May 25 – The Darning Egg

by Linda C. Wisniewski

On a cold spring morning, not too long ago, I dug an old pair of socks from the back of my drawer, admiring the purple, black and olive-green stripes I had knitted. Though oversized and lumpy at the heel, they felt warm and cozy as I put them on. Later in the day, I noticed holes in the toes and went upstairs to toss the socks onto the floor of my closet.

Later that week, with time on my hands and a need to feel productive, I sat on the bed, socks in hand, debating my choices. My husband watched, amused.

How long have you had them? Throw them away.

But how could I toss them aside, after struggling so hard in sock-knitting class, wielding four double-pointed needles in my two hands until I finally finished these trophies?

My mother taught me to knit, but never socks. She did not have the patience. She was always in motion: cleaning, cooking, sewing. Sometimes she’d sit down to read a McCall’s or Good Housekeeping magazine. I see myself in her, or is it her in me? Reading, knitting, and sewing can easily become just one more thing to accomplish.

I can do this, I thought, holding my holey socks in my hands, I can do this one little thing. I can mend the socks. I turned the first one inside out, tucked my fist into the toe, and remembered I still have my mother’s wooden darning egg. I took it down from a shelf and turned my sock over it. With quick small stitches, the way she taught me, I closed the hole, ending with a knot, a snip of the thread – and a deep connection to another time.

How is it that such a small, unnecessary task satisfies my soul? I wonder what else I can mend.

Linda C. Wisniewski writes about life and the connections we make by giving each other the space and time to be heard. Former feature writer and columnist for the Bucks County Herald and the Bucks County Womens Journal, Teacher of memoir workshops at the historic Pearl Buck House in Dublin, PA.  Linda is also the author of the memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage, published by Pearlsong Press. This post originally appeared in her blog, https://lindawis.com/.

May 18 – Where Beauty Lies

by Ariela Zucker

Flower Montage

We got to Portland in the middle of March. My first impression of Maine was “gray.” The sky was the color of ash. The snow, still on the ground, was a mixture of mud and slush. Only a few people walked the streets wrapped in their winter coats, and their heads bent to the ground to watch for hidden obstacles.

When the wind blew, it brought a faint scent of salt from the ocean but mostly a bone penetrating chill. And then when the snow finally melted by mid-April, the rain began. Cold drops that turned everything into mud. Mud season the locals kept joking was the fifth season in Maine. Following a never-ending winter, quick and chilly spring, short summer, and a promise of glorious autumn, that more often than not failed to deliver.

After two years in Idaho, I missed the mountains’ deep greens and the lake in front of our rented home. Idaho supplied dramatic scenery, Maine, in comparison, was almost flat. Under the gray skies, the colors appeared muted, and the residents unfriendly and brusque. People kept telling us that in time Maine will grow on us (like a fungus my husband used to joke).

In time we will discover the colors, the subtle beauty, the picturesque corners that gave Maine its reputation. Seventeen years later, I can assure you that it is all true. Maine grows on you. There are those breath-taking spots, like the brochures promise. Where the ocean meets the craggy, rocky shore, and picturesque lighthouses send their haunting lament over the waves to warn the sailors. In the summer, the ocean is so blue one cannot tell where the water ends, and the sky begins. Spring is an extravaganza show of greens and the fall blaze in reds and oranges. Trickling StreamOver time I fell in love with the subtle tones of Maine’s beauty, those I did not appreciate in the beginning. The winding country roads that go on forever, passing through small villages with only one main street. The surprise that never fades of seeing the ocean peeks behind a curve of the road. Small streams and uncountable lakes, that the locals call ponds. Old farmhouses with falling apart barns and the promise of ghosts that hide in the frequent fogs. The flat blueberry barrens covered with wandering rocks that make them appear like the face of the moon.

Now I know that the real Maine is in the small details, those that do not draw attention to themselves and are only clear to those who know how to observe.

