Author Archives: kalipr

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

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.

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April 15 – My Grave Concerns

by Ariela Zucker

This morning  I look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is receding. At the bottom of the tree, I can see a small heap of stones. It is there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October.  She died before the snow came and the ground was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.

Meir, my other cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.

I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4 inches from the surface are frozen solid underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox, resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.

Do graves makes a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.

Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff. The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending with resignation to its immense power.

My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an unexplained affection for land.

The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city? Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.

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. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

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 1 – Awe, Color, and Magic

by Sara Etgen-BakerMy first television set was a 21-inch black and white Philco console television that Santa delivered on Christmas day, 1956. It carried only four black and white channels; ABC, NBC, CBS, and local KERA. Well, five channels if you counted the test pattern.

Unlike today, the broadcast day had a beginning and an end. It started at about 6 a.m. with the national anthem followed with a “daily devotional” then “The Today Show.” Midday consisted of game shows and soap operas. Kiddie shows filled late afternoons and Saturday mornings. Network news came on at 6 p.m. Then came prime time programming. At 10 p.m. local newscasts aired followed by “The Tonight Show.” Then the broadcast day ended with an announcer bidding us “good night.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” played; then there was static until the test pattern appeared on our screens about 6 a.m.

The television signal itself was delivered to the television through a flat, two-pronged brown wire that was connected to screws at the back of the set and then strung through a small hole cut in the window frame to a large multi-pronged aluminum antenna that was mounted on the rooftop. Theoretically, once the antenna was in place, it didn’t have to be moved again. But that wasn’t always the case! Ofttimes Father climbed onto the rooftop and turned the antenna until the picture improved.

I certainly didn’t understand how that archaic brown wire and antenna worked, but watching television was nothing short of a miracle for me and for those of us who, prior to television’s popularity, only used radio and records for entertainment. You might think that life with a mere 21-inch black and white TV and only four channels would be bland and colorless, but I remember it as being colorful and magical. Whenever I turned the television dial, I stared at the screen in awe wondering, Who might appear on the screen? Where would I go? What mystery might I solve?

Television has come a long way since its infancy. Today, broadcasting is continuous, running non-stop with over 200+ channels and an endless stream of programs and choices. Television sets themselves have progressed from black and white to color. Yet my life seems to have digressed from color to black and white, having lost my faculty for awe, mystery, and color. Why? Perhaps, I’m so mesmerized by the technology that sits in my living room and addicted to the programming choices offered me, that I’ve been anesthetized.

One day I stopped mindlessly flipping through the channels, choosing instead to walk through a nearby woods. I meandered along the path, stepping carefully over tree roots that knotted the pathway. I lifted my head, letting the warm, amber rays of sunlight dance across my face.  I saw small patches of clear blue sky peering through the weathered trees that rose out of the earth. I picked a red berry from a bush and popped it in my mouth, tasting its sweet and tangy taste. Awe, color, and magic re-discovered!

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.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

March 18 – Little Joys

by Suzanne Adam

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.

I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.

Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.

There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven-story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.

When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.

It is just a matter of noticing.

SAAndesAs a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During my lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.

These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering Jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.

Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!

Lessons for living.

Suzanne grew up northern California. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she served in the Peace Corps in Colombia before moving to Santiago, Chile in 1972 to marry her boyfriend, Santiago. She explores this experience in her 2015 memoir Marrying Santiago. Her latest book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile” was published by She Writes Press.

Suzanne blogs at Tarweed Spirit.

March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

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.