Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas: Expectations vs. Realities

The Christmas season this year began for me on Thanksgiving Eve when a heavy, wet snow blanketed our neighborhoods -- a winter wonderland at every turn.  What a perfect setting as I placed my decorations around the house that weekend.  I trimmed my tree with its much-loved ornaments, spread greenery through the house and on the porch, Santas on the sideboard, my grandmother's precious ornaments in a lovely bowl, snowmen smiling from their shelves, and candles everywhere.  How much better can it be?  Of course, as always in life, there are sad undercurrents that trouble our hearts even as we savor the joys of preparing for this most holy day.


The weeks before Christmas were filled with moments to treasure.  We enjoyed a quiet dinner with my brother-in-law one Sunday; the next weekend I attended a local holiday house tour with a good friend.  The houses were lovely old Victorians, and I was captivated by the warmth of the rich, old wood floors, mouldings and stairways, the nooks and crannies, and the decorations placed so carefully throughout the homes.  We returned to my own old house for a light supper of beef vegetable soup and bread -- a peaceful end to our special day.
There were so many wonderful small moments -- baking Christmas cookies with my little granddaughter, snuggling with all three grandchildren one evening as they watched a Christmas movie, impromptu pizza suppers with family members when we were all too tired to cook.  There was wonderful news of happiness -- the birth of a cousin's new granddaughter, an upcoming summer wedding for a much-loved friend.  But, there were also the bad times -- serious illnesses and losses among family and friends, strife and violence in our own country and throughout the world -- all creating a heaviness of spirit during this season of joy.
Christmas Eve is always a busy day.  I enjoyed an afternoon in the kitchen with my daughter, arranging flowers for the table and cooking our contributions to Christmas dinner.  Then, I attended early services at church with family and friends.  My favorite moment of Christmas Eve is singing "Silent Night" by candlelight at church.  Even then, though, we were all still grieving the loss of my daughter-in-law's father; his absence from the church pews on this special evening saddened our hearts deeply.
Christmas Day dawned with balmy temperatures and NO SNOW -- and somehow in the Northeast it never really feels like  Christmas without snow on the ground.  We packed the car with our gifts, flowers, and food, and drove to my son's house.  We were greeted by my little grandchildren, with eyes shining and big hugs.  How I enjoyed the opening of gifts, the warmth of having all of my children, grandchildren and my in-laws together on this special day, and the delicious prime rib dinner.  However, my son spent the day upstairs in bed with a flu-like illness, and my nephew stayed home sick; it seemed somehow quieter and less fun with them missing from the table.
That is the way it is with Christmas.  While we are celebrating the birth of Christ, and it is a holiday of peace, hope and love, we all still have expectations of what our Christmases should be -- and, while sometimes the day exceeds our expectations, there are also those times when reality is far from what we had hoped for. 
Our hearts always carry happiness and sadness simultaneously.  For every terrible event that occurs, there is always some other blessing.  We must always look for the blessings.  As we look back at our Christmas season, we should remember the good times, rather than dwell on the times that somehow diminished our celebration.  And, unfortunately, in life there is certainly going to be a Christmas that will always be remembered with pain and sorrow.  It is during those times that we need to focus on the true meaning of Christmas -- we are celebrating the birth of our Savior.  His birth alone is blessing enough!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Blessing of Rituals

Each morning I rise from my bed slowly, leaving its warm softness for the joint-stiffening cold of my bedroom.  I pull on the pair of comfortable old slacks I left lying across the chair the night before, slip into socks and slippers, and gather my soft, warm robe around me.  I pick up my little dog and we make our way slowly down the stairs.  I turn on one light in the living room, the soffit lighting in the kitchen, switch on the coffee, and take the dog outside.  This time of year I am greeted with cold stillness -- usually it is still dark, with a deep blue sky and starlight.  Some mornings hues of pale pink wash the eastern sky through the trees.  There is a beauty at dawn no matter what time of year it is -- and it was especially lovely after our Thanksgiving snowfall this year.  By the time I bring the dog back in, the aroma of coffee fills the kitchen, and I pour a huge mug, warming my hands on it as my day begins.

My early morning ritual is something so simple, yet without it, my day feels ungrounded somehow.  We all have our rituals.  Some are the insignificant ones that fill our days.  Others are the rituals which follow us through the year -- the special holiday celebrations, family gatherings, summer vacations.  Christmas rituals are on my mind as we head into December.  I remember the long-ago traditions we created as our children were growing up -- the Saturday designated for our tree-cutting journey -- usually riding in a hay wagon to search the hills in bone-chilling cold for just the "right tree."  Then coming home to decorate it together with Christmas carols playing in the background.  Now, with the children grown, I decorate my own little artificial tree on Thanksgiving weekend, placing my much-loved decorations midst the white lights, and finishing it off with a cascade of pink lace ribbons.  It is much more quiet than those long-ago years, but also a soothing ritual to me.

Our rituals change as our lives change.  As a teenager I looked forward each day to a brief hour in the evening lying in our hammock, which was strung between two old pine trees, overlooking an empty field.  Nothing helped soothe my teenage angst more than this time swinging gently in the hammock, surrounded by the silence of the field beside me -- time away from the competitive world of adolescence, where I could think my own thoughts, try to understand how and why I was somehow inclined to march to a different drummer, and to shed silent tears for the everyday heartbreaks of my life.  And then, suddenly, a house was being built in that empty field, and my own private place disappeared into memory.  My evening ritual was no more. 
The mystery of rituals is that some people do not cherish them at all.  They may enjoy the traditions of holidays, and vacations and family memories, but they do not recognize the everyday rituals that can bring so much peace and enjoyment to our lives.  To some, a long walk after dinner may be purely for exercise; to the fortunate ones, it is a ritual which they look forward to -- time to linger, to look, to listen, to enjoy the sights and sounds of their neighborhoods.  A trip to the bookstore, with its shelves of new books to explore is just a shopping trip to some; to others, it is a quiet ritual of searching the titles, choosing a book from the shelf, holding it in their hands -- savoring the feel and scent of the pages, choosing random sentences to read, deciding that "this is the one," and taking it to the counter with much anticipation of settling into a chair at home later for a cozy read.
Before I go to bed each night, I take my journal in hand and slowly choose the words that describe the day that has passed.  How I love those quiet moments when I can sift through the events of the day and make some sense of them as I write.  I finish writing, put down the book, place water and coffee into the pot for morning, slowly walk from room to room, closing curtains, turning off lights, and then walk upstairs to my bed, my sleepy old body anxious to snuggle under the quilts in the darkness.  A ritual I treasure each night.
There have been times when I have waited anxiously for the results of medical tests, or worried about an illness.  I have worried about dying and leaving my children and grandchildren.  As I thought about the reality of death, I realized that it is not the trips I would like to take, or the parties I would like to attend, or the big moments I will miss that haunt me; it is the little daily rituals that I would miss the most -- those tiny little blessings that make each day, each month, and each year a joy to which I look forward.  How sad for those who do not recognize the little joys that exist in everyday living.  The blessing of rituals is indeed a gift to those of us who cherish them. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Quality of Life Rant

