Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All

I rose in the darkness this Christmas Eve morning.  After the utter exhaustion of caring for my three little ones for long days this week as they struggle with the crazed anticipation of pre-Christmas, I am thankful that my daughter-in-law is hosting Christmas Dinner tomorrow.  For almost forty years, Christmas dinner has been at my home, with numbers ranging from ten to twenty family and friends, and although I cherish the memories of those lovely Christmas gatherings, it is time to pass the torch - 

Today my "to-do" list is long, but manageable.  I will be wrapping some gifts, putting together a casserole and preparing sausage stuffing, simmering a delicious soup for my daughter to take to work for her 3:00 shift on Christmas Day, and trying to fit in a short nap to re-energize myself for Christmas Eve mass, and a late-night gathering at my nephew's house.

I love Christmas -- the music, the decorations, the warmth and love of this special season.  However, as deeply as I have enjoyed Christmas past, I have very few specific memories of gifts given and received.  There is one Christmas, however, that stands out from all others.  When I was growing up, we were quite poor -- not the poverty of so many today who cannot afford heat and food, but still with much less money than the average suburban family of the 1950's.  My father worked twelve hour days and still money was tight.  While my parents made sure that Santa always brought us gifts, there was no money left over for my parents to exchange gifts.

My parents had a good marriage, and gifts were not necessary for them to express their love for each other.  This love was expressed on a daily basis with kindness, understanding, and comfort as they faced the struggles of life.  However, there was one Christmas when my father excitedly drove my sister and me to Montgomery Ward one Saturday afternoon.  Montgomery Ward was a large department store near Albany, the shopping hub long before Colonie Center and Crossgates Mall changed the "shopscape" of our area. 

 I remember that long ago afternoon clearly -- my father had some extra money and he was buying my mother a Christmas gift for the first time in my memory.  He knew exactly what he wanted, and we went first to the jewelry counter where he bought her a lovely gold bracelet watch; then it was on to the clothing department, where he picked out a leopard jacket (of course it was fake -- and I don't know if it was in style).  Our final destination was the cosmetics counter, with its enticing scents, where he picked out a bottle of my mother's favorite perfume, Tours Ju Moi (sp??).  My father never stopped smiling that afternoon, and on Christmas morning, my mother was overcome with joy and appreciation.  He placed the beautiful watch on her wrist, and she lovingly caressed the leopard jacket.  I was so excited that my mother finally had gifts to open.  Today, that well-worn bracelet sits in a little wooden jewelry box in my bedroom.  From time to time I open the box and hold it in my hand, feeling the loving spirit in which it was given and worn.

As the Christmases in our lives come and go, we find that some are very special and some are best when they are over.  Sometimes the decorations, the food, the gifts, the gatherings and the spirit are perfect, and other years we are left with a vague feeling of disappointment.  Sometimes our families are all together and harmonious, and sometimes we are grief-stricken with the loss of one more well-loved face at the table.  Christmas is really about the birth of Christ, but to many of us, it also has become about the gathering together of our loved ones.  We look forward to the traditions, the gifts, and the love.  And, once or twice in every lifetime, there is a Christmas that will touch our hearts so deeply that its memory remains clear -- I still can summon the scent of my mother's perfume, and the huge smile on my father's face as he held the soft leopard jacket in his calloused hands on that long ago Saturday at Montgomery Ward.

May this Christmas bring loving memories to you all --

Friday, December 16, 2011

Away in a Manger

I was moved to tears as I watched the little angels, shepherds, sheep and wise men gather around Baby Jesus, bringing the age-old story to life for an audience of parents and grandparents.  Both Alivia and Luke attend the Bethlehem Community Church Preschool, and today was their last day of classes before Christmas.  The Nativity Play performed by the four-year-olds was an example of the hard work and love that permeates this preschool all year.  My grandchildren are so fortunate to attend this school -- they are gently nurtured in the ways of the world and the Lord, as they learn basic educational concepts. 

The Christmas season has always been my favorite time of year.  When my own children were young, I cherished the traditions we created.  The weeks before Christmas were filled with cookie baking, decorating, choosing and cutting down a fresh tree, Christmas Eve services in our candlelit church, 5:00 AM  awakenings on Christmas morning, and a large family dinner.  And now, in this latest stage of life, I am reliving the magic of Christmas through my grandchildren's eyes.

My grandchildren are very fortunate that they have large extended families who work very hard to celebrate both long-time and new traditions.  We all realize the tremendous gift of family, and work together to strengthen family bonds.  One afternoon this month, I cut strips of red, green and white construction paper so Luke and Alivia could make chains for their Christmas tree.  We made "family love" chains, writing the names of people they loved on each link of the chain.  They each had so many family members they wanted to include that we had to start doubling up names because we were running out of paper.  And, as a testament to the closeness of our combined families, they aren't really sure which cousins, aunts and uncles belong to whom.  How wonderful to love so many people!!

Lucas and Emma's "other grandmother", Nana, and I planned a cookie baking afternoon last week for Alivia, Luke, Emma, and their cousin Mia.  We had lunch together, and then sat the three older children at the kitchen counter to cut out cookies and decorate them, with little Emma sitting in her highchair to watch.  It was a little crazy for the grandmas, but will be a lovely memory for the little ones.  Next week we are planning another day together.

Alivia's "other grandmother", Nanny, has been a dear friend of mine for over thirty years, and two weeks ago we enjoyed a special Sunday together with Alivia.  First, Alivia helped me create a little tea party for the three of us, with Alivia using a teacup which belonged to her Great-Grandma, whom she never knew, but whose spirit was certainly with us that day.   Then we went on to a pottery painting shop where Alivia painted a ceramic bunny with the help of her artistic Nanny.

While much of Christmas for children is about toys, the long term memories they will carry in their hearts will be the memories of family -- the special, private traditions of their immediate family, and the larger, sometimes crazy memories of their extended family and friends.  They most likely will forget the toys they receive this year, but the love and warmth they feel will fill their souls forever.

This afternoon when I was talking to my daughter-in-law, Lisa, about the nativity play, she told me that when she attended the same preschool twenty-some years ago, she played Mary in the play, and she still remembers it.  I hope Alivia will remember today -- she played an angel, and she certainly looked like an angel to this grandma who sat in the audience with tears in her eyes and love in her heart.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Voices in Our Hearts

As Thanksgiving drew near and the numbers coming for dinner kept increasing, my sister-in-law told me she was planning to use paper plates, even though her mother never approved of using paper plates for special dinners.  I laughed as I heard this, because I, too, hear my mother-in-law's voice in my heart whenever I prepare for a family dinner.  As I set the table, I still think of how much she loved a beautiful table.  She has been gone now for a year, but her voice lives on in all of our hearts. 

It is like this with all the loved ones who have been an important part of our lives.  I am the only one left of my original family of six, yet I carry them in my heart every day of my life, and their voices are part of me.  I hear my grandfather teasing my cousin and me and making us laugh.  My grandmother's rules of "ladylike" behavior still linger with me.  My father's strong voice reassured me through thunder storms and the various fears of childhood.  My mother's gentle voice has guided me through my own years of mothering.  And, I will always hear my sister's laughter as we helped each other through tough times with humor and caring.  There are so many times when I want to call her up to share something funny, and then sadly realize that she is gone.

At lunch yesterday with an old school chum, I listened as he talked about the loving influences of his father and grandfather.   In perfect German, he repeated a phrase his grandfather had often used as they sat at the dinner table -- this phrase lives on in his heart.

