Nov
09

A Change Of Scenery

by Christine

I am home. After a week in California I returned home to bare tree limbs, mounds of leaves covering the lawn and a renewed enthusiasm for life on the mountain. The time away was glorious. Marty and I hiked the cliffs of Big Sur and the street of San Francisco stopping to enjoy the unique beauty of each place. As we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, our conversation centered on technology, art and our good fortune at living in a country of such geographic diversity and abundance. We sampled local food and drink and reveled in spending time together. We had a lovely time in a lovely place. 

Our trip allowed me to get out of the house and get out of my head. The expedition forced me to think about more than the how-to of running my life and when I returned I was able to see my world in another light. Nelson Mandela said, "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." I have been changed. I hope for the better.

Traveling allows one to look at life from different vantage points. I will give you an example. As you know California is struggling with a life-altering drought. As we drove through the farm country, we saw interrogatory signs lining the highway. Is growing food a waste of water?, Congress Caused the Dust Bowl, No Water=No Jobs and Pray For Rain were expressing the fears of a community. These are real people worrying about real jobs and real environmental challenges. Nothing abstract, nothing hypothetical. Their struggle touched my heart and mind.  I am a conservationist at heart but I am doubling my efforts to be respectful of our water use. I am grateful for my home and gratitude requires that I care for it lovingly. 

Maybe a week away isn't in your immediate future but I encourage you to take some time to change your scenery. Whether you spend the weekend with a friend or travel half way around the world, take some time to get out of your house and out of your head. It will be worth it!

Hugs,
C


{The View From The Golden Gate Bridge On A Glorious Fall Day}

 

Oct
28

Community: Helping The Less Fortunate

by Christine

The subtle shades of summer green have given way to brilliant colors of scarlet red, burnt orange and sunglow yellow here in the Hudson Valley. As the sun rises each morning a golden glow bathes the mountains and the world feels warm and cozy. I've lived on the mountain for ten years and I know the warm fall colors and crisp temperatures of autumn will give way to the bitter cold and ice blue colors of winter. Now is the time for reflection on how our community cares for the less fortunate as we gather our family and friends together for a holiday season of hearty meals and gift exchanges. 

The stories we tell ourselves as a nation has bolstered the belief that each and everyone of us is the master of his or her destiny. The idea that fortune smiles upon us and that we are where we are in life is not so much a result of our hard work but because we were fortuitous is abhorrent to many. Our homes, cars, education and other material goods are the fruit of our labor and we become incensed if that belief is challenged. But what about the individual who worked hard and has not been so fortunate? The spectator who was maimed while standing at the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2013 or the elderly couple who worked all their lives but now find their savings is not enough to live on or the young father who is fighting desperately to beat cancer, are their struggles the result of their lack of dedication or hard work?  Does it matter? Do we only help those in our community who "deserve" help?

My question is how do we as a community care for those who have not been as fortunate? Or more specifically, how do you and I care for those in our community who are in need? There are government programs that act as a social safety net and many volunteers run programs that assist but how do we reach out person-to-person to aid the members of our community? Do we stock food banks, run coat drives or write a check to the Salvation Army? In creating community, it isn't only about being with people "just like us". Community is about connection, friendships and respect. How do we create healthy communities by including everyone?

Hugs,
C

Oct
23

You Like Me!

by Christine

The garden produced an embarrassment of riches this past summer. As an enthusiastic and eager novice gardener, I may have planted a little too much for household use by two adults. I planted three varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of carrots and beans, two varieties of cucumbers, two types of lettuce, bell peppers, sweet peas, broccoli, yellow squash, Bok Choy and Brussels sprouts. That long litany of food producing plants does not include the herbs and edible flowers that could be found in my garden. To say I got a little carried away is a suitable description under the circumstances.

And what were the circumstances? Do you remember the candy factory scene from I love Lucy?  No matter how fast I tried, I couldn't keep up with production. Cucumbers and carrots were stuffed in every open drawer or shelf in the refrigerator. Rows and rows of tomatoes lined the shelves of the herb window in the kitchen as I filled mason jars with homemade tomato sauce. If I were attempting to be accurate, maybe vegetable production was more like the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the movie Fantasia. At first I was self satisfied and pleased with the magic I had unleashed by my own hand but by the end of September I was promising never to tinker with forces I did not understand again.

