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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Minding My Own Business

“Mind your own business” is probably the best advice we can give ourselves. How long does it take us to learn that? In my case, and in most everyone’s I suspect, it takes a lifetime. I’m finding excellent help in that regard. First: Know who’s boss. 

Is it you? Is it God? Is it someone else or no one at all? That’s your decision, but whatever you decide, you do work for your boss. I call my boss “Good.” I think that name best represents what I can believe. Ask any atheist too, and I’ll wager he or she believes in some standard called good, (though not necessarily capitalized.) If not, then one must conclude that we’re all living this life as a host of loose canons. How can we make sense or safety out of it? Who really wants to believe that?

You may wonder what got me started on this subject. Well, a few minutes ago I heard something that made me worry for a minute or two. Then the MYOB hit me smack in the noggin. Like most worries, it was beyond my capability to do something about. So, I just said to myself, “Stop! That’s none of your business!” I got instant relief because I believed utterly that whatever I can do nothing about is not my business. Worrying about it is meddlesome. All things work together for Good is my faith so my business in any case is to trust the power of Good for one and all. I can’t find peace if I don’t believe that. No matter what difficulties confront us, the end of the story is good and if I don’t see it now, I just skip over in my mind and read the last page. It always comes out the same: ...”and they all lived happily ever after.”

My worry tonight? It was the sound of a siren. My daughter was on her way to see me. I worried that it might be her in an accident. I prayed for her, “Please, Good, not my child!” The answer, Well, it’s somebody’s child. So I prayed for Somebody’s child. Then I knew that no matter whose child, no matter how severe the problem, no matter even if someone died, Good will see everyone through. See, my Good is infinite and eternal. There’s no end in death, just change. Whether we believe that or not, Good is. Good does good, never bad. Good won’t let us fail forever. I skipped to the happy ending and put everyone there. In a minute I opened the door to see my daughter’s sweet smile. “Hi, Mom!”

That’s how my business runs. I’m minding my own business the best I can. I love my Boss, Good, and because I really believe that Good is sweeping through all creation throwing its light on the dark places to show us it’s all been OK. It’s OK now, and  it will always be OK. My business is to nurture this thought and watch the results.  I can truly say Thank Goodness I'm living longer so I can see my business prosper. I'll bet, my dear readers, you are doing that too and finding that your business is getting better every day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vacation Time to Change Your Mind

I’m on vacation. Did I tell you? Letting Katie and her hubby spend their honeymoon at my house. Two weeks with nothing to do! When I first set foot into this “Vanilla Cottage,” (told you about that in the last blog,) I was enchanted by it’s invitation to the simplified life. The last few days I’ve been seriously considering the idea of moving here, right into this little one-bed-roomer, if they’d let me. Then I could rent my condo and let the rent pay for my mortgage, taxes, insurance and home owners’ association fees. The rent here would amount to a wash. Have hardly thought about anything else since I got here and have scribbled ideas of how I’d place my furniture in these rooms. Pages and pages.

That’s me. I get excited about change. Got so used to moving when we were in the service. It was fun. Have been at it ever since too, even after Wally left for the great HA (hereafter.) I thought I’d never leave my dear Quail Creek but I was just on the edge of doing it when Robin said, “If that’s what you want, Mom, I’m all for it, but I think you could ask yourself first, What does The Willows have that you can’t have here? What am I really looking for?” She's like that. My boys too. They treat me like I have full use of my faculties and can think things out for myself and come to a good conclusion. I hate to hear the words, "What shall we do with Mom?" I think, I hope, my kids will never have occasion to utter them!

Well, I did think about it in that light. Deliciously prepared main meals is one plus. But for about the same money I could do pretty well going out to eat and have the chance to pick my own menu, a restaurant of my choice, and ...well, that might be fun too. Social life? Yes, they have lots of opportunities for that. Nice people live here. People who have had interesting lives and there are interesting things to do with them. But do I really want any more of that than I already have? If so, I could easily take steps. Bus transportation so I could give up my car (not that I’d have to.) Am I ready to give up my car? When I am, maybe then? I finally figured out that my initial thrill was simply about the change of decor and a more simple way of life. Although this place is like living in a garden, it doesn't have my little creek.

I’ve let myself accumulate too many things I don’t need or use. I'd get rid of them if I moved. But I can fix that problem right where I am. Sort it all out and dispose of the excess. Take a “vacation” in my own home. Then too, I love to change furniture around, try new styles, new colors. I can do that at home too. I LOVE to move furniture! That is, I love to watch it being moved.

It became a mental tug of war between #125 (home,) and #117 (The Willows.) Well, I have been sketching out options in both places until I get them all mixed up in my mind, but now I think I’ve come to the end of the game. I’m going to stay where I am at home, not here on vacation. #125 won. #117 or a look-alike will no doubt be here down the line, if I want it.

There are unlimited opportunities to change right at home. I can thin out, send tons of stuff to the Good Will, replace certain pieces of furniture for something better. That might be cheaper than the cost of a moving truck and truckers. In my head and on paper I have plans for a whole new home with the same old address. I’m really excited about that! I can just see it, and I’m rarin’ to go!

Now I have a question for you. Why, oh why, do I know that Robin and I will be going to thrift shops, consignment shops, and gift shops and big box stores and find ourselves having a ball shopping? We could both be wiser to not go. But we don't overdo it, and we’re careful buyers too, often save money that way. What would it be like to not enjoy shopping, to be misers? I just thought of a book we all read in junior high school. It was my first encounter with that word “miser.” I think I’ll go to the library and get it again. (Note, I didn’t say I’d buy it!} The name of it is Silas Marner. Remember him? He was a miser. I wouldn’t want to be a miser, would I? Would you? 

Vacations should be like this. I’m having a ball not doing any of the things I’d planned. Just rambling around in my mind about all I’m going to do when I get home. It’s fun to get out of my skin. And I’m not even half way through this two weeks yet! Going to strange places, busying myself looking for new sights, new experiences. That’s fun too, but right now I’m delighted to be doing nearly nothing! Do you envy me? Well, take Robin’s advice. Visualize it! Then do it!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Staying in the Vanilla Cottage

Last Friday I moved out of my house so Katie and Jeff can have their two week honeymoon there. Some might say it is a sacrifice on my part but I’m seeing it as a great chance to step aside and view my home, even my life, from a distant hill. I’ve rented an apartment here at the retirement community nearby where I was the receptionist back in the late ’80’s. It’s a lovely place with a “campus” full of flowers, orange trees, green lawns and sunshine. I see many advantages to living full time here. There are three buses that take you shopping. Markets and malls on certain days, theaters, symphonies, and to a choice of three churches on Sundays. I wouldn’t need to have a car. Delicious meals are served and you can have them delivered or eat in the dining room. I could name a host of other amenities these people enjoy and I’m thinking I could move here, but right now may not be the time and may never be. The more plausible step for me is to view the place I own from this mental hillside and think of how I can make it better. It’s too crowded, for one thing and Robin is going to help me clear out the things I don’t need when I get home. That will be like moving without the expense or hassle. I think to stay where I am is the better choice right now. And I can keep my little creek!

My daughter, Robin, is a practical girl. She’s in tune to helping both herself and others. And she’s been telling me something of a thing called “feng shui.” All I know, so far, is that it makes one’s environment open and inviting and peaceful. For instance, not arranging furniture in such a way that it blocks the path or the view. I’m the kind that can take a simple idea like that and use it to meet my need without studying the whole book. My home needs to be pared down, uncluttered, simplified. I’m thinking of ways to make it so.

I call this place where I’m staying the “Vanilla Cottage.” I call it that because it is so simple, so clean, so utterly comfortable, so thoughtfully arranged but yet, well, can I say tastefully ordinary?  Maybe that’s an oxymoron. A perfect guest house. It’s the kind of place that could not be nicer for a “hillside” view of life, but well, it’s just not home. Still, I can visualize it as home if I could move my own furnishings in, or even trade those for a shopping spree decor. My Pennsylvania House solid oak furniture has been hauled to seven new places over the 30+ years since we bought it. Still looks good. It probably always will if it’s cared for, but it’s getting old to me. I’d like something lighter, brighter, but that is not practical on my budget. And it would not have familiar memories. So, I’ll lighten up in other ways. 

