Friday, February 25, 2011

Shuttle Discovery Vs. the Sun and Moon

By Christine Clark

Winter sunrise in Groton, Massachusetts

Yesterday, thousands of people gathered on the East coast to see Shuttle Discovery blast into the heavens. As I scanned the crowd along the Indian River Lagoon where I watched the launch, I pondered the greatness of our Earth and how often we take it for granted.
Every day, without fail, a huge fiery orb rises in the east. Every day. What would it be like if those thousands gathered and faced the east to watch the sun rise and marvel at its wonder?
Every month, without fail, a huge golden orb rises from the east and lights up the evening sky. Every month. What would it be like if those thousands gathered and faced the east to watch the full moon rise and marvel at its wonder?
Today, I am grateful that Shuttle Discovery and its crew are safely exploring the heavens I take for granted almost every day. I also will pause and note the sun and the moon and the stars and say a prayer of gratitude for the beauty that is inherent in living on this Earth.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Get the Hell Off the Internet! Go Out into the World!

By Christine Clark

“Get the Hell Out of Bed!” was printed in huge letters on the earsplitting alarm clock my sister gave me years ago when I was (too often) late to work. Many days, I wish my computer had a similar-sounding gong that would go off when I have surfed, dawdled, and procrastinated too long on the Internet—checking Facebook, the news, the weather, e-mail for the third time in an hour, just in case, well, yes, just in case.
Gong! Get the Hell Off the Internet! The problem is, too often I feel isolated, disconnected, and I crave connection, but I look for connection in all the wired places.
Gong! Get the Hell Off the Internet! resounded loud and clear for me on Sunday. I took my hands off the computer keyboard and mouse, put that baby to sleep, turned my back, and walked away. And then I got in my car and drove away.
Stay with me here—where I drove might not, and likely will not, be your choice. Substitute your destination for mine. My destination was a local nursery, Orchid Island Botanicals, for a free class on orchid care. I sat outside under a huge oak tree, felt the breeze and the warmth of the midday Florida sun, and listened to two orchid experts, Paul Price and Judy Wagner, tell me how not to kill my orchids.
Each orchid blossom has this
sensuous, juicy world I just
want to dive into.
I could have stayed home and Googled orchid care, but I am glad I didn’t. I did not have to search for information because it was freely provided. Nor did I have to investigate experts, because they were right in front of me. In fact, Judy Wagner is so skilled, she even has orchids named after her. My environment expanded from my home office to the outdoors. My field of vision increased from my iMac monitor to include acres of flowers, trees, and shrubs. Rather than touch only a keyboard and mouse, my tactile experience was enhanced by the inclusion of orchids, bark, and sphagnum moss as they were passed from hand to hand among the class attendees.
I listened to voices in real-time, real-sound, not from a Web cam or digital recording. I heard the thunk when an antisocial squirrel lobbed a few acorns toward the group below him. I saw the flame and heard the hiss of the mini-blowtorch Judy and Paul used to sterilize their shears.
The "Fail"... I hope I don't
I learned that fail was the nickname for the phalaenopsis (fail-eh-NOP-sis) orchid until people figured out how to grow them and stopped killing them.
You might roll your eyes at the idea of an orchid class, but what would you substitute? What about a walk in the woods, a ride through the Everglades on an airboat, a taste of an exotic food such as alligator tail, a zumba class, a single chocolate from a specialty shop you have meant to visit? Possibilities for diversions and excursions abound, and many are free.
The next time you are screen-weary and feel that naggy itch to connect, to do more, be more, feel more… Gong! Get the Hell Off the Internet… and Go Out into the World!

What are some ways you step away from technology? How do those things make your life richer? In what non-wired ways do you receive the most connection?

Many thanks to Orchid Island Botanicals in Vero Beach, Florida,
Paul Price, and Judy Wagner for a few lovely,
informative hours away from the Internet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stung By "Little Bee"

When I put a piece of chocolate in my mouth, I have an expectation of how it will taste—sweet, dark, rich. I would be shocked if that chocolate tasted like a lemon. If I am going to eat a lemon, I will eat a lemon, just don’t tell me it’s chocolate before I take that first bite.
Stung by Little Bee
A Book Review by Christine Clark

