My Seasons Playlist #SOL17

For the last two days, my writing has been inspired by the brilliant poet, Georgia Heard and her seminal work with Heart Maps. Near the end of the book, teacher and literacy leader, Penny Kittle, included an essay on her experiences in heart mapping by reflecting on the power of music in her life as well as her students. In it she shares, “Our hearts hold hidden playlists.” Although my list of favorite song titles would run off the page, I discovered three songs connected by seasons in my life, which bear further reflection.

ECCSeasonOne undisputed fact is that the 1960’s was an era of great music. Mirroring the turbulent anti-war protests, there were some poignant folk songs sung in the streets, at festivals, and in our churches. With a single acoustic guitar, I remember hearing The Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in our own church, which is based on scripture from Ecclesiastes, a personal favorite. A decade born with hope, quickly turned violent with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy along with Dr Martin Luther King. Instead of withdrawing from the war, we accelerated our efforts and began drafting young men, boys really. Although we were only in elementary school, my brothers and I watched the draft with our parents, worried for other families affected. When I switched careers in my forties, and returned to college to complete my English degree, I took a writing course, where we explored literature about that time. Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, still lives in my heart as I was finally able to articulate the emotions I suppressed as a child in that season of war.

To everything, (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season, (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under the heavens
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

SeasonsPicWhen I was in 7th grade, one of our classmates died mysteriously. In our small school community, with only one class per grade, we were close. Michael was ill during a terrible epidemic of the flu, which afflicted me as well. I remember our phone rang and my mother shared that it was a prayer chain for Michael… I am certain she was worried about me, which is why I remained home longer than usual. When I returned to school, my classmates and I insisted on singing at Michael’s funeral mass, customizing the lyrics to “Seasons in the Sun.” On the day of the funeral, when Mrs. Hinks played the first key, we were stunned into silence. Although we started to sing, one by one, our voices dropped out of the chorus, and we were unable to finish. I always think about Michael’s parents and how they might have felt that day… already torn up by the loss of their son, and hearing the pain articulated with the sounds of our mourning, must have been heartbreaking in that season of loss.

Goodbye my friends it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that spring is in the air
Pretty girls are everywhere
Think of me and I’ll be there

We had joy, we had fun
we had seasons in the sun
But the hills that we climbed
Were just seasons out of time

When my husband and I got married, I insisted on having our church music accompanied
by an acoustic guitar. One of our song selections was Stevie Nicks’, “Landslide,” a favoriteHeartSeason for its voice and words. Although I had known my husband eight years before we married, and loved him dearly, I also lived through the divorce of my own parents, and understood the commitment and challenge of marriage. The lyrics of this song evoke a sense of trust, and serve as a reminder to constantly seek spiritual guidance throughout our season of love.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing this opportunity to write and take risks within this supportive community. This has certainly been a season of abundance, as I have been graced by the commraderie of fellow slicers, as well as a generous gift from the Highlights Foundation.

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On a Wing and a Prayer #SOL17

Robin graphic
While I was reading Georgia Heard’s Heart Maps yesterday, I remembered a technique I learned from her to move through writer’s block. It was taken from her book, Writing Toward Home. In it she recounts a moment after her ninety-year-old grandmother died. Staring at an onion on the table, Georgia began to write and reveal insights made between the layers of an onion to the “soft, papery hands of her grandmother.”HeardOnion

Following her advice, I sat down at the kitchen table in full view of the backyard. I was working on my writing homework for one of my workshop sections through Teachers College Summer Institute. It was still bright enough to see outside on that summer evening. Suddenly a robin came into view, criss-crossing through the yard. I took pen to paper, and here is what I wrote:

RobinNotesThe next morning, Georgia Heard gave the keynote on the Columbia campus. Afterward, I found the nerve to approach her to share my discoveries and gratitude for the idea. With a poet’s eye, she was genuinely intrigued. Although that breakthrough helped me to draft a writing piece, I decided to return to it today and try my hand at poetry.

On a Wing and a Prayer
The robin moves with purpose
and appears to know her worth – 
Seeking, searching, scampering
great treasures beneath the earth.
Sustenance to feed her young
who wait inside their nest – 
entwined in bits of twigs
created for their rest. 

