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Carol Bossard

Now, in mid-December, the days are short.   Our part of the earth has tilted nearly as far as it can from the sun.   But never fear, the darkness is about to be overcome by light once again.  The winter solstice will occur in another week.  Sociologists suggest that primitive tribes were so terrorized by the vanishing light that they performed rites designed to propitiate the gods into bringing back the sun.  But could our assumptions be wrong?   Perhaps the early people knew well the earth’s cycles, and possibly the rites were more in the nature of thanksgiving for the regularity of those cycles.  One story that I have from Dragons In The Water by Madeleine L’Engle*, has the Elder from a Venezuelan tribe as part of this conversation:   “When the great golden disc raised itself clear of the mountain the chanting became a triumphal, joyful song………………..She asked, ‘Are you here every morning?’  He nodded, smiling.  ‘It is part of my duties as the chief of the Quitzanos.’  ‘To help the sun rise?’  ‘That is my work.’  ‘It would not rise without you?’  ‘Oh yes, it would rise.  But as we are dependent on the sun for our crops, for our lives, it is our courtesy to give the sun all the help in our power ----and our power is considerable…..We believe’, the old man said quietly, ‘that everything is dependent on everything else.  The sun does not rise in the sky in loneliness; we are with him.  The moon would be lost in isolation if we did not greet her with song.  The stars dance together, and we dance with them.’”  

Currently some people have Solstice parties for fun, but perhaps also still in gratitude, to celebrate that in the dead of winter, light begins to return.  I know that I am really glad when it does.

 

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We are a week and a few days away from Christmas. The evergreen wreath is on the front door, the tree is in process, a mix of Christmas and winter music is on the CD player and the aroma of baking cookies permeates the house.  The fruit cakes are finally baked, (I can hear from afar, the moans of the fruitcake Grinches), doused with B&B Liqueur and stored away for a few weeks.  Christmas cards have been coming ---- a few every day.  Ours are not ready and I’m guessing they won’t find their way to most mail boxes until after Christmas Day.  Since the twelve days of Christmas follow the 25th ---- it’s still Christmas when we finally get them out ---- usually, that is.  One year it was well into January.  Most patient people give us until Valentine’s Day before calling to see if we are OK.  But to those of you who read this essay: MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS.


 It is interesting that there is currently so much controversy over “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”.  I think it comes from a fear that Christmas might be lost amid the diversity of other holy days.  But the early Christians basically stole the Christmas holiday that we celebrate at this time of year, from the Roman Saturnalia.  It seemed to the early fathers (mothers had nothing to say about anything, in Rome) easier and more acceptable to use a holiday already in existence than to create a new one that would only confuse those they were trying to persuade.   They did this same thing with several holidays.  Since Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, and Kwanzaa all happen within the month of December, it seems both courteous and fitting that we respect and rejoice in any holiday that encourages a  connection with a Power greater than ourselves.   Christmas doesn’t need to be defended; it only needs to be celebrated in the loving spirit that brought us Christmas over two thousand years ago.  That much love will never disappear.


Actually, there are numerous December holidays one might observe.   St. Nicholas Day is celebrated by Orthodox churches here and in western Europe on December 6th, in the Netherlands on December 5th, and in eastern churches, on the 19th.  This year, the first day of Hanukkah was December 13th..  In Sweden, St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th, and some young girl is chosen to wear a white robe and the crown of candles (electric ones now, for safety) symbolizing light coming to brighten the darkness in that far northern land.  A friend tells me that in Stockholm, there is a Santa Lucia parade similar to NYC’s Thanksgiving parade.  Quite a lot of years ago, my niece, Megan, wore the white robe and St. Lucia crown of candles for her church celebration.   And of course, the Winter Solstice in 2017 is December 21st.  The day following Christmas, in England is Boxing Day --- a time to provide for the needy, and in the U.S. it is the beginning of Kawanzaa.   
By the time Christmas Eve comes, I am usually exhausted from the running, wrapping, baking and trying to remember everything on my lists.  Our Christmas Eve service comes with a welcome spirit of calm.  There is candlelight, with much music; many familiar carols, and this year the choir will be singing the Hallelujah Chorus (an awesome assignment for a small women’s choir).   The Advent candles will be lit, including the center Christ Candle, and the ambiance is breath-taking and very meaningful.   Of course, we all are alert for candle mishaps; one year someone’s hair was briefly on fire ---- no actual harm done --- but the smell of burning hair is not an incense fragrance one would choose.  When we return home, we light candles in the windows; symbolic of welcoming the Christ Child, and also our family members who come very late.


As December deepens, there is something about this time that ignites a little bit of magic in all of us no matter what our backgrounds might be.  Perhaps this season of Yule -- --Christmas --- Hanukkah is so very special because it is a continual reassurance that the darkness, no matter how dark, never has, nor ever will, put out the light of God’s goodness.  With so much darkness in the world, even here around us, we need to remind ourselves frequently that Light will always triumph --- eventually.  A favorite Peter, Paul and Mary song is “Don’t Let The Light Go Out”.  It reminds us that we each are created to be light-bearers; that we too have a responsibility to carry light with us in whatever way we can.  “And, so, Christmas comes to bless us!  Comes to teach us how to find the joy of giving, happiness and the joy of being kind.”  Gertrude Tooley Buckingham


*-Madeleine L’Engle –  American writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 1918-2007
**-Gertrude Tooley Buckingham—American poet and musician. 1880-   circa 1964


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 


 

Carol Bossard

This is the season of congestion and that applies to both the sniffles and the calendar.  So very much is going on ----- with friends and family --- with church events --- with entertainment possibilities---- that choices are difficult.   We returned today from an extended family gathering, and I suddenly remembered that this essay should have gone out today.  So --- you’ll have to accept that there has been a short delay due to indulging in holiday enjoyment.

TA-DA --- the pair of cardinals is back more often!  I’m still using way less of bird seed than ever before because of fewer birds.  Of course, the squirrels are still absent ---- so far, and they go through lots of bird seed when they are here.  Unfortunately, our feral cats have made a dent in both the blue jay and junco population.  I believe the elders are teaching the young ones how to hunt --- all too successfully.  We’ve been taking our cats two by two to the SPCA for neutering.  Perhaps this will stem their enthusiasm for ferocity --- though I doubt it.

This season of lights has brought illumination in many areas.  Our church sponsored a Remembrance service a week prior to Christmas.  It is a community event and we cooperate with the local undertaker.  Candles are lit for loved ones who have passed on, lovely harp and organ music is played, and it is a quiet and memory-filled occasion.  Afterward, people stay around to chat and enjoy snacks.  I think it helps to sit and remember all the good times and to share some of those with friends who are also missing people they love.

 Our personal “four days of Christmas” have been light-filled and fun too.  They began Sunday, the day of Christmas Eve. There were two church services with a tasty dinner in between, shared with good friends.  Then one of our sons, with family, came in late Christmas Eve.  And of course, Christmas morning, with two excited little girls (and four quietly excited adults) was a beautiful time.  Christmas Day was blustery and cold outside, but occasional blue sky showed through following the also occasional snow squalls.  Late afternoon brought a PicWits game that engendered some hilarity, and the day wound down quietly with music and books or crafts.  On Tuesday, our other son and his wife joined us and we had a second Christmas with a bountiful dinner and much laughter.  And today we visited with a portion more of family.  So while there are several days left of the Twelve Days, I’ve had mine squished into four days.  And lest I forget to mention the two dogs (ours, and Matt’s and Kristin’s), they certainly added to the activity.  

On the down-side, our cards are taking even longer this year.  By some miscalculation, they were run off so that the back was the front and the verse upside down.   So they all had to be re-done.  However, they will be along soon, extending your Christmas greetings by several days.  And we’ll be using the mistakes for fire-starters.

The cold weather, coming on the heels of such mild weather, takes some disciplining of the mind.  I’ve been so accustomed to dashing out to feed the birds and cats with sneakers and a light jacket that putting on boots and a heavy parka is a pesky annoyance.   I must keep telling myself that coats, boots and even gloves are appropriate for January.  The feral cats are even more annoyed than I; they keep shaking their paws and looking at me as if to demand that I get rid of that cold, white stuff or get them some booties!!   This is the sort of weather that freezes the water in the cow barns and even in the house if the wall isn’t sufficiently insulated.   And it reminds me of the years when, as a child, I slept in an upstairs bedroom that had no baseboard heat or hot air registers.  It stayed fairly moderate as long as I left my door open to get the heat coming up the open staircase.  But not moderate enough!!  My first dash in the morning was downstairs to the large hot-air register that filled a corner of the dining room.  There I would soak up the heat until summoned to breakfast and “Get off that register!!”

Cold or warm, coming up is a whole new year; a blank calendar page, pristine and unencumbered.   In reality, there are already a few appointments jotted down in my 2017 calendar, to be transferred to 2018.   However, it always lifts my spirits to at least think that I can begin a new year with fresh intentions and more choices.   Several of us were talking some days ago and the question came up: “What if you allowed your spiritual guidance to determine your calendar and activities?  How would that change your days?”  We looked at each other a bit blankly for a second and most of us admitted that our lives and what we do might change quite a bit, and probably for the good.   

I think that most of us glance at the calendar, and if we have an empty slot --- and can’t think of any good reason why not --- we agree to do whatever it is we’ve been asked to do.   And regardless of what many of us have taken to heart from our 4-H days --- the “I’ll be glad to” response ---- perhaps we need to consider longer before we say “YES”.  Should we be taking more time to rest?  Should we be spending it in ways that stretch our minds and spirits?  Are we cheating anyone by giving our time away?   Is this task a direction in which we really feel called?  And perhaps most crucial --- why are we doing it?   What is our reason; our agenda?   Time, especially as one grows older, is a precious gift.   Taking a bit more thought before we scatter our hours abroad seems like a good New Year’s resolution to me.

As we come to the end of 2017, I hope each of you can look back on the year and smile over wonderful times, laugh over exceedingly fun times, find consolation for the sad times and then look ahead with enthusiasm and wonder for the days ahead.   And with this essay, I’m sending out wishes that this year brings you joy in small things and courage in all things!!  

 

Carol may be reached at cpeggy@htva.net. 

Carol Bossard

Wasn’t that cold spell annoyingly long??!!  At least most of the days hovering around zero were clear days and that gave us a chance to mulch the roses.  Perhaps the roots won’t heave now that the weather has temporarily returned to mild.  Kerm calls roses my expensive annuals; clay soil and yo-yoing temperatures are not conducive to rose health and I must admit to losing a few now and then.  I seldom buy hybrid teas anymore because they are less hardy regardless of what the catalog says.  I usually stick with floribundas and shrub roses, only occasionally succumbing to something for Zone 5, with “ruffled petals and entrancing aroma”, delusional about my ability to protect it sufficiently.


Winter, even with its cold temperatures, snowy roads and icy steps, does have incredible beauty.  This year of 2018 began with a marvelous and immense full moon.  It shone on the light covering of snow, so brightly that it was nearly possible to read by its light.  This was a beautiful winter scene that made the extreme cold sort of bearable.  Now if the northern lights would just make an appearance; I’ve only seen them twice here; the green streaks across the sky were spectacular.

Our 12th Night party, marking the journey of the Magi, is over and the season of so much celebration has ended.  Those parties are now a good part of our history.  They have been absolutely wonderful --- for a lot of years --- and brought friends together from many walks of life.  An evening of fragrant candles, all sorts of food, laughter and good conversation is a wonderful tradition, but preparation time was getting to be a bit --- well, actually, a lot --- too wearing.  The mélange of memories from these parties, though, will warm my heart forever --- the laughter and stories and friends.   I recall the year when a family member needed to stay overnight here, and it happened to be the night of our party.  She opened the front door and just stood there, staring.  Our not-all-that-large house was wall to wall people; people imbibing fruit punch or mulled cider; people munching on cookies or enjoying bowls of soup; people standing and chatting, and every available chair taken.   To fill our cups of enjoyment to the brim now, we’ll just have to have more occasions with fewer people.   We are grateful, though, to all those who have joined us on 12th Night for these many years; all have been blessings in our lives.  

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One of the well-worn adages describing life is that the only constants are death and taxes.  Most of us, if we could get an annual shot to ward off change, would get that shot, with no questions asked about side-effects.   Coping with change requires energy and an optimistic attitude --- two things that many of us find in short supply.   However, there are some adjustments I’d actually welcome into my life: less time spent on nit-picky things like returned mail (wrong address), fewer shirts that shrink an inch shorter after the first wash, fewer people who let things fall from their tongues without first thinking about consequences, and most important -- kinder and more tolerant thoughts going through my own mind.  Change can be a good thing.  One person in my family lives with frequent change; it seems to feed his spirit.  Right now he is in Argentina, climbing a very high mountain in the Andes range.  Often he is in some far-flung part of the world, with his camera, documenting life there.  Even as I worry a bit about him, I admire his curiosity and courage ---- but, being more of a “nester”, have no desire to go and do likewise.  My hope is that I can simply learn to welcome changes significant to my life, with grace, and trust that good things will happen as a result.


I’ve thought that my mother’s generation (1898 - 1993) had seen the most incredible changes.  She moved from the horse and buggy to trolley cars to personally-owned cars to planes and computers.  But our current weekly technological changes are just as dramatic.  A new “smart phone” becomes obsolete just as quickly as an advanced model appears.  There is considerable discussion about technology and what it does to people’s relationships and social lives.  Has social media relegated actual coming together to the past?  Do we know people as well via Face Book or Twitter as we might by chatting around the table?  Do we fill our lives full with running around from task to task, contacting friends via texting and falling exhausted into our beds at night?  It is easy and safe to socialize on the surface while being really cautious about “getting involved”.  We probably should be experiencing more honest, face to face, relating.  The following story is taken from a book by Madeleine L’Engle.


“This was a story about a Hassidic rabbi, renowned for his piety.  He was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted, youthful disciples.  In a burst of feeling, the young disciple exclaimed, ‘My master, I love you!’  The ancient teacher looked up from his books and asked his fervent disciple, ‘Do you know what hurts me, my son?’   The young man was puzzled.  Composing himself, he stuttered, ‘I don’t understand your question, Rabbi.  I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions.’  ‘My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,’ rejoined the rabbi.  ‘For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?’”*


We seldom take the time to know what hurts those around us.  We can be helpful, we can hero-worship, we can preach to, we can feel sorry for, but until we become a sincere and caring part of someone’s life, there is no depth of love and no meaningful intercourse of ideas.   This is something I need to examine in my own life ---- one of those less comfortable changes I might resist.  I am grateful for the technological assists that keep me in touch with family and friends, but when it takes the place of face to face conversation, hugs and sharing of my time and energy, then it’s time to reconsider my priorities.

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Today, as I look out on the snowy landscape, the birds are getting the last bits from the feeders; bits left by the deer who visit during the night.  It has been nice to have two or three days in the balmy 30s and looking forward to Friday’s 48 degrees. .  One of my favorite birds is the chickadee.  This small bundle of feathers is energetic, optimistic and vocal --- no matter how wintery the weather.  If only we could be similar, but I find myself more in tune with a saying by E.B. White** of “Charlotte’s Web” fame: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day.”  Winter weather does that too!!   All sorts of good wishes go out with this for you and your January days and may your changes be ones you can welcome.


*Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle—1918-2007 – American writer of fiction and non-fiction.
**E.B. White – 1899-1985.  American writer who produced several classic children’s books and was a contributor to the New Yorker magazine for 50 years.

Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 
 

Carol Bossard

The crèche figures are tissue-wrapped and packed inside the stable.  The Sno-Babies are bubble wrapped and boxed.  We managed to get Christmas decorations put away earlier this year.  For some reason, I didn’t linger as usual, but packed them neatly away in their big tubs even before mid-January.  It is as nice to return things to their normal places as it was, six weeks ago, to make space for angels, stars and shepherds.   

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There’s nothing like a crisp January day with sunshine and blue sky.  There’s a white strip of jet traffic across the blue and birds are flitting from feeder to the tops of our very tall trees and back again.  A deep breath of this air is like a tonic.  I really enjoyed the two short January thaws we had, but anyone who has lived in NYS knows a thaw is only a gift on loan; winter always returns to snatch it away.  And it surely did come back with gusto; both ice and snow along with wind.  The temperature dropped 50 degrees from a Friday evening to Saturday morning, and I went from walking outside in sneakers and no jacket to my winter parka and boots.  The cats looked stunned; “WHAT happened???”  the expression on their furry faces clearly asks.  And they shake their paws like Lady Macbeth, trying to cleanse her hands of blood.  Some gifts --- snow and ice --- aren’t quite as welcome as others, but still good for the garden and our stamina.


Having just exited the Christmas season, we immediately think of gifts as delightful items wrapped in pretty paper and ribbon.  An old Shaker song speaks of gifts a bit differently:  “’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come ‘round where we ought to be and when we find ourselves in a place just right, we’ll be in the valley of love and delight…..”   Gifts do not have to be things, but can be qualities of life.  Those fortunate individuals who feel gratitude for the simple things of each day, have the gift of awareness and appreciation.


A member of our church, now deceased, used to encourage us to consider our gifts.   Who listens with open heart and closed mouth?  Who sings well or plays an instrument?  Who brings life to any group?  Who is able to keep a discussion on track?  Who is perceptive about the needs of people?  Who gardens with two green thumbs?   Who is good with small children?   Who shares life from a spiritual depth?  Who makes great soup?  Who doesn’t give in to complaining but exudes contentment?


So many insist that they have no talent --- no gifts.  I do not believe that ---- of anyone.  I think each of us was designed to contribute to this world from our very being.  Some gifts may be splashier than others and attract more attention (painters, speakers, singers, composers, engineers, dancers) but all gifts are designer-originals and worthy.  If we all would accept that, we might not have the two difficult extremes; people who exhibit swollen egos and those who feel worthless.    Most of us have multiple gifts; it just takes some maturity to recognize them, and also to cease wishing for someone else’s gifts.


I spoke with a friend a few days ago; someone I haven’t seen face to face in many years.  We spoke of the good times we’d had together and I reminded her of how infectious her laugh is; she can start a whole auditorium laughing.  She said, after a moment: “I’d forgotten that!”  I hope that Nancy keeps sharing her wonderful gift of laughter.  Another friend comes to mind ---- she can’t (as far as I know) paint, dance or design skyscrapers ---- but wherever she is, there is a feeling of warmth, of real listening to one’s thoughts and she doesn’t forget.   She notices and finds what people need, she shares her thoughts via small groups and she has been a mentor for me both in years past and still today.  You can be sure that if you’ve shared a problem with Connie, she is praying for you.  She has the gift of caring!  And a young man I know, who is in management at a city hotel, is applauded by his co-workers because of his empathy and his consideration.  Bringing harmony to a group of employees is no easy task, but David seems to have done that.  Truly a gift!  None of these individuals will make headlines or be up in neon lights ---- but they all make such a difference where it counts simply by being who they are.


So we need to adjust our thinking when it comes to gifts.  Some of the very best ones aren’t wrapped in glitzy paper and ribbon; in fact, they aren’t wrapped at all; they are within.  And we need to take seriously the realization that developing our gifts with integrity ---- whatever they are ---- brings us one step closer to a world with less pain and brokenness.   “Life is the first gift, love is the second and understanding the third.”  Marge Piercy*

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One of my favorite things to do with kids in January, is to plant Paper-White Narcissus.  We talk about how people grow, hopefully making adults who are fine people and how slow the process seems when one is five or seven or ten.  Then we plant narcissus bulbs in stones with a little water, and the kids watch them zoom up into tall, aromatic, frilly blossoms.  I tell them that narcissus can be a fast version of what happens to people, and we all can bloom---- or not!   A lot of adults enjoy watching the process too.  The fragrance can be a bit strong, but narcissus blooms look like spring ----- only three months to go!


With all the cold weather we’ve had, I’ve been very grateful for our woodstove.  Our house has a perfectly good heating system but by itself, doesn’t offer the comforting warmth of a wood fire.  I emerge in the morning, joints a bit stiff, and not very awake.  If it’s a cold morning, Kerm usually has a fire made, and I can gratefully sink into the chair beside it, allowing the warmth to penetrate reluctant bones and muscles. Eventually I become fairly alert to the day.  I like campfires too.  A crackling fire outside when the night is cool --- perhaps with singing --- and certainly with marshmallows to toast ---- is just the very best way to end a summer or autumn day.   Whoever it was among those early peoples, who managed to make fire ---- I hope they won the Aboriginal Nobel Prize.  


Meanwhile, I hope you are all --- in whatever climate you find yourself now ---- enjoying January.  And, I trust that you are filled with awareness of and gratitude for the gifts you have to share.   If those of you I know well need to be reminded, I’ll be glad to enumerate them for you.  ☺  “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, this would be giving as the angels give.”  George MacDonald**


*Marge Piercy ---- American novelist, poet and social activist. 1936-----
**- George MacDonald ----Scottish writer, poet and pastor.  Especially interested in fantasy literature and mentored Lewis Carroll.  1824-1905.


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.  

Carol Bossard

April seems to be rife with annoyances; the metaphorical gnats flying around our days.  We’ve had yoyo weather, sinus issues, mud tracked into the house, soil too wet to work, barometric pressure-related arthritis, an incontinent dog and new kittens that weren’t supposed to come at all! And on one of our warm days, just before the last snow storm, I did actually see a cloud of gnats flying about.   Early April is often an extension of March’s late winter weather tantrums, and Henry VanDyke* had something to say about that: “The first day of spring and the first spring day are not always the same thing.”  Certainly true for this year!!


It has been a rather sporadic and short season for one of our local products, maple syrup..   For a good sap run, the nights should be chilly and the days above freezing.  We haven’t had too many of those in a row, so I expect that syrup will be even more expensive this year.  If those who are unfamiliar with the maple syrup process wonder at the price, perhaps this quotation from Hal Borland** will explain:  “Everyone who owns sugar maples and has room to do it should make syrup at least once, not only for the satisfaction of such accomplishment, but to understand why maple syrup costs what it does in the market.  I found that it takes at least a cord of wood to boil down the forty gallons of sap needed to make one gallon of syrup.  A cord of wood and a week of fire-tending!”   And this year, I’ve been told that the sap is such that it will take more than forty gallons to make a gallon of good syrup.  So cherish that flavor if you acquire real maple syrup for your pancakes!!

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Sometimes my irritatants are a matter of perspective.   Dish-washing is definitely not my favorite task in life.  Recently we had a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink.  It was discovered the night before Kerm was scheduled for a one-day surgical procedure.  Because he was then limited in movement for a few days, the leak also remained for a few days.  A lot of dishes can collect when one can’t use the kitchen sink.  Of course, I could have washed them elsewhere, but did I mention that I really don’t like doing them at all?  When the pipe was finally repaired, I spent quite a lot of my day happily catching up.  It is amazing how much brighter my spirits were with the availability of both the sink and dishwasher.  Obviously my mood and my attitude toward dishwashing was a matter of perspective.  I expect this is true of many things I see as annoying.


I am finding it difficult to have a good attitude about those aforementioned kittens.  There are three more, due to the elusiveness of Mama.  They are absolutely adorable with their spiky little tails and the way they gambol about the sidewalk and clumsily pounce on anything that moves.  They are also friendly, curious and impossible to ignore.  We’ve managed to capture most of our feral cats and they are now neutered, but two remain to be trapped, one of whom seems to be everybody’s mama.    Wish us luck ---- OH ---- and if anyone needs kittens…  :D

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April is, of course, not all gnats.  There are definitely delights in these early weeks.  The Easter flowers are blooming inside, nicely scenting the house.  We had a lovely time with family on Easter weekend.  It is always good to sit around the table, telling stories and enjoying the laughter.  Our Easter service, even though the stained glass windows of our sanctuary are off being re-leaded (leaving the room looking a bit strange) and the weather was cold and windy, was extra-inspiring and impressive this year.  After a time of confession and thoughtfulness, children came dancing down the aisle, heralding the joy of Easter, and we concluded with the “Hallelujah Chorus”, which is a pretty good way to begin a week.


Outside, along my back sidewalk, the snow drops and crocuses are finally in bloom, and the green tips of the daylilies are showing again.  Even though the ground is cold and wet, I know that seeds are beginning to swell beneath the surface, just waiting for the first warm days for them to emerge.  Every time I drive by the swamps west of us, I look for the greeny-purple leaves of skunk cabbage, knowing that soon to follow will be the gold of marsh marigolds.  Dormant life is just waiting to burst forth in real spring!  Even in the midst of newness, though, we have also been reminded of how fleeting life can be.  We’ve lost two good friends in the past weeks; one after fighting a valiant battle with cancer and one in a tragic house fire.   Not only do I grieve the loss of my friends, but I regret not spending more time with them.   All too often, I let daily busyness put off enjoying time with family and friends.  We probably all allow too many appointments, committees, leaky pipes and even lethargy, to crowd out actual connecting with people and cherishing relationships, and perhaps we should think seriously about this.  I believe that our level of kindness and caring for each other is probably more key to what is really important than our inner star chart of how many tasks and good deeds we accomplish.  


Today, one day before this goes out to you, we’ve had a variety of weather; heavy rain showers, big winds and a few glimpses of sunshine.  And now we are getting a snow shower as our big spruce trees blow wildly.  This is typical of April in upstate New York..  According to Hal Borland, again, “Spring moves northward at approximately sixteen miles/day, or roughly, a hundred miles/week.  This applies, however, only on level ground.  When one begins to climb, the northward pace slackens, since spring moves uphill only about one hundred feet/day.”   I think it will be a week or two before our forsythia blooms and those daylily tips might find themselves a bit frosted tomorrow morning.  But the season is progressing!  So Happy Spring, and may all your gnats be easily whisked away.


*- Henry Van Dyke----American diplomat, writer, educator and clergyman.  1852-1933
**-Hal Borland --- American journalist, writer, naturalist.  1900-1978


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.  
 

Carol Bossard

Ahh………a little closer to spring!  And George Washington’s birthday is today!!  It’s encouraging to know that George also liked to garden; perhaps I trust a gardening president a tad more than others; anyone who gets hands in the dirt and appreciates home-grown tomatoes, is likely to have a clearer, more realistic sense of the world.  In trying to plan for this year’s gardens, I walk around the garden beds, looking to see exactly what is there.  It’s a little depressing; the blades of iris leaves lie flat and are ice-covered, in spite of our warmer weather this week and the ends of the current bushes are clearly nibbled by the hungry deer.  The clematis and roses look lifeless in the cold.  I’m sure they are still “wick” as the Yorkshire Brit’s might say, but right now my inner garden visuals aren’t working well.  Back to the colorful catalogs for inspiration, for I must get my orders in!!

A few weeks ago, I listened to a series of seminars called “The Broken Brain”.  They were offered by Dr. Mark Hyman from Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and were published by Hay House.   He was joined by at least a dozen other doctors, specialists in their fields, from other places; Harvard, NYC, Texas, etc.   They were concerned that the way we all live, what we eat and the absorption of some very common toxins are contributors to the many health issues that affect our brains as well as our bodies,   inflammation being the common denominator for many ills.  They cited physiology that was unfamiliar to me (in spite of one comprehensive bio course at Cornell ☺, many years ago) but that made sense in relating to my chronic pain.  I think we all know there are things we each could do to live in a healthier manner, but change isn’t comfortable.   On the other hand, I’d really rather not be gnashing my teeth ten years from now because I didn’t listen to what I knew to be good ideas.  

While I applaud those who can simply clean out their cupboards and eliminate all the “bad” things like sugar, processed foods, commercial oils, etc. and immediately function in a new and better way, most of us require easing into new habits and some compromise.   Yes to improving my health, but No to making our meals seem like punishment for being alive.  I mean --- oatmeal without a sprinkling of brown sugar?  No cookies in the cookie jar?  Never again the frozen oriental chicken puffs?  Determining what works for us is crucial to success with a plan.   I will find it possible to cut way back on sugar, make those spicy chicken puffs an infrequent indulgence, but cookies in the jar are non-negotiable, at least for one member of my family; maybe for several others.   So moderation and more conscious, knowlegable choices are the answer for us when making healthy changes.   

There’s also the matter of accountability; it is really easy to allow new determinations to dwindle away, and suddenly we’re back to old ways of being.  Fortunately, I do have a person in place; the physical therapist physician who spent six weeks with me and my pain ---- to little avail.  I told her that I was going to try some new ideas, and I’d get back to her in two months; thus accountability!   At least it gives the remainder of our wintery months a  new purpose.  So wish me well as I slog through the snow to get fresh air and exercise, as I forgo Almond Joys (sugar leads to more inflammation), as I try to spend more time in quiet and meditation (quieting the brain) and --- most important --- as I try to remember to relax my entire being --- the toughest one of all for someone who has “alert” built into the genes.

Speaking of “tough”, the ice we’ve had for over two weeks has made walking around a bit treacherous.  We arrived at church a couple of Sundays  ago to find the driveway plowed and the steps salted, but the hand rails were covered in “black ice”; impossible to detect until one tries to hold on.  And of course, we’ve had similar conditions at home.  Watching the cats skid and scramble as they romp and play has been amusing, but trying to negotiate the paths and lawn to feed said cats and the birds has made me appreciate the balance exercises we do in Bone-Builders.  I also hold on to the shrubbery a lot.  Right now, most of the ice is gone ---- but undoubtedly, there will be more to come!

I recently got something via Email that talked about how healing sound can be.   They were talking about certain techniques of sound that subtly vibrate within the body (gongs, humming and drums), not necessarily music itself, but I generally use music.   Of course there are all kinds of music; some helpful and some not.   A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a Sunday afternoon concert.  While we were singing, I had no pain!  Many years ago, when I was healing from a broken ankle, listening to a particular music tape allowed me to sleep in spite of the ache.  (Of course, the down-side is that whenever I listen now to that same music, I begin yawning.)   When I am engrossed in music or singing with others I feel happier and less stressed; the music must change the pain signals to the brain.

Even listening to music is a mood-changer.  Some music is so jangling to the nerves that I must turn it off; it incites me right into crankiness.  Other music (some of the oratorios) can remind me of the immense sadness in the world.  The best music, of course, is whatever makes one’s heart sing and creates a mood of sunshine whether or not the sun is actually making its way through our northeastern clouds.  It could be rag time, familiar hymns, Handel’s Water Music, the Irish Rovers or James Taylor’s husky crooning.  It would probably be useful for all of us to be a bit more conscious of the sounds around us and how they make us feel.   Be aware of what music or some of the world’s natural sounds can do for your days.

Regarding spring, a friend here in Spencer has seen blue birds, this very week, checking out the accommodations.  In three weeks our daylight time will be longer, as EDT begins.  A week after that, the spring equinox occurs.  I hope the longer hours of daylight, and the inner delight that comes with signs of spring give all of us new energy for life in general.   For me, planning the garden will help.  One writer explains the driving need some of us have for playing in the dirt:  “In gardens, there is hope.” * In a world that so often frightens and disappoints us, it is good to have some areas in our lives that give hope.  I have found several --- and that’s a very good thing!

Carol  may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.  
*Grace Firth – born in the 1920s; died in 2014 --- authored four books on growing, preparing and preserving foods naturally.
 

Carol Bossard

“Spring is sprung; the grass is riz --- I wonder where the birdies is….”*

Winter is having a hard time loosening its grip on us.  Snow just keeps coming down and we keep shoveling and filling the feeders for the cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees and, although not invited, the deer.   Palm Sunday is just three days ahead, and then comes Easter.  So ---- we keep hoping spring will also arrive!!  We’ve experienced a few snowy Easters in past years, but we’d rather that didn’t happen in 2018.  I changed the evergreen wreath on our door to one with forsythia, hoping to influence the weather, but so far---- no impact on winter!!  In the spirit of eternal optimism, though, I do expect daffodils really soon!

I enjoy this time of year.  Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, the preparations for Easter are generally not so labor-intensive.    It is a more meditative season that awakens a need for exploring our spiritual component.   We are prone to neglect that part of ourselves simply because we are so busy with careers, community involvement and the never-ending tasks of living.   The Easter-Passover season reminds us to pause; to consider spiritual growth as something that impacts our health and ability to live a satisfying life.    We may realize that if our beliefs are real, they aren’t just for holidays, but for daily living.  If you are a reader, some book selections that speak to this are: Choices by Alexandra Stoddard and How Then Shall We Live by Wayne Muller.  Neither is denominational in any way, but both speak of living joyfully, an interior as well as an exterior life.  And if you are open for it, a more theological and challenging book is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  Taking time for thoughtfulness and good Lenten reading is probably more useful than giving up chocolate!!

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One of the most delightful Easter customs is coloring eggs.  This has been going on for centuries, and some traditions turn the eggs into fine works of art, like the Ukrainian wax& dye process.  I’ll probably be coloring Easter eggs when I’m ninety, though mine are not at all elaborate.  The regular coloring kits available in grocery stores are fun, but even more entertaining is using some of the available natural colorings.  Wrapping eggs in red or yellow onion skins gives them muted shades of color, depending on how long one leaves them wrapped.  If you have skillful fingers, you can cut designs in the onion skins.  There are vegetables, fruits and spices that also may be used: beets (lavender), blueberries (purplish-blue), turmeric (yellow), cranberry juice (pink) and grape juice (blue-violet).  Adding vinegar to the soaking cups intensified the color.  And polishing the eggs after coloring gives them a lovely patina.  If you wish to provide a bit more sparkle, apply a thin layer of adhesive (diluted white glue) and roll the eggs in glitter.  (I wouldn’t recommend eating those!)  Nestled in a pot of home-grown grass (or cat grass from the florist shop) they will speak of newness and spring.

Back to books----- when I think of reading, I (of course) also think of writing.  As I read, I’m often in awe of what comes out of people’s heads, through their fingers and onto paper.  Once in a blue moon, for me, the writing just flows, but more often, it has to be coaxed and pulled out with agonizing and considerable editing.  For several years now, I have promised my family a narrative cookbook: “Grandma’s House”.  This would be a book of family stories and recipes, focusing on my mother and the home where everyone gathered, with peeks into other family homes too.  It would be a sort of anthology of us, as a clan, using our favorite foods as the connecting vehicle.  But --- how I procrastinate! ----how hard this seems to be!  Oh, the recipes are all available, and so are the stories.   But it is difficult; the weaving them together into a tapestry that makes evident the warmth of sitting around that polished oak table with steaming cups of amber tea and several choices of cookie boxes.  How to make clear the combined aromas of varnish and paint (artist’s paraphernalia), wood smoke, bouquets of lilacs, baking cookies and scent of burning candle wax?  And how does one insert the lowing sound of a barn-full of cows, the mostly contented clucking of chickens and the bird song from the trees and gardens?   So far, the pattern has eluded me --- but I will figure it out!   Given time and focus!  Or perhaps the project will fly into another family member’s mind and flow through their fingers into a book.  Meanwhile, just thinking about this brightens my day as I take a mini-vacation back in time to the drumlins and green fields where I grew up.

While that book remains in my imagination, my garden orders are immediate and real, and I’m now concentrating on getting them ready to send in this week.   Editing the plant possibilities is almost as agonizing as editing what I write.   My gardens are blossoming extravagantly ----- in my plans.  It is so easy to envision what should be marvelous patterns of color and texture in the gardens.  How much harder it is to convince those seeds and plants to flourish as they should in our unwelcoming clay soil.  

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Daffodils are soon to come, but pussy willows are here now.  One of my former co-workers, from an Aleutian tribe in Alaska, said that they always used pussy willows instead of palm branches for Palm Sunday.  Palm trees are a tad scarce in Alaska I’d imagine.  And since I can’t seem to keep a palm (or much else) alive over winter, I too use pussy willows, on the altar table at church.  And they stand in all their delightful gray fuzziness, representing both the coming spring and the wonders of creation.   Whatever our capricious weather brings, I am sending good wishes to you for a blessed Easter/Passover/Springtime.   Take some time to play for as Logan Pearsall Smith** says: “If you are losing your leisure, look out; you may be losing your soul.”  Enjoy each day, be grateful and be glad!!


*--An old country verse, but I haven’t any idea from whence it comes.
**--Logan Pearsall Smith (son of Hannah Whitall Smith) was an American-born British essayist and critic.  1865-1946.


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net .

Carol Bossard

Ground Hog/Candlemas Day* is past and it is still the season for mittens and hot chocolate.  We don’t ordinarily have visible signs of spring quite this early, but during one of our recent thaws, there were turkeys already separated into flocks of several hens and one very watchful tom.   I hope that this is a good omen.   I’ll believe the turkeys before the fuzzy rodent of February 2nd.  I’m assuming that the owls on the hill are already nesting, as they do in February, but I’m ready for less snow; instead I’d like a vase of snow drops (also known as Candlemas Bells because in some locations, they may bloom that early) with my hot chocolate.

February is full of family and friend birthdays.   Birthdays are celebrated --- or not --- in various ways.  Some families barely celebrate ---- others make a big splash.  I’m sort of on the at least some splash side; I think life is to be celebrated as much as possible.   The privilege of living is a gift, as are each of us, because we’re a bit unlike anyone else, so celebration is an expression of gratitude.  To all those born in February --- Happy, Happy Birthday!!

We are only a week from another celebration that, in this country, is promoted by the entire retail world.   Valentine’s Day generally suggests an event of cards, roses, lacy lingerie, chocolates or a romantic evening out.  It didn’t begin that way at all.  Saint Valentine was a Christian martyr whose story dates from the fifth century when he was imprisoned for his beliefs.  It is said that before his execution, he wrote notes, from prison, to those he loved and signed the notes, “Your Valentine”.   Romans also celebrated “Lupercalia”**at this time, so assigning a seasonal Christian celebration for this saint kept the party but changed the reason.  Regardless of its roots, it has become a time when we’ll be out trying to find just the right card whether it be for romance or a reminder to those we care about that they are special.   Of course, even while honoring St. Valentine---- cards, chocolates, roses and lace are never a bad thought!!  ☺

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Actually making valentines is fun.   I still like to occasionally get involved with paper, glue, glitter and lace doilies.  I have a good time cutting out chains of hearts, create a glittering, frilly, eye-catching card or make up catchy verses.  Of course, one could, instead, do cookie hearts, quilted hearts, shell hearts or yummy meringue hearts.  However you choose to mark the day, any occasion for celebrating people we love is a blessing in a world where Eros*** is often a social activity, where Phileos**** is being stomped under by hate groups, and where Agape***** is something hardly anyone understands.  All this is to say that there’s not enough real love of any kind anywhere, so an activity that spreads it must be a very good thing.

 After Valentine’s Day, President’s Day comes along to honor Washington and Lincoln; creating a long weekend.  And six weeks of Lent begin on Valentine’s Day this year.  In our community, most of the churches join together for Lenten services and fellowship.   Being with those of other denominations reminds us of how much we are alike rather than dwelling on our theological or ritual differences.  Perhaps I will even have the time/energy to mark Mardi Gras (sometimes called “Fat Tuesday”) with Grandpa Dusett’s doughnut recipe.  I manage to make them about every decade, so perhaps 2018 will be a fortuitous year.  

While any time is a good time for reading, cold, snowy days make winter the time for books.   I’ve recently found Tony Hillerman’s stories to be quite fascinating.  They are mysteries involving the Navaho and Hopi tribes and the cultural beliefs and practices mentioned as part of the stories are most interesting.   It also makes clear just what stupid assumptions we all make about people of other cultures and they about us; I’d recommend “Sacred Clowns”.   I’ve also re-read several very old books ---- my favorite being Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge.   When we cleaned out my mother’s house, I brought home many of the books.  They may have dull, old bindings, but there are some really good stories among them.   This one is set in rural, coastal England toward the end of the wars with Napoleon.  Whether it is still in print, I don’t know, but it should be.  It is a story with twists and turns, and more than a few touches of mystique.  It has a happy ending (which I always prefer) and after reading it, I always feel a bubbling happiness inside and a kind of awareness of the small things in the world around me.   The third book I’d recommend is Beginner’s Grace by Kate Braestrup --- a book about bringing prayer to life.  Kate is the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service.  Her approach to prayer is often unusual but certainly compelling.  I hope those of you who read extensively are finding some great stories – fiction or non-fiction --- to help you through the winter.

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Music is part of my year-round entertainment.    In just a few days, a small group with whom I’ve been singing for the past three decades will be in concert (assuming the weather allows).   We’ve often done fund-raisers for a cause or two, but this event isn’t for any reason other than to offer some fun and thoughtful music for a winter afternoon.  We are a mixed sextet and our music ranges from not-too-recent pop music to Gospel to contemporary Christian music.   We do a rendition of “Swingin’ With The Saints”, “Gratifaction” from the musicale, Tom Sawyer, “On Eagle’s Wings”, “The Old Soft Shoe” (where people have been known to dance in the aisles) and “Harmony” – something we surely need to increase in this world.   We have others, in a variety of genres.   If a song is one people know, we invite them to sing along.  So if you are at loose ends on Sunday, February 11th, come to Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Spencer (the red brick one on Main Street), at 4 in the afternoon and prepare to relax and enjoy.  Unless the roads are bad; then we’ll re-schedule.

Usually, by February, a need for spring rises in humans rather like maple sap, which around here will soon be bubbling over outdoor fires.  February, in spite of its fewer days, can seem a very long month, so turn on the lights, accumulate good books, plan occasions with friends, make that cup of cocoa and watch for signs of renewal, especially those lovely little snow drops/Candlemas Bells.  


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.


*-Candlemas **is a Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus as the Light of the World and the presentation of Jesus as a baby, to the temple, according to Jewish custom.  For centuries, people have brought their candles for the year, to the priests, for blessing.  This is a tradition from at least the fourth century.
Lupercalia is a Roman --- perhaps even pre-Roman ---- festival in mid-February.  Its purpose was to discourage evil spirits, purify the city and guarantee prosperity and fertility.  My guess is that it was probably also to give some direction to rampant and wide-spread Spring Fever!
***-Eros --- physical love
****- Phileos--- brotherly love
*****Agape ----- all-encompassing love of others; altruistic love

 

Carol Bossard

It's A New Year

“Listen……With faint dry sound, like steps of passing ghosts, the leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees and fall.”  Adelaide Crapsey*

This weather reminds me of an autumn quite early in our marriage when we couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving.  We lived in central Pennsylvania, and a baby was due any time.  The doctor laughed when we mentioned leaving for New York State and said: “You’ll stay right here if you don’t mind”.  Well – of course, we minded, but we did stay.  We had a serene Thanksgiving Day (with pizza, I think), and took a stroll over country roads, on what was a mild day just right for walking.  And a few days later, our first child was born.  I also remembered another Thanksgiving, with one baby and one toddler, when we transported a live turkey from that same place to my parents’ home in New York State.  Kerm had won this creature in a raffle, and neither of us felt competent to dispatch, dress and cook a turkey.  So ---- he lived in a cage in our cellar for a few days, and then, still caged, rode in the back of our station wagon for five hours, to meet his demise in my parents’ back yard.   Sometimes I wonder what we were thinking!! 

Now that we’ve had some nippy days with wind and a few snow squalls, the song birds are slowly returning, but still not in the usual numbers or varieties.  The squirrels haven’t come back at all.  I’m not missing those seed-guzzling rodents, but it is unusual to see no twitching, fluffy gray tails leaping from birdfeeder to tree.  I was out today and noticed that the comfrey I had chopped down to roots is sending out green shoots.  Not good; I’m sure that tender growth will soon find itself iced into oblivion when the weather reminds us that winter is a fact of life in the northeast.

All of the food and fun of Thanksgiving is behind us (hopefully the gratitude remains), and Advent is upon us.  The hanging of the greens at church was this past Sunday and the four weeks of Advent begin this coming Sunday.  We have an annual tradition of inviting the Candor Community Chorus from the next village over, to present Christmas music at our church on the first Sunday in Advent --- which is December 3d at 6:30 PM.  They perform some of their concert music from the night before, and lead a carol-sing with people in the audience choosing their favorites.  It’s a community event with goodies afterward.   Then, with our senses sated due to beautiful music, yummy food and the fragrance of evergreens, everyone comes away feeling the Christmas season is off to a good start.  

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, our community had a combined service with almost all churches participating.  The largest church in town hosted the gathering and was full to the brim.  Afterward, we had a dish-to-pass dinner with turkey, stuffing and all sorts of wondrous foods.  As the room filled with conversation and laughter, one comment that I heard was: “Are we supposed to be having this much fun?”  This was said in jest, for of course we are supposed to be experiencing joy and delight in each other and our common thankfulness.    We’d probably accomplish more good things if we combined efforts as well as worship, more often.

Thanksgiving Day, at our house, was quiet.   Two friends came for dinner and we had an enjoyable time together.  Then Saturday, our sons and their families arrived and we had our usual slightly chaotic gathering with dinner and catching up.   As I assumed, there was another foray for deer on the hill, but apparently those creatures were off having their own party, invisible to the hopeful hunter.   Following early grazing on crackers, cheese and grapes, our dinner consisted of half a turkey (only one drum stick – TSK!) and a ham, plus delicious roasted veggies (not done by me), potatoes from our garden, salad and two GF pies; one chocolate and one pumpkin.   These were new recipes and both were tasty, but the chocolate pie was like eating chocolate ganache --- something one usually does in smaller amounts.  Even though we tried to plan for eight people instead of a hoard, we had food left over.  Since everyone has now returned home, this has diminished my meal prep for the week.  I love leftovers!!   

Our granddaughters helped with the hanging of the greens on Sunday.  Mostly the church is decorated with the warm and simple elegance of poinsettias, greenery garlands, and tea lights.  The exception to the elegance is the children’s tree in the social room just off the sanctuary and quite visible from the church pews.   That is a ten-foot wild evergreen --- not pruned at all in the manner of commercial trees.  Actually, it is often the top cut from a much larger-than-ten-foot tree.   This feral cousin of more sedate trees is decorated with a very diverse collection of created ornaments and ropes of tinsel.   Elegant it is not, but it is a way to let the children know they are as much a part of the church’s Christmas season as the grown-ups.    Hopefully they will develop balance with the tinsel as they grow older, but right now, the effect is quirky and charming (that’s just my opinion and not always shared by everyone ).  Our granddaughters, being a tad older than the other children, were a help in making sure the decorations got on the tree versus being on the floor; they were taller and could use the ladder for higher up.  They look forward to being here for this event, and I think the children of this church like having them here to help.  

We have now come to the end of one sort of year.  There are many “new years” in our 365 days.  Most of us consider that we are beginning a new personal year on our birthday.  The school year usually begins around September 1st.  The Jewish new year, falling in September/October, is past now and the secular new year is, of course, on January 1st.  The Buddhist new year follows in February.  The Christian church calendar begins with the Advent season.  It should be a time for meditation and thoughtfulness about the year past and the year ahead, but usually is filled to the brim with activities.  I’m trying to ignore the full-blast stampede to Christmas.   I’d like to enjoy those quiet beautiful days in early December, and my peace does not need to be shattered by the desperate cravings of the retail business to solidify their profits for the season.  So we mute the TV advertisements, put into recycling all the catalogs with the scary “You can still order if you hurry” message, and I’ve unsubscribed from all the miscellaneous advertising that pops up in my Email.  I hope to actively enjoy watching the landscape with all the red, pink and deep blue berries, the birds as they flit from lilac to feeder (avoiding cats ready to pounce) and listen to good music without feeling harried and hounded.   Slow down --- relax ----be aware ---- savor!   And as the earth turns toward darkness, perhaps we can all be more inclined to look upward to the stars.

Whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do.  Whatever destroys or hampers happiness…….we ought not to do.”   Aristotle**

 

*Adelaide Crapsey----American writer, born in Brooklyn and raised in Rochester, NY.  1878-1914.

**Aristotle ---Classical Greek scholar and scientist.  834 BC – 322 BC.  A note here: the happiness referred to by Aristotle is inner joy, not self-indulgence. 

 

 Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 

 

 

Carol Bossard

Whether March comes roaring in like a lion or skips along blithely, like a lamb, any rural community is able to discern the coming of spring by the aroma.  And I’m not talking daffodils here.  

Unless it is too wet to get onto the fields, farmers will soon be spreading their winter accumulation of animal waste and the air will be liberally and pungently scented.  It reminds me of the occasion our son, who at that time worked as crop manager for a very large dairy farm (1000 cows), called to tell us about his day.  They had implemented a fairly new idea of piping the manure underground to eliminate the aforementioned odor problem for their neighbors.  Unfortunately, the yoyo temperatures had created a leak in the system and suddenly, there was a geyser of brown shooting toward the sky.  Since the farm had a creek running through it, this could have been a major pollution issue.   He said that for a moment he dithered; shall I let it run out --- or should I call DEC….Hmm!  Fortunately, his good sense took over and after turning the system off, he called the appropriate agency.  I think we can probably be grateful that the farms around our community don’t number their animals in the thousands.  And while the atmosphere, on the occasions of spreading, doesn’t smell like Chanel #5, it does remind us of the connection we all have to the land and the creatures inhabiting it; who benefit humanity in so many ways.

I’ve been re-reading some books (initially read in my 50s) written specifically for women in the second half of life.  This time a disheartening problem leaped out at me; one I’ve also seen in most current magazines.  There is a tendency to ignore any issues for women (or men) past their mid-sixties.  Several speak of how to deal with retirement, that difficult time when you drop off the edge of the world as far as your professional associations go.  But after suggesting how to proceed from there, conversation lags.  Is it a cultural given that people in their seventies or eighties are no longer concerned with changing and growing?  How very silly!!  We may be grandpas or grandmas, but that’s not all we are.   Gray hair, arthritic joints and etched skin seldom have much to do with the energies, hopes and intentions of the person inside.  We may not be able to accomplish as much as fast, but we are still able to think, grow, change and share.  And ---- we really hate to be patronized!!  That’s quite a different feeling than experiencing respect and courtesy.

Just this past week, we were out for lunch at a restaurant which shall remain nameless --- for now.  There weren’t all that many people seated, and most of them had food.   Several people came in after we did.  It was at least 15 minutes before anyone inquired about what drinks we would like.  When the waitress finally came, since I had an appointment, we also gave her food orders.  Then it was at least a half hour, perhaps longer, before anyone brought us either drinks or food.  Meanwhile all those who came in after we did, had been served.  It was as though we were invisible.  Naturally, we spoke to the manager before we left --- trying not to blame anyone in particular, but noting that the restaurant needed staff training.  We shall see what happens in the future.  It is a place where we occasionally meet former college friends.  They really don’t want to annoy all four of us!

Then a couple of months ago, we had another experience.  Kerm helped me step up onto the sidewalk from the street and we were standing there holding hands.  A younger woman walked by, stopped and smiled.  She said “I think that’s so sweet!”   At first I was clueless-------and then I was annoyed.  She wouldn’t even have noticed us if we’d been twenty and holding hands.  Did she think it was sweet because of our gray hair?  I felt as though she had patted us on the heads and said: “Nice old people!”  Of course, I half-smiled and walked on.   She didn’t mean to be unkind and I was too ready for lunch to do an oration on the street.  I wanted to read her a litany of the vivid, intelligent, capable people I know who are also “old”.   

Now that I’ve vented, I do want to mention three individuals out of the millions of elders who have never stopped being marvelous, growing people.   A gentleman here in our community has celebrated his 97th birthday.  He’s home-bound just now due to some recent medical problems, but he hopes this won’t be for long.  He was formerly and for many years, a railroad conductor.   In his retirement, he has been someone who visits the sick, keeps track of people, sends cards, has a good sense of humor and is a devout and kindly gentleman.  I would suggest that any young man forget his football idol and look to this man as an example of successful living.  

 I am also recalling a delightful lady; a volunteer and client at the agency where I was working.  She loved to dance and did so right up until she became ill in her late eighties.  At one event, she came dressed as Minnie Mouse and looked amazing.  Before she died from the cancer that came so suddenly, she ordered out and had a pizza party with her family right there in her hospital room.  At her funeral, everything was proper and sedate until her casket was carried out.  Suddenly, the organist put the hymn he was playing, into a rag time tempo, and she was “danced” out as she had always lived.  She is one of my shining examples for both living and dying. 

 Another friend, in her 80s, is peppy and participatory, and she wears the most attractive, sparkly tops I’ve seen.  She keeps track of her family members, goes out to lunch often and is fun to be with.   It may seem unlikely to someone under forty (as I must assume most editors are), but there are a lot more hills to climb after that magic retirement age, and many more things to do.   I like the T-shirt I saw recently: “It took me 87 years to look this good!”  Now that’s an attitude I like!

A society that makes use of the knowing and wisdom that resides in people who have lived and experienced many years, is likely to be a good and thriving place.  Aging surely doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but overcoming many life challenges should be good for something.  It’s a short-sighted culture that disregards such a large portion of its population.  “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which such diverse human gifts will find a fitting place.”  Margaret Mead*

We are three weeks into Lent, and we are headed toward spring in spite of our fluffy, white covering right now.   It is a time to be grateful for life itself as it emerges in small ways, with tiny green shoots, with bird song and with a change in the air all around us.  The joy of spring is well-expressed in a verse from The Song of Solomon:  “For lo, the winter is past……the time of singing birds has come……and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.”**


*Margaret Mead --- American Anthropologist; 1901-1978.
** Song of Solomon, The Bible


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. 

Carol Bossard

We’re half-way through April and it looks as though the stray blizzards may have ceased for this season…..or not.   Spring always comes, but sometimes I crave freshness and newness before the season actually arrives, and this year, everyone’s spirits have been a bit low because cold and snow extend so far into April.  If we look closely enough though, reassurance is out there; there are signs; a sprouting sunflower seed beneath the bird feeder, a robin’s song, the swelling of lilac buds and a slight tinge of red in the maple trees.  Also, the cats are turning somersaults and ripping up and down trees; obvious indications of rampant spring fever!!


Edwin Way Teale says: “Now I see around me the beginning of a flood of life that nothing can halt.  Seeds have expanded and split.  Sprouts have driven up toward the light.  All the noiseless, resistless push of spring has begun………I have seen many evidences of the power of growth.  Peas, planted in a flower pot, once lifted and thrust aside a heavy sheet of plate glass laid over the top.  When thick glass bottles were filled with peas and water, and tightly sealed, the germinating seeds developed pressures sufficient to shatter the glass……….and at the American Museum of Natural History…in some of the large animal skulls, the bones are fitted together so tightly that they are almost locked in place.  Forcing them apart often results in fractures, so museum workers resort to swelling peas.  They pack the skulls with dried peas and place them in water.  In the course of only a few hours, the mounting pressure of the swelling seeds has forced apart the interlocking joints.  Undamaged, the skull falls apart into its different elements.”   These might be fun experiments, but now knowing these things makes a very good reason to listen to our mothers when they said: “Don’t ever put peas up your nose!!” 

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Other changes than winter to spring are constantly whirling all around us ---- sometimes welcome and sometimes not.   We recently heard that the barn on the farm where Kerm grew up had been demolished and was a smoldering heap.  This is hard.  One wonders at the lack of regard for skillful building, still-usable wood and community history.  It is bad enough to see barns sagging and empty as we drive along, but a home barn is connected to us by tendrils of memory and experiences of which we may not even be totally aware.  When it is possible to name each cow that was ever in that barn, losing that symbol of home is a blow.   


Then I heard from a friend that the house where I grew up is once again for sale.  How very tempting it is to just go and BUY it!!  This would be regardless of the fact that living in what is now Rochester’s suburbia, would be most annoying to lovers of rural areas.  If only we could pick the house up and move it here!  It is just difficult to contemplate strangers pulling up hardwood flooring that I helped to put down, treading stairs where I knew how to avoid each creak or enclosing the front porch that stood proudly with its Grecian pillars for a lot of years.   That kind of change engenders some grumpiness on my part.   


Of course, we must learn to cope with these little disappointments if we choose to keep going forward in our lives.  Disappointments and acquired flexibility are probably training for more difficult changes, which, as we get older, seem to multiply at an astonishing rate.  One hopes that years will bring us the wisdom and the capacity to cope with life’s u-turns and zigzags, but sometimes we are slow learners.  And sometimes ---- “A burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the times and things behind us rather than move to the liberating moments ahead.  A blessing of these years is the invitation to go light-footed into the here and now ---- because we spend far too much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present.”  (Joan Chittister**)   
Kerm and I have both lived through more than a few losses and now we note shifts of life-styles among us:  friends moving to smaller abodes; the need to stock up on sympathy cards; finding ourselves far more tired after a day of running hither and yon; indulging in thoughts of a compact five-room house with a smaller garden, and meals brought in.  Change is with us whether or not we like it.  We can kick and scream with hostile resistance or we can decide that we will turn those necessary changes into life-enhancing experiences in some way.  To quote a little sign I saw this week: “There is always, always something for which to be grateful.”  Recognizing it tests our awareness and creativity sometimes, but it can be found.


I had a lovely happening recently.  In a spring magazine, I noticed that the garden in one article was owned by someone with the same name as my great uncle ---- and was in a western state where some of the family had moved.  Having lost touch with this branch of the family, this piqued my interest immediately.    I wrote a letter to the magazine and enclosed a letter to the garden-owners.   This week, a letter came from those same garden-owners.  This means that magazine editors were kind enough to pass on my correspondence and the gardeners were pleasant enough to write back ---- even though, it seems, they may not be family connections after all.  Or if they are, they don’t know it.  But what a fun and interesting occurrence, to brighten a wintery April day.

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The grass is greener after Monday’s rains.  I had a whole flock of gold finches patrolling the lawn --- obviously getting something as they pecked away.   We were quite glad to escape the ice that was problematic just a little north of us.   We continue to have snow showers, but my daffodil leaves and day lilies are now about 8 inches tall and only need a couple of days of sunshine and warmth to burst forth.  Sara Teasdale*** speaks well to this time of the year:  “The roofs are shining from the rain, The sparrows twitter as they fly, And with a windy April grace, The little clouds go by.  Yet the back yards are bare and brown with only one unchanging tree ---- I could not be so sure of Spring save that it sings in me.”


*Edwin Way Teale--- Circle of the Seasons. 1899-1980. American naturalist, photographer & writer.
**Joan Chittisster ---- The Gift of Years.  Born 1936. Roman Catholic nun, activist, writer and Academic.
***Sara Teasdale --- “April”-American lyric poet.  1889-1933


Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.  

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