Archive for April, 2010

The Turning Point

For most of this month, I have been engaging in deliberate ‘time off’ to allow myself to reflect and refocus.  I have not been sitting idly by…in fact, I have wondered, almost daily, about how I managed to do any of the things I have been doing when I had a 9-to-5 gig.  The answer lies in the reality that I have always made time for what I care about…but this month, I’ve tried to care more about me.

I’ve been doing yoga 3 times a week, most weeks for 90 minutes at a time; I’ve been in the gardens (as readers of this blog will note); I’ve been cleaning out cabinets that haven’t seen this attention for years; sharing more of the parent-as-taxi service responsibility with Ben.  I’ve also been coordinating our congregation’s upcoming candidating week – which has turned into a near-full time job; working some on one of the two books I’ve been writing for several years, which had languished for lack of attention; and singing.  It has all been good, and good for me.

I have promised myself that, while this time off has been important, next week it will change.  I will move back to the business of resumes, referrals, networking, inquiry, and pursuing opportunities that match my talents and passion to the needs of organizations I care about.  It is a turning point, and one which I am mentally preparing myself for.

Part of the challenge will be honing in on the opportunities that offer a really exceptional match between my experience and the organization seeking assistance.  There are, I realize, lots of things that I am ‘good at’ and lots of things I’ve done.  Which ones are the ones to be pursued and which, left behind?  In other parts of my life, I have been a florist, a caterer, a radio talk show host, an event planner.  I also had a long and successful career as an arts administrator, and I have been a successful fund raiser and grants writer for non-profits — all before I became a denominational communications manager.   So many pieces of the puzzle, and all of them part of the opportunity map that lies ahead.

A turning point approaches, and I trust that life, with mysteries unknown, will hold a compass for me, to guide me in the right direction.

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My grandfather, Frank Racine, was a farmer.  He had taken up this career after being a school principal and deciding that it didn’t really fulfill him.  He wanted instead to be a dairy farmer, and so late in life he bought an old farm in Cuddebackville, New York and became one.  I can remember visiting my grandparents, getting up after he’d had his first breakfast, and watching him from the kitchen window as he came back toward the house with a small milk jug in hand.  In the cooling house opposite the barn, I knew there would be several very large cans of milk, immersed in cold water, waiting for pickup to go to the dairy.

After a break and review of the local papers in his sitting area (in the basement near the coal furnace) Gramp would go out again to shovel manure, plow the fields, and tend his vegetables.  Some of them would go to a local market, but others were for us.  In the fall, I loved to go out in the field with Barney, the farm dog, and walk behind the plow picking up freshly turned potatoes.  I’d be sent to the field in back of the house with my cousin Linda, to pick wild strawberries (the best strawberries for shortcake and whipped cream), or out to the field with my mother to get corn for supper (“We’ll get the water boiling;  if you fall down on the way back, throw that corn away and pick some that’s really fresh”).

This was how I learned about gardening, down in the valley of that little Delaware Water Gap community.  And for many years, I wanted nothing to do with it.  But in my late twenties, that changed.  I got tired of lousy fruits and vegetables in the store.  Then the organic movement revived, and I started to wonder about whether I could grow some of my own veggies, pesticide-free, without going to the store.  And then I decided to try it.

I got the owner of the apartment where I lived to let us dig a little garden plot in the back yard.  Another resident also wanted to garden, and we had a great time planting and harvesting, in view of Long Island Sound in Stony Creek, CT.  When I moved to Massachusetts, I still had the garden ‘bug.’  At our first house in Lexington the neighbors had an asparagus bed, and I eyed it enviously.  A couple of doors down, a woman named Brenda was into gardening in a big way, and I lusted after her raised beds and netting to keep the birds off the raspberries. Our house did not have an ideal landscape for much gardening, but when we moved to our current residence, with a very large back yard, I knew what I’d be wanting to do.  So Ben built me a raised bed garden with a fence around it (we abut a stream and conservation land, and are regularly visited by turkeys, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, and sometimes, deer) and my future was written.

Too often, I haven’t gotten out to that garden till June.  And by then it’s been too late for some of the lovely early crops to produce.  A couple of years, I didn’t get out there at all, and sadly mourned my inability to do that which made me happy. Not this year.

With some extra time at my disposal, I asked Ben to turn over a quadrant of the garden early…and so on April 7, rakes and hoe in hand, I marched out and set to work.  The spring has come early to New England this year, and I planted peas, radishes, spinach, and a new asparagus bed.  My garlic plants (a gift from my friend Margy), planted last fall, have sprouted, and several herbs made the winter:  borage, lovage, and of course chives, catnip, spearmint, and garlic chives.  I also found that some parsnips and carrots wintered over, and the rhubarb has come back beautifully.

Today, if the rain holds off long enough, I’ll be setting in onion and shallot sets, along with lettuce.  And I went to New Hampshire last week with my friend and neighbor Joyce, to a nursery that had an Earth Day plant sale.  Heirloom and plum tomatoes, pineapple sage and several other herbs, and broccoli plants will all be going in shortly.  And then, more seeds.  Along the side of the garage, where there’s another garden area, Ben and I planted three new blueberry bushes yesterday, I trimmed the raspberry canes, and set in lupine and hollyhock plants.  All the strawberries are being relocated to the vegetable garden.

Max Coots, in his Prayer of Thanksgiving, named the blessings of friends “gorgeous as eggplant” and “elegant as a row of corn”.  I find that gardening makes me appreciate my friends and family more…in fact, appreciate life more, too.  I love being out and digging in the dirt, making things grow, and knowing that I’m doing something that will feed my family and cut down on environmental waste.  And I love thinking about how to nurture those seeds and tiny plants, to make them grow into something fabulous.  Yeah, my muscles ache after I’ve been out there for a few hours.  But it’s a good ache, and it reminds me that I’ve done something good for me and for my family.

On Earth Day and at other times as well, I’ll take the friendship the earth offers…an enduring and sustaining friendship that calls to me, as it did to my grandfather, and offers up rewards blessed by the sun and the rain.

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We returned a couple of days ago from our latest visit to Cape Cod to check in on Ben’s aging parents.  It was not a springtime jaunt to look at the dunes, but a care visit, one of many we’ve made in the last four or five months, as we try to support Ben’s parents as they age.

There are lots of reasons why I am glad that I married Ben, but one of the ones at the top of the list is his mother.  Phoebe, who I call “my sainted mother-in-law,” is the kindest, loveliest person I ever met.  She focused much of her life on helping others (many years of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and other good causes), raised three wonderful sons, has been the most devoted of spouses, and never asked for much in return.  And she has been very, very ill.

She is nearly 92, and for more than a month, she’s been struggling with a really nasty GI infection — C-diff — that can kill.  She is making a slow recovery, but after about a month in bed, the progress is frustratingly slow.  Ben and I have been trying to act as her advocates and case managers, staying in touch with her doctor, the nurses, the hospital first and now the rehab facility, the social worker, her minister, her friends, and her husband (my father-in-law) who is both frustrated and frightened.

Ben has said that in any situation, there is always something to hope for – you just need to adjust your expectations to meet the situation.  But hope is not always easy for everyone to find, and optimism can die out.  Phoebe wants to live – she has made that clear to her minister and to us.  We are here to support that wish, and to make sure that she is getting the treatment – medical and emotional – that she deserves.  And we are here to try and help my father-in-law adjust his expectations of what to hope for, so that he can be a part of the treatment and recovery plan.

Phoebe is doing the best that she can.  She had enough energy on Tuesday to tell our daughters the story of her grandfather meeting up with Confederate soldiers as they came to Chambersburg, PA (and later burned the town).  She is glad for whatever attention we wish to offer, and never asks for more.  “It makes me happy just to look at you,” she said to Ben.  When our daughter, Emily, read Mary Oliver’s poetry to her, she smiled with contentment.

It is not easy, but it is an honor…to support the nicest person I ever met, as she wages one more fight to regain her health and a little bit of her independence.  She is “my sainted mother-in-law,” and I am blessed to be part of her family.

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This afternoon my husband and I spent our second stint in the downstairs library in our house, cleaning.  My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece are coming to visit, and that’s just the kick in the butt we’ve needed to clean up.  So we spent more than two hours yesterday, and another two today, cleaning out stuff.

What accumulates is amazing…stuff from the last clean-up that we just couldn’t get to, stuff that I moved home after I left my position at the Unitarian Universalist Association, stuff we didn’t quite know what to do with, art supplies, things of my mother’s that we didn’t get rid of — or that I couldn’t bear to part with — and more.

Ben and I are almost always guaranteed to approach any assignment differently – our brains are just wired differently — but we almost always end up at the same point.  So finally, at the end of our clean-up, there was a pile of books on the floor that neither of us wanted.  A very large pile.  Our church MayFair (a giant white elephant sale) is coming, and we have some friends who also may want some of these books.  And there’s a trashcan filled with things we didn’t think anyone else would want.  We got most of the stuff cleaned out.  Not all – but probably more than ninety percent.

We’re both trying to be a little clearer about what stuff we need, and what we don’t.  If we can’t bear to throw it out because it was my mother’s, Ben’s first wife’s, or one of our favorite childhood books (and we each held on to one of those) it stays.  The stringed dulcimer Ben made long ago, which doesn’t quite work but which he can’t quite  part with, stays too.  And so does the copy of “The Prophet” that my parents gave my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Lou many years ago.  But the old fund accounting textbooks of mine are on their way out the door.  And the duplicate copies of some lovely meditation manuals…and the cassette tape recording of Tales from Lake Wobegon, even though we like Garrison Keillor (and we still have a way to play the darned things too!).

Stuff is part of our lives.  It’s not that we’re on a voluntary simplicity kick (although I’ve got no objection to that at all) — but company’s coming.  And too much stuff is just not a good thing.

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Just now, I have found myself unexpectedly working on a Sunday service.  Our minister is stuck on the other side of the Atlantic, so several of us have been ‘tapped’ to help lead the service.

It’s Patriots Day weekend here in Middlesex County — and though lots of folks in the Commonwealth think of Monday as “Marathon Monday” — a term that rankles — to us it’s truly Patriots Day.  A great day for America, commemorating the start of the American Revolution as the Patriots battled the British Regulars for freedom, with the battle occuring down the street from us in the center of Lexington.

The Sunday sermon draft focuses on the balance that the early settlers of this country had to engage in — defending personal freedom, striving for independence — and yet supporting the common good that would ensure the vitality of the somewhat fragile communities struggling to grow and thrive in the new land.

As I continue to reel from the Goldman Sachs charges that have hit the news (Am I suprised?  no.  Disgusted and dismayed?  Oh, yes), and the tales of increasing divides between those who have lots and those who don’t have much at all, I realize how important it is for us to hold on to those early lessons learned by the Puritans and early settlers.  Back when these New England communities were forming, as now, it remains true:  for all of us to do a little better or just get along,  we might have to share what we have.  And when we shove someone in the proverbial ditch so that we can get ahead, there’s the chance that the act hurts not one person, but society at large.

Long ago John Winthrop is reported to have said, while on board a ship bound for these lands, “The care of the public must oversway all private respects. . . . We have entered a covenant with [God] for this work. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

They are still on us.  On Patriots Day, and other days as well.  The common good, of the community and of our society, must inform our teachings and our lives. And we ignore that fact at our peril.

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