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.

 

The Gift of Christmas

Deb's mantleWhile generally speaking Thanksgiving is about being thankful, for many people Christmas is about gift giving. There are multiple tales about the giving of gifts on this day or shortly before or after. Christmas legends are fun to read. One of my favorites is about La Befana, an old lady from Italy. It is she who leaves the gifts for children on or around Christmas. The story goes she missed out on the actual birth of the holy child and so leaves all children gifts hoping not to miss out.

Lately my mail has been flooded with appeals. Every charity I give to throughout the year and quite a few I never do has sent me an urgent letter stating its need. Some hope to sweeten the pot by saying a donor has offered to match every donation if it comes in before a certain date. Giving at Christmas is built into our society; however, it is also a tradition that is so old it is part of the body of thinking that in psychological terms is called the collective unconscious.

Many people at this season disregard that way of thinking and deplore the emphasis on gift giving, calling it materialistic, or a symbol of our greedy society. They may be right in their way; however, I wonder if they have considered the inspiration to give that is inherent in Christmas. The focus in many ads is all about buying for others, for those on your Christmas list, and so forth. No one has much to say about buying gifts for yourself.

Actually, it is a good idea to buy yourself a Christmas/Holiday gift—at least one. I am a firm believer in giving to oneself as well as to others. That way you don’t feel deprived if you don’t get much back. To be sure, giving with unconditional love—likely the best way to give, means giving without expectations. Yet this is much easier when you give to yourself, perhaps purchased something you really wanted, or bought a highly personal item that no one is apt to give to you.

I believe the true gift of Christmas is the inspiration to give that it inspires. Depending on their belief system, many will tell you what the basis is for this tradition. For them this may be very important, yet from St. Nicholas to Santa, from the Three Kings to La Befana, whatever the inspiration may be, the gifts in the stockings and under the tree spell Christmas/Solstice/Chanukah /Kwanza, and perhaps other days, for us all.

Helping Out Friends and Neighbors

grandmothers 6 cake

 

My father, my grandmother and even my great aunt did a lot of volunteer work. I remember my grandmother telling me about rolling bandages during World War II. My great aunt was a Girl Scout leader. My father volunteered his services to the radio for the blind as well as serving as treasurer to some of the organizations to which he belonged. My mother taught small children in her studio when she lived in the Cayman Islands. Volunteering comes naturally when you grow up with it. Many of us do what we can to be of help.

Some years ago a friend of mine and her mother began making pillowslip dresses for young ladies in third world countries. Made from two lengths of material sewn together and tied at the shoulders, these simple inexpensively produced dresses, have supplied a great many girls and young women with modest colorful clothing. Since then the mother and daughter have had many other people join them in their efforts. It brings all who participate a sense of joy as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes from being of help to others.

There are countless ways to share effort. Most churches, senior organizations and even listserves offer opportunities. Giving rides, doing errands, bringing meals, or just being a friendly person to the aged and housebound is one simple, easily found one. Most soup kitchens welcome your help as often as you can manage. Many organizations look for volunteers to assist staff. Helping out a young mother in your neighborhood with child minding while she goes grocery shopping can be a boon. Even the small act of holding the door for the person coming along behind you can bring a smile to that person.

“It is in giving we receive,” said St. Francis of Assisi in his famous prayer for peace. From the time most of are small we are taught to share, to think of others, perhaps to put them first, and to avoid taking the biggest piece of cake or the last cookie. Because it comes when we are very young, this guidance often becomes part of us. We may thrive on the opportunity to do so. However, if I rely solely on the good feeling I get from helping others and neglect to take care of my own needs, I am apt to feel resentment or even neglect when I do not receive what feels like sufficient gratitude for my help

It is vital not to make sacrifices that I cannot afford, however, I need not expect thanks, nor feel neglected when I remember to acknowledge my own efforts to myself.  I need not depend on anyone else’s gratefulness, because I can feel inner gratitude to have been able to help. The act of giving brings with it a natural source of uplift to the heart. This fountain of joy flows freely when we look into ourselves for the acknowledgement we deserve for our efforts. It is lovely to be thanked, and I try to remember to do it often. It is also good when we feel that as an echo of our own inner sense of gratitude.

 

A Recipe for making life’s lemons into lemonade

Tasha and Lemons 2  The perspective I bring to my everyday life influences the way I understand what is happening, and how I respond to what seems to me to be going on. When I look with compassion on how life has evolved for someone, I also feel differently about how they act toward me or anyone else. I may then see the gift they may bring me. Gratitude and compassion are closely intertwined. Both are necessary for a truly happy life.

The gift of a difficult person or experience may simply be one of patience practice. Compassion helps me to be grateful for that. I wasn’t raised to be compassionate. My parents were highly critical of others. As I realized I needed to change and worked on developing compassion, I found it easier to respond to life and its lemons with gratitude. Being grateful for life’s lemons is a good way to make that lemonade as well to sweeten life. I have found it takes much practice to learn to respond automatically with an attitude reflecting gratitude.

Gratitude as a first response to whatever life hands to you is an important ingredient to build into one’s lifestyle. However as with the deliberate incorporation of any habit, time and effort are required. As I worked to develop my attitude of gratitude, I began by taking small steps. Over time I worked my way up to larger ones. Now it is easier than it used to be to remember to be grateful, regardless of the reasons or circumstances.

