Ups and Downs

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I actually do take the stairs, sometimes.  This is the North Elevator, not to be confused with the Middle Elevator, or the South Elevator.  The most frequent comment… ” I could probably be downstairs and in my car in the time this takes to go one floor”.  This is the definition of an elevator “a platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels.” When I read this, I experience a myriad emotions which range from nostalgic to tempermental.  I grew up in a six story apartment building in Queens, New York.  Now, my FHB and I  live in a  converted loft building with five floors.  Growing up, when my friends and I were bored, we would push all the buttons as we got off at our floor, just to prank anyone getting on or waiting.  Now karma is having it’s sweet revenge.  I used to run up and down the stairs.  Now, I hold onto the railing in the stairwells for dear life because the risers seem twice as high as they were when I was ten, and I have moments when I imagine I am in a film noir, when the protagonist (that would be me) is pushed to her death by the unknown man in a dark suit.  Cue creepy music.

On a lighter note, the elevator, along with the mailroom, is a gathering place.  It fills a need beyond transportation.  It is a place to socialize, interact and acknowledge the weather.  It has also become a phone booth for many people who neither want to socialize (except with the people with whom they are speaking, in a loud booming voice), or an opportunity to learn the names of the current dog residents and acknowledge the degree of cuteness or age of the canines.  I usually remember the dogs.  I rarely introduce myself to the humans.  In days gone by, when civility was the catalyst for meeting new people and  the term “eye-contact” meant greeting someone with an expression of pleasure with a smile, one could learn of common interests or catch up on how their families were faring, or how the weather was when they came in from the street.  Nowadays, not so much. There are a lot of comings and goings in a building of 250 apartments.  And yet, sometimes the elevator is completely empty and it still takes quite a while for it to get to where I am waiting.

My FHB and I have a routine when we leave our apartment.  One of us walks ahead to “get the elevator” and the other one (that might be me) will lock the door, walk ten steps, check for my phone, go back into the apartment, find the phone, lock the door, and race to the elevator, and my FHB, will still be waiting.  About a week ago, while waiting, he turned to me and said “Do you think Martha Stewart purges because she is around food all the time and she always looks so thin”.  Thankfully, the elevator door opened, and I didn’t have to respond.

When I stand alone,  and wait, and wait, a lot of thoughts go through my brain.  I use the time to do some mindful breathing, or try and say the alphabet backwards.  I usually have the time to do that at least twice.  My hands are normally full of bags,  when I ascend or descend (elevator terms).   The staircases are strategically placed a distance from the elevator, and although there are moments when I think to myself, that this might be a good day to walk down or up, there is happily and finally,  that familiar ding, and that thought goes completely out of my head.  All that remains is the realization that sometimes I anthropomorphize this box in a shaft and I say “Thanks for the ride, Otis. See you later”.  That’s an elevator joke.

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To every season

This time of year is filled with beginnings… and endings.  For those of us in education, we measure our years from September to June.  For those of us who are Jewish, we recognize the start of Rosh Hashanah,  the New Year, 5779 according to the Hebrew Calendar which means we say goodbye to 5778. Our New Year starts on the first day of the seventh month of Tishrei.  Our summer school vacation seems to come to a quick end by Labor Day as we look forward to fall, despite it being three weeks or so away.  Sunblock put away, pumpkin spice ready to roll.

I find that seasons, despite being measured by days and months according to our relationship with the sun, also means the start and stop of things we do in our own relationship with time.  Over the past couple of weeks, I came to realize that I tend to lapse.   I lapse in many areas.  For example, I have been a lapsed blogger, as of late.  However, I finally have shown up again and thank you for being patient with me.  The summer months make me lazy and yet it is part of my adjusting to more sunlight and like a solar panel, I absorb the light we have had this summer (and the heat) and store it for the days ahead of writing and working and creating.

