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Carol Bossard

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Carol Bossard last won the day on September 29 2018

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About Carol Bossard

  1. We’ve had a lot of gray days this month --- quite typical for our region. But we’ve also had some delightfully sunny, mild days; it would be great if we could preserve some of those. Gladys Taber** had the same idea: “I wish we could put this late summer sunlight in jars. If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun! I can see how it would look with the jars arranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup. And on a dark November day, we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine, open it and smell again the warm, dreamy air of a late-summer day.” Fun thought! We recently had a back yard full of downed trees. It looked rather as though a tornado had gone through. There were five trees either quite dead or in their last stages of life that threatened to fall on buildings if they were blown down. So woodcutters came and felled them ----- leaving a ton of logs, branches and twigs to clean up. I will miss the big white pine especially. It was a tree full of birds and lovely to sit beneath on a summer day. The now wide-open back yard is startling, and some of our plants that demand shade will, I think, have to be moved. The downed and tangled trees created a playground for cats. They sharpened claws, pounced from one branch to another and sat at the top like kings of the mountain. I imagine they were sorry to see it cleaned up. This is fruitcake-baking week after which I’ll stash them away to “ripen” on our cold, inside porch I’m hearing no cheers from immediate family; they are not enthusiastic about my venture into the land of fruit cakes; they don’t like candied fruit, but too bad! It is a time-honored tradition. In Scotland and England (anyone who reads Anne of Green Gables knows about this) wedding cakes were usually fruit cakes, made as soon as the engagement was announced and packed away to mellow. Mine don’t get to “mellow” very long. If my family doesn’t appreciate my fruity wonders, I have friends who do. A cup of tea with a slice of spicy cake bursting with Brazil nuts, pecans, candied cherries, raisins and citron makes a dreary day shine. Thanksgiving is only a week away. In fifty-six years, we’ve had celebrations of this holiday in a myriad of different ways ---- with family, with friends and by ourselves. One of our sons was born a few days after Thanksgiving, and that year, we had to stay in Pennsylvania rather than going home to be with family. I remember that the day was cloudy, mild and we took a walk to enjoy the central Pennsylvania scenery. We’ve had many enjoyable years celebrating with extended family in Howard (Steuben County) and in Victor (Ontario County). One year, snow came, and on Sunday afternoon, we crawled south on Rt. 15 at about 35mph the whole way. There was one lane plowed and I’m sure the traffic stretched from Buffalo to Washington DC. I miss those big family gatherings ---- the laughter, the futile attempts to keep grapes in the fruit centerpieces until after dinner, wonderful dishes-to-pass, loud games of Euchre and shared stories and laughter. There were often as many as twenty-five or thirty of us. But even with our family of eight, we do quite well. With two dogs, two teenagers, six adults --- and sometimes a stray guest or two ---- we still have plenty of laughter and lots of stories. The main point of the celebration is to enjoy each other and to bring to mind all that for which we are so very grateful. This year may be different as we avoid infection, and yet, we still have reasons for thanks. We are healthy as are those in our family. We have plenty to do and many ways to communicate. We may not be sharing dinner as usual, but we are still connected. Traditions should not be freeze-framed. Necessary change often brings its own gifts. Thanksgiving is surely a good time to share kindness and consideration with others. While I was working at the Office for the Aging, the staff there decided to do a dinner on Thanksgiving Day for those who had no family. People had confided that their loneliness was far more intense at Thanksgiving than Christmas. The dinner was a purely volunteer project, although the county was generous enough to allow use of the kitchen and dining room at work. Those of us who were traveling to family on that day brought goodies to leave off. I still remember with pleasure, the warm, happy atmosphere in that dining room as people once more found joy in the holiday. One of the churches in the S-VE area was doing something similar, but of course, not this year. Currently getting ready for snow and cold is a priority. I’ve had to make two spots for feeding the cats, out of sight of each other. We’ve acquired a truly feral cat; I believe it was injured when it decided to camp in our former feeding area. It has an unpleasant yowl, and our long-time outside cats are afraid of it; we’ve dubbed it “Nasty Cat”. Thus, we have two feline dining spots. There are also lined baskets tucked beneath a table by the back door, sheltered from the winds and snows for fairly comfortable sleeping. The woodpeckers are glad that the feeders are once more stocked with suet now that our intrusive bears seem to have gone to wherever they go for the winter. The scarves and mittens have been retrieved from their storage tubs and the boots located. The snow shovel is at hand. Inside the wood stove is ready to add comforting warmth when the winds blow cold. November is always a month of nostalgia for me. It is not only because of Thanksgiving but also, I think, the effect a waning year has. I find myself actually wanting to polish the furniture, wash the cut glass and bring out the linens I happily put away last spring. We “nesters” like change of seasons. We can make things fresh and new four or five times a year and the possibilities make up for the same old-same old that annoys most of us about keeping house. One of the things I try to do is to make the house fragrant. Of course baking bread or cookies is the best way to do that. But in lieu of baking, I try to have candles, reed diffusers and fresh herbal scents instead of industrial cleaning smells. I’ve put together an herbal/vinegar solution for wiping off of counters that includes basil, sage, rosemary and (if I recall correctly) tansy. Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” So the lavender furniture polish, the cinnamon candles and linseed oil all take me right back home to where my mother was baking molasses cookies and painting country tin. And when we put a turkey in the oven and make stuffing, I’ll be able to imagine being at one of those wonderful family gatherings that were such a great part of our lives. As we consider and express our gratitude this Thanksgiving, it might also be a good time to dispense with uncharitable and/or arrogant thoughts about others. I will share an old poem……. “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase), awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, and saw, within the moonlight of the room, making it rich and like a lily in bloom, an angel writing in a book of gold ----Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, and to the presence in the room he said: ‘What writest thou?’ The vision rais’d his head, and with a look of all sweet accord, answer’d: ’The names of those who love the Lord.’ ‘And is mine one?’ said Abou. ‘Nay, not so,’ replied the angel. About spoke more low but clearly still and said: ‘I pray thee then, write me as one that loves his fellow men.’ The angel wrote and vanish’d. The next night it came again with a great wakening light, and show’d the names whom love of God had bless’d, and lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”**** Happy Thanksgiving! Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *”Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart” praise song with lyrics by Don Moen. **Gladys Tabor --- American writer who wrote for “Family Circle” magazine and authored 59 books; is most recognized for her “Stillmeadow” books. 1899 - ***Helen Keller--- American author, lecturer and political activist. Is the first blind and deaf person to achieve a BA. 1880-1968. ****”Abou Ben Adam” by Leigh Hunt ---- British critic, essayist, poet and writer. Actual name is James Henry Leigh Hunt. 1784-1859. (And I thought for years that Leigh Hunt was a woman!!)
  2. Holding The Light

    Our continental travelers have returned home, tired of traveling and full of stories. And Joey has joined them. I’ll miss his warning bark when someone drives in ---- or when a bear comes by, and his focused, soulful gaze when he wants to once more check on what’s outside. More and more leaves are off the trees as November ushers in the last real month of Fall. The larch trees are turning a bronzy-gold before the needles drop. It is time to construct burlap cages around the azaleas. The strange shapes always look rather odd on our front lawn; I’ve thought of putting faces on the burlap. The cages keep the deer from munching the shrubs down to little nubs. As the days turn gray and leaves continue to fall and drift away, I find myself warming toward the idea of semi-hibernation. I did not appreciate the time change this past weekend. I need lots of light. As the day darkens, my energy tends to seep out. And now that my eyesight has become difficult, I need light even more just to see. So if it were up to me, I’d have Daylight Savings time year ‘round. To help cope, I use a “Happy Light” for a couple of hours in the morning. It supposedly fools the brain into believing the Finger Lakes region has sunlight after all. Quite a few people suffer from the SAD* malady. Our brains apparently feel that without sunlight, we should be tucked away for the winter. Energy fails, depression may set in and a person’s mood becomes one with the gloom. So those of us who know we have a problem learn to take mitigating steps. We keep our house lights on even during the day, we use that special light in the morning to simulate the sunshine, we play music that cheers us and we read books that lift our spirits instead of tomes that might drag us down. No matter if your book club thinks a discussion of Greek tragedies would be culturally useful; in November, read something happy. And we try to keep moving ---- activity and new interests help us hold onto inner light for our spirits. November is also a month for gratitude. It has become a custom for some to post a “what I’m grateful for” each day on social media. I find those posts good reminders of the many wonderful things for which I’m grateful. The delights can be as small as a cardinal lighting on the 5-foot tall kale outside my window or as large as family members coming to visit. It can be the setting sun lighting up the maples or one of the cats popping up unexpectedly outside the bathroom window with a “whatcha doin’?” look on his furry face. There are studies that clearly show a correlation between one’s regular acknowledgment of gratitude and a healthier immune system. In this time of flu and Covid our immune systems need all the help they can get. Gratitude is so worth it. The whole western culture emphasizes getting things done; we all have the inevitable TO DO list. What have I accomplished today? How many things can I check off my list? Meditation --- being quiet and sitting ---is often regarded by doers with a skeptical eye. Its good effects can’t be quite as easily translated into statistics, so if it doesn’t compute, we don’t bother with it. But meditation**, in whatever form one uses ---- and there are many ----lowers blood pressure, calms anxiety, helps the immune system, keeps the brain alert, and generally makes life move in better directions. Of course, even if we get past the drive to do-do-do, we may still resist because it is a bit scary to meet quietly with ourselves. But truly, it is a practice that yields immense benefit. Joseph Campbell*** said: “Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.” Kerm and I have changed our homes several times in our years together, and one of the things I’m really grateful for are the friends we’ve made along the way. There are several levels of friendship from the casual let’s work together for a common goal kind, to those who “have your back” and who will be honest with you and can be confidantes and a shoulder to cry on if needed. Friends who know, trust and understand are a gift. Misunderstandings with friends, as with family, can be very painful. And today, in this contentious atmosphere, it is easy to offend people often without knowing. Mending the torn fabric of relationships is not easy. Confronting isn’t a very popular solution, but it is only through thoughtful conversations, that don’t bypass the uncomfortable, that we can achieve understanding. We appreciate the friends we’ve found in our life journey; they are wonderful, caring people and are to be cherished. November is the month when we celebrate Veteran’s Day --- what used to be called Armistice Day at the end of WWI, but those who remember that day of church bells ringing across the continent, are mostly gone from us. War is seldom a good thing, but we’d be who knows where if it were not for those who are willing to defend us when war happens. We have seldom treated our veterans with the care and gratitude that they deserve. I found these verses by Stephen Spender**** to be a reminder: “Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun, leaving the vivid air signed with their honor.” If we ask young men and women to fight for their country, we should, at the very least, show our gratitude in more helpful ways than our complicated and sometimes ineffective VA hospitals and medical system. I know there are pockets of excellent care in these hospitals, but there are so many stories of red tape so tangled that a vet could die before getting the treatment he/she needs. They deserve to be restored in as whole a way as is possible after they have been sent where their minds and bodies can be painfully torn asunder. PTSD is no joke or imagined malady. Whether from war, abuse, trauma or shock --- it is a condition that needs treatment. And for veterans, at least, we bear a responsibility to see that they get it. Actually the very best thing we can do to show our appreciation is to find some less deadly way than war to solve international differences. I think ---- do I dare say it? ---- our bear family is gone. We haven’t seen them now in three weeks. They really needed to be out of our woods by the onset of deer-hunting season. No one wants to find a bear sitting in his tree stand even though such a scene is quite humorous when shown in a video on Face Book. In reality, it wouldn’t be so funny! And I can just see one of those chubby cubs climbing up to see what he can see. Wooded areas, at this time of year, are good places to be and super places for meditation. The structure of the trees has emerged as the leaves have fallen, becoming a forest art form! Usually there is the sound of woodpeckers de-bugging the trees and squirrels just being squirrels. Almost always, there is a bit of wind making music; the instruments being the twigs and branches --- both bare and evergreen --- through which it blows. There is a decaying leaf fragrance that one only finds at this time of the year. I think many hunters use deer as an excuse to spend some time in the quiet of November woods, away from the daily hustle and bustle. But --- I hope too, that there will opportunities to put venison in the freezer for those who eat this healthy meat. And meanwhile, November is before us, to be experienced and enjoyed. From Dixie Willson*****……. “I like the fall, the mist and all. I like the night-owl’s lonely call --- and wailing sound of wind around. I like the gray November day, and bare, dead boughs that coldly sway against my pane; I like the rain. I like to sit and laugh at it --- and tend my cozy fire a bit. I like the fall --- the mist and all. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *SAD---Seasonal Affective Disorder **Meditation ---There are many ways to meditate: Transcendental Meditation, Walking meditation, focus on a Scripture meditation, just sitting in silence meditation, prayer and meditation……………….. ***Joseph Campbell--- American professor at Sarah Lawrence College specializing in comparative mythology and comparative religions. He is best known for his book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” 1904-1987 ****Stephen Spender--- British poet, novelist and essayist whose work concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle. 1909-1995 *****Dixie Willson--- American screen-writer who also wrote children’s books, short stories and poetry. 1890-1974.
