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.

Lemons are Luscious when Sweetened

Lemons, front and back together.png  There is a wonderful song by the Kingston Trio from the 60’s I believe, about lemons. It contains a real truth concerning them: they must be sweetened to taste good. The chorus goes: “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. Very true, and it is also true that lemons can do all sorts of things besides make good recipes..

Versatile lemons can serve us in so many ways it is impossible to count them. You can use them to polish your furniture or to soften your elbows.  I found a lot about their uses when I was doing research for my book Up to my Neck in Lemons. In the Middle Ages ladies used a special straw brim with holes in it to lighten their hair. They would pull strands of hair through the holes and bleach them by painting them with lemon juice and sitting in the sun.

According to my research, the origin of lemons seems to be a mystery. They may have originated in India or perhaps China and are probably a hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. They were known in Egypt and the Middle East from 1000 AD.  They were used primarily as medicine or as an ornament. Once sailors learned to carry them on ships they prevented a disease called scurvy that comes from a lack of vitamin C. Christopher Columbus brought the seeds to the United States from Genoa, where they had been cultivated and used, though often as ornaments. When I visited southern Italy I saw lemon trees growing in gardens there.

Though as I discovered they have so many other uses, we usually think of lemons as food. Yet unlike most fruit, they are not meant to be eaten plain–like apples, or even peeled and sectioned like oranges.  Rather they make a fine ingredient or a wonderful seasoning. Life’s lemons are equally useful. They can season or sweeten our experience, helping us to make our best use of it to learn and grow. However it does take experience and tenacity both to learn this and to put it into operation.

The first and most important skill to develop is observation. I must first notice how I am looking at my life lemon. Once I see how I perceive it, I can change my perspective and see it differently. For example if I am feeling frustrated because something isn’t working the way I want it to, I can keep pushing against the difficulty or I can look to see if there is another way to approach it or perhaps even how I can use it to my advantage.

I can choose how to use this particular lemon—as a sour taste or as a reminder that something must change in order for me to succeed. Of course this can take time and effort, but so does any good recipe, whether for happy living or lemon meringue pudding or pie. In my new book, Up To My Neck in Lemons, I have many actual lemon recipes together with poems, and essays that provide examples of how I have dealt with some of my life lemons. If you would like a copy, please contact me. I’ll tell you how to get a personally autographed copy.

The More Things Change…

TashasSpiralGarden          Of a recent Saturday, we were out and about checking the yard sales. While Stephen was perusing the items displayed there, I fell into a conversation with the person in charge. She had grown up in Grafton and spoke of how much had changed in the years she had lived here.  I agreed. Although we have lived here only thirty years as of this year, we too have seen many changes. This got me to thinking about how it was then compared to how it is now.

When we first moved to Grafton the shopping center that is now home to the Stop and Shop had a department store where we found a winter jacket for Stephen. He wore it for many years and finally gave it away, still in useful condition. There was a drug store where the deli and sandwich shop is now, and I remember when the drug store went out of business. I bought a pair of real nylons with seams left over from the fifties or sixties.

Restaurants have come and gone in the building by the lake, and there still is one there. There was a book store and later a market where now other stores are, yet the plaza remains and the stores sell items, just different ones. It is truly said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The garden I began at the first home we lived in in Grafton, has with its different owners, undergone many changes, yet it still exists in its current form. I have had many gardens in my life and all of them have evolved in their own ways. Now though I no longer garden, I still in a way tend to one of another kind: my life has become my garden.

Many years ago I had a dream in which in some way I cannot explain I was both a garden and its gardener. This has become a kind of metaphor for how my life has evolved. Those I love and tend could be said to be similar to plants that grow and thrive as I care for them.  Too I am my own garden as I care for this body the best I can, though sometimes I neglect it and then like a garden deprived of proper nourishment, I suffer for it.

As once I studied how to make my garden grow at its best, so now I try to learn what best nurtures me and those I tend with the same love and care I once devoted to my gardens. At times I weed out what no longer belongs in my personal garden, and at times, those I have tended outgrow their place in my garden and transplant themselves elsewhere.

Or like other plants, they outgrow their earthly existence and move on. My life like my garden provides me with wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, and I try to take advantage of them. What matters most to me is that I do whatever I can with whatever resources I have to be a good gardener, and that I stay awake and aware to what works best to make my gardens grow.

 

 

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.

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.

Living My Life in a Timely Manner

Dragonfly

Sometimes I wish I could return to the time of my childhood when there seemed to be so much more of it: The long golden days of summer, the wonderful week of school vacation, the stretch of the weekend as I got home from school on Friday. It seemed to me that there was plenty of time to get everything I wished to do done. My days stretched out to be filled with my imagined adventures, the books I loved to read, and my toys.

I don’t remember feeling pressed for time as a child.  I’m sure the grownups were however that didn’t communicate itself to me. I do remember how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes. I was three, or maybe four and my fingers didn’t work as well as they might have. I can still see my small shoes as I bent over them, fumbling with the laces until I got it right. Time wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t my job to do that. As an adult, however, it has become so.

One dear friend has accused me of being “time challenged.” She was politely informing me that I was usually late, or at least perhaps often so. I confess it’s true that before leaving my home I may do a few things that seem necessary to me with the result that I leave at the last minute and may actually get where I’m going a little late. This annoys my husband so I work to improve.

You think after the many years we’ve been married he’d know I am apt to shave things close to the bone when it comes to time. He prefers to get to performances, lectures, appointments or church at least a half hour early. He says it’s because in his teen years he was a reporter and liked to get to events early because it was more interesting then and the habit stuck. He says he also likes to get a good choice of seats, which I admit is a good reason.

However the way I see it, that half hour could have been put to so much better use. It always seems to me that there are many things I could have gotten done at home before leaving, while instead I must sit in a waiting room,  pew or theater seat twiddling my thumbs as people come and go, the choir rehearses or I watch the ads on the movie screen. Being on time requires a certain amount of self-discipline, to be sure, and it is also polite. However arriving at a party or someone’s home half a hour early may be inconvenient to the host or hostess.

Because I find it fascinating as a subject, I’ve written a lot of poetry about time. I find it to be a strange accordion, expanding and contracting according to its own rules. Sometimes I look at the clock and think I have a whole hour to get everything done. Then I look again what seems to me fifteen minutes later, only to discover forty five have passed and I didn’t get half of what I planned finished. Perhaps time does challenge me, still, it’s a learning process and I do enjoy learning.

 

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

Judge Me Not

Dead Branches and reflections 2Someone once said, “Point a finger at someone else and you will be pointing four at yourself.” That is what we do when we judge someone else. However this is exquisitely easy to do. In fact, most of us do it all the time. For instance, how many of us who need to lose a few pounds look at an overweight person and say silently, “How could he or she get so out of shape?” I know I used to be guilty of that. Now my thought is, “Oh that poor person, how difficult it must be for him or her.”

In the Bible in Mathew 7 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” And he goes on to say (I have paraphrased it) that before we do that we need to look into our own selves to see how guilty we may be of what we are criticizing. It’s been my experience that those things that annoy me most are often those things that I may be guilty of myself.

If I am paying attention, I can take the opportunity this gives me to look at my annoyance as a reminder of my own issues rather than feeling superior about someone else’s faults. Like most if not all of us I have been there and done that and perhaps even realized afterward that I too am guilty of the same. It is easier to see the faults of others than to turn the searchlight on our own.

Rather than look critically at another, there is another road I can take and that is observing without actually making a judgment. This has to be done carefully, with a sense of compassionate detachment. For instance, if I see someone behaving in a way that appears to me to be rude, I can view the potential rudeness simply as how this person is acting, or I can see the person in a critical light. If I did these things, I would consider them to be rude. However, perhaps the person in question simply doesn’t know any better.

This kind of behavior frequently happens with children, especially the very young. I remember one of my daughters at three looking at her grandmother and saying. “Why are you so fat?” The poor woman was somewhat taken aback but took it in good spirit. She sputtered a bit then smiled and changed he subject. Young children can be tactless. Later they may learn that this behavior is not viewed kindly. I know even as an adult I have been guilty of it. Remembering this, when I am with someone whose actions seem to be inappropriate I work to see their  behavior as a result of ignorance.

Learning as I go I hope to be as nonjudgmental as I can. Having grown up with prejudices inherited from my rather judgmental mother and father, in order to do better I observe myself in action as I am able, and I do not judge myself. Life is a wonderful teacher. As I move through each day I find numerous opportunities to enhance my knowledge as well as to refine my responses. It’s a kind of game I play. If I do not judge myself I will be less judgmental of others. Despite what they might have said or done, when I don’t judge them I can see them more clearly and with kinder eyes.