Birthdays are Milestones to Celebrate

Stephen and Tasha bday 2        When I was a child there was a game called musical chairs that was often played at birthday parties. Enough chairs minus one, to represent the number of children present were placed in one or two rows and as a tune was played on the phonograph, participants marched or scurried around them. When the music stopped you had to find a seat. One chair was removed each time until by the end the winner was the person who sat in the remaining chair. I disliked the game intensely. I wasn’t an aggressive child and often lost out early. I hope it has fallen out of fashion. We never played it when my children were growing up.

When the games are enjoyable, birthday parties can be lots of fun. Our country is about to celebrate another birthday and so is my husband Stephen. His mother didn’t quite make it to the 4th so his is the 3rd. We always have a party and invite friends to come share in our celebration. In addition we usually take the entire week off. We avoid housework except for what is truly necessary like laundry, cooking and shopping. We also take the week as a time to get away from ongoing writing projects and seek out things to do for fun. Occasionally we go to movies or interesting restaurants, sometimes we revisit places we’ve lived and take a walk together down memory lane;.

The birthday of our country is a grand occasion throughout the United States, with concerts, fireworks, and gatherings as well as parades. I lived once in a town that had a big parade every 4th and every year to my family’s delight it marched down our street and past our door. We were able to sit on our front lawn in folding chairs and watch the marchers, the bands and the floats pass by. Later in the day that same town also later held games and races for the children, and there would often be a carnival to enliven the festivities as well.

Called Independence Day, the birthday of the USA was first celebrated on July 4 1777 in Philadelphia with bells, bonfires and fireworks. The glorious 4th is also an occasion for political speeches and posturing as various politicians seek to gather votes and voters with an eye to the elections in the fall. Orations by Daniel Webster, john Quincy Adams and many others throughout our history have enlivened the day. I can remember picnics by the beach and local politicians enlivening the air with their promises and/or excuses.

Celebrating birthdays whether one’s own or that of someone else is fun. It’s important to mark the milestones in one’s life with special emphasis. The older we get, the longer we live and the greater the achievement in doing so. However if I don’t take care of myself on the way to my milestones, once they have accumulated I may regret it if my health has deteriorated. It’s important that Stephen and I get enough exercise, eat foods that are healthy and nourishing, and make sure we have enough sleep. That way we really have something to celebrate every year when our birthdays come around.

The Importance of Cherishing Myself

Tasha full f aceOn the rare occasions when I have been without anyone to cook for except myself I found that I had very little interest in making my own meals. While I truly love to cook for my friends and my family, in my experience, it brings me been little to no pleasure to cook just for me. Lately, I haven’t had to deal with that problem, and while I hope I won’t have to in the future, if I do, I will try to think differently. This attitude may be why most if not all of the retirement and assisted living communities have food plans included in their fees, as well as dining rooms that serve up to three meals a day.

For most of us cherishing ourselves is not easy. It’s not something that comes naturally, and there’s a reason for that. While because they don’t know much about being an individual, very young children are naturally unselfish, once they learn to think of themselves as “me” most of their parents begin teaching them to share. “Sharing is caring” becomes a kind of guidance with which to approach both giving and doing. This is all very well until we begin to leave ourselves out of the sharing equation. It is vital to remember ourselves when we share. I am happier and more content when I include myself in my decisions and actions concerning others.

What can make us forget to do that is that often it feels better to give than to receive. Giving can even make us feel a bit superior to the recipient, a kind of pat on the head. It can also incline us to wish to be thanked or even to be given back to in some way. If or when we do not get a return on our gift, we may grow resentful. This then can create a feeling of martyrdom or even bitterness as in: “I did thus and such for them and got nothing back,” or “Look what I gave them and what did they give me?!”

If we cherish others at our own expense and forget to cherish ourselves, we do both the recipient and ourselves a disservice. It is not difficult to think of ways to cherish ourselves. However given that it may feel more virtuous to focus on others, it may also be easier to do so. Yet small acts on our own behalf can make a big difference. For instance: remembering to buy and prepare a kind of tea I like along with the one that Stephen prefers starts my morning happily. Remembering to ask him to join me in doing tasks or walking enhances my day.

My own small acts of kindness to myself, like taking the time to sit with my feet up and read a fun book for at least an hour a day, or occasionally stopping what I am doing and going out on the porch for a breath of fresh air make me feel good. I also appreciate it when I remember to do a bit of stretching or some exercise. When I discover a new pair of socks at my favorite online provider, or a pretty but unnecessary item of clothing in our local thrift store, I no longer feel guilty giving this to myself. Sharing means giving equally, not depriving oneself. If I encounter any guilt when I do something for me, I remind myself that I deserve to be cherished, and I smile and tell myself, “I love you too.”

The Many Ways of Cherishing, Part One

Dad with Snake Dictionary definitions of “cherish” tell us it comes from words that imply caring and holding dear. The French word “cher,” or “cherie” meaning dear one is often used as a term of endearment, especially in Europe. That and those we cherish are what and whom we hold in our hearts as precious. Keeping, implying more than just a momentary affection, is another dictionary definition of cherishing. I was thinking of this as I contemplated Father’s Day and the memories I cherish of my late dad.

I fondly remember our many sand castles we built on the beach over the years. On occasional weekends would go to my Great Aunt Alice’s beach cottage so he could get away from the incessant telephone calls from clients who thought they were having horticultural emergencies. No cell phones disturbed our peace, nor was there even a landline to the simple, somewhat primitive beach shack our family slept in. Our daylight hours were spent on the sand, in the water or weeding the beach grass from the path to it. He considered that his way of repaying his aunt for her kindness in lending us the cottage.

If there were big waves left over from a storm in the days before we delighted in jumping hem together. Standing waist deep in the water he would hold tight to my hands and I would leap as high as i could with him, while the waves battered at us before they threw themselves onto the beach. He would call us “brave girl” and “brave boy” as we waited for the next one to crest around us. The exhilaration of it is vivid in my mind even today.

This and other cherished images from my young years are fun to dwell on. I keep them in my heart, along with those of other dear ones, some of who have departed this life and others of whom live at a distance, whom I seldom see. I also think about and spend time caring for friends and family nearby. I do my best to keep in touch and make sure we stay current with one another’s lives. I do this with email or phone calls, or even texts nowadays. The many forms of communication are a great help to me in my efforts

However, in my attempts to cherish I have learned that not everyone looks at life in the same way. For instance as in the tale of the monkey who fearing it would drown, so kindly put a fish into a tree, I try not offer help just because I think it is needed. I also must be mindful not to impose my values on a loved one who may have a perspective differing from mine. Most important, I must make sure think before I speak to hear what I am about to say and make sure that my words come across as loving. Sarcasm has never served me well, nor have clever comments or observations that may unintentionally wound. Cherishing takes many forms; being mindful is an important one

 

I love to hear from readers and I do cherish each and every one of you.

Flowers of Remembrance

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In the town where my grandfather who fought and died in WWI lived, there is a square dedicated to his name. When I was a child my father took me every year to the Memorial Day parade there. It would stop at his sign and someone would place a wreath on it. Then we would add a big bouquet of carnations. Someone from our family would bring them, and I can remember being held up to put the flowers in. This is the 100th anniversary of its original dedication, and my brother will be there to do the family honors.

I remember as a child wearing my big straw hat with the ribbon hat hung down the back, watching the band march by with the big drum that boomed so, and the brasses playing a marching tune. Later I brought my own children for the event. One daughter would cover her ears, the booming and shrieking of the drums and brass being too much for her. After the square was decorated, we would walk with the parade down to the beach where flowers were thrown into the water and the band would play “For those in peril on the sea.”

Memorial day was originally established with flowers. At the end of the Civil War the women who were placing flowers on the graves of those fallen at the battle of Shiloh wished not to distinguish between Union and Confederate. The thought was to honor those who died, regardless of their affiliation. In the years since, many traditions have grown up around Memorial Day in the US, with flowers and wreaths remaining the most notable symbols of remembrance.

Once as I was out walking in a neighborhood with many Christmas wreaths decorating the doors, a man came up to me and in a British accent, asked me about them. “In England we put a wreath on the door when people have died,” he said. I chuckled and said no, no one had died here; these were Christmas wreaths. I told him it was customary to lay wreaths on graves in the US however, first displaying them at the funeral itself.

A search on the Internet will reveal much information concerning wreaths and their uses, as well as flowers. Once when I was in charge of purchasing and arranging the flowers to decorate my daughter’s wedding celebration, I bought a variety of blossoms, chrysanthemums among them. My daughter’s husband was Italian and announced that chrysanthemums were only for funerals. I removed them and my bouquets were significantly diminished.

In Italy laurel wreaths are given to graduates of advanced degrees; they are a sign of victory. This goes back to the early Greeks and Romans who used them that way. All over the world flowers too are often given to the graduates, and as well to actors and performers of all kinds at the conclusion of a performance. While they are ephemeral and fade quickly, the flowers we use to honor both the fallen and the victorious are a precious reminder of how important it is to take note of our achievements great or small.

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.

Befriending Ourselves

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For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

The Preciousness of Remembering

When I was a child Little Tasha 4and death or even disaster was to be spoken of, someone would say, “Not in front of the children.” The subject would be changed or I would be told to go off and play so the adults could continue their discussion. Yet because we had animals, death and change were part of my life. I witnessed the drowning of baby ducks and the demise of baby chicks. It was hard when a dog got into my pet rabbits’ pen and maimed them. My aunt’s gardener had to–as I was told, “put them out of their suffering.” Death was no stranger to my childhood. I am neither uncomfortable with it nor afraid of it.

Still, it does have an effect. The recent passing of a dear friend has brought a sense of immediacy to my relationships, and prompted a renewed sense of attention to my way of thinking about life. She and I used to speak each morning except Sundays. More than once I said to Stephen, “One day the phone will not ring at 9:30 every day.” Then indeed that day did come. While I miss my friend, I know she is in a much more comfortable and happy place than she has been for some time. Though I do miss her calls I also rejoice for her.

I am happy to have pleasant memories of our time together. That is the saving grace of partings. It is also a reminder to focus when I am with a dear one and to be present in order to have something to remember. More and more as I get older I have come to realize that endings come whether we want them to or not. We have no way of knowing whether or not any given conversation, meeting or interaction with another may be our last. I do not say this because I have a morbid fear of endings but rather as a reminder that any time we spend with another may be significant.

When we are children we have no understanding of how it is that things change or perhaps end. That ignorance may even be important to children’s comfort and sense of security. Most adults grow accustomed to change and learn to flow with it. It may be an aspect of maturity in human beings to be able to do that. In my life there have been many changes I could never have anticipated. Being able to adapt to them has been crucial to my happiness. Developing a sense of detachment to an anticipated condition of permanence has been not only valuable but also essential.

When I was a child, I could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. Now even the smallest one costs 50 times that. The decor in my parents’ living room changed once in my memory. Today many people redecorate frequently. Then divorce was rare, people stayed at the same job for most of their lives, I could go on and on about how it used to be. My point is that change is more than ever a constant in most lives. For our comfort it is important to be able to deal with all forms of change, whether of décor or of circumstances. When I make the time to focus my attention and to appreciate what is happening, whether with a relationship or an experience, I have much less regret when it ends.