  3. Spring Comes No Matter What

    Layers of new life emerge each day as we move into spring, and occasionally one of the layers is snow as on Monday. It is possible to almost see the green shoots of tulips and daffodils growing taller each day. The little cream-colored cup crocuses and the butter-yellow winter aconites blossom in spite of cold nights and windy days. I keep watching for signs of rhubarb or asparagus but I know it is too early. We haven’t even heard the peepers yet. This has been an interesting two weeks, hasn’t it? Avoiding people is more difficult than one might think. On the other hand, when meetings began to be cancelled, I felt a sort of euphoria ---- temporary freedom from all those obligations. But when church was shut down that first Sunday, I was at loose ends. Changing our habits is really hard! We are so accustomed to total freedom to come and go as we please. Curtailing that freedom leaves us resentful, antsy and lost even when the reason for doing so is valid. Having church via Zoom this past Sunday helped – just to share concerns and reconnect. A recent newsletter quoted a very well-written article by the VP of Princeton Theological Seminary about social distancing; especially pertinent for those of us who pine for our churchy routines: “The practice of social distancing is grounded in the science and math of epidemiology. The basic goal is to mitigate the threat represented by a new virus. When a new virus enters the population ---- before we have had a chance to build up immunity or develop a vaccine --- it poses the greatest threat to those who are most vulnerable…….one of the best ways to protect the most vulnerable….is to take steps to slow its spread. Viruses tend to spread exponentially in human population…………….In order to be effective, social distancing measures must be put in place before a virus begins to take root. …..It is not fear or irrational caution that leads us to put social distancing in places for our community. It is, rather, Christ’s charge to love our neighbors and care for the least of these that compels us. We choose to limit, for a season, our participation in some forms of human community….” * I also like the poem that is going the rounds of Face Book: Prayer for a Pandemic ** May we who are merely inconvenienced Remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors Remember those who are most vulnerable. May we who have the luxury of working from home Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close, remember those who have no options. May we who have to cancel our trips Remember those who have no place to go. May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market Remember those who have no market at all. May we who settle for a quarantine at home Remember those who have no home. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen We’ve been filling some of our time in cleaning and refurbishing. Inside as well as outside needs refreshment. The snow men are finally making their way from the porch to the storage shed and I’ve taken down the glass snowflakes from the picture window. The “winter lights” along our driveway and across our front lawn will have to come down pre-lawn-mowing, but right now they still lift our spirits. Kerm has gone through ten years of income tax stuff, cleaning out files. Then there is the kitchen!! One of my family members commented, when he walked into my kitchen, “Wow!! How have you gotten so much into one space?” It’s true; there is no undeveloped nook or corner. So, after gazing at it through his eyes, I was determined to weed out---- again! Collecting is fun, but it can escape the perimeters of good sense and good taste if not controlled. Kitchens are often the place to congregate ---for those cooking, of course, but also for those who gather around the kitchen table or linger at the counter to chat. Of course in all of our houses, the kitchen has met needs other than food prep. We’ve been known to make candles, create messy batik hangings, clean a carburetor or two, and ----in Pennsylvania ---- it accommodated square dancing when 8 young people were learning western calls. A few years ago, we did a kitchen make-over to include many of the design ideas I’d been collecting. After functioning in it for a few years, there are things I’d still wish to change, but mostly it has been quite workable. Sadly, there is no room to put in a square dance set but maybe we could clear out the gazebo for any stray dancing feet?? I do like this thought from Dominique Browning: “We all find magic in different parts of our home.”* The kitchen seems, for many people, to be that magic place; the aromas and the ambiance sweep us back to good times. The kitchen in the house where I grew up probably set the tone for my own kitchens. My mother had several kitchens before she was able to renovate one to her liking. I know she began cooking on one of those big, old wood stoves, progressed to one with kerosene burners (I vaguely remember the isinglass cylinders) and finally to an electric stove. I understand that during the big renovation, she drove the contractor a bit crazy by her close attention to detail (and all family members are now smiling at the thought of Grandma monitoring Lyman). But when it was finished, the room was a warm and comfortable place to prepare meals, make pies or to chat around the table. A tiny wood stove added heat on cold mornings and a large window framed by crewel-embroidered curtains, looked out on a bird feeder, gardens and a pond. I’m thinking that there’s not one member of our extended family who remembers this room with anything but affection and wistful wishing that we could sit around that table again with a cup of tea and a molasses cookie. Everyone’s home has special rooms where family and/or friends gather for good times. Whether it is kitchen, family room or patio ---- the important thing is that your home be tailored to you. None of us need to offer a magazine-perfect collection of rooms. It is far more important to offer warmth and hospitality --- a place where both you and those who come visiting, feel “at home”. Each home should tell good stories of those who live therein. Our thought has always been that our home is to share and I am pleased when others are able to feel comfortable in it. Even as most of us are staying home, some things must continue regardless of social distancing. Birthday cards must be sent, bills must be paid, birds expect sunflower seed, cows must be milked, fuel deliveries are necessary and the endless robo-calls keep coming. One rather sad business item for us this past week was the formal ending of Spencer Grange # 1110. We’ve procrastinated about taking this final step. The Grange has, for many years, been a part of the Spencer-VanEtten community providing education, community service, legislative advocacy for our rural region and some very tasty dinners. Several years ago, we felt it necessary to let the Grange building go; upkeep was just too much for our smaller membership. We did so with reluctance but were glad to cede it to Inspire, an organization that maintains it as a gym and community center. Grange members met in homes for several years. Now, however, as membership ages and dwindles, it is time to draw the curtain over what has been a great run. But------ Viva la Patrons of Husbandry wherever they may still thrive!! It is well-known that most organizations are having difficulty maintaining sufficient membership; that people are not joining or volunteering their time. This is something that we all need to consider, for the lack will have an immense impact on small towns; fire companies, rescue squads, churches, community dinners, transportation and --- ambiance. If we each totally withdraw into our own little enclaves, we will miss much of what we are this earth to provide ----- support and community for each other. We each must somehow find a balance with personal time and helping others time or our communities will suffer, as will our souls. “When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.” **** And nowhere is this more evident than when we are making life more livable and beautiful for ourselves and those around us. And speaking of beautiful…..I just observed a feeder full of gold finches. Of course, they are just beginning to turn gold and they were chattering as though having a dinner-meeting to plan for spring. They won’t be nesting for quite a while yet, so they have time to party. Flocks of turkeys are now everywhere: back yard, side yard, front yard. They clean our lawn of debris but also make it necessary to be very careful about where we step. These are difficult and uncertain days, but I wish that you may be well and that you find something good in this period of quiet. “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson***** Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. . * Dr. Shane A. Berg, Executive VP of Princeton Theological Seminary. Newsletter from Burdett Presbyterian Church. **Author unknown. Found on Face Book ***Dominique Browning --- American writer and magazine editor for Conde Nast. ****Kahlil Gibran – Lebanese artist, writer, poet. 1883-1931 *****Ralph Waldo Emerson – American essayist, philosopher and poet. Led the Transdentalist Movement. 1803-1882
  4. Remembering

    We are nearly two weeks into March. We have another hour of light at the end of the day. The lilac buds are visibly swelling and the bird songs are becoming very spring-like as they defend their territory and woo their mates. I caught the “fragrance” of a skunk this past week; possibly warning the cats away from their own left-over cat food. Of course, skunks mate in February and March, so they could have been demanding privacy for business other than food. The mild days we’ve had draw me irresistibly toward all my garden plans and magazine articles. I have a folder of landscaping ideas, of insects both invasive and benign, another folder of herbal history and uses, one on companion planting and miscellaneous garden ideas. March is a great time to look through them all, but the down-side is that in March, having had enough of winter-ish days, it seems quite possible to actually implement all of those wonderful ideas in the folders. Ah -- the illusions created by time and distance; how quickly the brain discards memory of humidity, heat, mosquitoes and arthritic joints! ☺ Memory can be very subjective. Sometimes it is a small thing that will trigger some very big memories. For “Doughnut Day” before Lent began, we made raised doughnuts from my grandfather’s recipe. And it brought back a flood of memories. When my grandmother developed Parkinson’s Disease Grandpa took over the family food preparation. So my oatmeal cookie and doughnut recipes are from him although they may well have been Grandma’s initially. Grandpa was a blacksmith, so taking on the tasks of keeping a home working had to have been difficult although of their six children, most were grown and out of the house by this time. When I think back and consider the situation, I am impressed by the fortitude and skill that he must have developed. Grandpa lived with us for a few months toward the end of his life. He didn’t talk a lot, but I did know that he looked forward to my practice time on the piano --- and some of the old hymns that I could both play and sing. It takes real love to sit through endless scales and etudes by a 12-year-old. And that is really my best memory ---- of Grandpa sitting in a rocking chair, with his eyes closed, just listening. Speaking of memories, I’m supposed to be summoning up impressions of my days at Victor Central School. Elementary school was not, I think, a super- happy experience although I don’t think it was terrible. I do remember that my first day in kindergarten, some little girl that I didn’t know, threatened to de-stuff my teddy bear. I don’t remember actually liking school a lot until I arrived at Mrs. Tallman’s sixth grade class. She was so creative and kind a teacher! Then junior hi and high school, with the exception of occasional teen angst, was mostly enjoyable. There were some excellent teachers. Maurice Comings gave me occasional glimmers of light in my fog around algebra; his sense of humor and patience worked wonders. Mrs. Dunn made a dead language rather fun; we all had Roman names while in class and wrote notes to each other in Latin. Helen Schantz was, I think, a way better teacher than we all realized; she probably should have been teaching at college level. Her sense of humor, her affection for her students and her ability to make sense of Shakespeare, Beowulf, etc. was amazing. Carl Palumbo terrified all of us but inside that disciplinarian was a kind and caring man. When I decided to not take Math 12, he said, “OH Good!” ---- then we both laughed. My two most fun memories of him were a) hearing him sing “Hear Those Lions Roar” at a Lion’s Club event and b) telling him, lots of years later, that I was administering a half-million dollar budget. He said: “Well, I always knew you could do it.” Our physics teacher, Mr. Strait, obviously kept track of what his students were doing for he wisely wrote in my yearbook that “there are many fish in the sea!” He was right! Also, I got an “A” in college physics due to his excellent instruction in high school. I’ve already mentioned our stellar music department in a previous essay. These teachers were such talented, caring individuals. An immediate smile comes when I remember the basket ball games --- the major sport for our school at that time --- sitting behind the players as they discussed their next moves, and watching Coach Lynaugh chew his towel. There were no competitive women’s sports, but we had good Intramural basket ball teams with Mrs. Pop. And there were the school dances --- a Sadie Hawkins dance around Halloween, a Junior Prom in the spring and a Senior Ball in December. Everyone in the high school was welcome at these events. There were after-the-prom parties in someone’s garage, or living room to extend the fun of the evening. I am a bit appalled at the expense and sophistication encompassing today’s school proms; the limos, rented tuxedos, very expensive gowns and dinners at restaurants of fine dining. I think we encourage adult behavior way too soon, but perhaps that’s my small, lingering core of minimalist (and some conservative parental) thinking. And the extravagant fuss may simply be due to parents wishing to relive their prom times! The music festivals and All-State recitals for those in the music programs were both scary and fun. It was intimidating to have one’s musical skills exhibited before other talented teens and experienced judges. I still remember how shocked I was when a boy from another school beat me out for first chair flute in an all-state orchestra. But these events were maturing experiences both for our musical growth and getting to know our fellow-students on the bus rides to and from. On normal school days, our lunch times offered some freedom; I learned to play poker (and have now totally forgotten how), there was a month or two when some of us formed the Hall Campfire Girls (not part of the actual organization); a fun and chatty group sitting around on the floor sans campfire. The senior play was another opportunity to build relationships and learn a new side of ourselves as well as others. Regents Week always brought less formal schedules, more casual clothing and considerable sitting on the school lawn, for those often steamy test-taking days. During those years, we were very self-centered; we babbled more than we listened to each other. We wore a lot of masks to impress and were unsure of who we were and what we wanted out of life. Now, we find it good to listen to how our friends and former friends are living their lives; what keeps them happy and alive to the world around. Jean de La Bruyere said that: “The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.”* We also share sadness as we think of those classmates we’ve lost. They leave a hole in our lives that remains a hole. Bags of memories are mixed bags for sure. On a subject other than my memories, one of the bloggers that I read quite often mentioned how quickly, in our culture, days become a blur: “I think that the reason the current of your days is slipping by you unnoticed is because there’s a current that runs even deeper that escapes your attention too. I’m talking about your thoughts, your aspirations, your intentions……..if you aren’t a curator of your mindset, you’re missing a huge opportunity to drench yourself in gratitude, empower yourself with abundance and create the life you really want.” ** I think she is saying that no day should fly or drift by; time is so precious. This has been my Lenten thought too. Instead of giving something up, make a special effort to be aware of the small wonderful things; taking intentional note of each day. I used to occasionally experience driving to work and not remembering an entire stretch of highway between Van Etten and Odessa. I’m sure anyone driving the same route every day has done this on occasion. It is a little frightening wondering, where was my conscious mind? So I’m trying not to do that ---- not just while driving ---- but in living. I don’t want to blank out on anything. Meanwhile, this week is SO very nice outside. A friend saw, locally, a blue heron. They don’t come until their bird brains tell them that spring is about to be with us. The green spears of spring bulbs are up an inch or so. The snow drops and winter aconite are blooming as are two crocuses with purple petals. I hope your March is also a time of early spring, good reminiscing and new adventures. ***************************************************************************************** Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Jean de La Bruyere --- 17th century French writer and philosopher. 1645-1696. **Gretchen Rubin --- American writer, blogger and speaker. She is best known for her book on Happiness.
