Tuesday, December 31, 2013
As we sing "Auld Lang Syne" and say farewell to another year, I think of the value of memories and how mysterious the act of remembering can be. Some memories appear as if they will stay with me forever, while others just float on by, not being stored in any particular place for me to easily retrieve them. I seem to collect an odd assortment of memories in my head, sometimes for occasions that don't seem very remarkable on the surface, so I have made it a growing practice over the past few years to pay very close attention to as much as I can each day, carving special places for my life's moments so that I can replay them whenever I need a lift or a reminder of my blessings. For instance, over the past year, I remember vividly the evening that Larry and I sat outside of the Chateau at Devil's Lake State Park, listening to big band music as we gazed up at the stars on a clear night. I hear the sound of joyful voices resonating throughout our church's sanctuary as they sang a cappella hymns at a friend's funeral. I think of the cheery call of the first red-winged black birds of the year. I see the card my husband gave me to celebrate the publication of my e-book and the start of my new job, two things that happened within the same week. I recall the scent of the first lilacs blooming outside of our kitchen window last May and the taste of the season's first apple in September. I hear the laughter of good friends around the table as we shared potluck supper. There is indeed value in the past. On this last day of 2013, I reflect on the many special moments of the past year, even those moments that weren't especially easy or joyful, while also anticipating the good that will happen in the new year to come. May you have a happy, healthy new year.
Monday, December 30, 2013
Winter is full of surprises. Just when I thought I might be getting used to sub-zero lows and inches of snow, we experienced an unexpected rise in temperatures over the weekend, only to be plunged once again into a deep freeze as the new week began. Such are winter's whims. It's a strange thing, but I'll welcome, practically beg for such a warm-up a month from now when January feels interminable. But, between the holidays, I just wasn't in the mood for 40-degree weather and melting snow. I somehow think that the holidays are meant for Currier & Ives scenes of light snowfall, air so brisk that you can see the puffs of your breath, and enough of a chill to welcome curling up with a cup of tea and a good book while snuggled under a favorite afghan. I think of those days between the holidays as naturally "cozy" days. When it's 40 degrees, I just want to be outside, watching the buds on the lilac and azalea, anticipating spring to arrive any moment. Now that we're back in the big chill of December, I'm back to thinking cozy thoughts while keeping one eye on the stack of books next to my favorite reading chair, settling in for a long winter's night.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
This morning, we held our traditional after-Christmas hymn sing during our worship service. Our service was filled with familiar hymns, sung with a combination of reverence and jubilation. We preceded our singing with the responsive reading of John Wesley's "Directions for Singing" found in the beginning of our Methodist hymnal. We read aloud John Wesley's words, admonishing us to "sing lustily and with good courage," while also being sure to sing "modestly" and "spiritually." One of the hymns we sang was "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," a piece whose melody dated back to 1665 and lyrics to 1680. As we sang, my mind went back 40+ years when I sang in our church's junior choir. Our director, Beverly Westerman, had a way of channeling our youthful energy to make lovely music together. Ours was a large choir, so large in fact, that I often was relegated to sitting on a folding chair outside of the wood confines of our choir loft. It was in that choir that I first remember singing "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" and at Christmastime, "Do You Hear What I Hear?". Today, while flooded with happy memories, I contemplated the lyrics and how they apply to my life today, "Ponder anew what the Almighty can do....join me in glad adoration." I dare say that John Wesley would have approved.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
While browsing a local antique store, I spied a Christmas tree skirt made of felt and sequins, similar to the tree skirts from my childhood. It was well preserved and bright, despite the decades that had obviously passed since it had been made. Someone with whom I work told me recently that she was going to wear a Christmas tree skirt around her shoulders to an "ugly sweater" party. That got me to thinking about the year that I wore a Christmas tree skirt -- as a skirt. I was in a high school girls' club called Thalia. One of our annual activities was to entertain area elementary school children at Christmastime. My role one particular year was to help lead the children in the singing of Christmas songs. We all dressed in costume. I dressed as an elf. As I created my costume I pondered, what better skirt for one of Santa's elves to wear than a Christmas tree skirt? Mom had made it of Christmas-green felt, edged by holly leaves and berries of lighter green and red felt. The skirt was bright and cheery, surely something a female elf would wear. Standing in front of that felt and sequined tree skirt in the antique store recently, I was suddenly swept away to the past, remembering where we stood in one of the schools' gymnasiums, surrounded by little children sitting cross-legged on the floor, singing away to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Isn't the memory an amazing and blessed thing? Just the act of admiring a vintage Christmas tree skirt brought back the vivid thoughts of a happy time from long ago. If the skirt is still there the next time I visit that antique store, I just may have to try it on for old time's sake.
Friday, December 27, 2013
As a little girl, my family watched "Sing Along with Mitch" on our black and white television. Wearing his characteristic goatee, Mitch Miller entered our homes with his orchestra and invited us to sing along with his music by following the lyrics that ran across the bottom of the TV screen. From a small child on, I have loved to sing and Mitch Miller helped inspire that love. Although not much of one to watch television, for the past several weeks, I've often had our TV tuned to the cable channel that played Christmas music around the clock. Mitch Miller has been one of the recording artists and conductors featured in the rotation of holiday music. And, living up to his 1960s television show, I've sung along with Mitch every time. Christmas music is now just about over for another year, but until the channel stops playing holiday favorites, I'll keep singing along with Mitch and Perry Como and Andy Williams and Robert Goulet and Eydie Gorme and Rosemary Clooney and....
Thursday, December 26, 2013
There was magic on the first day of winter last Saturday. As I awoke and looked out the window, I was greeted with a fairy tale scene of hoarfrost coating every tree and shrub. Jack Frost had arrived. There before me was a dazzling sketch in charcoal, white, gray and silver. My day's activities took me out into the countryside to the home of a good friend who had invited me to see the ice castle creation she had built on the deck. Kitty's creativity seems to know no bounds. She had emailed me throughout the week, recounting her experiments to construct such an ice sculpture. The castle, complete with turrets, rounded windows and two drawbridges, was a magnificent crystal diorama made even more beautiful by the white lights that back-lit the structure. Against the hoarfrost, it was as if the castle was from a fantasy world. I didn't want to pull myself away from the beauty of that castle and the scene surrounding it, but other activities were on the schedule. After caroling, shopping, saying farewell to a friend who had recently passed, visiting other friends at our local nursing home and attending a party, Larry and I ended the magical day with a winter solstice event at Devil's Lake State Park. Truly, I could think of nowhere else I wanted to be on that longest night, celebrating the start of winter and the incremental return of daylight. We joined new-found friends around the campfire, sharing stories and roasting marshmallows. There were no stars overhead, as a snowstorm was coming our way. The sky was thick and had a pink hue to it. Whatever storm pattern was moving toward us was going to be big. The sky told us so. And so the snow came, white and silent, reminding us that winter had indeed arrived, filled with hoarfrost, pink skies and an ice castle that made it all enchanting.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The most interesting angels are those without wings and halos. They're not always easy to identify, but they are there, all around us every day. They are the good folks who tirelessly devote their energies to doing good for others, whether it's linked to the Christmas season or not. They are the ones who are ever looking for ways to serve. They don't carry harps or wear long, white flowing gowns, but they are angels all the same. Over the past couple of days, I have had the pleasure of witnessing such angels in action as they organized, prepared and served a free Christmas dinner to the community. With the merriment of Santa's elves, these angels gave up time with family to cook turkeys and hams, peel and cook pounds of potatoes, chop vegetables, donate salads and desserts, set tables, provide music and offer words of Christmas cheer to all who entered our church to share the Christmas feast. I saw time and time again demonstrations of love. Larry and I were richly blessed to play supporting roles to the work of these selfless individuals. I can think of no greater Christmas gift. Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. and I inwardly groaned that I had set it for such an early time on Christmas Eve, of all days. Then, I started to think of all of the joyful things I would be doing today and I more eagerly crawled out of bed. By that time, Larry was standing at the south-facing bedroom window, staring out into the darkness. He called to me to join him. There before us in the inky, early-morning sky was a most spectacular display. Everywhere to the east and south were bright vertical bands of light shining down from the heavens, some narrow, some wide, some bright, some faint. We had never seen any such thing, so we stood speechless at the window. We finally tore ourselves away from the scene to start our morning routine, with me making the bed and Larry braving the temperature to get the newspaper in its box at the end of the driveway. No sooner did he walk outside than Larry was back at the door, beckoning me to join him outside. I hustled to get on my long down-filled coat, hat, gloves and boots, a feat unto itself during the middle of the day, but somehow more onerous in the early morning. But, the hustle and hassle were worth it. As we stood in the driveway, we gasped as the bands of light surrounded us in all directions. Overhead was a half-moon and dozens of bright stars. Some of the bands ran vertically from sky to earth, while others hung mysteriously as if they were suspended. Some of the nearby bands sparkled with snow crystals. The thermometer registered six degrees below zero, but we weren't affected by the cold. We were silent, content while surrounded by perfect light. There must be some long scientific name for such a phenomenon, but I prefer to think of it simply as a Christmas gift. Within a half-hour, the sun was starting to creep into the distant sky and our light display was mysteriously gone. What better morning to see such a sight, I thought, than the day that would lead to Christmas Eve? Indeed, all was calm, all was bright.
