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!!