Mothers move unknowingly
though appear intent on course – 
Kneeling, knowing, nurturing
unknown truths within the source.
Faithfulness to rear her young
intent on leaving home – 
instilled with strong beliefs
no matter where they roam.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing the opportunity to engage with this amazing community of writers!

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A Heartfelt Tradition #SOL17

This morning, I was watching marathon episodes of the TLC show, “Long Lost Family.” With a box of tissues nearby, I sobbed, listening to story after story of lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and siblings. One woman, who was given up at birth, spoke about the hole in her heart saying, “It’s like reading a book about your life with missing chapters.” It’s those missing parts, which urge all parties forward in their quest to discover the truth.

Coincidentally, while I was watching this series, I was perusing Georgia Heard’s latest book, Heart Maps, a whole-book version of heart mapping she introduced to us in her seminal work on the teaching of poetry, Awakening the Heart. As Georgia Heard so eloquently notes, “Heart mapping is a visual emotional blueprint for writers to map the people, memories, and experiences that are significant and memorable.” While I ached in listening to the heart breaking tales of lost family, I couldn’t help but think about families who know one another, yet purposely stay apart, or about distant relatives from a family’s ancestry, who remain unknown in the family lineage.

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Michael & Filomena Tafuni

That thinking led me to one of Georgia’s templates, called the Family Quilt Heart Map, with a prompt to “include details of place such as a family home or town, city, or country where your family comes from and how that has shaped your family memories and stories.” That brought me to Italy and one of our family traditions, originating from Altamura, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents, Michael and Filomena Tafuni.

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Altamura’s mayor joined us on the 90th anniversary

Every Labor Day my family gathers in a park in North Bergen, NJ to celebrate the patron saint of Altamura, Maria SS. del Buoncammino, translated as Mother of safe travel. One of the stories connected to the saint includes Salvatore Tafuni, a distant relative. While he was being assaulted by robbers in the night, he cried out to the Blessed Mother for help. She miraculously appeared in the sky, frightened the robbers away, and saved his life. This feast day became the tradition in Altamura, which traveled with my grandparents and others here to America.

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Artist’s rendition of Salvatore Tafuni

Nothing made my grandparents more proud than honoring this feast day, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015. My grandfather, Mike the Ice Man, proudly walked in the procession, first with my Aunt Mary and Aunt Josephine by his side and then later with my cousins, Vicki and Judy. Years later, after my grandfather passed, my father, Sonny took over, and now my brother Michael, cousin Anthony and my cousin’s son Luke have taken their place of honor, sharing my grandfather’s original procession badge.

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From left – my cousin Anthony, Dad/Sonny, and my brother Michael

As you can see from the pictures, this tradition has greatly impacted our family. Although, we may have begrudgingly attended when we were kids, as adults, we look forward to it. Beyond the history of our tradition, it’s the food, laughter and stories we share that connect us to the Tafuni name. Although my grandparents are departed, I am certain they beam with pride knowing they’ve instilled a tradition in our hearts, which we proudly hope to continue celebrating for years to come.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing the opportunity to engage with this amazing community of writers! You have given me the impetus to track my family’s stories, so the chapters of our lives will be complete.

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Dimmed Lights of Broadway #SOL17

It always seems, that whenever I have done something wrong, I get caught. Like when I stole twenty cents to buy a raffle ticket for a kitten, and even though there were only three participants and two kittens, I didn’t win. In this slice, I recount a story from high school where I get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is still a draft, as I need to turn it into a narrative with the appropriate dialogue, action, and thought to carry the story.

During high school, I was friends with a girl named Kim, who I met through our joint venture on a competitive dance team. Kim’s parents were divorced; she and her younger sister lived with their mother in New Jersey, while their father resided in Chicago. Kim spent time in both locations, so she was a savvy traveler. As a drama queen, she wanted to pursue dance professionally, and was drawn to the theater as well. She also possessed an air of sophistication, and was fiercely independent. During the summer of 1977, when we were nearing our junior year in high school, our paths crossed more closely as we were nominated to lead our dance team for an upcoming competition. Between her worldliness and my teenage rebellion, we were trouble.

