Vacuum Outrage

Three years ago, we got a dog.  A little white dog.  A dog who shed.  In anticipation of white hair everywhere, I bought a fancy hand held vacuum (aka Dustbuster).  Alas, the dog moved on.  However, the vacuum remained as one of my favorite appliances.

This particular vacuum was powerful.  It was rechargeable, too.  We used it a lot: great for stairs and corners and crumbs under the table.  After three years, though, the filter was battered and raggedy, so I ordered new ones that fit the Black and Decker model we had.  I replaced the old filter with the new, and chucked the old one as it was too worn to keep.

The vacuum started acting up.  We’d turn it on, it would run for 30 seconds, and turn off.  Turn it on again, and it would work for maybe 4 seconds, and turn off.  Was it the new filter?

I went online to the Black and Decker website and had a chat with someone at Support. 

If the vacuum is less than two years old, we might replace it, she typed.  Do you have the receipt? 

I might, I answered, but it would be in the file cabinet in the storage unit.  I’d have to look. But I’m pretty sure it’s more than three years old.

The batteries only work for three or four years, she added. 

Can I get a new battery? I asked. 

No, they’re not replaceable, she wrote.

So what am I supposed to do? I was beginning to steam.

You’d have to buy a new unit.

Now I was truly outraged.

You do realize how ridiculous this is? I banged out on my keyboard.  I’m supposed to throw this thing away so it sits in a landfill for a million years, because it’s made with a non-replaceable battery?

I’m sorry, she typed.  I understand.

We signed off.

So all the people who bought hand held cordless vacuums with rechargeable batteries in 2017 can expect them to die soon.  I keep picturing the county landfill piled high with dead vacuums.  So wasteful.  It’s infuriating.  I’m sticking to vacuums with cords from now on.

Meanwhile, do I really throw out this dead vacuum?


Photo by Daria Obymaha on


Surrender to the fertile

Bow to the water

Sway with the wind

My only daughter

Place your feet wisely

Surrender the minutes

Know your boundaries

State your limits

Watch for the hidden

Hear the unspoken

Surrender your heart

Mend it if broken

Hudson Valley Literary Connection

In my family, there is a book that is as significant as a Bible.  It is The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright, first published in 1941.  Before I was born, my sister, Jan, was the first child to snuggle next to our mother as she read aloud the adventures of the four Melendy children: Mona (girl, 14), Rush (boy, 12), Randy (girl,10), and Oliver (6). 

            As Jan remembers, she burst into tears when our mother finished reading the last paragraph.  Jan was so distraught that Mom turned back to the first chapter and started the book again.

            “It would have to rain today,” said Rush, lying flat on his back in front of the fire.  “On a Saturday.  Certainly. Naturally.  Of course.  What else would you expect?  Good weather is for Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday; and rain’s for Saturday and Sunday, and Christmas vacation and Easter.”

            For me, that first line is more evocative than the March’s “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”

            Mom loved reading aloud, so I got the Melendys next.  She was sad when I became an independent reader and wanted to read on my own.  My cousin, Patty, only two months older, was also a Melendy lover.  Together we acted out Melendy stories in our fantasy play.  I know I read the book at least ten times before I turned eleven. Years later, I read The Melendy Family to my daughter.  She has continued the tradition, reading the book to her two girls.

            The Melendy Family actually contains three smaller books: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five.  In The Saturdays, the Melendys are living in New York City during the beginning of World War II.  Mr. Melendy works for the government in some unspecified capacity.  In the first chapter of this book, the children decide to pool their allowances so that each child can do something special on his or her Saturday. 

            It amazes me now, that eighty years ago, a ten-year-old child, Randy, was allowed to wander around New York City alone.  Eventually, though, it is decided that the children should all go out together.

            The Four-Story Mistake begins with the family moving upstate.  I have wondered many times whether the Melendy’s relocation to a quirky house near a small Hudson Valley village drew me to live in a similar place. 

            I was pregnant with my second child when we landed at my husband’s family farm.  The Melendys had a brook on their property.  I had the Wallkill River below the house.  Later, after a couple of moves, I bought a house with a nameless creek in the backyard.  There, my daughter met up with a luna moth, echoing Oliver’s infatuation with the very same creature.

            For the past few days, I’ve been rereading The Melendy Family.  It’s a joy to reconnect with the book, but also a revelation.  Enright is a fine author.  Her prose is clean and lyrical, and she knows children.  For example, here is Rush getting ready for his Saturday adventure:

            After lunch, Rush had to hurry.  Randy came in as he was furiously combing his hair and trying to make it lie flat. 

            “What have you put on it now?” asked Randy, sniffing curiously.

            “On what? My hair?  Oh, some of Mona’s face cream,” grinned Rush.  “I thought maybe it would make it straight.  But I guess it won’t.”

            “Mona will kill you if she finds out.  You’d better go before she gets a chance to smell you.”

