Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Musings

The morning was quiet and cloudy as I rose early on this Sunday before Christmas, at the moment when day is breaking and gentle light filters through my neighbor's pine trees.  I have not written a blog entry in over a month.  I have been so busy that my moments of quiet contemplation have been few.  The weeks have flown past, filled with preparations for Christmas, office work, and the tasks of reconfiguring our home to accommodate a new apartment for my daughter.  Our plans to sell our home and build an apartment on her house were too expensive, so now she will move back here for a time, leaving her own house and the dreams she envisioned there.  We are casualties of this terrible economy, which has taken its toll on so many people; there are usually no pleasant solutions to the individual struggles of its victims.  While I am relieved to be staying in my own beloved house, I grieve for my daughter's loss of the home she loves.

In the midst of the chaos of reconfiguring our house to include a separate, private apartment -- the moving and sorting and decisions of what to keep and what to let go -- I have also found the time to savor this most lovely of seasons.  The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of my favorites.  While my time has been limited, and I am ashamed to admit I have baked only one batch of Christmas cookies with my grandchildren, and they were mediocre at best, I have managed to trim my small Christmas tree, place a single candle in each of my front windows, and fill the house with my treasured decorations.

Family time has been frequent, though.  We gathered for Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law's lovely home, celebrated my 60th birthday with a delicious dinner at my son's house, celebrated my daughter-in-law's birthday with a take-out meal, and spent a late Sunday afternoon sorting through decorations of long-ago Christmases to divide among my children and grandchildren.

Last Saturday we gathered my husband's father, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin and their families for a glorious evening of good food, conversation and laughter - a memory to cherish.  This past Friday night, we joined my cousin, her husband, and my son's mother and father-in-law for dinner at The Century House in Latham.  The dining room was warmed by a crackling fire and decorated with exquisite arrangements of greens, ribbons and tiny white lights.  The food was scrumptious, and we were shocked when we realized we had lingered for three hours, talking and catching up.  How wonderful it is that our in-laws are truly family. 

Late this morning, my God-child, her husband, and her parents stopped to pick up an antique sewing machine that I have no room for now.  Her mother, one of my best friends, and her grandmother were both wonderful seamstresses, and I hope that this sewing machine will always bring her special memories of the women in her life.  What a wonderful few minutes we spent reminiscing.

When I was young, Christmas was all about Santa Claus and gifts.  As a young mother, I spent the season making memories for my children -- baking cookies and gingerbread houses, sending lists to Santa, visiting the tree farm for a live tree, setting up the nativity set, attending Christmas Eve services by candlelight, and reading "The Night Before Christmas" before bedtime.  The weeks before Christmas were spent in a rush of shopping for just the right gifts, and the anticipation of my own gifts under the tree woke me early in the morning.

Now, however, the focus of Christmas for me has evolved into a calmer, quieter joy.  Due to economic necessity, I have cut back seriously on gift exchanges, so my own pile under the tree is very small.  Instead, I find my enchantment in the lovely decorations, the candlelight and the music, gentle snowfalls, the gathering together of loved ones, and the wonder of that birth in a little stable which brought the message of love and peace to our troubled world. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Love and Loss

My mother-in-law passed away last weekend. Her death was sudden and unexpected, though she had been ill for six years, trapped in a body and mind that incrementally deteriorated to the point that she was immobile, and spent portions of her days wondering where she was and wandering in thought to her childhood. She was tended to lovingly and faithfully at home by my father-in-law. Her death leaves a large void in our family. 

As we have passed through this week, I have thought a great deal about grief – about the process and the ways in which we express and internalize our grief. I have grieved for my mother-in-law for years now, as the woman we knew slowly slipped away from us – in the final year or two her place was empty at our celebrations because it had become too difficult and painful for her to be moved from place to place, and the chatter and bustle around her was disorienting and disturbing to her. She was the matriarch of our family, and celebrations without her were touched with sadness for me.

Now, though, we are dealing with the grief that comes with the finality of death. And, we each must deal with this grief in our own way. The words of comfort from loved ones and friends are behind us now, and we settle back into daily life with a long journey of personal grieving ahead of us all.

In my experience, I have found that every person grieves in his own unique way. There are people who cry openly and inconsolably, and those with a stoicism that does not allow tears. Some talk about the loss of their loved one to everyone who will listen; others find it difficult to talk at all. My grief tends to be a private grief. I dread the wake and the funeral, because talking about the person I loved brings tears and sorrow – although I appreciate the comfort of hugs and love, I prefer to grieve quietly. In fact, after my parents died, I couldn’t even talk about them for months without tears, so I held them closely in my heart and carried on with daily life. I strongly believe that I will be reunited with those that I love some day, and this makes my grief easier to bear.

