Thursday, July 28, 2016


I should wait a week to write about friendship—August 7 is friendship day.

But the subject has been on my mind and heart lately and I want to explore some definitions and thoughts on what friendship is, and what it is to have—or to be—a friend.

The most elemental definition I’ve ever seen is the title of Joan Walsh Anglund’s book, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You. It was published in 1958 for children 4 to 7 years old. A friend is…someone who likes you. Simple. Direct. Easy to understand.

But as we all know, we grow older, and life takes twists and turns, our experiences cause us to make leaps and bounds. Or go backward. Or fall on our prats. Sometimes what we go through is, well, less than joyful. Here are some thoughts to keep your hearts and minds engaged in friendly paths as you find your way through the jungle.

* * * * *
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.   --C. S. Lewis (1898-1967)

Who among us has not had a friend who kept us sane, even for a little while? Or who held our hand in a dark time? Who talked us down from a scary place—real or metaphorical—to continue living?

* * * * *
Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over.   --Octavia Butler (1947-2006)

If you have a friend, then you, yourself, are a friend. It’s a reciprocal relationship, not one-sided, but a meeting of equals. So if you are a friend, you know what it means to remain silent when they “hurl themselves into their own destiny.” Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But we know we can’t live other people’s lives for them, no matter how much we care, how much more experience we have, how clearly we can see the pitfalls they will face. We can “prepare to pick up the pieces,” and I would add, resist the temptation to say I told you so. Even if you never said it in the first place.

* * * * *
One more idea:

We call that person who has lost his father, an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent and holds its peace in impotence.  -- Joseph Roux (French surgeon, 1780-1854)

Ignore the out-of-date pronouns and focus on the thought.

No one wants to lose a friend. Friends are more precious than silver and gold, than perfect gems, than all the possessions we can ever amass.

Yet, sometimes a friend is lost. To death, yes; but that is not the harshest loss. The loss that stabs our hearts and wrenches tears from our souls is the loss we have caused—or have been unable to prevent—for whatever reason.

John Donne (1572-1631) wrote, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” I would add, “Each friend’s loss takes a valuable part of me, and I’ll never regain it.”

* * * * *
To send you off with a happier thought:

If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.  --George MacDonald (1824-1905)

Celebrate your friendships. They may not number in the hundreds or thousands, they may not be virtual friends you’ve never seen. True friends are the ones who know you, warts and all . . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2016


1-6.              Sometimes I’m thankful that I’m domestic—I can cook, sew, clean, shop, fix things around the house, decorate my environment. I don’t claim to be great at any of these, but I can do them.

These abilities allow me to live independently, if I want to. And if I need help with any of them, I know people who can step in and do what I can't.

7-12.             I’m thankful I have “outside” interests. I exercise five times a week; I knit with a former co-worker two noon-hours a week; I sew/knit/teach at Heart & Hands for the purpose of keeping babies and children warm; I play piano and organ for my church when there’s a need for a sub; I lunch with friends; I sew with a friend every Monday and sometimes we go on road trips to buy more fabric.

Having outside interests means I don't spend all day, every day, in my own little cocoon. And when the activities are enjoyable, my attendance is guaranteed. My heart, mind, and body are healthier for these times with others.

13-18.            And I’m thankful I have dreams and plans. One day I’ll take watercolor classes and learn to paint with pastels. I’ll write the other four novels on my list. And make more quilts and wall hangings—perhaps sell them. Perhaps I’ll travel—not far, just around Lake Michigan or near lakes in Midwestern states. If the opportunity occurs, perhaps I’ll again play church services in a liturgical church. And I’ll write memoirs of my younger life—B.I.T. (Before Information Technology).

When my father died just before his 79th birthday, he had drawn up plans for remodeling the Florida room on his mobile home. No withering away for him--he went out with the next project firmly in mind. That's the way I want to be at the end of my life.

19-20.            Most of all, I’m grateful and thankful for family and friends. We may not see each other often, but we’re in each other’s hearts and thoughts. We keep in touch with that wonderful Information Technology.

You don't need a googol of friends nor a large family to give you the gift of identity. Because of my family and friends, I have a better picture of who I was, who I am now, where I came from, even, perhaps, where I'm going. 

Any time I need a mood elevator, I’ll reread the above lists. They’re filled with blessings.

May you find your own blessings this week.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Have I ever told you how I wrote essays in high school for senior English? (No?!? Well, today's the day.)

They were called "themes" in those far-off days. The title alone was supposed to inspire us to keep to a subject or theme for the writing.

English class met at 1:00 PM. I'd finish a cafeteria lunch and by 12:30 I'd be in the school office, tapping away on a spare typewriter. This machine sat alone, away from the work area, on a small table by a wall. Other people milled around--secretaries at their desks, talking on the phone; students slouching up to the counter with "notes from home"; teachers striding through a side door to check their mailboxes, pick up mimeographed hand-outs or (egads!) quizzes.

