A Day In The Life

This came to me at the end of my meditation sit with Calla on my lap this morning.

A Day In The Life

In my early morning slumber I can feel the heat of my loved one snuggled beside me, slight sweet breathing sounds coming from their mouth. I can’t wait for breakfast so I roam around a bit to see if others are up and ready to eat too. Yum, it’s so good.

Now I have so much energy I don’t know where to begin. I think I’ll rearrange the pillows. Oh, look at that! It makes me want to sing out loud it’s such a wonderful morning. The sun is coming in but it is a cold winter day. I could use some warmth and cuddling. I know, I’ll sit down and meditate for a bit. And lucky me I can get under the blanket and go inward. Is it meditation or am I sleeping? Maybe a bit of both. I can be here in this moment. Until I can’t.

Now what’s next on the list for the day. What needs to be accomplished? Does anything need to be accomplished? Why is that a requirement most of the time? I do need a bath, however, so I’ll do that next. Can someone put the heat on? it’s too cold in here. Ah, that’s better. I think I’ll hang close to the heat source while I comb my hair. I do have some knots but mostly I enjoy the strokes against my skin. Then perhaps I’ll do some planning for lunch and dinner.

But first I see something in the other room that I need to investigate. I think it is moving so I’ll see if I can get it to stop. Or maybe I can get it to move. I’ve got it now so I’ll take it with me upstairs. Or maybe back downstairs, I’m not sure where it wants to be. But I need to go back up to the bathroom. Gosh I must go up and down these stairs ten thousand times a day. I’m pooped now.

Nap time! Where is the perfect spot? There are so many wonderful choices. Sunny, hidden, supported, cuddled, with another or by myself. Yes, that’s perfect. Slumber…

Now it’s time for a snack! Rinse, repeat.

I am a cat. Is this so different from being human?

xoxo Rachel

Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartment

Animals In My Life

Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartmentIt is a bitter cold, yet beautiful sunny day today. The trees are glistening because many of their branches are still encased in ice. As I sit here in my warm and sunny office writing I noticed there is a family of deer grazing on the southeastern facing hillside across from our property. There are several inches of snow on the ground but they seem to be finding vegetation here and there. I wonder to myself, “where do they live—where do they sleep at night?” And my thought in reply was “I hope they have a cave to cuddle up in.” Of course I then did a little Internet research and not surprisingly deer don’t sleep much at night, tending to be cautious of predators. When they do get some shut-eye in winter, they might find some low branches of conifers to hide under. Mostly they stay warm by staying in motion and consuming whatever they can find.

Dad with our goatI am so grateful that I live on a quiet property where the wild animals roam. We have deer, an occasional red fox, skunk, squirrels, raccoons, wild turkey and chipmunks and we’ve even been visited by a black bear. And though I was very frustrated that the deer ate so many of my beautiful flowers when I first started our garden twenty some odd years ago, at this point I seem to have found a balance of plants they don’t care about and a few that I spray with stinky stuff to keep them away.

MinuI deeply love animals. Growing up we always had pets. There were goats, swans, gerbils, guinea pigs, and we always had a cat. When I was very young we had a cat that I don’t really remember much at all though my brother who is older does. Most of my memories are of our dark calico cat named Minu who at some point gave birth to a litter on my lime green painted cast iron bed. Minu was just always a part of my life from grammar school through high school. It wasn’t until much later that Andy and I adopted two kittens from a local shelter, Anubis our grey short-hair tabby and his brother Horus our orange long-hair tabby.

Anubis finds a great spot!Anubis and Horus were the loves of my life for 15 and 11 years respectively. I noticed yesterday that I no longer imagine hearing them padding around the house like I did for over a year after each had passed away. But then of course having thought about them during the day, last night I dreamed that I saw a new kitten in the house who looked just like Anubis but one eye appeared to be greyed over like it wasn’t functional. Horus being playfulWhen I woke up I began to faintly recollect many dreams over the years I have had about Horus and Anubis. One recurring strange dream was that there were more than one Anubis and Horus roaming about the house and appearing out of the nooks and crannies of our basement. I would get very upset because I couldn’t detect whether the cat in front of me was the real Anubis or Horus or the fake stand-in. I would remain worried until I woke up and determined that the genuine Anubis or Horus was safely snuggled with us.

