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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Your Home Tells A Lot about Ewe

We were done moving. Laguna Beach was to be the place of our retirement and we’d found a Mediterranean style home built in the 30’s standing tall on High drive with a commanding view of the town and even a peek of Main Beach with its curling waves flowing in from the great wide Pacific. We spent eight years enjoying that charming old house and wearing our fingers to the bone bringing it up to its heyday standard. 

“Enough of this,” Wally G. said. “Let’s get a house that serves us instead of one that makes us serve it.” So we bought a lot further down High Drive and built our dream house. It, too, had a view of the ocean overlooking picturesque rooftops and trees. 

A friend, an interior designer, offered to help us but Wally G. said, “No thanks. Joyce is good at that.” I wasn’t so sure, until I saw what our friend had in mind. It was all in monochromatic shades of gray to go with the stone fireplace. We didn’t have the extra money to invest in the new furnishings and when she insisted on re-covering Wally's favorite chair and ottoman, we got along without her help.

I can’t say that I don’t admire beautiful and professional interior design. Many a model home I could have moved into happily but how long would it stay that way? Could I ever ditch all our personal family memorabilia and keep that plain tasteful serene look that you could take in at a glance and never need to step up close to examine anything and ask about?

I suppose if my house were to burn down and nothing was left but ashes I could do it. But after nearly seventy years of collecting, discarding, and collecting more, Christmas gifts, shopping spree finds in quaint places, I’m done hoping for the designer look. I say to myself, “Forget that, face up to the facts, - you’re never going to get out of your Old Curiosity Shoppe.

I have a few friends who are into African decor. Large and small carved creatures such as giraffes, elephants, zebras etc. tell me they’ve either lived in Africa or visited it or hope to visit it and that they’re intrigued enough to bring the safari home. Others have gone Asian with parasols and calligraphy. The cottage look would be my choice, but what does my home tell? It won’t take long to see that I’ve brought the farm home with me. I have chickens, roosters, mother hens, and even pigs. Not large collections, not large pieces, but pictures or small carvings. My theme could have come from my cousins’ farms that I enjoyed with them as a child. (If I ever find a little Shetland pony like their “Fanny,” you can bet she’ll come home with me.) Also, the ranch we bought after the dream house, the one nestled into the Applegate River in Oregon amidst the Siskiyou foothills. Eight years of country living remain indelible in my heart and mind. 

Yesterday Robin and I dropped into The Cottage Gallery on Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano where she shows her watercolors. Of course, I loved her display. My walls could be her gallery. I was delightfully impressed by the other artists’ works also and came across a portrait of a sheep, probably a ewe, that stopped me. The artist, Nancy Egan, just happened to be manning the desk and she told me that her paintings of sheep were done from photographs of real sheep who are going to native people in third world countries. With the permission of the Heifer Project which allows her to use photographs of the animals to paint from, she is able to donate part of her earnings to their efforts.

“So, this beautiful creature is one of the project’s real animals and may very well be alive today helping some little family get a foothold on a good life?”

“Yes,” she said. “Each one is taken from a photograph of a real animal and when I paint it I get such a feeling for the creature itself that I fall in love with the work.”

“I can certainly see that!” I said. “Well, I want to look for a small cactus arrangement out in the back garden, but I’ll be giving thought to this painting of yours.” When I’d found the perfect miniature cactus garden in a small white bird cage I brought it to the desk.

“I’ve been thinking,” I said. “Your ewe has crept into my heart. She can be symbolic of the sheep we raised at our ranch. I never got any pictures of them then. So, if I may, I’ll buy her.” 

“I’m so glad she’ll be going to a good home,” Nancy said.

That’s how my home gets designed. Little by little my heart gets into the act and my home becomes a museum. The pig from Hog Hollow, the pair of yellow chicks my sister-in-law gave us, the rooster, the mother hen on a nest of eggs, these are my decor. They are me, a self designer of one well-feathered nest. And now a ewe. I can see her basking in the sun or seeking out the shade in her family home. I can see her lambs too bouncing around with small dark children. A new painting can reveal a wealth of scenery, past and present. An interior designer might tell me where to hang it, but it will no doubt go the rounds here in my cottage home. You’re welcome to come and see! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

"We Didn't Know We Were Poor"

The young woman was finishing up her bi-weekly cleaning of my house last Wednesday. I had her initially when I was in a guest house here back in February. It had been a long time since I’d had household help and I saw what I’d been missing. Now I can’t imagine choosing to clean other people’s houses for a job. It’s not a favorite task for my own house. I didn’t say as much to her but she must have read my thoughts because she suddenly said, “I really love my work!” I was so impressed with her sincerity I asked her to come to my house when I moved in.

