Category Archives: Creative Non-Fiction

“Creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.” ~Wikipedia

Ruth Gordon: ON ASSHOLES

Interview with Ruth Gordon
Conducted by James Grissom
By Telephone
1984
Oh, there are a lot of lousy people in the world. Also, a lot of terrific people. You’ve gotta remember that, and you’ve got to move in the right circles. I have days where I just want everyone to go fuck themselves or walk off a cliff, but I only say that to myself, and I smile and I walk home and I have some tea, I talk to Garson [Kanin, her husband], I might take a nap. Then I wake up and I write, and in writing, I wipe away all the unpleasantness of the day, of the people, of the city, whatever. We have it in our power to overcome assholes, and I think we have them thrown into our path to see if we have the chops to handle them. 
Handle them.
 
©  2017   James Grissom

 

I wish I could say that my writing offers me the same ability to “wipe away all the unpleasantness of the day”, but when I stumbled across this interview I firstly wondered, if Ruth felt this way in 1984 then I wonder what she would have said about 2017?

And then I remembered an old saying my father used to quote at various times throughout my youth:

 “Times may change, but people don’t“.

I’ve now lived long enough to see the wisdom in his words.  Any student of history knows this truth as well.

Which is why I find the romanticism of fictional dramas set in historical times to have lost its appeal.

A younger me would have swooned and sighed with stories about a strong, young man rescuing a damsel and making her his bride.  But now, I can only “suspend disbelief” for so long before stark truth comes crashing in like a jolt of cold water to the face.

I love the film noir stories of the 1940’s and marvel at the manner, dress, and customs of the time – until I remember the plight of women and horrors of WWII.

“Outlander” is a wonderful fantasy about a woman from post-WWII travelling back two centuries into the Scottish Highlands.  It’s very romantic.  Until I start thinking what is was like to live during an age of oppressive brutality and ignorance.

If I was given the chance to live during another time-period, I’d choose the future.  Because even if “people” don’t change, thankfully “times” do!

 

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Italian Fairy Folklore

Have you ever heard of the ‘Whut’sah’ people?  I’m spelling their name phonetically because I have not yet found any written reference to their existence, real or imagined, by that particular name.

However “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“.

I was introduced to the Whutsa people by my maternal grandfather at such a young age, their presence was as natural as the air I breathed, and as normal as warm sunlight coaxing the flowers into bloom.

Grampa spoke to me only in heavily accented English, most likely a hold-over from when my grandmother (a D.A.R. – Daughter of the American Revolution) forbid him from talking in his native Italian language around ‘her’ children for fear they would grow up speaking “broken English” and thus become stigmatized by polite society.  That’s how it was in those days…

Emigrating from Sicily, Italy, my grandfather entered the USA through Ellis Island and settled in Brooklyn, New York to make his fortune selling Real Estate to other Italian immigrants eager for a new life in the land where the “streets were lined with gold”.

By the time I was born my grandfather was nearly eighty years old so my memories are few, but no less profound.  If anything, his stories and lessons have stayed with me my whole life; shared often as valued family traditions time and again with my own children, now ready to be carried forward once more.

According to Grampa, the Whustsa’s are Italian fairies.  They are the Little People who come into our house while we’re fast asleep.  Why? I had asked.

Well, “to party” he explained, and if we didn’t give them a place to sing and dance and have a good time – then oh ho ho, we would suffer the consequences because unhappy fairies make for lots of mischief.

So we spent many happy hours fashioning special places, like little villages, just for the fairies.

A round, compact mirror transformed magically into a skating rink, and some of my Petite Princess Fantasy dollhouse furniture was donated with a glad heart for my visiting Whutsa’s.  Grampa and I even absconded with some shrubbery from my Dad’s electric train set.  We tried to be as imaginative and thoughtful to their every need, even providing items they could use to make music, like small bells raided from our Christmas ornaments.

Grampa was filled with all sorts of hidden knowledge, mostly about how to protect ourselves from the unseen forces that ruled misfortune.

We made certain to “knock on wood” when talking about a stroke of good luck so the fairies couldn’t hear us and be tempted to reverse our fortune from good to bad.  I remember one Christmas season, Grampa saw my mother carelessly place a gift-wrapped box on the kitchen table and became horrified, scolding her about bad luck.  I immediately knew what that meant.  The box contained shoes, of course.

