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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Walkin' Around Heaven in Shoes?

Old songs, as my readers know, often spark ideas for my new blogs. This morning it was that one that says, "I got shoes. You got shoes. All God's children got shoes. When I get to Heaven gonna put on my shoes and gonna walk all over God's Heaven...everybody's goin' there, Heaven."

So, as the little ditty ran through my head I wondered, Why should I need shoes in Heaven? Wouldn't Heaven's streets be paved with gold, smooth, safe, clean, beautiful? Silly, but often my questions won't leave me until I reason them out. This pesky little question kept hanging on and I decided to make it a blog. Writing is my way of learning some things I can't find readily in books. When I write I listen and when I hear, I type. Click, click, click. Words come out, ideas spring forth like popcorn ink on a page, arranging themselves until I can read them and they make sense.

When I was a child my family lived in a house connected to a country gas station in the southeastern tip  of Minnesota at the intersection of the two main highways 52 and 16. Unlike most children, we rarely got to go outside barefoot and never at home. We couldn't feel the grass between our toes or relish the sensation of sloshing in the mud. Why? Because our home was somewhat of a public place. People who stopped for gas and oil would often fish a bottle of pop out of the ice box, take it out into the yard and, when finished, throw it at a tree or rock. It's really hard to believe that littering was so common it was not considered terribly wrong until Smokey Bear came along. We children would get the job of gathering up the broken bottles, bottle caps, candy wrappers, cigarette stubs etc. It was not a job for bare feet.

So, I asked again, If in Heaven everything would be clean, pristine, pure, no litter, no trash, then why would God's children need shoes? The answer came suddenly: Earth is in Heaven. It's, say, like one of the lower grades in school. Until we learn how to deal with the hazards life presents Heaven teaches us how to avoid them until we can see through them, how to keep our feet shod.

But, no, my pesky little question still kept bothering me. How could I have any corner of Heaven less than heavenly? Surely there is no place in Heaven for broken bottles, broken vows, broken hearts, or broken anything. Why would we need shoes there? Well, I reasoned, What if perfect Heaven is here but our eyes and minds are not yet developed enough to see it, appreciate it, enjoy it? I know that there is a school of mathematics far more advanced than I have gone in the study. But it is working, even so. It cannot be denied or violated. It works whether I know how it works or not, but to enjoy the harmony of this Heaven I'm in more fully I'll need those "shoes" to protect me.  I could stumble, get cut, be infected. Ignorance is like going barefoot in a junk yard.

It used to be hard to understand how other kids got to go barefoot all summer and we had to wear shoes and even sox every time we set foot out the door. I never got a sliver in my foot or had a cut from a broken bottle but I saw the doctor pull out a huge sliver from my little brother's foot. It was a graphic lesson. He healed, of course, but it was plain to see that shoes, obedience and wisdom could have prevented the pain of one little boy.

Heaven, as I see it, is not a dangerous place but ignorance, doubt and fear are because they have no place in Heaven. There is a totally good God in charge but His law only helps us. Its truth is a danger, never to us, only to error, no matter how we may seem to suffer if we've been going barefoot. Every day I can say to myself, I'm going out walking 'round Heaven today. But I'd better wear my good old shoes!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Old Flames

The song starts, “My old flame, can’t even remember his name...” I can remember though. I remember because I always thought the flame would last. 

First there was Eddie Moorehead. He sat a few seats ahead of me in the second row of fifth grade. He may have turned around once or twice but all I remember is my feelings for Eddie were one-sided and that’s the way I wanted it. I was content to just sit and stare at him.

In junior high school David Lovejoy admired me openly but anyone that easy to get didn’t interest me much. I'd rather dream about Nelson Eddy, my movie idol. Still, I had a little fun stringing Little Lord Lovejoy along. A more serious candidate, his name was Al, gave me my first kiss. After that I didn’t like him.

In high school the assistant band director was a dark haired handsome fellow, three years older, named Harry Ericson. I was steady with Harry all four years. I used to spoon with him in his car at a favorite parking place with the car radio playing love songs, but we never got past the kind of kissing we’d seen in the movies. (You of younger generations may need to watch a few of the 40's movies to see what I mean.) I think, besides the eleven o’clock curfew Daddy imposed, there may have been some such threat as, “You go too far with my daughter and I’ll ...” Our last summer together Harry was drafted into the Army and I left home to live with my grandmother in Riverside, CA and attend the Community College.  

The older brother of a classmate in college saw my picture in the paper after I’d won a pin-up girl contest at a party for Battery C at Camp Haan. He had to meet me and he was a persistent fellow. His main pluses were good looks, a convertible car, a motorcycle, and that’s it. I won’t name his minuses but the main one was his pressure to go beyond movie kisses. I’d have none of it.  

Then along came Wally. Wally was Grandmother’s choice all along. She’d known him since he was a toddler living next door to her in Minneapolis. I should have known that his picture sitting on her mantle  meant something. Wally, when he finally took interest in me, was ready to get married and that was just fine with me. That “old flame” lasted forty years and is still alive even though he’s been gone twenty-seven years to this very day.

I’ve had one more old flame turned husband. I called him Robby because his geology students called him Dr. Robby and his first name of Forbes was used by his first wife. Robby and I had a good second marriage. His first had been over fifty years, a long love affair. Ours lasted nearly eight years and I can truthfully say we never quarreled and seldom disagreed. Ours was a sunset love.

I’ve heard of couples who got married in their nineties but that does not interest me now, even though I'm three years shy of ninety. What I’m wondering is this: Who of my old flames will be waiting for me on the other side? Will he still care about me or I about him? Of mine, I’d want most to find Wally, of course. He’s the father of my children and the love of my life. But I’m not sure I was all to him he’d have wanted. I was a good mother and wife, but probably never as witty or sophisticated or thrifty as he’d have liked. He liked my looks until he began seeing me age. First it was, “When you’re a few years older you’re going to be really beautiful.” Then it was, “Did you know you’re letting your head shake like Mom did?” He could not bear getting old himself, but having me get old too? I even had white hair and was called Grandma! Too much. He opted out at the age of sixty-six. 

I have been thinking a lot about love these days and I’ve come to the conclusion that love is so highly subjective it rarely satisfies 100%. To be honest, I don’t think Wally and I will have a second chance at this world’s kind of romance over there. Jesus said there is no marriage in heaven. Mary Baker Eddy has said that “There is moral freedom in Soul.” What that means to me is divine Love is what we’re all after. Once having tasted it we’ll never be satisfied with anything less and Love is too immense to lavish on only one other. I can’t elaborate on the subject, I only trust that divine Love will not be restrictive or base. It will surely be pure, inviolate, and something we find in this world closer to music than any other thing. Enough said.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The End of the Story

The world, according to the Mayan calendar, should have ended yesterday. I'm guessing it didn't because my world is still here and I appear to still be in it. Yet, I'm thinking, something ended yesterday. It was the day itself, December 21, 2012. By that token, "the end" takes place every midnight.

St. Paul wrote, "I die daily." Did he mean that our lives begin and end one day at a time?  Then what about the ending called death, the one others will see in a date
inscribed on our gravestones? The older I get the more I'm confronted by the thought of this end. Not that I'm afraid of it. I'd just hope it will be easy and not prolonged, the way any pregnant woman hopes giving birth will be. Funny, isn't it, that birth makes so little impression on us that we forget it as if it never happened? My friend and teacher, Dr. Merriman, used to say, "You'll never know when you die. Your birth and death are the experiences of others about you. They will not be a part of your experience." I wonder.

This morning I've been playing lazy. That's just one of the perks of living alone. If no one shows up unexpectedly, no one needs to know you didn't get out of your pajamas, robe and slippers until nearly noon. No one needs to know you spent the morning watching TV. The History Channel had a long drawn-out account of what would happen if humans would die out and leave the earth. How long would it take for buildings, bridges, roads, etc. to decay and crumble? If animals remained how would they cope? I was waiting for the end of the story, where Earth would return to its native state. I missed that part. Must have dozed off, because I didn't see the end.

Every story should have an end. We humans love stories, but they need to end. When they do, they give us something to think about before going to sleep. As for our own endings, I'm wondering why they come upon us so stealthily. Slow or fast, they don't tell us why. Why should those little school children in Connecticut have met their end so early in life at the hands of a maniac with an automatic weapon? I'd hope that they will not remember that event when they wake up to a new world. No one likes the idea of dying so it seems fitting that we might not remember it, just as we don't remember being born.

