January letter


7 January 2015 2016

Dear Mom,

I really wanted to talk to you today—about nothing in particular—and this seems the best way. Or the only way. If I don’t want to make the dog nervous by talking out loud, that is.

(Mom, everything makes this poor dog nervous! He’s a bundle of shivers if you take the packing tape gun out the drawer. If he senses you’re even thinking about using a tool of any sort—this includes the tape measure—he books it for the stairs. Sometimes he’ll just be standing near me, teeth chattering, all wound up, even though nothing at all is happening and my hand is on his shoulder trying to reassure him. Right now he’s not nervous. Right now he’s flat asleep in a puddle of sunshine on the brown sofa, half on/half off his blanket, one jowl dropping open in a way that’s a bit disgusting and a bit interesting and I’m sure will result in a wet spot on the sofa. I don’t dare wake him.)

And I’m tired of talking in my head.

Anyway. I drove H to school this morning because M and I made a (advantageous to me) bargain: I’d do the school drop off and he’d do the goat chores (he got the 5º F and the ice-crusted walk between the house and barn, and I got the heated seats in the car and the company of our daughter; sounded fair to me). It was a quiet drive, still mostly dark and at least one of us still mostly asleep.

(About then I was thinking about my own middle and high school bus adventures—getting off at the wrong stop my very first day, waiting at the stop in the cold, hoping the mean girls wouldn’t skip the bus—and about those rare, glorious mornings when you didn’t have to be at work early and you’d offer me a ride to school. Did we talk about anything, or did I give you the teenaged cold shoulder? I remember my feeling of relief at catching a ride with you, but now I think I probably never told you how big a deal it was to me. I’m sure I didn’t.)

Usually, H has us plugged into some music from her iPod on the drive, but I took the aux cord out of the car in case we needed it for the drive to Michigan and haven’t put it back, so we had the lousy radio on instead (you know I love the radio, but this town has, maybe, four decent stations) and tuned to the oldies station and we caught the last couple of minutes of Holly Holy and boy did that make me smile. It felt like something magic I’d done myself, conjuring up that song just for you today. And then I realized, well, maybe you conjured it for me? Neat trick.

I read a book the other day that I would have passed to you if I could. It’s called Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and, though it was recommended by someone I trust as one of the best books of 2015, I really don’t think it was. Still, it had its moments and seemed like the sort of book you might enjoy and I was thinking if you read it, too, then we could talk about it and the parts that worked and the parts that didn’t. I think you would have liked the main character, Eva.

(Ooops. I think I just said that last part out loud because the dog woke up, gave me a sidelong, worried glance, and slunk off the sofa. Sofa? Or couch? I grew up saying “couch.” When did I adopt “sofa”? Chesterfield. I never really said that one, but that’s the one I love most. Oh! Did you know that H says “aunt” as “awnt,” like a true New Englander? I find myself changing my “ant” pronunciation when I’m around her.)

Recently, Dad and I were talking about real books (I mean, versus digital, e-books) and he said that the shelf in your bedroom where you and he lined up your to-be-read books was still there, with the same books you two put there all those years ago. One of those things that lingers, I guess. I asked for a photo of the books on that shelf, just to see what you had planned to read next, but it was all thrillers and mysteries, Mom, not a single Margaret Atwood. Sheesh. If I had sent you Kitchens, what would you have sent in return? Patricia Cornwell?

(You know I’m saying that with a smile, right?)

Did I ever tell you that I bought myself an orchid? This was two Octobers ago, when I felt the pressure of winter weighing on me and I spotted this plant at the co-op and I thought it looked cheery. I’d always heard that orchids were picky plants and I couldn’t imagine one thriving in a drafty, old, wood-heated farmhouse, but he (yes, he) has kind of astonished me. He won’t stop blooming. I keep meaning to ask you about this, seeing as how you were the one with the green thumb and had a special affinity for orchids. I keep meaning to ask you how something can keep blooming in spite of the dark and cold.

Love always,

p.s. I meant to say also that I read a poem today that I really loved, for both its content and its form, the fact that it’s engraved on a bench in that city we love, on the northeast corner of Dufferin and Bloor.

Walking here, I turned my face to you and said,
how on earth will we live, who will dance with us,
will there be music? And you said, sure,
the usual birds will sing, the usual hours will pass at night,
and I asked you, will there be fame?
And you said, sure, but only between us.
It will be spring, forsythia will follow us and
we will hear the lake breathe.
Waiting then, I felt the world coming toward me.