Then Grampa died, and we moved to the country in upstate NY.  It was there that my mother picked up the torch, continuing the tradition, to teach us wisdom from the old country as it was taught to her.

To this day, every time I pass any vehicle carrying hay of any kind or quantity, I’ll make a wish – and keep it secret or it won’t come true.  I toss coins into ‘wishing wells’ that can be anything from a stream to a fish pond and never will I walk beneath a ladder.  Why would I risk the bad luck?  And never, ever, send an empty rocking chair into motion…

All these things were preached as fact, in absolute seriousness, the same way any other piece of parental wisdom is preached such as brushing teeth before bed and the importance of eating one’s vegetables.

It is only now, after all these years, that I finally figured out why I can’t find the name “Whut’sah” in any of the Fairy stories.

I think their name got lost in translation.

In trying to convert the Italian name into English for a very small child, Grampa must have stammered, “you know — the Whats ya ma call it, er — the Whatsa people, the little folk.”  And over the years, after the retelling to countless children, they eventually became known to us as — The Whut’sah People.

Unfortunately there is no one left to ask; the story origins have died with my ancestors.

But my husband tracked down a piece of information via the wonderful Internet that may hold the answer:

Mazzamuriello is the Italian word for The Little People, who scare bad people and reward good – basically the Italian version of English brownies. (I’ve paraphrased)

It has the ring of truth and supports my theory.  I can just imagine my grandfather trying to pronounce “Mazzamuriello” to a four year old American girl.  I would have stammered over that too.  “Ya know — the whatsa ya ma call it, the whatsa people…”

But I don’t think the fairies really mind one way or another.  They’ve been known by a multitude of names in every culture since ancient times.

Good night to you, my beloved Whutsa People.  Have a wonderful party!

 

 

Don’t Stress the Small Stuff

What is it that consumes your waking thoughts?  What keeps you awake at night, tossing and twisting your bedclothes, or pacing the living room floor?

Are you trying to make friends, fit in, be accepted in a certain social circle?  You’ve organized a party and you worry you’ll be judged.  Will they even show up?  What if you run out of food or drink?  Is the house clean enough?  A million tiny details run through your mind.  You mustn’t be found lacking.  Will they include you in their ‘reindeer games’?  Or will you always be on the outside looking in?

How about that promotion at work?  What if your colleague, the back-stabbing snake who has ingratiated himself so smoothly into your boss’s graces, gets that prized position instead of you?  You’re the one that has worked your fingers to the bone.  Not him.

And that pesky construction project.  All those details and decisions.  Did you pick the right color? Will you be happy with the quality?  Why is the contractor taking so long to finish…will they honor the contract?

The list is endless.  It’s natural and human to worry about the things that are important in our lives.

Getting little Johnny into the best daycare is of paramount importance – until tragedy strikes, burnishing life with a new perspective, shifting reality until all those things you once thought so important suddenly turn meaningless, demoted by a wave of fresh insight, hard won. You can almost laugh, rueful at the wasted time and energy spent on matters now deemed trivial by comparison.

Independence Day

I was reminded of this simple lesson on the morning of July 4th.

I awoke to a beautiful day that held no obligations or appointments, so I lingered over my morning coffee, turned on the TV, and settled down to watch “Independence Day”, a movie set in the USA on July 4th where we successfully garner our independence again – only this time, from an alien invasion from outer space.

What does this have to do with altering life’s perspective?  The answer is nothing.

Only that in watching the actors portray panic in their mad dash to evacuate and escape the city before the aliens countdown to attack – it reminded me how in that moment of crises, that moment of mortal risk, normal life stresses cease to exist.

Who cares about jewels, the lawn that needs mowing, that scratch on the Audi…when aliens are landing and want to devour you and your planet?

I was brought back in memory, to one summer’s night, nine years ago.  My husband was working second-shift for a company near Washington D.C., and was on his way home from work.  I worked day shift, so normally I was asleep by the time he arrived.

That was during the time of former President Obama’s mission for a “green” environment, which included tactics like raising gas prices to just under $5.00 per gallon.  It was for this reason only that my husband started driving our Honda Goldwing motorcycle for his daily commute to work.  At forty m.p.g, it was the best way to economize his gas expense for the two plus, round trip, hours he was required to drive each day.

That was the night I received the phone call, the one that every spouse, every parent, knows and dreads.

My husband had been struck head-on by a drunk driver, less than five miles from home, and air-lifted to the Trauma Ward of a hospital nearly two hours away.

