Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter White

 
 
Early this morning I slipped on my boots and winter jacket, grabbed my camera, and went out into the icy cold air to take some photos of the new snow.  We have had two snowstorms in the days following Christmas, leaving our neighborhood blanketed with gentle mounds of white.  There is a hint of January in the crisp coldness, and the late afternoon light on the snow speaks of cozy kitchen hours as I prepare supper while watching the birds linger at the feeder for a last-minute meal before darkness falls.
 
Today I slowly "untrimmed" my home -- packing away the Christmas decorations for another year.  I savor every minute of the holiday season, but by the last day or two of December, I am ready to replace the warm hues of Christmas with a soothing palette of winter whites. 
 
 
As I sit here in this last hour of my Sunday, the house is filled with the serenity of white candles garlanded by ivy and white roses, a white ironstone soup tureen on the dining room table, a white swan vase in the living room, and a garland of tiny white birds on the top of the china closet.  The white candles in the front windows will remain until New Year's Day, spilling their soft light onto the snow which covers the porch floor.
 
Today I bid good-bye to the clutter, chaos and magnificence of the Christmas season, and to the year 2012 as well.  I look forward to the quiet month of January, when snow and cold will prevail, and we will seek out the warmth of home at the end of each day.  Tomorrow we will look back on the year past and let it slip away -- both its joys and heartaches -- and we will prepare for the unknown in the new year ahead. 
 
May this new year be filled with blessings, simple pleasures, good health and contentment for us all -
 
Happy New Year!!
 
 
 



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Morning After

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The morning after Christmas -- the day you wake up and realize that the craziness of Christmas preparations is over.  I wander slowly through the house this morning, gazing at the decorations that have just a bit more time left on display.  There is a peacefulness in knowing that this most beautiful of seasons is drawing to a close.  Yesterday was the culmination of a month of planning and frenzied activity, and today I can relax in the knowledge that all went well and I can now savor the few remaining days of the season in more quiet pursuits.

I have many lovely memories from this Christmas to hold in my heart -- a holiday tea, my afternoon at the Altamont Victorian Celebration, my grandson's preschool pageant, a visit with a beloved aunt & uncle, a quiet supper with my brother-in-law, Christmas Eve church services, and an after-church gathering in my nephew's home.


On Christmas morning we lingered over coffee, bagels and cinnamon buns, and then I prepared a casserole of mushrooms, onions and shallots to roast at my son's house.  We gathered there in the afternoon -- all of my children, their families, a family friend, my father-in-law, sister-in-law and her family -- sipping wine, enjoying  appetizers, opening gifts, and savoring the aroma of an herbed beef tenderloin slowly roasting.  The little ones were precious in their Christmas finery -- giggling and tumbling together like little puppies.  I helped set the tables, enjoying the breathtaking view of the Berkshire mountains from the dining room window.  A dusting of snow covered the ground, a fire softly burned in the woodstove, and dusk slowly turned to the darkness of a winter evening. 
 
Dinner was delicious, and we lingered at the table, talking and laughing -- not really wanting the day to come to an end.  But, with tired body and full heart, I finally acknowledged my sleepiness, and we headed for home.  Better than any gift I received, were the hugs and kisses from my precious little grandchildren -- children filled with the wonder and innocence of Christmas.
 
And, now I sit here quietly, so thankful that the day ahead is unscheduled.  I look forward to the days between Christmas and the New Year with pleasurable anticipation -- time for myself, with no holiday activities that require planning or work -- time to relax over tea with a favorite cousin, maybe a trip to the bookstore to use one of my gift certificates, early mornings when I can linger as I am now, with coffee at hand.  I love the Christmas season in all of its harried splendor, and I still feel the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, but I think possibly what I love best is the morning after.
 



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Light of Love -- The Preschool Nativity


We sat together in the front row -  Luke's parents, sister, great-grandfather, aunt, and two sets of grandparents -- and watched the sweet faces of four-year-olds acting out the age-old story of the Nativity.  Their teacher was at their sides -- coaching them with their lines and encouraging them.  Some of them spoke so softly they could barely be heard, and others belted out their parts.  Watching a tiny little Mary wrap the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes was precious.  They sang Christmas songs and then hurried offstage to the loving arms of their families.

Last year I sat in this same room watching my granddaughter, Alivia, play an angel in her Nativity program.  There was only one difference this year -- as I looked at the innocent faces onstage, tears filled my eyes as I thought of the shooter who looked into faces such as these last Friday and shot them, point-blank and repeatedly.  How and why could he slaughter these innocents???  

I pushed these thoughts from my mind as the birthday party for Jesus began -- a long table of happy little children celebrating Christmas in their safe little preschool world, with loving families close by. 

Great-grandpa and both sets of grandparents headed home with Luke to enjoy a "family lunch."  It was a simple lunch -- soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream cones -- but to Luke and Emma it was special -- a gathering of people who celebrate each of them as individuals and who will strive to help them become the very best people they can be.   They basked in the light of love at that dining room table -- the same light of love that filled the preschool this morning -- the light that was born on that long-ago Christmas morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Terror in Connecticut





This morning when the shooting began, Alivia was settling into her day at kindergarten; Lucas was "safely" delivered at preschool, and Emma was with me, picking up Grampy for a trip to Walmart.  My three precious ones in their secure Friday morning locations -- and yet, not so far from here, little ones like them were terrified by the sounds of gunshots, and twenty of them  the fatal targets of this shooter.
 
I didn't hear about it until mid-afternoon, long after the terror had taken place.  My first emotion was agony for the victims, the parents, everyone personally touched by this tragedy.  My second emotion was to hold Lucas tightly in my arms, thankful that Emma was peacefully asleep upstairs, Alivia's class was safe, and Luke was snuggling with me watching Scooby-Doo.
 
My next thoughts were, once again, what is wrong in our society that produces people who are so angry or psychologically scarred, or violent that they vent their personal hatred on those they have never met -- those innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
 
When these terrible things happen, we talk about stricter gun controls and stronger security measures, but these are not the crux of the problem.  The problem is something much deeper.  When I was growing up in the 1950's and 1960's, many of my classmates had guns and they knew how to use them -- they hunted with their fathers, and did target practice at the local gravel pit -- but we never had to worry about them shooting US.  The thought never would have crossed their minds. 
 
What is our failing as a society, or as parents??  Is there too much violence on TV, in the movies and on video games?  Do children grow up with the lines blurred between fiction and reality?  Are their lives too regimented?  Do we talk to them enough and let them express their feelings, and help them to understand these feelings?  Are we too involved in our own "dramas" to recognize when our children have psychological problems, or too ashamed to admit it and seek help for them? 
 
I don't know the answers.  I just know that tonight my heart bleeds for this quiet little Connecticut community -- and all I can think of is the terror of those precious little ones, and the agony of their parents. 
 
Please God, Bless Us All --


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas in Altamont



 
 
 
 
This past weekend a good friend and I attended the Annual Altamont Victorian Holidays, a lovely celebration in a small village nearby.  As part of the festivities, they sponsor a Holiday House Tour, which is of particular interest to me, a lover of eighteenth century homes. 
 
Walking the streets of this village is a pleasure in itself, but we instead boarded the trolley, which was all decked out in holiday attire, with Christmas music playing onboard.  Each of the homes on the tour was beautiful.  One of my favorite homes has a first floor cupola, with mullioned windows, a stone floor, and two wicker rocking chairs flanking a small Christmas tree.  Another home which stole my heart is a cozy Victorian with warmth and charm throughout.  How peaceful it was to sip hot cider as we enjoyed the Christmas greenery, flickering fireplaces and candlelight.
 
 
At the end of our tour, we stopped in at the Altamont Free Library, which is housed in the beautifully restored train station in the center of the village.  What an enchanting place to linger, so different from the large contemporary libraries in surrounding towns.  This library is a "must-see" for anyone with a penchant for reading.
 
