IMG_3013The phrases still echo in my ears and rattle around my brain.

After innumerable dozy hours of class time, my hand mechanically raising and lowering to answer questions for perfunctory pats on the head, having written essay upon essay upon essay, there are really only two phrases that I recall from school.

“We are all creatures of habit.” “Crowds are always potentially dangerous.”

That is all. That is it. And it’s absolutely cringe worthy that these jewels of wisdom are fished from the maelstrom of 8th grade, compliments of Mr. Wepman’s psychology elective held in the cinder blocked glory of Warner Junior High School. But there you have it.

Mr. Wepman had noted that each of us chose the same seats in his classroom day after day. He challenged us to sit somewhere else. We tried. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Even unnerving. We wanted our seats back. Most of that lesson is a blur, but that one part remains quite clear: some of us, maybe even all of us, grasp for safety in the rubric of routine.

*The coffee poured into the same chipped mug every morning.

*The parking space at the grocery store we gravitate to every single time.

*The tattered shirt we wear when we feel a bit hollow or need to feel lucky.

*The egg and toast placed just so on our breakfast plates.

*The path we walk from the train to the office.

*The seat we choose in the theatre.

*The song we play over and over.

 The bell clanged and we struggled out of our seats. “Remember,” he said as we prepared to throw ourselves into swirling mass of kids rushing through the hallways, “be careful out there. Crowds are always potentially dangerous.”

And so they are. From junior high school hallways to the streets of our greatest cities.

We’re told that the world, and all it’s limitless potential, spreads before us like a blanket shaken out on the soft grass before a picnic. It’s vast and thrilling, and there just for us. How can we not embrace it, take as full advantage of all it’s excitement and possibilities? To turn inward, to curl into a protective shell like a sow bug is to go nowhere, to do nothing, to wither. But we are attuned and aware always. To live life afraid is not to live. We need to live in the world. The world needs us to live in it.

In my dreams there is some magnificent, unknowable force in the world that continues to protect those we love and care for from crowds and from dangers. I hope that it’s so. And for those for whom protection lapses, it’s my fervent hope that somehow, somewhere they are cared for and comforted and beloved for all time and beyond time.





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She was tiny and dark, lithe and nimble. An effervescent stream of seltzer, shot right from the bottle.

The story, as I heard it, was this: that once upon a time, Little Gram, our grandmother Ann Venitsky Chudler, was our own Superman, able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Well, perhaps not quite. But long ago in raucous games of tag played wild and free on the flat city rooftops, she was an elusive sprite, leaping away from the outstretched hands of her playmates, so fearless that she could escape a tag by literally leaping over the gaps between the buildings.

Our grandmother could fly.



Really, no one ever knew where we were.   How extraordinarily wonderful was that?

Equipped with red rubber schoolyard balls and a few plastic jump ropes, afternoons after school we were out and about in the neighborhood, roaming around making up games to play. We lived where flat tracts of land were fast being crammed with Lego like constructions as builders raced from quarter acre to quarter acre.

The rules were that weren’t any rules. So the half constructed houses in our neighborhood became our playground. Games of intrigue, games of tag, we ran up and down the half finished stairs, tumbled through open windows, perched casually and coolly on rooftops. And most memorably, once on a dare I leapt from an upper floor balcony into the soft dirt below. I know all about Galileo’s experiment from the tower of Pisa. Science confirms that I fell hard and fast. But then and now I thought I lingered in the air. I was floating, I was flying.



For our Grandmother, the games of tag are a memory. Around her swirls a hive of activity, husband, children, sisters and family revolve around her center. There is always something to do, someone who needs something.   She does it. Tied firmly into an apron she makes porcupine meatballs, ethereal lemon meringue pies. No one ever made a bed better. She grows tough and hearty roses that reach toward the sky. Our grandmother’s tiny feet are now closed into perilously high heels, her feet firmly planted on the ground.

But are they really? Often and always, those tiny high-heeled feet trod a path back and forth to the local library. Curled in an armchair late at night she reads and reads and reads.  Alone and in the quiet, there are times she is sure that she is flying.



We face off on an overcast fall afternoon, my middle schoolers and I. They sit; some slumped, some squirmy at their desks. I sit, trying not to slump or squirm, facing them at mine. They are tired and tense. Maybe I am too. For today then, maybe just for today, the lesson becomes looser, more fluid.

I ask them to take out paper and pencils. I want them to draw.  They do. I open a book and begin to read. The room is completely quiet and calm, save for the scratch of pencils on paper and the rise and fall of my voice.

“Something above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the graveled carriage drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go! Up we go!” till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.”

