Oh, Shenandoah


A million or so years ago, my young husband and I took a drive down South.  We wanted to visit some college campuses, because we were looking for graduate schools.  We made some appointments, got into our old brown Toyota Corolla and headed South.

We stopped in New Jersey, on the very day of Bruce Springsteen’s 31st birthday.  We went on to Delaware, to Maryland, and then to Virginia.  We camped, in Shenandoah National Park, in a place called “Big Meadow”.

We were young, and open and ready for the world to show us what it had to offer.   Shenandoah showed us mountains, and fields and deer and music and a gentle beauty that we could not forget.

We went back there, of course.  We stayed in a cozy cottage for two, in the fall. We watched the sun set over those mountains. We walked at dawn in a dewy field filled with does and fawns.

And we returned, first with our little girl, showing her the rosy light of dawn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought her hiking, taught her to pick blueberries and raspberries in the wide, wild field.  We fed her pancakes and bacon in the homey restaurant of the Big Meadow Lodge on Skyline Drive.

We came back again, with her brothers. Camping on the edge of the Appalachian Trail, singing with the guitarist in the lodge, walking the wide meadow at sunset, hiking the beautiful trails.

And every time we’ve been there, every memory that our family has made there, has had a soundtrack that has run beneath it all.  The songs have changed as we have grown and changed. But one song has been there through it all.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you

Away, you rolling river.”

In a few days, my daughter will be married.  That little girl who I held on my hip as we watched the sunset on the Shenandoah Valley will bind her hand and her life to her love, and will become a married woman.

At some point during the celebration, she will stand and walk to her father, who will take her hand in his.  They will smile, and embrace, and dance together as they both think back on the history of all that they have shared.  The song will be “Shenandoah”, by Van Morrison.


Listen to this, and think of us: Shenandoah

Posted in empty nest, Mamma Bear, mid life crisis, Parenting, weddings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments


One of the things I always enjoy on Sunday mornings is sitting back with my coffee to watch the political talk shows.  I’m sort of a news junkie, and I am fascinated by international relations. I’m always intrigued by the reactions of American politicians to events around the world.

I hear a lot of talk about ‘American values’ on these shows.

This morning there was a moment when the placement of an ad brought those values into very sharp focus for me.

I was watching Candy Crowley on CNN, talking to US politicians about the situation in Ukraine.  They were debating how we should respond, and the reactions were pretty typical and not very surprising.  Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Democrat) said that the President has reacted appropriately, and that we need to use diplomatic and economic pressures to try to influence Russia.   Sen. John McCain (Republican) said that the President was being “cowardly” and that he should immediately send weapons and military support to the Ukrainians.

So here we go again.  The battle cry is on.  “The US needs to send military support to Ukraine/Syria/Libya/Iraq/Afghanistan!!!”

Before I had a chance to really react, though, CNN took a break and an ad came on.  It featured the face of a tiny, wizened, beautiful African child, gazing into the camera with enormous eyes.

It was an ad for Unicef.  It showed us image after image of starving, dying children. It told us that for “Fifty cents a day”, we could save a life.

The babies looked like these:

flickr-6049797622-hd images-1

Fifty cents a day to support one of these children? Wow.

It got me thinking.  It got me wondering if John McCain or Dianne Feinstein would like to give more money to UNICEF. It got me wondering how much money the US Government does give to UNICEF.  It got me wondering how much the US government spends in a year on war.

So I did a little research.

My goodness.

The US Government allocated $132 million dollars to UNICEF in FY 2013.                           The US Government spent $92.3 billion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in FY 2013. Billion.  With a B!

Holy priorities, Batman.

I did a little more research.  Did you know that according to Charity Navigator, 91.1% of all money given to UNICEF goes directly to the needy? That’s a lot of babies who didn’t starve to death or die of water born illness.

Makes me wonder. If we could somehow improve the lives of families around the world, would the need for all this war decrease?

I know that’s a ridiculously simplistic notion.  Still, I wonder.

And as I go to the UNICEF webpage to make my donation, I think I’ll also write a letter to my Congressmen and Senators.  I will politely suggest that we refrain from spending even more money on weapons and war and shift our focus to education, food and healthcare around the world.


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Hoo, boy

I’m losing my ever loving mind.  I am.

