Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Artist in Us All


From early childhood writing was my joy and my solace.  As I moved through life, I cherished those spare moments when I could grab a pen and any bit of paper to capture an inspiration or memory. Some of my happiest moments, as well as my moments of sorrow are recorded on old notebook paper.  With the advent of the internet and personal blogs, I have found a new outlet for these ponderings which used to remain tucked away in notebooks and drawers.  In my older years, I have made an attempt to organize these various pieces of my life so that they are more accessible -- how many memories I have tucked away.  From time to time, I will share one of my old musings on this blog.  The one which follows here was written in the late 1990's.

"I pull the fragrant loaves of bread from the oven, marveling at their perfect form -- loaves that were a soft dough just two hours ago.  I stir the simmering soup on the stove, breathing in the musky steam that rises from the pan.  I ladle some soup into a smaller kettle, place this in a box, crumpling newspapers around the kettle, secure the cover, and place a still warm loaf of bread on top.  As my husband delivers the box to his ill mother, I imagine her spirits lifting slightly as she heats the soup and breaks off a piece of warm bread, feeling my love for her in the warmth of the food on this blustery spring evening.

I glance into the living room and watch my daughter at her easel.  I envy her talent.  I am awestruck at the drawings that spring from her fingers.  Today she is painting a portrait of our house.  Her intensity, the delicacy of her grasp on the brush, her stillness -- these fascinate me.  I am thrilled that she can draw and paint, coming from a mother who can do neither, and yet always wished I could make moments stand still on canvas.  This is her talent, her skill, her art -- mine lies in the kitchen, kneading, stirring, seasoning, making art in nourishing my loved ones."



Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Resolution to Listen


"We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are."
 -- Anais Nin
 
There is a light snow falling this afternoon as I sit in quiet contemplation of the year past and the year ahead of us.  It has never been my custom to make New Year's resolutions, but this year I have decided to make one resolution.  I have decided to be certain to really listen to people -- to listen to the meaning behind their words, to give them time to finish their sentences before I interject my own response, and, most importantly, to listen to their opinions and beliefs with an open mind and a desire to increase my own understanding of the issues that face our society today.
 
I think one of the biggest problems we face is the fact that we don't really listen.  We have our own strong opinions and when someone's beliefs differ from ours, we automatically shift into defense mode -- trying, in our own minds, to validate our opinions, and often arguing these opinions before we have even listened to their side of the conversation.  This is glaringly obvious on social media today.  A friend posts something that they believe to be true; then a friend who disagrees quickly posts a nasty comment, and soon there is a string of comments with each person vehemently defending his own beliefs; very seldom does anything remotely constructive result from these interactions, and often hard feelings linger between friends.
 
We all see things differently, depending on our personal experiences throughout our lives.  The serious issues facing our nation and our world today require people who listen to each other.  There is a middle ground to be found, if people will just take the time to consider all of the facets of an issue, and sort through them with a willingness to understand and compromise for the common good.
 
Obviously, I cannot change the world with my one individual resolution.  The people who hold the power must be the ones who learn to listen and compromise, and to put aside their personal pride and political agendas long enough to make the wise decisions that need to be made. 
 
However, maybe I can make my own little corner of this world a little bit better if I vow to listen before I respond, to try to understand the other person's feelings and experiences, and to, just maybe, realize that I AM NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!!!!
 
I hereby resolve to spend 2015 listening with an open heart and open mind --
 
 


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 --