The Months of Despair

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I just walked through my gardens and saw this single white rose on a struggling old rosebush.  Most of the gardens are lush this year, and I have been taking photos almost every day of the beautiful blooms.  Somehow, this single flower spoke to me on this lovely June afternoon. 

The spring months have been unlike any time I can remember.  Since the Covid 19 coronavirus reared its ugly head in China around the first of the year, almost every country in the world has become a victim to this pandemic.  Entire countries have been put on lockdown, and people quarantined to their homes.  Businesses shut down temporarily, but for some it has resulted in a more permanent loss of the business.  Employees have lost jobs, and the lines at food pantries are growing each day.  The death toll worldwide is unbelievable.   As the death tolls began to minimize, our nation has slowly begun to return to a more normal way of life, although this new normal is far from the carefree normal we have been accustomed to.   To avoid further disease spread, there are no large gatherings of people — no concerts, no sports, no school, no graduation ceremonies, no town meetings, no county fairs.  The list goes on and on.  

I was unable to stay away from my children and grandchildren, so I do see them, but I so much miss socializing with friends and other relatives.  In our neighborhood, we talk across the fences, or stand several feet apart and chat, but none of this is normal.  In the grocery stores, we must not get close to other people, and the shelves are often quite bare.  We have no idea when this will end, or what our world will be like when it does.

And, suddenly, two weeks ago, another tragedy befell our nation, which has added tremendously to our fears and worries.  A white policeman killed a handcuffed black man by holding him down with a knee on his neck — just seeing the TV coverage broke my heart — and, of course, enraged people all across the country.  There have been demonstrations in several cities (some have become violent), and it has brought to a head the plight of so many poor black citizens in this country.  We must solve the issues involved in this complicated problem, which has divided our country for years and been ignored when possible by politicians.  Also, the demonstrations bring the fear of further spread of the pandemic as all of these protestors gathered together in large groups.  There is so much involved in this major issue in our country — so much change needed to assure a better life for those who are treated unfairly, and changes made in our police departments to assure that the hiring standards are higher, and the thousands of dedicated, honest police have every protection they need as they watch over our communities.

And so, this post is a very sad one for me — this country of ours and the world in general, could face many more months of this virus, and years of working to lift up our black and brown communities and assure that we all coexist equally in our country.  This is a time when we all must come together — we cannot solve these serious problems without being unified and caring for one another. 

I am brought back to thoughts of my garden again — how the flowers are all so different and all so beautiful.  My single white rose touches my heart just as much as its red brothers which grace my arbor.  I have two prayers in my heart today — one is to defeat this virus before it kills more people, and the other is to find a way for our country to solve its problems and come together as people who respect and care for one another, regardless of race, creed, or politics.

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April’s Gift

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April arrives on the cold heels of March, with brown leaves blown all over the yard, a few snowdrops here and there, but mostly, a barren beginning to this most special of months.  Brown is everywhere, from the stalks left over from last years’ gardens, to the mud-covered grass, to the barren tree limbs.  It is a dismal sight.  There is work to be done — raking dead leaves, piling broken tree limbs by the roadside, pulling up the stalks that were beautiful flowers last summer.  April means hard physical work in weather that is often still more like winter than spring.  It is a tiring job, as the winds blow and the sunshine lacks warmth.

April showers are seldom gentle — usually, they are cold rains, but they do serve a purpose — they wash the mud from the tiny new plants that are beginning to peek through the earth.  There are firsts to celebrate — the first snowdrops, the first crocus, the first daffodil leaves, the yellow forsythia blossoms.  Still, much of the yard is more brown than green, and waking up to an inch or two of snow is not uncommon.  However, April is a month of hope and of faith.  We know in our hearts that spring is about to arrive.

This year, due to a pandemic of worldwide proportions, most of us are confined to our homes, and missing the fellowship of friends and loved ones, the Easter and Passover celebrations, the birthday parties, and the ability to travel here and there at will.  We are housebound.  Our lives have changed drastically, and the adjustment is difficult.  However, those of us who love our homes and our gardens are fortunate, for the changes that surround us in April are food for the soul.

The weather is cool on this day in late April — we really haven’t had many warm days this month.  However, the birds are busy scurrying to and fro, from the bird feeders to the tree branches to their birdhouses to the ivy in the back yard.  Soon there will be eggs to tend and then baby birds to feed.  The grass has turned to green, the trees have buds and tiny leaves, the daffodils blow in the breeze and the pretty blue and pink hyacinths are lovely.

My back yard is a peaceful one, with shade from a beautiful old maple tree, a tiny pond, a garden with beautiful bleeding hearts just about to bloom, lovely ground cover, lilies of the valley peeking through, and Solomon’s Seal finally coming up after much of it was accidentally destroyed a couple of years ago.  And, finally, between the grass and the moss, in this old yard of mine, our April carpet is green.  It showered all morning — in fact, much of the week — and the moisture has helped turn the brown to green.  

Soon it will be time to plant the annuals — although, with this pandemic keeping us at home, I’m not certain how quickly I will be able to buy the plants.  Somehow, I will manage, because even though my garden has many perennials, it needs the addition of the beautifully colored annuals to make it complete.  I will worry about that another day.  For now, I will relax with a good book this afternoon, and take a late afternoon walk through the yard, looking for the little forget-me-nots which are just beginning to pop up, and savoring the lovely green of April — marking the beginning of the growing season here in my sweet old garden.

Quarantine

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This photo was taken a few years ago from my son’s front yard, after a thunderstorm passed through.  To me, a rainbow signifies hope — hope that after the darkest hours, there is light.  Right now, our world is going through a dark time.  A deadly coronavirus is sweeping from nation to nation, person to person, and killing thousands as it sweeps through.  As part of the vulnerable age group, as a mother, as a grandmother, I am terrified by the scope of illness from this disease.  

In several states a large portion of our population is now basically quarantined to their own homes and yards, businesses are shut down, and only those deemed essential workers or businesses are carrying on, in an effort to prevent further spread of the virus.

I have always loved my home, loved days when I had no plans and no scheduled responsibilities, and have been completely happy being at home.  Now, however, after barely a week of quarantine, I am feeling the walls close in.  I miss seeing the faces of my children and grandchildren.  Normally, my twin grandbabies are here two days a week and often on Saturday evening. How I miss those precious babies, and the chaos that erupts as they enter the door.  I miss running to the grocery store at will, visiting the library, the local consignment shop, the craft store, and having lunch with friends.  This morning I had plans to get together with a group of friends for brunch, and later today, a late family St. Patrick’s Day dinner at my son’s house; instead, I will be at home.  I never realized how much time I spent away from home until I am no longer able to leave.  And the walls close in a little more.  I notice this week I have even lost track of what day it is, because my days before always revolved around activities on the calendar.

I will follow this directive to quarantine, because I am afraid of acquiring this disease myself or spreading it to others.  This is a dangerous disease with no current medications to combat it; we must rely on our own immune systems, and they have failed thousands upon thousands of people across the globe.  Once I get past this surreal feeling that haunts me,  I will get busy cleaning out closets and sorting through years of accumulation in this house I’ve lived in for close to fifty years.  I will go outside and rake the gardens out and enjoy the wonder of tiny plants coming to life, and leaves slowly appearing on the trees.  I will watch the sparrows in my birdhouses, building their nests and waiting for their babies to hatch.  I will be missing my children and grandchildren, missing their cancelled sports and concerts, missing those moments of togetherness we take for granted as families.  With today’s technology, I will be able to talk to them and see their faces on my phone, but that is not the same as hugging them close.

We all must sacrifice; we all must practice all the safety precautions outlined for us, because this is a deadly disease.  We must all work together to save each other.  Those of us who pray should be praying for the health of our loved ones and friends and thousands of people we do not know nor ever will.  And I will also be praying for a rainbow — a rainbow to show us that the dark time is over and we can come into the light again. 

                                                         God Bless Us All

 

 

Passing Down the Reading Gene

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One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading to me each night before I fell asleep.  My pile of “Little Golden Books” was a large one, and my mom must have read every one a hundred times in those early years.  I remember her soothing voice growing hoarse each night before I finally drifted off to sleep.  My mother set a good example for me, because she, herself, loved to read.  I can remember her in the kitchen, stirring a pot on the stove, with a book in one hand.  She loved to read about the Civil War era, as well as the books she bought from the “Book of the Month Club.”  

Once I was in school and learned to read, an entire new world opened for me with the school library.  How I loved searching the shelves for “just the right book.”  I loved biographies, devoured anything written by Louisa May Alcott, and read each and every book in the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  To this day, my personal library contains my original LITTLE WOMEN book, with its crackly cover and musty pages.

When my three children were born, I expected that they would inherit my love of books and reading, but I was sadly mistaken.  No matter how many tempting books I bought them, or how many times I snuggled them in my lap and read to them, none of them were interested in reading.  How could this possibly be???  How could a mother who loved books so deeply be unable to instill the joy of reading in her children.  However, through the years I learned that you cannot force your children to love something you love.  They make their own choices, and reading was not a choice my children made.  

Happily for me, though, my grandchildren seem to have been born with the reading gene.  From their earliest years, my older grandchildren enjoyed snuggling in my lap and reading.  At naptime, I always read three books to Emma before she would snuggle down on her pillow and go to sleep. Books have been an important part of their growing up years.  Now, my two little grandbabies are following in their cousins’ footsteps.  They each have their favorite books, and often fight over which book I will read to them.  The “Llama, Llama” books seem to appeal to both of them, and last night I ended up sending the ITSY BITSY SPIDER book home with them, because they both loved it so and did not want to leave without it.

Those of us who love to read find it difficult to understand how anyone can choose to not read, and I’m sure non-readers cannot fathom our deep love for books.  My children look at my library nook and the shelves throughout the house which are filled, and shake their heads.  They don’t understand why I need to be surrounded by books.  I look at my grandchildren and wonder if they, too, will always cherish the books they love to read as much as I do.

Savoring The Small Pleasures

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I look at this photo and am immediately transported back to a lovely October day when we drove to Kingston, NY, with my daughter’s family and my in-laws.  We took our twin grandbabies on a scenic autumn train ride, and then had dinner at a beautiful riverside restaurant in Kingston.  The day was lovely, dinner in the autumn twilight was delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  

So many of the cherished moments in my life have been these simple pleasures.  There are people who find their happiness only in the major pleasures — expensive vacations, dream homes, impressive cars — and that is fine for them.  I am content to savor the everyday joys that come my way.  While some people are waiting anxiously for the next vacation or cruise, I am enjoying the small, everyday gifts of life — lunch with a good friend, the rays of sunlight as they fall across the green leaves of the plants on my chairside table, a day spent with my precious grandchildren (especially if it includes lunch at our local Panera), the sweet faces of my grandbabies as I hold them close in my arms at naptime.  

I am so excited to greet the new decade of the 2020’s, and to wake to a new day in the early morning darkness of January, to watch snow falling gently, to listen to the chirping birds at the feeder in the morning, and to see the deer arrive at dusk for their cracked corn.  And yet, I also look forward to spring, when there is a softness to the air and tiny green shoots begin to push their way through what is left of the snow.

I love driving through the countryside, gazing at old barns and beautiful pastures, pausing to visit an antiques shop and coming home with a small treasure.  I love spending time with friends, talking and laughing, or helping each other through difficult times.  Family gatherings are special treats, as I have watched our children grow up and have babies of their own.  I savor my quiet time each night after my husband has turned off the TV and gone to bed, leaving me to read and write in my journal in the deep silence of midnight.

There is nothing wrong with being a person who finds joy mostly in the larger moments of life, but I do believe I am blessed to find my happiness in these everyday pleasures that bring consistent bits of joy so frequently each day.

 

Thanksgiving Memories

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Thanksgiving 2019 arrives this coming Thursday, bringing with it a multitude of memories.  When I was a little girl, our Thanksgiving celebration was a small one — my parents, grandparents, my sister and me.  The turkey was fresh from a local farm, the pies made by my mother (with me helping to roll the dough), and the table was set with my mother’s best “china”, many pieces of which still reside in my own china closet.  While I always looked forward to this special day, it somehow felt as if a “real” Thanksgiving should have more people around the table.

I married into a family whose Thanksgiving dinner was much larger.  The faces around my mother-in-law’s table also included aunts, uncles and cousins, and later, my own babies and my little nephew.  It was a day to celebrate family, as well as give thanks for the good things in our lives.

As my mother-in-law aged, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s house — such a lovely place to be, with her fireplace adding warmth and atmosphere as we ate.  As the family grew, we never knew for certain quite how many cousins and second cousins would be there, but the food was always plentiful, and there was ALWAYS room for one more at the table.  

Through the years, there were only a few times that I hosted Thanksgiving; we always gathered at my house for Christmas dinner, until my daughters-in-law took over the Christmas celebration.  Last Thanksgiving we all gathered here, but my old Victorian house with its many rooms, does not have one room large enough to hold our growing family.  Somehow, a buffet-style Thanksgiving lacked that beautiful feeling of family gathered around one table.  This year, our ever-growing family will be at my son’s house, where we can all sit together to celebrate our day of Thanks.

Holidays are a time of both celebration for the family surrounding us, and sadness for those who have passed from this world.  There have been many Thanksgivings when our hearts were aching, but the traditions helped us through our losses.  We may have had tears in our eyes, but we also had the beautiful memories of our loved ones to cherish.

Somehow, after all the years that have passed, with my dream of large family celebrations answered, one of my fondest Thanksgiving memories will always be helping my mother to roll out her delicious pie crust in our little kitchen (sampling pieces as I helped).  My heart misses her gentle heart and her kindness.  By the way, she did not enjoy cooking, and usually ended up with a terrible migraine when dinner was set out on the table — Love you Mom!!

 

Evolving as We Grow

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In a little country graveyard, lies my firstborn baby, in a grave marked only with corner markers.  She was laid to rest at the feet of a good friend’s husband, and at the time, I marked her grave with a wooden cross, which slowly deteriorated through all of these long years.

I am writing this today, in an effort to show how our beliefs and opinions evolve through the years.  At the time my baby was stillborn in 1973, abortion was a contentious issue, as it still is today.  In those days I was strongly pro-life.  A few months after the loss of my baby girl, I wrote an article for a local newspaper about the hopes I had carried for this first child of mine, as well as my deep feelings about the abortion issue.  Following are excerpts from this article:

“When I first learned that I was pregnant I was thrilled.  I had wanted a baby for so long…it was an answer to my prayers.  I read everything I could on prenatal care and kept an avid eye on all of the month by month developmental charts.  I was awed to think of this small being I was carrying.  When I first felt the baby move and heard its heartbeat, I felt that this must be one of the most special moments of a woman’s life.  I began to think of how I would raise my baby.  I wanted to help my child to grow up at peace with himself and show him the beautiful side of people and nature.  As I began collecting baby clothes, I pictured the tiny little body which would be using them.  I wanted my child to know he was loved.  I fell asleep at night cuddling my stomach because it seemed somehow as if the baby would know I was holding him and loved him.

Two months before my due date, my little girl was stillborn.  It was a shock and I was heartbroken.  I never even had a chance to hold her and tell her I loved her.  I could have nine more children but I would not miss this one any less.  When I see a little girl laughing and playing, I know my little girl will never laugh.  When I see flowers and sunlight, I know she will never see them.  She will never fall in love or be a mother.  A part of my heart is lying in that tiny grave, under the flowers she’ll never be able to see.  Nothing can change the heartbreak and regret I feel, but perhaps this story will touch the heart of a mother who at this moment cannot decide whether her baby’s life is worth a change in her lifestyle.  Maybe in this way my baby’s death will count for something.”

As I read these words now, 45 years later, after being blessed with three more children and five grandchildren, I realize how cold and cruel these last two sentences seem to me.  In those days, I saw abortion as completely wrong and selfish.  I was young and had not experienced much of life.  I did not know how difficult and tiring raising a baby alone could be.  I didn’t think about how a single mother would need to work to support her child, to pay for childcare, to feed and clothe her little one.  I did not know that the costs of healthcare would rise so astronomically.  I did not think of so many issues that arise for single parents to face alone.  

Through the years, these very issues have influenced my stance on abortion.  The very people who scream the loudest against abortion often do not have any concept of the problems facing a poor, single mother.  I realize that there are women who make this choice for reasons I do not understand, but it is not up to me to judge them.  Giving birth and raising a child to adulthood is, to me, the greatest treasure in life, but to some women, discovering they are pregnant feels like a life sentence.  Who am I to decide for another woman what is right for her?

I still don’t like the idea of abortion — I can never say that I am comfortable with it, and I do not believe in late-term abortion, but I think abortion must be a private decision.  It should not be legislated by politicians who know NOTHING about a woman’s circumstances.  Through all these years of living and listening to all sides of issues, I have evolved, and I pray for the women who must make this difficult decision, and I believe it is a decision better left up to the woman herself.

 

Solitary Time on the Rail Trail

 

 

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While I find great pleasure in spending time with family and friends, and meeting new acquaintances, I also treasure solitude.  There are times when I need to be alone with my thoughts.  One of my favorite escapes is the rail trail near my home.  This rail trail carries with it many memories.  For almost thirty years of my life, this was a working railroad track, and my days were marked by the trains that chugged past.  My godfather was a brakeman for the railroad, and he rode the trains on this track for many years, so I also carry the memories of his stories in my heart.

Several years ago, this track was abandoned by the railroad, and our County bought it and began the long process of creating a beautiful rail trail for our local communities.  Today, it is a favorite destination for walkers, bikers, and runners.  Some sections border the back of homes and businesses, and some are totally wild — filled with trees and wildflowers and deep ravines that drop off sharply a few feet from the trail.

There are days when I walk with neighbors, carrying on conversations as we walk, days when I push my twin grandbabies in their stroller, and days when I walk with my older grandchildren.  The vastness of the wild land surrounding it is breathtaking, and I most often prefer my solitary walks, when I can let my mind wander from thought to thought, or focus on the beauty of the wild world around me.  I love to take photos when something particularly touches me.  A short time ago, as I walked along, I spotted two tall trees which had grown toward each other at the top, forming a lovely arch.  Had it not been for the steep drop-off just beyond the arch, I imagined it as a lovely little arbor area for a small wedding, or a teatime picnic, a sort of fairy-tale treasure.

 

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Most of my everyday life involves interaction with loved ones and friends and community, and I enjoy being active and involved and close to the people I care about so deeply.  And yet, there is that need inside me for solitary time — time when I don’t have to interact with anyone or be responsible for anything.  I treasure any bits of solitude that come my way during the day, and I certainly do not have to be walking the beautiful rail trail to find peace and tranquility, but I am thankful for this lovely haven that has been created for us.  I love the sounds of birdsong, wind in the treetops and the gentle flutter of butterfly wings, and I feel my godfather’s soul walking along with me — quietly, demanding nothing from me, but reminding me that he was once here too, and that he loved me.

Aging With Grace

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That smiling baby is me about 68 years ago.  I look back at her innocent little face, and think of all that has happened in her life, in my life, since this photo was taken.  Just now, as I was looking forward to a peaceful afternoon, my husband stormed out of the house, yelling at me — saying I didn’t know anything about anything.  What he means is that I am not a person who understands technology or mechanics.  He knows very well that I am intelligent and that I know a great deal about many things.  This is just one of his “days” — for our entire marriage, he has had these “days” — days when he feels the need to yell and belittle and be furious.  And, then, he has better days.  Sadly, though, in my heart, the “better” days can never make up for the “bad” days.

As this smiling baby grew up, she never knew what her life would be like at 68.  None of us do.  All of life is a mystery to us, if we really think about it.  Looking back from this vantage point, I can see that we have no control over our destinies, only how we respond to them. 

I began writing this blog in 2007 — back then, I was caring for my first newborn granddaughter during the day, and had a family business to help run.  Now, twelve years later, I have three older grandchildren and twin grandbabies that I am once again helping to care for.  Our family business was a casualty of the recession several years ago, and we now live on a very limited income. 

I have friends who travel and eat out often, and have new cars and nice clothing.  I don’t.  However, I do have friends who understand and care, and we get together regularly to talk and laugh and drink wine, and help each other through the tough times of aging.  We lost one of our friends this summer to cancer, but I know, even though we feel sad, her spirit is right there with us — we just aren’t able to hear her laughter right now.

I have three children and five grandchildren that I love beyond measure.  I live in a cozy old house in an historic district.  It needs work, but it is my sanctuary, regardless of its sagging porch and worn kitchen.  I have become very active in a local group formed to preserve our historic district and other historic areas in our town.  This has given me purpose, as well as much new knowledge of how town and county governments work.  Some of the members have been long-time friends, and others are new friends — and I thoroughly enjoy being with them all.  I feel my horizons stretching with each new person I meet.

As I’ve grown older, some health problems have set in, but I go for regular checkups and try to follow my doctors’ instructions.  I try to stay healthy so I can enjoy this life of mine, and watch my grandchildren grow up.

I love to feed the birds and savor the sights and scents of my garden in the summer, and watch the snow falling gently in the winter.  I have a large collection of books, and always have a book beside my chair to read.  I enjoy lingering at book sales and consignment shops and estate sales.  I never know what treasure I may find.  Most of all, I love the time I spend with my friends and family.  

Obviously, my life has taken a path I would not have expected — happily ever after was not in the cards for me, but I make sure that I treasure each pleasure that comes my way, enjoy my relationships with friends, new and old, and try to not dwell on the “might-have-beens”.  

Life is too precious to fret about what we wish we had done differently; we need to live in the here and now — and not miss a moment of joy.  If I could look that little baby in the eyes and tell her how her life would turn out, I would tell her to always look for the happiness in a situation, treasure those who treat you well, find your bliss and enjoy it, and never worry about wrinkles and gray hair when you get old — just pray that you grow old, and can have the immense pleasure of holding your grandchildren in your arms.

 

Finding My Voice

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I was always rather shy; I was tall and clumsy, and preferred to not draw attention to myself.  I did well in school, followed the rules, and always wished I was one of the popular girls, but I was not.  I was always very nervous when I had to speak in front of a group — preferring to be as unobtrusive as possible.  I spent time with a small group of friends and when alone, lost myself in books. 

When my children were young, I was involved in their school activities — room mother, scout leader, field trip chaperone — but none of these things required me to speak publicly.  As they grew, so did my confidence, as I began to deal more and more with the wider world around me.  I learned to stand up for my children and myself.  I learned that I was no longer that awkward, shy little girl.  I was learning to voice my opinions and stand up for what I felt was best in difficult situations.

Many years have passed since then, and I have become much more confident and less intimidated by people with more education or experience than me.  I have found a passion that has given me the courage to speak out and be heard.  This passion is historic preservation.  I live in a community that has been designated a National Historic District, and yet we face an uphill battle to save certain areas from development.  Throughout our entire town, there are small and large pieces of history that should be protected, and we are fighting to preserve them, too.  For someone so new to the intricacies of town and county procedures, I often feel frustrated that I am not more knowledgeable when I speak out at meetings, but I do speak out.  I am not afraid anymore to stand up in front of a group of people and express my opinions and my strong desire to protect these buildings and pieces of our history.  

The photo above is of a local small family cemetery in the midst of a large commercial development area.  This cemetery is an example of what can be done if people try to save our historic treasures.  We are fortunate that many of our Town and County leaders are sensitive to the issues we care so deeply about.  It is important, though, that we attend the meetings, talk to our representatives, explain our reasons for wanting to save our history.  And so, I stand up and I speak, and I even argue my point at times — at 68 years old, I have FINALLY found my voice!!