Dancing Among Angels On Earth

This past week I attended Fabienne Fredrickson’s Mindset Retreat in Ft Lauderdale, FL. The event was part of her yearlong Boldheart Academy program that is designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. The Mindset Retreat was focused … Continue reading

A Feminist Since Birth

This 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 … Continue reading

The Thrill Of Doing A Back-Handspring And Other Physical Feats

Generally speaking, I am not what you would call a thrill seeker. However, there have been several times in my life when I have experienced such an adrenalin rush when I did something physically outside of my comfort zone. They … Continue reading

At The Races

Saratoga Race CourseAt the races conjures up two very different things for me—being caught up in the rat race of work and watching horses racing at the track. The first is being stuck in it all and the latter is being away from it all. The balance between the two is even apparent in my memories of going to the horse-track. The first time I was “at the races” was when I was a young girl and my mom was working as an attorney at Legal Aid Society in Trenton, New Jersey. Periodically I went to work with her instead of school. I don’t remember the exact circumstances on that day that led to me joining her rather than going to school but I can say that my mom was very trusting that I knew which days I really had to be at school and which days were not such a big deal.

Mom and meI had a great relationship with my mom—I still do—and she understood that when I occasionally woke up and said that I really did not want to go to school that day that I truly needed the day off. I was an “A student” and I was very conscious in my decision to take—what I would now call—a mental health day now and again when I needed a break, careful to not miss an exam or something else important that day. And so my mom and I played hokey a day here or there. She didn’t entirely play hokey because my day of hokey always included some work time for her. In the earlier days it was at Legal Aid but then later when she was on her own, we would go to her private practice office to work for a few hours then head over to the newly opened Quaker Bridge Mall—one of the first malls and certainly the only mall around us in those days. So I had a day off from the rat race of school and she had a partial day off from the rat race of work. As I look back I realize that I continued to quite successfully understand when I needed a mental health day off from work. Throughout my years working in corporate America I managed to take an occasional day off for no reason and I believe I was more successful—less prone to burnout—because I did so.

The day that we went to the races was a particularly unusual day off from school for me. At my mom’s office she was one of the few women attorneys. The guys loved to go to the Garden State Park Racetrack in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ now and then as a lunch break (I think that is where we went, as the racetrack is no longer there). I was fortunate to be at the office on one of their hokey days. We slipped out of the office for a few hours and drove to the park. I remember picking horses based on their names. We found a perfect choice named after a flute or classical piece or flutist—was it Die Fledermaus or Magic Flute or Jean-Pierre Rampal… Well, I don’t remember the horse’s name exactly but I do remember that the choice paid off! What a thrill to watch the horses come around the bend towards the finish line while my mom and I cheered our horse on. We won a few bucks!

Although I have been “at the races” metaphorically in the workforce for many years after that day with my mom, I only recently was literally was “at the races” again—a first time as an adult. Now that Andy and I are working on our own, we have tremendous flexibility when it comes to taking time off from work. A couple of years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary we decided to take a mid-week getaway to nearby Saratoga Springs during the racing season. Saratoga is a lovely town with interesting little shops and gourmet restaurants lining main street and lovely inns. After breakfast, we wandered around the town a bit before going to the races.

Horses relaxing in their stallsAlthough there were some similarities to my early childhood experience, much of this horse racing track trip felt very different. We parked near where all the horses and their caretakers lived during the season. It was fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the racing horse life. It felt foreign to me and yet very comforting in a way. It was a hot day and people milled about with their horses; jockeys and horse trainers hung out and chatted with their colleagues; others sat outside around the barracks listening to music. The occasional fancy car appeared with what I assumed were the wealthy horse owners.

In the grandstandWe made our way to the gate where we picked up our tickets that we had ordered in advance then people watched while standing in line until the gate opened. The mix of people was wonderful. There were big families, fancy dressed women in hats, men in suits, young groups of friends, older wealthy couples and of course unfortunate looking people who I presumed were gambling away whatever they had. We found our section in the grandstand and then were escorted to our seat by a gentleman who whisked our seat clean before we sat down. Such a lovely tradition.

The winners walkThen the preparation for the races began! We scrutinized the racing bet sheet to see if we could make heads or tails of the horses. The only thing we could make heads or tails of was which was actually the head or tail of the horse. So instead of any fancy system we went for horses that were mentioned as promising or had a nice name—that worked when I was a girl. Even making our few-dollar bets was an experience. We went up to the window and fortunately had a teller who was patient as we tried to state our bet the way you are supposed to: Track Name, Race, Amount, Bet Type, Horse Number (not the horse’s name). So it would be something like Saratoga, race one, two dollars to win on the five (though we didn’t state Saratoga because it was obvious we were there). Unlike as a girl, we did not win a penny—but just like as a girl, watching the horses fly around the track to the home stretch was indeed trilling!

I am glad that I have been “at the races” in both senses of the expression throughout my life. Now that I am able to be “at the races” in the getting away from it all sense more often than in the being part of the rat race way, I am indeed grateful.

