On Being An Owl

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers told me that I was an “owl.” At first I was flattered; you know, wise old owl and all that. Then I realized that what he really meant was that I took things too seriously—especially myself.

The class was divided pretty much into two factions—those who loved the class and those who hated it. I of course loved it; reading and writing were and are my favorite hobbies. One day I admonished one of the haters for “helping the English language devolve into useless slang,” and of course I was ridiculed for weeks afterward for that comment. But that was part of my “owlishness;” I hated being laughed at, especially about those things I took so terribly seriously.

(By the way, I still mourn the collapse of our English language, and wonder how in the heck Webster’s can allow such drivel as the word “woot” into its hallowed pages. But that’s another argument for another time.)

It took years and lots of life experience to realize that I was simply being a typical young person. At that age, we tend to be our own heroes and we conveniently overlook our faults, and we believe we are right about everything. It took me even more years to realize that the reason why I didn’t like some people was because they had habits that drove me nuts–exactly the same habits I have. That’s why they bugged me so muchLive and learn…..

Even in my sixties there are days and people and events that still press my buttons, but that’s kind of how we all are, isn’t it? I truly wish I could be a more Zen-type person, never letting small stuff bother me, keeping my mind peaceful, wishing goodness and light to all those around me (even the ones who drive me bat-crap crazy); but I’m just not that evolved yet. Maybe I’ll never be, but I do try to remember that things are seldom all about me, even if it feels as though that’s true.

Seriously, in the general scheme of things I am less than a speck of dust. My opinions, habits, hobbies, likes and dislikes are certainly not the wisdom of sages. Unfortunately, I am still an owl, and have to keep reminding myself not to sweat the small stuff or let circumstances over which I have no control anger or depress into not living well. The best defense against my owlishness is to keep being grateful, keep on doing the things I love, keep on telling the people who matter to me how much I love them, and doing even the smallest act of kindness whenever I can.

I may still be an owl, but I am working on being a more evolved owl. Wish me luck.

Thanks on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American tradition. We trace this custom back to our Pilgrim and Indian ancestors, and on this day we not only give thanks for what we have, but thanks for how far we have come.

For many of us, Thanksgiving is sort of an appetizer before Christmas, and we enjoy a lavish meal with family and friends. Some of us will watch sports on TV, with pants unbuttoned and eyes drooping from overindulging at the table. Some of us will do service of some kind, to mark their own thanks by helping out at the local food bank or shelter. Others will go to church and make their thanks there. Many will simply ignore the holiday altogether for reasons of their own.

Personally, I love it, and as each new Thanksgiving approaches, I think of all the wonderful get-togethers I’ve had throughout my life. Most were with family and friends, and some were with people who were not able to be home with their own families. This is when I lived in Texas, and I invited everyone I knew who was on their own for the holiday. It was a lot of fun, and it took the sting out of not being with our families.

These are just some of the things I am grateful for, today and always:

  • That my mom got to see her 84th birthday (11/23) and will see this Thanksgiving along with my dad
  • That I will be with the Crankee Yankee and have Thanksgiving with my step-daughter and her family (with granddaughter #2 due in April 2016!)
  • For my good friends
  • That I live in America with all its freedoms, hard-won by the sacrifice of so many
  • For the opportunity to share
  • For all the laughter, love, hope and joy I have in my life
  • That five months after I was diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer, my recent mammogram showed no trace of cancer
  • That I am married to the love of my life, the Crankee Yankee
  • That we have four (yep, count ’em, FOUR) cats who live with us; Nala, our one female, Pookie, Plumpy-Nut and Tinker (our latest) — all males
  • That I have a strong and sturdy roof over my head
  • For a strong and healthy body
  • For a sharp mind
  • For a sense of humor and for all the many things that make me laugh
  • For sheer gratitude for all I’ve been given

Does anyone remember the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, “*We Gather Together?” It goes like this:

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

Whether you are spending Thanksgiving with family, friends or by yourself, may you know joy, gratitude, love, happiness, peace of mind, and may you enjoy your many blessings.

*”We Gather Together” is a Christian hymn of Dutch origin written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius as “Wilt heden nu treden” to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. It was originally set to a Dutch folk tune. In the United States, it is popularly associated with Thanksgiving Day and is often sung at family meals and at religious services on that day.

From the Kindness Blog, A 92 Year Old Woman’s Five Rules for Happiness

I read this wonderful post the other day from Lucy Taylor, and learned a lot in just a few minutes. Please read, enjoy and learn–I did!


The 92 year old petite, poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by 8:00am, with her fair fashionably coiffed and makeup perfectly applied, moved to a nursing home. Her husband of 70 years had recently passed away, making this move necessary.

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.

“I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied.

“Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.”

And with a smile, she said: “Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.”


Don’t Ask Me About Sports – I Don’t Care

I grew up in a reading family; Mom and Dad and I either read, watched TV, or did things together like camping. I didn’t know one thing about baseball, basketball, volleyball, football, or any other kind of ball. When I started school, I had to take physical education, which in my town meant softball in the warm weather and basketball inside when it was cold. It seemed to be an assumption that everyone knew how to play and what the rules were except me; I had never played a sport in my life.

When my teacher put me up to bat the first time, I did not know which end of the bat I was supposed to hit with; both ends looked equally complicated to me. All around me, kids were booing and laughing. The teacher finally pulled me off the field and angrily explained the basics. She seemed put out that I hadn’t come to school knowing a thing about sports.

It bewildered me that anyone would want to play this game; what was the point? I finally figured out that the point was to do what I was told, and shut up about it. I couldn’t hit a ball for sour apples, but I could run fast; my one saving grace. I had the same problem with basketball and volleyball. I just couldn’t figure out why this was fun. I would have been a lot happier with a good book, but that wasn’t on the physical education schedule.

When I got to high school, there was still physical education, but by then I had learned to act as if I liked it. I took up field hockey, which wasn’t all that bad as sports go. For some reason I ended up on the varsity field hockey team, and in one game I scored the winning goal–sheer luck on my part. The next day, it seemed everyone knew my name and people who had never spoken to me before slapped my back and said, “great game!” I guess if you are raised in a family that plays and/or follows sports, that’s fine. It just wasn’t what I was used to, so it meant nothing to me.

Although my one second of fame was flattering, it still didn’t make me fall in love with sports. My attitude was ‘it’s just a game,’ which, if said out loud to any sports nut, makes them swear at or hit you.

To this day, any sport bores the butt right off me. I still have zero interest in sports. I also resent the fact that, when a “big game” is on, many of the shows I like to watch are pre-empted. As there are so many channels completely dedicated to sports, I wonder why they have to suck up my channels. But it’s a free country, so there you are.

Sports is just not my thing. There–I said it. That’s part of the grace and blessing of being this age–no one makes you play softball anymore. Yay.


Sixteen Years Old in Rome, Italy

When I was 16, I was lucky enough to go to Rome, Italy on a class trip. My high school had just begun having these types of trips, and Rome was the first of its kind. I was taking Latin, and was looking forward to visiting one the countries where it had been spoken. My parents had a copy of the Time/Life History of Italy, and I read it from cover to cover so that I could be ready for all those wonderful sights I would see in Rome.

I had never traveled by plane before, so flying out of Boston to Rome was part of the fun of that trip. It was a long flight, and morning was just breaking when the pilot announced that, if we looked out of the windows, we could see Italy. By that morning’s light, the sea was a beautiful copper color, and the famous boot-shaped country looked black against all that coppery sea.

The teachers who traveled with us, including my Latin teacher, coached us one more time on all the Italian phrases we had been taught:

“Ciao” (Hi)

“Buongiorno” (good morning)

“Buona sera” (good evening)

“Buona notte” (good night)

“Come stai” (how are you)

“Bene, grazie” (I’m fine, thank you)

“Grazie” (thank you)

“Prego” (you’re welcome)

“Arrivederci” (goodbye)

“Mi sono perso/persa” (I’m lost)

“Quanto costa questo?” (How much is this?)

“Mi scusi or permesso”  (Excuse me)

I also remember that we girls were taught a phrase that meant “please leave me alone” as well. Our teachers gave us strict instructions to stay together and not to wander off on our own–ever.

We were driven to our hotel, which to us seemed exotic and wonderful. My roommate and I had a room with a balcony, and at any time of the day or night, we could poke our heads out over the side and young men on Vespas would shout up “Bella! Bella Americana!” Of course, we were tickled by that.

The light in Italy was somehow different than what I was used to in New Hampshire; the sun somehow seemed brighter, and everything seemed to have a buttery glow. It was April, and the breeze was warm and the flowers were in bloom. Outside the entrance to our hotel were gorgeous sweet-smelling peach-pink roses. During our first breakfast, we were given what I found out were blood oranges–deep rose-red in color, and wonderfully sweet.

The children in the street spoke several languages–amazing to my American ear. They chattered variously in Italian, Greek, French, English and even understood and spoke some Latin. On nearly every corner, little boys were playing vigorous games of soccer, and little girls, dressed in their school uniforms, walked in step with a cadre of nuns. Being used to nothing but the English language, we were charmed by all the kids who spoke so many languages so easily.

The main memories I have of this amazing trip were these:

  • How small the cars seemed (mostly Fiats) and how often they blew their horns.
  • How grown-up I felt sitting outside a cafe, enjoying a coffee.
  • The steep and winding hills we traveled on, driven by a slightly insane bus driver named Mario.
  • Walking in the hushed ruins of Pompeii, tears in my eyes as I saw the plaster casts of the people who had been caught in the lava, which had engulfed them in seconds.
  • Going through the Sistine Chapel and recognizing so many of the paintings on the walls and ceilings.
  • Seeing the actual Pieta statue in the Vatican and the Pope!
  • Driving through the countryside and seeing families picking olives from the olive trees.
  • Seeing the famous Colosseum with my Latin teacher. As  our tour guide urged us back to the bus, my teacher said, “I have waited my entire life to see the status of Caesar addressing the soldiers. It’s on the other side of the Colosseum. Let’s run back there now before we get on the bus–who’s with me?” We joined hands and ran together, found the statue, took our pictures, then ran back to the bus. Of course, our tour guide was furious with us, but it was worth it.

We noticed that men often walked arm-in-arm together while talking. Of course the boys had a field day with this; they sniggered about it until one of our chaperons hissed at them to stop being ‘so damned provincial.’ She explained that this was the custom of men in Italy–to walk arm-in-arm as they chatted. She reminded us all that we were in a different country with different customs and that we should remember the old phrase, “when in Rome….!”

One of our best side trips was to a famous jewelry shop that not only specialized in cameos, but was also a school for the old carving masters to teach young boys how to make the cameos that were famous in the area. We looked through the back window to see several old men sitting at work tables, painstakingly carving exquisite cameos. At each man’s elbow was a serious-looking young boy, dressed in a black suit with short pants, polished shoes, and black berets. These were the young apprentices who were studying to become cameo carvers themselves. I bought a lovely cameo, carved with a view of the countryside for my mother.

Another side trip was to Florence, called the Red City. Everything was red; the buildings, the stone bridges, the streets. Even the very air seemed red. Florence is famous for their beautiful leather goods, and I bought my father a leather wallet embossed with his initials. I bought myself a small oval red leather box, which I still have to this day. While we were there we visited the famous Florence Cathedral, which was breathtaking. I remember standing under the duomo and looking up to see that amazing golden light streaming through the opening.

We also visited Sorrento, as pretty as a jewel, looking out over the Bay of Naples. We also saw Naples, nicknamed “the city of hanging wash.” Strung from building to building were spider webs of clotheslines, full of colorful flapping clothes.

I threw a coin into the Fountain of Trevi, I stood below the statue of David, I visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatacombs,  and I put my hand into the Bocca della Verita (the mouth of truth). It is an enormous marble mask that is famous worldwide and was said to bite the hand of those who lied. Best of all, I immersed myself in that beautiful space and time and enjoyed every second that I breathed in Italy.

It seemed that all my senses were lit up at once; the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the ancient stones against my feet, the taste of gelato, eaten for the first time. I never forgot my experience in Rome, and how I felt about walking those ancient streets and hearing the music of the Italian language all around me.

I still feel a pull to Rome in my heart, and still feel that someday I might return–the promise of the coin I tossed into the Fountain of Trevi. The saying goes that, if you turn your back on the fountain and toss a coin into the water, you will someday return to Rome.

Ti amo, Rome.


The Day the Lost Dogs Found Their Homes

The Crankee Yankee and I were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time a few months ago. We were out  shopping, and were just getting out of the car when a van pulled up across from us. As it did, several people got out of their cars, smiling and laughing. The van was a transport for lost dogs found in a southern state (sorry, can’t remember which one) after a tremendous tornado had torn a town apart.

Once the dust settled, no owners had came forward to claim these dogs, so they were rounded up and taken to a no-kill shelter, where they were bathed and fed. Any wounds they had were seen to, and the kind staff there put in many hours helping these poor lost dogs trust people again.

Once people in the Northeast heard about these dogs, there were more than enough loving people who wanted to adopt them and give them a chance at a new, good life. We watched as the reunion between dogs and new owners took place. One by one, the shelter folks brought out the dogs in their carriers. The owners unlocked the carriers and hugged and kissed their new pets. All the dogs seemed healthy and strong, and acted deliriously happy to be out of their carriers and into the arms of their new families.

One pitbull mix female nearly turned herself inside out with joy as she wriggled in her new mom’s arms, all the while licking her face. Two small brown and white spotted dogs were repeatedly running around a happy toddler, who was laughing his head off. A black lab, obviously older as his muzzle was grayish, leaned into the arms of his new master, a young man who was holding back his tears as he hugged his new friend.

It was a wonderful moment in time. These dogs, who had somehow survived a horrific tornado now had a new chance at life and would be cared for and loved for the rest of their lives. That experience put a shine on our day as nothing else could have. Like many of the new owners, we were fighting tears of happiness to witness such joy.

Believe it–there are miracles and acts of kindness everywhere. Sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time to see it.