Nonni in Germany: The Bike Episode #2


If you’ve been reading this little travel journal, you’ll remember that I was a very brave Nonni when I rode a bicycle to the grocery store in Berlin. I mean, OK, so I crashed into a pile of stinging nettles, but I did ride the damn bike, right?

And, boy howdie. Was I proud of myself when I got home!

So when Katja and Jorg took us up to the gorgeous North Sea Island of Sylt, I was only mildly alarmed to hear that we were going to be taking a 45 km ride on e-bikes.

Yup. E-bikes. As in “electronically enhanced bikes that will make you go way faster than you would ever have gone on a regular bike.”

I was…excited!  No, really, I was. The island is so unbelievably beautiful that the idea of being able to see the dunes up close was my absolute dream come true.

I am a confirmed ocean addict, and this was like being in Heaven.

Seriously. The NORTH freaking sea! Where the Vikings sailed! Hell, yeah. I wanted to ride my (big scary) e-bike.

So off we went that cool, sunny morning. I was elated to find that I was able to balance the bike and ride along smoothly and easily. That electric boost was like magic. There I was, zooming along the dunes, the heather and sea on either side, my gray hair blowing in the wind.

It was the most fabulous morning. We stopped for cake (HUGE) and coffee at a beautiful spot on the island. We rode along the tops of the dune. We passed a lighthouse and fields of cows and sheep.  In the early afternoon we arrived at our destination, the little city of Westerland. We shopped and then sat down for a cold beer.

Eventually we headed back toward the northern part of the island, where our hotel was located. We had already ridden farther than I’ve ever biked in my life, but the battery power made the ride easy.

Easy until the moment when the people in front of me found a reason to stop suddenly.

You see, I had mastered that whole “pedal your bike and move forward” thing, and I had gotten pretty good at the “balance on two wheels” thing. But: I was NOT able to stop suddenly.

Uh, uh. No way.

So when Katja stopped in front of me, and Lucas stopped quickly behind her, I knew that I was doomed. I simultaneously pressed back on the foot brakes, squeezed both hand brakes, closed my eyes and made a squealing sound that was reminiscent of a pig being skewered by a fork.

And I face planted on the bike trail in front of me.

Actually, truth to tell, I was fairly graceful as I went over the handlebars. I’m told that I landed relatively gently on my right knee, right hand and right cheekbone. In that order.

All I know is that I saw the cement approaching my face and had just enough presence of mind to turn my head a bit. My bifocals flew off and I found myself on the ground. I have NO idea where the bike was, but it must have been pretty damn close.

I looked up at the horrified faces of my hosts, my husband and a very pretty young German woman. I had just enough comprehension to hear her ask if I was OK and to think, “Nice hair!” Then she was gone.

My biggest worry at that point was “Oh, no!!!! I’m staying at the first upscale resort of my LIFE and I’m going to get home with a black eye and all my face skin removed!”

Eventually I realized that I was in more or less one piece, and I got shakily up to my feet. My glasses were intact. My knee still bent. My expensive new athletic sandals were unscathed. I was completely and totally faked out, but nothing was broken.

I smiled and reassured everyone (especially poor Paul) and got back on the death machine. And off we went, to complete the 15 km left between our location and a good hot shower.

I did OK, overall.

Until Katja stopped to check on me, at which point I more or less screeched, “DO. NOT. STOP.”

It was a very exciting day.

I’m proud that I did it, and glad that I didn’t quit riding and demand a taxi. After another hour or so, we got back to the hotel.

And that’s where the funny part of this story begins. I’ll be back with more!

 

 

Anne Frank, and history’s lessons


When we were in Germany, we were both struck by how present the past remains. There are images, buildings, museums, memorial to all that happened here in World War II.

Berlin still shows where the wall once stood. There is an entire museum dedicated to recording what happened when the city was cut into pieces by those bricks and that mortar.

The city has a huge, somber, stark memorial to the victims of the holocaust, too. It’s both beautiful and haunting.