Mom, Dad, Anubis and HorusAndy and I have been giving ourselves some grieving space since we lost Anubis in 2017. I think that my dreams are alerting me of my growing yearning for adopting another two fur babies. Just the thought of holding them closely, petting them and hearing their purring gets me calm and happy. And yet while I think of how joyful it will be to have new kittens, I realize that I will always miss and grieve Anubis and Horus. Grief doesn’t go away, it just shifts and changes. It’s just two years since my Dad died and it will be two years in June since Anubis died, so grief is present, but not as raw. Sometimes I have images of my Dad sitting on a couch with Anubis and Horus snuggled up to him. It’s a nice thought. And I look forward to snuggling up with some purring critters soon. Until then, I will continue to enjoy viewing the wild animals from my window and I send my love and kindness to all creatures great and small.

xoxo Rachel

Above Aspens in Santa Fe

Finding Peace In Nature

Above Aspens in Santa FeThe concept of communing with nature was something that I didn’t fully comprehend when I was a child. I mean I certainly recognized the beauty of nature, I just never knew how important it was to me until I became an adult. It is in hindsight that I realize how integral nature was to my experience as a child growing up in the beautiful small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Most of my favorite activities took place outside.

Rachel Peace GirlAs a young child I loved walking on paths from house to house through the woods. And I had special hiding place nestled among moss where I put a box of knickknacks that I had collected. The objects were important to me, but what was even more important was the magical location of the beautiful soft and fuzzy emerald green moss tucked under a downed tree trunk. Playing in the enclosure (a grassy area surrounded by bushes and trees) at the school was another favorite pastime of my friends and mine. And as a teenager, I spent nearly every evening hanging out at the bench near the store. Yes, that time was for social reasons, but it was also wonderful for me because it was outside in nature.

Fast-forward to my college years in Berkeley, California (where I met Andy) and Santa Cruz, California (where I did graduate work) and the great outdoors continued to be important to my livelihood. Most of my most poignant memories are with Andy in nature. Although Berkeley is a small city, the campus and surrounds are spectacular and filled with regal and fragrant eucalyptus trees. The campus is in the Berkeley hills so there are wondrous vistas everywhere. The rose garden and nearby parks gave me plenty of opportunities to be one with nature (though I have to admit that I was quite busy as a serious student so much of my time was spent in class and libraries.) I lived in a cooperative house with Andy and one of the key moments getting to know Andy took place on a house trip to Angel Island. As we hiked around, we talked and talked while taking in the beautiful sights. I started to fall in love with Andy among the trees and along the water edge of the San Francisco Bay area.

Rach and Andy in Santa CruzIn Santa Cruz I lived in several places, but all where within a short distance to the beach. I could easily enjoy the soothing sound of the waves crashing at times and lapping at other times along the shoreline. Unfortunately, again I was often so immersed in my schoolwork that I didn’t look up enough to take in all the splendor of nature. But I felt it nonetheless. UC, Santa Cruz is nestled among redwoods and the majesty of the trees is palpable. Simply walking from building to building and you can’t miss the energy around you. But even still I hadn’t yet fully embodied how nature impacted me.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhen Andy and I were traveling cross-country while I took a break from graduate school, we met a National Park Service ranger who led a session among the trees and rocks. When she asked the group, “Have you ever had an experience with a rock?” We chuckled and loved her seriousness and wonder about the rocks. We tucked that moment away and over the years have come to realize that we both have had numerous experiences with rocks and trees and nature in general. I even spent time literally tree-hugging in Sebastopol, California. Again the stately redwood trees served as a backdrop to my experience with nature. I was in an immersive leadership program that was held at a retreat center in the forest. Besides any number of amazing self-reflective and personal growth exercises, we spent a fair amount of time with the trees and up in them. We did high ropes courses where I climbed up redwood trees and did various leaps and tight rope walks while harnessed in a belay. I had many talks with the trees and I think they listened. I know I gave them regular hugs. Yes, I am that kind of crazy girl.

Labyrinth of our woodsNow that I live in Cold Spring, Andy and I are lucky to be in a house on a dirt road living among trees and streams and tons of rocks. And though we still do enjoy cities, having lived in New York City for many years, and still enjoy visiting cities when we travel, more and more we are finding that we are at our most serene state when we are communing with nature, having plenty of experiences with rocks.

xoxo Rachel

Nest at my altar

Celebrating Vernal Equinox

Nest at my altarHappy spring! Even though it is lightly snowing outside at the moment, last night marked the vernal equinox—the time when light and dark are equal lengths—signifying the start of spring. I attended a celebration and ceremony to honor the day. The beautiful experience with a small group of loving women reminded me of some very important components to living a joyful life. The details vary from person to person, but some of the elements of a fulfilling life are the same for everyone.

