Thursday, February 23, 2017


I owe thanks to CurtissAnn Matlock for the metaphor and image of "gleanings"--she often shares on her blog gleanings from her reading (which is rich and various).

The gleanings I'm interested in today are from our life experiences--what kinds of wise words or supportive philosophies or helpful hints have you gathered and used and shared?

The idea comes--in my reading--from Heather Lende, whose book Find the Good, came about because her publisher wanted her to share her experiences as a writer of obituaries--what last words did she hear from people she talked to prior to their death?

Heather Lende writes that her approach was to think of what message she herself would want to leave with her loved ones--what words did she believe would sustain them throughout their lives? She came up with: Find the good. And that became the title of her book.

For the past 40 or more years we've been bombarded with sound bites. You remember--those little catch-phrases that attempt to summarize a huge idea in a few pithy words. No need to go into detail--the phrase brings it all to life. "Go with the flow." "Think big." "Make a difference."

Without getting too picky, I'll just say that each of those is good as far as it goes. But think about it--Go with the flow? Easy to do. Pretty soon you're not thinking on your own at all. It's all flow. And you know what they say about water--it seeks its lowest level. The flow is, sorry to say, all downhill.

Think big. Hmm. Okay. I know some folks who think big. They're no good a-tall at detail because their ideas, their projects, their visions, are above and beyond anything as mundane as the details. (And before you say it--remember, it's not only the devil who's in the details. God is also.)

Make a difference. Now that sounds like a keeper. In my thinking, the word good is implied in that sentence, as in Make a good difference. Make things better than they are. However--you knew there was a however, didn't you?--however! What if your idea of what makes a good difference isn't the same as, say, your partner's? Or your mother's? Or your best friend's? Or your neighbor's? Does "make a difference" as a working philosophy grant you the right or the obligation to change something to please yourself?

Apparently it all comes back to our basic sense of what's right, or good, or appropriate.

Here are some that I've come up with in my search for examples:

--Be kind.
--Treat others as you want to be treated.
--Forgive and forget.
--Put yourself in the other person's place.

If you think these have a Biblical ring, you're right. In different words and phrases, you'll find them in many of the New Testament teachings. And I have no doubt they're part of the teachings of many religions.

When it comes right down to it, all these "words to live by" are just words, right? And they'll remain just words until you seize on one (or more) and embrace that set of words for your personal approach to life.

One day you may find your chosen phrase no longer works. Nobody guarantees these are set in stone, or that they'll sustain you all your days. You change, you grow; your life takes a turn you didn't expect; you come up against a problem you thought you'd never, ever, have to face. So keep gleaning. Help is everywhere.

Recently the president of our county board of commissioners was quoted in the newspaper about a contentious situation. His approach: "Make one step forward." The story was more involved than that, but the essence was in that one piece of advice.

I've adopted that phrase. For today, I can make one step forward. I do not look to see if I am also going to take two steps back. That is not implied in "one step forward." 

Some days, I'll make no steps at all, in any direction. But my intention is: one step forward.

Forward is forward....

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Remember when all grown-ups asked you this question? Depending on your age and recent experiences, you answers probably ranged far and wide.

At seven, I knew absolutely I wanted to be a teacher. That lasted several years, because I loved school, liked my teachers (well, most of them), and had a lasting identity with books and paper and pencils.

Not sure when that one began to fade into the background, but when I was in high school, I knew, absolutely, that I wanted to be a writer. The newsstand downtown carried a magazine called The Writer (still publishing, by the way), and I went every month to read a little in each issue. Sometimes I had enough extra money to buy one. Joy unbounded!

That dream was partially realized when I wrote for my high school newspaper, at least three years, and maybe even during my freshman year. I was very keen.

By the time I was a sophomore, however, I'd fallen in love with the stage, acting in one-act plays, variety shows with the choir, and eventually the junior and senior class plays. Our Thespian troupe made a trip to Chicago to see plays (memory fades here, sorry). Acting, it was absolutely plain to see, was the way to go--the actor could be absolutely anyone at all, a different person each time.

Clearly, I had a weather vane existence--if the wind blew one way, I was a writer; if another, I was an actor.

Those were the days when boys wanted to grow up to be cowboys and firemen and girls wanted to grow up to be nurses and airline stewardesses.

A few years later, it was sports heroes, and executive secretaries. Still later--astronauts (both boys and girls), scientists of all stripes, designers, artists . . . . We all began to believe we could be anything we wanted to be. Well, why not?

Looking back over several decades, I don't recall ever being only one thing. Does anyone?

For instance--college was intended to prepare me for a career in chemistry. Instead, I got married, had a family, and continued my interrupted studies in English and French. I did get to teach a while, but circumstances changed and I worked, instead, as a paralegal in a law office.

For instance--writing has come and gone several times. After my high school newspaper experiences, there seemed no reason to continue in journalism; instead, I concentrated on fiction writing. Short stories, novels . . . . Later, non-fiction. Essays, now a blog, memoirs for my family members. . . .

For instance--the theater never materialized, though I've acted in local amateur drama societies a few times. Instead, music became my latter-day self-expression--singing in a choir, directing a choir, playing piano and organ for churches.

What do I want to be when I grow up? 

Not sure. There are so many possibilities! Do I have to settle for just one?

Maybe the problem is in the question--it suggests we have to choose a role to play, an occupation that will support us and our families into perpetuity. It doesn't let us try out different possibilities--the weather vane is not allowed to shift with the wind.

How about changing the question this way: What kind of person do I want to be when I grow up?

I couldn't have answered that at age 7 or 15 or 21. But I do know, now, I want to be a person who listens more than talks; who encourages others to succeed;  who forgives whatever needs to be forgiven; who shows kindness, especially to those who seldom know kindness.

That's a humongous ambition right there. Those traits have been in the making all my life and will continue forever.

Did you get to be what you wanted to when you grew up? Does it matter now? 

More important--are you still growing? I hope so!

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, February 9, 2017


  • for every time I hear like misused. The word like is a verb (I like spinach) and it is an adjective (dresses of like design). It can also be a preposition and a noun and an adverb. And--I'm rapidly losing faith in my Webster's Tenth--a conjunctive ("I'm like--give me a break"). It's because of this conjunctive usage that I think of misuse. But, probably, I'm totally wrong. 
  • for every time I hear "you know" injected into a sentence when there is no reason for it to show up--the pronouncement has nothing to do with my knowledge.
[Digression here--I thought we had abolished "you know" and casual uses of "like" back in the 1970s. I distinctly remember signing a petition against them.]
  • for every time I hear "Perfect!" used inappropriately in response to something I've said. Example: "What is your address?" I say, "123 Main Street." Response: "Perfect." Really? Here's Webster's take on perfect: flawless; accurate; expert; pure; total; absolute; certain; sure, et al. Don't see how my address makes it into that realm.
[The above ear-graters, I've realized, grew out of my love affair with books and writing and all things about language. I'm certainly not flawless, expert, or always certain sure about usage, but I respond to the inaccuracies I hear with a wince.]

Now for some other button-pushers:
  • for every time I lose my cool because another driver puts my and his/her life in danger
  • for every unkind thought I have about new neighbors who appear thoughtless or self-centered
  • for every conclusion I've leapt to and later discovered I was out of line
[If I got a nickel for every one of these transgressions, I'd have to run-not-walk and give it all to charity. After all, what if the lure of another nickel caused me to transgress again?]

Suppose we dig a little deeper. Here are some that might speak to you, as well as to me:
  • for every time I pass by a person who asks for money--the bell-ringers at Christmas time come to mind
  • for every time I don't give money, any amount, to a special appeal
  • for every time I find a reason (or excuse) not to serve on a committee
  • for every time I can't donate time to a good cause
[Coins for these actions would quickly add up also.]

After thinking about this topic and writing down some of my thoughts, I reread it. And guess what--the "wish I had a nickel" philosophy can easily perpetuate the negative.

Are there, I wondered, any good reasons for collecting nickels, even pretend ones? I think I found a few.

So here's my positive approach: I wish I had a nickel for . . .
  • every time someone called to give me good news
  • every time I got a "thinking of you" message, for no good reason, just because I was  thought of (it could be a card, an email, a letter, or a phone call)
  • every time someone did a little favor for me--a neighbor brought me produce from her garden last summer, another neighbor came over during the worst of our winter weather to ask if I was all right and if I needed anything; a friend offered to go to the store/pharmacy/post office for me if I didn't want to get out in the cold
These virtual nickels, based on the positive approach, are adding up quickly. Who knew I was so blessed?

May you be blessed as well.


Thursday, February 2, 2017


Do you know what day this is?

Of course you do. February 2nd!

Do you also know that this is Midwinter Day?

If you don’t believe me, check it out on your calendar. February 2 is almost always exactly halfway between December 21 and March 21, the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, respectively.

I’m embarrassed to confess that I lived most of my life without knowing that the Groundhog Day  premise—“If the groundhog sees his shadow today, 6 more weeks of winter”—meant very little. There will definitely be six more weeks of winter, literally.

Midwinter . . . what does that mean to you?

Here in northern Indiana, we seem to be enjoying the January thaw into February. My neighbor has raked back yard leaves that somehow never made their way out to the curb last fall when the city vacuum trucks came roaring through. Now that the trucks are tucked up in their garages, my neighbor has to bag the leaves and put them out for the regular trash pickup.

I get out more often to refill bird feeders. And trips to the store, church, or Y are less fraught with the early morning questions, “Are the streets safe? Is there ice in the parking lot at the Y? Are the schools closed/delayed?”

Midwinter also means nothing is written in stone. Tonight’s forecast for a clear tomorrow may do a 180 ("Surprise!") and leave us with icy driveways, snow-covered vehicles that cower by the curb, and wind-wind-wind. I can tolerate a lot more snow and cold than wind.

Indoor activities thrive in Midwinter. Sewing and knitting are always available or whatever hobbies you pursue—and believe it or not, I’m almost finished with the larger bed-size quilt for one of the great-grands. After I ship it to him, I’ll post a photo.

Letter-writing has returned. Sometimes it’s a long letter posted by emailing it to the recipient. Sometimes it’s folded, enveloped, stamped, and mailed via USPS. Greeting cards disappear out of my drawer and end up clipped to the mailbox for the letter carrier to pick up.

Cooking—not as much as in former years. But I’m doing a little more baking and freezing the results. Banana Walnut Brownies (gluten free) are a new favorite.

Reading—am I ever glad I heard about the 50-Book Challenge! My January list surprised even me . . . 12 books, some rereads, some new; and I have a list of new ones I want to look for at the library. (Thanks, Liz, and everybody else who passed the word!)

Hope your Midwinter is a peaceful time before the spring-summer-fall schedule of life events takes over.

And if it’s an active time—basketball, Super Bowl, church dinners, lunch with friends, whatever—enjoy that also.

My goal is to take each season as it comes; try to enjoy what it provides; avoid criticizing the weather and circumstances beyond my control (still working on this one); and look for the good in each day.