Monday, December 19, 2011

For The Love of Money

I never loved money.

But I grew up surrounded by it.

My impressionable adolescent years were spent on my island home in an environment created largely by the rich and even richer—blue bloods who made their living off the imported sweat dripping off the backs of folks like my Irish ancestors who crossed the Atlantic and then criss-crossed our nation with steel rails, guided by the black smoke marking their manifest destiny and filling the New York city coffers of my neighbors. They carved their summer cottages in the graven images of Europe, palatial knock-offs in gold and marble which lined the Bellevue Avenue of my youth where I pedaled my bike beneath the graceful dreadlocks of giant weeping beech branches. Imports, all of us.

So it wasn’t easy for me to be impressed by ordinary wealth—new money, as they call it.

Still, for a time, I was.

I grew up, parked my bike, and headed north to a small, liberal arts college where there were a lot of rich kids. And I fell in love.

I first encountered John Senior when I was sitting on a covered bridge watching orange and red leaves swirl below me in the currents of the Contoocook River which threw its watery arm around our campus like a protective lover. My reverie was interrupted by a rhythmic wooden sound and I turned to see a boy striding towards me with a chunky, carved walking stick I would soon come to know as Half-Step marking his progress. He wore a funky knit hat and a broad, confident grin.

“Hey,” he said, passing by me.

“Hi,” I said, turning back to the blinding sun in my eyes and then around to watch his retreat. In and out of my life, just like that. And that might have been the end. But it wasn’t. Not yet.

I saw him loping around campus but not up close again until one day when I was out running along a wooded path that followed our river and there he was again, his long brown hair unmistakably swinging my way with Half-Step setting his pace.

“Hey,” he said again, his grin closing the gap between us, “What’s your name?”

“Kelly,” I said, slowing to a jog to answer.

He might have asked me what dorm I lived in, I don’t recall, but I do remember the knock on my door soon afterwards and a voice, “Phone’s for you.” In those days we had one hall phone for everyone that hung on the wall—no booth, no privacy.

“Hey, it’s John,” a voice said, “from the river?”

“Hi,” I said, my heart flipping around like the coiled phone cord in my hands which delivered his voice again to my ear.

“Do you wanna go to the movies Friday night?”

Yes, I sure did. I don’t remember what movie we saw, but I do remember there were some scary parts that had me diving for the safety of his shoulder and we exited the theater with his arm wrapped around me like the river.

From there, our romance marched forward in full steps and soon I was spending much more time in his dorm room than in my own. When his room-mate failed to return to school after Spring Break, we put the twin beds together and I took his place more or less permanently.

John was the life of the party—the kind of guy they warn you not to marry. His crooked grin charmed everyone he met and his confident charisma made him the center of attention, always. When he turned his wide smile and deep brown eyes on me, there was no escape; his dark eyebrows blocked all exits. John was outgoing and generous, attracting a large circle of friends. There was no capturing him, even though I became his number one girl. He was all kinetic energy, always on the move, always ready for fun. Even when he sat down, his foot shook incessantly, ready for its next move.

I fell hard for him and there would be no easy way back up. He wrote me poetry and played songs with lyrics intended for me. We were young, strong, and smooth-skinned and I loved the feeling of his long fingers entwined in mine. Half-Step was our constant companion while we ambled through the forest, kicking our Bean boots along woodsy trails which soon filled with snow. When winter released its icy grip we threw open the sunroof and drove the countryside in his blue Honda like we'd just been born. John introduced me to Tanqueray and tonic and was rarely without a beer or drink in hand.

Our freshman year ended and we parted ways, he back to his home and me to a summer waitressing job in my neighboring state. It was too far and soon I moved over to his state and into the sprawling suburban home of his mother. John came from a trust-funded life of privilege, a boarding school brat from a world I had encountered on my own island but did not know intimately. I studied it like a refugee from my firmly middle class background. He was purportedly an heir to a Poppin-fresh fortune that would make any dough boy giggle. New money. His friends liked to party. Hard. It was the late 70’s and recreational drugs were not uncommon. We spent the last carefree days of summer swimming in his pool, hanging out with his friends on their estates or at Lake Quassapaug, and hosting a wild birthday bash for him. His last.

School bells threatened and we choked out tense and tearful goodbyes as I flew off for a semester abroad in England where I was summoned out of my very first class—a Dickens seminar. A phone call. For me. “Kelly,” his mother said, “Johnny’s dead.” On Labor Day three hired thugs had kidnapped him, shot him three times, rolled him in a rug, and dumped him in the East River as part of a convoluted criminal-plot-gone-bad drama. For a few hundred bucks, rum-drinking strangers had casually killed him. “Wrapping up loose ends,” they explained. Indeed. Any love of money I ever had evaporated.

