Lucky Charms

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I always thought that my Uncle Paul was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Once every year he made a disgusting looking concoction of eggs, ham and who knows what else baked into a rubbery feast that he swore would bring good luck if consumed. For years I simply stared at the foul green creation that appeared to be more like a spongy sea creature than something worthy of placing in my mouth. It mattered not if luck would elude me because I did not have the inclination to risk eating something so strange. 

One year I decided to screw up my courage and ingest just enough of it to form a more reliable opinion of its worth. To my utter surprise it was actually rather delicious despite its lime green hue and strange consistency. I eagerly sliced a bit more of the egg casserole hoping to increase my chances of having a very lucky year and learned that my long held fears of the dish had been as silly as one of Dr. Seuss’ rhymes. 

My did prosperity did not seem to improve in spite of my willingness to be more adventurous in my eating habits, but I found myself looking forward to enjoying a slice of my uncle’s recipe for good luck in each new year. If nothing else it was one of the most unique renditions of what might have been a bit of good fortune that I have ever encountered. 

My mother always served the tried and true southern tradition of black-eyed peas on New Years Day. Sadly I never really formed an attraction to that particular legume even though I am often called “The Bean Queen” due to my ability to transform virtually any variety of bean into a delicious feast. It was not until I spent my first New Years Day with my mother-in-law that I learned of a different member of the pea family that supposedly also had the power of bringing luck into any household that consumed it on the first day of the year. 

It was the yellow split pea that transformed my world. I stood behind my mother-in-law each January 1, for many years learning the secrets of the alchemy that would change the tiny yellow bits into a smooth and delicious soup. Under her watchful care this traditional British dish became a delight for me and all of the members of my family. After she died I relied on the tutelage that she had so wisely given me to recreate the smooth golden soup that warms the body and the spirit. 

On a visit to Austria during the New Years holiday a few years back, I learned that there are many iconic items that might be used to insure a happy and prosperous year. Of course there was the four leaf clover but also the lady bug and golden coins of chocolate. My favorite, however, was the pig. From that vacation forward I have collected a “lucky” pig to adorn my home each New Years Day. They are whimsical and joyful and easy to find in my travels. Who knew that there were so many different ways to attract luck into one’s life?

I’m not particularly superstitious. I’ve yet to find a food or trinket that ensures me that my life will be somehow better than it might otherwise have been. Not even a rabbit’s foot has any power over the unfolding of life’s events. It’s simply a fun thing to pretend that we can somehow change the unfolding of fate with a simple wish or the ingestion of some iconic food. 

I often laugh at a memory that I have of attending the funeral of the mother of one of my Asian friends. The deceased woman was a Christian so the service included lots of prayers and readings from the Bible. At the conclusion of the memorial a few Buddhist traditions were also inserted into the mix. The deceased woman’s daughter commented that her mother had asked for both customs “just in case one was actually better than the other. “ She had not wanted to take any chances on choosing wrong in the her final goodbye to the world.

So as the old year fades away and the New Year beckons I have readied the little pink pig that I purchased in Santa Fe last summer along with a big pot of yellow split pea soup and some black-eyed peas “just in case.” We can all seriously use some better luck than what has come our way in the last two years. I’ll be most happy for a change in the right direction no matter from where it comes. 

Wishing everyone a very Happy and Blessed New Year! May 2022, bring us together in love and good health.  

One Street At A Time

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I live in a lovely cul-de-sac filled with the most wonderful people. We often meet up in one another’s yards. We watch for signs of trouble and comfort each other in difficult times. We are good folk as diverse as any group might be. In the end we ignore our differences and simply love and respect the fact that we are all just humans attempting to do our best from day to day. Our little street is like a small town in the middle of a great big metropolis. It is a haven from the challenges that so often drive people apart. It is a place of genuine love. 

Recently we were awakened from our usual routines by the sound of sirens. Running to the front windows I saw an ambulance, accompanied by a fire truck stopping at one of my neighbor’s homes. Soon our neighborhood “Mr. Good Guy,” Patrick, was texting all of us to let us know that the elderly man who lived in that home was near death. A priest had come to administer the last rights to him and they would be rushing him to the hospital very soon in the hopes of forestalling his demise. 

We all went into a mode of prayerful hope. We hugged the man’s daughter as she tearfully got into her car to follow her father to the hospital. A pall of sadness lingered over the street until we learned that the old man was going to live to see another Christmas. We were overjoyed and filled with gratitude, not only that he would not die, but also that we lived amongst such caring individuals. 

Last week during the celebrations of Christmas I heard a raucous commotion that also drew me to my front room window. It was a gloriously happy sight as the elderly man’s family convened to be with him. There was much hugging and kissing and enough laughter and joy to fill the whole area with the Christmas spirit. I found myself smiling from ear to ear and getting into the real meaning of the season in the most remarkable way. It was a lovely outcome for a family whose holiday might have otherwise been so dreary. 