I am the “MOB”, the “Mother of the Bride”,  and I am having a breakdown.  I actually did pretty well for the first eleven months of this engagement.  Honest!  I was very calm and collected.

Of course, that’s probably because my daughter is the “anti-bride”.  She is completely relaxed about the whole thing and couldn’t be less demanding.

Its a hippy wedding, for goodness sake!  The bride and groom met when they were arrested together with Occupy Wall Street.  We’re having the wedding at a farm that his family owns, under a rented tent, with tons of wine and beer and delicious catered barbecue. We’re going to dance and be silly.  The flowers are coming from a local farm stand. The bride is wearing green and the groom is wearing shorts.

So why, you may ask yourself, is the MOB having a freak out?  Well……….

Just because, I guess!

I have a beautiful embroidered linen outfit to wear, some pretty jewelry, some new sandals.  The music is set. I talked to the caterer to finalize the appetizers.  I talked to the farmer to finalize the flowers.

I’m getting a hair cut two days before the event, so I won’t be shaggy but the little pointy bits will have calmed down. I hope.  I even bought (gasp) new eye makeup!

Then I looked at my hands.

Holy hangnails.  What a mess!!

What should I do?!  Do I keep my hands behind my back all day?  Do I get a manicure? What the hell is a manicure, anyway? What would I have to do? What’s “gel”?  Would I be able to take it off after the wedding, or would I be compelled to go back every two weeks for the rest of my natural life?  What a commitment!!

If you think I’m being ridiculous….take a look at this.  This is the real me!  Holy God.

Jeez. What you you do to make her look presentable?

Jeez. What would you do to make her look presentable?

Sigh.  Good thing the bride is gorgeous………

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Even when they're awful....they're my team.

Even when they’re awful….they’re my team.

One of the hard things about being a parent is helping kids to learn what it means to be a good human being.   It’s hard to teach them that integrity is something that can’t be faked.

One of the really hard things about being an elementary school teacher is helping children to learn and understand that winning is really fun, but there is more.

I’m a Red Sox fan. I know a lot about losing teams, and about unexpected success. I know a lot about loyalty, and sticking with your team even when it sucks.  I’m a Red Sox fan; the memory of the 2004 American League Series will stay with me forever.


There have been few things in my life that have been sweeter than defeating the Damn Yankees. Watching A-Rod squirm. Watching Jeter Mourn. Watching Mariano blow it.

But here we are now, in 2014.  And A-Rod has been exposed as the cheater that he was. Mariano has retired. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees are awful this year. There will be no playoff rivalry this year.

This year its all different.

This year is the last year of Derek Jeter’s career.  And I find myself thinking, often, of how I can use him as a role model for my students. How he can be a perfect example of what it means to have integrity.

Oddly enough, Derek Jeter is reminding me of my Dad.

Like Dad, Derek Jeter took his job seriously.  He was humble.  Did you ever here Jeter refer to himself as “we”?  Me either.

Like my Dad, Derek Jeter was always aware of how lucky he was to have his job, his skills, his success. He is rich, but I don’t know if he lived that way.  He is single, but I have never heard of him being filmed in the elevator with a celebrity, have you?

I know that Derek Jeter isn’t a real hero: he hasn’t saved lives or changed the world or created beautiful art.  But he can be a hero in my classroom this fall, as I talk to my class about integrity, and doing your best, and about being a good sport.  He can help me as I talk to the kids about why it is important to support your own team but to appreciate the talents and skills and admirable traits of the “enemy”, too.

Maybe those lessons can go beyond the fifth grade classroom. Maybe they can resonate beyond baseball.

Who knows.

What I know is that I hope I can be at Derek Jeter’s last Fenway game.  I’ll cheer myself hoarse.

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Turn around…….

unnamedI am in that very strange, surreal space that descends upon parents when their babies are about to get married.

Two weeks from today, our oldest child, our only daughter, will be married.

She is an adult. A professional.  A strong, independent, capable woman.  She is more than ready to be married.

Wait, what? No she’s NOT!  For God’s sake, she was just born about a month ago! I can still remember every pain, every push, every ear infection, every diaper.   What do you mean she’s ready to get married?   No, no, no!!!! Every milestone in her life flashes before my eyes.   I see her playing “wedding” with our next door neighbor. I see her getting on the big yellow bus for the first time. I see her first date, her first job, her first day of college…….

