The Beauty of Spring

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1

My father was an arborist, and my father’s grandfather was an amateur horticulturist. In my mind I can still see the small orchard of a dozen trees he planted on part of his property. He also designed extensive gardens around the house and scattered over the lawns. Growing up next door to his home, where my Great Aunt Alice still lived, was a very special experience. The property was large in area, and I was able to spend much of my time outdoors. Actually, any time the weather permitted, I was sent outdoors “to play,” as my mother was a firm believer in the importance of fresh air. It is also possible she wanted me out from under her feet.

Some of my fondest memories are of the trees on the property. The apple orchard with many different varieties that blossomed and fruited throughout the spring, summer and fall, was a special place. The big birch tree that stood sentinel over my small garden where I planted flowers I was given by Aunt Alice’s gardener, was a favorite. I loved chewing the bark. The big beech tree whose branches I used for my primitive tree house were my home away from home. Wherever I have lived since, there have been special trees I have enjoyed.

Outside my bedroom is a maple tree. Maple tree blossoms dangle from the tree’s branches and I watch them every day as they grow. I enjoy observing the tree all year round, but especially in the spring when it goes through so much activity. When the sun shines, the little green blossoms make a filigree design that graces the no–longer bare branches. When I go outside, gazing up I see how the trees in the little wood beside our building paint their leaf buds against the blue spring sky. So inspiring!

Though our usual destinations—supermarket, P.O., library, and so forth are not available now, we do need to run the car. We found this out the hard way when we wanted to drive it, and it wouldn’t start. According to our mechanic, letting the car sit and run wasn’t giving the battery enough “juice” to start up after days of idleness in the parking lot. Somehow time had gone by without our notice, and since we weren’t going anywhere, we didn’t think of running the car.

However, this has turned out to be the perfect month to take the car out for some exercise. There are trees everywhere with flowers radiating beauty even when the sun isn’t shining. The yards and streets of our town are filled with blossoming branches. The duty of driving around to exercise the car has become a joyful experience. The lovely gardens in front of people’s houses, as well as our public buildings are another treat to see. I must be extra mindful not to get distracted.

While it is true that I would have enjoyed the trees and gardens regardless, the fact that they are my reason for going out greatly enhances my appreciation of them. Recently, my heart rejoiced to see another maple tree. the tiny fan of brand-new leaves was just emerging beneath the small green flowers. The leaves shone with their newness, reaching for the sunlight like the hands of a little baby. Nature is such a wonderful comforter in these times of stress.

Polishing the Pots

Pots and pans 1In the fifties, when I was a young mother with two small daughters, my friends and I often gathered in one another’s kitchens for visits and chitchat. One day one of my friends looked at me, shook her head and said, “You are so brave, hanging your copper-bottomed pots for all to see without polishing them. Most women wouldn’t dare.” I smiled at her. “It doesn’t seem important to polish them,” I told her. “I’d rather play with my children or read to them.”

Today many mothers do not have that opportunity. Most families these days require two incomes for survival. This has not always been true, and it is also true that some mothers sacrifice the income and make do in order to be with their children while they are young. However, at that time, many young mothers did not work outside of the home, and instead put their diligence into their housekeeping and their children. Their pride was put into their homes and its appearance.

I was happy to be home with my children. My mother was an artist. I had not been raised to work outside the home, or to have a career in the wider world. My ambition was to be a writer, and I pursued my craft any way I could, writing publicity for the various organizations I belonged to, and sending my poetry off to magazines. Housework was not my first concern. I even wrote and sang a humorous song about how the housework could wait until my children grew up. I recall one husband of our acquaintance remarking to the children’s father that he felt I was out of line with my sentiments. Truth be told, I was happy to avoid housework any way I could.

One of the main reasons I disliked it so much was that once I began cleaning, it was difficult for me to stop until I was completely finished. Yet finishing was a goal that often eluded me because I kept thinking of more, I could do to make whatever I was cleaning perfect. One day I ran across a magazine article that suggested limiting a task to twenty minutes at a time. This helped somewhat, and I began to attempt to put this regimen into practice. I still suffer from this condition to a degree. I’m not sure why, and I look upon it as one of my opportunities to be mindful rather than go on automatic and be carried on the tide of my forward motion.

I haven’t polished the bottoms of my pots for many a year. My housekeeping duties have changed considerably, nor do I any longer have little children to mind. I can usually sit down to write whenever I like. I truly cherish this freedom, once so rare. Remembering those happy days I spent with my little ones, I do feel for mothers who  have to work outside the home, and who don’t have the time to spend with their young children that I and many of my generation had. Rather than spend my free moments polishing, I do my best to find the time for fun that brings me joy, whether it’s watching movies with Stephen, taking a walk in the good weather, or simply sitting and allowing myself to relax and listen to music. Polishing the pots for show is the least of my concerns, and I most likely will never hear anyone comment on them again.