Time was of the essence.

It was 1:00am.  The four lane highway stretched empty and I prayed, feverishly, for the simplest of things.

“Please God.  Let him be alive.  Let me be able to say goodbye.”

The next twenty-four hours were the longest of my life.  I arrived to waiting staff who quickly ushered me to my husband’s side.  He was alive, but unconscious.  I couldn’t see much since he was lying on a gurney and covered by a sheet clear up to his chin.  His face was also partially obscured.

I signed the necessary forms and the nurses immediately whisked him away to a prepared operating room.  The surgeon approached me and said, “If he survives this operation, I’ll let you know about the next.”  Hours passed.  The surgeon came into the waiting room and said, “He survived.  If he survives this next operation, I’ll let you know about the next.”  Wash – Rinse – Repeat, two more times.

The good news is that my husband did survive.  But the point I’m trying to make, is that in facing a crisis of that magnitude, where severe disabilities or death may be the final outcome for your beloved, nothing else matters.

The job, the house, the kids squabbling, the dog.  Friends and money and community standing.  None of it mattered.  Instantaneously and forevermore, LIFE changed in the blink of an eye.

Who knows what our lives would have been like had this accident never occurred?  There is no answer.  But I can tell you this – the old saying is true.  Every cloud does have a silver lining.  The blessings are there, you just have to be aware so that you can see them.

However, it’s been nine years since that fateful day and I have become complacent in life once more; arrogant in my belief that tomorrow will come, as gentle and blessed as it is today.  It’s so easy to take things – and people – for granted.

But the gods saw fit to send me a reminder in the form of a sci-fi story which packs powerful truths – about facing crisis, fighting for independence, and the glory of survival and second chances.  The message came in loud and clear.

Do not stress the small things; for they are of little consequence in the overall picture of life.

But how does one determine what is “small”?  How can we compare what is important to a 5 year old, 16 year old, 27 year old…87 year old?  The answer will be different for everyone.

Growth and life lessons are both part of the same equation.  We have to learn for ourselves what is meaningless and what is important, often gained as insights after experiencing hardship of one kind or another.

Personally, I’ve had my fair share of hardships in this incarnation and welcome the current respite of peace and happiness.  It’s been hard won.  And totally worth it.  The blessings are many for “those with eyes to see”.

Life is so precious.  Each moment is just a blip in the eternity of time.    We should all endeavor to enjoy it – the good, the bad, the ugly – in gratitude and grace.  The lessons and depth of understanding gained along the way, are well worth the cost of the ride.

So don’t stress over the small stuff.  Really.  It’s all just a matter of perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

Front Porch Bliss

Yesterday was the perfect summer’s day.  Bright sunshine, cooling breezes, and a sky adorned in the most glorious shade of blue.  Here in the Shenandoah Valley, our mid-Atlantic weather can turn quite hot and very humid at this time of year, so this was a special treat for me.

It hearkened to the summers of my youth, deep in the forests of New York’s Catskill Mountains.  To those languid days beneath towering trees in dappled sunshine, all alone, and quite content to spend hours stone-hopping up and down crystal clear, ice cold brooks, making Indian paint, and searching for salamanders or crayfish.  The air was most often dry and crisp under a bright sun that sparkled across an expanse of violet-blue sky, interrupted only by white puffball clouds floating on a current of cool winds.

Days like this always make me a little homesick for those ancient hills.  It’s like Appalachia is calling me home, lest I forget the magic, the connection we shared for so many years.

I soon became lost in the pleasure of the day.  I am long since a child and there are no babbling brooks here, but my covered front porch is a paradise all in its self.

I lay on my porch swing for hours in joyful observation of the world around me.  My husband, Doug, sat beside me in companionable silence, pushing my swing in such comfortable rhythm that I felt like a babe in its cradle, being rocked gently to sleep.

Our peace was so perfect, our pleasure so complete, I started thinking of other bygone days, when this was the norm for Sunday afternoons and after dinner at eventide.  Once upon a time, people who lived in small towns and rural areas all across America spent a lot of time on their front porches.

I thought about the shows of my youth – very unlike the sitcoms of today – that showcased quite a different life-style.  In particular – I remembered Mayberry and Sheriff Taylor (Andy Griffith) on his covered front porch.  There was many an episode that featured a restful summer evening, with Andy quietly strumming a guitar, Aunt Bea knitting or reading, and Opie playing with toys at their feet. They would occasionally talk, or discuss things on their mind, but most often they sat in quietude, enjoying each other’s company against the backdrop of cool, evening breezes.

Of course those were also the days before the existence of central air, and I’m sure that summer evenings on the front porch was a cool respite from the stuffy heat of the day.  But it begs the question.

Has progress really improved our lives?

Well, yes!  But I believe we’ve also lost some important things along the way.  In essence, we’ve thrown “the baby out with the bath water”.

I pictured scenes from stories about the deep South and wide covered porches – or verandas – peopled with families and friends, cloth covered tables laden with delectable treats and pitchers of iced lemonade, children playing underfoot, and grandpa reading the paper or whittling a new toy for his favorite grandson.

A romantic notion, perhaps.  But even the poor enjoyed front porch time with music, refreshment, or just relaxation in a favorite rocking chair.

Science and technology have definitely enriched our lives, ten-fold.  We can all be thankful for the prosperous and luxurious lives we lead – in comparison to even that of our grand parents.  But we should be mindful to not lose the lessons from our past, by judging them with modern eyes.

I propose that we keep the best from both.  Modern conveniences – but shared family obligation.  Information and social media – tempered with quiet time for reflection and chatting with the neighbors.

Could – Should – Would …

I know how easy it is to let our 21st century blinders slip into place.  We’re all so busy.  The world has become a small place yet we seem to be lost in the crowd, assaulted with information from every angle until we can’t hear our own thoughts.

This is the insight I received while I observed the birds, and white clouds drifting in a sea of blue.  Perhaps I have the advantages of reaching middle age in comparative comfort, which allows me the luxury of time for such contemplation and rediscovery.

All I can say is this.

If you have the means and a porch of any kind, a shady tree, or even a garden bench – then it’s worth your time to just sit and do nothing.  Watch the clouds, the birds, the wind teasing treetops.  Our ancestors, for whatever reasons, knew this simple joy.  Why shouldn’t we?

 

Hollywood Movies – Entertainment or Hidden Agenda?

It seems like Hollywood has abandoned all pretense of producing an original story, or movie, that doesn’t push their ‘hidden agenda’.

Hubby and I recently went to our local movie theater, hoping that “Guardians of the Galaxy II” would be as entertaining as its predecessor.  We sat with buttered popcorn and blue-raspberry slushies at the ready, patiently waiting for the movie to start while the half hour of previews for this summer’s lineup played out before us.

What a disappointment!  One movie preview after another promised nothing but a regurgitation of the old; cleverly reworked to include the Liberal Left’s desired image for modern society.

Every heroine was of indiscriminate race, brown skinned, dark haired, possessed superior strength that could defeat any man, and was most likely gay – excuse me LGBT.  We did see one bleached-blond heroine in a trailer for  “Atomic Blond” whose character portrays a British super-spy that can fistfight like Rocky Balboa, dress like she just walked out of an underground sex club, and fornicate with both genders.

Now before you go all ballistic and start calling me a hater and a racist, hear me out.

Hollywood has an obsession with race, gender identity, and sexuality.

It’s Hollywood who has been overrun by haters and racists.  They hate everything that is traditionally American and they disparage the Caucasian race – particularly white “straight” men.  In their ideal view of the world – we should all be LGBT, non-Caucasian, and ruled by women who, incidentally, are all-knowing and morally superior to any man.

Personally, I have nothing against leading lady roles that characterize a “tough chick” persona.  But in every movie?  How boring!  The same goes for LGBT.  Why does every movie, and television sitcom, host at least one character or couple that are gay?  And all women as super smart, competent, and strong – but white men as the polar opposite?  I’ll tell you why.

Hollywood is sending us a political message – not entertainment.

It’s like they want to eradicate our past history, traditional American values, and the nuclear family.

Increasingly it’s bad to be “whitey” and cool to be “black”.  This strikes me as a move similar to the Liberals attack on our American South, when groups of loud-mouthed activists dubbed the southern flag as a banner for racism, demanding that age-old monuments and tributes to historic white people be removed because it’s “offensive” to modern-day thought, and be replaced or renamed for historic black people.

It’s like they want to erase the facts; that the American Civil War was not about slavery, that it was the Democratic Party who wanted segregation, and a Republican president who freed the slaves only to be later assassinated by a Democrat.  Yup, I can see why today’s Liberals a/k/a Democrats want to rewrite their history.

As we saw in “Guardians of the Galaxy II”, the nuclear family is again obsolete.  It’s your friends – your gang – that counts.  It is they alone who will always have your back when the chips are down.  See?  You CAN choose your family.  Because blood relatives are just broken, messy people who abuse, abandon, or otherwise torment you.

If all that isn’t bad enough, Hollywood is remaking old movies in today’s sub-cultural view.  All of them.  So not only do we suffer from a summer of regurgitation (is there truly nothing new under the sun?), but more proselytization.

Take a look at this year’s new release of “Wonderwoman”.  An iconic story that began life in a comic book.  Except that, now she is gay.

“Comic books [going] further left-wing has become a recurring headline. Comics from The Archies to Wonder Woman are pushing liberal ideas of flexible gender and sexuality,” … “This is just one more area that is no longer entertainment and has become propaganda.”

I have been slow to come to this realization, because propaganda is insidious.  It slowly permeates every corner of modern life with an incessant mission to overtake common ideas of what’s normal and acceptable for the mass majority of current culture.  In other words, they want sub-culture to become mainstream.

At first I saw Hollywood’s persistent effort to remake old iconic movies as tiresome, lacking in original thought, and prisoner to incompetent script-writers.

As a writer myself, I know how hard it is to bring something new to every story I write lest I fall into the trap of cliche or worse – the same old story, already told a hundred times over.

Yes – all writers use the same basic plots, but the successful ones find unique ways to tell the story.

For example, have you ever heard about the “lifeboat” scenario?  This is a classic story that places one or more people in a survival situation where they are stranded and placed in great jeopardy; think “The Walking Dead”, “Cabin in the Woods”, “Life of Pi”.  Each of these are vastly different stories, but they all follow the same basic plot.

Movies are no different.  They follow the same tenets of story-telling.  But remakes?  They aren’t new stories, just a twist on someone else’s previous work.  It’s an illusion of something new.  Classic story retold with modern film stars and new CGI…or is it only that?

Can you imagine the Harry Potter movies in a remake where Harry’s character is re-written as a gay girl, of unknown racial origin (but clearly NOT Caucasian), and Ron’s character as the strong, black male that Hollywood loves to extol (because we all know white males are really weaklings that need their wives to tie their shoes in the morning)?

Look at “Ghostbusters” as another example.  A classic of my children’s generation, remade into the image of “woman” as protagonists instead of men.  And if that isn’t enough of a twist for you, the writer made sure to include – within that group of heroines – a black woman (I refuse to be PC and say African-American) and another who is LGBT.  And let’s not forget the role of “Kevin”, a white male playing the role of ‘ditzy secretary’ which has been likened to “a Ken doll with the insides scooped out.”

Let me be clear.  Movies using LGBT, people of color, etc. in and of itself are all well and good.  It’s the hidden agenda that I have a problem with.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Hollywood doesn’t care about making good movies anymore.  They only care about propagating their political view of the world, one of which bears a striking resemblance to the Progressive Liberals insane narrative.

And to be frank, I’m tired of having their ideals forced on me with no respect for any differing viewpoint.  These liberals love to scream “free speech” but yet, strive to silence – or drown out – all opposing speech.

But I’m an adult who has the benefit of experience and can think for myself.  I can simply turn off the television and boycott Hollywood until sanity – or at the very least moderation – returns to the screen.  It’s the young who are being robbed, and they don’t even know it.  Our innocent youth are being victimized.

They are consistently brainwashed and battered by the Liberal agenda – for the entirety of their lives.  An extreme example of this phenomenon is in its similarity to the Hitler Youth during WWII, children who were systemically raised into a twisted belief system promulgated as true and moral, or Muslims raised from infant-hood to believe that genital mutilation is a necessity for young women.

I feel sorry for the generations of American youths who are not aware they are being barraged with subtle cues by those who wish to influence, and control, their perceived truths.  They go to these movies, glory in the wiz-bang CGI effects, and are oblivious to the hidden cultural messages that Hollywood is so entertainingly shoving down their throats.

All I can say is, “Buyer beware”.

Meanwhile, I’ll hold out for the return of true story-telling and real entertainment.

 

 

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In Honor of Memorial Day

And in honor of those who were left behind…

Memorial Day is a solemn tribute to all United States soldiers who died in war.

It’s a national holiday that also holds a noble truth — life and liberty comes with a cost, willingly paid for by others.

We owe these service men and women a debt of gratitude.  It’s the least we can do for someone who has forfeited their own life, to defend ours.

But history is a fascinating thing; it can morph with time.

What began as a tradition shortly after the U.S. Civil war became law, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, thereby establishing three-day weekends for Federal employees and Memorial Day as a national holiday.

Each year, during the last weekend of May, barbecue smoke rises from millions of American grills as backyards and campgrounds swell with celebration, and parade fanfare fills the streets.

Most notably, designated military personnel will place small American flags at the graveside of each and every soldier buried at Arlington National Cemetery, politicians will make speeches, and motorcyclists will travel by the thousands to participate in Rolling Thunder, an annual pilgrimage to Washington D.C. in remembrance and respect for all those who defend our country.

All this is wonderful to be sure, but it makes me wonder.  How many of us truly feel the sentiment of what Memorial Day represents?

For those of us who have not been personally touched by war, it is easy to be lulled into a peacetime slumber, to become drowsy with the luxury of full bellies, feasting on prosperity afforded to us through the sacrifices – paid in blood – by generations past.  It’s the same mentality that creates a commonly held, unconscious illusion — bad things only happen to other people.  It can’t happen to me…

I am not writing today to scold, but to awaken.

War is a necessary evil – for there will always be disparate world views leading us into conflict.  And this conflict is met by those who bear a dual responsibility.  They must not only fight to win our nation’s cause, but to also protect those of us at home.  These brave men and women deserve our gratitude, prayers, and remembrance.  We must do them justice by feeling the weight of their sacrifice, honor, and duty.

Here’s something to ponder.

What if it had been your beloved that died in battle?  Your husband.  Your wife.  Your son or daughter.

Think about the scores of widows and orphans, families and friends left behind to mourn alone, for nothing can ease that kind of pain except time.  Loss is a personal hell that carves its place deep within one’s soul and can take years, if ever, to truly recover.

I speak from experience.

So on this Memorial’s Day remembrance, I would like to dedicate this poem to the families who bravely supported their loved one’s decision to serve, and then paid the ultimate price.  Thank you.

The Weeping Willow 

It stands alone, this weeping willow,

within a curtain of leaves,

drooping with despondency.

Does the willow weep?

I truly think it does.

I’ve heard the shivering,

the rustling, the quivering,

as when a willow weeps.

Why does the willow weep?

A mystery unsolved.

For all is hidden in her heart,

the sorrow she’s endured,

forever poignant, yet obscure,

is the pain of the willow tree.

If you can imagine the sight of this tree,

then at most you know the bark of her.

This weeping widow, who gazes down at me,

far above, in a third story window.

Tears wetting her eyes, that face the breeze,

her hair flying loose like a willow’s leaves.

~ by Kyla Wong

 

 

 

 

A Secret Garden

I found a secret garden.  It was there all along, hiding in plain sight beneath the brambles and waist-high grasses.

I felt like Mary Lennox as I pulled aside weeds to discover living treasures emerging from a moist earth.  Each new find brought a fresh wave of joy – an antique rose bush here, feathery fronds of fennel there, a tiny lavender sighing in relief.

The picket fence surrounding Peter Burr Farm‘s colonial garden was almost obscured by wild brier and useful weeds commonly found in hedgerows or alongside foundation stone – ground ivy, cat mint, greater celendine, chickweed, cleavers – all tangled together in between grasses nearly three feet high.

The inside of the garden was equally overgrown, except for a small area by the entrance gate.  I learned this progress was due to the valiant effort of just one person in a single-handed attempt to bring order back into the historic garden.

Quite the daunting task.

So I did what any self-respecting herbalist and veteran gardener would do.  I volunteered.

Donning my battle gear against ticks and poison ivy, I sprayed myself liberally with a home-made, anti-creepy-crawly, bug repellent and got to work.

As did my husband, Doug.  Who is only too happy (translation: minor grumbling) to join me in whatever current scheme I have devised for the day.

We make a pretty good team.

First I harvested some of the “weeds” that would have to be tamed, namely ground ivy and greater celendine.  I’ve been wanting to experiment with the medicinal qualities of these two herbs for a while.

And then it was time to do some serious weeding.

While Doug concentrated on weed-wacking the outside fence, I went to work pulling weeds from the gravel walkways and border edges of the raised beds.  We worked steadily for nearly two hours until the humidity and heat reached a whopping 95 degrees.

