Small Blessings Bring Joy

Dandelion and pebblesKittens grow up and become cats. They learn to use their claws on the furniture, and then they reach a point where if we do not pay attention, they may produce more kittens. Snow falls, gets turned by snowmen by eager, mittened fingers, and then when the sun comes out and the cold retreats, they melt. I wash the dishes, polish up the burners on the stove and sigh, remembering that there will soon be more dishes to wash and something will fall on the cooking surface and smell of burning if I don’t notice it before I begin to cook again.

It is important to me to take notice of how nice it is to have an empty sink and a clean stove. If all I do is think about doing it over again I will miss the feeling of how nice it is to have done with my small tasks. They can become routine, done without thinking, and without appreciation for the effort as well as for the result. When I take the time to notice, I feel better about myself and about my life in general.

When spring comes and the first bluebells and crocuses poke up through the thawed ground, how wonderful it is. We say, “Spring is here.” And it is. Yet spring turns to summer. Then we rejoice in the longer days and firefly strewn nights, until the hours of daylight begin to shorten again. Fall’s bounty of color comes and then goes.  It is good to appreciate what we have while we have it because as a wise teacher of mine used to say, the only constant is change.

It’s easy to take for granted small blessings that pass quickly. We do it all the time without thinking. We’re actually more likely to take notice of what is wrong than what is right. I’ve read that our brains are wired that way for self-preservation. It’s important to make note of the danger lurking nearby—is that a wild beast? Or see the car coming a little too fast as we are about to cross the street. However, our built in warning system can override our joy.

Just recently the wild roses bloomed. Their sweet smell permeated the air by my back porch. I made sure to take time to enjoy their scent. Now the petals have turned brown and I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again. Still, I do have the memory, and although it does not have an actual scent, it can still bring back the pleasure of what I enjoyed when the petals were fresh.

If I am focused on regret because the roses have passed, it is more difficult for me to remember the joy they brought me. As well, I might not be able to take advantage of some new and pleasant experience that could await my notice. Small blessings do not announce their presence with a shout but rather with a whisper. The bright dandelion by the side of a building might go unseen and unappreciated if I am not aware of its gift. If I am only looking at the trash around it, I might not see it all. Small blessings bring joy.

Remembering to be Thankful

Laura Dove A         While at Thanksgiving we are reminded to be grateful, that is surely not the only time to do so. it is vital to remember to be thankful frequently each and every day of our lives. For some time now I have begun and ended each day with this little prayer: “Thank you for this day and for all my days.” As often as possible each and every day I remind myself to acknowledge my gratitude for any good experience and even those that might not have been so good, because of the knowledge gained.

Recently we were saddened to hear of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly just as she was starting a new life with her spouse. Within the past few weeks we have heard news of other friends who are ill or whose lives have been disturbed or changed for the worse. Each time I hear such things, while I say a prayer for those affected, I am also reminded to be grateful for my relatively tranquil, happy life. In this present moment I have so much to be thankful for. When I survey my daily life, even with all its ups and downs, I am reminded to express that gratitude.

My late newspaper editor used to say, “Health is wealth.” How right he was. What are a few aches and pains compared to long term, probably painful illness or worse, an approaching end to life? What’s a broken washer compared to the loss of a parent or of a dear friend? It is so easy to take one’s blessings for granted, to think of them as ordinary or just a part of life. There is an old saying, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” While I am thankful for what I have, I am also grateful for what I do not have to endure.

There is such joy to be had in a tasty breakfast of a Sunday morning shared with one’s partner. Were this scene to end suddenly and abruptly I would deeply regret having lost even a moment of our time together through inattention . There is no way to know ahead when one’s end will come, when all of a sudden there will be no more time. I have read of a Native American tradition to greet each day with the phrase, “This is a good day to die.” Some might think this is a morbid attitude. To me it says, “Pay attention, live fully in this and every moment.”

Quite simply, though we don’t like to think about it, we begin to die the day we are born. With the increase in medical knowledge the life span of human beings has been greatly extended, still one day life will end for us all. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that when it is practiced, it becomes easier to pay attention. I am grateful for this practice and to the teacher that taught it to me. It behooves us all to remember that every moment we have whether uncomfortable or comfortable, sad or happy, sour or sweet is a precious gift to treasure and to be thankful for.

Mothers are Everywhere and Always

Family women 1989My mother did not have good training for the task of mothering. Her mother was the wife of a diplomat and spent her days doing what she needed to do to support my mother’s father in his position. Her children were cared for by nursemaids and tutors. I knew her briefly: a proper, formal woman who came to live briefly in the states in the late forties. I was a young teen at the time, not very interested in this elderly person. Now of course I wish I had asked her more about her life. She returned to Germany and passed on soon after. Ill prepared as she was, my mother did the best she could, and I honor her for it.

When I think of the word mother, I envision a womanly figure with her arms around a child, though not necessarily her child.  Many women without children do their share of mothering. One definition of mothering is taking care of or caring for someone. The nature of the caring embraces many actions. A mother cat keeps her kittens close, yet disciplines them as well. A human mother hugs her child and also disciplines that child—hopefully in a loving manner. Mothers of all kinds help children learn limits and learn to respect them.

Growing up, I was fortunate in being given a great deal of unlimited physical freedom. Nobody minded when I climbed trees or played explorer in the marshes behind our home. As long as I stayed on the property I could do as I liked. The few times I ventured off I was punished. However, my punishments were not cruel, only restrictive: being confined to my room for a long period. I’m sure my mother kept an ear out for me while I played, in case I needed her. She was at home with me and my siblings. Today’s mothers are fortunate if they can do that. In some respects not being able to makes mothering harder now.

I went on to have children of my own; all of my girls are now mothers themselves. Sometimes they need me to mother them; sometimes they even mother me. Mothering does not end when the child is an adult. However as many a mother must discover, mothering must be modified if one does not wish to annoy one’s children. There is a fine line between caring for someone you love and overdoing it: smothering versus mothering. Kindness is defined by how it affects the recipient; helicopter parenting, as it is called can have negative results of all kinds. Limits are for parents as well as for children.

Teachers mother students; some animals have been known to mother young ones not of their kind; I was comforted by the trees I spent hours sitting in– reading, and writing poems. Mothering is of the heart–the heart of the receiver as well as the giver. A difficult childhood results when the mother is unhappy or ill prepared for motherhood. It is easier to judge one’s childhood experience as an adult. Also, not only women can mother. Men can as well. I see them, infants on their backs or in a stroller, tending little ones in a loving manner. On this Mothers’ Day In my heart I honor all those who have mothered me, and I am grateful to each and every one.

Love Has Many Forms and Faces

Stephen and Tasha by Kim 3          One of the more famous of the poems Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to her Robert as they fell in love begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” It has always been a favorite of mine. I even set it to music and played it on my guitar in the days I sang in coffee houses and for parties.  Love can be given in many ways, and all of them are valid and special because each person has his or her own way of giving love. When I pay attention and see how love is given, it is a wonderful lesson to be cherished. Watch very small children; toddlers give us wonderful examples of the giving of unconditional love.

The gifts of love are so special. My home has loving presents from friends and family that come from their love and I cherish the giver as I see, wear, or use them. The kind words I hear, or receive in emails or cards and letters never fail to warm my heart. The love I have shared with my beloved husband for nearly forty years is an important part of my every day experience. I think of him as my always valentine. Love whether brotherly, romantic or spiritual nourishes my heart as well as the heart of us all.

Valentines’ day is an annual reminder that love is a vital part of our lives. I know that as I live with love and give it, I grow happier and more content. A wise teacher once told me, “You don’t have to like everyone but you must love everyone.” When I first heard this I thought a lot about what it meant. How do I love everyone? Especially how do I love those that annoy, irritate or even do awful things, whether to me or to others? In time I have taught myself to do this. I learned how as I grew more aware when I wasn’t loving and deliberately corrected myself, replacing criticism with unconditional love. I am still learning.

When I practice unconditional love, love without judgment and with compassion, even unlikable people can be loved. I don’t have to like them, or like how they act. Nor do I have to approve of anything about them. I can simply open my heart and see them as another human being, however troubled or awful, and envision them surrounded in the light of love. If I feel they ought to be punished I can say I hope they get what they deserve, without specifying.

When my children were small and had been naughty, I might not have liked their behavior yet though I might punish them, I loved them all the same. Often their bad behavior came from ignorance or was a test of boundaries. When I make an effort not to judge another person regardless how I might feel about them, I enhance my ability to give that kind of love. Unconditional love grows from practice. Just as I could punish my child’s bad behavior and love them still, I can give my unconditional love to anyone, and as to punishment, that’s not my job. I can have faith that eventually what goes around will come around, and sooner or later, so it will.

The Graciousness of Trees

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I grew up climbing trees. I loved to sit in them to read, and later when I was a teen, sneak up and smoke a stolen cigarette while reading. I appreciated their bounty too, as well as their presence. The many kinds of apples in my grandfather’s small orchard, the four kinds of pear trees in the garden, the raspberry bushes I was allowed to pick from were an important part of my growing up. I was always surrounded by growth and nature.

I realize now that I was extremely fortunate in having this small territory belonging to my family in which to adventure. Safely ensconced on the outskirts of a small town, the land where I grew up had originally been developed and built on by my great grandfather, an amateur horticulturalist. He died before I was born, so I never knew him. However I grew up with its many and various trees as well as the fruit trees, the lilacs and the roses he planted.

His gardens were extensive. His daughter, my Great Aunt Alice with the help of a gardener kept it all going. He certainly had plenty to do, and occasionally had another man to help him. The chickens provided fertilizer and the vegetables were very tasty.

Most fortunately I had the freedom of a good number of acres to roam around in as I pleased. I was given this from the age of around six or so, and I felt quite safe and free. There were lots of kinds of trees to climb. To my mother’s despair I probably ruined more clothes than the average girl, tearing them on branches or staining them with pine pitch and bark. I lived in the country and there were no neighboring children for me to play with. It was as though the trees I climbed and played around were my big friends. I have always been grateful for their company.

My father was a horticulturist by profession. Working for a tree company he supervised the care of the trees and plantings of his many clients.  He would have  the recent articles about how trees communicate with one another and even how they protect one another from invasion by noxious insects. Trees, like animals, deserve more of our respect than they have had in the past. Researchers estimate that if every city dweller spent just 30 minutes per week in nature, depression cases could be reduced by 7 percent.

Trees provide for life on earth, and have been influential in its evolution from the beginning of life here. Scientists have lately begun to understand more about trees’ ecology, studying the way they learn to survive and to thrive in difficult conditions. As we have learned that animals, birds and even insects exhibit signs of intelligence through their behaviors and use of tools, we have gained in respect for them. Now it is the turn of trees. Grinding them up to make paper may become a thing of the past. Trees are sentient beings and perhaps one day we may even learn to speak their language.

 

Seasonal Eating is a Way to Good Health

colorful paint I love the berries, peaches and plums of summer. I eagerly await and devour local strawberries as they appear at our farmstand. My ‘fridge fills with blueberries and raspberries, then with luscious cherries, peaches and plums as they ripen. Of course I enjoy our special local corn, which reaches it peak as summer wanes. The foods of the local farms are my favorite aspect of summer. What I don’t like about summer is the heat. It discourages my consumption of food and causes me to do as little cooking as possible.

I look forward to asparagus in the spring yet find I don’t wish to eat it at other times. Just so, I prefer to eat what grows in the summer, especially the variety of summer squashes. These have dwindled now locally. Due to our ability to transport food they can be bought all year round from the supermarket, however I feel much less inclined to include them in my diet now that they are out of season for this area.

In the fall is as the weather cools, I regain my appetite as well as my enjoyment of cooking. Today I got out lentils to make a hearty soup and thought about what vegetables I wanted to put in with them. I had bought one of the winter squashes just coming into season. That struck me as a welcome inclusion. For the same reason I have begun to avoid summer squashes I do not eat winter squashes in the summer. They do not taste the same to me then as they do in the fall.

There are many ways to prepare delicious orange winter squash. While I enjoy acorn squash the most, I also like butternut squash for the variety of ways it can be prepared. Acorn squash is simple. Split and baked face down, it can be turned over when done and enhanced with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. I usually give the baked squash another 5 minutes in the oven until these are melted together in the cavities. When I take the squash from the oven I scrape the soft centers with a fork to distribute the sweetness throughout it.

Butternut squash however can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes I bake it whole on a cookie sheet for an hour or until the thickest part pierces easily with a fork. I remove it, cool it slightly and remove the seeds, then take off the peel and refrigerate the flesh. When I want to serve it, I reheat it with butter in a cast iron frying pan. This is very helpful when I want to fix a quick meal. Sometimes I blend it with some grated ginger, some cranberry sauce and some grated cheese, turn it into a casserole and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes.

When I peel it and include it in a hearty lentil or other vegetable or even meat based stew, butternut squash provides color as well as good nutrition. It is a fine source of vitamin A, potassium, fiber and healthy carbohydrates. Doubtless you have had squash pie. It is an easy substitute for pumpkin in pies as well as in many other dishes. Eating with the seasons not only provides good nutrition, it also brings our bodies in line with the changes that occur as the seasons revolve, a win/win situation for good health.

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.