NYGraphicBecause we only lived twenty miles outside of New York, most of us were fortunate to enjoy the sights and artistry of the city. My aunt treated me to the ballet and the theater, my dad to sporting events and my older cousin to concerts. So it didn’t take me long to agree with Kim when suggested we head into the city to try and see “The King and I.” At fifteen and sixteen, we had it all figured out. I told my parents that Kim’s older cousin was going to take us, so we would be with an adult. Kim’s mother, who was a bit more hip, gave Kim permission as long as we took her younger sister, who was twelve going on twenty – shocking, I know. The three of us, along with another friend, hopped on a bus and into Port Authority to begin our adventure. Mind you, this was the seventies, before Mayor Giuliani was elected and cleaned up 42nd street, so the sights and situation were slightly dangerous and less than ideal.

TimesSquareFirst stop, was to Times Square to the TKTS booth to scope out tickets for prized shows. Although there wasn’t anything available for “The King and I,” we did purchase balcony tickets to see “Chicago.” As show time drew near, we headed over to the theater and into our seats. From our view at the top, Lisa, the other friend,  swore she spotted Eric Clapton in the audience. We also noticed four open seats in the orchestra, that remained empty after the first act. During intermission, we headed down and slipped into the “open” seats.

ChicagoWhen the curtain rose during Act II, one single light illuminated a dark stage, and the person on stage announced “All the lights are out in the city!” The audience laughed, assuming it was part of the show. The actor shared again, “No. I’m not kidding. New York City is experiencing a major blackout. Please look to the ushers who will lead you out through the exit doors on the side.” The audience gasped in unison. A previous hushed crowd began speaking in louder whispers, slight panic in their voices. For some reason, the emergency lighting did not work, so little by little people began igniting lighters to guide the way.

King&IThe four of us held on together hand to shoulder in single file. Once out on the street, we discovered that bus service in and out of the city ceased. Port Authority was too dangerous, and at the moment, off the grid. We were definitely in a bind. Thinking quickly, we slipped into the St James Hotel, which was across the street near our theater. Luckily the pay phones were working, so Kim called her mother, who notified me that my mother was frantic! Oh boy, how was I going to get out of this one? She told us that her uncle was in the city, singing at a night club. As soon as he could retrieve his car, he would pick us up.
DailyNewsMeanwhile a small crown was gathering in the hotel lobby. As it turned out, many members from the cast of “The King and I,” were staying at the hotel. Putting on their usual, the “show must go on faces,” they led us in songs from the show! What a treat. Although my nerves were shot, fearing what awaited me at home, my spirit soared in singing those show tunes. There may have been mayhem on the streets with unnecessary looting and crime, but inside the cocoon of the St James Hotel, we were serenaded and nurtured into calm.

NYCBlackoutA few hours later, Kim’s uncle picked us up. The eeriest sight was the view of the New York skyline blacked out against the summer sky, as we emerged from the helix of the Lincoln Tunnel. Instead of bringing us home, he took us to another club in New Jersey to visit a friend! The party continued until I got home and faced the music from my parents. Just another teenage angst to add to the story of my life.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing the opportunity to engage with this amazing community of writers!

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Sacred Seeds #SOL17

SummerPineconeBranch

Sacred Seeds

Pine cones beckon me on Maine morning
Rising early, I head out to the dock
Inspired by the possibilities – 
a gift, a sacred quest…

Gazing deeply into the new born day,
I scribble in my journal – 
just words,
just lines…

Until I land on something sweet, or sentimental, or surprising
Seeds of an idea emerge
Waiting for me to discover its meaning
My meaning – my purpose – my truth

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A Week in the Woods #SOL17

Although I normally wake up super early to read and write, this morning I slept through until after 7:00AM. Imagine my surprise when I noticed my phone lit up with a tweet from Stacey and GratitudeAbundanceMelanie announcing that I had won the commenting challenge! The prize? An opportunity to attend a summer writing workshop at the Highlights Foundation! To say I am thrilled is an understatement. I have been scoping this place out ever since Stacey wrote about her experience there attending an Unworkshop. It is located in the pristine woods of the Pocono Mountains, close to Beach Lake, where my brothers and I vacationed as kids, which makes it even more endearing.

Ironically, in yesterday’s post, I mused between living in a cabin in the woods versus a cottage by the sea. I concluded that the beach is a great place to read and discover, whileFallCabin the woods is a great place to write and uncover. So now, as life imitates art, I will spend a
week in the woods to live as a writer – a gift that is truly a blessing. Over the last two and half years, I have sustained four surgeries to correct an injury on my foot from tripping over my rambunctious black labrador, Lucy. Since two of those surgeries occurred in the summers of 2015 and 2016, this will be the first summer I can be out and about. What better place to explore my thinking and creativity than in the beauty and tranquility of this setting.

Now I have to decide how I will spend my time. Do I want to continue on my family’s WoodedPathmemoir as a photo journal? Do I want to explore a picture book idea? Do I want to write my talk for an upcoming retreat in September? Do I want to unpack the box of letters I acquired from an auction, which chronicles the life of a couple from WWII through their marriage, and the start of their family? Do I want to think about creating something as a resource for teacher? There are so many outstanding options to choose from. So far, I am in between a July offering called Summer Camp at the Barn which includes open workshops along with one-to-one mentorship. The other is the lure of the Unworkshop, where I can work on my writing independently.

In any case, it’s going to be wonderful. I am so grateful to the Two Writing Teachers for extending this opportunity to write in this community, and I am overwhelmed with the Highlights Foundation for offering such a generous gift. I promise to keep you posted on my decision and on my experience.

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Cabins & Cottages #SOL17

Today, I was uninspired until I found inspiration in some of my notebook entries from our summers in Maine. Between those words, a “word” exercise from poet and writer, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, and a poem from Tony Hoagland aptly titled, “The Word” I muse about my two favorite places.

“The way you craft your writing is the way you craft your life.” (Amy Ludwig Vanderwater)

Two words that emerged today are of my two favorite places – a cabin in the woods and a cottage by the sea. I decided to meander down the path of both to see where it would lead me.

Cabin
Beaches and mountains – both are familiar, favorite places. I still wonder where I would be happier – planted on the beach or nestled in a cabin.

When I think of a cabin of course I think of Maine – and our beloved summer vacations.I did my most reflective writing there, carving out time and space to observe and reflect on nature. Honest, deep, life-changing thinking… It has inspired my writing to realize the simplicity of life, or rather that I should live more simply – stripping away the extra – to embrace what’s hiding… always fear at the core. A cabin is secluded, quiet and feels more natural than any other place – rooted and peaceful.

BeachCottage

Beaches are endless… sun-filled and book-filled. The sounds are both calming and distracting.  It’s not as insulated as the woods… voices carry and dance on the wind as the water either laps or crashes on the shore. Sun and clouds tango between warmth and reprieve – one moment optimistic, the next unsure. Maybe for me, the difference lies in expression. When I want to read and discover, I head to the beach, and when I want to write to uncover, I head to the woods.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for this opportunity to explore and share my writing in this wonderful community.

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Dog Tales #SOL17

We are decisively a dog family. My dad had dogs, we had dogs growing up and we all have dogs in our lives as parents. Today is a snippet of those dog tales. It’s still in rough draft form and needs revision… still working on form. But, I’m on a roll with this daily challenge and thought I would submit – as is. I would love to get your feedback.

Dad/Dominick, aka Sonny
There was a quick knock at the door, as the policeman stepped inside. “Good morning. I’m looking for Dominick Tafuni.”

My father stood, arms at his sides, and responded, “I’m Dominick.”

“Do you have a dog named Baby?” Dominick nodded, unable to speak, worried that Baby might have been hit by a car.  The officer continued, “I want you to know that Baby bit one of your neighbors, so we are holding him in quarantine.You’ll have to come to the station to get him in a few days.”

The eyes of the 2nd grade class remained on Dominick, until he returned to his seat…

That’s a true story from my dad’s life, circa 1938/1939 in Jersey City. Dominick acquired the stray dog on Thorn Street, where he lived. Although he can’t recall if the police showed up at the house first, before heading to the school, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of those unbelievable moments that would never happen today! Baby returned home, unharmed, and lived out his years until he died of old age. My father loved him dearly.

Tafuni childhood
Fast forward to my childhood, when we acquired Snoopy, a beagle, in honor of everyone’s favorite comic strip canine. Although I was too young to remember, apparently Snoopy wasn’t that friendly, and bit one of us. Not taking any chances, Policeman Frank Maracanda showed up to take Snoopy away to the police farm. I remember staring out the front window as Snoopy jumped into the bag seat. As the police car drove away, I imagined Snoopy’s destination –  running in big open spaces alongside horses and other dogs, training for important police work. I’m not sure how old I was when I figured out that “going to the farm” had nothing to do with roaming the land!

When I shared that tale with my daughter and nieces, Kristin, who was 22 at the time, nervously laughed and said. “Hey, that’s what my parents told me about Max,” their very old dog when she was very young, until she suddenly realized, for the first time, what “going to the farm” meant! It’s like discovering Santa doesn’t exist, only you’re eight years-old, not twenty-two!

Dogs Become our Kids
How we acquire our dogs is another story. My grandparents, Italian immigrants, would have never had the money to buy a dog, so Sonny got his off the street. Joey rescues most of his, and Michael has done both. We, on the other hand, chose a different path. When my own children were old enough, my husband and I decided to surprise them with a dog. Keeping it a secret, we picked them up from school and said we needed to head over to the airport to pick up a friend. My son, anxious about strangers, protested not wanting anyone he didn’t know sitting next to him in the car, then proceeded to take off his shoes refusing to head in. Little did he know there was a bigger prize to gain inside.

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Angel’s last summer in Maine

Once inside, we went to the baggage claim as we were instructed. Shortly after, a man walked by with a dog carrier. I casually said, “There’s my friend.” The response was priceless. Our black lab Angel, short for Moon River’s Sweet November Angel, became our third child, traveling with us on every summer and winter we spent in Maine, and seeing both kids off to college. Putting her down was the hardest thing we had to do, but the most humane. She developed bone cancer at twelve years old… it broke my heart, but she will live in our memories forever.

 

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Lucy 8 weeks old

In mourning over Angel, I reached out to breeders throughout the Midwest, and finally found a puppy in Houston, TX. Instead of having her shipped to New Jersey, my husband and I, like adoptive parents, flew to Houston to pick her up. I felt like Paris Hilton carrying my baby pup in a chic Chanel-like black carrier onto the plane and on the feet by my floor. We named her ahead of time, which is always fun. Her father’s name was The Boss, her mother was Working Girl Trix, preceded by her grandmother’s name, Chorus Girl Lola. There were some heated debates between the following names: The Boss’ Daughter Meadow (NJ “boss” Tony Soprano), The Boss’ Daughter Rosie (NJ’s other boss Springsteen), or Funny Girl Lucy after the infamous Lucille Ball. Girl power won, and Funny Girl Lucy was named.

 

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Lucy’s first Christmas

Although I was looking to replace my Angel, Lucy, nicknamed Lulu Belle, would have no part of it; she’s the complete opposite. While Angel’s name matched her personality, Lucy is as wild, silly and scheming as I Love Lucy! Two months after we brought her home, she showed up unexpectedly while I was stepping off a stool, causing me to trip, fall and break my foot. Three and a half years and four surgeries later, I am still recovering from that injury… literally to this day! But, I love her to death, and despite her rambunctious behavior, I would never think of sending her to the farm!

 

 

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The Gift of Grace #SOL17

Grace

The Gift of Grace

9   There are seasons we find ourselves bearing unbelievable circumstances,
0   invisible pain,
8   which lingers far too long, day and night.

6   Until we are rescued by prayer
2   from angel warriors. 

3   Grace enters quietly,
7   and equips us with strength and courage,
6   to mend brokenness – real or perceived.

8   I stand in awe of this amazing gift
3  to heal wounds.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers and this SOL writing community for offering this opportunity. I found this idea from a fellow blogger, Rose Cappelli, and decided to give it a try. It’s just what I needed for today’s post.  NewSlicerGraphic

Majestic Warriors #SOL17

This morning, I awoke again to the light of the moon, and the shadows of the trees. Although I tried to take a picture, my storage was full. As I was perusing pictures to delete, I came across three images/poems that tugged at my heart. Then I remembered a picture shared in early March from a fellow blogger Lisa Kincer and photographer Dave Weatherwax– from the midwest, after the storms…

Mother&ChildStorm

The Protector

Awakening to stillness

one winter’s morn,

dusk escaping – daylight dawns…

Majestic limbs loom in the light

erect and tall, braving the night.

Harrowing sorrows, sin and strife,

battling and protecting innocent life

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