The Blessing of Sig: Everyday Magic, Day 791

downsized_0319141552Yesterday, the mail brought a blessing from Sig Lindenbaum, a quiet man who was the spiritual center for our local Jewish community. The blessing was to welcome our daughter, Natalie, soon to turn 22 years old, and in the very active process of birthing her career as a singer at the moment. Sig, born in Germany, was one of the few Jewish children in WWII to escape concentration camps because of the Kindertransport, which transported children from some Nazi-occupied countries to England. I remember talking with Sig over cookies after services many times and talking about what it was like to say goodbye to his parents forever when he and his brother boarded the train.

Sig, who also officiated over our son’s bris, wrote this welcome to our daughter a few days after her birth in April of 1992:

The birth of a new baby makes me very sentimental. I always felt that somehow the world is now a better place. I believe that this feeling is particularly justified with a new family member in the house of Caryn, Ken, and their son, Daniel. Caryn and Ken are sensitive people with a love and concern for people and for the earth around them. They will undoubtedly transmit their values to their children, and therefore, to a considerable extent the world will indeed be a better place.

May God who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless Caryn and Ken and Daniel and their newborn daughter and sister whose name is declared to be Natalie Gayle. May the parents rear their daughter to womanhood imbued with the love of Torah and the performance of good deeds, to a life of fulfillment in a loving community with an appreciation of earth’s beauty and bounty, and let us say, Amen.

Natalie holding her newborn brother Forest

Natalie holding her newborn brother Forest

I remember Sig’s hand on Natalie’s head as he gave her this blessing, a hand I thought would long be central to our community. Yet in 1993, I arrived at services one Friday night to discover our whole congregation very shaken and sad: Sig had just died from cancer.

At services these days I often think of Sig, who not only welcomed me but kept me coming back when I first dipped my toes back into Judaism after some college and young adult years of thinking maybe I wasn’t so Jewish after all. Sig exemplifies the best for me when it comes to what it means to make and keep community, to listen to others deeply and without judgment, and to speak the stories and prayers that matter.

Now his gifts circle back to us in this blessing his wife found and mailed us, reminding me of the earth’s beauty and bounty, and of Sig’s too.

So I’m Not Really In Cyprus (and Other Realities of Being Spammed): Everyday Magic, Day 790

Very early this morning at dark’o’thirty, I was rudely awakened with the news: my email sent everyone in my address book a message that I was in Cyprus, my bag was stolen, and I needed money right now. Half-asleep, I shook my eyes awake by staring at my computer screen. This is what I discovered:

  • Email hijackers regularly break into someone’s email, set up a bogus email account (mine was my name but at yahoo instead of gmail), and then have a person’s legitimate email diverted to the bogus account.
  • First thing: change your password for your legitimate email account, which I did (and for just about everything else too).
  • Second thing: go to email settings, and delete the order to forward your real email to a fake account (done in a minute).
  • Third thing: get bogus email account reported and deleted.

This third thing has been a minor bane of my existence today. Yahoo doesn’t have adequate people to answer the phone (I waited for 40 minutes, then the call was dropped), and the email forum to report abuse only garners very slow response (just one small contact so far without action). The worst part is discovering that two people sent money, one who was able to retrieve her money, and one who is in process for what I’m hoping is successful retrieval.

Meanwhile, there is a Fellini-esque up side: I’ve heard from many people, some of whom I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. By the end of the day, I have two lunch dates set up for next week with old friends, another friend gave me a delicious piece of Christopher Elbow chocolate, and I’ve received offers of help, if this plea was legitimate, from my financial advisor, one of my doctors, and, to my great surprise, the UAW (Goddard faculty are unionized with the United Auto Workers). 18 phone calls, well over 100 emails, a dozen facebook messages, and four texts later, I’m here to say that I am blessed with very caring friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.

Meanwhile, my scam-shadow, lounges on a beach in Cyprus, a little distributed that it will take her a week to get a new passport to return home, but happy with the view, the dolmas, and the lovely notes from friends back home.

The Winter That Could Not End: Everyday Magic, Day 789

DSCN2377It has been winter for 11 years, six months and 7 days. Or so it seems. Actually, it’s somewhat of a normal winter, but colder, dingier, or just stubborner. I’m not sure when the temperature first fell below zero or how much snow and ice we’ve gone, but by this time of the year, especially this year, winter is all pervasive. Like depression, when you’re in it, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t always dominate every thought.

Adding to my winter kvetching has been a five-day virus, just now ebbing after nights of making me shiver so much that piles of down blankets and cat-warmers (several whole cats applied to torso) brought little relief. The dazzle of sun so quickly replaced by another threat of ice and sun, plus those 11 days in Vermont when I felt trapped in a snow globe the sky couldn’t stop shaking, have taken their toll.

Maybe the winter feels longer because Hanukkah was in November (November? What was that like?). Maybe it’s because February was, as always, the longest month of the year. Maybe I’m just impaired by a lack of imagination at the moment.

“Step outside and take a breath,” one of my friends said to me today on the phone. While still talking with her, I did just that, and to my surprise I inhaled spring. No matter that it’s 42 degrees and the moment and snowing. The ground is exhaling, the skies are thickening with the parade of storms to come just day or weeks from now. The winter that could not end will end, and once landed in the new reality, it will be thankfully hard to remember this March afternoon.

Why You Should Support the Best Work Of One of the Best Musicians: Everyday Magic, Day 788

Kelley and some of the musicians she recorded with in Nashville

Kelley and some of the musicians she recorded with in Nashville

Yesterday I listened to one of the most beautiful albums in my life: Kelley Hunt’s new studio album. How did I get so lucky? Because I co-wrote some of the songs on the album, Kelley called me up and said, “Want to come over and listen to the music?” Despite being home less than a day from Goddard (when I normally won’t leave the house unless there’s a Kansas tsunami), I was out the door and on Kelley’s couch that afternoon. What I heard was what heart and soul sound like when made into music. I laughed, I cried, I hummed all the way home.

Which is why I’m writing today to encourage you to support Kelley in her indiegogo campaign. Being a musician, or just about any artist these days, ranges from dubious to impossible when it comes to making a living. Kelley and her manager/husband Al have been dancing on that edge for years, putting out powerful music in the form of five critically-acclaimed CDs and international tours from Vancouver to North Carolina and back again, both solo and with the Kelley Hunt band.

Kelley and the McCrary Sisters

Kelley and the McCrary Sisters

Now they have a new CD, freshly recorded with the likes of the amazing McCrary sisters (legendary gospel singers) singing with her, plus Tony Harrell on accordion and B3, drummer/percussionist Bryan Owings, a kick-ass horn section and many more of the top musicians in Nashville. The album is recorded and mixed, and just needs to be mastered while Kelley and Al work with artists on the cover art.

“This is the best work I’ve ever done,” Kelley told me. Those of you who know her music can only imagine since her previous best work shines long after the CD or concert is done. Here is she performing on the Legendary Blues Cruise last year, and here she is singing “My Funny Valentine.” Kelley has also played dozens of benefits, helping people in this region and beyond over the years.

So I’m writing you to invite you with all my heart to give some of your love to Kelley’s campaign — right here. For a small amount, you can get your own copy of the CD, signed, sealed and delivered. For larger amounts, there are other great perks (even a concert with Kelley in your backyard if you wish). Please support one of our best musicians doing her best art.

Sparkling Night Snow: Everyday Magic, Day 787

The daytime snow doesn't glitter like the nighttime snow, but it's ruffled with ridges

The daytime snow doesn’t glitter like the nighttime snow, but it’s ruffled with ridges

Tonight as I walked from the center of campus to the dorms, and then from one faculty dorm across the wide expanse to my own, I was beguiled by the night snow. New snow all day, a sky teaming with starlight, street posts of soft lamplight, and bright sharp lights from the tops of each building made the snow sparkle like I’ve never seen snow before. Turn my head, and millions of silver pinpoints swirled

Morning snow after a night of wild glitter dancing

Morning snow after a night of wild glitter dancing

across the white piles, pathways, and fields.

Just back at my dorm after 11 p.m. here, I turned my head to see the moon slipping out of a thin cloud, lighting up the snow from yet another angle. Given I only had my phone (with its small camera) on me, I knew I wasn’t equipped to capture what I was seeing in image, only in these words, which don’t sparkle but hopefully remind you little to nothing that glitters is gold, especially in Vermont in winter.

True Love Isn’t Rose Petals: Everyday Magic, Day 786

100_1855Over 31 years ago, I fell in love with a decidedly, according to popular media at least, unromantic man. No rose petals leading a path to a candle-lit dinner. No charismatic charms displayed through gifts perfectly chosen, and sometimes on birthdays, holidays, even Valentine’s days, no gifts at all.

For one thing, he doesn’t like roses, except for native wild roses, although he’s learned not to insult the roses I’ve planted in our yard. For another, he doesn’t think in terms of societal gestures of romance. But true love? Here’s some of what it’s looked like for us over the years:

  • 100_0806As soon as he returns from a nine-hour day of work, plus commuting 45 minutes each way after waking up at 5:30 a.m. he puts on his coveralls and rushes outside in the snow to shovel a path to the cars, including clearing my car, so no one in our family slips.
  • Sleeping on lumpy hospital cots beside me after surgeries, bringing me large cups of hold water to sip during hours of chemotherapy in between reading aloud to me bizarre bits of the paper, and taking off for the one pharmacy open at 2 a.m. once to get me drugs to ease my pain.
  • Changing thousands of diapers without prompting. Hauling babies and all their bags of diapers, juice, toys, bibs, extra clothes and more. Rocking those babies in the middle of the night after I woke him up, even if I had to kick him a little because he sleeps through anything. Waking up early to make those creepy-crawling kids of ours pancakes while he downs an extra cup of coffee and lets me sleep in.
  • Never once even hinting that I need to not be a writer despite the hours it sometimes took away from him having some free time for himself between work, children, the farm, and helping his family.
  • Accepting my far louder family with curiosity and appreciation even if we broke out into show tunes at the drop of a hat and considered a great family gathering to include six kinds of dessert and karaoke.
  • Holding my father’s arm in the last moments of his life while telling my dad how good it was to see him (after flying out with me on little notice, then driving hours in the snow on little sleep).
  • Saying “Oh, no!” when I tell him I think I’m getting a cold, and then expressing genuine empathy.
  • Doing the laundry. All the laundry for the most part. Including the laundry for three kids, one of whom changed her outfit every two hours. For over 30 years.
  • Laughing so hard at the parts we love in our favorite movies, reminding me of the first time I heard him laugh in abandon when we went to a park late at night and swung on the swings very high.
  • Processing thousands of nuances of interpersonal mishaps wIMG_1216ith me to help me find the way forward with love and respect for all.
  • Cleaning the dog vomit on the floor, and much of the kid stomach flu evidence over the years because I can’t do it without throwing up.
  • Lying awake late at night with me, scheming about events we’d organize, projects we’d launch, and communities we’d support, and then, in the daytime, working with me to make it all happen.
  • While not caring if his shirt is fraying at the edges, letting me parade before him in multiple outfits so he can advise me on what best fits the occasion and makes me look best.
  • Simply not caring if I gained or lost 20 pounds.
  • Not objecting when I scooted my freezing toes under his warm feet in bed on a winter’s night.
  • Occasionally writing me a love letter so beautiful that I no longer care that he forgot a birthday, and in recent years, actually remembering birthdays, holidays and Valentine’s day, not because they matter to him but because it matters to me.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of us no matter who we love and how we love, and may we find the romance in folded laundry, a hot bowl of soup, and someone who truly gets who we are.

In Praise of Maxine Kumin: Everyday Magic, Day 785

maxine_kuminShe answered her own emails. And she often said, “yes.”

How rare is this for a very famous poet with decades of achievements? More rare than Sam Brownback crushing on Hillary Clinton. But that’s the kind of person Maxine Kumin was. When I contacted her in 2010, asking her to write a blurb (little endorsement for the back cover), of An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate of America (co-edited with Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Low and Walter Bargen), she said, “yes.” She was the only one of two (Ted Kooser as the other one) of many very well-known poets to do this; all the others either didn’t answer or were too busy. While I respect a person’s safeguarding of his/her writing time, it turns out that even more, I respect a person being kind and generous when there’s nothing in it for him or her. “This vigorous anthology deserves a place in every library,” she wrote, and then shared her favorite examples of great lines in four poems.

A few years later, when I invited Maxine to participate in a state poet laureate renga (she was a the New Hampshire as well as the U.S. poet laureate), she said, “yes” again. Here is her wonderful contribution to the anthology The World Keeps Turning to Light: A Renga By the State Poets Laureate of America.

Audubon asked me so I counted:

ninety to a hundred finches on

their way to turning gold crowding

the feeders full of blackoil sun-

flower seeds; both kinds of nuthatches;

a few titmice; clots of chickadees;

woodpeckers: one hairy male;

one female downy; two sparrows

dipped in raspberry juice

all dispersed by a blue jay bombardier.

When I wrote her a month ago, asking permission to reprint this in Poem on the Range, my forthcoming poet laureate memoir, she also agreed.

Her generosity of spirit and in action, her poetry of place and timeless connections with the other-than-humans around us, and her voice in print and aloud made our world glow with vitality. Her writing, like the music of Pete Seeger, goes on beyond a lifetime. Thank you, Maxine Kumin.

Listen to a delightful interview with Maxin Kumin (and poetry reading) on Prairie Home Companion (she speaks about 12:00 into the audio).