With tired feet and renewed spirits, we drove back to my own old Victorian house, to sip a glass of wine, open our gifts to each other, and enjoy a simple supper of beef stew and biscuits.   This day was a peaceful interlude celebrating both the pleasure of good friendship and the spirit of Christmas so carefully tended in this little country village.. 



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Missing Pieces


Each Christmas season, Alivia and Lucas have enjoyed playing with my Nativity set, but I could not find it in its usual place in the storeroom this year.  I then remembered that my brother-in-law had passed on my childhood Nativity set, which I had packed away with other family "heirlooms."   Alivia and I took it carefully from its wrappings and I placed it on a table.  It is obviously well-worn and missing figurines, but beautiful in my eyes.

As I look at it, though, I also feel a deep sadness.  I am the only one left of my original family of six -- parents, grandparents and younger sister.  We lived together in a small house in a rural community, and my childhood was happy and secure.  It feels strange, though, to know that they are all gone.  There is no one to tell me what happened to the missing figurines.  There is a tiny ceramic Mary looking down lovingly at a sweet little ceramic Baby Jesus; she doesn't fit with the larger, unbreakable figurines.  Are these two figures original to the set, and if so, I wonder if the remainder of these ceramic figures were broken or lost.  I don't remember -- I felt a flash of recognition as soon as I unwrapped the little Mary, but only questions remain.  There is no one alive now who knows.

This happens frequently -- this feeling that I can't quite put all the pieces together.  Fleeting memories or names drift through my consciousness, but I cannot bring them clearly into focus.  After my mother's death almost twelve years ago, my sister and I relied on each other to share the family stories and sift through the confusing memories that sometimes surfaced.  Usually between the two of us we could somehow unravel the mysteries of long-forgotten names and moments.  And then, in 2009, a month shy of her 53rd birthday, my sister passed away.  Suddenly, I felt like an orphan.   There is no one left to remember the little questions that come to mind -- where is Great-Grandma's portrait that hung in the stairway; who were the couple that our grandparents were friends with for so many years; where is my father's recipe for waffles; what happened to the Nativity figurines??

I miss them all -- my grandfather's teasing, my grandmother's soft, warm lap, my father's strength, my mother's gentleness, my sister's laughter.  But, most of all, I miss the relationships -- of being someone's granddaughter, someone's daughter, and someone's sister, a continuity of sorts.  There is a security in being loved just because you belong to someone -- because you are part of them -- and that security is missing.  What I wouldn't give for a few moments again with each of them to ask the simple questions that have arisen, as well as the deeper questions that sometimes haunt me.  I look into the placid face of my tiny Mary figurine and feel the pull of a long dormant memory that will not quite surface.  Maybe the memories of this old Nativity set will find their way into my consciousness -- or maybe they, too, will remain just beyond my reach -- missing pieces of my past. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Snow Dreaming

I rose early in the morning, pulled back the curtains, and was thrilled to see a light dusting of snow dotting the neighborhood.  What a lovely surprise!  I wrapped up in my soft robe, grabbed my camera, and slipped outside into the cold dimness of the late autumn dawn.  I desperately wanted to capture this snow before it disappeared from sight.  Years ago, snow began to fall in late November and continued throughout the winter months.  We were blessed in the Northeast with consistent snowcover, lakes and rivers covered with thick ice, and the promise of crisp, cold air each day.  In the 1970's slight changes in our winter weather began -- less frequent snowstorms, less snow volume, and slightly higher temperatures that melted the snows between storms.
 
Now, due to the global warming which is finally being acknowledged by those who denied it for so long, our winters in the Hudson Valley are shorter, warmer, and much less beautiful.  I miss the snow.  I miss its capacity to smooth the contours of our landscape, to provide protection for the roots of my perennials, to soften the harsh noises of the world.  There is nothing so peaceful as a winter evening walk with fresh snow underfoot, and snowflakes falling gently -- the earth is hushed and so is my soul.  I miss the traditional Northeast Christmas, with its twinkling lights and evergreen trees against a backdrop of white.  I miss moonlight reflecting on a snowy landscape as I take one last look out the window before snuggling under my quilts.  
 
And so, I am wishing for snow.  Today the temperatures were cold and the air was brisk -- it felt like late November should feel.  But, the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday is predicting temperatures in the high 50's.  So, I wait and wonder.  Will it snow for Christmas?  Will it snow at all?  Will my grandchildren be able to make snowmen and slide down snow-covered hills?  I realize that global warming is bringing with it much more serious problems than the lack of snow in my little corner of the world, but this dearth of snow saddens me.  Maybe my wish will come true, and we will have a few snowstorms this winter -- we have had some winters with snowfalls close to normal.  Maybe one of these mornings I will wake to a snow-covered world; maybe we will walk out of church on Christmas Eve to snowflakes drifting down to gather on the sidewalks.  For now, I will hold my memories of snow-covered winters past closely to my heart.
 

Friday, November 23, 2012

And Christmas Begins --

As the Black Friday mobs trekked through the malls, my Friday was a gentler, quieter day.  By tradition, I always begin my Christmas decorating early.  On Thanksgiving Eve, I place a single candle in each of my front windows, and I rise early Friday morning to once again carry boxes of my treasures down from the storeroom -- the Christmas season has begun.

When my children were young, my decorations were chosen with them in mind -- I recall a cardboard fireplace, a handmade Advent calendar, a Santa that squeaked, angel chimes, reindeer galore, and a tree decked with colored lights, tinsel and children's ornaments.  Each year we made a special trip for each child to pick out one ornament for the tree -- a collection that they would take with them to their own homes when they were grown.  Christmas in our home was child-centered.

I reminisced about those wonderful years as I carefully unpacked my "grown up" ornaments today.  My tree is small now, with tiny white lights and Victorian ornaments in tones of ivory and mauve, and lovely fabric ribbons cascading from the top.  My collection of St. Nicholas figurines graces the sideboard; a small group of delicate angels resides on the tea cart, tiny birds snuggle into the greenery, and miniature frames holding baby pictures of my children and grandchildren hang from delicate ribbons on the tree. 

While I loved those chaotic family Christmases, today I find much peace and contentment as I sit quietly and savor the beauty around me -- the greenery, the tiny lights, the candles, the music.  I am glad that I labored this morning with the many trips up and down the stairs and the careful placing of greenery and decorations.  My home is filled with the warmth, the beauty, and the spirit of Christmas, and I am content to sit here alone and savor it all --

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Heart of Home

My library nook
 
 
For years I have sought to determine the elements that elevate a house from a mere building to a home.  As a child when I visited school friends and relatives, I was drawn to certain houses much more than others.  In retrospect, I realize that the homes that spoke to me were the ones that felt warm and welcoming to a child. 
 
As an adult, I have come to realize that there are many different opinions on homes.  Some people view their homes as a measure of their success -- they want new, upscale and large.  There are those who love the serene look of a pared down decor -- a few quality furnishings and accessories.  Ease of entertaining is a requirement for many -- an open, flowing floor plan.  Cozy log cabins are a popular choice.

While I can appreciate the beauty of many different houses and styles of decor, what I find most appealing  personally is warmth and comfort, and the look of a home that reflects the personalities of its owners.  I love to see a little "clutter" here and there -- books, magazines, a piece of knitting in a corner, family photos -- something that leaves clues to the everyday living that takes place within its walls.  I love kitchens with children's paintings on the refrigerator and counters lined with well-used utensils.  I love cozy throws in the living room and plants scattered here and there. 

Several years ago I met a woman with the most beautifully decorated apartment.  I loved it.  However, as we became friends I realized that the apartment did not reflect her personality at all.  She had hired a decorator, and while it was lovely, there was nothing in it that was "her."  She was an interesting, vital person, and yet there was no trace of her life and interests in her perfect apartment.

