Monday, August 14, 2017

Up, Up and Away

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Our area recently celebrated it's Annual Speedie Fest and Balloon Rally. The festival has been around for many years and each summer as we get closer to the first weekend in August, you can see people from all over the country converge on our little corner of the world to eat great food and indulge in our fantasies of flight. (Note: What is a "speedie" you may ask? A speedie is our claim to gourmet fame in Broome County, New York. It is chunks of chicken or pork that are marinated in a "secret sauce" and grilled. It is served on a bun, over rice, or in a salad). The big attraction, however, are the balloons.

What is it about our fascination with hot air balloons? Most of us got our first taste of it watching "The Wizard of Oz", or, "Around the World in 80 Days." (Now I'm really showing my age). What is it that speaks to our inner child? Our spirit of adventure? Our wish to fly with the eagles? For most of my adult life, I was afraid of flying. I don't know where the fear came from but since my mother was also afraid of flying, I suppose it is one limiting belief that was passed down to me. I was in my early 50's before I got on a plane for the first time, and once I got past my initial terror and inner dialogue of imminent death, I felt "the wind beneath my wings" in a metaphoric manner of speaking. In a word, I felt free.

I think the idea of being released from all of the pain, pressure and burdens of life, and having the ability to soar wherever and whenever we want, is probably at the root of this desire to fly. Yet flying in a hot air balloon also speaks to that little kid inside that still believes in magical adventures and happy endings. If that is so, then the question we have to ask ourselves is what limiting beliefs are keeping us tied to the ground? I don't mean just a fear of flying; I mean a fear of living - living a life that lets us spread our wings and soar? Maybe it's time to stop filling our balloons with hot hair and start filling them with dreams, with a little faith and some magic thrown in for good measure.

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Balloons, like life, come in all shapes and sizes. So, what does yours look like, and where is it taking you today?

And so it is.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays

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I cannot remember a spring and summer as rainy as the one we've had so far. The weather folks certainly agree with me. It's not even just a wet summer. While we may get the occasional sprinkle, most of the rain we've seen has been in the realm of biblical proportions - deluge, downpour, tropical, well, you get the idea. The lightning has been like something out of the Star Wars special effects vault, and flooding, from just a little to major events in some areas, has become the norm. This isn't the way summer is supposed to be! Here I went and got myself all psyched for those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, and so far all I've been able to experience is the crazy part! It's enough to almost make you wish for winter!

Even my new garden has taken this sodden summer personally. I'm afraid that between the many years of neglect and the repeated soaking, it will take several seasons, not to mention a way bigger investment of time, money and manpower, to turn this jungle into a garden again. I truly believe the weeds and shrubs have mutated into something with a very bad attitude and territorial issues.

So here we are, another Monday with a forecast of - yep, you guessed it - thunderstorms. followed by a "steadier" rain for the rest of the day. No gardening today. No nice, long morning walks (not without storm gear, that is). I don't want a cold breakfast smoothie, I want hot oatmeal and hot cocoa! What's a body to do? Then I am reminded by my better nature of one of my favorite sayings that I picked up  from the creator of Notes From the Universe, author and teacher Mike Dooley: "Do what you can, with what your have, from where you are." Okay, Mike, let's see what we can make of this day.

So I made a list of rainy day activities:
  • Clean the apartment - singing to Luke Bryan songs, of course!
  • Work on the next chapter of my book
  • Give myself the gift of a longer meditation and yoga practice
  • Journal
  • Listen to relaxing music while coloring in one of my favorite coloring books
  • Take a long, hot, sudsy bath
  • Make some yummy soup for supper
  • Start a new crochet project
  • Read for pleasure instead of research
Wow, there are any number of things I can do to lift my spirits, take my mind off my rain soaked summer, and off "the garden that wasn't," and probably wouldn't be, any more this year. And, when the sun makes a come-back, and I can get outside again, I can let my gratitude show by not being envious of other people's gardens, but, instead, to be grateful for the ability to see and enjoy them, and thankful to the neighbors who worked so hard to bring me such pleasure.

Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.

...and while you're at it, don't forget to be grateful. Gratitude goes a long way to bringing a bit of sunshine into our hearts.

And so it is.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Memories of Summers Past

See that hot looking Italian chick in the middle? Yep, that's me! I was about 15 or 16 years old at the time. The girl on the right is my best friend from the age of 13, also named Barbara. On the left is Carol, sister to the one who is taking the picture, namely Connie, the third member of the Three Amigos. The picture was taken, so I am told, in Central Park. I have no memory of this particular picture but I do know that one summer we spent a great deal of time in Central Park. All of the English rock groups that came over to do the Ed Sullivan Show on a Sunday night (it was all live in those days, folks) always wanted to see the famous New York City Central Park while they were over on this side of the pond. Hence our presence there as well ... plus, you met some cool regular dudes.

Another summer memory came to me the other day as I was in the grocery store. I was holding a fresh fig in my hand and suddenly I was transported back to my cousin's garden out on Long Island. I couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 at the time. In the late 50's, Long Island was still in the process of becoming the suburban capital of the world. The GI Bill had allowed men returning from the war to purchase brand new homes and Long Island was sprouting new home developments like weeds. My cousins lived in the town of Plainview, in a development that was so new you could look out of the back windows and still see farmers working in their potato fields near by. My older sister and I would take turns spending a week each at their house in the summer, and my cousins, both girls around our own ages, would come to Queens so we could take them into the city sightseeing.

My attraction to their house was all the open space and, especially, their garden. My Uncle Vince had a golden touch with vegetables and the tomatoes we picked were still the best I have ever eaten even now. They were so juicy! You had to hold your hand under your mouth or it would drip down your chin! The greens were crisp and tasty, and the garlic was robust, but what I loved the best were the figs. Uncle Vince had brought a fig tree back from Italy when he last visited his mother (these were the days when you could bring plants back from Europe without an Act of Congress) and it was thriving in his garden. I don't think I have ever tasted figs so meaty and delicious as the ones from his tree. I have even gone so far as to spend a small fortune for fresh, organically grown figs in a health food store, and they never did compare from the ones that he grew. I think what I learned from him, besides what a passion for gardening looked like, was that when you grew things with love, they just tasted better.

Wow, so many memories, so many years gone by. It's funny the things we remember, like hanging out with our best buddies, or tastes, sights and smells from our childhood. How I wish I could bring them all back. Luckily, I still get to keep in touch with my other two amigos via Facebook as they live on the opposite coast. Sadly, my uncle passed many years ago. One of my cousins also lives in California but the other one lives just a few hours north of me here in upstate New York. The last time I saw her was for a surprise birthday party my kids threw for me a few years ago. We stayed up late into the night talking about those summers we spent together: chasing fireflies, running through the sprinklers, visiting new places together ... and tasting love.

Memories don't get any better than that, folks.

And so it is.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sacred Gifts

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This week, Tuesday to be exact, is my birthday. I am turning 68 years old. Every time I look in the mirror, I am amazed to see the face looking back at me. Some days I think I see an old woman. Other days I see a woman who looks "pretty good for her age". Most days, I see my mother, and I feel blessed. I still can't believe that 68 years has flown by like a passing cloud.

People keep asking me what I want for my birthday this year. I tell them to feed me. Being a vegan, I spend a great deal of time cooking for myself since most places near where I live still do not have many vegan alternatives on their menu, if they have any at all, that is. Since I make most of my own food, it is a treat when someone cooks for me. They don't think it's such a big deal, but I do. Most of the time, it's the small things that I find are the greatest gifts. Gifts that come from the heart, gifts that say the giver really knows who I am and what makes me smile. Sure, I wouldn't turn down something big like a new car, new furniture, or a shopping spree, but the gifts that are priceless to me are the ones that are made of experiences, not things.

The thing is, Creator already gave me everything I could ask for. So on Tuesday morning, I'll wake up to the song of the female cardinal singing in the little tree outside my window as she searches for her mate. I'll watch the morning mist burn off and the sun bathe the distant hills in light. I'll be entertained by the crazy antics of the blue jay family as they zip back and forth around my window. I'll watch big, fat, fluffy clouds slowly float across a pearly blue sky and wonder what it would be like to ride on one. I'll feel the warm, sultry breeze kiss my cheeks through the open window and breathe in the smell of dew on morning grass. I'll hear a neighbor start up his lawn mower, the Main St. bus stop right out front to pick someone up, and the freight train a few blocks away blow it's whistle as it passes through town. These are the sacred gifts of a life well lived, a life filled with peace, joy and contentment.

However, just in case you were asking, I'd love a copper colored PT Cruiser, a comfy futon and a gift card to L.L. Bean. Just saying.

And so it is.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Remembering Who We Are

Whenever I talk to someone about connecting with our roots, folks always seem to think that I'm talking about our ethnic roots, our connection to our maternal and paternal ancestors. When I moved out of the city to live a small town life, and replied to people who asked why by saying, "I want to get in touch with my roots," they were always mystified because they knew that my family lived all of their lives in New York City. So if I wasn't talking about logging on to and doing a DNA test, what was I talking about?

What I'm talking about is finding our way back to the time when we were connected to the natural world just like the birds, the insects, the plants, and everything that lives on this planet. That connection came with instinctual knowledge, a wisdom of how the world worked and our place in it. Every species on the earth has that wisdom. Birds just know how to build a nest. Fish just know how to swim. Turtles know where to lay their eggs. Perennial flowers and bulbs know when it's time to go to sleep for the winter and when to wake up in the spring. Trees know when it's time to drop their leaves, store up their energy, and push out green buds when the time is right. Just like all of them, we had a knowing, a way of living that connected to the seasons and the cycles of life, and we flowed with them.

Somewhere along the way we decided that we weren't one with nature and separated ourselves from all that we knew. We got the idea that we were the masters of the natural world and believed that we could control it. As time went on, we lost our connection to our true nature. We lost our roots.

Is it any wonder that, at some point in our lives, we all come down with a case of restlessness, a feeling that there is more to this life than money, possessions, power, and the constant need for validation?  We don't know what it is, but we know what it isn't: we're not living our true, authentic lives. It goes by so many other names, like "mid-life crisis," or, "empty nest syndrome." It doesn't matter what we call it, what matters is what we do about it.

We need to reconnect to our roots. We have to dig deep into our inner knowing to rediscover the wisdom that was always there but that got buried underneath our mistaken notion that we were somehow separate from the rest of the world. We need to become reacquainted with our authentic selves.

So maybe that's why I find such peace and connection when my hands are in the dirt, or when I sit and watch my squirrel neighbors scampering about, or see the blue jays playing air tag and wish I could soar with them. Maybe that's why I feel my body change it's rhythms as Mother Nature changes hers with each passing season. Maybe, just maybe, my body remembers who I really am. It's up to me to help my soul remember, too.

And so it is.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Summer Time State of Mind

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Just as the changing seasons have their own patterns of weather, temperatures and natural phenomena - like leaves changing colors in the fall, snow covering the land in the winter, and flowers blooming in spring -  I have often thought that each season has its own state of mind as well. In the fall we scurry to bring in the harvest and prepare for the winter ahead. In winter we hunker down with our blankets and hot cocoa to ward off the cold. In spring we rejoice as the first green tips of the crocus and daffodils push through the earth and the trees begin to bud. Now it's finally summer, and I find myself in my summer state of mind.

I don't know what your state of mind is when summer finally arrives, but for me summer is the time when thoughts of work, schedules and deadlines fall away like receding waves at the shore. I walk slower, more mindfully. I savor food more. I have a hard time taking my eyes off the sky. I spend hours outdoors watching the antics of the birds and the fluttering ballet of the butterflies. I watch bees going from plant to plant doing their jobs (at least someone is working). I gather every luscious moment and stash it away so that I can take it out when the snow covers the landscape and let it warm my soul with its memory. I find myself staring into space with no idea how long I've been sitting there ... something calls to me from beyond the hills in the distance. I swear there are days when that longing is for somewhere I have been before even if I have no memory of it. Perhaps, as some of my Native American teachers once told me, it is my blood memories of a time and place when I lived on the land, not away from it, when every tree, plant, bird and animal was my relative and we dreamed the summer together.

So I'm throwing guilt over work not done out of the open window and allowing the sweet morning songs of the birds flow in. I'm taking long walks before it gets too hot so I my eyes can bathe in the colors of flowers in bloom. I'm breathing in the smells of newly cut grass covered with morning dew. I want to remember it all, every moment of it. I'm kicking back during the heat of the day with a cold glass of ice tea and a juicy novel and, who knows, maybe even an afternoon nap ... something I never allow myself the rest of the year. There's no rushing because in summer, time stands still.  It's just my summer time state of mind.

And so it is.

Monday, July 3, 2017

God Bless Us, One and All

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My town has been unusually quiet this weekend. With the July 4th holiday so close and many people taking this Monday off to give themselves a 4-day weekend, the fireworks and celebrations would normally already have started by Saturday at the latest. This year I haven't heard so much as one fire cracker go off. Yes, you can smell the chicken barbecuing on the grill and hear kids splashing in their backyard pools, but all in all, it has been strangely silent. Even the traffic has been less than normal.

I can't help but think that this July 4th many people are, perhaps some for the first time in their generation, worried about what is going to happen to this country. For those of us old enough to remember the turbulent 60's and 70's, the Viet Nam war, and Watergate, these feelings are all too familiar and ones which we had hoped to never feel again. Along with our friends and neighbors, and our fellow citizens, we are caught in a current of hatred, violence and fear. The dialog in this country has become intolerable, filled as it is with racism, sexism, cultural and religious intolerance, and greed. This is not the America my generation fought to preserve, not on the battle fields in Nam, and not on the streets of this great country in protest against war and inequality.

I'm not going to name names, or point fingers of blame, for that is just buying into their rhetoric and that's just what those that would tear down this country for their own greed want. What I am hoping is that this year, as you watch your parades, and have your picnics, and wave Old Glory about while fireworks light up the sky, you will ponder these words by the brilliant Albert Einstein:

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."

I don't know how everyone else will interpret those words. I only know what they say to me. They say it is time to not stand idly by and watch the parade ... it's time to become the parade, the parade of those who believe in the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution (and have actually read and understood them), to stand up to bullies and say, "No More."

Tomorrow in the garden the kids and I are back to pulling weeds that, with the wet spring and summer we've had so far, have continued to multiply like a bad virus, and this time getting them out by the roots. Then we're going to mulch the heck out of them and help repair the soil so that next spring the garden will grow back healthy, vibrant and strong. It seems like the right thing to do this July 4th, a fitting metaphor, don't you think?

And so it is.