Judge Not or be Judged by your Judgment

Rocks and Flowers with ShadowsMy parents taught me much by their example. My father served in many capacities as a volunteer. He was generous with his time, talents and energy. He read for a radio station that served the blind; for many years he held the position of treasurer for a non-profit orchestra; and he helped out in various capacities at the church to which he belonged.

My mother was a careful provider and very thrifty. She was also a fine artist who valued creativity and encouraged it in others. She tried hard to do the right thing as she saw it, and did the best she could to take care of her family. However, both my parents also provided me an example of something else that I had to unlearn: they frequently passed judgment on others.

My father would point out mistakes of any kind with unkind statements like “You ought to know better than to do that,” or “How could you be so stupid as to…” usually in a scornful tone. My mother was very apt to point out faults in the appearance of others. I believe she had learned this from her own mother who was extremely focused on how she as well as her family appeared.

As a result I grew to adulthood with a judgmental attitude both about any perceived weakness and any deviation from a traditionally attractive appearance whether that of others or of myself. These attitudes of mine seemed normal to me until I began to notice that not only was I being unduly critical but also that my prejudice kept me from seeing those I judged in a more positive light.

Furthermore I realized that this habit also said something about me as well as about how I viewed others. There is a saying to the effect that if you point one finger at someone else you are pointing three back at yourself.

When I began to observe myself as I interacted with people, I also began to understand how unkind it was to look at others in a judgmental way. After this realization I began to learn to be merciful in the way I viewed others, and also the way I viewed myself. As I grew less critical and more forgiving, both of others and of myself I found I now was able to perceive previously hidden virtues where before I had seen only faults.

It is truly said that mistakes are given us as ways to learn, and that the only bad thing about mistakes is the failure to learn from them. I rejoice that I was able to discover and then unlearn these harmful attitudes. I am grateful that instead I can practice a more merciful way of perceiving both others and myself.

By its very definition a judgment closes the mind. It prevents any change in how people and their behavior or appearance can be seen. Being one who always wants to continue learning and growing I try to make sure that in the event I do find myself judging anyone that I immediately look beyond my original thought to become more open minded, less critical, and more merciful in how I am perceiving them.

Flowers of Remembrance

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In the town where my grandfather who fought and died in WWI lived, there is a square dedicated to his name. When I was a child my father took me every year to the Memorial Day parade there. It would stop at his sign and someone would place a wreath on it. Then we would add a big bouquet of carnations. Someone from our family would bring them, and I can remember being held up to put the flowers in. This is the 100th anniversary of its original dedication, and my brother will be there to do the family honors.

I remember as a child wearing my big straw hat with the ribbon hat hung down the back, watching the band march by with the big drum that boomed so, and the brasses playing a marching tune. Later I brought my own children for the event. One daughter would cover her ears, the booming and shrieking of the drums and brass being too much for her. After the square was decorated, we would walk with the parade down to the beach where flowers were thrown into the water and the band would play “For those in peril on the sea.”

Memorial day was originally established with flowers. At the end of the Civil War the women who were placing flowers on the graves of those fallen at the battle of Shiloh wished not to distinguish between Union and Confederate. The thought was to honor those who died, regardless of their affiliation. In the years since, many traditions have grown up around Memorial Day in the US, with flowers and wreaths remaining the most notable symbols of remembrance.

Once as I was out walking in a neighborhood with many Christmas wreaths decorating the doors, a man came up to me and in a British accent, asked me about them. “In England we put a wreath on the door when people have died,” he said. I chuckled and said no, no one had died here; these were Christmas wreaths. I told him it was customary to lay wreaths on graves in the US however, first displaying them at the funeral itself.

A search on the Internet will reveal much information concerning wreaths and their uses, as well as flowers. Once when I was in charge of purchasing and arranging the flowers to decorate my daughter’s wedding celebration, I bought a variety of blossoms, chrysanthemums among them. My daughter’s husband was Italian and announced that chrysanthemums were only for funerals. I removed them and my bouquets were significantly diminished.

In Italy laurel wreaths are given to graduates of advanced degrees; they are a sign of victory. This goes back to the early Greeks and Romans who used them that way. All over the world flowers too are often given to the graduates, and as well to actors and performers of all kinds at the conclusion of a performance. While they are ephemeral and fade quickly, the flowers we use to honor both the fallen and the victorious are a precious reminder of how important it is to take note of our achievements great or small.

