What? Me Retired?

Last week when a friend asked me if I was making visual art or writing, I caught myself saying, “No, I’m retired.” Even though I haven’t been painting or writing much these days, I haven’t considered myself retired. I’m still busy as a bee and can’t seem to tell you where the days go. Since then I’ve found myself using that word more often, especially when it’s time to get up in the morning and I tell myself, “Oh, there’s plenty of time. After all, you are retired.”

Interestingly, I’ve recently talked to two artist friends my age or a bit older, and they tell me they aren’t making art either. They, like me are simply letting the days unfold before them and are enjoying things they haven’t done in a long while, like sleep in, travel, and not worry about tomorrow.

So I’m beginning to think that maybe I really am retired. I’m taking it easy, working on getting the kinks worked out of my stiff body, and enjoying extra sleep time. It’s time for lots of reading, writing in my journal, and eating foods grown on the lush farms all around me. Virginia Peaches are just coming in and their sweet juiciness is what summer is all about. Our farmer’s market is the place to go early on Saturday mornings if you want to fill your frig with the best veggies. It’s also where I often catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

As a way of testing whether or not I’m retired, I’m taking some time off here and blogging only when I have something important or inspiring to say. Though we’re mostly at home this summer, we’re eyeing a lovely cruise up the New England and Canadian coast, then down the St. Lawrence Seaway in the fall. And who knows what else will present itself? I’m opening up my life and my days by leaning into the breeze and seeing where it takes me. I’m not giving up the visual art and writing ghosts at all. I’m simply allowing my muse the extra time and space she needs to fly.

See you next time! And have a wonderful summer!

Changing With The Seasons

IMG_0490Here we are again, in that beautiful time of year when leaves start to change their colors, nights call for soft blankets, and chilly mornings make me run to the attic to unpack a few cozy sweaters.

I LOVE this time of year. Though spring is always magnificent here in Virginia, with it’s colorful blossoms and the promise of new life, summer, usually leaves me exhausted with its busy pace that eventually drains my energy. The best parts of summer for me are those sun warmed tomatoes picked directly from the garden, and sweet, juicy peaches that make my hot weather breakfasts of yogurt, fruit and nuts, especially delicious. Now the peaches are getting scarce and when I can find them they’re mealy in texture. So I’m turning over with the season, moving to warmer breakfast foods like left over soup, bowls of hot cereal, or eggs and bacon.

DSCF0621My writing muse is fighting with my garden genie, which is calling me to spend more time outside amongst my plants. I’ve dozens of baby hellebores that need to be dug up and moved, lots of weeding, and the roses that have gone wild over the warmer months need pruning. In the summer, working in the garden is an early morning affair, but now cooler temperatures lure me out all day long. Thank goodness both are creative activities.

The arrival of autumn encourages me to slow down and get ready for the cold months, when I spend most of my time indoors writing, and reading. When I’m cold, I like nothing better than a long soak in my big tub filled with bubbles and the scent of lavender. Hot steaming cups of tea that include warming herbs and spices, like cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, sipped in front of a crackling fire also will do the trick. I’m going to bed earlier now, and get up later, with the sun. I’m yearning to cook stews, braises, and soups with root vegetables like parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots that warm my soul.

On my morning walks, I notice squirrels stashing acorns away for the winter. Birds are fewer and quieter than they have been. Lilliput, my cat, is playing her seasonal game of in and out, unable to decide if it is more pleasant inside or out in the yard. The dogs walk at a much brisker pace cutting our walk time from about twenty minutes to fifteen. Once the real cold arrives they’ll walk even faster, wanting to come back in the house to warm their small bodies, in five minutes. Lilliput will go out to do her business and perhaps stalk a blue jay, but will be back in a flash if no bird are about.

Change can be hard. As a child I moved with my family from house to house, like a gypsy, as fast as my father could build them and sell them. I had little sense of what home really was. I’m ready to stay put now, especially at this time of year, when my feather comforter and warm wooly socks invite me to curl up on the sofa with a good book.

Do you enjoy the change of seasons? What is your favorite season and why?

My “Foody” Ancestors

The Zabski Family

The Zabski Family

Going through a box of photos the other day, I found this family portrait. The man in the foreground is  my grandfather. Dziadzi is the Polish word for grandfather which we pronounced “Jahji.”  Standing behind him and next to each other, from left to right, are his wife, their daughter Polly, and my dad, Thomas. How serious they look. Obviously the photographer didn’t ask them to say “cheese.”

Both Babcia (grandmother in Polish) and Dziadzi came to the United States from Poland. My grandfather, Wladislaw Zabski, was born in the city of Trembowla in 1888.  He came to this country, landing at Ellis Island on September 22, 1912. Babcia was born in 1894, only a few miles northwest of Dziadzi’s home. Her name was Michalina Podhajecki.  She arrived on Ellis Island on March 16, 1911.  She was only sixteen. She was released to her sister, a dressmaker in the city.  She and and my grandfather married on October 5, 1913, at the Church of St. Stanislaus in New York City.

