Friday, December 12, 2014

Feeling Scrappy

I am not a quilter. I am too imprecise at measuring and cutting, not to mention my uneven stitches. My motto on most crafty projects is "close enough." But close enough doesn't work with pieces that need to line up evenly. Years ago I collected a box of fabric scraps intending to create my own quilt, but eventually I faced facts and gave up the idea. Still I continue to admire the work of those who know what they're doing such as my late cousin Evelyn who created several beautiful pieces, one of which covers a small table next to my bed.

I bring this up because at the moment  I am producing a lot of scraps in my writing. I will put a few lines together--some of which I really like and think could be formed into a good poem. I have a real sense of where I want them to go, what I want them to say, but in the process of working on them, I get stuck, so I go on to another piece, and the same thing happens.

Today, for instance, I started working on a poem about my visit to Pompeii in 1999 with my boyfriend at the time. I had started this poem awhile back but abandoned it (another scrap).  I found parallels between a cast of lovers, their passion frozen in time by the volcanic eruption and the two of us stumbling through the ruins, while at the same time our relationship was headed toward finality, albeit less dramatic. Did I want to start with us or the lovers? Did I want to include historical details? Did I want to include the fact that I bought a flimsy hat I thought would protect me from the sun? As you can see, "close enough" does not work for me when I'm writing. I stopped a few times to look up information on the eruption, get a cup of coffee, stare out the window, but eventually I gave up, adding another scrap to the pile.

While I am not a quilter, I don't like to think of myself as a quitter. I believe someday I will get back to all these orphaned scraps and create something from them, but for now I will have to settle for this post of clumsily stitched together frustrations.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Connecticut 191

Traveling south into Connecticut, I enjoy a back road route through the old villages of Hazardville, Scitico, Melrose, and Broad Brook-- hamlets  that were long ago swallowed up into the towns of Enfield and East Windsor. 

Below Route 190, it's mostly farmland--tobacco, corn, apples, squash, blueberries, and tree farms. I enjoy watching the seasons change--the rough furrows of soil being made ready for planting in the spring, and a little later acres of rhododendrons and azaleas flashing bright pink. This time of year the orchards are loaded with apples.

This week in between fields cut back ready for a winter's rest, there was a whole field of sunflowers still standing and staring at their namesake, and a field of perfectly ripe pumpkins I hadn't noticed last week.  Between last week and this, the pumpkins' leaves had dried and withered, exposing this array of round orange fruit. I did not see any farm stand nearby selling pumpkins, so I suspect there are no future jack o' lanterns here. These are the leftovers, left to be eaten by the wildlife.

A little beyond the field of pumpkins is an old tobacco barn that has fallen. I remember its slow leaning, leaning, finally succumbing to gravity with the help of a hurricane.  The old barn, the old villages have past, but today the pumpkins are ripe and ready.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Old Friends

Yesterday Riley went to the Dog Shop
where they brushed his hair for half an hour.
This morning he wanders the still green yard,
as if he carries a frost of snow on his back.
When climbing into the car, he needs a lift
where he used to leap right up to the seat.

Yesterday Jean called to say that Peter had died.
Peter and Riley enjoyed each other.
Peter would feed him bits of cheese.
This is the last one, then one more.
Neither Riley nor I complained.
This morning I am fed by this memory.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Un-Bucket List

I see the signs: the blossoms on the hydrangea are turning pink, the days are getting shorter, I'm dragging out my sweatshirts. Summer's over, fall is upon us. The seasons are passing more and more quickly. Some people, considering this, create a bucket list. Not the sort our friend Homer created, but a list of things they want to do before they kick the proverbial bucket.

I don't have such a list, although there are some things I would put on one: visit Mont St. Michel, publish my latest collection of poetry, meet the man of my dreams. (hope springs eternal).

