Changing Skyline

IMG_3975It could be May as you look at this tree, couldn’t it? I took this picture yesterday outside my local YMCA where I spend an hour or more four times a week.

It looks like May but it’s sure enough October, and October’s last week in case we’re forgetting. 

The hour was noon as I snapped it, and I had just finished Active Stretch Class which involves abs work and balance balls. I thought I’d feel so good after the class but instead everything hurt.

I have pain every day now. They did an MRI on me last week because their theory was that I had sciatica but I knew it wasn’t sciatica. When my doc saw the images she told me what I already knew: it’s the scoliosis I was born with, because people with scoliois are indeed all born with it. It has grown “severe” in the estimation of the medical people only over time. The truth is I didn’t know I even had it until a yoga teacher touched my shoulder in class 8 years ago and said not to worry that I wasn’t symmetrical in Child’s Pose; that it was just my scoliosis.

My what? I have what? Then I began to notice that the zippers on my slacks were all off plumb. Then I could no longer wear vertical stripes. Then as a young person in my life said to me one day, “Wow yeah! Your pants are here (gesturing) and your shirt is over here (gesturing a few inches to the right.)

There’s no cure for scoliosis in adults. No Surgery. They can shoot you with steroids or give you physical therapy. My doctor gave me a scrip for Neurontin. We’ll see how THAT goes; I don’t like the look of it. She says if your back looks like this, and the disks are ‘extravagating’ (great word!)  even a little, then some of those delicate little facet joints are going to start  tap-tap-tapping against each other and pinch some poor nerve pretty good.

This is what I look like generally,  although my big curve is lumbar rather than thoracic…

imgres(the violet hue is nice though isn’t it?)

I guess I’ve felt a little down since confirmation of my oh-so-severe scoliosis came in, but being in Boston on a beautiful day was lovely. It was lovely to sit in the courtyard at Mass General Hospital and see that famous Ether Domel where the first person was successfully anesthetized in the 1840s


And then there was this lovely sculpture of a mother and child, so tender you did just want to go up to it.




So now, on  good days, I try to embody this spirit:

scoliosis bent but not broken

But there can be no doubt about one thing: It’s October, not May, in my body, and it’s time for me to adjust an altered skyline.

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Bus Ride on a Rainy Day

It was pouring rain as the eight-year-old moved uncertainly toward the back of the bus. He and his mom had boarded partway into this hour-long trip, and there weren’t many seats left.

 “Grab that one!” she said, pointing to the seat next to me near the back of the bus. He hesitated. “Just sit! You sit there and I’ll sit here!” she said and settled into the seat across the aisle.

She seemed slightly annoyed with him and I could tell he didn’t want to annoy her more. 

In the seat beside me, he shrugged his way out of his backpack, which seemed much too large for his narrow shoulders. Then he looked quickly over at me and away again.  

“Hi!” I whispered, inclining my head slightly toward him.  

“Hi,” he whispered back.

Then I turned back to what I had been doing before the pair boarded, namely toting up a column of figures to see if I could afford new letterhead.

 “Are you a Math teacher?” he asked, studying my paper.

 “Nope,” I smiled. “I’m just somebody trying to remember where the decimal point goes!”

 “I think it goes right…. THERE,” he said, pointing to my bottom line. 

I didn’t want him to feel he had to make small talk, so once I got done with my calculations; I tucked the paper into my own backpack and pulled out the column I was working on for the following week. 

I find I can never tell where I’ve gone wrong in my writing just by looking at it on the screen. I have to print it out, and then come back to it later.

They call this process ‘letting the manuscript cool’, and it’s an important step. Why? Because if, having let something ‘cool’ in this way, you then come back to it and find that even after reading several of its beginning sentences you have no clue where you were going with it, you have to begin again. Because really if you yourself can’t tell what you’re trying to say, how can anyone NOT living inside your little diving-bell of a head possibly figure that out?

 I was on Paragraph One of the manuscript and already I had altered three words and chopped a phrase.

“Is that your homework?” the boy then asked.

“In a way,” I said.

