Tag Archives: Women’s Stories

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 30 – God Laughed

by Kalí Rourke

It was 1991 and I had planned a birth with drugs, lots of drugs. An epidural, if you please, and as I arrived at the hospital that morning for the induction my doctor recommended, I heard a woman down the hall screaming and moaning, “Oh, My GOD…”

I gave thanks that those sounds were not, and would not, come from me. This wasn’t my first rodeo and the epidural had been my friend in my older daughter’s birth.

As the saying goes, “God laughs while you are making plans,” and the attending nurse did not check my dilation after giving me a rest near midnight. She turned the Pitocin up and before I knew it, I was at 10 cm and ready to deliver.

It was too late for an epidural.

My husband warned the hapless anesthetist that he might want to deliver that news from a distance because one of my nightmares was coming true. Natural childbirth with no desire to do so.

Yes, I was now the woman moaning, “Oh, My GOD,” and as a professional vocalist, I had much more range and power. I apologize to any woman who checked in as I delivered our beautiful little girl without medication.

But the fun was not over. Around 2am, after laboring all day long, they left our little angel in my arms and we were alone. I sent my husband home to sleep. I was exhausted and exhilarated and somewhat hypnotized by the long, long fingers she delicately fanned around her face…as she choked.

I grabbed the suction bulb and started pulling mucus out of her little mouth as I frantically tried to hit the call button on my bed with my elbow. It seemed eternal but I am sure the nurses came on the run and I showed them what was happening with my newborn.

She was hustled out of the room and I was later told that because I had expelled her so quickly through the birth canal, it had not squeezed out the fluid that naturally collects in the lungs. Singer’s diaphragm efficiency at work?

They flushed and suctioned her little lungs out and when she returned to me she was sleeping peacefully.

Our next challenge was breastfeeding. What had been so natural (although somewhat painful) with my first baby was a nightmare with my second. Trying to feed her was like wrestling an angry little octopus. I would finally have some success, only to see her spit up immediately.

After a few days of this at home (No sleep for us!), I called our Pediatrician in tears as I babbled my distress. He wisely asked to speak to my husband and we discovered that our daughter was likely lactose intolerant and was receiving milk enzymes through my breast milk. I had never heard of this, but after her first bottle of soy milk formula, it was like I had a brand new, happy baby!

Hallelujah!

Kali RourkeKalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin, Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund and serves as a Social Venture Partner with Mission Capital. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

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December 23 – My Little Chanukah Miracle

by Judy Gruen

I clicked the seat belt securely, then felt the gold chain slip off my neck. I felt sick. If the chain had come loose, my beautiful gold pendant might have fallen off earlier, while I had been Chanukah shopping in the mall, all 870,000 square feet of it. It would take a miracle to find it there.

Years earlier I had bought this little bauble, less than a half-inch in diameter, smitten by its shimmering shades of green, red and burgundy cloisonné, in a heart-within-a-heart motif. A tiny diamond set inside reflected the light and added to its understated elegance. I loved that pendant.

It had been an expensive impulse purchase, and I had always felt a little guilty for my splurge. But it had been a numbered limited edition by a gifted designer, his name engraved in gold on the back. I couldn’t resist. But after a few years, it disappeared. Eventually, I gave it up for lost.

Three years later, while reorganizing my dresser, my pendant winked at me from an island of bras and panties I had dumped on my bed. I was shocked. How had it landed there, and remained undiscovered for so long? I thanked God for returning it to me. I vowed to be more careful.

You can imagine the awful déjà vu I experienced at the mall. This time, my pendant would not magically reappear in a drawer back at home.
I tried to console myself: You enjoyed it for several years. Count your blessings.

And yet. . . it was nearly Chanukah, a holiday of miracles. In the Chanukah story, something very small and valuable; a cruse of pure oil — did show up in a totally unexpected way. Why not at least try? I reported it missing to the management office, and then, my eyes alert and my head to the ground, I began to retrace my steps, floor after floor, store after store. My hopes sank as I returned to the Hallmark shop, my last stop. I scanned the carpet along the aisles. Nothing.