This is the time of year I also recognize that I have  lapsed  in the formal relationship with my religion.  As the New Year approaches, I re-engage with my cultural and spiritual center through home based traditions of preparing a meal that symbolizes the harvest of our days and the hopes for a sweet year.  This process of joining with family and sharing time and food makes me recognize that sense of belonging to a culture that transcends time and history.  I was raised in a home that included religious education to understand where “we”as a people, came from and that remembering our forebearers connects us from then to now.  That part is firmly imbeded in my heart and head.  The formal constraints of attending services, less so.  However, if I take what is in my  heart and head, and look around at the physical world, in its beauty and in its display of seasons, I also see the connection to all that came before me and all that lies ahead.  On these days we celebrate, my FHB and I will spend time outside in nature, in quiet reflection,  and that is where we feel close to our religion and spiritual guides.  At this point in our life’s journey we are at peace with these moments and renewed to welcome the New Year.

Wishing the students and educators of schools and life, a year of learning and exploration..  As we say as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, “Shanah Tovah”.  May the sweetness of this New Year fill your days and lives.

 

Trips Around the Sun

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Today I applied for Medicare, and yesterday the world lost the Queen of Soul.  Two completely different events, one extremely less relevant, but necessary, and the other so relevant and sad, and so seemingly, unnecessary.  Here’s the bridge…we age, but we think about that fact in a context that explains how things happen in time, our time.  Aretha Franklin’s death makes us stop in our tracks, and remember how old we were when we heard her and fell in love with her and her music, and her grasp on telling the story of loss and love and hardship and becoming powerful, when folks were trying to silence the voices of the oppressed.  We, the baby boomers, have lived through a lot, and the music of our generation still defines us, and  the history of change.  Every generation has those power houses of music who brought us along with them.  Aretha was one of those transcendent beings.  She was on my bucket list of musicians  who I wanted to see in a live  performance.  My FHB and I had tickets for a show in Boston that she was scheduled to perform, this past June.  It was cancelled at the last minute, and now we have a clearer understanding of how illness takes the best laid plans.

The clock is ticking much louder today.  The mundane mandate that suggests (or be penalized) that three months or less prior to my 65th birthday, I must apply for Medicare, even if retirement is not in the forefront of my thinking.  It is a reminder that, at some point, in the future, it will be.  In my head, I remain a teenager at times, a 34 year old mother of two, a newlywed twice, a mother-in-law twice, and a grandmother twice, all in the same head.  It gets busy in there.  Hard to fathom, but yet, reality bellows…” YOU ARE GETTING OLDER”.  We go through a lot of gains in life and then there are the losses.  We consider the people who aren’t with us, and they then remain fixed at the age they died, in our memories.  We are grateful to have those memories, and then we hope that we grow older to make new memories.

Our loft  was filled with music today.  We watched and listened to hold those sounds in our hearts.  I teared up and remembered.  She was a force of nature, that Queen of Soul.  Thank you Aretha for who you are and for showing us the way.  Your voice and music are immortal.  Peace to you and love to your family for allowing us to  sharing you, and your fierce musical passion  with the world.  It is a big deal and so are you.   .

 

My Frienemy

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This afternoon, I made the aquaintance of Walter the caterpillar.  He is a year long resident of Maine, who arrives sometime during July through October and then winters over and like all caterpillars, transform themselves into a moth the following spring.  It’s one of those pretty amazing magical events.  I saw him just kind of moseying along the railing near our room and we caught one another’s glance and there we were, just hanging out, getting to know one another.  It’s good when a local and a tourist communicate.  I actually think he was the one to tell me his name first, and I’m not actually sure if I told him my name.  We didn’t actually speak out loud, because that just causes others to question one’s sanity, but somehow I knew that Walter was his name.  I was off and running to catch up to my FHB because we were on our way to see the town of Belfast so I couldn’t really exchange too much information.  So, I said to Walter “see you later!” and headed off, but not before I took his picture.

I didn’t think much about Walter as our day progressed, but I did take a moment to find out a little more about him.  So, nowadays, as we all know, finding out information about someone is not that difficult anymore.  Just google “Maine caterpillar” and you can find out much more than you expect and sometimes, things turn dark and destructive.  Yes, Walter is not all he seems.  Looked kind of cute and furry with these black and white hairs sticking out.  Turns out he can create havoc and an allergic reaction and itching and I am just not even going to give you more information, because I am itching already and didn’t even touch him.  His real name is Walter the Hickory Tussock Moth.  He hangs around trees and eats leaves and give people a rash.

