Monthly Archives: August 2016

What are “we” doing?

Maybe it’s me. In fact, I know it’s me. I am sensitive to things that come out of people’s mouths.  I am actually less sensitive to the things that people I know intimately and forever and  to whom I am close,  when they say something that makes my eye twitch (barely noticeable except to me, of course).  I probably roll my eyes but not sure others notice.  Back to the strangers who think they are part of my social circle (albeit small but good).  These are the folks who asked me things like “Do we know what we’re having?” and other gems such as “How are we doing today?” They call me “sweetie” as they are handing me my coffee.  I don’t know them and even my FHB, does not call me “sweetie” and frankly, I am just fine with that.  I’ve never been a fan of being addressed as Ma’am, as I think that is somewhat respectful but relegated to people who are in their 100s.  I would rather not be addressed if I think we are probably not going to see one another again and we are not going to be in a relationship, business or otherwise.

I was raised with what might be called Extreme Manners.  My sister and I did not call anyone who was a contemporary of our parents, unless granted permission, by executive order of the RULES, by their first name. It was always Mrs. or Mr.  or some form of formal designation such as “Tante” (aunt in German), followed by their first name.  These were in addition to our actual blood or by marriage relatives.  We also were taught to use the designation, “Cousin” to identify various members of the extended family . For a while, I didn’t know why so many people had the same first name. In fact,  my sister and I only have one actual first cousin, as my father was an only child and my mother’s sister (my cousin’s mother) was her only sibling to have a child.  That being said, she was referred to as “Cousin” long into our adulthood and never by her first name, which I still never use and often forget that she has an actual real name.  My childhood friends’ parents, with  whom I would play,  when I was in elementary school,were also called by Mr. and Mrs.  I mistakenly called one parent by her first name and my mother received a phone call from this woman and I was given a very clear mandate that I was never to do that again. Apparently this was a serious transgression on my part, never to be repeated.  These were formal times, with lots of rules.   I was never sure if other people had similar rules when it came to household etiquette.  We greeted our parents with “Good Morning” as we sat down to breakfast.  We asked to be excused when meals were over.  I often wondered if  someday,  if I met someone who was connected to royalty, I would be complimented on my good breeding and manners.  To date, for the record, I have yet to meet anyone who wears a crown, except  for the occasional  birthday parties I was invited to, when I was six.

So, what do I think about the familiarity with which people communicate with me, nowadays,  when I am out and about? Do I chastise them in anyway, beyond the eye roll which, as I said before, no one notices.  I grouse, inside, and perhaps say something snide to my FHB about this.  However, I put it all in the bag I call “Context”.  I see an attempt to connect, to have a moment, to be friendly and to engage.  A stranger who is working to make an impression and who, despite my curmugeon-like tendencies, probably means well and never means any harm.  My upbringing is often my undoing, as I have this standard in my head on how we are to speak and be spoken to.  I know, as time goes on, I may get used to be called “dear” and “miss” by strangers.  In the meantime, you can address me as “Your Royal Highness” and I will call you “Cousin”.


A Literary Romance

The urban legend of my childhood, which includes some vague memories, some of which I only remember because others have told the story repeatedly, includes my early interest in  reading at age 3 or 4.  As one part of that story goes,  I had a Golden Book about Pluto Pup getting lost and Mickey and Goofy driving around looking for him, along with some of the other Mickey Mouse gang.  I actually remember the pictures and some of the dialogue, which I will not bore anyone with.  Apparently,  I insisted, like many other children, that the book be read, over, and over, and over again. If my mother skipped a word,  I admonished her and she had to go back until I was satisfied.  I followed the words with my fingers and developed an early skill in identifying words.  Then, as the story goes, I began to “read” the book to her, repeatedly, every day and multiple times.  My mother, in an attempt  not to be driven insane by my demands, devised a means by which I could read about Pluto Pup, et al., to my heart’s content.  She would vacuum (which was not on her fun things to do list) and I would read.  Another case of creative parenting, I think.

