Friday, December 23, 2011

My Answer



My friend J asked two questions about miracles at the end of today's post. Here's my answer


We all experience big moments that thrill us to the very marrow—births, weddings, reunions, reconciliations. It's the little moments however, the ordinary, ho-hum, didn’t-see-them-because-we-weren’t-looking miracles that make up our days. Here are a few of my favorites:


*Silence, broken by bird song or a child's laughter.

*Being kissed by a kitten. Or a child, a sweetheart, an old friend, a puppy (or a sunbeam).

*Finding money in my pocket unexpectedly.

*The first glimpse of a harvest moon hanging above the horizon like a glowing Japanese lantern, or walking along a silver moonpath on a snowbound night.

*Getting all green lights.

*Hearing a voice warm with love on the other end of the telephone line.

*Climbing between sheets that have been hung on a line to dry. It’s like falling asleep out of doors in the sun and wind. In fact, crawling into bed when I’m exhausted is such a marvelous moment that I try to stay awake long enough to relish its comfort.

*Opening a new book. Reading an old favorite. Making my own books. There’s an immense satisfaction that comes from making things from scratch.

*Feeling the weight of my grandchildren as they fall asleep against me. There is nothing more endearing than the faith of a child and nothing more rewarding than knowing you are trusted completely.

*Wearing my favorite sweater. The sleeves are stretched, the shoulders have been stitched and re-stitched and the color is faded from countless washings, but it is still the first thing I reach for when I’m chilly or in need of comfort.

*Facing a blank piece of paper. What better way to illustrate unlimited potential?

*Being the recipient AND the perpetrator of small kindnesses.

*Hugs.

*Dawn…not such a little moment, perhaps, seeing as it banishes night and gives us a new day every single time, but so often we miss it in our hurry to be doing instead of being. I want to be in that first blush of light when the morning is fresh and the world holds its breath. I want to be kissed awake by that first sunbeam.  

What are yours?

Friday, December 16, 2011



Yesterday was as grey as the bowl of an old soup spoon. Rain fell intermittently, making the earth look as drab and miserable as the sky above it. Last night a bullying wind herded the clouds eastward leaving a sky freckled with stars. Now the sun is shining, gilding the bare treetops and turning the clouds lemon yellow at the edges. The little snow that fell last week is gone and the green grass and warmer temperatures make it look and feel more like spring than winter.

I am compiling my poetry into books for family Christmas gifts. Here's one for you.


Solstice

Birds weave the morning light.
the day grows down
to dusk and night,
and I, the watcher,
won't be here
again until the breaking year.

My best wishes to you all for a happy holiday season!



Monday, December 12, 2011

My cheerful little Christmas tree reminds me of  the joy of the season.
There are days when you simply have to be thankful for what you have. Today was one of those.

I go out to the car to drive to work and find that a front tire is flat. While the mechanic is fixing it, he tells me I need four new all-weather tires before the snow flies. I remind myself I am lucky to have a car.

All 19 students in my classroom act as though they are in the throes of full moon madness, lying sideways on their desks, chattering to one another like magpies instead of working quietly, starting food fights in the cafeteria and attacking one another on the playground. I remind myself that I'm lucky to have a job.

My bank account is starving. I remind myself that I am not.

The landlord's furnace goes kaput and it will take three full days to replace it and all the antiquated attendant piping - three days without heat or hot water (my cottage is attached to the main house). I remind myself I'm lucky to have a place to live.

I cannot sleep straight through a night, no matter how tired I am. When I wake at 2 or 3 or 4, the monkey mind will not be stilled. I remind myself I'm lucky to still be cognizant of what's going on around me.

Two of my four children live too far away to see at holidays. I remind myself that though we are distant in miles we are close in heart.

Not everyone is as lucky as I am!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Visit


Exhausted bunny...
My daughter C and her one-year-old daughter, the Bean, visited this weekend. C and I ate lots of good food, talked about anything and everything, played Scrabble by candlelight so Bean could sleep in the dark, and got down on the floor with her (often!) to play with her toys. She doesn't call me Mam Mam anymore. When she woke this morning, she took several toddling steps toward me and yelled, "Memere!" plain as plain. C and I looked at each other in amazement and my eyes filled. It's so easy to cry happy tears when you're in love.

