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.

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.

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts of the Moment by Tasha Halpert

Drops caught 2 If I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I was standing at the supermarket counter choosing some fish for the chowder I was planning to make for later in the week when I saw the lobster on the low shelf in front of me. It had already been cooked, packaged and priced. Stephen loves lobster and this week it was on sale. Since I had nothing special planned for supper I immediately thought how the lobster would make a fine treat for him. Happy to be able to provide him with this nice surprise I picked it up and put it in my wagon.

I had other groceries pick up and so I continued on my way, collecting them and checking off the items on my list. When I finally finished, I made my way to the checkout to pay for my groceries. How glad I was that just at that moment I had been aware of the lobster and seen it waiting there for me. If my mind had been wandering and my thoughts elsewhere I might easily have missed that opportunity to provide us with an extra helping of joy. Bringing someone you love a special treat constitutes a treat for the giver as well as the person receiving it, a win/win situation.

I have noticed that when I focus on where I am and what I am doing I often see things that represent a kind of gift for me. An interesting cloud formation, flowers growing by the wayside on my morning walk, the first touches of color in the trees as I drive on the highway, a snatch of song that I enjoy playing in a store as I walk in, all these and more are little presents I receive when I am aware in the moment.

However, the gifts that lie within any given point in time are only available to me when my eyes are looking around to see and notice them. If my mind is occupied with thoughts or speculations, with worries or apprehensions there is no way I can pay attention to what is around me. At that point my eyes are figuratively turned inward, paying attention to whatever I am thinking of, not looking outward at what is there. I remember once when I spoke to someone about the lovely colors of that year’s fall, she looked at me sadly and confessed that she had been so lost in her thoughts and concerns she had never noticed.

Meditating regularly has certainly helped me stay mentally focused. Observing my thoughts as I learned to do in meditation gives me the option of letting them flow as they will or of refocusing my attention on where I am and what I am doing. Sometimes it is perfectly all right to let my mind wander about. As long as I am not driving or doing something else requiring my full attention my mind can do what it pleases. Even so, I find that keeping at least some of my attention on the present moment can often pay off in gifts.

A Joy To Behold, by Tasha Halpert

Wedding 5 A&K and little girlsGrowing up I don’t remember going to any weddings. My mother’s relatives did not live in the USA and my father’s immediate family was small. I didn’t even go to a funeral until I was twelve, when I wore my first pair of nylons to the obsequies of an elderly cousin. The first wedding I attended was my own, a small affair because the children’s father and I eloped.

Weddings are always special, and the one Stephen and I recently attended in San Diego was no exception. Recently we flew there to join with family for the beach side wedding of our nephew. We were also fortunate enough to travel with my daughter and her fiancé, giving us an opportunity to be together with them at the same time. It was a joyful occasion and one I will long remember. Glimpses of the experience remain in my mind like photographs in a memory album I can now share with readers.

One special remembrance is of jumping in the waves of the Pacific with Stephen and my daughter. This was a great treat for me. It brought back a cherished happy memory of how as a child I used to jump the waves with my father. Staying at my aunt’s beach camp, we would venture out on a day when the ocean was excited from a recent storm, and holding on tight we would jump up as the waves engulfed us, surging against our tightly clasped hands.

The waves of the blue Pacific provided a musical background for the blue and white themed wedding. The bridesmaids wore blue dresses of their own choosing, the groomsmen blue ties and dark suits. The blue and white hydrangeas they carried were echoed in the carnation boutonnieres of the groom and his groomsmen. Blue table covers joined the various places to sit, as well as covered the serving tables of the delicious buffet we enjoyed after the ceremony.

My brother and sister are empowered by the State of California to perform weddings; they conducted the touching ceremony that linked their son with his lovely Korean bride. Her mother, father and relatives including her twin sister, her husband and their adorable four year old son the ring bearer, had come from Korea to witness the marriage. The groom’s sister, her husband and daughters one of whom was a flower girl, family members of my sister-in-law, and her 94 year old father were also involved.

As I stood with those watching the ceremony I felt a surge of love in my heart at this beautiful beginning to the married life of my nephew and my new niece. The participants gathered for the ceremony and for the various celebrations before and after it were equally excited and happy. There were many opportunities to mingle and get to know these new family members. The pictures I took and posted on Facebook are available for all to see. The images that I could not capture on film remain in my mind, a precious joy to behold.