For the most part, I try to avoid the political and the divisive in my blog posts.  Social media abounds with political nastiness, and I don't like to spread negativity; I much prefer offering my readers a taste of kindness, inspiration, and a sprinkle of laughter.  That said, this post will be different.  Maybe it is because the morning is gloomy, or because the election results worry me, or simply because the past few weeks have been filled with sadness and stress for those that I love.  But I am worried about the future. 

I must admit I've always been a bit "out of step" with the world.  I can't quite understand greed and competition.  I look at a person's heart, rather than his race, religion, or status.  I have always believed in the old adage, "the more the merrier", be it welcoming people to a gathering at my house, or opening our country to immigrants who want to come here and live productive lives.  I am a lifelong "tree hugger" -- believing deeply that we should cherish and protect our beautiful natural world.  And I believe in taking care of each other -- helping to raise others up, rather than tearing them down.

I guess this is why the election results this week concern me.  My fear is that the Republicans, with their self-proclaimed "mandate" will not "play well" with the Democrats.  I believe that these early attempts to forge a better working relationship between the two parties will fail, and we will see another two years of fighting, and name-calling and gridlock. I believe that too many politicians from both parties win elections because of the powerful corporations which pour money into their campaign coffers; and then, they are beholden (an old-fashioned word, but it seems to fit) to shape their political decisions based on what is best for these supporters, rather than what is best for our citizens and their quality of life. 

The quality of life in our country, in my opinion, has declined vastly in the past two or three decades.  For the most part, mothers no longer have the "choice" between working and staying at home with their children.  The cost of housing, transportation, insurances, clothing and food necessitate that most mothers work.  Our children are bombarded with violent video games, TV shows and movies.  They must attend preschool, or they will already be far behind their fellow kindergartners.  The pressure to achieve and to compete and to participate in numerous organized activities is intense.  High school students already realize that they must choose careers with higher income over those that would offer personal satisfaction.  Employees are at the mercy of  greedy employers, who can cut benefits, pay low wages, and fire at will, because there is always some other soul out there looking for a job. 

Individual citizens no longer have the power they once had.  We cannot begin to "fight City Hall" anymore, nor big banks, insurance companies, Wall Street.  If we stand up for what we believe is right, more often than not, we get knocked back into "our places" swiftly and unequivocably by these higher powers.

And, I can't finish without mentioning my worries for our environment.  I will never understand why CEO's are so willing to pollute the earth that their own grandchildren will inherit one day.  Whether or not you believe fossil fuels are causing climate change, the climate is changing drastically.  Why take a chance with this beautiful world of ours.  Why not strive for alternatives to fossil fuels.  Why rush headlong into fracking when we don't know for sure if it could pollute our water supplies down the road.  Been there - done that!  Just look at the lakes and rivers we have already destroyed with PCB's and other chemicals from previous days.  It seems like greed trumps common sense every time!

Yes, I am still out of step, I guess.  I don't understand the greed for money and power; I do not have the spirit of a fighter.  I do know that this world would be a better place if more people were a bit out of step, too -- if they could only step off this treadmill that is life today -- but they can't.  They must compete and struggle to support themselves and their families.  They must play by the ridiculous rules of today's world.

I look into the eyes of my innocent six-year-old grandson.  His plan is to be an author/illustrator and own a bookstore.  And I wonder what he will really have to do to survive in this world.  I don't understand where or when our society went off track, but I do know that our quality of life was better when I was young.  I wish, somehow, we could find our way back.  In the meantime, I apologize for going all political and tree-hugger today, but sometimes there are things that are too important to be left unsaid --

Sunday, November 2, 2014

And Suddenly It's November


 This was the year that I told everyone I would have so much more free time.  Emma would be in preschool three mornings a week, and I would have all of those free hours to spend as I chose -- a cup of coffee with a friend, shopping at my leisure, writing blog posts.  But then, September was here and reality set in.  The first two months of school have been crazy.  Each time I think a week is going to be normal, something new pops up.  There is a half day or a field trip or some other change in our daily routine.  Routine just doesn't happen.

Though I am still waiting for those quiet mornings, there have been breathtakingly beautiful moments midst the chaos.  One Saturday morning Alivia, her Mom and I went raspberry picking at a local farm.  How peaceful it is to drive down a country road in the quiet of early morning, passing fields of cows, and then to pick berries as sheep graze in a nearby pasture.  Raspberries from the vine are delectable, and picking them with my granddaughter's happy chatter as background music is a joy.

There have been preschool field trips with my little Emma, one to a local apple orchard at the foot of the beautiful Helderberg Mountains, with a tour of the farm, a hayride and a snack of cider and donuts.  The other was a pumpkin farm with a huge hay slide, a hay maze, and a field of pumpkins waiting to be picked.  Another day, we were treated to a visit by a beautiful therapy dog, named Oliver; after listening to the story of Oliver's good works, the little ones were all encouraged to pet the gentle giant.

The half days, which were teacher conference days, were more hectic than usual, as we picked Alivia up from her school, greeted Luke at the bus stop, and then headed to the preschool to pick up Emma.  They were all so happy to be together for the afternoons, though.  One afternoon Luke worked with his Grampy on a toolbox they are building together.  Another afternoon we had our traditional "Family Lunch" with Luke & Emma's other grandmother and their little cousin.  Feeding four excited and rowdy little ones lunch and getting them settled in the playroom left Nana and me anxious to settle into the softness of the sofa with our cups of tea at hand.

One Sunday morning, I sat in church as Alivia sang with the Children's Choir.  How proud I am of her as she sings her heart out, and I gaze at the faces of her and her cousin, who look so much alike, and share the same long, curly hair and sweet smiles. 

