Christmas Blessings

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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.

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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 —

 

With Pen in Hand…

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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.

 

 

 

We Are America

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The American flag flies proudly on my front porch from Memorial Day to Veterans’ Day each year.  I choose to tuck it away during the winter months, away from the sleet, snow, and winds.  I have always been proud of our country, but for the last few years, there has been a change in the way we function together.  Of course, there were always disagreements, and the political parties seldom agreed, but there was a spirit of compromise.  Without compromise, nothing is accomplished.  We are no longer united, and our divisions become deeper and more volatile as each year passes.

Politicians choose a platform, and refuse to compromise.  If they do change their feelings about issues, colleagues and citizens view this as a weakness, a “flip-flop”, or as an attempt to mislead others.  Intelligent, thoughtful people do change their minds over the years — their insights grow over time.  Our country is better off with leaders who can see both sides of a situation, and use their knowledge and intellect to find compromise over divisive issues.

Personally, there have been two issues, which are still relevant today, on which I have altered my original rigid positions.  When I was young, it was my religious belief that abortion was wrong, and that it should be illegal in our country.  As I grew older, I realized that this was my personal view, but if I looked at it another way, I could see that our country was founded on freedom of religion, and majority rule.  It was not my place to decide that abortion should not be legal.  I still do not believe abortion is right  but I do believe that the majority of people in this country decided it should be legal, and that is how it should be.  Just my opinion.

The second issue, gun control, is one that is passionately debated in our country.  When I was young, a friend of ours was killed when a rifle accidentally discharged as he was removing it from his car.  This was a boy who hunted and was familiar with firearms, and yet he was dead.  For years this colored my views on gun control.  I felt that if there had been gun control, Bruce would still be alive.  And, of course, we have had too many murders, and too many mass shootings through the years.  However, I have thoughtfully considered this subject for a long time, now, and my views have changed.  I still believe there should be strict background checks when guns are purchased, and stricter controls at gun shows.  I still feel that automatic weapons should be outlawed.   I believe gun control is an issue that must be discussed calmly and rationally.  I notice that much of the division over gun control lies between city dwellers and those who live in the country.  People in the city see gang shootings and domestic shootings and think that if gun controls were more strict, we would have less killing.  Those in the country see their guns as a tool.  They hunt with them; they protect their families and livestock from the dangerous wildlife that roam the countryside.  City dwellers are also probably not aware of how long it may take police to arrive on the scene when you live in the country.  If someone is threatening your family, a gun may be your only protection.  There will always be “crazies” in this world who use guns for the wrong purposes, but these same crazies will find other ways to kill if they don’t have access to guns.  We have already seen knives and bombs used in mass killings.  I believe we must recognize the reasons why so many people are adamant about their right to bear arms.  Again just my opinion.

Unfortunately, there are no perfect solutions to most of the issues that face our country today.  However, maintaining your “rightness” instead of listening to all sides of an issue solves nothing.  I truly believe that our country will not be healed until people are willing to talk TO each other about the divisive issues, not AT each other.  We need to really listen to each other and understand the reasoning behind other people’s stands on issues. 

And most importantly, we must encourage our leaders to do the same.  We must not accuse candidates of being “flip-floppers” just because they have changed their minds on issues through the years.  Times change, situations change, and I would certainly hope that the leaders we choose feel free to change their own minds. 

We are all Americans; we all love our country and want a successful, thriving democracy, but at this point we are losing ground.  This inability for parties to work together is tearing us apart.  They must learn to find common ground, and so must we, if our beloved country is to survive.  It begins with us!!

Looking Back at Me

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I open an old notebook and I am transported back twenty years.  This is what I had written all those years ago:

“Here, I cross a river…I am standing on the threshold…a new life beckons me on.  My youngest child just turned thirteen.  Gone is the life of earth mother, baby tender, Brownie leader, room mother, a life filled with the sounds of childish laughter, sleepless nights, chicken pox and tenderness.  My new life is transitional — there is still soul tending, character building and mothering to be done — but I am beginning to ponder the choices of my life yet to come.

There are so many possibilities — so many interests and joys awaiting me as I cross this river.  I am like a teen again, wondering, “what will I be when I grow up?”  Sometimes the various pieces of me are astonishing  — these disparate yearnings, joys and abilities.  I stood at the Garth Brooks concert, clapping and singing — loving the beat of the music which moves me to dance and feel wild and free.  Earlier that same day I had been distributing fliers to neighbors in an attempt to thwart commercial development in our lovely old historic neighborhood — loving its quiet, respectable character.  One piece of me is a like a teenaged boy who loves loud cars and speed.  Another piece is the gentle, nurturing soul who will mother just about anything in its vicinity.  There is a piece which loves the beauty and serenity of my flower garden, and the piece which loves to roll down the car window and blast rock music into the air, the piece that loves antique china, silver and linens, and the piece that couldn’t bear to miss the “Dukes of Hazzard” reunion with its “good ole boy” stories and handsome country boys.  And, how can this person who watches over her elderly neighbors so tenderly, and lovingly babysits for a neighbor’s two-year-old every weekend, be such an angry tigress when someone wrongs a child?

Which paths will I follow when I have crossed this river — when my time is my own, my day-to-day mothering is over?  The possibilities are endless — the choices are mine alone to make.  Will I be selfless and choose paths which nurture humankind or will I choose to nurture my own unique interests and joys…or will I somehow blend all the pieces into a life that contains the love and richness I have known throughout my mothering years?”

As I read these heartfelt paragraphs today, I consider my life then, and through all the years hence.  There has been sadness and loss, but there has also been happiness.  One of my most cherished dreams never came true, but I have made peace with that.  The choices I made were most often responsible and nurturing, but beneath this silver hair and textured skin there still beats the heart of a rebel.  Growing older has given me an inner peace which is a blessing, but every once in a while that bit of rebel comes out, and I am so pleased that it has never disappeared.  I call it joy. 

 

 

Ode to August

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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

 

 

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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??

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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.