[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Now that our traveling days seem over, summer months mean nothing is planned. They also mean visits at short notice from family who live elsewhere. The cars line up tightly behind each other on our side of the double driveway we share with next-door neighbors. The sounds of laughing children echo loudly in our two-story family room where the adults sit. (The children are running up the stairs to pet our two frightened pussycats, who flee to hide under the bed.) We visit hot playgrounds and parks with the guests, set out impromptu meals on paper plates for as many as can squeeze round our smallish table. There’s much talk coming from all directions, hard for aging ears to follow. And then, all the cleaning up afterwards. Whew! At last we can rest!

Who said? Two sinks are clogged and the plumber is coming. The cats’ nails are too long and the youth we pay to catch and clip them is coming. Honda has sent me a recall notice to replace a defective passenger-side airbag. (Only now, after eleven years?) Bill’s having a root canal, a procedure so dreaded he needs a tranquilizer first, which means I have to drive him there and back (before the new airbag arrives for installation).

Why is it always something? What ever happened to “nothing is planned?”


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Bill often dreams about his second wife. Let’s call her Norma. He says they’re nightmares. In all our time together, he’s never dreamed about Marie Claire, his Swiss first wife. Bill and Norma were married for eighteen years. It’s been twenty-four years since they divorced. For the last fourteen of those twenty-four years he’s been with me. But it’s always Norma I hear about in the morning.

“What terrible thing did she do in the dream?” I ask for the umpteenth time. He never remembers. He does remember plenty about what she “did” in the marriage, beginning six weeks into it when she smashed a valuable objet d’art on the floor that had been a wedding present from his sister.  I’ve heard it all, always knowing Norma’s account of their eighteen years would differ, and sometimes imagining her version, despite not knowing Norma herself.

I used to think the Norma of Bill’s dreams might be a metaphor for me. We do have our squabbles. (Although I don’t resolve them by smashing valuable gifts on the floor. Not that it’s relevant, but his sister never gave us a gift to smash, probably because we never married. It wasn’t because she didn’t like me, although she didn’t. She didn’t like Norma either.)

Bill assures me dream-Norma isn’t me. He’s a psychiatrist; he should know. But I take nothing on trust. “So will you get Norma out of our bed!”  It’s supposed to be funny, although not entirely. I really am sick and tired of Norma.

This morning when we woke up, he had a new announcement: “I dreamed about you last night,”

“Really me? Not Norma?”

“Oh, yes. You, Nina.”

“Bad dream?”

“Not awful.”

“What was I doing?”

“We were squabbling.”

“What about?”

“Nothing much. What’s for breakfast?”

A dream like real life! Could this be at last the end of Norma?


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I attended a special city high school for smart girls in Manhattan. To get there, I took the E or F subway train from the Union Turnpike station in Queens. I was just twelve and a half but went by myself; parents didn’t helicopter back then. Those weekday trips were my earliest exposure to lives quite different than mine.

Only two other students took the E or F train home. Marjorie, who lived at the end of the line, was about my age. She was the youngest of five or six, some still living at home but working at jobs (as were her parents), so she had three hours to herself after school in an empty house. She said that every afternoon she baked a cake and ate it all before beginning her own job, which was making dinner for the rest of the family. I didn’t know how to bake. My mother was always there when I got home. I longed to eat a whole cake like Marjorie did. I never thought she might be lonely.

Jacqueline was a grade ahead of me. We connected only in my third year, which was her last. She was a serious student of French; her parents had even paid for extra tutoring from a French lady who lived nearby. As we clung to the central pole of the lurching train car, she told me of her summer love affair with the Mexican ward of her tutor. It was 1946. She was just sixteen. He was already twenty — tall, handsome and smart, but very poor — and had a full scholarship to Harvard. They made love under a tree in the park after dark, and sometimes in the tutor’s car. They made love! As I listened, my eyes consumed her curly dark hair, blue eyes, white skin lightly dusted with freckles. She had small breasts — which he had fondled? — modestly concealed beneath white blouses tucked into dark pleated skirts. Why couldn’t I be more like Jacqueline? Why couldn’t I meet someone tall, handsome, smart, foreign and poor? After she got out at the Jackson Heights stop, I would think of her and her lover all the way home. I still remember his name.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The opposite of never not thinking is to not think at all, to be entirely sensate. It would be wrong to say that both are equally hard. You can try to never not think, even if you keep failing. You can’t make yourself entirely sensate by trying. (Experienced meditators may claim otherwise.) Either it happens, or not. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that apart from orgasm, for most people both are equally rare. You’re entirely sensate when you’re coming. Once the floodgates of pleasure open, you are only that pleasure.  It’s involuntary. But otherwise? Whatever else you feel, there’s almost always a low rumbling in the head about something else.

