Can We Save Childhood?

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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?

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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. 

Historic Preservation vs. Commercial Development

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly is aware that I am heartbroken each time I see an old building fall.   The aged Victorian above was torn down in the early 1980’s to make room for a parking lot for a pizzeria.  Many people in our little hamlet tried to save it, but the owner’s rights made its  destruction possible.   He claimed that it would cost too much to renovate the old house, which had once belonged to one of the founding fathers of our little community.  Closely adjoining the property is the burial vault for many members of the founding family of our community.  This property also became home to a member of our community who ran a small business in front of the house for years; his store was a gathering spot for neighbors, with gas pumps, ice cream, soup, sandwiches, and time for conversations — many memories were made here.  When the house was destroyed, the shop out front was renovated into a pizzeria, and the lot behind was vacant. 

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The pizzeria remained in business at the corner for a few years, changing hands at one point, until it was renovated into an upscale Italian restaurant — a lovely building with charm and delicious food.  Now, that business, too, has left, and the building has remained empty for a year or more.

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This property carries the essence of a great deal of history; memories abound for those of us who live here and those who grew up here.  Our little hamlet consists of a mile-long strip that has been designated a National Historic District.  The original homes of four members of the founding family are still lovingly cared for by their present owners, and the district itself is filled with lovely homes that were built during the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The residents take pride in our beautiful historic treasures.  

Until now, there has been no large-scale development within our small district.  That is about to change; a developer is submitting plans for a bank and three rectangular 8-unit apartment buildings to be built on this historic lot.  And, of course, the residents of our quiet little community are going to do everything in our power to protect the history that has been lived out on this lot.  This is no place for a modern-looking development.  We have enough of that a half mile up the street — there is a roundabout, grocery stores, several banks, restaurants, and a multitude of apartment buildings, which took the place of woods and fields and pretty homes.  We do not need another bank; we do not need more apartments!

The problem we face is a daunting one.  Our town government has generally shown little interest in historic value.  It is more concerned with growing its tax base, and those apartments and a bank would  certainly provide more tax base.  We have to convince these officials there is something more important than money.  We have to show them that we love our quiet little historic district and the memories that people have carried with them as they moved on from the area.  We must come up with possible alternatives that might appease the town, while remaining true to the heritage of this plot of land.

We are all realistic; we know we face an uphill battle, because we have seen other old buildings and farms fall, as big box stores, shopping malls, and housing developments take their place.  This plot is actually located at the heart of our historic district; this is the corner where the original toll gate stood on the plank road that our forefathers traversed.  It is heartbreaking to think of a bank and apartments here.  Personally, I feel we have given enough to “progress” — the commercial area up the road a bit is our contribution to economic growth.  

Many of us who live here have spent the better part of our lives here.  These old houses and the neighbors who surround us make this a place where we are content.  Is it too much to ask that our town government consider our quality of life as they make their decision on this developer’s plan?  I’m certain alternatives can be found for this property which would be a good compromise between saving the historic flavor of our district and increasing the town’s coffers.

We are prepared to fight for what we love!! 

The Ghost of Valentines Past

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I was born a romantic at heart, and Valentine’s Day was the perfect holiday to fulfill my fantasies.  In school we decorated cigar boxes with pink paper and lacy white paper doilies, in anticipation of the cards we would receive.  We carefully picked out our cards and sorted through them for just the right one to give to each classmate.  Of course, there was always the horror of giving one that was a little too “lovey” to a boy who didn’t return our feelings.  Our mothers baked cupcakes and cookies with pink and white icing for our class party, and we opened our boxes and looked at all of the cards.  The teachers were careful to be sure that no one was left out — we were required to give one Valentine to each person in the class.  Sixty years later I can still remember the excitement and almost taste the party cupcakes and tiny candy hearts.

Those were innocent days; this year my romantic heart almost forgot that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.   I am still reeling and a bit in shock from the election and inauguration of our new President, and becoming used to the uncertainty of the course our country will take.  I feel as if I am moving slowly through each day — completing all of my tasks, but not really completely “here.”  Alas, the holiday is almost upon us, and I am attempting to join in the anticipation of this most romantic holiday.  Today I searched for some little Valentine gifts for my grandchildren — the loves of my life — always a pleasant chore.  