A Spring Recipe to Try

dandilionforwishingThe Joy of Cooking is a popular cookbook. I have a well-thumbed copy, which along with my ancient Fanny Farmer’s form the lynchpin of my collection. Cooking has been my joy since I can remember being allowed to do it. My mother was born in Germany at the onset of WWI and the resultant lack of food she endured as a child made a lasting impression. She was reluctant to let me make main dishes–I was assigned to salads and desserts, so I had to learn how to make meals for myself. My cookbooks were and still are a great help.

I enjoy reading cookbooks as well as checking the recipes in newspapers, magazines and on line. It’s fun to see what’s trendy. Some fashions I don’t care for—roasted broccoli, for instance. I also favor eating with the seasons; now that we are coming into spring it’s time for spring vegetables like asparagus and dandelion greens. Some think of dandelions as weeds, however they are beneficial in a variety of ways and good in salads as well as steamed or stir fried with other greens and/or vegetables. Their slightly bitter taste is diminished when they are combined with other vegetables.

Try this recipe for yourself, either digging the dandelion greens from your garden or purchasing them from a market. The purchased ones are milder and easier to use, yet the harvest of garden and lawn weeds can be seen as a bonus. Ingredients: ½ cup chopped onion

4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine

1 small to medium summer squash chopped small or 1 pound of aspargus

4 cups dandelion greens

olive oil as needed.

Method: Gardeners, remove dandelion roots and tough bottom stems. Wash them in several waters. Purchasers can skip this step. Rough chop or cut up with scissors. Steam greens briefly in a small amount of water until they have wilted down. Strain water into a cup and set aside. While you are preparing the dandelion greens, sauté chopped onion, garlic and summer squash in a olive oil, stirring occasionally, or steam asparagus. Add chopped steamed greens to sautéed vegetables. Cook until stems are relatively tender. You can stop here and serve squash as is or put into your food processor and pulse a few times to create more of a mash. Pulse steamed asparagus with dandelion greens and olive oil to taste. Delicious! Use salt and pepper as desired.

Many children and even adults are fussy about what they will and will not eat. I was brought up to finish what was on my plate or else, however I made my children consume only three bites of any food they thought they might not enjoy. They did grow up to be able to eat a good variety of foods. However, in the process I learned to be detached about any response to my cooking. Today this has made it easy for me to be a happy cook in a peaceful kitchen.

 

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.

Spring is a Time for Awakening

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1Though I am fonder of some than of others, for me every season has its unique blessings. Autumn has always been a favorite of mine because I like the crispness of the air and the vivid colors that paint the scenery. However, the cycle of the seasons produces different feelings in everyone and we all have our favorites. It may be that as a poet I am more sensitive to or pay more attention to the change of the seasons because I feel it so keenly. Winter for me is a time for rest and often for extra sleep. The dark hours encourage it. During the winter, like the bare branched trees and the hibernating creatures, I am less active and more inclined to quieter occupations.

It’s easy to sleep late in the winter. The light does not come through the curtains until morning is well advanced. Chilly weather does not encourage leaving warm covers for frigid floors. Yet as the light hours grow longer and the dark ones shorter, the day calls to me sooner and sooner. Reluctant as I may be to get up from my bed, it becomes less alluring to linger than to rise into the day. Even as the trees and the birds greet the brightening weeks, with the spring, something in me begins to wake up.

Winter encourages me to make soups and stews. My pantry and refrigerator are stocked with warming foods. With the advance of spring I think more about salads and lighter meals. I toss the cold weather recipes that I have accumulated yet not found time to make and clip out more recent ones geared to fresher, less sturdy meal components. Now that I can see it, when I look around at the winter dust on shelves and surfaces, I feel more diligent about eliminating it. Somehow when I can’t see it, it is so much easier to ignore. Now it no longer is.

When I was out and about, my eyes had become accustomed to bare trees sleeping in the cold. All winter I admired the still shapes of the bare branches against the sky. Now as the trees blossom and leaf out, they seem to be dancing with joy. The spring breezes flutter the trees’ new emerging clothing as they dress themselves in their fresh spring wardrobes. When I go about my errands, my heart sings along with the turning wheels of my car.

When I used visit my daughter in Italy, she would come into my room of a morning to waken me from my jet-lagged sleep. She would open the curtains and turn to me as I clung to my pillow. “Wakey, wakey,” she’d say with a smile. Finally I’d open my eyes and greet the day, glad to be awake and alive, ready for a new adventure. Spring feels like that. It is time to pursue the new, the untried, the innovative. Time to put away the darker, heavier winter clothes and put on light, bright colors and fabrics, to free the feet of boots and don sandals. Time to awaken to the new season and to rejoice in it.

