The Discipline of Remembering

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I can clearly remember lying in my bed upstairs and wishing I was able to stay up and be part of whatever was happening. I also remember sitting at the table, a boiled egg or perhaps worse, a piece of liver before me—things I had no desire whatsoever to put in my mouth. If I wanted to leave the table I had to finish whatever I was given. One way I managed was to cut the liver into small pieces and swallow it whole. I can’t remember how I dealt with the egg.

My life as a child had lots of discipline in it. Authority figures held sway over my life. Often it was a parent: “Time to go to bed,” or a teacher: “Be sure to do your homework in a timely manner.” It never occurred to me that these disciplinarians were stand-ins for what comes when we are adults. In my innocence I thought discipline had to come from someone telling me what I had to do, not that one day I would need to tell myself.

Unfortunately for my childhood dreams, I need to enforce my own discipline in order to function in the world in an orderly manner. There is really no one that can do it for me. As a child I dreamed of the day I would be my own boss, as I thought of it then. I yearned for the day there would be no one to tell me I had to go to bed if I didn’t wish to, or make me eat something I didn’t wish to eat. Of course that is how a child thinks and the reality does not occur to us because as children we simply cannot conceive of it.

I remember thinking how grand it would be to be a grownup with no one to tell me what to do and when to do it. I could, I believed do whatever I wished, whenever I wished to do it. Children are so innocent. Little did I know then what I had to remember to do for myself when there were no more grownups to tell me and I was the grownup. As an adult I find discipline needs to be addressed often. For instance, there is the discipline of deadlines. If I wish I can ignore them though I do so to my peril. There is also the simple discipline of my body, which needs to sleep eat and go to the bathroom, occasionally at inconvenient times.

As I have grown older it seems to me there are more and more things I need to do each day in order to maintain my health and sanity. These require me to remember them as well as to do them. Lists help, yet were I to write everything I need to do daily down, it would be a lengthy list indeed. Practicing the discipline of remembering is perhaps the most important one of all, and in addition to doing my exercises and taking my vitamins, I practice this each and every day.

The Only Constant is Change

20150911_183519Peace Village Sunflfowers Past Present Future

A wise teacher of mine once said, “The only constant in life is change.” This sounds like an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms, yet it surely has been true for me in my adult life. From the time I left home to be on my own I have had to embrace a sense of flexibility concerning my expectations. It may have helped that to begin with I grew up in New England where the weather can go from a shower to sunshine and back to a shower again in quick succession.

When I was a child I lived a protected life. Even the living room furniture stayed the same, as did the pictures on the walls. The people around me were the same also. Death was distant and spoken of only in whispers. There were no TV images of soldiers fighting and dying or talk of murders and fires. The war then was a distant rumble, its only evidence being the occasional blackouts’ and my dad in his air raid warden helmet roaming the neighborhood to warn of any light showing through the darkened windows of the inhabitants nearby.

When the war ended there was still not much difference in my life except for the packages my parents sent to their relatives overseas. They were stuffed with clothing and edibles that could travel, tied with bales of twine to keep them from being opened. This stable childhood did not really prepare me for the life of change I have lived as an adult. However, I have no quarrel with my experiences and quite to the contrary I believe they have benefited me in very tangible ways.

My first husband and I did quite a bit of traveling wile he fulfilled his army obligations as an ROTC student. We settled in one house only to find ourselves moving a number of times before our lives again settled down. To be sure, dealing with the energies and aptitudes of five children provided plenty of opportunities for unexpected adventures. As I approached my forties I felt confident that I knew exactly what was going to happen in my life. However, again my expectations were turned around and new adventures began.

After Stephen and I moved to Grafton and founded our center for inner peace I often found myself hosting the conglomeration of people who would drop by for a swim or a chat and of course be invited to stay for supper or even the night. We took in anyone who showed up at the door and needed it some inner peace. I always had plenty of food on hand, and I didn’t mind in the least especially as long as people helped out when we needed them to.

Lately without knowing what or how I have felt that something is going to change in my life. However it seems quite impossible to plan ahead for it because whatever does happen is never quite what I expect. For instance, how could I foresee that Stephen’s acquisition of one pot of a few succulents two years ago would multiply into a garden of pots and many more varieties? I do welcome whatever is next. My only expectation is that as good as it has been in the past so it will be as in the future or perhaps even better.

 

After the Gifts Are Unwrapped

gifts-4  In days gone by when my children were small and Christmas was something of a big production, by the evening of the 25th everyone was satisfied to play with his or her toys, eat the festival leftovers and chill out. It was then that I would take my guitar in hand and drive with it to the Beverly hospital to play for the patients. I was a regular volunteer there so I would don my pink volunteer jacket and go around to the wards and private rooms to play Christmas music together with my usual folk tunes.

During my time in Manchester-by-the-Sea I used to play my guitar several times a month and sometimes even more often for the patients who were well enough to be listening. However I did have to be mindful of my lyrics. This being in the days of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, my repertoire consisted mainly of traditional folk songs, some of which had lyrics that might not sound cheerful such as: “Go tell Aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead,” or one that began “When I’m dead and buried, don’t you weep after me,” a rousing spiritual that was great fun to sing as long as I omitted the first verse and went right into the body of the song.

On Christmas night I felt as though with all the visitors having gone home by then, the patients could use a bit of cheering up. After all, the visitors were returning to their families and friends while the patients were still in their rooms or wards and perhaps more aware of being there than usual. It was heartening to see the welcoming smiles on their faces and to receive their enthusiastic approval. More than once someone who had been relatively comatose would actually clap their hands and manage a smile.

Today my children are grown and gone and my family is for the most part scattered far and wide. Holidays are quieter. Nor do I play my guitar any longer, though next year I hope to have learned some carols on my new harp. However, I don’t expect to be singing them in a hospital. Life brings changes, some welcome, some not so. The happy memories of Holidays past become gifts to cherish with joy, more so perhaps than any other gift beneath the tree.

Now that the presents have been opened and our holiday meal consumed, I find myself reminiscing to myself over past holiday celebrations. I note familiar faces that have moved on from my life. Some still walk this earth others do not. I am reminded of the places where I have lived in the past and see again the rooms as well as the homes that hold the memories of holiday times. Each year holds its blessings. I am grateful for each and every one, and most of all I am grateful to be able to celebrate with joy the love that flows to me from those who each year remember me.

 

Muffins for Fall Munching

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I once attended a weekend Renaissance Fair with some friends. Wearing a costume of a mobcap, a full skirt, blouse and a vest, with my similarly garbed friends I was having breakfast in the restaurant of the motel where we were staying. As I perused the buffet table a man came up to me. “There are no more muffins,” he said. I shook my head and assured him I wasn’t a waitress. “We need more muffins,” he said loudly. My similarity to the waitress’ colonial garb was too convincing. My friends were helpless with laughter. I giggled and joined them. To this day Stephen kids me about the incident.

While I like making muffins now, I didn’t learn to make them in my mother’s kitchen. She didn’t bake from scratch or even at all, and I was not encouraged to do so. Once married I tried to make them but my muffins were invariably heavy, flat and dense in texture. Though edible, they were not how I thought muffins ought to be. When I sought inspiration from more experienced cooks, I found out what I was doing wrong. Voila, my muffins rose nicely.

I discovered that muffins, unlike cakes, cookies and other baked goods did not need to be well beaten. Once I learned to fold the wet ingredients lightly into the dry ingredients my troubles were over. The source of my information was a column in the Boston Globe called the Confidential Chat. It ran several times weekly and was a wonderful source of recipes, advice and help as well as an opportunity to share for those of us who wished to do so. At the peak of my participation I wrote around fifteen or so letters a week, many of which were published, and in the process I learned to write succinctly.

Writers to the column used pen names, so publication was anonymous. However, letters answering you that were not published were forwarded bundled in an envelope you provided, and you could choose to answer any of them if you wished. In certain ways the Confidential Chat was part of the foundation for this column because it helped me learn to write precisely and convey information clearly. Long-winded or unclear letters simply were not published. Since I enjoyed seeing mine in the paper, I worked hard to write well. I also loved the recipes and shared many.

Here is a recipe I use a lot for Banana Chunk Muffins. You may substitute melted butter for the oil. If you do, be very sure to mix lightly. Ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, ¾ cup any milk, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ cup sugar, 1½ cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 or 3 bananas cut into ½ to 1 inch squares, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped walnuts, ½ to 1 cup optional chopped dates. Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Mix fruit, nuts with dry ingredients, beat wet ingredients together well and lightly mix into dry. Use liners or grease 1½ dozen muffin cups or 1 8″ square pan. Fill ¾ full and bake for 30 minutes for muffins, 35 to 40 for pan. Enjoy!

Tasha Halpert

Goodness of the Local Harvest

plums-1My mother grew vegetables and fruit and canned them for use during the winter and spring. I remember her on the hot days in August and September, lifting the glass jars out of their steaming water bath in the large canning pot in our small kitchen. Once cooled, the jars went to line shelves in the basement. During winter and spring she had all kinds of vegetables and fruit to choose from. Eating locally was common in those days because food that grew in faraway places was not available. Canning diminished with the advent of freezer chests. Consuming food in New England that was grown in Mexico, China or other distant countries was unheard of.

It is such a treat to eat locally. There is no comparison between food that is grown near where I live and that which has traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to reach the market where I shop. Fresher, healthier, and minimally processed, locally grown food is better for me and for those I love. It tastes better too, though I am happy that my year round diet is not restricted to it. I am no purist, and I am grateful for fresh produce available all year round.

I love eating local fruit during the summer. Sadly, the frost in February decimated the local peaches as well as most of the plums. I look forward every year to purchasing them at our local farm stand, eating them whole, and occasionally baking with them. Now, provided they survive any difficult winter weather, I must wait another twelve months until they are available. The ones in the supermarket look good, yet I pass them by. Eating whatever nature has to offer locally at the time is it is offered is important to me. However I cherish the opportunity to be a locavore, as it is called, in season.

That is why when I spotted the very special small prune plums at the farm stand. I exclaimed aloud in my happiness. The kind proprietor said they were a special lot, rare and most likely all she would get. I bought a couple of pounds on the spot, then later in the week at another visit I bought all that was left of the rest. They tasted wonderful. I was reminded of the use of the word “plum” to describe something rich and/or desirable. These were “plum” good, and I received a “plum” when I discovered them.

All too soon the season of harvest bounty will draw to a close. According to the owner of the farm stand, the yellow squash is almost done. We enjoyed some of the last of it recently this way: I peeled and finely chopped some ginger and half a large onion. I sautéed these gently in light olive oil until onions were fragrant and transparent, added some garlic sliced thin, and then the young, thin skinned squash, sliced very thin cut in three or four inch lengths. This cooks quickly, maybe in ten minutes more. You can mix some thinly sliced zucchini with the yellow squash to good effect. Add basil leaves if available, or thyme. I have given no quantities because this is best made to suit your own taste.

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Time is a Strange Accordian

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When I was a child, school and playtime defined my days. My years were divided into summer and other vacations, weeks by weekends and school. My clothing was defined by the weather, although I do remember sometimes having to wear dresses in the winter, which even with knee socks were not as warm as pants would have been. However, pants were not an option then for girls. I also remember corduroy jumpers, and once I had a woolen kilt I dearly loved.

Later when I became a wife and mother, the needs of my husband and children determined the parameters of my life. Schedules were important, the days to do what was necessary, such as laundry and errands, intertwined with doctor’s appointments and school functions. The definitions of my life inspired these parameters, and helped me to maintain a sense of order. Now that my life has become that of a semi retired writer, the parameters and definitions have loosened up, yet even after all these years, they still exist.

The other day as Stephen began stripping the bed I shook my head in amazement. How was it possible that a week had gone by so quickly? It seemed as though we had only just done that. It is true that as I gain in years, time seems to have speeded up. I notice this most when I realize how quickly certain tasks come around again to be done.

I don’t have set days to do the laundry. Except for the day we change the sheets, I do it when it has accumulated to a point that it needs doing. However, the size of our washing machine defines the amount that can be washed at any one time. For instance, it will accommodate two sheets nicely; the pillowcases are better washed with another load of clothing.

Stephen and I write and send in our columns each week. That is another parameter. Whenever we may write them, Sunday is our deadline for submitting them. We don’t have a particular day when we grocery shop. That is done on an as needed basis. Being semi retired writers we have more freedom without the 9 to 5 limitations that people in the workaday world may have.

I get out our supplements once a month and divide them into daily envelopes. I am truly amazed at how quickly it becomes time to do this again. Thinking about the way that time seems to shrink or grow, I once wrote a poem with the line, “Time is a strange accordion.” When I look back the years seem to compress and five seems like two, with twenty becoming five.

Today the laundry, tomorrow the correspondence, my time is defined by doing. While I pursue my life the stars call me to gaze into their burning hearts where time is flame. The routines of my life do in some ways define my days, yet within the parameters of those routines there are poems to write and sunsets to observe, gifts to be given and hugs to be received. Making full use of whatever time I have seems to me to be the best way to enjoy life.

Tasha Halpert