They bear the guilt of what was done in their country decades ago. They do not want to forget it. They talk about it often.

Why?

I think because so many people in Germany are afraid to let it happen again.

One thing that we noticed on our trip was how often people asked us about Donald Trump. What was going on in the US, they asked us. Didn’t Americans learn anything from the story of Hitler?

I didn’t have an answer. I never knew what to say.

Now we hear that Anne Frank, the young girl who wrote about the beauty of life while she was hiding in an Amsterdam attic waiting to be murdered, was denied asylum in the United States. Her father, Otto, applied for a refugee visa. He went through his brother in law, who was living in Boston.

The family was highly educated, well connected, ready to come to the US.

Their application was denied.

When I read why, every hair on my arms stood up in horror. It was as if Donald Trump had been in charge of the application.

I wrote this article, published in LiberalAmerica. I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll think about Anne Frank and about her family. I hope you’ll think about all of those modern Germans, asking why Americans have failed to learn from the terrible lessons of Nazi Germany.

I hope you’ll talk about this, pass it around on Facebook, bring it up at your book group.

I hope, most of all, that you will vote. And that you will vote carefully.

Anne Frank’s Tragic Story, and What We Can Learn From History

 

Nonni in Germany. The Segway edition.


You know about Segways, right? Those miracle movers that let you stand still and yet roll along the street without effort. Those fabulous two wheeled devices that you see tourists riding when you go into Boston or New York or Chicago or…..

Well. You know what I mean.

When we got to Berlin, I knew that there was a chance we’d be taking a Segway tour of the city. Actually, I was pretty sure we’d be doing it, because our German friends had given us a beautiful photo book full of the adventures they had planned for us. So I was ready to step onto my two wheeled chariot and head out to see the sights of one of the world’s great cities.

Except that when Katja and Jörg announced the next day’s Segway plans, it was right after dinner. Right after dinner on the day that I’d face planted into a hedge of stinging nettles while trying to take my first bike ride in over 20 years. I wasn’t feeling at my most athletic.

Or my most graceful.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that as we talked about our Segway tour, I was clutching a glass of incredibly crisp dry reisling in one hand and an ice pack in the other.

So I  thought I should just, you know, casually mention that I might not be, you know, the most graceful of Segway riders. I wasn’t scared. Exactly. I was more embarrassed in advance, picturing myself unable to get the thing to move, or having it careen out of control as I clung to the handlebars like an overweight monkey.

Katja, dear friend that she is, listened to my concerns and assured me that she and the others would keep me safe. But here’s the thing that makes her such a valuable person to have in my life. In her eyes, as she looked at me, I saw this: “You’re healthy, strong, capable. Why wouldn’t you be able to ride a Segway?”

It got me thinking.

So the next morning, after our Nespresso lattes and espressos (mmmmmm), our wurst and our bread and our (holy delicious) local honey, we headed into Berlin for our tour.

image2Yep. That’s me, second from the right. Helmet on head, feet on the platform, honest-to-God smile on my face.

That. Was. So. Much. FUN.

Seriously. If I didn’t live in the middle of the woods in rural Massachusetts, I would be saving up for one of these things right now.

It was magic! All you have to do is lean forward a bit, and it moves ahead on its own. Lean a teeny bit back (and I mean teeny bit. As in, just think the words “lean back”) and the thing slows down. It turns on a dime. It goes uphill, downhill, over bumps. No pedaling, no sweating.

Best of all, you don’t have to have the slightest bit of grace or athletic skill.

Perfect for me!

And Berlin, in all its beauty, charm, history, was right there in front of us to view and experience.

Amazing!

I might try one in Rome some day, if I get very lucky.

 

Nonni in Germany: “What’s that noise?”


One of the best things about traveling is how much it teaches you about yourself, and about your home place.

We had a few observations about our time in Germany that lead Paul and I to question a lot of what we look at as normal life in the United States.

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Let me give you three examples.