Lightening up mentally is a must at any age and that’s getting to be a harder task. Not that I feel down much of the time. I just sense that I need to give my mental household some feng shui too. Clear out of mind the things I don’t need, things that are not useful anymore, things that get in the way of my footsteps and views. I need to do a better job of sticking to my theme about older is better when more and more it would seem otherwise. If I were another kind of writer I could go into my personal problems and health issues and bring them into 3D, but that’s not me. It’s not that I wish to hide from these, pretend things are better than they are, but I guess I’m of the mind that health and personal problems should be addressed with the least advertisement possible. In fact, when I was growing up it was considered bad manners to unload on others. People didn’t talk about their problems much, or if they did it would be in a lighter vein, something to laugh about. “How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you, except for the weather. Darn near froze my eye-balls yesterday!” Gossiping was considered a sin, at least in my family. By those standards today’s world, especially television, would be ever so different!

All I really wanted to say today is that I’m away from home, comfortably settled, sticking to a somewhat solitary life. It’s unusual to be alone with oneself. Good too, because it’s by choice. I hope the young newlyweds are enjoying my place. It’s been Katie’s home for some time so it should be a great start in playing house, in married life, to them.This “Vanilla Cottage” I'm in will be my home for another ten days and nights. I should be able to say when I go home to my creekside condo-cottage that I’m a better person. Vacations should do that for us, shouldn’t they?

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Four Veterans

I’d like you to meet my two veteran husbands. You’ve met them perhaps through glimpses in some of my former posts but today in honor of Veterans’ Day I’ll tell briefly of the roles they played as veterans. 

First, Lt. Col. Wallace Ginder Wethe USMC.
Wally hadn’t intended to join the military but, like most young men at the approach of WW2, he would soon be drafted if he did not enlist. A college buddy said to him, “Want to go with me while I sign up?” Wally said, “Sure.” He thought it would be interesting to see how it was done but he had no idea that he, himself, would be enlisting that day. The enlisting officer said, "Here are the papers. Just fill them out and we'll tell you what to do next." OK, I'll take the exam and see what it will be like when I get around to it, he thought, but when he'd finished going through with his friend he heard the words, “You’re in!” He could hardly believe he’d  actually enlisted! On that crucial day he was set to become a Navy cadet in flight school while his last year of college would have to wait. 

From the Navy he was transferred to the Marine Corps where he went through officers’ training, then completed flight school and became a fighter pilot. “I’d never aspired to be a pilot like a lot of young guys did,” he said later. “My idea was to be a journalist or maybe the tympani player in a symphony orchestra, but I grew to love flying for the Marines, and when I was offered a commission to stay for a full twenty years or more after making Major, I took it."

Soon after enlistment came Pearl Harbor and Wally was sent to the South Pacific and Henderson Field at Guadalcanal. He flew the Grumman Wildcat fighter plane and took down five enemy Zeros. The fifth one he had to share credit for with another pilot, thus missing the title of “Ace” by one-half, but he earned the high regard of his fellows and senior officers. Later he flew the Corsair and then the F8. Other than some shrapnel which he carried in his right shoulder all his life and the traces of a bout with malaria he came home without injury.

I can’t do justice to Wally’s career but he fought and commanded a base in Korea during that war also. He spent five months on a cruise to Liberia to represent the Navy at the 100th anniversary of that nation. And he also served with the Marines on a fourteen month tour in Japan. Maybe our son, Wally K. Wethe can fill in a bit with a comment. He has his dad’s ribbons to show the family. 

When I married Dr. Forbes Smith Robertson PhD twelve years after becoming a widow I learned about his contribution to WW2 too. He never told me how it was that he did not get drafted into military service during WW2 and I didn’t ask, but I gathered that Uncle Sam found him equally valuable as one of the main team of geographic survey personnel that was sent to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to discover sources of bauxite. It was a tour of separation from his family too and a highly successful mission in providing the sources for that much needed material to build airplanes during WW2. So, I think “Robby,” as I called him, deserves to be given much credit for his contribution to the war. I’d call him a veteran.

My other two veterans are my two sons, Wally K. and David. Both enlisted during the Vietnamese War. Wally K. became a flyer for the US Air Force. He stayed in for over 27 years and missed going into combat because of the war's end. I can't relate all the tours he had, but he served admirably and achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel.  David became an officer in the Navy but got out of the service in about a year when the military was paring down after the war. They are here to tell their own stories so I won't try but I am proud of both my sons on this Veterans' Day!

Now that I think of it, I should mention my brother, Daniel J. Hahn, who served over twenty five years in the Air Force and my younger brother Kenny, who spent a few years in the US Air Force during and after WW2. My step-brother, Robert Pooler, also served in WW2. Oh, I can see I must be leaving out more relatives. I salute all veterans with unmeasured gratitude.  Their supreme sacrifices for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we share at their expense can never be fully compensated. Today we’ll enjoy the bands, the marching parades, and feasts. We’ll listen to speeches, salute the flag and carry in our hearts the remembrances of all who gave so much and are still doing so. God bless them, every one!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Moving Can Be A Way of Life

It's really just a vacation but today it feels like I'm moving again. It's only for two weeks and a day.Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

My youngest granddaughter, Katie, and her husband, Jeff, didn’t get to have a honeymoon. They haven’t been able to be together except for Katie’s weekly visits at the jail since their wedding day in May. Tonight, actually in the small hours of tomorrow morning, Jeff will come home and they will start life as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Where? In this little condo-home of mine which I’ve been sharing with Katie while Jeff was away. For two weeks they’ll have the place to themselves. And they’ll have my car for that time. My wedding present to them.

And I? I’ll be staying in a guest apartment at the retirement community nearby where I used to work as the receptionist and secretary back in the late eighties. I think I shall enjoy this time to collect my thoughts, read, maybe sew a little, (I love to sew by hand,) work a jig saw puzzle, keep on blogging, resting, and resting and resting. No gadding about, just staying put, alone with my thoughts, my Muse.

Of course my daughter, Robin, will be nearby. She always takes me places whenever I need to go out. She's the best of company. And maybe my son David will stop by on the weekends. I always have an hour or so on Skype once a week with my son, Wally, who lives in Virginia. The only difference is that I won’t be in my own home. That will belong to the young couple then and I’m glad for them. Katie has been cleaning house like her heart is in it, because it is.

I have supported this young couple in their decision to be married, even though it was anything but a conventional affair. I told you about it in another blog but now I’ll leave that for her to tell her children someday. Soon we’ll be celebrating the holidays with a new member of the family, our Mr Jeffrey Smith, and his bride, our own Kate Smith.

Moving out is not an easy task. What to take? Basic needs, but it’s a logistics challenge. It feels like I’m going for good, but I’m not. (At least, I hope not!) One day before too long the young couple will be on their own and I’ll be alone again in my little corner of heaven.

When I moved down here from Santa Barbara about four years ago I was in a similar position. My household goods came a week later and I lived here with only a blow-up bed, a basic wardrobe and a few groceries. Along with some books, of course, and a card table and folding chair. I saw how simply I could live if I had to. I loved it!

When you’re older you wonder, - is this going to be my last home? It has felt like that nearly every time I’ve moved, but one day it will be so.There’s a favorite hymn of mine that goes, “Pilgrim on earth, home and heaven are before you...” I have not always seen the home that is before me until just before I’ve moved into it and out of my last home. Moving has been a way of life for me.

I woke up at 1:00 a.m. this morning. It’s now 3:00 a.m. Still not sleepy. I’m all packed and nearly ready to head out the door. I’ll keep in touch with you, my blog reader friends, if I can, but in the meantime, Goodbye! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

When We Were Loved

Too bad we can’t remember our earliest days when, if we were so blessed, we enjoyed the love, care and comfort of our parents and grandparents. Why is it the mind can’t recall those days when our eyes were first opened to a new world? I’m thinking of that because of all the pictures I find on Facebook of the new children in our families. They will be able to see what their lives were like in those early days. I, on the other hand, have only a few faded colorless photographs. Joycie in her baby carriage. Joycie posing with Daddy in their Sunday best, her hand in his. Then the beginnings of memory, - a new tricycle, my legs not quite long enough to reach the pedal on the down curve. I managed to make it work by kicking the top pedal. Oh, how wheels become an early fascination! And I do remember that.

I have my baby book too. In it are the first pictures of me. One, {no doubt the first,) wide-eyed little face has beneath it a small clipping that Mother cut out from some periodical. It says, 
What is the little one thinking about?
Very wonderful things, no doubt!
My mother gave me credit for having thoughts, even though I was not yet able to express them in a new language. How I cherish the idea that we can think at any age. And our thoughts are ours, although the modern Facebook fans like to share them with the world. Even in our years of dotage this is true. We can’t escape the business of thinking, though too often we may want to let our thoughts fade away in sleep and dreams.

I must confess, the coming generation of babies who are related to me, near or distant, are sweet to see, but they also give me a sense of distance. I feel loved and appreciated by my children but they and their own offspring, just a few years hence, make me feel aged. “Watch out for the step, Grandma!” “Drive carefully, Grandma!” “What can I get for you, Grandma?” And some even read my blogs and comment on them. I willingly soak up their attentions.

Wally G. hated old age with a passion. Maybe that’s why he only lived to the age of 66. If he had stayed, what stories he could tell! If only he had written a blog! And Robby too. He did live to be nearly 91 and I loved to listen to his stories. But when we’d go to family dinner parties the table would be buzzing with the chatter of young people at one end, talking about what interested them. Robby used to come home in a shadow of sadness. He’d say, “We are loved, I know, but after they’ve kissed me on the way in I become a fixture at the end of the table, or in an armchair off to one side. No one comes over to ask me about my life, and even though it’s not much to talk about now, I could tell them so much about years past! It’s all interesting too, and I can tell it well because I was a teacher. But I can’t capture their attention now like I could my students.” His voice would drift off, and again he’d say softly, “I have so much I’d like to share with them, but they’re too busy with their own lives, and...well, that’s understandable.”

I too was guilty. I would give anything now to be able to sit down with my grandparents and great grandparents and ply them with questions! I am grateful for certain people in the family who shared bits and pieces of their lives on paper. Thank goodness for the few historians in a family! I have a few old photographs, even fewer of ones I can’t place, but they tell so little! I want to hear the particulars, like when Great Grandpa Thomas Pulford at the age of eight came across the Atlantic Ocean from England with his family. I did get to sit by his rocking chair and hear things like that when I was a young child, but there’s so much more I want to know! Most of the things in my house have a history too. I dread thinking that they’ll end up in the Good Will shop and no one will know how they figured into my life.

What’s really important is not the history. Memories cling too fast to us. They must have the immediacy of feelings to go with them. Yet, I’ll try. I’m working on a book for my children and theirs, to tell what I do know of our forebears, but my days go by and seem crowded with other interests. Time is running out. There should be balance between the past and present, even though the future remains in front of us like a huge question mark.

Today I feel loved. What is this no-longer-a-“little one” thinking about? Well, if you’ve read this far, you know.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Child On a Swing

The darndest things come out of a pen. All my life I’ve been a writer, and yet I’ve never experienced what many writers call “writers’ block.” Getting started is the obstacle they face. With me, I make myself no promises as to what I’ll write. I just get an idea and go for it. Pity anything that stands in my way!

That’s how it worked when an idea came to me a few minutes ago. I was writing in my journal, remembering how it used to be in my childhood when I’d get onto a swing. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s verse in the little book of his poems I loved as a child says it well.

How do you like to go up in a swing, 
Up in the air so blue? 
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing 
Ever a child can do! 

That child in me literally yearns sometimes to get into some of the swings I’ve known and fly away. If I had my way, it’s how I’d like to depart from this life. On one of my favorite swings!

In this day of instant photography, our experiences and memories can be graphically portrayed. I wish, for my own sake and yours, that I could shoot you photographs of my favorite swings, with me in them as I was then, of course. Since I can’t, I’ll have to try in words.

Picture me as a child between the ages of five and eleven. I knew two swings then, any one of the four on the school playground and the other at my country home. The ones at school were a recess thing you had to get to fast before the others. Then you’d pump hard to see how high you could go. I used to aspire to flying over the top bar and coming down the other side. I never made it. 

My home swing was entirely different. I was usually alone there. Daddy had hung the ropes from an over-branching limb of a big tree at the edge of the woods about a stone’s throw from our back door yet down a slope and out of sight of the house. Here I was alone with my thoughts, my dreams, the sheer pleasure of the slow back and forth "die down" after I’d quit pumping. Leaning back to watch tree tops and sky hold hands and dance, my mind would let go of all childish worries. Fancy, bliss and abandon accompanied by the soft straining sound of  the ropes sang to me. If these were punctuated by wild bird songs and squirrel chatter, all the better. This was all that mattered. I knew the meaning of the word bliss on my swing long before I knew of the word itself.

I can’t remember much about that swing down in the woods when I was in high school. Even my younger brothers had grown out of it by then. I had more urgent pursuits at that age. No time to "do nothing."  But when I went to live with my grandmother in Riverside, California, during my college days I loved the canopied sofa swing in her back yard that stood under a huge pepper tree and overlooked an arroyo between me and Mount Pachapa.That was my refuge at a time of my life when I needed the security and peace it offered. You know, that hiatus between adolescence and adulthood?

Years later Wally G. and I hung three swings on our ranch. My favorite of these was a one rope swing with a wooden seat secured by a large knot underneath in the middle. It hung from a high, high branch of a tall tree which stood on a steep hillside. Straddling the rope, I could back up to a point high enough to let go and fly out over the dropping slope toward Mt. Brushy across the river. That swing was the most thrilling of all my swings, the nearest thing to actual bird flight I've ever imagined. But the coziest swing was in the safety of our grassy yard under the huge Sequoia tree. Only a few steps from the porch door, I could run out any time of day or night and let myself go.

I haven’t had a swing since the ranch days to call my own. The nearest I can get to the feeling of one is in the big Amish rocker on my patio. There’s something about rocking and swinging that sets one in tune with the motions of the universe and lets the mind go free. The questions of life, the pros and cons, the struggles, all these fade away when we rock or swing. No wonder babies know the feeling. No wonder children keep it up. No wonder the primal motion of our last days on earth can still resonate on a good swing. Or a rocking chair. Even the thought of them is settling, safe.

It was still dark when I started this blog. I can see the sun peeking through the patio curtains now. The rocking chair is out there. Waiting for someone. Me? 

Bye for now!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Where Was I When...?

Back in 1940 at the dinner table one night we’d been talking about a family picnic some years back. My little brother, Kenny, listened as names of people he knew came into the discussion. “Uncle Earl, Aunt Ida, Grandpa and Grandma,” and cousins “Harriet and Dean,”  I could see something was troubling the little fellow. Finally it came out. We hadn’t mentioned his name. 

“Was I there, Mama?”  Sometimes the high pitch of a child’s voice can arrest other voices. We all listened to hear what Mother would say.

“No, dearie, you weren’t born yet.”

His face looked puzzled while he thought about that, and then he asked, “But where was I?” There was a kind of desperation in his voice.  

“You were only a twinkle in your daddy’s eye then, Kenny.” Her answer didn’t satisfy him.  His little face began to crinkle and tears welled up in his big brown eyes. “But where was I? he insisted. 

I don’t know what was said then to comfort the little guy, but as I was remembering this the other day it got me to thinking. Why do most people believe more in a hereafter than in a heretofore? Is it because they believe life starts in the womb?

When I discovered the art of journaling I found my Muse to be the perfect one to turn to for answers.  Muse would say, “I’m sure I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s think about it. Maybe we’ll stumble on one.” And, whatever the question, I’d find a satisfying dialogue in my own mind and on paper, even if no plausible answer came.  The question could be tabled for another day. Then Muse and I would turn to less nebulous things like, “What’s on your calendar for today, my friend?” Muse always focuses on me and that’s why he’s such a good friend, for I, like most, find there are few more interesting than myself. Who we are and what we believe can show up on paper and surprise us. Like pre-existence and post-existence.

I remember hearing a professor at the University of California, Irvine, begin a talk on the subject "Science and Religion." His opening remarks still reverberate in my mind. As I recall, they went something like this: “Here we all are,” (arms outstretched and eyes looking over the entire audience,) “here on this ship of life together. Those among us who favor religion go to the bow of the ship and look out saying, ‘Where are we going?’ Then they go to the stern and ask, ‘Where did we come from?’” He paused, then went on. “The scientists aboard ship do the same and come back saying, ‘We can’t see anything out there. Let’s examine the walls of this ship.’”

Now doesn’t this give a person something to turn over in his mind? It shows that however essential the solid means and ends of life, these can only pale in light of the larger questions of whether or not we've known life before birth and will also know it after death. These questions are valid and worth pondering now and then but the answers can wait. They always do.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another Title?

I picked the title for my blog hastily. Robin helped me to set it up and then asked, “What title shall I give it, Mom?” The first one that came to mind was “Getting Older is Getting Better.” I’ve often regretted putting my thoughts in print under that title because it is flawed.

First, what I’m learning about Life (capital L) tells me that “older” and “better” are destined to become obsolete terms. Both imply the validity of time, and I’m beginning to see that time can only be what its name implies, temporary. Ideas or things that are temporary can preempt ideas and things that are eternal if we let them. And in this present human state we do. 

The term “older” would preempt “infinite being.” The word “better” would preempt “perfection.” Older and better are relative. Infinite being and perfection are absolute. You can’t add to infinity or improve upon perfection. Subscribing to infinity and perfection offers no admission of an element called time, no relative, progressive or regressive sense of life and being.

“Older,” in its human connotation, includes a deteriorating condition of body and mind. It has little to go on when calling itself “Better.” Since it’s a little late to change my title, I’ll try to put a better spin on it here.

Humanly, we all are growing older. We concede the better part to a nebulous center called maturity. From then on it’s a downhill ride for most of us. Downhill in that fleshly thing called the body. 

Is there any way out of this bodily sense of being? I say, Yes. Not through death’s door, however, but through gaining a better sense of Life, the Life that is eternal, timeless, harmonious and joyful adventure. But there is a first step to the discovery of this Life and the pursuit of it, that is the acknowledgment that it exists. Even as a figment of one’s imagination at first, it certainly beats the birth, development and decay sense of life! Joy in birth, sorrow in death, and anybody’s guess as to what comes in between. 

If we’ve given little time in our lives to gaining a more spiritual sense of things, perhaps old age is a kind of last chance to do so. If we’re not too burdened and entrapped in aches and pains to give attention to a better idea of life, or even if we are, the seeking of it now is a way out.

For the time being, we oldsters can use our days of leisure or retirement to finding out more about a perfect sense of Life. I find that among my lighter forms of entertainment and superficial pleasures the most satisfying activity is discovering more of the truth of being. “Fun,” as we call it, can be defined as seeking first the “Kingdom of Heaven.” It’s a way to climb out of the ditch and get onto the highway. Do it any way that you wish, the pure desire to do it will lead you in the right direction. 

There’s a way to grow “in stature and in wisdom and in favor with God and man” at any age and it’s never too late or too early to get started! On second thought, my title is not so bad after all if I keep in mind that it can be a doorway through which we pass from dreams to awakening.

Get older, get better, and then open that door and walk through!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One God We Can All Agree Upon

Who is it we can count on 
through every day and night?
Who will never leave us 
or go too far from sight?

Who is our most reliable
yet oft neglected friend?
Who always lives with all of us
and will until the end?

Who offers us the most in life 
of choices never ceasing?
Who walks beside us all the way
And gives us hope increasing?

What is Her one demand of us
exchanged for endless good?
To be your best, to live and love. 
Even when not understood.

What's that? you say, you're no believer?
Oh, this god you surely must avow.
She's one you've known throughout your life.
Her name is old, familiar NOW.

Friday, October 18, 2013

In the Still of the Night

It's one a.m. I woke up about an hour ago struggling with fear and doubt and distrust. Plenty of problems but one in particular. (You don’t need to know it, you have enough problems of your own, I’m sure.) So, I got up to write. I nearly always find peace in writing. It seems to tap me into the veins of pure gold. 

At times like this I often recall what my mother used to say to me when I was troubled. “Just know the truth about it, dear,” and somehow even those words that had little meaning to me then would calm my mind and relieve me from distress. In my childlike way I’d say, “Know the truth, know the truth, know the truth.”

Error and truth are the tares and the wheat of our lives. They grow side by side but until the harvest, the time when both are ripe enough to be clearly distinguishable from each other and reaped, it is best not to try to separate them. From small quarrels to world wide wars, men suffer by imposing immature concepts of truth if not bald-faced lies on one another. 

So, how can we know truth from error? “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is the answer we find in most religions, philosophies and plain common sense. Nowadays it’s becoming more reasonable to leave the question of truth to the ages. “Don’t fight over it, children,” we say. But on the other hand as adults we see the necessity to rise in opposition to what is patently wrong, even if it means treating violence with violence, cruelty with cruelty. It is hard to trust in the power of right when wrong goes rampant but when we resort to using the enemy’s weapons it’s anyone’s guess who will win. 

The common enemy mankind has is ignorance. Just as children, we grab and hit, yell profanities and kick, complain and cry because we don’t know any better. In the middle of the night if I awake and some problem or problems keep troubling me, I find peace in the thought that there’s an answer to everything bad in the world. That answer is good and good does not need our defense of it, only our acknowledgment that it, good, is the only real. The power that good wields needs only to be recognized. The mere faith that for every wrong there is a right, for every pain there is comfort, for every threat there is safety, brings us to a first step in solving all problems. 

Thanks to the powers that be we can at least begin to distinguish what is good and what is not. Now the job is to recognize which, good or bad, has all-power and which has none. We need to stop giving equal rights to both truth and the lies about it. If good is real, then bad must be unreal, no matter how aggressively it appears real. They say, "Get real," when they mean "believe what you see." Truth says, "Get real" when it means, "between opposites there can be only one real. Which is it, good or evil?"  

Here in my quiet little home this person I call me can get up in the middle of the night and declare with absolute certainty that good will win. Why? Because good is true and evil is its opposite, therefore unreal no matter how terrible and aggressive it pretends to be. 

Do I need to prove this? No, I just need to open my eyes and my heart to see it working. I’ve seen it before and I can see it again. Knowing the truth is the same as to stop believing lies such as sin, disease and death. Take away belief in limitation too and you can have the rest. If this isn’t the truth, then pity us all, but I’ll wager my all on it. 

Now my “problem” has lost its sting because I’m giving it no power. If I can know the truth more and trust in it in the middle of the night surely the day will bring its proof. I don't doubt it will take a few more nights and a few more days, but although this path is narrow, it is leading me home.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Bucket List

Some time ago I saw the movie The Bucket List. You probably did too. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play the parts of two elderly guys, terminal patients sharing a hospital room, who decide to set about doing the things they’d had hopes of doing but didn't before they died. It made a good movie. Lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to make a bucket list of the things I’d hoped for when I was young and didn’t get to do. 

1. I’ve spoken fondly about the country gas station where I grew up with cousins on farms nearby, but in my youth my dream was to live in downtown Minneapolis. I'd have chosen a high-rise apartment, chic and glamourous. Never did, but wouldn't put it on my bucket list now. 

2. I loved going to school so naturally my dream was to go to college. And I got to do that for the first two years. Living with my grandmother in her little Riverside California adobe home while going to college had been something I’d dreamed of ever since my mother died when I was fourteen and that dream came true. Missed the last two years of under graduate school but that's not going on my bucket list either.  

3. Getting married and having babies came sooner than I'd expected, but I'm glad they did. I could have had a completely different kind of life then, but I can't imagine a better one. Frankly, being on my own scared me. Being a new Marine officer’s wife scared me too, but at least I was not alone. I had my ultimate goal, a loving husband, at age nineteen. 

4. Seeing the world had never been my goal so it was all right with me that the Marines didn’t take their wives abroad. Moving from one military base to another all over the USA was adventure enough for me. Later in life I got to travel to England, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Monte Carlo, Switzerland and even Lichtenstein. Robby and I had six cruises. Travel may yet come, but it's not on my list. Almost forgot about my first trip abroad. Three weeks in China in 1983. The "Central Kingdom," Zhongguo, was truly another world then.

5. Having two boys a couple of years apart and a baby girl several years later was something we’d settled on early in our marriage and it worked out just like that. A family makes life interesting and our children have given us pride and joy. All three have turned out to be good, decent, honorable and successful. Best of all, our children are our best friends. They love us.

6. On our honeymoon we discussed what we’d like to do after Wally G. retired and one of the things was to have a country home at some point where we could raise chickens, have a dog and cat and a milk cow. Add a few sheep, some ducks. We had it all, along with some struggles but a lot of the best on a 60 acre ranch in Southern Oregon. No need to add it to my list.

7. Forty years of a happy marriage with Wally G and only a few bumps in the road. We’d hoped for at least fifty, but he went on ahead to the great Hereafter the day after the Christmas of 1985. I hadn’t expected a second marriage but I got one with another good man, Forbes Robertson, and had eight years of happiness with him. A lovely second family too.

In reviewing all this I think I’ll not make out a bucket list, after all. What would I put on it? Most of my life there’s been so much to enjoy in the present I haven’t spent much time thinking about the future or its wants and goals. There are few regrets about the past.

I’m heading into unknown territory now but I’m not scared. It’s been alarmingly joyous to see how the family is growing! Little ones, five great grandies so far. I hope to watch them grow up, but if I don’t live that long it’s all right. Nowadays I think not too far ahead. I’ve got a bucket full of good living behind me. The present is looking good. As for the Hereafter, that's got to be a surprise! 


Friday, October 11, 2013

Never a Worry

Yesterday I worried about something all day long. What it was is not relevant here. What is relevant is that today I came to a good decision: From now on I shall never worry about anything. Never, never, never! I have racked my brain and not been able to come up with one single positive aspect to worry, but there are tons of reasons why worry is not good. It wrinkles your face. It causes your heart to bleed.  It’s a total waste of time. It makes you a social leper. That’s for beginners.

You can argue all day. You might say, “But worry is often a good thing. It gets your attention to things that need correction, it leads to solutions.” Well, here’s my answer to that, - If worry causes you to pinch yourself in order to wake up to the need to do something if you can and leave it to destiny if you can’t, OK. You can answer the doorbell but if Worry is standing out there don’t let it get its toe in the door! To continue worrying is like saying,  Keep pinching yourself to see how good it feels when you quit! 

I like to say, with Robert Browning, “God’s in His heaven - All’s right with the world.”  Of course, the loved poet was describing a beautiful day. Not all days are beautiful. Longfellow had it right, too, when he wrote,.“Behind the clouds the sun is shining. Thy fate is the common fate of all. Into each life a little rain must fall.” 

Rain or shine, we can give ourselves less cause for worry by doing our best and improving each day, helping others when we can, but remembering that charity begins at home. I really believe that last part. I’ve learned to treat myself well and not worrying is, from now on, a cardinal rule. 

Today is starting out to be beautiful. The sun is not hiding, the temps are perfect, and my unfinished business of yesterday which worried me to distraction will be taken care of at the right time and in the right way, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Without my worry! Already I can see how things are turning out to be just right.

So, that’s my little sermon du jour. I’ll keep it to remind myself the next time worry comes a-knockin’ at my door. I'll be quick to say thanks but shut the door before that old tormenter gets his toe in it. If this blog helps anyone else today that will be just one more reason that getting older is getting better. What I hadn't proved yesterday I have today to prove it. Grow old gracefully, I say. The alternative, not growing older, may be bad or it may be good, but it can wait for its time to come. And there's no use in worrying about it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Political Persuasion

I just read a political piece someone sent me. I agree with most of it, but I’d like to hear a rebuttal. I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world and see the best of it, but I certainly don’t turn a blind eye to evil. I’m grateful for those who work to make our world better, our governments better. There are good people on most sides of the political spectrum, so I try to listen and see from others’ viewpoints before making up my own mind.

The trouble with trying to be objective about politics is that it’s hard to stay objective. Naturally we all think we’re right, politically. The picture looks dim when you’re on the losing side, but I think I’ve found a way to be a winner, a way that makes a winner out of everyone in the long run.

It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should therefore use our ears twice as much as our mouths. Listen to debates, read the Opinion page in newspapers, hear the endless arguments that precede elections, keep up with the daily news, and finally form an opinion of your own. Then keep on doing all those things over, again and again right from the start. The more advanced you become in years, if you do this the less you may be inclined to be certain you’re totally right politically.

When I was in high school I was for Franklin D. Roosevelt and ready to argue for him at every opportunity. Later I became sure of the Republican party views and argued adamantly for them. I might consider myself a Libertarian now but I have no intention of joining the party. I’m really not any of these, not even an Independent. 

Now I’ve decided there’s only one kind of government for me. I’d like to live under the rule of a beneficent King, and I actually believe I do! What's more I believe we all live in the kingdom of heaven. We just don’t know it yet. The more I acquaint myself with this kingdom, the more I see it in operation, but I still see it “through a glass darkly,” as St. Paul put it. Much as I love my own country and the principles on which it was founded, I’m inclined to believe in democracy as Churchill is said to have described it: “...the worst form of government on the face of the earth.” Then he added, “except every other one.” (loosely quoted)

And so, I’m not very political these days. Human governments reflect their citizens as a whole. I’ll try to do my part by being my best. I'll go with the Biblical words, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” That’s where I expect we can all find peace and a King who can give each of us undivided attention, instruction and tender loving care. But that’s only the beginning. The kingdom of heaven is infinite I’m told, and so I intend to keep on exploring new vistas every day. Forever.

Am I persuaded politically? No, but I think I’ll keep looking for that kingdom inside me!

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Lesson from Trees

Trees. The subject has been nagging me for a while. It came up the other day in my blog with Joyce Kilmer’s poem. Before that I stumbled (on U tube) a piece about an obscure religion that teaches the degrees of intelligence on earth. Its theory is that among all of creation the most highly intelligent are trees. Next are dogs and third, mankind.

Of course, I couldn’t agree. My religion places man at the top, the last of all to be created, and man that is given dominion over all the earth, and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the face of the earth.” Of course, this satisfies the human ego, but it shouldn’t. Not, that is, until the ego has learned something of what trees and dogs know.

We’ve all been blessed by trees. How? Well, they take up little space at their base and their tops shade us. They mind their own business but if anyone decides to trim them or even cut them down they submit without a word. They don’t resist the inevitable and often their bodies go to make fine furniture or build houses or end up in particle board or get burned in furnaces. If they cry out in sorrow or pain no one hears. They don’t retaliate in anger. That would only demean themselves.  Perhaps they know that angels will lead them to a better life and their loss turns out to be gain. 

You may ask, Is that good? Should we be so submissive to our enemies? Ask yourself, Where have wars gotten us? Where has it helped to kill others in retaliation to man’s inhumanity? Is it intelligent to fight back, or should we leave judgment to God? 

Pacifism has been discredited. That’s because we don’t know the power of goodness and love that knows no fear. A tree does. It lives each day to grow. What it learns in its growth is given out in beauty, stillness, peace, meekness, and survival. In storms it holds up bravely but if the storm is stronger, then so be it. 

If a tree lives by certain principles it might include the following:
  1. Be what you are and be the best you can under all circumstances.
  2. Don’t  concern yourself with what you can’t do, like walking, talking, understanding everything. Do what you can.
  3. Keep growing under all circumstances.
  4. Put on a thick skin (bark) to protect yourself but if it’s not in your genes to do this, be strong and pure in your innocent smooth trunk.
  5. Look kindly on the world around and don’t judge people for their foolishness.
  6. Since you can’t dance with feet, dance with the music of birds in your branches.
  7. Be still and listen. You really surpass humans in this wisdom!
  8. Be kind, hurt no one if you can help it.
  9. Live to enjoy yourself and give pleasure to other creatures.
  10. Love who you are, where you are, however much or little you have, and when you speak, speak softly like the wind in your branches.
That’s enough of a lesson for me and I can’t deny the superiority of trees in many respects, can you? The first runner up in intelligence is, according to this religion, dogs. I’m not going to tackle that because I’m sure my readers know as much and more about the intelligence of dogs as I do.

When I compare mankind to trees and dogs, I have to admit that we’re not so smart, especially when you consider how much we’ve been given. We’re beginning to learn from nature. The American Indians could teach us about that. Mankind has learned something about decency, love, courtesy, honesty, etc. but we have yet to conquer the base and inhumane elements that a tree knows nothing of and a dog has overcome through love. 

Time to get busy now and sift the chaff from the wheat of our earthly sojourn. And before we casually condemn or deny another’s religion we might give it a closer look. I probably won’t pursue this one further, but I certainly learned something from trees. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning by Rote, A Thing of the Past?

As far back as my childhood school days I can’t recall being given an assignment to memorize anything except the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the multiplication table. Not so, my parents’ generation and their parents’. I used to love hearing one of them spontaneously start to recite a poem. Not just a part of it either, but the whole long thing! Then I’d listen on a deeper level and the rhyming words would become a gentle pulsation behind the ideas set forth. I’d marvel at my elders’ ability to remember all those lines and let them flow out fluently like another language. Not all were profound. My father used to charm us by reciting the narrative poem, Rip Van Winkle, but his mother, my Grandma Hattie, could recite the the whole Sermon on the Mount. She had memorized it while washing dishes by her kitchen window where she pinned to the curtain one passage at a time on a paper in her handwriting. At night if I was staying at her house she might sit on the bed silhouetted by candlelight and recite Longfellow’s poem about Hiawatha's mother.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, Daughter of the Moon, Nikomis. 

All you had to do was start the first lines of Paul Revere's Ride in those days and anyone could go on with them. My Auntie Dorris surprised us one day after dinner by reciting this poem called Invictus byWilliam Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
 Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
 I thank whatever gods may be 
 For my unconquerable soul.
 In the fell clutch of circumstance 
 I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
 Under the bludgeonings of chance
 My head is bloody, but unbowed. 
 Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
 Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
 And yet the menace of the years 
 Finds, and shall find, me unafraid. 
 It matters not how strait the gate, 
 How charged with punishments the scroll, 
 I am the master of my fate: 
 I am the captain of my soul.

 I was amazed. Auntie read mystery books by the dozens, but here was something she’d kept inside all those years.

My own education wasn’t without poetry. It just wasn’t required of us to memorize it. I found this one to be a favorite, not just because of the sentiment but because a man with my name had written it.

 I think that I shall never see  
A poem lovely as a tree.  
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest  
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;  
A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;  
A tree that may in summer wear  
A nest of robins in her hair;  
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;  
Who intimately lives with rain.   
Poems are made by fools like me,  
But only God can make a tree.

 by Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

 I love the old school where poems rhymed although I can enjoy free verse too. The poems of James Whitcomb Riley and Robert Louis Stevenson were childhood favorites. Later I enjoyed John Greenleaf Whittier and Robert Frost, Carl Sandberg and others. But to tell the truth, I rarely sit down to read poetry, though I am now enjoying a copy of a fellow classmate's new book called Notes on Napkins, on paper napkins in coffee houses. He could be a poet laureate someday and I might say, "I knew him when..."

Why don’t we teach by rote anymore? I suppose the sparks of our own creativity could become dimmed by too much of it. We learn where to find the classics and that seems enough, but if we were stranded on a desert island? A lecturer I once heard who had been a prisoner of war for several years had, as a child, been required to memorize a poem of his dad’s choosing every week. Not just memorize it, but keep it in his memory by constant rehearsal. He was relieved of this when he left home, but later in that prisoners’ camp without anything to read he found comfort in remembering those poems and shared them with his neighbor in the next cell.The neighbor wanted to memorize them too and he shared them with his neighbor on the other side. This went on down the line and in this way they all became close friends. The poems helped them to rise above their boredom and homesickness. They helped to preserve their sanity.

Well, there’s one plaudit for learning by rote. I think a little of it would go a long way in today’s school curriculum. Maybe even impress our own grandchildren someday.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Day at The Cottage Gallery

Dennie Hahn couldn’t have picked a better place to open her art gallery. Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano, California snuggles up to the railroad track lending its peaceful old worldliness to the frequent clang of warning bells and noisy entrance and exit of the Surfliner train and its Metro cousins. An occasional car passes through carefully, a delivery truck or the U.S. Mail wagon. No vehicle is allowed to stay except maybe a bicycle hugging a picket fence or a baby carriage or tricycle with its family. People stroll down the middle of this narrow street as if they own it, and they do. 

From the 1800’s these little houses have survived since their first resident families gave way to the coffee shop, the outdoor restaurants, the tea room and gift shops. The street needed an art gallery and close to a hundred a day are drawn in to this one. Other quaint shops and restaurants, all carefully restored modest dwellings with old-fashioned gardens of hollyhocks, geraniums, jasmine and morning glorys, surprise those who come to this famous old mission town where "The Swallows Come Back to Capistrano." Only the trees could tell of the history here but they don’t. One has to dig to find it.
Sufficient to most is the peaceful awe of Los Rios Street, and I sit enjoying it on a wicker chair on the front porch of the gallery taking in the beauty and wonder of the place while people come and go exchanging greetings. Often a husband or two will hang around the little garden behind the picket fence out by the front gate while the women go in, but soon there will be an urgent call from the front door. “Come in here, Hank, you’ve got to see this!”

 The gallery truly is a perfect asset to Los Rios Street. Its thirty plus artists of various mediums quietly draw a hushed “Wow!” from the lips of even the men who have reluctantly come in. Dennie’s standards are high and her presentation of each artist, including herself, is perfect. The variety of paintings, sculpture, glasswork, jewelry, photography, silk screen artists, and even vintage caps is so beautifully featured in these rooms and even outside this little house, one could stay for hours taking it all in. Often other artists will stop by to set up their easels and paint in its garden. Or a Gallery class will take place under the tall trees.

The Gallery artists themselves take turns managing the place for a day or two or three a month. When I come with my daughter, Robin, I sit out on the porch and work on my latest piece of clay sculpture, faces and heads of people out of the past. Today I am not sculpting but rather writing this blog. The Cottage Gallery is new and I want to tell about it but am searching for words to do it justice. 

As I sit here with my white hair, long skirt and grandmotherly look, I probably fit the scene. And I do feel perfectly at home. If one or two want to they can join me to enjoy this front porch perch, visit a while or find another quiet place in the garden out in back or the patio on the side. It’s entertainment in itself to drink in the serenity here punctuated by the frequent trains that plow through on their way up and down the coast. 

The next time you want to get away from it all and step into a small wonder-world, come along and join us at The Cottage Gallery. You too will be quietly wowed!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Words Only Friendship

His name is Fredric Klees. I’ve known him for years through his book, The Round of the Year. I can’t remember if I just stumbled on the book while browsing through some library shelves or if someone recommended it to me. It’s an almanac of a year in his life when he tried to find at least one flower in bloom every day. In Pennsylvania that would not be easy.

Some entries are so brief as to be one or two liners, but others stretch over a page or two. What intrigues me is that I got to know him (and even maybe fall a bit in love with him) though I never saw a picture of him. He wrote rarely about his occupation, (professor at Swarthmore College), his students, his friends or relatives, his marital history and such. Obviously, he loved nature and meant to share that interest, but his personal life rides quietly in the back seat. And I’m not one to pry, even on Google.

He had a little stone house beside a waterfall, which he portrayed in delicate pen and ink on the book cover, and he spoke of the weather, wildlife, and occasional visits to his stepmother’s little farm within a few hours' drive from him. He was obviously fond of her but there’s no mention of his own mother. His father, the lone parent in his childhood, is spoken of fondly with a few flash-backs but personal references seem carefully edited. Is that the way of the Pennsylvania Dutch? There is no picture of Fredric Klees on the book jacket. In my mind’s eye the man is portrayed not in the flesh but in his words, his interests, the occasional betrayal of a gentle man content with a bachelor life and glad to share his interest in flowers and nature in his book.  

There is one longer entry of a day on a walk with a young woman into the woods and their discovery of an old abandoned house. Without saying as much you can sense his feelings for her but that, the only hint of a possible love interest, was left hanging in the air. Who knows what became of her? I wish I could find a biographical reference somewhere to satisfy my curiosity. On the other hand I’d rather not. There’s just enough of him in the book and by reading along with him through the year, one day at a time. I’ve done this two or three times, and he’s become a friend to me, though I am unknown to him.

Most Fridays I’d be getting ready to leave now for the Senior Center to play bridge. Ir's about a mile or so up the street Today the whole building was taken over by some school to offer classes in art so I’m at home alone. When I came across this book on the shelf next to my bed I decided to get it out again. Since it was copyrighted in 1963 I’d guess he wrote it in ’62. 

He begins his entry with “A perfect day with a flawless sky of jay blue. The air crisp and refreshing, the sun just warm enough to be pleasant on the back. ...I drove out into the country...and then down to Brandywine, where I saw a white heron intent on fish. There was goldenrod everywhere and wild asters, masses of pale blue.” 

Couldn’t you just see yourself in the passenger seat?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Intoxication of Joy That Sticks

It’s a clear and sunny afternoon and I’m feeling high as a kite. Not from the ice water I’ve been drinking or any other kind of drink. This feeling must be coming from a mixture of things. One is the music I’m playing as I write. It’s Western country and some other numbers I’m especially fond of like Skylark and Speak Low. And this one - Sixteen Tons! Boz Scaggs sings it just right. I can hardly sit here. I want to dance! Even Tommy, my canary, has joined in, proving he's a better and louder songster!

Another reason I’m feeling this way may be because of the new arrangement of my desk area. Now I can look out on the little creek and foliage and flowers around it beneath the tall pine trees as I write. Those of my sort know the excitement that can be derived from moving furniture. After the job is done, of course.

My high could be coming from the fact that I just finished painting my latest sculpture. He’s a quirky man wearing a feather in his cap and a smile that is so fetching he’s got me smiling too. I can’t take the look off my face and he surely can’t take it off his! I painted him gray to look like the raw clay he came from. He’s one of the”Old Souls” who come so effortlessly out of lumps of clay for me that I can’t take an ounce of credit for them. I love them all! The Garden Gallery sold one the other day. My first sale. Someone was willing to write a check for $85. to take little “Sister Carrie” home. As pleased as I am for the fact that she’s found a loving home, I’m sad too to think I’d  sell her at any price. It seems almost sacrilegious. 

Another reason I’m feeling so exhilarated is that Katie, my live-in granddaughter, has found an artistic outlet too. She’s doing some calligraphy for a neighbor, copying well-wishers‘ notes on the mat of a picture of their wedding portrait. She has a unique style of penmanship that she's hoping might give her a little side business of her own. It’s so good to see Katie eager to get home from her new job to work on her art. A new job she likes, and now this too! And never far from her thoughts is the number of days when Jeff, her new husband will be coming home! The number is growing shorter all the time. It’s a happy household we share these days!

I think everyone has within him or her an artistic talent or some passion to feed the soul, and when they find it they’ll float ten feet high. If they’ve known the happiness of a deep love for one to call their own, then, then I think they’ve glimpsed God! When we can embrace all mankind in love, then, then, we may get more than a glimpse! 

Dear Readers, I hope you're feeling high today too!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who's the Boss Here Anyway?

What day of the week is this? What do you want for breakfast? What will you wear today? What appointments are on your calendar? If you can stay at home what will you do at home?

In that order these are the questions I ask myself as I get up in the morning. I’m blessed, I know, not to be readying myself to go to work for someone else. What I find frustrating is the fact that I work, nevertheless, for someone. Me. I’m my own boss. And I’m my own employee. Because I’ve been free to choose between these most of my life it’s been a continuous see-saw deciding between the two positions. I never know which one will weigh the most. And here I am in my late eighties and still having to come to grips with it.

Outside of my own home I have the luxury of being excused from participation in work. People don’t expect a lot from the elderly. You just get admired, not for the things you do, but for the fact that you’re still around, still looking quite good. The walking cane, I’ve found, gives you added deference. Carry it as an ornament, not as a necessity. Walk erect and briskly and you get the benefit of both respect and admiration. Dress with imagination, wear make-up in moderation, comb your hair in an easy style suited to you, and you’ve got it made.

There is, though, this thing called self-satisfaction. I’ve read that we’re only deeply satisfied when we can feel some conscious worth in what we are and what we do. So, there’s the rub. 

The Bible says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1st Corinthians 14:40  Ok, I say to myself, but what is the definition of order? My dictionary says, “A state in which everything is in its appropriate place. And “decently?” An “acceptable standard.” 

My boss-self and employee-self begin immediately to see-saw. Employee-self, looks for a loophole. Ah ha! That word “acceptable.” An acceptable standard to whom? Right there the see-saw starts moving faster. My boss, the strict and conscientious side of me, wants to see her surroundings in perfect order. The employee me is more interested in getting the job done so things look good, and the standard of that depends on who’s coming to my house to see. Will they be perfectionists? If I expect no one, my “standard” goes down like Newton’s apple. I can excuse myself big time when I find something more fun to do. Then I brush aside the boss of me, let loose the employee, and I’m out the door again; to heck with other people’s standards! 

I blame my mother for being this way. She was particular about housekeeping. As soon as I was old enough to wield a polishing rag and use it to dust furniture I was expected to make things shine and until they did I could not go out to play. She set such a high standard on housekeeping that even today, seventy-some years later, the boss in me expects that high standard and the child in me rebels.

Crazy, isn’t it? I’ve even unearthed past resentments against other perfectionists, like the girl, Georgia, who came to our town when we were sophomores in high school. She was the one who got a straight A or A+ in every class and was determined to end up as valedictorian at graduation time. She did, of course. I suppose I’d had it in mind myself deep down but I gave up striving for top grades and settled back into an “acceptable standard” to myself rather than trying to beat Georgia. I even prided myself in not letting pride drive me into competition. I was fifth in a class of 30. Ever since I’ve consciously muted the perfectionist me and settled for the good enough.

Funny how things like that come to the surface when you’re in your senior senior years, if (and “if” is a big word!) you stop to think about them at all.

I’d thought to stay home and clean house today but I got an offer to go out with my daughter. A car trip to a near-by town, maybe a lunch out too. A Goldilocks day, neither too warm or too cold. How could I say no? How could I side with my boss? I’m a free soul. And I am letting the employee go. Whoopee! I’m out the door!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Conjecture, Invention or Revelation?

“Oh, Joycie, you’re a dreamer!” I was about ten then and had discovered Aunt Jenny’s True Life Story, a serial radio program. I forget what time of day it came on but there was a spell one summer when I made it a point to sit down in the living room and listen to it. It might have been a transition from night time stories my parents used to tell us.  Somehow the radio stories were even more fascinating than movie or TV stories because I could use my imagination to picture them. Entertainment is better when it makes us participate.

One day as I was listening to my Aunt Jenny’s True Life Story Daddy passed by me on his way upstairs. I said, “Daddy, I’ll bet someday there will be movies on the radio.” That’s when he called me a dreamer. I didn’t know then that some “dreamers” in laboratories were making that dream true. Later, in the summer of 1939, our family went to the San Francisco World’s Fair and saw one of the first television sets before it was ready for marketing. It was in the General Electric Exhibit. I said, “See, Daddy, I told you so!” 

With me, the idea had been mere conjecture. With the inventors it was scientific development. I’m good at conjecture but if I were set back in time and could remember things from the future like radio, TV, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and even electricity, I could not produce any of them. I could use the wheel, the inclined plane, a pulley, a ladder. I could make a swing, providing I could make a rope strong enough. If I could make a swing I'd be so happy I’d probably retire!

Now, when it comes to conjecture, that’s something I’m good at. I can dream up things like a reverse gravity belt to carry me up and away. I can imagine a device that can place a receptor on a distant planet. a planet so distant that the light from earth reaching that planet today left our earth centuries ago. Then I can imagine a telescope connected to that receptor that could show me historical events in real time. I can imagine having far more senses than the five we now possess. I can imagine being able to see civilization on Mars or Venus or any of the other planets, civilizations that we don’t see now because we think they are not there. Our limited perceptions and senses don’t allow that. 

Conjecture is mostly impractical and it would be a waste of time to dwell on such guesswork for long, yet even scientists sometimes start with conjecture. I admire the marvelous leaps of imagination they are able to make practical. 

I sometimes wonder if that old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” could be true. Are we humans dreamers and inventors of things new, or are we opening our eyes to things long remembered? Are we learning like babies learn, through experimentation and observation? Is there a reality here that is far beyond our capacity to imagine, much less experience? I can’t swear to it, but I can conjecture. Maybe I’ll get past the “I can’t “ mode and start saying, “I can.” If I’m given eternity anything is possible. If I depend on time “I can’t” is the answer. If there’s anything good about dying, it’s finding out if I really am in this body or if the body was in me. While the survivors do what they must with my old body what will I do without it? Will I have another body, another chapter, another book? 

Daddy was right in one sense. If I can’t prove my conjectures don’t waste time on them. Just enjoy what the scientists and inventors have done. Sit and read, play with the gadgets I’ve been given, do the dishes, sweep the floor. Or, yes, I can write another blog!   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who Needs Grammy or Gramps?

Wally G. and I were talking about the future. You know, like, “What would you do if I went away? (a euphemism for dying.) I couldn’t imagine then what either of us would do without the other but I asked him first. “Why, I’d go to live with Wally K. and Nancy,” he said without hesitation. He and our older son who bore his name, had always been close. 

“Oh, Wally, you wouldn’t do that!” (I thought of how his mother and my aunt had lived with us. How having older folks in your home changed things. How that would set with our daughter-in-law.) His answer though was quick and certain. “Why not? Why, I would be an asset to their home!”  I had to admit, it was a darned good answer. Older people, especially, need to know their worth, not just feel they’re wanted but know they’re wanted, even needed. My mother-in-law, Gracie, had known that. She'd been sometimes feisty, sometimes an irritation, but always sure of herself. In spite of the drawbacks, she was an asset to our home. When both Wally and I were working, the kids, teen agers then, didn’t come home to an empty house. Grandma was back in her room and always ready to play a game of dominoes or rummy. She could tell stories about “the olden days,” or tune into the one TV in our house, hers, and always have a plate of cookies she’d made along with lemonade in her tiny fridge.

When the question turned on me, I said simply, “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Wally.” Then a few years later I was the one left when Wally “went away,” and I had to decide. We’d been living near Seattle, far from our sons who were in the Air Force and Navy, neither of whom would be long in one place. And I was far from our daughter in Southern California. She and her husband had little girls, two at that time and another later. Their business took them away evenings so that they had to rely on baby-sitters for the children. “Mom, won’t you move down here? You could find a place near us and it would be such a help if you could watch over the girls when we’re out at night.” Then she added those words that cinched the question. “Mom, we need you!”

Right now the youngest of my daughter’s girls, Katie, whom I’ve written about in my blogs, is living with me. She’s needed a home to get her life on track. Her mom with a new man, her dad with a new woman, have not been able to provide a place for this daughter. So, here I am, glad to be of help to my family, but still in my own home with room for Katie.

I wonder about how it will be when Katie moves out. Living alone is easy for me. I always have lots to occupy my mind and my time, but still it’s cozier to have someone you expect to come home at the end of a work day. Needing another who also needs you is good and couples that can live long enough with each other and who have a lifetime of memories to share, must be best of all. If I were to answer the question of “What would you do...?” now I’d say to Wally G, “I'm not going anywhere and I'm telling you, 'Stick around and don’t make me answer that! I need you, Pal! We can be an asset to each other!'” 

Katie says, “Grandma, I want you to keep on living so if you ever need a home you can come live with Jeff and me! We’re going to have babies, I hope, and we’ll need you!” Yes, we old folks have a lot to share. If we can catch the great grandies before they get hooked on TV and computer games we can make our stories more fascinating than all the make believe artists can dream up in the movies and on TV. We can make their ancestors, their heritage, so vivid and alive through our true tales and old picture albums that in years to come they’ll know we were a real asset to their lives. 

If you doubt that, just think what it would be like to have your great, great, great grandparents drop in now to tell you of their lives and paint their words so well that you can feel it, see it, be in it, as if on a holographic deck. Don’t hold your breath, but we may be coming to that. You'll really be needed then!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Times Do Change!

“ Another day, another dollar.” I don’t know who first uttered those words or in what context they came. Couldn’t find the answer on the Internet. I suspect they came in a time when a dollar a day was the going pay for a day’s labor. Imagine that!

Well, I don’t have to imagine $5.00 as being a day’s wages because that’s what my father was paid working for the Water Department in Laguna Beach back in 1938. It was hard work too, like digging ditches for water lines, repairing broken water lines, and that sort of thing.

Daddy did it without complaint because he was trying to fulfill Mother’s desire to live in sunny California rather than the state of Minnesota where she had always lived before. One visit to her mother, my Grandmother Darling, had hooked her. 

Mother was not well, had been given up by the doctors at Mayo Clinic. She was not expected to live long. I’ve always said Daddy would have moved to Timbuktu for her. But instead he leased the Standard Oil gas station he owned, packed up our old Buick, left our home near the little town of Preston with Mother, my two brothers and me, and moved us kit ‘n caboodle (another old expression) to California a week or so before the Christmas of 1937. Grandmother lived in Laguna Beach with her Uncle Chet and they had rented a cottage for us only two blocks from the ocean. 

Things began to look up when Daddy got work. I remember the off and on times he worked for the Water Department because of his pay, $5.00 a day. I remember his smiles when he'd say to Mother, "They hired me again at the Water Department, Faithie!" Now my father was no stranger to hard work. He had built the country gas station in Minnesota on a five acre tract of land which was a part of the family homestead. He’d planted trees there, dug a well there, set up a “wind electric” there, and struggled to build up his business selling gasoline and oil to farmers with tractors, neighbors, travelers on the two main highways, 52 and 16 that intersected at that corner. But in California, as all across the nation, we were still in the throes of the Great Depression. Times were hard.

I don’t remember a word of complaint about the jobs Daddy took wherever he could find them. One was with Bert, the Roofer. He was not familiar with the composition materials used on that roof and accidentally poured hot tar over his hands. This not only put him out of work but served to cause my father to yell out in pain as he soaked his hands in Epsom salts. His one complaint, without words. After two years he and Mother decided it was time to go back to the station and our Minnesota home. That winter Mother died at the age of 35. 

 “Another day, another dollar,” reminds me of those hard times. When I hear about couples that quarrel in front of their children I think of my parents and how I seldom heard them quarrel. If they did, they were careful not to do it in front of my brothers and me. Money was precious but our wants were few. A lollypop or bottle of root beer was a real treat for us kids. Even a coloring book or pad of paper were precious possessions. Now? Now children enjoy an overload of toys. They are carried off to entertainment parks and swimming pools and restaurants. And when they are older and discover money a dollar is a relatively small sum to have in the pocket. Seldom is it earned by them. 

When I was a child back in the old days I didn’t know much about money but I did know that Daddy’s $5. a day job was enough to pay our rent of $25. a month and buy us food and clothing. The job was only when they needed him though so it was not steady. No unemployment pay then. My brothers and I spent happy carefree days at Divers’ Cove in the summer. In winter we walked to school and I could enjoy a class in singing chorus, take ballet lessons after school, play marbles during recess. I carried a lunch bag because we couldn't afford to buy lunch at the school cafeteria. That only bothered me a little. I never had, or needed, money to carry in my pocket. I wouldn’t have known what to do with a crisp dollar bill! 

How times do change!