Expressing Thanks for Daily Blessings

          “Take nothing for granted.” The complete stranger who spoke these words looked into my eyes; the elderly woman’s expression was earnest. She told me several more things and then vanished into the crowd waiting in the vestibule of the Cathedral of St. John in New York. I was there to see a pageant I was to take part in at another time. Her words made a strong impression on me and some forty plus years later still have. I didn’t make the connection then, but later I understood its application to the practice of gratitude.

It’s easy to acknowledge generous gifts with thanks. Gratitude for the larger things in life–good health, sufficient income, a happy family is more common. Most of us take much for granted, especially those things we rely on and use each day. Our small creature comforts too are easily ignored or remain unnoticed because we are busy or mentally preoccupied.

It is more difficult then to remember to express thanks for those small, even relatively insignificant daily gifts common to our ordinary lives. When I step into my shower, I feel appreciative of the stream of warm water, and I am reminded of my friend who lived with cold showers for months until her electricity was restored. As I get into my comfortable cozy bed and slide under my clean sheets and feather quilt I am grateful, and I do say so in my heart.

I rejoice over small blessings—a kind conversation with my daughter, the neighbor who offers to help me carry my groceries up the stairs or shovel the snow from my car, finding a book in the library by  a favorite author. Most are so preoccupied these days, it’s difficult to stop and take time to remember how fortunate they are. In my many years of life I have learned to be glad for these small gifts and others that thread my daily life with comfort and joy.

I learned this from a friend almost thirty years ago. I overheard him saying “Thank you little (memory fails me as to what it was) and continuing to express his gratitude to several more objects. Now I thank my car for bringing me safely both to my destination and back home. I thank my computer for bringing me my email and functioning as my writing tool. Can seemingly “dumb” machines hear and appreciate? I don’t know, yet I like to voice my appreciation and to treat my mechanical servants as nicely as if they were flesh and blood. It only seems fair.

People who live in countries where the only water available must be carried from a well in the center of the village would be unbelievably grateful to be able to turn on a tap. Not so long ago anyone wanting a bath had to have the water heated on a stove or over a fire and hauled to a tub. Imagine having to hitch your horse to a wagon to go into town for groceries or walk miles carrying them home.  At this season we are reminded to be thankful. It is well to remember that gratitude needs to be an everyday practice.

The Eyes of Perception

Corner Reflections medBecause I was very different in my interests as well as my life circumstances from that of many of my classmates I was badly bullied in grade school. However what was worse was that I had no good way to respond to my classmates’ unkind behavior. It wasn’t until I discovered meditation that I acquired a way of controlling not only my reactions and responses but also of avoiding the potential complications of thoughtlessly spontaneous and perhaps provocative words and actions.

As I grew in my ability to see what was in my mind and/or heart before I made things worse for myself, I also discovered ways to make my life much happier and less complicated by negative thoughts and emotions. Some believe that meditation is a form or religion or at least connected with it. However it is actually a form of exercise for the mind. As physical exercise preserves the body, so meditation practice helps to preserve the mind.

Is my glass half full or half empty? Believe it or not, that depends on the nature of the thoughts I have concerning both the glass and what is in it. Am I looking with feelings or thoughts of fear of emptiness? Am I anticipating or being grateful for what is in the (metaphorical) glass? My days go better when I am aware of what is going on within me.

Since nearly fifty years ago when I began practicing meditation, I have become able to be much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. It is a great help to my ability to remain calm and aware during difficult circumstances. I’m still working to remain conscious of my inner processes, and I expect to do so for the rest of my life. Working on the mind is like doing scales on the piano. A good musician must keep on practicing.

When I find myself dreading an activity or event, I can remind myself that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My “glass of hope” will then appear to me to be half full rather than half empty. When I feel a sense of joy as well as of gratitude concerning whatever might be approaching, I will have a “glass half full” of optimistic feelings. This approach has the effect of helping me to get the best from whatever does happen, even if that differs from my expectations. The same is true concerning what someone might be saying to me: I can better monitor my responses and reactions.

When I am mindful—aware of what is going on in my mind and heart, I have more control over what I do or say next. If I am able to anticipate my words or my inner reactions to what is happening or to what someone is saying, I am better able to control them. Thus I can to avoid potential mistakes as well as difficulties. In addition, when I am able to take advantage of my perceptions, I may ward off the far larger problems that might otherwise evolve were I not able to see clearly or to be prepared with positive words or actions.

 

 

 

 

 

Daylight Savings and Me

Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 156When I was a child I’d wake up on a weekend morning thinking happily how I had two whole days off from school! I’d think about all the delightful things I would do–depending on the weather, and what fun it was to have two whole days to do it in. Time for children is much different than it is for adults, as any parent can tell you. Trying to get a child to hurry when there is something more interesting to do is quite a task.

