Back In The Groove

Why does it always seem necessary to take a vacation to recover from a vacation?  We’ve just returned from some time away in Maine.  It is a bit of a shock to suddenly go from ocean surf, cool air and lobster to a weedy garden, much warmer air and very unhappy cats.  And — OH —- the pages of Emails awaiting my reading or deleting.  AND while I was gone, our provider changed the format of Email and I do not like it!!  That is the down-side of refusing to use a “smart phone”; instead of having Email at my finger tips, a desk-top computer lingers at home just accumulating stuff!  All of this, plus processing all that we’ve seen and done while away makes me long to have another week’s vacation —– at home.   

Life doesn’t stop for us, though.  While we were gone, school began and the yellow buses go rolling by every morning and afternoon.   We have children in houses on both sides of us now, and quite a few kids walk from town to school so there is a steady stream both morning and afternoon.   There is enough “teacher” left in me (several years of substitute-teaching) that I wonder how those kids who are walking by are doing, and I’m hoping they are finding something in their curriculums to grab their interest.   They often look so dejected, plodding through the rain or hot sun that I wonder.  Schools are really designed for the statistical average, and with the numbers of kids out there, I suppose that has to be, but kids don’t necessarily fit into a mold.   Our sons managed to adapt to the school system but at least one of them would have been better off with a different learning environment.  

I think that teaching kids to love and be curious about learning is probably more useful than memorizing dates for the War of Roses and algebraic formulas.  Very recently, I read the story of a young man (with whom I am slightly acquainted) not long out of high school, whose experiences in school were detrimental to his learning and self-image; he felt stupid, unloved and unacceptable.  He said that only one teacher seemed alert to his particular pain and was helpful.  Fortunately, this young man is a strong person who I think, and hope, will build up new feelings of self-worth as he grows older.  Already, he is willing to talk with and listen to other kids who are having similar feelings.  Because the world is more complicated, growing up seems harder today.  I would hope that our whole community keeps the school —- kids and teachers —- in their prayers and also respects what schools are attempting to do.   We are so quick to criticize; perhaps we need to be more supportive.  These young people are not only the future but each is a person with potential; a person we should be encouraging.  We need to help when we can, and always, always, to care!

The usual autumn community activities have begun even though actual autumn is nine or ten days away.  Choir rehearsal is weekly, the all-church brunch that heralds the beginning of Sunday school has been enjoyed and is over, sports teams are out practicing on the fields and the track team goes jogging past the house.  Cornell and Ithaca College have been in session now for two or three weeks and Ithaca’s streets are once again hazardous places to drive.  It takes new students, especially those from other countries, months to learn how to navigate the hilly old streets and too-heavy traffic, and some never learn!  Certainly the problems aren’t all due to students.  Some year-round residents are equally at fault for the driving difficulties; people are too impatient, too arrogant about their driving and careless about texting and phoning.  And of course, the lay-out of the streets isn’t really designed for the volume of traffic that exists.  

It is full speed ahead with canning now that we are back.  Tomatoes are shouting that the season is nearly over.  I must pick the flowers and herbs I want for potpourri.  And I definitely see a difference in the birds-at-the-feeders population.  The turkeys are coming down more often now.  I think they are the brood that was raised just inside the tree line above our back yard.   Their mother began teaching them early that there were good pickings beneath our feeders.  Turkeys are very watchful, wary birds, and sometimes, quite ridiculous.  A young and foolish turkey crossed four lanes of Rt. 88 while we were driving home.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic and everyone managed to avoid hitting the silly bird.  A turkey would be a rather ostentatious (as well as messy) hood ornament.

The cats have deigned to forgive us for deserting them.  Of course caring friends feed them when we are away, but cats do not like change.  So they give us very cold-eyed expressions and speak volumes to us on the way out to their food dish, admonishing us to stay home where we belong.   It is kind of good to get back to ordinary life, wonderful as getting away was.  I look forward to the changing weather and time to get the garden in shape for winter.  The latter few words from a Gretchen Rubin’s “Moment of Happiness” came from Ann Patchett*.  “……………..As I pack up my room at the Hotel Bel-Air, I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while, and then  makes me long for it again.”

While on vacation, we had more opportunities to talk with our sons and their families than we ordinarily have.   Of course, we spoke of their work lives.  They all, even the granddaughters, deal with people — sometimes very enjoyable, inspirational people, but too often, people who have no vision and no desire to learn.  I could certainly share from my time at the Office for the Aging in Schuyler County.  I do not miss the increasingly difficult juggling of NYS requirements vs. the county’s needs.  I do not miss the petty bickering that sometimes occurred with one or two staff people.  But how I do miss the wonderful people who came to the office; sometimes for assistance and often just to chat!  And most of the individuals who composed the staff, including the RSVP agency, were so caring and gifted.  A plethora of different skills and experiences all planted in one place can produce an amazing bouquet of services if everyone has essentially the same goals.  The best thought I could share with our families was a searching for riches metaphor; sift out the gravelly annoyances and concentrate on the gold left in the pan.  And is there enough gold to make the job or activity worthwhile? 

It is often difficult to know just what to do when circumstances throw a fork in the road of one’s life.  I had planned, all during college, to be a Cooperative Extension Agent, specializing in 4-H.  Then I married someone who was already doing exactly that.  I worked in that field right after we were married while my husband was in graduate school, but I knew that two 4-H agents in the same family did not bode well for thriving at home, especially if we wanted children.  There are too many night and weekend meetings and someone has to be home with the kiddies.  So — that changed my career focus to teaching.  We’ve moved a few times, which always requires adjusting one’s focus and plans.  But this is seldom a bad thing though it might seem so at first.  When I finally ended up in the Office for the Aging, it was nothing I’d ever thought of doing.  I needed a job and this looked as though I might have the skills to handle it for a while.  An interview or two later, and there I was, working with nutrition and gerontology—-and who ever would have guessed.  It became a career that I’d never planned; I was there for 23 years.

Perhaps the more important thing is happiness with what we are doing, and how one balances work time with play time with quiet time and refreshment.   If going to work each day brings on a feeling of dread or ennui, it is probably time to look for something else.  The same applies to those who are volunteers and retirees.  Alexandra Stoddard** says: “Decide what is really important and bear down on it.  Think about your time as a circle.  Divide your life like a pie.  If there are too many slices, they’ll become meaningless slivers and will crumble.”  Everyone’s life is different and unique, but no one should go through life continually trying to “be enough”.  You are enough just as you are and as long as what you do brings light to your part of the world, you must have faith that what works for you is enough.  

September is surely an “enough” part of the year; a time of lovely weather, turning leaves, a turning of the season and perhaps a moment in time to take stock of our lives.   That is so very much “enough”!  Lao-Tzu***, that philosopher from so long ago, said:  “………..Therefore the ancients say, ‘Yield and overcome’!  Is that an empty saying?  Be really whole, and all things will come to you.”  Follow a path that works for you, spread love and light along your path, and you will find joy along the way.  Happy September!!

Carol may be reached at:  

*Ann Pachett — American novelist and memoirist.  Born in 1963.

**Alexandra Stoddard —American author, interior designer and lifestyle philosopher.

***Lao-Tzu — Semi-legendary Chinese figure from the 6th century.  Is supposed to be the founder of Taoism.

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