Thanks for stopping on your way through…

Smiles, expressions, funny quips…all things delivered in a heartbeat or less. Yet, they may be remembered for eternity. Within the last several years, two women who reside in my memory departed this life through their own decisions.

I became acquainted with one of them in high school. She was funny, quirky, smart, and accomplished. She sang beautifully and participated on the tennis team. Her opponents were often flummoxed by her innate ability to switch hands while playing. It was unnerving to witness but it worked very well for her game. I only knew her in high school though our paths crossed in adulthood due to both of us living in our hometown. Little more than pleasantries passed between us.

We had taken different paths and didn’t seem to have much in common any longer. And we were both wrapped up in our own busy lives. Could I have been more willing to connect? Probably. I was content remembering the fun we’d had. Crazy sleepovers involving M&M’s fights, riding around in her mother’s green Duster, and flashing “the Fang.”

My other friend was a friend from adulthood though we attended the same high school two years apart. We didn’t run in the same social circles as teens but becoming an adult erases much of that. Thank goodness. We had loads of fun, loads of laughs, loads of memories. Just as with my high school friend, many of my memories include cookies, beer, and laughter. And smiles, so many smiles.

Each relationship harbors its own bunch of memorable quotes and vocabulary. Whenever something comes to mind I never cease to smile or laugh. I’m so thankful to have that part of them with me always.

Both of these women dealt with depression and mental health challenges. Both were caretakers for their mothers. Both were dearly loved by friends and family.

As someone who has dealt with depression daily for forty years, I know how they felt some of the time. I’ve also known that dark place where you don’t feel you can go on. I will never act on that thought yet I know how easy it could be. And I felt anger toward both of these gals that they took that step and left us behind. My calmer mind understands and is not angry except for the fact that they weren’t able to stay with us. I believe they are at peace, laughing among the angels, no longer depressed or anxious.

Betsy and Tracy, you enriched my life immeasurably in such different ways. It was an honor to be counted as a friend to each of you. So glad you stopped by to be part of my life.

Fly with the angels, my friends.

For those of us left behind. We need to grieve. There will be a time when I will smile always when I think of these two. Some words I find comforting come from The Band Perry’s If I Die Young:

“The ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
Save ’em for a time when you’re really gonna need ’em…”

Posted in challenges, depression, friendship, Grief, loss | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Alone Girl travels

Most anything was worth it, the Alone Girl thought as she gazed out at the meadow. The grass had a hay-like smell and the world was clean and heavy with dew. In the near distance, the apparition of a lake of clouds. It was late summer in Vermont, the Jeffersonville area to be exact. The girl and her mother were visiting friends in Burlington who also had a lovely summer cabin in the nearby mountains.

An awkward time of life, the girl was about to enter the ninth grade. In an attempt to forge her own path, the girl was working on her look. Photos show a smoldering glance, almost obscured by long dark blond hair. The girl slouched in photos, not yet accustomed to the power of her figure, embarrassed by and self conscious of it. She would learn, in time, but it would be too late.

The benefits of visiting in Vermont were counterbalanced by the fact they would have to return, eventually, to New York. Time spent in an idyllic setting would evaporate just like the lake of clouds in early morning. It would seem like a dream, always like a dream. But it was real, truly.

The girl would spend an abundance of time with another girl who was socially awkward. The girl would classify her old acquaintance as “different.” And she was. But the girl was always kind to others, especially those who were different. Besides, it was companionship in a place where the activities were limitless.

On this day, the girls and their mothers were not slated to go to the old swimming hole. The mothers were headed to a nearby town for lunch and window shopping. The girls were on their own for the day. After an early lunch the girls headed down the small road for a visit to the cow pond at the nearby farm. They knew not to swim in it. It was loaded with leeches. But there was always a chance for a glimpse at the horses, the huge Belgian draft horses.

By noon, the sun was hidden behind thick clouds and the air was thick with moisture. The allure of the pond had passed and the girls were headed back to the cabin to read, one of their favorite pastimes. A jingling noise and the beat of heavy hoofs pounding on the dirt road captured their attention. They were horse crazy, after all. Two draft horses, in full harness, were creating powder puffs of dust as they made their way toward the girls. Two strapping young men were astride the horses. They were the boys from the farm and brothers. Hard to know their ages but they had to be in their late teens, bodies well muscled from their farm labor.

The girl’s friend knew them slightly and hailed them. They were in the process of dragging fallen logs from the woods back to the farm. Did we want to go with them? Without a backward thought, each of us swung up behind a brother. The Alone Girl was not used to riding a draft horse, her supple legs stretched to their limit. Her companion, Ben, encouraged her to hold on to him to keep steady. The fiercely independent girl resisted, she didn’t need a boy to tell her what to do. As they began their climb into the woods, she found herself losing her balance and grabbed the boy around the waist.