My home is an old Victorian that has been in my husband's family since 1924.  I have loved it since I first saw it, and now it is a comfortable little haven as I grow older.  It shows its age, just as I do, and it has sheltered my children, grandchildren, friends and family through all of these years.  The refrigerator is covered at this moment with my grandchildren's precious drawings; the kitchen cabinets and floors are in dire need of updating; the dining room is graced with a large table which is a bit rickety now, but has been in the family for generations.  The books that I love have overflowed my little library nook; every room could use a fresh coat of paint.  But, it has tremendous heart -- no one could walk into this house without feeling welcome.  It is obvious that I love teacups and flowers and books.  Often, there is something simmering on the stove or baking the oven -- wafting aroma through the air.  It may not be a showplace, but it definitely has heart, and, in my opinion, that is one of the most important elements in the transition from "house" to "home."

What makes a house feel like home to you?
  


 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Moments


"Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments." -- Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
 
 
My mornings are a tightly scheduled dance -- out of bed and ready for Alivia's arrival at 6:30 AM, a few minutes of cuddling and reading with her, preparing breakfast together, and leaving in time to arrive at Luke & Emma's house by 8:00 AM.   We are greeted with hugs and kisses when we arrive, and then we have about a half hour to be sure everyone has been fed and dressed, enjoyed a bit of playtime, and gathered together schoolbags, coats and hats.  I hurry them all to the car, buckle them into their seats, and we drive to Alivia's house so she can catch the school bus for kindergarten at 8:57.  As soon as Alivia is safely on the bus, we drive across town to Luke's preschool, which begins at 9:15. When Emma and I finally arrive back home at 9:30, I am exhausted.

We soon realized that we were arriving at Luke's preschool a little early, so instead of waiting in the hallway for the door to open, one morning I took a slight detour over a lovely country road nearby.  Luke was immediately captivated.  That first morning the sun was shining brightly, the trees were showing off their magnificent autumn colors, and the dusky mountains rose behind them -- a blue so deep it was almost purple.  There are farms dotted along the road -- some well-kept and others with tired old buildings and machinery lying about.  Luke loves the barns.  A tiny green valley lies at the heart of one farm -- with cattle scattered about and sheep grazing lazily on the hillside.  A small family cemetery sits atop a hill.  Luke calls this the "pretty road," and it has become our morning destination each day. 

One morning we spotted a farmer's field filled with Canadian geese sunning themselves.  It seems there is always something new to see on this quiet old rural road.  Luke points out each of his favorite places and asks the deeper questions that rise in his mind as he travels through this serene landscape.  Yesterday morning we stopped for a group of wild turkeys who couldn't quite decide which side of the road they wanted to explore -- the cornfield or the shady stand of old trees.  We have both grown to cherish this little detour.  I love watching Luke's response to the natural beauty around him, and he loves the old barn that is falling down.  And, I know that this year will be over quickly and Luke will be getting on a school bus next year.  Our little drives over the "pretty road" will be a thing of the past, but, for today, these are moments that we both treasure.
 
 
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

These Hands



I sit beside Lucas on the couch, and he gently rubs his fingers along the wrinkles and loose skin on my hands, and I am reminded of sitting beside my grandmother in church and playing with the veins on her hands as my attention wandered.  I loved her hands -- tiny and soft, though old and wrinkled.

My hands have never been pretty -- for years the nails were bitten to the quick, and they have always been less than graceful.  My cousin had beautiful hands, and I was so jealous as a teenager of her delicate fingers and long fingernails.  My good friend also had lovely hands.  When our children were little and we spent much time together, I loved watching her expressive hands as she cooked, sewed and tended her little ones.  But, mine were always a disappointment -- too wide, with stubby fingers.

Now, though, I look at my hands with gratitude -- they have served me well all these years.  They have done work I enjoy -- chopping, stirring, kneading, providing sustenance for those I cherish.  They have done heavy work -- painting walls and laying stone in my garden.  They have earned money -- typing quickly and accurately and organizing files and records.  They have held my newborn babies close, rubbed tired little backs and sewn Halloween costumes and fancy party dresses.  They have decorated, baked, and wrapped gifts for many Christmases.  They have massaged the feet of dying loved ones, stroked hands and faces of friends and family, touched, caressed and loved.  They have arranged flowers and planted gardens and written words of love and comfort.  They have held the hands of my children and grandchildren as they toddled into the larger world.  They have been folded in prayer.  They have held books.  They have comforted, and they were stroked gently once when I needed it most. 

They will never be as lovely as I would have liked, and with each passing year the wrinkles and veins are more prominent, but they are hands that have known both the joyful heights and devastating depths of emotion, and each wrinkle is a testament to the full life I have lived --


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perplexing Questions



As the Presidential debates ended on a late October evening, I pondered much of what I had heard in all of the debates.  I have questions in my mind -- none of which are particularly political.  

The stress is on creating jobs.  My concern is that the world has changed considerably.  The jobs that will be created will most likely be jobs that require technical skills.  No matter how we spin things, there are still many Americans who do not have the basic intelligence to learn the skills required for these technical jobs.  In the 1950's through the 1980's, there were good jobs in manufacturing, municipalities, construction and utilities which provided health insurance, pensions, and security to people who had limited intelligence, but were willing to work loyally every day at mundane jobs.  Obviously, this is no longer the case.  What is to happen to these people who are willing to work diligently, but do not possess the basic intelligence to compete in our high-tech world? 

I also question -- and this is a controversial view -- who has the right to determine which countries can develop and possess nuclear weapons.  Personally, I strongly oppose nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear energy, due to their capability to annihilate life as we know it.  But, I wonder why we are so determined that Iran not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, yet we seem to be fine with Pakistan possessing nuclear capabilities.  Please don't misconstrue my question as being in any way supportive of Iran -- I just wonder what gives the more powerful nations of the world the right to decide it is okay for some nations to possess nuclear capabilities and not okay for other nations.

During the debates there was much discussion about the Arab Spring uprisings.  It seems like we heartily encourage all nations, particularly those in the Middle East, to rise up against totalitarian governments and create democracies.  However, we are unhappy if the electorate chooses leaders who do not meet our standards.  It seems to me that either we support the democratic process or we don't.  Who are we to choose what is best for the citizens of another country?

These are complicated questions, and, as I said, not directed at either party or candidate.  I would be interested in hearing others' opinions on them, as I find them perplexing. 




Friday, October 19, 2012

A Time to Leave


The heavy rains and dreariness make this a less than auspicious day for a move.  I open the curtains and look at my neighbor's house, knowing this is the last night she will spend in the much-loved home that has sheltered and comforted her family for over fifty years.

She doesn't want to leave.  Her hope was to live out her life in her secure surroundings, but her memory problems have necessitated a move to an apartment closer to her children, with the necessary assistance a person with early dementia requires.

The day is a sad one for her family, her friends and her neighbors.  Her son said this will be the first Thanksgiving he will not celebrate in this house.  Under the best of circumstances, downsizing is an emotional chore -- choosing what to take, what to pass on, and what to sell.

Several neighbors gathered on Monday evening to say good-bye to her over coffee and carrot cake.  The evening was bittersweet; our neighborhood is small -- twelve old houses on a dead-end street.  The majority of families that move in here stay for a lifetime.  We shared reminiscences and laughter, and then tears as we hugged Marge and wished her well in her new home.

The U-Haul is parked in the driveway on this bleak evening, and her children and grandchildren are filling it with the things that will go with her.  My wish for her is sunshine tomorrow morning as she leaves this house for the last time -- and for pleasure in this new chapter of her life.  She will be greatly missed here in our little corner of the world.
 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Small Things

"We can do no great things -- only small things with great love." -- Mother Teresa
 
 
Our town library sponsors a story hour for toddlers each week.  On Tuesday morning, I buckle my little granddaughter, Emma, into her car seat and we head off to the library to meet her other grandma and her cousin and enjoy story hour together.  It is a lovely little program, with songs, books, and free play.  As I look around the room, I notice that there are other grandparents there each week with their little ones.  In fact, everywhere I go, I am seeing more and more grandmas and grandpas who have taken responsibility for the daily care of their grandchildren while parents work.
 