Before dancing cucumbers and Bok Choy menaced the nighttime dreams of my budding horticulturist slumber, I would write at the table on my patio that overlooked the garden. Cool mornings on the mountain allowed me to get in a couple hours of work before the glare from the summer sun made working on a laptop futile. These were joyful moments as I faded into the landscape and the natural world carried on as if I were visible. Indeed, maybe I was invisible because one morning I looked up to see Gary the Gardener, not ten feet away, eating the leaves off the broccoli plants. I had recently learned that all parts of the broccoli plant were edible so I was not surprised to see Gary chowing down. I quickly calculated the garden was going to produce more broccoli crown heads, leaves and stalks than we could use, so why not share?

Later that day I was recounting Gary's visit to the garden and his love of broccoli, when Marty demand to know if I had told Gary that was unacceptable. Hmmm, did Marty really think I was going to use the word unacceptable when communicating with Gary? Did he think I talked to wildlife like Snow White or Cinderella, singing as blue birds sat on my finger? In the interest of relationship harmony, these questions remained unspoken. What I did say was we had plenty to share and I felt it would do no harm to let him have a couple of leaves from the broccoli plants. 

I will, of course, tell you the real reason I did not shoo Gary away. Gary believes I planted a lush and abundant garden as a gift for him. If I could understand the Sciuridae language, I am sure he was saying, "You like me, you really, really like me."  I did not have it in me to break his heart. So what if we give up a couple broccoli leaves and the best of the heirloom tomatoes on the vine. Isn't that worth allowing a fellow gardener the joy of feeling loved? I did not share this thought with Marty because he would accuse me of being anthropomorphic in my relationship with Gary. I did not pursue the discussion further because I know I would not take his observation of my behavior seriously. After all he is a man who would use the word unacceptable when talking to a squirrel. 

Hugs,
C

Oct
22

The Importance of Grandparents

by Christine

Yesterday, Joe announced a Biden run for President of the United States was a no go. I was relieved to hear of his decision. It was the right choice for the Biden family and Joe understands that. Joe lost a child when his oldest son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer this past May and my heart breaks for him. The whole family is in the beginning stages of grief that will take months, maybe even years to work through. As a mother, I have not personally experienced that kind of loss and I can't begin to know his pain. As grandmother though I have watched as the problems of adults and this world have forced my grandchildren to navigate the harsh realities of loss; a loss that changes the trajectory of their young lives. 

In times of loss, grandchildren need their grandparents to do their jobs. And what is that job? To love them unconditionally; to be part of their lives. I am working to follow in the footsteps of my mother as I intentionally evolve as a grandmother. My mother loved her grandchildren and they loved her back. She was a very good grandmother. She was "there" when they needed her to be with a kind word or a loving hug; they felt valued. My hope is that I can be as good to my grandchildren as my mother was to hers. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to know that my grandchildren felt loved and cherished by me.  

Grandparents are in a unique position. We get a second chance to have children in our lives without having to do all the heavy lifting. We can love, nurture and find amusing behavior that a parent would be forced to correct. I remember when my number two granddaughter used her crayons to draw a LARGE mural on her freshly painted bedroom wall. Her mother and I had completely different responses.

When tragedy strikes a family, grandparents are needed even more. Grandchildren look around for solid ground and instinctively feel their parents "have their own problems" and try to protect them. A grandparent, with his or hers, years of life experience can offer some peace and solace. The Biden family has some tough times ahead of them and Joe knows it. Almost anyone can be President of the United States but only Joe can be grandfather to his son's children. He is the only one that can tell them stories about their father as a little boy or tell them about the good in their father. He will also be able to point out the good in his grandchildren and tell how much alike they are to their father.

As a grandparent, it is not about the heroic gesture. It is about showing up and unconditionally loving the dirty faces, sticky hands and the crayon murals on freshly painted walls. Parents have their job; it's hard, I know, I've done it. Grandparents have work to do too. Joe Biden has proved himself to be a positive role model for those of us working to be a loving grandparent. 

Hugs,
C

 

 

Oct
19

The Joy Of Change

by Christine

Two weeks ago I was in Jacksonville for my forty-fifth high school reunion. Yeah, can you believe it? Forty-five years. That number amazes me too. I had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends that I hadn't seen or talked to since our high school graduation. We discussed our careers, parents, children and grandchildren. While the conversations were brief due to the good turn out, I chatted with as many of our classmates as possible. 

I was surprised and pleased to learn the dominant emotion in the room was joy. The reunion was a joyful occasion but it was more than that. My classmates were sharing with me changes he or she had just made or were in the process of making.  Most were retiring from careers that had spanned thirty years and they were excited and energized by the next phase of their lives. One classmate had just returned from touring the Western part of the United States where she purchased several acres of land in Colorado. She was a life long resident of Florida but was now going to spend part of the year in Colorado. Another classmate was sharing his love for woodworking and how he was now going to be able to spend more time crafting furniture for his home, family, and friends. I believe this venture will eventually lead to second career for my friend. 

We hear so many negative stories about change and life after retirement that we become fearful and reticent about our future. The Fourth Quarter of life can be whatever you choose to make it. I have friends and colleagues that are holding on to jobs that they don't like, working with people they don't respect because the "job" is all they know. Retire is only a word that means to withdraw to or from a particular place. The word does not have to define who you are or your place in the world. The Dalai Lama said, "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." My question today is, where will you find joy?

Hugs,
C

Oct
09

Gary the Gardener: Personal Space

by Christine

My relationship with Gary the Gardener developed slowly after it became known to me that he was the one digging up and replanting my tulips. Gary would energetically run along the top of our six-foot wooden fence stopping occasionally to eavesdrop on Marty and me as we sat in “our chairs” by the lake. He was particularly interested in our Sunday morning gatherings that included hot drinks and cool conversation.  

Gary is not a stealth squirrel, Gary is noisy, brash and at time careless. I remember the day he was jumping through the limbs of the dogwood tree that canopies our patio and fell from the lower limb to the ground. I was alarmed not only because a grey squirrel fell from the heavens to my feet but he also fell equal distance between Dorian and me.

Dorian, named for the doomed character in the Oscar Wilde novel, Dorian Grey, was a lovely, sleek grey cat that was always willing to accompany me as I searched for a warm spot in the sun on chilly fall days. After finding the perfect spot, we would lounge together happy to be alive.

Dorian was startled too when Gary came from nowhere and landed at her feet. She did not move but give me a wry look that said, “Bless his heart, he doesn’t have the brains God gave a, well, a squirrel.  Dorian and her sister, Emily were both New Yorkers but once I moved in they began to use some of my Southern aphorisms.

Gary took only a moment to realize that neither Dorian nor I were going to come after him and that he needed to move immediately in the event one or both of us changed our mind. He did the Fred Flintstone scramble and ran away.

I thought about Dorian’s amused response to Gary’s fall and wondered if she didn’t chase after him because she was getting on in years. After all she was 18 years old.  But honestly I know that wasn’t the reason. Unlike her namesake, Dorian was gentle and laid back. Emily was the huntress in the family and she most definitely would have pinned Gary to the ground, if for no other reason than to teach him a lesson about the hierarchy of squirrels in relationship to cats. But that is a story for another day.

I do believe that day Gary understood that I meant him no harm. We could co-exist and if occasionally we ended up in one another’s space, we would work it out. Little did I know that his personal space was a lot larger than mine and that there would come a day when I would be required to have an open and honest conversation with him about my personal space.

Hugs,
C

 

 

Oct
07

Why Build Community?

by Christine

I've been thinking and writing about community over the last couple of months. For many of us, our first experience with community is at school. We venture beyond the safety of our family into the greater fellowship of school administrators, teachers, friends and schoolmates. Some of these relationships last a lifetime and some fade away upon graduation. But within the educational community we find friends whose interests more closely align with our own. My friends and I were Campfire Girls, members of the school choir, attended the same church, worked on the school yearbook together and enjoyed the same music and movies.  

As an adult I found community at my job but recently I read an article that reported Americans no longer look to work as a place to form meaningful relationships. I can understand that shift given the fact that long-term employment is no longer a given in the United States. Polite but professional seems to be the code for office relationship these days. Another place I found community as an adult was in my children's school. I knew all my children's friends and in many of their parent's too. I was a member of the PTA, a Girl Scout Leader, a Cub Scout Den mother and a youth group leaders. In all these cases community was created for me when my children or I joined an established institution. 

Our transient society or aging may result in the shrinking of our circle of friends and lessen community at the very moment it is most important to us. Human beings are social creatures that need contact with other humans to thrive. I also believe we harden our hearts to the concerns of others if we become insular. Additionally without community we begin to feel helpless when presented with a problem. I will give you an example of the strength of community from my own life.

I live on a lake in the Hudson Valley and for the last two summers we have had a problem with blue-green algae. A blue-green alga is fouling the lakes and rivers all over the world and has been linked to everything from climate change to phosphorus and nitrogen from golf courses. A group of neighbors came together to educate our community on blue-green algae in general and our lake in particular. Our solutions included an education program on septic pump out, planting rain gardens and clearing out the lake's remediation pond. Our community focused on the single goal of improving the health of our lake. We did not have to take on the overwhelming task of cleaning up all the lakes and rivers of the world. (Though we are willing to share what we have learned with others if needed.) But without community nothing would have been done and would have furthered the belief that the "average citizen" is ignored.  A happy by product of our rallying around the lake cleanup was the good friends we made; friends who make our lives better. 

This is why we need to form and maintain communities. Our communities need our gifts, our collective wisdom and our willingness to create a positive vision for the future. And we need community because we have a deep-seated need for connection. 

Hugs,
C

Sep
28

Developing InterGenerational Communities

by Christine

There was a period during the last year of my mother's life when it felt like every time I called her, she was crying. Alarmed, I would ask, what's wrong? Mom would tearfully explain that another member of her Sunday school class had died and would share with me some poignant tidbit about the deceased. The last time we played out this scene, Mom broken-heartedly stated she just couldn't go to "one more funeral". I, not so tactfully, suggested she join another Sunday school class with younger people. Sadly, she did not go to the funeral nor she did join another Sunday school class, she quit going to Sunday school all together. Sunday school was one of Mom's few remaining activities that brought her in contact with other people.

Age is an easy method of grouping and sorting large groups of people. As a result, age forms and defines our individual communities from the moment we are born. The people we attend school with end up being our friends, confidants and familiars. The timing of life experiences is similar and we go through those experiences as a singular body. We find comfort in our age-based communities.

While there can be comfort in a community of friends who have ties based on shared experiences due to age, there are also challenges and disadvantages of segregated groups. A segregated group can become insular, myopic and develop an us vs. them mentality. How many headlines have you read about Generation Xers declaring they are tired of the Baby Boomers whining and vice versa? Segregation limits the group's exposure to ideas, opinions and experience as well as skews their vision of reality. My mother truly felt everyone around her was dying but in reality, it was the people of her age group.

My thesis, if you will, is that we need to develop intergenerational communities that allow us to share experiences from different vantage points and proficiencies. You may be "friends" with the younger people in your family but I would suggest there is also a hierarchy based on age in those relationships. To have peers that are both older and younger than you will enrich and enhance your life. Also, you will enrich and enhance the life of your intergenerational community. Take a look at your community is it based on age? If it is, maybe it is time to reach out to others outside your age group.

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

 

Sep
23

Surround Yourself With Positive People

by Christine

This past Sunday I volunteered to be a "body marker" for the Ironman Lake Tahoe. I, along with about twenty other volunteers, greeted the athletes at the entrance to the Lake with a marking pen and smile.  As I listened to the words of the volunteers around me, I was touched by how this community was full of goodwill and encouragement. No one talked about how cold the water was or how early the hour or what a long day it was going to be.

Words of inspiration and motivation were shared as athletes from all over the world set his or her mind in order to meet the 140.6-mile challenge ahead of them.  In the midst of preparing for the day more than one athlete thanked me for volunteering and helping to make their day a success. They had a big job ahead of them and yet they had time to say a kind word to another. The Tahoe Ironman brought together a group of people whose common goals were to help each other have a positive experience; they built a community.

My question today is what kind of community are you building? Is it a group that helps you realize your dreams? Does your community use positive encouragement to reach its goals? Is your community one of aspiration and purpose? Or do you find yourself in the midst of people who spend their time complaining and working to thwart the achievements of others? Do you allow the "haters" into your mind and world? I would encourage you to take some time to assess the community that you are building. If you don't like what you see then make a change.

Hugs,

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