Monday, December 23, 2013
On Christmas Eve, my good friend Charlene and I are scheduled to sing an a cappella duet at church, called "Hark, Now, O Shepherds," an old Czechoslovakian carol. I am of Bohemian descent, so the choice of our music felt just right to me. A couple of weeks ago, Larry and I attended a concert of Christmas music presented by the Madison Brass Band. They called their concert "Hark." The word "hark" keeps coming into my sights of late, whether singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," holding the Madison Brass Band's concert program in my hand or sharing in an a cappella duet with Charlene. I sense that there is a message in all of it for me. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, "hark" means "to pay close attention" and "to listen." Each day, I wrestle with the messages constantly bombarding my mind, the gotta-dos and the wish-I-hads, but a quiet mind during these last couple of days before Christmas is of increasing importance to me. Hark! It's time for me to pay close attention and listen.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Our church choir sang a song today about Advent, about the how the "whole wide world is waitin'." Our pastor made a statement a couple of weeks ago during her message that spoke to me loudly. She said that Advent is a time to wait because change is coming. She further said that you need to keep your face to the sun and your feet forward in anticipation of that change that is to come. How often I find myself impatient, not overly willing to wait because I want to have something happen right now. But Advent teaches us otherwise. There is a place of importance for waiting in our lives, for living in the present moment, ever grateful, but knowing with confidence that change is coming in its own due time. There is a grace to waiting, a trusting that all will be well if we only let it be. So, today, I will let go of the insistence that I know or try to control the outcome. Instead, I'll be waitin' and it'll be OK.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Tonight is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. Until the days tick by and more daylight comes our way, I reflect on what the Winter Solstice means to me. I take the darkness personally tonight. Several months ago, children at church sang "This Little Light of Mine.” Their sweet voices and cheery faces encouraged all present to let our lights shine. Through the unfiltered enthusiasm of those tiny ones, I was reminded of the big message that we are each given gifts and talents that are uniquely our own. It is a blessing -- and indeed a privilege -- to contribute those talents and gifts to the greater good, regardless of how small or insignificant we may believe them to be. In real and felt darkness, how might we add more light to the lives of others? What talents might we have that could make a difference for someone else? How might we be lights in the world? Perhaps it’s checking on a neighbor, calling a friend who is alone, offering words of support to a family member, writing a note to someone or volunteering for an organization or cause. Such gifts don’t have to cost money. Sharing your gifts and talents has a value all of its own. Even when all is dark (and perhaps especially so), it's important to let our own lights shine. The light that we may think is but a tiny flicker may be the illumination that will serve as a beacon for another.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Since Daylight Savings Time ended, I have been leaving work in the dark. The expansive, clear night sky is lovely as I walk to my car. Each evening, I watch for the position and phase of the moon and then my eyes rest on a lone, bright star in the eastern sky. When my husband Larry McCoy and I visited a planetarium-theme IMAX presentation a couple of years ago, I thought I learned that the bright star I see in the eastern sky is the planet Saturn, but then, a friend who's an amateur astronomer said that it couldn't possibly be. Whatever that faraway, bright star is, it guides me at the end of my workday, helping me to slow my pace by revealing its beauty against the ebony sky. As Christmas approaches, it makes me think of the lyrics to Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow: "There's a star in the east on Christmas morn...." As the holidays approach, I also think of my late parents, Chuck and Barb Naidl, who used to blissfully spend hours outside in lawn chairs, enjoying the nuances of the summer night sky. As a teenager, I was too busy being a teen to spend time joining them in their star-gazing pursuits. But now that I'm older, I, too, am captivated by those same celestial nuances. How blessed I am to have had parents who taught me gently, by example, to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the night sky. And how blessed we all are to have that eastern star call us to rise up and follow during this season of expectancy and wonder.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
My friend Mary Carol is a wise woman. In one of her beautifully thought-out letters to me, she wrote about the popular Johnny Mercer song from the 1940s, Accentuate the Positive. She reminded me to keep going, to accentuate the positive, to remain hopeful and optimistic. Her words helped me to carry on, even when it was hard to do. It's not always easy to be hopeful or optimistic, especially when life dishes out painful, difficult moments. It seems as if those times are magnified even more during the Christmas season when all is supposed to be merry. I have several friends who are currently experiencing illness, caring for loved ones who are ill, suffering from the loss of a spouse or parent, or having unwelcome changes in their work lives. That's perhaps when this season is even more important, for Christmastime is the season of hope. As we approach the Winter Solstice, that longest night, I think of those I care about who are experiencing their very own personal longest nights and I pray that they will find something for which to be positive and that they will feel hope.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
One may think that all I do is stand at the window, looking out. And perhaps I do. But the recent snowfalls have rendered me speechless and made me want to be nowhere but at the window, looking out. On more than one occasion lately, I've watched the snow fall, during the day, in the evening. When there's no threat of wind, ice or storm, the act of watching the snow fall gently to the ground can be one of tranquility and centering. There's a meditative feeling to simply letting go of one's thoughts and watching the snow fall quietly to the ground. During the day, the snow falls from a sky that is the color of steel. At night, the white blanket below reflects the falling snow, making the sky bright. When burdens feel heavy and thoughts feel deep, all I need to do is stand at the window, looking out, and all seems right with my world.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
While shopping recently, I noticed a display of Play-Doh® and saw that it was still a very reasonably priced toy. I used to love playing with the brightly colored dough when I was a child, making little people and other creations. Just taking in the scent of the dough would get me excited about my project. Rolling, pressing and fabricating little sculptures and models out of Play-Doh® was a marvelous, quiet way to while away Sunday afternoons. I could let my imagination soar as I made my creations. Just a few days after seeing the store display, I coincidentally read that Play-Doh® was originally marketed in the 1950s as a compound for removing or cleaning wallpaper, not as a modeling clay. Whatever its original intent, this child remembers many hours of enjoyment playing with Play-Doh®. I'm heartened to know that today's children are still captivated by it as they roll, press and fabricate modeling clay creations fresh from their imaginations.
Monday, December 16, 2013
My friend Lorraine was a marvelous musician. A skilled pianist and organist, Lorraine could make the keys sing whenever she played. Lorraine passed away last week and her service of remembrance was last weekend. I had the honor of leading a cappella singing of two hymns during Lorraine's service. In preparation, I stopped at our church early last Friday morning, dashed into the sanctuary and selected a hymnal from an area of the church where I didn't think it would be missed for a few days. Out of force of habit, I opened the hymnal to see who had sponsored it. I gasped as I read that it was the one my late mom had purchased in honor of her parents some 20 years ago or more. I closed the hymnal, hugged it close to my body and left the church both teary-eyed and smiling. Mom thought so highly of Lorraine. Like me, Mom appreciated Lorraine's music and, even more, her beautiful, peaceful and wise countenance. For many years and especially since my mom's passing, I have noticed that I am more in tune with subtle and sometimes inexplicable signs that make me feel as if my mom and dad are very close to me. I felt it again as I opened my hymnal on Saturday to lead the congregation in singing Lorraine's favorite hymns. Truly, the moment was "Amazing Grace."
Sunday, December 15, 2013
I so love plaid. When Christmas comes around, I seem to like it even more. Perhaps it all stems from the matching red plaid "mother and daughter" jumpers that Mom sewed for the two of us many years ago to wear at Christmastime with white blouses featuring bows that flopped when tied at the neck. A couple of nights ago, I was at my favorite thrift store seeking something specific when, all of a sudden, I found myself standing in front of a winter scarf display, staring at a striking red, cream and black plaid scarf. It was soft, not too thick, just the right length and only $1.00. Everything about it told me to buy it. I don't wear many decorative scarves, as I'm rather on the short side and my neck easily feels overpowered by the folds of a scarf around my neck. Yet, this one was perfect. Today, I wore my new scarf, just a dash of plaid to perk up my otherwise monochromatic outfit. Little did I realize how one dollar would bring me such joy. I believe I'll be wearing a dash of plaid often this Christmas season, thinking back to my mom, matching jumpers, and blouses with bows that flopped at the neck.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
I thought we were going to a Christmas concert at Oak Park Place, presented by two local musicians whose music I was excited to hear. When we arrived, however, I took a closer look at our invitation and realized that the two musicians were indeed going to provide music, but the audience was going to sing along! For 1 1/2 glorious hours, we sang sacred and secular Christmas music. What made the experience especially delightful was that I was seated next to Evelyn Platt who had been the director of our church's children's choir. I was one of her choir members nearly 50 years ago. In between carols and songs, Evelyn and I reminisced about our children's choir of so long ago. Fifty children dressed in short white robes with big black bows under our chins would fill the front of our church's sanctuary, singing our little hearts out because Evelyn inspired us to do our best. We even recalled all of the lyrics to one of the songs she taught us: "I've got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart." We chuckled over the complexity of singing one of the song's verses, "I've got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart." To my six-year-old mind, that was a mouthful of lyrics and a totally unfamiliar word to have to pronounce (passeth). As we sang "Joy to the World" at Oak Park Place that night, being with Evelyn gave me "joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart."
