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.

-----
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.

-----

          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.
-----

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?
-----

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!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

MEMORIAL DAY
     May 28, 2018




Remember the fallen, and give thanks for their lives.

       Pray for the missing and wounded, that they may know peace.

              Hug a veteran--because you can.





GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR

[This came about because I couldn't come up with a great topic to entertain you with. Some weeks are just like that. But people all around me are working in their yards and some are planting things, so, here are some thoughts on gardens that I wrote a couple of years ago.]


What happens when you don’t have any idea what you’re going to write about?
Some folks just start typing and see what develops.

Some ask their friends and family for suggestions for a topic to write about.
Others look up things on the Internet, browse through a book of quotations, look for words of wisdom in quotes by famous people . . . .

Today I’m not very inspired by what I see in my neighborhood, or know is coming up on my calendar. I mean, I’m having green grass, bloomin’ flowers, and singing birds. Lots of folks are having the same. A couple of days ago I had dental work done. Are you interested in hearing about that? No, me neither.
So, let’s think about something current and nice to contemplate—gardens and gardening. Here are some pithy thoughts to stir your brain:

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
[Can’t argue with that one.]

 A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
Liberty Hyde Bailey
[Hmm, effort. Yes, indeed.]

We must cultivate our own garden. When man was put in the garden of Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest.
Voltaire
[Yeah, but sometimes I need to rest, a lot. Sorry, Voltaire.]

 I don't like formal gardens. I like wild nature. It's just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess.
Walt Disney
[Wilderness is fine, but there better not be any snakes and big bears.]

 The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
George Bernard Shaw
[Good one, George.]

 Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
May Sarton
[Maybe I better rethink this gardening thing.]

 Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.
May Sarton
[Ah, gardening as metaphor—now I can get into that.]

-----
When I googled “gardening” I discovered mostly info about flower gardens and what I call English gardens—not a kitchen garden that feeds the manor but cultivated and high-maintenance beauties.

Pole beans make hiding places by August.
Then I thought about gardens in my life, and I time-traveled back to childhood—Grandpa Jenkins was the first gardener I remember. When we went to visit him and Grandma at the edge of their little town, there beside the house was a HUGE garden—what I’d call a couple of acres now that I know what that looks like—where Grandpa tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested every kind of vegetable. I remember especially the tee-pees he made to encourage the beans to vine up. Those made wonderful hiding places in summer if I wanted to get away from my irritating (male) cousins.
We kids often pulled and ate radishes and carrots right out in the garden. Dirt? Well, yeah, there was dirt on them; they grew in the dirt. We wiped it off on our slacks or on the grass, and chomped away.

By August there was always something to can. My mother and her sisters and sisters-in-law came to help Grandma “put up” pints and quarts of beautiful food. Some of the jars went home with the helpers, some stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. My job was washing the jars, because my hands were smaller than those of my mom and aunts. (And also less swollen because I was too young to have arthritis, a family hand-me-down.)
My own adult experiences with gardening have no romance about them, not even in memory—I recall back-breaking work, sweat, mosquitoes (try picking cucumbers at dawn to take to the local pickle factory), more sweat during canning. But for me, it was an eye-opener: my parents and grandparents went to a lot of trouble and toil to provide meals for their tables. Nothing like an aching back and some itchy mosquito bites to drive home a lesson about how food gets to the mouths of our children.

At my time in life, firmly established in retirement, I enjoy the produce grown by others: my daughter and son who are the gardeners in the family; folks who offer their wares at the Farmer’s Market; neighbors and friends with surplus tomatoes/squash/cucumbers on their half-dozen plants that all produced at the same time.
When I miss the camaraderie of the kitchen at harvest time, I go to my daughter’s in Ohio and cut up, slice, or clean whatever’s going; wash dishes, and jars and lids and rings; stir a pot of something that needs to cook a little before being canned (jelly and pasta sauce); rest my weary back and legs for a while and eat a quick lunch; then back to the jar-filling before I head home. Come winter, I’ll spread jam on toast and utter an “ummmm.” And when I can’t think of anything to cook, there’s a jar of pasta sauce on the pantry shelf waiting for my gluten-free pasta to join it for a filling dish. Tomato juice? V-4 juice? Just right for soup. Get out the slow cooker and start putting things in.


Nowadays I’m more of an appreciator than a gardener. But I celebrate and salute all those who really dig gardening. J







Thursday, May 10, 2018

LEARNED AT MY MOTHER'S KNEE

What did you learn at your mother's knee?

One thing I learned was how to swear. Fluently.

My mother had four older brothers and three older sisters. No matter how vigilant Grandma and Grandpa were, older siblings will be older siblings. I suspect the boys were the more accomplished swearers, though.

And it didn't take me long to learn where and when swearing was tolerated--not many places and not often.

But the best thing I learned from my mom was how to be a Positive Person.


Not a family pic--but this is how women
looked in the 1940s.

I knew all six of the Jenkins girls: Dessie, Grace, Sarah, Mom (Doris), Dorothy (Mom's twin), Virginia. It was a rare moment when all six happened to be together, so I got to know them in smaller groups when they met at Grandma's house to can green beans or help clean house or just because they wanted to visit and Grandma's house was central for most of them.

Picture this: Grandma sitting at her big round kitchen table, waited on by whichever daughters showed up. A pie is cut and served. The coffee pot is never allowed to go dry. Voices mix and mingle and soar. The decibel level rises to ever greater heights.

What did they talk about? Everything. And I learned a lot from the corner where I sat and listened (they thought I was reading--well, I was, but I was listening, too). What I learned was this: There was nothing too big or too personal or too sad or too upsetting that it couldn't be laid on the table, commented on, hashed out, maybe even solved.

These women faced the problems in their lives.

They acknowledged the problems.

They shared them with each other.

Then they got on with life.

And always, they laughed. By the end of the pie and coffee and the afternoon, someone's burden was lighter.

-----
When I think about my mother and her sisters, I realize they taught me many useful approaches to life. Such as:

-- Stand up to adversity.

-- Share your burden.

-- Laugh if you can.

-- Cry if you can't laugh.

-- Be honest; don't say it's worse than it is; don't lie; give the benefit of the doubt, if you can.

-- Walk away, if you have to (though I don't remember much of that, not permanent leaving).

-- Apologize if necessary.

-- And a very practical lesson: Clean the house--it's great for anger management. (Not to mention you'll have a cleaner house.)

-----
As you can imagine, the above lessons were the ones I caught by example. No one gave me instructions or a list called How to Live as an Adult. I suspect most of us learn by the examples we were given.

Which makes me wonder what my children would write, if they were asked what they learned at their mother's knee. I grow faint just thinking about it.

-----
Whether or not you have children, you were once a child yourself, so you had a mother. If she's still on this planet, wish her a happy day, and thank her, if you can, for what you learned from her example. If she has passed on to another place, salute her for the lessons she gave you.

Mine showed me how to be positive, even when life gives you lemons and you don't have a pitcher or enough sugar to make lemonade. Her smile, even when she was dying of cancer, was genuine; she wasn't trying to deny death. She was still saying "yes!" to life.