Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year's Resolution: Quit Smoking!

Change is always possible.
She says that to her husband one night
At dinner.
He looks up from a puddle of
thick yellow polenta on his plate.
He blinks.
Sure it is, he mumbles.

She brings her goblet of wine
to her lips
in her two hands.
Steadying her eyes on his,
She sips.
The air around them turns warmer.
Almost like the table is burning.
Almost like the sun has gotten closer.
Or more focused.

You don’t say.
She nods a little as if to make her words
Stand out.  Sharp.  Like the sauce that covers the polenta.
A red splash.  Spicy.
The sauce he doesn’t eat
because it gives him such heartburn.
He scoops the corn mush up onto his spoon,
And for a while he busies himself
bringing the spoon back and forth to his mouth.

I wonder sometimes, he says,
mashing the polenta over his tongue,
enjoying the warm comfort of it.
What does it all add up to?
He swallows.  And why we are here. 
Sometimes I just wanna know.

She shrugs.  Her lids go slightly lower.
I might wonder that too, she says in a hush.
But then I just know.
In meditation
I go
To the place I know

She stares into
the polenta he fixed
the polenta that
sits there now
as round as yellow
as a noon day sun

a hard fact:
life isn’t easy.
It’s a study in unhappiness
where change is always possible
but as unlikely as it is

She inhales now.  She gets up and
crosses the room
her bare feet slapping the wood floor.
She searches a kitchen drawer for her cigarettes.
She comes back to the table.
Bends one knee.  Sits on her foot.

She lights one of the cigarettes
She has promised she wasn’t
going to smoke anymore.

On her plate
sits the polenta
she hates
with that splash of sauce
he ladled out of a jar,
he thought she might enjoy.

You might try meditation

she says, the cigarette dangling
from her lip.
He looks up smiles. Shrugs.
She waits for him to say
Something he doesn’t say.
She stands and
carries her plate
to the sink where she forks
the yellow mess on the plate right into the garbage.
She runs the cold water in the sink.  A fleck of bright ash
Falls into the water, goes out.

I’ll do those up, he calls out to her.
No matter, she says. I have time. 
She reaches for the apron.
Ties it behind her waist.
And sets the cigarette in the charred seashell
she uses as an ashtray.
She sets her hands into the sink.
And he carries his plate to her.
And he burps.
And she thinks,
Change is always possible.
I think.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


My darling puppy, Poco, who turned two years old this week, has a new friend named Burt (he lives with his owner Nancy across the street in Lenox, MA where we are now living.)

The two dogs are almost exactly the same size, and they have similar temperaments. Poco is black and white and Burt is completely black. They are both adorable and lovable and sweet and friendly and furry and well, just exceptional in every possible way. :)

And when they run side by side they look like they are velcroed together!

So now when I say to Poco, "Do you want to play with Burt?" (which is almost every day) she jumps up and heads straight for the front door.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Everything is a Miracle

It was Einstein who said
either nothing is a miracle,
or everything is -- 
a jagged mountain range
lilacs in bloom,
a peacock unfurled,
sun on your arm,
the touch of a stranger.
Be surprised 
by nothing at all,
or by everything that is.

--Maryanne Hannan, a poet living in Upstate New York

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Ronen, the Future Rock Star

This is how my grandson spends much of his time.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Welcome all guests

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

from "The Guest House" by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Special thanks to my friend Sharon Flitterman-King for presenting me this poem on my birthday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November Morning

Sunlight on the back lawn.

Crisp brown leaves.

November light.

I want to put it all down in words, no I want to crush it against my chest no I want to inhale it all and freeze the moment. I want I want I want I want I

Calm down.

Gaze serenely out the window.

Breathe in.

Hold your breath a moment.

Breathe out.

Watch the thoughts that take over.


Sunlight bathing the tall trees.

Blue sky. 

Beautiful November morning.


Friday, November 13, 2015

The Miracle that is Modern Technology

It all started with two cups of curried rice.

My husband -- an extraordinary cook -- mistakenly made two cups of rice instead of one. He'd added turmeric so the rice was bright yellow.

When we finished our tofu and broccoli, we wondered what to do with all the leftover rice.

"Can you freeze cooked rice?" he asked me.

"I'm not sure, you better look it up," I answered.

