Sugaring Off

I had heard that this was a bad year for maple syrup, so I asked one of the guys at the maple product table just that question.

“This isn’t a bad year,” he replied. “It hasn’t even started yet.”

For the sap to run, we need warm days and cold nights. We’ve been having cold days and even colder nights.

And snow.

Even the morning we left to drive to the Sugaring Off at the Farmers Museum, it was snowy and cold.

A snowy morning in March

A snowy morning in March

My favorite farm on the route there.

My favorite farm on the route there.

We got there in plenty of time for the pancake breakfast. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — I should never be allowed to be the photographer, especially when eating is involved.  Every picture shows people with half-closed eyes and chipmunk cheeks. Those in the photographs will thank me for not posting them.

After the breakfast, we walked to the schoolhouse where Mary was helping with a craft.

Crafts in the one room schoolhouse

Crafts in the one room schoolhouse

Bud took his craft seriously.

Bud took his craft seriously.

I’m not very crafty. I just looked out the windows at the hopeful buckets hanging on the uncooperative trees. It’s not the trees’ fault; it’s the weather.

Tapping the trees

Tapping the trees

It was 10 AM when we left, and still darn cold. I made my kids (and Leah) stand in the cold, squinting into the sun, so I could commemorate sugaring off.

Leah wore a skirt -- but she's from Thailand.

Leah wore a skirt — but she’s from Thailand.

Maybe next year, it’ll be warmer.

Growing Up

“Remember when I wanted to get my lip pierced?” Philip asked the other day.

Maybe it was his nose. Or ear.

The truth is that I didn’t remember the event or the body part. He didn’t go through with it because Bud’s response had been that he would go with him and get the same piercing.

And now he’s all grown up.

He’s not getting anything pierced, except maybe his eardrums, in the middle of the night, when he would rather be sleeping, and Henry would rather be not.

Then Karl posted this yesterday, and it hit me how much he has grown — how much BOTH of them have grown.

Karl and Philip 2007

Karl and Philip 2007

I took Karl on two college visits this week.  We visited Philip’s alma mater, and then drove down to Helen’s school.

While waiting in the first college’s admissions office, I pulled out a yearbook from Philip’s senior year. I laughed when I found his picture.  Check out the crooked smile and the messy hair.



Now look at him.  All grown up. A daddy. A business owner. A man.



And Karl, too.  My youngest son will be heading to college in the fall. Already he is a man’s height.

Philip and Karl in the doorway

Philip and Karl in the doorway

I am growing too. Older. Grayer.

But also in ways that cannot be captured with a snapshot. Maybe wiser. Maybe gentler. Maybe kinder.

May I never fully grow up, but may I always keep growing.

I still have a long way to go.

On Ignoring Your Writing Instructor, or, Back to Family Council

Sure, I read the article (Frame of Reference by John McPhee) that my instructor, Jonathan Rogers, had shared.

Well, I kind of skimmed it, enough to get the gist, which was — don’t shortcut description by using a shared reference.

I even thought about that advice as I wrote my post, Family Council.

But everyone knows who Tevye is, I thought. Surely Fiddler on the Roof is iconic enough to reference.

…thought the mother who didn’t allow her children to watch that movie.

Yes, I was that mother.

Fiddler on the Roof was one of the first VHS movies we purchased. We popped the first cassette into the player and settled as a family to watch it. But when Tevye told his dream and the ghosts came flying out of the grave, Philip — he was maybe 6 or 7 at the time — was terrified and we turned it off.

Of course, I stayed up to put in the second cassette and watch the rest.  I cried when the Russians performed their “demonstration” after the wedding, and again when Chava chose to marry outside the faith and Tevye couldn’t reconcile that choice.  Watching Tevye’s fingers being pried from this tenuous thing we call “tradition” still gives me knots in my stomach.

Okay, so I didn’t watch all of Fiddler on the Roof with any of my children because I didn’t want to teach them words like “pogrom” when they were little and I never got back to it when they were teens.

So, the Tevye reference in Family Council was lost on Philip.