According to one set of records my father had been born on September 18, 1913, just a few weeks before his parents married.  Others say he was born  on the same date in 1914. Obviously more research has to be done in order to find out his exact birth year. I find it amusing that there is talk among cousins that Dziadzi was a lady’s man and “adored” young girls. Also, my father was very strict with me. As his only daughter, I was’t allowed to date until I was a senior in high school. I was forever feeling embarrassed because he wouldn’t even allow me to go to the movies with friends on a Saturday afternoon because, “Bad things happen in the dark.”  Was he trying to save me from getting involved with a cute guy and making the same mistake his own parents had? He did send me to a  private girl’s school for my junior year in high school because I was going steady with a boy named Steve.

Eventually both grandparents became United States Citizens. After years living at various addresses in New York City and Queens, they moved out to Port Jefferson, on Long Island where they both resided until they passed away.  Babchi, at five-foot two inches and overweight, spent all of her time in the kitchen cooking up the food they grew on several acres of land.  Before she retired she worked at a local lace factory. Dziadzi, a bit over six feet tall was a cabinet maker.

They raised chickens, had a huge vegetable garden, and a grape arbor under which they ate their meals during the summer. Babchi thought being fat was the healthiest way to be.  She complained to my mother that I was too thin, saying in her broken English, “Skinny no good. Plumpy is helty.” Her daughter’s son, John, on the other hand  was “good and plumpy.”

The first time Babchi met my soon-to-be husband, Bill,  she happily exclaimed, “Oh Joiny, he’s so plumpy.” He wasn’t even terribly overweight at the time, but standing next to me at only one hundred and five pounds he must have looked massive. Finally I had done something that made her happy.

Dziadi was very tall, dark, and mysterious. I was afraid of him.  He was gruff and tough, drinking his coffee every morning with a raw egg cracked into it.  He loved the awful looking blood sausage that was always on the table. He made me try it once.  I screamed and carried on and never had to eat it again. I didn’t like it when my parents left my brothers and me with them. If we didn’t eat every bit of food in front of us, including the brown, mushy, bananas, Babcia always kept in the fruit bowl, we were threatened with the wolf who lived in the pump house across the street. He thought skinny children were delicious and would come and make a meal of us.

Food was a huge part of my grandparent’s lives, and in turn it became a huge part of my own.  Both of my parents were fabulous cooks. We ate dinner with my grandparents most Sundays, rich with all the Polish fixings. Perogis were alway my favorite, especially those filled with sauerkraut. And Babchia’s Bobka, a yeast cake she often stuffed with farmer’s cheese and studded with raisins was to die for.

I learned to cook when I was around ten years old, making the world’s best devil’s food cake. One of my favorite past times was cutting out recipes from magazines and putting them together in my own recipe notebook.  You can still catch me today finding amazing recipes on the internet or in our newspaper’s weekly food section. My collection fills a file box I bought just for them.

When I was small, I didn’t appreciate my grandparents or even like them very much.  As an adult I’m grateful for their obsession with food and the few recipes they have passed down to us. I wish I could sit around the table with them now and share a meal. I’d like to talk with them about their life in Poland, and what it was like to leave family and friends behind and move to a new country.

Changing The World, One Person At A Time!

DSC01663It’s spring! Here in Virginia, bird song fills the air and everything is in bloom.  This is one of those years when the dogwood, redbud, and fruit trees are all blooming at the same time. The brilliant greens of spring  are amazing and I notice each morning how the leaves on the trees around me have grown larger.  My strawberries are blooming. I’m looking forward to having them with my yogurt for breakfast.

Spring is always a time of hope and I’ve been filled with a wonderful sense of wellbeing and gratefulness for all that has been gifted to me. I’m especially grateful to my daughter, Lisa, who got me started on getting rid of the large amounts of sugar I was unwittingly consuming on a daily basis.  I knew I was addicted to sugar, and had been trying  to stop using it, but it wasn’t until Lisa started on the 21 Day Sugar Detox that I got serious.

I am personally watching many of those around me changing and making their way to a more healthy lifestyle.

My husband, whom I never thought would give up his carbs, joined me on this sugar-free road and has lost 17 pounds since we started.  He had blood work done last week just to check his blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  We were blown away by the results. His blood sugar levels are the lowest they’ve ever been and his cholesterol levels are also down.  He feels great, has more energy, and he isn’t as forgetful as he used to be.  AND, he has halved his blood pressure meds and his doctor said he might have to halve it again.

But there’s more.  My housekeeper and friend, Bobbie, saw my 21 Day Sugar Detox book in the kitchen one morning and asked about it.  She went out and bought the book that afternoon. A few days later, she had her family doing the detox.

She in turn told her sisters about it and they are giving it a try.  One of them told some of her friends at work about it and now all of them detoxing.  That’s just a small part of the big picture.  I know we’re not alone and that there are many more people out there who now realize that sugar, which is much more addictive than cocaine, is public health enemy number one.  Let’s keep it going!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring peace to the world in the same way?

Children And Guns

Looking down on Ivy Creek, where I often watch deer browsing.

Looking down on Ivy Creek, where I often watch deer browsing.

When I was a child, my parents kept shotguns and rifles in our home. My father had brought a number of them back with him from Europe after World War II and used them for hunting. My mother often went with him but I think she probably went along just to be in the woods. Though she did sometimes carry a gun, I doubt very much that she ever fired a shot at any animal. She could kill and pluck chickens, catch and clean freshly caught fish, without any problems. But there was something about mammals that caused her to hesitate before even thinking about pulling the trigger.

I remember one cold winter morning, as I watched them practice shooting at empty coffee cans. I was only five or six years old and was fascinated to see who was better at knocking the rusty cans off their perch on an old log. My mom complained about the “kick” of the rifle she used.  When she pulled the trigger, the gun would jam back into her shoulder, as the bullet shot out of the barrel, causing her to lose her balance, sending the projectile somewhere above and beyond those old Maxwell House cans.

I loved being with Dad when he cleaned his guns, attracted by the fruity, banana smell of the oil he used. It seemed a sacred ritual. The guns always had to be cleaned after they were used, and every time he’d tell me how dangerous they were. He always emphasized that one should never ever point a gun at another person even if you know the gun isn’t loaded.  I had no idea where the guns were kept and only saw them when preparations were being made to go target practicing or hunting.

During the same time, the meat on our table was most often, roasted rabbit or squirrel. We had only recently returned from spending a year or two in Germany after the war. My dad was getting his home building business up and running, and I imagine he was stretching every dollar that came his way.  Rabbits and squirrels were abundant and free for the taking, saving money but also providing a source of protein for the family.

I was a curious kid and loved to watch as Dad skinned the bounty, marveling at the layers of fur, muscle and fat that clothed those tiny creatures.  I had no problem eating them. It was what we did and how my parents fed themselves and their growing family.  But I had no interest in guns or killing animals.  And they never became an interest of mine. The only gun I ever held, was a cap gun I used when I played cowboys and indians with my friends.

Many years later, my dad took my brother, Reid, fourteen years old at the time, deer hunting.  He spent lots of time teaching him about the use of guns and again, how dangerous they were. Reid was very excited about the possibility of bringing down a deer, until the day he actually did it.  It was a large, twelve point buck, and since he was hunting alone, Reid had to cut the carcass into manageable pieces in order to bring it home.  He trudged back and forth carrying deer parts on his shoulders until all of rested outside the kitchen door. For weeks afterwards, he was depressed and unwilling to eat any of the meat. He had broken his own heart by taking the life of another creature. He never picked up a gun again.

Last week, as I dug into a big bowl of soup at a nearby restaurant, a young father and his two adorable children, sat at the table next to mine. The kids were probably five and six. They were quiet and well-mannered. While they had their lunch, their dad’s cell phone rang several times.

I find restaurants wonderful places to listen in on conversations for material that I might want to use in my writing.  But this one went further than just a good line or two. While he was cutting up his son’s meat, I heard him tell whoever it was on the other end of the line, that he was on his way to the gun show, in Richmond. He went further, explaining that he had two AK-47’s and another assault weapon he was interested in trading in.

This was one conversation I wasn’t expecting to hear. I sat there stunned and feeling afraid. I have mourned the loss of the many innocent victims of mass shootings all over the world. In 2007, it happened here in Virginia, just down the road, when thirty-two young people lost their lives in what is now called the Virginia Tech Massacre. To my knowledge I have never been in the presence of anyone who owns automatic weapons, until a week ago.  The thought of it still makes me shiver.

Why is it necessary for anyone to own an automatic assault weapon? While I have respect for anyone who needs a rifle for hunting, and putting food on their table, I do not condone the owning of automatic weapons for any purpose.

I fear for those two young ones and the world they are growing into.  The most unnerving part of the whole gun scene, is that when a mass shooting occurs, the sales of guns go up around our country. According to our constitution, we have “the right to keep and bear arms.” But this is a different world than the one those words were written for.  As we keep learning every time innocent people are killed, these weapons are far too easy to buy. And they too often fall into the hands of those who use them to harm others.

I don’t make it a habit of posting words of a political nature on this blog, but I feel this is an important issue for all of us to think about, especially if you have children. I do NOT consider it a political issue. It’s about keeping our families out of harms way. I hope and pray that if you do own a gun or guns of any kind, that you keep you and your kids safe, by educating them and keeping your guns locked up and out of reach.

I support, Hunters For The Hungry, who here in Virginia, help to manage an out-of-control deer population, while feeding those who cannot supply food for themselves.