How I Spent My Week Off

IMG_3408How I spent my week off: Not the way this picture would suggest. This was our vacation week; the only week old David and I take all year, just for ourselves, up at our place by the lake.

My friend Bobbie, in a laconic email containing only one link, pointed me to an article in The Times about how you really mustn’t let your work life encroach on your vacation. It says you just can’t keep answering emails and making calls, much less initiating them, but… well, you know how it is: you’re never on vacation really after about age 30, and certainly not if you’re someone who writes for a living.

And then in my case there’s the non-profit I spend so much of my time with the local chapter of an organization called A Better Chance that places outstanding students of color from all around the country in secondary schools that are regarded as the among the most challenging, the high school in our town being one such. We call it ABC for short and somehow I can never NOT work on ABC stuff, especially now with two shiny new ABC scholars due to arrive in a little over a week.  

Lots of us volunteers have been busy lately, fixing up the house where our eight guys live together with two amazing resident directors and a crack resident academic coordinator. I myself have been buying new file cabinets and furnishing the newly painted study room with cozy window treatments and fresh artwork.

the back study room

I’ll admit I’m mad for window treatments lately and earlier this month even tried hanging swags from old Dave’s broad shoulders, like Carol Brunette did in her spoof of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett uses those velvety drapes from the lost glory that was Tara to make herself a ball gown. 

carol as scarlett

It’s like a nesting mania with me lately. You’d think I 22  and eight months pregnant.

Anyway the the upperclassmen will be coming back any day now, one for Cross Country, one to row Crew and one just to help get the younger guys assimilated to life in New England. And there’s yet more to do: We’re spiffing up the grounds and painting the fence, getting a plumber in to replace one of the shower doors., and day and night I’m writing to all the new volunteers in an attempt to infect them with the enthusiasm I feel for this organization that helps so many young men grow into their gifts.

Here’s one of them now, Machias Turner, who left here in June at 6’5” but looks to be returning to us closer to 6’7”. The picture was taken on the ABC College Tour outside of one of the buildings on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

machias fall of senior year

BUT ANYWAY, having said all this about the work i couldn’t help doing, I did relax some. In fact, along about Wednesday that rainy,rainy day I relaxed so much I wasn’t paying attention even to the simple things. I was treating my coffee with liquid sweetener and  added some drops then tasted: added more drops and tasted again. Why isn’t this getting any sweeter? I wondered before looking down at what I held in my hand to see what I was actually using: the bathing solution for my contact lenses. I knew I was in what passes for vacation mode in my world when I was able to just smile. So I put saline solution into my coffee, so what? What’s wrong with a little salt to go with your sweet? I mean, what else made the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup the hit that it is? :-)


Posted by on August 16, 2014 in humor


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Time with Its Power

robin williamsWe sense so poorly that we too will die, like the every-young-seeming Robin. Ill chance and age come upon us as such an utter surprise.

I’m 65 now – 65! But can I be really, when I feel like the same 14-year old who dawdled home from school with her pyramid of books clutched against her chest, back in that long-ago time before anyone dreamed up such a thing as a backpack for the poor schoolkids? Instead we had bookbags – the boys used them more than the girls I seem to remember. I know I never could use a bookbag. What, let the History book and the French book, the Latin grammar and the tome that was Biology spill randomly into some sack?  No. I carried those books like an offering, as I walked dreamily home from the bus stop, enjoying this small slice of time when I was sure no teacher would call on me, where no conductor of a 9th orchestra would raise her eyebrows in my direction as Second Violin. Soon enough I would be home and laboring under the burden of all those assignments. This was my time, and it often seemed, my only time.

Yes, I am thinking on Time today as I think of Robin gone from the world now; as I picture Billy Crystal, once that fresh-faced kid from Long island…

billy crystal young

…now looking more like Kim-Jong-Il in his later days:

billy crystal now


I wonder at the power Time has over us all. Here is a passage from In Football Season, from John Updike’s collection The Early Stories that sums up for me exactly how wide that sky does seem when we are young. He speaks of the nights when he and his high school classmates would choose to walk the three miles home from the football game in a neighboring town, and felt that they had the night, and Time, all to themselves.

How slowly we went! With what a luxurious sense of waste did we abuse the stretch of time! For as children we had lived in a tight world of ticking clocks and punctual bells, where every minute was an admonition to thrift and where tardiness, to a child running late down a street with his panicked stomach burning, seemed the most mysterious and awful of sins. Now, turning the corner into adulthood, we found time to be instead a black immensity endlessly supplied, like the wind.

Would that it were. Would that time were endlessly supplied.



Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Helper or Helped?

imgresMaybe we all prefer to see ourselves as the ones who help, rather than the ones who need help. Here are two quick tales on this topic.

I belong to a group of college alums, the second-oldest member of which is a career educator I’ll call Rose, who still lives independently, together with her two cocker spaniels, in the house where she was born in the late 1920s.

Two weeks ago, when the person in our group who is closet to Rose reached out to say that she had fallen in her kitchen the day before and been taken unconscious to the hospital, I drove directly there.

She and Rose’s nephew had been in the ER with her for hours as they waited for a bed, but by the time I arrived she was settled in a pleasant room, her long hair, customarily worn in a 50’s-style ponytail, falling loose about her shoulders.

I don’t know exactly why I felt I had to drive there at 10 in the morning. I knew she would likely still be in the dazed state you get with a head injury. 

Maybe I thought it would help her to see the face of another friend, for we are fast friends, Rose and I are.

“How are you?” I burst out, practically running toward the hospital bed. 

“I‘m well,” she said mildly, and reached up to touch the bandage covering a ragged arc of coarse black stitches. “The staff here is very fine,” she added.

“Does it hurt?”

“No,” she said with that same mildness. “And they don’t think they‘ll do forgery.”

She hesitated, sensing that wasn’t quite right.

“Perjury,” she then tried.

“You mean surgery?” I asked, and she nodded, laughing at her mistake.

I guess I thought I was also helping the next time I went to the hospital and found her having a very quiet day indeed, with a magazine article open before her, single phrases of which she was reading aloud, in a slow and ruminative fashion.

I took both of these so-called ‘helping’ actions almost automatically. I just woke every day that week wondering “How can I help?” a variation of which, I suddenly realized, was the same question I wake asking myself every day.

So apparently I am one of the people who prefer to think of themselves always as the helpers and never as the ones in need of help.

Then came another realization. 

It was on the second day I came home from the hospital and found myself so unaccountably frazzled I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on the pileup of emails in my Inbox. 

This I was sadly regarding when a name popped up in the corner of my screen.

It was a Facebook ‘Friend Request’ with a warm message from a person named Susan whom I could not place. 

I accepted the request and messaged back, “Do we know each other, Susan?”

We certainly did, as she quickly pointed out; for not only had she had me for English back in in high school, but she had also gone on to become a nurse and ‘re-met’ me in a very different setting. As she wrote, I took care of you in Room 314, in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital when you gave birth to your daughter.”

I remembered that all right. If there was ever a day I needed help it was the day my first child was born, and Susan provided it, along with steadfast care and attention. 

Thus do I sense some connection today, and feel lucky and grateful for any help sent my way in past or future, even as I feel lucky and grateful to have been one who sometimes offered help.




Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


Ghost Town

arts & craftstime 087Where IS everybody?

It feels like even the Wallgreen’s parking lots are empty. It feels like if you called 911 you’d be able to just tell that the dispatcher was filing his nails and slurping a smoothie.

It’s the weather.

When the weather gets like this and stays like this, don’t you just want to dress any old way and mosey on over to the Arts & Crafts tent?

I do . I surely do. Let’s go ask these nice ladies for some gimp and get under that big tree outside and make us some lanyards, whaddya say?


Posted by on August 6, 2014 in humor, yay in general


Your Kids: They Judge You

Soap-bubbleTell you what: Admit nothing to your grown children, for they will surely judge you. Here’s a scene that took place at my house last weekend:

It was midnight up in the country and my grown child and I were just straightening things up after watching a House of Cards episode when, standing under the light that hangs over the dining room table, he suddenly went “Whaaaat?”

What what?” I said.

“What is THAT thing?” he said, indicating a tiny sphere bobbling about in the warm currents of air. Think of a snow globe that a home-décor-minded mouse might set out in his hole come the holidays.

 “Is it alive? Is it attached to something? The ceiling?” he said. He passed his hand above it. No thread, or web, or filament held it.

He let it land on his hand and touched it. “It has… body. And – ew, it feels greasy. But it’s not a soap bubble….”

Just then it burst, as I was trying to take it from his hand into mine and we knew that’s exactly what was.

“But what’s a soap bubble doing way over here? And at this hour? I mean where is it FROM?’

I swallowed. I knew what was coming and so armed myself in my breeziest manner:

“Oh earlier tonight before you got here I just put a bottle of Dawn in the blender.”

There was a silence followed by that mild look of incredulity your grown kids always give you when they question your choices.

Why?” he finally managed to say. “Why did you put a bottle of dishwashing liquid in the blender?”

This time I went for a jaunty matter-of-factness. “I was dyeing it,” I said.

“Dyeing the dishwashing liquid? OK, Mum: This is a whole new level of crazy, even for you.”

