March 23 – Rainy Day

by Ariela Zucker

It has been a week. I can’t believe how slow the time goes when one is stuck at home and does pretty much nothing. My birthday came and went, and due to the new circumstances, we couldn’t get together as we do every year. Now by the end of the week, the rain comes, and I cannot steal the few moments of sunshine sitting on the deck, as I did all week. The dog is gloomy too, and in his favorite retreat, his crate. I cannot convince him to go out, not even for a short stroll up the hill.

The other day my granddaughter ‘discovered’ a big wooden box in the unused bedroom on the second floor. “Just old pictures and some cards,” I said, and being a toddler, she immediately lost interest in favor of her tea-set. But this morning, with the grayness and dripping rain, I go up the stairs. I retrieve the wooden box and pull the pictures out.

A rainbow of memories spills on the table. Postcards from years ago, photographs I kept for no apparent reason, a haphazard collection inviting me to jump in.

I make myself a fresh cup of coffee and set on the journey.

I sort the pile into a.postcards and b. photographs. After a quick deliberation, I choose the postcards just because they seem so colorful and promising.
To my surprise, these are unused cards, and I have no idea why I purchased them and kept them all this time. They are all pictures of animals in varied settings. I smile when I find a colorful fish from Eilat on the red sea. Another card showing Canada Geese makes my heart twitch with images of these big birds on their migration south in the winter and back north to us in Maine in the spring.

The last card is a thank you note. It shows a medium-sized black lab with big sad eyes. On the back, a short note reminding me of this female lab named Narrisa, my daughter and I raised as a puppy to become a seeing-eye dog. Narrisa was an adorable but timid dog. She never graduated and was given for adoption. We had several puppies before and after. Some who made it all the way to become proud seeing-eye dogs.

Fostering seeing-eye puppies was just one of our projects. Of my youngest daughter homeschooling itinerary that contained many other volunteer overtaking. Preparing meals for the elderly, helping in a no-kill cat shelter, counting horseshoe crabs. Those were all part of our curriculum. She grew up to be an independent, self-sufficient young woman. So much can be done from home, I remind myself.

This memory cheers me up. I turn to my newest achieved skill, ZOOM, and call for a family meeting. For a brief time, we all share the same space.

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.

March 9 – Keeper of the Bell

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Ivy Morain with her husband and 13 children

When I was little, I loved everything about the start of a new school year— the swish of crinoline ruffled petticoats underneath crisply starched, frilly dresses Mother made me; slipping my feet into my new saddle oxford shoes; Mother and I rummaging our way down the aisles of our neighborhood TG&Y purchasing school supplies, then stopping on the way home at Landers Corner Store where every neighborhood kid received an empty cigar box for storing school supplies. Once home, I proudly printed my name on the outside of my cigar box and carefully placed my school supplies inside.

I can still smell the potent fumes of the rubber cement with its snotty-like consistency, can feel the wax crayons in my hand, and can imagine grasping my Huskey #2 pencil pretending to print my ABCs and 123’s on my Big Chief tablet. Nothing was more exciting than heading back to school with my new plaid metal lunch box in one hand and my cigar box filled with school supplies in the other.

Nothing, however, compared to the thrill of meeting my teachers. I adored them, hung on their every word, and wanted to be just like them.  When the school year ended, I missed school terribly. I filled the summertime void practicing school with the neighborhood children whom I corralled onto our huge front porch, my makeshift school and taught them using a small slate board Mother bought me.

One summer, Mother showed me a family heirloom—a vintage teaching bell “This bell,” she explained, “once belonged to my grandmother, Ivy Catherine Morain, who used it in her one-room classroom on the Kansas prairie in the 1890s. When your grandfather became a teacher, she gave it to him making him Keeper of the Bell.  He, in turn, gave it to me when I began teaching. If you promise to be careful with it, you may use it in your one-room classroom.” Delighted, I took the bell outside keeping it safe and occasionally clanging it to announce when my school was beginning.

