Winter Joy

“Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread
beyond all boundaries.”      —-Corita Kent

Photo Credit:  Geoffery Kehrig

Winter Joy

This week the children in my neighborhood have reminded me of a life lesson I often forget.  It’s been an unusual winter in upstate New York.  Winter festivals are about to begin with no snow or ice.  There are no ice fishing shanties on the lake and no sound of the snowmobilers on the trails behind our house.  The kids’ ice hockey games are suspended temporarily and sleds rest up against garage walls waiting for adventure.

The up and down swings in temperature have given us a mixture of rain, snow, and sun.  As adults we tend to find these brief snow squalls, downpours, and high winds an irritation and inconvenience.  Children find in them opportunity.

Our front yard and driveway often flood, making it a challenge to walk the dog or get the newspaper or mail.  On a particularly rainy day this week I was watching the growing lake in the front yard when the children on my street began their daily walk to the bus stop.  These are very cute kids.  Toddlers and pre-schoolers walk along with their mothers and school-age brothers and sisters.  On this rainy day they came down the street in their colorful raincoats and rainboots, some holding patterned umbrellas.  Then they came upon our lake.  It was enough to stop them dead in their tracks.  A few began to move toward the water, then a few more, and the splashing began.  The mothers with them just took it all in stride as mothers often have to.  After all, they were wearing boots!  And this was certainly more fun than the slow walk toward the bus.

A few days later the temperatures dropped and the lake froze over. The lower half of the driveway and part of the front yard became a very enticing skating rink.  So on the way to the bus this day the children stopped walking and edged over to the ice, sliding along as far as they could go until the ice became bare ground.

We had only one brief snowstorm recently, just a few inches but enough to coat the ground.  And there on a few lawns in the neighborhood snowmen began to appear.  Not quite the huge, chunky snowmen built after a northern blizzard, but still snowmen with character.  And then the blue and red plastic saucers came out of the garages and the sledding began.  The front yard of a house down the street has a slight hill that slopes down to the road.  The kids were sliding down the hill on their saucers.   As I watched the saucers stop at the bottom of the hill just short of the edge of the road, I had a momentary flashback to the year my oldest daughter was in preschool.  One of her classmates that year was sledding down a hill in her front yard that snowy winter when the sled kept on going right into the street.  The child was hit by a car and died.  That was the first of more than five classmates who died during my daughter’s educational years.  I thought about running down the street to warn the mother of those children to stop them from sledding that day, but the sleds stopped at the edge of the road, we live on a cul-de-sac, and I was just overreacting to possible danger.  Danger is everywhere today for our children and grandchildren.  So I didn’t meddle.  I just tried to remember what it was like to be young and love snow so much, you were willing to get very wet and cold to have a few hours of outdoor fun, something that has been hard to come by this year.

So as I try to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of this winter season, I am so grateful to the children on my street who look for and find adventure and fun in the simplest moments of life.  This is a lesson I had certainly forgotten, and it has given me a fresh perspective on making the most of any situation.

The Wait

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”            —Anais Nin

Portulaca oleracea, ZooFari

The Wait

Somewhere deep beneath the snow
hidden under the frozen ground
the seed waits.

It’s calm there and quiet
as patience edges expectancy.

Potential is yet unmet
as with all births
in this natural rhythm of life,
coming and going
when the time is right,
faith the core of it all.

© Barbara Flass 2012

Escape Artist

“Observe everything.  Communicate well.  Draw, draw, draw.”
Frank Thomas, Disney animator

Escape Artist

White flurry blows in the gusty winter wind
creating a snow sculpture unique to nature
while a warm peace floats inside where other artists are at work.

Thin black brushstrokes, startling against white canvas,
become images created from memories dwelling within.
Color added to canvas becomes
a red-striped lighthouse on a a rocky cliff,
powerful, rhythmic ocean waves striking soft sand,
a weathered covered-bridge in the Vermont countryside.
Places once seen now reborn on canvas.

Penstrokes,  like brushstokes, emerge on white paper
becoming letters, becoming words,
a lyric poem evoking emotions long buried,
a suspenseful story reaching into the night,
a book with characters interwoven in a tapestry of intrigue.
Experiences now reborn on paper.

Lines escape.
Words escape.
No winter bars can keep them in
as life becomes art and art becomes life.

© Barbara Flass 2012

Photo:  Jason Lemay

The Glass Animals





The Glass Animals

When I hold my daughter in my arms and kiss her goodnight,
when I finally turn away from the fragile ten-year-old child
now folding herself into a curve preparing for sleep,
my eyes light on the shelf near her bed
and I face the glass animals.

Framed in a pine box and resting in front of mirrors,
they line up, double imaged and very precious.
The grey china cat and the brown collie dog,
miniature replicas of beloved pets now gone,
the tiny white mouse and the colt and the donkey,
gifts through generations and found treasures,
all face the now-sleeping child on the bed.

They are no longer the same as they once were.
Some have been broken and mended carefully
and loved more because they were not then perfect.
Injury and accidents have only strengthened their fragility.
I cannot put my fragile child high on a shelf
like a glass animal and protect her from hurt and pain.
I know that life will sometimes cause her to fall and break
and then I will need to do much mending.
My child too will be more precious to me
with every crack and chip.

If only love could shelter what is precious from all harm,
maybe we wouldn’t need high shelves
for beloved glass animals and tubes of glue for mending.

© Barbara Flass 1980


Should we support the movement for a bald Barbie doll?

When I started my blog a year ago, my intention was to post some of my poetry and writing about nature.  I didn’t want my blog to become a platform for my opinions.  There are already plenty of those.  However, this morning’s story about the Facebook movement to create a bald Barbie has affected me so deeply that I just can’t refrain from using today’s blog to express my thoughts on this movement.

As an eight-year breast cancer survivor, I usually support any movement that would encourage people to contribute money for cancer research.  The problem so far is that no matter how much money is contributed, there is still no cure for cancer.  Over thirty-nine thousand women died in  2011 from breast cancer, and 13, 500 children are diagnosed with cancer every year.

I’m not a fan of the Barbie doll.  I admit I bought Barbie dolls for my girls when they were pre-teens.  At that time, body image for girls was not such a major concern as it is today with the emphasis on childhood obesity.  We want our girls to grow up with a positive body image, but we don’t want them to believe that the ideal body image is that of a Barbie doll.  My six-year-old granddaughter has an athletic build.  She plays soccer, takes classes in dance and karate, and is active and beautiful.  However, she recently has expressed concern that she is fat.  Her arms are fat, she claims, and her clothes feel tight.  We cannot take a chance on our children being affected by dolls with a so-called “perfect” body or a doll that is bald because of cancer.

I hope we will all continue to contribute to cancer research.  I don’t see how we could not be aware of the need, and I don’t see why we need a Barbie doll to remind us that children get cancer, lose their hair, and fight for their lives.  I am sure that the bald Barbie will not then grow her hair back like a child will.  Will children with cancer fear they will always be bald even if they are told they will not be?  Will the bald Barbie on their shelf remind them long after their cancer battle has been won of a time that was frightening for them?

Let’s contribute to cancer research without always buying a product.  Let’s visit children in hospitals, hug them, bring them a soft, comforting toy, and reassure them that their hair loss is temporary and they will soon be well again.

I know this is not a black and white issue, and I sympathize with mothers of children with cancer.  I too wish we could comfort children in as many ways as we can, and the idea of a comforting doll makes sense to me. But as a mother and grandmother who has reservations about the Barbie doll’s affect on body image, I’d like to see us find ways to directly contribute to cancer research without having to buy one more product  to do it.  Let’s offer children our love and hope for their future in a more positive way.

(I am still working on changing the theme for my blog, and one I like is PinkTouch 2 which I am trying today.  I think the pink color is appropriate for this blog, but I have others I like also.  I like change, so bear with me as my blog’s appearance may change again.)

To My Sister: It’s Time to Take the Wreath from Your Grave

“Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us  begin. ”                                                       —Mother Teresa

It’s Time to Take the Wreath from Your Grave

It’s time to take the wreath from your grave
there where it rests up against the base of the stone,
the pink ceramic angel centered on the ledge.

I’ve been putting it off day after day
knowing the snow could come any time now
this warm, snowless winter and make the walk treacherous,
a struggle to lift the latch on the gate and walk through soft snow
as I have years past until I reach you there at the edge of the woods.

I like bringing you gifts–
bouquets of roses and pink carnations and white daisies,
the urn I fill with red geraniums and yellow marigolds in the summer,
and then the Christmas wreath a few weeks before the holidays.
I just don’t like taking them away.
It feels like one more loss every time I leave you.

I wonder if on Christmas you wished you were here with us,
with your children and the grandchildren you loved so intensely
that you held on longer than anyone thought just to be with them.
The wreath was just a small gift, one more attempt to link you closer to me,
but instead the distance and emptiness seems to grow.

It’s not like some who say they can’t remember after a while
the face of the one they lost, or the sound of her voice, or the lilt of her laugh.
I remember all of those.

I’ll take the wreath away because it’s time,
and I’ll try again to feel you there,
but really I hope you are somewhere with the angels
at peace during this holiday season as we move into a new year
when I think maybe, just maybe, this will be the year
when grief softens into acceptance.

© Barbara Flass 2012

Nature’s Etiquette

“Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.”
—Abigail Adams

Nature’s Etiquette

In the quiet of the morning,
the garden dormant this time of year,
life centers around the feeders and the suet cage
where squirrels hang upside down,
back feet splayed out on the bark of the pine tree,
front feet holding steady the suet feeder
for long stretches of time.

Somewhere in the forest the woodpeckers wait.
Their moment at the feeder will come soon, they know,
their patience a valuable lesson to those who watch.
The two downy woodpeckers come first,
their velvety black and white patterned bodies
striking against the stark grayness of winter,
one attaching himself to the bark of the tree
while the other feeds, two front toes facing forward,
two backward in perfect balance.
Time is all his now.

When he leaves, the other comes and feeds
and later the larger, red-headed woodpecker arrives.
With his strong pointed beak, he feeds at the suet,
stiffened tail feathers straight behind him,
a vision in beauty.

After the squirrels, after the woodpeckers,
the garden is silent and calm,
satiety over,
accomplished by patience,
by a soft determination for survival,
a lesson in nature’s etiquette.

© Barbara Flass 2012

Infinite Hope

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
— Martin Luther King

Today dawned cold and dark, but the sun broke through by 8 a.m. and the 4 degrees outside didn’t seem quite as frigid.  An hour later I was on my way to my oncologist’s office for my six-month checkup.  I am always surprised by the sunshine on days like this, days when I expect gray and gloomy skies.  I am no longer fearful of these appointments as I once was, but I know a cancer patient can never be complacent about a recurrence.

My oncologist’s office was crowded today, much more so than usual.  I later was told it was because this was a short week due to the holiday.  I filled out the usual health update form and sat back to wait and watch.  I try not to observe the other patients too closely, but I can’t seem to help myself.  Most patients were with someone, a husband or wife or relative.  Several were there for their chemotherapy sessions. They looked gaunt and gray and wore winter hats or baseball caps.  They were taken into the chemotherapy area separate from the lab area or examining rooms.

I overheard a conversation between two couples who had obviously come to know each other over the months.  An older man provided an update to the other couple.  He would be going to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for further treatment.  That is never a good thing, since my sister also did that.  But he seemed upbeat, optimistic about this trip.  He would be living with relatives on Long Island, and he talked about this as though it were a vacation.

There was a couple sitting in the chairs across from me.  The man sat slightly doubled over, looking at the floor the whole time.  The woman had her i-phone in her hand and was playing games while they waited.  After a while, she put the phone away, looked at the man, lightly touched him on the arm, but neither one of them spoke a single word the whole time.

While I was waiting for the doctor in the examining room, I could hear conversations in other rooms.  Just bits and pieces of conversation I really didn’t want to hear.  One man was asking about pain, and the doctor discussed with him options of increasing Percocet and morphine.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to have pain every day that could only be relieved by high-powered pain killers.  I remember how my sister struggled with pain, especially toward the end.

My own exam went well.  I was even told I no longer needed to come in every six months.  I had graduated to a yearly exam.  Good news in a way, but there is always a level of insecurity that comes with these new steps toward total recovery.

After a stop at the lab for blood work, I made my way back out to the waiting room, now even more crowded with cancer patients in a variety of headgear, using canes for balance and assistance walking.  I made my appointment and left, feeling both relief and guilt.  I was in good shape.  Maybe a few others in the room were also.  Maybe they too had completed treatment.  But most were in the process of treatment and my wish for them was that within a short time, they would be where I am now, needing only yearly appointments, and appreciating life in this new year that offers to us all so much promise, so much hope.

A New Year, A New Beginning

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

A new year, so many new goals.  I think the word “resolution” is not a good one for me since it seems to suggest I can actually do something with some degree of success.  Instead, I am just going to set some goals for myself.  One goal is to work on this blog!  I  started by changing the theme and adding inspirational quotes at the top.  I suspect the one who needs inspiration is me more than anyone else, but maybe this is the year I will be inspired more often.

I recently completed a memoir about my sister and me, and after many attempts to find a publisher or an agent, I have resigned myself to either self-publishing the book or putting it away for good.  I hesitate to do either one and so I procrastinate and worry that the book is not good enough to make the grade.

I would like to make more greeting cards for cancer patients.  I never seem to really make enough.  I am donating cards to the Molly Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center at Saratoga Hospital, but I also want to make cards for others to buy for friends and family members with cancer.  I have a roomful of inspirational stamps, bird stamps, angel stamps, nature stamps, and much more.  It’s a little overwhelming!  But with so many choices, so much paper, so much ink, so many embellishments, so much ribbon (four boxes of ribbon!) and new tools, I should be happily stamping away all day.

What gets in my way of accomplishing more?  I’d like to find excuses.  I know I could.  My eighty-nine-year-old mother is finally feeling her age and requires daily visits from me.  I check her blood pressure and drive her to the store for groceries.  I sometimes drive the car she no longer will drive, just to keep it running.  I have a needy dog and cat and a very forgetful husband.  I talk daily to my daughters and almost daily to my granddaughters.  I have a house to clean and exercises to do and friends to go to lunch with.  Are those enough excuses?

In reality, this is the year I need to stop the excuses, like so many of us decide to do January 1, and start pushing to accomplish what I want to achieve at this stage of my life.  So the inspirational quotes will appear with every post, and hopefully new poems will come to me in the middle of the night, and creativity in many areas will come to me this year, 2012, a new year and a new start for us all.