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Carol Bossard

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About Carol Bossard

  1. We aren’t quite into actual autumn, but we are definitely into a fall schedule again; choir rehearsal, committees, etc. The golden rod along the roadsides and the vegetable gardens are beginning to look a little tired too. The light mists of August have turned into very foggy September mornings. The birds are flocking for their trek south, cutting down on the seed we use, until the winter birds return. Our porch is nearing its finish. The construction process has triggered “house stories”. The first day our contractor came (he has worked on this house often and knows its idiosyncrasies) he sighed deeply and jacked one corner of the porch floor up because it was way lower there than the other three corners. He couldn’t change the concrete base, but was able to make the ceiling almost level and he will make the floor level over the concrete. We are quite used to the amusing, if frustrating, quirks of this old house, and are fortunate to have made the acquaintance of several people who lived here in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, who can tell us the whys and wherefores. This particular structure came to life in the mid-to-late 1800s, with one room over a dug-out, stone-walled basement. It was a tenant house for what used to be the large farm next door. Over the decades, other rooms were added. The living room, with bedrooms above turned it into a 2-story edifice. Possibly the bathroom, beneath the stairs, was added soon thereafter. Then a shed was bolted onto the back of the house and a concrete floor poured. We’ve been told that the day was very hot, and that the individuals attaching the shed were cooling themselves with vodka ---- frequently. Becoming impatient, they put the shed on the slab before one corner was entirely dry. Thus when we moved in, one could roll a marble from anyplace in the room to that one corner. We have since corrected the floor, but the room has interesting ceiling lines. We learned from a lady who lived here in the 1930s and early 1940s that down the road, in the acreage now known as Cornell’s Arnot Forest, there was a prison camp during WWII. The people who lived here got to know some of the guards, and the guards then came on weekends for home-cooked food, music and a bit of partying. We’ve tried to carry on that tradition of good times and an open house. Bob Benson wrote a book that he entitled “Laughter In The Walls” and I think there’s that in our walls too. During our tenure, we have added a back entrance with a laundry room (where I type these essays), another bedroom, a second bath, several gardens and probably way too many trees. One of our sons remarked that our additions make the house look rather meandering. Well, some houses are built all at once; have simple and congenial bones and classical lines. Others, like ours, are put together rather like Frankenstein, in bits and pieces, often from other structures. That’s how old farm houses evolved, additions as the need arose. It is good to remember that “a home is not for other people; it is for every day and it is for you.” * If it is filled with love, enjoyment of life and one’s own precious things, it is sufficient. If the walls in our house could talk as well as laugh, they would have many an anecdote to share. Our current dining room was a multi-purpose game room when our sons were home, so there might be echoes of kittens, dogs, “Risk” battles as well as numerous forays into the fantasy world of “Dungeons and Dragons”. In its current life, the walls would report on re-runs of Mash, share diverse conversations from dinner-times with friends, and reflect all the sparkle, glow and good cheer of 12th Night parties. Besides the memory of many a good tete-a-tete, the living room would probably spill piano, flute and vocal music from its corners and crannies. There’s been many a Spencer Singers rehearsal around our piano, and there was both piano and flute practicing a few years ago. Even now, when our granddaughters are here, the piano gets a little workout. This room is also where I play CDs, listen to NPR and drink a cup of tea while sitting in a pillowed corner of our very seasoned couch with a good book. The kitchen would send out the aromatic bouquets of lasagna, soups, ginger cookies, chocolate torte and popcorn. There might be a trace scent of my experiments with lentils, daylily buds, milkweed pods, tofu and carob. There would also be wispy remnants of canning steam due to years of preserving tomatoes, peaches, pears, relish and jellies. Certainly there’d be a breath or two of my cough syrup (termed witch’s brew by a son); a combination of white pine needles, cherry bark, red clover and honey. And thanks to those same boys, there also might be a lingering whiff of motor oil left from the occasional carburetor in the sink. The bedrooms would resound with grunts of Orcs, wisdom of Ents and adventures of Hobbits since the last stories I read to our middle-school sons (before they outgrew being read to) were from the Tolkien Trilogy. And there might be a few terse complaints about enduring shiny stars on the ceiling, brilliant blue paint on the walls, having to absorb music by Van Halen and “The Boss”, and putting up with loud voices at all hours. They’d emit sighs over boys who came in very late at night and left their smelly socks around before collapsing in deep slumber. And they might speak highly of the many good friends, over the years, whose fate it was to sleep in those beds. It is fun to remember the situations and happenings. Every home has stories; they are our ---- and your ---- personal kernels of history. And speaking of stories, when several of us in the same twenty-five-year age span get together, we are all too apt to find ourselves sharing tales about our doctors, complaining about being awake at 2 AM, and expressing our irritations at whatever it is that ails us. While I think we probably should find other topics of conversation, I also feel that it is good to be comfortable in talking, at any age, about what is going on in our lives. We can very often help each other along. I saw a pertinent comment recently (no idea where it came from): “We are all a little broken. But the last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.” In other words, it’s good to be honest about life’s troubles with those we can trust to care. But at the same time, we must never feel diminished because we aren’t who we were, or don’t meet our own standards of perfection. Whether it is depression, chronic sleeplessness, difficulty in getting around, being unable to polka around the room or drive a car anymore, those things are not who we are. Disabilities are annoying, but they have no impact on how valuable we can be to our friends, family and the world around us. When things begin to make us feel that we are not enough --- perhaps we need to recite this old Scottish prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!” Those monsters can be negative thoughts and skewed perceptions that prey on our minds just as much as the night mares to which the poem refers. Now that we are in September, it is really important to take notice of the natural world around us before flying snow flurries blot out our landscapes. September, October and November can be the most beautiful time of the year with crisper, less humid air and the many scents of autumn. “The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown; the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down……..from dewy lanes at morning the grapes sweet odors rise; at noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies. By all these lovely tokens, September days are here, with summers best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”** I wish for you all the beauty of fall to temper your hard days, to fill you with appreciation of the world around and to just give you peace and energy for the months to come. *-Alexandra Stoddard – American home-decorator and life-style philosopher. **-a few verses from “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson. 1830-1885. American poet and activist for better treatment of Native Americans. Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.
  2. Does anyone remember that funny musical theme for the “Hee-Haw” show? A group of us who sing together, adapted it a bit for a 4-H leaders’ program, and had such a good time. This a fine example of changing one’s attitude; gloom and despair vanish as laughter takes over. Of course there is much today that is so overwhelmingly painful and abysmal, that laughter seems almost an insensitive thing to promote. But without humor, we would find life dull and colorless. The Bible tells us that “a merry heart doeth good, like medicine” and Horace suggests: “Mingle some brief folly with your wisdom.” We need humor to dilute, just a bit, all of the frustration, grief and sadness. Earlier in August we were fortunate to visit with family from afar. Several stayed with us for a few days and, as Lewis Carroll’s poem** suggests: “we talked of many things ….of shoes--- and ships--- and sealing wax --- and cabbages --- and kings ---- and why the sea is boiling hot ---- and whether pigs have wings.”* We rejoiced in our grandchildren, shared how we deal with problems of aging, spoke of what a frightful world it often is and how weary we get of intentional stupidity and lack of concern. We admitted to each other that some days staying in bed seems a great escape. We also, in our reminiscing, found laughter and new energy for moving ahead. I have, on occasion, been impacted by depression. And because autumn has sometimes been a difficult season, I try to think ahead. Experience and a good therapist have, together, given me some coping mechanisms, for usually it is my perspective that needs to change, not the situations. The human brain is a marvelous creation that has, so far, managed to keep doctors, scientists and philosophers from understanding how it works. We need far more research into mental ailments of all kinds, including depression, which negatively affects so many people. We also need to stop fearing and treating those who suffer from it, as pariahs. Admitting the problem and finding treatment shows far more wisdom and results in better health, than living in denial. As a lay person, I’ve observed at least four sorts of depression. There is serious and deep depression usually requiring medication and some in-patient treatment. There’s the Eeyore kind, where one is always sort of depressed and looks at life through perennially dark glasses. This person thinks of the glass as not only half-empty but wonders why bother to fill it at all; it’ll just get empty again. Then there is situational depression; caused by long-term stress, deep trauma, or the death of someone we cherish. And then the kind I have experienced: chronic depression ---- it happens more than once, it comes for no discernible reason and, thankfully, eventually goes. Of course we all have the occasional bad days; when the world seems too much; when one feels like saying along with Sir Walter A. Raleigh***: “I wish I loved the Human Race; I wish I loved its silly face; I wish I liked the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; And when I’m introduced to one, I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!” For this I just turn off the news and have a cup of tea! Doctors blame depression on many things, from chemical/hormonal imbalances to diet to emotional trauma. But the therapist who worked with me admitted, when I asked, that doctors really don’t know; they make assumptions and try medications and therapy to address those assumptions. What works for one person may not work for another. So I’ve developed my own “first aid kit” to address times when depression seems to be sneaking into my life. It is so important to be alert. Depression can creep in “on little cat feet” as Carl Sandburg aptly refers to fog --- and suddenly, the mind is foggy. When putting one’s head beneath the pillow seems the only choice, or there’s a daily “who cares?” attitude, it is time to pull out the “kit” before the depressive virus rages on. Addressing treatment early is crucial. These assists have, in my recent history, helped me to escape the clutches of any long-term attacks of gloom and despair: Get outside more often. Walking in a quiet, leafy place is super good medicine. Even trudging through snow banks helps. And along with fresh air --- enough exercise to get the blood flowing and the joints and muscles working together. It sometimes takes incredible effort to get outside, but I always feel better. Because I’m a reader, I go to the bookcase and look until a book jumps out at me (metaphorically speaking) and find it is just what I need. Some people view this as slightly absurd ---- but it works for me. I read the Psalms (middle of the Bible). If David managed all those horrendous problems, surely I can trust that same help in facing what is making me unhappy. I put on good music more often. Music changes the patterns in the brain and reduces jangling from the outside world. And even better if I can sing with friends. I try to be more patient with myself and eliminate time pressures. The world will continue to turn even if I say “No”, astounding as that seems. ☺ Depending on the depth of the depression, getting out with people, or helping someone else may diminish the darkness, especially if there is laughter, caring and a sense that what one does makes a difference. If the depression continues unabated for many days, it is probably time to visit a therapist or get a doctor’s referral. Talking with someone who is neutral and trained to listen is the greatest of help. Medication is my last resort, although sometimes it can be quite necessary. I didn’t care for the rather numbed feelings that came with an SSRI. But that’s my reaction; not everyone would experience the same thing. It is important to remember that depression can become a fatal disease if left untreated. I do take some OTC supplements that seem to help. Being without a current therapist, due to retirement, I ask myself, “What would ____ suggest?” Having seen two or three therapists over the years, the last one being the best, I can quite imagine him saying, “Have you considered……. Or how did you feel..........?” “And about those to-do lists…” This expands my thinking. Probably the most useful thing is to try to look at the situation with different eyes; a changed perspective. We are quick to label something “good” or “bad” without assessing the up and down sides of the issue. This is why some of us like to move the furniture occasionally; it gives us a new view of the same old things. If we can repurpose and reframe household goods, surely we can re-view and re-frame life. Now making a cosmic jump to a happier subject, our 54th wedding anniversary is approaching. We were married Labor Day weekend, two months after I graduated from college. And having the wedding that weekend meant Kerm’s early departure from the NYS Fair, which was, of course, traumatic. A Cooperative Extension agent just doesn’t leave a Fair in the middle! I think the Fair survived, but…………. When we think back, and are reminded of this event by family and friends who made the most of their prankish propensities, it doesn’t seem so long ago. And it always brings a smile to our faces when we recall that memorable time. During difficult days, it is helpful to remember that while we may not live in total happiness with every circumstance, we are meant to live in real joy as a whole. “The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!”**** Take JOY! *Horace – Roman lyric poet, satirist and critic; wrote while Augustus was emperor. **Lewis Carroll –1832-1898. English writer, mathematician, Anglican Deacon, photographer. Lewis Carroll was a pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Verses came from “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass. ***Sir Walter A. Raleigh – Trinidad-born Nobel laureate. Writer of precise and lyrical language. Personally brittle and a misanthrope (which the quote suggests). ****Fra Giovanni –1433-1515. Italian friar, architect, archaeologist and classical scholar.
  3. ‘Tis one day after my birthday and though I can’t say that I actually feel more aged, the calendar doesn’t lie about linear time. Fortunately, linear time (chronos) isn’t the only kind of time; there’s another sort (kairos) that swoops, swirls and flows over and under linear time in sort of a paisley pattern. It is where our memories, dreams and possibilities take us. It is how time seems to fly when we are busy and having a good time, but drags in times of waiting or boredom. It is how we can meet a friend we haven’t seen for 50 years and pick up a conversation as though it were yesterday. If you question this, check out the recent 60-Minutes documentary on the Hubble Space probe. The probe is going back in time and finding “ago” still there. This must be why I find it so easy to remember my junior prom but forget where I put my glasses. It was a bit daunting to realize, at our family picnic a couple of weeks ago, that we are now the elders of the tribe --- at least at that event. One niece commented that I sort of straddle two generations since I am so much younger than my siblings --- but ---the awareness of generations passing was very vivid. Those swirls of time that I mentioned above explain why being an elder comes as such a shock; inside I feel that I am who I am and I don’t necessarily fit a category of age or much else, and that’s true of people around me too. It was interesting to see how others are dealing with the issues that come with finding one’s self in one’s fifties, sixties or seventies. For some, there is observable depression involved (which I will address in another essay) but for others, there is a sense of, “Yes, my knees hurt and I may need surgery, but isn’t life an adventure?”! One’s personal perspective and attitude is the key to feeling good about life. We felt great about life when, a couple of weeks ago, we were catching up with former colleagues who worked with 4-H, and are now “retired”. As we’ve always known, people who retire from Cooperative Extension simply go on doing all sorts of things that are helpful to the world in general; they just don’t get paid for it anymore. And of course, they also participate in activities that keep them growing and interested; bird-study, gardening, traveling, mentoring, writing, etc. I am always inspired by the experiences that people share at this event. A few are older than I and still zipping along and that definitely gives me hope and confidence for the future. One can look at the outside person and see difficulty in moving, shaky hands, slower words, perhaps a cane ---- but the smile and bright interest tell us that the inside person continues to be vibrant and interested, and houses a spirit as young as always. Retired Extension people subscribe to this thought: “Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.” JRR Tolkien* Spencer Picnic began yesterday. This is a combination carnival and Old Home Days; a four-day event, with a parade, music in the park, food, talent contest, rides and the usual “Miss and Mister Spencer Picnic” competition. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun shone that first day. Kerm spent last night helping in the food booth ---- not at the grill, thankfully. Anyone who works the grill comes home saturated, even dripping, in grease; clothes, beard, eyebrows! I really do very little with this event, for while I am supportive, I must admit that my actual time there is brief. Crowds are no longer my thing--- if they ever were. But I do manage to put together a gift basket to support our local foundation, Inspire. A very energetic person then wraps all the donated baskets in festive cellophane and ribbon, and they are raffled off to earn monies for scholarships, services for the older population and programs for kids. It is fun to gather stuff for my “Home and Garden” basket; I can shop with a clear conscience since it is for a good cause, and I’m not personally accumulating more stuff. Photo from Spencer Picnic Facebook page Most small communities plan occasions to encourage identity and connection; Spencer Picnic, Owego’s Strawberry Festival, the Candor Fireman’s Carnival, etc. While these events take a huge amount of work, the results usually bring forth a camaraderie that lasts at least until the next election. I find the upside of living in a small town outweighs the downside immensely. We’ve seen again and again how caring people can be. Most recently, Kerm’s truck died at the end of the driveway, and partly into the ditch. He was on his way to a meeting so he simply came back up the driveway and took the car. A friend called to tell me the truck was slightly in the way of her lane of traffic and we might want to do something before dark. A neighbor called later to offer his truck, knowing that there would be Food Pantry deliveries to be done later in the week. I think we all try as we can, without being too intrusive, to keep track of each other, be there in times of need and hold each other in prayers. Of course there will be occasional gossip, judgmental comments and sometimes even bitter divisions about community issues. But in a crisis, these things are put aside and the good in people shines. Those who live without this neighborly element in their lives are missing something wonderful. As summer dwindles, we try to pack in all the things we envisioned doing when summer began, like exploring more of our beautiful Finger Lakes region. Last summer, along with friends, we did a two-day trip to Skaneateles. This year, these same friends have spoken of doing a trip to Mumford to see Genesee Village and maybe take an Erie Canal boat ride. But we’d like to also do some exploring on our own ---- finding some of the hidden and delightful waterfalls we haven’t seen or the cottage shops that abound. And of course, there are all of the more mundane late summer jobs that need doing; pruning the shrubbery (our holly will soon be taking over the sidewalk), continuing to harvest the prolific cucumbers, canning tomatoes and juice and digging up the foundation plants around our porch. We will be making some changes in the porch that will, we hope, give us as well as our friends, easier access to our front door. As arms and legs refuse to remain flexible and strong, we need a little more help from our porch steps and railings. Time may be our friend or our foe, but we can’t escape the need to work with it. Speaking of aging and time, we were recently sent a humorous and delightful song about being on the “green side of the grass”. It was a song full of chuckles and also one to inspire a little thought and gratitude. Many thanks to Gretta who sent it our way! No good comes from bewailing the diminishing of our bodies. Perhaps being less physical will give us more time to work on our spirits which, over the busy years, we’ve undoubtedly, neglected. “It is the best sign of a great nature, that it opens a foreground, and, like the breath of morning landscapes, invites us onward.” Emerson** *JRR Tolkien –British philologist, poet & author, university professor, known for Lord of the Rings trilogy. 1892-1973 **Ralph Waldo Emerson – American philosopher, essayist and poet. 1803-1882 Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.
  4. Stepping Out Of The Nest

    I knew the summer would fly by! Here it is --- August already!! Brown-eyed Susans orange day lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace dot the roadsides. Before we turn around, there will be golden rod. The self-seeded sunflowers are sporting saucer-sized yellow blossoms that seem to be smiling. And I smile back when I see them. The expensive ones I planted, however, are reluctant to thrive; some didn’t even germinate! So much for my green thumb where sunflowers are concerned! Perhaps the crow colony on the hill watched me plant and then had a dawn snack. And speaking of snacks, Mama Turkey is bringing young ones down to our bird feeders; part of their survival training no doubt. August is my natal month; I am a Leo astrologically although I have enough trouble connecting my dots, without the complication of star lore. Astrology was a respected science for many eons, especially in the Golden Age of Ireland; a complicated and exacting way of determining when one should marry, travel, etc. Currently it is frowned upon by many, still followed by some and basically disregarded by most, as I tend to do. However, because I think nothing created is useless (though I wonder about mosquitoes and ticks), I am sure the stars have their place in the stories of the world. After all, the Magi were astrologers. Part of our family is about to gather for the annual picnic on the shale-layered shores of Cayuga Lake. It is more difficult now as children have become teen agers, college attendees and couples with children; they have their own schedules calling. And, as is true with many families, we are scattered from coast to coast. This summer picnic helps us to stay in touch. Besides marvelous food and lively conversation, one thing that we find useful and amusing is our Family Quiz. I send out a request for items of interest asking people to share some of their accomplishments, bloopers, and what they are currently doing and loving, with the rest of us. When I’ve gleaned what I can, a set of questions goes out, with the answers following some days later. For instance: “Who, is back on the race track, doing what he loves, after a long time away?” Or “Who graduated from kindergarten this year?” Or “Who tipped the tractor over in the snow and walked away unscathed?” Because we care, we try to stay current and remember who we are. “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”* Getting together reminds us of this truth. Before we all scattered to the winds, my siblings and I were in and out of each other’s houses frequently. The furthest away anyone lived was fifteen miles. I expected, when I graduated from college, that I’d be coming home again, finding a job, etc.. As it turned out I was home only for the summer; Kerm and I married the September after graduation, and moved to Washington DC. After that, leaving for new pastures seemed to happen regularly among the younger family members ---- Connecticut --- Massachusetts---- California ---- Virginia ---- Montana. Leaving what we’ve always known --- wide fields, glacial hills, making hay, Sundays with family, small town ambiance, Northrup’s ice cream ----- was not easy. New adventures are almost always scary and a bit risky, but, accompanied with courage, they also may be the road to growth, as I think we’ve probably discovered. Not everyone leaves; there are those who stay and hold the traditions, and others who seem called to follow new paths. When a call comes for either way, refusing due to fear is like remaining in kindergarten when we are actually ready for first grade. It stunts our growth as surely as the old customs of foot-binding or whale-bone corsets. Hugh Walpole said: “It isn’t life that matters, it’s the courage you bring to it.” ** Listening to that inner voice usually leads us in the right direction. That first move away was difficult. I am a “nester”---- a person who wishes to snuggle into well-known digs with my pictures and pillows. But it was good for us, as a new couple, to be forced to only rely on each other in that new place. However, it should be noted that my aversion to relocation didn’t go away after one move; I’m a slow learner. To this day, as the car rolls down the driveway – even for vacations --- I often want to turn around and go back. Twelve years after that first move, on the way to our third move, it took me three months to unpack the boxes. I was inundated in depressive home-sickness for the place and friends we’d left back in Pennsylvania, and I simply couldn’t function beyond getting meals and tending children. There are those who can live life by lightly touching down and easily wafting away again. But if one is a nester, moving from a well-loved place creates trauma. That’s just the way it is, and learning to cope with this has been challenging. Perhaps that is the lesson: the process may well be painful, but the positive experiences that come after the “pack up and move” can bring new gifts and happiness, which we’ve always found --- eventually ---- in each place. I try to remember (when I’m cranky about a situation) my conviction that life is essentially a training ground for eternity. Sometimes (not often) I am actually successful in recalling this. ☺ In retrospect, I have found that even in the locations or situations where we weren’t all that comfortable or thrilled to be there, that there was something we needed to learn as individuals and/or in the collective of our marriage. Both of us can look back and say, “Yes, that move was something we needed, pain and all.” A delightful and wholly non-painful experience was a recent visit by our granddaughters. This time they stayed without benefit of mother and daddy, and I think we all had a really good time. Besides having quiet times with crafts, being outside in the gardens and lawn, and reading, we explored Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology at Sapsucker Woods, visited Josh’s riding stables where they got lesson #2 (lesson # 1 was last summer), visited Morrisville’s Dairy complex, and both girls helped a bit with our community Bible School. We saw a few fireflies, lit sparklers and enjoyed slightly crunchy S’mores (our marshmallows didn’t melt the chocolate very well). We are grateful for the time. Now, as we enter August, I’ve been weeding, exposing both disappointments and surprises. Where is my Holy Basil? Why does it not want to grow here? Why only a half row of lettuce when I planted the whole row. How did those cucumbers suddenly change into jumbos? And I thought kale would grow anywhere, but I don’t see it. Speaking of kale, everyone knows this is one of the current health fads; kale smoothies, kale salad, kale chips ---- is there kale ice cream yet? I learned a new trick recently for making kale quickly palatable. At our recent pinochle gathering, our hostess made a kale salad. To tenderize, one usually marinates kale overnight, but Gail put it right into a salad by first massaging it!! She gave those leaves a good rubbing ---- that apparently did the trick, for the salad was delicious. Education just goes on forever if one is open to it. The last time I wrote, I mentioned that we needed rain. That problem was certainly eliminated with last week’s continuous all-day showers and down-pours. The only time prior to this when I remember a week-long rain event it turned into the 1972 flood. There were some areas this past week that experienced flash flooding, but fortunately, Spencer did not, though our creeks were high. I hope wherever you are, that you have just enough rain, plenty of sunshine and are ready to enjoy the month of August. Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net. *Linda Hogan – born 1947. American poet, story-teller, academic, novelist and environmentalist. This is NOT the ex-wife of Hulk Hogan, whose name also comes up in a Google search. **Hugh Walpole ---1884 (New Zealand) – 1941 (England). English novelist.
  5. Dog Days And Dilemmas

    We are at mid-summer now; sort of half way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. And we’ve had our share of “dog days” when even Freckles, our setter, didn’t move far from a fan. We could use some moisture; often we seem to be in a little pocket where the rain goes happily around us leaving us out there doing our rain dances in vain. We did get some thunder showers this week, and so things are growing fairly well and the state of the gardens is good enough that my sensible thoughts of putting some of the beds to rest next year are getting resistance from a more optimistic (and foolish) part of my brain. Speaking of the brain, we all have heard about the current overdosing crisis with opiates. Sadly, we’ve had young victims even in our small community. I had a related and interesting experience recently when I visited the pain clinic attached to the medical services I use. I had no intention of requesting opiates ---- mostly because no pain medication I’ve tried has made the least difference. Heat, topical applications, and specific massage were far more productive for jabbing nerves and spasmodic muscles. But part of the procedure at this clinic was asking me to sign a document giving them permission to prescribe opiates if I agreed they were needed (really??!! Sort of a no-brainer I’d think!), and then there was a list of promises I had to make IF that occasion ever arose (the real thrust of the document). None of the promises were objectionable, though a couple were ones I hadn’t previously considered. I was just rather taken aback by the whole experience. It definitely emphasized how seriously addiction is now being regarded and how much the prescription process has tightened. My visit there led me to think further about addiction to substances or behavior and why it is so prevalent. Truthfully, I think we all have addictions of varying degrees. Our sons accuse us of being addicted to auctions! Really!! But there truly does seem to be an increase of serious dependence on drugs or alcohol, to gambling, pornography and other risky behaviors, to food, to video-game-playing, to the omnipresent I-phones, and OCD is addiction to process and procedure. A desperate abyss of need leads to addiction of some kind. When I’m feeling low, I often self-medicate with a cup of tea and chocolate, both of which, thankfully, are still legal and relatively innocuous. But that same situational need could turn to addiction if I should become desperate enough, due to pain, either physical or mental. Research has shown that some addictions or tendencies to addiction can be inherited, either genetically or by the examples we see growing up. The dilemma comes in finding a way to quell pain, that isn’t illegal or destroying to our health and relationships. Most of us are not stoics nor should we be!! Pain is debilitating, and needs easing. It’s just too bad that fresh garden peas or delicate green lettuce leaves don’t have the same pain-numbing effect that brandy, opiates or cigarettes have. Just think of the benefits if we could develop addictions to daily walks, evening meditation or kale smoothies. Many years ago, I was taking an anti-depressant. When I decided that I didn’t really like its side-effects, I found that going off that medication, even with a doctor’s plan for weaning the body, gave me three quite uncomfortable months. My mind didn’t really care, but my body surely wasn’t happy about it. On the other hand, chocolate candies or salty chips are not bodily cravings. The digestive system is quite happy with chicken, carrot sticks and cucumbers, but one’s mind and sense of taste create that yearning for salty and/or sweet and it is the mind that panics when the cupboard is empty. So craving can be either physical or psychological, or both. In the past two or three years, I’ve heard a variety of attitudes regarding the growing new programs out there for treating addiction to drugs or alcohol. There are still people who think that anyone dealing with addiction shows a moral weakness that could and should be conquerable by a strong will, and they resent taxes being used for recovery centers. This has probably been the prevailing, shaming attitude for decades. It indicates considerable lack of knowledge on the part of those who think this. They obviously do not understand how the body and brain work and probably have little insight into their own behaviors. Some individuals voicing these uncharitable and unscientific sentiments are the same people who go through a six-pack every night, a half-dozen doughnuts or ten cups of coffee in a day. Their addiction is more subtle. Research and experience show clearly that serious addiction is a public as well as personal health issue that needs treating much as does diabetes or small pox. And the support and love of friends and family is essential. If we are honest with ourselves, we should realize that each one of us could find ourselves in an addictive situation unless we are, as I mentioned, stoics who seek no easing for any kind of pain, and go through life with a perennial stiff upper lip. Jean Paul Sartre* said: “You are your choices”. But it is also good to remember Alexandra Stoddard’s** assertion that “the power of choosing good is within the reach of all of us.” Even against all odds! Ludwig von Beethoven*** said “…the mark of a really admirable man {person} is steadfastness in the face of trouble.” And he should know! No musician regards deafness with anything but horror------ but Beethoven wrote some very fine music through the pain of his disability. I personally know two people who have done tough work in therapy, discerning why they were/are addicted to a substance. They consider that they are still in recovery even after years of abstaining. The process is never easy; it takes courage and starting over again and again. But they are a shining light to anyone else who needs help on that path, and they inspire me. Sometimes we find that our pain, whatever it might be, can be used to bring maturing and healing to ourselves and others. I truly believe that nothing we experience is wasted if we choose to live in the Light. And regarding light, we are now on the diminishing side of our daily light cycle (daylight) in this hemisphere. But we still have lovely evenings for sitting on the porch or gardening. I find healing for many kinds of pain, in just being in the garden, especially between about 7 and 9 PM. There’s a peaceful atmosphere that quiets my soul often ruffled by the day’s turmoil. Actually lying on the ground (on a thin sheet; must remember those cats, birds, and turkeys wandering our lawn) is healing to back pain too; something about the magnetism of the earth aligning with that of the body. These mid-summer days are just right for hammocks, swimming holes, lemonade and thinking long thoughts. Naturalist, Edwin Way Teale, reminds us to enjoy our summer days while we have them. “Each year, during sweltering summer days, the same reflection occurs to me. I remember, with a sense of wonder, how difficult it will be to recall my sensations in the heat of July when --- only six months hence ---- I am amid the cold and snow of January.” **** So take things easy and relax into summer. *John Paul Sarte –1905-1980. French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist and literary critic. **Alexandra Stoddard ---- American interior designer and lifestyle philosopher ***Ludwig von Beethoven --- 1770-1827. German classical and romantic composer. ****Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale. 1899-1980. American naturalist, photographer and writer.
  6. My Country

    The song, “This Is My Country”* has two verses. Vs. 1 begins: “This is my country, land of my birth; this is my country, grandest on earth..” And Vs. 2 is:“This is my country, land of my choice; this is my country, hear my proud voice.” The lyrics are inclusive. If we are grandest on earth it is because of the mixture of cultures, experiences and traditions. We are far less grand, and heading toward abysmal, when we insist on being insular, hostile and selfish about who matters in this country. Laughing, sharing meals, listening and finding common ground should be our good goal for a great country. In my personal countryside, the garden heliotrope is dropping its tiny petals after blooming for about three weeks. This plant grows wild along the roadsides over toward Wayne and Hammondsport, but I’ve had trouble making it happy here. Finally, however, my plants are over three feet tall and covered with fragrant heads of tiny little lavender/white flowers. I’ve always wondered how something with such an attractive scent in flower, can have such a revolting odor in its roots. Garden heliotrope^ is the valerian often recommended to help one relax and gently sleep. I once bought some of the roots, thinking to make tea, and they made my car smell so bad (rather like dirty teenage socks!), only from Trumansburg to Spencer that I ended up tossing them. I do take the capsules occasionally, but always accompanied by a tasty juice; never with just water. We are one day past our nation’s birthday, which brought to mind the song with which I began. I expect that many celebrated with parades, BBQs or family parties. I love fireworks and so, apparently, did our forefathers; lighting up the sky on special occasions seems to be a tradition nearly as old as our nation. Here in our valley, fireworks echoing off the hills remind me of the Catskill’s Rip Van Winkle bowling with the little men. The booming, echoing noise of fireworks is not universally admired though; I remember having to hold a small granddaughter on my lap while she held her hands over her ears. People with PTSD may also have a major problem with what resembles battle-field sounds. And before Freckles became hard of hearing, he didn’t like it much either; it jarred his nervous system. We should be aware. In high school, our band marched in a parade or two, though we were actually a concert band. I’m sure that I felt all patriotic as we played “Stars and Stripes Forever” or “El Capitan.” But I’m also sure that I didn’t really think about why. Enduring the blue wooly uniforms in the heat and keeping my white sneaker-clad feet in step while carrying the bell lyre or playing the piccolo, was a more immediate concern. Now, at my current advanced age ☺ and in these times, this annual commemoration makes me ponder. There are so many wonderful things about this country that are found nowhere else, but we’ve made and continue to make some grievous errors in judgment and policy over the years (according to me, of course). And I can’t help but wonder what George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson would think of our journey and our current reality? I imagine they would approve of some things, stand in amazement at a few and find others appalling --- and not always as we might think they would. They were politicians, but they weren’t career politicians. They accepted a responsibility for the time necessary, and then returned to their regular lives. I think that probably makes a huge difference! George Washington spoke with some warning: “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude. Every man will speak as he thinks…………… or without thinking……..and consequently will judge of effects without attending to their causes.” And “Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.” So the absence of thoughtfulness and presence of abuses of our freedom apparently remain the same regardless of passing generations. And from Thomas Jefferson: “The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.” And “When a man {or woman} assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” Since all of these things: corruption, desire for power, inability to think things through and licentiousness continue to abound, it appears we don’t learn much from history, even recent history. Those quoted gentlemen had flaws, as do we all, but they took their values seriously and tried to explain that we all have a responsibility to protect the liberties, integrity and principles on which our constitution was actually based (the spirit of what was written) and not try to make what it says fit our own wishes, desires and comfort level. Loop holes are ---- not always, but often ---- the bane of justice. Shrugging our shoulders, yawning in apathy and thinking that our own experiences are (or even should be) universal will hasten destruction of the life that we value. Ben Franklin, of the same era, said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And here is a verse from a poem by Jessamyn West**: “Freedom is a hard-bought thing – A gift no man can give, For some a way of dying, For most a way to live………” I think this means we should live in awareness and gratitude but be ready to stand firm when civil rights --- for anyone at all --- are threatened. Sometimes we forget how precious are the small things of daily life and we assume that liberty is a given. Most of us, simply because we were born in this country, have been sheltered from many hard issues of life ---- issues that we, living in relative comfort, cannot even comprehend. As a result, we come to feel entitled and blithely take some of the most important things in our lives for granted; the love and security of family, our personal safety, the many retail choices, the sun coming up in the morning, the aroma of grass being mowed, the simplicity of a child’s affection and trust, space for gardens, no bombs dropping or mine fields to fear, food in our refrigerators and pantries. We can put those very precious things at risk by living in apathy or ignorance. And from my spiritual point of view, we fail in our purpose here on earth if we neglect to address hunger, loneliness, injustice, hate-mongering and evil simply because we are, as yet, personally untouched by them. So, while the actual 4th of July holiday is over, perhaps we could allocate a day or two more to consider: What makes this my country? How can I usefully support a nation that was formed on values of freedom (as they saw it at the time), caring for those in need and encouraging opportunity for each of us? How do we correct sociological mistakes from the past? I don’t necessarily mean in a political way, although that is one responsibility to contemplate. I mean in an individual way. What can I ---- you ---- anyone ---do by our lifestyles, our conversations, our volunteering, to make our little corners and maybe other corners too, places where good things thrive? What is it that we want to nourish and preserve? Be aware that I’m not suggesting that each of us try to improve the entire world by ourselves and in our lifetime. I am learning that one should do only what it is possible to do without unhealthy stress or neglecting other important arenas of our lives. What we feel led to do with the gifts within us, should come from the heart after serious contemplation. However we choose to live, each of us has an impact on our entire fragile world. Right now we are personally rejoicing because our granddaughters are coming to visit. That’s a very precious gift and we appreciate being able to enjoy their company for a few days. Perhaps there will be a campfire with toasted marshmallows; hopefully there will be fire flies; definitely there will be music and stories. And we are glad that we have the freedom “to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day……..watching the clouds float across the sky.”*** Even while my country may be having a difficult summer ---- I can still be grateful for my personal countryside and all that is therein. *”This is My Country” written in 1940. Lyrics by Don Raye and Music by Al Jacobs **Jessamyn West ----American author, notably wrote “Friendly Persuasion”. 19902-1984 ***John Lubbock ---- British banker, politician, scientist, philanthropist. 1834-1913 # --- Garden heliotrope (Valerian) is NOT the annual deep purple heliotrope that nurseries sell in the spring. It is a tall perennial of a different family.
  7. Greening Of The Year

    Green is the prevailing color in June. All of the trees have leafed out, the encroaching comfrey and day lilies have grown green, tall and wide and we are mowing the grass often. Tulips are gone, lilacs have ceased to spread their fragrance but the peonies are opening into ruffled aromatic blossoms. The birds are quieter now, busy with their nests and nestlings. Corn is being planted and hay fields are being mown or chopped; an aroma that brings back all sorts of memories. My brother bought a baler that made smaller, cylindrical bales so that a house-hold of daughters and one younger sister could help with the hay. While I didn’t cherish the job when I was sixteen, to this day, mown hay is a fragrance that I breathe in deeply and appreciatively. A June day with blue skies and sunshine is what most people refer to as being the “perfect” day and it is also an ideal kind of day for making hay. As for special days in June, there’s Flag Day on June 14th and Father’s Day, this year on June 17th. Flag Day was emphasized more in my growing up days than now, and many of us may still be able to recite part of Henry Holcomb Bennett’s* poem, “Hats off! The flag is passing by.” There’s plenty of controversy around the flag right now; we all need to remember that it is an icon not an idol, two quite different things. Father’s Day is a very old tradition in Europe, celebrated on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th). The Spanish and Portuguese brought this custom to Latin America and it eventually was adopted in the US. It was first celebrated in 1910 in Washington state, and eventually put on the third Sunday in June for all states. It is a time to appreciate not only actual fathers but also the caring people who provide father figures for those who need them. I haven’t often written about my father, perhaps because his too-early death came just about the time we could have related as adults. In my junior-hi and high school years, my father and I experienced a certain amount of tension. He was fine at math and sciences, and had no clue why his youngest child wasn’t. This created mutual frustration! Many years earlier, he worked hard to get school buses for our centralized school, and so saw no reason why I’d want to ride in anything else. And he was considerably more authoritarian than my maturing sensibilities liked. I think this was probably true for many fathers of that era. However, he was also a person of integrity who wouldn’t consider doing anything in a dishonest or slovenly manner. He advocated for good schools, feeling that the education not available to him was essential for his children. He had a respect and love for the land; I remember walking with him as he hand-scattered seed in the fields and explained which seed was for where. And he cared deeply for his family. He insisted on good manners, on relating to people respectfully, and on doing one’s best ---- and a bit more. He was easily irritated a tendency that, unfortunately, he passed on to me and a couple of his other offspring. My husband insists that irritability is a genetic line that runs through my family……. prickly, he calls us. ☺ It’s just that we tend not to suffer foolishness patiently, and certainly not gladly. On this Father’s Day, I will be remembering my father as someone who would play Candy Land or Chinese checkers with small children, who purchased two Easter dresses for me when I was ten years old because I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, and who thoroughly enjoyed seeing his house full of family whenever possible. I wish I’d expressed my appreciation to him more often. For some reason, deeply buried in my subconscious, June often puts me into a state of nostalgia. I pour over scrapbooks and yearn for family gatherings and luncheons with friends. I may make more phone calls just to stay in touch. I find myself suddenly wishing for home ------ but which one? Where I now live and have lived for nearly 40 years and am deeply rooted in community? Our Pennsylvania home where both children were born and where we lived for ten years while acquiring a wonderful group of friends who we then had to leave? Or the home where I grew up, a farm house surrounded by stately trees and wide gardens with Guernsey cows in the fields (hopefully not in the gardens) and acres to roam? Where do you consider “home”? Everyone has their own vision. For some, it is the rolling green hills of Vermont or upstate New York. For others it is looking out over the ridges and hollows of the mountains that run like a spine down through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky; blue and smoky. Still others long for the wide sweeps of corn, wheat and sunflower fields of the mid-west or the tall, snow-capped mountains of Colorado and Wyoming ---- or the wide blue skies of Montana where one can see for miles and miles. And there are those who pine for the ocean of either coast. What we see and cherish is often a matter of perspective linked to the experiences we’ve had in those places. In the home where I grew up, near Rochester, I experienced small town warmth via family, church, school and the Grange. I learned leadership skills in 4-H and I loved the farm (well --- maybe not the chickens!!) with its fields and woods. Then, as a young married couple, we lived in Pennsylvania and I remember ice cream socials, wonderful 4-H volunteers, church retreats, ladies’ Bible study, our toddlers’ wall-to-wall toys, and parties in our summer kitchen with the walk-in fire place. Here, in Spencer, where we’ve resided for the most years, we experience a community that seems to have accepted us for who we are, even when they think we are slightly odd. Our sons spent most of their being-educated years at S-VE; it is a small enough school so that we knew their teachers and felt welcome there. One didn’t have to worry too much about kids in trouble because someone would be sure to tell you if they were on the roof, hanging from the catwalks or out of line in any way. We continue to find fellowship, friends who truly care and opportunity to grow in our faith and understanding of the world here. Think about your home; its blessings, your experiences, what has made you love it. A little nostalgia is, on occasion, a good thing, as are thoughts of what makes a real home. Alexandra Stoddard,**a creator of homes and a writer, says: “Home is where we express our passions and our unique creative vision. We should seek and celebrate the poetry of every day at home.” And perhaps taking time to consider that is what makes each day special. While summer doesn’t officially begin for another two weeks, most of us consider early June its real onset. I look forward to the activities and events already on my calendar for the summer months, but I know that all too soon I’ll be looking back on them. Thus it is my firm intention to enjoy each day to its fullest ---- even those days of heat and humidity that try my endurance. Seeds are planted in the garden, the tomatoes and potatoes seem to be thriving and the usual weeds are growing apace. As June explodes in flora and fauna, we remember why we so enjoy the four seasons; variety just makes life interesting!! *-Henry Holcomb Bennett ---American author, journalist and poet. 1863-1924 **- Alexandra Stoddard is an American interior designer and lifestyle philosopher Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.
  8. June Specials

    High school graduations are popping up all over. If only we could hand out flyers along with those diplomas carrying some suggestions of what is important in life and what isn’t. At eighteen (and sometimes way older), who thinks about that? Eleanor Roosevelt* said it well: “To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.” Perhaps this should be engraved on each diploma. June is, traditionally, month for weddings, though people generally get married when it fits into their calendars. We recently attended a lovely wedding for one of our nieces. The bride was beautiful, the groom appeared to be a fine young man, and they were obviously moving in a cloud of joy. In addition to being bathed in the happiness that filled the room, we were able to visit with family members we see too seldom. And of course, we all told stories of our weddings. While it seems impossible to us, Kerm and I have been married nearly 54 years. Interviewers of those married for decades always seem to think/hope that there’s some secret formula to staying attached that long. If that is true, I’m not sure that we know what it is. Basically we respect each other, have similar senses of humor, enjoy many of the same things, care about each other’s families, and most of the time, we love each other and our life together. And we have taken our commitment to each other seriously, even when shaking the other until his/her teeth rattle would be satisfying. There is no honest relationship that is entirely smooth and wonderful. There will be disagreements, hurts, adjustments, misunderstandings and occasional horror at some of the things we learn about each other (“You paid HOW much for those shoes?” “You ate a whole quart of ice cream?”) I remember that Ann Landers offered a bit of advice when queries came in about staying together. “One must ask, would life be better with or without this person?” The optimal answer is: “I can’t imagine life without her/him.” We were married on Labor Day weekend, and after honeymooning in Vermont and New Hampshire, left for University of Maryland graduate school, seven hours away from our families. Fortunately home-sickness is seldom fatal, and I survived, but in that situation, we had to rely on each other instead of extended family; probably a very good thing. We also elected to not have children for a couple of years, which gave us time to feel comfortable with each other and to grow up a bit more before needing to care for small people. No one has exactly the same needs or the same patterns and rhythms to their lives as anyone else, but no relationship can be lasting and good unless there’s effort spent on it and determination to stick with it. That is really the common denominator. When anything else (other than personal honor and faith) becomes more important than that relationship, there will be trouble and hurt that’s hard to heal. June also ushers in what we all hope will be a lovely season of sunshine, warm breezes and freedom to enjoy the outdoors and other summer pleasures. The summer solstice is TODAY ---- June 21st; a day of longest daylight and shortest hours of darkness. I’ve written before about what a magical time the Solstice has been, for eons. Some of the ancient stone structures that amaze us by their complexity were designed to mark the solstices and equinoxes, and are quite scientifically sophisticated. Mid-summer Night’s Eve is so rife with legends it becomes easy to believe that faeries and elves might be peeking out from behind every fern. In some early Celtic celebrations, flaming wheels were sent rolling downhill to propitiate the gods; sort of a spectacular fireworks display of gratitude for summer. An Elizabethan custom encouraged unattached maidens to wash their faces in the dew early on Mid-summer’s Day. Those who did this would, supposedly, envision the person they love. In my yard, it would show good sense to make sure no turkeys, cats or other wild life have been in that dewy grass prior to washing one’s face. June is also the month of roses, and my climbing rosebush that flings its arching shoots at least twelve feet into the air, covers two small trees with a stunning fountain of pink blossoms. Late peonies are sending out fragrance, the lupines are fading and need dead-heading. We’ve been mulching with straw where we have plants in the vegetable beds, and that nice warm straw seems to be a great place for kitty-napping. Apparently also good for playing hide and seek among the peppers and marigolds! Keeping the cats out of the gardens would take monitoring, 24/7. They seem to think that if I work there, they should certainly explore, dig, and play in the same. The Eleanor Roosevelt quotation with which I began this ramble led me to think about my life. I’m definitely not a recent graduate of anything (except perhaps lessons in patience and I’m still working on that degree), but I thought long about whether or not I live according to what I value most. The surrounding demands of our communities and culture never end; we all could be busy doing good things with no hours left to sleep, so there is eternal discernment needed. There have certainly been times when I’ve said “Yes” for the wrong reasons and then found myself overwhelmed or disillusioned. Many of us feel so led --- pushed --- convinced--- that we should being making this world better that we do not comprehend when we should let go and let someone else. Doing good things is admirable but not if it leaves us no time for our own growth. It then becomes a way to avoid thinking about difficult issues. This is where determining what we truly value helps us with balancing our days. Many years ago when our children were small and going to Sunday school, and Kerm and I were teaching teen and adult classes at 9:15 AM, we decided to keep our Saturday evenings free of social events. We played games, planned out our curriculum for the next day and got a good night’s sleep. At first it was a bit difficult to turn down what surely would have been fun occasions. But after a while, we looked forward to the peace and hominess of Saturday nights. In later years, we haven’t always been so discerning, but we try to assess our calendars every so often; are we living out what our values are now? Most important, in this beautiful month of June, are we savoring each day and making sure we spend time with those we love? Goethe** said we should “Connect our inner light to the external light of our environment.” And SHINE!!!! *-Eleanor Roosevelt……1884-1962. American diplomat, activist and wife of President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. **-Johann Wolfgang Goethe…… 1749-1832. German writer, artist and politician .
  9. Tis The Merry Month Of May

    Because I grew up visiting Rochester’s annual Lilac Festival, spring isn’t really here for me until the purple, pink, white and mauve plumes send out their signature fragrance. There is even a bottled scent available called “Highland of Rochester Eau de Parfum”. Other signs of spring are that the flag once more flies from our porch, high school bands are tuning up for the coming weekend’s ceremonies and there’s no snow!! The past two weeks have offered the sort of romantic spring weather that poets put into verse --- as in Camelot’s, “’Tis the merry month of May….”! Everything seasonal is in full flower, and the air is filled with a potpourri of fragrance from not only lilacs, but also apple blossoms, viburnums, and tulips. Even dogwood flowers have a light, pleasant fragrance. Now is also the time of year to vote on school budgets; an event that most small school districts in NYS schedule for May. Showing up to vote is one place to experience the camaraderie in rural communities. As we gather in the auditorium lobby to sign in, we can chat with others coming to vote, and those who are manning the tables. We talk about how volunteers are dwindling, how organizations like Lions’ Club, Farm Bureau and churches are suffering a lack of membership. We ask how this person is doing and whether that person is out of the hospital. We talk of the school play of a few weeks ago and what a good music department we have. We may very well not be voting the same way as those with whom we chat, but even if we disagree on how --- we are mostly all there to vote because we care about our community and our kids. A larger world-wide community calls for our attention as we approach Memorial Day. For many this weekend is a family time for putting flowers on family graves, having picnics and perhaps either attending or participating in celebratory parades honoring veterans. But Memorial Day also offers a world view. What really honors those who have given their time, their health, and sometimes their lives? We are proud of and grateful to the people who stand on the front line between the utter chaos of the power-hungry and our wish to live in peace. Yet might we not express gratitude in more useful ways? Certainly our care for returned soldiers is dreadfully lacking; true gratitude would give them adequate, timely care and resources for mending and healing. And should we not deeply regret that humanity still glorifies war and continues to accept killing each other as a way of solving problems? My father was in WWI, two of my brothers were in WWII and a brother-in-law participated in the Korean “Conflict”. Friends with whom I went to high school and college were part of the war in Viet Nam. And we held our breaths for our own sons and nephews as calls came out for the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and other troubled spots around the world. We currently have a nephew in the armed services. Conflict and war just never seem to stop; they simply ebb into a dribble until the next trouble spot erupts. If we could look at this eons-old dilemma from afar --- like from another planet perhaps ---- what might we think about common sense and humanity? There are people who firmly believe that as we advance in civilization (education, logic and science) that we humans will become less barbaric and more compassionate. I’m not so sanguine. While I believe that we should keep moving ahead in those arenas, I’ve found that logic seldom changes anyone’s mind (“la, la, la --- I can’t hear you!!”). Education does make a difference but it takes two or three generations for deeply instilled philosophies of bias and antipathy to change, and that often is due to experience not education. Our ancient tribal instincts are deeply woven in some part of our subconscious, and until we can actually look at all humans as our brothers and sisters, we will not be able to subdue our fear and hostility of those who aren’t like us. As Robert Burns* commented: “Good Lord, what is man!! For simple he looks, do but try to develop his hooks and his crooks, with all his depths and his shallows, his good and his evil, all and all, he’s a problem must puzzle the devil.” Until we admit to ourselves that each of us needs to make some changes within, we probably will continue to be puzzles, living in a puzzling world. Fortunately, there are those who seem to find a way to rise above fear and suspicion; they don’t emit that primal scream response but act in compassion and love. They quietly go about the business of making wherever they live a better place. They may not get a lot of recognition, but their basic goodness, and caring spirits light many paths other than their own. And once you have ministered to someone, it is no longer possible to think of them as “other”. I think here of people who bring laughter, cheerful conversation and maybe a helpful tonic to a friend in pain, those who drive people to doctor’s appointments, send cards of encouragement, keep their friends in their prayers, read stories to children, rescue stray dogs and cats and prepare food for those who hunger. While it is nice and newsworthy to invent new medications, create an unusual App or speak for human rights at the United Nations, it is the persons who just keep moving quietly among their fellow-humans, applying bandages and scattering seeds of peace and joy as they go along, who really keep our world from imploding. We simply need to look after each other and do what we can. I’ve had occasion lately to visit a massage therapist or two; their healing hands keep me moving. In a discussion with one of them, we spoke about how all of us have the potential to be healers. Whenever we choose a smile over a scowl, kind words in lieu of hurtful ones, to look at those who are different with acceptance, we are spreading a healing elixir. There are no educational requirements, class demands or earned fame that matter at all. Emerson** says this quite well: “To laugh often and much --- to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children --- To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends --- To appreciate beauty and find the best in others --- To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition--- To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived ----- this is to have succeeded.” So if you are feeling overwhelmed now that spring is here ---- if you are running from pillar to post; from the garden to the church meeting to the grocery store to your child’s baseball game; wincing at the nightly news ---- STOP! First, take a moment to inhale deeply spring’s fragrant aromas. Think long about how and where you fit into Emerson’s ideas of success. And take several moments during each day to rejoice that you are alive and that you are you in the midst of this “merry month of May”. *Robert Burns ---- Scottish poet. 1759-1796. Poet and Lyricist, also known as the Bard of Ayrshire. **Ralph Waldo Emerson ---- American Poet. 1803-1882. Essayist, philosopher and poet who led the Transcendentalist Movement of the mid-19th century. Carol may be reached at: cpeggy@htva.net.
  10. Mamas Just Keep Moving

    Ta-Da!! The kittens are gone. The SPCA outside of Ithaca kindly received them for neutering and adoption. They were such bouncy, amusing little creatures that I’m sure they were snapped right up. However, on the down-side, the Mama cat is accosting me every time I go outside; staring at me from a safe distance and obviously asking WHAT I did with her babies. Now to trap HER! Due to the arrival of some good weather, our “winter lights” are now in storage. We can’t really call them Christmas lights, because they go up on a good day around Thanksgiving, and we seldom get them off until March or early April. Since decent weather was late in coming, we have just removed them from the trees going up the driveway and across the front lawn. Their absence does create a problem for those trying to find our driveway; the lights make it much easier. What a difference a few hundred miles makes! We have just spent ten days in the vicinity of Willis, Virginia, enjoying time with family. They are mowing lawns there and planting gardens. The red bud trees were a glory all the way down from Maryland to Virginia and back again. And in Virginia, the dog woods were just beginning to bloom. Back in NYS now, I’ve missed some of my daffodils; they blossomed while we were gone. But the tulips are beautiful, and the garden soil is good enough to get the potatoes planted. Mother’s Day, is this coming weekend ---- a holiday celebrated in 40+ countries sometime during March through May. In the United States, it was begun by Anna Jarvis, who wanted to honor her mother ---- a care-giver during the Civil War and a Public Health advocate. So, in 1908, at St. Andrew’s Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia, Anna Jarvis began this custom with a celebratory service. Currently, Grafton is also the site of the International Mother’s Day Shrine. By 1911, all states observed it and in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation that “Mother’s Day” would be observed annually on the second Sunday in May. Anna Jarvis was greatly disturbed when Hallmark cards began to “commercialize” this celebration, but I think that however love is expressed and shared is valid and good --- whether via phone calls, cards, visits or sky-writing. I’ve written considerably over the years about my own mother, and recently an essay about her achieved first place in a “Women of Distinction” writer’s contest. My mother was a homemaker who, when her children were sufficiently grown, became a Dekalb salesperson. She was respected by area farmers for her energy, integrity and expertise. After retiring from an awards-filled sales position, she took lessons and excelled in a traditional Early American mode of painting on wood and tin, had amazing gardens, participated in her church, the Grange, Home Bureau and was a good neighbor. She’s a hard act to follow for her life has left an impact on her children, her grand children, perhaps a great-grand child or two, and on the neighbors who came to her with their problems. She had pretty definite ideas and gave voice to them very clearly, but she also tried to listen, learn and be fair about new thoughts and philosophies. She seldom, if ever, interfered in her adult children’s lives, though I’m sure there were many times when she probably wished she could. We were able to discuss books, theology, gardens and the latest technological advances right up to her death, at age ninety-four. In addition to my mother, I was also fortunate in my mother-in-law, who was wiser in many areas than I and very accepting. Also I was privileged to watch my older sister and sisters-in-law who became parents long before I did. Parenting is not easy, and most of us do so with little if any training, so mentors such as these were a blessing. They taught me to pick my battles and to just keep moving forward. Regardless of errors in parenting that we may have made, we respect and take delight in the grown-ups who used to be our toddlers. They’ve turned into fine adults, who’ve made wise life choices. Our daughters-in-law are intelligent, caring and accomplished women. Growing up well would also be true of our nieces and nephews. Watching youngsters mature from children to adults is sometimes a tad painful and often a little frightening. But the accomplished results (in our families at least) have been worth all efforts, fears or irritations that came along with the process. And now we have granddaughters! One of the activities our granddaughters do is dancing. One takes ballet lessons and the other participates in liturgical group dancing that acts out stories. I envy their litheness and agility. At this point in my life, moving the body is often problematical. The joints ache, the muscles would rather not make the effort and the energies are miniscule. We have a lift at church now as an alternative to the steep stairs that take one from the lower level to the sanctuary. I do use it sometimes, but try to keep that from being often. As arduous as the stairs are, I have a feeling that if I stop using them, my muscles will “smile complacently” and refuse to do even what they do now. As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” Of course, there are days when being gentle with one’s self is a very good idea ---- so long as it doesn’t mean a spiral descent into couch potato-ism before that’s really necessary. Gardening is one way I choose to keep moving. Right now, I’m a bit handicapped by a severe neck issue and today, we are also getting light showers, but hopefully those things will not long be problems. The weeds are growing apace and it’s time to plant the garden beds with lettuce, peas and carrots. Soon the lilacs will be sending their purple fragrance throughout the yard along with the viburnum carlesii. I know that around here, one should not plant before Memorial Day, but it has been such a long winter that we are all eager to begin the cycle of planting and harvesting. So I may sneak in a few things and hope for the best. If you garden, I wish you a wonderful garden this year, and whatever you do, go ahead and enjoy spring!! “Sometimes it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy!”** Guillaume Appollinaire *Leonardo Da Vinci--- Italian Renaissance man who excelled in painting, architecture, music and many other of the arts. 1462 – 1519 **Guillaume Appollinaire was a French poet; 1886 - 1918 Carol may be reached at cpeggy@htva.net.
  11. A Reluctant Spring

    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!!” 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. 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.
  12. The Gnats Of Life

    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!! 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… 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.
  13. Marking Spring

    “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!! 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. 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 .
  14. Signs Of Change

    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.
  15. There's Always Hope!

    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.
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