But as I consider that every day I have 86,400 fewer seconds  than I did the day before, I've decided it’s more important to cross some things off my list, and thereby clear away space and time for the important stuff. To wit, I present my Un-bucket List: Things that I have decided I never have to do:
  • read Ulysses
  • eat raw oysters
  • dust the top of the refrigerator
  • write the great American novel, or any novel for that matter
  • learn the difference between a sine and a cosine
  • run a marathon
  • climb anything higher than the step ladder
  • learn how to fold fitted sheets
  • learn to play the violin
  • travel to a pole—North or South (sorry,  Santa)
  • swim with sharks
  • invite the Queen to tea
  • alphabetize my books
  • run for elected office
  • cheer for the Yankees

 If forced by circumstances or embarrassment, I may do any of the following:
  • drive in NYC
  • watch another Eugene O’Neill play (I know, I know, it’s great art, but it puts me to sleep)
  • roll out a pie crust
  • run, except to catch a runaway dog

OK, I've cleared away a bit of time. Now I think I'll take a nap--that's always on my list of things to do.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Patsy and JC

As I looked out the window this morning I saw a large black and white cat coming out of my garage. I recognized it as Jessie's Cat. Jessie lived across the street until she died eight years ago. Jessie is gone, but JC is still here, surviving on the kindness of neighbors.

I was reminded of my cat, Patsy (seen here on a Halloween many years ago). Patsy (short for Patrick) was a gift on my seventh birthday, which I described as "the happiest day of my life," and I'm sure being all grown up at the end of first grade, I was sure of that.

He was a wonderful and affectionate pet, often purring and rubbing up against my leg. He would even bring me "presents." Not infrequently he would arrive at the door with a dead chipmunk in his teeth, very proud of his quarry. The only time I remember his being unpleasant was when we had to take him anywhere in the car. He would claw at his cage and growl until finally released. Fortunately that didn't happen often.

Although I am generally allergic to cats, for some reason Patsy never bothered me. Maybe it was because he was outside most of the time. The dander didn't get confined to the house. He liked being outside, liked his independence, probably because it allowed him to hunt for choice morsels. For the most part, we let him do his thing, but there were a couple of times when we thought we'd lost him.

One particularly bad winter we let him out for what we thought was a quick pee, but when we went to let him back in, he wasn't there, and he wasn't there that night, or the next day, or the next day. Just when we were sure Old Man Winter had done his worst, Patsy came meandering down the driveway looking well-fed and happy.

I suspect it was good neighbors who sheltered him, just like JC now. I'm not sure how old Jessie's Cat is or how much longer he will survive. Wikipedia tells me that the oldest known cat was Creme Puff who lived to be just over 38 years old, (168 in human years). It's doubtful that JC will live that long, but certain that he survives now because of the kindness of neighbors.

All of us, whether we're left alone or wander off and get lost, need the help and support of good neighbors. Fortunately there are still lots of good neighbors out there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Levine

Over the years my parents went to many parent-teacher conferences, after which they would report back to me what the teachers had said about me and my performance. Of all those comments, I remember only one.

I was generally a good and well-behaved student, so there were never any serious problems. Back then grades were either "S" for satisfactory or "N" for needs improvement. (Today's grade/test/number obsessed educators would do well to reconsider this system, but I'll save that rant for another day). My report cards were consistent. Beside every category, except one, was an "S." My one "N" was for penmanship, which remains an area in need of improvement.

Maybe my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Levine, was thinking about my penmanship when he told my parents, "Some people find it easy to be neat. Jane has to work at it." Alas, 'tis true. Over the years as I've struggled to keep my house, my car, my desk, or my life in order, Mr. Levine's words have come back to me over and over again. It's not that I don't try to keep things neat and orderly, it's just that, well, it's a lot of work, and while I'm straightening out the book case, I find  a book I'd forgotten about, and intended to read, and before you know it, the cleaning project is abandoned, and I've put my feet up on the book case, and I'm reading that novel I bought years ago.