The only time I can remember being entirely sensate was on Prince Edward’s Island. I’d  been given an unexpected four weeks of paid summer leave from my job while they found an office for me in a different department. (They were planning to fire someone I would replace but had to give her notice.) It was too late to make overseas travel plans. I got in my car and drove north towards Canada. I intended to tour New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia, returning home to Boston via Campobello. It wasn’t bad, but not great. I was alone and sometimes lonely, especially in the evenings.

On Prince Edward’s Island, I went to a beach. There were almost no people. When packing, I hadn’t thought to bring a suit. So I lay face down on my arms between two low outcrops of reddish rock which shielded me from the occasional stroller along the shore. The sand was silky, the sun gentle on arms and legs and upturned cheek. Fear and worry melted away. I had no thoughts at all. I was one with the ground beneath me. Cradled in warmth, I drifted slowly into sleep.

When I woke, it was over. And it was only the once. I doubt I could ever again find that beach, with its protective rocks. But  I’ve never forgotten how I felt there.

Animals know how to just feel, just be.  Sometimes I envy them.



[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Between the second and third years of law school, I was one of thirty-two summer clerks at a major Boston law firm. We were all sure what we did and said that summer would determine whether the firm made a job offer. Actually the firm had already decided. It took really bad behavior not to be hired. But we didn’t know that.

To ease our way through the summer, each clerk was assigned a mentor. Mine was a senior associate who’d been a published poet before becoming a lawyer. He didn’t hover. But he was always friendly, helpful and generous with his time when I came to him. One day, a partner made a light remark about one of my research papers as we passed in the hall. I went to my mentor: “Is this something I need to think about?” His reply: “Never don’t think.”

At first I assumed he was telling me how to succeed at the firm. Later I began to wonder whether this intelligent and widely read man had also been offering wisdom about how to live. Never not thinking is not the currently trendy “mindfulness.” It means always looking behind the obvious, the conventional, the clichés and soundbites offered by pundits, politicians, talking heads, even by ourselves to ourselves. It’s hard to do. You can quickly develop a headache just thinking about never not thinking. But if you don’t, aren’t you living a lie?

When I later came back to the firm as a first-year associate, I sought out my former mentor to explore this interesting proposition. He had become a partner. His secretary asked what it was about and said I could make an appointment, but he had a lot on his plate that week and probably wouldn’t have time for a while. I did run into him now and then at the Friday all-lawyer lunches. He would smile, offer a pleasant nod of recognition and move on. I was no longer his assignment.  Now that’s something to think about.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Three summers ago I stopped to inspect a vegetable display at a large supermarket where I don’t usually shop. It was mid-afternoon; the produce section was nearly deserted. Lying on top of the cucumbers was a worn black wallet.

Before bringing it to the customer desk, I looked to see who it belonged to. Nothing inside but paper money. No driver’s license, credit or insurance cards, identification of any kind. No way of knowing who had left it there. Finders keepers, losers weepers?

Without further thought, I thrust the wallet deep into my shoulder bag and pushed my shopping cart casually down the aisle while my heart pounded. Only after I had passed checkout with a few purchases, driven home and locked the door behind me did I open it again. It held $143 in fives, tens, twenties and singles. I was a thief!

But was I? Surely the money would eventually be missed. Yet would its absent-minded owner remember where she left it? If I’d turned it in, how could she claim it as hers? By identifying the exact amount of money inside? Would she remember that? After a day or so, wouldn’t one of the teenage summer staff develop itchy fingers?  I put the money away and dipped into it only for household cash. Then it was gone, and I could forget about it. Except I couldn’t.

A strict ethicist would tell me not to keep what isn’t mine. Another person might say it’s not my job to pick up after unknown careless people. When is stealing stealing? I still don’t know.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Phone call from younger son to mom. Son reads mom’s blog. (Most of the time.)

Son:  Hey mom. It’s July 23. Happy birthday!

Son’s mom:  Thank you, sweetheart.

Son:  Anything special on for today?

Son’s mom:  Well, your brother and the kids came down Saturday. Bill brought me a dozen yellow roses. We’re going out to dinner. (Pause.) Did you know my parents were married on July 23, too?

Son:  No I didn’t. Quite a coincidence.

Son’s mom:  Back when I was eleven, twelve, I used to say I was born on my parents’ wedding day. I thought it sounded risqué. A very pregnant bride being rushed to the hospital right after saying “I do!”

Son:  I guess it could happen. How many years earlier did they really get married?

Son’s mom:  Six. Then my mother wanted a baby. She got more than she bargained for. Thirty-six hours of labor. Husband out of a job in the middle of the depression.  I heard all about it. Especially the thirty-six hours of labor. She used to joke I didn’t want to come out. They had to pull me out with forceps. Lazy from the day I was born.