I’ve always been a bit naive about things that appear to be nice and cute, and I like finding out (or imagining) their names.  Makes you less scared of bugs, spiders, snakes and the like.

But cute critter status aside, there’s a reason why the Swiss German word for caterpillar (teufelskatz) translates to “devil’s cat.” Caterpillars have a dark side, one that justifies entomophobia, the fear of caterpillars.

We have another two days to spend in Maine.  It has been a good trip, albeit hot and humid (two of my least favorite weather experiences).  We read, drove around and ate some good food and talked to few people, which is pretty much what we like.  We are somewhat ninja tourists.  We like the quiet and solitude of our own company and try to stay out of sight.  Vacations are interesting pathways to recognizing that the longer you stay somewhere, the likelihood is that you will find a routine that makes you feel like you are in a temporary home till it’s time to go back to where you came from.  The locals like it that way, as do the tourists, and probably even the caterpillars.  Well, Walter, no need to keep in touch.  If I see a moth close by next spring, I won’t even remember your name.

T minus and counting

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So, Paka the cat actually refused to pose for the suitcase picture, so this is her understudy.  For those who are owned by cats (and we know that is a correct statement, don’t we?), packing and leaving becomes challenging.  I have made arrangements for her care, bought her favorite (as of recently) food, treats, litter and catnip, and before we leave, my FHB will put her favorite video channel, which shows hours and hours of birds landing and feeding at feeders.  We will quietly sneak out of the loft and hope that when return, she will allow us re-entry and that our couch will be intact.

Beyond, that, I have spent the better part of the day, preparing for our vacation.  Laundry is done, refrigerator is cleaned out, dishes are washed and put away and I have packed some food for the road trip.  That probably sounds pretty straightforward, and yet, I always ruminate about whether where we travel to has supermarkets, restaurants and drug stores.  I pack, just in case, Maine has closed all of the above and we will be in the wilderness, hungry and itchy.  It is completely ridiculous but I was a girl scout a long, long, time ago and the motto was “Be Prepared” which I have interpreted to mean, bring most of your household items because you just never know.

I have made a sincere effort to be a minimalist, which really means one large and one small suitcase, whereas normally it would be two large suitcases.  That is, in addition, to the cooler and insulated bag with oatmeal, crackers, peanut butter and some cooking utensils.  I just realized that I  had better put the can opener in.  You never know.   We will forage for fruit on the roadsides. Blueberries are big in Maine.  Actually they are small in Maine and taste so sweet.  That will sustain us and I have brought wipes when our fingers get all blue.

Map, check!  Compass, check!  Flashlight, check!  And off we go.  Wish us luck….and have a good week.

The Maine Road

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So, in about 168 hours,  we will be sitting in a little cottage on a lake.  There will be mosquitos and no wifi.  Last year we saw the fjords of Norway.  This summer, we will see the sights of Skowhegan, Maine.  We will visit places with names like The Broken Hag and the Good Karma Farm.  We might see Bruce the llama.  We will take a tour of the Stanley Museum to be wowed by the inventions that the Stanley brothers created.  We will visit the towns of Unity, Freedom and Liberty.  We will be on vacation. We will do a lot of nothing which is something we don’t usually get to do.  We will eat vegan in Skowhegan.  We will buy the best bagels in Maine in L.A. (the other L.A., Lewiston-Auburn).  We will have time to hear our thoughts.

Do I seem pumped to hit the road?  You betcha.  I want to travel the back roads and country roads.  I want to stop and greet cows….I alway stop and say “Hi Ladies” when I see cows.  My FHB will be on the lookout for moose, which is not dissimilar to Waiting for Godot.  No Godot, no moose.  The meaning of life, and yet we meander on and on.  My FHB has fond memories of childhood trips to Skowhegan.  It was inhabited by the Akanaki indiginous people who named it for “watching the fish”. He will be hoping for a few bites on his fishing pole, and maybe there will be a couple of teases or tugs and maybe this time, a fish and not just a fish story.

