Going for the Triple Crown —

I married a thoroughbred.

I always knew it, but past events have really tested him, and so far he’s flown past them all like American Pharoah on his way to the Triple Crown, a bighearted thoroughbred all the way.

Of course the Triple Crown races are for three-year-old racehorses, and the Hub is 88. But the races  he’s been entered in lately (willy-nilly) are precisely those challenging folks inhabiting high human numbers. Oddly enough however, or maybe not so odd, they call for a lot of the same qualities in people as in racehorses. The Hub, like the Pharoah, is friendly, kind, cheerful, hard-working, persistent, and in it for the long haul.

Remember that childhood storybook favorite, The Little Engine that Could? “I think I can, I think I can” has pretty much always been the Hub’s mantra. He married a world-class pessimist, but has never it let it faze him, dull his own optimism, or cause him to doubt. (That, in itself, is a cause for congratulation.)

First race: while waiting for scheduled major surgery at the end of May, he was bushwhacked by an early Sunday morning collapse. He was transported by 9-1-1 EMT’s to our local hospital, where, the next day, he received a pacemaker. Sailed through the procedure fine, but then was hammered by post-op delirium from the anesthesia, an ever-present hazard for those in the “elderly” category. After mostly pulling out of that (a phenomenon which can persist erratically for quite some time) he was making jokes about at last becoming a Bionic Man.

The hot and cold Visiting Nurses that streamed through our doors in the following weeks, exuded confidence, competence, and good cheer. They ministered untiringly to the Hub, and incidentally saved my life.

Next up: the big operation itself, a ureteral nephrectomy. (That’s the removal of a ureter and a kidney, all dressed up in Latin verbiage.) A Big Deal, yes. Even the urologist-surgeon, a world-class optimist like my husband, allowed as how this was a really big deal. A slog, like the muddy course in the pouring rain that was the Preakness race, failed by almost all except, of course, American Pharoah. He sailed through the second challenge race. Like the words of “Fugue for Tinhorns” in Guys and Dolls, “likes mud, likes mud.” So did the Hub.

Here he is, the morning after the surgery, receiving a kidney to replace the one he’d lost, courtesy of our daughter, the Shopper Extraordinaire, (son cheering from cyberspace):

The Hub meets the Kidney

In case you doubted, you can truly buy anything on the Internet.

And here he is,  five days after the Big Deal operation, sitting up in rehab, although not exactly taking nourishment. (His normally great appetite has so far been playing coy and hard-to-get; but we’re assured that’s a passing phenomenon.):

A Speaking Likeness

(He doesn’t like that one so much, but I do because it’s a speaking likeness))

Now comes the Belmont Stakes of elder challenges: recovery and resumption of ordinary life. Just like the Belmont Stakes, it’s the longest challenge of all, and it comes after two other challenges, so it really is a testing event of courage and stamina.

And here’s where I want to express our  gratitude and our thanks for all your messages. What with the increased demands of “ordinary” every day life, there’s no way I’ve been able to tender anything resembling individual appropriate thanks. I hope you understand. I’m dancing as fast as I can. So I’m taking this quick breather to thank each and every one of you. Your cards, prayers, messages, wishes, vibes, thoughts — they’ve all been of immense support, more than you can know. Please, keep them coming for this longest race of all!

Last night watching TV in the Hub’s room in rehab, we cheered and laughed and exulted in American Pharoah’s climactic win. The whole of Belmont was pulling loudly for him. Thanks, everyone, for pulling for us — and for keeping on keeping on!

Posted in Etcetera | Tagged , , , , | 43 Comments

Notes from Inside a Black Hole

Serious illness, like a black hole, draws everything into itself. Energy, creativity, enthusiasm, all the factors essential to blogging, are subsumed and nothing is left outside.

Which explains where I’ve been for so long. Not my illness, but the Hub’s. Now the waiting game has been replaced by action, for better, for worse. And so, in the middle of the night, alone in bed for the first time in 55 years, I find the courage to snatch some particles from the very mouth of that black hole.

Not my own words, I’m not strong enough for that yet. But I can share with you some powerful words of others that I’ve found meaningful enough to copy down and ponder over time. And share, for good measure, an image of beauty as well.

To begin, these words of Southern writer Eudora Welty capture exactly how I feel at this moment, and often:

“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

No point waiting for the outer world to conform to my notion of what is needful. I will have to conform to the outer world as it is. (I’ll tell you, it feels daring to offer a new blog post!)

And here is a beautiful image for us to share:


Freesias,  lovely to look at, even lovelier to smell (although I can’t share the scent with you). More fragrant than lilacs, sweeter than jasmine. Precious. Like the life of each of us.

Posted in Challenge, Flowers, Happiness, Health, Life and Death, Quotes, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

Free My Feet!

My Poor Feet!


Viewpoint:  my feet,  from the podiatrist’s chair. After supporting me so faithfully for so many decades, the right and the left ones both show signs of wear and tear. Like my old Subaru, they need regular maintenance, and then some. But today, for some reason, I really looked at them stretched out there in front of me, and frankly? I was horrified.

It was kind of like they’re screaming out to me, Let us go! Let us out! These Nu-Balance walking shoes, touted as the last word in sturdy support when I bought them, suddenly looked like they were holding my poor feet in prison cells. And for all the good support, their stiff unyielding construction feels like prison, too.

Nobody ever got to be Miss America because of her beautiful feet, but even so, my poor feet, long and bony, with their corns and bunions and hammertoes, are kind of disgusting even to write about. In their condition, though, setting them free, really free with no shoes, would not be a kindness. Au contraire.

So where can my feet be both safe and comfortable? What are YOUR favorite shoes? How do you reward these faithful servants?


