Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Ponderings

The day after Christmas is the loveliest of days when it falls on a weekend. This morning is shrouded in clouds, with a light coating of sleety snow and the threat of freezing rain, but it is peaceful, and I finally have a moment to sit in my cozy chair, coffee at hand, and put pen to paper.

The holiday week has been stressful. Work issues caused turbulence as we attempted to finish two projects in half the time originally specified. Since our office is in our home, the stressful atmosphere also affected my two already over-excited grandbabies. By Wednesday they were boisterously out of control. In the midst of the clamor I was slowly working along to put the finishing touches on Christmas – the gifts, the flowers, the food – all the traditions so much a part of our family Christmas.

As the morning of Christmas Eve dawned, my to-do list was still large. I put a pot of soup on to simmer for the Christmas Eve supper with my daughter and one son & his family. An unexpected visit from a friend with a tiny new baby girl was the highlight of my day. I held this adorable little gift from God in my arms, marveling once again at her baby scent and velvety softness. Looking at her big brother playing nearby, I remembered how quickly these tiny ones grow into robust children – we must take the time to savor the tender moments of their infancy.

By early afternoon, as I returned to peeling and dicing potatoes for two large casseroles of au gratin potatoes, I noticed a spike in my blood pressure, which necessitated a quick trip to Urgent Care, where I was pronounced healthy enough to return to my cooking. The afternoon passed quickly as I prepared the cheese sauce, frosted a cake, and made a pan of brownies. The table was set with my prettiest china, and everything had finally come together for our Christmas celebrations.

After church my family arrived, hungry and in good spirits, and we enjoyed our Christmas Eve repast. All three of my children and their families gathered here Christmas morning to exchange gifts. As we munched bagels and drank coffee, the babies delighted in their new toys, as my older grandson helped referee the squabbles. One of my sons and his family returned for our late-afternoon Christmas dinner – a lovely, quiet meal by candlelight. They lingered after dinner and my little grandson enchanted us all with his antics.

And now, it is all over – the shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and the laughter. This morning it is once again quiet in this old house. I love Christmas – it is my most favorite holiday, with its message of peace and joy, its greenery and candlelight, and the loving gestures which warm our hearts. But, I think today I love this “day after” even more – when I can sit peacefully in the early morning stillness of my beloved home, with no chores ahead of me, and ponder the lovely memories of Christmas 2009.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Words of Wisdom and Such

The holiday weekend provided warm memories of family and friends and long conversations which left me with many thoughts to ponder in the coming days. Thanksgiving was a lovely day. All of my children and grandchildren gathered at my son’s house for a delicious dinner, and we relaxed by the fire afterwards, talking and savoring the quiet peace of the holiday, as we enjoyed the antics of my little grandchildren.

On Friday we brought lunch in to my father and mother-in-law. We spent an enjoyable hour talking about their holiday dinner with my husband’s sister, and reminiscing about past Thanksgivings – the larger gatherings, the old traditions, and simpler times. As we tried to remember some maternal cousins, we were reminded of the importance of writing down genealogical information for future generations. We were at a loss as we tried to piece together the connections between this particular line of cousins. I’m certain that I have some notes on this side of the family, which were given to me by a great aunt one long ago holiday afternoon as we looked over old family photos. I must look through my papers one of these days and write down the information I have. Several years ago, I began some genealogical research on my side of the family – it was very interesting and exciting, and I hope to continue it some time in the future when life is a bit slower.

