Sunday, March 30, 2014


It was a little over a year ago, when my husband brought home from the post office a tiny box.  “I can’t believe all those chicks fit in that box,” I said,”it’s so little.” My husband’s hand seemed to swallow each one as he moved them from the box to an area we had prepared in the cellar. They all stood together under the warmth of the heat lamp, each pressing against the other, steadying.  

Each Sunday morning, I rise early to make homemade waffles.  It requires eggs and lots of them since I quadruple the recipe and then double the recipe most Sundays.  I never know how many teenage boys will emerge from the bedrooms once the smell wafts through the house.  This past Sunday as I cracked the eggs into a smaller bowl, it occurred to me what a  miraculous year-long production it has been as the tiny chicks have grown to produce food for my family. The yolks, a vibrant yellow orange, plump-a work of art smiled up at me. Truly, a gift.

What's Important

I fingered the bottle of nail polish in my pocket.  “Could you do me a favor-something for my mother?” I asked handing him the bottle of bright red polish.

On our last visit, I promised my mother I would polish her toes the next time I saw her.  “Don’t bother doing it unless you use red,” she told me. She did not believe that anyone should paint their toes unless they used red.  This was one thing she was adamant about. Really.

“Please, would you do my mother’s toe nails? I had promised her…” my voice trailed off. Uncertain he would actually do it, I added.  “It's important.”

“Of course, of course. We will.” he looked at me with a thin smile.  He put the bottle in the pocket of his suit jacket and walked out of the room.  I was alone.   

Soft music played in the background and a strong floral smell permeated the space. I felt sick.  I didn’t know if I could manage without her.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I spend a lot of time thinking about how I struggle to take care of myself. How did I get here? So here’s the thing: I show up this morning at my all time favorite salon The Alchemist. A friend had recommended it a few years back. She didn’t tell me anything about it, just that, “It’s great!”

I walk into this oasis.  Where I am asked if I want herbal tea or water.  Jamie, my stylist takes the time to find out what I want and is not afraid to make suggestions.  “Do you mind if I give you a head massage?”

“No.” I respond thinking what kind of question is that?  Who in their right mind would refuse!

Minutes go by.  I close my eyes and begin to relax. A half hour later I think, Could these foil squares be used to wrap sandwiches? Those are the thoughts that tend to rumble on the conveyer belt in my mind. I am the mother of multiple teenaged boys, what can I say? My head is covered with foil neatly folded here and there. This is my time.

“Do you mind, if I give you a hand massage after I clean up at bit?”  

I feel the smoothness of her hands press against mine. “Jamie, take me, I’m yours.  I’ll do anything you want.” I am nearly drooling, I am SO relaxed.

My neck always hold painful memories of washing my hair.  The sink that cradles my head must harmonize with the height of the chair.  Jamie adjusts it perfectly.  The water temperature is well not to be redundant, but perfect as well.  Then more massaging.   My head is covered in foamy suds.  I think back to my mother.  Washcloth on my eyes blinking away the sting, my head titled back at an angle, it was never suppose to be. Then the SCRUB.  Oh, Jamie, I think, this is such an improvement!

At Jamie’s station, my back is to the mirror.  I chat. She cuts, blow-dries and cuts some more. She’s almost done. Jamie applies a little cheek color and lip color spinning my chair around for the unveiling. Looking in the mirror I well up.  I don’t feel vain, but I feel beautiful.  I blink back tears.  

-Photo courtesy of Jamie at The Alchemist

Sometimes I don’t see my beauty-inner or outer.  Allowing others to help me discover me-that is part of self-care, isn’t it?

(If you are a neighbor, I cannot say enough about the girls at The Alchemist in Ellsworth, Maine.  They are compassionate woman who truly care. Of course, a special thank you to Jamie.  I always look forward to seeing you!)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Potential Trauma Event

I stepped sideways through the door  and Charlie escaped.  Normally our cats come and go as they wish, but today they are all held in captivity. Seven are scattered through the house anticipating something.Two are missing. Hauling cats to the clinic for rabies shots does not really constitute a good time, so that is why my husband is in charge.  He has it down to a system, but I don’t know what exactly. Putting ordinarily docile cats where they do not want to be turns them into wild beasts with extra sharp claws, pointy teeth and pitiful feline cries. I’d rather not be witness to this angst.  Will they ever forgive us?