“Not at all,” I countered. “I dye all my liquid soaps if I don’t like their color, hand soaps, bath gels, all of them. Dad bought this transparent dishwashing liquid and it just looked so dull to me and I mean, who wants that? I want a dishwashing liquid with a nice deep-amber color. So I add food coloring, one drop of red, two drops of yellow and there we are!  Only tonight they didn’t mix right in the bottle so that’s why I poured the whole thing in the blender.”

“But what happened when you did THAT? It didn’t spill over?”

“Oh it got a little foamy. And when I poured it back into the bottle it had this ‘head’ at the top, like you get with beer: just this layer of tiny peach-colored bubbles. So I left the cap off and I guess that’s how one bubble got to where it was still floating around two hours later and 20 feet away.”

 I smiled at him, with my most confident smile.

“I don’t know, Mum,” he said, shaking his head.

I suppose the guy does realize that I’ve been dyeing my hair since he was in kindergarten but maybe not, and who knows? By the time I’m on my deathbed I may also be found to have a giant tattoo splayed all across my midriff. I may just.

 But hey, I say we should all ‘decorate’ any way we please, because it’s so cheering. 

Just ask that mouse with his little snow globe. 


Posted by on July 30, 2014 in humor


Don’t Let Go Girl We Got a Lot

World Premiere Of "The Hulk" - HollywoodThis last was a week when I was really dragging myself to the finish line, but then as if waking from a long bad dream, I suddenly woke up to find myself at a concert by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

The ‘Seasons’ themselves, those handsome lads in their clingy black tees, weren’t even alive in ‘70s, whereas ol’ Frankie came into the world LONG before that – he turned 80 this past May – and as I peered down at him through the swivel and play of lights all I could think is I’m watching Al Pacino prowling the sage as Richard III. 

Seriously? I thought. That’s really his voice? Doing the stage patter between songs he was now and then gulping bites of air but then when it came time to hit the rafters in that high falsetto he seemed to be doing it.

Or maybe he wasn’t doing it I don’t know. Milli Vanilli you could be mad at for lip-synching that album; it was right that they got laughed off the bus, but who could be mad if a guy 80 used technology to add the more curated version of his voice or the mix, tracks laid down in some studio when he was in vigorous mid-life.

Anyway they were great. Any crowd anywhere loves What a Lady what a Night. A beefy 40-something guy in front of me kept leaping to his feet and dancing a happy arms waving jog that from the hips down was strangely dainty and ballerina-like. Mean people shouted at him – I guess they thought it wasn’t that kind of concert  – and certainly his little ten-year-old looked embarrassed but I liked the guy and admired his zeal, every time he stood to do his little jig, only to sit down again, looking pained and embarrassed by the cruel shouts directed at him.

I finally patted his shoulder by way of reassurance. I couldn’t help it. Though I am no longer much of a stander OR a dancer at concerts these days. I was once, I remember that. I remember at my first Elton John concert with my hair down my back in a kind of Princess Leia-style full-length dress I had just bought to accommodate that first baby, quietly growing inside me. 

Big Girls Don’t Cry was great, and Sherry Bay-ay-bee Sherry was too of course. But for me the night hit its peak when Frankie took the mic and sang his first solo hit My Eyes Adored You, which made me think how we were all young once, and how someplace, on some other plane just out of the range of our dim, dim sight, we all still are.



Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


Get Up. Get to Work

writers-blockHere’s another kind of call to arms, as rousing to me as that guy in the last post warbling out his a cappella version of the Marseillaise. I saw it yesterday on Brain Pickings Weekly, a wonderful site that serves up great plate of food for thought every Sunday. Go here to see.

It featured Leonard Cohen and his work habits as a songwriter, which were are interesting in themselves – but what I really liked was the trouble the website’s authors took to gather up what other writers and musicians have said about so-called inspiration:

Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

Novelist Isabel Allende: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”

Painter Chuck Close: Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Author and essayist E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope: “My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best.” (And may we correct the old notion by adding the woman who will work the hardest will also work the best.)

The dailiness of writing – and I write every day, for publication may seem to some like a terrible burden. And sometimes when I am in one of my sad places, it seems that way to me – until I sit down and start tapping away when, like a sweater pulled over the head and quickly turned inside out , it becomes not even just a pleasant task but a pure and certain joy.    



Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Eating The Week

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The Freelance Retort

Because one minute you're a baby and the next you're getting the senior discount - and there's no reversing direction!


Another Good Day in Rural America . . . . . . . © 2012, 2013, 2014 Ann Aikens ~ all rights reserved

Eating The Week

Week-size morsels of the stuff we eat


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