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

 

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

Viewing the solar eclipse

Watching The Sky and Astrological Events

Monday, as pretty much everyone knows, was a solar eclipse. In our house, astrological events are fairly important and this one was no exception. Andy rigged a great viewing apparatus based on recommendations from the Nasa website. Basically he projected the sun and moon through binoculars on to an angled cardboard. My mom came over and together we asked the clouds to be kind to us so that we could view the eclipse. Mostly the clouds listened. And so with delight we watched the path of the moon eclipse the sun.Viewing the solar eclipse 2017

I have always enjoyed looking up into the sky. As a girl growing up in Roosevelt, New Jersey, we were far away enough from any major light sources from larger towns or cities that our night sky was very visible. I am not certain how old I was—probably seven or eight—when one of my friend’s parents started an astronomy club. I loved going to the weekly club meetings for a number of reasons.

For one, we met at his house in “The Estates” which was a new-ish 1960s sub-division. The Estate’s houses were so modern and so different from the rest of the Roosevelt houses. At least they were to me and in comparison to the rest of town. Most of Roosevelt was designed by Louis Kahn and built in the 1930s. Secondly, we met on a school night so it felt somehow exciting to be doing something fun and unusual when we’d otherwise be at home. And third, I remember that they served yummy snacks that, whatever they were, were different from what we ate at home. I can’t say that I remember all that much about our stargazing but I know that I absolutely loved learning about the various constellations.

Another important astrological viewing that stands out in my mind took place on August 11th, 1980. “How can I remember that actual date?” you might ask. Well, the Persied meteor shower peaks about August 10th-13th each year and I know that I was one year out of college so it had to be 1980. As for the specific date—believe it or not—I have my diary from that year that adds a unique twist to this tale. Anyway, my friend Nathalie and I went to Cape Hatteras National Park all by ourselves to get away for a few days. It was a big deal that we drove all the way to North Carolina on our own. We pitched a tent and camped out right near the dunes!Nathalie at our campground 1980

Several events mark that trip. We went out for dinner to a local spot and ate these yummy things called hushpuppies that I had never had before. I have never since had such excellent fritters in my life—or at least my memory claims that. The second and fairly disturbing event happened when I was about to write in my diary. In fact, I just pulled out that diary from my bookshelf to confirm all this. Apparently sometime while at home, my ex-boyfriend had read some of my diary and left me a chilling response. Fortunately, Nathalie was there to help me through that emotional upheaval.Rachel at Cape Hatteras 1980

As if that wasn’t enough, as nighttime unfolded, we thought the sky was literally falling! The sky wasn’t actually falling, but being out on a cape in the complete dark gave us a spectacular location from which to view the Perseid meteor shower. I didn’t actually know that was what it was until decades later. I just assumed that we got to see lots of shooting stars. Many years later, Andy and I started to watch the Persieds each summer from our hammock in Cold Spring. And as it turns out, when the Persieds pass closest to Jupiter, there are more meteors and they appear brighter. That occurred in 1921, 1945, 1968, 1980, 2004 and 2016. I just happened to be in the perfect viewing location on one of the perfect dates!

I have a mixed feeling about gazing at the stars. Mostly I love to watch these various happenings in the sky. I find it magical, delightful and spectacular. However,  if I think too deeply about how I fit into the universe and what human existence is when I am watching something unusual in the sky, I can spiral into existential panic. It is hard to explain if you are unfamiliar with the experience but it manifests itself as a physical whirling in my body. When I have an existential attack—and I have had them since I was in my twenties I would guess—it is as if my mind gets so involved in the thoughts that I get dizzy and overwhelmed. Historically I haven’t allowed myself to sit with the sensations for very long and try to change my thoughts so that it goes away in a minute or so. But I think that the next time an existential crisis happens, I might allow myself to practice a mindful approach and see what more I can learn from that experience. What I do know for sure is that looking up has particular significance to me. Whether watching the clouds (see Cloud Hopping) or the night sky, the heavens above have a great impact on my life on the ground.

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

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

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

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

The Magic Of Musicals

Music has always had a powerful impact on me. From my earliest memories of happy times, there is always music involved. Whether I am listening to a song on the radio, singing along with a song or dancing along with a song, I am in my happy place. Put it all together in a musical play and magic really happens!

