Friday, December 5, 2008

Taking a "snow day" or two . . . or several~

My daughter arrived home from a week-long business trip to Amsterdam bearing gifts: a snow globe for my collection, magnets for the fridge, a small Delft shoe, chocolates, and for each of us, a pouch of "hot chocolate to die for" from the batch she intends to take to work and give to her colleagues.

So I sat-- feet tucked beneath me, blanket over my lap-- reading a book and savoring a cup of rich hot chocolate straight from the Netherlands at 3 in the afternoon. Not a book for review. A book for pure pleasure, no less. A book for me.

And I wondered . . . did I plan so well in the years leading to retirement, in an effort not to end up twiddling my thumbs, that I forgot the importance of hot chocolate and a book on a cold grey afternoon?

Seems I did.

I have a full schedule. It feels fuller than when I was working, if that's possible. I'm doing what I love, but it has expanded to fill the space of my days, and squeezed out "me time."

Ages ago when my kids were small, I often sat with a blanket, a book and a cup of tea. At a time when the kids needed a constant watchful eye, it was the perfect way to supervise while also relaxing.

But now they're grown and I'm retired and . . . somehow I seldom sit with a blanket and a book any more.

That will change.

Today with a hint of snow in the forecast, I commented to David that his college is in a snow belt, and he could expect to have classes canceled for snow this winter.

And then I said with a touch of sadness, "I'll never have another snow day."

"Mom," he said, "Everyday is a snow day for you, now"

When I worked, I got vacations; they were scheduled-- a time for a change of pace. I'd be wise to schedule vacations into retirement, as well.

And to schedule in some snow days, too!

***From now until after the New Year: first vacation from the blog in nearly two years. I'll return refreshed in January. Enjoy the holidays, and best wishes to you all.
“Sometimes it's important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it's essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.” ~Douglas Pagels

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The need to say it~

I live happily in my own head, content and entertained by my own ponderings and observations. This outward look/inward analysis serves the writer in me well.

I'm a bit isolated during the time it takes to transfer words from head to paper. The process requires uninterrupted time while the download takes place.

Usually I listen to the words in my head and type them-- an easy flow from mind to lap top. Who needs a pen and paper these days? I ignore a multitude of distractions around me to the point that my husband will complain, "You don't remember a thing I tell you."

Huh? Has he spoken?

It's not that I've forgotten, exactly; it's more like I never heard him in the first place. I could well have looked him in the eye while he told me he had a meeting at six o'clock, but my look would have been the vacant stare of a sleepwalker. I may even have nodded and given an affirmative mmm, hmmm, but I didn't absorb a thing. The thread of my own thought was still running in my head, blocking anything else from penetrating. And it must be that way, or I'd lose everything I need to say.

Need is a strong word, but it feels like a need. I write, and in the process clarify something for myself. And the best of circumstances what I need to say resonates with a reader who lets me know.

Today I got a hand-lettered envelope, rare in this day of email and junk mail. The note, a thank-you, read:

Dear Ms. Douillette:

A dear friend, 87 yrs. young, ten years older than I, always gives me her old CSMs and I am reading the September 23 issue today. Your article Citrus-Scented Love has great meaning for me. Thank you for writing it.

The way the brain remembers fragrances and associations connected to them is a beautiful mystery of life.


She included her email address, but I'll send her a real note like she sent me-- the old-fashioned pen and ink kind. I'll tell her how much it means to know that she felt what I needed to say. And I'll pay it forward when another writer's words resonate with me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

You really do not see~

The Tree on the Corner
By Lilian Moore

I've seen
The tree on the corner
in spring bud
and summer green.
it was yellow gold.
Then a cold
wind began to blow.
Now I know--
you really do not see
a tree
until you see
its bones.

I came across this poem years ago when I was a new teacher. It was perfect for young students with its simple words, and simple expression of the sequence of the seasons.

I printed the words on chart paper, using the appropriate color for each season's verse. I drew a bare tree, branches reaching and dividing and running off the paper, and leaves on the ground around the trunk. I hung it on a bulletin board every year in November. The children loved its rhythm . . . like the rhythm of the seasons.

I left this poster behind, along with many others, when I retired. But the words remained with me when I left.

Today I walked into a hospital room to visit my mother. She'd broken her hip yesterday and was waiting for surgery.

Pale, slack-faced in sleep, her form looked small as a child's under the white blanket. The skin on her arms and face was as wrinkled as bark . . . and I thought, "You really do not see a tree until you see its bones."

I looked for a long time hesitant to wake her.

This is her winter.

But when she opened her eyes, and reached for my hand with a smile, and said my name with pleasure . . . I saw she still had spring inside.

“Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple tree.”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Monday, November 3, 2008

The tough get going~

I took a picture yesterday morning of frosty leaves on a prickly vine. Not fine art, or anything, but the sun sparkling on the frost caught my eye, so I took the picture. I posted it on Flickr with the title: "When the going gets tough."

The plant will succumb soon enough to the cold by dropping its leaves and hunkering down in survival mode for the winter, but in the meantime, it was hanging in . . . the tough get going.
When the going gets tough~
The title now seems a bit prophetic after I answered the phone this morning. An older son issue. Again. The kind that wrenches a mother's gut and calls for maternal toughness. Again.

So I need to be strong when I feel anything but, act decisively when I have no clue if I'm doing the right thing. Time will tell. I can only take one step at a time. Each one takes me to a new vantage point, another decision to be made.

One step at a time, day by day. This works.

Somehow I've learned to stop worrying about where I'll be called to step in the future. When I get to that point, it will be clear to me. Or as clear as it ever is.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Frosty leaves on a prickly vine. Come spring the vine will burst forth with tender new growth. I can count on that.
Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles. ~Alex Karras

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It matters not~

Some days I don't make time to read the paper; others I go from front-page headlines, to Op Eds to obits. The obits I scan, mostly to see the age of death and maybe the cause. Some days are "good" days. The good died old. Other days . . . not so good.

Today there was the story of a 17-year old girl whose last hours were spent in a swamp . . . I can read dry-eyed the stories of the men and women who die in their 90s with accolades and acknowledgements. But a child's death brings a pain sharp and cold to my heart.

It matters not that underage drinking likely played a part. Who, reading this, can say they have not, by the grace of God, or the luck of the draw, or fate, escaped the consequences of a foolish act?

Not I.

But this girl paid the consequence of partying with friends, drinking, and then saying good-bye . . . but wandering into a swamp instead of her car.

"This is why you have to know where your kids are at all times," my husband says as I read the story to him, my voice breaking with emotion.

I know he wants to think that parental control is enough, that our kids are safe because he "knows" where they are. That he can keep them safe. He sounds tough because it hurts to think there are things he can't control.

"Her parents thought they knew where she was," I say softly.

Once I woke just before midnight at the sound of a crash. Against my husband's advice, I pulled on my bathrobe and walked out into a surreal world of flashing lights that made midnight brighter than noon. And in the strobe effect I saw two young boys-- 16- year olds-- lying lifeless on my neighbor's lawn. Yes, they'd been drinking and rushing to be home before their curfew when they hit another car.

My comment the next day when the local news station came with their camera and mics looking for a comment was, "It wasn't an accident. It was a consequence."

It was a consequence, but there was no comfort in the words I uttered years ago when my own slept in cribs . . . and I knew where they were. No understanding that it matters not why loved ones die, or even their age. The pain is the same.

It hurts.
While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. ~Stephen R. Covey

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spinning straw into gold~

If I take credit for my daughter's intelligent, organized approach to life, then I must take blame for my youngest son's overdue library books. If I take credit for his athletic prowess and caring personality, then I have to blame myself for my oldest son's problems.

I'd love the credit, but not the blame. In reality, I deserve neither -- or maybe a little of both. But only a little. They are who they are, these kids of mine. They've been unique individuals from the moment they entered the world. I only polished the surface, and not even that these days as they live independent lives-- or nearly so. I've stored the "character polish" with the baby pictures. Its use by date has expired.

I gave my children half their genes and all my love. They didn't come with instructions for care. Each was-- is-- unique. What worked, what didn't, what was helpful or not, was different for each child. It was up to me to determine what would be best for each of them. And I wasn't always sure.

I advised, nurtured, and disciplined, fine-tuning my mothering to fit each child's needs as best I understood them. I relied more on common sense and innate maternal wisdom than on generic advice from child care experts who never met my children.

Despite me and because of me, my children are in control of their lives. Or in the case of my oldest, he holds the reins, and I have to let him, despite the fact that he often rides off into the brambles.

Faith, like muscle, is built by use. Saying you have faith is not enough. Faith requires you to lean hard on the object of your trust without flinching, without bracing for the chair to be pulled away just as you sit. I have leaned hard on myself, for I must have faith that what I do, what I have done and will do still, if nothing else, is the best I have to offer. That matters.

My children will take the tools I've provided and continue to shape their lives-- for the better, I hope. Or not. But that is for them to decide. I have faith in them, too. Each of them.
“If you raise your children to feel that they can accomplish any goal or task they decide upon, you will have succeeded as a parent and you will have given your children the greatest of all blessings.”~Brian Tracy

Friday, October 10, 2008

The real world~

I'm not sure exactly what the "real world" is anymore.

This morning I emailed a friend to say I was going to get out of the "real world" for a few hours and wander around some cranberry bogs with my camera. I amended my message to say that maybe I was, in fact, actually heading into the real world.

What's real? What matters? Is what matters real?

Philosophy aside, who knows, and maybe who cares? I'm not sure I do. But I've steeped in politics until I'm purple. I'm so tired of it all. It's a game I'm being forced to watch and play.

And as for the current financial meltdown . . . it pays to have so little to lose. I'm not happy about the whole thing, but my life will continue pretty much unscathed, maybe a bit pinchier in the penny department.

Gates held the top spot-- richest man in the world-- for 15 years, according to Forbes magazine. And now he doesn't.

I wonder if he feels any pain from losing his perch to Warren Buffet. Is Buffet gloating? I have not a clue. To me, rich is rich. What difference is there between the first or 31st spot? It's still more money than I could spend in a lifetime. A billion lifetimes.

There is a book I used to read my students when I taught math: How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz. My kids loved the book and so did I. Such a huge concept as a million needs a children's picture book to make it assessable to adults.

"If a million children climbed on each other's shoulders, they would reach higher into the sky than airplanes can fly; if a billion of them made a human tower, it would reach past the moon."

Can you imagine?

Then there's this I stumbled upon somewhere and saved to share with my classes.

A million seconds is 12 days.

A billion seconds is 31 years.

A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

Our country has not existed for a trillion seconds. 
Western civilization has not been around a trillion seconds. 
One trillion seconds ago – 31,688 years – Neanderthals stalked the plains of Europe.

So . . . the real world? I think the real world differs depending on who we are. The real world for me exists of things I can touch and see and hold in my hand-- or more importantly, hold in my heart.

I have a billion of nothing. But I feel rich. I am rich.

Bill and Warren might not understand, but I hope, for their sakes, they do.
The man who has won millions at the cost of his conscience is a failure.~BC Forbes

Saturday, October 4, 2008

To be, or just to be~

To be, or to just be. How? That is the question.

Or to be busy as a bee.

I exist; I'm a human being. I am, so of course I be.

But there's being, there's being too much, and there is just being, I'm discovering, and I've been being too many things at once for too long. I'm trying to learn how to just be "in the moment" as they say, even while being busy as the proverbial bee.

"First things first" (my motto) sounds good, but it's tough to manage if the to do list is overloaded, and mine was. So I did many things first, seldom doing one thing at a time . . . or if I did, I dropped that task unfinished, hopped to another, and then to another, and eventually back to the first. Breathlessly finishing at deadline became a habit-- and a bit of a rush, to be honest-- a habit I now want to break.

Did I have to wait until retirement added hours of formerly prescribed time to my day to learn to just be? I suspect not, but I'm not sure.

Maybe it was the fact that my job took a huge chunk of my time, leaving my "wanna do" list squeezed into the constraints of a weekend along with my "must do" list, that made me feel so frazzled. I guarded my free time zealously, not wanting to waste a weekend minute cleaning the oven and fridge.

So here I am with some free time on my hands for the first time in 35 years, and feeling a little at loose ends. I'm not complaining, exactly, not complaining at all, really, but it's odd to be able to just be after years of rushing.

And old habits die hard.

I need to stop thinking I'm wasting time if I sit down and read for pure pleasure . . . in a bubble bath no less; or if I only do one thing at a time, slowly even; or if I do something that I want to do but doesn't absolutely need to be done . . . ever.

I want to stop resenting the everyday tasks--cooking, making beds, vacuuming-- as intrusions on my "free time," and slow down and do them one by one. All time is free, after all. I know no one who has more than I do, or less. Where can you buy time?

It's a gift, time is, and perhaps nothing wastes it more than to pack it so tightly that it passes in a blur.

So I'm keeping busy, but doing it more slowly. Busy as a Zen bee.
To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles
and by opposing end them.~ William Shakespeare

Friday, September 26, 2008

That's a fair~

I didn't like King Richard's Faire, but I didn't tell the king when he asked, "Did you have fun?" I said, "Yes. Thank you for the ticket." What would you say to a king on the next yoga mat?

I'm not one who likes dressing up in 16th century garb and talking in a fake English accent, or being called milady by fake lords or whatever they were, and everybody there seemed to like that sort of thing. That's fine. I'm sure they'd find my propensity to wander in the woods with a camera odd, too. To each his own.

Just inside the gates to the fair were three ATMs and the lines were long. Once inside everything was for sale . . . even the "free" shows.

I watched a puppeteer behind a mask fleece his audience. He made his puppet say, "Put your hands in your pockets. Grab some bills. Pull them out. Wave them in the air. I want to see a sea of green." Then the puppet dispersed ushers to collect the money.

Okay, I don't like puppets. I'm no judge of a show involving a skeleton puppet with a fake English accent making lame jokes.

I could see how families would like the atmosphere. The day was beautiful, there were darts to throw, arrows to shoot, rope ladders to climb-- all for a price-- but that's a fair. The food-- turkey legs and chowder-- was expensive, but that's a fair. There was nothing to do that did not cost money-- except to watch the jousting match-- but that's a fair. I would have liked a beer; people wandered all over with them, but I could have bought two six packs for the price of one drink, and yes, that's a fair, but that's not me.

There was a woman, in costume and high above the crowd on stilts who was dressed as a baby. Her purpose was to get suckers to put dollar bills in her pouch. . . . under the guise of entertainment.
She talked baby talk; she had wax over her teeth so it looked like she had baby gums. When a man asked if she drooled, she produced a dribble of spit and let it run down her chin. "I'll do anything for you, daddy," she said, and then kept at him until he put money in her pouch. I stood back and watched the crowd. The adults laughed and gave her money. Money! For being a baby puppet on stilts! Who drooled for money! But the expressions on the children's faces said it all. You can't fool children. She was weird and creepy.

And she became the flavor of the fair for me, somehow-- a way to make money, no particular talent needed, and kind of weird.

That's a fair. Not my thing.
Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don't take anything too seriously, it'll all work out in the end.~David Niven

Saturday, September 20, 2008

King Richard does yoga~

King Richard is in my yoga class. I noticed him because while the rest of the class twisted to the left, I twisted to the right-- I am directionally challenged-- and stared straight at the portly, equally twisted, grey-bearded man less than three feet from me.

He plays King Richard at the annual King Richard's Faire in a neighboring town, but I didn't know that until the class was over and he offered us complimentary tickets-- I took two, a fifty-dollar value.

He was a bit of a noisy breather, this only man in the class of woman. The instructor remarked that we were "quiet breathers" and this spurred him to breathe more avidly. She commented that he was using the "ocean breath." It sounded like the one my husband uses when he falls asleep in front of the TV.

I've done yoga off and on for years. I don't much like the breathing noises. When the instructor says, "exhale," I think about all the other breaths-- colds, viruses, whatever-- entering the roomful of air I share. The directive to breathe through the soles of my feet leaves me baffled. The command to pull my naval to my spine-- I wish!-- makes me feel . . . plump. I have left/right problems, and I breath in when I should breath out.

But I go to yoga classes for the stretching, the delicious feeling when my spine loosens, the feeling of limberness, the tightening of my muscles as I hold a pose, the deep relaxation at the end of the class . . . this I relish.

At the end of this session, we rested on our mats. The instructor covered each of us with a blanket, mellow music flowed, candle light flickered, and I felt myself relax.

Then the hot flash began. I decided not to fling off the blanket (or my clothes) as I'd have done at home in bed. Instead, I practiced serenity . . . inhale cool, exhale heat. Forget that you're burning up, I told myself. Relax. And then King Richard began to snore. Not the gutteral ocean breath, but something akin to muck being sucked down a drain. And with it went my peace.

Tomorrow I'll use the $50 complimentary tickets at the King Richard's Faire.
Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Landing on my feet~

My retirement began "officially" slightly more than a dozen days ago. So I still think on "school time." I wake about the time first period begins. I know the teachers are hustling their classes to the cafeteria at 12:05 for a noisy lunch, then recess. I think of them again at 2:15 when the kids board the buses to go home.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I'm not there, although I am still there in my head . . . a little. I visited the school website yesterday and looked at the daily bulletins. Same old, same old: meetings, fundraisers, and the lunch menu. I clicked around the site a little more. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to work there.

Last night I had a dream. I was in school watching all the hustle and bustle as teachers prepared their classrooms and gathered supplies. I chatted with them as they scurried around. I was glad to see everyone, but aware that my roll had changed. They were involved and I wasn't. They had work to do. I didn't.

One teacher was high up on a ladder picking books from a shelf. I climbed up to talk. I can never make it past the third rung in real life, but I climbed to the rafters. So this is where they keep the books now, I thought. Then I looked down and froze. I was dream high, impossibly high, and scared stiff.

I needed to get down, and fast. So I closed my eyes and stepped off into thin air . . . and floated, soft as a feather to the floor.

So . . . I guess I've stepped into retirement and landed on my feet. I wonder when it will feel real, and not just a dream.
Nothing happens unless first we dream.~Carl Sandburg

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The sun will come out tomorrow~

Pain, sorrow, disappointment, worry: these can be squashed into a tiny dense lump and hidden beneath the heart, covered with light, airy emotions: anticipation, excitement, hope, pleasure. You can smile, laugh even, with a core of pain secreted away.

Sometimes things around you contrive to awaken the buried feelings . . . an article someone writes, a book you read, a conversation, a phone call, and when they all happen at the same time, there is no choice but to reexamine the pain you've hidden. Time to get it out into the light and look at it long and hard. To feel it, experience it again. To rise above it.

When my kids were little and fell and skinned a knee, I'd hold them tight on my lap and rock them and say, "It's only pain. It hurts I know, but this is as bad as it gets." I'd blow on the cut and say, "See it hurts a little less, now. You can stand it. You'll be fine."

And they were.

They didn't need me to blow on their cuts after a while. They knew they were stronger than the hurt.

"I'm fine, Mom," they'd say.

And they were.

I did the same for their emotional pain as they grew older. Hurt feelings are worse than skinned knees. "It hurts, but you'll live. This part is the worst. It gets better. It doesn't last forever. You'll see."

And they did.

I believe in facing down hurt. Looking it squarely in the face and letting it wash over me. Feeling it. It isn't bigger than I am. I am stronger.

It has been said that when tears flow they take with them some of the chemicals that arise in sorrow. Experiments have been done. Tiny vials held beneath lachrymal glands collect the drops. Scientists in a laboratory examine emotions under a microscope. I don't know what they've discovered. I don't know if crying helps.

I think shedding tears is like a rainstorm that washes the dust and pollutants from the air so that when the sun comes out again-- and it will-- things look brighter.

I tell myself this as I hang up the phone. My oldest. I said no. Again. Tough love is an exquisite pain. But I can handle it. I've seen how bad it can get, and I'm stronger.

And for each of you with your own private pain, I can't blow on it and make it better, but I can be with you as you rise above it. That's all we can do for each other.
The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.
~Lord Byron

Friday, August 29, 2008

A jar of summer~

Today I decided to stock the larder for the coming winter. The abundance of peaches, some so ripe and ready that they are dropping off the tree, warrants more that the momentary pleasure of eating them with brown sugar and cream for breakfast.

I could eat peaches and cream for three meals a day, and still not eat them all before they drop to the ground for the ants, and something else that bites chunks from them sometime in the night.

I figured I could make peach preserves and have myself a golden taste of August when the snow flies and the wind beats on the windows this December.

I needed Ball jars. I'd given away the jars left over from my last domestic surge, an unpleasant event involving yellow beans several years ago. Since then I learned it was easier-- and therefore more my style-- to vacuum pack, and freeze fruit and veggies. And then, I stopped doing even that. Who wants yellow beans in the winter? Although, as I write that I feel a twinge of awareness that many people have far less on their plates than I do, and would devour yellow beans anytime, and here I am sticking my over-fed nose up at eating them in December.

So it's a little of that guilt, too, that makes me decide to can peaches today. That, and the idea of peaches on oatmeal in the middle of a New England blizzard. My mouth waters in anticipation.

I left the store having overestimated how many Ball jars I'd need. I stacked four 12-packs in the passenger's seat. The car treated me like a negligent mother, flashing the seatbelt light, then "pinging" in an ever-increasing tempo until I pulled over and buckled up my jar babies.

Of the 48 jars I bought, I filled four with peach preserves. Lots of labor to produce quintuplets. Loads of peaches to peel, and slice, but peaches are juicy and they take up much less space after simmering for a while. Still, four jars will get me through the month of December.

I had a moment of being very hard on myself-- about the time I took a nap while waiting for the sugar to "draw the juices" from the peaches. The recipe said this would take two or three hours and I was sleepy. As I was drifting off I chastised myself. If I was in a little house on a prairie and my family depended on what I preserved for their survival through the months of winter, would I take a nap? Probably not, but only because the house in my imagination had only one room and I had five crying children under the age of ten wandering near an open fireplace while I tried to get comfortable on my cornhusk mattress.

In real life, I had a nice nap, and woke to finish "putting up" my four pints of peaches. Good thing I have an empty nest. But I just might can some salsa and tomato sauce tomorrow. And maybe put some of my seashells in some of the other jars. That's a nice touch of summer that will see me through the winter when the peaches are gone.
"In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."~ Albert Camus

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mature and female~

I went to the bookstore today to find something about photography. But first I did the circuitous route I always take, starting with the bargain books outside on the sidewalk, and then the half-price book tables inside, then on through the various genres, whether interested in them or not. There is just something pleasant about being surrounded by books, even the ones I wouldn't read if someone paid me.

I watch people no matter where I am, and watching someone pick a book from the shelf and browse through it is interesting. I always wonder if the man in the "relationships" section is conscious that he's being observed reading a chapter called "How to Please Your Mate." I glance sideways from the corner of my eye while unobtrusively flipping through a book. Who knows? Maybe I'm being observed reading, "What You Wish Your Husband Understood About Emotions." Totally made up book, but someone should write it.

The pile of books in my arms grew until I finally went to the coffee bar to sit and sip and look them over. As always happens, I left more books behind than I took home. I left with two photography books and The Female Brain. The Female Brain cover blurb says, the author "follows the development of women's brains from birth through the teen years, to courting, pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, and on to menopause and beyond."

I probably should have just stood and read the pages on menopause and beyond, but you never know who might be watching you from the corner of their eye in a bookstore. So instead I paid $14.00 for the 22 pages entitled "The Mature Female Brain" that pertain to me.

I find the brain fascinating and have read many books about brain research. I actually had a bit of a reputation for a while in the teachers' room for being the "brain expert," as my friend Nancy dubbed me. I suppose dropping terms like "anterior cingulate gyrus" into the conversation made me seem likes an expert, but I'm far from it.

To be honest this book attracted me because of the dialogue I saw while skimming. Apparently a man asked his mature-brained wife where his lunch was? Hadn't she brought salami? He'd wanted a sandwich, poor thing. Unbeknownst to him, the hormones in his wife's brain that used to nurture him had faded, and now she no longer did all the nesting things he'd come to expect. Fortunately for the husband, his wife took hormones for other issues and her former cooking and sock-picking-up self returned.

I don't take, nor intend to take, hormones of any sort. Ever. Instead, I've marked that chapter to show my husband when he asks, "What's for supper?"
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."~Dr. Seuss

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Peach season~

It's peach season again in the northeast. Forget the year-round imported peaches I ignore in the supermarket. Fresh picked local peaches are mounded in local farm stands.

But better still, the tree in our back yard is hanging heavy with peaches almost, but not quite, ripe. One, riper than the rest, dropped onto the grass when my husband bumped a branch while mowing the lawn. When he was finished, we shared it, the way we do with the first fruit from each of our trees, including the first tiny cherry we carefully divide in half.

Bruce peeled off the skin and sliced the peach into wedges. Our peaches are fuzzier than store-bought peaches, and the skin is speckled with black fungus spots. But underneath the golden flesh drips with flavorful juice. This one was so delicious that I've checked the fruit daily since tasting that one, gently squeezing to see if it's ready to pick. And eat.

The other day we took a bike ride on a trail that curved along the Rhode Island coast. The trip was 15 miles each way, so we took our time stopping to take pictures., and at one point to examine fresh produce, preserves, and baked goods in a farmer's market set up in a shady park. The peaches, pink and softly fuzzed, caught my eye, and before we hopped back on the bikes I bought one.

I told the lady behind the table how good our own peaches were, but that hers looked so much better. "Ours have skin speckled with black spots," I told her.

She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, that's a fungus," she said.

"What to you do to avoid it," I asked. "Do you spray?"

She was horrified. "No! We don't use chemicals. We hire a company to treat the peaches."

She became distracted by a man she thought had just stuffed an ear of corn down his shorts, so I didn't get to ask how the company treated for the fungus without chemicals.

With the memory of my back-yard peach making my mouth water, I stood beside my bike and bit into the fruit. It was a flavorless mush, pale fleshed and dry. I finished it only because I paid for it-- I was raised not to waste money or food-- but I enjoyed it not at all. Ick.

I'm sure there are things we can do to eliminate the fungus, and make the preaches have more eye appeal, but I'd stack the flavor of our peaches against any other peach anywhere. Hands down. There is no better peach than the ones on the tree in my back yard. Just close your eyes and open your mouth.

Read Inner Beauty, last summer's peach story.
“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it” ~Thomas Walker

Friday, August 8, 2008

Does it matter?

Egocentricity: the state of being self-centered. And who isn't? How can you not view the world, and experience it, through your own eyes, filter it through your own experience, make sense of it through what you understand?

Did you watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Beijing? Look at China shine! Did your heart not recognize China's pride? Were their ceremonies not magnificent? Did you see the precision, the care, the unity, represented in each presentation? I was so impressed and moved. But I see this event, I understand it, as if it were staged in the USA and paid for by private donations. It's not.

At what expense-- at whose expense-- am I seeing this grander-than-ever introduction to an event that hearkens back to the ancient Athenians? An event performed in far simpler venues, for simpler reasons. Or were they?

Does what dazzles my eye, and impresses through technology-- a history lesson delivered via pyrotechnics-- also impress those who were hurt by the very country that stages the event that captures my imagination? This is a nation's pride on display for all the world to see. But what of the individual citizens? Are they dazzled?

At what expense to her own people did China display her glory? Halfway through the event a nagging voice said . . . be not deceived. This comes at great expense to many. And still I watch . . . one eye amazed and applauding, and the other spilling a tear. There was Tiananmen; there is Tibet.

And yet . . . we have our human rights violations, our horrors, in our brief 232-year history. Shameful ones. Have we risen above them yet? How much harder might it be for an ancient country like China, one bound in traditions for millennia the way its girls' feet were once bound? Might they need a longer time to unwrap the bindings?

Do you not see the beauty of the young athletes? Do their proud excited smiles not capture your heart? Skin colors from coal to cream. Does it matter? A language for every color-- some with alphabets, some without-- the words sound different, but they say the same thing. Does it matter? Do you see the symbols in the ceremonies? Peace, unity, harmony, togetherness, love . . . Do we not all want this?

What matters most? Our differences, or similarities? What matters most? Power, or understanding? What matters most? But it isn't this simple, is it? It isn't this simple at all.

It should be, but we just don't know how to make it work . . . yet. I'm not turning a blind eye to civil right violations. None of us should, in our country or any other. The love for our fellow man has to burn like the flame in the Olympic torch, and be carried from place to place until it burns in every heart.

It seems a distant hope, but I'd like to think it's possible.
The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that's wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.~John Williams

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Would you trust this dog?

Seems dogs have issues that can be sorted out with a DNA test. For a price-- $55 to $200-- pet owners can get their mixed breeds tested to find out exactly what their genetic makeup is.

My first thought when I read the story in The Boston Globe was why would you care? I mean, apart from curiosity, why spend the money? I just wouldn't be curious enough. People often times know less about the babies they adopt. And we're talking dogs.

An aside here: I know a man, a South African black who is as white as I am, who paid $300 dollars to find out his genetic mix. This man has a fascinating story of growing up in South Africa. When he came to the US and applied for a professorship at a state college, he overheard a conversation through the door as he waited for his interview. Whoever the South African was, the blacker the better, someone said. I guess racial quotas were at stake. But he got the job, pale as he was.

Anyway, just as knowing a child's family history is useful to doctors, so it is with dogs and vets. The tests are marketed as a way to promote awareness of health issues that might arise in a dog. Some breeds are prone to hip displasia, some to breathing problems, for example.

And then, there's the issue of breed profiling, a close cousin to racial profiling, or judging a book by its cover. The dog of suspicion in today's world is the pit bull. Apparently if a dog even has a hint of pit bull-- the shape of the head, a barrel chest-- the MSPCA has to label it as being part pit bull.

And so what?

Well, for one thing, dog owners don't want their dogs associating with such rabble, and for another, doggie day care centers and landlords can discriminate against any dog perceived to be part pit bull. And in Boston these dogs must be muzzled on public property.

There is no, "don't ask, don't tell" in the canine world, and no canine equal rights amendment. No Doggy Liberties Union. And lots and lots of dogs have features that just might be pit bull.

Interestingly though, a vet who has been classifying dogs for ten years was amazed how wrong she was when test results came back. "I realized, I didn't know squat, " she said.

Makes me think. You can't judge a dog by its looks. Nor a human. It what's inside that counts, and I don't mean the DNA. I mean the heart.
A dog is not "almost human" and I know of no greater insult to the canine race than to describe it as such. ~John Holmes

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This retirement thing~

This retirement thing . . . it seems like it should be so easy, so effortless, so thrilling, to stop the daily grind. It is thrilling; at least I think it will be come September when I'm not following the school buses to work.

But it's not easy.

I had a plan book on my desk for 35 years, one I filled in weekly, scheduling new lessons at 45-minute intervals, meetings, parent conferences, and field trips. I knew what needed to be done and when.

I got up at the same time everyday (5:45 a.m.), ate lunch at the same time (12:06 p.m.) and watched the kids pack their bags for home everyday at 2:15 p.m.

I'm not sorry to give up that regimentation.

But three weeks into the summer, I find myself making lists of things I need to do, and there is so much to do that I can't imagine how I managed while I was working eight hours on top of it all.

There are the household chores, gardening, exercise (aren't retirees supposed to get fitter?), freelance writing, book reviewing, reading the book to review, editing, interviewing and writing for the paper, admin work on a writing site, photography, time with friends, time with family (my aging mother needs a visit), I need an eye exam and the gyn appointment needs to be scheduled-- I'd put it off until I retired-- and I'm supposed to get a bone density test. . . Oh, and this blog. And I know I'm forgetting a lot.

I'm thinking maybe I need a plan book.

After putting in a couple of hours this morning on odds and ends, I forced myself to take a break. I went for a bike ride-- killing two birds with one stone: getting exercise, and taking pictures.

I locked the bike to a tree and walked the perimeter of a pond at Massasoit State Park until the noise of the swimmers and my "to do" list faded. I relaxed-- by myself, but not alone.

I kept silent company with dragonflies, little helicopters that hovered in front of me before darting off; bees intently nosing for nectar; butterflies, ragged wings open in the sun; three curious sunfish side-by-side in the shallows looking up at me through the watery lens. All so busy, but not rushing, just doing what they needed to, one thing at a time, while pausing to bask in the sun.

That's what I need to put in my plan book: Take time to bask.

I'm thinking maybe I'll buy a hammock. I'll pencil that in for tomorrow. First thing.
Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering. ~Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

Saturday, July 12, 2008

If I could put time in a bottle~

I've always been intrigued by Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. Time is relative, he says, in many, many more words.

I won't be so bold, or foolish, as to interpret, but I'll explain what the theory means to me-- rightly or wrongly. Probably more of the latter

Time is not a fixed rate. It varies relative to speed and mass. In other words, the faster we go the slower time moves. If we could speed up to light's velocity as it cuts through the universe at 186,000 miles per second, time would stop. Would that be called eternity?

I don't get it, but I like thinking about it.

E = MC2

Energy is equal to the mass of an object times the speed of light squared. Eventually if mass were speeded up enough, it would cease to be matter. It would become energy. Think "beam me up, Scotty."

We are energy . . . just moving too slowly to manifest that way. We're mired in matter, time, and gravity.

Time goes more slowly in lower gravitation. Clocks that move tick slower than stationary clocks.

I don't get it, but wow!



I've never mastered time. I don't sense time moving, or rather I do, but then I lose track of it. It moves slowly, and then surprise, it passes on by.

My theory is time speeds up the closer it gets to an important date, a date you've been waiting for. When that day arrives, time is going too fast to stop. It races past, and damn! I missed it. I feel the breeze as time flies.

Twice this month, and we're only on the 12th; I've missed important birthdays of people I care for. Birthdays I saw coming for months, but missed on the very day I'd been waiting for.

The slowest time ever passed for me was the last months of my teaching career. The preceding 34 years were gone in a blink, and then the . . . last . . . year . . . crawled.

This disproves my theory, I see now, because I was waiting for the last day, and it took its sweet time coming. At least I didn't miss it.

So no excuses, no blaming time. This is the way I am, and if I hadn't been this way all my life, I'd be worried, but this is how I've always been.

The fault lies within me . . . or maybe Einstein left out some important part of his theory that I am just now discovering. I'll have to work out why time doesn't affect others the way it affects me.

A friend of mine kindly paints my time issue in a favorable light. "You live in the moment," she says. "You live in the now." And she adds, "I wish I could be like that."

Sigh. No, you really don't.

So, happy birthday, Marilee. Happy birthday, Carter. "Belated birthday" cards were made for the likes of me, and others, who for one reason or another experience time differently.

"Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."~Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I (don't) love a parade~

I didn't bring my camera to the Fourth of July parade. It felt strange not having it hang like a pendant around my neck, but it had rained throughout the night, as only an insomniac would know, and was cool and sprinkley with more rain pending.

I'm not a lover of parades. The wait for them to begin is often longer than the parade itself. I'm not sure there is a point to a parade, really. Without my camera to capture odd bits passing buy, I just watched, snapping mental pictures that would have been awesome photos-- the fish that got away mentality.

Four towns drove fire equipment down the street, lights flashing, sirens screaming. As a kid I'd have loved it, I suppose, the sensory overload and all, but today I just thought, "God help us, and the surrounding towns, if there's a fire!"

Next, old cars. I guess a parade's a place to showcase vintage cars, and some must be beauties, if you appreciate cars. Which I don't. A skinny old man driving a sleek aqua something -- a Pontiac? -- came to a stop and revved the engine. It roared and people laughed. It didn't strike me the least bit funny, just kind of juvenile.

I leaned over to the lady next to me, and said, "And I'll bet as a teen he 'laid rubber.' Peeled out, squealed his tires, and all that."

She laughed. "That type drove me crazy," she said.

Then came an assortment of marchers: one band, a dance troupe, an art club, two town Selectmen, a state rep, horses, dogs in colorful scarves leashed to their owners-- the animals I like-- and a scraggly pack of Cub Scouts riding on a flatbed.

"Why aren't the marching?" whispers my husband, somewhat indignantly.

And I ask in return, "Where are they all?" A dying breed it appears--Boy Scouts.

Finally, floats from competing banks and local businesses-- thinly disguised advertising, of course. One display by "Patriotic Solutions," a plumbing company, which, according to the blurb on the truck, can flush away all your clogs and grease, featured a man sitting on a toilet reading a newspaper.

So, no, I'm not especially fond of parades. I don't see the point at all.

Afterward, I chatted with friends, acquaintances, and strangers, about the weather, art, politics, gas prices, pets, and more politics. I met a woman with a longhaired Chihuahua-- a four-pound handful wearing a tiny hooded sweatshirt. He could sit and shake hands just like a real dog. I patted 4H goats, and watched kids feed them straw. I talked to a man who whittled walking sticks, and another who made pottery, and watched people in the long line to buy fried dough.

It was much later in the rainy afternoon that I understood that parades bring people together for something besides Town Meeting. They provide a place for all ages to share a common event. They make us stop, and wait, and look around, and stand still long enough to smile and shake hands with others who share in our community.

What does that better than a parade?

I still don't love a parade. But I like what they do.

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.~G. K. Chesterton quotes

Friday, June 27, 2008

A sudden, swift move~

I was young-- maybe 8 or 9-- when, while taking a bath, I allowed a spider to build a web from the wall to my arm. The spider was intent, single-minded, and even as a child I knew this spider was determined to build a web to capture food. I wanted to be part of its success. Its survival depended upon it . . . and on me, I'd thought. I remember wondering why it chose such a barren landscape as our tub, and such an insubstantial anchor as me. Didn't it know? Couldn't it see?

I was fascinated, and somewhat horrified, to realize that I was allowing a spider to use my body as a connecting point for its web. That was a responsibility I couldn't live up to, and when my father knocked on the door and said, "Time for bed. Let the water out," I yanked my arm hard and the spider scurried away. I tried not to think about it as I crawled into bed.

Decades later, I hesitated for a few seconds before ruining a web a spider had built from the lamp post beside the driveway to my truck's door. I had to get to work. But it bothered me to ruin the hard work of this arachnid with a sudden, swift move it hadn't bargained for. By now I knew the strength of gossamer was five times stronger than a steel fiber of the same size. The web had strength, but I had greater force on my side. The next morning, the spider had rebuilt. And again I applied my force. Didn't it know? Couldn't it see?

Lately the news is full of the devastation of peoples' homes-- tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fire . . . sudden, swift moves. Like spiders, people build homes trusting they'll endure, trusting in their strength. But they don't endure, not always. And I think of the spider, its determination, its desire to survive.

The fragility of humans is on a par with the spider, I think. There are forces larger than our strengths. We feel in charge; we use our brains. We and plan, and consider, but yet, all it takes is a sudden, swift move. We think it won't happen, but it does. Not always, but enough to show our vulnerability. Don't we know? Can't we see?

We see, but somethings are bigger than us. So it becomes a matter of determination, a desire to survive. And that we humans have. Like all of nature.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”~Winston Churchill

Friday, June 20, 2008

Who me, crazy?

Thirty five years will do this to you.

Time to go~

I'm done!!!!

Life begins at retirement. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Call me~

I've misplaced my cell phone. I had it Saturday morning; Sunday I couldn't find it.

I suspect it fell from my pocket while on a bike ride. Retracing my route and finding it in working order after two days of rain would be more luck than my usual, so today I go to the phone store-- just to get some info.

The young salesman shows me-- at my request-- the basic phone; it only makes and receives calls . . . but so what? I have a camera for pictures, a TV for videos, a computer for email . . . who needs bells and whistles?

He points out a more expensive phone-- $250 something-- and before I can shake my head, he tells me my price, since I'm upgrading, is $135, and there's a $100 rebate as well. This phone has ten things-- at least--that I don't need, but the phone is only $35.

I'm sold. Before I can nod my head, he tells me that the phone's speaker is loud.

"Very loud, " he says. " One of our loudest." I try to look impressed, but I have exquisite hearing. Just ask my husband who doesn't. I don't need a loud phone.

A young sales woman wanders over. "Oh, good choice," she says to me. She points out another feature-- large display and buttons. "Not implying anything," she adds. Have I been been profiled-- hard of hearing with failing vision?

Apparently the phone has some other really cool capability called SSB or SLM . . . or something.

"That phone also has SSB," she tells me. "Although you probably don't care; you won't use it." She sort of laughs.

"Oh, don't be too sure," I tell her breezily, although I don't have a clue what she's referring to. Of course I won't use it, whatever it is. I only want to make a damn phone call now and then.

So here I am, glad she can't see me flipping through the 190-page user manual, past "video share," "using the camcorder," and "listening to music" looking for the page that says "making a call/answering a call."

Call me. I'll be able to hear you now.
“Watching something on your cell phone seems like crazy talk to me.”~Matt Thompson quotes

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Missing Dad~

It's been more than five years since my father died. He had Parkinson's disease and yes, he was "old," but it was a moment of negligence in the hospital that took his life. Grief loses its sharp edge, but it has a way of tapping you on the shoulder when you least expect it.

How do you stop missing your father?

You don't.

These were words I planned to read at his funeral. The minister did it for me.


Good-bye to the man I've known longest in my life:

Anybody who knows me knows that I spend a great deal of time “in my head,” thinking, wondering, analyzing . . . and especially so lately as I’ve watched my father age over the past year or so.

There are so many lessons I’ve learned from my father, so many attitudes and values and philosophies that I’ve absorbed through the years. And it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, to find that even after his death there is more to learn from him.

Just going through his files and books has revealed a depth that I was unaware of. After all, he was my Dad. I lived with him for so many years and cast him in the role of parent. I sometimes overlooked the man, a person unique to himself, apart from his role as my Dad.

I found myself standing in his den, looking at the many books he had accumulated over the years, books that I remember once telling him were boring. His love for his Scottish heritage and his interest in all things military are evident. So many of the books that I pulled out to peek in, (and still found boring), held a special memento set aside there by him; a bible verse in one, a clipping from a church bulletin in another, a Scottish quote, a poem, father’s day cards . . . And in others, little drawings Rob and I had made for him, saved and dated with loving care. Because, not only did he collect things for his many hobbies, he collected bits and pieces of love from his family.

Watching him decline in heath was difficult. He was self reliant and stubborn and independent to the end. And watching him adjust to giving up the independence was not easy on any of us. But he did maintain his dignity, and even in the most dependent of situations, such as being helped up from a fall by Hanover’s wonderful EMT’s, he always managed a wry joke or humorous comment. Those who knew him are familiar with his dry wit. It saw him through to the end.

I saw his dignity in the most undignified moment, his humor in tough times, his acceptance of circumstances he didn't like, his concern for others when all our concern was for him, and his never-wavering love for my mother, Rob and me.

How do you stop missing your father?

You don't.
Dad's Carrot Bread (published in the Christian Science Monitor)
Last year's memorial post~

There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. ~John Gregory Brown

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Countdown! 10, 9, 8 . . .

Retirement is no big deal statistically speaking. Multitudes step out of the working world every year. I remember when my father retired at 63, two years earlier than typical in those days; I remember my mother's retirement party a few years later. But I don't remember either of them obsessing about ending their careers.

They just retired--with a big smile and a sigh, I might add-- then went about the rest of their lives.

So most likely I'm over thinking my imminent early-retirement at the ripe young age of 57. My husband tells me I think too much, but then for him the reverse is true.

In the car he once answered my question, "What are you thinking?" with, "Nothing. I'm driving."

Nothing? Is that even possible? He says it is.

Friday my good friends gave me a retirement party that they said was so "me." It was perfect. I enjoyed it to the fullest-- laughs, hugs, warm wishes, tears, and so much more-- and breathed a sigh of relief when I got home. It's all over but for the last ten days of school.

This morning I opened a cabinet to get out a box of cereal and there on the inside of the door hung the calendar-- my son gives me a new cat calendar every Christmas. I saw that I'd written "The End" on June 20. I don't know when or what I was feeling when I wrote it. There's no punctuation. No exclamation point, or even a question mark. There's no smiley face or sad face. Just the ambiguous "The End."

I think of the past 35 years-- longer really, because I knew I wanted to teach in first grade and moved single-mindedly toward that goal since I was six. And now in a blink . . . finis!

But the calendar doesn't end on the 20th, nor do I, and I know this as well as anybody. I picked up a red pen-- a teacher pen-- and wrote "The beginning" on June 21st!!!!! :>)

At the party I heard over and over again, "You're lucky. You have so many interests. You write. You take pictures. You'll be so busy you won't even miss this."

I want to believe them. But I know better.

~Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.~Jacques Martin Barzun

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A few irises~

I complimented a fellow teacher, a young, slim beautiful girl, on her blouse.

She gave me one of those "oh this old thing" comments and said she'd worn it because all her other tops were . . . and here she made some hand gestures around her belly.

I didn't understand at first. I thought maybe she was pregnant, or else feeling nauseous. But no.

She told me she was getting so fat. Told me! Not that I'm FAT fat, but compared to her I'm a mature tree and she's a sapling. I've got some rings on my trunk.

She left and Dave, another colleague, walked by. "She thinks she's fat!" I said shaking my head, although many of my friends felt that way when we were her age. We see pictures of our younger selves and ask, "Why did I think I was fat then? I looked good."

Dave and I got talking about our perceptions of ourselves and how much energy we waste obsessing over minor issues, energy that could be better spent in more productive ways.

"We should just be happy we're healthy," he said.

"Yeah, and not in Burma," I added. Extra padding around the middle pales in comparison to the hardships faced there.

Then he said, "Monday, I was out in the yard when the wind whipped up. My irises were bending and about to snap, so I hustled to stake 'em up tight. And then I thought of all the people in the Midwest whose homes were devastated by the tornadoes. I thought, here I am worrying about a few irises when they've lost everything."

"Iris syndrome," I said. "I'll remember your story next time I start worrying about nothing."

So much of what I worry about amounts to "a few irises."
Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey!~Barbara Hoffman

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When will they ever learn?

Memorial Day, a federal holiday in the United States, is observed on the last Monday in May. It commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and known as Decoration Day, after World War I it was expanded to include casualties of any war or military action.

My words get caught in my throat. There is nothing I can say that will return the dead, and sadly, nothing that will prevent more from dying. If I could give comfort to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters who've lost someone to war, I would, but is that possible? I would not be comforted. Or would I take heart in knowing that my loved one would be remembered? That would not be enough for me, I know. My loved ones have been spared, but I feel the collective sorrow. When will it ever end?

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” ~Arthur Ashe