 

Be Your Own Valentine

Heart and BellsWhen I was growing up it was the custom for valentine cards and gifts to be sent unsigned. I believe this was a tradition that dated back many years. The custom of celebrating Valentine’s Day goes back even further, to ancient Rome. It originated in a festival of the time called Lupercalia, after Lupercus, a nature god of the Romans who resembled the Greek god Pan. It also has roots relating to Juno Februata, honoring Goddess Juno. Then, young boys and girls drew lots to see who they would be partnered with for the year which began in March. The Christian church opted to keep the holiday and rename it, calling it after a saint who may or may not have existed.

I remember that one year when I was around the age of twelve, I received a lovely red, heart shaped compact. No one in my household would admit to giving it to me, although I suspected it had been given me by my father. He swore up and down that he hadn’t done it, and at the time I believed him. He had a very convincing way about him and made an excellent actor.  I remember seeing him in at least one locally produced play when I was growing up. He had an affinity for the theater.

When I was in the early grades, paper valentines were placed in a red and white crepe paper decorated box.  Someone was chosen to be postman and distributed the cards to the room full or classmates. There was no talk of partnering, nor of love, per se. Rather it was all about who got the most cards. Later on, I had fun making my own valentines and sending or giving them, and I have done this for many years. Many purchase them. Commercial valentines have been in use since 1800, and Worcester claims to be the originator of early ones, though others have made that claim as well.

My first husband and I met on a day early in February long ago. I wanted to send him a valentine, however, I could nothing but find only a humorous one. Although it was not very nice, it was all I could find so I sent it anyway. Fortunately for the five children we later produced, it didn’t ruin the relationship. Perhaps it was meant to be. The arrows of Cupid, a god of love also known by Greeks as Eros, sometimes do hit the mark. The Greeks have six words that express love: Eros: or sexual passion, Philia: family love or deep friendship, Ludus: or playful love like for children, Agape: or spiritual love/love for everyone, Pragma: or longstanding or enduring love, and Philautia: or love of the self.

The average Westerner saying, “I love…” may be expressing affection, or a preference—I love ice cream, or aptitude–I love to exercise. All these fit our definition of it. And they are all conditional upon our personal choices. Yet spiritual or unconditional love, the most difficult form of love is also the most beneficial for both giver and recipient. This is the love that endures. When I give myself the valentine of unconditional love, I can be much more loving to everyone else. In addition, I do not take issue with any faults, but instead regard with compassion the struggles of the one who is loved and express patience without expectation.

 

Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

Hoop Skirts and Test Patterns

I find fashion to be endlessly entertaining. When you live as long as I have, you have seen many trends come and go.  For instance I’m always amused when I see people of every size walking round in tight clothing. Were she still alive my mother would be shocked and making comments. As I was growing up, at most clothing might be tight around the bust and waist, but not anywhere else. Too, as if pregnancy was not quite proper, one wore tent like garments as soon as there was a bulge. Ball gowns were bolstered with stays and wedding gowns were voluminous and relatively modest.

Recently I was looking at a pretty formal gown in a consignment store and it brought back memories of ones I used to wear back in the days when formal dances were a part of my life. I didn’t go to a school that featured proms, however there was an annual series of dances held by a woman who ran a dancing school for grade school boys and girls. These dances were an extension of her classes and held for high school age students in the area.

She had very strict rules for the young ladies who wanted to participate. Gowns had to be of a certain type, and nothing too bare or plunging was permitted. This starchy New England matron who ran the dances was also particular about our weight. My dear mother put me on a diet that summer so I would conform to the ideal held out for those who wished to attend. “I don’t want any wallflowers at my dances,” she was known to say.

The dress I was looking in the consignment store at was a strapless, full length gown. The skirt was fairly narrow. I smiled to myself, remembering the hoop skirt that went under one of my first full skirted formals. How difficult it was to sit down without the darn thing flying up in the air, taking my skirt with it, revealing my gartered stockings to the world. There were other uncomfortable petticoats, starched and stiff that came later. My mother would laugh and say sometimes one must suffer for beauty. Although she wore a girdle for years and tried to get me to wear one, I refused to.

Along with hoop skirts and starched petticoats, no one born today or even many born a while ago know what a test pattern is, nor has seen one. When my parents got our first TV, there were no programs before around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and after around midnight at night.  All that was on the screen otherwise was a black and white test pattern from the different TV stations.