While I am fortunate that most of the voices I hear are encouraging and loving, there are some who are not so fortunate.  The voices they hear may be critical or cruel --  these "not-so-good" voices also linger with us.  It is important to remember as we go through life that our words carry tremendous power over our loved ones.  We should strive to be sure the voices our children and grandchildren hear will be uplifting and loving.

I have a strong faith that assures me I will one day be reunited with those I have loved and lost, but in the meantime, these voices in my heart keep them close, perhaps even more so during the holidays when we miss them so much.  As we gathered around the table on Thanksgiving I could hear my mother-in-law's laughter echoing through our conversations.  I could picture her sitting there making sure everything was passed around the table promptly and making sure everyone had second helpings.  And, even as I missed her, I felt her spirit with us on this special day.  I only wish we could have had her delicious stuffing -- no one will ever make stuffing as good as Mom's.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why Am I Doing This????

I stand at the kitchen sink at my son's house, gazing out at the sunny November afternoon.  It has been a crazy morning -- driving Alivia and Luke to preschool and back, with each of them responsible for bringing snack this week for their respective classes required extra trips into the building with bags of snacks and bottled water, while carrying my robust, seven-month old Emma.  Finally, as morning drew to a close, we arrived back home, and I prepared our usual lunch of macaroni & cheese and carrot sticks with dip.  Now, after washing three little faces, changing a very dirty diaper, and settling three little ones into bed for nap, I am cleaning up the kitchen and scrubbing stuck-on cheese from plates and spoons.  

I feel a bit of deja vu -- I have been here before; I am sixty years old, and I spent twenty-seven years raising my own three children.  Why am I doing this again?

I do this so these precious grandchildren will know the constancy of loving arms and the value of their own uniqueness.  Our days are filled with conversations and questions -- I want the answers they hear to reflect our family values and beliefs.  I want them to enter the larger world with an unshakeable sense of their self-worth.  I want them to realize their gifts and also their vulnerabilities, and know that their actions affect others.  

We live in a culture where children are bullied in school and online, and they often do not tell their parents.  I want my grandchildren to know that they can tell us anything, and that we will help them through anything.  I want to instill a deep sense of family bonds.  I listen to their many questions -- and some of them are difficult to articulate so listening requires patience -- but often their questions are deep and require thoughtful answers.  I want these answers to be mine -- not a babysitter's or a day care worker's.  

On the way to school today we had a discussion about Heaven -- were our dog and cat who recently died playing together in Heaven?  And, what would happen if they were playing with other dogs and cats who didn't like them?  And, then, Alivia asked me if, when she grows up and has babies, her own mother will take care of them while Alivia works, because she will be a grandma then.  The questions go on and on -- both Luke and Alivia are deep thinkers.  

I barely finish the lunch dishes, and I hear Luke coming slowly down the stairs -- he hasn't been able to fall asleep -- so, I sit down on the stair, put my arm around him and tell him he has to be really quiet so he doesn't wake Alivia and Emma.  Then I snuggle him in my arms in a cozy chair and read to him as we wait for the others to wake up.      

Most of the time I am bone-tired by evening.  Since the closing of our business and resulting bankruptcy, I don't even have the money to order pizza when I come home exhausted.  People ask why I don't get a real job.  But, I don't think there is anything I could be doing that would be more worthwhile than what I do now.  Each time I look into the eyes of these children, I know I have made the right decision.  Whatever life holds in store for them -- both the good and the bad -- they will have known the love and security of a grandmother's care.  And my words will linger in their hearts forever.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Of Herbs and Other Pleasures

I am snuggled in my chair with the curtains drawn against the blustery October evening; it has been a good day.  In the midst of the chaos in our country and in my own life, I am particularly grateful for the little routines of my days.  A bout of Shingles is reminding me that I must slow down a bit, but that is almost impossible when caring for my grandchildren.  My weeks are crazy.  Today, though, was a bit slower paced, and I spent much of the day tending to the little outside chores that are such a pleasure in the chill October sunshine. 

This morning I brought two rose impatiens plants inside to winter over.  They bloomed their hearts out all summer in the shade of my little corner garden, and I hope they will thrive in my dining room window with its morning sun filtering through lace curtains. 

After spending a couple of hours running errands, I enjoyed several peaceful tasks in the garden.  I bought two new thistle feeders for my finches, chickadees and sparrows.  My old feeders were no match for the driving rains we have endured recently, and the seed was molding.  These new feeders are a bit more weather-proof and should provide dry seed for these tiny little birds all winter.  I filled the larger feeder in the back yard as the mourning doves waited impatiently for me to finish.  As the days grow shorter, the birds are scoping out their winter feeding areas. 

Our black walnut tree provided an abundance of nuts this year.  The squirrels have busily stored them away -- many of them in the attic of our garage, unfortunately -- so they will have a good supply on hand for the long months of winter.

I covered my little pond with netting this afternoon; it sits under a lovely maple tree, and if I don't remember to place the netting, I face the nasty chore of shovelling out leaves in the spring.  Now, the leaves can fall and the pond will stay clear.

My favorite chore of the day was cutting herbs from the garden for drying.  This is a slow process that allows for quiet contemplation.  After washing them I bundle them and hang them from a wire in my tiny kitchen window.  Tonight the kitchen carries the pungent scents of basil, lovage, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme -- and I look forward to winter afternoons when I will crush their tiny leaves between my fingers and sift them into simmering soups and stews.

It is 10:00 now and my lovely day is drawing to a close.  I am always amazed at the peacefulness that settles in my soul after a day spent in quiet pursuits.  The daily rhythms of life are soothing to me, and it is always a pleasure when I can take the time to savor them, rather than hurry the day away.  I think I will heat up some soup, place it in my large mug, wrap the afghan around my shoulders, and savor one more bit of comfort as I reflect on the loveliness of this day and make plans for a quiet Sunday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Emma Pats

This year, with the birth of my new granddaughter last spring, I care for two of my grandchildren five days a week, and one four days a week. Alivia is 4; Luke is 3, and Emma is six months old.  I am amazed when I think of how much I accomplished when my own three children were young, because at 60 years old, taking care of these three exhausts me physically and mentally by the end of the day. 
Alivia attends preschool five mornings, and Luke three, so my mornings are busy -- making sure each one eats a healthy breakfast, overseeing toothbrushing, dressing, doing Alivia's hair, and giving Emma a bottle and getting her ready to go fills the hour between 8:00 and 9:00.  Then, I must load them into their car seats and head off to preschool.  We arrive there quickly, and the unloading begins.  Once they are safely deposited at school, with kisses and hugs, Emma and I head home.  She takes a nap, and has a bottle upon awakening, and soon it is time to return to preschool for the pickup routine.

We arrive home about noon, and after unloading everyone from the car, I place Emma in her little bouncer and Alivia and Luke talk or play while I prepare lunch.  We all sit together and talk during lunch -- even Emma sits in her high chair and takes it all in.  Then, it is time to get everyone ready for nap.  If I am fortunate, they are all settled in by 1:00 or so, and I can do the lunch dishes in peace and relax with a book for an hour or so.

After nap, Emma wants another bottle and some cuddling, and Luke and Alivia are ready to play, take a walk, or watch some TV.  Some days they play together very well -- other days they argue and scuffle all day.  Some days Emma is happy and pleasant, and other days she is needy and crying.  Some evenings I am bone-tired.

I started caring for Aliva when she was two months old, and since then my days have been filled with the work and wonder of these precious little ones.  This year I find myself more and more tired -- carrying my little Emma around leaves me with an aching back at the end of most days.  I also spend three days a week at my son's house and two days at my house, so keeping everything straight in my sixty-year old head is not easy. 

