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Welcoming Life

September 2013

Puttering/Idle hands

Yesterday morning, Sunday, I started the day reveling in the fact that I had nothing planned. I began by reading the news (carefully selected, because I am presently going mad about the political state of affairs) and browsing some of my favorite blogs. One of the blogs, though, had me scratching my head; it is a blog written to sharpen the mind and get more out of work experiences. What had me thinking twice about what I read, was the fact that the writer was discouraging "puttering." The subject of the blog was how to use weekend time wisely and "puttering" was not advised. The writer  even went so far as characterizing the word as something the "elderly" would do.

Yikes, I never mind stating my age--67. As a matter of fact, I intend to hoot and holler with every succeeding decade I am granted. But I'm not too fond of the word elderly being combined with something I like to do which is "putter."

I was brought up in a family where accomplishments were prized. Laziness was not abided. The expectations were not harsh--but there was a bit of the "idle hands are the devil's workshop" discipline practiced in our home.

I am semi-retired. I am not particularly fond of the word "retired" either; I think it smacks of being put out to pasture. For me what it means, is that I do not have a 9 to 5  job to report to any longer. I am a writer, and as such, I make sure that I write every day and do something every day to market my book Above and Beyond Wellfleet. The "semi" part of retirement for me has been to fill my day with the luxury of puttering and not feeling guilty that it equates with being idle. 

Some definitions are in order. Puttering  is to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely or casual manner.
Idleness means you have no particular goal in mind. I putter, but I do not think I am idle.

Yesterday, was a day without a set schedule. The day was mine to putter about.  I managed to respect my upbringing by deciphering the difference between doing nothing and doing what I wanted to do.

At the end of the day, the batch of herbs pictured were turned into an herb seasoned salt. Apples from an earlier trip to the farm market were made into a spicy applesauce. When I woke up, neither of those activities were on my mind--or schedule. They just came to me as the result of appreciating a beautiful Fall day.

Frost is around the corner, and I wanted to save the herbs. The farmer market's tables groaned with beautiful,  just-picked apples begging to be preserved and shared.

I puttered happily. I felt in no way elderly and more importantly felt at the end of the day that I honored what I had always been taught--make every hour count including appreciating joyful leisure.

Lasting Friendships

What do these two photographs have to do with one another? The one on the left was taken last Friday (September 20, 2013), the one on the right was taken when I was in sixth or seventh grade. The first is now-at 67-the latter was taken when I was 11 or 12. The answer to the question is that they were both taken by dear friends. The first by my friend, Carol,  who has been my constant companion and kind critic on my book journey. The second taken by my friend, Sharon, when I was a newly transplanted sixth or seventh grader, having moved to a new place for the second time in three years. Both answered a prayer. Carol and I were close in college-in each others' weddings, shared our early  marriages and new children together. We lost touch for awhile, but found each other serendipitously weeks before Larry died--when I needed her the most. Sharon befriended me when I was a pretty sad youngster. As I wrote in Above and Beyond Wellfleet, my father endured some financial misfortune and at the time this photo was taken in her room, our family was still in the throes of recovery. It's hard to move as a young adult--well, really it's always hard. But being the new kid on the block is especially unsettling. Carol and I discovered that for several years we had lived twenty minutes from each other on the Cape--but our chance meeting felt like it had been ordained by someone greater than we. Sharon took me under her wing. I remember the good times we had together, and how she made me feel welcome in a strange land. I especially remember that when my beloved black cocker spaniel got hit by a car and died, Sharon wrote up this fantastic "legal" agreement giving me part ownership of her black cocker spaniel, Caviar. Friday , Carol accompanied me to another book discussion. She seems never to tire of hearing my words and it amazes me, and warms my tender writer's heart more than I can express. Yesterday, Sharon sent me a message on FB saying that she had been sorting photographs and came across this one taken in her room. I adore the fact that there is a photograph of President Eisenhower on her credenza. I think we were supposed to grow up Republicans-maybe she did--I did not. But no matter.
Isn't that the beauty of lasting friendships--we never forget each other. The spanning years actually bring us closer together--because we still care for one another--we remember childish laughter, struggles in young family adjustments, and cleave to one another just at a time when we think our memories may be growing dim.
Not so--they shine brightly for me. I feel so privileged to have Sharon and Carol in my life and my other friends that keep reminding me that I have truly so much for which to be thankful.

Forever Friends

I'm tired tonight. But not as tired as my dear friends who lost a grandson last week. I know a little something about grief--BUT this pain experienced by my friends is the worst horror. The order of life tragically turned upside down.

I didn't know if I would have the courage to travel the miles to give a comforting hug.I didn't know if I were brave enough to stand in a room with my friends (the grandparents) the parents, the siblings, the aunts and uncles, the cousins, the young friends, and the old friends and be strong enough to comfort, rather than yearning to be comforted about such a senseless loss.

But as the lyrics of the song echoed in my head "that's what friends are for--the good times the bad times." These friends were close couple friends--another reason why I was initially weak about being able to attend the memorial service.I would be going alone--and that thought made my decision doubly difficult.

Fortunately, my heart and head got it together--you "show up" for your friends who need you. You do travel the miles just to say for a minute--"I love you, and I'm here." Because that is the worst thing about losing a loved one--not much that you relied on makes sense anymore. But the love of friends and family makes the difference. Hope is rekindled.

These friends were there for me. The room at the reception was filled with friends who carried me over the worst time of losing the love of my life. "That's what friends are for."

I painted this hydrangea for my friends--it's on the cover of the sympathy card I am sending them. I hope they will laugh a bit when they see it--because we used to laugh at my need to collect hydrangeas--even if they weren't mine. Confession--Larry and I lived next door to the parish house in Wellfleet. The house was used for offices for the church across the street. In the late Fall I would go out after dark and snip off  the hydrangea blossoms, surreptitiously and quickly put them in a grocery bag to take home--believing that I was doing a good thing--pruning the flowers before they turned brown and ugly. My friends--for whom I drew this sympathy card--would ask me "Con, were those flowers 'taken'  from the church?"

I'm tired tonight--but they are bereft. Their friends cannot make their pain go away--but I and we can let them know that we are here with outstretched hands, open hearts, constant prayers and the hope that they know that treasured memories are the strength that heals.

Last days of summer

Yesterday, I had the luxury  of spending the afternoon reading and writing on my back patio. My only company--the bumblebee and the dragon fly pictured here. I relaxed; they didn't. 

I watched them. The bee was busy and the dragon fly-while I'm not too sure what his/her job was--flitted from flower to flower- leaf to leaf. They both made me stop and take notice of the bee's appreciation of the flowers and the dragon fly's  delicate, gorgeous wings and pink tail.

I don't have much of a garden now. I live in a lovely, landscaped place. Wonderful people come by and trim the hedges, mow the lawns and put mulch down to prevent weeds from growing between the shrubs. But I have to have some plants to call my own--and those I've put in ceramic containers. Most are on my back patio, but this year, I bought a fern for my front  "nest." 

Soon, I will have to worry about frost. I will have to decide what to bring inside and try to save (in the case of the fern, I may have to build a small room) and what not to save. The "not saved" will make me sad.

Perhaps, that is why I was so mesmerized by the flights of my  insect friends yesterday. All of us were rejoicing in our way the warmth of the sun, but I felt each of us was preparing for the cooler, colder months ahead.

I like Fall and Winter. I like the excuse of turning on my fireplace (and yes I have one of the fireplaces that ignites with a switch) at the first hint of cold and earlier twilight. I like heating up a warm soup and buttering a crusty bread for my dinner. I feel less guilty starting to read at 4:30 in the Winter than at 4:30 in the summer. When the sun shines brightly, I feel as if I should be doing something outside--tending to my little container garden--taking a brisk walk.

But yesterday, I felt the tug of the seasonal transition about to take place. I wondered when I would be saying goodbye for this year to the bumblebee and the dragon fly. I've already said goodbye to the humming bird.

Maybe that was the thought that nudged my brain when I finally came inside. I really don't like goodbyes. So, I'll stay outside for as long as I can and take my signal from nature as to when this season is fading and another will take its place.

Labor Day

Labor Day! It is supposed to be a holiday celebrated to honor those who work hard every day of the week--and yes, every day is more the norm than having weekends free. Have we come a long way--mostly--but not far enough.

If my family's experiences are common with others, I imagine that most feel the tug of cell phone calls, email messages and instant messages--the former word, being the watchword-"instant." I see my children being tethered to a world benefited by technological advances--but freedom from this world is hard to come by.

Mind you, they don't complain much--I am not complaining on their behalf--but this Labor Day celebration has become deeper than just relief from the sweat shops of long ago.

There's a lot of fodder to mull over in what I've just written--fodder which I will think about in the year before the next Labor Day--and, yes, as is my wont, I will probably write about it.

But today, I am focusing on my Labor Day traditions--and they involve cooking. I think my mind calendar recognizes that winter is coming, and I am gripped by a terrific nesting instinct. Five minutes ago, I put a huge pot of chicken soup to boil on the stove, consisting of chicken carcasses that I have frozen and tender frozen chicken morsels (which I have saved for soup), fresh onions from the farm market, parsnips for sweet flavor, and a bunch of tri-color carrots. To all of that I add sprigs of what you see in the accompanying photograph. My herbs. I love herbs--I love their fragrance. Every time I snip a leave of sage or throw into a pot of sprig of thyme I am transcended back to the era of kitchen gardens.

In 1992, our house was battered by Hurricane Bob. Larry and I were in Rochester when we knew that the hurricane was going to strike, and we feared for our home--the way one would worry about a family member in danger. We got in the car as soon as we could, and arrived in our driveway at about 2am. Our car headlights revealed that a huge limb of a tree had gouged my "kitchen herb garden." I cried out "oh, my herb garden." Larry (as was his way), calmly said "do you see that the rest of the tree has fallen on our house?" Hmmm--yes, I guess I had--but-my herb garden.

Back to Labor Day. Our house was a pretty frenetic place when our kids were teenagers--both adults-mother and step-father--had incredibly busy careers. The teenagers in residence had lots going on in their lives as well. Truth be told, we probably ate out more than we ate in. But on Labor Day, the nesting instinct hit me full force.

I did what I am doing today, every burner had something brewing--from soups, to sauces, to mulled fresh fruits. I recall clearly, my son, Rob, coming down the back stairs and passing the stove and looking at me and saying "so, mom, are you going for mother of the year?!" It wasn't fresh, it was just his way of acknowledging that this is what his mother did on Labor Day. I'm sure it had something to do with honoring visually--home and hearth. 

Our family lived a modern life--but traditions--and food played a role--and it was how I have honored my Labor Day. 

The odd thing is--my nesting instincts while still vital are feathering an empty nest now. But no matter--I will freeze what I make today to feed my visiting family. As I close this piece, I am looking at a simmering pot, smelling the fragrance of the herbs and letting my mind happily drift to the memory of "so, mom, are you going for mother of the year."

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