasting on manicotti and eggplant parmesan, our annual “Italian” Thanksgiving.

I learned to give unconditional thanks on that extended Thanksgiving holiday . I learned to put aside regrets and fears, To simply be thankful to be sitting at a table as full of food and family as possible. Thankful for having arrived on this day together, through whatever, and hopeful.

By the next Thanksgiving and subsequent Thanksgivings I also learned that my Dad (and other loved ones) could be two places at once on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moms Who Write - Part Two

Back from attending an afternoon football game with my son (score at right!) and an evening spent with my daughter and grandson. Terrific day!

Back to finishing what I started a couple of days ago in “Moms Who Write. "

I was saying Moms who are self-employed writers have been experiencing the occupation’s plusses and minuses since home telephones put them in contact with “sources” and customers. So too have Father – Writers. I add the Dads as I suddenly remember the vigorous  grad school "meetings" I had one semester – via live-time email exchanges -- with a writing prof, while he worked from home, tending to his young daughter.

Back to novelist Anne Tyler, who decades ago revealed the unpredictable work schedule of the write-at-home parent. She recalled one March, when she was ready to block out a novel.
“But the children’s spring vacation began,” explained Tyler. After vacation the dog got worms. Tyler didn’t get back to writing (and even then, only in “patches”) until May, when three chapters competed with a washing machine repair, tree surgery, five Jehovah”s Witnesses, two Mormons, etc., etc. With her two children’s summer vacation about to start, she knew enough to put the novel away. “Close down” her mind, plant herbs, and play with the kids.

It’s a gift to be part of a profession that can accommodate up and down family times. I hope the next generation of young Mom-writers, whose blogs I read today, can learn to juggle the way Tyler did - and succeed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Moms Who Write

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I’ve been reading a number of blogs lately, written by young mothers torn between their desire to write and their role as a parent. The conflict reminded me of when my (now adult) children were both under three and I was trying to juggle part-time freelance work for local and regional publications. Bulky, noisy personal computers (with next-to-nil memory capacities) were just starting to become home “appliances.” The Internet was pretty much a long, rudimentary, and vastly detoured route to information and communication (pre-easy search engine days). Yet, with a computer purchased at Railroad Savage (a commercially unsuccessful model made by the manufacturers of Royal typewriters) I was able to find and complete enough work to put off going back to full-time teaching until my son and daughter were students themselves.

The writing did not interfere with me spending time with my children. It allowed me to put aside full-time teaching for ten years and spend more time at home with them while still contributing some to the household income. Writing moms are fortunate to be able to work from home, set their own hours, and slow business matters down  when home issues must prevail.
I wish I could remember the name of the computer that failed in the mass market. I do remember using it to write an essay for the Connecticut Writing Project newsletter; a piece I dug out of a trunk in my hallway this afternoon.  (The search led to some pretty deep cleaning- never a bad thing!).
I find it interesting that my 25-year-old essay raises pretty much the same questions I’ve been reading on young writer-Moms' blogs. In it, I wonder how many articles a freelancing mom can brainstorm, research, and write, sharing her day with a toddler and baby.(The blog concept really hadn't come into everyday play yet).
Researching the essay, way back when, I found that the overwhelming majority of writers with children agreed family life actually widened their experiences. Novelist and short story writer Anne Tyler, in her early forties then, said that since she had children she had grown richer and deeper. “They may have slowed down my writing for awhile,” she said, “but when I did write, I had more of a self to speak from.” Tyler admits not much writing got done until her children started school. Even then, she said she had to put up “partitions” in her mind that separated her writer and mother roles. She spent a lot of time learning how to close either door when ordinary life intervened or it was time to start writing again. She also likened the process to being like a string she had to learn  to tighten and  loosen, whenever necessary.
A string I'm tightening myself - until I can finish this up in my next blog, for I'm off to see my son - who's a couple of hours away - and my daughter and grandson on the return trip. 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Friend's Next Chapter

A decade ago I would not have come to know Irene, a recent virtual friend and colleague. That was long before I had any inkling I’d write a memoir, no less have it published. But through the last few years one choice led to another: the choice to enroll in an MFA program and focus my thesis on surviving my husband’s premature death, the choice to move from high school to college teaching, the choice to publish the memoir.

Enter Irene, just after Staying Alive: A Love Story became available on Amazon and As the managing editor of an online company that reviews and promotes independently published books, she had unique expertise in an area I knew nothing about: marketing. Within weeks the book was reviewed and Irene wanted to interview me – on her radio show.  She’d tape our conversation over the phone, me in CT and she in TX.

It took no time to realize I was working with a smart woman committed to promoting quality books in a growing independent publishing market. Now I was being introduced to Irene, woman to woman. First she called “just to chat” and prepare me for the phenomena of long distance radio transmission. We spoke the way women of similar ilk speak, easily and familiarly. She liked that the book portrayed my children and me as survivors, not victims,. This conversation assured me I would feel comfortable with her in the ensuing taping.

Irene tempered the daunting task of selling myself. We stayed in contact. I wrote for her blogging authors’ site.

When Irene was diagnosed with cancer we talked again. She remembered the story of my own bout with kidney cancer shared in my memoir. Over long distance, she continued to encourage me, professionally, as I did my best to encourage her to wellness.

After a number of extreme treatments Irene was declared cancer free. I was elated. Yet, the elation vanished yesterday when I received sad news from her family. Though Irene appeared to have won a battle or two against the insipid disease, she ultimately lost the war that escalated through her body.

After my interview aired, friends remarked Irene and I sounded like long-time friends. I wish that could have been so. Yet my one-year association with this great gal from Texas has had a greater impact on me than many I have had– for years. I’m a better professional – and person – for having known her.
If I hadn't gotten to know Irene the way I did, I'd be inclined to say Rest in Peace about now. Yet, having come to know her vim and vigor in getting important work for writers and readers done, I'm going to go with Rest in Perpetual Purpose, Friend.    

CLICK HERE for my interview with Irene.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Little Guy

My grandson Patrick has crossed a threshold. He has outgrown infancy and become a bona fide newborn. Just like that. From one day (#90) to the next (#91) – according to at least one source. (Experts have been known to disagree on the semantics of baby development – baby being the all-inclusive moniker for one-day-olds to one-year-olds). 

Actually the little guy (my terminology for my grandson from birth to, at least, marriage) increases his baby-bilities week to week – the usual time between our visits together. Currently, with more than a dozen of those seven-day spreads behind us, he no longer sleeps the entire time between feedings and changings.  Lately he gives Grammy his attention at least half the time she spends in his neck of the eastern Massachusetts woods . And he has left behind his wobbly infant helplessness , moving on to intentional newborn movement: a stretch to reach a bright toy, the examination of a familiar face, a grasp of a baby bottle. 
Best of all, he is developing a personality! He likes to laugh, especially at the monkey face that is positioned atop the frame of the baby-mirror in his crib. Try as I may to get Patrick to look at himself in the mirror, he fixates on the monkey instead – and chortles, loudly, as if he is watching stand-up comedy performed by the E-TRADE toddler (toddler being the generally accepted term for talking baby,   digitally enhanced or not).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cooking Up a Storm

Put a plate of home-made pasta in front me and I’m back in my mother’s kitchen. I can see her roll out a mixture of flour and eggs, flatten the dough through one side of her pasta maker , and  cut it into strands on the other. Then she’d hang the soft noodles on a tabletop wooden tree to dry ( just a bit ) before boiling  them ( just a bit ) al dente.
Up to about a week ago, Mom’s homemade pasta fit my narrow notion of comfort food: hearty helpings of homemade favorites that bring back the past. This week, through the arrival and departure of Hurricane Sandy, my notion of food as nurturer expanded. 
I wasn’t cooking up old family recipes as round-the-clock updates on Hurricane Sandy played on my small kitchen TV. I was cooking up a storm, trying to make perishables more edible, before the likelihood of losing power. Exactly a year ago I was one of 850,000 Connecticut households without electricity and heat for over a week, due to storm Alfred. I can't remember ever having gone more than a day or so without power before then. I was completely unprepared for the storm shutdown.
This year, I expected the worst. So, as Sandy moved up the coast toward New Jersey, I kept my kitchen in New England humming. By early afternoon I had roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed butternut squash, and steamed carrots. While the aroma of onions and garlic (being roasted with the sprouts) permeated the house, I mixed a batch of cornbread and, as if to challenge Sandy’s “slow-moving” system, put a small rack of spare ribs in the slow cooker – on high. I didn't want to get too cocky. Yet, what did I have to lose? If the power went, I’d at least have real food to warm on the outdoor  grill and share with whomever needed sharing.

The cooking kept me busy. Focusing on preparing the meals kept me calm.  I was prepared for just about any inland havoc the windy side of a hurricane could wield. That was a big difference from last year's storm.

Fortunately for me, northern Connecticut was spared. My lights never even flickered. Not so on the coasts of Connecticut, NYC, and New Jersey, all of which Sandy ferociously huffed, puffed and blew boats to land and houses and boardwalks into the ocean. There has been devastating life and property loss.

