Sunday, December 7, 2014
This is the season of gift-giving. So much time and energy are spent considering just the right gifts for those on our lists that I sometimes wonder how much we contemplate the everyday gifts that may not carry a price tag but have the greatest and most lasting value, gifts such as love, time, presence, patience, kindness, joy and friendship. I have been recovering from surgery for the past several weeks. I have spent a fair amount of time considering each of those so-called everyday gifts and just how much they mean to me: the calls, cards, emails and visits from family, friends and neighbors, a prayer shawl and a lap quilt made by loving hands for my healing naps, flowers to provide me cheer, delicious meals and food gifts to nourish our bodies, the presence and kindness of my husband who has assumed nearly all of our household duties and served as my chauffeur, the joy of fresh air after being cooped up inside, and the laughter, fun and good energy that come from being with others. These are the truly priceless gifts that have come into my life as of late, in addition to the amazing, but often overlooked gift of health. As I return to work this month and assume a few of the normal goings-on of the hectic holiday season, I have an ever-present appreciation for the many priceless gifts that have come to me this fall and for the many gifts that come to me every single day. Just as others have been gifts to me, I am looking at ways to turn my gratitude into action and share whatever gifts I may have with others. It's not so much a season of consumption or even questioning consumption for me so much as it is a season of experiencing and counting my blessings, seeing and appreciating miracles every day.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Our minds and hearts go to a sense of gratitude this month, for November is the month of Thanksgiving. As I get older, I find myself trying to devote more and more time to being in a state of thanksgiving, not reserving it for one day in November. A few years ago, I started a practice of listing three things for which I'm thankful when I awaken each morning and three more things before I close my eyes at night. Hard as it can be at times, I am trying to emulate the quote I read on Facebook a while back attributed to Henry David Thoreau: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual...." I think there is real peace and even a power in making the decision to give thanks every single day and as often as possible throughout the day. My pastor recently gave me information about something called The Examen, a spiritual practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola some 400 years ago that features a mindful, daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires. As part of the practice, one is to ask God to draw attention to the moment for which he or she was most grateful and then breathe in the gratitude in order to feel once again the life-giving properties from that moment. According to further online reading I did about The Examen, the concept calls us to reflect on our day with gratitude. So, this month, I will breathe in and breathe out my gratitude and I will fine-tune my focus to the many blessings I'm given each and every day.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
I am named after my maternal grandmother, Carrie Wood. She was considered “Big Carrie” and I was “Little Keri” until I grew to be the taller between the two of us. October 30th would have been my grandma’s birthday. Recently, I served as the honorary chairperson of a local Alzheimer's walk where I had the opportunity to pay tribute to Grandma Carrie. When I think of her, I think of Christmas and the stacks of large coffee cans she would have filled with different types of fancy cookies. I think of the stollen she would make – a doughy bread-type coffeecake fashioned into a large crescent, filled with candied fruit and frosted with white icing. I think of Grandma’s beautifully decorated home that felt both elegant and cozy. I think of the pressed flower note cards that she made. I think of birthday cakes, holiday dinners and small, slender trays on which I could place my breakfast to eat in the living room in front of Saturday morning cartoons. I think of The Lawrence Welk Show and how much my grandparents had at one time liked to dance. I think of fingernail polish, fashionable pantsuits and Sanka coffee. I think of the card she wrote to me during a special time in my life with a note of love and encouragement, a card that remains a precious keepsake. I think of the slide shows that she and Grandpa would give to family upon their return from camping trailer trips out west. I think of the times around the kitchen table when Grandma, Mom and I would look at old family pictures, touching each image lovingly and telling a story to bring those old photos to life. My Grandma Carrie was a lovely woman with many gifts and many talents. When I close my eyes, I can still see Grandma Carrie. As time went on, however, Grandma changed. Her world got smaller and her memory shorter. She got lost walking home from church one day. Keeping up with conversation became harder. She withdrew. Eventually, when my grandfather’s health prevented him from caring for her, Grandma Carrie moved to a nursing home. Before she died there, she didn’t know most of our family members any longer, including my mom and my aunt. The lovely grandma who once showed me how to hand-sew turned into a stranger who expressed her frustrations of her illness by striking out. If only my grandparents had had access to the types of support services available today to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and their families and caregivers. Perhaps, the weight of the changes going on in their lives would have been made lighter and their journey with the disease not so long and lonely. This month, I will carry the memory of Grandma Carrie close to my heart, for although the ending felt bitter, my memories of the lady I loved as Grandma Carrie are forever sweet.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
The other night, I stood with fascination at our bedroom window, watching the wind bend the trees and the jagged stripes of lightning light up the sky in the distance. Right before me, clinging with all of its might to the window screen was a tiny white moth. The fragile, little creature's delicate wings billowed with the gusts and its entire body swayed, but it hung onto the screen with all of its might. I kept wishing that it would crawl higher up on the screen under the eave where I thought there would be better protection, but it stayed resolute, using all of its strength to cling to that vulnerable spot on the window screen. I finally walked away with worry that the little thing would finally let loose and be blown away with the storm. Yet, when I came back some 15 minutes later, the little white moth was still in the same spot, still hanging on for dear life. As I went to sleep that night, I thought of the lessons I had learned from that delicate, little moth. When you believe in something, stay firm in your convictions, relying on what you feel is right. When the storms of life blow you around, leaving you to feel pretty beaten up, stay strong and cling to your values. When things get tough, have faith. Some pretty big lessons from a tiny moth.
Please note that I'm making some changes to my blog schedule. Going forward, I am going to post once monthly at 4:00 p.m. Central Time on the first Sunday of each month. Thank you for your loyal readership.
Please note that I'm making some changes to my blog schedule. Going forward, I am going to post once monthly at 4:00 p.m. Central Time on the first Sunday of each month. Thank you for your loyal readership.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Labor Day weekend is here, the unofficial conclusion of summer. How did those long-anticipated, delightful summer months go by so quickly? I longed for the warm, breezy, verdant and beautiful days and evenings of summer during last winter's harsh, endless and unforgiving weather. Once summer arrived, my husband Larry and I gratefully took advantage of every moment. We took countless evening walks. We attended numerous local events, concerts and festivals. We consumed pounds of delicious produce sold at the downtown farmer's market. As I reflect on this summer, I think of actual reflections of the setting sun on Devil's Lake. A long swath of brilliant orange would reflect on the water, causing it to sparkle and shimmer like jewels. Soon, we'll enter a new season of changing leaves, pumpkins, heavy sweaters and football games, but for the moment, I'll soak up the last hours of summer before it unofficially comes to an end. What a glorious season it has been.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I recently read a quote by Hippocrates: "Walking is man's best medicine." For three seasons of the year, I take walks in the evening. Most of the time, my husband Larry walks with me and most of the time, our walks take us to Devil's Lake State Park. Our evening walks put a period on the end of the day for me. Forty-five minutes of fresh air, birdsong and sweet-scented breezes are just enough to give me time to meditate, enjoy gentle conversation, become present and feel relaxed. The walk is good for my physical health to be sure and I truly appreciate its benefits, but it's what it does for my mental well-being that is of particular blessing. In his five short words, I believe that Hippocrates was right. Walking is indeed man's (or woman's) best medicine. Walking is easy exercise, requiring no fancy equipment, no special skills, no organized effort, just appropriate shoes and a desire to put one foot in front of the other and get moving. No bitter pill here. Walking is the perfect medicine for my mind, body and soul.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
I'm no aficionado, but I do love looking at antique and classic cars. I admire the care with which a classic car owner tends to his or her vehicle. Last month, I had the pleasure of walking the downtown streets of our community for a classic car show. Our courthouse square was filled with 100 colorful, shining, perfectly detailed classic vehicles, ranging from trucks to roadsters, sedans to sports cars, even a truck that had a cannon for a human cannonball circus act affixed to its chassis. I couldn't help but think about the many objects or activities that fuel our passions, whether they're classic cars or quilting, gardening or baking, reading or running in marathons. Our passions feed our souls and express to the world a glimpse of who we are. I know people whose passions have been clearly defined since they were children, where others have cultivated their passions over time, sometimes well into their adulthood. I have a close friend whose passion is art in its many forms. For years, she quilted and sewed and gardened. These days, her passions have turned to painting. She paints intricate designs on eggs and rocks, each a miniature masterpiece. Whatever our passions are, I think life becomes richer, fuller, more meaningful when we allow ourselves to fuel them. Realizing our passions is a gift to ourselves and to others. What is your passion?