I thought of that priest who so quickly and selflessly rushed to the home to anoint the man and pray for his healing. I marveled at the dedication of the firefighters who so patiently and professionally took the man to a waiting medical team that diagnosed his problem and quickly brought him back to life. I marveled at how beautiful our world is when we simply love one another without thoughts of politics or religion or race or belief. 

We are all one. All the same when stripped of of the many labels that we apply to one another. We are born as innocent as can be. We grow and learn and experience life in many different ways, but at heart we have similar hopes and dreams for ourselves and those we love. Sometimes no matter how hard we work we are crushed under realities that threaten to derail our optimism. When we witness unvarnished love such as I see on a daily basis on my street, we know that we will be able to continue forward no matter what has happened. 

There will be both good times and bad in the coming year. It is the inevitable fate of being human. If each of us simply loved our fellow humans with patience and understanding, it would be a beautiful day in every neighborhood across the world. Perhaps this should be the one New Years resolution that should guide us through the coming days and weeks and months. 

We should be asking ourselves what we might do to help, to comfort, to care. We should embrace each other all across the world in our commonalities rather than focusing so much on what is different. We might find that our diversity is wonderfully beautiful and exciting. We can learn much from one another. Our own lives will be enriched beyond measure.

My hope is that one day we might import the spirit of love and kindness that is so prevalent on my street to the wider world. I’d like to believe that we are a microcosm of what is possible with our many races, political beliefs, and even sexual preferences blending together in a lovely mix of tolerance and real feelings for each person’s welfare. There is no judgement here and that is wonderful. 

I suspect that we are all weary of viruses and bickering and a feeling that we have lost something very important in the past many years. Perhaps this is the year to instead just embrace people just as they are and then move forward together, sharing and making sacrifices for the betterment of the world. In the end we must surely know that we are all live in a global neighborhood that must somehow learn to work together. It’s not a fantasy to believe that this is possible and it can begin one street at a time.

Baby Steps Are Better Than None

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I’ve done my best to keep up with a strict exercise routine throughout the pandemic. Of course I’m one of those persons who fudges a bit too often. Still, the desire to keep my arthritis addled body working as well as possible burns brightly in my intent. I even ordered a recumbent bike to add to my repertoire of walking, stretching and using small weights to stay fit. My results have been rather disappointing, but I comfort myself in imagining just how bad I would look and feel if I had been doing absolutely nothing since foregoing trips to the gym almost two years ago. 

I was actually patting myself on the back for doing my best in a bad situation when I awoke recently to see one of my neighbors working out in the home gym inside his garage. His was a routine that boggled my mind. I was glued to my front room window as he effortlessly lifted heavy weights and then began a series of mind blowing calisthenics. My jaw dropped as he performed perfect squats with his legs and buttocks parallel to the ground so that his body looked like a chair. 

I have to admit that I attempted to imitate his movements while hoping that nobody was glancing at my window. I made it through about four repetitions of something only slightly resembling a squat before I was winded. Believe me when I say that the only angles parallel to the floor came from the outstretch of my arms. My legs were bent in such a way that anything placed on my thighs would have immediately rolled to the ground. I comforted my pride by reminding myself that the young athlete performing on his driveway was no doubt a full forty years younger than I am. 

My fascination with the workout kept me staring in wonder, and it was not because he was in his usual attire of shorts with no shirt. On this morning it was cold outside and so he was wrapped in sweatpants and a hoodie that was secured up to his throat. It was his devotion to keeping fit that intrigued me along with the sheer beauty of his perfect movements. I can’t even talk about his planks. I’m not sure how any normal human is able to do what he was doing. 

He ended his driveway antics by jumping rope. His hands and feet were moving so quickly that my eyes had trouble keeping pace. Not even when I was ten years old and a champion of moving lithely over a rope was I ever as deft as this man. I suppose if someone had snapped a photo of my gawking it would have captured my jaw dropping onto my chin. 

The grand finale was a dash through the neighborhood. I suppose that I was actually jealous of that because my knees are now so bad that I’m not sure I would be able to run even in an emergency. I’m not quite the little old lady shuffling without lifting my feet, but I am slowly heading in that direction. I was winded such watching my neighbor keeping himself fit and strong. 

Each January I resolve to do a better job of keeping my body mobile and robust. Sadly age and nature do their best to fight against me. Nonetheless I soldier on. I’m am aware that a certain popular show has given people in my age group a warning to be careful on our bicycles. I’m not particularly worried that I will overdo, because in truth I am not any longer capable of going overboard with athletic feats. I’ve spent enough time and money on physical therapy to understand the limits of my own abilities, but there is a little voice in my head that reminds me of the vigor and endurance that I once had. 

