Sunday, September 13, 2015



September is a beautiful month of transition from the heat and humidity of summer to the cool, crisp weather in October.  Fields of purple loosestrife and goldenrod seem to arrive overnight, gracing the landscape with their vibrant colors. 

While many of the summer flowers have faded and gone to seed, our gardens still are filled with a variety of colorful flowers -- sunflowers, zinnias, morning glories, and assorted autumn show-offs.  There is a sense of quiet to September; the early morning birdsong is muted and sparse.  The late night air is no longer filled with raucous cicadas and crickets -- there is merely a quiet thrumming from the crickets now and then.  The mornings are often misty and cool, only to be replaced with bright sunshine and warm temperatures as the day progresses.  Darkness falls earlier and more heavily on us each night. 
 September's weather is erratic.  One day we feel again the heat of summer, and then a storm will roll through and leave us with a taste of the crisp, frosty weather to come. 
How lovely this month is, with its quirkiness and beautiful reminders of what was and what is to come.  We visit the apple orchards and the farm stands, and savor the beauty of the bounty to be found there.  Our thoughts turn from summer barbecues to the spicy scent of apple pie baking in the oven.  We buy small chrysanthemum plants to repot and replace the summer flowers on our porches, and provide beautiful color into early November. 
We are at a crossroad -- looking back at the pleasures of the summer behind us, and looking forward to the "gathering in" of October and November.  Our hearts need this special month of September to gently lead us from one season to the next.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Water Under the Bridge" -- Living With the Decisions That Define our Lives

The book I am reading is fictional, but the story revolves around one woman's experiences as the wife of a member of the German Resistance during WWII.  I find myself drawn into the decisions made by so many Germans during the reign of the Nazis, and especially this elderly woman, who married the love of her life, only to lose him before their life together really began. 

When I am upset and feeling sorry for myself, I often blame fate for my predicaments.  However, as I read this book, I am more and more aware that it is most often our own decisions which lead us down one path or another -- and determine the eventual outcome of our lives.

Looking back, I realize that I made numerous decisions which, while well-intentioned, were obviously not the best.  In hindsight, there are several life choices that I should have considered more carefully than I did. Sometimes, one wrong choice can impact the path our life takes in such a way that it is virtually impossible to change the forces that have been set in motion.  We must move forward on the path we have chosen and make the best of things as they are.

Blaming fate is easy, yet taking responsibility for our own choices is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking.  We do the best we can, but we must live with our decisions, and hope that our poor decisions do not create a ripple effect for our children and grandchildren.  Life is not always fair; fate does throws us curves, but, ultimately, we make decisions and choices, and we must live with the consequences.  Sometimes those consequences break our hearts and break our spirits, but, it is all "water under the bridge."  We must move on and find happiness in the small things in our lives.  We cannot change the past, we can only do our best to appreciate whatever good has resulted from the choices we made.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Photograph

Recently, as I was reorganizing my storeroom, I moved a box, and this black and white photo fell onto the floor.  The photo was taken in Stockbridge almost fifteen years ago.  I was reminded of the wonderful days I shared with my mother and my sister in this lovely little town.  Since I was in the middle of quite a time-consuming project, I put the photograph aside to save.  By the end of the day, though, in all the confusion, I had misplaced the photo.  How bereft I felt.  I had so much wanted to study the photo and remember details of those days.

The calendar page turned to July last week.  July holds the terrible memory of my sister's slow and painful death six years ago, and as I began to once again relive those saddest of times, I remembered the photo that I had lost.  How I wished I could remember where I had put it; fear also lingered that maybe it had inadvertently found its way to the trash.  Yesterday, I walked into the storeroom, and saw a photo lying on the floor, face down.  It hadn't been there before, and as I turned it over, it was my beautiful Stockbridge photo.  As you can see, it is merely a fading black and white photograph of a little shop which was tucked into the back of an alley near the Red Lion Inn.  But what lovely memories it evokes for me.

I actually loved this tiny gift shop.  There were exquisite vintage clothes and jewelry, all sorts of trinkets and lacy Victorian treats -- a shop that spoke to my heart, even though I couldn't afford many of its beautiful wares.  There was so much I loved about Stockbridge -- the perennial flowers that were scattered about for all to enjoy, the peaceful shrine set apart from the bustle of the tourist town, the little shops sheltered in the historic old buildings.  And how I loved the Red Lion Inn.  It was a favorite of both my mother and sister.  My mother and I often celebrated her birthday with lunch at the Inn.  My sister and I sometimes drove over early and enjoyed breakfast, sitting at the linen-covered table and savoring the slower pace of the breakfast crowd.  We wandered the halls of the Inn, and visited the gift shop.  

On our many day trips, we would often drive down to Great Barrington, enjoying the antique shops along the way, and stopping at a nursery to browse among whatever plants were in season.  I vividly remember one Saturday when an unexpected storm arrived as we started back from Great Barrington to Rt. I-90.  At one point, the road was closed due to a downed tree, and we had to take an alternate route.  One side of the road was thickly treed, with high winds blowing treacherously, and the other side of the road was bordered by the Housatonic River, which was rising at a terrifying pace as we drove along.  I could barely unclench my hands from the steering wheel when we finally arrived safely on the highway to home.