Life today is far more complicated than when I was a young mother.  It is financially impossible for most mothers to stay home with their children now.  For many parents, both paychecks combined barely cover the necessities of life.  The cost of day care is another added burden, and the question lingers in the minds of many of us -- do we want these precious little ones in the hands of strangers for a large percentage of their days during these critically important formative years?
 
And so, we have a new generation of grandparents who spend their days caring for these beloved "children of their children."  One grandmother I have met drives an hour each way twice a week to care for her three grandchildren on the days her daughter works.  A very young-looking great-grandmother has cared for her two little granddaughters several days a week since they were babies.  As I dropped my little grandson, Luke, off at preschool the other day and walked back to the car with Emma, another grandma stopped me to talk, saying how blessed she felt to be able to truly enjoy these days with her grandson.
 
I have cared for each of my three little grandchildren since birth -- now Alivia is in kindergarten, Luke is in preschool five mornings a week and will enter school next year, and  Baby Emma is eighteen months old.  The time has passed quickly.  The physical stamina required has been tough on this aging body -- by the time I have returned home and prepared supper, I am falling asleep in my chair.  However, I have never regretted for a moment my decision to take care of these precious children.
 
We live in a society very different from the gentler times of my growing up years.  It seems to me that the world is a colder place where technology trumps civility, and financial success trumps quality of life.  As a grandmother, I can pass on some of the values that I see disappearing from our world -- honesty, empathy, an appreciation of our natural world, a broader definition of personal success.  My grandchildren are talkers and thinkers.  We have lively conversations on everything, and their questions are challenging.  I would not want a stranger answering these questions.  I cherish the bond we have formed.  Alivia and Luke cherish the bond they formed through four years of being together every day -- they are closer than most cousins -- almost like brother and sister. 
 
I feel hopeless at times in this technological world where greed and the hunger for power seem to have become the norm; kindness and contentment are seen as weakness.  There is nothing I can do to change the world, but I can, in my small way, try to instill in my grandchildren a sense of self-worth that will serve them well as they navigate through life in this cold world. 
 
This trend towards "Grandma Day Care," will be a tremendous force in shaping the lives of our young children.  Instead of competing for the attention of a day care worker, these children are receiving the attention of a person who loves them exactly as they are, and is devoting her days to them.  What could be better than this!
 
Of course, a mother at home with them is always a child's first choice.  Luke reminded me of this yesterday as we drove home from school.  He said, "I wish Mommy could retire, so she could be home with me all the time."  And then, because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings, he quickly added, "But you could still come over to see me, Grandma."  And so, as we grandparents work so hard to provide a secure and loving environment for these little ones, we also know that we are not Mommy, but I believe we are the best substitute. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Awe of Nature



I am up early this morning, as darkness still lingers at a time when sunrise and birdsong greeted me a few short weeks ago.  I walk out to the porch, and as my eyes adjust to the lack of light, I see the shapes of two deer grazing in my neighbors back yard.  I watch them quietly as daybreak begins -- such a lovely, peaceful sight to begin my day.

And I ponder -- if more people in our nation lived closer to nature, would we have been more apt to fight to preserve the natural bounty that was so freely available to us?  Would we have been so easily convinced to turn our farmlands into big box stores and cookie-cutter housing developments?  Would we have fought harder for fuel economy and alternative energy to help save our climate?  In fact, would we have been more aware that the climate was indeed changing significantly before our eyes?

Maybe for those who cool their homes with air conditioning rather than window breezes, and drive in cars with windows up and air conditioning on, and work in climate-controlled buildings with stale air and windowless walls, there is no reason to recognize climate change.  City dwellers whose most frequent exposure to nature is a small park amongst the tall office buildings and suburbanites whose little tracts of property are professionally landscaped and maintained somehow don't really have the rhythm of nature in their souls as do people who take the time to look and feel and smell the simple beauty around them every day.

The subtle differences that have been markers for climate change since the early 1970's have gone unnoticed by a majority of our population.  The gradual warming of autumn and winter and the diminished snows were welcomed by many as a convenience, rather than seen as a worrisome, insiduous change in our environment.

I wonder -- will they ever be convinced?  Is it too late anyway?  Have we already scarred this lovely planet and its atmosphere beyond repair? 

Sad thoughts on this quiet autumn morning as the deer munch, and I gaze silently in awe of the beauty around me --



Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Precipice

One day you wake up as you do every morning, and you realize that you have reached a breaking point.  There is no huge event that drives you over the precipice.  In fact, you realize it has been a long, slow process -- too much stress, no emotional support, financial struggles, too much work and responsibility, and too little fun. 

And, you feel guilty, because your life isn't as bad as many peoples' lives -- there could be so many more serious problems.  And this guilt makes you feel worse.

Suddenly, though, you realize you are just empty -- there are no emotional reserves left.  The huge bill for car repairs that you can't afford, a few careless, hurtful words spoken, and then finally a late school bus which throws off your tight morning schedule -- you feel the tears prickling at the back of your eyes.

But, you don't let them fall -- you can't, because you aren't really sure if you can ever make them stop.

And then, the day is over, you pick up your car at the garage, drive home to your peaceful house, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the blissful pleasure of a quiet Friday evening.  On Saturday, you spend the afternoon with your favorite cousin, touring apartments and condos in lovely Saratoga County -- a lazy afternoon filled with good conversation and laughter.  You find that the last apartment on your tour is on the sixth floor of Market Center Apartments in Saratoga Springs -- and you enjoy the panoramic view from its huge windows and walk out onto the lovely balcony which overlooks beautiful downtown Saratoga and mountain vistas beyond, with cool autumn breezes and blue skies begging you to linger there for awhile.

The emptiness of yesterday morning is slowly being refilled with the joy and beauty of this lovely afternoon, and you realize that you are not going to fall over the precipice.  You were born with the gift of a happy spirit, and you just have to be sure you take the time to refill the springs every once in awhile -- to spend time with people who make you happy and visit places that bring you pleasure.  You are going to be okay!!



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spiritual Wealth



Each weekday morning I rise early, walk slowly down the stairs and begin to feel the stiffness in my muscles ease as I start the coffee pot and open the door to my lovely porch -- the sunrise filters through the branches of the old white pines and reflects on the windows I open to let in the fresh autumn air.  As the coffee brews, I watch the birds at the feeder and sometimes see a deer or two passing through in search of an early morning meal.  The quiet of these autumn mornings is such a contrast to the lively birdsong of spring.  I love this old house, with its familiar coziness, and long to linger on the porch for a bit, but school has begun and my daughter-in-law is back to work, so I must hurry down to take care of my grandchildren.

As I walk through the door of their house, I am greeted by the precious little faces I love so much.  I begin the familiar morning routine to get them ready for the day ahead.  During scattered moments, I pause to savor the beauty of my son's house -- so new and pristine and different from my own home.  My favorite spot is their kitchen with its sunlit mullioned windows and French door leading to the lovely deck my son designed and built.  This morning the windowsill holds an old Ball canning jar brimming with roses and a pot of basil, whose scent lingers on my fingers as I touch the leaves.  Sunlight falls on the jar of roses, and I am thankful for this moment.

For a woman of 62, taking care of preschoolers is a tiring and demanding job.  In the midst of temper tantrums and diaper changes I remind myself that I have chosen this life so that my grandchildren will know daily security and love while their parents work.  I have the time to listen to their questions and give thoughtful answers; the bond between us is strong. 