  5. Is It Really Spring??

    Sign outside a local church: “It takes three Springs to make a Leap!” ---- a clever observation since the 29th (Leap Year Day) is Saturday, and February ends! I am definitely one of those optimistic people who prefer to think, when we get a mild winter day that it is a harbinger of spring ----even though I know better! There was one year, back in the 1980s when spring did actually come at the end of February. So I keep hoping……………☺….that it will happen again. And I look forward to March because even though winter generally blasts us a few times more, March allows us to think spring with some hope. And Daylight Savings Time begins! Amazingly, I have some of my garden orders in. Usually, I procrastinate until nearly time to dig the garden --- and then I find that too many things I’ve pined for have sold out. So this year I decided to be efficient and early ---- and nothing at all was out of stock in February. That means I will have my pots overflowing with Parma violets, heliotrope and can plant my own hanging basket of fuchsias which will bloom longer than those forced to bloom for Mother’s Day. And----- although I can’t order this commodity ---- I’m hoping for oodles of energy this summer along with the seed packets and potted plants. Another task that I’ve finally faced is the sorting and storage of piles of fabric. I have a little tile that says: “She who dies with the most fabric, WINS!” That isn’t quite as amusing as it was 30 years ago, so I’ve decided to see what fabrics others could use. Of course there are some pieces that I simply can’t give up. Fabric, to me, is much like art. I enjoy just looking at the design and feeling the texture. And if I were to give it all away, it would mean that a) I had given up on sewing completely and b) a month later, I’d probably need just the things I had given away. So I still will have a stash --- but a much smaller one, no longer spilling from the shelves in the toy room. I do have another collection that keeps growing. Since our local NPR has given up classical and other music, I’ve collected CDs to fill my listening hours. Of course, for participation, there is the church choir. Life gets even better when the sextet in which I sing, begins actively rehearsing. Spencer Singers has been part of our lives since 1980. We’ve harmonized together here at the Grange, in the Spokane Opera House, on several stages for concerts, in nursing homes for residents, at family funerals and one wedding. Now that five out of the six of us are in our sixties and seventies, we do have some troubles with voice issues ---- frequent “frogs” in the throat and sinus drainage tend to create some interesting vocal sounds – or sometimes no sound at all. It’s disconcerting to open one’s mouth and have no sound emerge except an off-tune squeak or raspy croak. Then too, we find ourselves shorter of breath than we’d like, so that staggered breathing has become a reality. But we still have a very good time and my spirits are always lifted when we make music together. We happen to reside in a small rural community with much musical talent. (Actually we have a fairly high number of artists of all kinds!) We have among us, a composer who creates praise choruses for our church, and also has done some wonderful things for locally-written musicales --- “Chicks ‘n’ Pits”, “A Whale of a Tale” and “The Fairy Tale” to name a few. There have been, over the years, several different singing groups available. Always there are instrumental musicians who will gather to play for something special, and our church organist (and baritone in Spencer Singers) is among the very best. The S-VE school music programs are stellar. So we are blessed! I think back to my high school music opportunities; we had a couple of very fine teachers --- Betty Kocher for the orchestra and Kathy Hanlon for vocal music. They made learning about music fun even while they expected quality performance. Just the bus rides to All-State and other music festivals were worth all that practice time. There was a lot of laughter, singing and camaraderie. Our instrumental trio of oboe, clarinet and flute was great fun too even though we were only famous locally. Research provides evidence that kids who participate in music learn other things better too and that music is closely related to math skills (who knew???). Perhaps, as this awareness percolates down through our culture, more parents will feel encouraged to initiate kids’ participation in some kind of musical discipline. It is one of those learning experiences that can benefit one for a life time. Lent, which began yesterday is another indication that the season is changing. Ash Wednesday heralds a time (for some) of quiet contemplation before the joys of Easter. Our community churches offer ecumenical services every Wednesday for this period. The Tuesday just past is designated “Doughnut/Pancake Day,” “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras”. For those who followed the church calendar, it would be the last day for indulging in meat and other goodies. Lent was a time of sacrifice and austerity. Today fewer people pay attention to this practice but there is still some conversation around what one might be “giving up for Lent”. I simply find the days of Lent to be a positive reminder to be less busy and more thoughtful of the world within me and around me ---- more grateful for all the things that come together in my life. And on that note of gratitude ---- I just got formal notice of my 60th high school class reunion, coming up in June. Sixty Years!!!That sounds as though I ---and my classmates ---- must be creaky with age. A combination of medical advances, exercise like Bone-Builders, a change in cultural expectations and a determination to enjoy life have combined to save us from being too immobile or set in our ancient ways. If any of us were asked, it would be clear that even at our advanced ages, we are wondering what to wear; still hoping to look our best when meeting our former classmates, but at the same time, age has given us the wisdom to be more concerned with what people are doing to stay interested and happy than in how anyone looks. One of the questions on the registration form is:”What do you remember about school in Victor?” My memories are varied, vivid and swirl around as though in a kaleidoscope. Organizing them into thoughts and words will take some mulling! It is lovely that this event will also coincide with the annual Alumni banquet. I haven’t gone to one of those since I graduated in 1960. I hope it is well-attended; I think it will be fun to catch up with those who went to VCS other than those in my class. I’m truly looking forward to all the possibilities in the next few months; increased bird song, daffodils, Easter, reunions and picnics. Nor am I the only creature who is thinking early spring. The tom turkeys wandering through our back yard and, always optimistic, are showing off already. Three of them (might turkeys have Three Musketeers?) stood together fanning their tails and puffing out all of their many bronze, green, blue and tan feathers. Meanwhile, the lady-hens who are supposed to be impressed ignored them completely and kept right on pecking away at the sunflower seeds. There also have been flocks of black birds on our lawn and on the quickly-vanishing suet blocks. They too are early heralds of spring. As February wanes, there is something about the light, as it slants toward the Vernal Equinox. I find it hard to describe; there’s a shimmer and glow that isn’t there during the cold months. Aristotle* said: “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” It may be difficult to put into words, but there’s a feeling and an occasional glimpse of something different; something magic ---- and we know that life is stirring toward spring. The peepers will emerge from the masses of eggs, the skunk cabbage will poke up from the chilly mud beside streams and bird songs will expand and grow. And all of this will happen suddenly. “Get ready; a Light is about to go off. See and experience all its luminosity.”** Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Aristotle –Greek scholar and philosopher during the Classical Period. Was a student of Plato. Developed western thinking. **Alexandra Stoddard- American --- Author of eleven books. Home decorator and life-style guru.
  6. Happy Valentine’s Day!!! St. Valentine assuredly had no idea of how his generosity and integrity would morph into the sentimental holiday that helps to support card companies, candy-makers, restaurants and lingerie sales. It might have cheered him in his prison cell had he been able to look into a crystal ball to the future ---- or not. Valentine was a 3d-century clergyman --- probably a bishop. He ministered to persecuted Christians, and fell afoul of the Roman political powers. He was imprisoned and wrote notes from his prison cell signed, “Your Valentine”. And he was executed on February 14th, 269 AD in Rome.* He had Agape love for people in general, not Eros or romantic love, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Anything that spreads any kind of real love in this contentious world is a very good thing. So send those chocolates, the red satin hearts, the frilly camisole or a sunshine lamp. Go out to dinner and enjoy. Even better, extend your concern to those not in your immediate circle; feeding the hungry, comforting the sad and praying for the world. Celebrate the bishop who did what bishops are supposed to do ---- LOVE the people around them. February is nearly half over although there is one more day in the month than usual. Leap Year, which supposedly balances the calendar every four years, has always held the strange lore that women may step out of their constricted roles and ask someone to marry them on February 29th. In the comic strip, Lil Abner** Sadie Hawkins Day was held (I think) during Leap Year ---- a race whereby Daisy Mae always chased Lil Abner. Usually he escaped the bonds of matrimony by running faster and more deviously. This is probably totally irrelevant today; most women no longer feel that their roles are constricted, and they will ask whomever they choose to ask whatever. There seems to be a lot more honesty and openness in gender roles, though there is still a long way to go, especially in the areas of people’s minds that remain biased toward the idea that women – and men --- can only appropriately function in certain prescribed slots. I’m not sure why there is so much negative humor around marriage. For years, jokes have indicated that men would be happier were they not “caught” and that women spend all of their time trying to catch a man ala Lil Abner. (My personal opinion, in hindsight, is that both men and women should probably learn to experience life on their own before taking on a relationship, but that isn’t always how events go.) It is true that real scientific studies show that both men and women are happier with life in general if they eventually have loving, caring partners with whom they can share the good and bad times. Statistically, it is better for one’s health. This may not be true for everyone, but certainly for most of those answering the surveys. Perhaps the negative humor speaks to all of the unhappy or dull marriages that exist because people jump into a relationship too soon, without thinking things through and then feel trapped. Life, with the wrong person across the breakfast table, can be stultifying indeed. Marriage maintenance can be likened to cars, tractors or homes. A multitude of things can go wrong with our vehicles and not paying attention will eventually mess up the performance and life span of a car. In our houses, if the roof leaks, the structural frame will eventually collapse. This is also true of relationships. If a marriage is sullied by inattention, selfishness, disrespect or neglect, it too may well fall apart leaving shattered dreams and sad people. I will insert here that some marriages, made in haste or for reasons that seem good at the time, but aren’t, probably should be dissolved. When there is chronic infidelity, abuse or total estrangement in terms of life-goals, that marriage becomes a mockery of the real thing. But I also think many couples don’t try hard enough to make their wedding vows real. As one of my favorite quotations puts it: “You know Bendigo, it is the easiest thing in the world to forget a man’s/woman’s responsibilities, chuck it all and go following some red wagon……..but the world isn’t built around people who do what they want to do at the time, regardless of who gets hurt. It is built by people who do what they should do.” *** It may be a difficult concept for some, but love, in addition to feelings, is actually a decision to be made. Feelings can be chancy, transient, and unreliable ---- emotions of the moment. A decision to honor, cherish and care for has a staying quality that stands against the world and all its difficulties. I’ve mentioned before that Kerm and I were active, lots of years ago, in National Marriage Encounter. It was an inter-faith organization that addressed many of the issues that can be found in any marriage. This program surely isn’t a cure-all but it did emphasize four things: 1) A way of communication that works for both, 2) Transparency and honesty about one’s feelings, 3) Finding a strong spiritual life together and 4) Taking an occasional inventory. Perhaps a good way to judge how well a marriage is working is to ask the question: “How much quality time do you spend with the person you supposedly care about the most?” We learned more about ourselves and each other by participating in this group --- and also made some fine friends ----- the affirming and supporting kind. Speaking of relationships, February is full of family birthdays. The special days for two daughters-in-law, one granddaughter, a nephew-in-law, a cousin and a friend all fall into this short month. There used to be more; my sister and her husband both had February birthdays as did my father-in-law. But those individuals are no longer with us, and we can only think wistfully of how we celebrated with them at one time. I often wonder about people who don’t bother to make their birthdays special. Do they not believe they are worth celebrating? If people don’t value themselves enough to be glad they were born, then---- hmmm ---- I believe they need to work on attitude and self-care. Celebrating is neither prideful nor indulgent; it speaks gratitude! Even when we were grown-up adults my mother (as long as she could and as long as we were in the vicinity) asked us what kind of cake we’d like ---- and baked it. I always chose a yellow sponge cake with mandarin orange-pudding filling. Our birthdays were usually family gatherings; not glitzy or expensive. We did make an exception in the area of glitz for my mother’s 80th birthday. She was born on December 25th, and so for years, was short-changed in celebrating. On her 80th birthday we scheduled a party a day or two later than Christmas, in a fine restaurant’s party room. After that, we made sure she had a party for every birthday, often with the whole clan. Life gets busy and many of us have trouble finding time and thought for maintenance. It is easy to take the people in our lives for granted. Life is comfortable and surely they know how we feel about them. Maybe not! Life today is such that it erodes nearly everyone’s self-confidence. Feeling special --- feeling that one makes a difference --- is rare, so any occasion that helps a person feel worthy and loved is good. A birthday shouldn’t be ignored or forgotten. It is at least worth a magnificent cookie or a bouquet of field daisies if not an entire brass band. Send birthday greetings; send valentines; let people know they are special to you. And for your own birthday, buy a few balloons, dance around the room and take some time to think about why you should be glad you are alive. L’Chiam!! Meanwhile, the winter moves on toward the season of Lent, then in three weeks Daylight Savings Time, and, on March 20th, the vernal equinox. Regardless of that pampered “Phil” the ground hog, spring will come in its usual time. I think the foot of snow that arrived last Friday and the messy weather this week was proof that winter has not loosened its grip. It was kind of nice to have a real snow day; we had no reason to go out and we could spend the day watching the snow come down as we cozily sat inside, reading a good book. Well, inside except for refilling the feeders three times! Even now though, there are some seasonal changes that --- if one looks ---- can be seen. The light lasts longer each day. On mild days, the cats are unusually playful --- making leaps onto window screens and pouncing on any leaf that moves. Those owl eggs have undoubtedly hatched and small owlets are snuggled in the nest, bills open wide as they badger their parents with: “bring more mice and hurry up!” Maple sap has begun running through the lengths of pipes and into the vats for boiling down into our favorite syrup. In sheltered places, the ground ivy is green. And though it is a tad early for turkey families, we have an optimistic tom turkey with his harem of hens feeding in our back yard. In spite of icy precipitation, may everyone find this morning a little brighter than usual and may each of us get a little candy heart tomorrow that says: I LUV U!! So much happening --- no time for mid-February gloom! Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *- Information found in Wikipedia resource. **- Lil Abner --- comic strip created by Al Capp, American cartoonist and humorist best known for his comic strip, Lil Abner. ***- Bendigo Shafter by Louis L’Amour
  7. School Days And Thereafter

    Oh the state of our back lawn!! The numerous big winds have scattered a carpet of twigs and branches everywhere. One cannot walk --- even in the snow cover --- without either catching a toe in or dragging along branches underfoot. Spring cleanup should be exercise indeed! We will be able to either build a brush-pile refuge for small creatures or have a magnificent bon fire. One more day of January and we step into February, the month of valentines, presidential birthdays, family birthdays and it is Leap Year. Our youngest granddaughter turned thirteen a few days ago. I created a book for her about growing up --- as I did for her older sister a few years ago. I used my own memories, thoughts and the cartoons of people more talented than I in cartooning. Having been a kid, I know that it feels impossible to imagine that an adult has ever felt some of the same emotions a young person feels. It is hard to envision someone with gray hair ever being a child! I hope the little book will emphasize the common humanity of all ages and specifically some of the things to remember in the midst of teenage-dom. Thinking of young people brings me to thinking of schools. There are always discussions, especially in small communities, about what and how our schools are doing. Partly that is because in New York State rural areas, we vote on school budgets and everyone is concerned about how their money is used, but it is also that the local schools are an integral part of a community; families know each other, keep track of each other’s kids and generally know the teachers. I occasionally got a phone call at work regarding one of our offspring;“….um – do you allow _______ to be on the roof?” A school and school activities are central to a small town. Neighborly scrutiny in small communities can be both annoying and wonderful, but mostly the latter. Our sons experienced three different school systems; we moved three times during their El-Hi years. We tried to be aware and active parents in all of those schools; Mifflinburg, PA, Livingston Manor, NY and Spencer-VanEtten. In times of discouragement, Kerm and I briefly considered several educational alternatives, none of which were readily available or practical for us. We amused ourselves by creating our own school on paper, with the teachers we’d like to hire. It didn’t occur to us to try home-schooling. At that time it wasn’t anything we knew much about and I would have felt neither competent nor sure of my own patience and disposition. I had no trouble teaching the kids to batik or make candles, but I’m afraid I’d have been a total loss at geometry or chemistry (as my bio-chem. college roommate could attest). Now --- in my advanced age, I can see the relationship between life and some of those subjects I used to reject, and I’d make a way better teacher currently, years after the need. The boys had both good and hard times during their school years ----- some great teachers and some not so wonderful ---- as all kids do, and have gone on to manage well in careers that they, for the most part, like. I do think their younger years could have been happier and more productive if we had been able to educate them a bit more creatively. Our granddaughters seem to be benefitting from home-schooling. Both began in the public school and did very well there; their home-schooling came rather by accident due to family circumstances. But it worked so well that first year that they have made the decision each year to continue. If a student has the self-discipline to study and do research on their own, and the parents have the patience and enthusiasm to search out opportunities (and not to shelter one’s children from the world), home-schooling is golden. I can’t help but believe that while all this emphasis on STEM subjects is fine (maybe even crucial) for our changing world, there are some other things that should not be neglected. One is history ---- a broad view of history, not the memorization of dates for the Wars of Roses or the dynasties of China, but a clear understanding of what led to what else. What honestly happened during the time of each nation’s imperialism? What combination of events and disagreements actually caused our Civil War? What global decisions brought WWII so soon after WWI? What economic woes have brought us to our current turmoil? What is the difference between communism and socialism? What does our Constitution really say? We should honestly admit both our horrendous mistakes and rejoice in our wonderful accomplishments. Covering up anything has far worse results than coping with the truth. History should be presented as a long, long road emerging from the mists of time with stories all along the way, and the closer they get to our own times the more relevant the stories. It’s tough to feel deeply about the centuries ago invasion of Rome by the Goths, but it can be quite emotionally jarring to comprehend that only 100 years ago women were actually allowed to be citizens of this country, when given the ability to vote. If we lose the truth about our history, we have lost who we are and continue to make the same tragic decisions that have always led to misery and corruption. We very probably should be teaching our kids to change the patterns of our culture instead of urging them to fit into it. We simply cannot protect our children from all ills if we also want them to be good and caring citizens. They can’t always “fit in” and while that may be occasionally painful, it is a good thing! Which leads me to my main thought here; graduations, diplomas and degrees should not be considered ends to our education. Life in its entirety is a learning experience, and there are so many ways to continue learning; free seminars, free and low-cost classes via BOCES or other adult education programs, personal reading, discussion groups, videos and movies. Opportunities are available if one is not entrenched in one’s own opinions and if one really desires to learn. “Learning is a name superior to beauty; learning is better than hidden treasure. Learning is a companion on a journey to a strange country; learning is strength inexhaustible.” The Hitopadesa* Winter is probably our hands-on learning experience in patience. As January ends, it still seems a very long way until blooming flowers and sunshine. A friend on Face Book posts beautiful pictures of flowers and they always brighten my day (and add to my gardening list!). But even in bleak mid-winter, there is a sign of encouragement; the owls are nesting! Even though I haven’t seen them, I know this to be true from my reading about owls. Just visualizing owls sitting on eggs during our snow storms, their fluffy feathers keeping the chicks warm inside the shells, is a hopeful and cheering thought. Meanwhile, for us, each day brings new opportunities in spite of slush storms (like that of last Saturday) and temperatures dropping like a stone (last night). There are always people to whom we can be kind and there are beautiful things to see outside via flora and fauna even now. Looking out from my window, I’m observing a squirrel nearly standing on his head, tail flipping around to keep him balanced, so that he can dredge out sunflower seeds from beneath a bird bath support. And over his head, paying him no mind, are blue jays, juncos and cardinals, getting breakfast from the seeds on the bird feeder. Always ---- there is something to catch the eye and to learn about the day. For example, I now know that wild creatures do not like old grapefruits or dried oranges any better than I do. So I’ll be picking those back up and sending them to the compost heap. Who knew??? ☹ And we need to keep open hearts for what speaks to us inside when we are very quiet. There is endless value to finding a peaceful time for thinking. “I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, This is what I believe. Finished!’ What I believe is alive….and open to growth.” Madeleine L’Engle** Thinking leads to learning which then leads to growth as a person. Winter offers plenty of time for squirrel-watching, listening and thinking. So farewell to January and welcome February! And onward to interesting days ahead. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *-The Hitopadesa is a book by Narayan Pandit; widely read and loved for over 1000 years. It is an anthology of folk wisdom offering humorous and profound reflections. **-Madeleine L’Engle -- an American author, writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 1918-2007.
  8. Calm Amidst The Storm

    January is, so far, keeping us in a rather mild pattern of weather. I hope this doesn’t mean blizzards in February and March. Those of us who have gardens (or farms) do need some snow cover in winter for a good growing year though. Snow used to be called the poor man’s manure; it carried nutrients along with it as it covered the fields with white. I’m not sure anymore just what snow carries; probably some things not so nutritious like radiation and toxins from industry but the ground still can use the moisture and whatever minerals come along for the ride. Our Christmas decorations are all put away in the storage tubs --- well, except for the ones here and there that I just didn’t “see” when packing. It is amazing how I can look straight at something and it doesn’t register at all! There are now two shoeboxes full of the left-behinds: several glittering stars, one lamb, a llama, 3 golden birds and a handful of silver stars on bendable wire, etc. I purposely left the glass snowflakes in the picture window though; they are so pretty when the sun shines through them. I now have a new surge of energy for rearranging things a bit; bringing a fresh look to our rooms. One of our Christmas gifts was lovely collage framed photographs of our family, with our travels in Maine as background. This gift does mean relocating some things already on the walls (Kerm just refuses to build me more walls…☺ ). Not only does it remind us of ocean spray and fresh air, but there are the faces of those we love. So hanging this oddly-shaped frame is probably where I will begin my rearranging. Then there is the toy room, which is really no longer necessary in quite its present form. It was initially supposed to be my sewing room. Then with grandchildren and other small visitors it morphed into a toy room. The small children are growing up and I’m not sewing all that much. It may become a library ----a small room full of books and comfort with some good lamps and the necessary toys and craft materials remaining in baskets. I saw something like this on a Besotted Bookworm post and was enchanted. We shall see what emerges! The beginning of this lovely new year has been full of not-so-lovely news; dreadful fires, rumors of war, a spike in two strains of the flu and really annoying political scrambling. I try to write these essays in a way that provides some uplift for our spirits (mine included) and reminders that the world is full of wonders as well as woe. But occasionally --- I just have to shake out issues as though they were dirty rugs, when I feel overcome by their state of being. Lately I have run into a troublesome “I’m certainly better than those others” attitude although it is seldom phrased quite so honestly. Now before I tear anyone’s castle apart, I must admit to harboring an occasional “superior” judgmental thought within the disarray of my mind. It pops out especially when I hear people choosing to metaphorically press their hands to their ears, opting for comfort over compassion; refusing to be informed out of their biases. But I do try to squelch it in me as much as I can for I know it isn’t something in which I should be indulging, and possibly(?) some of my opinions may be equally as difficult for others to swallow. However, in today’s world, this nose-in-the-air condition is something that seems to have spread and blossomed like a bad weed. I’m sure elitism has always been part of humanity (in fact I wrote a spoof on it, years ago, during one of the school board races) but we shouldn’t be letting snobbery become acceptable. Our family backgrounds, while important and interesting to us as individuals, should not be something we boast about. Nor should our degree from Harvard, Cornell or Yale raise goose-bumps on anyone’s arms but our own. There will be no stars in our crown because our families are members of the DAR, came over on the Mayflower, are well-to-do, literate and have a PhD beside names. How we do the work that is provided us, how we treat people around us, how we discern with clarity and compassion the world around us; basically how we love, is what is crucial in becoming a real person ----ala The Velveteen Rabbit* (not to mention the Bible). It would be such a good beginning to 2020 --- and to our own growth --- if we could look deep inside and uproot thoughts that we are better than the rest of the population out there because of education, wealth or general enlightenment ---- or any other reason our egos can dredge up for looking downward with disdain. And this brings me to another subject related to “better than”. With all the discord over immigration, I thought I’d check back a little into our history. To quote one writer, Louis L’Amour** “The United States had been settled to a great degree by the economic failures of Europe, albeit the ones with courage enough to attempt a change. The wealthy and satisfied do not migrate; they stagnate. Even those who offered religion as a reason for migration were also those who were impoverished. Many Puritans and Quakers remained in England, but they were those who had much to lose and little to gain {by emigrating}. It was the peasants, the lower middle class and a few adventurers or impoverished noblemen who settled America.” It is certainly something to ponder as we consider the knotty question of immigration. If we look back, we will see clearly that every time there was a large influx of people from another country to our shores, prejudice and fear set in. The newcomers, every single time, were banned from stores, refused jobs and wholly discriminated against for a generation and certainly you’d never let your daughter marry one!!; the Irish, the Welsh, the Italians, the Poles, the Chinese, etc. Of course we, as a nation, should have immigration policies --- but ones made in fairness and compassion, not those made in fear and bitterness. Arrogance and elitism are never pretty qualities no matter how cosmetically enhanced. Winter’s chill along with the nightly helping of bad news, is sometimes hard to endure; it seems forever until we hear the spring peepers. SAD affects so many people that sunlight lamps should probably be sold in every pharmacy. One of the easier suggestions I’ve heard, to help increase happiness levels, is making a Happiness Jar. I’ve mentioned this in the past, I think. Putting one or more slips of paper into a jar each day with something for which we are grateful or a moment that has made us happy changes one’s perspective amazingly. It is a reminder that while life is not always just how we’d like it to be, being alive is still good --- and wonderful ---- and full of small bits of happiness no matter how dour the day otherwise. A poster I saw said: “There is always, always something for which to be grateful!” Reading from the jar at the end of the year would be a fine way to celebrate that small bits of happiness outweigh the down times. A moment that made me laugh this week was due to one of the cats. There is an outside shelf under one window looking into our dining/TV room where the cats sit and seem to enjoy watching TV – probably the lights and moving colors. I was sitting behind a desk at another window with no shelf (and no TV on). I looked up to see one of our cats sitting a foot or two away looking in at me with a “what are you doing there?” kind of look. And after a few moments, he stretched his paw out and tapped the window with a very clear request ---- “Could you please put a shelf under this window too?” I think that’s not going to happen but I was amused at the very easily-read feline request. They are also good at facial expressions that clearly say, “Feed us!!” or “We need petting!” I think all that worry about applying human emotions to creatures is just silly. Of course animals have emotions – (some more than others; I’m thinking maybe snakes may not feel too deeply!) and many creatures manage to be very expressive. There is an old country saying: “Days lengthen and cold strengthens.” I am quite happy to see more light at the end of each day but I expect that we have plenty of winter ahead of us; it’s the nature of the beast in this region. As Hal Borland*** says, “Now comes the long haul up the cold slope between now and April.” There is plenty of time for crackling fires, cocoa, making snow angels and snuggling in with a good book. But in the midst of that, may there also be time for making things better in our own small ways. Being a little less arbitrary with our thoughts and a bit more aware of possibilities for new ideas ---- even change ---- is a good way to go forward in this fine mint-new year. *The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams --- a novel for children but full of wisdom for adults too. **Louis L’Amour. Quotation found in Westward the Tide. American novelist and short-story writer. 1908-1988. ***Hal Borland --- American writer, naturalist, journalist. 1900-1978. For you former D&D players, today is Appreciate a Dragon Day ---- noted from the Burdett Presbyterian newsletter.
  9. Pandora's Box And Hope

    We are in the second day of this new year and I find that 2020 is much easier to type than 2019. January 1st always makes it seem as though we have a clean, unblemished calendar ahead. Too bad we can’t as easily clean the slate of old feelings of bitterness, grief, dislike and prejudice and never let them affect the clean pages of our lives. We could then replace them with feelings of enthusiasm, fairness, inner peace and compassion and consideration for all. Perhaps the ultimate in New Year’s resolutions! Christmas was lovely. Our granddaughters were here for Christmas morning and then the rest of the family gathered on Boxing Day (Dec. 26th) for dinner. It wasn’t snowy, which was probably a slight downer for kids. I’m sure Santa doesn’t care whether he uses runners or wheels on his sleigh, but I remember being disappointed at no snow when I was younger and more agile. Now I am grateful for the mild weather that made shopping, and venturing out for tasks easier. I notice that my viewpoint changes along with my ease in movement or lack thereof. New Year’s Eve was also low-key, as it usually is for us. I think the last time we felt compelled to go out was when our sons had a party at our house with their friends. Their Risk or D&D games tended to be loud, so we decided that finding another place to spend the evening would be kinder to our ears. As I recall, we tried to go out for dinner but ended up at Purity Ice Cream. Without reservations there isn’t a lot open on New Year’s Eve. So currently an evening at home in front of the fire, with a cup of hot chocolate seems more attractive than the glitz and clamor of any New Year’s Eve party. In fact I wonder what draws all those people streaming into New York City to watch a sparkly ball drop at midnight. Hmmmm………….???? Beginning a new year — a new decade even —brings me to a place where I’m once again contemplating where my life is going. I know myself, and I know that making the usual sort of resolution is futile. But I can make a list of things I’d like to consider; that might make a difference. It is very easy to lounge in a comfortable rut of doing what we’ve always done which probably leads to stodginess and arrested development. My feeling is that no matter what our age, we are each here for a purpose and the details of that purpose may shift in some way. We need to be alert for those changes in call and aware of our daily lives. Too, our brain health requires the challenges of fresh ideas and activities. I’m not planning to begin any new career at this point, although as I think back, my mother, when she was my age, was very actively turning out painted items for her Early American Decorating Guild, gardening and taking in at least one of our sons for the summer. I must admit that now, at seventy-seven, I am less energetic than she was at seventy-seven. But regardless of actual vim and vigor, I think that we must be open to new choices for using our time if we are to continue learning more about ourselves and deepening.* It is a difficult world out there; a world that needs our help in its healing. In these times of crisis, I have often heard it said that we need to return to old values; to bring back times when things did not seem to be in chaos; when life was more predictable. I guess it depends on what values one is wishing back. I think that once Pandora’s Box of Changes is opened, it becomes impossible to go backward. All kinds of things pop out of that box — good, evil, and questionable possibilities. The final thing that always comes out of the box, according to legend, is HOPE. That, for humanity, is fortunate. There is very little worse than despair. Using that “hope” wisely might mean assessing our “values” to determine what is truly valuable and what is simply keeping us in our comfort zone. Many people wish to return to a time when ignorance seemed to be bliss; when there was no TV or internet to keep us over-informed; when we didn’t know about wars in other parts of the world or slavery or what our diamonds cost in human lives. When I feel a nostalgic pull toward my mostly crisis-free childhood, I am well aware that my situation was not the norm even then for many, many people. I was just not aware of the poverty, the injustices, the discrimination and the well-hidden moral degradation forced upon many. Things have not changed really; it is just that much of the evil and corruption is more visible and depending on who indulges in it, more acceptable. Ignorance may be bliss for those of us who lived in its shelter but it doesn’t do much to repair a world that spins on its wobbly way to possible disaster. I am reminded of a poster that I own; a quotation of Gandhi**: The Seven Deadly Social Sins: Politics without principle — Wealth without work —- Commerce without morality —- Pleasure without conscience —- Education without character —- Science without humanity —- Worship without sacrifice.” In short, to make the world a better place, we have to begin with ourselves, actually living out and then sharing our visions. And our comfort zone may be collateral damage It is good perhaps that we have January and February weather to slow us down a bit. Winter can be a restorative time with less calling us outside and fewer activities creating that rushed feeling. We can think in peace and maybe perceive with more clarity. Snow and even a cold rain seem to muffle the noise and frenzy of the world. Being outside is calming to the mind. Check out the tiny tracks of field mice, the pronounced hoof-print of a hungry deer looking for sustenance amid your hostas. And if you are at all interested in how nature copes with winter, it is also a fine time to see where birds snuggle in at night and where chipmunks and squirrels find refuge. It is less pleasant, but part of survival, to note a hawk swooping in to grab a dove off the feeder and how, in that moment, there is no movement from any other birds; they freeze in place. Disney movies are fine fare for entertainment, but children need to know, to an extent, the reality of natural life and being outside in the fresh air is good just in itself. It’s good for adults too! There is something about the negative ions in moist cold air that actually helps us feel hopeful. The mind and body need a time of slowing down. In that way we restore our energies and maybe even see more honestly. As January ushers us into a new decade I expect that my hopeful lists will meet with some conflicts. Annoying interruptions will happen. My firm belief though, is that interruptions are often more important than our original plans. People are far more valuable than polishing the silver or cleaning the laundry. Nan Fairbrother,*** author of The House In The Country says: Most of anyone’s life is a preoccupation with urgent inessentials. If we divide our affairs into what matters for a day or a season or the rest of our lives, it is the long-term fundamentals we give the least time to, and put off till tomorrow’s tomorrow. We are more concerned with the pressing than the important……” Over a year, my list of homely little tasks may be relatively valueless, but I will polish like precious stones the candle-lit time with friends, the conversations on the phone with family and the times some of us gather together to sing. None of us can really predict how a year will go, but we can do our best to meet its challenges with courage and patience, and try to spread happiness instead of gloom. And just perhaps we can be sure hope and caring stay alive within us and take precedence over our busy bustling. I wish you a 2020 that showers you with blessings and peace! Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Deepening is a process described in A Swiftly Turning Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. We have a choice to deepen or not; to mature or not; to become more — or less. **Gandhi — Indian statesman who, via non-violent protest, brought India to independence. ***Nan Fairbrother –English writer and lecturer on landscaping and land use. 1913-1971.
  10. The turkeys are back!! About two dozen are now scratching up all the vegetation below the bird feeders. Crisp leaves rustle like taffeta under their feet. Young turkeys in the dog pen provide some wild entertainment when Freckles decides he must go out. The birds race round and round, forgetting they can fly, and then suddenly they remember and soar over the fence with pounding wings and squawks of protest. Then we let the dog off his leash and he barks after them. As the leaves continue to reluctantly fall, the catalogs have been pouring into our mail box; pages and pages full of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas decorations and gift ideas. My mind boggles at the plethora of STUFF ----- I am amazed that anyone would spend money on some of these items. But then I remind myself that taste is surely subjective and what’s attractive, humorous or meaningful to one may not be equally so to another; I do not have a franchise on what is appropriate in décor, lawn ornaments or possessions. Recently, we had visitors from Uganda --- a pastor and his wife --- and suddenly I looked at our house as they might see it. I was struck by the thought that they could well find all my stuff over-the-top too much in the spiritual value system that we share. Everyone’s culture is as different as everyone’s taste. Rethinking our living conditions and our possessions is probably a useful activity now and then. It’s so easy to accumulate, collect, and amass thoughtlessly. Anyone who has visited our home knows that I’m definitely not a minimalist (you can all stop laughing now!). Each corner, the walls and all the shelves are full. I surround myself with items that are meaningful to me or beautiful in my eyes, from shells and stones to cut glass and silver tea pots. I like French provincial chairs and velvet pillows, homespun blankets and brass warming pans. But I can also appreciate homes that are quite different; I admire the sleek glass and steel rooms with splashy Georgia O’Keefe paintings and luxurious fur throws. I like the classic Arts and Crafts designs; Roycroft and Stickley. Then there’s the Adirondack-style décor all pine cones and Pendleton blankets. If I could decorate houses for a living, I’d be on cloud nine until my energy ran out. On the other end, I probably would live in a wilderness cabin quite happily if I had my own pillow and tea cup. I guess my point is that no one should feel a need to copy anyone else’s style – in homes, clothes or living. We are each unique and, hopefully, are able to embrace that. Alexandra Stoddard says: “Let the light that shines brightly inside you become the energy that guides the energy of your home.” * Now when any of my family lift their eyebrows at the multiplicity of my things ---- I’ll just respond that everything from the china and glass to the stacks of books, provide energy for my days------ but that I’m also trying to hold my possessions lightly. In another three days, it will be Halloween. (And in thirteen days I hope you and all your friends, relatives and neighbors will be out to vote!!) We’ve harvested our few pumpkins for the steps and brought out the broom corn. These signs of autumn will remain until after Thanksgiving. My small concession to actual Halloween decorating, are three orange pails with cut-out faces, through which candles shine, and we do usually carve a pumpkin or two. I forgo the skeletons, ghouls, bats and spiders. They are a bit macabre for my taste. Halloween began as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). This was a harvest celebration and the beginning of the Celtic New Year, but also a time when it was thought that spirits could come back; to vent their displeasure on those they felt had wronged them in this life. The lighted pumpkins and gourds were carried to protect individuals from the unhappy spirits. Bon fires were set in and around villages to make more light for said protection. Samhain became our Halloween due to Pope Gregory the First. In 601 AD, Gregory ordered the missionaries of the Christian church: stop trying to stamp out the pagan customs and holidays. Instead, adapt the times already customary for celebration and rename them to fit the Christian faith. So --- Samhain became All-Saint’s Eve, All Saints Day, and colloquially Halloween. When I was a teenager, we went trick or treating for UNICEF. Our sons seldom went out unless they were visiting someone who did. However, we had several Halloween parties at home, where we and assorted friends constructed mazes, bobbed for apples, did skits and dressed in costumes. Back when I sewed more, I made Super Man, Bat Man and other heroic costumes that after Halloween, became pajamas or went into the dress-up box. Our house in the Catskills was a marvelous site for Halloween parties. It had a split-level attic, the upper part of which was all gabled. We set up mazes there with recorded ghostly music and props like cooked spaghetti and peeled grapes. It was great fun. Currently, since we live back from the road and away from the village, we seldom get any little voices calling: “trick or treat”. However I find that it is sufficiently good to consider the All-Saints aspect of October 31st and November 1st. Enough of my family and friends have gone beyond earth’s tether that I like remembering and celebrating them. One of my current autumn activities is making potpourri – of two or three sorts. My favorite happens to be a basil, sage and marigold combination. This wouldn’t appeal to everyone --- including the men in my family who think that herbs are generally stinky. But that pungent aroma brings back all the greenness and robustness of summer vegetable gardens. I put phlox flowers and alyssum into another mix, creating a comfort-giving scent that triggers thoughts of warm conversations around my mother’s table accompanied by cocoa and molasses cookies. Diane Ackerman**, a local, but internationally-known writer, speaks at some length about fragrances and our sense of smell, in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. Diane is a biologist, professor and poet; a woman of many interests. This is what she says about our sense of smell: “Smells spur memories, but they also rouse our dozy senses, pamper and indulge us, help define our self-image, stir the cauldron of our seductiveness, warn us of danger, lead us into temptation, fan our religious fervor, accompany us to heaven, wed us to fashion, steep us in luxury.” And she goes on to discuss perfumes, plants, animals and humans ---- our olfactory capabilities ----- and tells us what happens when the sense of smell leaves us --- we lose our sense of taste among other difficulties. Odors are often hard to describe, but we can conjure them up in our memories if we concentrate. Helen Keller*** said: “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” I’m not fond of most commercial potpourris and some perfumes actually give me a head ache. But my home-made potpourri keeps me happy all through the long, NYS winters. Because Halloween is imminent, I conclude with this poem by Harry Behn**** to bring back your Halloween memories. “Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky, when elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen. Tonight is the night when leaves make a sound like a gnome in his home under the ground, when spooks and trolls creep out of holes mossy and green. Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through sheaves and leaves everywhere, when ghoul and ghost and goblin host dance ‘round their queen. It’s Halloween!” I hope this carries blessings and fragrant breezes wafting across your life this October time. Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________ *-Alexandra Stoddard—American writer and life-style guru. **-Diane Ackerman – American writer, essayist, biologist and poet; born 1948, resides in Ithaca, NY. ***-Helen Keller – American author, activist, lecturer; first person to achieve a BA degree who was both blind and deaf. Quote from “The World I Live In”. ****- Harry Behn – American screen writer; 1898-1973
  11. Resting Between The Notes

    It is always amazing how quickly weather can turn from humid, hot summer days to cooler autumn weather --- and how quickly the leaves become colorful once they begin. After days of temperatures in the nineties, I suddenly needed a wood fire for a chilly morning. And now we are in the throes of a yoyo seasonal change; rain, mild, chilly, foggy, occasional sun, clouds, hurricanes. October is probably my favorite month of the year, although if we have drenching rains or early snow, I may have to reconsider. But October can be sunny and glorious with the pungent aroma of drying leaves and wonderful, crisp morning air. It’s a good season for pumpkins, decorative corn and bunches of drying herbs. My sons would say, if they were here, that the laundry is stinky right now, but I rather like the fragrances from basil, sage, and sweet Annie co-mingled as they hang from the old-fashioned dryer on the wall. The summer months have been full of family gatherings, dinners with friends, birthday celebrations and we’ve enjoyed those far-away friends who came to spend some time in the Finger Lakes. I think we all have tried to pack as many good times as possible into the season, knowing that NYS weather could, at any moment, throw a sleety tantrum and thwart our outdoor reveling. Rachel Peden said about cooler weather: “This is the chill that advises you to discard those plans for things you were going to do this summer and get a good start, now, on what you planned to accomplish last winter.” * Summer enjoyment is understandable, but I think one of our culture’s perennial problems is that we all continue to overload our days, year-round. Kerm and I were given a good movie to watch way back in the spring, and by mid-September, when its owners came to visit, we still hadn’t watched it. This is partly because we tend not to sit long enough to watch a whole movie, but it’s also because our over-done brains don’t stop buzzing long enough for us to indulge in recreation for recreation’s sake. We are really expert at filling the calendar with good and useful things, but very poor at finding fun ways to renew our spirits. And we start our children on the same path when we overload them with activities. In the midst of the luxurious Roman Empire, Ovid** said: “Take a rest. The field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” I don’t think Ovid meant only our nightly sleep. I think he meant that we really need to find refreshment and renewal during our waking hours. Farming is a good example. Some farmers use and reuse their fields, putting on high-powered fertilizers to grow high-powered corn or grain, year after year. Eventually, the soil becomes exhausted; lifeless! It may seem less efficient, but the land prospers when crops are rotated and the soil is given times of rest. So do we humans need whatever it is our souls crave: music, painting, gardening, spiritual retreats, martial arts, dancing, creating beautiful things, reading or simply times of quiet reflection------ activities that have no part in the daily must-dos. I find that as I age, I need more quiet transition time too. I can no longer come in from gardening and race right into cookie-baking. I can’t return home from an event and immediately involve myself in another equally busy activity. I need to sit between things and re-center myself. Once centered, I make fewer mistakes. It isn’t necessarily that I am so physically tired; it is more of a mental need for space between engagements of my brain. Music needs rests to be the kind of music to which we enjoy listening; my brain increasingly needs whole-note rests instead of eighth-note rests. Watching summer birds diminish and a very chubby woodchuck stuffing himself with apples, I am reminded that, especially in the fall, we humans have a major impact on the fauna around us. As summer transitions into autumn, some wild life will go into hibernation; some will be in and out of deep sleep and others will switch to their winter mode of survival. Around here we often see turtles migrating to their ponds and in doing so, crossing roads. I’m not sure why they find road-crossing a necessity, but when they do, they become a hazard, to themselves and to human drivers. I just learned, if we are unfortunate enough to hit a turtle, it need not be fatal. A cracked shell can be fixed. Last week, a friend hit one --- was devastated because she had done so ---- and picked it up, bleeding, taking it to a vet close by. The vet was quite matter-of-fact in saying that Oh yes, she could mend the turtle and quite easily. *** In autumn, we need to be extra careful as we drive, and not just for turtles. Deer are beginning to mate now and are running blindly hither and yon, other creatures are trying to get ready for whatever they do over the winter. With more and more people building on natural habitats or --- around here --- logging them off, animals are often found in our paths, our gardens, and ----speaking of bears---- on our gazebo steps. We do need to remember that creatures were here first, cut them a little slack and try not to be the cause of injury or death; instead, do our best to live in détente. There is an energy that comes with cooler weather; we all find ourselves getting ready for the long winter in some way. Whether you fall -house-clean, complete all your gardening chores, squeeze in a late vacation or pull out your flannel shirts and wooly socks ---- take deep breaths of October while it is here!! Soak in the sunshine! Here is the last canto of “A Vagabond Song” to remind us to enjoy all the wonder of fall: “There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; we must rise and follow her when from ever hill of flame, she calls and calls each vagabond by name.” **** Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. *-Rachel Peden --- American writer who wrote farm columns for the Indianapolis Star and the Muncie Evening Press. This quotation came from her book: Speak To the Earth. 1901-1975 **-Ovid ---Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. Born 43 BC. ***In an effort to be helpful, we should also be careful. Our compassion should not endanger ourselves. Some turtles are snappers, and can bit off a human finger with no trouble at all. And when hitting a deer, it’s probably not really safe to jump out, hold the deer’s head on our laps in our grief (as one good and compassionate friend did). Slowing down on the roads and paying attention might actually lessen some of our co-existence issues. ****A Vagabond Song by Bliss Carman (the last segment). Bliss Carman was a Canadian poet who spent most of his life in the U.S. In his later years he was Canada’s Poet Laureate.
  12. As September fades into October, we’ve finished many outside tasks, though there are quite a few remaining undone. Those left-over things may begin my “To Do” list for 2019 (it’s good to have goals! ). There are gardeners who create cold frames and mulch their vegetables to extend the season. I did this myself once or twice. But at this stage in my life, I prefer to spend November and December with garden plans and seed catalogs inside the house. October allows me a short extension in which to plant some bulbs, a few perennials, and pull some weeds. However, the end of the gardening season is nigh. September has been challenging. I mentioned at the end of August that my sister, Betty, was in Hospice. She died the very day after sending that article out. While I feel a recurring emptiness at losing my sister, I am glad that she will no longer be in pain or be frustrated by growing weaker and less able. Betty was twelve years older than I ---- quite a gap when you are a kid. I remember her taking me to school once; I was probably three. I think I was her “show and tell” for her high-school classmates. After high school and RBI, when she was working, she bought me things that were probably outside the family budget at the time --- a white eyelet dress for a third or fourth-grade play and patent leather shoes for Easter. However, we didn’t become really well-acquainted as adults or close that generational gap until about three decades ago. We had lived miles apart so our contact was basically on holidays, with a few letters and cards here and there. When I came back to the Finger Lakes, it was easier for us to spend more time together. Betty was a very private person who didn’t open up easily. She liked good jazz, books, books and more books, and until she sold her home a few years ago, she had amazing gardens. She sewed when necessary, made yummy red raspberry and pecan pies and, when I was first married, gave me her recipe for one-egg white cake. She loved family gatherings, was generous with her home and her time in addition to enduring four sons who were motor cycle enthusiasts (she was not!!). Betty’s passing leaves me with no siblings. It is strange to now be the eldest of the family, but a situation to be expected, I guess, when one starts out so much the youngest. Fortunately, I have warm friends and wonderful nieces and nephews who will partially fill that relationship hole, though I suppose it never will be filled it in quite the same way. In addition to Betty’s sons, the whole clan, scattered as they are, will miss this woman who quietly provided good counsel, a welcoming house, cared deeply for family and made us all glad that she was one of us. Speaking of death is uncomfortable for many, but quite a few of us (writer and readers) are of the age when death becomes an unbidden intruder popping in and out of our thoughts. And for every person on this earth, of any age, it is not IF, but WHEN. In the event that one does not believe in any sort of life after death, I can understand the reluctance to think about it. But for those whose hearts and intuition are convinced that we simply move into another phase of life, we can look death squarely in the face ---- not perhaps with gladness ---- but certainly with a calm assurance that we will still be who we are. Two of the books that I’ve read recently treat death with humor and imagination, making the conversation a bit easier. They are Fannie Flagg’s “Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven” and “I Still Dream Of You.” They are not theological treatises but delightful and fantastic stories about people; imaginative stories about the hereafter. Here in the Spencer area, we’ve just experienced some seminars that dealt with issues around both aging and death, beginning with a “Death Café” and progressing to legal issues, palliative care and funerals. Participating has been both freeing and informative, and there were goodies to ease the conversation. We have two grandchildren, and having grandchildren makes one think --- of many things ---- one of them being how to talk of difficult issues like violence, war and death; how to explain a world that is far from their experience but is as close as the next newscast. Explaining death is easier than finding words for the hatred, anger and gnashing of teeth that are quite visible no matter what TV channel one watches. These are hard to justify to a clear-eyed child who lives in a loving family and a caring community. I think that even we adults have trouble comprehending it if we have always lived in a secure world, unexposed to violence, war, injustice or indoctrination. World and local situations now make us both fearful and irate, but at the same time, we haven’t a clue what to do with our fear or anger. We have been taught to stifle it, ignore it ---- neither of which works, long-term. Holding in distress makes us feel helpless, which makes us even angrier, and puts us in a place where we are apt to follow anyone who appears like a Superman or Wonder Woman. One of the fun things I remember receiving from an older friend was a “Dammit Doll”. I’ve seen them since in catalogs, but at the time I thought they were her personal invention. There’s a certain charm in having a sturdy stuffed doll that one can beat against the table as a venting tool. Most angry individuals are currently venting on other people. There seems to be no one cause for this viral, negative energy. It is coming from all sides, and ranges from persnickety discontent, to malice, to frothing at the mouth, to flaming, fanatical rage. It is scary because when rage takes over the mind, there’s no room left for thought. We’ve seen this in mass shootings, in road rage incidents, in individuals attacking other individuals over some small slight, of virulent postings on social media and in the thoughtless, spoken words of people in positions of authority, who should be more responsible and certainly more articulate. It is as though everyone’s mental filters have become dysfunctional. I’m not sure what the solution is --- perhaps there is no one solution. And admittedly, there are many things in this world to incite anger. But we need to learn how to channel that anger constructively. A few possibilities are: 1) anger-management classes, from first grade on up; practice in putting anger to work and solving problems in non-violent ways. Anger takes energy and surely that energy could be re-directed into something useful, 2) responsible examples from people in positions of leadership, 3) Remembering that “A soft answer turneth away wrath”,* and 4) ----- Hey ---- maybe making and sharing more “Dammit Dolls”!! Learning how to manage, express and use our anger constructively will surely lead to less fear, more empathy and clearer thinking. One of the things that brings happiness and keeps me balanced is staying in frequent contact with family and friends (often they are the same☺). Recently we had a family party here; we barbecued chicken, people brought food, and we spent a fine afternoon chatting, looking at old family photos and catching up on each other’s lives. The house rang with laughter. That filled up my happiness jar for several days. We can choose our attitudes; we have the option every day to choose calmness and beauty as our daily bread instead of allowing negativity to be our soup du jour. As September exits, I wish you days of good hours, enough quiet time for pondering, an inner feeling of completeness and ease and, no matter what your circumstances, a vision of all the things that bring you joy and peace. *The Book of Proverbs from The Bible
  13. We aren’t quite into actual autumn, but we are definitely into a fall schedule again; choir rehearsal, committees, etc. The golden rod along the roadsides and the vegetable gardens are beginning to look a little tired too. The light mists of August have turned into very foggy September mornings. The birds are flocking for their trek south, cutting down on the seed we use, until the winter birds return. Our porch is nearing its finish. The construction process has triggered “house stories”. The first day our contractor came (he has worked on this house often and knows its idiosyncrasies) he sighed deeply and jacked one corner of the porch floor up because it was way lower there than the other three corners. He couldn’t change the concrete base, but was able to make the ceiling almost level and he will make the floor level over the concrete. We are quite used to the amusing, if frustrating, quirks of this old house, and are fortunate to have made the acquaintance of several people who lived here in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, who can tell us the whys and wherefores. This particular structure came to life in the mid-to-late 1800s, with one room over a dug-out, stone-walled basement. It was a tenant house for what used to be the large farm next door. Over the decades, other rooms were added. The living room, with bedrooms above turned it into a 2-story edifice. Possibly the bathroom, beneath the stairs, was added soon thereafter. Then a shed was bolted onto the back of the house and a concrete floor poured. We’ve been told that the day was very hot, and that the individuals attaching the shed were cooling themselves with vodka ---- frequently. Becoming impatient, they put the shed on the slab before one corner was entirely dry. Thus when we moved in, one could roll a marble from anyplace in the room to that one corner. We have since corrected the floor, but the room has interesting ceiling lines. We learned from a lady who lived here in the 1930s and early 1940s that down the road, in the acreage now known as Cornell’s Arnot Forest, there was a prison camp during WWII. The people who lived here got to know some of the guards, and the guards then came on weekends for home-cooked food, music and a bit of partying. We’ve tried to carry on that tradition of good times and an open house. Bob Benson wrote a book that he entitled “Laughter In The Walls” and I think there’s that in our walls too. During our tenure, we have added a back entrance with a laundry room (where I type these essays), another bedroom, a second bath, several gardens and probably way too many trees. One of our sons remarked that our additions make the house look rather meandering. Well, some houses are built all at once; have simple and congenial bones and classical lines. Others, like ours, are put together rather like Frankenstein, in bits and pieces, often from other structures. That’s how old farm houses evolved, additions as the need arose. It is good to remember that “a home is not for other people; it is for every day and it is for you.” * If it is filled with love, enjoyment of life and one’s own precious things, it is sufficient. If the walls in our house could talk as well as laugh, they would have many an anecdote to share. Our current dining room was a multi-purpose game room when our sons were home, so there might be echoes of kittens, dogs, “Risk” battles as well as numerous forays into the fantasy world of “Dungeons and Dragons”. In its current life, the walls would report on re-runs of Mash, share diverse conversations from dinner-times with friends, and reflect all the sparkle, glow and good cheer of 12th Night parties. Besides the memory of many a good tete-a-tete, the living room would probably spill piano, flute and vocal music from its corners and crannies. There’s been many a Spencer Singers rehearsal around our piano, and there was both piano and flute practicing a few years ago. Even now, when our granddaughters are here, the piano gets a little workout. This room is also where I play CDs, listen to NPR and drink a cup of tea while sitting in a pillowed corner of our very seasoned couch with a good book. The kitchen would send out the aromatic bouquets of lasagna, soups, ginger cookies, chocolate torte and popcorn. There might be a trace scent of my experiments with lentils, daylily buds, milkweed pods, tofu and carob. There would also be wispy remnants of canning steam due to years of preserving tomatoes, peaches, pears, relish and jellies. Certainly there’d be a breath or two of my cough syrup (termed witch’s brew by a son); a combination of white pine needles, cherry bark, red clover and honey. And thanks to those same boys, there also might be a lingering whiff of motor oil left from the occasional carburetor in the sink. The bedrooms would resound with grunts of Orcs, wisdom of Ents and adventures of Hobbits since the last stories I read to our middle-school sons (before they outgrew being read to) were from the Tolkien Trilogy. And there might be a few terse complaints about enduring shiny stars on the ceiling, brilliant blue paint on the walls, having to absorb music by Van Halen and “The Boss”, and putting up with loud voices at all hours. They’d emit sighs over boys who came in very late at night and left their smelly socks around before collapsing in deep slumber. And they might speak highly of the many good friends, over the years, whose fate it was to sleep in those beds. It is fun to remember the situations and happenings. Every home has stories; they are our ---- and your ---- personal kernels of history. And speaking of stories, when several of us in the same twenty-five-year age span get together, we are all too apt to find ourselves sharing tales about our doctors, complaining about being awake at 2 AM, and expressing our irritations at whatever it is that ails us. While I think we probably should find other topics of conversation, I also feel that it is good to be comfortable in talking, at any age, about what is going on in our lives. We can very often help each other along. I saw a pertinent comment recently (no idea where it came from): “We are all a little broken. But the last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.” In other words, it’s good to be honest about life’s troubles with those we can trust to care. But at the same time, we must never feel diminished because we aren’t who we were, or don’t meet our own standards of perfection. Whether it is depression, chronic sleeplessness, difficulty in getting around, being unable to polka around the room or drive a car anymore, those things are not who we are. Disabilities are annoying, but they have no impact on how valuable we can be to our friends, family and the world around us. When things begin to make us feel that we are not enough --- perhaps we need to recite this old Scottish prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!” Those monsters can be negative thoughts and skewed perceptions that prey on our minds just as much as the night mares to which the poem refers. Now that we are in September, it is really important to take notice of the natural world around us before flying snow flurries blot out our landscapes. September, October and November can be the most beautiful time of the year with crisper, less humid air and the many scents of autumn. “The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown; the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down……..from dewy lanes at morning the grapes sweet odors rise; at noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies. By all these lovely tokens, September days are here, with summers best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”** I wish for you all the beauty of fall to temper your hard days, to fill you with appreciation of the world around and to just give you peace and energy for the months to come. *-Alexandra Stoddard – American home-decorator and life-style philosopher. **-a few verses from “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson. 1830-1885. American poet and activist for better treatment of Native Americans. Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.
  14. Does anyone remember that funny musical theme for the “Hee-Haw” show? A group of us who sing together, adapted it a bit for a 4-H leaders’ program, and had such a good time. This a fine example of changing one’s attitude; gloom and despair vanish as laughter takes over. Of course there is much today that is so overwhelmingly painful and abysmal, that laughter seems almost an insensitive thing to promote. But without humor, we would find life dull and colorless. The Bible tells us that “a merry heart doeth good, like medicine” and Horace suggests: “Mingle some brief folly with your wisdom.” We need humor to dilute, just a bit, all of the frustration, grief and sadness. Earlier in August we were fortunate to visit with family from afar. Several stayed with us for a few days and, as Lewis Carroll’s poem** suggests: “we talked of many things ….of shoes--- and ships--- and sealing wax --- and cabbages --- and kings ---- and why the sea is boiling hot ---- and whether pigs have wings.”* We rejoiced in our grandchildren, shared how we deal with problems of aging, spoke of what a frightful world it often is and how weary we get of intentional stupidity and lack of concern. We admitted to each other that some days staying in bed seems a great escape. We also, in our reminiscing, found laughter and new energy for moving ahead. I have, on occasion, been impacted by depression. And because autumn has sometimes been a difficult season, I try to think ahead. Experience and a good therapist have, together, given me some coping mechanisms, for usually it is my perspective that needs to change, not the situations. The human brain is a marvelous creation that has, so far, managed to keep doctors, scientists and philosophers from understanding how it works. We need far more research into mental ailments of all kinds, including depression, which negatively affects so many people. We also need to stop fearing and treating those who suffer from it, as pariahs. Admitting the problem and finding treatment shows far more wisdom and results in better health, than living in denial. As a lay person, I’ve observed at least four sorts of depression. There is serious and deep depression usually requiring medication and some in-patient treatment. There’s the Eeyore kind, where one is always sort of depressed and looks at life through perennially dark glasses. This person thinks of the glass as not only half-empty but wonders why bother to fill it at all; it’ll just get empty again. Then there is situational depression; caused by long-term stress, deep trauma, or the death of someone we cherish. And then the kind I have experienced: chronic depression ---- it happens more than once, it comes for no discernible reason and, thankfully, eventually goes. Of course we all have the occasional bad days; when the world seems too much; when one feels like saying along with Sir Walter A. Raleigh***: “I wish I loved the Human Race; I wish I loved its silly face; I wish I liked the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; And when I’m introduced to one, I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!” For this I just turn off the news and have a cup of tea! Doctors blame depression on many things, from chemical/hormonal imbalances to diet to emotional trauma. But the therapist who worked with me admitted, when I asked, that doctors really don’t know; they make assumptions and try medications and therapy to address those assumptions. What works for one person may not work for another. So I’ve developed my own “first aid kit” to address times when depression seems to be sneaking into my life. It is so important to be alert. Depression can creep in “on little cat feet” as Carl Sandburg aptly refers to fog --- and suddenly, the mind is foggy. When putting one’s head beneath the pillow seems the only choice, or there’s a daily “who cares?” attitude, it is time to pull out the “kit” before the depressive virus rages on. Addressing treatment early is crucial. These assists have, in my recent history, helped me to escape the clutches of any long-term attacks of gloom and despair: Get outside more often. Walking in a quiet, leafy place is super good medicine. Even trudging through snow banks helps. And along with fresh air --- enough exercise to get the blood flowing and the joints and muscles working together. It sometimes takes incredible effort to get outside, but I always feel better. Because I’m a reader, I go to the bookcase and look until a book jumps out at me (metaphorically speaking) and find it is just what I need. Some people view this as slightly absurd ---- but it works for me. I read the Psalms (middle of the Bible). If David managed all those horrendous problems, surely I can trust that same help in facing what is making me unhappy. I put on good music more often. Music changes the patterns in the brain and reduces jangling from the outside world. And even better if I can sing with friends. I try to be more patient with myself and eliminate time pressures. The world will continue to turn even if I say “No”, astounding as that seems. ☺ Depending on the depth of the depression, getting out with people, or helping someone else may diminish the darkness, especially if there is laughter, caring and a sense that what one does makes a difference. If the depression continues unabated for many days, it is probably time to visit a therapist or get a doctor’s referral. Talking with someone who is neutral and trained to listen is the greatest of help. Medication is my last resort, although sometimes it can be quite necessary. I didn’t care for the rather numbed feelings that came with an SSRI. But that’s my reaction; not everyone would experience the same thing. It is important to remember that depression can become a fatal disease if left untreated. I do take some OTC supplements that seem to help. Being without a current therapist, due to retirement, I ask myself, “What would ____ suggest?” Having seen two or three therapists over the years, the last one being the best, I can quite imagine him saying, “Have you considered……. Or how did you feel..........?” “And about those to-do lists…” This expands my thinking. Probably the most useful thing is to try to look at the situation with different eyes; a changed perspective. We are quick to label something “good” or “bad” without assessing the up and down sides of the issue. This is why some of us like to move the furniture occasionally; it gives us a new view of the same old things. If we can repurpose and reframe household goods, surely we can re-view and re-frame life. Now making a cosmic jump to a happier subject, our 54th wedding anniversary is approaching. We were married Labor Day weekend, two months after I graduated from college. And having the wedding that weekend meant Kerm’s early departure from the NYS Fair, which was, of course, traumatic. A Cooperative Extension agent just doesn’t leave a Fair in the middle! I think the Fair survived, but…………. When we think back, and are reminded of this event by family and friends who made the most of their prankish propensities, it doesn’t seem so long ago. And it always brings a smile to our faces when we recall that memorable time. During difficult days, it is helpful to remember that while we may not live in total happiness with every circumstance, we are meant to live in real joy as a whole. “The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!”**** Take JOY! *Horace – Roman lyric poet, satirist and critic; wrote while Augustus was emperor. **Lewis Carroll –1832-1898. English writer, mathematician, Anglican Deacon, photographer. Lewis Carroll was a pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Verses came from “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass. ***Sir Walter A. Raleigh – Trinidad-born Nobel laureate. Writer of precise and lyrical language. Personally brittle and a misanthrope (which the quote suggests). ****Fra Giovanni –1433-1515. Italian friar, architect, archaeologist and classical scholar.
  15. ‘Tis one day after my birthday and though I can’t say that I actually feel more aged, the calendar doesn’t lie about linear time. Fortunately, linear time (chronos) isn’t the only kind of time; there’s another sort (kairos) that swoops, swirls and flows over and under linear time in sort of a paisley pattern. It is where our memories, dreams and possibilities take us. It is how time seems to fly when we are busy and having a good time, but drags in times of waiting or boredom. It is how we can meet a friend we haven’t seen for 50 years and pick up a conversation as though it were yesterday. If you question this, check out the recent 60-Minutes documentary on the Hubble Space probe. The probe is going back in time and finding “ago” still there. This must be why I find it so easy to remember my junior prom but forget where I put my glasses. It was a bit daunting to realize, at our family picnic a couple of weeks ago, that we are now the elders of the tribe --- at least at that event. One niece commented that I sort of straddle two generations since I am so much younger than my siblings --- but ---the awareness of generations passing was very vivid. Those swirls of time that I mentioned above explain why being an elder comes as such a shock; inside I feel that I am who I am and I don’t necessarily fit a category of age or much else, and that’s true of people around me too. It was interesting to see how others are dealing with the issues that come with finding one’s self in one’s fifties, sixties or seventies. For some, there is observable depression involved (which I will address in another essay) but for others, there is a sense of, “Yes, my knees hurt and I may need surgery, but isn’t life an adventure?”! One’s personal perspective and attitude is the key to feeling good about life. We felt great about life when, a couple of weeks ago, we were catching up with former colleagues who worked with 4-H, and are now “retired”. As we’ve always known, people who retire from Cooperative Extension simply go on doing all sorts of things that are helpful to the world in general; they just don’t get paid for it anymore. And of course, they also participate in activities that keep them growing and interested; bird-study, gardening, traveling, mentoring, writing, etc. I am always inspired by the experiences that people share at this event. A few are older than I and still zipping along and that definitely gives me hope and confidence for the future. One can look at the outside person and see difficulty in moving, shaky hands, slower words, perhaps a cane ---- but the smile and bright interest tell us that the inside person continues to be vibrant and interested, and houses a spirit as young as always. Retired Extension people subscribe to this thought: “Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.” JRR Tolkien* Spencer Picnic began yesterday. This is a combination carnival and Old Home Days; a four-day event, with a parade, music in the park, food, talent contest, rides and the usual “Miss and Mister Spencer Picnic” competition. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun shone that first day. Kerm spent last night helping in the food booth ---- not at the grill, thankfully. Anyone who works the grill comes home saturated, even dripping, in grease; clothes, beard, eyebrows! I really do very little with this event, for while I am supportive, I must admit that my actual time there is brief. Crowds are no longer my thing--- if they ever were. But I do manage to put together a gift basket to support our local foundation, Inspire. A very energetic person then wraps all the donated baskets in festive cellophane and ribbon, and they are raffled off to earn monies for scholarships, services for the older population and programs for kids. It is fun to gather stuff for my “Home and Garden” basket; I can shop with a clear conscience since it is for a good cause, and I’m not personally accumulating more stuff. Photo from Spencer Picnic Facebook page Most small communities plan occasions to encourage identity and connection; Spencer Picnic, Owego’s Strawberry Festival, the Candor Fireman’s Carnival, etc. While these events take a huge amount of work, the results usually bring forth a camaraderie that lasts at least until the next election. I find the upside of living in a small town outweighs the downside immensely. We’ve seen again and again how caring people can be. Most recently, Kerm’s truck died at the end of the driveway, and partly into the ditch. He was on his way to a meeting so he simply came back up the driveway and took the car. A friend called to tell me the truck was slightly in the way of her lane of traffic and we might want to do something before dark. A neighbor called later to offer his truck, knowing that there would be Food Pantry deliveries to be done later in the week. I think we all try as we can, without being too intrusive, to keep track of each other, be there in times of need and hold each other in prayers. Of course there will be occasional gossip, judgmental comments and sometimes even bitter divisions about community issues. But in a crisis, these things are put aside and the good in people shines. Those who live without this neighborly element in their lives are missing something wonderful. As summer dwindles, we try to pack in all the things we envisioned doing when summer began, like exploring more of our beautiful Finger Lakes region. Last summer, along with friends, we did a two-day trip to Skaneateles. This year, these same friends have spoken of doing a trip to Mumford to see Genesee Village and maybe take an Erie Canal boat ride. But we’d like to also do some exploring on our own ---- finding some of the hidden and delightful waterfalls we haven’t seen or the cottage shops that abound. And of course, there are all of the more mundane late summer jobs that need doing; pruning the shrubbery (our holly will soon be taking over the sidewalk), continuing to harvest the prolific cucumbers, canning tomatoes and juice and digging up the foundation plants around our porch. We will be making some changes in the porch that will, we hope, give us as well as our friends, easier access to our front door. As arms and legs refuse to remain flexible and strong, we need a little more help from our porch steps and railings. Time may be our friend or our foe, but we can’t escape the need to work with it. Speaking of aging and time, we were recently sent a humorous and delightful song about being on the “green side of the grass”. It was a song full of chuckles and also one to inspire a little thought and gratitude. Many thanks to Gretta who sent it our way! No good comes from bewailing the diminishing of our bodies. Perhaps being less physical will give us more time to work on our spirits which, over the busy years, we’ve undoubtedly, neglected. “It is the best sign of a great nature, that it opens a foreground, and, like the breath of morning landscapes, invites us onward.” Emerson** *JRR Tolkien –British philologist, poet & author, university professor, known for Lord of the Rings trilogy. 1892-1973 **Ralph Waldo Emerson – American philosopher, essayist and poet. 1803-1882 Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.