XOXO Rachel

A Nature Child Of The 60s In Small-Town USA

Rachel and best friend Peri in New Hampshire woodsAlthough it is easy to wax poetically and over-romanticize one’s childhood while looking back decades, my childhood days really were glorious. I lived in a tiny town of about 1000 people located in one square mile of New Jersey, very much in farmland. Roosevelt is located in central Jersey where relatively large areas of undeveloped land remain and there are still farms left. Sure, there are tract housing developments near my hometown now that did not exist when I was a kid, but it is still a wooded borough surrounded by plenty of nature.

I got to thinking about my experience with nature as a child because of a book that I just read for my book club, Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I have been in one book club or another for more than 20 years. This time I have rejoined a club that meets at the library in my new small-town—new in the sense that I have only been living here full time for about 5 years and part-time for only 20 years. A club member, Annie, who works in ecological education, suggested the book. She also happens, coincidentally, to be married to the son of Becky who I grew up with in my hometown of Roosevelt. Although it is possible that knowing Annie’s connection to my town primed me to recollect these nature experiences, the book on its own was remarkable in how much it elicited my memories of being a child of nature in the 60s.

One of the themes of the book is that children raised before the early 70s had a different relationship with nature than most children do now or during the intervening years. As I read the book I realized how lucky I was to roam the small streets and woods of my town and commune with nature. My whole perspective on life, in retrospect, was influenced by nature when I was a girl. To me, being in nature is paradise—heaven on earth. I assumed everyone felt that way and I am sure many do. But I actually did live in Paradise. Well, it was once.

Paradise, NJRoosevelt was originally Jersey Homesteads and before that is was an area named Paradise. I have the map to prove it!  In winter I often sled down Paradise Hill, a steep paved road that was the only remaining nod to Roosevelt being Paradise. In the adjacent woods, if you dared, there was a path through the woods called “Steeple Chase” where you had to dodge trees as you speed down the slope. I think the first time I tasted Jack Daniel’s—just a sip—was on a cold evening as a teenager sledding on Paradise Hill. My mom grew up in the same town and during the early 50s, she sled there too (though I have no idea if she sipped whiskey).

So many of poignant childhood memories are outdoors somewhere in town. Near our school there were many great opportunities for outdoor exploration. In “the enclosure”, a tree and grassy square lined by hedges, friends and I played many different games including hide-and-seek. Even though that area was relatively manicured compared to the woods, I loved running around and under and sometimes climbing through the big trees or just lazing on the grass in the enclosure blowing blades of grass to create sounds.

I was devoted to the paths in town (I walked many paths outside of town too—see Walking Around A Lake). There was the formal path between the school and Tamara Drive where I even found wild asparagus growing. I can almost taste the raw thin sweet stalks to this day. I often walked along the path beside the creek that ran through town. The creek meandered and crossed roads at several locations including Tamara Drive, Rochdale Ave and an unpaved road that we simply called “the path”. I loved stopping on any of those overpasses to play with the creek. I’d place a leaf on the upstream side of the road so that I could watch it float under the road and pop out the other side. What quiet joy!

Great Aunt Ellie on lawn of my first childhood home with view of my second childhood homeI wandered all the paths in town alone or with a friend or my brother any number of times just to explore. Or to use as a shortcut. That was a common word I used to describe the routes on paths I found between places in town. I took a shortcut through people’s backyards, front yards, or the woods—all ways imaginable including just about going through someone’s house—to get between my home and somewhere I wanted to go. I took shortcuts to school. I took shortcuts to my best friend Peri’s house that was across the street from my grandmother Coco’s house so therefore a shortcut to her place as well. And I took shortcuts to my great Aunt Ellie’s house. Most of the shortcuts were through the woods on hardly what you’d call a path in some places. They were more just routes through bramble and prickly bushes, some with blueberries or raspberries, or slimy rock lined routes with colorful moss.

Moss stands out prominently in my love of nature. Very close to my house, above the Pine Valley Swim Club, was a path into the woods where I made a secret hiding spot in a moss-covered embankment. I kept a metal box that held—I don’t know what—tucked under rocks and moss. I loved to go there and sit and think and smell the earth around me. I’ve apparently known forever that flora sights and scents are essential to my livelihood. Not that I didn’t like bugs. I really liked bugs a lot! Whether playing with lighting bugs by putting them into jars as lanterns, or pulling off the lighting part just when they flashed on and squishing them on my finger to imitate a diamond (gross), or collecting bugs as specimens for a science classification project, I definitely was one with bugs.

Hanni mama in her gardenSo now when I think of Coco’s and my great grandmother Hani mama’s vegetable garden and the sweetest peas imaginable from the brightest green pods possible or I remember the wonderful feeling of my hands pulling carrots from the earth or I envision dancing around Ellie’s cherry trees and gooseberry bushes and the baked goodies that we created with them, I recognize how much my childhood was chock ‘o block with good times in nature. And I recognize that those good times in nature have influenced what I consider good times now. I’ve been a flower gardener from the time we bought our home 20 years ago to today. Now that Andy built us a vegetable garden, we are also vegetable gardeners. I often dream of that wild asparagus in Roosevelt, so much so that I am considering planting some in our garden even though it needs lots of space and years to establish. And not surprising, one of the first things I did when bought our property was create paths (and a labyrinth—see Revealing the labyrinth on our land). I need only step outside to be surrounded by our 3 acres of woods to regain the calm and quiet joy that I have known since childhood.