Grief is cumulative -- once the devastating emotions of fresh grief have softened, we carry the remnants of grief with us forever. Years later, a memory or a lyric from a song can once more release fresh tears of loss. We don’t stop loving, and we really never “complete” the grieving process. We carry the love and the memories in our hearts forever; our family gatherings bring new faces and new love, but the empty chairs are always there in our hearts. We don’t forget – we move on and live our lives – lives that are richer for the knowing and loving of those we’ve lost. They are always a part of us and their love still enfolds us. And the grief that was unbearably painful finds a quiet place in our hearts to linger gently forever.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Leaving Home

The house is quiet this morning -- my little grandson sits on the living room carpet with his new building blocks.  The view from my window is of clouds, drizzle, and the last leaves of autumn slowly drifting to the ground.  This season is a soothing one for me -- the craziness of summer is past and we have all adjusted to the more scheduled routine of fall. 

On Wednesday I accompanied my granddaughter on a preschool field trip to a pumpkin farm, and yesterday I made Halloween cupcakes -- with a grandchild on each side stirring and licking the batter from wooden spoons.  My memories drift to Halloweens long past, when I was creating holiday memories for their fathers and their aunt.  I remember the years of costume-making and parties, and the pleasure of reconnecting with neighbors as we trekked from house to house to Trick or Treat.

This autumn I find myself at a crossroad.  Our family has struggled in today's difficult economy, and this may very well be the last holiday season I will celebrate in my beloved old house.  Our options are limited.  We are hopeful that we will be able to sell our house and build a small little inlaw apartment at my daughter's house.  Hopefully, it will simplify our financial lives, as well as provide us with a lovely little cottage to shelter us as we age.  It is exciting to think of building something new -- an open floor plan with a cozy loft for my bedroom and my books, a place for my grandchildren to sleep over, and a sparkling new kitchen.  The view from my windows will be of trees, grass, and inky night skies filled with starlight.

But, and there is a huge "but", my heart breaks to think of leaving this large old Victorian that has sheltered our family for so long.  The memories of almost two-thirds of my life linger within these walls.  This house has long been filled with children, pets, friends and family.  It has been the gathering place for countless holiday celebrations, summer picnics, everyday family meals, and quiet conversations with loved ones at the kitchen table.  While many of these friends and family have either moved on or passed on, I hold special memories of them all in my heart, and often picture their beloved faces at the table as I work in my kitchen alone.  There have been wonderful times in this house, but there has also been sorrow, and in times of sorrow, its walls draw around me and offer comfort and sanctuary.

Tears flow as I walk through my gardens -- my personal source of peace.  I have worked so hard to create my own little oasis here.  The stresses of a difficult marriage and a struggling family business have worn me down emotionally, and the solitude of my beloved porch and gardens soothes my spirit.  I have placed the stones in the walks, and around the little pond, painted the white picket fences, and lovingly tended the trees and plants that thrive heartily.  I feel as if I am leaving part of myself here.

I have to accept that it may be time to move on.  Sometimes in life we have to follow a new path.  It will be much better for me if I look forward to this move with optimism and anticipation.  I will design my little cottage in loving detail, begin plans for new gardens -- bringing along some of my precious perennials and cuttings from my flowering shrubs.  I will pack away the treasures I intend to pass along to my grandchildren, and look forward to a new kitchen with a sunny window for fresh herbs, and a lovely loft area with shelves for my books and teddy bear collection.  I will have a new, smaller back porch for sipping my morning coffee. 

But, this old house of mine is like a long-loved friend.  Leaving it will be heart-wrenching.  I can only pray that I find a buyer who will treasure it as I do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Family Moments

I stand quietly in the French doorway as Alivia's Mom holds her hands and gently leads her through the cha-cha steps on the dance floor. Alivia's flower girl dress billows around her, and it is a mother-daughter moment her other grandmother tries to capture with a click of her camera. This was a moment to treasure in a day filled with such moments -- the wedding day of Alivia's uncle.

On this glorious September day we gathered as a picture-perfect family -- the affection, the laughter, the happy tears. These days are the reward for carefully nurturing family bonds. Below the silky smooth surface, however, lies all the drama of family -- the hurt, anger, and disappointment that is so much a part of every family saga. Somehow, the bonds of family hold us together despite our differences. While there are times we can't begin to understand each other, we share a history and links of genes and love that offer us security and comfort in this cold world.