But, it is SO worth it.  Today I picked Emma up and she patted my shoulder.  At first I thought it was just a flutter of her hand, but each time I picked her up today, she patted me.  Later in the afternoon, I was holding her and Luke on my lap, and she reached over and patted Luke's back.  What a joy!!  How wonderful to be with her this week when she takes this new step in her growth --

In this world where there is so much turmoil, and in my own life where there is so much stress and uncertainty, I am so grateful that I can be here for these firsts with my grandchildren.  Emma pats and my heart soars -- my precious little girl!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Aging in Place

I rose slowly from my soft bed this morning and slipped into my well-worn winter robe for the first time since the heat of summer.  The air is crisp and autumn-like, and I hurriedly put the dogs out for their morning duties and settled into my chair with a steaming mug of coffee and the Saturday newspaper.  How much I love these daily routines.

This year as I care for my three grandchildren, I am dividing my time between my son's beautiful new home and my own house -- such a striking contrast.  My son and daughter-in-law lovingly designed their home with it's large open space for entertaining and lovely windows which welcome the sunlight.  It is a home of light and the peacefulness of uncluttered spaces.  I love the bright kitchen with its large island and mullioned windows over the corner sink.  However, at the end of the day I am welcomed home by the comforting arms of my old house, with its dark coziness. 

I wonder about the concept of "aging in place" that has become a possible solution to baby boomers as we grow old.  Certainly, there are wonderful new condos and apartments on the market for seniors, with all the modern amenities so sought after -- granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, social activities.  However, I question whether I would ever feel "at home" in those luxurious surroundings.  I have lived in my house for almost forty years -- I know its loveliness and its scars, and find great comfort in its sameness.  I love my neighborhood -- how boring it would be to be surrounded by people of my own age all the time.  I love the sound of children playing in the street, and the music and laughter of teenagers.  I hope I will be healthy enough and financially able to "age in place" right here -- in the home that holds the echoes of my own family and friends, the home that feels like an old friend to this grandma who finds herself turning that corner into old age.  Each night as I turn out the lights and make my way in darkness to the stairs, I realize I know the terrain of this house with my eyes closed; I know it by heart, and this is where I want to spend the rest of my days, Lord willing. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Goodbye to Summer

September has arrived with its promise of cool, clear days, cider, apples and the early morning scent of woodsmoke, but my usual high spirits have forsaken me.  Autumn is my favorite season, but this year my mood is melancholy.  On a personal level, I feel many of my traditional summer pleasures passed me by as I struggled with the uncertainties of the bankruptcy process in a legal system that is not forthcoming with information.  I have always been an organized person who likes to have a degree of control over my life, and I am so weary of unanswered Emails from my attorney and phone menus that bounce me from one incompetent person to another as I try to sort through the issues involved in closing our business and restructuring our financial life.  I had been hopeful that the entire process would be finished by September and I would be starting over with a much less complicated, though austere life.  However, September has brought no closure.

The last week in August was a time of sorrow in upstate New York, as Hurricane Irene swept up the eastern seaboard, leaving destruction in its wake.  While my little neighborhood suffered only a power outage, communities all around us have suffered the devastation of massive flooding. Lives were lost; farmers have lost their entire harvests to floodwaters; homes and businesses have floated away downstream taking a lifetime of memories and hopes with them; communities have been cut off by washed out roads and bridges.  Some quaint little historic main streets are no more.  My heart is heavy as I ponder the terror and sorrow these neighbors have dealt with over the past few days, and the massive project of cleaning up and trying to rebuild is daunting.

The economic and political news this summer is painful.  As unemployment and low pay threatens financial destruction for so many of our citizens, the politicians in Washington play their games to keep the other party from power, with absolutely no thought to the people they have been elected to represent.  I wonder if any of them remember what life is like in the real world.  They are all so focused on the next election, and on keeping their campaign funds from corporate America rolling in.  Do they even think of the human consequences of their grandstanding, childish behavior.  Do they think of the men and women searching for jobs - the people who must make choices between paying the mortgage or buying ridiculously expensive basic food items to feed their children.  Do they really understand the prohibitive cost of health insurance.  The health insurance policy we had while in business cost $900 per month for a couple; once the business was no longer functioning, this same policy cost $1900 per month.  Same policy, same two people, same insurance company -- how is this fair?  The politicans talk of cutting entitlements.  Do they realize that people who do not make a living wage need help.  There will always be among us the old, the sick, the mentally ill, the injured, and people with very low IQ's who aren't capable of performing more than menial work which pays very little.  What are they planning to do with these people????  The Conservative Christian segment of the Republican party seems to have lost sight of the fact that the Christian values they want to shove down the throats of our nation are at odds with the Christ I know -- the man who taught us to take care of the poor and the sick, and to not judge others -- to leave the judging to God.

Alas, on this quiet September morning I will push away all of these worrisome thoughts.  I have a weekend of work ahead of me to prepare my house and yard for a family clambake next weekend.  Tomorrow we will celebrate the baptism of my precious little granddaughter, Emma.  In a few minutes I will pour myself another cup of coffee and get busy.  The lawn needs mowing; the gardens need tending; the house desperately needs cleaning, and I will be thankful that I have these mundane little chores to do on this first weekend in September, and I will be sure to take the time to "smell the flowers" as I work along.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Empty Couch

On Monday afternoon, my daughter and I took our precious boxer, Toby, to the vet and lovingly caressed him as we had him put to sleep.  Grief for me is a very private thing.  I can't speak of my loss without crying, so I don't talk about it.  The hurt is so deep I tiptoe around it -- allowing myself to think about it only in brief increments -- until enough time has passed to soften the edges. 

But, tonight I must write about it -- in memory of Toby -- and let my tears flow in solitude.  You see, we had to make the choice to put this beloved dog to sleep -- at only five years old -- a strong, healthy boy, who we loved so much.  We have had some issues with food aggression between him and our Yorkie, which have been worrisome.  However, on Monday, as we sat at the lunch table with my little granddaughter, he snarled and lunged at her as she sat eating her peanut butter sandwich.  Peanut butter was Toby's favorite.  Fortunately, he didn't bite her -- just brushed her face, but we realized that we couldn't ever trust him with our little ones again.

What a terrible decision to have to make.  I have loved this dog since he was a tiny pup.  We have been through all sorts of health issues with him -- stomach surgery, cardiac issues -- and through it all we were there to hold him and love him.  He was a lap dog from the start -- and even took his last ride to the vet on my lap -- all 70 pounds of him.

My daughter is devastated -- he was her baby.  And seeing my precious daughter grieve intensifies my own.  There are reminders of him everywhere I turn -- I expect to see him jumping up into the air when I come home; the couch on the porch where he would stretch out and sleep brings tears to my eyes.  I can't get his face out of my mind as he passed from this life --

When you have pets, there are inevitable losses and grief, but somehow this is one of the worst -- there was no time to prepare for it, no illness or injury that made it necessary.  This was just a horrible choice that had to be made, and it will haunt us for a long time.

In the meantime, though, I will hold my grief closely to my heart, and in time, the pain will ease a bit.  I will be able to think about him and laugh at his crazy antics, and remember his soft, happy face snuggled against me as he slept on my lap.  But for now, I try to think of other things and keep busy, and deal with the little bits of pain that I can handle.  I was always the one to pull the bandaid off slowly and gently, never ripping it off in one quick pull.

