December 12 – The Last Hanukkah With My Mother

by Ariela Zucker

Some months, more than others, bring up old memories. Some of them appear as vibrant as on the day they happened. The other day I looked at the calendar and saw that Hanukkah is only twelve days away. Suddenly it hit me, the memory of my last Hanukkah with my mother emerged from a faraway memory land.

It was Hanukkah of 1999 when, for the last time, I spent time with my mother.

We always went to Jerusalem to celebrate this holiday; my husband our four girls and I together with my parents would light the candles. The girls, each had their own Hanukkiah. They got to choose the colors of the candles, listen patiently to my father’s instructions which candle to lit first. Then we placed the lit Hanukkiahs in front of the big window in the living room, and the dancing flames framed our images in the dark glass.

My mother insisted on going through the ritual of blessings and traditional songs, which we did rather hurriedly to make it to the best part of the night–food and games.

Her homemade jelly donuts covered with fine powdered sugar never looked like the store-bought ones but tasted so much better. The dreidel games made for hours of fun.

That last Hanukkah did not feel the same. For the past two years, my mother wasn’t herself–she was irritated, forgetful, and disoriented at times. Even without an official diagnosis we could tell. We went to Jerusalem like we did every year but spent the night in an old monastery in a small village on the outskirts of town. We thought that the sense of adventure would distract the girls from the fact that they couldn’t stay at my parent’s house. But the rooms with their soaring ceilings and the thick walls of Jerusalem stone were bone freezing.

The lightning of the candles was a somber event that evening. Did we know, in the way one sometimes sense things before they happen?

Less than two weeks later my mother passed away. The windows of her hospital ward looked over the small village and the monastery where we spent our last visit.

The day she was buried, the tenth day in the Jewish month of Tevet, is also a day of mourning and fasting commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, resulting in the destruction of the first temple and later it became Memorial Day for Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown.

Completely irrelevant, perhaps.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at

This piece was originally published on Ariela’s blog, Paper Dragon at


December 6 – Writing Companion

by Ariela Zucker

Early in the morning, when the first rays of light struggle to rise above the trees in the backyard, I remember our exchanges in front of the computer and a big wave of sadness washes over me.

A habit of many years, I send my hand, to pat her soft white fur, then I remember that she is no longer here and my hand freezes in mid-air.

She was my writing companion; I can’t imagine writing without her by my side.
I smile when I remember our morning routine. Me, serious and driven, pouring my ‘oh, so important thoughts’ onto the computer. She, just as motivated, walking back and forth stepping gently on the keyboard and sending herds of letters scrambling on the screen mingling with my orderly sentences.

I used to get mad.

Then I tried to work around her, realizing as I was doing it how pathetic it might look to any bystander. Attempting to get to the keys by sending my hand under her belly, or looking at the screen above her ears. Just as I found a somewhat workable position, and typed few lines, she would move and graciously send a paw or a tail and brush it all away. In the end I would give up. I’d laugh and pet her on the head “you are right, I am taking myself way too seriously.”

I would sweep the clamps of hair from my shirt, phoo away some more fine hair stuck to my face, and lean back. She would stretch slowly, yawn, get up and walk away to curl in the sunny spot on the couch.

Distracted and restless, I stand up. Outside the backyard is covered with dry brown leaves. I can see the small heap of stones marking her grave under the old oak tree.  I know they are not meant to be with us forever, but this does not take away from her absence by my side.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at

This piece was originally published on Ariela’s blog, Paper Dragon at

November 13 – Forest Bathing

by Martha Slavin

Though I love trees, I was somewhat skeptical when at a writers’ retreat recently, we were invited to go forest bathing. I’d first heard of the expression from one of our nieces, who lives in a large city and wanted to go tree bathing to reconnect with the natural world. Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku became a Japanese practice in the 1980s when Japan included the practice in a public health program. We all know how soothing being in nature can be, but somehow in our busy, concrete-laden world, we sometimes forget to walk on the grass and take a deep breath.

I’m intrigued by the idea that trees talk to each other. I am not someone who has sought mystical or spiritual relationship with trees, but I am thrilled by the science behind how trees communicate with each other. Research by Suzanne Simard at Yale shows that trees interact with fungi in the ground and network with other trees in the neighborhood by exchanging nutrients and information about the family of trees around them. There are even trees called Mother trees, the oldest tree of a species with the knowledge of the community of trees within its area.

I didn’t expect much as we group of writers stood together at the top of a hill ready to forest bathe and to write about it. We stepped on the well-worn path leading into a small wooded area. I find it hard to be mindful when I am not alone and conscious of others around me; but eventually I settled down and noticed the forest. I saw a tunnel formed by trees’ branches bent low over the path to create a shelter. My eyes caught minute strands of spider webs connecting one tree to another. I only saw them because a slight breeze brought them to my attention as they floated in the air. I followed the fine lines from one tree to the next. Tiny spiders scurried along the lines to wrap up even smaller insects trapped in the webs. Birds, disturbed by our presence, chirped and flew from one perch to another. They wrested pine nuts from the cones attached to the branches and trunks of Bishop pines along the path. Flies or native bees swirled around me as I walked near them. Agitated, they darted from one tree to the next, and buzzed around my head.

