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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.