            I have often thought that, when I’m quite senile, I will confuse my own stories and family with the Melendys.  Without a doubt, author Elizabeth Enright and The Melendy Family shaped me as a writer for children.


Photo by Lisa Fotios on

If I could weep,

I would make saltwater tea for you,

foolish, fat man,

full of bluster and lies.

Today I am beyond tears, but others aren’t.

Here, have a cup of tears wept

for the grandmas felled by COVID,

for George Floyd,

for immigrant children

without parents,

for Iowa’s farmers,

for the coral reefs,

the glaciers,

the burned coastline.

How many cups can you drink?

The Book of Longings: A Perfect Read

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd was a delicious book, so good that I couldn’t stay away from it and I also didn’t want it to end.  Of course, I pretty much knew at least part of the ending, as it was the story of Jesus’s wife, Ana.

I imagine that idea alone—that Jesus had a wife–offended plenty of potential readers.  However, I’ve always found the claim that Jesus was a celibate bachelor hard to believe.  Jesus was a Jew, and Jewish men got married.

Author Kidd invents Ana, a young girl passionate about writing and study.  At the book’s outset, I was skeptical that such a person would have existed during Herod’s reign.   The power of the story soon left my disbelief behind.  By the time Ana meets Jesus, she is a learned scholar and chronicler of the lives of women.

In Kidd’s words:

            I saw Ana not only as the wife of Jesus, but as a woman with her own quest—that of following her longings in pursuit of the largeness inside herself.  I saw her, too, as a woman able to become not only Jesus’s wife, but his partner.

Kidd’s extensive research gives the book credibility.  I was most interested in the Therapeutae.  As Kidd explains, this was

            a real monastic-like community, near Lake Mareotis in Egypt, where Jewish philosophers devoted themselves to prayer and study and a sophisticated allegorical interpretation of Scripture…However, the Therapeutae’s practice of asceticism and solitude was far more prevalent and intense than I describe.

Delving further, I found this information from Britannica:

Therapeutae, Greek Therapeutai (“Healers,” or “Attendants”), singular Therapeutes, Jewish sect of ascetics closely resembling the Essenes, believed to have settled on the shores of Lake Mareotis in the vicinity of Alexandria, Egypt, during the 1st century AD. The only original account of this community is given in De vita contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life), attributed to Philo of Alexandria. Their origin and fate are both unknown. The sect was unusually severe in discipline and mode of life. According to Philo, the members, both men and women, devoted their time to prayer and study. They prayed twice every day, at dawn and at evening, the interval between being spent entirely on spiritual exercise. They read the Holy Scriptures, from which they sought wisdom by treating them as allegorical, believing that the words of the literal text were symbols of something hidden. Attendance to bodily needs, such as food, was entirely relegated to the hours of darkness.

It intrigues me that there were Jewish monastic communities. With the Therpeutae, Ana finds support for her true self.

            In The Book of Longings, Ana manages to protect the scrolls of her writing, and ultimately hides the copies she’s made for future seekers to discover.

            I truly enjoyed being part of Kidd’s speculation about Ana and the vivid description of the times in which she lived. 

Karakesh Chronicles: Book V is on its way

Bimi Lightfoot, ten years old, knows that his mother was a faerie. He knows he doesn’t fit in with the beach family who adopted him. Someday, he promises himself, he’ll find his mother and ask her who his father is. When Bimi’s faerie cousin scoops him off the beach to steal back a horse, Bimi’s chance to find the answers becomes a reality.

Once again, in Book V of the Karakesh Chronicles, the protagonist’s quest leads him into adventure, danger, and friendship.

Elf boy 3D effect

If you’ve read any of my other Karakesh Chronicles, you’ll know that the Kingdom of Karakesh is a land of magic and danger. The young characters encounter some fearsome faerie monsters, such as the dreaded fachan, whose glance may stop a heart, or the bunyip, a bloodthirsty dweller in rivers.

Book I, Tangled in Magic: Agatha sets out to find her twin brother, Malcolm, held prisoner by a warlock.

Book II, Guided by Magic: Two sisters struggle to unite and discover their destinies.

Book III, Awakening Magic: Prince Emric must avert a war between the faeries and dwarves.

Book IV, Ripples of Magic: Demara, a half selkie (Seal Person) hopes to join her selkie father in the sea.

Four Karakesh Chronicles are available on Amazon at

or from

I’ll let you know when Book V is ready.

Who Am I Now?

Photo by Petr Ganaj on

When I read about the bonobos—

the more peaceful cousins of chimpanzees—

The earth lurched.

Given a lexicon board with over 300 pictograms,

The bonobo Kanzi communicated with Sue,

the scientist.

The bonobo created new words,

lied, identified and expressed emotions.

Every human trait that set us apart and above the beasts

is ours no longer.

Birds make tools, bonobos invent words,

gorillas cry and mourn the death of a companion.


well, who knows what they say to each other?