Last Wednesday we talked a little and it turns out we had quite similar childhoods in many ways although her home was in Mexico and mine in Minnesota. We both grew up on rural five acre plots of land without, at first, the modern amenities of indoor plumbing and electricity. When we’d finished laughing about all the things we had to do without she said exactly what I could have said, “But we were all so happy! We didn’t know we were poor. We even felt rich!”

That’s what a loving family and grateful hearts can do. Wanting more than we have can be a downer if it keeps us focused on lack instead of supply. That is probably one of the most basic problems in life, to think of humanity as the haves and have nots. Limitation, or the sense of it, can cause untold misery but what if limitation is merely a blindness to what is already available to us all universally?

 I remember the time when we’d moved to a house that didn’t have a dishwasher. Our former house had one and with our family of five I'd found it to be a great benefit. At the time my husband said, “We’ve just put out more than we’d planned for this house. A dishwasher will have to wait.”

Then one day I saw a full page glossy ad in a magazine for the exact dishwasher I’d hoped to have. It was the same canary yellow color as our refrigerator, same manufacturer, full size but portable on wheels so it didn’t need to be installed and we’d be able to take it with us when we’d be moving the next time. (Marines don’t stay anywhere very long.)

A friend of ours had once said, “Never say, ‘I want’ because you are at the same time saying, ‘I don’t have.’ If you keep saying, ‘I don’t have it’ you won’t have it. Say instead, ‘I have the idea of it; therefore I have the real part of it,' and most likely you’ll soon have the thing as well as the idea.” I remembered that, tore out the page with “my” new dishwasher on it and pinned it on the bulletin board in our kitchen. 

“Now I have my new dishwasher,” I said, and whenever I found myself wishing I had the real thing I’d say, "But I do have the idea, and that is the real thing.” Conceiving of things as thoughts may not be new, but we often forget. Ask any thinking person, and all agree that from a pencil to a skyscraper every thing begins with a thought. 

I did not hold my breath to see how or when I'd get a new dishwasher. In fact, I simply ceased wanting a dishwasher. I knew if I was to have one it would come sometime and, if not, so what? Washing dishes by hand, I thought how grateful I was for hot water and soap. 

Not long after that we had a friend from out of town over for dinner one evening. He was on a business trip and when we’d finished eating I looked at the table begging to be cleared off and said, “I have a new dishwasher but it doesn’t wash dishes yet.” 

“What kind of a dishwasher would you buy if you could?”

I replied, “It would be a portable canary yellow Fridgidaire. Want to see a picture of it?” 

He said, “I know exactly what it is. We’re putting Fridgidaire appliances in the new housing development I’m working on here. If you want, I can get you one for less than half of what you’d have to pay retail.” 

I looked at my husband opposite me. He was grinning broadly and I knew that I’d soon have the thing as well as the idea of a new dishwasher. And I did.

Of course, this principle has some built-in caveats such as, try to make it work for anything and everything and you’ll run into problems. Principle has many qualifications. Greed and selfishness would certainly throw a monkey wrench into the mix, but it can’t be wrong to declare for ourselves and others any right and needful thing. That must be what Jesus meant when he said, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” He also said we are meant to have a more abundant life, not a world's banquet of power, gold and goodies. 

Can’t we imagine how the realization of God’s impartial love could bring world peace? We all have the right to be happy and to emerge from self-imposed limitations. Unlimited good is for all, but we have to cherish the idea, the source, the proper use of good. Satisfying occupation, home, food, clothing, happiness, mercy, justice are all right ideas and belong to us all by gaining the true sense of things and accepting whatever we can use.  

