My Grandmother’s Zinnias

Born in 1879, My paternal grandmother’s life was as different from mine as possible. Prior to World War Two she had visited Italy almost annually. She loved it there and even sent money to help out the family of her gondolier—the equivalent of a taxi driver for the canals of Venice. When I was born, she asked that instead of being called “Granny,” she be known as “Nonny,” a variation on Nona, the Italian word for grandmother. She was very fond of me, her first and only grandchild until eight years later when the first of my siblings was born.

She wasn’t a cookie baking, knitting “granny” sort. She was a forceful, energetic, woman whose hair remained a light brown with occasional gray roots between visits to the hairdresser, for all of her eighty years. She enjoyed my youthful company and we spent many afternoons playing card games or going to the various church fairs that occurred all during the summer months while I was growing up. She would give me money to buy pony rides and trinkets from the White Elephant table while she checked out what was being offered to the people attending the fairs.

For her, because she ran our local church fair for most of my childhood, these were a kind of business trip. One year she had a circus theme and hired an elephant. It was brought from upstate New York for the day. I remember riding on its back in a howdah. The elephant spent the night in our garage, though I was not allowed to visit it, I remember hearing i trumpeting. She enjoyed life and participated in it to the fullest. I loved it when she shared bits of her life with me. It was a very different one from the one I knew, as different as mine was from today’s grandchildren.

She was a passionate gardener and grew lots of flowers as well as vegetables in a number of gardens presided over by Mr. Patch, an Irishman with a squeaky voice. I remember that he wore overalls and seemed always to have a gardening implement in his hand. There were two narrow flowerbeds beside the gravel walk that led to her front porch. Each and every year they were lined with Zinnias. I can see them even now, so bright and strong, like her. I never heard her complain or bemoan her condition. She was an inspiring example of strength and fortitude as well as generosity.

While some of her attitudes and opinions were old fashioned—she believed that a “lady” ought not to have a job or work for money, she kept up with current affairs and read three newspapers daily. She also did volunteer work and gave generously to charity. As I advance in age I have grown to appreciate her more than ever. She loved life. Born in a time before automobiles, during the twenties through thirties and forties, she drove her Pontiac through every state in the union. She passed on in 1959. I feel fortunate to have had her in my life for as long as I did. She was a fine example of aging in a positive way, and as I too age, I am even more grateful to her.

Self Respect Helps Us Gain Happiness and Inner Peace.

20180829_105011

A friend of mine recently shared this quote from her late father: “I do not count how far I walk, but the time I spend when walking.” To me this demonstrates a wonderful sense of self-respect. Self-respect can be tricky to acquire. It grows when others say kind words, yet if I feel lacking or insufficient, I will not accept nor believe others when they compliment or praise me. With a greater sense of comfort within myself, I can more easily accept others kudos. It also helps greatly when I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. It takes time to recognize and then dissolve that veil.

Small children have a natural sense of self-respect. They may begin to lose it if they do not get good feedback from the adults around them. On the other hand, with too much praise they can become overly egoic, which is why parents have for ages been chary with or even withheld praise. This attitude of disparagement was practiced for generations by well meaning parents. For example, when I proudly played my mother a song I had just learned on my newly acquired guitar, she responded: “That’s nice, now when will you begin to write your own.”

Fortunately I was used to this kind of ‘praise’ and did not take it to heart. My mother meant well. She was only imitating her parents’ behavior. I tried hard not to act this way with my children. It isn’t easy being a parent. Good or bad, the examples from our own upbringing are hard wired into our consciousness. My mother struggled all her life with almost crippling sense of self consciousness brought about by her stern upbringing. I had to unlearn much of what she had demonstrated to me, and in the process I discovered the essence of respect for others: detachment from rigid ideas concerning how I think others ought to appear or behave.