When I returned to the path’s beginning, the ground spongy beneath my shoes, I spotted a circle of young pines and sat inside the circle with my back against one pine. I pulled out my journal and wrote the word “Connections” while a breeze moved through the tops of the trees. I felt the tree shudder from the top all the way down to the roots of the tree, the vibrations thrumming through my back. I have never felt a tree move this way. I have never been so close to the heart of a tree.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

November 10 – Exiting Employment

by Debra Dolan

Today is an anniversary date difficult to grasp. It was two years ago that I left the office saying, “See you on Thursday”, and have yet to return.  After struggling for several weeks on a reduced schedule I was placed on immediate full medical leave. With employment as a priority, after the accident, I realized that all I had been doing was recovering from one day in the office till the next. Pretending was exhausting and only exasperated symptoms.  Now after nearly forty years of always “effortlessly, it seemed” having a job, there does not feel like one is possible to return to.

Working has never been the centre of my life yet it has always been a very important aspect of it and I have poured energy, intelligence, candor, diligence and true self into diversified positions. Employment ensured purpose, routine, socialness and financial stability.

In the beginning, at home, I would gaze at all the busy people in my neighbourhood and among my cherished friendships with envy, desiring to join in again. I imagined that all I wanted was to be back where I used to be, but something in my head recently seems to have moved on a bit, a shift has occurred, and however much I am longing to feel my purpose and power again, it doesn’t feel possible returning to who I once was.  I recognize that I have been waiting for my blessed pre-injury life to return. Now I understand it is unlikely and to move forward, not look back, in a new direction.

A few months ago, the personal contents of my desk arrived in a cardboard box; plastic spoons and all. I was shocked with how sad and demoralized I felt as I opened it alone and how literal a co-worker had undertaken the task. It had, after all, been 17 months since I was last physically present at the office. As the pitiful domesticity of my working life was placed on a beloved farmhouse table I wondered who had been designated the task. Were they stricken and sympathetic or mildly gleeful? There was no note.

Reflecting upon those raw feelings, I recognized there was never an opportunity for business goodbyes and that upset me tremendously given how much I had enjoyed my position and colleagues.  Using the sorrowful unpacking emotion as a catalyst I found a larger cardboard box and with the same efficiency packed for donation all the business clothes I no longer identified with or had not worn for two winters.  I spread them all over the bed and the floor. Skirt suits and trouser suits, coats, shoes, bags, scarves and coats, and all, I am proud to write immaculately kept. There were no descending hems or missed buttons and all items were freshly washed or dry-cleaned waiting recovery. As I placed them into their new temporary home I felt elated knowing another woman will have the same sense of independence and confidence that I had experienced wearing them.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

September 29 – Seasonal Prompts

by Marilea Rabasa


I love observing the seasons and the months they represent. They are the embodiment of the natural flow of life and a constant reminder of change and renewal.

I was a high school teacher for twenty years. Summers were times for me to breathe, relax, and get off the treadmill. Then in August the anxiety and excitement would build, as I felt hungry to return to school and start using my skills in the classroom again.

Just as our lives change and new routines replace old ones, our feelings about the months of the year change as well. Bright red chili festivals have replaced pumpkin cutting in the classroom for me. Life is never static, and I do well to remain open to new opportunities as they present themselves. Change is good. Change is very, very good.

Now, some months are times of remembrance. I’ve been retired for nearly a decade, and August/September has a new meaning for me. August 16 is the birthday of my mother, who died eight years ago. And August 23 is the birthday of my estranged daughter, Annie. But now I celebrate my granddaughter Emily’s birthday on August 9 by going to Seattle to see her. I never miss either of my granddaughters’ birthdays. In focusing on my blessings, I feel a sense of abundance every day.

September/October start to herald in autumn for me. In Albuquerque the leaves change color from the frosty night air. This is a welcome change from the oppressive heat of the summer. But here the leaves turn yellow, not the reds I used to see in New England.

In New Mexico, autumn is a gorgeous and productive lingering well past Thanksgiving. It’s harvest season and the farmer’s markets overflow with abundance from the ground. Many holidays come in autumn and on the cusp of winter. These are always poignant times of the year for me, but now more than ever they are times to take stock and savor all that I have.

Winter drops like a curtain, in some states more than others. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mother Nature lowers the boom. Winter is bitter in the high desert. Where I live, there’s very little snow. Sandia Mountain, across the rift valley from my farmhouse, attracts all the “weather.” At nearly 6000 feet, the air is cold even with the sun shining, though the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

Winter rings in differently state to state. But universal, in the areas where cold weather does settle into our bones, is the wish to smell spring in the air.

Many of us enjoy watching the trees coming out of dormancy and preening like peacocks, their colorful buds in bloom. We thrill to see the first flowers peek up from the ground. And gradually, though differently from state to state, we see the resurgence of nature, in all its glory. It is the season of renewal, of new beginnings.