C and I watched the Bean's little face light up at her first glimpse of holiday lights, helped her feed corn to some very bouncy goats at a local nursery, and took turns keeping vigil while she napped in the car and we tromped off into the woods, one and then the other, to cut trees for Christmas.

Tiny tree for a tiny cottage...
It was a clear, blustery day. While C tied the tree to the roof of her car for the trip home, hundreds of quonking geese flew overhead to land on the nearby pond. Their concerted voices were like the distant roar of a great crowd. I waved the car down the road (part of my heart always goes with it) and then I walked to where I could see the water. It was covered with dark, bobbing bodies resting serenely on the surface. The great, full Frost moon hovered near the horizon, shedding its pale light on me and geese alike.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Winter Prayer

Not THE snowy winter mentioned below but one of them from my childhood.
Born and bred in New England, I am used to long, hot summers punctuated with a few rainy days and pop-up thunderstorms. In my childhood, autumns, with their vivid foliage, were followed by cold, snowy winters. I remember a time when the first frost came in October and we had snow by Thanksgiving. One particularly snowy winter my brother had to grab a shovel and drop off the porch roof into a deep drift, shovel his way round to the garage doors (no electric overheads in those days), and shovel away the snow that had piled up three feet or more so my dad could get the car out. Today, the 4th of December, it is 50 degrees, the sun is warm, the breeze is barely cool and the confused forsythia bush in my yard is putting forth its second set of blossoms!

We who like to garden know a good snow cover is needed to insulate tender roots from the penetrating and damaging frost. Snow is often called the poor man's fertilizer, especially if it comes mid-spring once the ground has begun to thaw. Snow contains nitrogen and moisture, both essential to the health of emerging plants. If the predictions of a rainy winter in our area hold, even we poor folks won't be getting our fertilizer this winter.

So, please, please let it snow!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

scienceblogs.com
I have to learn Wordpress in order to build a website for a non-profit organization on whose board of directors I sit. Wondering if you would help me out by hopping on over to http://paulineclarke.wordpress.com/ to read and perhaps leave a comment so I can play with the features. I won't be replacing this blog. I just need navigation practice. Thanks!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Between Seasons


This was taken last year after the first snowfall. 

A tarnished pewter sky
peers through leafless branches
fog drifts and curls,

along the riverbanks and
hovers above the water,
where half a dozen geese float—

six dark shadows that
appear and disappear
as if they, too, were

only mist and imagination.
The last forlorn light
leaches from the afternoon.

Suspended between seasons
the days grow short.
The old year draws to a close

as though feeling its age.
Everything slows, quiets, fades,
until it seems the dreary days

will never end. Snow sweeps in,
making art of the drab browns,
the cheerless grays,

weighting the sad, dead grasses,
frosting every branch and twig
until the landscape looks luminous,

even on sunless days.
When it does shine, oh! the brilliance
of it, the dazzling radiance.

There is beauty in the passing
of one season to the next,
even in grim November.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Afterwards



The turkey has been devoured, the china has been washed and dried and returned to the cupboard, the lace tablecloth is freshly ironed and replaced in its drawer. My little cottage is quiet. We had a marvelous time as we cooked together, said thanks together, ate well, and laughed much. The phone rang often as distant family members called to say Happy Thanksgiving. 

Today I took a long walk in the late November sunshine. The trees are showing their bones; the landscape is painted in muted shades of buff and brown. Now at twilight, the sky is blanketed in a quilt of dove gray. The air is damp but still unseasonably mild. We are headed toward the longest night of the year after which the light will begin its slow but steady increase. Now is the time for hunkering down. For me, winter is not a season of death so much as one of rest, a time to withdraw and be quiet, to renew ones' self.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Repeat

I've posted this before so it may be on its way to becoming my annual Thanksgiving piece (until one year old grandbaby Ada is old enough to bake). Fia was three when this was written. She's now eleven. Time has a way of slipping past us when we're not looking, doesn't it?




Beware What the Cook Won't Eat

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m making a pie. “Can I help?” asks my granddaughter Fia. At three, she’s interested in being part of any cooking going on.

“Sure,” I say and we push up our sleeves, haul out flour and sugar and spices, find the rolling pin and two pie plates (one for each of us) and get to work.

She clambers onto a kitchen stool and leans her elbows on the table. “One, two, shtree,” she counts as we measure half-cups of flour and shortening into a bowl. I cut in the shortening, add the water, and mix the dough into a lump. I pull off a small piece and hand it to her. She presses it between her small hands. “We’re making pies, right Memere?” she beams. “I love pies.”

She nibbles a bit of the dough and makes a face, then watches as I sprinkle flour on the table. “Uh oh,” she says. “Memere, you’re supposed to put it in the bowl.”

I explain that I need it on the table so that when I roll out the crust it won’t stick. “Oh,” she says and helps me by spreading the flour all the way to the edges of the table and onto the floor.

I let her use the rolling pin first. Her small ball of dough rolls right around the pin. She picks it off, balls it up, and starts again. While she is busy, I measure pumpkin, milk, and spices into another bowl.

“Let me do it,” she begs when I take up an egg to crack. She whacks the egg on the edge of the bowl and drops the whole thing in. “Ick,” she says. I pick out the pieces of shell. When I hold the second egg out to her she shakes her head.

She scrapes her pie crust off the table and plops it in her dish, then kneels on the stool and puts her whole weight on her hands as she presses it flat. “How’s this?” She holds the plate up for inspection. The dough falls on the floor. She scrambles down, picks it up and blows on it. Flour dust puffs into the air. “It’s okay,” she assures me. “It was on the floor for not even one minute.”

I roll my own crust and fit it in the plate, crimping the edges carefully. Fia watches, then tries to crimp her own crust. When she is through, there is just room in the center for a dab of pumpkin mixture. I pour the remaining pumpkin filling into my pie shell and slide the pies into the oven. Fia helps me set the timer.

The kitchen looks like the aftermath of a fight in a flour mill. There is white dust on every surface, bits of sticky dough on the table, the floor, and Fia's chin, and spatters of pumpkin on the table and the stove. We fetch the broom and the dustpan. I sweep while Fia wipes off the table. I sweep again. When the last dish is dried and put away and the floor is clean enough to eat from, we turn on the oven light and check the pies.

“They look delicious,” I say to Fia. “We can eat yours tonight and save mine for Thanksgiving dinner, okay?”

Fia looks at her pie. She looks at me. “You can have mine, Memere,” she says. “I just only like making pies. I don’t like to eat any.”





Fia at 3 and her Memere (at a dance recital - hence the hair bow)










Thanks, Hilary!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bits and Pieces

New vegetable bed at far end of patio
Following a couple of chilly, rainy days the sunshine and warm temperatures lured me out of doors. I had morning tea on the patio and afternoon tea on my outdoor swing. Between those cups, I dug three new garden beds, hauled boards and stakes and mulching hay in my little Garden Way cart, and put away all the bits of decoration that make the patio such an appealing place all summer.

Little red counter top, soon to be green
French country curtains with red accents
The cottage is getting an overhaul, too. My tiny kitchen will get a gradual color makeover. The red linoleum counter top will soon be replaced with a one piece laminate in gray green. New gray green curtains will replace the French country print doing present duty. A lacquered red basket that sits atop the fridge and holds dry goods has been painted green. It's exciting to watch my little place take on a new persona. Funny - red is one of my least favorite colors yet I've lived companionably with my little red countertop for ten years. Any nearby red accent popped out - the dry goods basket, the red vinegar bottle on the windowsill, the curtain borders and the red cardinal sun catcher. When I set the new green countertop over it to test the color, every green accent caught my eye. And green is my favorite color.

Once red dry goods basket
 When all the work was finished, I sat in the pale November sunshine to drink my late afternoon tea. There is great satisfaction in accomplishing tasks that make life more pleasant. Come spring, I will plant vegetables and herbs in my new garden beds. By that time, my cottage should be painted and I will be enjoying a new ambiance. Sounds like a great way to start my new retired lifestyle.

My summer outdoor room will be one of my retirement hangouts

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heaven Right Here


A fine rain has been falling hour after hour. Everything is sodden; tree branches weep tears from their twig ends, fallen leaves lay in soggy heaps, the grasses have laid down in misery along the roadsides. Even the sky has failed to brighten and at 4 p.m. is the same colorless, pale grey that I woke to this morning. Most of the hardwoods are bare now save for the oaks that cling tenaciously to their leaves. We are mid-November and still the air is mild. Every day the weatherman reminds us that we've lost two more minutes of daylight.


One day last week the sun was shining, sifting through the yellow leaves that still clung to some of the larches. Being among the tree trunks in that light was like being in one of nature's cathedrals. There are soaring arches, a sense of peace, and a pouring down of leaf-stained light.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Watching Her Grow

She even reads Mama's books and the mail!

Like Memere, like granddaughter. Baby Bean loves to read. She pulls all her brightly colored board books off the shelf, leans over them, and runs her fingers under the titles. She murmurs significant little sounds complete with inflection, then looks up to see if I've understood what she's just said. "Good job, Bean!" I exclaim and she grins and claps her hands. Then she takes another book, squirms her way into my lap and repeats the process.

She has begun to make important associations. Yesterday we were playing with her jack-in-the-box. She doesn't care about the music. She likes, instead, to press the button keeping the lid closed and pretend to be surprised when the clown pops up. "Ooops!" I crow every time. "The clown is out!" Then over and over I stuff it back down saying, "Get in there clown."

When she tired of that she grabbed some books and handed them to me. One of them was a Sandra Boynton book called Opposites. There was big, small, short, tall. Then, "in, out," I read, following the words with my own finger. She looked at me, a long solemn look, then she crawled off my lap and grabbed her jack-in-the-box. With her tiny forefinger she popped the button on the lid. Out popped the clown. It took a moment for the light to dawn but then, "Oh!" I exclaimed. "You smart girl!" She grinned her 8-toothed grin.

She's on her feet a lot more, taking tentative steps on her own but much preferring to hold my finger as she goes from the toy-littered living room to the kitchen to watch Mama cook or into the bedroom to empty the clothes from her dresser drawer or outside to watch Papa chop wood. She feeds herself tiny bits of food with a loud, running, "Mmmmmmmmmm" that doesn't stop until she is all done, which she indicates with sign language. She's also learning Spanish and will respond to words and instructions in both that language and English.

When it was time for me to leave, she reached out to me from her perch in Papa's arms. I said sadly, "Memere can't pick you up. I have to go bye-bye now." She leaned back against her father and looked at me sorrowfully. The she lifted her small hand and waved.

It's awfully hard to drive when I'm crying.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Taking up the challenge...

Then husband and our 4 kids in 1974

Friko mentioned at her blog that she has undertaken memoir writing and apologizes that her blog postings may become more sporadic as she immerses herself in her new writing task. Her post encouraged me to shake off the complacency I'd adopted toward my own foray into memoir writing. Below is a piece that appeared in the paper when I was still writing a weekly column. It seemed a good time to trot it out again. Perhaps, like Friko, if I say here that this is what I intend, I will find it easier to continue than to admit defeat publicly.
My son and daughter-in-law gave me a book one Christmas called "The Story of a Lifetime." Its lined and empty pages are headed with questions about ancestors and heritage, childhood days, education, work, marriage, beliefs, values, regrets, mistakes, milestones, favorite things, and lessons learned. It ends with a couple of additional pages on which to note how things have changed over a single lifetime. When all the questions have been answered, the book becomes a gift again, returned to the givers as a treasured family record.
It may be years before they get it back. The very first question about emigrating ancestors sent me to the safety box to dig out the notes my mother had written about her French lineage (written in French, of course). Some of her relatives left France in the 1700s to settle in the town of St. Bruno, located in the Province of Quebec, Canada. In the early 1900s, several of the younger family members came south to the United States. Both of my mother’s parents settled in Massachusetts and were married a year after my own father was born. My father’s father came to New York from Montreal, though his roots were English. He married a woman whose direct ancestors included General James Longstreet of Civil War fame, and a full-blooded Chippewa great-great grandmother. I didn’t learn this last fact until I was well into my 40s, after years of pretending to be a Native American, of learning to walk toe first so as not to snap twigs underfoot, of making prayer circles, of feeling a powerful kinship with the earth.