I see that young woman I once was hiking to the tops of mountains and putting in twelve hours of hard labor without even a hint of aches or pains. Now I’m lucky to work for a few in the yard before my back and my knees tell me it’s time to take a rest. If I ignore those warnings and push forward, I end up in bed wishing that I had been more prudent. These days pacing myself is as important as staying active. 

They say there is a time and a season for everything. I can wish away the hitch in my get along, but it comes back to laugh at me when I do my best to pretend it isn’t there. These days I have to be happy with walking for miles rather than pushing myself to break records. My personal best means being able to lift my arms over my head or extend a plank for more than a couple of minutes. I have to face the fact that this old mare ain’t what she used to be. 

I’m not ready to be sent out to pasture yet, but on cold mornings I have to do more stretching of my limbs than making them bear weight. I’m determined on some days just to remain mobile. As my Grandmother Minnie often told me all of our kin gets “rheumatis.” As illiterate as she was, she nailed the diagnosis of my future when I was only a child. I am truly my grandmother’s granddaughter in almost every possible way. Because of that I know that I can work through the pains that seem to be baked into my DNA. She gave me the model and the homespun remedies for everything that ails me. 

So my resolution for the coming year is to stay the course. I’ll keep walking, riding, stretching, lifting weights, working in my garden as long as I am able. I won’t compare myself to an athletic man in his thirties, but I’ll sure have fun watching him from my window and remembering a time when I might have been able to match his energy and endurance. I’ll applaud his determination and stick with my more limited plan. Who knows maybe the angle of my squats may move a little closer to ninety degree angles rather than forty five. Baby steps are better than none. 

A United Resolution

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I have had many lovely New Years Eves. In the long ago, as newly weds, husband Mike and I met with my cousins each December 31. Those were simple affairs due to the economics of our status as twenty somethings still finding our places in the grand scheme of the world. Nonetheless I recall them with such great joy. We’d dance, play games and watch the ball dropping from its high perch in Times Square. 

Later we would find ourselves celebrating with friends like Linda and Bill, Monica and Franz or Egon and Marita. The one and only time that I got drunk in my lifetime was after swigging too much wine on New Years Eve ,which for me meant drinking more than two glasses of the grapey liquid. I was so tipsy that we spent the night with our friends and had to be coached on the process of keeping one foot on the floor to control the dizziness and nausea that overtook my well being. I suppose that this was the moment when I learned my alcohol limit and never again repeated the mistake of thinking that I was drinking some delicious punch rather than an alcohol laced brew 

Eventually we settled into a very pleasant tradition with friends Bill and Pat. We would dress in our finery and meet them at a nice restaurant that Pat always reserved for our dining pleasure. We laughed and expressed our gratitude for our blessings over dinner. Later we usually went to see a movie. My favorite ever was A River Runs Through It. Pat and I both cried in response to the poetic beauty of that film. 

We always managed to return to Pat and Bill’s home just before midnight so that we would be able to bring in the new year with hugs and kisses. Often we exchanged little gifts at that moment. A treasure that I still have was two crystal champagne flutes from which we toasted the beginning of the twenty first century. 

After Pat and Bill died we were at our wits end to find a suitable way to celebrate. We eventually decided to return to the restaurant where we would always meet them. We still dressed in our best and raised our glasses in a toast to all of our friends and family members both living and dead. We’d return home early and spend the rest of evening watching New Years Eve celebrations from around the world. 

In 2019, our neighbors hosted a New Years Eve party featuring music through the decades. After eating at our usual restaurant we joined the jolly groups of revelers and danced our way into 2020 without any thought that our lives would change dramatically in the coming months.

At the peak of the first wave of Covid the owner of the restaurant that we had always visited each year died from complications of the virus. He was a sweet man, an unparalleled host whom we knew we would miss along with so many with whom we had celebrate a completed revolution of our journey around the sun. 

In 2020, we were alone on New Years Eve. We spent our evening marveling at our blessings and feeling optimistic that vaccines were coming and soon we might end the march of the virus for good. We also thought of our past history with friends and relatives who had been so important in our lives. So many of them were gone, but their spirits filled our hearts with great joy. We marveled at the fates that had brought us together if even for a short time. We also looked forward to joining those still with us as soon as possible. 

For a time it felt as though we were on our way to whatever each person thought of as “normal.” As 2021 draws to a close I’m not so sure that we will reach that goal without more suffering and death. Too many are fighting against the very methods that might keep us safe and stop the spread of the virus once and for all. It is annoying and sometimes even uncomfortable to get the vaccines and boosters and to wear masks, but the alternative is far more frightening. It is a sacrifice that we all should be willing to make.