Many of the memories are blurred by time now, with my mother and sister both long dead.  I treasure those special days, when we strolled through town, chattering and laughing, lingered over breakfast or lunch in deep conversation, thoroughly enjoying each other's company, never realizing how little time we really had left together.  I have not been back to Stockbridge since my sister died.  Each year I think, "maybe this year," but somehow I cannot imagine walking those streets with someone else.

And that is why this photo is so important to me.  As I look at it I am filled with bittersweet longing to go back to those days -- to just one more time walk arm in arm with my mother, and to spend a July afternoon lunching on the porch of the Inn with my sister.  Times change, life changes, and maybe even Stockbridge has changed.  I hope not.  But, now I have this photo which I can place gently in a frame and remember the happy times.  And, I wonder why, after all these years, this photo returned to me in the month of my sister's death -- a gift from God, perhaps?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Finding Inner Peace Midst the Chaos

There are times in life when weeks slide past us in a blur.  These can be periods of joy and happiness or of stress and worry.  April and early May have been chaotic for me.  There has barely been time to ponder one moment before another hurried into the forefront.  Finally, this morning, I had some time to myself, and, of course, I headed to the garden to slow down and gather my thoughts a bit.

There is a natural rhythm to the seasons and in the garden.  Sometimes when life is filled with craziness it is important to revisit nature -- to recapture this rhythm which has gone asunder in our own lives. 

As I look back over the past two months, it is difficult to remember all of the events which have kept me so busy.  April began with Easter Sunday brunch, then an overnight hospitalization for my husband, which resulted in doctor visits and tests, followed quickly by a week-long sleepover for my granddaughter while her parents were away.  May has brought a baby shower, bridal shower, class reunion, and the funeral of an old friend.  Of course, all of the normal daily routines continued, as well as garden clean-up in any spare time.  While many of these events were joyful, there have been underlying worries and stresses in my family and those of several of my friends.  Stress has been my constant companion.

So, I welcomed this quiet morning.  I gathered together my gardening tools and my camera, and set to work -- mindless work, which allows your thoughts to clear as you feel the sunshine on your shoulders, the breeze ruffling the leaves, hear the trickle of the water in the pond, and the birds singing and cavorting in the bird bath.  How lovely to see my Bridal Wreath bush, now well over forty-five years old, blooming faithfully again.


I drank in the peaceful little spaces in the garden where St. Francis keeps watch over all of the little creatures who make their homes here.  I watered the hanging pots of flowers by the front steps, and the seeds planted here and there during the past couple of weeks.  I was excited to find that already my patch of wildflower seeds has sprouted, and the zinnias in the little patch by the mailbox have burst their first tiny leaves through the soil. 

I pulled weeds and pruned away a multitude of tiny little maple trees that have taken root.  If I let these little maples grow, in no time my yard would be one large maple forest.  Working in the garden is often hot, sweaty and tiring work, and by late morning, I was ready for a shower.  I took some photos with my always-ready camera, and felt the inner peace that comes with hard work in the beautiful lushness of a garden.  Obviously, the worries and stresses that have plagued me these past few weeks have not miraculously resolved, but this quiet morning, working in the lovely surroundings of nature has soothed my soul a bit.  My heart feels quiet and at ease.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why is STEM more important than the Arts?

The constant promotion of STEM education - science, technology, engineering, mathematics -- troubles me.  I realize our world today, as well as our economies, rely on technology to a frightening degree (but that is a story to be pondered at another time).  I understand that to be competitive in this global economy, we must encourage strong curriculums in the technological sciences, beginning in elementary school.  We strive to empower girls to enter these courses of study at a much higher rate than in the past.  I also understand this, because for generations many girls were not encouraged to choose a scientific track.  We will need highly intelligent, competent STEM graduates as our technological world spins at a faster and faster pace.

However, my worry is that in placing so much emphasis on this area of education, we risk providing a well-rounded education to all of our children.  We must be certain that with cuts in school aid and budget constraints, we do not put all of our efforts into STEM education.  I have noticed in the past few years, as taxpayers cringe over budget increases, the first program cuts that are discussed are arts and music, and this is not wise.  In a world as complicated as ours has become, we need to be sure our children are raised to be competent readers, those who can think and problem-solve, those with imagination; we don't want them to be little robots who can interact with computers, but not other people. 

We also need craftsmen, construction workers, teachers, writers, philosophers, artists, and musicians who bring life to our innermost feelings and joy to our souls.  In a technological world, we will need good leaders to make the best decisions for our nations -- those with a knowledge of history, the ability to "see the big picture" and analyze situations, and to work well with others.  These people need humanities and arts education.

We are each born with particular aptitudes and gifts.  Mine did not include math and science.  I excelled in basic arithmetic, but hit a wall with algebra.  And not only am I totally incompetent in science and technology, I have absolutely no interest in them.  When a conversation turns technical, I simply "zone out."  But, I am intelligent and competent-- a reader, thinker, writer, and was a highly qualified secretary at one time. 