And there have also been quiet moments that I have enjoyed by myself.  There have been early mornings as I walk the dog and am greeted by the sun rising through the autumn leaves.  There have been moments in my own garden when I savor the sound of leaves crackling underfoot as I walk, the chatter of the sparrows as they jostle for space at the bird feeder, the sheer miracle that transforms August's shady green yard into a multi-colored  path of dried leaves.  There was even a moment as I walked back from Luke's bus stop and noticed the slant of the sun highlighting the last hues of color on a neighbor's trees.  Such beauty is to be had for the taking in autumn.

And then, as October draws to a close, we celebrate Halloween.  The children are so excited, and the world suddenly becomes one of pumpkins and spider webs and ghostly creatures hanging from trees.  Costumes are chosen and parties planned.  Even some of the stores in our little town join in with their own lovely decorations.

Everyone bustles around to be ready -- candy is chosen, pumpkins are carved, candles are lit, and homes wait for the trick-or-treaters to arrive, with their laughter and shining eyes.

And then it is over.  Sleepy heads droop and the little ones head home to sort candy and dream of a world lit by candles and happiness.  We blow out the candles, turn out the lights, settle into bed, and suddenly it is November!!!!  Where did the time go?  It passes so quickly midst the chaos of school and choir and ballet and sports, but there are those special moments -- the moments we will remember and ponder in our hearts forever.  And of course, now it is time to look forward to November --

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making it Through Anxious Times

We live in a time of anxiety and stress.  Since the early 2000's we have experienced long-term war in the Middle East, paralyzing political divisiveness that continues to increase with each year, a slow recovery from a recession which still impacts the lives of many, the ongoing fear of terrorist attacks, mass shootings in our schools and malls, recent strife in Ukraine, and now, the deadly Ebola virus which has killed thousands in Africa and has reached our own shores.

Of course, throughout the course of history, there have been anxious and terrifying times.  Wars and plagues, political and religious upheaval, poverty and starvation have been with us across the generations. 

I believe that technology today increases our anxiety over the issues that face us. There are 24-hour news broadcasts always looking for something new to report, often without completely checking the facts before passing along the news. Bloggers on the internet can write anything they choose, and there are those who believe anything they read, regardless of the source.   It can be very difficult to distinguish between a blog written by someone knowledgeable about his subject and a blog written by someone who is misinformed.  Journalism was once an honorable profession, but today it seems to be more important to be "first" with a story than to be accurate.  Rumors fly and people usually tend to believe the worst of what they hear.

Which brings me to our latest worry -- the Ebola virus -- and I am a terrible worrier.  Knowing that this virus is now in our country makes me very uneasy.  Hearing of the mistakes made already in these first three cases is disheartening.  But, unfortunately, I think in their efforts to reassure us, our government and health officials made us believe that we were in very little danger because we were prepared.  However, as we can now see, human error, lack of training, and sloppy adherence to procedure is always possible.  The news and the internet teeter between false reassurances and terrifying predictions.  We must not focus on the alarming news before we know all the facts.  Be vigilant and informed, but try to discern between serious news and sensationalism.

In the midst of the chaos and tensions in the world, we must tend to those things which we can control.  We must take care of our own little portion of the world.  We must get up in the morning, do our work, take care of our children, cook our meals, enjoy time with our friends and family, reach out to our neighbors, pray, and remember that we can change only those things which are under our immediate control.  

It is autumn -- one of the most beautiful of seasons.  Spend your day celebrating this loveliness around us.  Pick apples, bake a pie, rake leaves, take your children to pick out their pumpkins or Halloween costumes.  Savor the pleasures which surround you.  Enjoy your weekend!!  Maintain your perspective over what you can and cannot control.  Remember, what will be, will be --

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Welcome October Rain

As I slowly opened my eyes this morning I was greeted by the sound of gentle raindrops on the roof outside my bedroom window.  Not only did I have an entire Saturday to myself with no obligations, a chilly rain was falling this first weekend in October.  I rose slowly from bed, turned on the coffee, took the dog for her soggy morning walk, and came back in to enjoy a mug of the hot beverage.  This rain was a soothing one -- no howling winds and loud downpours, just steady, gentle, cold rain.  It felt like a gift, as the past couple of months have been stressful ones.

There have been worrisome medical issues in my family, sad times and serious illnesses for some of my friends, and just last week, the sudden death of a long-time, much-loved friend.  The back-to-school schedules for my grandchildren have been hectic; the war and strife in our world are painful to comprehend, and I have been physically and emotionally exhausted from all of these worries and sorrows.  I very much needed a peaceful day to putter in the house.

I prepared a delicious omelet for breakfast -- with chopped onions, one of the last tomatoes from the garden, freshly picked basil and grated cheddar cheese.  We lingered over our breakfast, and then tackled the seasonal chore of hanging the heavy winter curtains and making certain the quilts and throws are all close at hand.  I have a lovely afghan crocheted by three of my cousins in memory of my sister.  The couch in my sitting room is perfect for a short nap, snuggled cozily in this afghan. 

While searching through one of my trunks I was excited to find a beautiful set of deeply hued flowered sheets that I had misplaced, as well as a small afghan given to me by my great-aunt as a wedding gift.  That is one of the wonderful things about being a "hoarder" of sorts -- old items become new after a few years of being tucked away and forgotten.  I did several loads of laundry, watered the plants, fed the birds, and thoroughly enjoyed doing these chores at a leisurely pace.

The house was quiet, with outside noises muffled by the rain -- the dogs and the cat slumbered away the afternoon, and as I finished with my putterings I realized the day had passed much too quickly.  Tomorrow there is grocery shopping to be done, and the week ahead is a busy one.  I am so thankful for this lovely day of quiet pursuits and the much-needed rain that soaked gently into the earth.  Tonight I am at peace!!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Return to the Waltons

Some of my best blog ideas often come from everyday conversations.  Last week at the bus stop, I was talking to one of my grandson's neighbors.  She asked me if I lived with my son and daughter-in-law.  She and her husband came to the U.S. from India several years ago, and they were astonished that families lived separately from grandparents in this country.  She said the custom in India is that after marriage, the wife moves into her husband's home and their children are raised in that home.  As we talked, I realized how much life has changed in our own country through the years.  When I was growing up, my grandparents lived with us, as was the case with many grandparents.  Looking back through history, it seems the majority of families lived together or in close proximity; many of our historic homes have additions from different time periods because as the family expanded, new rooms were necessary.  In India, this must still be the custom, with close family bonds between the generations, aunts, uncles and cousins.