She is marrying a great guy.  He is smart, lots of fun, and he clearly loves my daughter to pieces.

Hold it!  He’s a BABY!  Is he even old enough to shave? (OK, well he has an absolutely epic beard, but that was just a euphemism.) How can this boy be the future father of my future grandchildren?  What?!

The wedding is all planned, all ordered, all pretty much set to go.  Kate has her dress, I have mine. The food is ordered, the tent is ordered, the music is being organized.  Kate and Sam are all set for decorations, for rings, for flowers.  The wine is ready to go, sitting in its cases in my basement.  The kegs are on order.

Now all we have to do is wait.

And think, and ruminate, and dream that she is a baby again, held in my arms.  All we have to do is blink hard, admit that time has flown more quickly than we could ever have predicted.  Admit that this day is really, truly coming.  Our baby girl will be beautiful and radiant. She will walk with us toward her young man, and they will bind their hands and their lives together.

All we have to do is keep our eyes fixed firmly on the future, never acknowledging the pull of the past.

When she was very little, I would sing this song to Katie, and she would hold her hands on my cheeks as I cried.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?

Where are you going, my baby own?

Turn around and you’re tall,

Turn around and your grown.

Turn around and you’re a young wife

with babes of your own.


How can this day be here?

Posted in aging, children, empty nest, Mamma Bear, mid life crisis | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Is this normal?

At least its neat.

At least its neat.

So its a lovely summer day, and here I am at home alone.  I mowed the grass, pruned some trees, threw in a few loads of wash.  I walked the dogs and read for a while.

Its the third full week of summer.  I’m running out of things to keep me busy.  You know?

So I did what any self-respecting bored middle aged lady would do.

No, I didn’t eat a gallon of ice cream or indulge in a day time martini.

I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. The ones where I keep my essential ingredients.  You know the things that allow me to glance at the clock at 5 and put a delicious meal on the table at 6.

I guess I’m slightly neurotic or something, because I always have enough food on hand to survive a nuclear winter without leaving the house.   I have a dozen boxes of various pastas, cans of peeled tomatoes and tomato paste, boxes of broth. I have jasmine rice, brown rice, risotto, couscous, soba noodles, buckwheat noodles, quinoa and bulgur wheat. Who doesn’t have those, right?

But I have some really strange stuff up on those top shelves, too.  Like sugar cubes (what?).  And oat bran and two cans of evaporated milk.  I started to pull everything out so I could see what had been pushed to the back to make room for new stuff. And I found three boxes of jello!  Jello?!  Seriously?  The last time I made jello was probably ten years ago.  I grabbed the trash and started tossing.  I tossed a lot, lemme tell you.

Some things made me smile.  Like the half package of striped birthday candles and the dried up tube of red icing.  Memories of the old days, when the kids were still here.

Some things made me grimace. Like the package of Cream of Wheat. Blech. It reminded me of the time we all had strep throat and that was our Christmas dinner.

But a whole bunch of things made me scratch my head and wonder, “Where the heck did this come from?”  Like two bags of lentils, one green and one yellow.  And the jar of green olive tapenade.  And the can of coconut milk.

And then there is my spice cabinet.  Yikes!  I know that most cooks have sugar and cinnamon and probably some basil and oregano, right? But can other people reach into the cabinet and pull out black peppercorns, green peppercorns, crushed red peppers and ancho pepper flakes?  Can other people easily get their hands on turmeric, garam masala, five spice powder, star anise, whole nutmegs,  yellow curry, green curry, red curry, cumin, coriander, cilantro and lemongrass?  How about red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar? Huh? Sesame oil, corn oil, extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil and red chili oil?


Is it normal to have cream of tartar, corn starch, arrowroot powder, vanilla beans, and four kinds of sugar?  I mean, I don’t even bake very often!

Am I crazy for having a cupboard that holds celery seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and caraway seeds?

I’m a little worried.  And I’m left with a few intriguing thoughts about all of this.

First of all, I never knew a person could be a food hoarder, but its clear that I am.               Second, I must crave international foods more than I realized.                                             Third, I should be a much better cook than I am.

