July 29 – Embracing the Gift of Imperfection

by Karen Price

Three hens live at our house — Cinnamon, Clove, and Pepper. The first two are friendly Buff Orpingtons and for the latter is a Black Maran. The buff lay the lighter brown eggs and the Maran lays what is known as chocolate eggs. Who wouldn’t want a chicken that lays chocolate eggs? Now if I just had a goose that laid golden eggs, I’d be all set. Disclaimer: the shell is chocolate-colored, no actual chocolate was used in the making of this egg.

That sad little smaller than a ping pong ball egg was Pepper’s best effort. She hasn’t given me another egg since then. I’m hopeful that she’ll lay many more and perhaps more in line of the size that the other girls offer.

When my husband handed me that wee egg, I immediately felt for Pepper. I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve given everything I had, but all I’d had to show for my work was something tiny and feeble. I walked over to where Pepper was nesting and patted her back. “Thank you,” I told her with sincere empathy. “I appreciate your egg today.” I was very careful not to make fun of her or tell her there was anything wrong with her egg.

I was tender with her as I would want someone to be tender with my efforts at creativity. Often, I will refrain from creating anything, because I am afraid that my results will be less than stellar, that my efforts will be puny and even comical.

Well, sometimes my creations are puny and comical. I’ve made, cooked, and written things that went right into the trash. I once spent days weaving and crocheting a blanket that turned out to be extremely out of shape and just squeehawed. But I kept it. I have it neatly folded and stored away because I learned so much in making it. “It could have been beautiful,” I thought; if I’d known more. But now I see the potential behind the puny effort.

It’s taken me a long time to boldly go and make terrible things. It’s part of making excellent creations. Of course, I’ve had to come to terms with the concept that when I’m learning, I have to plan on making something twice. Make, tear out, repeat. Or sometimes — make, laugh, toss and recreate.

I’m going to go off and making some things today. I will remind myself that I embrace the gift of imperfection. Perhaps I’ll make something really grand, maybe not. And as I allow myself that adventure, I want to pass it on to those I encounter as well.

Karen blogs regularly at thebestoftimesfarm blog and this post originally appeared there and is published here with permission of the author.
Karen says, “I am at a point in my life where I have everything I wanted and am doing just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of. We have our own little hobby farm with a little herd of goats. Life is to be celebrated and I’m celebrating!”

 

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July 22 – For My Grandparents in the Train Station

by Linda C. Wisniewski

Once a week, a white flatbed truck pulls up on our street, delivering riding mowers, short Hispanic men and one white guy, the obvious “boss.” They spill from the truck like bees, everyone in a hurry, armed at different seasons with leaf blowers, jugs of liquid fertilizer, or shovels and rakes.

I wonder what they are spraying. But mostly I have a bigger worry. I wonder if they are undocumented; if they have families here or in another country.

A local activist gave me two lists in Spanish: What to Do In an Emergency (when you have to leave home in a hurry) and Know Your Rights (when ICE comes to your door) with a phone number for free legal advice. I make copies and take them home.

One day I see a lone guy spreading mulch.

“Hola!”

“Habla?” He looks up, smiling.

“No,” I say with a shake of my head. He looks puzzled. What does he see? A gringo lady making fun of him?

Almost all my neighbors are white. Some of us have talked about the ICE raids, the deportations, the family separation. The kids in cages, sleeping on the floor in silver blankets.

My country was unprepared for these refugees and I fear we have lost our heart. We have tax breaks for the wealthy but not enough room for the willing to work. My busy landscapers look at me with wary eyes. Was it always like this?

My grandfather’s family traveled overland from Poland to Germany, crossed the ocean, then boarded a train in New York City to Amsterdam, New York. They came because they heard about jobs in the rug, broom and glove factories. They left loved ones they would never see again.

They sat all day in the train station, hot and tired, with no idea what to do next. They spoke no English.  In the evening, men who spoke Polish came down to the station and led them, on foot, to flats for rent. They took them to the factories and introduced them to bosses who taught them jobs. They were needed, if not necessarily welcomed.

We don’t need migrants in 21st century America. Our factories are closed. I understand the fears of the underemployed. I remember the layoffs when my parents worried about paying the mortgage when they lost our car because they couldn’t make the payments and we had to walk everywhere. I understand the fear that there is not enough to go around. But I don’t believe these refugees from crime and poverty are here to rip me off.

I research what I want to say, and memorize a sentence:

“No hablo Espanol, pero quiero darte esta.”

I don’t know Spanish but I want to give you this.

My heart pounds when I go outside and hand two slips of paper to the man in the yard. He looks at them and nods.

“Gracias,” he says, shoves them in his pocket and goes on working.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

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July 15 – Collecting and Connecting

by Kalí Rourke
I recently mentioned to my husband that in light of our multiple downsizings, we were fortunate that neither of us is a collector.

My husband smiled and said, “I think you do have a collection. You have collected the people and ancestry in your family!”

“And yours,” I responded with a grin.

People ask, “How did you get into genealogy? Did your family talk about its history?”

“Not really.” My maternal grandmother (Nana) claimed that we were descendants of Myles Standish of the Mayflower through her father William Herbert Standish. He died young in a carriage accident and was the great love of her three-times married mother, Nellie Holley Standish Kidder Smalley. When Nellie died, her wish was to be buried with William.

Actually, we all just smiled and humored her when Nana claimed the Standish connection. No one took it seriously.

December of 2006 I was goofing around on the Internet. I stumbled on Ancestry.com and it gave access to the Name Bulletin Boards. This is a hit and miss way to research because the conversations are in threads and can meander, but I was fascinated! I tried my maternal grandfather’s name, Baskett. I plowed through with an investigator’s zeal and finally, there it was.

Dorene Standish from Oregon had posted that she was looking for the family of Lorena May Standish Baskett. I shrieked with glee! That was us! I commented that I was a granddaughter of Lorena through her daughter Marie and I would love to correspond. Dorene was incredibly generous with her knowledge and time and she encouraged me to dig into my family tree. She had accomplished the heavy lifting, getting her husband George (Nana’s nephew!) approved for General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) membership. All I had to do was document the generations between Nellie Holley/William Herbert Standish through me. I could do that!

I started gathering hard copy documentation. Birth, marriage, death certificates, divorces, multiple states, and it occurred to me that I was seeing many headstones online but I didn’t see any for my family.

Dorene solved the mystery for me. Our family had not been wealthy and nice markers were not possible. Concrete with basic information on it was what we found.

She checked the local monument makers and we decided to share costs while she and George would coordinate the replacements. We decided on granite with more engraved detail and soon, it was done.

In 2013 my husband and I traveled to Washington and drove to the Woodlawn Cemetery where so many of my family rest. As we searched through the headstones of all sizes, and some markers so old they had sunken under the soil, I felt blessed that we had been able to help make this lasting improvement. Future genealogists will have an easier time tracing the trail and I was able to say goodbye one more time to Nana (Who was right all along!).

I love owning this particular “collection.”

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and serves as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. Kalí is a philanthropist with Impact Austin and the Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund. She blogs at Kalí’s Musings and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. A longer version of this post appears on Kalí’s Musings.

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July 2 – One Woman Remembering Another

by Debra Dolan

I am writing this on Canada Day delighted in knowing that my darling Michael’s mother’s remarkable life is honoured in our national newspaper.  There is a wonderful regular feature titled “Lives Lived” which “celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed”.  Margaret was a proud American-Canadian who was many things to many people.  I submitted an essay for consideration; therefore, my day, today is finding joy in remembering her loving presence in my life during the past 17 years.  

Margaret Leonebel (Chiefy) Jackson Frizell

Margaret spent her youth in the lush interior mountains of China, where her father worked. The Second World War forced her American family to return to Santa Barbara, Calif. It was here that she graduated from Mills College. Later she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and travelled through Europe. While working as a French teacher at a children’s camp on Vancouver Island, she met Charles George (Chip) Frizell, the lodge’s dishwasher. Chip was a young, war-shattered man from the United Kingdom who had fought in the Battle of Britain and recited poetry from memory. They were a remarkable pair of beguiling individuals.

For more than 65 years they were a formidable team, building homes on Mayne Island, B.C., and in Point Roberts, Wash. They raised three sons, Michael, Paul, and Mark. Margaret was an untraditional homemaker, wife, and mother. She wore pants, smoked cigars, ignored housework and shared coffee with the mailman in broad daylight. And she created a home full of love and acceptance, providing a place for neighbourhood children to play and enjoy fresh baking. Later, it was bacon and eggs in the middle of the night for young men returning from parties drunk or stoned.

As her nickname suggests, Chiefy was indeed the boss. She never sweated the small stuff and picked her battles in a household of boys and men carefully; however, once she made a decision about what was important, she was a force to be reckoned with. Chiefy was a fierce defender of her sons, who she loved with every fibre of her being.

Chiefy had a wild and fascinating mind. She had an iron will and was connected to the strong values of her Catholic faith. In her presence, you felt special: She would tilt that head covered in cotton-candy-textured white hair and listen respectfully and intently. In the 1960s she wrote radio plays for the CBC and was a talented iconographer.

Margaret had a great fondness for cookbooks, which she read with the tenacity of novels, and amassed a large collection. Chiefy could be whimsical and silly; joyful and optimistic. She also demonstrated a tremendous fondness for martinis, butter, Hawaii and all things Parisian.

Her end was sudden. After a full day, attending mass, lunch with Michael and enjoying a drive along the beach, Chiefy suffered a stroke and died a few days later. She is buried next to Chip, who died in 2014, in the Gardens of Gethsemane.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and these details are worthy to be recorded.” – Natalie Goldberg

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

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June 24 – My Kingdom for a Lawnmower

by Ariela Zucker

 

Mowing our extensive lawn is my acknowledged job. While we rotate other chores, no one will ever try to take that one away from me. I spend endless hours on the riding mower and wonder time and time again how I was pulled into doing it almost from the moment we became the owners of this piece of land our motel occupies.

This is a complicated question seeing that I am so technically challenged. Every machine from the car I drive, out of pure necessity, to the printer in the office, even a simple stapler dares me to a mind duel, one I usually miserably lose.

Yet the lawn-mower is my private escape, my mode of deliverance, and in some odd way, my direct touch with nature from a safe and respected distance.

From the top of the mower, roaring along, there is no question that I am in control. I dictate the pace, the course, and the depth of the cut into the grassy lawn. I get to decide which part of the yard will be cut and which left to grow. Flowers nod their head with respect (or perhaps fear) when I zoom next to them, and most of the small insects and other assorted living things, hiding in the tall grass, make sure to stay out of my way.

But it is also about bonding.

As I travel along, sideways, and around my kingdom, I can inspect and marvel at every small detail. Far but not really out of sight, I can see every blade of grass, every tiny flower, every new rock that emerged out of the earth to threaten my smooth sail atop the lawn.

The newly planted flowering Weeping Willow trees I placed in the ground last fall after careful consideration of their growth rate and flowering ability; I ride by them to check their progress. I look with pride at the wild lilies I planted along the border, so small when I uprooted them from someone else’s garden, they are now thriving in the wet environment next to the front conduit. The Nine Cattail that sways slowly in the breeze; my modest contribution to the assortment of flora in its muddy bottom.

Back and forth, riding from one side of the lawn to another, I watch with satisfaction how the tiny blades of freshly cut grass are flying out of the mower’s side chute. Every few minutes, I look back over my shoulder at the clear lines I have created in the overgrown grass. It’s the sense of fulfillment derived from a task well done but also the pride of an artist inspecting his creation.

It is like an allegory I did not fully uncover, but that one day will reveal itself to me. Until then the lawn-mower (green and yellow John Deere) and I will keep on cruising along, from one side of the lawn to the other, keeping an eye on its inhabitants.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

June 10 – Human Connections

by Ariela Zucker

I stir my morning coffee and while the milk swirls and changes the color from dark brown to tan I reflect on a sentence that I read on the front page of Yahoo.

“Human connections are important. Try to encompass at least ten of them every day.”

I wonder if I can accomplish this challenge without leaving my home on this dreary rainy day.
1.  The first thing I do is look at my cellphone: David from 7 cups is looking for me.
2.  I log into the site that connects volunteer listeners and members who need a captive listening ear. David and I have a short conversation about his aspirations to take on the world. He says he likes to talk to me, and this time he ends the conversation by himself. I joke about “David and Goliath;” he gets it and sends a smiley.
3.  I check my online writing group, no one responded to my last post, so I move on.
4.  I send the daily Hebrew word to Sara. Later she will send me a letter composed of these words. Today’s word: The eye of the storm. She texts me a thumbs-up.
5.  An email from Beth. She just found in her DNA test that we are third cousins twice removed and is overcome with excitement. I suggest a few possible surnames for her to check. “None fits,” she writes back, adding an icon of a sad face.
6.  An unknown caller from Honolulu. A formal, somewhat scary male voice announces that I should call back in the next 10 minutes; otherwise, the police will intervene. I know it is a prank call, but for a brief moment, it stops my breathing, what if it is true?
Fifty-five minutes passed, and I scored six interactions, I am pleased and reward myself with another cup of coffee and a donut.
7. In my Facebook, I find two birthday announcements and a picture from two years ago of my dog the day we got him. I send birthday wishes and marvel at how small he was only a short time ago.
8.  I sit down to write a long-delayed letter to my pen pal in Scotland. We’ve been corresponding for over twenty years. We’re doing it in the good old-fashioned way; paper, envelope, stamp then a long wait.
9.  My daughter calls to ask for a recipe. I pull out my cookbook that is held together with will power and sticky fingers and read the ingredients to her. This is an old recipe my mother used to make. I am happy to pass it on and keep the generational food connection alive.
10. Outside on my bird-feeder, yellow Goldfinch shares the grains with a small red squirrel. Above them, on a bent branch, a blazing red Cardinal performs its warning metallic chip. Patches of bright colors against the gray backdrop. I snap a quick picture. Later I will post it on Facebook.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.