When there was no word from my cousins in Staten Island - an area being reported as the most severely hit, I feared the worst - until yesterday. That's when I saw the photo below posted on Facebook with the status: Cooking for Staten Island. The picture of my cousin's busy kitchen told me all was as well as it could be. It looks as if fresh clams are about to be shucked by the younger generation of cousins. One of the girls is peeling a potato.

Cooking for Staten Island

I'm guessing a generator powered the cook-in. The boys own a gas station!

 That said, the Island still requires a continued rescue and recovery effort, along with the hardest hit areas of NY, NJ, and CT. A dear friend of mine in NJ posted a much less comforting  status this morning:

I don't think anyone outside the area really gets how bad it is around here. And it's ongoing, with food shortages, gas rationing, thousands, maybe tens of thousands, people thrown out of work.

She urges those who want to help to DONATE TO THE RED CROSS.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Bad to Worse: My NY/NJ Cousins in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Morning after Sandy in Great Kills, SI
a nydaily news photo
Fortunately, my Brooklyn cousins  retained power after Hurricane Sandy. Cousin RK is housing her nephew’s family, who had to leave their New Jersey home. Another cousin who resides farther away from the city and coast, lost trees and siding. He  is making due with a generator.

CF, who lives on Long Island, had no house damage, but her power has been out  four days now. Trees are down everywhere in suburban Wantaugh  There  are no traffic lights, so driving is a problem, and gas and ATM machines are hard to come by. Thanks to having a gas stove & gas water heater, she’s been able to cook and bring hot food to her dad's house, nearby,while her mother-in-law resides with her during these difficult days. Yesterday CF posted:

Day three & counting. No power and a bit chilly. My heart goes out to those who lost everything. This is going to be a long haul. Patience and kindness is mandatory.

I am so proud of her resolve and focus.

My gravest concern, right now, is for my Staten Island cousins and their families, most of whom reside in the Great Kills area – an area that seems to be the forsaken child of the NYC rescue effort. Last night’s national news cast a Hurricane Katrina perspective on the lack of relief efforts in Staten Island.
The boys grew up in Great Kills, across the street from the  Marina. My aunt still lives in the neighborhood, the boys close by.This video, found on youtube yesterday, offers a look at the area the morning-after Sandy’s arrival and departure. It provides a disturbing visual answer to my question about how hard-hit their neighborhood was. I can even see the damage to the harbor side restaurant we celebrated my aunt's 80th birthday at earlier in the year.

I pray their families have relocated, that the gas station they own is able to serve the neighbrhood fairly and peaceably, and that they are all one step closer to recovery today.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Weather Gods

photo from wikipedia
For over 24 hours now I’ve been warned to prepare  - or else - for the brunt of a perfect storm that has been forming just off the coast of New Jersey. Perfect in the eyes of Aeolus, maybe, the Greek myth blusterer credited with handing a tightly sealed sack full of winds over to Odysseus. With the winds bagged, the seas stilled, allowing the Greek hero to continue his ten-year journey home to wife and son after the Trojan War.

 If only Aeolus could keep the fury of this week’s “perfect” alignment of hurricane and northeaster under wraps. Mortal meteorologists lack the Greek God’s sacking powers. Instead, today’s forecasters have been relying on “ spaghetti models” (a new term for me - not to be confused with a Spaghetti Westerns) in an effort to anticipate Hurricane Sandy's strength and whereabouts. These models chart intertwined webs of all possible storm scenario.
The spaghetti model for Hurricane Sandy looked a lot like  a Christmas ornament my son made from cooked pasta noodles in nursery school.Based on the twists and turns of the loopy model, Connecticut Governor  Dannel Malloy has called  Hurricane Sandy “the most catastrophic event any of us have seen in our lifetimes” and “the largest threat to human life this state has ever experienced.”
By now, one would have to be a fool not to have evacuated coastal residences, as we wait for the worst of the storm to blow in and out through the night. Governor Malloy is no God of the Winds; he can’t quell the storm.
I hope in the morning we can call him the God of Hyperbole.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Storm Warnings

photo from ABC

Mother Nature seems to have developed a grudge against my birthday.

Last year, storm Alfred blew in a day or two after my birthday, downing tree limbs and power lines through most of the state. We remained powerless for over a week. Even Halloween had to be cancelled!

Friday, as I turned another year older, I was greeted by continual warnings on TV to prepare for the worst – three days before the worst would materialize. Hurricane Sandy was heading toward New England.

