Thursday, May 18, 2017

DO YOU HAVE A CALLING?

James Herriot, veterinarian, writes:

"As a child, I was fascinated by dogs and had a burning ambition to be a dog doctor. . . ."

His schooling began in the 1930s, when veterinary medicine concentrated on large animal practice: horses, cows, oxen, the mainstays of animal husbandry on farms of that era. After finishing his education, Herriot went to Yorkshire to practice. And never left. He spent several decades with larger animals; only later could he concentrate his practice on small animals, especially his beloved dogs.

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A doctor I know who has been practicing about 25 years counted medical people among her relatives. Along with her early passion for science, she was encouraged to follow her dream of becoming a family practice physician.





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A long-time friend recalls his early struggles to settle on a profession. In his teens he was unsure whether medicine would be his life's work (college chemistry decided that question); or perhaps the church. Following college he and his friends enlisted for military service because the U.S. was in the midst of the Korean Conflict. By the time my friend returned from duty, he had decided to study law, and has practiced successfully for 60 years.

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I've known more than one member of the clergy who came late to a call to serve God's people through the church. One had been a teacher; another worked in U.S. government offices; a third was a homemaker and teacher.

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What is a calling? How do you recognize it?

Dictionary definitions include: an inner urge; a strong impulse. And, an occupation, profession, or career.

Most likely, we all experience some kind of inner urge or strong impulse. It may be for a season--a calling to excel in academics, sports, the arts in our schooling.

It may be for a longer time--such as what parents feel during their children's growing-up years: a need for a good job that helps pay the bills, a sense of the support required for a spouse or child, a safe home for the family.

The sense of a calling may change with our maturing:

--nurturing a young family
--care-giving for older family members

--working at charitable events
--sharing our skills without pay

--directing a large project as a career
--volunteering our skills to benefit a community or organization

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You may be one of the lucky, or blessed, ones who hear a distinct call to be/become/do something that is just right for you. If you don't hear that clear voice calling, think about the activities you're drawn to. Are you a leader? Or an assistant? Long-term, short-term? Like to work alone? Or prefer to be part of a group?

What I believe is this: if it's something that you've always wanted to do--no matter what happens--then do it. Here are some further thoughts to ponder: Don't expect it to be problem-free. Don't expect other people to encourage you; or admire you; or help you through tough times.

A calling is for the long haul--the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent, even the impossible. Find the Good, as Heather Lende says. 






Thursday, May 11, 2017

A MOM BY ANY OTHER NAME...

As we near the annual Mother's Day celebration, I've been thinking about women who have been "mom" to me throughout my life.

There's first, naturally, my biological mom, whose name was Doris. I was her third child, but the only one who survived beyond a few months. From her I learned several important lessons:
   --put yourself in the other person's place
   --be friendly
   --don't hurt another person's feelings
   --share what you have
   --take care of your belongings

Life for my mom was not easy; she was divorced in a time when such action was frowned upon. She had to work to help support herself and me. We often had to make-do with whatever we had because we couldn't afford another whatever-it-was. I didn't know any of this when it was going on. Much of it became clear when I had children and experienced first hand what it meant to do without or make-do. My mom died when I was 15.

My next mom was my mother-in-law, Vira. She and I just clicked. Her house was where we often met on Friday or Saturday night for pizza--she and I made it while the guys talked in the other room. We were on the same wavelength, Vira and I. If she needed a utensil for use at the stove, I was handing it to her as she turned to ask. She was creative with fabric, liked to read, collected recipes, all of which I related to; and she played bridge with her lady friends, which never appealed to me. (Mainly because I couldn't get my head around the rules and nuances of bridge. Still can't.) She died when I was 27.

Years later I met Treva, one of the pillars of the small country church my family attended. She had one daughter, but apparently longed for a larger family. So she "adopted" all the 30-somethings in that church--boys and girls--as her own. No matter how downhearted we felt during the week, a Sunday morning of Treva's love and acceptance put things right again. Treva lived long enough to see me into my 50s.

By that time, I'd reconciled myself to being the mom, and not having one of my own in the flesh. Then I reconnected with Aunt Virginia, my mom's youngest sister, and the last of the 10 Jenkins children. 


Aunt Virginia had two little boys--who naturally became grown-up men--but she never had little girls of her own. All my female cousins and I were happy to help her out. For several years my oldest daughter and I made an annual trip to Illinois for a weekend with Virginia and "her girls." We visited cemeteries where our great-greats were buried; we shopped at Walmart; we ate one meal out so we could visit with some cousins who couldn't come to the house; we admired Virginia's garden, and ate whatever produce was ripe and ready. Virginia lived a long life, and I was in my 60s when she died.

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What is it that defines a "mom"?

Think of the people you know who've adopted children--are they any less a mom (or dad) because they aren't the biological parent?

Think of the women (since we're talking about moms today) who never married, but who spent their lives in service to children, young people, and adults: teachers, nurses and doctors, social workers, day-care people. . . .

Here's a partial list of characteristics I associate with moms:

--they care
--they want the best for you
--they laugh or cry with you
--they think of you often (you know this because they tell
   you they do)
--they have wisdom, in spades, from years of living longer
   than you have
--they share: ideas, advice, money, material goods, their physical help
--they let you make your own mistakes (they made theirs, and 
   learned from them)
--they let you go when they'd rather keep you safely with them, and 
   they keep you when you've no place to go

Make yourself a list. It will be based on how you've come to know the woman or women you call "mom."

Then take some time each day to give thanks for "mom." 







Thursday, May 4, 2017

RAINY DAYS


It's May, right?
The month that follows April, right?
And April showers bring May flowers--right?

In my little corner of the world, April showers bring May showers.

Pick a week--any week--and I'll tell you we had at least three, maybe four, straight days of rain.

So--when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

We got rain. We're gonna do rain today.



Note to self: Buy cute boots today.
Rain songs:

     Singin' in the Rain

     Rainy Days and Mondays

     Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head









Thank you, Pollyanna, for positive thoughts.


     Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

     Come Rain or Come Shine

     I Get the Blues When it Rains









Advice from a naturalist

     September (in the Rain)









Worth thinking about


     Rainy Night in Georgia
     Rain, Rain, Go Away















     Cats don't sing much (I'm told), so no songs.
     But this is a strong statement about faith, dontcha
     think?









When all else fails, make a cuppa something hot and bring out the books. Or movies. Or board games. Or . . . .

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Enjoy your rainy days--whether they come in bunches or are few and far between. And while you're at it, sing a song or two. For those who can't carry a tune in a locked trunk (you know who you are), don't fret--you'll probably be alone anyway.








Thursday, April 27, 2017


A POEM FOR YOU


Thursday’s Child:
Some years ago, Liz Flaherty quoted William Martin's poem "Making the Ordinary Come Alive" and I saved it to read over and over. In searching for the poem to share with you today, I came upon this short meditation by David Lose on his blog, “. . . in the Meantime.” I hope you enjoy what he says.

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David Lose:

I don’t have a lot to say about the following poem. Sometimes that’s the only fit response when you encounter sheer wisdom. There is nothing to say, just a great deal to ponder.

William Martin’s counsel isn’t only for parents to children, I believe, but for all of us. For how can we give or ask for that which we haven’t experienced ourselves. And so before we can invite our children to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, we ourselves need to practice that discipline.

A meal cooked by a friend. The quiet fidelity of a spouse. A warm fire to banish for a moment the chill of winter. A good book. A shoulder to cry on. A hand to hold. Crocus – soon, we pray! – bursting through the snow. A quite (sic) moment to rest and reflect. A poem that makes you sit up and take notice.

Each of these is a small, even mundane thing. Yet each also has the capacity, if we are open to it, to usher us into an experience of grace, when God’s goodness presents itself not as a prize to be sought but a gift to be received. May it be so with our children…and with us.



Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.


[Thank you, Liz, for sharing this poem.]





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?