The first event happened while we were walking through the streets of Berlin with our friends. It was a cool, cloudy day and we had taken a beautiful boat tour of the city along the River Spree. Now we were walking toward the Reichstag, winding through the crowds of people on the busy streets.

Berlin is very quiet. In spite of all of the traffic, we rarely heard a horn beep or a siren wail. But now a police car went by with its siren on. Paul and I both stopped, but our German friends kept walking. My heart rate had picked up and I wondered how the others were feeling.

We found out that when a police car stops in the city with its siren running, the Americans think “Is it a terrorist attack? Is it a shooter?”  Our German hosts think, “Somebody parked in the wrong place.”

Interesting.

The second event was late one night. We were going to sleep at our hosts’ beautiful little house on the outskirts of the old East Berlin. The neighborhood is quiet and serene, even though it lies within the city borders.

Our window was open to let in the breeze, and we suddenly heard a series of loud, percussive booms. We looked at each other, both of us slightly alarmed.

“That’s not thunder.”

Paul went to the window, looked out. Everything looked peaceful, but the sounds continued. We both thought next about guns. Was there a shoot out happening somewhere? Was it a terrorist attack?

The house was silent. Whatever the noises were, our German friends were sleeping through it.

The next morning we asked about the noise, and found out that it was most likely fireworks being displayed as part of a concert somewhere in the city.

The last event is the one that stays with me and bothers me the most. We had just had coffee and dessert at an old, typically German restaurant on the shore of small lake in Berlin. It was a beautiful morning, and the area was filled with families boating, kids chatting, and people enjoying tea or coffee on the deck.

As we walked across the parking lot to our car, we saw two men getting out of another vehicle. One of the men, probably in his late 20s or early 30s, was wearing a baggy pair of camo pants, heavy black boots, and a black vest with many deep pockets. His forearms were heavily tattooed and his ears were decorated with large gauged earrings.

I whispered to Paul, “Yikes.” Katja looked at me with slight surprise. “Are you looking at his arms?”

“No,” I said. “But that vest……”   She looked puzzled.  I explained, “He looks like he is armed.”

Katja and Lucas were both surprised. “No!” she said. “He is a worker. He has tools in the pockets.”

Lucas summed it up. “Karen, nobody here has a gun.”

So that makes me think about life in the U.S. In the country that loves to call itself “free”, I am unable to walk past an innocent young man in a vest because I am so afraid of being shot. I don’t have the freedom to enjoy a lovely morning, because my assumption is that most of the people around me are carrying guns. I’m afraid of my fellow citizens, and I’m right to be so vigilant.

I live in fear of terrorism in a country where very little has happened. Meanwhile, in a European country that is filled with refugees from the Middle East, our friends go about their lives with no fear.

Makes you think.

 

Nonni In Germany: The Bike, Episode #1


I know that I’ve told you about our trip to Germany, but I want to give you a little bit of an insight into the highlights of the week. This story is about me on a bike.

Oh, yeah.

This old Nonni is one badass chick, lemme tell ya. I rode a bike!

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Here’s how it happened.

We were getting ready to make some dinner at Katja’s house in Berlin. I was in my element, chopping veggies and thinking about spices. Confident, secure, smiling as I diced the onions.

Suddenly Katja realized that we were missing a few key ingredients, and asked if I wanted to go with her to the local grocery store. Of course I did! I had gone shopping with her the evening before, and I was looking forward to another adventure in a store filled with both bargain priced booze and ten thousand versions of “wurst.” We headed outside.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but eventually I realized that Katja- tall, thin, marathon running, 15 years younger than me Katja- was taking out two matching bicycles. Two large, scary, bikes.

She expected me to ride one of them to the store! Pedaling with my own two legs.  And, you know, balancing my big old butt on that pointy seat.

My first reaction was to run for the hills, but I was trying to be a good guest. Also, I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t ride a bike. I’m an idiot.

I told my friend that I hadn’t been on a bike in at least 20 years. I reminder her that I’m a lot older than she is. I brought up my fibromyalgia. I coughed. I squinted my eyes. I sort of hoped that she’d decide to go by car, but I sort of hoped she’d push me.