That's when the magic happened. He turned to his cell phone and switched on Google, the person we refer to as "the talking lady."

"Can you freeze cooked rice?" he asked.

It couldn't have been more than 10 seconds later that Google cheerfully announced that you could indeed freeze cooked rice, even if you were only saving it for one day. "Freezing the cooked rice will keep it from sticking," Google said.

I was at the sink washing dishes. "I can't believe this," I said. "What kind of world do we live in when we can get answers to so many questions in the matter of seconds?" It felt like magic to me.

And then this morning I had the same magical feeling. I got up before dawn to meditate and chant. I checked email and there was a message from my sister-in-law Fawn. She and my brother are enjoying an adventure in Italy and Fawn had taken a photo of a fabulous fruit and veggie store. She attached a photo of my brother chatting it up with the owner of the little store.

She had emailed us just an hour before (5:15 a.m. our time, 1:15 in the afternoon in Italy.) The email gave me a run of goosebumps. Here was the modern version of a postcard, arriving instantly  --instead of the way it used to be, when the postcards arrived a week or two after you were home from your trip.

What an amazing world. We have problems up the gazoo, but meanwhile, we have technology that is bringing minds and machines closer and closer together. Can you imagine if someone from the 1800s could see what we have become? Can you imagine someone from the 1950s, or the 60s, or even the 90s? Or even 2005.

I taught a journalism class at Georgetown in 2009. I called it "Journalism Upside Down." In other words, how were blogging and the Internet causing chaos within traditional media outlets. Newspapers were dropping like flies while blogs were flourishing like kudzu.

Imagine this: a student came to class one night and shared an exciting news event involving TWITTER. Senator Claire McCaskill had actually TWEETED (strange word we thought, kind of birdlike) from the Senate floor. We all marveled at this new "social media."

I asked the J-school grad students to consider this question: "Is it possible that at some point in the future we will get serious news from Twitter or Facebook or blogs?" It seemed rather far-fetched at the time, but we took up the question anyway.

And here we are today in a world where cell phone videos instantly make major headlines. Where social media is the breath of life to every political and social cause; where millions of people sign thousands of petitions by email every day; where viral messaging can bring the world's spotlight on horrifying police brutality. Or institutional racism.

The other day, I marveled when I saw a short video filmed as students protested institutional racism at the University of Missouri. The protests brought down Missouri's president. Once again students were showing how powerful social media can be. The protests, according to CNN, "took shape after the student government president took to Facebook in September to complain about bigotry and slurs."

That's what social media can do in the modern age. It is thriving as so many traditional news organizations are withering away.

I had another aha moment when that short video showed protesting students trying to block the reporters and photographers from covering the protest. "Give us some space," the students screamed. "Leave us alone." 

Here I was seeing something I never thought I would see: protesters who weren't dying for media attention! Remember all those 1960s marches on Washington -- protesters did everything they could to hook the press. (Remember how the press always played down the number of protesters?) 

Yesterday's New York Times featured a debate about why young people -- particularly young people of color -- distrust the news media. 

Today we live in a world where social media makes every single human being with a cell phone a reporter or a photographer or a videographer (those iPhone 6 cameras are amazing!) No longer is news gathering restricted to a select group of media elites. Nowadays every individual's voice can be heard en masse. 

Technology has done wonders for democracy.

Who knows were this speed of light technology goes next? I'm fascinated to find out. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015


My mother, Clementa "Dena" Ricci, died on October 17th, a week after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

I was eating a bowl of apple sauce Sunday night when it hit me: I will never eat another one of mom’s unbelievable apple pies again. Or her blueberry pies. Or her carrot cake. And there will never be another pot roast dinner like the ones mom used to turn out regularly: meat done to perfection, tender and thin sliced, all smothered in onions and carrots. Oh, and an additional three or four vegetables just to round out the meal.

All of us know Mom’s amazing talent with food. All of us kids remember walking up the driveway after school smelling warm bread. All of us know her fried pizza dough, her raisin meatballs and her crispy cream puffs with that melt in your mouth cream filling. It was those cream puffs that sealed the deal between her and my dad. He just had to marry this gorgeous girl who also happened to make cream puffs that were out of this world.
It was hard to give my mom a compliment though. You’d tell her she looked pretty and she would say, “ah le mortigi shegi,” in Italian, “ah the blind people go crazy over me.”
She tickled us with all of her many Italian sayings, we loved them so much that we made a scrapbook out of them – they had the accumulated wisdom of many past generations of Italians.
Things mom loved: babies, brides, broccolilabe and scharoll; (escarole.)
She loved the Virgin Mary, and while she was dying on Friday, we held hands and said the Hail Mary together.
Mom loved making omelets with mint, and tomatoes with eggs, favorites of Michelina, her own mother. Mom loved making all sorts of yeast breads including the eggs in the bread basket for Easter, and the extraordinary panettone she made at Christmas. Thankfully, she taught all of us girls to make it. Mom loved a spic and span house and worked tirelessly to make it gleam. She loved setting the table for breakfast at night before she went to bed.
She loved antiques, and as my sister Holly wrote in her wonderful obituary, ‘“Dee” excelled at stained glass, needlework, and word puzzles, she loved cooking shows and “poking around junk shops, collecting antique furniture, glassware and crockery.”
After mom’s eyesight failed and she couldn’t see the words, she still had an amazing talent for coming up with the right answers to those word puzzles.
Of course mom’s greatest love was for her partner of 66 years, my Dad. They had an incredible marriage and it inspired us to want the same.
I have had a lot teachers in my life teaching me important things, but my first and most important teacher has always been my Mom, because she taught me how to love with her whole heart. Mom had the biggest heart in the world and she shared it with all of her family and friends she loved so fiercely and freely.
And so, Mom is gone in one sense, yes, but in another, she will never die, because her love brought us all here together today and sits with us now. Mom’s enduring gift to us is to know how to love from the bottom to the top of our hearts.
Mom always had a really tough time saying good bye. The day she was diagnosed, mom was crying and she looked in my eyes and said, “I remember making pipe curls in your hair for school and then you would go off and we would wave and wave goodbye.”
As an adult, leaving 152 Sampson Pkway, mom would stand on the porch. We would wave, and then I would peep the horn three times and drive off, mom waving the whole way.
Mom, we don’t say good bye today, we don’t have to because you will be with us all every single day for the rest of our lives. God Bless you Mom, we love you like crazy!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Maybe you already know what a dowser does.

I had heard of them, I had a vague notion of what they were. But last week, when it got time to dig the well for our new home in Massachusetts, I had a chance to see for myself what a dowser does. I am here to tell you that it is an amazing process.  It makes you understand that there are people out there who can detect planetary energy in the physical world.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of dowsers: highly sensitive -- or psychically gifted -- people who use divining rods to find water. So says Wikipedia: "Dowsing is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesite, and many other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus." Read Wikipedia's fascinating history of dowsing -- it's hundreds of years old. It was used in the Vietnam War by Marines trying to detect weapons and tunnels. At some point in history, dowsers were thought to be Satanic.

Meet Craig Elliott,
the dowser who searched our land for water. We met on a sunny October morning, me toting my dog Poco. Craig took us up to the building site (there is no driveway yet) in his four-wheel drive truck. He proceeded to take his instruments out of the back of the truck.

The first instrument has two brass handles, attached to two long pieces of stiff wire.

He began to walk the hillside, holding tight to the handles of his diving rod. The two wires remained parallel to each other for quite a while and then whammo --  the wires went crazy and started swinging left and right, crossing each other back and forth.

He smiled. "It looks like we found water," he said. I just stood there. He never moved his hands. The wires seemed to have a life of their own.

The way Craig describes it, the wires are the antenna and he is the instrument, sensing the water beneath the earth.

"Can I try it?" I asked and he was happy to hand the instrument over to me. I held onto the brass handles and walked back and forth. Nothing happened.

"Don't feel bad," Craig said. "Nine out of ten people cannot do this."

The second instrument is made of white plastic, and is V-shaped. Craig says this instrument used to be made of whalebone but no more.

He sets each branch of the device against his closed eyelids. Then, he scrunches up his face and turns red and to himself, begins to ask what the rate of water flow will be.

He asks himself, "Is it one gallon per minute, is it two gallons per minute and so on." And when the white wishbone points downward, he gets his answer.

Craig -- a third generation dowser -- says he has performed more than 700 divinations, and he has been wrong (meaning there was no water where he said it was) only 23 times.

We will see whether he is right about our water! He says the driller will find water 150 feet down, and the rate of flow will be nine gallons per minute (which is a terrific well!) The person who recommended we use Craig is the engineer who is designing our septic system.

says his dad was even better at it than he is. He could find objects of all kinds.

And there are dowsers who don't even need instruments. One woman that Craig met at the annual dowser's convention in Vermont uses just her hand to sense the presence of water.

Well, so, the well will be dug within a few weeks. And I will be back to let you know if Craig is right!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Murder Mystery Unfolds

By Claudia Ricci

Editor's note: This is a key chapter in the Sister Mysteries novel. (The book is now complete, and I am in the process of printing it out from the blog.) In this chapter, Sister Renata reveals that she and Señora found Antonie awash in his own blood after he took a razor to his throat. The chapter appears in the blog that contains the novel.

Renata's Diary

September 9, 1883 The time has come. That last chapter, and the one before, they unlocked the floodgates. There is blood on the floor, more blood than I have ever seen before. And there is more to come because, words,

words are like blood now, that dream, that last chapter, seems to have turned on a faucet, the truth comes pouring out of me. I see the words I have written, I read them here, and like magic, like magic the words make it all come back. IT CANNOT BE STOPPED, THE WARM FLOOD, THE BLOOD, I am a flood and THE BLOOD is all around me.

Here we are, Señora and me, kneeling, screaming, crying, our knees sliding in gore, our aprons soaked scarlet red. And poor Antonie, he lies here limp on the floor. Flooded in his own blood.

His face is drained almost as white as this piece of paper. His head drapes back at the horrific gash, Dear Mother of God, my cousin's throat is ripped one side to the other! His lips are bloody, his eyes wide and black and bugged out. He is gone. Gone. What have we done here? What have we done?

I wrote this chapter so many years ago I honestly can’t remember when. It’s been years -- 128 years since Antonie died, and a dozen or more years since I wrote this chapter. I know how it all happened. I know AS GOD IS MY WITNESS THAT I'M not to blame. I know THERE WAS NO CRIME. NO CRIME. None at all. I know how desperately we, Señora and me, tried to save him. I know too that I’m trapped here, inside this prison, chained at the ankle. Drained of energy. Staring out of that tiny barred window into the courtyard at the gallows where they plan to hang me in exactly 33 days.

Teresa visited me again last night, begged me once again to hand over to her this diary entry I hold in a pouch at my waist, right beside my rosary. It is the only diary entry that has never come to light.

The only one I refused to give up.

“Please, Renata,” she begged. “It’s your only hope. Just give it to me. She wants you to. Señora sent me here directly, she told me, just the way she told you, it’s time, it’s time. She cannot stand by, and let you hang for a crime that you didn’t commit.”

I sat here staring at Teresa. I felt the hard cold stone of this bench. I bit into my cracked lip. I tipped my head – no veil, no veil, no more nun's veil, I have just a brush of hair -- hacked short, cut away by that whiskey-drenched, toothless old jailer the other day – I tipped my head back to the clammy wall.

“All you need to do is give it to me, my dear dear heart,” Teresa whispered. She was standing now, now reaching her fingers through the bars, just the way my mother used to when I was a child, so many years ago, when I had pneumonia, and I was feverish and dreaming MACHINE DREAMS in the crib. “I will go immediately to see your lawyer, Deluria, I will bring him the diary. I KNOW that he will help you Renata. I know he will bring it to the court, he will file a last-minute appeal. I will stay until he does. But first you must give it to me. You must! Because if you don't Renata, you will..." Shaking her head slowly, she whispers.

"Just give it to me, please.

I stared at Teresa through the bars.

“If I do what you ask," I whispered, "what then will happen, what then will be my dear Señora's fate?"

“She is prepared,” Teresa said, stamping her foot.

“She has her faith in God and in Mary. She is not going to stand by to see you hang.”

I stared at Teresa through the bars. I shook my head.

I could not yield up the diary entry that might save me. If I did, I would have my freedom, but I would spend the rest of my days regretting my decision.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Dumb Can the Republicans Get? When it Comes to Health Care, INCREDIBLY DUMB!

By Richard Kirsch

Every time Republican candidates for president put forth their Obamacare repeal and replace plans, it's like money in the bank for Democratic political ad makers. In their desperate need to appeal to Republican primary voters, candidates are giving Democrats the same kind of health care hammer that allowed Barack Obama to pummel John McCain into the ground in 2008. 
This week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came out with a somewhat detailed repeal and replace plan, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio outlined a very similar piece in a Politico column. These plans follow the standard playbook of Republican proposals to reform health coverage, one that Republicans in Congress never actually move forward because they understand the political dynamite they would ignite. 
The following are accurate claims that Democrats can make about the Walker plan. Most also appear to also apply to Rubio's, although his is such a sketchy description it's hard to be certain about all of them. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would return to the days when insurance companies could deny coverage or charge higher premiums because of a pre-existing condition, charge women more for health insurance than men, and stop paying claims when people have high-cost illnesses. 
The Walker and Rubio plan would slash the tax credits that allow families to afford health coverage, driving millions of people back into the ranks of the uninsured. It would replace a tax credit based on person's income with a fixed amount, so that a millionaire would get the same tax credit as a working person who makes $25,000 a year.
The Walker and Rubio plan would force 8 million people off Medicaid immediatelyand then make enormous cuts in Medicaid coverage for families, children, seniors and people with disabilities, hundreds of billions of dollars over the next ten years. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would take away health coverage from 3 million young adults who are now on their parents' plans. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would make millions of seniors pay more for prescription drugs and visits to the doctor for check-ups. And the Rubio plan would replace today's Medicare with vouchers to buy private insurance. 
And here's the kicker that killed McCain: The Walker plan (and it appears the Rubio plan, but it's not clear) would tax health benefits that people get at work. 
If each of these statements sound like political poison, they are. For years, opinion polling have found that almost all of the core parts of the Affordable Care Act are politically popular, including with Republicans. In fact, the whole notion of repeal and replace is out of favor with the public. In June, Kaiser found that 27 percent wanted to repeal the law and another 12 percent were for scaling it back, for a total of 39 percent in the repeal and replace category. But 47 percent wanted to either keep it as is (22 percent) or expand it (25 percent). A Bloomberg poll taken in April found that 73 percent wanted to keep the law or include small modifications, while only 35 percent wanted to repeal it. 
The relentless Republican campaign to demonize the Affordable Care Act has put their candidates in a political bind, with no escape hatch. With so many people now benefitting from the ACA, Republicans candidates are forced to propose a replacement plan. But it's literally impossible to propose a conservative plan that meets people's needs and therefore is politically palatable. Remember, the ACA itself was a huge compromise with traditional conservative ideas and liberal proposals. 
All of which brings us back to the unfolding presidential debate and what the Obama campaign did to John McCain, when he proposed taxing employer health benefits. As Politico reported just before the 2008 election, "Democrat Barack Obama has spent $113 million in health care television advertising so far this year, eight times that of Republican rival John McCain - and investment that polls show are paying big dividends as the election enters its closing weeks." 
A typical Obama had ended with the line, "John McCain, instead of fixing health care, he wants to tax it." Another ad showed a clip from a debate between Vice-Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in which Biden quipped, "Taxing your benefits. I call that the ultimate bridge to nowhere." 
We'll be seeing the same kind of ads in the fall of 2016 from Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic candidate is, pounding her Republican opponents on health care. And just as Obama raced to reelection standing up against Mitt Romney's pledge to repeal Obamacare, the third Republican presidential candidate in a row will lose in no small part because they don't get that Americans understand in a very personal way what access to affordable health coverage means for their families.
This piece ran first in the Huffington Post. Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute in New York City. As Director of Health Care for America Now, he led a broad coalition of progressive organizations that were instrumental in fighting for passage of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sex Slavery is "Condoned and Encouraged" in the Islamic State

The men of ISIS are routinely raping pre-teen women, claiming the practice is condoned and encouraged by their religion!

In case you missed this story in the The New York Times  you have to read it. This is how it starts:

QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity." Continue reading the main story

The question now is what can anyone do to stop this abhorrent practice?

The Obama administration is already bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. American troops are training and advising the Iraqi army, and the U.S. is arming some Syrian rebels.