Godspeed, Toby -- I love you!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oh What a Beautiful Weekend

After a busy and difficult week, filled with a pervasive sadness as I marked the second anniversary of my sister's death, I was rewarded with a weekend of pleasure.  Saturday morning I rose early to mow my lawn and grocery shop -- getting these mundane chores out of the way as quickly as possible.  In the early afternoon my cousin and I went to Pine Hollow Arboretum, a beautiful haven in the midst of the little hamlet of Slingerlands.

The Arboretum is a 25 acre parcel of land which has been lovingly tended by Dr. John Abbuhl and his wife for years.  We were graciously welcomed at the Visitors' Center by Kay Abbuhl, and, map in hand, began our stroll through this most lovely acreage.  As we walked the trails through wooded areas dotted with ponds, I felt a lightening of spirit.  The residence is surrounded with lovely plantings, and graced with a hillside waterfall gently flowing midst greenery and flowers.  Water lilies in several colors float on the surface of the ponds, and black raspberry bushes hide along the paths.  Benches here and there beckon you to linger.  We startled a deer as we walked and he darted away across a small field to hide in a stand of pines.  We strolled and talked, and were soothed by the beauty of the natural world surrounding us.  We came back to my house and sat on the porch for a bit, relaxed and content from our afternoon wanderings.

Last evening my brother-in-law came for dinner.  We enjoyed a dinner of grilled steaks, baked potatoes, and sauteed vegetables, and sipped wine on the porch as the evening waned.  Bill is an interesting person, and our evening was low-key and relaxing.  He brought over some old photographs he had found in the house, and as I looked through them last evening, I was excited to find several photos I did not remember seeing before -- of ancestors I had come to know through my genealogical research.  Now these photos will become part of the family history I am working on.

This morning I slept in a bit and let the day slowly begin, reading my newspaper with coffee at hand, and then watering my plants before the hot summer sun rose higher in the sky.  I prepared a potato salad and roasted a chicken for an early dinner with my father-in-law.  Once again, after dinner, we sat on the shady porch, talking away the afternoon as the heat and humidity of July began to deepen.

The week ahead will be busy and most likely carry its share of stresses into my life, but I am so thankful for the gift of this peaceful weekend.  What more could one ask than two days filled with the pleasures of nature, good wine, good food, and the company of beloved family.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I walked at dusk tonight, along the sidewalks I have walked for almost forty years.  My heart is heavy -- it has been one of those weeks that weigh on your soul.  As I walked I thought how many times through the years I had walked these same streets with deep sadness in my heart.  And I thought about choices -- the choices we make in our lives -- the choices that are often forced upon us by a sense of duty to the ones we love -- our children, our grandchildren.  They never really know the magnitude of the choices we made -- whether to leave or to stay.  They only know that we are here and they are loved, and that is really all they need to know.

But tonight, as I walked, the phrase "cold-hearted bitch" played in my head from a supper conversation with my husband, and I wondered how different things might have been if I had left.  It never seemed that I really had a choice.  But, tonight I wondered, as I walked these familiar streets alone --

Life is a series of choices -- and it seems that so many times I have made the wrong ones. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Let's Save America!!!

There is something terribly wrong today in the financial and political systems in our nation.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and our country is at risk of losing status in the global community.  The Republicans claim the Democrats do not want to make the difficult decisions which will improve the economy (meaning budget cuts) and the cuts the Democrats do make seem to be those that impact the most vulnerable in our society -- the poor and the children.  The Republicans refuse to impose taxes on the wealthy, mistakenly believing still in the "trickle down" effect.

In my opinion, our most serious problem is GREED -- unadulterated greed for money and for power.  We have gradually veered off course.  The United States was once the "land of opportunity" for anyone who wanted to work hard.  Ordinary men built thriving businesses that fed their own families and provided employees with adequate wages and benefits and pride in their accomplishments.  It was possible for young men of limited means to aspire to political positions and actually win elections based on merit and knowledge.

Now, our financial world is comprised of huge corporations whose CEO's make astronomical salaries, while their workers often barely make a living wage.  The small businesses which built this great country are a thing of the past -- "Main Street" has been replaced by big-box stores and malls lined with chain stores.  Small shops cannot possibly compete with the buying power of these mega-stores.  

Our politicians must have bottomless treasure chests of campaign funds to win an election, and unless they are already extremely wealthy, a great deal of these funds come from contributions from large corporations, leaving even the most honest politician walking a fine line between doing what he thinks is best for the country or doing what he needs to do to maintain the financial support of his corporate "sponsors".

The motivation in business today is GREED.  He who can make the most money and maintain the most lavish lifestyle is the winner.  What does it matter to him if the people who work for him do not earn a living wage.  He is successful, respected and powerful, and that is what counts in America today.  To Hell with ethics, as long as he can build his own little empire.

The motiviation in politics is GREED FOR POWER.  There is, as always, a huge divide between the principles of both political parties.  The Democrats traditionally support the common man and feel a responsibility to care for the disadvantaged, while promoting more liberal social causes such as abortion and gay marriate.  The Republicans traditionally support the health of big business and the deep-rooted morals of their predominantly Chrisitan members.  We need the ideas from both parties to save our country -- to make it once again a society where people really do have opportunities to better themselves, take pride in their work, have adequate health care, and a safety net during hard times.  BUT, today our politicians refuse to work together for the common good.  They are much more concerned with their own political power than with any compromise.  Partisanship is alive and well because of this tremendous greed for power.

Please take some time to ponder the following questions.  In order for things to change in this country, we all must look directly at the problems that face us and speak out. 

1.  Why are corporate profits up tremendously, yet our unemployment rates rise?

2.  Why do average citizens pay taxes on everything, yet large corporations often get tax breaks at the same time they are paying no taxes on their profits?

3.  Why, when a school budget is voted down by taxpayers, are the first cuts made in teachers and programs that benefit children, rather than in administrative positions?

4.  Why does it cost $900 for a health insurance policy for a couple in a group plan, and $1900 for the exact same plan when the couple is no longer in a group?
             (And, yet, the Republicans scoff at health care reform and fight it diligently)

5.  Why do developers hold communities hostage for tax breaks to build facilities there?

6.  Why can't there be some time limit on political campaigning, to avoid this almost constant preoccupation with the next election, when there is critical work to be done in our legislative bodies NOW?

7.  Why can't there be some regulation on our corporate and financial insitutions which guarantees a living wage for employees?
             (And, "minimum wage" is definitely not a "living wage".  By living wage, I mean a wage that allows a person to pay for decent housing, healthy food, health insurance, and necessities)

8.  With the high cost of college, how are our young people going to get the education they need to succeed, without mortgaging their future with huge student loans?

9.  If they raise the age limits for Social Security and Medicare, what will happen to those people who are in poor health before they are eligible to retire?

10.  Why, why, why can't the Democrats and Republicans work together to solve the serious financial problems of this country.  Can't they for once put aside the issue of "power" and forge their differing views into policies that will make this country once again a "Land of Opportunity" for us all?

Please think about these questions, talk about them, write about them, and get your opinions heard.  The common people must begin to take back our country and make it a better place to live.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Peace Which Passeth All Understanding

The evening is marked with birdsong, as tiny birds fly from tree to feeder for one last snack before settling into their roosts for the night.  It becomes quieter, as dusk falls gently, and I begin to hear a cricket or two.  As much as I love early mornings, these summer evenings are a comfort beyond compare.  The setting sun has faded behind the trees, and nature pauses in that moment when the birds, chipmunks and squirrels find their way home and the crickets, bats, rabbits and deer begin their nighttime foraging.

