My plan for today was to drive my husband to his father’s house, and return home to rake out some of my gardens. However, the morning was chill and bleak, and by the time I was driving home, raindrops were gathering on the windshield. Somehow, I just couldn’t face the physical work of the garden.
The past few months have been filled with busyness — holiday plans, my daughter’s wedding, her baby shower, frequent meetings for committees to which I belong, the chaos of household renovations, time with my grandchildren, the worries typical of a mother watching her own “baby” carrying twins, watching out for a husband with disabilities…the list goes on and on. As I drove home through the raindrops, I decided my goal for the afternoon was one of peaceful solitude. I ate a light lunch, sitting in my favorite chair, reading a book as I ate, with a lovely pot of Easter tulips nearby.
The house is quiet, barely a sound reaching through its thick, old walls. I am a person blessed with a happy spirit, but sometimes the worries and stresses of life are too much with me, and I need time alone — time with no TV blaring, no voices, no questions — nothing but silence. Some people don’t like to be alone with their thoughts, but I often crave solitude. When the world gets harried and the people around me need attention and help, I am there in the fray, giving pieces of my heart to whomever needs it at the moment. My life is full of friends and family that I love and many important commitments. But, sometimes I reach a breaking point, and I must slow down a bit to regain my sanity.
Since my husband is a TV lover, I often stay up very late at night (the wee hours, I call them), after he has turned off the TV and gone to bed. Then, the house is quiet, and I can read and write and think in peace. I look forward to these hours each day. Today, however, I am so thrilled to have these daylight hours to myself — to recharge a bit, perhaps to read or pray or just sit and ponder. In an hour or so, I will once again head out in the car to stop for some groceries and to pick up my husband, but I will feel stronger and more at peace with all that lies ahead, because of this precious gift I have had today — a bit of time for myself!!
I grew up in Glenmont, NY, a semi-rural community where the milk we drank came from the farm up the street, as did our eggs; our Thanksgiving turkey was fresh from another local farm. We were free to play in the fields and woods, enjoy the pleasures of fresh air, shade trees and cozy farmhouses. It was idyllic. On Sunday we went to church at a large church in Albany. I loved that church, with its warm wooden, cushioned pews, its beautiful stained glass, and the reverence I felt as I stood before its altar. However, when I reached my teens, urban revitalization began in our city. Old homes were being torn down and families displaced, landmarks forever destroyed, and old churches ripped from their foundations in the name of progress — the South Mall was the proposed savior to the blight of all of these old structures. I remember our minister pleading with officials to save our church — to make it a little sanctuary in the midst of the concrete and glass office buildings. Alas, he met with no success, and our beautiful old church was wiped from the landscape of the city forever. This was my first bitter taste of “progress,” and I think of that now each time I look at the cold glass towers that rise from the concrete below.
Since then, I have watched as my childhood fields and trees have been replaced with big box stores, chain restaurants, and housing developments. Very little has been deemed worth saving — developers have raped our lovely little piece of countryside. It breaks my heart each time I drive through and remember the natural beauty and old buildings that existed before all of the rampant development.
I have lived across town in Slingerlands since my marriage, in a Victorian house built during the 1890’s, which has been in my husband’s family since 1924. Several years ago, an area of Slingerlands was designated as a National and State Historic District — quite an honor for those of us who love the rich history of our little hamlet and strongly respect the members of the Slingerland family who contributed so much to our country and our town. With a few properties now on the market, whose buyers could forever change the character of our town, we have formed the Bethlehem Alliance for Historic and Community Preservation. We are working diligently to inform the community about the significance of the historic areas of our town, and the impact the sales of these properties could have on our historic landmarks. We have already lost too much to poorly planned development. We must work to protect the history that remains in our town.
We all must remember that when a historic building is demolished or a historic lot developed by a greedy developer, a part of our history is destroyed. My old church will never exist again, except in the memories of those who loved it. Too many of the fields and trees of my childhood neighborhood are now paved over with blacktop parking lots and filled with stores and gas stations and banks. The lovely Victorian home of one of our founding fathers, William H. Slingerland, was demolished several years ago and is gone forever from our historic district.
We all have the power to fight for our history. It just takes time, determination, and a respect for its value. Wherever you live in the vast country of ours, look around at the history in your community and decide if you choose to fight for its survival.
I love my old Victorian house, but, unfortunately, its nooks and crannies provide wonderful homes for all sorts of clutter. Of course, to me, it isn’t clutter — it is a compilation of pieces of my life. The other day, I saw an article called the “40-day Challenge”, a method of painlessly cleaning out the unnecessary items in your home. Each day for forty days, you take a bag and fill it with items you no longer use or need, and throw it out. In forty days, you have thrown out forty bags filled with those things that clutter your home. And I innocently thought, “Wow, I can do that!”
And I have intended to begin, but as I look through my home, I realize that part of the reason I have so much clutter is because I have so many interests that require storage space. I can’t bear to throw out any of my beloved books; the many vases and floral tools I have collected are called into service periodically. I have a trunk filled with genealogical research, totes of sewing material and necessities, family heirlooms to pass down to my children and grandchildren, baby items I am thankful I saved as we await the birth of my daughter’s twins, children’s books and craft materials that my grandchildren still play with, kitchen cabinets overflowing with soup pots, cake pans, pie plates, casseroles, and recipe books, a trunk of journals….
Obviously, there are things I can throw out as I tackle this “40-day Challenge”, but it will not be as simple a project as I had hoped. As I go through my nooks and crannies, I pause to recapture the memories that accompany these items I am about to throw away. How do you throw out pictures drawn by your children and grandchildren, cards from relatives no longer with us, and the photos that abound. Most of the items I have saved have either sentimental value for me, or possibly material value for my heirs. A bookcase is filled with the teddy bears lovingly collected by my deceased mother and sister, and I have quite a collection of my own bears. Through the years I entertained often, and I have beautiful china and serving pieces that I still use — no longer for huge family dinners, but for smaller, more intimate meals with friends and relatives.
And I can’t forget the garden shed, which holds my gardening tools, my old wicker, and my lawn ornaments. How could I possibly throw out that little garden angel with the broken nose, or the pots that may be just the perfect size for a new plant this year or next? And I’m sure I can find some use for that old wicker chair whose seat is falling out.
I have made a promise to myself, though, that I will do the challenge, and, perhaps, extend it past forty days. I will begin to declutter, and a bag a day should be a possibility. I will begin with clothes, because you can fill a bag quickly with clothes, and I must admit, I have many old clothes in the closet which I will NEVER wear. From there, I will sort through the paperwork in my little office — file cabinets filled to the brim — and throw away anything that is no longer necessary to keep. I will sort through boxes of old papers and manuals for appliances I no longer have — that should be easy.
I will linger, though, over all of the rest — all of the pieces of my life that have held so much pleasure and meaning for me through the years, the pieces that bring memories of my grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, and the pieces that remind me of my deepest secrets and longings — I’m sure there is a nook or cranny for each of them somewhere.
As my family gathered at Christmas and conversation flowed, one of my children made a remark about me “always posting photos of old houses.” Of course, it started me thinking, and when I think who knows where it will lead. The actual reason I have been posting these photos is because I am part of a local group working to preserve the historic buildings and open lands in our town. A simple enough answer to the “WHY” of what I do.
As my thoughts progressed along these lines, I also realized that many of the people I know who are in historical associations or trying to preserve local history are older women. When we started our group last year, it was a simple matter of trying to prevent a developer from building an apartment complex and commercial space in the heart of our historic district. There were many younger men and women involved in this group at the time, but somehow, their participation dwindled as time went on — most likely because they have young families and jobs that don’t allow them the available time we older women have. During the year, we have expanded our efforts to include our entire town, rather than simply our small historic district. Our most important source of workers for our projects is older women.
I believe women tend to be the “keepers” of family and local history. Grandmothers are usually the ones who pass on the family stories and hold in safe-keeping the family treasures and genealogy. We have a tendency to hold the past in trust for our children and grandchildren. Thus, it is natural for women to feel the responsibility to preserve the history of our town. We can remember it as it was, and see the vast changes that have taken place in the name of progress. Change can be healthy, and economic development is essential to a town’s survival, but someone must be protecting the history and character of the town at the same time. There must be a balance, and older women have the time and the knowledge to help maintain this balance.
We are not women who will be easily fooled by developers who come in with great plans and promises. We have seen the results over time — the poorly designed commercial areas and housing developments. We’ve seen historic buildings destroyed in the name of progress. We are the “keepers of the flame”, as women have been through the centuries, and right now, we will work to preserve the interesting history of our community, and if it involves the posting of photos of old houses on social media, so be it. The character of our town is at stake.
Christmas weekend is upon us. After weeks of shopping, baking, and parties, this weekend is, for me, one of quiet reflection and family. From Thanksgiving on, we all work so diligently to make Christmas perfect. We decorate our homes, search for just the right gifts for everyone, bake our families’ traditional favorites, celebrate the season with parties and gatherings with friends, and exhaust ourselves trying to make Christmas “measure up” to our families’ memories.