Community
Finding a group of people with whom you truly connect is important for most of us. Some people have the need to connect with many others, others are happy with passing connections here and there. I have the need for deep connection with just a few people. When I can get together with like minded folks, I am very joyful. Finding the group or groups that serve your needs isn’t easy. It is not unlike dating when you have to meet lots of people before you find the right one. But it is worth it when you find a community where you feel welcome, at ease and can be yourself. Last night was the perfect community for me.

Play and Crafting Is Needed
As part of the festivities last night, we did a craft project. We got sticky with glue and pieces of yarn and raffia and this and that and made little nests to welcome the nurturing rebirth of spring. What I observed among our small group was how each woman was deeply engaged in creating a unique object. There was a beautiful child-like silliness reflected in everyone’s face. And there was joy and playfulness abounding. Yet engaging in arts and crafts can bring up so many different emotions and past experiences. Perfectionism, messiness, skill, competition, happiness, and sadness might emerge to name a few. I have to say that I was a bit disconnected during the crafting and was overwhelmed with a jumble of emotions. After the fact, I think I know why.

Being With Others While Taking Care of Yourself
I am very disrupted by evening events in general. I have yet to learn how to manage being with others in the evening in a way that takes care of myself at the same time. I almost consider myself a nighttime hermit. So how do I reconcile my night hermit tendencies with the want and desire to connect deeply with people I care about? My inclination is to say, “Skip the evening events.” And I do try to find ways to nurture deep connections during the day. But that isn’t always possible so I go to evening things here and there. If it is the right community for me (as it was last night), the benefits outweigh the downsides. Nonetheless, finding a balance between being with others and taking care of myself is my area for exploration and growth.

I am easily thrown by hunger or cold. Last night I was hungry and cold while we were crafting—though at the time I doubt I would have been able to articulate that was the issue. I hadn’t eaten for more hours than I usually go. I had under-dressed. Had I had enough self-awareness last night to notice my feelings, I would have had a snack and put on more layers. Perhaps I needed to center myself with some quiet time in another room to calm the mishmash of emotions. Whatever the method, taking care of your own needs while you are with others is important. For me it doesn’t stop with the event.

After any evening event, I continue to have to work to take care of myself. Unwinding is a huge deal for me. I have difficulty stopping my mind after an evening of stuff. Whether it is good stuff or bad stuff doesn’t matter. I tend to have difficulty silencing my thoughts after an evening out. I have always preferred to go to bed early and to be in a calm state before I sleep. As a kid, I hated sleepovers and didn’t like staying up late, as everyone else seemed to enjoy. These days I usually read just before bed, but if the material is too engaging even that can impede my sleep. Disengaging with thoughts is a huge part of mindfulness meditation and I skill that I am always practicing. Having been with others last night, I had a particularly difficult time unwinding. Yet it was worth it to be with such a compassionate group.

Compassion For Others
A few weeks ago in one of my meditation groups (another one of my communities) we discussed Wise Intention also known as Right Intention as part of our exploration of The Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. The eight areas are Wise (or Right) View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration. What struck me in our study was how consistent this philosophy is with other canons of religion across time. Although there are certainly differences in how one is to think about these concepts (in the Buddhist approach it is not something to take as blind faith but instead is a guideline for self-exploration and discovery), they speak to some of the same underlying principles. Broadly speaking the overall way of The Noble Eightfold Path is through compassion for others and for ourselves. Have the intent to be kind, and think and act in accord with that intention. Not only is that the right/wise/ethical thing to do, but you will also encourage peace with the world, yourself and others.

My realization that there is a connective thread of compassion across religions makes me feel more confident that we beings understand deeply in our core, no matter who we are or when we lived, that how we treat others and ourselves creates our experience of life. Being with other people and sharing loving kindness creates a rich and loving life for yourself and others. So simple and yet so profound.

Last night was a real application of Wise everything! Well most everything. I will continue to explore how to balance my discomfort around evening energy with wanting to be with other magnificent people. Six amazing women gathered to honor the cycle of life, enjoy a delicious plant-based meal and play together was a joyful expression of compassion. How lucky I am!

xoxo Rachel

Andy & Rach at VLA

The Expansive Sky of New Mexico

Andy & Rach in Santa FeAfter way too long of not getting away, Andy and I finally went on a vacation this month. We went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a location that we first visited when we took a month-long road trip together when we were dating—32 years ago (see The summer of love—cross-country ramblin’ with my man in 1985.)

Andy in the Santa Fe mountainsWe have been back to Santa Fe several times since then and I always have the same reaction. I absolutely love to visit but cannot imagine living there. I am most definitely an east coast girl and tend to prefer the flora and fauna of the northeast. However, there is nothing quite like the expansive sky of New Mexico.