One day my two girls were small and we were out with a neighbor and her children. She looked at her watch: “We must get back or the children will miss their programs.” I was taken aback. I never thought that children might have a special desire that would transcend parental priorities. I was raised in a time when children had hardly any say in what they did or when they did it. Light dawned and I incorporated this new attitude into my child rearing.

As time went on, I perceived another negative aspect of myself. I noticed how unkindly I reacted to the perceived failures of others. I began to work to develop a stronger sense of compassion as well as respect for the effort rather than criticism of the result. What I have learned is that when I am comfortable with my own sense of self-respect I can see more clearly the results of my actions; I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. I have also recognized how important it is to feel compassion for myself as well as for others, and this is an important aspect of my ongoing learning process.

Benefits and Liabilities of Aging

Sunfloer bowed downWhen I was little my grandmother used to take me with her to visit her friends. Among them were two sisters who had never married but lived together in a pretty home with a nice porch. They used to give me cookies and cambric tea–milk, sugar and a wisp of tea in a delicate china cup. My own mother was physically strong and after my father passed on lived alone and drove herself between Florida and Maine even in her eighties.

These and many elders of my early years presented an image of healthy, hearty behavior. My grandmother used to do fancy dives into the swimming pool of the beach club she occasionally took me to. My great aunt played golf and tennis and had silver cups to show for it. I had teachers with white hair who were wise and good natured. My life has brought me many examples of vital elders who carried on their lives energetically.

Just recently I attended a small reunion for my high school classmates. I was impressed with their fortitude and vigor. As we visited together I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with theses women with whom in our teens I had shared time, space, and teachers. It was quite special to be with my contemporaries. I found that even after all these years we still had much in common besides our age and the school we had attended.

The life paths we had taken had varied widely, yet we all shared a dedication to improving the world and being of help when needed. Born when we were, we had grown up with different mores and rules of behavior than those of today. As a result we have had to make many adjustments. When people do not grow with the changes that accumulate around them, they become bitter and crabby. It seemed to me that none of us had.

No doubt we all had our share of aches, pains and limitations. At our age some of that is to be expected. However I didn’t hear anyone complain about their health even though one of us used a walker and another had both vision and auditory issues of a serious nature. One of the blessings of age can be the ability to deal creatively with one’s limitations. Patience can come more easily when one has lived a long time.

The benefits of accumulated years are a kind of grace that can make up for the increasing changes that as we age limit activities, not to mention movement. Speaking for myself, I would say that patience tops the list of these benefits—not only patience with others but also patience with myself. In addition, being able to wait out a difficulty, the knowledge that time helps heal as well as facilitate, and the ability to listen to and soothe those who live with greater immediacy and impatience are some of the benefits I cherish as I grow on in years.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Pay attention to the Message

1-8-17-first-bird

 

I well remember trips as a young child to the A&P. The smells of the small supermarket in our town intrigued me. The fresh food in bins from which my mother would carefully select her vegetables and fruits gleamed with an allure that reflected my curiosity. In addition, the workings of the body have always interested me. As a child I used to mix up the medicines in my parents’ bathroom cabinet and feed them to my teddy bears. Beginning with my childhood I have had a lifelong fascination with food in general, our needs for it, and how we nourish ourselves or don’t, depending on what we eat and how.

So many of the ads I see on TV are for medicine, both prescription and over the counter. It makes me wonder if we are all really that ill or in need of fixing? Perhaps we are, yet I wonder too whether if instead of trying to alleviate symptoms with medicine, we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why the symptoms have arisen we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why they have arisen. I am speaking about digestive issues in particular, though others are equally as important.

Of course there are serious illnesses that require intervention and the use of various prescribed medicines. However there are other conditions that will respond well to changes in lifestyle and most especially to changes in dietary habits. I well remember how when I was only in my forties, someone a decade older told me how important it had been for her to reduce food intake as she aged. She told me she got by on two meals a day. Different people will do better with different plans, however reducing intake is key to helping us be healthier.