My love affair of books continued and one of my best memories was being able to pick out books at the library and take them home.  Getting my own card was equivalent to having a platinum American Express card at age 6.  It was divine.  The children’s library was two blocks away from our apartment and although I was too young to walk there on my own, I was allowed as time went on, to be there under the supervision of the librarians who got to know me very well.  The children’s library was upstairs and I made a decision when I had this autonomy, to read every book, in a very organized fashion, starting with the “A”s and continuing on.  I went on Friday afternoons after school until 5 p.m. when it closed.  It was the closest thing to nirvana I think a 6 or 7 year old could imagine.  I actually imagined it was my library alone.  An illustration of that narcissistic revelation came to light when I asked for the key to the bathroom and proceeded, before the librarian was able to stop me, to walk into the boys’ room because it had a big B on it and I presumed, it stood for Barbara.  Once I was inside (it was a one person bathroom), seeing a urinal and somehow knowing that that was not for my use, shocked me back into reality.  I quickly left and returned the key to the librarian who just smiled and pointed me toward the correct door.  By the time I was 12, I could get an adult card and I had gotten as far as the letter “N” in the books. The librarians always let me know if there was something new on the shelves so I wouldn’t miss any of the books.

The flame that fans my romance has never flickered in many, many years.  The library continues to be a place that is filled with treats and treasures.  It is with incredible anticipation that I now order books on line and wait anxiously to find out that they are ready.  I have to say, the feeling rivals and exceeds my love of new shoes. The return policy for books to the library, is far easier and less painful than returning anything on Amazon.  I have managed to join with technology and allow my passion to grow and flourish.  Reading has filled many voids and quiet times and allows me to revisit the most beautiful and impactful of words and thoughts of others and has sustained me.  Well, I have to go now, one of my books is waiting for me.


August leaves

This morning’s walk was mired  in humidity.  Everyone I passed seemed otherwise engaged in their own thoughts which makes for less greetings and more time to manage the steps ahead.  I don’t mind this.  I did more looking down at times and saw some small leaves that were the red color of autumn.  Despite the onset of adulthood many years ago,  this is the time of year during which I experience the anticipation of the school year.  I have been fortunate for the last 13 years to work on a school year schedule , but even when I was a 52 week a year worker,  there was something about August, and thinking about a going back to school schedule.  I am sure having children helped foster that, but my internal calendar has always started  in September.  This year is no different.  The leaves are beginning to turn, almost one at a time.

July seems to take its time and then August evaporates as we get closer to the end of the month.  I never not wanted to go to school despite some struggles with peers and challenges with the adults.  I was the kid that figured out the math problem in her head, but “lost credit” because I didn’t write down the steps, and just didn’t feel like explaining it.  .  Hence, math was a hated subject.  I loved English (although I am not sure if you are supposed to capitalize “English”),  and social studies, and some of the biological sciences, because I have a fascination with the brain and how the body works.  Chemistry and physics did not hold any appeal. I did not like diagraming sentences and still am unclear on that concept.  I was quiet and sometimes a bit ninja-like and tried to do things my way, at the same time I didn’t want to draw attention to what I essentially refused to do.  I was a compliant child who had moments when I went rogue.  I thought at one point that I would be a good doctor because I was very good at diagnosing things ,but my lack of precision suggested that I might not fare well without good malpractice.  When you are quiet, you are able to observe and synthesize information and learn to read people.  I was identified by the teachers/counselors/parents as the underachiever.  That was essentially meaningless to me because anything I wanted to achieve was based on my intrinsic knowledge and interest, not what was expected by others.  I was a pain in the ass to parent.  I did it the way it suited me, on my time schedule, and with the outcome that I wanted.  I call it my “Frank Sinatra” flair.  Stubborn without a fedora and “my way”.