I agree forewarned is forearmed, but I could have done without the melodramatic station promotions repeated after each storm update.  One of the station's ads featured music that reminded me of the haunting theme to The High and the Mighty, an iconic disaster film of the Fifties.  As the tension in the music built, the local meteorologist announced , “We stayed with you during tropical storm Irene.  We’ll stay with you through this one.” Then, this morning, as the hurricane moved half way up the coast, a morning anchor on the Today Show point-blankly told Al Roker, “I’m really scared.” Not my idea of helpful storm reporting.
Yet, I do admit, once again I find myself  at the mercy of Mother Nature and, once again, I am at a loss to know what to wish for.  If I wish  for Sandy to stay away from me, do I inadvertently wish for her to more  greatly impact my  NJ and NY relatives and friends? That’s not what I want.

So what do I want?

I want to be forewarned but not terror- stricken, prepared but not panicked. Reasonable warnings got me  to clear my porch and fill  my gas tank. Thanks to early warnings I’ve got blocks of ice in the freezer and lots of water.

I don’t like storm warnings taking control of my day, but I heed them. If the governor's stark warning directed me to evacuate - I would. But please, just tell me what to do and spare me the melodrama.
Here are some sensible measures to get us all through the storm.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mother Nature At It Again

Charles Richter developed
the scales that
measures earthquake
Last Tuesday night I pedaled away on my exercise bike as I watched a one-day-old broadcast of The Daily Show. Halfway through the show I felt the floor beneath me vibrate. At the same time, the bookcase beside me shook. I heard slight thumping.

Thinking back, I’m stunned by how many thoughts a mind can harbor, at once. As the earth moved that night I thought, in no particular order

a.   What’s the dog doing’? (Because the thumping sounded a little like the repeated rhythm Winnie sometimes pounds out with her hind leg)

b.    Was my furnace acting up – as in red alert acting up?

c.      Why would someone be using a jackhammer in my backyard at 7:15?

During that sweep of thought, I got off the bike. Ventured downstairs to the basement where the furnace sat, silent. Then I headed back upstairs, out onto the porch and yard, where no jack hammerer  appeared.

Still wondering (as in, with great relief, wondering-in-place), the single pulse of the phone in my pocket drew my attention. Turned out to be an alert for a prescription ready at CVS.

I went to the phone’s FACEBOOK newsfeed.

My house just shook…?????

Did we just have an earthquake?

So that’s what that was! Soon a Facebook status linked to a CNN report about a 4.0 temblor that hit around 7:12 p.m. Its epicenter was about 20 miles west of Portland, Maine. That’s just over 150 miles from me and my exercise bike. According to later reports the Maine earthquake shook buildings and rattled dishes, but as far as I know, caused no injuries or serious damage.

My daughter, who lives an hour closer to Maine, didn’t feel a thing. Her friend, who lives 50 miles farther away from Portland than I do, clearly felt the tremors. She was settled into her third floor apartment, I had been pedaling on my second floor, and my daughter had been in her first floor living room. I wonder if our flights made a difference.
Mother Nature let us off easy this time - not like just a year ago when a freak October snowstorm became just heavy enough to turn my lights out – along with most Connecticut households’  -- for almost a week! It even cancelled Halloween.

Tuesday evening's tremor didn't amount to much. Ten to fifteen thousand earthquakes of this intensity occur every year. Why, greater rumbling was felt across the nation, just hours later - during the second televised presidential debate.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (The End)

 Bensonhurst housefront - similar to where I grew up
Did I want to drive by the Brooklyn house I grew up in?
You bet I did!

In less than five minutes my cousin drove north (I think) up Bay Ridge Parkway onto 18th Avenue, and then 78th Street, towards the El and New Utrecht High.  

I sensed a familiarity on the street I hadn’t been on for close to forty years.  About two-thirds of the way down, I recognized four wide cement steps that led to a doorway I’d crossed in and out of - daily - as a kid. There'd be no crossing through it today. The four-family house had been left to another cousin, even longer out of touch, who’d sold the property some time ago.

