Archive for the ‘Columns!’ Category

When the chickens come a-callin’

April 18, 2016

Saturday was a day of unusual relationships. It started with a bridal shower at which I was meeting the bride for the first time, and ended with greeting our daughter’s (newly ex) boyfriend’s family who had flown in from Scotland. But neither of these was the most unusual.

When I arrived home from the shower I was greeted by one leaping dog, who insists on demonstrating her enthusiasm in this way until I get her to settle down. But where was her slightly shyer sister?

I spotted her in the middle of the yard, and she appeared to be munching on something. “Oh NO!” I screamed and went tearing out to the yard at break neck speed. Our seventeen pound peanut of a rescue was pecking at a downed hen. She looked gleeful and I couldn’t spot any chicken parts, but it was clear that the hen was expired, inert, an ex-hen. The break neck speed had evidently been in reference to the hen.

I turned tail and careened inside where my husband was already lacing up his shoes to dispose of the unfortunate clucker. “Nooooooooo,” I wailed, even though I knew it was too late to save this feathered friend. “Nooooo.” Twice before I had caught Livvie with a chicken in her mouth, and had raced outside screaming bloody murder to um, stop the bloody murder. And despite the plethora of flying feathers, both times a hen had waddled away swiftly. Our dogs stay within the bounds of their underground fence, so each time the hen was visiting our (h)enticing, insect ridden yard.

Our sanguine neighbors were unperturbed. “That’s Mother Nature,” and then “That’ll teach her to go in your yard.” I was dubious about the learning curve of the hens and imagined one arriving back at the coop. “Guys, do NOT go over there when the four leggeds are out. Man, they are FAST, and their bite is way worse than their bark. I lost a whole patch of feathers back there. How’s a gal supposed to relax and lay eggs after that?”

I felt terrible that our previously shy and shakingly terrified terrier had hit her stride and was aggressive with the chickens. I know how upset our neighbors have been when hawks, owls or coyotes have picked off their brood. Having just seen Zootopia, I ponder the question of how we overcome our savage tendencies. I am just as struck by how deep this streak can run.

I wondered how much dinner the little carnivore would eat after her live snack, but she ate normally, and our daughter commented that she looked remarkably unbloody. The meaning of this struck home the next day when watching Livvie (aka Chickenhawk) playing with Fred, our fifteen pound kitten. She was jabbing at him with her mouth the same way she does with her sister dog, or us. My husband’s words came back to me, now that I could hear them. “She was pecking at the (unresponsive) hen, trying to get her to engage.” It’s possible that Livvie was playing, but was just too rough, and the faint hearted chicken was literally scared to death.

Our neighbors have talked about clipping the wings of the chickens so that they don’t fly over the fence. I hope this helps. Even with the complete understanding of our egg collecting friends, it does not sit well to have their animal population so impacted by ours. I am grateful for their perspective and will consider whether it’s possible to train the chicken chasing gene out of our feisty young dogs.

The joy of leaf blowing

November 23, 2014

I don’t believe that my husband was intentionally keeping me away from our leaf blower. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m sure he would have been thrilled had I woken up one weekend morning asking whether it was gassed up and ready for use. In the division of labor that had been in effect regarding yard work, he was Leaf Blower Guy and I was Rake and Drag the Tarp-full to the Woods Woman.

This year, however, he is shoulder deep in our kitchen renovation, thereby leaving the task of leaf removal to me. Last weekend being a quintessential autumn weekend, I asked where to find the blower. He dropped what he was doing and promised to get it ready. A few minutes later he reappeared peeling off layers of clothing and muttering under his breath about some hose that had come loose, dousing him in gasoline. It was not a straightforward fix.

Undaunted, I headed out with the rake and my best whistling tunes. Our neighbor spied me and my slow progress against the tide of leaves in our yard, and offered up his industrial strength leaf blower. He showed me how to control the strength of the blast, and how to refill it, and helped me strap it over my shoulders. I was off! Hearing the noise, within minutes my husband appeared, thinking I had decided to use our own blower, unheeding of the fact that I would reek of eau de gas. He burst out laughing when he saw me, declaring that I had a huge ear splitting grin on my face.

I was not aware of this; I was just amazed at the power at my fingertips. Like a magic wand, each way I pointed it, the leaves would dance their way toward the spot. How incredibly satisfying. The blower would have relocated chipmunks and squirrels with no problem, but fortunately there were none in my path.

As I wove my way around the yard, creating piles to be carried off later, or sending streams of leaves into adjacent woods, I realized I had found my new vocation. I could rent myself out as a leaf blower and do this all day for weeks. Hours of delight with such tangible results.

Although the blower could remove layers of moss, create divots, or worse, one thing it did not budge, I realized, was bear scat. It took a moment to realize what this dense substance was, but no other animal around was large enough to leave gifts like this in our yard. Could the afternoon get any better? Evidence of our bear friend decorated several sites on the grass, thereby disproving the adage about where a bear, well, you know, eliminates.

I was out until night descended, reluctant to give up my fun, although comforted by knowing I would get another crack at it the next day. After first raking and then spending a happy hour blowing off other work on Sunday, I ran out of gas and returned the tool to our neighbor. Saying goodbye to my new buddy, I felt some releaf about what I had accomplished. And I could dream of new ballets to choreograph in red, yellow and orange with the magic of the leaf blower.

Meg Stafford can be reached looking at catalogues of yard tools at megstaf@aim.com

Slow or Fast: Which is Better?

January 5, 2014

“You’re not late! You don’t need to run…or is that just a burst of energy?” my acupuncturist asks as he heads from his home to his connected office and I trot down the driveway. I smile and am actually not quite sure of the answer. Promptness is important to me; I don’t like to be even a few minutes late, as I see promptness as a simple way to show respect, and I want to grab every opportunity to do this. Also his driveway is a hill and it’s fun to trot down it. So which motivation drives my jog? Not clear.

 

It is the same when I am the practitioner. “You do’t have to run for us!” the couple exclaims as I pace quickly down the hall to my office where they are waiting. “Oh yes, I do!” I answer. Again, they are there on time; I want to return the courtesy, and also because a lot of my work day involves sitting, I like to move, and move quickly, in between.

 

On days off, it is a must to move a lot: Zumba, biking, swimming, anything that enables me to return to the focus of sitting that I so enjoy during my work time.

 

But would I trot to appointments if I allowed myself more time and wasn’t feeling pressed? That is the question.

 

We New Englanders have chosen to live in a part of the world where we are sometimes afforded the odd day to chill due to the kindness of our weather systems. With the first storm of the New Year, and the accompanying Big Chill, like many others, I screeched into low gear. For me this meant baking banana bread, making squash apple soup, and making a fire in the wood stove. How freaking cozy is that? I was granted the extra gift of my nineteen year old daughter with two best buddies being home so there was also the treat of their presence, laughter and the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies they were inspired to create in the kitchen.

 

I breathed deeply, relaxing and appreciating the complete lack of pressure the day granted. With so many cancellations and the imperative to keep off the roads, there was strong endorsement to completely downshift and remove all expectations. Our friends in southern states are rarely, if ever, given this opportunity to so thoroughly enjoy the delights of a snow day. There is even the promise of some shoveling exertion or snow shoeing to enjoy outdoors the next day.

 

I reflected back on the comments of my clients and acupuncturist, and wondered how to bottle some of this pure essence of fleeting down time into the rest of my life. There is no replacement for this kind of unplanned mini vacation, but there is every reason to create this level of contentment and space. I realize that it involves some discipline. I am awake early enough. That is not the issue. Although my internal clock does seem to reset to a later start time in winter, it is the rare day that I sleep later than 6 am. That should really be plenty of time to tend to the critters, my breakfast, my email, and something reasonably clean to wear. I need to resist the other  chores that call, or to really delve too deeply into the email vortex. Perhaps I need to just sit and recall the feeling that a true snow day evokes. If I can picture the snow quietly blanketing the roads, the bushes and world around, I can also smell the bread baking, the fire burning, and hear the burst of laughter in response to an SNL rerun or the creaking of the heating system as it brings warmth to the den. Let us leave for the moment the hairball I witnessed being produced, or the freezing of nostril hair when taking the dog out for a spin.

 

If I can pocket just a piece of the Snow Day I am in a position to choose when I trot down the driveway because I want to be on time, or because it is just fun to run.

 

Usually early riser Meg Stafford, LICSW has a private psychotherapy practice and can be reached at Megstaf@aim.com

Zumba With a Twist

August 29, 2013

I arrived at class a few minutes before the start time as I always do, carrying my sneaks to change into so that I wouldn’t track in any dirt or grit from outdoors. However, it was clear from the outset that this would be no ordinary Zumba class.

 

Welcomed at the gate to the huge enclosed backyard corner lot at the Acton home of Michael and Zuzana Smith, I could see the lushly landscaped areas as well as some open grassy sections.  Teenagers lounged by the pool, some sitting at a table underneath a green umbrella, others around a picnic table that was covered in drinks, interesting looking dips, chips and watermelon slices. There was a sprinkling of adults who were chatting, tending to the food or preparing for a dip in the pool themselves.

 

Apart from the hosts, the other adults were affiliated with Friends Forever, a group whose mission is to promote trust and understanding among cultures in conflict. This group was comprised of ten teens from Israel, five of them Jewish, five Muslim considering themselves Palestinian, and Friends Forever is bringing them to the United States for two weeks where they spend time with each other in a new host country and city. Already in the Boston area for a week and a half, these 15-17 year olds had been on a Duck Tour, climbed Mt. Morgan in New Hampshire, seen the MIT Robotics lab, walked around Salem, and played Bocce Ball with the elders where they are housed during their stay. They were as yet unaware that they would be introduced to Zumba.

 

Judy Quint, of JRO Fitness arrived a few minutes later in a bright pink Love, Peace, Zumba shirt and matching pink shorts. We had had a brief conversation about the play list, although I knew that the teens would move to anything she chose. More introductions with Judy trying out her Hebrew from years past and she brought her music to a large open (shaded) area. (So much for shoes..barefoot we go!)

 

Cue music and I recognized Good Time, by Owl City, a warm up song to get us going. We started in a relatively orderly way- straight lines of teens and adults facing Judy. As the set continued, including the Party Rock Anthem, and All Around the World, the teens loosened up and began improvising on their own – sometimes joining hands in a small circle, sometimes turning towards each other or one bold boy strutting his stuff around the yard. There was laughing and giggling, shy smiles, genuine effort to follow Judy’s lead and encouragement from the adults not indulging in the dance.

 

I have never chuckled so much at a Zumba class. We lasted as a group about 35 minutes before they exclaimed “Enough!” and Judy reminded them that she is usually teaching 55 year old women for a full hour!

 

I realized that apart from one hijab (headdress), I would not be able to identify who was who, and that, perhaps is the idea. We are all people who love music, who like to dance, relax in a beautiful setting, and eat good food. I have heard it said that a laugh is the shortest distance between two people. Let us hope that this group continues to share many guffaws as an effortless way to forge connections between people who have not often had the opportunity to do so. I hope that I may retain the openness to do the same. Peace, Love and Zumba.

 

 

Meg Stafford, LICSW, is a 20 year resident of Littleton, Massachusetts, Zumba enthusiast and author of Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C. She can be reached at megstaf@aim.com.

The Eye of the Storm

August 3, 2013

I was attending a meeting at The Healing Garden the other week when people’s phones started jangling, indicating a tornado watch and instructing us to seek shelter.

We conferred with one another, learned that there was a basement with chairs, and decided to continue our meeting there. We set up chairs as closely gathered as possible, though scattered around folded up tables, pieces of equipment and poles.

 

We had arrived at the part of the meeting when one woman was going to demonstrate a meditative One Blessing. She found a working outlet, and we were soon listening to soothing, quiet music. For the next 20 minutes this is all we heard as the presenter approached each person in turn and quietly transferred her positive focus and feeling.

 

This was meant to be an oasis of calm in our day, a pause, highlighted by the possibility of a literal whirlwind up above to accompany the torrential rain the storm was bringing.

 

The layers of metaphor circled outward. I had already dubbed this part of my summer the Eye of the Storm. This was primarily a reference to my two daughters and the place in their lives. Right at that moment, they were counselors at their respective camps, a known quantity with positive associations. I could see them in their roles through mid-August.

 

After that, it was not clear what country either of them would inhabit. Kate had decided to apply to colleges in Scotland, willing to turn in her acceptance at ConnecticutCollege in favor of studying abroad for four years. We were waiting on the one college whose test entry requirements did not immediately exclude her from consideration. If accepted at St. Andrews for the fall, we would start shopping immediately upon her return from camp. If not, she would need to decide what her next year will look like, probably from the comfort of the living room.

 

Gale, now graduated with her master in teaching, was applying to jobs in Mexico and Columbia. Interesting posts, one in an Arts and Literacy program, one at an NGO that supports peace in Columbia. If neither of these come through she, too, will likely start constructing her next year from the cozy couch.

 

I’m trying to keep my anxiety at a manageable roar. These are not my decisions; they are not my plans, but I am affected at every turn. The planner in me is screaming for resolution and a desire to KNOW where my children will be. How did we get here, and what part did I play?

 

They were not supposed to be gallivanting across the globe, were they? I was recounting my tale to a friend who I have known since before my marriage. She laughed. Laughed, I tell you!! “Sounds like Meg squared or Meg cubed,” she joked. Hmph. I supposed that was true. Travel was at the top of my list of things to do for a number of years. It was where my money went for years after college. I understood the need to see other places and experience other cultures. But both daughters were taking this theme further than I. Longer amounts of time, farther away, more frequent. Hey! I like having them where we can get together, share a meal, have a laugh, listen to music. This is much more challenging when they are 3,500 miles away.

 

Yes, there is Skype and Facebook, Internet, blah blah. That does not replace seeing their faces in person, a real hug or baking together.

 

Evidently, I want it all. I want them to have the freedom to roam, to travel, and absorb all that they seek. And I want them close enough to wrap my arms around. Looks like my airline bill is going up soon.

 

I returned to the room where we were surfacing from our meditation. People started venturing outside to get to the next event on their calendars. I found a message expressing concern about the rain and highway conditions and decided to go home instead of returning to work 25 miles away. There will be time to explore and learn about the changes ahead. For now, I can sit in the calm and wait.

Love Speaks Loudly at Any Age

August 8, 2012

What does one expect regarding a wedding? We all have preconceptions that we don’t even realize are in place, at least not until there are aspects that defy those expectations.

 

Everything about it seemed predictable enough: there were boutonniered men, and corsaged women, and a flower girl who I understand is responsible for there being a wedding cake at the reception. Evidently, upon being asked to be a flower girl, her only question was, “will there be a wedding cake?” When told the bride had been thinking about cupcakes, she immediately stated “well then I’m not going.” This was enough to convince the bride to go conventional on this detail.  Let’s hear it for the flower girl on this one! There were beautiful flowers on each table, and a DJ who knew how to get the crowd going.

 

The ceremony itself was filled with readings from the Bible and two verses sung by the nightingale of the crowd. The minister’s dog was in attendance: upon meeting the minister, the groom was also introduced to the dog, and he insisted that she be present as well. The dog’s name is Loqui, which to me screamed something of a Loqui motive, or at least Loqui motion, if not Low Key notion. I thought about our own dog attending a wedding. I could see him eyeing each pew, determined to mark every one.

 

I actually missed the bride coming down the aisle, being too busy running back to fetch the groom and the witnesses who were staying cool in the only air conditioned space in the back room.  They came out and took their places: the groom in the chair alongside his pink outfitted bride, and the witnesses across from them.

 

Everything went smoothly: people made it to the reception, signed the guest book, and availed themselves of the bar and hors d’oevres, while listening to tunes from the piano. All 140 guests found our tables and a lively prattle filled the room. Those of us close to the bride and groom made our way to the area where the photographer was grouping us for album portraits.  The favors we snagged on the way out were chocolate hearts set in little paper holders with a business sized card that read: “Thank you for sharing our celebration of love and joy.”

 

So what was different?

 

The fact that the bride and groom were in their late(ish) 70’s.  They had already surprised us by essentially announcing their coupledom before even setting eyes on each other. This first meeting took place last Christmas Eve. Last year at this time they were completely unknown to one another, the concept of seeking companionship online still a distant thought, at least for my father-in-law.

 

And yet here we were, dancing to Love Shack, and putting on oversize hats as we shimmied around the dance floor.  Perhaps more of us had assumed that their legal union would be a quiet affair, immediate family in attendance, and perhaps a tasteful dinner somewhere nearby.  This was, after all, a third wedding for each. But the number doesn’t matter when the love speaks loudly, and their confidence in each other and their future conveyed itself.  As the children, grandchildren, friends and family of this couple, it is our job to support their courage, their willingness to take a risk.  The fact that they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and trusting that a new relationship can bring fresh life, meaning and joy to their own lives, gives us permission to do the same. Here’s to love, at any age.