Perhaps, though, it would have been a wiser choice to take a job in the real world after our business collapsed last year.  Perhaps I wouldn't be struggling to make ends meet.  Sometimes I so much miss dinner out and buying sprees at the book store.  But, this morning as I savor the beauty of a jar of roses in the sunlight and look forward to a leisurely walk through the neighborhood later -- enjoying a couple of beautiful cottage gardens along the way -- I know my spirit was not meant to be contained in an airless office.  My spirit needs to be free; it needs to be one with nature, and it needs time to reflect upon and enjoy the world around me.  I may be lacking in material wealth, but I am so rich in spirit!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Politics of Intolerance

 
 
A perfect rose on a September morning -- how lovely.  As I water and tend my plants and flowers, I am in a peaceful world of my own; how I wish life were as simple as moments like this in the garden.  Unfortunately, life is far from simple.

As we navigate through this election year I am reminded again and again of the complications we face in choosing the best candidates -- we are bombarded with a constant deluge of words, many of which are harsh and often untrue.  It is imperative that we listen and read carefully these words, so we can make the most educated decisions on those whom we choose to lead our communities and our nation.

In the past few elections, though, I have become alarmed at the vitriolic tenor of the public, the media, and the candidates themselves.  There is no spirit of compromise.  There seems to be no willingness to listen or consider the beliefs or the ideals of  the "other side."  Even though I feel very strongly about certain issues, I force myself to read and understand opposing views. 

I find it increasingly upsetting, though, as I read many Facebook comments and numerous blogs.  I notice a growing intolerance in this country -- and maybe it has always been there, but has been better hidden when people did not have access to social media to espouse their inner hatred and racism.  Huge segments of our society are filled with anger that their tax dollars go to support "worthless" folks on welfare.  While many of them do not support raising the minimum wage, they still do not want their tax dollars paying for health care for these same "worthless" working poor who cannot afford large health insurance premiums.  They look askance at Disability because too many people who could be working collect disability instead.  And who are they to judge who is physically able to be working?  They worry about all the people who are collecting unemployment, but working on the side as well.  They worry on one hand that all the illegal immigrants are taking good jobs from real Americans, or, conversely, that these "worthless" immigrants are not working and are receiving free medical care and food stamps.  And what is the alternative for these "worthless" people -- what happens to them if they are unable to work, or unable to  find jobs in this difficult economy?
    
And yet, these same Americans (mainly Republicans) do not worry about their tax dollars supporting banks and corporations that make billions of dollars, outsource jobs and take advantage of huge tax loopholes and deductions, or wealthy people and corporations who rely on offshore addresses to avoid the taxes they legitimately owe to the United States.

I read a comment yesterday from one man who said almost 50% of Americans are on some sort of government welfare.  As I fact-checked his statement, I noticed one Christian news article that made this same statement -- but the 50% figure also included people currently collecting Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment, all programs that are funded through worker and employer contributions.  

I hear extremely nasty comments about African-Americans and Arab-American, Mexican-American and Indian/Pakistani-American immigrants etc., etc.  I cannot understand -- unless we are Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants to this nation.  What if our ancestors had been denied equal opportunity to build a life in this country.  I have English, Dutch, German, French, and possibly Irish blood in my veins -- how am I "better than" these newer immigrants???  And, how many wonderful contributions have been made to our society by all of these people!?

I am frustrated and disillusioned -- and, even more difficult to understand, is the fact that many of these angry, bigoted people call themselves Christians.  As a life-long Christian, verses from Matthew 25:35-40 have been the strongest influence on my adult life:

"Come, blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.  For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes, naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison and you visited me."  Then these righteous ones will reply, "Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you?  Or thirsty and give you anything to drink?  Or a stranger, and help you?  Or naked, and clothe you?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?  And I, the King, will tell them, "When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it for me."

Amen --



 

Monday, August 20, 2012

It Takes a Village

Every morning I wake to birdsong -- I fill the feeders each day with fresh seed to feed the multitude of birds that flock to my yard.  I love to listen to the quiet sound of the sparrows as they settle in to roost in my ivy-covered trellis each summer evening.  However, as much as I love sharing my yard with these precious little creatures, I have never taken the time to educate myself about their habits.

For years we have had a bird house hanging from our front porch roof, and each spring sparrows make a next in the little house, as well as in a small hole below the gutter; I watch as they carefully make their nests, and hear the chirping little ones as the parents rush to and fro to feed them.  

This spring my husband built a new bird house for the opposite side of the porch, which hangs just outside my living room window.  Within a week, two sparrows called the house their own and set about filling it with bits and pieces of twigs and dried grasses.  I watched them carefully, awed by their determination and loyalty as they took turns tending first the eggs, and then the tiny baby birds.  One morning, I saw something hanging from the nest and realized it was a little dead baby -- having lost my own first baby at birth, I cried as I pulled the little body down from the nest.  A couple of days later, I found another little dead baby on the porch floor -- what a sad ending for two such dutiful little parents. And the nest was empty and quiet --

As summer progressed, I no longer checked the birdhouse, not realizing that another little family might be raised during the same season.  Recently I noticed more action around the birdhouse, but didn't really pay too much attention.  Early this afternoon, I heard insistent chirping outside the living room window.  Taking a quick look, I noticed two puffy little sparrow babies perched in the squares of my rose trellis, chirping and looking scared.  In the limbs of the Rose of Sharon close by, were at least four adult sparrows, flitting around, chirping to the babies, nervously watching the little ones and trying to encourage them to spread their wings and leave the trellis.  The fluffy little babies looked a bit bewildered and afraid, but apparently the adults convinced them to try, and they hopped off the trellis to one of the closest limbs.  The adult sparrows flew close to them, in and out of the bushes, until they convinced them to fly on a bit further.  

I was surprised as I watched -- I knew that both parents took care of the babies, but I never knew that other birds were part of this "coming of age" process.  What an amazing sight it was -- these birds flitting nervously about -- and, after the "village" had convinced the little ones to leave the nest and no birds remained on the trellis or in the bushes, I watched as the little mother sparrow took one last lingering look into the doorway, perhaps feeling a bit sad at the prospect of her empty nest --
 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Priceless Summer




In June the days of summer always dangle as pearls in front of us.  As tulips and daffodils give way to roses, we feel as if we have so much time ahead to enjoy the long, peaceful days of summer.  Now, suddenly, it is mid-August -- we feel a panic of sorts; there is so much more we wanted to do, and the days are dwindling down.

This summer is a bittersweet one for me.  In September my oldest granddaughter, Alivia, will begin kindergarten, and my everyday world of three precious little ones will be forever changed.  I know I felt a similar tug to my heart each time one of my own children began school, but at least they still came home to me at the end of each day.  Not so with Alivia -- her Daddy will be home to get her off the bus and hear the story of her day.

I wanted to make this summer special for the two of us.  Luke and Emma's mom is home with them all summer, so for the most part, I have time alone with Alivia.  We have kept to a peaceful routine; she arrives at 6:30 am, and we spend some time snuggling together in the chair, often reading the books she holds so dear.  Then we enjoy breakfast together in front of the TV, while she watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  We water the garden together -- and the plants have required alot of watering this hot summer.  Then, we are ready for whatever activity presents itself -- she took two weeks of morning swim lessons and a week of morning summer camp -- we have made trips to the library, shopping excursions, begun a postcard exchange program, and spent time with Luke. 

To celebrate her fifth birthday, we went to a local tea room with Luke and a favorite cousin of mine.  What a terrible disappointment that was.  Alivia had been looking forward to it, but even though I had called ahead and ordered the "Children's Tea" and told them I was bringing two little ones, the wait was almost more than they could bear.  They were so precious -- practicing their best manners -- but even the "Children's Tea" was not appropriate fare for children.  This will be one of those memories we will all laugh about -- and I will forever carry in my heart the picture of the two of them dressed up and acting so grown up in such an uncomfortable situation.