Life goes on, and we with it.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

September 12 – Just Lily and Me

by Susan Weidener

A beautiful sunny afternoon, the cicadas singing, and I am bathing Lily. She seems a little cowed when I pull out the hose and tie her up to the porch railing, bracing herself for the spray of water, the shampoo which I lather into her short caramel-colored fur. She looks at me as if to say, “why” and I tell her that it’s to get rid of the smell of something she’s rolled in―smelly dirt, maybe the remnant of a dead rabbit―and that it will be over soon and “you, my beauty will smell wonderful.”

She is the perfect dog for me after raising two strong-willed male children. Sweet, gentle, willing to do almost anything I ask. I had always wanted a yellow Lab, maybe after reading Old Yeller and having some sentimental version in my mind of what Labs are like―loyal, steadfast, a companion and protector―or in my case, protectress―until the end.

She is truly my dog. I don’t have to say I got her because the boys wanted a dog; they’re grown now. No, I wanted a dog for the love and companionship; to ease the loneliness of my life as a writer, a woman alone. And the thing is, with her by my side, I am never lonely.

She is also the smartest dog I’ve ever had. Chin up, ears perked, eyes alert, she listens to my every word and picks up on them right away: sit, listen, good girl, puppy dinner, let’s go for a walk, bedtime … and upstairs she bounds into my room.

I look at her now lying on the deck, drying in the August sunshine, one paw tucked under her chin, keeping an alert eye on her backyard for the errant squirrel or baby bunny that she loves to chase.

Lily and I bonded when she was just six weeks old.

A certain serendipity accompanied her entrance into my life at the tender age of sixty-three. Our black Lab, Lucy, had died just three months before. As I visited friends who had a sweet black Lab named Millie, their dog made me miss Lucy even more.

Lucy had been my son’s dog. She bonded early with him; dogs do that when they know who is responsible for them being there and it was Daniel who had begged me one spring day to go up to the middle school with him.

“Mom! The principal has Lab puppies in a laundry basket in his office and he is giving them away! Can we just go and look …” and at my slight frown … “please, Mom? Just look.”

Right. Famous last words.

About a week after the dinner with Marcia and Norm, the phone rang.

“You still looking for a yellow Lab puppy?” Marcia asked. And so, one phone call changed my life―and Lily’s.

I stroke her head, consider her expressive brown eyes. “What do you say, girl? Time to go inside and do a little writing?” Without hesitation, she follows.

Susan G. Weidener is a former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has written two memoirs and a novel based on a true story. She teaches memoir and fiction to adults and facilitates the Women’s Writing Circle in suburban Philadelphia. Susan lives with her yellow lab, Lily, in Chester Springs, PA. Find her online at

August 31 – An Ordinary Thursday

by Pat Anthony

Sometimes it’s okay to write about the inconsequential, what doesn’t shake the earth, slides to the horizon where it accumulates with all the other slides into a nice hummock, not even a mountain, but there nonetheless.

Today was like that as I pulled into Wal-Mart after physical therapy for a bad hip that puzzles everyone: stationary bike, stability ball, manipulations, MRI in the morning.

She is tiny, white hair shining above her navy tunic. She comes toward us from where her grocery cart is parked beside a massive black Chevy Silverado. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but my keys are locked in the truck. Do you think I could use your cell phone if you have one? I locked mine in the truck so I don’t have to bother answering it while I try to shop.”

I size her up and speed through a mental list of safety measures for sharing cell phones as I move toward my car, being a kindred spirit who locks up my cellphone before shopping.

She calls her husband who is really deaf and out working on a trailer; I’m afraid he won’t hear it. He doesn’t. She calls her daughter who doesn’t answer.

I ask her if there’s anything frozen in her cart and she laughs. “Oh yes, there’s ice cream.” I suggest we wheel back into the store to at least park in the air conditioning.

She tries her daughter at the shop and finally gets an answer and explains.

I tell her that perhaps customer service would put her thawing items in a cold space until her second set of keys arrive but she laughs again, serene and warm,.

“Oh honey, I’ll just make him a chocolate malt. No need to worry.”

I go to search the store for items on my list, particularly a Frozen Be Calm, Let it Go rolling backpack for a step great-granddaughter. There’s irony in there somewhere.

My phone rings again, and her daughter wants me to let her know that her Dad is truly on the way. I return to the lobby and deliver the message to more smiles.

Not being of the calm and serene disposition, but bipolar and anxious over every small thing, I marvel at how she has been placed in my path today, an ordinary Thursday.

Where we meet our God is always a puzzle. Moses met him in the burning bush, Elijah hears a tiny whisper, the apostles see him walking on white-capped waves. I meditate on Megan McKenna’s idea that “the Messiah is one of us.”

I let her know when we leave, reassure her once again, and cherish her smile one more time. She will remain nameless, this woman who in her own distress could make me feel whole and helpful. While her ice cream thawed she gave me the gifts of peace and calm as I watched her let it go. I’ve never seen the movie but today I got the message.

Pat Anthony writes from the rural midwest, studying furrows in the land and on the faces of those who work it. Recently retired from education she is a former small press poetry editor and poems daily. She is published fairly regularly in various journals and actually enjoys editing and rewrites! She blogs at