Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Every time we tell our New York friends that we're staying in the city for Christmas rather than traveling to our home in Arkansas , we get the same response. . .
"You'll love it!  New York is magical at Christmas; the lights are amazing."
So, I've paid attention. Not that I would have missed the lights without the heads-up, but I might not have looked closely enough, beyond the obvious.

The most obvious, of course, is. . .

While crowds craned their necks and positioned their cameras to capture the grandeur of the tree's 30,00 lights, I spotted a nearby angel quietly, delicately heralding the season's joy.

A few days later, I discovered more angels, floating among branches of the annual Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; each watchful face, illumined by the softest glow of candlelight.

Lights have stopped me in unlikely places, stopped and reminded me.  

At Zuccotti Park where the Occupy Wall Streeters camped out for weeks, impassioned with their ideas for economic equality and reform.  White lights remind me of deeply-held freedoms. . . to speak, to assemble, to petition.

At One World Trade Center where violence altered the world, lights remind me of lives lost, yet lives which lead us into the future.

And in a quiet chapel at Trinity Wall Street Church, a simple row of flickering candles invites me to sit, reflect, and light my own.

For gratitude.
For peace.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Their Names

On Sunday mornings Drew and I drop by the corner Starbucks for coffee, a pastry and a New York Times, then cross the street to a bench in City Hall Park.  Today is cloudy with a chilly mist saturating the air, so we opt to find a warm spot by the window.  Drew orders while I pick up the paper.  The headlines hit me.  My hand covers by heart. I shake my head.  I start to cry.

Of course, I have heard of the shootings at the Newtown, Connecticut school, the statistics of 20 children and 6 adults killed.  But numbers don't impact like names.  I can't read them.

I think of my own classes of kindergarten and second graders in past years, gathered on the floor for  Morning Meeting, busy with projects around the room, cuddled up in corners with favorite books.  Then I imagine a man with a gun at our classroom door.  The terror, the helplessness, the responsibility for those little lives, of wanting to protect, grip my chest.

I fold up the paper, shove it across the table.  While I can make the imagined scene go away, the bad dream disappear, teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary lived it. And died.

Their names make the horror real.  I must read them.  I must allow myself to feel the pain, to share in the collective pain and grief that we all must feel.  So we can become their advocates.

I look up past my coffee cup, through the window to the top of City Hall.  The flag flies at half mast.

For Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Ms. Davino, Ms. Hochsprung, Ms. Murphy, Ms. Rousseau, Ms. Sherlach, Ms. Soto and the mother of the gunman, Ms. Lanza.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Children's Voices Singing

You might think that by attending a second grade winter concert on Tuesday, a first grade concert on Wednesday, and a  kindergarten concert tomorrow that our grandchildren must be performing.  With no grandchildren living in Manhattan, though, I must have another reason.  It's simple. . . I love to hear children sing. And fortunately I have many opportunities. With Drew being Head of School at Léman Manhattan, I get to hear students not only sing, but play instruments, display art work, act, read poetry, run up and down the basketball court and more.  It's glorious!  

Children singing during this holiday season reminds me, in a weird way, of chocolate-covered pretzels,  sugary sweetness and salty excitement rolled into one.  Depending on the song, their voices can reflect the unbridled joy of "Jingle Bells," (especially the big "HEY!"), or the hopeful innocence of "What Can We Do to Make Peace?"*  These songs were among the ones that the Léman first graders shared in their Songs of Peace concert.   (Click on the video to experience their "Jingle Bells" joy.)

Kathy Hart, lower school music teacher, collaborated with the first graders to write their own song, "Winter With Friends" for the concert.  She wrote the music, lyrics for the chorus, and students added their ideas for winter fun.  This is one of those "salty with excitement" songs, literally including a line about potato chips.  Here's a taste of their creativity, which they performed with actions!

(Ms. Hart)
I see snowflakes floating down from the cool gray sky
Looks like winter is coming to our town
You better get ready to:

Make snow angels
Have a snow fight
Build a snow house with an underground pool!

Go snow tubing
Play ice hockey
Go ice skating with friends from school

(Ms. Hart) - Chorus
Play in the snow all day, invite everyone in 
There's nothing like winter with friends

Build a snowman that  
Eats potato chips
Pile the snow high and jump right in!

Drink hot chocolate
Eat some cookies
Dig to China and make new friends


Learn to snowboard, mountain ski
Get your sleigh
And crash into a tree!


Enjoy winter. . .
Enjoy winter. . .
Enjoy winter with friends

To balance the salty with the sweet, the children sang "Pacem (A Song of Peace)."**
Indeed there can be nothing sweeter than the soft, lilting and ever hopeful voices of children, blended as one in song, to offer the world what it so desperately needs. . . PEACE.  The first verse is followed by two questions, which the children ask each of us.

In the silence of the morning when the dawn has just begun,
As the moon is softly fading with the rising of the sun,
If you listen to the sparrow and the gentle mourning dove,
There's a message in the song they sing; it is peace they're singing of.

"Pacem, singing pacem."  Can you hear the song?
"Pacem, singing pacem."  Will you sing along?"


*by John Ferrell
** by Andy Beck and Brian Fisher

Thanks to Brylee Maxfield, Communications Manager at Léman, for the video


Thursday, December 6, 2012

In the Company of Trees

Trees have been on mind lately.  Not that I've consciously been thinking about them; perhaps that's the problem.  They keep cropping up like an unexpected friend, the one you've been meaning to call, but just haven't found the time.  It's only in hindsight that I see the pattern, the not-so-coincidental encounters, like yesterday. . .

I had settled into my aisle seat on Southwest flight 1445, heading back to NYC from our home in Arkansas, and needed something to read.  Not yet in the mood to finish the last chapter of Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, I pulled "Spirit" out of the seat pocket in front of me.  The title of an article in the SW magazine intrigued me, "The Old Man and the Tree," by Sarah Perry.  Jonathan Bartlett's illustration immediately drew me into the story.

Frank, the old man, had cared for and developed a 50-year relationship with the Yarmouth, Maine elm (or Herbie, as the community liked to call him). Frank passed by Herbie every day, just to say "hello." He brought school children to visit, to link hands and surround the massive trunk, to give Herbie a hug. 

"What is it about a thing as seemingly insignificant as a tree that can inspire such devotion?" Ms. Perry asked.

Not that I'd use the word "insignificant" when referring to a tree, but I did have a similar thought about a month before when I stood in front of a tree in Brooklyn. (No, not THAT tree.)  Drew and I happened upon the Camperdown Elm during a Sunday afternoon walk in  Prospect Park.  Not particularly striking, with arthritic-looking limbs held together by taunt wire cables, this elderly arbor clearly showed its 140 years. 

Yet much like Herbie, it had been saved, tended to, even cherished by a community and revered in verse by a poet, Marianne Moore, who wrote, "It is still leafing; still there. Mortal though. We must save it.  It is our crowning curio."

Shortly after that chance meeting, there was yet another.  I was visiting the 9/11 Memorial with my friend, Margie, on a sunny autumn morning.  I had been there before, so as Margie absorbed the experience for the first time, I observed details I had missed.  I noticed people gathered around one particular tree, one of the 412 spread throughout the plaza, touching its bark, fingering its leaves, standing, gazing at it with a worshipful reverence. 

The callery pear is the only surviving tree recovered from the destruction of the World Trade Center. When it was pulled from the rubble, it had one living branch; it is now thriving.  I felt a peacefulness as I watched the Survivor Tree  providing its quiet comfort to, and in turn being comforted by, the people in its presence that morning.  
Then, last week our son, Jason, wife Kate, and three children invited me to help decorate their Christmas

As Jason lifted Nate up to place the glittery red star on the tree's top, and the little fingers placed ornaments on her limbs, I saw a relationship beginning.

A relationship. . . .

In the busyness of my life, I obviously needed reminders to re-establish relationships with the calming presence of neglected "friends."  As if the universe wanted to give me one last nudge, I received a card from our daughter, Katherine.  Inside were two tea bags -- and two autumn leaves, red and yellow,  from the tree in her yard.  



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Autumn (Haikus) in New York

Following my self-proclaimed tradition, I write five haikus during each season, attempting to capture nature's beauty in pictures and words.  Since we've lived in New York City, I have written haikus about Central Park scenes during spring and summer.  I decided to explore parks closer to our Lower Manhattan home for autumn inspiration.  May the images and poetic 17-syllables add pleasure to your fall day, with special Thanksgiving wishes to those of you celebrating the holiday.

silenced gaslights seek
illumination amidst
flaming companions

sadly, the Busy
ignore our invitations
to stop, sit, to breathe

you eat much more than 
  you squirrel away, consumed by
the present moment

unrestrained redness
bursts across the landscape in
giddy cheerfulness
(Hudson River Park)

reflective stillness 
interrupted by City's
persistent presence 
(Battery Park)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stars of Hope for Staten Island

My last six blog postings have been about Hurricane Sandy - before, during and after.  The "Before and During" were mainly about Drew and me, as our lives were interrupted by a four-day loss of power.  Last weekend, we experienced a world where lives were halted  by a surge of water so powerful that it left many people with little, or nothing.

I wasn't expecting to do what we did in the Staten Island neighborhood of Midland Beach.  As volunteers from Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, I thought we might drop off supplies, hand out water, sweep debris from sidewalks - important jobs, but nothing involving a mask, rubber gloves and an opportunity to walk in another's shoes.  We gutted a home.

Walter stood beside his front door as our group, mingled with volunteers from other organizations, hauled load after load of the soggy, dripping, muddy remains of his house to the street. "I'm overwhelmed," he said. "I've been working four days, but you guys have done more in two hours than I did that whole time. Thank you."

I worked in the yard, with at least ten others, stuffing bags full of water-soaked baseball cards, balls, colored pens, a diary, teddy bear, books, shoes. . . clues to Walter and his wife, Margaret's, four children. . . all safe at a friend's house.  Workers inside threw pots, pans, bathroom tile, shelving, sheetrock out  windows, which we picked up and piled into more black bags.

After about an hour, I stopped and stood among what looked like --  junk.

None of it was salvageable, all would be crushed or carried away by sanitation trucks.  But to Walter and Margaret, this "junk" had been part of their home. They watched strangers tear it out, scoop it up, pull it across their muddy lawn, and toss it in a heap.  Yet, it couldn't be helped; it had to be done. . . to move on.  Easy words for me to write.  I only walked in their shoes for three hours.

As we were leaving, we asked Margaret for her cell number, so we could contact her later.  Perhaps the school could help replace what their children had lost, what they might need as the weeks went on.  She thanked us. We asked to take a picture with her so others could know their story.

Walking back through the neighborhood to our cars, we began to notice brightly colored wooden stars attached to telephone poles.

"The Stars of Hope are coming!" said one of the Léman teachers.
"Stars of Hope?" I asked.
"Students from our school painted them and will hang them all over this neighborhood and others, hard hit by Sandy.  Children around the country paint them to bring 'hope and color' to devastated communities."

                              More and more of them appeared the further we walked,

  and we smiled,
 knowing that stars would soon find their way 
to Walter and Margaret's street.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Rebuilding After Sandy, One Letter at a Time

Where do you start when you see so many people who need help?  


The images on TV, the stories on WNYC leave me paralyzed, too overwhelmed by the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy's destruction to know where to begin, to even question whether the efforts of one could make much difference.

Fortunately, the "Spirit of Giving" has seen this attitude before, and has no patience for it.  Before our power was fully restored, she started inching her way into my awareness.  She sent me an email, via Southstreet Seaport Museum.  The museum, three blocks from our apartment and around 50 yards from  the East River, sustained devastating water damage. One particular part of the email saddened me. . .

"Bowne & Co., Stationers was most seriously damaged in that 217 drawers of accessioned type were soaked by the surge. Efforts to dry the type and keep it from deforming are hindered by the lack of power downtown."

The letterpress shop, which is owned by the museum, is one of my favorite places in the neighborhood.
Robert, the shopkeeper and letterpress artist, personally greets each guest to his small shop with a kind word, and creates an atmosphere of "times past" with his reproductions of turn-of-the-century cards, books, gift tags and more. His letterpress machines and trays of letters fill the back of the shop.

"So what are you waiting for? Get down there and see what you can do!"  The "Spirit of Giving" may start as subtle nagging, but her strength explodes with passion.  I was out the door and inside the letterpress shop within half an hour. 

Ali, one of Robert's co-workers, put me to work  salvaging the wooden letters.  They were soaked with salt water, all 217 trays of them. The face of each letter needed to be dipped in alcohol, blotted on a cloth, then placed face down on a paper-lined tray to dry.



As a writer, I felt a comforting kinship with these letters which I, and others, were trying to save.  The possibilities of words, sentiments, ideas at my fingertips made the job more than a mechanical process, but a noble cause.  Not that we don't have more sophisticated ways of producing written language these days, like the computer in my lap, but respect for what came before, for the art of each letter, was inspiring.  

Volunteering in the cold remains of the letterpress shop, I had overcome my paralysis.  As I dipped, blotted and positioned each wooden block, I no longer questioned the worth of an individual contribution.  I knew that I was helping, one letter at a time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

After Sandy. . . continues

As the days go on post-Sandy, I often feel that I'm living in this world, but not.  Our neighborhood looks the same, except that nothing is open; streets are often completely empty.  The friendly tailor, Lumi, who seems to always be in his shop, is absent.  I miss his wave as I walk by, his gesture to come in and have a cup of espresso or a piece of candy.  But he has no power for his sewing machine, just as Starbucks around the corner has no power for its coffee machine, just as we still have no power for the 76 floors of our building.  The generator comes and goes, depending on whether it gets refilled with diesel, a much sought-after commodity through the five boroughs of New York.
It will be "going" again today at 3:00 p.m., taking elevator service, water and gas along with it. . . until further notice.

However, Drew and I are beginning to catch glimpses of the familiar, cropping up in this alternate world of cold showers, warm refrigerator, and candlelit dinners-out-of-a-can.  Yesterday a Starbucks opened in a pocket of power, close to the tip of Lower Manhattan, the same pocket that now provides electricity to Léman Manhattan's upper school. Drew sipped his first cup of coffee in three days, and we can now charge our phones, computers and have internet service!

In search of an open post office this morning, I unexpectedly discovered that the Whole Foods four blocks from our apartment building has reopened, via what must be a mega generator.  The timing was perfect as I had just emptied the last morsels from our refrigerator and was wondering where I might find a powered-up grocery store.  Smiling employees were grilling hamburgers and handing them out  to passersby for free.

I passed them by, determined to mail the absentee ballot that was burning a hole in my tote bag.

 In this alternate world, post offices don't follow the creed that "neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep a postman from his appointed rounds."  All three of the post offices in Lower Manhattan remain closed, the closest one with power is Farley Station, 3 miles away.  It never occurred to me to say, "To heck with this" and head back for a burger.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (earlier blog posting) would never forgive me for turning my back on their lifetime commitments to women's suffrage.  As I entered New York City's largest post office an hour later, the lights, the lines of customers, and 9 windows of clerks energized me.  Life as we knew it was only (many) blocks away.


As we deal with our inconveniences, we realize that there are many people in the area facing much more challenging circumstances.  We continue to think of them, as we know you do.  In the meantime, know that we continue to be well, enjoying evenings of Scrabble by flashlight.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

After Sandy

I'm propped up against the window of a store called The Living Room on the corner of E 17th St. and Park Avenue South, in the area of Union Square, delighted to have found internet service!  It's seeping through the walls of the store, generously sharing a signal with about 20 other people busily connecting to the world. Part of my quest today was to see how far uptown I needed to walk before I found electricity.  Still none in this area, about 16 blocks or so from our apartment, but at least a signal.

We still have no power in Lower Manhattan.  This morning the one elevator servicing our tower went down, as did the hall lights.  The desk clerk tells us that they are waiting for a delivery of diesel fuel for the generator, but have no idea when that will arrive.  Thankfully, we still have water coming out of the faucets and our backup supply in the bathtub.

Yesterday Drew and I surveyed the neighborhoods around our building and Léman Manhattan on Broad Street.  Here are a few pictures, the day after Sandy blew through.

It's interesting how perspectives change as we find ourselves in the midst of such destruction.  Yesterday I was grateful for one elevator; today I'm grateful for a flashlight to light my way as I walked down the 27 floors to exit our building.  AND for strong legs and lungs to get me back up this afternoon.

One thing that doesn't change is our need to be connected to our family and friends.  This need is so great that Drew traveled uptown last night until he found electricity and plugged our phones in until they had  50% power.  (Perhaps we're a tad addicted to them, as well, but that's another story.)

In the meantime, know that we are well, so much better than many. Thanks for checking in with us.  I may be propped up against this same window in the next day or so to write to you again.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Calm Before Sandy

Drew and I just returned to our apartment after walking south about 6 blocks to check on conditions at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, where he is Head of School.  The building is in Zone B, just a couple of blocks from Battery Park, and a half block down from the New York Stock Exchange.  During Irene, the basement took on some water; but so far all is dry, the sump pump idle.

The streets between here and there were quiet, except for a few people walking their dogs, or checking out stores which might still be open.

But no luck. . . even each of the four Starbucks we passed along the way was empty, stools upturned, lights off.

The Stock Exchange stood silent, deserted.

As we walked up Broadway towards our apartment, I wondered if we would ever again see that street, constantly teeming with people and traffic, so. . .  unoccupied.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing for Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is headed our way.  It seems strange to be sitting in our 27th floor apartment, looking out the windows on a regular-looking Sunday afternoon, knowing that the view will change in hours.

People walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, some push strollers, others stop to take pictures;  runners and bicyclists pass them by.

A Circle Line harbor tour boat, dotted with passengers on her bow and stern, heads leisurely down the East River.

              Traffic flows smoothly.
Vendors peddle hot dogs. 

I could nod off for a nap.

Yet, the winds cornering the building have a whistle to them that I didn't hear a couple of hours ago.  They warn that their bigger, stronger, more powerful sister is on her way, like the Billy Goats Gruff who convince the waiting troll that the best (or worst) is yet to come.

We're prepared for her.

Flashlights, batteries, Stick N Click lights, water, food, an empty bathtub just waiting to be filled at the first sign of flickering power.

The building management has assured us that our 76-floor building will withstand hurricane force winds, that the emergency generator will provide lights in the halls and power for two elevators (rather than twelve.)  Our job is to close and lock all our windows.  Done.

Thankfully, our building is in Zone C of Lower Manhattan so we can stay.  Less than a mile away, residents in Zone A, must evacuate.  Those who need to leave via public transportation must do so before 7:00 p.m. on  subways or 9:00 p.m. on buses, when those services will stop.  While others are boarding up, loading up, headed for higher ground, I feel only mildly inconvenienced at the prospect of losing power, internet connection, phone service, or running short of. . . . nothing.

How do people weather such storms when they have no clue, no warning, no time to ponder, "Should I go buy a couple of more gallons of water?"  Even if Sandy tramps through New York City with the fiercest force she can muster, we have been forewarned.

With that thought in mind, I'm off to buy a battery-operated radio, then start a big pot of soup.



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