Celebrating Life

The day was overcast and cool when people gathered for the funeral. A group of voices sang in remembrance. It was the end of April and shortly before her next birthday in May when my mother left this earthly life. She would have been 82. We gathered in our former family living room in Pueblo, Colorado to select readings and music for the service to commemorate and celebrate her life.

Born in Monson, Massachusetts, our mother had strawberry blonde hair and blue, sparkling Irish eyes. She and her younger sister both achieved an RN degree and worked in Boston. Mary Elizabeth played piano, was a wonderful dancer, and could sew the most beautiful clothes for all her family. An accomplished writer, she had a way with words and poetry. Like her mother before her, she made the best pies with flaky crusts. She was a true Renaissance woman: educated, intelligent and with many talents.

Not a day passes, when I don’t hear her pearls of wisdom. She was kind, patient, compassionate and very devout. Growing up in Massachusetts, I can still hear her voice as she read us many children’s classics at bedtime. Today’s poem is dedicated to her memory.

Into the Light

Those who have almost died
frequently speak of a
near-death-experience, of
passing through a dark passage

and into the light. Some have
described a place of incredible
joy and peace along with the
bright light. Those of us

left behind find this hard
to fathom. Why are we sad
and in tears? Why not
focus on the good times

we had with our loved ones?
Somehow I mustered the needed
strength to read a passage
at my mother’s funeral.

Somehow I sang the hymns
which now gave me the comfort
I had given others when I
sang in the choir.

I no longer mourn her
but honor her memory
with stories and poems.
Once she stayed up all night

to sew me a beautiful
prom dress. She gave me
her gift of music and love
of learning and of life.

Mom, you taught us
through your loving example.
This I know: you are with us
today and always: I love you.

Grandma & Emily 19920001

Credits for some of today’s photos: my talented niece Sally who lives in Costa Rica and has her own blog. rosedevi.blogspot.com/

Posted in love, Mom, near-death experience | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Chance Encounter

My daily walk at the lake park has long been a favorite ritual. How pleasant today’s weather was, and many folks were out and about. People in Upstate New York tend to be friendly and outgoing so it is quite common to greet others as you walk along the lake. One woman joked with me that her dogs were walking her. Both dogs weighed about 95 lbs. each and seemed to be pulling her along.

Snippets of conversations walked past. The park’s train brought passengers back and forth the 2.5 mile length from the Salt Museum to the SU boathouse. It was a special treat to walk during the morning hours. Just one year ago, I could not have done this since I was still teaching. I smiled to myself as I heard two people talk about kids, school and technology. I’ve been there; done that. Now I can focus in the moment and look and listen to nature.

Just as I was making mental notes about my blog post today, a pleasant looking gentleman wearing hiking boots inquired if this was the beginning of the walking trail. I laughed and said the beginning is wherever you want it to be. Inquiring where he was from, I learned Pennsylvania and that he was here for the weekend. We chatted a bit longer after I explained that the walking route turned back around at the SU boathouse. He mentioned a hiking club in PA. When I had finished my morning walk, I saw him again and told him of the walking trail on the other side of the lake. He appeared fatigued so I asked if he needed a ride back to the Salt Museum. He did, and we chatted more finding other similarities such as Germany and New Jersey. I found myself giving tourist advice e.g. a good restaurant nearby and other things to do. I told him he might also enjoy Beaver Lake Nature Center. We both agreed that it is wonderful to reach out to others. This chance encounter demonstrated how small the world really is.

Trees, tall and stately, stand majestic in the lake park. I try to imagine how old they are. What stories could they tell? We do not have the tall pines that I saw in Washington State or the giant trees called Redwoods in California. Some can achieve a diameter of 24 feet and live to be 2000 years old. As I young teen, I recall seeing giant pine cones from the Sequoia trees also in California.

Trees have always held a magical quality and are majestic to me. I often wonder what mysteries they hold. The trees at Onondaga Lake Park inspire me to poetry whenever I gaze upon them. For the beauty of the earth, I offer today’s poem on trees.

Our Majestic Trees

Trees listen to conversations.
They watch children play.
People work near trees
and seek shade under

outstretched arms.
Trees stand tall and
strong yet know when
to bend in the wind.

Trees whisper with their
leaves swaying about.
Trees endure and have
many colors in autumn.

They offer us beauty and
comfort. They inspire us
just as our family trees do.
They bring consolation.

Posted in nature, Onondaga Lake, retirement, Salt Museum, Upstate New York, walks | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Good Old Days

 

My story begins in Massachusetts where I was born. From age 5, I recall a smoke bush outside the window and playing all day long outdoors with my sisters and neighborhood friends. There was a grand piano in the living room. The house was purchased complete with furniture from two maiden aunts who died. It was a great place without electricity and plumbing. The house was probably built in the 1880s and indoor plumbing and electricity were not common. Lest you think we used an outhouse, I’ll ease your mind by telling you that my father installed electricity and plumbing before we moved into the house on the top of a hill in Monson, Massachusetts. It was a magical place for us.

Things I remember when I was a young girl included the following:

-we listened to the radio
-we had no television
-we had no car
-we had no computer, internet, wifi, etc.
-we played long hours outdoors in the neighborhood and only came in for a quick lunch
-on rainy days, we played imaginary games indoors, cards and created paper projects
-we picked blueberries
-we walked one mile down the road to catch the school bus

When we were sick and stayed home from school, we listened to radio plays such as The Lone Ranger on the radio complete with sound effects. The first time I viewed this program on black and white television, I sat holding on to the chair and frightened at some of the scenes. At the time I was probably 7. The phones were the big black rotary kind attached to the wall and had party lines or shared phones with neighbors. It amazes me that my parents walked everywhere (grocery shopping, doctors, church) and only got a car with our move to Sturbridge. My mother did not get a driver’s license until she was 35. I waited until I was 19 because I saw no need since I could not drive at college.

Still and all, we were not deprived. Our lives were rich and filled with adventures. We were happy and healthy and knew how important friends and family were. We had a big garden with a variety of fruits and vegetables which later in Sturbridge, my mother canned for use during the winter months. I watched my father chop and store wood for our fireplaces. Sometimes, as a treat, we roasted marshmallows and baked potatoes in the fireplace. We played board games and cards and later practiced piano. Life was great.  We were happy.

We collected little frogs which jumped in the grass as my father mowed it with a manual mower. We saw our share of harmless snakes which to little girls seemed dangerous creatures. Many hours were spent in the woods behind the house collecting Fall leaves which we pressed between sheets of wax paper and hung in the windows. We also nibbled on wild blueberries and checkerberries.

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Sometimes today, I wish for unfettered play for children. I wish the electronic gadgets were turned off , and kids explored nature. When blueberries were ripe, we took little pails and went blueberry picking or better known as carrying pails mostly empty. Instead we had blue mouths and fingers. We were happy in winter too building snowmen and getting bundled up in snowsuits to sled down the hills in our backyard. I miss my mother’s blueberry and apple pies. The big thing I wish for today’s children is less micromanaging by adults in their lives. This includes less organized sports for very young children. The old adage comes to mind: Let children be children.

Little Blue Mouths

Each had a tiny
metal pail for
the blueberries.
We picked.

Our parents
kept a watchful
glance as
they filled

large pails
of juicy blueberries
for pies.
Pails mainly

empty, we
smiled at them
with little blue mouths
and fingers.

 

 

Posted in childhood play, Massachusetts, nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Ten Important Considerations for Parents

With an almost fifty year teaching career behind me, I offer reflections about what works and what does not work when rearing and educating children. As we commence a new school year, these might be of note to parents.

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  1. Allow children to play in the neighborhood and during recess at school without directing their every move. Young children should not have organized sports either at school or outside of school.
  1. Let children be children. Intervene only if there is bullying or an accident like a scraped knee.
  2. Don’t bother purchasing cell phones, IPads and computers for young children. They will have them soon enough.
  3. Restrict television time. Use family meal time to have conversations with one another. As an alternative, try board games as a family activity.
  1. Take your children to the library and discuss the books they read. Continue to read aloud to them daily at least through elementary school. I recall having a homework assignment given us as  parents of our middle school  children.  We were to all take turns reading one chapter aloud of a book.  We could do this during dinner or afterwards.  We discussed the book and explained words our children did not know.

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  1. Begin to learn a foreign language in elementary school even if the school does not offer one. I know several parents who spoke a foreign language at home so that children heard it. These parents were non-native speakers but placed great value on learning another language, culture and country.  Pass on the basics of the foreign language you learned in school.  Hang a world map on your child’s  bedroom wall.
  1. Have your children learn a musical instrument including singing aloud if lessons or instruments are too expensive for the family budget.
  1. Begin to teach children cursive handwriting. There are charts and online resources to do this. Daily practice is essential as it is with musical instruments and foreign languages. Writing  a daily journal helps form good habits at an early age.
  2. Set aside time to include religion in the lives of your children. Make this a family activity.  If religion is not “your thing” then try philosophy or meditation.
  3. Refrain from doing your children’s work. Let them struggle with homework and other tasks. They need to learn to ask questions and solve problems on their own. I had ninth grade students who did not know how to look up words in the dictionary.  It is a necessary skill and lays the foundation for doing research later in school.  Parents need to teach their children to accept responsibility for their own work in school.
Posted in education, music, organized sports, technology, world languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Time for a New Schulranzen!

It’s that time of year in Upstate New York to get ready for school. Some Southern states are already back to school in the U.S.  In Germany, each state has its own school calendar so that when we arrived in Bonn back in July 1990 for the Fulbright orientation days, I was given tips for a successful year as a teacher.  Little did I realize that I would also have a new set of vocabulary words to use when it came time for school for my two children.  Our son had to get a Schulranzen which I thought would be just like our book bags in the U.S.  Far from it.  First of all, the cost alone shocked me.  When it came time for our daughter to get one for second grade, I was no longer shocked.  The cost was more than $100.   Why are they so expensive compared to U.S. backpacks?  Well, for starters, the construction is sturdier.  I was informed that the hard plastic interior was meant to keep school papers in good condition plus it was healthier for the back to carry them rather high up as compared to our book bags.

The list of needed supplies continued with an Etui or pencil case.  It was meant to hold more than pencils, however.  Also inside were a pencil sharpener, colored pencils, a fountain pen and ink cartridges  (Füllfederhalter), an eraser (Radiergummi) and a Tintenkiller(ink slayer) or Tintenhai(ink shark) which I have shown in a photo.  It appears as a two-sided pen/marker.  One side contained a white felt tip which magically made the fountain pen ink disappear.  The other end had a blue tip with which corrections could be made.  However, a second error required the use of the whiteout product which was smeared over the error and then allowed to dry before a correction could be done.  German school classrooms did not have pencil sharpeners so each student brought the small hand held one.

Our son began first grade in Germany, and I went to the stationery store with my supply list in hand and asked for the DIN A4 and DIN A5 paper not knowing what to expect. These are standard sized paper used in German  schools in addition to graph paper.  Many American parents are used to purchasing three hole punched paper for notebooks.  In Germany there was a choice of either two or four holes.  German paper is longer and narrower than the standard lined notebook paper used in the US.  Elementary children normally use wide ruled paper.  I have included a photo of the paper both our children used to being cursive penmanship which was taught in first grade.  If you observe closely, there are four lines instead of the standard wide or college lined notebook paper.

Also, on day one of first grade, students brought Hausschuhe(slippers for in school use)and came with a Schultüte, a large cone of sweets and supplies.  Parents were expected to attend the first day of school with their children  which happened to be a Saturday morning at the end of July.  The first graders were given a task to complete and a picture to color.  The teacher then spoke with parents about what would be taught during the year.  We were expected to communicate regularly with the teacher and sign off on homework assignments and tests.  Additionally, we were told to purchase a Blockflöte or recorder. I observed the combined first and second grade classes, and  they all played their recorders and took turns singing either the melody or harmony.