And, I thought, what a secure life this must be for children.  There is always someone at hand who is related to them, and cares deeply for them.  I know I was never left with a babysitter because my grandmother was always right there with me when my parents went out.  In modern society, children tend to move out of their parents' home as soon as they are financially independent; they very seldom live with their parents once they have children of their own, unless there are financial difficulties.  And this is life the way we know it. 
We were raised to be independent, and now, as grandparents, we are encouraged to be independent, active, and involved in the community at large.  Many grandparents are separated by long distances from their children and grandchildren.  We have come to accept this as the norm.  I value my independence, and would never choose to live with one of my children.  I dedicate many hours of each day to the care and guidance of my three little grandchildren, but I return home to my own quiet house in the evening.
Fortunately for the grandchildren of today, many grandparents are taking on the role of caregiver while parents work.  How much better for a child to be with a grandparent all day, with the security of unconditional love, than with a stranger, no matter how kind and loving he or she may be.  How wonderful for grandparents to share special everyday moments with these children of their children.
And, I wonder, was life better when families were closer in proximity or shared a family home? I'm sure there were arguments and issues to smooth over, but were they comforted by knowing the financial burdens of running a home did not fall on two parents alone?  Were the children happier and more secure being surrounded by loved ones?  Did shared labor make the chores less tedious and time consuming?  Were there always extra hands available to rock a teething baby, bathe a tired toddler, practice spelling words?  Was it easier to care for the elderly and the disabled when they were living under the same roof, and there were many family members to share the burden of their care each day?
I think maybe those were better times; however, I'm not certain that anyone would choose to go back to that way of life now.  Our generation raised our children to be independent and to follow their own paths, and they are happy with homes of their own, and the privacy to conduct their family lives the way they choose.  I am happy to take care of my grandchildren during the day, but still feel the need for quiet evenings to rest and enjoy my own pursuits.
And yet, I wonder -- do we work harder and stress more than necessary in the name of independence?  Do we value our independence too much to return to another way of life, even if it meant less stress?  What do you think?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

As Summer Gently Wanes --

  I love my hydrangeas when they first come into bloom -- so lacy and innocently white. Soon they become huge mounds of flowers streaked with dusty rose, filling my hands with their heaviness as I gather them to dry for autumn arrangements....  
There is so much beauty all around us in August, as flowers fill the air with a deeper, more musky scent, birdsong becomes more muted and peaceful, and darkness falls earlier each day, with a heaviness that reminds us that the days of summer are waning.

Yesterday morning I was roused from sleep by quiet little taps and flutters outside my window.  The sparrows were on the porch roof, pulling seeds from the spent Rose of Sharon blossoms and cracking them open to eat.  Suddenly, the flowers that were so beautiful and perfect just short days ago are wilting and going to seed.

Summer has seemed short here in the Northeast this year.  The long, cold winter seemed to linger much too long, and the warmth of summer was slow to arrive.  Due to changes in the school calendar last year, school was in session until the very last week in June, and reopens the first week in September, leaving us with an abbreviated summer vacation.  For those who love sunshine, heat and humidity, it was a disappointing time -- for me, the cooler temperatures were a blessing.

It was a summer of contradictions for me -- both very good times and very bad.  In July one of my daughter's best friends invited us to her lovely wedding.  How beautiful it was; how beautiful she was, and how much fun I had catching up with the lovely young women who once spent so much time with us, chattering about boys and activities.  It seems just a heartbeat ago that my house was filled with their laughter.  This was definitely one of the good times.

Another highlight was the engagement of my son's best friend to his long-time girlfriend.  I am so excited for both of them, and looking forward to their wedding next year.

But, then there was the sadness -- hearing of the death of an old friend.  She was in her 90's, and had been living in Texas for ten years, but we had kept in touch until recent months.  Her thoughtful nieces phoned all of her friends from far away, so we could say our last good-byes to her as she lay dying.  I will always be grateful to them for giving me this one last chance to tell her how much she meant to me.

Another long-time friend is fighting a battle with an aggressive form of cancer -- she was diagnosed early in the summer, and has been on my mind and in my prayers constantly.  She is bravely holding on for as much time as possible to spend with her family.  Her illness has felt like a cloud over my summer.

I had some worrisome health issues myself during much of the summer, with doctor appointments and tests; hopefully, though, this has been resolved, and I can put it behind me.

The news has been a constant source of dismay -- with the horrors of Ukraine, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the missing airliner, the airliner shot down, the ongoing divisiveness and hatred in our own country, the increasingly powerful changes in climate.  We have come to the point where it seems almost impossible for people to compromise -- where do we go from here?  What will life be like for my precious grandchildren? 

And, there were also wonderful times with friends -- between my babysitting, and my own medical issues, I didn't have as much time as I had planned to spend with friends, but the wonderful memories of coffee dates, lunches, long talks, and precious time together have been a highlight of my summer.  There are still several people I want to see, but the days of summer are almost past, and I will probably have to put off some of these visits until school holidays. 

If anything, this summer has taught me to treasure each moment I can spend with friends and family, from family gatherings, to phone calls, to Facebook conversations.  I am a person who loves solitude -- the deep quiet of late summer evenings, working silently in my garden, reading, writing -- and it would be easy to forget how important it is to make time to tend as lovingly to friendships. 

This is the final full week of summer vacation.  Next week, school begins again, and my life will once more be filled with schedules and the needs of my little grandchildren.  I am thankful for this summer, with both its good times and sorrowful times.  I have spent this Sunday in quiet pursuits -- tending my garden, my birds, and my house.  I bought three small pots of chrysanthemums to place on my front porch steps -- how lovely they will look when they are in their full autumn bloom.  While I do wish summer had not passed so quickly, I find myself looking forward to autumn -- to the colorful trees, the scent of baking apples and pumpkin pie, the comfort of a much-worn sweater.  Ahhh - bittersweet August!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Joy of Keeping a Journal


As I was browsing Facebook this morning, one of my friends shared a post about journaling, which sparked several comments, and was particularly interesting to me -- an obsessive writer.  My evening is not complete until I have spent a few quiet moments with my journal in hand, mulling over my day and writing down what seems to me to have been of some importance. 

When my children were young, and quiet time was rare, I did not have the luxury to keep a formal journal.  Money was tight, so my writings and musings were sporadically entered into loose leaf notebooks.  As I look through the many notebooks and pieces of paper, I realize that I did indeed find the time to write, but it was not a part of my daily routine.  How I wish I had chronicled the dailiness of raising children, and recorded the sweet moments of their lives in an orderly fashion.  There is so much I don't remember about those years.