My cousin double-parked for a minute or two. Transfixed by the landmark, I thought of the many  times I had aimed a pink rubber ball at those steps way back when, my young friends positioned on the sidewalk ,readied for a catch. If one nabbed the rebound on the fly, I was out. Otherwise, every bounce earned me a base in our game of stoop ball. Baseball without a bat - or field. Just cement steps and sidewalk.
We drove on. 
Now as I think back, I realize my aunt, cousins, and I played our own game of street ball that day - on a makeshift field of memory.  First base in a Brooklyn bakery, we were just warming up as we  shared photos of the newest born  - my Patrick, their Anthony - on our Smart Phone apps. Approaching second, around Rosanne's kitchen table, I learned of my Uncle's miraculous recovery from a stroke ten years earlier and his tragic battle with cancer, only a year after that. By early evening we rounded third as we dug  deeper into the past at a local ristorante. Over appetizers and entrees, presented like works of art, we compared our own recollections of the stories we had lived and the stories we'd been told. And still we reminisced -  over dessert, espresso and the requisite anisette.

Home run.

By nine I was driven  back to Penn Station and on an Amtrack train headed north to New England. Back in my own bed by midnight.
What a day!  I 'm  grateful my cousin Joe located me through He reopened a window to the past with his brave phone call, and at the same time gave us a future to look towards.
Is there a long-lost cousin you'd like to contact?
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Five)

                                            ONE TWO THREE FOUR
I felt anticipation and fear as I waited to greet my cousin face to face. Would we be more strangers or buddies? Would we prune the broken branch of our family tree? Encourage growth again? He had called me, hadn’t he? I thought as the door opened. I stepped up onto the threshold and leaned into an embrace that lasted the equivalent of two or three bear hugs.

Fort Hamilton neighborhood
Joe introduced me to his landlord who appeared in the hallway, as landlords tend to do. “This is my Cousin Laura who I haven’t seen for a long time."His voice - full of emotion.

I went to sit on the  platform of the small stoop. Small as compared to one I remembered from the house I grew up in on 17th   Avenue. My cousin filled the doorway, his body supported by a cane, as we waited for his sister and mother to park on the street. “You look thin,” he said. I guess weight is relative.“There they are.” He pointed to his mother and sister as they walked toward us from the car. My aunt, 80, smiled broadly. Our hug – mutually grateful.

“You look wonderful,” I told her.

“Well, I don’t  feel so wonderful,” she replied as she gave a dismissive wave. But there she was, warmer than I remembered. Yet, I wonder if any of us can distinguish between what seemed so - way back when - and  what really was. Or how different our reality was compared to our cast of memory-makers. My father’s brother, not his wife, had been the main character of the family, for better or worse. He left a lot opened to interpretation. But then, don’t we all?  

Joseph’s sister climbed the steps. I was thrilled to see her. And even though she had, of course, aged, she seemed full of energy - clearly reminding me I was over five years older than her. I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve thought about how different I would be today - if my parents had not moved out of Brooklyn when I was ten. Did my cousins who stayed offer a glimpse of that difference?  

We headed to the car. My aunt said,“Let’s drive to 78th Street,” then turned to me. “You want to see you old house?”
Did I !

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Cousin Encounter of Another Kind (Four)

                          ONE  TWO THREE
I boarded the N train in the city at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. After a local stop or two the train emerged into the daylight.I could see the Brooklyn Bridge span over the East River through the window across from me, Just past the bridge, a looming Watchtower sign came into view. The last time I focused on these landmarks was on my TV screen, September 11, 2001, when thousands of Manhattanites mass exited the city. What looked Apocalyptic then, appeared as serene as a busy city could be serene on this sunny, humid morning.

Still, I could not keep myself from thinking What am I doing alone in this railroad car of strangers? Then I saw the chart of stops farther down the N line; ones that had a more familiar ring to them: Prospect Avenue, 59th St., New Utrecht Ave., 86th St. I remembered how my mother had so enjoyed wheeling her shopping cart in, through, and out of the small, Italian family-owned storefronts that lined 86th Street and 18th Avenue, before she became a reluctant Nutmegger. 

The train stops ran all the way down to Coney Island. It occurred to me: I might not only be trying to recapture the past. Maybe I was starting a future.
I followed my cousin’s instructions and got off at the Fort Hamilton station. I had planned to pick up a dozen cannoli  on the walk to his apartment. Within a half block I realized the 1950s “Little Italy” neighborhood I use to visit as a child had changed its milieu from Mediterranean to Far Eastern. Blueberry muffins from a Chinese bakery on 8th Avenue would have to do.
My iPhone Navigation App measured just over a mile from where I stood to Cousin Joe's address. I walked the ascent of street numbers quickly; the avenues, not so much, in the increasing humidity. In about twenty minutes I phoned from the front steps of his four-family apartment house.
He answered, "Be right down". Said his sister, the driver in the family, would pick us up on the stoop. Now there was a Brooklyn word: stoop. In Brooklyn, neighbors sat on stoops - in New England, porches.
(to be continued - just one or two more .....really!)
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