Monday, March 31, 2008

Family Matters by Angie Ledbetter

Just returning from a 3-day trip to attend a nephew's wedding, I feel like I could sleep for a week. But the drive and missed time in my own bed were well worth being in attendance at a large family celebration.

Since I spent a lot of time looking through my camera's viewfinder, I had fun seeing things both close up on small details, and as a participant. Billed as the "Cajican" wedding (Cajun groom from Louisiana + Mexican bride from Texas), the event was a smooth melding of cultures, old friends and new, all in a beautiful and rustic resort setting -- Hideout on the Horseshoe outside of Austin:

I'm thankful things went so smoothly. The vows were exchanged outside on a natural rock platform overlooking the river. As the bridal party was walking back up the stone steps to the reception pavilion, a light shower "blessed" us all, then disappeared. The food, live band's eclectic mix of music from several eras and genres, and camaraderie went into the wee hours of Sunday morning without any problems. It was a wedding no one will forget.

Several things made me realize how grateful I am to have had such a weekend: younger relatives helping older ones across rocky paths unasked and playing with young kids to keep them from becoming bored; the visiting between cabins of relatives, friends, and strangers; the spirit of cooperation toward one goal; kind and helpful attitudes; delicious shared food; the awesome beauty of nature surrounding the whole event; and another chance for my own family members to bond. There wasn't a single fight between the three kids jammed in the backseat of the vehicle for the long drive there and back, which is a minor miracle in itself.

It was a weekend away from our routine paths, and one which we all enjoyed to the fullest. It reconfirmed all the important things in life -- family, celebrating life and taking time to really be with one another instead of chasing individual pursuits.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Big Sister, Little Brother by Kathryn Magendie

I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. ~Dylan Thomas

I most always think of him as a little boy, not the young man David was when he died at thirty-two. Imbedded in my memories lie his infectious laugh, impish ways, and gentle nature. My little brother once brought home the mangiest, ugliest stray mutt and named him Dinky. Dinky promptly ate my mini-parrot, but I couldn’t stay mad, and now I’m glad. David’s face was so woebegone I’d have had to harden my teenage heart far too much to yell at him or blame him.

A few years before Dinky, David and I planned to stay awake the entire night—oh, this was a daring, exciting feat before the days of endless television and technology. We sat on my bed—as big sister that was quite an honor for a little brother—and played games, told stories. The last I remember the time, it was four a.m. We awoke the next morning, disappointed we hadn’t quite made it, but I’ve never forgotten the little brother-big sister bond we felt.

And years before that, David was feeling poorly, and so climbed in bed with me, feverish and pale. My sisterly heart took over then, too, instead of the “eyewww…go away, brother!” I petted his head and told him he’d feel better in the morning. Instead, he was rushed to the hospital and would have died if my parents had waited any longer. I remember visiting him, awed at the tubes protruding from his small body. When he came home, it was as if he was made of glass and we didn’t want to break him. Who knew that was only a practice for what would later come. A mean tease from whomever or whatever may be in charge. I suppose some could look at it as a reprieve, delay of the inevitable. I suppose.

So, you may be thinking, what does death of a beloved brother have to do with gratitude? Why...gratitude for those days I can pretend he’s not gone by re-living our childhood. Gratitude for the days I see David’s impish face grinning at his big sister who sometimes showed sisterly charity by being kind instead of bossy and mean. Gratitude I remember those kind sister events more than the mean-sister ones. Gratitude for the time he was here on Earth with us, however short.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers by Nannette Croce

It’s sunny and 65 degrees. The next few days promise chilly rain. I want to work in my yard, take the dog for a walk, but, instead, I’ve spent the better (or should I say worst) part of this glorious day wrangling with the IRS.

My husband has a small business for which I do the bookkeeping. To make a painfully long story short, the IRS wants to penalize me for paying my withholding late, when, in reality, I’m paying early. It’s a system glitch. In the past I’ve made a call. The person on the other end adds a note to the system. I don’t pay the penalty. All is well. But today I ran up against a brick wall. The fellow I talked to refused to even consider my explanation and insisted I must have missed a payment somewhere.

I’m usually the essence of patience with people who deal with the public. I once paid medical claims. I know what a bad day feels like. But this fellow frustrated me nearly to tears until I ended up agreeing to pay both the penalty and an extra tax payment just to end the ordeal.

After several deep breaths and some lunch, I decided to take another crack at it. This time I got a lovely woman who went through my payments month by month for three years and cleaned up the problem once and for all.

Too late for yard work or even to walk the pooch, I settled for opening a window and reading a magazine. That poor woman had another hour ahead of her answering angry taxpayers and cleaning up someone else’s mistakes.

She kept her good humor though I bet few people take the time to thank her.

I’m glad I did.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Buck Stops There by Barbara Quinn

I am truly grateful for the Dollar Store. Every other month either the snow plow guy, or the newspaper delivery fellow, runs over and breaks one of the reflectors that line my very long driveway. I used to have to go searching for new ones and hated the expense. But then I discovered that my dollar store carries them. Hooray! Now I stock up and pull one out when necessary. Likewise, when I lose my reading glasses, off I go to the dollar store for a new pair. In fact, I now keep a pair of reading glasses in the kitchen, and also in the bedroom, and in my purse, since at a buck a piece it’s easy to splurge.

I know these things are not high quality. Most are from China. I’ve had some items break within hours, but, boy, it sure is nice to pay merely a buck for spatulas, gift bags, greeting cards, notepads, and lawn decorations. Plus, it’s one stop shopping for non-shopper me. Being able to buy glass cleaner, holiday decorations, and hair bands for the gym in the same place is a time saver. I don’t purchase pills, cosmetics, cups, dishes, candles, or children’s toys, since I’m paranoid about things made in China (lead paint, impure products, lead wicks, oh my!). But I rationalize that the things I do purchase can’t be emitting enough Chinese death rays to harm me when I hang them in a window or place them by the front walk.

How great is it that my dollar store cuts keys, and makes balloon bouquets. And that the proprietress is always helpful, so much so that her store is my first stop when I need something. If she doesn’t carry it, I steel myself for the hunt, and it’s off to crowded Wal-Mart. If they don’t have it, I’m on the internet because I can’t deal with the frustration of not finding whatever it is that I need.

Recently I had to buy two room humidifiers. The easiest way I’ve found to locate an item at a good price is to go to or and search for the product. After doing that, I found a store that had a good humidifier at a reasonable price, so I made the drive. I’m not getting one of those for a buck, that’s for sure. But for all those other little helpful items, nothing beats the Dollar Store.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Solitary Enjoyment by Angie Ledbetter

I had a rare opportunity this afternoon while visiting my parents. I didn't have anything I had to do, no place to be, no duty calling. It wasn't meal time and my cell phone was quiet. I suddenly had truly free time and could do anything I chose. This may sound strange to a lot of people who get "down time" often or can fill their days with leisure and activities of their choice. But for me, it was a strange occurrence.

I suddenly had an urge to do something I used to do when I was young (before the advent of computers) or during summers and holidays in my college days -- play solitaire. I opened the side table in my folks' living room and got out a crisp deck of Hoyle playing cards. Sitting on the floor, I laid out the classic 7 piles for the game and played a hand or two. I actually even won a couple! It was a simple and enjoyable pastime and sent me back in time.

Nostalgia wafted from the cards as I shuffled them hand over hand and then did the slightly more complicated bridge shuffle. Even the smell of the cards sent me to childhood. Back in the days when we and the dinosaurs roamed, kids weren't over scheduled with activities, sports, and such every moment they weren't in school. We had to invent ways to entertain ourselves; much of it outside running around with other neighborhood kids or making up imaginary games to play. We challenged ourselves and each other over games of pickup sticks, jacks, marbles, and cards.

Cards were a permanent fixture in our home, and we all knew a ton of card games by heart. We spent hours dealing out hands or playing one of many solitaire versions. In fact, the DiBenedetto household spent so much time with decks of cards that my twin sister and I got in quite a bit of trouble on our first day of kindergarten. Our teacher Miss Territo called our parents and said, "The twins need help. When the class counts numbers out loud, your girls say, '...nine, ten, jack, queen, king!'"

So many fond memories tied to those 52 little paper rectangles.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Red Bicycle By Kathryn Magendie

I've been thinking about my red bicycle. It was the first bike I'd ever owned, and it was a beaut. The brand escapes me, for I didn't care about brand then; I only cared that I finally finally owned a bike. It was used when my parents bought it, for we didn't have much money and there were five kids to feed and clothe. And just as I didn't care about brand, I didn't care that it was a used bike, it was grand and it was red and it was mine.

My brother Mike, being the oldest, taught me how to ride it. I can see his face, big brother smile, his teasing left behind for another day, as he said, "You can do it, sister!" He'd push me and away I'd go, glee and terror masking my face. I'd turn to make sure he was still behind me and he'd say, "Stop looking at me and look at the road ahead." After many tries, I finally did trust that he'd be back there until I gained my balance and I concentrated on the road ahead...until that moment when he let go.

At first, I didn't know he wasn't behind me, guiding me with his big brother boy hand. At first, I was only intent on learning, on making him feel proud, of gaining my independence even if I worried about skinned knees or my face hitting the road. When I finally glanced behind me, with that sense that something had changed, I saw Mike's grinning face receding...I was riding! I was doing it! I was doing it all by myself! The wind blew cool on my face. My hair fanned behind me like a flag. My feet pumped the pedals. My arms guided the handles. I was riding my red bike, my first ever red bike. All by myself. At that moment all was right with the world, nothing was better.

After that day, there were many adventures on my Red Bike. I was free to follow my brother, or ride alone along the Shreveport neighborhood I lived in. Sometimes we rode laughing giddily behind the mosquito trucks, the poison filling our lungs; who knew we were doing something that could be dangerous? In the warm rainy days, we'd ride through puddles, the dirty rain water splashing our backs as the wheels churned. My red bike. My big brother who taught me. Memories I am thankful for. Yes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Changing Places by Nannette Croce

Final semester of my daughter’s senior year at college. We’re visiting for the Easter weekend. Driving, I think of the first year, before she had her own car, picking her up that first Thanksgiving, Christmas, visiting at Easter, the first she would spend away from home. Stressing every traffic delay, anxious not to keep her waiting.

That first year we often received a call in the car. Are you almost here? How long until you arrive? Do you have to stop at the hotel first? Why not come right here? Then hugs and squeezes and a torrent of conversation. The annoying things her roommate did or said, the guy she liked who didn’t like her, the guy who liked her who she didn’t like.

This year we leave the house at a leisurely hour. Our daughter has volunteered to help out with a seminar and won’t be free until late afternoon. Around 5:00 the call comes. She’s exhausted, has a birthday party to attend that night, hasn’t bought the gift yet. Do we mind? My husband shoots me a look of relief when he hears my response.

“Actually, Dad and I are tired from the ride. We’ll pick up a salad at the supermarket and watch the news.”

We make plans for the next day. She’ll do the driving. She knows the town. She’ll pick us up for lunch. I’m already wondering at the protocol. Who sits in front Dad or me?

We’ll shop for a formal together, probably for the last time. We’ll pay for that and the gas she puts in the car. A last vestige of our roles as Mom and Dad.

We are already beginning to exchange places. Oddly, I don’t mind. This is how life works. This is how it should be.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Shall We Dance by Barbara Quinn

What do women want? They want, evidently, to dance.” - John Updike

I went dancing for the first time in long time. The bar was packed with people of all ages.People in their twenties were dancing shoulder to shoulder with people in their sixties and the crowd was singing along. There was every type of dancing on the dance floor: rock, blues, Irish music, heavy metal. We danced to all of it.

When I was in high school the nuns taught us to Irish dance. Italian-American-hand-gesturing-me never did get the hang of keeping my upper body stiff and my arms ram rod straight at my side during those jigs and reels. Four of us had to compete at an Irish Feis. I was….awful! But I do still love Irish music. And I love going dancing.

Some years back a knee injury and operation put a stop to my dancing days. During my recovery I yearned for the time when I could walk without pain. I would dream I was running, or dream I was dancing, then wake to find my knee throbbing. I didn’t appreciate my legs till I lost the use of one of them. To do laundry I had to push piles of clothes over the balcony through slots in the railing with my crutches. Then I hobbled down stairs and pushed it toward the washer and dryer with the crutches. Things, like cooking a meal, took three times as long to get done. And getting into my car was quite an event.I couldn’t food shop on crutches and had to depend on my husband to get that and much more done. One good part was when people saw me and my crutches walking toward them, the crowd usually parted leaving me feeling like a gimpy Moses.

I’m grateful that I recovered and can dance again for dancing is healing. I feel a pang of sympathy every time I see someone on crutches, or in a wheel chair. Though my knee will never be the same, it works well enough that I can dance without noticing it. I have a feeling when I get older, I’ll return to dancing in my dreams where there will always be room on the dance floor, and I’ll finally get those Irish jig steps right.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Blessings by Angie Ledbetter

What a beautiful day it is. It doesn't matter if it's snowing, raining, or so windy you wouldn't want to go outside. Good weather is just a bonus for an already wonderful day. As it happens, it's lovely in the South with the azaleas showing their pride for over a week now. Usually after just a few days, their purple, pink and snowy white heads have been knocked off by a rainstorm or that last freeze, but not this year. You can hardly find a street without the great blobs of bright color decorating at least a few yards.

What makes this day exceptionally lovely is almost everyone is off work and home for the Easter holidays. Two of my kids are traveling the country, enjoying time away from school and the 3-day moratorium on school and sport activities. And I'm not grading papers or preparing lesson plans since I have the whole week off.

I've visited with my parents, then enjoyed the delicious Louisiana Cajun tradition of boiled crawfish on Good Friday with other family members. But those are just minor benefits of being released from normally scheduled things I "gotta do."

The best thing about today is remembering the reason why I'm celebrating it. For Christians, Easter is the biggest event of the year. Christmas tends to want to overshadow it with all its commercialism, tinsel-covered trees, shopping, partying, and such, but it never really can. Today we remember the suffering Christ accepted for each of us. I'm grateful for one more attempt at struggling to walk in His footsteps, to give thanks for His ultimate sacrifice, and to rejoice again that He has risen.

Happy Easter Sunday, and may each of you be given baskets full of grace and all good things.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Moon and Me by Kat Magendie

People say full moons cause madness, mayhem. Perhaps. However, for me the madness is not a negative connotation, but a magical one. The full moon pulls to me, a strong gravitational tug I cannot resist, and I do not. I like to go outside and howl at the moon. Oh, it is not allowed in a polite society. But a full moon was made to be howled to. Here on my mountain, I can howl without worry, for no one cares, and perhaps they think I am only the wolf running through our mountain woods. The moon was made to stare at in awe, too. To let the light wash over my face and cleanse away a bad day. Full moons are magical. Yes, the sun makes me happy, makes me smile as I warm my face under its bright glare. But the moon is mysteriously silent, while the sun is loud. I can imagine if the Sun was a god and the Moon was a god, the Sun god would be the big apple cheeked loud, masculine god, like the one on Mr. Scrooge – the one who is laughing uproariously, loudly, full full full of it all! But the Moon god would be pale, ethereal pale, feminine, graceful, yes, but also big boned and strong, quietly reverent to all it cast its light on, never boastful.

When the moon rises over the mountain, it casts enchantment, piercing the darkness with winks behind clouds, or on clear days, spreading out its glow, soft yet purposeful. Critters hide from the moon’s rays as moon only laughs. I do not hide and I imagine the moon appreciates my admiration. I wait for the moon, readying my howl, but first comes the reverent silence, where I attempt to find its mysteries as the sky deepens and the moon appears full of its promises. Sometimes moon is sly, and I squint my eyes, narrow my focus. The moon waits patiently under my stare, unconcerned, unabashed. Then, I let it loose; let loose the howl, long and low and soft. Once, I thought my howl was returned by wolf. Oh awe.

I do not forget the different moods of moon—three-quarters, half, slivers. Moon is just as compelling no matter its shape. Sometimes the full moon surprises me, as I didn’t expect it. There is the intake of breath, the “oh!” of surprise, the happy gratitude for its gift. Moon moon moon, I adore you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Having the Holiday Off by Nannette Croce

In the category of never being satisfied. When I was a young married, it frustrated me no end that I couldn’t host my own holiday. Slaves to tradition, my two aunts and my Mom wouldn’t switch holidays, even amongst themselves.

Fast forward twenty-some years with the aunts gone, my sister four hours away, and my Mom unable to entertain. I now cook for every holiday. I never realized how soon Easter followed on Christmas until it meant one more day of setting tables, cooking a big meal, washing dishes, and scouring pots. I swear there are years I could decorate the Easter table with my left-over Poinsettias.

But ever since my daughter left for college and couldn’t come home for Easter, I’ve had an excuse to take that holiday off. Maybe she’d prefer to spend the weekend like any other, partying Friday and Saturday and sleeping in on Sunday, but I bring her a basket anyway and we go out to brunch.

Saratoga Springs’ weather where Skidmore College is located usually precludes Easter outfits even in April, let alone mid-March when Easter falls this year. I’m planning to pack my snow boots, but I don’t care. Given the alternative of feeding instead of being fed, I’ll take it.

My daughter graduates this year. Then what will I do? For now, I’ll just be grateful for my one holiday off.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Comfort Zone by Barbara Quinn

Spring is sprung. That means Easter is almost here. On Easter Sunday my son and daughter-in-law, nephew and his wife, niece, brother and sister-in-law, Mom (who is 87 and is treating us all to dinner), husband, and I will meet at a restaurant for dinner and catch up on each other’s lives. Then we’ll drive to my house for coffee and dessert. I’ve ordered a special grana, the wheat pie that is made for Easter, and lots of miniature cannoli, sfogliatelle, and √©clairs, and even a couple of St. Joseph’s pastries because Easter is early enough that they are still around. We’ll break out the port and sambuca, heat the espresso, coffee, and tea, and spend more time discussing everything from politics to celebrities. It doesn’t get better than that.

I’m grateful to have people to gather with for the holidays. The celebration with family gives life a comforting rhythm. For a while we forget all the daily hassles and problems and enjoy each other’s company. These times together shore up my defenses. It’s good to know there are people I can count on to be there in times of sorrow and joy. This comfort of family has no price, cannot be bought, and is a worthy life goal.

The person who will be missed when we gather is my Dad. While he was alive he worked hard and took care of us. He invested wisely and left my Mom with enough funds that she is treating us all to dinner, “courtesy of dear old Dad.” I like to think he’s smiling and happy that he is still taking care of us now.

My heart goes out to all the families who would like to but cannot spend time together. Soldiers and their far apart families, people too ill to celebrate, the dying and the departed, those who have to work on that day to support their families, those who are too poor to make a special meal. Even though you are apart or in dire straits, family can still give you comfort. And that is what I wish for you. Comfort and peace, and a welcoming family when you finally do gather once again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Words by Angie Ledbetter

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." ~ Mark Twain

I'm thankful when I can find just the right words to say what I'm thinking, to express ideas, to exchange feelings with family and friends, to make students feel inspired to learn, and to create stories, articles, and poetry. Although the arts of letter writing and conversation are in danger of becoming extinct, we must still communicate in order to live fully.

Have you ever thought how important the words we speak and write are? They have the power to uplift or crush. To encourage and bring delight. To impart important thoughts or ideas. It always amazes me how words in the hands of masterful speakers or writers can mean totally different things. I'm not talking about grammatically perfect writing; there are typos, danging modifiers, and other nits in almost everything I write. I'm talking about the power behind the words. Without creative pens and unique voices, we'd pretty much just muddle along in our own worlds, closed off individuals.

Words fill our lives in books, movies, music, poetry, and song, not to mention our interactions with others. What a heroic person Helen Keller was to overcome barriers to communication by sheer force of will and still leave her thoughts for generations to come. I ask myself if I put forth good effort in order to make my conversations and lesson plans stand out? Do I care as much as I should how my words come across?

I hope to choose carefully; to speak and write what I mean from the heart. I'd much rather produce a few lightning strikes than let loose lightning bugs that burn out so quickly, you wonder if they were ever really there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Save me from the Touridiots by Kat Magendie

I’m not feeling very grateful right now. In fact, I’m feeling irritated and annoyed. With spring break near, it is time for visitors to our mountain. Some have already arrived, including the people above us, who have left their dog on their deck while they go touring. The dog hasn’t stopped yelping for almost two hours now; and who knows how long the tourists will be away, either oblivious, or uncaring, of what their visit has brought to our quiet little cove. I stomp about my little log house. I turn up the television (so that while I am writing this, Rachael Ray is also yapping excitedly right along with the dog). I try to tune it out, but doggie only becomes more frenzied, as no one is there to let it know it hasn’t been left for good.

“Touridiot,” I mutter. I’ve meanly named the people who visit our beautiful mountains and disrespect it, and us. The touridiots who decided to hold a screaming drunken party at two in the morning. The touridiots who threw their fast food empties along the road. The touridiots who left a bulging sack of garbage by the side of the road, too lazy to take it to the nearby garbage disposal site. The touridiots who shot firecrackers during a drought, and even onto our neighbor’s roof.

I grit my teeth. I grind out, “Tourists go home!”

I take a deep breath. I was once a tourist to Western North Carolina. A good tourist, a reverential one, a respectful one. Good tourists do exist: The phantom bagpipe player whose mournful sound filters through the mountain mists and calls to that part of me who is Scottish. The young men who played their acoustic guitars while singing with lilting voices. The family with children, who I heard laughing and playing while building a little fort by the creek; what nostalgia to remember my fort-building days. The older couple who waved to us, the happiness evident on their faces; joy and reverence. I feel calmer. Funny thing, just as I wrote those positive things, the dog has stopped—this isn’t a metaphor or analogy or “moral ending,” the dog really has stopped right at the moment I wrote: I feel calmer. I decide to be grateful while it lasts. The family will return. The dog will calm. All will be as it was, or how it will be when it isn't; either way, I live in paradise. Yes, I do. Ahhhh.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Itchies by Nannette Croce

Tough day to write a gratitude post. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve developed some form of dermatitis––itchy red bumps––and now the medication I just started taking has me so lethargic that typing on my laptop feels more like running a marathon. And did I mention it’s my day to pay bills?

I am searching long and hard for something to feel grateful about.

Oh sure, there’s the usual stuff. I mean mild dermatitis isn’t exactly a terminal disease.There are medications to make me feel better. Yeah, yeah.

One reason the mildest malfunctioning of my body brings me down is that I am normally very healthy. At the doctor’s the other day my blood pressure reading was so low the nurse took it twice. For me, a bad day is when I can’t start with a workout at the gym or my power walk. At 54 I still take the stairs two at a time. I’m used to feeling good––really good. So while a backache or even a cold may be a minor inconvenience to someone who usually feels mediocre or worse, it leaves me feeling irritable and chomping at the bit to not just do, but enjoy, my normal activities.

I hate feeling bad because I usually feel so good.

Hmm. I guess this did just turn into a gratitude post.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Piece of Cake by Barbara Quinn

It’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish High Holy Day, a holiday that I celebrate happily with my Irish-American husband. I love hearing Irish music, which is what we did last night, and going out for corned beef or shepherd’s pie. Tom has his Guinness and I my Tullamore Dew. But for me, St. Patrick’s Day also signals another holiday, one that is high in my Italian-American pastry pantheon: St. Joseph’s Day.

St. Joseph’s occurs March 19. This holiday is usually celebrated quietly and privately here in the United States. The thing that it is best known for in many Italian-American homes is the St. Joseph’s pastry. (How unusual, huh? an Italian holiday that revolves around food!) But some churches, including ones in Lousiana, construct intricate St. Joseph's altars, which are also popular in Southern Italy.

Many cultures have special cakes or pastries. One of my favorites is the King Cake which makes its appearance around Mardi Gras down in Lousiana. Every year someone mails me one and I am thrilled to receive it. A plastic baby that symbolizes the infant Jesus is hidden inside a rich icing covered coffee cake. The person who finds the babe gets good luck, and is responsible for bringing the next King Cake.

Growing up in an Italian-Americans home many of our holidays had special desserts. Easter had grana, a wheat pie, Christmas the honey-coated strufoli, and St. Joseph’s its two mouth-watering pastries: the cannoli filled sfinge, and the custard filled St. Jospeph’s zeppolle. The zeppole is not like the fried and powdered sugared one that they serve at street fairs. St. Joseph’s zeppole is a cream puff, often baked, and then split open and filled with a custard that may have almond and vanilla flavors, and cherry juice. The sfinge is often a fried dough, split and stuffed with a sweetened ricotta that is found in cannoli. Both types of pastries have their camps and fierce aficionados. I like them both. They’re a southern Italian tradition, popular in Naples and Sicily. They are my favorite harbinger of spring. I’m extremely grateful that they only appear for the month of March, or I’d be eating way too many of them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wrong People by Angie Ledbetter

I’ve noticed a phenomenon lately that causes me to wonder. It’s perplexing, and I can’t trace it back to its roots. I don’t know if it’s a peculiarly American trend, or a global occurrence. Regardless of the answers, I’m going to try to reverse this movement any way I can.

What is it? It’s people’s general inability to accept that they’ve done anything wrong. It’s refusal to acknowledge they’ve hurt others’ feelings or that they’re generally not right about every single thing. I’m sure we all know pompous people with gratingly superior attitudes, as well as those who, even when presented with evidence to the contrary, will staunchly deny that they’ve made an error. They’ve always been around. The troublesome part is that their number seems to be growing. Think about it: when was the last time someone took the time (or even had the desire) to say, “I’m sorry; you were right about so-and-so, and I was wrong.” Or, “Hey, remember the other day when I scorched your rear at work for doing X-Y-Z? Man, that was really wrong and inappropriate of me.” Or even, “I’m so sorry I said what I did. I thought about it and realize I must’ve come off like a jerk. Will you forgive me?”

When exactly did we become these perfect creatures who no longer have to offer apologies or admit mistakes? Was it when the movie “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” was released? Have we as a society become people who truly think we do no wrong? The closest thing you hear these days is when someone mumbles, “My bad.” But even those instances are rare, and most aren't heartfelt.

To counteract this hideous mindset, I’m going to be hyperaware of apologizing and asking for forgiveness for small and large things. I know full well that I’m not perfect, and I don’t want to be perceived as always being right. So for anyone I may have thoughtlessly hurt, offended, or failed to apologize to for any reason, I'm sorry. I was wrong and you were right. I’m also going to thank those who are brave enough to buck this current mode of being. If I hear someone apologize or ask forgiveness under any circumstances, I’ll thank them for their braveness, tell them how much I think of their character; just as I seek out restaurant managers to report good waiters/waitresses and ask that a note go into their employee files. I'm grateful for their goodness.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Water Sounds by Kathryn Magendie

There are signs of spring on the mountain, and I’ve opened the windows and the front door to let in a brisk breeze. Green shoots are peeking, buds on trees; tiny awakenings. But what I notice most on my mountain walk is the water. Our creek is again singing louder, rushing wildly down to find the bigger creek to find the lake to find the ocean. Our creek has been ill lately, because of the drought in North Carolina.

It isn’t just the creek sounds that excite me, although I can now hear it even when my windows and doors are closed, just as I used to be able to. There are more water signs I’d forgotten about, one of which is along the road we walk in a shallow ditch where rainwater run-off flows. I’d forgotten water ran there, since it has been dry for so long. But there it is, clear and clean and cold. Kayla drinks from it, just as she used to. Jake watches it gurgle with his head cocked to one side, just as he used to.

I want to reach down and cup my hands, catch some of the mountain water, and splash it to my face—not yet; it’s still a bit too chilly for that, however, that day will come as the days grow warmer. If, and oh please let it be so, the drought continues to wane, the rains will come to our mountains and valleys and farms and yards, and into creeks streams rivers, all that feed into the ocean, all are connected, all are brother and sister, all will be replenished, fed, watered.

Back in my home, I stop what I'm doing and listen. The wind blows hard, setting the chimes to ringing, the branches to rubbing, the birds tittering, but beyond that I hear the roar of the creek and it is music music. I feel an affinity for all nature. A love that holds no grudges or boundaries, but oftentimes a hope when nature seems cruel. Nature does as it will without emotion; nature is what it is and to personify it is a disservice. There is only the way of the Earth, and today, I am grateful for its way, its voice, its song, its nurturing, its rain that brought my creek and rushing water back to the mountain—almost just as it was before the drought, almost, but still good…good.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What They Gave Me by Nannette Croce

Like so many I am all too ready to blame my parents for what I did or didn’t do in life. Growing up with an extended Italian family I can spread the blame around to aunts and uncles as well. But in recent years, as most of them have passed away or aged, I’m softening my view and seeing what I gained from each of those people who played such major role in my formative years.

My Mom gave me my quick wit, heightened sense of justice, and fashion sense.

My Dad, the Engineer, gave me my organizational skills, my logical approach to problem solving, and my slightly more tempered ambition.

My Aunt Jeannette, the intellectual of the family, gave me a love of history and also entrusted to me all the important family papers and journals, even though I was not the oldest, but knowing I would most appreciate them. Uncle Fred, the only non-Italian, taught me how the rest of the world lives and that with an open mind and a big heart, you will never be an outsider.

Aunt Thelma, with no children of her own, told wonderful stories and taught me not to forget my inner child, even when I had one of my own. While her artistic ability skipped my generation, she passed it to two grandnieces. Uncle Bill, the “gregarious one” taught me how to enjoy good wine and the society of friends and family, and, eventually, how to accept death with grace and dignity.

Yes, there were drawbacks growing up with so many people poking noses into my business, but as the years pass on, I realize it’s the benefits that maintained the strongest hold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm Thankful by Jenny Gardiner

I loved that Barbara decided to launch this blog with a theme devoted to thankfulness. There is so very much for which to be grateful in life, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in the mundane complaints, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

So for starters, the many things for which I am thankful. My wonderful family. My kids who despite being teens are great fun to spend time with. My many pets, as long as they aren’t barking too much, or snapping my digits off with a powerful beak. My home, which, although it is in permanent need of all sorts of repairs and a good overall scrubbing and organizing, is home. Delightful, cozy, a place I always look forward to returning to (and hoping it’s not gotten too out of control messy while I was gone).

My career. While so far, writing hasn’t proven itself to be particularly remunerative, I hope that in time this will follow. In the meantime, what a treat to be able to write for a living (and how lucky I am that my husband can earn enough to allow me the time to try to actually earn a living as a writer). It sure beats a lot of other low-paying jobs out there. And provides a great outlet for creativity and a chance to work in sweats.

For good friends, who make the fun times even better and who are there to soften the blow during trying times.

For good health, which we always forget to appreciate when we have it, but which I am often acutely aware of being grateful for, having had bouts of medical issues with my family that caused great angst and distress.

For a glorious blue sky and the hint of spring in the air on a January day. For people who are willing to do the really hard jobs in the world, so that we don’t have to. For the ability to have at our fingertips whatever food, whatever drink, and pretty much anything we want. So many people in the world go without as a matter of course. Certainly in our country we are indulged with privilege to a far greater degree.

I’m grateful that cigarettes can’t be smoked in most public buildings. I’m thankful that we no longer live in a city with burdensome traffic that creates added stress in life. I’m grateful that even though my dishes are pretty dirty, piled up as they are on my kitchen counter, well, hey, we have dishes. That’s a good thing! I’m thankful that my city is rich with generous people who contribute not just their money but their time to help others less well-off.

I’m thankful for soldiers who selflessly give of themselves in defense of the rest of us. I’m thankful for the many people who devote their lives to improving the health and welfare of the world.

And even though I get frustrated that I can’t get rid of that extra weight, believe it or not, I’m grateful I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to have gained it, rather than wondering from where my next meal might come.

Life is good. Life isn’t perfect, but then again, it never will be. But life is, to a certain extent, what you make of it and how you look at it. And I try to see it at its best.

Thanks for having me, Barb!

Jenny Gardiner’s work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She likes to say she honed her fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a US Senator. Other jobs have included: an orthodontic assistant (learning quite readily that she was not cut out for a career in polyester), a waitress (probably her highest-paying job), a TV reporter, a pre-obituary writer, and a photographer (claim to fame: being hired to shoot Prince Charles–with a camera, silly!). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat and a gregarious parrot. In her free time she studies Italian, dreams of traveling to exotic locales, and feels very guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house. Her novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, was the winner of Dorchester Publishing/RT's American Title III contest.

Hooray for New Media by Barbara Quinn

I received a check for three stories, for their audio and digital rights recently. I’m grateful I was able to make those sales. If you write you spend a lot of time being rejected and that stinks. You do get used rejection and learn to slough it off. Sure it’s true that rejection toughens you up and makes you more determined to succeed. But after many rejections it becomes difficult to think positively about your work, difficult to keep on sending it out to different places. When you keep getting slammed it’s hard not to duck and cover, or assume an attitude of waiting for the next blow. You have to learn to steel yourself for those rejections. Sometimes I put off sending out revisions, or making changes that were asked for, simply because I’m not ready to have someone say, thanks, but it’s still not right for us. It’s a delicate balancing act we do to keep our egos whole.

That’s why I’m grateful for the place that bought my stories. The work will be out there for people to buy. Selling those stories makes me feel good about my writing and gives me a boost. I’m working on my latest novel with more focus and energy. A a book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield deals with this artistic problem of winning your creative battles. It helps to know that others also struggle with this fear of moving forward.

The beauty of living in these times of many available media is that there are so many more outlets for writers to sell their work. It’s confusing and hard to keep up with the new outlets, but it’s definitely better for writers now, than in the past. Computers, iPods, and iPhones provide markets for stories and books. Ebooks are growing in popularity. There are markets for two minute stories that go over the phone lines. In Japan there’s a robust cell phone novel market. Having lots more places to submit to is a good thing. And being accepted by one of them, well, it doesn’t get better than that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gifts from the Grocery Store by Angie Ledbetter

Yesterday I had a cook-a-thon. Chopping veggies into minute pieces and stirring good smelling simmering pots is a kind of therapy for me, so having a rare day of "nothing" to do, I spent lots of hours in the kitchen. First, I helped my Mom make an army-sized vat of chicken and dumplings at her house. Oh, the satisfaction of cutting celery, onions, garlic and tortilla strips (for the dumplings) brought. It also allowed me to spend time with my parents, with Daddy acting as chief sous chef. They had friends to share this Southern staple with, and sent some with me too.

Back home before noon, I cooked up several savory dishes. There were fat juicy ribeyes to marinate in Asian Sesame dressing, garlic pods and potatoes to bake, and a black iron skillet of cornbread. As I was furiously flinging pots and pans for the next planned dishes, four of my daughter's college friends arrived to bake goodies for a party. And the guys and girls did it all from scratch! The six of us had fun sharing utensils and jockeying for the oven's limited space. Again, more time spent together.

After they left, I continued my kitchen magic with a marinated veggie salad to go over lettuce and fresh spinach, two pans of BBQ chicken I'd promised to friends' kids, a pineapple upside down cake (who knew there were pineapple-flavored cake mixes now?), and for good measure, I threw a rump roast in the crockpot. I dare anyone in this house to say anytime soon, "Mom, there's nothing to eat! Can I go to McDonald's?"

The kitchen time I got yesterday reminded me how fortunate we are to have every conceivable ingredient available to us at our favorite grocery stores. I can't imagine having to go to several markets, or "making do" with the few food items available in poor countries. I'll remember to pray in thanksgiving for our American farmers and food producers tonight. They allow me to endulge in my culinary therapies and creations as often as I choose by stocking grocery store shelves with a huge variety of good stuff. I'd cook again today, but there's no room in the inn (refrigerator).

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Living Breathing Me by Kat Magendie

I hear the sway of the trees before I see them. The wind makes known its presence without arrogance. I appreciate. I think that I am holding my breath in awe at the very thought of a tree, the wind, and me; but no, my chest rises and falls as it has since I first took that gasping cry at birth. Just as my heart beats without my asking it to. Living without even trying. Ah.

I hear the sighs around me, human, animal, and other. They are alive; I am alive; and why? Question of the ages, question without answer – yes – the unanswerable question of the living breathing me. Human is the only one asking. I slow my steps, barely daring to move, savoring the moment of hyper-awareness of all that is around me—how lucky I feel at this moment! How alive and real! I am aware of my arms and legs and the organs of my body and what a miracle I am. I want to cry, not because I am sad, but because I have lived, every day of my life, and even when I thought I did not want to live the next day came and I was glad to awaken.

Somewhere in some city in some neighborhood a child laughs and soon, when the days are long and filled with heat, an ice cream truck will play its song, one that has never changed in all the years I remember it. I have a sudden recollection of little girl me waiting at the chilly window as I hold out my pudgy hand for an ice treat, while my other hand grips sweaty nickels to hand over to Mr. Ice Cream Man—a fair trade, the imperishable for the perishable, even steven: Life at that moment is completely fair and I know it, the ice cream man knows it, and all the kids waiting their turn know it. I lick my treat and traces of it run down my chin, my arms. My feet are colored green from just-mown grass. The sun descends quickly. The clock ticks. The dark barks. I am me. The moon pale-washes my face, gentle touch from that ancient orb of mystery. My mother calls, “Kids! Come in.” I run home.

It is winter now, with spring at the front door knocking. I am a woman fully grown, wishing for a cold treat and summer green feet, but just as glad to be right here, right now, living, breathing.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mornings by Nannette Croce

Nature is the greatest teacher and I learn from her best when others are asleep. In the still dark hours before sunrise God tells me of the plans I am to fulfill.
-George Washington Carver

Morning is my time. Even as a teen when my friends were being dragged out of bed by frustrated parents, I was never one to sleep in. Not just by choice. Physically I’ve always awakened early no matter what time I go to sleep, so that makes me an early to bed person as well. In college I’d find a bed to curl up on at late-night parties, then claim to have “passed out” in order to save face. Even then, 8:00AM was a late morning, and I don’t think I’ve ever in my life slept past 9:00AM unless I was sick.

Sometimes I’d like to be a night owl, making use of the wee hours, but with no more time clocks to punch and no more kids to get off to school, morning can be as quiet and productive a time for me as late nights. I can sit down at my computer and answer all my e-mails before even going down to breakfast where I still enjoy reading a printed newspaper with my morning coffee. But it is spring and summer, when I can sip my coffee outside, that I most love my mornings. For me, no nighttime activity can begin to compare with watching the sun rise in a morning sky and trying to judge by its gradations from yellow to orange to red what weather it will bring with it . Or listening to the birds tuning up for the day, first one or two here and there, then building to a crescendo.

Of all animals, birds seem to take the most inspiration from the start of a new day and the possibilities it holds. I take my cue from them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pot Dreams by Barbara Quinn

I bought a new pot today. It’s a Le Creuset, a cast-iron pot that’s covered with enamel. These pots come with a lifetime warranty and unlike others that I’ve owned, they do last. I inherited two of them from my mother and after forty years they still look new, still get the job done better than any others. The new pot joined the old in the cabinet and fit right in.

That pot got me thinking about how when I was a child my family lived in an attached triplex in the Bronx. Three stairs at the front were perfect for playing stoop ball with a red “spaldeen.” The front yard had two peach trees, and a magnificent magnolia tree, tended by my grandfather. The triplex was part of a row of similar houses. My parents, brother, and I lived in the middle unit, my aunt and uncle were upstairs with my three cousins, and the ground floor housed my grandmother and grandfather. Every Sunday we gathered at my grandparents for dinner: loud, many-coursed Italian dinner.

Sunday was spaghetti and chicken day. The sauce simmered in a pot much like my new one, while everyone attended mass. At dinner there was an antipasto of various veggies, and cured meats like prosciutto and capicolla. There was fresh mozzarella and pungent provolone, several types of olives and always the wine. My grandfather had seltzer delivered. At dinner he sprayed seltzer into a small amount of wine. We were drinking wine spritzers before anyone knew what they were. I loved those shiny metal seltzer canisters with their mysterious cartridges that powered the blast of bubbly liquid. We drank wine with seltzer, or wine with water, or wine with coke from the time we could sip from a cup. No one’s an alcoholic in the family. Italians drink with their meals, not to get drunk.

We still gather for major holidays and events, but not as often. Sometimes we make gnocchi by hand, the way my mother taught me. I take out her old wood board and go through the same motions generations have gone through. I rice the potatoes onto the board, make a well and when all is assembled, knead the dough. I feel connected to my past. The new pot will make its appearance at one of these dinners. My wish is that years from now it will still be in use, providing sustenance to future generations, a part of something timeless and good.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Wonders of Twinship by Angie Ledbetter

I feel sorry for the singlets of the world. I often wonder if the majority of people who weren’t born with a twin feel incomplete, or is it a case of not missing what you’ve never had? Born an identical twin, I’ve always had another “half” of myself who can complete my thoughts and sentences, knows by a word or a barely raised eyebrow exactly what I’m thinking. She has also been my sounding board, creative partner, best friend, and the person I go to much of the time for reality checks.

There are special bonds between parent and child, husband and wife, long term best friends, and siblings – but those fine and important relationships still do not share the closeness of twins. I’ve known many sets of twins in my life, and from those I know, this theory hasn’t always held true; especially between fraternal twins or triplets. So I feel doubly blessed having my identical twin walking around the planet with me. We love our siblings and our friends fiercely, but there’s a completeness to our “twinship” that isn’t found in other relationships.

That’s not to say we are completely alike in tastes, choice of friends, goals, or even personality. In fact, when we were about eight-years-old, we refused to dress alike anymore. Well, unless it was test day at school and we planned to switch classes, or we wanted to trick a friend or a date. Over the years, we’ve grown to look a bit more different from one another, so that’s no longer an option, sadly. But not even our spouses, parents, or friends can tell us apart on the phone still. And if I decide to lose the extra weight, or she puts back on a few pounds, we'll be back in the look-alike zone.

For all the closeness, shared history, fun times, memories, and sense of completeness my twin has given me over the last almost five decades, I am truly grateful. I wish everyone could experience these things once in life – the phone ringing at the same time you are calling your twin because she’s calling you, the “knowing” something is wrong with your birth partner without anyone telling you, and the added joy and halved sorrows you get by the sharing of life’s events. So, here’s to you, Alaine. Thanks for being my other half!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

William S. and Barbara G. by Kathryn Magendie

If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me—William Shakespeare
I forgive you William Shakespeare, and I love you for it, too. Oh, but it wasn’t always so. There was a time when I just didn’t get you, dear William. I’d hear your name fall from reverent lips. I’d attempt to read your plays, and attempt is a generous word to use. I’d watch adaptations of your plays with their modern themes and shrug, change the channel. I’d ask, “What? What does it all mean?” But then, before my move to the mountains, I took a class at Louisiana State University, taught by the ever-wonderful Barbara Gray. I remember worrying in that first week of Shakeybaby that I’d never figure out what the Bard was trying to say. But, through Barbara Gray’s talents, and a whole lot of patience, she led her students through the dense forest of words and phrases, the very brilliance and wonder and unique—the unique that ironically so much clich√© has been formed—that is our William Shakespeare.

So much became clear, yes; and yes, some things are still hard to follow unless I pick apart the play limb by limb, but Barbara Gray opened Shakespeare’s skin and let me have a peek inside at his pumping heart, his running blood through throbbing veins. I have a bust of Shakespeare (and of another idol: Beethoven) on my computer hutch, and my Shakespeare sports a big red lip-print upon his ever-exposed forehead. My kiss of thanks. I’d give the same forehead kiss to Barbara Gray for opening that big fat creaking door I’d pushed against for years trying to gain entrance into a Closed Club of Shakespeareanites.

There are days I wonder if he’s peeking over my shoulder when I accidentally make up a word and later think, “Wait! That’s not a real word, but I like it. I think I’ll keep it,” or when I flop out a phrase that I read and think, “I wrote that? Yes, I wrote that. Huhn. Wow.” Oh, William! I adore you, and you, too, Barbara Gray; and demurely I bow to you both in thanks for who you are and what you have contributed to my life, to my writing, to the very particles of air you breathed out and scattered upon the winds for future generations to breathe in.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Space by Nannette Croce

I love my space. No, not MySpace, though I like that too. I’m talking about my converted bedroom office with the soothing peach-color walls decorated with my favorite photos, paintings, and posters, and behind me, my bookshelves.

My space was a long time in coming. Growing up I shared a room with my older sister, but that wasn’t the half of it, so to speak, because in our home my Mom owned every room. She chose the furniture and where it would go, the bedspreads, the rug. She had strict rules on wall hangings, and everything had to be stowed away when I left for school or I was liable to find my Rolling Stones’ Album in the Abbey Road cover and without the paper sleeve that probably ended up in the trash.

When I married, 30 years ago, we had a small apartment and then a small house. In those days men got dens and women got sewing rooms, and since I didn’t sew, I got nothing. The rest was common area, except for my bathroom, and when we added a kid, I lost that too.

We moved into our current home mainly because my husband needed a large office for his home-based business, but this time I insisted on having my own space too. Originally, it was just a place to keep my books and read, away from the blare of the TV. That was when one computer serviced our entire family. Eventually I added a desk, a laptop, a printer, reference books for my writing, a file cabinet.

It isn’t messy, but it isn’t neat either. At least not to my Mom’s standards.

It’s my space, and I can do exactly what I want with it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Living La Vida Loca by Barbara Quinn

My husband is traveling for a couple of days which means I have some extra time alone. I’ve been married almost 35 years and I know how lucky I am to have hit the love lottery. I enjoy our couple time together.

But when Tom travels it means I can drop into my crazed artist phase. I guard these times and make sure not to clutter them up. I may skip a meal or two, eat breakfast for dinner, stay up late, and sleep in. I can forget about all the daily errands, avoid making or answering phone calls, let the laundry pile up, and the bed stay unmade. And I write till my eyes glaze over and nothing makes sense. Then I catch some sleep and start all over again. It's a productive time that I enjoy. It's the sleep part that gets a little rocky when he leaves.

When I was first married I didn’t sleep right when my husband left on business. He never traveled that much, but every time he left I tossed and turned most of the night. Now when he is gone I have less trouble, especially if I move into the center of the bed and take the whole thing over. His pillow stays close to mine and I can breathe in his scent. That calms me and I eventually drift off when I'm really tired. But I still don't sleep the same without him there.

When he calls to say goodnight, he’s the one turning in. I turn on late night TV and eventually I may drop off, but I’m just as likely to hit the computer again. A real benefit is that if I don’t sleep enough at night, I can take a huge nap in the afternoon. It’s such a joy to be able to do that. Since I’m a night owl, when I’m on my own I do tend to stay up till all hours. In fact, it’s really good that Tom keeps me on more of a normal schedule. Being blissfully unaware of the time is truly one of my favorite states of being because that’s when I find I have the best focus, but I need someone to drag me back to the normally scheduled world. Otherwise I might permanently forget to comb my hair, change out my pajamas and leave the house. I'd stay up all night and sleep all day, slipping into vampire mode. I'm lucky to have a guy who puts me to sleep!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Time to Clean by Angie Ledbetter

It’s early March, and spring has arrived in the southern portions of the US after a strange winter. This year we’ve had some days that went from 30° to 85°, with bouts of strong winds, rain and tornadic activity mixed in. But so far this month, it’s been almost perfect every day, making kids’ baseball tournaments enjoyable and presenting an opening for spring cleaning. Normally, I wouldn’t be grateful for an opportunity to do chores, but over the weekend, we got a lot accomplished around the house and yard. It was time to catch up on things that had been shoved off the To-Do list for far too long.

Being spread thin between teaching, running with my kids and their activities, helping out family in need, freelancing, yada yada, time for spring cleaning has been hard to come by until yesterday. You may wonder why on earth anyone would be thankful for a day of hard work, but I really am. The benefits include getting to exercise some muscles that rarely get used, being outside under lovely white cloud skies, a nice looking home which is now freer from clutter, and having flowerbeds ready to get busy blooming. Like most work, I got a feeling of accomplishment for tackling things I’ve put off for a long time. Did I mention, until yesterday, my Christmas tree and decorations were still up? But on a good note, I have purchased a life-like, pre-lit tree, so at least I’m not saddled with a Charlie Brown stump of shame this year.

So what did I get done yesterday? Six loads of clothes, helped middle son paint his bedroom electric blue (3+ coats needed before it’s all said and done), cooked ahead for the week, weeded flowerbeds and pruned mature plants all around the yard, cleaned patio and garage, put holiday stuff back in the attic, and general sprucing up. The homestead actually looks like people live here instead of pigs. After all that work, I slept well last night, and woke with a sense of satisfaction. And today I don’t have that Monday-morning-time-to-make-a-list-of-things-to-do feeling either. Yes!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Old Girl, by Kat Magendie

Kayla trips again this morning while on our mountain walk. I lean over, pet her thick soft fur, murmuring, “It’s okay, old girl.” She’s been tripping more lately; her arthritis. She looks up at me, and there is blood on her tongue and mouth. “What’d you do, old girl?” When she fell, her long tooth must have torn her soft mouth. She’s impatient to walk on, and hasn’t let out even a whimper. I figure she's in pain, though, and I'll give her a pill when we get home. She’s strong. She’s stubborn, willful. She’s determined. We’re a lot alike, I think. She loves her walks, and I don’t want to think of a day when she can no longer enjoy them. I take her to a runoff of cold, running water and she drinks. I think how everything ages, every living thing in the world.

Her dark muzzle is turning white, her limp more pronounced, her eager sprint turned to slow plodding walk. It’s as if she and I are growing old together, but unfortunately and sadly, she is aging faster than I am. We turn on the road and head to the place where the creek tumbles down over rocks in a roar. We never see anyone here, and if it weren’t for the development happening around us, I’d feel as if I were in a magical secret place. I look down at my old girl again, and she looks up at me, her soft brown eyes trusting and kind, but I know that, like me, she has her moods and those moods are to be respected. We understand each other. I touch her head. I wonder what she thinks of me, of the world around her.

How did our canine friends become so important to us? Important enough that when they get sick or old and then finally leave us, we grieve with a ferocity that is hard to bear. We miss them terribly. And what do they hope for in return for their gifts to us? Food, water, walks, a few pets, and kindness, which I gladly give my old girl, and our younger dog Jake (big ole boy). I’m grateful for the devotion my dogs have given me. They thank me back in their dog ways. Kayla and I limp together down the old mountain road. I don’t want to think too far ahead, to when she's not by my side. She's here now, steady, true, solid. Old Girl, my good old girl.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Glad I'm Not Young Anymore by Nannette Croce

In the 1958 musical Gigi Maurice Chevalier sang the benefits of old age with I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore. The dapper Frenchman was in his 60s. If 40 is the new 30, that would make make 60 the new 50, meaning Monsieur Chevalier was the equivalent of my age now, and that sounds just about right. It was in my 50s that I began to be glad I wasn’t young anymore.

Oh there are times I wish I could still wear tight jeans and not look like an ice cream cone with everything spilling out over the top. But there is also an element of liberation in knowing no amount of dieting or exercise will melt those love handles, so skipping my workout when I just don’t feel like it or indulging in that bag of chips on a stressful day now feels more like a simple pleasure than a guilty one.

Just a few years ago I’d blink my dry red eyes long into the night rather than exchange contact lenses for glasses before the party ended. Now that my aging eyes are circled in dark crepe, a pair of stylish bifocals with transition lenses are more attractive and comfortable at any time of day or night.

But there’s more to it than just the physical. A whole new world awaits me. No longer constrained by career or childcare, I can pursue interests just for fun. I can volunteer my time for things that really matter rather than selling my time to a company with questionable goals. I can travel at any time of year, not just in summer when school is out. I’ve taken acting classes, riding lessons, writing courses.

I still can’t dance or sing like Chevalier, but "I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore."

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