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

May 4 – Inside Mother’s Cracker Box Kitchen

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I learned to cook standing alongside Mother but often complained about her cramped, cracker box kitchen. “I hate cooking in here! There’s not enough room to do anything!” Mother stopped what she was doing; grabbed her wet dish towel; and snapped it on my buttocks. “Don’t be so fussy!”

Despite its cramped quarters, I loved being in Mother’s kitchen and cooking with her. The first thing she taught me was how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, and make chocolate chip cookies. The recipe was simple enough for an 8-year old; before long I knew the recipe by heart.

One day while preparing dinner, a special delivery package arrived. Mother stopped what she was doing and tore open the package. “Oh my! It’s my mother’s recipe file box!”  She gingerly opened the recipe box and sniffed its contents. “It smells just like my mother’s kitchen!”

Over the next several hours Mother and I sat at her kitchen table pouring over the box’s contents. The yellowed cards were dog-eared, stained, and written in Granny’s penmanship; the same penmanship I’d seen on the letters, cards, and notes she’d sent me. The cards were spattered with grease stains and marked with thumbprints. And the hand in which they were written had visibly changed between the first recipe and the latter ones.

As my fingers graced the same cards hers had many years ago, I remembered watching Granny while she cooked in her kitchen. She rarely used her recipe cards. Yet when Mother and I cooked in her cracker box kitchen, we often referred to Granny’s recipe cards. Frequently, though, the cards just listed the ingredients without exact quantities; and all too often the recipe’s vague language frustrated me. “Mother, what does ‘use enough flour to make stiff dough’ mean?’ Exactly how much is ‘a pinch of salt?’ What is a ‘scant of this?’ How much is ‘a spoonful?’ What does ‘simmer until it smells heavenly’ mean?

“Recipes aren’t meant to be precise; they’re merely meant to jog the memory of how to make those dishes.”

“But you know the recipes by heart so why do you keep the cards?”

“I want to study the original recipe,” she murmured blinking back the tears, “I can’t explain it to you.” She turned away from me and continued cooking.

Frequently, I watched Mother take out a single recipe card and linger over it. I was young and didn’t yet understand what the cards meant to her. Later, I realized that Mother probably just wanted to hear Granny’s voice and remember the past.

Like Mother, I occasionally long for the past and yearn to be with her. I close my eyes and find myself back in her cracker box kitchen. I re-create her chocolate chip cookies from memory; remove them from my oven; and eat one savoring the warm, buttery goodness and the delicious feel of gooey chocolate slowly melting in my mouth. And I swear I hear Mother whispering, “See! You didn’t need the recipe!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 27 – 20 Minute Gardening

by Letty Watt

Our weeds are flourishing in the garden. My eyes see the beauty of the Pansies, and then I grimace when I see the purple Henbit blowing in the breeze. Henbit first became my nemesis when we lived in Kansas, and our garden under the mailbox turned purple every year.

The mailman once explained to me that the pioneers enjoyed the Henbit for its food and beauty. I replied that I really did not plan to eat it any time soon. Shortly after that discussion Jack and I were driving down country roads on a warm spring day gazing at the shades of green growing crops when suddenly a massive field a purple exploded on the horizon. My jaw dropped in awe. Imagine the wagons of pioneers toping these purple hills of central Kansas in the spring.

However, I digress. I know that I tend to overdue projects and end up straining my back and hamstrings. I hit upon the idea of twenty-minute weed pulling this spring.

First, I assemble the supplies: a plastic table cloth for throwing weeds onto; gloves to protect my tender hands (from washing and cleaning the house with Clorox and water); digging tools; knee pad; plus set a timer on the phone for twenty minutes. In the beginning, I returned all items used to their place in the garage when I finished, but now I have found it saves time to keep them together in a bucket or wrapped in the cloth. Most importantly for me is to select a small area where I can make a difference visually, tending to the hidden weeds last.

Start the timer and dig away. Twenty minutes did not take me to the end of the entrance of our walkway, but I stayed with the timer and felt no pain afterward. The next patch can be weeded later in the day or another time.