“Uh huh,” he replied, and looked longingly over at his mother who was fixedly studying the screen of her smartphone.

His shoulders sank a little and it came to me that sitting next to a stranger on a long bus ride probably wasn’t what he had hoped to be doing on this day.

I leaned across to his mum. “Can he play Ninja Fishing on my phone?” I asked, showing her the app. “Sure,” she shrugged and went back to her own screen.

The boy played expertly for a few minutes.

But Ninja Fishing is pretty old news, even for an 8-year-old, and he soon handed me back my device. Then he sighed a small sigh, pulled what looked like a spelling paper out of his backpack and got busy on his own assignment.

I hope he was happy enough to be doing his own work in the world on this stormy afternoon. I hoped so. I really did. Because in that moment as I watched the rain streaming down the bus windows I know how happy I was to be doing mine.



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This Lovely Day

IMG_3793It’s all changing now.

Even a whole 12 days before we turn the clocks back, things feel different.

The milkweed is even rosy. I found this ‘bouquet’ today in the field behind the YMCA.

And of course the leaves are contemplating cashing it in.

I think of what Emily Dickinson wrote to her brother Austin one morning:

“We are having such lovely weather,” she wrote. “The air is a sweet and still – now and then a gay leaf falling – high in the crimson tree a belated bird is singing – a thousand little painters are tingeing hill and dale…” 

It was like that today with the thousand little painters.

It was also like what Robert Frost described.  In his poem October, he addresses the month directly saying,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

 At noon release another leaf;

 One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

That last line kills me every time, ‘enchant the land with amethyst.’

I sat on the stone steps in my yard for a while today and watched as the sprinklers swept the lawn for the last time this year.

The effect seemed to me magical when the water from two sprinkler heads on either side of the path crossed each other and made a faint rainbow. Can you see it? Look.

Now look again. It’s a very short video and it’s just s flash. But how much we miss when we hurry along instead of just standing still (!)

For the Stranger I Danced With

dancingShortly before my reunion ten years back, I found myself strangely moved by the remarks sent in ahead of time by my high school classmates.

Among them were a Restaurant Owner, and a Sheet Rock Installer, an Engineer and a Supervisor of Accounts Receivable. They wrote that they remembered hanging out after school, pulling the fire alarm senior year, skipping gym and smoking in the girls’ room.

I wanted to go to that reunion but I had been shy in high school, and way too serious. Back then, I yearned to be accepted by those same ones who skipped gym to smoke in the girls’ room. I was the kind of kid who faked sick in gym class so she could sit in the stands, doing the next night’s homework. 

By just about this time that year, I still wasn’t sure if I would go. David wouldn’t be coming, we agreed. He knew almost no one in the class and I knew my reunions were a torture to him.

Then, about a week before the event, I ran into the only classmate who lives at all near me. She asked if I were going, then turned to her daughter.

“Mrs. Marotta was a nerd in high school,” she said pleasantly to the child. That cinched it somehow. I’d go, all right. Plainly I had nothing to lose. I called up a couple of people and we made plans to meet there.

It was sad to see who had not come. But the ones who had were fully there, and I found myself talking to people I had hardly known before. And I couldn’t help but note that there was none of the judgment or constant evaluation of earlier days, all of that having given way to something kinder.

Back in high school, I was on the chubby side and had a short curly bob. I clanked with bracelets and swaddled myself in breath-squeezing cocoons of fabric.  But chubbiness ended for me when I turned 21. I grew my hair to shoulder length and have pretty much kept it there ever since.

So the night of the reunion I wore a simple black dress and hoop earrings. Now I’m not saying I looked great. No doubt I looked better back then, even batter-dipped in baby-fat as I was. But I felt… freer somehow, less encumbered, on every level. 

We had all been watching the dancing, specifically the dancing of this one classmate who somebody said taught Ballroom Dance as a part-time job. Part way through the evening he came over and asked me to be his partner. 

“But I don’t know how to do the steps,” I stammered. “Just follow,” he answered, putting his hand on the small of my back.