From the time our children are very young, we share the traditions of Santa Claus, Elf on a Shelf, and Advent Calendars. We want to give them the very best of Christmas memories. We adorn the Christmas tree as a family, placing everyone’s own treasured decorations carefully on the tree. We attend their school concerts and plays, and their church pageants. We buy them the gifts they long for, as they gaze wide-eyed on Christmas morning.
Before we know it, these little children are grown and we are looking at the bright, expectant faces of our grandchildren at Christmastime, and happily watching their Christmas pageants. Once again, we love to see the sparkle in their eyes at this special time of year. How wonderful to experience Christmas through the eyes of a child we love.
As I have grown older and have less money and energy, I have scaled down my gift giving and shopping. I no longer cook Christmas dinner for our large family as I used to, but have passed the torch on. This year we will all be having dinner at my nephew’s house. Last weekend my sister-in-law gathered a larger group of family at her beautifully decorated home — how much fun it was to catch up with each others’ lives and enjoy the little ones. Next year, the Lord willing, we will have four more new babies to celebrate as we all gather.
And now, Christmas weekend is upon us. A light snow fell today, covering the barren ground with white, and tonight the Christmas lights and candles in our neighborhood are reflected in the freshly fallen snow. Tomorrow I will wrap the few gifts that I can give now, and perhaps take a drive in the evening to enjoy the beauty of the decorations in other neighborhoods. The highlight for me on Christmas Eve is always the candlelight service at church, sitting with loved ones to sing carols, and passing lit candles to each other as the church fills with my favorite, “Silent Night.” My heart feels Mary holding her precious new baby in that little stable as we sing in the light of the candles.
And then Christmas Day will be here, and my family will be gathered at my nephew’s home for dinner. I will give thanks for our celebration of this special holiday, and for the family members sitting at the table, especially my new great-grandson born in August. I will pray that next Christmas we will be blessed with the presence of my new great-nephew to be born in April, and the twins my daughter is carrying, who are due in late May. I will watch the faces of my children and grandchildren and listen to their voices, and give thanks for the gift of family — both those who sit at the table and those who are no longer with us, but whose spirits will remain with us always. And I will be grateful for all of the blessings I have been given in this life —
Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful Christmas in the company of those you love —
I have been writing my Ponderings blog for ten years now. Writing is a passion of mine, and my blog provides an opportunity to sporadically share my life with all of you. Yesterday, as I was sorting through some papers, I found an old draft that apparently was intended to be expanded into a post. I wanted to share it on this tenth anniversary.
“As I write, I am snuggled in my comfortable chair, feet up, and laptop purring along, to write my first blog post on a keyboard rather than my usual paper and pen. I have years of experience with computer keyboards and writing programs, but generally, when I am writing from the heart, I prefer the flow of ideas from pen to paper. The process of writing for pleasure seems to call for the slower, more measured method of finding a pen with just the proper shape and weight and ink that flows gently onto smoothly surfaced paper.
I have often wondered why I feel it necessary to add this extra step to my writing. Why not just use the computer from the beginning, with it ease of correction and revisions. Why do I fall back to this more antiquated method? There is pleasure to be found in the quiet pursuit of handwriting. The vast array of pens and notebooks available today is in itself a treat for one who has long loved writing utensils. As a young child, I remember having been given an old journal, most probably some type of accounting journal, which I treasured. Before I knew the alphabet or could begin to form letters, I spent many pleasurable hours with pen in hand, writing my squiggly version of words in this journal.
When my children were young, my writing was interspersed with the numerous chores of daily living. I did not have the luxury of quiet moments of solitude. My thoughts were jotted down on whatever paper was in close proximity, and I have saved these binders of assorted writings, some on three-ringed notebook paper, some on blank typing paper, and many on whatever scrap of paper was available at the moment. My opinions, longings, and insights were penned in a much more haphazard manner than they now are. I am grateful, though, that I found the time to capture these feelings on paper, because their poignancy tugs at my heart today.”
My blogs are all created on the computer now, because it is fast and convenient. I still keep handwritten journals, though — a garden journal, a journal of books I have read, a journal for each of my grandchildren. Each night, just before bed, I pull out my latest lovely journal and a favorite pen, and write about the day which has passed. I look forward to these quiet moments of introspection at the end of my day. I find much pleasure in reading my old journals, and I believe a life well-lived is worth being immortalized for those who come after us.