Little Bee
By Chris Cleave
304 pp., Simon & Schuster, 2009, $24

Unlike the fire ants and black widows that pervade my yard, Little Bee is a book by Chris Cleave. It’s popular: The New York Times best seller list for February 27, 2011 ranks it number four in paperback trade fiction. Inanimate as it is, I am stung.
Little Bee was on a friend’s reading list. I sometimes get in a rut, and crave some variety in what I am reading. To step out of such ruts, I like to try books friends are reading. I might have chosen Little Bee, but I’m not certain I can recommend it.
Why “stung”? I knew nothing about the book, except that I had to reserve it at the library and wait a few weeks until it was available. That’s usually a good sign. I was hooked when I read the flyleaf blurb: “We don’t want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book. It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we don’t want to spoil it. NEVERTHELESS, you will need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: …” A few things about the story are noted—two women meet, something happens, and their lives are changed forever. The text also makes a polite request that you not tell anyone what happens in the book, because “The magic is in how the story unfolds.”
Those teaser words compelled me to jump right into the book. The story opens in a detention center for illegal immigrants in England, where Little Bee, a female refugee from Nigeria, is being held. There is no magic while the majority of the refugees dread their eventual deportation. In the second chapter, I continued to seek the magic.
By Chapter 3, when a hilarious passage had me laughing out loud and sharing my glee with my family, I was certain the magic had begun. It had not. The story “unfolded” and I read to the last line of the book, hoping I would find the promised magic. I didn’t. Any magic in the book is in the excellent writing—not in the story, which I am not supposed to “tell anyone.”
What I will tell is that I feel ripped off by the blurb writers. If some misguided publisher’s public relations representative thought those lines would sell a book, he or she is correct. If that same representative thought readers would be satisfied with the ensuing magic, he or she is incorrect. Why? Readers don’t like it when they are misled into believing a book is something it is not, even though Little Bee’s best-seller ranking belies my sentiments.
Little Bee is about the dark side of ethnic and oil conflicts in Nigeria. The subject matter would not have prevented me from buying and reading Little Bee. I have purchased and read similar books. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s renowned book, also set in Nigeria, is one of them. The back cover of Things Fall Apart states that it’s about conflict—societal and individual. It also says that the book is about the cultural clash between a tribe and the missionaries eager to convert that tribe to their religion and to their customs. Before I turned the first page, I knew there would be no magic, except in Achebe’s superb prose. I even sought additional books by Achebe, knowing they were about conflict in Nigeria.
I have no dispute with the content of Little Bee, although I deplore the conditions to which the people of Nigeria are subjected. In fact, because the book is so well written, I might even have recommended it, despite its lack of magic. Little Bee’s problem lies in what the reader is led to expect. Had Little Bee’s blurb writer been honest, I would not have been so frustrated when I read the book’s final words. I would not have searched for “magic” that was not there, except in fleeting moments in the relationship between the two women.
Should you read Little Bee, you are free to disobey the book’s command and tell your friends what happens, but don’t mislead them. Be honest, as I will be here: This is an intense book about severe cultural, ethnic, and corporate conflict, and greed. It’s worth a read, but not if you are seeking magic—it simply does not exist in “how the story unfolds.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Listening to My Racist Tendencies