I am thankful that I have been able to care for my grandchildren since they were infants.  The bond I feel with them is enormous, and I treasure these days.  Both Alivia and Luke are deep thinkers and our time together is filled with questions and conversation.  Already, Emma is chattering away, and it won't be long before she and I are sharing these serious conversations, too.  I have tried this summer to "pack in" as much quality time with Alivia as possible. 

There are still things I want to do with her and things I want to tell her, and summer is waning.  We are going to prepare a tea party for her Nanny, which she always enjoys.  She wants  to go to the playground with Luke and have ice cream at her favorite ice cream stand on the way home.  A much-loved cousin has invited me to bring all three little ones out to swim in her pool.  I told Alivia I would teach her how to make bread.  The list goes on and on and time is becoming shorter and shorter.

Soon, I will be putting her on the bus one morning and her life will forever be changed -- she is growing up, and Grammy is having a difficult time letting go --

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tend With Care



 
My old Rose of Sharon bush has bloomed its heart out this summer, despite the heat and lack of rain.  How hard this lovely plant struggles to hold on to its beauty as it ages, as all women do.  I planted this bush in 1992, with a twin nearby which died suddenly a few years ago.  Somehow this bush has grown far beyond my imaginings, and I have begun a process of selective pruning each year to tame her wild limbs, and encircled her over the winter with a support to keep her aging limbs from breaking with the weight of snow.  She is a work in progress -- as I have culled old limbs, new ones have begun to grow, straight, healthy and filled with new blooms this year.  When you plant gardens and watch them grow, the individual trees and plants become dear to you.

As I snapped this photo today, I was also observing how badly the old wicker chairs and the porch deck need a new coat of paint.  As we age, so do our beloved homes, and unfortunately, our energy level also begins to wane.  Just as the house and the gardens begin to need more and more time and effort, I find I can accomplish only so much at a time.  On Friday morning I was up early and out in the garden to weed with high hopes and high energy.  However, by 10:30, I was wilting from the August heat and humidity, feeling dizzy and somehow unsteady.  I had completed most of the front yard, but was forced to leave the back yard gardens for another day.  

It is frustrating!!  When I was raising my children, cooking, gardening, cleaning, entertaining, and working from home I never gave thought to the day when I wouldn't be able to accomplish one third of the work I did then.  Now, when I rise early in the morning I feel a stiffness that slowly subsides as I open the windows and make a pot of coffee.  Last week when I took my grandchildren to a local amusement park, it was with deep regret that I found I can no longer ride The Scrambler -- my all-time favorite ride.  My neck muscles cannot handle the stress.  How disappointed I am.  Inside is still the free spirit who loved the thrill of hurtling through the air, but my body is no longer cooperative.  

I recall the years I have taken such care with old things -- antiques, old houses, old pets, old people.  There is a fragility to old things and they must be tended to gently and patiently, and with much love.  And now, slowly I am realizing that my own body is becoming one of those "old things".  It shocks me, but when I look back in time to when my grandparents were my age, they seemed old.  Maybe because we baby boomers have grown up with the belief that we are somehow invincible, aging is difficult to comprehend.  We color our hair, moisturize and apply makeup, stay active, and expect to stay young.  But there is a point when we each realize that we are slowly moving from "middle-aged" to "elderly."   It shocked me recently when one of my friends was described as elderly.  How can that be?!

Alas, nothing stays new or young forever.  Just as I so carefully tended to all of the old things and old people I held dear, I will now put more effort into taking care of myself.  I will listen to my aging body and be gentle in my demands.  What I once accomplished in a few hours will now probably take a couple of days, but it will get done.  I will still cook and garden and take care of my grandchildren and dance my heart out, but I will do it with care.  I just need a little more tending, as my lovely old Rose of Sharon does. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Things We Keep

We sat on uncomfortable chairs in the chill air of the Emergency Room waiting area -- my nephew, brother-in-law and me -- waiting to hear the test results on my father-in-law, who had stroke symptoms.  Time passes slowly when waiting, and we filled the long uncertainty with conversation.  We moved from topic to topic with the ease that comes with the familiarity of family.  Soon we were laughing about Dad's propensity for saving everything, and I admitted that I do the same.  Whether it be scraps of pretty ribbon or fabric, plastic containers, clothing or furniture, I tend to hang on to these things "in case I need them someday." 

Then the conversation turned to the things that we would never part with.  Of course, all of my little treasures are important to me.  However, if I had to move tomorrow, there are three pieces of furniture I would never leave behind.  They are an old dressing table which belonged to my mother -- worn and battered by time, my grandmother's hope chest -- also knicked and not tightly hinged, and my grandfather's desk.  Grandpa's desk is not an expensive heirloom.  It was made of cheap wood, with a drop down door which was used as a writing surface.  Several years ago my father-in-law refinished it and replaced the drawer pulls, so it is lovely to look at, but not of much value on the antique market.  When I sit at my mother's dressing table, my minds paints a picture of the young woman she was, brushing her dark hair and dabbing perfume on her wrists -- the epitome of womanhood to her chubby little daughter.  My grandmother's hope chest was at the foot of her bed, and each time I open it, with its essence of cedar, I feel again the secure feeling of snuggling into her ample lap when I needed reassurance. 

The memory of my grandfather's desk is one of a lesson learned.  Grandpa had a beautiful pen -- green and gold -- that he treasured, and kept securely in a tiny drawer in the top of the desk.  For some reason, one day I opened the desk and took the pen.  I was very little -- not even ready for school, and I have no idea why I hid his pen.  I do remember the heavy burden of guilt on my young soul.  The days dragged on as Grandpa mourned the loss of his pen, and I tried so hard to admit my sin.  Finally, the perfect moment came, and I gave the pen to my grandfather -- he was so happy to see it again, and, to my relief, forgave me immediately.  But, every time I look at my lovely old desk, I am reminded that guilt can consume us.

As my brother-in-law recounted the stories of the treasures he keeps, one in particular touched my heart.  He has kept his father's old battered workbench.  It now sits in his workshop -- its sturdy construction far exceeding that of today's "do-it-yourself" workbench kits.  But, its worth lies not in its bulk and strength, but in the memories it invokes.  There are cigarette burns from the times his father laid down a cigarette briefly while working; spatters of paint from years of projects create a kaleidoscope of reminiscences, and hammer marks invoke the sounds of his father's hammering together his numerous projects.  But, most important to my brother-in-law, is the memory of his father reaching down to pick him up when he was small and sit him on the workbench to watch -- a little boy beside his Dad, feeling secure and loved -- by far the most treasured memory.  This workbench is definitely a "keeper."
 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Typewriter to Facebook

One of my much-loved rituals has always been reading the morning newspaper with my mug of coffee at hand.  I love the scent of newsprint, and the feel of the paper in my hands.  I scan the titles of each article, deciding which I will choose to read, and especially love the commentary section where I can read and ponder differing opinions on issues.  I have been forced to cut back to weekend delivery, due to finances, so during the week I now check the online version of the paper.  However, I miss the paper issue so much.

I have been slow to accept our technological world.  Each tiny step I have taken has been by necessity, seldom by choice.  In 1987 I bought my first computer so I could learn word processing and begin a small "secretarial" business from home.  How wonderful it was!  In the mid-90's my husband started his electrical contracting business, and my accountant persuaded me to computerize my accounting system.  I was SO hesitant -- I liked my handwritten journals and registers -- but, after a few days of using Quickbooks, I was hooked.  How wonderful to make just one entry of every transaction!

Of course, setting up Email was a necessity for a small business.  At first I remember saying to anyone who would listen, "I prefer handwritten messages, or a phone conversation."  Now, I can't imagine my world without Email.  It is so wonderful to be able to send off a message whenever I have something to say, regardless of time or location.

I have learned to make good use of the Internet -- I love the easy access to information at any hour of the day.  Especially in the past year, as we have closed our business and navigated the paths of trimming down costs of healthcare, insurances, utilities, etc. I have found the Internet much more efficient than the legwork that would have been required to change our lives so totally.

