Lessons from Linus…

I’m blessed to have grown up during they heyday of the Peanuts comic strips.  I just love the characters and their antics.  During this stressful time of year, I often think of their holiday specials to keep myself grounded.  The holiday season can be melancholy for many.  Here in the Northeast, November can be an exceptionally gloomy, dreary month.  We are all bombarded with manic holiday advertising that starts way too early.  So I channel Charlie Brown.

At one point Charlie Brown says to Linus, “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.  I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Right now I’m in this spot.  It is somewhat magnified by the fact I live in a suburb where much of the population practices excessive materialism.  I was a child of privilege in that I was raised with morals, values, discipline, love, and manners.  Money was something that was in short supply.  I’m not complaining.  On the contrary, it taught me a true appreciation for what matters most.  But I feel for the “have-nots,” especially at this time of year.

So I consciously think about what Linus tells us in the Christmas special.  He explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about and ends with, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  I’m not here to make a religious pitch.  Let me simplify.  The scope of our national and worldwide news is full of sadness and tragedy.  So many have so little.  So many suffer so much.  So many have so much.  What little bit can one person do?

I will be honest.  It galls me that millions, and I mean multiple millions, of dollars are being squandered on political campaigns.  Couldn’t that money be put to better use?  The homeless, the mentally ill, disease research, hunger?  Those are just the tip of the iceberg.  We pay loads of taxes and yet, do we see the money being spent properly?  Never mind, not going there.

I’m increasingly discouraged by Facebook.  FB has never been an “end all, be all” thing for me.  I like it because I can keep in touch with folks.  More and more I see posts about people showcasing their material goods and lamenting they don’t look as good as they did ten years ago.  It’s a turn off.  In the grand scheme of things, we won’t be remembered for a lovely diamond ring or the largest Christmas tree on the block.  We will be remembered for the things we’ve done and for what we’ve done in relation to our treatment of others.

In fact, this post has taken a huge turn in my train of thought.  I was prepared to write about far different things.  But Linus is reminding me that I need to be the type of person that I’d like others to be.  I need to focus less on life’s faults.  I need not to think of those who would much rather have the biggest and the best.  I need to embrace more people who are kind and do charitable things.  And I need to find a better way to make a difference in this life.

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The Alone Girl and her dog…

The Alone Girl didn’t care if dogs were supposed to be man’s best friend, her dog was her best friend.  Moving from Burlington prior to second grade, the family’s dog accompanied them.  Mickey was a beagle mix, given to a beagle’s wanderlust.  And that proved to be her undoing.  While out roaming, she was hit by a car and left to die.  Someone traced her tag to our family and my dad retrieved her collar.  He broke the news that Saturday morning.  The girl sat on her bedroom floor and cried and cried.

Within weeks, a new pup came to live with the family.  She was a cross between a standard dachshund and a mini dachshund and she would become the girl’s lifelong friend.  As the girl’s family fell apart, her bond with her dog increased.  The dog was full of fun and stubborn.  She loved to chase the tennis ball.  There was a never-ending supply of those because the girl and her brother both played tennis.  Truly comical, the dog also chased croquet balls which she was not big enough to grip in her mouth.

The dog raced alongside the girl as rode her bike around the block.  The dog listened carefully whenever the girl spoke to her.  The dog licked the tears that ran down the girl’s face when family trouble overwhelmed her.  The girl was never alone when the dog was with her.

A day came when the dog, about five years old, had difficulty walking and using her back legs.  Within a short time, the dog was dragging itself around the house sustaining rug burns in the process.  The girl and her brother were taught by the vet how to press the dog’s bladder area to allow her to go to the bathroom.  At that time there was only experimental surgery with no guarantee it would work.  The family made the painful decision to put the dog down.

The summer came and went and the grief was subsiding.  Another school year started.  Toward the end of September the girl answered the phone one evening.  It was the veterinarian asking to speak to the girl’s mother.  Maybe her mother hadn’t paid the bill.  The girl didn’t know.  Her mother got off the phone and told the girl some astonishing news.  They were able to pick up the dog.  What?  Seems as though the vet couldn’t put the dog to sleep and had an intern working that summer.  Each day the dog received hydrotherapy and the feeling came back to her legs.  Though not 100%, she was close.

It was as though the dog knew it had unfinished business.  She needed to return to help the girl finish growing up.  The girl was able to love the dog for another eight years.  All good things end, though.  One early spring day, when the girl was in college, she took her canine friend to the vet for the last time.  The grief is as fresh today as it was then.  No other pet has been able to take that dog’s place.

age 12002

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Whatever happened to…

social graces?  At the risk of sounding like a cranky older person, okay I am a cranky older person, why aren’t manners more prevalent in our society these days?  I’m sure you’re dying to know what has prompted me to write about this.  Even if you’re not, I’m going to tell you why anyway.  A few days ago, yet another supermarket cashier called me “sir.”  And yesterday I was standing next to a table, my pocketbook was on the table, waiting for my companion to bring our food order.  So I was saving the table for our use, I just wasn’t seated yet.  The eating establishment, while not a brand name fast food type of place, is very busy and it was lunchtime.

Two men came by and set their trays on the table.  I’d say they were late 30’s to late 40’s in age.  Momentarily stunned, I said I was saving the table.  One shrugged and pointed to an empty table by the door.  I told him if I’d wanted to sit there I wouldn’t be saving this particular table.  They shrugged again and started eating.  Really?  We ate at the table by the door.  I was stunned.

There is a massive deterioration of values and manners in our society today.  I don’t mind saying it.  I don’t care if people criticize me for it.  What has happened to basic decency and respect?  I’m not going to rant and rave.  It does no good.

I will simply say that I will continue to use the many social graces I was taught.  I will say please and thank you, I will hold the door for people, I will look people in the eye when speaking to them, I will listen when I ask people how they are, I will continue to go out of my way to do nice things for people.  For example, God provided me with extra long arms.  Many times I’ve retrieved items on upper shelves for folks at the grocery store.  It is truly my pleasure to do so and people are very appreciative.  How difficult is that?

So, I really was going to rant and rave.  But I’m really pleased that I turned it around and realized I will make more of an impact if I continue to model desirable behavior than if I just complain about it.  

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Bits and pieces…

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  William Cullen Bryant

The shrill light of a rising sun challenged my vision as I drove east yesterday through a frosty early morning.  Pockets of clouds hung in the small valleys as I wound through the Berkshires.  Many trees were bare but stubborn oaks showed their orange colors.  Along the sides of the road, in places where men long ago blasted through tall hills, the scarred rock faces glistened under thin sheets of autumn ice.  Grassy areas not yet hit by the sun were robed in frost.

I was on my way to share a last goodbye.  In the company of others, I gathered with a group of other relatives and friends.  The air was crisp, the sky a flawless blue.  A modest cemetery in a small, old town in Connecticut welcomed back one of its sons to rest among his family.  Three older Veterans aimed their rifles three successive times.  The cold air amplified the shots.  The bugler played “Taps.”  John’s long life journey was complete.

I’ve never known my Connecticut relatives very well though I’ve heard about them since my youth.  My grandmother was the oldest of three kids.  Born in New Haven, she eventually fell in love with a man from Albany and moved there when they married.  My mom and my uncle spent time, during many summers, in Connecticut visiting the relatives.  My grandmother’s sister married, had one child, and settled in a small town near the rock quarry where her husband was superintendent.  My grandmother’s brother married, had four children, and ran the only pharmacy in Portland, CT.

Oh, how my mother and uncle loved visiting their cousins.  If the timing was right, their uncle rented a cottage at Cornfield Point and they got to enjoy being at the shore.  Stories of clamming, grape arbors, picking blueberries, walking past the tobacco barns, and walking across the bridge to Middletown were told innumerous times.  I could always tell my mother and uncle were transported back to those times in their memories, their eyes filled with wistful remembrance and soft smiles gracing their faces.

Cousin John was someone I began to know as an adult.  But I didn’t know him very well.  I was fortunate to meet him a few times and to speak with him on the phone a few times.  But I relished hearing his correspondences with my mother and uncle.  The greatest generation knew, and knows, how to pen an informative letter.  John was jaunty.  He was innately curious, a wonderful conversationalist and a man true to himself and to his family.  I knew his sister, Cousin Betty, much better.  She was a lovely, sweet woman much like their mother.  Their brother, Cousin Roland, died tragically in the mid-70’s before I was able to meet him.  My mother always speaks fondly of him and what a sweet kid he was.  The youngest of the four siblings, Cousin Bill, spoke beautifully of his oldest brother yesterday.  Bill acknowledged he didn’t get to know John well until he was grown because John was fifteen years older than he.  But Bill’s words gave great testimony to the honorable man his brother was.  It seems fitting that John passed, during his 98th year, on July 4th as he was proud of his service to his country.

Requiesce in pace, Cousin John.  You’ve left a significant legacy among your family.

November 13, 1920-July 4,2019

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Thankful and grateful…

No slices of fiction or poetry today, just stark reality.  A year ago today, I was trying to do too much too fast and I took an epic tumble on the hardwood floor at my mother’s house.  More concerned about how hard I’d hit my head, I ignored the pain in my elbow.  I returned to my house and told Jim about my fall and assured him I was okay.m after all, we had to go to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for my mom.  Then we were hosting my neighbor for cheese fondue.  I delivered the groceries and returned home.

At that point my head felt fine but my elbow was beginning to hurt.  Jim talked me into lying down while he prepped the fondue for me.  Long story short, we had a successful cheese fondue despite my having to use my opposite hand to eat.  After dinner I told Jim it was time to head to the ER.  Splinted and medicated, we returned about 11 that night.  I was so fortunate to have him there for a few more days to help me out.  

In fact, my neighbor Rob, a retired nurse, came and showed me how to wrap the ace bandage around my splint.  I’d broken my left elbow which for most people wouldn’t be a big issue.  I’m left-handed.  Honestly it was inconvenient but not as awful as my broken ankle or broken leg.  Rob, and his husband Bill, would have me for dinner a few times so I wouldn’t have to cook.

Never did I think it would be a prelude to a very challenging time.  Late afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving, I received the phone call that my mother was lying on the ground near her back steps.  Somehow she had fallen.  I arrived within ten minutes, just after EMS.  To see her bloodied and in tremendous pain out there in the cold was a shock I still feel.  She had broken her femur in four places.  I spent Thanksgiving at the hospital while she had surgery.  Again, Jim came to my rescue.  I arrived home around 5 that evening.  Jim had arrived from having Thanksgiving dinner at his son’s house.  His son, Greg, sent along a complete dinner for me along with a piece of pie.  Again, so much to be grateful for.

The ensuing months were a challenge.  My mother went to a facility for rehabilitation.  The big catch was that she could not bear weight on that leg for several weeks.  She could only toe touch.  The situation tested our patience.  I won’t even get into the issues we had with the facility.  With the exception of two days, I was there each day for two months.  Again, Jim was a huge help and Greg sent along some Christmas dinner.

Finally, at the beginning of February, my mother was able to move to a facility for respite care.  We knew she couldn’t go home because she lived in a two-story house with only a half bath on the ground floor.  It also became clear that she might not ever go back to her home of over fifty years.  But she would only agree to move to a condo like mine.  The model I have is the most popular, seldom comes up for sale, and is snapped up in a nano-second.  God was truly on my side because my neighbors Bill and Rob gave my name to a woman whom they met while out walking in the neighborhood.  She was in town to relocate her mom…who lived in a condo model like mine.  Long story short, we acquired the condo knowing we had to make some improvements in addition to then selling her house.

My mother was doing well in respite care.  I picked her up to have Easter dinner at my house along with Jim.  We had an early afternoon dinner and it was very good.  But my mother and I both realized that Jim was not himself.  He was very short of breath and just didn’t act right.  After I returned my mom to her facility, I went home to find Jim really struggling to get his breath.  I told him I was taking him to the hospital.  He doesn’t live in this area, just comes up to visit me.  But we have some wonderful hospitals here so I was confident.

Turns out Jim was in bad shape cardiologically speaking.  He’d had a heart attack and by the next day had a catheterization and a pump inserted into his heart to help it beat.  Within five days he had quintuple bypass surgery.  I’m thankful that his children were also a big part of that journey.  And one of my close friends was in town the day of his surgery and she spent the day with me at the hospital.  I will never forget that.

Jim negotiated the surgery and recovery well.  We were all stunned that he would be discharged home and did not qualify for a rehab facility.  I was in the midst of wrapping up renovations and repairs on the new condo and getting my mother’s house ready to list.  Thankfully Jim was able to stay at his son’s home for several weeks while he recovered from his surgery.

While he was recovering I spent most of June readying the condo and putting the house on the market.  It sold quickly and by the end of the month, my mother was in her new condo.  Jim was back at home but ended up in the hospital again close to where he lives, 90 miles south of here.  This time his daughter was able to take him in while he recovered.  My summer flew by helping my mother get settled.  She is able to get around well with a walker.  At this point she is still gaining strength and mobility and enjoying her new home.  It is literally around the corner from mine so I’m able to pop over there easily.  Jim is continuing to do well.

Though my mother and I are our only family, I am so thankful to have lots of wonderful supporters.  My neighbor Linda, and her sweet dog, Skippy, helped me negotiate many a day in this past year.  There’s a lot to be said for a kind word and a little pet therapy.

Some of my longtime friends were wonderful and kept track of me through phone calls, emails, and texts.  A few other wonderful neighbors checked on me often.  If someone had told me last October 16th what I would face in the coming year, I would have laughed hysterically.  It’s been humbling, exhausting and very emotionally draining.  I’m just glad to still be in one piece and working once again on my school district history project.  I plan for the book to be out in the spring, unless more challenges come along.  If they do, I will persist.

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How could I ever forget?

The sky was a startling blue, the air crisp.  It was the fourth day of the new school year and I remember thinking that it would be a great day to be outdoors.  But a rare and beautiful day created an exciting atmosphere and I looked forward to getting to know my five new classes of high school students.

Never did I have a thought on that idyllic day that evil would rear its gruesome head.  Evil doesn’t care about fabulous weather; evil doesn’t have empathy; evil doesn’t have a conscience.  On that glorious day, September 11, 2001, evil unleashed a barrage of attacks on the citizens of our country.  Each year we are told never to forget.  How could I?

During my lifetime I’ve experienced many historical events.  I received the polio vaccine on a sugar cube in kindergarten.  I witnessed numerous lift offs and splashdowns of space flights.  I watched reports of the kill counts during the Vietnam War.  There were assassinations:  JFK, MLK, RFK, Anwar Sadat, John Lennon.  The Challenger exploded.  We endured the launch of the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War.  I’ve never forgotten those things.  How could I?

September 11, 2001, was fast becoming a surreal day in my mundane existence.  After monitoring the television throughout second period, classes changed and another teacher occupied the classroom for the next period.  I wandered up and down the main hallway looking for a classroom with a tv on.  I found one.  The teacher was glued to the events unfolding, most of the students were chatting amongst themselves.  I was struck how they did not display the agitation or sense of urgency the teacher and I possessed.  These events were unprecedented.  The attacks in NYC felt personal.  NYC is 150 miles to the south of where I live.  Later in the day I learned one of the planes turned over our city to follow the Hudson River south to NYC.  I’ve never forgotten.  How could I?

It was hard to know what to do.  There is no protocol in place for what to do in the classroom when terrorists attack the country.  We watched more than our fair share of news coverage.  I let students talk about what was going on and ask questions.  I didn’t stop to really think about the day’s events until the students were dismissed.  After-school activities were cancelled, sports events postponed.  It seemed best for everyone to be able to go home to be with loved ones.  I needed some time to process what had happened.  I can’t forget.  How could I?