Friday, December 13, 2013
While watching an old episode of "Columbo" on TV the other night, Larry and I got a kick out of the importance of an electric typewriter in the solution of the murder mystery. The police sergeant helping Lieutenant Columbo waxed eloquently and effusively about a "remarkable, modern machine," a "beautiful" piece of technology that had revolutionized how business was being done: the electric typewriter. The sergeant quickly typed a sentence, explaining how the moving typewriter carriage had been replaced by a ball imprinted with the letters of the alphabet that revolved and the messy experience of replacing the typewriter's ribbon had been made easy by a disposable cartridge filled with plastic ribbon. I learned how to type on a manual typewriter in high school. There were a few electric typewriters in the room, as well, but we all had to take turns using the more modern machines. In my early public relations days, I used an electric typewriter with the very same "modern" features that the TV police sergeant bragged about. Now, as I type on my laptop, no font ball or plastic ribbon cartridge in sight, it's hard to believe how technology has changed in my lifetime and career. There was something almost endearing about that episode of "Columbo," when high-tech meant that you no longer had to have ribbon ink all over your fingers.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The child in me is thrilled to see holiday outdoor light displays. There is one particularly charming light display in the neighborhood near our home. The cottage-style house and yard are decorated brightly, tastefully and joyfully. The stores in our downtown are also boasting beautiful displays of lights, evergreens, ornaments and more. They're attractive whether in daylight or in the glow of the evening. Even our condo is taking on holiday cheer these days with a combination of lights, antique ornaments, natural elements and the beloved red felt cardinals that my late mom made. At this time of year, I dedicate some of my "time to be" to taking the slow, longer route home so I can be mesmerized by holiday displays. Whether it's been a year of sadness and sorrow or one of joy and jubilation or somewhere in between, I find solace, peace and happiness in the light, the bright that shines in the darkness this month.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I had the luxury of a four-day weekend recently. It seemed as if we always had something going on during those four days. Despite the hectic schedule, however, I made precious time each day for a long walk. On Thanksgiving morning, my walk took me into a snow globe. The fluffy snowflakes twirled and fluttered all around me, melting upon impact. I just kept walking and walking, for the snow globe was enchanting and I didn't want to leave it. The next day, Larry and I found ourselves at our beloved Devil's Lake, breathing in the fresh air, joined only by the ducks on the open water. The park was tranquil, awash in its quiet winter wardrobe of taupe, tan and gray. The following day, I walked to our vibrant downtown, happy to be caught up in all that is dressed in holiday style. Then by contrast, once again, Larry and I walked at Devil's Lake. All was quiet there, except for the tall grasses whispering in the breeze. No matter where I walked during those four days, I gave myself the gift of time to exercise, time to think, time to be. What greater gift could I give myself?
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
There's an exercise going around on the Internet, inviting you to respond to a series of questions in order to find out your "true color aura." Always curious about such things, I completed the questionnaire in a few minutes and up popped the message that my aura was blue. While some of the characteristics of blue-aura folks were a bit of a stretch for me, I was stunned to see many aspects of myself in what I read. Here are some examples: People with a predominantly blue aura "need to be liked and accepted....seek to create conflict-free surroundings....sometimes find yourself in the role of being a caretaker....take your responsibilities seriously....have a deep need for peace and harmony in your everyday life....are overwhelmed by untidiness....are honest, trustworthy and sincere....have a thirst for knowledge in order to gain wisdom....can be cautious and worry about every little thing." I seem to have a bit of pink, green and white auras, as well, but am still overwhelmingly blue. What does it all mean? Probably nothing, but it was fun to learn that when I'm "emotional, affected, sensitive, peaceful, tranquil, connected, spiritual, experimental and deep," I'm really just blue.
Monday, December 9, 2013
There are those times when I want time to stand still just long enough so I can soak up all of the details. I had one of those times yesterday afternoon. Larry and I had attended a Madison Brass Band Christmas concert at the Al. Ringling Theatre and were heading back to our car when I simply wanted time to stop, just for a little while. As we walked hand in hand, the snow fell lightly, making the landscape a pristine white. The storefronts in our lovely downtown were decorated for the holidays with bright Christmas lights and greenery. Christmas music played from a public address system throughout the courthouse square. All was tranquil, magical. As Gladys Taber, my mom's favorite author and one of mine, too, wrote so eloquently in The Book of Stillmeadow (Harper & Row Publishers, 1947, page 59), "And surely Christmas is a time to rededicate ourselves to the good, the true, the beautiful." During that moment with Larry yesterday, I felt Christmas in my very being: good, true and beautiful.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
It's dance season again. That's the time of year when it's dark as I get home from work and I can no longer safely go outdoors to exercise. Instead, I tune in to some music and I dance -- all by myself in the living room. It's actually sort of a dance-aerobic exercise hybrid, but I call it dancing regardless. And I am a lone dancer in our household. Larry nonchalantly walks by on his way to the kitchen, glances over my way, but doesn't feel the overwhelming need to join me as I flail around to the beat. Recently, I found myself dancing to Leif Garrett's 1970s-era hit, "I Was Made for Dancing" and I decided that it was my winter exercise theme song. I truly love to move to music, whether I'm great at it or not. The times in my life when I've taken dance lessons have been some of my happiest. As adults, I think we easily become inhibited by our desire to not embarrass or draw attention to ourselves, while as children, if we heard a song, it just stood to reason that we danced. There's a song that we sing at church called "The Lord of the Dance," which contains the lyrics, "dance, then, wherever you may be." I may not be inclined to dance wherever I am, but most evenings, you will find me gyrating around in my living room. After all, as Leif Garrett sang, I was made for dancing.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
The temperatures are dipping to the uncomfortable range and there's snow in the forecast, but underneath my layers of sweaters, long down coat, hat, scarf and gloves, I'm feeling a deep sense of warmth. I read the front page of The Baraboo News Republic today to see that there are numerous individuals and organizations working hard and successfully to raise funds for worthy causes. The spirit of generosity warms me. Last evening, we attended a sneak preview of the Sauk County Historical Society's Edwardian Christmas Open House at its Van Orden mansion. The spirit of creativity and artistry warmed me. We later attended a Christmas concert at the Village Booksmith featuring groups of talented local vocalists and instrumentalists. The spirit of holiday music warmed me. I read a blog this morning about the adventures of being a young mother of delightful, boisterous children. The spirit of remembering what's important in our lives warms me. Today, I once again joined the Village Voices, caroling downtown, weaving in and out of shops and restaurants. The spirit of community warmed me. We all have trials and tribulations, deep freezes if you will, in our lives, but there are multiple reasons to have that warm feeling. During our most trying times, we may have to look under the many layers to identify our blessings, but once we do, it gets easier and easier to be in a state of perpetual thanksgiving and to feel warm, no matter the temperature outside.
Friday, December 6, 2013
I love this time of year, when churches and other groups and organizations hold bazaars featuring one-of-a-kind handcrafted and home-baked items for sale. I'm not a crafty sort of person, so I find the bazaar experience even more enjoyable because I get to see talents expressed that I simply do not have. One of my favorite bazaars to attend is hosted by our local hospital's auxiliary. Beautifully hand-sewn and knitted items are sold, as well as mouth-watering baked goods. This year, several friends and I also attended a first-time mission fair at a downtown church where not only were there locally crafted items, but items, as well, that came from the creative hands of people from around the globe. Borders are blurred when you look carefully at the beautiful work done by artisans and artists from around the world. Whether the items benefit a local charitable organization or one on the other side of the globe, it is a joy and privilege to support their efforts.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
My good friend Kitty knows me so well. She recognizes that winter squash ranks right up there as one of my favorite foods. I could -- and have -- made an entire meal of winter squash. No butter, no brown sugar, no garnish of any kind, just plain winter squash. So, when she emailed me to invite me to pick up some winter squash from her, I was elated. It wasn't until I arrived at her house, however, that I realized she had already gone through all of the effort to cook Butternut and Hubbard squash and had frozen small sealed plastic packets of the orange goodness for me, 18 bags in all. Within a day or two, we had eaten three of the squash bags. Try as I may to stretch out this generous gift from Kitty, I fear that I'll inhale a bag every day until it's sadly gone. So, I have to use some restraint. A little bit of self-control on my part will make that mouthwatering gift from Kitty last longer, each spoonful a true blessing.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The cymbals had been clanging, the horns tooting loudly and the piano was off-key. Such were the sounds of the clamorous thoughts going on in my head by the end of the day. Too much sound and not enough melody. So, it was doubly nice to spend Monday evening at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County in the audience for the UW-BSC Band Concert. I've been in the R.G. Brown Theatre hundreds of times before and have even sung and danced my way around the stage there, but nothing could have been more welcoming, more relaxing and more enjoyable than to sit front and center in the auditorium Monday night and allow the beautiful music to waft over, around and inside me. From "Fantasia in G Major" and "Brook Green Suite" to "Watermelon Man" and "In My Neighborhood," the Concert Band and Jazz Band reminded me just how suite, er, sweet life is.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...at our church. Last evening, we held our traditional Hanging of the Greens that began with a potluck soup supper, followed by decorating our church for the Christmas season. Two strong men carried in the tall evergreen tree that would grace the sanctuary. As it was gently lifted into its holder, the tree's branches began to relax. Soon, it was standing upright and stately, ready and willing to be decorated with white lights, glass icicles, and blue and silver ornaments. As Christmas music was played on the piano, wreaths were hung on the doors, bows and banners put into place in the sanctuary, and a children's tree decorated. I looked around at everyone's handiwork and couldn't help but sigh a pleasant, contented sigh. I am a lifelong member of that regal, old church. Over my lifetime, I have attended nearly 50 Hanging of the Greens events. The church and I have a common history that feels both comfortable and comforting. As we ended our evening, gazing at the lovely, lit Christmas tree, children ranging from toddler to octogenarian listened to a children's story and then sang Christmas songs and hymns. The soup was supped, the greens hung and this humble church decorator grateful to have such a special place to call my church home.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Black Friday has made way for Cyber Monday, when online holiday shopping goes into full tilt. With that shift in focus to online shopping, I decided to offer my recently published e-book at a special rate. Time to Be: An Almanac of Short Essays about the Extraordinary Joy of Ordinary Moments is available on Amazon for the special rate of 99 cents through December 4. Divided into the four seasons, the book features gentle thoughts about what it means to live in the moment with gratitude. A recent conversation with a gentleman at a party revealed that when we walk, jog or bike outdoors, things, no matter how ordinary, come into greater focus and provide unexpected opportunities for extraordinary joy. As with my blog, my e-book is intended to make us pause and reflect upon those ordinary moments, those times in nature, those rhythms in our lives that make life beautiful.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
There hasn't been a week that's gone by since Labor Day weekend that I haven't made a run out to Ski-Hi Fruit Farm to buy a bag of apples. The weather was more cooperative this year, so the supply has been abundant and the types of apples diverse. We've tried numerous kinds of apples this year, most recently settling on Empires and Tolman Sweets. The Empires have been large and ruby red, while the Tolman Sweets are slightly smaller and yellow in color. There are still a few Granny Smiths in the refrig and a stray Macoun, Spartan or Honey Crisp in the wood bowl on the kitchen counter. I can't imagine autumn without Ski-Hi Fruit Farm. I grew up on Highway 12, just a stone's throw northwest of Ski-Hi, so going there is like going home for me. I head out of town on Highway 123, taking the little fork onto one of my favorite roads (it's best to play classical music while on this stretch because they just seem to go together). Then, at the corner near where Harold and Ruth Martin used to have their farm, you take a right and ascend the hill to Ski-Hi. And sky-high it is. From there, one gets a breathtaking view of the Baraboo Bluffs and a side view of the orchard and its apple-laden trees. Some of my late mother's ashes were spread near there, so being at Ski-Hi also feels as if I'm near Mom. Although Ski-Hi closes today till apple season next year, I will carry with me the happy memories of my weekly visits, the rich aroma of every apple I bought and the delicious crunchy taste of every apple I munched. Those memories add to the tapestry of reasons why I'm grateful to live right where we do.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Today was Small Business Saturday and I was privileged to enter many small retail businesses and eateries in our picturesque and historic downtown's retail district. I am a caroler. For the past several years, I have strolled with a group of singers, meandering in and out of our downtown establishments, singing holiday music and hopefully adding some holiday cheer to the shoppers' experience. Annie, our organizer, makes it a fun adventure and Nancy, our music librarian, added to the merriment by selecting some new music for us this year. Consequently, in addition to our familiar selections, we got to sing some new songs today. Whether singing new or old songs, it was fun to be part of Small Business Saturday and perhaps contribute in my own some small way to their efforts to help our community thrive, create jobs and boost our local economy. If you don't normally shop in small businesses, now's the time for a new song. Shop small and you'll contribute to the preservation of your local retail district and community.
Friday, November 29, 2013
While others were out searching for Black Friday deals this morning, I was at an Un-Christmas Party. My creative friend Kitty invited me to her home to a party designed for just the two of us: To watch "White Christmas" and sing along at the top of our voices. Any excuse to get together with Kitty is a good one, for she is a dear and amazing friend. But being a fan of "White Christmas" made the invitation all the better. We climbed into our recliners, bowl of popcorn and apples at hand and tuned in to the magic of "White Christmas." I thought I knew the lyrics to all of the songs, but Kitty outshone me with her ability to remember every word of even the lesser known pieces. Periodically throughout the movie, one of us would comment about Danny Kaye's lithe and limber form, Vera-Ellen's dancing abilities, Rosemary Clooney's silky voice and sparkling blue eyes, the enchanting atmosphere of the inn, the beautiful red dresses worn in the last scene, and the crooner himself, Bing Crosby's ability to make us tear up when he sang "Count Your Blessings" and "White Christmas." The grass may have still been green outside and the sun shining brightly, but inside, Kitty and I were snuggled up singing "Snow," while waiting for a White Christmas.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
A recent Facebook post included a quote attributed to Henry David Thoreau: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual...." On this Thanksgiving, I am devoting quiet time to reflecting on all that I am blessed to have. We live in a world of constantly wanting more, but on this day, I am content with who I am and what I have. Like Thoreau, my thanksgiving is perpetual. Today, I think of my loving husband Larry, my family and my friends, my work and my recreation, my writing and my reading, my warm home and my full refrigerator. I have everything I need and more than I could want. As we gather around the table today, may our prayer be that our thanksgiving be perpetual.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I recently met a cat named Courage. His human companion told me that the cat normally was fearful when strangers came around and would immediately run and hide. For some reason that day, Courage and I hit it off. He stayed put in his little kitty bed and allowed me to pet him and scratch him under his chin. He never once ran away to hide. Instead, he seemed content and curious at the same time, comfortable enough with me to stay put, stretch out and take me in. Courage the cat got me to questioning the depth of my own courage. When confronted with something new, do I usually run and hide or do I see it for what it is and allow myself to become comfortable with it? We all have opportunities to look fear in the eye and display our own courage. I think of the many wonderful people in my life who do so with grace and dignity, and I realize how much I want to display those same characteristics. So, on this day, I will take a lesson from Courage the cat and see newness and change as the opportunities they really are.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I love to putter around with our home décor, but I wouldn't call myself necessarily very artistic or imaginative when it comes to putting together arrangements. However, I recently found myself volunteering to help prepare our church sanctuary's chancel for Thanksgiving. My good friend Donna is highly creative. Everything she touches seems to become just that much more beautiful. She came loaded with a carload of natural items, baskets, pottery, root vegetables and dried wheat. My other good friends Gloria, Alice and Judy also came laden with items. I brought along my own additions. Together, under the guidance of Donna's artistic eye and gentle approach, we created what I believe was a bountiful and beautiful chancel scene of Thanksgiving. It was only to be enjoyed for one day, for next weekend, the scene will change and we will decorate the church for the Christmas season. But, for me, that one day was the stuff of which memories make, working alongside wonderful women in my life, tangibly creating a spirit of Thanksgiving.
Monday, November 25, 2013
My life tends to be quite busy these days and I am grateful for the opportunity to enjoy such busyness. Whether it be my employment, my freelancing career, my volunteer work or my time with Larry and friends, my to-do list is usually quite extensive, longer than I should try to pack into a single day. However, the other afternoon, I had the opportunity to carve out important time to sit quietly with a friend who had recently come home from the hospital. Our quiet time together was intended to help my friend, but in reality, it was even more beneficial to me. It was during those moments of silence, that precious time to be (for which I named my blog), that I truly focused on the present, relaxed my thoughts and refreshed my mind, body and soul. During this season of giving, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is quiet time, time to simply be.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
With words like artic air being tossed around by the meteorologists, I thought I was prepared for our frigid temperatures yesterday, but the blast of cold air still surprised me as I set out the door at 8:00 a.m. The sun was deceivingly bright, making me think that the day would be warmer than it was. By the afternoon, I decided that, despite the 19-degree high temperature, I would take a walk. I bundled up in my full-length down coat, donned a hat under my coat's hood, added a scarf and gloves for good measure, and ventured out to the public library to return a book. Although I was completely covered from head to toe (to the point where my glasses fogged up), I was still chilled to the bone. The wind blew me around a bit. The soles of my tennis shoes tapped as they touched the cold sidewalks. As my walk continued, however, I warmed up, appreciating the bracing air, the sunshine, the female cardinal I saw in a tree and the opportunity to get outside to refresh my lungs and my perspective. By the time I returned home, I had nearly all but forgotten that the temperature was so low, for along the way, my outdoor adventure had fed my spirit and warmed my soul.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Several months ago, I started a new ritual of listing three blessings in my life upon waking and three more blessings before falling asleep at night. Bookending my day with gratitude by thinking of the good that awaits me and that took place during my waking hours has proven to be a valuable exercise for me. When I begin and end my day in a state of gratitude, it frames my way of thinking for all of my other waking hours. My outlook on life is more optimistic. Even my sleep is more restful. As the old song goes, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I've found that I have so many blessings I can barely count them.
Friday, November 22, 2013
It started out overcast, dreary, chilly and breezy, but the November Saturday morning was perfect for a walk with my friend Mo, for Mo is a person who radiates warmth and sunshine. She and I don't see each other as often as I'd like, but when we do get together, our conversations cover the gamut of interesting topics, laced with laughter. That morning, we decided to talk and walk around Devil's Lake. The autumn color was gone, but the bluffs towering around us were dotted with grayish-pink boulders, tall evergreens and stubborn oaks that had retained their rusty-brown leaves. Despite the breeze, the lake was remarkably placid. We ran into a few other hearty walkers, but otherwise, the lake was ours. As we walked, the sun started to poke out through the cloud cover and I decided that it had to be because of Mo. She is a sunshiny type of person who has a giving heart and an adventurous spirit. Mo is a person who sees possibilities and opportunities, joy and excitement, even on a dreary November morn.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Today was my dad's birthday. Had he not died in 1984, he would have turned 95 years old today. Although he's been gone for decades, without fail, we have continued to celebrate his birthday every year. Dad favored a birthday pie over birthday cake, so Larry and I will have a slice of pie at a local restaurant tonight in his honor. Dad particularly liked pumpkin, cherry, chocolate cream, coconut cream and lemon meringue, so we will select a slice among his favorites and raise our forks in honor of him. Larry didn't come into my life until nearly a decade after Dad died, yet I see so many similarities between them. I daydream on days such as this of what a typical conversation might have been between them. I daydream of laughter, serious discussion, intellectual bantering and really hitting it off. Both Larry and Dad shared introspective personalities, a high degree of intelligence and an off-the-wall sense of humor. Both Larry and Dad shared a faithfulness and steadfastness that make one feel safe and secure. Both appreciated independent thinking and the adventures of self-employment. So, tonight, as I raise my fork in remembrance of Dad, I will also raise my fork to the wonderful man across the booth from me, my loving husband Larry. I know Dad would approve.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
My friend Ellen and her neighbors hosted an art and craft sale one recent Saturday. When Ellen extended the invitation, I immediately marked my calendar. Although I have no talents for creating art or crafts, I always enjoy seeing the quality work of others. Such was the case that day when I saw Anita's fine jewelry, Ellen's quilted and sewn items and the handiwork of others whose talents abounded. I ended up buying a Christmas gift for a dear friend and a little gift for myself. I just couldn't leave without one of Anita's beautiful tree pins. Made of meticulously wound silver wire and artfully placed ice-blue beads, the pin formed a delicate deciduous tree. I am fascinated by trees, as was my mom. Among her pieces of nature jewelry was a bronze-tone evergreen pin that will be getting a lot of wear now that we're approaching winter and the holidays. But, the deciduous tree pin will receive equal wear, for its loveliness reminds me of the artist-friend who made it.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
We're reaching that time of year when traditions seem to hold more meaning than at other times of the year. Thanksgiving rituals seem to include hunting at dawn, preparing the turkey feast and gathering around the television for parades and football games. One tends to expect turkey and dressing, green bean casserole made with soup and French-fried onions, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. My immediate family was small, our holidays were quieter and our traditions were somewhat fluid, unlike the large families I knew that seemed to be bountiful in people, food and ritual whenever holidays rolled around. In some families, those traditions and rituals seem to have traveled from generation to generation. I read that the word tradition comes from the Latin word tradere, meaning to transmit or hand over for safekeeping. In our fast-paced lives filled with rapidly changing technological wonders, it's heartening to know that there is still value in traditions and rituals, that they continue to hold meaning and are important enough to be handed over, like a priceless treasure, to the next generation for safekeeping.
Monday, November 18, 2013
I think it's a human tendency to measure our lives by the momentous occasions -- births, deaths, weddings, promotions, re-locations, vacations retirements. But, I'm beginning to understand that the true measure of the value of my life is in the prosaic moments, those ordinary, commonplace experiences that seem to be gone in the blink of an eye, often going rather unnoticed, yet significant nonetheless. The lesson is to see those so-called prosaic moments for the extraordinary occasions they truly are. Every day, the sun comes up and every night, it sets, but do I take the time to really see and experience them every single day and evening? A smile that someone gives to me or the squeeze that someone gives my hand may seem fleeting and insignificant, but to me, they can mean everything between feeling alone and feeling supported. Paying attention to those everyday moments, adding them up and reflecting on them gives them the importance they deserve. For in the end, it is those ordinary, prosaic moments that weave together to become the fabric of our lives well lived.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Two Fridays in a row, I have ended my work week in unexpected and appreciated ways. Both times, I've visited a local storekeeper who has showered me with a hug one week and a bonus item in my bag the next. Although to the shopkeeper, the gestures may have been small, to me they were huge expressions of grace and caring. It got me to thinking about how I might provide such unexpected gifts to others. When we give of ourselves, even in the smallest of ways, the difference can be immeasurable to the receiving party. The generous, compassionate storeowner has given me more than a hug and a bonus item. The shopkeeper's gift has given me every reason to pay it forward.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
The evening sky always used to captivate my parents' attention. Growing up in the country, there were no city lights to obstruct our view of the celestial nuances. Although as a child I seemed to take that spectacular view for granted, as the years go by, I am increasingly interested in the night sky. The other evening, Larry and I happened to be outdoors when, all of a sudden, we both stood still and looked up at the wide expanse of blackness, dotted with many bright and twinkling stars. It was a sacred moment, together in our silence, observing the sky. Then, the next night, I found myself standing in the darkened kitchen gazing out the window. It was late and I should have been sound asleep by then, but I'd gotten lost in the hours of writing and reading. I let myself stand there for a while and I instantly felt a connection to my parents. Whenever I can't sleep (which fortunately isn't very often), watching the night sky from any available window is my best antidote.
Friday, November 15, 2013
The red and yellow maple leaves crunched underfoot as they swirled around and fell in front of me. The pine needles created a thick blanket that swished and squished as I walked over it. No matter where I walked recently, the way was covered with red and yellow leaves and orange needles. Tis another sign of late fall. I admit that I love the sounds of the leaves and needles as I walk over them. The swishing, crunching and squishing take me back to when I was in kindergarten. My mom and I lived with my maternal grandparents for three months before joining my father for his lecture tour and finishing my school year tutored by my parents. During those three months with Grandpa and Grandma, I would walk home from McKinley Elementary School, searching out every pile of leaves I could find. It's quite fine with me for my path to be padded, for no matter my age, I still seek out those piles of leaves, simply to hear their great sound under my feet. This fall, I'll shed the adult responsibilities and worries once again and become my five-year-old self.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I should have been doing something productive, but instead I sat perched on the floor, watching the sun set. The sky was pink on the southern horizon and I just couldn't attend to anything but the beauty of that November sky. The silhouette of a bare tree, dotted with fat squirrel nests throughout its canopy, was my only obstruction from a complete view of that magnificent sky. My mom used to refer to "sky blue pink," as a tongue-in-cheek color description. I wonder if that phrase came about because of a sky like the one I was viewing. Sunsets are always beautiful, if we only take the time to enjoy them, but a late fall/winter sunset is especially beautiful, perhaps because I crave color in the midst of the starkness. Suddenly, I was jarred from my pink sky view and rose-colored glasses reverie when the alarm on our stove went off. Though a reminder of the realities of fixing dinner, I kept one eye on the brilliance of nature's sky palate until the sun went down.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I stare into the open refrigerator and what looks back at me looks somewhat sad. After months and months of enjoying mounds of fresh produce grown locally and purchased at our farmer's market, the market is now closed for the season. On the last Saturday of the market a couple of weeks ago, I stocked up on everything I could gather into my cloth shopping bags and stuffed them into the refrigerator. Over the past couple of weeks, we've gone through the broccoli, the Brussels sprouts, green beans, the zucchini, tomatoes, green bell peppers and most of the cabbage. A few sweet potatoes, onions, garlic cloves, carrots, blue potatoes and acorn squash remain, but their supply is running low. If only I had frozen some of the produce or learned how to preserve it through canning. I'll have to head out to Ski-Hi Fruit Farm to stock up on more squash and onions. I just can't let go of the blessing of nature's bounty that comes with the growing season, but soon, I'll have to give in to frozen, canned versions until the next growing season comes around.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Although I'd heard the forecast, I was still surprised to open the curtains yesterday morning to see it snowing. Big, fluffy flakes filled the sky, sticking to the grass and the trees as they fell. I wasn't sure if I was ready for the first real snow of the season, but it arrived without asking me, so I figured I might as well embrace it. By lunchtime, the snow had subsided. However, it left a light blanket of white on nearly every surface except for the streets. Although I'm a warm-weather person, I have to admit that I felt the romance of this first snow. Everything was clean and pure and silent. The snow made me start thinking about the holidays. I wanted to sing Christmas music. I could see myself tucked under my quilt from Kitty, leisurely taking a book from the stack I'd checked out from the public library, reading until a nap would take over. In a few days, the temperature is supposed to soar back to around 50. The snow will melt and the romance will be gone, if only temporarily until the first really big snow arrives.
Monday, November 11, 2013
While munching on a delicious, frost-sweetened carrot from the farmer's market recently, I thought of how I have been enjoying carrots with my lunch since I was a little girl. I really love carrots, especially when they're served raw. As a grade school-age child, I was such a fussy eater that my mom finally gave up trying to make me eat hot lunch and, instead, bought me cute lunch boxes each year to place my half of a peanut butter sandwich, celery and carrot sticks, and fruit. Try hard as I did to like the meals prepared at school (and I'm sure, now with an adult's perspective, that they were delicious and nutritious), I just couldn't make myself eat them without losing my appetite, so after a discussion between my teacher and my frustrated mother, Mom gave in and packed my lunch with healthy foods that she knew would appeal to me. If I was really good, I got to have a smear of cheese spread in the curved crevice of the celery sticks. It's funny how munching on a carrot recently brought back a flood of memories of school lunches from long ago and how carrots are still one of my favorite foods.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
While at a Halloween party a couple of weekends ago, I noticed some cleverly decorated confections, including some that looked ghosts made of meringue. As I tasted the mouth-watering sweetness, I thought of the first time I had recognized meringue for all of its goodness. In my elementary school, which was a very old building, our cafeteria was in the basement. Periodically, the school would hold a bake sale, featuring cookies, candies and other confections lovingly made by the children's moms. One such mom made divinity candy, those sweet, delicate white mounds of meringue that melted in your mouth. That's also where I became familiar with peanut blossom cookies, peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss candy smack-dab in the middle of them. My late mom would verify with a roll of her eyes that I was a picky eater at best when I was young, but anything that came from the bake sales, especially the divinity candy, was enough to satisfy even this very discriminating palate.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
I usually associate the sounds of nature with spring and summer, but on one recent walk, I was greeted by two singing trees and whispering winds that made every dry leaf rustle. As I approached the two trees, I could hear birdsong in growing volume. All of a sudden, I realized that the birds were tucked inside the leafy canopies of the two side-by-side trees, releasing their voices in chorus. And loud they were! They chirped at a fast-paced staccato, darting back and forth and back and forth between the two canopies. Was it a warning to each other that I, an intruder, was approaching or might it have been a reminder to get home and settled in for the night? As my walk continued, the wind picked up and the drying leaves that still clung to trees rustled. In particular, the yellow leaves of the maples glistened in the remaining sunlight, as a few fell and cascaded around me. I enjoyed the contrast in color with the burning bushes showy in their scarlet and parchment hydrangea tree blossoms looking more settled and subdued. My late mother always appreciated the nuances of nature. As I get older, I find myself following suit.
Friday, November 8, 2013
I get tired of flipping through the TV channels and seeing yet more shows about hoarding, pawning and accumulating things. In a culture of consumerism and a tendency toward excess, how does one define abundance, genuine abundance? Such was the topic of last Sunday's church sermon. The message struck a chord with me. Do I "hoard" out of fear of the future, rather than trusting that my needs will be met? Do I embrace the abundance of hope, generosity and love in my life? If I were to lose my possessions, but still have my loved ones and my health, would I feel that my life was abundant? I dare say that I would. As I get older, I find that I want to buy, own and be responsible for fewer and fewer things. There is little that is abundant about life, in my opinion, when one feels possessed by one's possessions. At this time of harvesting and nesting, I am focusing this fall on opening my heart and mind and finding new ways to share the blessings in my life.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
The swishing of leaves under my feet made my thoughts go back in time recently, all the way back to elementary school when I was about seven or eight years old and the big playground at our old Lyons School held all of the mystery and allure a child could imagine. The school was perched on a bit of a hill and the playground, vast as it was, included a large field for exercise and play, a playground with myriad equipment and a hill that was perfect for sledding. In the fall, my little-girl friends and I would build leaf houses on the playground. The houses were more like architectural layouts of long, low mounds of dried leaves to form the "walls" of the various rooms of our pretend homes. A good gust of wind would take our home creations away, but a little ingenuity would pull them back together again. I think of how simple play was in those days. There were no hand-held devices or scheduled, organized playtimes. Instead, we used our imaginations and very little else to create hours of fun, like building our own leaf dream houses that tomorrow would blow away.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
When I was a child, I loved to play outside. That's where the swing was that my dad had made and the sandbox he had crafted. That's where the weeping willows were, my favorite childhood trees, where I could while away the hours, my imagination taking me to faraway places. That's where the snow forts could be built or the "houses" made of fall leaves. To this day, I love to be outside. So, on a recent Sunday, when my chore list was longer than my arm, I resisted and took to the outdoors instead. Fortunately, some of my chores were outside jobs: trimming the dead wood from the French lilac, raking the leaves from between the evergreen shrubs and erecting cages to save the burning bushes from becoming deer appetizers in the winter. But, it was also the perfect afternoon for a walk in town, followed by a walk with Larry at Devil's Lake. Everyone seemed to be out that afternoon, either doing yard work or taking walks themselves. Many of them were wearing shorts just one more time. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to get outside, breathe deeply the fresh air and revel in the warm, sunny autumn sky.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
I feel as if I've been living and reliving the old saw, "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side." First, Larry and I were on a back road recently when a chicken crossed in front of our car. A few days later, I was driving along on a road near Devil's Lake when a wild turkey darted out in front of my car, giving me very little, but, thankfully, enough time to brake. A few evenings later, Larry spotted a deer moments before it would have become a hood ornament on our car. Then of course, there are the myriad squirrels and chipmunks always scurrying across the street or road. Every single day, I'm crying out "little squirrel!" to some furry creature that seems to taunt me with its middle-of-the-street antics. In the spring, ducks appear to wait until my car comes along before they waddle across. We've even been known to stop for a turtle, a raccoon, a woodchuck and a snake, each attempting to make it across the road. One truly has to be a defensive driver when it comes to wildlife deciding that it is time to take a hike.
Monday, November 4, 2013
While taking my evening walk after work last Friday, I found myself reflecting on my many blessings with each step. As my walking picked up speed and the distance of my walk increased, I was soon coming up with one thing after another for which to be grateful. First, it was my wonderful husband who supports my every adventure. Then, I thought of my family and friends who enrich my life. Then, it was the trees I saw that were laden with fat, red berries. The home I passed by that was receiving some heavy restoration for an eager family. The neighbors in our small town that are so dear. The work I do that is meaningful to me. The good health I have the pleasure of experiencing. The list of blessings went on and on. When I fired up my laptop upon my return, I found that some Facebook friends were using November to post an expression of gratitude each day. It was fun to read the first installments of these daily expressions from people with diverse experiences and perspectives. If we spent our days steeped in gratitude, whether while thinking or walking or talking with another person, our days would be so filled with joy that there would be little time for a complaint or worry. When we recognize all that we have, the need for more seems pretty pointless, and for that I'm grateful.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Daylight Savings Time officially ended today and, as usual, I'm grieving the loss of light, yet ready to cocoon. Next to my reading chair are four library books and five magazines. All I need to do now is to make time to nestle in with them. But on these last days before -- and even after -- we changed the clocks, I could only find reasons to be outside and soak up that precious daylight. It didn't matter if the skies were sunny or gray, if the wind picked up, if it drizzled or if the temperature was raw. All I wanted was to be outside. And I wasn't disappointed on any of my outside adventures. The early days of November have a loveliness all of their own. The air is filled with the heady scent of drying and decaying of vegetation, the sky is expansive and beautiful, a few remaining yellow maple leaves still glisten in the sun, and the birds still sing. While I will always be a creature that loves the long days that spring and summer offer, the changing of the clocks has ushered in a new time that is filled with blessings, as well, including those four books and five magazines just waiting for me to sit down a spell and enjoy.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
One year ago today, our community celebrated the 90th anniversary of the opening of Baraboo's first official hospital, St. Mary's Ringling Hospital. Much like the dedication of the Ringling Bros. Circus mansion-turned-hospital in 1922, our event last year was filled with joy and remembrance, laced with a little pomp and circumstance. I awoke today thinking about that anniversary, so I decided to take a long walk this afternoon to the cemetery and to the site of the former St. Mary's Ringling Hospital/Manor/Convent as my own day of remembrance. While researching our 90th anniversary event last year and the subsequent book I wrote about our local health care history, Healing Presence: A History of Caring, I spent so much time in the past that it was sometimes hard to pull myself back into the present. Monsignor Edward C. O'Reilly; Sister Mary Liguori O'Toole, FSM; and Mrs. Adella Ringling played pivotal roles in the story of our first hospital. I once again visited their graves today and "talked" to them. Then, I headed down Oak Street to visit the sadly dilapidated site of St. Mary's Ringling Hospital/Manor/Convent, with its beautiful grounds all overgrown, the facility's windows boarded up and the overall property anxiously waiting to be torn down and cleaned up and taken out of its misery. I walked through the grounds that had once been so beautiful, with the breath-taking view of the Baraboo Bluffs to the south. Then, as I looked up at the brick building, I saw something very special. Several weeks ago, a friend gave me a stained glass window from St. Mary's Ringling, framed and ready to be hung in our home. I will cherish it forever. Today, as I looked up at the building, I recognized from where the stained glass had come and, I must admit, the tears flowed. So much of my late mother's history and, consequently mine, was tied to St. Mary's Ringling. I continue to pray that something deserving will happen with that property and I so hope that I will get to be part of it.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Larry and I attended the Sauk County Historical Society's annual banquet where we heard historian and author Michael Goc tell about the early days of aviation in Wisconsin. One aviation pioneer, Nels Nelson, paid a visit to the Sauk County Fair in 1911 with his flying machine. As I listened to Mr. Goc, I thought of the many times I watch the birds, floating on the currents high in the sky, wondering what it must be like to be so free and to have such a vantage point of things below. I can only imagine how the Sauk County Fair audience must have felt in 1911 and others in Wisconsin in that era who witnessed those newfangled things called aeroplanes. What must they have thought as they saw such a huge contraption carrying human beings into the sky, taking flight, just like the birds I watch each evening? Today, we take such technology for granted, but at one time, Nels Nelson and other aviation pioneers were introducing something unfathomable and thrilling to Wisconsin's rural audiences. Thanks to them, transportation would never be the same.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Tis Halloween when all is spooky and silly -- and often filled with sugar. I used to love going trick or treating as a child. There was some worry, back in the day, of razor blades found in apples, but otherwise, it was still considered a safe holiday. In fact, the only threat to our well-being seemed to be the risk of sugar overload from the stash of candy we'd amass. As for my costumes, I can recall dressing up as Cleopatra, a witch and a cheerleader. Otherwise, my childhood costume choices are rather lost in the recesses of my memory. I had a conversation with someone recently who told me about an elaborate facial makeup design one could create to make your face look like a jack-o-lantern. I've seen photos posted on the Internet of children and adults dressed as witches, clowns, monsters and princesses. Halloween offers the opportunity for young and old alike to stretch their imaginations and dress as someone else, all in the name of fun and candy. Frighteningly good.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Lately, we've had sunshine, rain and even a few snowflakes on our faces, but one recent evening, it was so windy that I was nearly blown down a couple of times and my hat wanted to take flight by the big gusts. The wind must be ushering in some weather pattern or another. Perhaps the wind is simply bringing November with it, moving us from the vibrant beauty and warm afternoons of October into the harsh realities of winter. At any rate, I sit in my reading chair, curled up and covered with my quilt, listening to the gusts swirling around, causing the wind chimes to sing outside of our kitchen windows. I'm grateful to be tucked inside where it's warm and dry, and I pray for those who are struggling to find shelter on this windy night that they will be blessed with a safe, comfortable place to rest their heads. As winter approaches, we all need shelter from the storm.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I'm a sky watcher. It doesn't really matter what time of day or season of the year. I just love to watch the nuances of the sky. One recent evening, I stood at the kitchen window, admiring the moon, its glow through the clouds and two stars that twinkled, one on either side of the moon. I could have stood there all night, for the scene was almost mesmerizing to me. Last Friday, when Larry and I were walking at Devil's Lake, I noticed how exquisite the sky was, with its bluish-pink hue becoming more pronounced as the sun set. On another evening, I noticed that the sky had that Halloween look to it -- bluish gray with puffs of black clouds. Oftentimes, when I wake up in the morning, I watch the sun come up. The bright red and orange horizon is just enough to tell me that it's going to be a great day. I set my sights high as I glimpse the expanse of sky, with all of its brilliance and variety. Watching the sky has become a daily -- and spiritual -- experience for me.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Recently, I received an email from Next Step Editing, featuring an interesting quote attributed to War of Art's Steven Pressfield: "“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” I've been experiencing many new things over the past several months, from starting a new job to publishing an e-book to offering my freelance writing, research, public relations and consulting services to other businesses. Admittedly, there has been a certain amount of uncertainty, but that uncertainty has been trumped by my deep knowledge that I not only want to do these things, I somehow have to do them, as if I'm being drawn to them. An article in the October-November 2013 edition of AARP The Magazine suggests that we step outside of our comfort zones, despite how scary -- and/or exciting -- it can feel at first. Taking the risk, listening to the calling and knowing that you have to do it can produce some of life's rewarding moments. They are proving to be so for me.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
A friend told me recently about her elementary-age daughter who loves to make music. Despite her youth, she so enjoys singing and playing the piano that she has already discovered the positive power of music in her life. When she and her mother had a conversation about worries, fears and cares, the little girl simply suggested that you should sing them away. Lately, I've thought about a few worries, fears and cares, but when I have, I've taken the little girl's advice and sung them away. Specifically, I've recalled the first stanza of a song that I learned in our church's children's choir so many years ago: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay." How can one succumb to worldly cares when you carry such a song in your heart? Out of the mouths of babes: Sing them away.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
While driving in the gorgeous autumn countryside lately, we came upon Landsinger Road. While I don't know the origin of the road's name, that particular day, I couldn't think of a more appropriate name for it. The scenic beauty of that area made my heart sing. So, perhaps in my own way, I was a land-singer, if just for that moment. These days, we read and hear about so many serious issues about our environment and the necessity for us to be better stewards of what we have been granted. But in all of that serious discussion, I believe there also an opportunity for us to sing joyfully of the land. I think of the many people I know who are stewards of the land around us -- farmers, vintners, conservationists and others who care so deeply and have such a keen sense of responsibility for the places they call home. I imagine that there are those times when they are land-singers, too. So, the next time I find myself in awe of my surroundings, a song will come to my lips and the land-singer in me will let loose.
Friday, October 25, 2013
There is a painting in one of the departments in our office building that draws me into it. Although it depicts a rural farmhouse in autumn, it doesn't matter the season. That's the place where I want to be. Every time I stop in that office, I gaze for a few minutes at the painting, thinking of how much I'd like to live in that house on that property. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the house. It is old and white. The surroundings aren't remarkable either, just a yard subdued in late fall brown. Yet, I feel a kinship with the place and I want to move there...right now. I can picture the house and grounds in every season. Spring would be lovely with wildflowers in bloom and curtains flapping in the breeze through open windows. In summer, the grass would be green and the dandelions bright yellow. There'd be a croquet set in the yard and some lemonade nearby. In winter, the gentle snow would envelop the white house and all would be tranquil. Does the place exist or does it only exist in the painter's eye? I'll likely never know, but I do know that if it existed, I'd knock on the door and ask if it was for sale. And I'd live there happily ever after. Yes, indeed. That's the place.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
October has been an absolutely brilliant and beautiful season in our neck of the woods this year. Every opportunity we have had to be outside, Larry and I have taken advantage of it. One recent Sunday when it seemed silly to stay home, we ventured out to the DTour, a 50-mile drive that was organized as part of Fermentation Fest, a celebration of art and agriculture and an appreciation for the beauty of our rural Wisconsin countryside. As we drove out of Reedsburg on County Road K, my jaw dropped. The landscape couldn't have been more exquisite. The undulating hills, pristine farms nestled into verdant valleys and autumn color that was nearly at its peak just about took our breath away. How could we ever be so fortunate to live in an environment as beautiful as this? To make the road trip all the more enjoyable, Fermentation Fest organizers had positioned some 39 stops, including educational signs, live entertainment, local food vendors and installations of art, along the way. Whether it's the DTour or not, I'll gladly take that detour again and again as a reminder of the natural beauty all around me every single day.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I read an eloquently written essay the other day about the power that bigger corporate businesses can have in causing smaller, local ventures to go out of business. It's as if the larger interests simply erase the smaller ones. I got to thinking about the many small businesses that grace our lovely downtown shopping districts and the risks and rewards that those shop owners must experience. Not too long ago, I drove through a city whose downtown shopping district had been all but obliterated, replaced with a new shopping district comprised of well-known, larger stores located on the fringes of the city limits. One recent Saturday afternoon, Larry and I walked through our downtown when our courthouse square was brimming with vibrant shops and eateries, as well as street entertainers, music, food and craft vendors. Our downtown has a wonderful energy to it and it was particularly energetic that Saturday during its autumn fair on the square. I could see no eraser marks in our downtown that day. Nearly every storefront was filled with the creative expressions of retailers selling their wares and the street was packed with people who chose to shop there.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
I fell asleep in my reading chair the other night. It's easy to get all curled up in that lovely leather chair, covered with an afghan, thinking I'm going to read. All of a sudden, my eyelids grow heavy and my book, no matter how entertaining, can't seem to keep me awake. At Larry's nudging, I carried my weary body to bed and fell asleep again as fast as my head hit the pillow. But, then the thoughts of the day woke me up and I couldn't get back to sleep, no matter how hard I tried to breathe deeply and relax myself. While awake, cutting through the silence of the night was the lonesome whistle of a train. During the day, such a whistle sounds utilitarian, simply a warning signal. At night, however, it sounds lonely and mournful. I read a wonderful poem by a Facebook friend about the nighttime train whistle. Evidently, I wasn't the only one awake that night. Strangely, it was hearing that train whistle that interrupted my own train of a different kind -- a flurry of thoughts racing through my head. Soon, I was asleep once again.
Monday, October 21, 2013
While in the car alone the other day, I decided to fill the silence with some classical music. That particular day, it happened to be a beautiful waltz. As I reveled in the lovely music, I realized that leaves were falling around my car in time to the music. It was as if they were waltzing all the way to the ground and pavement. There is a music to autumn. Sometimes, it's quiet and restful in the rustle of the drying leaves or the soft crunch of them below your feet. At other times, the music is loud and raucous through the vibrant colors of the landscape, from yellow to orange to red. That day, however, it was a waltz, an elegant and magnificent dance of the leaves, swirling and twirling all around me.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
After what felt like a long and hectic work week, Larry and I quickly got into the car one recent Friday evening and drove out to Devil's Lake to get in a much-appreciated walk before the sun set. On our way, I spotted a parked vehicle with the license plate "To B Free." I couldn't help but smile. Don't we all crave that opportunity to be free, to have control of our day, our destiny, our decisions? And then I thought of how much I also crave some structure to my existence, that I value being part of something significant and doing so with others. "To B Free" can mean many things to many people, from freedom of religion and speech to the freedom to choose where you want to live or with whom you wish to share your life or the type of work you wish to pursue. That night, while enjoying my all-important evening walk, I realized that I have the blessing "To B Free" in oh, so many ways.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
While walking along the south shore of Devil's Lake one recent evening, listening to the random bird call and the rustle of the trees, all of a sudden we heard music of the man-made kind. First, there were the strains of a fiddle, then a high, clear female voice singing an unfamiliar tune, and finally the serious strumming of a young man on his guitar. Soon, we came upon the young man and woman making lovely music for themselves and the few passersby that stroll along the lakeside path on weeknights in the fall. One appreciative person sat down on a nearby picnic table to take in the attraction. For me, the impromptu concert was just one of the myriad ways that being in nature seems to bring out the best in us.
Friday, October 18, 2013
The cool air and high humidity combined into some beautiful misty moments lately. While driving in the country for several evenings in a row, Larry and I saw big swaths of mist rolling over fields, lifting up toward the trees. It was eerie and magnificent all at the same time. One evening while walking at Devil's Lake, the mist was particularly heavy, fingering out over the water as if to nearly touch us and gather us in. Everything looked as if we were caught up in a cloud, for we were unable to see the opposite shore. Again, there was an air of mystery around us. I found it quite enchanting. In the grayness, the fall color popped, the reds even redder, the yellows more brilliant. As a friend said, autumn in our beautiful Baraboo bluffs is a sight to behold. Even when it's more subdued by a heavy veil of mist, I am forever reminded of the bluffs' beauty and how blessed we are to live among them.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
A friend and I had a philosophical discussion about women's shoes recently. She maintains a pair of high heels to wear for special occasions. She admits to being able to stand in them, but walking is another matter. I have reached that golden stage of life when you couldn't get me to wear high heels, even if you paid me. I'd rather have happy feet nestled in, heaven forbid, Sensible Shoes. I gave up high heels eons ago when I realized that I sort of tilted forward ever so slightly and appeared to clomp around in them. The discussion with my friend went on to such other hot topics as makeup, nail polish, jewelry and elaborate hairstyles. What happened to me, I wondered? I used to have several shades of polish, luxuriated in the latest mascara and shade of lipstick, owned more pierced earrings than I could conveniently store, and thought that a blow dryer and curling iron were necessities. Perhaps it was getting cancer and losing my hair completely that made me see it differently or perhaps it's just a quirk in my personality, but over time, I gave up those things, too. I now wear hair so short that I can comb it with my fingers. I wear the same earrings almost all of the time. And if you count my colorless herbal lip balm, then I guess I have lipstick. I no longer have to "put on my face" or "do my hair." Instead, I comb my hair with my fingers, put on my herbal lip balm and dig out my Sensible Shoes. In about five minutes, I'm ready for the day.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
It takes a lot to get me to forgo a walk at Devil's Lake, so I urged Larry to get up from his Saturday afternoon nap recently to join me for our daily constitutional. The sky was overcast. It had been raining off and on throughout the day. However, it didn't look too threatening, so we ventured out. We were about halfway through our walk when I enthusiastically commented that it looked as if we were going to get by unscathed. It was just at that moment that the skies let loose and it started to drizzle. Soon, it was raining a little heavier and then it started to pour. Larry and I picked up our pace, but the rain was quickly outpacing us. By the time we reached a shelter to stand under for a bit, we were soaked to the skin. I forgot how heavy blue jeans can weigh when wet. It was an effort just to pick up my legs. By the time we got to the car, we were pretty much sopping wet. Larry wrung out his t-shirt next to the car and it was as if he'd taken a bath in it. Trying not to be a Pollyanna, I made the comment that rainwater is likely good for our skin and hair. Not saying a word, Larry used his expressive eyebrows to show that he questioned my wisdom. Life can't always be sunshine and blue, cloudless skies. Being caught in a downpour isn't such a bad thing, especially when you share it with someone you love.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Larry and I had the unique opportunity to spend an entire recent Sunday afternoon at the former site of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant on Highway 12 between Baraboo and Sauk City, Wisconsin. The parcel of over 7,000 acres is in the process of being cleaned up, with buildings deconstructed and prairies planted and tended. Our tour guides gave us an intersting glimpse into the history of the property when it was owned by farm families, then when it was transformed into an active ammunition-manufacturing plant for World War II, and now that it has been retired and the land offered a chance to heal. Now is indeed a time to write a new chapter in its story. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of making decisions for the land's future. In my humble opinion, we have one opportunity to get it right, to do the right thing for now and for generations to come. I recently read a book of writings by numerous Native Americans about their view of the lands on which they have lived. I seem to be connecting the dots from those historic writings to today's decisions and opportunities and even to Biblical scripture. As is stated so eloquently in Ecclesiastes 3 (New Living Translation), there is a time to heal, a time to build up, a time for peace.
Monday, October 14, 2013
The theme of our stewardship drive at church this year is "Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity." I feel as if that theme was meant for me, for I love a life of simplicity where the joy of giving is an act of gratitude for the blessing of abundance. Our pastor recently spoke of our society's definition of success as a life of consuming, acquiring and buying. In her words, the American Dream has become somewhat of a Nightmare. She talked about "affluenza" and "credititis" and our desire for More that is never satisfied. Although I've grown up in an instant gratification era, my parents grew up during the Great Depression. They instilled their value of frugality in me. Consequently, I have very few needs and even fewer wants. Larry and I, fortunately, have the same values, so we happily live a frugal lifestyle together. While doing some housecleaning recently, I got to thinking how much our belongings can own us, how if I had less living space and fewer things, my life would be lighter. So, during this church stewardship season of "Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity," I'm going to concentrate even more on acquiring less for myself and giving more to others. That will indeed give me joy.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
I grew up in and have worked in one of Wisconsin's great tourist destinations. It has never been unusual to see as many out-of-state license plates as those from Wisconsin, especially during the summer. We take pride in our tourism industry and what it contributes to our economy. Our state's tourism allure hit home when recently re-reading Fear of Frying, a murder mystery by Jill Churchill (1997, Avon Books) where on page 26 Ms. Churchill wrote "...the word 'Wisconsin' has always meant 'vacation'...." For many, our state's name has probably been considered synonymous with relaxation, recreation and an opportunity to take in our natural and man-made attractions. But, it took a murder mystery to remind me of just what a special place I get to call home. I guess it means I'm on vacation every day.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Some days are simply too delightful to stay inside. One recent Saturday, I caught myself feeling like the late Fred Rogers, humming his signature song about it being a beautiful day in the neighborhood. We were having our driveways redone in our condominium association, so I had parked my car at a bit of a distance to keep it out of the way of the work at hand. As I strolled to my car, I could feel the early-morning sun spilling over my head and shoulders, I could hear the birds singing and I looked at the blue, blue sky with billowy clouds. How could it get any better than that? Starting my day with a bit of happy song carried over to the remainder of the day, giving me a sense of gratitude, joy and deep, deep peace that I would be so fortunate as to experience such loveliness. I heard myself say to several others that if we could only bottle a day like that one and enjoy it for another six months of the year, I would be totally content. Alas, it's not possible in this Wisconsin climate, but I can hang onto that sense of gratitude, joy and peace, and carry it close to me, ready to experience every day.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Larry keeps his flute at the ready. The music stand, stacks of music and flute are strategically placed in his home office for those moments when the spirit overtakes him and he just has to make some music. It doesn't really seem to matter what time of day it is. All of a sudden, I'll hear the gentle, sweet tones of flute music wafting from our condo's lower level. One recent morning, however, I awoke to flute music from Larry's office, which is one floor directly below our bedroom. Although the music was gentle and soft, it served as a reveille for me. Soon, I was out of bed, ready to start the day. And what a much better way to start it when coming from a flute than from my clock's annoying alarm! I may have to strike a deal with Larry that in addition to putting the morning newspaper on the bed for me to simply roll over and read from the comfort of my pillows, perhaps he'll play me a song on his flute to gently pry open my eyes. Now, wouldn't that be the epitome of luxury?