A vecchiaia e calza rosso

Loosely translated, “When I am old, I will wear red socks”.  This is a phrase my mother recited as she got older and tried new things. She also used this phrase to poke fun at other people for the same reason!

Why is this something to write about?  Probably because I walked the Eugene Half-Marathon this year at the age of 90, and this was NOT one of the “things to do” on my bucket list.  Now I think of my mother’s phrase,  try to feel “normal”,  and wonder what she would have said about my feat.

Francesca was a fearless woman.  She arrived in this country at the age of 32, with four children, speaking no language but Italian. When my father died at the age of 39, leaving her with six children under the age of 12, she could have panicked and gone back to her family in Italy.  Or, used up her little money, and then turned to Social Services for support.  Instead she took her money and converted the front porch of the house to a small grocery store.  The little store serviced  the neighborhood while allowing her to buy food at wholesale prices for her family.

Lack of English-speaking skills made life a little more difficult, yet she was bound to survive and she did.  Mom eventually re-married – to a wonderful man – had 3 more children, and Pop became a father and supporter to us all!

Thoughts bring nostalgia and longing for other days when things might have been done differently.  But this is now, and I intend to continue wearing my red socks.

 

 

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Aggie’s Early Spring Garden

      

              Tulip                                      Camellia                                 Hyacinth

                   Hellebore                          Mason Bee Hive                              Daffodils

                                   Forsythia                                                               Oregon Grape

White Camellia

                        Bird Feeder                                 Lunaria                                    Sweet Violet

 

 

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REFLECTION

While contemplating  my upcoming soon to be “milestone” birthday I came across this little gem online:   Don’t complain about growing older – many, many people do not have that privilege.  And so I say, Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah – I shall live till I die!!

Looking back over the years, I can’t help but take mental stock of different years, events, happenings, good and bad.  Yet one year, my 19th, always comes to the top, and the reason remains a mystery to me.  I grew up in a very restrictive household (at least for females), oldest daughter, which meant setting a good example, no boys, no parties, just school, church and home.  I was happy – I was loved, and it was a life I knew.  When I blew the candles out on my 19th birthday cake, a feeling came over me that has never left – I was free, and could be and do whatever I wanted!!  Possibly it’s a feeling most people get at 18, but….  I dreaded turning 20 although I did anyway!

Sunday afternoons at my mother’s house was bedlam – absolute wonderful bedlam.  My three older brothers loved playing “cards” (poker etc,) and they and their friends used our huge kitchen table for their games.  In the meantime, Mom’s job was to make cookies!  Tray after tray – everyone loved Frances’ cookies.  Eventually the boys converted the garage to a club house, and some of the noise moved along with them.

So many memories center around that kitchen.  I wish I had a picture of the cooking stove.  Very large, half was run by gas with gas burners for cooking, the other half wood burning for heat, and oven cooking.  Two small broiler ovens rose over the back.  The house was heated by a coal furnace, but it was a huge house, and not as warm as we would have liked it to be.  There was always a rush in the morning to get to a spot close to the warm wood side!  It was my brother Johnny’s favorite spot after dinner – leaning against the warm stove, while singing and playing his guitar for hours.  One of my happiest memories.

 

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Why We Love Bluebirds

baby-bluebird

As beautiful as the outdoor scene is today, snow everywhere, early January, thoughts of Spring should be far, far, away.  But no, just the opposite.  I have a head cold, am sniffling and sneezing, am generally miserable, and can only wish for warmer brighter days.  Thus Spring thoughts and Bluebirds!

A few years back, I saw my first Bluebird while hiking up to the top of Mt Pisgah.  I wasn’t sure what it was, just that it wasn’t a Blue Jay.  It flitted from bush to bush, seemingly unafraid of me.  I was fascinated, and a little research gave me the information I needed.

