At long last, two years after I was originally supposed to sit down with the wonderful Joy Nelkin Wieder, author of The Passover Mouse, we finally got to chat mask-free in the WCAT Studios this past Monday. I got to follow Joy on her journey from spark of an idea back in 2002 all the way to this moment twenty years later to celebrate her picture book just before Passover begins April 15th.
The Passover Mouse came out two years ago, just before the pandemic, and so Joy has had to endure a two-pronged form of perseverance with not only a long wait for her story to become a book and reach the eyes of children, but also to connect with those children once the book was out there. So much was cancelled and so two years later she looks forward to reading it to kids in the classroom, at libraries and bookstores to see their reactions to a story about a mischievous but adorable mouse.
Joy said it best during her interview when she said, "Don't give up!"
(Side note: If you're confused--c.t. kavanagh is my pen/maiden name. I always promised myself I would write under my maiden name and so that's what I am doing here. I use my legal name for my non-profit work, but I am indeed the same person.:)
It's been a while. Since, the writing--in here.
With a blog titled, "Dear Diary" I wanted to write, "Dear Diary, my mother passed away less than a month ago and I'm finding it hard to write. Why does grief take up so much room in my head? Why does it feel like such a relief to write what I'm thinking in my paper journal with my pen, but when it comes to typing in this Diary---I just don't want to?"
And that's a problem, for a writer. "Writer's block" seems to take on a whole new, debilitating strength after the loss of a loved one. It makes me think of the children's book I used to read to my children called, Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill & Charles Fuge. For some reason, when I'm sad or overwhelmed, I want to get as small as I can. And, in an effort to get as small as I can I pull in my arms and legs and tuck my chin down.
It's hard to write when you're in a ball.
Writing is an extension of who I am and I suppose stretching myself out so publicly on a page is simply unappealing. It's the last thing I want to do because, well--when you lose someone you love you really don't want to do much at all. But I'm still a mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, citizen and, still, I am a daughter--with all that continues to come with such a role even without the mother to show for anymore.
Loss happens and then--weeks, months, years later the essence of it still lingers. In sentimental human ways and in demandingly impersonal, bureaucratic ways. It suddenly shows up when you least expect it and seems to have abated only to soon make it clear it has not.
And so this blog post is me putting the key in the ignition, turning with a sigh and knowing I need to turn the engine over every now and then to be sure the car will run in the future even if my heart just isn't in it today. But it will be. I have to believe that.
I need to try to not look too long into the void or it will swallow me. We humans have a habit of steering into what we're staring into. That's dangerous. So, I need to know the void is there in order not to fall into it and then avert my eyes, focus on the living, put one foot in front of the other and walk towards the light no matter how far off it appears at this moment.
Easier said than done. I know.
But, it's a start:)
A little over two months ago I set out to create a blanket--for myself. I haven't done that since the '90s!
Post-2000, my blankets have usually been for new or approaching babies. I made one for a cousin's birthday.
A few starts remain undone for one reason or another--like abandoned manuscripts tossed into a drawer.
Shortly before the new year arrived, I tied the last knot in the blanket I started in October. It's warm. It's cheery. And, it's the perfect size for sitting on the couch, kicking up my feet and fully covering me from pointed toe to tucked chin.
It's bitterly cold today. My thermometer reads 5 degrees.
Hats, gloves, coats: ON.
Heat: UP. A constant purr in the background.
I hope you have something cozy to snuggle with today.
One stitch at a time may seem slow, but Cozy Rosy is proof that--
even the long, cold days
eventually come to an end.
One stitch at a time.
One day at a time.
One -- soon equals five, then ten.
You'll have something to spread out and
be grateful for when it's just you,
your creation, and
old man Winter.
I love the Peanuts cartoons and always have to watch Merry Christmas Charlie Brown when the holiday season rolls around. It's a wonderful, quiet nod to the real reason for the Christmas season and how community can lift us up, little things can mean a lot, and the underdogs in our lives can surprise us and save the day!
During such challenging times, fear can start making our decisions for us. That's not a good thing. The ever-present essence of fear in the air lately makes me appreciate the page from my Our Daily Bread book that I have included alongside this entry. Linus takes center stage and speaks so simply.
I hope that whatever faith you practice you are able to take strength from it, lean on something larger than any of us and shed some of the fear that we have all come to live with constantly.
I have faith that something is going to give and we will start to feel some relief from so much stress in the new year: 2022! Good times are ahead where we will be able to let go a little, enjoy the moments as they present themselves to us, and live fearlessly.
Happy New Year to you and all the family and friends in your life.
I was reading my itty bitty Our Daily Bread book this morning and had to share this. Sometimes no matter what your faith is or what you believe, it's good to know you are on this Earth for a reason.
With the cooler weather starting to seep in, I can't help but think of one of my all-time fave holiday movies: It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart!
I got news of someone's passing today. She wasn't someone I knew well--in fact, I'd only met her once in my life, but she was a lovely, talented, generous lady and it made me think of how all of us have people in our lives or that perhaps were merely brief flashes of acquaintance who have been impacted in a good way by us.
None of us is ordinary!
Have you ever given inanimate objects more credit for your future than they deserve?
I have. Earlier this month, I found myself getting to the end of my current writing journal. You may have seen the cover of it in a past blog or newsletter. It says "Organized Chaos" on the front. I have to admit it wasn't my first choice for cover designs, but like with clothes--often I go for comfort over style--the choices of journals with coptic binding were few and so I snatched it up. The important part is the inside (wow--what an unintentional, but heartwarming truth:) with its empty lined pages.
As Organized Chaos came to a close and school was starting, I pulled my next journal out from under a pile of clothes. (How I knew it was there, I have no idea. And why it had remained there--also, no idea.)
The next journal said, "Sunny Skies Ahead" on its cover. The colors were muted and everything looked calm about it. It was quite the follow-up to multi-colored, metallic organized chaos. That's when I started to believe, to genuinely hope, that the journal was making promises we all know it couldn't keep. Once I opened that blank journal I would be leaving chaos behind and sunny skies would open up and usher in the calm that everybody's been longing for after several years of not-quite-calm-at-all.
I suppose that's how desperate I am (we all are) as I grasp for a sign of hope somewhere--anywhere!
Being a New Englander I feel I have a leg up on unpredictability in life. I grew up used to wonky, random weather. It's cold, then hot, followed by a freak blizzard. Covid is the New England weather equivalent of viruses--only, instead of heading out to stock up on milk and bread and hunker down, toilet paper and tylenol top the list and that's only what you'll need if you're lucky.
Even if you don't catch Covid, a close contact or a near miss requiring a test or quarantine upends everything. Events, reunions, final exams, business trips, weddings and celebrations planned months before are suddenly not happening. Off the table completely. At least with weather there's the chance of bringing things indoors or holding it on a rain date. But, not with pesky, petulant, wild-card Covid.
It's pencils down.
Wait and see.
Wait some more.
Eventually cancel completely or postpone indefinitely.
But, back to my journal. This inanimate Nostradamus.
It is proclaiming that there are "Sunny Skies Ahead." That's a direct quote!
I know it's foolish, but I have to believe it. I'm hitching my wagon to it.
Sunny skies--here we come:)
This is the story of The Little Clematis that Could
A little over two years ago, we were preparing to move. We had outgrown our house and needed a bit more room, so like a crab we molted--shedding our old shell in favor of a new one. Being a gardener, I had so many plants in my garden that I wanted, but couldn't, take with me. One particularly striking plant was a Clematis vine with big, beautiful, purple/blue blooms that ushered in the spring brilliantly.
Knowing I couldn't uproot that large plant I noticed a "volunteer" down at the base, which was a small stem sticking up that had taken root and could be separated and taken with us. So, that's what I did--took it with us. In the crazy chaos of the move it got lost and quite frankly I forgot I had even taken it up as it was not the only plant I had taken a division of and moved around. That little plant found itself all alone and down the Cape, still in its second-hand pot, all winter long.
The next spring we went down to find a pot on the banister. It had to have been found by someone and placed there because it surely would have blown off onto the ground if it had been left there for months during the snowy, blowy winter. I almost didn't recognize it with no leaves and no label, just a desperate little stick of a stem with nothing to distinguish it from any other little stick of a stem just trying to survive a long, cold, lonely winter. But, alas--I had a suspicion it might be that Clematis.
We moved into our new home and I found what I thought was just the right spot for that little transplant. When I pointed it out to my mother she said, "Oh no, that won't grow. Clematis don't like to be transplanted." Hurrumph. Well, it was in the ground and I was going to water it and see what happened. And guess what?
It grew. It started growing and I went out and bought a pretty metal trellis for it to climb and I anticipated how beautiful it would be, but--a groundhog came along one day and ate everything in that garden right down to the ground including the Clematis. All I could think about was how much that little plant had survived and yet, just as it started to thrive it was cut short. So short--surely it was a goner.