When I entered college, education was naturally my career choice. Upon graduation, Mother gave me Ivy’s bell.  “You’re now Keeper of the Bell; you’re also the keeper of children’s hearts and spirits.” I was Keeper until my husband received his teaching certificate; he was Keeper until our niece received hers.  She was Keeper until her sister began teaching. She’s the current Keeper.

Each new Keeper was told the oral history of the former Keepers including personal details about their lives and careers.  Concerned that oral history would disappear, I researched and wrote more about the Keepers, making their stories more interesting.  The result was a 120-page notebook with photos and related documents.

Compiling the Bell Book was a soulful labor of love. It was also important. Why? Alex Haley aptly said, “…the family’s the link to the past and the bridge to the future.” I’m gratified knowing I did my part in linking our family’s past to its future.

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.

February 17 – I Exist

by Ariela Zucker

The other day I discovered that a cyber family, much like a real one, acquires overtime unique lifelike qualities. It happened when I found in my inbox letters from people suggesting that I will update, fix, resolve duplicates, and respond to birthdays. I don’t know them; I don’t believe we ever met. My careful and polite inquiries as to the nature of our relationship did not produce satisfying results, and then it dawned on me.

It happened when I agreed to merge my family tree with someone I did not know well. Merging with a stranger would seem rather hasty, to every reasonable person except those surfing on Geni (an online family tree creator). And so, without further ado, I ‘approved’ the procedure which granted me access to his tree with hundreds of new relatives.

A few months later, I noticed that these people I opened my heart and family tree to, are inching, ever so slowly, into my nicely organized creation contaminating it with their inaccurate information and endless requests. Frantically I tried to unmerge and almost like in real life, found that merged tree cannot be severed without putting the whole family at risk.

***

Actually, it started more than nine years ago when one night, I keyed- in my name into the Google search box, pressed enter and came up with nothing.

It was the first time I really understood the phrase ‘if you are not on the Internet, you do not exist.’ I cursed myself for giving up to the cheap temptation, seeking false reassurance in the limitless cyberspace, but it was already too late.

And so about nine years ago, in the middle of the night, I did the only thing I could do to alleviate the situation and ‘created’ myself.

All I had to do was to let go of the old notion that the fact that I breathe, sleep, eat, and see my reflection in the mirror, is sufficient proof of my existence. Instead, I pressed on the empty rectangle box in the center of the computer screen and typed my name in.

I kept typing and inserting other names; my parents, my husband, my children, and in front of my eyes like magic, my family, with me in the center, came alive.

Blue rectangles for the men, pink rectangles for the women, many lines running horizontally and vertically connecting them all to one elaborate net, growing and growing and filling the screen.

The sense of relief was immediate and so rewarding.

When I last checked, my family tree had 543 people.

It is an elaborate constellation, created mostly by me. Names, most of which are fourth cousins twice, trice or even four times removed. People I don’t know will never know, and frankly don’t even care to meet.

Still in the middle of the night when the quiet disturbs my sleep and all by myself I surf, I am surrounded by my cyber family, I exist.

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.

February 10 – Sweetie Pig

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Grammy’s cookie jar holds special memories for me. It was a rather big pig, a Shawnee Pottery Smiley Pig that she named Sweetie-Pig. I was with her that Valentine’s Day when she purchased it at Titche’s Department Store in downtown Dallas. She brought it home, and together we filled its belly with homemade heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles on top. Afterward, Grammy sat Sweetie-Pig in a corner cabinet, a bit out of my reach so I’d have to ask for a cookie. When she wasn’t looking I tried sneaking into her kitchen to nab a cookie. But the lid was heavy and cumbersome and clanked when I picked it up.

She’d show up like black lightning. “No! No! Too much sugar isn’t good for you. It’ll spoil your dinner.”

I’d put on my best pouty face hoping to guilt her into giving me a cookie, but she was unwavering in her commitment to controlling my sugar consumption and my weight.

