Counting Our Blessings by Karen Shughart

Sometimes life sends us lemons, lots of them, maybe more than a bumper crop. We can make lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon sorbet… but still, sometimes there are too many bitter lemons to use them all up.

Without going into a ton of detail, this past year has been a tough one for me and my family. We’ve had several non-Covid-related deaths; some serious, life-threatening illnesses; surgeries; and other family challenges that at times seem unending. It’s been exhausting, emotionally draining and downright frightening. Then there’s been the pandemic, the terrifying weather events, and the general unrest on so many levels in our society and the world. I expect we are not alone.

How does one survive? Lately, when the stressful occurrences seem to be relentless, it’s been hard to think that any of it will get better. At times over the past many months, I’ll admit I’ve been depressed and angry and more than a little sad.

But then I take a couple big breaths, close my eyes, and remember to count my blessings. It’s a platitude, I know, but I tell myself we’ll get through it; we have the strength.

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

I am married to a loving, caring man. We have wonderful children. We enjoy an incredible support system of family members and family of the heart, dear friends who’ve also been there to cheer us up as we’ve needed it. We live in a stunningly beautiful maritime village where we have a roof over our heads, our home is warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s a safe place to live, too, where we’re not scared to walk freely for fear of violence.  It could be so much worse.

 We have plenty of food, transportation to get us where we want to go and medical care. We may not be rich, but we have an abundance of what we need.  So many people don’t. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that.

We adopted a Beagle during the earlier days of the pandemic. She had multiple health issues. With excellent medical care and lots of love, she’s fine now; a happy and healthy little dog who makes us laugh and gives us an immeasurable amount of joy. That’s too, is a blessing.

So, during the month when we are supposed to give thanks, I will. Sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective and dwell on all that’s going wrong, all that’s contriving to decenter us. I’m making a concerted effort to remember what I have and how much worse my life could be. We actually do have enough lemons to make tasty drinks and desserts and even enough to share with others during the darkest days.

It’s Apple Harvest Time by Karen Shughart

If you drive around our area in October, you will notice the leaves on the trees have begun to turn, colorful red, orange, and yellow instead of multiple shades of green. The air smells of sweet decay, new mown grass, and when the waves crash against the beach, a clean, verdant aroma wafts through the air, a bit like the ocean but without the brine.

You’ll notice farm markets, large pots of colorful mums clustered together at the edges of the parking lots, filled with a bounty of vegetables: squashes, pumpkins, eggplant, green beans, and apples, lots of apples.

New York is one of the largest apple-growing regions in the country, second only to Washington state. On the south shore of Lake Ontario, where we live, you’ll see acre upon acre of lush orchards, laden with the heavy, ripe fruit. What might surprise you, if you don’t know much about apples, is that not only do they come in different sizes and colors, but there are also hundreds of varieties, old favorites and those recently developed. Each year brings more choices; there’s an almost infinite selection.

Photo by Karen Shughart

Apple harvest here, in the north, is a reason to celebrate. One of our friends spent his earlier years as an MD but has become an apple farmer in retirement (the story of his journey to this point is a long and interesting one), with 100 acres of the sweet and savory fruit.  Now he can be seen-cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows-cheerfully working alongside his seasonal employees to pick the crop before the frost creeps in.

We love going to his farm, when on a late afternoon, with a variety of cardboard boxes and tote bags in hand, we stroll through the stands of trees, lined up in rows in military precision. We carefully choose apples that will last in cold storage in our garage throughout the winter: baked into breads, pies, and cakes, eaten with sharp cheese, or sliced into a salad.

After, we’re likely to cluster around a large island in his farmhouse kitchen, drinking glasses of wine and eating charcuterie boards piled high with cheeses, sausages, artisanal breads, and apples, yes, apples. When the skies are clear and the air is cool, he’ll host an evening barbecue for friends in his meadow at the edge of the orchard; a huge bonfire burning with apple wood. Then, we gather, to laugh, share stories and eat a meal of locally sourced food. One year a white bedsheet affixed to the side of his barn served as a screen for an outdoor movie while we munched on apple fritters and popcorn cooked over that fire.

I love October for many reasons: the cool nights and bright warm days; the quiet and calmness now that summer residents and visitors are gone; the bright colors, and the earthy pungency of burning leaves that fills the air. But mostly because it’s apple harvest time, a time for convening with friends and sharing the bounty of the season.

Back to the Concerts by Karen Shughart

We moved from a mid-sized metropolitan area to a small village on the south shore of Lake Ontario in the Finger Lakes region of New York almost seven years ago. We love being part of a community where everyone truly does know your name, and the beauty surrounding us is inspirational. I wouldn’t be writing the Edmund DeCleryk mystery series anywhere else.

There’s lots going on here, especially during summer months, but attending monthly cultural events was an integral part of our lives where we used to live, so we decided to explore what was available in nearby Rochester and other nearby communities.  The highway system is good, and within a short drive there are a multitude of choices:  Broadway offerings performed by excellent touring companies; ballet; opera; community theatre; choral performances, and concerts of every sort. 

We discovered a wonderful performing arts venue, The Smith Opera House, in nearby Geneva, and that each year they offer a subscription to a cultural series that includes performances by both the Rochester and Syracuse symphony orchestras, world renowned dance troupes and award-winning vocal groups. This series became the opportunity for a monthly date night, preceded by dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, located a few doors away from the performing arts hall. It was something we looked forward to, especially during winter months.

Photo by Gabriel Santos Fotografia on Pexels.com

Then the pandemic hit, and our date nights in Geneva fizzled. The series was cancelled, and we found ourselves scheduling nights at home: pizza, perhaps; or takeout from a nearby restaurant; followed by streaming cultural events on TV. It was nice watching events from the safety and comfort of our home, and we agreed we enjoyed those evenings, but it wasn’t the same.

The Smith has opened its doors again, but for safety reasons there will be no subscription series this year. Each performance will be available as a separate entity, there will be no paper tickets (just an email confirmation) and patrons must order online or purchase their tickets at the door the evening of the event. Masks plus proof of vaccination will be required, plus there will be social distancing inside the venue.

We’re fine with that.  I just ordered two tickets for the first symphony performance to be held later this month. The restaurant we like has re-opened but with strict guidelines; we’re fine with that, too. We’re happy to be able to get out for an evening.

While we are looking forward to resuming some semblance of normalcy in our lives, I must admit to feeling a bit anxious about attending these performances in person as more cases of Covid and its variants seem to be gaining a chokehold on our country again.   We also realize that things could change between now and then. It’s okay, we’re willing to deal with it. Life is in flux, it usually is, but we’re hoping for the best.

The Pear Garden by Karen Shughart

We call it the Pear Garden, and this is how it started. I come from a family of dog lovers. Almost everyone has or has had dogs: my husband and I, our kids, my siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins. When they pass, we grieve for our fur babies for a long time; and we always remember them fondly, even after we adopt a new pet.

A few years ago, one of our great nieces and nephews came to visit with our daughter, Jessica. Emil was maybe about nine or ten that year and still grieving for the family’s dog, Pear, a lovely, gentle Golden Retriever who had been laid to rest a few months before. Emil was still sad about the loss. We live on Lake Ontario, and Jessica and Emil went off to the beach to collect smooth stones at the water’s edge. Then they came back and painted them with creative, colorful designs including four of them each with the initials that spelled “PEAR.”

Behind our garage there’s a mulched bed of shrubs with some spaces between them. The stones were artfully arranged in one of those spaces to honor Pear’s life. We said prayers and sang songs.  I had wondered if the stones would survive our harsh winters, but to this day they are as bright as when they were first painted.

A few weeks ago, our niece, Suzanne, her husband, Tom, and their two daughters came to visit. While they don’t have a dog, my brother and sister-in-law, Didi and Grammy to the girls, had recently sent Gus, their sprightly Wheaton terrier, over the rainbow bridge.  Maya and Hannah had loved Gus and were taken with our Pear memorial. Our daughter was visiting this time, too, and a little while later we added painted stones for Gus.

When I told my sister about the expanding garden, she remarked that when she and her husband visit us from Florida this fall, they would like to paint rocks and place them in our garden for their beloved dog, Sally, another gentle Golden who had recently succumbed to an unexpected illness.

In the past, we’ve scattered the ashes of our own dogs where they most liked to romp and kept the remainder in ornately carved boxes stacked upon shelves in our library. Now I’m thinking that we need to paint stones for them and add them to the growing display. Our adopted Beagle, Nova, has been with us for about a year-and-a-half. We love her dearly, and she’s as much a member of our family as our other dogs were. I hope, though, that it will be years before painted rocks bearing her name are placed beside the others.

As it turns out, there’s a new tradition that’s begun in our family to remember all the dogs we’ve loved. Perhaps Pear is watching somewhere from puppy heaven, proud to have been the first of these and pleased that we’ve named our memorial garden after him.

SUMMER IN SODUS POINT by Karen Shughart

It’s like a grand, sweeping piece of classical music, starting out slowly and gradually building until it reaches a crescendo; imperceptibly winding down and then soaring to a breathtaking ending.

That’s pretty much what it’s like living in Sodus Point in the summer. Located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, we have seasons, defined seasons, and for three-fourths of the year it’s quiet. There are fewer than 900 permanent residents.

The switch is flipped, starting around Memorial Day. There’s an increase in activity. Summer residents begin readying their cottages for warm weather. Tourists, staying at inns and rented homes, stroll our streets, visit our attractions, line up for ice cream, dine on the decks of our waterfront restaurants, or purchase California rolls and bao buns, specialized coffee, baked goods, barbecue, and tacos from food trucks that circle a parking lot like covered wagons.

July 4th weekend brings more traffic-hundreds; maybe thousands from around our region-for classic car and kiddie parades, craft shows, fun runs and a spectacular display of fireworks, beginning at 10 p.m. Our days are long this time of year. We watch the fireworks from our front porch, the jostling crowds and traffic too challenging for the likes of us, and the noise unsettling for our small Beagle, Nova.

A week or two later more visitors from across this country-and pre-pandemic-countries from around the world, descend upon our village to partake of the scenic beauty, pristine beaches, hiking trails, fishing spots, museums, lighthouses, gift shops, great food, and music. There’s lots of music.

Summer is when our historical society and museum sponsors nine weeks of Sunday afternoon concerts in the park on a bluff overlooking the lake. Motorboats anchor, sailboats drift lazily, and pedestrians spread blankets or unfold chairs to listen to a diverse selection of music while munching on hot dogs and sausage, popcorn, and ice cream. Often, during the week, music vibrates through our windows from bars and restaurants lining our business district.

Most of our friends and family visit during summer months. There’s lots to do: sunbathing on the beach, simple meals cooked on the grill, visits to wineries, farm stands and orchards, and to our local farm animal rescue shelter; be sure to bring bags of carrots and apples for feeding the residents. Friends with boats take us and our guests on tours of the bay or for longer sojourns, we rent pontoons. Although we can hear the Sunday concerts from our front porch, it’s a quick stroll to the park, and part of a must-do Sodus Point experience.

Late in August the summer people begin pack up and leave.  School is starting, soccer and football practice, too. Tourism wanes, but the crowds return to celebrate Labor Day weekend. It’s the grand finale: an annual clambake sponsored by our ambulance association; the final concert on the bluff; and another sumptuous fireworks display. Soon, very soon, there will be quiet on our streets with the promise of autumn in the air, a breathtaking ending to a fine summer.