Tag Archives: Reflection

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 20 – Perfectly Imperfect

by Debra Dolan

For 18 years I have been in a relationship with Mike. Our anniversary is marked by spring and a natural renewal of what is possible after a long dark winter. In 2002, we were both wandering in the same west coast city and at the same expansive workplace, mending broken hearts. That April we came together as friends, sharing stories and emotions, over long walks and bottles of wine. We were both patient and kind, vowing to always be supportive. Ours was a slow blossoming romance yet, I am pleased to write, the fires continue to burn. There is no one that I would rather isolate myself in companionship during these precarious times of COVID-19 than my darling, Frizelli.

Although we have core compatibility, most markedly valuing leisure and solitude, we view the world related to politics, finances, art, décor and Netflix offerings mostly in singular ways. The ‘glue’ that keeps us together is love, pure and simple, as well as a shared respect not to turn the other into a female or male version of oneself. We both cringe each time we wear the same colour of socks or have matching coats. Complimentary is OK; identical is not.

During the entirety of our experience, we have maintained separate homes in different parts of our city; free to go back-and-forth. Additionally, prior to 2017, we had nothing intertwined – property, money, children – that would give us sober reflection after a terrible battle upon retreating to our distinct abodes to lick wounds. Now, there are grandchildren. While Mike was co-raising a daughter, I spent my time reading, writing, walking to my heart’s content, traveling. I did what I pleased. I knew not what I was missing; deep pure love for a child. During the past three years, Mabel, Henry, and Fletcher have often been “Pop’s” get-out-of-jail card. Other than a brief six-week period we have come together each day for the sheer joy of sharing life with one another.

We fight almost every day. This can often cause conflict among our family and friends as we face squarely our intrapersonal differences wherever we may be or with whom. Both Mike and I are fiercely independent, opinionated, self-regarding individuals, now in our sixties. We both exhibit many good character traits, too! He has never officially lived with anyone in his adulthood and I only did briefly in a short marriage in my late-twenties. We used to joke, “that we liked each other too much to get married,” and our mantra is, “we are two flawed individuals who won’t ever give up on one another.” Truer words never were spoken. So true, in fact, we even posted them on our joint 2018 holiday season greetings.

As we share space now, I recognize with gratitude that my fondest memories include Mike. It is getting harder to recognize a past without him in it. I love him more now than yesterday and I expect an even bigger love tomorrow and the day after that.

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 the Story Circle Network since 2009.

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.

***

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.

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.