I sat at the lone typewriter and typed (using all 8 fingers and one thumb) my words of wisdom, my flights of fancy, my requisite 300 (or whatever) words. People and noise and turmoil surrounded me. I heard nothing. I was a small-town Lois Lane, award-winning journalist for The Daily Planet.

At 12:55 I ripped the paper from the platen, folded it in half lengthwise, wrote my name on the outside (inside I'd typed it at the top of the essay), and sailed off to class.

Well, that was then.

This is now:

Thursday morning, around 9 AM, I feel my shoulders drop, my breath evens out, and I look around and see the world has, indeed, been there all along.

Before that 9 AM epiphany, I've been typing, and retyping, reading and rereading, the blog post I've developed over the past six days.

As soon as I hit the Publish button on the blogger dashboard, I'm liberated from that piece. I'll read the comments, make replies, and then the whole thing is history. The search for a new topic is on.

If I'm lucky, and my stars are in the proper configuration, I'll get a hint of an inkling early in my week--that is to say, on Thursday afternoon, Friday, or Saturday. Sometimes there's nothing until I go to an appointment during the following week--I hear a phrase or catch part of a conversation or read an article in the waiting room magazines, and there's a spark in my creativity center. Whether that spark lives long enough to fan into flames is another matter entirely.

A recent example: my doctor and I range far and wide in our conversations. (I believe she's secretly assessing my mental health, but haven't had the nerve to ask.) Last time we talked about the ideal office staff--any office--which she'd read should include people from all the "generations"--Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millenials. This led to a discussion of our experiences in various groups (not just office staffs). When I left, I had an Aha! moment--this would make a good blog post.

Five minutes of research on the Internet killed that idea. I discovered much disagreement among sociologists and other -ologists about beginning and ending birth dates for each group; that former tags, like "latch-key kids," are a part of the Gen X group; that where and into what socioeconomic level one is born determines many characteristics of individuals, not just the when. And on and on.

When one idea withers away, there has to be another one to plant and nurture. Thus, today's post about the process behind what you read each Thursday.

Over the years my levels of creativity have changed--yes, creative possibilities abound, new directions beckon--but the act of creating isn't as effortless as it was when I was 17 writing drivel (I mean, essays) for senior English. In the intervening years I've been dealt responsibilities and duties to handle to the best of my ability. So  have we all. 

But that doesn't mean creativity--creative thinking--stops. Creativity informs all, so it's always there, undergirding, always available, when we're confronted with something to solve. We learn to adapt--we find answers when we can--we seek out advice and wisdom from people who might be able to help us.

I never got to be Lois Lane, and I no longer lament that fact. Instead, I got to be a wife and mom and a teacher and a church musician and a blogger . . . . And it's all good.

Have a creative week!

Thursday, July 7, 2016


And, voila, you have a creation fit for a king.
Well, maybe.

I like to cook. I was recently asked why, and I had to think about that for quite a while before I could write about it.

Most of us take food for granted. It shows up on the table when we're little kids and we’re supposed to eat it to nourish our bodies. Also to keep our moms from yelling at us.

When I was in my mid-teens, around age 15, I began to buy Woman’s Day and Family Circle magazines. They were all about food—well, and other stuff, but a lot about food. They had food plans for the whole month. They had articles that focused on one type of dish: meatloaf in many guises; soups for cold days; soups for hot days; salads, beverages, desserts . . . reading the magazines was almost a gastronomic delight.

I also began to collect recipes, an activity became a mania—recipes in magazines, in newspapers, in books I borrowed from the library. Recipes filled hundreds (yes, hundreds) of 3x5 index cards that I stored in boxes that said “Recipes” on the outside.

You’ll notice that so far I’ve not cooked a thing. But I was getting in the mood, reading articles, collecting recipes.

During my mom’s last year with us, I noticed what she made, asked questions, made mental notes on menus. We had Ham and Beans with homemade cornbread. Before the hambone was added to the beans, it had graced our table inside a baked ham served with scalloped potatoes. We ate, on rare occasions, spaghetti with meatballs (it was never called pasta, just spaghetti; the meatballs took quite a while to make, so that’s why this was a rare addition to the menu). 

Macaroni & Cheese was a good winter dish—because it was baked in the oven. No box of mix—just add butter, milk, and the little packet of cheese sauce. Nossir, we had the real thing.

From my mom I learned how to make two kinds of quick meals—one was hamburger patties with boiled potatoes and canned peas. The other was something-or-other mixed together and baked; this had the advantage of freeing the cook to fold laundry, press shirts, dust the living room, or sit down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and put her feet up.

Though I was always good at helping out—in high parlance, I was the sous chef—I never prepared a complete meal until after I married. But I did experiment with a few small non-cooked items: cream cheese balls inside dried apricots, topped with pecan halves (my mouth waters as I type this); tomatoes sliced and seasoned with herbs.

Once I married, the heat was on, so to speak. Meals appeared three times a day—and not by magic or out of a box. Not many women in those days believed a decent meal could be prepared and boxed up for us to rejuvenate later.

Thus, I learned to cook from scratch. (Nowadays that’s a conscious choice, like eating organic foods or growing your own veggies. Back in the day, it was what we did.)

I created some lovely disasters—one was liver, which came out of the skillet resembling, tasting like, and smelling like a sautéed old boot. My mother-in-law taught me how to make palatable liver. Another big mess was boiled eggs, left on the stove to cook while I went upstairs to investigate what the kids were doing, or get laundry down the chute to the basement, or maybe even read a book. Hard to remember the fine details. The eggs, left to their own devices, ended up boiling dry, the shells cracked, and the insides exploded, managing to decorate the 10-foot kitchen ceiling with little effort.

If you’ve read this far, you must be wondering why I like to cook.

I’m still not sure, but I think I can give you some possibilities.

Like many things in life, cooking started out to be a chore, a task performed every day to keep a family fed. If a woman didn’t work outside the home, she could expect to provide meals for her folks.

Let it be said here—I was never wealthy enough to have a cook who either lived in or came each day to fix meals. I was a stay-at-home mom long before such a thing was a choice; it was simply what I did—cooked, cleaned, did laundry, reared the children, sewed, read, played the piano to help the kids go to sleep, and let the dog out and in, cats ditto, and dreamed of writing books.

So the first reason I cooked is that it became a habit. It was what I did for my family. And I discovered I liked doing it.

Another reason is that I learned to be a pretty good cook—nothing fancy, but I was willing to try new things (though the family weren’t keen). Those magazines and boxes of recipe cards came in handy. Eventually, joy comes from doing something well.

Mostly, I think, I enjoyed—and still enjoy—cooking because it can be a creative endeavor. It takes a pretty creative bent of mind to look into a nearly empty fridge and conjure up a meal for six with a pound of hamburger, part of a head of lettuce, and catsup/mustard/
mayonnaise/relish. There’s always the cupboard where macaroni and canned beans and soups live. So with one eye on the clock, and the other on the stove (I learned after one experience with ceiling eggs to keep one eye on the stove), I whomped up something edible—sometimes it was even good—and never looked back.

Today’s cooking is different in many ways. As a retiree, I cook for one. Sometimes for two, if one of my kids comes to visit, or a friend calls and we decide to have a meal.

I no longer have the big holiday dinners at my house. Our family has expanded to nearly 20 people and my house didn't expand with the population growth. Nowadays we usually meet at my Ohio daughter’s home—it’s in the country and allows running room outside for little folks with bundles of energy.

Besides cooking for one, I still like to experiment. Salads are never the same thing twice—herbs and infused olive oils and vinegars make any salad a new experience. I don’t do the infusing myself; there’s a wonderful shop in my town that provides more than I could ever hope to taste in my lifetime.

Another factor is eating gluten free. A few years ago that meant making everything in the bread/cracker/pastry/dessert line from scratch. Today, I can shop at virtually any store—grocery or discount—and find GF foods at affordable prices. I still like to concoct desserts with gluten-free ingredients, but it’s now a hobby.

Also, my menu now includes more fresh foods--fruits and vegetables--and lighter cooking techniques. I remember with longing the beef and noodles, fried chicken, and mom's apple pies of childhood--but I prefer to be healthier and have more energy now that I'm in an advanced decade.

I suppose the bottom line with cooking, for me, is that I’m following in the footsteps of many women in my family. Formerly, almost no men cooked. For one thing, they didn’t have time because they worked outside or at a job all day. For another—yes, I hate to say it—cooking was women’s work.

Nobody seemed to catch on that all the famous chefs in the old days were men. Today, you’ll find women chefs, plus lots of folks on the Internet and TV cooking up a storm.

My time in the kitchen brings up memories of working with my mother to prepare a meal; eating meals at my grandma’s house—everything homemade by my grandma and probably one or two of the aunts, plus my mom; teaching my kids how to cook (they never let the eggs explode, thanks be).

Eating together is an important part of life—whether you’re alone, part of a family, or a member of a group. Eating together gathers and connects people in ways that other activities don't. For one thing, eating isn't competitive. (Never mind the hot dog eating contests.) 
I wish you good eating, good meals with good friends, and joy in the preparation of food. Bon appetit!