Friday, August 31, 2012
I learned a new term recently: Environmental acumen. As I understand it, when a person has environmental acumen, he or she has a keen understanding of his or her surroundings, how they work and how the person fits within those surroundings. It requires discernment, awareness and active assessment skills. It got me to thinking about my own surroundings and how well I know them and function within them. I'm really a small-town person. For me, everything is personal and everything of value to me is personal. The environment of a small town fosters intimate interactions, those in which I feel as if I really get to know people. In my small town, I am afforded countless daily opportunities to say hello to people on the street or in the store aisle and to call them by name. I am not comfortable nor do I feel as if I thrive in a large city. As I get older, I relish those moments when I can be in smaller, rural environments, engaged in intimate conversation with family and close friends. That's my world and I'm happiest when I'm there.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
I learned a few months ago that for the first time in my life, I had kidney stones -- multiple small stones in just one kidney. I passed one of the stones during the late winter and had the opportunity to pass another one a few weeks ago. Although I wouldn't rank it as one of my favorite things to do, it wasn't nearly the ordeal that I had heard about, so I was thankful. The real blessing in the midst of it all is that I have become much more aware of how much water I drink each day and have upped my quota considerably from what I used to drink. When one considers how much of our bodies are made of water and how much water we need to nourish ourselves, it's amazing my kidneys hadn't been "stoned," so to speak, before now. Water is a precious commodity around the globe and, thanks to my kidney stones, I finally recognize how precious it is to my well-being, too.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
I watched a television panel discussion recently about the future of the US Postal Service. One man asked how many times in the last month the other panelists had written a letter or thank-you note and sent it via the US Mail, attempting to make a point that such communications were rapidly becoming extinct. Larry and I were the fortunate recipients of two thank-you notes recently, one from a lovely young couple whose shower we had attended and the other from a neighbor who was grateful for the gift of some fresh produce. What at one time seemed commonplace and even expected as a sign of good manners, now seems special and rare, simply because both writers took the time to hand-write their thanks and they did so in a timely fashion. I would hope that such lovely expressions will never become extinct, nor the US Postal Service. Call me old fashioned, but I think it's exciting to check the mail and find that someone has been so thoughtful as to select a notecard, write a note, place a special stamp on the envelope and send it to you. For that, I give thanks.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
While watching a PBS show about astronomy recently, I learned about the negative effects of light pollution as they relate to the night sky. Sea turtles, which normally move quickly to water upon hatching, tend to get their directions confused these days due to light pollution -- artificial lights taking over the night sky. I simply can't imagine living somewhere where I couldn't see, really see the night sky. While no expert on constellations, I love looking at the stars. I grew up living in the country where the night sky was magnificent. My parents could be found frequently in their lawn chairs, enjoying the evening sky. Recently, I had the opportunity to enjoy the night sky myself -- full moon, bright stars twinkling against a black expanse. I sat right up in bed and watched out the window for the longest time, singing to myself the "Starry, Starry Night" lyrics from Don McLean's "Vincent," one of my all-time favorite songs from the 1970s. Sea turtles, humans, all living creatures benefit from a real starry, starry night. Perhaps it's time that we turn off the lights, if just for a while.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I was asked to read something very serious and important recently, so I took on the task with gusto and started paging through the document. At one point, despite the serious content, I found myself chuckling, for spell check or something had substituted a word, giving the sentence an entirely different -- and incorrect -- meaning. Rather than say "material witness," it read "material wittiness." There was really nothing witty about the material I was reading. However, the harder I tried to stop thinking about it, the harder I laughed. On another occasion recently, I saw how two letters transposed changed the context of a sentence. Instead of "sacred," the word was "scared"! Again, I started to chuckle, trying to associate the two words and recognizing how profound such a small mistake could be. Perhaps the lesson in all of this for me is not to take things quite so seriously. Once in a while, it pays to find something witty, no matter how serious the material may be.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
