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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Growing Old The Cash 'n Carry Way

Like many couples, my husband, Wally, and I had issues over money. Growing up in the  Great Depression years, Wally G (we called him that to differentiate him and our son, Wally K) learned to respect money, though he was anything but a miser. A dollar bill never entered his wallet with crumples or turned-down corners. But he didn't like credit cards.  If I'd hear him call me, “Joyce!” into his office shortly after the postman came and see a business sized paper in his hand I'd know I was being called to account for some credit card statement. "What was this for? Or this?" he'd ask, pointing to the numbers.

Wally G liked to manage the money and since he was the one who earned it I could scarcely quarrel with that. I never purchased big items without his consent, it was the accumulation of little ones that ballooned to a dreaded bottom line. Then I’d have to remember, explain, placate, and remind him that I, too, earned the money as his housekeeper, loving wife and the mother of his children. “If you had to pay for even the first of these, a daily housekeeper, think how that would add up!” To which he’d respond, “I know, Mrs. Wethe," (his pet name for me, pronounced wethy,) "and I wouldn’t deny you anything under the sun if I had the money! I never mind spending money if I have it.” To prove that point, he'd save cash in an old coat pocket for special occasions. I found $1,800. cash in that old jacket in his closet when I went through his clothes after his passing. It was money he’d put away to spend on one of his no holds barred Christmas family dinners at our favorite restaurant. We hadn’t gone out that year because he was not well. He died on December 26th. 

Even though I, too, grew up in the Depression years, I was not quite old enough to feel it. I used to wonder why Mother sliced the Spam so thinly though, or showed me how to separate the two layers of a Kleenex tissue so they could be used separately. Since I seldom handled money I didn't miss it. When Mother passed on and I took over the housekeeping, laundry, and cooking, Daddy would stick a few greenbacks under the scarf on the top of the piano for me to take when I drove to town. I seldom bought anything for myself, though he never told me not to. Then when Grandmother Darling took me in as a college student, she paid for everything. I didn't lack for anything nor even ask. I just didn't need money. After marriage, at nineteen, I found it hard to spend money provided for by my husband. I got over that, however, and learned how to enjoy shopping. 

I've learned to spend more freely as the years go by. But lately I’ve been a little too free with my credit cards and have gone into my savings to keep them paid up. So yesterday I did something drastic. I terminated the use of all my credit cards, packed them up and mailed them to my son, Wally K. It’s debit card, check and cash from now on and I’m going to have to watch my step!

Maybe I’ll try to follow Wally G’s example and leave the kids cash enough to go out and have a grand Christmas dinner. Somebody remember to tell them, as Wally G used to, “Don’t look at the right side of the menu, kids. The sky’s the limit!” And when the check comes to the table pay with cash and hand the waiter and maitre'd their tips along with a word of thanks for their service as you leave.  

Growing up as we grow old, I'm learning, is coming to grips with one's faults because we may be making other changes before long. Mark Twain was asked which he'd choose to go to after death, heaven or hell. He's supposed to have answered, "Well, I think I'd choose heaven for the climate, but the other place for the company." So now, for me, this is one more step in the process of growing up. If I don't grow up I might grow down and that's not a place I'd care to go to either for the company or the climate!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Who Are the Rich?

My grandmother on my father’s side, Grandma Hahn, once said to me, “Your Grandma Darling is a very good cook.” Then she added, “But, of course, she uses a lot of butter.”  

The thing that brought this to mind was an article I just read in the newspaper. It had to do with the richest people in the world. I decided to look up the word rich to see all the definitions. In the dictionary. no. 4 said, “full of choice ingredients such as butter, sugar, etc.” This blog is going to deal with no. 1, being wealthy in terms of money, possessions, etc.

After naming some of the richest people in the world, the writer posited the idea that there will never be the opportunity for relative equality of wealth in America, even if it is as it’s been known “the land of opportunity.” I wanted to question that argument, but first I needed a better look at the word “rich.” The first definition was as I’d suspected, to be wealthy in money, goods, land, possessions, etc. I didn’t find the definition I was looking for but I’ll see if I can find it in this blog. 

One of the richest persons in America got his wealth from building an empire of gambling casinos. There was a picture of him with the piece and it was, put charitably, not the face of a happy man. Maybe he is aware of how his business preys on the weak, the addictive, those who are willing to throw away their money, their loved ones, their very lives in the hope of getting more money from less. I know nothing more of the man or others like him in that business, so will reserve my judgment of him.

There’s a tendency to portray the extremely wealthy in our world as avaricious, greedy for money and all that it might buy. While that may be true in many cases, sometimes wealth is accumulated by the execution of a good idea that benefits countless people. Reminds me of an old saying: “There’s no sin in being wealthy and no virtue in being poor.” I may not be quoting that right, but you get the idea. 

Maybe my mind was tuned into this frequency today because I was reminded by my son, who is also my financial advisor, that I’m currently spending more money than I’m taking in. I’ll need to deal with that, but right now the subject of wealth makes me wonder why it is that some have it and some don’t. Of course, there’s no one answer to that. 

My own theory is this: Wealth does not come from saving money for the fear of losing it. Sometimes it comes from taking risks in money matters or being just plain lucky. Wealth comes to those who both invest wisely and spend wisely. It also comes to those who do not think Poor. Or, from not wanting more material things.

Most everyone who gets along in years can look back and see how they could be much richer today if they had done this or that at certain junctures in life. My dad used to say, “If I only knew then what I know now, I’d be a wealthy man.” He was a wealthy man because he was simply and honestly real.

If the accumulation of wealth, that is, money, had been my own highest priority I could be a far richer woman today than I am, but I, too, would have had to know the future. In retrospect even choices that seem wrong monetarily can be the right ones.

This I know, that ill-gotten money does not enhance one’s happiness or the sense of well being one gets from the things that are free, like a baby’s smile, a glorious sunset or sunrise, a starry night in the desert or one look of love from someone you love too. 

Money is as good as the good it does. Money can lead to happiness or sorrow only when it’s spent. Until then it’s only paper and ink and some digits on the computer and a source of comfort or worry. 

I’d like to add on to the definition of the word “rich.” I’d say it means being wise in ways beyond money, like love, appreciation, gratitude and courtesy. It might even be in Grandmother Darling’s sugar cookies. She did use butter in them. A lot of it. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'Readin and 'Ritin' and 'Rithmetic

That old song starts out with “School days, school days, good old fashioned rule days, readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic, all to the tune of a hickory stick. You were my queen in calico. I was your bashful barefoot beau. I wrote on your slate, I love you so, when we were a couple of kids.”

The words hark back to times even before my times. One room school houses, one teacher for the first eight years, a blackboard, chalk, erasers, and slates. Desks set all in straight rows. Windows along the side walls. The alphabet marching around the top of the walls in both lower and upper case. The flag up front. A picture of George Washington and another of the current president. A wall clock, of course. A bucket of fresh well water on a stand with a dipper hanging above it. A pot-bellied wood burning stove for winter days. And, yes, somewhere near the teacher's desk up front would be the hickory stick when needed. Worse would be the shame of causing the use of it on one’s bottom! Or being made to sit on a stool up in front of the room for everyone to see you and sympathize or scorn.

Those days are a far cry from today’s school rooms. You can argue whether better or worse but in a way they describe a method of learning that lingers in our everyday adult lives. Reading is a must and even though its done with computers, Kindles and Nooks, I-pads and the like, we still have to read to get along.

Writing is another thing. Nowadays I’ve heard that cursive is, or will be, a thing of the past. I think that is sad and yet practical I suppose. Handwriting can be unclear and signatures? Most of the time they might as well be X’s. A printed version of one’s name under them is absolutely necessary. The kind of writing most of us do is on e-mails or Facebook or cell phones. When I think of my old typewriter days and the hardship of having to make corrections or revisions I’m deeply grateful for the computer!

Arithmetic without a calculator is nearly a thing of the past. I’m not sure how much of times tables and long division or even addition and subtraction without it is required in today’s schools. It is my weak subject so I can hardly even discuss it. Still, I’m in awe of those who are most advanced in mathematics.

In everyday life a lot of things are getting better as we grow older, especially if we can avoid the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, junk food, immorality, recreational drugs and gambling. I’d add swearing to that list too. Foul language, to me, is crude, impolite, indecent and self-demeaning. But I’m either old-fashioned or prudish to say so in today’s world. 

As for art? I studied the old masters in school and they’re still highly honored. Modern nonrepresentational art? I can appreciate some but some other leaves me cold. Like a painting I once saw in a museum I visited. It took up a whole wall and was entirely black with no visible variations. The title? “Black on black.” I just didn’t get it and can’t help wondering how someone gets paid for art that seems equally ridiculous to me, but I suppose I’m showing my ignorance here.

My daughter, Robin, is a watercolorist and her work pleases a lot of people because it exudes happiness. Without art the world of thought and vision would be drab and dull, so there’s room for a wide range of tastes.

What more can I say about all this? Keeping up with the times takes flexibility. It’s a quality that oldsters struggle with and it shows in our walk and talk, and in our writing. I’m glad to be giving up some of my former rigidity. I’m still working on giving up self-righteousness. As for politics? Reading, writing and arithmetic all play their part in that. I haven’t mentioned religion or the denial of it. Much is spoken, written, read and argued about religion these days. If we could all agree that love is the answer and then practice it I think the freedom of reading and writing, combined with the science of arithmetic will help us to make a better world. Then the old “hickory stick” of penalties and prisons can become relics of the past!

That song I started out with today didn’t stop with the three R’s. Remember the message on the slate? Love walks into our daily lives and eclipses all else. To live to love, now that’s the happy solution to life, and we see many signs of love in today’s world. Love is changing us and our world in a quiet, powerful, sometimes invisible evolution, and things are getting better. Even for the elderly like myself, if we can just keep learnin' and lovin'! 

Monday, August 26, 2013


On the desktop of my computer there is something called Untitled. It’s a blank page where I begin to set up my blogs for publication. Usually I’ll copy the title and first paragraph or so from a lined notebook in which I’ve handwritten the blog, but soon I’ll only select bits and pieces of that first draft and let the rest come out of the keyboard. Editing then becomes the next step and I enjoy that one most of all. Even after I’ve published the blog I frequently go back, sometimes days later, and fine tune it. (You writers out there can no doubt find plenty of editing left undone.) 

This morning I spent time early to recline on the sofa and read. In direct line of my sight was the sliding glass door to the patio and since it was before dawn the reflection on the door was that of my living room. I could see nothing of the patio. Gradually the dawn crept in and started showing the shrubs and trees by the creek but what on earth was the piano doing out there too? As plain as could be the piano stood proudly on my patio surrounded by greenery!

Of course I wasn’t really disturbed by that because I knew it was not the piano itself but merely the reflection left over from predawn. Now it doesn’t take much imagination to draw a lesson from this. The predawn reflection on the glass showed a perfect reflection of the interior view of my room including the piano, but as the dawn came it began to show dimly, then gradually more brightly, what was really out there. The piano’s faint reflection was leaving fast and soon faded out of the scene altogether. 

You’ve probably got what I’m driving at now. The glass door is symbolic of a personal limited mortal mind, the one each of us call our own. It is a mirror to our limited living room concepts, the familiar environments we’ve grown up with, but when light comes we can see beyond the glass doors of our limited mortal minds. We learn to leave behind the personal mind we call our own to let the one infinite Mind take over. 

According to the Bible, God’s first word was let. “Let there be light.” When the whole picture was revealed He pronounced creation to be “very good.” Not one mention of evil in any degree, in any place. It always had been so, but only needed light for Mind to see it so. 

I suspect we’ll all, sooner or later, discover ourselves as children in the realm of Infinity. We’ll be spooked for a while by the dark places not yet illumined by light, our God-given intelligence, but if we persist we’ll see that we can live without fear. Heavenly harmony will reign and declare, like the words in an old song, “All your fears are foolish fancies...” The “piano” will be back in its rightful place and a new day will help us discover more of enlightenment and joy.

Now I’m trying to think of a better title for this blog than “Untitled.” How about Who Moved the Piano?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Home Schooling In House Keeping

I’m making a list of good tips on the subject of keeping house. Then I’ll compile them into a home-schooling class for myself and start trying them out. I may even write a book about keeping house. You know, one of those smaller books you pick up at book stores near the check-out line. I’m sure I’ll not be the first. (Is Heloise still around?) I haven’t looked in bookstores or on line yet because I want to figure this out on my own, tailor the ideas to fit my own house and be my own boss.

This will be a work in progress. If it works out well I’ll keep my readers updated now and then. If they are so inclined to submit ideas that have helped themselves and want to share them with me for possible publication that would be great. Keep them brief and pithy.

I’m not claiming to be a good teacher on this subject. It’s rather sad that I’m still struggling with it after all these years. I think that’s because I’ve been my own boss in housekeeping except in my childhood. My mother taught me to take one job at a time and to make it a game. She didn’t pay me for the little jobs she gave me because, “You see, dear, it’s only a token of gratitude for our home that we're willing to take care of it as it takes care of us. We all should do our share in making home the sweet spot of our lives.”

Our homes reflect our attitudes about housekeeping, art and comfort, but if I were to list my own motivations for keeping house I’d put them down in this order:

To enjoy visual pleasure when I enter and occupy each room.
To find comfort and cleanliness there.
To feel a sense of belonging both to my home and my home to me.
To not feel the need to apologize to anyone who visits.
To make home and the keeping of it one of my highest priorities.

You may notice that the last one on the list wasn’t given the priority of being first. That’s because in my own mind I recognize that other things have been gaining higher priority, like writing this blog, for one. 

The day I'll not see a housekeeping job in need of attention and not once say to myself, "I can do that tomorrow," that day will be the day I give myself an A+!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Hidden Reality

My writing teacher says that book titles are up for grabs. “You are allowed, by law, to publish a book titled Gone With The Wind, if you so desire,” he said. I took his word for it and the title to my blog today is grabbed from a book by Brain Greene, a book I intend to borrow soon from the public library. An article in the latest copy of Smithsonian magazine called Mind Over Matter triggered me off.

I can guarantee you I shall not be able to understand more than a small fraction of that book because Professor Greene speaks mathematics and physics, languages I know little of. I took only the math which was required in school. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide. Beyond that, even algebra and geometry are now Greek to me, though I passed them in high school. My son, David, however, was a science major and chose those fields in high school, college and in his career. When he first showed talent along these lines I realized that he must have got it from me. Why? Because I can’t find mine!  Nevertheless, I believe that mathematics is a true science and will lead us someday, yes, is leading us today, to a higher reality. I’ll be reading about that in Brian Greene's book. 

When I get onto these subjects I feel like an ant looking up at a skyscraper and asking “What’s this?” There’s no hope of the ant finding out and it couldn't care less. We must be in something like a parallel universe as far as an ant is concerned. Here, but unfathomable.  

Brain is the big subject these days. You might even call the brain a lens. (I wonder what they’ve learned from Einstein’s brain? I mean the brain he left for scientists to study when he died.) I believe the brain is a tool of the lens of conjecture or material beliefs, through which we see “darkly,” as St. Paul put it. 

This dark lens may give us glimpses of that hidden reality and I'd like to learn more of it, but I'm not anxious to leave this scene as yet. I enjoy its beauties and innocent pleasures, even though I take issue with its darker side. Wars, terror, catastrophes and such I'd like to believe are simply warped views like dirty windows or a hall of mirrors at a county fair. On this plane of existence I don’t believe we'll ever get things totally right but we're here to learn. The sooner we can understand and move on the better. At my age, if I am not quick enough, alert enough, to be ready for the hidden reality, I might just get another turn to look through an imperfect lens. If so, I hope it’s as good a trip as this one, or even better!

I wish I could tell you, my readers, more of the hidden reality I feel I have found, but you see, I need to prove it in order to do as our writing teacher says, “Show, don’t tell!” I can show you this, for sure: I’m asking questions, and according to a professor I once heard, the first sign of a step in progress is to ask, “How come?” 

Then we need to listen because the answering voice is a “still, small” one!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Before and After A/C

Did you know this? In 1945 a man named Robert Sherman of Lynn, MA, invented the portable, in-window air conditioner that cooled and heated, humidified and dehumidified, and filtered the air (Patent # 2,433,960 granted January 6, 1948). It was subsequently stolen by a large manufacturer. Sherman did not have the resources to fight the big corporation in court—they promised to "break him" if he tried - and thus never received any money or recognition. He died in 1962.” 

I came across this bit of information as the result of spending two hours, (not by choice,) in an upstairs un-air conditioned room this afternoon where the temperature was about 90 degrees F. My writing pad goes with me on occasions when I know I’ll be waiting without something to do, so I wrote another blog to kill time in captivity suffering the heat, but when I read about Mr. Sherman my heart went out to him and I decided my complaint was minuscule compared to what that man endured. That made me hot under the collar and if the article had mentioned the name of the “big corporation” I’d gladly boycott it!

I remember that as a child I was blissfully too occupied with other things than to pay much attention to temperature, even in those hot sticky summer days and the deep dip temps of winter in our Minnesota country home. In my teens and older I joined the popular habit of noticing extremes in temperature and complaining about them. 

When I married in 1945 (the year poor Mr. Sherman invented his in-window air conditioner,) Wally was a captain in the Marines and one of our first homes was a Quonset hut on the air base in the Mojave desert. We kept deliciously cool, in what might have been unbearable heat, by a water cooler in the window. That was a far more simple apparatus than the window air conditioner but it worked almost as well in that dry climate.

The first house we actually owned was in a brand new development in North Carolina near the Cherry Point Marine Air Base. It was a prefabricated three bedroom bungalow with white siding and blue shutters. (As cute as all the others that looked exactly like it.) It had not only my first dishwasher but an air conditioner! With an FHA loan we moved in with nothing down and payments of $64.00 a month. The cost? $10,000. We sold it 2 years later for $11,500., a tidy little sum at the time.

(I apologize to my readers for rambling. Can’t help it, even though one of my writing teachers said, “Stick to your thesis and don’t stray from it with your favorite side tidbits. You’ve got to murder those little darlings!”)

Let’s see,..the thesis is air conditioning past and present in the life of Yours Truly. 
In about 1955 we got a flat tire in Death Valley on one of our moves across country. I think  the temperature was about 118 degrees!  The next car we bought just had to have an air conditioner. 

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy air conditioning everywhere I’ve lived since about 1950 except in the house on our ranch in Oregon. When it was too hot in our upstairs bedroom at night we’d make up cots to put beside the huge redwood tree in our front yard. Even air conditioning couldn’t beat the beauty of a night under the Milky Way!

Now, in my present condo, I stay fairly cool without the A/C, but when I need it, it’s there and, incidentally, I’m glad to be home now enjoying it! In my old age am I not allowed to be spoiled? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Remember When?

Whenever I have a malted milk shake I remember my first one. I always do. I was with my mother and I must have been around eight or nine then. We were at a soda fountain sitting on tall stools by a white marble counter in an ice cream parlor in the city of Rochester, MN a city 35 miles from our country home. (Mother was on one of her visits to the Mayo Clinic, but that’s another story.) Mother ordered malted milks for the two of us. Nothing else, though it was to be our noon lunch. The whole thing was new to me. I never, and I mean never, went out to eat except for dinners at my cousins’ or grandparents’ homes. Never to public places, even in our small hometown.

“Will that be all?” the young man behind the counter asked.

“Yes, thank you,” Mother replied.

“That’s all?” I said. (Why is it that children's voices carry so loudly?)

I saw Mother in the huge mirror across the bar. She winced, then bent down to say softly to me, “You’ll see, it will be more than you can finish, dear.” 

“No!” Pointing to a sign I insisted, “I want a sandwich too, like the one on that sign!” The answer was no and I thought for a minute she was going to grab my hand and go out.  It was one of my cranky spells. I argued more. Embarrassed her, no doubt. (It’s something I regret and would gladly erase from my story if I could because Mother was not long for the world then.)  

But, as I said, that was my first taste of a real malted milk shake and it was absolutely delicious! A new flavor and one I’d never forget. Not like the malted milks you get today. A tall glass twice the size of today’s version, filled to the brim, and the metal container it had been made in contained an almost equal amount. The waiter set them both down in front of me with a broad smile to Mother. He’d heard our discussion and was no doubt in sympathy with her. Mother was right. Sure enough, I couldn’t finish the milk shake. Afterward, outside, I should have had a scolding but I didn't.

No milk shakes I’ve ever had since can measure up to that first malted milk. I rarely order them because they're always a disappointment. Like today when Katie and I went shopping and stopped to get milk shakes to drink in the car. We found a place to park under a bower of trees in Ralph’s parking lot. It was shady and cool there, a spot next to the tree-lined street and across from a greenbelt. Not strange territory but neither was it a place we’d spent any time in before. Grocery store parking lots mean getting in and out and that’s about it.

“I can almost imagine us on a car trip somewhere,” I said to Katie. “It’s nice here.” The malt was the usual, cold and smooth, but not malty enough, even though I'd asked to double the malt but  it got me to start this blog about things we oldsters remember that you youngsters don't. 

I made a list of things no longer present in today’s world, at least not in this country, save those rare places where time got stuck and hardly any outsiders go. 

Here are some of my remember whens.

Remember when cars needed to be started with a hand crank by the driver or someone standing in front of the front bumper? Occasionally someone's wrist got broken that way or if the driver had left the car in gear he could have run himself over. And whatever happened to rumble seats and running boards?
Remember when gas stations were called “service stations” and that meant someone would come out, greet you and ask how many gallons to put in? He, (never a she,) would also raise the hood and check the oil, the radiator water, check the fan belt and whatever, then close the lid. He’d also wash the windshield, the side windows and the rear window, check your tires and ask if there was anything else you’d like him to do. Then he’d collect your money, give you change from one of those gadgets that hang from the belt, then maybe chat a bit, give you directions, and wave goodbye with a cheery “Good to see you! Come again!” (I know all about that, my dad owned a country gas station and our home was right on the property.)

Remember when little girls were taught to be “ladylike” and carry a handkerchief in a little purse and wear hats and gloves to church? Nowadays even the term "lady" is considered politically incorrect.

Remember when a nickel would buy a candy bar or a bottle of soda pop and you could buy as little as one or two pieces of candy or a licorice stick for a penny?

Remember when little boys were allowed to have paper routes and could do chores for neighbors to collect money? Even girls as young as fourteen could be hired out as live-in house maids and nannies. We had one off and on and she was happy to get the going rate, room and board and $4.00 a week to take home to her parents on her one day off.

Remember when elevators anywhere, not just in high class hotels, had operators who wore smart uniforms? For some time it was my ambition to get a job like that when I grew up. 

Remember when farm kitchens had a daybed for Grandpa to rest on after the noon dinner? (I never saw Grandma on it. The only time Grandma sat down was to darn socks or crochet in her rocking chair.)

Remember when barbers advertised, “Shave and a haircut, six bits?” A bit was 25 cents, so you see that six bits was rather a lot in its day.

Remember when the word Darn! was the worst swear word you ever heard of and even it you were not allowed to say?

I could go on, but if you’re anywhere near my age you’ll no doubt think of other Remember Whens. Younger folks than I might remember when McDonald’s advertised on the Golden Arches that they’d sold 14,000,000 hamburgers! And those burgers were 14 cents! Also, some might remember the Burma Shave signs on highways. My favorite one was this:

“Don’t stick your elbow 
out too far
It might go home
In another car!”

Here’s another:

“Although insured
Remember, brother,
They don’t pay you
They pay your mother.”

Do you think the youngsters of today will look back on us and laugh that we ever had to have pilots to fly airplanes, drivers to drive cars? Well, you can carry on. This blog is over. I keep remembering more, like beating rugs over a clothes line when there was no vacuum cleaner and riding in a buck board wagon with Grandpa to "The Other Place." You heard about that. And now this blog is over! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Where Little Lights Play

When we read a writer’s thoughts we seldom see where he or she sat as the words first hit the page. To me, that would complete the picture and enhance the idea. My writer friend would be more than his or her thoughts; he’d be a person in whom I could feel more connection. Yet, even as I say this I rather doubt that my readers would feel they know me better if they could see me here on my patio in robe and slippers sans make-up or combed hair. Sometimes we can, in the flesh, be a distraction to our words.

If I could share with you the little light show I’m enjoying, the playful sparkles of sunlight on the creek where it bends out of sight, if you could drift with me into musings that rise to the sun bursting through the tall trees and sending out brilliant threads of itself, then I think you might feel closer. 

Here in the cool of a morning can’t you see why some ancients would want to worship the sun? They understood the obvious, that none of our earthly joys could exist without our sun. Everything here on this little orb depends on old Sol. He is too brilliant to view with the naked eye but we see exact replicas of him in many places. I see them on rear windows of cars ahead of me at the stop light. I see them on bumpers, on fenders, on smooth surfaces everywhere. Little lights play and cavort in strange places, but never stay. Here on my patio I see the sun peeking through the trees begging me to look at it but I can’t for long. Instead I watch how its rays play on the shingled walls of my house, how they sneak into the kitchen window and invade the bird’s cage to touch Tommy's tail feathers. Those dancing lights on the water's ripples at the bend of the creek send sparkles of joy into my soul. 

Of all the pleasures of getting older I can think of none that I enjoy more than the grace to sit still and toy with thoughts like those little lights dancing on the water. It may be a grace that younger people know too, especially babies. If we've aged enough to find stillness and solitude in beauty and gladness instead of sinking into the dark depths of pain and sorrow we know what it means to get better as we get older. It even allows us to see our own halos in the mirror of Mind. Wow!

I could stay here all day and may, indeed, come out again to sit and ponder, to read and reflect, but for now I’ll head on into the house, get dressed and do what needs to be done to the house. My daily tasks might seem more pleasant if I would see myself at play with all the other women (and some men) who have to make home sweet, clean and comfortable. Just think, gang, we’re little lights playing on the waters of life and reflecting the great Sun we cannot look at but without whom we would never be! We can’t see each other, but we’re here together, lighting our paths one way or another and sharing our own unique take on what life is all about. Thinking of you makes housework playtime! And getting older? Who cares? There's beauty in that if we grab it and run!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

I Do Faces

“What are you going to do when you grow up?” Children must get weary of the question. For one thing, how can any child know? Children are not fortune tellers. Oh, yes, I’ve heard of some children who know what they’ll do and stick to it but I was not one of them. Another thing, just when is anyone “grown-up”? I feel like a child even now and it surprises me to see photographs of myself. That’s me? No way! Still, pictures don’t lie, the saying goes. Tell that to anyone who just saw his picture on a new driver’s license.

When I was a child and people would ask me what I planned to do when I grew up I did know this much, that I wanted to be an artist of some sort. When I discovered the thrill of finding faces in clay I finally knew but I got sidetracked, moved to Minnesota, to my old home town, and built my dream house. I named it DONE RAMBLING. My dream house got sold when I got married the second time. The little downstairs studio where I had a work bench and kiln got left behind. The rambler in me wasn’t done after all. 

At last I’m getting back to doing faces. So far the market for them has not opened up, although they are in a gallery. This doesn’t worry me. When it does I’ll be obliged to go on and now I do faces for the right reason, the love of it. Remember Shakespeare a few blogs ago? Well, I couldn’t recover him. It just didn’t work, but I did salvage half his face and the other half, the new half, turned him into a Lawrence of Arabia kind of fellow. When he’s done I’ll show you. 

Nowadays my studio is wherever I can find a chair and set up a tray table. Trouble is I need to keep house but when I sculpt I let the house go and eventually I must give up doing faces long enough to get the house in order. Every blank day on the calendar promises that, but then I find myself blogging. Blogging is something like sculpting. It’s neater, however. A blog starts with an idea like What am I going to do today? Then it ends up like this. Nothing much said so I try to find a deeper element in it. 

Today’s blog makes me wonder about the faces of the ones who will read it. I’d love to look at your faces, visit with you, watch the play of light in your eyes and know what lies behind them. Faces tell so much about  people yet my clay faces look like they’re holding back even more. Behind them are unknown histories. It’s a shock to realize they have none. Or do they? I call them “Old Souls” because they could be just that. People who have lived somewhere in the forgotten past and people who have taken their memories with them. I record some of my memories in my blogs. Still they, too, tell so little. 

And so little does my own face tell as well. One thing is for certain, I’ll probably never stop doing faces. Unlike when I was a child and told not to stare at people, I can stare at my faces all day long. Especially when they're coming out of the clay. I'm feeling that magnetic pull to the tray table, but no! Housecleaning, you win. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Timepieces Don't Tell

Is there anything more arbitrary than time? It dictates our lives regardless of our attention to it. And it comes encased in timepieces of countless sizes, shapes and mechanisms. I got to thinking of that this morning and remembering how my first desire for a thing other than food, affection, etc. was for a wrist watch. I’m told that before I could pronounce it properly (I called it a “rich ratch”) I begged for one. I remember pouring through each new issue of the huge Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogues to choose my favorite wrist watch. Not until I was twelve did I get one. It was exactly the one I’d chosen from the catalogue, with a silver mesh band. You’d think an object so desired and so thrilling to receive as that would have survived the ravages of the thing called time that it was made to record but I have no idea whatever happened to it.

Nowadays I wear a wrist watch that serves its purpose but is of little value monetarily and even cosmetically. I simply don’t care as long as it does its job. I have a National Geographic radio operated atomic clock, a Colonial grandfather clock set to chime the Westminster tune every quarter hour, and a whimsical metal clock shaped like a bicycle with the clock serving as the front wheel. There’s a digital clock in my bedroom that gives me the time in big red digits all hours of the day and night. And, of course, the time is displayed on my kitchen stove, the television set, on my cell phone and computer.

Now where is this blog going? you might ask. I’m beginning to see. It has to do with getting older. Can anyone tell me why time should affect one’s health and well-being as time does? Timepieces don’t tell. Nothing can be quite so impersonal than the time of day on the face of a clock. Yet all our lives we live by it. More or less. 

Can there be, is there, a higher dimension where time disappears? I think in a way that we’re living in it right now when we consider that there’s no other certainty than an ever present now. We cannot hang onto a second or hasten another second. We can use this minute in some constructive way or we can let it slip by unimproved and wasted. Sixty consecutive “nows” in an hour go by and what have we to show for them? That’s the challenge of being alive. What we think and what we do in this ever-present Now are the two most influential elements of our personal lives. 

A timepiece is useful, often beautiful, and a tool in learning to become punctual. The sturdy round wall clock next to the portrait of George Washington in my first grade classroom used to tick loudly during arithmetic time tests. It also had something to do with the alarm that announced the end of a period in class. I’m glad to be done with school other than the one we can’t escape called Experience. I’ll never in this life be done entirely with timepieces, I hope, for if I escape them entirely it will mean I’ve given up control of my own will. However, if I’ve given up my will for the sense of God’s will being done? That must be the best timepiece yet. 

Do you suppose God is bound to timepieces? I doubt it. Does eternity depend on measurement of time or is it an endless Now that has no beginning? When you’re in your advancing years you get to sit and ponder things like that. If you’re independent, that is. To stay independent to some extent is good. To keep up mentally is even better. I look at the faces of my clocks and smile. They serve me, but I don’t serve them, except to wind the grandfather and keep fresh batteries in the others. 

Some people take great pride in their wristwatches and spend thousands of dollars for the names that they bear. A little Timex is good enough for me but I’m not giving away old grandy or the handsome atomic National Geographic yet. The bicycle clock makes me smile. Its symbolism keeps rolling on with the times. And now I must get dressed for the day and see what I can make of it. I’ll not be watching the clock much today because my calendar has not a single notation on it. Now that’s my favorite kind of day! 

Dear Readers, Let's all have a great and good day, a beautiful Now!  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Something Worth Writing About

Something that’s common and peculiarly appealing to each one of us can be worth reading or writing about.  I think the subject of getting older and better makes a good topic these days. People are generally interested in age (everybody’s got one) and getting better with it is a new twist.  Anyone can put a positive spin on age if they’re willing to buck the crowd of naysayers.

I maintain that looking away from the body would keep us healthier, more youthful, intellectual and happy than wading through all the theories presented in the media and their promises to make you look younger. Most of them focus on serving the body in order for it to serve them by being better looking, healthier and the like. The mind-body thinkers might say that's getting the cart before the horse. Which do you think deserves the more attention? The "cart" can be useful and needs to be kept in good repair but it's the "horse" that empowers the cart, not the other way around. Incidentally, I wonder how so many of my ancestors lived to a ripe old age so gracefully without all the hoopla about "fitness" we hear today. 

 These ancestors of mine had their trials and sorrows but they got through them without therapy and mind-dumbing pills. A focus on life and living it well was their answer, plus an earnest heartfelt on-the-knees-prayer every night. They thought less about their bodies and more about getting the work done. They didn't go to beauty salons or gyms. They didn't even have bathtubs in order to keep themselves clean. A pot of warm water, a bar of soap and a wash bowl on a stand in the bedroom worked. They lived sensibly without special diets. They fed hunger, not appetite. Their focus each day was more on being useful than on glorifying the body. 

If one’s body is a reflection of thought, then the improvement of our thoughts should be foremost in the improvement of our bodies. Thoughts and beliefs tend to be self-fulfilling. They show up on the face and body in sickness or in health. So it is with aging. If the subject is disregarded altogether there could be less aging in its negative connotations. I have an idea that if every one of us would think outside the body box and address mental and meaningful objectives we’d find life more satisfying and fruitful. We'd accomplish more and worry less. We'd even find more that is worth writing and reading about. 

Writing on the subject of getting better as we age has been a challenge for me at times since I started this blog, but I'm not giving up. I’ve found that the simple task of picking up a pen and pad or sitting down to a keyboard and letting words spill out is as good a teacher as I can find. Of course, I'll avail myself of the best things to read also. Other people’s theories can be helpful and I can soon tell if they're not. Our own perusal of any given subject just by quiet meditation on it can unearth inner treasures we never dreamed of. When we gather this wisdom and put it into words we’ll be led to do some surprisingly good writing and reading.

Writing daily in a journal or just a lined notebook can be the catalyst for wisdom and knowledge on any subject and if we follow our interests with open minds we can find our happy healthy selves hovering somewhere above the drama of our daily lives. One of my early writing teachers called that higher selfhood our Muse. You and your Muse have something worth writing about, and it may turn out to be worth reading too.  So put your pen to paper and your fingers on the keypad. See what happens. Like me, after years of journaling you'll keep learning and writing and then? Welcome to the world of blogging!

(Apologies to you readers out there who are way ahead of me! As you see, I'm still learning from my Muse.)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"It Works"

I bought an old lamp the other day. It’s a table lamp. Stands about two and a half feet tall but has a narrow base. It’s in mint condition and it’s got style. A small tag on it next to the price said "It Works." I found it in a thrift shop so it came with a history, albeit a blind one. It had no shade but the one on my old table lamp does nicely and it looks quite handsome on the table next to my reading chair. The old lamp whose place it took was too low. This one is perfect.

“It works” is a good recommendation for anything and the words got me to thinking how they pertain to me. “Works” is not a passive verb. It means any number of things. In my case it means that I keep house, drive a car, sculpt faces, play the piano, sing, read, do laundry, shop, serve in a Reading Room and as usher in church, and write blogs. I am speaking loosely when I mention playing the piano, because I should have tagged the word “infrequently” onto that and “not too well” would be even more honest. You’ll notice I didn’t say that I cook. I’ve gladly retired from cooking now that I have no one but myself to cook for. Well, bacon and eggs for breakfast now and then or a sandwich or packaged meal, but nothing fancy and almost never for company. Although it’s an extravagance, I eat out whenever I have someone to do it with. All that said, I can say of myself, "She works."

My main working projects these days are sculpting and blogging, if you call these working, that is. I call them play and, like Robert Frost, I see work and play as “two eyes ... one in sight,” a perfect combination. Sometimes the work is easy and occasionally it’s hard. In the past two days I worked on two sculpting projects. The first one came so easily I saw him with the first pinch in the clay. He turned out to be a young fellow with an engaging smile wearing an Austrian hat. I’m delighted with him. The other work is made from something called Sculpy,” a new modeling substitute for clay that is not as messy, stays moist and can be fired in my kitchen oven. I’m not used to it and probably won’t go on trying. The face that came out of it is not yet finished even after working all day on it. A young mother with her new baby’s face pressed to her cheek. She has the spirit of new mother love but when I try to smooth out her cheek or re-focus her eye something happens and I lose that spirit. She’s just a lump of clay again. 

I can stay focused on something like that for hours on end because, I imagine, it’s something like midwifery. Someone is in need of getting out, urgently but some births are slower than others. I must be patient, thoughtful, get myself out of the way and gently help the process along. Once I think I’ve got it I lay it aside but then go back to fix up some little thing and boom! I’ve sabotaged the work and must do some repairs to get back that look of mother love. 

Sculpting is a patient, meditative work, yet exciting at times. Blogging, on the other hand, is a more communicative activity. Neither of the two require the engagement of anyone else, although it’s more fun to have it. I was at the gallery yesterday sculpting on the front porch. Our gallery’s owner likes to have the artists at work on the property and whenever Robin serves at the desk I enjoy porch sitting with a lump of clay. A man came and sat down in the other chair next to me. His party went in but he was not interested in doing anything but resting his feet. Soon we got to talking. He was from North Carolina and, since I’d lived there myself for a couple of two year tours of duty with Wally at the Cherry Point Marine base, we talked about that for a while. The train rumbled by across the lot opposite the cottage and when it passed we talked about how fun it is to travel that way. People milled in and out and when he took a look at my work I asked him if he’d like to see more of it. “Yes, I would!” he said and practically leapt from the chair.  

Inside there was quite a crowd so I showed him my spot and left him in the little room. Robin was hurrying me. "We need to leave now, Mom, because I'm not supposed to park on the street." So I got my porch studio packed up and when I went back in the gallery I saw that my man’s party was in the room talking about my work. I had to say a hasty goodbye. I was sorry, yet not sorry. I'm shy about selling and if I’d stayed they might have bought something out of pity for me. I didn’t want that. Yet rushing off was not good either. I’m curious. Did they become my first buyers? I’ll find out eventually. 

In both my principal activities, blogging and sculpting, there’s an element of communication. In both, I can be communicating with myself only. If someone else likes my work I suppose you could say. “It works.” Does that mean they have to buy it? I don’t think so. I’d like to think of myself as a working person without a boss and having no pressing need to get others to see or buy my work. My income is sufficient but I'd like to be able to cover the rent in the gallery and supplies and transportation expenses. That much seems fitting.

The new-old lamp works just fine. Blogging too. When someone says, “I love your blogs,” or “Your Old Souls are great,” does that mean I’ve worked or played? Do I need someone to lay down cold cash for the things I’ve done in order to say they work? I’m letting the question hang in the air, but I think I know the answer. Money has little to do with it. If it pleases someone, especially the one working at it, that’s good enough in my book to say "it works." Even if that someone is me.