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Carol Bossard

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Carol Bossard last won the day on February 25

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  1. Easter parades are over; a total solar eclipse before us. Birds are returning. I heard, in late February, that a friend had seen two bears, locally, and another friend mentioned the return of her bluebirds. The bluebirds were a welcome sign, but we hoped the bears would stay away until May. However, one or two have already come by, briefly, and so we will soon be moving the big seed cans into our storage shed. This means some inconvenience for me --- up our hilly lawn and around to the back of the out-building. But the exercise is probably a good thing and certainly better than allowing an ursine sunflower seed orgy on our sidewalk. Hopefully, those early bluebirds will find enough buggy food to satisfy their spring optimism. Do you know what a vernal pool is? In the woods on our farm, there were little pools that held water only for the spring season. By mid-summer they had dried up. But for a little while, they glimmered and rippled like tiny lakes, surrounded by mossy stones, and inhabited,just briefly, by tiny frogs, darting water insects and,maybe,possibly, wood faeries. They reflected carpets of violets and starry bloodroot blossoms. And on a nearby slope, in slightly drier terrain, there was a hillside of white trilliums. These 3-lobed trumpets must line the path leading to Heaven, they are so beautiful. In a slightly different terrain,the sandy soil in my brother’s woods (only 3 miles away) we used to find creeping arbutus, a delicate pink flower with a lovely fragrance. Vernal pools, opening wild flowers and a variety of mosses, all greening my little portion of earth. As lawns lose their winter brown, and the trees show the beginnings of leaves, it is good to just get outside. Andy Morris,* a regional poet, says this about the spring of the year in an aging world: “Kneeling down to feel the fresh green grass, I found, lying just beneath it, white as bone, a ghost of grass from a summer past, long since mown I held in my hand like so much paper, or even less than that, a milky vapor. And I thought of how age gives way to youth. And how truth is but the mulch for further truth. And I thought of how my life is but ashes, little more than a fading blade of grass. But when I looked again upon the scene, and remembered what I felt when at first, I knelt, and took the time to celebrate the green.” Celebrating the small bits of new life brightens my day. The seasons of fall and winter, and realization of aging may dim our spirits briefly, but we are restored by the whole, panoramic view of increasing “green”. “Green” is now what we all try to be in an attempt to be environmentally wise. We try to use products that do not pollute land, sea or air. Traditionally, spring cleaning has its own season. This endeavor, in the 1800s and early 1900s, involved rug-beating, scrubbing brushes, pails and pails of water, sometimes lye and white wash (and no latex gloves!). It was a labor-intensive series of tasks that truly was an actual “season”. Little House on the Prairie books give a couple of vivid house-cleaning scenarios. For them, it involved taking the old straw out of mattresses and replacing it with new straw, dragging the rugs outside to be beaten, and washing (with home-made soap) anything washable in the house. My only memory of anything resembling this, was when the inside of our dairy barn was swept down, hosed down and whitewashed, in the spring, after the cows had been let out to pasture. Today, vacuum cleaners, rug-shampooers, Swiffers and a whole array of cleaning products make house-cleaning all year ‘round a much easier process (though often quite polluting), and there is little need anymore, to tear up the entire residence. I think home-makers today may well wish to lift a glass of whatever to the new robotic cleaners, power washers and wipeable paints that make life so much easier --- and, if we are alert, safer too. As I thought about the tradition of spring cleaning, I was also reminded of other traditions with which I grew up. Sitting around a table for daily meals or for tea time is one custom that seems to be dwindling. TV trays, frozen dinners, and conflicting schedules have made meals less of a gathering-together event and more of a fast-food way of survival. We may be feeding our bodies, but are doing less in the way of nourishing our souls and connecting ourselves with family and friends. We did fairly well with sitting at table while our boys were home and in school but then college and summer jobs saw us sitting together less and less often. Now, Kerm and I do eat together but while watching the nightly news. Talk about inviting indigestion!! I have good memories of sitting around several tables. When we went home to visit, our first activity, after dropping our suitcases near the stairs,was to sit around my mother’s kitchen table for a cup of tea and molasses cookies. The table was placed before a large window with a bird feeder attached to the sill, looking out on a flower garden and a pond. So, there were plenty of beautiful things to watch and to encourage conversation. It was like taking a deep breath and relaxing for the allotted time of our visit. Then, at my brother’s house, the front door opened straight into the dining room. We shed shoes, and claimed a chair around the large dining table. We had cups of our favorite tea accompanied by considerable conversation and laughter as the stories flowed with who was doing what. There was a merry tale of a salad that was the “last straw” for Bob (not one for creative or odd foods) when he found a plastic curtain ring therein. There was the time I requested a wonderful potato soup recipe --- discovering that it was originally mine, but totally forgotten. Other family members often dropped in. As we talked, hands were busily doing bead work, blankets were being knitted, and one patient person was creating a needlepoint pillow cover. Coming home and being around a table was a mini-vacation from daily reality and created a sense of forever belonging. When we visited at Kerm’s home it was much the same feeling. I have old photographs of family sitting around the table at holiday time. The round table, pulled out, with leaves added, was laden with good food and filled the small dining room. Smiling faces indicated that we were in good company. Besides meals at that table, there were also riotous times of playing Monopoly or triple-deck pinochle, instigated by Kerm’s grandmother. Then the kitchen table was where we had delectable pancakes for breakfast and where we caught up with Kerm’s mother and what was going on in her life and the neighborhood. What we prideful, independent humans do not always realize is how much we need each other. Some of us mingle more reluctantly than others; we are introverts who find our peace in solitude and quiet. But even introverts need the company of others for healthy living. Good company, that is. I used to give my sister grief about not participating; about staying by herself (with a good book, of course) so much. In recent years, I’ve found myself behaving in a similar way. Given a choice, I’d usually rather stay home and read than go out and socialize, unless the people are near and dear. But when I do make the effort, I have felt completed and renewed by participating. Especially do I find this fellowship and encouragement in our small groups whether they be pinochle nights, Bible study or Spencer Singers. Small groups create a space where we feel safe and affirmed. So many people boast that they don’t need other people. But, of course, we all do. Every single one of us! Families, whether blood relatives or those we’ve built from friends, keep us connected to people who care about us and keep our ability to love, polished. There are two quotations that speak to the value of companionship. “Life is full of opportunities for learning love….the world is not a playground but a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love.** And, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed…….three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”*** We need good people in our lives for support, for mirrors, and for inspiration. In April, besides finding companionship with people who make life better, the usual spring work is waiting to be done. As the buds on the lilacs and trees swell, so do the numbers of tasks on the “to-do” lists. We’ve had some rainy days this week, the upside of which is giving us a brief respite from the outside jobs. It is good to cross off some of the inside tasks ---- like taking down the glass snowflakes still decorating my porch and picture window, and sorting the immense pile of catalogs, letters and notes to myself. Whether inside or out, may your April bring you just enough showers to refresh, and may you rejoice in every bit of sunshine that comes your way. Be sure you notice the increasing, wonderful greening all around even as you carefully, with special glasses, watch the solar eclipse. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Andy Morris ---from “Quiet Moments; Lessons In Life And Love” **Henry Drummond ---Scottish evangelist, biologist, and writer. 1851-1887. ***Ecclesiastes 4: 9 and 12b.
  2. “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold; When it is summer in the light and winter in the shade….” Charles Dickens TA-Da!!! It is just past the Vernal Equinox and in my part of the world, Spring is here -- on the calendar as well as in reality! Spring, in Zones 4 and 5 can be quite liberally seasoned with big snowflakes, and chilly March winds, as has happened this week. We have, in some years, even experienced a blizzard in mid-April and wet snow flurries in May. But there is always the surety that these slight discomforts will not linger very long; spring, with its many moods, is here. Snowdrops and winter aconite have been in bloom for two weeks now, and the crocuses are an amazing patch of purple by the front steps. Day Lily leaves are 4-6 inches above the ground. While we were gone last weekend, a bear came through and pulled a bird feeder apart. He must have been a fast-moving young bear, because he apparently didn’t remember where the bird seed cans were, and didn’t do any other damage. It is no wonder, with such mild weather, that bears have awakened and are traveling earlier than usual ---- and are hungry!! Who doesn’t know the familiar old song “Easter Parade”: “In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade””? There are no parades around here, but we are a week away from Easter bonnets and spring clothes, which, depending on temperatures and precipitation, may not be just the thing to wear. Easter’s date is determined by the lunar calendar, not our monthly one, and it is quite early this year. Fortunately, Easter bunnies are like the U.S. postal system’s “neither rain, sleet nor snow will keep them from their tasks” motto; rabbits don’t mind a fresh snowfall or brisk winds, and come hopping by (candy-filled baskets in paws,?) as scheduled. Garden flowers, however, can be iffy. Daffodils usually recover from a spring snow. But tulips are less hardy and often sulkily wilt, just to exhibit their resentment. There will be pots and pots of flowers for Easter Sunday’s service, so that no matter what the skies are doing outside, the sanctuary will be full of fragrance and color, and a few sneezes from those sensitive to lilies and hyacinths. The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is called, by many, Holy Week. In our community, for the past six weeks, there have been Lenten services on Wednesdays. This week, in addition, there is, a Maundy Thursday service, and three options for Good Friday. Then, early on Easter morn, there will be a sunrise service at an old Finnish church up in the hills, where the winds blow and mornings are a bit chilly due to altitude. Later, there are the usual Easter Day services in all the churches and then, perhaps, family dinners. It is a very “church-y” week for those who go. This quotation may not speak of Lent in a totally traditional way, but I would suggest it is one to consider, whether or not church is part of your life: “In case no one has told you lately, this is a reminder that you belong here. There is a you-shaped spot in the world that can only be filled by you. Don’t worry about why. Just know that it is there and it’s yours.” ** When we start thinking about this and what it means, we may find ourselves dwelling in our own 40 days of wilderness. And that time can be holy! It is nearly time for the snowbirds to return north, those humans who prefer to not use their shovels and plows, but who sit out winter where it is a gentler climate than NYS tends to be. Some come home for Easter, some wait until every possibility of snow is past (mid-May) and some meander about the country a bit; traveling before alighting. One couple I know plans to take a cruise to Amsterdam before heading back north. I hope it is tulip season there. I have never been a seasoned/enthusiastic traveler, though we have covered a bit of ground over the years. I find that I am even less open to traveling now, in my later years. Some of that is due to increased traffic and abysmally careless/stupid drivers on interstates, not to mention the hassles of flying. But much of it is that I really appreciate being at home with my just-fits-me chair, my own bed and my cup of good tea in the morning. I like greeting the same cardinals, blue jays and finches coming to the feeder., I like filling the cat’s water bowl, accompanied by his meows of what happened during the night (“just look at my dish; skunk footprints all around it!”). And I hate missing events in our own community. But, staying at home all the time can lead to being stuck-in-a-rut, and closed-minded, so a nice mix is probably good. Travel tends to banish prejudice and change perspective, as we actually meet and find common ground with people outside our usual sphere. We did just get back from a short trip to Vermont. One of our sons lives there, with his family, and it had been a while since we visited their home. Both the trip to Vermont and the trip home fell on nice days. We had clear roads and could enjoy the lovely scenery. During our time in Vermont, there was one day and night of snow. Depending on the altitude, the snow ranged from an inch to five or more. It turned the mountains into frosty snow-globes. Since we didn’t need to go anywhere in particular, we just enjoyed watching the snowfall while we were warm and cozy inside. Before the snow, we journeyed over “Terrible Mountain” to one of our favorite places – the Weston Priory. This is a Benedictine facility, and one of their ministries is choral and instrumental music. They also carve beautiful wooden crosses, throw pottery, and make wall hangings. We acquired a few more of their CDs (Yes, we still use CDs) and a couple of books by authors I enjoy. While we were in Weston, we also stopped by the Weston Country Store, and the more well-known Vermont Country Store, which is based there. After the snow, we went to Rutland, where we found some fine and fun shops, including a used-book store that took our breath away. So traveling, this time, made a very nice break from our daily routine here in Spencer, and it was a pleasure to spend some good times with family. Traveling anywhere else, though, must be put on hold for a bit, for the gardens already need our attention. This year, we are putting some beds into buckwheat, which will fertilize the soil and give it a rest from producing tomatoes and other crops. The rail fence needs a new post with which to hold the dropped rails, some shrubs and trees desperately need pruning, stone blocks around our vegetable garden beds need re-stacking due to winter heaving and,of course, there are the emerging weeds. And we probably should take down our “winter lights” that line the driveway and go across the front of our lawn. Usually, we have more of a breather in March. But with the unusually mild weather, chickweed is already growing profusely amid the flowers, undeterred by frosty nights. I know that chickweed can be used medicinally, but right now, I just want to give the little clumps of snowdrops, the buttery-yellow blossoms of winter aconite, room to breathe. So, when I can summon the determination to ignore my reluctant bones, I’ll be attacking those little green mats of flora, and removing them to the compost pile. This is such an exuberant, expectant time of the year. Green is emerging everywhere. Birds are singing in the morning. Peepers are making an increasingly loud clamor in the swamps across the road and in the stream behind the church. When the sky manages to be blue instead of Finger Lakes gray, it is the color of morning glories. Spring is a box of pastels, a sense of awakening and hope of the blossoms to come. And, according to Hal Borland***, an American naturalist, “March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice.” Whatever these last days of March bring, I wish you a blessed Palm Sunday, a Joyous Easter, an inspiring spring and pleasure in each day. As one song says, “Every morning is Easter morning from now on….”!**** Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. *Quotation is from Great Expectations. Charles Dickens was a British novelist and critic. Some of his characters are the best-known in the world. 1812-1870. **Sweatpants & Coffee LLC ***Hal Borland – American naturalist, writer, journalist from Connecticut. 1900-1978. ****Words and music by Donald Marsh & Richard Avery.