Ceramic balls at JackalopeWhen we visit Santa Fe, we spend as much time in the greater surrounding areas as we do in the actual town of Santa Fe (though I certainly do love everything in town including museums, southwestern food, jewelry shopping in the plaza and perusing the store called Jackalope).  This trip was no different. We drove north of Santa Fe into the mountains for the spectacular views of aspens and panoramic views of New Mexico. We drove south of town to visit the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Rach & Andy at Tent RocksThe hike in this National park is one of our favorite destinations when we go to Santa Fe. The last time we tried to visit in 2010, the dirt road out to the park—which runs through a reservation—was being paved, so it was closed. We were certainly happy that it was open on this trip seven years later. Presumably they finished the paving many years ago 🙂

Rachel Andy Jane PaulBig sky, small world. Andy and I were just at the start of the trail up to the top of the park when we stopped to take pictures of where we were headed. I turned around as two people approached and then exclaimed, “Jane!” One of my best friends from high school, who I haven’t seen in about seven years, was hiking with her husband Paul on this same trail! Sure there are only two trails in this particular park, but there aren’t that many people at the park at any given time. And what is the likelihood of meeting someone you know on vacation who lives in a different state? It is indeed a small world.

Tent RocksWhat a treat it was to catch up as we were standing there in the desert. We let them go ahead of us because I knew we would take our sweet time climbing the trail (I experience altitude sickness). Then we met up with them again at the top of the monument and continued to talk and take pics. Even though we were in an unusual location, our conversation was as if we had just seen each other two days ago. What I love about Jane and Paul is that Andy and I can easily take up our conversation anytime. The serendipity of that meeting was certainly a highlight of the trip, helped by the dramatic backdrop of the expansive New Mexico sky.

The VLAAnd though most of the expansive views we witnessed on this trip were of natural formations, there was one man-made view that was equally spectacular. We drove three hours south of Santa Fe to visit the Very Large Array.  The VLA is made up of 28 telescopes that each have an 82-foot wide dish with 8 receivers tucked inside. The telescopes continuously collect cosmic radio waves for research purposes like finding black holes and discovering ice on Mercury and all those kind of fun things—well fun to me! Astronomy is most definitely an area I have always loved.

Andy & Rach at VLAThe telescopes are arranged in one of four configurations that range from a bit over a half of a mile to over twenty miles apart. They are moved into their locations on specially made rail-tracks. Luckily when we visited they were in a tight formation so we could easily see all of them. When they move, they move slowly and smoothly in tandem. Andy commented that they look as if they are dancing. Quite an amazing sight to behold! I feel so grateful that Andy and I both appreciate the beauty of natural and man-made structures and share in these amazing experiences. The thrilling expansive sky of New Mexico will always be a favorite spot of ours in the world.

xoxo Rachel

“You Name It” Area Backroads

When Andy and I lived together in Santa Cruz, California in 1986-1988, one of our favorite TV shows was the Bay Area Backroads. Jerry Graham was the host of KRON-TV’s Bay Area Backroads from 1985 – 1993. (It turns out that the show continued non-stop until 2008 with Doug McConnell as the host after Jerry Graham retired.) Jerry would head out to some area in the greater Bay Area near San Francisco to explore locals and unique individuals along the way.

Our First Car In Cold SpringBecause of the program, Andy and my shorthand for going on a drive on smaller roads just to see the sights became the You Name It Area Backroads. In Ohio it was the Oberlin Area Backroads, In Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Area Backroads.  And of course these days there’s the Cold Spring Area Backroads. There’s even the Roosevelt Area Backroads—though we didn’t call it that back then—that I got very familiar with when I was a young girl on drives with my mom and dad on what we called “Sunday Outings”. They were memorable meanderings around on all the small country roads near Roosevelt, with no goal in mind and no destination picked out.

The Theme song for Bay Area Backroads was Ry Cooder’s Available Space and anytime I hear Ry Cooder I feel like getting into the car and going for a drive. Although Andy and I only watched it for a few years, we are big fans of that program and even bigger fans of the You Name It Area Backroads. Just earlier this week, I took my mom to the Newburgh Area Backroads. I needed to pick something up at a store in Newburgh and my mom had never been. So we hopped into my car and, after taking care of the shopping need, cruised the neighboring backroads. We hit the waterfront and visited the historic and truly broad, Broadway. We drove under the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge to the north town area that has wonderful historic mansions all the way up to the edge of the Hudson River.