Today, let me be clearer. I was picturing the new owner of the nursing home to be a roundish, graying,  crusty-but-still-lovable, Tevye-ish person. Not dressed in the rough clothing of a milkman in a Russian village, but in business attire. I would have liked him to misquote the Good Book a few times, like Tevye.

Instead the new owner was a very young walking statistics book.  He knew industry standards, not Yiddish folktales. The fact that he wore a yarmulke, and thus wore his faith for all to see, gave me hope.

I had mis-anticipated him, but I hope that I haven’t misjudged him.

The bottom line for Tevye involved finding a balance between holding onto the traditions of his faith in a changing world and loving his family.

The new owner will also have to find a balance — between managing the statistics and industry standards in his head and caring for the people, real flesh-and-blood people, in the facility he has purchased.

At one point, Tevye says, “Love, it’s a new style.”

I’m hoping love and compassion are still in vogue.

Family Council

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting. I think it was Tevye.

Yes, I was expecting Tevye, cleaned up and in a suit. Not singing “If I Were a Rich Man,” because he was a rich man. Maybe singing, to the tune of “Anatevka,”

Focus Rehab, Focus Rehab
Understaffed, overworked, Focus Rehab…

No, wait, he wouldn’t be singing about the staffing shortage.  See? I didn’t know what to expect.

These are the things I knew about the new owner:

  • He was wealthy.
  • He owned multiple nursing home facilities.
  • He talked in circles.
  • He was Jewish.

How or why my father knew that he was Jewish was a mystery to me and I didn’t pursue it. I hate stereotypes and his personal faith didn’t matter to me, or so I thought.

“Jewish” translated into Tevye in my mind.

And then he was late for the Family Council meeting at the nursing home.

“LATE!” I jotted into my little notebook. Not a good first impression.

For one thing, Tevye had said, “I won’t be late! I won’t be late! If you ever stop talking, I won’t be late!” Maybe there was a Golde behind the scenes talking to him.

When he walked in the door I barely noticed him. I thought he was a late-arriving family member, but he walked right over to the seat next to the administrator, the seat reserved for Tevye.

He was not Tevye.

For one thing, he was tall and thin, the kind of person who folds when he sits down and unfolds when he stands again. His pants were about an inch too short at the ankles and an inch too high at the waist. The muted tones of his plaid shirt were understated and unassuming, like he was. Quiet, mild, yet articulate when he spoke. And young. He could have been a future son-in-law to Tevye, but not Tevye at all.

Except for the yarmulke.

He wears his faith, I thought.

Almost immediately people started demanding answers from him about staff shortages and retention of the remaining staff.

He sat, calmly folded in his chair, legs folded as he crossed them at the knee, manicured hands folded across his knee, body folded somewhere between slouched and erect. He seemed so relaxed.

And he calmly fielded the questions and spoke of industry standards and union negotiations.

I wanted to say that no one cares about industry standards. These are our parents, not statistics.

Others spoke up though, and talked of how much better this place was than some other one.

And I wanted to say to them that I don’t want relatively good care for my mother. I want the best care.

He stayed with us for an hour and a half. Listening, responding, listening some more.

He knew his stuff. He fully understood the business end of this industry.

He was clinical, dispassionate — but those are words that have been used to describe me.

And he wore his faith, there, for us all to see, right on the top of his head. It must matter to him in some way — maybe culturally, maybe religiously.

Either way, Tevye liked to say, “As the Good Book says…”

And as the Good Book really does say, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

I have hope that he will understand that that is the bottom line in this “industry.”

It’s not about comparing ourselves to industry standards, but doing everything in our power to rise to standards set millennia ago.

Our parents deserve the best. It’s our job to honor them in that way.

Strengths and Weaknesses

David: So, let me ask you a question right off the bat. What do you think are your greatest strengths as a manager?
Michael: Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.
David: Okay. And your strengths?
Michael: Well, my weaknesses are actually… strengths.
David: Oh. Yes. Very good.

from “The Office”

Helen is preparing for job interviews.  We were talking about it at the dinner table the other night.

“What are my weaknesses,” she asked. “I mean, what are good weaknesses to have?”