Son (tactfully):  Was that why they didn’t have another?

Son’s mom:  Maybe. But my mother also felt one was enough. When I was pregnant with you, she was not supportive. She asked what I needed another for.

Son (quickly changing subject):  Those little summer posts you’ve been doing lately: how does it feel to just crank one out and be done with it?

Son’s mom: Well, I don’t really just “crank.” It takes time to come up with a topic at least some people might be interested in. Bill says I could write about anything. I don’t know about that.

Son: Sure you can.

Son’s mom: You think? Suppose I wrote about being born on my parents’ wedding anniversary. How would readers feel when I criticize my mother to everyone?

Son: They’d be fine with it. It’s not as if you’re complaining about everything every day.


So son’s mom listened to son. Was son right?


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I recently came across a box in the basement holding the white leather baby shoes in which I learned to walk in 1932. It was then the fashion to bronze outgrown baby shoes and keep them in the living room. However, these had been carefully cleaned with white shoe polish, stuffed with tissue paper and put away as if being saved for another day. I look now at these very small white shoes with stiffening laces and try to imagine the baby who wore them, the baby who was me. I can’t. I can’t even remember how it felt to take first steps among kindly giants in a world where everything was high above.

The reason I was in the basement was to find a large red-rope folder containing all my older son’s school reports and college applications. They’re his property really, to do with what he wants; it’s time they left my safekeeping. In the folder was a notebook labeled “My Diary” in which, as homework, he was supposed to write something every day for his first-grade teacher. I leaf through the careful block-printed entries on its wide-lined pages: “Ap.(ril) 8 Today we took Mommy to a doctor. We know him. We took mommy to t(he) doctor because she had some wax in her ear. It was keeping water in her ear.” That little boy I do remember. He had just turned seven. He and his younger brother were the center of my universe.

My older son is now a forty-eight year old man with some gray in his hair. Where is my mother’s baby? Where is my little boy? Day by day we change and disappear. The dead aren’t the only ones who are gone from us.



[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

We get many robo-calls and calls from call centers. The robo-calls are always the same three. One begins, in a serious baritone voice: “Seniors!” The second, from an excited-sounding woman, exclaims: “Let the good times begin!” I once listened to this for more than thirty seconds; it was about time-sharing. The third, also from a woman: “This is an important message about your credit card. There is nothing wrong with your card, but….” She wants me to switch to a card with a lower interest rate. I can’t even tell these three recordings to leave me alone; there’s only a circle-dialing mechanism at the other end.

I recognize call centers by the background buzz of voices. Then someone who can barely speak English mispronounces my last name and introduces himself. Whatever Ramon or Filipe wants to sell me, I cut him off sharply and hang up. When I first did this, I also felt sorry for Ramon or Filipe, whatever third-world country he was calling from, because he must have been at the end of his rope to have to listen to me yell at him and slam down the receiver. But now I’ve grown hard. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

I should buy three new phones with caller I.D. capability — for the kitchen, my office and the bedroom. Somehow it never gets to the top of my list. I’d rather spend money on something pleasurable. Or perhaps some part of me likes being annoyed.



[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The small deck behind our sliding glass kitchen doors is one story up from the downward sloping ground beneath it. When you stand on the deck you are therefore in the air, looking out in spring and summer at green tree foliage. There our two housecats safely try snaring the small birds and squirrels frequenting the twin feeders hanging off the top rail. (They have better luck with the occasional crawling insect.) Every year we also put out a few pots of colorful flowers that can withstand hot morning sun with daily watering. An occasional bird dips its beak in the saucers of run-off water.

This year, a helpful garden center saleswoman recommended a few other flowering plants undeterred by blistering mornings. In addition to our usual orange impatiens, we therefore also came home with reddish million bells, orange and yellow zinnias, and — to hang off the railing between the feeders – a large yellow lantana.

Soon two gorgeous new visitors arrived (plus several bumblebees). As one who lived almost all her long life in concrete cities, I had never seen a live butterfly up close. But there it was one morning, fluttering around the lantana for almost twenty minutes, black of wing with white and yellow markings, much larger than I would have imagined and not afraid of me when I came close. News of the lantana must have spread: the next day a second brilliantly yellow and black butterfly joined the first, sipping nectar from its multiplicity of yellow flowers.

Now when I hold the watering can over the lantana each morning, it’s for the two butterflies too. My butterflies. I’m so proud!



[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Shortly after leaving my first husband, I became involved with a man I met on New Year’s Eve at a masked costume ball. I was twenty-nine, he was thirty-six, and we were together from Friday evening until late Sunday afternoon all the following year, except for two summer weeks he spent with his parents in Illinois. There was never a question of marriage. I was not divorced until halfway through that year and certainly unready to contemplate remarrying. He had already been married twice, had three children by his first wife and barely enough salary left after monthly alimony and child support payments to scrape by in a single room at a residential hotel off Fifth Avenue. Yet I never regretted that year. He put me back on my feet and gave me a better opinion of myself.

One evening as we were about to make love in his single room, he said something that disappointed me.  I was hoping for the conventional language of romance. Only later, when we’d drifted apart, did I realize what he had said was better than that: “I’d like to fill you up with babies.”

The last time I saw him was two years ago, when we had lunch. He was nearly ninety; I recognized him only by his height. I had looked him up because of those words. He no longer remembers them. It doesn’t matter. He gave them to me, and now they’re mine forever.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

It’s generally not a good idea to share details of one’s romantic and sexual history with one’s current partner. But when you’re getting old, it seems less imprudent. Thus Bill and I have indeed told each other such tales. I can then enjoy scolding him for bad behavior with some women he knew in days gone by, while he can enjoy cutting down with wry nicknames some of his predecessors and near-predecessors.

One such near-predecessor was a cyclist with thighs of phenomenal power: at the gym he cycled in black spandex shorts for two hours daily at 120 revolutions per minute while doing complicated higher mathematics in his head. (He was a software designer for an international Japanese company.) I know the speed because I used to cycle behind him, although not for two hours. They were truly thighs of steel.

Eventually we got into conversation after the cycling, which led to his asking if I liked to eat, which led to me unwisely exclaiming it was my second most favorite thing in the world, which led to an immediate dinner invitation, which led after the dinner to a long  passionate kiss in my living-room during which what was happening below his waist pressed hard against a responsive area below my own waist, which was certainly pleasing but led to my suggesting it was late and perhaps we could continue another time. My suggestion was not driven by false modesty but by the thought that he was no more than forty-five whereas I was sixty-nine and the alarming realization there was no way I could lie only on my back in the pitch dark once we reached the bedroom and shed our clothes.

We both became more sensible over the next few days; there was never “another time.” And soon afterwards I met age-appropriate Bill, who now always refers to this near-predecessor with the phenomenal thighs as “cock of steel.” (An assumption for which I was never able to make hands-on verification.) But that’s not his most creative nickname. There’s someone else he’s named “tongue like a drill.” I’m not telling you that story. You’ll have to imagine it for yourself.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Sasha our cat has been spending the latter part of these summer nights curled up on the desk chair in my office, nose tucked between her paws. The chair has a cool mesh seat and likely smells of me. Between eight and nine in the morning she then comes down the hall to our bedroom, whether or not we’re still sleeping, for a belly rub.

But since I began these daily shorts, I’ve been waking earlier than usual to draft a new one while the house is quiet and my mind still in touch with whatever is inside it. When I came to my desk this morning, the chair was therefore occupied. Rather than dislodge a sleeping cat, I gently rolled chair and cat away from the desk and sat myself in front of the computer on a backless, not comfortable, ergonomic “thing” usually pushed aside into a corner of the room.

Crazy cat lady? Perhaps. Except Sasha was not insensible to my largesse. As I began to type, I heard low contented purring behind me. The perfect soundtrack for blogging.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I just laid out $390 for three Westminster Conservatory trips to the Met next year. The price does include round-trip bus rides from Princeton to Lincoln Center and back. No program choice though; the three operas on offer were all the Conservatory could buy block tickets for on Saturday afternoons. I hesitated before committing. Did I really want to see Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux? I’m not such an opera buff.

But I do like getting in to the city without effort and expense, even like lunching there by myself if one of my few Manhattan acquaintances still alive can’t make it. And what compares with the sound of a live orchestra? Although the first two trips are in January and February, not ideal for visiting New York, at this point in my life, when energy and stamina are noticeably waning, I take what’s offered when it’s offered. It’s not quite beggars can’t be choosers. Beggars don’t have $390 to burn.

Yet sometimes that’s what it feels like. I can no longer do the things I used to do whenever and however I want to do them. Recognizing that is one of the harder parts of getting old.


[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

When I was a young child, July 16 was one of the two dates in the calendar I knew as well as my own birthday. It was the day my mother was born. The other was January 18, my father’s birthday. They were as important to me as Christmas and the presents it brought.

The year she turned forty, my mother turned her back on July 16.  “Don’t remind me!” she said. It was the era of pin-up girls. She must have felt she was finished. (She would live another forty-nine years.)  She didn’t understand the birthdays of the people we love are worth celebrating no matter how many have come before, because we’re so glad they’re here for us to love.

My mother hasn’t been here to love for more than two decades. After I grew up, she also made loving her very hard for me. She didn’t succeed. I think of her every July 16. I probably always will.