Thursday, October 27, 2016


(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I'm borrowing her phrase, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." From Sonnet 43 in Sonnets from the Portuguese.)

This is my love song to Autumn.

I love Autumn for its colors--never the same twice; adjusted and revised, tinted and deepened, over and over and over. Leaves, flowers, pumpkins, cornstalks.

I love Autumn for its fragrances--smoke from wood-burning fireplaces and stoves; the last barbecue of the season; the wine-y smell of fresh apples gathered into the barn at a local orchard; the spice of chrysanthemums ready to plant in flower beds.

I love Autumn for its sounds--lawn mowers and leaf blowers, the municipal vacuum truck; homeowners and carpenters finishing the last bit of repair or construction before the weather changes; rain--wind-blown or gentle--against the roof at night.

I love Autumn for the tastes we create, now that we can heat up the oven--raisin-studded oatmeal cookies, muffins, brownies (so quick to make!), apple pies and fruit crisps; chili in the slow cooker; pork roast with root veggies in the oven; soup, any kind, just so it's soup.

I love Autumn for the touch of soft leather gloves, the rasp of a hand-knitted scarf against my chin; the weight of a shawl or ruana over my turtleneck; corduroys and heavy denims for warmth. And socks! Heavy socks, reaching up the shins to keep out chilly air.

As I gathered my thoughts for this post, a phrase kept playing in my mind: "Heaven and Nature sing!"

Well, of course they do! In every season Heaven and Nature sing a different song. I celebrate all of them--yes, even summer, my least favorite--but my true love is Autumn.

Even when we have the little season called Indian Summer, with its few days of sun and warmth, Autumn is much too short. Frosty nights are a foretaste of weather to come. 

But until that time, celebrate Autumn. Revel in her colors and tastes. Make room for cookies and soups. Heat up the outdoor grill one last time. Wrap up warm and go to your favorite team's football game.

Yes, indeed. Heaven and Nature sing!


Thursday, October 20, 2016


Yesterday I attended a funeral at my church. Hilda was 97 years old when she passed, and she had been a member there long before I came on the scene. But she was a part of my church life from the first day I attended, because she and her seatmate always sat directly in front of me. (We don't really have assigned seats, but we might as well have.)

There weren't many there for the service. Most of Hilda's contemporaries are also gone. We did meet her two children, both of whom live in New York State, plus other family members. But the folks who came--my, how they sang and prayed and recited Psalm 23 together! We celebrated the life of a woman we had all known, to one degree or another.

In my 20s and 30s I dreaded going to funerals--they were so, well, funereal. 

My first experience of the Celebration of Life service was 45 years ago in a church I attended when my children were young. Yes, we mourn the one who has passed. Yes, we may be saddened by the suddenness of the death. And yes, if we are adults, we naturally are reminded of our mortality. 

But we also celebrate the faith and recount stories about the one whom we see no longer--the funny things, the odd things, even the ornery things that have occurred. Yesterday, Hilda's son said his mom was indeed strict. He remembered it well, along with what she did to keep the family going in hard times. A caregiver and close friend of Hilda's remembered her as strong, stubborn, hardheaded--and loving, joyful, a true friend. She told little-known anecdotes about Hilda's escapades when eating out with a group from church.

I love those stories. They illustrate that we are all a jumble of characteristics. We're not paper dolls; we're not formed in a mold. Listening to Hilda's friend and her children, we got a true picture of the Hilda most of us knew. And if you were a stranger in the congregation that day, you would feel as if you knew her, too.


Do you tell family stories to your children or grandchildren? Or to nieces and nephews? 

Many adults I talk with don't remember their grandparents. Family stories can fill in those gaps. They give us a sense of connection we wouldn't otherwise have. The stories may even explain why our family lived the way it did--and where it did. 

We are such a mobile society that the stories are more important than ever. I was born in Illinois, moved to Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, and finally Indiana. My children were born in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Whenever our family gets together for a visit, we often play the "Do you remember" game. What one remembers, another may not. And most often--the memories are very, very different. Makes for a spirited visit, let me tell you.

Storytelling is an art--no doubt about that. But that doesn't prevent each one of us from taking part. A story can be as short as telling your young children their grandparents' given names. Or it can be more involved, explaining where your ancestors came from, if you know; or bringing to life the cultural differences in your family. 

If your storytelling starts getting complicated, try writing down the anecdotes and experiences you'd like to share. No one is going to grade your work, so feel free to express yourself as you would if you were talking to your audience. 

Can't get started? Then try the traditional approach:
     "Once upon a time, there was . . . ."

Works every time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Tuesday this week The Guys finished my house project: removed old siding, wrapped, insulated, re-sided. Plus they built a new stoop over my back door. They finished in 12 days—working between rain showers for part of the time.

During those 12 days my world changed completely.

I’m not used to having people in my yard, pounding on the outside of my house, running high-powered equipment that squeals, shrieks, or roars. Yes, I know they were doing the work I wanted done. Work I was willing to pay for. But still--

This might have been a low-level interruption to my normally quiet life, except:
  1.         All the new neighbors moved in at the same time. Their belongings arrived in pickups, vans, SUVs, and rental trucks.
  2.       All the new neighbors decided to have more-or-less extensive repairs, remodeling, and redecorating done at the same time. (One day I had to negotiate four large pickups parked on both sides of the street to get to my garage, in addition to the huge trailer that my contractor leaves on-site to house the equipment and supplies The Guys need. I was limp the rest of the day.)
  3.       The first week of the 12 Days of House Upgrade was Fair Week—the county fair was in full swing—that’s fine because their activities take place at the animal barns and show rings; but—but—the annual carnival/food tents/rides are also in full swing on the court house square--the noise level rises, traffic is rerouted to my neighborhood, and community tempers flare. That week turned out to be chilly and rainy, so I don’t think the carnival rides collected much revenue. The only people I felt sorry for were the marching bands who always have two or three nights of parade performances.
My normal activities for any week—walking, exercise classes, shopping, sewing group at the church—were still on the agenda. They turned out to be the best thing I could have had going.

I left Monday morning to sew with my friend Jane at her house. Tuesday I did my shopping. Wednesday I had yoga in the AM. Thursday would have been tai chi, but I decided to save my energy for another day. Friday I went to Heart & Hands and sewed pillow cases for the NICU.

Clearly, I needed a stronger antidote to the hyper-activity. Going away for a vacation was out. I had workmen at the house, and they sometimes had questions.

Reading worked well part of the time. I reread most of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries.

I tried cleaning house—some of the pounding on the outside dislodged paint flecks and other debris inside. But there was no point to that until the work was finished.

Shopping might have been fun. Except: shopping usually means I spend money (my cash was already promised to the contractor for the work on the house). And: I end up with tired feet, sore back, and a headache from standing around in stores. Online shopping solves the latter problem; but not the spending money part.

Or there's always a day spa . . . .

Most of the time I find things work out as they’re supposed to. I had phone calls with one of my kids who is working on her website. I spent a Saturday with my Ohio daughter making jelly. My best friend for 47 years was visiting her family in Indiana, so we spent part of a day together eating lunch, driving through a state park, and catching up on our lives. Another day I dug into some of my storage totes and came up with different fabrics for baby blankets and pillow cases. And I reread an unfinished manuscript of a novel I started some years back; it’s a story I still love but it stalled when I couldn’t see how the characters would resolve their problems. Now I think I know how to finish it.

Maybe the best thing to do when our lives are full up, running over, and making a mess is to back off. Take a deep breath. Meditate. Lie down and listen to music for a while. Take a nap. Do something we seldom have time for--browse in Home Depot or the hardware store (I love those places); read magazines at the library; take a drive with no destination in mind. Go some place we haven’t been, for a meal or a walk through the landscape or a chance to get outside ourselves.

I wouldn’t trade my full-up life for anyone else’s. What I lacked was the chance to appreciate each thing as it happened. Life became a surface experience because of so much input. A step back gave me a different--and deeper-- view. (And I did not melt down.)

Now that the house project is finished, I can look around and see what’s going on outside my door. The neighbors have finished their renovations and their moving-in; lamps are lit in living rooms that have been dark for months. The pickups that lined the street recently have gone back to where they reside.

Psalm 23 says the running over of our cup is a positive thing--we receive blessings upon blessings.

As I write this, we are being blessed with a much-needed rain. Not a hard driving storm, but a gentle steady rain that will soften the ground and wash the streets. Our flowers, trees, shrubs, and lawns will appreciate its nourishing moisture.

Outside the world is quiet again. It is dark. My cup ran over and is now down to a livable level. I have new neighbors in houses that were empty for several months. The Fall Fair has gone away for another year. And I have a house that feels almost brand new--with insulation that will keep my rooms warm all winter and cool next summer, with the added bonus of lowering my fuel bills.

Yes, my cup runneth over. Thanks be.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


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.

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.

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.