There were no color TVs. Nor was there color programming! Movies were shown on Sunday afternoons and I remember before we got our TV, the joy of watching them at a friend’s home. In those days a comic book was ten cents, and I wasn’t permitted to buy one but I could read hers. Having lived a long life, I can recall much that no longer exists except in the museum of memory. It’s fun to visit there occasionally, though I’d never want to live there all the time.

Living My Life in a Timely Manner

Dragonfly

Sometimes I wish I could return to the time of my childhood when there seemed to be so much more of it: The long golden days of summer, the wonderful week of school vacation, the stretch of the weekend as I got home from school on Friday. It seemed to me that there was plenty of time to get everything I wished to do done. My days stretched out to be filled with my imagined adventures, the books I loved to read, and my toys.

I don’t remember feeling pressed for time as a child.  I’m sure the grownups were however that didn’t communicate itself to me. I do remember how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes. I was three, or maybe four and my fingers didn’t work as well as they might have. I can still see my small shoes as I bent over them, fumbling with the laces until I got it right. Time wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t my job to do that. As an adult, however, it has become so.

One dear friend has accused me of being “time challenged.” She was politely informing me that I was usually late, or at least perhaps often so. I confess it’s true that before leaving my home I may do a few things that seem necessary to me with the result that I leave at the last minute and may actually get where I’m going a little late. This annoys my husband so I work to improve.

You think after the many years we’ve been married he’d know I am apt to shave things close to the bone when it comes to time. He prefers to get to performances, lectures, appointments or church at least a half hour early. He says it’s because in his teen years he was a reporter and liked to get to events early because it was more interesting then and the habit stuck. He says he also likes to get a good choice of seats, which I admit is a good reason.

However the way I see it, that half hour could have been put to so much better use. It always seems to me that there are many things I could have gotten done at home before leaving, while instead I must sit in a waiting room,  pew or theater seat twiddling my thumbs as people come and go, the choir rehearses or I watch the ads on the movie screen. Being on time requires a certain amount of self-discipline, to be sure, and it is also polite. However arriving at a party or someone’s home half a hour early may be inconvenient to the host or hostess.

Because I find it fascinating as a subject, I’ve written a lot of poetry about time. I find it to be a strange accordion, expanding and contracting according to its own rules. Sometimes I look at the clock and think I have a whole hour to get everything done. Then I look again what seems to me fifteen minutes later, only to discover forty five have passed and I didn’t get half of what I planned finished. Perhaps time does challenge me, still, it’s a learning process and I do enjoy learning.

 

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.

Self Respect Helps Us Gain Happiness and Inner Peace.

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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.

Keys to Patience

20180828_145205There is a joke I remember hearing some time ago to the effect that when a minister repeatedly prayed to God for patience, God sent him an incompetent secretary. He ought to have known better. Patience training is best experienced when I am in situations requiring patience. How else can I learn? There is no other way I know of.

Motherhood is good for learning to be patient. Certainly patience is needed when caring for small children. They take their time, as they need to do. I still vividly recall my walks with toddlers when they were small. Once they refused to stay in the stroller, I had to move at their pace because there was no way they could walk faster than their short legs could carry them.

Those days are long over. Now it is my turn. I need to walk more slowly because no matter how much I would like them to, my legs simply do not move with the speed they used to. I remember how fast I used to walk at one time. I was even proud of it. When did I begin to slow down? Age creeps up on us when we are not expecting it.

There are lots of books on what to expect when you are expecting a child or when one is born and you need to cope. Someone needs to write a book on what to expect as you age. Perhaps it could be titled Aging for Dummies. There is much more to aging than physically slowing down. While I work at being patient with myself in various situations, it is not easy.

Of course we all age differently. Still, it might be useful to know more about what can happen to the body not to mention the mind. Most of my relatives aged well. That is to say they were vigorous and active while they lived. However, I have passed the age they were they left this life, and I do not remember them ever mentioning how they felt as age advanced upon them.

Because at the time I wasn’t thinking about aging, It did not occur to me to ask them. When we are young or even middle aged, the country of old age is a foreign place. How it feels and how it causes us to act are mysteries we cannot plumb without experiencing aging for ourselves. Still it might be nice to have some guidance. Patience is a high priority.

At least I can contribute things I have learned that may help. Depending on how much patience I have time passes either quickly or slowly. So rather than focus on how I dislike waiting, if I observe my surroundings, it is easier to be patient. I also recognize that the more patience I have with myself the easier it is to be patient with others. One of the secrets to achieving patience is distraction. Another is respect. That respect is usually linked with compassion, something that seems to have come with age and as I have worked for it. When I respect my limitations or those of another, patience comes easy. Above all else what really matters is one simple thing: practice, and aging gives me plenty of that.