Kenneth Grahame, Chapter 1,  The Wind in the Willows

After a time, the bell rings of course. It always does. We shake ourselves and start to move, tentatively, awkwardly, as if waking from a dream. “You know,” said one of the girls said as we were packing up, “That was so nice I almost felt as if I was floating.” I felt the same.

There are so many ways to fly. How wonderful that our Grandmother knew that too.


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A throwaway question. A perfunctory answer. “So how are you?” he asked. Unthinking, the answer tumbled from my lips, “I’m great.”

There was a pause before he replied gently. “But you never say that.” And he was right. I never do. Except that I just did. That’s when it hit me.

I was happy. So happy that I hadn’t even noticed.

Well good grief, how did this happen? And how was it that I didn’t see it coming didn’t prepare, didn’t revel? That longed for sensibility, that sweetly elusive quest that launched a thousand well-thumbed self-help books, the favored subject of so much yapping from so many smug and silly daytime talk show hosts. Happiness. It was mine?

I had to cry a little. Not because I was happy. But because I hadn’t realized how long I’d been unhappy.

Had I bull headedly been unwilling to admit how unhappy I had been? Or had I simply been rutted for so long that I hadn’t noticed? Or worse, not cared?

The marvelous Mary Oliver speaks of “a seizure of happiness.” That can certainly be so. But this lovely, pervasive longed for thing snuck up on me. Caught me by surprise and held me.

The thing is, for those who are aware there are always, even in terrible times, moments of happiness, of beauty, of joy.  We snatch greedily at these happy things, grab them and hold on tight. Most of us swing from joyous moment to joyous moment, all the time lurching over the abyss of fear and unhappiness.

But this feeling was something else entirely, pervasive and calm and real. It arrived without fear.

How did it happen? On the surface, it all seems the same. The weird and wonderful cascade of daily life continues. The comfortable old house is still basically held together with duct tape. I’m haunted by sisyphean piles of laundry. My untamable flyaway hair perseveres in having a wayward mind of it’s own. I try to be where the people I love can reach me. I remain small and quiet, often unnoticed and most comfortable in a corner.

And yet there is a difference. I am doing exactly the work I want to be doing in just the way I want to do it. That small thing is everything to me.

Could it be that happiness was there all along, waiting for me to stop searching for it so it could simply suffuse me?

All these thoughts raced through my head before I continued the conversation. I took a deep breath, “And how are you?” I asked. I thought and I hoped, “please be great too.”



We were going to be apart for an eternity. Two people. Two different continents. Two whole weeks.

Belaboring over penmanship scratched onto delicate sheets of rice paper was arduous. Phoning was impractical. The internet didn’t yet exist. The thought of separation unbearable. My good friend.

But I had a plan. I always had a plan. At precisely 10 pm Eastern Standard Time I would think of her and she would think of me. Just for a moment. And for a quiet pause we were linked.

But at some point, some how this was lost.



When I first came to New York my whole job consisted of doing something I was and am completely unsuited for, speaking on the phone. I worried no one would answer my calls, or return my calls or frankly exactly what I would say if they did take my calls. I was a publicist, ever trolling media sources to make bookings for writers to promote their books. My voice back then was pitched high and girlish. My boss actually trained me to lower it, bullied me into attempting to sound more powerful and resonant (she smoked, the whole office smoked which helped).    I became adept at parroting, at saying the right thing at the right time on the phone. I sounded good but I felt awful, a mellifluously voiced poser simply reading a script.



The clatter of dishes, the drone of the television, the whirl of the washing machine, the blips and clinks and blinks of videogame jingles. A constant happy cacophony of sound . This was home, a comfortable, safe hideaway with my boys and my husband. There was constant motion: dinners to make, doctors appoints to run to, school carnivals, school projects, school meetings. I bark orders and speak in directives: put that pile of clothes away, brush your teeth, please pick up the Crazy Bones before I step on them again, There is so much to say but no time to think about it and even less time to say it. I communicate in sound bites.



I’m just so busy. I’m so proudly preoccupied. The more things I cram into an hour the more time seems to stretch- like an ever expanding balloon. If I were a physicist this might make more actual sense but as I am just a person it does not. I just feel it, all electrified and hyperalert.

What is undeniable is the self-important buzziness of it all. That and a preoccupation so pronounced that I’m apt to walk into walls while reading, motor resolutely in the wrong direction while driving or absentmindedly throw sponges in the freezer or my keys in the trash.

That’s not so terrible. But to be so utterly preoccupied that conversations are blurry and only half-recalled is awful. I have a ready bag of bon mots and directives to reach for in a pinch. But I’m cheating and I know it.


