Thursday, January 18, 2018

GETTING UP IN THE MORNING

[I know the daylight hours are lengthening, but getting up in the morning is still, sometimes, a real challenge. So I reread this post published late in 2016 and decided to run it again--there are always things to get up for, even on cold I-don't-want-to-go-out days.]

When I was about eight years old, I sometimes got to stay all night at Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins’s house. It was a small house—only four rooms—but it felt cozy.

I was old enough to sleep in the spare room by myself. Apparently insomnia hadn’t reared its ugly head in that phase of my life, so I would sleep until the morning sounds and smells gentled me awake.

Grandpa gets up first. I hear him in the kitchen, lifting the stove lids to check the bed of coals left from the night before, then opening the fire door (it squeaks), pulling chunks of stove wood from the buckets in the space behind the stove and filling the fire box. Then I hear the rasp of a kitchen match against its sandpapery striking strip. After a short wait—fire snapping and popping—the stove lids are dragged across the stove top and clunked into place.

Those early morning sounds reassured me. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a safe place to sleep and to wake up.

Later, after Grandma gets up, I smell bacon frying in one of the big iron skillets. When I get up and mosey out to the kitchen, Grandma will crack eggs in the bacon drippings and our breakfast will be nearly ready.

The eggs were fresh from Grandma’s hens, down in the barn. There weren’t many hens now. With her family grown and gone and only occasional company, Grandma didn’t need to cook big meals.

Grandpa has been out to check on something—maybe the chickens—and he now comes back inside. The big blue granite coffee pot has come to a boil. Grandma pours out two cups (I’m still too young to imbibe) and sets the table.

Coffee made in my modern drip pot doesn’t have the same nose-tickling aroma as the elixir from Grandma's blue granite pot. But I’ve been a dedicated coffee drinker since about age 14, like my mother and her parents, and all the aunts and uncles and cousins.

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Throughout my life there has been something—or someone—that gave me the extra push to get out of bed. In winter, the floor might be cold, the room chilly, the sun not yet up, but there was always some reason to give up the warmth of my comfortable bed. When the children were home, I had the morning ritual of getting them ready for school and getting myself ready for the office. Since I retired, I had a few years of dog duty with Joy—she was an especially good alarm clock, never barked at me, but managed to convey her wish to go out NOW.

Life never stands still. Have you noticed that, too? Things have shifted for me. With no one else in the house--person, dog, or cat--I wake up to the possibility of an event that I want to attend: walking at the Y first thing with my walking buddy (we keep each other accountable), before all the people get there; yoga or tai chi class; coffee or lunch with a friend; sewing or knitting with another woman who enjoys that activity as much as I do. 

Something different—unusual—or rarely occurring—gives me a sense of the day being an adventure. Big adventure, little adventure--all are welcome.

Often I greet the day knowing I’ll have a treat. Coffee and chocolate, both limited on my diet, are always a treat. Or a new book to read, a new movie or episode on Netflix. A shopping trip (even though I may not buy anything). [Aside: I once went to Barnes & Noble and bought nothing. Not even a newspaper. I know you don't believe me, but it's quite true. Sad, but true.]

Other times I wake with an overwhelming sense of joy. I’m rested, and warm; I have a sense of well-being—no problem in view; or maybe I wake with a sense that a problem has been resolved, a prayer answered. Something, somewhere, fell into place and the world can breathe easily again.

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No one starts the bacon or the coffee at my house. There are no little home-y sounds that tell me all is well and Grandpa—or somebody—is taking care of things. Life has moved on, and I’m the one taking care of things. Getting myself up in the morning.

But the memories live on in me. And I smile.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

AFTERMATH

Whether you started Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and took down all the decorations on December 26th or started Christmas on December 25th and celebrated the full 12 days (through January 6th), there's more to come.

Not more Christmas celebrating, exactly. But whatever transformations you felt, whatever new feelings you experienced, these you carry into the new year.

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In 1959, 20th Century Fox made a film called Say One For Me, starring Bing Crosby as Father Conroy, with Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner as major players in the story. One of the songs in that production was called "The Secret of Christmas."

Here are the words of the refrain, written by Sammy Cahn:

It's not the glow you feel when snow appears,
It's not the Christmas card you've sent for years,
Not the joyful sound when sleigh-bells ring,
Or the merry songs children sing.

The little gift you send on Christmas day,
Will not bring back the friend you've turned away;
So may I suggest The Secret of Christmas
is not the things you do at Christmastime,
But the Christmas things you do all year through!

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What are the "Christmas things" we do?

Well, there's merry-making! Parties (the ones you give, the ones you go to), gift-giving . . . .

There's the uber-busy business of shopping, decorating, baking cookies, making candy, writing cards, planning dinners, knitting scarves, buying new clothes . . . .




For some folks there's a Christmas pageant or play, a cantata, rehearsals and getting one's self and/or the kids to the rehearsal hall . . . .

Or how about visiting shut-ins who don't have family to celebrate with? Taking small gifts to nursing homes and hospitals for patients and caregivers? Buying poinsettias to brighten the patient's room?

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Those are some of the Christmas things people do. And as soon as Christmas is "over," whenever that is, we go back to regular activities. To be fair, I don't think we actually forget to do these things--they just drop to a lower place in the list of priorities.

As the song's messages suggests, Christmas isn't only one time a year. The things we do at that mid-winter celebration can be carried on throughout the next twelve months. 


So how would a list of Christmas Things To Do All Year Through look?

How about this:

~Give a no-reason party for a few people you love to see. Buy each one a little gift if you want to.

~Write notes to folks throughout the year--tell them how much you appreciate them; encourage them during difficult times; congratulate them when they have good news.

~Knit/crochet scarves for people who come to the shelters in your area. Or hats. Don't knit or crochet? Buy some inexpensive items and donate them to the shelter. If you're really ambitious, make lapghans (small afghans suitable to keep laps warm) for folks in nursing homes who sit a lot.

~Volunteer to help with school or church programs--backstage work, making costumes, helping actors learn their lines; or take part yourself--try out for a role, sing in the chorus, play the piano at rehearsal.

~Get a list of shut-ins from your church or neighborhood community center. Send notes. Order small bouquets and deliver them. If you have the time, go for a short visit (five or ten minutes means a lot to someone who has no visitors).

~Read to someone who has trouble seeing.

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Best of all, make your own list. You know what you can do and like to do. See what you can come up with to help someone else get a little better quality of life. If you're already into the All-Year-Through feeling, you are a blessing, and you are blessed. You don't get a badge to sew on your jacket or a pin to wear or a certificate . . . but the Christmas things you do all year through will make your life, and someone else's, merry and bright.





Thursday, January 4, 2018

NEW YEAR - NEW OPPORTUNITIES


2018 is now up and running! May it be your best yet!

A couple of years ago I posted a list of Good Intentions for the new year:

1. Practice kindness and forgiveness as often as possible.
2. Read three new authors.
3. Reduce the clutter and get rid of excess possessions.

Not sure I managed all three in 2016 (which was the year I was aiming for). But in 2017, I know I made some headway.

#1, practice kindness and forgiveness as often as possible--This one is almost impossible not to do. "As often as possible" is likely to be every single day, and if you want to drill down a little more, every hour/minute. Kindness includes attitude--toward other drivers, toward shoppers in a crowded mega-store, toward new neighbors . . . .

Forgiveness is another moment-by-moment action. Our neighborhood has changed drastically in a little over 15 months--of the 6 houses that are now occupied by strangers, I know the names of the ones who live in three of the houses. Everyone is younger than I am, most work (one woman works two full-time jobs, though my mind boggles at that possibility), and the ones with young children are as busy as I always was when I was at their age and stage of life.

Each new family brings personal habits, family dynamics complete with noise, and more vehicles than this street was designed for. Opportunities for kindness and forgiveness meet me at every turn.

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#2, read three new authors. I did that one! My new authors are:

Barbara Brown Taylor - memoir
Jason Fagone - history
Mary Oliver - poetry and essays
Michael B. Curry - theology
Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer - fiction

(I didn't set out to exceed three, but it happened anyway.)

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#3, reduce clutter and get rid of excess possessions. Here's another ongoing project. I have help whenever my Minnesota daughter comes to visit--she loves to organize, doesn't mind sorting/discarding (though I realize it's my stuff she's sorting and discarding), and then cleans the shelf or cupboard or storage area for me when we're ready to put away the things I'm keeping. Yes, I've made progress, and the give-away pile grows steadily. 

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This year's list will be much the same. Whatever I choose to emphasize will, without a doubt, be an ongoing endeavor. Loving others, for instance - especially when the "others" seem unlovable. This might involve keeping my opinion to myself at times--some of my opinions aren't meant to be expressed aloud. Giving more of myself to help people in need. Praying for people and places and situations that seem far away and unimaginable. And still forgiving what needs to be forgiven, being kind when I'd rather not.

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Good intentions . . . necessary for forward movement. I'm hoping mine give me the little push I need to roll on. Yours, too.





Thursday, December 28, 2017

FOUR GIFTS

In this week between Christmas and the start of a new calendar year, I thought about gift-giving. Today's thoughts were posted a couple of years ago. May they speak to you as thoughtfully now as when they were freshly minted.

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If I could give each of you a gift, I’d wrap up four nice boxes and in each one there would be a word you could treasure the rest of your life.


In the first box I’d put Hope. Without hope in our lives, we can grow afraid of the future. It all looks bleak. Or endless nothing. Or terrifying. But with hope, we can see something greater than the fears we live with.

In the second box I’d put Peace. My favorite definition is on a mug I use to drink tea each day. It reads: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

In the third box I’d put Joy. A few days ago I read in a small devotional book this thought: “Joy feels deeper than momentary pride, satisfaction, or relief. . . . A sense of joy brings deep contentment and is often expressed by gratitude for what we’ve been given.” (Lelanda Lee, author)


And in the fourth box I’d put Love. Love encompasses Hope; it brings Peace; and underneath all Joy you’ll find Love.










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Hope you had a blessed Christmas!




Thursday, December 21, 2017

FIRST DAY OF WINTER!

I hope you aren't disappointed that I'm not posting bone-chilling photos of deep snow in my neighborhood. One year I put up a yard stick and was appalled at how much snow covered the inches.

The reason I'm not posting those b-r-r pics is that I have none this year. The snow we had a week or so ago has, courtesy of La Nina, melted away.

Instead, we're having clear skies--low temps--and wind. I could show you the sky, but haven't quite got the hang of photographing low temps and wind. The effects I can do, but the below-freezing cold and biting wind . . .?

What I do have are the final two Christmas gifts to complete: a small reading pillow (travel pillow form covered in favorite colors of the recipient) and the last stage--binding and labeling--of a bed-size quilt. No pics of either project--they won't be delivered until next week.

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The biggest "project" is preparation for my Minnesota daughter's visit. A little light cleaning and straightening up, meal planning (with attendant shopping for ingredients), and locating and dusting off the Christmas DVDs and CDs--arrival is Friday by suppertime.

Also am practicing music for Christmas Day when I'll play the organ at my church. Wonderful old familiar carols that we sing only once a year for a few Sundays and other services during the Christmas season.

Wrapping gifts has become less hectic than in former years. I'm still not crazy about gift bags--there's usually one gift that doesn't want to be bagged because it's too big or odd-shaped or just plain ornery--but I have come to appreciate the idea that I can find a pretty scene on a just-right size bag, coordinate it with some nifty tissue paper, and hand it to a waiting, excited, recipient. But I still enjoy wrapping a box or a soft, squashy something in bright Christmas paper and sticking it together with tape, maybe topping it with a pre-made bow, or just wrapping it around and around with yarn. (Plenty of yarn at my house!)


As an aside: Maybe the thing I don't like about gift bags is that there's no anticipation--no shaking of the package, no feeling the size and shape and trying to figure out What It Is. Gift bags, it seems to me, are synonymous with instant gratification: Whip out the tissue, delve into the bag, and hey-presto! There's your gift. (Remember, I'm a dinosaur.)

Another plus for wrapped gifts is the recipient's opportunity to test one's skill in un-wrapping the gift, seeing what's inside the box, then re-wrapping so Mom doesn't suspect it's been opened. At least one of my four kids brought that skill to Expert level. (You know who you are!)

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I received one gift already--my Ohio daughter brought me this large box, taped shut; and on the outside was a picture of what is inside. But to make sure she hadn't rescued the box from the recycling bin and filled it with something totally at odds with the picture on the outside, I asked. No, she said, it's just what it looks like. So now I have a Cuisinart electric kettle! She's had one for years and I've always admired it. If you're in the neighborhood and gasping for a cup of tea, I can whip one up in very little time.

Then the next day I got another gift--talking about tea reminded me. It's a large silver safety pin, on which several small charms hang: a teacup on its saucer, a couple of bead arrangements in crystal and silver, a silver heart, a spoon, and a silver tea kettle. This was made by the mother of my knitting friend, Emily. (Emily's mother is one of the most talented women I've ever met--her mind teems with ideas and images that she turns into things of beauty.)

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One gift I'd rather not receive is already on its way--'way below normal temps starting Christmas Day and running through most of that week. Highs in the teens don't really do much for me--and lows in single digits? If I could find an office to register my protest, I'd do it, but I think they're already closed for the holidays.

Those of us with warm houses and full pantries can be thankful . . . and we can pray for relief for folks so much less fortunate than we are. If you're in a place where you can serve at a shelter, now's your chance.

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I know I used this quotation from Charles Dickens a couple of weeks ago, but it's so appropriate right now. 

By the time another Thursday rolls around, most of us will have had our big dinners and our gift-giving and our holiday visits. We will be in the time of honoring Christmas in our hearts.

Blessings on you for a meaningful Christmas Day and season . . . from Thursday's Child.




Thursday, December 14, 2017

DECEMBER 14

If you're doing a countdown, this is Day 11 before Christmas arrives.

Like many people, I'm finding a Monday holiday--not the usual ones like Memorial Day or Labor Day or Somebody's Birthday Observance--to be a bit, um, inconvenient. 

Christmas on Monday means Christmas Eve is Sunday. There was a bit of head-scratching, I'm sure, among the folks who plan and schedule and make things happen for Sundays. My contribution to December 24th is to be a communion assistant at the 9:00 AM service. Although I would like to be part of the late night service, starting at 11:00 PM, I live far enough from the church to accept that driving at night, in uncertain weather, on a hilly and very dark route, may not be the best thing to do.

Christmas Day service at 9:00 AM on Monday will find me on the organ bench. I can't think of a better way, or place, to celebrate this holy day.

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Last week's grumps have gone away. Maybe it was the arrival of snow, enough to cover the ground and give us the White Christmas feeling. Or maybe it was the cold--some nights in the very low teens or--{shiver, shiver}--single digits. (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the grumps got frozen out. And it couldn't happen to a better group, I say.)

One of my projects is now in the hands of the woman who performs her artistic magic on my quilts and makes them a thing of beauty. Just delivering the quilt to her lifted a large load off my life.

Yesterday I delivered the first of my veggie trays to people I want to thank for keeping my life on track. Today I'll deliver three more, and the last two on Friday.

Christmas cards and letters have been written and mailed. 


So, you ask, what have I left undone?

Well--haven't watched any Christmas movies yet. 

Or listened to Christmas CDs.

Or baked any holiday cookies or breads or cakes.

Or  bought any special clothes or accessories to wear to gala occasions. (This might be because I don't to go any gala occasions.)

And that's all right, all of those things I haven't done. Because I still honor the season of Advent, a time of waiting and watching and preparation for the birth of a baby who changed the world.

Eleven more days . . . Time to finish delivering veggie trays. And find the last couple of gifts that have eluded me thus far. And in just over a week my Minnesota daughter arrives for a week's visit.

I wish you peace as you put the final touches on your Christmas celebrations.





Thursday, December 7, 2017

WHADDYA MEAN, CELEBRATE?

Do you remember an old song that went like this?
Grumpy the Dwarf

     If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands,
     If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands,
     If you're happy and you know it,
          then your life will surely show it,
     If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.

I'm singing a new verse, that goes something like this:

     If you're grumpy and you know it, frown and growl . . . .

There's no really good reason for my current grump. But there are a lot of little idiotic reasons. Such as:

--my credit card payment, mailed 10 days early, at the Post Office, didn't arrive at the company that processes payments
--the credit card company wants me to pay up--I'm holding out for the check to clear
--the wind has picked up again, gusting along at 35-45 mph; certainly cuts into my going out for errands and exercise sessions
--my sleep patterns--if I can dignify them with such a term--are all topsy turvy, through no fault of anybody I know
--days melt away and I don't know where they go

That's enough to give you the idea. You probably have your own list.

The reason I frown and growl is . . . I can't do anything about the above items. Except fret. Or frown. And growl. None of which does any good.

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It's pretty bad when Mickey has
the grumps.
The weather thing--windy/cold/wet/cloudy stuff--can't change it, but I've decided how to handle that. If I have to stay home, I'll do yoga stretches for exercise. Or watch a fitness video on the computer. Or take a nap. I've even done some of my shopping online (I know, some people do ALL their shopping online)--but that requires using a credit card, which, as we know, needs to be paid, and if not paid, or not recognized by the company as paid, results in a nasty-nice email . . . .

Okay. Enough of that. If I can't change the way things happen, what can I do--really--to adjust my attitude? (I can't afford the professional Attitude Adjustment, so it'll be DIY.)

1. I can find somebody much worse off than I am and recognize just how blessed I am. (This might lead to feelings of superiority, so I'll look for something else.)
2. I can quit buying things online. And stop using credit cards. (Last I heard, cash still works.)
3. I can declare a moratorium on the grumps--one way to do that is to schedule the grumps, say, every Thursday at 2:15 AM, for 5 minutes.
4. I can read something funny--humor does a lot to shift my mood. But it has to be real humor, not satire or the sarks. Funny movies or TV shows can do the same thing.
5. I can complain (if I really, really must)  in my journal, thus protecting my family and friends from the contagion of the grumps.
6. I can do something nice for somebody else. (You're on your own with this one--my something nice might not be your something nice.)
7. I can play some upbeat music--Vince Guaraldi Trio's CD, A Charlie Brown Christmas, makes me want to dance. 

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Writing about the grumps and knowing you're right here with me (you are, aren't you?) lightens the load. 

May your days be merry and bright, and may the grumps never visit your abode.


Linus can put a positive spin
on nearly everything.