Perfectionary in Isla Scotland

Perfectionary And Other Made-Up Words

Perfectionary in Isla ScotlandOne of my favorite bookmarks that I picked up at a chocolate shop (Vegan no less) has the word perfectionary in bright colors across one side. Well, actually it doesn’t. It says confectionary but I somehow always read it as perfectionary and it has turned into one of my favorite words. I love made up words. I don’t create them deliberately; they just come out of my mouth here and there. Perfectionary evokes such a sweet and wonderful image to me, particularly as it relates to people I know and love. And undeniably everyone is perfectionary in my opinion. Life is perfectionary.

New words are created all the time for companies and brands. The pharmaceutical industry employs people who spend their days creating names for their drugs that go to market. They want them to roll off the tongue better then the chemical drug names. So yes, new words appear all the time. But the word creation I speak of is spontaneous.

Erik and Rachel By Vivian CrozierMaking up words as they speak is something that I know many people do. I started creating words when I was fairly young. Kids do that all the time. Word play and word creation indeed runs in my family. My brother Erik created my company name Wondrance and named our grandma Coco and one of our cats Rugashey (I have no idea of the spelling). Those words stuck. My dad had lists of words that he created over the years. A number of them show up in his poems, including Ballahoodleness and Poetographics. Another of his poems comes from my word creation.

GRANDMA RAYS*Hani Mama

It is as if
Grandma
Exists at
An infinitely remote
Star
Beyond galaxies,
Ancient in time,
Allpowerful anodyne,
Beaming concern
At us grandchildren;
Powerful and sweet
Her childlike eyes
Touching us
Everlastingly,
Her delicate love
Penetrating us,
Altering our genes
With her ubiquitous
Grandma rays.

*One morning we left Grandma, Hani Mama, who is about 92, waving at us, smiling her love, standing in her white flowing nightgown, childlike. Rachel said, “Look at her, beaming her Grandma Rays at us!”

© Robert E. Mueller 8/9/77
Property of the estate of Robert E. Mueller

Mueller Family 1962 with Coco

Making up words I suppose is just a mind’s way of expressing something that no other word seems to fully capture. And it feels natural and yet magical at the same time. But I haven’t done a good job of keeping track of them. Sometimes they stick, but mostly they come and go as easily as the days and nights pass by.

xoxo Rachel

 

Robert Mueller "Fronds"

The Splendor of Colors

Colorful spools of thread from Cotton and SteelThis past week while I was in Denver tagging along on my husband’s business trip, I visited my friend Sarah who is a fabulous knitter. She needed to pick up some buttons and yarn so I joined her on a yarn trek. The first store we went into was sweet but very small. Then we went to a yarn and other craft store mecca called Fancy Tiger Crafts.  All I can say is wow!

The main thing that captured my eye was the abundance of color and texture in every direction. There were shelves of yarns in colors of all the rainbow. The bolts of fabric that lined several walls had small prints, large prints, in rich colors and in pastels. The ribbons and trims were like strips of candy that I wanted to devour. One of my favorite racks was of every-color-imaginable spools of thread produced by Cotton + Steel. But what made them even more spectacular was the fact that each spool was a contrasted color to the thread.  Just delectable!

I found that I had a huge smile plastered on my face the entire visit to the store. And everyone there seemed happy too. I attribute it to the color (and of course all the lovely woman working there and shopping there who were into crafts of all sorts). I know that color is important to me but what I forget is how color impacts me viscerally. I feel color melt over me and bathe me in bliss.

Yarn ColorEvery October for the past several years since I gave knitting a try, I have been going to the NY State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. It turns out that knitting wasn’t the craft for me—perhaps one day I’ll try again—but I am grateful that I learned about this fair because of having taken knitting lessons with a sweet young woman who knitted herself a different sweater each year to wear to the event. The fair is a delightful combination of crafters and furry animals and of course color! Set in the fall against the backdrop of trees turning magnificent hues, the rows upon rows of yarn skeins in every color and weight imaginable are indeed eye candy.

Goat loveTaking in everything visually is a way to boost my happiness. Because how can you not smile when you get to pet an angora bunny that is a giant white fluff ball? And how can you not giggle at the variety of unusual looking goats and sheep with their coats that range from curly locks to soft long fleece. And don’t forget the sometimes silly and yet beautiful llamas. And the range of natural colors: browns and creams and golden hues and blacks and warm shades of all sorts. The lovely animal’s downy or coarse fur is the starting point for the beautiful and colorful yarns. Whether the wool that gets spun into yarn remains natural or gets dyed in every color imaginable, the result is a kaleidoscope of joy.

Robert Mueller "Fronds"I get lost in color. I revel in it. One of my favorite activities is staring at one of my Dad’s large acrylic abstract paintings. Sometimes I dive into the middle of the painting. Other times I start at an edge and follow a color as it shifts into different shades and meanders across the canvas. Although he painted with oil for years and the colors are deep and rich in those pieces, when he shifted to acrylics the colors exploded for me. I live to float through the world with my eyes open while I absorb all the magnificent colors.

xoxo Rachel

Kitties Commuting

Horus in a shoeboxI have such wonderful memories of bringing up our two cats, Horus and Anubis with my husband Andy. They completed our family of four. Our cat Anubis, who is nearing sweet sixteen, is getting very close to the end of his life. We had to say goodbye to his brother Horus five years ago and we still miss him and all the silly noises and stunts he did. Horus loved to squeeze into the smallest box possible. And he would throw his body on the ground and make the sweetest sound as he rolled over to expose his tummy. Anubis’s main stunt—until his senior years—was jumping for his scrunchy ball. We called it his Pelé move. I have a movie of him somewhere that I can’t seem to find.

AnubisWe adopted the two of them from Little Orphan Animals in Peekskill, NY though at the time we were living in New York City and only stayed in Cold Spring, NY on the weekends. I first met our kittens at their foster home in Putnam Valley, NY where they were staying with their five siblings after being rescued from the side of the road. The foster home was fairly large and had many different rooms filled with cats and dogs of different ages and types. They even had a separate room upstairs with a screened-in porch for several cats with feline leukemia. That room was well isolated from the others to prevent spreading of the disease.

Horus sleeping on my workThe newest addition to the foster home was a litter of mewing kittens. They were only about a week old so they were little itsy bitsy things and easily fit into the palm of my hands. I got to pick out our two kittens and I selected Horus for his beautiful orange coat and Anubis for his loud purr. Anubis is still our purr-bucket. Horus was named after the Egyptian god of the sun and Anubis after the god of the underworld.  Egyptians idolized their cats as I obviously do.

Andy and Anubis readingOnce the kittens were a couple of weeks older, the foster parents brought them to us in Cold Spring and did a home visit to make certain we would be good parents and had a safe home in which to care for them. I love that they took animal adoptions so seriously—we certainly did. Initially we kept Horus and Anubis in our guest room in Cold Spring so that they didn’t have too big of a place to contend with. But we had to get back to the city for work so thus began kitty commutation.

Mom and Dad and their grandkitties Anubis and HorusAnubis and Horus were small enough that they easily fit into a single cat carrier. And that was a good thing because come Monday morning we grabbed our bags and our kittens and took the train to the city. Our city apartment was small enough that they could go anywhere though we tried at first to keep them out of our bedroom at night. That didn’t last long. Little scratching paws at our door was enough for us to cave. Our cats slept with us from then on. Have you seen Simon’s Cat video?  Well, that just about captures our life with our kittens in the morning though they never hit us with a bat.

Anubis and MeKitty commutation continued each week: to Cold Spring by train on Fridays after work and to the city on Monday mornings. The kittens seemed to take it in stride. They were wee things and the cat carrier was still a palace to them—for a while anyway. In a few months we graduated to two cat carriers, which made things a lot more difficult. At the time Andy was working really long hours so sometimes I was carrying two cat carriers by myself on an earlier train.

Baby Horus and Anubis snugglingNot that I am complaining—but then Horus and Anubis did. They decided that they really didn’t like the train. The sounds that emerged from their carriers caused quite a stir among the Metro-North passengers. It was time for Andy and me to graduate to car commuting.

Our Toyota TercelIn 1995 we had bought a used 1989 Toyota Tercel in Freehold, NJ while we were visiting my parents. That was just before we bought our Cold Spring house and well before we adopted the kittens. Until the kitty train commuting got out of hand, we simply kept the Tercel at the Cold Spring train station parking lot during the week—for free! We talked to the village police who said that it was no problem leaving the car there because they regularly checked the station. They wrote down our license plate and phone number just in case. Can you imagine that happening now? That certainly is worlds ago. Now the station is all paid parking and the MTA police definitely do not have our phone number.