I had some things on my mind one recent evening and found myself wide awake at about 1AM. Rather than toss and turn and possibly wake my husband Larry, I decided to get up and sit in the rocking chair in our sun porch. With the windows flung open, I was able to feel the gentle night breeze, watch the moths dance around the dusk-to-dawn light and hear the glorious night sounds. The crickets were chirping like crazy. Soon, the cares I had been carrying so heavily into the night were replaced with a feeling of relaxation that led to a smile. During our prolonged heat spell, when even the midnight temperatures were above the norm, I missed the summer night sounds that I would otherwise enjoy. I'm so grateful to have had that experience recently, rocking in the rocking chair on the sun porch, soaking up all that was beautiful that summer night.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Larry and I were invited to the wedding of our friends Nan and Mike yesterday. In lieu of traditional gifts, the couple asked for those in attendance to complete a card with their wishes for the newlyweds. The wishes could be read during the toasts. Here is ours to Nan and Mike and to all who embark on the wonderful adventure of marriage: If life is a dance, then marriage is a waltz: The grace, the flow, the touch and the twirling of two discrete beings who, when they come together on the dance floor, create something unimaginably lovely. While the dance may appear effortless, in reality, the dancers work hard to honor self and what they want to become together. And just as the couple floats around the dance floor, so do the years float by. And with each year, the dancers perfect their steps until their movements are well synchronized and all you see is how beautiful it is. May your waltz, your new life together, be light and lovely, joyful and jubilant.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Campfire wood bundles along the roadside. Tomatoes and zucchini in highway produce stands. These are great signs of summer and of people making some extra money through ingenuity and an entrepreneurial spirit. But, my favorite entrepreneurs this summer have been a couple of kids who've set up shop in a front yard at a busy intersection in town. They're not only enterprising, they're creative. Day after day, the kids set up tables in the yard with signs that lure you in on a steamy summer afternoon for some"refreshing lemonade." If you're not interested in lemonade, they'll sell you some used golf balls instead. There's something for nearly everyone at their street-side business! The kids' dedication to their summer fundraising makes me think of all of the things that my fellow seventh grade friends and I did so many years ago to raise money to go to France, Switzerland and Belgium with our French class the following summer. I made decorative wall banners and baskets and sold them at the fair. My best friend Pam and I picked corn and fertilized lawns. Working for our trip made the experience just that much more rewarding and enjoyable. So, whatever the goal is for these two lemonade/golf ball-selling entrepreneurs, I applaud their ingenuity and commitment to the cause.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
A friend via Twitter asked me to consider the following for a blog essay: "Simplicity of a complex wor(l)d, complexity of a simple wor(l)d." While giving his suggestion much thought for a few weeks, I ran across this quote attributed to Charles Mingus: "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." Whether it's in how we think, what we say, how we dress or what we do, I think it's a human tendency to take the straightforward nature, the elegance of the simple and to make it complex, almost as if our intellects dictate it. For instance, there have been a couple of issues that have been resting heavily on my mind lately and I realize how very complex I have made those issues in my mind until the simple, direct answer came to me. Perhaps Confucius summed it up best: "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." I thank my Twitter friend for giving me something so thought-provoking to contemplate, for in doing so, he has helped me to struggle with my own complexities and seek the simple answer from them.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Despite the heat, we've had some pretty dreamy evenings this summer. One recent evening took us to an outdoor concert where adults and children alike swayed to the gentle music. The air was cool, the swallows captured insects as they swooped overhead, and all of my worldly cares seemed to stop, if just for a little while. The late Gladys Taber wrote this about August in Stillmeadow Sampler (published in 1959 by J.B. Lippincott Company): "I have read that energy is highest in October. If this is true, then August is the time for dreaming, for taking a thoughtful look at life, and for letting some chores go by the board." Mom had slipped a bookmark into that book that seems to confirm Mrs. Taber's August perspective: "Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures." Our summer concert was a small pleasure, yet I'm using my August this year to think some rather big thoughts, for taking that all-important thoughtful look at life. Someone recently passed along wisdom via Twitter that really resonated with me: "Relax, let go and listen." Powerful wisdom for my August dreamin'.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
At my place of work, we are encouraged to have clean desk surfaces, in part because of privacy issues surrounding the information with which we work. I also find that I'm one of those weird animals that thinks much more clearly when I don't have stacks of papers surrounding me or the sound of the radio to distract me. It's as if my space must be clear in order for my mind to follow suit. So, I had to laugh when I read a sign at Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin lately about English Cottage Gardens being "jubilant and jumbled." Me, who loves to have everything in its place and likes to surround myself by clear, uncluttered spaces, has an affinity for English Cottage Gardens. I think they are indeed jubilant, and although they may look as if they lack organization, I realize that to achieve that pleasantly cluttered look, the gardener must plan and tend to his or her garden with energy and devotion. We're all a series of strange contradictions (it's one of the things that makes us interesting!). So if you see me with a pristine desk, just know that I like my gardens jumbled.