–Dionne Brand

Reading Challenge month 6 ~ A book your mom loves


Stumped, I tell you. I was stumped.

Mom loved to read. We all did. That was plain as day. My growing up houses had overflowing bookshelves and stacks of reading material on kitchen counter tops, desks, and bed side tables. Mom always had a half-devoured book by her chair and a to-be-read shelf in the bedroom. We exchanged books through the mail in regular shipments between Florida and Vermont. “This one’s worth reading,” she’d say. “Have you read the latest Khaled Hosseini?”

But one she particularly loved? A treasured book? A favorite book?

I skrinched my brain hard to think of one and felt so deeply sad that I didn’t know. Isn’t that something you should know about your own mother?

I could make an educated guess. She had favorite authors: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Carl Hiassen. As a kid she loved dog and horse books: The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Lad a Dog.

Then I remembered Paddle-to-the-Sea, a book she had given Hyla years ago. I mean, she gave Hyla books all the time, but those were ones she found in her travels that she thought would appeal to Hyla’s interests. This one was one she’d also had as a child.

A loved book.

Paddle-to-the-Sea is the story of a little wooden canoe carved by a boy in the Canadian wilderness, just northwest of Lake Superior. He sets the canoe (and its carved paddler) onto a snow-covered hill near his home and waits for spring. When the melt begins, Paddle slides down the hill into a river that feeds the lake, and so begins his journey through the great lakes and out to the sea.

He follows the river, the waves, the currents, the storms, the waterfalls, the locks. We follow along.

Paddle doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have thoughts that we’re aware of. It’s always clear that he’s a something—not a someone—and yet I developed such a fondness for Paddle. I was rooting for him all the way. I worried for him when he was temporarily trapped in a beaver pond, or approaching the blade of a river-side saw mill.

It’s a short book. I read it in half-an-hour in a dwindling afternoon in July. I read it with a voice in my head. A voice something like my own, reading her child a story on some long gone July afternoon.

A story is a current. A story is a voice. A story is a wave, a journey, a seeking. A story is a memory and a thread. A story is the way someone’s love is joined to someone else.

I’ve got a cat on my shoulder as I type this. And my own girl on the porch swing. She’s deep in her own book on a perfect summer afternoon. What’s her favorite book?

I’ll go ask.


Our books for month 6:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


We’ll see you back here on August 11!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

This day in history

January sunrise

Alfonso IV became King of Portugal (1325)

Someone fell on the ice

Someone learned to say “apple”

Jamestown, Virginia was destroyed by fire (1608)

Someone made soup

Someone forgot her keys

Galileo Galilei first observed four of Jupiter’s moons (1610)

Someone nursed a cold

Someone went bowling

The first transatlantic telephone service (New York to London) was established (1927)

Someone fell in love

Someone wrote a letter

The Polaris nuclear-armed missile was test launched (1960)

Someone drew a gun

Someone pulled a sliver out of her thumb

The St Lawrence Lime Tree was broken in two by high winds (2005)

Someone heard the phone ring

Someone said goodbye

Without saying goodbye

All will be well

January 7

I sat down here to write one thing, but I think I’ll write another. Because if I’m boring myself, how must you feel, dear patient readers? Let’s not be bored.

I won’t write about things past, or the cold, or the current worries.


Today I worked, and that’s a wonderful feeling. I had a list of things my client wanted me to do and I sat down and did them and then had a phone meeting where my client and I laughed about some confusing things in the project. And no one was mean. And no one was snarky. And it was all in the name of pleasantly working on a project together.

Today I took hot water mixed with molasses out to the goats and they welcomed me with their very sparkly, inquisitive eyes, and sniffed my pants and nibbled on my jacket’s zipper pull. As usual, they tried to race into the upper part of barn before I could shut them out, but Westie (shy, picked upon Westie) is very fast and very smart and got in there before I could shoo her. So how do I punish her? By letting her stay in, of course, along with her own bucket of hay and her private bucket of molasses “tea.” Because you have to give her credit. That girl knows what she wants.

Today I skipped breakfast because I was in a hurry to get to work, but I made a big mug of English Breakfast tea. And later, when I got hungry, I stood by the open refrigerator and ate the last wedge of kishke that we’d heated up on the weekend.

Today I finished the work that needed doing, and then drove to my favorite flower shop and asked Morgan, the owner, to make me a bouquet that would make me smile. She went around the shop, picking blooms that pleased her, while I stood still by the center table, overflowing with flowers, the air warm and summer-scented.