I am not questioning the importance of STEM education, but I do fear that we will make a grave error if we sacrifice the arts and humanities in order to produce more STEM graduates.  Not only will the quality of life for our world in general suffer, but we will also be sacrificing millions of our young people with great minds and great talents who do not fit the technological mold.  They will feel like failures, when, in fact they are the students who will one day contribute the common sense, color and joy to our world. 


Monday, March 23, 2015

This Old House vs House Hunters

It has always amazed me how one small incident in life can trigger a multitude of reminiscences.  Our recent decision to begin cleaning our attic of its forty-some years' accumulation somehow brought me to the revelation of the vast changes in circumstances and expectations between our generation and the generations that have come after ours.

As I watch "House Hunters" and several other real estate-oriented programs on HGTV, I notice that most of the younger people looking for homes want houses that are in pristine condition.  They have neither the time nor inclination to buy "fixer-uppers"; the kitchens must be large and updated, and the master bedroom must have its own bath.  I think back over the years we have spent in our house.  When we first bought it in 1972, it was painted a faded yellow cream color, which was very common in the '50s, but it definitely needed a fresh coat of paint.  The inside of the house also needed much work.  The kitchen consisted of a wall hung sink, stove, and refrigerator, with a shelved pantry -- no counters, no cabinets -- just the very basics.  The bathrooms were sparse on luxury, and small.  The walls in every room were covered in faded, flowered wallpapers, and the tall, sunny windows allowed the brutal winter winds to enter through every crevice.

However, I fell in love with the charm of the house.  I pictured rocking babies in the upstairs bedrooms, family dinners in the dining room, and kneading bread dough on the old metal table in the kitchen.  All it would take was a little work.  What I didn't realize in my naivete was the money, the time, and the sheer physical effort it would require to restore this house, room by room, while living here, raising those babies, and earning a living at the same time.  And then, as we slowly, slowly made our dream come true, we found that by the time we had accomplished many of our projects, the rooms we had completed were once again in need of fresh paint or new plumbing fixtures.  The kitchen which was so modern and lovely to us in the early 1980's, is now seriously in need of a new floor, new cabinets and new countertop -- it is over 30 years old. 

I have loved this house from the very beginning, and everywhere I turn I see the work of our own hands.  How I treasure the memories of suppers in this kitchen where there was always room for one or two or three more at the table when the children were teenagers.  How I love my mug of coffee on the lovely back porch as the early morning sunrise climbs higher in the sky, and the sight of my numerous little gardens and shade trees, all planted with love and care.

I was very fortunate, however, that for the most part I was able to be a stay-at-home mom, forced to earn only part-time income here and there through the years, giving me plenty of time to strip wallpaper, paint, sew curtains, and frequent estate sales to furnish my precious house.  My husband was in the construction field, and capable of doing the heavy, complicated projects himself.  I am very thankful we had the opportunity to pursue this dream of ours.

Today it is a different world.  Most mothers must work full-time, and both parents are so busy just keeping up with the day-to-day routine of preparing meals, caring for children, keeping up with laundry, and cleaning, that they do not have the time that was available to us.  Their houses must be convenient, tasteful, and as low-maintenance as possible. 

I know in my heart, though, that I would never trade places with them.  Even when I look at the condos and apartments being built for seniors now, they just seem so bland and lacking in personality.  My hope is that I will be able to live out my life in this old house -- like me, it is shabby around the edges, but it is comfortable and it carries the essence of all those who have worked, played, cried and laughed within its walls.  Oh, the tales it could tell!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cursing Daylight Savings Time

Daylight savings time has a long history in our country, but it is only in recent years that it has begun so early in March.  For those of us who are "morning people," be it by choice or necessity, this early "Springing Forward" is depressing.  On weekdays, I must be up by 5:45 AM to be ready to greet my young granddaughter at the door by 6:20, and begin my day of bus schedules and preschool pickups.  How lovely it has been for the past two or three weeks to wake up to dawn streaking the sky in the east and birds singing outside my window.  No matter how tired I was when the alarm went off, seeing daylight through the curtains was a strong motivator to get up and out of bed. 

Last night at 2:00 AM, that changed.  Now I will once again rise to darkness -- and this year, it is a frigid, snowy darkness, as well.  The birds continue to sing, though, because they are ready for spring, darkness or not -- hearing their beautiful songs and chatter will help me to drag myself from my warm and cozy bed until the days lengthen enough to compensate for this change in time.

The view from my porch this week is still one of winter, and I am really missing that hour we lost last night, because I had to be up early this morning, inadvertently waking my granddaughter and her puppy who were sleeping over.  There were no peaceful few moments to sip coffee and prepare for the day.

However, life is what it is, and all I can do is be thankful that the birds begin their songs before daybreak, and that I should have some time for a short nap this afternoon to help my body clock adjust to the loss of last night's hour.  Spring will come, and within a month, I will once more wake to the peachy hues of sunrise dappling through the trees.  Complaining about Daylight Savings Time is like cursing into the wind.