The symptoms of the acid reflux so many experience are often a result of overeating, eating foods we do not digest well, or eating poor food combinations. As we age, the production of our digestive enzymes diminishes. Many comfort foods we once enjoyed become at best indigestible or at worst dangerous to our health. Yet many of us continue to eat as though we were in our twenties and still growing. While trends in eating come and go, for instance (carbohydrates good, fats bad now reversed), one truth remains: what and how we eat are irrevocably connected to our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, not to mention our weight.

What can we do? Chewing is vital. Busy with our lives and impatient of meals perceived as mere interruptions in our busy lives, many of us swallow food half chewed, washing it down with liquid. This does not allow for the incorporation of digestive enzymes, not to mention roiling the stomach with acid from feelings of haste. Instead we could slow down and taste the food as we chew. TV ads counsel taking this or that medicine. By so doing we are effectively killing the messenger: the symptoms that tell us we are doing something harmful to ourselves. When we pay attention to the message we can learn how better to treat our bodies and prolong our good health.

Birthdays are Milestones to Celebrate

Stephen and Tasha bday 2        When I was a child there was a game called musical chairs that was often played at birthday parties. Enough chairs minus one, to represent the number of children present were placed in one or two rows and as a tune was played on the phonograph, participants marched or scurried around them. When the music stopped you had to find a seat. One chair was removed each time until by the end the winner was the person who sat in the remaining chair. I disliked the game intensely. I wasn’t an aggressive child and often lost out early. I hope it has fallen out of fashion. We never played it when my children were growing up.

When the games are enjoyable, birthday parties can be lots of fun. Our country is about to celebrate another birthday and so is my husband Stephen. His mother didn’t quite make it to the 4th so his is the 3rd. We always have a party and invite friends to come share in our celebration. In addition we usually take the entire week off. We avoid housework except for what is truly necessary like laundry, cooking and shopping. We also take the week as a time to get away from ongoing writing projects and seek out things to do for fun. Occasionally we go to movies or interesting restaurants, sometimes we revisit places we’ve lived and take a walk together down memory lane;.

The birthday of our country is a grand occasion throughout the United States, with concerts, fireworks, and gatherings as well as parades. I lived once in a town that had a big parade every 4th and every year to my family’s delight it marched down our street and past our door. We were able to sit on our front lawn in folding chairs and watch the marchers, the bands and the floats pass by. Later in the day that same town also later held games and races for the children, and there would often be a carnival to enliven the festivities as well.

Called Independence Day, the birthday of the USA was first celebrated on July 4 1777 in Philadelphia with bells, bonfires and fireworks. The glorious 4th is also an occasion for political speeches and posturing as various politicians seek to gather votes and voters with an eye to the elections in the fall. Orations by Daniel Webster, john Quincy Adams and many others throughout our history have enlivened the day. I can remember picnics by the beach and local politicians enlivening the air with their promises and/or excuses.

Celebrating birthdays whether one’s own or that of someone else is fun. It’s important to mark the milestones in one’s life with special emphasis. The older we get, the longer we live and the greater the achievement in doing so. However if I don’t take care of myself on the way to my milestones, once they have accumulated I may regret it if my health has deteriorated. It’s important that Stephen and I get enough exercise, eat foods that are healthy and nourishing, and make sure we have enough sleep. That way we really have something to celebrate every year when our birthdays come around.

The Many Ways of Cherishing, Part One

Dad with Snake Dictionary definitions of “cherish” tell us it comes from words that imply caring and holding dear. The French word “cher,” or “cherie” meaning dear one is often used as a term of endearment, especially in Europe. That and those we cherish are what and whom we hold in our hearts as precious. Keeping, implying more than just a momentary affection, is another dictionary definition of cherishing. I was thinking of this as I contemplated Father’s Day and the memories I cherish of my late dad.