Keeping the Peace without Sacrifice

toys, 2 lambs It was the custom in my family when I was growing up to invite a non family member to the holiday dinners held at the home of my grandmother or my Great Aunt Alice, so that there wouldn’t be any “rows” as they were called…what could be termed family arguments. People were more likely to be on their best behavior with a relative stranger or at least a distant relative in their midst. The family I grew up in was rather vociferous.

My parents tended to discuss their differences at the top of their lungs. Their shouting made me cringe. They must have grown up doing this. My father and his mother my grandmother, used to have loud disagreements. My mother once told me they would telephone each other, call and then hurry to be the first to bang down the phone. My mother also talked about the “fights” she had with her sister; she too grew up in the habit of loud disagreement. Disliking my discomfort, I resolved when I grew up there would be no fighting in my family.

When neighborhood children played in my yard, they knew if they provoked conflict they would be sent home. If my children were to begin fighting I would separate them and send them to their rooms. In addition, if I strongly disagreed with something their father wanted or said, I would wait until they were out of earshot before I discussed it with him. I had determined there would only be peace throughout my entire household. No one was permitted to fight.

There is one problem with doing away with conflict entirely: any resentment or unhappiness can linger and come out in sneaky ways, like cutting or sarcastic remarks or other hurtful behavior. Even today I have to watch myself if I haven’t expressed my personal upset. I am liable to say something mean or unkind and call it a joke when it really is not.

However, in those days I didn’t know how conflict could be resolved while taking people’s feelings into account. I have since learned about conflict resolution and about ways to carry on discussions in a reasonable fashion. The “talking stick” method means one person gets to speak without interruption while holding a talking talisman. When he or she is done, the next person holds it and has his or her say. Even young children can learn to abide by this method.

Keeping the peace does not mean keeping silent, it does mean expressing oneself without being judgmental or vindictive. Feelings can be expressed and people can agree to disagree. What is important is to learn how to express negative feelings responsibly. I can say, “I feel,” not “you make me feel.” When I take responsibility for how I feel, others can do the same. When I speak my truth with kindness, I evoke the same response. When everyone listens, resolutions can be arrived at and peace can be made without anger, resentment or the sacrifice of anyone’s well being.

A Simple Meal for a Hot Day

Daisies (shasta) Hi resI remember my mother on a hot summer day wiping the sweat from her brow as she prepared the vegetables and fruit she canned for us to eat in the Winter. We lived on the property of my great aunt Alice whose gardener grew planted, harvested and shared lots of good food from her extensive garden. My mother was frugal and to her mind saving money in the winter was worth her efforts in the summer. In her mind nothing was ever to be wasted. While I feel the same way, I don’t have a garden to draw upon, however I do have a wonderful local farm stand that supplies me with fine food.

I tend to lose my appetite in the heat, thus I don’t much like cooking in the summer. Autumn is my favorite season because when the weather cools I feel much more like cooking as well as like eating. However it’s not then now, so I need to be in the present moment in the kitchen. Simple recipes are my go to solution for eating healthy food in this hot weather. I find it’s easier to motivate myself to cook when I don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Salads are all very well in hot weather, however I do get tired of them and I actually prefer a hot meal even when it is warm outside. One of my favorite easy summer recipes combines freshly available local greens and pasta. It really doesn’t matter what greens you use. Personally I like the combination of spinach and Swiss chard, however, kale with spinach or chard is good too, and so are collard greens, broccoli rabe, or other potential ingredients you can use singly or in combination.

I prefer using my food processor to mix the greens together, adding good olive oil and some fresh garlic as well. Using a blender, while doable would be tedious however lacking a food processor you could use a food mill to grind and blend the cooked greens. My food processor is a very useful tool and one that even though I like to cut my vegetables by hand, I have come to rely on for certain kinds of food preparation. I treasure my kitchen tools. Some of them date back more years than I prefer to count. I have a wooden cutting board I received at a shower for my first child; she is now a grandmother too.

The recipe itself is very simple. Ingredients are: a pound or so of spinach, the same of Swiss chard, or use other greens as suggested above. Cook them separately in as little water as possible. Drain well and turn together into the food processor bowl. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons good olive oil, 2 medium cloves chopped or sliced garlic or 1 large one, and a pinch or two of salt. Process until everything is nicely blended. Meanwhile, cook pasta of your choice to serve your diners. When done, drain, put in a serving bowl and pour the mingled greens over it. Stir well and serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Simple, tasty, and good for you as well! Finish the meal with some fresh watermelon and enjoy.