A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected gift in the mail. I carefully opened the box and gently lifted out a most incredibly lovely afghan. There was a note from my cousin. She and her sisters had each contributed crocheted blocks and created this beautiful gift in memory of my sister. I had been especially missing my sister as the anniversary of her death passed earlier this summer, and the afghan brought me a tremendous sense of comfort. As I snuggle into its softness, I can feel the warm thoughts and prayers woven into each block.

This summer has been filled with special moments -- a Fourth of July party at a cousin's house with family members I seldom see, a graduation party for another cousin, the announcement that I will become a grandmother again next spring, a lovely dinner with a beloved uncle and his family -- it is always a joy to reconnect with loved ones and enjoy these gatherings.

At the wedding yesterday I sat with the groom's mother -- my close friend for over thirty years and my son's mother-in-law -- and the groom's grandmother whom I love dearly. She is in her 80's and now has twenty-eight great-grandchildren, and she never misses a family celebration. I looked out over the tables at the faces of these children I have loved for so many years -- now grown up with children of their own. What a gift it is to feel your heart bursting with love!!

These special days in the lives of our families are over much too quickly, and we return to the struggles of day-to-day life. We are stressed, hurtful words are spoken, we suffer disappointments and losses, and we sometimes forget how blessed we are to be part of our extended families. But blessed we are!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Supper With The Ducklings

The August evening was gentle and carried hints of summer days which begin to slip away like pearls from a string by mid-August. When school is over in June, summer lies before us as limitless possibility, but all too soon dusk falls earlier each evening, and there is a subtle shift in the season which reminds us that much of summer is now behind us.

This summer has been uncomfortably humid in upstate New York, and there have been many worrisome issues on my mind and much work to be done, so July and early August have passed by without as much pleasure as I had anticipated in June. There have been some wonderful and memorable moments with my two little grandchildren. We spent a morning at Adirondack Animal Land, a wonderful little zoo which is perfectly charming for preschoolers. We celebrated Alivia's birthday at Hoffman's Playland -- a local amusement park which is a long-time landmark. Watching Luke and Alivia together on the rides was precious -- they share a deep love and caring for each other, which I hope will continue as they grow up. From my own experience, I know what a treasure a beloved cousin can be as we journey through life.

The past couple of weeks I have been physically and emotionally exhausted, and last night when my husband suggested dinner out I was thrilled. While the economy has severely limited our "entertainment" budget, we have managed a few meals at one of our favorite summertime restaurants, Yanni's at Coeymans Landing. This restaurant is a retreat of sorts on the banks of the Hudson River. There is a large, covered open-air deck, complete with paddle fans for warm nights, and portable heaters for chilly evenings. Boats from the adjoining boat club are moored directly in front of the restaurant, so as we sit, my husband can dream his dreams of sailing his days away, and I can enjoy the soothing water and dense treeline on the opposite shore. The food is scrumptious -- New England clam chowder that can't be matched; baskets of fried shrimp, scallops, oysters, etc., and in season, delectable fried zucchini. Of course, there are also more heart-healthy alternatives, but these are my splurges for the season.

Last evening, as I sat on the deck, savoring the chowder and a glass of pinot grigio, I was blessed with the sight of a mother duck and six fluffy little babies wobbling towards our table. Of course I know that you are not supposed to feed the ducks, but I couldn't resist those fluffy little faces, and I opened a package of oyster crackers for them. What pleasure it was to watch those precious creatures savoring the crackers like they were a gift from Heaven. It was the highlight of my evening to stroke the soft feathery down of those babies.

As the stresses of life seem to close in, and we feel that possibly the best in life is behind us and there are no solutions to the problems we face or the worries we carry, it is most important to spend some time outside -- to savor the sights, sounds, and scents of nature -- and to allow our souls to be soothed by God's gift of beauty that surrounds us in each season. While many people find God's spirit in grand cathedrals, I feel his spirit most strongly in the quiet breeze that caresses my cheek and in the trusting face of a fluffy duckling.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Missing Carol

I find cemeteries to be peaceful sanctuaries, whether they are crammed into the congestion of suburbia, or sitting silently beside woods and fields. I have always felt comfort in a cemetery -- its quiet little plots holding generations that have gone before us to the peace of eternal life.

Several years ago I began some genealogical research which led me to cemeteries in rural New York -- some in the farmland of Delaware and Schoharie counties and some in the wooded mountains of Warren County. One cemetery, in particular, in Harpersfield, felt like a family reunion with ancestors dating back to the early 1800's. In the silence of a sunny July morning, I felt a welcome of sorts as I touched the engravings of those who have passed on before me.

