My Mr. Softie Summers

Do you remember Mr. Softie coming to your neighborhood?

Do you remember when summers felt endless?

As a child, summer days consisted of playing with friends, running through the sprinkler, and waiting for the ice cream truck–Mr. Softie.

So many choices!

I saved my allowance for the big ticket items: banana split served in a blue plastic boat. Second choice the rocket shipsicle. I remember creamsicles, candy necklaces, sundaes, pushups, and of course, the dipped soft serve cones.

Same driver each day. I thought his name was really Mr. Softie. When the familiar jingle floated through the air, the kids on the block swarmed to his truck always parked at my next door neighbor Lisa’s house.

What did summer mean to me back then?

Mick Haupt, Unsplash

Backyard pools. Flashlight tag. Bike-riding. Twirling my baton on the front lawn. Roller skating. Jump rope. Going to the playground. Kickball. Explore the nearby woods and creek.

Daydream. Read. Make up stories. Put on shows.

Boredom was not an affliction to be instantly remedied.

These endless days were punctuated with trips to my favorite amusement park, and other outings like the Detroit Zoo or a visit to my grandparents home on Lake Huron.

Some evenings, I’d attend my mother’s outdoor singing performances on Belle Isle.

My younger brothers and I lived in the moment of each unfolding hot day, oblivious of how many days had passed or were left before school started.

By the time I had my own children, summer vacation had become a time to keep kids busy: specialty camps, tutoring, organized sports, summer homework packets. Moms and Dads were out working. Our neighborhood was quieter during the week days.

Mr. Softie was replaced by a weekly visit (if lucky) from the Good Humor truck.

As a classroom teacher, I was fortunate to have the summer time to write and be with my kids. I tried to recreate some of the freedom and play that shaped my early years.

What I’m grateful for about the seasons of my childhood was how sheltered I was from the world’s woes. Sure I knew about bad stuff happening “out there”, but I still felt safe in my little corner of the map.

I never heard of a school shooting.

The blazing blue sky can’t coverup our collective grief.

But summer beckons and we move on, maybe a bit more slowly than the rest of the year.

The summers of adulthood are no longer endless. They begin with promise, then unfold rapidly until Back-to-School sales are upon us.

No matter how much I try to savor the long lush days, they pass all too quickly, each one more bittersweet.

My grown kids fondly remember their childhood summers, and how long they felt. That makes me happy.

Now I get to experience my grandchildren running freely in the sunshine…time standing still for a moment.

As a child, I never considered how many summers I had left to live.

Those three glorious months were always in-waiting, like a birthday, certain to arrive on time.

***

My Summer’s Eve 2022 Kickoff

Taking Risks in Writing and in Life

Toltek, Getty Images Stock Phot0

Writing is an act of discovery.

Writing can unearth truths you were afraid to face.

You think you know your subject or plot or characters, until the words begin to march to the beat of their own drum.

Sometimes you discover-perhaps from a trusted first reader–that your words fall flat. Or sound too familiar. Or leave too much white space. 

Something is missing.

To write compelling stories, we have to mine our minds and hearts. This requires a certain boldness.

In drafting a story or essay, or even a blog post, you encounter numerous choices. Which turn will you take?

Some choices seem riskier than others. 

Getty Images

To write something meaningful that will resonate with readers, we must take risks. We must learn to write at the edge of what feels comfortable.

We have to ask: what am I holding back? Why? 

What do I fear by writing the truth, or exploring this matter?

Whenever I’ve pushed myself in this way, the net outcome was rewarding, whether yielding a stronger piece, satisfaction in my work, or publication. Rewards also come from the reader letters I receive.

The same can be said for our lives. Our limiting beliefs keep us from taking risks. So do our fears.

Fear of what others might think.

Fear of being uncomfortable.

Fear of facing certain feelings we’d rather keep ten feet away.

So we remain in the status quo. Settle into a comfortable routine. Stay inside our safety net—a wholly understandable choice in today’s upside down world.

Yet when we remain there, we miss so much. We miss experiences we can’t even yet imagine. 

Sometimes the risk we take is for another. To show up when we’d rather stay home. This, too, can bring unexpected rewards.

I decided that 2022 would be my year of saying “Yes”. 

Yes to new opportunities, relationships, experiences, challenges, and writing projects.  I chose this action not only to face fear but to feel more alive.  To have fewer regrets, even if the outcome isn’t what I hoped for.

But there was another driving factor in this shift: my continued awareness of the brevity of life and the uncertainty of tomorrow in our broken world.

 Bike_Maverick/iStock

I choose to say YES more often because next week, month, year, I may not have this choice. 

A most recent and life-changing Yes was traveling solo from Boston to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala for an 8 day writing retreat. In deciding whether or not to embark on such a trip–my first outside North America–I found several excuses to say No Not Now. (It helps to have a few cheerleaders on your side.)

Stay tuned for the full story…which I wasn’t sure I’d live to tell! 

A Seminar Named Desire: Writing in Key West Jan-22

Sun, sea, sand.

Three words that bring me joy in January.

Add to this trio communing with kindred spirits and the joyful picture is complete.

I recently spent a week in Florida at the Key West Literary Seminar exploring the craft of creative nonfiction under the guide of esteemed author David Treuer. 

This year’s Seminar theme was Desire.

For three hours each morning I, along with 10 other writers, grappled with how to tell true stories in engaging and meaningful ways. We considered subject, form, voice, detail, conflict, momentum, and dramatic arc.

We read and critiqued each other’s works-in-progress and learned strategies for creating compelling nonfiction. We discussed the writing life and shared our life stories. 

Doing this among strangers takes courage, but it wasn’t long until we bonded over our shared passion.

