The Gifts Of Friends And Time

Janet opening uncorking wine.

Janet opening uncorking wine.

Just a week ago this past Sunday, I found myself on Chincoteague Island. The day time temperature was about 60 degrees and the sun was sparkling away on the water. I was with four other women, who I’d first met on the internet as I began my journey as a memoirist.

Known for the book, Misty of Chincoteague, written by Marguerite Henry, and illustrated by Wesley Dennis, Chincoteague is where every summer the wild ponies of Assateague Island are sent swimming across a narrow inlet to Chincoteague, where many go up for adoption to families looking to make a child’s dream of owning a pony, come true. It’s a way of managing the ever growing herd, leaving space for the next year’s babies.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

Shirley preparing Waldorf Salad.

There was Shirley, who I’d met first a couple of years ago. I’d been following her blog and knew she lived about an hour away over in the Shenandoah Valley. I was considering taking a class about book marketing and knowing that she had taken the same class earlier, I called her hoping she would give me an honest opinionn of her experience. She was just finishing work on her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I invited her to come and stay with me during the Virginia Festival of the Book, held here in Charlottesville, every March.

She came and spent several nights with me. We enjoyed the book festival and spent lots of time talking about our writing projects. Shirley’s generosity in sharing what she knew about publishing and writing memoir was beyond anything I’d dreamed of. A few months later, I visited her for several nights in her home. She read the first couple of chapters of my book, made extremely helpful suggestions, and provided encouragement. I will be forever grateful for her views and her friendship. On this trip she was a awesome roommate and my chauffeur extraordinaire.

Janet was the second of these women I’d met in person. We’d been following each other’s blogs and chatted by email about dealing with aging mothers. I discovered that she lived in a town in Vermont where I had lived for thirteen years, and had recently written a memoir about her Peace Corps years, At Home on the Kazakh Steppe. I knew I had to meet her. On a trip to up north last fall, I gave Janet a call and we met for lunch. I read her book, and loved her story about her experiences living and working in Kazakhstan for two years. I hoped we’d get a chance to get together again. Finding out that she had a home on Virginia’s, Chincoteague Island, about 5 hours away, I invited her to come and visit anytime she was in the area. We talked briefly about how much fun it would be to get together with Shirley, and several other memoirists we both knew on the internet.

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

Magnificent Chef Kathy!

One of those other writers was Kathy, whose blog, over at, Memior Writers Journey, is one of best places to learn about blogging and writing in general. Her interviews with other memoir writers have been invaluable for me as I continue to work on my own book. She invited me to write a guest blog for her, which I did, and I cheered her on as she published her memoir, Ever Faithful to his Lead, a story about her experience finding her way our of two abusive marriages. When I asked her to be a beta reader for me I found her generosity and willingness to help me  far beyond any expectations I had. I knew I had to meet her someday.

Marian, the charming and entertaining writer over at Plain and Fancy, a blog I’ve been following for over a year, was the one I knew the least about. But her stories connecting her childhood to present day happenings is delightful, as is her use of old memorabilia, from photos to recipes, as the basis for her enchanting writings. She has just begun writing her own memoir about growing up Mennonite and her move away from being plain to a fancy member of the world. Captivated by Marian’s sense of humor and openness, I’m happy to have been able to spend time with her, and get to know her better. Despite our different backgrounds, we have a lot in common.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

Marian, Kathy, and Me.

I know the moon and the tides played a part in sweeping us all ashore together for an unforgettable week of writing, eating healthy, home cooked meals and sharing unending laughter. Janet’s log cabin was a perfect place for such a retreat and her hospitality was unending.

Just over a week later, as snow is falling and accumulating outside my window, I’m remembering those seven days I spent on Janet’s warm sunporch, where I set up my computer and revised seven chapters of my upcoming book. Inspire by Shirley and Kathy taking a hiatus from social media for Lent, this will be my last post until April. I will not be present on Facebook or Twitter, two places that take too much of my writing time. I plan on continuing the revisions of my book, shoveling snow, and watching the crocuses and daffodils reach for the sun when all the snow is gone.

For information about renting Janet’s cabin for your own retreat go here.

The Lovely Blog Award


Clash of the Season, November, 2014

Clash of the Season, November, 2014

Over the last month I have been nominated three times for a Lovely Blog Award. With life being the roller coaster that it is, it’s taken me until now to publicly say a big thank you to each of the following women for doing me that honor. Thank you to: Kathy Pooler, Mary Gottschalk, and Janet Givens. I so appreciate your encouraging support.

