Thursday, April 20, 2017

BRANCHING OUT

Spring is a natural time to think in terms of growth. . . . Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals . . . all nature seems to sing and get in on the chorus.



Recently I took stock of what's going on in my life and was surprised to find I'm branching out! Here are some examples:

Reading--one of my several hundred favorite things to do, reading. I've mentioned in these posts many of the books I read. In branching out, the books I'm choosing come from a different set of shelves. Autobiography, biography, and memoir have always interested me; now they're near the top of any list I make. Mary Roberts Rinehart, who wrote mysteries in the early 20th century, wrote and published her autobiography in 1931, when she was 55; it's called My Story, and tells much about her family's daily life in the late 19th century and early 20th. As a journalist, she was able to go to the front in World War I; at one point she went into No Man's Land, unheard of for any reporter, male or female.

Jill Ker Conway's grew up on a sheep ranch in Australia, earned a scholarship for a college education, and in later years became the first woman president of Smith College in the U.S. The Road from Coorain is the first of her books, a fascinating account of growing up in a different culture.

My current companion at breakfast/lunch/supper is The Boys in the Boat, an account of the Washington State rowing team who went to and won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Much good historical information there, when the world seemed poised on the edge of another world war.

Fiction authors I'm sampling include: Charles Todd, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Read a page or two of a couple of new writers but didn't like the present tense voice of the narrator--not sure why this is so, but I'm much happier with stories told in third person and past tense. (Perhaps another characteristic of dinosaurs.)

Movies and TV--I've mentioned before that I don't watch network TV; but I do share a Netflix account with one of my daughters and also have access to Acorn-TV and Amazon Prime movies. With these resources, I can sample shows long off the regular air. Now they are available on my laptop at any time I choose. And I can watch one episode after another, not waiting a week for the next one; or I can hopscotch around from one show to another.

Mysteries and thrillers are my favorites--Grantchester; The Murdoch Murders; Broadchurch; Endeavour; Inspector Lewis. As you can see, my tastes run to British/Canadian series.


Plants--My Ohio daughter gave me an orchid for Christmas--first one I've ever owned or tried to keep alive. So far, so good! A friend at church told me how to care for orchids, so yesterday I went to Home Depot and bought potting mix--not soil, because it compacts too much, but a loose mix of bark-like stuff that is similar to what orchids prefer in the wild. This is definitely branching out for me--my houseplant experiences are limited: philodendrons and herbs.

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So, you say, what's the point of all this branching out?

Trying new things, finding new resources, being open to different ways of doing things are all positive steps to keep us alive and growing. Think of it as fitness for the mind. Some people do puzzles--word, number, jigsaw; some keep a meticulous check book or inventory their collections; some challenge themselves with new projects to make from wood or metal or cloth. Some take a class--fitness, genealogy, foreign language, art . . . a limitless number of pursuits to try.

Branching out means you won't grow stale. This benefits the mind, which influences the body. Recently my eye doctor told me there's nothing I can do to change eye pressure advancements, but physical exercise is helpful all the same because it keeps the body healthy. I'm all about that.

I have to admit--making an effort to branch out takes energy, consumes time, and may cause you to make some mistakes. Here's a tip about mistakes (posted recently on a white board at the Y): "If you stumble, make it part of the dance." I like that!

Here's to branching out!




Thursday, April 13, 2017

SPRING IS . . .

On March 20th, just three and one-half weeks ago, I read on my calendar that we were experiencing the First Day of Spring. But I didn't find much to fill my senses at that time.

In the week past, I have seen and smelled and experienced completely the meaning of Spring. Here we go:


I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen. Anne Lamott, American novelist and non-fiction writer

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You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet-diplomat










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No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. Hal Borland, American author, journalist, naturalist










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Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota holy man




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Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. Doug Larson, columnist and editor in Door County



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Wherever you are, enjoy Spring!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

QUARTERLY REPORT


50-Book Challenge

January:

7 mysteries
3 romances
1 women's fiction
1 memoir

Total for January: 12

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February:

6 mysteries
10 romances
2 memoirs


Total for February: 18

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March:

7 mysteries
1 thriller
4 romances
2 writing books
1 unpublished book-length ms.