Anubis can jump high!Anubis and Horus continued to grow and we continued to travel back and forth and back and forth between Cold Spring and New York by car for about ten years. In 2001 we bought a new Toyota Rav4 so Anubis and Horus had pretty nice digs during a few years of their commuting. Horus was always pretty laid back about cruising in the car. Anubis—not so much. Anubis never found anything good about car travel. But fortunately we have been living full-time in Cold Spring for some time now and kitty commuting—and work commuting in general—is a thing of our past.

Babies in a basketI am so grateful that I had a couple of years full-time with Horus by my side—sometimes in my lap—while I was working from home. And I love that I can be with Anubis all day now. I will miss him so much. Anubis and Horus will forever be my little boys.

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

My Bouncing Mind

My AltarLately I can’t focus very well. I am constantly changing direction in my thoughts. My bouncing mind leaps from one thought to another and from one direction to another, barely taking any time to stop on any one topic. I don’t have ADHD so this isn’t a usual circumstance for me. It is true that I often think really quickly so the pace of my thoughts moves fast and can change direction. But that is usually a progression of thoughts that leads me to new ideas. Instead what I am experiencing now is the inability to stay in one place, thought wise.

A friend who I met with yesterday also noticed that I am perhaps working too hard to try to figure it all out. I have read—and no exaggeration here—20 self-development books in the past two months. Although the books have overlapping topics, because each author has a different perspective I am receiving an overabundance of ideas. Time to put down all the different books and not push so hard. Time to get back to being here where I am and just be.

It’s just that I feel so untethered. And so I sought books as a way to find a path forward. I also began a new healthful way of eating on March 1st. Since the start of the month I have been eating a low fat, low sugar vegan diet. I have not had any trouble sticking to the “new way of eating” (I prefer that to calling it a “diet”). And yet I have noticed that I feel less grounded, even though I am eating plenty of root vegetables ☺. I can’t put my finger on it but I am definitely missing something. Sure I am obviously not eating meat and dairy but it is more than missing those foods. (I don’t seem to miss the dairy at all, but meat, yes.) I suspect that there is both a psychological and biological factor in this feeling of—I think I just put my finger on it—loss!

Well, no surprise there. I am clearly mourning the loss of my father so perhaps I have added to this feeling of loss by not eating pork, beef and chicken. Kind of sounds crazy. But I bet there is something to it. Not that I am going to use that as an excuse to revert to my old eating pattern. I feel really good physically and in general like this new way of eating. I just need to be kind to myself and let my body and soul go through the mourning process however it goes.

My mindfulness meditation practice is geared towards being present in the current moment. Focusing on my breath or sound or something that keeps me anchored, helps me to stay in the here and now. So given my more than usual bouncing mind my meditation practice has been more monkey-mind than usual. And yet, this practice is absolutely what I need most right now.  So I will continue to practice.  And I will continue to find magical moments and just be content in enjoying every moment as it unfolds.

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

Remembrance of Dad and Sensations Past

In Honor of Robert E. Mueller
April 3, 1925 – January 18, 2017

Mueller Family Late 1970sThere are so many wonderful memories to unpack of my life with my Dad—here are just a few standouts that are flowing from me right now. I am so grateful for his love and kindness to me. And I am so thankful that he is in many ways responsible for my deep love of my sense-experiences. I remember so fondly when he and I did woodworking projects, together in the basement workshop, that used his jigsaw. I equate jigsaws with my Dad. I don’t think I ever really heard the word in any other context than with my Dad. I suspect I never really even realized before putting pen to paper today that a jigsaw puzzle was probably initially created using a jigsaw. A jigsaw is what my Dad had in the basement that we used to cut shapes out of wood—regardless of the purpose. That’s the only kind of electric saw that existed in my child’s mind. And it will always be the best saw to me.

Jewelry HandAnyway, I also loved what we created with that jigsaw. Together Dad helped me to use the jigsaw to build jewelry-related items. My purple velvet-lined jewelry box is a perfect combination of rough unfinished wood next to ultra-soft napped deep-purple velvet. Possibly it was my first use of the jigsaw. A bit more ambitious project, my display jewelry holder in the shape of my hand so perfectly makes use of a wood knot as the palm. We used the jigsaw to cut the hand shape and the base. I probably traced my hand and forearm as the pattern on tracing paper with a soft graphite pencil. That unique pencil smell comes to mind. Then we cut dowels for fingers (other than the thumb) and hooks to hold bracelets and more rings. I love my little jewelry box and hand display. They still are very much in use today in my jewelry cabinet. A glance at them is love.

