Competition Versus Cooperation

chickens.jpgI’ve never been a competitive person. Usually a sense of competition kicks in around the age of four, when a child gains a clear understanding of “me” and “mine.” Even then there is often a desire to share unless the child is surrounded by competitors. When I was growing up competition was the rule and the idea of a game that required cooperation instead was unknown. I did not enjoy the competitive world I grew up in.

Even as a child I disliked competition in sports. One reason was that I wasn’t very agile or well-coordinated and thus most often chosen last for any team. Another was that it made me sad that someone had to lose in order for someone to win. I played board games yet not with a keen desire to win. For instance, Parcheesi which was a popular game when I was young was best won by blocking opponents and rendering them helpless. I never enjoyed doing that. For me, that was like punishing someone or hurting them.

My mother was a fierce competitor. She loved games and was good at them. She played Bridge and Mahjong with her friends. With me she played card games and Chinese checkers, which she played without mercy, making no allowances for youth or inexperience. She played to win, regardless. As a result, I did learn to play a good game of Chinese checkers. Fast forward to my adulthood. I still resisted competition when I could. Unfortunately, my children invariably made me enter the tired Mothers Race at the fourth of July games. in the town where they grew up. I came in last no matter how hard I tried.

My children’s father was very competitive. He encouraged the children while they were still quite young to play on teams and to compete. He even started a girls’ softball league in the town where we lived.  My daughters and then my sons all strove to do well in order to make him happy. He cherished their ribbons and trophies and often coached their various teams to victory. As a loyal mom I used to attend their tennis matches and their and baseball and ice hockey games, cheering along with the other parents and trembling for fear they would lose and be sad.

Regardless whether or not they won, I was glad whenever the games or matches were over. Certainly, my children learned much from their years playing tennis, hockey, and baseball. They had fun and met other children they would not have met otherwise. I am not regretful for them, though I do feel there are other ways to have fun that they might have enjoyed as well. I was too busy keeping up with household and child caring duties to do much about that.

Competition is said to be a good learning experience for children. Today even little ones barely out of toddler years are put on teams to play at various sports. For competitive people that’s good. For those like me, not so much. On the other hand, it is possible to play games in the spirit of cooperation. Team efforts in sports are only one way. There is also a cooperative way to play many games, and that is to play to see how high the score can rise. Scrabble can be played that way, and I know that’s how I would prefer to play it.

Mementos of Friends Are Special

3musketeersI took the red and white baking dish out of the drawer under the oven and set it on the counter. An image of the person who had given it to me rose in my mind, and I sighed. We had been friends for many years. Now however she had joined the angels that she so often spoke of. Her faith was strong and she shared it on occasion though not intrusively. A colorful character, she was always fun to see and over the years she had given me other gifts I cherished.

As I reached to put on my earrings, I opened a small trinket box and fished around for a tiny plastic “ear nut.” I keep a lot of them in it, ready to make sure I don’t lose a precious earring. The pretty little box with a woman on the lid was another gift from a special friend and I think of her always when I open it to get one. There is a pair of cute stretchy pants in my drawer, a present from a friend who has moved away, so I don’t see her any longer. I am happy to have this reminder of her and of our friendship.

The lovely glass vase I use for flowers when they arrive as a gift reminds me of a friend who lives in another state, too far to visit. Happily, email does help us keep in touch. These and other things are my special treasures, more precious to me than any glittering object in a catalog, because they remind me of someone dear and special. I feel most fortunate in my friends. One of them recently made me a special birthday picture that I frequently glimpse on the shelf next to my bed.

Treasured items come and go, and we cannot hold onto everything we cherish. Some vanish and others fall apart. There are some we hold especially dear because of how they were acquired. They bring us the memory of the giver and perhaps even the circumstances of the giving.  I have a lovely shawl my daughter knit for me. I feel the warmth of her love whenever I wear it. I also have the memory of the time we spent together choosing the wool. It is a pleasure to enjoy the remembrances attached to the gifts friends have given me.

