Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Day of Summer

By Nancy Dunlop

It is morning. The first
day of summer, the cat speaks
at the screen door, coffee
is poured, and the world
spills forth her alphabet. Kitchen curtains
float out and in, out and in, plotting
the wind’s breath, and what
is the wind writing us today? We sip
our coffee; the cat rubs our legs; the yard beyond is filled
with a thousand trembling leaves and each leaf
makes its own shadow and each
shadow moves its own movement until
the very ground is dancing.
Specifically. In concert. And we who watch
are lifted.

--June 21, 2010

Poet Nancy Dunlop makes her home in the Capital District of New York. She is a full-time teacher of English at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A New Look

It has been four years since the launch of MyStoryLives, and it feels like it is time for a new look.

Here, too are a couple of new paintings from a series I am calling DictionART. Frustrated with writing, and unnerved by the disappearance of written texts, I am ripping up the ancient Webster's dictionary my sister Holly gave me when I was a senior in high school and I am making paintings.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No Fear of Flying

By Judy Staber

Fall, 1990

I had never been up in a small plane before. Sure, I’d often flown on commercial airliners to and from Europe and the West Coast. But I’d never been up in a small plane, just a few hundred feet above the ground. I’d never sat right up front where you could see everything and feel every little gust.

But he had asked me to go with him and he was someone I dearly wanted to get to know better. Someone I wanted to learn to trust, perhaps even, fall in love with.

“It’s going to be a gorgeous day,” he said, “and the trees will be in full fall color. Come with me.”

And so I said, “Yes.”

Secretly I was terrified. I’d always been afraid of heights -- of roller coasters, of speed -- of dying.

We drove out to the little airfield. It was just a long grass strip. Wooden buildings lined the runway: open hangars sheltering brightly-colored, flimsy-looking aircraft, their propellers stilled, their wings spread, spindly legs apart, looking like large still dragonflies.

At the top of a little rise stood four closed hangars. He drove up and parked. Getting out he unlocked the padlock on the hangar’s sliding doors. I watched as he pushed the big doors open.

There it stood. A little snub-nosed plane, not like any other plane I had ever seen. Oh, it did have two wings, and wheels for landing, and a high tail, but there was no propeller on the front, just one up on top behind a large metal box-like thing. It was white with turquoise and maroon stripes. Painted on each side in black was the number N279B.

“This is Two Seven Nine Bravo,” he told me proudly. “She’s a Colonial Skimmer, an early Lake Amphibian. She was built in 1959, the thirty-ninth one ever made. She’s a great little plane.”

“Why is the propeller on the top at the back?” I asked.

“Well, the engine’s on top, and the propeller is attached to the engine so it can land on the water as well as the land.”

He leaned under the plane and pointed at the three-wheeled landing gear, one under each wing and one under the nose.

“These retract in flight, and see how the bottom is shaped like a boat’s hull? It’s very safe, I’ve been flying these planes for years,” he added, as if sensing my uncertainty.

“Oh, I’m not worried,” I smiled, crossing my fingers behind my back.

“Want to help me push her out?” he asked. “Kick that chock away from the right wing wheel. That’s right. Now move in as close as you can to the body and when I pull, push.”

He kicked away the chock in front of the left side wheel. Grabbing the little plane by the nose, he pulled it with ease out onto the pad into the sunshine. He climbed up onto the wing and sitting astride the cabin roof, unsnapped the engine cover to check the oil and the plugs. Closing the cowling, he took a long dowel and measured the amount of gas in the tank. Satisfied, he climbed down.

“Ready?” he grinned.

“Sure,” I said, thinking, “ready as I’ll ever be.”

Unlatching the cockpit door on the right side, he swung it open. “Put your foot on the little step there. That’s it. I’ll help you up.”

I put my foot on the step and, placing a firm hand on my bottom, he boosted me into the plane. I sat down suddenly in the bucket seat and found myself looking at rows of dials and a funny-looking steering wheel. He went around the other side, climbed into the plane and sat down. Reaching across, his arm gently brushing against me, he secured the latch on the door.

“Buckle up,” he smiled, “Don’t worry about those pedals on the floor. Just get comfortable and relax.”

Butterflies began dancing in my stomach as he turned the key and the engine jumped to life. He put his arm up in the air, pulled a lever, and began muttering, touching the dials and reciting what sounded like a mantra — or a prayer. I watched him.
He finished and said, “Not to worry, just running my checklist.”

“Oh,” I said, “I just wondered.”