In the next project, I discovered a most valuable lesson. Since I am not able to attend the Yoga and Tai Chi classes during this Covid-19 stay home stay safe time, I realized that I need to stretch every chance I get.

With the next twenty-minute gardening project I added several opportunities for stretching during the dig, and then plenty afterward. For a healthy back, allow at least ten minutes for back health when the twenty-minute timer rings.

The most relaxing stretch for me when I am on my hands and knees is to practice cat/cow, a yoga move. When I stand to move to another location I now bend at the hips to touch my toes and pretend that my back-end is up against a wall. It is a great stretch for the hamstrings which typically do not like to pull weeds.

Just imagine getting fit and healthy while weeding the garden, and staying home, healthy, and safe. The blooming flowers will thank you and so will your back.

Writing soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.

April 20 – Perfectly Imperfect

by Debra Dolan

For 18 years I have been in a relationship with Mike. Our anniversary is marked by spring and a natural renewal of what is possible after a long dark winter. In 2002, we were both wandering in the same west coast city and at the same expansive workplace, mending broken hearts. That April we came together as friends, sharing stories and emotions, over long walks and bottles of wine. We were both patient and kind, vowing to always be supportive. Ours was a slow blossoming romance yet, I am pleased to write, the fires continue to burn. There is no one that I would rather isolate myself in companionship during these precarious times of COVID-19 than my darling, Frizelli.

Although we have core compatibility, most markedly valuing leisure and solitude, we view the world related to politics, finances, art, décor and Netflix offerings mostly in singular ways. The ‘glue’ that keeps us together is love, pure and simple, as well as a shared respect not to turn the other into a female or male version of oneself. We both cringe each time we wear the same colour of socks or have matching coats. Complimentary is OK; identical is not.

During the entirety of our experience, we have maintained separate homes in different parts of our city; free to go back-and-forth. Additionally, prior to 2017, we had nothing intertwined – property, money, children – that would give us sober reflection after a terrible battle upon retreating to our distinct abodes to lick wounds. Now, there are grandchildren. While Mike was co-raising a daughter, I spent my time reading, writing, walking to my heart’s content, traveling. I did what I pleased. I knew not what I was missing; deep pure love for a child. During the past three years, Mabel, Henry, and Fletcher have often been “Pop’s” get-out-of-jail card. Other than a brief six-week period we have come together each day for the sheer joy of sharing life with one another.

We fight almost every day. This can often cause conflict among our family and friends as we face squarely our intrapersonal differences wherever we may be or with whom. Both Mike and I are fiercely independent, opinionated, self-regarding individuals, now in our sixties. We both exhibit many good character traits, too! He has never officially lived with anyone in his adulthood and I only did briefly in a short marriage in my late-twenties. We used to joke, “that we liked each other too much to get married,” and our mantra is, “we are two flawed individuals who won’t ever give up on one another.” Truer words never were spoken. So true, in fact, we even posted them on our joint 2018 holiday season greetings.

As we share space now, I recognize with gratitude that my fondest memories include Mike. It is getting harder to recognize a past without him in it. I love him more now than yesterday and I expect an even bigger love tomorrow and the day after that.

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 the Story Circle Network since 2009.

April 13 – The Things We Choose to Show

by Ariela Zucker

The other day as I watched one of my favorite TV shows; “Dr. Phil,” I realized another face of our new reality. Lately, a lot of my favorite TV shows moved to the hosts’ kitchens or living rooms. So, I get an inside look at the way their homes look, something I never thought will ever happen.

I looked with great interest at Dr. Phil’s and his wife’s Robin’s kitchen and completely forgot to listen to what they had to say. I tried to peek behind their shoulders. To find out what their fridge looks like, are there magnets strewn all over like they are on mine? Any unique decorations on the walls? What type of oven Robin is using?

They do a lot of cooking together. Robin revealed as a secret recipe for staying sane while spending whole days with your spouse. But I was busy eyeing the island in their kitchen and the knife she used to cut the vegetables.
I noticed another thing as I was peeping into several TV hosts’ private living environments. None of them appeared seamlessly put-together as they usually do when I see them on TV.

