Better than I thought

A couple of years ago, just before New Year’s Day, a friend of mine from school posted an idea on Facebook.  It showed an image of a mason jar, tied with a colorful ribbon. Inside of the jar were folded slips of paper.

The idea, she explained, was to make ourselves more mindful of the really happy moments in our lives.  It was a way to focus on the positive and to remind ourselves that life, after all, is usually pretty damn sweet for most of us.

“Cool”, I thought at the time. “I’ll do it!”   So from January 1st of 2014 to January 1st of 2015, I folded up those little papers and saved them in the jar on my kitchen windowsill.  It was a useful exercise!  I felt a certain benign pressure to fill my jar, so I was more attuned to those moments of happiness than I normally am. I noted them, appreciated them, documented them and saved them up for later.

And on January 1st of 2015, I started a new jar.  And every time I had one of those “life sucks” days, I reached into the old jar to unfold one of my little treasures, reminding myself of just how lucky I am.

Today I decided to go through all of the little papers in that first jar.  I pulled them all out, organized them into piles by topic and thought about what they could teach me.

Well, the first lesson was glaringly obvious:  This is a pretty great life I’m leading here! The next time I whine or moan, anyone of you who knows me has my permission to smack my upside the head and hand me my jar. Seriously.

The next lessons were a little more subtle.  For instance, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that fully 1/4 of my notes referenced my children.


Happy Moments With My Kids

Everything from the life-changing (“At Kate’s wedding: Matt mouthing the words “I love you” during the ceremony) to the mundane (“Sitting around watching sports with Tim”).  There were notes about conversations with Kate, shared jokes with the three of them, visits at unexpected times.  Notes about having one home for a few days after oral surgery (“Sorry that he’s in pain; happy that he’s here”) and notes about driving through a huge thunderstorm and coming out into a rainbow with another one.    My kids are my greatest pride, my greatest pleasure, my deepest love. No surprise there!  Kate got married in 2014, so there were lots of notes about that!

I was a little more surprised to see that another 1/4 of my happiest moments happened in my classroom.


And Happy Moments With My Class

There were so many more of those notes than I realized! I can only include a few here, because so many had the names of children on them, and teachers like me observe confidentiality.  What struck me was that a lot of them came from interactions with former students, as well as the kids I was currently teaching.  One boy had come back to visit and had given me a note that said, “Thanks for being a loving and hilarious teacher.”   I was delighted beyond measure that those were the two adjectives he chose for me! What could be more important to an 11 year old boy than both love and hilarity?  A lot of the notes referenced hugs, and several talked about laughter and jokes and mud filled field trips.  None mentioned a test or a lesson or a score.

It isn’t surprising, I guess, that I found so much pleasure in the presence of my students.   What I learned from reading the notes, though, is that I should not be surprised at the depth of my sadness at having retired suddenly last June.  I was ready to give up the stress and the pressure and the conflict with administration.  I most certainly wasn’t ready to give up the joy, the laughter, the hugs or the muddy adventures.  I wasn’t ready to walk away from the kids; in 2014, they gave me as much happiness as my own children.   In some ways, although perhaps it shouldn’t have, that fact surprised me.

So what kind of notes made up the remaining 50%?  Well, I have to laugh! They were an almost even mix of my observations of nature, and random moments when I found myself alone at home with my hot tub, good food and good drinks!

For example, there was the very eloquent observation: “Gorgeous full moon and cotton clouds tonight!”  There were moments when I noted the budding of the lilacs, the return of the humming birds and the heady smell of rosa rugosa.

But then there were the wonderfully gleeful notes like the one that said, “Home in a mini-ice storm- read, made soup, watched a marathon of ‘Ghost Hunters’, sweet!”

So what have a learned from my mason jar?

I have learned what I already knew in my bones. My life is wonderful. I am indescribably lucky, and grateful to be so.  I love children. All of them, not only my own. I love what they give me. I love the fact that they seem to love me back.  Above all else, I love to be with children.

But I have also learned a couple of things that I didn’t know.  The natural world feeds my soul in a way that I didn’t really appreciate until now.  Next year, I will be more careful to spend time out there in the woods and fields and beaches.

And in spite of my very social nature, sometimes all it takes to thrill me is a little time with just myself for company.  Especially if that time comes with seafood, cold Prosecco and some cheesy TV.

Happy New Year to Everyone!  I wish you many little notes in your mason jars of life!


Happy Moments With Me

You know it was a good Christmas when…..


When the last gift is opened and the last bit of wrapping has been tossed, its time to evaluate the holiday.

When the last dish of leftovers has been sent off, and the kitchen is clean again, its time to look back and see how it went.

This was a wicked good Christmas.

How do I know?

I know because I am completely and totally beat.  My stomach is rebelling at the thought of another dinner.  I don’t even want a glass of wine.  I’m happy that all three kids will be gone by bedtime, that Ellie is at her house, that no one needs me for one single thing.

This must have been a spectacularly successful Christmas, because all that I want now is a an early bedtime and a late wake up in the morning.

Happy “Phew, Glad That’s All Done” Day to you all!


A Pretty Peaceable Kingdom

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I don’t know why I get such a kick out of watching birds at my feeders, but what can I say? I find them to be funny and charming and tenacious as they cluster around the suet or the seed.  I love watching them swoop in and out.