On Friday afternoon I spoke with a childhood friend, in town for a few days, who provided some interesting perspectives and insights on the current state of our economy and political system. In the course of our conversation, Bill commented that none of us can say we’ve never lied or stolen. I mulled this over for a long time. I consider myself an honest person, and I raised my children to be truthful and to stand up for their beliefs, and yet, I think of the numerous little “white lies” I have told here and there when I make up excuses to avoid doing something I really don’t feel like doing. I remember that I break traffic laws consistently – almost never staying within the legal speed limit. I also recall that there have been times in large chain stores when an error was made in my favor at the cash register, and I didn’t call it to the cashier’s attention. In small stores, I am always honest, but if I believe there is no way the cashier will be penalized in a chain store, I will let the error stand, believing the corporate owners have much more money than I do – but, in essence, this is stealing. This conversation forced me to view my own sense of honor in a less favorable light.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon with a friend who shares a November birthday. We lunched at a lovely little tea room, and laughed hysterically as we discussed our sad, but humorous, decline in memory and mental acuity as we age. Rita and I almost always see the humor in everyday situations, and as we shopped away the rest of the afternoon, we kept laughing about some of our more embarrassing memory issues. While our physical and mental decline as we age is laughable at times, it is still a serious issue for us. Women who prided themselves on their youthful beauty are particularly stressed by the aging process. Those of us who were efficient, organized, and proud of the work we produced are saddened as we see ourselves become slower and more forgetful. Friendships are crucial to us at this age – laughing over our shared predicament is the best of medicine.

I received a wonderful Email from a long-time family friend who just celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Edna underwent surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer earlier this year, so I was thrilled to see photos of her birthday celebration. She looks healthy and happy, and it was so good to hear from her. She was a friend of my favorite aunt from the time they were girls. She included a piece she had written about the small community of Hampton Manor, where her parents had built one of the catalog houses so popular in those days. I was thrilled to hear her thoughts on my aunt, mother and grandfather in those days when they were all young. Since my aunt’s death, Edna corresponds regularly with my cousin – tending the bonds formed all those years ago.

On Sunday I lunched with my close friend, Karen, who is my granddaughter’s other grandmother, “Nanny.” We both lead busy lives, and we very seldom spend much alone time together anymore, so this day was a gift. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and caught up on each other’s lives. Of course, we talked about Alivia. We laughed about a sweet incident recently. Alivia loves to play with her alphabet blocks. As I teach her the letters, I match each letter with the name of a family member – “P” for Poppy, “N” for Nanny, “L” for Luke and so on. Recently, Luke took one of her blocks as she was playing and ran into the hallway with it. She started crying. I said, “Alivia, he just took one block – you have all the other blocks.” With tears streaming down her face, she cried, “But he has Nanny!” Sure enough, he was holding the “N” block in his hand. I think how much this little girl loves her Nanny, and I think how fortunate my grandchildren are to have this large extended family to love. There is a deep security in knowing that you are valued and loved by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. You are never alone in this cold world – there is always someone who cares and loves you.

Last night we celebrated my daughter-in-law’s birthday with dinner at our house. I kept it simple – roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and bakery pies. While my weekend was fulfilling and enjoyable, it was also tiring. But, gathering together for a quiet dinner was the perfect way to bring the long weekend to a close. Today we are all back in the world of work and routine, and this holiday is just a pleasant and richly textured memory, but I will reflect on the many conversations that linger in my mind and heart and give thanks for these moments shared with loved ones and friends .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Traditions

Yesterday I placed a single candle in each of my front windows, removed the summer wicker from the front porch, and brought out the antique sleds that provide our winter d├ęcor. I think back over the countless years I have gently untangled the electrical cords and replaced lamps in these old candles. This is part of my holiday tradition, and lighting them for the first time yesterday brought a deep sense of joy and anticipation for the season ahead. However, this has been a tough year for our family, and my holiday traditions will be necessarily adjusted in the coming weeks.

For the first time in almost forty years, we will not gather for Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. My mother-in-law is suffering from dementia and is completely housebound this year, and their house is not large enough nor her emotional state strong enough, to host a dinner with so many loved ones. For years now, I have looked forward to dinner at my sister-in-law’s warm and inviting home, but this year, she will instead prepare a smaller dinner at her mother’s house, and we will gather at my son’s house for dinner. A new tradition is being born – one my little grandchildren will come to cherish. This is a difficult transition for my sister-in-law and me – for so many years our holidays have revolved around her parents – as we make our new plans, our hearts will be heavy. I am looking forward, though to dinner at my son’s house. His wife is a wonderful cook, and the view from their dining room table is of the distant Berkshire Mountains – a sight lovely even on a misty, gloomy day. Our smaller gathering will include all of my children and grandchildren – who could desire more than that.