“If I was nuts?” he grinned. “No, I’m not nuts. Sit back now, we’re going to taxi down to the runway. Take off might be a bit bumpy, it’s just a grass field, but I’ll try to make it smooth because it’s your first time.”

The propeller sprang to life and the little plane moved forward around the hangars and out onto the grassy slope. We moved slowly down the field to the very end, almost to the road. Turning the plane with his foot pedals, he eased her into position, and revved the engine. The butterflies danced a little quicker.

The little plane throbbed to life and moved forward up the runway, faster and faster. He pulled back on his stick and slowly the nose lifted into the air and with a little jump we were up. The butterflies were doing the tango now and I realized that my hands were clenched into fists in my lap, my nails cutting into my palms. He reached over and patted my hand, saying something that I couldn’t hear above the roar of the engine.

“Look down,” he yelled.

I looked out the window and down below saw the treetops and fields receding as we climbed into the sky. I began to feel slightly nauseous. Swallowing hard, and hoping he hadn’t noticed, I looked at him. With a small smile he was concentrating on the dials, moving his feet gently on the pedals. He pointed straight ahead. “The Hudson River’s over there,” he shouted.

Straight ahead was a thin band of low cloud, just above the ground. Looking straight down I saw tiny cars moving along a dark gray ribbon that was a road. Over to the left was a toy farm with white fences surrounding green fields dotted with tiny black and white cows. The woodlands were all oranges, browns, golds and dark green; great swatches of color, like a huge hand-hooked rug.

I touched his arm, “What’s that over there?” I asked, pointing to a castle like building on a hill.

“That’s Olana.” he replied, “and over there, those are the Catskills.”

“It’s unbelievably beautiful.”

“Great isn’t it.”

We flew on in silence, the noise of the little plane’s engine reassuring. The butterflies had flown and I realized I was breathing normally. As we flew over Olana, the plane suddenly bounced for no apparent reason. The butterflies came fluttering back and I looked at him in terror.

“It’s just updraft from the hill down there. Not to worry. Let’s try a water landing on the Hudson. The river looks nice and smooth.”

Conquering queasiness, I just nodded.

Turning the plane towards the south, he slowly flew above the river, gradually descending. Soon, what had looked like a silvery mass now became clearly a body of water with little waves, and along the banks I could see boats tied to jetties, houses, people. As we got lower I could see the people waving. “Gear’s up. Flap’s down,” he said, looking out past me at the wing.

Lower and lower we flew until I could see, over the boat’s nose, all the way down river. All of a sudden, smooth as an iron gliding on silk, the bottom of the plane hit the water with a gentle woosh and I felt a lightness fill my body. Gradually the plane slowed down until we were floating on the river, bobbing up and down.

“God, that was wonderful,” I said.

He shut the engine down and smiled. “Glad you liked it. You haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced a water landing.” We floated around on the river for a while, waving to passing boats, whose passengers were craning their necks at this curious craft.

“Can we do it again?” I asked.

“Sure. We Lake pilots like to say that there are three great things in life: sex, food and water landings — not necessarily in that order.” He smiled slyly at me. I grinned shyly back.

We shot several take offs and landings on the river that day, and then flew back to the little grass strip. The butterflies had gone for good...perhaps they’d left for Mexico a little early. As we gently bumped onto the ground and taxied up to the hangar he patted my knee and asked, “Hungry?”

“Yes, ” I answered.

“Well, let’s get this old girl to bed and go eat.”

Together we pushed Two Seven Nine Bravo into the hangar. He patted the plane on the side and said, as he was to say every time thereafter when I flew with him, “Good Girl.”

As we pulled the hangar doors closed that evening, I looked at the little plane with its black nose and cockpit windows that looked like eyes, and I thought I saw the little plane wink.

Spring, 2010

I married my pilot nineteen years ago and since then I’ve been around and up in a lot of Lake Amphibians. We have made many wonderful friends all over the world who, like us, are Lake aficionados through the Lake Amphibian Flyers Club. John has been flying and instructing in Lakes since 1965, owning 16 different models over the years, including Skimmer Number Twelve, but he hadn’t owned one for some years. Two Seven Nine Bravo belonged to a friend.

Together we bought a small ranch house with a rather high and wide garage, which turned out to be serendipitous. In 1999, John learned the whereabouts of Skimmer Number One – the very first, the prototype of the Lake Amphibian fleet. A pilot friend had heard she was in many pieces in a grungy warehouse in Ohio. As the unofficial historian of the fleet, John had a good idea where all the early Skimmers were and he was pretty sure that this had to be Number Five or Number One. It was Number One.

To make a long story short, John brought the sad remains home from Cleveland and over the past eleven years, while I was writing my memoir and other stories, in that large garage he put her back together, almost single handedly, and she is now the most beautiful little amphibious airplane you ever saw: Skimmer Number One. Newly painted bright red, creamy white and aqua blue by John and me and some dear friends, she flew again this past May for the first time in more than 20 years. With John in the pilot’s seat and me beside him, we made her first water landing one Sunday morning.

The only butterflies I have now are in our flower garden every summer, and soon, together in Six Five Nine Five Kilo, my pilot and I will be soaring over Columbia County, landing every now and then on a lake or nearby river.

When I’m asked, “Aren’t you afraid to fly?” I say, “Never, not anymore. Well, maybe on a commercial flight.”

“But,” they say, “what about when John flies alone? Don’t you worry?”

“Flying is John’s passion. It’s what he loves and I love him, so if he’s happy, I’m happy. And if we fly together, then we’re happy together.”

Writer Judy Staber lives in Columbia County, New York.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dear Mother Earth, May Our Thoughts Help to Heal You

The following was posted today in David Seth Michaels' wonderful blog, called Dream Antilles, http://www.dreamantilles.blogspot.com. May we all be inspired to send up prayers for the healing of Mother Earth:

By David Seth Michaels

Beyond the anger, frustration, sadness, depression and fear of the BP oil disaster there must be something else. The Gulf of Mexico is fast becoming a deadly petroleum gumbo garnished with oil coated pelicans, life in the sea is massing and trying to unsuccessfully to escape the pollution, and there may really be nothing on a practical level that can be done to staunch the hemorrhage of Pachamama's vital fluids. We watch in horror. And grief. Is our mother dying? I awoke in the middle of the night to write this haiku:

I watch you dying.
Pelican can't fly away.
Oceans fill my eyes.

Yesterday I had the thought that we are watching the death of the coral and multitudes of the finned and swimming creatures because they are offering themselves up, sacrificing themselves to give us a message we have willfully refused for decades to hear. I want us to hear and heed that message. And they are apparently ready to die to have us hear and understand it.

But there is more. If it is true that what we give our attention to grows, and I believe it is, it is time to shift some of our conscious attention from our pervasive thoughts of grief and anxiety to another thought. This thought: this too can heal. Even this unprecedented horrendous mess Pachamama can heal. Even this unmitigated disaster she can heal. How she can do this is not important. What is so very important is the thought, the belief that this too can heal. That thought needs to take hold. Without the thought that this too can be healed, there is only focused attention on the death of the Gulf, the death of all of its creatures, the eventual death of the oceans, and the death of the planet. And that focused attention will kill all of us.

The Dhammapada tells us this very same thing, that we are what we think:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

Filled with anger, fear, sadness, grief, overcome with frustration, we are what we think. With only those intense thoughts there is no room for anything else. There is only death.

To mark the Solstice and to offer both our thanks and our deepest apologies to Mother Earth, Pachamama, Santa Madre Tierra, many friends gathered on Saturday. We made a despacho, an offering, the one pictured above.

A despacho is a prayer bundle in the Q'ero tradition from the high Andes of Peru. It is made up of many symbolic elements: sugar for sweetness, lima beans for nutrition, raisins to honor the ancestors, alphabet noodles to honor learning, red wine to honor the feminine, white white to honor the masculine, and on and on and on. There are so many ingredients. There is a clam shell to symbolize the mamakocha, the oceans and waters of our planet. There are cotton strands to symbolize the clouds. And stars. And the sun. And Pachamama. The despacho in many ways is a complete, mythic universe of offering. To it, each participant in the ceremony adds personal and community prayers. In this case, the prayers were especially for the healing of Pachamama from the Gulf disaster.

Many of the prayers were like this one by Masaru Emoto:
Now let's give energy of love and gratitude to the waters and all the living creatures in Mexico Gulf by praying like this:

To the water, whales, dolphins, pelicans, fishes, shellfishes, planktons, corals, algae and all creatures in our Gulf of Mexico:

I apologize.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you.

Or like this one I wrote:

Dear Pachamama, Mother Earth, Santa Madre Tierra, Gaia, Sweet Mother, I am so sorry for what we have done and are doing to you and your creatures, our brothers and sisters, the creatures who live in and near the sea. We don't know how to stop the oil, and we don't know how to save all of these beings. Please understand our remorse, our regret, our shame and accept out deepest apologies for destroying this part of this wondrous, blue pearl planet. Please forgive us.