Can I picture the idea of this? Can I cherish it? Can I pin it to the bulletin board in my heart? Well, if it can work for a dishwasher, I say why not let it work big time?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Memoirs 101

I'm sure some of my readers have either written or started to write, or thought about writing their life stories to pass down to future generations. I've begun to do that and am trying to get away from mere statistics to make it story-like. Here's one way to do that. Write about random incidents in your life that you think are memorable. You can put them in chronological order later if you wish, but it's more fun and less laborious, I think, to just let them come out spontaneously regardless of sequence. 

Here is a sample of one of my earliest memories which remains vividly alive: 

Watch Out For Those Curbs!

When I was about four I did what I’d been told not to do. I stepped off the curb at the end of our block and crossed the street. Several blocks away I was feeling gloriously free to be exploring beyond my own neighborhood. I had walked that way with my mother once before and now I was doing it all by myself! When I got to a corner store and walked in the grocer greeted me, not realizing I was alone because he was busy waiting on another customer. 

Soon he turned to me. “So, little lady, is your mother here?” I shook my head no. 

“Did she send you here to buy something?” My head nodded yes. “What do you want?” I pointed to a loaf of bread in the glass case. “A loaf of bread? This one?” A silent yes with the head again. I watched him put the bread in a paper bag. Then he handed it to me. I took it and turned to go. 

 “Wait, that will be 10 cents, dear.” A blank look on my face must have told him. “Oh, you’d better go home and get some money. I’ll keep the bread until you get back.” I hightailed it out the door.

(I have to explain here that in those days children played freely on the sidewalks near their homes and the grocer perhaps assumed we lived nearby. Neighborhood children might have strayed in frequently for candy or ice cream. )

Well, by then I was beginning to feel my little escapade was not going well. I should have heeded that quiet voice in my head, "Mama said No!" when I stepped off the first curb. I was ready to go home. 

Outside the grocery store door everything looked different. I didn’t know which street to take so I just started walking. I didn’t recognize any of the houses and suddenly storm sirens started screaming. Now I was really frightened! Where was home? Where was Mama? I wanted to cry but I didn’t see anyone nor did I want to excite any strangers out of those strange houses. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be lost, and I didn’t like it! 

Dark clouds descended, rolling over me ominously and a sudden wind was so strong it blew my skirt up over my face. I thought it would blow me away!  All I could do was keep on walking but still I was walking in a different world, a strange world. Now I was really scared! 

After a few blocks I still couldn’t see anything familiar. Just then I heard a car engine behind me and turned to see Mr. Ratche, a neighbor of ours, in his Model T. Ford. He pulled up to the curb and called to me.  

“Joycie! Would you like a ride home? Come, climb in the car and I’ll take you.” 

I'd been told not to go with strangers but Mr. Ratche? He wasn't a stranger. As I stepped up on the running board and slipped onto the leather seat a flood of tears poured out. 

Mr. Ratche handed me a handkerchief. “Don’t cry, Honey. I’ll get you home. A storm is coming up and your Mama and Papa have been looking all over for you.”

At home I saw police cars with lights flashing. Mr. Ratche carried me in the house and my mother screamed and rushed to take me in her arms. Daddy was there too. He had closed the gas station where he worked to come home and look for me. Policemen in uniforms with strange leather belts over their shoulders loomed tall in the doorway. A few neighbors were there too and suddenly our house seemed very small. Everyone was talking, the telephone kept ringing and I buried my head on Mama’s shoulder. Daddy answered the phone. “She’s home,” he said. “Yes, she’s been found. Thanks for your help.” 

When the others left Mama washed my face. “Oh, Joycie, why did you go off? I’ve told you over and over never to step off the curb or go out of sight. You can’t know how scared we were!” 

The storm soon passed over leaving branches of trees and roof shingles scattered over lawns and sidewalks but one little girl was safe. And wiser too. Not long afterward when my Sunday school teacher got to the Ten Commandments and she read, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days maybe long...” I knew what that meant. And whenever I saw my foot on the curb I never stepped down to the street unless my hand was in one of my parent’s hand. Of course, the day came when I outgrew that rule but not without permission. Then I'd learned another rule, one that has lasted all my life: 
STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. That rule works for more than street curbs too. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No Average Day

We were talking about exercise. “What do you do on an average day?” he asked me. 

“I get up, wash my face or shower, dress, make the bed, clean the bird cage, have breakfast, wash the dishes, sweep the floor, water the patio plants, study the Bible Lesson, and ...” From there on I was stuck. Nothing could be called average after that.