Rejoicing in the Advent of Spring

dogwood blssoms 2Spring arrives in a dilatory fashion. Like fall, it is a back and forth season. In addition, some years spring arrives early, sneaking up on us and forcing us to get out our warm-weather clothes much sooner than we think we are going to need them. In another year like this one, we begin to feel weary of our winter wardrobe and yearn for the spring clothes still put away in closets or storage places. There is no telling when the weather will change. Spring is a fickle season, whether daily or yearly. I have written a lot of poetry about the way spring behaves.

I am fond of fall. I have written a lot of poetry about that season also. It is actually my favorite of the four. As it begins I delight in the cool crisping of the air, especially welcome after the moist heat of August. However, fall does not have the same kind of excitement to it that spring does. Fall colors are loud and obvious. The autumn brilliance blares from the hillsides like the brass in an orchestra. Spring is delicate; violins and flutes, with an occasional clarinet announce the softly evolving colors that slowly permeate the landscape. Where fall is blatant, spring is subtle.

These days as I drive along the roads between towns I enjoy watching the ends of the tree branches slowly green and redden, highlighting their tracery against the sky. There is a maple outside my bedroom that’s the first thing I see when as I open the curtains. Lately I have been watching the ends of the twigs turn green and then begin to unfold into maple flowers. I know these will in turn eventually fall and produce the seeds we call maple keys. Do children still peel the ends open and stick them on their noses as I remember doing?

Spring is an opportunity to get out and enjoy a walk. It is a treat to amble along the sidewalks of my town’s neighborhoods and see the flowers springing up in the gardens around town. Daffodils and jonquils, hyacinths and tulips abound with their lovely colors. The magnolia trees with their glorious pink and white flowers along with the dogwoods that come into bloom make me feel almost giddy with their generous bouquets of blossoms. How happy the bees must be to put an end to their long winter nap and emerge into activity.

The blooming of the lovely spring trees and flowers is also apt to stir up allergies in those who are vulnerable to them. This makes the spring season a lot less pleasant for some. Stephen and I have been fortunate to have the help of homeopathic remedies that alleviate the discomfort and sometimes even eliminate it. Still, the loveliness of the season may be some consolation to allergy sufferers. I am so glad to see the arrival of spring. Early or late no matter how long it has taken once it gets here all is forgiven, winter is forgotten, and we can rejoice in the glorious beauty of spring.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

Beach Reflections

My parents occasionally visited friends who had a swimming pool. It was surrounded by tall trees and was seldom warmed by the sun, so the water was invariably quite cold. However I was used to swimming in the ocean, which as any New Englander knows, is considered warm if it gets into the 60’s. My parents did not swim in the pool. My mother did not like the cold water and my dad was more interested in conversation with their friends. I swam and played in the water to my heart’s content and only reluctantly left the pool when my lips had turned blue with cold.

My grandmother belonged to a swim and tennis club situated on the ocean. In addition to providing access to the beach it also had a saltwater pool. I loved that pool as well and was always thrilled when my grandmother invited me to go there with her. They had very good club sandwiches too, crusts removed—something my mother never served. In addition she insisted I eat my crusts, telling me they were good o me. What a treat it was. Also I felt elegant sharing lunch with my grandmother in the rustic clubhouse. It was probably these two pools that implanted in my mind the desirability of owning one.

One day Stephen and I came to Grafton to find a home and the real estate agent showed us a lovely house with a pool. While we both liked the house and the land around it, I was particularly excited to actually have a swimming pool of my own. My unstated yet nevertheless real wish had come true. My childhood memories of swimming and playing in the water had morphed into an opportunity to bask in the ownership of a pool I could swim in whenever I wished to.

Little did I know then the outcome of that wish fulfillment. At first the pool seemed wonderful. I could swim in it to my hearts content. Then I discovered that it needed daily maintenance, together with chemicals. We purchased a device that helped clean the pool, yet it still had to be skimmed and occasionally vacuumed. The reality of how much it cost to maintain and how much work that was began to emerge. There was so much we did not know about pools, especially old ones, and how to keep them in pristine condition.

People swam with seawater still in their suits. Difficult to eradicate black mold grew in the pool. The sides began to crumble. We patched them as best we could. The finishing touch came when friends brought their teenaged sons over and the resultant hours of cannonballs loosened the old, outdated concrete lining until it flapped back and forth. We inquired about repairs and were told it would cost as much as a new pool: in the tens of thousands. Faced with that we opted to eliminate the pool, filling it in. Thus ended the dream, resulting in a lesson learned. Needless to say I became less eager to make wishes. However, when I do, I am very careful to consider what their fulfillment might entail.