Sunday, August 10, 2014
It's that time of year when the roadsides are white with Queen Anne's Lace. The lacy, white flower clusters capture my attention as they wave in the warm August breeze. Seeing the delicate flowers brings back fond memories of peaceful moments in the midst of fun, though hectic days. During my years at Circus World Museum, where I served as the public relations director for the museum, its circus train and its circus parade, I was one of the lucky staff members who got to ride our circus train through the Wisconsin countryside, stopping in towns and cities along the way to Milwaukee where we staged a colossal circus street parade. My days on the train were busy with media, music and merriment. I thrived on the activity, but when my mind and body finally tired, I would retreat to a part of the train where I could sit quietly, undisturbed and just look out the window. It was during those moments when I first fell in love with Queen Anne's Lace, focusing intently on how gently the long stems bowed in the breeze. All of the circus train's laughter, music and crowds melted away during those stolen moments, just the Queen Anne's Lace and me.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
Last Wednesday, July 30 marked 30 years since my dad's passing. I'm rather stunned at the fact that three decades, more than one-half of my lifetime, have gone by since that pivotal day. As an only child, I was blessed to be close to both my mother and father. In many ways, they were friends, as well as parents. I had no reason to go through a "rebellious teens" era because my mom and dad were so much fun, so supportive and such interesting and talented people. Since I was 17 years old, I had known that we were somewhat on borrowed time, my dad and me. He had suffered a devastating heart attack in May of 1976. He had suffered from congestive heart failure on at least one subsequent occasion, and he was experiencing some worrisome symptoms before he died suddenly on July 30, 1984. During the last couple of years of Dad's life, my maternal grandparents were experiencing health challenges themselves. When Mom would go to visit my grandpa and grandma, Dad and I would have "date" nights. They involved our going out for dinner - just the two of us, taking a walk, listening to good music, enjoying each other's company and engaging in meaningful, deep conversation. When I think of the many blessings in my life, I include among them my truly wonderful dad. Although we only had 26 years together, we made the very most of all of those years. 'Love you, Dad.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
I have an addiction. I simply can't walk out of a public library without at least one book in my hand. I love to read. When my to-do list is crossed off and I know I can sit in my comfy chair and ottoman with a book, I feel a silly sense of glee. It is then that I can toss aside my cares, my thoughts, my planning and my worries and crawl into the pages of a good book where I'm taken to faraway lands, immersed with people from another time and exposed to ideas I had never contemplated before. I can't be without a book. Lately, my good friend Donna gave me a book about grace. I wasn't sure if she gave it to me because there was a lifelike illustration of a dragonfly on the cover and she knows I am attracted to dragonflies or if there was something in the book's pages that she felt I needed to read. As it turns out, I believe it may be a little of both, but certainly the latter. After plowing through one mystery book after another from the library, this slim book emerged at the top of my reading pile beside my comfy chair. And just as I believe we are given signs of grace every day in myriad of ways, I found that this book about grace was yet another sign of unearned blessings in my life. I'm grateful to my good husband, good family and friends, good books and the many graces I receive. They comprise the riches of my life.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
I love this time of year when all of nature seems to be in celebration. The birds begin singing before dawn and the crickets lull me to sleep at night. It took the wood floors being sticky underfoot and the carpeting feeling "thick," as my husband Larry called it when he vacuumed, for us to finally turn on our air conditioning a few weeks ago. I'm resistant to it because we are cooped up all winter with closed windows and dreams of fair breezes. To have to descend back into a sheltered existence in the summer seems like a regression that I don't want to have to make. Summer is made for open windows, box fans stirring up a faint breeze, iced tea glasses sweating in your hand, and plump tomatoes as big as your fist. On one recent Sunday, Larry and I ventured out for a midday walk into the woods. We knew it would be shady and cool, despite the nearly 90-degree temperature. As we started our walk, we were greeted by myriad species of butterflies, small and large, colorful and subtle, all dancing around our ankles as if they were glad to see us. The air was warm and heavy and fragrant with the scent of blooming purple clover. The ascent up the hill into the woods brought welcome shade and a noticeable drop in temperature. The air became thick with the scent of dampness. It was truly enchanting. As often as I can hop out of my air-conditioned confines this summer, I will. I'll be dancing right along with butterflies.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
For two Sundays in a row, our pastor spoke about the life of St. Francis, including what led him to his life's calling. Whenever I think of St. Francis, I think of the peace prayer attributed to him: "O Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace! Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is discord, harmony. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sorrow, joy. Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life." When my mom passed away nearly three years ago, that prayer was included at my request in her memorial service. Afterward, the pastor gave me a laminated version of the prayer, decorated with a colorful image of a stained glass window. As she gave it to me, the pastor said that Mom's "life lived this out." So, as my mind wanders to St. Francis and to my mom, I reflect on what I can do each day to live out that prayer. I find myself these days returning to the actions of my childhood where I kneel at the side of the bed before I go to sleep, praying for a greater use of my words and actions and the discernment to be an instrument of peace.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
My friend Mike and I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago about my new smart phone. I told him that I prefer to send an email from my laptop where I can collect my thoughts and use a full-fledged keyboard over the little tap, tap, tap of my smart phone. He noted the increasing use of brief texts to convey our thoughts in the work place and how the texts are often so brief that they appear terse, thus causing the need to use emoticons, those little faces with smiles, quizzical looks, humorous expressions, sad eyes, etc. to ensure that our words (or lack thereof) aren't misconstrued. Right about that point, I missed the days of land line phones with rotary dials, cursive writing, manual typewriters, mimeograph machines, letters written with care and sent through the mail, and longer, more thoughtful ways of communicating with each other. By our grunting a few words into a text and then adding a smiley face to ensure that the recipient understands our tone seems a disservice to and desecration of our beautiful language. It's as if we've returned to the days of cave art when symbols had to express our thoughts. One has little choice but to hop on board today's technology train, but I'll try not to forget the loveliness of communication and how a few choice words still mean more to me than a smiley face will ever do.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
I love potlucks. I love the myriad choices of food, but even more, I love the communal dining experience that a potluck affords. Larry and I have had the pleasure of attending a few potlucks and picnics in recent weeks and each time I have relished the moments. Although I like to actively participate in the conversations, I've found myself hanging back, being quieter at these affairs now and again, just to listen to the laughter, watch the pleasant interactions among longtime friends and witness the camaraderie that comes from dining together. My late mom used to tell me that Sunday afternoons were some of the longest in her week, for as a widow, she was longing for mealtime companionship. Dining with friends, whether at a restaurant or communally at a potluck or picnic, were joyful times that filled that longing with food for both the body and the spirit. I'm grateful for the potlucks and picnics coming our way this spring and summer. Such events bring people together for the sake of breaking bread and dishing out some good ol' food for the soul.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
I have never been good at goodbyes. Yet, over the past year, I have said goodbye to friends who have moved out of town, friends who have moved out of state and friends who have passed away. Life is always evolving and changing. However, many times it seems to do so at a snail's pace, until something more cataclysmic happens, such as a death or a move to distant parts. I've caught myself in a swirl of memories during those times, recalling happy moments from the past with those special people, wishing I could relive them so I could capture just one additional ounce of pleasure from the experience. The bigger lesson in these goodbyes for me has been to value each moment of each day, living in the actual moment instead of planning, worrying or living in a future that hasn't yet happened or to be stuck in a past that already was and may not have been as rose-colored as my memory chooses to recall. We are only given the present. That way, when the goodbyes do happen, they won't be met with regret, but, rather, with appreciation for having had the blessing of the relationship at all.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Our church's lay speaker gave the sermon a few Sundays ago, a message that has continued to resonate with me these many weeks. He spoke about bridges and walls. Afterward, I thought of the many times in my life I've attempted to build walls around me, thinking that I would be safe, free from hurt, free from risk, if only I constructed a wall that was strong enough and high enough to be impenetrable. As I've gotten older, however, I realize that building a wall is a rather fruitless effort. One can never be free from hurt or risk. In fact, in building a wall, one runs the greater risk of avoiding love, fun, adventure and reward. A far better exercise is to build a bridge. Bridges allow one to reach out to another, meet new friends, develop new understandings, cultivate new interests, and perhaps even surprise oneself with the things one can learn, especially about oneself. That very evening after our lay speaker's sermon, I heard Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and there the concept of bridge building became even more real for me. As Paul Simon wrote in the lyrics to that 1960s hit, we can all be bridges for others' troubled waters, to help lift another up who may be feeling down, in pain or alone. My message to myself these days is to tear down any walls I perceive around me and to, instead, become a bridge. That may be my most rewarding construction yet.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
I had the pleasure of having a few occasions recently to be on campus at the University of Wisconsin - Baraboo/Sauk County and to participate in the interview and selection process for the new campus dean. It was while at dinner with one of the dean candidates that I began to silently reminisce about the many wonderful experiences I have had on that campus over the years. My first recollection was getting a tour of the campus when I was in the sixth grade and having the opportunity to experience its modern 1960s science facilities. Those "modern" facilities are now outmoded and will soon be replaced by a new science facility on campus that respects the prairie architecture of the other campus buildings and gives a nod to the view that can only be described as breathtaking. I, then, thought of my days in Campus Singers, my time on the stage as a member of the Rogues & Vagabonds theatrical group, and how gratefully I listened to George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," the signature song that marked the final biology lab (no more dissections!). But, perhaps one of the most vivid memories for me was the beginning of my love of classical music, thanks to a music appreciation class where Ravel's "Bolero" was played. This was well before the movie "10," which made the musical piece well known to the masses. I was so taken by "Bolero" that I bought an LP record album of it that I played over and over and over. A liberal arts education opens one's horizons to new thoughts, new philosophies, new perspectives. It did all of that for me and cultivated an appreciation for classical music that remains with me today.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
While on a Saturday afternoon drive with my friend Lou last weekend, we both remarked about the subtle shades of green found everywhere in the landscape. As a child, I thought that every possible shade of green was found in my gigantic box of crayons. However, nature has a way of creating so many shades of green that one can scarcely put a name to them all. The mystery and magic of this time of year is how one day, the landscape seems barren and dry and brown and then the next, that same dull landscape is suddenly dotted with green here, there and everywhere. Now that we've had a few weeks of warmth, sunshine and a bit of rain, the landscape has become lush. In addition to the greening of the countryside, Lou and I enjoyed spying the wood violets, the wild geraniums, the bluebells, Solomon's seal and May apples. Our drive took us on many a back road. At each intersection, we'd spontaneously decide whether to turn left, right or head straight. Thus, our ride took us through the rolling hillside, onto the prairie and even on a Rustic Road that neither one of us could recall ever experiencing. Spring is here in all of its glory and I, for one, am particularly pleased to be seeing green these days.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Today is Memorial Day. My grandparents called it Decoration Day. Whatever name you choose to call it, this is a day of honoring through our remembrances those who have died in our nation's service. I think about those who selflessly serve our country and those who have made that ultimate sacrifice for our nation's freedoms. To them, we owe much. Somewhere along the line, Memorial Day also became the unofficial beginning of summer, so Larry and I enjoy this afternoon with a potluck picnic among church choir friends. At the beginning of spring this year, I decided to decrease my number of blog posts to two times weekly in order to afford more time outdoors, something I've craved during our long, long, harsh and hard winter. Now, I've made yet another decision. Beginning with this holiday, I am going to start my own "unofficial" summer vacation and write only one blog post per week, posting on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. While the days are long, the temperature warm, the grass green, the birds in song, I just have to be outdoors as much as possible. Thank you for sticking with me as I limit myself to one post per week. I'll look forward to our Sunday evening conversations. As always, I enjoy your feedback. Happy Summer!