So, part of the problem is that I'm easily distracted, and when it's something I'd rather do than create order, I do that, and, truth be told, there are LOTS of things I'd rather do than  create order. But it's not just that. I truly believe there is a gene that makes some people naturally neat. I suspect Mr. Levine had one of those.

Take, for instance, my friend Agatha (not her real name). She is naturally neat. Her house is always in perfect order, her clothes always clean and freshly ironed (I think I remember where my iron is, but maybe not), and her desk is always free from clutter. Now all that may be due to the fact that she works at this, which she does, but here's my argument for the genetic difference. She even sleeps neatly. Yes, sound asleep, no longer conscious of her neatening compulsion, um, I mean habit, she is neat.

Consider the following: Several years ago we were vacationing at a friend's cottage on the Cape. We shared a room with twin beds. At bed time Agatha folded back the covers on the bed she had made with neat hospital corners, slipped herself into the bed, leaving nary a crease in the bed clothes, lay on her back, and pulled the covers up to her neck and fell asleep.

On the other side of the room, I climbed into my bed, which I had made as well as genetically possible, turned over on my stomach and fell asleep. In the morning I woke up in a cocoon of sheets and blankets created by my activity during the night. Maybe I was having butterfly dreams, but before I could get out of bed, I had to unwrap myself, ending up with all the covers on the floor.

Finally disentangled, I stood up and looked over at Agatha's bed where she lay flat on her back, covers neatly folded under her chin, exactly as she had looked eight hours earlier. I was amazed; I never knew it was possible to sleep without moving. It was then that I concluded that Mr. Levine was probably right. Some people like Agatha were just naturally neat, and clearly I was not. 

What a relief! Now I can go back and finish reading that book.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Writing Wisdom from Billy Collins

These are some gems I gathered 
while in Billy Collins' workshop at
 the Southampton Writers' Conference.
  • "You have to tell a little lie--that you love poetry more than yourself."
  •  "Daydreaming is our [the poets'] job."
  •  "Allow distractions, don't shoo them away. They may be knocking on the door of your poem."
  •  "Your poem ends when the reader stops reading."
  • "It's a kind of compensatory love we're seeking, and it's a kind of neurosis."
  •  "Poetry is the displacement of silence."
  •  "Your voice has an external source. It lies on the library shelf. You find your voice by reading other poets."
  •  "Literary influence is actually jealousy."
  •  "Writers are people who have been moved to writing by reading."
  •  "Prose is like water. It fits any shape it's poured into. Poetry is like sculpture."
  • "The pen is an instrument of discovery."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Remembering Carrie

In my continuing effort to clean out the basement, I came across a box I have looked through before. In  it are papers from my paternal grandmother, Carrie Julia Rose Roberts Schneeloch. There are her two wedding certificates, deeds to their homes, and letters, lots and lots of letters. Evidently Carrie was a saver, and I am very grateful for that, although now I have to decide what to do with the treasures she has left.

Carrie was born in the Merrick section of West Springfield in 1881, the youngest of five children. She admitted to being spoiled by them, but she would have her share of heartache. On the first day of the new century, at nineteen years old, she married the handsome Joseph Roberts seen here. I can only imagine the joy they shared as they looked forward to a future together. Sadly Joseph died just four months later of a ruptured appendix. Not long after that she lost her beloved sister Charlotte "Lottie."

Two years later she married my grandfather, George Emil Schneeloch, and in 1911 gave birth to my father, George Robert Schneeloch, who was to be their only child. When I was born in 1945, I was their only grandchild, My brother Bill was born in 1954, after both our grandparents had died.

I remember both my grandparents fondly. I remember their reading to me out of a big story book, my grandmother's vanilla pudding, the smell of lifebuoy soap in their bathroom, my grandfather's garden. I also remember the smell of my grandfather's White Owl cigars. That I don't miss.

Of course, I remember them as "old." Here they are at our house on Thanksgiving of 1950, just a few months before my grandmother died. I am, to say the least, a bit unnerved when I realize that my grandmother was 69 here, the age I am now.

The letters (don't want to linger too long on that age thing) are interesting from a number of standpoints. First of all, they are in excellent condition for being over 110 years old, although some are hard to read, having been written in pencil. Many are in the original envelopes. Several of the many letters written to Carrie from her mother, Henrietta Spencer Rose, are addressed simply Mrs. George Schneeloch, c/o Kibbe Brothers, Springfield, Massachusetts. Kibbe Candy Company was where my grandfather worked.

More to come....

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Butterfly Quilt

My quilt is not a show quilt, not like those that resemble a painting, where every thin strip of fabric is a brush stroke shading into the next color. It's not one with an intricate pattern with names like Dresden plate or prairie star or cathedral window. Simple green and pink butterflies are appliqued on off-white cotton. The stitching is not perfect, the original colors have faded, the edges are worn, and the very thin lining is leaking out.

Yet I love it because  my mother made it for me. I don't remember her making it. It seems it was always there in my room. I imagine it was in my crib before I graduated to the old spool bed that had been my father's, and which, years later, I am still sleeping in. I do remember being wrapped up in it as she or my father read to me at bedtime, cuddling with it and my cat Patsy on the old red sofa, and dragging it with me from room to room. So when it was finally consigned to the cedar chest, it had been worn thin with love.

I wonder now about my mother's decision to make this quilt. I know she and my father were overjoyed when I was born, not just as any parent would be, but because two years earlier she had carried a baby to full term only to lose her--the older sister Carolyn whom I would never know. Was she making this quilt while awaiting my arrival? Was it an activity to keep her from worrying about another tiny coffin? Or did she make it after I arrived sewing these tiny butterflies in a spirit of celebration.

Whenever she made it, I am glad she chose butterflies for the theme. I have always loved butterflies--their magnificent colors, their emerging from the cocoon, the story of their migration--all of that. Or maybe it is memories of being surrounded by them in the arms of my mother. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Off Track

I board
this train of thought
and at once
the point of departure fades
the destination disappears
I see no tracks
no conductor

I would blame
my spaghetti brain
so easily distracted
by whim and caprice
but I suspect
even that diagnosis
is a distraction

In movies
train stations
are scenes of
joyous arrivals
sad departures
missed opportunities

As I whizz by
these cinematic moments
I must rely on imagination
to fill in the details for
I am off
to the next thought.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lasting Impressions

The writing prompt “…that’s the last time I…” sent me on an exploration of lasts. I’ll leave out the shoemaker’s tool for now and concentrate on the more common usages. Last is one of those odd words in English that is its own opposite. It can mean continuing onward and also final, i.e. the memory of that concert will last long after its last note is played. Last can also mean most recent as in the last time I traveled to Italy. I very much hope that last is not final!
Certain disappointments or failures can cause me to say, “That’s the last time I’ll ...roll out my own pie crust, drive the length of the Garden State on a Friday in summer, try to meet a man on the internet, take Riley to the groomer who smokes." Of course, circumstances could change, and I could find myself trying a new method for pie crust or stuck in New Jersey traffic, but the intention is that this is a final time.

Other times, the lasts are really final. Sometimes it is a sad occasion as in the last time I visited with my cousin Evelyn, but other times it’s a celebration. That’s the last time I’ll stay up all night doing grades. Sometimes it's said in hope that it is final, as in that's my last cancer treatment.

Tonight I will go to church for Holy Thursday services, marking the “Last Supper,” the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Though that meal was their last together, here we are over 2000 years later remembering it—a moment that has lasted. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Writing is a combination of intangible creative
fantasy and appallingly hard work.
Anthony Powell

Most mornings include Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" where today I learn that it was on April 10, 1925, that F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was published. I am amused and encouraged to learn that even after finally sending his masterpiece off to Scribner's to be published, he wanted to change the title, but Maxwell Perkins told him it was too late, so The Great Gatsby it remained. Later, when sales were poor, he believed it was the title that was to blame.

I cannot think of anything I have written that came perfectly gift wrapped from the muse. Even when there is a rare flash of inspiration that flows quickly onto the page, there are edits and re-edits, doubts about word choice, questions about structure, metaphors that need to be unmixed. Right now I would go back and fix the earlier flash/flow problem, but I'm leaving it in just to illustrate the point. So I am encouraged that even the great Fitzgerald was never totally satisfied. 

When the metaphors mesh, and the rhythm moves with the meaning, and the images illustrate exactly, there is joy in the creation, but nearly always there is a niggling doubt that it could be better, so we revise and re-envision, and finally, either when we can see nothing else to "fix" or when we can't stand looking at it any more, we call it "finished," but it's never quite finished, even if it's gone to press.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Remembering Daffodils

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I am a person of varied--sometimes extremely varied--interests. Today is the birthday of one of my favorite poets--William Wordsworth. I am remembering "Intimations of Immortality," and his verse celebrating nature, as well as my visit to Dove Cottage in the Lake District of England where he lived with his sister Dorothy--one of those women too often forgotten who inspired the more famous men in their lives--and where they entertained many of the famous Romantic poets of the period. I recall gardens, parks, the old Swan Hotel, and the gingerbread. And I recall Bullwinkle.
(See, I told you so.)

I guess the world really is too much with me, but I have always been a fan of that lovable moose and his pal, the flying squirrel--Rocky. But why do I connect Bullwinkle with Wordsworth? Bullwinkle, for those of you too young to remember or have forgotten, was a lover of poetry and would, from time to time, recite a poem, actually a version of a poem. As in the case of his recitation of Wordsworth's "Daffodils," he is interrupted, and the poem goes off in a humorous direction.

Just as Bugs Bunny cartoons used classical music to illustrate themes, lest their viewers remain Liszt-less, (Sorry, couldn't resist) so Jay Ward brought poetry into the story-lines of Bullwinkle. I was 14 when Rocky and His Friends first appeared after American Bandstand. Although a lover of poetry since my early years, I doubt I had read any of Wordsworth at the time. So, thanks to the two most famous citizens of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, I first heard the verse of Wordsworth, albeit twisted into a plot with Boris Badenov--yet another humorous allusion.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Wintry Mix Up

Wintry Mix Up

Living in New England
I should have known better
than hope that crocus teeth
cutting through dead leaves
and melting snow
meant an end of winter.

As baseball begins again
I should have remembered
sitting in the grandstand
wrapped in blankets
or a long ago April blizzard
that brought down branches.

A week and a half
past the vernal equinox
fat flakes turn to clicking sleet
then to rain
and back again.
Yes, now I remember.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


If beauty is truth,
what can be said
of the the blue morpho
who closes its brilliance
into camouflage
as  it stops to gather nectar?

Or what of the green malachite
seen only in peripheral vision
as it flies fast
over concertina wire
taking its glory
out into the black night?

Or the absent orange monarch
once plentiful in the hydrangea?

If truth is beauty
what am I to learn from these?
that beauty is a transitory thing?
that the truth cannot be held?
that there is honesty in butterflies?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lingering Music

"...our anxiety is less the mind shielding itself from death than the spirit's need to be. It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music that, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult to hear it as music."
Christian Wiman My Bright Abyss

I am never sure I understand exactly what Wiman is talking about, but what I do get is rich and feeds me for a long time. That may be why it's taking me months to read this book. Every phrase, every sentence makes me stop, read it again, and then ponder it. Very rich and very good!

This particular quotation struck a chord (excuse the pun) with me when he talks about all the things that clutter up life, preventing us from hearing that "strange, complicated music." Returning from Nicaragua, most of our team have said that we return with many questions. What we saw and experienced is like a strange and complicated symphony--full of lovely melodies and disturbing discords.