The Fulbright Exchange Teacher experience was more than simply  learning to be flexible in teaching and to learn from other German teachers. It was also an enormous cultural immersion for my children.  I did not make adjustments for my children but let them learn by doing, by immersing them in school and the language.  Children learn quickly and are resilient.  By December and the mid-year parent meeting, the teacher complimented all of us on the quick transition to using Hochdeutsch or High German from using the dialects spoken at home.  Any German I had used with our two children had been High German with is the standard all Germans used.  Most children arrive speaking a dialect and then have to learn High German.  The parents explained to the teacher that because our son had only spoken High German, their sons and daughters had to learn Hochdeutsch so that they could communicate with him.

So, no matter the country, I wish much learning and teaching success to all students and teachers around the world.

 

Note:  my models to show off the German Schulranzen are neighborhood children who were very happy to pose for me.

 

 

Posted in German school supplies, Schulranzen, Schultüte | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Singing on Pitch

One, two, three – let’s waltz now. The Tennessee Waltz that is. Country music from my end of the pond to yours. I continue to sing and find joy in it. My homework assignment from my sister was to search out music groups in my area of Upstate New York. As luck would have it, a man from church mentioned an acoustic music jam at a nearby YMCA. My lifelong learning desire continues with this jam in mid-September.

When this music adventure began last spring, I commenced voice lessons with a voice coach, Laura Enslin, from Syracuse University. Laura has the most beautiful voice. Add to it her remarkable personality and brilliant teaching ability. She helped me with singing country music as I had requested, but more than that, she advised me to participate in music groups and to sing on stage in Washington. Her tips and techniques remain invaluable. My dear sister kept giving me advice on how to sing with her various jams and bands, and I found myself quite comfortable singing in front of people. Stage fright and nerves had disappeared.

I studied music theory, chords and some voice with a new teacher in Washington State, Jon Epstein. Although he mainly teaches banjo and other string instruments as well as bluegrass, country and folk music, he offered me helpful advice. My sister studies fiddle with him and then brought me along for three lessons. It was grand fun to learn from his perspective. Keeping an open mind to new adventures in life is key to enjoyment and success.

After several requests from my readers to hear how I sound in my foray into country music, I am providing a couple of YouTube links at the end of today’s blog. It is a big step forward to put myself out there in public for all to hear and see. Providing my written word is a totally different means of communicating with my readers. So I hope I provide all of you some amusement and light entertainment as you watch and listen.

Harvey Nelsen (sometimes spelled Nelson) is a Hall of Fame guitarist for Western Swing music with whom I sang at a senior center dance. I watched in amazement as 90 year olds danced to the music. My sister indicated that it was high praise coming from Harvey when he said I could sing on pitch. My wish for all my readers is to enjoy life to its fullest and keep singing!

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A Musical Odyssey

The long, eventful sojourn
lasted three fun-filled,
musical weeks in Washington State.
The country music repertoire I had prepared
in advance had only a few songs.
What I listened to was an
adventure with songs very
new to my ears and filling my head.

My sister had laid the foundation
with fiddle and singing and was
involved in many jams and bands.
Behind the scenes at my sister’s place
were long hours of practice.
Sound equipment, back-up tracks,
tempos, rhythms and keys. I sometimes
played the piano and keyboard.

What a reunion this was and many
moons apart from our beginnings
in Massachusetts and Colorado. I sang
with many professionals and one Hall of
Fame guitarist. I stretched my musical
abilities which opened doors to new
singing feats. All the musicians were
helpful and friendly. Now if I can

just build my repertoire of selections.
One day off, I foolishly thought I could
rest, only to discover we were to practice
seven hours of music. My attempts to
yodel left much to be desired. We sang
harmony together as well. My work is cut
out for the future with country and Western.

Posted in country and Western music, fiddle, Harvey Nelsen, 2012 Western Swing Hall of Fame, Washington State | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments