Sunday, May 20, 2018

It Takes A Village

Image result for free images of ants working

My parents bought an old house across from our tiny apartment the summer that I turned 6. I would no longer have to share a bed with my older sister, and my parents would no longer have to sleep on the Castro Convertible Sofa (the prelude to the sofa bed back in the 50's) in the living room. I would have my very own room! The fact that it was the size of a closet did not matter. It was all mine and I would spend countless hours over the coming years using my room as a place of magic, inspiration, invisible friends and, years later, walls covered in Beatles posters! However, even better than having my own room was the fact that instead of looking out the window and seeing only concrete, we had a yard, a real, dirt-filled, tree-filled yard! That it was in desperate need of upgrades did not phase me at all. It was a yard!

One of the things I spent much of that first summer doing was to lay on my stomach and watch the ants. My mother, who was a staunch anti-insect person, was sure that I was going to catch some awful disease or bring something unspeakable into the house from laying in the dirt. That the worst thing I received from my science experiment were a few insect bites did not deter her from trying to shame me into "acting like a young lady." Obviously, young ladies did not roll around in the dirt. I took a vow never to become one.

Watching ants at work is amazing. For such tiny beings, they carry many-times their weight, all working and pulling together to find and store food for the entire colony, and taking care of each other in the bargain. Many is the time that I saw a wounded ant being carried by his friends and family on their backs in order to return him to their underground home for whatever ants do to nurse each other. I didn't know it at the time, but I was getting my very first lesson in the concept of team work and community.

Years later as an adult I had what I call a "mystical" experience and came to know wolf as my spirit animal (this is a whole other story for another time). I began studying the lives of wolves, becoming involved in keeping them from becoming extinct in the wild, and getting my next lesson in community and cooperation. I saw how the entire wolf pack is responsible for caring for and raising the young regardless of who the parents are. They have an extended family of aunts and uncles who not only look out for them, and protect them, but teach them what they need to know to survive. Mom and Dad never have to worry about going off on a hunt. There is always someone willing to stay behind and babysit. These babies grow up knowing the love and protection of the entire pack.

I have come across so many other examples of how nature takes care of its own, from animals to trees, plants and everything that lives on the planet. Those that survive, and thrive, do so because of a natural, instinctive knowing that working in community, with teamwork and cooperation, benefits everyone. It's not survival of the fittest, it's survival of the committed. Maybe we should spend more time laying in the dirt, watching the ants. It's worth a few bug bites to understand the secrets to a happy and thriving life that Mother Nature has to teach us. 

And so it is. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

I have always thought the colors of the flowers that bloom in the spring to be some of the most beautiful and vibrant of all. Maybe it's because we are so hungry for color after the long, grey days of winter (especially this past seemingly never-ending one). Maybe it's because we crave some color to brighten up our own lives. Whatever the reason, and as glorious as they are, they last but a short time, dying back after a few weeks to make way for the Mother Nature's summer pallet of shape and color.

Taken into the context of time as we know it, our lives, like the spring flowers, are here for but an instant. We rejoice in our youth only to wake up one morning to discover our kids all grown and more years behind us than in front of us.

So what can we do with this fading of our own inner springtime? We can rejoice in it, for however long it is here , and then celebrate the next season with excitement and anticipation. The tulips and daffodils may be fading, but look what Mother Nature has in store for us: roses, lilacs, juicy tomatoes, and, oh, those beautiful sunflowers, always turning their faces to follow the sun!

Like the sunflowers we can turn our faces to the sun and let the next season of our lives bloom. Just remember that no matter how long or short our season may last, dancing in the rain is always allowed!

And so it is.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Falling Off The Turnip Truck

The older I get, the more I hear my mother coming out of my mouth. The first time it happened years ago when my girls were small, I was horrified: "Oh no, I'm turning into my mother!" Now when it happens, I just chuckle. It seems that at 68 I finally understand what all those folksy old sayings meant.

Here is an example. Recently I was able to pull off a technical challenge without having to call my Geek Squad, a.k.a. my granddaughter and her hubby. When my grandson praised me for my accomplishment, my reply was: "Well I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know," I got blank stares from my grandson. I tried to explain: "It means that I wasn't born yesterday." More blank stares. One more try: "It means I'm not stupid, I can still learn new things!" Finally, a glimmer of understanding. "We'll why didn't you say so?" Do you ever feel like you're speaking a foreign language in your own country?

As for the real turnip truck, it was actually a vegetable truck that drove through our neighborhood when I was growing up. The man's name was Manny and he had a farm out on Long Island before it all became housing developments after the GI Bill was enacted back in the 50's. He would sell fresh produce  from his farm right off the truck, no pesticides or funky stuff, just fresh veggies for the housewives of Queens, NY. My mom would let me go out to his truck with her so I could see what "real fruit and vegetables look like." I always got a juicy apple or peach from Manny as a treat. Fast forward 60 years and how have we evolved? We go to farmer's markets to get fresh, organic produce.

Looks like my mom really did know what she was talking about. I'm glad I listened.

And so it is.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Three Sisters

Three Sisters 1

The Native Americans, especially those nations that live in the Northeast, have a planting system called The Three Sisters. It is a system of companion gardening that allows three different crops - beans, corn, and squash - to grow that assist and nourish each other. The Old Farmers Almanac explains it this way:

"Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.
  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support.
  • The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three. 
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons, which don’t like to step on them.
Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a healthy diet. Perfection!"

I love this metaphor for how humans can sustain and support each other when they work in collaboration for the good of all. Each individual has a part to play, however small, that, when taken together with the talents and gifts of others, produces a healthy, happy, sustainable world. In addition, this model can be used as a template for how we "grow" everything in our lives, from families, to businesses, to nations, and, finally, a healthy planet. When we stop thinking of ourselves as individuals and start thinking of ourselves as one big family who all want to thrive, then planting the seeds of compassion, cooperation and kindness is easy and benefits all of creation.

Gee, writing this post made me hungry! I need a trip to the Farmers' Market!

And so it is!

Monday, April 23, 2018

It's Here!

It's finally here ... Spring! The sun has returned, the skies are blue, and there are actually buds coming out on the trees (this is an old picture from last year because it's hard to see the tiny buds, but you get the idea).

Yesterday I spent some time over at my daughter's house watching them clean out the garden beds and do some concrete repairs to the front walk that had taken a beating from the shovels, salt, and relentless cold. My youngest granddaughter had been selling plants as part of a fundraiser at school for a local urban garden project and I purchased two for the front of their house (I am a huge supporter of urban gardens). After the front bed was  weeded and mulched, my #1 granddaughter, who started learning her gardening skills from me at the age of 2, put the new plants in - cosmos for their pretty yellow, and some tiny green and white ground cover for contrast . Even though I did not actually get my hands dirty, it was a joy to watch the next generation pick up the baton ... or in this case, the trowel ... and carry on the gardening tradition. It was my little way of doing my part to welcome spring, and to celebrate Earth Day with my family.

Mother Teresa advised us not to try to do great things but to do small things that make great changes. Supporting our local urban gardening groups and passing on my love of gardening to another generation are my small things, but in the end they make our world a more beautiful and peaceful place to live. Welcome, Spring.

And so it is.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tending Our Childhood Gardens

This tin doll house looks exactly like the one my grandmom had!  I rememebr the pink toilet, the baby furniture, that sofa, and the pole lamp

While roaming through a second-hand shop with my youngest granddaughter the other day, we wandered into the toy section where she was checking to see if there was anything she just had to have. For me it was a trip down memory lane, seeing toys I had gotten for her mother and her aunt when they were little, and even spying a few, precious items I remembered from my own childhood. I came upon a shoe box filled with tiny, plastic furniture, the kind they used in the doll houses of my generation, when I was suddenly reminded of a day a little over 25 years ago when the sight of a doll house brought me to tears.

It was only a few months after I had uprooted my entire life and moved to upstate New York to the little village of Marathon. There was an Antique Fair being held at the Community Center that weekend. I decided to wander over to see what they had, and to enjoy the beautiful summer day. At one point I was in a section that held toys, not only from my own childhood, but some old enough to have belonged to my mother's generation as well. My first surprise was to find a combination cork board and blackboard built into an artist easel with a roll bar up top that showed the alphabet and numbers from 0-10. I had owned just such an easel when I was a child. I saw my Shirley Temple dolls, my Ginny dolls (I expect there are fewer and fewer of us who remember Ginny dolls), and, lo and behold, there was my doll house! it was a tin doll house with the inner walls and floors stamped with windows, doors, wallpaper and even curtains. It was filled with the tiny, plastic furniture and tiny people to go with it, each room set up as if the family were alive and going about their normal day. As I gazed lovingly at my old toy, or, rather, it's exact duplicate, I suddenly felt tears welling up in my eyes and a tightness in my throat. I turned and ran for the nearest exit, finding a quiet place outside to hide and have a silent cry.

Seeing that doll house had, at first, brought back some beautiful childhood memories of countless hours spent arranging and rearranging the furniture and the family. At the time I got the doll house, I was 5 years old and we lived in a one bedroom apartment in a four-family house owned by my mother's cousin. My older sister and I slept in the only bedroom, sharing a bed. My parents slept in the living room on what was then the newest rage, a Castro Convertible Sofa Bed! Sitting on the floor of the bedroom, I would imagine what it would be like to live in a real house, with my own room and a yard to play in. The following summer when I turned 6, that dream became a reality and we moved into our own home right across the street. It was very old and in need of lots of TLC (like the yards and yards of faded, flowered wall paper that covered every inch of every wall in the house), but I had my own room and a decent sized yard for a Queens, New York neighborhood with trees and my mother's beloved roses buses and lilac trees.

Once the happy memories returned, it was inevitable that the less-than-happy ones would, too. My father has passed away just three months before I made the decision to pick up and move. My mother was still grieving in Queens. Someone had visited my old home and reported that not only had it been remodeled so that it looked nothing like the home I grew up in, but the back yard had been ripped out and cemented over to make way for an above-ground pool. My mothers beautiful flowers were all gone. Throw in two failed marriages to the mix, and the memory of a little girl dreaming of a real home was bittersweet to say the least.

I went home that day and stood outside the entrance to my new home in the village. The landlord had given me permission to plant some flowers on either side of the door and up the trellises. I thought about making a miniature garden, with a bird bath, fairies and gnomes, and, of course, a rose bush. The next day I went back to the antique show, back into the toy section, and purchased a tiny plastic rocking chair. I still have it, sitting on a shelf next to a tiny, wooden birdhouse. Whenever I see it, I think of my dollhouse, and, because I am so much older and wiser now (at least I like to think so), I am reminded that home is in the heart, not in any physical location, and we carry it with us wherever we go. Just like Dorothy, all we have to do is click our heels and say, "there's no place like home."

And so it is.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Signs of Hope and Promise

As this never-ending winter continues to worm its way into spring, I also continue to look for signs that fulfill my hopes and Mother Nature's promise that spring will, indeed, come. So it was with great joy that I received a message on my Facebook page last week the my beloved Decorah Eagles had once more brought forth new life ... three perfect, beautiful little eaglets!

If you have been following my blog for the last 5 years or so, you know all about the Decorah Eagles, but for those of you who are new here, I'll briefly share the story again. The Decorah Eagles are a magnificent pair of bald eagles who reside high up in a tree on the grounds of a working farm and fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. They are part of a group known as The Raptor Project, an organization dedicated to the protection of these beautiful creatures, as well as educating the public about their lives and the challenges to keep them from becoming endangered. Cameras have been set up to cover the yearly return of the parents to the birthing nest, where they rebuild, repair and ready the nest, through the laying of the eggs, then the patient waiting for the first eggs to hatch. You'd be amazed how many thousands of expectant adopted aunts and uncles there are out there, checking in every day for weeks until the first little fuzzy head pops up. I have been following this particular pair since 2008. Together they have brought forth 31 babies. Sadly, not all of them have survived. Several have been the victims of exposed high power lines and switches. However, because this pair of eagles have been loved and adopted by thousands of people around the world, their outrage was heard at the state capital where changes have been implemented to mandate safety procedures to ensure this never happens again. A few of the offspring, once they became air-borne, were outfitted with tracking systems so that we can follow their travels throughout the years.

Witnessing the birth of these little bundles of joy fills me with reassurance that the promises of spring, of renewal and rebirth, are true, and that no matter how long it takes, with a little patience and a lot of faith, the trees will bud, the daffodils and tulips will spring forth, and the animal kingdom will bring forth the newest members of the next generation. Life will go on in spite of what we humans continue to do to interfere with the natural order of things. The eagles know better, however, and thank God for that. They are not only the symbols of courage and freedom for our country, but also the symbols of hope and the promise that spring will, indeed, come again.

To learn more about the Decorah Eagles, and the Raptor Project, log on to :, or you can go to YouTube and type in Decorah Eagles for 24 hour live feeds of the happy family and the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

And so it is.