Friday, July 31, 2009


Since last Fall, six of our relatives have died: brother, sisters-in-law, cousins, aunt. These deaths plus my own aging get me thinking scary thoughts about my own mortality. And as I focus on this, I realize that it’s not only death I fear, but maybe even more all that I leave undone. A constant refrain across my life: never enough time to get it all done the way it "should" be. And instead of working on my unfinished business, I give in to distractions or obsessions that give some semblance of familiar comfort: like cookies and reading mystery novels compulsively. After all, then I don’t have to face the fact that I will never be perfect and never be finished. It’s a life long struggle, a life long issue.

My reflections brought back a memory from long ago. My grandmother had told me the story of how my Mom had gotten a perfect report card in fifth grade: 100% in every subject, 100% in average. Although I had gotten my share of 99%’s, I’d never achieved perfection and I was definitely aiming for it. So here I was in fifth grade, taking a test – a minor subject at that – taking my time to make it absolute perfection. When my teacher announced: "Five minutes left". I panicked. I wasn’t nearly finished. Flashes of shattered dreams raced through my head. Not only would I not get the perfect report card, I might fail! I was audibly panting; kids turned to look at me. And I scribbled desperate answers all over the page.

I don’t remember the outcome of that episode; I am sure my teacher made some concessions. But the memory of all this inspired a poem. Here it is.


Fantasy filled fifth grade
dreams – my quixotic quest
to be the best of all -
forever forgotten
eternally lost.

Terror still stalks
the memory of
no time left to score
the perfect percent
as panic racked breath
screeches its zig-zag
path across the page
of the unfinished test.

So deeply rutted still
in well worn ways
which never worked
the fuzzy feel
of friendly fear
and lazy anger.
So stuck in not to
be I cannot see
the treasure that is me.

© E.M. Ramos 7/30/2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Gift from all the rain

We have had lots of rain this summer. I am a true believer in the "every cloud has a silver lining" theory. Both in nature and in life. Last week as I sat outside the Botanical Gardens café, under their awning, a summer storm rose up out of what had been a sunny sky a few moments before. And I received the gift of a poem.

Summer Storm

I love to watch a summer storm
- from a safe dry space, of course -
Pounding the pavement.
Creating instant rivers.
Filling the awning above
me to drip-right-throughness.

In just a blink the sun
regains control. Its steamy
breath sends will-‘o-the-wisps
slithering skyward.
Brooding clouds evaporate.
Rain-made rivers disappear.
The path is dry and I can
walk embraced by cool breezes,
inhaling grassy air,
holding the storm in my heart.

© E.M. Ramos 7/9/2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lessons I've Learned

In one of her blogs last week, my daughter posed an interesting quiz on learning and self-education and challenged her readers to take the quiz themselves.

What is a memory you have of learning with your Mom?

My Mom took a very active role in our education. She "heard" our lessons every night. My memory improved dramatically under my Mom’s tutelage because if we did not recite the catechism or history answers back to her "perfectly", we were sent off to study "until you know it!" My sister can attest to many homework papers that were torn up because she had crossed out or erased. OK in fairness, a few times she had erased holes in the paper. Maybe my success in school was a direct result of Mom’s encouragement, because she would not settle for less. She taught me to always strive to do my best.

I also learned many other life lessons from her. Like how to be a savvy shopper, hunting out bargains way before it became stylish. I will never forget the trip in-between dress racks to a remote corner in Bloomies to find a lone hidden rack of sales items. Now in those days, it was pretty awesome for us to find something affordable in Bloomingdale’s but Mom managed to find bargains in the classiest places. Just to negotiate her way around that store was admirable to me, who, like many others, finds it a major challenge just to find the exit out of Bloomies!

What is a memory you have of learning with your Dad?

On the meandering car vacations, which brought American history and geography alive for me, my Dad taught me a love of traveling, visiting new places and reading maps! I was not geographically challenged, as many Americans are today, because I had personally visited capitals of states or spent many car hours searching for them on road maps.

Dad also taught me to appreciate and reverence nature. He would point out interesting cloud formations and instruct me to take pictures out of the car window as we traveled the highways to some vacation destination. He never failed to point out sunsets, whether on a fishing expedition upstate or looking out the window from his easy chair. We spent many quiet hours in row boats on lakes, waiting for fish to bite. Now I realize I was learning to observe nature; in a way it was my first lesson in meditation. And it felt so peaceful.

What kind of education do you think you gave yourself?

Like my daughter, I loved to draw when I was a kid. It certainly spurred a lifelong love for art. In school, I did not enjoy history – it seemed to be all about dates and wars. Ho Hum. So after I graduated from college, I took on a project to find out about everyday life in other times. I was especially interested in medieval times and Barbara Tuchman’s classic "A Distant Mirror" got me started. I discovered that history was very interesting indeed and found a different perspective. I especially enjoyed the book by Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, two Columbia University professors. "A History of Their Own" approached history from a woman’s point of view, not chronologically but categorically: Women of the Fields, Women of the Churches, Women of the Castles and Manors, etc. I learned that women did yield power even way back when and my love for history was born. As a result, I have a sizable collection of history books, especially Medieval History focusing on everyday life. Any one can get an education by reading. Just ask my granddaughter, Marina!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

America the Beautiful

This Independence Day I feel very grateful for being an American. I am so proud of my beautiful country and so grateful that I have seen so much of it. I have fond memories of childhood vacations when my Dad piled the kids in the car and took us on adventures in upstate New York, to Pennsylvania, to Florida and once to Kentucky. I learned so much about the history and geography of America on those travels.

Later I spent vacations in the majestic Adirondacks, meditated on the Hudson and thrilled to the sounds and sights of my hometown, New York City. I know every inch of the Bronx Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo and have gotten lost too many times in magnificent Central Park. My daughter and I traveled the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego, explored the back roads of California, discovering a new wonder around every bend: Josiah Tree, Yosemite, Mt. Whitney. We stopped our car in Death Valley and got out to experience the sound of silence; it was also on a back road in Death Valley that I witnessed a parade of tarantulas.

Lisa and I once drove up and down the Atlantic coast to the Everglades, seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, driving through rice paddies in the Carolinas, and watching the moon rise over the ocean from the N.C. shore. In Maine I tasted my first lobster, laughed at puffins flying around their little island near Acadia National Park, and saw a moose along the road.

How blessed I am to have seen so much of this beautiful land! And there’s so much more to see!