Katja just stood there, regal and gorgeous, holding her bike. “You can do this,” she said. What could I do?  I climbed onto the infernal machine and pushed off with my left foot. And kept pushing. For at least 50 feet. I couldn’t get my balance well enough to peddle. Finally that left foot found its way to the pedal and I wobbled down the street.

We made our way through the leafy streets of Katja’s Berlin neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good as I peddled my way along. I started to feel confident. I started to enjoy myself.

I imagined how athletic I must look. I let the wind sweep back my silvery hair. I could feel my butt muscles working.

Oh, yeah, I thought, I still got what it takes.

Then we came to a narrow dirt path, heading downhill, and around a sharp curve.  Katja went down without effort, swinging her bike easily to the left to head across a narrow metal bridge.

I felt my heart seize up as I tried to follow her. My front wheel wobbled to the left, then wibbled to the right. I tried to slow down, but those hand brakes kind of scared me. To my horror, I saw that a woman on a bike (thin, muscular, graceful. Bitch.) was coming up the hill toward me, passing Katja with a jaunty wave.

I was heading downhill fast now, desperately trying to control both the wibble and the wobble. I squeezed the handbrakes, hoping to control my descent without hurling myself over the handlebars. As I got to the bottom of the hill and managed to pass the other rider, I realized that there was no freaking way I was going to be able to make the sharp left turn onto the bridge.

I had a choice. I knew that I was going to crash. I could either fall to my right and risk knocking myself unconscious on the railing, or I could fall to my left and land in a thick patch of bushes.

I had just enough athletic skill to choose the bushes. I squeezed the brakes, closed my eyes and lurched off the seat. Into the weeds.

Katja rushed back to me, afraid that I was hurt. A man who happened to be riding past us stopped to help. (Have I mentioned that everyone in Germany constantly rides a bike all over the place? Have I mentioned how athletic they all are? I hate them.) My face was red with embarrassment, but I was otherwise unhurt.

I laughed easily and brushed the leaves out of my hair. “I’m fine, no problem, no worries,” I chirped in my best American cheerleader voice. I carefully climbed back onto the bike and used my left foot to push myself along for another 50 feet before wobbling on across the bridge.

All was well until we got to the store and I started to feel the welts rising  on my left arm and all over the left side of my face. I felt like I was being stung by a thousand bees all at once.

“Um, Katja?” I asked tentatively. “What were those bushes that I landed in?”

She looked a little worried, and cleared her throat. “It was Brennessel.”

I just stared.

“It is called stinging nettle in English. Don’t worry. It only lasts for a few hours.”

Sigh.

I should have just kept chopping veggies.

 

Nonni In Germany


Well, what a two weeks this has been. The trip of a lifetime has come and gone and this old Nonni is trying to put it all into perspective.

Paul and I have been in Germany for the past 13 days, staying with friends we were lucky enough to meet when their son became our exchange student 18 months ago. We fell in love with him, we fell in love with his parents. They visited us, and now they have hosted us on the most incredible vacation of our entire lives.

At some point I will write about the gorgeous ocean views on the North Sea, about the crazy good food, the well behaved dogs and happy kids, the immaculate gardens and efficient trains. At some point I’m sure I’ll write about how it feels to know that you’ve made permanent connections with someone who lives a life entirely different from your own far across the world.

I know that I’ll have a lot to write about the dark and powerful history here and how the people respond to it. I have so much to share about the Wall and the holocaust and the Hitler years.

Right now, though, I’d like to start my travel journal with a story told through the eyes of those I’ve been lucky enough to meet here in Germany. We have been in Berlin, in a suburb of Berlin and on a gorgeous, wealthy resort island up on the North Sea. We’ve met people of all ages, some native German, some immigrants from other parts of the world. We’ve met people of various ages and occupations, and with vastly differing experiences.

They all share one thing, though, and that is their opinion of Donald Trump.