Wild thyme graces the cemeteries in Warrensburg and Chestertown, as it does in several local cemeteries. Walking slowly over a carpet of thyme releases its pungent aroma, as its tiny flowers create a blanket of purple over the gravesites. The deep stillness in the cemetery in Chestertown where I found my great-great grandparents was broken only by occasional birdsong.

Yesterday I bought two tiny iron crosses. I drove to the quaint little country cemetery where my stillborn baby girl lies, and placed one cross on her grave. Someday, I too, will be with her on that gentle hillside.

Then, I visited my sister's grave in another local cemetery and placed a cross by her stone. Next week will be the first anniversary of her death, and I have found myself painfully reliving the memories of her last weeks of life. After her long suffering, I was filled more with a sense of relief than grief when she finally died. The grief has come incrementally through the past year -- her birthday, the first Christmas without her, the multitude of tiny reminders that make missing her a continuing process. These next few days will be difficult, but once they are over, I will have passed all the milestones of the first year, and hopefully, the pain will begin to lessen a bit.

She lays now in the midst of carpets of thyme, beside our parents, overlooking the middle school she attended, and I trust that she is at peace now and watching over me as I place the tiny cross, tell her I love her, and walk slowly back to my car in the soothing cemetery silence.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers' Day Memories

At 4:00 AM I woke from sleep to thunder rumbling and lightning flickering -- it was not a frightening storm, but as it lingered I was unable to get back to sleep. As a child I was terrified of thunderstorms, always fearing that this would be the storm when lightning would strike us -- pretty morbid thoughts for a child -- but I am a worrier by nature, descending from a long line of worriers.

Somehow, I always felt a measure of safety and security when my father was home. In my eyes he was all-knowing and strong, and could protect us from all harm as long as he was there. As I lay awake listening to the storm this morning -- Fathers' Day morning -- I pondered my relationship with my father.

I don't believe he really enjoyed fatherhood --I think he loved my mother deeply, and would have been content to have remained childless. I was never "Daddy's Girl", and always had an awareness that I irritated him on some level. I was talkative, affectionate, and needy -- he much preferred my sister who was reserved and quiet, as he was. Fortunately, my mother filled the empty spaces of my soul with her love and affection, but I remain to this day somewhat of a "pleaser", always striving to be "liked". I believe this is because I tried so hard to earn my father's affections.

He was a good man -- honest, hardworking, loyal -- the quintessential father of the fifties, whose children complain endlessly about their lack of fatherly attention and affection. He chose a simple life -- working as a mechanic, though his intellect would have allowed him to achieve much greater status. He taught me to be true to my own inner voice and to take pride in what I accomplished, even if those accomplishments were not highly regarded in the world.

He disciplined fairly and firmly, and could correct our behavior by his tone of voice with much more success than men who ruled by harsher forms of discipline. He passed on his love of nature and his contentment with the daily routines of life. He greeted each day with a smile, and, though realistic, was an optimist at heart.

He worked twelve hour days and six hours on Saturdays, and looked forward with relief to retirement at sixty-two. However, his retirement was not to be the peaceful respite he longed for. He developed emphysema and died a slow, debilitating death four years later. Watching my strong, capable father weaken and become dependent on others for his day to day care was heartwrenching for me.

As I pass through this day, I will think of him in a better place -- now joined by my mother and my sister -- and thank him for the strength of character he passed on to me.

Happy Fathers' Day, Daddy!!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Of Pelicans and Greed

It is the sight of the pelicans drenched with oil, trying desperately to free themselves from this unknown predator, which is my undoing -- my heart breaks as I watch them struggle valiantly and finally lie exhausted in the muck.

This is the tip of the iceberg, as such, in the tragedy of this massive oil leak. We mourn the men who were killed and injured in the original explosion, the almost certain destruction of the ecosystem of the rich marshes which nestle along the beautiful Gulf Coast, and the disastrous economic toll on this area which relies so heavily on the fishing and tourist industries.

The greatest tragedy of all is that this is a man-made disaster -- one born of tremendous greed and the overwhelming haste so prevalent in our corporate world today. As our industries strive constantly to make more money more quickly, sacrifices are made, and most often these sacrifices trample on safety and environmental regulations. Time and again, after an accident, it is discovered that the company involved had a poor safety record, or even blatantly ignored government regulations or warnings from employees. The recent mine explosion in West Virginia is a perfect example -- so many miners killed and families grieving, because the higher powers decided to let serious safety issues slide.

