A Very Unusual Day


Penmanship Class

Swiftly slithering along the stone wall
my father built with his two hands, the
garter snake followed our journey
down the road to the school bus.
Past the swamp with skunk cabbage
and its distinct odor, past wild blueberries
hidden within its depths, my sisters and
I chatted along the mile of road.

Past Peter’s house, the boy who threw
the stone hitting me in the middle of
my forehead leaving an ugly lump.
Unprovoked and done because he could.
Past the pretty flowering apples trees
of the elderly lady who shouted from
behind curtained windows to stay off her yard.
At the end of Cedar Street was our bus stop.


Across from the Old Sturbridge Village.
Weather was hot this June day. My
second floor classroom with the wooden
floor creaked under our shoes. Inkwells awaited
our pens for penmanship class. Our teacher
stood in the middle of the double-wide slate
blackboard and wrote a new word: ambidextrous.
She demonstrated the word’s meaning for us.

She never walked left and right as she wrote.
Standing in the middle, she began writing in
cursive with chalk in her left hand. Then she
switched to her right hand, and wrote perfectly
shaped letters in white chalk. Next we tried to
write the same way but were unsuccessful. She
wrote: “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
Left and right hands the same. All letters of the alphabet.

Without questioning the meaning of the sentence, we
carefully wrote this in our penmanship journals.
Today visitors would come to see how
well we had learned to write in cursive handwriting.
Some of us wrote diligently, but the little boy behind
the girl with blonde braids was busy dipping her
braids into the inkwell with indelible black ink.
He got into BIG trouble for that. Our brick school

building was hot on the second floor so the
teacher opened the door in the back to the
fire escape to give us air in the classroom.
One visitor walked around and observed
our perfectly shaped letters matching the
models on the black chalkboard and commented
with uh-hums of approval as she
walked past our desks during our timed writing

session. The fox and the dog would
probably have pounced on the next visitor:
a pretty bird flew in the open fire escape door.
Confused, it flew in a helter-skelter
manner. Squeals erupted; ohs and ahs
followed as the bird flew past our heads. Total
and utter chaos ensued until finally,
one unlucky girl had a deposit made on her

beautiful cursive handwriting. Our teacher
brought a brown paper towel to clean up
the bird dropping. I wonder what grade the
unlucky student got for her smeared cursive writing?
Holding back her laughter, our teacher tried
to get us to remain in our desks. How could we
do that with our flying intruder? The other visitor
must have enjoyed this moment! Maybe we

could go out for recess now? Finally the bird exited to
tell others in its flock about the misadventure
it had in our classroom. Off the bus again, we
hurried home, paying scarce attention to the swamp
and poison ivy. No heed to garter  snakes along our route.
Excitement filled the kitchen as our metal lunch boxes banged
the countertop. Munching on freshly baked oatmeal cookies,
we told  our mother about the very unusual day at school.


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Wiser Today



The Promise

Why do stars in the night shine so bright?
Why does the sun in the sky give us light?
Why do the buds appear and push up in the snow?
Well, I don’t know, but they are a welcome sight.

It gladdens my heart to see hints of spring.
Buds on trees and limbs turning green.
Some plants survived winter snows,
protected from the harsh cold. Nature


beckons the birdsong once more.
The promise of what is to come, the hope.
Now at peace with the world, I rejoice
and give thanks for verdant green

abounding our plot of land. It
is good to be alive, to regard such
delights.   Wonder and awe fill me.
So this is spring’s promise and delight.

No clouds in the blue sky.
Now I know why I feel the sights
differently today. Wiser and happier.
Now I understand why.



Photo credits to Sally Rose Dolak in Costa Rica and Emily at the beach.  Sally’s blog can be viewed at the following link:  http://rosedevi.blogspot.com/


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Breakfast on a Winter Morning

Sun streams through the windows on a snowy winter morning as I enjoy a breakfast from many countries. Glancing at food labels has become a habit.  Today I noticed a large label on my honeydew melon declaring it to be a product of Honduras.  My creative train of thought paused to recall friends from this country.  Blueberries and blackberries sported labels from Chile and Mexico.  The Greek yogurt is produced in New York.  Pomegranate juice is from California.  I conjure up visions of distant places and the fruits of their labor.

Thoughts wander to earlier times when jet planes, computers and technology did not exist. People enjoyed the harvest of their own gardens and labor which were often canned and preserved to consume during long winter months.  Sometimes I add a warm oatmeal to my usual fruit and yogurt breakfast as I ponder how lucky I am to be able to enjoy such breakfasts.

Mr. Rabbit has left his tracks in the driveway which then disappear under the parked cars. I look for tracks in the snow and step outside to enjoy a rare sunny day in winter.  The newspaper reports the latest tallies in the snowfall amounts of cities across the US which are similar in size to where we live in Upstate New York. We are ahead in the race with over 100″ of snow thus far with more winter yet to come.  We are approaching our average now.


I Wonder

What do people the world over
eat for breakfast? Bread, butter,
marmalade? Eggs, cheese, sausage?
Fruit and yogurt? Honey?  Coffee, tea?

Hearty oatmeal with brown sugar?
Milk? Grapefruit? Orange juice?
Bacon, ham, hash browns?
Donuts, Danish, muffins, bagels?

Breakfast is the most important
meal of the day, nutritionists inform.
Espresso starts my day.
I wonder why some folks skip breakfast?


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Witty Winter



Bring It On!

Out the window I observe large
white snowflakes cascading
silently, covering the lawn.
A vast white blanket.

Early visitors scurried
through our yard leaving tracks:
rabbits. Where do they
winter over I muse?


Under a neighbor’s tree,
a big fat squirrel is busy
digging for buried treasures:
acorns? Fir branches heavy and
laden with globs of white, like fluff of
marshmallows entertain. Serene.

My train of thought is now
jolted by the crash of
the snowplow as it sweeps along.
The silent landscape is interrupted.
Life in Upstate New York.

Weather reports announce
two nor’easters looming overhead.
Word from our daughter on
Long Island: the blizzard is over.
Now we compare notes on
the storms and aftermath.

Never lacking words, people seem
eager to discuss the weather.
They brag about the big one
as if talking about the big
fish that got away.

Furry creatures leave behind
tracks in the snow. Reflecting on
past childhood winters, I
smile inwardly. It is only February.
More winter remains. Bring it on!


Posted in animal tracks, Nor'easter, snowflakes, Upstate New York, winter | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Homemade Pies

Who doesn’t recall your grandmother’s pie baking in the oven?  Or you mother’s cakes or pies baking?  We associate our fond childhood memories with these wonderful smells coming from the kitchen or cooling on racks.  Whenever my mother sent her famous chocolate chip cookies to school for our birthdays, they were carefully boxed.  The teachers used to comment on the presentation as well as on the wonderful taste.  My Irish grandmother and my Irish mother made the flakiest pie crusts.  I could never seem to duplicate them.  In season, we enjoyed fresh blueberry or apple pies.  There never seemed to be leftovers either.

Today we celebrate our son’s birthday. He and his wife flew from Florida to Upstate New York.  Our daughter and her fiancé were also here to view their upcoming wedding reception venue.  When there are winter birthdays, we have weather to match.  First we lunched at Ebeneezer’s Café nearby with wonderful soups, sandwiches and, of course, pies and cakes for dessert.  The drive to the wedding venue would only take 15 minutes in summer weather, but yesterday the snow was heavy and falling fast.  I drove through unplowed roads in whiteout conditions listening to the phone voices giving me directions.  It was coming down that hill with a stop sign at the bottom and a truck going through when I discovered my trusty Jeep didn’t want to stop.  From the back seat, my daughter navigator yelled to tap the breaks gently.  Finally coming to a stop, my nerves were frazzled.  Savoring my peace and quiet when I drive alone or work on my writing, I now asked for or rather demanded  silence from the back seat and startled myself with the volume of my voice.

The final destination came several turns in the road later. My daughter urged me to just turn around and not  drive down that last hill!  No, we had come this far and the owner awaited us to show  the renovated dairy barn into a shabby chic venue for wedding receptions. With high vaulted ceilings, lights and antiques, it was a perfect space for the reception. I must admit that I loved the location since we were able to turn into the property without going down that final hill.  The snowplows had not touched the country roads yet.  It was rustic and simply beautiful inside. No further decorations are really needed.  It is not a cookie cutter hotel room for weddings.  And the owner has vested interest:  she was married in this space and runs that part of the business called Hayloft on the Arch.

Family celebrations are special times of sharing love and laughter. I smiled as I watched our grown son try to make a snow man.  Why not 25 like my sisters and I made in Massachusetts one winter day?  The child inside remembers and celebrates these special moments.



Posted in chocolate chip cookies, heavy snows, homemade pies, wedding reception venue | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Do Your Best!

The poet Ovid wrote, “Nothing is stronger than habit.” My parents believed strongly in forming good habits early in life. Parental example is a powerful teaching tool.  I was reminded of this when I read a newsletter from one of my language organizations.   We were fortunate to have a mother who stayed at home.  Our bedtime in Massachusetts was early by today’s standards:  6:30 PM.  We had to get up early enough to have our bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and walk one mile to the bus stop. Our bus ride was 45 minutes one way.  When we were older and in the upper grades in school, bedtime was later.  I recall my father telling me when I started high school that I determined my own bedtime based on how much homework I had.  If I stayed up until 10:30 PM, I was sometimes tired the next day at school.  My father woke me up at 5 AM daily to practice piano one hour before walking to church and playing the organ  daily at 6:30 AM.  He even fashioned a small piece of wood to wedge between the piano pedals to hold down the middle pedal which dampened the sound of the keys.  My other sisters had to take turns  practicing one hour of piano after school.  Three other sisters practiced on one of our  two pianos.  Later, my sister Sheila began violin lessons and had to add that practice as well.  Once per week we drove to piano lessons.  We also had choir rehearsals once weekly.

Summers were an adventure with music practice in our house. I normally practiced four hours, sometimes longer or less depending upon inclination and weather outside beckoning me.  We all had longer hours to practice music in the summers.  4-H projects were also the norm:  cooking, sewing, safety, first-aid and more. Besides my job as the church organist which was a daily habit and three times on Sunday and all the funerals and weddings, I babysat in the neighborhood or tended lawns and gardens of neighbors who went on vacation.  The going rate for babysitting was 50 cents per hour.

Later in life, my mother wondered aloud to me about our childhood and whether I thought it had been too regimented. Life seemed normal to me. I don’t recall ever feeling stressed about school, church, outside activities, etc. It was expected of us, and I simply did whatever my task was.  Dinner was on the table when my father returned home from work.  I recall my mother spending hours cleaning the house, doing laundry, shopping for food and cooking and baking.

In retrospect, what a wonderful gift my parents gave us.  It taught me to live a purposeful and orderly life.  I learned to be organized, methodical, industrious and diligent in everything I did.  What a marvelous preparation for college, my study abroad and my teaching career.  I learned the value of doing something right and to be thorough.  That sometimes meant extra hours of work for a project or term paper.

As an educator, I interacted with all kinds of students and parents. Some taught their children to be independent, disciplined and organized.  They did not “do”  homework and projects for their children.  They had high expectations for their offspring.  The only thing I recall being told about studies and school/college was to do my best.  Today I am grateful for my parents and childhood.



Special thanks to Sally Rose, my niece, for some photos from Costa Rica.

Posted in 4-H, church choir, church organist, educator, habits, music lessons, parental example | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments



On rainy days in rural Massachusetts, our mother would tell us to use our imaginations to find things to do to entertain ourselves. This was before all the electronic gadgets came in to entertain children.  We had to imagine and invent games to play and things to do.  We played hide and seek in the upstairs attic in Sturbridge.

Using old newspapers, we cut out paper dolls and made fancy clothes for them. We fashioned furniture using cardboard boxes and played in imaginary kitchens.  With no television to watch, we listened to radio plays with intriguing sounds such as The Lone Ranger and The Shadow.  We also played card games like Old Maid and Authors.  Our parents read books aloud to us.  My first few glimpses of television were on a black and white screen about 12″ wide.  We watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and later political addresses during which I learned the term soap box.

My childhood was magical with plenty of outdoor play and roaming through our woods.  We were happy and content with what we had. When the weather allowed, we made our own campaign speeches standing on makeshift soap boxes in our back yard.  We cheered for baseball teams as well.  Win or lose, we learned at an early age to participate and to be a part of the process.  These early lessons formed the basis of who I am today.  We learned to work hard, be positive and hopeful for the future.

School began in first grade where we learned to write cursive and play outside on the playground during recess until the teacher signaled time to return to the building with a big bell she had in her hand. We learned to read by phonetics.  Our writing pencils were big, thick and tall yellow pencils.  Our reports cards had the letters S for satisfactory and U for unsatisfactory and spaces for citizenship.  When we did receive letter grades, they were A, B, C, D or E (unsatisfactory.)  The grade F for failing did not exist.  We recited the Pledge of Allegiance and marched in parades for holidays.

Today as the United States transferred power to the new president, I watched on color television and took photos with  an  iPad.  To me, this is a national moment of celebration for our democracy.  No matter which side of the aisle people are on, we come together every four years for this civic  sacrament and peaceful transition.  Ever hopeful, I imagine peaceful times ahead.

Credit to Sally for some of the photos from Costa Rica.



Posted in childhood play, citizenship, cursive handwriting, imagination, Massachusetts, reading aloud, Sturbridge | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments