Letters to heaven and back

April 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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It’s not that I have been spinning my wheels lately, by any means.  I am one week into a two-week break from school, a much needed respite, and as has been my pattern in the past, it takes a bit of time to let down before I finally feel the current that has been coursing through me, presumably all along.  I have been tending too many fires to be able to pay attention during these recent school-centered months.

Almost exactly two years ago my father, whom my brothers and I called Peter (his insistence, not ours), was diagnosed with colon cancer.  From the diagnosis to his death was six weeks.  Evidently, he had been very sick for some time.  We will never know how much they could guess at the time of his colonoscopy, but the prognosis of surgery followed by chemo turned out to be laughable.

My father and I had a difficult turn in our relationship about thirteen years ago, and though we were able to regain our footing and forge a cautious path together after that, we never returned to the closeness we had had before.  I know he felt hurt by me, and angry at my choices.  I regret that he took my choices personally, choices that Dan and I made for ourselves and our children, conscientiously and mindfully.  And I in turn felt hurt by the fact that his belief system was more precious to him than his only daughter.

Today on Facebook, I came across the status posted by an old friend of mine.  In it, she refers to a book, Letters from the Goddess, that I hadn’t realized she had written.  I followed the link and read the first several pages, into the second chapter.  In it, she guides the reader through a journaling technique to access one’s inner “small, still voice” which of course holds much wisdom.  Like Dorothy, we find out it has been there for us all the time.  So I jumped in and tried it.

My father’s mother, Frances, and aunt Elda (his father’s sister) were exceedingly dear to me.  They lived together after Elda’s husband Mito died, sometime in the 1960s, up until Franny’s death in 1980.  I lived with them in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the summers of 1968 and 1969, and visited them a few times in the 70s in their home in Los Angeles.  After Franny died, Elda went to live with her own younger sister Laure, until she passed away just over a year later, much like a bereaved spouse.

So I wrote to them today.  Okay, their answer was not what I expected – I admit that I wanted magic and line-‘em-up guidance, and that’s not what I got.  But I could hear Franny’s light laughter and see Elda’s smile and hear her wonderful French/Ladino/whatever-else accent, and I felt the power of their love.  And when they brought my father into their answer (were they speaking as one or was only one of them talking?) my tears did begin to flow.  And I have to tell you, I have hardly cried since his death.  All along I have held to my view that my bigger loss, the real loss, took place eleven years earlier.

But lately I have been noticing more and more little links to him in my days:  my growing resemblance to him, his strong will (stubbornness to the death, really), his many decades of being self-employed (just one example of how he followed his own path), his love of writing and his tendency to encourage others to pick up the pen or laptop, his habit of speaking his mind.  The rosebush he and my mother gave me for my birthday a month before his diagnosis is planted in our garden, courtesy of Dan’s green thumb.  All the years he drove me to my recitals and competitions and Girl Scout camping trips are reflected in the present as Dan and I chauffeur Rachel around.  He worshipped his cup of coffee the way Dan does (though Dan drinks decaf).  Ditto on his being a handyman around the house.  (Thank God.)

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised to see that I have once again fallen into an old and not-so-constructive habit:  thinking I’m supposed to know what to do with my life right now.  I don’t have to know the big picture – it is not possible for me to have a broad enough perspective.  Let it be enough to keep to my daily rituals and stay focused on what lies in front of me:  lesson plans to prepare, practicing for my violin lesson and upcoming folk and baroque concerts, parent volunteer work at school, the vast myriad of motherly tasks that crop up, both predictable and in the realm of spontaneous.  Years ago, Sue Bender’s book, Plain and Simple, introduced to me the concept of making the ordinary moments of my day sacred by bringing my full attention and intention to them.  I know I feel better when I take that as my task, rather than the god-territory of understanding it all.  As they say, it’s all in the details.

And if you want to read it, here is my letter to my grandmother and great-aunt from an hour ago, and then what came to me as a response.

Dear Franny and Elda,

I am hoping that you really are here somewhere, available to me in this moment.  Up until now, whenever I have spoken or cried out to you, perhaps I have not listened hard enough or long enough (or quietly enough) to hear you.  Today an old friend of mine shared her experience of learning to pray to some appendage or aspect or single face of God, and how she has received answers.  It encouraged me to address you now in this way.  I can hear your voices, both of you, in my mind.  I have been praying – again – every morning for several weeks, to something that is in all probability more like magic than God-like, and am feeling now little and lost, and disconnected.  Or rather, I am beginning to reconnect, and part of what I am feeling is grief and the still-dammed-up tears that probably crave permission to flow.

I feel the deepest yearning to make something of my life right now.  Chloe has embarked, as you know if you are indeed here (or there), and does not need me in the same way.  Rachel does not allow me to be with her the way Chloe did.  Not bad, just different.  And I think part of what I need (want?) is to find a new standing with Dan, my sweet and generous husband and travel (read:  “life’s path”) companion.  So I have been following a daily prayer practice.  I truly believe I receive guidance, probably all the time, but I am really struggling to recognize it these days.

Earlier this afternoon it occurred to me to ask myself this question:  What has been put in my path lately?  And the answer came to me immediately:  music.  And later more of an answer:  music and collaboration.  Suddenly I am working harder and more, with more people, on more arenas, all around music.  This is good, no?

Then why do I feel afraid?  And what is expected of me?  What shall I do?

Dearest Carla,

Answer me this:  Why do you mourn?  Why do you run?  Your words are of the lost, but you are not of the lost.  This is only a part of your life, not the whole.  This is what you need right now.

Peter is in the green branches that blow in this gentle breeze.  He has not left you.  He is not gone.  He loved the spring and he loves it still.  Let him in.

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Ambivalence, weaning, and a death grip

March 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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I am so right-in-the-middle of figuring something out, and hoping I can articulate it here.  I guess it’s obvious I am going to attempt it!

I just got off the phone with a friend, someone who knows me very well and has been there for me through many years of my journey.  We were talking about ambivalence and how troublesome it can be.  Ambivalence.  I know it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as a lot of other things, but when I get stuck there it’s not a pretty picture.

The first time I remember someone using this word in reference to me was when I was weaning Chloe at fourteen months of age, under doctor’s orders.  Nursing Chloe was by then a joy, but it had begun with great difficulty.  With hindsight and acquired-on-the-job wisdom, I now understand that she had something called by the benign name of “nipple confusion” combined with another sanitized understatement called “failure to latch on properly.”  In plain English, most likely because the hospital gave her a bottle and a pacifier on her massively impressionable first day, she spent the first eight weeks of her life outside the womb mashing my almost instantly wounded and enfeebled nipples, and I was in perpetual agony, re-initiated anew at every feeding.

Happily, our perseverance paid off, and around the time she turned two months there was a turning point.  From then on, the process reached a level of infinitely greater comfort on my part, and we began to experience, several times a day, that mutually blissful state of milk intoxication that most nursing mothers reach if they stick with it.  But as the year progressed, I began to have some health problems, and, among other things, was losing too much weight too fast.  With the weight went any semblance of stamina that I might have had.  If I couldn’t fit in a two- or three-hour nap each day I was completely wasted.  Finally my friends and family members asked me to consider weaning Chloe.  I refused.  It was a hard-won battle and now it was working fine.  Until the wake-up call when my doctor finally told me he agreed with my loved ones.

My La Leche League leaders helped me strategize the weaning, and with the loving support of my friend Karen, who had raised (and breastfed) four children, I came up with a plan and moved forward in earnest.  The basic concept was to eliminate one feeding a day for the first week, another the second week, and so on.  Chloe was an every-so-often-when-we-feel-like-it drinker, so it meant we had several weeks of stepping down ahead of us, a fact I found immensely comforting.  This was not going to be anything close to cold turkey for either of us.

All was going well until a few weeks into it, I hit a major stumbling block.  First, allow me to back up a little.  When my doctor, a naturopath whose own children had been breastfed, told me he thought I should wean Chloe for the sake of my own health, I found myself backed up against a wall I had never wanted to know existed.  To save myself I had to deny my own child??? This was not an acceptable choice for me to be facing, and yet it was up to me to make it.  Everyone around me was encouraging me to do one thing and my heart was strenuously insisting on the opposite.  It seemed irreconcilable, a literal deadlock.

As I stumbled around on the battleground, weaving on my feet, a kernel of clarity slowly emerged amid the dust.  What the situation was calling for was for me to take an honest look at the status quo.  It was literally taking too much out of me to nourish my sturdy and thriving child.  Even with a lengthy rest each day, I was still declining.  I had to admit that I trusted my doctor, a man who was not prone to portioning out advice.  I was also willing to admit that I had very little perspective and was in a weakened state, both of which make it hard to reach an important decision alone.  This meant, I eventually reasoned, that I had to turn to other people to help me.  And there they all were, telling me from their hearts what they felt I needed to do.  And – here’s the important part – the moment I consented, I felt myself beginning to recover.  It was reaching the decision, not the physical act of weaning, that caused the tide to start to turn.

So now back to the bump in my road.  We were already down to a few nursings a day when I suddenly reared back on myself, questioning the decision I had made a few weeks earlier.  I spun out into an agonizing place, second-guessing and cross-examining myself at every turn.  I was miserable and anxious, so afraid I was damaging and abandoning my tiny daughter.  In the process, I was making everyone around me equally miserable, including poor Chloe.  I do not remember how long I stayed in that place.  What I do remember is when, gently, my friend Karen said to me, “I think your ambivalence is harder on Chloe than the actual weaning.”  With that single and insightful observation, everything snapped back into focus.  Just as making the decision had given me an immediate sense of greater well-being, the self-torture – the thoughts themselves – had inflicted pain, on me and everyone else.  We resumed the weaning process.  As bittersweet as it is, it was indeed the road to health.

I have recently begun a practice of asking for the gift of acceptance each morning.  The universe, in its infinite wisdom, is teaching me that, in order to accept something, I first have to be willing to see it and acknowledge that it’s there.  Closed eyes and ears, distraction, disassociating, etc. are all forms of denial, at the opposite end of the spectrum from accepting what is, just as it is.  My prayer has already begun to be answered.  I am experiencing more fully the exact place in which I have delivered myself, much of each day, and it is not all pleasant.  My body is in pain.  Standing in the self-created and inequitable courtroom that is my mind, I now find myself facing the same kind of choice I was looking at almost eighteen years ago, though the characters in this scene are different ones.  Down to the way my breath moves in and out of my lungs and the blood flows through my arteries and veins, down to my very cells, I am courting the same impossible question:  Do I hold on or do I let go?  When one has been holding on for dear life for one’s entire life, letting go requires the peeling off of decades of fists, fingers, fingernails, and all manner of strangleholds, each of which has worn the deep grooves of familiarity, strengthened by belief.  I can truthfully say that I have already decided that I must release my hold, as I have seen the laughable futility of my death grip, not to mention the damage in its wake.  My mind is willing, and my heart has been swayed in that direction, but my body has no idea how to do it differently.  My sense is that the physical pain I am experiencing is that of the rope in this internal tug of war.

So after my phone conversation, in which my friend pointed out that it is my ambivalence that is causing my pain, I felt something come together.  (I know what you’re thinking, by the way.  I just told you that my mind is already made up, which does not sound like ambivalence.  And you are right.  In the big picture, I am actually somewhat clear.  It’s in the individual actions that I am still frozen up – shall I do this or that?  Go with xx or stay home?  Practice or meditate?  Is it okay that I said no to that person and yes to someone else?  Can I actually say what I want, even if it isn’t what the other person wants?  I think you get the picture.  Okay, back to my integration moment.)  Here is what my friend, this dear person who has honored my path for almost two decades, reflected to me:  I am already on the path, taking the action. Remember a few weeks ago, when I wanted someone to grant me permission to do what I already knew I needed to do?  It was my own permission I was waiting for.

I just looked up the word “ambivalence” in the dictionary.  Oxford Pocket Dictionary (it would take some pocket to hold this one) says:  “1. the coexistence in one person’s mind of opposing feelings…in a single context.  2. Uncertainty over a course of action or decision.”  I hold on even as I let go.  I pull back even as I move forward.  I am afraid of receiving the very thing I want most.  We live in paradox.  It is not only entirely possible, but almost always true that we have conflicting feelings along the way, even when there is no question of what we must do.  Thank goodness we have each other when the way can be so hard to find.  Even when it’s obvious.

 

 

Bittersweet as the pies bake

November 24, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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I am in the middle of pie fixings, Dan rolling out the dough for the crust.  My good friend Doug Berch’s CD is coming to us through the kitchen speakers.  Chloe, freshly (one hour) home for Thanksgiving break, is ensconced with Rachel in one bedroom or the other, admiring Rachel’s recent happy Goodwill purchase (a prom dress or concerto dress, whichever comes first).  Bella the dog is enjoying her bone in the girls’ company.  All is right in the world.  In this house.

