There are no more summer tomatoes

I read a text on “mindfulness” recently that suggested readers surround themselves with pillows at bedtime, and imagine the pillows are another person cuddling them. In another chapter, a reference to a woman who was cutting herself was included as an example of the healing potential of meditation.

Perhaps it’s the curse of a creative, or more likely, an experienced mind, that I felt immediately sad for those who were being counseled to personify pillows, as I am certain they would wake up to the reality of cool linen and soft stuffing rather than a human presence, and their loneliness would only intensify. I felt intense pain for the one who was harming herself, and was unable to purge her from my mind.

I reminded myself these examples were fictional scenarios (offered by a psychotherapist) and relegated them to my mental incinerator, where they were mercifully destroyed.

“Going to a happy place,” as one author recommended, makes me wish I could return to  a particular moment, and the realization decades have passed since then invokes grief that I’m no longer young, and the places and people that comprise those memories have changed. “A happy place” is not an abstract concept, but a physical location, where I would like to return, but can’t.

Focusing on my breath only makes me more conscious of my racing heartbeat and the recognition I am engaging in this exercise to calm myself, and the knowledge I need to calm myself only makes me more anxious.

Is it possible to be too aware of my surroundings, too mindful?

I prefer to daydream for a few minutes each day.

I can easily conjure scenarios in my imagination. I can feel the muscles in my thighs and calves ache as I climb a steep trail, feel the cool breeze and the warmth of the sand beneath me as I lie on a beach, stand atop a rocky crag, admire the snowy peaks beyond and smell the pine forest from which I’ve just emerged.

I have done all these things, and these memories meld into a fantasy that is more comforting than counting my breaths and listening to the furnace whoosh on. Perhaps it’s because I’m constantly, and acutely, aware of my surroundings. The leaves that have accumulated beneath the maple, as well as those that still cling to its branches, will need to be ushered to the curb. The roses have stopped blooming and need to be pruned.

In late autumn, life slows down. The crickets and toads rarely chirp. The summer tomatoes are gone.

Perhaps I’m already mindful.




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Finding peaceful moments each day

When I take time to simply observe, the ordinary often becomes extraordinary.

A late night sudden downpour, complete with thunder and lightning, becomes a symphony for all five senses.

A momentary glance through my front window reveals a glimpse of someone stopping to smell a rose along my front fence, backlit by the setting sun. A perfect tableau.

A little girl walking a puppy on a leash, crooning, “You’re my baby, aren’t you?” A vignette of childhood.




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Listening and looking

I hear the slap of the little boy’s sandals and see a family.

The little boy’s wearing white shorts. He holds the hand of a woman who holds the hand of the man on the other side, wearing a white hat, and white shorts, just like the little boy.

They pass, and it’s quiet again.

From another different direction, I hear, “I love you.”

Seconds later, I hear another voice. “I love you.

A car door closes. It’s dusk and time to go inside.


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A dried brown leaf twirls from an invisible filament a foot beneath a green and red branch, as others drift to the sun-mottled lawn below. A pine cone, the edges of its open brown petals tinged white, lands with a soft thud amidst the long russet needles that have already fallen. The last tomatoes, some still green, glow golden in the late afternoon sunlight.

The sounds of the cars, the sirens, the trains, the trembling of the earth, have no affect on these green growing things, even as they quietly shed their leaves and seeds.

There is no anger here. Only stillness, and life.

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Change two words challenge

Create a sentence that conveys a different sentiment based on the order of the words.


Do things wrong. Do wrong things.

You can change the world. The world can change you.

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We want tomorrow to be better

I’m sitting on the porch, enjoying the shade, the breeze and the quiet rustle of leaves. Church bells chime every hour, and cyclists pedal by. The parking spaces lining the streets and in the parking lots are almost empty and few cars pass by. A monarch butterfly flutters past. A yellow swallowtail stops briefly to investigate the phlox. A few bees buzz among the flowers lining the walk.

Sitting here is something I have resisted for some time now. Passers-by occasionally want to talk, and I’ve felt such an intense need for privacy I wait until nightfall to collect the mail or take out the trash. I’ve needed that peace so desperately, I sacrificed going outdoors even in the most beautiful weather.

Someone told me about a neighbor who worked in her garden only after dark, weeding and pruning by moonlight. Had I not heard that rumor and been afraid I’d become the subject of gossip, I might have taken up her nocturnal practices. Instead, my untended garden has become overgrown and overrun with unwelcome species.

A friend’s been cutting my grass all summer, since my hip still isn’t strong enough to push a mower. I now can drive a garden tractor with a mower deck, so this afternoon I rode in circles for almost an hour. Tomorrow I’ll trim around the foundation, streetlight and along the fence line with a weed-eater. The next day I’ll prune the roses.

Many of us have been angry for a long time. Many of us have been afraid. Yesterday was a particularly bad day for us all.

We want tomorrow to be better.

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Just don’t think

Many years ago a friend and I met another friend for lunch. He’d retired early to care for his wife, who’d been stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A home health-care aide visited a few hours a week to stay with her, so he could buy groceries, pick up medicine, or get a haircut. On this day, he chose to use this valuable time to meet us at a restaurant.

They had several children, who never visited. They couldn’t bear seeing the woman who was no longer their mother, he said. He forgave them, but there was an edge of bitterness in his voice.

He knew something was wrong when he found a gallon of milk beneath the sink. The disease progressed quickly, and in a few short months the mother of his six children babbled incoherently, and was constantly in motion – pacing, trying to unlock the door, apparently unaware of her surroundings.

When I first met him, he worked at an automobile manufacturing facility in human resources, behind a steel desk. Once a month or so, we’d pile in my car and drive to his favorite restaurant, where he always ordered the same thing. I knew he liked me when we arrived and as he emerged from the back seat noticed the gear-shift lever. “Mrs. J$@!(&!”, the name he called his co-worker who was the same age as his daughter, and a year younger than me. “Did you know she was driving a stick-shift car?”