“I don’t have any average days.” I say. "I don’t live by routine except for morning and bedtimes. Some days I go shopping on the bus. Some days I tackle a job that has been put off like filing papers, taking the laundry down to the laundry room or reorganizing drawers, playing the piano. Once or twice a week I go to a meeting, a class, or play a few rounds of bridge. If I get to checking Facebook I’m stuck for about an hour or more looking at pictures or mini movies people send about cute animals or their cute little kids looking cuter every day. The computer is a time guzzler so I try to avoid it except for checking the e-mail Inbox and writing blogs or working on my memoirs. It’s great for answering questions, but I’ve had to definitely limit my two kinds of Solitaire to one game each per day." 

Once a week I go off campus with my daughter to our writing class, have lunch somewhere, and do some shopping. That’s the best time of the week. Well, another best is my Saturday morning Skype chat with Wally K, my son who lives in Virginia, or the once in a while visit my second son David makes when he passes through on his way up to his Simi Valley job. When my grandchildren and great grandchildren visit, well, that's definitely not an average day!  

I usually watch the evening news broadcast and sometimes give in to watching an old movie. I like the black and white ones best, but TV can be a time guzzler too.  So far I have not put myself on a schedule for exercise. I don’t intend to. I get enough exercise but reserve the right to change my mind and start bragging about early morning walks if I feel like it. I find that making things mandatory can also be making them a drag. Whatever one does should seem special.

As any of my readers know, I’m addicted to writing. I trace that back to the fascination I felt as a small child watching Mother write letters. When her pen moved so beautifully and quickly across the pages saying something, I was sure that was magic! In school I loved writing. When I took a class in typing my high ambition was to be a typist! In high school I was editor of the school paper which appeared in the local town newspaper every other week. In college I majored in English, especially composition. When I got married it was homemaking, mothering, volunteer work and some social get-togethers with friends. Although we were a career Marine family we went to as few cocktail parties as possible. Church friends and church activities were staple.

Here at The Willows I find a wealth of interesting activities to engage in and dinners in the dining room are great for socializing. So how do I put all that into the question of what I do on an average day? Here’s some advice I like to go by in my older, better years:

“Eat when you’re hungry,
Drink when you’re thirsty,
Sleep when you’re sleepy
work when you feel like it.”
(author unknown)

On that last one, I’ve found that jobs I’ve been avoiding because I’m not in the mood for them are done best when I do feel in the mood for them. Most of them wait while they can be put out of sight. The reward for finally getting to them is magnified exponentially by the waiting time.

The thought of some of my choices wasting my time comes like a prick of conscience now and then. I remember though how St. Paul said, “For it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The word “His” was not in the original text so I take it to mean that both the desire and the good pleasure belong to both God and me.

The will, desire, to do what is pleasing to both God and me is a marvelous motivator. I don’t have to do anything begrudgingly. The Bible also says that God loves a cheerful giver. Surprisingly some of the most dreaded tasks can be done happily when the mind lets go of its dread. After doing such a job I always get that sweet pat on the back saying, “Well done, good and faithful!” If I ever hear “What took you so long?” I know that's my own voice. God never qualifies His praise.

So now I push a couple of buttons and my sage sayings go on line. All right, they may not rank as "sage," but the ease with which they fly out to you from me is really magic! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

College, Home Style

My Grandmother Darling didn’t go to college but when it came to learning she was no slouch. In two years of my own college education when I lived with her I’m sure she derived much vicarious pleasure in the fact that I, her only granddaughter, could have what she and her three daughters had been denied, a college education. The only son in their family had been a brilliant student, earning the honor of becoming valedictorian of his graduating high school class and about to do the same in a top-ranking college of Engineering when he was suddenly stricken in the flu epidemic of the early 1900’s and died.  

Grandmother used to faithfully read her daily copy of The Christian Science Monitor from the first to the last page. “I’ve heard that one can get the equivalent of a college education by doing that over some time,” she told me, smiling sweetly. Many a time, too, she’d bring up the fact that back in her Minnesota home town she had been the president of The Browning Club. I was reminded of that today when I remembered one of Browning's poems that I love: 

The year 's at the spring,

And day 's at the morn;

Morning 's at seven;

The hill-side 's dew-pearl'd;

The lark 's on the wing;
The snail 's on the thorn;

God 's in His heaven—

All 's right with the world!

Some mornings, many in fact, seem like that to me, but I looked up Robert Browning on the computer and, of course, he knew tragedy and anguish in his day too. I’m glad he wrote this poem because it helps to restore my faith that the world will be someday as bright with joy and harmony as he saw it that morning and took the time to let us see it through his eyes. It’s like a promise.

The idea, that we have not developed our spiritual senses enough to understand and appreciate a heaven at hand, (and that’s what we’re here for,) gives me hope. When a dream or nightmare gets to be intolerable we’ll wake up and find ourselves in a better world. Of course, I can't prove I’m right, but neither can anyone prove that I’m wrong. So, until the last page of my book I’ll have to wait to see who is right. In the meantime I can choose what to believe and Robert Browning’s little poem is a glimpse to me of how things ought to be on earth as in heaven.

We hear it said that some things are too good to be true, but I say bombings, terror, wars, beheadings of innocents are too bad to be true! James Foley’s parents were interviewed on TV today and they said they had not and would not watch the film of their son’s beheading. I think they know that a good man, as they knew their son to be, could never in God’s morning have been touched by such a picture. But they are eager to let this lie spur them actively on to do what they can to bring in a better day and a better world so that things like that can no longer be. 

My grandmother did too. After her son died she always thought of him as going on to build bridges somewhere in the world. She didn’t live in la la land, but she did help many others see through dark dreams including one that I witnessed myself of a woman who had been paralyzed from her neck down. I went with her daily for a while when she visited the patient. Then I don’t remember seeing the woman until some time later and she was up and about with normal freedom of health and mobility. Others too there were whom Grandmother helped but I’d only hear of them incidentally. She never took credit for herself. “God did it,” she’d say. Then she’d go on reading the Monitor, the National Geographic, or her religious textbooks. She never stopped getting her own “college” education.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"A Bird In the Hand Is Worth..."

Tommy Tucker, my canary, has the best seat in the house. His cage sits by a wide window facing a beautiful wooded park. It doesn’t obstruct my view much and at times I’d swear he can picture himself out there flying among the trees. Since we moved here he sings more than he used to. He always sings facing the window and I wonder if he imagines himself to be courting a little wild bird female or staking out his territory. 

Tommy has a lovely song but sometimes it's too loud and disturbs my telephone conversations. No neighbors have complained yet. I’ve told him, “Tommy, I love your singing but maybe you could ration it out a bit.” He didn’t seem to catch my meaning but a couple days ago I found a new toy for him. It’s a small hanging mirror. No, I wasn’t forgetting that one of my bird books said a canary might think he has company and not bother to sing if he had a mirror. Or even get angry to have the “other guy” invading his territory. But what did those bird books know? Birds could be as different in their likes and dislikes as people. So, I gave the mirror a try.

Well, Tommy was fascinated. He gazed into the mirror and chirped softly. He even sang a low sweet trill to his visitor. He might have been saying, “So, here you are, the one I’ve been singing to. You finally came! It’s so good to know there’s someone who looks like me.” He hardly remembered to eat his treats that day. No more loud singing, just chirping conversations.

I hadn’t meant to cut off his singing. It’s the main reason I wanted a canary, but I felt for him. I put myself in his place. Wouldn’t I love to have company, even if “she” mimicked me and didn’t seem to have a mind of her own? The ways I’ve solved it for the present is by putting the mirror in after cleaning his cage and giving him fresh food and water. So far it has not brought his song back, but when I took the mirror out yesterday his songs resumed. “Where have you gone, my friend? Come on back!” And I'm saying, "What do I do now?" 

For the time being I think I’ll wait and see how those "two" get along. There’s a slightly smaller look-a-like male canary in the pet store. He’s been there for months and they’ve even cut the cost of him in half. Every time I go in the store I look to see if he's found a home. Might Tommy be up for some real company? I know he'd prefer a female, but am I up to breeding birds? No. Somehow I don’t think this story has ended. I’ll keep you posted.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Memory Is Faithful To Goodness

 Yesterday morning my daughter, Robin, and I attended our first class in writing memoirs at the Sea Country Community Center. On the way to lunch afterwords I said, “I’m not sure I agree that a memoir should tell all, no matter how bad.” The teacher had said, “We all have hidden indiscretions we’d rather not tell about but they may be the very things that will capture the attention and sympathy of our readers. They’ll make us human. People will relate.”

I looked over at Robin’s tanned face as she drove, arms and hands in the sunlight gripping the wheel. She always has insight to things that puzzle me but she was thinking. I continued, “That’s reasonable advice, I suppose, but what if the things I tell about may injure others? And even me? Don’t we all eventually outgrow our sins? So, why do they need to be documented? I’m writing my memoir for my children, grandchildren and all the ones to come. If I tell some things about us that are shocking or unlovable, what will they remember? Those things! Not the good I have to tell. After all, I’m not writing it as a submission to True Confessions Magazine." (Is that still in print these days?) Anyway, this time even Robin couldn’t give me a satisfying answer. 

A little later over lunch, however, we continued discussing the class and I brought up a few times when my mother-in-law had done things that annoyed me greatly. 

“It’s true those things colored my memory of her,” I said. “I even let them take away some of the feeling of endearment I may have had for her. Should I record those things and color the image our grandchildren will get only through my writings, or should I tell of her good qualities only?”

“Well, Mom, maybe you could paint her as I saw her, a lovable grandmother who welcomed me into her room when I’d get home from school. We'd talk, laugh and play cards, or watch TV.” 

After a pause she added, “You could treat the things that bothered you as humorous. They were, you know. Funny. Nothing was really malicious about Grandma.”

“You’re right, Honey! Remember the time she went on a bus trip to see the fall colors in New England and brought back presents for everyone?”

“Not really. What about it?” Robin said.

“Well, she brought her other daughter-in-law a beautiful black beaded sweater. Do you know what she brought me? An ironing board cover! But here’s the really funny part of that: I would no more have wanted that beaded sweater than a dish rag! I was actually delighted to get the ironing board cover!”

“That’s what I mean, Mom. She knew you both. And what about the time she set her breakfast tray on a tray table close to her bedroom door inside the bedroom before you, Dad and she left for church. Auntie Dorris was living with you then too and Grandma had suspected Dorris was snooping around her room when you three went to church so she’d set a trap. But when you got home you had opened the door to lay her shawl on her bed before she could warn you and you knocked the tray over, spilling coffee, and breaking saucers on the carpet. She even confessed to you later what she’d done!”

“Oh, yes, you’re so right, Robin! That will be the way I tell about “Mama.”

Mama Wethe was of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. She was not more than 5 ft. tall, if that, and though there was more than a trace of stubbornness in her, she had unbounded love for her son, Wally G., my husband, her daughter and other son and all her grandchildren. Because of that I agreed to take her into our home. She was with us for 20 years. You can’t live with anyone that long without a touch of friction now and then. Mothers-in-law get a bad rap but daughters-in-law do too. 

When I tell about “Mama,” (she wanted me to call her Mama, so that says something,) I know just how I’ll handle it in my memoir. Yesterday I let my old grievances come to the surface and I got mad again. I didn’t like myself for that. The old saying that “memory is faithful to goodness” is a good one. It should sweeten the love of our progeny for all I mention in my memoirs, including me! If anything is so bad it would override the good, well, I say, if I can't see anything to laugh about in it, maybe it's due for the dust bin.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sticking To The Title

“Getting Older Is Getting Better.” Often I’ve had to defend the title of my blog. Not to others but to myself. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not age that hinders me but age-old beliefs about age.

My grandmother used to say when one of the grandchildren would ask her how old she was, "I’m as old as God.” Most of us have outgrown the image of God as an old man up in the sky. To God the word “old” is irrelevant, even obsolete. That’s the way my grandmother saw it, and could God have made her (or any of us) any other way?

Another answer to age might be one gleaned from The Holy Bible: “Before the morning stars sang together I was there.” An astronomer I once knew said that we are all made of star dust. No matter how you look at it, we can claim that age is largely just what we make of it.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet says: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

The line between the good of getting older and the bad of it does, indeed, rest upon our thoughts. Some people are so fixed on youth that they’d rather die than grow old. I feel that old age or youth, just as my shadow grows longer or shorter, has little relation to me. It is simply a phenomenon. If it looks fat or thin, who cares? I see the fleshly idea of me to be like my shadow. The “real” me is not there. What I think is what defines me at present. 

So, as the years go by no matter what the body says about me I can believe it or not. I can worry about it or not. Just one thing is required of me, to do my best and keep on doing my best. Circumstances can’t change my mind for better or worse. Only I can do that.

Am I satisfied with my progress in learning the truth, the good, of all things? Not always. I sometimes remember a time when my husband and I had an appointment with a man, a well-known speaker, whose business then in his advancing years was teaching people how to read aloud. The meeting was to take place in his home studio and his housekeeper answered the door and seated us. We waited. And waited. Finally, he appeared and I can only say he did not look good. He limped and leaned heavily on a cane. He had on a bathrobe and slippers and his hair was tousled and, well, I’ll leave it at that. But he greeted us with a big smile and said, “I’m sorry but could we make our meeting some other time? I’m not at my best today." Then he quickly added in a firm voice, "but I’m doing the best I know how, and that’s all the angels are doing nowadays!” 

He was not, I’m sure, suffering from a hangover. Maybe it was from one of those mean old-age beliefs. Although we never saw him again, what he gave us in his smile and comment has helped me immensely. Whenever I struggle I can see myself in the company of angels, being cheerful and doing my best. Here at The Willows I feel I truly am in the company of angels, all of us doing our best, and we don't concern ourselves with age, age-old beliefs, complaints or shadows. We greet each other and say, "Hi there! You're looking good!" And we mean it because it's true!

Guess I'll stick to my title.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Water, Water Everywhere," But Nary A Drop to Spare

California used to have an average precipitation of 18” of rainfall a year. I don’t know the figure now, but I do know it’s drastically less. I’m sure many are working on the problem (a pipeline from Alaska? Desalination?) But the need to conserve water is immediate and urgent. That’s got me to thinking of small ways to cut down even more. I won’t enumerate them all but as I washed dishes this morning, by hand, I used half the amount of water I’ve been used to and my thoughts went back to when I was a child.

Water was not scarce in southern Minnesota when I lived there as a child, (1930-38) but in our new country home we didn’t have a well yet. There was a spring across the road and I’d go with my daddy to watch him fill a tall shiny pail with that pure, clear water burbling out of the hillside. It sounded heavenly! Then he’d put the lid on and haul it home taking my hand in his other hand as we crossed the road. We used that water only for drinking and cooking. For bathing and washing clothes, etc., we had an underground cistern outside the kitchen window. Water from the rain came off the roof by way of eaves troughs and channeled through a filter into the cistern.  That water was not for drinking but served us well otherwise. A little red hand pump by the kitchen sink drew it out of the cistern. 

Washing dishes by hand nowadays is no problem since I live alone and take my meals over at the dining hall. Seldom do I use pots and pans for breakfast or snacks so a pair of rubber gloves have an easy life in the cupboard under the sink. I love the feel of sudsy water on my bare hands and often think of when as a child it was my turn to wash dishes. A dishpan in the dry sink with soap flakes and hot water from the reservoir on the kitchen range worked well but I tried not to slosh into the larger sink. After the last pot was clean I carried the dish basin out to the back porch and threw the sudsy water onto a small lilac bush. That bush loved the dishwater and grew to be as huge as a tree producing bountiful blossoms of fragrance each spring.  It didn’t mind the soap, even thrived on it. It was, of course, “Ivory soap 99.9% pure.” I doubt it would have liked our modern detergents.

Now if I have left-over clean water in a glass or any other container I pour it into the watering can on the patio to use on the few plants there. I’m careful not to run the faucets unnecessarily especially the hot water one. You know the game.  Perhaps this drought will spur the state to go forward with more permanent answers.

I think often of my Daddy hauling spring water home and how he dug a well 25 feet deep with his shovel! That well lasted until we could afford to have well diggers come and do the job professionally, crowning it with a tall windmill. I think of the rain water on our roof pouring into the cistern and, years later, of the time I lived on a ranch in Oregon where our water was spring-fed into the house from the hill behind, and how we watered our lawn and fields with huge irrigation pipes from the river.

Now I’m being encouraged by my kids to drink more water. I do, and as I swallow I think I’ll start calling all water precious.  "Precious water." The words go well together, don’t they?