Friday, December 4, 2009

Our Son and Ben Franklin

In 1982 my first child was born; a son. Being only 26 years old and having no experience as a parent, I was nonetheless completely undaunted. I was extremely confident in my ability to raise a child. I looked around me at all kinds of people with kids and was sure I could do as good a job, if not better than they had.

Some early milestones came late for our boy. He crawled and walked behind schedule, but I wasn’t too concerned. It was plain to see that he was a bright, happy boy and apparently healthy in every way. When he finally decided to speak it wasn’t one word, it was a sentence. As I unlocked the car door one afternoon, he looked up at me and asked, “Go bye-bye in da car now?” much to my astonishment.

One day my sister took him up on her lap to read to him. She had just bought him a new book, and as she turned the pages, she asked him if he would like to read it himself. She nearly fainted when he opened his little mouth and began to read out loud. He was a little over two years old. I’d always gone slowly and run my finger under the words as I had read to him, and I was aware that he knew many “sight words”, because he would point to signs and say, “Bus!” or “Stop!” or “Open!” as I pushed him around the neighborhood in his stroller, but that was the first moment that I realized he could actually read.

The first two years of his life were pretty happy and otherwise unremarkable. When he was just over three years old, we thought we’d better get him into nursery school to nurture his budding intellect and give him the opportunity to socialize with other children. That’s when the difficulties started. While the other children were coloring and playing with blocks, my son was writing full sentences on the posters that decorated the classroom walls, or hiding under a table, refusing to come out.

Our son was no longer the happy, rosy-cheeked boy he’d been. We had never had any problems with him at home, but once he got to school, it seemed he just could not behave. He hated school and had difficulty making friends. He had started to cry and pull back as we approached the door of the school each morning. He would beg me not to make him go in. It was a struggle just to get him inside the building every morning, and then the teachers would usually end up calling me after a few hours, asking me to come and get him because he was running in circles around the room and they couldn’t get him to stop. One day he was able to sneak out of school just before I was due to pick him up. He managed to make it twenty or so yards down the sidewalk next to a busy street before I spotted him.

At the urging of the nursery school staff, we brought him to Boston Children’s Hospital for evaluation. The teachers weren’t sure what was wrong, but they couldn’t handle him and thought perhaps the Child Development Lab at Children’s could get to the bottom of it. So began the long years of going from doctor to counselor and back again in an endless loop of expense and frustration. His I.Q. was tested and found to be just below what is considered genius level. They told us our son was gifted and all his problems, no doubt sprung from that fact. We took him to an eminent neurologist who came to the same conclusion. A child psychiatrist (the first of many) decided he had Attention Deficit Disorder. Another was sure he suffered from clinical depression. They prescribed medicines that seemed to make everything worse instead of better. Somehow, I knew that none of these opinions were correct.

Finally, when he was eighteen and in his senior year in high school, a doctor told me that our son had a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. I was skeptical, because I had heard so many wrong diagnoses in the past, but he wrote down the name of a book by Tony Attwood, and told me to look for it. I found it in a book store that evening and read it from cover to cover. I saw my son described on every page. It was a relief to know that we weren’t crazy – something really was different about our boy, but it was unbelievably frustrating to know that if we had gotten a correct diagnosis years ago, we might have been able to get him some appropriate schooling that would have helped him cope and adjust to it.

Asperger’s syndrome is a condition that is on the autism spectrum. Some of the hallmarks of Asperger’s are the inability to make eye-contact or read facial cues, which causes social awkwardness, and the tendency to focus intensely on one field of interest to the exclusion of most everything else. Many have repetitive habits such as rocking back and forth when standing or sitting still. Aspies tend to be very literal, sometimes having difficulty understanding figures of speech and sarcasm. If you were to jokingly say: “I’ll kill you!” to a person with Asperger’s, it might make them fear for their life. Aspies have to learn things that neuro-typical people know instinctually, such as how to interpret body language. Many with Asperger’s have strong natural aptitudes in music, art or math and some are considered savants. It is now strongly suspected that Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin and Vincent Van Gogh all had Asperger’s syndrome.

My son is a talented artist and also excelled in math when he was in school. He struggled through the harrowing social mine field of high school, and attended art college for one year, and a technical school afterwards, eventually earning a degree in computer-aided drafting, but at least partly because of his difficulty in navigating the interview process, he has been unable to find a job in his field. He pays his bills with a part-time job at a convenience store and by doing freelance and commission art work. Last year, he decided to go to Japan by himself, much to our horror. He went and spent ten days in Tokyo, finding his way around the city by himself and having a great vacation. I thank God that he got home safely. He currently still lives with Mac and me, but yearns to have a place of his own. He has 3 friends, two of whom he met in kindergarten, but they are scattered around the country, so he spends his free time by himself.

Our son is not comfortable with the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and refuses to be defined by it. He thinks of himself as different, but not in any way deficient. In truth, there are more than a few doctors and other experts who now believe that neurological functioning is really a continuum and we are all spaced out along it, with the more typical people closer to one end, and those known as Aspies closer to the other. Maybe Asperger’s is really just a difference, not a disorder.

When he was a toddler, reading books and doing math, everyone was sure he would be an incredible success. All agreed that his talent and intellect would insure a bright future. It is still my hope that someday soon, someone will look beyond the eccentricities that hold him back and give him the chance he needs to shine his light on the world.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Something to be Thankful for

In the spring of 1621, two natives were hunting near the beach at Patuxet in Massachusetts, now known as Plymouth. Samoset was a Wabanake and Squanto, a Wampanoag. The area was the site of Squanto’s former village, but his people had been ravaged by disease brought over from Europe by slave traders and the tribe had been wiped out.
Both Squanto and Samoset spoke English. They met originally in England where they had both traveled with explorers. In 1620 they had returned together to find only bones in the ruins of what had been Squanto’s village. The two men had since gone to live with another group of Wampanoags nearby.
Imagine their surprise that spring afternoon when they came upon a bedraggled group of English settlers living in Squanto’s former village. The first word alleged to be said by Squanto as he walked in to his occupied village and approached the strangers was, “Welcome.”

The English interlopers were in tough shape and would not have survived much longer. But Squanto decided to stay with them for several months, teaching them how to cultivate the plants they found in the new world, including corn which became their staple. He taught them how to tap the maple trees for sap. He gave them meat and furs, and taught them the medicinal value of some of the native plants as well. They learned to dig clams and other shellfish, and to use plants and animals from the sea as fertilizer for their crops.

By harvest time, the immigrants had much to be thankful for; they had been yanked back from the brink of disaster by the Indians. They now enjoyed sufficient food and new homes that the Indians had helped them build. Captain Miles Standish invited Squanto, Samoset, their leader Massasoit and their families to a celebratory feast of thanks. The Wampanoag men arrived with over ninety people in tow, as well as an abundance of food to contribute. The ensuing feast lasted for three days, and was a celebration of peace and friendship between the Wampanoag people and the English settlers.

The Pilgrims had escaped religious intolerance in their homeland and made a new life in the freedom of the new world with the help of the Wampanoags. Unfortunately, they forgot the hard lessons learned and began to impose their own religious prejudices on the natives. How terrible and sad that less than fifty years later, the settlers took up arms against their benefactors in King Phillip’s War. Squanto could not have imagined that his kindness to the Pilgrims would be the beginning of the end for the native peoples of North America.

As we celebrate all that we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, spare a thought for Squanto and the Wampanoag people. Without their help, the pilgrims would have perished and become a historical footnote, rather than the founders of a great nation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In The Throes of Indian Summer

Here in the northeast we are experiencing that rare weather pattern better known as “Indian summer.” There are many definitions of what constitutes true Indian summer, but what isn’t in dispute is that it is lovely and warm, comes in October or November, lasts for at least a few days, and follows a hard, or killing frost. Some variations say that it must precede the first snow, with temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but I never depend on such stringent criteria to define my Indian summer. If the sun is out and the late autumn days are balmy and still, or stirred only by a slight breeze from the southwest, it is Indian summer for me.

This year, it came after the first snow, which happened a few weeks ago on a cold and miserable Sunday. That was a nasty day of big, wet flakes mixed with sleet and a cold rain. It coated the grass in slush, but dissipated by the following morning. It unfortunately coincided with me having to drive into the city an hour away to pick up seven arrivals from the corporate headquarters on the west coast who were flying in to Logan airport…bad timing, to be sure. At least I earned time-and-a-half wages for my efforts and was able to take a company car.

That day was like a distant memory this past Sunday, as the frost melted off the grass by mid-morning, and we reveled in the hazy warmth of a low sun and a warm, sweet breeze that stirred the mostly bare trees. Even now, a few days later, though the sun is weaker, it is still weirdly mild outside and I love it.

But it got me to thinking: where does the term “Indian summer” come from? I did a little research and found that its true origins may be lost in time. But there are some things we do know. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is a name for the warm weather that follows the hard frost. In Bulgaria, for example, it is known as the “Gypsy summer” or sometimes, “Gypsy Christmas” presumably because it makes outdoor living more bearable for those wandering folk. In Germany it’s known as the “Web summer”, because a certain type of spider weaves webs on the grass and Hungarians know it as the “Crone’s summer”, which refers to the medieval association with Halloween and witchcraft.

The oldest written reference to the term Indian summer was apparently in a letter written by a Frenchman, St. John de Crevecouer, in 1778. He describes, “…an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness”, referring to the common occurrence of haze in the warm meadows. But where do Indians fit it to the picture? Although no one seems to know for certain, it is suspected that many native peoples here in the United States had a habit of setting fire to the grasslands during this time of year. The smoke mingled with the haze, allowing them to be better able to sneak up on their prey when hunting. Other sources contend that northern tribes saw the warmth of the dry winds as a gift from the gods of the southwest desert; a reprisal of summer, just before the winter.

On Sunday, Mac and I took Rigby down to the shore with the thought of walking her up and down the sand, but it was so nice on the beach, we set up chairs near the surf and read for a few hours. It was like medicine for the soul.

I hate to see this beautiful weather leave, because I know it is likely our last reprieve before winter’s icy grip enfolds us. But for today, it is wonderful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On All Hallows Eve

Samhain is fast approaching. All Hallow’s eve, the feast that heralds the “dark-half”of the year. The bright season of summer has died, and we mourn as we face the approaching winter.

The autumn sun sets in streaks of gold and violet. Clouds trimmed in charcoal gray fall like a heavy curtain on the day. Herds of small, frightened creatures streak across the road in front of your car, stopping your heart for a second until you realize... they're only dead leaves whipped into a panic by the moaning wind. Clouds of blackbirds amass, streaming southward in undulating flight. Vines of bittersweet festoon bare branches with their garlands of red and yellow. Shadow beings move in and out of the treeline at the edges of the fields. The dying vegetation, the cinnamon smell of decaying leaves, and the bare tree branches like dead fingers, suggest that perhaps the author, Ray Bradbury was right: “Something wicked this way comes!”

Christian tradition marks All Saints Day, then a few days later, All Souls, a day of remembrance of those who have passed from this world. The harvest is in, the growing season ended, the leaves have died and fallen, leaving the trees bare. Long thought of as the season of death in many cultures, for the Celtic people, it marked the end of the grass, thus, the end of the grazing time, and so, the beginning of the slaughter. The people made great fires called bone-fires (bonfires) and burned the bones of the cattle on them. It is the harbinger of the Celtic New Year, the end and the beginning.

This is the time when the veil that separates the worlds is drawn back, and the inhabitants of the spirit plane and the faerie realm might move freely between them.

Once, long ago, I was a young girl balancing on the tightrope between the worlds of child and adult. I was almost too old for trick–or-treat; just old enough to be let out on Halloween night for a hour or two without adult supervision.
Giddy with freedom, I ran to meet two friends in the big field at the end of our street. On this All Hallow’s Eve, it represented a scary, yet safe enough place to greet whatever spirits might roam the night, as free as I was.

This field was a big part of my childhood. From preschool days, to high school, I wandered through it, my knees brushed by the amber grass. It was the staging area for neighborhood games of war, freeze tag and red rover. I also liked to sit there alone sometimes, thinking and watching the clouds form familiar shapes in the sky.
Tonight my two friends and I would go there to challenge whatever spirits might rise up to prowl the night.

Karyn and Pam were already there waiting for me in the darkness as I ran through the vacant lot and burst into the field. We passed around a cigarette, thrilling to the fact that we were almost grown, and out with no adults on the darkest night of the year, a night when evil might be lurking all around us. We spent some time gossiping as young teens will, and laughing loudly at our own jokes while the stars came out, and the night breeze ruffled the long grass around us. We plotted our route around the nearby housing development. Candy was for babies, but we would roam the neighborhood anyway, checking out the costumes and looking for our school mates.

Suddenly, there was a sound a few dozen yards away at the edge of the woods. Someone or something was moving through the leaves and into the field. I was suddenly frightened, not only of ghosts, but of some person with bad intentions. My parents had hammered it into me that there were adults that would harm a child, if they got the chance.
"It's nothing," said Karyn,"probably just some kids..." As I watched, the grass started to move, slowly at first, then faster, as if something large and low to the ground was moving up the hill, in our direction!

