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!!