I was 18 years old and cried the proverbial river until the innocence of my youth swirled away from me in the currents of distant memories. I mourned for John, for myself, for the We that we’d tried to be. I mourned for the smooth body I'd loved so completely, violated so cruelly, so violently; it broke my heart. I managed to keep up my studies but quietly switched my major to mourning John Senior. Walking for miles and miles thru the English countryside, I became a shadow of my former self, sitting for hours in damp stone churches which were always blessedly open and empty. My fingers clutched at empty-handedness while I wandered through the ancient graveyards marking their exits, wondering at all the stories, all the broken hearts which lay buried beneath my feet. I spent a lot of time gazing at the sky and pondering the meaning of life. I could almost believe that John’s unbounded energy and zest for life were a sign we’d missed that he was not to be here for very long—live fast; die young. But it still hurt.

I finished the semester with John’s Cheshire grin filling my thoughts and his death enshrouding me and when I returned home, I transferred schools and began a new field of study.

One day, John’s mother came to visit.

“I brought you a present,” she said. I followed her out to the parking lot where she led me, smiling, to a brand new silver car shining there in the winter sun, orange letters printed across its front doors proclaiming it to be “Le Car.”

“This is for you,” she said. A car? I translated silently.

“Um, thank you,” I said, understanding the French but not fully comprehending this unlikely gift.

She hugged me and said, “I didn’t get you the stereo package; maybe your parents would like to buy that for you.”

It was so surreal. My parents had two kids in college and two more at home and no interest in buying me a car stereo. But I nodded, yes, maybe they would, because my parents would definitely want me to be polite. I could not even fathom telling them that I’d just been given a new car, much less asking if they wanted to provide the soundtrack. I was saddened that somehow she thought this all made sense, this for that, but I guess in her world it did. Le Car was definitely a step up from the red ’64 Dodge Dart with black and white checked bucket seats I manually steered around my island home when not riding my bike. I was thankful to have a sparkling new car instead. But still.

Weeping, John's mom handed me the keys and said, “Thank you for loving my son.”

I did not love cars. I did, however, love that John Knowlton Senior. But nobody needed to thank me for that.

~ K3

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fifty is the new Forty

I’ve been 50 for an entire day or so now and therefore, like many Americans, am ready to start dispensing the wisdom of my decade even though I am basically unqualified and inexperienced. Fifty is the new forty, I’ve decided. I never felt 40 when my calendar flipped from 39 but now I am ready to embrace it fully, hindsight being what it is and all. So here is what I know thus far.

You know you’re fifty when:

  1. The Fred Meyer check-out gal asks if you qualify for the Senior citizen discount. And the only thing worse than that is that you don’t. And when you tell your mother about it she informs you that it’s because you have “The Moore” wrinkles.
  2. Getting a couch for a birthday present excites you. A couch. For sitting on.
  3. A man at the Laundromat informs you while you are loading the dryer that he is “legally blind” and looking for a live-in “helper” and that he lives in a very nice one-bedroom house and is hoping to find someone who is 50. Or 60. And you don’t even realize he is hitting on you until you tell your husband about the encounter later. And you actually compliment him on his vehicle. Which is a wheel barrow parked outside.
  4. You start universally hitting “I accept” to all terms and conditions on all electronic devices because you simply can’t read what it says and life’s too short anyway and you don’t feel like getting up to find your cheaters (which are yet another thing.)
  5. You quit reading “50 things to do when you turn 50” after one essay on aging gracefully and accepting your new wrinkles followed by another encouraging a little nipping and tucking entitled, “Put your best face forward!”
  6. Your AARP card comes in the mail and you start eyeballing motor homes and reading up on the national parks.
  7. You should be outside taking a walk but it looks cold and you are in the middle of an exciting Words with Friends game and you are attempting to take advantage of your free app download for your Blackberry (I accept, I accept…)
  8. You spend more time watching salmon spawn than, well...
  9. You stop buying in bulk.
  10. You have the flattest tummy in the OB/GYN waiting room and you’re not necessarily thrilled by that.
  11. You apply on a vacancy for the job you once had and are told you are no longer qualified.
  12. You actually think Words with Friends is exciting and justify your addiction by thinking it will help boost your brain power, which is another thing you suddenly think about.
  13. Your wedding ring band has been worn so thin it can't be repaired one more time.
  14. You have friends who are 60 and 70 and even 80 and your 20-year-old friends are your daughters.
  15. You post a blog (or email or make a phone call), get in the shower, and think of at least three things you forgot to say, including that you know you're fifty when you have washed your hair with body wash and washed your body with conditioner...


Saturday, October 29, 2011

RIP Mr. George Richardson

Mr. Richardson was a summer fixture for me as a child, more constant than sunscreen (which we didn’t have). I never knew him as a fall, winter, or spring guy. For all I knew, he returned each summer to Pocasset like a loon. Like we did.

With his classic flat-top crew-cut (his hair was always white) and his buck teeth, Mr. Richardson (we never called him “George” in those days) delivered our boat motor each summer and drove the silver ski boat for hours and hours every afternoon, teaching us all to ski with his characteristic favorite advice. You know what he always said. Nothing. And it worked. We all learned to ski under his silent, patient tutelage.

But the most fun to be had with Mr. Richardson was in the evenings. Rushing through dinner, we let the screen door slam behind us when the red truck appeared outside our cabin. Before Mr. Richardson could lift our garbage can off the nail in the tree, we were in the back of his truck, ready to do the garbage run with him, collecting from every cabin and riding all the way to the dump down the road where we hoped to see something exciting, like a rat. Summer just didn’t get any better than that..