The next set of questions deals with inherited traits. How am I like my grandparents, my aunts or uncles or cousins? What of my parents do I see in myself? I have inherited artistic genes from both sides of the family – my mother’s aunt was an artist, as was my father’s great uncle. I see in myself my Peperé’s insatiable curiosity, my mother’s wry wit, my Uncle Pete’s humor, my cousin’s innate sense of poetry. We are all such hodgepodges, our DNA twisting through centuries of traits.

There are pages and pages to fill out about my parents - what were they like, how did they meet, what did they do for work, what sort of parents were they? Each question is a story all its own. There’s a section to record events from my childhood. Where did I go to school? Who were my best friends? What is my happiest memory? Did any tragedies occur? What was I frightened of? There are pages for recording my memories of growth and change from childhood to adulthood, my work experience, my own marriage, my reflections on my children, my religious and spiritual experiences, and my basic life philosophy. I will be at this forever, at the very least.

One page toward the end asks: How do you hope to be remembered? It reminds me of the epitaph game we used to play as kids; here lies so-and-so, followed by some clever, often derogatory witticism. My kids, playing the game once while helping me cut grocery coupons from the newspaper, quipped, “Mom’s not here, she’s gone to heaven – she had a coupon.”

I would not mind being remembered for my frugality. It would please me more, however, to think I am creating a legacy of continuity. All that I am has come to me from others, and will pass through me to future generations. I want my own grandchildren to inherit more from me than genetic predispositions. With this book, I can offer them the heartbeats of a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

In the midst of worry...



...six little things I'm happy about.

1. the sun rising into a porcelain blue sky, its rays reflecting off the feathers of a hundred winging geese

2. a mug of hot, sweet tea and a warm croissant drizzled with honey

3. a poem by Hafiz that speaks of life as a rowdy and joyful parade

4. being absolutely sure that I am loved

5. a vase of small, pink roses that survived the frost

6. waking this morning still able to see and hear and walk and smile

Thought for the day...

My youngest daughter, who is already fighting an autoimmune disease, has just been bitten by a tick. I go to sleep thinking about her and wake with worry. She is a busy young wife and mother, is preparing her dissertation for a PhD in Higher Education, and is holding down two jobs. My admiration for her knows no bounds.


In any relationship, the one who teaches and the one who learns constantly change places. I am being taught now how to have faith; faith in my daughter's ability to survive and faith in myself as a deep well of strength. Being a mother has allowed me to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum—deep joy and profound fear. There were times when my children were small that I had to deliberately choose joy over fear or I never would have allowed them out of my sight. I am coming to realize that choosing joy is the same as choosing love and if there is a constant in my life with my children it is love, love without condition, without limit, and without end.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Not since 1925...


It's not hard to shatter a snowfall record when the numbers are measured in single digits. In 1925, Baltimore, MD got 2.5 inches on October 30th. Closer to home, Hartford, CT got 1.7 inches on October 10th. But this past Saturday, the 29th of October saw snowfalls upwards of two feet, 17 of which fell here! The largest amount of snow - 31 inches! - dropped down on Jaffrey, NH with Chesterfield, MA (about an hour away) coming in a close second with 28. Trees toppled or lost multiple limbs under the weight of snow and the strong winds blew down what was left. We went from 80 degree weather three weeks ago to temperatures in the 20s last night. 

I still have yard work to do, patio furniture to haul in, windows to wash. Hope we get some Indian Summer weather to offset the shock of so much snow before Halloween. The ghosties and goblins will be wearing boots and mittens with their costumes tonight. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Explanation


 The old woman in the clouds
tosses evidence of her existence
out the window—

buckets of rain water,
and bed feathers
shaken out like flakes
in early December.