At first I kept looking down at his feet. Eventually, I took his advice and let him lead. I closed my eyes and felt… weightless.

In the course of the evening, I think I danced with him three times.

He thanked me all three times, bowed slightly and walked away. I never even caught his name. I found it out ten years later from the other people I worked with on the committee to plan our last reunion. 

His name was Tom, and he died shortly after that night. 

But as I think of him now, I think of what I learned from him that night, which as I look back, seems emblematic of our human journey: The way, nervous at first, we mount the stage of our emerging life.  The way, after a while, we learn to leave doubt and self-consciousness behind. 

Time does the rest, for it is Dance Master Time who holds us, really. We lean back. Maybe we close our eyes. It turns out we need only follow.

No Problem for YOU Maybe

no problem“No problem,” says the young waitress when I thank her for a fresh fork after she’s knocked my original fork to the floor.

 “No problem,”’ says the young barista just after I thank him for my cup of decaf.

 “No problem,” says the kid at the gas station after he has filled my car and I have thanked him.

 So here’s how I feel: In each case cited above, I have been happy to hear that it was no problem for these young people to have done what they did. But these exchanges are all commercial transactions, in which one party offers a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other, so as far as I have always understood, the notion of a ‘problem’ doesn’t enter into it.

Look at commuting. It’s hard to have spent two or more hours on the road to get back and forth to your job. It’s hard to have to stand out in the elements in wet or cold or sizzling hot weather waiting for the bus that will get you to your job and back again. Ask any random group of people what time they have to get up in the morning in order to get themselves and their family members fed and dressed and out the door to work or school and what you learn will back up the statistics: Americans are among the hardest working people on the planet. And yet you rarely hear them using the word ‘problem’ about what it takes for them to get to that job. Most people – in these post-crash times especially – are happy to even have a job that they can go to every day,

So what’s with this ‘no problem’ phrase that has become the norm among so many younger people? 

I don’t mean to be grouchy here. And for sure it’s not that I don’t CARE about the problems people face day to day because I do. If I see a sales associate furtively rubbing her neck with a look of pain on her face as she waits for me to dig out my money, I’m not going to act as if I didn’t see it. I’m going to ask her if she’s OK.

It’s just that ‘No problem’ is the wrong response to ‘Thank you’ and don’t we all know that? 

Don’t we all remember the right response, the one we were all taught as kids?

 The right response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome.’ In Italy and Spain they say, ‘It’s nothing’ in response to a ‘Thank you.’ In Germany they use the word for, ‘Please,’ which, handily enough, also means ‘Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ ‘After you,’ and a host of other things as well.

In English we sometimes say, ‘Don’t mention it’ when someone says ‘Thank you,’ which, come to think of it, feels a lot like ‘It’s nothing’ as well as the German word for ‘Please’, Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ and ‘After you.’

‘You’re welcome’ means ‘You are welcome to my help’, or, in these instances, ‘I am happy to be the one providing you with your coffee/your gasoline/your bag of potatoes, which I hand you in this bag here.’

No matter if they’re not all THAT happy; we say ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘you’re welcome’ because it is courteous to do so; because it oils the social machinery.

 But enough for now with my beefing! Next week, if I’m still showing my age – and my grumpy side – I’ll be going after all those people who absurdly call me ‘Young lady.’ 😉


Pointer Sisters ;-)

pointy brasAmen Amen I say unto you, buyer beware. You handmaidens out there especially!

Verily I say unto you, seek not the bras that promise to flatten for a more youthful look, for they will not hold your headset, your hair elastic, your quarter for the parking meter anywhere near as well as the regularly shaped pointy bras that Nature  has suggested you wear.

Your humble servant – this handmaiden herself – has been carrying her credit card in her bra for full many a year .

Then yesterday while wearing her new silhouette-reducing bra, her bright green Am Ex worked itself free in the parking lot just outside Market Basket and was gone a full 24 hours before your humble servant missed it, panicked, contacted American Express and finally called the store itself  to see if someone had perhaps turned it in.