I have the opportunity, come September (actually the last week of August),to see a lot of students, who remind me, of me.  They challenge the adults, their peers, their families because they just don’t want to comply.  Part of it is being an adolescent, and that is developmentally the expectation, but it also is a way to be acknowledged, noticed without asking for help.  I know for sure, that I would not want to be an adolescent again, despite a lot of positive things I learned.  I would not want to learn them again, or differently.  What I want to do this September is remind the kids I will see, day in and day out, that there is a someone, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a nurse, or the lady in the lunchroom, the man who is a maintenance worker, an administrator, or an office staff person, who shows up every day, and wants to listen to your story and wants to be that person that you trust and cares about you.   Most days, I am a grownup, but there are moments where I clearly remember that I needed to find my someone to just talk to and know consistently that they would listen.  August is leaving, but I’m not. I’m just going to do what I do and find the kids that need that.





Moose and icing

The last moments of vacations are to be savored, like the last bites of the most delicious desserts. You want to make them last and experience the perfect flavors and tastes as you are almost sated, yet know perhaps one more bite might make it less fantastic with that too full feeling.  Tomorrow,  my FHB and I head back home from the North Country of New Hampshire.  This area, about 13 miles from the Canadian border, is still a frontier where folks are friendly enough, but no one’s inviting you to stay past your time.  It is pristine and beautiful with lakes and pine covered mountains, that clouds cast all shades of midnight blues and deepest greens on them.  It is quiet and dotted with small towns that have seen better days, with lots of businesses shuttered,and houses for sale that are in desperate need of paint and some loving care.  You see few people out and about and there is a lack of bustle and vibrancy.  We stay in a small rustic cabin with lots of decorations of giant bass and moose. It is comfortable and has a porch with a million dollar view.  It is nothing fancy but it offers comfort and we quickly made it feel like our home for a few days.  We spent our time driving around, including a two and a half hour trip into and back out of Quebec.  We drove through tiny hamlets with no businesses to speak of, and not much activity.  There was something eerie about not seeing many inhabitants.  We did stop in a grocery store along the way, as one of my favorite things when traveling, is to go into the local store to see what is on the shelves that are both familiar and may include some products that I have never seen in my supermarkets.  We purchased Biscuits Creme a l’erable (Maple Creme Cookies) that were made with pure maple syrup.  Absolutely decadent.  We also bought some local honey to take back home.  When we crossed back into the U.S.  we made sure to “declare” our finds and the border officer seemed less than interested in our purchases, but kindly told us that signing our passports might be a good idea.

One of my FHB’s hopes was to catch a lake trout or a salmon from the glacial lakes we were surrounded by.  He bought a license and some live bait ,and set up his chair and rod and reel, and cast his line out with decided optimism.  In the years we have been together, he has always had the hope of the catch.  I sat a distance away, since he is always worried that he is going to catch me with the hook so I just play along knowing that I am too far away to be at any risk.  I grew up being my father’s sidekick when he would go fishing early in the weekend morning hours.  I would be shaken awake and he would stand over my bed and whisper “the fish are waiting for us” and I dressed quietly and we would drive in the darkness to some lake north of New York City.  I had the “honor” of rowing him from the shore, past the most fragrant lily pads into the middle of the lake.  I knew that this was a quiet time and I learned to sit and wait, and wait, and wait some more.  My father never met my FHB but there definitely would have been a simpatico between them, in how they each approached the joy of the pursuit, even if the fish never made it in our boat and bucket.  Both took this time, away from the rigors of work and the Monday to Friday routine, to de-stress and contemplate. This trip up north was no different. No fish but a lot of sitting and gazing between casts.  We spoke tonight, over a dinner of rainbow trout, that someone else had caught, and talked about the lack of fish caught, but the possibility of the catch.  He laughingly said that the most pressure he felt these days was the one he felt in disappointing me at not catching a fish.  I, of course, wanted him to catch a fish to feel as though he had been rewarded for his patience.  It was a “Gift of the Magi” moment as I realized that he was having a great time with, or without a fish to show for it.

I did a lot of walking around the lakes (not literally, as they are enormous), but along the shorelines, looking for treasures, a.k.a. (according to my FHB) stuff for your box of junk.  I have collected over the past several trips to places filled with nature, things that others have discarded, a few shells, interesting rocks, pine cones and other items that pull at my senses.  We have a box that was used for Maine’s blueberry harvests, that is a display of my favorite finds.  It is clearly a case of “one woman’s junk is another….and so on”.

After dinner tonight, we saw a intensely beautiful sunset with dramatic oranges and plumes of pink and purple.  Dusk comes quickly and this is the time of the day when 1000 lb. moose walk across the roadways.  We have traveled roads in other northern states and have heeded the warnings to drive slowly and cautiously as an interaction with a moose could result in fatalities.  As we headed back toward the cabin, we also headed back toward what is known locally as Moose Alley.  We continued on, past our turn, to see whether tonight might be the night we get to see a moose, our first moose.  We drove slowly, and the tension and anxiety in the car was thick.  I was the lookout.  The high beams went on and off as we passed oncoming vehicles, several of which were “Moose Mobiles” containing tourists (not like us, of course) who were paying for the possibility.  We didn’t speak much and our eyes gazed over the road and into the woods.  Every shadow looked like a moose.  Not every shadow was a moose.  It’s amazing how many houses, in the moonlight, look like moose, so says I.  We continued moving slowly along the road, in the direction of Canada.  The suspense was so captivating.  The car moved slower and slower as though it desperately wanted to be part of this adventure.  I imagined being on a safari with the hope of seeing a lion, and a fear that I might see a lion.  This was stressful.  We stopped and looked ahead as the sign for the border appeared.  It was time to turn around and retrace our steps back, once again, hoping that we would find our prize.  That psychological experience of the return trip being shorter came into play as we could see more signs of civilization, as we were nearly back to our cabin.  No moose today.

Caught in the pursuit of fish and moose was the excitement of the moments when we were  a dynamic duo of big “hunters”.  We were in this together, filled with anticipation of the possibility.  It was the best part, it was the icing.




Time Travel

Vacations are designated periods of time, when we are supposed to change our routine in some way, such that it  manifests itself in renewing and rejuvenating our souls.  I have often thought that I should research the history of the vacation, but that didn’t seem like fun at all.  Busman’s holiday and all that.  We all know that time is a human constraint which takes the forces of all things and events in nature, and  in our forward moving existence, and organizes it into something that is often confining, limiting, and structured.  And then we have vacation…. which has this mesmerizing ability to extend time at the beginning of it,  as we acclimate to our new, non-schedule, and time takes on this new dimension that allows us to remain present and focused on this intangible space in our lives.  It’s the ultimate “time-out”.

I am on vacation.  I have changed up my daily routine dramatically as well as  my environment.  I, along with my FHB, paid  to stay at a goat farm in Vermont, and all that comes with it.  We are hardly Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert of “Green Acres” fame because we are loft folk, and here we are, learning how to make chevre and ricotta and experience milking nubian goats.  We are up before seven, and happily following the farmer down to the barn to learn the responsibilities of running a farm.  We watch as the horses are fed, the manure is shoveled, the pig, Bella, is let out of her pen, and the chickens and goats are allowed to roam wherever they please.  The newest baby goat, three week old, Shelby,  is bottle fed, five times a day, and gets to sleep in the house with the farmer till she is able to eat feed.  This is a 365 day, 24/7, commitment, with no vacation.  Do you see the irony?

My “aha!” moment appeared as I learned to milk the goats (which happens twice a day).  I had a choice in the matter.  I was playing goat farmer intern.  Don’t get me wrong (I actually hate that expression) as I am loving this moment in time when I get to play with goats which are one of my favorite animals.  They are intelligent, clean,  obedient and good company.  They require a significant amount of care and dedication by someone who truly loves his work, despite the restrictions it imposes on his life because this is his choice.

The day is measured by the chores that are accomplished, only to do it all again, the next day.  The satisfaction is in having that intrinsic awareness that the outcome of your passion is observable in the constancy of the health and development of these creatures.  It is both awesome and an awesome responsibility.  It is humbling and gives me insight into the impact on our relationship with food. I observe  how it begins on a small farm, one of many small farms, and how,and what, we choose to eat, in this day of food networks and our love affair with taste and fragrance,  is because someone is taking care of what will be our food, in a responsible fashion.  I have some feelings about this that I didn’t think about before.  It’s not always comfortable. This is my vacation….I shouldn’t think about this.  Maybe this is exactly when I should think about this. Maybe this is the time that my brain allows me to divert from my usual schedule and thought process to ponder how it all fits together, the farmer and the vacationer.

I can’t even begin to express the continuum  of thoughts that run through my head from my moment in time (in the grand scale) and this moment in time, my designated, vacation time. This is when I am renewing the essence that is me.  It has done it’s job in a timely fashion.  I am experiencing so much gratitude. I did not plan on this depth of feeling. It’s one thing to love baby goats and it is another thing to realize that they don’t just happen.  The intersection of my moments on the farm,and the farmer who will continue to do his work, is a fleeting exchange.  I hope to be a better time keeper of my own routine to ensure that my time is impactful and fulfilling and that vacations are not just memories but insights to be used the rest of the year.


Ambivalence 101

Last week I bought a bedspread that I thought I liked. It was going to be an accessory to my current bedding.  Nowadays,  it is very rare that someone just makes a bed in the morning, pulling the sheet up, straightening out the blanket, perhaps puffing up the pillows and calling it done.  I actually always have to make my bed, every morning as that is something that is so ingrained in my fibre, that I even do it in hotels, motels, tents and so on.  In our current way of living,  making a bed has become an art form.  It sends a message, perhaps contradictory, with pillows, large and small and some in between, in all sorts of shapes, and covers and duvets and coverlets and shams,  that says, “Look at my bed!  Isn’t is gorgeous and inviting?  Doesn’t it look perfect?  Don’t you want a bed that looks like this?”  But the message is also “Don’t even THINK of sitting on it, laying on it or it will get wrecked”.  It has become the plastic covered couch in the living room that was not for sitting on for the members of the household, but only for “COMPANY” of the mid-century generations.

But, I digress.  So, I bought this bedspread, brought it home and left it in its plastic protective packaging, for quite a few days.  I put it on top of my bed, unopened, and looked at whether it “matched” or “complemented” my other bedding.  I was unbelievably ambivalent.  A couple of days went by and I decided to jump right in (but not on, of course) and open the package and get down to this business of seeing how it looks.  I took it out of the package, but did not throw the packaging away, and placed it, still folded on the bed.  I left it there and it sat, like a lump, and I felt ridiculous and agitated, totally annoyed with the time I was spending on this piece of queen sized material.  So, I now unfolded it and tried to refold it to arrange on the bed,  and I found the tags which say “Under Penalty of Law This Tag Not to Be Removed Except By The Consumer”.  I tore them off with complete abandon.  I was, of course, the consumer.  I placed the newly folded bedspread, the way I thought I would like it, on the bottom of the the bed.  I hated it….so much.  It looked awful.  I knew I could not keep it.  It was so ugly and did not complement anything.  My quandary, those tags.  I hadn’t thrown them away.  I contemplated sewing them back on.  I had a Lucille Ball moment of laughter realizing that I don’t sew a button on without using about half a small spool of thread, and stabbing myself at least once in the finger.  I could not mimic the stitches of a sewing machine’s zigzag and replace it so that it looked like it had before I vandalized the bedspread.  I was screwed.  I felt like I had done something really dumb.  I did not listen to my gut.  I did not acknowledge that ambivalence is connected to our gut feelings.  I tore those tags off, knowing I might have a problem.  Now I had a problem because I was not going to keep that ugly bedspread, just on principle, because I was the designated consumer.  I try to do the right thing and bam!

Later that night,  I co-opted my FHB into being my co-conspirator (without ever telling him what I had done….with the tags).  I asked him to help me fold back up the bedspread so that it would look the way it did before I took it out of the packaging.  He is really good at doing things like this and he doesn’t ask questions…a very good trait at times.  He never actually asked me why I bought it and what it was for.  There are times when I say things,and I think that he wonders what it would be like for 20 seconds to be in my brain, and then he shudders and says nothing.  I am pretty sure I saw that look if not the shudder.  The deed was done.  I found the receipt (how lucky was I), a bag from the unnamed store and put the ugly thing in the bag.  This morning I walked back into the store and went to customer service,and was greeted like an old friend.  There were no questions, I completed the transaction, and the woman never even asked why I was returning it.  She gave me the cash, which I quickly threw in my purse ,and we exchanged “have a great day”s and I walked to my getaway car and thought… another close call.

Take away lesson from this….go with your gut.  Sometimes, the bed looks fine and you don’t need another thing.  Ambivalence is your brain’s way of telling you pay attention.  Maybe it’s about a  needed change, not about a  bedspread.



Dirty Little Habits

I try, at least once a summer, to escape to a dark place, where the likelihood of running into someone (even slightly) somewhat contributes to my naughty behavior.  I actually prefer a bright sunny day, which again possibly  minimizes the chance of an encounter   with an acquaintance or more.  I tell no one and I enter quietly and get my preordered ticket and seat (usually third row,  third seat from the left),  I put my small popcorn (with some of that erzatz butter crap on a little bit of the top), a pack of either peanut M&Ms or swedish fish, and a large water to the left and right of me.  I want to sit alone and not share my treasure trove of a mix of sweet, salty and water to flush it down.  It is a perfect system.  I also bring in my own packet of kleenex, wet wipes,  and lip gloss in case the popcorn is too salty.  I settle in to my cushy, reclining seat which I have a modicum of difficulty adjusting.  It’s like a rental car that you have to see it’s own quirks, and although you know how to drive, you need to adjust to your comfort, and so I do.  Smooth leather type seats with broad cushioned arms.  I always travel with a jacket which can act like an afghan because the theater is usually cold.  I have made myself to home ,as my grandmother would have said.  I now have two hours to focus on nothing but the cheesiest and simple story in front of me.  My favorite part are the previews for the upcoming movies.  The intensity of the of  story gets me and I cry at the trailer (hence the kleenex).  I also know I won’t see it because I figure it out in the four minutes they show.  The guy leaves the woman and she dies and he keeps seeing her but what he doesn’t know is that she had a twin sister and there is revenge….why should I spoil it for you.  There is something about the previews during the summer for the movies coming in fall, that seem like they belong on the must see list compared to the idiotic, sophomoric movies of summer.  A summer movie is pure cheese, with little to think about and a everything works out ending well.    You definitely leave (after the outtakes, since those are the funniest parts), and walk into the intensely bright sunlight and think “That was awful!” but you laughed,and it was  a great way to spend a summer afternoon, thinking about drivel and nonsense, as you take a piece of salty, buttery-ish popcorn, followed by two peanut M&Ms, a swig of water, and repeat.  Simple and necessary to keep the world at bay.  Sharing the theater with a total of seven more people was just fine.  No interaction, actually not much laughter, but a few chuckles in the distance.  Not much distraction, just mindfulness at the movies.  It doesn’t pretend to be any more than it is.

Growing up with the concept that I was wasting time not doing what was on the to do list, was a constraint created by adults who felt it was important to impart this message. I don’t believe it was based in anything as profound as life is short, accomplish much, but rather a work ethic based in what was believed to be important and my destiny.  In my own defense, I absolutely work hard, juggle several obligations and feel tired, more mentally at the end of a day.  However, play (whatever form it takes, be it an afternoon movie, or nap or reading something fluffy or cooking some food for the soul) is equally necessary. Alone time is also vital to the quality of the time you spend with others.  Despite my life long work as a social worker, I recognize that I am more solitary and introverted and cherish the quiet time, often alone or with my FHB.  In the chaos that we experience daily, in our own lives or watching the world, solitude is a necessary strategy.  I recognize with the ability to be available 24/7 through social media, cell phones and house phones and faxes and doorbells(okay, I don’t actually have a doorbell),we are “on call” to react or respond to whatever seems to require some attention, be it a who or a what.  Sometimes, it just is too much, too loud, too demanding.  Those are the moments, I take cover in a dark movie theater, just me and the popcorn, etc.  It is effective, albeit a short term solution, as the cell is off, the chair is in the reclining position and all is right with the world.  I recommend it.