And yet, we let these large corporations go blithely on, amassing their billions of dollars in wealth, while trampling the safety of our two most valuable resources -- human beings and the natural environment which sustains us all.

As a society, we must be cognizant of the fact that not only are regulations needed to protect our workers and our environment, but there must be strong oversight as well. We must not, in our race for "homegrown" energy sources, let greed usurp sound judgment and painstaking research. Before we mindlessly drill for natural gas in New York State, we need to seriously listen to the possible effects of this drilling on the water supplies for New York City and other areas. Before we hurriedly construct more offshore drilling sites, we must make sure that safety is the priority. We can't afford to contaminate more of our oceans with oil. Instead of disparagingly viewing environmentalists as "tree-huggers," we need to listen to their concerns as we grant corporations the right to tamper with our beautiful environment.

We must be aware that the majority of large corporations today have only one goal in mind-- to make money and lots of it!! Capitalism and the free market brought wealth and power to our great nation; unbridled greed and lack of regard for our people and resources may well be our downfall.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Evening Reveries

Dusk has settled, the sparrows have finished scuffling for their resting spots in the ivy, and the only sounds in the neighborhood are the sleepy notes of evening bird calls. I love this old porch and the cool seclusion it provides -- shaded by towering maples and the trellis of ivy. But, I especially love it in these evening hours, as I sit alone with my journal -- thinking back on the day that is quickly becoming night.

I rose early this morning, still a bit achy from my busy Saturday -- a day filled with lawn mowing, gardening, grocery shopping, and hours of office work. As I sipped my coffee and read the thick Sunday paper, I savored this gift of a lovely Sunday. Of course, there was cleaning and laundry to be done, and still more office work, but there was also time to water the garden and feed the birds, to rescue a beautiful old rocking horse from the attice for the grandbabies to discover tomorrow morning, and to enjoy Sunday lunch at a favorite restaurant.

We sat in the courtyard of Lanie's, under a cheerful yellow umbrella, beside a planter filled with flowers and herbs, as I sipped my wine and savored a delectable seafood chowder. My marinated swordfish sandwich with dilled mayonnaise and a side of tasty macaroni salad was perfect, and the leisurely hour enjoying the sunny May afternoon was a relaxing interlude. These past weeks have been filled with tremendous stresses and problems, and this quiet Sunday will be a treasured memory.

Now, darkness has fallen -- the bird calls have ceased, and the air is filled instead with the chirping of insects and perhaps a distant frog, as well as the contented clucks of my next-door chickens as they settle in for the night. Such a peaceful and lovely evening!

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this day --

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Dress

The dress has a long-sleeved bodice of heavily crocheted mushroom-colored lace, with a long, flowing chiffon skirt of a slightly lighter shade. It is breathtaking. As I looked through my closet for garage sale items, this dress was hanging peacefully in the back. It was my "mother of the groom" dress in 1998, and it was the dress that made me feel really beautiful for the first time in my life. I gently took the dress from the closet and placed it with the other clothing, with tears in my eyes. There is really no reason to keep it -- my lifestyle does not include formal gatherings where a dress of this elegance is required. But, how do I part with something that gives me such exquisite pleasure to merely touch.

In the pile it went, as I got down to the real business of preparing for the sale. For the rest of the evening, though, each time I looked at it, I was reminded of its importance in my memories. I am a tall, big-boned woman, whose shape has been "matronly" from puberty on. My family was relatively poor, so the clothing I was allowed to buy as a teenage certainly was not flattering. The sleeves were always too short, the belts a little too tight, and the slacks never long enough. My hair was drab brown and shapeless, and I was the girl that people described by saying, "She has such a pretty face; if only she wasn't so big." People can be cruel, whether unwittingly or deliberately, to a young girl who doesn't fit the prescribed mold.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom, and with a limited income, I never had extra money to spend on my own clothing -- every clothing dollar went to outfitting three children. I never thought much about myself in those days. I had lost quite a bit of weight as I chased little ones around, so it wasn't as difficult to find clothing that fit. As long as my clothes were clean, my hair washed, and my make up on, I felt fit to face the day.

However, when I saw that dress at the bridal shop on the sale rack, I fell in love. The crocheted lace sleeves covered my wrists and actually brushed my hands with their softness. The chiffon skirts flowed as I walked, and it was so long I actually needed it hemmed a bit to avoid tripping. I felt like Cinderella! The day of the wedding I had my hair done in an upsweep, and as I waltzed through my son's special day, I felt absolutely beautiful. Of course, the wedding pictures told the true tale, and I didn't look as beautiful as I had felt, but that brief feeling of beauty will remain in my heart forever.