It’s what we dreamed of. Everyone off everywhere doing what they are meant to be doing. Sometimes the quiet is thick and almost tangible. I sink into it. And at last, once in a while, things slow down again.

Now, if I stay very still, even for a bit, time seems to contract and almost freeze . Sweet snatches of memory help me leap from thought to lingering thought. Once again over the miles, my mind reaches out and connects with those I miss, those I love.

I don’t give those faraway people a specific time to think of me. That would be so incredibly odd! And it doesn’t matter. It’s enough just to hope that they do,



You can almost always find me up in the deep early o’clocks of the morning. The darkness at that time is thick, almost viscous. It’s paired with a friendly, companionable quiet, a middle of the night symphony full of the muted hum of appliances, a counterpoint of rhythmic breathing from those that actually sleep. I crave this slightly rambunctious quiet. In fact, I truly adore it.

Middle of the night is never boring. There is always something interesting to do. When I was six or seven I would sit on the floor of my room creeping toward the slice of light that came from the bathroom across the hall. If I got there I could read. And if I didn’t feel like reading of course, there were always The Presidents.

Here’s the thing. At some point I’d been given a poster that was ornately festooned with tiny cameos of all the Chief Executives listed in the order of their terms of office. I would sit there in the slice of light, squinting at the page wondering about each of them, memorizing their faces, mulling over pertinent facts about their lives, solemnly considering the glowing accounts of their accomplishments.   Lulled, I would feel calm even if I rarely slept.

These middle of the night encounters with the Chiefs were inspiring. So much so that I eventually read my way through the entire biography section of the Eagle Elementary School library. These were some of the books I read:

Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, Albert Einstein, Young Thinker, Thomas Edison, Young Inventor, Crazy Horse, Young War Chief all eagerly snatched up by Cindy Adelman, Young Reader

These were good lives, weren’t they? These were important people whose whole lives were inspiring, uplifting. They had to be so, I knew it was so because their stories were captured for all time, printed on rag stock and double-stitched into cardboard bindings. That makes it real, doesn’t it?

But as I grew I came to know people, not just know books. To talk to people. To listen to as many people as I could. Even to love some of them. Every story I came to know was too contradictory, too complex to be committed to 249 pages of adulation. The stories I read when I was small were not the whole stories for any of those people. They couldn’t be. Because a snippet captured for posterity in a book isn’t the whole story for any of us.

Peoples lives: their messy, complicated, heroic, fearful, exuberant and sometimes perfectly imperfect lives, are lived in the light. But that’s not real the story. Instead it’s the intangibles, the space between the words of every person’s story that can truly make for a beautiful, lasting, and worthwhile existence, no matter how many years we have on earth.  That’s what’s real.

Those of us who’ve lost someone dear know all of this. We remember the warm cloak of kindness. We remember the way we loved and were loved in return. We remember the understanding that filled the spaces between words.

These are the things not written. These are the things that are felt. Good lives cherished for all time.

z”l CSH


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I’ve long been envious of the verbal snapshots that the great diarists of the past such as Samuel Pepys or Winston Churchill. With a key observation, a pithy phrase, a few jotted words, they punctuated their lives in ink. I’ve always been amazed at how terse many of these daily observations are. Not verbose. Not show offy. Just a scattering of words that serve as bread-crumbed path to memory.

I was thinking about this, thinking about so many things really, as I drove drone-like along the highway, having once again helped set the year in motion, having sent everyone off to school once again. I miss them. I want so much to remember. I’m frightened that I won’t remember. I fret.

But remembering should be easy, shouldn’t it? With the touch of a button I can snap off a dozen photos, with another swipe I can organize and categorize them. With a final fillip I can even swirl them into a Sundance quality montage. The funny thing is, I don’t do this. I don’t really want to.

September is always a pull up your socks kind of a month.   New shoes, new teachers, new ideas, new beginnings. Moving forward, there is always the pull of the past, the fear of forgetting where you came from, from what brought you to this point to get you where you’re going.

I’ve stopped trying to remember everything. That’s overwhelming, impossible. But there is another way. Memory for me has become kaleidoscopic, ever shifting, always responsive to another twist of the dial. I sieve my memories, washing away the dross. It’s true there are gaps. It’s true my thoughts often aren’t always linear. Instead my memories are responsive to where I am and to what I’m doing. They’re malleable. To crystallize them, freeze them wouldn’t work for me. Because for me, memory isn’t a trip to the past so much as a path to the present.

So while I do take and keep photographs of those I care for they’re not the first place I look when I want to stir memories. Instead I’ll conjure images that are for me far more evocative and powerful.