Karen and I grew to be best summer friends and I spent a lot more time around Mr. Richardson. So I was lucky enough to discover that behind his thick glasses were twinkling blue eyes. And I got to go horned pout fishing with him in the evenings, sitting in Jennings Stream at dusk with Janet, Karen, and our green drop lines, then pulling the barbed fish up, left and right, while Mr. Richardson patiently took each and every one off our hooks with a gloved and practiced hand. I felt privileged to be in that boat. Mr. Richardson, as usual, rarely said a word.

To see Mr. Richardson was to see a man whose work was never done, but who was never in a hurry. He slowly and purposefully went about doing, well, everything there was to do. When I try to hear his voice, mostly all I hear is a meaningful silence. Followed, sometimes, by a slow, “ayuh.”

It seems that my summer innocence ended around the same time Mr. Richardson became George. It just hasn’t been the same around the beach for many years now without George quietly going about his ways. And even though I know that time marches on and change is inevitable, still, I miss those days. I miss those colorful beach chairs that George built and maintained. I miss that silver ski boat and the long line of skiers waiting to be towed—on skis, not tubes. I miss the red truck and those horned pout and grabbing leaves on the narrow road, which I also miss, and I even miss the dump. I have missed Mr. Richardson for many years now. And now I will miss George too.

Today is George's funeral in Wayne, Maine in the church where we were married 23 years ago. It is the same church where our son, Noah, was baptized 15 years ago and then memorialized a year later. It is an altar we know well. So even though we are 3000 miles away from George's service today, still, we are there in spirit. Rest in Peace, Mr. George Richardson, Lord knows you’ve earned it.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Still Nine-Eleven

Isaiah’s chubby fingers fondled my neck as I strolled along the beach, my almost two-year-old riding behind in his blue backpack. The air suffused our skin with September warmth and the sky blanketed us in blue, the ocean reflecting its beauty with a peacefulness that would soon be shattered. Later, I would recall this tranquility and remember another day twelve years earlier when, like today, an unusual stillness had permeated the air as I took my lunchtime walk along the San Francisco waterfront. The bay had glistened calmly and the gulls were silent. The earth was holding its breath but we didn’t discern its foreboding. In a few short hours it would exhale a 7.1 Richter scale “OHM,” blowing buildings off their foundations and dangling cars and passengers beneath buckled bridges. This day would likewise bring a bustling city to its knees, forcing folks to shed their coats of isolationism and embrace one another like small-town neighbors seeking comfort and reassurance. But this day would not be defined by Mother Nature. This day would be remembered for Human Nature. And I was preoccupied by my own struggle with life and death.

I kissed my son’s fingers as the gentle Atlantic caressed her baby sands, the comforting weight of my chattering bundle an antidote for the loss of his brother, our ninth baby, due to arrive that very day but who had died mysteriously in March. I’d headed to the beach that morning to think about the short life held four months within the depths of my body and which remained in my soul, like a tiny shard of glass not yet tumbled smooth by time. I smiled at the glimmer of hope now known to me by flutter kicks in my womb and prayed all would go well this time. The gulls screamed overhead, sensing no earthly need for silence.

We concluded our walk and drove towards a doctor’s appointment with my radio tuned to its typical NPR, my meditation interrupted by breaking news unfolding a mere hundred miles away in Manhattan. I listened, stunned, as the familiar voice told how a plane was engulfing thousands in a jet-fueled hell while the beautiful blue day shone all around us. I called my husband who turned on the tv as another plane struck the second World Trade Tower. “People are jumping out of windows,” he said.

I continued driving to my appointment, life marching on for the rest of us. “Did you hear about New York?” I asked the ultrasound technician as she scanned my belly, casually chatting, not expecting any more disasters. I should have known better. My three-month-old swimmer had stopped kicking inside of me and now lay crumpled on the bottom of my womb. Like the day, we all finally became very still. Screaming gulls filled the void where a heart used to beat as people stepped out of windows, flying off to meet my baby.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Duncan Munchkin Kittel

11/17/01 – 7/27/11

Who loved: hot dogs, peanut butter, coconuts, snow, bones, tennis balls, other dog’s toys

And hated: fireworks, loud noises, delivery trucks, mailmen, people touching his ears, that old woman who walked on Second Beach with a white hat

Duncan was born the runt of his litter to Tatum Smallwood on the coast of Oregon and became ours as a promise fulfilled to Christiana with the vision of a mid-sized dog. (He never knew his father.) When we moved to Rhode Island from Salem in 1999 we left our dog, Dude, behind with Andy’s parents and Christiana begged us to let her have one of the first-grade classroom quails. Andy said no but promised her she could get a new dog after we settled in. He flew across country the following December and brought her promise home in time for Christmas and snow. From then on, Duncan always loved snow and would bury his nose in it and sneeze. As we traveled home from the airport we tried on names and asked, “What would be a good east-coast name?” Dunkin Donuts being the quintessential representation of New England, we answered, “Dunkin Munchkin!” And so he was.

Duncan chewed on our stairs and scratched our floors, growing in our hearts and family and vastly exceeding everyone’s expectations until he reached 110 pounds. He was one year younger than Isaiah and they grew up together with Isaiah riding him like a horse. He went to puppy training at the Potter Shelter and passed K-9 training and when we moved to Portugal he stayed with Matt, his trainer, spending a lot of time in Vermont that winter playing in the snow and sneezing with Matt’s other dogs. When we returned, Duncan was five and graced the cover of the Newport Daily News in full color walking Second Beach on a winter day with Andy and I during the controversial leash law debate. He had no leash. Duncan spent many, many happy hours walking with us on the beaches of Rhode Island, Oregon, and Costa Rica chasing tennis balls (each ball lasted only one walk), sticks and coconuts.

Duncan ruled Mohawk Drive, often laying in the middle of the road and blocking traffic. Our yard was littered with his collection of stolen pet toys from the neighborhood animals. His morning routine consisted of walking the kids to the bus and waiting for the bus driver, Gene, to give him a dog treat. After waving goodbye he trotted over to the horse barn and played with the dogs that lived there. Once when he wore the cone of shame for some minor surgery these folks signed it as if it were a cast and it was then that we began to realize that Duncan knew everyone in the ‘hood,’ including folks whom we did not. He spent his days between our house and Jack and Kathy’s across the street where he tortured their cats, Grace and Buddy. When the hour approached each day for Don and Rosemary to come home, Duncan headed across the street to await his daily treat from them. He knew everyone and their schedules and was doubtlessly more popular than were we.

When we moved to Costa Rica, Duncan drove with Andy and Micah in the Black Panther from Rhode Island to Playa Conchal, riding in the back seat as their security guard. It was in the tropics that he developed his obsession with coconuts, ripping them open with his teeth, no easy feat, until he came to the nut inside. He waited all day for someone to throw them to him and never tired of retrieving it. Sometimes he dropped them in the pool and sat and stared at them for hours. He was relentless and could carry them, whole and heavy, to the beach where we would do our best to shot-put all 20 pounds of them into the ocean for him to swim after. He loved to swim in the warm, salty Pacific and we always laugh about the time he was chasing a ball around the pool and he slipped and fell into the deep end. When it came time for us to leave, Duncan flew solo internationally on Continental to Oregon where the Smallwoods picked him up and he hung with his ornery mom until we arrived to build the yurts. A few months later we went up the river to a bonfire and brought Duncan along to see his mom, thinking she would be happy to see her son. She was not, barking at him like he was an intruder.

Duncan was a great friend to G’ma Kittel while we lived with her and she spoiled him with treats and let him sleep in the house. When we finished building the yurts and moved up the creek he made himself at home and usually slept underneath the yurt right beneath where our bed was. Any time we arrived home he came out from under the shade of the yurt to greet us, running alongside the car as we came around the yurts and parked. He was always a very happy fellow and befriended everyone he met. He took to sunning himself in the middle of the forest service road just above our yurts which is where that the Lincoln County dog officer picked him up. It was then that he earned his title, “a dog at large” while serving his time behind bars, even though Andy attempted to inform them that he was simply “a large dog.”

Duncan was diagnosed with bone cancer as we packed up to come home from our second year in Costa Rica in June. When the kids and I arrived on Father’s Day he was so happy to see us and still managed to walk the road with us. But the cancer spread rapidly and he must have been in a lot of pain as the tumors grew daily before our eyes and his hind leg became useless. Still, he rarely complained. He visited Christiana in RI in a dream and told her he could wait for her arrival at the end of July. And he did. He waited for her in the shade under the yurt, gradually coming out only to eat. His friend, Mocha, visited him daily and kept him company. Christiana arrived and Duncan rallied enough to take one last evening stroll with us down along the creek. The next day we loaded him into the van for his final trip to the beach. He made it down the ramp to where we all collapsed in the warm, soft sand and pet him. He watched the other dogs playing and even socialized with a few of them as we made our way back to the car for the sad trip to the vet. The vet came out to the car and relieved Duncan of all of his pain while reciting the poem, All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

Duncan’s pain was erased and ours began. He left us with sand in our ears and tears streaming down our faces for our great and terrible loss. We brought his body home and laid him to rest in a large hole under a gnarled apple tree, scattering wildflowers in the freshly turned earth. A moss-covered crook in the branch juts out over the foot of his grave and it is lovely to sit in and swing your feet. It is Bella’s favorite place to climb to and practice her jumping off. Countless times in the ten lovely years that Duncan was ours I would find myself on his tail end as he greeted one friend or another, bearing the brunt of his enthusiasm unhappily as he smacked me with the strength of his strong appendage. Duncan lived the motto, “Wag More, Bark Less.” Now we will sit on a mossy cushion watching the flowers bloom and blanket our beloved Duncan, wishing forever to complain so again.

Photo Book

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Monday, June 6, 2011

When It Rains...