Mrs. J$@!(&!” who had been riding in the front seat, chuckled. As he held the door to the restaurant for us, he said, “It was as smooth as an automatic transmission!”

At this lunch, less than a year after he retired, he was already waiting at the dimly lit, otherwise empty restaurant close to his home. The ashtray already held a couple of crushed-out Salems. He stood and kissed each of us on the cheek before handing us menus.

He looked at me somberly. “Mrs. J$@!&!” tells me you’re getting divorced.”

I smiled. “Yeah, but it’s okay.”

Mrs. J$@!&!” put her hand on my forearm and smiled. “She’s fine.” Mrs. J$@!&!” had taken over his position when he retired, and had continued to send me work during a challenging time in my life.

“Good.” He lit another cigarette.

Our waitress arrived. I ordered a salad. I don’t remember what Mrs. J$@!&!” ordered, but he commented, as usual, “I don’t see how she can eat that much, but she always does. Mrs. J$@!&!” laughed. The waitress didn’t take his order. She already knew.

“You’ll get through this,” he said.  “Just don’t think.”




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A fish story

I’ve lived here almost 3 years. Before then, the house was vacant.

There’s a small koi pond in the side-yard, just beneath my bedroom window. The concrete’s cracked, so it doesn’t hold much water, but a bright orange and white fish, around 6 inches long, somehow managed to survive the brutal winter and scorching summer before I arrived. When I first moved in and was still renting, I asked the home’s owner if they’d resettle the fish in their new koi pond. She insisted it had survived many summers and winters and would be fine.

“That fish will live forever,” she said. “It was there when we bought the house. It’s either a koi, or a shubunkin.”

A friend, who’s an animal rights activist, suggested buying a large aquarium for the fish to winter in. I considered releasing it into the mill pond, but my imagination ran from it growing to the size of a rowboat, to being chopped up by an outboard motor propeller, to me being led off in handcuffs for breaking some law about introducing non-native species into a freshwater lake.

I contacted a pond specialist in California and tried desperately to find someone to repair the pond, but was unable to find anyone willing to do the work. For the past 3 years, that fish lived in a few inches of water, and somehow survived being frozen alive for several months a year. Each morning, after the ice melted, I looked down from my bedroom window and marveled at that fish.

It was the perfect “pet” for someone who had difficulty walking and limited financial resources. It survived on tadpoles and mosquito larvae and I have no idea what else. I occasionally tended to its habitat by removing dead leaves, plastic bags and candy wrappers, and on long stretches of very hot days, added some water. Otherwise, I left it alone.

A few days ago, I looked down at the pond. The fish was gone. I was still recovering from the flu, and wanted to believe the fever had caused me to hallucinate an empty pond. Each day thereafter, I looked down from my window. No fish.

Earlier today, Phil, who cut the grass for me last week, called.

“I stopped in today to check on your fish. He’s not there.”

“I know,” I replied.

“He wasn’t there when I mowed the other day, either.”

The first time Phil realized there was a fish in the pond, he insisted, “I’m gonna feed him.” I promised him the fish had survived in its fragile little ecosystem and I was terrified the introduction of anything into the shallow water would so pollute it the fish would be deprived of oxygen.

“Please don’t,” I said. It would have been easier to lie and say I fed it specially formulated koi food, an explanation that would have satisfied Phil, but I didn’t.

“It was old,” he said.

“Where did it go? If it died, it’s body would be there. There’s no trace of that fish.”

I keep reminding myself . . . “it’s just a fish.”







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Black Mamba

Dreaming should be peaceful. A smooth black face, with yellow eyes with slits for pupils followed by a length of shiny black scales should not jolt anyone awake.

Please tell the dream fairy to send the scary snake away. I am too old for nightmares.

I want to ride unicorns into dense green forests, followed by a flock of butterflies, not come face to face with a deadly serpent.

That black mamba awakened me, tonight. There are times when I don’t sleep well, and I’m often plagued by nightmares, but this one was so vivid, my first impulse was to reach for the vodka, but it’s 1:20 a.m. and the liquor stores are all closed.

Please tell me it’s not an omen.






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Wanting nothing

When the furnace failed in the middle of a very cold winter, I built a fire in the fireplace, cooked a chicken in the oven, left the oven door open once it was cooked, ran a hot bath and steeped in it until the sweat ran down my face, then climbed beneath several blankets to sleep. I left the water running so the pipes wouldn’t freeze and went for a long walk in the metropark across from my home the following day, kept my parka on when I returned, ate leftover chicken for dinner, took another hot bath and slept soundly for the second night. I built another fire and tended it the following day, took a walk, ate the rest of the chicken, took another bath, and went to sleep.  The following Monday, I called the repairman.

“Why did you wait so long to call me?” he asked.

“It failed while I was at work on Friday. By the time I got home it was 8 p.m. I couldn’t spoil your weekend.”

“It’s just me,” I  added.

“Don’t wait, again,” he said. His face betrayed his kindness.

I lived in that house for 10 years. It was my sanctuary.

As the furnace aged, so did I. I worried about the cost to replace it, and how I’d manage when it did.

It all worked out. When my came home from school, her happiness to be home reassured me keeping the home fires burning meant something to her, as well as to me.

I watched the northern lights from my front porch, watched deer chase each other from my kitchen window, and was greeted by snow-covered fawns peering through my bedroom window on snowy winter mornings. It was home.

Someone else lives there, now.

This wasn’t meant to be an elegy, but perhaps it is. I’m sure a family of geese still nests near the pond, the pink and white waterlilies still bloom, the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, waxwings and sparrows still visit.






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