“A Volunteer”


We are getting our first real heat of the summer. Although it is much too soon for the seedlings just planted to be flowering, this little sunflower partly opened yesterday. It grew, no doubt, from one of the scattered sunflower seeds from the bird feeder. Even though the birds try to eat every seed, some intact ones must escape. Later in the summer this whole white picket fence will be bordered with a variety of sunflowers.

My daughter has taken over the family tradition of having a big party on, or in this case near, the fourth of July. When we lived in Oregon, our yard looked over the river at a magnificent fireworks display. We would start our party in the mid afternoon so our guests could find parking. We lived on a dead end street and people drove up and down it as the time came to watch fireworks. One extremely frustrated neighborhood kid would yell at them. As if that helped matters. After lots of chicken, beer and watermelon, we would sit on the neighbor’s nearly flat roof and watch the display.

Since there are no close fireworks, my daughter will just have lots of food including of course chicken, beer and watermelon.  We used to always have a watermelon seed spitting contest, but the new melons are seedless. So for fun the kids will throw water balloons.

We will celebrate the promise, not the current reality, of the United States. Yes we were flawed from the beginning, with slavery and the destruction of native peoples. Still we have struggled until recently to be open to immigrants and to embrace our vast diversity. May we find our way back to being a more just country.

“Blueberry Barricade”


I have been married thirty years this month to a man who is happiest when he is outdoors. Winters in New England are long; the ground freezes; there is only so much snow blowing and snow shoveling to be done. So he is able to plan projects for the spring.

He has an impressive garden of at least 18 blueberry bushes, and he has been in an ongoing battle over ownership of the fruit with the birds who frequent our yard. For the past several years he used a pipe and net system with the netting held together with lines of wooden clothespins. Each evening he would go out to see which birds had managed to find gaps in the netting and get to the bushes. He would then cajole them back out. Occasionally he would need my help to free the talons of a jay from the netting.

All winter he planned the structure pictured above which he finished just as the berries ripened. The scale is so enormous I wouldn’t be surprised by a city inspector asking to see a building permit! This one has a elaborate combination of wood beams and poles, pipes and yards and yards of netting. So far birds have not made their way into the berries.

Now I am afraid that he will discover that his main competitors for the fruit are our grandchildren. They not only feast away, they also bring their friends over to eat “Grandpa’s berries.” Let’s hope they don’t leave a hole in the netting!

“How Does Your Garden Grow?”


I love hollyhocks, though I can’t consciously remember ever seeing them growing up. Since they have such an emotional response from me, I assume that my grandparents had them in their yard. Here hollyhocks are subject to rust which destroys them. Last year we planted a rust resistant variety and they are in bloom right now. They take a full year to grow and bloom, so this is the first flowers we had from them.

My husband is a master gardener and I am a devoted fan of his gardening. My skill rests solely in asking him to plant annuals each late spring. He loves bulbs and perennials but gladly prepares and plants my annual bed each year. I favor sunflowers, zinnia and cosmos, so those are the seeds he plants for me. I am always amazed by how many flowers come up from such inexpensive packets of seeds.

Scattered on the driveway behind the hollyhocks are hundreds of cherry pits. We have a lovely pie cherry tree outside our kitchen window from which I hang our bird feeders. Needless to say, the birds think that the cherries are just another food source we have put out just for them. They eat them as soon as they ripen. I only wish they were more tidy with the pits!

“For the Birds”


On the spur of the moment my daughter, grandchildren and I went this morning to explore the local Audubon Society. My granddaughter wants to be a veterinarian and heard that the sanctuary could use volunteers. While at 11 she is too young to handle the birds, such as this magnificent owl, she will be able to work with the snakes, turtles, frogs and rabbit.

They have a very comfortable couch where you can sit and observe birds at the feeders outside the window. I told my grandson that he could see the same birds at my feeders outside my kitchen window.

“But you can’t sit on a couch while you do it,” he replied!

“Prayer for Refugees”


Yesterday in church, we prayed together verses from Catholic Relief Services. Because this is a Christian organization the phrase “born into time in a family of refugees” is a specific reference to Jesus. However, the rest of the prayer is applicable to all faiths and all people seeking refuge.

“God of our Wandering Ancestors, long have we known that your heart is with the refugee: that you were born into time in a family of refugees fleeing violence in their homeland, who then gathered up their hungry child and fled into alien country.

Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages: “Will you let me in?”

Give us hearts that break open when our brothers and sisters turn to us with that same cry.

Then surely all these things will follow: ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices. Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat. Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate. And hands will reach out–working for peace in their homeland, working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven. Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.

May they find a friend in me and so make me worthy of the refuge I have found in you.”


In my extended family people died because other nations would not let them in. May we live to a higher standard than the head of the United States espouses. His ancestors were allowed admittance to the same nation whose borders he proposes to close.

“In COLOR!!!”


When I was a child, many movies were still in black and white, not to be cutting edge, but because that had been the only format available. I first saw “The Wizard of Oz” when I was seven years old. Of course I saw it in a movie theater because that was the only way I could ever see any movie. I was dumbstruck when the house landed in Oz and Dorothy stepped out into a world of color. The change still gets me every time no matter how often I can now watch the film at home on my little television screen.

My little brother was four and he ran screaming out of the theater followed by my mother when the flying monkeys rained out of the sky. My mother hadn’t seen the movie since it first came out, and I don’t think she remembered how scary those monkeys were. She had been seventeen and probably remembered it as a children’s movie. I was frightened to death by the witch riding by on her bicycle, and my grandchildren occasionally program my phone to play the haunting tune that plays in the background as the witch speeds by. They can’t believe that I was ever scared by the scene. However, they hadn’t seen it on a giant screen in the darkened theater.

I still crave seeing movies on the big screen. No matter how available movies now are at home, I fail to be immersed in the story as I always was in the movie theater. Some such dramatic moments stick with me still. On a date in Boston, we ended up in the front row to see the James Bond movie “Goldfinger.” I had never seen anything as startling as that opening image of a giant gold body. Violent movies certainly hit me harder. And monster movies, no matter how silly they look on television, genuinely terrified me and my friends well into high school. And lets not even think about love scenes, no matter how G rated they all were, filling a huge screen. There was no way Paul Newman had his eyes on anyone but me!

“Movies Old Style”


Near me today all the movie theaters are jammed together into structures called “plexes” of some sort or another. Basically this is a large building with a ticket seller at the entrance, food in the lobby and 10-20 small movie “theaters.” Clearly there is nothing theater like about these partitions. They are simply rooms with tiered seating and a large screen in the front. Two exit signs mark the fire escape routes. The movies are run by computer controlled by one “projectionist” hidden somewhere in the place.

Going to the movies was once an event to be savored. Theaters themselves were extravagant displays of over the top decoration. Heavy velvet curtains hid the screen until the start of the movie when they were opened with a dramatic flourish. A uniformed usher showed you to a seat using a flashlight if the film had already begun. One of my friends in college paid for her room and board by ushering in a Boston movie theater.

Decorum dictated behavior once you were seated. If anyone was disruptive, the usher would appear and escort the miscreant out of the theater. It was acceptable to glare at anyone talking around you without fear of being cursed out. The floors were not sticky with spilled drinks and mashed popcorn as I find many movie theaters today. While seats did not recline, have cup holders or any other accoutrements, they were velvet covered, plush and very comfortable. And it was understood that if you wished to “neck,” the back row was the only acceptable place to do so. Of course, the usher was also watching to make sure you remained sufficiently appropriate.

What I remember most fondly about the movies was the tension on a date about the center arm rest. Did you share it? Should you make your hand sort of available to be held without being overly obvious? Sometimes that dynamic was more engaging than the movie itself. Still movie theater movies were a safe first date. Not like the drive-in. But that’s another story.

“Current Events”


People of my generation continue to be the main users of print newspapers. I suspect this goes back to our childhood when we were given “My Weekly Reader: The Junior Newspaper” each week in our classrooms. We were also regularly required to bring in an article  of our choosing from the newspaper to share in the segment of class called “Current Events.” In 7th grade, we were given $100 in imaginary money to “purchase” shares of stock. We then were expected to track the performance of “our” stock every week by looking it up in the newspaper.

For most of my elementary school years, the only things I knew about current events came from newspapers. Our town had two, one in the morning and one in the evening. The evening one was more labor friendly and was aimed at workers coming home after their jobs. The morning one was more conservative and was aimed at business men getting ready to face the day. While each reported similar news, the evening one also seemed to include more crime stories. The morning paper had the stock performance charts. Neither was as pointedly biased as several cable television channels are today, however.

So newspaper reading was purposefully instilled as a habit from my earliest school days. No on-line source still satisfies me as much as opening the morning “New York Times” and settling down with my coffee and toast. No on-line source has ever replaced the pleasure of getting the crossword puzzle to start my day. And no television newscast allows me to skip over stories that don’t interest me. I may be one of a dying breed, but I will go down reading my paper.


“What Does It Cost?”


Despite their invention in the mid 1950’s, Xerox machines were definitely a luxury and not part of ordinary life. I graduated from college in 1969, and my papers were still being duplicated with carbon paper. Even when I began teaching, using mimeograph machines was the only way to reproduce classroom materials. Not until the late 1970’s did I work somewhere with access to a Xerox machine. And at the college where I was doing graduate work, each copy was expensive. I remember having to pay 25 cents for a copy at first. Since at that time 25 cents was the equivalent of $1.11 in today’s money, this was a large expense for a graduate student. I used the Xerox very sparingly, and more often just copied material by hand onto index cards from the sources I needed to cite.

Doing research on index cards also shows my age. Today one can collect images, data and information in files on the computer. But when I was researching, I wrote every citation down on a card and then shuffled the cards until I was satisfied with the order I needed, whether alphabetical or chronological.

Amazingly, I now have a machine which cost me $89 which can fax, print,scan and copy. I pay only for the ink and the paper. No one could have made me believe that one day I would be able to research at home and duplicate my own material. And my machine doesn’t even need quarters!




Even posting this image of the mimeograph machine reminds me of the particular smell it gave off. If you are old enough to remember the machine, I bet the you would still recognize the odor if you ran across it. Since we needed more than one copy of a worksheet for much elementary school assignments, we had to use the mimeograph machine.

Fortunately, I rarely had to make my own stencils to use. There were many ready made mimeograph sheets available. But sometimes I had to make my own. I typed them on the stencil material which produced the image in reverse on the back of the master. Then the master was carefully separated from the back and attached to the large roller of the machine. Paper was inserted on the right and then you cranked the roller to duplicate as many sheets as you needed.

What could go wrong? You might die from the fumes of the thing to start with. There were no OSHA regulations in those days, and I am sure that the ink used to reproduce the stencil was toxic. Then you would have the challenge of attaching the master very carefully so that it lay evenly and smoothly across the roller. A slight wobble produced disastrous results. And of course, like most teachers I would wait until the morning I needed the sheets to run them off. So we had to wait while each of us carefully attached a stencil and ran off their copies.

Do I miss the thing? Not at all. By the time I returned to teaching the Xerox had been invented. Of course, it brought a myriad of its own problems from paper jams to toner spill. But at least, unless when it was overheating, it didn’t send out toxic fumes!