How lovely it feels to sit here in solitude at the beginning of this new month.  The past few months have been a study in contradictions.  There have been moments of deep joy, such as the birth of my granddaughter, Emma, interspersed with troubles and stresses.  We are struggling through the bankruptcy of our business; my husband was hospitalized in early June and is still not totally recovered.  My children's lives have been filled with stress and turmoil.  In the midst of this all, though, there have been beautiful celebrations to treasure -- a baby shower for my God-daughter at Brunswick Greens Country Club in a lovely room whose windows provide a sweeping view of the Berkshire Mountains, a 40th anniversary party for my in-laws at my son's beautiful new house, family gatherings for birthdays and Fathers' Day, and an overnight visit from a close friend.  These are the moments that balance the bad times.

And now July is here again and brings with it the second anniversary of my sister's death.  As I sit here tonight, I remember evenings on this porch with her -- sipping wine and laughing.  Who knew our precious times together were numbered, and who knew my tears would still flow when I think of her.

Life is not easy nor predictable.  We must savor the good times with those we love and work to create myriad memories to cherish and carry with us through the difficult times.

On an evening such as this, I feel at peace in the knowledge that the Lord who created this beautifully complicated natural world of ours also holds our souls in his gentle hands.  Darkness is now enveloping my little porch and the silence is deepening -- broken only by the occasional bat squealing through the night sky.  My soul is quieted and I am thankful for the blessing of this old porch and my peaceful gardens, and this lovely first day of July.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Moments in Time

With two clicks, the baby seat holding my precious little granddaughter was secured in my car; I buckled my grandson into his seat, and we were ready to go.  I looked back as I was driving.  Three child seats span the back seat of my car.  Who would have dreamed that at this age I would be taking care of three little ones again. 

Today I brought Luke & Emma to my house because their parents were busy settling into their new house.  Yesterday they moved in and we spent the day unloading and unpacking, and today they were trying to create order out of chaos.  The house is beautiful, and soon my daughter-in-law will work her magic and everything will be soothing and orderly. 

Next fall, when my daughter-in-law goes back to work, I will be caring for all three of my little grandchildren during the week.  Just as Alivia and Luke have become more self-sufficient and predictable, I am starting over with a tiny baby again.  Am I crazy!!  While many women my age are traveling and involved in countless adult activities, I will once again be spending my days amidst bottles, diapers, trips to the library, the playground and preschool.

Somehow, though, as it was when my own children were young, the daily drudgery of child care is rewarded by moments in time that fill my heart to bursting.  Holding Emma in my arms and seeing her sweet smile as she opens her eyes, hearing Luke say, "I love you, Grammy," as he touches my face and kisses me, and feeling Alivia's arms wrapped tightly around my neck as she clings to me for her morning hug -- these are those moments.  Watching Emma reaching and reaching for a toy and finally grasping it, watching Luke's pride in his new bedroom with his very own paddle fan, watching Alivia mesmerized by the library books we borrow every two weeks -- these are those moments.  And, today, looking at the three little seats so carefully anchored in the backseat of the car -- knowing that each seat will be filled with one of these boisterous, happy, loving grandchildren of mine -- this is one of those moments.

Alivia will turn four this summer and Luke just celebrated his third birthday -- and it seems only a heartbeat ago they were as helpless and tiny as Emma.  While the daily care of these children is tiring and tedious, the years fly as pages in a book.  We hold them in our arms for such a brief time, and then they are gone -- leaving our safe, controlled little world of which they are the center, to be part of the bigger world they must learn to navigate.  But the love and security I can provide during these early years will always be part of them, and these moments of unfathomable love will always be mine to treasure.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May Showers Bring????

May has been a depressing month in New York.  Cloudy days have far outnumbered those with blue skies and sunshine, and "April showers" have continued on almost a daily basis -- often in the form of steady, heavy rains.  While our plight is not as serious as that of the Mississippi flooding, rivers and lakes are at record heights, and many homes along the shores are flooded.  After a particularly cold and snowy winter, we were looking forward to spring -- the joke is on us!!  The cool, rainy weather has been particularly beneficial to the weeds in my garden.  My feeling of accomplishment after weeding last week is somewhat lessened today as I see once again fluorishing weeds throughout the garden.  The grass has grown inches since we mowed, and the entire yard has an unkempt look.  I love my free-flowing natural garden, but if the rains continue, the weeds will be more plentiful than the flowers. 

There are treasures to be enjoyed -- my neighbor's little arbor garden is a Monet masterpiece, with bleeding hearts and forget-me-nots blooming their hearts out.  My own bleeding hearts are gorgeous, and the ferns around my little pond are lush and enchanting.  Despite the extra rainfall, my herbs are doing well, and my love of gardening and cooking brings great joy as I cut fresh herbs for omelets on lazy Sunday mornings, and add them to sauces simmering on the stove.  Fresh herbs add texture and  flavor to every dish they enhance.  

Of course, I am fortunate to live on high ground -- many gardens along the rivers and lakes are under water.  The lovely homes along these waters that we envy on beautiful summer days are paying a huge toll this year for their proximity to the normally peaceful waters.  

I am also blessed with a spirit that isn't depressed by long bouts of clouds and rain.  In fact, I love the patter of raindrops, and the coziness of the house on a chilly, cloudy day.  Of course, I miss early morning coffee on the porch with sunshine filtering through the trees, and puttering in the garden at will.  I am tired of wet shoes and soggy sweatshirts, and towels that never feel completely dry.  I desperately want to plant some zinnia seeds around my mailbox, but must wait because one rainy deluge will wash the tiny seeds down the street.  I haven't planted my tiny impatiens in the windowboxes and planters, because I worry that they will be floating in the soil.  

Maybe Memorial Day Weekend will be our turning point.  Maybe by then the sun will come out for more than a half hour at a time.  Maybe I can spend a day planting my seeds and tending the gardens. Maybe the waters will recede so our waterfront neighbors will be able to determine the extent of damage to their homes and gardens and begin to return to normalcy.  And maybe I will be able to stand in the sunshine to watch the Memorial Day Parade in our little town.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Profusion of Lilacs

Tonight my white ironstone pitcher sits in the middle of the kitchen table, filled with abundant free-spirited purple lilacs; the scent of spring has overtaken this old house. 

This has been a stressful week -- we filed for our bankruptcy on Monday, and face losing so much that we have worked very hard for over the years.  I am worried, upset, angry -- tumultuous feelings that have unsettled my spirit.

This afternoon, though, Alivia and I walked up the street to a lovely stand of lilacs in her other grandmother's back yard.  Pruning shears in hand, we gathered our incredibly beautiful bounty of heaven, holding them lovingly as they spilled over our arms, soaking in their scent as we worked.

I tell everyone that roses are my favorite flower, but as I gather these vivacious lilacs, I realize that they are truly my first love.  Their arrival each spring is a precious occasion.  Their abundant bloom is a gift -- their scent soothes my soul -- and because they are so short-lived, they remind us to enjoy life "in the moment."  They are here in all of their beauty for a few days, and then gone until next year --

We brought them home, cut their stems, and immersed them in water -- their glorious blooms will bring joy to my soul while they are here -- a blessed abundance that must be enjoyed now.

I was reminded of a poem that touched my heart:

Stealing Lilacs

A guaranteed miracle,
it happens for two weeks each May,
this bounty of riches
where McMansion, trailer,
the humblest driveway
burst with color -- pale lavender,
purple, darker plum --
and glorious scent.
This morning a battered station wagon
drew up on my street
and a very fat woman got out
and started tearing branches
from my neighbor's tall old lilac --
grabbing, snapping stems, heaving
armloads of purple sprays
into her beater.
A tangle of kids' arms and legs
writhed in the car.
I almost opened the screen door
to say something,
but couldn't begrudge her theft,
or the impulse
to steal such beauty.
Just this once,
there is enough for everyone -- "Stealing Lilacs," by Alice N. Persons

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day

Mothers' Day this year will be bittersweet.  My mother-in-law is no longer with us, so this will be my first Mothers' Day with no "mother" to celebrate -- placing flowers on her grave is no substitute for seeing her eyes light up with pleasure for a special gift.  The gift of my brand new granddaughter, Emma, is the highlight of my own Mothers' Day this year, though.