Regardless of the fact that humanity invented clocks most likely in order to coordinate movement, time has become a tyrant for many. Isn’t it odd that something we invented has so much power over us? Then to further complicate matters, someone came up with the idea of Daylight Savings. Several someones are actually responsible, beginning with Ben Franklin who thought it up originally, though no one actually implemented the idea until the 20th century.

This readjustment we go through every spring and fall is fast approaching. Stephen rejoices: he feels the hour stolen from him in the spring is being returned. I notice my timing is off, and all of a sudden I have an hour less of daylight to use for anything I might have planned. Plus mealtimes are disjointed for a while. Stephen is resentful that “W” took three more weeks from standard time and tacked it onto daylight savings. He can be quite vocal about it.

What is daylight savings? It’s not as though we can bank any of the minutes or hours we might wish to “save.” When I spend time, I can’t take it out of my wallet and plunk it down on a counter. Time is slippery stuff and my experience with it is that there are occasions when it speeds by and those when it drags, yet it’s all the same objective time. Ever notice that from a subjective standpoint going somewhere seems to take more time than returning home? Yet the amount of miles traveled as well as the minutes or hours spent remains the same.

Unfortunately for Stephen’s feelings, my habit has always been to try to pack as much as I can do into whatever time I have. Much to his annoyance because he prefers to leave and arrive early, I also have a tendency to try to do more than is reasonable in whatever time there is before we leave. Or else I plan too much for what is realistic and then regret what I have to leave undone. To me time is more precious than money. It is possible to save or spend cash to one’s satisfaction, however that cannot be said about time, which despite our illusions to the contrary, we cannot actually control.

Regardless how true this may be, I seem unable to avoid finding one last thing to do before the allotted time is up. Why this is I am not sure. I do believe it is a habit that would be better broken than continued. Meanwhile I will work at this the best way I know how.

 

Garlic, a Miraculous Medicinal Food

 

Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 128

Being at home with five children to be cared for, I began looking around for something to fill whatever time I wasn’t actually busy with them yet had to be home. I also needed something to put my mind to besides housewifery. Herbs and herbal healing became my go-to occupational therapy. As I studied and learned, I discovered recipes as well. Cooking has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I even like to read cookbooks and peruse the aisles of unfamiliar grocery stores just for fun.

It wasn’t until I began doing research on herbs I realized there was all kinds of medicine in my kitchen. As I did more reading, I discovered many foods could be used to address various physical complaints, as well as prevent my family and me from getting sick. Of all the various foods I studied, garlic seemed the most effective and easily available medicinal substance of all.

Regular consumption of garlic is a great help in keeping us healthy. Sadly, the odor garlic produces in those who consume it has often kept people from making use of it. This is too bad. Garlic is a remarkable healer and raw garlic, while pungent, has amazing healing properties. Antibiotic as well as antiviral in its raw form, it can kill a virus or bacteria on contact. If you want to keep your breath fresh, chew up a few sprigs of parsley and you won’t have to worry about offending anyone. Also, if you have a pimple, anoint it with a piece of cut garlic several times a day. In a couple of days it will be gone. Also, if your young child or grandchild has a cold, try rubbing their feet with a piece of cut garlic.

I once had a dreadful sinus infection and for several weeks couldn’t breathe through my nose. In desperation, I tried these Garlic Nose Drops. Squeeze 1 or 2 garlic cloves into a small cup. Cover with about three teaspoons of warm water. Stir and let it settle. Fill a dropper using only the clear liquid on top. Put your head back and drop about 10 drops in each nostril. Sniff. Pinch your nose closed. You might feel as though the top of your head was going to explode. It is not so much painful but intense. If you do this twice a day for three days your sinuses will most likely clear and you will be able to breathe again. Though I haven’t had to use it for some time it worked for me every time.

Here is a healthy, tasty recipe that is also good for preventing colds.

Ingredients:

1 medium sized cauliflower

6 or more cloves garlic, minced

½ cup celery chopped very small or minced

2 Tbs. good olive oil

2 cups rich chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

½ teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

1/3 or more cup freshly chopped parsley

 

Method: Cut up cauliflower center stalk and break flowerets into pieces. Cook cauliflower in a small amount of water until tender. In large saucepan, put olive oil, celery and garlic, sauté briefly. Add chicken broth, parsley and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes or so. Add cooked cauliflower and the water it cooked in. Put several ladlefuls of soup into blender and puree. Add back into soup and cook on low for another 10 or 15 minutes or store for later use. If you prefer your soup chunkier, simply mash the cauliflower with a potato masher.