With expectations very low I gathered a few tree branches and lay them over the spot where the stem still appeared in its heavily munched state. I figured perhaps the branches with their twigs sticking out all around would deter any hungry animal the next spring. I waited and waited and then--
Signs of life. The vine started to stretch and green up. The sticks I had covered it with were not a problem as the vine wound around, through and up. It grabbed hold of the metal trellis I had supplied it with the year before and it kept climbing up and up and up. There were lots of leaves now and it was spreading out in all directions.
Watering it one day I noticed a big hole behind it--clear of the sticks that had been placed in front of the trellis--between the trellis and the house which was about four inches. Bunnies! A bunny had decided to dig a nest for her babies back there behind my Clematis vine. How? Why? I don't know. Perhaps it seemed like a safe place for my Clematis and for some baby bunnies. Somehow the digging didn't bother the roots of the vine enough to kill it. The bunnies stayed, until they left.
Before too long the vine was green and healthy and continuing to climb so I cut away the branches I had put in front of it to protect it and was able to fully admire it. But then. Those bunnies. They were hungry and began to chew on all sorts of things in my garden despite the plentiful clover: my Amelanchier tree, a swamp Azalea I had planted only weeks before and yes . . . that Clematis vine.
The infuriating thing about it was that those bunnies didn't even eat the whole thing. This time they just took a nibble low on the vine so as to cut the power to the rest of the plant that had so miraculously climbed that trellis. Snapped it in half and walked away so that slowly the leaves of the top of that vine started to brown around the edges and curl inward toward itself. Feeling defeated and somehow emboldened I pulled away the dying part to toss into the compost bin and made a trip to the store where I bought chicken wire.
With little chicken wire experience I cut through it, shaped it, cut my hands up plenty, got about twenty mosquito bites as I worked, but was determined to surround the base of the Amelanchier, the Azalea and that Clematis with something strong and unpleasant. Life went on.
The summer was hot and rainy. With so many things growing I didn't notice the Clematis as much. Perhaps I didn't want to. It had been such a roller coaster seeing it grow and then be cut down, then grow and then severed once again seemingly beyond my control. But, there appeared to be hope. Somehow it grew and climbed once again and there was even what appeared to be a bud. Well, that could not be because this vine only ever bloomed in the spring. And this particular plant only ever grew to be eaten by animals soon after.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Labor Day. A holiday and the last gasp of summer. We sat out in the backyard to enjoy the sun and the air. I had sat down with my garden book to try to look up the name of a flower I had forgotten the name of. That's when my daughter pointed and yelled, "Mom!"
She was pointing to a big, beautiful bloom on my Clematis vine. It was September 6th. That little plant had seemed to live and die and live and die over and over and somehow, against all odds, it was blooming its heart out. It was a sign of hope. A sign that things don't always work out the first time, or the second--but at some point there will be a bloom of color and joy to savor and appreciate.
The big, violet bloom was also a message. It was telling me not to give up--ever. That little plant was surviving against all odds and there it was blooming for all to see.
So, I'm passing this message along to you because it's not a message to keep to myself.
It is a message meant to be shared.
Don't give up
Today I walked with my kids to school. I say, “walked with” because they have made it clear they do not require my escort services, but I let them know I need the fresh air, exercise, the undivided time to talk with them and a scheduled “event” to get my day up and running. Since the start of the pandemic, I've needed to create more structure to the day, especially when school was at home and there was no need to "get" to school at all.
A morning walk has been the silver lining for me. So, we walk.
Normally I just double back on the same route after we reach the school, but today I decided to take the long, uphill way home. It adds ten extra minutes to the walk and usually reminds me how out of shape I am once the hill kicks in.
Today—instead—it reminded me that we measure our impact on others all wrong.
On the way up the hill I came upon a family: a mother holding the hands of her two, young sons (possibly twins?) and a father pushing another in a baby carriage. Much to my surprise she seemed to recognize me and said, “Hey, are you the lady I see who always walks to school with your kids?”
“Yes, I do. I took the long way home today.” I smiled and enjoyed my celebrity status for a beat.
Holding onto those two all-boy bundles of energy for dear life, lest they break loose, she continued, “You inspired me, so we are walking.” She told me. “I saw your kids with the umbrellas and I thought . . . those kids—” I forget the rest of what she said, but I’ll imagine something poetic about my kids being able to tolerate unpleasant weather in the future.
I busted in with a, “Well, I heard there’s no bad weather just bad equipment.”
We all laughed and continued in our opposite directions, but that encounter stayed with me for the rest of my walk. “You inspired me.” Echoed around in my ears and it made me think. I thought of how we never know who we are inspiring when we live our lives the way we do. Never assume you don’t matter or that you are not making a difference in this world, the environment, children's health and wellness or whatever you feel passionately about simply because you have not yet met the person who has been inspired by you—even in just one small, but meaningful, way.
Why did this woman being inspired by me, now walking with her kids to school, make me happy? It wasn’t a fleeting comment about my hair or something on the surface. Truly, it had nothing to do with me, but with my beliefs and how I've chosen to live those beliefs out.
I believe kids who walk to school (with or without a parent) are better off: fresh air, some nature, social time together, exercise, gains independence, builds self-confidence and when they get to school they are more content to sit down because they've been walking. Not to mention the Vitamin D, social skills like saying Good Morning to neighbors, and the list goes on.
Sure, you have to wake up a little earlier but you’re talking to a gal who detests mornings, so if I can get into the habit of forcing myself out of bed a little earlier, than anybody can. The payoff is just too good. Not to mention the peace of mind it offers me when I'm running late or cannot drive a child to or from school. They know what to do—how to find their way home. Driving is stressful and any parent who has ever dropped off or picked up at school knowns what a cluster it can be. Stress. Beeping. Honking. Fender benders. Getting all kids—especially young ones—strapped in and sitting down. It’s a logistical pain.
Here’s the other thing that hit me, and this landed in the form of a metaphor: Wall Street vs Main Street. It’s something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several years. How do we measure success, the economy, etc? This felt like a Wall Street vs Main Street moment which, in my mind, is also a parallel to Social Media vs In-person Socializing.
Success on Wall Street and Social Media is measured in broad strokes. There are numbers, peaks and valleys, money to be made, master manipulation and plenty of dubious characters running both—encouraging and ignoring addictive behavior in favor of financial gain. It’s wholly impersonal. It’s extreme and volatile. It’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees when it comes to Wall Street and Social Media. There’s no time and no interest. Things move fast. Emotions are high.
Success on Main Street and In-person Socializing is measured one person at a time. There are people with faces and feelings. There is eye contact and imperfect conversations—awkward silences. There is humanity and the desire to connect, to form a relationship (whether that is the owner of a store or restaurant hoping to earn a loyal customer or a neighbor wanting to be friendly). People are nervous, bombastic, shy, rude and really funny. It’s wholly personal. It’s small and often a slow process—connecting with other human beings, especially strangers. It’s all trees in all their individual characteristics with squirrels and birds and various shaped leaves when it comes to Main Street and In-person Socializing. There’s the need to take time and take an interest. Things move slowly. Emotions are real.
Unfortunately we measure so much by how active we are on social media or how many followers and likes we have. I’m not on social media and have no plans to be anytime soon. I think it’s toxic to humanity. I think it’s the worst thing to has happened to our young people in so many generations—it’s a poisonous flower. It may look good and sell well in the shop, but it’s not something you want to bring home or let your kids touch. It’s a flower I could never sell with a clean conscience. So, I stay away. I encourage others to stay away, especially with so many better ways to spend time.
The feeling of satisfaction that meeting that young family offered me has not evaporated. It didn’t disappear with the next click. It felt so good and healthy and human that it prompted me to write—to tell you! Maybe, that mother won’t be the only one I’ll inspire to step outside and walk with kids or her decision to walk will inspire another family and another. Perhaps I can inspire you too to walk more, but also to reevaluate how you measure your success. Are there ways to live what you believe? Maybe there's one small habit you can form to reflect a passion of yours.
Not enough people are imploring us to ask ourselves: Is social media doing more harm than good in my life? Am I living my life on my own terms or by somebody else’s standards or rules that deeply contrast with mine in a way I can no longer ignore?
Let me tell you—you are inspiring someone right now. You may never meet them, but it is the human part of you that is the inspiration, so embrace that. Know that it doesn’t matter how it is received on social media. Connect with one person, maybe two, in-person and you’ll have a better sense of what is worthwhile. Less is, so often, more. Particularly when it comes to people. When it comes to words, I still have work to do in that department. I write a lot of words. I'll have to accept it as one of my flaws:)
Go take a walk without your phone, all alone—in the big wide real world.
See the forest for the trees. There are some amazing trees out there!!