The only other alternative would be for the U.S.  to wage war against ISIS. Putting American troops on the ground there will end up killing thousands of soldiers and civilians. And what will it achieve? We've already seen the mess caused by the wars the U.S. waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, the situation in the Islamic State will be no better after a war. 

All we're left with is deep loathing for the rapists who use religion to justify violent sexual acts against young women. We are left with an even deeper sadness. And prayers for the young women who are enslaved and brutalized.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Miraflores Remembered

                                by Camincha

I come down to the Coast -- it has the seducing curves of my
morena, who sings, tamales calientiiiiiitos!!!!!!!! Through
the streets of my city on Saturday nights I hear the voice
of my cholo, with his eagle–beak nose, skin the color of mud,
my color. My Inca whistles at my door. Miraflores.

I come down to the Coast. To blue, green eyes. Full-bearded
Europeans. The cafe latte skin of my criollas and criollos. To
flat streets that roll to the ocean. To its white foam. To the heat
of its shade. The tears of its garüa. The corner of La Picaronera.
The callejon next door. The European chalet. The Gardens of
La DiagonaL Ice cream from D'onofrio. The church across
Parque Central. The benches of Alameda Pardo. Sunday's
promenades. The British-Peruvian school, the blue uniform, hat,
white shirt, red tie. Ferocious exams. Matinees at the Excelsior:
The cowboy and the girl Miraflores.

I come down to the Coast. I take El Expresso to go to Lima, El Urbanito
to El  Mercado Central, to La Tiendecita Blanca. It is there where our mothers bought Chantilly Creme to decorate birthday cakes, and still serves butifarras, paltas rellenas, tamales, empanadas, humitas. Memories jump through the intersection of' Larco and Pardo, five blocks in diameter, with a rainbow of flowers in its center. Walk to Schell St. where my school, San Jorge, used to be, then to Porta St. that saw my growing up years. El Terrazas Club still a block away, looking forward to its next Carnavales Festival. Would you like to dance? sounds in my head. Dance? His eyes full of  adoration. EI Malecón gives me his cliffs that roll to the
Pacific while the scent of jasmine, dahlias, sweet peas, honeysuckle, sweet  narcissus, stalk my steps. Miraflores, my Miraflores.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer living in California.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thanking God for 13 Years of Good Health!!!!!!

It was today, July 16, 2002, that my husband and I drove to New York City.
It was day one of my chemo regimen at Sloan Kettering to treat my Hodgkin's lymphoma.
It was the first of 13 weekly treatments, each with five intense chemo drugs, to shrink a tumor, the size of a cantaloupe, inside my chest.
It was misery in so many ways. The unrelenting nausea, the withering body, the loss of hair. The endless cat scans and other tests. The injections I had to give myself. The weeks of radiation that followed, burning my skin as it worked its wonders to heal me.

But now, 13 years later I prefer to put all of that behind me.
I prefer to walk about the yard on this magnificent summer day,
feeling overwhelmed by the explosion of day lilies,
I prefer to think about how wondrous life is,
How it can fill us with joy and love and peace.

I prefer to stop hour by hour today to say
And for so many other blessings!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Family's Dark Secret: My Italian Great Grandfather Was Illegitimate!!

Please note: This story reflects my best understanding (thank you family members!) of how my great great grandmother in Paola, Italy, came to have an illegitimate son. We know her name was Filomena, but she called to me as "Giglia," which means lily.  My cousin Donna Ricci has visited Italy trying to track down our great great grandmother's story. All we know is that our great grandfather, Pasquale, was given a last name by the state. In this case, Pasquale was given the last name, Orzo, a name for all of his descendants. I think it is time that I went to Italy so maybe I could turn this story into a family novel! Thanks for reading this, and all comments welcome!

“Giglia by the Sea”
You see her there, my great great grandmother?  She is sitting in the sand by the sea.   She is bare-legged, raw faced.  She is crying.  The waves are slopping over her legs, spread wide.  The cool water rises between her thighs.  The salt stings the tender dark skin there.  The white flaxen gown she is wearing is pulled up to her womb, and it is soaked and it is clinging to her swollen belly. 
She has no name, and so we will tell you, my sister and I, that we have invented her name.  It is Lily.  In Italian, it is Giglia.  Pronounced with one soft g and one that is completely silent.  

