The Beauty of Spring

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1

My father was an arborist, and my father’s grandfather was an amateur horticulturist. In my mind I can still see the small orchard of a dozen trees he planted on part of his property. He also designed extensive gardens around the house and scattered over the lawns. Growing up next door to his home, where my Great Aunt Alice still lived, was a very special experience. The property was large in area, and I was able to spend much of my time outdoors. Actually, any time the weather permitted, I was sent outdoors “to play,” as my mother was a firm believer in the importance of fresh air. It is also possible she wanted me out from under her feet.

Some of my fondest memories are of the trees on the property. The apple orchard with many different varieties that blossomed and fruited throughout the spring, summer and fall, was a special place. The big birch tree that stood sentinel over my small garden where I planted flowers I was given by Aunt Alice’s gardener, was a favorite. I loved chewing the bark. The big beech tree whose branches I used for my primitive tree house were my home away from home. Wherever I have lived since, there have been special trees I have enjoyed.

Outside my bedroom is a maple tree. Maple tree blossoms dangle from the tree’s branches and I watch them every day as they grow. I enjoy observing the tree all year round, but especially in the spring when it goes through so much activity. When the sun shines, the little green blossoms make a filigree design that graces the no–longer bare branches. When I go outside, gazing up I see how the trees in the little wood beside our building paint their leaf buds against the blue spring sky. So inspiring!

Though our usual destinations—supermarket, P.O., library, and so forth are not available now, we do need to run the car. We found this out the hard way when we wanted to drive it, and it wouldn’t start. According to our mechanic, letting the car sit and run wasn’t giving the battery enough “juice” to start up after days of idleness in the parking lot. Somehow time had gone by without our notice, and since we weren’t going anywhere, we didn’t think of running the car.

However, this has turned out to be the perfect month to take the car out for some exercise. There are trees everywhere with flowers radiating beauty even when the sun isn’t shining. The yards and streets of our town are filled with blossoming branches. The duty of driving around to exercise the car has become a joyful experience. The lovely gardens in front of people’s houses, as well as our public buildings are another treat to see. I must be extra mindful not to get distracted.

While it is true that I would have enjoyed the trees and gardens regardless, the fact that they are my reason for going out greatly enhances my appreciation of them. Recently, my heart rejoiced to see another maple tree. the tiny fan of brand-new leaves was just emerging beneath the small green flowers. The leaves shone with their newness, reaching for the sunlight like the hands of a little baby. Nature is such a wonderful comforter in these times of stress.

The Blame Game

Roots and light When I was growing up it was my responsibility to care for the chickens. In the winter what that meant was carrying a heavy bucket of water from our house the thirty or more yards to their coop. The spring I was twelve the wetlands near the coop flooded and there was plenty of water right there. I took advantage of it. However, something then happened to the chickens. They began dying. Apparently, they had somehow caught a disease.

My parents called me into the living room. They were sitting on the sofa looking stern. They asked me if I had been doing anything different for the chickens. “No,” I lied. Then they faced me with the evidence. My great aunt’s gardener had seen me getting the water from the swamp. Uh oh! I don’t remember my punishment—probably a suspension of my allowance. Sadly, I didn’t really learn my lesson then, though eventually I did. I was often too fearful of the consequences to tell the truth.

Many if not most of us are. The vase is broken, the favorite toy ruined, the car dented and we hear: “He/she made me…”  or “I couldn’t help it.” Heard that before? This familiar copout is often every child’s first response—except perhaps for, “I didn’t do it.” How do we teach children to take responsibility for their actions? It isn’t easy and every parent has his or her idea how best to accomplish this. Sometimes they manage to make that happen, and the child grows up to be a responsible adult.

However all too often even as adults we are reluctant to take the responsibility we need to for our own actions. We may be afraid of the results when someone finds out. I know often I was, or we may not want someone to think ill of us, as in “how could I be so stupid as to make that mistake?”  There are as many reasons as there are situations. The bottom line is that we do not like to admit to being ill advised, ignorant, or just plain absent of mind.

Blaming is something many do when they want to get out of a situation where they feel trapped or one that will lower their value in another’s eyes and mind. The problem with playing the blame game is that not only is it dishonest, it is also unkind to the person or persons we may be blaming for our mistake.

I learned to own up to my responsibility only as an adult. My husband Stephen was actually the one to help me to do this. He would not allow me to get away with evading it, and he would make sure I was ultimately honest. I’ve learned that honesty really is the best policy when it comes to admitting to wrongdoing. Feelings of guilt are thereby avoided as well as other consequences that may arise when and if the truth emerges—and all too often it will.

 

Waste Not Want Not

Glittering Glass 2The phrase “waste not want not,” sounds as though it might have come from the Bible, however it did not. It also sounds like old fashioned New England thrift. My mother being German, definitely learned the concept from her experience. I have found it useful in trying to utilize whatever food I might have left over from any meal. In my book, wasting food is not to be done.

It helps to be prepared. I usually cook enough rice to have plenty for extra meals. This saves me cooking time later.  I am always happy to see some leftovers in my refrigerator. One reason is that they help me to fix meals quickly, another is that they help make it less work to do so. I love to cook, and I also love to write poetry and do many other things. Cooking is fun, but not if I have to neglect the rest of my various duties and activities. I usually make enough food for a meal to create another or part of one from what is left over.

It is also true that by utilizing my leftovers, I save not only time but money. My mother, who grew up in war torn Germany, felt food was very precious. I was made aware of this very early on and it stuck. I often use small amounts of vegetables, for instance, or cheese, bread, rice or pasta and so on to incorporate into what I call a “Never Again,” because I will most likely never have just that combination of ingredients to use.

It is important to make sure to blend flavors appropriately. For instance, I’d never combine a curry with an Italian flavored dish. I would blend anything plain into something spicy or tangy. I don’t generally combine a cheese and pasta dish with something involving a strong fish, however you might. One of my favorite tricks is to add shrimp I’ve baked at 425 for 10 minutes to any leftover rice or pasta, then put in herbs to taste, some sautéed onions and any leftover vegetables I might have.

Try spreading leftover chicken or seafood salad on bread, cover it with cheese, and bake in a toaster or regular oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Add a salad to make a fast, tasty supper meal. There are several rules I follow in my thrifty ways with leftovers: I never combine pasta and rice leftovers; I usually incorporate some chopped, sautéed onions to freshen the flavor; I try to use most leftovers within a week. Have fun, Leftovers present great opportunities to be creative.

What is there to Fear?

As above so below, pink flowers

The acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. I learned this a few years ago and I think of it sometimes when I am tempted to be afraid of or afraid for what appears dire. Life presents plenty of scenarios that could give us the shivers if we let it. Right now, the bogeyman is the Coronavirus. Please understand, I am not downplaying the importance of avoiding this virus, what I am concerned about is the climate of fear that surrounds something we are told is not more dangerous than a bad cold to most, though it can kill vulnerable people. Unfortunately, so can many germs, easy to encounter at all times. It is also said that using sanitizers is not helpful and might even make you more vulnerable. Soap and water are always effective.

However, in order to maintain your good health you need to take all the measures you have been told to take ever since you were old enough to care for yourself. Number one, of course is to get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. Do what it takes for you to get to bed for a restful eight or nine hours of slumber. If you have problems sleeping, check out the effective homeopathic non-addictive, no-side-effects aids to sleep. Your local health food store has them, and they are not expensive. Some mild stretching before bed sends me gently off to slumber, as does alternate nostril breathing. Google this for more information. It works well for me. I learned it, then taught it in my yoga classes some years ago. And of course, wash your hands frequently, especially when out in public.

I wish I had known about this breathing technique when I was between eight and ten, or perhaps even earlier when I suffered what might be called Night Terrors. I would lie in my bed quaking with fear about an imagined tragedy I believed would take my parents from me. One of these waking nightmares stemmed from a radio program I heard when I was in the second grade and home from school with a cold. I still remember the room I was in and the radio that told what was probably a tale of some kind, about the building of a tunnel that collapsed and drowned people. If I had called out to my parents, I would have been scolded, so I just coped as best I could. Perhaps this is how I learned to be courageous later in life.