Life is shorter than we know when are young. Each day is more precious than we can imagine while we move through our busy weeks. It is easy to forget to take notice of what may pass away unexpectedly, or be buried in the inundation of our to-do list. When I glimpse them, these gifts and many more from other dear ones are good reminders to stop, say a short prayer of thanks and wish the giver well. Whether or not we are still able to communicate, I cherish what we had while we had it and give thanks for it and for them, always.

 

 

Angels are Everywhere

Angel melons Pay a visit to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton MA and you will see a wonderful variety of angels as well as many saints. Ancient and modern icons from Slavic countries, collected over decades by the founder, Gordon B. Lankton, line the walls of this wondrous building. Their programs and exhibitions are special too, and their gift shop holds many interesting and often inexpensive items you will not find elsewhere.  As you peruse the rooms, angels of every description, as well as saints gaze at you with farseeing eyes.

Angels are found in many lovely aspects in churches and other spiritual buildings. There are books written about them and images of them are part of every classical artistic tradition from ancient times onward. When I was in Italy I saw many paintings of them attending to their tasks. When I was a child I loved seeing images of them in churches’ colorful stained glass windows.

One of the main definitions of angels is as messengers of God. To me they convey the kindness and the goodness that comes to our aid in situations where we can’t always help ourselves. This was true for me once long ago when a Salvation Army truck stopped to help me where I was stranded on a highway. It was true again for me more recently when I tripped and fell in a parking lot, landing flat on my face and just barely able to sit up and assess my situation.

As I sat up, not quite ready to try to climb to my feet with Stephen’s help, a truck pulled into the lot. A man I didn’t recognize leaned out and said, “Are you all right?” As I made an attempt to get up I said I was, and expected him to go into one of the shops on the first floor of the building. Instead he got out of the truck and said, “Let me help you.” He put his hands under my arms and as though I were a little child, he lifted me gently to my feet. He turned away and as I thanked him he waved, got back into his truck and pulled out of the lot.

I was so grateful. Whether he knew it or not, he was at that moment an angel, bringing a message of kindness and goodness. From time to time we can be angels for one another, coming unexpectedly to the aid of strangers or perhaps even friends. It may be that we give directions to someone who is lost. It may be that we help someone across the street or give a hand with a snow shovel or to lug groceries. To be an occasional angel is a special privilege given by circumstance when we are in the right place at the right time.

I would have loved to have known this angel’s name and been able to thank the kind man in a tangible way. What a blessing it was for me not to have to struggle to my feet. I’m no spring chicken. Even with Stephen’s help it would not have been easy. I know I will be sure to keep my eyes open for an opportunity to play angel for someone else. What goes around comes around, and I hope to give back as I have been given.

 

It’s Hearty Soup Weather

2014-09-16 15.36.53 During most of history, people ate what they had put away for the winter in their cellars and barns. In Colonial New England, unless someone had a greenhouse a midwinter salad was unheard of. In the Middle Ages in Europe and Russia, fasting during Lent was a necessity because what little food was available to most by late winter had to be hoarded and used carefully. People ate with the seasons. Forty years ago on a late spring trip to Russia with my mother I recall cabbage being served to us daily. It keeps well if properly stored.

Root vegetables can stay fresh for months. Turnips, Carrots, Rutabagas and winter squashes keep when in a cold place. I recall the root cellar in my Great Aunt Alice’s large garden—a deep hole with a wooden cover where vegetables could be safely stored for the winter months. I prefer to eat with the seasons. I feel healthier eating root vegetables often in fall and winter.

One thing special thing about fall is that my appetite returns and I can eat more without gaining weight. Those extra calories burn to keep me warm. However I do not eat more empty calories: i.e. desserts, snacks, sweets. Instead I eat more vegetables and healthy carbohydrates. Soup calories are always good fuel for the body. Hearty fall and winter soups are made with root vegetables, winter squash, beans, and other appropriate ingredients.

Sturdy herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and tarragon add flavor and food value to these soups as well. I begin most of my soup recipes by sautéing chopped onion, finely chopped celery, and ground garlic (not garlic powder, that has less flavor) in butter and olive oil. The mung beans in this recipe can be found at any health food store if your market does not carry them, and are a nice change from the more commonly used lentils or other kinds of beans.

My mung bean soup is a little different from the average bean soup. For this hearty recipe sauté ½ cup onion and 1 cup celery chopped small in 2 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs butter until transparent. Add 1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary, curry powder, and ground garlic . Stir in 2 cups peeled, chopped firm potatoes and 1 cup or more sliced carrots. Add 2 cups beef broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or so, until vegetables are tender and soup is tasty.

Cauliflower has become popular lately. I have seen versions of it prepared in many ways. This is my cauliflower soup: Thinly slice ½ to ¾ of a large cauliflower and 1 or 2 large carrots. Simmer in 2 cups water until soft. Meanwhile, Sauté 1 medium onion and 6 cloves garlic chopped, black pepper and your choice of seasonings in olive oil. Mash simmered vegetables and add sautéed ones. Add 2 cups chicken broth. If desired, thicken with leftover mashed potato or a roux made from 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs flour stirred over medium heat, with 1 cup added liquid of your choice stirred until smooth and thick.

The Importance of Self Acknowledgement

Fall Dandelions

It can be frustrating when you cannot do something that you have done all your life with ease. I’ve been putting on my own clothes for most of my life. However for the first two weeks I was home from the hospital, I wore the same simple garment every day. It went over my head without effort and kept me adequately clothed. As time went on I could wear more elaborate clothing until finally I could pretty much dress myself in whatever I wished to wear, all except for my shoes and socks. That required more bending than I was capable of.

Shoes and socks seem simple, do they not? Everyone can manage them. I have a distinct memory of learning to tie my shoes as a child. I know I was still only three, because I was attending nursery school at the time. My memory is of bending over my shoes until I had learned to wind the shoelaces into bows that would keep them tied. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. In my mind I can see the bedroom I slept in with my caregiver and feel my sense of frustration as I tried over and over again to tie those laces until at last I succeeded. Then oh, how happy I felt. I can still remember that too.

Just recently I had another small victory. I was able to put on my left sock all by myself. To do that sounds so simple. Yet it was the final step since my hip replacement two months ago, in my being able to get myself entirely dressed without help. To be sure up until now Stephen has been ever so kind about assisting me. Yet regardless how kind someone helping you is, it is very appealing, at least to me, to be able to do something I have always been able to do, by myself once more.

My parents weren’t generous with their praise of my accomplishments. They always informed me I was supposed to do well. They were apt to say, “Now that was quite good, can you do better next time?” They thought this was how to encourage me to try harder or at least keep on trying. I, on the other hand, believe strongly in praise. My children’s father taught me this. No matter how wretchedly the children he coached performed, he found a way to say some encouraging words. His teams invariably did well and I think this was one of the main reasons.

Not many of us have a coach in life to praise us, so it is up to us to pat ourselves on the back when we need encouragement, and more importantly, when we need to be acknowledged. It is not only permissible but also important to take note of our personal victories, most especially to do so for ourselves. We need to feel good for ourselves, not because someone else has praised us. When we recognize our successes we can build on them with a sense of satisfaction. When we feel satisfied with our performance we do not need to seek praise elsewhere but instead can feel good and be happy because we know for ourselves that we have done our best.

Mothers are Everywhere and Always

Family women 1989My mother did not have good training for the task of mothering. Her mother was the wife of a diplomat and spent her days doing what she needed to do to support my mother’s father in his position. Her children were cared for by nursemaids and tutors. I knew her briefly: a proper, formal woman who came to live briefly in the states in the late forties. I was a young teen at the time, not very interested in this elderly person. Now of course I wish I had asked her more about her life. She returned to Germany and passed on soon after. Ill prepared as she was, my mother did the best she could, and I honor her for it.

When I think of the word mother, I envision a womanly figure with her arms around a child, though not necessarily her child.  Many women without children do their share of mothering. One definition of mothering is taking care of or caring for someone. The nature of the caring embraces many actions. A mother cat keeps her kittens close, yet disciplines them as well. A human mother hugs her child and also disciplines that child—hopefully in a loving manner. Mothers of all kinds help children learn limits and learn to respect them.

Growing up, I was fortunate in being given a great deal of unlimited physical freedom. Nobody minded when I climbed trees or played explorer in the marshes behind our home. As long as I stayed on the property I could do as I liked. The few times I ventured off I was punished. However, my punishments were not cruel, only restrictive: being confined to my room for a long period. I’m sure my mother kept an ear out for me while I played, in case I needed her. She was at home with me and my siblings. Today’s mothers are fortunate if they can do that. In some respects not being able to makes mothering harder now.

I went on to have children of my own; all of my girls are now mothers themselves. Sometimes they need me to mother them; sometimes they even mother me. Mothering does not end when the child is an adult. However as many a mother must discover, mothering must be modified if one does not wish to annoy one’s children. There is a fine line between caring for someone you love and overdoing it: smothering versus mothering. Kindness is defined by how it affects the recipient; helicopter parenting, as it is called can have negative results of all kinds. Limits are for parents as well as for children.

Teachers mother students; some animals have been known to mother young ones not of their kind; I was comforted by the trees I spent hours sitting in– reading, and writing poems. Mothering is of the heart–the heart of the receiver as well as the giver. A difficult childhood results when the mother is unhappy or ill prepared for motherhood. It is easier to judge one’s childhood experience as an adult. Also, not only women can mother. Men can as well. I see them, infants on their backs or in a stroller, tending little ones in a loving manner. On this Mothers’ Day In my heart I honor all those who have mothered me, and I am grateful to each and every one.

Eggs are Delicious, Nutritious and Versatile

Cooking with heart Though I’ve never had it or made it myself, I remember Goldenrod Eggs–a dish made with hard boiled eggs that my mother served at luncheon parties. The eggs were carefully hard cooked—never boiled as this turns the yolks green. The whites were chopped up and stirred into a white cream sauce. This was spread over toast with the crusts cut off and made into triangles. The yolks were then pressed through a sieve and sprinkled over the top of the creamed whites.

This was a pretty dish yet far too labor intensive for me. Besides, I prefer hard boiled eggs cut up and made into egg salad or stuffed—but not by me. I can’t get the whites out of the shells easily. However in the days when I was little there was more time for cooking because life was simpler and less hectic. In addition, women like my mom had luncheons in their homes because her friends were home with their kids too and did not have to go out to work.

Easter brings thoughts of eggs, coloring them, cooking them, eating them. As a child I disliked eggs intensely. They were always served me in an egg cup with the top off the shell. I didn’t care for the taste much. Still, whether I wanted to or not I had to eat them because I couldn’t leave the table until I did. For some reason our egg spoons were silver which quickly tarnished from the yolks of the eggs, and this somehow made the experience even worse. It was many years before I was able to eat eggs with pleasure.

To prepare dishes with eggs requires careful timing. For garlic fried eggs with parsley—our breakfast favorite, slice garlic into butter, break eggs over it, cut parsley over them, wait until they are just set, then turn off the stove and turn the eggs over to finish cooking lightly. This insures that the whites are firm and the yolks cooked yet a little runny. Separating raw yolks from whites, is now simple since I learned the trick of holding the yolk in my hand as the white slips through my fingers. My Lemon Cloud Pudding is easy to make doing this.

I have fond memories of sharing a simple lunch of warm hard boiled eggs peeled and mashed with a little mayonnaise, some salt and maybe some chopped parsley with my best friend as our little ones played together. How tasty the eggs were with some saltine crackers and a cup of tea. In those days I dyed my eggs with pellets of color from the supermarket. Some years ago I tried dying them with onion skins. They turned lovely purple and red colors.

This is an ancient way to do them: Save up your papery onion skins. Tie them around your eggs with string and simmer the eggs for 20 minutes. Very beautiful and fun. To make a tasty egg salad, mash yolks and whites together, add mayonnaise to taste and some of your favorite mustard. Add ground dried garlic, chopped parsley and curry powder if desired. Serve with crackers, toast, bread or just lettuce and a fork.  This is good for any meal, especially for one of after Easter leftover eggs.

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.