Little Rach and DadMy Dad and I also did other larger woodworking projects together. I suspect we used the jigsaw to cut the 2×4 pieces into lengths for the bookshelf we made for my bedroom. We also built a desk together which had three wood legs, a plywood top with strips of wood around the edge to soften and finish it and a small file cabinet anchoring it as the fourth leg. Now that I have been exposed to more woodworking tools because of Andy and his workshop, I suspect that using other saws might have been more effective for cutting large pieces of wood. We used the jigsaw! I know we occasionally used handsaws of different sizes as well. But the jigsaw is king. I can conjure up the loud sound of it turning on as I sit here. Even with its raw power and energy, it’s a calming and comforting sound. I can also smell the fragrant, yummy wood. To this day I adore the smell of cut wood.

Father and DaughterJust last week I went with Andy to Dain’s Lumber, a local family-operated lumberyard where we got to pick pieces of wood. Andy needed members for his project of restoring his father’s (and his grandfather’s before him) workbench. (Andy had lovingly taken apart the workbench at his childhood home in California in December and shipped the pieces to our New York home). Andy and I watched as the wood workers planed the pieces of wood to a thinner dimension. The planer was so loud and thrilling and the smell of cut wood around me so reassuring. I am sure there is a primitive reason for my love of cut wood. I know that I am not alone in that feeling—Andy certainly shares it. I also owe addition love for cut wood smells to my Dad. (Andy learned his love for woodworking from his Dad). I didn’t spend as much time with my Dad over the years compared to my Mom, but woodworking was a standout.

Father Son DaughterAnother sense-based love that I owe to my Dad is my adoration of the smell of oil paints. Although I should say that my love is probably a bit broader and includes linseed oil, ink and turpentine. My Dad started working in oils, though for many years he used acrylics—but they don’t smell as good! I have a small set of oil paints and to sniff them is to experience joy and to transport me to my Dad’s studio in our attic. I am sure that the smell of oil paints is still lingering upstairs in the Britton House—our childhood home. Dad worked in our attic on painting, ink schemas, sketching and—woodcuts! How could I forget that woodcutting was not confined to the jigsaw in the basement for building structures? Woodworking was part of his art creation!

Communications Officer MuellerMy Dad cut wood for his amazing and intricate woodcut prints. Using woodcutter’s tools of different shapes and taking advantage of the grains of wood, he crafted many woodcuts. From scenes of many people depicting slavery to peace marches and workingwomen, to individual nudes and portraits, my Dad was a gifted woodcutter. I can smell the ink as he rolls it over the beautifully carved planks of wood. And then using a smooth burnishing tool made from wood, I can feel him rubbing the textured white rice paper laid on top to transfer the image. Yes, I do indeed love texture and smell—is it any wonder?

Father and DaughterMy Dad’s life, and therefore my childhood too, used the senses. Sights—the beauty of his artwork and his design eye. Sounds—the delicate brush against canvas, the scraping of wood curls from his cutting tool and the jigsaw drone. Textures—the crevices in his woodblocks and blobs of oil on canvas. Smells—fragrances from all the materials he worked to create lasting art. The remembrance of sensations from my Dad’s woodworking and artwork will forever sustain me and provide me with love.

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

Learning To Cook As A Young Girl In Roosevelt New Jersey

Recipes from RooseveltiansI just finished reading Ruth Reichl’s most recent book, My Kitchen Year. It is a cookbook and it is also a story of her first year after Gourmet magazine closed (she was the editor for 10 years). Each recipe is introduced with a short essay so it reads like a memoir—a memoir with food. I feel very much like my life is a memoir with food. I learned to bake and cook at an early age, I get much solace and joy from creating good eats in the kitchen and most of my strongest memories from childhood and through adulthood center around cooking and food.