My sister’s death this past summer will cast a shadow over my joy this season. Even now, as I walk past a display of nutcrackers, I hold back tears, remembering her penchant for nutcrackers. In fact, she cherished her huge collection of Christmas decorations and spent days unpacking them and placing them around the house. Knowing she is not here to enjoy her favorite season is difficult. For several years now, she has invited us for a peaceful meal during the week before Christmas. One of my most treasured memories is of a quiet lunch at her home one Christmas Eve – the day when I am always frazzled with preparations. The delicious food and warmth of her home, with its well-loved decorations and quiet beauty soothed me deeply on that long-ago afternoon. I will miss her.

For thirty-five years, I prepared our family Christmas dinner at my house – a gathering that has varied from year to year through births, deaths, and circumstance. There have been as few as twelve and as many as twenty people crowded into the dining room for this most beloved holiday. The memories flood my heart as I picture the faces that are no longer with us, as well as the ever-changing bounty of friends and family that have graced us with their presence at the table. Our Christmas plans are in flux this year. We will celebrate Christmas Eve with my daughter, and one son and his family, and my other son and his family will share Christmas Day with us. Once again, I will miss our traditional dinner with my in-laws and extended family, but these smaller celebrations will certainly be much less tiring for an almost-sixty woman. For the past couple of years, by the time I had dinner on the table and my father-in-law had given the Blessing, I was too exhausted to taste the meal. I will have more time now to savor the spirit of the holiday, and to focus on my grandchildren.

Traditions are an extremely important touchstone in our lives. They give us a sense of continuity and family cohesiveness. However, as circumstances change, we must be able to revise these traditions. We must hold them in our hearts and cherish the memories of other times and other holidays. It is necessary that we let them go with grace and begin to create the new traditions that work for us now. There will always be a measure of grief for those who are no longer with us, and a sadness for what once was, but we can move on to embrace the reality of our new circumstances and find joy and contentment in the newly-created traditions.

I do hope, though, that I never have to give up my candles in the windows – they quietly spread the joy of the season to the world without and to the soul within.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Blessing of Contentment

I have been blessed with a happy spirit. I find joy in the simple pleasures of this life, and I am extremely grateful for this gift.

Our society places great value on material success, and it seems that as we work harder and longer to obtain our desires, we sacrifice happiness and contentment. Unfortunately, by the time many people have finally acquired the perfect house, or car, or piece of jewelry, instead of enjoying it, they quickly turn to the next item on their wish list.

How much happier life is for those of us with simpler needs and desires. This past Sunday was a lovely autumn day – sunshine, blue skies, crisp air, leaves crackling underfoot. After a busy morning, I grabbed my kitchen scissors and enjoyed the invigorating air as I cut bunches of herbs from the garden for drying. I brought them into the kitchen, washed them in cool water, and hung them on a special wire installed over my sink. The kitchen was filled with a pungent mixture of aromas – oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and parsley. This aroma will linger for a few days as the herbs dry, and on the coldest of winter afternoons, as I pinch off some of the shriveled leaves to season a simmering soup or sauce, I will hold the memory of this October afternoon in my heart – a simple memory of a simple pleasure.

Which leads me to another thought – my kitchen. What a sorry sight it is – not a piece of granite countertop in sight, bisque colored appliances instead of stainless steel, and dark cabinets marked by years of use. How I would love to remodel, but at this point, that is an impossible dream. Fortunately, though, I still love this old kitchen of mine. I love the sunny yellow wallpaper border with its blue & white china gracing the wall, and the sight of my pumpkin shaped soup tureen nestled into an autumn arrangement of leaves and grapes is a joy to behold.

Many people would agonize over the condition of this old kitchen, but it still serves its purpose. No one has ever refused to come for dinner because my kitchen is outdated. They come enthusiastically; they sit at the table as I cook, sipping wine and chatting as dinner takes shape. They love my old dining room, with its ancient table set with flowers and lovely china. They savor the food I serve to them. They remember the warmth and the love – the scratched old cabinets don’t bother them a bit.

