Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have You Considered

Please note that the photographs have absolutely nothing to do with the wisdom herein provided - but they may help hold your attention.

Orr's Island, ME
One of my favorite sayings is "You don't have to tell ME three times."  This is because often it takes more than one hit for things to resonate -- but usually after the second blunder I figure it out.  
Burlington, VT
I have one dear friend who is gentle in how he approaches criticism but I know when he says something it's worth taking note. I recently learned a lesson in communication that didn't take hold the first time or the second,  but I get it now.

Echo Lake  - New Hampshire
His words of advice went something like this:  "Instead of presenting an idea with 'you should ___,' try saying 'have you considered  ___?'"  That made sense to me and I had never spent much time considering how my words came across to others.  Instead of my suggestion being a command, it is more likely to be adopted if it can become the other person's own.
Veggies at the organic market - Newburyport, MA
In my enthusiasm to shout out an idea, I tend to forget that, as with other situations in life, the right choice of words matters a lot.  The point is not to whom the credit goes, but that the message is delivered in such a way that action follows. 
Carousel tiger - The Shelburne Museum, VT
This week in an email to my friend,  I made a suggesting that began with "You should"  --   I blew it.  How thoughtless.  Making the mistake with the very person who tried to help me was doubly embarrassing.  
Newbury, MA
So you don't have to tell me three times, right?  Wrong.  

Later that same day, I caught myself too late and I killed an idea in a matter of seconds by telling my son he should do something.  My edict was a complete conversation-stopper.  No adult child wants to be told what to do.   Another good idea vaporized.
Marblehead, MA
 I think my blunders now number far more than three.  
Newburyport, MA
It's good to reflect and realize your mistakes and understand how easy it is to completely bungle a sales job.  I get it, really.  

Have you considered how you approach sharing your ideas with others?  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Good Old Mr. Pink

Pink Puppy in 2010
     My special friend and bedtime toy since 1955, Pink Puppy was named for his once lovely shade of terry cloth skin.  Given to me by Santa on my first Christmas, he became my confidant before I could speak in sentences.  Mother says he was surely chosen by my Dad, who was inclined toward extravagant purchases.

Pink and me with other unimportant presents, Christmas 1955
     In this photo of my first Christmas (obviously I was then an only child), the person who set up the shoot did not understand Pink's importance as he didn't make it to the top tier of my early-model exer-saucer.          
     Just recently Pink came down from the attic in a box of my boys’ special stuffed animals.  One son decided the collection could be culled but Pink was not a candidate. 

Pink and me with some of the lesser toys, 1955
     I had a rush of emotion when I saw Pink lying in the heap at the bottom of the box.  He made me smile and the sight of him brought back feelings of comfort and friendship, times of confiding and questioning and a lot of family memories. I rescued him from the box and put him safely on my bed, which is where he is now. 

With the spoils, 1958.  Pink is in the cradle.
     With Pink's help, my eating and dressing habits improved over the years and eventually I had to share the beaters filled with delicious seven-minute icing with my little brother and sister.  But for my third birthday, Pink and I had the spoils to ourselves.
     After my best buddy spent nearly 40 years in various storage boxes, it amazes me that I had such a strong reaction to seeing him again.  Memories fast forwarded from the depths of my brain and I recalled that for many years of my life he was my best friend and slept right beside me.
     His fragile body has sprung more than one leak and his stuffing erupted years ago. Mother patched him, eventually replacing his stuffing with wadded up old stockings.  That worked fine although I was mad and embarrassed for Pink when I found out - being stuffed with used nylons is not exactly a classy fix.  His outsides were still the same and I am sure I spent some time comforting him for a while after the operation.

Pink and me, trying to get a girl out of my chair.
     I like the way he looks so peaceful with his sewn-shut eyes, his head cocked and his floppy ears coming down around the side of his face.  With that natural bend in his body, he fit right inside my arms at bedtime.
     I used to put him up to my face and talk to him and then I would kiss him.  He is missing more of the terry part of his cloth body in that spot.  In fact, he’s rather thin-skinned around his face.  I am sure I gave him a lot of love.
     How is it that at age 55 I get great comfort from seeing him and feel close to this little pink dilapidated dog?   I feel a great deal of security knowing an old pal is still around.  I tested him the other night by having a big old cry.  Sure enough, he can still keep a secret.
     He'll probably go back in the box in a week or two, after I have enjoyed reuniting for a little while longer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cheese and fun at the Vermont Goat Farm

On a recent trip to Vermont with two girlfriends, we visited Fat Toad Farm where they have about 50 happy goats.
Ladies lining up for milking time
The ladies (does) provide the milk for cheese and caramel sauce.  The men (bucks) do what men do and hang out by themselves having guy chat and telling jokes filled with bathroom humor except for the time spent providing occasional service to the women in the fall.  Three males support all those females.  Happy men.  

Their delicious cheeses and cajeta, a caramel sauce similar to dulce de leche but creamier and not as strongly sweet, may be purchased at the farm and at various stores listed on the website.  While visiting the farm, you can watch the cheese and caramel-making through the picture window in the production room.  Products can be purchased on-site and  I was pleased to see that a store in Washington, DC sells them, too! 
One of the interns explained to me that the male goats have a very strong scent as they get close to breeding season (October) and that the scent is apparently very attractive to female goats.  She said if I patted the males and then visited the females I would receive a lot of attention.  I chose not to pat the males; I could smell them from some distance and mentioned that I did not want to smell like goat, nor be too attractive to other goats, male or female. 
The young intern told us about how happy the younger goats are, even though they have only been separated from their mothers for a short time.  “They are getting really excited,” she said, “because in October they will be bred and then have their kids in the spring.”  I looked at one particularly glassy-eyed young gal and said sternly to her “enjoy your time now.  It may not be that great and kids are a lot of trouble.”  The intern seemed taken aback with my candor and moved on to other chores.  Really the goats do look very happy - plenty of food and water and a clean place to play seems like a pretty good deal.  The females that provide the milk spend much of their daytime out in the pasture grazing and making more milk.
Milking time
We went to the milking room and a very nice young man very patiently answered our questions and put up with us as we commented on the heavily-laden ladies who marched in for feeding and milking.  He carefully cleaned their teats and began explaining about the process and the importance of careful and timely intervals of milking to prevent mastitis.  When he started to explain mastitis, I stopped him and told him matter-of-factly that we all were mothers and had experienced mastitis at times during our breastfeeding days.  His color changed and he immediately busied himself with their udders, probably preferring not to make the connection between goat and human milking.  My friends said, “shhhh, you are embarrassing him.”  They were right, of course.
Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield, VT is worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.  The goats' pens were pristine and the utmost care was taken in cleanliness in the milking area.  The goats are happy and friendly and love the attention.  It is very rural and there are several friendly dogs to greet you when you arrive.  The cheese is wonderful and their caramel sauce is fantastic.  

Goats are cool.  Some of the young ones were very shy, and others were extremely curious and friendly.  The ladies were ready to make their contribution to the cheese and caramel so other than minor curiosity about us, they were on their late afternoon, no-nonsense mission to eat and be milked.

See their website.

Fat Toad Farm

Monday, September 13, 2010

Collecting or Hoarding?

On a recent morning, while on a mission to find something in the depths of the armoire, I was greeted by the collection of porcelain bovine cream pitchers, reducing me to giggles.  I removed them and displayed them on the dining table for a day or so, just because they were so funny.

The cow pitchers started with one that I was very fond of, a gift from my former Mother-in-law.  One of my sons broke it and replaced it with one he found at a yard sale.  Then he found another and another and so on until I now have seven.  And I have no doubt that the collection will grow.  Apparently they are things people acquire and dispose of frequently.
Collecting runs in my family and each of my collections – elephants, perfume bottles, cow cream pitchers and even Steiff animals – was started for me by another family member.  I never meant to have dozens (or even hundreds in some cases), but as word spread, more landed in my unsuspecting hands and on my shelves.  Let’s just say that the elephant collection turned into a stampede and the perfume bottle collection has had to be reduced in order to prevent it from overtaking the sleeping area of my bedroom.  How did it happen?  What does this say about me?
I do know that you never want to tell anyone you have a collection of anything.  If you do - you will get more.  People are naturally generous and love an excuse to buy.  My elephant collection started small and then friends found out and pachyderms paraded through the door like nobody's business.  
My sons gave me a bonsai for Christmas last year because they thought I needed a hobby.  Now I have 7 bonsai to care for.   Collections seem to follow me. 

I researched the personality types of hoarders, worrying that maybe I was exhibiting signs.  Hoarders are indecisive and start dozens of projects and never finish them.  Typically they talk too much, having trouble deciding how much to say and tending to be tangential, providing every detail rather than simply answering a question.  They have trouble organizing their stuff, limiting acquisitions and making decisions about discarding.  Some studies show that they have a lower activity in the cingulate gyrus that runs through the middle of the brain and affects areas regarding attention, focusing and decision-making. 
Please excuse me while I go make salad dressing, whip up a pan of brownies, brew a gallon of tea to ice, clean out a closet, fret over the painting and cleaning I need to do in my house, hard boil eggs for a salad, and roast two pints of cherry tomatoes in garlic, oil and sea salt.  
Fall garden at the Shelburne Museum

Perhaps I have more of a problem than I thought.  Although, I do finish my projects and I don't talk too much and I usually get to the point.  And you should see the pile of things I am discarding this week.  
Meeting House at the Shelburne Museum
Prentis House, Shelburne Museum
Speaking of hoarding --- while vacationing last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the most interesting, extensive and eclectic collection at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.  Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) accumulated 20 historic structures including a 200-foot steamboat, lighthouse, covered bridge, barns, a jail, railroad cars and other buildings including exemplary period New England homes.   She collected Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, furniture, decoys, carriages and more.  There are 39 exhibition buildings on the large property and they are all packed with her collections.  The setting is much like a village, with beautiful gardens and rolling hills, formal gardens and a carousel.
Steamboat Ticonderoga, Shelburne Museum
Dining Room on the Ticonderoga,  Shelburne Museum
The Round Barn,  Shelburne Museum
 Ogden Pleissner's Studio. Shelburne Museum
Hat Boxes at the Shelburne Museum
Just a few of the woodworking tools at the Shelburne Museum
Mrs. Webb certainly knew how to channel her hoarding in a creative and useful way.  Thousands of visitors view her collections and are probably as overwhelmed as my friends and I were after walking through the buildings and across the grounds for almost 6 hours.  Frankly I found the collection of dolls with glass eyes, and real human hair downright creepy.  But the Dentzel Carousel horses in the Round Barn, rooms filled with woodworking tools and the re-created apothecary complete with a jar marked "Leeches" were absolutely fascinating.

Ice Wagon,  Shelburne Museum
Inside the Circus Building,  Shelburne Museum
Part of the folk art collection, Shelburne Museum
So hoarding can have a positive impact on others and the environment and, when shared in a creative and meaningful way, provide education and other opportunities.  Maybe I will donate some of my things to a museum someday but more than likely they will end up in an auction or sent to a second-hand shop.  Isn’t it nice that there are recycling options for our excess?  One good thing about unemployment – I am not acquiring things and I have plenty of time to weed out at home and visit fascinating places like the Shelburne Museum.
My trusty steed - carousel ride at the Shelburne Museum

Dentzel Carousel horse, Shelburne Museum
Rail car Grand Isle, Shelburne Museum
Covered bridge, Shelburne Museum
Circus wagon wheel, Shelburne Museum
Lake Champlain, near the Shelburne Museum