You guessed it -- the dress is now hanging back in my closet. I smoothed the lace gently, ran my hands over the ever so delicate chiffon, and tucked it safely away again. How can you possibly put a price on such sublime sentiment!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Garage Sales That Break Your Heart

Lines from a long-ago popular Robert Goulet song keep running through my mind tonight – “If ever I would leave you, how could it be in springtime, Knowing how in spring, I’m bewitched by you so”.

Today was the first garage sale of our household cleanout. We plan to work diligently this summer to gather together the accumulation of forty years of items that are not necessary to our daily existence, and sell them at semi-weekly garage sales. This is not a pleasurable chore; It is not as if I am looking forward to selling our house and retiring to some long dreamed-of location. This is a sale in anticipation of losing this house that has been in my husband’s family for almost 75 years and that holds my heart deeply in its grip.

Life is unpredictable, and things could suddenly take a turn for the better financially. Our family business might ultimately survive this terrible economy; to be realistic, though, we must begin to clean out forty years’ of “things”. I must reconcile myself to watching strangers leave with some of the treasures I have collected through the years.

This past week has been tough – our business lost a large project to another company in a truly unethical deal, which is typical of today’s business climate. And, we spent much of the week preparing for this garage sale.

There were two defining moments for me today. One of the items I placed for sale was a lovely eyeglass holder that had been a gift to me several years ago. I priced it and laid it out on the table sadly, and today a sweet woman, who is herself a “collector”, as I am, said to me, “this is so beautiful, I think you should keep it.” In the end, though, she bought it, and she reassured me that it was going to a “good home”.

As we were putting the finishing touches on the garage sale early this morning, I looked out over my gardens – the plants that were so tiny three weeks ago are now covering the garden with green. They seem to grow inches each day. I think back over the years I have spent planting and tending and loving my trees and gardens and birds, and the strains of Robert Goulet’s song played in my heart, “If ever I would leave you, how could it be in springtime….”

I don’t want to leave this house – I have been totally content here for almost forty years. It may be outdated and weathered, and my gardens and my possessions may not mean anything to others, but they mean the world to me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Ponderings

March has been a tough month for my family. There have been worrisome health issues with my grandchildren, financial problems that worsen daily, a stomach flu that passed through and left all of us shaky and weak for several days, and the increasing stress of competing in today's uncertain business world. My mother's birthday -- March 10 -- was especially sad for me this year because my sister was not here to remember her with me. Tomorrow -- March 22, would be the 36th birthday of my stillborn daughter, and this day is always painful for me.

March itself is one of the least favorite months to many of us in the Northeast. We live suspended between winter and spring -- a seesaw ride -- as spring breathes its first stirrings of warm air and snowdrops, and then retreats quickly to a cover of wet snow. It is a month of mud, bare trees, brown grass and disappointments.

This past week, though, spring won the battle for a few days. I took the babies for walks in the warmth of the March sunshine. Friday afternoon I left my office work undone and raked all the leaf mulch from my front gardens. As always, I was filled with wonder at the tiny green plants forming already despite the cold darkness of heavy, wet leaf cover. The lilacs and roses have tiny buds -- while we may wonder if spring will ever truly be here, these plants are certain that God will not fail us. We still have a long way to go, and I still have several flower gardens left to uncover, but, finally, the spirit of spring is within me.

Last night was a highlight of this month -- a surprise 30th birthday party for my beloved nephew. What a wonderful evening it was. When we were younger, these large family gatherings were frequent and sometimes thrown together at the last moment. As our families have grown and the pace of our world has become more hectic, we find that we gather only for these milestone celebrations now. But it is wonderful to be together again -- to laugh and hug and see our babies grown now into young adults, some with babes of their own.

My sister-in-law put together a lovely video which made tears flow as we watched our little ones transform before our eyes, saw ourselves young once again, and savored the faces of loved ones no longer with us.

As a family, we are a rich tapestry of personalities, woven together by the bonds of blood and love, and I left the party last night grateful to my mother-in-law and her sister and brother who kept the traditions of their family alive and passed them down to us all - a gift that enriches all of our lives -- and a family where love abides.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

God Bless the Stay-at-Home Mom!

It has been my perception since the years when I was a stay-at-home mom that our society does not respect women who choose to spend their days tending their children instead of joining the world of work. In my mind, the “Mommy Wars” have become irrelevant, because we have seen that a child’s ultimate character is determined by the quality of parenting – the love, emotional support and encouragement given by parents; the children of the 70’s and 80’s who were raised by parents who carefully tended to their needs and development are now successful adults, whether or not their mothers were home with them.