Monday, August 20, 2012
I read in the August 2012 edition of tasteforlife magazine that a walk in nature can help you boost your brain power and elevate your mood. They called it getting a dose of Vitamin N (for Nature). Recently, I was feeling stressed about something at work and found myself craving walks at Devil's Lake State Park. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, as did my walking partner Larry, and off we trekked night after night. I knew that I needed a dose of Vitamin N. A few days later, my friend Chris sang "How Great Thou Art" at church, a favorite hymn of mine. As I listened to the familiar lyrics, I realized that the writer of that hymn and I both benefited from Vitamin N. In the second verse of that popular hymn, the writer talks about the benefits of wandering through woods and forest glades, hearing the birds and the brook, and feeling the gentle breeze. Indeed! I love getting my daily dose of Vitamin N.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
I recently read about pioneer life in our community from 150 years ago. How joyfully small and intimate life was in those days -- not a particularly easy life, but one filled with gratitude and celebration nonetheless. These particular writings focused on celebrations and festivities, most of which involved food and dancing. At a time well before radio, TV, telephone or the rather isolating experience of sitting behind a computer, these pioneers made their own entertainment and enjoyed much of it in a communal style. Donation, Surprise and Pound Parties and Festivals were their version of today's fundraising events. Christmas was reserved for a family dinner, while gifts were given on New Year's Day. Spelling bees, debates and community sing-alongs were popular. Everyone attended funerals, whether you knew the person who had passed away or not. And everyone equally attended butcherings, which ended as you might guess, with a big dinner or supper and a dance (if someone had a fiddle and someone usually did). It was fun to read about simpler times when neighbors knew neighbors and everyone would dance (if someone had a fiddle and someone usually did).
Saturday, August 18, 2012
I love this time of year when the garden's bounty is rich and plenty. In addition to being able to have your quota of zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes, August is a great time of year for green and yellow beans. Lately, I've been making three-bean salads in addition to our regular cabbage-veggie slaw. Both salads make for an easy lunch, and Larry and I eat off of the salads for an entire week, until I visit the farmer's market again. In fact, we consume so many beans and so many types of beans that you might as well call us Mr. and Mrs. Bean, for we'd probably answer if you did. When I look at the vibrant, lush produce at this time of year, I eat with such gratitude because I know that in a few short months, such lovely produce will be harder to come by in Wisconsin (unless you froze or canned in the summer) or it will have traveled a long distance to get to us. Try as they may, the colors, textures and flavors just aren't the same from those mid-winter purchases as they are when you can eat locally grown produce in bountiful August. So, we'll eat our beans, beans and more beans, glad that the harvest is here.
Friday, August 17, 2012
When writing a note to a family member or friend or leaving a reminder note to Larry, I quite often will sign my name and place a little smiley face next to it -- two dots for eyes and a smile but no circle around it. It's rather a silly thing, but it makes me smile doing it and I hope it makes the reader smile, too. Recently, while going through some items in our archives at work for the commemorative book I'm writing, I ran across a note that my mom had written to one of my former colleagues and there, next to her name, was the same type of smiley face. I hadn't remembered my mom doing that very often, so it caught me by surprise. As I looked at it, I felt as if she was smiling at me, perhaps happy that I'm taking such a keen interest in the history of the organization she had loved as her employer for so many years and that now I love as my employer, too. So, as silly as it may be, I'll keep making those little smiley faces next to my name. Perhaps it'll bring an unexpected happiness to someone else's day, just as much as seeing the one Mom had written some 15 years ago did for me today.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
It's already been a few weeks since I saw my first back-to-school commercial and school supply display at a local store. Summer's still going strong, but school is already on people's minds. At about the same time I started seeing the commercials and displays, I saw a TV news report about the types of electronics now needed by students, including young students. I'm really showing my age, but I can remember when it was a big deal to get a new pencil case and a larger box of crayons than I'd had the school year before. I'd save up my allowance money to contribute to my new school clothes, which always made me feel quite grown up. With a new outfit, new pencil case and a few other supplies, I'd be all set for the new adventure of the latest school year, anxiously waiting for that first day when I could hop onto the school bus with my friends, filled with anticipation, hope and excitement. Times have changed, but when I start seeing back-to-school signs, a part of me reverts back to childhood when a new school year meant an exciting, new world awaiting me.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
While my friend Kitty and I were on our tour of gardens recently, we decided to take a moment to truly soak in the beauty around us by sitting on a shady bench. We weren't alone: A cicada was perched right in the middle, appearing to be taking a moment right along with us. Near the cicada was a discarded cicada skin, so perhaps he or she had just completed the molting process and was relaxing from the experience. I've seen cicadas all of my life, but they usually move on rather quickly when I get too close. This still, little soul gave me the chance to look carefully at its wide-spread, large eyes, its transparent veined wings and its irridescent and beautifully colored body. What an added treat Kitty and I had that day, enjoying the scenery from our bench with our newfound friend.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
My friend Jan stopped by my office one day last week with a beautiful poem, titled "Baraboo Hills," that a relative of hers had written some years ago. I wish I had known the writer, a gentleman named E.R. Pawlisch, for he had a love for the Baraboo Hills that seems to rival my own. His eloquence for describing his affection for this place we call home brought me close to tears. I do believe that people belong to places and places belong to people -- meaning that we resonate so intensely with certain places in our lives that we seem somewhat inseparable from them. And so it is for the Baraboo Hills for Mr. Pawlisch and for me and for, I daresay, countless others. As Mr. Pawlisch said so profoundly, "There's romance in those Baraboo Hills...A romance begun there always instills, My love and desire for those Baraboo Hills." Thanks, Jan.
Monday, August 13, 2012
While talking with a friend recently about cologne, I recalled how our family's good friend Barb wore Emeraude. She had a lovely vanity in her bedroom where she lined up her colognes and perfumes. One that she wore often was Emeraude by Coty. The spicy, yet flowery scent was rich. I recall sitting at the little stool in front of the vanity's mirror, thinking that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like Barb and wear Emeraude. My mom loved cologne and always wore some lovely scent or another. I, on the other hand, am a complete bore, opting anymore not to wear any cologne or perfume at all. But, a part of me is still that same little girl, admiring Barb's line-up of colognes and perfumes and thinking that the epitome of womanhood and femininity was to wear Emeraude, so I could be just like Barb.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
My friend Kitty and I took a garden tour recently. We are well-suited traveling companions for such one-day excursions to museums and gardens. This particular journey took us to Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin and the Allen Centennial Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. Despite the extreme weather we've been enduring this summer, both gardens were lush, lovely and blooming. There is nearly nothing so relaxing, yet energy-giving for me than to go on a garden tour. I'm grateful to the gardening and landscaping experts who make these gardens accessible to all, whether we have green thumbs or not.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Recently, I received word about another nasty computer virus going around that could destroy your hard drive with a single keystroke. It made me think longingly back to the days of typewriters. We had an old manual typewriter at home when I was growing up. You had to press really hard on the round keys. Doing so made you slow your thoughts in order to keep pace with your typing. Some years later, we moved to a new manual typewriter that had a lid with a handle for easy transport. I took that typewriter to college and typed all of my term papers on it. It was such a faithful instrument and it didn't need upgrading every time you turned around. When I advanced to an electric typewriter at work, I thought I had reached the height of technology! Mine even had interchangeable daisy wheels for when I wanted to change the font. Those typewriters sound like the Stone Age compared to today's technology, but at least they never had to be charged and they never crashed and if they got a virus, you simply wiped them off and they were clean again! I try not to say it out loud too often, for people will surely think I'm crazy, but I miss those simpler typewriter days!