Do all living creatures have souls?

Is there a cut-off between dogs and crows?

Do even stones have a measure of consciousness?

The bonobos opened the door of the tidy box

where I kept my assurances.

We share 98% of the same DNA with chimps.

My faith quaked.

I wrapped my arms around my hairless ape’s body

and shivered.


The poem above was inspired by this article in Smithsonian Magazine.

Many thanks to those who follow my blog. I’m deeply grateful that my poems and musings have readers.

Alive in the Foothills

The Mohonk Testimonial Gateway was built in 1907-8 to commemorate the 50th wedding anniversary of the co-founders of Mohonk Mountain House, Albert Keith Smiley and his wife Eliza Phelps Smiley.

Opened to the public last May, the Gateway Trailhead offers access to carriage roads and trails in the Foothills of the Shwangunks.

Lately it is my favorite place to walk, and well worth the price of the Mohonk Preserve membership.

Starting at the parking lot, we pass through a bit of wooded area and then, skirting the Gatehouse, we emerge onto the allee, a straight carriage road lined with venerable pin oaks.  Immediately on the right is a pond where frogs galump and we may see a great blue heron.

To the left is a gazebo with a lovely view across the meadow.  From there, we can count monarch butterflies and take in the curve of the mountains.

The Lenape Bridge at the end of the allee is under construction, so people are detoured through a field and across the road where we can rejoin the carriage road.  Here is presented a choice: straight ahead across the farm fields where black cows graze, or to the right toward more woods.

On our most recent walk, we showed up in the evening, when the fields were exhaling the day’s breath.  The fragrance was full of grass and wildflowers and the life of the land. 

After a day inside the apartment, the Preserve offered space and air and a fabulous sunset.

The Anguish of Learning English

The Anguish of Learning English

Lately my husband and I have been sorting through our bins of stuff in an effort to reduce the amount in our storage unit.  This is a COVID-inspired activity that actually produces a positive result. 

While digging around in a bin of my old teaching materials and my kids’ artwork, I found the little book More Anguished English by Richard Lederer.  The book’s subtitle reads: An expose of embarrassing, excruciating, and egregious errors in English.  I bought this book second hand at least twenty-five years ago.  Finding it again brought back a vivid memory of the time I first read it.

It was spring break and I’d rented a house on Chincoteague Island.  I had my two kids and two of their friends with me.  The kids were finishing dinner and I picked up the book.  Soon I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t read it aloud to them. 

Some examples from students’ essays*:

            Rambo was a French poet.

            A great Jewish leader in Scotland was Rabbi Burn.s

            A harp is a nude piano. (This image delights me every time.)

As I reread pages a quarter of a century later, I wasn’t as amused. In fact, I found myself feeling compassion for the beleaguered writers, and slightly irritated that the author and my former self made fun at their expense.  My change of attitude was rooted in the eight years I taught English as a new language (ENL) to children from kindergarten through fifth grade.

English is a difficult, often nonsensical language.  A famous example of its challenges is the variation on /ough/: rough, through, slough(two meanings, two pronunciations), though.  Sometimes English seems to have more exceptions than reliable patterns. 

My experience as an ENL teacher changed the way I read the “bloopers” in More Anguished English.  Some errors were caused by mishearing, such as The big artery on your neck is called the jocular vein.  Other mistakes were misspellings: At night we stayed in a youth hostile. 

Instead of finding humor in the errors, I found that my heart hurt a bit for the authors struggling to communicate in a challenging language.  Whether English is a first language or a new language, learning it isn’t easy.  How many native speakers are confused by there, they’re, and theirWere and where?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Sure, the errors writers make are often amusing. Even today, some make me laugh.  But my years of teaching second grade and ENL changed me. 

Here are some student definitions to lighten your COVID days:

Migration: A headache that birds get when they fly south for the winter.

Syntax: Is all the money collected at church from sinners.

Foliage: A mother horse having a baby.

And particularly relevant to our pre-election anguish:

Absentee ballot: When you count the ballots and some of them aren’t there.

*All citations from More Anguished English, by Richard Lederer.  Delacorte Press, New York, 1993.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Michelle Obama’s Podcast

I’ve always admired Michelle Obama for her strength, integrity, and comportment as the First Lady.  The Michelle Obama podcast reveals these qualities and many more.  In the first episode, Michelle talks with Barack Obama about community.  It is a delight to hear these two dedicated and intelligent people in a meaningful conversation. 

I’ve listened to every episode so far.  The topics have ranged from women’s health issues to friendships to marriage.  The most recent (9/10, as of this writing) involved a discussion with Michelle Obama’s mentees, young black women who held internships with her at the White House.  The mentees speak so thoughtfully as they reflect on their experiences at the White House.  It is obvious that they have modeled themselves after their mentor.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this podcast, I urge you to tune in.  It’s available FOR FREE on the Spotify app, also free.