But across from the cash register where I had waited in line to pay, an itty-bitty diamond flashed at me from underneath a display of holiday mugs. I was rooted to the spot, thunderstruck. I swooped down and grabbed it tightly. In the mall management office, the woman who had recorded its loss and my information was as stunned as I was.

I was awed and grateful for this second unexpected reunion with my heart pendant but wondered aloud to my family what else it could mean. My niece Ali said, “I would never have gone back into the mall to look. I would have been sure it was gone. But you looked for it and you found it. I think that’s the lesson. Don’t give up, even when the odds seem against you.”

“There’s another lesson,” my husband said. “This Chanukah, I’m buying you a better chain.”

Judy Gruen is an essayist and author whose most recent book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Aish.com, and many other media outlets. She is also a writing coach, editor, and speaker. Judy writes regularly at Judy’s Mirth & Meaning Blog.

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.

December 2 – It’s Fruitcake Weather!

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Tears stream down my cheeks, splattering upon the keyboard as I write this.  ‘Tis the holiday season, you see, and I delight in the memories of my childhood yuletides.  One such memory stands out as clearly as the glittering angel atop my Christmas tree.

November’s blustery winds arrived weaving frost spider webs onto Mother’s kitchen window. “Oh, my,” she’d invariably say, staring at their intricate designs, “It’s fruitcake weather! I’ve much to do!” Yes, ours was a blessed fruitcake house.

I can still see Mother and me driving into town lugging home packages of my favorite things: candied cherries, candied pineapple, figs, walnuts, pecans, raisins, dates, and candied citron.  Back in her kitchen, we chopped the nuts, the candied fruits, the dates, and figs, blending them with the heavy batter, and dumping the glorious mixture into fluted cake and loaf pans.

Three hours later, the cakes emerged from the oven only to be wrapped in cheesecloth; doused in peach brandy; then stored in every nook and cranny Mother could find.  Every few minutes, it seemed, I pestered her.  “Are they done yet, Mother?”

“No, not yet. They must age.”

After what seemed like months (It was really only three to four weeks.), she’d proclaim, “The fruitcakes are ready for wrapping.”

Out came the rolls of wax paper, aluminum foil, ribbon, and the mailing cartons.  Having bundled up our packages of cheer, we took them to the post office.  On the way home we dropped off mini fruitcakes to neighbors, teachers, and friends then tootled home, warmed with the knowledge we’d brightened the Christmas of friends and family.  My head sank into my pillow dancing with visions of folks unwrapping our fruitcakes; sniffing the cinnamon, cloves, and peach brandy; and eating a slice of our dense, sweet fruitcake topped with a dollop of thick whipped cream.

Folks felt blessed by Mother’s thoughtfulness, and soon our mailbox was stuffed with cards and notes of gratitude.

Even now, I love eating fruitcake and don’t understand why they’re underappreciated and maligned, often being referred to as bricks, paperweights, or doorstops.  They also bear the brunt of many holiday jokes. I remember the first fruitcake joke I heard.  “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and year-after-year people send to one another.”

“Sure, Johnny, considering how long a properly made and stored fruitcake can last, it’s quite possible. The alcohol alone acts as a preservative, allowing people to keep or regift it for years.”

If only I’d known. I would’ve kept some of Mother’s fruitcakes; and when the holiday season arrived, I’d retrieve one from my freezer; thaw it, and re-douse it with peach brandy.  I don’t have Mother’s fruitcakes.  Instead, I have our fruitcake-making memories. I’m heartened that Mother loved making those fruitcakes, and I’m touched with how thoughtfully she involved me in a decades-old family holiday tradition, a tradition I revisit every year when it’s fruitcake weather.

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.