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Much of yesterday afternoon and this morning was spent walking and taking photos, and then reflecting on Frame. Take a photo, enlarge it, choose different center points. Is the story in the middle of the photo? The upper left hand corner? On one face? A gesture? What grabbed your attention?

Today, more people-watching, lots of place-shots. Several of us are collecting photos of found art in alleyways and side streets.

Much of today was spent around the Ponte Vecchio, and so riverscapes also made it onto the”roll.”

Writer’s heaven:

Today we were in a part of town much less populated by tourists. Everyday folks. I have not been so fascinated by people just walking down the street in a long time. What is it about being Elsewhere that catches the eye?

Maybe it’s in the food? At lunch today, in a cafe, we talked about the Quintessence of things: there was no melon more essentially melon than the cantaloupe that came with our prosciutto. No tomato more essentially Tomato than these. No wine, gelati, Aperol Spritz, or strawberries more definitive than the ones we find here.

Then there is the air. The light. The arts and architecture. Around every corner.

And then the chance to come face to face with the Masters.

I remember the first time I went to France, right after high school graduation. We went to L’Orangerie, to see the Impressionist collection, including Monet’s series of paintings at the Rouen Cathedral. The same frame, the same view, different weather, seasons, time of day. I had seen the slides on classes at school, in books. But I was so moved and grateful to “meet” them face to face, I cried. I still have the journal entry I wrote, sitting on a bench in the gallery. I wrote on the back of a paper bag, because I didn’t have my notebook with me.

Today, another chance at that same, sublime experience.

And, there is the company. The Teacher, the Three Graces (the college undergrads whose energy and sense of discovery is a delight,) two friends from my writing program, and two women MBA students who have Much More Going On than their pursuit of their degrees.

What a big day today. Before I can begin to choose how to frame, I had to lay it all out. And, there’s more. Always more.

For now, time to sleep on it, contemplate angles and perspective….

Buonanotte.

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Just like I said when I began this blog (almost 10 years ago….), “If I wait til all the conditions are ‘Right,’ I’ll never start.” I’m in Florence this week, with a group of women ranging from college-aged through our 40s, 50s, and up, to spend a week surrounded  by inspiration in all the forms that Florence provides, and to write. What better excuse to get back to writing again for public consumption beyond the constraints of Facebook, than to share what I’m seeing, hearing, and thinking from one of my favorite places.

I’ve just spent the last 90 minutes trying to bridge the almost decade-long gap betweeen my last blog post, in 2009, and the one I am writing now. There is probably a book or two of material between that last post, which WordPress tells me is over 3,500 days ago, and today’s activities in Florence.  I have a funny feeling this trip is going to actually spur some filling in of those “blanks,” but I promise, just the last few days of travel are plenty of material to start with.

For tonight, some of the gazillion photos from the last 24 hours. Tomorrow, more pictures and more words. Consider this my postcard to you, just to get us all started.

Today’s Philanthropy conference was exciting, inspiring and fun. Great networking, new friends, warm welcomes to this New Girl from up North.

I’m full of ideas and questions and impressions. It feels like I’m looking at my life through a kaleidoscope– pieces look vaguely familiar, but are all suddenly in different relationships to one another and look radically different. Again today, the wheel got several spins. so for tonight I think I’ll just lean back and enjoy the pretty colors.

In the summer of 1996, I was planning a move from Baltimore to Philadelphia. I grew up in Baltimore, went to college and grad school in my home town, and then went to work around the corner from where I had gotten my social work degree. After 29 years, I was ready for a new adventure in a new place.

About six weeks before the move to Philly (which I had contemplated for several years, and had actively planned for months…) I went to my first National Havurah Committee Summer Institute. A large proportion of the folks attending were from Philadelphia. I spent that week learning, singing, schmoozing, and sharing meals with people from my about-to-be-adopted new hometown.

There are a lot of things I remember from that week. My mantra that week went something like, “Hi. I’m Laurie Kovens. I’m moving to Philly at the end of the summer to study in the Jewish Renewal community. I’m looking for a job and a place to live.” And everyone responded with “Welcome to town! That’s so exciting. Tell me about yourself. Let me know how I can help. You should meet…..”

At the end of that week, after one last long night of singing, I ran into a friend. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. Maybe 3. And out of the blue, this friend, who had to have heard me repeat my “new to town, looking for work and home” mantra a zillion times during the week, asked me “Do you wanna run the Institute?”

“blink. blink. ??”

Within twenty-four hours of that seemingly random middle-of-the-night conversation, I had met the folks who would eventually hire me for the job that was instrumental in turning my one-year, self-made sabbatical into thirteen years in an adopted home town. And within a week of the Institute, the folks I had met along the way helped me connect with the person who would be my room mate and who is still a beloved friend all these years later.

(Insert stock footage here: 13 years of calendar pages fly by.)

August 11, 2009: Two weeks from today, the moving van with most of my worldly goods will be making its way from Philadelphia to Durham, NC. I’ll be following by car, with my mom, who always comes along to share in the ritual of Settling In, whether I’m moving out of state or around the corner. I won’t live in Philly anymore. I’ll be living in North Carolina.

Tonight, I arrived in Greensboro, to attend the North Carolina Philanthropy Conference. And I found myself experiencing this strange Deja Vu. “I’m Laurie Kovens. I’m moving from Philadelphia to Durham in two weeks….” The details of the story are a bit different now than in 1996, but, yes, I’m looking for work. And more importantly, for community. And here, again, are people saying “How exciting! Welcome to town! Tell me about yourself. How can I help? Have you met…..?”

—————-

Another memory from that pre-move week in 1996: somewhere towards the end of that week, we did an exercise where we asked our biblical ancestors for their advice as we prepared to go home. I asked Abraham and Sarah, (who left their home to take a leap of faith when God asked them to….) for their advice as I left the only home I had ever known to live in a new place. They told me, “Never turn down an invitation for a meal. You never know who will be there. You never know what gifts you will receive from another’s hospitality unless you accept the invitation.”

And so, here in 2009 in Greensboro, I went to dinner tonight with colleagues who invited me to join them. Shared food and drink and stories and laughter. Community. I’ll spend the day tomorrow with 400 people who are passionate about building community, making the world a better place, pursuing justice, equity, beauty and creativity, learning, well-being. 400 people who are from my about-to-be-new home state. I’ll repeat my mantra. I’ll accept the invitations I am offered.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

And the Lovely Pause In Between continued today. IHop, Borders, and a movie with the kiddos — it was all about staying refrigerated in the 105 degree heat and who-knows-how-off-the-scale humidity today. We went to see The Ugly Truth. Cute romantic comedy. I like Kathryn Heigl. Diverting. A nice way to spend a bit of time in the cool air, and a break from the movies I usually see with the girls, in which many things and people are blown up, or much over-the-top gratuitous wackiness ensues.

There was no house-hunting, no decision making for me today beyond what kind of pancakes to order and which movie to see, both pretty easy decisions within a reasonable range of choices. And the biggest imperatives were to stay out of the heat and out of the house. Done and done. Check list checked-off.

The movie today pointed out the limitations of the “check-list,” particularly as it relates to parameters for one’s ideal partner. I’ve made and torn up and sworn off and filled out more checklists than I care to think about. Not just for some imagined Other Person, but for how I want to be, myself, what I want to do, with my day, or with this lifetime.

And today, I ran right up against my own self-imposed check-lists…hard not to do, I suppose, in the midst of a major transition. Did I do everything I wanted to do with my time in Philly? with the time I’ve been leaning into this move in NC? Have I been what and who I want to be to the people in *my* life? I find myself feeling wistful and more than a little second-guess-y at the end of the day. As sticky and heavy a feeling in my soul as the heat and humidity have been to my skin.

I’ve been blowing breezes over my saturated psyche tonight. Music – lots of chanting, and a beautiful album by Three Altos, called “Camaradas.” And poetry – Mary Oliver’s new book, “Evidence,” came into my hands at Borders today.

I’ll let them say the rest for tonight:
I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think —
no, you will realize —
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time
words that you yourself, out of your own heart
had been saying.

~ Mary Oliver

And. From her poem “Evidence:”

I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in
singing, especially when singing is not necessarily
prescribed.

As for the body, it is solid and strong and curious
and full of detail; it wants to polish itself; it
wants to love another body; it is the only vessel in
the world that can hold, in a mix of power and
sweetness: words, song, gesture, passion, ideas,
ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity, and virtue.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.

————-

Making room in my heart for the unimaginable. That is what this move is all about. Defying the checklist. All the checklists. Check. Er….

After finally settling on movers, a moving date, a storage space and a short-term and very nice place to live, it was time to take a break from information gathering and decision making and ruminating. Or making of any kind at all. Except for ice cream Sundaes.

This weekend was school supply shopping with kiddos, tv, Facebook, library books. Keeping my head low when grouchiness (my own or someone else’s) flared up – transitions are hard on everyone, no?

But mostly just blissfully not doing much of anything.

It is sometimes hard to just let myself do Nothing. “When there’s nothing I have to do, shouldn’t I be *doing* something?” This weekend, no.

This weekend was a nice sandwich between all of the summer’s running and planning and all of the next several weeks’ activity related to the move. The first time in a while that I haven’t been either too busy or to exhausted from being too busy to write. And, I suppose, the first time in a while I haven’t put pressure on myself to come up with something Newsworthy to post here, which is probably the biggest factor in my posting tonight.

Sometimes a slow news day is really quite newsworthy all on its own.

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven
(Pete Seeger, based on Ecclesiastes)

Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize, til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile
When youre learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
(Indigo Girls, Watershed)

I get by with a little help from my friends
(The Beatles)

————————————

Today is the day I sift through the estimates and fine print from the trans-state movers, pick one, and set a date for the move.  A week from now I’ll be boarding a plane to Philly, to spend 2 weeks packing and visiting before I say my farewells to a city, and to friends, who have been my home for thirteen years.

Today, and for the next few weeks, (well. always….) I could use a little help from my friends. Reminders to breathe. To pace myself. Reminders that I am embarking on a terrific adventure and that I have everything I need inside me, regardless of what goes in a box marked “NC” and what gets given away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to celebrate this move, how to spend time with folks, how to ask for help, and how to say thank you. And I keep thinking: “Potluck.” and “Packing Party.” There may well be a Big Shabbes Dinner, and a Box-a-thon before I put that huge dining room table and all the boxes on the moving van, but in the meantime, I woke up this morning with an idea for how I can invite *everyone* close and far away, to come to the table from wherever you are, and get in on the fun. Virtual Potluck. Not for nothing was I raised in communities where everyone brings food to almost every occasion. (Thanks, Mom and Gidi and all my friends and communities, for raising me right!)

And then there is music. And there are friends. Music is my playground and my house of prayer. It is food and medicine and inspiration and how I find words when there aren’t any, strength when I think there isn’t any. How I say Please and Thank You and Yes! to the universe. When I am alone, it reminds me that you are all with me. When I am with you, it is one of my great delights to join our voices together to celebrate, to speak truth to power, to fling open the doors, to remember whatever needs to be remembered, to play and let loose.

And you, my friends, are the ones who sing and listen, who play on the playground with me, who make up the congregation. Who make it possible for life to mean what it does. It would be an empty table, and empty playground, and no minyan at all without you. All the notes would sound the same. But you are here. Each of you a blessing. My friends are how I know there is a God.

Here’s what I’ve learned about potlucks, and what I’ve learned from them, and how this might work:

1. Everyone brings a little something to share – whatever is easy, and whatever is a favorite — Please consider sending suggestions of songs or albums you would want to hear, or want *me* to hear, when preparing for or embarking on a journey, something you think I’ve never heard but should, something that reminds you of time we’ve shared together, something that will be inspiring or fun to hear. You know me — I love everything from classic rock to kirtans, from nigguns to a capella to jazz, from singer-songwriter stuff to gospel to classical to trance.

2. However big or small the quantity, is fine. It’s the love and the sharing that’s important. I’ll take as many or as few suggestions of tunes as you’d like to make. If you feel moved to burn CDs, wonderful! and if you just want to send along a title or two, I’ll seek them out. If you want to send CDs, email me, and we’ll figure out the best place for them to reach me in Philly, or to greet me in NC.

3. Everyone is invited, and there is always enough room. So in this case, please pass this request on to folks who you think would like to bring a song or two to this virtual potluck, whether I’ve met them before or not. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine. Feel free to forward this message in an email or post it as a note in FB — I’d love to see what happens if this little project “virals” its way around 🙂

4. Part of the fun is swapping recipes or stories about “why this dish?” so if you have a story or memory or blessing associated with the songs you send, and want to send some “liner notes” along, I’d love to read them!

5. Everyone gets to take home goodies afterwords. I’ll post a Grand Total Playlist at the end of this little party, and I’ll make sure to post suggestions as they come along as well, thru the blog, FB and Twitter. Any suggestions for swapping playlists, cds, MP3’s and stories, let me know — I want to be able to share what shows up at this “table!”

———————————-

When I went to bed last night, the prospect of picking a mover seemed so daunting – it’s big bucks, and an even bigger ticket item in terms of Really Saying Yes to what’s next. Waking up this morning inspired to ask for your company and your blessings this way takes the edge off the “YIKES!!!!” and puts the “YES!!!” back up Front and Center. And, frankly, the idea of finding a way to be with you all at a virtual banquet, on the virtual playground, is just plain fun, no matter what the occasion.

Love and thanks!!!