Nov
16

How To Build Community

by Christine

In the coming weeks I am going to discuss the how-tos of building community that will enhance your life and the lives of others. Why? Because I believe as the Boomers retire, the children of the Gen Xers begin to graduate from high schools and the Millennials finally look up from their computers, all will be asking, "What next?". Everyone will want to know how to make connections and lead meaningful and purposeful lives. 

Community is a unified group of people who acknowledge a joint ownership and participation in a declared society. Ownership and participation means showing up and doing the work necessary to keep the community functioning and thriving. How do you create that? A group or individual needs a vision for the community. Okay, those are basic definition but what is the real world example. Lets take something small and relatively easy.

Say you want to be part of a book club. You could search out one on the web or check out your local library to learn of any existing book clubs in your area. But you have a vision and that vision includes creating a new book club in your neighborhood. That could be a goal in and of itself but you might want to flesh out your vision a bit more. Does you vision for the book club mean getting together once a month to drink a glass of wine, eat a few munchies while discussing latest popular culture release?  Or do you want to read serious works of fiction and non-fiction and have monthly in depth discussions with adroit enthusiast? 

To be successful, you must be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and why. If the book club is a tool to create opportunities for companionship then what you read is not the driving force behind the meetings. On the other hand if it is all about "the book" then it is important for you to be clear when sharing your vision with others. The struggle comes in forming community when the majority of the members don't have a common vision. To succeed it is necessary for everyone to row the boat in the same direction.

In a previous post I mentioned our Community Lake Preservation group and the success we have had in caring for and maintaining our lake. It is my belief that the success behind this group lies in the fact that everyone had a common vision. Anytime anyone went off course, they were gently steered back to our common vision of caring for the lake. Whether you are establishing a book club, a Girl Scout troop, a Moms of Multiples group, a neighborhood association or a neighborhood softball team, it is critical to have a clear vision. 

As a first step of creating community, I encourage you to articulate your vision giving voice to the "why" behind your vision. 

Hugs,
C

 

Nov
13

Squirrels As Friends

by Christine


Gary the Gardener's Body Double

Having a squirrel for a friend is a lot like having a child. Squirrels, like children, are noisy, messy, and inclined to end up in places they shouldn't. Gary the Gardener is one such squirrel.  As the temperature continues to drop here on the mountain, I look longingly over my back patio, remembering one warm August afternoon when Gary was trespassing once again. With my head bowed, I was deep in though about sentence structure and whether to use the Oxford comma or not, when I felt the tiny toenails of Gary run across the top of my feet. As if that wasn't startling enough, a playmate of his was in pursuit playing what I thought to be a rigorous game of chase and he, too, ran across my feet. 

Gary and his friend's actions were much like the ones of my children when they were little. When playing chase, my son would tag his sister "it" and then declare me "base" as he barreled toward me. My daughter would scream no fair and race toward him and me in an effort to tag her older brother. Gary had declared me base and falsely believed my presence would stop his playmate from pursuing him. He was wrong and I had two squirrels scamper over my feet.

I am beyond the "ew" factor when it comes to wildlife touching me because this very same thing has happened once before in my life. When my children were young we were living in Florida and remodeling a historic home. It was also during this time I felt the need to monitor my weight in meticulous detail so I would get out of bed each morning and step on the scales at the foot of my bed. One particular morning the room was dark and as I stepped on the scale I felt something run across the top of my feet. I froze and then jumped on the end of my bed waking my cocker spaniel, Simon. Well, actually, my scream woke the dog and my children.  

The ensuing scene rivaled the best French farce or one of the early Marx Brother's movies with running, slamming doors and yelling. As the dog chased the squirrel, I pursued the dog, my son ran after me and my daughter trailed after my son yelling don't hurt it. After completing two laps around the house, we opened the front to release the poor, frightened squirrel tackling the dog before he could continue the chase outside. The whole episode was funny though I believe it to be funnier now then when it actually occurred. 

Gary the Gardener makes life on the mountain fun as his behavior triggers good memories of life with my children when they were young. I do wonder though if he tells his friends and family stories about me?

Hugs,
C

 

Nov
09

A Change Of Scenery

by Christine

I am home. After a week in California I returned home to bare tree limbs, mounds of leaves covering the lawn and a renewed enthusiasm for life on the mountain. The time away was glorious. Marty and I hiked the cliffs of Big Sur and the street of San Francisco stopping to enjoy the unique beauty of each place. As we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, our conversation centered on technology, art and our good fortune at living in a country of such geographic diversity and abundance. We sampled local food and drink and reveled in spending time together. We had a lovely time in a lovely place. 

Our trip allowed me to get out of the house and get out of my head. The expedition forced me to think about more than the how-to of running my life and when I returned I was able to see my world in another light. Nelson Mandela said, "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." I have been changed. I hope for the better.

Traveling allows one to look at life from different vantage points. I will give you an example. As you know California is struggling with a life-altering drought. As we drove through the farm country, we saw interrogatory signs lining the highway. Is growing food a waste of water?, Congress Caused the Dust Bowl, No Water=No Jobs and Pray For Rain were expressing the fears of a community. These are real people worrying about real jobs and real environmental challenges. Nothing abstract, nothing hypothetical. Their struggle touched my heart and mind.  I am a conservationist at heart but I am doubling my efforts to be respectful of our water use. I am grateful for my home and gratitude requires that I care for it lovingly. 

Maybe a week away isn't in your immediate future but I encourage you to take some time to change your scenery. Whether you spend the weekend with a friend or travel half way around the world, take some time to get out of your house and out of your head. It will be worth it!

Hugs,
C


{The View From The Golden Gate Bridge On A Glorious Fall Day}

 

Oct
28

Community: Helping The Less Fortunate

by Christine

The subtle shades of summer green have given way to brilliant colors of scarlet red, burnt orange and sunglow yellow here in the Hudson Valley. As the sun rises each morning a golden glow bathes the mountains and the world feels warm and cozy. I've lived on the mountain for ten years and I know the warm fall colors and crisp temperatures of autumn will give way to the bitter cold and ice blue colors of winter. Now is the time for reflection on how our community cares for the less fortunate as we gather our family and friends together for a holiday season of hearty meals and gift exchanges. 

The stories we tell ourselves as a nation has bolstered the belief that each and everyone of us is the master of his or her destiny. The idea that fortune smiles upon us and that we are where we are in life is not so much a result of our hard work but because we were fortuitous is abhorrent to many. Our homes, cars, education and other material goods are the fruit of our labor and we become incensed if that belief is challenged. But what about the individual who worked hard and has not been so fortunate? The spectator who was maimed while standing at the finish line at the Boston Marathon in 2013 or the elderly couple who worked all their lives but now find their savings is not enough to live on or the young father who is fighting desperately to beat cancer, are their struggles the result of their lack of dedication or hard work?  Does it matter? Do we only help those in our community who "deserve" help?

My question is how do we as a community care for those who have not been as fortunate? Or more specifically, how do you and I care for those in our community who are in need? There are government programs that act as a social safety net and many volunteers run programs that assist but how do we reach out person-to-person to aid the members of our community? Do we stock food banks, run coat drives or write a check to the Salvation Army? In creating community, it isn't only about being with people "just like us". Community is about connection, friendships and respect. How do we create healthy communities by including everyone?

Hugs,
C

Oct
23

You Like Me!

by Christine

The garden produced an embarrassment of riches this past summer. As an enthusiastic and eager novice gardener, I may have planted a little too much for household use by two adults. I planted three varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of carrots and beans, two varieties of cucumbers, two types of lettuce, bell peppers, sweet peas, broccoli, yellow squash, Bok Choy and Brussels sprouts. That long litany of food producing plants does not include the herbs and edible flowers that could be found in my garden. To say I got a little carried away is a suitable description under the circumstances.

And what were the circumstances? Do you remember the candy factory scene from I love Lucy?  No matter how fast I tried, I couldn't keep up with production. Cucumbers and carrots were stuffed in every open drawer or shelf in the refrigerator. Rows and rows of tomatoes lined the shelves of the herb window in the kitchen as I filled mason jars with homemade tomato sauce. If I were attempting to be accurate, maybe vegetable production was more like the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the movie Fantasia. At first I was self satisfied and pleased with the magic I had unleashed by my own hand but by the end of September I was promising never to tinker with forces I did not understand again.

Before dancing cucumbers and Bok Choy menaced the nighttime dreams of my budding horticulturist slumber, I would write at the table on my patio that overlooked the garden. Cool mornings on the mountain allowed me to get in a couple hours of work before the glare from the summer sun made working on a laptop futile. These were joyful moments as I faded into the landscape and the natural world carried on as if I were visible. Indeed, maybe I was invisible because one morning I looked up to see Gary the Gardener, not ten feet away, eating the leaves off the broccoli plants. I had recently learned that all parts of the broccoli plant were edible so I was not surprised to see Gary chowing down. I quickly calculated the garden was going to produce more broccoli crown heads, leaves and stalks than we could use, so why not share?

Later that day I was recounting Gary's visit to the garden and his love of broccoli, when Marty demand to know if I had told Gary that was unacceptable. Hmmm, did Marty really think I was going to use the word unacceptable when communicating with Gary? Did he think I talked to wildlife like Snow White or Cinderella, singing as blue birds sat on my finger? In the interest of relationship harmony, these questions remained unspoken. What I did say was we had plenty to share and I felt it would do no harm to let him have a couple of leaves from the broccoli plants. 

I will, of course, tell you the real reason I did not shoo Gary away. Gary believes I planted a lush and abundant garden as a gift for him. If I could understand the Sciuridae language, I am sure he was saying, "You like me, you really, really like me."  I did not have it in me to break his heart. So what if we give up a couple broccoli leaves and the best of the heirloom tomatoes on the vine. Isn't that worth allowing a fellow gardener the joy of feeling loved? I did not share this thought with Marty because he would accuse me of being anthropomorphic in my relationship with Gary. I did not pursue the discussion further because I know I would not take his observation of my behavior seriously. After all he is a man who would use the word unacceptable when talking to a squirrel. 

Hugs,
C

Oct
22

The Importance of Grandparents

by Christine

Yesterday, Joe announced a Biden run for President of the United States was a no go. I was relieved to hear of his decision. It was the right choice for the Biden family and Joe understands that. Joe lost a child when his oldest son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer this past May and my heart breaks for him. The whole family is in the beginning stages of grief that will take months, maybe even years to work through. As a mother, I have not personally experienced that kind of loss and I can't begin to know his pain. As grandmother though I have watched as the problems of adults and this world have forced my grandchildren to navigate the harsh realities of loss; a loss that changes the trajectory of their young lives. 

In times of loss, grandchildren need their grandparents to do their jobs. And what is that job? To love them unconditionally; to be part of their lives. I am working to follow in the footsteps of my mother as I intentionally evolve as a grandmother. My mother loved her grandchildren and they loved her back. She was a very good grandmother. She was "there" when they needed her to be with a kind word or a loving hug; they felt valued. My hope is that I can be as good to my grandchildren as my mother was to hers. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to know that my grandchildren felt loved and cherished by me.  

Grandparents are in a unique position. We get a second chance to have children in our lives without having to do all the heavy lifting. We can love, nurture and find amusing behavior that a parent would be forced to correct. I remember when my number two granddaughter used her crayons to draw a LARGE mural on her freshly painted bedroom wall. Her mother and I had completely different responses.

When tragedy strikes a family, grandparents are needed even more. Grandchildren look around for solid ground and instinctively feel their parents "have their own problems" and try to protect them. A grandparent, with his or hers, years of life experience can offer some peace and solace. The Biden family has some tough times ahead of them and Joe knows it. Almost anyone can be President of the United States but only Joe can be grandfather to his son's children. He is the only one that can tell them stories about their father as a little boy or tell them about the good in their father. He will also be able to point out the good in his grandchildren and tell how much alike they are to their father.

As a grandparent, it is not about the heroic gesture. It is about showing up and unconditionally loving the dirty faces, sticky hands and the crayon murals on freshly painted walls. Parents have their job; it's hard, I know, I've done it. Grandparents have work to do too. Joe Biden has proved himself to be a positive role model for those of us working to be a loving grandparent. 

Hugs,
C

 

 

Oct
19

The Joy Of Change

by Christine

Two weeks ago I was in Jacksonville for my forty-fifth high school reunion. Yeah, can you believe it? Forty-five years. That number amazes me too. I had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends that I hadn't seen or talked to since our high school graduation. We discussed our careers, parents, children and grandchildren. While the conversations were brief due to the good turn out, I chatted with as many of our classmates as possible. 

I was surprised and pleased to learn the dominant emotion in the room was joy. The reunion was a joyful occasion but it was more than that. My classmates were sharing with me changes he or she had just made or were in the process of making.  Most were retiring from careers that had spanned thirty years and they were excited and energized by the next phase of their lives. One classmate had just returned from touring the Western part of the United States where she purchased several acres of land in Colorado. She was a life long resident of Florida but was now going to spend part of the year in Colorado. Another classmate was sharing his love for woodworking and how he was now going to be able to spend more time crafting furniture for his home, family, and friends. I believe this venture will eventually lead to second career for my friend. 

We hear so many negative stories about change and life after retirement that we become fearful and reticent about our future. The Fourth Quarter of life can be whatever you choose to make it. I have friends and colleagues that are holding on to jobs that they don't like, working with people they don't respect because the "job" is all they know. Retire is only a word that means to withdraw to or from a particular place. The word does not have to define who you are or your place in the world. The Dalai Lama said, "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." My question today is, where will you find joy?

Hugs,
C

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