Sunday afternoon when I walked into the kitchen with several bunches of fresh herbs in my arms, I was greeted by the delicious aroma of well-seasoned pork with potatoes, carrots and onion slowly roasting in the oven. I felt such a tremendous sense of comfort and warmth. At that moment, there was no place I would rather have been. I felt blessed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

These Precious Days

Life at “Grandma’s Day Care” has been a little tough the past two weeks. Lucas is adjusting to being away from his Mom again after a summer of her loving full-time attention; both babies have struggled with viruses which made them cranky and clingy. This year Alivia is two and Luke is fifteen months, so they are both up and running for most of the day – chattering, giggling, fighting, crying and needing lots of attention. I am reminded that just one short year ago, Luke came to me as a three-month old, and this little dynamo boy is now far removed from that helpless infant.

There is a dailiness in caring for children that can be draining. The physical process of changing diapers, preparing nutritious meals, cleaning the children, the floor and the dishes, picking up toys and books over and over during the day, and lifting, carrying and rocking toddlers is tiring at best.

Yesterday began on a bright note, with both babies pleasant and playful. However, as I prepared lunch, the idyllic morning suddenly slid into chaos. Luke dissolved into tears while I was cooking. He was inconsolable as I placed lunch on the table, so I sat him on my lap to eat; his tears began to fade into the hiccups so familiar after a good, long cry. Of course, Alivia did not want to be left out of this cozy little scene, so she immediately crawled out of her booster seat and onto my lap, too. Attempting to eat a bowl of chowder with a toddler on each knee was a feat. After cleaning up with Luke wrapped around my leg, tears flowing once again, I settled them both on the couch with their pillows, blankets and milk. Finally, they rested – quiet, peaceful and angelic – and I breathed a tired sigh of relief!

One of the most wonderful things about being a grandmother is the perspective from which you view these early years. Mothers of pre-schoolers and babies somehow cannot wrap their minds around the reality that these days will pass – they often feel like time is standing still and the world is passing them by as they give the best of themselves to these needy little children. They cannot begin to picture a life beyond this – a life when these little ones are off to school, off to college, and then independent adults.

Grandmothers, on the other hand, realize how quickly the years pass. I gently stroke their soft hair and trace the line of their chubby cheeks with awe, knowing in my heart that, God willing, in the blink of an eye, these little faces will be adult faces, glowing with pride and love as they present their own precious babies to me. These little hands will then be the ones entrusted with carrying on the nurturing of a new generation.

I spend my days with these children because I believe if they can’t be with their own mothers during the day, where better to be than with a grandmother who loves them beyond words. All of the daily struggles are worth it – the hours of singing and rocking, soothing the tears, refereeing the endless squabbles – they are but an instant in time. Soon these babes will be pulling away from me, out into the wider world of childhood, chasing their own dreams and living their own lives. But they will have known the gentle love and caring of a grandmother to whom they were the most precious of souls, and they will carry that love securely in their hearts as they walk through this life. Who knows, maybe one of these sticky little hands that cling to my finger as we walk along today will someday be the loving hand I hold as I pass from this world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On the Porch in Rockport

My overwhelming emotion tonight is one of relief and thanksgiving. A phone call from my doctor this morning assured me that a recent biopsy was normal, and my six weeks' of worry over a health issue is finally put to rest.

After my sister's funeral in July, I hoped for a peaceful few weeks of summer to heal and regain my emotional equilibrium. This was not the case. The remainder of summer was filled with extremely difficult times for my entire extended family. Finally, tonight, I feel a sense of peace and hopefulness.

Darkness is falling on a chilly, showery September day. I ponder the events of this summer and know that it will remain in my heart as one of the "worst of times."

Tonight, even though I am so trenedously thankful for my own good health news, I am remembering my sister -- two years ago, in September, we spent a weekend at an inn in Rockport as we visited her husband's family. One of my most wonderful and enduring memories will be the evening she and I spent alone together on the porch of this lovely inn. It was a balmy night for September, with mist and darkness already obscuring the ocean from view, but our conversation was accompanied by the gentle rhythm of the waves coming ashore. We sat in rocking chairs, refilling our glasses of wine as we talked -- feeling peaceful and close to each other. I felt a love and connection that remains with me tonight, on another misty September evening, as I sit alone, but feel once again that wonderful bond.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Grateful Good-bye