Please click the link here to read the article that I wrote for Liberal America this week. It’s called “A Writer in Berlin.” See what these people have to say about the U.S. presidential election.

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In front of the Reichstag

Sausages As A Metaphor For Life


1280px-Cooked_Newmarket_Sausage

I know there are all kinds of sexy ideas that could go along with this title, but I don’t mean a single one of them.

I’m talking about actual pork and beef and spices and goodness on your plate kind of sausages.

As a metaphor for the stages of life.

No.  I have not been drinking. Stick with me for a minute.

Way back in time, when Paul and I were very young, we were both in graduate school. We lived in a cozy apartment in Highland Park New Jersey. We both had part time jobs along with our full course loads, but we were really poor. I used to go to the grocery store with a small plastic counter to keep track of how much I was spending. I had coupons, I shopped the sales, and I made very careful weekly meal plans. When my counter got to $35 dollars, I was done shopping.

That’s all there was, there weren’t no more.

It was hard, but this was many years ago, so a dollar went further than it does today. Also, our local pub had fabulous happy hours with free appetizers and two for one drinks. We survived!

Anyway, one night I planned to serve pasta with marinara sauce. Paul wanted to have a sausage in his. I said no. The sausages had been defrosted for the next night! He insisted, saying he’d go meatless the next dinner.

I had a nutty, as I recall. We had a BIG old argument. Big. Furious on both sides.

I think he ate the sausage.

That was long ago. We’ve always joked about the sausage fight, because it summed up so much of what was hard for us at that point in our lives.

Flash forward, way forward, to two days ago.

I no longer carry a clicker in the grocery store. I no longer have to stop shopping at a certain dollar amount.

Now we buy all of our meats and most of our veggies from a local food coop called “MassLocal Foods.”

Food is no longer a problem. But there are other issues popping up at this point in our lives.

Sometimes I tease Paul about his slipping memory. He keeps losing his keys and forgetting to shut doors. Old man!!

I won’t be teasing him anymore, and its all because of a package of sausages.

It was evening, Paul was just home from work. We needed to get organized for a big family reunion that we are attending this weekend. He went out to mow the lawn and I pulled a package of delicious, local, organic sausages out of the freezer for dinner the following night.

Just then Paul called me to come out and help him put away some lawn furniture. I did. First I put the sausages down, then I went out. We puttered around, put things away, and I did a little weeding.

We had a nice evening, a good dinner, and we went to bed. I woke up at 3 AM thinking, “I need to grab those sausages and bring them upstairs.” Then I fell asleep again. I woke up and went through a normal day without EVER remembering the misplaced meats.

Finally, when it was time to cook, I remembered that I had never retrieved the sausages.  I went down to get them. They weren’t there.

Huh?

I looked in the freezer in the garage. I looked all around the garage, on the lawnmower, on the workshelves, even in the folded baby carriage.  Nope.

I looked in the upstairs freezer and in the fridge. Nope. I looked in the oven, the microwave, even in all the drawers. Nope, nope and nope.

I checked bookshelves, underwear drawers, dog beds. Nothin’.

Finally I sat down and googled “Alzheimer’s Disease.”

I texted Paul, just to fess up and give him a laugh. Then I started defrosting another package of sausages (I already had the rolls and wanted my delicious local treat!) I went down to the garage to throw something away and moved a pile of dishes and bowls that I had set aside for our camping trip.

And there they were. The missing sausages. Nestled in one of the plastic bowls and covered, for unknown reasons, by a plate.

Pretty funny, huh?

There are times in life when eating one little sausage seems like the greatest possible indulgence. Then there are times in life when you can buy all the sausages you need, but you keep forgetting where you put them.

 

In The Midnight Hour


I am absolutely not a night owl. At all.

I’m also not really a morning person.

What I am, in my best days, is a “sleep late, take a nap, go to bed early” person.