The Graciousness of Trees

Down to her frillies 3

I grew up climbing trees. I loved to sit in them to read, and later when I was a teen, sneak up and smoke a stolen cigarette while reading. I appreciated their bounty too, as well as their presence. The many kinds of apples in my grandfather’s small orchard, the four kinds of pear trees in the garden, the raspberry bushes I was allowed to pick from were an important part of my growing up. I was always surrounded by growth and nature.

I realize now that I was extremely fortunate in having this small territory belonging to my family in which to adventure. Safely ensconced on the outskirts of a small town, the land where I grew up had originally been developed and built on by my great grandfather, an amateur horticulturalist. He died before I was born, so I never knew him. However I grew up with its many and various trees as well as the fruit trees, the lilacs and the roses he planted.

His gardens were extensive. His daughter, my Great Aunt Alice with the help of a gardener kept it all going. He certainly had plenty to do, and occasionally had another man to help him. The chickens provided fertilizer and the vegetables were very tasty.

Most fortunately I had the freedom of a good number of acres to roam around in as I pleased. I was given this from the age of around six or so, and I felt quite safe and free. There were lots of kinds of trees to climb. To my mother’s despair I probably ruined more clothes than the average girl, tearing them on branches or staining them with pine pitch and bark. I lived in the country and there were no neighboring children for me to play with. It was as though the trees I climbed and played around were my big friends. I have always been grateful for their company.

My father was a horticulturist by profession. Working for a tree company he supervised the care of the trees and plantings of his many clients.  He would have  the recent articles about how trees communicate with one another and even how they protect one another from invasion by noxious insects. Trees, like animals, deserve more of our respect than they have had in the past. Researchers estimate that if every city dweller spent just 30 minutes per week in nature, depression cases could be reduced by 7 percent.

Trees provide for life on earth, and have been influential in its evolution from the beginning of life here. Scientists have lately begun to understand more about trees’ ecology, studying the way they learn to survive and to thrive in difficult conditions. As we have learned that animals, birds and even insects exhibit signs of intelligence through their behaviors and use of tools, we have gained in respect for them. Now it is the turn of trees. Grinding them up to make paper may become a thing of the past. Trees are sentient beings and perhaps one day we may even learn to speak their language.

 

The Beauty and Bounty of Fall

 

Autumn Blaze

One house we lived in had a window in the upstairs bathroom with a view of trees and fields. Each year in August I would look out this window in anticipation of the bright red patch that always appeared in an otherwise green expanse of a maple tree. It seemed that much brighter for being surrounded by the remaining green leaves. Later the rest of the tree would turn red, yet there was something very special for me about that first splash of color.

Perhaps that is because it heralded my favorite time of year. I cherish the first tinges of red and yellow beginning to blossom in the trees by the roadside. It is truly said that the strong colors of fall echo the pastel shades of spring except that they are strong and vivid. I have also noticed that in the weeks before the autumn colors emerge, the green of tree leaves takes on a grayish look that hints at the ageing of the leaves, preparing them for their ultimate brilliance. The other colors are present in the leaves all along. When the cooler weather comes, the green disappears and the red and yellow take over.

Fall colors are lovely and bright. Pumpkins, squash, chrysanthemums, apples, and fiery leaves are all part of its panorama. Highway vistas of hills plumped up with pillows of brilliant hue are a delight to drivers and passengers alike. As spring is a time of tentative melodies and pastel colors so fall is loud and strident, its colors are bold, its thunders vibrate around us. Farmstands open up and share their bounty with passers by. In more rural areas little collections of garden produce appear by the side of the road with prices and trustful boxes for payment.

When I was a child I delighted in scuffing through the rustling leaves. I loved the sounds and the tastes of fall. The sweet concord grapes that grew on the fence around my great aunt Alice’s garden tasted so wonderful. I was equally happy to breathe the slightly sharp air of fall that held a tinge of the frosts to come. I didn’t care much for raking the leaves, however I got paid to do it and that helped. I never tended my parents’ gardens, nor was I asked to. Later when I had a garden of my own, as fall emerged I hurried to pick the last tomatoes as well as the remaining marigolds. However I paid someone to rake the leaves.

Busy squirrels scurry around storing up food for the winter. Some alas are harvested by swiftly traveling automobiles. These provide a feast for the crows, so nothing is wasted. Autumn is a time for all of us to store food. My mother busily canned and later froze her garden produce. When I had a large freezer I did too. I loved the feeling of providing for my family. Now I can’t store much food for the future, however I can take advantage of the seasonal plenty. I got out my old Fanny Farmer’s cookbook and looked up apple recipes. We had Apple Brown Betty for supper. Yummy! Fall is my favorite time of year and I rejoice in its bounty as well as its beauty.