When John Kennedy was elected President, I was only ten years old – my most vivid memory is of his picture on the front page of the newspaper the day after the election, and at that point I didn’t really have an interest in anything more important than my own daily concerns. I do remember his commanding speech during the Cuban missile crisis, and I shed many tears in the days following his assassination; the drum rolls as the funeral cortege made its way through Washington are a particularly poignant memory. The tragic assassination of Robert Kennedy when I was seventeen troubled me deeply. I cried as I watched this brave family once again bury a beloved son, father and uncle. But I still did not comprehend the impact this family would have on the quality of life for those of us born with less opportunity in this country.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly realized and honored the Kennedy family tradition and belief that those who have been given much owe much in return. This is a family that has been blessed with intelligence, a strong work ethic, a deep faith and a resulting wealth. Obviously, they have struggled with staggering personal tragedies and the quirks and flaws of their own personalities. But, they have all attempted to uphold the family tradition of giving the best of themselves to their family and their country, and especially to those less fortunate.

Tonight, I would like to bid a loving farewell and offer my blessings to Senator Ted Kennedy. My tears flow as I write this. I feel we average citizens have lost our most loyal and dedicated champion. This man has worked unceasingly to make life better for those with the least power and voice in our society. I pray that the next generation of his family will continue the good works they have already begun in the Kennedy name, and take care of each other as he cared for them all. I pray that Congress will work together to craft legislation for a universal health care program that will honor his years of effort in this issue so important to the well-being of us all.

Most of all, I would like to say a loving thank you and good-bye to this youngest son who ended up carrying the torch for this remarkable family who sacrificed so much for the good of society.

Friday, August 14, 2009

August Ponderings

The quiet of this warm August evening fills my soul. Soon the heavy blanket of darkness that is August will fall abruptly, so unlike the long twilight of earlier summer nights.

This summer has been a difficult one for me and for my extended family. It seems that these precious few weeks of Northeast summer have been filled with stress, worries and sorrow. It will not be a summer we look back on with any degree of pleasure.

Tonight, though, I sit on my porch and ponder the moments of serenity I have enjoyed today. My mug of coffee on the porch in the early morning fog, with just a touch of chill in the air -- a delicious lunch of fried oysters at a quiet riverside restaurant with my husband, watching the boats float past soundlessly from our table on the shore -- a bit of time at the end of the work day to tend my flowers, feed the birds, and sip white wine as I read a few pages from a much-loved book, while a supper of cold chicken and potato salad awaited us in the fridge.

The weekend ahead of me will be busy and tiring, and a worrisome medical test is scheduled for Monday morning, but for now, I sit on my beloved porch, listening to the gentle cooing of the sparrows as they settle into the ivy for the night, and I wait for that moment when the August darkness envelops us with its soothing reminder that life does go on -- seasons change -- our troubles and worries are transient. The sparrows roosting contentedly in the ivy tonight are not worried about tomorrow -- they are safely tucked away for a night of rest, thankful for full stomachs and a peaceful place to sleep.

I will try to carry this thought in my heart as I face the responsibilities and worries of the next few days. I will try to worry less about what MAY happen and spend more time enjoying the multitude of pleasures that greet us each day. I will hold close to my heart the long-remembered phrase, "This too shall pass."

And, for tonight, I will soak in the peace of this gentle August evening.



Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning. Can there possibly be a more lovely feeling than the peace and anticipation of an unscheduled Sunday? I am desperately in need of a day devoted solely to puttering and leisure.

My sister’s struggle with cancer these past months finally ended a couple of weeks ago. For this I am grateful – now she is free from her suffering, and those of us who loved her and cared for her in her final days felt a profound sense of relief as we passed her into the hands of God. Her funeral on a sunny Friday morning and the luncheon afterwards gave her family and friends much-needed hours to lovingly recall memories and say a final goodbye to a complicated woman who seems to have been many things to many different people. I will mourn my only sister and try to find comfort in the closeness we shared in the past few years.

The days since her death, when I longed for some quiet time, have instead been filled with health problems of my own, a totally unexpected household renovation, and a struggle to catch up on office work which was set aside as I cared for my sister.

