Sunday, January 30, 2011


I have heard from more than one friend this week, of their feelings of frustration, of heaviness, and how at night they are anxious and fearful. Indeed, this winter has been an especially hard one in terms of rain, snow and cold. Many folks seem to lose their way at this time of year, with routines falling off, with feelings of being overwhelmed sure to follow.  The time of year and the uncertainties of the times can make us feel as if we are enduring one long, never-ending night.

Are we doomed, because it is winter, to becoming depressed, stir-crazy and paralyzed with fear? I do think the cold, combined with distressing news at home and abroad, certainly conspire with the darkness of the season to try and unnerve us. The lack of sunlight and the necessity of staying in more really do have an effect to be sure. And the reality outside our doors is that people are suffering, there is great anger and unrest in some parts of the world, and that our beloved country is in a state of confusion as to what course we should be taking.

The news reports are of absolutely no help, because they seem to contradict each other. One day all the signs are in place of an improving economy, a trend toward lower unemployment, the stock market is up, and the very next day, we are hearing the opposite being said. This on the same network, out of the same mouths! It is almost getting to where by the end of the newscast they have contradicted what they said at the beginning!

About the only thing they consistently say is that more cold, snow, and flooding is on the way! And we do know, because we see it with our own eyes, that the price of gas and now food continues to rise, sometimes daily. For most of us, the income does not rise, though, and instead is shrinking in the face of these increasing prices.

Loneliness can creep in at this time of year especially, and be an unwelcome companion. I have a dear friend and neighbor whose children are grown and gone and whose husband's job keeps him gone for two weeks at a time. This year, she is feeling so alone. And doesn't Satan just love to figure out ways to make things worse. One day last week, when her husband was home, a strange man came to their door, basically begging. He said he would sweep their porch for them if they would give him money. This kind of thing has never occurred here in the time since we all have lived here since the late 90's. The husband said no, that he could clean his own porch. I do not know if the man knocked on any more doors, but we live across the street and down two houses and I know that he didn't come to our door. We all like to be generous and do charitable works, but I find it kind of unnerving that someone would go into a residential neighborhood and knock on people's doors. I wondered if things are getting this bad that perhaps this type of thing will begin to occur with more frequency.

When I told my husband about it, he said the man might have been checking to see if anyone was home or if there was a woman there alone. Our town has consistently had the distinction of being one of the safest places in the country for years, but in this month of January there have been more robberies committed than in all of last year.

A couple of nights ago, this same friend, alone in the house except for her, thankfully, huge dog, was awakened at 12:30 a.m. by someone ringing the doorbell. She sat up in bed, wondering if perhaps she had been dreaming, but then the dog started barking loudly and throwing himself against the front door, for surely there was someone on the other side. The lady tried to peer out one of the front windows, but she couldn't see anyone. Needless to say, she is not sleeping well at all now.

I am putting all the bad news up front in this post, because I think we owe it to ourselves and to God to be honest about what is going on.  Things are not the greatest, and people are worried.  If nothing else, we should be praying about the situations that we are facing individually and collectively.  But just like David, who would start one of his psalms by lamenting this or that, typically ended them by acknowledging God and His great love and provision for us.

The best way to think about all these problems is to see them not as problems but projects!  To reiterate, we may be individually powerless to affect the big things in the world like the wars and the fact that the middle east seems to be blowing up right now, but at least we can pray! Prayer changes things, always, every time.  So let us not grow weary, but pray for the people and the leaders.

This is always the first, middle and last thing we should also do for our own personal situations. And then we might just want to approach some of these things as challenges.  For instance, the rising prices should be a challenge for us to meet head on. You know, by sitting down and thinking things out, you can stretch every dollar a lot further.  If you know you have to drive to a doctor's appointment, sit down and figure out ahead of time what other errands you can do on your way to and from the doctor's.  Now I know I am a bit out there, but if I really want to get a good physical workout and burn some calories, I will sweep the floor meticulously and then get down on my hands and knees and scrub it. Or wash the woodwork, the windows and the baseboards.  I didn't have to buy or rent a workout video, I didn't have to drive to the gym, much less pay for the membership, and I got some really good work done, too!

Sometimes I just play these little games with myself, like wondering how it would be if I were a Colonial era housewife, how would I be living?  As I turn the heat down low and bustle around the house cleaning and cooking and baking, I just think about them doing their homekeeping without electricity, or food security, or running water.  But our ancestors came here and took the hardships they faced as challenges.  They made the best of things with whatever they could find, make or grow, and put their backs into their work.  We have them to look to for inspiration, because look what they accomplished!