Right now I am extremely grateful that my new book, Up To My Neck In Lemons has been published. It is a collection of ways to use lemons both in recipes and in life. It contains my relevant poetry and most importantly some of my experiences in life that have helped me make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons I have encountered. It is my hope to help others with this book, and I am very thankful to those wonderful friends who have helped me to make my hope a reality.

Here is a recipe from my new book: Lemon Sauce for many uses.

This recipe makes a cup and an eighth of sauce. It is easy to make, keeps well and can be used to make any dessert very special.

 Ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar 3/4 cup water, divided, 1/4 cup lemon juice, Grated peel of a lemon, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

Method: In a sturdy pot mix together 1/2 cup water, sugar, and butter. Boil for several minutes. Add juice and rind of lemon. Stir well, cook on low for five minutes. Mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Add, stir into lemon mixture and cook until nicely thickened. This has a good flavor and can be used over angel cake or muffins, plain cake or even a combination of fruit.

My book is available on Amazon and of course if you want a signed copy you can write to me at tashahal@gmail.com and let me know.

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 Gift of Christmas Giving

Laura Dodge's Christmas windowOne of my fond Christmas memories is of my dad sitting by our living room fireplace wrapping and addressing his Christmas gifts to his workers and others with whom he had a working relationship. He was a horticulturalist and his company was on the North Shore where there were many fine estates and special gardens. He was good at designing views and helping the owners of the estates and their caretakers maintain their trees and shrubs.

His gifts ranged from cartons of cigarettes to bottles of whiskey and included neckties and other smaller items of clothing. Some were for the gardeners of the estates, some for those who worked under his supervision. His men and their foreman got the more expensive gifts. Each one was carefully wrapped and labeled. When I grew old enough to help him I delighted in doing so. All things having to do with Christmas have always been special to me.

Many years ago, on the advice of a spiritual teacher, I began cultivating an attitude of gratitude. This practice has since become much more popular, featured in books and by Oprah, on Facebook groups and on a variety of other sites. There is even a lovely, inspiring site devoted to the expression of gratitude called Gratitude.org. It features all sorts of good news together with thoughtful comments and teachings, as well as poetry.

As Stephen and I drove home after delivering the last plate of Christmas gift cookies, I thought how grateful I was to have an opportunity to acknowledge as my dad did, the kindness of those who had been of help. My token plates of cookies seem a small return for all that these people have done for us, yet they are at least a tangible offering on the alter of my gratitude.

Also, since I was a small child I have been the recipient of much for which I am grateful now, even though at the time I was not aware of the benefit. When I have the opportunity to do so, I acknowledge in my heart those who have been kind to me in the past as well as in the present. Some of them have passed out of my life and some have simply passed away. I remember them with gratitude and say a prayer for their happiness wherever they may be.

Thanksgiving is a fine time to be aware of that for which we are grateful, yet Christmas is my opportunity to express that gratitude in a tangible way to those whose generosity I hope to acknowledge. My life would not be what it is without the help I have received along the ways Those who have in the past, those in the present and even those in the future deserve my thanks as well as whatever I can do to pay it forward in gratitude for those who are too far for me to bring them cookies.

 

Giving Thanks is not just for Thanksgiving.

Deb's party food 2When I was growing up we usually said grace only at Thanksgiving, Christmas or on other very special occasions. I don’t remember any special discussion of gratitude in my family. God was often presented as a punitive figure, rather like my dad—as in or God will punish you for that, see if He doesn’t, and “Just wait until I tell your father what you did…” The church I grew up with emphasized being sorry for one’s sins and saying prayers for the protection and preservation of my family and myself. All that changed when I was in my mid thirties and I learned about the virtue of gratitude and its importance for a happy life.

I began giving thanks on a daily basis after a phone conversation with a wise older friend. She told me that rather than complain about what I thought I was lacking, I needed to be grateful for what I did have: good food to eat, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, warm clothes to wear, and so on. She reminded me how important it was to give thanks for the simple yet necessary blessings most take for granted. I believed her. Now these many years later, I am very grateful to her. An attitude of gratitude leads to true happiness.

When we focus on whatever there is in our lives that brings happiness, healing, kindness or friendship we are emphasizing that aspect in our lives. When we complain about our difficulties we are focusing on our lacks and our problems, most of which we can do little to nothing about. There is no happiness in dwelling on our misfortunes. When we do emphasize what is good in our lives it seems magically to increase. Giving thanks for that which we have as well as that which we do not have is an important key to a good life.

Gratitude for the bounty in our lives has been the theme of harvest celebrations throughout the ages. The Pilgrims did not host the first Thanksgiving ever, just their first one here in this country. Giving thanks to a higher power is common to nearly every religious or spiritual path. Most have some kind of ceremony to honor the powers that be that provide them with support and sustenance. After all, if the rains do not fall or the sun does not shine our food will not grow. Not a gardener myself, I know how grateful I am to the market and the farmstand that provide me with good, fresh food.

More than anything else I am grateful for the love that has come to me over the years. I have been extremely fortunate in the people I have met and with whom I have had the opportunity to interact. My friends, past, present and even future are important to me. I am thankful for each and every one. While some of those for one reason or another have vanished from my life, the experience of their past love remains to bless me with its warmth and the joyful memories of our happy times together. I am grateful for that good and for the dear ones still in my life.