Up until this time, boys were fun to have around because the girl was proficient in athletics. She could throw and catch just as well as most boys and also excelled at kickball. This was different, though. Pressed against the back of a sweaty, muscular young man wasn’t such a bad thing, the girl decided. There was an underlying odor of the sweat of hard labor, but there was also a fresh smell of hay and sunshine. And the muscles she felt through the boy’s tee shirt were much more developed than the boys at home.

Disappointed when Ben swung down to hook up the lumber to be dragged back, the girl exchanged glances with her friend. It was hard to suppress grins. The horses were turned and they headed toward the farm where they knew comfort awaited them. Resolved to enjoy the ride back, the girl settled against Ben’s back and reveled in the experience. When they reached the smaller dirt road where the girls would get off, the boys helped them down. In a halting fashion, the other boy announced there was a square dance that Saturday and the girls were welcome. The Alone Girl explained she would be back in New York by then and her friend would be back in Burlington. Maybe another time, the boys said as they began leading the horses to the farm.

The Alone Girl knew there would never be another time. Instead she vowed to cherish that experience and store it in her memory for the long haul. The girls never divulged the experience to the adults. They knew they would have been reprimanded for running off with strange boys. Indeed, it’s a wonder the experience remained innocent. But innocent it was, and sweet. Whenever the air is thick with humidity and the smell of turned earth is prominent, the girl’s mind travels back to that sultry summer afternoon when her face rested against the boy’s back amidst the smell of his honest labor. And she knew boys would occupy a different place in her mind from then on.

Posted in fun, inspiration, nature, nostalgia, Reflections, settings, summer, transitions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isn’t the past important?

I certainly think so. I’ve always stated that if I hadn’t majored in English, I would have majored in American History. To that end, I love reading and learning about our country’s history. looking at historical and social trends over the centuries is very interesting. Customs, traditions, and how they’ve come to be is well worth knowing. This allows us to understand how we’ve become who we are.

Up until the past twenty years or so there had been a longstanding tradition for brides to receive china, silver, and perhaps crystal. Brides would register at shops to receive the items they needed and desired. I suppose since our society has morphed into one where many young people cohabit before marriage, the need for household items isn’t so necessary.

There is no longer a desire for silver and china as possessions and I feel sad about that. Not only are the items beautiful, but much of it has been handed down from generation to generation. Because I love history and language, I love the stories that accompany many of these items. Many families worked so hard to complete a set of china and acquired it with great pride.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to receive my grandmother’s china. She married in 1926. I also have some pieces of her mother’s (my great-grandmother). My grandmother was born in 1888 and her mother in 1865. I treasure these pieces.

When I was deemed trustworthy to care for the china, I was probably 45, I was thrilled to have it and afraid to use it. However, when I hosted the next holiday dinner for my small family both my uncle and my mother grew teary-eyed when talking about all of the family dinners they remembered. That’s how much my grandmother’s things meant to them. They weren’t just looking at dishes and silverware, they were spending time with the memory of their mother. I think this is sweet. And it never failed, each time I used it for a holiday dinner they teared up all over again and told some great stories. I was happy to provide this experience for them.

My grandmother originally had 12 place settings of both her china and silver. Many of the dinner plates were gone and over the years I’ve been able to replace them. Recently I bought 4 coffee cups and saucers. There had been no cups. Though the cups seem ludicrously small, I love them anyway. Last year I had decided to start having small dinner parties in order to use the china. Then the pandemic began. I’m still planning my idea for the future.

I’m dedicated to preserving these items and will try to leave some stories in my will to go with them. I hope I’m able to find someone who will treasure them even half as much as I do. At some point I will probably absorb my mother’s china and silver. Much of her crystal doesn’t survive. While her china pattern is very pretty, I vastly prefer my grandmother’s. But I prefer my mom’s silver pattern to that of my grandmother’s. Still, I’d be loathe to get rid of it. All of the silver is kept under lock and key and is not located in our houses, just in case someone gets ideas.

Here is a fun story from elsewhere within the family. When I was 15, my uncle took me, my mom, and grandmother to the Cape for a week. On the way back we stopped to stay overnight with my Aunt Marge. She was my grandmother’s only sister. As staid and formal as my grandmother was, Aunt Marge was just the opposite. She was full of fun, a little bawdy, and an excellent cook. She could also crochet an afghan faster than you could think about it. This was the mid 1970s. My grandmother was 85, so Marge was 79.

Right before we were to leave, Marge took my mother aside. She was holding a large and beautiful dark-blue Wedgewood pitcher. It seems as though when our people came over to Connecticut in the mid 1800s from Ireland, some of them worked as domestics in large mansions. A favorite practice was for the household help to play poker when the family was not at home. And, you guessed it, many of the winnings were filched from the home. With that, Marge handed over the pitcher to my mother. She said for her to take good care of it as it was earned the hard way. None of us had ever heard that story, including my grandmother. But she had moved away when she was married and may not have been privy to all of the family secrets. I have no reason not to believe my Aunt Marge and I’ve since heard some similar stories from other families.

It makes me sad that young people don’t seem to care for the past and the items related to such. I just hope it’s something they don’t come to regret. As for me, I love having those items around. It’s like a part of my family is still with me.

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When is enough, enough?

It is said one must confront one’s fears in order to conquer them. I guess I’ve always assumed the same is true for people and events that have hurt me in life. I’m finding that immersion is not always the best therapy for the stain of the past.

For almost a year we have staggered our way through a pandemic. It’s given many of us time to reflect. It’s given many of us the opportunity to reach out and demonstrate our care of others. And it’s given many of us the chance to move on from the past. Sometimes it’s a combination of all three.

For quite a few months, I’ve been participating in a Zoom call with people from my high school class. I’m told it began as a way for a bunch of guys (many of them frat brothers from back in the day) to check in with one another. This is a nice outreach. Guys are far more successful at uncomplicated friendships than women. Zoom is a safe place and it’s nice to see familiar faces from the past.

We all know high school is not an easy time for many teenagers. Teens are not always the nicest to one another and I grew up in a very nice suburb and went to a highly-regarded high school where most of us were expected to go to college, or at least a two-year school, after high school. Not only was our high school academically challenging, there were excellent sports teams, music, and art programs.

The time period in which I grew up (early 70’s) was not conducive to girls being recognized for much of anything beyond good looks. And heaven help you if you came from a home life that featured a single parent, unless the one parent was widowed. I heard lies for years about my mom being a single parent: she was rumored to have loud parties, entertain many boyfriends, and feed us a steady diet of hot dogs. The truth is: my brother was very musically inclined and played his stereo loud when my mother wasn’t home, my mother’s “boyfriend” was her brother who often stopped by to help us out or share a meal, and we would have loved to have been served hot dogs. My mother was an excellent cook and made us very balanced and wholesome meals. And yes, she went to night school two nights a week (the neighborhood women said she was going to bars) in order to obtain her Master’s degree to keep a roof over our heads. But my brother was a good cook and we sat down at the dinner table on the nights she was at school.

So much more could be told. Why wasn’t my father around? He had a drinking problem and caused verbal and physical abuse. That situation isn’t conducive to providing one with a great deal of confidence.

I liked school. It was a safe place for me. I didn’t have to anticipate putting myself in between my father and another family member in order to protect them. There was no hollering like my father did. It was calm and predictable. And I was a naturally curious kid who liked learning. My main issue was paying attention. My mind wandered more than Johnny Appleseed travelled throughout the United States. It was hard to concentrate and focus. I learned through attrition. I listened, even when my mind was elsewhere. And I read voraciously. For some reason my mind doesn’t wander when I’m reading. But my lack of focus made studying a huge chore. I was a good student but I didn’t test well. So be it. I ended up with a B.A., M.A., 30+ hours beyond my Master’s, and one year of MBA school.

My salvation in school, other than reading, was sports. I was confident in those abilities. I knew I would not fail. I had no musical talent, no artistic talent, no confidence in my writing skills. I had matured early, was not petite and felt so out of place. I did not know how to play the boy/girl game. And I was stupid enough to think that if I was at a party and a boy showed some interest, it was okay to go make out in the car. My Catholic guilt did not permit me to go further than that. But I was astonished when I saw the boy in school the next Monday and he paid not one bit of attention to me. He was a cocky kid, full of his athletic prowess and intellect in those days. It’s interesting to see, via the Zoom calls, his personality hasn’t changed much. I find it amusing. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember.

I was never brave enough to try stuff that I wanted to do. I wanted to take photography class but didn’t have a camera and couldn’t afford to buy one. Never would I have tried out for the Senior Play because I thought of myself as a big oaf who had no talent in anything except in making people laugh. I couldn’t sing but I could have danced or hammered nails into scenery. I was too afraid to try. I could hit balls, dribble balls, serve balls, catch balls, and throw balls. That’s what I did. Though I never played softball which was probably my best sport. Softball was conducted at the same time as tennis. I was expected to play tennis. I played tennis. I wanted to play softball.

It’s time. I’ve had enough. I will never be what I once was. But I am who I am now. I’m pretty satisfied with that. I’ve discovered writing as an adult and I love to write. I’m in the process of finishing a non-fiction project and then will turn my sights to finishing a mystery novel I began writing long ago. There’s still stuff I want to do. There is always hope for the future.

As a student and lover of language and literature, and occasional poet, I will leave you with some words from Bob Dylan. These describe my future:

“I see my light come shinin’
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

I Shall Be Released by Bob Dylan

Posted in ADD, challenges, gratitude, inspiration, life lessons, nostalgia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Driving through my mind…

Though I can see by the numbers that the years have passed, it just doesn’t feel that way within. Wasn’t it just last month that I was walking to elementary school? I could swear it was last week when I was in college. Then comes the flood of memories, marching through like some bizarre parade. The parade changes and takes different forms which is nice. One wouldn’t want the same damn parade all the time.

Cars dominate the latest parade. I like cars but I’m far from being a gear-head. Math and science weren’t my favorite subjects, even though my tenth grade vocational aptitude test pronounced I should be an engineer. Driving a train maybe, but not building things. I was good at driving and I loved any chance I could get to drive. Although I’ve often felt I’ve missed out on lots of scenery because I’m often the driver, I am not a good passenger thanks to a rather traumatic car accident I was part of in the third grade. I digress. There were few people I felt comfortable riding with and would have ridden through the gates of hell with them.

As a kid, my family had a station wagon. I’m so glad there weren’t mini vans in those days. There was nothing like riding in the station wagon and looking out of the back window. It incited a great deal of waving at other motorists. If we were traveling between Albany and Burlington, then the “way back” of the car became a resting place. It was easy for us kids to crawl over stuff and spread out to snooze. As we grew older boys were often drawn to hooking bumpers after a snowfall. This involved them hunching down and grabbing the back bumper of a car while the car was at an intersection. A great ride would ensue once the car accelerated. Keep in mind the kid was breathing exhaust fumes and could have met a bad end at any moment. But that’s kids for you.

High school involved all sorts of mischief with cars. Since cars were still rear-wheel drive there was a lot of doing doughnuts in empty parking lots or on someone’s lawn, perhaps. Gas was also less than 40 cents a gallon so you could ride around all night for 50 cents. Cars were also ginormous in those days so you could fit at least 6 kids in the average Plymouth Fury.

My first car came to me during college and it was a battered little thing. Thinking of how I drove it hither and yon causes me to shudder now because it was very flimsy and not in the greatest shape. Of course I went through a phase of having a “bad boy” boyfriend. He had the requisite souped-up muscle car and we did achieve some crazy speeds. Stupid. But I lived to tell the tale.

“So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I-I, had a feeling that I belonged…” Tracy Chapman

Now that I’m older and more mature (so they say), a car is an end to a means for me. It needs to be dependable and I need to feel safe in it. I’ve had a long-standing series of Subaru vehicles. Every handful of years, a different color of car resides in the garage. It handles well, I can cram stuff in it if need be, and it’s easy on the knees when I get in and out.

This watered-down version of the car parade is missing several entries. Missing are some vehicles that have special meaning for me. But, tonight, I’m not willing to venture down a few of those roads. And there are my idea of dream cars, of which I will attain at least one before I become too decrepit to drive.

I’ve always wanted to involve myself in some sort of mission that involves restoring a car or making furniture from wood or some such thing where I could hang out in an old garage or indoor work space with some other people and do something constructive. Knitting and crocheting seem to pale in comparison. But I do them even though my patience wears thin. Honestly, I’ve also wanted to try my hand at pottery but I remain the kid whose clay art project always blew up in the kiln, so…Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and watch the car parade.


The joy of resilience…

It occurred to me, as early as the Columbine shooting, that the real issue facing our country was not gun control but the lack of mental health treatment. Granted it doesn’t seem necessary for the general public to need fully automatic lethal weapons like AK-47’s, but I’m not here to talk about gun control. Instead I’d like to talk about the reality of stigmas and the damage they cause.

By definition, public stigma is a type of discrimination against a person because of a perceived characteristic. For example, centuries ago people who acquired leprosy were stigmatized by the general public because lepers were considered tainted and unclean. In today’s society many types of stigmas (figurative plural) exist. Wherever discrimination exists, or people are “frowned” upon, there lies stigma.

As an overweight person, I may be perceived as lazy and/or stupid. I’ve been told, “Gee, it’s too bad you cant get a handle on that weight problem.” How does one respond? I was brought up to be kind to everyone I encounter. That does not mean I won’t advocate for myself nor am I a doormat. Typically I smile and say, “Oh I know, I’m such a dolt.” Those savvy enough know I’m not pleased with the comment and those who aren’t savvy enough, well, they provide amusement.

Part of the stigma for being overweight is the assumption that I have complete control over it; therefore, there is no excuse for me to be overweight. Perhaps in their simple minds that’s the case. If you’ve ever known anyone who has struggled with weight issues, whether they binge eat, starve themselves, or binge and purge, it’s not a simple choice by said individual. It’s a complex issue and many never gain control over it just as some alcoholics or drug abusers never gain control over their addictions. These are illnesses, folks. They are not whims regarding failures of self-discipline.

I don’t speak much of mental illness because so many are not capable of understanding. Too many people still have the “pull yourself up by the boot straps” mentality. Or the ‘OMG, she’s mental!” belief. Might as well shoot yourself in the foot than to tell someone you have mental health challenges. It’s time for that to change.

If you look back over the public shooting in the past few decades, it’s easy to see that most of the perpetrators suffered from some sort of mental health issue. Of course, now the word “issue” even has a negative connotation as in, “OMG do you really think I have issues?” It’s a fate worse than death! In this case ‘issue’ is used to mean topic for debate and/or discussion. If you arrived at a different inference, shame on you.

If you have a sore knee, it is safe to say you have an orthopedic issue. If you fall and smack your head on the pavement, you may have a concussion issue in addition to an orthopedic issue. Follow my thinking? If you have chronic ear pain, you may have ear drainage issues. What?

Here’s the deal: I was diagnosed with severe depression and chronic anxiety disorder in 1982. I mean, if you’re going to have an issue you might as well do it up right. I was subject to panic attacks. People might assume I have this problem because I’m weak. On the contrary, I’m able to deal with this condition because I’m incredibly strong. I’m resilient. The more I’m kicked and pushed down, the faster I get up and thrive. I learned many coping mechanisms over the years. I’d say 98% of the time, no one would know I’m dealing with this illness. And the 2% is only seen by those closest to me. Never, ever, does it manifest in public.

Would people look at me and think I’m a mental case? No. Do I take medication to control my blood chemistry levels? Yes, I do. Have I ever abused my prescribed medication? No, I never have. Do I undergo counseling and/or therapy on a regular basis? Yes I do. Have I learned a great deal about psychological stuff in the past forty years of living with an illness? Yes, I have. Credit a quarter of a century as a high school teacher as well. I learned a great deal by observing and listening to my students during that time.

Does that make me an arm-chair psychologist? Heck, no. If I casually mention something to an acquaintance or friend about them perhaps exploring some of their issues, it comes from an abundance of concern. If over a period of time, an individual successively mentions a certain set of circumstances that occurred many, many years ago it raises a red flag in my mind. And when pressed for details, said individual won’t discuss despite mentioning the situation several times, that indicates unresolved issues in that person’s thinking (to me, that is my interpretation). Use common sense, if someone mentions a negative memory several times it assumes it has made an impact, either positive or negative. Again, this is my interpretation but based on my personal experience, I am often correct. Don’t jump to the conclusion that I need to be correct. I often hope I’m not.

It’s because I care that I might casually mention to a person that there might be some unresolved issues she/he might wish to explore. Most of the time it leads to a brief discussion and the individual is able re-frame or understand thoughts behind their thinking (or constant mention). It’s rare for someone to react vociferously and angrily, but it does happen. A person who rejects such thinking, calls me a name and is so impacted by being associated with having issues is a concern. No one’s life is perfect. Perfection is an ideal, it doesn’t truly exist.

At that point I have to sigh and remove myself from that situation. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Queen Gertrude says, of an insincere explanation by another character, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” When I receive a virulent reaction like the one directly above, that line always runs through my head. I wasn’t applying a stigma, I was expressing a concern. If you choose not to see it, that’s on you. And my resilience has already healed your misinterpretation and disrespect.

N.B. This is not my graph. It was borrowed from the Internet.

Posted in life lessons, mental health, reality, Reflections, stigma, strong women, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goosebumps? Is it Romance? Or romance?

You may have noticed the word ‘romance’ twice in today’s title. One version is capitalized and the other isn’t. That was done purposely and either is correct. The meanings differ a bit and such is the distinction.

Most of us are aware of the everyday, hum-drum term of romance. It’s all those jewelry commercials, sexy clothing, and horrible reality-tv shows. It’s more materialistic than emotional. But if a diamond ring gives you goosebumps, so be it. I’m not here to talk about that type of romance today.

I’m a Romantic. One of the definitions of romance from the Cambridge English dictionary states: “the feeling of excitement or mystery that you have from a particular experience or event.” While this fits into the category of what we think of as romance, I’m going to ask you to ascend to a higher plane of sensory perception.

When I used to rent a camp for the summer, I often sat on the dock and gazed at the wooded area across the lake from me. It’s what inspired The Quarry’s Child (as yet unfinished). All sorts of ideas sprang from my imagination, fueled by my perception of the moodiness of those woods. Robert Frost wrote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” He could have said they were dreary. He didn’t. He said they’re lovely. Think about that juxtaposition of images. Powerful AND exciting.

The concept of Romance often relates to intense emotions, perhaps from the beauty of literature, nature, or the concept of individualism. The British captured it during the latter part of the 19th century (more on them in a post to come). Incredible poetry espousing the qualities of Romance was written during that time. Words are powerful. Words are beautiful. Words are Romantic.

Let’s look at an American writer most often known for his terrifying short stories and his own tragic life. Many forget Edgar Allen Poe was a poet. Not only was he a poet, he was an excellent poet. His short life was a frantic search for Romance. He knew his share of tragedy. The beauty of his prose and poetry incite intense emotion in me. If you’ve never read his poem “Annabel Lee,” you are missing out on an intense word imagery experience that evokes a response like no other.