In the late 1980's, when the demands of my children began to lessen, I started gardening and kept looseleaf notebooks filled with diagrams and information on what I had planted and how well things grew.  Sprinkled throughout these pages were paragraphs about the things that were happening in our lives at the time -- the illness and death of my father, the family parties, etc.  I continue with this garden journal today, but now the journal is a hardbound book, and my entries are not as technical they once were.   I write more about the joy of gardening and the seasonal changes each year.

In 2001, the death of my mother and the heart wrenching tragedy of 9/11, sent me to my journals with a new determination.  I finally bought hard-bound journals and began to spend some quiet time each day writing whatever seemed important or touched my heart.  Soon, I was pouring out my soul to these journals.  Not only is it cathartic to be able to look back on each day and sort out my feelings and worries, it also provides a history of sorts that I refer back to often.  Time passes so quickly; it is difficult to remember when some major event happened in our lives.  All I have to do is check my journal.  I keep them in an antique trunk, bound together by year; occasionally, I will take out a journal from several years ago and read it in its entirety. 

Both of my sons were married in the same year, and I started a special journal when they became engaged.  Now all of the lovely memories of those days are there waiting for me whenever I want to relive those happy times.  I also have a journal for each of my grandchildren.  I usually make an entry every few months, to record the special memories of my close relationship with them.

My daily time with my journal is very important to me.  So many lovely memories are held safely between the covers of these books, as well as times of heartbreak and sorrow.  This time alone, with pen in hand, offers me the chance to write down my feelings and put things into perspective. 

My mother kept a journal; I remember her writing in it now and then, and placing it back in her dresser drawer.  At some point in the last months of her life, though, she destroyed her journals.  She told me she was afraid that there might be things she had written that could hurt other people.  How I wish she had talked to my sister and me before she destroyed them.  I would cherish them now, with both her and my sister gone.  It would be like hearing her voice again.

As I have worked through the years on a family genealogy, I have realized that journals are a treasure.  There is only so much we can learn about our ancestors from birth and death records, photos, and other documents.  Reading their own thoughts in their own handwriting would be a tremendous gift. 

And so, I keep my own journals safely in their trunk.  Who knows what routes they may travel; years from now, a great-great grandchild may read one of them and gain insight into what life was like in my times, from my perspective.  My life has been an "ordinary" one, with no great accomplishments, but sometimes what we yearn to know about our ancestors is what their ordinary days were like.  Who knows, they may end up being thrown in the trash someday after I am gone and never passed on, but keeping these journals has been both a joy and a balm to my soul -- a lovely way to end each day.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Joy of Small Treats -- Confessions of a Hoarder

It all began this morning with an early morning trip to the grocery store.  With my marketing stored in the trunk, I headed for home.  On the way, I passed a small garage sale, with two large shelf units sitting on the lawn.  My granddaughter, Alivia, will be spending her days here with me this summer, and she and her cousins worked diligently last week to set up a small art space.  All that is missing is a small shelf unit.  Obviously, these two large pieces were too big, but a little hope lingered that there might be a smaller one somewhere midst the jumble of items.  I stopped the car and walked over.  My first mistake -- there was no shelving to fit the art space; however, once there, how could I possibly resist looking around a bit.  My eyes immediately fell on a unique spice rack -- tall bottles with tiny colorful vegetables and herbs as stoppers.  It was lovely, and perfect, and the last thing I needed in my already crowded old kitchen, but I took it into my hands and asked the cost.  One dollar, she said.  Now, who could possibly pass up a sweet little find like this for only one dollar???  It sits now, waiting to be carefully washed, dried and filled with herbs and spices, and I am in love with it.
I admit it -- I have a problem.  My house is filled with treasures such as this.  A few weeks ago, my father-in-law gifted me with a box of several old pieces of china from a set that belonged to his grandmother.  Excitedly I unwrapped each piece.  I know that there is more of this pattern packed away in a box in the attic.  I had taken several place settings when my in-laws sold their camp and passed around its contents. 

Anyone who knows me or has read my blog regularly knows that I have a penchant for old china.  Somewhere in the attic, I have a set that belonged to my grandmother; the china my mother used when I was a child is tucked away in a linen closet upstairs.  My china closets are filled with old family pieces -- a Fostoria cream & sugar set from a great-aunt, tiny salt cellars which were a wedding gift to my mother from a favorite relative, a pink Depression glass bowl and cake plate from my husband's great aunt.  The list goes on and on.  As do the sets of china -- two bought at estate sales, one delicate old set with butter pats and ramekins from a close friend now gone from my life, and my precious Old Country Roses set which I spent years collecting bit by bit, whenever I could find a piece on sale.  Oh yes -- I definitely have a problem!!

And then, a few weeks back, I began longing for a sewing machine.  The one I had used through the years for sewing curtains, Halloween costumes, dresses, etc, etc. had broken down beyond repair a couple of years ago.  While I was never a great seamstress, I found that I really missed having a machine.  I missed the feel of the fabric as it ran through my fingers, and the gentle whir of the motor as we turned flat material into something of substance.  How I wanted to sew again.  But, the cost of a new machine on my limited income was out of the question.  Fortunately, one of my friends told me she had purchased an older Singer model at an estate sale awhile back, that was supposedly in working condition.  She said I could take it home and make sure it worked before I paid her for it.  And so I did.  I cleaned it and oiled it, and read the manual carefully.  It is a wonderful machine -- a 1969 Singer that still works like a charm.  And now, I can finally savor the pleasure of the gently whirring motor as I create again.
Last week, as I was telling my father-in-law the story of the sewing machine, he said he had an old Singer portable that I might like -- not in working condition -- but maybe I would like it.  How could I refuse.  We went down into his packed basement (he, too, has a house filled with beloved family heirlooms and other items with which he just can't bear to part) and found the old case resting midst his treasures.  We carried it upstairs and he opened the case; I was immediately in love.  This machine is a beauty.  I brought it home and cleaned it up a bit -- rubbing it with olive oil to bring out the beautiful design and the scrollwork on its face. From the scrollwork design, I believe it is from the 1930's.  Now it sits in a place of honor on a little table in my library nook.  How I love it!!  And to think, it has been sitting in its little case in the basement for years -- calling my name -- and I never knew it. 

