Category Archives: Ariela Zucker

June 8 – Seeds of Retirement

by Ariela Zucker

For years the thoughts of growing old were as far from my mind as the terminology that goes along with the ‘golden years.’ Yes, people around me became old, got sick even died. I was sad, contemplated the cycle of life, nodded my head in all the right places, but never until the last few years did I see myself as part of this inevitable process.  Perhaps it is universal, the false notion that we can avoid somehow what happens to everyone around us.

At age fifty, I opted to take early retirement, and the transition went without any significant obstacles.  I managed to avoid the need to stop working, my health was excellent, and the plans many. By the time I reached Social Security age, a few years later, I was self-employed as I still am, without plans to stop working anytime soon.

Over the years, my husband and I stopped now and then to discuss our retirement years. We agreed that as responsible adults, we should plant some seeds for those years when retirement will become unavoidable.

These discussions were always a bit somber, somewhat depressing, and we were happy to pretend that all issues were discussed and resume our daily life.

With each passing year, though, the ‘what ifs’ become harder and harder to push down. I began to realize a new thought pattern when three years ago, we reclaimed our private home a few hours to the south and turned it into our winter residence.

“Closer to the kids, ” was the official reason, but the truth was that the winters in our motel became harder and harder.

“We like town living with all the amenities,” was another sentence we used frequently. Less snow shoveling and the closeness of several area hospitals was what we said to ourselves when we got ‘real.’

We rehabbed the house to meet our future needs. That meant relocating the bedroom to the first floor (next to the bathroom) to create a one-floor living. The next move will be to move the washer and dryer from the basement to the main floor to complete this arrangement.

We planned the second floor now used only for guests, so it will become an independent unit with private entrance because “who knows, one day we might need a living aid.”

In the middle of the night, sleep often evades me. Instead of counting sheep, I run in my head all the extra resources we put aside for the days that we will need to live entirely on social security. These thoughts are far from calming.

The other day I said to my husband, “We should do it now, as long as we still can,” and at that moment, I knew, this is it, the seeds of retirement have germinated, and they are in full bloom.

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 and this post first appeared at Paper Dragon.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

December 9 – Snow Day Chronicles

by Ariela Zucker

Snowy Day

“Up to a foot of snow,” the smug-looking weatherman announces on the six o’clock news.

“Thirty million Americans in the path of the storm,” numbers are always a convincing tool in scare tactics.

“More than six states,” he continues to plant the seeds of doom.

“Stay in if you do not have to be anywhere,”

The small crooked smile at the corner of his mouth reveals how pleased he is with the drama he creates.

Behind him, the weather map alive with serpent looking swirls of green and blue and the dreaded pink.

In the middle of the night, two orange lights penetrate the shades of my bedroom, and a low growl and grind on the driveway. Ready to jump out of bed, I realize it is the snowplow performing the first of many rounds and slide deeper under my blankets.

In the morning, the quiet is deafening. It is the kind of quiet that accompanies snow days. No cars on the street, no kids on their way to school, even the dogs hush. Outside, a world clad in crisp white. My entrance door decorated with snow flowers. I savor the uninterrupted white before I send my lab out to mark it.

Shovel the deck so the snow crystals will remain outside, is my part in the snow removal operation. My husband wakes up the snowblower, and the brittle quiet explodes. The machine sucks in the snow and spits it out like a water fountain. Before long, our cars reappear from under their thick blanket of snow, and a narrow trail connects us to the main road.

On the morning news,  somewhat disappointed anchorwoman discloses that only 9 inches of snow came down. She brightens considerably when she shows us pictures of cars that sled off the road (everyone is OK).

By noon the temperature rises to 32 degrees. Big drops of water from the roof and the trees create an illusion of rain. The cleaned cars and narrow trail freeze to form a shiny layer of ice. This thin, hard layer will remain unbroken until covered with a fresh coat of snow. In the meantime, it is sprayed with sand to avoid sliding.

Brown, muddy-looking snow with untouched patches of slippery ice that snaps and pops when stepped upon. Icy cold drops of water, some find their way inside my coat as I haul inside logs of wood for the woodstove. Snow shovels and ice picks everywhere.

“Tomorrow night, a monster snowstorm on its way to the East coast, 50 million Americans in harm’s way,” here he is again with the smug look and the smirk.

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.

October 14 – The Sound of Silence

by Ariela ZuckerSound Wave

”The flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.” ~Simon and Garfunkel.

It is Yom Kippur today, but when I wake up in the morning, the world is going about its regular activities. The hum of the cars on the street as noisy as every other morning, the phone is ringing, people come into our motel lobby for breakfast. It is difficult to remember that this is a special day. For one minute, I close my eyes and try to reconstruct that old feeling I remember so well from my childhood, the sense of touching the sound of silence.

Yom Kippur, when I was a kid growing up in Jerusalem, was always about the quiet. No one drove, and the streets were empty. No music, or TV or phone calls to shatter the silence. It always seemed as if the whole country was holding its breath, and in this quiet, one could hear its own breathing, its deepest thoughts.

I remember the sharp split on both sides of the day. One minute the world was full of noise, then precisely on the declared hour, the noise ceased, and the stillness reigned. The same was the quick change the minute the day was over.

