Anne Notations

Monday, March 30, 2009

Once. Twice.

An intense, infrequent pleasure of mine in a previous job was attending meetings in New York City. The journey may have been more fondly anticipated than its destination.

I always took the train, and in those days our budget (and company policy) allowed me to travel in the "club car" or first class – a separate large, comfy seat; complimentary soft drinks; waiter and porter service by an Amtrak attendant. The tracks between Providence and New York pass by miles of saltwater marshes and beaches, and I always made sure to sit on the side nearest the ocean in order to savor the views.

Last week I cleaned out some file cabinets at work – a walk through my writing history – and found these musings scribbled on a note pad.

On observing; on being observed

Out the train window I see two swans gliding in an inlet fringed by seagrass. I see, on the edge of a deserted beach, a doe regarding my train without fear.

No one else in this train car is looking out the window; they are hunched over Wall Street Journals and thick typed reports. I pity them!

I think: The deer and swans exist. They are because they are. But when I see them, they are twice over. They exist both in their reality and in mine.

Perhaps this is what we are seeking when we yearn to be noticed, to be considered, by our fellow humans. We seek a sort of immanence by achieving multiple incarnations: in our own consciousness (guaranteed while we're alive and well) and in that of others (hoped for). Even better is to be not only noticed but remembered.

How sweet, how rare the adjective "memorable"! To be noticed and remembered is to be multiplied and given life after life after life.

Those swans and that deer are long dead as I type this blog entry, but here they are before my eyes again, warm-blooded and alert; immortal.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Friday morning. Caroline. Sunshine. Crayons. Parakeets chirping. Peaceful.


Friday, March 20, 2009


An earlier post suggested this winter poem.

After snowfall

The waveless bay is silver.
Look: A black arrow of geese
hurtles up the cove.

Stalks of grass slant,
sepia on white: a Wyeth watercolor.
Sparrows puff against the cold.

Sprung from her leash, Daisy bolts behind me,
tearing a seam in pristine snow.
Her earflaps fly like flags.

I could watch her run forever.
I could hunt reflections of bright cold sky.
I could listen to pure silence here
where nothing is enough.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Not ten strides into a walk with Daisy, I saw the little copper disk winking from the sidewalk: a penny. "Thanks, Mom," I said automatically, stooping to pocket the coin.

You will never see me knowingly pass a stray penny, and not just because lately I've become obsessively thrifty. Pennies are so essentially worthless that their future existence has been debated for at least a decade.

I save pennies because [gets ready to lose at least half the readership here] in my heart I suspect my late mother has placed them in my path. Either her, or my late father-in-law. I say in my heart because that makes it a matter of hope, not reason.

Part One: The penny thing started with my late father-in-law, a retired railroad electrician who was felled by asbestos-related mesothelioma at the age of 77. He died in the hospital less than a month before his 13th and last grandchild - our son Kevin - was born in the summer of 1992. We were bereft.

One afternoon I was leaving our local supermarket with two-year-old Melinda and baby Kevin when a train whistled loudly across town, its wail blown to us on the west wind. "There's Grandpa saying hi," I said to Melinda. Dad had worked for Conrail all his life.

As the kids and I approached our car, suddenly a white SUV next to us began blaring its horn: the car alarm had gone off for no apparent reason. Melinda swiveled to look at the noisy vehicle and began pointing at something in the shadow of its front left tire. I leaned down and saw a handful of pennies on the pavement. As I reached for them I heard myself saying to the kids, "Grandpa put these here for us. They're pennies from heaven."

It's just a phrase, right?

As I backed our car out of the parking spot, I punched the radio button to WGBH, the public FM station in Boston. In those days, its weekday afternoon programming was devoted to "the great American songbook" - popular music from earlier in the 20th century.

This is when things got weird. The song that was playing on the radio at that very moment was - no lie - "Pennies From Heaven." What, seriously, are the odds?

Part Two: Fall 1998. Two days after my mother died of cancer, everyone in my family saw something unusual. I was driving our boys to elementary school across town in Providence that morning, and as I turned south on a city street, a rectangular patch of sparkling rainbow appeared in the morning sky right in front of us. Andrés, then 12, immediately blurted, "Look, Mom – it's Grandma!" Not a question; a cry of recognition. Five miles away in a different town, our daughter was in the playground waiting for her school to open. She happened to look straight up and saw the ribbon of colors, and yelled for her playmates to see. Thirty miles away, my bereaved father went outside to put his coffee grounds in the compost pile and gasped at the vivid colors in the blue sky above. Out on Buzzard's Bay in their boat that day, my brother and his wife saw the rainbow, too. Later we called one another: Did you see that? Wasn't it gorgeous?

For the next six months, Mom greeted us at least several times a week as a shred of hovering rainbow. Driving home from Easter dinner at my brother's house, we saw it glowing at the edge of a spectacular sunset in the western sky. I've never before or since witnessed so many sundogs – more technically known as parhelia – in a comparable span of time.

One day as I began walking back to work from our Providence house, where I'd gone for lunch, I looked up and glimpsed the familiar rainbow – except this time, it was a circle around the sun! Think of the white sun ring that sometimes signals snow on the way, but instead of white, this was a multicolored prismatic hoop.

"Mom," I thought, "if you are making these rainbows for us, please give me a sign. Send me something the way Dad D. sent pennies after he died." It didn't seem odd at all that the second I resumed my walk, I saw a familiar coppery glint on the sidewalk before me: not one but two brand-new pennies shining directly in my path. I still have them, tucked in a jewelry box with family mementos.

Everything is chance. Or: There are no coincidences. Life is random, and we are hapless and buffeted. Or: There is a logic to it all, and we need to keep our minds open wide because pieces of eternity can fall through the cracks of time and three-dimensional space. It would be a shame not to witness them.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pretty things

1. Isn't this a pretty supper? It's Kevin's, from tonight. (His had the ranch dressing. Mine had balsamic vinaigrette.)

I made the quiche last night from odds and ends such as leftover cooked broccoli, two orphaned strips of bacon in the fridge, onion, some cherry tomatoes; used a frozen pie crust from Stop & Shop. The pie crust was "ehh" but everything else tasted great.

I've been doing moderately well at planning and preparing meals ahead of time for weekdays, when I tend to arrive home around 6 pm ready to do anything but assemble an entire meal on the spot. Last night (Monday) we had braised pork chops and potatoes that I assembled in the crockpot the night before and that cooked on "low" all day; plus a salad (thank you, Michael). Tonight we simply heated our slices of quiche in the microwave, and Michael came through with another salad.

Tomorrow night we'll have my favorite turkey meat loaf, mixed and put in its glass baking dish last night, along with rice or corn, and a green veggie (frozen, nuked). Eating cheap, eating healthy: it can be fun! What's your favorite easy, reasonably healthy meal for weeknights? (Extra points if it's palatable to teenagers.)

2) This gorgeous bird's name is the Common Flicker, a large variety of woodpecker. Yes, I had to look her up in the birding guide after I spotted her through the living-room windows. The yellow on the undersides of her wings and tail is vivid when she flies. I cheered this pretty lady on as she stubbornly chased away starlings that tried to share the suet feeder with her.

The other day I thought I glimpsed a Baltimore oriole, but surely it's too early. What do you think? I will put some oranges out this weekend and see what shows up.

UPDATE: A friend commented here that I might have seen an evening grosbeak – the "orange" bird I saw was more of a gold – and after Googling, I believe she's right. Cool!