Total for March: 15

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From the above bare facts, you might conclude my favorite reads are romances. The ones listed are all re-reads of books I've collected over the years. My best time for reading romances (or any re-reads) is when I'm pressed for time and need something to read while I eat my meals.

My actual favorites are mysteries. The thriller mentioned in the March list is an oldie but goodie by Graham Greene, The Human Factor, and is actually a spy story. The draw for me is the author.

Several on the list of mysteries are by Dick Francis, a British jockey turned author at the end of his riding career. Since Dick Francis's death in 2009, his son Felix has been writing. The books are not a series, though there are a handful with recurring characters. 

Other authors in the mysteries are Anne Hillerman; Rex Stout; Patricia Moyes; Ellis Peters; and Jacqueline Winspear.

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Non-fiction is also high on my list, though not everyday fare.

Roger Angell's Let Me Finish is about his growing up in New York City and his life as a journalist (he wrote often about baseball). Heather Lende's If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name chronicles her life in Alaska.

Frederick Buechner's Now and Then is part 2 of a 3-part memoir. This one is subtitled A Memoir of Vocation. (Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian pastor and has written a number of books on faith.)

I've read several books on writing memoir, but none has reached me like Marion Roach Smith's The Memoir Project; the content is taken from the classes she taught in New York. 

Dennis Palumbo's Writing from the Inside Out is also a re-read. Much good advice and encouragement there.

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The unpublished ms. is my own, called The Growing Season, a story set in the Great Depression of the 1930s. I have notes about the story going back to the early 1990s, though much of the writing was done after 1999. Happily, the story holds up for me, and I still like it.

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The above are the books I've read. There were also magazines, small booklets of devotions for Lent and for everyday use.

Not to mention: texts; emails; snail mails (letters!); and cereal boxes. I don't read many cereal boxes nowadays, because I have beaucoup books. But there are blogs, articles, how-to advice on making/doing nearly anything you can imagine.

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Of the 16 authors represented in the books I've read, 9 are American, 7 are British. The books by the Brits outnumber those by the Americans 31 to 14. This surprises even me!

Hope your reading life suits you and your lifestyle.

Read on!



from Frederick Buechner


Thursday, March 30, 2017

REWARDS PROGRAMS

“You have earned 10,000,000 points!!!”

"Subscribe now and get 2X points with each purchase."

"Use our Rewards Card and get free [Whatever] for a year."

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Sound familiar?

You probably get something in snail mail or email every week—if not every day—offering you all kinds of stuff FREE. And if you order $XX in items, you get FREE shipping!

Rewards are only a click away . . . .

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My least favorite offer du jour is the one that my communications company wants to “give” me—I can bundle telephone, Internet, and television, for a mere $XX per month.

I get this offer at least every other week, sometimes more often. What they don’t know is: I don’t watch TV. If I want to watch whatever free television stations I can get in my town, I can install a big old antenna on the roof. Had one for years. Didn’t always work. I quit watching. I'm told there are other options, but if I don't want to watch TV, why would I install an antenna?

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It isn’t only because I'm a dinosaur.

I used to be a TV watcher. My family got our first television set—black and white, of course—when I was 12. All that summer I watched game shows and drooled over the prizes the contestants won. (Well, I was 12, after all, in those long-ago days.)

But something has happened—both to television broadcasting and to me.

Television programming has ceased to interest me. If I haven’t seen that type of show decades ago in another incarnation, then I’ve seen its brother, sister, and cousin. And didn’t like it then.

The best televised programs for me are on PBS. Many come from the UK. Many are dramatizations of books I’ve read, by authors I like. (And these often become available on DVDs or through the Internet. I can watch, if I like, at any time suitable to me.)

So why should I pay for television service?

I have a set—in fact, I have two, because I watch them in different places in the house. The TVs are needed to play DVDs of the shows and movies I’ve enjoyed and still enjoy. They also play CDs of music I can listen to while I sew, cook, or even read.

The other reason I don’t watch television is about Time. How much time do I have left to live? (Nobody knows the answer to that.) How much time do I have each week to do all the things I enjoy? (The same amount everybody has—168 hours.)