Of course, it isn’t only chickadees and woodpeckers that come around to eat.  I live at the edge of the forest.  As I have learned in the past two weeks (after hanging out my winter feeders), I also live in the squirrel capital of the world.

My suet feeders are hanging in the branches outside of my house. One hangs in a lilac, the other in a flowering crabapple. I had to wire them shut to stop the squirrels from stealing the yummy, fatty, peanuty goodness right out of them.  My seed feeder, pictured above, is supposedly “squirrel proof”, but all that means is that there is wire around the plastic tube (so that they can’t just chew it to pieces and eat all the seeds) and the metal cover is snapped closed (so that they can’t chew through it or pull it off and eat all the seeds.)

I now know that a “squirrel proof” bird feeder simply means that it takes a  bit longer for the squirrels to scoop the seeds out one handful at a time.

But you know what?

I don’t mind at all! I know that a lot of people throw ice or stones at the squirrels. I know more than one person who shoots them when they get into the bird seed.  But here’s my thought: they don’t actually know that I only want to feed the birds, not the mammals.  How could they?  They must all be up there in their nests, thinking, “Awesome!  The local humans have put out another giant pile of food for us!  You gotta love those guys!”

So when the squirrels swarm over the suet feeder and shove their little noses into the mesh to eat, all I can do is laugh.  The birds have enough to share.  I stand at the window, with Ellie in my arms, and we watch as the birds line up in the blueberry brambles, waiting their turns to rush in for a meal.  If there are squirrels there, the birds either go to another feeder or use the other side of the feeder.

It’s hilarious to watch!  The nuthatches are smart: if there is a squirrel, they land in the grass under the feeder, and eat the crumbs that fall. The woodpeckers wait, very patiently, on the sides of the pine trees, until the squirrels leave to bring goodies up to their nests.  Then the woodies fly in and attack the suet with a singleminded ferocity that reminds me of teenaged boys around a hot pizza.  The beautiful cardinals are skittish, waiting until the coast is perfectly clear to make an attempt at lunch.

And then there are the chickadees, who are my favorites. Fearless and unyielding, they seem unaware of their relative drabness in comparison to more beautiful birds. They fear no squirrel as they swarm the feeder, but they yield to each other as each one grabs a bite and then flies off to eat it.

I can watch this drama for hours, I really can.  The squirrels on the tree trunk, hanging upside down to plunder the feeder. The birds darting in and out, fearless or cautious, getting whatever they can.  Chipmunks moving around in the leaves under the trees, catching crumbs and cleaning up.

And the other day a group of turkeys joined the throng.  Big, loud, awkward creatures that they are, they scared the squirrels back into the branches of the pines, where they stood and squawked in outrage.  The little birds flew in and out, but the turkeys were oblivious.  They pecked at the ground for three full hours, getting every speck of corn, of sunflower seed, of dropped suet.  They clustered together, mumbling and bumping each other, their ugly bald heads bobbing up and down.

Ellie and I watched them on and off all day.  It was a beautiful, funny, awkwardly peaceable little kingdom out there.  No fights, no killing, no attacks.  Just a lot of eating and a lot of chirping, gobbling and squawking.

Its worth the cost of the food just to see that some species  on this beautiful earth can actually  manage to share the resources and respect each other’s differences.

To Keep Hope Alive


Dark Days

These seem like very dark days on earth. We are in the midst of a global struggle that many define as the Third World War. We fear terrorists with bombs. We fear our neighbors with guns.  We fear that the earth is warming beyond reversible limits.

We are afraid.  We are angry.  Our governments seem to be working against us in a frantic effort to hold onto power and wealth.

Worst of all, to me: We are being convinced to turn on each other.  We hurl the most hateful words at each other, sneering, “The libs hate America” and “Those neocons are a bunch of bigots.”

We stand on opposite sides, with a huge dark line between us. We face each other, but we can’t find a way to talk about our fear or our anger.  We can only scream.  “Put down the guns!” “Don’t touch my guns!”            “Keep out the Muslims!”  “Let in the Muslims!”                                         “Liberals suck!”   “Conservatives suck!”

We can’t find a way to look at each other and ask, “What is it that you want from your government?”  or “What is your greatest hope?”

These are just dark days.

We turn on the radio and the TV, and all we can see is that ISIS is coming to get us.  All we can hear is that terrorism is all around us.  We begin to feel doomed. We begin to believe those who tell us that we have to protect ourselves from each other.

One of my sons shared a quote with me tonight.  He said that it is resonating over and over in his head.  He is 25 years old, on the brink of his full life.  And this is what he hears in his mind: “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

So how do we hold onto hope?

We turn off the radio, unplug the TV.  We stop thinking in labels (liberal, conservative, southerner, neocon, Christian, Muslim, white, black, rich, poor).   We stop the shouting.  We listen.

We look at the people in the grocery store. We smile at them and exchange a comment about the weather. We smile at children.  We tell young mothers how beautiful their babies are.

We remember that it is a very big world, and most of it is safe and calm. We look into the eyes of the babies in our lives, and we find a quiet place in our hearts.  We remind ourselves that those little innocent souls carry no labels yet.  We take a breath, and we whisper a promise to those little ones. We tell them that we will do our best to keep the world in one piece for them.  They smile up at us, trusting us to keep our word.

And that is how we keep hope alive.