As always, Mothers' Day is one of my favorite holidays for pondering and remembering.  I was fortunate to be raised by a loving mother and additionally blessed to have my grandmother living with us throughout my childhood.  The unconditional love of two "mothers" is truly a gift to a little girl.  Both my mother and grandmother have been gone from my life now for a long time, but their words echo in my heart every day.  I am thankful for the loving bonds we shared and for their patience and encouragement in shaping the mother and grandmother I have become. 

I give thanks for my Aunt Irene, also gone from my life now, but forever a part of lovely childhood memories.  While raising two daughters of her own, she always had time to listen to and love her nieces. 

My Aunt Bonnie is still a loving presence in my life.  She has a large flock of children, step-children, grandchildren, nieces & nephews, and children of her heart that she loves and prays for.  I am particularly grateful to her for holding us all in her heart.

And now, I have a new generation of mothers to be thankful for -- my two daughters-in-law, who have blessed me with four precious grandchildren.  Tomorrow morning we will gather together for brunch, to celebrate our special day.  There is nothing more wonderful than to be surrounded by your children and grandchildren on Mothers' Day. 

Motherhood is a gift in itself, and those of us who were "well-mothered" ourselves are doubly blessed.  How wonderful it is to have a special day set aside to celebrate the mothers in our lives.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Can We Improve TV

In mid-April I had dental surgery and spent most of my week snuggled into my living room chair -- ice packs, hot packs and soft foods abundant.  This is not the way I would have preferred to spend my "spring vacation" from the grandbabies.  My usually hectic days came to an abrupt stop when I returned from the dentist with my swollen face and pain medicine.  My resultant drug haze made reading and writing difficult, so I was left with no choice but to watch TV for hours on end.  I do not  enjoy many TV programs, so the multitude of cable choices do not tempt me.  However, this week of television viewing provided me with time to really think about the programming available to our society and its negative influence on our children.

Coincidentally, recently I watched an award show on the TV Land channel.  TV Land features reruns of TV shows from the 70's, 80's and 90's.  On this Sunday night, one of the stars of the sitcom "Facts of Life", thanked TV Land for providing TV programming that our children can watch.    As I watched this award show, I enjoyed the glimpses of the past -- the years when I was raising my own children and we gathered around the TV together in the evening.  Programming then was naively entertaining.

During my long, boring week of recovery, I scrolled through the cable guide to find something that would hold my interest.  The reality shows are not worth viewing; the sitcoms are disgusting, and I cannot stomach the blood and gore of the various CSI's.  For the most part, I was drawn to the cooking channels and the channels which featured old reruns.  Now I remember why I don't watch TV anymore.

Unfortunately, most of today's TV programming highlights the worst of our culture -- our lack of morals, civility, and ethics.  In a world that so much needs examples of good parenting, responsibility and accountability for our actions, and the knowledge that success is not a matter of income level, there is little in our programming to provide any of these examples.

Watching reruns of "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" particularly sparked comparisons in my mind with today's TV selections.  Both "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" were realistic portrayals of family life in the time periods they represented.  There were struggles and hardships to endure, and the families were not immune from tragedy.  There were also dishonest, greedy neighbors who continued to thrive, despite their lack of character.  However, values such as honesty, loyalty and hard work were held up as something to strive for.  Children were given an abundance of love, but taught responsibility and values from an early age.

It seems to me that TV programming today is designed to celebrate material excesses, sex without feeling, and a pervasive nastiness in human relationships.  Could it be that what our children are watching plays a large part in the serious problems of bullying, violence, and lack of civility in our society?  How can we bring back quality TV programming?


Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Community of Neighborhood

The morning sunlight filters through the lace of my curtains as I sip my coffee and read the Saturday morning newspaper.  I treasure quiet weekend mornings when I can leisurely read the paper and take the time to read a bit more deeply.  I was particularly interested in a piece by Peter Lovenheim, "In Search of our Neighbors."  Lovenheim has written a book, In the Neighborhood:  The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.  I have not read this book, but will place it on my book list to read in the future.  A tragedy on his street ten years ago sparked his interest in the value of "community." 

The disconnection of our modern life, when we often feel closer to a "chat room" buddy than our next door neighbor, is sad.  Lovenstein cites several reasons why neighborhoods still matter.  He states, "They matter because if we want to start rebuilding a healthy civil society by learning to understand and live peacefully with people whose ideas may be different from our own, a very good place to start is with the people on our own block."

I have been fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a tremendous sense of community for forty years.  When we first moved into our old Victorian house on this quiet deadend street lined with homes of similar vintage, we were the youngest couple on the block.  We were welcomed with open arms.  The street has always housed a generational blend, from newborn babies to the very elderly.  Over the course of these forty years, the residents have changed, but the spirit of community has not.  People very seldom move by choice from this neighborhood.  Most of the vacancies that occurred were the result of an elderly person's unwilling move to a nursing home, or a death.  The new young families that have moved in were all looking for that special something that existed here -- a safe place to raise their children in an atmosphere of acceptance and mutual caring.

When my children were young, there were others close in age to play with, and they formed bonds with these friends that still endure (in fact, my older son and his wife grew up here together).  The children were also able to develop relationships with the older folks on the block.  Some of these relationships were warm and supportive; there were also some neighbors who met the criteria for "mean old man" perfectly.  Yet, even the "mean old men" were there in a heartbeat if a child was hurt or needed help. 

There has always been a level of caring on this street that is amazing.  We watch out for one another and keep up on each others' lives and families.  Everyone is busy -- this is not a neighborhood where we get together frequently for coffee or parties -- but we manage to stop and talk when we meet, and fill each other in on the important happenings in our lives and of those around us.  One of our oldest neighbors is a strong-willed, spirited man whose health problems necessitated a leg amputation.  Fred knows he can always call on us when he needs us, and I know that if I needed him, he would be out the door in his wheelchair and wheeling up my driveway without delay.  The cycle of life in this neighborhood is always completing itself.  My little grandchildren love to visit with Fred, and they brighten his day. 

The young children on this street feel safe and secure with the people around them; the older neighbors know that they are not isolated or adrift -- one call for help will summon a caring neighbor to their door.  This is what community is all about, and I feel extremely blessed to have lived on this street with all of these special people for forty years.

My hope for the future is that people begin to look next door for their sense of community, as well as to the internet and the workplace.  Learning to live with and care for our close neighbors is a tremendous life lesson, as well as a source of comfort and security in this often cold world.

Friday, April 1, 2011


While April 1 holds the title "April Fools' Day" in the minds of most people, to me it is one of the most beautiful dates on the calendar.  In my heart it represents the true beginning of spring -- the mud of March is behind us (although, not this year), the birds are singing, crocuses, daffodils and tulips are poking their heads through the warming earth, and the air is filled with the promise of re-awakening.  What a joy it is to contemplate the rebirth to come.

This year spring represents new beginnings in my life as well.  Last weekend my new granddaughter, Emma Christine was born.  Nothing can compare to the profound awe of holding your newborn grandchild in your arms for the first time, tracing her silky cheeks with your finger and tenderly kissing her.  As I looked into her eyes, deep blue like her Daddy's, the deep connection was immediate and profound.  We will love and cherish this child, and her genes will carry a part of all of us into the future. 