After all of the many prayers are placed in the bundle, and the bundle is tied up, the despacho is burned in a ceremonial fire. This, the tradition says, releases the prayers to the heavens, but we all know that the prayers reach their destination as soon as they are thought. Whenever they are thought.

I know that I will not be able to keep my focus on the possible healing of the Gulf and our planet. I know that I will again become infuriated. At BP. At the government. At Obama. At the BP CEO. And Louisiana's politicians. At Missisisppi's governor. That's just human. My hope is that I will be able to turn away from strong negative feelings to hold gently in the palm of my hand the possibility of healing for the Gulf and our beautiful, blue planet. And for all of us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Art, Pray, Love

By Claudia Ricci

For heaven's sake, I cannot understand how the author of Eat, Pray, Love could spend FOUR MONTHS in Italy and not go to a single museum. I know, I know, the whole point of her quest was to give herself the right to do exactly what she wanted to do.

And in Italy, that was, EAT. But the pleasures of that bounty of pasta, pizza and pastry has its limits, no?

Confession: I am one of those people who eats to live. If I am deeply immersed in writing or painting or whatever, I can forget lunch. In general, I could care less about food unless I'm presented with a plate of something particularly enticing. (My mother's lasagna, for example. Or my husband's cream cheese, raisin and spinach enchiladas. Now those make my mouth water.)

Second confession. I held off reading Eat, Pray, Love for as long as I could. I heard an early radio interview with the author and I found her to be...oh so annoying. (OK, OK, I can feel the rocks being hurled at me as I write this.) Apologies to all those who are offended.

I suppose part of the reason I was turned off is that I was just plain jealous. Anyone who can turn the abysmal misery of a divorce into a stunning bestselling book (and a Julia Roberts' movie to boot) has to be extraordinarily clever, and I will never be that clever.

But still, I cringed when I heard her describe the year long foray she made to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself. It just sounded so incredibly privileged and indulgent. Numerous people kept telling me to read the book and I responded that I just couldn't read it because the author sounded way too obnoxious.

But then I went to Italy with my husband and daughter a couple of weeks ago. Lindsay brought the book along. I was knee deep in a novel about World War I (a great novel by the way, called The Ice Cream War by William Boyd). But the war stuff was wearing on me one day. My daughter said, "For heaven's sake Mom, you're in Italy, read Eat Pray Love.

So I did, and I will admit, it was indeed an incredible read, an extraordinary page turner, and a masterful, even brilliant, project. And an inspiration. After all, I'm the person who is talking about teaching a class in happiness. Here is a woman who found her way to ecstasy on so many levels, physical, personal, spiritual (and professional, if you count the book.)

I was just as jealous as I had thought I might be.

But then, a few days after I finished the book, it hit me. She never went to a single museum the whole time she was in Italy.

How could this be?

I mean, she was in Rome. Florence. Venice.

How could this be?

Well, so, I came home last week and told my friend Leslie, a wonderful painter, that I was going to start a new blog called Art Pray Love. For me, art is food. The food of the soul. One whole big reason to live.

When I was in DC in late March, I went to the most amazing Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit. It was so extraordinary, and contained such a stunning collection of her work, that I went back a second time in the same day. I sat and stood in front of paintings and my mouth watered. My limbs ached. My eyes felt delightment. My blood run faster.

Next month, I am making a trip out to Santa Fe in part just to see that same exhibit at the Santa Fe Museum.

OK, OK, I can hear people saying it now. Give Elizabeth Gilbert a break for heaven's sake. She had the right not to do what she didn't want to do. She didn't want to go to a damn museum and so she didn't go. Who am I to criticize her?

But oh, my God, how terribly sad. Had she popped into the Accademia dell’Arte in Firenze she would have met the man that I fell in love with in Italy.

Amazing, my husband didn't mind a bit. Because my husband fell in love with him too.

His name is


Maybe you have thoughts about art, and how it makes us happy, and makes life bearable even when the oil keeps pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and turning millions of birds slick and black. Maybe you have paintings or photographs that you would like to showcase in a little gallery. If so, please do send them to me at ClaudiaRicci054@gmail.com. I would be delighted to post them in my Art, Pray, Love gallery.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


By Camincha


there was a time
her mother loved her.
Her father sat her
on his knees
and rocked her.

those now-empty
holes one day were
bright blue eyes.
Those furrows on her
ashen skin, smile lines.

the matted hair one day
had golden reflections
that brightened the room.

had things been otherwise,
today, a day to celebrate, her
birthday, she is twenty-one,
She would be tasting wine with friends.

Instead she is sentenced to
10 years in the State Pen.
Among the charges
possession of drugs for sale.