Hairdo and makeup seemed as if they were a home job done rather quickly. I watched Sharon Osbourne (The Talk), one of my favorite hosts on the show. Her body language transmitted unease, and the walls behind her were empty. She always appeared to me as if she is participating in the program because someone made her do it. Her body language in the small window of the ZOOM screen was clear proof.

Yes, I might be shallow, investing time in other people’s kitchens and makeup. You might also raise an eyebrow at my choice of TV shows.

But as a result of seeing all these TV stars in their natural environment, I became more sensitive to mine.

I volunteered to give a ZOOM class next month, and now I begin to worry about the message I want to send while strangers are watching me, and especially the walls or furniture behind me.

Should it be in the kitchen? Or this is too personal. A blank wall? What will people think of my decorating abilities? The slightly chewed couch in the living room? The dog ate my furniture is a bit of an overused cliché.

In the end, it is the bookshelves in the corner of the living room. Books and assorted photographs and memorabilia seem to photograph well. When I grew up, everyone that I knew had bookshelves in their living-room, even if there was nothing else there. Many of the books were never read, but they were a declaration of sorts. We are book-loving people. I wish that I kept a photo of my parents’ bookshelves, but the next best thing I can offer is mine.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, I quickly arranged the shelves (even dusted) I believe my solution is viable.

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

April 6 – Their Peculiar Ways

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Wash your hands, little lady!”

“I already washed them a little while ago. Why should I wash them again?”

“You’ve touched countless things since then; your hands are dirty.”

“But Grammy,” I turned my hands over, closely examining them. “They don’t look dirty!”

“Yes, they are! The kind of dirt I’m talking about is invisible; it rides on your hands and can make you sick.  It can only be removed with soap and water. So go wash your hands!”

Invisible dirt riding on my hands?  I hadn’t heard of such a thing and didn’t understand why I washed my hands more at Grammy’s house than I did at home.  Maybe she has more invisible dirt at her house, I reasoned.  Grammy had many other peculiar ways so I chalked up her handwashing practice as another one of them.

Before disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer were available, Grammy took sheets of paper towel and a small can of disinfecting spray with her, stuffing it inside her rather commodious purse. While out and about, she used her spray, liberally coating the surface of restaurant tables, public phones, restroom doorknobs, then vigorously rubbing the area until the coating disappeared. I never questioned her ritual but found it odd and even a little embarrassing.

Even my mother had her own baffling ways. She didn’t use her dishwasher because it cost too much to run. She never threw away any empty plastic butter tubs.  Instead, she washed them and stored them in a cabinet for putting leftovers in. Eventually, the cabinet became so full that when the cabinet door was opened, the tubs tumbled out onto the floor.

Bar soap was cheaper than body wash or liquid hand soap and was, therefore, Mother’s preferred choice for washing one’s hands and body. Anyone who’s ever used bar soap knows that the bar gets smaller and smaller with each use.  Eventually, all that remains is a balled-up, dirty, disfigured, and insignificant piece of soap that’s annoyingly impossible to use. Mother habitually gathered up all these mutant miniature soaps and placed them in—you guessed it—the empty butter tubs.  Once she’d collected enough tiny soap pieces, she chopped them up; placed them in a Styrofoam cup; filled it with water; and cooked it in the microwave for 30 seconds. After drying for a few days, wah-la! A new bar of soap.

So what’s the point of rambling on about these women’s peculiar ways? Grammy was 18 when the 1918 flu pandemic began and lost a cousin to the virus making her highly sensitized to the presence of unseen germs. Mother grew up during the Great Depression and, out of necessity, learned to live prudently and waste nothing.

When the COVID19 pandemic struck, I suddenly had a new appreciation for what I thought were Grammy’s over-the-top sanitizing habits.  When store shelves emptied in the wake of the pandemic, I found myself understanding Mother’s fear of not having and respected her frugality.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. 

Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.