My children are all in the midst of their own new beginnings, too.  Emma's Dad is in the process of having a new house built for his growing family.  My other son has started his own business, and my daughter has moved into an apartment in our home to continue her education and find a more fulfilling path in her life.  

Our family business has succombed to the economic slowdown.  While we had planned to continue working until retirement and then pass a healthy business down to our son, this, unfortunately, was not to be.  Juggling the care of my grandchildren and hours of office work have been difficult, but to be suddenly unemployed is a shock.  However, though this is an unexpected ending, I also see it as a beginning of a different way of life.  In the fall I will have my new grandbaby to care for along with her brother and cousin, so my days will be full.  We will "downsize" our lifestyle to match our reduced income -- gone are the days of two cars and dinners out.  But, there is also a challenge in economizing and watching pennies, and my evenings and weekends will be my own -- no office work will beckon to me.  As a stay-at-home Mom when my children were young, my lifestyle was frugal, and I will once again return to old habits.  There is a peacefulness and simplicity of sorts in frugality.

I have always believed in the old adage, "When God closes one door, he opens another."  As our new lives take shape, I will have more time to smell the roses and plant the vegetables and tend the precious grandbabies, and explore what God has planned for my next life chapter.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Comfort of Simmering

"And when I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The past few months have been very stressful for me.  It seems there is always more to be done than hours in the day, and I am constantly tired and far behind on my "to-do" list.  I find my level of patience has diminished as my stress level has risen.  One morning last week my desk was piled with unfinished business, my grandchildren were not at their best, and I had several important phone calls and online transactions to be made.  Unfortunately, as soon as I sat at the desk things began to go wrong.  Trying to access my insurance website was more complicated than necessary, looking through my files for a specific record took more time than I had anticipated, and one of my phone calls was unpleasant.  As the children were calling for me to pour their juice, the phone was ringing again, and I still had not had a chance to look at the piles of work waiting on my desk.

So, what did I do?  I came downstairs, poured the juice and got my grandchildren settled, and headed into my kitchen.  I went to the refrigerator, took out a package of ground beef, and proceeded to make meatballs and sauce.  To me, cooking is therapy for my soul.  My kitchen is a refuge from the world of work and its constant demands.  As I mixed the meat, eggs, bread crumbs and garlic, and formed small balls, I could feel the tension drift away a bit.   While the meatballs were baking in the oven, their delicious aroma surrounded me.  I sauteed onions in olive oil, added garlic, crushed dried thyme and parsley into the mixture, and poured two cans of pureed tomatoes into the pan.  As the house filled with notes of spaghetti sauce, I took pleasure in the anticipation of a delicious lunch for my family.

I have always enjoyed cooking -- when I was younger, my supper table usually included not only my own family, but an extra child or two.  Everyone was welcome at our table.  Most importantly now, though, in these tense times, I find an emotional release in cooking, especially comfort foods.  In the past month I have made a huge pot of soup every weekend.  As winter wanes, and we look forward to lighter summer fare, I will take advantage of the cold weather to simmer these soups I love so much.  Soup is a comfort from beginning to end.  I love the "process" of soup making -- the chopping of onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, as well as the sizzle of sauteeing these vegetables.  I dry my own herbs, and I love to crush the dried leaves gently between my fingers and drop them into the soup, stirring their pungency into the mix.  Soup also needs watching -- as I go about a day of chores, I lift the lid of my old soup pot every half hour or so to stir the soup and breathe in its aroma.  Finally, at the end of the day, after throwing in some barley or pasta and cooking for a final few minutes, it is time to get out the soup bowls and some warm bread, and feast on the comfort of homemade soup.

There are several soup recipes which are favorites of my family.  Perhaps my personal favorite is beef vegetable.  Below is a recipe for this sturdy, mouth-watering concoction.  The wonderful thing about soup is that you can add or remove ingredients at will -- soup is a work in progress.  Before spring is finally here, get out a large pot and treat yourself to this soup -- it will bring peace to your soul as it works its magic.

Beef Vegetable Soup

Brown 2 lbs of blade steak or stew beef, cut into bite-sized pieces 

In separate pot, in olive oil, add a combination of chopped vegetables, one by one, sauteeing each as you are chopping the next:  two yellow onions, two carrots, three stalks of celery, two small yellow squash, one package fresh mushrooms, a handful of green beans, and three or four potatoes.  Add diced fresh tomatoes in season, or one can of diced tomatoes.  Add crushed dried thyme and parsley; sprinkle in some celery salt.  Add ground sea salt and ground pepper.  Stir the mixture together.  Add the browned beef to the pot.  Add two or three large cans of beef broth, and enough water to almost fill the pot.  

Cover the pot and simmer gently all day, stirring every half hour or so.  About an hour before serving, taste the broth and add more seasonings if necessary; add one cup of barley, and boil gently until tender.  Turn the soup off and let it rest for a half hour or so before serving.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Love and Cherish

Valentine’s Day has not held any good memories for me in a long, long time.   I am a romantic at heart, and would love nothing more than to prepare a special dinner, set a lovely table with flowers and candles, and celebrate a good marriage.  However, life is what it is, and I tend to overlook Valentine’s Day, now that my children are grown up and I am no longer responsible for making their holiday special.
Valentine’s Day 2010 & 2011 were a revelation of sorts for me.  As one who has not been “cherished” since childhood, I now realize that to be cherished is a great gift, and one that lasts beyond your worldly life.  After my sister’s death in July of 2009, I worried about my brother-in-law as their 20th wedding anniversary approached in October.  How sad, I thought, to be faced with this milestone celebration such a short time after losing her.  He told me that they had already celebrated together on the Valentine’s Day before she died, when they knew she would probably not live until October.  He said that Valentine’s Day was terribly special to them, because that was when he had proposed to her, and that this celebration had been more significant to him than the actual anniversary.  I have had several conversations with my brother-in-law about their marriage, and his loss.  He has eloquently described to me his feelings for her and the pleasure and contentment they found in their marriage.   It somehow eases my sorrow to know how much she was cherished.
This Valentine’s Day, the first after the death of my mother-in-law, provided me with yet another example of cherishing.  While the holidays were especially difficult for my father-in-law, I think Valentine’s Day was the most heartbreaking of all.  My father-in-law is a man with a stoicism inherited from his German ancestors.  However, since my mother-in-law’s death, his sorrow has been etched on his face.   I discovered that he had proposed to my mother-in-law on Valentine’s Day.  This year, he made his way through deep snow to her grave to place a single red rose in memory of this special day.  Although surrounded by family, he was feeling her loss very deeply.
I remember watching them at their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary Party in 1999 – a lovely occasion.  As they danced together, there was a glow about them, as if it was once again the day of their marriage.   The long years of sharing and cherishing each other had given a depth to their love that was a joy to behold.
Both my brother-in-law and my father-in-law lovingly and gently cared for these women they loved as illness overtook them, and death drew near.  It was a tough job, which wore them both down – physically and emotionally – but they stayed true to their promises and their wives died in their own homes, surrounded with love and security.  It would have been so much easier to place them in a nursing home or hospital, but these men did not take the easy road, because they cherished these women.
Now, they are both dealing with the anguish and loneliness of their losses.  The memories are bittersweet, and sometimes the pain must seem too much to bear.  I do hope they realize, though, the great gift they gave their wives – to be cherished is much more than many of us can expect from life.  I am thankful that these two women I loved so much were cherished by the men in their lives.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ode to Borders

The news came this week that they are closing the Borders bookstore in Saratoga soon.  It is ironic that this news upsets me, because several years ago when the Borders and Barnes & Noble chain bookstores were settling in our area, I worried that our small local bookstores would disappear in the wake of this big business competition.  However, over the years I made peace with the "giants" and now feel sadness at their demise.