But whenever I visited Grammy, I always knew that inside Sweetie Pig’s belly were generous sugar cookies with sparkly sprinkles of sugar on top, soft and moist; precious gifts that didn’t even have a handwritten recipe, made straight from her heart. Grammy was the same way, no printed directions with her. What you saw was what you got, with those special touches like sugar cookie sprinkles on top; she used to add to everything from family gatherings to fresh homemade bread with melty butter and cinnamon sugar on top to teaching me how to appreciate classical music and admire Monet paintings. Those memories are inside that cookie jar today sitting in a safe spot in my home.

Nowadays, it seems indulgent and impractical to give over precious countertop space to a chubby piece of crockery when a sealable plastic bag will do the job better. But I can’t imagine my adulthood without the promise of the mist-shrouded Cookies of Yesteryear; and when I get the urge, I lift Sweetie-Pig’s faded and aged lid taking in all the wonderful memories of long ago, those sweet smiles of my Grammy and her homemade sugar cookies.

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.

January 13 – You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

by Ariela Zucker

Every day in the winter, when I make the fire in our woodstove, I see it as a reminder that no matter how old, I can learn new skills.

I could have identified other, perhaps more respected skills I acquired over the past years.

Like becoming a writer in a language other than my native language (Hebrew) about ten years ago when I was in my sixtieth. How I joined college classes and rejoiced at my ability to hold my own against first, second, and even third-year students.

Or how I learned to run a motel, in my late fifties, without prior experience in the field of hospitality. How together with my husband, we managed for over ten years to hold our place in a competitive tourist-oriented market. (Working side-by-side, 24/7 is a massive victory by itself.)

But starting and maintaining a fire is, no argument here, a life-sustaining skill. I learned it when in the winter of 2001, with my family, we rented an A-frame in Northern Idaho with no other heat source than a woodstove on the ground floor. In Israel, where I grew up, I never saw a woodstove, nor had the need to make sure that my house will be warm enough to protect my family from death by freezing.

My husband, who grew up in Connecticut, was familiar with wood fire. Still, being away all day, it became my responsibility to stoke the fire and keep it going. I gained overnight a new title – “Fire Mom.”

Every day  I went outside into the snow to collect logs from the woodpile for the daily fire. I learned how to arrange the logs in the firebox, tuck old newspapers around them, strike a match, and fail time after time to start a fire with only one match. Over time this became a routine I strangely learned to love. The roaring fire hours later when my husband returned home from work was proof of my ability to master a new trick and a useful one at that.

Now in Maine, even though we have central heat still in the cold, snowy nights, I light the woodstove. I love the feeling of performing a job that, while being apparently simple, connects me to the women that all over the ages performed this task starting in the stone age caves.

I think of them with sisterly affection when I tread in the snow my arms loaded with wood. I am filled with primal awe as I pile the wood into the stove adjust the damper and gaze enchanted how the small orange flame licks the logs and wraps around them, and the warmth spreads around me.

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.

January 6 – Where Cardinals Fly

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Gravel crackled under our tires as Bill and I crept down Old Mill Road, a meandering country road on the outskirts of Collin County. The countryside stretched before us like a great quilt of golden, brown, and green squares held together by the thick green stitching of the hedgerows. The sun overhead was radiant, its light bathing the scenery in a welcoming glow. We slowed our car to a near stop and rolled down our windows, taking in the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells.

Hay bales dotted the landscape.  A tractor kicked up dust in a nearby field.  Wildflowers, dandelions, and purple thistles covered the road’s shoulder, filling the drainage ditches with an array of color.  We heard the whicker of horses, the braying of donkeys, and the burble of water running along a small stream.  We inhaled, the sweet aroma of trees, grass, and earth filling our nostrils.

The gravel road turned abruptly, replaced by a narrow, two-lane county road. We continued driving, finding our way into downtown Anna where we discovered renovated historical building—a turn-of-the-century general store, the First Christian church, and an old train depot.  We paused, both feeling inexplicably drawn to the quaint little town. We drove a bit further until, much to our surprise, we saw a housing subdivision under construction on the outskirts of town.