We continued our backroads tour heading north to the Walkway on the Hudson, though we hadn’t intended to go that far. We were on the lookout for The Buttermilk Falls Inn which we finally found after we had turned back from the Mid Hudson Bridge. Llamas and goats and duck and geese were roaming around the lovely grounds of the spa and inn. We never got out of the car—that’s part of the plan with one of our You Name It Area Backroads drive. You can get out of the car if you want, but you needn’t. The drive itself is the destination, watching the world go by and stumbling on various sights and stores and food places and whatever.  And of course the company you keep is the biggest plus.  Driving with my mom was a perfect outing.

The You Name It Area Backroads phrase can apply to any area you are visiting. So even if you are just visiting, if you have a car rental and want to explore, go right ahead and check out that area backroads. You can really get a great sense of the area when you stray from the well-known spots. Yet I am most fond of intimately getting to know where you live through this method. Just head out in any direction from your home and take turns here and there as you follow your nose in whatever direction seems promising for some reason.

Sometimes when we are out driving I will remember a place that I have wanted to check out for some time—such was the case with the Buttermilk Falls Spa and Inn. Other times we will note places that we want to come back to actually visit—not having the desire or energy to get out of the car at that time. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter. Andy and I might be singing along or listening to music, though more often we are pointing out sights to each other and chatting away. However it occurs, You Name It Area Backroads is a wonderful way to spend time with people you love while enjoying the unique surrounds and places that you will inevitably find on your jaunt.

xoxo Rachel

Beach Trips With My Mom

Mother and Daughter Turks and CaicosOver the years my Mom and I have spent time together at the beach more times than I can count. As young kids, my Mom would take my brother and me to the Jersey Shore with other moms who also had small children. Although I have one photo that proves that my Dad went to the beach with us at least once, I suspect that was one of the few times he joined us.  When I got a bit older, my brother also remained at home more often—though there was a memorable trip to Atlantic City with him. Thus began many years of my mom and me going to the beach together.

Muellers at Jersey ShoreMostly our mother-daughter trips were on weekends to nearby Manasquan, NJ while I was still living at home. Later, after I had left home for college, we went to the beach together for daytrips whenever I stayed with my parents on visits in the summer. And a few times we went a bit farther and stayed overnight in Cape May, NJ.

Erik-Rachel-Atlantic-CityCape May was particularly familiar to my Mom at the time, because she had a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Reorganization case involving beach properties there. In fact, we had a lovely dinner at one of her client’s properties while we visited one time. We enjoyed the downtown shops and food, but most of the time we spent on the beach.

While at the beach we sat under an umbrella with lots of magazines and books that we barely looked at. Instead, we talked and talked and talked. My Mom and I never lack for conversation topics. Whether light and bantering or deep and big-picture reflective, our talking style is rather fast-paced and engaging. The beach is a perfect place for spending hours doing nothing but talking. What could be better?

Erik-Mom-RachelIn my 30s, I went to Florida for work nearly twice a month because I had a remote team based in Dunedin, near Tampa and Clearwater. Thus began another phase of beach trips with my Mom were she accompanied me to Florida. While I was at work during the day, she hung out at the beach or pool in Clearwater and I joined her at the end of the day. I’ll never forget the sweet feeling of being sent off to work for the day by my Mom. It was almost like she was seeing me off for grammar or high school. And then when I returned to the hotel room, what a treat to have my Mom greet me instead of being alone on a business trip. We always stayed over the weekend so that I could also have some time with her on the beach.

Rachel-at-the-beachI no longer travel to Florida regularly for work so now Mom and I just find excuses to take trips together to the beach. My Mom left New Jersey and lives near me now in New York, so going for a day-trip to the Jersey Shore isn’t as easy—but that hasn’t stopped us from making the two-hour trek occasionally. And last week we traveled even further and went to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean to get our beach fix together during the winter.

Mom in Turks & CaicosThe trip was perfect. Blue skies, azure water, occasional fluffy clouds, a sprinkle one day for a few minutes, and a storm with downpour one evening gave us the right mix of weather to enjoy. The turf varied from day to day from fairly large waves to so calm it was almost like a lake. The sea was most inviting when there were some waves, but ones that were not too lively. I encouraged Mom to join me in the water—not something that she does often. We went hand in had into the water beyond where the waves were breaking. Together we floated over each small wave as it started its way towards the shore. With smiles and giggles, we enjoyed the undulations of the water while the bright sun beamed down on us.