Thursday, May 22, 2014
We're rapidly reaching that time of the year when the school bells will ring for the last time as summer break begins. When the days start to get warmer, I think back to when I was a little girl and the mixed feelings I would have as the school year wound down and endless summer vacation began. I always loved school, so I wasn't in a hurry to see it over. Then again, I loved summer, for it meant that my dad's annual lecture tour circuit would come to a close so he could be home with Mom and me for three solid months. I vividly recall my mom and dad picking me up on the last day of the school year some 50 years ago. Dad was going to go snake hunting (lecturing in schools across the U.S. about the value of snakes was his occupation). Mom had packed a lunch and we were going to wade in a nearby creek, admiring the marsh marigolds, while Dad attended to business. Then, we'd all picnic alongside the bubbling, babbling water. It was one of those glorious spring days when all seemed sunshine and relaxation. Worrying wasn't even in my vocabulary and time constraints couldn't have been farther from my mind. On these lovely spring days, part of me must still be that little girl, for I think of relaxing in nature, feeding my soul, packing a picnic and admiring the wondrous beauty of life.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Today is a special day on my calendar. It is the day between the 26th anniversary of my first mastectomy and my 56th birthday. I think back to 26 years ago when I turned 30 while in the hospital, recovering from what would be my first of two breast cancer experiences and three total cancer experiences. Everything felt so uncertain and unsettling on that birthday. Young people didn't get cancer, in my 30-year-old perspective. Today, sadly, I know differently. At that time, however, it felt like a very lonely place to be diagnosed as a young adult cancer patient. My friends were marrying, having families, seeing their children off to kindergarten, growing their careers, building homes, and here I was in the hospital, trying to figure out what it would mean to be a cancer survivor. Two and a half decades later, I see the world with different, more mature eyes. Each day is, as my mother would remind me, a day that the Lord has made. Each year I can blow out birthday candles is a blessing. Each moment when I can experience joy and love and peace is a moment to savor, for such precious moments can be taken away only too quickly. So, on this in-between day, I celebrate Life and am grateful for all I've been given.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
This morning, I had the pleasure of attending what I would call a breakfast with champions, an opportunity for our Aging & Disability Resource Center to thank its volunteer corps for the work they do generously, selflessly, faithfully all year long. In my 30-year career, I have had the opportunity to work with and supervise volunteers in all three of my professional positions. My first experience was at Circus World Museum where I supervised our 275-strong volunteer staff for over 15 years. These talented individuals did everything from help restore antique circus wagons to usher at performances, greet guests to stuff mailings, host school bands to guide tours. It was during that era of my life when I came to realize how very powerful and meaningful volunteerism can be. In my next career as the director of the St. Clare Health Care Foundation for the next 12+ years, I worked with a volunteer board of directors whose civic and business leadership translated to the dynamic strength of our not-for-profit. I also served as staff liaison to a hospital auxiliary comprised of dedicated and hardworking volunteers and I established numerous committees made up of volunteers who lent their expertise and energy to all facets of our foundation's operations. Now, at the helm of the ADRC, I see volunteers in action in new ways as they work one on one with our agency's clients. These faithful volunteers ensure that our clients have a hot meal delivered to their homes. They provide rides to out-of-town medical appointments. They assemble our popular newsmagazine for over 5,000 recipients. And more. Today's breakfast was a humbling experience, for indeed it was a breakfast to honor and thank our champions.
Monday, May 12, 2014
For the second year in a row, I have been invited as an "expert writer" to participate in a Baraboo High School junior literary theme and composition research project. This year, the students have been asked to research a topic from the 1940s, with options ranging from the U.S. Presidency to celebrities and events of the era. My job will be to attend a writing workshop block tomorrow morning and experience a one-on-one session with a student. I will read the student's research paper draft and then provide oral and written feedback. I thoroughly enjoyed last year's experience where I got to work one on one with two students who shared their research from the 1980s, with one paper about the fashions of the time (or more like fashion faux pas!) and the beginnings of MTV. As someone who has enjoyed reading and writing since I can remember, it is a joy to see that passion shared by succeeding generations. So, I look forward to some good reading tomorrow morning as I learn about the 1940s and how today's high school students interpret and present life during an era from 70 years ago.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
In the autumn, those still-falling leaves become an annoyance. How many times does one have to untangle them from shrub branches? In the spring, it's another matter. I couldn't wait for the weather to cooperate long enough to, you guessed it, untangle last fall's leaves from around our shrubs' branches. There's something about spring that just makes me want to get my face close to the ground and smell the rich, musky aroma of the soil. We live in a condominium where there isn't much opportunity to do yard work, but what little I could do, I was out doing it recently. I also swept the sand from the garage floor and cleaned the inside of my car (including deep cleaning the driver's side floor mat and removing last year's state park sticker). Then, Larry and I wandered our condo association's grounds, making the "official" list of projects for spring and summer. This year, they range from touch-up painting to shrub trimming to re-seeding and fertilizing the lawn. As I take my evening and weekend walks, I see other eager beavers out in their yards, trowel in one hand, rake in the other, thankful that another winter has passed and the hope of spring has sprung forth.
Monday, May 5, 2014
When my mother was moving from one apartment to another, one box of precious items somehow made an unintentional side trip to a local thrift store. By the time we realized our mistake, the box's contents had been sold. Among those items was a daily, perpetual calendar, called "Bless Your Heart." With the flip of each page, your day would be graced with a saying, a prayer and a Bible passage. When Mom had bought herself the calendar many years before, she had also bought one for her sister, my aunt. One recent weekday when I dashed home for lunch, I found a parcel in our mailbox from Aunt Ellie. Inside was a "Bless Your Heart" calendar identical the one that Mom had treasured and lost. Aunt Ellie had found it in a thrift store in her community and generously wanted me to have it as a remembrance of Mom. I immediately opened the calendar to that particular day and gasped, for the message that day centered on Mom's favorite Scripture passage from the Psalms: "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." I couldn't help but feel that Mom had had a hand in Aunt Ellie's sending me that calendar and the very specific day that I would receive it. Bless Aunt Ellie's heart and bless my late mom's, too.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
While walking at Devil's Lake State Park the last few weeks, I've been reminded of that 1938 song, "Jeepers Creepers," with lyrics that ask "Where'd you get those peepers?" The song may be referring to someone's eyes, but I was humming the song as we have passed through an enchanting area where the spring peepers and red-winged blackbirds are engaged in jubilant chorus, their voices loud and resonant. How can such small beings make such a deafening sound, I wonder? On occasion, they've been joined by the loud squawk of a random Canada goose. On a few recent evenings, we've ended our walk with a short drive to the Great Blue Heron rookery where industrious parents have been preparing nests high in the pine trees for their brood. With each week, their prehistoric-sounding calls grow louder in intensity and volume. I savor every scent, sound and sight of spring, for it is my favorite of all seasons. It is a joy to simply be alive, among the peepers, squawkers and singers. Jeepers Creepers.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Yesterday seemed to be a day designed around the beautiful Karen Carpenter rendition of "Bless the Beasts and the Children." Our community and county celebrated Earth Day with a time of exploration, education and appreciation for the Earth at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County. The event blessed the beasts and all other life forms through more than 50 exhibitors, workshops, music and an exhibition of art made from recycled materials. Larry and I always enjoy this event, where we tend to linger longer than planned because we are among kindred spirits. The afternoon also included a run out to The Kids' Ranch, a local not-for-profit organization created as a blessing to children by helping them to learn compassion, non-violence and literacy. It was there that a retirement party was held for our special friend Judy who has devoted years of volunteer leadership and support to Kids' Ranch, among other causes. Throughout the afternoon, I was reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a beautiful place in which every day seems to be Earth Day and how the good people of our community foster a healthy and healing environment for our children. From Earth Day to a good friend's retirement, the day was indeed a blessing and a celebration.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
In a day when photographs are taken simply with the click of one's cell phone and "selfies" are all the rage on Facebook, it seems almost unusual to dress up in our best clothes to pose for a professional photographer. However, such is the case this evening. Larry and I are scheduled to have a professional portrait taken for our church directory tonight. It's been ages since we had our photograph taken and years since we posed for a formal portrait. There's something rather pleasant about having to get "all gussied up" for a photograph. Of course, there are the strategies that the photography firm recommended, including that adults wear long-sleeved clothing in complementary colors and timeless styles, that you schedule your photograph at a time when your haircut isn't fresh, and even that your fingernails are trimmed and your shoes appropriate, just in case they show in the picture. That isn't to say that you can't be original. The material on the photographer's website invites you to bring your pets, toys or musical instruments if you wish to show your unique personality. Ours will simply be Larry in suit and tie and me in an ensemble comprised of colors to complement his. The last time I had a church directory photo taken, I posed with mom. To honor her memory, I think I'll wear one of her pretty nature pins so that a part of her is in the picture, too.
Monday, April 21, 2014
For the past several days, the hymn "Easter People Raise Your Voices" has been going through my head. The jubilant nature of the song coincides well with the joy of the Easter holiday and of the spring season when all comes alive. It is at this time of year when thoughts of resurrection take on special and deep meaning. In a letter our pastor wrote to the congregation, she suggested that we "remember 'resurrection' is a call to new life and an appeal for us to practice resurrection here and now." I witnessed signs of new life as I took an Easter afternoon walk yesterday. There was the purple crocus peeking out of a crevice, the daffodil clump in bloom, children on swings in their Easter go-to-church clothes, teenagers playing baseball and shooting hoops, adults on front porches and on patios, dogs barking as they raced around their backyards, the scent of a barbecue grill in the distance. As Christians celebrated resurrection yesterday, the Earth celebrated a resurrection, too, in the form of a renewal from the quiet of winter to the awakening of spring. This is indeed a time of new life, an opportunity to explore our own renewals and to raise our voices in jubilation for all of our blessings.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Larry and I had the pleasure of hearing a speaker from Bird City Wisconsin a few weeks ago. It was one of those evenings when the wind was whipping and the notion of staying in the warmth of our home sounded almost too enticing. But, we ventured out anyway and heard an entertaining and informative program about the Bird City Wisconsin initiative that encourages Wisconsin communities to make a bird-friendly commitment. The program complements the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree City USA designation. There are some 80 communities in our state that have made the commitment to "make our communities healthy for birds... and people." That particular evening, a portion of the program was presented by a teacher from the Baraboo School District who is passionate about bringing the fascination of science to her students. This young woman spoke with such conviction and excitement that I only wished I was in middle school again so I could have her as my teacher. I'm no ornithologist, but I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for the birds that grace our community, bringing their beauty and song to enhance the day. There is nothing so lovely at this time of year than to hear their sweet songs in the early morning on my way into the office. I'm all in favor of Baraboo taking the plunge and engaging residents of all ages to become birders and to make our neighborhoods better places for people, birds and all living things.
Monday, April 14, 2014
For the past three months, I have busied myself during the cold, wintery weekends with lots of writing and public relations projects. I have plunked myself in front of my laptop for a portion of every Saturday and Sunday to write news releases, feature stories, interview questions, video scripts and the like. The days have flown by, but I haven't given myself sufficient time to lollygag in my comfy leather reading chair and ottoman for some serious reading. I've given myself time to read, for sure, but not prolonged periods of time when nothing on my to-do list beckoned loud enough to pull me out of my comfortable surroundings. One recent afternoon, I found that my list had been completed and there were no writing or PR projects reminding me to be done, so I sat down in my chair, allowed myself to sink deeply into it and I read from the stack of three library books beside it. At first, I had a sense of guilt. Shouldn't I be doing something constructive? Then, I realized, I was doing something constructive. I was giving my mind, body and spirit a break, a respite from the hectic workday pace and the weekends at my laptop. It was sheer bliss, something I will do from here on out on a regular basis as a gift to myself.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Evidently, it doesn't take much to make me happy. One recent Saturday, I swept the mounds of sand from the floor of our garage, Larry washed winter off of his car, and I put the screens back into our casement windows. It's been our habit in recent years to remove the screens in the fall, wash them down and store them for the winter so we can get the most out of the precious daylight during the long, dark months. When I heard that the temperature was supposed to soar into the 60s, I decided that it was time to put the screens back in so we could open the windows, if only for a few minutes, to bring in the fresh air and release the stale winter, cooped-up air. I practically danced as I did these chores, for it meant one thing: spring is here and the warmer weather is on its way. Two friends and I laughed the other day about how we practically wore our winter coats last July when we had a day with a high only in the 60s. Yet, in March or April, on that first day that climbs into the 60s, we practically pull out our shorts and sunhats. I guess it's all in our perspectives, but sweeping out the garage and replacing window screens were elevated to joyful, memorable moments.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Our office has a cast of great cooks. Last week, three of them put their heads together and decided that we needed another staff potluck. We hadn't had one for a couple of months, so it was time to gather together for a delicious lunch made by our many talented chefs. I love potlucks, for you never know what culinary delights will grace the table and what new recipes may be shared. That day, the centerpiece of our potluck was chicken chili. Everyone who attended brought a tasty array of treats to complement the main dish. Better yet, the meal was an opportunity to relax with co-workers, spend time chatting about topics other than work, and bond in ways that only breaking bread together can do.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
As I got out of the car to head into church recently, I pulled my hat down on my head, yanked my scarf up around my neck and lowered my head to address the brisk wind. As I did so, however, I caught sight of a fat, fluffed-up robin under a bare deciduous tree. I could only imagine what he or she was thinking: Where is spring? Although it probably wasn't the case, the robin looked as if it was shivering, which made me shiver all the more. Spring is here, but it still doesn't consistently act like it (according to my definition of spring anyway). The wind can still be raw, the temperature in the teens and the snow falling as if it were December, but spring it is anyway. For just as soon as I give in that it's cold, blowing and snowing, the terrible weather stops, the sun comes out, the winds fade away and the snow melts to give subtle hints of green grass. Like the robin I saw that recent Sunday, my feathers get a little ruffled that winter won't just give in and go away with some level of grace to allow spring to fully enter.
Monday, March 31, 2014
While Larry has been experiencing March Madness, with one eye always focused on the televised basketball games of late, I've been having my own version of hoop dreams as I drive past area businesses setting up their hoop houses for spring plant sales. After a winter that has seemed to be harsher and longer than in recent years, I am relishing my own celebration of March Madness. To finally see bags of mulch being stacked outdoors is a moment for celebration in Wisconsin. Now, as I take my evening walks, I see people raking their yards, taking down Christmas lights and engaging in the annual ritual of preparing their lawns and homes for spring. Someone I spoke with recently told me that she had begun her spring cleaning by washing down walls and cleaning in the crevices, room by room. Another person I spoke with told me that she has seedlings growing indoors. On this last day of March, I celebrate that we're moving into the glorious month of April, filled with all of the hope and activity that spring brings with it.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
One recent Sunday, we prayed these words at church: "Oh God of peace, keep us from a mindless acceptance of things as they are. Let us all know that at the heart of change and turbulence there is an inner calm that comes from faith in you, and that from this central heart of peace, there may flow a creative compassion, a thirst for justice, a relentless proclamation of your love, and a willingness to give of ourselves in the Spirit of Christ...." It seems as if we can easily get caught up in the turbulence of change, the deep valley of worry or the loud din of drama. Yet, if we think about it, the better place is to be centered in a state of calmness. Only then, I believe, when we are free of agitation, distraction and disturbance can we truly feel blessed and open ourselves to being a blessing to others.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Our pastor spoke recently about the fact that God has called each of us to be and do something special. Each of us is gifted in some way with something that we are good at and that we enjoy immensely. During one portion of her sermon, she asked the congregation to take a few minutes and to share with those sitting in the pew next to us what we see as our passion and purpose. My good friend next to me told me that she loves to sing with a particular group and she likes to be part of something that contributes to the greater good. In turn, I voiced that I enjoy the creative pursuits of writing and video projects. In the pew ahead of me, I saw a woman sketching a beautifully detailed drawing in pencil on a small piece of paper. Obviously, her gift is art. Behind me was a woman whose lovely voice shone true and pure with each hymn we sang. I couldn't help but feel that one of her gifts is music. As I looked around me, I was no longer surrounded by people, but by gifts and passions. We are each called to be our very best and to utilize our talents and gifts for the greatest good. I was thankful to our pastor and her sermon as a reminder of this important message.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Spring has officially sprung today and I can't be happier. The birdsong seems louder. The snow seems to melt faster. The sky seems bluer. All seems right with the world now that spring has arrived. Spring is my favorite time of year, for it is a time of new beginnings, a time of renewal, a time when nature leaves its quiet mode and bursts forth with color. I can't be outside enough at this time of year. So, I am giving myself the gift of more time outdoors. As part of that gift, I am applauding the fact that winter is "officially" behind us with all of its relentless darkness, freezing cold, feet of snow and raw winds. Consequently, I will reduce the number of blog posts I'm writing to twice weekly, posting only on Mondays and Thursdays, until further notice. Instead of sitting in front of my laptop, I'll be outside taking walks, breathing in the fresh air and watching spring unfold with all of its beauty and new life. It's a new and glorious season, one to enjoy to the fullest!
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
It'll be a few months before we see dragonflies once again at Devil's Lake, but last Sunday, a good friend surprised me with the gift of a whimsical, colorful dragonfly to hang on the wall. Just looking at its brightly colored wings and body makes me smile. This particular generous friend periodically surprises me with a card or gift depicting dragonflies, and I so appreciate her kindness. The dragonfly is supposedly symbolic of many things, including maturity, poise, adaptability and depth of character, even the ability to see things clearly. My favorite meaning of the dragonfly, however, is the focus on living in the moment and to the fullest. As I look at my new colorful dragonfly hanging on the wall of my home office, I reflect on the blessings of living in the moment, even when the moment is difficult. It is only when I give full attention to the now that I recognize all of the good that is in it.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
It's funny how we so willingly part with a dollar and don't think much of it most of the time. Yet, when I found a dollar in the snow the other day, I was simply overjoyed. You would have thought I'd found a hundred-dollar bill the way I reacted. Larry got into the excitement, too, looking to see if any other stray dollar bills happened to have been buried at that spot. Alas, no such luck. However, he and I talked for a couple of hours about what a coup it was to have found that dollar. Once, many years ago, I found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. More often, however, I find stray pennies. Not too long ago, I found three such stray cents. Instead of pocketing them, I left them stacked up for someone else to find as a treasure. So, what did we do with our found dollar bill? We spent it on the flavor of the day at Culver's! Somehow, it made our find and our custard just that much more delicious.
Monday, March 17, 2014
With St. Patrick's Day upon us, my thoughts went to shamrocks. Not knowing the difference between shamrocks and clover, I decided to do a little online research. Although my findings are far from definitive and I will never proclaim to be an expert on either, I did find the reading to be enlightening. For instance, my mom always had an Oxalis around our house, a shamrock-looking type of houseplant that bears little white flowers. She also carried a four-leaf clover in her wallet that she had found as a young woman and preserved with adhesive. From some of my online reading, I learned that the shamrock, known for its three leaves (as opposed to a four-leaf clover), has some Christian significance, with the trifoliate leaves representing the Trinity. What we consider to be clover plants today all have a lineage to the pea family. It's no wonder that the pea shoots I get at our farmer's market resemble young clovers. With so much German and Bohemian heritage in my veins, I can only wish for a little luck of the Irish. My late maternal grandfather, however, used to claim that we had some Irish ancestry in us. His proclamations used to make the rest of the family chuckle a bit, but made his eyes dance. Perhaps his Irish eyes are smiling on us today.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
My church friend Mike and I are creating a video that will be shown at our church in a few weeks during a tour of downtown Baraboo historic churches. It has been fun to look through old photographs of the church building, but it is even more enjoyable looking at the old photographs featuring people. Perhaps it's the romantic in me, but I like to look into their faces, connect with their eyes and wonder what their lives were like at that very moment when the photograph was taken. Some of the pictures date back some 150 years ago, others 50 years ago. The trappings of life may have changed over the past decades, but the hopes, dreams, desires, and perhaps the triumphs and tribulations, too, may very well be the same as we experience today. In the end, I believe we all simply want to be safe, loved and happy and we wish the same for our loved ones. I enjoy looking back into those faces through time, for they remind me of what's important today.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Today has been a day for friendship. It began with getting together with my lovely friend Kitty who brings me joy every time we get together. She has the passionate heart of an artist. Everything she touches turns into something beautiful. My times with her calm and feed my soul at the same time. Larry and I have also been invited to a party this evening. It was to begin as a going-away party of sorts, but due to various circumstances, has turned into a party to celebrate spring with friends. I'm grateful for any reason to get together with these wonderful friends, for we have been close for many years. Their invitation made me think of how important friends are to my happiness. We can be individuals, we can be independent, but there is nothing like the blessing of friends to share the good times with you and buoy you up during the not-so-good times. All of these friends with whom I will have spent my day and evening have been just that in my life. As Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet said in A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, "We'll be friends forever, won't we, Pooh?" asked Piglet. "Even longer," Pooh answered. To all of my Even Longer friends, thank you.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Our pastor preached about unconditional love last Sunday. As part of her sermon, she incorporated Biblical scripture pertaining to loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. It seemed ironic that when watching the news that very same evening, there was story after story about war-torn areas around the globe and people fighting and demonstrating for human rights. How mind-boggling it is for me to realize that people who suffer so much can possibly love their enemies or pray for their persecutors. Yet, there are those of strong faith and belief who seem to be able to rise above some of the worst hurts and atrocities that one can possibly imagine. I learn the vital lesson from them and from our pastor that love truly abides. Even when things are difficult, the way challenging or the responses of others hurtful, one can work through those things, rise above them and find that between faith, hope and love, the greatest of these truly is to love.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
I love to watch the early morning sky. When all is still and the day is unfolding, there is nothing so lovely as the dawn. One recent morning, I found myself unable to move away from the kitchen windows, for the sky was a radiant shade of pink. How could one have a bad day when it starts out with such majesty, beauty and tranquility? Now that Daylight Savings Time has returned, I have to stand at the window a little later than normal in order to take in daybreak, which interferes some with my preparations for my workday. However, whenever I can, I will breathe in every moment of the break of dawn, for it holds promise, hope, joy and new beginnings. Some may sing of "Blue Skies," but these days, my song is about those amazing, beautiful and life-giving pink skies.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
It is that joyful time of year when every sign, no matter how subtle, of spring seems to make my heart sing. Although I haven't seen one yet myself, I've heard of numerous sightings of robins that have bravely returned to Wisconsin, harbingers of spring. I took a walk on Sunday afternoon and almost didn't want to come back inside. For the first time in what felt like eons, I was able to walk at a fast clip, dodging puddles, feeling the breeze on my face and finding myself practically ready to dance around like Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain" (but without the rain). We northerners are a courageous group of souls, weathering all that the weather has to dish out each winter. Yet, in our resiliency, we're also people of hope, for we withstand stoically the winter, hopeful of the warmer seasons to come. So, here we are, on the cusp of spring, survivors once again of a rough, raw winter. There's something to dance about!
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Our pastor spoke about grace one recent Sunday, which in the Christian faith is the unmerited receipt of God's love. I think of the many blessings I have received undeservedly, blessings that have come about through God's love. I have been given a most loving and supportive husband. I have survived countless serious and life-threatening illnesses. I had a wonderful mother and father. I have a warm and comfortable home in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. I have plenty of food in the kitchen so that I will never go hungry. I have loving friends who bring me quality of life. I have a job that challenges me, excites me and enriches me and I am surrounded in the workplace by good people. I have no needs and, I daresay, no wants. I am truly, truly blessed. I didn't earn any of those things. They were and are gifts. So, as I begin and end each day listing three things for which I am grateful, I focus today on the many blessings for which I played no part in their making. They simply are and for that I say grace.