“Annabel Lee” was Poe’s last poem and was published posthumously about a month after he was discovered wandering in a delirium through the streets of Baltimore. He died shortly after. Its common theme of a death of a beautiful woman might suggest that it is a dreary, depressing tale. In some ways it is, but its beautiful language and imagery saves it, hat and its Romantic quality of being like a fairy tale.

Basically the poem spins a story of two children who fall in love, a love that transcends any other type of love. As they grow older, the angels are jealous of their love and cause Annabel Lee’s death. This is a very simplistic synopsis. Let’s look at some of Poe’s language:

“The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.”

The imagery of the wind springing up and giving Annabel a chill is easy for any reader to understand. That it kills her adds to the tragedy and loss. We feel the loss of our narrator and can identify what loss can do to a person. The last stanza tells us.

“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”

His devotion to Annabel is evident. He can’t see the moon or stars without thinking of her. She has become an ideal of beauty in his mind. The notion of Romance harkens to idealistic images. Characters are almost perfection personified. When read in its entirety, this poems gives me goosebumps, nudges my stomach into a bit of a thrill, and causes me to feel the melancholy. That’s Romance. Is Romance part of your life? Or is it mere romance? I’m so blessed to know Romance.


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Thoughts from Christmases Past

Christmas is a mostly happy series of memories for me. One thing I always associate with my memories of the season is Christmas cookies and Christmas offerings in general. From my early years in Burlington, VT, I recall my mother setting out a large bowl of mixed nuts in their shells. That meant one thing to me…the nutcracker! I was obsessed with that nutcracker and opening nuts. This worked out fine since my older brother was also happy to eat the nuts.

At our house we put out fresh slices of my mother’s cranberry bread for Santa along with a glass of milk. I can still smell and taste that cranberry bread. Large chunks of walnuts, fresh orange zest, and tart cranberries that made my mouth pucker. Just delicious. We also had a Christmas Eve dinner tradition of welsh rarebit. My father always referred to it as welsh rabbit so I was quite skeptical the first time it was served. My grandfather and father worked for a company headquartered in Wisconsin and they received cases of quart-sized containers of that lovely orange pub cheese to give to customers. But we always managed to have a few in the fridge. That was the basis of our welsh rarebit.

After moving to upstate NY it seemed my grandparents arrived each Christmas Eve with a huge (think the wardrobe-sized moving box) box of gifts. They also sent a food box from a place called the Epicure Club (think upscale Hickory Farms). My favorite in the box was the petit fours. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want tiny layers of cake and frosting? The answer is my brother who was probably in his glory waving around a Brazil nut calling it by its politically incorrect name, as long as my parents weren’t in the room.

Bu high school I was baking my own confections and I made quite a variety: spritz cookies, cut out sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms, fudge, russian teacakes, and truffles. I continued to do this throughout college and beyond. During these years I had a routine and an outfit. I’d cue up a few special albums on the turntable, put my Yankees hat on backwards, don an apron or more likely stuff a dishtowel in my waistband, and with my dachshund at my feet, I created. By the end, after I’d flipped the albums with flour-dusted hands, our dog stood at my feet with a coating of flour from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail. Her job of saving the floor from any extra batter or dough was complete.

As the years sped by, I did less and less baking at Christmas. But I revisited it in the mid 90s when I hosted my first Christmas Open House at my tony carriage house apartment. I called it a cookie party and it was basically coffee and cookies for my fellow English teachers. I was terrified that 12-13 wouldn’t fit into my small apartment. We did but it was close.

Over the next ten years the cookie party morphed into more of an extravaganza. I made a few varieties of cookies, fudge, and truffles. I added a veggie platter and crackers and cheese. By then 30-40 people traipsed in and out of my house. At my last house I’d gotten to buying a shrimp platter, veggie platter and fruit and cheese platter. And I just served traditional cut-out Christmas cookies and fudge. After ten years I packed it in. It was getting too expensive as much as I loved it.

Tonight I had to run out to do a late errand. As I drove home I admired all of the various Christmas decorations. Playing in the car was my nostalgic music which is different from my peers’ preferences. Out of nowhere, my eyes brimmed with tears. I let them fall, though it was a little difficult to see the road. From the recesses of my mind came a bittersweet memory. Since my time was tight prior to the cookie parties, a friend of mine would come and help me decorate the cut cookies. We did it on a Sunday afternoon the week of the party. I’d bake the cookies and mix up and tint the frosting. My friend arrived and we would spend that next few hours laughing and making up stupid jokes. The longer we worked, the sillier the cookies looked. Neither of us was blessed with artistic genes. But we loved decorating those darn cookies. We’d also pick an evening, pick up a couple of coffees at Dunkin Donuts and drive around town looking at the decorations. That’s what summoned this memory tonight.

I miss her. Almost six years ago, the stresses of life became too much for her and she chose to leave this world. I think of her often, of the times we spent laughing on the beach at Cape Cod or on the dock where I rented a camp during the summers. Even after being immersed in the Irish Catholic tradition of wakes and funerals from the time I was a tot, I couldn’t bring myself to attend her service. There was too much anger and grief that resided in me. But I visit her often in our local cemetery. It was a selfish thing for her to do, but knowing those desperate feelings all too well myself, I knew she felt it was her only solution. She’d had enough and went home to be with the loved ones who had gone before her. I miss her.

Raise a cookie to my friend, Tracy, this holiday season or raise one to someone missing from your life.

N.B. The verb tenses shift in this piece and I’m too tired to fix them.

PS – People seldom ate the cookies because they looked too nice. WTH?

PSS – an inside joke, each time we looked at a cookie with the word “ho” on it, we laughed. I still do.

Posted in cooking, creativity, friendship, holidays, loss, love | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

On the other side is both sides?

“We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried?

Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side”

“Break on Through” by The Doors and Jim Morrison

It’s often interesting to have the opportunity to experience a certain dynamic from two “opposing” sides. I was a kid who enjoyed school. In fact it was fairly easy for me. Thus, I was an indifferent student with few study skills. Much of the time I was daydreaming and looking out the window or doorway, watching the clock, watching my classmates, passing notes, doing homework, etc. Most of the time I did my homework but sometimes it was a hurried job during homeroom. I didn’t like waiting until homeroom because one of the girls gave us soap opera updates from the day before and I wanted to hear the update.

High school was definitely more demanding than elementary or middle schools. In middle school we had to choose a second language to study. I chose French and didn’t like it very much though I had an aptitude for it. It was a breeze during three years of middle school and became slightly more difficult in high school. Ninth grade math wasn’t bad but then came geometry in tenth grade. Holy cow, I was out to lunch. Somehow I missed a key concept right from the start and wouldn’t you know the teachers were working to rule that year and weren’t allowed to help us during planning time or after school. I was far too shy to admit to a peer that I didn’t understand the math so I remained clueless much of the year and pulled in the worst grades of my life. I was passing but not accustomed to seeing the numbers that came back on my tests.

Living in New York State, we students were subject to Regent’s exams each year. It was my good fortune that a bunch of kids who lived downstate stole a few different exams so I didn’t have to take the geometry exam that year. Seriously, why couldn’t they also have stolen the French exam? Over the years teachers sometimes commented to me that it was too bad I didn’t apply myself more. So? I was content.

Now I was a well-behaved sort. That doesn’t mean I was immune to a good joke or prank. And I was always ready with a wise crack. But I was never sent to the principal’s office. I’m sure I broke some minor rules along the way. I never skipped a class or talked back to a teacher. I was far from perfect. But I actually thought about the stuff I was learning in between daydreaming about boys, sports, parties, not necessarily in that order. I did well enough to be inducted into the National Honor Society and to graduate in the top quarter of my class.

In college I continued my indifferent manner of study. As much as I liked high school I liked college even more. There was a vast array of courses to take and I soon settled in to more serious study of English and Spanish. What I would do upon graduation I had no clue. I didn’t want to teach. My mother was a career teacher and she worked awfully hard. I was not adverse to hard work since I often maintained two jobs in order to pay for my college education. I didn’t want to teach, nope.

Entered an MBA program right out of college. Enjoyed Business Law, Marketing, Labor Relations, and even Accounting. That mathematics thing caught up to me and I poorly navigated my way through Finance, Statistics, and Economics. Expensive mistake was the MBA program. And thus, I worked at a bank for almost seven years until fate intervened and I broke and tore all the ligaments in my right ankle. I was out of work for several weeks because I had a screw holding my tibia and fibula together at the ankle and couldn’t put weight on it. By the time the cast was off I was enrolled in night school at SUNY Albany to become…a teacher! It was the best decision I ever made.

This grad program I liked a great deal. The education courses were boring. The best way to learn to do something is to do it. Therefore, when it came time to quit the bank so I could student teach I was ecstatic. December 31, 1989, was the date of my emancipation.

Speed ahead two years and I was preparing to teach at the high school from which I graduated. At that time there were far more teachers than job openings. There were 160 applicants for two English teaching positions. I was thankful to get my chance. I knew it would be tough work, I knew much would be expected of me, I knew I was up to the task.

Since I had grown up in the community and attended the same school, I knew more about the kids and parents than the average new teacher. Be that as it may, I was not at all prepared for the treatment of teachers by some of the community—that includes students, parents, administrators.

I developed a reputation for being able to handle difficult kids…kids who acted out, had emotional problems, kids that other teachers didn’t want disrupting their classes. I’d honed those skills after years of teaching tennis to kids. It was pretty easy to me. Treat them the way you wish to be treated, have clear expectations and consequences, be fair. I had expectations for behavior and had few problems over the years. I handled many of the discipline problems myself so when I did contact a guidance counselor or an administrator, they took me seriously.

During the twenty five years that I taught I observed behaviors changing. Kids were more likely to be disrespectful. I was called more than my fair share of names, spat upon, tested in many ways. I seldom felt the need to call parents unless behavior was egregious. I called one student’s mother to ask for her assistance in helping me to understand why her son spoke rudely and disrespectfully to me. Her response, “Well, what do you want ME to do?” For a rare moment I was speechless. Then I said, “Thank you for taking the time to listen. Have a nice day.”

Parents spoke condescendingly to me during meetings about their child. Inevitably I would ask if they were teachers or studied education. Nope. If I corrected a student’s behavior I might hear, “My father/mother/uncle/grandparent is an attorney.” My reply, “he/she/they went to school for one more year than I did. What’s your point?” I put up with community outrage at how easy our jobs were. We walked in at 7:30 and left at 2:07. I was an English teacher. Lots of prep work, lots of papers to grade. I’m not complaining, just telling it as it was. One semester I taught three sections of writing classes. Out of a possible enrollment of 90 students, I had 87 in those three sections. Add to it another 50 or so between my other two classes. I graded papers every weekend, every morning before school, every afternoon after school. Add to it an average of college recommendations for at least twelve students. Students applied to multiple schools and some essays had to be specifically tailored to the school. My process of writing a recommendation took about 2 1/2 hours all told for one recommendation.

Do you know how many students I spoke with about trying harder? The same darn thing said to me? Dozens. Some understood. Others would wait until college until they understood, much like me.

You know what? I loved my job. I loved my kids. I loved sharing my passion for reading and writing. Even though seeing a situation from the other side of the desk was daunting, it was very rewarding. I’m very thankful for those teachers who helped shape me. They know. I made sure to reach out as an adult and tell them. It’s humbling.

I’d decided early on that I wouldn’t let the entitled ruin my gig. It was mine, all mine. I knew what I was doing. I loved it.

N.B. for the umpteenth time this piece morphed into something different than I intended to write. Any mistakes are mine.

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The beauty of perception…or do you see what I see?

How many of us could look at an identical image and, yet, each see something different? And that’s just the beauty of it. And that’s part of what makes life interesting. And that’s what is on my mind.

I’ve always loved the outdoors. As a small child in Burlington, VT, I spent the majority of my waking hours outdoors. We lived on a dead end street with woods running behind the houses and at the end of the block. Woods are a fertile playground.

Add to it Vermont’s natural beauty. Vermont is a magical place where one is meant to be out of doors to appreciate all it has to offer. I did as a child, and I did each summer that I visited until I was 16 and started working. But my love of the woods, the lake, the pool, skating, skiing, and horses would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea.

People who never learned to swim might be leery of any body of water. Those afraid of being stung by insects, especially if allergic, would want to stay indoors. As well as folks who don’t tolerate the sun well. So my idea of heaven is easily someone else’s idea of hell. Fair enough.

Take a look at the picture that is part of the post. What do YOU see? A fire. Yup. Some body of water. Uh huh. Trees. Okay. Stone firepit. True.

That’s what is on the surface. Is this a pleasant moment? A scary moment? Is it a time of memories? A time of solitude? A prelude to merriment? Remember that perception is what you bring of yourself to a situation. It’s constructed of your life experience, your expectations, what you think you’re seeing. But are you seeing everything? A rhetorical question, sorry. There is no answer. If a group of people looked at this same image, it would be interesting to ask what each sees. Think about it.

The same is true with people. We seem to see what we want to see or we see our perception of whispered gossip or we inject images that just aren’t there. Take me, for example. Into my college years I was trim and active. Fun-loving, smiling, and always cracking jokes. I played that role well. I didn’t feel that way at all on the inside. But due to the fact I was somewhat silly, I was never taken that seriously. Add to it that I was an uninspired student and it doesn’t give you a remarkable perception of me as a young person. Honestly, I have no idea how I was perceived except for some of the names I was called such as “burly” and “dyke.”

I wanted to belong as most teenagers do. But I also wanted to be myself. I was a reader, a thinker, an observer. I loved learning as much I loved playing tennis and volleyball. I was fine unless I had to speak in front of the class, or, God forbid, a boy. During my early college years, I lived at home and attended a local college because I was footing the bill for my education and also needed to work. I worked almost full-time at a nursery/garden center. When customers asked if it was my career I smiled and said I was in college. Then they’d invariably ask if I was studying to be a gym teacher. I’d politely tell them I was an English major. Some of them even quizzed me. More the fool were they. I always knew the answer. Pft.

So don’t assume you know everything about a person or place because you bring just your perception. We aren’t a large enough piece of this world to assume we have all of the answers. And if you want an honest glimpse into a person, look at his or her eyes when you are speaking. The eyes will tell you much of what you need to know. If you’re too uneasy to do that, then just listen. Don’t just hear, take an active role and listen. You will surprise yourself by what you learn.

N.B. The photo in this post is one I could construct half a dozen stories around. In reality, it represents bittersweet memories for me.

Catch you on the other side. Class dismissed.

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