Ode to August

20170813_135424

Of all the months of the year, I believe August is my favorite.  There is a palpable change during this month that speaks quietly to those of us who are attuned to nature.  Goldenrod and purple loosestrife begin to bloom along the roadside and in the fields.  The hydrangeas which were small white blooms short weeks ago are now full, cream-colored flowers that fill your hands with their beauty.  

Dawn is coming a bit later now, and the raucous birdsong of spring has been replaced by a quieter twittering here and there as the sun rises.  The air seems heavier, somehow, and cicadas chirp, as if to announce that summer is half over.  The long twilight of early summer is replaced by a swifter nightfall, one of deep quiet, as the birds settle into their roosts for the night and the lightning bugs sparkle in the heavy darkness.

My father always took his vacation in August, so I have many fond memories of the late summers of my childhood.  When my children were young, August was the “last hurrah” of summer vacation — the time to make sure we did all of the things we had meant to do when the long weeks of summer first lay before us.  Even today, it catches me a bit by surprise, as I try to fit in all that I haven’t done yet that I intended to — day trips here and there, special times with friends, a trip to the amusement park with my grandchildren.

The garden changes drastically this month.  The delicate flowers of spring are long gone, the purple coneflowers are losing their brightness, and the Rose of Sharon blooms are dwindling down.  The zinnias are beginning their late summer bloom, the herb garden is in its typical late summer frenzy, and soon the hydrangeas will turn a dusky rose color and will be ready to hang and dry for fall arrangements. 

This is the month to slow down a bit, savor the sunshine, the flowers, and the delicious vegetables warm from the garden.  This is the time to fry up a batch of zucchini fritters, feast on ears of sweet corn, and enjoy the simple, delectable tomato sliced and served on bread spread lightly with mayonnaise.  This is the time to take walks in your neighborhood and really notice the beauty around you, and to watch the squirrels gathering nuts, and to sit on the porch and let night fall heavily upon you, as the katydids sing their song.  This is the month to hold tight to summer, because in a heartbeat it will be gone again.

 

Finding Happiness

 

 

20160726_142220

Happiness is defined differently by everyone.  Some people are born with happy spirits, and others spend their lives searching for an elusive happiness.  I was fortunate to be one of those born with a spirit that finds happiness in simple pleasures.  When I was young, I dreamed of a “happily every after,” which never came to be.  My marriage was a difficult one.  We worked very hard at our family business, but never seemed to make quite enough to succeed, and my husband became partially disabled just before recession hit our country and bankrupted us.

I was blessed with three beautiful children, who were the greatest gifts of my life, and now I have been fortunate to be very close to my grandchildren, who have filled my heart with love since the first moment I held them as newborns.  Who can be unhappy when your heart is full?

Somehow, though, as I reach my “golden years” I find that I must work a bit harder at being happy.  My husband’s disability left him with a fatigue which makes any enjoyable outings difficult.  We struggle financially, so even a dinner out is a rarity.  I have begun to have some of the health issues which come with aging, and I find that, even with health insurance, our co-pays and prescriptions take a large chunk of money from our budget.  I listen to friends talking about their vacations and evenings out, and I can’t help but feel a bit envious.  I watch older couples whose marriages are strong and loving, and I wish my own had been better.   

I am, however, surrounded by blessings; as I sit here writing, the birds are singing outside my window, the early morning sunlight touches the lovely trees in our neighborhood, and the air is perfumed with the phlox blooming beside my porch.  I find great comfort in my lovely old Victorian home — she may be a bit frayed around the edges, as am I, but she has been my safe haven for forty-five years, holding all of my cherished belongings and memories.

And so, I try to find my happiness in these simple gifts life offers.  I read and I write; I sit on my lovely porch and watch the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and deer at the bird feeders.  I tend my garden and look with joy upon each new blossom.  I spend time with friends and family.  A simple lunch with a good friend is a joyful event.  Listening to the chatter of my grandchildren fills my heart.  A walk with a neighbor through a local garden or trail can be the highlight of a day.  A meal with my children is always a special treat.  I have found that happiness is not something that “comes to us.”   We must discover it for ourselves in each small moment of our days.

 

A Wake Up Call to Congress??

20160717_134645

On a bright, sunny morning this week, as Republican Congressmen were practicing for a charity baseball game, a lone gunman appeared and began to shoot.  Fortunately, Capitol Police were there, and the gunman was shot quickly, but not before inflicting life-threatening injuries to one Congressman and wounding others.  Media accounts have told us that the shooter was a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter.