Curry anyone?

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I don’t understand.


I don’t understand.

Every day I tell little children, “It doesn’t matter who started the fight.  You both have to stop.”

Every school year, I help very young children to manage conflict. I work so very hard to show them that we are all part of one community.  That our differences are so much less important than our similarities.  I spend hours and hours helping young children to learn that might does not make right; that even if you are hit, it does not make it right for you to hit back.

I don’t understand.

Why don’t adults understand these basic lessons?

More specifically, why don’t the men who control the armies understand these basic lessons?

Dead Israeli babies are not brought back to life by dead Palestinian babies.  Dead Palestinian Grandmothers are not avenged with the deaths of Israeli Grandmothers. Burned out Jewish villages are not more valuable than burned out Moslem villages. Terrified, cowering Moslem families do not feel safer knowing that there are terrified, cowering Jewish families across the border.

I have been observing and mourning this conflict since 1973, when I participated in a foreign exchange program that sent me to Tunisia, to live with a Moslem family.  I knew nothing about Islam, I knew nothing about North Africa, I knew nothing about the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I was a teenager who was on her first adventure.

But while I lived with a wonderful, loving, caring, thoughtful, intelligent Islamic family, I learned a great deal about the struggles between the two cultures.

Years later, I took a job as an interpreter for Jewish Family Services, working to resettle Russian Jews into the Boston area. And while I worked with many wonderful, loving, caring, thoughtful, intelligent Jewish families, I learned a great deal about the struggles between the two cultures.

I cannot pick a side in this terrible, pointless, tragic war.  I cannot engage in the argument of who started it, or who is retaliating for what.

I am so sad and so frustrated as I watch the bombs arc back and forth, murdering children in their beds.

If I ruled the world, Mothers would be put in charge of every military power on earth. Mothers would serve dinner, kiss their babies goodnight, and then turn to the fights over land and water and oil and power and trade.

I don’t think that other Mothers understand this madness either.

Posted in Israel, news, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

All alone.

Sometimes I wonder why I so enjoy having a stretch of time at home all alone.

I’m not really an antisocial person.  I love my family. I love my husband. I love my wonderful friends.

But sometimes I love being here all by myself even more.

For the past 36+ hours, I have been in my house with just the dogs for company.  Paul went hiking with a friend. The kids are in their own respective homes. I passed up a couple of social invitations.

I stayed right here.

I mowed the lawn, weeded the veggies, piled extra soil around the potatoes.  I cleaned out a kitchen cabinet.

I read a stupid, mindless novel and worked on a story that I’m trying to write.

I listened to music and watched incredibly stupid TV.  I read the Sunday paper.

Last night I opened a bottle of Prosecco and grilled myself a pound of wild caught salmon, with just a bit of sea salt on it.  I made an unbelievably delicious cole slaw with sour cream and chive infused white wine vinegar.  I ate dinner on my deck, hearing only the sound of the wind in the pines behind the house.

I went to bed early and slept for 10 straight hours. I woke up and had my iced coffee on the deck with a dog on each foot.

Why do I so enjoy my time all alone?

Here is my theory.

I think that I like being home, in the house that I have cleaned and decorated and organized, with no one to mess things up. It soothes me to look at my little nest, set up just the way I like it.

I think that I love being free to focus on doing just exactly what I feel like doing.

And most of all, I think I like it because when I am all alone, I’m not talking or listening or thinking very much.  When I am here with the dogs and the grill and the mower and the compost pile, my mind shuts itself right down.  I go into a sort of dormancy that allows me to restart with more energy.

I am wise enough to know that I wouldn’t like to be alone for long, or very often.

But once in a while, every once in a long while, it is an absolute gift to be here in my sunny house with only my very undemanding self as a companion.  Me, and two sleepy old dogs.

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New Lessons From an Old Dog

The culprit at work.

Oh, my aching back.

Sometimes we get our life lessons in really unexpected places, don’t you think?

Our old dog, Tucker, has been having back problems lately.  He takes an anti-inflammatory every day, but that upsets his stomach, so he has to eat some yogurt with probiotics.  He has pain pills, but we try not to give them to him very often, because they make him groggy and cranky.  He goes for acupuncture about once every two weeks.

Tucker is getting on in years.  His fur is getting gray. He sleeps a lot and he doesn’t show the same interest in chasing things that he used to show.

He is kind of like us.  Well, actually, he’s exactly like me, but that’s part of the story.

You see, I have begun to think of all of us, Paul, Tucker, Sadie and me, as a group of old folks.  Our backs hurt. We don’t hear as well as we used to, and our eyesight is troublesome.

I look at my old doggie, and I feel so sad that he is sore. I sit beside him on the couch, and I kiss his silky furry head and I say, “I love you, old boy.”  I bring him treats when his tummy seems off, and I carefully stir good Greek yogurt into his kibble every night.

Our children are all grown up now, and Tucker and Sadie have sort of become our babies. We make sure that there is cold water in their dishes every summer night, and we put one of those dishes in our bedroom now that Tuck’s fading eyesight has made him afraid to walk the length of the hall to the kitchen.

And herein lies the lesson.  We have started to think of ourselves as four old folks, living together.

The dogs, though, don’t seem to be on board with that interpretation.  Dogs don’t seem to sit around taking count of their various aches and pains.  And here is how I know.

Last night, the four of us went to sleep in our bedroom.  The humans were on our Posturepedic mattress, under our clean sheet.  The dogs were each on their special orthopedic dog beds, Sadie on my side, Tucker on Paul’s.  The water dishes and water bottles were filled and there were tissues nearby.  We all fell asleep together at around ten.

And then, at sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, Paul and I awoke to the sound of both dogs, growling softly.  As I came slowly awake, I could hear the distant chorus of a pack of coyotes, deep in the woods.  Both of our dogs rose up at the same time, and moved quickly down the hall, all thoughts of poor eyesight forgotten.  We lay awake, waiting to see what they would do, hearing the sound of their clicking paws on the floor. Suddenly, Tucker began to growl, and then he let our one sharp bark.  Before either of us could react, both dogs began to howl, in perfect harmony.  The eerie sound rose and fell, her higher notes winding around his deep, primitive howls.  They were singing in the night, not like aging pets, but like the wild animals that they still are, deep in their hearts.

I sat up, and I listened. We both told them sternly to “hush” and “lie down”, but in all honesty, I didn’t really mean it. I loved the scary sound of the big, bold animals who live in my house.

In that dark, wild moment of the night, I was so happy that my old dogs were able to simply lift their heads and give a voice to the wildness that still resides so deep inside them.

I learned a lesson, don’t you think?

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Einstein had it right


Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy, from what I hear.  He understood a lot of things that most people can’t even begin to grasp.

But he also understood some things that seem pretty obvious, even to a simpleton like me.  Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

I’ve been watching the news a lot lately, and I’m wondering if humans are basically insane.

I’ve noticed that throughout history there have been groups of people who feel oppressed by other groups of people.  When that happens, very often group A decides to murder large numbers of innocent civilians in an effort to get themselves more resources/power/freedom/land/oil/gold/trade rights/water rights.   I can’t think of a single time in history when the killing of babies and children and old ladies has resulted in an increase in any of these.

And every time group A decides that it’s a good idea to slaughter the children of group B, the inevitable result is that the people in group B decide to slaughter their innocents to make the point that they won’t stand for such barbarous behavior.

This crap has been going on, as far as I can tell, since the dawn of time.


For example, the Palestinian people desperately want a sovereign homeland where they can live in peace and prosperity.  A whole bunch of them have been blowing up and shooting and killing innocent Israelis in an effort to get that homeland.  Hey, folks! If it hasn’t worked in the past 60 years, why do you think it will suddenly work now?   Insanity.

And the Israelis have been bombing, shooting and blowing up whole villages of Palestinians, including women, children and old men, in order to retaliate for all of the violence.  Why? Because the Israelis desperately want peace, that’s why!

Yo’, dudes! If striking back harder than they hit you hasn’t bought you peace in the past sixty years, why do you think its going to give you peace now?   Insanity, pure and simple.

This lesson was true in Bosnia, in Ireland, in Nicaragua. Its still true in Syria, in Iraq, in Chechnya.

Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I bet he recognized the fact that humans are insane.  I bet that’s why he looks so sad in this photo.

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