Skowhegan has a history much like many of the towns of New England, battles and conflict, forts and more battles, the industrial revolution and a town that was and probably still is a place where people worked hard to make a living.  One of my FHB’s memories was going to “Shirley and Walter’s” which was a restaurant that served “very American food”.  Apparently, according to my sources, Shirley and Walter divorced and there went the restaurant.  I think it will be nice to see where it used to be….or not.  Seems like at this point in our travels, we see or try to see a lot of places that used to be, that we remember from travels with our families.  Nostalgia will be sitting in the backseat, reminding us of “remember when and where”.

My family spent a lot of time traversing the roads of Maine.  We crossed the border from Canada (when it was easier) at Jackman.  We rode through the 45th parallel in Rangeley.  My father would point out the Echo satellite as it moved across the sky.  Then we would head to the coast, to Acadia National Park and to Blue Hill and stand on the jagged rocks and look across to Paris.  Then I found out that Maine was filled with places named Norway, Peru, Paris, Carthage and Bath as an homage to places I hadn’t yet travelled to but hoped to see one day.

When we travel to Maine, we often talk about our respective summer vacations with our families.  Sweet memories and we wonder, in our conversations of past moments in the remote and touristy places, whether a dark haired boy ever saw a short dirty blonde haired  girl and maybe even held a door, or got in a car and  perhaps looked through the window at one another.  Maine is our destination, but maybe it was our destiny, long, long ago.

A Musical Note

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In the words of Stevie Wonder “Isn’t she lovely, isn’t she wonderful..”.  I would like to introduce the newest member of our family…Portia Amalia.  Portia means work  and Amalia means an offering.  She came to us on Monday and like any new member of a family…I just like to sit and admire her and wonder how she will enhance our lives.

I know I might have mentioned in a previous post that for my last birthday, almost nine months ago, my FHB told me that he wanted to give me something that he believed I  wanted.  He wanted to get me a piano.  I thought it was a perfect idea.   I was very patient.  We got a refrigerator.  I continued to be very patient.  Pianos take a while to arrive, like all things.  And then, through a conversation with a friend, and a very serendipitous event (another neighbor was moving and had a piano that needed adopting), the arrangements were made for Portia to travel down five steps, about a couple of hundred feet, carried by four burly gentlemen and a supervisor, and she arrived, none the worse for wear.

My playing skills are quite rusty. I sat down last night, with a book of “Memorable Standards” (quite an easy quick learner type)  and gently pressed the keys and Paka the cat yowled.  Everyone’s a critic.  I tried again, and my FHB, with his lovely baritone voice accompanied my version of As Time Goes By, and Paka yowled.

This wasn’t our first piano, but that other one was one of our kid’s piano,  and we just enjoyed it till it left. You would think that pianos were just a come and go kind of item in our lives.  The moving men have enjoyed the fruits of their labor as they kept moving that piano and this newer piano between homes.  It’s a living in this transient world of ours.

This morning, one of our sons asked if we were going to stay in the lofts for a long time….translated into “till you die?”.  I asked why would you ask that question and his response was “well, now that you have a piano…”.  Portia hasn’t been with us for long enough for me to see past the novelty.  We are surrounded by things, which I personify with names reminiscent of where/who they came from.  We have a piece of furniture that was custom built for my maternal grandparents when they married in 1911.  It came from their house, to my aunt’s house in New York City, to several of the houses we have moved to and from.  We call the piece “Tante Lisel”.  Another piece was in an apartment that I rented between houses. The owners asked if I minded if they kept a curio cabinet they owned in my apartment, because it was very heavy and they didn’t want to move it.  When we moved out, I asked, having grown fond of it, if we could buy it and we now call that one “John and Nina”.  I’m very sentimental about my possessions and like to imagine the people who are connected to them with the names I give them.  I feel a song coming on and as I sit looking at Portia, the words to “I’ve Got a Crush on You” are floating through my head.  Excuse me while a play a few notes…