But every once in a while I find myself awake and alert in the midnight hour. Tonight I went out to dinner and a show with my Mom, my sister and some friends. It was wonderful! Musical theater complete with adorable child actors, incredible voices and a gorgeous set. I don’t do this often enough.

We came out of the theater into a hot, steamy night that was lit by a hazy half moon. I said my good nights and hopped into my car for the very long ride home.

And I turned on NPR and heard about the latest horrific terrorist attack in France. I drove through the night, away from the city and home to my woods. I listened to the news and I worried and steamed and grieved and swore and ruminated.

So helpless. We all feel so helpless in the face of such blind hatred. We don’t know what to do.

I wound my way through the mists that rose from the hot and rainy roads. I followed the moon home.

And now I sit, in the midnight hour. Awake, alert, trying not to let my anger take me over.

In two short weeks, Paul and I will fly to Germany to visit our friends. Our very first trip to “the Continent.” Ordinarily, I’d be filled with anxiety about such a big trip, especially with all of the attacks going on.

But you know what?  This time I don’t give a damn. This time I am sitting in my steamy living room, in the middle of the night, watching that hazy moon set over the trees. I’m thinking about the world.

I’m thinking that I go to bed too early most nights. I miss the midnight hour.  I wake up too late; I usually miss the dawn. I live a life of calm in a quiet little town in the pine forest. I miss the wider world.

So I’m going to fly to Berlin to be with my friends. I’m going to see Germany. I’m going to eat in a big city restaurant and swim in the North Sea.

I’m going to stay up very late, and I’m going to look at the moon over Germany.

And I’m going to completely ignore those hate filled, bitter, angry people who think that they’ll find rescue or release in the deaths of innocents. I’m not letting them get in my mind.

I’m an independent, joyful woman. The clock just struck 1 AM, and I am still awake, still looking at that low lying yellow half moon.4443294004_60127f83be_b

We’re Cooking Now…..


IMG_20160706_151018I just finished a week of teaching a summer camp class called “Cooking Around The World.”

I got home two hours ago. I have already sobbed, taken a soak in the hot tub, washed a load of soaked/greasy/filthy/chocolate covered laundry, washed, dried and put away a load of dishes, eaten a plate of Chinese take out and had two glasses of wine.

My feet are up, the ice pack is on my lower back. It’s 7:45 and I’m struggling to stay awake.

Well. That was fun!

I had two groups of children, a morning class and an afternoon class. Each had 10 kids in it. They ranged in age from 5-12.

The day went something like this:

Arrive at 8:45, find 4 kids and 2 parents waiting in the classroom for the 9 AM class. Chat, smile, pull out apples, potatoes, onions, place on tables. Greet kids, get them seated, take attendance, get ready to explain the day’s recipes.

Smile through: “What are we making? Can I go first? What country is it going to be? Is there bacon? Why don’t we use more cheese? Do you like my stuffed dinosaur? Can we go out to play? When will this be over? I have to pee! Can I chop?”

Hold up hand, use old teacher tricks “If you can hear my voice, clap once.”

Explain the first course. Give out knives. VERY carefully. Explain the plan to fabulous, patient, kind high school volunteers and get them to supervise the potato chopping.

Run madly around the room for the next two hours chopping, mixing, helping kids to pour, mince, shred, slice, sautee and bake. Do the frying myself while looking over one shoulder to give instructions on making bread dough. Intersperse casual conversation with 4th grade future chef to yell, “Get off the chairs! No ice cubes in the oven, please!”

Smile through: “Why does it smell funny? Can I lick the spoon? My mother makes this better. When are we going outside? Can I eat the garlic? I have to pee. When can we eat?”

Finish the frying, wash another giant load of dishes and sweep the floor while the volunteers watch the kids outside. Get everyone seated, serve the food, smile, pat heads.

Start the clean up. Wash more dishes. Dry. Run across the room to put them in the dish pile.

Serve dessert. Make yummy noises. Smile. Send the kids outside again.

Wash dishes, tables, chairs, counters. Get out supplies for the afternoon class.

Call the class back in, smile, thank them. Explain why they can’t take home latkes for all their friends and relations.