Oh yes, I do have a problem!!  I can't resist beautiful old things.  At a time in life when I should be downsizing, I am still collecting.  As my eyes light on one of my precious little treasures, though, I feel such happiness and contentment.  And, I especially love the family heirlooms -- how fortunate I feel to be safeguarding them for the generations to come who may treasure them as I do.  And so, that is why this morning I absolutely could not leave that sweet little spice rack sitting alone -- it has brought me pleasure all day.  I am reminded of a beautiful quote by Iris Murdoch:

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."
And I guess that maybe my "problem" is also the source of much of my happiness and contentment.  Hooray for small treats!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Daddy With Love

On this Fathers' Day morning, I sit in my chair, sipping coffee, and thinking of my father.  He has been gone from my life now for twenty-two years, and unfortunately, many of my memories are of his last few years of life as he slowly deteriorated from emphysema.  It always seemed like a cruel trick of fate as I watched him struggle for breath when he had not smoked since I was a young girl.  He had worked long hours every week as an auto mechanic and looked forward to retirement, but his health began its long decline shortly before he retired, and he was never able to really enjoy the pleasures of this long-awaited time of life.

Our relationship had never been one of the lovely "Daddy's Girl" stories.  From babyhood I seemed to annoy him a bit.  He tried to not show it, but I could tell, especially after my sister was born.  She was much more like him -- quiet, reserved in her emotions, self-sufficient -- while I was talkative, boundlessly affectionate, and emotionally needy. 

And yet, he was the "rock" in my young life -- tall, strong, handsome and always in control.  He disciplined with wise words and an even temper.  He could fix anything, build anything, and protect us from everything.  I always felt safe when Daddy was home -- let the thunder crash and lightning fill the skies -- it was okay if he was there.

In the early years, there was very little money for extras in our lives.  By the time I was a teenager, though, we had bought a home of our own, and he was able to spend the little leisure time he had in new pursuits.  He put a swimming pool in the backyard, tilled up a huge area for his beloved vegetable garden, and built a dark room in the basement, bought a camera, and began a new photography hobby.  He showed me how wonderful it is to possess many skills and pursue a variety of interests.

From my earliest years, he taught me that it was better to be yourself and follow your own dreams -- that being happy with what you were doing was the greatest success.  He showed me that finding solace in nature and solitude was true joy.  As a tall, chubby, socially inept teenager, his sound advice carried me through the agonies of high school life.

I have always wondered how it would feel to be a cherished "Daddy's girl," but I realize that I am probably a stronger and more independent person because of the lessons I learned from my father, and that is enough.  I knew he loved me; it was just not in his nature to hug and kiss and cuddle his little girls.  Unfortunately, it was in the last year of his life, when he was so sick and dependent, that I finally felt a strong bond form between us as I helped care for him.  It was his appreciation of the simplest things I did -- scrambling eggs in the morning, moving his nebulizer back and forth between his bed and his chair in the living room, sitting quietly beside him -- that linger in my memory as special moments of love between us. 

And so, on this Fathers' Day, I will choose to hold close the memories of that young, tall, handsome man with the easy smile whose strength  and love made my world a safe and happy place to be.  Happy Fathers' Day, Daddy -- until we are together again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Road Not Taken

I was recently browsing through some old blog posts, and came across one which I wrote in June 2008.  I would like to dedicate it to all of the grandparents who provide care for their grandchildren while their parents are at work.  You are bestowing a priceless gift --

And, here is the original:

We sit at the kitchen table, morning sunlight filtering through the leaves of the maple trees, as I give Alivia bites of banana and place scrambled eggs on her tray. I am dressed in Capri pants and a soft, worn T-shirt, with my hair freshly washed and dried. A typical weekday morning. Then Alivia’s other grandmother drops in – wearing a stunning summer dress with a silver pendant, her hair coiffed attractively, looking every bit the executive she is. She breezes in and out, on her way to work, and I think of the road not taken.

I could so easily have been in her shoes – the important career woman with a long resume and impressive credentials. Instead, I sit here today, working in my home office trying to manage a family business that has suffered tremendous shock from today’s economy, while my ten-month old granddaughter plays at my feet.

In many ways this is déjà vu for me. I became a mother at the precipitous moment when women began joining the workforce in droves. Then, I was young and idealistic, and the thought of sending my precious babies to day care was abhorrent. I spent 27 years at home, raising my three children, working hard at an assortment of drab occupations which could be performed from home. I no longer take part in the old “Mommy Wars” – I have seen a generation of children grow up with both at-home mothers and working mothers, and believe that, for the most part, the determining factor in a child’s life is having a loving mother of any kind.

However, when I look into the innocent eyes of my grandbabies, I cannot imagine handing them over to strangers each morning.

As we raise children, the change from totally dependent infant to self-sustaining adult is so gradual we hardly notice as each stage ends. By the time my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I was already on my way to a life of newfound freedom. For several years I prided myself on the speed and accuracy with which I did my job in the family business, on my well-kept house filled with warmth and beauty, and on my lovely flower gardens. I began a genealogy of my family which required many hours of research and writing. My hours were filled with enjoyable pursuits and I was amazed at my accomplishments at the end of each day.

Of course, I longed for grandchildren; I envisioned myself as a doting grandmother who would play with my grandchildren, read to them, teach them about nature and be a loving and gentle force in their lives. I hoped their mothers would be able to stay at home with them.

Reality set in a few months before Alivia was born. My daughter-in-law had to go back to work when Alivia was 8 weeks old, and decisions had to be made about her care. Of course, I volunteered to care for her – how could I do anything else, when being home with my own children had been such a priority in my life. Then, a month after Alivia was born, we found that my other daughter-in-law was pregnant; she, too, will have to return to work at the end of the summer. And so began the latest phase of my life.

I had forgotten the demanding world of babies – my youngest is 24 years old, and the memories of her first two years had become rosy and blurred by time. The reality of feeding, burping, changing, rocking, and walking a crying baby were a mild surprise. However, I easily slipped back into this slower, gentler way of life. My work piles up on the desk as I rock my sleepy Alivia and sing to her, to be rewarded by her huge smile and wet kisses when she wakes up. At ten months old she has become a charmer, and I am so glad that I made the decision to care for her – the bond we share is a blessing and her laughter lights up my life.

