Monday, November 25, 2013

An extra helping of gratitude...

Simply Living
After I give my two-year-old granddaughter a glass of milk, she utters an automatic “Thank you.” It’s so sweet to hear those words come out of a toddler’s mouth even if they’re the mere mimicking of a learned response.

Photo by Jenny Boas

When parents stress politeness, children begin to speak words of gratitude shortly after they learn to talk. The hope is that those learned responses will turn into true sentiments of thankfulness as children mature. Often they do. Many children grow up to be caring and sensitive adults who express their appreciation for the gifts in their daily lives with heartfelt words of gratitude.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some children either don’t grow up in families where politeness is practiced, or they fail to progress beyond the automatic utterance of a meaningless phrase.

These days, even the phrase ‘thank you’ is often reduced to the two-letter acronym “ty” in tweets and text messages. I can’t help but wonder if this reduction in verbosity translates into a loss of meaning. 

Do we, as a nation, feel less thankfulness because we express appreciation in a more abbreviated fashion than in times gone by?

It seems that these days, words of gratitude are either absentmindedly expressed or missing entirely. All too often, the recipient of a gift or kindness fails to respond with any salient sentiment of appreciation at all. The sad part is our rote acceptance of such rudeness. By accepting, are we allowing ourselves to become a nation of takers, insensitive to the needs of others?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re just a little too spoiled. Most of us live in secure homes in safe neighborhoods. We sleep on comfortable beds and prepare meals in well-stocked kitchens with hot and cold running water. We drive cars, eat at restaurants and own a myriad of high-tech toys. We’re unrestricted in our choices of where to live, work, travel or play yet we take those freedoms for granted. We not only accept our many gifts willingly but we complain when they’re not working the way we expect them to do. At the same time that we’ve become expert at expressing displeasure, it seems like our ability to profess gratitude has diminished.

I suspect the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines could teach us a thing or two about gratitude. Overcoming life-threatening events reminds us of what is truly important in life, and — news flash — it’s not buying the fanciest car or the newest smart phone. True thanksgiving is about acknowledging the very essence of life itself in all its small and seemingly insignificant details.

Later this week, the nation will celebrate Thanksgiving. Sumptuous servings of entrees, side dishes and desserts will be passed around tables surrounded by families and friends. For some, the occasion will be a true expression of love and appreciation while for others it will have no more meaning than the abbreviated acronym at the end of a text.

Thankfulness is a learned concept. Rather than a second course of turkey, I think many of us would be better off with a refresher course on gratitude.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hey, don't diss my Florida!

Simply Living
I can’t seem to get a conversation I overheard out of my mind.

It took place last week at a Home Depot in Hadley, Massachusetts, while I stood waiting with a full shopping cart for my husband to return with one more piece of lumber he needed for a project at our daughter’s house.

As I stood there biding time, a man and a woman about my age strolled by. As they rounded a corner, the woman practically bumped into a Home Depot employee whom she obviously knew but hadn’t seen in a while. They stopped to chat just a few feet away from where I was waiting. I couldn’t help but hear their conversation.

“Are you still working at the same place you were before?” the employee asked the woman.

“Oh no,” she replied. “I’m retired now.”

“Ah,” the Home Depot worker said. “Does that mean you’re moving down to Florida?”

Although I was half-heartedly listening up to that point, at the mention of my home state, I gave the conversation my full attention.

“Ha!” said the woman, practically spitting out the exclamation. “I’d never live there. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to Florida.”

A few minutes before, I’d felt my patience dwindling because of how long it was taking my husband Ralph to find one measly piece of lumber. Suddenly, a new feeling arose in my chest — ire at the woman’s irrational condemnation of a place I’ve come to love.

I felt a strong urge (which I wisely ignored) to tell the woman how wrong she was about Florida. I wanted to walk over and say, “Excuse me, but I used to live in Massachusetts and now live in Florida. I can tell you from personal experience it’s not all Disney and Spring Break madness. Florida is a wonderful place filled with U-pick farms, clear springs, beautiful beaches, an incredible array of fragrant flowers and distinctive wildlife, beautiful sunsets and small towns just as charming in their own way as any New England village.”

Many non-Floridians don't realize there's more to Florida than Disney and Spring Break.  The Sunshine State has a rich agricultural base producing a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

I wanted to tell her that although she may think Florida residents are just rednecks and retirees, it is actually a diverse society of individuals and families who live in a place where it isn’t necessary to don wool socks and insulated parkas to prove one’s toughness.

While I was mulling over my imagined diatribe, my husband finally returned with the board (His explanation: “It took so long because I couldn’t find a straight piece.”)  I told him about the conversation I overheard.

“Maybe they just like cold weather,” he said.  “Not everyone likes a warm climate.”

And maybe Ralph’s right. Perhaps the woman’s disdain for Florida was as simple as a dislike of hot weather, but I don’t think so. From the venomous manner in which she spat out her words, much more than weather seemed to motivate her sentiments.

I suppose I should be glad she and other diehard New Englanders have no desire to relocate to Florida. If fewer people move here, resources like water, undeveloped land and wildlife and plant populations will suffer less stress.

Still, I can’t help but take any attack on my adopted state personally. I want people to like Florida the way I do — to see her natural beauty, her innumerable seasons, the diversity of her flora and fauna, her embracing weather and quaint communities through eyes unclouded by preconceived notions and prejudices.

No one likes being dissed, not even a state.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Seasonal reflections

Simply Living
For the first time in years, I’m experiencing a northern autumn. Everywhere I look, leaves are falling to the ground. Crimson reds, butterscotch yellows and all shades in between vie for attention as they swirl about on a chilly breeze.

Although I’ve lived in Florida since 1987, I grew up in Pennsylvania and spent 17 years on Cape Cod before moving south. After a long absence, my husband Ralph and I are back in the North, visiting our daughter and her family in western Massachusetts where, despite it being early November, there are still leaves ablaze with color.

Autumn has always been my favorite season. Before moving to Florida, I looked forward to the brisk weather that turned green to gold, red and orange. As temperatures dipped, I willingly slipped into soft sweaters, long pants and warm coats. I bought Winesap apples at local farms, baked pumpkin pie and picked bouquets of purple asters. I watched Canadian geese take flight while the white fluff from dried milkweed pods flew off on the wind. A northern autumn is a dramatic, in-your-face time of transition, so different from the more subtle signs of a Floridian fall.

In Florida, I learned to seek out softer shades of familiar hues. As flocks of white-eyed vireos flit from branch to branch and a pair of pied-billed grebes returns to the lake, I look for yellow flowers to form on the cassia bushes and for goldenrod and groundsel shrubs to brighten up the marsh.

Pied-billed grebe

The cooling weather causes golden rain trees to put on one of the most dazzling displays, changing from green to gold before bearing coral-colored seed pods. In place of apples, I keep a close eye on the burgeoning tangerine trees where green orbs are just beginning to turn orange. I pick starfruit and harvest the remaining bananas and papayas. I savor the scent of loquat flowers with their promise of winter fruit.

Picking starfruit

At my daughter’s house, I’m covered in layers. I wear long pants over tights, socks and insulated boots. Beneath a fleece vest, I have on a turtleneck shirt and a sweater — and that’s just when I’m indoors. A typical fall day in Massachusetts requires more clothing than the coldest winter day in Central Florida.

All bundled up for a November New England walk

Until I moved south, I took seasons for granted. Because I knew nothing else, I assumed autumns everywhere were like the ones I grew up with in the Northeast. Although I now know they’re not the same, I’ve come to love their differences. I like how in Florida, I have to put on a sweater in the morning but need to strip it off by afternoon. I like the way maple trees along wetlands turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange while the red berries of the dahoon holly glimmer against its glossy green leaves.

Dahoon holly berries

I like the way my husband can be busy planting a new crop of vegetables while his northern counterparts are putting their gardens to rest for winter, and I like how nice it feels to take a walk in the middle of the day without overheating.

Adding transplanted broccoli to the fall garden

But maybe most of all I like knowing both autumnal experiences are there for the taking. A trip to New England doesn’t provide just a seasonal display of brilliant color, crisp weather and fresh-pressed apple cider, it also gives me a chance to savor hugs and kisses from the little arms and sweet lips of my two-year-old twin granddaughters.

Cuddling with grandchildren is special

There are many reasons to travel north for seasonal changes but none as important as staying close to the people you love.