Spend my lunch half hour desperately scrubbing, cleaning, putting out bowls, apples, potatoes, onions, knives.

Greet the kids. Repeat the entire process.

Do this for one full week.

Finally get to Friday afternoon and send the kids outside to play ten minutes early so I can clean the ovens, stoves, counters. Drag over the giant overstuffed trash cans that haven’t been emptied for a week and smell like Crap Around The World. Drop one on the top of my left foot. Hop around in circles, sniff back tears, debate about whether or not there’s enough time to put ice on it. Decide to wait on the ice and keep scrubbing. Wrap up last remaining onions, apple dumplings, pizza, chocobananas from the week. Clean out the fridge.

Call everyone in, thank them, greet the parents, limp up to the front door to say goodbye.

Kneel down to receive the world’s most heartfelt hug from the beautiful 5 year old who kisses my cheek and says with complete sincerity:

“I think you should come to our house. I can make you some fry bread.”

Wow. What a week!

 

A gift, a mystery, a puzzle, a charm


389026_4188736874199_1803145186_nI so want to think of myself as a writer. I want to believe that I am one of those who are gifted enough to throw a net around the terrible beauty that is life and capture it for us all to study.

I wish I had that talent. I wish I had the magic that it takes to identify each emotion and name it and hold it up before our eyes. I wish I had what it takes to polish each feeling and rub off the useless fragments on its edges. I would love to believe that someday I’d have the gift of truth in my hand so that I could open my fingers and let everyone understand what it is that exists underneath the confusing mass of tears and laughter.

I wish I could do that.

Right now, though, I have to lower my head into my hands and accept the fact that one single day can hold so much joy and so much pain. I have to let go.

Life is just such a fucking gift. Every day. Every minute.

Today I cooked with 20 little children. Some were there because they want to learn more about cooking. Some were there because their parents have to work and this was a safe and fun place for them to spend a summer day. Some were tired. Some were sad. Most, though, were filled with the innate joy that is childhood in a safe place. They laughed, they joked, they asked me 20,000 questions. They shouted, “Me! Can I? I’ll do it!!! I’ll go first!!!” They smiled at me, they thanked me, they complimented me on my cuisine, my gray hair, my “Best Nonni” apron.

Today was joy.

It was also 95 degrees while I was frying felafel and making pita bread. I sweated so much in the first hour that when I raised my arms to push my hair back, I wondered who had brought in the goats and why thay smelled so bad.

I was exhausted. My legs hurt from standing for 7 1/2 hours. My back hurt from leaning over the table to show them how to mince, stir, knead. My arm hurt from stirring.

By the time I got home and stepped into a cool shower, I was feeling sort of sorry for myself.

Then my husband came home. He looked upset. I asked what was up.

He told me that one of our oldest friends just lost her daughter, very suddenly.

What? The young woman who died (What? DIED????) was the first baby that any one of our friends had. We’ve known her for her entire life. She was vibrant, alive. A young Mom. A teacher.

Everything changed then.

How is such a thing possible?

What the hell does life even mean if something like this can happen?

Overwhelmed with grief for our friends. Desperately wanting to hold each of my children. Wanting to tell them how much I love and need them.

How can life do this? How can God?

I don’t understand.

I certainly don’t understand well enough to write anything that can help to make sense of a day like this one.

All I know is that every goddamned day is a GIFT. And we have to embrace each one. Every hot, sunny, humid moment is a gift. Every baby girl covering herself with butter to express her desire for a nap is a gift.

Every rainy, cold, boring afternoon is a gift.

Every aching muscle is a reminder that you’re alive to feel it. Every night of insomnia is a night of time to think and remember and dream.

And every single phone call or text from a child, no matter what the reason, is a gift from the Gods of the loving universe.

Tonight I go to bed achy, sad, joyful, grateful, grieving.

I wish that I could cover it all more eloquently, but I can’t.

Life is both a gift and a mystery. Let’s just embrace that.