Tomorrow will be the true test of faithfulness because each morning we are surrounded.  A few are curled at our feet, while others are sitting on the shelf of our headboard looking down for a possible chance to dive bomb. Max a black and white short hair gives me my first kiss with a sandpapery slide across my lips.  A chisel faced beauty Harry wants attention. Unfortunately for me every slight movement I make signals to Harry my possible passionate interest in patting him at 3:30 AM.  Harry is always poised for love.

I am not certain I could live without animals especially my kitties.  I grew up with cats taking them for rides in my rickety baby doll carriage, but not before dressing them for the trip. Now, they occupy my lap at night while I am reading, writing or sipping tea and they follow me to bed.   Some of our best family stories are about our cats.  

Post Potential Trauma Event:  Seven cats crammed into my Subaru making the short ride to town and listening to their blood curdling cat screams was the worse part of the trip. We left home and was back again in twenty-five minutes.  And now….where is Harry and Gato Negro?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Lone Mitten

“Who’s mitten is this?” the Kindergarten teacher said as he picked up the lone mitten.

“Not mine!”

“Not mine!”

“Not mine!

The chorus was loud and sure.

The teacher approached a Kindergarten girl, “Is this yours?” She looked up and shook her head.

“Again,” the teacher boomed, “Does this mitten belong to anyone in here?”

Eighteen little ones replied, “Nooo!”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Babysitter Sister

“Want to go to the beach?”  she asked.

Gripping the phone, I couldn’t believe that she was asking me.  I had a few friends in the neighborhood, mostly boys who I climbed trees with and batted a ball around the neighborhood.  Much of my time was spent bent in the field across the street picking  wild strawberries or huckleberries or trying all day to lift a kite high into the sky. I walked to and from school each day to be alone. The bus ride was too loud and took longer than walking. I watched the world function-meeting the same cars in the same place each day.  There was a predictable routine.  A comfort.   And my time alone was treasured.

I hung up.  

“When’s she coming to get you?” my babysitter sister asked.

“Don’t know.” I answered.

“What do you mean?” she bantered.

Looking down at the floor I whispered, “I don’t know.”

“Well, you just have to be ready.  Here let me help you. Find your bathing suit.”

Pulling opened my top drawer I searched among my socks and underwear.  School had barely locked the doors behind us.  It took tossing clothes around two drawers and making a mess to find my bathing suit.

“Got a towel,” I heard my sister yell.  

After hunting for my one pair of flip flops, I came to see my sister hand sewing something as she sat at the kitchen table.

“Maybe we should call Brenda’s mother,”  she suggested while pulling the needle through the cloth.

The phone rang and rang.  No one answered. “‘Must be on their way.” I stood and looked out the window anticipating their arrival. For the longest time.  I waited.  I was so excited.

After an hour or more my sister dragged the yellow wooden stool out to the garage where I could see Brenda and her mom as they drove in the driveway.

“You have to be ready,” she reminded.

On the stool wearing my bathing suit, cover-up and flip flops I sat swinging my legs thinking that this new vantage point would magically make my friend appear. I hung on tight to the beach bag in my lap that my sister had just made me for the special occasion. I sat some more.  Every ten minutes or so I heard the door creak open. "You OK?" It broke the silence and the growing pain.

As time passed, my sister suggested that maybe they aren’t coming. “Maybe they don’t know where we live, huh? Come in the house.”

Shifting in my seat, I swallowed hard and said, “No they’ll be here.”

That day I learned that not everyone says what they mean. As painful as the day was for me, my sister pulled me through. This is a story about love and devotion and my sister.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Unthinkable

A tribute to all mothers who face the unthinkable.

Mother dropped
To her knees,
Ragged waves
Six year olds
Aren’t suppose to

Monday, March 24, 2014

Among the Lucky

After working  over nine hours, my husband walked through the door covered in sheet rocking mud. His hands white in spots.

“Let’s go!” I said. “Eddaejia has an appointment.”

He had other ideas.  “I’m not going.”

“I haven’t seen you all day,” I replied, “I missed you.”

I moved closer to him so I could look in his eyes, smile and give him a hug.

“Sometimes, the car is the only place to be quiet and alone,” I reminded. “I love being with you.”

It is true.  I love being with my husband, at least most of the time.  After decades and decades of marriage, we still like each other.

My daughter recently got engaged.  She has been asking about our wedding that took place more than thirty years ago.  While fielding questions and searching my memory for answers, I was reflecting about how very fortunate we are since our marriage came ten months after we met.  Sometimes relationships never make it to long term.  We can be counted among the lucky.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Maine Maple Sunday

In Maine each year the last Sunday in March is marked as Maine Maple Sunday.  Sugar shacks around the state open their doors and celebrate everything maple.  Today I purchased not only Pure Maine Maple Syrup, but Maple Syrup Jelly.

Our hands stiff with cold,
We pour the amber sweetness onto the stack
Piled high and toppling,
The sugar shack steams and smokes,
Eating fast
We have our fill
Braving the wind gusts
Atop a hill,
You never know what weather
Will be
On Maine Maple Sunday.

Uncle Ken, Gabrielle and Elizabeth at Brookridge Boilers-Lyman, Maine

Brookridge Boilers First Maine Maple Sunday:  A Success!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

some days are like this

Tonight I felt that all the words had been squeezed out of me like toothpaste in a tube. The result of sitting and numerous false starts is above. Some days are like this...

Friday, March 21, 2014


No one can take away your education.  The evidence of my degrees are on display in my classroom.  When I go to a new doctor, I look at their degree on the wall noting how recent they were educated and where they received their training.  Is it my undying curiosity or does it really matter whether a doctor is trained at Harvard or The University of New England?  I sound like a snob.  

This afternoon I offered to help a teacher.  She is new to our school and has infused enthusiasm and passion into our daily interactions.  I wanted to let her know that my presence in her class would prove not be burdensome and that I am particularly passionate about writing.

“I taught First Grade for years.  I love writing. I don’t get much of a chance to write with kids anymore. I’m a writer….mentor….I’m taking courses.”

“Let me think about it,” she replied.

I was floored.

“I don’t want to force myself on you,” I tried to repair “If I can help, I’d love to.”

In reflection,  I blew it.  Did I overwhelmed her?  Unintentionally this turned into a conversation about me and the fringes of how I have the capacity and desire to help.

My degrees are on display in my classroom.  I only wanted to help.   Monday is another school day, an opportunity for me to learn again.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Working Through Discontent

Standing in front of the opened refrigerator door, I can’t make up my mind.  Nothing looks right.  Nothing tastes right.  I am discontent.  Onto the cupboards.  Nothing.   I open drawers.  Still nothing.

I lift the electric tea kettle testing the weight of water, then push the lever to the on position.  I walk off in search of comfort.  I slip out of my chinos and into a loose fitting cotton knit skirt.  That’s better, I think.   With tea in hand and my loose fitting skirt swishing against my legs, I fall into bed.  I have been here for one week (minus yesterday).  It is getting old.

Books are piled high.  I read a few pages of Carver for comfort.  I roll to one side, then another. Fluff the pillow, adjust the comforter.  I read and reread the page because I am lost.  I don’t get it.  I get to the end of the short story and I still don’t get it.  I spy an open bag of junky fruit slices (I don’t even like the tasteless chewy mass).  I shove one in my mouth.  Hmmm, not bad. Another goes in without forethought. Then another. Stop! I take a sip of tea, now sweet tea with the sugary leftovers mixing in my mouth.

There is nothing left to do when you don’t feel quite right, but to sleep. Back under the covers, I close my eyes.  No coughing.  My eyes flash opened.  He’s loud.  Must be close. I put on my husband’s shoes and shuffle to the deck one step out the door.  I spot him as I close the door without a sound. Darn he flies to the next tree a little further away.  I snap.  I am content now...I can sleep.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Being Bold

Despite our best efforts, each Sunday we were habitually late.  The few Sundays my family managed to go out the door with time to spare, we would become caught on the wrong side of a railroad crossing counting the hundred or so cargo cars itching for the caboose to pass. Despite the fact that mass had already begun, my mother would prance down the middle aisle insisting that we all slide into the front pew to the left of the altar.  My mother was bold.  Being bold was just practice for defending what is right and just in this world.  We were all to meet our share of injustice, but it was my brother who was particularly susceptible to attract the cruelty of others.  

The very first time I was aware of this injustice toward my brother was a Sunday morning that we were late to church.  My mother waved her arms to hurry us along and we all moved as fast as we could in our Sunday finary.  (My brother having Cerebral Palsy has a functional gait that looks quite a bit different than average.  In order to walk, he engages his whole body to thrust each leg forward.) I noticed a group of two or three kids snickering and pointing at my brother while one of them mimicked his movements.  My mother held my hand a bit tighter and grew  taller as she raised her chin, keeping her gaze forward. We all moved in closer to each other.  I swallowed hard and blinked through the tears.  There are different ways to be bold.

My brother never complains.  He has never considers himself a victim, but since that Sunday morning so long ago, I have appointed myself his protector.  The other night while dining at one of his favorite restaurants, he told of how the former host of the restaurant would mimic his gait and laugh at the way he walked.  As my sister shared this with me tonight, I suddenly became ill-sickened by how cruel people can be. I cried wondering how often this happens to my brother.  There are different ways to be bold.    

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Regret

I’m sure that my father was plenty afraid, but he never showed it, but once.

I sat in the standard hospital leatherette chair and knitted while he slept. Hour after hour. The monotony broken by thumbing through the stacks of books or hospital magazines like People and Newsweek.  Mindless yards of knitting eased my nervous energy.   His requests were simple.  Black coffee and a piece of chocolate cake.  The only problem was he couldn’t swallow well.  The thicken coffee and soupy ice cream instead of cake made it easier to go down.  My father’s recovery seemed to balance on the hope of getting him out of bed and moving.  Since the fall and the subsequent severe shoulder injury, it was difficult and painful to move.  With human assistance, two physical therapists would sit him up in the bed and swing his legs around to touch the floor.  That is as far as it went.  After days of existing in bed, he was too weak, refusing to move.   The only hope was a hoist.

His condition had stabilized. He had some hard work ahead. With my abled body and mind this was not only necessary from my perspective, but possible for him. I was not ready to lose him.  I thought he had the fight in him. My father was stubborn.  If he was mad at you, his silence would last intolerably for weeks.  “Come on Daddy, you can do this.  It is going to be hard, but you are strong.  You’ve got to do this.  I love you.  You’ve got you can come home.”  The pep talk drifted to a pleading and a begging. His gaze drifted from me.  I did not want to believe that he had given up and I had convinced myself that I was a distraction.  After being out of work and away from the family for more than a week, I decided to return.  

The hoist was secured around my father’s body.  I started walking out of the hospital room, turning back to say goodbye and that I would come back in a matter of days, “I love you Daddy.”
His eyes met mine.  His sad brown eyes, eye brows knit together in fear and terror. Literally, my heart ached. I froze in place. I wanted to stay, but I left.

A few days later I returned, his eyes remained closed as he drew his last breath.  

I have one regret, maybe I should have stayed.   

Monday, March 17, 2014


                                                     -Barbara Keene (Graphite, Watercolors) 3/17/14

Why do I do it?  I wonder as I push the tiny brush around the paper.   I have no formal training. The results are not always pleasing either.    Holding a paint brush, a graphite pencil or a ballpoint pen to paper does something to me emotionally.  I am happy.

Against darkness I push the heavy carved wooden doors opening to sunshine.  The outside seems all the more brighter compared to the dark, solemn corners of the church.  Parishioners stream out and onto the granite steps squeezing passed me, some making gentle contact. Suddenly the humming that vibrates within turns into song. Church is over.  I am singing and I don’t care who hears me.  Adults mingled in small groups down the steps and onto the large area leading to the curb.  Small children shrieked while they raced playing tag, running in and out of the crowd. If only I could sing.  Always. Forever.

In my decades on this earth, there have been periods of my life which have been disappointing and have filled me with anguish and sorrow.  Emotions have weighed me down and kept me there.

As I push the paint brush and pigment along the paper, I think of Sundays when I sang.  Actively creating keeps me alive.    It is the process, not the final product that makes the difference.  I don’t sing much anymore, my voice cracks, idle.  Mostly, writing has become my song and sometimes, I drag out the sketchbook and find myself deep in the creative process.  Humming-a song comes to mind and I elevate to song and find myself happy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Slowing

Self-pity.  Fifth day in bed.  There is no room for you self-pity.  The dogs and cats stretch out keeping me company.  Books piled high.  Tea.  Hot, creamy with soy milk.  Coughing is less relentless.  Tender muscles remind me I am alive and I am well. Prayer reminds me of God’s grace and love.  There is no place for self-pity.  Temporary illness forces a slow down.  Snuggly naps.  Purring near.   

 Time is irrelevant.  Shafts of sunlight have shift across the bed.   Outside tree tops wave bare limbs against a blue clouded sky. The wood stove and sun warm.  Life is simple sustenance. A slowing down.  There is no room for self-pity. Everything is as it should be.  I am in tune with all that is important.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


My grandmother was on a first name basis with him.  “He’s Irish. Catholic. Big family.” And she would tell me about his mother, his brothers and sisters. The fact that he was Irish Catholic like we were was a big deal to my grandmother, so it was for me too.  It felt like we all belonged to one huge exclusive club.  We all attended church on Sundays and believed in the  healing powers of holy water. My grandmother gingerly applied it to her knees while praying and we were sure Jack used holy water to heal his bad back.  What made this affiliation all the more special to me, Jack had a daughter my same age. It seemed we sure had a lot in common.

My mother was waiting to drive me home from school.  Even though I usually took the bus,  I didn’t think anything of it.  That is until I got home and saw my mother and father huddled together speaking in hushed tones so I couldn’t hear. That drew me closer, yet at the same time I wanted to run away. I studied my father’s face. His brow was knit together and there was a tightness to his lips.  I walked slowly passed them, kicking up puffs of dust in our dirt driveway. Hearing pounding, I ran toward the sound and found Rusty the carpenter that my parents had hired to build our garage and breezeway. I inhaled deeply.  New wood.  New beginnings.

Each day Rusty would stop pounding long enough to listen and have short conversations with me. An old photo of my father in knickers and a page boy hair cut got daily reactions from Rusty,  “Now that’s a picture of you, right?” he asked lightly.  This day Rusty was high on his ladder and without a word made his way down when he saw my parents approach.  

“Barbara, go play now.” they gently suggested. And then they asked turning to Rusty, “Did you hear?”

“I can’t believe it,” Rusty replied.

Always interested in adult conversations, I dawdled trying to remain within earshot  I heard something I wasn’t suppose to hear, at least not yet.   How can anyone predict the reaction of a five year old to a world tragedy?  

“The President’s been shot.  He’s dead.”

I stood and mumbled.  “Jack?  Our President?  Dead?” I ran into the house and toward the phone.  “Gram needs to know.”  I knew she would be sad.  Really sad.  I had no idea that this was a far reaching world-wide tragedy.  Jack belonged to our one big exclusive club and I was to learn he was so much more than that.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Thief in the Night

You came like a thief in the night,
Robbing me.

For so long I mocked you,
As you struck others around me.
Thinking I was forgotten.

I will fight you.
Be ready,
Invading my body
Was surely a mistake.
This is a battle that I will win.

(While I was writing this I began to think of those with serious illness. I am a lucky one. My illness will pass relatively quickly without any long term effects. This poem is a tribute to the brave ones that must face life with ongoing health issues.)

My dog Rex...morning comfort while I'm sick.