My hope, and I pray it is so, is that this shooting will have a lasting impact on the way our politicians conduct themselves.  Speeches were made by members of Congress, acknowledging that the relationship between the Democrats and Republicans has deteriorated in the past few years.  Some remembered the days when after a particularly heated argument over an issue, members of both parties would meet socially and leave their animosity behind.  Apparently this rarely happens anymore.  

Our political world has become increasingly divisive, both in the halls of Congress, and during campaigning.  Our government has set aside the art of compromise for the total power of the majority party.  Unfortunately, our citizens have also become increasingly partisan.  The news media, which throughout history, adhered to journalistic rules, has become a stew of slanted stories and innuendo.  The media which does strive to provide us with unbiased truth is often difficult to distinguish from this toxic stew.  The internet and social media have contributed mightily to this partisanship, with half-truths and outright lies about politicians rampant — it is difficult for all but the most discerning reader to know whether something they hear or read is truth or slander.  Our recent Presidential campaign was filled with grade-school level name-calling and bullying which was disgusting.

Our great country has long been comprised by people of markedly different beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, needs, and regional backgrounds.  The college professor often has a very different world view from the corporate CEO.  The low-income city dweller has entirely different problems from the struggling farmer in the heartland.  This is one reason why the House of Representatives is so important to our democracy.  Their districts are small enough, so if they diligently perform their duties, they interact with their constituents on a more personal basis and understand their needs and beliefs.  However, this is no longer meaningful if the majority party in Congress will not include the minority party in its lawmaking process.  The constituents of the minority party lose their voice entirely.

To me, the shooting this week illustrated the great anger and frustration felt by citizens in our country.  Obviously, this was a tragic and horrific illustration, but it should be a wake-up call to our leaders.  Hatred and divisiveness feed the worst in all of us.  We must try to “ramp down” the tone that has infiltrated our society.  Of course, we can all strive to refrain from passing on the hateful rhetoric we hear and read.  That is one step.  However, I firmly believe that at this point, the “ramping down” must begin from the top.  Hopefully, Congress will begin once again to put country before party, to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and to work to solve the problems of the entire country, not just those of the majority party constituents or the largest campaign contributors.

 

 

 

The Many Faces of Mothering

945880_4933477860089_2116810788_n

This Mothers Day Weekend, I have been musing about motherhood in all of its forms. On this special day, we celebrate our mothers.  As I look back through the years, I was extremely fortunate.  My mother was loving, gentle, and kind, and she lives on in my heart, though she has been gone from my life for sixteen years now.  However, I was also blessed with a grandmother who lived with us and cared for me with deep love, and an aunt who was always a “second mother” to me.   How much more love and security can a young girl need?

I also began thinking of the women throughout my life who also “mothered” me.  As a young woman, a close neighbor provided much support through difficult times, and even though time and space separated us, when she died last year at 95, I felt like I had lost another mother.  A woman who had never had children of her own — who had spent her life with no inclination towards motherhood, became a close friend and mentor to me when my children were older.  She often told me I was the daughter she would have liked to have, and I still remember her special caring and support as a form of mothering.  As we age, our daughters often begin to “mother” us — I can feel this happening already with my own daughter as she watches out for her father and me.

As I write this today, I am thinking not only of my special mother, but of mothers everywhere — those who give birth to children, those who adopt, those who mother step-children and neglected children and the children of friends and family, those whose hearts break over babies lost and children who died much too young, and those who pour their love out to pets and abandoned animals.

Mothering does not necessitate giving birth to a child.  There are mothers all around us who don’t fit the traditional definition of “mother”, and yet their love, support, and gentle guidance have made the world a better place.

Happy Mothers’ Day to ALL Mothers!!!

The Home of Beloved Hand-Me-Downs

20170404_121110

Spring has arrived, although slowly and taking two steps backward for each one forward.  Yesterday I began my yearly ritual of pulling my old wicker out and placing it on the front porch.  I hung the wind chimes, and as I sit here writing this morning, their sweet music floats on the cool spring air.  My old Victorian house has two porches — one wrap-around front porch which is home to my old wicker and my houseplants during the summer, and my enclosed back porch which houses my collection of bird decor, a wrought iron table and chairs, and a wicker set I picked up from a consignment shop.  My newest addition to the back porch this year is a beautiful wreath of flowers and miniature birdhouses — it is a beloved hand-me-down from a friend.

Actually, my house itself is a hand-me-down of sorts.  Before we bought it over forty years ago, it belonged to my husband’s great-uncle.  The moment I stepped inside I was in love with its many-windowed rooms, polished pocket doors, beautiful front stairway and the thought of those whose lives had been lived out within these walls.  From the beginning, I furnished the house with bits and pieces from family members — old bedroom sets, dining room furniture passed down from a great-grandfather; even my babies slept in the crib their father and aunt had slept in years before them.

Through the many years since, I have tended to search at garage sales and estate sales for items to fill my home.  While there is very little monetary value to the pieces I have gathered through the years, they are treasures to me.  The old family pieces — my grandfather’s desk, my grandmother’s hope chest, my mother’s dressing table — fill my heart each time I see them.  My mother-in-law’s cut-glass bowls sit proudly in my dining room in different seasons.  There are family stories behind so many of my possessions — stories I have tried to pass down to my children and grandchildren.   There are memories of my own purchases as I poked through musty old antique stores — the lovely soup bowls which matched my mother’s good dishes, the delicate blue & white teapot and tiny teacups that called out to me one day.  As I walked through an estate sale recently, I held a softly knit shawl in my arms and ran my fingers over the texture, wondering who had carefully knit it and whose shoulders had been warmed each evening in its softness.

20141231_144242

There are those who love the sleek and modern, but my heart has always yearned for the imperfect mystery of the well-used.  We were given an old family Victrola several years ago, and as I dusted it one day, I noticed the name “Linda” scratched unobtrusively on its surface; Linda is one of my husband’s cousins, and today the old Victrola has made its way to her home — back to the one who loved it so much she inscribed her name upon it.  As I dust the furniture, wash the linens, arrange flowers in the lovely old vases, and hand wash delicate china, I wonder how many hands have cared for these pieces, and how much laughter and tears they have witnessed through their long lives.  I feel a bond with those who came before me and called these hand-me-downs their own.

For now, all of these old possessions — my cozy old house, my furniture which bears the marks of family life, my old books, my teddy bear collection, my quilts and china and wicker — add warmth and depth to my life.  My own memories, and my curiosities about those who loved these items before me are part of the fabric of my everyday existence.  My hope is that some of my most precious items will be passed on to family members and friends who will cherish them.  If not, though, they will be placed on estate sale tables and picked up gently by those who will treasure them for their beauty and the unknown stories that they carry with them.  In the meantime, this hand-me-down old house has been my shelter and comfort for the better part of my life, and I am so grateful.

Can We Save Childhood?

12187716_10208205227672910_1433965795631784876_n

If our country is to survive and thrive, we must pay close attention to the lives of our children.  Parents’ lives have become so complicated and their work so all-consuming, raising their children is much more difficult than it was in years past.  A majority of mothers work, either by choice or necessity.  Children are often placed in day care from infancy until they are ready for school.  Their lives are structured each day.  There is very little time to just “be”.  Once they are in school, their day is long, and by the time the family is finally gathered together at the end of the day, evenings are often filled with organized activities such as sports, dance classes, Scouting, and such.  Somehow, in the midst of this, supper must be eaten and homework finished.  This lifestyle in itself puts a great deal of pressure on both parents and children.  There is little time for quiet discussions or private conversations.

Having cared for my own grandchildren during the day when they were young, I have been exposed to the TV programming for today’s children.  For the most part, I find it very odd.  For the youngest children, most of the programs feature little computerized “people” or “animals”.  With the exception of “Peppa Pig”, I found no shows for little ones that were based on a family, with parents and children.  When my children were young, “Mister Rogers” presented wholesome programs each day that not only taught children about the world around them, but also instilled values and stressed the importance of kindness in dealing with others.  

Now that my grandchildren are older, I see very few programs with any social value at all.  Most of them are demeaning to parents, and lack any moral values.  These are programs where the children and teens seem to have no limits whatsoever, no respect, and there is seldom any redeeming quality at all.  I remember watching TV with my children during “Family Hour” each night, when programs appropriate for children were broadcast.  Today, there is no family hour — as soon as the news is over on the traditional channels, we go immediately to incredibly violent and bloody shows or comedies which highlight family dysfunction or sexuality.  

While parents try to regulate what their children are watching or playing on the various forms of computer technology, it is difficult at best, with the constant availability of IPhones and IPads and laptops in homes.  Access to highly inappropriate material is much too easy in today’s technological world.

There are parents who make every effort to provide their children with the attention, support, and time that is necessary to raise competent, caring, well-adjusted children in our world of distractions and artificiality.  They sit down together for meals and make sure their children are reading worthwhile books.  They answer their children’s questions and include them in family decisions.  They include family time in their busy schedules — time to walk in the woods, go swimming together, or sit around a campfire at night and talk.  They comment on the TV programs their children are watching and the games they are playing — inserting their own moral values into the mix.  Their children know that they can ask questions without hesitation; they can talk honestly to their parents about their feelings, with no repercussions.  This is not easy in today’s fast-paced world, though.  It requires a great deal of determination and time.

In the homes where this is not being done, this generation of children is left to fend for itself — to sift through the vastly inappropriate choices in an effort to learn what is appropriate behavior, to make mistakes with no one to catch them as they fall, to live in a world where sitting in a closed room playing a senseless video game is more appealing than playing in the sunshine with friends, to grow up without the tools to know right from wrong, and in the worst cases, to become one of those violent people on our TV screens and video games. 

I worry for us all!!

What Made me a Tree-Hugging Preservationist?

20140707_193907

As many of us struggle to save natural spaces and historic places, I listen to the comments of those who feel otherwise — those who enjoy the easy access to commercial development near their homes, and the increased tax base of housing developments.  As I read these comments, I wonder why I feel so strongly about protecting open space, old stands of trees, old farms and old buildings.

Looking back to my childhood many years ago, in a semi-rural area in upstate New York, I begin to see the patterns that formed my preservationist beliefs.  I loved my home, modest as it was, with its backyard of fields bordered by ponds, and the tiny stream (most likely a drainage ditch) that ran alongside the yard.  My favorite place to play was under the two large maple trees out front, which provided shade in summer and brightly colored autumn leaves to rake and jump into.  We lived close to the dairy from which our milk came — we could walk in and pet the cows whenever we wanted.  A hammock strung between two pine trees was my source of solitude and comfort during my tumultuous teen years.  It was a life of simple pleasures and security.  Unfortunately, when I was a teenager, the house was sold and the new owner cut down my beautiful maple trees and paved over the front yard for a parking lot — my first bitter taste of commercial development.  How I mourned the loss of those trees, even though I didn’t live there anymore.

The destruction of the little village in which I grew up was slow but steady.  Farms gave way to housing developments; open fields were filled with big box stores and shopping malls, and one by one, the historic buildings were sacrificed in the name of progress.  My heart breaks each time I drive through my childhood neighborhood.  So much has been lost.  And, what a gain it has been for the commercial developers and those people who love the proximity to stores and restaurants.

I still live in the town in which I grew up, just a few miles from that once peaceful rural neighborhood.  My home now is in a quaint little historic district, where much has remained the same through the years.  Just outside the boundaries of the historic district, housing developments sprouted up wherever there was open space, and a vast area of woods and fields have been turned into commercial developments and large apartment complexes.  Four roundabouts have been constructed in an effort to control traffic — their success is debatable.   

As I have watched this development, I have been close to tears as I saw old stands of trees cut down, the fields which once were home to wildlife bulldozed and turned to paved parking lots, and old homes here and there destroyed in the name of progress.  To compensate for the damage done, contractors plant new trees and dig retention ponds to offset the wetland destruction they have wrought.  A new tree does not replace the value to the environment of an old tree.  The wildlife that loses its habitat must find new sources of food and shelter.  When we moved to this neighborhood in the early 1970’s, I saw deer occasionally in the fields that existed then.  Today, my neighborhood is visited by hungry deer every night.  In the summer, they munch on our flowers, and during the most frigid days of winter, I throw cracked corn out for them near my bird feeders.  One night last week, there were nine deer in my front yard, competing for the small circle of corn.  This breaks my heart.  

I also treasure the old homes and buildings in our town.  Recently, a beautiful old red barn which had stood proudly during my childhood, was quickly demolished for another “cookie-cutter” housing development.   We are fortunate in my little historic district that people take pride in their old homes and are willing to fight to keep the history that exists here alive.  There are other areas that feel the same.  Some towns have strict zoning laws for their historic areas.  Here we can still find the beautiful handiwork of long-ago builders.  Many of today’s builders clear-cut property of all trees before construction begins, and then build as many houses per acre as allowed by the town.  What results is not pretty to the eyes of this “tree-hugger.”  

I have resigned myself to the fact that progress and the destruction of what once existed go hand in hand, and the demand for convenient stores and banks and restaurants is much stronger than the desire of some of us who want to preserve trees and open spaces and old homes and HISTORY.   Sadly, I also realize that the children growing up today will not know the pleasures of the natural world around us.  I learned the value of wilderness areas because I played in them; I remember the scorched smell when my grandfather burned off the field behind our house each year in anticipation of cultivating his garden.  I remember playing in old farmhouses with their nooks and crannies and outbuildings that were perfect for playhouses.  I remember trees that were so large we could hide behind them.  I remember my mother each evening, sitting alone in her bedroom, watching dusk settle gently over the ponds behind our house — her meditation time .  

And, as hopeless as it is in our world of competition, money and material success, I remember why I truly treasure the trees and fields and ponds and old barns.  Sadly, saving them is a losing battle.