Today I thought about my mother, and how this day, six years ago, she left us. And I smiled more than I thought I would. I wouldn’t say I was exactly happy, but I felt peaceful. I felt her near me, and I felt her appreciating the flowers. I imagined her easy smile and her infectious laugh and the mischievous spark in her eyes.

Today I didn’t worry about one thing, though the list of potential worries is long. What happened before has happened and can’t be changed. What happens tomorrow is anyone’s guess.

I cannot maintain this zen feeling, but I can enjoy it while it lasts, while the last trace of sunlight slips over the western hills, while the waxing crescent of the moon rides behind wispy clouds, while H hums to herself while she does her French homework, while the dog rests his chin on his paws in front of the fire, while M places the takeout Chinese food order, while my heart beats.

Blue dawn

Dark sunrise

I woke this morning to the dark.

“Woke” is a bit inaccurate, since it felt like I was awake more than asleep last night. Thinking. Those thoughts.

Five years since my mother died. Five years since that dreadful phone call from my father. Five years since I let that howl escape my throat.

In many ways, I feel that span of time as a whirl, the way a lot of us feel time: was that last week, last year, or ten years ago?

Tree, cloud, moon, star

But in other ways, I feel each minute. Each lost minute. I get a little weepy. And angry.

I see a gray-haired woman pushing her shopping cart at the grocery store and I wonder what she would have been like at 70, or 80, or even beyond.

I read about a friend going holiday shopping with her mother, or taking her mother out to lunch on her birthday, and I feel resentful.

I read a book she would have loved and know I just have to send it to her, and I feel surprised when I realize that I can’t.

I see women with their granddaughters, and I feel a longing.

Don’t even talk to me about Mother’s Day.

At 42, I was just learning to be a mother, and finally getting to know my own. We weren’t close when I was growing up. We didn’t have the typical mother-daughter relationship. That only began to grow later, when I was out of college and on my own. We crept closer over the years. We were just starting to figure it out.

I feel cheated.

If I let myself, I can travel quite far down that twisty bumpy road. But it’s a dead end.

I had, and have, a lot more than many people.

Who escapes this life without loss and grief? Is there anyone who doesn’t feel a bit cheated, at least in some way?

I got up this morning and it was dark, and then I saw that crescent moon hiding behind the maple branches.

Striped crescent

I went outside in the dark, no jacket, no socks, no gloves. My fingers were numbing and I was clicking the shutter button over and over, trying to steady myself, trying not to breathe.


There’s that moon. She’s gorgeous as ever. She’s out there in the dark, dark night, and in the bluing morning. She’s there, whirling in space by our side, even during the daylight when we can’t see her. She’s there when we search her out, round and full, slim and crescent, new and invisible, tugging at the water in us, making waves.

It’s going to be okay. It’s good to note these anniversaries. It’s good to cry, and then laugh. It’s good to feel loss when it means you’ve had something to lose.

It’s good to go out in the morning, breathe the cold air, be alive, and be part of the dawn.


Blueberries for Donna

Smoky blue

Mom would have been 68 today. To celebrate, I took her blueberry picking.

We had a little birthday party at the berry patch, me and mom.

I wonder what the other pickers thought of my talking to the ghost of my mother. There were families there, mothers with small children, a few teenagers, a few people alone, just like me. I bet some of them were talking to ghosts as well.

But I bet they weren’t having a birthday party.


I caught her up on what’s happening in our lives. I told her how tall Hyla is (not yet the seven feet that Mom predicted, but closing in). I told her we finally painted the downstairs bathroom. That the yellow rose bush I planted for her died. How greedy the goats are for ‘Nilla wafers. I told her about the summer of drama camps, the trip to Maine, the plans for visiting family in Michigan and Toronto.

She was happy about the Toronto trip and, when I told her we might go to the CNE, she said she wished she could come. I said she’d be there, too.


When I told her how much fudge and how many lobsters we ate in Maine, she smiled that crinkly-blue-eyed smile of hers. The blue she inherited from her father, Harry. The blue she passed on to her daughters.

Donna on Palmerson Porch

She loves lobsters. And, it turns out, chocolate fudge.

Not always, though. She used to shun chocolate. When we’d go for ice cream as a family, the only flavor she thought worth getting was vanilla. We, with chocolate smudges circling our mouths, were utterly confused by her choice. How could she not like chocolate?

Later, she came to appreciate chocolate more. When I grew up, I learned to understand why she loved vanilla best.