And so it has gone -- slowly I have adapted to it all -- digital cameras, cellphones, texting.  I love listening to country music on my IPod as I cook.  I even created this blog in 2007.  However, I was very uncertain about Facebook.  Why would anyone want to put such personal information out for the world to see.  Now I have found that I love it.  I have reconnected with people that I seldom see and find much pleasure in sharing little pieces of our lives.  Checking my Facebook page has become a "must" for me each day.

I often ponder whether our quality of life is better because of technology.  I was very happy years ago when I communicated through letters and phone calls.  I preferred small TV sets that didn't "jump off the wall" to get your attention.  I find it rude when I am having conversations with people and they are texting on their IPhones as we talk.  I feel the multi-tasking that technology has enabled has created a much higher stress level in our young people.  However, I will continue to learn and stay abreast of the latest advances.  I will keep a balance, though, and not neglect the natural world and the face-to-face conversations that enhance my quality of life. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Quiet Moments

I write to the sound of a gentle rain falling -- although it disappoints everyone when Saturdays are not sunny and warm, I must admit I love rainy days.  Somehow the world seems to slow down a bit, and I can sit in a cozy chair and read or write without an endless list of garden chores waiting for me.  And, this morning I need some rest.  The past couple of weeks have been very busy, and I am recovering from a cold and eye infection which seem to have exhausted me a bit. 

Two weekends this month were spent preparing a vegetable garden.  My yard has gradually filled with trees, so growing vegetables has not been a priority the past few years as shade is not conducive to vegetables.  However, I decided this year that I miss SO MUCH the taste of warm tomatoes fresh from the vine, and tender-skinned zucchini and yellow squash.  We bought two small raised bed frames and placed them on the side of our house where there is still a good deal of sunshine all afternoon.  It is a small area, but it will be exciting to grow my own vegetables again.  Years ago, I had a large garden out back, with tomatoes, green beans, squash, peppers, corn, carrots -- and I miss that.  But, I do love my shade trees and lovely perennials, so it is a trade-off.  Anyway, my vegetable beds are now filled with rich soil, plants and seeds, and fenced in with a high fence that should keep out all of my critters from the smallest bunny to the tallest deer.  And, now I wait for the pleasure of my own fresh veggies --

My month has also been marked with family celebrations.  Over Memorial Day weekend we attended family barbecues, and on May 30 we gathered together to celebrate my grandson's fourth birthday.  Luke was so excited -- the party was small, as mid-week celebrations tend to be -- grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins arrived for a delicious supper, bearing gifts and love.   His "kid's birthday party" was the following Saturday -- a much rowdier crowd!! 

My little granddaughter, Alivia, wanted a "sleepover" with Grammy this past week -- an impromptu treat.  I quickly changed dinner plans to "little girl" fare and spent the night with her snuggled closely to my side.

Yesterday was the last day of preschool for the year.  Luke's day was bittersweet, because he loves his teacher and was sad to leave her class.  Alivia's class held a Graduation Ceremony -- next year she will be in kindergarten.  My heart burst with love as I watched her up on stage; then the "graduates" joined their families (including my little Emma, who threw herself into Alivia's arms as soon as she sat down in her chair) to watch a video of their class memories.  How wonderful to feel the love in that room.  Bethlehem Community Church Preschool is a loving and nurturing environment, which prepares these little ones for kindergarten.

And now the weekend is here -- and I do plan to be gentle on myself.  My eye infection scared me -- even the remote possibility of losing the sight in one eye was a shocker.  Reading and writing are my bliss, and I realized this week how important it is that I am mindful of my eye health.  Somehow, with all of the screenings we endure -- mammograms, colonoscopies, etc., etc., I most often neglect my eyes.

So, I am making a vow to myself this morning -- I will not do any major work in the garden or the house this weekend; I will not hurry here and there; I will not plan any family gatherings.  I will let the weekend unfold slowly; watch my birds, enjoy my porch, listen to music, putter in the garden, and relax, so my body can concentrate on healing itself.  What a pleasure to have quiet moments --



Monday, May 28, 2012

The Worth of a Strong Back

The sun baked the high church roof as the workers labored  -- stripping off old shingles, loading the fallen shingles into wheelbarrows and pushing them to the dumpster, securing new shingles into place.  I watched as one tall, muscular young man tipped his heavy load of shingles off the wheelbarrow -- muscles rippling from his efforts.  And, I thought of politicians wrangling over the issue of raising the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, the legislators who make the final decisions concerning minimum wage and work standards are sitting in air-conditioned comfort as they argue over these issues.  To many of them, this is a political issue -- who wants to alienate business constituents with deep pockets.  There is a total disconnect between the work these legislators do each day and the work done by most minimum wage workers in this country.  

Unless you have earned your living doing physical work every day, it is difficult to place a value on this work.  Many educated professionals have never worked physically.  No matter how menial the physical work, it is hard work.  The construction laborer who does the digging and the lifting and the "grunt" work, the stock person who lifts and loads all day, the waitress who carries heavy trays back and forth again and again with a smile on her face, and the landscape worker who lifts and kneels and moves heavy stones are all physically exhausted by the end of their day.  Shouldn't they be paid a wage that allows them to afford decent housing, healthy food and health insurance?

As I was working in the garden the past two weekends -- digging and raking two new raised beds for vegetables, stringing fencing to keep my deer and rabbits out, planting and watering, I was once again reminded that physical work is tough.  I remember years ago thinking that painting looked like an easy job -- until we bought our old house and spent hours stripping wallpaper, sanding and painting -- up and down ladders, reaching and bending and kneeling.  I then realized that being a professional painter was no "walk in the park".

I wish each of our lawmakers would spend a few days as an "intern", working eight hours a day at a minimum wage job -- working with hands and back and muscles.  Maybe then they would realize that these workers deserve to receive fair compensation for their work -- compensation that will allow them to afford decent housing, healthy food and health insurance. 

Unfortunately, these people lack the political clout of the businesses that employ them.  Maybe we need a labor union for minimum wage workers -- to fight for their rights in a society which does not realize their worth.




     

Monday, May 21, 2012

And The Peonies Live On

The pressed glass pitcher is filled with pink peonies.  I place my hands around these heavy, voluptuous blossoms, breathing in their lovely perfume.  But this year, as I savor these precious spring flowers, sadness touches my heart.  I am thinking of Fred.  I picked these beautiful blooms last evening in his backyard, as I have for so many years; this year, though, Fred was not at the window or the back door.  He passed away before his daffodils bloomed and his grass turned green, and he is missed.  In a neighborhood of old homes where people move in and tend to stay on, Fred's passing impacted us all.  He was old, and he was sick, but his vital and caring spirit will live on in our hearts. 

2012 has so far been a year of losses -- wakes, funerals and grief have consumed too much of these months.  Not only have I grieved personally, but I have also grieved for friends who have lost loved ones.  I worry that this is a pattern, and that there are more to come.  I remember a decade ago when it seemed my sister and I attended funerals so often that we joked about becoming "professional mourners."  And now, that same sister that I laughed with is gone from my life.

There isn't much we can offer to our friends as they grieve -- a hug, a pot of hot soup, some cliched thoughts -- we feel helpless.  Grief is something we all have to deal with on our own terms.  The process of grief is long -- I still am moved to tears at the simplest of reminders, almost three years after my sister's death.

We attended a memorial mass for a friend on Saturday morning.  He was an outgoing, warm man and a loving father.  As his son spoke the eulogy, he said the last words he had spoken to his father the night before his sudden and totally unexpected death were, "I love you, Dad."  How wonderful to live with the knowledge that your last words were loving ones.  I, on the other hand, cried as I looked at the photo of this charming man, and remembered that my last words had been, "You'll have to come over for dinner sometime," but I never followed through.  I will always regret that.