Jeelia. Was it a red lily
like the ones that grow in my garden today? Or yellow or white?
The pockets of her white gown are filled with wooden clothes pins, grey weathered clips that she uses to hang his clothes on the line.  She fingers the hard wood of the pins through the soft white gown, and something makes her take one out of her pocket.  She throws the clothes pin into the sea.

And then another.  Due.

And another.  Soon, all of the clothespins are sinking down into the ocean.  A new breed of tiny grey fish, she thinks.  Avannotto.  Small fry, that will swim alongside the bigger fish.  Baccala.  Pescespada.  Cod and swordfish. 

She smiles.  Looks out across the water.  Her teeth are perfect and white. Her caramel skin is tight across her nose.  Her cheekbones arc at just the right angle, and her jaw makes a perfect presentation for her lips.  

The first time he took her into his bed, he blamed her lips.  She was standing at the stove, stirring, when he took her face in his hand and grazed her lips with the tips of both thumbs.  Then he parted her lips and kissed her.  She dropped the thick ceramic plate and it broke into four pieces on the tile floor.
The sea is becoming a light green dome.  It looks to her now like an endless green belly, the belly of an ocean princess, un principessa, who, like Lily, is fishing for love.  Love that looks like liquid coins.  Love that glitters gold in the sunlight.  As soon as you try to touch the coins, though, or hold them in your hands, they sink through the water like hard grey stones.
She splashes her face with water.  Licks the salt water off her lips.  Across the sea, the sun is cutting up through the horizon, a red yolk splattering the white of the sky. Soon she will have to return to the house to fix his coffee.  To lay out his roll and butter.  Soon she will begin to fix the minestra for his lunch.

But for now, she lies back on her elbows in the gritty sand.  She lifts her gown above her navel.  Up to her swollen breasts.  The nipples are dark sea urchins floating in the sea.  She smiles.  She will have the neighbor women talking.  She laughs, that deep throaty laugh he tickles out of her after they make love.

The neighbor women are already talking.

She gazes out to the sunlight dancing on the green water.  Closing her eyes, she pins the edges of her belly to the wide green sea, and then, pinned to the ocean that way, she flutters freely in the wind like a piece of seaweed.  A piece of ocean laundry.

Letting her head drop to the sand, she is everywhere covered in pale light.  Soft water.  The sea carries the morning light up and over her belly and her breasts and tickles her neck.  Her chin.
The smell of seaweed is in her nose.  The gurgle of waves is in her ears.
The water foam touches her lips.  And then, just when she can feel that the next wave will scoop up and over her face, she hears the bell.

The bell.  Always the bell.

 She left half the laundry on the white flat stones by the house and she ran here to the water, and now no doubt Griselda has arrived for the day.  But Griselda cannot tell her anything.  Not anymore.

Lily pinches her nose closed with her fingers and holds her breath and lets the water rise where it will.  She bubbles the salt water out of her lips.  Her dark hair flares, coppery brown seaweed uncoiling, in and out, in the green water.

The bell rings harder and harder.  The woman’s old voice follows.  It carries down the craggy hillside covered in fig and olive trees.  It carries into the green water.  It sinks into her ears.
Giglia!  Giglia!

Please, she thinks.  Please.  If she could swim, she would dive in now, and swim as far as the red splatter of the sunrise.  She would swim until her arms ached and her legs would paddle no more.
But she cannot swim and she cannot run.  Not now.  Now she belongs to him.
Up at the house, the laundry she washes is not just his laundry anymore.  Now, his laundry is mixed freely with her own.  His white shirts.  Her aprons.  His briefs.  Her bras.  His handkerchiefs, each embroidered in blue.  J.S.  J.S. J.S.  Her nightgown, edged in hand-crocheted cotton lace. 
Next to the white clothes, he has left her his soft chamois riding britches.  That is my best pair, my darling Giglia.  Make sure you are careful with the soft leather patches there between the knees. 

She runs out of breath and sits up and her hair coils down around her shoulders.  The white gown is grey with grit.  She places her hand over her belly.  Whispers something inaudible.
She stands.  Her hair is matted in wet sand and water drips in sheets off the bottom edge of her gown She turns around. 

The laundry is waiting.