Carol Bossard

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  1. Fresh Air And Imagination

    The Easter Bunny has come and gone. Daffodils, hyacinths and grape hyacinths are blooming. Bees are buzzing with great enthusiasm over our boxwood blossoms. Hopefully our weather will not immediately turn into summer as is sometimes the case. The gardens are calling; weeds are growing apace, as well as the flowers we actually planted. We had a lovely time with family over Easter weekend. Nine of us enjoyed dinner together on Saturday. While they were here, our granddaughters climbed our hill to visit the water fall that only “falls” during the spring rains. And our current trio of kittens provided more fun than one could buy in a toy store. Everything is so very alive at this time of the year; birds are singing morning and night, insects (unfortunately for our dog’s ease of mind) are buzzing and flying about. Ticks are numerous and we should all be reminded to check ourselves at the close of every day we have been outside. It is also time to put the bird seed cans safely inside a shed before our annual pilgrimage of black bears comes, looking for food. Now that we actually see the season opening around us, our thoughts can, perhaps, travel ahead to plans for weekend jaunts or vacations this summer. We will probably schedule at least one trip south to visit a son’s round, light-filled home in the Blue Ridge, where we get to see soaring vultures, and the goats and chickens as well as family. Then we need to get back Morrisville-way to sample the good cuisine at the Copper Kettle or that of a couple of fine restaurants in Cazenovia ---- and to reacquaint ourselves with the plethora of cats in our son’s family, as well as enjoying a visit. Their Madison County scenery, all hills and dales, isn’t too shabby either! We’ve thought of a whale watch this year; it has been too long since we’ve inhaled the salt air and experienced the wonders of whales soaring out of the ocean. We also have high hopes that some of you will be coming this way on your travels. The Finger Lakes are a marvelous place for nearly anything you might want; the water falls, wineries, B&Bs and cuisine simply can’t be topped. The peepers have been singing now for three weeks. They begin at night, but soon their burbling, carrying chorus goes all day too. Peepers are really little tree frogs, and according to one source, they are to the amphibian world what robins are to the world of birds; a sure sign of the spring season. One once attached itself to the window screen just in front of my computer and we peered at each other for a time. By morning, he/she was gone --- off to adventure with some other tree frog companion. This is about the time of year when, as a child, I collected pollywogs from a seasonal creek on our farm. I’d keep them for a day, watching them swim around my glass jar, and then return them to their mucky little pools. It was messy, but great fun. And mud washes off! Marsh marigolds/cowslips will soon be blooming in all their golden glory along small streams. There is something about being out and about in spring air that refreshes the soul. I love seeing the many forms creative thinking takes with people. When our granddaughters are with us, they do a lot of art work ---- and their sketches and collages are always full of interest and sparkle. And I’ve mentioned before the writing groups in which I’ve participated. I am amazed at the wonderful stories, poetry and nonfiction that come spilling out of the pens, guided by the diverse minds in the circles. The One-Room Sunday school curriculum that we use in our church offers several choices for activities that illustrate whatever the lesson is for the day, and a couple of Sundays ago, I observed kids painting flowers onto large sheets of paper, using their arms and feet as paint brushes. It was a wonderful example of using the energy of children as part of their learning process as opposed to attempting to turn them into well-behaved, quiet little robots. Life offers so many opportunities for being open to new things. “Creativity springs from our curiosity and our inner resources. All creativity comes from an inner awakening.” Alexandra Stoddard* One of the things I enjoyed most as a child was my paper dolls. (Perhaps this influenced my dubious choice of a textiles and clothing major in college.) I had printed books of paper dolls, but even more fun than the commercial dolls were those I made myself and for which I designed the clothing. My playmates and I would either cut out or copy clothes from Sears catalogs to go on our paper dolls. And this kept us busy for hours. I also had some really old collections --- maybe left over from my sister’s play days; Carmen Miranda, Deanna Durbin and other stars from the early 1940s. I can’t help but think that perhaps our “play” with paper people was more of a learning experience than the hand-held electronic games in which today’s kids are focused. Or perhaps it is just that we are learning different things in different ways. Each child comes into life as his/her own person, but curiosity and creativity should be encouraged in all children, no matter what direction it takes. I’m always appalled at people who are afraid, and consider imagination a bad or useless quality, and who do not introduce their children to myths, fairy tales and make-believe. Limiting one’s world because of fear defeats life’s possibilities. What one find possible to imagine can be transporting, life-changing and the root of amazing inventions. For those of us who celebrate Easter, we are reminded in this season, that our vision must be more than what we see on TV, on the internet or in the papers. Easter tells us once again that fear is something we no longer need to endure. As our faith vision expands, our perspective can alter immeasurably. Thomas Wolfe** said: “The essence of all faith for people of my belief is that man’s life can be, and will be, better.” We do not necessarily get to choose what this world brings to us, but we do get to choose how we will respond; how we will live our lives. In Julian of Norwich’s*** vision of God there is total trust in life’s outcome: “I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.” This probably will not be true with humans tomorrow or next week ----- but, eventually, goodness will spread like spilled honey. At least that’s what Julian and I think. Happy Spring!! Carol may be reached at *- Alexandra Stoddard --- American writer, interior decorator and lifestyle philosopher **- Thomas Wolfe --- American writer; 1900-1938 ***- Julian of Norwich ---English theologian and Anchoress; 1342-1416
  2. Easter Bonnets And Spring Cleaning

    Yes, I've thrown things away and regretted it also. I loved those magazines for a lot of years, but I think that I was ready. Of course, if I'd known you liked them too, I'd have sent them ----- all pounds and pounds of them ---- to you. Then you'd have needed new shelving. Having a "wait and see" area is a good idea. I'm doing considerable cleaning out right now; our kids and families are coming home for Easter and I plan to send some of our possessions back with them. At least then, if I have cravings for something I've given away, I can go look at it where they live. Carol
  3. In another week, the six weeks of Lent will culminate in Easter, the major celebration for Christians all around the world. This year, the Jewish time of Passover begins April 11th, and will be celebrated during many of the same days as the Christian Holy Week. There seem to be so few certainties in today’s world that rites and celebrations, full of tradition, are instrumental in keeping us grounded. I am, annually, reassured by the familiar palm branches and transported by the fragrance of Easter flowers. This is also when I pull out our small collection of wooden and marble eggs to be crowned by the one fragile egg, painted in great detail, brought back from Poland by a friend. And Easter Sunday is when our Sunday school kids make the “empty tombs” ---- biscuits that are baked with a marshmallow in the middle; this leaves a space surrounded by sweetness. Tradition --- often a really good thing! A tradition that has little relevance to the spiritual emphasis of this holiday, involves Easter bonnets. I loved my small-girl Easter hats, but thought they were an out-of-date custom. A couple of weeks ago, I was happy to hear a young mother speak of shopping for an Easter bonnet for her four-year-old. Clothes may be one of humanity’s vanities, but there’s little more appealing than small children dressed for special occasions, and most especially in an Easter bonnet. The hat I remember best was a pale straw confection, trimmed with a black velvet ribbon and daisies. YUM!! It was also the year that, for some unknown reason, my father took me shopping for an Easter dress. When I couldn’t decide between two, he bought both. This etched an impression in my young mind that going shopping with Dad was a really good deal. We found another kind of YUM a week or so ago when we joined friends for lunch at the Seneca Sweet Shop. It is a fairly new business in Watkins Glen. In addition to tasty sandwiches on home-made bread, they have a small bakery and a large choice of classic chocolates. The restaurant opens into another shop where one can find gifts and memorabilia. Lunch was very good and the ambiance was bright and cheery. At least two of us are looking forward to revisiting that chocolate counter and helping the Easter bunny out just a bit. Do you ever consider the people who have helped you become who you are? A few of us were discussing those who had influenced us over the years. We all are, at some time, influential with someone, beginning in our families. I think, in our busy daily lives, we forget that what we say and how we behave is going to have, on those around us, an impact that might be lasting. Usually we don’t know until years later – perhaps never – what that was. Very occasionally, one does hear that we’ve made a difference for someone, and it’s like a star-burst for the day. When I was about eight years old, my mother and I had tea with an elderly friend. The memory of how Mrs. Boughton treated me --- as though I had preferences and opinions that mattered ---- has stayed with me my entire life. Adults don’t often see children in that respectful way. I had a couple of teachers who definitely influenced my developing character --- and at least one whose teaching affected me negatively. My sixth grade teacher was a creative woman who, when she saw that some students were a bit bored, devised extra projects that kept us interested. And she always cared how we were feeling and what we were thinking. My high school English teacher was an amazing person who made even Shakespeare interesting to juniors and seniors. Her comments and encouragement certainly set me on the path to writing. On the negative side, a fifth grade teacher (there are a few inepts in any profession) instilled in me a yawning incapacity and dislike for math that lasted for probably forty years ---- until I had to work out the puzzle of an agency budget and discovered some “Ah-Ha” moments of clarity. I wish I had shared my appreciation with those two teachers who shone so brightly. I can hope that they somehow knew. All along my life’s journey, there have been affirmers and mentors, though seldom officially. These were people who simply entered my life at just the right moment either as neighbors, fellow-church members, co-workers or service-providers. They helped me grow in understanding of leadership, spiritual growth, and self-awareness. Some of you are reading this right now. Many times individuals were simply kindly and good-hearted. In the Lewisburg area, when we moved into a house, two or three women from our church appeared with buckets and sponges –scrubbing walls and windows. After our children were born, there were those who took the place of absent family, reassuring me, as a new mother, and occasionally babysitting. And when we moved to our current residence, similar kindnesses occurred. I was warmly welcomed into this community via music, church and work. “Happiness is a perfume; you can’t pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.” James Van Der Zee*. One simply never knows the impact any of us might have on another and ultimately, on ourselves. So pass the fragrance on! Speaking of impact, I’ve made a major dent in some of my stuff. There is a magazine, “Country Living” to which I have subscribed since it came to be. The magazines were so full of information, beautiful photographs, ideas for one’s home, and yummy recipes that I kept every one. At twelve issues per year for over twenty years, you can perhaps imagine the stacks I had neatly stored on shelves. After considerable inner dialogue, I decided that it was time to let them go, and spent several hours of a few days flipping through each one. I tore out a few things but, surprisingly, felt almost no trauma at letting these “old friends” go into recycling. The decision itself was momentous, but now that the task is done, I’m feeling refreshed and am rejoicing that I have some empty shelves to fill with things more useful to me at this point in my life. And – well – I admit that it wasn’t a total cleansing; I kept the Christmas issues to cheer some cold December days. If you are spring-cleaning, I wish you strength and the courage to discard your too many things! . And many good wishes for a joyous Easter and/or a blessed Passover. *James Van Der Zee was an American, born 1886 and died 1993. He was an honored Harlem Renaissance photographer. Carol may be reached at:
  4. Cabin Fever

    My poor little flowers have had a rough time. The bright yellow winter aconite growing close to the ground, stretched its head up (just before the big snow hit) with sort of a questioning, “What is going on here; I’m COLD!” Of course, when 18 inches of fluffy white fell, the flowers were totally blanketed. Birds have been congregating at the feeders and not very patiently waiting their turn. One red-bellied woodpecker pulled the tail feathers of a starling to encourage that gluttonous bird to stop monopolizing the suet. It was quite funny to watch. The storm meant I needed to fill the feeders three times/day instead of once; the flocks of red-winged blackbirds and starlings were added to the regular winter birds and they go through a lot of food. But…….. It’s March……….. Little rivulets of joy Begin flowing down stones, Through the mosses, Out from the tree roots. They’ve been there all the time, Just hidden down under Where they’ve quietly added sparkle And glow to the ice, And crunch to the snow; There’s a warm glow over the earth In the setting sun…………… That’s the first stanza of a poem written one spring when cold weather was taking forever to go away. Winter in the Finger Lakes loses its charm about February, and when it lingers into March, it’s rather like being wrapped in numb. So we hope that the storm of last week was our final one. But regardless, the spring equinox has come, and spring IS here. The doves know; they are cooing every morning now. There are many ways to combat the “cabin fever” that hits about now. Its symptoms are angst – a restlessness that can’t be explained, an impulse to wash all the windows or dance around the yard on a good day and a descent into the blues when another snow shower hits. It feels as though it is time to take a weekend off and go --- maybe to Santa Barbara, where a niece, Jan, has a beautiful golden rose blooming right this minute! But since that probably won’t happen, I have other activities that bring back my joie de vivre. Moving furniture helps. It is kind of like taking a mini-vacation to clean, polish and put the furniture in a new and different place. I’m also adjusting pots and pans, cook books and trying to do a better job of storing things. It is amazing that tiny changes do refresh daily living. Onward to sparkling windows and crocuses! As for life in general, I’ve had even more reason lately to consider some of the problems of aging via the doctor’s offices. Several appointments and chats with various specialists sometimes one leaves confused; wondering where the intelligent line is between acceptance of what they recommend, and acquiring a more positive mental attitude that ignores difficulties and pushes on ahead. Pain can be an “I can live with it” annoyance or it can be code for “SOS! Do Something!” It takes really knowing one’s body to decide which. Energy waxes and wanes; how much should we try to push our limits and will doing so really manufacture more zip? Adding another day of Bone-Builders to my schedule would be good for my physical body. But after our over-busy weekends, I need Mondays to recuperate both physically and mentally. This is my day of rest and quiet to strengthen me for the rest of the week. So the doctor and I compromised. I agreed to do yoga at home instead of an additional BB class. I think that as one ages, many compromises are necessary. Can the gardens be smaller? Might it be possible to find someone else to mow or turn part of the lawn into a flowery meadow? Could some meals be take-out instead of always prepared at home? Beautiful things collect dust; do we need quite so many or do they fill a need? How much of what “we’ve always done” must still be in our lives? What is really important? One of the local businesses held a seminar on how to reorganize one’s home to make it safer when balance, eyesight, and agility become issues. I was surprised last week to find that trying to walk in snow up to my knees felt precarious. How very annoying! But a ski pole made all the difference for safe wallowing versus an inadvertent snow angel. Planning for these things can make life much less stressful, and maybe even ease the over-imaginative minds of our offspring who may see us as less able than we see ourselves. (Their view might be accurate, but……..) So --- now --- all we have to do is implement the precautions. Admitting that we need them is Step # 1. I wrote the following verses giving my own, slightly biased, perception of aging: Age is so relative; It is liquid and flowing. Time is linear only in our heads For really………. Time is endless, swirling And layered. Whether we are sixteen or sixty We are who we are and, Age doesn’t really matter! Kerm and I recently found reassurance for the future in some much younger people. Regrettably, we missed “Harvey”, the S-VE play, but we heard it was delightful. We did get to the senior play in Bath, where a nephew was both Nana and the very amusing crocodile in “Peter Pan”. Whoever did the choreography was exceptional; the kids were so in sync with each other. I thought I was back in camp with Lummi Sticks (anyone else remember those??) when they performed a rhythm exercise during one scene. The media news gives us a depressing, fearful down-side of most everything. But when seeing these musical performances, listening to the “athletes of the week” in our regional schools; reading about kids wanting to donate their hair to cancer patients or collecting for the local Food Pantry; hearing that high school kids in our district are reading to the elementary school kiddies, I do not at all despair about our nation’s youth. There are many who surely do need opportunities for a different environment and caring mentors. But there are large numbers already doing their best to become strong, courageous, talented, caring people. They make me glad and optimistic. I wish we, who are “seasoned”, were leaving them a better world and better examples for living together. However, as spring comes, anything seems possible. As Robert Browning said in “Pippa’s Song”: “The year’s at the spring, and day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; the hillside’s dew-pearled; the lark’s on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His Heaven ---- all’s right with the world!” Or at least we feel that it could be ---- and will be! Carol may be reached at:
  5. Ta-Da!!!! The seed and plant orders are in and my garden plan is done --- until, of course, I think of a different arrangement, and change it. The little yellow winter aconite bulbs began blooming two weeks ago, during that mild week we so appreciated. The snow drops emerged then too and ended up shivering on their stems for a few days when frigid temperatures returned. These plants are tiny and frail-looking, but tough and enduring; a harbinger of spring and definitely they bring cheer to the heart weary of winter. Winter may be the time to snuggle in with a good book, but my reading time doesn’t diminish just because better weather returns. My father’s frequent exasperated request was to “get your nose out of that book and do something.” That used to irritate me, but it makes me smile now --- because it is so true. I enjoy reading many genres. I like the smell of the books and how the words are put together on the page. Mostly I prefer non-fiction, but there are some writers of fiction that I appreciate for their skill in transporting me to a different place and time. Some reading is fluff, but other stories speak very clearly to the world in which we all live right now. One of those is the “Sister Fidelma” series I’ve been re-reading (mentioned before in my articles), written by Peter Tremayne.* His books are set in 7th century Ireland, and he researches extremely well so the history is both absorbing and startling in that so little in human nature has changed over the centuries. Our nation and the rest of the world exist in an unsavory place of disillusionment, discord and disarray. There is much divisiveness and endless blame being liberally handed around. And we are often filled with fear; afraid of what might happen, afraid of the rest of the world, afraid of people unlike ourselves, afraid of being labeled. We fear change, the unknown, and sometimes we haven’t a clue as to what we fear but we are still afraid. Civilization seems to continually be in a “fight or flight” mode. A little sane fear has its place; warning us to avoid doing dangerous things and is probably a life-saver. But even though we all experience it, fear that comes from inside us, fear that we can’t cope with the cluelessness and evil around us, fear of new ideas, fear of things that are different ---- that fear blocks our creative thought and action. One emotion useful for dissipating fear is humor; there is strength in laughter! Laughter lightens up our dark attitudes and diminishes the fear; it can even be a powerful weapon. Back in the last century, Deborah Kerr sang, in The King and I, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, and no one will suspect, I’m afraid.” And that very attitude is akin to laughter. I think as long as we allow ourselves to see humor in situations, we will be able to maintain our sanity in the face of the world’s disarray. Laughter also makes pomposity and ego-driven behavior look ridiculous. Political cartoons have been weapons of the intelligent for centuries. Humor is feared by those who have inflated egos and/or little confidence within. According to history, Ireland was a glowing light of civilization during the Middle Ages. They had sensible (for the time), humane laws, some of which we might well emulate today; laws that allowed no disrespect to women, that prohibited bullying of any kind and demanded that law-breakers provide compensation instead of simply being punished. And they felt that some kinds of unethical behaviors, especially when coming from the powerful, are best treated with public laughter. “…….Laughter will succeed where threats, punishments and pious lectures will not.” ** Their laws even had strong penalties for those who satirized people without justification, so seriously did they take the potential results of laughter. Many people around the world would give all they have, to have our Constitutional protection for freedom of speech. Liberty is feared by the small-minded and those who crave power, and too many of us take it for granted. Most of us have misused that freedom, either intentionally or in thoughtless moments. “Alternative facts” and outright lies are running rampant. And people too often pass things along via the Internet without checking the authenticity. Perhaps we should consider treating our words as the explosive jewels they might really be; being more careful of what we say and definitely checking for accuracy before we spread information. Our freedom of expression should lead to replacing carelessness with integrity and fear with action. And we should never be afraid to laugh at any naked emperor who pretends he’s wearing new clothes. I believe that courage plus integrity is what those who drafted these amendments expected. The Ides of March is approaching (remember Latin I?) and winter is waning, though I’m almost afraid to say so. I distinctly remember driving home from Syracuse in one mid-April snow storm, so March isn’t exactly a guarantee of spring. But I’m feeling optimistic; the red-winged blackbirds are here, there are cat-calls in the night and I’m hoping that soon there will be daffodils and hyacinths making pools of color and fragrance in my gardens. The pussy willows are out and I am reminded of a custom told to me by a co-worker; an Aleutian who grew up in Alaska. Since there’s still snow and cold in Alaska around Easter time, they used pussy willows in lieu of palm branches for Palm Sunday in her Russian Orthodox church. I felt this was a good use of what is available, and so I use them for our altar bouquets during the season of Lent. Their fuzzy little buds enchant the children and everyone feels encouragement in seeing and touching them. It is during this season of Lent that another avenue of encouragement is available for me, stemming from the community Lenten services that are now in progress here. The brief Wednesday services move from church to church. After the noon services there is a luncheon; after the evening services, there are snacks. Of course, the services themselves are useful and meaningful for one’s Lenten meditations, but the luncheons or snack times are equally as helpful. Even in a small community, where we are acquainted with most of the inhabitants, the opportunity to know someone better is a very good thing. As we chat together after these services, it provides that chance to find commonality with each other and that leads to understanding and, eventually, affection, and more of that is what we all need. “One kind word can warm three winter months.” Japanese Proverb So ---- Happy March and don’t forget to turn the clocks ahead this Saturday night. *Peter Tremayne is the fiction pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis, a prominent authority on the ancient Celts and author of numerous works of history and scholarship. **Badger’s Moon by Peter Tremayne, page 171 Carol may be reached at
  6. I was accurate in thinking that winter might fly by (for me), as has the rest of the year. We looked out one morning this past week, to see a male turkey fanning his tail, even though his feet were sunk in snow, and hoping that the ladies, who were busily gobbling sunflower seeds, would notice. Next week, Lent begins and in two weeks, Daylight Savings Time brings us dimmer mornings and lighter evenings. These very mild days this week nearly had me out looking for crocuses, and I did cut some forsythia branches to encourage early blooming. However, I must admit that in February, the things most encouraging me are the colorful choices in the seed and plant catalogs. This penchant for planning gardens is either genetic or catching like a virus. When our granddaughters were here a couple of weeks ago, they poured over my catalogs and made extensive lists of flowers they’d like to grow. I expect to see their fields breaking out into bloom on one of our visits. Their great-grandmother, who had extensive and beautiful gardens, would be delighted to know of their interest. It is a good choice of activities; John Greenleaf Whittier* said: “Give fools their gold and knaves their power, Let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall; who sows a field or trains a flower, or plants a tree is more than all.” I find that time spent in the garden makes any day better. One of the other indications that winter is waning might be the outside activity I hear on some nights. Something --- and I’m thinking skunk, raccoon or possum --- loudly rattles the cat food pan, finishes off anything left there, then knocks the pan around. Since the above-mentioned creatures tend to nap in really cold, snowy weather, it seems logical that they are awake now because there’s a thaw and maybe spring is coming soon. We have no outside light beaming right on that spot, so when I get out of bed to look, whatever is there blends into the shadows, and I can’t be sure which animal I should be accusing of trespass and larceny. Unfortunately, after doing this middle-of-the-night creature-check, I’m wide awake!! I probably shouldn’t be amazed at how many other people are also up in the middle of the night, and on the computer; sleep problems seem to be universal. One morning, recently, I had been awake since before 3:30 AM, and finally got up at 5 AM. Not wanting to disturb the dog (that would mean going out in the cold), I turned on the computer. First I worked on an article, the thoughts of which had been bubbling in my brain and keeping me awake. Then I went to Face Book --- and found several other people, also sleepless. Of course my hopes to not awaken Freckles were dashed by 6:30, and he began his urgent suggestion (pacing back and forth, accompanied by THE STARE) that we go out NOW. The dog thinks “NOW” and often I do too, even to wanting something yesterday. But I’m also good at putting some things off; things that might mean uncomfortable adjustments to some of my habits/ life-style, or things that might be controversial. But occasionally there is a lightning bolt of clarity that suddenly and unexpectedly illumines my thinking. I’ve had a few of those over the years and they usually come when I’m slightly disgruntled with life. Last Sunday the sermon in church presented a too-clear reflection of how short we, who profess Christianity, fall from what are the tenets of our faith. And then the speaker gave us a bit of time to ponder what she had said before closing the service. So I pondered, and immediately found many good reasons why it would be impossible to love, forgive, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, give my favorite coat to or pray for some people. Then another clear and rather annoying thought popped up; “I’m seventy-four years old. So when do I think I should consider my lapses in walking the walk?” It’s the human condition to find that our behavior doesn’t necessarily match our ideals. Many of us do the same thing with food choices, exercise, biases of any kind, etc. I know the harm that excessive sugar and other carbs do to the body; I’ve studied nutrition and food-preparation. I am well-aware that chronic respiratory issues would be lessened by the deep breathing of yoga exercise. I know that daily meditation for going deeper into my faith and for calming the mind would be useful, both for spiritual maturity and stress-control. And bias always comes from fear and/or lack of understanding. So what is it that enables me to ignore what I know to be true for convenience’s or indulgence’s sake? Fatigue might play a part. But I think it is more likely that many of us harbor the happy dream that we will just keep on living as we do, and we can attend to all these non-crucial issues later. Our days fill with minutiae, instead of real living. There are two problems with this thinking: issues of health and living with integrity, both physical and spiritual, are not non-crucial, and “later” seldom comes. Making resolutions seldom accomplishes much, and it is futile for anyone to try doing a total makeover of self all at once. Being awakened, and remembering that moment of clarity is a good place to begin. And realizing that in this “home stretch” of my life, there’s not going to be a better time to live in a way that speaks of what I truly believe. So as Spring advances, in addition to planting my gardens full of beauty and good food, I’m going to work on one or two of those things that I’m feeling called to do. I hope to be able to eliminate some of the non-enjoyable, non-essentials that clutter my life, and instead remain open to leading from within. I’ll let you know how that has worked out in six months or so. Meanwhile, this week is a great time to enjoy the lovely mild weather we are having ---- until it changes, as is usual in this northeast part of the country. And in just a few days, it’ll be welcome to March! ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ On the first Sunday in March (5th), the annual Business Showcase, co-sponsored by Inspire and the Chamber, will be at the S-VE high school, from 1 PM until 4 PM. This is both fun and educational. The wonderful plethora of arts and crafts, skills and services that we have in our region are featured. And there will be food, and music. Some of the very talented S-VE students designed video publicity for this, so the event draws from the collaboration of all ages, and is useful for all ages. If you are interested in being a vendor, call: 607-589-6059 or email: *John Greenleaf Whittier; 1807-1892, Quaker, Poet and Abolitionist. Carol may be reached at:
  7. Taming The Tongue

    When I wake up singing a kids’ Sunday school song in my head, I’m pretty sure the day is starting out well! The skies may be gray, but the little tune inside reminds me that there is blue sky above those clouds and the sun is shining somewhere --- probably in South Africa, where a Face Book friend sends out photos of their beautiful beaches. Being quite “allergic” to long flights, it is unlikely that I will ever set eyes – or feet --- on that lovely land where Terry lives. But I enjoy sharing the beauty and warmth with someone so very far away, and to know that we are having similar thoughts and feelings about the day. This time of winter does create an urge to escape the chilly winds and gray skies. But more than a few days away from home, and I want to be back! And our dog, while he’s all excited about the kennel for a day or two, is the same way. A few days of fun and then it’s time to return to the familiar. The outside cats are displeased if we are late in feeding them, so several days of our absence, even with a kitty-sitter stopping by, annoys them exceedingly. Cats do not like change! So in lieu of escape, I content myself with admiring the fine penciling of winter trees against the sky, the many patterns of clouds that our skies produce and making sure I get fresh air and exercise every day. There are still moments, though, when a warm breeze and the sight of dolphins leaping just out from the beach, would be wonderful. We had an entertaining spectacle in our yard a few days ago. A flock of wild turkeys had ventured down after the snow had subsided sufficiently. They had just begun gleaning when WHOOSH --- they took off with all the clamor that startled turkeys can make. When I looked to see what had frightened them --- I saw one of our feral cats ---- large, gray and fluffy ---- just zooming after those birds four times his size. And when they left, he sat down with an obviously satisfied expression on his face; the “cat that swallowed the canary” look --- and began licking his paws, which is probably the feline version of a high five. Life is never dull outside even now! Winter may make us feel our age, first by weighing us down in heavy coats and boots, so that movement is hampered. And many of us succumb to health issues; colds, flu, more intense arthritis, etc. Of course if we had understood at age 12 how very important it would be to take good care of ourselves, there might be less moaning and groaning now. But some infirmities come regardless of good care. One of those things, for me, is macular degeneration. My mother, one brother and my sister have all experienced this annoying retina deterioration. Nor were my eyes content with just one form; my right eye has both wet and dry. So we’ve been trekking to Rochester to a retina specialist for shots in the right eye ----- which is nowhere near as horrible as it sounds. Well --- the trekking on stormy days is, but the shot is barely felt. It is, however, irritating, both metaphorically and in reality; for days afterward, seeing psychedelic floaters and looking as though I’ve been out on a binge with only one eye open. There’s consolation in good company, though. One lady in the elevator, with wry humor, said: “I’ve had five eye surgeries; getting old sure isn’t easy, is it? Good thing we can laugh!” My sister doesn’t complain either; she only says, “I can still read pretty well, and watch TV.” So I have good role models and consider this just one more bothersome speed bump along the road of living longer. Garden orders will, hopefully, be done before the end of February. I can clearly visualize those tall blue and mauve delphiniums. What takes so long is trying to be sensible when looking through seed/plant catalogs; it is really nigh unto impossible! Who can resist the frilled petals of the latest peonies or rose varieties, or the mental vision of a bluebell carpet among the ferns? And we know that fresh food from the garden is healthier. But at the same time---- I must remember how much energy all of these gardens require ---- and supposedly, I am cutting back. Hmmm………… I’m having real trouble trying to think what flowers or veggies I can do without! Remember the listening skills seminar we were to attend? It was excellent! After some spoken instruction, we spent three hours learning how to slide ourselves into another person’s thinking. Listening in this way is supposed to help one find some clarity about where that other person’s reasoning is coming from---- and then both of us can discuss an issue, with less heat and more understanding. I would guess that all who attended came away with potential new skills. It will take practice and it also takes being willing to be non-judgmental while listening. Not easy! “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy* The following day, some of us discovered that expressing intense feelings without insulting another’s point of view takes thought and finesse. If a person feels very strongly right about something deep inside, they may find that: 1) discussion of differing thoughts is too threatening to their inner belief, and are unable talk about it calmly, and 2) any attempts to understand may well fly out the window when someone disagrees with what one thinks should be a universally- understood given. So ---- maybe we can civilly discuss why or why not a pipeline should cross Native American sacred lands ---- that is an issue that calls forth opinion, but doesn’t affect our inner beliefs. But we have far more trouble in considering differing personal spiritual convictions; something that’s part of our psyches. We all should remember some wisdom from a Scottish evangelist from the 19th century: “Life is full of opportunities for learning love……..The world is not a playground, it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal lesson for all of us is how better we can love.” Henry Drummond** We are so often ruled by fear --- especially when we have no relevant experience. That is why, in some languages, the word for “stranger” and “enemy” are the same. Two Biblical promises are that “the truth will make us free” and that “in perfect love there is no fear.” And Robert O’Brien*** rephrases this: “…there is nothing really, to be afraid of. As we learn this we grow in faith, we grow in strength and most important, we grow in our capacity to love.” Robert O’Brien*** There is much discord today; it will take many of us, working at it, to change. So onward, to more civil discourse, beautiful beaches and an early spring! *Leo Tolstoy ---Russian novelist; one of the greatest of classic writers. 1828-1910 ** Henry Drummond ---- Scottish evangelist, writer & lecturer. 1851-1897 *** Robert O’Brien --- American writer and novelist Carol may be reached at:
  8. Staying Warm

    One winter month nearly gone!! When we think of staying warm, this generally means hoping that our heat sources are adequate and that we are suitably garbed. But there’s also inner warmth to be considered. We, who live in four-season regions, complain considerably about the weather, but we also find much to warm our spirits….or we’d probably live elsewhere. If one stays aware of the tiny changes that come each day, our cycle of seasons is warming and reassuring. I like seeing a partly-frozen stream bubbling along, and knowing that deep in the mud, there is life, just waiting for better temperatures. The owls are nesting right now. And the chickadees, unafraid of the worst weather, sing between mouths-full of seeds and suet. Every time there is a thaw, I see the shape of the gardens, and remember that beneath that clay, snowdrops, daffodils and peonies are just waiting to burst out of the ground. So I agree that “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus* Perhaps this is a good place to mention how warming our fruit cake apparently was this year. It seems that I simply can’t bake fruit cake without having some glitch in the process. One year I left out the dry ingredients, making a sort of brittle; this year, I over-baked it. My timer either didn’t go off (I also have problems with timers), or I didn’t hear it, and the cakes baked probably ½ hour longer than they should. So, I assumed they’d be drier than one would want fruit cake to be. To mitigate that, I poured more B&B Liqueur over them than I ordinarily would do, before I wrapped them for aging. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages myself, so how much would be enough probably isn’t in my skill set. Anyway, the friend to whom I gave the first small cake, said to me after tasting it, that I’d “certainly been generous with the alcohol, hadn’t I?” So I tried it myself, and, yes I had! But the cake was moist and tasty, so I guess the little extra zip wasn’t amiss. I wonder what interesting thing I’ll do next year! Along with the expected grief I’ve been feeling since my sister-in-law, Nickie, passed on a few weeks ago, I’ve been unexpectedly re-experiencing a nostalgic loss of the family times around her large dining table where we conversed, told stories, occasionally sang and always laughed much. People would be perched in every chair; some might be beading, some would be knitting or embroidering, and a few of us simply sat and enjoyed the conversations along with our tea. As I thought about this particular bit of family tradition, I thought about hospitality in general. Nickie’s house was a welcoming place. I’m not sure that this is true of our culture anymore. I think that as we have grown more technologically-inclined, as we’ve grown busier, and as we’ve moved from the communities in which we grew up and become less connected in our neighborhoods, we have also become less comfortable opening our homes to others. One does have to show wisdom in who we allow to step onto the welcome mat; not every person should have access to our inner selves or our homes. But cocooning --- a cultural reality now --- isn’t all that good for humankind and surely not good for understanding each other. We simply need to develop discretion as well as a caring spirit. The home in which I grew up was “open house” all of the time too. Much of the traffic was family since my older siblings and their families --- at that time ---- all lived within 20 miles of the homestead. But neighbors and friends dropped in too, and seemed always welcome. Perhaps this was a rural phenomenon? Being familiar with this style of living, Kerm and I have always felt that our home should carry on in the same mode. It seems normal and part of a good life, to us. We feel that if we are blessed by having a comfortable abode surrounded by gardens and woods- ---- it is not to grasp it to ourselves---- but to share it with others. This sort of sharing has brought us great pleasure and many interesting --- and only occasionally dubious ---- times. I think whoever lives in our house after us, might actually sense laughter in the walls from our years here. On an entirely different subject ---- does anyone else have a dyslexic car???? The warning light on the dashboard came on several times to tell us that our right front tire was losing air. We checked it each time and found the air pressure to be just fine. Finally, we checked all four tires --- and it was the right rear tire that needed air. And now this has happened again. We drive a supposedly American-made car, but either some computer part is made elsewhere in the world where the translation was in error, or there’s a dyslexic engineer right here in the USA Chevy plant, putting our dashboard components together backward. I could write a small book on our experiences with cars, over the years. I’m convinced that quite probably our cars do have inner lives, just as the Cars movies showed! Cars aside, this first month of the year has been anything but boring and bland. If it isn’t politics that fills the news, it is the weather, and if not the weather, then resolutions for the year ahead. A guest speaker at church recently talked about setting a direction for one’s life so as not to wander aimlessly. There are surely days when I think I’ve been roaming with no purpose in mind; I go from trying to tidy the kitchen to feeding the cats to maybe doing a little laundry and reading the paper --- and suddenly, it’s bedtime and what useful thing have I really accomplished? There has to be a greater purpose in my life than the chores of living. And here I want to applaud those friends, and women in my family who took part in the women’s marches in various cities. In standing firm in the face of societal scorn and political power, you have showed quality ---- as in Theodore H. White’s **definition: “Quality --- in the classic Greek sense ---- how to live with grace and intelligence, with bravery and mercy.” As January ends, I hope that in spite of the sniffles, sneezing, wheezing, coughs and other unwelcome winter guests, that there also have been good times, warm times and delight in the world around. We have experienced many gray days here in the Finger Lakes, but even with that, there is always something in the day that brightens my mood. It is usually the antics of either birds or cats, but occasionally, it is something like new storage for pots and pans, a particularly inspiring book, a hug or a phone call that brings a kind of sunshine and warmth to the whole day. And just as a reminder to us all: “Life’s short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.” Henri-Frederic Amiel*** *-Albert Camus --- French author and journalist; 1913-1960 ** - Theodore H. White – American historian and author; 1915-1986 *** - Henri-Frederic Amiel --- Swiss philosopher and poet; 1821-1881 Carol may be reached at:
  9. A Mixed Beginning

    “If you don’t like what’s happening outside, wait a day and it’ll be different!” In the first week after New Year’s Day, we had snow, freezing rain, rain, grapple and snow, and our temperatures varied from the mid-40s to nearly zero. The same for this week! It surely keeps life interesting, and makes necessary a variety of outside wear from warm boots to muck boots, and down jackets to rain gear. And some of us, to remain cheery --- or at least civil ---- need lights that resemble sunlight, for there aren’t many rays emanating from the sky here in the Finger Lakes. Our annual Twelfth-Night party is over. It’s fun to assemble a group of people, all of whom we enjoy, along with good food and conversation. It is the perfect way to both end the season of Christmas and to brighten the long winter. The cheering bit of news is more daylight each day. And really, as one ages, time seems to move faster, so I figure winter isn’t going to seem that long. My plant/seed orders are in process! These are the quiet months ---- when I can work on scrap books, catch up on mending, begin new sewing projects, and work on a couple of potential books. Perhaps I can even empty several of the file drawers and baskets full of papers. At the beginning of January, all sorts of wonderful things appear to be possible. The year stretches enticingly ahead like the blank pages of the calendar. I don’t really make resolutions to mark the beginning of the year, but I do think about things I’d like to do. There’s the usual determination to spend more time in the garden, to manage a walk outside every day even if it is only around the yard and to give more caring attention to good food preparation. But there is one specific area needing attention; thinking before I speak! (The summer and autumn of 2016 were good training for that!) I know several people who seem totally oblivious to the effect of what they say; thoughts move directly to the mouth and spill out; they seem to have no filter. I hope I’m not quite as tactless as I could be, but sometimes my filter needs a finer mesh. The old adage that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is quite untrue. Words can leave scars; they cut like a knife and damage the inner core of the person on the receiving end. And the person on the “giving” end is impacted by the fallout. On the other side, some people are incredibly prone to feeling insulted, so it is often like tiptoeing through a mine field to be in conversation with them. I’m always amazed when I read letters to advice columnists; the things that offend people sometimes seem so very petty; so inane. But determining what should or should not hurt is like comparing your life to someone else’s life and arguing about which is worse. We are all so individual and our past experiences all contribute to who we are and what hurts us. Anyway, I have been thinking about running my words, before I say something, through the filter of: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it useful? 3) Is it kind? It will surely be easier in some situations than in others, but thoughtfulness before speaking should ease many potential trouble spots. We are already experiencing our first time of sadness in this new year. A marvelous woman, who has been my sister-in-law since I was two years old (my eldest brother was twenty years older than I) passed on to a new life on Epiphany Sunday. She had experienced ill health for several years now, and was not at all happy with her physical and mental situation at ninety-five years, so I expect that her death to this life was a blessing. But for those of us left behind, we feel immense grief that we can no longer sit at the table with her, give her hugs or hear her laughter. Her six children have been devoted to giving her the best possible opportunities and care and her absence will be a difficult way to begin a new year. NIckie graciously put up with me from toddler-hood on; I played together with her first two children, she helped me with my 4-H sewing projects, informed me of a few pertinent things I needed to know as a teenager, she covered and attached about forty tiny buttons to my wedding gown, and was always ready to assist with a project (she found marvelous “old man face” slippers for my husband’s 40th-year Christmas gift), and was usually ready to laugh at life’s inconsistencies. I believe that she is glad to be restored to my brother, Frank, and to her family members who have also passed on. And I think she is now free from all the disabilities that plagued her, making up for the past years when she couldn’t always do what she would have chosen to do. As my tears fall, I remember that our loved ones do leave us, but the wonderful times we’ve had with them continue to bless our lives forever and are passed on to our children. One bit of business left over from the holidays is to return the Christmas decorations to their tubs in the squirrel-proof outbuilding. Not much around here is squirrel-proof; they are ingenious little monsters, but this building has been reinforced with metal so an entrance can’t be chewed. This was done by us in a spirit of determination, spite and malicious satisfaction, after squirrels broke in to eat bird seed, and we smelled mouse in the crèche box. No more animals in this shed!! To make things harder, this year I vowed to down-size. We have more decorations than we use, and sorting out might eliminate some of the heavy carrying before the holidays next year. So ---- how many unique Santas will I ever use again and could someone else enjoy reindeer and other porch items? Then there is the new string of lights that we bought thinking they were bubblies, but turned out to be fake bubblies that didn’t bubble. And there is a whole tin box full of bread dough ornaments as well as garlands of all kinds. Perhaps it will be a little traumatic to discard these things, but fewer tubs will make our Christmas-decoration-toting next year much lighter. Winter is before us, and I’ve already heard moaning on Face Book from people who want spring to come soon. Perhaps this thought from John Burroughs* will help us all look at chilly temperatures and snow with more appreciation: “It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it.” *John Burroughs – America naturalist and essayist; 1837-1921 Carol may be reached at
  10. Our winter weather, so far in December, has been up and down. We still have patches of old snow here and there, but this week’s milder temperatures gave us large areas of grass. Today the snow is coming down again, making eveerything white, and piling up on the stone wall behind the rose garden. “Rose garden” is something of a misnomer because in reality, I have to re-plant roses there nearly every year to make it so, and thus my husband and co-gardener considers my roses “annuals”. They spread their roots reluctantly in our heavy clay and dislike variable ground-freezing and thawing. But I feel a strong need to have roses, so we keep planting, and there are some hardy varieties that endure. The lilac bush next to the rose garden was full of birds today; several cardinals. I’ve seen a painting of a birch tree filled with cardinals against a snow scene; our lilac bush is rather like that painting, only there were also several starlings, a lot of finches and sparrows, juncos and chickadees here, to add variety. Toward the end of the year, our wild life quiets a bit. The feral kittens- becoming- cats are having a hard time in the snow; they consider that cold, white stuff a personal insult. They laboriously make their way through it lifting their paws with each step and just looking disgusted. The turkeys’ big feet make paths for them, though, as they march down from the hill, twice a day, to glean the seed knocked out of the feeders. And the deer slip in after dark. I have seen them stand on hind legs to lick the feeders clean, and they bang their heads against the glassed-in feeders so that the seeds fall out on the ground. Hungry creatures can be very creative. Christmas was a bit different this year; we had to really try to make time for being together as a family. Work schedules, fatigue, weather and distances all make being in the same place at the same time less easy, so sometimes, what has been the custom just doesn’t work! A friend came on Christmas Day to help us celebrate what was a lovely and peaceful afternoon. We did manage one gathering of extended family on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), and our immediate family time will be New Year’s Day. Sharing stories and keeping current on what the younger members; nieces and nephews are doing is reason enough to make the effort, and the warmth and gladness of being together is a plus! Over the years, we’ve had a variety of Christmas experiences. One included a trip to the emergency room of the Hornell hospital when our 2-year-old had tonsillitis; we reached there after a five hour drive from central Pennsylvania to New York on Christmas Eve. I remember being amazed at how quickly a child’s frighteningly high fever and lethargy could be eased with the right medications. Then there was the Christmas when we stayed at home and our three-year-old arose in the wee small hours, and began opening gifts. He couldn’t read so he was blithely ripping off paper at random. The very last time we traveled on Christmas Day was when the boys were seven and nine. It had snowed heavily Christmas Eve, but looked a trifle better Christmas morning. So mid-afternoon, we set off from the Catskills, for Christmas at Grandma’s --- four hours away. That was a major lapse in judgment on our part. Rt. 17 was abysmal and down to one lane on each side. Rt. 79 was also bad, but when we reached Ithaca, streets were bare. However, only a few miles further, on the flats up along Cayuga Lake, conditions became very difficult with barely-plowed roads and blowing snow. Just north of Trumansburg, we were forced off the road by a snow plow, and in hitting a snow bank, cracked our radiator. The people from one of the houses beyond where we sat, came out to help us and warmly welcomed in the four of us and our dog for the night. It was an interesting experience, and our hosts were kind and generous, but thereafter, we spent Christmas at home and joined family on another, sunnier day. And mostly, we no longer feel compelled to travel in a storm to get anywhere. Looking back over 366 days (it is Leap Year), I have gratitude for the many good things that have happened. There have, of course, been sad things; the loss of family members and friends, misunderstandings that affect our relationships, the national and international news, and the almost daily frustrations that come into everyone’s life. But there have been incredibly wonderful things every day, if one only takes the time to appreciate. There’s the loyalty and kindness of good friends. And while the garden wasn’t great, there was still the fragrance of lilies-of-the-valley and the very ruffled petals of a new pale yellow rose. There were lunches with friends, celebrations of special occasions, amazing sunsets, re-discovering people we sort of knew long ago and finding kindred spirits. There is our church family that, even though we have no pastor at the moment, sticks together like glue and provides mutual support whenever needed. And there is definitely the joy of seeing our grown children turning into fine people who contribute good things to this world. And always, there are the blessings of granddaughters and other children. As we are about to open a new and fresh calendar, I always like to remember this quotation from...Rainer Maria Rilke*: “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” Many of us are looking with some trepidation at the months ahead because of the roiling stew pot of iniquitous, unprincipled, nefarious behavior that infiltrates the entire world. We could easily become discouraged, depressed and grumpy about life. But in addition to having a spiritual admonition to carry light into the world’s darkness, it is our responsibility as caring, intelligent people, to look beyond the headlines, and to see the consistent efforts to spread love, to assist the needy and to encourage peaceful solutions to snarled issues. We can’t allow discouragement to become epidemic in ourselves, inadvertently carrying it to others. Alfred, Lord Tennyson** lived in a time that was probably as difficult as current times. He could still say: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come.” So ----- Happy New Year! ---- and may we all find moments of absolute delight as well as experiences that build and renew all of us. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. ** Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), British poet laureate Carol may be reached at
  11. Winter Comes With A Bite

    We haven’t had a lot of snow in our little micro-climate pocket, but what we have had has been Christmas-card-pretty. One morning, last week, we awoke to about an inch of heavy wet snow all over everything; each branch and twig had been liberally frosted. And with the sun coming up behind this and a mist rising from the still-unfrozen ground, it was ethereal and beautiful. There was an aura over things a color that my father used to describe as “sky-blue-pink”. Just to keep me in touch with reality though, birds around the feeders were gobbling seed as though we’d had a blizzard, and looking toward the windows in an obvious request for MORE! Since last week, the temperatures have been dropping and things are now feeling frigid and very wintry. Even the geese are finally flying south. It’s definitely time to get those cards and letters out. Of course, we are well-known for tardily sending our cards and rather voluminous letters well after Christmas. The problem is that I’m really good at organizing things via my lists, but my energy level seldom matches the tasks. We have been making our Christmas cards for almost as many years as we’ve been married. At first, a couple of kind friends with whom we’d gone to Cornell, silk-screened our designs for us, and for a very short time, I did some silk-screening myself. But pen and ink sketches are less messy. So each year, we find a verse that suits both of us, and then I have to figure out some design for the card that might or might not have relevance to the verse. Often, I just do a sketch of something around our house; a “from our home to yours” kind of thing. Since I’m not an accomplished artist, this requires that I be in a patient and creative mood --- not easily come by these days. But one more year is “under our belts” and the cards and letters will soon be duplicated by our friendly Kinko establishment in Ithaca. Back in our younger years, we created more of our gifts too. As I light beautiful, purchased candles, I remember our candle-making years. We bought tin molds, wax and wicks and made candles for ourselves and others; pillar candles of various shapes and sizes. In addition, one year, my 4-H girls made sand candles in our kitchen. That was an over-the-top messy but fun adventure. It was months before the sand was finally out of the nooks and crannies. One of my favorite Christmas activities that also involved candles was an Advent log. This was a piece of very weathered fence post – about eight inches in diameter and two feet long. We drilled as many holes as there could be days in the Advent season and filled them with what were called floral arrangement candles --- very slim, tall tapers. We’d read something relevant and short, and light a candle every night, when our sons were young. We grew out of the practice for two reasons; older sons aren’t home every night (nor were we), and it is very difficult to find those candles anymore. But the log still resides in the attic, perhaps awaiting a new home. Christmas is a holiday that fills many people with expectations so high, that often disappointment follows when the Christmas of our dreams doesn’t materialize. When we try to live up to the glitzy magazine spreads full of ideas for food, parties and the perfect gifts, we often find ourselves exhausted and unable to enjoy what we have. Holiday time is also a sad time for people who have suffered many losses or who are alone. It is good to remember that not everyone is into the glitter and glamour of Christmas. We need to be sensitive to those who are in pain, who are lonely and who perhaps feel lost amid the lights, music and good spirits around them. We are approaching the Winter Solstice; December 21st. One of my nieces gives an annual Solstice party; a celebration of increasing light once again. I’ve always wished that we could be in two places at once so that we could celebrate with them. But I can be grateful right here at home. The growing light doesn’t make a big impression in December, but by January, the difference is evident. I do complain about the early darkness, but people who spend time outside after dark know that there are shades of dark. I have been in a dark so very dense, during a fog and ice storm, that it was impenetrable; and that must be where the saying came from: “You can’t see your hand in front of your face”. You really couldn’t! But one writer describes the darkness of most nights: “Under the open heavens there is always a faint luminous diffused light, even at midnight, I have found, which you cannot believe from inside the house.” This is from Barbara Webster who wrote The Green Year. Perhaps if we were occasionally out in it, we could find pleasure in the long night hours. As we approach this darker time of year, we can be glad that the turning of the earth is one more indication of the connectedness of everything and everyone. That connectedness is never so apparent as at holiday time. Somehow, hearts soften and our spirits reach out to each other. We tend to want to help others in spite of our often insular, cynical selves. Norman Vincent Peale said: “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” Perhaps that is true, at least in some of the world, and accomplishing it in even a small portion of the world is something of a miracle. Whether we celebrate Hanukkah, which begins on December 24, or Christmas which begins this year with Advent on November 27th and ends with Epiphany on January 6th, or Kwanzaa which begins on December 26th, we all celebrate community and God’s grace and love that makes being part of a community both a joy and an obligation. And this reminds me of a quotation I’ve always loved, spoken by the famous psychologist, Carl Jung: “Bidden or not, God comes!” May you be finding joy in this season both by giving and receiving the love that is available to us all and often found in strange places. Blessings………….and stay warm. Carol may be reached at
  12. The season of Advent is here! It’s preparation time --- both for our hearts and our homes. We prepare for Christmas, with joy and gratitude, but whatever December holiday you might celebrate (Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa), all emphasize the spreading of light and love and the joy of community. We “hung the greens” at our church this past Sunday to make it look festive and even more beautiful. It always is an energizer that this occasion is accompanied by hot soup, sandwiches, and lots of cookies. (The decorations are done just in time for our evening of Candor chorus, coming on December 4th for a concert and carol-sing.*) Kerm and I put our small white lights down the driveway and across our front lawn early this year. The world can be a dark place and this year seems darker than usual; we felt the need to spread a bit of light. This was a fruitcake year; I’m sure my husband and sons will rejoice. I actually got the cakes baked with a few weeks to mellow, and remembered to add all the ingredients (I refer you to the year I baked them without the flour!) from the butter and sugar to the flour and quantities of fruit. Fortunately, there are other people in my life who enjoy home-made fruit cake, so I don’t have to be the sole consumer from Christmas until 4th of July. My paternal ancestors were from Scotland so the taste for this delicacy must be passed down genetically, because my French/German husband and multi-ethnic sons think it is something to put out for the birds. We have had a couple of snow-falls, but nothing that has stayed with us too long. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, we awoke to a bit more than an inch on the ground, which increased to six inches by Tuesday morning, with a wind that was blustery and full of snowflakes. The deer hunters were glad to see snow, because on opening day, the temperature was nearly 70 and no deer were moving. Snow makes footprints easier to track and deer a bit more energetic. But now, two weeks later, I can easily see the gardens’ outlines again, and continue planning, on paper, for spring. My first seed catalog came before Thanksgiving and more have followed. Plotting out on paper is far easier than actually transplanting things, so I use the winter season to make garden plans ---- erase them --- and plan again. Our smoke bush, azaleas, roses and rhododendrons are swathed in burlap cages as protection against both the wind and the deer. This makes the yard look a bit odd, but with no wraps, they’d be chewed down to little nubs at lawn level. Maybe we should light those too; possibly crunching a light bulb would be a way to communicate to our hungry deer that there are some limits to our welcome. Speaking of limits, sometimes there is a “final straw” that impels us to action. One of our friends expressed her distress at our national penchant for not listening to each other. She isn’t dismayed by diverse opinions so much as the fear, hostility and prideful righteousness that lends itself to an atmosphere where civil discourse and understanding don’t happen. So she has spoken with a person at a local college who actually teaches listening skills, hoping that we can begin, as a community endeavor, to become better listeners. I would agree that few of us listen well to others; we are: 1) in too much of a hurry to really spend time listening and 2) too preoccupied in forming our responses instead of really trying to understand what the other person is attempting to say. I have noticed this in myself on many occasions. I’m sure I erred in this way when my sons were children, and I observe it with all levels of my acquaintances; family, friends and people with whom I hold casual conversations. The most obvious inattention to another person is sneaking a look at one’s cell phone while in conversation. So I applaud my friend’s attempt to improve our listening skills, and after that, to try to come together to build the kind of community where we feel both heard and valued. Perhaps at this time of year, we all think more about values. Christmas lights are up everywhere and Christmas music pours from every loud-speaker. We are, perhaps, drawn to spiritual thoughtfulness even as we shop. Annually, when the season begins, I determine that I will not be engulfed in the Christmas frenzy that seems to occur earlier and earlier. Some years are more peaceful than others. This year I began the season with a nasty cold that settled --- where it usually settles ---- in my bronchial tubes. So my determination to relax is enhanced by the listlessness that comes along with illness. I will enjoy the beauty, the music and the warmth and joy of this season and will not overdo. When I’m at all tired, I will STOP!! And the rest of the world can go on its merry way while I sit and listen to music or take a nap. I hope that reading this will inspire you to set limits that are appropriate to you, so that you will really enjoy December. Taking time to just be thankfully aware of our surroundings and to enjoy time with the people for whom we care; gratitude is really what much of life should be about. Perhaps this suggestion by Helen Keller** will be a useful reminder: “Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object as if tomorrow, your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again. Make the most of every sense. Glory in all the facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you.” If Helen Keller can say this, surely we, who have access to all of our senses, can take note. Happy December!!! *Concert and Carol-Sing are Sunday, December 4th at 6:30. Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Spencer. Cookies afterward. **Helen Keller was the first blind/deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was an American lecturer, political activist and author. Carol may be reached at:
  13. Preparation And Courage

    “Over the River and Thru the Woods….” Thanksgiving is coming, next week! When I was a child, the days crept by like one of our tiny spiders negotiating a very tall wall. Now the seasons fly by so quickly that I don’t even have to put away the Christmas CDs because suddenly it’s holiday time again. November is a month that holds both joy and sadness; I think these elements are in the very air of the eleventh month. The autumn has been lovely; brilliant colors, soft days, sunshine and warmth well past the Equinox. But now the winds have blown most of the leaves to the ground where they crisp around the edges, making a rattling sound as they blow across the lawn. The larch needles turn a brassy amber as they shed. Mornings are chilly and the rains hold a cold promise of snow to come. Of course, there is Thanksgiving and the many blessings of family and friends. There is hot oatmeal with nuts and raisins, and the warmth of the wood fire in the morning. But there is also the dearth of green plants in the garden, chilly winds and many shades of brown. November reminds us all of our frailty and of life’s spirals. To quote Louis L’Amour: “Where go the years? Down what tunnel of time are poured the precious days? When we are young the fire within us burns bright……. the world lies before us and nothing is too great to be done. No challenge is too awesome…..” * It takes a lot of living before those words really makes sense. We who have seen many Novembers know well the inner changes that come to all of us. It’s not necessarily a loss of interest or vitality; just a difference in how we view life and what is important to us. Perhaps it might better be called mellowing. It is the people for whom we care and the warm embers of that formerly over-hot fire that make this era of life a very good time in spite of the changes. It is reality that some circumstances are harder and darker than others to contemplate, and we may feel that it is nearly impossible to cope or even imagine. Someone, last week, posted this very appropriate section from A Wrinkle In Time. I found it comforting. If you haven’t read this book, you definitely should make time for it. “Mrs. Whatsit said: ‘We showed you the Dark Thing on Uriel first – for many reasons. First because the atmosphere on the mountain peaks there is so clear and thin that you could see it for what it is. And we thought it would be easier for you to understand it if you saw it --- well, someplace else first, not your own earth.’ ‘I hate it!’ Charles Wallace cried passionately. ‘I hate the dark Thing.’ Mrs. Whatsit nodded, ‘Yes, Charles, Dear, we all do. That’s another reason we wanted to prepare you; we thought it would be too frightening for you to see it first of all about your own beloved world.’ ‘But what is it?’ Calvin demanded. ‘We know that it’s evil, but what is it?’ ‘You hhave ssaidd itt!’ Mrs. Which’s voice rang out. ‘Itt iss Eevil. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarkknesss!’ ‘But what’s going to happen?’ Meg’s voice trembled. ‘Oh, please Mrs. Which, tell us, what’s going to happen.’ “Wee wwill coonnttinne tto ffightt!’ Something in Mrs. Which’s voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination………..’And we’re not alone, you know, children,’ came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. ‘All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos……….I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.’…..Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, ‘And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’”** So ---- we just keep moving on, doing our bit to be bearers of light! A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to Virginia to visit family. In spite of my antipathy for long roads and heavy traffic, at least the gray concrete ribbons take us to good times and fun places. While there, we spent a night at a charming B&B; the Mountain Song Inn outside of Willis, VA…… ( Views of the Blue Ridge were wide and wonderful, the rooms comfortable, the food delicious and the table-settings elegant. There are lovely gardens, one of which surrounded a tiny fenced-in terrace just outside our room. It would be a delightful place to spend a week or so, drinking in the peace and quiet that we so seldom find in today’s world. And just a note; in late May all the Siberian Iris would be in bloom. We enjoyed being with our family too, as well as admiring their wide fields where vultures and hawks are soaring with dips and turns over it all. We met the “Fainting” goats and Buff Orphinton chickens that now inhabit the barn, making chore-time for our granddaughters a reality. Now is the time to check our bookcases, making sure we have some good winter reading; there are old friends sitting on the shelves, but I’ll be adding a few new authors. “A book can be a star, explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly, a living fire to brighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” *** Having books available is nearly as important to me as my “happy light”, and wood for the stove. Be sure, too, to have lots of candles. A few years ago, friends were in for an evening of pinochle, and we needed those candles. Just as we sat down to play, the power went out. Playing pinochle by many candle-lights gives a whole new ambiance to the game. There is still plenty of opportunity for out-door time in November. Fresh air during the day is essential for good health, and being outside is a mood-enhancer. Birds are still active, especially woodpeckers, as they skitter around a tree checking for bugs, and then hammer away to make noise. Last winter, a downy woodpecker found metal we had put on a shed door and had a marvelous, reverberating time. I think the bears have left us --- for now. One wandered through in October, and he/she/it pulled down three feeders, so I’m assuming it was a young one; older bears generally show more finesse. We’ve heard that there used to be some coal-mining around Erin (a few miles away) and that the old mines are still accessible. We have often wondered where the bears go --- and maybe that’s the answer. I hope your Thanksgiving is one to truly bring you happiness and that when you count all the things for which you are grateful --- there are so many that you lose count. Carol may be reached at _____________________________________________________________________________________ *Louis L’Amour --- American writer (1908-1988) Quote from: To The Far Blue Mountains. **A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle *** Madeleine L’Engle --- American writer (1918-2007); probably known best for A Wrinkle In Time, but has authored many thoughtful stories and non-fiction for young people and adults.
  14. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, on November 3d, to the person who consistently supports whatever it is I am doing and whoever I happen to be on a daily basis. I celebrate the person he is and all that he has meant to me and to each community in which we have lived. May he have many more years to enjoy his preferred birthday treat: strawberry short-cake. November 3d was my eldest brother’s birthday too, and he also tried to promote education, improving circumstances for those who shared his life-work; dairy farming. There must be something about that date that encourages responsibility, hard work and generosity of time. Kerm and I recently enjoyed an incredible view from the top of a hill, reached via a rough lane, on a four-wheeler. We could see for miles --- probably about 45 miles ---- into the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania to our south and to the softer hills of the Finger Lakes on our north. We had come to choose “plots” in the Green Springs Natural Burial Cemetery. Because of my work with the Office for the Aging, I’ve dealt with funeral issues for many years and know how important it is to have plans in place. While both of us are sort of traditionalists, we felt a choice other than the whole casket routine or cremation --- both very polluting to the earth and skies ---- would be better for us, and we found this place a few years ago. The land for this unique cemetery sits wa-a-ay out in the boonies, so our graves are more likely to be visited by soaring hawks and foraging rabbits than people. Actually, the spaces we chose for ourselves are in Bobolink Meadow, which, when we visited that day, was full of golden rod and bird song. Contemplating death is uncomfortable for most people, but planning ahead is a boon and a blessing to those who are grieving and trying to make difficult decisions. And this space of meadows, woods and rocky hills is perfect for us, and is illustrated by one of my favorite poems: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on the ripened grain. I am the gentle Autumn’s rain. When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there, I did not die.” (Hopi Prayer) This collection of similes is not quite how I envision life in eternity, but I’ve always wanted to be in many places at the same time. November is here, bringing a change in the landscape and to our clocks. This coming weekend will create an “extra” hour as we move the clocks back ---- always annoying to our dog and cats, for in their mind, time should remain just as it has been for the past months. They do not approve of change in any way. We finally have gotten some soaking rains; greatly needed. And I was finally able to get into the garden to plant the fall bulbs that will bring so much spring beauty. These bulbs include some from a friend who says the daffodils will be spectacular. One of my recent “Kids’ Time” stories for church involved choosing friends wisely. When you are the age of the kids who come up for story time, you pretty much play with who is available. But as one moves into junior high and high school, friends are more an indication of how you see yourself. I think I have, over my life time, chosen most of my friends wisely ---- well, maybe a couple of early-on boyfriends weren’t the best choice ---- but that’s a normal teen age dilemma. What I said to the kids listening to the story was that we need to choose friends who honor the same things we do. They may not always agree with us ---which is a good thing and may well widen our perspectives keep us from doing something foolish ---- but they need to respect our ethics and the persons we are. Kerm and I still connect with many of the good friends we’ve made in the several places we have lived. We can go back to visit in Lewisburg or the Catskills and comfortably pick up where we left off. Friends are crucial to living happily and with integrity. They support you in times of sadness, they hold you accountable for living up to your values and they are people who share in tears, laughter and the every-day situations we all live out. And, hopefully, we reciprocate. George MacDonald* said: “Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”* A few weeks ago, I had a very good day with friends made many years ago. It was one of those mild October days when everything moves slowly, the sun was in and out of clouds, and the leaf color was at its peak. Three friends from my high school days drove considerable distance to come here for lunch. It was a relaxed time of catching up on what we all are doing. And it was a fine illustration of how keeping good friends can guarantee some fine days together though out life. People we elect to leadership positions don’t need to be friends, but I think that they should be people we can respect and who exhibit the qualities of wisdom, fairness and intelligence. That is a little harder to determine; getting to know someone takes a while, and I’ve been fooled once or twice. What we see on TV election ads or hear at a “town meeting” isn’t necessarily the truth about that person. And trusting a political party to do what is right is naïve to the utmost power. In fact, power is exactly what too many people want, and will rationalize almost any behavior to get it. We (and they) often forget that those elected individuals are there to serve the whole nation, not just filibuster for the issue or two, about which they (or we) are intense. I think that we (and they) often forget that people who have been given leadership responsibilities need to serve with a degree of humbleness, honesty, dignity and caring about the needs of the nation. Needless to say, the current election “fooforaw” has been anything but illustrative of those things. Thomas Jefferson** said: “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” And William Ellery Channing*** said: “Men are never very wise or select in the exercise of a new power.” We need to think things through before we leap into the maelstrom of the world around us. Less opining and more careful listening would be a step further into wisdom for each of us. And ----- Happy November --- this month of transition, with its brown leaves, acorns, busy squirrels---- and gratitude. Carol may be reached at: *----George MacDonald (1824-1905)---- Scottish Pastor who wrote allegorical children’s stories: The Princess and the Goblins, At the Back of the North Wind…….. **---Thomas Jefferson--- (1743-1826) ---Third president of the United States. Home in Virginia near Charlottesville. ***--- William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) was a distinguished Harvard scholar and preacher.
  15. Pumpkin Time Again

    We are deep into October; the leaves on my euonymus trees have turned a rich cherry red and the little pink chandelier-like berries are quivering with each breath of wind. The gardens are harvested and seeded with winter cover crops. And heavy rains predicted for tonight, will probably send our leaves, now full of color, flying. Clocks will soon change back to standard time ---- my personal bête noir. I try very hard to talk myself out of the feeling that I can’t really do much after dark, but my psyche simply won’t cooperate, and as darkness falls, so does my focus and energy level. There are compensations; a cozy fire in the wood stove, cocoa and no feelings of guilt about not weeding. But I do look forward to the time after the solstice, when the light begins to return. As many of you know, one of the ways Kerm and I find entertainment is occasional attendance at estate auctions. (Our family members may take a moment here to groan in despair. We have picked up some rather strange objects on occasion----- like those weird dolls!) Last time we brought home a tall porcelain coffee pot in the blue and white transfer pattern of my grandmother’s set. They obviously needed to be together! We found an artist’s easel for the hopeful day that I make time for collages. And we acquired an old wooden laundry wringer for the Farm Museum. We often watch Antiques Road Show, so we know about auctions for serious collectors; they have guide books for each item and buyers are often dealing with Tiffany lamps, art, ephemera and are concerned about provenance. The auctions to which we go are more apt to be collections of everyday items; fine china, un-fine china, linens, kitchen tools, boxes of silverware, garden tools, some furniture, and crates of stuff. I like to think about who owned and loved the well-worn rolling pin or the hand-embroidered tablecloth. Our choice of entertainment is far from the glitzy club scene that many find fun, but regardless of what is au currant, we know what renews our spirits. We bought our first every-day set of china and several pieces of furniture at estate auctions, and with these, we furnished our first house. We’ve been indulging ourselves in this way for a long time! We’ve also been involved in continuing education for most of our lives. Several members of our families are currently in college, trying to determine what they want to do with their lives, and thinking of this made me look back on my own life. I wonder, as the years have rolled by, how much was good planning and how much has been serendipity. Before we had children, I was a 4-H and Youth agent in Maryland. When the boys were small, I assisted in high school home economics classes, did some substitute teaching (I could write a book on that!) and was a church secretary. Interestingly, I ended up spending over twenty years in gerontology, a field to which I’d given little thought and, initially, had no training. And I enjoyed almost everything about the “career” into which I more or less stumbled. Most of my co-workers and clients were a joy to know and with whom to work. As I look at the drama and uncertainty of today’s working environments (as per “Dilbert”), I can see how very many pitfalls I avoided, quite serendipitously. For the most part, I worked with people who still cared about ethics and other people. Most of my co-workers did their jobs with skill, humor and attention to detail. I hear (via frustrated managers) that this is not always true, and toward the end of my time with the Office for the Aging, I did note one or two people who exerted themselves no more than necessary. Of course no job is without difficulties; having to explain the facts of county agency life to OSHA, dealing with a large and leaking refrigerator in our kitchen on the day the Health Dept. was due, rescuing a tribe of feral cats when a client died, trying to juggle county Legislature demands with NYS demands ---- often totally opposed in philosophy. But I seldom ran into unethical transgressions, back-biting, or inappropriate behavior among colleagues. I do think we career-shop in a rather uninformed way. When kids even begin thinking of “what I will do when I grow up”, tell them this: “Don’t ask yourself what you want to be or do. Ask yourself how you want to feel in your life. Then every time you have to make a choice, choose what will make you feel that way.”* Remembering this will also be a reminder of one’s ethics and inner integrity. If you feel good about and find purpose in what you are doing, you will feel good within yourself and won’t be tempted to take dishonest shortcuts. And this thoughtfulness works whether for a job or when one is a retiree and trying to decide how to use one’s time. Volunteering often requires the same decision-making skills needed in work that pays. No job is perfect, but there should be a sense of accomplishment and happiness in what we do. On the fun side of life, Halloween is coming. Has anyone else noticed what a plethora of “decorations” one can now find? People of the pagan era, where Halloween (Samhain) originated, would be enthralled by our choices; chrome skeletons, ghosts dancing in a circle on the lawn and leering, lighted eyes to place in trees. The early Celts only had hollowed-out lighted turnips and gourds to ward off evil spirits! I can momentarily appreciate some of the dark humor, but I stick with a harvest theme; pumpkins for my porch. Some consider Halloween and all that goes with it to be --- at the least, unwise ---- and at the most, evil. I think that evil can sneak in anywhere, but is not necessarily where we faulty humans imagine we see it. Those of us who are able to take the occasion lightly enjoy the costumed trick or treating kiddies and the Jack-o-lanterns lighting up our entrances. For me, the day following Halloween – All Saints Day --- is very special. It is the time I think, with gratitude, of the people who have been part of my life, who have helped me grow in faith and in understanding of how to live well; people who are no longer with us. It is really a more meaningful remembrance time for me than Memorial Day because it has to do with my faith and is far more personal. So as we observe Halloween, think of this: “I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself.” Montaigne. We are all capable of great good or great evil, so before we fear, or throw up our hands in horror, contemplate what possibilities are within us. It is definitely humbling! Meanwhile let us bask in autumn and store away the warmth and sunshine to cheer us when the clouds move in and colder winds blow. *“Where Women Create” magazine. ** Michel de Montaigne – One of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance period; best-known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre (bless him!!). 1533-1592 Carol may be reached at