  • Miniature cacti plants in an apartment window
  • A trio of tiny socks
  • Double scoop of Superman ice cream
  • A box of Lucky Charms.
  • A bottle of coke and a stack of Hydrox
  • Double- breasted pinstriped suits
  • A green-striped rugby shirt
  • A Charles Culver camel
  • “Bow-ties are cool.”
  • The elusive Charizard
  • The Strand
  • “Come, you Game Boys!”
  • Piles of Pocket DKs
  • “Just a slice” of pumpkin pie
  • Tins of Mandelbrot
  • Pizza Bob’s
  • A Double-Tiered, handmade, backyard fort
  • A deep green GTO
  • “Breathe”
  • A pint of Haagen-Dazs, a dishtowel, a spoon
  • Sunglasses inside
  • A giant bowl of cherries

The swirling thoughts that are stirred bring all of these people closest to me vividly back once again. These images are my rubric, my guideposts. To think in images keeps memory alive, not pasted into a scrapbook. It’s a brave and thrilling thing to do. It’s worth it to give yourself the pleasure of crafting memory instead of grasping for it.

The great diarists left themselves a map to recreating memory. I try to do the same. What a gift, what a joy! Once again my mind returns to the magical Richard Jeffries who said in The Story of My Heart,

“Full to the brim of the wondrous past, I felt the wondrous present!”

And that is just how I want to feel, how I hope everyone feels, as we once again sweep into the brace of September and onward to a sweet new year.

READING THE CLOUDS: The secret to telling time by the sky. Post number 28.


If tales are true, my great-grandmother, Rachel Leah (z”l) could tell time simply by looking at the sky. She knew the time right to the minute just by a glance at the clouds.

What a marvelous, wonderful, amazing thing! What would it be like, I wondered, to be so in tune with the world, so keyed into its rhythms, that you could literally read the sky? There had to be a secret! Of course there was a secret.

I didn’t know how she did it. I never had a chance to ask Grandma Rachel Leah how she learned to tell time by the sky, to read the clouds. But I so wanted to do this. There just had to be a way.

Part 1.

On warm summer days when we were small my sisters and I would lay out on the grass in front of our house and watch the soft, puffy clouds lazily move across the sky.  Of course there was a game: you had to be first to spot a shape in the cloud and point it out before it drifted apart. Did we play for minutes or was it hours? I never knew.

Part 2.

Staring at clouds? What an utter waste of time.   Pretending a cloud was a bunny that morphed into a cowboy that transformed into an ice cream cone was of no use whatsoever. I was too old, too dressed up to lie in the grass anyway. I could get a reasonable weather forecast, and pinch a few jokes, from Sonny Elliot on Channel 4 instead.

Part 3.

If you look carefully you’ll see that my left forearm is deeply tanned. Not so my right. I spend so many hours driving this one and that one from one place to another that the sun has baked my left arm into what’s known in select circles as a true trucker tan. But I am not a trucker—just a mom behind the wheel.

I rarely look up. Why bother? I have my watch. I really love my watch. Besides. I can’t risk misreading the time—I can’t let anyone down by being late.

Part 4.

How odd that I can’t stop looking at the sky. I love the clouds the best. It’s a proud parade, a stunning Shakespearean drama, a breathtaking pageant that is so enthralling I’m afraid to miss even a moment.I sneak glances, and then find myself staring up at the clouds throughout the day. I can almost feel the texture of certain clouds; I love the interplay as they dance across the sky. I love that I can recognize cloud types but the array of clouds across the sky is constantly changing. I’m afraid to stop looking or I’ll miss something once-in-a-lifetime magnificent.

Old habits die hard. I search out and study the names of the clouds, Altostratus, Contrail, Fibratus. I learn what they mean. Some sightings such as Cumulus and Stratus are quite common. Others, like the Kelvin-Helmholtz or Asperatus are so rare that one could live a lifetime and never spot them. I think about the works of Jean-Honore Fragonard and J.M.W. Turner, two of the greatest painters of clouds and know that as beautiful as their works are what they were interpreting was far more astounding. I look up and think about the scores of people who have been swept up by the beauty of clouds since the beginning of time. But really I don’t want to pontificate on the clouds, I want to luxuriate. So I do.

In his book, The Story of My Heart: An Autobiography (1883), English essayist and nature writer Richard Jeffries says, “for artificial purposes time is agreed on, but really there is no such thing.”

If tales are true my Grandma Rachel Leah could tell time just by looking at the sky. I cannot. But then maybe her secret was that with an appreciation of clouds, of nature, of the world itself, time has no real meaning.

Look up and see the sky. Beauty suffuses—it lingers – it lasts.