Out With the Old? Not so fast…

Yes, it’s a new year, so in with the new…but not without a shout out to some “old” that’s coming with me.

Liquid Fence
If you don’t have gardens, or gardens with animal problems—as in, your yard is their all-day buffet, Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent won’t offer much to you. But surrounded by woods, our yard often gives the impression we keep deer for pets, a veritable Disney land. Which we love. They have been known to stand on the side of the driveway and just watch while we pull our car out and close the garage door, and then they get back to grazing. But we don’t love the fact that over the years, our visitors have eaten large amounts of our landscaping. This largely natural product is about the best there is, keeping our graceful friends from munching our hedges with a mixture that includes “putrescent egg solids” and garlic. I get the concentrate, mix it with water, spray it on, keep my plants, and don’t feel bad at all.

Method Cleaning Products
I’ve loved these natural cleaning products for quite some time,  but after recently trying the 4x HE beach sage laundry detergent, I’m an even bigger fan. I love the clean packaging, the cheery colors, and the scents seal the deal.  Some of my favorites:  grapefruit, cucumber, and beach sage, my new bright turquoise laundry detergent. Happy cleaning!

Rose Lilies1-roselily
This is a personally spectacular find. Over the years of our marriage, my husband has enjoyed giving me lilies—plants and cut flowers, both Asiatic and Oriental varieties. He really likes lilies…but I really don’t. The blooms are too architectural, too stark, too unromantic. Until now. Rose lilies are ruffly, light, softly-scented, and have non-staining pollen. These wonders even have their own Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/Roselilyflowers/  Husband, gift me these ethereal wonders all you want.

Restorative Yoga
Is this a thing?  And where has it been all my adult life? Poses and practice that rely on gravity to create stretching and opening in the muscles and body. Finally, a yoga practice where I don’t end up feeling stiffer, more out of shape, or injured. After 25 minutes, I’m feeling relaxed, youthful, and ready to take on the next several decades!

Good Behavior
Every now and then, I discover a television show that I love so much, I don’t want to talk about it, share it, give an opening to anyone to say a bad word or not love it as much as I do. It’s mine, my secret pleasure. Outlander on Showtime was one such television event. (I can mention it now; it’s hardly a secret.) My 2016 find: TNT’s Good Behavior. I’m addicted. Michelle Dockery. Juan Diego Botto. (And where has he been all my adult life?) Shhhh….

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May Day Magic Indeed!

1-FullSizeRenderDoes this look like fun or what?! This art is from the lovely book Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions by Sarah Ban Breathnach, a must have for families wanting to continue some of the delightful seasonal traditions practiced in the Victorian home.

I’m forever  attracted to traditional festivals attached to nature and the seasons.  Add spring flowers and streamers of pastel ribbons, and what’s not to love?  May Day is a natural for me, and dancing the May Pole has happily been checked off my bucket list. While I might have imagined a daytime version of dancing in the woods under the moon in a light muslin shift accompanied by Van Morrison’s Moon Dance, the actual experience of dancing the Maypole was a lovely one nonetheless.  My son’s Waldorf school had built a Maypole in the school yard and the school’s families,  from toddlers to grandparents, gathered in the spring air on a sunny May day to take a turn holding onto one of the ribbons and moving gracefully in a counter-clockwise circle around the pole accompanied by recorder music. Magic indeed. And may I add, my son’s school also added the tradition of serving fresh baked shortcake with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream, an inspired addition if there ever was one.

Another May Day tradition is the creation of May baskets.  Early in the morning, children in the Middle Ages gathered wildflowers to create baskets that they secretly left for friends and neighbors. Tradition said that if they were discovered, they had to run back for a kiss.

How romantic is that!!  Too romantic to be left there, I decided. So this alluring tradition became the seed from which blossomed (at least I like to think so) my contemporary romance, May Day Magic. Single mother Diane enlists the help of her two children to create a May Day basket to deliver to her ailing mother, their grandmother. She’s all thumbs when handsome plant nursery owner Marc joins in to help select the flowers.  Diane has also secretly created May baskets for her children as a surprise they will discover when they return from delivering their grandmother’s basket. But there’s one more surprise coming, this time for Diane. Marc’s got a little May Day magic of his own in mind…

Here’s to enjoying some May Day magic with Marc and Diane, and making a little May Day magic of your own!

May Day Magic on Amazon

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Better Than Chocolate?

secretslogo

Is there a better candy than chocolate?

Easter may be eleven days away, but I doubt I’m the only one already thinking about Easter candy. If one is looking for a reason to fall off the candy wagon and eat an unfettered amount of candy, I don’t think there is an easier place to slip than Easter. It’s one day when the Easter baskets come out; one and done. And if we just got through winter, we need a reward; time to have some candy fun!

The fun starts with Peeps. I ADORE Peeps. I don’t find them edible, but they are unparalleled as a base for artistic creations. Jelly beans are a magnificent creation, supposedly a marriage of the sweet sticky confection originally named Turkish Delight and the shell coating of a Jordan almond. Flooding my senses with Skittles jellybeans is a real guilty pleasure. And you don’t have to twist my arm too hard to have me eating speckled malted milk eggs, another great invention.

I have yet, however, to figure out chocolate bunnies. I ate them as a kid, but really, with very rare exception, this is not good chocolate. Chocolate bunnies belong in the nostalgic Easter prop department; fun to look at, not to eat.

Then this begs the question: does Easter need to include chocolate? If it’s the best candy, then of course, but is it?  I turned to my panel.

B: Chocolate is one of the best candies, and therefore, earns a place at Easter and every other holiday. Along with Skittles and anything containing caramel or toffee.

D: I don’t think of chocolate so much as a candy, but a food group.  There is not a candy better than chocolate. Really, dark chocolate.  White chocolate is an abomination. Like white is the absence of color, white chocolate is the absence of chocolate. I think white chocolate is my husband’s favorite because he knows it is the one I will never eat. 

P: I am not a chocolate lover. I like Heath Bars more than chocolate bars but more often just go for jelly beans.

R: Yes: jelly beans. I can resist chocolate. I cannot resist jelly beans. When my kids were small, I would always have to go buy more jelly beans to make their baskets. No gourmet jelly beans; no spicy jelly beans. Traditional jelly beans. I toss away the second tier–blacks, greens, and yellows–and eat the reds, whites, pinks, purples, and oranges. 

I am not the only one thinking about Easter candy! Half the panel has reason to cheer for this time of year with its increased availability of jelly beans!!

What’s in your Easter basket?

partypackschicks

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Guns On The Train

secretslogo Does Bernie Sander truly believe that carrying guns and ammo in  luggage on a train is the same as carrying guns and ammo in luggage on a plane? 

One of the first times I watched Bernie Sanders on television as he started down his presidential campaign trail, the subject of guns came up, and Bernie Sanders likened guns checked in baggage on a plane to guns in carry-on baggage on a train.

I had an uncle in Maine who went moose hunting with friends once a season in Canada. I’m surmising they took the train and packed their guns. I understand that there are valid reasons why people travel with guns, but we live in a different world now, a world where ensuring community safety may necessitate infringing on personal privilege. Personally, I’d like to get on a plane without taking off my belt and shoes and watching my purse disappear down a conveyer belt and out of my sight while I’m imprisoned behind the scanner gate. With a dichotomy in solutions for the “gun control problem,” either increasing gun control legislation so getting a gun is exceedingly difficult for all of us, or expanding gun availability and legality so we can all carry a gun and be ready to shoot back, I wanted to hear what The Secrets of the Universe panel had to say.

B: TSA is now using methodologies, like Precheck, to create scenarios where we can keep our shoes on and our socks clean and still maintain the safety of the flights, but I can’t imagine a pre-check methodology that would permit a passenger’s ammo and gun in the main cabin and still maintain the safety of the flight. No guns in the plane, and no guns in the train. Bernie Sanders, you got caught out on this one.

D: I don’t want guns and ammo with me anywhere without my permission and my permission is never granted.

P: I don’t think guns and ammo should be anywhere in public. Bernie Sanders comes from Vermont, a gun-toting state, so he was obligated to his constituency to go there, but I do not think he believes it.

R: Equally bad. Just can’t bring the plane down, but can take everyone down in Baggage Claim. Let me know if people are carrying guns on my train and I’ll drive.

Someone looks silly here: either you, Bernie Sanders, for selling these two scenarios as synonymous, or us because we were expected to jump under that umbrella and agree with you? Uh-huh. Unanimous on this one: No Guns On The Train.

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Tipping the Balance to Radical Security

When I wanted to close out 2015 with visions of sugar plums in my head, I found images of radical terrorism. Not comfort and joy. Fear and violence.
A world in frightening imbalance.
My maternal line is full of scientists. I love magic, but I am fascinated by science. Science is magic. The natural world is embedded with options for balancing. Too acidic. Add any number of substances to create an alkalinity. Dehydrated? Add water. Too cold? Flint and steel plus force equals fire and warmth.
Radical terrorism evolves in individuals who feel disenfranchised. A person who feels deprived of power, rights, and privileges. A person who feels unconnected and unimportant.
How do we counter balance radical terrorism in 2016?
How about radical security? I’m not referring to more guns and walls, video monitoring and prohibitions. That path appears to be a slippery slope that at any moment can increase our terror, not abet it. As children, we feel secure when there is consistence structure in our lives and someone who is present and caring. As adults, we are not so different. Perhaps there is much we can do to counter balance radical terrorism.
Start by rerooting ourselves, reviving ourselves, reminding ourselves, by experiencing our literal scientific earth. The structure of our natural world is consistent. There is order. The blooming of a flower, the freezing of a puddle, the changing of the seasons, a bee hive, the mating of animals in heat, the hatching of an egg. We ground ourselves in consistencies, sureties. At the heart of it all, Earth is steady.
Then we can start connecting to each other, by being there and caring. Radically. Not extremely. Extreme action is rarely sustainable over time. And people are likely to think us unhinged. Radical defined as anything that is personally radical. Moving beyond what we’ve been doing to date. Each of us will have our own radical, and it’s time to go there. Set a date and start radical security actions.
Forgive your sibling, parent, child for whatever has kept you from talking; your work colleague for stealing that lead, that idea, that spotlight; your partner for not being everything you fantasized in a partner; yourself for being less than. Speak kind words that pop up inside, telling your partner “I love you”; acknowledging a rival at work for a job well done; telling yourself you’re okay. Contribute something positive to your community by reaching out to that neighbor from another country, volunteering for a town or school committee and listening to other viewpoints, teaching your children about the beauty of other cultures, supporting the inclusionary activities of your human resource department at work, running for political office.
We each have the power to start tipping the balance. Great change always comes from a simple small change that expands and expands and expands…

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My World of Paper

Much as I would love to save hundreds of trees, I cannot vacate my paper world.  Savvy tech-embracers view me with, is it pity?  Relieved condescension?  They are light years beyond  encamped piles of papers, wandering slips of jotted notes, the confinement of a–OMG; does she still really use one?— paper calendar. 

I sense at times they want to keep their distance; that perhaps they are unsure if my papyrophilia could be contagious. Might they stray too close to the edge and slip back into this archaic morass?

Or does it yet call to them?  My world of paper.  These modern people who have reduced all record keeping to a slip of a machine, a machine they have made the ultimate manager of their life, a command central that conjoins with my worst nightmares of a Tokyo-ish Blade Runner-type city, where one can NEVER get away.  Connected to modern technology, there is no literal quiet, no visual quiet, no mental quiet, no solitude, ever. For that is what a computer is to me.  Even when it’s turned off, I know it’s there, working, compiling  information, charting up emails I need to be answering, connecting to people who are wondering why they haven’t heard from me, housing the work I need to be doing.  My challenge with computerized technology is precisely that it is so eternally centralized, and so eternally BUSY.   

Sometimes I want to sit down at my wooden desk, and separate from all the other tasks that call to me, I want to see the slip of paper where I jotted down how to contact a dear friend of my mother’s. The vibrant woman who, belying her age, drove across a number of states last December to attend my mother’s memorial service, bringing a basket full of assorted cloth napkins she’d cut and sewed in remembrance of my mother.

When my mother was healthy and hosting, every visitor to my mother’s table was invited to explore the varied colors and patterns on the folded fabric napkins waiting in her tableside basket. You were to choose one to use during your visit. That was your napkin, to hold in your hand, to skirt over your lap, distinctive in hue and texture and print, marking your place at the table for the duration of your visit. A physical reminder that for those hours, those days, we were a community “breaking bread” together.    

I want to pick up this slip of paper and do nothing but remember this friend, Mary, walking to the front of the small chapel where we’d gathered for my mother’s service, a basket of new napkins on her arm, to relive her fond memories of my mother.    

At the lunch afterwards, Mary encouraged us to choose napkins from her basket and to take them home.  I did.  And now, today, without being called to all the other emails scrolling on my computer that will call to me as soon as I engage myself with my computer, I want to savor my newest napkin memory, that we used those spring-themed napkins gifted from Mary, with their pastel pink, baby blue, and sea turquoise pattern swirling around gilded Easter eggs, at our Easter brunch this year.  And we thought about my mother, her friend Mary, and the wonder of community.

Then I will get on my computer and write Mary an email.  I will be thankful for the technology that allows me to shoot this message off to her, to have it fly through the ether, to reach her command central almost instantaneously, and then reside until she chooses to read it.   

But I will be equally thankful for the moment in my tactile world of tree pulp, for the slip of paper one of us pulled from our purses that sunny winter day in Maryland, the slip of paper I carried back to my desk where it lay, a tactile memento, releasing memories in a way that a slip of a computer will never accomplish.         

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May Day Magic…in March!

Starting yesterday, March 5, through Friday, March 8, my newest “short’ story–May Day Magic by Beverly Breton–is FREE on Amazon to read on your Kindle or by downloading a free Kindle app. on another device.   

 
Set in New England, May Day Magic is a light sweet story about chances taken. Meet Diane Avery, a school nurse and single mother so busy taking care of everyone else she forgets herself, and Marc Stafford, the owner of an upscale garden center/gourmet grocery and divorced father about to become an empty nester when his son goes to college. Add a sick student, Diane’s mother’s operation, a family tradition, a shared love of flowers, and Diane’s tween daughter who becomes a surprise source of romance advice, and the result for Diane and Marc is…romance? Happily ever after? I hope you’ll download the story, and then read it and find out!  And if you enjoy it, do please spread the word… 

Happy spring to all.

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Love Is In The Air


Valentine’s Day means floral design for me. I do love flowers. I did sit down for a lovely dinner of take-out with my husband, but once we’d cleared the table, after a few busy days on my feet, the only thing I felt like getting on top of was the couch. Any holiday that falls during basketball season has to fight hard for attention in our household anyhow–my husband was quite content to tune back in to college basketball, while I put my feet up and watched Downton Abbey. Sweet day indeed.

Snowed out of Boston on the weekend before, I had come home from a four-day trip a day late and had to hit the ground running to start Valentine’s week, so by the end of Friday, I was spent. Saturday, I was dragging through overdue cleaning and grocery shopping, my eye on getting everything done until I just had one task left: the laundry.

I LOVE doing laundry. I sort everything out into baskets by colors and temperatures, line the baskets up in the second-floor hall way where the laundry “closet” is, fill our energy-efficient washing machine with clothes, pour in a splash of environmentally friendly detergent, and then I am free, finally, to slip under the soft comforter on my bed with a good book and read away to the comforting hum of the washing machine. The dryer may be the appliance of choice to comfort a baby, but for myself, I choose the washing machine. What’s better than being curled up in the land of counterpane, knowing that while I’m discovering what intrigue the Borgias are up to in fifteenth century Rome, or the family mystery a new bride has been pulled into on the windy shores of St. Simmons Island, Georgia, HOUSEWORK IS BEING DONE.

In a traditional household, the person most likely to get the least nurturing is the Super Mom, and that is definitely me. I run around taking care of everyone else and most everything else, and my family has no problem accepting this as the routine. Still and all, we Super Moms do like being cared for, too, and the washing machine is just the one to do it. In fact, I was disappointed when Sunday rolled around and I discovered I was out of laundry and therefore, out of an excuse to be pampered while I slipped back under cover to read. The dishwasher is downstairs, not close enough to the retreat of bed, and that whole dish process doesn’t give me the same satisfaction. The dishwasher is on the small-side (see blog: Dishwasher Woes), and a bit fussy (see blog: Dishwasher Woes), and also happens to be super, super quiet to the point it is hard to figure out if it is doing any work at all. The dishwasher was not the place to turn.

But in a pinch, I’m nothing if not resourceful. I’ve heard more than enough stories from friends and relatives of being without power for days, even weeks, after storms, and we’ve lost power here, too, for long enough that I do not take the furnace for granted. Okay, so I have to work a little harder when I get under the comforter and pick up my book, but…ah, there it is, the hum of the heat blowing out of the vents, the noise of the furnace doing a household job, and taking care of me. Love is in the forced hot air.

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Generous Spirits

I know a few people with big hearts and generous spirits. One friend knitted me a full-length sweater coat that kept me warm on my coldest days in New York. Another opens her house every month for music, food, crafts and community. Others have offered me food, shelter, rides and gifts at a time when I really needed them. And none of these people were rich. I
admire these people and aspire to be like them, but I’m not sure how that will come to be. I don’t mean generous in terms of everyday contributions – fundraisers,
volunteering, school programs and even some missions type work. I don’t mean,
either, responding to the big events that wreck lives – natural disasters –
hurricanes, earthquakes and the like. We give to those things, pretty much
without question. I like
to think that we’re good tippers, generous on occasion, and hope we do
our part in a group effort or pot-luck.

But in other ways, the generous impulse does not come
naturally to me, I’m afraid. It’s maybe to do with coming from a big family,
and probably more to do with having had some years of deprivation, where I had
to hold tight to money to cover basic expenses. It may also have to do with the
example of someone near and dear to me who was generous to a fault. That is to
say, he would give the shirt off his back to someone in need, and that is a
very good thing. But what he didn’t do was to provide for his future, and ended
his later years with very little income or assets, which is manageable if you
don’t run into major health problems. When he needed help, he could afford very
little on his limited funds, and so, like many others who have worked a
lifetime, ended up on Medicaid to pay for living expenses. He didn’t complain,
but it was a hardship for him and his family.

I don’t greatly enjoy Christmas or birthday gift shopping, due to
anxiety about the rightness of the gift, and also, sometimes, the money
involved. I have in some cases probably overspent in compensation for thinking
my gift ideas were not adequate. My pleasure in finding a great gift for my
sons is almost always met with some fear of spoiling. My husband and I are equally
frugal on the extra’s of life, but that sometimes means we come up short on gifts
to each other – other than the practical – sneakers, slippers, clothes and
underwear. We have arrived at a kind of solution – money for trips or something
for the house. That seems to do the trick. In the years that I have not been
working outside the home for money, it’s become harder for me to make the
generous gesture, knowing how hard my husband works and that we are facing big
tuition bills. Still, I know that we
could easily give up a few small things to be more generous on occasion.

From time to time, I think my generosity muscle needs a
little exercise. I have actually found a way that seems to work well – something
we do at the solstice and equinox celebrations that I attend with friends and
drummers. In the first place, the meal is potluck, which offers a wide range of
ways to be creative and/or generous with time and money. The second is the “giveaway”,
which is bringing something to share with the group that is somehow significant
to the occasion or time of year.  There
can be a variety of items, or just multiples of the same thing; handmade or bought;
decorative or useful. Things like candles, or earrings, or seeds, or soaps, magnets,
or flower bulbs, teas, or matches and lighters for smudging. As much as I enjoy a good Yankee swap, it’s not about sharing or
abundance at all – simply a game.

I had an opportunity recently to be generous in the most
positive, pain-free way, but I didn’t see it until it was gone.  A young lady at the holiday celebration
admired a basket that I had brought my goodies in – now empty; one of many at
home. “Thank you,” I said, in appreciation. It wasn’t until I got home that I
realized how easy it would have been to give it to her – newly settled in an
apartment, in need of furniture, etc. And truly my pleasure. But, I’m not there
yet, although I do hope to see her again and offer her the basket. It’s still
new to me, but starting to come, this practice of being generous when I can be. When I see the need, and can allow myself to give without thinking and worry. To give with joy.

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Fireworks Not Welcome

The calendar has not yet turned to June let alone July, and yet my evening was disrupted by the violent “report” of fireworks last Sunday night, May 21.

I enjoyed fireworks growing up, the colors and the designs, not the noise. As an adult, I’ve seen enough fireworks to make the negatives of attending Fourth of July displays–sitting in traffic, walking through crowds, perspiring and swatting at mosquitos, gagging on air thick with Off, and covering my ears repeatedly at the violent noise–completely outweigh the positives–which are, what? Gathering with friends and family? Seeing the pretty colors? I can gather with friends and family without all the hassle, and thanks to the computer, if I have a hankering for fireworks, I can watch some from the comfort of my couch. Or go to Disney World.

So there is never a question where I will be on Fourth of July. Home. Enjoying the peace and quiet? Never. Who invented this idea of entertainment–explosions that can be heard across such distances with such immediacy? The Chinese, according to infopedia. Fireworks are “phow chook,” which translated is “bamboo explosions.” The earliest fireworks were bamboos stems that popped and cracked, making noises that were believed to drive off evil spirits. Over the centuries, the phow chook came to be used to commemorate joyous occasions. And we Americans picked up the tradition to celebrate Independence Day. After a war that shattered the country with noise and violence and death, we now commemorate it with a festival that sounds remarkably like a war has started up again. Couldn’t we celebrate independence and the reinstatement of peace to our country with…peace? 

I could put up with the noise, as annoying as it is, and illegal a large majority of the time, for most people setting off random fireworks are breaking a law. But I have a dog, and she cannot put up with the noise. Here’s one of many warnings I found on the internet about fireworks and animals: “Fireworks may pose a problem for animals, both domestic and wild, who can be terrified by the noise, leading to them running away or hurting themselves in an attempt to escape.” So even if I wanted to go to see fireworks on the Fourth, I wouldn’t, because it would be cruel to leave our terrified dog home alone to face this fright of a night. Right now my dog has a major leg ailment, and is not supposed to be running or jumping, scrambling or clawing, all of which is impossible to stop when she starts hearing those loud bangs and wants to take flight.

So special thanks, people, for partaking in what is apparently your idea of fun, and my idea of illegal torture, almost seven weeks ahead of the Fourth of July.

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