And so, as these months of loss have weighed down my heart, I will not dwell on the things I neglected to do; instead, I will try to make that little extra effort to let my family and friends know that I love and cherish them.  For, in the end, all we are left with are the memories -- and only we can make those memories count for something good. 

And each year as I smell the peonies, or hear a West Virginia accent, I will remember Fred -- his crotchety side and his generous, loving side -- a man who overcame every adversity, a man with a will of iron, a strength of spirit, and a love for his fellow travelers along the way of life, which made us all better for having known him.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Carpet of Forget-Me-Nots

"There is a certain rhythm to rearing children and growing a garden.  They both require patience.  And watching.  And love." -- Molly Chappelett

This beautiful quotation speaks to my heart, especially in the spring as my garden wakes from its slumber.  I garden as I mothered -- sowing the seeds and gently tending, with no strict requirements --allowing both my children and my plants to become what they were destined to be.  

I have never been drawn to neat little beds of flowers.  I love a profusion of flowers.  My lily-of-the-valley migrate to the stone walk nearby; my thyme and oregano cascade over the little stone wall in my front yard.  My garden evolves -- as the canopy of leaves on my maple tree has shaded more and more of one garden, the showier flowers have given way to quieter plants with tinier flowers.  The birds and the winds carry new surprises to the gardens.  Where phlox once thrived in one garden, it is being replaced with black raspberry bushes which I never planted.

There are disappointments in the garden, as well.  Of the twelve climbing rose bushes I planted with loving care six years ago along the fence, only three or four remain -- and they look none too healthy at this point.  How sad for me -- a lover of roses!  This year I will try some other less fussy plants by the fence.  Along the driveway, in a patch of direct sunlight, a mix of phlox, coneflowers and a lovely yellow flower thrive.  Three years ago I bought one of the yellow flowers at a Garden Club sale -- the little old man who sold it to me didn't know its name, but said it grew very tall -- he was right.  Not only did it grow tall, it has also reseeded itself abundantly to provide a lush contrast to the pinks and purples growing alongside it.

How imperfect my garden is -- always changing, always growing outside its boundaries, fighting for space with a weed that haunts our neighborhood and makes my weeding chores difficult.  How much patience is required as I wait each year to see if the wisteria will finally bloom.  How frustrating when the deer eat the tulips as their leaves come out of the ground and the woodchuck devours the phlox out back before it has had time to blossom.

But, how beautiful it is was this morning to walk out into the yard and find a carpet of blue and white forget-me-nots.  Of course, this means the lawn will not be mowed anytime soon -- who can possibly mow down a carpet of flowers.  And so, my untidy, lush gardens thrive -- trees, berries, herbs and flowers -- raised with patience and watching and, most of all, love.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grandma's Potato Salad

My family gathers today at my son and daughter-in-law's home for an early Easter celebration.  Yesterday afternoon I made cupcakes with pastel icing and prepared my first potato salad of the season.  As I peeled and cooked the potatoes, diced the onions, snipped newly born chives from the garden, sprinkled in salt, pepper, celery salt and dill, then stirred everything together with Hellman's mayonnaise, my grandmother was in my thoughts.  My potato salad recipe was passed down from her, along with a lovely little covered dish which ALWAYS was used to serve her salad. 

No summer picnic was complete without Grandma's potato salad.  As she grew too old to cook, my mother took over the salad-making, and the tradition continued with my sister, my cousin, and myself.  I was the lucky one who claimed ownership of the pretty covered dish, which now bears a crack in its lid from an unfortunate kitchen accident.

Through the years I have made "adjustments" to the recipe.  I added fresh chives and lovage when I started my herb garden years ago, and dill when I sampled a good friend's potato salad which included chopped pickles (so much of my cooking has been influenced by friends).  I have deleted the chopped boiled eggs which were so much a part of Grandma's salad, because my daughter and one daughter-in-law do not like eggs. 

And so, today as we gather, once again Grandma's potato salad will be part of our celebration, and she will be with us in spirit.  One day I will pass along the special little dish (which is much too small for the larger salad I now make for our growing family), and the recipe will continue on in the now tiny hands of my grandchildren. 

I wish you all a Blessed Easter in the company of loved ones and traditions new and old --

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

High Tech or Well Rounded??

I walked down the aisle of the high school auditorium and settled into my seat to watch the school production of "Anything Goes."  As I waited for the lights to dim, the thought crossed my mind that this auditorium has changed very little since I was in elementary school over fifty years ago, attending "Children's Theater" productions two or three times a year.  The seats were scratchier then, to a fidgety little girl who enjoyed being away from my classroom much more than I enjoyed the play I was watching.  In high school I remember sitting through numerous assemblies and award programs, and as a mother I once again attended "moving-up" ceremonies and various other functions in this same room.  Being assailed by memories frequently is the curse/blessing of a "townie", who has lived her entire life in the same small town.

Throughout the evening, as I watched the talented young people perform, my mind wandered back to my educational experiences in this school district. Over the past several years, as politicians have tried to "improve" the educational system in this country, I have found myself increasingly at odds with their goals and methods.  It seems in their efforts to educate our children to compete in our high-tech world, they have lost sight of the value of a well-rounded education. While I agree that we must arm our young people with the technical skills necessary in this global economy, I worry that the strong emphasis on science and math, coupled with mandatory standardized testing at all levels is a detriment to our society.  

As declining federal and state aid and property tax budget constraints necessitate cuts across the board, it seems to me that funds for education are being targeted at an alarming rate, and we have forgotten that well-educated children are our greatest resource.  In this complicated world, we should be raising our children to think for themselves and giving them the skills to thoughtfully analyze the barrage of information coming to them constantly from the internet, TV, and social media.  Instead, it seems we are teaching them primarily the information pertinent to the tests they will be required to take.

Additionally, teacher accountability has become based more and more on the scores students receive on these standardized tests.  I feel this is unfair to the teachers, as well as to the students.  As I look back on my school years, the teachers from whom I learned the most were those who didn't always follow the lesson plan for the day.  They were the teachers who talked to us -- who listened and discussed ideas.  They made us think and defend our theories.  They gave us the gift of their time and knowledge.  Today, those same teachers might be hesitant to get "off track", because they must spend precious time teaching facts that will be on the required tests.  

Also, if teachers are evaluated based on student test scores, how is this fair across the board.  A student in a low-income school district where there is little parental support is unlikely to test as well as a student from a wealthy district where education is a priority.  Will the teacher in the low-income district be judged less effective?

I was a bright student who graduated with honors, but my strengths were definitely not in math and science.  I had maintained wonderful grades in math until I took algebra. My teacher was experienced and extremely competent, but even with the extra time she spent with me, I just could not "do" algebra.  For the first time in my life, I got a "C".  I was devastated.  Through the years I have learned that I totally lack technical abilities.  This was not my algebra teacher's fault, but if she was evaluated on my test scores, she would have been judged less effective. 

I realize that we are competing in a global economy which has become increasingly more technical and specialized.  Of course we need young people who are highly trained in math and science in order to maintain an edge in this economy.  However, I fear in our efforts to survive in our high tech world we are losing sight of our humanity.  In our nation there has been a place at the table for people with varying gifts and strengths.  Our educational system has produced great artists, musicians, athletes, and writers who have contributed to this humanity.  

I do not want to see our nation become filled with one-dimensional people who have been taught to perform their jobs with perfection and precision, yet lack the ability or choice to pursue their own bliss, or to think for themselves.  I want our teachers to be able to nurture the love of learning for its own sake, and to have the freedom and time to go into greater depth on a subject that sparks the interest of their individual students, rather than fearfully adhering to the limitations necessary to produce the highest test scores possible.

Most children can tell whether or not their teacher is a good teacher.  Most adults can look back and remember which teachers inspired them to learn and grow.  We don't need standardized test scores to govern our educational system.  We need competent, caring teachers who do not feel they are "under the gun" as they perform this most important job -- the job of educating our most precious resource.