Sunday, January 25, 2009

FIELD NOTES: It's a lot like pepper...

Saturday walk

...It is known by my children that I hand grind peppercorns on the largest setting over my homemade turkey soup…or eggs…or pork roast. They chuckle and shake their heads in dismay when I choke out the words “I…love… pepper!” They don’t understand. It has finally managed to get near the freezing point this week so, being desperate to take a break from death and taxes, I gather mittens, ear muffs, leggings, hooded sweatshirt, down vest and head to Harrybrooke. Because it has been so frigid, most of the way is packed tight with slick snow and black ice. My speed is impeded by having to constantly skip to where I think the best traction might be and when I feel my heel slip, I envision my first broken bone…and my children shaking their heads in dismay that I walked this way not once, but twice. They don’t understand. But here comes an older woman wrapped as crazily as I am…and a grandpa with a pink papoose…the wind chill stinging us all. I remember as a child the beige pepper shaker my parents had - a 1960’s “space age” styled thing - which I decided to clean one suppertime by blowing off the pepper residue inside its recessed top. I’ll never forget the burning sensation on my eyes and in my nose…and yet…I do love pepper. My life isn’t like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, it’s more like pepper…and, just like braving the wind chill, there is real satisfaction…once you get past the sting.

Friday, January 23, 2009

FIELD NOTES: I am taken aback by my own reaction…

Friday afternoon

...the pure child-like intensity of it…it’s just a box, but I dance around the kitchen because it contains my spice order from Penzeys. There is minced onion and garlic and parsley…tenderness and sweetness plucked from nature, dried and preserved until cooking will bring it back to life…as old as human nature itself, driving joy, passion, lust, trade, exploration, exploitation and conquest throughout its history in the world. But my unabashed joy is not false or tainted with the instant gratification of consumerism. It is me finding a vacuum that has been created by the absence of simple daily pleasures due to the recent nature of things. It is me inhaling a memory…and the anticipation of creating new ones…of taste, of family pleasure, of growing seasons, of the miracle of the human body filtered through our senses. And what else is in the box?...Penzeys first cookbook, a jewel of a book in any category, not just cooking…and still more…their usual generosity of throwing in a free sample jar of one of their spices is multiplied by three…and it happens to be all of my favorite spice, Tuscan Sunset. As I begin to read about the Penzey family in the book, I would like them to know how much they lightened my day with just a box…

Friday, January 9, 2009

FIELD NOTES: Special soil...

The day of the funeral

We are thankful for the sun today even though its rays are not rays, but icicles. As we drive up the long cemetery road in the black limo, there are sailors frozen in the landscape reminding me of the little sailor from my parents’ 1945 wedding cake top that I used to play with. I wonder if the bugler standing next to the flag pole will get his lips stuck to his instrument. I see four more in a line over the horizon readying their rifles. It is not the part of nature I seek to observe, but it will be observed none the less. As we calculate how we will navigate the frozen ground from the car to the green carpet, my mother worries that my father would not have liked putting us all out like this on a January day, but I want to see the flag on his casket and the marker on his grave because, even though only a fraction of the world knew this man in his eighty-eight years, it will be made known to the entire world that he was a veteran of the Second World War…and that says a lot….

Not that I didn’t know it before, but with my father’s passing, it comes to my forefront that being a teacher (in any capacity) is the greatest service there is. As the Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu puts it: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In my experience as a Head Start preschool teacher, I can say with certainty that any child would be lucky to have a father like mine who is capable of preparing you for the world, who questions you, but lets you question him as well, who warns you of mistakes, but lets you make them on your own anyway, who doesn’t give you answers, but tells you where you can look them up. It’s astonishing how much he taught me and, I suppose, I have to give credit to his generation – the one that came out of a great depression and war - as well as the immigrant community he grew up in that never whined because they knew about bootstraps, the horns of bulls, where the buck was supposed to stop and that the impossible just takes a little longer. I hugged and kissed him, but he was not a “hand holding” type. I knew he was telling me he loved me when he asked how the car was and if the outside faucets were turned off for winter and if the mortgage was being kept up-to-date and when he fixed my appliances. It is a fact that he did not get everything he wanted; most of the “luck” he was allotted at birth went to the coin toss that took him to the gedunk for ice cream instead of putting him in the path of the torpedo that struck the USS North Carolina. In his retirement we sometimes ribbed him by calling him an “old fart” or a “stick in the mud” as he confined his world to clipping coupons, tracking down senior discounts and broken things to repair, doing crossword puzzles (in ink!) and watching the UCONN Huskies on TV…or Animal Planet…or Suze Orman. But we knew from his stories (the ones he was willing to tell) that he had had his fill of “adventures”…and that there was too much plastic in the world because it was harder for him to repair things now…I don’t quite know what he is doing in heaven, because there can’t be much to “fix” up there, but I know when it’s my turn to go through those pearly gates, they will be swinging smoothly, evenly and with nary a squeak.