She lets the birds out of their cages
in April,
and sweeps with such vehemence
the trees on earth bend.

She leaves the light burning long
on a summer night;
in winter, when the days grow short
she turns in early,
leaving us all in the dark.

Friday, October 21, 2011

She Calls Me MamMam

The sock doll I made for the Bean's first birthday, her sock monkey and the Uglydoll ready for their next adventure.
I spent the day yesterday with my little Bean, who at just past a year old is walking with a little assistance from the furniture and the helping hands of caretakers. She is also becoming very vocal. Many of the sounds she makes sound like words and her mimicry of inflection and tone of voice is impeccable. Her mother and father call themselves Mama and Papa though Bean has not yet begun to call them that. I am Memere to the older grands but as of yesterday, I was MamMam, an utterance that stopped me in my tracks.

The Bean loves her toys. The current favorite is a shoebox with three soft dolls in it - a sock doll, a sock monkey and an Uglydoll. They ride together across the living room rug, bumping into furniture and careening around corners to the accompaniment of the Bean's loud, sputtery version of Vroom! When she tires of that, we go into the bedroom where she indicates that I ought to open the bottom drawer of her dresser so she can sort through her clothes. She doesn't like to wear them; she does like to toss them about.

On the very top of my bucket list when I retire is to spend more time with my grandchildren. Yesterday only clinched the wisdom of that decision.

Choosing clothes - not to wear but to play with.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Frugal Finds

A stone topped table to hold my tea cup and lunch.
The town dump where, when I was a teenager, was the place to go for target practice, is now called the Transfer Station. My friend J and I call it the mini-mall because it's a wonderful place to "shop." On shelves set up in a corner of the parking lot one can find, if one waits long enough, just about anything one has longed for but has never had the money to buy. Example: an older fellow approached the shelves one day with a large cardboard box. He set it down at my feet, reached in, pulled out a Cuisinart and handed it to me. "Here," he said. "My wife has passed away and I don't have any use for this darned thing." I sure did! I'd been coveting one for years. I murmured sympathetic words about his wife and absconded before someone else saw the treasure I was holding.

A week later I found a box of electronics chock full of computer keyboards, cameras and phones still in their original, unopened boxes. On bulky waste day last year I scored a gorgeous, unstained, heavy futon ("I can't move this thing around by myself anymore," explained the woman from whose car it emerged").  J and I nearly herniated ourselves lugging the thing from her pickup to the back yard but it made a perfect cushion for my outdoor metal swing. On this year's bulky waste day, I came home with a glider chair in perfect shape from the house of a neighbor who was moving away, a small, stone-topped table for outdoor dining, and a lamp shade that didn't sell at a tag sale. Oh! And a mini Gardenway cart, something else that has long been on my wish list.

My little Gardenway cart - I'm so excited. This has been on my list for years!
J and I added up the money it would have cost us to buy new what we'd hauled home from the Transfer Station over the past two years and, counting the aforementioned, plus the wooden shoe rack, the Williams-Sonoma popover pan, the numerous baskets, mugs, and dishes, most still wearing their former tag sale status price tags, and still usable vacuum cleaner parts, curtains, yarn, and paper goods, we've saved well over $2000.

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. She'd be proud of me!

Black lampshade on far left, glider rocker on right.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vollkommenheit

*Vollkommenheit is a German word meaning perfection, completeness. This morning's dawn could also be part of the definition.


What of the large and small joys
that make up the days?
What of the morning mist
that rises on the pond
milky white,
then gold in the rising sun,
then gone?

What of music
of laughter, or birdsong?
What of love
in any of its guises?

While we weep,
the sun rises and sets,
commanded by something
larger.

The song of the spheres
plays unendingly,
even when we are not
listening.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Out of the mouths...



We had a math specialist called Tom visit our classroom yesterday. He was a spry 62 year old with a graying ponytail and a deep, resonant voice. He drew a circle on our carpet with a piece of chalk, had the kids sit cross-legged with him around the outside and gave each of them a baggie filled with plastic math cubes. Then he tossed paper plates at them like low flying frisbees and told them how many cubes they would need - 12 blue and 12 green. He filled his own plate and commented, "Kinda looks like planet earth, doesn't it?" Immediately all the kids stirred their cubes with their fingers, mixing them up. "Well," said one. "Mine looks more like my mom's Jello."

For an hour and a half Tom had the kids snap the cubes together in various combinations - seven blue and three green, for example. Then he had them make their sticks match by moving colors so they had doubles, removed one from a stick and put it on the other to make doubles plus one, etc. The kids loved it. As always there was one child who pulled his cubes apart so violently they went flying, and another who just sat and looked on glumly without participating. Tom instructed them all to place their cubes in front of them and put their hands on their knees. "Now," he said, looking around at them in a measured way. "Here's the deal. If you can make your cubes behave as they should, just sticking and unsticking, they can play with you. If they can't behave, they have to go back in the bag." There were no more flying cubes. To the child who didn't participate, he said, "I'm having a bit of trouble here. Can you help me?" and with gentle questions he helped her to see what he was doing with his cubes.

An hour and a half is a long time to sit still. At the end of the session Tom had a bit of difficulty rising up from the floor. Several children rushed to help him. One little fellow was having trouble himself. "Man," he said, turning to me, one hand on his head, the other on the small of his back. "Learning hurts!"

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Softly, softly...



Rain is falling, falling, dripping from the tired green September leaves, sliding like tears down the window panes, denting the steely surface of the mill pond. The sky is leached of color, as gray as the gray geese that wing through the rain, calling, calling as they settle on the pond. Here and there I spot a scarlet leaf, or a yellow one, harbingers of the changing season. The air, though damp, is cool rather than muggy. The small lamp on my desk casts a cheery glow; the rest of the cottage is gloomy and chill.

Summer has been loathe to leave but at its heels the autumn winds are nipping, shaking dry leaves from the trees and herding chilly morning mists across the water. Soon it will be sweater weather. Apples and pumpkins are ripening, purple asters replace pink roses, and all along the roadsides the green grasses are turning a soft brown. Acorns are dropping and squirrels are in overdrive, storing and hoarding supplies for the coming cold.

The songbirds are gone for the most part. There are some finches left, and dozens of little sparrows, chickadees, and nuthatches that winter over. The cardinal remains, too, but does not sing in the mornings the way it did in summer. Mornings belong to the crows now, and the strident bluejay. The days grow short; darkness comes sooner and stays longer. The Harvest Moon, the last full moon of summer and an ancient time signal for the harvesting of corn, rode the sky early in September. The next full moon, the Hunter's Moon will appear on October 10th.

The signs of change are all around me. But in the seeds of the lilac, the bulbs of the daffodil, the buds that replace the fallen leaves, lies spring and a new year. Change, then, is ever present. It's just on a slower timetable than we humans have accustomed ourselves to. Today I will slow down, too. I will not count the hours so that instead of hurrying by they will slowly melt into one another and I will melt into the day.






Monday, September 26, 2011

Saying Goodbye


BFF - on the occasion of Lora's 100th birthday three years ago April
Sad news came winging its way over the telephone wires today. My wonderful friend Lora, who turned 103 this past April, changed form today. There will be no more adventures for us. Though there were nearly 40 years between our ages, she still introduced me to everyone she knew as her best friend. I was honored to claim that title. 


Among other things, Lora had been a school teacher, a farmer's wife, a cross country skier, a painter, and a avid fisherman. She loved trying new things and each time I visited I found her embroiled in some new activity. In her seventies she took up oil painting and then watercolors. In her 80s she got her first computer. In her 90s she studied handwriting and feng shui. After her husband died, she lived alone until she was 102, and only in the last few months did she go from having home health aides to a room in a nursing home. 


I miss her sorely though she's only been gone a few hours. Tears come easily when I remember that I will never see her again. They dry on my cheeks though when I remember what a wonderful friend she was, what happy adventures we've shared and how lucky I was to have had her as a best friend.


I wrote this poem on her 100th birthday after talking with her about her long and busy life. Now I post it here again in her memory.

Lora Remembers

100 years of mornings,
of sunrises that spilled liquid gold
down Vermont’s rugged hillsides;
dew that sparkled on a million
summer spider webs; a cow’s warm
breath on her hands and the warmer
milk; fishing the wily creeks and still
ponds at her father’s side;
running up the hill to school;
McGuffy’s First Reader and lunch in a blue
lard bucket; boarding as the teacher;
rain that turned dirt roads to mud;
riding a hay rake, a baler, a plow;
70 years of marriage, of cooking and
washing and mending, of quilting
and knitting and sewing;
driving a Model-T;
flying solo in a small plane;
barn raisings and song fests and gramophones
and new-fangled radios; television and jet planes
and a cruise to Alaska 85 years after
that first morning 100 years ago.

She remembers 100 years of evenings,
of listening to the nightjar whistle,
of scarlet sunsets and sparking fireflies;
dashing to the half-moon door in the
darkness; carrying a lantern up the cold
back stairs; woodstoves and hand pumps
and knee-deep snows; sugaring-off in spring;
summer nights so hot you slept on a blanket
on the lawn; darkness so pure you could
count the stars; nights of terror when fire
struck; nights of music and dancing, of kitchen junkets;
of family suppers; lonely nights, nights of weeping
and missing her man; nights of wondering, pondering
the future, the meaning of it all; nights of remembering
family and old friends gone on before—

100 years of living behind her. Now she looks ahead.

So do I. Farewell, Lora.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Work As Fun

scienceprojectlab.com
The second graders I work with are studying insects. Jars containing monarch butterfly chrysalises line one counter. A large glass case filled with flowers and a small dish of sugar water sits on a table, waiting for the butterflies to emerge. Three monarchs already flutter there. By tomorrow two more should make an appearance, much to the delight of the students. They've been charting the progress from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly for weeks now. Fred, Boo, Sun, Rocky, and Bob will be set free on Friday to make their way in the wilds of the school playground.

The class has also been studying grasshoppers and crickets. One of their assignments was to make a list of things that hop or jump. We'd just conducted a grasshopper jumping contest and set up a cricket colony. I expected those two bugs would be listed. What I didn't expect was the innovative spelling, though these tots are beginning second graders. In case you didn't know, the following not only exist, they can hop and jump with the best of them:

cirkits
chipmorks
flying squals
hoses
goots
some fishees

and, of course,

grashogers

easyvectors.com

Thanks Hilary!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Going, going...



It is the same every year and every year it surprises me. The signs of change are all around - leaves look like once bright curtains left too long in the sun. They droop, tired and faded and still in the windless afternoons. A few young maples and older, diseased trees flare bright red and orange amongst the green. My flower gardens, rife with bright blossoms just a few weeks ago, now sport more empty stems than blooms. The pink lilies, the papery hollyhocks, the bee balm’s riotous red flowers are all gone. A few brave fairy roses hold small pink and red faces up to be admired but for the most part the flowers’ season has passed. Next month I will plant a few iris corms, bank the beds with grass clippings from the last lawn mowing and hedge them with raked leaves. All that beauty and brightness will sleep through the cold, waking when the world turns warm again.



Monday, September 12, 2011

Rerun



Artist Frederic Church's rendition of a sunset in my home county, painted in 1847

Over the past few months the area I live in has experienced a tornado, a hurricane, two bouts of flooding, a triple murder, and now West Nile Virus. I know this earthly life's a battle, but great jeesum crow! We've also had some gorgeous summer days, saw neighbors helping neighbors during a crisis, and helped celebrate the 250th anniversary of the town next door. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when opposing incidences seemed overwhelming. Seems like a good time to trot it back out.



HOW COME

the same day an airplane dashed itself
to bits on the side of a mountain, killing seven people
a gentle rain fell on the garden,
pattering on the broad leaves of the squash
and watering the thirsty beets;

and while an earthquake
shook a south sea island in its heavy fist
scattering lives like wooden blocks
the sun came out,
hanging rainbows in water droplets
that strung themselves along the fence
like Christmas lights?

Listening to the news
you couldn’t help but realize the world
was a frightening place to be
except right here where an ordinary lily
opened its vibrant yellow throat.