“Well, your weaknesses are also your strengths,” I replied, à la Michael Scott.

In the end, I told her just to be honest about herself because she has a lot to offer.

And she does.

The next day, though, Mary wanted to stump me.  She had obviously been wrestling with this whole strength-weakness conundrum.

“Mom, how can being opinionated be a strength? I’m pretty opinionated,” she said, “and I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing.”

I had just been thinking about that very thing, actually.  Not strengths and weaknesses, but being opinionated.

Someone had posted something on Facebook about US senators sending an open letter to Iran about the Obama’s upcoming nuclear agreement with their country. “TREASON!” had been many of the comments.

Okay, so they’re on the left and this act seemed treasonous.

But I also have a number of friends on the right who post similarly harsh, inflammatory words about Hilary or Obama.

Hard words shut down conversation. Neither side hears the other.

“Being opinionated,” I told Mary, “can be a very good thing.  It’s important to know what you believe and why you think that way. Opinionated people can make us stop and think. They can get us to look at an issue from another viewpoint.”

The trick, I think, is to express an opinion in such a way that invites listening and conversation.

When I read an article last week that said that Congress’s approval rating was hovering near zero, I thought again about the problems of being opinionated. The fact that they are opinionated probably got them elected, but it also keeps them from getting much done.

It is both a strength and a weakness.

As with any strength-weakness, we need to corral the weak side and use it for strength.

The weak side of an opinionated person comes from a lack of listening and a lack of understanding the other opinion.

Personally, I think we have a lot of opinionated people in the media and government who haven’t learned to corral their weak side. Shouting louder doesn’t make anyone’s opinion more valid.

Just my humble opinion.

(She said, listening for a response.)


Quick – 20 Things You Love

A friend posted this challenge: “Quick. Twenty things you love. (Not family, friends, or Jesus. We know that.)”
1. Going for a walk
2. My mother’s smile
3. Biscotti

4. A Military Tattoo — the kind with bagpipes, not ink on skin
5. Old stained glass windows
6. The smell of chlorine from a swimming pool
7. Days when I have nowhere to go
8. Bare trees of winter
9. Bare trees of winter with cardinals adding color
10. A good poem
11. A handmade quilt
12. Sunrise
13. Losing weight
14. A full tank of gas
15. Sleeping in my own bed when I’ve been away
16. Lilacs
17. Getting real mail
18. Warm feet
19. A free hour to spend in a used bookstore
20. A new song that catches my heart so I listen to it six times in a row.

Feeding the Dog

009Maggie, our happy black mutt, speaks up when her meal time arrives.

In fact, she can be downright annoying when it’s mealtime.

For that reason, I don’t generally feed her.  So she doesn’t annoy me. Usually.

I’m the first one down every morning and she barely acknowledges me because she knows I won’t feed her then. Her acknowledgment of my presence is that fact that she sneaks off the couch and onto her blanket as I come down the stairs — like I won’t notice that the couch is warm where a furry body has been sleeping.  The kids let her on the couch; I regularly kick her off. She knows.

When Bud arrives, however, it’s breakfast time for her.

She leaves her blanket when she hears him get up upstairs.

When he comes down, he gives me a morning hug and kiss.

Maggie woofs.

Sometimes, if we hug too long, she’ll start barking. How dare we delay her breakfast!

If Bud pours himself a bowl of cereal and sits down to eat it without feeding her, she starts nosing his arm, pushing him, reminding him. If he ignores her, she starts on me.

Nudge, nudge.  Push, push.  Feed me, feed me.

Aviary Photo_130706362186928766And, thus, Maggie always gets fed.

I once heard this tale about two dogs:

A Native American elder described his inner struggles in this manner: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog, all of the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied “The one I feed the most.”

(From “Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death,” by Eliot Rosen and Ellen Burstyn (1997))

Don’t we all have that mean dog inside us, woofing, nudging our elbow, demanding to be fed?

Every morning, I make a conscious decision not to feed that inner mean dog.

Some days he gets a bunch of food anyway. Rotten dog.

I just need to make sure I give my good dog more. Lots more.

The battle never ends.