That being said, I have chosen to care for my own grandchildren during the day because I prefer that they spend these early, formative years with someone who loves them and has an emotional investment in their futures. Fortunately, with the help of their other grandmothers and a loving family friend, I have been able to care for them and attend to my own duties in our family business, as well.

However, as I have once again become immersed in the “dailyness” of child care, I would like to extend my support and encouragement to all of today’s stay-at-home moms. I’m sure many of you sense this lack of respect for your choice. It is manifested in several ways. There are the snide comments from working mothers who say, “I could never be home all day – what do you do – aren’t you bored?” Some husbands are less than supportive because they feel their wives don’t “really work”. And, there is the unintentional lack of respect for a mother’s time – the requests from working mothers to shuttle their children around, drop off the forgotten book to them, or pick up the sick child from school.

When I began caring for my first grandbaby in 2007, it had been five years since my youngest child graduated from high school. I was far removed from the daily world of babies and preschoolers – my memories of those days were rose-colored and blurred. In the past 2-1/2 years, I have been struck once again by the enormity of the job. I have these precious toddlers for 9-1/2 hours a day, and I am exhausted by the time they leave – looking forward to a glass of wine, a good dinner, and the silence of my office. The full-time mom still has hours of work ahead before the last child is tucked into bed and finally asleep.

It is this “dailyness” of child care that is so demanding – fix breakfast (with the help of my granddaughter), answer questions, wash faces and hands, turn on a DVD for them to watch, clean the table, the chairs, the floor, change diapers and dress them for the day, pour juice into the “right” cups, answer questions, help with a craft activity, read to them, referee the hair-pulling fights, change diapers again, answer questions, pick up toys, fix lunch, answer questions, wash faces and hands, send them into the living room to play, clean the table, the chairs, pick up the macaroni pieces which are by now glued to the kitchen floor, change diapers, answer questions, pour milk into the “right” cups, put the Elmo naptime DVD in, gather the blankets, tuck them into their respective recliners, or rock them in my lap until they fall asleep, scurry around to finish some chores while they sleep, then once again change diapers, fix snack, answer questions, referee fights, play “Ring Around the Rosie” for the tenth time that day, work on our “letters”, pick up toys, and send them off with Dad or Mom, with kisses, hugs, and “one more kiss”.

Of course, as I am breathing a sigh of relief, the stay-at home mom still faces supper preparation and clean up, bathtime, and bedtime rituals before her day is over. And, more often than not, in addition to taking care of these little ones, mom has school age children as well.

So, if you are a stay-at-home mom, I send you my praise and appreciation for the job you are doing -- providing your children with the best possible childhood!!!

And, if you are a working mother, I know your life is difficult, too – a juggling act which tugs at your heart and your energy. Both of my daughters-in-law work full-time, and I see first-hand the effort they put into their jobs and their precious children. But, please be aware that the full-time moms you know are not enjoying a life of leisure.

And, if you are the husband of a stay-at-home mom, please look at her with love and appreciation, for she is working every minute of every day, tenderly caring for your most precious possessions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Musings

On this chill February morning I am dreaming of flowers -- not the perfect red Valentine roses filling the stores today in anticipation of being presented with a flourish to sweethearts of all ages. No, I am dreaming of the first tiny snowdrops I will carefully uncover from the leaf mulch by the end of this month, and the purple, yellow and white crocuses that will cluster beside my stone walk. I see the stately daffodils breezily gracing the front garden, and the lovely tulips that all too soon become dessert for the deer who visit my garden each night, and the purple and white lilacs which follow -- scenting the world around them with their sweetness, and the tiny lilies-of-the-valley snuggled under my old maple tree.

February has been cold; the ground is hard and bare -- the deep snows of 2010 have so far not made it to my little corner of upstate New York, so the traditionally snowy landscape of February has instead been brown, hard, and bone-chilling. That is the reality this year.

And, as all gardeners know, nature is whimsical. My flowered dreams of the spring to come may be "pie in the sky", also. We have had springs of perfection with softly warm breezes, sunlight, and a profusion of flowers. But, some years spring balks, and we are left with cold and mud, and the deer eat the tulips before their blossoms open.

But, for today, in the midst of this cold and bleak February, I will carry the visions of blossoms unfolding, lilacs perfuming the air, tender green leaf canopies on my beloved old trees, birdsong at dawn, and morning coffee on the porch. My spirits are lifting as I write --

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Hope of January

The kitchen clock read 4:38 PM, as I gazed out the window at the January landscape – the mourning doves, who love to visit the bird feeder at dusk, were quietly pecking at the dusting of new white snow – and soft afternoon light still lingered in the sky. The end of January heralds our journey to the other side of the winter solstice. Even though the wind was blowing in chillier Arctic air, the pale light was a harbinger of the spring to come. We still have a long way to go from the long, dark cold days of winter, but the light is steadily returning.

