Thursday, July 12, 2018

[It's summer, it's purgatorial, and my brain rebels at the effort required to come up with something new and interesting. Herewith, words from some time ago.]

METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING...

WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES . . . another door opens.


Do you find that’s true in your life? My honest answer would be, “Sometimes.”

Of course, it could be that the answer is truly “Always,” and I just don’t see the other door opening.

Or, I don’t connect the two events.

I tend to see the obvious Cause-and-Effect of happenings in my life. For example, when the youngest child left home after high school for college, the house was emptier than it had been. Obvious, you say. Yes, it is obvious; but  . . . why did I feel that my life was still full?

In most instances, my life is full. So when I’m asked to do “one more thing,” I have to view the full spectrum of my life and decide: What can I let go of in order to do the “one more thing” being asked of me?

The next question—actually, it should be the first question—is: do I really want to exchange the new thing for something already in my life that I enjoy? Or that I feel I have to do? 

Here’s another question to ponder:

      How do I know when it’s time to let that door close? Or, to close it myself?


There’s a lot said and written about “going out at the top of your game.” Makes sense, don’t you think? We’ll leave a good impression of ourselves, or our accomplishments, or whatever we represented. Letting “new blood” take over is considered a good thing. “Passing the torch.” “Allowing fresh air in.”

-----

Why do I not feel comforted by those attitudes and platitudes?

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Sometimes, I believe, when one door closes, another one also closes. Take the example of the child going to college—even if that child comes home again to live for a while, she will be a different person simply because she’s been away. She’s rubbed shoulders with people from other walks of life. She’s been introduced to new thoughts, new ways of thinking; discovered authors and books that are foreign to the childhood life she’s leaving behind. Many new doors have opened for her.

True, she’s still my child. She always will be. But that isn’t the only identity she has, or will have. And she won’t go back to being the girl she was before she went to college.

Again, obvious.

The new door opening for me can be quite subtle—the child who went away to school comes home an adult in ways I never dreamed. She brings with her a maturity shaped by experiences I’ve not been part of in recent years. The young person is still there, recognizable, but now blossoming into someone new to me.

It’s like making a new friend—the kind you feel as if you’ve known all your life—and in this case, I have known her all her life.

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There’s no neat answer, it seems, to the question I asked at the beginning: Do you find it’s true that when one door closes, another opens?

The metaphor itself—a door closing, another opening—is, I find, an expression of hope. The closing door represents something separated from us. The open door, somewhere else, beckons us. The underlying assumption is that what’s behind the open door will be better, or at least, attractive. Perhaps beneficial.

Yet I can’t help remembering the story of the lady and the tiger—if I remember it aright, the young man had to choose a door: behind one is a lady, who would be his wife; behind the other, a tiger who would take his life. And the story ends with the reader not knowing which the person chose.

The lesson in the story seems to be that not all open doors are going to offer us something we want. The young man in the story was in love with the king’s daughter, and she it was who indicated which door he should open—the lady behind one door was going to get the man the king’s daughter loved, but the tiger would devour him.

-----

Think I’ll stick with the hopeful opening of another door. Let the lady and the tiger story be just a story, intriguing to read, but not offering me a lesson to live by.


When a door closes, I’ll look for another one to open. And you never know—it might just be a window!










Thursday, July 5, 2018

THE HOUSE I LIVE IN

[Some of the lyrics of this songs have been going through my head for days and days and days! So, I looked it up, and I'm sharing it with you because it's about America, and we've just celebrated the Fourth of July as our day of independence gained over 200 years ago.]


[If you want to hear the song performed, check out YouTube--Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, and Dianne Reeves, among others, recorded it.]


From SongFacts website:
This became a patriotic anthem in America during World War II. The lyrics describe the wonderful things about the country, with images of the era like the grocer, the butcher, and the churchyard. The "house" is a metaphor for the country.

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THE HOUSE I LIVE IN

Songwriters: Lewis Allan / Earl Robinson

What is America to me
A name, a map, or a flag I see
A certain word, democracy
What is America to me

The house I live in
A plot of Earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
And the people that I meet

The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That's America to me

The place I work in
The worker by my side
The little town the city
Where my people lived and died

The howdy and the handshake
The air a feeling free
And the right to speak your mind out
That's America to me

The things I see about me
The big things and the small
The little corner newsstand
Or the house a mile tall

The wedding and the churchyard
The laughter and the tears
The dream that's been a growing
For a hundred and fifty years

The town I live in
The street, the house, the room
The pavement of the city
Or the garden all in bloom

The church the school the clubhouse
The million lights I see
But especially the people
That's America to me

The House I Live In lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc






Thursday, June 28, 2018


IS THERE A MANUAL FOR THAT?
[This essay appeared a few years back . . . and the metaphor works as well today as it did then. Hope your road is free of rocks and bumps, or if not free, that the obstacles are of the size and kind that you can manage with a little help from a friend.]


Have you ever noticed how certain topics keep popping up in your life? You mention fresh garden produce and that triggers suggestions about how to cook them, the best farmer’s market; or a seed catalog arrives in your mailbox; or someone makes you a gift of tomato plants.
In my life, it’s manuals . . . how-to instructions for everything from rearing teenagers (no, there is no manual; you make up your own) to quilting (expensive books abound, as well as freebies on the ‘Web) to how to get out of the mess you made of your computer (take a class; in the meantime, don’t touch the computer and call those people down the road who make a living cleaning up other people’s computer messes).

Anywhere you go
this is possible.
The truth of the matter is this: When you need help fast, there’s no manual around. There’s no friend or family member who can solve your dilemma in seconds. The nice people down the road are closed for the weekend. And the teenagers are still teenagers.
So I’ve discovered a simple way to deal with nearly every stage of life—ROAD SIGNS.

Here in the Midwest summer is a time of continuous road construction. Beginning sometime in April, big yellow Caterpillar equipment blooms along the highways and byways.
For those of us who want to get some place—the easiest, quickest, or best way—it behoves us to keep alert to our Smart Phones, our websites, and our newspapers (either in paper form or online) for announcements of roads due for work this very minute; roads already closed due to work; and a list of roads scheduled for work some time in the future.

[*As an aside—behoves is a correct spelling, though, according to my Merriam Webster, Chief. Brit. I bristle at the spelling behooves, because it looks wrong, and also because it sounds like it belongs in a stable yard. I have nothing against horses, by the way. In case you wondered.]
Back to road work.

I travel the same 17-mile route a couple of times a week to get to Fort Wayne. My roads seldom vary, because they are the most direct for my destinations. Here are the messages I’ve been getting and the stages of life they might apply to:

I like this for the teen years.
  • Slow – Construction Zone Ahead – good advice for the early years; childhood is definitely a time of construction
  • Be Prepared to Stop – if you haven’t already lost your mind and ability to reason, try to remember this one when you deal with teenagers
  • Detour – whatever your plans, if you’re a young adult or just starting your family, keep in mind that detours are temporary; eventually you get back on the route you wanted; or maybe a better one
  • Road Work Ahead – empty nesters may recognize this one as they learn again how to live without kids underfoot 24/7/365; getting into a new lifestyle will probably require some road work
  • Road Closed – I hate to see this one, because I’m at an age where a closed road means I’m having to give up some of my activities—arthritis makes sure of that; so does asthma or diabetes or heart disease or cancer (or you-name-it). So if one road is closed, there must be another one to travel. We can search for that one.
-----
 The road signs we see as we drive or ride by are meant to advise us of work going on that may hamper our travel plans. Once the road work is done, the inconvenience we had to endure made for a better road.

Who’s to say whether the metaphoric road signs—life derailed, things out of control, losses—were all bad? Since we can’t know what might have been, we are left with what was, and what is.


So, no manual. We find our own way through life, with the help of people, a faith community, books and studies. And always--good ol' Trial & Error. Your life, and mine, are the result of our  choices, our decisions--our personal manuals. Like life, that manual is a living, growing thing—changing as we live it.
Let’s enjoy living, and celebrate the road signs that guide us along the way. Hope you make it safely to your destination.

  



Thursday, June 21, 2018

SUMMER!

First, an astronomy lesson (very short, I promise):

If I understood everything I read about the Summer Solstice, that annual moment occurred this morning at 6:07 Eastern Daylight Time.

For years I thought Summer Solstice was a day, not a single moment in time. 

Here's what I found at the EarthSky website:


What is a solstice? Ancient cultures knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year.
They built monuments, such as Stonehenge, to follow the sun’s yearly progress.
Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun.
It’s because Earth doesn’t orbit upright. Instead, our world is tilted on its axis by 23 1/2 degrees. Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly.
At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that our world’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23 1/2 degrees north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer – named after the constellation Cancer the Crab. This is as far north as the sun ever gets.
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Summertime, as I must  have told you at least once before (I tend to repeat myself, but that's not always a bad thing)--anyway, summertime may not be my favorite season, yet my memories of June, July, and August from my childhood, on through the childhoods of my own kids, are vivid.

In the 1940s and 1950s we had no air conditioning. Visits to my grandparents' house meant I could spend time in the deep shade of the maple trees, nose in book, away from adult chatter.

The best treat at that time was ice cream--I don't recall we ever made it at home; but I remember getting lime sherbet ice cream cones (I didn't know sherbet wasn't ice cream, but that didn't affect the taste) at Green's Ice Cream Shop in my hometown.

Charleston National Bank got the first air conditioning that I ever experienced--I must've been in high school by then--and my dad groused every time he had to go in that bank because it was "too damn cold." I invented excuses to go inside to cool off and feel more alive. Eternal sunshine--why is it always sunny in remembered summers?--made me feel loggy, lethargic, and about half-alive.

That reaction to summer has never changed throughout my life. I never felt peppy and lively without the a/c, but I learned to cope. Life slowed down. When my own children came along in the 1960s, we lived in old houses with high ceilings. Without air conditioning, those old houses were comfortable because the heat stayed up near the ceiling. Ice-cold lemonade and iced tea may have helped also. I loved making cold meals in summer--big salads, lots of veggies and fruit, Jello with fruit in it, sandwiches; maybe one hot dish (but not every day). Picnics, at home or in the park, were always a treat.

Cooling off in the daytime was easily arranged: a sprinkler was set up in the middle of the back yard for the kids to run through. We took bike rides (no helmets in those days). We wore fewer clothes.

At night we often took long drives as the sun began to set. With all the windows rolled down, we created our own breezes. Everybody went--two adults, four kids, and the dog.

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When money was tight, as it was most of the kids' growing up years, we took camping vacations. Let me say right here--I do not like camping. Never have. Never will.

A two-week vacation for six people and a dog generates an unbelievable amount of stuff--clothes, sleeping bags, ground cloths, tent, food, cooking gear, camp stove, dog food and biscuits and a leash, games and books for the kids. At one time I took my guitar so we could sing at bedtime. All this equipment, six people and the dog, went into a Volkswagen minibus or, later, a Ford station wagon.

My time, on this camping vacation, was spent doing the same things I did at home--cook meals, clean up after the meal, wash clothes (coin-operated laundries had been invented by then, thanks be), entertain the children, clean them up, put them to bed . . . . But the difference was, I didn't have all the space I needed, or the appliances to make the jobs efficient. Mostly, I didn't have nearly enough patience for camping. 

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Now that we've had the "longest day" of the year, I can relax and look forward to the return of earlier sunsets. The other half of that is the later sunrise, which I don't like as well. Soon, though, I'll be singing the praises of Autumn. School starts in my area the first week of August, and then the year seems to gather momentum like a boulder rolling down a steep hill. The lawn will quit growing so much. I'll run the air conditioner up into September, if this year follows the pattern of previous late summers. And before I remember where they're stored, I'll have to get out sweatshirts and long pants and heavier socks.

The seasons of the year follow one another in well-regulated order. Each brings its own joys and sorrows, and we are blessed.

Celebrate the arrival of Summer! Run through a sprinkler! Eat a popsicle and let the juice run down your chin! Why not? No matter your age, you're still a kid in your heart.






Thursday, June 14, 2018

PLAYING THE OLD CARD

Bacon: 1561-1626

Last week I was loading my groceries into the trunk of my car when a youngish (hard to tell these days, but I'll say mid-30s, at a guess)--anyway, a youngish employee of the store smiled and said, "I'll take your cart."

I had parked very near a cart-return, my usual plan so I don't spend much time on foot in between vehicles, but I agreed she could take my cart. I thanked her.

As I drove away, I thought about that little exchange. She was the age of my grandchildren. She was an employee of the store. She had a nice smile and a pleasant manner. And I was quite happy to have her look at my gray hair and walking shoes and decide it would be a good thing to offer to take my cart back to the store.

The success of our little exchange was her attitude--she came across as genuinely happy to help me, but she wasn't going to push it.

Best of all--I didn't have to play the old card. She did it with grace and style, and I left smiling because I'd had help without being made to feel old.

Let's have some definitions. Here are some of the ways people have made me feel old:

--handicapped - helping without asking
--deaf - talking too loud or very slowly
--feeble - taking my arm when I don't want help
--worn out - saying "you poor thing" 
--slow - sighing with impatience (my perception)
--blind - telling me what I'm seeing
--mentally impaired - not giving me time to think

Nearly anybody 20 or more years younger than I am can move faster, think about a dozen things at once, and put on a show of strength. Long, long ago I gave up trying to keep up with the younger folks. Not because I'd lost all my super-powers, but because I refused to compete. 

Even when I don't play the old card, I know other people will. They'll also help me when I don't want help, but I've grown outspoken enough to tell them no, thank you. (This is important if you have an arthritic shoulder that shrieks when someone tries to dress you, such as, help you put your coat on.) And if I can do it with a smile, we're both happy--they offered, I declined with a pleasant look on my face (and no pain in that shoulder).

When I get fed up with trying to explain that I'm not as old as they think I am, I entertain myself with some of the great sayings of famous people. Hope you enjoy these.

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          Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got 
          to start young. 
          Theodore Roosevelt (American statesman, writer, US President
          1901-1909)


          The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as 

          you're learning you're not old. 
          Rosalyn S. Yalow (American medical physicist 1921-2011)


          The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which 
          means never losing your enthusiasm. 
          Aldous Huxley (British writer, novelist, philosopher 1894-1963)

















          One of the many pleasures of old age is giving things up. 
          Malcolm Muggeridge (British Journalist 1903-1990)


          [I especially relate to Mr. Muggeridge--lately I've grown very partial
          to giving things up.]



          Scripture is filled with examples of men and women whom God 
          used late in life, often with great impact - men and women who 
          refused to use old age as an excuse to ignore what God wanted 
          them to do. 
          Billy Graham (American evangelist 1918-2018)


          Old age is when the liver spots show through your gloves. 
          Phyllis Diller (American comedienne 1917-2012)





Whatever your age, have a blessed week!


Thursday, June 7, 2018


A LETTER TO MY FRIEND ON THE OCCASION OF LETTING GO
[I'm repeating this post because LETTING GO is my theme song now. Among the parts of my life that are disappearing are friends who have to move on because of ill health and need new living arrangements to keep them safe. I know God goes with them, and I pray that they know God is there. Always.]


My dear friend,
You have been working at your task for some years now. I recall the time you boxed up newspaper cuttings, greeting cards, notes from people you had helped expressing their gratitude—boxed it all up and left it to be collected the next time the city truck came through.

At the time, I wondered how you could let go of all those things. My accumulation is similar, and I’m finding it difficult to cull the items I still want to hang onto.
Why, I wonder, is letting go so hard?

Did you find it so? Did you agonize over whole stacks of letters dating back thirty or forty years?
Much advice is written—and re-written—in magazines, newspapers, on the Internet—but it boils down to this: “If you haven’t used it in the last _____ years, pitch it.” The only difference from writer to writer is the number of years—3 years? 5 years? 10 years?

What about something that has lasted 25 years or more? Does it now have antique value? Do I care about that?
-----

You’ve given me good tips about this letting go business. Take, for example, clothing.
·         Each time you buy new items, get rid of the same number of old ones.

Okay, I can do that. I usually have plenty: too-small, too-large, wrong color, scratchy, too hot, too cool—easy to find the right number. Sometimes, I say proudly, I can discard/donate even more items than I just bought. How about that? And since I don’t buy trendy styles, what I remove from the closet isn’t any more attractive than what I put in its place. The big advantage in taking this advice is that I don’t have to build another closet (or room) to house an increase.
Books, now—that’s a different story. I know you’re not a collector, and you take pleasure in passing on to other folks many books you’ve enjoyed. But you also keep some, because, you say, those authors pleased you and became like good friends; you look forward to rereading those stories.

So I’ve "taken a page out of your book" about books:
·         When my taste changes (now that I’m into my 8th decade, this is not surprising), I can recycle books by donating them to my library for their monthly sale or to the senior center where a minimal charge for used books puts a few dollars in the center’s piggy bank. If the books are mysteries, I check with my children first—they like different kinds, so I may be able to pass along something they haven’t read.

The hardest category for me is correspondence. In my younger years I wrote and wrote and wrote letters to my nearest and dearest. The Internet and email changed that, and though I still write letters, they’re usually typed to save my aging fingers. But receiving letters! What a joy! I’ve written about that before, so I won’t go into raptures again. Except to say, there’s nothing like a real letter, written/typed on paper, put in an envelope, and sent off via the USPS to arrive at my house. A cup of tea, my feet up, and I’m transported into the world of my friend or relative who sent the missive. It doesn’t get much better than that. No wonder I have trouble disposing of those good times, represented by letters and notes.
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In thinking it over, I’ve concluded that letting go involves more than sorting, discarding, bagging it up for the trash collection next Monday.
Letting go means a break in a relationship with the items from which I’m parting. For out-of-date clothing, books I no longer read, there’s no trauma. But for very personal items—reminders of who I once was, who I still am deep down, and what I meant to somebody, sometime . . . the letting go can be painful.

So I ask myself these questions: Do I need those items to remind myself of who I was? Don’t the memories attached to letters, photographs, greeting cards remain with me?
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You’ve purged many, many things from your life. And I find you are still the same person, without all the physical baggage that you’ve shed.
Thank you for letting me see how that works.

With love and appreciation for who you are,
J




Thursday, May 31, 2018

A FEW THOUGHTS ON LIFE, ETC.

[I reread the text of this post from a few years ago and realized it was still true! Does that mean my life doesn't change much? No, my life really does change, but some of my musings stay valid beyond the end of the week.]

-----

So, here are a few thoughts on Life, Etc.

Often--say, every other day--I wonder what it would feel like to have complete control of my life and schedule. Mornings I'd write; afternoons I'd sew. I'd hire people to do all the things I don't want to do (cleaning house, especially dusting). I'd be freed from the minutae of my everyday existence and roam freely in my own little creative world: new plots for stories, new quilt designs, new ideas for blogs, new articles. Utopia!

Right? Well, maybe.

For example: What would I do when I got stuck? When a writing idea doesn't pan out? When a quilt that's nearly finished looks just plain awful.

I don't smoke, don't have a secret bottle in my deep desk drawer, wouldn't know where to get my hands on mind-altering substances.

So what's a gal to do?

I clean. Move stuff (though not furniture), find better places for what I already have. Sort. Discard. Re-box for storage stuff that will later get sorted and discarded. I mull over possible gifts for birthday and Christmas giving. Try new recipes. And my latest fave: surfing the Internet. (I call it research. You never know when something might work its way into a story, quilt, letter, blog, conversation. Or into my storage.)

Last week it occurred to me that, if I clean out the drawers in the washstand, I'll have a great place for thread--of which I have a lot. The smaller drawers will work for seldom-used items like quilt templates and tools. And the area with a door just might be big enough for ring binders of patterns and designs (once I find another storage place for the music).

Little by little I get things done. Baby steps--the Montessori method.

Hard for an impatient person to gear down to a lower pace, let the project dictate its own speed. But it's actually less stressful because all the little interruptions and distractions are what Life is—as they say, Life happens. And so we don't get something done this year. A valuable lesson.

A companion lesson--also hard to learn--is this: Don't beat yourself up when you miss a goal or deadline. (You might want to ignore this advice if you have a paying job with deadlines. Just a thought.)

If it's your own project that doesn’t get finished—one that doesn't make ripples in someone else's life--then forgive yourself for missing the goal, extend the deadline (if it needs one), try again.

Life's short enough, without reducing the number of good days by whining, stressing, worrying, and fit-throwing.

However! If a good fit, pitched at the right moment, eases anxiety, then I say, Go for it!

 
Still unfinished, and I still
love it!