A solemn and weighty day as if in this complete silence, without any noise, one became more visible. As if words had to be chosen with care, and movements carefully match the importance of the day.

The heaviness of the day had a whimsical face to it that as kids, we waited all year for it. Since no one was allowed to drive on Yom Kippur, there were no cars on the road. We could walk in the middle of the street and knew we were safe. The adults spent the day in the synagogue, going over all their bad deeds and asking for forgiveness, while we were free to cruise the streets with our friends. That strange mixture between the sternness of observing the religious rules, versus the freedom that the day gave us children never seemed to create confusion. One thing did not overstep the other.

Until the Yom Kippur of 1973 when all the lines were ruptured.

The morning of October 6th, 1973 was when for the first time in my life, I opened the radio on Yom-Kippur. The silence was interrupted by the announcer on the radio reading in a metallic voice, lists of passwords. All army units that were called in. Two hours later, I was on a bus going north, and at dusk, I saw the first tanks of my armored unit grinding the road with their chains on their way to the Golan Heights.

After that Yom Kippur was never the same.

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.

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September 2 – The Reds and The Yellows

by Ariela Zucker

The lone red leaf on a soft mat of green that I detected this morning, is it a sign of fall?

“One swallow does not a summer make,” (Aristotle), a voice inside me resists.

One red leaf does not herald a season just like one flake of snow is not a sign of a coming storm. I try to talk myself out of the winter coming predictions, but I know I am fooling no one.

The reds and the yellows are a sure sign that the seasons are changing, there is no denying it.

I look at the Goldenrods in my garden, now at the peak of their bloom, but my eyes are drawn to the top of the trees. Up there, I find the incriminating proof in the view of several branches that overnight turned a bronze-red.

“Just the weakest link,” is always a good explanation. Young branches turn red first, so do sick ones, but those resistant and hardened will not change till the end of September.

Almost convinced, I walk in to pick up the motel phone to answer the question that in the following days will become more and more prevalent.

“So, when do you think it will be the best time to come see the leaves?”

The changing leaves, or as we call them, the fall foliage, are the big draw to our area in September and October.

Within a night my husband and I become the ones to consult with regarding leaves. People from all corners of the US and often Europe who plan their fall vacation in our motel depend on our recollections of past years foliage and the forecast for the coming season.

Just like the infamous New-England weather, known for its capricious nature, the foliage can fool even the best of nature enthusiasts.

People reminisce about the good years when the colors were so vibrant, they practically shimmered, and try to figure out the mysterious color quandary so they can predict the colors for the coming fall. The success rate is not very high, especially when the weather, in the last minute, decides to interfere, and a sudden storm knocks off all the leaves overnight.

Once September starts, we hold our breath and pray. For the weather to remain calm, for the winds to stir clear into the ocean. For the rain to hold on till the last leaf will land safely on the ground and for the sun to shine in a clear blue sky.

This, we discovered, is the real secret for the assurance of good colors.

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.

June 24 – My Kingdom for a Lawnmower

by Ariela Zucker

 

Mowing our extensive lawn is my acknowledged job. While we rotate other chores, no one will ever try to take that one away from me. I spend endless hours on the riding mower and wonder time and time again how I was pulled into doing it almost from the moment we became the owners of this piece of land our motel occupies.

This is a complicated question seeing that I am so technically challenged. Every machine from the car I drive, out of pure necessity, to the printer in the office, even a simple stapler dares me to a mind duel, one I usually miserably lose.

Yet the lawn-mower is my private escape, my mode of deliverance, and in some odd way, my direct touch with nature from a safe and respected distance.

From the top of the mower, roaring along, there is no question that I am in control. I dictate the pace, the course, and the depth of the cut into the grassy lawn. I get to decide which part of the yard will be cut and which left to grow. Flowers nod their head with respect (or perhaps fear) when I zoom next to them, and most of the small insects and other assorted living things, hiding in the tall grass, make sure to stay out of my way.

But it is also about bonding.

As I travel along, sideways, and around my kingdom, I can inspect and marvel at every small detail. Far but not really out of sight, I can see every blade of grass, every tiny flower, every new rock that emerged out of the earth to threaten my smooth sail atop the lawn.

The newly planted flowering Weeping Willow trees I placed in the ground last fall after careful consideration of their growth rate and flowering ability; I ride by them to check their progress. I look with pride at the wild lilies I planted along the border, so small when I uprooted them from someone else’s garden, they are now thriving in the wet environment next to the front conduit. The Nine Cattail that sways slowly in the breeze; my modest contribution to the assortment of flora in its muddy bottom.

Back and forth, riding from one side of the lawn to another, I watch with satisfaction how the tiny blades of freshly cut grass are flying out of the mower’s side chute. Every few minutes, I look back over my shoulder at the clear lines I have created in the overgrown grass. It’s the sense of fulfillment derived from a task well done but also the pride of an artist inspecting his creation.

It is like an allegory I did not fully uncover, but that one day will reveal itself to me. Until then the lawn-mower (green and yellow John Deere) and I will keep on cruising along, from one side of the lawn to the other, keeping an eye on its inhabitants.

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.

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