“Who would’ve thought there’d be a subdivision out here in the middle of nowhere, Bill said.  “Let’s take a look.”

We entered the sales office where a folksy, sales rep greeted us and walked us through the models. We found a floor plan we liked and without hesitation put down a contract on a home, believing we’d been guided to do so.   After settling in, we often sat on our front porch, amazed at the number of cardinals congregating in our trees.

One afternoon, my aunt dropped by. “What a coincidence,” she exclaimed.  “Your great, great grandmother, Rebecca, moved to Anna with her husband and their daughter, Sara Virginia, around 1895.  You’re Sara’s namesake.”

“What?! I certainly never knew.”

Weeks later, the historical society placed a historical marker within our subdivision just one-half from our house documenting that the land and surrounding area was the original homestead of Collin McKinney, a pioneer who helped draft the Texas Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution for the Republic of Texas.  We’d known for years that Collin McKinney was my husband’s great, great, great grandfather, but had no idea we were actually living on the land that was once his homestead.  Another coincidence? Perhaps.

I’m convinced that living in Anna was part of a grand, synchronistic plan nudging us to return to the land of our ancestors. As for the cardinals. They still congregate in our trees, bearing witness to this quote: When a cardinal appears in your yard, it’s a visitor from heaven.  I’d like to believe that Rebecca, Sara Virginia, and Collin McKinney are such visitors, and I delight in seeing them.

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.

 

 

December 30 – God Laughed

by Kalí Rourke

It was 1991 and I had planned a birth with drugs, lots of drugs. An epidural, if you please, and as I arrived at the hospital that morning for the induction my doctor recommended, I heard a woman down the hall screaming and moaning, “Oh, My GOD…”

I gave thanks that those sounds were not, and would not, come from me. This wasn’t my first rodeo and the epidural had been my friend in my older daughter’s birth.

As the saying goes, “God laughs while you are making plans,” and the attending nurse did not check my dilation after giving me a rest near midnight. She turned the Pitocin up and before I knew it, I was at 10 cm and ready to deliver.

It was too late for an epidural.

My husband warned the hapless anesthetist that he might want to deliver that news from a distance because one of my nightmares was coming true. Natural childbirth with no desire to do so.

Yes, I was now the woman moaning, “Oh, My GOD,” and as a professional vocalist, I had much more range and power. I apologize to any woman who checked in as I delivered our beautiful little girl without medication.

But the fun was not over. Around 2am, after laboring all day long, they left our little angel in my arms and we were alone. I sent my husband home to sleep. I was exhausted and exhilarated and somewhat hypnotized by the long, long fingers she delicately fanned around her face…as she choked.

I grabbed the suction bulb and started pulling mucus out of her little mouth as I frantically tried to hit the call button on my bed with my elbow. It seemed eternal but I am sure the nurses came on the run and I showed them what was happening with my newborn.

She was hustled out of the room and I was later told that because I had expelled her so quickly through the birth canal, it had not squeezed out the fluid that naturally collects in the lungs. Singer’s diaphragm efficiency at work?

They flushed and suctioned her little lungs out and when she returned to me she was sleeping peacefully.

Our next challenge was breastfeeding. What had been so natural (although somewhat painful) with my first baby was a nightmare with my second. Trying to feed her was like wrestling an angry little octopus. I would finally have some success, only to see her spit up immediately.

After a few days of this at home (No sleep for us!), I called our Pediatrician in tears as I babbled my distress. He wisely asked to speak to my husband and we discovered that our daughter was likely lactose intolerant and was receiving milk enzymes through my breast milk. I had never heard of this, but after her first bottle of soy milk formula, it was like I had a brand new, happy baby!

Hallelujah!

Kali RourkeKalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin, Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund and serves as a Social Venture Partner with Mission Capital. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

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