I fondly remember our many sand castles we built on the beach over the years. On occasional weekends would go to my Great Aunt Alice’s beach cottage so he could get away from the incessant telephone calls from clients who thought they were having horticultural emergencies. No cell phones disturbed our peace, nor was there even a landline to the simple, somewhat primitive beach shack our family slept in. Our daylight hours were spent on the sand, in the water or weeding the beach grass from the path to it. He considered that his way of repaying his aunt for her kindness in lending us the cottage.

If there were big waves left over from a storm in the days before we delighted in jumping hem together. Standing waist deep in the water he would hold tight to my hands and I would leap as high as i could with him, while the waves battered at us before they threw themselves onto the beach. He would call us “brave girl” and “brave boy” as we waited for the next one to crest around us. The exhilaration of it is vivid in my mind even today.

This and other cherished images from my young years are fun to dwell on. I keep them in my heart, along with those of other dear ones, some of who have departed this life and others of whom live at a distance, whom I seldom see. I also think about and spend time caring for friends and family nearby. I do my best to keep in touch and make sure we stay current with one another’s lives. I do this with email or phone calls, or even texts nowadays. The many forms of communication are a great help to me in my efforts

However, in my attempts to cherish I have learned that not everyone looks at life in the same way. For instance as in the tale of the monkey who fearing it would drown, so kindly put a fish into a tree, I try not offer help just because I think it is needed. I also must be mindful not to impose my values on a loved one who may have a perspective differing from mine. Most important, I must make sure think before I speak to hear what I am about to say and make sure that my words come across as loving. Sarcasm has never served me well, nor have clever comments or observations that may unintentionally wound. Cherishing takes many forms; being mindful is an important one

 

I love to hear from readers and I do cherish each and every one of you.

Being Kind to our Mother the Earth

Maple tree Celebrating SpringWhen we call our planet Mother Earth we are speaking the literal truth. Although our bodies grew inside and were birthed by a human mother, the elements that comprise it are derived from the substance of earth. The mother of us all, whether as individuals or collectively, is our planet. One of the names of our mother is Gaia. There are many who believe she is a living entity in which, along with every other living thing—animate or inanimate, we are cells.

As her children it behooves us to treat our mother the earth with respect. Not everyone looks at Earth this way. Some believe that humanity is privileged and can take what ever they wish from her substance for their own benefit. They do not treat our mother with respect. Taking advantage of her bounty they use it without regard for its possible limits or parameters. Pollution by virtue of pesticides, over fishing, strip mining, and other common practices injure the health of our planet. People who respect their mother do not act in ways that cause her harm.

Individuals who care can make a difference. Daily acts no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, can accumulate. There is a true story to the effect that when the majority of monkeys isolated on an island began washing their food that the practice spread to other islands, communicated somehow through a sense of consciousness. It is said that when enough people act in certain ways that it can influence the actions of others even without their seeing or hearing of it. We need to think about actions of convenience to us that may mean we are taking advantage of our mother earth.

If I leave the water running when I brush my teeth I won’t need to turn the faucet on and off, yet that wastes water. If I take the car somewhere within walking distance, let it idle unnecessarily, or speed when driving I waste fuel. Many of the shortcuts we practice in order to save time end up being bad for the planet. Many towns are banning the use of throwaway plastic bags. They are easily replaced with reusable cloth or disintegrating paper. I just need to remember to take my cloth bags from the car.

Doing things the easy may be hurtful to our mother earth. When did we become accustomed to always drinking from plastic straws? The ocean now is polluted with them! What ever happened to paper ones? Repurposing what may otherwise be thrown away is another way to be kind to the environment. The internet is a good source for ideas for this together with how to accomplish it. All forms of recycling are helpful to our planet. I would not be surprised if in time to come we mine our land fills for the durable materials once discarded now to be found and recycled from there. I can also help by picking up trash when I go out for a walk–and the bending is good exercise. On Mothers’ Day and always I am working to remember to be as kind to my Mother Earth as I can be.