Monday, March 10, 2014
I'm not one to pamper myself, but one recent Saturday morning, I decided to deviate from the norm. It had been a long week that required my rising every day one hour earlier than I usually do. So, when Saturday rolled around, I let myself sleep and sleep and sleep. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided not to get out of bed right away. Instead, I propped some pillows up behind me and I read the newspaper, then a book, stretched out in bed. Still enjoying the experience immensely, I decided to get up long enough to make my breakfast and cart it back to bed with me. Breakfast in bed? Never! My to-do list, long as my arm, was waiting for me. What in the world was I doing lounging in bed, propped up by pillows, the newspaper and a book at the ready, and my faithful bowl of oatmeal within easy reaching distance on the bedside table? What I was doing was just what I needed to do -- pamper myself. It's fine for me not to make a regular practice of it, for it would lose its luster quickly, but on that particular Saturday morning, my to-do list stayed right where it belonged, outside of the reach of my mind, body and spirit so I could live (but for a while) in the lap of luxury.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
You wouldn't know it by the temperature or the mounds of snow outside our window, but we've taken a step forward today. It's Daylight Savings Time again. And oh, how we need a sign of spring! To be able to turn the clocks forward by one hour gives us that precious added daylight at the end of the work day. We'll begin our evening walks again, just as soon as it isn't too icy. I have only one walking pace and it's at a fast clip. I need ice-free sidewalks or I'll simply wait until I get them. Two years ago, March was so balmy that I recall wearing a denim skirt without pantyhose to a St. Patrick's Day concert. I knew it was dreadfully wrong to have such warm weather so soon, but I couldn't help but love every moment. This year, given the interminable nature of our winter, I'll take any sign I can get. And signs there are. Looking out of our kitchen window the other day, I could see buds on a tree in the distance. Even when it's been cold and snowing, the birds have been singing gaily. The sky has a different look, now that we're moving toward the vernal equinox. Spring is really coming. The clock has told me so.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
I love, love to read and I love to have at least one book around me in any room of the house at any given time. So when I read recently that a fictional character shared my love of books and saw them as "furniture of the mind," I agreed. The character surrounded himself with books and saw them more important than furniture. I wouldn't replace my comfy bed or equally comfy leather reading chair and ottoman, but I do surround myself with books and even decorate with them. My late mom's collection of Gladys Taber books seems to find a space in every room of our home. Seeing them brings me comfort and reminds me of Mom's gentle spirit, as mirrored in the words of Mrs. Taber. People post photos on Facebook of furniture cleverly made from books, including shelves and coat racks. I probably won't make furniture from my books, but I will surround myself with them, relishing them as furniture of the mind.
Friday, March 7, 2014
As hard as I looked, I couldn't find the pirates or the ship, but a crow high in a tree on the historic courthouse lawn was busy calling "Argh!" at me as I walked underneath the other day. He (I say "he," but "he" may have been a "she") sounded a bit like a pirate and he wouldn't stop calling at me. I wondered if the big black bird was lost and looking for the crow's nest of a pirate ship or perhaps he thought I looked like a character from "Pirates of the Caribbean." Whatever his issue, he was certainly letting me know about it. I've heard crows hundreds of time. Their characteristic "caw" sound is something I can hear and kind of ignore, even though it's usually rather piercing and irritating to the ear. But when a crow makes pirate sounds, it gets my attention. I decided to study the matter and checked out a website called www.allaboutbirds.org. The site offered several audio files that featured the diversity, though not very pretty calls, of crows. Some of the sounds were reminiscent of what I'd heard that day on the courthouse lawn, but nothing with so much of the "r" sound. I may never know the reason behind that crow's call, but it certainly got my imagination to stirring! Argh, matey!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Without fail, I prepare the same breakfast for myself every morning. I love a big bowl of rolled oats, prepared with plump blueberries, ground flax seed and a heavy powdering of cinnamon. That breakfast keeps my batteries charged until early afternoon when I finally have the time to take a lunch break. One recent morning, however, I wasn't in the mood for my regular breakfast. Instead, I wanted slices of sprouted-grain bread with a drizzle of honey. As I was eating my slices of bread and honey, I started humming the children's nursery rhyme song, "Sing a Song of Sixpence," for I was eating like the queen! I wasn't in my parlour, however, but at our dining room table. As I drove to work that day, I thought some more about the lyrics of that song and wondered just what they meant. Why would someone want a pocketful of rye (other than to sow the seeds)? For what reason would someone bake four and twenty live blackbirds in a pie? Doesn't that seem barbaric? And what kind of a children's song is it that requires a doctor to sew back on the maid's nose after it was pecked off by a blackbird (perhaps one that had flown off and missed being baked in the pie)? I read several interpretations of the poem online and found that there may be a lot of symbolism in it that could only have been understood and laughed at some 300 years ago. I guess I won't worry about. Instead, I'll feel quite like a queen the next time I sit down to bread and honey.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
It had been a hectic work week with long hours, many meetings and several evenings of additional obligations, so it was doubly nice last Friday night when Larry and I had the opportunity to sit still for a couple of hours and take in some beautiful music provided by the Pro Arte Quartet. The program included the works of Franz Joseph Haydn and Anton Bruckner, as well as a contemporary piece by Benoit Mernier that was commissioned in celebration of the Pro Arte Quartet's centennial. On such occasions, I find that I enjoy the music even more when I close my eyes and let the loveliness wash over me. Such was the case last Friday evening. As I closed my eyes and welcomed the music into my soul, the busyness of the week departed and I was soon quiet, calm and filled with a sense of profound blessing and peace. Such are the benefits of a little night music.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I recently read a Forbes magazine article, "7 Habits of Insanely Productive People," by Ekaterina Walter in which she addresses infobesity, a new chronic disorder stemming from our being bombarded with so much information that we can't consume it, store it or use it properly. We live in a time when we can barely leave our desktops without coming back to 20 emails or more, many of which requiring our attention. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective), we carry devices with us around the clock that allow us to access this deluge of information, requests and demands at all times. There is little opportunity to turn away from the barrage of messages. Or is there? I have made it a habit of turning off my cell phone more than I have it turned on. I watch less television than I used to. I am selective in my reading material. I drive in the car without the radio on, just to enjoy the silence or to sort out things that have been weighing on my mind. For those who thrive on the rapid flow of information coming to us around the clock, they may say that there's a fat chance that it will get any slower. But as Ms. Walter suggests, infobesity is cutting into our productivity. I would add that it is cutting into our peace of mind. At some point, we need to give ourselves a break, if only for a bit, to enjoy a time to be quiet, time to think, time to be present to others without distraction, and oh yes, time to be.
Monday, March 3, 2014
While doing some reading recently, I learned that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was even more fascinating than I'd originally thought. Dr. Bob Dewel, a retired dentist, prolific writer and local historian, has portrayed Benjamin Franklin on numerous occasions, but I have never had the pleasure of seeing his presentation. Instead, Ben Franklin has been someone I just occasionally read about in history books. My recent reading, however, told me more about Franklin the good citizen, Franklin the conscience of our society, Franklin the inventor and Franklin the sage. Ben Franklin believed in “good citizenship” and contributing to the greater good. He saw volunteerism as each citizen’s civic duty. Among his many amazing feats, Benjamin Franklin reportedly helped organize the first lending library in this country, a predecessor of today’s public libraries. He believed in environmental cleanup. His inventions ran from head to toe, from bifocals to swim fins. Perhaps what I enjoy most about Franklin was his keen wit and his ability to say so much in so few words. I should imagine that if Ben Franklin lived today, he would be the most entertaining and successful users of Twitter.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Ah, bliss! March has finally arrived. And while it may still be a topsy-turvy month weather-wise, at least we can take heart that our wintery weather will finally give way to spring -- and hopefully this month. Such a raw, harsh winter it has been. I had to laugh at a conversation I had with a group of people last week who said that they had become conditioned to hearing meteorologists forecast bleak, below-zero high temperatures day after day. It was almost as if we had become so used to such freezing conditions that the depth of the cold couldn't even faze us anymore. This is the month of transition into spring. March can come in like a lion or a lamb and exit whichever way it wants, as well. But, we know that this month brings about the return of Daylight Savings Time and the vernal equinox will quickly follow. We should start feeling more moderate temperatures and even see our snow begin to melt. March is really a marvelous month.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Yesterday, I was invited to speak at the first annual Baraboo Public Library volunteer appreciation luncheon. It was a joy to prepare my remarks about volunteerism, for I treasured my nearly 30 years of working professionally with volunteers, as well as the many years I've been a volunteer myself. As I researched and reflected on the topic, I recalled the many wonderful people I've gotten to know throughout the years because of the career path I had chosen that would lead me into meaningful working relationships with a bounty of selfless, hard-working volunteers. According to volunteeringinamerica.gov, 64.5 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours last year. Their combined estimated service was worth nearly $175 billion nationwide. While I have always been fascinated by such numbers, I don't believe the true value of volunteerism can be quantified. There is so much benefit to the one giving of time and talent, as well as to the organization receiving it that I believe volunteering defies the application of dollars and cents. Rather, from my experience, volunteering is the application of hands and hearts.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Last Sunday, we sang a lovely hymn at church featuring lyrics that call the singer to find his or her quiet center, a peaceful place where one can let God in and feel the abundance of God's love. I've found more and more lately the need to sit quietly, reflect, think and meditate. Some of my meditative times are prayerful, my head and heart filled with words. At other times, I can't form the words to express my feelings. Instead, I open myself up to the abundance of peace, coming to the occasion with no expectations, only with a desire to find that beautiful state that comes from centering and being quiet for a while. The everyday cacophony that fills my head and my world can only be mitigated by finding my quiet center. I believe it was Marlene Dietrich (No, it was Greta Garbo!) who made the phrase famous, "I want to be alone." Like her, I like the notion of being alone at times. That is when I find the quiet center, and all of my wants and needs are filled.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I've been devoting some of my winter reading this year to books about life in the south during the Great Depression. Through their pages, I've learned what it was like to endure the hardships of a stock market crash and drought, only to be surpassed by enduring faith and community spirit. In one of the books, it was noted that WLS Radio in Chicago received its call letters from the words "World's Largest Store." According to that same book, WLS was owned and started by the retail and catalogue giant, Sears-Roebuck and Company. After having heard WLS for years, I was surprised to learn the story behind the airwaves. So, I did a little online research to find out how a retail giant and a radio station would come together. According to WLS' website, Sears-Roebuck had started out exploring the power of the medium of radio by purchasing airtime to attract the Midwest's lucrative farm market in the early 1920s. The experiment proved to be so successful that within a couple of years, the company decided to construct its own radio station. Several ideas for call letters were forwarded, but by the time they went on the air on April 12, 1924, they had selected WLS. Today, we take airwaves in all forms pretty much for granted, but nearly a century ago when the medium was new and, a decade later, when the days were difficult due to the Depression, stations like WLS brought innovation and joy into the homes of many who could use a lightened spirit and an ear to a bigger world.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
It was announced just a few days ago that American TV & Appliance was going out of business. A retail giant and staple in our area for decades, it came as a shock to me that this once-robust business would no longer have its doors open. Living in another community from the nearest American TV store, I didn't get there very often, but the store was so well known that I couldn't possibly imagine that it might no longer exist. My most vivid memories of American TV are linked to the TV commercials done some 30 years ago for the business by a man who called himself Crazy TV Lenny. Lenny's voice would yell and rant through our television into our living room, expounding at high pitch and pace on the many virtues of buying appliances, furniture and more from American. Crazy TV Lenny wasn't crazy at all. In fact, he was quite brilliant. He was Len Mattioli, the man at the helm of American during those booming years. He knew that by separating himself from the competition, even if it was in a feverish pace and ear-shattering volume, he'd get your attention. And that he did. In a day when retail competition is stiff, and online versus in-store sales are increasingly vying for our precious dollars, I fondly recall the day when Crazy TV Lenny would yell himself into our living room, urging us to contemplate our next big purchase.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Just when I really wanted to complain one more time about the harsh winter we're enduring this year, Larry and I found ourselves on the highway recently, oohing and ahhing about the beautiful layer of hoarfrost that delicately covered every branch and blade of tall grass in our sight. It looked like a thin coat of icing or frosting on every surface. I am admittedly a spring sort of person. I can't wait for the snow to give way to grass and the gentle shades of green that will make themselves known, but I just couldn't get over the beauty of the hoarfrost that day. Everything has to be just right in order for hoarfrost to form, which seems to be a miracle unto itself. According to the online Encyclopaedia Brittanica, hoarfrost are ice crystals deposited onto objects that are exposed to the air. Hoarfrost "is formed by direct condensation of water vapour to ice at temperatures below freezing and occurs when air is brought to its frost point by cooling." Moisture is the key to the formation of hoarfrost, in that if you don't have enough moisture in the air, the hoarfrost can't form. I'm still ready for spring, but in the meantime, I was reminded on that highway ride to stop, pause and take in the beauty that nature provides every day.
Monday, February 24, 2014
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining a group of people to watch the movie, "Parable," which was filmed at our local Circus World Museum in the early 1960s. Produced for the Protestant Council of the City of New York, “Parable” uses the circus as metaphor to tell the Lenten story. The 22-minute art film has a pantomime quality to it, with no dialogue or subtitles. The action is accompanied by a circus-inspired musical track. Now 50 years old, “Parable” was considered controversial in its day due to the way in which Jesus was represented in the film. Although he was intended to be portrayed as a white-face, skull-capped mime, those who took issue with the film thought Jesus was being depicted as a circus clown. It is reported that “Parable” provided the inspiration for Jesus’ portrayal as a clown in “Godspell” less than a decade later. “Parable” received such initial criticism that it almost didn’t get shown at the 1964 World’s Fair. However, the show did go on. The film became one of the fair’s most popular attractions. It later went on to receive the 1966 Religious Film Award of the National Catholic Theatre Conference, as well as honors at the 1966 Cannes, Venice and Edinburgh film festivals. In 2012, “Parable” was inducted into the National Film Registry of The Library of Congress because of its history-making role in helping shape American culture. The film will be shown in Circus World's theater in Baraboo as part of a tour of historic downtown Baraboo churches on Sunday afternoon, April 6. Showings will take place at 1:00 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.. It will be interesting to hear how people view the film some five decades after it made its mark.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
A friend on Facebook shared a post about intuition recently that I, in turn, shared with others. The post suggested that we consider intuition our best friend, believing it and embracing it for all its tremendous worth. I truly believe in my intuition. It has gotten me through many an interesting moment, guiding me, nudging me, sometimes screaming at me to listen and heed its sound advice. By allowing myself to embrace the messages of my intuition, I can live a life of greater ease. It will take me places I wouldn't have thought of before. It will take me down paths that may seem strange to others, but are inherently right for me. With my intuition guiding me, I can feel confident that I will know if I'm on the right path and what I'm to do next when the right time presents itself. Although it may seem like a strange BFF, I'll go with my intuition every time, knowing that it will always be there, no matter what.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I've been reading a book that features two sayings that remind me of special people in my life. The first, "betting dollars to donuts," was something my late mother always said, as in, "I'd bet dollar to donuts that she is Susie's mom because they look so much alike." I looked up the saying's origin online, learning that it was made popular in 19th century America. It doesn't refer to a true bet, but rather, suggests certainty. The alliteration of it makes it rather pleasant to say, as well. The other saying is "You can't plow a field by turning it over in your mind." Although the author appears unknown from my online research, the saying may have originated in Ireland. This phrase reminds me of the late C.P. "Chappie" Fox, circus historian and author whose passion for antique circus wagons propelled him to amass an unparalleled collection for Circus World Museum. One never to simply plow a field in his mind, Chappie used to say this phrase when emphasizing that you can't over-think an issue. Sooner or later, you just have to do it. I don't tend to use these sayings myself, but I just may start using them in honor of two people who influenced my life in ways for which I'll always be grateful. And now to plow that field...
Friday, February 21, 2014
It was supposed to be a quiet Saturday evening, no special plans, just time to relax. Earlier in the week, I had started feeling signs of a quarrelsome kidney stone. Although uncomfortable, I figured I could weather it out and it would pop out without much fanfare as the others have done, save one. On Saturday evening, however, the little thing decided to make itself known. Gone were the quarrels. Now, it was an argument that quickly turned into a heated scuffle. The hours ticked by and the thing kept throwing fits until it must have passed, for things quieted down just about as quickly as they had started. I somehow had thought I could soldier through it, breathing deeply and continuing to write at my laptop. I soon realized that the stone wanted my full attention and that trying to breathe deeply, write seriously or even read casually were not to be. Strangely, I found solace looking out the bedroom window at the pink-cast sky and falling snow. The rosy glow of the sky made me feel peaceful, even when in pain. I was rather limp the next day, but that turned out to be a blessing, too. I've been pushing myself quite a bit lately, trying to work on three writing projects at once after working a demanding, full-time job. That Sunday, my pajamas were my day's attire and my pillow never looked so good. A bit of a tussle turned out to be quite alright (though, hopefully, not one to be repeated!).
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Green is one of my favorite colors. I love all of the subtle shades of green as the trees, shrubs and flowers show signs of new spring life. I strive to live green by reducing, reusing and recycling. But, I draw the line when people's faces start turning green on our living room television. What started as a fluke has now become a more frequent occurrence where everything turns a strange, sickly shade of green. I'm struggling to part with the set, however. I wish there were ways to repair, rather than simply recycle and buy new. But, the set is probably about 20 years old and has served its years well, both for Mom (who first owned the TV) and us. The green scene doesn't last long, so Larry and I decided to let it go a while longer until it truly interferes with our viewing pleasure. Then, it'll be time to join the rest of humanity and own a flat-screen television. I believe the time is coming soon.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Larry and I attended a lecture about frac sand mining that was sponsored last week by the Baraboo Range Preservation Association. The speaker, UW-Baraboo/Sauk County philosophy professor Dale Murray, explained the ethical dilemma around the controversial and growing practice of mining for silica that is used in the hydraulic fracturing "fracking" process in order to tap into natural gas reserves. Wisconsin is one of the Midwestern states that have the ideal type of sand for the job. The dilemma arises when you pit those who are trying to protect the environment and its fragile inhabitants, such as the Karner Blue Butterly, against those who sell the rights to silica mining on their land for economic reasons and those who benefit from the mining jobs. The mining sites are growing in such numbers that they are closely encroaching on Sauk County and the Baraboo Hills, thus a topic of keen interest to the Baraboo Range Preservation Association and its members. When confronted with weighty issues, such as frac sand mining, it is sometimes difficult to look at them from all of the many perspectives. Professor Murray did an excellent job of weighing the consequences of both sides and leaving the audience with much to think about. I personally tend to lean toward the side that wishes to protect the Baraboo Hills and the diverse species that call the Hills home. Then again, Professor Murray made a compelling case for the opposing viewpoint. So many issues in our world are not easy to solve. I believe that if one seeks a balanced approach, works diligently to keep communication lines open and makes every effort to find common ground, the world will be a better place and the weight of heavy issues may be lightened, if but a little.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I've noticed more and more what poor manners people display on television. Their raised voices and harsh words are steadily becoming the norm. I wonder what the effect will be on our culture. When people disagree, both on the screen and in person, there is an increasing tendency for them to raise their voices, as if upping the volume will ensure that others know that their opinions are right. If we keep yelling at and over each other, what will the end result be, other than impaired hearing? Disagreeing with each other shouldn't have to be a disagreeable experience. Offering a contrasting viewpoint should be treated as a respectful experience that contributes to a broader perspective and an enhanced dialogue. I learn so much more when I listen carefully to another person's perspective without interrupting, without judging and, most certainly, without raising my voice. What would happen if we all spoke softly and listened respectfully? It might not make for entertaining television, but it would certainly make for a better world.