Yesterday I snuggled my newborn grandson, Lucas, as Alivia played on the floor and his mother and I talked. He has changed so much in his first three weeks of life; his solemn eyes gazed into mine, and I felt the immense responsibility of caring for these precious babies, who so innocently give us their complete trust and love. Being cared for by a grandmother who loves them beyond expression will certainly be the next best thing to being home with their Moms. My days next year will be filled with baby needs and toddler antics, and most of my office work will be done in the evening after they have gone home.

Obviously, the day-to-day care of babies is a physically demanding task for a 57-year old grandmother. Gone are my days of efficiency and accomplishment, but they are replaced with the secure feeling that I am giving my grandchildren what they need most right now – a loving, supportive, safe environment. I will be able to pass on the important values so necessary in today’s greedy world of self-absorption and instant gratification.

So, as I wave Alivia’s other grandmother off to her adult world of work and gather my precious banana-covered baby into my arms, I feel only a tinge of envy; the warmth of these little arms wrapped around my neck and the precious giggles in my ear more than make up for the road not taken.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May - The Month of Transformation

If I were asked what my favorite flower of May is, I would most certainly answer, "lilacs."  Today, after working diligently in the garden for much of the morning, digging up an older section to separate out weeds and grasses that had become tightly interspersed with my thyme and sage, I relaxed a bit by cutting some lilacs.  Lilacs are sparse in my shady yard, so they are a special treat to me.  I carried my armful into the porch and laid them gently on the little iron table while I went to find a vase.  Their sweet scent quickly filled the porch, and they looked so lovely jumbled together on the table, I just had to take a photo. 
Our winter was especially cold and long this year, and I was terribly impatient to get the gardens raked out and finally watch the little green shoots grow into flowers and greenery.  By the end of April, there were signs of life again.  Along the path spiderwort and bleeding hearts were sprouting leaves, and the barberry bushes were once again circling the maple tree.  Once the growing season begins, the garden changes daily.  The photo on the left was taken in late April, and the one on the right was taken one drizzly morning in mid-May.  How striking the difference.  Within three short weeks, the bleeding hearts were lush and flowery; the lily of the valley and ferns under the maple tree were thriving, the hostas growing larger daily, the raspberry canes now had leaves, and the Solomon's seal in the back garden were in bloom.  What a miracle we witness in the first few weeks of May.

Not only do we see this transformation in our own gardens, it seems the entire town is suddenly filled with the beautiful colors of spring.  Feathery little green leaves appear on the trees in our neighborhoods, and soon become a green canopy.  The flowering trees suddenly paint our landscape with shades of pink, purple, white.  The dogwoods, crabapples, magnolias, and weeping cherries line our streets and provide breathtaking, but short-lived beauty.  The lovely colors seem to appear almost overnight, and are gone within a week or so as the green leaves appear.
All too soon May will be over, and many of its flowers will disappear also, but we are left with the anticipation of June roses, and the multitude of new garden beauties which nature will bestow each month.  Finally, spring is really here; May has proven to us once more that there is indeed a rhythm to our seasons.  Our earth has woken from its long winter slumber, and May is most certainly the month of the most wild and vivid transformation of all.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mothers' Day Ponderings

Mothers' Day is a holiday which triggers myriad emotions in all of us.  Each mother-child relationship is unique; for some, this day represents an opportunity to celebrate their mothers, while for others it is a painful reminder of the loving care that was lacking in their childhood. 

We all remember our early efforts of making cards and presenting them to our mothers, along with droopy handfuls of wildflowers.  As we grew older and received allowances or earned money, our cards and gifts required more forethought and finesse.  Our efforts were influenced by the depth of our feelings, and the expectations of our mothers.

And then, we married, and this special day became even more complicated, as we added mothers-in-law to the equation.  In-law relationships can be loving and supportive or troublesome.  Regardless of the feelings involved, adding one more mother (and additional grandmothers) required a juggling act to find the perfect gift for everyone.  Often, the day was spent running from home to home to present our gifts and share in the family celebrations.

Mothers' Day took on a special meaning when we ourselves became mothers.  Some husbands understood this and helped even our youngest children to bring joy to us on this day.  Others didn't, and our hearts were broken a bit each year.  Even as we began to feel that this special holiday belonged to "us," we still spent our day in harried efforts to prepare brunches and dinners to honor our mothers and grandmothers, with babies and little ones at our feet.  By the end of our special day we were exhausted and disappointed.

Slowly, the years passed, and we began to lose these women who had impacted our lives so deeply.  Our celebrations were marked by their absence.  A tearful trip to the cemetery and memories carried in our hearts are now an integral part of Mothers' Day for us.

Now, we ourselves are grandmothers.  How thankful we are to our daughters and daughters-in-law who have gifted us with these precious little ones.  How joyful we feel as we celebrate this special day now.  Many young mothers today choose to celebrate their day with their husband and children -- making it a special tradition each year -- a wonderful way to make the day a meaningful celebration of the love between them all.  Sometimes this may cause hard feelings as their own mothers and grandmothers feel somehow left out, but I think it is a sensible alternative to the crazy juggling of Mothers' Day obligations that left us all worn out by the end of the day.

Those of us who had loving, supportive mothers were the fortunate ones.  Mothers' Day to me is one of thankfulness -- for the mother and grandmother who loved me so deeply, for my children who were my greatest blessing, and now for my precious grandchildren who are the "icing on the cake" -- the joy of my life.

Happy Mothers' Day!!! 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Place at the Table

Yesterday was the bridal shower for one of my daughter's best friends.  During the week I helped her design and assemble the floral arrangements.  I love working with flowers, and Jen is very artistic, so it was a pleasure to work beside her as she created the centerpieces.  We loaded the flowers into her car late in the morning, and she left to help the other bridesmaids set up for the shower.  When I walked into the restaurant later, I was awed at the beautiful venue the girls had chosen. 

After greeting the bride-to-be and her mother, I sat at a table with three of Jen's long-time friends.  How fortunate I felt to have some time with them all.  I was reminded how swiftly life flows.  It seems that it was just yesterday these same girls sat around my kitchen table, talking of school and boys and parties.  And now, they are grown up, two of them with children of their own.  I have always felt blessed that my children's friends spent so much time at my house when they were young.  With a four-year age difference between each of my three children, our home was often filled with friends of vastly different ages and interests.  And how joyful it was to watch them all interact and enjoy each other's company.  I loved them all, and those were the best of times -- a house filled with chatter and laughter and "life."