Friday, August 10, 2012
My friend Kitty showed me a great catalog from The Vermont Country Store. They feature just about everything in that catalog, including chewing gum. Seeing the listing for Beemans Chewing Gum (invented in 1898, it said!) and Clove Chewing Gum (popular since Prohibition, according to the catalog) made me think of my dad. He wasn't a big gum chewer, but he'd occasionally have a packet of Beemans or Clove gum in his car. As a kid, having a stick of Beemans or Clove gum with my dad was a treat. I was so happy that Kitty showed me her Vermont Country Store catalog to take me back to some very happy chewing gum memories.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
My friend Marianne recently loaned me One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The book has inspired my thinking about living fully with love and joy and respecting each moment with my full attention. The book has especially prompted thoughts about how to be grateful for everything, even those things I don't want, such as illness or losing a loved one. And then I suddenly remembered how my friend Mary had pressed a small brass leaf engraved with the message "Give Thanks" into my hand as my Mom was dying. As she placed the leaf into my hand, she told me to give thanks for my wonderful mom and for all of the great times I had enjoyed with her. That was it! I had faced something I had not wanted to face, yet Mary had urged me to give thanks. Today, I give thanks for the wisdom, friendship and generosity of Mary and Marianne. And I give thanks for my many blessings -- even those things I don't want.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
I have been given the assignment of writing a commemorative book about my workplace. Consequently, I have been combing archives, reading yellowed newspaper clippings, browsing through photos, and reminiscing - a lot of reminiscing. Although my work is very different from my late mother's, our careers have managed to travel down similar paths of late. My work is in the same industry, the same community, the same organization as hers was. Therefore, my research is proving to be a personal journey, recalling the wonderful people and momentous occasions that not only have touched my life, but touched my mom's, as well. I'm grateful to have been afforded this opportunity to walk down memory lane, reconnecting with the people, places and occasions that make it a very special story to me.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
My husband Larry works out of our home. Oftentimes, when I come home for lunch or at the end of the workday, Larry is at his laptop, still busy working away. Larry is self-employed and his workday quite often stretches into the evening. But occasionally, as I walk in the door, I hear the mellow sounds of a flute. Larry keeps a music stand in his office and his flute at the ready for those times when he needs to take a break from his labors. Larry tends to be a shy performer, but this audience of one really loves his music, even if the serenade might only be composed of musical scales. I believe we all need to have those things that help us break away from our everyday lives, things that feed our souls, things that stretch our beings. I believe playing the flute is one way for Larry to refresh and nourish his spirit. And I'm grateful that I get to have mine refreshed and nourished, too, by the gift of his lovely music.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Often lately when I wake up on Saturday mornings, I smell Larry's cinnamon-dusted breakfast oatmeal and I hear the music from "The Rifleman," a great, old western television show from some 40 years ago, playing on the TV in the adjacent living room. Western-theme TV programs were really in vogue in those days, with such shows as "Bonanza," "Wild, Wild West" and "Have Gun Will Travel" airing practically every night of the week. As I look back, the old black and white TV shows were especially great. There was a civility to TV shows back then that seems to be increasingly absent today. Back then, TV was meant to entertain and inform, not to shock. And as Larry said, each episode of "The Rifleman" featured a crisis, but each crisis was resolved in 30 minutes. If only all of our crises could be resolved so quickly! There's something quite comforting about waking up on Saturday mornings, smelling oatmeal and hearing "The Rifleman" on TV, reassuring me that while many things change, some simple, sweet things can remain the same.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