This award is wonderful way to honor folks we admire.  There are what are called “rules” but they’re easy and no one who is nominated must respond or take part in moving it forward if they choose not to. This is not meant to overwhelm or make more work for anyone.

The rules:

Name and thank those who nominated you.

Share 7 things about yourself that others may not know.

Nominate 15 bloggers (or as many as you like) that you would like to pass the nomination on to.

Contact those bloggers and let them know that you have nominated them.

Just remember, we all know how life is and that we all sit in the shadow of overwhelm. So forgive my lateness in responding and let me say to those that I nominate below, that this is just my way of saying, “I love you and your blog. You don’t need to do anything more except keep blogging.”

Seven things about me:

1. Yesterday I turned 72 years old. I was born on November 17th, 1942, nine months after my parents married on Valentine’s Day of that same year.

2. My maiden name is Zabski, hence the Z. as my middle initial. In means FROG in Polish. I collect frogs of all sorts … not live ones. In junior high my friends called me “Froggy.”

3. Bill, my husband, and I will celebrate our 50th year of marriage on June 19, 2015. We dated each other for two years before we got married and we still love each other madly, most of the time. 🙂

4. I have two kids, Mark and Lisa. Lisa has presented me with 2 grandkids, Zoe and Noah. Mark has brought me a step-granddaughter, Casey McCarty.

5. Bill doesn’t allow me to go to the SPCA alone. My secret wish has been to have a place where I can take in homeless animals … dogs, cats, horses, whatever shows up. I’m doing my best with 2 dogs and 1 cat on a city lot. Beyond that, divorce. 🙁

6. I can be a bit of an overachiever. In fitness classes I often injure myself because I think I can do what the 25 year old working out next to me is doing.

7. I’m a bookaholic. If you need some reading material, come visit and take some books with you when you leave. But only the ones I’ve already read.

Now it’s time to pay the honor forward to other bloggers. I follow these folks on a regular basis. They inspire me and bring me new things to contemplate every time they blog. I hope you’ll visit them and enjoy them as much as I do.

Marian Beaman, at
Val Boyko, at
Laurie Buchanan, at
Linda Hoye, at
Jeri Leach, at
Jennifer Louden, at
Sherrey Meyer, at
Lisa Rough, (my daughter), at
Becca Rowan, at
Dorothy Sanders, at
Shirley Showalter, at
Krista Tippet, at




Meeting With Old Friends

Lou and Bill with the "Ski Twins, Connie and Joan, October, 2014

Lou and Bill with the “Ski Twins,” Connie and Joan, October, 2014.

Because I moved around so much as a child, there are only a few people I’ve known for a long time. My freshman year, college roommate, Connie, whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time until just a few weeks ago, is one of them.

We graduated tfrom Castleton State College, in Castleton, Vermont, fifty years ago this coming June, with Bachelor of Science degrees in Elementary Education. She lives in Connecticut and I live in Virginia. The last time I saw her was at least 25 years ago on a trip Bill and I took to New England. When we stopped to visit Connie and her husband, Lou, they took us out for a lovely evening sail on their boat. We ate luscious lobster for dinner and spent several wonderful hours together catching up. Over the years we’ve kept in touch with Christmas cards, an email here and there, and  few rare phone calls.

So it was delightful when a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from her, saying that she read somewhere on my blo, that I was going to be in Vermont to visit family, noting that she’d be there at the same time staying at her condo at Pico Peak, next door to Killington, where my parents built one of the first ski lodges on the mountain and where both Connie and I first tried our legs at skiing.

We met on a sunny day, in September of 1960, when we moved into our dorm room together. She was from Brooklyn and I’d recently moved to Killington, from Long Island where I’d grown up. Our New York accents stood out amongst a class of students mostly from New England. We both felt out of place.

The funny part of our meeting was that when our applications were accepted, someone with a crazy sense of humor, decided that Miss Connie Debski and Miss Joan Zabski, both from the New York City area, would room together. What’s better than one Polish girl who knows what perogis are? Well obviously, it’s two. Thank goodness it was a perfect match. Everyone on campus knew us as “The Ski Twins.”

We spent our freshman year missing New York, wondering if we really wanted to be teachers, dating cute guys, and crossing “the line,”  just seven or so miles away, into New York State where the drinking age was eighteen, compared to Vermont’s twenty-one. We both struggled with college level algebra and mostly thought we’d arrived in some weird place where we were supposed to grow up and become adults. But we both needed more time.

At the end of the year, we both decided we’d had enough. Connie went back to Brooklyn, and I moved back to Long Island, to Bellrose, New York in Queens County, where I lived with good friends of my parents. We both got jobs as clerks with the Bell Telephone Company,  known as “Ma Bell, ”at the time, and subsequently as AT&T. We hadn’t been keeping in touch, but Connie found out that I had been hired on the same day she applied for her job, when she saw a letter addressed to me on her interviewer’s desk.

We worked in different offices so we didn”t get to see each other, but occasionally met in the City, for lunch and shopping. Mostly we each plugged away at work and tried to figure out what life was all about. I dated a few of the guys in my office, but basically was bored with them and life in general. Something was missing. My life was all about taking the bus to work, filling out papers, making phone calls, and then taking the bus home again. All of my friends from high school had all moved away. Nothing I was doing made sense.

Connie was going through the same thing and decided to go back to Castleton on her own the following summer. In the meantime, knowing I wasn’t doing anything of importance, my father came down to the Island in early August, to talk me into going back to school. He’d already called the Dean and the President of the college to ask if I could return and when he arrived at my door, he took me to dinner and bought me a drink for the first time ever. Though I really didn’t want to return to the land of ice and snow or live with or near my parents, he didn’t have to argue long and hard. I knew that working in New York as a clerk, without an education wouldn’t get me anywhere.

This time I didn’t live in the dorm. My father asked me to live at  home and commute to school, about forty-five minutes away. I’d work for him waiting on tables at night at his ski lodge and I was to pay my own tuition at school with the wages and tips I earned working for him.

I was fine by day when I was in school. I dove into learning, took a mind blowing European History class, and a Literature class in which I didn’t have to agree with everything the professor had to say. Though I was not terribly happy working for my abusive and controlling father, I knew that school was my eventual way out of living with a dysfunctional family. So it really isn’t that strange, that I first met Bill, the love of my life, when I waited on his table on New Year’s Eve in 1963 at the Summit Lodge. We married in 1965 one week after I graduated.

Connie and I saw each other on campus for the next three years but because I didn’t actually live there, it wasn’t very often. Afer we graduated  in 1965,  we went our own separate ways, but the links between us have continued. We both have unbreakable ties to Vermont, and she’s my oldest friend.

Last week, Connie and Lou and Bill and I had dinner together while Vermont’s leaves were at their peak of fall color, and the fairly quiet, scenic byways were overtaken by what we fondly call, the “Leaf Peepers.”

Hopefully we won’t wait too long before we get together again, and of course, Vermont is a perfect place to do it!  Maybe next year folks?


Winter, February 13, 2014

Winter, February 13, 2014

Lately I’ve found myself lost in grieving the unusual number of deaths that have touched me during the last month or so.  It started with Pete Seeger, who became a part of my life when I met my husband. Bill played the guitar, sang, and was deeply immersed in the folk music movement in the sixties and seventies. Pete was one of his heroes and his voice could be heard in our home every day through recordings or the words Bill sang. When Pete died, my daughter, Lisa, noted that she had grown up with him and indeed she had. Pete was an important part of the antiwar and peace movements in this country and we all know his role in politics during and after the McCarthy hearings. He was a great man and thankfully we have his music to keep us company as we travel down our own paths. To pay homage to him and other folk heroes of his time, we rushed out to see Arlo Guthrie, live here in Charlottesville last week. Arlo celebrated both his father and Pete through song and story telling. I was rolling  in the aisles with laughter and tearful, remembering those good ole days.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died days later, I was in shock. I had seen him live on stage several times and appreciated his range and versatility in the roles he played both on stage and in film.  He was my favorite actor of all time. I last saw him in “Death of a Salesman,” as Willie Loman, on Broadway a few years ago and he was brilliant. When I first heard that he had died of a heroin overdose I was angry.  I thought, “What a waste. How could a man who could bring out the the deepest of humanity through the characters he portrayed so perfectly, be so stupid?”  But then I remembered my own time of learning about addiction when I discovered that several of my family members were addicted to alcohol and drugs. I spent time in rehab supporting one of them and religiously went to  ALANON, trying to wrap my head around the idea that some of people I loved were addicts. Those were life changing times for me that I’d forgotten about as I tried to make sense of Hoffman’s death.  But, he was just another human being with a disease and no better or worse than the rest of us.

On a more personal level, one of Bill’s high school classmates died a week or so ago. He like Bill, was in his seventies and akin to the rest of us entering old age, we expect to see old friends occasionally moving on to another world. It was not a pleasant piece of news, but it is the way life is and another reminder of our own mortality.  I felt comforted to see so many of Bill’s friends come together via phone to reconnect and celebrate an old friend’s life as well as their own.

During the snow storm last Thursday more sad news came as our neighbor across the street died at age 95.  It was expected.  He suffered from congestive heart failure. He was a beloved music professor at UVA, and is deeply mourned by his family and untold numbers of friends and students who studied with him over the years.  As a neighbor I will miss the occasional walks I took with him around the block and our wonderful conversations. Boots always made others feel as though they were the most important people in the world. He never forgot that I was working on a book and just a few weeks ago, when Bill went over to help lift him out of a car, he asked Bill how my book was coming along.

The hardest news of all came a few hours later from a friend telling me of the death of one of the members of the meditation group that I had once hosted at my home. I was stunned, especially because he died of an apparent suicide.  He was a lovely man in his forties, and though I didn’t know him all that well, he was for me a very special person, someone I enjoyed being with and deeply respected. He always had wise words to share at our meetings and I’ll always consider him an important teacher.

At the memorial service held for him on Valentine’s Day evening, I sat with two other members of our group. We sat in silence, sharing our tears, not one of us able to understand why he took his life.  As with Hoffman, using heroin to escape his demons, J. must have been a victim of some unbearable pain that he could no longer live with.  I can not judge him for what he did. He, too, was just another human being like you and me. I can only be grateful that I had the opportunity to know him and to share discussions about life with him.

Death is simply another stage of life. We all must face it and though it scares me, I, like everyone else, confront it over and over again every day of my life. We are born each morning into a new day, and die each evening as we fall asleep with the day coming to its own end. I’m still learning to take each day as it comes, cherishing each moment, grateful for having known all of those around me, sharing sad and happy moments in time.

Being Perfect

DSC00553.JPGEven when there there are no holidays looming we live in a rush-rush world. But this is the time of year when the push to the finish line is most noticeable. In the past few days out on the road I’ve seen several near misses, with drivers not paying attention, talking on cell phones, or not indicating that they want to change lanes. I’ve had two incidents lately myself with people riding my bumper. I wasn’t dawdling. I was going the speed limit. But they insisted on pushing me so that they could get to their destinations in record time. I slowed down and got off the road as soon as I safely could, probably making them angry in the process.

When I find myself joining this Speedy Multi-tasking Club, I try to stop myself and ask, “Where do you think you’re going?”  Usually the answer is simply, “I don’t know.”  All I seem to know is that I have a lot to do and the days aren’t long enough for me to accomplish it all. I become somewhat unconscious, anxious, headachie, grouchy, and resentful.

My next question is, “What on your list can be eliminated?”  That’s probably the toughest one for me since everything on my list is so hugely important and absolutely must be done. What it takes for me to see the error of my ways is to sit down with my list and really concentrate on all of things I’d planned on doing. Being a perfectionist for a good portion of my life, it’s usually about finding the best gift for a friend or relative, and making it even more perfect by finding lovely wrapping paper and ribbons to tie it all up with.

It’s about NOT being outdone.  It’s about bringing a delicious blue ribbon casserole to the pot luck dinner.  It’s about knowing more than we know, so that we can be on top of every situation, always having the best solution to everyone’s problems. And might I mention having The Last Word. It’s about NOT taking the time to appreciate how the Christmas tree spreads its lovely pine scent through the house.  It’s about eating without tasting our food, missing the juicy sweetness of the clementine we seem to swallow whole as we rush out the door to pick up one more last minute item. It’s about NOT stopping to rest when we’re about to fall over with exhaustion. It’s about being out of sync with our own body rhythms. It’s about  driving ourselves to distraction and being miserable because we don’t think we’ll be loved unless we’re perfect.

This year I’ve made a huge effort to slow down and live more simply. I almost ran off the road a few times because I wasn’t paying attention to the essentials. But luckily I caught myself before it was too late. I started being more mindful, considering what my intentions were and why. I actually stopped making lists and instead began listening to want it was I wanted to do, rather than what I absolutely had to do.  Sure, those “must dos” still exist, but by allowing myself to sit back and close my eyes as I listen to good music, I’ve actually gotten more done than I do when I pressure myself with the proverbial lists of what to do in order to be the perfect friend, wife, and mother.

How can that be? I don’t really know. What I do know is that what I thought were the most important things on my list, weren’t so important after all.  Those we spend our love and time with would prefer to be with someone who is cheerful and grounded. That fabulous piece of jewelry or the best toy in the world will not make Christmas a happy time. It is the spirit of the day and being with happy, healthy family members that will make it  memorable. Being mindful of where we are and how we feel helps slow us down making life a lot easier and free from holiday blues.

 May your holidays be filled with ease and the New Year bring you peace and joy.