Whether Eastern, Western or Mountain, the Bluebird is native to North America.  The scientific name is Sialia Mexicana.  The early settlers were quite taken with its friendliness and sweet, sweet song.  Many stories have been told, and numerous songs have been written about this beautiful bird with sky blue wings and golden red breast.  Their coloring is quite vivid, making identification rather simple.  Not too big, about 7 inches long.  The male is bright blue on back, wings, head and throat.  The bright orange/red breast color extends onto the back.  I’m sure the one I saw was a male.  The female has the same markings, but duller with a grayish cast.

Western Bluebirds can be found all along the West Coast of the United States, and tend to move to lower elevations for the winter.  They come back by February/March indicating warmer weather, and are known as the harbingers of spring.  How could you not love them?

Bluebirds are also known as messengers of hope, happiness, and love.  Judy Garland sang “…over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.”  And we can’t forget the hope filled song “…the white cliffs of Dover.”  Actually, I don’t know how that song came to be, because the bluebird never lived in England.  How about “Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder”?   The song of the bluebird, a soft, smooth sound, is mostly for themselves.   Clyde Todd (1940) said their song “…is like the gentle murmur of a flowing brook…awakens a sense of well-being and contentment….”

Although the female builds the nest, made mostly of grasses, the male is very protective and guards the box during construction, even offering her treats.  Their beaks are not strong enough to excavate their own nests, so they rely on cavities made by others, like woodpeckers.  Before pesticides, farmers put up nest houses along the fence for the birds;  almost 70% of the bluebird diet is insects.

One problem for bluebirds is the house sparrow.  The sparrow was brought to the US in small numbers in the middle 1800s.  Now they are the most abundant songbird on the continent.  They destroy bluebird eggs and nestlings, even adult bluebirds if they can catch them in a nest box.  Another challenge for the bluebird survival is that the number of natural cavities has dwindled due to the loss of open spaces.  The use of pesticides to control insects has also taken its toll.  Weather is another factor.  Severe winter conditions without protected roosting locations, lack of liquid water, food sources covered with snow – these are all conditions that impact the bluebird population.  By 1950, 50% of the population had perished.

Bluebirds depend on humans to survive and thrive.  Conservation efforts across the continent have taken up the challenging hobby of attracting bluebirds.  Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, the Eastern Bluebird population has started to increase again.  The Western Bluebird is lagging, but with people still caring, spreading the word, getting involved, the lovely Bluebird will survive and thrive!

male-and-female-bluebirds

 

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Friends

Why is it so hard to write about friends and friendship? I’ve been trying for months to write this particular piece, and can’t seem to get out of my head.  It just goes round and round.  So why write anyway?   William Faulkner mentions in one of his forwards a book written by Sienkiewicz in the 1800’s and the reason for writing this particular book “…to uplift men’s hearts.”

So what is friendship?  Katherine Davis, writer and poet, says “It is many things.  Feeling completely natural with another, shedding pretense and sham, just being yourself.”   This sounds good, indicating a close intimate friendship, which might not be possible for everyone.  I like to think that friendships come in varying degrees, beginning with casual ones, vacation or summer friendships, right on to close ones that perhaps have been sustained over a longer period of time.

There are obvious reasons for friendships, such as having common interests, being neighbors, and being co-workers.   But there are many people who share our interests with whom we couldn’t possibly be friends…neighbors who go their separate ways, co-workers we say ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to only.

Whether we really know why we form certain friendships would be hard to say, if ever necessary.  According to Dr. B. Spock, children respond wholeheartedly to inner impulses without the self-analysis and rationalization of their feelings.  When my son was in first grade, birthday parties were very popular and his was a “looked forward to” event.  His guest list had been made up weeks before.  Several days before the party he asked if he could invite another person to the party.  I said, “fine, who is it?”  He told me it was a girl who had recently moved to the area.  When I asked why he wanted to invite her, he answered “because she’s my friend.”  Party day brought out the fact that she was a young girl of color and spoke very little English–something he hadn’t thought important to mention at all.

Regardless of the degree, there is an inherent quality in all friendships whether casual or close that draws people together.  Whether it is definable or not is unimportant…any friendship can be of real value for both persons in terms of enjoyment and growth.  Many years ago when first arriving in Oregon, I became friends with Naomi,  a woman 25 years my senior.  This friendship would be called supportive, rather than close or intimate.  Most of the time we acted as a boost for each other.  If she was down, it was usually because she was stuck on a line of poetry.  All she needed was to talk it out with someone.  If it was my day for problems, she listened without really hearing the words, knowing from my tone if I was anxious.  When I was through she would make me a cup of tea, and tell me a funny story.  This was quite different from a friendship I had with a woman back in New York.  Cissie and I spent a good deal of time together – shopping, bowling, walking, or just talking over a cup of coffee.  We could discuss husbands, religion, our flights of fancy, or periods of depression.  We didn’t always agree, which helped make it a stimulating friendship.

There is a saying by Sir James Barrie that puts it all together for me.  He says, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

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WHY WALK

img_3631For starters, there are obvious health benefits.    Many stories  and articles have been written  toutinimg_3632g those benefits. Walking cuts the risk of heart disease, bombs calories and burns fat – even improves memory.  You can do it at your own pace, and your health and weight will love you for it.   That’s not where I’m going with this blog today.  I want to talk about the adventure of walking – seeing, feeling, and getting out of myself while exploring the surrounding world of nature and people.

Walking (as getting from one place to another) started early for me.  As  a five year old, I started 1st grade, and walked at least a mile and a half each way.  My school was not in the public school system, so no bus to take me back and forth!  We didn’t have a car (no, not even a horse and buggy).  Living in a small town can have drawbacks, but you can walk everywhere and wherever you need to go.  It was a good beginning, and my enjoyment of walking has never wavered.

Now  I like walking the bike path, especially along the Amazon.  Away from the traffic  noise and smells, the feeling of not having to hurry — peaceful.  Today I took special note of those people who looked at me and spoke and those that did not.  The bicyclists are mostly friendly.  I especially enjoy greeting/talking with the homeless  who have taken shelter under the bridges.  But many walkers seem hesitant  to make eye contact, let alone speak.  Maybe they’re so locked into their thoughts that any acknowledgement would be too distracting.  Next time out I’m going to WILL them to look at me!  As Cellist Yo-Yo Ma said, “I have yet to meet a tradition that wasn’t enhanced by interacting with others.”

Modern technology isn’t my strongest suit, but having my iPhone with built-in camera has been an added blessing while walking.  The ever-changing natural environment is not unique to Eugene, but I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by its own uniqueness and to capture some of it on camera.

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img_3679-1Walking doesn’t require fancy equipment.  A good pair of walking shoes is important, otherwise whatever clothing is comfortable is appropriate, while dressing for the weather conditions is smart.  Whether meditating, contemplating, planning, praying—using your feet and head—your heart will be happy in more ways than one.

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“A Day in the Life”*

It was one of those inspiring spring days when everything seems to go well.  My household chores were done, I had worked the garden, and was feeling pretty satisfied with myself.  The children had all made it home on the school bus, so I decided I’d pull the VW Bus into the garage.  My husband liked to see the driveway free of cars, toys, and bikes when he got home from work.  It gave him the feeling that everything was under control.

As I came out of the house with the car key, my 15-year old son climbed into the car and said laughingly, “C’mon, Mom, let me pull it in.  You know I can do it”.  Well, I didn’t know whether he could or not for sure, because he never had, but he had started the engine and moved the car up and down the driveway several times with me in the car.  My first reaction was to give him a firm “No”, but then,  decided to let him do it.  After all, I reasoned, the garage was only a length of about 20 feet from where the car was, and with a double garage door it was like being on the open road.  All he had to do was start the engine and pull the car straight in.  I said, “OK, but slowly”.  I handed him the key and moved to the side.

He ceremoniously buckled himself into the seat, opened the car window and called out with a big smile on his face, “see you in a while Ma”.  He started the engine and shifted into first.  His coordination wasn’t too good, and the car sort of jerked forward as he released the clutch.  He quickly shifted into second and pushed heavily on the accelerator pedal.  The car shot forward and I called out, “Now, that’s it – STOP!”

The look of panic on his face as he zoomed past is unforgettable.  He called out, “I can’t stop – the brake won’t work”.  I yelled back, “the emergency brake, pull up on the emergency brake”.  And I watched him go through the back of the garage as he leaned forward and pulled up on the brake.

Originally the house had a single car garage attached, which my husband converted into a family room.  He then added an extra wide two-car garage to the side of the house.  The original small garage door was then built into the back wall of the second garage.  The back end of the garage was storage space for garden tools and machinery, so having the large opening made getting the equipment out less frustrating.  Even in his panic, my son had the presence of mind to steer toward that door.  When he finally came to a halt, the VW Bus was half way through the door, giant springs dangled from the ceiling, and splintered wood was draped across the top of the car.  One of the bikes had been pulled along and was jammed between the wall and car.  The lawn mower and leaf sweeper were under the front end of the car, and I was screaming.

He climbed out of the car, terribly shocked, but not hurt physically.  We put our arms around each other and cried–from relief, but also for the stupidity on my part, and for the shattering of the confidence he’d had.  He thought he had been pressing the brake when actually his foot was on the accelerator.  A panicked telephone call brought Father home to a clean driveway, but the devastation of the garage scene was not soon forgotten.  At the end of the day however, uppermost in our minds and hearts, was relief and gratitude that a far greater tragedy had been averted.

VW Garage (2)  VW Garage (1-1)

VW Garage (4)VW Garage (3)

*Lennon-McCartney

        “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.  What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

 

 

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JUNE 25

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Many years ago on this day a nice boy named Tommy and I were married.  It doesn’t seem possible that we were together so many years, through so many joys, so many traumas, so many children…when I was seventeen I couldn’t wait to leave my mother’s house!  And it was a happy house and a happy family with more than enough love to go around!

img017There were many traditions brought over from the “old country” and one had to do with the bride leaving her parents’ home.  After the church service, the parents return to the home, and the newlyweds follow (after pictures, etc.) before going on to the wedding reception.  My mother neglected to tell me about this “tradition”.  Our wedding party loaded into the vehicles provided, drove around town honking horns (that was another tradition, but American) and then went to the reception hall…a lovely one-time estate named Avalon.  After about a half hour of waiting for my parents to arrive, and wondering where they could possibly be, my mother came storming in, a hand full of rice, and angrily threw the rice towards me.  She was fit to be tied.  She had gone home to await the bridal couple, to “pass the baton” so to speak; from her house to a new life with my husband.  What she didn’t remember was she didn’t tell me of this tradition!  She got over it, and the rest of the day was great.

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OUR LONG ISLAND HOMES

After graduation from college, Tom worked as research chemist at Hayden Chemical in New Jersey for the summer, then on to Merck in Rahway, N.J.   Our first abode after campus living was in a high-rise apartment building, 9th floor, in Irvington, N.J.   Greg babyI don’t have pictures but it was clean and airy, complete with elevator and playground.

After two years, and a bout of hepatitis, Tom decided to give up chemical research, move back to Long Island,  and go into teaching.   Our first home on Long Island was a triplex in Northport where our second child was born.

48 Reservoir Ave Northport NY '52   SallySand (3)   48 Reservoir Ave Northport NY (2)

                                 48 Reservoir Ave, Northport NY (then and now)

Traffic on Long Island was heavy, and a 15 mile trip could take up to 45 minutes.  We decided to move closer to the Smithtown School District where Tom was employed as Math & Science teacher.  Fortunately for us, a house soon came on the market within walking distance of the school, and in our price range.  Very cute house, two bedrooms downstairs, and a usable attic.  Two children later necessitated converting that attic into a dormitory style bedroom space complete with dormers.  Thus we had 3 children up, and one baby down!

