PERSONAL HISTORY

Piano Lessons, Life Lessons

Music has saved my life. Not just listening, but the act of playing, the intimacy of running fingers over polished keys. Whatever concerns I bring to the piano vanish as I lose myself in stormy contrasts of a Beethoven sonata, the exuberance of a Chopin mazurka, the lighthearted skipping of a Bach bourrée. For me, the piano has been many things–a solace in time of loss, a playground for improvisation, a prelude to a state of grace.

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The Spirit of the Games

As a boy, I would lie awake at night clutching a transistor radio in my hand, futzing with the metal clip antenna, wiggling my earphones so I could catch the thrill of the games played by our local baseball football, basketball, and hockey teams. On the wings of those voices from WJR in Detroit I flew, and as I heard those games unfold, my love for my hometown grew. In the simple act of rooting for my team, I was participating in a tradition that stretches all the way back to ancient Greece.

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Gardening as Play

On a cold winter day many years ago, I stood looking out the back window of a historic house on a Connecticut village green that I had fallen in love with and wanted to own because of its enormous front windows and pleasing arrangement of rooms. All I could see from the window was a snowy yard stretching beyond an old carriage barn and out of sight—an empty expanse of shining snow sloping slightly to the west

“How can I take care of such a big backyard?” I worriedly asked the realtor.

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The Dance of Exile

I come from a country that doesn’t exist anymore. When my family and my native Yugoslavia were broken into pieces by a brutal civil war, I was exiled from my soul. This is the story of my healing, and how I learned that home is nowhere and everywhere because we carry it in our wild hearts.

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The Voice of Things

My wife and I moved a short while back from our crowded and lair-like house outside Boston to an abruptly more open and airy place in Amherst. Over a month in, I’m still gaping at new space and different light. The move came after thirty years in the house that most of our lives had happened in, the house about which I said for close to thirty years to anyone who would listen, “You’re going to have to bury me out back by the hollowed-out apple tree trunk.” And I meant it.

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Numinous Things

A decade ago, wars of liberation were being fought all across North Africa and the Middle East. Smaller, more personal wars of liberation were being fought in France, too. Here in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, we battled the forces of French bureaucracy to liberate our household goods from their shipping containers at Le Havre. We had valued most of the fifty boxes at $50 each. Many contained books, writing supplies, and journals. Many contained art. How do you assign such things a dollar amount?

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Giving Birth at Home

I awoke on that spring morning in March, nearly forty years ago, in a state of knowing. The mild cramping had started so I crept out of the bed I shared with my husband and went downstairs to run a warm bath. I wanted to bask in the early morning solitude before sharing the news that our baby would arrive today.

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The Kitchen Dance

Cooking is a carefully choreographed ballet about life and survival. An ongoing drama that tests our ability to cope with challenges, from burns to bad recipes, while allowing us to embrace all that is nourishing and good. In my more than forty years as a cook, I’ve learned that the kitchen can be both a source of chaos and of mindfulness. Here’s how to dance between the two.

CHAOS

There will be chaos. You will forget to preheat the oven. Eggs will hit the floor. You will scorch the sauce, forget to serve the corn that you left on the back burner, run out of a key ingredient, and neglect to set the timer.

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Ode to a Linen Shirt

There’s a preamble to pressing my linen shirt. First, I plug in the iron cord into the outlet. Lift the plastic gallon jug of distilled water off the floor, hold it firmly on the ironing board then pop off the top. I tip the iron and angle the cumbersome jug, so the lip barely rests on the fill-hole. Tilting the jug slowly, I pour, watching closely as the water flows through the hole, backing off as it pools and bubbles. Feeling good that I have not spilled, I angle the jug back before the water reaches MAX. Steam rises shortly after I set the dial on high. Hiss!

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