We stand like tents in a downpour – holding up unless the sides are touched – but... Taps must be played, the rifles fired, the flag folded with mechanical protocol and placed in my mother’s hands along with the eight shells that were just fired. As cold as it is, as hard as it seems, there is an affirming landscape that presses our feet to the ground. I recall telling a young Ugandan student of mine who was relating a Sponge Bob cartoon segment to me, that Sponge Bob doesn’t get hurt when he falls down because he is not made of flesh and bones as we are. “Well, we are made of soil. Not what you see here,” he said in his accented English as he gestured with a sweep of his hand and a finger point to the air, “but special soil. From Heaven.”

Death is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland: Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room, I am I and you are you, Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, Speak to me in the easy way which you always used, Put no difference in your tone, Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow, Laugh as we always laughed, At the little jokes we enjoyed together. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effect, Without the trace of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant, It is the same that it ever was. There is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind, Because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, Somewhere very near, Just around the corner, all is well.

Kucinskas Family Tree Online

Sunday, January 4, 2009

FIELD NOTES: The sunshine will be busy today...

Through the bedroom window

…coming and going, welcoming and warming…or distracting and glaring depending upon my needs…brilliant and all too brief for this time of year. It will radiate through the cold winter air and I will remember its warmth on my body for as long as possible…like a daughter. I have a daughter and I am a daughter…my mother was a daughter and her mother was a daughter…we are a steady stream of light-years. Yesterday the sunshine escorted us as we drove through Hartford to the airport while 30 mph winds tried to push us back. Today the light behind the curtain drew me from slumber. It will take me to Harrybrooke for a much needed walk...and back light for me the black knitted glove stuck on the end of a branch reaching up in an unrequited handshake to last spring’s tattered kite. It will disappear on the horizon, but I will know it is still there…behind something…or shining on another part of the world…it is always somewhere. It will help me remember the way my grandmother sang 'You Are My Sunshine’ in her Polish accent…and its solar power stored within me. The weather forecast for Seattle is rain and 40 for the coming week. Yesterday I had my daughter and the sunshine with me; today I have the sunshine.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Personal Holiday Note to Friends & Family

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF MY DAD, Donald Kucinskas (January 1, 1921-January 6, 2009)
Obit Funeral

(This post is a temporary departure from the usual content of this blog and was originally written on December 31, 2008).

I started out 2008 with a "good feeling" about the coming year, but we all now know there were some less than stellar moments...and yet there were some victories...So what exactly 'ordered’ our days this past year? June, Jordan (18) graduated with honors from Henry Abbott Technical High School, also earning a certificate in Computer Graphics and is currently a Communications major at the University of Hartford. He also does design work for a Danbury print shop when he is at home. Also in June, Marissa (20) returned to Seattle for her second year, now a professional modern dancer with Spectrum Dance Theater. In August, Jonathan (23) who is a software tester at Pitney-Bowes had emergency open-heart surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian in NYC to replace a malformed heart valve that had developed an infection. After a harrowing experience, he is now fully recovered and trying to cope with labyrinthine medical bills. Bob works many shifts as a CNA at The Kent Specialty Care Center about 40 minutes away and I have two jobs as a Head Start preschool teacher based at our neighborhood school, then tutor evenings, Saturdays and summers at The Huntington Learning Center about a mile up the street. Grateful that my own children came home alive and well for the holidays, I have been rewarded with opportunities to help struggling children who do not belong to me also stay alive and well.

And what happens when we are ‘out of order’?

Well...stroll through the blog and hidden here and there you may find pleasant surprises or interesting snippets of what goes on at all hours of the day and night. I’ll try to add photos and gadgets for fun and maybe an audio clip if I can. It won’t stay the same because life doesn’t (and shouldn’t) always stay the same. I love to write and ‘muck about’ my blog and hopefully give some small gift to all who visit.

Thanks for stopping by, leave a comment at the bottom of this post or email me at and do come again! If you would like to hear the SOUNDTRACK to the slide show below, click the loudspeaker icon on the upper left. This year I'm leaving my 'feelings' about the coming year very open-ended...and open to prayer.