Now we are back to work, to school, to the regular patterns of our life--patterns that can seem to drown out that other music. But not quite. The roosters are still crowing in Las Mercedes. The school children are still shuffling into their seats at NITCA. The iron gates are still clanking closed at Hansae,

And we are here in the last days of winter, looking forward to spring, but the strange music of Nicaragua still rings in our ears. Let us hope that we keep hearing those notes of beauty and oppression and that someday we hear more clearly the healing harmonies.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Remembering my Father on his Birthday


My father bought me stars,
a small constellation
splayed across wax paper,
picked from a wooden bin
between clothesline and fuses
at Carpenter and Webber’s Hardware.

One by one
he pasted them
on the ceiling above my bed.
“Leave the shades up today,
then when it’s nighttime,
the stars will come out.”

At 7:30 the Lone Ranger
began his fight for law and order
on the white Crosley
next to my bed,
where I lay safe

beneath my very own galaxy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Bit of Purple Hope

A friend told me last night that she saw a crocus popping up. God, I love those beauties. They are so defiant. They will not let this winter, any winter, keep them down.

Right now it's 10 degrees out, and my yard has snow banks three feet high, and it's March 5 already! I can pound my mittened fists and say it's time for spring, but being a true New Englander, I know springtime is a variable concept.

But those crocuses don't care. They shoot up through the snow and give us a glimmer of hope, just enough to get us through another frigid day.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


The dog is asking me a question
and I have no answer.
Pablo Neruda

So, Pablo,
your Spanish answers
are as insufficient as
my English ones
to that ever so quiet grrr,
that insistent bark,
that quizzical look
that asks--what?
I do not know.

Not knowing
does not stop me
from answering.
I am, after all,
the superior brain.
I am master,
and he is only

a dog who hears
and understands all
then responds
with indiscriminate love.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Gift of Reading

As frequently happens when I’m reading Facebook posts, I clicked on a link and traveled off in a whole new direction. A teacher friend posted a link to Terry Heick’s article “Why Students Hate Reading–And Often Arent Very Good At It” on Heick points out that in our fast-paced Instagram world, students are not encouraged to connect at a deeper level with the people and situations they are reading about. I heartily agree. By emphasizing reading as a decoding process, by breaking it into its parts of main idea and details, students are not able to stop and reflect on how the lives in the story connect to their lives.

His article caused me to reflect on how I came to love reading. How was I, a middle-class white girl raised in a stable two-parent home, able to empathize with Huck Finn's being abused by his drunken father or with Helen Keller's struggle to communicate despite being blind and deaf?  These were not my experiences, yet as I read these stories, I was able to imagine myself in their shoes. Clearly these were well-written stories, but there's more to it.

My love of reading has a lot to do with the people who loved me enough to read to me. Night after night either my mother or father would snuggle up next to me and read from one of my favorite books. There were books of poetry as well as stories. I requested some poems, like Rachel Field's "General Store," so often that I began to recite them on my own. Then there was
Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm which I inscribed with my name and this succinct review, "This is a very funny book." How could it not be considering it had characters named Fetlock Harroway, Freda Workbasket , and Crystal Mallett, not to mention a cow named Arbutus and a horse named Trotsky (Hmm, a Cold War message here?).

These people who loved me more than anyone else on earth wanted to share reading with me, and by doing so, they showed me how I could connect with mere words on a page. Then when I was in fifth grade I had a wonderful teacher--Mrs. LeBel. She was exceptional for many reasons, but, not the least of them, was that she read to us. For years I've been trying to remember the name of the book about two orphan girls that she read to us a chapter at a time. Today, thanks to Google and Amazon, I have a copy of Nancy and Plum wending its way to me, and, ironically, I discovered it was also written by Betty MacDonald.

Had Mrs. LeBel presented MacDonald's words as tools, or had she asked us to strategize how to understand the story, I am sure that experience would not have stayed with me these 60 years. Instead, we stopped whatever we were doing, and she shared with us not only the story, but her time and her love of reading. What a gift!