I was confused at first, because although I could make out the dim horizon, the shapes of the trees and the long blades of grass moving, nothing appeared to be moving them. There was a whispery sound as the tufts of grass shook and swayed. It was as if some invisible person was walking quickly through them, straight toward us! One of my friends gasped and that was all it took. The three of us ran screaming from the field and didn't stop until we were about a quarter of a mile away, back on the relative safety of the dark street.
"What WAS that?" Pam asked incredulously as we stopped and tried to catch our breath.

As I think back on it, I guess it could have been a big raccoon or opossum making it's way up the hill, hidden by the grass. But I prefer to think that perhaps it was a visitor from a different reality; a Samhain spirit or an Elfin traveler that passed through the thin veil into the dimension of living humans on that dark and shadowy Halloween night.

So light your jack-o-lanterns to keep the evil spirits at bay, and guide the friendly ones's almost All Hallows Eve.

Monday, October 19, 2009

See the geese...

I woke up today and found
frost perched on the town.
It hovered in a frozen sky
and gobbled summer down...
The warriors of winter
gave a cold, triumphant shout
All that stays is dying'
and all that lives is getting out
...See the geese in chevron flight
laughin' and a racin' on before the snow
They've got the urge for goin'
and they've got the wings to go
And they get the urge for goin'
when the meadow grass is turnin' brown
Summer time is fallin' down
and winter's closin' in.

-Joni Mitchell, "Urge for Goin'"

A few decades ago, Tom Rush of New Hampshire recorded my favorite version of this song, and for me it will always be the quintessential autumn song. It evokes all the melancholy feelings of watching nature sink down into hibernation for the winter. The wistful melody and beautifully spare musical arrangement complements the somber mood of the lyrics, setting the tone for late fall and early winter. It just makes you want to build a good fire, fill your mug with steaming hot coffee or tea, grab an old quilt and hunker down until spring. If you enjoy folk and progressive country rock, seek it out and give it a listen if you can find it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grace and Guidance

Unless you believe that your life is an accident, that somehow a series of chemical processes is wholly responsible for your existence, you may from time to time seek Divine guidance.

I was raised Catholic and for many years, lived by the dogma and man-made rules that I thought defined my religion. It was not what you would call a “living” faith; more like an unpleasant obligation to fulfill. I didn’t get much out of it, and as I looked around me I saw that no one else seemed to either.

Eventually, I felt driven to embark on my own spiritual quest. Through my participation in twelve step programs, meditation groups, and the study of other religions, I gradually attained an awareness of a spiritual life I knew I had been missing. I was enlightened by the teachings of Buddhism and other eastern traditions. I learned from the Pre–Christian Earth mother religions and Native American beliefs. My spiritual life was enriched and informed by the writings of Khalil Gibran, Eckhart Tolle and many others.

The result of this search was that it brought me full-circle, back to the beginning and my own faith of origin, but I began to discern that there was a vast difference between reciting prayers and responses by rote and simply showing up at Mass each week, and actually attempting to live the faith, which is what I believe we are called to do.

I began to perceive that my God was not an old man sitting up on a cloud somewhere, but was more like a wind, moving among us, surrounding us and blowing right through us here on Earth. My God works in miraculous ways, through human beings. My God is loving, forgiving and welcoming. My God is part of me, and speaks from within.

In past times of indecision or strife, I have found myself either in church, or in seclusion at home, searching through scriptures, pondering the New Testament and the psalms, looking for a sign post on my life’s journey…which way to go? Looking back over my life, I see now with aggravating clarity, the forks in the road where I chose poorly. Hind-sight is twenty-twenty, as they say. Those were times when I depended on my own weak sensibilities and flawed judgment to make my decisions. I have come to realize, however, that there have been a handful of times, when I was so distraught and depleted that I asked for Divine intervention. In effect, I asked God to show me what the right decision was, or simply to make something happen with the caveat: “Your will, not mine be done.” When I look back now on the results of those times of “letting go and letting God,” I see with mild astonishment how right the path I chose eventually turned out to be. This is one way that I have come to experience Grace.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farms Fading

The town I live in used to be dotted with small, family farms. When I moved here almost thirty years ago, you could drive down Main Street and see herds of cows grazing in fields of timothy grass, red clover and Queen Anne's lace. It was a place of simple, pastoral beauty. There were several horse farms with riding rings and paddock buildings. Most of them are gone now. Some sit with "For Sale" signs swinging on posts in the yards, some are empty and all boarded up.

There was a dairy farm, with trucks that delivered fresh milk on dawn doorsteps, and a bustling little store. When my children were small, I would take them there on fall afternoons. We walked past pumpkins and cornstalks into the big barn where the cows were milked, and we spent some time petting their velvety noses. The milking machines clicked and whirred while the cows chewed their cud. The air was full of the sweet smell of hay, the sharp smell of manure and a hint of sour milk. The lowing of the big animals and the tinkling of their collar bells filled our ears.

My children and I would walk the length of the barn, trying to choose our favorite cow. The black and white one was the biggest. The brown one looked like she was wearing eyeliner. The black one was the kindest. If we were in luck, some of the cows had little calves beside them; the babies were the ones we loved most of all.

After our visit to the barn, we'd go over to the dairy store and buy a quart of chocolate milk to take home. It was a special thing, but I took it for granted. I guess I thought the dairy would always be there, but it's gone now.

The barns and tractors are still there, but the cows no longer stop traffic every evening as they cross the street on their way back from the fields. The store is permanently closed down and the milk trucks sit rusting in the yard and the driveway.

Just down the street and around the corner, on the route that Rigby and I regularly walk is an old house with a big, fenced-in yard. Years ago, it was a little farm. A nice old woman lived there, and she had a pony named Strawberry and a little brown donkey that was Strawberry's best pal. The two beasts shared a corral together, and my kids would poke carrots and apples through the fence for them on summer afternoons. Chickens and ducks wandered about, clucking and quacking, nibbling at the grass.

When the old woman died, some of her relatives moved into the house and the pony and the donkey soon disappeared. Only a few goats and chickens remain there now, and a pair of brown and white ducks that look like bowling pins. The ducks always manage to get out of their enclosure and they hurry down toward the road, side by side, looking almost as if they are attached at their shoulders, to have a look at Rigby and me when we come by.

The once brightly colored garden gnome on the doorstep is weathered and fading to gray, like the paint on the moldy clapboards of the old house.
The little goats stand on top of their wooden houses, calling out to be fed or for companionship. Their bleating echoes like the distant sound of children's voices.

There are a few farms left in town. One is a pig farm down in a valley near the corner where our town meets the border of three other towns. It is pretty well hidden though, and you never see the animals, but on hot days, if the wind is right you can sure catch a whiff of it as you walk through the parking lot of the supermarket.

Another farm still has a herd of Hereford cattle. Those are the ones in the picture above that I took last Saturday. They were lounging in the field, enjoying the warm day amid the asters and blue chicory flowers as I drove by.

I also took a ride over to the old dairy farm for the photo of the red tractor. I met a man in the field who had obviously been working. As he walked up the hill toward me, I asked if he minded me taking some pictures. "Not at all", came his reply, "Do you want to buy anything?" I told him I wasn't in the market for any farm equipment, just some pictures to go with my farm story. "Take all you want, then." he answered.

I have a great sadness about our loss of the small farms. Families can no longer sustain themselves by working the land, and the land itself is valued more for real estate, rather than for what it can produce.
But it must have been wonderful, to coax food out of God's earth and live in close symbiotic harmony with the animals, the farmers relying on them, as they in turn relied on the farmers. To live by the cycle of the seasons and literally reap the rewards of your own hard work must have been such a good, simple, and satisfying way of life. I'm sorry to realize that it is a way of life that seems to be passing into history; fading into the mists of time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Atlantic in Autumn

Equinox today, the autumnal shift. The daylight is rapidly fading and the sun seems cooler somehow, as we tilt towards winter.

Last Sunday, Mac and I journeyed down to the sea for what may be one of the last times this year. The sky was a deep, cerulean blue, unmarred except by the yellow sun and a few airplanes. The atmosphere was so crisp and dry that the short, white con-trails the jets made dissipated rapidly, making them appear like distant comets, arcing above the horizon, following the curve of the earth. No clouds seemed to form at all that day.

Through the fringe of my half-closed eyes, I watched as sandpipers and plovers dodged the surf. Glistening, clear jellyfish dotted the wet sand between multi-colored stones and clumps of seaweed. Gentle, coke-bottle green waves rolled in to shore, breaking into cascades of lacy foam before retreating back out to sea. Cabin cruisers bobbed on the surface of the bay and white sailboats shimmered like ghosts on the horizon as we luxuriated in the warmth of the late September sun.

Rigby dug a hole in the shade of Mac's beach chair and burrowed into the cool sand to watch the ringed gulls strut by us, searching for scraps and picking at abandoned shells, amid the washed up strands of kelp.

Later, as we watched the sun sinking low over bay, I was transfixed by the flashing diamonds it created, spangling the mud left exposed by the ebbing tide. Suddenly, I realized there was movement on the mudflats; a billion tiny periwinkles were stirring all around us, wondering where the sea had gone, their shiny, wet shells catching and reflecting back the sun's light like little jewels.

There may be other days at the shore in the weeks to come, but I will probably not swim in the ocean again until next May or June. Instead, Mac and I will most likely spend the brief hours walking on the sand with Rigby, greeting other dogs and their people, wearing our fleece jackets and warm-up pants or jeans. This brings a big sigh, because as I may have mentioned, winter is very long in these parts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Orb Spider's Web

We have a little friend spinning her web near our garage now. I looked her up and found out that she is an Orb spider. It's fascinating to watch her work, deftly weaving this beautiful web of hers.

The tall, feathery, green plume is one of the cosmos I planted from seeds that grew taller than me, but never bloomed. I fertilized, and Mac watered faithfully, to no avail. I never got even one flower out of the darned thing.
That's Mac checking out the evening's spinning session.
This is one busy arachnid. She's an accomplished hunter, smart enough to set up right under the garage light where there is no shortage of small flies, moths and beetles that visit and fall victim to her trap.

How amazing that such a small and seemingly insignificant creature can create something so complex and sublime, a thing of beauty that serves such a practical function. Nature never ceases to amaze me. The more I contemplate the natural world, the more awestruck and humbled I am by all it holds.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Time of Transition

The hot, humid days seem to be past us now here in the northeast U.S. and Fall is fast approaching.
This is and has always been a time of transition for me, never more than this year. Within the past couple of weeks, my daughter has moved away from home into the city, and I have started a new job.

Yes, my youngest is all grown up now. Mac and I helped her move into a fourth floor walk-up in Boston, something I don't recommend if you have a weak back. It was quite a trick getting her bed, dresser, desk and a futon up a rickety, creaking staircase in the 90 degree heat and high humidity. To add to the indignity of it all, I came out and found a forty dollar parking ticket on my car for parking next to her building (resident parking only - how ironic).

Last week my girl had her first solo business trip, and she handled it like an old pro, booking a last minute flight and hotel, and renting a car to drive around Washington D.C., Baltimore and Virginia, all on her own. We are very proud that she has grown into a capable and independent woman. Our nest is not empty though. My son who is a few years older still resides with us. Despite having a degree in computer-aided drafting and being a talented artist, he has only been able to find retail jobs which don't pay enough to enable him to get his own place, which he would dearly love to do. So he and Rigby, and the two cats keep our place from being lonely.

As for me, I have been thrust back into the world of 9 to 5, planning what to wear, racing around trying to get ready in the morning, multi-tasking and scrambling to get all my work done, wolfing lunch at my desk while answering phones, and responding to a booming voice constantly summoning me. I've been teaching myself to use new software programs and do new things with old ones. So far, I really like it.

The one draw-back is that I have discovered I was actually bringing in more income while home on unemployment. This is due to the fact that President Obama's economic recovery act was paying 65 percent of my health care insurance while I was out of work, and the governor's medical security plan was picking up the rest. Now that I have taken a 25 percent pay cut in this new position, and again have to pay half of my own insurance premiums, I am making substantially less than when I was on permanent vacation. Something wrong with that picture, eh?(Please, can we have real health insurance reform now?...please?)

Then last week, another complication arose. Back in May I applied for a state job. Since months had passed and I hadn't heard anything, I assumed they had long since hired someone else for the job. I guess I underestimated the plodding pace of state agencies, because a few days after I started my new job as Executive Assistant to the President of my current company, I got the call; they wanted to interview me.

To make a long story short, I went for the interview and although I felt like it went well, I think they must be considering a lot of other people for the job, many of whom are probably much more qualified than I am. I went to a vocational post-secondary school instead of college and earned a hairdressing operator's license, not a degree. I believe my personality and a lot of luck earned me my past two jobs in administration. Although eighteen years of experience must be good for something, I wouldn't be surprised if I am not one of those being seriously considered for the post.

In any case, it could be a long time before I hear anything from them, being that it is a state job. If I do hear from them, that will open a whole new can of worms for Deedee. Stay tuned, my friends!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let the Dream Never Die

Why is it that I feel such a loss today? It is because those of us in the working class of America have lost a champion: Senator Edward M. Kennedy. It is because I’ve always felt an affinity to the Kennedy family, being born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts of Irish, Catholic stock. Maybe it is also because I grew up with his family. I have never known a world without the Kennedy brothers in it.

Now that the “Lion of the Senate” has passed on, who will be there for the rest of us…the disenfranchised: the elderly, minorities, women, children, the disabled, the mentally ill, the working poor? Who will fight the good fight for us in the senate? Who will be our knight in the war for equal rights and quality, affordable health care? Who will be thinking about the day to day cares of the working families of America, while walking the hallowed halls of Washington? Who will stand up for affordable housing and quality education for every American? Who will fight to be sure our troops have the equipment they need? Who will stand up for the common man and woman?

There are those who will choose to recall the dark chapters of his life. Some will mention the assassinations of his brothers, John and Bobby. Others will bring up Chappaquiddick, his failed first marriage or his other scandals and indiscretions, his human failings. Some will choose to remember these things.

But I remember this: He was raised in a rarified atmosphere of privilege and plenty. He could have lived a life of quiet comfort and opulence. Instead, he chose a life of service. He devoted himself to fighting for the rights of those less fortunate. For that, I will always be thankful.

Let the dream never die.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In a New York Minute...

...Everything can change!
I got a phone call yesterday from the President of my old company (the one that cut me adrift last December.) It seems he is suddenly in need of an executive assistant and he wondered if I would be interested in the job.
There is only enough funding available to pay me through December and after that, I may very well be cut adrift again, but he said if business continues to improve there may be something available for me elsewhere in the company.

I may have to change the name of my blog to reflect my new status, but I will still be here, writing and reading as often as I can.

I start tomorrow...full time, nine to five. Today is my last day of summer freedom so I'm off to squeeze as much into it as I can!

Let the new adventure begin!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Things I learned this summer

• If we all communicated like dogs, without speech, we’d be a whole lot happier.

• You can still love a family member, even while wondering where the hell they came from.

• There is a big Caladium plant that looks exactly like an elephant’s ear. They call it Elephant Ear.”

• Some people truly don’t want what’s good for them.

• Sometimes when you shave a dog, it becomes an entirely different color.

• You can love, care for and devote yourself to someone for years, and they can still show you disrespect on a regular basis.

• In our woods there is a yellow, pitcher shaped wildflower, of the Impatiens family that’s called “Touch me not”. When the flowers are peppered with orange spots, it’s called “Spotted jewel weed.”

• Some people will try to make you doubt your own five senses and your own good sense.

• In Florida, it seems like just about everyone owns a gun.

• In New England, it seems most people don’t.

• The forests of the Berkshires are filled with little, red amphibians that are called “efts”.

• Some people would rather believe anything than believe the truth.

• Cats don’t hold grudges.

• Even smart people can get duped.

• In a New York minute, everything can change.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Midsummer's Dreaming

High summer. Although I could do without the mosquitoes and high humidity, this is really my favorite time of year. On sunny days, dog-day cicadas hum in the trees from noon until dusk. On cloudy days, gray tree frogs take over the chorus. Usually by this time of the season, the grass has turned brown and crunches underfoot, but this year we have had more than our share of rain, leaving everything green and lush.

There is a certain smell in the air now, especially at night. The trees are long past the blossoming stage, their flowers withered and blown away, and a new fragrance wafts through the yards. It's the smell of skunk cabbage and cut grass, vegetable gardens and clean sheets hung on backyard clotheslines. It is the fragrance of ferns, mushrooms and muddy riverbanks. It's the warm smell of summer in the Northeast.

Birds and dragonflies dart in crazy trajectories through the airspace of Catbird Heaven, and cottontail bunnies graze in the late afternoon on the clover and dandelions, while tufts of lacey, white cloud drift lazily across a deep blue sky.

Often, if I have a few free hours, I go for a short drive to my parent's house and I float on my back for a while in their small, crystal-clear pool, staring up at the branches of the oak trees that surround it. I watch the birds play tag among the green leaves, which are gilded by the mid-afternoon sunlight, and I admire the dappled patterns of light that dance on the water.

Last night, the full "Sturgeon" moon glowed pink as it hung low in the hazy sky. Snow crickets trill in the gardens after dark, and Rigby washes her feet in the dew that soaks the lawn at night and lingers into the morning.

I'm trying to take a little time every day and drink my fill of this season; to breathe it in and let it become part of me, so it will never leave.
I know that in the cold, dark heart of January, it will be nothing but a sweet and distant memory.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cats in Love

My Catboy is in love...with a piece of luggage. I caught him wooing the object of his affection this morning when he thought no one was around. I returned from a short trip to the Berkshires last night and left my Sportsac weekender, still packed, in the kitchen. This morning I found him embracing it with his entire body, both paws entwined in the shoulder strap, while ardently rubbing his face all over it and drooling.

My attention had disturbed him, though, and by the time I could get to my camera, the moment had passed.

I've seen him do this before to various other objects; usually a jacket, a pair of boots, or some other clothing item. Sometimes I suspect that he's marking my belongings with his facial glands to infer his ownership of me, but I'm not sure about this.

Occasionally, he stops suddenly and makes that funny grimace that tells me he is accessing the organ in the roof of his mouth that fine tunes his sense of smell. I've read that this response may be used when cats detect an odor that they interpret as sexual in nature.

If that's true, then something must have shifted after he was neutered as a kitten, because apparently, leather, flannel and ripstop nylon really turn him on!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Postcards from the Island

Before I end this chronicle of my recent trip to Block Island, I wanted to share a few picture postcards that I picked up there. These beautiful scenes really capture the feel of the place.

This first one below is the view of Old Harbor you would get as you entered on a boat heading for the docks. The big Victorian Hotel on the right is The National.

Photo by Olya Evanitsky
©KW Cards 2004

This is the Old Southeast Light that sits on Mohegan Bluffs, site of a long-ago indian massacre.

photo by K.C.Perry

And North light, which sits at the northern-most tip of the island, just across Narragansett Bay from the fishing village of Galilee on Point Judith. This lighthouse was recently restored and it overlooks a seagull rookery.

photo by K.C.Perry

A typical view from the shore, looking out to sea.

photo by K.C. Perry

This view is from a hill overlooking the Great Salt Pond, with Old Harbor and The National Hotel in the distance and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

photo by Robert M. Downie

So its goodbye for now to Manisses, island of the little god. There are many more island stories to tell and I will journey back again in the future.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Different Kind of Farm

This is the Hotel Manisses, a 19th century Victorian Hotel that is one of the more elegant places to stay on the Block. Although I prefer a much more casual lifestyle while staying on the island (so does my budget), the gardens are a lovely place to have cocktails after dark. Featuring sparkling fountains, white, wrought iron furniture, and subtle lighting, it's like relaxing in a private little world of elegance. Late afternoon tapas and wine on the front porch is a favorite and affordable time too.

My favorite part of the Manisses Hotel is Justin's animal farm. Here you will find exotic animals like Llamas, fainting goats, camels, giant tortoises, emus, zebus and red kangaroos, as well as the usual barnyard fowl. Above is a photo of MacDuff, taken from the hotel's webpage. He was inside on the morning I visited last week, so I didn't get a shot of him. An enormous, but serene bull of the Highland Cattle variety, MacDuff is the king of the pasture.

I never miss an opportunity to stroll though the farm and commune with all of its residents.

If I were to come back in another lifetime and get to choose my life and occupation, living on Block Island and running the animal farm would be right up there near the top of the list.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Harbor, Old Harbor

There are two Harbors at Block Island. New Harbor on the Great Salt Pond is dominated by Champlin's Marina. Last Wednesday a thunder storm rolled through, late in the afternoon. The sky suddenly turned very dark and ominous.

Old Harbor is studded with Victorian-style hotels and gift shops of every description. On Saturday, July 4th, the Block Island parade lurched down Water Street to the delight of several thousand onlookers. Some highlights below. Some folks seemed to think they were at Mardi gras- It was a crazy scene on the streets. Check out the daredevil standing on the roof in the second picture. He was not a young kid and I had visions of him taking a dive. Glad to say, he eventually climbed down safely.

Next: The Manisses Farm

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Life On The Beach

Of course, my favorite part of island life is the beach. Here are some photos from my time spent on Scotch Beach during my trip to Manisses. You can click to enlarge for a better look.

Next: the harbors.