We're coming up to the end of a year. I like this time. It sets me to thinking how I can make my story better. I used to love writing resolutions but now, if I do that, I quickly erase them or toss them aside because I don't want to feel like a puppet or a servant to even self-drawn orders. I learn as I go now. Change my ways as I feel like it. Obey my inner voice and play life by ear. If I set up goals I might miss something. If others want to excel in the improvement of their talents to the point of sacrifice then I'd say more power to them. Guess I'm content to be a B student. Making my moments count in harmless little joys of appreciation, working only when I feel like it, and filling up on contentment is good enough for me.

Now I'm beginning to think this blog should come to an end. As for the end of my life, I'd like to be able to come back and tell you how it was. But I'm afraid I wouldn't remember.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When I Say Raspberries

I pity the children who grow up never knowing the rapture of finding themselves in a raspberry patch hidden in tall bushes of lush green branches laden with those bright red berries that slip away so easily  into fingers and then into the mouth. This experience in childhood is something rare and beautiful to carry into later life.

That’s why I can stand before rows of square clear plastic containers of raspberries in a market and feel an almost sacred sense of awe that those perfect creations were so recently enjoying the sun and shade of the berry patch. What must it be like to be a raspberry clinging to its mother branches? Can the berry know the reason for its joy and the supreme sacrifice of its future? Why does it let go so easily?

In my own country childhood I picked raspberries. The task was so much easier than picking strawberries where I had to bend down low. In the raspberry patch I could stand up and feel both tall and dwarfed by the bushes. Two of my granddaughters, Erin and Katie, know the feeling. They visited my cousins in Minnesota with me one summer when the raspberries were in season. To this day the mention of Verna and Glen bring delighted smiles to their faces. “Oh, I remember them! They were the ones with a raspberry patch in their back yard!”

It is said that as we grow older (and riper?) we can slip into childhood again. I can. Halls of memories come alive like those bright berries on the bushes. I want to speak of them but I know I can never do them justice or translate their feelings to anyone else. At this moment I am sitting up in bed writing on the tray where the bowl of cereal and raspberries was. Words now take the place of breakfast berries who have gone into the “whale’s belly” like Jonah. 

In the order of life I feel like a raspberry, nearly, but not quite, ready for the picking. Life is each day becoming sweeter and richer in color and taste. It’s losing the sharp acidity of its greener days when it knew more certainty, and opinion and when harsh criticism sometimes held sway. 

Getting older, for me, means reflection on the goodness of life. Sorrows only serve to turn us to higher, more permanent joys. I sense it is the calendar I can blame for my feeling like a ripe raspberry this morning. Christmas carols play on my bedroom radio and gather in the years past. At the same time they reach into the unseen future which I can only guess about. The shining light in the eyes of my great grand-babies gives me Christmas joy. Such promise there! They’ll have their Christmases throughout many years too, their own bright memories. My own future, and even theirs in time, means giving up and letting go of Earth's cradle when the time is ripe. Giving up to what? A world more bright? Therein lies the wonder. 

If I could, this Christmas, I’d be so glad to give every one of my great grandies a raspberry patch experience! 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

After Grandma, What Then?

My dad's mother, Grandma Hattie Pulford Hahn, was a country woman but well educated for her day. That is, she had long passages of the Bible memorized, including the whole Sermon on the Mount. She was my Sunday School teacher in the town's Methodist church and before marriage she'd been a one-room country school teacher. She had thirteen grandchildren but I felt I was a favorite of hers. Perhaps each of us thought the same. I have tons of memories about her and I love her to this day. Her second son, Reuben Jordan Hahn, was my father.

Grandmother Maude Turner Darling was my city grandma. She had a business of her own long before I came along. It was a milliner's shop. By the time I knew this grandmother well she'd had four beautiful children all grown up, but only my two younger brothers and me for grandchildren. We were the offspring of her youngest, my mother, Faith Caroline Darling Hahn.

After graduation from high school I took my first train ride to Riverside, California from Minneapolis, Minnesota. There I was to live with Grandmother Darling and attend the Riverside Junior College located just a short walk from her small adobe cottage. By then both my mother and my country grandma had passed on. Daddy got married to the mother of a schoolmate of mine who had lost his father and the new stepmother was a good fit to take over where I'd left off. This phase of my life presented a comfortable interlude of nearly two years between high school and marriage.

Living with Grandmother Darling gave me a path away from country boyfriends and the likely role of a Minnesota wife and mother. Grandmother bought me a piano and paid for private piano lessons with an excellent teacher. She watched me do her proud with good grades in college where the professors called me "Miss Hahn." I knew the moral boundaries that were expected of me and was glad to obey them, even though these were hinted more than spoken. A "nice girl" just guarded her reputation and self respect. Grandmother Darling paved the way to my marriage to a young Marine captain who was a fighter pilot as well as the product of a family who had lived next door to her in Minneapolis. At nineteen I was married to Wallace Ginder Wethe in the Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn in Riverside, California. It was a small and beautiful ceremony.

So, there it is in a nutshell. What prompted this blog? Only this: Grandmothers of the world should be shining examples to their grandchildren. They can't be perfect, but they can show unconditional love and hope in ways that can't offend. No one wants to be exactly like grandma, but good grandmas show us how to be the best of ourselves. Here are a few grandmother rules: Don't preach; just be. Don't criticize; just wait for the seed to grow. Crudely expressed advice I once heard was not too wrong: "A good grandmother keeps her purse open and her mouth shut."I would add, be a grandmother that believes God is always there for His children whether they know it or not. Prayers by grandmothers work.

If you have a loving grandmother count yourself blessed. If you don't, then I pity you, but you can do this: Pretend you have an ideal grandmother. Maybe you can improve on the one or ones you have by being an ideal grandchild. Much of our world is make-believe anyway, so make believe the best of Grandma and Grandpa too. Make believe the best of your parents and even everyone, but most of all make the best of yourself, not in make-believe but for real! A good Grandmother would show you how.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Vacation to Remember

I like short vacations. They serve just as well as long ones to give you a new perspective on life. Lately I've become such a homebody I rarely want to go on any kind of vacation at all. A drive through the spaces we find set aside as greenbelts here in Southern California gives me the sense of adventure I used to get on those long treks when my husband's new Marine Corps assignments took us on moves across the whole country.

Idyllwild, California. Just got home from there with my daughter, Robin. She went to stay at a friend's cabin home and take care of her two dogs while the friend was on a vacation of her own. I was invited to come along. Didn't really want to leave but dreaded the thought of my dear daughter scaling the mountain's curvy roads alone and, after all, she'd accompanied me on our latest trip to Escondido where I used up some of my remaining time share points. So, I went. I'm so glad I did!

There must be something about the mountain air that especially invigorates and refreshes one. When we got there Robin opened the car windows and said, "Smell this air, Mom!" Yes, it did smell wonderful. And the charming cabin where we stayed, the small town feel to the place that belied the fact that it is also a tourist destination, - all this crept into our few days like an elixir of life.

Now I'm grateful to be home again but not for the same old, same old, home. My home is what I might call strangely familiar. That is, it's like an old me with distinct possibilities for change to a better me.

I won't bore my readers with an account of all we did except to say we took our work along. Robin took her paints and canvas and I took my clay and sculpting tools. We both accomplished some satisfying work. And we took out time to browse around the town, find a quaint old-town coffee shop, a few neat gift shops, one nostalgic collectors' thrift store and a delightfully upscale dinner place for our last night. Robin took lots of pictures and talked to the locals. (You can probably find the pics, if you wish, on her Facebook page under Robin Wethe Altman or contact me at and I'll send them to you.)

On the way home we stopped at the Riverside National Cemetery where Wally G's ashes lie beneath a stone along with thousands of other veterans. It was still Veterans' Day (the 11th was on Sunday) so we had missed a celebration, but there were still American flags placed on each gravesite and it was a sight to behold on a sunny fall day! When, after a brief search among the names, we found Wally G's name, we both broke out in tears. So simple. So moving. Wally was not one for funerals but he did say once that he wanted to be buried there, in that cemetery dedicated to veterans, near the town of Riverside where we were married in the Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn. He wanted only that tiny spot to declare that there was once a man named Wallace G. Wethe, Lt.Col. USMC who lived, fought and died for his family, his faith and his nation. In time that stone will be replaced with one that is inscribed with both his name and mine. "...and his wife, Joyce." No need for my other surnames. It is enough to be remembered as a Wethe, Wally G's wife of forty years. I could ask no higher honor.

On the last lap home we stopped for lunch at a huge mall on a crossroads in the desert and ate Chinese food in the car under the shade of a tree. The food was disappointing but the fortune cookie made up for that. It said, "Wishing you happiness."

Friday, November 9, 2012

When a Friend Hits You

The subject of pacifism comes up often in the human narrative though maybe not so often as the instinct to fight back. These come up at every stage of growth and need to be addressed even daily in small and large ways from bitter words to harmful actions.

I often think of a friend of ours, a man who was married but had no children of his own and loved children. He became a favorite pal of the little ones in his neighborhood. One day one of the little boys appeared on his doorstep in tears. "What's the matter, Georgie?" my friend asked. Wiping his eyes with his sleeve Georgie said between sobs, "My friend hit me!"

How often do we all run up against this in our lives? It's bad enough to have an adversary strike us, but when a friend does? This adds a special gall to the cup. We feel betrayed and hurt. We expect our friends to be friends without exception. As for enemies, well, an occasional slap in the face or unkind remark is to be expected. In either case, what shall we do, take it on the chin and stand tall or give out with a sock in the eye?

In my personal life I try to be the stand tall type but when it comes to war I tend to lean toward meeting warlike actions with a strong warring response. In my long lifetime I've seen the results of both pacifism and war and find there's no easy answer. Even Jesus predicted that there will be wars. I don't recall he said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, heal the sick, raise the dead, and refuse to go to war at any cost."

My first husband was a Marine fighter pilot and served in two wars over a 20+ year career. I know he had unspoken regrets over dropping bombs or shooting down enemy planes but he regarded his mission as honorable in defending our nation from enemies who would inflict pain and persecution on us in order to serve their evil regimes.

On the personal level I seldom have a warlike reason to act against anyone. I try to always see the other's point if it is contrary to my own but recently I found myself responding to an unkind remark by one who has been a lifetime friend with the "silent treatment." You know how that goes. You simply cut off relationship with the offender by cutting off all dialogue. I've seen others do it and scorned the behavior as a form of hatred that is cruel and unseemly and self-defeating.

This person is the kind that never engages in healthy discussion on a controversial subject but states her view and ends further dialogue with the change of subject. So, I didn't want to give a straightforward response to her comment. Still, the longer I waited to respond or communicate with this one in any way the worse I felt about it. It's hard to carry a grudge, no matter how justified. To have someone in your life who has been a good friend, in spite of her sometimes odd attitudes, and suddenly cut that one out of mind and heart takes conscious effort. Even after overlooking many such remarks should I finally take a stand and end the relationship with silence or anger? What would that do to me? Am I ready to suffer the toll on my own psyche?

My daughter, Robin, is a pacifist. She wants to love the whole world and never, never go to war over anything. I admire her conviction that "There must be better ways than war, Mom!" And I agree, but still I wonder.

As for my friend, I am overlooking the remark as something she said to announce her point but didn't mean to hurt me. After all, she is my friend. When the little neighborhood boy stood on the doorstep of my other friend in tears I know he was brought in, given a glass of milk and a cookie and some kindly advice to remember the "friend" part of his relationship. For further encounter with others we too should remember that when some snag threatens to sever our friendship. It takes a load off our minds to forgive, even when forgiveness is not sought. That should go for our enemies too, I suppose.  But that's another story altogether!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curiosity & Discovery at any Age

Today I'll be seeing the great grandie who lives nearest me. He is nine months old and his name is Jack Carlo Murcia. When I write about him I want you to know I am not slighting my other great grandies, Sammantha, Max, Kingston, and Amy. I love them all dearly but baby Jack is the one I get to observe most frequently because he lives the nearest.

As I've mentioned before, to watch a baby at play you can plainly see that life is a matter of curiosity and discovery for babies. It should be for us all up until the day we become curious enough to have the daring to reach out to the "hereafter."

Now, to anyone who doesn't believe in a hereafter or a here-to-fore, I say, That's OK. I won't try to change your mind because I can't furnish proof of either. Still, since I have no proof either that there isn't life before birth and after death, I simply choose to believe in both. Someone once pointed out to me that in order to see the here-to-fore and the hereafter you only need to climb to a higher point of view. It's like seeing the bend in a river from a precipice above rather than from the shore below. Sounds reasonable to me. No one can say there's not a whole lot more to life than any of us have yet discovered. And that makes me highly interested in the here and now from an ever ascending standpoint.

Baby Jack and Baby Amy (who I saw on Skype the other day) are both curious about the colorful toys their parents have provided them. Color, feel, taste, smells and sounds fill their waking hours. As they grow they also learn to recognize love. Later they'll learn the do's and don'ts of life through trial and error and/or the guidance of their parents and teachers. Along the way they'll get educated in social and civic matters. They'll find inner talents in literature, music, art, science, etc. Maybe they will entertain curiosity that reaches beyond the five senses. This is good up to a point so long as it doesn't become adherence to baseless conjecture and superstition.

Now, I'm wondering if all this is so transparent that it's too boring to go on my blog site. Where is it going? I don't know. I just find it fun to write. Words sometimes lead me to ideas I've not thought of before. Just as my fingers form clay into faces of people I've never known. What comes out on paper and in clay is often something unique and worthy.

So, what did I get out of this blog? Only the suggestion that I too, at the near age of 87, am a baby yet, exploring a territory beyond my present comprehension. To have the curiosity to seek a more compassionate point of view (even in the midst of a political campaign!) is to gain peace and understanding. To suffer the pains of what others may appear to inflict on me without striking back?  That is a step toward a better world, but not if it means letting oneself be victimized. Putting up with wrongs when we can help to set things straight is no virtue, but resisting requires wisdom and moral stature.

Some say that age is infancy. I say that if that's so, then great! I'm ready to explore my world with the curiosity of a baby who's learning to crawl and the discovery of a sage who has learned to climb.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Music of Our Times

When I get tired of TV News told over and over again I tune into a station (on the TV) called "Easy Listening." It takes me to a sweet spot in my heart that rests beguilingly between romanticism and nostalgia. I want to write about it but you know, dear reader, exactly what I mean. You may have a more recent collection of songs, the songs of your own tender youth and younger years, but the feeling is the same.

Right now for me it is playing "Tears Get In Your Eyes." I remember the first time hearing it. A senior girl at one of our high school events stood with a mike in her hand down on the gymnasium floor. (We didn't have an auditorium in our small town high school.) She had a beautiful voice and sang it so tenderly I could not hold back the tears in my own eyes.

That girl has gone into the hereafter now as so many of my classmates have. That too brings tears to my eyes. Happy times often take our minds back to earlier years, different scenes, by-gone days. Those were the days when we had hopes and dreams for the future. That future? I don't recall that I ever thought of it as the "single blessedness" I now enjoy or the prospect of having adorable great grandchildren. That future was something almost too sweet to define. It hung on the strains of music we loved. The music of our times.

Recently I visited a charming gift shop and bought a little block of wood with words inscribed on it saying: THE OLDER I GET THE BETTER I WAS. When I saw an old photo of myself the other day I thought to myself, Was that really how good I looked? Now I see myself in photos and want to cut that part of the picture out. I don't recognize me. Why is it I still feel ageless inside? There must be a "me" that only I can see or feel. Thankfully, that inner me is the only one I see on a regular basis. The other one, the outer one, is what others see or I see only in photos. Even the image in the bathroom mirror is better when I get my make-up on in the warm amber light. Once I leave it I leave others to deal with the outer picture and myself with an inner one whose face is hidden but whose heart is laid bare.

Now the music is playing "I Worry and Wonder." Yes, I worry and wonder. Then I step out on my patio on a day like this when the sun falls in filtered light through tree tops and reflects on the creek's ripples in sparkles of gold. I feel good. I think if I knew then I'd "end up" contented with a long life behind and the mystery of the next life somewhere, sometime not too soon, in a place like this with children who love me, grandchildren too, and darling babies and toddlers for great grandies, I might have been happy to know I was going there. Still, I do worry and wonder sometimes. Wherever was that sweet spot when life was absolutely perfect and I didn't know it? When did I pass it by unnoticed because I was reaching out longingly on the strains of the music of my times?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Art Star

My mother was first to declare me a budding artist. I was about four years old when I sat out in our back yard with a pad and pencil. "Here, Joycie, see if you can draw this cow," she said as she handed me a magazine tear-out photo. Maybe it was her way of trying to slow down a super active little girl while putting baby brother in bed for his afternoon nap. Later she found me still at it. She took the page out of my lap and let out a squeal of delight. I remember enough about that drawing to know that it was no childish rendition but a truly good likeness of that cow. So, I learned right then what genuine praise at an early age can do to set a star in the heavens for a child. That star for me was art.

At first a pencil and paper were enough. In about the sixth grade I entered a magazine contest and won a certificate to an art school. Trouble was the school was about a hundred miles away in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our small town high school had no frilly subjects like art. It was strictly academic although music and sports ranked high. I contented myself by drawing in my spare time.

Entering Riverside Junior College in 1943, I was still aiming for that art career star. I took the only art course still given, Art Appreciation. The reason? During WWII all non-essential courses in state schools were dropped. My further education in art would be on hold until after I'd earned the mandatory credits. But after those first two years another career intercepted art. I married at nineteen and became a Marine officer's wife, then a mother. I watched gladly to see our third child, Robin, become the artist I might have been. She had every advantage in that direction, a burning desire to be an artist from the age of three, plenty of art classes in the artist community where she grew up, a college scholarship in art, a summertime booth at the art festival in Laguna Beach and a promising career that is blossoming today.

In 1986, after becoming a Marine widow, I enrolled in a clay sculpting class in the Laguna. It turned out that I was the only one in the class to learn sculpting. The rest made pots and the teacher set me off in a corner by myself with several how-to books, a few tools and a large block of clay. After the first week I knew I'd found my niche. I quit my job as a secretary in a retirement community and dove into what was to become my art star chase at last.

I'd hardly begun when life threw me another path, the building of a dream house in my old home town in Minnesota. There I had a big studio, a kiln, and a new life. Until, that is, I went to Summer Session for Adults at Principia College to take a course in sculpting. There another side road showed up, marriage to Dr. Robby, a retired college professor at that school. I sold my house and moved to West County, St. Louis. Sculpting again took a back seat.

Now, nearly seven years after my eight year marriage to Robby, I have belatedly begun again. I sculpt faces. I can do full figures but only the faces interest me. They come out of the clay almost forcefully as if I have nothing more to do than let my hands and fingers go to it. In a little while someone begins to appear. Someone gives me the eye, the smile (yes, they all smile) and I am hooked until the face and I have bonded and it says, "Thank you, Joycie!"

The faces are coming now, two, three, four a day. I'm in heaven and find it hard to keep up with my housework, much less reading and all the other to-do's that come along. Robin is helping me to get ready for being juried for the art festival next summer. She thinks I have a good chance to get in. She's also suggested a name for my faces: Beautiful People. They don't have the ordinary kind of beauty and some might think them homely, (though I can't imagine why!) Each has an inner beauty, that shines through. I take a lump of clay and don't quit until someone, a real person and someone I absolutely love, comes out.

Here's how I'll market them soon, with this note on their numbered certificate declaring that there is only one original of them. It says:


Out of clay I come to you
with only a hope for one more view
of a life I lived and a place I knew
on a planet called

Joyce Darling Collections - original sculpture #______

I have no delusions that these, my faces, will make me famous. I'll leave that to heaven. I just revel each day in the joy of having found my way to my star and the inspiration to get with it. I may never make a fortune. That's irrelevant to me. Clay is not expensive. My tools don't wear out. The faces keep coming and I feel like I've finally found a darn good reason for living. Now I must not get de-railed again. I think I've learned at last to stay on the beam!

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Own Politics

Every four years when these United States ask their citizens to vote for President and Vice President I feel a sense of responsibility to re-examine my own desires of how I’d like to see this country run, what aims the parties profess and how much I trust the candidates to be truthful and capable. It presents a burden on me to exercise my best judgment and cast my ballot. So, I listen to the arguments, weigh the positions carefully and then ask myself, How do I want our country to be governed and who do I think can best guide it to that end. Here it comes down not to party allegiance but just me. Suddenly I feel a sense of saying, with real strength behind my convictions, which way I’d like to see my country go. How? I cast my ballot.

The long process of campaigns can be wearisome but the more I listen to others the better picture I get in my own mind. I try to be as objective as possible to determine which of the candidates best represent my own views. I even try to wipe the slate clean of old prejudices and loyalties. I want what I know everyone wants, the best leaders with the best ideas.

Now, the one thing I find most difficult in all this is the discovery that some in my own family, some of my best friends, see it all differently. Either I choose to speak up and hope that feelings won’t erupt in a hurtful way or keep silent on the subject. It is such a temptation to argue, but rarely does that help. On the other hand, keeping silent is hard to do. But that is what my parents did. So well did they conceal their political preferences that I cannot tell to this day what party each of them belonged to or whom they voted for. The only reason I can give for this is that they owned a small business and by tipping their hats to one or the other side they might alienate a good number of their customers. In my early years I never could keep a secret. Even when I got older and chose for myself I could not tease their politics out of them. 

I wish, yes, I wish that, except for those who feel inspired to get out and work for the party and its candidates, all of us could keep our politics to ourselves. I wish each one of us could contain our feelings and arguments and let our vote be, as it’s supposed to be, secret. I have not done that myself but I wish I had.

Today I am casting my ballot. It is early because I’ve been given an absentee ballot due to a hip replacement I had a few years back. After weighing both sides carefully (and prayerfully), I have made up my mind. I suspect those closest to me can guess which way I voted but I wish they couldn’t. Many of my friends and relatives vote their own conscience and leave the talk-talk to the professional politicians. I admire that.

Here’s all the best to everyone who is eligible to vote in this USA. Let each of us have our say, and let it speak with conviction and power, on election day.

Afterwards I may smile amiably but with my lips closed and my vote still a carefully kept secret!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happiness, Get It?

A little boy I once heard of seemed to be happy most all his waking hours. Someone asked him, “Johnny, why are you always so happy?” His face turned solemn. Then, after he'd obviously searched his mind for an answer, he looked up and said, “Do I have to have a reason?”

 I have a canary who sings beautifully. Why? Is he happy or is he longing for something else, calling out for it? Bird keepers and breeders might give me answers but I’m not sure they’d be right. I think only my little Tommy can really tell me and he’s doing so in his own way, by singing. The trouble is I can’t translate what he says into my language. So, I simply care for him, talk to him occasionally and listen a lot. I choose to think he sings because he’s happy for the freedom he has, not sad for the kind of freedom he never had.

About happiness one dictionary says: “Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Having a sense of pleasure, confidence or satisfaction in a person, arrangement or situation.” 

I say happiness is something too great, too secret and often too personal to define. People can say to a happy person, “Well, no wonder you are happy; you have so much to be happy about.” So, then, how do you explain happiness under circumstances not so ideal? Another friend of mine put it this way: “Circumstances don’t make happiness; happiness makes circumstances.” 

I believe that because in my own experience I've found that a little happiness is like the water you pour into a pump to prime it. The little draws out more. By appreciating the circumstances I have, more good circumstances come my way. 

I’ve stopped trying to figure out how to get happiness but rather how to let it get me. Then I can say, "Now I get it!"

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ecology, Then and Now

“See, Mom, the little house collects water off the roof when it rains and pours it into a big barrel here at the foot of the house. And look, there’s a windmill in the back yard that brings drinking water up from an underground spring.” 

Robin is a professional artist and she was showing me her latest painting which she had done gratuitously for some new ecological group’s poster. Pointing to a young couple out to one side working in a garden, a wheel barrow nearby, she said, “See, they raise their own food organically and here are their children.” Sure enough, the kids were bent over picking strawberries.  A few chickens roamed about, their little coop off to one side where they laid their eggs and slept at night. There was also a large fan. “That’s for generating electricity,” she said proudly. And what you don’t see are the big batteries that store the electricity down in a basement under the house.

I couldn’t help smiling. “Were you aware that, except for the beach and ocean nearby, you’ve just painted a picture of my childhood home?” I asked. “I know,” she said. “Grandpa and Grandma still had the windmill when I visited them summers when I was a kid. They even got me to pick strawberries for a dime a box and I loved to gather eggs from the nests in the chicken coop!” There were orange trees in the picture too which we didn’t have in Minnesota, but one thing was missing. “Where’s the Jones’ House?” I asked. Of course, the question was not serious. Nevertheless, modern ecologists would, no doubt, figure out a better way to make a toilet. And the solar panels on the roof of her house in the painting had not been thought of in my day.

I was reminded of all this when I carried a basin of water from the kitchen sink out to my plants on the patio this morning. I’ve been doing that lately to conserve water. In “the olden days” we had what was called a dry sink. A pump at one end pumped up water from the underground cistern that collected water from the roof and poured it into a basin in the sink but we had to be careful not to let water collect in the sink itself because there was no drain. The dry sink was there to catch those errant droplets which could be easily wiped up with a towel. We used two basins in that sink. First they collected hot water from the reservoir on the wood stove in the kitchen. (In summer when it was too hot to use that stove, Daddy brought in a kerosene stove from the garage where we’d heat water in a big kettle.) Then one basin would be used for washing dishes and the other one for rinsing them. In the washing basin we slivered off chips from a bar of soap. When our task was done the water was carried out to the back porch and tossed on the lilac bush nearby. When I got to be good enough to do that without spilling, it was the fun part of washing dishes by hand, and how that lilac bush produced aromas of heavenly intoxication in the spring! 

Our home was on top of a hill in the country so wind was nearly a constant there. The “wind electric” that supplied the batteries down in our dirt basement didn’t operate for more than a few years though because by then the TVA, Tennessee Valley Administration, had brought electricity to rural areas. In time Daddy had our house plumbed as well and we had the luxury of a bathtub as well as an indoor toilet, but my great grandchildren will learn from me how my parents gave me baths before we got our bathtub. A laundry bucket would be filled out in our back yard where the sun could heat the water for a few hours. For privacy a sheet would be hung on the clothes line between the bucket and the house and I’d go out armed with soap, wash cloth, towel, fresh underwear and outer clothes. Then I’d undress, get in, soap myself, soak, and rinse off before stepping out on the grass to dry. My little “bathroom” had skylight, fresh air and clean water that ended up watering the lawn. In winter the tub was placed by our living room potbellied stove. My parents had to settle for sponge baths.

I’m not up on the subject of what future homes might be like, but I won’t be surprised if they will be self sufficient except for water and sewage. The “olden days” were a lot of work for parents but more fun for kids.  And I never knew then there was such a word as “ecology.”

Below is Robin's poster design for "Transition Laguna Beach" a sustainable living organization in Laguna Beach CA.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Laps and Faces, Yup!

My mother-in-law had a large lapboard with a Pennsylvania theme to its design. One Christmas I decided to hand-craft several others similar to it to give to our children and a few other family members. They were duly appreciated. End of story? Not quite.

About the same time I was agonizing over the fact that Wally G., my husband, wanted to sell our ranch home in Oregon and move to the Seattle area. The ranch life had not been so idyllic to him, yet I loved the place so much the mere thought of giving it up was almost like giving up a loved one. I could not let it go.

“Well, we could keep the ranch and rent it for a while,” he said. Then added, “If we could come up with an idea to cash in on something else.” The ranch had appreciated in value since we’d bought it and he wanted to settle down to a life of leisure, travel and enjoyment of the perks that nest egg could afford us. Then he tossed out a challenge to me. “You come up with an idea that pays off and we’ll "buy" the ranch at today’s market price, hire a caretaker and maybe go back now and then.” 

I grasped at that straw and struggled to come up with an idea. Ah Ha! Lapboards! It was a new/old idea then. I designed a sleek shape with a finger hole for easy carrying, painted several images reflecting Oregon’s natural beauties for vinyl tops, added a verse appropriate to laps, hired a cabinet maker to craft them out of choice plywood and a silk screen artist to do the tops. Bottoms were laminated with thin cork to keep them from slipping off the lap. The results were great. A chain of stores featuring Oregon crafters bought several for their outlets and I was in business. I called my product LapMaker, had the logo design on each one and sat back to start raking in the profits.

But how do you get a really good idea to catch on? I soon found out. At the same time I was getting started someone else got the same idea. He (or she?) had made a simple rectangle plastic top outfitted with a cushion underneath and mass produced them to sell for a fraction the price of mine. Barnes & Noble, all the big box stores had them. My sales didn’t even make up my investment. It was a huge disappointment and a rude introduction to the marketing world for a country ranch wife who was destined not to succeed. We bade farewell to the ranch and in retrospect I am not sorry now. End off story? No, not yet.

It would be fun to excel in something before I leave this world and for many years I’ve known I have a talent for sculpting faces out of clay. I’m self-taught except for my own research in books but what I do is quite good, I think, and I’m not alone. It’s so easy I maintain anyone can do it, but most don’t buy that. I’m afraid if I try to sell my faces there will not be much of a market either. People are fascinated but the faces, (all ages and genders), are so real looking, unless one seems the spitting image of someone they know, they will simply look, admire and walk on without getting out the wallet.

Well, at the moment I don’t need the money and am in the strange position of loving these little faces so much I don’t want to part with them anyway. I’m toying with the idea of getting molds for making bronzes of them, but that could be expensive and again, who would buy?

When I get to working with a ball of clay I am enveloped in a bubble of timeless bliss. When at last the face is done I love it. Why? Because it came to life out of a lump of clay. I know each one could tell a story. It’s like he or she has found a way to transcend time and space, a way to come into being something again, some one.

I haven’t decided for sure what to call my faces. They are so diverse it’s hard to give them a blanket family name. I’ve thought of  “The Who’s.” or I could call them simply “Faces in Time.” I might try to sell them at an art fair or I may just keep on making them until there will be no more space on my walls to hang them. What is an old lady to do with the time she has left? Does she really want to make a fortune, become famous, or simply be alive in her own little house alongside a burbling creek with a name no one will know except a few?

If you’ve read this far you will be one of a very few, but you do have a face. Would you like a museum to show it, say in the year 3,000 AD? The work of a sculptor who doesn't even know you? Heck, you could become a collector’s item! And I? I will be long gone. I’ll have left the ranch, even my little creek. Where will I be? Maybe aboard a ship to some distant planet. They say if you travel the speed of light you don’t age. Now that's an idea! But will my Faces market well? Maybe. Maybe not. If I could make a lot of money I might just buy a ticket to Mars. Or, on second thought, I think I'll settle for whatever other surprise the Infinite has in Mind for me. Yup!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Secret of Politics

Every four years I feel obliged to take a hard look at my country’s leaders and the issues that concern me and my fellow Americans. Also I try to keep informed at all times as to the direction and accomplishments of our major parties so that I can exercise my right to vote intelligently. The government of our country is the business of every citizen in this nation.

The election campaigns, however, have become loud and confrontational debates with many minds and voices competing for each vote. It often seems like we are wading through a war zone of words. The media doesn’t help when one side says something that the other refutes. Fact checkers often do the same. Whom are we to believe?

In the end it seems we all go by that “inner guide,” an often used term for what seems most reasonable to us. I try to skirt my own prejudices as much as I can but I have to admit that personalities often obscure issues. Verbal vitriol and facial grimaces, shouting and gesticulating often lose an argument. 

With most of us it boils down to which side most nearly reflects one's own core values and who are the candidates that win our trust. Good intentions must be accompanied by good records and those who are statesmen enough to share the glory of success and the blame for failure rank high with me. 

In elections we have to weigh issues carefully and not be swayed by mere fluency, charisma or poll numbers. Politics is not a sport. It's too serious for that. If we're not careful though it can become so serious it divides friends and family members. That's when we need to withhold discussion of the subject or learn to make that discussion impersonal.  

In all the confusion and discomfort of politics it is good to remember that we do have a say in our government and can exercise our convictions as far as we're willing to do that. I'm of the mind that prayer is a mighty force for good so long as we seek God's will above our own. Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he thought God was on his side and his response was something like this:"I pray not for God to be on my side but that He keep me on His side." When I feel myself getting anxious and angry I know it is time to get centered and on the side of God. I need to stop and be still for a while. Now that I've written this I am reminded of a poem by Robert Frost:

“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.“

"Thy will be done" is a good way toward realizing that Good is done in heaven and I have only to play my part by letting it be done on earth in my own way as a grateful citizen of this unique nation.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Being vs. Changing

The Serenity Prayer says it well:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr

In a lighter vein, an old popular song says it this way:

"There’ll be a change in the weather
and a change in the sea, 
and from now on there’ll be a change in me.
My walk will be different, my talk and my name;
Nothin’ about me’s gonna be the same."

The one thing I truly believe cannot be changed is the fact that we live. I believe we lived before conception and that we’ll live after the change called death.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered, “To be, or not to be?” My take on this is that he was asking the wrong question. To presume that simply because an individual dies and disappears he or she no longer exists is a questionable premise. Yes, that person may be “dead” to us, but to himself or herself? Does anyone actually know?

How stupid is the human mind to think it’s brain is the whole of it when the brain is merely the computer, a vehicle awaiting a driver who can operate it. That's about as sensible as saying the number 3 is confined to the digit on the page. I say also that the human mind is arrogant to think it can operate on its own like some self-perpetuating robot. Who or what is the thing that prompts it to act or not act?

The way I see it, the human mind is merely a first glance view of the grand Mind that humans call God.  We mortals are mere infants, trying to get things sorted out. We're like "the light that shineth in darkness but the darkness comprehended it not." (King James Bible) We need to know ourselves as light and get out of the dark.

Now, the question modern day Hamlets might ask is this: To be as I think I am? or To change my perception into what I really am but don't completely know yet? 

Looking back I can see how my beliefs, perceptions, temporal conclusions have morphed through the years. The know-it-all attitude I had in my youth has become more questioning in my old age. Surprisingly, like fruit, the riper it becomes, the sweeter, and then it is ready to drop its seed into the ground and grow again. If not that, who knows where the idea of it goes? Divine Life must have a multitude of surprises for us!

Way back in school I learned that matter is that which can neither be created or destroyed. Matter can only change and we’re getting the intelligence to change it for the better. Quantum physicists are close to questioning if there even is such a thing as matter the way we think we know it. We can also change our minds as to the reality of matter vs. the appearance of it. I’m thinking that we can and will exchange the limited mind for the divine Mind when we’re ripe enough to start along that narrow road and strong enough to persist to the place where it turns into a celestial highway.

If we oldsters have our wits about us we can renew our youth in old age by becoming willing to change for the better. We can get out of our ruts and become like little children. Speaking of "rut" I once heard death described as a long rut. In little ways I try to change and do things better every day. (There's ample opportunity and need for that!) I have laid aside many of my old prejudices and self-righteousness attitudes and become more childlike, more teachable. I really haven't gotten over feeling like a first grader in the schoolroom of life.

I believe the only things we cannot change are purely spiritual and perfect already. Like: Love always wins, Truth cannot become untrue, Life is always alive, therefore eternal. It’s good to get things straight in our old age and to figure out so far as we can the meaning of life, what is changeless and what is changeable, then act accordingly. 

As a little child we came into this world. I believe we can go out the same way.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Blogging Business

Start a blog and you’ll find your fears of going public with your thoughts and daily doings are baseless. That’s because not as many as you think are going to read the blog. I can understand that and fully appreciate the facts that:
  1. Even the word “blog” is a turnoff to many, and 
     2. You don’t really expect everyone to drop everything just to read what you’re thinking about, do you? 

This blogging business is like casting your pearls and even some of your junk jewelry onto a country road. Someone or two who take the time to walk along the road may see them and start a collection. These are your fans and followers. Others have their heads turned up to the tree tops and mountains as they walk. These busy themselves with their own thoughts. They don’t look close up or stop to study a patch of gravel. Among all these near-sighters and far-sighters are some of your dearest friends and relatives. Few will bother to read, to criticize or beg to differ. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They’re just too busy. I respect and love them all. I’m choosy about what I read too because time is at a premium.

I’m sure Johnny Appleseed’s apple seeds did not all germinate and grow but the ones that did no doubt brought harvests of pleasure. That’s why we bloggers bother to blog. We are looking to give pleasure, share ideas, and articulate our own take on life. But if these are not appreciated by everyone, just think how nature provides abundantly those seeds and how few take root and grow to fruition..

Yesterday I received two responses to my most recent blog. First came this from my sister-in-law: 

Sorry to say I don’t seem to care to share in the blog world – or Facebook either.”

I’d sent her a copy of the blog to share the news of my great granddaughter’s visit and save time telling it in the e-mail all over again. I confess it’s what I should have expected from her and my gift was destined to be dumped unopened. Lesson no. 1: Don’t obligate your friends and relatives to read your blog. Lesson no. 2: Don’t diminish yourself by getting hurt if they don't read it for whatever reason. Her message did hurt at first but when I tried to see from her point of view I could tell it wasn’t meant to hurt. I think she's more comfortable reading about fictional characters of a certain delicate, old-fashioned past in musty little books gleaned from used book stores than seeing family members' activities on line. I understand that.

The second response was from my granddaughter, Sammie’s Cousin Erin. 

I love this, Grandma! I'd like to also claim Native American values of not having "should" in my own personal dictionary. I guess the word "ought" can join "should" in the rubbish bin, too. :)
Your writing is so enjoyable, and it's great to hear that Sammie is asking difficult questions, she's really growing up.”

In between these two types of response are the readers who read but don’t respond except when you meet someone who says, “Oh, I read your blogs and love them!” These are the ones who enjoy your blogs enough to let them stand alone without the need of becoming a fan or a critic. They have no urgent desire to get to know you better than the blogging world pieces offer. You’ll likely not meet the bulk of them or have any idea of how many or few there are of them. But just to know they are there, those silent ones, is quite pleasant. You’re not talking to the wall after all.

People who live alone sometimes need to watch that they do not overcompensate their loneliness by dominating the conversation when in the company of others. I’ve known these and I feel sorry for them until I can get away gracefully. That’s what’s good about blogging. It’s a genuine take it or leave it proposition. Put your heart into it, try not to bore your readers to death, say it and be done. Like this: 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Shoulds and Woulds of a Six Year Old

It was something a friend once observed. She said, “I learned something interesting about the American natives’ languages. In them there is no word that expresses our word - should.” I can’t verify that, but I love the sentiment.

On my computer dictionary I read: “should: a word used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” For this reason if I ever have occasion for apologizing about my own actions (or inaction) I find it comforting to call myself a native American, even if I cannot claim this genetically.

Changing “I should” to “I would like to” makes sense to me. That’s why I generally do things I should when and if I want to. 

When I was a child growing up I took naturally to this idea because of my mother’s example. Mother died when I was fourteen but she had been the one to set the example for doing things I should with a genuine relish and also to never neglect the purely fun things I relish more naturally. If she suddenly got the notion to go off on foot to the nearest fishing hole to spend the afternoon, she did. I must have known instinctively her need to go alone.  She craved that luxury of being in quiet company with nature and she was able to leave us children because Daddy was always at home since our home was a country gas station.

In those days most mothers were stay-at-home-mothers. They also knew the need to be free of children once in a while so found things like the Sewing Club or Ladies Aid Society or Women’s Christian Temperance Union or Parent-Teachers Association to fill this need. Mother’s choice was her Sewing Club that met on Thursday afternoons and an occasional spontaneous outing to the fishing hole whenever she could squeeze it in. Fish would then end up being our supper’s menu. If she’d been extra lucky there would be a couple of trout along with the usual suckers.

I have to add that we children would go fishing with Grandpa occasionally, so Mother wasn’t denying us the fun. Nor did she always go alone on other outings. In the spring she took us with her into the woods to find wildflowers. There were violets, Dutchmans’ Breeches, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, Mayflowers, and Ladyslippers. We were careful not to pick too many and we always left their roots undisturbed. 

Mother also loved to play the piano and drove us five miles every week to the neighboring town of Lanesboro where our piano teacher lived. She was the wife of the local Norwegian Lutheran minister and her home was a model of polished floors, Oriental rugs, and sheer curtained windows wherein stood the stately grand piano. When my brother had his lesson I’d sit on the porch with Mother and read children’s magazines. Although Mrs. Nestande was strict, piano lesson day was fun. So piano practice provided a kind of “Should” that held hands willingly with my “Would.” 

I couldn’t help thinking of that these past three days when my little great granddaughter, Samantha, visited me. She is just turning six and eager to learn how to play the piano. She’s talented too and ready to have lessons. I hope her parents can find a Mrs. Nestande for her.

I guess the point of this blog is summed up in the philosophy of letting our “Shoulds” be pals with our “Woulds.” In those three days with Samantha I had the blessed help of my daughter, Robin. We both became six year olds again with Sammie and what a joy! Swimming pool, art fair, jig-saw puzzle, beachfront lunch at The Greeter’s Cafe in Laguna, and a child’s choice of at-home movies, (Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, Sound of Music,) crafty stuff, piano fun, picnic patio breakfasts, a trip to Target to get another Barbie doll to assuage the trauma of Snow White getting her arm chewed off by Dolce, Katie’s little Chihuahua!

Sammie’s visit was like a re-visit to my own childhood. She was full of questions, some of them hard ones, like “Why did Auntie Robin and Uncle Dan get divorced?” Or “Who are you going to vote for for president?” And, of course, “Why? I like the other one!” Don't tell me six year olds aren't often serious.

When there’s a six year old in the house it all rubs off on you. My own six year old is still here after Sammie went home last night. I haven’t done a lick of work all morning but I’ve had breakfast on the patio, read the newspaper, checked my e-mails and Facebook and now am finishing this blog. Time for the “Shoulds to step up and woo the “Woulds.” I’ll pretend it’s like playing house. But first, What shall I have for lunch?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Last Person You're Likely to Get to Know

The lyrics of a song from “The King and I” have been coming to me lately. “Getting to know you; getting to know all about you...” Life keeps us busy getting to know others but when time starts running out we might wonder if we've even begun to know ourselves. Now that my great grandies are coming along I’m guessing we get to know ourselves better by observing children and remembering what it was like to be a child and how we became what we are two generations beyond.

By the time you’re a great grandparent you may begin to see yourself in your great grandchildren. Oh, I don’t mean physical similarity but just the way a baby looks at life. A baby has both an inward, dreamlike sense of life, one he apparently brings with him, and an objective waking one, new to him in every way. We cannot know what goes on in the infant’s mind but we get a glimpse of how he or she is adjusting to waking moments when trying to make sense of this new world. 

I’ve been told that age is infancy. In old age we begin to gather up memories like dreams and if you’re like me, I am selective of the ones I want to keep in case they go with me into another new world. Already I see myself becoming more interested in the outside world, both this one and the suspected worlds beyond. I know about as much of these as a babe. It takes some degree of pondering to get to know both the outer universe and the inner psyche you take into it. 

Others either see you as declining mentally or stepping into a life beyond this one. Each day I feel like I’m doing the latter.

That’s my wish for today. Robin, my daughter, would call that “a rocket of desire.” Mary Baker Eddy says, “Desire is prayer...” and I say? Well, I say that I see a couple of conflicting rockets going out from me: 
  1. order in my life
  2. spontaneity in my life

Both are good rockets, so why do they not cooperate? Why do they fight for first place? 

Well, I won’t get the answers here. They’ve been evading me too long. But you see, that’s why I can’t seem to get a grip on order. Spontaneity wins every time. Write a schedule, plan my time, and the next day I get an invitation to go out with my daughter to an afternoon matinee showing a movie we’ve been wanting to see.

I suspect we all have our rockets to deal with, and getting to know the real me? Well, even now there’s always at least one more tomorrow.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Walk, Ride, Walk

It was going to be interesting, this visit to see a doctor. The DMV, after my collision with the Yellow Cab, had ordered that I take a driving test and get a doctor's declaration that I'm fit to drive and so here I was sitting in the doctor's office, not knowing what to expect. Before I'd even met the doctor his nurse came in to take my blood pressure. She also had a queer looking device. "What's that?" I asked. "This is an EKG." she answered, and then explained how it would measure something or other about the heart.

After that I said, "Everything OK?" She smiled and said, "The doctor will talk to you about it." When he stepped in I immediately liked him, told him why I was there, and that I'd not been to see a doctor since I broke my hip about ten years ago. "I've relied on prayer all my life," I said. "I believe that clean living and clear thinking keep a person healthy but..." and then explained how the car accident had required a doctor's OK for me to drive in order to keep my driver's license.

All I remember about that visit was Dr. D's gentle manner. I instinctively trusted him, but I admit being somewhat surprised to hear him say, "I've ordered a wheel chair for you to go down to the ER." Since his office was in the hospital it was only a matter of going down the elevator and before I knew it I was on my way, along for a strange ride. The next five days I had a "vacation" totally out of my known world.

Along the way I kept thinking that God was with me. I wasn't afraid. I didn't balk at what was happening or what was being done for me. I just knew, as I had known moments after the accident, that "there is some good reason for all this." With the Psalmist, I said, "Whither shall I go from Thy presence...If I make my bed in hell, even there shalt Thou guide me." And so here I am, home again with a strange little device implanted in my chest called a Pacemaker.

All this for the privilege of driving a car? No, I think it was another example of how God meets our needs right where we are spiritually and mentally. A stubborn adherence to claim a position in the understanding of Truth that I had not yet earned vs. taking the temporary steps to prolong my earthly days without being a burden to my family. I chose the latter.

All through life I see that we either walk or ride. As long as we're moving forward, embracing life and its opportunities, it matters not much the means by which we progress. To my dear family, friends and fellow bloggers I share my philosophy:

"Trust in God and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths." I'm thanking God for His guidance, His love, and His care wherever there is a human need. Knowing this I walk, sometimes ride, and then walk again. Life is always interesting. With the knowledge that God is with us, it's always good!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tapping Into Knowledge

From the very start I have loved schoolrooms. But I don't mean only the ones with four walls, a door and blackboard, although those would have to be included in my affections. I simply want to learn in the easiest way possible. Good teachers are essential along with libraries and educational media. My problem is that I can't get beyond the initial peeks. I get side-tracked and before long my house is littered with partially read books, magazines, newspapers, CD's, DVD's and the contents of the daily mail delivery.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm interested in nearly everything but not to the point of giving many things a careful, dedicated uninterrupted study on a daily basis. I'd like to be able to glance at a book and take in its pertinent points without giving it the time required for reading it through. One exception to that is the savoring of a good novel in which I can lose myself to another life. But for sheer knowledge I'm lazy about what others have written. Sit me down with a pad and pen or in front of a computer and my tapping-in to ideas opens a way for sorting out the problems of life apart from academia.

I just this morning read that the Bible is still the world's best selling book and, for me, I find moments to explore its treasures every day. Like a cozy fireplace, where no wood-burning fire is identical to another, I can sit and ponder passages I've read hundreds of times before and get new meaning out of them. Then again I've found answers to deep questions in simple statements that come undocumented and anonymous that give me great insight and inspiration. One such thought is this: "God is that Being whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." I don't know who first uttered that idea, but it suits me just fine to think that God's center is right where I am at any given moment and yet unconfined to a personal me. It gives me a sense of intimacy and the feeling that the reason God is so hard to explain is that his Being is too close to examine objectively. Yet the idea that this is true for everyone and that even the stars and planets and galaxies can't provide a circumference for God's being,  lends a sense of infinite pleasure, purpose and progress to life.

I like the name Mind for God and the definition above indicates that God is my mind, but as divine Mind, God is still relatively unknown to me or anyone. That's why I don't get disturbed by anyone claiming to not believe in God. The proof for or against is up to us and we have a choice as to which side we'd like to come down on.

Still, I know enough of this Mind that I can feel totally comfortable with it. I can feel a relationship with it that might be similar to a Mother and Father's where there is total acceptance and love such as a very young child might feel. No requirement, no daily assignments, no pressure to grow and learn, just daily acceptance of the circumstances whereby growth and learning can take place.

Tapping In is what I call my favorite occupation, even though I have a long way to go in order to get more than the milk of what is there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pajama Party Time

If I ever get transferred to a nursing home, (please, let that not be!) I will miss most the fun of having overnight guests. My bedroom has two beds in it and one wide screen TV. If I could have foreseen such a thing in my childhood bedroom I'd have swooned! Instead, on the rare occasions I had a girlfriend over to spend the night we'd lie awake for hours talking about everything under the sun and laughing in the dark until Daddy would come in and say, "Quiet down, girls, the rest of us want to get some sleep!"

Nowadays Katie, my youngest granddaughter, comes over once in a while and we each fix our own refreshments to take to bed and watch TCM movies one after another until I wake up about 2 am with the TV still going, turn it off, put a coverlet over Katie and her little dog, Dolce, and turn in for the rest of the night.

Katie's choice of entertainment may include modern movies with a boyfriend but her preference is in the old-time genre. TCM is right down the line for both of us. There are two great features to this channel: no commercials and black and white photography. The story lines may sometimes be contrived and predictable but they please us by taking us back to the times I well remember and the ones Katie wishes she had grown up in. She knows the old/young actors as well as I and has her favorites, Robert Young, Dana Andrews, Robert Mitchem, and especially Humphrey Bogart.  Of course, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor and others too. Never mind that they are all either dead or old and wrinkled by now, they will be ever young and beautiful on the screen.

I like to glance over at Katie as she sits up against her pillow watching. She herself has a beauty that surpasses the best of those she's watching and she knows it but her aspirations, so far, leap over any inclination to stardom and fix on a handsome lover, (the current heartthrob maybe?) who might become her husband, be the father of her children and live out a happily ever after with her. Katie has a good job in a flower shop and can stand up to the best of floral designers but she'd trade it all for a man who would take care of her and their family in the old-fashioned way.

Right now she can taste of that vicariously with her older sister, Jennifer, who is married to a handsome young Costa Rican and has an adorable baby boy, little Jack Carlo. We see a lot of this little family and Katie loves being "Aunt Katie."

In looking back over the years I can feel fulfilled. This morning I wound the grandfather clock Wally G. gave me when we moved off my beloved ranch in Oregon. The clock,  a handsome Colonial one, was a consolation prize Wally G. bought me for leaving our paradise. Life goes on chapter by chapter and now the days are coming closer to an end. Still, at 86 I can hope to see my great grandies, five so far, grow into their teens. How cool would that be?

My bedroom works for female friends too. Joanie, my friend from St. Louis, will be coming the end of this month. Arlene, who lives in Florida, stayed a few days last year, and Hannah came not long ago from Boston. Erin, my San Francisco granddaughter stays with me when she comes, and my one and only grandson, Jordan, comes now and then from Glendale. Kimmie and Mitch live in Monrovia and they come with their two darlings, Samantha and Max. April and Jaime who live in Santa Barbara visit me with their baby boy, Kingston, now and then. Rosalynd has a new baby girl, Amy, but she and Gray live in New York. Of course there are my sons, Wally and David along with their dear wives, Nancy and Susie. You've heard of Robin in my last blog. She and her Paul live only a few steps away. I could have any one or two of them overnight should the occasion arise. But not in a nursing home.

No, I may be using a cane but I can get around the house and on short walks without it. I feel quite fit and although I never lack for something to do in my little creekside haven, I'm always open to overnight company. When we get through our reminiscences and laughs we can always turn on the TV and watch an old movie. One way or another we can all be young together when it's pajama party time at Grandma Joy's house.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Travel at Home and Abroad

My grandmother was once told by a fortune teller that she would travel abroad before death but, though other predictions came true, the travel one didn’t. (I sometimes wonder if Grandmother didn’t put off travel abroad to put off death? She lived to age 89.) With no such soothsayer’s prediction for me I decided in my late fifties to take a tour to China. It was the first and most exotic of my few excursions beyond our shores.

Nowadays I am content to travel by means of television, computer, print and picture page, and whatever means of concrete transportation such as car, rail or plane that can get me there and back within a day or two. At home I can stretch my mind, if I choose, to boundless heights and depths, even to thoughts of timeless, spaceless being. The opportunities for arm chair travel offer fantastic feasts and feats. Wow!

Yesterday the weather was pure perfection and I took a day trip to the island of Catalina with my daughter, Robin, who had been given a free ticket because of July 3rd being her birthday. I loved it! All the adventure, mingling with humanity, color, excitement, freedom and fun we could possibly pack into one day, awaited us and, best of all, without packing a single bag!

Going anywhere with Robin assures one that the occasion will be fully documented by a slide-show of beautiful picture remembrances. Her trusty little Canon camera captures it all. Far from slowing her down, (I with my new cane,) she was often behind me caught up by some boat, seagull, tanned skin beach bather or colorful beach umbrella that might someday appear in one of her paintings. Plants, flowers, even cobbled streets and tree trunks are of interest to her, but a little boy bent over a dispenser of fish food on the pier might even form the centerpiece of a future painting. 

Many of the people we encountered had something in common with this daughter of mine. They also were born on the 3rd of July and had been given free trips to the sunny island. Evidently, the tourist industry has found this a good come-on for customers and, wearing the Happy Birthday tag, she got a lot of birthday greetings. 

I too was continuously reminded of that day, rather night, when the doctor said, “You wanted a little girl? Well, you got one!” The fact that I would enjoy vicarious pleasure in her becoming an artist someday, as I’d hoped to be, was a joy yet to be discovered. But that she would become the dearest companion of my life puts a cap on my mother’s dream of a baby girl after two great little boys.

Robin has an interest not only in art but in humanity. She often donates her work to worthy causes, especially for women. She always finds opportunity to connect with individuals. As with the two men, both born on July 3rd, we met at a shuttle stop waiting for a ride to the Buffalo Nickel Restaurant where free meals awaited the birthday patrons. The wait proved to be lengthy enough that we got well acquainted with these men, Walter and Leon, and the fact that they were each 90+ put them in my age bracket so we could relate with the olden days. This made not one iota of difference to Robin. She was as interested in them, maybe more so, than if they'd been in her own age bracket. It ended up that we sat together at lunch and had a delightful visit.

We spent the rest of the day shopping (not buying), walking along the streets, stopping to rest here and there, and finally finding a sidewalk table where we could try an unusual repast, talk with a friendly waiter and twin women at the next table who shared Robin’s birthday. That put a pleasant cap on the day before embarking the ship to sail home. 

Robin is that daughter I could not have wished for because she exceeds all my dreams. That little strawberry blonde whose “tony pail” hair swished back and forth as she strode down the hill to her school bus stop is the grown-up girl who will always be young because she has the gift of joy and love in taking what life offers with immense gratitude and appreciation.

Now, this blog, which stated out as a piece on travel, has become more about my traveling companion. That, too, is a most important element to any trip, at home or abroad. I think someday the world will know my Robin through her art because she puts her heart and soul in it and people see and feel that. She touches other hearts through their eyes. 

For now, I’m looking forward to opening my e-mail and finding a slideshow of our day and travels at home and abroad. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How To Handle the Downsides

Lest anyone think there are no downsides to my theme of getting older is getting better, let me say there are. The biggest one is the general belief about old age. That is not good. It's a hard sell preaching the better sides of growing old. Many abhor it to the point of dying too young and often I've heard people say, "I wouldn't want to live to be 100!"

The only reason I can see for such a declaration is that those people envision all the negatives instead of the positives. All through life we do that, so what's new? As my few readers can see, I'm definitely on the positive side, yet once in a while I have to do a bit of finagling to turn some negatives around. I believe it's wise not to attempt the impossible or improbable. To make the best of life you need to keep excuses out of the way. That just makes sense to me.

I recall a time when my husband and I went to see a man we had admired from a distance. We had heard a talk given by him and were so impressed that a man of his age could present such joy and vigor we wanted to know him better. We'd made an appointment yet upon our arrival his housekeeper invited us to sit in his drawing room and wait. After some length of time we wondered what the problem might be. At last he came in to see us and he was not looking good. He was using crutches and struggling to get to his chair, yet he greeted us with a broad smile and said, "I apologize for my appearance. I have no excuse but to say I'm doing the best I know how and that's all the angels are doing now-a-days!"

Funny how encounters with certain people leave such an impression on us. Our visit turned out to be very pleasant and enriching without further reference to his problem. How different have been other encounters where the person has unloaded a tale of woe trying to make hay out of misery!

Would you like to hear of my recent "downside?" I'll make it brief. A week ago I started out the day with a stop at the gas station. After filling up the tank of my little Vibe I proceded to go out the drive to take care of some other business. Now, I've been driving without serious incident since I was fifteen. I know the rules and so I'm sure I did what I always do, look both ways before emerging onto the street. So where did the yellow cab come from? I could swear it just materialized out of nothing because I didn't see it until I heard a loud bang and felt a sudden stop. Then the cab driver pulled off to the side and I managed to get near enough to where he parked in order sort out the damage. He was a young man. Rushing over to me he said, "Are you all right?" No blame, though it was obviously my fault.

The whole incident was taken care of harmoniously, including the help of a friendly policeman, a friendly tow-truck driver, a friendly insurance man and a friendly rental car agency. The story is not ended. The car is being repaired. So is the yellow cab. No one was seriously hurt and I can see a few upsides to the whole picture. I prefer to focus on these. But one of the downsides is that I'm again being reminded of my age. Although I have an impecable driving record I now have to go to the DMV with a doctor's report on my physical and mental condition and take a driver's exam.

At first I was tempted to throw in the towel and give up driving altogether. I can go wherever I want with the help of my daughter who lives nearby, a transit system on our street, or a taxi. I might even still do that, but before I do I'll go ahead and take steps to restore my driving privileges. I'll let you know how it all turns out. Thank goodness for the Upsides. Every Downside has them. I'll keep remembering to do the best I can. Along with the angels.