My lonely friend is very thankful for her big, somewhat scary(!) dog.  He protected her that night by his barking and throwing his body against the door.  She also has an alarm system, and I know she is thankful for that, too.  So we may not have perfection happening at any given time, but we always have something to appreciate, and some kind of help or comfort, even if its just words on a page.  God speaks to us in His word and through His Holy Spirit, so we are never alone or completely bereft.

I think these are the very times in which we need to reach out to each other.  I know we can overdo being on the Internet and the Facebook and all, but I also think these enrich our lives by helping us to connect with loved ones and friends, new and old.  One of my dear friends, Beth, has had a giant collage (which continues to grow) of photos of her friends and family, and she keeps it hanging up in her house.  She calls it her "Prayer Wall".  Every day she prays for everyone on that wall.  She lives back in my hometown so I don't see her very often, but we "see" each other on Facebook almost daily.  I saw where she posted a picture of herself in front of the prayer wall, and it made me remember (because I had forgotten) that she prays for me every day, since my picture is on that "wall".  What a tremendous blessing!  I feel like I would like to do the same thing.  What if we all did something similar?  How powerful would that be?

Yes it is winter.  And typically cold and bleak.  So let's fill our home lives with color and cheer.  I learned back in school that the clothing of people in northern climates was always very bright and colorful, as were their furnishings.  I like to pull out the old afghans and throws to brighten the rooms and provide something to snuggle in. I also keep my little electric candles in my front windows all year long and put them on around suppertime until its time to go to bed.  I also have a "dusk to dawn" candle that is in the Palladian window in the upstairs hallway. It goes on when it gets dark and off when it gets light.  It serves as a nightlight and also, I hope, to cheer those who pass by.

This time of year is also a great time to invite someone over for tea and cookies or for a meal.  Showing hospitality to someone blesses both parties, and it is a very holy thing to do.  God likes it; it says so in His word.  If you are not used to doing this, it might seem scary at first.  But just try it; and start with someone you feel very comfortable with.  Do not worry about having your house perfect.  Just make some nice coffee or tea, and serve it on a cleared-off table in sparkling clean cups with a cookie - store bought is fine.  The main thing is to show someone else that they are worth spending time with.

There are, I am sure, endless little home projects we can undertake during this time of year when we are housebound so much of the time.  And this is the perfect time to establish, or re-establish good, healthy sleep routines.  In other words, go to bed early!  Turn off the TV and computer, and get in bed with a good book.  I might think I am not sleepy, but just let me get in bed and start reading, and in no time, my chin is on my chest!

So let's just be encouraged by all our blessings, and all of our opportunities to make ourselves stronger and more self-sufficient, and more of a blessing to others! It is true that, "...night cometh, when no man can work," but as long as we have breath, it is day, our day, to do the works He has given us to do.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


There is a venerable old custom in Vermont, and that is the making of "Sugar on Snow". Quite simply, on a night when the snow is fresh and deep and you can be assured of accessing a clean pan full, you heat maple syrup up on the stove until it is a bit thick. When it reaches a consistency where it will keep its shape if drizzled on something really cold, well you drizzle it in lines and squiggles over your pan of fresh, tightly packed snow. Then you pick it up and eat it like candy. Often this would be a community event, something to have a get-together around (long before the advent of big-screen TV's). I have been to one such social where they also served the traditional accompaniments: doughnuts and dill pickles. The dill pickles were eaten at intervals between the sweet things, to keep one from being overwhelmed. I first experienced "sugar on snow" at my grandmother's. Her tenant Blake prepared it for us one night, and it was wonderful! I will never forget the delightful taste and the contentment I felt that night.

You may recall that I explained in an earlier post that I spent part of a winter in Vermont with my cousins, while my grandmother and mother went to work to help my uncles launch their new restaurant. By this time my grandmother was 74 years old, but nevertheless, I remember her in the restaurant kitchen every night mixing a huge bowl of green salad, by hand, with her homemade vinaigrette. The same way I do most nights.

Anyways, my cousin Marcie and I would sometimes go and hang out at Grandma's after school when no one was there. Since the door was unlocked, we could just walk in and relax, thereby avoiding going straight home to her little brothers and all the noise. Now, sometime before I was born my grandfather, a master craftsman, gardener and all-around stern, silent guy, had remodeled the huge house and made two apartments upstairs and two downstairs, one of which my grandmother occupied.

At this time the upstairs apartment in the front of the house was home to the aforementioned Blake, a state agricultural inspector of some sort, and his mail order bride, Marisa, a native of the "Eternal City", but who herself was no Roman holiday, that's for sure. She was more like a Roman candle, a spitfire, as my mother called her. Marisa was a short little woman with short brown hair, and a shorter temper.  She drove a little Fiat with a license plate that read "Roma".

Blake was Marisa's polar opposite. He was large and gentle, patient and kind, and of old Vermont stock. He was slow of movement and speech, somewhat oafish. Marisa was not. She was a smart dresser, and in fact was an accomplished seamstress. She was quick, horrid and torrid of speech, mean as an alley-cat, and with a hair-trigger temper. Naturally, Blake was her target.

What ever possessed him to "send away for a foreign wife" (or so it was rumored he did), we didn't know. I guess he wasn't having much luck domestically. He was a man of means, though, a "gentleman farmer", as my mother called him (have you noticed that mother always had a hook to hang everything or anyone on?), and indeed I remember one summer day accompanying him and Marisa as he drove around the state visiting his farms and talking with his tenants. Which explains what the attraction must have been for Marisa. Also, she probably needed to land someone who actually didn't know her at all. At least that is how my child-mind perceived it, and I think that's probably about right.

Poor Blake. It must have been like sending away for an ant farm, and opening it up to discover a box full of fire ants.

To say that Marisa was excitable was an understatement. I also have a vivid memory of her at the 1965 New York World's Fair. A whole contingent had come down from Rutland to accompany us to the fair. But somehow I ended up with Blake, Marisa and Charlie, their son (who also had issues) high above the fair on the Swiss cable car ride. Marisa was afraid of heights apparently. We had all been a little nervous, to be sure, but somehow the experience of Miss Roma herself squatting on the floor of the little car, screaming and screeching like the tortured damned strained even Blake's last good nerve. I just remember him sitting quite still, trying to look relaxed as he clenched the sides of the car, white knuckled, while Marisa tried to pull Charlie down on the floor with her. This made the car jerk and sway. Charlie was crying, Blake just kept saying like he always did, "Aw now, Marisa, ah heh, heh, ah heh, heh.." and I was whispering the Act of Contrition, hoping it was perfect enough to land me in heaven immediately after my imminent death.

Apparently my religious fervor had faded by the next year because we decided to play some pranks on Marisa. Cruelly, we didn't spare poor Blake either, whom I guess had to suffer just because we thought he was the biggest dummy to have hooked up with Miss Crazy and brought her into our lives at all.

So we would call them up and say ridiculous things on the phone. I don't even remember what we said but it didn't matter because it made Marisa cranky. Easy enough. But the really fun thing was "The Knock".

In my grandmother's bedroom there was a long, almost walk-in type closet. On the other side of the one wall was the entry hall for the stairs to Blake and Marisa's apartment, and also there was a door on the opposite side of the hall to the other downstairs apartment.. That apartment belonged to old lady Smith, and wait till I tell you sometime about her granddaughter!

So if you knocked on the closet wall on your left, it would sound to the occupants above like someone was knocking on their door. Whoever answered the door upstairs would be bewildered to find no one there. Except if it was Marisa answering the door, the situation would be like waving a red scarf in front of a certain bovine beast on a Sunday night in Madrid.

One day, we came back to Grandma's in a serious snowstorm. By the way, though the snow then was just as cold, thick and deep as it ever is today, oddly it never struck terror into anybody, nor sent folks scrambling to the store to empty it out, nor made the national news like our modern snowstorms do.

So we arrived amidst thickly falling snow, probably poured ourselves a glass of ginger ale or had some orange sherbet, which were two of Grandma's staples, and proceeded to listen to the tirade building upstairs.

What else could we do? We wanted to participate, maybe add a diversion, so we went into the closet and knocked. The shouting stopped as they opened the door. No one there. After a moment, the shouting started again, answered by poor Blake's feeble attempts to calm her down. Which is like pouring water on a cat. So we knocked again, and they opened the door again. By this time we were on the floor convulsing in laughter. I think we might have had one more go around before older and wiser cousin Marcie said "Shush", and that we needed to stop before we were discovered.

I'll never forget what I saw when I came back into the living room and looked out the windows, which were right below their porch upstairs. Down with the late afternoon snow something else began to drift. Blake's clothes! His shirts, his ties, his pajamas, his underwear came silently floating to earth with the cold, chastening snow. Down the stairs ran Blake, and out to the front yard where he chased around wildly, begging her to stop while trying to retrieve his garments.

It was pitiful.   Even as a child, I had the revelation standing there, that what was happening was the expression of a tortured soul lashing out at the cosmos, that cosmos being a middle-aged country gentleman for this particular soul.  To say that Marisa was evil does not quite fit in my estimation, for she certainly loved her husband and their child, and felt much affection for my grandmother.  And she was always kind to me.

A couple of years before that, my mother had taken sick in the night on one of our weekend trips up there.  It must have been a kidney stone because she sat up  screaming in excruciating abdominal pain, which woke the entire house.  My grandmother called the doctor, who charmingly enough got out of his warm bed, dressed and ran over to the house.  Grandma of course didn't stop there but proceeded to call all six of the "boys" and their wives.  The neighbors (more old Italians) and tenants were either called or took it upon themselves to investigate when all the lights went on and cars began to pull up.  I'm sure everyone was yelling, too.  All I know is that within minutes the house was filled with people.  I remember running from room to room, freaking out.  I was crying and desperately negotiating deals with the Almighty.

At one point in all of this, Marisa started following me around, grabbing me up in an embrace and trying in her broken English to comfort me as well as she could.  Of course it didn't make me feel any better, but I was aware of her trying. 

I don't know what the doctor did for my mother but she must have passed the stone or whatever because by dawn she was feeling better.  A follow-up to the doctor the next day and we were on our way.  I just remember, and will forever, the terror of that night, me promising the Lord that I would never disrespect my mom again if only He would save her, and Marisa.  She was the only one who saw and could feel my anguish and tried to console me.

I imagine that today Marisa would be diagnosed as bi-polar.  But if there is any truth to Thoreau's famous saying that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation,"  as certainly did poor Blake, perhaps we can also say that some men and some women lead lives of noisy desperation.  Extroverted in temperament, they look at their predicament in life, the unrealized dreams, the closed off paths, the extreme discomfort of having to play the cards that circumstance and their own hands have dealt them, and they give full vent to their frustration.

Much to the horror and discomfort of everyone else.  And also to the sometimes amusement of other poor sinners known as children.

I don't think we ever pranked them again.  And the ironic thing is, they stayed married for decades more, till one day poor old Blake added one more piece of property to his collection, to wit, he bought the farm. The big one.

And to be sure, no widow ever cried longer, and certainly no LOUDER, than did Marisa.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Cape Cod Cottage, by Paul Landry, buy at

When our lives are centered around our homes and families, we can be as busy as bees on a June morning if we so desire.  Or we can pace ourselves, or just have a quiet, restful day.  We work this out for ourselves, in the general absence of deadlines.  For those who haven't tried making home life their full time "job", I can quite imagine that they would wonder what on earth we do all day.  Don't we run out of things to do?  Isn't it boring? 

I hardly know where to start to try to convey the difference between just doing enough at home to sustain life so that you can spend your time at work, and actually "making" home your vocation.  The difference between the two ways of life is like imagining what strawberries and cream taste like as you chew sawdust all day, and well, feasting on strawberries and cream.

When I work full-time (which usually includes overtime), I will plainly say that most all of my domestic feelings fly out the window and I do not feel like doing anything at home but flopping on the couch, eating supper and falling into bed. The weekends are consumed with fighting the crowds at the supermarket and on the roads, then doing laundry, yardwork and just trying to catch up enough to be able to slide out the door again early Monday morning for work. Naturally, but it came as quite a revelation to me, I find myself uncharacteristically annoyed if unexpected company shows up during this time, or I get a phone call from an out-of-town relative who wants to catch up. I find any interruption of my time on the weekend extremely painful, since I know I only have these few hours to do the maintenance work of life.

On my breaks and at lunch, I literally run to my car for refuge. It becomes my pseudo-home where I can relax and think a thought or two that has nothing to do with my work. This is important because the nature of my work is all-consuming, non-stop and exacting. I no more want to sit around the break room and engage in office gossip than I'd want to hang from a telephone pole on a rainy Autumn night, trying to fix a power line while the wet wind blows in my face.

Since I only do this job about five months out of the year, I make myself do it and keep in mind that soon I'll be back home, and things will get back to normal. Because when I am home, I become a human being again and stop being a specialist robot on auto-pilot.

When I am home, I have time to contemplate, to feel the warm earth beneath bare feet as I saunter out back to pick a few herbs for a meal I am preparing. I can sit here at my computer researching whatever I have a current interest in, looking up recipes or writing on my blog. If my daughter or older sons stop by, I can make them a bite to eat or some coffee and we can sit and chat. My husband, who is disabled with back problems, is retired and home now, so we often will go food shopping or to Walmart or the local hardware store together. The roads are quiet, the stores sparsely populated and my heart is not racing.

I can do the many aspects of housekeeping that often get ignored when working full-time.  I can dust, and wipe baseboards, hang clothes outside to dry, wipe the smudges off windows and woodwork, clean out a drawer or closet, wash out all the little trash cans in the rooms and set them in the sun to dry, iron clothes, try new recipes, de-clutter, and find countless other tasks that will call to me for attention.

Being home gives you time to think and to see the big picture.  You have the leisure to figure out better ways of doing things.  You can sit down and spend some time looking over papers and finances, and finding  where waste can be cut, and income preserved or stretched.  Even taking the time to look at the weekly grocery specials, lining up any coupons that can be used on top of that, and then planning meals accordingly saves a lot of money, and gives you the satisfaction of taking control of the family's health and finances in this area for the week.  Congratulations, you just "earned" some money with the added benefit of being the boss of the operation!

Perhaps it might be good to just mention a few of the things I was able to do in the last week because I was home.

Because I was home, I was able to get some extra sleep because I wasn't feeling well. 

I had time to talk to my daughter about some things that were bothering her, and some decisions she needed to make.

When my foster daughter got sick, I was able to drop everything and bring her to the doctor.  I had put a roast beef in the oven, and when it was apparent that we were going to be delayed at the busy doctor's office, I called my dear husband and asked him to heat up some vegetables that I had on hand in my well-stocked pantry.  We came home to a beautiful dinner.  Though I was cleaning up the kitchen much later than usual, it was OK because I did not have to get myself ready for work the next morning, nor get into bed by a certain time.

I also accompanied my husband to his doctor's appointment.  When we got home, our oldest son soon stopped by for a visit.

My husband and I were able to leisurely visit a couple of stores one day last week and I found Christmas gift tags on sale for 74 cents, a damask cloth tablecloth for the dining room table for $3.24, sets of Christmas ornaments for  $1.49, as well as various other items for 75% off.  That completes everything I need to be able to wrap next year's presents whenever I start shopping for them, plus snag a couple of good bargains on other useful items. I did some comparison shopping for a set of Correlle dishes I want but am not buying at present, until they go on sale somewhere.  We did the same thing today at Home Depot, looking at storm doors.  When we found out that they will probably go on sale towards summer, we decided to wait until then.

I went to an overnight retreat with some ladies from one of our church's ministries.

I have been going through receipts, utility bills, and all kinds of paperwork from 2010.  I am lining up all my rebate offers with the receipts, and plan to send them off this week.

I am catching up on phone calls that need to be made in order to get information or straighten out orders or doctor's appointments, etc.

I have written four articles, including this one, for my blog, as well as having the time to read other blogs and articles of interest online.

I have cleaned and organized several drawers, and compiled a couple of boxes of items to donate to the thrift store nearby.

I planned my meals and thawed out meat ahead of time so I would be good to go.

Of course on top of these things, I kept up with the housework, cooked from scratch every day, and took some time to talk to the Lord and to think about some decisions that I need to make.  As a result, I have dropped out of one of the ministries I was involved in, and have decided to end another activity I was involved in.  Both of these things had served their purpose and my time with them has run it's course, I am led to believe.

I believe I am happier living this way, and therefore, my family is happier.  I am not barking, snapping or simply tuning them out. Doing things for others brings me joy, and being home gives me the chance to make my own schedule and do things at my own pace.  I do not have to worry about pleasing my boss, and answer only to my husband.  If I displease him, at least I know he loves me and is not going to fire me!  And he is secure in knowing my love for him and my commitment to him.

Women have a need to share and to nurture, without deadlines and pressure says John Gray, PhD., and author of the book Venus on Fire Mars on Ice. According to what he's gleaned from studying indigenous cultures, he found that women routinely work alongside other women, doing the necessities of life, which for them center around hearth and home.  The manner in which they work, steady, unhurried, and communally, helps build their levels of the hormone oxytocin, which fills the female body with a sense of peace and well-being.  He contends that this is central to a woman's physical and mental health throughout life and certainly provides protection as she ages. 

On the other hand, women in our modern, push-push, deadline driven culture begin to experience a stress-related breakdown of health because they are operating in a way that is foreign to their needs.  In fact, they are forced to behave and react in ways suited to the male of the species - something he thrives on, but something we do not.

So you see, we can best "contribute to society" by building up our homes and loved ones.  We can be rich beyond measure, by owning our time, making our own choices, and even adding material wealth to our family by focusing in on how we can most efficiently acquire things we need and even some things that are luxuries.
We have the time to prepare our carefully chosen or home-grown food, and serve it to the delight and health of our families.  We can be rich in social interaction by showing hospitality to others, or making visits, phone calls or writing letters. 

These are the things which make life rewarding and worth living in my estimation. If anything I feel a little guilty to have such an abundant life on a fraction of what other folks are bringing in.  But I am always thankful.

Friday, January 14, 2011


It Snows, Oh It Snows by Grandma Moses
© 1951 - 15" x 12" from

I am unpacking some winter memories today, and after unearthing them after all these years, I must admit I never thought about how odd they might seem to folks today. My memories of the eccentricities of my childhood seem now like clothes left forgotten in the attic. After seeing such things, so long out of style, one can scarcely believe anyone wore them. But they did.

When I was 11 years old, my mother and I spent part of the winter in her hometown of Rutland, VT, as she was trying to help two of her brothers get started in their new restaurant. It was a wonderful Italian restaurant, proudly named Bernardina's, after my grandma. She decided to do this one day, so she packed us up and put me in school in Rutland. My father was probably laid off for the winter from his construction job, and she just left him and my teen-aged brother there to hold down the fort while she went on her mission.  I suspect my brother might have been happy for this turn of events.

It seems kind of odd that she would do that now when I think back on it. My mother was a special person, but not as rare as one might first think. She was indeed very independent, but enjoyed her independence within the soft nest of being in a traditional, religious (then typical) family. Hard to explain, but she was married to Dad faithfully for 48 years until her death, raised my brother and I beautifully on my father's small salary, but was blessed in that she had a quick mind, a vibrant spirit, and a husband who had no issues with her flitting on and off a little project now and then.

For instance, when I was seven and in the second grade, she decided to start her own diner. Again it was winter, again my father was out of work (which perfectly fit her plans as she made him the dishwasher), and Grandma was available to come down from Vermont and cook. As I have mentioned before on this blog, Grandma was built just like a Sherman tank and had the raw strength and power of one, as well.

 Unlike the tank she was a lot faster, though, as I personally witnessed her cleaning up the entire kitchen many times (no dishwasher or disposal) after having fed tons of people, in under 10 minutes. This included putting all the dishes away. You really didn't want to be in her way when she was working like this, and since you might be slain on the spot if you got close enough to breath on any of her windows or starched curtains, it was best to just go outside.

So my mother, as good a cook and baker as Grandma, a whiz with numbers, and the kind of person who, upon meeting, most people just became their true selves with and compulsively coughed up personal information, giving up secrets and everything, went into business. Up went the sign bearing the very original and clever name for a diner: "Mary's".

She was wildly successful, made lots of money and endeared herself to anyone who walked through the door. After three months, she up and quit. Went out of business. Why? Well, she was tired of it, and missed being home with my brother and I, and besides, now it was spring and my father was getting hired back onto a construction job. Grandma packed up her aprons, and called one the "boys" (my uncles who all lived up home in Vermont), to come get her. She put herself into the Cadillac, along with a huge order from the Italian importing store in Schenectady, and her new foundation garments and dresses from Nelson's (affectionately referred to as the "fat lady store") and rode off into the sunset, waving and blowing kisses.

My father, I seem to remember vaguely, was only too happy to escape "Mary's" kitchen and get back out with the men, digging ditches. And he was equally happy, extra money and success aside, to say good-bye to "Mary's", and get Mary back where she belonged as queen of the realm at the house. Funny how men back then were not so concerned with income so much as they were with living a cozy, well-ordered life.

My mother came home, which delighted me. For the past three months I had been tended to in the morning by an older lady named Clare. She was nice enough, but I felt lonely. She was a stranger in my house, making me soggy french toast and bringing me to school. I just couldn't acclimate myself to this! She wasn't my mom and there was no getting around it. After school my dad would get me and bring me to the diner where I would stay with them until after the dinner hour, and then we'd all come home around 7 pm and go to bed early. I don't remember where my 12 year old brother would spend his time after school. Maybe he would be there a lot, but more likely he was probably hanging out in the neighborhood, hitting passing cars with snowballs, and just being the biggest smart-aleck. What a trouble maker that kid was!

So my childhood was pretty interesting, really. While I was in Vermont staying with my favorites, Uncle Pat, Aunt Margie and their six kids, it was, as I said, the dead of winter. Back then, of course, there was not much electronic amusement for youngsters, and the grown-ups were not in the habit of providing money, and pre-fabricated entertainment to children nor so-called "quality time" with them. They were more prone to spend "quantity time" with us, the women home all day, the men at work, but everyone around the dinner table at night. After that, the adults would sit in the living room and watch a sometimes fuzzy TV that received about three channels on a good day.

There was, I should point out, no "family room" in anybody's house, as I recall. Heck, my uncle's house had a dirt cellar which held the most amazing and unique feature: a huge boulder sitting right in the middle of it!  I guess back in the 1860's when they dug out the foundation, they found it and just decided to leave it be - wouldn't hurt anything, would it?

So most every night, my cousin Marcie and I would, just for fun, venture out into the still, frozen darkness and down the road about a half a mile to a little store owned by an old, almost totally blind, lady. She lived in the back of the store, and you had to pull a string when you entered, which would ring a bell back in her quarters to let her know she had a customer.

Have you ever heard the expression, "robbing you blind"? Well, it did not apply here, amazingly enough. Apparently this system had gone on for years, and in that part of the universe (perhaps it was a parallel universe, after all) all the customers were honorable. Including us. We would chat with the old lady, buy something cheap and then walk home. Most of the time, strangely enough, we would buy an ice cream cone. Vanilla, I think was the only flavor she had. But ice cream on January nights in New England! Intrepid youth!

Often, snow would be falling on our ice cream cones, as we leisurely made our way back up the road, fantasizing to each other about our future husbands. Oh, they would be lucky, handsome, and insanely rich husbands! We would  pick them from the royalty and rock stars we'd undoubtedly meet and smite with our beauty one day. The snow would pile onto our cones, making them last a little bit longer. And how clever of us to eat ice cream outside when it was too cold for it to melt and drip down the cone like it does in summer.

Well, I have unpacked a couple of boxes today, and I see lots more to be gone through in the time to come. To some these things might be clutter, but to me they are precious keepsakes which have helped to form me along the way.

As I look back over my shoulder, I see lots of adventure here, because this attic is packed!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Cinderella, by Nadir Quinto (buy at

"A merry heart doeth good [like] a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."
Proverbs 22:17

A broken spirit, I can attest, also makes me feel like a hundred pound weight is sitting in my stomach. I suppose, as frail and fallen human beings, we can hardly avoid the occasional dust-up with someone, be it loved one, friend, co-worker, boss, or that guy who just cut you off in traffic.

We feel frustrated, wronged, shamed sometimes. And have you ever tried to do something you thought was helpful and good and then were told in no uncertain terms that you were wrong or that you really screwed up? In short, have you been rebuked or rebuffed, even in a small way, then had a hard time letting go of the pain?

This is a sorry state to be in, and I know what I am talking about. I have always been "sensitive". Let me tell you, it's really unattractive and burdensome. Do we really want to go around moping or crying, or being unfulfilled and unproductive by injustices real, or exaggerated that we might encounter today? We all know it feels like garbage and yet we are often locked into the feeling, and find ourselves obsessively and endlessly composing snappy comebacks or clever actions which vindicate us and maybe inflict a little pain on the offending party, to boot. Funny thing though, none of this ever seems to really help, or make us feel good again. Why? Because they are born of a sinful response to our hurt pride. And yet, we seem to be stuck in them, as one tangled in a net.

"Oh, wretched man that I am; who can deliver me from this body of death?" cries the apostle Paul, who was also fed up with being a compulsive sinner, it seems. But what was his next thought, and his reply to his painful question?

"But thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Romans 7:25-26

As always, it's always about the Lord, who is our answer to any problem we are faced with.

There is a prayer that I used to read a lot. It was found in a periodic, Anglican devotional called Forward Day by Day. Part of it went something like this:

"preserve me from minding little stings, or giving them..."

So we are to ask the Lord, according to this prayer, to preserve or keep us safe from being hurt by the little bits of carelessness or unkindness of others we might encounter today. And to prohibit us from stinging back. What tools does He give us to free ourselves from that obsessive-compulsive constraint of hurt feelings and desire for revenge?

One of the answers is contained in the very "dry bones" verse itself.

"A merry heart doeth good [like] a medicine..." We do not have to feel like it, but we can make an act of the will to dwell on happy, cheerful thoughts. A good place to start is by being thankful for some of our countless blessings. We can pray for others, too, especially those who offend us. Takes the wind right out of the devil's sails when we do that, doesn't it?

Here are some more verses that clue us in on what makes for "healthy bones", a metaphor for many things, including a sound foundation for our life:

"Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones" (Proverbs 3:7-8).

"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones" (Proverbs 16:24).

"Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop,

and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice" (Psalm 51:6-8).

Besides all that, time to get busy, Cinderella, work is good for the soul! Whistle while you work, too, remember, or better yet, sing praise songs!

"...a cheerful heart hath a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15

  And somehow there's a handsome prince involved at the end!

Better than that - the King of Kings!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The new year is upon us, and I am back, in a manner of speaking, from my hiatus. God bless whoever decided it was good to celebrate Christmas at the beginning of winter. They not only capitalized on the season of the first return of longer days, but also blessed us with an opportunity to take this quieter time in the year in which to decompress from the frenzy of "the holidays", and contemplate a few things about our lives. Long nights and cold days have a way of muting the sharp edges of everyday life outside our homes.

Any time that motorcycles are put away in garages and outside sounds are muffled by snow is a good time for me. In the time when people lived an agrarian lifestyle winter was their slow season when work was slack and in fact, people would marry in the late fall and winter, as I believe the Amish do still.

We need winter to recuperate, because "doing" these holidays is not for amateurs, and boy, did these last ones take about everything out of me that I could give, and then some. Something is not quite right with that, is it?

Running concurrent with them, I had been managing a couple of part-time jobs, church commitments, and was needed for running folks to appointments and often having to "hang out" while they did their thing. Really time-consuming. Then there were the illnesses to tend. So that jingle-jangle sound heard through the town was not sleigh bells, but actually my damaged nerves about to give out. I feel the need right now to write about my experience in the hopes that it will help me sort things out, and maybe help someone else to maybe get a different perspective, too.

Here is something I figured out a long time ago, but always refuse to acknowledge once November dawns: my fore-mothers were not involved in outside jobs or all these other activities, and therefore, outside of going to Mass, they devoted themselves
to hearth and home, and therefore could do all the cooking, cleaning and baking they wished. Not that they didn't work hard; indeed, they worked very hard without all the modern conveniences, but their lives were simpler and more focused on home. And my Italian grandmothers could make Zeppoles and Struffuli, because they were not also making French Buche de Noel, and English fruitcake, and nine other kinds of cookies from various lands. And they could keep their simply furnished homes clean and tidy, ready for drop-in visitors, because they were not outside stringing lights and garland over everything, decorating every room in their house on top of all the normal clutter, or going to meetings or practices and running the roads day and night. Do their lives sound drab to you? Maybe I'm weird (oh, of course I'm weird) but it sounds heavenly to me.

Naturally, to be successful in any era, it also helps to be an organized person, and I have slowly and painstakingly learned to be better at this. But I wasn't born that way, and have often been a slow learner. However, is it always the case that the reason we cannot successfully cram more and more into our days because we are just not organized enough? Or, perhaps, instead are we trying to do way too much? Saying yes to people and opportunities when we should say no?

I have been doing some soul-searching lately, to say the least. I have realized that no matter how much or little money we make, one or the other of us has a tendency to want to spend a little more than we bring in. So I potentially have the same dilemma, whether I am home, happy and able to do what I feel I am called to do, or whether I am out there trying to work at all this crazy stuff, sweating and stressing about money and my duties. We will continue to have a problem unless we stop over-spending.

So, with God's help, I am determined to rein in the situation and just in the last week, resisted the temptation to spend about $1,300 on various projects. I also plan to make respectful but straightforward appeals to my husband when he gets in that mood to overspend, and be very careful of our finances from here on out.

A dear friend made me think of something else. She asked me if I was trying to do all this to earn love. Ouch, that hurt, but she was probably right. I think I try to overdo everything in an effort to be the best, or more accurately, in order be worthy, and perhaps the worthiest. Now that is ugly. We all know that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And that there is "no one worthy, no not one." And that being made right with God, is all His doing, not mine. Accepting His free gift of "being made worthy by Him" is my job. Making Him Lord of my life is my job. Trying, with His help to discern His will and to obey Him, is my job. Remembering this and casting all my cares on Him leaves me feeling refreshed and joyful, and not enervated and exhausted.

I think that is how our work on earth should leave us feeling, too. If what we do is in obedience to God's will and is done ultimately out of love for Him and others, than it may make us physically tired, but joyful and satisfied at the end of the day. If what we engage in leaves us upset and dissatisfied, then we are probably doing things that we were never meant to do.

As far as trying to earn the love, respect and admiration of other people, I have to plead guilty to this as well. How hard is that to let go? Oh, its awfully hard for me. I want to make people happy, and I don't want to be mean, and I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Well, guess what happens when I try to make everybody happy? I end up just a bit short (just like in my finances) of hitting the mark, coming just this close to fulfilling their wishes, but not quite. Which means, as far as they're concerned, that I didn't do any of it right. And I, at the point of collapse, tend to become a little whiny, a little short and sharp-tongued, and then, oh boy, is everyone unhappy with me!! That's right - NOBODY IS HAPPY!!

Which leaves me feeling lower than a dirt sandwich. So beginneth the cycle anew to earn back my points with the Almighty and my fellow humans.

So, I'm stopping. I am quitting a job tomorrow and a church "ministry" that have kept me tied down for a long time now. I hope that other women will be able to stop, too, whatever it is that they were not called to do, or no longer called to do. If we fulfill the biblical mandate of being a keeper at home, and we do what's necessary to take care of ourselves as well, then I think God will bless us with well-being and His peace.

And as far as getting every piece of tinsel and glitter on everything, going nuts with these gifts, and baking and cooking every recipe that "looks good", then going into meltdown, maybe we need to ask ourselves why. Why do we ruin these holy days that God gives us with so much overkill? One time I foolishly tried to go to the Mall on the day after Christmas. I saw people cussing and fighting over parking spots, and it occurred to me, that indirectly they were engaging in this ugly, sinful behavior in a way that was somehow connected to the humble birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I was horrified and I went home.

And going home is a very good place to start to get it right.