Several years ago I rambled on about how nature soothes my soul to my life coach. From the clouds above (see Cloud Hopping) to the earth below and all the flora and fauna in between, I spoke of my sense of awe and love for nature. He paused and thought about what I said and then characterized me as deeply spiritual. I had a momentary confusion having been raised non-religious. Me spiritual? I never learned anything about religion so what does spiritual mean? I was unable to fully reconcile my feelings of transcendence when I commune with nature with what I think of as religion. But now I recognize that through nature I was first exposed to the sense that there is something more than me as an individual. In nature, as a child and now as an adult, I feel connected to all forms of life and I have a need to use my hands to connect with my evolution on earth. This isn’t a theological perspective but rather a personal spirituality perspective. Now I understand that to me nature is a perfect place to get replenished because it embodies love, beauty and peace. I will always be a nature child of the 60s.

XOXO Rachel

The Magic of Mom and Dad Celebrating 60 Years Together!

Diana & BobThis year is already turning out to be a positive and joyful year. Last week my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. It is hard to imagine that so many years have passed, but not hard to imagine that my parents are together and in love after all these years. Here is their story. At least here is their story as they told it to me many, many years ago. I could ask them now to repeat it to me, but what’s the fun of that? I prefer the version that I have cultivated over the years in my head. I am sure that I have at least some of it right.

My dad went to MIT as part of the GI bill, having served as a naval communication officer in WWII. His amateur ham operating experience in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri came in handy in the Navy. After getting his electrical engineering degree at MIT, he went to New York City and worked on any number of interesting projects like cathode tubes and other technical stuff.  My dad had been painting (and writing?—I don’t really know when he started writing) since the war and he decided to pursue his art by getting an esthetics degree at NYU. One of his roommates in the city went home on weekends to visit his family in Roosevelt, New Jersey. My dad, then 24 years old, joined his roommate to get out of the city every now and again. And that is where my dad first saw my mom. She was a 13-year-old dark haired petite beauty playing table tennis (ping pong just doesn’t sound right for the 50s) when my dad couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Fortunately not much more happened at that point because she was so young.

My mom finished high school very young (those days skipping grades was not uncommon) and she went to Bard College at age 16. She got her bachelors degree in dance and then went to New York City to dance professionally. She joined the Henry Street Playhouse and studied and performed modern dance under Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis.

Mom and DadMy parents continued to see each other and actually lived together for a short time before they were married—if I remember correctly. Then on January 13, 1955, just a month before my mom was of legal age to marry (that would be 21 in those days), they were wedded. With the approval of her legal guardian—her mom—my mom and dad got married at the courthouse in New York City. My parents lived in a couple of places including Greenwich Village and the infamous “cold water flat” in the Lower East Side—way before it was so fashionable to live there. Then they moved to Roosevelt, New Jersey, were it all began, to start our family.

Community of family circa 1960sRoosevelt was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s. Because it was my mom’s hometown, I had the luxury of having my grandmother and great grandmother living just a street away. And I also had a kind of second grandmother, my great aunt Ellie, who lived just around the corner. I loved to drop by their houses and get fed yummy food. Roosevelt became the spot for all of our extended family to visit for holidays and other events. I have fond memories of my many cousins and aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles and more partying in Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jack’s back yard under the cherry trees. That is the definition of community to me. I really haven’t had anything close to that since I was a kid.

Mueller Family Late 1970sMy mom and dad raised us in such a wonderful way and our house was filled with love, books, art, music and the political activism of the 60s. We even went on peace marches in DC. And together, my mom and dad were also puppeteers.  My mom became interested in women’s rights and decided to go back to school to get a bachelors degree in history before she went on to get her law degree, both at Rutgers. She was one of the only woman law students there and she got to study with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also probably the only female professor.

My dad worked at RCA for a number of years as an engineer and inventor (he holds several patents) and then at Bell Labs as a technical writer. Once my mom began practicing as an attorney, my dad became a househusband—again they were trendy before their time. Although these days we would have said he was a stay-at-home-dad. Throughout, he was always working as an artist and writer and always considered the intersection between science and art.  I loved woodworking with him in his basement workshop (see The Wonder Of Woodworking).

Mom & Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary!My mom worked at The Legal Aid Society and then went out with a partner before she left and worked on her own legal practice. She was an early female entrepreneur, a feminist and worked on the counsel for the Black Panthers. Her work and perspective had a huge impact on me. I read Ms. Magazine from its inception and I have never wavered in calling myself a feminist and seeking equality in the workplace. Looking back I can see that that both my mom and my dad have had a tremendous influence on my whole life journey from education and political views to need for right-brain and left-brain work. I love structure and spontaneity, I am equally comfortable with business and science and arts and writing. I thank them both for that. And I thank them both for showing how to love and stay married for 60 years.

XOXO Rachel