When my children were small there was plenty that I might have feared, however, I had confidence in their behavior and their choices. I continue to do so. As I grow older, much could cause me to be afraid. Any ache or twinge could turn into a crisis if I let it, but I don’t allow myself to tie into that negative thinking. It’s also true that when I face what seems fearful, it dwindles and becomes much less threatening. When I say to myself, “I am safe now in this moment,” I can realize the truth of that and do whatever is necessary to stay that way. Taking sensible precautions is one thing, hiding under the bed is another. Keeping your immune system strong works best to help you avoid catching any germs. Negative thinking is counter-intuitive to that. I refuse to take fear into my heart or into my thoughts.

 

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.

 

Something from the Oven

Cooking with heartThere was an advertising phrase that went, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven…” however, I think the advertising agency had it backward. It’s the love in the preparation that does this. The oven only helps, as do the ingredients, preferably as clean and fresh as possible. Love helps us to choose them, as well as to guide the utensils used in the preparation. Furthermore, the focus of the mind is an important ingredient as well. If I am angry or upset when I am preparing food, it could affect the way it tastes as well as the way it is digested. Though I can’t prove it, it’s my belief that thoughts and feelings can be powerful in their effect on food.

A study of this potential would make an interesting experiment for a science project, though it could be difficult to set up. I do really enjoy cooking. Though I’ve never had any courses or training for it and am completely self-taught, I get great praise from those who taste my cooking. I remember one person saying, “This must be Tasha’s kitchen because it smells so good.” Another time, I had prepared a tropical entrée made with bananas with other ingredients, baked inside their skins. When I stopped one guest from cutting into his, he said, “Oh, I thought if you had cooked it, I could eat it.” I laughed and thanked him.

One of the most cherished comfort food desserts is bread pudding. According to the internet, sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, a frugal cook somewhere in Europe needed to use up their stale bread and began thinking up ways to do it. Perhaps instead the cook needed a dessert and had only stale bread, eggs and milk to go with it. Be that as it may, bread pudding has become a staple food. Once called “Poor Man’s Pudding,” it is said to be served in upscale restaurants as well as homes all over the world. Many of the recipes for it call for some form of fat. My recipe omits this ingredient and I don’t think the calories or the taste of it will be missed. Feel free to experiment, I still do. You can butter the bread first if you wish to include it.

The recipe I have evolved from making it often is simple, and we eat it all the time. You do not have to wait until the bread is stale, though of course that is a good use for any you might have. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 1 ½ or 2-quart covered casserole. Put a pan of water the casserole will fit in into in the oven. Begin with 2 cups torn up bread—around 4 to 6 slices. I use a raisin bread and it’s on the small side. Sprinkle on ½ cup sugar and ½ to 1 cup raisins if not using raisin bread. Beat up 2 eggs and 2 cups any kind of milk. Add 1 plus teaspoon vanilla and 1 plus teaspoon cinnamon and beat again. Pour over bread and stir to combine well. Place covered casserole in the oven in the pan prepared with water. Bake 1 hour, remove cover and bake to brown for 15 or so minutes. If you can resist diving into it, the pudding tastes best the next day when flavors have developed.

I have no recollection of having been served bread pudding in my childhood; I have evolved this recipe from following one in a cookbook of recipes based on the Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, both of which which I highly recommend.

 

Be Your Own Valentine

Heart and BellsWhen I was growing up it was the custom for valentine cards and gifts to be sent unsigned. I believe this was a tradition that dated back many years. The custom of celebrating Valentine’s Day goes back even further, to ancient Rome. It originated in a festival of the time called Lupercalia, after Lupercus, a nature god of the Romans who resembled the Greek god Pan. It also has roots relating to Juno Februata, honoring Goddess Juno. Then, young boys and girls drew lots to see who they would be partnered with for the year which began in March. The Christian church opted to keep the holiday and rename it, calling it after a saint who may or may not have existed.

I remember that one year when I was around the age of twelve, I received a lovely red, heart shaped compact. No one in my household would admit to giving it to me, although I suspected it had been given me by my father. He swore up and down that he hadn’t done it, and at the time I believed him. He had a very convincing way about him and made an excellent actor.  I remember seeing him in at least one locally produced play when I was growing up. He had an affinity for the theater.

When I was in the early grades, paper valentines were placed in a red and white crepe paper decorated box.  Someone was chosen to be postman and distributed the cards to the room full or classmates. There was no talk of partnering, nor of love, per se. Rather it was all about who got the most cards. Later on, I had fun making my own valentines and sending or giving them, and I have done this for many years. Many purchase them. Commercial valentines have been in use since 1800, and Worcester claims to be the originator of early ones, though others have made that claim as well.

My first husband and I met on a day early in February long ago. I wanted to send him a valentine, however, I could nothing but find only a humorous one. Although it was not very nice, it was all I could find so I sent it anyway. Fortunately for the five children we later produced, it didn’t ruin the relationship. Perhaps it was meant to be. The arrows of Cupid, a god of love also known by Greeks as Eros, sometimes do hit the mark. The Greeks have six words that express love: Eros: or sexual passion, Philia: family love or deep friendship, Ludus: or playful love like for children, Agape: or spiritual love/love for everyone, Pragma: or longstanding or enduring love, and Philautia: or love of the self.

The average Westerner saying, “I love…” may be expressing affection, or a preference—I love ice cream, or aptitude–I love to exercise. All these fit our definition of it. And they are all conditional upon our personal choices. Yet spiritual or unconditional love, the most difficult form of love is also the most beneficial for both giver and recipient. This is the love that endures. When I give myself the valentine of unconditional love, I can be much more loving to everyone else. In addition, I do not take issue with any faults, but instead regard with compassion the struggles of the one who is loved and express patience without expectation.

 

Competition Versus Cooperation

chickens.jpgI’ve never been a competitive person. Usually a sense of competition kicks in around the age of four, when a child gains a clear understanding of “me” and “mine.” Even then there is often a desire to share unless the child is surrounded by competitors. When I was growing up competition was the rule and the idea of a game that required cooperation instead was unknown. I did not enjoy the competitive world I grew up in.

Even as a child I disliked competition in sports. One reason was that I wasn’t very agile or well-coordinated and thus most often chosen last for any team. Another was that it made me sad that someone had to lose in order for someone to win. I played board games yet not with a keen desire to win. For instance, Parcheesi which was a popular game when I was young was best won by blocking opponents and rendering them helpless. I never enjoyed doing that. For me, that was like punishing someone or hurting them.

My mother was a fierce competitor. She loved games and was good at them. She played Bridge and Mahjong with her friends. With me she played card games and Chinese checkers, which she played without mercy, making no allowances for youth or inexperience. She played to win, regardless. As a result, I did learn to play a good game of Chinese checkers. Fast forward to my adulthood. I still resisted competition when I could. Unfortunately, my children invariably made me enter the tired Mothers Race at the fourth of July games. in the town where they grew up. I came in last no matter how hard I tried.

My children’s father was very competitive. He encouraged the children while they were still quite young to play on teams and to compete. He even started a girls’ softball league in the town where we lived.  My daughters and then my sons all strove to do well in order to make him happy. He cherished their ribbons and trophies and often coached their various teams to victory. As a loyal mom I used to attend their tennis matches and their and baseball and ice hockey games, cheering along with the other parents and trembling for fear they would lose and be sad.

Regardless whether or not they won, I was glad whenever the games or matches were over. Certainly, my children learned much from their years playing tennis, hockey, and baseball. They had fun and met other children they would not have met otherwise. I am not regretful for them, though I do feel there are other ways to have fun that they might have enjoyed as well. I was too busy keeping up with household and child caring duties to do much about that.

Competition is said to be a good learning experience for children. Today even little ones barely out of toddler years are put on teams to play at various sports. For competitive people that’s good. For those like me, not so much. On the other hand, it is possible to play games in the spirit of cooperation. Team efforts in sports are only one way. There is also a cooperative way to play many games, and that is to play to see how high the score can rise. Scrabble can be played that way, and I know that’s how I would prefer to play it.

Mementos of Friends Are Special

3musketeersI took the red and white baking dish out of the drawer under the oven and set it on the counter. An image of the person who had given it to me rose in my mind, and I sighed. We had been friends for many years. Now however she had joined the angels that she so often spoke of. Her faith was strong and she shared it on occasion though not intrusively. A colorful character, she was always fun to see and over the years she had given me other gifts I cherished.

As I reached to put on my earrings, I opened a small trinket box and fished around for a tiny plastic “ear nut.” I keep a lot of them in it, ready to make sure I don’t lose a precious earring. The pretty little box with a woman on the lid was another gift from a special friend and I think of her always when I open it to get one. There is a pair of cute stretchy pants in my drawer, a present from a friend who has moved away, so I don’t see her any longer. I am happy to have this reminder of her and of our friendship.

The lovely glass vase I use for flowers when they arrive as a gift reminds me of a friend who lives in another state, too far to visit. Happily, email does help us keep in touch. These and other things are my special treasures, more precious to me than any glittering object in a catalog, because they remind me of someone dear and special. I feel most fortunate in my friends. One of them recently made me a special birthday picture that I frequently glimpse on the shelf next to my bed.

Treasured items come and go, and we cannot hold onto everything we cherish. Some vanish and others fall apart. There are some we hold especially dear because of how they were acquired. They bring us the memory of the giver and perhaps even the circumstances of the giving.  I have a lovely shawl my daughter knit for me. I feel the warmth of her love whenever I wear it. I also have the memory of the time we spent together choosing the wool. It is a pleasure to enjoy the remembrances attached to the gifts friends have given me.

Life is shorter than we know when are young. Each day is more precious than we can imagine while we move through our busy weeks. It is easy to forget to take notice of what may pass away unexpectedly, or be buried in the inundation of our to-do list. When I glimpse them, these gifts and many more from other dear ones are good reminders to stop, say a short prayer of thanks and wish the giver well. Whether or not we are still able to communicate, I cherish what we had while we had it and give thanks for it and for them, always.

 

 

Beauty Everywhere to See

Fall Patterns shadows and leaves

 

Many of us inherit our tastes from our parents. I am no exception. My mother was an artist with her own gallery. There she sold her paintings and a few decorative items that included carved wooden works by my brother and his wife, that might be bought by those who came in for a look around. She primarily painted abstracts, and she enjoyed wielding her brush to music. She had a brush in her hand most of every day. She once told me she had sold paintings to people all over the world.

She did not normally paint in bright colors. Even her rare red and purple paintings were slightly toned down.  Her subjects were simple, her canvases were uncluttered. Her personal palette was also muted. She seldom wore any colors but tan, ivory or brown. What little jewelry she wore wasn’t bold. By contrast my father liked bright, bold colors and was himself a colorful character. I inherited his tastes both in clothing and in life. I dress primarily in red, pink, and bright turquoise.  I like bold earrings and bracelets. My tastes are very different from my mother’s. She preferred muted simplicity while I, like my father, like vivid complexity.

The strong colors of fall make it my favorite time of year. The beauty of fall is spread over the roads as well as the hills and meadows like a cloak of brilliant hues, and the loveliness of it resonates in my heart. All during the months of fall when I am driving, I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road, and when I have the treat of being driven, I am ever so grateful because then I can look at the landscape without fear of landing in a ditch.

Spring is lovely too. An astute observer once wrote that the colors of spring and fall were similar, only the colors of fall were more intense while the colors of spring exhibited a pastel palette. I hadn’t considered this before, however the next spring I observed the truth of what he was saying. Still, though the spring landscape is indeed lovely, for me it does not have the poignancy of fall. Spring heralds the warmth of summer, vacations, visits with friends and relations, and playtime for many. Fall, at least in the northern hemisphere, heralds the last of the warmth. Its bright days dwindle as the hours shorten. Soon winter will be upon us, and the bleakness of that landscape.

But wait, there is more. In winter, in contrast to the lush, rounded shapes of leaf burdened branches, the bare branches of the trees trace their design against the winter sky, revealing their essential shapes. Too, the dried weeds and grasses exhibit a delicacy that draws the eye, while once the flakes begin to fall their shadows decorate the snow drifts in subtle ways. Beauty does not always shout its presence, sometimes it whispers. The eye of the beholder needs to be attuned to the subtleties of beauty as well as to its obvious ones. If rather than turning my eyes inward with my thoughts I pay attention to what there is to see, I will find beauty everywhere I look regardless of the season.