Connection in Everything- A Temporary Farewell

While I was just working at Dolce Vita, I noticed an acquaintance in his mid-70s a few tables over who was meeting with one of his UT students. It was really fun to see this focused, friendly tete a tete between student and mentor. When the young student left, I asked my friend about it, told him how lucky those students are to have those meetings with him. He told me, “It’s the reverse, actually. I’m the lucky one. In a few weeks I’ll go to my 50th school reunion at Harvard. Most of my former classmates are either dead or retired. When they ask me what’s my secret sauce, what puts the spring in my step, I’ll tell them that it’s this right here—collaborating with smart, energized people– asking them questions, figuring things out together. It’s the isolation that makes people old. The connection is everything.”


So, because I spend so much time behind a computer screen writing articles and working on other projects, I have long abandoned this little blog. I will come back to it. But for now, I’m making sure my own secret sauce is getting enough of the right ingredients: family, friends, bike rides, travel adventures, an occasional skinny dip. Gotta keep the spring in my step. Hasta pronto!

God is in the Produce Aisle- A Tasting



I ask the guy in the produce section if the Clementines are sweet.

“Some are, some aren’t. With all the rain in California, the thin-skinned variety are rotting. We are having to send them all back.”

He says this as he takes me over to the thick skinned Clementines, pulls a knife from his apron, and carves out two slices from the bright orange fruit.

I watch the knife in his hands, and I wonder about all that soggy, rejected West Coast citrus.

Then we each bite into our wedges and he waits for my response.

“Delicious,” I say, marveling at how such a small chunk of fruit can hold so much pleasure.

I know it wouldn’t have tasted nearly so good had I eaten it alone.


Then come the apples. So many choices, but the organic Opal Golds and Fujis are on sale.

I wave down a different produce guy, and the fruit tasting ritual repeats itself.

“I have to buy a lot of apples,” I tell this new fellow, “I want to make sure they are good.”

We bite into the pale yellow skin, and he proclaims that while the texture is a little soft, the flavor is still good and sweet, and I agree.

“See that,” he says, holding up a piece in the light and pointing to a few transparent bits at the center.

“That’s a sugar patch. You know this is going to be a good apple.”

Indeed, I can’t imagine an apple ever tasting better.


We go on to discuss the pineapples (always good, he says, they are from Ecuador) and the still unripe mangoes,

And I think, “Wow, these produce guys really know their fruit.”

They seem to inhabit a universe attentive to texture and sweetness.

And pay close attention to where each variety is in its evolution from unripe to ripe to rotten.

They are acquainted with their fruits’ origins and even their sweet spots.


And, it would seem they also know that such a bounty of wonders tastes best when shared.


“I never dreamed of such a thing before…”


What might we have to wait 77 years to see? 

Wendell Berry has come back into my life lately— and I am so happy for it. I woke up at 5:39 this morning hoping that the babysitter would arrive on time so I could go to Appamada, my meditation center, and be a part of my Thursday morning zen discussion group, which starts at the zen-like time of 6:30 in the morning. But the pregnant babysitter was down for the count, texting me that she was not able to make it this time. Quite a blow. I love these Thursday morning convergences, led by the wise, wonderful and winsome teacher Flint Sparks. I might even be obsessed with my group, just a little, and I hate to miss them. But it’s not easy to get a last minute baby sitter at 5:45 in the morning while your husband is in California, so I got up, made coffee, and hung out with my daughter and her lop-eared bunny Leo while the sun was rising (they were already up– daughter Carlisle is a self-proclaimed “early riser.”)

Plus, my Plan B was looking pretty good. I have a new book of poems to savor with my morning coffee—This Day, Collected & New Sabbath Poems, by the inestimable Wendell Berry (recommended by Flint). I am no newcomer to Wendell Berry. I am pretty sure I tried to write a senior English paper on the relationship between Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Wendell Berry back in college (I say “tried” because what I turned in was an abomination—I was distracted at the time by a pale blond banjo player.) Friends and I used to recite his poem, Wild Geese, at Thanksgiving. And then Flint just recently started referencing Wendell Berry, the Sabbath Poems,  and the excellent interview with Berry and Bill Moyers that aired not long ago.

So, it’s 6am and the coffee is ready and I tell my 8-year-old daughter that she has to listen to a poem. I quickly scan through this bountiful volume, rich with 34 years of Berry’s Sunday musings, and find one that would appeal to her.  Boom– the year 2011, Poem 10:

I saw a hummingbird stand

in midair and scratch his cheek

vigorously with his left foot,

as he might have done perched

at ease upon a tree. “Wonderful!”

I said to myself. “I never dreamed

of such a thing before, and now

after seventy-seven years

of watching, I have seen it!”

Not only did Carlisle pay attention to this wee hummingbird-sized poem, she said, “I know what that means, he’s seventy-seven years old!” and then she proceeded to try to scratch her cheek with her foot while pretending to fly. She and I agreed that we, experienced hummingbird watchers, also have never dreamed of such a thing before, and that we would feel pretty lucky to see it. I, for one, had never even considered that hummingbirds have cheeks, much less ones that need scratching…..We will keep watching,


Hummingbird image from:

“If you are a dreamer, come in…”

photo (3)

I don’t really write much about parenting, although being a parent is what fills me and consumes me more than anything else. But I have to post about a bittersweet thing that is happening at our beloved school, Lee Elementary. Mrs. Wofford, the best school librarian a book-loving mom could wish for, is retiring. It’s a sad day in Lee’s literary life. Ms. Wofford and her creative teaching and passion for books infused the school. First graders were quoting MacBeth at lunch. My daughter could recite Shel Silverstein before she could really read, thanks to Mrs. Wofford. Books matter to Mrs. Wofford, and she made them matter to the students, too. When I volunteered in that quiet (mostly) library, it was a much-needed immersion in another world, like sitting in a sweet chapel but with fresh children’s minds humming away in the background. So when she told me she was leaving, I wrote her an ode. It has been a while since I’d written an ode to someone– I recommend it.  (PS– Mrs. Wofford wrote out the words to Silverstein’s poem, Invitation (above), and posted them on the door of the library– hence my reference.)

Ode to Mrs. Wofford,  Lee Librarian

Because of you
There is a very special place
With an invitation on the door
And all of the children are welcome
Welcome to be dreamers and magic bean buyers
They sit by your fire
And you let them be who they are
You take them by the hand and say, “Look!
Within these walls are vast worlds to explore
And you, children, are the adventurers
Each in charge of your own boundless journey with words.”

During my volunteer hour
I shelve the first grader’s books:
David Weisner, Dr. Seuss,
Chester the Cat, Where the Wild Things Are.
Countless beloved books, many pages worn with use,
They’ve known so many small hands
Carrying them home for bedtime reading,
That sweet, sleepy ritual between parent and child.

As I search for each book’s home on the shelf,
I can hear you, surrounded in the kiva,
As you read Shel Silverstein or Shakespeare to the first graders,
Their eager minds making that glorious first leap
Into the great space of reading.
“What does the word ‘imagination’ mean?” You ask
“How do you know this is a fantasy? What makes a story interesting?”
Through you, these children we love so much
Discover new words and ideas
For the very first time, and their minds open.
And just being close to it, my mind opens too.

Within the book-lined walls of this library,
I see gratitude, joy, silliness and firm love
Children with the wiggles and pokes
Children raising their hands, yearning to answer
Children entranced by your story-telling
You are the one who welcomes it all
How lucky we are that you have invited them in.

From the backseat of my car yesterday
My seven-year-old Carlisle talked about “flax golden tales–”
A phrase I have never heard her say before.
I imagine that even when she is grown
And reading Shel Silverstein to her own children,
She will remember flax golden tales
and think of you.


Thank you for the invitation.






“a kindness that dwells deep down in things”

IMG_5068The other day I was venting to a very wise friend about the greed and self-interest of some people I know, let’s call them “The Evil Ones.” I ranted to this friend, who just happens to be a brilliant psychologist and Zen priest, how The Evil Ones had it all wrong and were doing terrible greedy things, and as I spoke I noticed that my friend, let’s call him Flint, was watching me with a slightly pained look in his eyes, which made me conscious that I must be making some very indignant faces. I paused. This is not attractive– and bad for the crows’ feet not to mention the nervous system.

 And because he often has just the right book at hand, Flint then read me a few lines from an essay called The Structures of Kindness by the late Irish thinker, John O’Donohue. Here is an excerpt,

“There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative; but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself…Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I said, still feeling a tad righteous. “I am going to mail that to The Evil Ones.”

“Actually,” he said, wink in eye, “I was thinking you might want to read it every morning yourself.”

Ah, yes. That was it– he was right, I was the one who needed a little reminder about kindness. Blame and indignation weren’t getting me anywhere.

But I needed to ruminate a bit over O’Donohue’s words. Do I believe that? That there is some form of kindness holding sway despite all of the harsh and negative? I can think of about fifteen very smart friends of mine who I imagine would give that one a big eye roll. But so what? Hey, back off you habitual inner skeptic!, I told myself. Ssshhhh…Give me a little room to think this over. And so I read the essay repeatedly over a few weeks and considered if it felt true to me. And I decided that these words were more than rosy wishful thinking. Yes, there is bad stuff that needs to be fought against or stood up to and get angry about–all of that. AND there is a lot of kindness at the same time. You get angry bombers in Boston AND you get amazingly fearless people running in to help in that critical moment when things are boiled down to sheer instinct. For many, the natural instinct is kindness.

I also considered how, in less dramatic terms, in my own neighborhood, my day-to -day reality is one of unbidden kindness. I see it holding sway all of the time in these seemingly small but very thoughtful, and important ways. Like Mary Gay knocking on my door to tell me that the parking police were about to ticket me because I hadn’t put the new residential parking sticker on my car yet. Neighborly Solidarity. Or how she came over to let us know that our three-year-old was sitting by himself on top of the station wagon in the driveway. She doesn’t have to go out of her way, but she does—again and again. Or smiling Rimil, the sweet 3rd grade girl across the street who is moving back to New Delhi this summer and who often leaves treats for my kids on the doorstep or takes care of neighbor Jane’s pugs. And Laurie Marchant, who sometimes sends a few of her warm baked scones to us up the hill—sharing her enviable baking talents (and calories) with us. Or when Darian across the street went out of her way to call me while I was on holiday in San Francisco to tell me there was an unknown shirtless man sitting in my driveway and did he belong there? (yes, he did, he was my eccentric college professor who was housesitting and apparently liked to sit in my driveway shirtless to read). Or Neighbor Paul, as I call him, who brought me beautiful pictures of Carlisle wearing cat ears at his daughter’s birthday party. Or Jane who is always leaving little things at our front door—her extra bags of potting soil or stacks of drawing paper for the kids. And Julie Willis giving my son all of her boys’ old Star Wars toys when they’d outgrown them. Small gestures, but they make a HUGE difference—no one had to do these things, but they did anyway. Kindness.

Once I started thinking about it, I saw unbidden kindness over and over, particularly on Laurel Lane.

I’m still not happy about The Evil Ones, but maybe I don’t feel so volatile and adrenaline-amped about them. And maybe, if I pause, I have to admit that they might not REALLY be so evil deep down. I’ll need a new name for them.