Posted in Challenge, Freedom, Health, Wonderings | Tagged , , , | 28 Comments

Borrowed Words (3): KINDNESS

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape. 

In tough times of winter and darkness, cold and wind and discouragement, borrowed words have brought me (and perhaps you too) much warmth and comfort. Even brought occasional enlargement of spirit.

So I offer you a few more words while it’s still winter, borrowed from an extraordinary actress, author and playwright perhaps ahead of her time, which was the first half of the twentieth century. Alice Childress, a black dramatist of originality and talent, may still be ahead of her time, as these words of hers testify:

“Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave, and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way.”

What, in our age of intense inequality, selfishness, greed, and competition, could seem more irrelevant than kindness? And yet what can be more needful? Henry James, who died in 1916 (coincidentally, the year Alice Childress was born), said it before her:

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

So it’s not a modern idea, not at all. It’s a very very old one. Perhaps it’s always been regarded, as it seems to be today, as quaint, old-fashioned, and out of date. But as an ideal, it’s had a long run. Meet Guan Yin:

Sculpture, Mount Holyoke Art Museum

Sculpture, Mount Holyoke Art Museum

Guan Yin, or Kwan Yin, is thousands of years old. In Buddhism she (or sometimes he) is known as the Goddess of Mercy, or the bodhisattva of compassion. Sometimes you will find her seated and holding a phial containing balm with which to anoint the suffering. There are no words spoken. The gesture of compassion toward all creatures speaks for itself.

I wish for all of us brightness and warmth and the kindness of others — I think that is the key that unlocks the kindness waiting within ourselves.



Posted in Buddha, Quotes, Spring, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Borrowed Words (2)

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape. 

This winter in Northampton has meant enclosure in the house, trapped by unrelenting cold and snow, and enclosure in the car on the rare occasions when the roads were clear and we could venture out. As a devout claustrophobic, this has truly been the winter of my discontent. There’s only one thing I’ve found so far that the snow is good for:

Beer in the Snow

I’ve also run out of any innate wisdom I might have had on how to deal with it. So I’m taking this leaf from the Japanese, and borrowing the wisdom I need. Today the words I’m borrowing were written by George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, and all-around “man of letters.”

My day has been a very mixed bag so far. Some excellent things happened: the sun shone, the thermometer struggled above freezing to rise triumphantly into the low 40s (F.) by this afternoon. A visitor came this morning whom I’d never met before, and she proved to be a truly kindred soul. I love when that happens! However today also brought a leak in the den from the ice dam weighing on the roof above, and it brought a finding from the Hub’s recent scan of “something” where there had been nothing. Like I said, mixed.

So imagine how serendipitous it was to discover this quote on my daily planner:

“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.”

I’ll carry these words, especially the last phrases, as a watchword with me into tomorrow!

How do you bloom? Timidly? Boldly? Are you up there already in the light? Or does it take a struggle?

Posted in Japan, Quotes, winter, Wisdom, Writers | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

“Borrowed Words”

In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape.

Hunters in the Snow, BruegelThis winter in New England is already legendary for its deep snows and brutal cold. It’s robbed energy and enthusiasm from just about everyone, and goes a long way to explaining my rare appearances here on my blogs. And it’s not quitting yet! So I’m turning to another strategy. I’m turning to “borrowed words,” quotes I’ve culled over decades to expand my own vision. They’re timeless wisdom expressed in memorable form, and it will give me joy to share them with you. Maybe you’ll enlarge and expand them for me by your comments on them. I hope so.

First up, then, is a quote from Southern writer Eudora Welty, who said:

“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

As someone who also came of a sheltered life, her words resonate with promise for me. Adventure and daring can be possible in unlikely ways and places and times.

And a related quote, this one from Tolkien (yes, J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of hobbits and  the lord of the rings). He too offers a promise for the sheltered and less than conventionally daring:

“The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft.”

“For the heart is hard though the body be soft.” I love that. How about you?

(I’m sure he didn’t mean hard-hearted, either —)

Posted in Quotes, winter, Wisdom, Writers | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments


Yes, snow. Stark and simple word for the white wilderness that circumscribes our lives here in the Northeast US. I can’t find adequate words to do justice to it. Maybe photos can convey some of our winter:

Winter's ComingOur patio at the beginning of December — Chairs stacked and tarped, table with its own tarp. Not as neat as some might get it, but the best we could do.

The first snowfall held off until the beginning of January.

Winter View from the Window

A delightful winter vista it provided, we thought, viewing the snow from our bedroom window.

After the First Snowfall

Pretty on the patio, too, yes? But then came February, and the white stuff really hit the fan. Every Sunday into Monday, like clockwork it fell, until the joke made it to Facebook: Welcome to Massachusetts. Closed on Mondays. (Of course it’s contrived to snow on other days also, Wednesday being another favorite.) By now we are looking like this:

Same view, a few more snowfalls

Recognize the vantage point?  But it doesn’t show the icicles!

Complete with Icicles

Here they are. We have icicles, and black ice on the roads, and ice dams on the roofs  (don’t ask). Temperatures haven’t managed to rise to freezing for weeks now. We drop down to -13 and lower (that’s Fahrenheit!) at night, and struggle during the day to reach double digits. Often we don’t manage it at all. And the wind chill numbers are simply ridiculous.

As for the view from the bedroom window, here it is:

Hunters in the Snow, BruegelWell, minus the hunters and their packs of dog (even our hunters are out of season). But this painting of Hunters in the Snow by Netherlandish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder is what comes to my mind every time I look out the bedroom window these days,  across the trees and rocks and little hills, with the sky an ominous gray and the snow falling —

And falling —

And falling —

And I also think of this line from, who else? Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

You said it, William!

Posted in Nature, Pioneer Valley, winter | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments