Friday, November 30, 2012
I'm a fan of Christmas movies, no matter how improbable, no matter how formulaic. Christmas movies and programs began playing on television before Thanksgiving this year and I started tuning in. As a child, I loved the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated specials of the 1960s. I'd sit in my little black rocking chair in our cozy living room perched in front of our black and white television. I'd rock to the likes of Fred Astaire recounting the story of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," Jimmy Durante singing about "Frosty the Snowman" and Burl Ives singing "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold" in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." These great Rankin-Bass Christmas TV classics are still being aired and will air over the next month. Even though I no longer have my little black rocking chair, I will be tuning in, singing along with Fred, Jimmy and Burl.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
A friend told me that she heard someone say on public radio recently that time is how we measure change. For one who is slow to accept change -- unless I create the change myself, that statement resonated all the way to my roots. When we measure time, I believe that we truly are measuring the constant evolution of life and its circumstances and consequences. How else can we quantify and perhaps even make sense or bring meaning to the change that is happening within us and all around us all of the time? Upon further reflection, how is it that as we grow older, time has a way of slipping by at a faster pace? It can't just be that change is happening faster. There must be some element of change in how we perceive time as the years of our lives pass by. I can remember my dad saying that once the 4th of July had arrived, it wouldn't be long before Labor Day would be here. As a child, I couldn't conceive what he was talking about, for summer felt endless. Now that I'm an adult, it's amazing how quickly those endless summer days fly by once the 4th of July arrives! As I think about time these days, more than ever I need time to be, for it is in those slower, more intentional moments that time becomes a precious commodity and change manageable.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Lately, parents of several of my friends and peers have been experiencing health changes or have passed away. When you arrive in your 50s, such changes seem to represent a rite of passage for which most of us are ill-prepared. In such difficult or perplexing times since my beloved mom passed away last year, I've found that I increasingly turn to the words of her favorite author, Gladys Taber, to find answers and solace. So I did upon learning that my very good friend's father had passed away recently. In Stillmeadow Calendar, I found these words to hopefully console her: "I reflect that nothing really ends, but grows into something new." I believe this is true in life and in our love for others, including perhaps especially those we have loved so much who have passed away. If nothing really ends, but grows into something new, then my love and gratitude for my parents never ends, nor the memories I had with them or the realization that I am who I am because of them. If I re-direct my thoughts and perspectives, the sorrow stings less and almost takes on a sweetness. Nothing really great, really beautiful, really special ever ends. We carry it always in our hearts.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I heard some disappointing and disturbing news from several local people that our community's recent Black Friday post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping was disrupted by rude, desperate people grabbing, pulling and displaying all kinds of rude behavior, all in the pursuit of purchasing gifts to give others for the holidays. Now what does that say about the spirit of the season? You always see television news stories about bad shopping behavior on Black Friday, but since when has it arrived in our little bucolic Baraboo? Bah, humbug. In my viewpoint, there's no excuse, no room for pushing and shoving on Black Friday or otherwise. 'Tis the season to bring out the best sides of ourselves and to have a grateful, generous and kind heart. Let there be peace on Earth and in the shopping aisle.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The landscape is quieter at this time of year than a few months ago, but there is still plenty of singing to go around. Just recently, I heard chickadees in conversation, making the characteristic call from which they get their name. That lovely sound was a joyful noise to cut through the other sounds of my day. There is much to sing about every day, but as we approach Christmas, it seems that music becomes even more important to me. I love the music of Christmas, whether secular or sacred. Give me a good dose of "Caroling, Caroling" along with "Angels We Have Heard on High," and, for me, all is "Joy to the World."
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I've been really enjoying the posts that my Facebook friends have been publishing throughout November where they have been listing, one by one, the things for which they have to be grateful. I've read about volunteer pursuits, families, nature, good food and more. I think there is real power in making the decision to give thanks for one thing every single day. And when you commit to broadcasting it to others, those expressions of thanks become even more tangible. I thank my Facebook friends for inspiring me to see this month of Thanksgiving as one daily blessing after another.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Lately, I've been receiving amazing messages in surprising ways. Each has to do with living life to its fullest as we receive it. After singing with my church choir in a public concert a few weeks ago, a portion of the lyrics and melody continued to play over and over again in my head. It took me a good week to realize that the lyrics weren't a nuisance, but rather, held an important message for my life: "Step by step you'll lead me and I will follow you all of my days." I tend to project forward, but these lyrics have helped keep me grounded in today. My wonderful husband also held words of wisdom for me a couple of days ago. I heard him say over the phone to a loved one that none of us knows what we're doing, but we do our best as we go along; life's an experiment; and when you learn to discern what you can and can't control, life gets easy. Then, while talking with a dear friend, I heard her say about the sudden illness of a young relative that such experiences remind us to live in the moment. I am grateful for these subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that life is indeed a gift and if we live with intention, moving step by step with gratitude, letting go of our worries, life gets easy.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Our pastor and her husband showed a movie after worship service a couple of Sundays ago, a documentary called "Happy." The movie features interviews with people from around the globe as they define what happiness means in their lives. Laced with other interviews with researchers, the documentary reminds us that it isn't what we own, it isn't what we do for a living, it isn't the trappings of our society's definition of success that make you happy. Happiness is attainable simply by looking at our lives through a lens of gratitude. Taking care of oneself. Finding meaning as you work to make the world a better place. Having deep, lasting relationships with family and/or friends. Many of the people in the film who described themselves as happy had very few personal belongings. Some of them lived, in fact, in what I would normally describe as poverty. Yet, these same people who I would describe as outwardly poor saw their lives to be inwardly rich. Even those who had had something precious taken away from them or abandoned a former lifestyle of comfort and wealth saw happiness in their newfound lives. I hadn't realized quite how much I needed to see that movie in order to bring balance and perspective into my life. Being happy. What a concept.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Today is Thanksgiving, that refreshingly non-commercial holiday when people gather at the table to give thanks. The November 11, 2012 edition of Parade magazine featured a beautifully written "Views" column by author Anne Lamott about counting our blessings, what she called "holy moments of gratitude." I particularly liked her description of some familiar words of grace said at many a table before dinner: "a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude." In this world of frenzied competition and gimme-more-right-now, today is a fine reminder that there is something lovely and centering about simply saying thank-you for what you have -- be it family, your health, a home, a job, a meal, a friend, a smile from a stranger, whatever. There is much for which to be thankful, as the familiar hymn says, with hearts and hands and voices.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Today would've been my father's birthday. He was born November 21, 1918. He passed away in 1984, so it has been a long time since I sang "Happy Birthday" to him. On Sunday, November 11, our church observed Veteran's Day. I felt as if Dad was very close that morning. He had been born the same November as the first Veteran's Day was observed. He was a World War II veteran himself. That same Sunday service, we also happened to sing his favorite hymn, "Just As I Am." I managed to get through the first two of the three verses we were asked to sing, but by the third verse, my voice was cracking. Soon, my singing voice was silenced and tears of remembrance flowed down my cheeks instead. After nearly 25 years since his death, it's amazing how much I still miss him. I will spend today recalling so many happy memories and celebrating my good fortune of having such a wonderful man to call Dad. Tomorrow, as we sit at the Thanksgiving table, Larry and I will have a slice of pie, Dad's favorite dessert. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I've been trying to adjust once again to the time change, when all around me is darkness. My internal clock continues to get me up early, so I've been going into work at 7:00 a.m. instead of the normal 8:00. By the time I leave work at 5:00 p.m., all is dark again. My weeknight walks have been curtailed for a few months until daylight returns. At this time of year, I try my hardest to adjust to exercising indoors, but it is so hard. As someone said recently, exercising outdoors is so much more fun. The time flies (is even non-existent, in fact). When I exercise indoors, I have one eye to the clock all the while, hoping that my exercise time will be over soon. There is nothing like getting your heart pumping while being out in nature, filling your lungs with fresh air. For now, though, it's time to head inside.
Monday, November 19, 2012
I wish I were a photographer and had a camera at the ready when I see cute things, like the sight I saw recently. While on my weekend morning walk, I strolled past a house that still had a decent-looking jack-o-lantern on the front steps. The triangular eyes hadn't sunk yet and the smile was still broad and jolly. A chickadee seemed to think it was enticing, too, for it popped right into the mouth of the jack-o-lantern. Then, it darted up to one of the eyes and peered out. Shortly, it moved down to the nose where it sat there for a bit. Finally, it flitted down to sit on the lip of the pumpkin's smiling mouth. Soon, it departed. That was one of the cutest things I'd seen in a while.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
It's that strange time of year when you can drive or walk in any neighborhood and see outdoor decorations for three holidays at the same time. So it was on my early-morning walk one recent Saturday when I encountered three houses in one block -- one decorated for Halloween, the next for Thanksgiving and the next for Christmas. Then, a few blocks away, I discovered one house with a little bit of all three holidays in one: jack-o-lanterns on the porch, pilgrim decals in the front windows, and Christmas ornaments tucked into evergreens in window boxes. As Andy Williams used to sing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!" Or make that, the most confusing.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Larry and I had the fun opportunity to be invited to a surprise retirement party for a friend recently. It's been a season of surprises, for we had just attended a surprise birthday party for another friend a few weeks earlier. As with the last party, there was heightened anticipation as we awaited the arrival of the guest of honor. As one would expect, our friend had a look of confusion, then delight, as he realized that everyone shouting "Surprise!" was looking at him. The guest of honor is not one to like the spotlight to shine on him, so there was a bit of embarrassment mixed with the confusion and delight. However, his remarks during the presentation were heartfelt and the crowd happy to be able to share in his special moment. As I looked around at the assembled audience, I thought of how we draw people into our lives all along the way. Each relationship helps form the people we become. As each of those relationships unfolds, every day becomes a "Surprise!"
Friday, November 16, 2012
I found myself laughing right out loud the other day while walking into our local public library. As I ascended the steps to the library's front door, a car drove by, windows down (it was unseasonably warm that Saturday), and music blaring. I've come to expect loud music coming from passing automobiles to be some kind of rock music with screeching guitars and drum beats that echo in my ears. This music, however, was Dixieland jazz -- clarinets and all. It was so unexpected that all I could do was to laugh right out loud. I wonder how many others along that car's route were as surprised and delighted as I.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
We had our first snowfall of the season a few days ago. It was one of those rare days when I needed to be on the road for my job. There was no danger on the roadway that day, so I was able to simply enjoy the beauty of the big, fat white flakes falling gently around me. The snow stuck on some road signs and tried to linger on the grass here and there, but for the most part, the snow landed and disappeared. It's funny how the first snowfall brings me such joy. I see it and have visions of being tucked in with a good book or sticking my tongue out to catch flakes as I take a weekend walk. Fast forward to March and my disgust will have grown with each flake as I try to hurry spring along. By then, I'm tired of wearing heavy coats, dragging my boots along and hoping not to lose a glove. I've become bored with winter's chill and long for days of sandals and t-shirts. For now, however, that first snowfall brought about a contentment that the seasons are changing and that a quieter time is near.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
My husband Larry has been called a sage by my good friend Melanie and I do believe she's right. While whining about being exhausted the other evening, Larry stopped me in my tracks and asked if I had joy. I really didn't know how to answer at first, but finally, I said that it was hard to be joyful when so tired. He replied that one must find joy, even in times of exhaustion. I reminded myself that this blog is called Time to Be and that it's meant as a reflection of living in the moment with gentleness, gratitude and joy. Was I practicing what I preach? Not at that moment. But, Larry's carefully crafted message to me stuck and I started to look at my exhaustion with a different perspective. While I don't like being over-tired, I became grateful for being able to do all of the things that I had done to make myself over-tired. I have encountered much serious illness in my adulthood and there have been times when I have questioned whether I would ever be able to do what I used to do. Recently, my exhaustion has come from doing perhaps too much of what I like to do. It's time to simplify my schedule a bit, but I will do so with joy and gratitude, even if I am a little exhausted.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A man at our church spoke on a recent Sunday about unconditional love. He talked eloquently about his own personal life and the unconditional love he has experienced, beginning with his mother and father who adopted him when he was an infant. He spoke of a young man he had taught, a young man whose life was ended early and tragically. He spoke of the surprising unconditional love that he found in the boy's mother, who was grateful for having had her son at all. She was even forgiving of those who had killed him. The man ended his remarks at that church service, saying that it's important to love unconditionally when it's easy, but it's even more important to do so when it's hard. His words really resonated with me. Do I love unconditionally, even when I'm unhappy with someone or feel that I or someone else has been wronged? Am I as forgiving as the mother who had lost her son? I'm thankful for that special message at church that day and for the work I realize I have to do in order to really love unconditionally, in easy times and in hard.
Monday, November 12, 2012
After months of looking pristine and clean and never being used, our oven is increasingly turned on these days. I started stocking up on winter and root vegetables last month, accumulating acorn squash, brussels sprouts, turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes. They're all so delicious at this time of year, but they're particularly tasty when roasted. I keep a metal pan just for roasting vegetables and it's been getting a lot of use lately. A little drizzle of olive oil over an array of vegetables makes for a wonderful autumn meal. The act of roasting them brings out flavor and color, so that when you bite into the vegetables, you're getting this amazing, caramelized treat. As the wind blows and the temperatures plummet, there's comfort in turning on the oven once again and enjoying some of the last bounty of the growing season, roasted to delicious perfection.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
My workplace offered customer service training earlier this month. In addition to reminding us of those customer service skills we already knew and teaching us some new ones, we were told the following statistics: You have three seconds -- just three seconds -- to make a first impression. When someone assesses you, 55% is based on your nonverbal communication, 38% your tone of voice and only 7% your actual words. Therefore, a friendly, genuinely smiling countenance goes a long way toward making a good first impression. It made me wonder if people have always assessed one another in just three seconds or if that is a product of our ever-quickening society where we have shorter and shorter attention spans. As I thought about what we learned in that training, I realized that the greatest thing someone can do for another in a first encounter is to be genuinely present to that other person. Call it respect, call it customer service, call it whatever you want, but I call it honoring the other person and that's the right thing.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
I have an acquaintance through Twitter who challenges me at times to consider a particular topic for my blog. Recently, he asked the question: "Stories are powerful, but who has more courage and trust, the story teller or the listener? Or are they entwined in pursuit?" As is always the case, his words made me pause and it took me some time to consider my response. I had posted in this blog recently that I have the blessing of hearing people's stories, often through my work. I see those lovely people as courageous for sharing their stories and I feel privileged to have their trust. But, then, I received my friend's tweet and I started to look at the subject from other directions. I still see the ultimate courage as coming from the story teller, for it isn't easy to open up and share the details of one's life that can be painful, intimate or serious. But I see a different kind of courage coming from the listener. The listener must be open to hearing the story and must live up to the trust the teller has in him/her. Together, the story teller and listener share a sacred moment in our human experience, one that makes stories powerful, wonderful, magical and transcendent.
Friday, November 9, 2012
While engrossed in a fun mystery novel recently, I ran across a word I don't see often anymore: Festooned. I stopped reading for a moment and said the word out loud a few times. Festooned. Isn't it a great word? Festooned. Isn't it a fun word? I'd much rather say festooned than adorned or decorated, as in: The room was festooned with balloons and streamers. Our language used to be more beautiful and diverse, with such lovely words as festooned. I think of Jane Austen and the beautiful language spoken in her books by such characters as Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." Today, in our era of abbreviations and acronyms created in order for us to slam out a quick text or email, I wonder if Elizabeth Bennet would even understand what we're saying. We've lost much of that lovely language. I'm going to make every effort to gather beautiful words and start using them in my everyday discourse. I wonder what would happen if we all made such an attempt. I fear that we'd better get at it before some of our most beautiful words are lost forever.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Do you ever have those times when you see something you haven't seen in a while and then, strangely, you see that same something several times again over a short period? That happened to me recently with lady bugs and wiener dogs. I've grown so used to seeing Asian lady beetles that to see a real, honest-to-goodness lady bug has become an unusual treat. On a recent sunny day, I saw lady bugs everywhere -- one in our home, another clinging to my car and several on the sidewalk as we walked at Devil's Lake. I carried the lady bug in our house outside and placed it gently in the grass. I carefully removed the one on my car and placed it on the ground. While at the lake, I tiptoed around those bright red, little bodies, working hard not to squish them. Just seeing them made me smile. And speaking of smiling, I've always gotten a kick out dachshunds. My maternal grandparents had a dachshund for several years named Peppy. There isn't a time that goes by when I see a dachshund that I don't think of that peppy little pooch. Recently, I saw several "Peppys," all out taking walks, their sleek brown bodies zipping along on short legs, ears flapping merrily. Those cute, little dogs and bright lady bugs made me feel peppy, too. Many reasons to smile!
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Election day is now behind us. Democracy was demonstrated through the power of voting. Some of us are celebrating victories of our preferred candidates today. Others are grieving a difficult loss. No matter which way the election turned out for each of us, I would hope that we will now work together to heal the rifts. We humans are truly much more alike than we are different. These days, however, one would be hard-pressed to see our similarities, given the divisive rhetoric of our politicians, media and even our neighbors and families. What makes me sad is that we tend to focus more on our differences than we do on our commonalities. There is so much more good we can do when we put our differences aside, seek to listen respectfully to each other and then reach out to wade through our differing opinions and ideas to find common solutions and viewpoints. More than ever, this is my prayer.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Larry and I have taken a couple of walks to our local cemetery recently. It's a lovely cemetery, the kind of beautiful resting place that promotes peace for all who enter. We strolled row after row of graves, stopping often to look more closely at the headstones, to read about the people who reside there in perpetuity. Some had too-short lives, while others experienced many years of joys and sorrows. Some were laid to rest many, many years ago, while others were interred there more recently. Some of the Ringling brothers -- of circus fame -- and their families are there, people who lived stupendous, colossal lives and whose last name became synonymous with American entertainment. Most of the people in our cemetery, however, were not-so-famous people who led noble lives. They are all together in our beautiful cemetery, amid the towering pines, the majestic mausoleums and the elegant statuary. May they all rest in peace.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Our downtown farmer's markets ended a week ago. The calendar turned over to November last Thursday. The clocks pushed forward an hour over the weekend. The once-green vegetation is brown or gone. The air has that musky, decaying smell so typical of this time of year. All are signs of the times. In some ways, it feels like a wistful time of year. The warm weather is gone, the flowers have faded, the leaves have left the trees, many of the birds have flown south. But, it's actually a lovely time of year as we move into the quiet, the stillness, the time for moving more slowly, the time to be able to reflect and think. This time of year can be restorative, providing that necessary opportunity to refuel ourselves so we can face the busier pace that spring, summer and fall invite. Bare trees, crisp days, and the end of the growing season may all be signs of the times, but the signs are good and so are the times.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
We are once again plunged into darkness. Today marked the official end of Daylight Savings Time for this year. I now will wake up in darkness and come home from work in darkness. Although daylight has been shrinking for the past few months, as always, this day comes as a surprise to me. I can see why the early native peoples watched the moon and the sun and celebrated the Winter Solstice, grateful for the return of light. Till this year's Winter Solstice takes place next month, I will hunker down in my own hibernating state. There'll be soup to make, books to read and activities planned to prevent cabin fever. Although I'd much prefer the light, now's the time to embrace the darkness and the slowing down that nature invites us all to do.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the opening of St. Mary's Ringling Hospital in our community. This first official hospital in Baraboo was originally a mansion belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Alf T. Ringling, of Ringling Bros. Circus fame. In 1922, Mrs. Adella Ringling decided, with the encouragement of her physician and her priest, to donate her mansion to the Sisters of St. Mary (today the Franciscan Sisters of Mary) in St. Louis. Seven Sisters arrived that year to open the hospital on November 2, 1922, providing a service badly needed in our growing community. The mansion served our residents well for decades, first as a hospital, later as a nursing home and even later as a convent for retired Sisters. The mansion was renovated, added onto and eventually razed for even more construction. Today, the mansion is gone and the additions to it stand empty, but the legacy of Mrs. Adella Ringling and the brave Sisters who turned her spacious home into a wonderful hospital for our community stands stronger than ever. In gratitude to them....
Friday, November 2, 2012
I've been told by professional photographers that taking a photo under a gray sky can bring out brighter colors. So I experienced recently. Despite the drizzle, I decided I needed a walk one recent Saturday afternoon. The air was warm, the drizzle cool, the sky gray. As I walked along, every color seemed to pop out. The red trees were redder. The fallen yellow leaves were more yellow. Everything seemed to stand out against the drab backdrop. I was particularly taken by the maple leaves that had fallen to the sidewalk. Their brown veins were much more noticeable than normal, revealing just how intricate they truly are. If I'd had a camera with me, I would've wanted to snap a few pictures to capture the pops of color. Instead, I walked in the drizzle, hoping to capture the beauty through the lens of my memory.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Just like some people I know who seem to always bloom wherever they are planted, some brave flowers around our home have been thriving in the one-day-warm, next-day-cold autumn this year. Nestled in between two crimson burning bushes is a brave, little azalea with two yellow blossoms that popped in October. In Wisconsin, this bush normally blooms in the late spring, but this year, it decided to sprout another round of blossoms in October. The pink, cinnamony-smelling dianthus that had bloomed in June also decided to stage an encore last month. So, for a while, we had this strangely lovely commingling of spring/summer blossoms and fall color. What joy to have had their brave blooming one more time before winter dormancy sets in.