Being in the physical presence of fellow writers for the first time in over two years, was at times overwhelming. In a good way. Sometimes you don’t realize what you are missing until it arrives. 

Workshop friends
Workshop leader and author, David Treuer
Writers on Writing talk and book signing.

Many literary luminaries wrote in Key West including Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Bishop, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Wallace Stevens, Anne Beattie, and Judy Blume.

Writers continue to draw inspiration from this unique place. If you visit, make sure to take the Literary Walking Tour. 

View from Hemingway House
Old Man and the Sea Exhibit
Hemingway’s writing studio
One of the 56 Hemingway cat descendants. This one six-toed.

The arts abound in the Key West. The island is only 5 square miles, easily walkable and bike rentals readily available. The place is full of color and character. I found the locals quite friendly.

The stars truly aligned for all this to happen amidst the Omicron threat. I am grateful to the Seminar committee for granting me a fellowship, along with the lovely accommodations at Eden House.

This break in routine, change of scenery, socializing, and inspiration all served to jump-start my creativity and motivation. 

I gained the direction and focus needed to complete the essay I’d struggled with for many months.  “The Bridge That Fell Down” is now ready to send out into the world. 

I hope you, too, can find ways to experience this much-needed rejuvenation, big or small, in anyway possible. 

Winter Solstice Reflection: Where were you 2 years ago?

The pandemic has forced us to make peace with uncertainty.

December 13, 2019. 

I’d just returned from a fabulous NYC trip. My daughter and I shopped Fifth Avenue, dined out, enjoyed the holiday displays, visited Rockefeller Center, and happily sat in a crowded Broadway theatre.

We had no idea what was in store for the 2020 New Year. Couldn’t even imagine it. 

No idea that some faraway virus would upend our lives. 

No inkling that her 2020 NYU graduation would be cancelled. 

Never fathomed that the Broadway we’d always enjoyed would shut down in two months. 

And so it goes.

Here we are December 19th, 2021, still exhausted from risk calculations. The Omicron news brings flashbacks to 2020. We may be in a different, even better place, yet for many of us, our bodies remember the trauma and react as if it’s happening all over again. 

The pandemic years have forced us to make peace with uncertainty. As a result, I’m less inclined to put things off, and more inclined to grab an opportunity when it arises. 

So, recently, my daughter and I grabbed tickets to a holiday musical showing in Boston. We were all dressed up and ready to go when we learned that the show was cancelled.

Yet a strange thing happened.

Instead of utter disappointment, we were more relieved to find this out before driving all the way into Boston at night! Thankfully, the venue offered us the chance to rebook. So we grabbed that, too.

A few days later, we sat in the Wang Theatre among the other vaccinated or negative-testing patrons, all masked. Exactly 2 years from the date of our Broadway show. 

I even wore the same dress to commemorate the milestone.

And while it certainly felt different, it still felt wonderful.

***

The shortest, and darkest, day of the Northern Hemisphere approaches. And yet, the winter solstice also means the days are getting slightly longer, though it will take a while to notice.

Tonight there’s the full Cold Moon to marvel. 

And the annual Ursids meteor shower to catch.

This year, though, the bright moon will make it harder to see those spectacular shooting stars.  

Be patient. 

Keep watching.

Don’t miss the show. ~

December 19, 2019. Moon Dance Begins Again.

What Makes A Gift Special?

What makes a special gift?

What’s the most special gift you’ve ever received?

This holiday season 2021, I’ve started asking people this question. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Christmas topped the list.

As I listened to their gift stories, I noticed a common thread as to what makes a special present.

l.  There is an element of surprise or the unexpected.

2.  The gift showed thoughtfulness or effort.

3.  The gift said: “I know what you like. I get you!

What did not matter was the expense of the gift, even if the gift did cost a lot.

Handmade or experiential gifts were frequently mentioned. A love poem. A trip to the Grand Canyon.

Childhood gifts were often a long-coveted item. A chemistry set. A locket. A Cabbage Patch Doll.

Here’s the story of my favorite childhood gift. 

Growing up, my brothers and I received a small present or gelt (coins) on each night of Chanukah. My parents saved the best for last. The year I was eight, I unwrapped my 8th night gift to find a great surprise. A ballerina music box. A tiny dancer inside a glass dome with a white and gold skirt. She spun around to a waltz from the Broadway show, Carousel, the same song I had danced to in my first ballet recital.

This alone would have delighted me. What made the gift most special, though, is the back story.

A few months prior, while on a family trip, I spotted this Swiss-made music box in a fancy gift shop. I begged my mother to buy it.

“It’s lovely,” she said, “but much too expensive. I’m sorry, sweetheart.” 

I remember the feeling of longing and sadness. So unfair! I believed this one-of-a-kind music box was meant to be mine. Now it would go to some other girl who loved ballet.

Weeks passed and the pretty music box was soon forgotten.

That is, until it magically appeared in my hands the last night of Chanukah. 

Surprise. Thoughtfulness. Effort. I get you! 

This cherished gift had all these elements. It’s no wonder that I’ve continued to love music boxes all these years.

When they were young, my children liked to hear this story every Chanukah (with Mom’s dramatic effects, of course.)

I shared the music box with each daughter when she began ballet lessons.

I’ve tried to emulate this gift-giving style for my children. In turn, I’ve seen them do the same with family and friends. They enjoy hunting for that perfect gift that says, “I get you”.

One Chanukah, my then thirteen year-old daughter surprised me with a copy of a rare, out-of-print book I had so loved as little girl.

And this Chanukah, my son surprised his younger sister with an inscribed Harry Potter music box.

I get you!

What was your favorite gift?

Sending you readers the gift of words.

Happy Holidays!

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