So the question becomes—How do I allocate my 168 hours?

Your answers will be different from mine. But think about that a while. Do you have to give up something when you take on a new project? I do. Every single time someone asks me to try a different activity, go on a trip with them (even a day trip), visit a new place to have lunch—I have to pause and consider. And that means I’ve used up some more of my 168 hours.

There are just no slots available to slip in something new. If I make a place for quiet time--reading, meditating, writing--then the hours are filled.

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I’ve given up fussing about the offers I get in the mail. If they’re cardboard, they go in the recycling bin. If they’re not recyclable, I trash them. Yes, that takes time also. But I can multi-task; while I fill the trash bin I can give myself an "atta girl" for rejecting the magnificent offer I've just binned.

As to rewards: Do we really really really need rewards? Do we actually earn all the stuff we’re promised? You can tell I’m from the era of merit—if you were good enough to earn a medal, by golly you got a medal. If you didn’t earn the points, then you didn’t get the reward.
Sometimes, I think the old ways were best. They certainly made us work harder.

And if that’s being a dinosaur, then I am one.

Hello, my name is Judith and I’m a dinosaur.



Thursday, March 23, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A STEP JUNKIE


Some time last fall I searched for a step counter--the kind you wear on your wrist that counts the number of steps you take in a day.

First mistake: I ordered a brand name wristband because I recognized the name. Mistake, because I didn't know enough about getting it set up--online, mind you, not here in my own home with my own two hands.

Second mistake: Didn't return the danged thing. Kept it, hoping a visit from one of my kids would release me from the first mistake by helping me do the online set-up. We worked with it for the several days of my daughter's visit--both of us getting frustrated in different degrees. When she left I told her to take it with her: get it working, trash it, sell it, give it away--just get it out of my house.

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After Christmas, when life began to get back to normal (meaning I got to my usual events like knitting with my friend every Tuesday and Thursday lunchtime), I began to think again about walking at the Y more often (walking having become a casualty of the cold weather and high winds). Talked it over with my knitting friend, and she suggested I get one like her mother's--easy to set up and use, no online syncing required. Sounded just the ticket for this dinosaur.

Forgot to ask what brand it was her mother had--looked all over the local stores for something easy-peasy--finally remembered the all-important question of brand name. Got that information. Not available in my local stores. Drove to a neighboring city--they were out. After I stopped banging my head against the wall, it occurred to my addled brain (not enough oxygen due to not enough walks at the Y) to order the thing online. I do that often--ordering, I mean--and love the convenience of having books, sweatshirts, shoes, and movies arrive at my door even on the least-clement days. Why not a step counter?

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I've had the step counter on my arm for the past three days. It counts steps (if my arms are swinging), figures how much of a mile my steps add up to, tells me how many calories I'm burning with each event (walking, sitting, sewing), tells me the total number of calories I burn in a day (sadly, usually less than I'm intaking), and provides me with time and date.

For $9.99. Plus tax. No shipping. (Yes, I got a deal.)

So the chronicle of the step counter is pretty much over. I got it. It works. I'm satisfied.

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Well, the business of being addicted to "steps" isn't over. Just a quick glance through my bookshelves shows the following:

31 days to [something or other]
5 quick ways to [whatever]
9 tips for [painting, I think it was]
7 steps on the writer's path

How-to books multiply like coat hangers in dark closets. And every single one of them, even without the telltale 31, 5, 9, or 7 is about the steps that will lead you to success in [pick your subject].

Some sly authors (or maybe their editors) hide their step-counting:
The Art of _____
The Craft of _____
Finding _____

On and on and on.

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What is it with our modern life? Do we need--really need--to have our lives laid out in boxes, and lists, and steps to follow?

Or is it something more? Like "guaranteed success"? As I scan those telltale titles, I conclude that each day/way/tip/step carries with it the unspoken promise of success. All you have to do is . . . . 

There's an aroma of snake oil about this.

Could be, though, that if you're unsure about something, reading a book or article will give you enough information to make a decision--shall I try this? Or not?


I  have to confess, I'm not very adventurous. If I want to learn a new skill--say, Portuguese knitting--I'll watch an online tutorial. Or I'll work with someone who knows how to do that, having hands-on teaching and feedback and a chance to say, "Show me that part again."

What would happen if we just . . . well, jumped right in and tried something? Some adventures might be dangerous; we can forget about those. Others imprudent or foolhardy; probably also not a good choice.

But there are some adventures that might tug at the little kernel of creativity inside us and say, "Come on, try it once. If you fail, you can try again. And again. And maybe even again."

We can read all the "Secrets of _____" or "Winning at _____"; but in the end, it comes down to doing.

I'm going to make a stab at writing a memoir--again. That's been on my personal To-Do List for some time. I've learned a few things by reading memoirs already published, and a few more things by authors who teach memoir writing and share their ideas. (Yes, another how-to book.)

And one thing I've learned: a blog is a mini memoir.

How about that?




Thursday, March 16, 2017

RIGHT-NOW PROJECTS


Some of us like to feel we've made headway on our daily or weekly or whatever-ly list of Stuff to Do. Experts tell us we need to prioritize. A favorite ploy is to assign a letter to each task on the list of Stuff. "A" means it's high priority. Under "A" you can further prioritize: A-1, A-2, A-3 . . . .

Next would come the "B" list. These aren't as critical as those on the "A" list. The "C" list would be those tasks that might get done someday.

I tried the method outlined above. It was part of the training when our office staff got our planners. By the time I left the presentation, my brain had overloaded with all the methodology.

So, now that I'm in retirement, and to make myself a semblance of order and even, perhaps, notice some headway, I've made my own method.

What experts call the "A" list, I call Right-Now Projects. These are tasks that need to be done very soon, such as prepare a meal so I can eat before 8 PM (Daylight Savings Time is messing with my dinnertime); or get to the bank before it closes, if I want to cash a check; or drive by the Post Office to mail the bill payment so it goes out today instead of tomorrow. Or finish a quilt for a birthday gift.

Every week my exercise classes go to the top of the Right-Now list on the day they're scheduled. If I don't go then, I'll have to wait another week for the class to come around again.

We all have these tasks that nag at us to get done. Or suffer the consequences--which may be light or onerous. I hate late fees, so that's a good motivator for me.

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My next list is the Soon List. Yesterday I visited the Walmart in a town 20 miles from where I live because that store still sells fabric that I can use for the baby blankets and pillow cases made by Heart & Hands. That trip has been on my Soon List for several weeks; the only thing keeping me from going Right Now was weather.

Another Soon task is returning books to the library (before they become Right-Now projects). When I do return them, I'll do some other errands at the same time: banking, post office visit.

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My "C" list is called the Whenever List. No surprise (is it?) that it includes cleaning out the garage, sorting Stuff for a church garage sale, sorting fabrics and putting them in different groups . . . .

Already, though, the garage cleaning is begging to be done for the garage sale. (The sale is to be held early in June at the home of a family in our church; proceeds go to our food pantry.) Tasks on the Whenever List in March will become Soon by late April. And if I don't get it done until May, it'll be crowding onto Right-Now.

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As I wrote about the Stuff-to-Do in my life, I got nudgings about other types of projects.

What about our relationships? Do we keep in touch with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers? Is this a Whenever project in your life? I hate to admit, it's pretty much Soon or Whenever for me.

Social media has done a lot to help folks stay in touch. For some, that's ideal. For me, it's a chore. I find ways to check up and check in that don't require me to listen to my cell phone's demanding beep.

What about community involvement? Need some suggestions? Here are a few, free for the taking:
  • serve at a soup kitchen
  • volunteer at a food pantry
  • volunteer at a hospital or school or library
  • volunteer at an animal shelter
  • offer your services to a youth group--community or church
  • knit/sew for a charity
  • be a driver for folks who no longer drive
These may be Right-Now kinds of projects for you. And if they're not "in perpetuity," remember that your one hour volunteered helps somebody. If you knit one hat or sew one blanket, one more child or adult will be kept warm.

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One big benefit of Right-Now-ness--you're in the moment. You're present, right now. 

Time/duration is immaterial. One hour reading to a child in elementary school . . . two hours at a homeless shelter . . . four hours toting Girl Scout cookies from the warehouse to the moms' SUVs . . . half a day at a marathon handing out oranges to runners. . . .

Whatever you give helps someone else. And . . . yourself as well.

Have a blessed week.





Thursday, March 9, 2017

RE-DISCOVERING YOGA


Fifteen-plus years ago I began learning yoga. 

I'd been through 18 months of cardiac rehab (no heart attack or surgery, just stressed and lazy heart muscle), and while the rehab unit offered a variety of activities to get heart rates up and all that jazz, and my health was improving, I grew tired of the same-old, same-old. The nurse in charge of the unit told us about a yoga class we might like to look into. She was herself a yoga practitioner and could attest to the well-being brought about by learning the poses and meditating.

The class was taught at the local YMCA. I visited for one session, then signed up for the class. 

Prior to my signing up, there had been two sessions per evening: one beginning, one intermediate. True to my whole life's journey, by the time I got enrolled there weren't enough students for two classes, so we all started out at the intermediate level. (I've always been thrown in at the deep end. But that's another story.)

In time I learned deep breathing techniques, how to take my body to the edge of pain but not into pain, how to ease muscles by doing opposing moves . . . on and on. Lots to learn. (Always will be.)

Through the years I managed to get to class nearly every week, with only a couple of exceptions--one was the instructor's surgery, another was my annual vacation time.

Later, when I again had heart concerns, I changed to chair yoga--a less vigorous practice, but still touching on the basics of breathing, stretching, and poses, done from a seated position; a few standing poses are often used also.

A few years ago I took a break from yoga and went instead to the tai chi class taught at our senior center. Similar but different--still the deep breathing, stretching, slow movement designed to strengthen our muscles for balance and stamina. But slightly different emphasis. Always the same goal--doing good things for our health.

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Not sure what exactly nudged me forward into yoga again (along with the tai chi). A year ago I started going to a friend's class, but that required a 20-mile drive each way, and ended up wearing me out. Driving is not a relaxation for me, especially during iffy weather. I hate giving up Maris's class--she's the most peaceful instructor I've ever known and brings her students along with her to a sense of calm. 

But winter brought cold/windy weather and snowy roads, so I looked at the new offerings at the senior center and discovered a different yoga instructor (my first one has retired), teaching both chair and floor yoga two days a week. One of the days fit into my schedule very well.


Tuesday was my first time with Maddie, a 30-something woman who loves yoga and wants us to love it also. She's enthusiastic, but not in-your-face. She knows we all have "issues" that keep us from lifting our arms or stretching from the shoulder or turning our heads in a certain direction, and she reminds us not to go too far. Pain is not a good thing.

Ten or twelve of us moved and breathed and did the best we could with what our bodies would allow. Maddie is as big as a minute; the rest of us are the size of an hour and a half, but Maddie isn't concerned about that. She wants us to experience the benefits of deep breathing; of movement we may not do every day; and of sitting in silence at the end of the class, letting our bodies and minds enjoy the quiet. (In the best ways, she's like Maris, and I'm thankful for this approach to helping my body.)

I came home from that one-hour session feeling alive and alert after a winter of little activity. My body, mind, and spirit were energized. Oxygen flowed through my veins. I move better, think more clearly, and find my spirit renewed.

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Why is it? We know what we should do, but we just don't do it.

I've been needing to get back to yoga for a long time. Why didn't I?

When I miss my early morning walk at the Y, why don't I go the next day for sure?

I recall something like this happened years ago when I was in a weight-loss program. Most of us knew what it meant to binge or go off the rails--we'd shrug and say, "Oh, well, I messed up so I might as well go all the way." And we'd eat ourselves into another 3 or 4 lbs. that would show up at the next weigh-in. 

Maybe it takes longer for some of us to learn our lessons.

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At the end of a yoga session, we place our hands in prayer position in front of our hearts. And as we come out of our meditation, we say "Namaste." Which means, the light within me sees the light within you.

May your life be lighter, your mind clearer, and your heart renewed.


Namaste.