April 14 – Every Year in Passover

by Ariela Zucker

This is a straightforward event. We read a condensed version of the traditional Hagadah: slaves in Egypt, deliverance, forty years in the desert, four cups of wine (fifth one for Elijah), some strange yet symbolic foods and we are ready for the best part. This is the part when each one of us brings their offering, our take on the ancient story, on breaking out of slavery into freedom, on the snow finally receding and spring pressing on in the form of green buds. The first lone peepers, those who preceed the crowd, sing their monotonous song, the full moon, the abundance of food, the bursts of laughter alternating with the somber moments when I insist on reading something serious.

This is the culmination of preparations that start a week, sometimes few weeks before the big night. Inviting people, planning the menu, finding an insightful piece of reading. Then comes the day itself and from early in the morning I am on it.

Passover is a yearly gathering that brings together not only my daughters but a close group of friends, a loyal group that has been following us for the past fifteen years since we arrived in the U.S and introduced our unique way of conducting it. Once a year we get together for few hours, a varied group of people of all ages; the youngest this year, my newest granddaughter, a year old, the oldest one of my daughter’s friend, eighty-five years old grandmother. Every year we welcome some fresh faces, with only one steady request, bring something to read, anything that connects you to this holiday.

I often reflect on the traditional event, while still in my parents’ home, how I couldn’t wait for it to end. Then I look at my daughters who will not miss it for anything, who proudly invite their friends of all religions. I take a deep breath, I know that what have started as a seed, is now a resilient tree, that hopefully will endure.

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.

April 11 – A Mindful Meditation of our Women’s Life-Writing Circle

by Mary Jo Doig

© creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We gather in our quiet, secluded space at the recently constructed, variegated-beige stone Crozet Library, bringing the life-story we have written in preparation at home. We greet each other warmly as each woman arrives, and ask how things have been since we last gathered. “We missed you last time,” or “How is your arthritis/pneumonia/or other recent ailment healing?” or “Here’s the book I promised to bring you last time,” are some recent observations I’ve heard. When we have caught up with everyone’s well-being, we transition to preparation to share our stories, written from thematic prompts given at our previous gathering two weeks earlier.

I feel a change within myself then—a melting away of all the information that flows like a river through my mind nearly all day, every day—sort of like turning off a news broadcast that leaves blessed silence in its place. A woman volunteers to read her story to begin our shared two-hour gathering. I take a deep breath and exhale any stray interior distraction that might be lingering and prepare to fully listen to her words. She speaks her first sentence and everything else evaporates except her voice and what I hear in the words of this story of her life. She reads through it all and when finished we spontaneously affirm whatever the story has stirred within us. “I’ve been in that place, too,” or “What a powerful story you’ve written,” or “My favorite part of the story was when you said, ‘this’ or ‘that.’”

I listen closely to my heart’s response to the story and then share those thoughts with the writer, as does each of our seven members. When I look around the circle at each woman, I see we are as diverse as apples on a tree. After we’ve read and heard and discussed all our stories, we plan our topic for the next gathering. When we leave this place, we go home to different communities, different churches, and varied lifestyles; we have different ethnic backgrounds and hold dissimilar political ideals; we live alone or with family members or with pets. Although we seem at first to be so different, each time we share stories from our lives—and share laughter, sadness or tears, or other emotions–comfort or celebration–we form a richer bond. We discover we are not so different, after all.

Recently, we each shared “The Story I Don’t Want to Write.” When we met two weeks afterward, we agreed that was the moment in time when we opened a clearer, deeper bond with each other. We had known from previous gatherings that when we shared difficult stories, we were in a space filled with trust, respect, and confidentiality.

I pondered our time together that afternoon while driving home, those stories that had been heard and responded to with such honor, support, and compassion. Some women had also shared their own connecting threads with a particular story. And I wondered—avid, life-long mystery reader that I am—what was that silent, deeper layer that circled between us? After all, women have been sharing their stories for centuries.

When the answer came to my heart, I knew it was absolutely right.

Our time together was not only nurturing, it was sacred.

(This piece was first published on Mary Jo’s blog, Musings From a Patchwork Quilt Life at https://maryjod.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-mindful-meditation-of-our-womens-life-writing-circle/)

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

April 10 – Saying Goodbye to Mother

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

Public Domain Image: Human Crossed Hands While Sitting © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

“We have to go down to Bridgewater tomorrow,” I told my husband on Saturday, April 1st.

This was not an April Fool’s joke. You see, my 103 year old mother’s health had been declining rapidly the past few weeks. I felt no urgency to be by her side as I knew that my nieces were with her day and night and I had visited her just weeks prior. During that visit she had enjoyed listening to me play some of her favorite hymns on the piano. Her mind was sharp. Her 96-year-old male friend sang a love song for her.

After her husband of 69 years died in 2001 she reluctantly left their home place to live in a Retirement Village in Bridgewater, Virginia. Oh, how she missed gardening, picking up sticks on the wood lot, and making grape juice from her grape arbor. This grape juice was served at the reenactment of the Last Supper that was held in the Church of the Brethren where she and my father had served as deacons.

A wink at Roger during a church service in her youth is how she met my Dad. This was a brazen move for a woman of that era. After several years of courting by horse and buggy they married in 1932. Both had been raised on farms so it was no surprise that they took up this way of life; a way of life that all three of their daughters remember with fondness despite recalling the odors that wafted from the barn.

After World War II my parents donated their farm as the gathering place for what was known then as Heifer Project. From 1944 to 1948, 3,600 head of heifers lived on our farm before being shipped to war-torn Europe. This is now known as Heifer International, and is located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mom served meals to the men that brought heifers to our farm all hours of the day or night. Guests never left her home with hunger pangs.

Even though her own college education came to an abrupt end with the depression she made sure that her children and grandchildren had reading material. That time and money was spent for piano lessons and activities related to 4-H. Each daughter and grandchild has their own unique memory of time spent with her. I marvel upon reflection how she made that time in light of all being a farmer’s wife entailed.

When we arrived at her room on Sunday, April 2nd her breathing was labored. I stroked her hands and face as I softly told her it was okay for her to go meet Roger, her daughter Elaine and grandson Michael. Tears welled up in my eyes. Her labored breathing was more than I could bear. Two of her grandchildren had been by her side day and night for the past week. We hugged and cried.

The call came the following morning that she had died–news that brought both sadness and relief.

Patricia Roop Hollinger is a retired Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor after having served for twenty-three years in a mental health setting. She and her husband, who dated in their youth, married in 2010. They reside in a retirement community with their cat, Spunky. Pat enjoys reading and writing.

April 6 – Hidden Gems

by Debra Dolan

On a rainy winter afternoon, feeling particularly unenergetic and alone, I flicked the TV remote in search of company, discovering When Harry Met Sally was about to begin.   Even though I had viewed this movie gem many-many times I was about to experience valued insight.  A month previous I had received the huge collection of the writer’s work, compiled by her son Jacob after her death, The Most of Nora Ephron, as a birthday gift from Mike. He knew that Nora’s writing resonated with me; the brilliant takes on life with humor and raw emotional honesty intertwined.  Knowing that the screenplay had been included in the publication I convinced myself to read along with the actors on-screen.  After a significant amount of hunting on many shelves I found the hefty volume, opening its cover to the first page, and discovered the inscription.  It was from my lover; the man who rarely has purchased me a card in all our years together.

Suddenly, with every fibre of my being, I realized what an immature, unrealistic partner I had been for feeling utterly disappointed that he wouldn’t visit Hallmark and write sentiments of love at special occasions.  I had spent angst filled evenings with friends uttering my disbelief and sadness over this romantic condition that I had imposed onto our relationship.  “I don’t do cards on demand,” he would say.   I would sob.

That day I realized that love language comes in many forms and I had blinded myself by only accepting my contrasting desired expression.  Each partner needs to be able to comfortably share their feelings in their own authentic natural way for love not to be blocked.  Given I had always thought that there was simply nothing sexier, or more joyful, than reading with ‘your darling’ he had indeed been expressing love and friendship by honouring our shared experiences since 2002, with books.  As I moved through my apartment it was revealed each one had been intimately inscribed with a hand-written message that often was a narrative of their own.  I discovered, together sequentially, they are a love letter.

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.

March 31 – Reconcilliation

by Marilea Rabasa

When I met my partner, Gene, twenty-four years ago, he was an experienced canoeist, and he loved paddling every summer. So I figured I’d better learn fast. One memorable incident was during a trip to Quetico Provincial Park across the Minnesota border in Canada. It was there that I added a chapter to my “Life Lessons”  journal.

Gene and I always went canoeing with his best friend, Jack and his wife, Pat. I didn’t like Pat from the beginning. She talked non-stop, endlessly showing off how much she knew about everything. And worst of all, because I can’t even boil a carrot, she was a gourmet cook.

So the two weeks of wilderness paddling and camping were a challenge for me. At the end of one day, we scouted around for a stellar camping site and I showed Pat the one we had found.

“This island sucks,”  she sniffed, “Jack and I’ll stay on that one over there,”  she informed us, pointing to another one across an inlet.

“Okay,”  I chirped. “See you tomorrow.”

I was awakened in the morning by the smell of smoke in the air.

“Gene, get up!” I screamed, looking across the water. “There’s a fire on Jack and Pat’s island!”

We piled into our canoe and raced across the inlet to find them frantically trying to remove the underbrush from the flames. Soon we heard the Canadian Forest Service arriving by helicopter to douse the area. It took twenty-six hours, but they finally extinguished the fire.

Pat had neglected to stamp out her cigarette while she was shitting in the woods, and, well, shit happens.

She was inconsolable. She loved nature and couldn’t bear to see the results of her carelessness.

The Canadians sent a crew of four, two Ojibwa Indians, the ax man and the pump man, an assistant chief and a chief, both White. The cost of the manpower and equipment could have exceeded $12,000 if they hadn’t called off the aerial bomber. It was a particularly dry season that summer in Canada, but they didn’t fine us. We were lucky.

Pat and I had pushed each other’s buttons plenty before that incident. But our esteem for one another began then. I suppose the dark side of our natures enjoys it when our adversaries falter. And I’m no different. But somehow that smug inner smile turned the mirror back onto me, and I didn’t like what I saw.

“Pat, Pat, come on,”  I insisted, offering her a hug and a shoulder to cry on. “It could easily have been me. I smoke too. Please, don’t be so hard on yourself. It was just a terrible accident.”

She and I hold each other in very high esteem now. This brief confrontation with my darker side opened my heart to appreciating Pat’s good qualities. Maybe it also reminded me how human we all are and how important it is to lift each other up as we pass through life.

Beats bitchin’.

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 www.recoveryofthespirit.com. 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.

March 30 – Fitbit Farts and Other Funny Follies

by Letty Watt

During the week of making funeral arrangements and preparing for family visits, I couldn’t sleep much. One night, however, the noises of the house stole the hours of sleep from me.

Tossing from one side to the next, my body tired and wrinkled from near exhaustion and heartache, I could hear a nearly pulsating sound, like a fart! I questioned my mind and body. Was I so tired that my own body was giving out on me?? One more worry to add to the ever-present aging process.

Now, if my father had ‘tooted’ he would have blamed the dog, immediately pointing to Ticky or Tootles. As a child I laughed at Dad’s tricks, and then watched the poor dog hang his head in humiliation. Of course, my father, being a trickster, owned a hand-held rubber tube that fit in his pocket. On ladies day or for golf tournaments, Dad would put the fart ball, as we called it, in his pocket and casually walk by golfers and squeeze his toy in the middle of some one’s back swing. No matter what type of fart he made, the long slow “toot toot buzzz……” or the pronounced “Toot” without odor, the victim tucked his or her body in embarrassment, then followed that move by outrage or laughter when the group figured out what had happened.

Shifting in sleep mode I once again heard the squeezing sound of a fart. With one eye opened I rolled to the side of the bed and sniffed. The air was clean. The dog could not be blamed.

Now I rolled closer to Jack, so as to rub his shoulder the next time he farted! Not Jack!

The early morning hours arrived and I heard the fuzzy vibration. In sledge-hammer mode I arose and walked around the bedroom searching for some unknown fart machine or dying animal. At last when sunlight flooded the house, and my awareness returned I heard and saw the noise. There on my dresser lay my Fitbit with notifications ON! With each notification or reminder.
to get up and move the Fitbit quietly buzzed, but the fart noise came when it actually vibrated on the dresser top. My emotions ranged from laughter to anger at my loss of sleep, but the mystery was solved, and my dad would have laughed.

FOOTNOTE:

For those who wear Fitbits to help motivate or count steps, I must say I’ve learned a new trick. After complaining week after week that I must surely walk more than it counts, I discovered that it truly counts steps when I attach it to my tennis shoe laces and walk. Then my steps each count, when walking through stores with a basket being pushed or on the treadmill when I’m resting my arms at the sides instead of swinging them.

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.

This piece was originally published at Literally Letty. (https://literallyletty.blogspot.ca/2017/03/fitbit-farts-and-other-funny-follies.html)

March 28 – Simplicity

by Martha Slavin

Simplicity. Just the word itself sends me on a mental quest. What a wonderful idea, something that most of us crave in our lives. Do you have a favorite way to make your life simpler?

I have a friend who is a wiz at decluttering her house. She has removed objects that no longer matter to her. Walking into her house feels like taking a breath of fresh air. Her art adorns the walls, and the furniture is arranged so that you want to sit, relax and have a long chat. The best part is opening the door to the back yard into a lovely garden with a 180-degree view of bay waters, hills, and Mt. Diablo in the distance.

I haven’t learned the art of decluttering. I tried the trendy method of holding an object to see if I have still had any connection to it. No luck for me. Not only do I have a response to almost everything, but the object becomes a new distraction as I sit down and look through its pages or rub the sides of the teapot to bring back fond memories or wander through the stacks of art materials in my workroom. I can always find something interesting that keeps me attached to that object.

I’ve realized that being organized matters to me. When everything gets stacked up and my space to work becomes too limited, I can’t produce as well as I can if the room is more open. I spend a day organizing, and I come away with a sense of accomplishment. I know I have more mental space to pursue my creative projects.

I spent a week one summer at Scripps Camp, a retreat for alumnae from Scripps College. We stayed in the simply furnished dorm rooms with just a bed, desk and chair. To my surprise, I accomplished a lot, even forfeiting opportunities to take workshops and to attend get togethers with other alums because the room opened my senses to the quietness and stillness of the world around me. I wasn’t thinking of a million different things like I do at home. I had time to listen to the silence.

I still struggle with how to carve out that kind of space in my daily life. Going to our local coffee-house, sitting outside at a table, and sketching the people at other tables gives me a little of that freedom. Walking on the Iron Horse Trail opens my eyes to the natural beauty around me. Occasionally working somewhere else in the house instead of my workroom offers me a new perspective.

What do you do to live a more simple, more fruitful life?

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com 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.