Monday, February 17, 2014
I stare into the black and white photo and see the face of a 27-year-old man who has seen things he never expected or wanted. He was a medic during WWII. He saw some of the worst of the battles in Europe. He was my dad. A good family friend and his nonagenarian mother have been looking through old photo albums. Recently, they spotted a picture that my father had sent to their husband/dad in 1945. In the photo, Dad is shown squatting in tall grasses, his forearms resting on his thighs, his hands clasped casually. His face is thin and tan, his brow furrowed, his eyes focused, his hair thick and perfectly groomed. He appears to be dressed casually, but he might have been wearing his U.S. Army fatigues. On the front of the photo, Dad had written "'Chuck' Naidl - 7/10/45 Germany." On the back, he wrote "10 July 45, Bad Sooden-Allendorf, Germany (viper hunt!). With regards to "Pete" from Chuck." Underneath his signature was the cartoon rattlesnake that Dad often drew under his name when he sent letters to me. My father had a lifelong fascination with reptiles that caused him to study them in earnest and to spend his career lecturing about their virtues to students of all ages in school lyceum programs across the United States. Although the atrocities of war must have affected him deeply, Dad found a way to feed his passions by going on a "viper hunt" in war-torn Germany. What a gift it was to receive this surprise photo and to be able to look deeply into the face of the young man who would some decade later become my dad and who would share the good news about reptiles for the rest of his life.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
One evening last week, I was at church surveying the stained glass windows when my tour took me to a conference room on the second floor. The room was named after a woman who gave much energy, guidance and leadership to our church, Evelyn Pfaff. A photo of Evelyn is displayed in the room, along with her full name. Although I had seen it posted there many times before, I was struck this time by the fact that Evelyn's middle name was Delight. Just reading it made me smile. What a wonderful gift to bestow a child than to give her the middle name of Delight. There may be reasons unknown to me as to why she received her middle name, but in my viewpoint, it would be nice if every child could have such a middle name and be treated as if he or she is one. Although I have not had the opportunity to be a mother or grandmother, I do have opportunities to interact with the children and youth from our church. Each one is filled with the exuberance for today and the hope for tomorrow. They bring joy and good energy to our congregation, reminding us of what is important in life. May we see those children -- and all children -- for what they are, a delight.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Our pastor quoted Maya Angelou in one of her recent sermons: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." One could interpret these sage words in a variety of ways, but I heard them in the literal sense. Last month, I took the plunge and submitted the initial entry to a memoir contest sponsored by AARP, Huffington Post and Simon & Schuster. The deadline for the contest is today. After considerable urging by others to tell my untold story of everything from growing up with reptiles to my serpentine journey from illness to illness, I did just that. My story's on paper. The competition for this contest will be fierce and I have no expectations of my story reaching finalist status, but the action of putting the initial, 5,000-word entry of my personal story out there for the world to read propelled me to continue writing. For the past several weekends, I have been adding to my story. The work isn't done yet, but I'm making progress. Should my book reach finalist status, I would need to have an additional 15,000 to 45,000 words written by the middle of June anyway. So, we'll see what comes of it. For now, I have the satisfaction of knowing that the story inside me is no longer untold.
Friday, February 14, 2014
In her "Gift From the Sea," Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells the story of her time alone on a beach-side vacation and the self-discoveries she made through the metaphor of the various types of seashells she collected while there. Recently, I've had a yearning for a few seashells to decorate our home. Perhaps it's the desire to move into a new season from the heaviness of pine cones and evergreens. Whatever the reason, I bought a small bag of seashells at my favorite thrift store and placed them in a Blue Willow bowl that had been my mom's. Mom loved seashells, so the combination of shells and bowl seemed appropriate. While scouring through my thrift store find, I discovered that one of the shells was a sliver-thin, pale and small heart-shaped shell, hardly bigger around than a quarter It seemed the perfect addition to the Valentine card I had gotten my husband. I may not have the poetic words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in my being, but I felt the poetic pull of the heart-shaped shell when I thought of my loving husband Larry. As I rolled the shell over and over in my hand, it reminded me that love is precious and beautiful and honed into its own shape over time and some adversity. However, like the shell, love may appear fragile, but it is actually strong and resilient and made to survive the test of time. So, with the gift of a small shell, I send my love and best wishes to my favorite Valentine, my husband Larry.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
My 2014 calendar indicates that tomorrow is not only Valentine's Day; it's a full moon. When I read that calendar entry, I smiled, for what better evening to have a full moon than on Valentine's Day? On that traditional day and evening of expressing love and affection for another, it seems appropriate to me that it also be one when we can "go all moony." We can daydream and moon over a special someone and consider it justified. There is nothing so intoxicating than to be in love, especially when that love is new. One's surroundings seem blurred, as if in a dream, making the sky seem brighter, the scents sweeter, the jokes funnier, the possibilities grander, the world better. But, there is something even more enchanting to me about love that is no longer new. There is comfort in a love that has seen some seasons. When love has matured, it has been through some tumbles and still stands firm. It is deeper and built on commitment and steadfastness. So, whether love is new or not so new anymore, tomorrow's Valentine's Day full moon will be a great opportunity to "go all moony" over the one you love.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I'm used to rising between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. For months now, I've awakened to darkness. However, last Saturday, I let myself sleep in until a little after 6:30 a.m. As I opened my eyes, something miraculous struck me. It was no longer dark! Although it wasn't completely daylight yet, there were hints of it through our bedroom window, enough for me to be able to make the bed in a tidy fashion without having to turn on a single light. As I arise each day, I immediately list three things for which I am thankful. That day, early sunrises were among my three things. The increased daylight is such a gift. It may be cold, it may be snowing, but the incremental addition of minutes of daylight do much to lift the spirits. I couldn't help but think of the foreboding bass aria from Handel's "Messiah," "For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth." Darkness has covered the earth for the past few months, but we are now experiencing the day-by-day gift of light!
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Last Sunday at church, we responsively read text in our worship bulletins about the blessed, with such words as: "Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are those who mourn...Blessed are the ones who seek justice.... Then, we heard the full words of Matthew 5:1-11, words that have come to be known as The Beatitudes. Using Inclusive Text, we heard that those who mourn, those who are gentle, those who are merciful, those who are peacemakers, we are all blessed. In our day-to-day living, it is sometimes hard to remember that we are blessed. Two people at our church reminded me last Sunday of the meaning of the text we had all collectively read and heard. One, who is facing the serious illness of an adult child, looked at me with the calm eyes of faith and said "Everything will be alright." The other, a woman who is seeking some changes in her life, gave me the gifts of her kindness and generosity. Even in the depths of our sorrow and our uncertainty, our fear and our anguish, there is reason to find blessing. At times, we may have to dig a little deeper, but blessing is there all the same. Each day this past week, I have continued my ritual of beginning and ending with three things for which to be grateful. Such a check-in gives me focus to remember just how very much I am blessed indeed.
Monday, February 10, 2014
It's mid-winter and our fickle weather vacillates between sub-zero wind chills and inches of snow. Yet, when I look out of our kitchen window, I see the hope of spring. There, I see a line of flowering ornamental shrubs, each holding spring in the buds that are forming on their limbs. First in line is the French lilac. Farther down is an azalea, flanked by two weigelas. I can't count the number of buds that they hold onto so dearly, for there are so many. Even the two small burning bushes look as if they're just counting the days until they can burst forth with leaves. As I watch the scene out of our kitchen window, I am reminded of the "Hymn of Promise" by Natalie Sleeth: "In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring that waits to be." These next winter weeks will be a test to our patience, but like the ornamental shrubs holding tight to their spring buds, some things are, as Ms. Sleeth wrote so beautifully, "un-revealed until its season."