  3. Does anyone remember, back in your childhood, the tale of “Chicken Little”, who panicked from what he experienced in his limited little world, and ran to tell everyone that the sky was falling? Of course, the sky remained right where it was supposed to be. Today, something similar happens regularly; on the evening news, on our phones, on Facebook, in conversations. The tone of the message from all channels and media, is that the sky is falling again and again. We hear opinions and projections, often without context, and we panic. However, have you also noticed that spring keeps coming and the sky hasn’t yet fallen? When I was a kid, at the first sign of spring, I’d be checking to see if there were tadpoles in my little vernal pool, past the orchard and down the lane. March 7th might be a bit early, so probably I’d find only rippling water. But sometimes, there would be pollywogs! hat was Victor (Agricultural Zone 5). Spencer is also listed as Zone 5 but here, it is actually closer to being Zone 4. Still, the stirrings of spring are evident, in the fresh air and in one’s sensing of the atmosphere around. Spring is on its way north, a few miles at a time. “Springing forward” is the cry for the weekend just ahead of us. We move to Daylight Savings Time! To be honest, I do not enjoy losing that Sunday AM hour of sleep; I already have a hard enough task making it to church on time. I can relate to the song from My Fair Lady: “Oh get me to the church….. get me to the church… just get me to the church on time,” as I try to get a cup of tea before we go. Personally, more light at the end of the day is worth the temporary pain and the possibility of dozing in my pew. Others, though, reasonably prefer light at the beginning of the day, when they are out and about – walking or running. This annoying-to-some disruption of our culturally- accepted clock-time was first suggested by George Hudson, a New Zealander, in 1916. Germany and Austria-Hungary began using it immediately. Canada also adopted it during WWI. It was accepted in some areas of the United States, but became more popular during the energy crisis of the 1970s. I appreciate that it gives me more time outside in the garden, but can be confusing. Not all states use DST. It would be a sensible move to decide for the entire nation, for all year --- Standard time or Daylight savings time. But consider that kind of bill landing in Congress! They can’t agree on whether or not the sun should shine, much less the time of day! Time is something of a puzzle. We say “time flies!” and I find that to be true more often, as I get older. But my granddaughters also say that time moves fast for them. When I was their age, I think perhaps I was in a time warp filled with endless possibilities, sometimes moving at a waltz tempo, and sometimes the faster pace of a polka. Time was adventure! Well --- except maybe when I had to help cull chickens or retrieve our herd of Guernsey cows from a nearby swamp! Time rather dragged then! However, with near-hourly advances in technology and our fill-every-day-to-the-brim life-styles, years zip by now at a frightening pace for all ages. Of course, time can drag still; during a root canal, in a class with a boring prof, the middle of the night when the clock says 2:30,in a hospital bed or nursing home. How fast or how slow an hour goes depends on our thinking. Perspective has much to do with the movement of hands on the clock. People frequently yearn for different eras; times, “back in the day;” times, when we felt that all was well. If we know our history, this sense of well-being was mostly because we were oblivious or uninformed. People of my generation wish for a return to the 1950s, when “I like Ike!” was the slogan, and “One nation under God” was added to Pledge of Allegiance. It wasn’t that those years were wonderful for all the world; in truth, there was even less justice for all then, than here is now. It is just that we had no clue that people were starving, were maltreated, were being eliminated with ethnic cleansing. Our ignorance was bliss ---- for us. Perpetual bliss, however, isn’t our assignment in this life; appreciating and building a better world, is. There is a down-side to growing knowledge. That, along with the increased speed of our lives, can create an information overload ---- which results in fear. The world seems to be threatening on all sides; culturally, physically and spiritually. Of course, there is more than one kind of fear. Some people enjoy the shuddering, tingling fear that comes with watching horror movies and reading Stephen King books; easy come, easy go --- like ghost stories at Halloween or tales around a campfire. Realistic fear can be good; it protects us from walking down dark alleys in bad sections of town or putting our hand into a fire. But there is deeper fear: Fear of those who are too different, Fear of what people will think, Fear of what consequences might come along with change, Fear of living fully. I found, in a young adult book, this quotation: “Almost all the evil in the world stems from fear.”* Perhaps this is why the Bible tell us, so many times; “Do not fear!” “Be not afraid!” And yet, we ignore angels, and fear plagues us still. We fear for our children, we fear illness, we fear old age. It is scary to not know the road ahead ---AND scary to carry the burden of immediate knowledge of world news. We constantly teeter on the edge of wanting to know and of covering our ears and eyes to avoid knowing. Our fear makes us forget the wonderful and good things around and about us. It is like the adage: “We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses. Do you regularly listen to those who amplify scary things? Do you like the shuddery feeling, or does it make hating seem reasonable? Those who desire power over others, consider fear an advantage. “In times of uncertainty, fear is the unifying force. Fear binds people together in a way that cannot be achieved by any other means. Those who would convert people need fear……and fear is something that will drive everyone back to the paths of darkness.”** Remember the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, the cycles of immigration fears when the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Japanese came to our shores ---- and today’s immigration problems? There are many people who fear anything out of their own experience; ready to jump on the band wagon of anyone who dislikes what they dislike, and who promises to bring back the comforts and standards of “back then.” We are being blackmailed with our own fears; fears that will chain us emotionally and spiritually as surely as handcuffs and leg irons would do physically. From experience, I know that fear makes us lose our perspective; we can no longer afford compassion and our discernment is badly skewed. I remember, as a small child, being in bed and “hearing noises outside”. Most children at some time fear monsters beneath the bed or who knows what outside. My parents would reassure me with “Oh it is just the animals in the barn, moving around.” I was not reassured!! I remained afraid. Our granddaughters, when little, heard us talking about the raccoons stealing cat food and bird seed in the night. That night, one of them fussed and cried --- and finally said: “I’m afraid that the raccoons will come.” So, we turned on an outside light, and went to the window. Sure enough, a raccoon (just one!) had come and was happily chowing down sunflower seeds. Our granddaughter said: “Oh , he’s really cute!” Many of our fears --- very real to us --- can be blown away like a mist, if we are brave enough to look at them head-on. We humans have such a short time here on earth. We need to ask ourselves, “do we really want to spend it in fear and trembling?” It is time now (slow-dance time at this point in my life) to notice the wonders that come with spring. Connection with growing things nurtures our inner peace. The greening grass --- first in the swamps and then on our lawns and the subtle aroma, even if the air is chilly, of awakening soil. Birds are singing more often. I have already seen a red-winged blackbirds at the feeder, and a friend has blueibrds. Little points of daffodils have emerged and the snowdrops and crocuses are in bloom. John Muir*** had a piece of advice for all seasons and all times. If one substitutes “hills” for “mountains”, it fits where, I live. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like leaves in autumn.” The natural world has a way of dramatically changing a mood of fear or despair to a reassured, positive one. And it costs nothing. Appreciating and enjoying the world around us brings its own blessings. Opening our hearts to all the newness of spring will remind us that our fears come and go, but spring will keep right on coming, every year, about this time. Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net *Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery **Dancing With Demons by Peter Tremayne ***John Muir—Scottish-born American writer, naturalist and advocate for national forests and parks. 1838-1914.
  4. Due to that recent warm spell, my enthusiastic little crocus bulbs are putting forth green shoots. And this week, we have another warm day or two to encourage them. Has anyone seen skunk cabbage peeking out of swamps yet? My former drive to work took me through swampy areas, so I always noticed those green-y/ purple-y, pointed, smelly leaves. You wouldn’t want them in a bouquet, but they are a visible sign of spring. Spring, on the calendar, is about a month away. But Easter is early this year (we are now in the season of Lent, which, appropriately, began February 14th) and, to me, that means spring, regardless of the calendar. I’m in the mood for pollywogs, daffodils and Easter bonnets. Back in the dark ages of elementary school, we celebrated Washington’s birthday today. Now-a-days, our first president must share the party with Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, on a mutual President’s Day, this past Monday. I think George and Abe would probably enjoy a Lady Baltimore cake and pudding while having considerable conversation about our foolishly complex lives today. I expect that after leading the nation through a revolutionary war, and a civil war, our life-styles could seem a bit laughable, and even potentially hazardous. February is a busy month for our family; several birthdays keep us hustling for appropriate cards and/or gifts. I don’t really mind; I have more of a problem when birthdays aren’t celebrated. I think un-noticed birthdays are a neglect of one’s personhood; ignoring what intricate and amazing creatures we are. “Oh --- it’s just another day to me.” Nonsense! We need to celebrate and be glad for our existence. All this angst about age, “never ask a woman her age,” is silly. Seemingly, in the last few decades, males have become just as anxious about aging as females. Thanks to a glitzy corporate culture and addiction to media stars, hair dye and skin products sell well for both genders. We vain humans succumb easily to promises guaranteeing we will look younger and nearly wrinkle-free, and the dollars roll in to the persuasive retailers. I wonder when we became a society that worships youth thinks being young is the only time that life is good. The place to be, and stay, forever? Admittedly, younger years have some advantages: agility of limbs, fresh-looking skin, boundless energy... all physical pluses. But regardless of our misplaced adoration of it, youth isn’t the ultimate stage in good living. Maturing has its upside. One centenarian, when asked about the benefits of aging, replied, with a smile: “There is very little peer pressure!” That’s amusing, but there is so much more to anticipate! Having worked for 20 years with a county Agency on Aging, I observed a wide scope of behaviors and attitudes among people age 60 and older. Very few tried to deny age or remain forever young, and there were some cool, talented, articulate people among our clients. There was one woman though, and I remember her because no one else was quite this ditsy and foolish. She was a nice enough person, but insisted on trying to be 40 years younger than she was. She regularly dyed her hair an unusual pinky-blonde, wore make- up that no longer went with her skin, and dressed in frilly, girly clothes. Her youthfulness was all on the surface like a mask, and unfortunately, she hadn’t developed much in the way of inner resources beneath that mask. She married again late in life, and sadly, when her husband became an invalid, she helplessly wrung her hands and said: “I didn’t count on this!” and promptly separated from him. She had little substance, no depth, and from what I could see, very little joy in life. She clung so tightly to her imagined “best time of life” that growing older brought neither wisdom nor happiness. Aging gives us an opportunity to develop in understanding and complexity. While I appreciate all of the good times I had in my growing-up years, I would never wish to be eighteen again. I am not the same person I was at 18 or 25, or even 45. If we use our brains, in every passing year we grow in confidence about who we are. Those of us who reach our 8th and 9th decades, feel free to be as Boho, as eccentric, as unusual as seems good to us. What people may think of us is no longer a major concern. We can develop our unique sense of fun, our spiritual lives and perception of the world around us as far as our souls take us. After all, we have observed the world turning several times, and ----if we have used our common sense ----- we know what is important and what isn’t. Naturally, we want to maintain our physical bodies as well as is possible. I wish I had taken better care of mine earlier! All that gardening, with no sun screen, did my pale, Scottish skin no favors. While I wouldn’t put my face under the knife of a face-lift, I do have my own little cache of moisturizers and lotions. I am also notoriously inept with my hair. One hair professional, who I knew well, said: “please don’t mess with your hair! You’ll just botch the job!” Fortunately, my parents both grayed late in life and the inherited genes have been kind. Some people pay well for added silver highlights. So, I worry none at all about increasing silver, and don’t moan a lot about a facial crease here and there. I do miss wearing sparkly, high-heeled shoes, but because I wish to walk, I’m glad to find (SIGH) inch-high heeled shoes that support my uncooperative ankles and don’t look too therapeutic. Obviously, more than a dollop of vanity lingers, and probably will for all of us, as long as we live. We should be asking ourselves why the outer shell of a person should seem so much more worthy than the inner core? Why is it that we judge a person by how svelte their bodies, glamorous their hair or smooth their skin? Or how chic their clothes? What about a beautiful brain? And a light spirit? A wonderful sense of humor? A stock of information and/or wisdom? Someone said: “When any older person dies, we’ve lost an important piece of history.” This is so true. The stories vanish!! There are one or two people in our community who are older than we are, and I love listening to their tales of growing up. And I am assured about our own offspring who, having their own stories of pranks and difficulties, but continue to exhibit the integrity, the humor and the caring for community that was a hallmark of those older friends, in their stories. Back to birthdays; the day is surely worth at least a special cookie, if not a four-layer cake and a brass band. Some years ago, for or my husband’s 50th birthday, we put together a jazz band, with the help of a few musical friends. Kerm had said so often that he wanted a New Orleans jazz band for his funeral, that we thought it’d be a good gift for his 50th birthday. And it was!! But even if you must celebrate without a brass band, doing something special is not a waste of time. Dance around the room (carefully!!). Take a few moments to be glad you are you. Carl Jung *said: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are!” Have a special treat --- chocolates, ice cream, tea, lemonade, a brandy Alexander ---- whatever makes you smile. You are unique ---- you have blessed the world for however many years and you deserve to take note. A birthday is an excellent time to run your memory film backward --- to recall all the good times; the special, growing occasions you’ve experienced; how you have become who you are. Birthdays or not, we still have some winter weather. Someone recently said: “Winter is definitely a ‘Wonderland’. I wonder if I’ll slip on the snow! I wonder how many inches we’ll get. I wonder if the car will start. I wonder where I left my gloves.” I’m quite careful as I wander around our snowy yard, not wishing to fall flat. But even as I shuffle through powdery snow and avoid muddy spots, to fill the bird feeders, I am energized by the negative ions filling that cold air. Chill breezes are the winter version of a summer water fall, and those ions are good for us; good for our brains and good for our spirits. There are days, of course, when those negative ions aren’t sufficiently luring. I really don’t want to get out and face the weather. Nor do I have the energy for deep-knee bends to ready my legs for gardening. Late in the day, all that chopping for salad sounds like too much. But I come from relatively stubborn people, so I keep assuring myself that this feeling will pass. If I can just push through, I will feel better and more able to cope. But sometimes we do need a respite. There is this whimsical, little Self-Help that someone posted on FB: How to stop time: Kiss How to travel in time: Read How to escape time: Music How to feel time: Write How to release time: Breathe** In other words, stop and refuel! Little interludes restore one’s zing. For this last bit of winter, remember this little ditty by Robert Frost***: “The way a crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree. Has given my heart a change of mood, and saved some part of the day I had rued.” Perception, changing one’s mood, is part of life. Yoyoing from birthdays to bad days to better days is how we roll. CarolBossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Carl Jung ---World-famous Swiss psychologist. Also a prolific writer, illustrator and correspondent. 1875-1961. **from Inspiration Power Bost. ***Robert Frost ---- Widely loved New England poet. 1874-1963.
  5. February is sort of a transition month. We may still get snow, sleet, and freezing rain but, there is some snow melt, and daylight becomes darkness, later and later. Somewhere out in the snowy woods, high up in a tree, a mama owl is sitting on eggs, warming them with her fluffy self. And squirrels, having found mates, are aggressively defending their territories. Hal Borland*, renowned naturalist, said: “In February, snow will actually melt in very cold weather; evaporating without going through the water stage, and is absorbed by the dry air passing over it. I’ve seen a snow drift shrink six inches in four days, without the temperature getting above 30 degrees. ……the sun is warmer, the day is longer, nights are shorter.” No wonder our skin suffers in winter; dry air = dry skin. Lather on the moisturizers! Today would be my sister’s birthday were she still with us. Betty (Elizabeth Selenda) was 12 years older than I, and we had three older brothers. She took me to school at least once that I remember --- sort of a senior high show and tell, baby sat me a few times on the rare occasions my parents were away ----- and I babysat her first child when I was in my early teens. We were sort of like ships passing in the night while I was in college, seeing each other mostly on holidays; she was busy with family and later, after college, I was occupied in the same way. We also lived hours apart. But in our later years, saw each other more often and found much to share. She was fond of gardening, bird-watching, and reading. She was also fascinated by the big locks on the St. Lawrence River and collected Cape Cod light house replicas. She and Ray, my brother-in-law, had four fine sons, losing one baby in between. And she gallantly put up with motorcycles, big shoes, and more people in and out of her house than she might have preferred. We were different in many ways----- but quite similar in others ---- and I miss her. I always think of Betty when I see this poem by William Butler Yeats**, the Irish poet: I will arise and go to Innisfree, and a small cabin build there of clay and wattles made, none bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, and live alone in the bee-loud glade. ….I will arise a go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore…...” She would have liked the peace and simplicity. We are less than a week away from Valentine’s Day. Some call this a Hallmark Holiday since it creates considerable income for retailers selling greeting cards, lingerie, chocolates, and flowers. Perhaps you remember, as a kid, making valentines --- and the valentine box at school? Our big table, when the boys were small, was covered with tiny red paper cuttings, glue, glitter and those small, humorous valentines that came in a package of 25.; a rather messy collage of creativity. I loved it! I still have a small stash of red construction paper, lacy doilies, and appropriate verses, in case, some fine February, I am taken over by a valentine-making mood. And of course, we always try to stock up on those little candy hearts with the terse sayings. The day, itself, is named after a pastor and physician. Valentine, was a Christian Bishop of Rome, when Rome was focused on conquering much of the world. He fell afoul of Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. Claudius was fighting wars and needed soldiers --- preferably young men with no romantic attachments to distract them from warlike duties. So, there was a ban on marriages for people of a certain age. Bishop Valentine, in direct disobedience of the no-marriage edict, continued to marry hundreds of young couples. His defiant behavior came to Claudius’s attention, and Valentine was thrown into prison where he was beaten and finally beheaded on February 14th, 270 AD, thus becoming a Christian martyr. While he was in prison, he sent notes to his friends, signing them “Te Amo ---, Your Valentine”. So, we mix history and romance (and a bit of Latin with English) and get our Valentine’s Day. The world today surely needs more love -----all kinds of love –-- romantic (eros) -- the love of friends (Phileo), without whom, life would be savorless, and selfless love (Agape), which emits grace and appreciation/care for all ----- lacking which, our world has become a mess! Lack of respect/ compassion, and far too much apathy, greed, and actual evil are all reasons our world seems to be falling apart quite regularly. Another, possibly more fixable reason, could be lack of communication. People don’t listen well even when the conversation is agreeable; we are busy framing replies in our minds instead of hearing what is being said. We frequently fail to “hear” (or even contemplate) viewpoints that differ greatly from our own and --- in addition --- we are often inept at sharing our own opinions in a way that doesn’t put others down. A few years ago, a local foundation sponsored a seminar in listening skills. It was excellent three hours; learning how to clearly speak our thoughts, and how to immerse ourselves in another person’s thinking. This does not mean that in our new understanding, we agreed. But we were able to grasp what someone else saying, and often, why. We also discovered, in this process, that expressing intense feelings without being patronizing or insulting takes thoughtfulness and finesse. Tolstoy said: “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself!”* If you or I feel very strongly about something, we may find that 1) discussion is uncomfortably threatening to that inner belief and 2) attempts to be understanding may fly out the window if someone disagrees with what we feel is a universal given. Surely if a concept is set in stone for me, it should be for everyone! Tolstoy is right about how we humans think, but perhaps, if understanding is our purpose, we could remember this thought from Henry Drummond**: “Life is full of opportunities for learning love…...The world is not a playground; it is a school room. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal lesson for all of us is how better we can love.” And no one said the lessons would be easy! (It would probably also be useful to not bristle like a porcupine, metaphorically covering our ears going: La -La La- La! I can’t hear you!”) Loving February can be almost as hard as hugging a porcupine. Most of us are unhappy when Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter; we are ready for SPSRING! There may be fewer days in February (Yes, even in Leap Year), but it seems like a too-long month. If there is a thaw and mild breezes (as this week), I cut forsythia branches, forcing them into early bloom inside. Forsythia tries to take over the world, so pruning it is a good deed. If one has access, a mixed bouquet of forsythia and pussy willows is lovely, but our pussy willow trees, unpruned by their lethargic owners, have grown far beyond our reach. Later in the spring, the fuzzy little gray nubbins will flare against the sky about 25 feet up. So, my early bouquet will feature only forsythia. There was a pussy willow tree on my brother’s farm, grown sturdy and tall, between a stone smoke house and a shed used as a play house. His children and I would climb that many-branched tree, sitting up amid the branches, viewing our “kingdom” o’er. At my home, I had two trees for my personal scaling. One was the cherry tree that met the roof outside my west bedroom window; perfect for up and down. Our cat thought so too; he would climb up to my window and meow to be let in. The other was an ironwood tree growing in a hedgerow in our back pasture. It had a horizontal limb, creating a seat, about five feet up, among the leaves. (And it was nicely far enough away from the house, that I couldn’t hear if anyone called.) Every child ought to have at least one tree to climb; a sylvan sanctuary! A few years ago, the larch trees in our front yard were at the right height for our granddaughters. Now they have shed lower branches, as larches do, so climbing them wouldn’t be safe but the girls have probably mostly out-grown the desire anyway. Jungle gyms may be good on a playground, but there’s nothing like an actual tree for pure, tactile satisfaction. February is still winter, but that vase of golden forsythia will remind us that spring isn’t far off. My seed and plant orders will be in this week ---- early for me. Last year I missed some plants I really wanted because I was so late in ordering, so this year, I have pushed myself to order 2 months earlier. I also am trying to restrain my overly-optimistic view of what I can do in the garden. SIGH! Plant catalogs are SO convincing and so tempting with their marvelous photographs. My imagination immediately envisions beds of roses backed by clouds of delphinium, rows of peonies, and lilies. We are supposed to be cutting back, so, expanding my gardens is not acceptable. However ------ fine-tuning what we have is surely a good idea ----- right? I remember (and repeat to my husband and children) this truism: “Gardening is cheaper than therapy ---- and you get tomatoes!” Whatever the weather outside your window, try to have a little love for February. Right now, at this very moment, it is all we have. Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Leo Tolstoy – Russian novelist; considered one of the greatest classic writers. 1828-1910 **Henry Drummond ---Scottish writer, lecturer and evangelist. 1851-1897.
  6. A few snow squalls, some bitter wind gusts, and there goes January! The mild weather throughout December and some of January has discouraged the long winter naps for our resident skunk and possum. They’ve been out and about, thieving at bird feeders and the cat’s dish. The birds haven’t been quite as ravenous as when the snows come fast and deep, though the cold of last week sent them often to the suet. The deer have been down from the hill, but not in multiples; I think only one or two. The squirrels have been bouncing off feeders and trees like dizzy acrobats; it is mating season for them; apparently, showing off is part of the process. We have not seen even one turkey. Usually, by this time, we have two or three groups of them, coming off the hill to browse around the feeders, but I haven’t seen a turkey since mid-summer. I’m not sure whether to blame coyotes or the turkeys’ wandering spirits. It could also be the lack of berries and nuts due to that late frost last spring. Maybe they went south? Does that make them snowbirds? We miss them but out bird seed lasts longer. Winter months are designated, by some people of wisdom, as a restoration time; an opportunity to replenish energies and clarify hopes and dreams. Of course, much of the world races on as usual; trying to forge ahead on in-the-hurry journeys, with no change in habits to accommodate winter. I have found it less and less attractive to slog through snow drifts or even venture out on the roads when they have gunk on them, so I’m leaning more toward the restoration idea. It is rather pleasant to simply sit inside by the fire and look out at the liberally frosted branches and twigs after a large snowfall. If I have an appointment, I pick up the phone and say: “Sorry, but there’s snow!” Naturally, when things are shoveled and plowed, we get out into the world again. But that brief time of feeling snowed-in, is restoring in its own way. I recently saw a post on FB that had kids of all ages, and then adults too, singing “Sing A Song” from the Muppets. One viewer said, “Now I can’t get this out of my head!” It’s not a bad thing to have stuck in one’s head. Instead of moping over world news, instead of grasping for power and fame, instead of snarling at foolish behavior, we could be humming along with “Sing, sing a song --- sing out loud, sing it long --- sing of good things, not bad, sing of happy, not sad…...” Our Friday AM group is looking at what is called, by many, the Beatitudes, a section that makes clear how our behavior depends on our attitudes. Singing always improves mine! I spoke recently with a dear friend who lives some distance away, and who is care-giver for her husband. They are a little older than we and a bit less mobile. She said it was rather comforting to be less active in the world, and more attuned to the small things around her; the snow coming down, a good neighbor’s visit, contemplating life (from the perspective of someone who has “seen these things before”) as seen on TV, and knows that ill tidings will, eventually, pass. She can pray for people and for serenity without being distracted by too much busy-ness. There are seasons in our lives as well as seasons in the calendar year. This friend and her husband have what I consider super-stellar attitudes toward getting older in this life. Right now, I find less time for participation in “multiple activities”, and maybe more time for puttering. One definition of “puttering” is “the act of doing dozens of little chores that no one knows need to be done, that no one wants to do, and no one notices have been done.” * So, puttering brings no E -for Effort, or blue ribbons for achievement. And yet, it is quite satisfying in its own way and occasionally, I spend a day doing just that. If I clean out three drawers, I smile, knowing those drawers are now lined with pretty paper, and the contents are tidy and available. The seeds that some house-mouse had stored there are gone and, temporarily, so is the confusion. I can putter among our books and know that once again, maybe for only a short time, they are on shelves according to author and/or subject matter. While trying to downsize, as I’ve determined to do, puttering makes a dent in the baskets and boxes of papers. Items for recycling, the church yard sale, and the burning pit grow. Puttering gives me time to think, to re-group and to shine up my attitudes for busier moments. There is a world full of always-energetic people who look askance at puttering. And for those of us who move to a different drummer, this tacit disapproval can be difficult. Or, as Brene Brown** says, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” When busyness became a gold standard, I’m not sure. Too much of our population is metaphorically gasping for breath as they strive to keep up. We need to rest, not just our bodies, but our minds. One of the things I find restful, is noticing small things around me. If I spend a few minutes watching a tufted titmouse happily dining on suet, that makes me smile ---- and somehow, that smile and the titmouse made me relax. Watching a sunrise or sunset takes very little time, but suddenly the wash of wonder over the colors, lifts fatigue away. Winning the approval of others by over-doing will lead to exhaustion of mind and body. We should maintain ourselves at least as well as we maintain our cars, don’t you think? Instead of a lube job, we give ourselves a a rest-job and that includes awareness. Blindness to our surroundings actually leads to more than just weariness. If we are unaware of the created world around us, we are also probably unaware of the people in our lives, and how they are feeling. Someone who once worked in my office was a perfect example of this. That person mostly kept all the county mandates and fulfilled duties. But people’s feelings were, daily, splattered right and left by thoughtless words and total disregard for what was going on in others’ lives. This lack of awareness and disregard for feelings is probably a major reason for damaged and broken relationships everywhere. Rachel Carson*** was a biologist who was made famous (actually, infamous at first) by her book, Silent Spring. She was quite explicit about the need to be aware, of the earth around us, of our own back yards, and of the people in our lives. She said: “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” Surely a few days/weeks of asking these questions, would increase our appreciation of the world in which we live and the people we love. And we might just find ourselves feeling an energy and enthusiasm for life that, somewhere along the way, we had lost. Meanwhile, we are in January, named for the god, Janus; a two-faced god who looks back at the year just past, and forward to the year we have entered. He was considered the Roman god of new beginnings, of gateways and open doors.; the embodiment of longing for the past and hope for the future. Mostly, in this northern hemisphere, January is known for its winter weather, and (on a more celebratory side) remembrance of Martin Luther King, who did so much, in a completely non-violent way, to help our country realize its lack of justice for so many of our citizens. We humans don’t much like changes to our comfort levels or our thinking. But each new year forces us to consider changes. Thinking of these things; re-sorting in our minds how we should be living, is a gift for a new year, a Leap Year, which gives us one extra day to be delighted with life. The birds, squirrels, and deer that do not go into hibernation for the winter months face the winds, survive cold and messy conditions seemingly with the same vibrancy with which they enjoy the summer months of sunshine and warmth. We could learn something from them --- about acceptance, about joy in adverse conditions, about being a part of a natural network of creatures inhabiting our planet. I like what Frederick Buechner**** says about living well: He said, “One life on this earth is all that we get {here}, whether it is enough or not enough. And the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least, we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. *Terry Hershey --- Author, humorist, inspirational speaker, ordained pastor, dad, golf addict and lover of French wines. **Brene Brown –Author and speaker who studies human interactions and vulnerability. ***Rachel Carson ---American author, marine biologist, whose book “Silent Spring” brought about cascades of criticism; truths that we now accept. 1907-1964. ****Frederick Buechner ---American author and theologian. Ordained Presbyterian pastor. 1926-2022.
  7. We have just exited the Christmas season. Having made it through December and New Year’s, many people are breathing a sigh of contentment, repletion, and maybe —- relief.? Wonderful holidays and the Christmas decorations lovely, but it is time to take the tree down and put the ornaments away until next year. Twelfth Night, just past, is traditionally when the Magi reached their destination (probably not the stable in Bethlehem although all of our creches have them there), to worship Jesus. Regardless of time and place, it does commemorate a special event; that the hope and love in the Christmas story are for all the world. The other name, Epiphany, originated in the Orthodox Christian churches but quickly spread to include the European churches. It also marked the end of the 12 days of Christmas merry-making. For many years, we held a 12th Night party, always including more people than our house could comfortably hold. Somehow, its walls stretched, perhaps aided by the laughter and good conversation. It was a warm and wonderful occasion that fortified us to meet the rest of January. We miss doing it, but it was an activity that became too difficult, regardless of how much fun it was. I recently found a word that expresses our coming year’s journey very well: “Coddiwomple.”This word means: “To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination.” Isn’t that perfect for a new year? We all have hopes and plans, and some people, who are more confident and/or arrogant than others, have no doubt that their plans will work as they wish. Those of us who are more experienced (generally older) know how quickly life can change regardless of our wishes. So, I really like that word both for its uniqueness and for the reality that our year’s journey will be full of surprising side trips, some not always of our choosing, but many that are delightful — for which blessings we can be grateful. When one reaches our elevated state of “elderly”, there are decisions to be made; issues to discuss. One that came up for us recently was our home. Our sons and daughters-in-law,- and rightfully so, were concerned that the maintenance of house and land was getting to be too much for the energy and strength we find it possible to summon. The gardens that I’ve had so much fun creating, with Kerm’s helpful digging, raking and weeding, are way too vast for us to keep in order, especially with mutually uncooperative artificial knees and a tendency to run out of steam too soon. Inside the house, the dilemma is nearly as bad; both of us have several projects going at once, creating too much stuff for tidiness. Creative ideas keep on flowing, but my organizational abilities, sadly, have diminished. Our concerned family members also, undoubtedly, are contemplating the huge job it might be to clean out and distribute our way-too-many belongings. So, what to do???? We considered several options. We could buy a smaller house. A couple of houses in town have come upon the market, but there isn’t a lot of turn-over in our community. And we are relatively fussy. As we considered that move, we agreed that it would cut down a bit on the volume of our maintenance, but only a bit. As for cleaning out our stuff, certainly some of that would be accomplished, but I’ll never live as a minimalist, so we will always be surrounded by too many things. We cherish our books, and I enjoy various sorts of porcelain silver, sculptures, and glass ware. We could consider renting, eliminating outside maintenance. However, rentals in this community are not numerous either and we are rather firm about sufficient space for each of us to do what we want to do. Neither of us wants to sit in the other’s pocket! Ithaca has some fine senior living places where we’d probably do just fine. But, as much as we enjoy visiting Ithaca, we really do not wish to leave our community where we have 45-year-old roots, a church, fine neighbors and friends. So, after analyzing things, we finally decided to stay right where we are, but to revisit the issue each year. And we’ve agreed to try to find help for cleaning and gardening. This may not be easy or inexpensive. But it seems to be the best solution for us right now. There is a concern that one not put off too long what changes might be necessary. Too often, older people procrastinate with decision-making, and those choices, by necessity, fall upon their reluctant children. It is sad when older adults are “put” somewhere, often with no opportunity for closure, because they didn’t make changes in their lives while they could. Of course, sudden illness or disability unexpectedly hastens the need for other accommodations. In former centuries, most homes had multiple generations living in them. But with healthier old age and young adults going out on their own earlier, this simply is no longer the norm. Certainly, multi-generations in one abode bring their own challenges, some of which probably means a bit of discomfort for all involved. We went through a series of care needs with Kerm’s mother; moving her, reluctantly, from her farm home to an apartment in town, then to assisted living, and finally to a nursing home. And that nursing home didn’t always please us, but her need for care was more than we could provide at our home. My sister moved from her home, also reluctantly, to a lovely senior apartment, but from there, right into a nursing facility when she suddenly needed more care. That nursing home was excellent though it still wasn’t really “home”. Quality of care varies considerably, sometimes due to available finances; sometimes due to lack of staffing or training. And most places have nothing happening that would encourage a resident to feel needed or valuable. There is a nationwide need for continued discussion, planning and creativity around elder care. People are people who all need the same consideration and medical opportunities. And even more important, for mental health, no one wishes to feel stashed away and useless. Meanwhile, we are still at home, and hope to be fully participating in this new year. And while we intend to eliminate some of the unnecessary stuff ( via yard sales, auctions, and loving relatives —-lock your cars! — 😊) in our lives, I found other even more important, but less solid things we all should remove. All of us, regardless of age! “Fitting in” should not be all that important. We all wish to be liked but we shouldn’t deny our uniqueness and gifts to accomplish that. Being harsh and critical of ourselves is foolish and unhealthy; our brains don’t respond well to self-bashing. Be careful about criticizing others, especially for small things. We have no idea what troubles and pressures exist in their lives. Instead, pray for them. Do not spend time with people who make you feel badly about yourself. You are the only just-like-you in the universe. This is good. Don’t let someone else make you uncertain about that. Don’t worry about or agonize over failures. Mistakes become learning experiences if we are at all wise. Don’t become too attached to material objects. This one is tough for me; I’m a “thing” person and many of my possessions remind me of times, places and people I love. But I’ve also reached a point in my life when I could give almost anything to someone who needed it. I might replace what I gave away via the next antique shop or auction, but….. 😊… So perhaps better advice would be to not let material things be first in our lives. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else. We are each different —- purposely. We can learn from others, but shouldn’t try to be clones of them. Develop a spiritual connection. Someone once said we are spiritual persons in a physical body. So, this is a health issue that also, during spiritual growth, brings a few growing pains, but also a certain quiet joy. If we all consider putting these into practice, 2024 would be a gift to ourselves and all those around us. And surely one step toward a happier world. We may be looking at the year with gloom, doom and fear in our hearts; certainly, there is enough evil, both generally and specifically, and potential chaos to make that dour perspective reasonable, even logical. Or we can trust what has been true for eons; that joy will find its way into the chaos and there will be many times of happiness, warmth and enjoyment in the coming days. I hope to go on setting goals, finding interesting things to do and continuing to plan ahead, even if I must go to Plan Z. I hope the same is true for you — that your year finds you looking for both enjoyment and ways to help wherever you are, and that you can look ahead with that trust and faith that makes life worth our participation. Ranier Maria Rilke* had an especially good thought that starts this year off well. He said: “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us — new, untouched, full of things that have never been.” Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Ranier Maria Rilke —- actually Rene Karl Wilhelm Josef Maria Rilke. Rilke was an Austrian poet and novelist. 1875-1926.
  8. It’s March……Little rivulets of joy Begin flowing down stones, Through the mosses Out from the tree roots. They’ve been there all the time, just hidden down under Where they’ve quietly added sparkle and glow To the ice, and crunch to the snow. There’s a warm glow over the earth In the setting sun………* This is one stanza of a poem that describes spring’s beginnings. Now it is only 3 days until the time change, bringing us increased light in the evening, and 14 days until the Spring Equinox. Everything is looking up, even though I know well that garden-planting and green grass are still weeks away. Even with a positive mental attitude of anticipation and happiness, I’m not literally jumping for joy. My body is not in the spring of life and leaping is a really bad idea. These days, I tend to move quite carefully! I greatly appreciate my chiropractor, acupuncturist, internist and massage therapist (though I don’t have one right now) -- who assist greatly in keeping that body moving; muscles and joints are less flexible than they were a few years ago. However, even with some stiffness and discomfort, I feel a lightness that comes from all the years of coping with life. By this age: 1) I don’t really care about the expectations of anyone --- except those people I truly respect. And sometimes it is necessary to educate them a bit about the reality of elder-ism. 2) I no longer blithely put off writing a note, making a phone call or a visit with an “I’ll get to it later,” because one never knows how quickly that might become impossible. When opportunity knocks, I try to open the door right then. 3) I feel free to speak my mind (usually politely!), dress as I choose, read for hours and leave the dishes unwashed overnight if that makes me happy. What is truly important to me is keeping in touch with my family and friends, making our abode a happy place for us and for anyone who visits---- and living in awareness of each day’s little gifts and sudden miracles. People are important to us. We see friends as often as possible. Each time we share a meal and conversation, my day is brighter --- and hopefully theirs is too. Some of our friends live afar but we think of them often, phone occasionally, Email and mutually recall fun times. Our friends are of all ages, for as one gets older, generational gaps tend to diminish. But we must admit that friends of the same age group do “get it”. They understand the difficulties as well as the gifts of being this age. When we came to Spencer, Kerm and I were probably in our late-thirties. One of the persons we grew to enjoy very soon was a lady nearing her 90th birthday. She was a member of our church, a Grange member, and a retired Phys. Ed. Teacher. Originally from Vermont, she was a no-nonsense, plain-spoken and practical person. She made us welcome, came to our parties and was one very cool lady. She told us, as she moved further into her 90s, “I enjoy life and I love all the things I do and the people here. But I really miss friends my own age. They understand references to things, and past happenings, that younger people do not.” We are beginning, now, to understand Amy’s comment, and this little poem by Doris Ashworth expresses our current attitude well: “When we’re older, let’s meet every Sunday at four, in that little café we love. Let’s laugh at our foibles, our mishaps and then release our mistakes to above. We can share a new wrinkle or a hair that’s turned gray, and marvel at how we have grown. We both reminisce on the lives that we’ve led and how grateful for each day that we’ve known. When we’re older let’s meet by that tree in the park, the one where the blossom grows yearly. We can share what we have and toast with a drink, remembering those we have loved dearly. We will not give thought to the youth we have lost for we see so much worth the change. We won’t feel the rushing of a fast-ticking clock for we know time is ours to arrange. When we’re older, let’s meet every Sunday at four in that cute little café we love. Let’s be wowed by how we have weathered this life; let’s release our regrets to above.”* No matter what our ages, we all need to stop “putting off,” and do right now, what will make our days lighter, brighter and, when it is time to sleep, will bring us satisfaction with how we’ve lived. We can always use the excuse of “we’re so busy…”, and, of course, everyone is! But perhaps we need to make the choice to not be so busy. Life passes by very quickly I have discovered. There have been things in my life that I have regretted, but I’ve never grieved over leaving the dishes or the vacuuming, or ignoring spring cleaning in favor of a long visit with family or friends --- or a walk down the lane in springtime ---- or spending time singing with friends. We need to surround ourselves with people who are positive and glad for their days; people we care about and enjoy. Whining and grumping are contagious and to be avoided if at all possible. We all have ideal scenarios for ourselves, in our minds; how life should be, but seldom will life totally cooperate with our visions. It is smart to simply accept that, be glad for the things we can do --- and let the rest go. This can be traumatic, in a sense, for in letting things go, we are also letting dreams of what we might do, go. But it is part of the process; part of down-sizing, cleaning out, simplifying life and being happy. Speaking of creating happiness, the Spencer Grange used to plan for a community Winter Wake Up. In late February or early March, cabin fever often sets into our region like an epidemic of the flu. People have become tired of boots, scarves, snow, cold and mud. So, the Grange created an evening for anyone who wished to come for a dish-to-pass dinner, a musical jam session, and a neighborly get-together. Sometimes we made games available, like an Art Gallery of Puns or a simple mixer. A few people brought guitars, mandolins, etc. Sometimes people, especially the little kids, danced. It was a good and refreshing evening that transitioned us from the winter doldrums to anticipation of spring. Sadly, the Grange in Spencer had to close its doors several years ago, but the fun times it initiated are still remembered by the S-VE community. An organization to sponsor isn’t necessary; we can all decide to create fun as an antidote to the winter doldrums oozing into our lives about now! Doing something with people helps immensely. Being in community has been difficult during the COVID years. When people are unable to gather --- for whatever reason ---- they lose touch ---and even worse --- forget how enriching community can be. We have become too inclined to sit home, hunched over phones and I-Pads, growing less and less open to our fellow-men. With three years of lock-downs and little socializing, people now seem reluctant to venture out. Taking precautions is sensible, but at some point, we must cease living in fear and adjust to reality. We need contact with others for mental health and growth, but it may take a while for us to realize our loss sufficiently for us to make the effort to participate in the human experience again. An African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We suffer without community! Jumping from humans to plants and animals, my optimistic daylilies are pushing green shoots out of the wet and cold soil, even after being snowed upon multiple times. The yellow blossoms of winter aconite have popped up, and the snow drops have hung out their little white bells. Forsythia branches brought inside have bloomed. The birds are becoming more vocal. One cat apparently has a severe case of spring fever. Besides trying to balance on the pickets of the garden fence, I saw him attacking a wooden post with claws and teeth, purring all the while. So much energy; I could borrow a bit. Because this is a thoughtful time of the year, and Easter is coming, I will share the whole poem for March and hope it speaks to both your heart, and the coming spring: It’s March……Little rivulets of joy Begin flowing down stones, Through the mosses Out from the tree roots. They’ve been there all the time, just hidden down under Where they’ve quietly added sparkle and glow To the ice, and crunch to the snow. There’s a warm glow over the earth In the setting sun. Isn’t that God’s love too? Its warmth and sparkle are always there, But in our ice-boundedness; The snowy winters of our discontent, We do not sense or see that reality in our lives. Until the season changes, And little rivulets of joy come flowing Out of the cracks In our frozen hearts, And through the pores of our stiffened limbs, And we open ourselves to the Springiness of God’s love, So it can flow from us And refresh the world. CWB Happy March to you and hopefully it will be, whether wintery or spring-like, a time that brings good experiences to us all. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *CWB ---- it is a poem I wrote some time ago. I’m not really a poet, but once-in-a-while, inspiration strikes. **Doris Ashworth ---- Found her poem on Face Book; searched, but apparently is not known otherwise.
  9. What a variety of weather February is bringing us. Shortly after Valentine’s Day, environmentalists on social media began encouraging us to leave garden debris for a few weeks at the beginning of the “season”, and “don’t pull dandelions.” I’m thinking, “Umm.….there are still patches of snow beneath my shrubs, plus what we just got, and dandelions haven’t dared show a glimmer of green. There’ll be no debris-removal until mud season is over and my fingers won’t freeze.” Regardless of yoyo weather, I am appreciative of each morning; my heart has continued beating all night, and I’m up and relatively mobile. Cardinals and nuthatches on the feeder make me smile, and I enjoy figuring out which creatures have been passing through during the night. The ears of corn are nibbled away, indicating deer, and the large water bowl is empty, so I’m assuming skunks and possums are awake. I’m glad to be awake myself. I don’t take these privileges for granted anymore! And, spring is working its way north, dandelions and all! Yesterday, we entered the Season of Lent. Mardi Gras is over. For Fat Tuesday, I had planned to make some raised-dough delectables from my Grandpa Dusett’s recipe. The events of the day decided otherwise. An appointment with the acupuncturist for shoulder pain seemed more important that the sugary wonders ---- definitely an all-day project. I do enjoy carrying on traditions when possible and making family recipes is always a pleasure. In addition to the doughnuts, I also have My grandfather’s recipe for oatmeal cookies – soft and chewy with raisins and just a touch of molasses. I might make those soon, but the doughnuts will have to wait now, until we celebrate Easter. Back to the Lenten season which is, for Christians, a preparation time, similar to Advent but without the hanging of the greens and stringing of lights. It is the six weeks prior to Easter and marks the 40 days of Christ’s sojourn in the desert. It is a time of less exuberance and more stirring of the heart; a time to recognize how far we fall short of who we could be, but also to rejoice and be glad in the possibilities of change and growth. In the early centuries, AD, the Season of Lent was a period of severe personal sacrifice, and the custom lingers --- in a milder way. Fewer and fewer people are tied to church liturgy, but even non-church people still ask “What are you giving up for Lent?” Common responses are: “Candy” or “Lunch” or “Ice Cream” --- a far cry from medieval fasting and flagellation. I suppose forbidding something appetizing does have a certain value in reminding us of what Lent is all about and if that works for you, it is good. But more recently, I’ve felt that my offering should be more pro-active, something to create peace and joy. I suppose this would differ immensely for various people, for how we live our faith is very individual. Some possibilities might be to read more Scripture every day, or perhaps to spend time in praying and visualization of unity and understanding, or volunteering in a soup kitchen/food cupboard or being a friendly visitor in a nursing home. We, who observe Lent, would do well to use the time in a way that gives us six weeks of soul-building and spiritual delight. Jumping to a bit of back-story, you may recall that last October, along with my granddaughter, I attended a writer’s workshop in Vermont. One of the speakers that day, was John DeDakis*, former CNN Senior Copy Editor. In retirement, besides teaching, coaching writers and editing, he is creating mystery novels. I have one of his books, and while it took me a couple of chapters to get into it --- possibly because I hadn’t read the preceding book and so didn’t know the characters ---- by the third chapter, I really wanted to see how this situation would resolve itself. “Who did it?? Oh NO, Lark is in jail……!” Only a compelling story would keep me up after my bedtime and Bluff did that. More important (to me) than the good read, however, were Mr. DeDakis’ thoughts regarding the art of writing ----and communicating. His words do not apply only to writers, but to how we relate, people to people. In his workshop, he began by asking us to jot down all the words we would use to describe “grief.” He then spoke of his own deep grief at losing a son and went on to say that if we want our writing to connect with others, our pens must pull words from the depth of our own experiences; write from our hearts. Stories should spring from what we know and feel. I seldom write fiction; it’s not my forte, though I spun out some “Jonathan” stories for our boys when they were young. Nor do I feel skilled at devising complicated, interwoven plots. I am far more comfortable writing about life --- my life, the lives around me; my perspective on the world, especially my own small portion of it. I can describe our snow-covered pergola, bright with three crimson cardinals. I know about retrieving cows that have wandered onto the NYS Thruway, about catching polliwogs in vernal pools and the aroma of fresh hay bales on the wagon. I can describe mediating a contest of wills between a county legislature and a state human services agency, and am able to reflect on surviving a life with family, job and chronic depression. I can share moments of delight, and urge a better understanding of history for its importance to our survival. My gardens, the singing birds, our feral cats, black bear visits, and the small homey bits of each day beg to be shared. I try to send out sparks of hope, create moments of awareness and mete out a quiet kind of joy. So, John Dedakis’s philosophy made sense to me for both writing and for conversation. Personal stories connect us as humans. We find healing as we share our lives, whether via fiction or non-fiction; whether written or spoken. Our stories bring us connection and free others to tell theirs. The Friday AM Women’s Study group that I help facilitate, is a fine example. When we first came together, we really didn’t know each other all that well and were a bit cautious. Now we know each other in ways that are, perhaps, different from, and in some ways, deeper, than we know many of our friends ---there is a soul-connection that is affirming and supportive. Confidentiality is how we respect each other, and how we can trust in the sharing. Families, too, need more awareness of each other. Choosing a time that works ----after school with a snack, or around the dinner table, or just before bed along with reading stories --- is crucial. Family members need to talk with each other about their day ---- and no reprimanding or preaching. It doesn’t take much --- a little careless laughter, a pushing aside of an art project, a small scold --- to make a child think no one wants to hear from him. Of course, parents get busy, worried, frustrated and tired, but if they want kids to talk openly with them when they are teens, the rapport and freedom to do so must begin when they are small children. Being really heard is key to believing we are worthy of life. A “Question Journal” works especially well with tweens and teens. Parent and young person share a journal. The parent writes a question in it, gives it to their kid, who then has the day to write an answer. After they’ve found time to talk about the answer, the young person writes his or her question and hands it back to the parent to answer. Honesty and consistency are crucial. It is also honest to quietly say “I’d rather not talk about that now Let me think about it.” When Kerm and I participated in Marriage Encounter there was a similar procedure. Each person wrote on the question of choice for 20 minutes, then silently read the other person’s thoughts. After writing and reading, there was 20 minutes of discussion. This non-threatening kind of dialog assists in keeping up with each other’s thoughts and feelings. How many people, after years of being together, don’t have a clue about what their partner is wanting or feeling? Communication skills need mending everywhere --- in families, in schools, certainly in Congress, and all over the world. This, as well as other great movements, is a grassroots change that begins at home. Here at my home, February is drawing to a close. I saw a red-winged blackbird on my feeder; probably a scout sent ahead to assess the situation. Yesterday, after the snow, the feeder was inundated with black birds of all genres. There were also wild turkeys, coming off the hill, liberally scattering seed and scratching some in. Sunflowers will be popping up everywhere! But that won’t be happening for a while; both dandelions and sunflowers have the innate wisdom to lie low. Finger Lakes weather can be capricious during February and March. “First gray skies, and then blue, Snow blows in on great gusts of wind while the next day is mellow with sunshine and aromas of coming spring. Red-winged blackbirds come swooping home in spite of unfriendly weather….” **is descriptive of late winter/early spring here. I try not to be impatient, but my heart is ready to be lifted by the sight --- and smell ---- of hyacinths and daffodils. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *---John DeDakis – novelist and writing coach. Former CNN Senior Editor for “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer”. He is the author of five novels and is a manuscript editor ---- and, from my own experience, a really nice person. **- portion of a poem from “A Safe Life” by CWB.
  10. February in the Finger Lakes is like a mild case of the flu. Instead of sneezing and coughing, however, our symptoms are less patience with and more grumbles about cold, snow, graupel, ice and slush. We will assuredly survive, but we are ready for more sun and a few signs of spring. Yesterday was a good start! I try to look at winter as a performance and I’m interested to see how the scenes play out. Will Acts I & II (mid-December- Mid February) bring cold and blizzards, or will it be an open winter with occasional snow squalls and mild temperatures? The 8 below zero last weekend was a mean twist in the plot! After mid-February, we hope Act 3 brings more blue-sky days, occasional signs of swelling buds and a tinge of green in the swamps. Perhaps the play will conclude early with Mendelssohn’s Spring Song. This is a month of celebrations - Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Mardi Gras (AKA: Fat Tuesday/Doughnut Day/ Pancake Day), the season of Lent and family birthdays. In January, one granddaughter turned sixteen, and now, in February, the other will turn nineteen. Both daughters-in-law, another family member and a couple of long-time friends also celebrate this month. So, bake the cakes, light the candles, open the cards and be glad for another year of adventures. Businesses that sell cards, red construction paper, lacy doilies, candy and flowers, rejoice. According to legend, this holiday exists because of a clergyman, Valentine, who continued to marry young couples in Rome against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius thought young men made better soldiers if undistracted by marriage. So, he threw Valentine into jail. From his cell the priest sent notes to friends, signing them “Your Valentine”. Another bit of lore is that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and sent his “your Valentine” notes to her. Whichever is true, his name came to be associated with love prevailing against all odds. Sadly, he was executed for his persistence, becoming a Christian martyr who was then elevated to sainthood by the church and given a feast day in his memory ----- St. Valentine’s Day. Of course, there are many kinds of love. In the Greek language, there are at least three options; eros --- the sort of love that leads one into an intimate relationship with another person, phileo --- brotherly love and kindness for a family member or friend, and agape – the sacrificial, all-caring love for all individuals --- for humanity; God’s sort of love. Tara Shannon’s *Rabbit asked Bear about love: “How do you know when you love someone?” and Bear answers: “When you feel like you’re home no matter where you are.” Bear’s definition is good for all three kinds of love. Movies, TV shows and fairy tales often depict love in ways that are mostly unrealistic. How many girls have waited for their “prince” to come and found that instead of the glass slipper and castle, real love requires patience, accepting differences, balancing a budget, possibly changing diapers for a baby and picking up sneakers from the kitchen floor before scrubbing that same floor. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and several other princesses of lore have set up impossible scenarios for young girls --- and young men too. What sixteen-year-old boy feels like Prince Charming? And how many adults have felt stuck in their roles because of sitcoms? According to TV, “Perfect” wives vacuum in their best clothes, after which they prepare a gourmet dinner. “Perfect” husbands sweep their well-dressed wives into their arms when they return home (after having made oodles of money), they mow the lawn regularly and solve everyone’s problems before bedtime. More recent sitcoms, unfortunately, depict eros as social recreation for the boudoir instead of a commitment to another beloved person. Feeling comfortable with ourselves and encouraging our loved ones to be who they are ---- that is a more real love than the ephemeral feelings of fairy tale love or the banal and graceless philosophy of free love. I expect all of us have, when we are young, felt what is called puppy love --- being noticed by the cool guy or girl and, hopefully, being asked out! It is the glamor of dressing for the prom, the excitement of holding hands at the movies, the quality of a school day that depends on whether “he” or “she” is in class that day. Those developing, delightful, yo-yo emotions need time to mature. Pat Boone sang about “April Love,” but I’d call this early attraction “February Love.” Maybe that’s why there are so many June weddings? Metaphorically speaking, love needs time and wisdom to mature from springtime to summer. Happiness does include romance but no lasting relationship is all moonlight and roses. It is also work, sharing the same values and -- very important ---- finding similar things funny. Kindness, shared interests, laughter, and a bit of moonlight and roses, smooth the twisty path through life. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!! As I’d planned, I’ve been using this winter to go through boxes and baskets of papers; papers of all sorts and genres. Some of what I’ve unearthed is family memorabilia. I’ve found myself wishing once more, that I’d asked more questions when there was still someone alive to provide information. It takes a few years of living to realize that one’s roots can be exceedingly interesting. Their importance does NOT necessarily lie in discovering a coat of arms, eligibility for the DAR or even being related to Pocahontas or King Henry VIII. We each contribute our own value to this world. But knowing about my forebearers gives me a sense of belonging, and I am grateful. One of my favorite quotations explains this: “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch. Listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.**” Every time I read this, I feel loved, connected, and grateful that I am part of a special group of people. We do know a little, for one of my brothers explored some of our genealogy. We knew that my maternal ancestors came from France, but we’ve recently learned that they probably made the hard trek from there to Canada, and then to the United States ---- ten or twenty years before the Revolutionary War. We believe they were part of the sad exodus from Canada, when the British took control from the French, as mentioned in Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline. My father’s paternal ancestors were Highland Scots who probably came to this country either after the Jacobite Rebellion (1747) or when the lairds selfishly uprooted families and threw them off the land to make room for more sheep (1810-1820). I’d have to check on dates, but there is usually an economic or life-threatening reason for leaving one’s land of birth. Along the way, I acquired a Dutch great- grandmother and a German grandmother. This makes me quite a mixture, and gives me a better sense of who I am. But I’d still like to know more ---- about “Uncle Abner Dusett” who I’ve heard, grew fields of carrots on his farm. I’d like my mother’s perspective on the 19th Amendment; she was 22 when it became law. Was “Grandma Allen” really related to Ethan Allen? And how did my paternal grandmother survive being widowed, with two very small sons, in a day when there were few jobs for women? You, who still have older members of your family, take note, and ask questions! History will come alive with stories. My gardening gene is definitely an inherited trait although I wouldn’t have thought so when I was nine and sent out to pick green beans. My mother’s gardens were amazing; I wrote an article about them that was published in Flower and Garden Magazine some years ago. She moved from a veggie garden (after most of her children grew up) to transforming swaths of land around her home with herbs, flowers and shrubbery. Working in the garden was her joy, and even though, in her later years she was legally blind, she gardened until the snows came in her 94th year. When she died the following February, we found her flower orders ready to be sent. One of the fun things ---- for me ---- about gardening, is planning, and I think that may have been true for her too. After her death, I found several detailed garden plans drawn and labeled in her fine script. Visualizing color combinations brightens my January and February. My garden plans tend to change a time or two before planting season. Then, about mid-June, they are altered again, depending on what didn’t germinate, what the rabbits ate and what cool plants I’ve discovered at Early Bird, Baker’s Acres or Iron Kettle. This year, will be a whole new exercise in creative cutting back. Hal Borland*** said: “Spring advances northward at approximately 16 miles per day; roughly 100 miles per week. This applies only to even ground though. When one begins to climb, then northward pace slackens, since Spring moves uphill only about 100 feet per day.” An enthusiastic mathematician could visit Washington D.C. during cherry blossom time and then ascertain when trees might be blossoming in Albany, New York. I think I’ll just watch the cats. When they begin racing around the lawn and dancing on the picket fence, I’ll be quite sure spring is coming closer. Meanwhile, February gives us time to make valentines, fry doughnuts and plan gardens as the snow filters down outside the windows and the cold winds blow. It is good to let people know we love them via valentines. It is a pleasure to use my grandpa’s doughnut recipe (for Doughnut Day, of course) as a once/year treat. And there is great satisfaction in visualizing a garden by the fireside. No bugs, no weeds and beautiful blooms! Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Tara Shannnon ---American writer, poet and artist. **Linda Hogan -----American writer and TV personality. ***Hal Borland ----American naturalist, writer and journalist. 1900-1978.
  11. Snow, snow and more snow! Winter snows and winds have impacted several of our trees, especially our lilacs. The oldest one, probably at least 60+ years old, had three large broken branches that we removed from its center. Now it looks like two champagne flutes with space in the middle. Kerm taped another newer lilac back together, hoping it will reattach. Butternut and tulip trees have shed limbs all over the lawn, and one crab apple tree is split right down the middle. The deer have been nibbling one rhododendron whose burlap cage was too low. Winter can be a relentless pruner. I’ve been indulging in garden dreams (catalogs); White Flower Farm, Jung, Bluestone, Pinetree, etc. I particularly enjoyed this thought by Rumi*: “And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It is quiet, but the roots are down there riotous!” Our 2022 gardening clarified some gardening choices for 2023. We no longer wish to weed endlessly, to cultivate new spaces or even to process bushels of food come harvest time. I enjoy carrots and beets from my garden, but fresh produce from the local store or Farmers’ Market will provide adequately. This year we will need more mulch, and we’ll be growing only what I won’t be without; potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, basil and lots of flowers. Well ---- maybe some pumpkins! I believe that working in the soil is so healthy for the body and mind, that unless I’m confined to bed, I’ll be out there with trowel doing something. Just not quite as much! Remember our pinochle group? Ten or twelve of us around the table playing with three decks of cards? We even played by the light of many candles one night when the power went out. This group hasn’t met for three years because of COVID and other obstacles. We happily got together a couple of weeks ago. It isn’t that we are super-serious about pinochle ---- which is fortunate---- because some of us were a bit hazy about a double run, what was trump, who led, and one of us (who shall certainly remain nameless!) even played an entire hand leaving meld on the table. But, as we played, we caught up with each other’s lives, nibbled on delicious snacks and laughed quite a lot. We are a diverse group; there’s a retired teacher turned life coach, a retired music teacher who continues to direct choirs and draws wonderful music from pipe organs of the region, a retired Head of Maintenance in a large company and retired dental hygienist, two retired human services administrators, and an entrepreneur currently running a book store. We were missing the Bee Master and the retired University forester. Pinochle is one of our vehicles for having fun and feeling better about life. We are good for each other! Everyone needs friends like this, not necessarily for cards, but to add affirmation, humor and understanding to life. Anne LaMott** says that “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” I like that because laughter lightens the heaviness that we all feel and it often improves perspective. A sense of humor is a curious thing. I’m not sure whether we are gifted with it, or whether one can develop it. It is the old argument regarding nature and nurture. My mother didn’t have the same sense of humor that I had. She would laugh at a duly labeled comic strip and the antics of small children, but puns and small bits of coincidental humor never registered with her. Fortunately, she managed to be light-hearted without this gift, but both she and I wondered why we didn’t always find humor in the same places. Some people view life as super-serious. To the too-focused (fanatical), laughter seems frivolous, and they find little humor in the surrounding world. Some TV examples would be Temperance Brennan, forensic specialist on “Bones”, and the annoying young scientific geniuses in “Big Bang Theory”. These characters are intelligent, inner-directed, and very, very serious with nary a gleam of humor entering their consciousness. Laughing at themselves wouldn’t be possible! My high school English teacher wrote in my year book, (with slight exasperation, I thought): “you made me laugh even when I didn’t want to.” Maybe that was good --- a high school English teacher probably needs to laugh more. I do know that seeing the humorous bits in most situations has been a boon and blessing for me. Without laughter I’d be mired in the deepest despair for the world. And because there’s currently so much world-wide anxiety, I would like to share a poem by Mary Oliver.*** In spite of fun and humor, I am a chronic worrier, though I’m also chronically trying to reform from undue worrying. So, I keep this poem where I can see it regularly. “I worry a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not, how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And I gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.” ‘Tis a fine line between contemplating--- being prepared ---- and worrying. I hope to step over that line less as I go along. However, having made only small improvements in 80 years, I have to accept that I’m a slow learner! One thing that would probably create less worry and more understanding universally, would be a better awareness of past events. After all, “There is no such thing as the past; there is only someone else’s present!”**** Which means the same things keep happening. The lack of historic awareness among the general population, is abysmal and frightening. For example -- every one of us who lives in these United States (unless one is a Native American, and even then…) stems from immigrants who came from somewhere else. Our forebearers were usually desperately escaping poverty or tyranny. Those who know history, know that every time a new wave of immigrants enters the picture, there has been bigotry and tension with claims of losing jobs and rising crime to stoke the fires of fear. During the gold rush, the Chinese were scorned as heathens, fit only to launder the miners’ clothes. When the Irish came, there were “No Irish need apply” signs in shop windows, and you’d never want your daughter to marry an Irishman! When the Italians came, they were disdained and relegated to “Little Italys”. The United States shamefully disregarded the danger to Jewish people at the beginning of WWII and refused them entrance. Arrogance combined with ignorance, is scary. There are many other examples of historic forgetfulness; The witch mania in New England, two centuries of minimal educational opportunities for any except the elite, “blue laws” that trespass on the neutral zone between church and state, lack of labor laws for the welfare of children and other workers, the institution of slavery, the mistaken idea that during the “wonderful fifties”, there was little violence or unrest. Ignorance of history allows us to judge the rest of the world by our own experiences and to think no one ever before had problems like ours today. We are so busy despairing of each “new” issue that comes along, that we throw up our hands, and make little effort to solve the problems in a sensible and equitable manner. The back story might actually help us see what works and what does not. By the time situations are so bad that we must do something, we usually over-react and make laws that ignore common sense. Most frighteningly, ignorance of history allows us to be easily duped by those who wish to manipulate us, using fear, our lack of knowledge and glib words. Spending less time memorizing dates for the War of Roses, and putting more emphasis on what has changed mankind’s journey in the last two-hundred years, including the difficult parts, would be useful. Our children are leaders of the next generation. They need to know about Barbara Fritchie’s flag and Nathan Hale – but they also need to know what conditions necessitated an inspired Jane Addams, Rosa Parks, Nellie Blye and Martin Luther King Jr. Delighting in our heroic past needs to include honesty about where we’ve erred and how we can be better. History shouldn’t be boring; it should be enlightening! There are only five more days before January is “history.” We can feel joy because we are closer to spring, or be equally as happy that we have plenty of winter to go. I hope we each find something that pleases us in every day, even the stormy ones. Blue jays vs. cats with the cat food make me laugh. In the stillness of a winter night, with flakes of snow filtering down I am grateful for living here. It is often the little things in life that bring delight. January is just the cusp of the new year, so as 2023 progresses, I wish that: “God gives you blessings for this new year --- stars for your darkness, sun for your day, light on your path as you search for the way, and a mountain to climb.”***** And laughter --- may there always be laughter! Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *********************** *Rumi –Poet and writer from the Islamic Golden Age. His works have been translated into many languages. 1207-1273 **Anne LaMott ---American novelist and non-fiction writer, speaker, activist and writing teacher. Her base is Marin County, CA. ***Mary Oliver –American Pulitzer-winning poet. 1935-2019 ****-- David McCullough –American popular historian and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. 1933-2022. *****Myra Scovel –American nurse and missionary for the United Presbyterian church, and writer. She wrote “Chinese Ginger Jars” among other books. 1905-1994.
  12. Happy New Year again, now that we are actually in 2023. I have so appreciated the holiday season that is just past, and wish some of the benefits could go on and on, as this says: “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”* New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were both busy and engaged because our granddaughters were here all week, and then our adult kids were here and life was lively. There wasn’t a lot of time for year-end introspection, but in the back of my head was a little voice saying, “live this coming year well; so much can change and challenges may come, so treat each day like the jewel that it is.” The Christmas tree, dropped needles liberally so was taken out before Twelfth Night, where it resides behind the bird feeders for the winter. In the spring, we’ll remove it to the hill, adding it to the escape piles for small creatures. The snow babies will, by this weekend, be tenderly packed away in bubble wrap and tissue. The evergreen wreath, made by FFA kids, remains on the door and the outside lights will be part of our landscape until March or April. A Christmas gift was an iron welcome sign featuring bears. We will hang it on the porch, but we’re hoping the bears can’t read, because --- unfortunately -- they feel far too welcome already. We are mixing the old (driveway lights) with the new (bear signage) to take us through the winter. There are always two edges to newness. Will the new things create discomfort? Will I know what to do in new situations? It usually takes some wearing before new shoes are really comfortable. It takes a while for new acquaintances to become friends, if they are ever going to be. A new house doesn’t really become home until it has been lived in for a bit, collecting memories. But the other edge is vitality; without new experiences, life becomes dull, boring and tasteless, leaving us in a rut of non-growth. Rainer Maria Rilke** said, about his new year, “And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” It is a matter of perspective; do we believe the universe is basically friendly --- or hostile? Whichever we believe deep inside, will color how we regard those “things that have never been”. It could be wonderful – it could be scary - it might be uncomfortable! Even when I’m flailing against change, or find a change disturbing, I am still glad that I’m able to experience it; still able to awake, get out of bed, make decisions, move around, fix my own tea and connect with friends. Mornings are especially good now that there’s generally no need to rush off somewhere. As I sit in my living room, a crackling fire in the wood stove, the day ahead of me, I feel happy and contented. The finches, and an occasional cardinal, are socializing in a viburnum shrub outside the window, the day is quiet except for the usual traffic going by. Because there are so many places in this world that are filled with the chaos of over-crowded streets, fear of bombings, tension and poverty, this quiet is a gift. I am warm, not hungry and I don’t tremble in fear of armies or mobs. Gratitude fills me up, and there is a feeling that if I am this privileged, I am surely meant, in some way, to share this plentitude. And speaking of sharing, I am always amazed that with so many groups and individuals creating programs to help those who need assistance, that help seems to be a proverbial drop in the bucket. I think my difficulty comes because my mind doesn’t grasp huge numbers; they simply don’t compute. So, when someone says “two billion people,” my mind has no parameters for such a crowd. But, accepting that we reach only a small percentage of people in need, even in our own small community, we continue to make sure the food cupboard is available, contribute to those organizations that mean most to us, and make an effort to be available for people around us. If God cares for each sparrow (as the old hymn goes) then we surely can do our bit for individuals in our arenas of life. I think if each of us who are able, devoted a portion of time to helping, in some way, that maybe the percentage would change from a drop in the bucket to buckets-full of helped people. The holidays are over and we are now in January, “ordinary time” on the church calendar --- with 31 days of potentially yucky weather. I have thought about how my perspective on snow and cold has changed. As a child and even a teenager, I liked winter. There were snowmen and snow forts, parties with sledding and hot chocolate, dances and roller skating --- even occasional ice skating. I remember riding in the car when I was very young, watching the snow coming at the windshield like the end of a witch’s broom --- and I thought that was really cool. Apparently, ignorance of potential danger really can be bliss! Now I try to not go out on the roads at all when snow is coming down. And those heavy boots, bulky coats, scarves and gloves or mittens? As a kid, donning those things was no problem; now they weigh me down, making it difficult to be mobile. A ski pole accompanies me on my snowy rounds outside, for balance has become uncertain! Fortunately, we can count on fairly rapid weather changes. There’s an up-state NY saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. The 60-degree temperatures after Christmas while a bit weird, were pleasant though at the same time, I am aware that such outlandishly mild temps signal unhealthy iceberg melting, increasing allergies and danger to habitats for penguins and polar bears. I don’t actually make New Year’s resolutions, but there are some changes I hope for this year. I have, for many years, lived with a bad habit (common among humans, especially women) of neglecting things that may improve my life, but take time. “Me time” has seemed irrelevant and a bit self-indulgent. I think this attitude begins with having children and the need to put their welfare first. After children, it has become a fixed habit to get over-busy with details of the house, or other activities, and the hours fly by. I didn’t do much introspection on New Year’s Day, but I’ve determined to make space for this in tiny chunks of time every day; more quiet time for myself, to consider the state of my soul. I’m not speaking of meditating or actively deep-breathing or planning menus; I’ll just be pondering whether or not my day has been satisfying and if it’s not, why? Am I feeling part of the universe around me, or am I bogged down in my own concerns? If the dishes and laundry have to wait a couple more hours, life will still go on. Then there is my flute, poor neglected instrument that it has been for several years now since my neck and fingers became more arthritic. It was reconditioned just before Christmas; all its little key pads refreshed, and so I will work on playing again, enough to make music in my heart even if it isn’t good enough to make music in an orchestra. And finally, along with a challenge from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I’ll be spending more time outside than the usual quick tour from bird feeder to bird feeder. Fresh air is good for my lungs and walking good for the entire body, even when it isn’t comfortable. These things may seem miniscule, but I think they will have large impact on both my body and my attitudes. Of course, your small changes might be way different form mine, but we all probably need one or two uplifting, happiness-engendering adjustments to our lives for 2023. We mustn’t allow ourselves to become jaded and world-weary, nor should we be set-in-concrete with habitual ways. As we look to the months ahead, all of us hope for good days and loving relationships. I thought the following was good advice: 1) Do the things you love more often. 2) Let go of people or situations that drain you. 3) Sometimes you need to get uncomfortable to get comfortable. 4) Where your attention goes, your energy flows. 5) If you change your mindset, you will change your life.”*** These seem, to me, to be basic for making little changes that mean a lot; that may well improve all 365 of our days this year.. Rainer Maria Rilke may have been rosily optimistic about what his year of “things that have never been” would hold, or maybe he simply made a resolution to adjust his perspective when challenges came along. Perhaps frequent adjusting (being flexible) is the secret to finding what we long for, and what we hope for at the beginning of each new year. Perspective lies within us! We are each here for a purpose, or so I believe. So --- may we welcome in this new year, with things that have never been, and trust that whatever is new in our lives, will be right for us. Coming next ----“What’s trump and who led?” Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. ********* *Hamilton Wright Mabie---American writer, essayist, editor, critic and lecturer. He wrote books like: “Norse mythology and “Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know”. 1875-1926. **Rainer Maria Rilke --- Austrian poet and novelist. He was born in 1875 and died in 1926. ***quotation from Inner Growth Reset --- not just sure what this group is, but they seem to have a lab for research, and opportunities for therapy.
  13. We’ve decorated, baked, caroled and the Season of Noel is approaching its end. We do have until January 6th ---- 12th Night ---- before we must pack the shiny ornaments away and we head into true winter. It has been two weeks of being together with friends and family, good church services and special music. One of our remaining tasks would be sending out Christmas cards. We have more time now, to write notes. New Year’s Eve is coming and it is, for many, a time of merriment and partying. I somehow managed to escape the “coming of age” inebriation experience. This wasn’t through any particular virtue of mine, although truthfully, I can’t comprehend why people would want to suffer again and again after once experiencing a hangover. Simply, there was no alcohol in the house during my growing-up years, and a little glass of wine or a can of beer was never part of my culture. Most of my friends didn’t drink either. And after trying a sip or two in college, I realized very soon that I didn’t like the taste; fermentation tasted like something I’d throw away. However, in a spirit of helpfulness, for those who indulge in a bit too much bubbly on New Year’s Eve, I offer this nutritional advice. DO NOT drink coffee as a cure. Two major effects of excessive alcohol consumption are dehydration and stomach irritation, which will also interfere with eating. Coffee, which acts as a diuretic can cause more fluid loss and possibly more stomach upsets, thereby delaying recovery. (This is also why, when urged to drink more liquids by one’s doctor, coffee doesn’t count!!) Instead, you need to drink about a quart of fluid upon waking, and another quart over the next 24 hours. Water and fruit juices are good choices. Also, take a Vitamin B tablet. And rest! Hopefully, though, you won’t need this recipe as you leave 2022 behind and enter 2023. Winter, with its varying moods, will be with us now until the spring Equinox in March, as well as several weeks thereafter. I view this as a sort of hibernation time --- why should bears have all the perks? This thought from Serendipity Corner* concurs: “The winter is a friend if you make it one. I look forward to the gray, quiet time for solitude, contemplation, leading long conversations with friends. Colors are softer, sounds have more depth, the pace is gentler. Instead of resentment at the lack of sun, snuggle into the gray velvet quilt and make yourself a cup of tea.” I would, as an aside, disagree about the sun; anyone living in our region, needs a sunshine light; our brains need sunlight to function well, in addition to determined good cheer! Kerm and I don’t cease our coming and going, but we cut down. I find it soothing, to not always be getting ready for something. I enjoy reading new books, and re-reading favorites. Two of the books in which I indulge annually are: The Nocturnal Naturalist by Cathy Johnson** and Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale.*** It somehow makes my winter brighter to remind myself of what the creatures around us are doing. According to bird experts, owls are currently mating and laying eggs. Brr! A frigid nursery for the owlets! But isn’t it reassuring that owls are sure enough about spring coming to mate and lay eggs, despite chilly winds and falling snow? We can soon open fresh calendars and maybe --- possibly ---- even decide to acquire a fresh point of view or two. For many years I constructed a calendar “from scratch” for ourselves, then for our sons and then for sons and their families. I’d buy a large drawing tablet and start laying out lines for days of the month. Then I’d add pertinent stickers or hand-drawn sketches, and the dates of family birthdays and anniversaries. I finished with a lovely picture for each month. Arthritis in my hands has made this process difficult, so now I purchase a calendar that I think is appropriate and fill in the dates, along with a few fun stickers. This isn’t as personally satisfying --- but happily, I don’t need hand therapy afterward. I like calendars in spite of the current propensity for keeping dates in a phone. I like seeing a picture that illustrates the kind of month we hope it will be --- and I like turning the pages when the months change. I’m a visual person and storage of my daily life in a mechanical device just doesn’t do it for me! How do your days run? Or maybe I should ask if your days race by, or are there periods of slow sauntering and maybe even stopping to enjoy the view? How do you decide to fill your days? I think most of us glance at our calendars, be they electronic or on the wall, and if there is an empty slot, we agree to do whatever it is we are being asked to do. Our days fill up quickly, and suddenly, we need roller skates! Growing up in 4-H, the accepted mantra, when asked to do something, was “I’ll be glad to!”**** I believe in volunteering and being helpful, but is it possible that we need to moderate this philosophy, giving our lives more thought before we jump into someone else’s agenda? We tell ourselves we just want to help, but is that all? Is there a self-serving bit of wanting everyone to appreciate us, that makes us say “Yes”? Several friends were recently talking together, and the question was: “What if we took the time for some spiritual guidance to determine our calendar activities? How would that change our attitudes and our days?” Interesting question! Might wisdom possibly come filtering through quiet time and into our souls? I happen to believe strongly in spiritual nudging but even so, I seldom think to ask for clarity about using my time well. Do I need more time to rest? Am I saying “yes” to prove I have the stamina for anything? Should I, instead, be spending time in ways that stretch my mind and spirit? Am I cheating anyone else by giving my time away? And, perhaps most crucial, what impact will this have on my inner self? Will it lift my spirits or depress them? I’m certainly not suggesting we do not volunteer, but time, especially as we increase in years, is a precious commodity. Giving more in-depth thinking to how we spend our time, before we scatter our hours abroad, seems like a useful New Year’s resolution. “New” years don’t, universally, always start on January 1st; they begin at different times for different cultures. In ancient Ireland, the new year began at the end of the harvest season --- bringing us Samhain, which led to our Halloween. The new year for Orthodox Jews is Yom Kippur, after the atonement time of Rosh Hashana. For the Christian church, Advent, four Sundays before Christmas, begins the new church year. Tet is the Vietnamese new year and it depends on the lunar calendar, but usually comes in January or February, as does the Chinese New Year. Anyone with children may consider the beginning of school their actual new year. Beginnings are exciting and maybe a little scary; there’s gratitude for the past year, gladness that life is moving along with us, and hope for the future, along with a bit of trepidation about possible changes. I have a few regrets for this past year; the loss of friends through death and/or misunderstanding. I regret the times I’ve been so focused on my worries that I’ve been oblivious to the wonders around me. I wish I had used my time better. Mostly, though, I’m filled with gratitude for family, for friends and for all the opportunities available to me. I have concerns, of course, about the violence so prevalent now and the unrelenting “me first,” greed and desire for power that is somehow viewed, by many, as acceptable. I regret the fear that drives people to reject, to the point of persecution, life-styles and philosophies not their own. But I’m also hopeful that eventually, bit by bit, good sense and kindness will prevail. This year could be much like last year. Spring will come, we will garden and mow the lawn, celebrate holidays and continue what we normally do. But one never knows how life may veer in a new direction. I note changes in my own life. Suddenly a good friend dies. With no warning, my favorite destination store closes. It is no joyful thing that my eyes continue to deteriorate and that arthritis sneakily bends my fingers further and stiffens my neck. These are painful little reminders of change that demands more thoughtful coping skills. Other changes are more welcome; I have the joy of seeing our granddaughters maturing into creative and talented adults, of enjoying times with friends who are kindred spirits and of seeing glimpses here and there of new and good things happening world-wide. So – for this next year I liked this little quotation that I found on Face Book --- I don’t know its author ----and will share it with you. “I hope there are days when your coffee {tea for me} tastes like magic, your playlist makes you dance, strangers make you smile, and the night sky touches your soul. I hope you will fall in love with being alive again.” And remember that each of us has the power to add to the light or darkness of the world ---- a bit daunting, but also a wonderful responsibility. Happy New Year! ******************* Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *--Serendipity Corner –New Age & Metaphysical shop in Kentucky. **Cathy Johnson –An American writer, artist and naturalist. ***Edwin Way Teale---American conservationist, photographer and writer. He documented environmental conditions all across the United States. 1899-1980. ****Dorothy Emerson coined the phrase “I’ll be glad to” as she spoke to 4-Hers all over the country. She was my first “inspirational speaker” and had a huge impact.
  14. Starry skies --- crisp nights ----- occasional snow feathering down ----sleds, sleighs and church bells. That is what all the beautiful winter cards depict. In real life, we often have what the meteorologists call “graupel” plus sleet and freezing rain, with a little mud underfoot, making slush, rather like what we’re getting here today ---and tomorrow. The cards keep us looking for that bit of winter magic. I wish that I could find a better use for the many beautiful cards, especially hand-made ones, with the lovely photographs or art-work; I save the prettiest ones, occasionally take them out to enjoy and sometimes put them into a collage. When real snow does come, I am reminded of moon-lit sledding on my brother’s farm. He had a nicely sloping hill with plenty of flat, empty space at the bottom. We’d bring out sleds and saucers for a couple of hours of fun, illuminated by moon and car lights. Occasionally, instead of trudging, we’d get a ride back up the hill. In times of no snow, between Halloween and Christmas, we might have a hayride party where we’d snuggle into some loosened hay bales in a wagon pulled by the farm tractor, entertaining ourselves with singing and laughter. Fun didn’t end with summer weather. A change in seasons only offers us new ways to enjoy life. We need to look for fun things to do --- it is good for our mental health. It has been a lovely Advent season. We do what we can to buffer ourselves against the nightly servings of bad news around the world; news from places and people suffering, with no peace on earth. The stories, legends and music around this particular holiday help and encourage us, for neither was there peace on earth 2000+ years ago. Some people I know bury themselves in Hallmark movies; I have trouble sitting still for those, so I’ve been reading stories from “Tales Told Under the Christmas Tree”, short stories and poetry from some of the old “Ideals” magazines, and thoughts for the season from an Advent Daybook. The aroma of baking cookies sometimes fills the air and, if not cookies, then spicy-scented candles. The morning wood fire keeps the living room toasty and I can drift away to some other place and time for an hour or so, forgetting war, confusion, and dishes to be washed. As our cold temperatures increase, the numbers of birds around feeders grow. The chickadees are so friendly that I soon expect them to perch on my seed pail. They seem positive that we are bearing goodies just for them. The cardinals, with their bright crimson sit further away, and the blue jays, greedy and obnoxious as always, are a nice contrast in blue and white. The omnivore blue jays have taken to stealing cat food as soon as the cats turn their backs. Perhaps it is a game --- “Hey, Buddy ---How much can we get away with before Fluffy sees us?” There’s other winter wild life around too; we sometimes hear the coyotes calling across the valley, their voices echoing through the night. Others have seen a fisher (also called fisher-cat) in our neighborhood, but I have not. And that’s OK. They are rather vicious, quite-large, members of the weasel family and I’d rather they prowled elsewhere. I look when I’m up at 2 AM, to see what critters we do have. A couple of weeks ago, I opened the back door and faced two chubby raccoon youngsters about to climb onto the table where I’d put the cat food. They were fluffy and cute, but they are also destructive, so I sent them away and moved the cat food. I mentioned to them they’d make great muffs! They left, but didn’t hurry, so I’m assuming they weren’t overly terrified by my implied threat. Thinking of “middle of the night” experiences ----- in eighth or ninth grade, I hosted a slumber party. “Slumber” is inaccurate, for there was little sleeping. I have some photos of the occasion indicating that we played games, sang, and talked endlessly. I remember, that at 3 AM, we rang cow bells outside, and sang “It’s Three O’Clock In The Morning”*. Fortunately, we had no really close neighbors to be disturbed by the hullabaloo. Thinking back, I’m astounded that my father didn’t object rather vociferously; his tolerance for middle-of-the-night noise would, ordinarily, have been zero. My mother must have miraculously convinced him we should be allowed our mild rioting for one night. Wakeful nights and not enough sleep are now major problems, for us and for many people we know. It is as though we are stuck in the “waiting up for Santa” stage. Among our friends, we’ve joked about arranging a face-time party at 2 AM. With “pillow hair” and eyes at half-mast, that’s probably not a great idea. There are podcasts about sleeplessness, for, according to doctors, it is a serious problem hindering healing, impacting the immune system and aging mechanisms, and adding to a possibility of depression and anxiety. Most remedies I’ve tried, worked briefly, and then ceased being effective. The scent of lavender is supposed to ease one into slumber, various herbs may assist (chamomile, valerian, hops), and a good bedtime routine is a sensible place to start. But none of these, so far, have prevented those wee, sma’ hours when I lie there with eyes wide open to the night. If I discover any sure-fire assists for good sleeping, I’ll share. Meanwhile, the next time we are all up at 3:00 in the morning ---Joyce, Judy, Bonnie, Janet, Diane, Pat, Barbara……..…….! The tree is up and decorated and these last days before Christmas are usually filled with baking --- though less now than when everyone was home. Having several kinds of cookies is surely a genetic pass-along from my mother. She always had three or four cookie boxes awaiting drop-in guests. Sitting around her kitchen table with a cup of Constant Comment tea and a cookie, looking out at the pond and bird feeder, made any day a good day. With less baking though, there is more time to contemplate the Christmas season. Some of our cards will go out this week, but many for family and far-away friends, will wait. No one has time to read the lengthy letter that goes along with the card until later anyway. It is, hopefully, an a-typical Christmas letter. I never want to make it just a list of what we did, nor do I want it to be bubbling over with manufactured merriment. Since we and many of the recipients don’t get to see each other often, it is our visit via snail-mail. These Home, Garden and Other Wonders essays that go out to you, are also visits, in a sense. Depending on what I’m writing, I frequently feel that I’m talking to one or more of you, in describing experiences that we hold in common or to which we can all relate. Next week, the Solstice arrives. That always brightens my perspective (pun absolutely intended!). I know it will be a while before we really notice increasing light, but my inner being senses the darkness is diminishing, and I am cheered. This very important earth-to-sun occasion often gets lost amid the bells and holiday music but it is a natural event for which we should be giving fervent thanks. So, on December 21st, give a cheer for the earth’s minuet with the sun. In this month of multiple holidays, amid our happy times, we need to remember those individuals who are not celebrating; whose lives are impacted by loneliness, grief or pain. Not everyone can embrace holly and jolly with open arms. Life circumstances can leave one feeling out of sync with the surrounding merriment-filled world. We could all be more sensitive and aware ---- offering the gift of understanding; being a friend who quietly listens. And we should stop worrying about whether someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Both work and it is surely not the season for insisting on one’s own way! Consider offering wishes for “Peace”---something we all need ---- inner and outer. Albert Schweitzer** was a wise and compassionate man, and he said: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Giving the best in ourselves at this season is better than the most expensive gift. And we don’t have to wrap ourselves in sparkly paper or satin ribbons to do so. Being a light-bearer, in our own personal ways, is a gift to the world if it helps just one person. There are so many opportunities for joy and kindness, and restoration of our spirits. Chanukah begins Sunday. The Solstice is the 21st. Christmas is December 25th. Kwanzaa begins on the 26th as does Boxing Day in England, a time to share with those who need help. New Year’s Eve and Day come along with fresh, new calendar pages, and finally, 12th Night --- January 6th --- the official end of the Christmas season. This comment by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks*** seems most appropriate just now: “For though my faith may not be yours and your faith my not be mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, then together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” Blessings to you in this season of light and love. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *”It’s Three O’Clock In The Morning ---Song from the early 20th century, performed by a variety of musicians. **Albert Schweitzer---Born in Alsace in 1875, becoming a French citizen after WWI. He was a theologian, an organist, philosopher, humanitarian and Lutheran pastor. He died in 1965 at age 90. ***Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks ---A Baron--- English Orthodox Rabbi, philosopher, theologian and author. 1948-2020.
  15. Turkeys can now relax; their season is over while we humans have stepped from November (Thanksgiving) into December (Christmas) with hardly a moment of transition. We are one week into Advent; hanging of the greens at church occurred this past Sunday. For nearly all faiths, this is the Season of Lights. Pagan holidays emphasized light because December brings the longest nights of the year, and asking the gods to send the sun’s light again seemed a survival necessity. The Jewish Chanukah celebrates the story of lights (oil lamps) burning way past their expiration time, saving an entire branch of humanity from tyranny, briefly anyway. And, of course, Christmas begins with a very bright star leading to a Light that fills the lives of those who follow. It is the season of trimmed trees, lighted candles and outdoor displays. Peter, Paul and Mary sang a soul-stirring song, probably for Chanukah, but it works for all of us. “Don’t Let The Light Go Out……….Let it shine through our love and our teas….. Oh no don’t let the Light go out, It’s lasted for so many years; don’t let the light go out…..DON’T Let The Light Go OUT!!” In a time when there is so much darkness in the world, we need to be carrying lights for those who can’t ------ or won’t. As temperatures drop here in the northeast and snow comes and goes, we can no longer put off the season of boots, mittens and heavier coats. (Is that snickering I’m hearing from those of you in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, So. Carolina and California?) Mornings here are frosty but energizing, and a cup of tea begins my day well. Hopefully our intrusive black bears are all sleeping cozily some place distant from our back yard. We’ve finally put out the suet as well as bird seed and would prefer no destroyed feeders. Kerm has mended them multiple times this summer and fall; bears, raccoons and squirrels damage them, sometimes more than once/season. I understand that they, too, are hungry, but they have absolutely NO manners! Chickadees, nuthatches tufted titmice are all bouncing around the feeders with their usual quick energy. They, and the woodpeckers, seem grateful for the added suet. It is time to transfer pumpkins from the porch to the lawn, for benefit of turkeys and deer. We’ll be replacing them on the porch, with snowmen and wraths. Our holiday preparations are less strenuous than they were a decade or so ago. We’ve simplified and pared, and use only the things most important to us and that we really enjoy. We’ve ordered our evergreen wreath from the school FFA group, also a poinsettia. We cleaned out our tubs of decorations a couple of years ago, giving away things we didn’t find useful anymore. There was a time when all the exhaustive preparation for Christmas was fun. Now we’d just be exhausted, which seems both irreverent and foolish. We have grown to find the small, happy things around us enough. Of course, we keep the decorations that have meaning; the stable that Kerm constructed, layering the roof carefully with full-length straws gleaned from an Amish oat field, the ceramic Christmas tree given to us by a 4-H leader who made it herself, the wreath our granddaughter created for us a few years ago. Our tree ornaments range from the Shiny Brites my mother and dad had on our tree at home to ones we’ve collected and lovely ones given to us by family and friends. Less stress and more warm times would be our current motto. This coming weekend we’ll be enjoying the community chorus from a neighboring village. They will come to our church to present their music and also do a and carol-sing; a fine way to begin December. At 7:00, on Sunday evening, we gather to hear music that they’ve been preparing for weeks and in between their songs, we get to sing Christmas carols. We are a singing community! Afterward (probably why the group is glad to come here) we have a magnificent spread of cookies and other finger foods. Music at Christmas time is one of my special joys. I play seasonal CDs during the day, as well as in the evening. We have a stash of the usual Christmas carols that everyone knows, but we also enjoy some English madrigals, some classical music like Handel’s Messiah, and Christmas folk songs that aren’t so familiar. One of my favorites is “The Huron Carol” written as a Native American version of the Christmas story. Music is such a mood-changer. I can put on a CD and be immediately brightened --- or elated ---- or relaxed ---- all depending on the music. I’ve even begun practicing a bit on my flute. When arthritis began stiffening my neck, flute-playing became painful, but I’ve missed it, so am working on it a bit at a time. Learning to relax, especially in a busy season, continues to be a work in progress. I think our attitudes toward busyness may begin way back in childhood. Tutu Mora** says that “Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what we’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if we slowed down.” Perhaps! I also think there is a fine line between teaching one’s children to work up to their abilities and forge ahead ---- and over-emphasizing the work ethic to the point where relaxation and leisure sound like dirty words. I think those of us who grew up on farms or in some other family business, have been impressed with the immediacy of tasks and have difficulty in slowing our pace even when there’s no longer a need for pushing. As a result, we often end up (as we age) with tense and painful necks and shoulders, with a feeling of dis-ease when we sit doing nothing and with a monkey-mind that skitters and whirls when we are attempting a quiet time. Whatever the source, we too often cross that line where being busy has become a way of life for us; a morally good way to live. And we have forgotten the benefits of time spent in just being. I recently listened to a series of podcasts on Aging --- which I may share more in depth in another essay. But one thing, offered by a Harvard professor, particularly impressed me. He said that as one ages, life can be better and quite wonderful, but for that to happen, we must change our perspective on what we should be doing. His advice was, every day to include a time for walking (in whatever sense our body allows that -- might be Chair Yoga or stretching if actual walking is impossible), a time for learning something new----reading, a podcast or a class, and a time of holding the wider world up for our conscious concern ---- praying or at least thoughtful consideration. In short, live in such a balanced way that our health and well-being is as important to us as our accomplishments. As we look ahead to the next few weeks, instead of allowing ourselves to become hassled, over-worked and exhausted, perhaps we could try this little formula. Maybe start out by doing each of those things for ½ hour. That is only one and a half hours out of the twenty-four we have, to work on easing and enriching our lives. That would be a fine way to fill December with the peace, radiance and love suggested by the occasions we celebrate. I found this poem by Brother David Steindl-Rast***. I had read one of his books (Music of Silence) and enjoyed it in small bites at a time. This poem speaks to us about quiet --- about conscious awareness of the world around us ----- about finding peace in small things. “May I grow still enough to hear the small noises the earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter. So that you, yourself, may grow calm and grounded deep within. May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow. May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core. May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.” It takes conscious awareness and determination to keep our inner lights glowing, especially in such a complicated time. Whenever I hear “Don’t Let The Light Go Out” I realize the song hold as much relevance today as it was whenever Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it. This dark world needs all the light and LIGHT it can get. If we allow ourselves to be nourished by the creation around us, by time spent in good relationships and caring, we will be Light-Bearers for whatever part of the world is ours. It is good for us and good for whatever part of the world is in our venue, to make the darkness less. Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. *Peter, Paul and Mary” --- a folk and activist trio from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s- **Tutu Mora –Tutu (Dorothy) Mora is a breath-work facilitator and also a certified instructor in Qigong and Pilates. ***Brother David Steindl-Rast --- Born in Austria in 1926. He became a Benedictine brother who has degrees in theology, philosophy and fine arts. He is known for his work with interfaith dialogue and connecting spirituality and science.
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