Friday, September 5, 2014

Sunflower Glory

In the land of paint and pencils, there are many temptations. All the time. Everywhere.

Pastels tickled all my creative bits when I signed up for a class at our local library taught by Gregory Maichack. I am in love with the luminosity and can't wait to experiment with more flowers, clouds and the ocean. This one, started in the class is after a Georgia O'Keefe painting.

Thank goodness there are a profusion of sunflowers at the farm stands right now. These deep, bronzy red ones I put in my blue vase will be wonderful to paint.

Our Northeast summer has been glorious - a gift of clear skies, gentle breezes and warm weather. Cool nights, perfect for sleeping, are a blessing and we enjoyed them virtually every night.

Even when life throws curves, little glimmers of enchantment remind me that there is so much more to consider in the scheme of things. Thank goodness.

"Life is brief, but if you're brave, it's deep." - Elissa Schappell, author

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Rocky Path of Progress

My writing corner
Living so close to historical touch-points as I do here in New England, I find myself intrigued by the minds of people who lived here before me.  I have been reading Henry David Thoreau’s book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and I have a new appreciation for the portion of the Concord River which passes under the freeway close to my work in Billerica, MA. His boat journeyed along this spot in 1839 on his way upstream and I can imagine his oars dipping in the serene water, dripping with sun-glistened droplets with each upswing of the paddle, his eyes scanning the shore for signs of life to think upon. Looking either way as I head for my exit, I see uninhabited shorelines thick with trees and underbrush, a stone bridge the only manmade element in sight – much as he would have seen the river 175 years ago.
So much can change in the course of a single man’s life and a multitude of changes are wrought in a century…or two. Even as Thoreau bemoaned the dams that blocked the alewives and salmon from their spawning beds and changed the pattern of river flooding that had reached far into fertile fields each spring, he melded his observations with historical facts to better grasp the dangerous road man was taking in the name of progress. What once could be fished or grown with moderate toil now could not and village people downstream from the mill towns suffered from the loss caused by demands of the industrial revolution. Fruitful soil reverted to sand.

It is impossible that everything in life changes at once and all that is familiar disappear. There is an ebb and flow to our journey. There are touchstones that keep the thread of our experiences alive and growing. We have history, our own and that of others, to ground us and we can compartmentalize what we learn. We have evidence of prior efforts, their causes and effect.
That we repeat mistakes, or refrain from anticipating how our actions will affect others, is a product of our hurried (and harried) lives. Thoreau felt his era was no less active but his considered thoughts ran along a grand scale and he saw the effects created by the dams, for instance, built to harness water’s power for the mills. He grasped that each action has a complete and opposite reaction in a way that Newton may not have intended but that was apt for his time. Man’s forward motion will, by nature, change something that went before. If Thoreau had not traversed mountains on foot and sailed rivers under his own physical power, he might not have fully understood the effect man was having on his environment and its inhabitants. That his words are apropos today illustrates the importance of considered knowledge.

We stumble along, making plans, building pipe-dreams and skyscrapers without regard to maintaining a balance within our natural lives. Fish go extinct, plants become invasive in new environs, manmade chemicals do dire damage to ecosystems, seas rise and threaten our shores, and we lose sight of what is important in the grand scheme of things. Like Thoreau, we need to simplify and consider our impact on, not only nature, but on those around us and them on us. We need to walk along our path at a slower pace in order to fully consider our purpose in the scheme of things.
It is not enough that we strive to correct the mistakes of the past but that we not perpetuate them in our present in order to save our future.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Place Marcel Ayme, Montmartre
On the day I left for Cologne, most likely very soon after I left for the airport and my husband clicked the leash on our dog to go for a walk, someone broke into our house and stole from us. It seems to have been a brief attack, only charge cards, money and gift cards were taken. Then we noticed the missing prescription drugs. Where was my husband's wedding ring - rolled under the bed or gone for good? Rolled coins, nestled in boxes in the closet - a collection of state coins in the process of being gathered for the grandchildren - are gone. The boxes are there but they gape open in their emptiness. What else will we discover missing as we reach for something out of habit and come up empty-handed?

I suppose we are lucky. This may not be a first for us, but it is a violation felt to the core just the same. We are physically safe and I am thankful for that as we hold each other in quiet contemplation of our vulnerability. Our minds are damaged and our hearts leaden with pain at the prospect that it maybe someone we know. Is it? I don't know. I hope not. The tragedy is that it make us susceptible to the idea. The police said it often is, especially when other things which could be sold are still here. I rebel against that idea but the notion is now seeded in both our minds.

The losses are greater than a few dollars and the inconvenience of mopping up the details of someone's major shopping spree while I was out of the country. The real loss is much more personal.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Life and the Gross Domestic Product

I just began Tammy Strobel’s book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s cheap), yesterday after giving up on the soft mush of Memories from Acorn Hill. I finished the first short story in which everything turned out peachy but couldn’t get more than a chapter into the other one before realizing that reading it would be more of the same and I would gain nothing from the exercise. Life is too short to eat milk-toast.
So I moved on to a non-fiction book for a change of pace. Tammy, who has a blog I check in on frequently called Rowdy Kittens, has pulled all her research and her lifestyle changes into a new book. I am only on page 40, but she has already given me lots to think about.

In her personal life, she has simplified to the nth degree. She and her husband live in a 128 sq. foot home on wheels that they built. Minimal space means minimal clothes, minimal furniture and minimal tablespoons. She loves her lifestyle and I presume her husband embraces it, too, although I am not sure of his thoughts.

Since I have been simplifying for the past two years (but not to this extent, obviously, as one peruses our home), I understand the benefit of removing clutter in both the physical environment as well as within my mind. As things become fuzzier as I grow older, I think this will be all the more important to me. There is also the time lost on maintenance and cleaning to consider. I do not like to devote more time than absolutely necessary to the chores. I want to open up my time to experiences. Hence my dilemma and subsequent epiphany.
An economics major, Tammy has the stats to back up her words. She also quotes other writers and statesmen. This statement from Robert Kennedy gave legs to my thoughts and backbone to my decision to minimize, not only my things, but my exposure to the excessive materialism and the mind-warping violence and ridicule on TV that has become so prevalent.

The first comment is Tammy’s and the second part is quoted in her book. I included the first paragraph of Kennedy’s words because it is also relevant to my point of view.
Below is a quote from Bobby Kennedy on what the Gross National Product means and more importantly what it does not mean.  He would have a made a fine economist...

 "Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 
"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." 

Robert F. Kennedy Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968

As Tammy drills down to her own place of happiness and hones her point of view, I benefit from her observations. Her words resonate with me. Food for thought and they take up minimal physical room.
So, as she delves further into the issue, she questions the wisdom of excessive growth, not only with the GDP, but also on a personal level. The more we make and the more we buy does not increase our core happiness.

Money is not the measure of our contentment and happiness, our experiences are. Things are, well, just things. A bobble-head may remind us of an excellent sport’s event but does it make us happy? Going to the event would. Buying an artificial flower arrangement to match our living room might look nice for a while but then it would just be part of the scene. Bringing in a handful of flowers from the patch we grew by the back door would enchant us every time we walked by it. Once past its prime, a new and different bundle could appear, appreciated for its own uniqueness and brevity of appearance.

It occurs to me that it is unfortunate that we raise our children during the time period of our peak acquisition. We are buying homes, furnishing them, decorating them. We buy toys, swing sets and different sized bikes in rapid succession. We renovate. We move, prompting more acquisitions. They see us buy out of boredom, replace perfectly good cars and fill closets, theirs as well as ours, with clothes. They embrace all this buying and expect something in every store they are dragged to, often becoming frustrated to tantrum level when the random object of their desire is not forthcoming. Then they see their parents buying what they want and the seed is planted. ‘When I grow up…,” becomes an internal mantra and a habit is born. Buying things will make me happy. When I don’t get them, I am angry/sad.
Now, I have no basis in fact to substantiate this next thought and I will learn more with research, but in cultures with extended families close by and where grandparents, aunts and uncles are part of day-to-day living, is the acquisitive influence diluted? For instance, I think we can assume that grandparents are in a stage of life where they pretty much have all they need. They are comfortable with their furniture, have knitted a few afghans to keep warm on chilly nights and they are down to four coffee mugs in the cabinet. Lamps may have seen better days but they see no point in replacing them. The books that line their shelves are fewer than were there in earlier years but are old friends. Pictures lining the wall are of family. Friendships, not things, give them the most pleasure. Family antics make them laugh. Crayoned drawings are taped to their refrigerator.

I think back on the years when my children were growing up. We bought a home, painted, put up wallpaper and decorated while my son was little and my daughter approaching birth. Finances were tight so we made do and did for ourselves. Visits to parks were more the norm than forays to stores. Playing outside was fun and the swing set was in the grammar school playground. We traveled to see family, hooking side trips to the seashore onto the journeys. After a number of years, we built a house in another town and moved. Things were better, our jobs providing more money to spend. Saving wasn’t on the horizon yet. We bought new furniture. While my son was in school and my daughter on half-day kindergarten, I shopped after school let out. She went along on my forays to buy fabric and placemats. I made curtains and pillows. I bought things to decorate our home –a lot of things – it was a country haven, befitting the time, complete with Shaker pegs to hold stuff on the wall when the other surfaces were full.
My son shuns excess stuff in favor of his passions. My daughter fills her home with things. I am getting the picture.

Facing up to responsibility is uncomfortable. I can see how my actions may have subconsciously influenced them. Don't get me wrong, it wasn’t all materialistic. I am glad we filled their childhood with experiences, too. They each have varied interests and a love of the seashore and appreciation for bed and breakfast inns. Visits to parks, boating on lakes and exploration in different areas has had an impact on their lives – I see it now in their choices. I am glad that I never felt the need to buy trinkets emblazoned with logos to remember every trip. I am glad I never felt the compulsion to collect figurines (oh, whoops, there is the Christmas village I put up every year during the holidays). I have had way too many books over the years (all but my favorites have now been sent out into the world for other readers to enjoy). I still need to attack my closets so I am thankful for doors that close tightly. My art supplies will never be reduced except by use.

There is balance in every life, mine and theirs included. Some tip one way or another as we each work through our stages. The groundwork is laid earlier than I thought. Was my mother’s habitual Saturday shopping day part of my foundation? Perhaps. But so was the frugality of those early years when money was tight and we made do. I count myself lucky to have had those days when my best Christmas present of all time was the Barbie clothes my mother painstakingly made for months on end and getting a bike was a really big deal. I have carried the necessity of that philosophy in my pocket my whole life. It colored many of my decisions. I also had the benefit of two grandmotherly points of view when I grew up. One was frugal and loving, the other more critical and cheap. Although at a distance and not visited more than a few times a year, they both had an impact on my development.
Perhaps if there was a Tammy earlier in my life, I would have understood my impact on others more fully and trimmed my sails. Would have saved me from going through this exercise of purging now and, I am sure, enhanced my life’s experiences in the process. Live and learn...again.

It is now obvious that it would have influenced my children’s values as well.

Now that I look back with open eyes, I see that my experiences and growth were probably like that
of many others of that time. I don’t know if it is my time of life that is dictating my shift in course or the times which are changing because of the accessibility of different points of view via the internet. All in all, there are few things I would alter because, ultimately, they made me who I am. I would have assessed my materialism differently, though. My personal search for happiness was impeded by it and I never knew. As I watch my children make their own choices, I both applaud and lament.

I wouldn't be a mother if I didn't.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Through the Looking Glass

Montmartre Reflection
Ah, a new year arrives. It is a crisp, cold day and the sun shines down on the shiny coat of thick ice on the lake. A massive storm is brewing to the west, churning and drifting our way. Tomorrow, the scene may be very different but inside, warmth will fill the rooms and there is always tea to heat the body from the inside out.

These past five days have been restorative. I have picked up my clutter, rearranged my sitting room so I can fit in my paints and supplies for the winter. Curtains, a project long overdue and neglected, have been sewn for the guest room sliding door – lush thick folds of fabric to keep the chill outside where it belongs.

Mending has been done, Marlena de Blasi’s new book, Antonia and Her Daughters, a gift from a friend, is slowly savored so as not to rush through the pages and reach the end before I am ready for it. I am traveling soon so I brought the rolling suitcase down to ready it for the trip. I will leave the Christmas tree up until Saturday – a few more days of enjoyment before memorable ornaments are once again stored away.

Their brief appearance makes them special. Released from their slumber, they evoke memories of holidays filled with laughter and good food, traditions long enjoyed. These accumulated treasures represent a lifetime of Decembers. Like old friends, they are a small part of the solace of the season. The rest is spiritual comfort and reflection.

Now I am ready to embrace my passions and grow. There are only a few pledges I will make to set the character of my new year. Now, more than ever, action requires the parameters of a plan.

I surrender to the notion that I will always be a person with myriad interests. I intend to fully give each its moment of attention without gazing lustfully at the ones not chosen.
Embrace the path – I will take one step at a time on paths which intrigue me and trust that they will not lead me astray. This will keep me upright in more ways than one.
Cherish relationships – in the moment and always.

Like the eagle, I will ride the wind with grace and strength, and return to a nurturing nest of inspiration and respite.

I will continue to balance activity with quiet contemplation and appreciate the growth from both. Simplicity will hone my focus.

Let's see how that goes....