Mom under the umbrella in Turks & CaicosSpending time in the room together each evening was also fun. We watched DVDs and ate food that we picked up at the local grocery store—including plenty of junk food☺. But most of all I loved spending time on the beach with my Mom. With a magazine or book in hand—again left unread—just sitting next to my Mom under the umbrella for hours of gazing out into the beautiful clear blue water in between conversations about love and life was one long magical moment.  P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you.

xoxo Rachel

Small Town Living: Idyllic Or Just A Fantasy?

Family in RooseveltI have been reading a ton of books this past month. Small books, big books, light fare and heavy stuff. Much of the lighter books are romance novels and I seem to be drawn to ones that take place in idyllic small towns. I don’t always like the tone of many of these books that rely on getting married and having lots of kids and always a dog (not that that is a bad thing, but to presume that marriage and kids and dogs is required for happiness is a bit narrow for me. Cats get no respect ☺). However, I love that they are set in fantasy small towns where even if everyone gets in each other’s business, they do it out of caring and love for each other and the community. They all have picture-perfect downtowns with a coffee shop and bookstore and cute shops and hold plenty of small-town events.Roosevelt Childhood Home

I grew up in a small town, the wonderful town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. I do feel like my childhood was idyllic, even if we didn’t have a bookstore and coffee shop. In the 60s and 70s, the town was a generous community to grow up in with deep and important connections fostered between the kids and the families. Of course I can wax nostalgic about my childhood because it is easy to gloss over any of the bad stuff when reminiscing. Nonetheless, I loved my childhood, family, friends and community. And I know that there is a lot to be said for small towns and the community and connection that they provide.

Our House And Garden In Cold SpringOnce again I live in a small town: Cold Spring, NY on the Hudson River. My experience now is quite different from my childhood for a number of reasons. Being an adult certainly changes the perspective. Yet there is most definitely a community aspect here that feels good and comforting and welcoming just like my childhood life in Roosevelt. The big difference is that not having grown up here and gone to school, I don’t know all the families like I did in Roosevelt. I just don’t have a long-term history here even though we have had this house for twenty-one years—much of that only for weekends. When you move to a town and don’t have roots there, it can take time to get to know folks. Because we don’t have any kids, we were not introduced to all the families like we would have had we had kids at the public schools. Community is essential and automatic through your kids (that is true in any size community).

So although I don’t have connections through kids, I am building my community in different ways. I am so grateful that I have a group of people who meditate and discuss readings about mindfulness and living fully present lives every week. I am fortunate that there is a lovely small library in my town and also the town next door with darling librarians who bring us together for various events. I love that I know everyone when I go to The Foundry on Saturday mornings for breakfast. I love sharing “oohs and aahs” with friends while watching fireworks at the town Fourth of July event (Roosevelt’s Fourth Of July celebration, however, wins the prize for best small town event ever!)  I am putting down roots both literally in our garden and figuratively through our connections.

My Family in Roosevelt in the 70sLest you think I am only a small town advocate, I should say that I absolutely loved living in New York City and I did indeed create a community there during the twenty years I lived in Manhattan. It is true that community can be built in large towns and cities. It just has a different quality. I did run into people I knew while I lived in the city yet in a small town the likelihood that you will bump into someone you know is much greater. This is in part because the choices for what to do are more limited and confined to a smaller area. And there are fewer people.

I think a big part of why I love living where I live is the outdoors. I lived just a block from the Hudson River in the city and could escape the city sounds and energy to go to the water’s edge from time to time. Now I have ongoing quiet and peace of the woods that gives me such inspiration and comfort and calm everyday. I guess it is not too surprising given that romance novels are often idealized fantasies, that when I read about those picture perfect small towns I fantasize about what it would be like if I lived in one of those towns. Then I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I do live there! Of course real life is not as idealized as in the books I read, but it is pretty darn close.

Home In Roosevelt until age 5What is very funny to me is that I could not wait to get out of Roosevelt while growing up. Of course that is in part because I needed to leap independently into a life of my own creation and staying at home was not the place to do that. But a big part was that I did not want to be in a small town. So I went to Boston and then to Berkeley for college. When I looked for jobs as a professor, most of the positions were in schools in small towns. So I ended up in a small town of Oberlin. Pretty quickly I found that work in a city was drawing me and not academia. When I think back I do remember that there were a lot of great things about the small town of Oberlin—I was creating a nice community. But it was not the right time for me. I was ambitious for fast paced and multitasking in work and life. I wanted the big city and all the energy that went along with it. So Andy and I went to New York for a large part of our adulthood, excelled in our careers and created a great life. And yet we needed a place to go to get away from the city here and there. So we got our place in Cold Spring for weekends.

Mandevilla Flower In My Cold Spring GardenMy friend Nathalie reminded me a few weeks ago when she was visiting from the city that I had told her some years back that I could never imagine leaving the city for Cold Spring full-time. And I do remember feeling that way. We came up to Cold Spring only for weekends and holidays for about fifteen years. And then something shifted. Part of the shift was due to a conscious choice of changing our work lifestyle. Much of it was that the small town life is more appealing now that I am in my fifties and frankly less ambitious. And I think most of all the shift was towards greater inner peace and calm, greater introspection and stillness that I can find more easily in a small town. I am now happily settled in a small town and loving the peaceful energy of this life.

Main Street Cold SpringWe do have a main street dotted with quaint shops. We used to have a bookstore but unfortunately that closed several years ago (it is hard for small bookstores to compete with the chains). There are a few nice coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stands and of course those wonderful libraries. I have that idyllic small town life now even if I don’t have kids or know all the families yet and I have a cat not a dog. I continue to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city every now and again. In a little over an hour train ride into Grand Central, I can re-engage with the energy of the city that I still respect and love. But for now at least, small town living is idyllic to me and not a fantasy.

XOXO Rachel

A Feminist Since Birth

WageThis past Sunday I attended a meeting of WAGE International (Women and Girls’ Education International) and I was so very inspired by the experience. I was invited to the meeting after I had been asked by their president Heather Mistretta and agreed to become a board member. I didn’t hesitate an instant to say, “Yes!” even though I didn’t really know that much about their group.

WAGE is committed to empowering women and girls and educating everyone to stop the cycle of violence against women and girls. Stepping into the home of WAGE’s founder Rekha Datta on Sunday afternoon was a leap of faith, given how little I knew about WAGE. But as we gathered and introduced ourselves to each other, I knew that I was in the right place. Sitting around the living room of our host’s house, I was struck by all the amazing people who were drawn together for a mutual cause. Rekha’s husband introduced himself by saying that he was “a feminist since birth.” That is such a wonderful way to put it, I thought. I, too, am indeed a feminist since birth, fortunate to have been raised by my thoughtful and loving parents in such an unusual and peace-loving town of Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Attending the WAGE meeting was coming home. Coming home to feminism, coming home to peace, coming home to activism and finally coming home to New Jersey. WAGE is headquartered in Monmouth County, NJ, about 2 hours away from my current home in New York. My hometown of Roosevelt where I grew up is also in Monmouth County. And Roosevelt was a town filled with activists in the 60s and 70s. I am grateful that I grew up there and was exposed to so many forward thinking and creative individuals.

Throughout my life, I have been committed to empowerment of women and girls though I hadn’t fully strung together all the links of my passion and experience until yesterday morning. While I was in meditation with my Wednesday morning group at The Garrison Institute, immense emotion arose in me as memories of the feminist and activist work I have done over the years came flooding over me.

My peace jewelryAs a child, I attended peace marches in DC along with my family, traveling by chartered buses filled with all ages of Rooseveltians. My brother and I were little-kid activists: children’s equality, and recycling (see Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey) where our main areas of focus. And of course, feminism was ingrained in me. My mom was a beautiful feminist role model, striving for equal rights. She also subscribed to Ms. Magazine from its inception and I remember fondly how much I loved reading each issue when it arrived in the mail.

Equality and peace are closely connected so I suppose it isn’t surprising that working with WAGE to educate and empower and promote peace is a good match for my passions. I have had opportunities throughout my life to contribute to causes that help women and girls. My entire business career I was always very focused on helping to support and promote women in my company and mentored women as well as men to be empowered to be themselves and strive for greatness in their work. Along the way I also took time away from the corporate world and did some powerful work with girls and boys.

Although I have been living in New York for most of my adult life, I have been drawn to groups that are all over the country. As part of a yearlong leadership program that met in Sebastopol, California, I developed and held a workshop for boys and girls at a summer camp in Yosemite, CA. I remember that day so well. I flew from New York into Oakland, CA and drove for over an hour to the camp to hold the workshop with my co-leader Angela.

Angela and I were deliberately paired because our leadership styles were very different and one goal of the amazing leadership training was learning how to dance with and co-lead when your partner has a different natural style. This is such a gift of learning for life because we encounter so many people who have different backgrounds, talents and experiences from our own. We need to realize that other perspectives and approaches are neither the right nor wrong way. Learning how to lean into a different way of working with someone is a peaceful act. It is accepting colleagues for all that they are and working towards navigating differences with ease. It is about learning to trust each other no matter that we have different ways. What a great learning for me and also what a great experience leading a group of boys and girls from that peaceful stance.