I told her about the bar mitzvah we went to last weekend, how the prayers and the songs and the rituals conjured up my ghosts: mom, grandma, grandpa. We laughed about those old bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, with the horrible gowns and hair-dos, the huge rented halls, the mediocre bands, the rubber-chicken dinners, the dancing late into the night.

I kidded her about her own funny dance, hands in loose fists at chest-level, thumbs out, arms jerking to each side, one after the other, doing some sort of hitch-hiker-inspired move. She obliged me by doing the dance right there in the blueberry patch.

I laughed, blushed. Mom, stop! It’s so embarrassing!

Don’t stop.

I got a bit wistful. I told her there were so many things I wanted Hyla to know about her.

Well, then, tell her.

So I will.

I’ll tell her about your smile.
Your silliness.
Your forgetfulness (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
Your made-up words.
Your white lies to make others feel happy and included (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
The kindnesses you do for everyone around you.
The way you’re really interested in the answer when you ask someone a question.
Your less-than-successful cooking attempts (including “surprise-hamburgers”, “baked spaghetti”, and the time you washed that really bad mango-peach sauce off the chicken).
That you can’t whistle, or snap your fingers.

Stunning in NH

I’ll tell her about the things you love.
Being Canadian.
Your Florida home.
Your collection of kaleidoscopes.
All animals, but, in particular, horses, dogs, giraffes, and, later in life, the tropical birds and lizards that visited your back porch.
Birch trees.


The Bahamas.
Everything about Mexico.
Central American art.
Collecting beads.
Making jewelry.
Carousel horses.
Traveling the world with Dad.
Reading (especially novels by Canadian authors).

Drinking coffee (gallons of it, especially when you worked from home).

Reunions with family in Toronto. Huge orders of Chinese food eaten buffet-style in the house at 29 Regina. Kids hiding under the dining room table. Grownups wandering the rooms with paper plates in hand, telling the same old stories, some that made us laugh, some that made us cringe.

Mom and brothers

I’ll tell her how about the music you love.
Harry Belafonte.
Arlo Guthrie.
Neil Diamond.
Roy Clark.
Johnny Cash.
The Everly Brothers.
Andres Segovia.

New country music (Mom, I don’t understand that one, but I totally forgive you).

Mom and Hyla

I’ll tell her about how much you love your granddaughter, your son-in-law, your brothers, your cousins, your grand-dogs, your grand-cats (and, had you known them in person, your grand-goats).

Your daughters.

I’ll tell her (again) how you never wanted a birthday cake on your birthday. Only blueberry pie. Without the ice cream.

Mini blueberry pies

Holly holy love
Take the lonely child
And the seed
Let it be filled with tomorrow
Holly holy

Sing a song
Sing a song of songs
Sing it out
Sing it strong

Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun’s gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man, he’s gonna fly
And I fly, yeah
And I fly

52 Weeks ~ Laughter (8/52)

RSiegel_Week8 - Lyndell Laugh

Modeling a Placemat Hat

Flamenco Mall Man

When a Poodle Licks Your Hand for Five Minutes Straight

Donna "Donner Duck"

A Girls’ Weekend in Boston is full of unexpected laughs:

:: The baker on the sign at Lyndell’s bakery is cheerful in spite of the dreary weather. He lures you in with his slightly crazed laugh. “Come in! Come in! There are cupcakes inside….!” You really dare not refuse. Unless you don’t want a cupcake. Now that’s a laugh.

:: Who knew that a placemat made such a lovely hat? Who knew that H’s mother could take an infocus picture when she was giggling so hard?

:: When you catch the Flamenco Mall Man dancing on film, he is not laughing. Oh no. He is a bit startled. But you are laughing as you run to the escalator, hoping he doesn’t chase you.

:: When a poodle licks the palm of your hand, for five minutes straight, you can’t help but laugh. And then everyone else in the house starts laughing. And the only one who isn’t laughing is the poodle, because he’s got an important job to do: lick lick lick lick.

:: Sure, we could have requested a sweet, serious quote like all the other families who placed a paver in memory or honor of their mothers on the Rose Kennedy Mother’s Walk, but that’s not how you raised us, Mom. Instead, we like to think about a family strolling down the path, reading the sweetly phrased pavers (“Our Cherished Mother”, “We’ll Never Forget You Mother”, “From Your Loving Children”), maybe feeling a bit melancholy, and then coming to this one, and cracking a smile. And when they do, they can thank you, Mom.