It had been a busy day at work and all I could think at the end of the day was "shimmering waters." If I didn't get out to Devil's Lake to breathe in the fresh air, get some exercise and see those amazing shimmering waters, I told Larry that I would perish! So, we drove out to the park and began our evening walk. At first, my head was still busy replaying all of the things I had done throughout the day and planning for the next workday. Then, as my thoughts began to quiet down, I became aware of the details around me: the children's splashing and laughter, the red kayak in the distance, the birds singing their early evening song, the vegetation that was perking up after a much-needed rain, the smell of food from a nearby picnic, and those amazing, life-giving, shimmering waters. I believe we all need a special place in nature that stills us and nurtures our being. For me, that place is Devils' Lake State Park and those beautiful shimmering waters.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
From a little girl on, I always seemed to like music that was geared toward adults. Perhaps it's because my parents enjoyed listening to LPs on our stereo so much. Their music became my music. While dining out recently, the talented pianist who plays at The Farm Kitchen restaurant on Friday evenings started playing "A Swingin' Safari." Immediately, I was a little girl again, listening to "A Swingin' Safari" and other records with my parents. I still have a couple of photographs that my mom took of Dad and me with our then-new stereo. Thanks to that stereo, I was exposed to the great music of Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, the Ray Conniff Singers, Andy Williams, Eddie Arnold, and oh, so many Firestone Christmas albums. I'm happy to hear that turntables and LP records are making a comeback. And I'm even happier that "A Swingin' Safari" is still being played.
Friday, August 3, 2012
I recently read a book in which the author referred to the fictional heroine nibbling on her food. With today's obesity epidemic, do we truly nibble anymore? When I think of nibbling, I think of daintily taking a succession of small bites, savoring that small amount of food and feeling satisfied. Today's eaters, however, seem to super-size everything, gulping down big sandwiches, big steaks, big soft drinks, big servings of every food and beverage imaginable -- the bigger, supposedly the better. And those gulps have caused us to become a heavier nation,with approximately one-third of adults now considered overweight or obese. Health care costs are skyrocketing due to the effects of being overweight or obese on our bodies' systems. Have we gotten beyond the age of nibbling? Larry and I have been participating in discussion groups this spring and summer that take on sometimes difficult topics, our latest having been about food -- i.e. food safety, health, hunger and agriculture. I've learned from experience that when I truly nibble, taking small, slow bites, really chewing my food, the textures and flavors are enhanced and the dining or snacking experience is much more pleasant. So, while I don't want to be accused of playing with my food (as I was as a kid!), I am ever embracing the Art of Nibbling.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
I'm not a big baseball fan nor do I play a keyboard instrument but, with Larry watching the Milwaukee Brewers on TV most nights of the week, I've come to appreciate how the stadium organist increases the excitement of the game. If I had the skill and the opportunity, I think it'd be fun to play the organ at baseball games. Of course, it'd help if I understood the game and knew which songs to play and when! But, all practical things aside, I think it would be really enjoyable and rewarding to know that by doing my musical part, I was helping increase the baseball experience for the crowd. Music plays an integral, though sometimes not consciously noticed, role in many of our everyday experiences and our perceptions of them. Just recently, I suddenly became aware of music playing in the food court of a shopping mall, its pulsating beat acting almost like a racing heartbeat, thus likely (if not subliminally) heightening people's urge to shop. So, the next time you attend or watch a baseball game on TV, pay attention to the organist and thank him or her for adding excitement to the phrase, "Play Ball!"
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I recently finished reading Timeless Simplicity: Creative living in a consumer society by John Lane (2002; ISBN: 1 903998 00 X). The book somehow ended up in my hand as I browsed our public library and I'm so glad I checked it out. For many years, I've been fascinated by the voluntary simplicity movement, but this book took the concept beyond materialism to fulfillment of our life's purpose. The author writes that we tend to know by the time we're adolescents what gives us bliss, who we are and what we must do in order for us to be our happiest and truest selves. Our lives might take us on paths away from that bliss due to distraction, procrastination, etc., but Mr. Lane urges the reader to "Be sensitive to whatever your gift is, and never let it go." I admit that when I write (whether it's my gift or not), I find bliss. So thank you once again, reader, for following Time to Be and for your conversation and feedback via this blog, Facebook, Twitter, email or a chance conversation at the county fair.