Tag Archives: Reflection

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 16 – Confession of a Conehead

by Marian Beaman

Smashed Traffic Cones

Photo by Getty Images

The Damage

Mouth agape, wide-eyed and stunned at the WaWa station – I beheld a tee-shirted man holding a frosty drink and belly laughing at me. In the bay just ahead, this guy observed what I failed to see: two traffic cones smashed under my two wheels. Not one, but two—smashed flat!

Seconds earlier I had felt a ripple on my driver’s side tire but my car moved ahead, haltingly. Yes, I had detected some resistance but thought it may have been the metal caps of an underground well for holding gas. No, Siree!

Then I heard a disembodied voice over the service station intercom announcing for all to hear, “Ma’am, you’ve just run over the traffic cones. This pump is out of order. Move ahead to the next one.”

The Resurrection

The Frostee-drinking guy took his sweet time to mount his truck, pull on his seat belt and move ahead, but when I cleared the out-of-order pump and moved on to where he had been gassing up, I turned back to see one of the lurid orange cones re-inflate halfway, the other still flat. As I pushed the nozzle into my gas tank though, both smashed orange cones stood straight up. That blessed image caught my full attention.

I could safely remove my dunce cap.

The Cause? 

I had just come from a riotous lunch with friends at J Alexander’s. No alcohol, just endorphins from laughter with friends, I imagine now.

How could this have happened? Spotting the station, I had approached what looked like an available pump, maneuvering my steering wheel hard left, a tight hook to line up to the screen and nozzles of the gas pump I was aiming for.

No out-of-order sign appeared in my line of vision. No obvious orange cones either, a giveaway for an out-of-service pump. Maybe my crossover, a high-off-the-ground vehicle, obstructed my view.

Still, why oh why did I do such a dumb thing?

I guess I forgot to take my Smart Pill!

Gratitude: Ultra-flexible traffic cones!

Memoirist Marian Beaman, a former professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville, is the author of Mennonite Daughter, which records the charms and challenges of growing up plain in 1950s Lancaster County. Her story has evolved from blog posts which she began publishing in 2013. She lives with her husband Cliff in Florida, where her grown children and grandchildren also reside. Marian blogs at https://marianbeaman.com where this blog post also appears.

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 28 – Maui Sunrise

by Linda C. Wisniewski

I had forgotten light arrives before the sunrise, that the sun sends beams in advance of its peek above the horizon, so slowly there is no single moment when darkness turns to light. Dawn is a gradual process, like my sons growing up before my eyes.

I saw it coming when they ran long-legged like colts in the spring. I glimpsed their adult bodies when they stood before me clean-shaven in jackets and ties, their little boy faces still there somewhere, if I squinted hard.

I saw it coming as we stood together at the summit of Mt. Haleakala, the clouds parting and green treetops appearing below us in the growing light. The younger one had driven us there in his rental car, three hours in predawn darkness on a winding road, higher and higher, the lights of Maui like glimmering jewels falling far below.

When he was four, he sat in the back of a gray Toyota as it climbed to the top of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. While his father drove, I read the warning sign aloud: “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.” He begged us to stop, and we turned around as soon as it was safe, secretly relieved. Now he was the one reassuring me as I imagined the symptoms of altitude sickness.

At the top of the peak, safe and slightly short of breath, I gazed at my boys with pride and wonder. They have called me for advice when choosing an apartment, a job, a new car. But at twenty-nine and forty-two, they can do these things without me and we all know it. They have jobs I barely understand using tools that didn’t exist when I was young.

Once they were sullen-faced teenagers who chafed at my words. Now they end our phone calls with “Love you!” They cried when I left them with a babysitter. I cried when they left home for college. Now they have homes of their own.

The older one brought me a blanket and wrapped it around me as I shivered in the wind. Once I zipped his jacket, put on his mittens, wiped his runny nose. I was freezing now, waiting for the sun. His brother said to let them know when I wanted to call it. Now I was the protected one. My two boys stood taller than I, their precious heads back-lit by the sunrise we all knew would come.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

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October 21 – Walking Backward

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Backwards Clock

As a small child, I loved walking backward and did so every chance I got. One
day, I even challenged myself and walked backward almost the entire distance from my house to my elementary school. I’d walked forward along that route hundreds of times. But when I walked it backward, suddenly everyone and everything looked different somehow—a difference I didn’t understand or couldn’t quite explain.

Something shifted inside me, too,—something that made me different from the other kids. The following year I entered junior high and gave up on being different and on walking backward, quickly forgetting the perspective that moving backward gave me.

Sand FootprintsNow I’m 67 years old and find myself walking backward through my life. My friends call this walking backward my life review. Life review isn’t simply about assembling the details of my past. It’s about finding meaning in even some of the
ordinary events. Suddenly everyone I knew and everything I experienced looks different somehow. I re-experience the emotions—the joys and sorrows—that accompanied many of the events of my life. I face some of the people with whom I interacted and become acutely aware of the kind acts I committed as well as the pain I inflicted on others. I soon realize that every word, thought, and action—no matter how small—affected everyone and everything.

Sometimes I ponder, Would it make a difference in the way I lived life if I lived my life in reverse? Suppose I was Benjamin Button, old first and then young again. Would I enjoy the fact that I could do mundane, everyday chores because I knew what it was like to watch others sweep the floors from my own nursing home bed? Would I visit elderly family members and neighbors more
often, especially those who are housebound or in a nursing home? Or just send a card or letter?

Postage isn’t all that high when I realize how important mail is to a lonely person. Would I stop my morning walk long enough to talk with my neighbor, the mother of five boys, knowing she yearns for adult conversation? Would I resist the ugly urge to retaliate…insult for insult… after one of my husband’s cutting remarks? Would I look past my stepdaughter’s edginess and recognize the pain and fear behind it? Would I put myself in the other person’s shoes, especially when I have a complaint about a product that didn’t perform as I expected it to? Do I really have to be nasty to the person I am relaying my dissatisfaction to? Would I respect and honor somebody else’s truth as much as I do my own?

But I’m not Benjamin Button, and I can’t live life backward. Yet, the past is always there to look back upon, to remember the joys and the sorrows of my life, and to reflect upon how I lived my life. And I can mindfully live in the present, applying the lessons I’ve learned from walking backward.

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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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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