It pours. And it is, pouring, right now. Rainy season is upon us here in the tropics, as well as graduation season. Many years ago I suppose we figured out that this time would come when Hannah would be graduating from some as-yet-undetermined college and Micah from a similar high school. And even though we have had all these years to prepare ourselves, still, it is impossible to foresee anything until it is staring you in the face. I am fairly certain we never imagined that Micah would be graduating from Country Day School in Costa Rica.

But he has. With honors. Perhaps even as valedictorian of his class but the school has been unable to calculate that particular honor, math apparently not being their strong subject, being that the director hit the stage carrying only 7 diplomas to the commencement for 8. Woops. And this one short week after we witnessed Georgetown successfully distribute diplomas to over 6000. (Okay, it is true, however, that GU also distributed over 6000 commencement books to the proud participants on which the cover boldly proclaimed 2011 in gold lettering accompanied by three words - Commencement, Georgetown, and UniverISty. And this in their 222nd year of producing commencement books. I believe they may be hiring a new copy editor if you can handle the pressure.)

Out here on the playa we are CDS-G, as in the Guanacaste branch of our American school in paradise. The original campus is in San Jose and they appear to have the same math affliction as Friday's Tico Times sported a shining photo and listed no less than 78 colleges and univerSIties that their graduating class of 40 will be attending next year. Pura Vida.

We had a lovely graduation night on Thursday last with speeches by each graduate and flowers for each proud Mom. Micah distinguished himself by winning one of the school's two special awards - The Ann Wellnhofer Science Award. Ms. Wellnhofer was the first science teacher at the school some 11 years ago when it opened but it seems she was subsequently fired for being out-spoken. I am assuming he was chosen for his science ability only. Tough shoes to fill, perhaps. Thank you Anne, wherever you are.

And so our year here in paradise is coming rapidly to a close. We came with the intention of allowing Micah to graduate with his amigos. Check. Hats off to Micah. We are very proud of you.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lucky Stars

Two days ago was Friday the 13th. Yesterday was Jonah’s 13th birthday. Only I don’t really get how that works in heaven. Having died at birth, he never even learned to breathe, much less eat cake. So I am not sure how he celebrated the first of his teen-age years. Here on earth one of us was rowing, one was mowing, one was living out of her car, two played basketball, and one was beating a pinata at a birthday party. I ate cake. Not angel food, but chocolate with chocolate chips. And it was delicious. So let me be the one to say, Happy Birthday Jonah. Wish you were here.

I am not a numbers person. I like words. But if I had to pick a number that seems to recur in my life it would have to be 13. I was born on November 13th and before I retired my uterus from active duty, it held 13 babies in various stages of development. So, 13 is the most likely candidate for my lucky number, although I have never considered myself to be particularly lucky.

In a few days I will be on a plane heading north to Hannah’s graduation from Georgetown. I am as proud as a parent can be and grateful for the good fortune of having Hannah in my life. Hannah can not only breathe but she exhales in Portuguese. She lived in Rio without getting robbed (and DC) and imparted some amount of wisdom to young girls in a favela and pre-teens in DC public schools. Her Brazilian skills also include wearing a micro-bikini, creative sarong-tying, and mixing up a mean caipirinha. Hannah is good at eating cake and mastered the free daily flavor at Georgetown Cupcake. She won an award for her excellent shelving ability in the science reference library and can play a pretty good game of flip cup. She learned to row and to run and to understand Physics while keeping her sense of humor and leading her team as co-captain. And even though her family abandoned her by moving thousands of miles away, she found her way.

Hannah attended the inauguration of our nation’s first black president and slept on the mall under the stony watch of Lincoln to hold a spot for the preceding concert. She never used the computer lock I insisted on buying her freshman year which she insisted she did not need, and, indeed, did not. She lost one bike but managed to recover another. Perhaps she should have used the computer lock for her bike. She also misplaced one highly coveted office chair but hung on to a fancy flat screen tv and my sister’s futon. She once fell asleep while standing in a Southwest boarding line and has slept through every alarm clock ever made. Because of this, she missed one flight to Maine and was late for more than one final. But when her boat capsized during spring training, she successfully swam to safety.

Hannah of the Georgetown class of 2011: Wear sunscreen. In your potential future as a dermatologist, the wisdom of those two words will become increasingly clear. Congratulations on your many achievements as well as mastering the fine art of DC public transportation. Thank you for staying safe for four years and for making it through. Thank you for being such a great leader—to your team, your friends, and your siblings. And for being such a great daughter for your parents.

Mommy loves you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Siempre Stamp

A few weeks ago my friend Susan was robbed. Now this in and of itself is sadly not a rare event here in paradise, where some have more para and others more dise. But the fact that Susan had also just lost her one and only sister, Karen, made this news that was just plain wrong. In fact, she had only just returned from her sister's memorial service in the big cold apple. At the time of the robbery, Susan was in her office creating a memorial video on her computer for her sister's children and was lost in cyberspace as the robbers happily helped themselves to her purse and the usual variety of easily-sold electronic items. Her dogs did their best to alert her to the I-theft in progress but she ignored them until they insisted. She was visiting with Karen, after all, who was laughing and talking and so deceptively real only inches in front of her. She had been feeling an aching void in her life where Karen used to be and the virtual fix was filling that emptiness. So who can blame her for cursing her dogs and staying in her chair with Karen?

The thieves took all they could carry. And while her friends cringed to hear the news, Susan philosophized that at least these were worldly possessions and therefore replaceable, given her recent reminder of the things that are not. And even though her passport was gone and a trip scheduled in a few days, yes, she could fly to San Jose and pay for a quick replacement. As she made her arrangements, the phone rang. Three touristas were walking up the steps from the playa nearby and had found some of her stuff, her passport included. She went to meet them.

"My friends were ahead of me," one of the girls told her, "and I was hurrying to catch up when I happened to look down. And then I spotted it. A postage stamp."

When Susan was leaving NYC the week before, her niece and nephew had encouraged her to take her sister's purse. Not wanting the whole thing, she decided to just take just one small thing that would remind her of her sister. Randomly, she selected a book of stamps. She tucked them into her wallet and had kind of forgotten about them until the girl said, "stamp."

The tourista continued, "I thought to myself, well that is odd, what on earth is a US postage stamp doing sitting here in the bushes? So I reached down to pick it up and that's when I noticed the rest of the things."

Apparently the thieves had sat in that same spot to survey their booty. And there they had discarded the items which were of no use to them--passport, credit cards, postage stamps.

"I was praying daily to Karen to come back to me, to let me know that she was still a presence in my life," Susan said. "As soon as that girl found those stamps, I knew Karen was here."

Folks often comfort themselves and others with the mantra that everything happens for a reason. And while we sometimes wait a lifetime to divine the mystery of purpose, for Susan this was a profoundly simple example. For even as she set about replacing her worldly possessions, her otherworldly ones were restored. "I lost my stuff, but found my sister. Not to say that I am glad I was robbed. But I am."

The booklet of stamps is tucked safely in her new wallet. Having never bothered to check what kind of stamps they were, upon their return she realized the cover proclaimed--Forever.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Follow the Light

One facet of life I have learned to embrace in a town where "tan" is a verb is the absolute lack of any kind of schedule on most days. It takes some getting used to for us over-scheduled Americans with our color-coded calendars, but easing into the day and trusting it to bring it on is a lovely change of pace. I am never disappointed looking back at what has transpired when the sun sinks into the sea at day's end. While my friends in the States are waking up to a Saturday morning and negotiating the commitments of the day with their spouses about who will take X to indoor soccer and who will head to the hockey rink with Y, Bella and I are carrying our white plastic chairs out to the short wall that separates us from the beach to drink coffee and watch the world go by.

Yesterday we exited our casa with the intention of watching the surfers and reading her Wizard of Oz script since Bella is to be a munchkin in her stage debut. As we were settling down in the morning shade, we noticed a few trees down from us a double line of people extending from the top of the playa to the water's edge. Thinking it some kind of Little Mermaid wedding rehearsal where the bride emerges from the sea to join her landlubbing spouse, we turned back to Dorothy when Delbert, the rasta surf instructor, sauntered over and said, "Baby sea turtles are hatching." Now we have watched countless female turtles heave themselves up the beach and have worshiped at their feet with sand flinging in our faces while observing every step of the turtle-egg-laying process on many a star-filled night And recently I was paddleboarding around a mating pair of olive ridleys when an extra male-in-waiting surfaced right in front of me and exhaled loudly. But the running of the babies is the one step in the making of sea turtles that I have never seen. And the fact that a turtle dared to lay her eggs on Tamarindo beach qualifies as a small miracle in and of itself.

I grabbed my camera and we ran over to watch, arriving at the water's edge when what appeared to be the last little guy took his final sandy steps and was introduced to the salt water he would call home for the rest of his or her life. Baby sea turtles do not have sex chromosomes so the ole' pink or blue is completely dependent upon the temperature of their nest. If the eggs incubate at an ideal 83 to 85 degrees they will be a nice mix of each. Anything warmer results in all females and anything colder creates a hundred or more bouncing baby boys. As a wave washed over this particular baby and he was given the old sink or swim mandate, he never hesitated for a second, bravely paddling like a pro away from the crowd of humans photographing his every first step.

With a sigh of happiness and a prayer that this would be the one in a thousand to survive, we began our journey back to the land of Oz awaiting us in our chairs and were just settling down in Munchkinland again when we noticed that folks were still congregating at the top of the beach from whence the baby turtles began their journey. Some of the few things we understand about sea turtles include that they are born with a caruncle - word for the day. A caruncle is a sharp egg tooth which gives the pointy appearance to the little guy here. The caruncle is used by the ninos to break out of their egg shells and then it falls off, bringing to mind a sweet anthropomorphic image of the turtle tooth fairy depositing gifts of tiny molluscs under sea sponge pillows. Once the baby turtles come out of their shells (pun intended) they remain underground in their flipper-deep nests for days slurping up raw egg-yolk from their shells and building strength like Rocky in training, only not for a title match but to survive their first few days at sea during their crash course in deciphering food from non-food.