So many memories drifted through my heart as I pondered those lovely years.  I remember the sleepovers in the elementary school years -- one of my son's friends ALWAYS wanted peanut butter and toast for his evening snack.  The boys usually congregated  noisily downstairs to watch TV, but even in early childhood, the girls preferred to shut themselves away in my daughter's room to share their secrets and dreams.  I remember summers camping near Lake George, with a camper filled with so many young people I had to step carefully through the sleeping bags and blankets in the morning to turn on the coffee.  I remember waiting up until everyone came home from their evening wanderings -- sometimes to listen to their stories, and other times to lie quietly in bed and listen to their footsteps coming up the stairs -- just to know they were all safely back for the night.  I remember trips to Brueggers on Sunday morning so the girls could wake up to warm bagels.  There were almost always extra plates at the supper table -- I will always cherish those meals, when we could just pull up an extra chair for a latecomer.

And now, in what seems like a heartbeat, they are all grown up.  The strong ties of friendship have remained, though, so I still see these "children of my heart" occasionally.  The gangly little boys who have grown into handsome, responsible young men, and the beautiful little girls who have become even more lovely as young women.  I have celebrated their marriages; I have held their babies in my arms, and watched them grow.  Those early days were crazy and exhausting and tremendous fun.  I will always be thankful for those times of togetherness, tears, and laughter. How quiet the house seems now.

Yesterday, I felt blessed to once again sit at the candlelit table with "my girls" and enjoy the beautiful restaurant, the delicious food, the anticipation of the wedding to come, and the company of these lovely young women.  Life moves swiftly past us, and we must savor the moments of togetherness and the days of celebration, and store them away to ponder in our hearts.

Flowers by J P Designs

Sunday, April 6, 2014

For the Love of a House

A recent increase in our local tax assessment was a shock to me.  While our house is large and in a good neighborhood, its market value is far below the assessment.  In an attempt to prepare for a "review" with the town, I listed the major repairs that need to be made in our house, and took photos of the well-worn circa 1980's kitchen, the upstairs bathroom with curling wallpaper and outdated fixtures and tile, and the wood floors and mouldings that are in dire need of sanding and finishing.

Even as I was taking this critical view of my house, in my heart I was seeing this beloved old home that has a warmth and charm no amount of disrepair can tarnish.  The kitchen, with its faded old vinyl flooring, scratched cabinetry, blemished counters and mismatched appliances, is still the heart of our home.  When my children were young, the kitchen was the center of my life.  Preparing three nutritious meals a day, baking cakes, cookies and bread, enjoying the chatter and laughter of the children gathered around the table, and savoring heartfelt conversations with good friends over a soothing cup of tea or glass of wine filled the hours of my days.  Today, it is my grandchildren who sit with us at the kitchen table, and the aromas more often than not are of soups simmering and vegetables and herbs sauteeing on the stove.  New ivory colored cabinets, a farmer's sink, and a cushioned vinyl floor are the stuff of my dreams now for this kitchen, but it is still functional and filled with the memories of the beloved faces that have graced this table through all of these years.  What to a new buyer would mean a total "gut job", to me shelters a little bit of each beloved soul who has lingered here for sustenance and love.

As I snapped the photo of my bedroom with the morning light filtering through the lace curtains, I was a bit embarrassed by the abundant clutter.  The extra blankets that warmed me the night before were still covering the bed; the room was just as I had left it in the early morning hours; how I love this room, though.  The plaster ceilings may be cracked, and the floor just poorly painted 1880's sub-flooring, but this room holds so many of my treasured family heirlooms.  The chest at the foot of my bed was my grandmother's hope chest, and now holds my old wedding gown, crocheted doilies, and a beautiful tablecloth that was embroidered by a favorite great-aunt.  My mother's battered dressing table graces one wall, covered with jewelry, perfume bottles, mirrors and trinkets that my grandchildren love to play with.  The teddy bear collections of my mother and sister are arranged on tall shelves in the corner -- a reminder every morning of these two women I loved.  This is more than a lovely, sun-filled bedroom, its lovingly gathered contents remind me each day of all of these women whom I have loved so dearly. 

The living room is a hodgepodge of furniture, with cracked plaster and scarred floors, but family pictures abound on the walls, my grandchildren's books spill from the shelves under the TV, and my grandfather's desk is the emotional focal point for me.  That desk is one of my earliest concrete memories of my childhood home.  It stood in a little nook by the front door, and was a favorite of mine.  Several years ago, my father-in-law worked magic on the old scratched desk, and refinished it to a lovely piece which I know would make my grandfather very proud.  Above the desk hangs the gild-framed mirror that was always on the wall in my grandparent's apartment.  I look in the mirror at the sixty-three year old face that looks back, and remember the little-girl face that gazed back at me from the same mirror across the years.  The large bay windows in the living room are reflected in the mirror, and I see not the mismatched furniture and flaws, but a lovely room with warmth and history -- a room that has watched generations grow and holds the secret joys and sorrows of each person whose story has unfolded within its walls.

 The dining room is painted a deep burgundy, with a flowered wallpaper border that speaks of the 1990's; the floors are scratched, and a long crack in the plaster runs from ceiling to floor on one wall, but, as the early morning sunshine strikes the silver tea service, its beauty takes my breath away.  The room is filled with old family pieces -- the table and sideboard from my husband's paternal grandparents, and a lovely little china cabinet that belonged to his maternal grandmother.  A corner cabinet holds my beautiful Old Country Roses china, which I collected piece by piece over the years.  My teapot and teacup collections are displayed on the walls.  Anyone appraising the market value of this house would look askance at this room with its dark walls and dated wallpaper border.  But, sunshine fills the room in the morning, and the glow of candles lights the faces of those gathered around the large table as friends and family join together for special dinners and celebrations.  This room is rich in beauty and abundant in welcome for anyone who wants to sit and share the bounty of good food and warm companionship.
And so, I gather together the photos I have taken of the serious structural flaws of this old house.  Hopefully the assessor will agree with me that no buyer would possibly pay the currently assessed value for a house such as this which needs such expensive repair and renovation.  But, this experience has made me love her even more, for I have been looking at her not only with the critical eye of an appraiser, but with the eyes of one who has known her welcome and her shelter for over forty years.  She has watched me grow from a young, childless woman to an aging grandmother.  She has witnessed both my days of utter ecstasy, and my darkest hours, and all of the ordinary days in between.  She has been my haven through it all.  Is she worth what the tax assessor has declared her to be worth?  Definitely not.  But to me "her price is far above rubies."  (Proverbs 31:10)  Of course, I don't want the tax assessor to know that!!