However, if I am honest, as I look back over the years, the very best Valentine’s Days were those of my childhood, when my dreams were of being swept away by true love and living happily ever after.  Of course, we all know that is the stuff of fairy tales.  In reality, my romantic heart has been broken many times over, and my older self realizes that this holiday brings the pain of loss to many people.  There are those who will celebrate with champagne and roses, and quiet little dinners with their beloved, but there are also many who will be alone on this special day, having lost their loved ones or never found love, or who will be deliberately not celebrating this day of love, because their years together have left no reason to celebrate.

Somehow, though, when this holiday rolls around each year, a small part of me still holds on to that long-ago dream.  I picture a cozy table for two, with a white lace tablecloth, roses and lovely china, good wine, delicious food, and a face gazing lovingly into my own.  We romantics just never give up on the dream, I guess.  Through disappointments and heartbreak, we never stop believing that something wonderful will happen.   

May something wonderful happen to you this Valentine’s Day!!!

Farewell 2016

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The Christmas decorations have been tucked away, and the house is now filled with soothing shades of winter white and a touch of greenery, with candles to warm the dark, cold evenings ahead.  New Year’s Eve is upon us, and it is a day to look back on the year that is ending.  For many, it has been a difficult year.  Our world has seen more than its share of violence and dissension; the long months of election campaigning were unpleasant at best, and many of us are worried about the changes that are coming.  We lost many beloved celebrities, too many people met violent ends, and we mourn our personal losses of loved ones and friends.  For me it was a year filled with family issues and worries of my own and sadness for friends going through times of loss and illness.   I am not unhappy to leave 2016 behind.

Of course, as always is the case, there were many happy moments in our lives during this year.  Babies were born, weddings and birthdays were celebrated, and friendships provided both enjoyment and comfort to us all.  We enjoyed the pleasures of the seasons, time spent with loved ones, and the personal satisfactions we all treasure. The little grandchildren I have taken care of since infancy are now all school-aged and thriving, and I can enjoy the freedom of time for myself, time to pursue my own dreams.  There has been a great deal for many of us to be thankful for as we look back over the year.  

At this stage of my life, I view each year as a gift.  There are some years that bring more sadness than others, but often it is the most difficult years that require us to pause and give thought to what is really important and what needs to be done to make our private world, as well as the larger world, a better place.  2016 was one of those years for many of us.  Today is a day to revisit the struggles of the year past and look for the deeper meaning of it all.  

And then, tonight we can celebrate the beginning of 2017.  There is a blank slate of 365 days ahead in which we can do our best to positively influence our neighborhoods, our country, and our world in whatever ways we are able .  We can strive to be more informed, more involved, more kind, and to do our small part to make this world a better place.  We have no idea what this new year holds for us all, but let’s celebrate together tonight and hope that 2017 will be a better year — one where peace and hope abide.  

Whether you party the night away or quietly greet 2017 from your own living room,

Happy New Year to You All!!!

A Message of Christmas

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These three pieces are all that remain from the nativity set of my childhood, but I treasure them dearly.  I can remember holding that precious Baby Jesus carefully in my chubby hands when I was very little; now they remain behind my china closet doors to keep them safe from harm.  As I look at them — the praying mother Mary, the innocent lamb, and the peaceful Baby Jesus,  I feel serenity in my heart.

Serenity is not easy in this tumultuous world of ours.  Daily we are bombarded with photos of innocents wounded by war, terrorist attacks and mass shootings are becoming more frequent in our society, and the Presidential election this year has brought out the worst in us, as we spar back and forth on social media.  Divisiveness abounds as we look with suspicion on those of different races, colors, and religions.  We are living in difficult times.  

We must hold in our hearts the good that we do see — the photos of men digging by hand through the rubble of war to save each and every living being who is buried beneath the stones and concrete, the churches, synagogues, mosques and temples that open their doors to each other to forge friendships and promote understanding, the school playground where black, brown and white hands grasp each other in friendship.  

That little baby boy, born all those years ago in Bethlehem, grew into the Savior who taught us that the second greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

May we all hold that commandment in our hearts as we sit in church on this Christmas Eve, as we gather for dinner with family and friends on Christmas Day, and as we go about our lives each day thereafter. 

Merry Christmas and may peace be with you and yours