 

I would have liked to keep going, but Doug took one look at my reddened face and wisely called it, lest I drop of heat stroke.

Still, I’m pretty happy with the progress we made.

Since then, I’ve set my herbs to dry and brew — all destined to become tea, ointment, and tincture.

The temperatures have now dropped to a cool seventy degrees – but the forecast calls for almost a week of rain.

Again I feel like Mary Lennox, glumly looking out my window and wishing myself back to the secret garden.

 

Mother’s Day Reality Check

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all.

It’s amazing to think that this U.S. holiday has only been around for the last three plus generations.  That’s little more than a hundred years.

And Europe?  Even less.  They didn’t follow suit until the 1930’s and 1940’s, when they merged their annual church tradition of “Mothering Sunday” into a secular holiday like ours.

Also amazing is the fact that millions of people celebrate this relatively new holiday tradition thanks to the persistent efforts of just one American woman.

In 1908 Anna Jarvis began an exhaustive campaign to create a national Mother’s Day as a way to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children and in 1914, it became official.  Then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Commercialization soon followed and Mother’s Day turned into a profitable enterprise for florists, card-makers, and chocolatiers the world over.

To which – horrified Anna Jarvis.  At one point, she actually lobbied to have the holiday removed from the American calendar.

I can understand Anna’s point of view, especially given today’s social climate.

Which do you think is better?  To spend time with one’s own mother in celebration of the sheer fact that she tendered her own body to give you life – or – buy some flowers, a cheap card, and call it day.

Disrespect for mother (and father) is rampant in our so-called modern society.  As is the breakdown of traditional family values.

Does this generation respect their elders?  How about our ‘beloved’, narcissistic Millennial’s?

And what values do the media and movie industries cram down our throats at every turn?  Mom is pathetic and Dad is stupid.  Or more recently, you’re a bad person to assume Mom is female – courtesy of the political Left’s gender war against all those who aren’t LGBT.  These folks would have us think that the world majority is populated by a people that are neither female nor male.

How about all those who feel their mother’s failed them in some way?

The list of transgressions launched against ‘mother’ is not only endless, it’s subjective.  Is perception reality?  I think not.  There’s a lot of folks that need to take a good, hard look at themselves in the mirror.

No matter what one’s own mother has done or not done, we can all agree on one thing.  Every single human being on this planet has been born via ‘woman’.

For this reason alone, we should at the very least give thanks to the person who carried us within her womb, sacrificing all to give someone else the ultimate gift – life.

And if you were blessed with a mother who loved you?

Then thank your lucky stars and do something nice for your Mom.  She more than deserves your loyalty, kindness, respect, honor, and general regard – trust me.  She’s earned it.  Moms sacrifice plenty, all out of love for you.

And what is this love I talk about?  It applies to mothers and children alike.  For it’s easy to say you love your Mom, or a mother her child, but what does that really mean?

I think this quote by Robert A. Heinlein sums it up nicely:

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own…”

 

A Penny for My Thoughts – life transformed through landscaping

I have so much on my mind it’s hard to sleep.

I awoke much too early for the second morning in a row, courtesy of my overactive brain trying “to take over the world” like a bad episode of Pinky and the Brain.

It’s not only the extravagant landscape project, with it’s myriad of decisions, design details, and growing costs that’s keeping me awake, but also all the other plans I’m formulating.  My mind is in a perpetual loop, vacillating between “need to do” and “want to do”, if-then-else statements, budgets, time constraints, and more.

It’s like an incessant mind-meld of plotting, planning, and strategy – with a little crystal ball gazing thrown in for good measure.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  In fact it’s the exact opposite.

The world is my oyster!

I am an extremely lucky duck to have these kinds of non-issues robbing my sleep instead of woe.

Which reminds me of a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme, and how it relates to all of us at different stages of our life – regardless of the actual day of our birth.

Right now?  I’m Monday’s Child, fair of face, dancing beneath the lovely Moon in all her splendid guises.  A bright blessing indeed.

Perhaps this carefree joy is a well-earned reward for my time served as Wednesday’s Child, full of woe.

I’ve certainly paid more than my fair share, carrying the weight of the world and selflessly caring for others whether they deserved my compassion or not.

I do feel a little guilty though, my fiction writing has been taking a back seat to all the upheaval around my house.  And I do mean that in the most literal of sense.

Bulldozers, hydraulic tampers, masonry saws, sound all throughout the day as workmen cut stone, mix concrete, pound in new earth, 360 degrees around my house –  this has been my constant companion for well over two months and counting.