It wasn't too long ago that the Borders on Wolf Road in Albany closed, leaving a smaller store in a local mall.  The Barnes & Noble on Wolf Road moved to the mall across the street at about the same time.  I miss the freestanding stores.  I have many wonderful memories of browsing in the peaceful Barnes & Noble store -- a haven of sorts whenever life became too much for me.  Its new location in the mall is loud and busy, and not at all conducive to quiet introspection.  The Wolf Road Borders holds memories of hot chocolate and warm conversation in its peaceful cafe, which is non-existent in its smaller mall location.

The reasons given for the closing of the Saratoga Borders is the huge popularity of E-books and online bookstores, as well as the death of the music CD market.  How sad!!!  As a sensual person, I cannot imagine how an E-book can possibly compete with a hard copy.  I love the process of reading as much as I love the knowledge or entertainment found in a book.  I enjoy the weight of the book in my hands, the cover illustration, the font styles, the scent of a fresh new book or a dear old friend with pages worn and a musty scent.  Often as I read late in the evening, I begin to drowse, and must turn back a page or two to find my place.  I keep a quotation journal, and often page back through a book after I finish it, jotting down memorable quotes.  How cold it must be to read a book from a computer. 

I realize that technology has brought significant positive changes to our culture.  However, I truly believe we have sacrificed some measure of pleasure and humanity as we move into this high-tech world.  While texts and Emails are convenient, nothing can compare to sitting quietly with a friend and watching his eyes as he talks.  Words viewed on a screen cannot convey the inflections behind conversations.  How easy to misread the actual intent of a sentence when viewing it in abbreviated form on a screen.

I remember the days when business phones were answered by receptionists who listened to your needs and referred you to the proper person to handle your issues.  Today's phone menus are frustrating and completely impersonal.  I have become enraged several times when asked to speak to the computer, only to be told that the computer does not "recognize" my voice.  In fact, my Ford Escape has this "wonderful" Sync System that allows me to press a button and make a phone call.  For some reason, though, the car does not "recongize" my voice.  My husband's voice works like a charm, but for some reason my "voice" is unrecognizable in Sync's repertoire.  After a few futile attempts, I do not try anymore.  I take out my trusty old cellphone and dial the number -- at least my "dialing" is recognizable.

With our busy lives, much of the food we consume is "take out", or processed foods from the grocery store, picked up on the way home and heated up quickly before we head out to our next meeting.  Gone are the days when soup simmers on the stove all day, filling the house with its tantalizing aroma, and cake batter is stirred in a big old mixing bowl, baked in layers and frosted with buttercream icing made from scratch.  We sacrifice process for convenience, and everyone loses --

Of course, I realize that our technological world is constantly reinventing itself, and I try to keep abreast of the changes.  I certainly do not want to become an old lady who cannot communicate with her grandchildren or search the internet for important information.  I realize that our children must be educated to compete in the world as it exists and changes.  I do try, though, to make certain that my grandchildren have the chance to enjoy the sensuality of this world, too.  We read real books together, snuggled in a comfy chair; we make cookies and taste the dough, smell the vanilla, and enjoy the process of creation.  They sniff the flowers in the garden and feel their soft petals; they experiment with writing and drawing on different paper with all types of pens and crayons.  We take time to enjoy the "process" of what we do as much as we enjoy the final product.

And, as usual, I have digressed.  Obviously, the closing of one Borders store in a lovely little city in upstate New York is not the end of life as we know it.  However, it is the end of one more little pleasure in the lives of its patrons who gathered there to browse and read and enjoy coffee and face-to-face conversations with others who love books.  Good-bye Borders!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Won't You Say You Love Me, Too

It is early afternoon on a snowy February 1.  I am sitting in the office, trying to catch up on a backlog of work.  Suddenly, from downstairs, I hear Alivia yelling, "Grammy, Grammy!!!," and I yell Back, "What?"  "It's OUR SONG!," she yells.  I leave the desk and hurriedly descend the stairs to hold her and sing the Barney song that has become "Our Song" to Alivia and Luke.  Of course, I make it down for the last stanza only, but that isn't what is important.  What is important is that we don't miss the hugs & kisses that accompany the song.

My days with these precious grandchildren are tiring, challenging, and more rewarding than anything else I could be doing at this moment.  This Barney song is ingrained in our hearts as the call that draws the three of us together from wherever we are to hold each other tightly and renew the bonds of love that we share.

I know that I am giving them both a tremendous gift -- the unconditional love of a grandmother during the hours their own parents are away.  As they grow up and move into the larger world, they may not remember many details of their days with me.  In fact, they may not even remember the "specialness" of this Barney song, but they will be more secure, move loving adults because they were held closely in the loving arms of their grandmother.

And I will always wipe a tear from my eye when I hear the Barney song and they are grown up and no longer yelling, "Grammy, it's Our Song!!".

"I love you, you love me,
We're a happy family --
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me, too.

I love you, you love me,
We're best friends like friends should be --
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me, too."

Saturday, January 22, 2011


"Live in each season as it passes:  breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit." -- Henry David Thoreau

As I opened the porch door this morning to put the dogs out, the cold darkness quickly chased me back inside to a hot mug of coffee enjoyed in the cuddly warmth of a soft afghan.  Now, pale sunshine has filled the sky and the snowy landscape is a lovely site.  This year the month of January has been much like those of my childhood -- frequent snowstorms, trees and shrubs sparkling with bits of ice, and crackling cold surrounding us all.  It is impossible to imagine that six months ago the garden was lush, and the heat and humidity of July were our daily companions.

Today my gardens are safely tucked under a blanket of snow, and the birds and squirrels fluff up their feathers and fur as they hurry back and forth from shelter to feeders.  While I love the pleasures of summer -- quiet evenings on the porch, fresh tomatoes warm from the vine, steak sizzling on the grill, and the scent of flowers lingering on warm breezes -- I also love winter.  There is a stillness in winter that soothes my soul, a drawing inward of sorts.  I love walking in snowy darkness, just me and the silent flakes that drift through the air.  I love sleeping under piles of soft quilts and the sensuality of wrapping myself in a well-worn sweater.  Soup or stews simmer slowly all day, filling the house with warmth and aroma.  A cup of cocoa warms cold hands when we come inside.  And, as in every season, the sunrise is lovely -- coming so much later and arriving slowly -- just the palest peach painting the horizon as daylight slowly pushes away the deep winter darkness.  I love moonlight on the snow -- a lovelier sight cannot be found.  I drink it all in -- the beauty and the stillness of this season when nature rests.

In the Northeast, we are blessed with a gift in our marked change of seasons.  Just as we tire of the endless cold of winter, we are greeted with gentle spring breezes that speak of warmth.  The mud of March becomes the fertile soil for summer flowers.  The long, hot, drowsy days of August are blown away by the cool, clear air of September.  How boring it must be to live where there is little to mark the passage from one season to the next.

I realize that there are people who do not find their pleasures in nature.  They live very happy lives in their "temperature controlled" worlds -- their contentment comes from more worldly endeavors.  They live productive lives and perhaps never find a thrill in a sunset or a flower.  They probably would prefer to live where the seasons don't change much, and the cold does not seep into your bones in winter.  But, like Thoreau, I prefer to savor each season and seek my bliss in the capriciousness of the climate of New York.