At home, I continued to watch the news coverage.  A photo appeared on the screen.  Five burly men struggled to carry an individual in a chair.  They were dusty, dirty, and sweaty, but they bore their burden with reverence.  He would later be named as the first victim of 9/11 and I had known him briefly many years previous.  It was Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and the NYFD chaplain.  I had known him casually during his few years at Siena College in the late 1970s.  Father Mychal spoke to everyone he encountered.  He would stop us on a walkway outdoors and speak with us.  He cared about all of us.  I know why his firefighters loved him.  I know he loved all of them.  His loss affected me deeply.  I’d been experiencing a distant type of grief all day long.  Seeing Father Mychal in that picture, looking like Jesus in the Pieta, pushed me over an emotional edge.  My tears began and would run off and on all that evening.  People had lost spouses, children, parents, grandparents, significant others, and all manner of loved ones.  I cannot fathom how they were feeling.  Out of respect to the victims, I will never forget.  How could I?


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photo-inspired poetry

Nature and beauty inspire me.  This recent photograph, used by permission of the photographer, spoke to me.  I hope you like what it said.

 

Night Sky Comfort

 

The velvet cloak wrapped me

in its embrace,

a hug like no other

 

Its soft, soothing presence

a still oasis

in the tempest of life

 

The beacon of the night

shone above

a partial orb of illumination

 

Its steady presence,

through shifting shapes,

held great hope

 

The inky comfort

began to fade

with the promise of dawn

 

©Beth Anderson

Photo Credit:  Pete Guard – sunrise at Mt. Rainier

sunrise mt rainier

 

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The Alone Girl in summer…

imageA slice of fiction….

Summer is a happy time for many.  It was for the Alone Girl.  The tomboy loved the outdoors and summer meant staying up late, playing outside, bicycling everywhere, swimming, tennis, reading, and, if lucky, a small vacation.  As a teenager, summer improved even more because the alone girl’s town finally built a large pool for the community.  No more waiting for mom or another parent to drive kids to a State Park or lake to swim.

Even though the alone girl was well built and pretty, she was severely hamstrung by shyness and insecurity.  She loved the occasional private tennis lessons but balked when her coach suggested she join the community team during the summer.  Ironically, she would become an instructor for many summers in that program.  Her smile in place, she nodded as the patient man told her about the program and how she would get to play with other kids her age.  As she nodded, she knew she would never go because she worried that she didn’t have the right clothes, sneakers, and she probably wasn’t good enough.

By then, the girl’s brother had taken up life guarding at a State Park pool.  It meant he was gone all day and, even better, the Park was fifteen miles away so that meant extended travel time.  More time not to have to deal with his cruel teasing.  So, on days the girl could entice a friend to go, the alone girl cycled to the town pool and worked on her tan.  She seldom went if a friend didn’t accompany her because then what would she do when she got there?  She might have to sit alone because she was too timid to approach other kids.  At any rate, once there she could also score some French fries from the concession if she had change leftover from the small admission fee.

A real summer treat was to take the bus to Burlington to visit old friends.  The alone girl never stopped to think she may have been intruding on her friend’s summer plans.  She was so mired in the ecstasy of going back, she never stopped to think that maybe her old friends weren’t keen on her visits.  Burlington meant loads of opportunities that didn’t exist for the girl at home.  First of all, it meant peace because she went by herself.  No dealing with a brother or the latent fear of him popping up.  Secondly, her old friends had things that the alone girl didn’t…mainly summer homes on the lake and access to horses.

This rare treat was wonderful.  Eager to reconnect with the old friends, the inquisitive girl peppered them with questions.  Her friends had travelled to wonderful places in Florida and elsewhere.  The friends glossed over the trips, saying they were boring.  In her mind, the alone girl couldn’t begin to understand how that could be possible.  She realized that time had marched on and she didn’t have much in common with them anymore.  Their moms didn’t work and none of them, adults included, could understand how hard it was for the girl’s mom to work two jobs and help care for an elderly parent all while raising two kids.  After a fashion, the girl felt like a poor relation and stopped going.

A bright spot in those summer visits, aside from horses and the lake, was visiting her beloved former neighbor.  He still treated her like she mattered and that she had valuable things to say.  He wanted to know what was in her future.  The alone girl told him she wanted to be a lawyer.  Did she really?  Probably not.  Just like she enjoyed being a tennis instructor but would have preferred being a life guard.  However, she would never become something her brother had been.  Telling people she wanted to be a lawyer seemed the correct thing to do.  Fact is, she didn’t know what she wanted to do.  You never say that to adults.  The girl knew that to be true.  Always present yourself to be ambitious.

As August dragged on, the girl looked forward to heading back to school.  She liked school even though her shyness kept her from joining activities other than sports.  Her core group of friends were there.  Plus she looked forward to learning things.  But this is the perspective of a fifteen year old.  Things were pretty simple on the surface but the alone girl was well acquainted with complications.  Maybe that is why school appealed to her so much.  There was a set rhythm and routine.  The girl liked a pattern.

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For the umpteenth time…

I am working at improving my eating habits.  They stink and I’m the first to admit it.  I’ve never enjoyed cooking for myself yet I’m a very capable cook.  It’s frustrating.  So while I’m not aiming to cook every night, I will try to prepare a meal a few times a week.  Tonight’s effort reflected the hot weather.  I determined to make something refreshing, healthy and edible.  I succeeded.  It looked a little funky but it was filling and tasty.  I’m not immune to trying new things.  I love carbs like rice and potatoes.  I wanted a salad-type meal but also wanted a small amount of carbs.  I ended up with some brown and red quinoa and dumped it on to the bed of lettuce.  Joining it was some sliced cucumber, sliced chicken breast, and some fat-free cottage cheese.  Normally I eschew the fat-free dairy products but the cottage cheese is good and doesn’t upset my stomach.

I found an unopened jar of salsa in the fridge, checked the expiration date, and used it as dressing for my salad.  This is a huge departure for me.  But it worked.  A little later I’m looking forward to some pieces of watermelon.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve tried to improve my eating habits.  I’m an over eater, sometimes a binge eater.  To me, it’s a weakness and a character flaw.  No matter how much I read about the psychology of overeating, I can’t help but blame myself.  But I keep trying to make changes.  And if this doesn’t work, I will try something else.

Four days in, my insulin dosage a far less than usual.  I’m not feeling the increased energy yet but it’s day 4 and my system is still adjusting.  However I’m wearing the old Fitbit again and exceeding my step goal each day so that’s a positive.  As a once very active person, I’ve become very sedentary.  The more I resist activity, the harder it becomes.  No duh.  I’m trying not to expect perfection because the disappointment sabotages me.  I must remember that even if I make one small change per day, I’m on my way to better habits.

Thanks for letting me vent.

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Red sky at the cabin in my head…

The town in which I live is characterized by having many trees, both hardwood and pine.  As a result my previous and current residences lack an expansive view of the sky.  It seems that wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always wanted just one more thing the property didn’t offer.  Therefore I’ve invented the cabin in my head.  It’s where I dream of living.

Tonight at the cabin in my head, there is a gathering of old friends.  At the cabin, adjacent to the kitchen garden, a vast patio sprawls from beyond the back door.  It is comprised of blue-stone of various shapes and sizes anchored in cement.  There are many stones in hues of blues and maroons and it’s one of my favorite places.  One side is shaded by large branches of maples.  It is home to a funky gazebo made from rough-cut logs.  The “roof” of the structure is covered in vines, keeping direct light from the inside.  It is there where I write if the weather isn’t inclement.

In addition to the gazebo, there is a large and long trestle type table.  It is made from reclaimed barn siding, lovingly sanded and resurfaced.  It hosts communal meals and serves as a work table in all seasons:  canning, wreath-making, flower-drying, etc.  Tonight it played host to a tight-knit group of longtime friends.  After a morning spent in the gardens, we friends hung out at the small pool on my property where I swim laps and absorb some sun.

The evening was for sharing food and each of us pitched in with our favorite offerings.  As a joke to all things Martha Stewart, I served homemade graham crackers and marshmallows (Martha’s recipes) along with Hershey bars for everyone to make s’mores.  I’m not a huge fan but I do love to roast marshmallows.  We sat around the fire pit made from rocks and stones collected from local creeks.

Sated by our gustatory indulgences, quiet prevailed as each of us retreated into our own thoughts.  Looking off to the west, across a field of wildflowers, I spied one of nature’s finest shows…a beautiful pink night sky.  Catching my gaze, one of my friends recited the old adage:  “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”  After some ooh’s and aah’s a toast was offered to the beauty of Nature and to the beauty of friendship.

 

red sky

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