By Christine Clark

I do not consider myself a racist, but sometimes I do or say something so bizarre, a stab of recognition hits me and I must say to myself,  “Yes. You. Are.” I do not mean that I am the clich├ęd racist. No confederate flag flies in front of my home and I abhor the KKK and anything—action or ideology—that represents or promotes that particular brand of hatred.
There are some words I don’t even think—much less say. I remember stumbling over one of those words when I read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to my son. I tried, but it was just too tough to say that word.
There are other things I cannot say—although they are neither racist nor inflammatory. I cannot get accents correct. I envy the Meryl Streeps of the world who pick up accents with linguistic ease. One of my daughters can do Southern, English, Scottish—the accents and lilts native to each region roll across her tongue with ease. When I try such linguistic twists, I shake my own head at myself: I sound like a fool.
Regarding accents, I sometimes make assumptions about who can mimic accents, and until recently I did not consider that a racist tendency. I assume someone from England will have an English accent. I assume someone from Scotland will sound Scottish. I associate particular tones and pronunciations with an Indian speaker, and a Chinese, and an Australian, and a Canadian.
I recently, however, made a rather racist, prejudiced linguistic assumption. I took an American Literature class in which students had to do a short presentation on a twentieth-century American author. As part of that presentation, each student read a passage written by that author. One young woman chose Zora Neale Hurston and read excerpts from Hurston’s short story, “The Gilded Six-Bits.” In the story about a black couple, Missie May is searching her husband Joe’s pockets for the treats he brings her. The pocket search is part of a game between the two of them. A part of the passage the student read follows:
“Missie May, take yo’ hand out mah pocket” Joe shouted out between laughs.
“Ah ain’t, Joe, not lessen you gwine gimme whateve’ it is good you got in yo’ pocket. Turn it go, Joe, do ah’ll tear yo’ clothes.”
Wide-eared and, to my shame, wide-eyed, I listened to the young black woman read the exchange between Missie May and Joe. As I listened, yet one more of my personal prejudices smacked me upside the head. I mistakenly thought the student would not stumble over the dialect. She read the passage the same way I might (I am white). I read silently while she read aloud and I realized she didn’t sound at all how I expected she would sound. I expected that just because she is black, she would get the rhythm and intonation and accent of the passage just right. I assumed in the racist pocket of my brain that she would get it, that she would make the words sound the way the ears in my mind perceived the passage should sound.
I was so wrong. Maybe some black people would or could make it sound “right”—whatever “right” is. Maybe some white person could, or an Australian, or Scot, or Chinese, or maybe even Meryl Streep.  However, now that I have had heard “Yes. You. Are.[a racist]” loud and clear, I realize that just because someone has dark skin doesn’t mean they can speak with a stereotypical Deep South sound and cadence of “Mammy” from Gone With the Wind.
My own narrow perceptions sometimes squeeze me into categories that make me wince at my insensitivity. Feeling the tight fit of those quarters often is enough to break free from the prejudices that confine me. I learned more than literature in that class. I learned to tear down yet one more narrowing structure that creates a me versus them block in my mind and heart. Sometimes an open mind isn’t enough. I also must have open ears.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Second Chances

By Christine Clark

“I am the queen of second chances,” I advised a young man who wanted to renew a relationship with one of my daughters. I also warned him: “I once was queen of third, fourth, and fifth chances, but not anymore.” Determining whether to extend a second chance can involve serious, life-altering incidents. Second chances can also be less intense—a teacher might give a student a second chance at a test or an essay. When deciding whether to extend a second chance, always consider the circumstances.
About a month ago, I gave a local business a second chance, a scary prospect when your appearance is involved—in this case, my hair. My natural blonde color disappeared by age 34, when I first had my hair highlighted—a fancy way of saying bleached. Since then, three salon visits ended with orange hair because the stylist did not leave the bleach on long enough to lighten my hair. Four years ago when my daughter Tarah became a stylist, I figured I would never have orange hair again. I didn’t until I moved 1300 miles away and went off the family hair plan. To find someone local, I checked the Internet for a recommendation, and made an appointment.
Moments after I sat in the salon chair, my stylist said she had completed school only four months earlier, and her mother had recommended her on the Internet. That concerned me, but Tarah worked in a high-end salon just a few months out of school and she was (and is) a superb stylist. Mothers know best—sometimes. My concern increased when the stylist did not sit me under the hair dryer for the bleach to work (other stylists always did). After she washed my hair and applied a color toner twice, I started to worry. After she combed out my hair, I saw the golden orange cast and got really worried, but she said the color complemented my skin tone. She put some shiny goo on it, and it looked okay, so I thought the orange glow might be from the salon lighting.
My home mirror confirmed that my hair indeed was orange. Tarah told me to wash it three times with a toner-removing shampoo. Didn’t help. She next had me apply a bleach, peroxide, and shampoo emulsion that should have revealed the highlights. I did that—no highlights—orange hair. I had wasted money on expensive highlights. I could not fly to Massachusetts for Tarah to fix the mess and color correction at another salon would be extra-expensive. 
The few times in the past I had returned to salons for color correction, my hair remained orange, so I was reluctant to contact the salon. Reluctance aside, I wanted my hair to be fixed, so I e-mailed the salon. I was surprised to receive the salon owner’s professional, polite apology and refund offer. She (I’ll call her Tressa) noted that mistakes can become learning opportunities, she had 20 years of experience doing highlights, and she offered to fix my hair. Her saying that she wanted me to “love my hair,” clinched my decision to give them a second chance.
The younger stylist obviously felt awkward when I returned because she stayed in the back of the salon. I was relieved when Tressa sat me under the dryer to be certain the bleach lightened my hair. As I unwrapped the towel from my shampooed hair, I was delighted to see blonde streaks. Tressa did such an excellent job styling my hair that I avoided washing it for days because it never looks that good when I style it.
My hair color is not exactly how I prefer it. To correct the orange, Tressa made it blonder than usual. A few strands have reddish-orange tones, but they are not obvious. Overall, I’m pleased. In this case, a second chance benefitted the salon and me.
I often hesitate to speak up when dissatisfied with a product or service. It is simpler keep the peace or chalk up some things to experience. Speaking up can create animosity and that was not my intent. Giving the salon a second chance produced several positive results: My resentment and disappointment dissipated. My hair color was fixed. The younger stylist learned something. The salon gained my trust and future business and helped their reputation.
Sitting on my negative feelings for a few days also gave me time to ponder the best outcome for me and for the salon. In the future, I will be more open to extending second chances and also be more open to asking people to give me a second chance. Who in your life deserves a second chance? How would you feel if you extended or received a second chance?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seven Reasons to Hire an Older Woman

By Christine Clark

      Job applications and resumes need a place to include the following attributes of women of a certain age:

1.     She will not distract the hot, young single men in the workplace.
2.     She will not have childcare issues. Her kids are grown and although some of them might need babysitters for their own children, that is not her problem.
3.     No maternity leave.
4.     She will not come into work bleary-eyed and exhausted after partying all night.
5.     She is probably post-menopause, so she will not turn into an angry, sad, weeping, laughing, eat-everything-in-sight psycho one week out of every month.
6.     She likes going to work to get away from the teenagers and young adults who have taken her home hostage with video games and computers and an app for that and everything else.
7.     She has experience with people, especially if she has had children. Her job skills include, but are not limited to: nurse, doctor, psychoanalyst, chauffeur, nutritionist, teacher, mediator, life coach, chef, organization expert, police officer, and spy.

Are you older and wiser? What attributes of yours would you like to highlight for prospective employers?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Funeral Reunions Vs. Family Reunions

By Christine Clark

This post is in memory of Deborah Elizabeth Douglas
July 21, 1971 - January 21, 2011

Would you attend _______________’s (fill in the blank) funeral? If it has been a while since you have seen that person and you answer yes, then ask yourself why you have not seen or made plans to see that family member while they are still alive.
Too often, family reunions take place at funerals. People gather from all corners of America when only days or weeks previous to the death of their loved one, such a trip could not be made because of work, family, financial, or other obligations. All those reasons fade and have little-to-no importance when we receive notice that someone we love is no longer alive. Time is taken from work, arrangements are made to care for family members, the money is found somewhere, travel plans are completed. Death, then, creates a sense of urgency.
Why doesn’t life create that same urgency?
In July, my ex-husband’s family will have a reunion. I have known his extended family since 1985 and although our marriage ended, I maintain close relationships with several members of his family. I am invited to that reunion. At first, I blanched! I won’t go, I decided. He has remarried and awkward does not begin to describe how such an event might make several people feel. To be honest, I have not decided whether I will attend because it is his family, not mine.
However, I do have family of my own who I have not seen for far too long. Like most families, we have our issues and to say that it would be an exercise in diplomacy to put us all in one place is an understatement. If one of us died, I know those issues would be put aside and we would all gather.
Isn’t it time to put those issues aside, not just for my family, but all families? While we are all still here, there is time to heal those broken places and to reconnect in love and acceptance.
Funeral reunions focus on shared grief and loss. I want to attend more family reunions where we can focus on love and on gratitude for what we still have.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Remember to Stop and Pick the Flowers

By Christine Clark

       Snow-battered friends and family in New England do not want to hear this, but spring has arrived in My Sister’s Garden. It is not full-blown, pollen on everything, masses of blooms bursting into view spring, but spring, nonetheless. As I looked at the flowers near my front walkway, I nudged myself once again, to stop, pick some flowers, and bring them inside. I often forget and only see those flowers when I step outside.
I am self-employed, so most of my hours are spent inside the house and my office window doesn’t provide much of a view. This morning, I decided it is time to bring the beauty inside and told myself that I need to stop and pick the flowers.
Arranging flowers does not have to be intimidating. Often, simple arrangements are best. I placed the flowers I cut this morning into antique bottles I bought at the Brimfield Antique Show ( in Massachusetts several years ago. Costing only between 10 and 25 cents each, the bottles were inexpensive, yet they provide a unique vase for small flowers and look lovely when grouped together. Diamond Frost euphorbia, lobelia, and yellow daisies make up the arrangement in each bottle.
Remember to stop and pick the flowers and bring some inside. Small pockets of beauty in our lives add value to every day and everything we do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It Looks Homemade—Because It Is!

By Christine Clark

Just off the cookie sheet and onto a plate, my oatmeal, cranberry, white chocolate chip cookies looked delicious, but I said to myself, “They look so homemade!” I wished the cookies were more attractive, more appealing, because I was taking them to my sister’s house. “Next time, I’ll shape them better,” I decided, imagining rounded edges and flatter, more even tops. I thought of store-bought and bakery-purchased cookies and how perfect they look, just off the assembly line. In a more complimentary train, I also thought, “I bet cookie companies wish they could duplicate the homemade taste of my cookies.”


       Smack-on-the-forehead moment: “Of course my cookies look homemade—because they are!” Homemade is not something to hide behind a disc-shaped cookie. Homemade is superior, not inferior. At one time in the cultural and culinary history of the United States, homemade cookies—and pretty much homemade anything else—carried the stigma that store-bought was out of reach economically and socially. At that time, new foods that took the muss, the fuss, and often the joy out of cooking constantly appeared on grocery store shelves, so why should anyone strive for less than the advertised best?
Best has been redefined in this even-more-modern age. The time, effort, care, and, yes, even love that go into anything homemade are valued more than any label or social aspect of any purchased consumable item. Homemade benefits go far beyond economic. Taste, superior contents, ingredients that can easily be pronounced (and understood), and those intangibles such as care, concern, time, and effort mean that something containing love comes from your home.

      Is it homemade? If it is set on my table, it often is, and it probably even looks homemade. What is your favorite homemade item? What would you never trade for something in a box, bag, plastic wrap, or wearing a label? And, more important, does that homemade item receive the gratitude it deserves?

(Note: I didn't take a photo of the cookies, and, of course, they are long gone!)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eighteen – He Thinks He Knows What He Wants

By Christine Clark

It can be tough on a mom when the baby of the family reaches adulthood. Becoming an adult means different things to each teen, and the eighteenth birthday is the first milestone toward adulthood. My youngest turns eighteen on Thursday. He still depends on me in many ways because he does not graduate from high school until June, but several things will change when he turns eighteen. He mentioned some of those things to me recently when he asked for money as part of his birthday gift. He wants to buy some things one must be eighteen to purchase. His choices: a lottery ticket and a pack of cigarettes. He does not smoke, but wants to take advantage of all he thinks being eighteen affords him.
“How gross!” was my reaction to the cigarette purchase. Many family members have struggled with nicotine addiction, so I do not want to see him enmeshed in that poison. However, he does not plan to smoke a single cigarette. He has taken the warning about our addiction genes to heart; he just wants to buy some things that once were off-limits.
I understand the lottery ticket lure. He wants to take a chance and dream that his ticket will net a huge payoff. Gambling issues are not part of our particular genetic bag of sticks, so I am not concerned he will fritter away what little money he has. Lottery tickets and their teasers of the possibility of great riches are tempting. As long as he understands that for millions of players, a ticket purchase is akin to tossing dollar bills in the trash, education benefits notwithstanding, he will not have any gambling problems.
Being eighteen, however, affords him much more than being able to pursue nicotine and gambling vices. I wondered what else he can do. After only moments of research, I discovered several life-changing moves that go beyond lottery tickets and tobacco. Positive actions he can take to mark this milestone exist in abundance. Of course, because he is a male, he must register for selective service—the draft. Unlike in the 1970s, when registering held the scary prospect of fighting in Vietnam’s jungles, registering does not scare me. Further, he has his heart set on a military career, so he will register with pride and honor. However, the down side is that at eighteen, he can join any branch of the military he chooses. Also, neither his father nor I can prevent him from signing up before he attends college and we cannot choose the branch of the military we prefer.
Registering to vote is another adult privilege. I hope that after he buys a lottery ticket, he will register to vote. He is willing to give his life for our country, so I want him to have a voice in how it is run.
With privilege also comes responsibility. He will become legally liable for his actions, should those actions break the law. An infraction that might result in a youngster’s parents receiving a phone call could well result in a sojourn behind bars. He is focused on doing the right thing, so those bars will not be an issue for him. What else? He can get a driver’s license without my signature. He can buy property. He can get married. He can open bank accounts. He can get a credit card. He can work late hours. He can get a library card without me signing for it.
His life becomes his own in many ways. Medical records will be private. School records will be private. I experienced these changes with his sisters, but because they were older, I considered them simply rites of passage, as I do with him. However, I consider his rites of passage more deeply because he is the youngest.
I’m not a control-obsessed mom (from my perspective—my kids might disagree with that assessment), so I am ready for his transition into this first phase of adulthood. I will probably pay more attention because I know this is the last time I will experience this form of letting go. I also have learned from his sisters that as much as I let go, the bond between parent and child continues, even after that child becomes an adult.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Write Off Letters? Not Yet...

By Christine Clark

A recent Yahoo! article predicted that children born in 2011 will never know landline telephones, books, newspapers, magazines, video stores, phone books, paper maps—and mail—mail that arrives in a physical mailbox. It’s hard to imagine no mail other than e-mail, no more piles of bills and letters awaiting an answer. (I would not miss junk mail.) It is also predicted that almost nothing will be handwritten; quaint relics of the written word will be archived in libraries or museums. Should anyone use his or her hands to write something, that writing probably will not be cursive.
My letter writing diminished after my youngest child was born in 1993, and spiraled further downward when I began using e-mail. Lately, even my e-mail communication has diminished. It is easier to send a note or comment using social media. I prefer Facebook, and using it, I can ask several friends a question at once and have all the answers funneled to the same convenient spot. In addition, as I check FB messages, I can simultaneously chat with people as I await comments on what I think is a clever status I posted.
As a baby boomer, I have the skills to write letters and recently I wrote to thank my former husband’s mother for a Christmas gift. I sensed her loneliness from what she wrote in the Christmas card. Her new home is an assisted living facility in the Midwest. Her nearest daughter lives four hours away; another daughter lives in Texas. My former husband lives in Massachusetts. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren span areas from Chicago to Massachusetts to Florida to Oklahoma. Once one of the most independent women I’ve ever known, she no longer drives and has limits on other aspects of her life.
I decided to write more than a simple thank you note, so I gathered photos and wrote a newsy letter that spilled over a few pages. I knew she could easily decipher my cursive writing that my son says is illegible. I included details about my life, what I was studying, and what books I’ve read. In a few days, I received her handwritten reply. She was delighted to receive my letter and the photos. To continue the conversation, she mentioned books she has read. When I opened her letter, I noticed I sat in an armchair to read it. I sit to read e-mail, but the armchair took me away from office mode. I held the letter in my hands and shifted my eyes from line to line. I turned the page, read more, and turned the page again.
E-mails can have substance, but the substance of a handwritten letter is tangible. I can feel it, I can move it, I can manipulate it. Reading a handwritten letter is different from reading an e-mail. A letter is tactile. You don’t scroll, you move it, you turn the pages, and you move your eyes and your head as you read. You do not stare at a screen and hold your head and body in the same position. No lights, advertisements, banners, or other letters vie for your attention.
I recently received an e-mail from a long-ago friend with the subject “Where are you?” The Christmas letter she sent me was returned because we had lost touch since my move to Florida. She wanted my new address to resend the letter. I am thrilled she found me through e-mail—the Internet often means no more lost friends. I sent her my new address and I await her letter. I want to feel it, to experience it. I want to sit in my armchair with a cup of tea and pay attention to what she has to say. I want to use my imagination and not see flashing pictures or attached photos or documents. I want to savor the moments I spend reading her letter. In the meantime, while I await her letter, I will write my former husband’s mother again. She still lives far from her kids and grandkids, and I know my handwritten letter will mean much more than an e-mail.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What Is My Sister’s Garden?

                                                     What Is My Sister's Garden?
By Christine Clark

My Sister's Garden is the name I chose for my Groton, Massachusetts, gardens in December 1998. Earlier that year, lemon balm, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and sage had flourished in my summer garden. I cut armfuls of herbs, tied the stems together, and hung them upside-down to dry in the cool, dark basement. As fall approached, I knew my abundant supply of herbs would flavor my cooking and baking throughout the winter months.
Christmas season neared and as I surveyed my bounty of dried herbs, I knew I had more than I would ever use, so I decided to give herbs as gifts. I planned to meet my sisters in New Jersey during the holidays and I thought the herbs would be unique presents. I bought small, decorative jars and bottles with to package them. Once in the pretty jars, the herbs looked a bit plain and dark, and although a trained eye and keen sense of smell can distinguish most dried herbs, I decided it would be best to add labels. I used a calligraphy pen to write the names on parchment paper labels and attached them to the lids with raffia. The herbs looked so lovely, I envisioned a conversation in which someone saw the bottled herbs and asked my sisters where they got them. I imagined the following reply: “My sister’s garden.” Perfect! I redid the labels, noting that the basil, lemon balm, and other herbs were “from My Sister’s Garden, Groton, Massachusetts.”
A few years later, when I named my editorial business, I also used My Sister's Garden. I like the way the name sounds—welcoming, a place of calm and beautiful growing things. In a flash of creative inspiration, I painted an old piece of wood with blue, red, and yellow flowers, added the words “My Sister's Garden, Welcome”, and hung the sign next to my door. When I moved to Florida, the sign came with me and sits near the doorway to my Florida home.
What is My Sister's Garden? Like myself, and my new life, My Sister's Garden is developing and growing. I want it to be a place of comfort, joy, learning, inspiration, art, and spirit. Here at My Sister's Garden, I am growing a life. That life includes family, God, flowerbeds and herb gardens, trees and shrubs, fresh baked bread, words written from the heart and shared, failure and success, retreat and progress. My Sister's Garden also has perspiration and inspiration, anger and acceptance, loss and gain. My Sister's Garden in Groton, Massachusetts was (and is) a cottage garden, defined in Wikipedia as: “a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure”. Flowers in my Massachusetts garden still grow in a rather riotous fashion. Each spring and summer there, I was excited to discover what flower would poke it’s nose up from the Earth and which flowers and herbs would germinate from the seeds I let the winds scatter. Of course, there are some flowerbeds and garden plots that have order—places that allow no stray plants or weeds to establish a foothold. Like those gardens, My Sister's Garden has and will have areas of order and places where things just come up on their own, because that is how life happens everywhere, and especially here—in My Sister's Garden.

Cottage garden definition from:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Angst and Reinvention at 58

By Christine Clark

   Angst at age 58? Yes, indeed. I turned 58 on September 12 and almost daily, I ask myself, “Where do I go from here”? At this age, I should be settled into a comfortable lifestyle, but in many ways, I am not. Life happened—in many places and in many ways throughout the years. In only two years I will be 60, the time society says I am “supposed” to start winding down and reaping the benefits of decades of work. I have reaped some of those benefits and I have assets—tangible and intellectual—but with senior years approaching (some might say they have already arrived), I find myself in a scary place. I am not ready for retirement.
   My freelance editorial career has diminished, yet my financial responsibilities have increased. Textbook publishers now hire less-expensive Indians and Asians who excel at English for the jobs that once overflowed my e-mail inbox. My recent move to Florida was well planned except for career considerations. Much of the work I do has moved overseas. Vero Beach is far from Groton, Massachusetts, but I did not need to cross an ocean to get here. Vero has few opportunities in publishing and worse, with the advent of electronic job applications, my resumes are filtered to the trash because I have decades of experience, but no BA. I need the piece of paper that says I know how to do what I know how to do.
   I returned to college eighteen months ago and got my AA in English post-haste. August through December of 2010, I attended FAU, so I will get that BA. I am not taking classes this winter so I can travel to Massachusetts and ready my house there for leasing or selling.
   The world is changing and I, too, am changing. I am reinventing myself as a mother (my youngest child will be 18 in a few weeks), a grandmother, a single woman, a Christian, a friend, a property owner, a freelance editor, a writer, and a person. As I reinvent, I will explore and share several sides of who I am now and who I want to become and why. The facets of my life I will explore and share are creative, insightful, spiritual, economic, relational, intellectual, and, if I am brave enough, maybe even political.
Stasis would be boring. I often consider myself ordinary, but not boring. I look forward to my new journey, which I expect will carry me through the balance of my life. The horizon sometimes appears scary, and my boat tumbles and rocks as I brave the waves. I imagine there will be calm seas as well as rough. I invite my family and friends to join me, support me, inspire me, encourage me, and even chastise me (when appropriate) as I step toward the shore and begin my travels.