Someone indeed had  and all is right with the world again but tell you what,  tell you what:

THIS handmaiden is back now for good in her trusty old Bali with the bow in front and the twin embroidery hoops under each cup.

Guard the goods! Live and learn!

money lost



Another thing You Shouldn’t Do Yourself

Don’t try altering your own clothes. It’s like trying to put on your own braces.

First you think you’re bigger than you are: I took some darts out of this skirt and sliced an inch off the waistband and when I put it on and zipped it up it fell right to the floor. Whoops! 


At the same time you might also somehow decide you’re smaller than you really are. I decided to ventilate a shirt I wear to Zumba but got the proportions a little wrong. A little too much skin over the old waistband I think. Ewww!


Moral of the story: Don’t try to do your own tailoring. Just don’t. 🙂 



See It Through THEIR Eyes

new here and lost

For a long time in our family, this was the season when a new person would come to live with us. Every fall for six years running, we would nervously drive to the airport to meet the new young woman from Austria who would join our family and begin to taste the jazzy sauce of American life. How lost and uncertain must they have felt on arriving here on Foreign shores to live for a full year with virtual strangers?

But being a self-centered soul I always saw it from MY point of view: what if the young woman didn’t have enough English to get along comfortably here? What if she only THOUGHT she knew how to drive a car? What if God forbid, she was a disliker of children, a secret pincher, say?

All these old fears came to mind again during the fall when our youngest was a high school junior and we found ourselves again driving to the airport, this time to bring home an exchange student from Madrid.

His name was José and all we knew of him was that he had a ponytail. Within minutes of identifying him, we were walking that long mile to the car, during which my whole family seemed struck suddenly dumb. Desperate to keep thing going, I talked my head off, with great animation and very s-l-o-w-l-y.

“On drugs,” the kid must have thought. But things got easier once we were driving. A Bruce Springsteen tune came on the radio and he said “Ah, de Boss!” – and when “Stairway to Heaven” started, we knew we had not one, but two Led Zeppelin fans on our hands. The rest of the language barriers we got past with pantomime.

At supper that first night, I thought I might go for the historical angle. “So what was the deal with FRANCO?!” I yelled, pronouncing the name of that old Spanish dictator with what I hoped was a meaningful anti-fascist frown.

“Franco!” cried José, and executed a Nazi salute.

But lucky for us all, we were all soon talking more naturally.

My man David is often busy nights with meetings and dinners out, and in the fall of his killer Junior year our poor burdened youngest who was the unofficial ‘host’ of José was constantly plugging away at homework every night.

That left me.

And since by nightfall I have always been way too sleepy for any ‘thinking ‘ work, I spend evenings catching up on mindless tasks. And so José, who was neither busy nor sleepy, would keep me company, lounging on a nearby chair.

I learned the words for existentialism , which is existencialismo, the adjective for manic depressive, which is maniaco depresivo and the term for paranoid schizophrenic, which is esquizofrenico paranoide. (We were drawn to the darker themes, José and I.)

 He told me he thought all humans were basically out for themselves – egoista. I told him I felt sure he would soon encounter at least one person whose unselfishness had helped change lives. 

Prompted by his stay with us, I began thinking back over time to those Austrian girls and remembered that some of them really couldn’t speak much English – and then was that one who is spite of her very earnest nature kept locking the car with the engine still running. 

We loved them anyway; of course we did.

And now here was José who didn’t need to drive, and whose English, if slower than ours, was pretty damn good. Once he left, we missed him like crazy.

So in the end, there was nothing to dread and everything to look forward to on any one of those runs to the airport.

I’ll have to remember how often this is the case – and how we should all recall that if we think it’s hard to welcome strangers, how much harder is it to BE them? 

Now I don’t have a picture of José but here now are two of our former au pairs, Alex and Gabi, once strangers, now our forever friends. 🙂

alex Gabi close

 And HERE is Sonja, the one who stayed stateside, went to school, married  and raised her own family, seen at my landmark birthday party a few years ago – WITH the child who was once the baby these young ladies came to help care for.

Sonja with former baby Michael

Time does fly does it not? I never thought he’d even shave!

mpm at five