As I look back on my parade of New Years Eve celebrations I feel so much joy. As I look forward to a new year my dream is that we will soon control and ultimately conquer this dreaded virus. I hope that everyone remains safe. I am weary of looking back on times I have shared with treasured friends who have died. I hope not to push the inevitability of losing dear ones simply because they were reluctant to follow the precautions that might have prevented them from catching Covid and dying from it. 

Baked into our DNA is a strong will to survive. The same is true of the virus. We have to be more determined than Covid to be still standing when 2022 comes to an end. My wish for the new year, is that we finally admit that our own actions will either make or break the future. We are at war with a potent virus that has the ability to evolve and adapt to whatever it takes. We should learn from that reality and demonstrate that with our intellect and ability we do not have to bow to the whims of a tiny organism. We can accomplish this just as our ancestors defeated fascism. Let us remember that the war was won with patience and sacrifice. We have yet to reach that point. Maybe a new year is the time to begin anew with determination to do whatever it takes. I still have great faith in humankind. This should be our unified resolution.

Time Is Fleeting

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I have to admit that, for the most part, I have only cared about New Years Eve and New Years Day because they gave me time away from school and work. Having another year begin meant little more to me than being conscious of changing my habit of writing the date from the previous year. Somehow I never really thought about getting older or reaching a point in life when I would be fondly looking back on my life rather than blazing a forward path. I took so many years for granted, as though I would always be a fireball of energy with all of my very close friends walking beside me. 

I’ve enjoyed a rich life of success with my work and other endeavors along with the joy of being accompanied on my journey with exceptionally good friends. In the most recent years I’ve had to reassess the metrics by which I have always judged how I am doing. Many of those that I have loved have departed from this world and I find the reach of my influence growing ever smaller. A recent lunch with a dear friend brought the changing dynamics of my reality to a startling acceptance that the new year is now best described as a marking of time rather than an opportunity to achieve ever more challenging goals. 

Since the nineteen eighties I regularly met a group of remarkable women with whom I had once worked. We each held various jobs at my church before I became a full time teacher. Our yearly encounters began when we were still young and filled with the kind of hopes and dreams that most talented women have. We scheduled our gathering for the Christmas Holidays, with a pledge to find the time to reunite no matter how busy our calendars might be. 

In the beginning we took turns hosting the event which always included a gift exchange. We’d update one another on the happenings since the last time we were together and then laugh and share the kind of stories that have bonded women tightly together since the beginning of time. The hours would go by far too quickly and at the end of each reunion we would pledge to see each other more often, knowing full well that it would probably be another year before we managed to coordinate our busy schedules into a single day and time that worked for everyone. 

I have enjoyed each of our gatherings since we first began this tradition. We watched our children grow and then leave to begin their own adult lives. We became grandmothers and enjoyed the badges of respect that we each had achieved in our work and our families. Somehow we always picked up our friendship as though we had been together only days before. It was so very wonderful. 

When the first member of our unofficial sorority died it was shocking. We still felt young and vibrant and it seemed so wrong that our friend was gone so soon. We continued onward as a group of four until one day there were only three of us remaining. Nonetheless, even as we saw the wrinkles increasing on our skin and the grey poking from our hair, we kept our optimism and joy alive. We’d chat and giggle like school girls, all the while feeling so happy that the roots of our friendship have remained strong.  

Last year we had to miss the annual gathering due to Covid. This year there were only two of us. Our third member had a stroke and now resides in a nursing home that we cannot visit due to the virus. The conversation that my friend and I had without the others was filled with more sentimental tears than laughter, more remembering of our glorious past than tales of future plans. We spoke of our families with the same pride, but now we are on the cusp of becoming great grandmothers, a title that seems to make us ancient. We talked of our aches and pains and enumerated lists of people that we have lost in the past year. It was joyful to be together again, but also a bit melancholy without our other friends.

As usual we mentioned the possibility of getting together more often. After all, our schedules are far less crowded than they once were. Without speaking of it, we seemed to agree that time is fleeting and we simply do not know who will be the last person standing. We don’t want to regret not taking the time to reach out more often. Somehow right now nothing in our lives feels more important than just being good and loving friends. 

I do have some resolutions for the new year but they are very different from those of the past. I have come of age in a time of illness and unrest. Somehow this past year has made it ever clearer to me that it is in each of our friendships and relationships that we do our most important work on this earth. As the years go by I see more plainly than ever how fortunate I have been and that none of my greatest moments involved salaries or promotions or honors. The best of my life has always been in the quiet moments I have shared with people. I wonder if my profound realization is a sign of growing older or a sudden flash of brilliance. I suppose is does not matter, as long as I take advantage of every single moment that I have to embrace the people who have made my time so much better than it might otherwise have been. I now know that time is fleeting and I must grab what is important while I am able.