Large construction projects are always stressful to a certain degree, so it really helps to hire the right crew.  By all means, do your homework upfront and choose a company wisely.  They will be your partner for the duration and the vehicle for making your idea a reality — on time and under budget if possible.

By these standards, our contractor has exceeded all expectations and we couldn’t be happier.  They have proven themselves to be extremely professional and highly skilled artisans.  There’s never a problem that can’t be fixed or detail too small to discuss.

It makes a world of difference.

Piece by piece, day by day, my vision of landscape nirvana has slowly been taking shape.  A long awaited dream is coming to fruition, more beautiful than I had even imagined.

That’s when I decided to go for the brass ring.  I just couldn’t stop myself.

As a former IT Project Manager, I’m well aware of things like scope, requirements, and mission creep.  But I’m wearing ‘two hats’ now.  I’m the customer too and I want what I want.

In other words, I just doubled the original project – multilevel patios, outside fireplace, connecting terraces, yada yada yada – all currently in the design process.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be finished any time soon.

But what a paradise it will be! My sanctuary, my home.  I am so happy, I may never travel to distant places again.  Well, never say never but a stay-cation is looking pretty high on my list.

I’m hoping to have everything done by Midsummer so hubby and I can host a big party to celebrate.  Not because the disruption ends, or that the project is completed and ready to be enjoyed — although that does call for a certain degree of celebration — but to commemorate a turning point in our life.

This massive landscaping job marks the beginning of our Golden Years.  Age-wise we’re getting a very early start, but these next years are destined to be golden nonetheless.

My husband and I turned the page and found an exciting new chapter.  So many adventures await!  And our journey begins now.

L’Chaim!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Day and the Glory of Springtime

Happy Easter Day!  Millions of children eagerly awoke this morning in search of candied treats, sent in secret to households the world o’er during the pre-dawn hours.

Afterwards, they will attend church services dressed in their Sunday finest, hunt for Easter eggs, and watch the annual Easter parade.  At mid-day, families will share a meal of traditional foods such as ham, hard-boiled eggs, and various sweet breads like hot cross buns.

It is twenty-seven days past the Vernal equinox and the Earth’s return to life is now in full swing.  Seemingly overnight, the world outside my window donned a robe of flowers and birdsong.

This time of year, this day, is magical for many reasons.  But for me?  It is all about transition and rebirth.

Truly, is there anything more glorious than an apple orchard in full bloom?  Or an air perfumed by clusters of purple and white lilacs?

Of baby chicks chirping beneath grow lights and Peter Rabbit’s arrival in the form of our very own Easter Bunny, delivering sweet treats in pastel-colored baskets of cellophane grass.

Okay, I can think of many other equally glorious things too — but, the fullness of spring holds a divinity all its own, a unique pleasure gifted to us by Mother Nature herself.

There’s a freshness, an invigorating energy that permeates everything around me.  My soul remembers, and a swell of gratitude rises.  My senses come alive in the crisp cool air and vibrant landscape set out before me.  I realize, I’m smiling.

Then Spirit sends me a blessing.  It comes as a burst of thought, a moment of insight.  I suddenly become aware of an incredibly simple truth.

I’m happy.

I look across the expanse of yard and can’t imagine a prettier lawn.  The grass smells sweet.  And even though it’s been recently mowed, it is studded with bits of yellow sunshine and dots of purple twilight – dandelions and violets arrayed in all their glory.  Robins hop hither and yon, sometimes taking flight.  I invite them to eat their fill of grubs, but kindly leave behind some worms to aerate the soil.

By now, all of the migratory birds have returned ‘home to roost’.  Each year I anxiously listen for my feathered friends.  Catbird arrives and jealously guards a certain cherry tree until it produces its ripe, ruby fruit while the mocking bird sets up camp in the jasmine.  Our house wrens boldly sing, so loud, I fear they may have swallowed megaphones.  And so many more, too numerous to list here.

It’s a pleasure to hear their cheery voices greet the day and ride the gentle breezes, singing to their loved ones as they work hard building nests and laying fertile eggs.

Is it any wonder that Easter Day is adorned with colored eggs?  It’s the age old symbol for new life and new beginnings.

On that note, I must leave you here – for it’s time to set out tea for an Easter brunch.

May you enjoy the love of family and friends; and may the gift of life be cherished by us all.