“Hand Me Downs”

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A couple of times a year a large cardboard barrel would arrive at our home filled with clothes our cousins had outgrown. The three of them were a little older than the oldest three of us, so the clothing would often fit. When I look at old photos, I often recognize that my outfit was a hand me down. Wearing my cousin’s old clothes probably wasn’t my first choice, but it was how things were and I accepted it.

However, I am increasingly aware of beliefs, ideas, and opinions that I carry around that are similar hand me downs from earlier people in my family. Most recently we took money from our savings account to pay for home repairs. I found that I felt as though I was violating some rule, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out which. We save money specifically to be able to cover unexpected expenses. On a rational level, I shouldn’t have had a problem.

Since this situation had frequently troubled me in the past, I took a little time to explore what was going on apparently at a subconscious level. I had a very clear memory of my father putting the savings account proudly in his dresser drawer. I had learned that saving is a positive activity. However, no matter what, my father never took money out of savings! I had acquired a hand me down notion that savings should never be touched.

It’s obvious when hand me down clothes no longer fit. It is much harder for me to see what hand me down beliefs are no longer useful. I’m retiring the one about savings since it isn’t a good fit for me. I now wonder what other outgrown ideas I am still holding onto without knowing it. I’m open to learning, no matter how long I’ve held them. And since I’m 71, that may have been a long, long time!

“Complementary Colors”

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Stepping out of my back door this morning, I was stunned by the beauty of the red hollyhocks backed by newly opened sunflowers. This variety of hollyhock has certainly proved to be a winner for us after having tried several other varieties. Now if I could only remember what they were called!

Of course, you can see a bit of the white picket fence and the brick walkway, both built by my husband from salvaged materials. He scrounges derelict buildings for bricks and timber. He built our grape arbor with a rescued chestnut beam from a torn down house.  I have seen old bricks for sale for inflated prices, but he has picked ours up here and there for free. I joke that when I see a building being knocked down, I immediately wonder what he might find there.

Summer has arrived in full force. Kids are walking by our house on their way to the town swimming pool a few blocks away. It’s free, clean and safely tended by a team of patient lifeguards. The ice cream truck drives by at least once a day, still playing “Turkey in The Straw” on its loud speakers. I had hoped that they might substitute another tune this year, but no such luck. Random fire crackers left over from the fourth of July sound in the evening. A few fireflies light up the yard. It’s a fleeting season in New England, but one with many small joys.

 

“Blueberry Bounty”

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My husband’s blueberry barricade constructed to keep the birds away from the berries has succeeded beyond his best dreams. So far he has only removed three birds from the enclosure. Previously, in his less fortress like structure, he would bird whisper about one a day out of the enclosure.

The weather has supported the abundance by not raining and splitting any of the huge ripe berries. The pine straw he gathers each fall and spreads beneath the plants both amplifies the acidic soil blueberries love and holds in moisture when he waters. Each evening after work he has picked at least one large bowlful of berries. He uses no pesticides or herbicides, so he is able to freeze them without washing. Spreading them out in a layer on a cookie sheet, he sets them in the freezer until hard. Then he packages them in little plastic freezer bags.

His reward extends through the rest of the year. Bringing one little bag of berries up each weekend, he stirs them into his oatmeal or pancakes. I prefer them mixed with unflavored Greek yogurt and am always glad he shares them so generously. Our yard yields another fruit which is at home in New England. I am again grateful.

“First Berries”

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Just after we moved into our home in 2001, we planted a few raspberry vines next to the garage. Since then the vines have grown into a full sized patch which runs the length of the garage and is hemmed in on one side by a brick walkway. Raspberry vines apparently like to spread out, and they even occasionally cross under the bricks and emerge on the other side. They profit from a heavy pruning each winter and grow back as though they had never been cut.

We grow two types of berries, the ones bearing now and the ones which come on in September. The summer ones have a sweet flavor, but the fall ones astound us each year with their full raspberry taste. Our grandchildren have been dropping by for a couple of weeks now, eating blueberries and asking if the raspberries were ripe yet. My husband dropped a full berry into my hand yesterday, signaling that they are beginning to be ready. They’re a  sure sign that summer is well underway in New England after an interminable winter and dreary spring.

Raspberries don’t keep well, so getting them at the store is a risky business. If they aren’t moldy it is probably because they weren’t really ripe enough to be picked. Here they only have to last from vine directly to mouth! They are an abundant blessing of summer, and I am grateful for them each year.

“Only Connect”

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My late cousin Susan here introduces me to doll house furniture in her back yard. She is being quite patient with me and I am fascinated by the toys. She invites me into her play circle, taking delight with passing on something she already knows how to do.

Yesterday I blogged about my struggle with reviewing self-published books. I didn’t just want to be a curmudgeon about it, so I offered my editing eye to anyone who would like it. It was a spontaneous offer, but a genuine one. Reflecting on it today, I realized that I, like my cousin Susan, only want to pass on something I already know how to do. That, I believe, is a central calling of old age. While the temptation exists to work through a “bucket list”, buy new and bigger toys, or spend hours writing nasty messages on social media, I can instead embrace the title of elder.

I am on the cutting edge of the baby boom in the United States, with a 1947 birthday. Millions of us are beginning to retire and to ask what next. While some of us are near the end of our lives, a doctor told me that if I have lived to age 65, the odds are I will live until 90. My parents lived to 89 and 93, so the chances are strong. I may be looking at another twenty years. I have decided to focus outward, to connect with people around the world and at home, to freely share what has been freely shared with me.  Some of my generation drive cars which proudly state “I am spending my children’s inheritance.” Some of my country’s leaders are doing the same with our environment and debt. I hope instead to connect with those looking to enrich the lives of younger generations. And I hope to do my part.

 

“Gift Horses”

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When I was a kid, I frequently was advised to “not look a gift horse in the mouth.” I knew it meant I should be grateful for gifts and not look for reasons to complain. The idiom was so old it had lost connection with its origins, however. But it stemmed from looking at a horse’s teeth to see if it was worth acquiring. If it was a gift, one shouldn’t be so rude as to check its teeth.

I occasionally receive advanced reader’s copies of books. In the case illustrated above, I was able to review Anne Tyler’s latest novel before its release today. This review did not challenge me, since I appreciated this addition to her long list of novels about the overlooked people in Baltimore. I was able to write truthfully praising the book.

My difficulty comes with gifts of books to review that I don’t want to praise. Years ago, a book went through editors before being published by a commercial firm. In those days, “vanity presses” existed for writers to self publish by paying for the service. Today the line between commercially produced books and self-published books is less clear. Self-publishing, no longer called “vanity,” has allowed many writers to get their work into print. Many, skillfully edited, are equal to commercially produced books. However, some writers bypass the editing step. The result reminds me of the value of editors!

I am choosing to follow the other advice I was given as a kid , “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” when I read self-published books. But I continue to offer, free of charge, my editing advice to any of my followers who would benefit from it. I am delighted that one blogging friend is taking me up on the offer. Let me know if any of you would like to pick my editing brain too. I can’t promise perfect help, but I can share what I know after a long professional life teaching English.

 

“Out of Darkness”

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While I have taken a long break from following the news out of my country, I have paid close attention to the Thai boys lost in a cave deep underground. Their rescue, still in progress as I write, is uncertain, though eight of the boys are now above ground. I have had the chance to wonder what has moved me about this news.

Most of the news in my country leaves me feeling paralyzed and helpless. I weep for the children torn from their parents at our border, now scattered, no one seems to know where, across our nation. But I can’t see the lawyer and volunteers working tirelessly for their reunion with their parents. I am sickened by the words of Donald Trump, but I can’t reply directly to him since I am unable to tolerate his personal attacks and name calling which would surely follow. I detest the isolationism now being espoused by my nation’s leaders, but I can’t singlehandedly let people around the world know we need each other.

But in the Thai rescue effort, a team of Thai, British, Chinese, Australian, American (and any I don’t know about) divers are working tirelessly together to rescue 12 little boys and their coach. They aren’t spending hours debating whose fault it is that the group is there. They aren’t trying to get points for being first in or for rescuing the most or wearing “Make Thailand Great Again” clothing. Risking their lives for children they have never met, they are reminders of the best of human behavior. This isn’t some “feel good” story. This is an actual counterbalance to the ugly news that spews nonstop from my “leader.” Though he is now trying to jump on the “we are working to get those boys out” bandwagon, he couldn’t care less. But I am grateful to all who are together in this effort.