(This, incidentally, has become more of a challenge for the lonely little turtles thanks to all the tiny floating plastic pellets and tar balls we have introduced to their snack selection, which is one of many contributing factors as to why all six species of the world's sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered and why you, too, can pay thousands of dollars per week to "volunteer" to save them in countries like this one while the rest of us are busy tanning.)

Meanwhile, back in their hole, the hatchlings chat amongst themselves and determine when it is time to move on up. Then, in a remarkable feat of sibling cooperation unknown in the mammal world, they all coordinate their efforts and work harmoniously to dig themselves up to the surface. Once they approach the light, they resist the urge to break free of the claustrophobic confines of their womb, demonstrating remarkable reptilian restraint by waiting until the sand cools off, which typically signals night. The wee ones can then emerge under the cover of darkness and avoid daytime predators as they scramble towards the sounds and sights of the sea, swimming away to the rest of their lives. The end.

Bella and I then observed people running from the top of the beach to the ocean cradling something in their hands. "What are they doing now?" we wondered as we abandoned Zelda, the wicked witch, to her unlucky fate and returned to have a look. To my dismay, I saw that our Tica neighbor was now on her chunky knees in her housedress digging into the turtle nest and pulling out handfuls of baby turtles and eggs. A group of misguided mammals all joined in on the action, thinking they could somehow improve on what these reptiles had somehow been successfully doing for over 200 million years without them and their supposedly superior intelligence.

To my horror, they started pulling baby turtles out of their eggs and rushing them down to the sea. When a few of us folks tried to curb their enthusiasm, myself included, by begging them to leave them alone, Tica threw her weight around and imparted her infinite wisdom that the nest was too deep and too compacted from, of all things, people walking on it and that these turtles would die if they did not save them. Save the turtles? Even though they did risk becoming breakfast for hovering birds and crabs, the process of crawling the gauntlet from sand to sea is considered to be a critical event in the new life of a baby turtle. They need the exercise to strengthen their flippers for swimming and they need to smell the particulates of their natal beach in order to return once they have survived their "lost years" at sea, having successfully grown to the size of a dinner plate instead of being served on one.

Saddened and concerned, we returned to Oz where only Zelda's legs were happily sticking out from underneath a house. Later that morning Bella and I were walking on the beach past the spot where the turtles had become swimmers when a couple stopped us. "We found this swimming around," the husband said, cradling a baby sea turtle in his hands with some combination of shock and awe. "That is probably because it is disoriented," I told him and informed him that this was where it had had its first swimming lesson that morning. "This would be a good place to put it down and let it crawl back in the water," I suggested. He glanced at his treasured souvenir and determined, "No, I think it's tired. I think I'll hold it and let it rest awhile." "Whatever," I thought resignedly, "I am sure you know best." We walked on, our heads filled with ruby slippers and swimming turtles, towards whatever the rest of the day would bring.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make New Friends

I am 49 years old and I just had my first friend cancel our friendship like a postal worker. No, obviously she didn’t kill me. She “resigned” as my friend. Now this is probably not the first time I have lost a friend and it is definitely not the first time I have been excommunicated as a family member, but that is another story. In fact, this may not even come as any great surprise to some of you. And it could be that I have joined the whining ranks of the “unfriended” on facebook but would I even know? Ignorance is bliss.

In elementary school I had fights with my friends but there were happy endings with skipping home from school together once again. I had an older brother and was somewhat of a tomboy, fancying myself as kind of tough, so this probably happened on a regular basis just so I could keep in shape for kickball.

High school brought the added drama of hormones to the playground and discrepancies usually revolved around boys. At the ninth grade dance my so-called friend’s so-called boyfriend persuaded me to tell him that so-called had in fact been “cheating” on him, promising never to tell her what I said and then proceeding to march right on over and create a big scene which somehow ended with the two of them happily making out to the teenage equivalent of make-up sex – an hour of rotating to Stairway to Heaven. And while their lips slowly chapped my own so-called date marched home to the tune of their lies about me ringing in his ears, closely followed by yours truly. A brilliant retreat except that I was staying at so-called’s house for the night, the unhappy details of which I have happily forgotten by process of selective brain cell loss. (Now that is an interesting concept coming as it is on the aching heels of a deadly drinking/disco combination at Super Wendy’s birthday bash the other night. Would that we could target the brain cells we’d like to lose.)

What I do recall about the ninth grade dance besides one more polyester dress with matching blue eyeshadow plus a bad experience with so-called’s sunlamp which has cost me a lot of money forever-after in the form of expensive sunglasses to protect my once-burned retinas (actually, that came later in preparation for the Starlight Ball or some other gropefest which must mean that even that friendship was rekindled, ah, yes, it must have been because she later became my brother’s girlfriend which once inspired him to punch the wall and break his hand. So really we all should have kept our distance.) But I do still wonder to this day what they told my retreating date to make him leave me standing at the ninth grade equivalent of the altar but was too embarrassedly mortified to ever ask him. Surely, it can’t have been very flattering. So MM, wherever you are, you should know that whatever they said, I didn’t do it. I was a virgin in every sense but especially in the ways of mean girls and their so-called boyfriends.

On beyond high school the friends I lost were usually of the opposite sex. Boys morphed from friends into lovers and girlfriends were more or less what I did in between. So I lost the menfolk in one way or another also. Sometimes that was mutual and sometimes as dramatic as losing them to their own awakening sexuality or to death - which was certainly neither voluntary nor a resignation. I lost the good graces of their families and sometimes our mutual friends as well depending on the severity of devastated dreams.

But here I am midstream in life and I am reminded of the song we sang as wee Brownies while toasting marshmallows around the campfire: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold.” We sang it in rounds. Over and over. Until the fading echoes of the final verse tickled the stars above and we all shivered from the beauty of our high young voices and from too much sugar. Maybe it was the s’mores, but somehow those words stuck with me. I don’t discard friends. I am the one sending hundreds of smiling greetings to all holiday corners of the globe each year. I have moved around a lot, as you might surmise from the title of this blog, and I drag my friends along with me, ready or not. I love to laugh and to make new friends and the writer in me loves to listen to other people’s stories. I have friends I see daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annually. I have friends I never see and rarely if ever hear from but still I wonder about them at 4 a.m., hold them in my heart and hope they will darken my doorstep again some day. Some of you might agree that I am a good friend to have; some of you might be reading this with a sneer on your lips. Thanks to the world-wide-web I have no idea who reads this but I am smiling at you all as I type.

I may have lost friends along the way, even as recent as recently, but the deliberateness of this particular incident is what is new. No guesswork about, “I resign as your friend.” Can you do that? What if I don’t reciprocate? My friendship is not a commodity, after all. There are no returns nor refunds. It is given freely, like the sunset. You may forget about it or choose not to look but it is there, sinking into the sea with a glowing smile every evening all the same. And it goes on and on and on.

As a supposedly mature adult whose life is more than half over, what is my response to this? Enter serenity prayer stage left please and endow me with the wisdom to know the difference, por favor. Enter Maya Angelou stage right and remind me once again that if I don’t like something, change it, if I can’t change it, change the way I think about it. Enter that hokey song and know when to walk away or when to run. I certainly won’t beat her up on the playground. I could spread rumors like in high school, but never mastered the art of subterfuge. So I guess that leaves accepting her decision with grace and humility, moving along and wondering when I might run into her in the marshmallow aisle at Auto Mercado.

My response so far? “Wow.” I know, a simple yet profound palindrome. So, strike up the fire and unwrap the Hershey bars. It’s time to add a new verse and sing along. “Make new friends, but keep the old, if they unfriend you, that’s pretty cold. Or welcome to the fold. Or send them some mold.” I’ll have the s’mores ready in case she wanders by at sunset. An open invitation.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Star of Wonder

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." . . . They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” - Matthew 2

Dear Friends and Family, near and far,

On the twelfth day of Christmas I am finally sending you our holiday epistle. I apologize if you were hoping for twelve lords a leapin’ instead. We have been busy embracing each of those dozen days in their entirety, this being the only time of year we are all together as a family. We have been lazy and indulgent in the welcome presence of each other with long days on the beach walking, shell collecting, swimming, shadow tagging, reading, surfing, and teaching Bella to ride her bike at low tide. Each day begins with morning coffee watching the surf and ends with the sun melting into the Pacific in front of us.

If life is a beach, ours is here in Costa Rica. In August I moved back to Tamarindo with the three youngest kids where we live on the playa in Casa Azul and rarely miss a sunset. I have traded my glittens for a bikini and sleep with the sounds of the surf outside my window. It is lovely to be back, basking in the warmth of the tropics and in the smiles of our friends.

We have kissed the yurt-filled 2010 farewell and will send it on its journey into the annals of the past once this missive is concluded. 2011 is stirring to life now and resolutions for its success and productivity are set firmly-ish in place as we each begin following the stars which lead us onward. I am still searching for the literary agent who will lead me down the path to publication. Andy is busy expanding Silke communications and firing up his sawmill with periodical tropical excursions here to see us. (No, after 22 years of marriage we are not getting divorced!)

Hannah was selected to be Captain of the Varsity Crew Team in her Senior year at Georgetown and is hoping to lead them down the path to victory. She will be graduating in May with a degree in Physics, a minor in Portuguese, and a pre-med concentration, hoping (along with her father) that these credentials will lead her to employment and into med school.

Christiana is in her freshman year at University of MA in Amherst and beginning her journey to perhaps become a wildlife biologist.

Micah will graduate from CDSG here and his college applications have headed off into cyberspace. Hopefully a few acceptances will travel back in his direction soon.

Isaiah is studying in a bi-lingual fifth grade class and his preferred path lately has been along the face of the waves out in front of our house as he and Micah learn to surf.

Bella is starting her academic journey and on track to master the art of reading in the first grade. She is full of joy and very observant of the feats and foibles of her older siblings. And parents.

As we head towards 2012, we are hoping the Mayans were math-challenged. But just in case they were not, we hope you are living your dreams. May the stars you follow be worthy of song.

“Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.”