Thursday, April 30, 2015

This sounds like a fairy tale, and maybe it is; I’ve read so many stories in my long life that it’s possible I’ve turned into one of the characters.
It happened like this:

I bought a skein of yarn in many beautiful colors—soft blue, soft green, soft pinky salmon, soft gold—all in one skein. The colors run into one another and repeat over and over.
From this beautiful skein of yarn I made a baby hat to be given to folks who had no hats for their children. The one little hat used up scarcely any of the yarn, so I began to knit a blanket. It’s a simple blanket, about the size that will fit over an infant carrier. The pattern is also easy to do—every row is knitted, and the multiple beautiful colors weave in and out and around and about. It is a blanket I can pick up and work on whenever I have a few moments.

When I began to find the skein had changed size, I decided to rewind the yarn into a ball, starting at the end of yarn that poked out of the skein. I wound and I wound, twisting and turning the ball as it grew so that the yarn would hold together. The ball grew bigger, but the pile of yarn on the floor seemed to grow no smaller.
A long time later, I finally wound the last of the yarn into the ball and put the ball into a bag so it wouldn’t unravel. The blanket grew larger with each row I added. The ball of yarn stayed the same. I knitted more rows. The ball of yarn never changed.

After many months (in a fairy tale this would be years, but the universe is speeding up, you know)--as I say, after many months, I began to lose sight of the beautiful colors; they blended together and became "the project." All I could focus on was that da---- ball of yarn that never got smaller.

There appears to be no ending to this story. The ball of yarn continues on.
Does this resonate with you? That ball of yarn could well be my daily and weekly chores: dishes, cooking, laundry, cleaning . . . . They never end. The only variants I can work in are exercise classes, sewing projects, and—you guessed it—knitting. Oh, and DVDs of Masterpiece Mystery. Like the lovely yarn that grew into a little blankie, my daily life was in danger of losing its beautiful colors, because my focus was on life's daily-ness, not on its many and varied possibilities.
I’m trying to avoid evolving into Sisyphus—he’s the Greek guy whose sinful nature earned him a particularly rotten eternal punishment in the underworld: pushing a great boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back to the bottom where he had to trot down and start over again. Ad infinitum.
When I reach the end of the yarn--I'm thinking positive here--I'll show you the finished blanket. If I never reach the end . . . well, I've had a happy experience with many beautiful colors.
In the meantime, I'll see if I can find the colors of my life again. I know they're around here somewhere . . . .

Thursday, April 23, 2015

And all the big things.

We've had cloudy skies and dull days off and on since late last week. The sun may peek out for a while, then, whoop! back to the clouds. This back-and-forth weather wears me down. I get cranky (well, okay, crankier), nothing pleases me, and if there were a pity party going, I'd be the life and soul of it.

Maybe it takes days like that to make me recognize the little and not-so-little things that happen, the mood-lifters, the happiness reminders . . . .

Sharing breakfast
Take last Saturday. I'd been out for coffee with a friend, very early, and was home writing my journal for the day. Outside my window is a multi-hanger feeding post for various bird feeders.

Lately local cardinals have begun feeding at my big seed feeder--it has a standing tray so they feel safe up in the air on a level perch. Most often, they feed on the ground, their usual station. That morning, both Papa and Mama Cardinal came to eat. You know, Saturday morning, breakfast out. It must've been tasty, because he shared some seeds with her, feeding her. I'd never seen that before. Made my day.

Then back to the cloudy days and the grumps. Tuesday evening I went to visit my second daughter at work during her supper break. She brings me distilled water and sometimes samples of things she's baked or made--that night it was chicken-noodle soup (gluten-free) and a big flat package from her husband. It turned out to be one of his oil paintings, with the message: Happy Mother's Day. The background is a mix of indigo, green, and black, so the orchids stand out. He has an outstanding talent--I was overwhelmed by the work and the love that went into that painting, and that he made it just for me. It will hang with pride in my house.

Yesterday was another cloudy day--what else?--and, just to annoy me further, we had snow. Yes, snow, on April 22nd. I couldn't conjure up an antidote for that. Snow, really!

Then about 8:30 PM I had an email in my inbox from my co-founder of Heart & Hands, the knitting/sewing ministry at my church. She asked me to write something for the newsletter (deadline is this AM) about the picture on the bulletin board showing a new mom with her baby wrapped in one of the blankies we'd made and given to the local Neonatal ICU. What an upper! A picture of one of our blankies on a real baby. I'd only imagined them before, so knowing it went to a real little person . . . ! 

Since I hadn't seen the photo, I had to do some creative writing, but the draft I emailed to my friend was right on target, she said, so I emailed it to the newsletter lady.

Today we have sun.

The cardinals are back--and he's feeding her again! Suppose she doesn't like to cook?

I'm still looking for a place to hang the orchids.

And the baby blanket I'm working on reminds me of the young mother-and-child photo on my church bulletin board.

The world reflects light and growth, love and connection. No time for the grumps, or pity parties. We might miss something great.

Almost finished...

Thursday, April 16, 2015


You’re traveling down the Interstate, 70 MPH, maybe 75, even up to 80 if you have to pass a slow-coach driver who thinks 68 is fast enough. Off to the right you see billboards. They’re everywhere. Companies approach property owners offering them long leases for what seems like found money, and then put up billboard foundations.
If you can slow down for a minute, maybe even down to the regulation 70 MPH recommended by some states, you might see something interesting. An encouraging phrase. A wisp of kindness. A fact that inspires you to do something, too.

I try to stay off the Interstate because it’s really not on my way to where I want to go, most days; and also because I like traveling at 60 MPH or even less. So I take what is now a county road, though it used to be a state highway, back in its day.
This county highway is a straight shot for me from my home to Fort Wayne, where I visit the Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft store whenever I have money, have my eyes checked every six months, and go to church twice a week—once for the regular Sunday worship service and once for the fiber arts group that knits, crochets, sews, and otherwise wrassles around with fibers to make things for other folks.

And on my way I pass billboards. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed:

Yes, indeed-Do Thy Best
It always has....

My youngest daughter was in California for a job interview and came across one that read: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. So I searched and found a DIY billboard with that message.

The thing I especially liked about the billboards on was the phrase Pass It On.

Right! If it’s worth looking at, reading, and ingesting, then pass it on.
You never know where wisdom/encouragement/inspiration will appear. Keep your eyes open. It may be on a billboard near you.

My favorite advice

Thursday, April 9, 2015


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. Tomorrow I have an appointment for my semi-annual tooth cleaning. Are you interested in hearing about that? No, me either.
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.
[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, April 2, 2015


Okay. You find yourself standing in front of the Mystery section at the library or book store. You pick up one, read a little, put it back; pick up another one--sound familiar? Happens to me all the time. I like the look of the cover, or the author's name intrigues me, or . . . .
I don’t often recommend books to other readers, partly because I may not know their tastes and partly because of my own less-than-happy experience with books recommended to me.
But if I may--here’s a series you might want to explore if you’re a mystery buff: the Maisie Dobbs stories.

Author Jacqueline Winspear has written 11 volumes so far, starring Maisie Dobbs, a single woman in her early 30s. The series is set in the time between the world wars—beginning in 1929 before the stock market crash in October of that year, and continuing through the decade leading up to what we now call World War II.

Winspear is British by birth, now lives in California, and has a formidable team of researchers and people with long memories to give credibility to her London of the 1930s. While you’re reading a Maisie Dobbs mystery, you’re living history in the making.
What I treasure most is the author’s expertise in presenting a difficult period in world history without descending into sentimentality; it was a bad time, true: many young men had been lost in the Great War, leaving a large majority of a generation of women without husbands and sweethearts. The overriding message--there's more than one--is this: War affects not only those who were in it; those who survive will never be the same. Those survivors include family members and friends on the home front who never saw action on the battlefield.

Another series, totally different in place, tone, and intention, is the Precious Ramotswe series called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency mysteries. Some people have disregarded them as too quiet, too blah. But if you take the time to read one, you’ll discover the main character, Mma Ramotswe, is a very wise woman, a compassionate woman, which makes her an ideal detective who can solve all kinds of problems. She may not have a degree from any school, but she has learned much in living in her native Botswana.

Alexander McCall Smith, who created the series, has a long list of novels to his credit—The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is up to Book 15; but there are also other series and stand-alone novels, plus books for children.

Probably my favorite author is Josephine Tey (nom de plume for Elizabeth Mackintosh), a Scotswoman who wrote only eight mystery novels, and was better known under another name as a playwright. As Josephine Tey, she wrote the most readable and literary (not always a happy marriage) mystery novels: one deals with murder, another with kidnapping (sort of), a third with a historical mystery that has intrigued Britain for centuries. Although there are a couple of recurring characters, the novels are not a true series.

Tey wrote during a period--1920s into the 1940s--often called the Golden Age of detective fiction. A few of her siblings in crime were Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy L. Sayers, Georges Simenon, Ellery Queen, and Rex Stout (about whom more below).

I’ll give you one more—another oldie: Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin,  New York City detectives who never age, though their exploits covered over 40 years of American history. Stout wrote novels, short stories, and novellas; many of the short pieces were published in Saturday Evening Post and The American Magazine. Wolfe is eccentric to the point of being insufferable; therefore, Stout very astutely created Archie Goodwin, man about town and attuned to the ways of personable young ladies, to narrate the stories of Wolfe’s genius. Archie, though astute, is one of us and quite approachable. Many of these books and novella collections are still in print; or at least, they’re in print from time to time. Their appeal seems to be ongoing.

There you have it—my recommendations, if you want them. I've culled a handful from my long list of favorite authors to reread, or look for the latest addition to their body of work. The reason they're favorites? The authors draw me into the story and into the lives of the characters. So escape is a big attraction--I know the mystery will be solved and the world will return to a sense of rightness when I've read the last pages. Beyond that, I feel as if I'm visiting with good friends from another time, people I don't see often, but who live on in my memory.

If you stop by my house sometime, and there’s no answer when you ring the bell, check around back—I may be lounging in the hammock with one of my favorite authors. You can join me, just bring your own book.