23 Hunter Dr (2) Smithtown NY   23 Hunter Dr Smithtown NY

23 Hunter Drive, Smithtown NY (then and now)

Change, however, was in the air.  An offer came from the Huntington School District, and we were on the move again.  This move was more difficult because we wanted it to be our last, and the house needed to be large enough to allow a separate bedroom for each child.  The perfect house was being advertised in the NY Times, but it was more than we could afford.  We decided to look anyway, loved it, made an offer, and were turned down.  Although we looked at other houses, nothing seemed as nice as the one we couldn’t have.  Then, two weeks later, a phone call from the seller of our dream home brighten our world.  If we still wanted the house, the seller was willing to accept our offered price! We lived there 15 years with 6 children (each with separate bedrooms!) before moving to Oregon.

Carnegie House (1)     23 Carnegie Ave Huntington NY (2)    350-IMG_0720

23 Carnegie Ave, Huntington NY (1959, 1961, 2010)

Not to be overlooked is the “cottage” in Hampton Bays on Long Island.  This summer home was owned by Tom’s parents.  We spent our honeymoon there, and for several weeks most summers till we moved to Oregon.  The “cottage” was expanded to accommodate year round living, and is now owned by other family members.  The view is of the pond which empties into Peconic Bay, then Long Island Sound.  Overshadowing all of this are the glorious “sunrise” and “sunset” with endless sky.

squire pond dusk-2Hampton Bays NY      Hampton Bays NY 2016 (1)

Hampton Bays Cottage, NY (then and now)

Any future trips back to the East Coast will certainly be with a different attitude. Houses, using man-made materials, can be changed depending on whims, needs, wants. People, though changed with time, remain the same people.  The best part of the trip was reuniting with those people.

LI Group

 

 

 

 

 

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Nostalgia – a return home…

Although I have lived in Oregon a long time, my roots are grounded on the east coast.  A recent trip to New Jersey/New York was a joyous reunion with those roots.  Siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends…the pictures and stories are endless.  Most striking are the changes to the neighborhoods and houses I lived in till I moved to Oregon with my husband and children.

IMG_2424    IMG_2426

John Street in Princeton, pictured above, was my first home, and the least changed other than looking and feeling completely different from my remembrances.

Lytle Street was my next home till I married.  Although the changes to the outside of this house are attractive and practical, the changes inside are dramatic!

(2) 1960 Grandpa Joe's Wine Cellar    9 Lytle Street (10)   From “Pop’s” wine cellar and “Mom’s” cellar kitchen (used for messy cooking, canning, preserving, butchering, etc.) to the “storage only” 3rd floor attic, the house has been converted to four floors of beautifully renovated living space.  The current owner invited us to tour the house, ask questions, take pictures…it was a good experience on both sides.

9 Lytle Street (1)   236-IMG_0592

                 Lytle St. before remodeling                              Lytle St. after remodeling

My bedroom was still intact, with wonderful light coming in the windows.  The downside to this room had always been the nearness of the neighbor’s house.  The gentleman who lived next door was of a suspicious nature, thinking someone from our house might be looking into his house via a window from my bedroom.  A second story porch stretched along the front of the house under my bedroom windows.  One day, my neighbor could no longer contain himself.  He climbed from the porch roof of his house, over to our porch, and through the open window into my bedroom.  As he came through, he stepped onto a chair under the window, where I had placed a recently purchased album of the operetta “Song of Norway”, cracking it in the process.  I came into the room as he was crossing over to check the view and what we might possibly see in his house!  I screamed (of course), my mother came running up the stairs, and bedlam reigned!  All future attempts at friendship with this neighbor were quickly squelched.

The last stop on our way out of Princeton was the student housing project on Harrison St, where we lived during Tom’s junior and senior years at PU.  Those units are currently being replaced with  high rise apartments, many with Carnegie Lake views.

The student housing pictures below were taken last year during a winter visit.

2-21-15 (4)2-21-15 (1)

The next day our trip continued to Long Island, N.Y.  We encountered additional houses with changes during the rest of the trip.  But those stories and pictures will wait for another day.

Thanks for reading!

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