My aunt, at age 80, moved here from New York City, where she had lived all of her life except for her college years.  She was married sometime in the late 1940s or early ‘50s, a brief union that ended in an annulment.  This past summer, on July 4, she celebrated her 84th birthday with a sandwich and a cupcake that Dan and I brought to her senior citizen apartment house.  As we dined together at the picnic table, she commented that her mother, my maternal grandmother, died at the age of 84.

I called her today to see if I could convince her to join the four of us, along with my mother and brother, for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  She is as low as I have ever heard her.  In all the complaints she has spewed out during these past four years of living here – the noisy college students outside her apartment, the thumping on her ceiling and/or walls, the lousy care when she was recuperating from a broken hip and wrist after a fall, how her newly claimed home town can’t hold a candle to the Big Apple – never have I heard one word about not feeling well.  Until today’s phone call.

A woman in her apartment building took her own life two weeks ago.  To my aunt, who is suffering from a chronic and worsening respiratory condition, it was a stark tolling of what lies ahead for her.  What can she look forward to but the same four walls within which she has found a peaceful refuge, an increasing struggle to take each breath, and an occasional trip downstairs to visit “the ladies” or across town to the doctor’s office.

I do not believe she is lonely.  Having chosen to live alone, I am fairly certain she has been content that way.  I believe she is beginning to let go of her attachments here.  And though it saddens me to think about it, I cannot blame her.  I have watched her these last few months coming to grips with the disease that evidenced itself shortly after she settled here.  “I didn’t expect this,” and “I’m still getting used to all this,” her succinct hints at how she feels about her body betraying her.

Betraying us all!  I was so looking forward to trips together to the art museum, the movies, lunch and tea together.  When I was a child she would visit us once a year, staying with us for about three weeks.  My father would drive us to the train station – she was afraid of flying – and we would get to go ON THE TRAIN and see her sleeper compartment, truly a highlight of her visits.  I loved her voice, her New York accent, the leather brace on her left arm from a serious car accident during her college years, and her straight dark hair.  I would sit and watch her unpack her suitcase, fascinated by the amazing versatile manner in which she used her right hand, which often had to do double duty, and by the scars on her leg where they had to take bone to try to save her damaged limb.  As plain as she always was in the areas of fashion and self-expression, I found her glamorous.

I have not seen her as much as I thought I would, these past four years.  She definitely prefers solitude.  She has had little or no interest in going out together.  We mostly talk on the phone, and sometimes I visit her or take her to my mother’s house for a holiday or birthday.  Tomorrow after lunch I will call her and see if she feels like she is up to a family Thanksgiving dinner.  If not, then Dan, Chloe, Rachel and I will pay a short visit to her on the way to my mother’s.  Either way, it will brighten her to see my two teens, reminding her of me when I was that age.  I hope my presence can offer a little comfort, even if it cannot help her lungs take in more air.  Not touchy-feely, she probably wouldn’t let me hold her hand, so we will chat and she will reminisce a little and ask Chloe a few questions about college and then not listen to the answers.

I know I need to enjoy what we have now, and I will.  The passing of my father taught me to listen differently – she is beginning to speak a new language, sprinkled with hints and clues.  I will do my best to atune my ear and hear with my heart and my intuition.

May we all take in whatever blessings avail themselves to us during this holiday of gratitude, and may we spread them as we receive them.  Speaking for myself, they are all around, even when it’s hard to distinguish them through the tears.

Questions on a plane

October 31, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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(I wrote this almost three weeks ago and finally feel ready to post it.)

I am sitting on a plane, on my way to three days of study on baroque violin with a colleague of mine who is a sublime musician and an excellent teacher.  I am looking forward to the work though I am sad to say my circumstances are not ideal.  I have been feeling puny lately, especially during the past week, and do not have much stamina, which may prove to be at odds with the prospect of spending three days in lessons and practice sessions.

This book I am reading – Callings, by Gregg Levoy – together with my present status, are bringing up a lot of ponderings.  I guess sometimes a malady makes you go to bed, and sometimes it sends you to your journal.

1. What is important? I was standing in one of four parallel security lines at the airport.  Dan and I had picked this line because it looked ever so slightly shorter when we arrived.  Dan had accompanied me this far, carrying my much-too-heavy pack (actually Rachel’s school pack from last year) and my baroque violin, temporarily housed in a lightweight case for travel.

Our track record so far was astounding.  We got an early start (okay, not actually early when compared to our planned time of departure, but definitely early enough to provide a comfortable margin), there was little traffic, even the stretches of road construction did not delay us, and we found an exceptionally close parking space in a lot marked “full.”  (All the lots were full this morning, according to the signs.  It was a good call, we had to admit.  We were relying – as we always do – on my extraordinary parking karma, inherited from my late father – thank you, Peter!  As we neared the terminal, Dan spotted somebody pulling out of a stellar slot.  We definitely scored.)  So after saying good-by to Dan, I stood on this security line and soon realized I had chosen the wrong one.  My shoulder hurt, my pack was heavy due to the fact that I was carrying my new laptop (which, by the way, is functioning more reliably since Dan worked on it following the FATAL ERROR [see “The nature of moving forward” from my Sept. 27, 2010 blog entry]), and as I said before, I am not feeling well.  So I resorted to the Eckhart Tolle approach of coming into the moment by focusing on my breath, rather than projecting into the future (“It’s going to take forever to get through this line,”) or dwelling on the past (“Why did I choose this line?”)  Two or three breaths.  My shoulders began to drop and my jaw relaxed a little.  (Though I might note here that putting “my jaw” and “relaxed” in the same sentence might be the closest those two will ever get.)  “This is not important,” I heard in my higher mind.  Before I could bask in this momentary possibility of nirvana, another thought – the featured question – leaped right into the space created by the first one:  “Then what is important?”

To me?

My family.  Music.  And then something else.  Something that I have been missing, which may be the reason I am making this trip, even though I have been telling myself and everyone else that it’s all about improving my violin playing.  Maybe I need to remove myself from the trappings of my daily life to have a chance to listen to myself a little better.

2. What am I being called to do? I keep thinking that it’s teaching, because that’s what keeps coming to me.  Every time space is created I find myself being asked if I can take one more student, or teach two more classes, or teach lessons on one more instrument.  The irony is that I do not feel like I have the expertise necessary to be a good teacher.  Lest you think I am being overly modest, I assure you I am not.  I do know that I am by nature a good teacher.  It’s that I lack the years of technique and training on violin, piano, and recorder that most professional musicians have, so I often feel at a loss as to how to help my students when we bump up against an obstacle or challenge.  I could go on and on here to document my long gaps between studies and the patchwork style in which I have gathered what credentials I do have, but I won’t waste the space.  It may be that the universe simply wants me to explore the question, so I will not attempt any real answers.  I might add that I do enjoy teaching, and find it an excellent way to keep myself on the learning path.  I also know that I am a much better teacher, in countless ways, than I was years ago.  But just because the line of students outside my house seems to continue, does that mean it is my calling?  Maybe my life lesson is to learn to say no.  You can see my confusion.

3. Is this a virus or an infection in my spirit? It is an undeniable fact that when we feel a physical symptom such as pain or malaise, something is out of balance.  I will never forget the time I had a sinus infection brewing just on the day I had an appointment with my therapist.  It was a very revealing session, and during it I was able to release some emotional turmoil.  Amazingly, with it went the sinus condition.

The connection that has taken me longer to make is that my spiritual fitness is as important in the equation as the physical and emotional.  Where I stand – and how I feel – with my fellows, both those close to me and the masses at large, cannot help but affect how I sit with myself, in my body, in my hear t space, and beyond.  So what is my body trying to say right now?  Can I listen?  Can I allow myself to hear?

On Shabbat

October 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | Leave a comment
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I had the opportunity to talk with some of the seniors at our high school last week.  They are studying world religions and I shared with them my experience of being Jewish and some background on Judaism.  This is the fourth year I have been invited to do this, and have enjoyed it each time.  The students always come up with great questions, which together with the fact that I have to pull a presentation together, turns it into a chance for me to take another look at my life as a Jew, as a woman, an American, musician, mother, daughter, friend, wife, teacher, etc.

In the midst of each year’s talk, I explain about the idea of Shabbat, the Sabbath.  Their teacher pointed out that one of the ten commandments is that we should observe it.  Of course, as soon as something is required, any of us who have issues with authority start to bargain with and resist.  And not only is there the commandment itself, but also the list of thirty-nine acts that are prohibited on that day.  Talk about a great way to stir up creative rule-bending/breaking!!  So why – and in what ways – do I observe it?

Ironically it was a Christian friend of mine who first inspired me to consider the possibility.  She was a neighbor of ours at the time, in a rural section of town that had first been settled as a large orchard.  All the homes, built mostly between 1920 and 1940, had the feel of old farmhouses, and our neighborhood had many qualities of the quintessential old-fashioned small town.  Our children (her three daughters and my two) were together often, swinging in one backyard or the other, going to a neighbor’s pool for their swimming lessons each morning, and playing house on rainy days.  My friend and I were both of like minds about letting our girls be little girls for as long as possible, resisting the urge to rush into all the extra-curricular activities, and keeping our families’ lives as simple as we could.  Somewhere in there she decided to make Sunday a real Sabbath, and she shared her thoughts with me.

I was at the time studying Judaism through a local chapter of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-school, which offers a marvelous two-year curriculum now available in 60 cities throughout the US, England, Canada, and Australia.  My teacher, a modern day mystic, cultivated for our class a rich and deep foundation for learning.  When the subject of Shabbat came up, the seeds had already been planted by my neighbor, and I decided to explore it by trying to experience it.

The traditional interpretation of the Sabbath comes from the Creation story, which tells us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.  Obviously, many modern Americans in the Judeo-Christian world do not take that literally, but the idea of a day of rest is still a valuable one.  Just as we need to sleep at night, we also need to plant breaks into our daily rhythm.  Practices of many kinds recommend taking two to five minutes every hour to get up, whether from the desk or assembly line, take a walk around the room, do some deep breathing.  We digest our meals better if we pause from what we are doing to eat them.  Most studies reveal that if we work too long without a reprieve, we become less productive.

I have to admit that the very first time I heard about the Jewish Shabbat, I stepped right up onto a feminist soapbox.  I was nursing Rachel, a toddler at the time, and Chloe had just turned six.  As a mother of young children, I was not going to get much of a rest, and I spoke up – hotheadedly – to protest that Shabbat was perhaps more about men getting a rest than the women who really needed it.  The person teaching that class was diplomatic, helping to make it a little less black-and-white than the territory into which I had leapt, but I was only a little bit consoled.  Those were my reactive days, and my learning curve was steep enough that I pretty much had to put the kernel of the Shabbat concept aside.  What my family did do at that point was simple (though not easy) and basic.  On Friday nights we ate in the dining room instead of the kitchen, and we lit candles and said blessings over our juice and bread.

So now, two years later, I decided to see what Saturday could feel like, now that our Friday night ritual was intact.  To be honest, I remember no details of the day itself.  What I remember is that I reached a moment of great discomfort.  I wanted to do something.  DO, with a capital D.  And that’s when it hit me that my life was centered around everything I was doing, and what I needed was to take a break from that by just being.  This was not about what my hands were doing.  I could nurse Rachel and at the same time be focused on all the things I was going to accomplish during her ensuing nap, which was what I did all week long.  Or I could sit and nurse Rachel and have it be totally about nursing Rachel.  I could chop carrots for dinner and be thankful that I could feed something nourishing and tasty to my family.  I could breathe more deeply if all I was paying attention to in that moment was my breath.

What came to me that day was that observing the Shabbat is about taking that day to be mindful and present, and not about doing, no matter what I was in fact doing.

So last week, as I stood in front of that class of seniors, summarizing briefly my understanding of Shabbat, I found myself filled with a longing for a real Shabbat.  Fast forward from those precious days with my young girls to now:  Chloe away at college and Rachel a full-fledged teenager, in every sense of the word.  Some Friday nights Dan, Rachel and I are actually home, and we set the dining room table for three, light the candles and say the blessings.  If we are not too exhausted, we play a box game or watch a DVD after dinner and dessert.  Many Fridays Rachel and I have violin classes and we get home after 7:00, to that blessed dinner, prepared and set out by Dan.  Some Friday nights are centered around something that precludes our dining room altogether.  Saturdays are often so busy I totally forget it is actually Shabbat.

The gift of doing things like speaking to a class at the high school and writing this blog is that it gives me the chance to take another look at something.  Pulled away so gradually from the purity of my practice in those early years when the girls were young, I had completely forgotten that I can still carry the spirit of Shabbat with me, no matter the circumstances.  In my own mind – and heart – I can make everything within those fully-booked Saturdays more about being there than about what I am accomplishing.  I’ve had a lot of practice.

 

Dance: a family history

October 3, 2010 at 9:52 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I have not sat in this room for years.  Rachel is in her Irish stepdancing class and has to leave early today, so rather than just dropping her off I am sitting in the waiting area for an hour until we have to go.  It brings back such memories.  Chloe started taking classes here ten years ago, and for the next several years I spent every Tuesday afternoon from around 4:30 to 6:00 in this room.  Eventually Chloe and Rachel became such advanced dancers that they were in class for three hours at a time so I could go home during class.  In recent years I began using that time to teach lessons.  And for the last two years Chloe drove the two of them there and back.  So I have not had occasion to sit on this couch (yes, it actually is the same couch) until today’s exception to the norm.

Dancing goes way back in my family.  As a teenager, my mother was a contra dancer in New York City in the 1940s.  As a matter of fact, she can be seen in a segment of the movie “To Hear Your Banjo Play” with Pete Seeger, filmed in 1947.  (See the YouTube video posted below.  The dancers come on around 12:30, and my mother can be seen close up at 14:16-17 on the right side of the frame.)  A few years later, as a classroom teacher my mother taught her students “play party games” – songs with dances to go with them – and years later, once I had joined the family fold and we had moved out west, my mother occasionally taught those dance-songs to my girl scout troop and at birthday parties.  And, once we settled in our new home, my parents signed up for a square dance class (contra dance was hard to find in our community at that time), and met many people who became lifelong family friends.

In my teens I spent two summers in Oaxaca, Mexico.  My grandparents on my father’s side had run a summer camp called High Peak in the Catskill Mountains of New York.  When my grandfather’s health was beginning to decline, around the time I was coming into the world, they decided to retire to a warmer clime and chose Oaxaca because it reminded my grandfather of his birthplace in Salonica, Turkey (now Thessaloniki, Greece.)  Finding almost immediately that they missed running a summer program, they started a smaller version, a kind of culture camp, the year I was born, with a group of fifteen girls in their early teens.  There they lived for eight weeks at my grandparents’ place, which held several small buildings inside their gates, amid gardens and courtyards.  It was a success and they continued every summer.  My grandfather died just before my fifth birthday, and then my great-aunt (my grandfather’s sister) joined my grandmother as she continued to steward a small group of American teenage girls.  I am so blessed to have shared those two summers with my grandmother, my great-aunt and fifteen other girls from all over the United States.

One of the very first days I was there, someone put on some music one afternoon and everyone began to dance.  It was an Israeli dance, Mayim.  I had never heard it before, but I was charmed by both the dancing and the fact that everyone seemed to know how it went!  (It being decades before I “came out” as a Jew, it had not yet dawned on me that almost all of the girls who attended my grandmother’s camp were Jewish.)  I followed along until I learned it.  It was fun!  And not so unfamiliar, having learned my mother’s play party games.  Over the next several weeks, we learned several regional Oaxacan dances and attended a centuries old annual dance festival where we watched those dances, and many more, performed by native dancers in their traditional costumes.  We rounded out our repertoire with some more Israeli dances, and a couple of evening parties where we danced to rock and roll hits.

It was also in Oaxaca that I first learned to play the guitar.  My grandmother bought me a classical guitar in Mexico City, made in a local factory.  It cost $24 and I fell in love with it almost instantly.  Several of my campmates in Oaxaca already played, and they taught me what they knew.  I figured out more songs on my own and in turn taught those to my friends.  Throughout the summer we performed together at schools in the city of Oaxaca and in neighboring villages, both Oaxacan and American songs.  That $24 guitar planted a seed for a very tall and strong tree, as it eventually led to my decades-long career in folk music, beginning with my homeboys band in the early 1970s.

One pivotal Sunday night in July, 1972, my band was playing, as usual, at our regular home gig.  We had built over the year prior a huge local following, and I often saw familiar faces in the crowd.  During a break that night I recognized an old high school friend and went to greet him.  He had never been able to come to our show, he told me, because he usually spent Sunday evenings doing Israeli folk dancing.  And on Friday nights (when we had a regular gig in another town) he always went to international folk dancing.  But two nights earlier, at a party after folk dancing, he had accidentally walked into a plate glass door and sliced open his chin.  Because of the stitches he had to take a few days off from dancing, so he came to see me sing.  As annoying as I had found this friend during our high school years together, he now seemed, mysteriously, infinitely more interesting.  Coincidentally, so did the idea of folk dancing.  And it turned out there were Monday night sessions in town.

You might not be too surprised to hear that I went the very next week.  A little bit into the evening my old friend Mayim was played on the record player, and that pretty much clinched my desire to become a regular at the Monday night dance.  My high school friend and I did do the dance of romance for awhile, and then he went off to college.  I stayed in town and became an avid (Dan and I now use the word “rabid”) folk dancer.  I spent the next twelve years participating in many different recreational and performance groups, even including a five-month gig as a musician for a folk dance ensemble performing at the Epcot Center at Disneyworld.

In the meantime, a glimpse into Dan’s childhood.  He was lucky enough to take a social dance class when he was in 6th and 7th grade, and it stuck.  As a young adult he developed a love for Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies, bought himself a set of tails at a thrift store, and dreamed of sweeping some girl off her feet, just like Fred did with Ginger Rogers and Gene did with Leslie Caron.  After grad school, when he moved east (close to my neck of the woods) for his first grown-up job, an acquaintance mentioned a local folk dancing group to him.  After another invitation or two, he tried it out.  Within a year he was attending workshops, teaching dances to recreational groups, and even co-directing a new performance ensemble.  His name began to be mentioned among my friends, a few towns south.  It took about two more years before we met at the Friday night international folk dancing that I now attended regularly, since my band had long since split up.

We still don’t agree on which dance we first did together.  It was either a waltz or a Swedish hambo.  But we do remember our first conversation, which went as follows:

Me:  “I heard you moved away.”

Dan:  “I did.  But I came back.”

Me:  “Oh.”

Romantic, huh?

Okay, it took a few months, but we did eventually get together (obviously).  He took me to many Fred Astaire movies, where he half-thrilled, half-(well more than half) embarrassed me by waltzing me up the aisle after the movie on more than one occasion.  I bought him a collapsible antique top hat for his birthday, the kind that opens by itself with a snap of the wrist.  We developed lifelong (so far!) friendships with many fellow dance fiends, including some of the people my parents met at their square dance class in the 1960s.  Small world, good people.

So it isn’t hard to make the leap to when Chloe was three and we took her to a festival where she first beheld an Irish stepdance performance.  She turned to Dan and proclaimed, “I want to do that!!”  Being on the shy side, she was seven before she had the courage to sign up for a class (which meant attending without a mom or dad to hold her hand).  She took to it easily.  After her first year we moved her to a different dance school led by a teacher who has since become a life mentor for her.  Which is what first brought us into this very room.  Sometime in the following months Rachel began to imitate Chloe’s practiced steps and we enrolled her in class at age five.  The two of them have performed and competed for all these years.

Until now.  The way the Irish stepdance world works, you join a school and learn their own choreographed steps.  If you move away, to college, for example, you would have to leave your own school to join another, and begin the arduous process of learning all new steps, and then you would “belong” to that school instead.  Chloe saw it coming, even two or three years ago.  During her senior year she enjoyed participating in class and at a few competitions, but felt violin moving into first place, especially in terms of focus and time commitment.  Her last hurrah was dancing the lead part in a dance drama, which competed at the western regional and the national competition, where they placed, respectively, first and third, much to everyone’s delight.  Over the summer she helped teach classes and worked part-time in the office at her dance school, cherishing the time she got to spend with her beloved teacher.  She is friends on Facebook with her dance chums, wants to hear the results of each competition, and hopes to perform in some St. Patrick’s Day shows when she comes home for spring break in March.  But that chapter in her life is coming to a close, at least in the foreseeable future.

And for Rachel?  I know things have to feel different for her with Chloe gone.  This Saturday morning she is scheduled to go to her first local competition after taking a year off from solo events.  She enjoys performing more than competing but feels some peer pressure to remain in the swing of things.  It evolved over time for Chloe, and I’m sure it will unfold for Rachel as she moves forward.  I feel confident that they both will stay connected with their dance friends just as their parents and grandparents have before them.  The world of folk dance is full of very good people.  And who knows?  Maybe Dan and I will start contra dancing some day.

The nature of moving forward

September 27, 2010 at 9:46 am | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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There is a moth frantically dive-bombing the walls and lights in the kitchen tonight.  As desperate as it sounds to my ears, perhaps every moth making a beeline (haha) from one lumen to the next is actually filled with carefree abandon.  But here we are, in the final days of September, and it hit 90 or higher today and a summer insect is careening through my house like it’s June.

Chloe has been a college student for exactly one month. 

I have rarely in my adult life had a busier month, and am relieved to be able to say that the crush of too-much-at-once is behind me.  I would try to enumerate it all here, but that’s not really why I am writing tonight.  I am writing tonight to explain why I did not write yesterday, as I had intended to do – and actually did do.  Until the computer challenged me and I retreated.

One of the factors that has contributed to my busyness is that I now spend Monday evenings taking Rachel to an orchestra rehearsal 45 minutes away (each way).  We go straight from school at 3:10 so that she can have a snack and short homework session before her violin lesson, fit in another study break and a hasty bite for supper, and then orchestra from 6:00 to 8:45.  We finally return home a little after 9:30.  Once the snow season starts, we will get home even later some weeks.  It’s a very long day for her, and for me as well. 

After the first four Mondays, it dawned on me that I could use the time during her rehearsals to write my weekly report to the parents of my students, and also to write my blog.  If only I had a laptop.  I casually mentioned this to Dan last Tuesday, and, computer geek that he is (I assure you it is his own term for himself – in my opinion he is much too well-adjusted socially to be considered a geek) he was willing, even eager, to find me a refurbished model.  Eager, indeed.  I had myself a “new” laptop before the end of the week.  Dan loaded the necessary software and virus protection onto it and presented it to me after lunch Thursday.  Cool!

It happened to be one of my “orchestra weeks” during which my baroque chamber group – this time our concerts involved thirteen performers – spends three days rehearsing for a weekend of local concerts.  This means that I spend several days floating from one rehearsal to whatever classes and lessons I am able to teach to a quick meal and back to the next rehearsal  – happy, usually more than a little stressed, and definitely stretched in terms of time and energy.  So it wasn’t until yesterday, the second concert day, that I actually had a little uncommitted time. 

It was a beautiful day outside.  Sunny, clear, a little breeze, and that little touch of autumn that starts to make itself evident in those days when the sunlight takes on more of a slant.  Since I had spent most of the week inside, I decided I would take advantage of the perfect weather.   I went out in our backyard and settled myself onto a patio chair, a little giddy with the romantic image of working on MY laptop, which I placed before me, small 21st century altar on the picnic table.  Dan was mowing the lawn and Bella was merrily cavorting between the flying bits of grass and the bees she loves to chase around the raspberry bushes. 

I opened with a paragraph about the splinters emanating from the rough wood of the table, moved from there to Bella’s bee habit, and was just segueing into yesterday’s theme – no small feat, it had taken me so many weeks to be ready to actually put words to paper – when my new ally, my dear refurb, abruptly interrupted with an alarming announcement that something very serious was happening and it was forced to abort all present activities in order to protect itself.

Barely three paragraphs into my fragile beginning, my words were erased.     

It’s not that it had taken that much time to write them.  It’s not even that it was that good.  But in that shattering moment (not quite the blue screen of death, but those big white words on the black screen are a little scary – just saying) I was demoralized.  The universe doesn’t want me to write?  FINE!  I cursed the very laptop I had been worshipping only moments before.  I made an angry and upset show of closing it down, Dan all the while instructing me that I need to use the computer some more so we can see if it happens again.  HAPPENS AGAIN?  I’m going to pour my heart out onto its soulless – not to mention conscienceless – keys again, JUST TO FIND OUT IF IT IS FUNCTIONING PROPERLY?  Which by the way I just expect it to do because THAT’S ITS ONLY JOB AND PURPOSE IN LIFE! 

I’m calmer now.  It didn’t even take me that long to regain my normal heart and breathing rates.  Dan expressed his sympathy for what I lost and I thanked him for showing me that he has much more of a heart than the machine that provides most of our income, as grateful as I am for that.  My higher self knew that I would find a new starting place and compose a new set of paragraphs, and still be able to post a blog within a day or two.  And in the meantime Dan identified a few outdated “device drivers” that may have contributed to the crash.  He is replacing each one with a newer version.  For my part, I will employ the “save” function sometime during the first paragraph from now on, instead of being so cavalier as to trust a mere hard drive with words that often do not come easily.  Lessons learned, little harm done.

By the way, in case you are curious as to the theme of the lost essay, it was this.  For those of you who remember how it felt to go from two to three, from a coupledom to a threesome – how suddenly it hit you that life would never again be the same – exactly, word for word, the phrase that our houseguests, a couple with a one-year-old angel boy – used oh so casually during a mealtime conversation on Wednesday – that is exactly and precisely what Dan and Rachel and I are experiencing.  But this time there is no fanfare.  No shower with gifts.  No sweet bundle to caress.  I can no more retrieve the days behind me than recover the lost words on my screen.  So instead I offer these.  And we all continue forward, since we cannot go back.  

Neither can the moth.  I found it this morning, nestled in the pages of one of Rachel’s violin books for its final rest.

The school of leavings

September 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I played music for a bat mitzvah service this morning, a very sweet occasion.  At the very end, right before the closing song, a passage written by Albert Einstein in 1954 was read:

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest.  A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

An optical delusion of consciousness.  What a powerful and apt term!  I sat through the whole service teary-eyed and choked up – rites of passage always do that to me anyway, no doubt enhanced today by the freshness of Chloe’s leaving – and those words showed up as a lifeline, a rope to grab hold of to lead me out of my soggy puddle.  What is my life – your life, anybody’s life – but a meandering path of leavings, and of moving forward even when we want to hold on?

The day Dan and I began to try to conceive, I was thunderstruck by the realization that we had stepped onto the escalator of letting go.  Could we control whether or not we hit the jackpot (so to speak) this ovulatory cycle?  Never.  We had no say over any of it, speed nor date of conception, the nature of the pregnancy, the first miscarriage, the grieving process, how many months more of trying for the next, the nature of the next pregnancy… Obviously, I could go on for years with this list.  And once Chloe was born, and later Rachel, I had no control over the next set of variables.  Each step of developmental progress was another departure – from my body, from our arms and laps, from babyhood and soft sweet cheeks and wide open eyes and clinging, eager hands and ramrod posture and adorable outfits to everything that comes with every single stage of growing up.  I had pictured parenthood as the act of welcoming someone into the world.  What a surprise to learn I had it backwards!  Our children were welcoming us to a whole new curriculum of lessons to be learned.

I know I have not been the best of students in that school, though neither have I been the worst.  When I could not go by my own experience, I looked for others who could teach me.  I learned about being a gentle parent from three unlikely couples, namely, the parents of Frances and Gloria, in all the Priscilla Mary Warner children’s books; of Arthur and D. W., in the PBS series inspired by author Marc Brown; and of Ramona in Beverly Cleary’s classics.  They were great models for me in the area of love, patience, maturity, and understanding.  But their stories show little to nothing of the slow parade of good-byes that lie ahead.  Like Dorothy in the land of Oz, I had to find them for myself.

They did not come on the expected days, like the first morning of kindergarten or even the first time Chloe drove Rachel to their dance school and Dan and I were left waving on the porch, the air oddly sucked out of our lungs.  I felt it more when Chloe would come home from a play date a little farther away from my understanding, a new cockiness in her voice.  Or when Rachel suddenly didn’t need a good-night kiss and hug anymore.  Then who am I?  What am I now?

If I am first and foremost the one who brought them into the world and sustained them with the milk my body produced for them, I stand alone and separate, as Einstein observed.  But if I remember that I too navigated my path away from my mother and father into the world that was awaiting me, they join me as two more children in a long line, and we join all families.  All mothers and fathers were once children, following the drive to leave their parents, forever moving forward.  I can now turn with compassion toward my own parents, who must have grieved my moving out at age 19, though I didn’t notice at the time.  It was not my job to notice them!  I was joining the world – for myself, I thought at the time.  Now I know better.  The baby bird leaves the nest and flies off, to grow big enough to build another.  It is the way of the universe.  I will never know whether the mother and father bird shed tiny tears in their abandoned circle of twigs, but I know it is the same set of impulses, even if I use words to try to understand it all, and they do not ponder but only act. 

I am thankful to be swept up in the fast and fierce winds that meet my face as I hurtle helplessly forward in time.  It is comforting to me to be part of the very nature of things.  That in itself frees me (for the moment) from the prison of separateness and personal agenda.  And by the way, Einstein wrote that magnificent paragraph the year I was born.

Hit the ground pausing.

August 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 1 Comment
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In the years that I used to be a touring folksinger, I bonded intimately with the expression “hit the ground running.”  I would usually be working on several projects at once right up until we packed up the car to go, and then we would drive cross country for two days, or three, or even four, to our designated geographic region of the month.  Upon arrival, I often had only hours before entering the first concert venue to open the performing portion of the trip.  We always tried to fill as many days as we could with gigs, as down time is generally not too attractive during a tour.  After the last gig, we would turn around and start the trek home, and once home, I invariably had commitments almost right away.  It became a lifestyle.  I am married to a “do” kind of person, we are both self-employed, and there is always something begging for my time, and for his.

For the past year and a half much of my energy has revolved around all the steps toward Chloe going to college.  Each campus visit required an inventory of detailed planning:  flight, accommodations, and rental car reservations; schedule particulars, both on our end and those of the school; signing up for a campus tour, for which we encountered different hoops to jump through for each school; setting up a violin lesson with a professor; and often many more.  The application process provided a new and exhilarating ride to say the least.  Preparing for auditions involved providing support for Chloe’s musical efforts as well as all the travel logisitics.  And auditions themselves were nerve-racking for everyone in the generally vicinity.  (I wish you could measure the quality and quantity of energy circulating through a conservatory on audition day.)  Waiting for acceptance packets (or, in contrast, the dreaded rejection letters) to arrive in the mail was its own frontier to navigate.  Then the month-long big decision, which led us back to more campus visits (see earlier in this paragraph…)  And after that, the transition period between everything-being-about-getting-ready-for-college and Being There and Saying Good-bye.

Dan and I drove home as fast as we could.  Six hours the first day (we left campus at 4:30 in the afternoon, after the last parent session, entitled “Letting Go”), fourteen hours the second day, and four the third.  In one sense I followed my old protocol.  I had Sunday afternoon and evening to catch up on email, put my teaching schedule together and contact all my students, and respond to last minute fall-semester questions, not to mention catching up with Rachel after the days apart.  And on Monday I made announcements to three middle school classes, taught my first two violin classes and took Rachel to her lesson and orchestra rehearsal.  Busy, busy, busy.

On another level, I feel as if I am walking through a different kind of atmosphere from the one I left last week.  It feels thicker and heavier to walk through.  Breathing can be challenging for a moment here and there.  Time is ticking by in a new silence I had never noticed before.  I am passing through a threshold I had not expected to be encountering.  Raw is the best word to describe this new place.  I know it is also filled with promise.  The path that led to Chloe’s entrance into our family fold was one that multiplied the expansion of my universe exponentially, internally as well as externally.  So it should be no surprise to me that her first step of departure from this nest would send me gear-shifting into the next catapult.  I will not lie and tell you that I am eager.  But I am willing, and I am as ready as you can ever be, if only by virtue of the fact that I am able to put it into words for you this afternoon.  Thank you all for receiving it, and thereby standing witness for me.

Minivans, rental cars and a two-by-four promise

August 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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Eight years ago this fall, we decided to buy a minivan. Dan and I were slightly horrified when we began to consider taking this drastic step, coming from decades of Subarus with only a couple of exceptions. Of course, Chloe being ten and Rachel six at the time, they were delirious with excitement at the prospect of a new car, even if it turned out to be a new old car. We knew we were facing at least ten, probably closer to twelve, more years of carpools and field trips, and we hoped at the time to have some family road trips ahead of us also. So we swallowed our pride, compromised our pre-parenthood-era values, started the tedious and mind numbing process of car shopping, and ended up with a Mazda MPV, getting a deal on a 2002 model at the end of that year. It’s beige, by the way. (Aren’t they all?) After we figured out how to find it in a parking lot, we became accustomed (or at least resigned) to our new identities as minivan owners.

The carpools and field trips turned out to be accurate predictions. The family road trips? Once a year we drive 70 miles to the south for a dance competition. Kidding aside, we have taken only two substantial trips in the minivan. Flying almost always ended up the preferred choice for two self-employed parents who missed out on too much income by taking the time to drive.

I do not know why, but when it came time to figure out how to get Chloe to college, we all pretty much assumed we would drive there. She will be taking a lot of living stuff, like bedding, towels, suitcases of clothes, jackets, boots, books, lamp, electric fan, wastebasket, etc. Plus she has her violin and her guitar. We figured we could ship most of it and fly, but there was something kind of – I don’t know – quintessential? – about taking to the highway to get to college. I figure if all three of us pictured it that way, it was probably meant to be. Rachel doesn’t really care either way, since she will be staying in town with a school friend.

Dan and I had planned to take the car in for an oil change and general road-trip check, thinking one week ahead would be about right. However, last weekend, as we were driving to my mother’s house for a farewell dinner, the “check engine” light came on. The car was driving fine, so we made it to our dinner and back home, and Dan took it to our mechanic, Gary, the next morning. It turned out to be the PCV valve. (That’s Positive Crankcase Ventilation, in case you care.) Commonplace, we were told, no big deal. And while they had the car there, they changed the oil and checked everything else, to their satisfaction. We had it home later in the day. Whew! We all expressed our relief that that had happened while we were still at home. Except I have to admit that it planted a teeny tiny little seed of discomfort in my mind, like a nagging itch. That night before I went to bed I sat down briefly at the computer and visited the Travelocity site, oh soooo casually. Rental cars, mostly. Also Amtrak, just to check. Dan took a little extra time to come to bed that night. When he came in he just mentioned that he found one really good deal on a Hertz full-size car. We agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to reserve it.

Two days later Rachel and I were on our way to the dentist when the “check engine” light came back on. (I hate that seemingly benign little symbol in the dashboard – in an anemic shade of orange, no less.) We phoned Dan, who made another appointment with Gary. This time it turned out to be an oxygen sensor. Rather than replace the part, Gary suggested we just clean out the fuel injectors. His car guys poured a special potion into the tank, instructed Dan to get a half-tank of gas, and then to fill it with gas when it got down to a quarter-tank. The “check engine” light was off when the car came back home. Gary said we will eventually have to have a new sensor put in, but that in the meantime there is nothing to worry about.

That evening, only to explore a little further, Dan and I returned to the Hertz website. We discovered that we could find an even better deal on a mid-size at another location in town. It began to sound very attractive to us to rent a car. This would save our van from the wear and tear. It would feel less risky to drive a newer car. Maybe the gas mileage would be better. Surely a mid-size or standard car would hold all of the stuff Chloe is hauling with her. And think how comfortable and quiet the trip would be! We basked in a newly found sense of security and well-being. We planned when we would pick it up and turn it back in. This could work!

To add the proverbial fuel to our fire (so to speak) that detestable little warning light came back on the next day. Trying to remain reasonable, Dan pointed out that we had only driven a little bit with the cleaner swimming in its warm bath of gasoline, and the fuel injectors were probably still a little clogged. And we talked about how once the little warning light comes on, it won’t go off unless the mechanic clears the car computer, even if the injectors are completely cleared out, and really, this is a minor problem. Creating an artificial deadline for ourselves, (probably just to be done with it) we sat down to make the official decision about the rental car. Chloe confessed that she loves our minivan and really, really wants to make the drive to college in it. We pointed out to each other that any car could break down on a road trip. Renting a newer car is no guarantee. The minivan is as comfortable to ride in as any car can be for a long trip, and it has both a cassette player and a CD player. And the clincher: Gary said the car is totally fine, we can take it on the highway with his blessing, AND if we do have any trouble on the road, I have his permission “to hit him upside the head with a two-by-four when we get home.” It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s pretty close to one. (Not that I like hitting people. Or that I could lift the two-by-four high enough to use it in such an untraditional manner. It’s just the intent of it that is supposed to reassure me, and I hear the heartfelt caring behind the words. After all, Gary has kids of his own. And he has an art gallery in the front of his car repair shop, for goodness sake.) And if Chloe wants to hold on to anything from home as long as she can, and all other things are declared equal, so be it. It was decided. The Mazda is going to college. And then Dan and I will drive it back home together. Together alone, but that’s another post.

The “check engine” light came on, stayed on for a day, and then went off all by itself.

Yesterday Dan went to the tire place to have the tires checked and rotated. It turned out the tread was just a little too thin. So several hours and 497 dollars later, our minivan now has a new set of “shoes”. Dinner was pretty late, as it was apparently very busy at the tire place. Maybe lots of other people are leaving for college next week, too. Though I would bet their PCV valves and oxygen sensors are just fine. Just saying.

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