PEDIATRIC RELIGION – Marilyn Armstrong

When my first husband and I were getting married, he was something vaguely Protestant, though no one in his family knew what. They never attended church and while they were wild about Christmas, it was a very non-Christian version of it.

I’m not even sure they were Christian, but they weren’t anything else, either. I think it’s possible on the paternal side of the family, they might have been Jewish several generations back, then drifted into Christianity because they weren’t Jewish enough to hang with it.

Thus when my granddaughter was hitting eight or nine and Passover/Easter was approaching, I asked Kaity what Easter was about. She had never heard of Jesus or Christianity — or for that matter, Judaism.  She was sure that Easter was about baskets of sweets. She didn’t love chocolate (who doesn’t love chocolate?) — but always preferred the hard-boiled eggs. Funny kid.

In theory, in a Jewish family, the family’s religion comes from mom, but in Christianity, it devolves from dad. In theory, she could have swung either way.

Owen was Jewish because he had a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem. In Israel, it was the natural thing to do.

Here, in a very Christian valley with dozens of churches and not a single synagogue, it made more sense to find her a Protestant niche. Later, if life took her into “choices of religion,” she could make up her own mind.

I didn’t feel, without any backup, that I could raise her as a Jew. I don’t practice Judaism. I like Jewish food, Jewish people, and deeply appreciate Jewish law and how far ahead most of most kind of law it is (and was).

I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem because I needed to know more, but I knew I would never be Orthodox. This was a big disappointment to my teachers who thought my interest and intellectual involvement preceded a religious commitment. They didn’t “get”(most people don’t) that I love learning for its own sake, but it doesn’t presage any follow-up.

A couple of “studies” have evolved from “learning” to hobbies. Photography. History. Literature. Ecology. Music. Some kinds of art. Technology. Other stuff.

Thus I knew a lot ABOUT Judaism, but not much about how to actually “be” a Jew. I also know a lot about Christianity, because I studied that too and even converted to it, though I practice it to the exact same degree that I practice Judaism — which is to say, I don’t.

Happy birthday at 15!

I am religiously non-dogmatic. I am pretty sure I believe in something, but I don’t know what. Not nothing, though.

Meanwhile, Garry and I felt some pediatric religion was necessary. I didn’t expect Kaitlin to make religion her life, but I thought she needed to know that Christ was not a chocolate bunny and Judaism is a religion, not a bad word you call someone.

You can’t make a choice if you don’t know anything.

To my great relief, she is happily practicing nothing, considers herself vaguely protestant — and prefers eggs to chocolate.

THE EASTER BOUQUET – Marilyn Armstrong

The Easter Bouquet – FOTD – 04/24/2019

It was Easter. We weren’t going anywhere or doing anything. No one seemed to be doing anything and to be fair, I was just grateful I didn’t have to cook a huge meal that I couldn’t eat anyway.

I have to say that when you can’t really eat, cooking loses a lot of its attraction. And after cooking for a husband and kids and other people since I was 18 (was I really ever 18?), I could do without ever cooking for anyone ever again.

But I do because Garry doesn’t cook and if I don’t cook, he won’t eat. He might go so far as to open a can of soup, but that’s pretty much it. These days, though, cooking for a crowd is not on my agenda. I occasionally get enthusiastic about trying out a new dish. Mostly I do a lot of sighing while saying: “I suppose I have to COOK.”

Meanwhile, I am waiting for Garry to say those magic words: “Don’t worry Sweetheart. I’ve got this.”

The closest I get to that is (1) he will put a frozen pizza in the oven, and (2) he’ll drive to Mickey D’s and buy el cheapo chicken sandwiches.

If there was a good take-out joint in this town, we could occasionally work something out, but we don’t have anyplace worth going. Even when we can afford it, it isn’t worth the effort much less the money.

But I get flowers.

Sometimes, he brings home amazing bouquets and I don’t dare ask how much they cost. He no longer buys them in the grocery store, either. He goes to The Flower Lady who does all kinds of really fancy arrangements. He won’t cook, but he buys me flowers.

And he has gotten really into our birds. He watches the feeders and as soon as they get a little bit low, he’s out there filling them.

“Big group for dinner tonight,” he says, staring out the window. Like me, the first thing he does when he gets up — even if it is just to go to the bathroom — he has to look out the window and see who’s there.

We get pixellated by the birds. You go into the kitchen for something, but instead of whatever you were doing, you just stand there, watching the birds. “I see the pigeons have done a good job cleaning up the deck,” he adds. “You know, while I was feeding them, there were a few on the rail giving me a look which says ‘Get out of the way, fool. We’re hungry.’

“We didn’t get any squirrels today, ” he comments. I assure him we did. Between flocks of birds.

So I guess I’ll keep him.

Garry, I mean. The birds belong to the woods.

THE BRIDGES: CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Bridges

WORLD SHARING IN A WET APRIL – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 4-22-19

Was the last thing you read digital or print?

Digital and it was “The Mueller Report.” Otherwise, most of my reading (other than comments and posts ) are audiobooks with a little bit on Kindle. I don’t really have a decent reading light by my bed anymore. I’m used to reading Kindle with its own backlight.

Are you more an extrovert or introvert?

It depends on the situation. I’m not good with large crowds, but I’m pretty extroverted in small groups with good friends.

How is your life different from what you imagined as a younger person?

May flocks of Goldfinch follow you everywhere

I got OLD. How did THAT happen? Worse yet, all the people who I knew when I was young — they got old TOO. That’s just not fair!

Do you think about dying?   Does death scare you?  Why or why not?

I don’t worry about dying. I worry about staying alive.

Who has been nicest to me in my life?

That is a question I cannot answer. As a start, I can’t remember all the people in my life. If whoever they were, they were part of my much younger life, I don’t remember them. Sometimes, not even a footnote.

For another … how long do we remember people? I remember asking my Aunt Kate, who was in her 80s at the time, about “life in the Old Country” and she said, “Darling, I don’t remember. It was 75 years ago.”

Titmouse and Chickadee have a turn at the feeder

Anything much that happened in my 20s I’ve mostly forgotten with a few exceptions, but the memories are going fast! Unless I still KNOW that person and can share memories, they have just slipped away. I’m sure they are in that giant hard drive in my head, but I get a lot of notifications labeled “FILE NOT FOUND.”

For another thing, “nicest” is too vague. I don’t know what it means.

DEFIANCE OR DETERMINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

So I found this question on Facebook and it brought back a deluge of memories.


Hey moms, I’m in desperate need of help. I’m at my wit’s end with my lovely little defiant child. I love him lots, but enough is enough. Every morning, my son wakes up at 3 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep. He will literally be up for the entire day. I’ve repeatedly tried putting him back in his room. I’ve tried time outs, taking away his privileges. Tried having him do chores. Nothing works. He talks back, makes faces, or just laughs at me. I literally don’t know what to do anymore.


My mother used to tell stories about me as a baby. How I’d be up and wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. We lived in a cheap apartment on Rose Street in Freeport. When I got up, she would get up too. She’d put on her overcoat and wait until the heat came up, which wasn’t until around seven.

She eventually figured out that I needed to be busy. Crayons, paint, and lots of paper were big items in my world. I didn’t sleep as much as most kids and when awake, I needed to be doing something. Ultimately, reading took over a lot of that time, but until then, drawing (the three-year-old version of it) and other crafts filled the time. That and running around outside. Knowing me now, it’s hard to imagine what an active kid I was.

Sisters playing by the river

Eventually, I learned to read books, write stories, and draw. Life got better.

Even as a toddler, I went to bed hours later than the “official” bedtime for little kids. I never slept as many hours as other kids. Garry recalls being much the same. Of course, these days, there’s no such thing as too much sleep, but we are long past youth, much less childhood.

Defiance is an overused term these days. Any time a child doesn’t want to do what mom or dad wants him or her to do, it’s defiance. My theory is that it’s more like boredom than defiance when a box of crayons and paper can cure it!

Smart kids need challenging activities and they can be hard for caretakers. Especially hard for working mothers who are already tired by the time they get home.

Pop psychology can be dangerous.

Don’t label your children. Smart kids hear what you say and figure out what you mean. Just because he or she doesn’t “behave” doesn’t make him or her defiant. These days, with so many mothers working and convinced that “outside” await predators waiting to snatch your kid, every minute of the kid’s time is programmed.

I shudder imagining growing up like that

A BIPOLAR LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, was bipolar, but he wasn’t diagnosed until thirteen years into our 25-year marriage. However, the ups and downs were a part of my life from the beginning. Larry could be fun, smart and affectionate. He had a wicked sense of humor (including clever puns), tremendous energy (sometimes too much, manic energy), a great “joie” and endless enthusiasm.

Larry in a jocular mood

He loved to read and was interested in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from physics and biology to history and sociology, to law and mysteries. He also loved the arts, particularly the theater and at one point we had five theater subscriptions at the same time. In addition, we also went to Broadway shows quite often, which kept us very busy and very up to date on the theater scene of the day.

One of Larry’s passions was shopping and when manic, he was a true shopaholic. He couldn’t resist buying anything that tickled his fancy, which was a lot of stuff. On the other hand, I loved it when Larry would shop with me in my favorite stores; craft shops, art galleries and jewelry and clothes stores. He would even come into the dressing room with me and help me pick out what clothes to buy. He had wonderful and sophisticated taste, though his taste was often a lot bolder and flashier than mine.

I really shouldn’t complain, because Larry loved to buy things for me. However, when he was manic, he would overspend and buy everything in sight. I was in charge of the budget and it was frustrating to see all my budgeting and saving go out the window with Larry’s shopping sprees. It got to the point that I would pretend that I didn’t like things we looked at because if I said I liked it, it would be mine in no time flat!

Two pendants with matching earrings Larry bought for me on trips out West

Once my son, David, then around twelve, went to an electronics store with Larry. Before they left, I pulled David aside and instructed him to try to keep his father’s purchases down. They returned with not one, but two VCR’s and I asked David why he had failed to rein in his dad. “Hey!” he said. “I talked him down from three, so don’t complain!”

Another positive side to Larry’s love of shopping was that he was always an active partner with me in decorating our homes, helping me choose everything from wallpapers and fabrics, to furniture and window treatments to bathroom fixtures and door knobs. We also designed our house in Easton, Connecticut together with the help of an architect. It was a wonderful, shared experience and the house meant so much more to both of us for the experience we had in creating every nook and cranny and picking every design element. I remember jumping out of bed late one night to draw out a new plan I had just thought of for the kitchen/breakfast room area. It was a wild idea and it was the design we eventually used in the house. I still love it 30 years later!

The kitchen design – with rounded eating area and round sunroom off of kitchen island area

Larry exhibited his sense of humor and fun one Christmas when he and David, like many other Jews, went to the movies on Christmas day. Before the show started, as a joke, Larry stood up and started singing the Jewish classic “Havanegela”. To his delight, the rest of the audience joined in and Larry acted as conductor for the group sing-along!

Larry didn’t sleep much and was always on the go. I needed a lot of sleep and ample amounts of downtime, which created much conflict between us. On weekends, he would get up early and want to go out and do something, get something to eat or just window shop. David was also not a morning person so we would take turns appeasing a very persistent, and often annoying and inconsiderate Larry.

Larry playing with David, 6 and Sarah, 1

One day, when Sarah was about eighteen months old and couldn’t talk yet, Larry got up and started pestering David, who was six and a half, and me to go out with him. Suddenly, our toddler ran into her bedroom, grabbed her coat and then ran to the front door. It was her way of saying “Take me, Daddy! I want to play with you!” Now Larry had a new playmate for his early weekend excursions and David and I were thrilled! When Sarah could talk, she’d say to Larry, “Let’s go sopping!”

Larry and Sarah continued their ‘sopping’ trips for the rest of Larry’s life (he died shortly before Sarah’s 21st birthday). He and Sarah also traveled and went to lots of shows and movies together from early in Sarah’s life and it was something wonderful she shared with her dad. Those memories are important and comforting to her now.

But there was a dark side to Larry’s bipolar disorder. When he cycled manic, as he did every year or so, he became volatile, paranoid, angry and agitated. He would fly into rages about the slightest thing, real or imagined and he would become verbally abusive. To our frustration, he would often ‘forget’ these episodes as soon as he calmed down. He was what is called a “rapid cycler.”

A classic example of that syndrome happened one Thanksgiving when we were supposed to drive from New York to Larry’s sister in New Jersey. In the morning, Larry was curled up in a ball on the bed, refusing to even get up. I eventually got him up and we started to drive to New Jersey when he suddenly went berserk over something.

I don’t remember what it was on that occasion, but once the kids were making too much noise in the back seat of the car and once I left the dirty dishes in the sink. To Larry, that proved that I didn’t care about him, that he didn’t matter, that he wasn’t important to me and that I was a bitch.

The four of us when David was 13 and Sarah was 8

On this Thanksgiving drive, Larry pulled the car over to the side of the street and stormed off, refusing to come back to the car. David finally talked him down and got him back into the car, because, as usual, Larry refused to even talk to me. We eventually made it to New Jersey, but Larry had gone from paralyzing depression to raging mania in the course of one day.

Another holiday in New Jersey ended badly because of Larry’s manic overreactions. He stormed out of a lot of rooms, houses and cars over the years, often on major holidays with family. But this one was special, even for Larry.

We were playing a game with Larry’s sister, Robin and her family, my kids and Larry. Larry was being hyper-competitive and was trash talking everyone constantly, which I think he thought was funny. After asking him to stop several times, Robin finally got exasperated and told him to shut up and Larry snapped.

The four of us when David was 16 and Sarah was 11

He stormed out of the house, but this time he took our car and disappeared. We eventually got a call saying he was at the train station and was taking a train back to New York, even though he was supposed to be going back to Connecticut with me and the kids for the long holiday weekend. Robin had to drive David to the train station so he could drive our car back to Robin’s so I could drive back to Connecticut with the kids. Robin talked to Larry at the station and they patched things up, but Larry still insisted on taking the train to New York, disrupting and appalling everyone. I was mortified and everyone else was shaken and upset. This was not an uncommon situation for me, but each time it happened, it was like a punch to the gut.

In some ways, it would have been easier for me if Larry had always been abusive and impossible to live with, but he wasn’t. He was eventually put on Lithium, which worked well and contained his mania, but he kept going off the meds.

I loved the non-manic Larry, so the hope that Larry would get help, and then that he would stay on his meds, kept me with him for 25 years.

APRIL IS ALMOST SPRING – Marilyn Armstrong

FLOWERS IN APRIL – FOTD – 04/22/2019

Speaking of changing, what a month! For that matter, what a couple of months this has been. Crazy weather.

The Sunny Gallery

It has been raining relentlessly forever, it seems. We get a couple of nice days … then a week of gray weather and pouring rain. No worries about dry rivers this year!

Red-bellied woodpecker and his friend, the Tufted Titmouse
Bright Goldfinch

Not that crazy isn’t an inherent part of our New England weather. Our weather is unpredictable, especially as winter tries to turn into spring — and usually fails, until May when suddenly, it’s summer.

An Easter bouquet

It was lovely here Monday and Tuesday. Blue skies, warm weather and the song of the Carolina Wren can be heard all around the property. Today the gray weather showed up again, but it’s not supposed actually rain again until Friday and Saturday. But no sunshine, either.

Tomorrow, there will be rain and wind — but after that, I’m hoping to clean up the garden before the rest of the flowers open. It’s hard to rake when the daylilies are blooming. And half the rhododendrons are dead and need cutting back.