I began reading my mom’s cookbooks at an early age. I always loved reading her Joy Of Cooking, an encyclopedic collection of recipes that covers anything you can think of. To this day I read recipes for fun. I read cookbooks cover to cover and we subscribe to a number of cooking magazines. Growing up, my mom bought the December issues of Woman’s Day and Family Circle for the holiday cookie recipes (see Holiday Traditions Old and New: Baking Christmas Cookies with Mom) but otherwise I had no knowledge that wonderful magazines just for recipes even existed. Growing up, my husband Andy’s family had tons of cookbooks and lots of cooking magazines. I first was introduced to Gourmet and Sunset while sitting in the living room of his parent’s house in Davis, CA when we were dating in college. Now Andy and I subscribe to Sunset, Bon Appetit, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Saveur, Gourmet until it closed its doors, and a wonderful newsletter called Simple Cooking by John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne that Andy’s dad subscribed us to many years ago. We also get many other non-cooking magazines that have recipe sections and Andy is a devotee of the Wednesday food section of the NY Times.

In part, due to the memoir nature of the book and because the recipes themselves are written in conversational form, Ruth Reichl’s book evoked a flood of kitchen memories. When it comes to actually implementing a recipe I find it best if you have the list of ingredients in order that they will be used—that is how most recipes are written.  Reichl’s book reads more like how you would learn alongside someone you love.  These days having read thousands of recipes and cooked hundreds of them, I need little instruction. I credit my cooking skills to my early education with cookbooks and of course the excellent cooks I studied with as a young girl. My earliest memories of learning to cook come from working side-by-side with my mom, my great grandmother Hani Mama, my grandmother Coco, and my great aunt Ellie. From them I learned to make strudel sheets and noodles from scratch, cookies, cakes, salad dressings, soups and more. I loved their kitchens and gadgets, pots and pans and I can visualize where they were stashed in their cabinets. I kept a number of their kitchen items and one of my most important utensils is a spatula of Coco’s that I consider to be my designated cookie spatula.

Rachel And Peri with her grandfather PrestoI also learned to cook alongside friends and moms of friends from my hometown of Roosevelt, New Jersey. I learned a little here and little there from Elan, from Nathalie’s mom Josette and others that I can’t remember their names. Some of the most poignant memories come from the kitchen of Sara Prestopino, Peri’s mom. I remember little things like the fact that she kept a stick of butter on a little plate sitting on her antique kitchen cabinet—the kind with an enamel top that has a built-in place of flour. Next to the butter she kept a little bowl of coarse grain salt to take a pinch when needed. I had no idea why her salt was different from what we poured out of our blue cylinder of Morton iodized salt at home. As I look back I presume that it was kosher salt—the only type that now sits out in a little bowl in our kitchen and has for years. Although I don’t keep butter out because I don’t use it often enough, I prefer it that way, soft and ready to spread. Thank you Sara for those simple ways of being in the kitchen that are integral to my life.

Beyond those simple things, I am also grateful to Sara for cooking training. I took a “formal” cooking class from her with several other friends that lasted for perhaps a few months and I still have the recipe cards. We made whole-wheat pretzels, macaroni and cheese from scratch, of course, made with a white cheesy béchamel sauce and little bits of tomato, and more. I don’t have the recipe but I remember when we made rosettes—fritters made from dipping pretty metal rosettes into batter then into a boiling pot of oil. They were so scrumptious sprinkled with powered sugar and eaten warm. Going to Peri’s house was a big part of my early childhood and I am filled with rich memories of sleepovers, craft making, running around in the back yard and all those playful things we did as kids. Spending time with her mom in her kitchen was always an added treat and a highlight of my memories.

Ruth Reichl’s book aided my recall of childhood kitchen memories, particularly when she described making congee, a rice porridge. Immediately I thought of a special breakfast that Sara once made Peri and me of buttery noodles and milk. Noodles for breakfast? Yes! As I recall we had little alphabet noodles cooked very, very soft with butter and milk and a sprinkle of that perfect coarse salt. It was a yummy, salty bowl of comfort on a cold morning. After reading about congee, similar yet different, my noodle breakfast memory came rushing back. I couldn’t wait to get to the computer to do a search on butter and milk noodles for breakfast. Although it didn’t specify this for breakfast, I found a blog post with a recipe by Julia della Croce for pastina (little pasta) with butter and milk, an Italian dish often made for little children. The “alfabeti” version is just what I remember eating at Peri’s house that cold morning. Last night I made a variation of congee with butter and milk to sooth my post-holiday stomach and I plan to shop for pastina to recreate my childhood memory. Will it taste as good as when Sara made it for us? I doubt it—but the memory is even better than the food.

XOXO Rachel