Yesterday was a welcome break in the stress of the past few weeks. I attended a party to celebrate my grandson’s 15th and my granddaughter’s 2nd birthdays. There is no better panacea for stress and sorrow than to gather with family and friends on a summer afternoon, with sunshine, good food and good wine, and savor the laughter and joy of precious little children.

Throughout this past month, as I have been comforted by my children, grandchildren, cousins, friends, and the caring words of so many loved ones from afar, I have once again been reminded that our true wealth in this life is the people we hold dear. We must be sure to hold them close to our hearts, to take time from our busy schedules to be with them, or call, or write – to savor the bonds of family and friendship. Ultimately, these bonds are our lifeline in times of trouble and the greatest of our treasures.

I will ponder these thoughts as I savor the quiet day ahead. I will feed my birds before the impending rain arrives, bake a chocolate cake for my daughter’s friend, and maybe enjoy a nice lunch somewhere with my husband. There is a world of possibilities for a leisurely Sunday –

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bonds of the Heart

Dusk is falling slowly. Storms have blown through; the June air is cooler and lighter, and a symphony of birdsong surrounds me.

I have neglected my blog recently – the days and weeks have been busy and stressful, and I have not had the energy to write through it all.

My sister is dying – a slow and debilitating decline from cancer. Although my days are filled with tending grandbabies and keeping our family business running smoothly, my sister is constantly a sad presence in my soul. I have discovered there is an emotional bond between sisters that I wasn’t aware of until now. She is always on my mind and in my heart.

She is much younger than me, and we weren’t close at all until our mother died a few years ago. Now, I am thankful for the good years we have shared, but I am astonished at the strength of this bond I am feeling. My joy in life right now is shadowed by the knowledge that she is confined to bed, unable to move her legs, and in pain.

As I sit here tonight and listen to the tiny sparrows chattering in the ivy – a moment that fills my soul with pleasure – I think of her in her bed and feel anguish.

I loved both of my parents and cared for them as they slowly died of debilitating diseases, but my sister’s decline has been much more traumatic for me. My faith in a God who loves us and my years of gardening and enjoying the cycles of nature have led me to the acceptance of death, but, somehow, my sister’s dying is breaking my heart.

So, tonight I sit in my comfortable wicker chair –the sparrows have settled quietly into the ivy for the night, a mourning dove is cooing nearby, and thunder is once again rumbling in the distance – sounds of nature that are my delight and bring peace to my soul. I try to concentrate on the serenity of this moment in this beloved haven of mine. But, I still somehow feel my sister’s pain and anxiety as she lies in her bed across town, waiting to die --

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And Lucas Walked

Lucas walked today. He has been trying to walk for a few weeks, gaining balance and confidence bit by bit. For the past week or so, he has grabbed onto our fingers at every opportunity so he could walk back and forth, back and forth, wherever he wanted to go. Suddenly this morning I was standing in the kitchen cleaning up from breakfast and Luke came walking slowly across the dining room, a huge grin of pride on his face, and collapsed into my arms in laughter.

What a shining moment in his little life – and I am so glad that he was here with me, to be applauded with love and pride for his accomplishment.

Caring for two babies is no small chore for an almost-sixty grandmother. Often by the end of the day I am bone-tired and frazzled. My hair is tangled, my make-up long worn off, and my clothing spotted with the remnants of breakfast and lunch. There are days when both babies are cheerful and contented, eating well, napping on “schedule” and playing together peacefully. But there are also the other days – the days of whining and tears, interrupted naps, pushing and hair-pulling, and the constant need for Grandma’s loving arms and lap.

But, I share a bond with Luke and Alivia that is more valuable than anything else I could be doing at this point in my life. I am providing love, affection, security, and guidance, and I am receiving the most precious hugs and kisses in return. Today we shared an incredibly beautiful April afternoon – picking flowers, watching the birds, taking a walk. It was idyllic. They bask in the unconditional love of their grandmother, and I hold their chubby little hands, kiss their precious faces, and marvel at the perfection of these children of my children.

Lucas walked today, and I was there to share in his exuberant joy. He wasn’t in day care – one of many other little ones whose milestones are noted by strangers. He was here with his grandmother – and he felt like his accomplishment was the most important thing in the world – which it was to me!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Garden Blessings

I sit on the back porch in my comfortable old wicker chair, my mug of freshly brewed coffee at hand, and listen to the early morning concert of birdsong. The past few weeks have gone by in a blur -- too much work and too little time for these quiet moments of introspection which are so essential to my emotional well-being. April has passed quickly, and my lovely garden has gone from tiny sprouts dotting the brown soil to a landscape of tender green plants, with colorful patches of spring flowers. The trees are a froth of tiny leaves, which will soon provide a soothing canopy of shade.

I feel closest to God in my garden. This miracle of rebirth each April is a tremendous reassurance of our own immortality. There are numerous lessons to be learned in the garden. Patience was never one of my virtues. However, years of tending tiny new perennials and waiting for them to reach maturity -- holding my breath each spring to see if the purple lilac bush will finally flower, or if the roses will cover the new fence with profuse blooms -- have demanded a patience that now serves me well. There are also lessons of loss. Gardens evolve over time -- a sunny plot becomes shaded by growing trees. Much-loved plants die off, and are often replaced with new surprises carried into the garden on gentle breezes, or by our feathered friends. Yesterday I discovered three rosebushes along the fence that didn't make it through our long winter. I had planted several roses there three years ago, fed them, watered them, pruned them, loved them -- and now these three are gone. Today I will transplant some from another area which has become too shady. But, it will be sad to pull the withered brown stems from the earth -- their lushness now only a memory.

Our gardens are continually at the mercy of the forces of nature. A lovely summer day can suddenly erupt into a hailstorm which destroys acres of crops. A gust of wind can topple the tallest tree, and the landscape is forever altered. A gentle summer rain can nourish a drought-parched garden and save its precious bounty for the season.

The lessons of a garden are often hard-earned, but they are a metaphor of life. We gardeners quickly become aware of how little control we have over our own destiny. Our lives are in God's hands as surely as the flowers in the garden. We are free to dream our dreams and make our choices, and yet God's plan for us is often very different, and our lives can sometimes abruptly take an unwelcome path. We must have faith that we will survive the losses, disappointments and darkness in our lives and know that ultimately the sun will shine on us again and our hearts will lighten. After the cold dark winter, God blesses us with sunshine, flowers, gentle spring breezes and the sweet songs of the birds. There is always hope in the garden.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Kristin Jennifer

My first baby was born thirty-five years ago today -- she never breathed her first gulp of air or emptied her lungs with a gusty cry. She was stillborn two months early. In those days, there were no ultrasounds to warn us that something was terribly wrong. By the time we realized there were serious issues, I had already begun my labor, and she was born quickly in the middle of the night. I was given anesthesia, and never allowed to see her or hold her -- in those days they didn't know how much a mother needed those final moments to touch and love the baby she had carried in her body and heart for all those months.

From the perspective of years and wisdom, I realize that with the severe mental and physical disabilities she had, it was probably a blessing that she didn't live. The doctor told me she was "imcompatible with life", and I have assured myself over the years that she is better off with God. On her birthday, though, I can't help but mourn what she could have been -- wondering what color her hair was, and her eyes, and thinking that if she had been healthy, she would probably have been a mother herself by now.

I will close with deep love, and wishes for a wonderful birthday in Heaven today, and with a poem that has touched my heart and perfectly describes the anguish of all mothers who hold these precious lost babies in our hearts forever.

The Lost Children

the ones we never speak of --
miscarried, unborn,
removed by decree,
taken too soon, crossed over.
They slip red mittens in our hands,
smell of warm wet wool,
are always out of sight.
We glimpse them on escalators,
over the shoulders of dark-haired women,
they return to us in dreams.
We hold them, as they evanesce;
we never speak their names.
How many children do you have?
Two, we answer, thinking three,
or three, we answer, thinking four;
they are always with us.
The lost children
come to us
at night
and whisper
in the shells
of our ears.
They are waving goodbye
on schoolbuses,
they are separated from us
in stadiums,
they are lost in shopping malls
with unspeakable pools,
they disappear on beaches,
they shine at night in the stars.

By Barbara Crooker, from Motherhood: Journey Into Love



Monday, March 9, 2009

The Birthday Celebration

As I click onto my blog tonight I realize that I haven’t written since January. I have noticed in life that I am moved to write when I am happy or angry or reflective, but I have seldom written during periods of true sadness. This winter has been a long and worrisome season. There have been health worries, serious financial worries, and a general feeling of anxiety, fatigue and overwhelming stress.

Tonight, though, I am writing in sadness. Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday – March 10 – and it brings with it memories of the woman who was my source of unconditional love and the model I emulated throughout my own motherhood journey. Each year on her birthday I think of her and miss her. As I raised my own children, I was disappointed that she was not the attentive grandmother I had envisioned, and she and I did not spend as much time together as I would have liked, but once my children were older, each year on her birthday we would plan a special outing for the two of us. Some years we strolled the streets of Saratoga and ate lunch at Professor Moriarty’s. Other years we visited Stockbridge and Great Barrington and had lunch at some special little restaurant. We had tea in a Ballston Spa shop one year and lunch by the fire at a cozy apple orchard.

My mother died in 2001, and my sister and I, who had never been close, comforted each other and developed a strong and loving friendship. We continued the birthday tradition. Each year, as close to March 10 as possible, we celebrated my mother’s birthday together. Usually we carried on the tradition of lunch in Saratoga or Stockbridge. Some years time was limited and we would enjoy a local lunch together and toast our mother with a glass of good wine. And, we celebrated our relationship.

Little did I know that last year would be our final luncheon celebration. This year my sister is dying of cancer. Later this week, I will sit with her in her living room at lunchtime and we can reminisce a bit as she picks at her food, and we will remember those happier times – but my heart is not in it – my heart is broken.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Our Mothers' Voices

Saturday afternoon I went to an Estate Sale – a favorite pastime of mine – and bought a lovely old tablecloth and napkins. As I smoothed out the soft, worn cotton and refolded it to put it away, I thought, “Wait until Mom sees these napkins at our next family dinner.” The “Mom” I was referring to is my mother-in-law, who, unfortunately, has suffered a tremendous physical and mental decline from Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. She will never again gaze with pleasure at one of my pretty table settings. Generally now, she is begging to go home before dinner is even cooked.

For over thirty years, though, we celebrated holidays and family birthdays together, and she taught me many of the fine points of entertaining and setting a beautiful table. And now, it saddens me that she is no longer able to give encouragement and approval to the efforts her daughter and I make to create warmth and atmosphere for these special occasions. Every time I prepare a special meal and set the table with my lovely china, I think of her.

And, of course, these thoughts led to deeper reflection. Little girls are influenced from their earliest years by the special women in their lives – mothers, grandmothers, aunts – and their voices linger in our heads long after their physical presence is gone. If we are fortunate, these voices are uplifting and give us strength.

My grandmother lovingly taught me “ladylike” behavior for a girl of the 1950’s. She taught me how to cook one winter when my mother was bedridden with back problems. She shared her superstitions, which haunt me to this day. Somehow she always made this tall, awkward little girl feel beautiful and loved.

My mother, by example, showed me how to be a loving, compassionate person and to mother with unconditional love. She shared her wisdom and knowledge, and enveloped me in gentleness, kindness and security. She taught me to love books and to cherish my individuality. She gave me the courage to follow my own path in life and to savor the astounding beauty to be found in quiet moments.

My aunt loved me so thoroughly that I considered her my “second” mother. I loved sleeping over at her house with my cousins and feeling so totally at home.

My great-aunt inspired my love of cooking and baking and creating a warm and welcoming home. She was a small-town schoolteacher, but in my eyes she was the epitome of social grace. I still have her old recipe cards with her handwriting in faded ink, which always remind me of the delicious aromas of baking which filled her home.

Being the nervous and anxious person that I am, I will always remember my Godmother telling me near the end of her life, how she realized that ultimately most of the things she worried so much about through her lifetime never came to pass. I try to remind myself of this as I worry and fret.

And so, this blog is dedicated to all women who give their best to the people they love, but especially to these women whose love and caring follow me through each day, and whose voices will forever remain in my heart.