Rach and MomPart of the tenets of my co-leading training was learning how to use improvisational techniques to build off of another person. I loved doing the improvisational games over the year training and became so enamored with improv that I took a summer course at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC. One of the main reasons I love to write and speak is that I enjoy creating with language. Improv training gave me an invaluable tool to create off the cuff, something I draw upon all the time for writing and giving presentations.

Improv also allows for playfulness and creating from nothing. The flow and spontaneity I feel when using language to convey my thoughts and feelings fills me with such joy. And it makes me feel so empowered. So I had a thought. What if I can connect my love of improv and my sense that it is such an empowering skill with my passion of empowering girls? I decided to seek out organizations that did just that and discovered a wonderful group, called ACTNOW in Northampton, Massachusetts near Smith, Amherst and Mt Holyoke Colleges. I met with their organizer, Nancy Fletcher and volunteered to do some work with them. They use movie making and improvisation to empower girls. The girls take on any one of the many roles needed to create a film including writing, directing, camera work, acting and editing. Although ACTNOW was closer than my groups in California, it was a three-hour drive from my home in New York. I only worked with them for a short time, yet I have fond memories of the amazing girls and that organization.

And so it turns out that it isn’t uncommon for me to travel far in order to participate in activities designed to empower girls. I will travel over the country in search of groups of people who share my passion for women, girls, empowerment and peace. And though I have dabbled here and there, I wonder where my need to help empower women will take me next. I am excited about what lies ahead with WAGE International, and I know that this organization is a catalyst for me to further experience how I can promote feminism, love and peace in the world. I am grateful that they have found me and I them.

XOXO Rachel

Gnilcycer: Recycling In Roosevelt, New Jersey

Andy's RecyclingA few weeks ago I was talking with my family at my Mom’s 80th birthday party (which was wonderful) and I mentioned that my memory of when I was young is very dim. There are, however, memories that vividly and suddenly come back to me. They are usually prompted by something happening to me in that moment. This morning I had such an experience. My husband Andy was getting the recycling together and the sight of him tying twine around newspapers propelled me to my childhood in the late 60s when, with my brother Erik, we started Gnilcycer in our hometown of Roosevelt, NJ.

Gnilcycer is recycling spelled backwards and was the title we used for our collection of paper, bottles and cans—well before towns and cities had set up recycling programs. My brother was always creative with names so I am pretty sure he made that one up. (He also made up my company name Wondrance).

These days Andy keeps a big ball of twine and a pretty bright red scissors with our recycling basket and periodically wraps up the paper when it has grown into a high heap. He has been doing this for years but for some reason, this morning as I gazed at Andy’s beautifully twined- tied packages of newspaper, flashbacks of organizing stacks of paper, bins of bottles and cans as a girl came rushing into my focus.

My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater
My Dad, Erik and Me circa late 60s at Hights Theater

I can’t recall whether we collected the recycling ourselves or whether people dropped it off—I think it might have been both—but I do have distinct images of our collection building. It was a garage behind the Roosevelt Nursery School on Homestead Lane just down the street from our house. Erik and I spent a lot of time behind the nursery school separating paper and cans and bottles into different piles. Then we put everything into a van to take to a big recycling factory. My dad drove us in the Green Monster, a funky old van painted pastel green. I wish I had a photo of that van. It was clearly painted with glossy regular wall paint—not professional car paint. But it was perfect for tasks like hauling recycling and also apparently a family of four from New Jersey to Florida. I only vaguely remember that Florida trip but images of the Green Monster are clear.

Hauling the recycling materials to the Freehold processing plant in the Green Monster was an exciting trip. We got to see the behind the scenes of recycling and felt so wonderful playing a small role in reducing waste. And to say that recycling is important to me is an understatement. That early experience set me up for a lifetime of devotion to recycling. Recycling has grown into an expected part of life now, but I remember with fondness each stage of the recycling movement and how I personally dealt with recycling wherever I have lived.

In the late 70s, towns and cities started to gather recycling from homes, but before that, there were only drop-off locations like Gnilcycer. It wasn’t until the 80s that curbside recycling started to really grow in the US and it took a few decades before it was widespread. New Jersey, it turns out, was an early recycling focused state. Woodbury, NJ was the first city in the US to mandate recycling in 1980, setting a precedent for the rest of the country. These days there are garbage and recycling bins available everywhere in public spaces and the types of materials that are recycled has expanded. I am grateful to my child-self and my family for my recycling mindset and wonderful memories.

XOXO Rachel