Monsters and MarigoldsMy own personal “Broadway revival” of magic and happiness hit me hard last week when I watched the Broadway version of James Corden’s Carpool Karoake. Leading up to him hosting the Tony Awards, he rode around New York City singing Broadway tunes with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski, all who are currently in Broadway productions. I had a blast singing along with them while I watched the short video. So much delight and emotion are evoked when I hear a song from a musical. This is unquestionable due to how musical numbers are written—they are intentionally filled with emotion and can be very sappy (a good thing in my mind). Broadway tunes, more than any other kind of song, tug at my heart and immediately bring tears to my eyes.

Watching the Tony’s last night, I was sobbing with happiness while watching the singing and dancing. I particularly loved watching the talented little kids from The School of Rock sing and dance and play music. Viewing the performances last night brought me back to my childhood and the joy I felt for musicals.

Growing up in Roosevelt NJ, we were surrounded with musicians and music. So it is not surprising that we performed musicals plays. My earliest memory is being in the musical Monsters and Marigolds, written and directed by Margaret List Schlinski. Just thinking about it brings back the title song that I spontaneously started to sing it to my husband Andy a few minutes ago. Most of the lyrics were still intact in my memory after 40+ years.

Many MoonsMargaret List Schlinski organized and ran The Children’s Theatre Workshop out of the Roosevelt Public School gym that had a wonderful stage. She and a talented group of adults from my hometown introduced us to the magic and wonder of musical productions. We also did non-musical plays including Many Moons by James Thurber and a series of short plays called Patchwork. Fortunately, I kept all of my programs in a scrapbook that is falling apart but still keeps my memories alive.

The most memorable musical production for me was Madeline, A Barnyard Musical, about a chicken who laid square eggs. The story was by Edward Schlinski and each character’s name was silly and wonderful. I was Curdle the Cow and there was Roquefort the Rat, Anagafafasta Afgan, Mrs Glenda Quackson and Dirty Harry Esquire, Junior the Third to name a few. My friend Nathalie’s dad, Laurie Altman, wrote the music and amazing lyrics. He devised it so that each character had an associated song, giving each of us a chance to sing a solo. I remember my song well:

“Hey diddle diddle, what’s the big riddle, so little is made much too soon, too soon.

When I was young, my hero unsung, was the dish that ran away with the spoon, the spoon.

But when I was a calf, what made me laugh, was the cow that jumped over the moon, the moon.”

Oh, so much fun and such warm and loving memories of acting and singing and dancing with my childhood friends.

My scrapbook memoriesMy fascination with musical productions has stayed with me throughout my life. As a young girl, besides being in the Children’s Theatre Workshop shows, I loved watching and singing along with classic movie musicals like West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound Of Music. Peri and I sang and danced around the living room her grandparents’ house to any number of original cast albums, most notably Oklahoma.

In high school there was one main musical production each year that I acted in for several years. My freshman show was Take Me Along, a lesser know musical that continued to stoke my love of musical theater. And then I was in Carnival that had a wonderful picnic scene where I was dancing with my partner who I had a crush on. I even kissed him at the end of the scene on opening night—very memorable for a 14 year-old girl. During two summers of High school I continued my joy with musicals at Theatre-By-The Lake that performed in the Peddie School Playhouse. I was in Pippin and Bye Bye Birdie where I met my first boyfriend.

High school and Summer MusicalsWhen I was in The King and I at Hightstown High, a bunch of us went together to New York City to see Yul Brynner in a reprise of his role as the King in the Broadway production. I remember so well how our King, who was played by Brett, shaved his head to play the role—just as Yul had—and wore a shirt that said “Yul is Cool.” We waited outside the stage entrance to see Yul when he exited the theater. The whole evening was so magical to me and I absolutely fell in love with seeing live musicals. Thus began a period of my life in the 70s when I saw as many musicals as possible on Broadway with my mom.

I saw the original productions of Grease, A Chorus Line, Pippin with Ben Vareen, Annie, The Wiz, and the Revival of Candide. In the 80s I saw Dream Girls, Cats, Sunday In The Park With George, Les Miserables, and Into The Woods. Fortunately the ticket price, though not cheap, was still relatively affordable back then. Now, it is almost cost-prohibitive to see a musical on Broadway.

Over the past few decades other than the very recent revivals of The King and I and Hair (one of my all-time favorite shows), I haven’t seen many musicals. But there are two original productions that are standouts for me: Rent and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that coincidentally had Jesse Tyler Ferguson in one of his earliest theater performances.  Last night’s Tony Awards reinvigorated my love of all musicals and I am looking forward to getting back to Broadway to experience some singing and dancing magic!

XOXO Rachel