The past month has been stressful – health problems of my own, financial struggles, worrisome issues with my children, and many days tending to sick and cranky grandbabies. It has not been the best of times.

This coming week is the one-year anniversary of the day my sister told me she was dying. I have dreaded this date, and it is almost upon me. I have made it through her birthday and the first holidays without her, but I am finding myself reliving these awful weeks when I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and now I will feel once again the anguish and finality of knowing our remaining time together would be counted in months instead of years.

I have often been reminded in these six months since her death, of Joan Didion’s thoughts in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking. “All year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar: what were we doing on this day last year.” Once the first year had passed, she says, “I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John.”

This time will come for me, but for now, this next week will be the beginning of the worst memories – those of watching my sister’s decline. I am bracing myself for this. 2009 was a tough year for me, my family, many of my friends, and countless families in our country and beyond. We all hope that 2010 will bring happier times, but so far, those closest to me have not seen many glimmers of hope.

But, this afternoon as I gazed out at the powdery new snow, the contented mourning doves, and the pale whisper of spring to come, I was filled with the solace that life does go on – sometimes “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”, and our saving grace is our ability to transcend the worries and tragedies of our lives and once again laugh and marvel at the miracle and rebirth of spring, even in the midst of a January snow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's Save Our Country

I am seriously concerned about the direction our nation has been taking for the past couple of decades. I am not politically savvy – my knowledge of the workings of government is limited. My understanding of our economic system is very limited, and as we have moved toward a more global economy, I am even more perplexed. However, there are several issues that I believe are extremely important to the future of our country and our quality of life. I feel we must deal with these issues now.

Capitalism has served our country well, but in the past few decades, we have lost sight of the fact that, while this is still a land of great opportunity, more and more of our citizens are working hard, but falling further and further behind. Why are we unable to regulate an economic system that grants million dollar bonuses to corporate executives, while failing to provide a livable wage to millions of Americans? Many of these people, unfortunately, lack the intelligence, education or connections necessary to thrive in today’s workforce. While they work long, hard hours they must struggle to afford housing, transportation, health care, and other basic necessities. Shouldn’t our economic system provide a livable wage to anyone who labors daily at a job? Executives are making unprecedented salaries and bonuses, while many of their employees who are involved in the more mundane day to day functioning of the company are overworked and drastically underpaid for their loyalty, skill and effort.

Why is health care reform such a volatile issue? Everyone can see that our health care system is costly and inefficient. I firmly believe we need health care reform, but I’m not certain that the legislation currently on the table is the best solution. I believe a government option might help reign in insurance company profits, but I want assurance that I will be free to choose my own doctor and have timely access to care. I am also very worried about making health insurance mandatory, without an affordable government option, because I believe that most people already would pay for health insurance if they could afford it. If they can’t afford it now, I don’t see how they can afford it when it is mandatory, because the government subsidies spoken of don’t appear to cover the total cost of the insurance. Most importantly, though, we need health care reform desperately because health insurance is increasing at a rate that far surpasses the stagnant income of our average citizens. Unfortunately, I feel that the process for crafting this necessary legislation has been thwarted by Republicans who are determined to see the reform fail, as well as Democrats who steadfastly refuse to compromise their personal agendas within their own party, because they know that their individual votes are crucial to the passage of the legislation.

Why can’t our political parties begin to work together to solve the daunting problems of the 21st century? Why must every issue be “black and white”, with a sharp split along party lines? Why must each party work relentlessly to block any legislation proposed by the other party? Have we become a nation which puts political power above the needs and common good of society? We have intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle in our Congress and State legislatures. Both parties, while supporting distinctly different philosophies on most major issues, have terrific ideas for change and improvement. Why can’t they talk to each other and craft legislation that carries the best of both political philosophies? The two-party system seemed to serve us well for years – why can’t we once again strive for a middle ground? I believe that this “middle ground” probably holds the most hope to improve our nation and society in general. Leaning too far to the left or too far to the right upsets the balance that is necessary to maintain a nation of power and stability, which holds the common good of its citizens as a priority.

Last January, when we elected Barack Obama as President, I was filled with hope for a brighter future for our nation. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts to promote cooperation, a year later we are still mired in this ugly partisanship, which seems to place party loyalty above the common good. This must change.