Monday, December 31, 2012
I enjoy receiving a newsletter from our local Aging & Disability Resource Center. It's always chocked full of helpful hints and useful information. One article in the latest edition, written by Steven B. Cloud, was about time. According to Mr. Cloud, as we view the new year, we'll perhaps see it as 12 months or 52 weeks or 365 days. But we can also see it as 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes or even 31,536,000 seconds. It's one thing for me to refer to a year or months or weeks or even days, but when I do the math and see next year as hours, minutes or seconds, time takes on an entirely new meaning. How will I use this precious gift of those hours, minutes and seconds in 2013? How will I be a good steward of my time, living each moment with intention and gratitude and not squandering it? As I get older, time marches on more quickly. All the more reason to make each moment count.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Larry and I took a brief drive out of town on a recent Sunday afternoon. I expected it to be a rather ordinary little drive, one that we've taken time and time again, but what we encountered was far from ordinary. Our drive took us to a winter wonderland. It was only a few days after our big pre-Christmas blizzard. The evergreen trees were flocked with thick, white snow. The silhouettes of the deciduous trees were barely visible in their generous cloaks of white. Some of the tree branches were surprisingly decorated with snowballs, the same size that we used to make in mitten-covered hands as kids. How did the snow land in just that fashion on tree after tree without falling off, I wondered. Snow covered the roof of a round (probably octagonal) barn and stuck to the side of silos. A hawk flew majestically over our heads while hundreds of little black-silhouetted birds (starlings, perhaps) sat high up in three trees positioned close together. The sun was setting as we returned home. The western horizon was a stunning gradation of gold and yellow and blue and gray. I counted my blessings for all of the beauty we were fortunate to witness that not-so-ordinary, snowy, wintery afternoon.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
This month has been marked with an unusually large number of people I knew who have passed away, many of whom around the Christmas holiday. Some were newer acquaintances, some were old friends, some were relatives. While my heart has been heavy with so much loss, I find solace that these fine people, people I knew, people I cherished are now at peace, no longer suffering from illness. As we sang Silent Night at church on Christmas Eve, I internalized the words even more deeply this year: "All is calm, All is bright...Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace." My human sadness will continue for a bit as I resolve the loss of these special people in my life, but I will also be grateful that my life was touched and made better by them. And now, where all is calm, all is bright, they sleep in heavenly peace, forever with the angels.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Nowadays, there's a catchy name for just about everything, including the big shopping days of the holiday season: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Green Tuesday. I'm not sure if it has a special name or not, but I love to think and give charitably at the holidays. Other than to buy a few gifts for a few special people, Larry and I have made it a practice for the past 15 years or so to give to charities at Christmas rather than to each other. There is so little that we want and even less that we need that it gives us great joy to know that when we choose our gifts, we are helping the local children's, health, history, environmental, educational, spiritual and other organizations that mean so much to us and others. With no worries about the right size, color or style, we only have to hope that our gifts will be of benefit to the quality of life of others all year long.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
For all the years I've sung "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," including the verse demanding some figgy pudding, I've never really thought about the lyrics too much -- until this year, that is. I have become enamored with figs. Our local health foods store, The Grainery, sells organic figs -- regular and dried -- in bulk and I've become a big fan of them. I really like conadria figs, which are filled with fiber and nutrients and have a golden color, rich, nutty flavor and tender skins. Just one fig at the end of my lunch or dinner makes for a nice, sweet and nutritious ending to my meal. I've become so fascinated by figs and figgy pudding that I researched them online. On www.carols.org.uk, I learned that "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" can possibly be traced as far back as 16th century England. Carolers would sing for wealthy members of the community and be given Christmas treats in exchange for their entertainment. One of the treats that the carolers would request was figgy pudding. You don't really hear anything about figgy pudding anymore, but this same online source reported that the pudding was made of figs, butter, sugar, rum, apple, lemon and orange peel, various spices and more. I won't likely be singing anytime soon for figgy pudding, but I'm glad that I can get yummy figs any time of the year.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Our Christmas was a birthday party. From a Biblical perspective, Christmas is, as the song says, “the birthday party of the king.” Our Christmas was also a birthday party for our good friend Betty who turned 90 on Christmas Day. We celebrated with our good friend over good food and good conversation. Our Christmas feast came from our church’s community Christmas dinner. We brought take-out containers to Betty's house, ate ourselves silly, yet still saved room for Christmas treats and birthday cake and ice cream. We were joined on occasion by Betty’s feline ladies who otherwise enjoyed a long, Christmas Day nap. The gift wrapping, bows and ribbons will make for appealing playthings for the kitties. In every way, our Christmas was a blessing -- a celebration of the meaning of the holiday, a birthday party for our dear friend and an opportunity to break bread together in gratitude for all that we have and for each other. Those were precious Christmas gifts indeed.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
When Larry and I were in the car for several hours recently, I thoroughly enjoyed the confined time with him. In addition to having time free of distractions for conversation and reading aloud, we listened to Christmas music on the car radio. We sang along, tapping to the beat on the dash and steering wheel, all the while feeling the spirit of the season with each song. Our car time together reminded me of Christmases from my childhood. Santa always arrived while we were at church on Christmas Eve, so we opened our gifts on the evening of December 24. On Christmas Day, Mom, Dad and I would pile into the car to head to Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin to spend the holiday and several days thereafter with family and friends. Both of my parents had parents and siblings living in those sister communities, as well as longtime friends, so it seemed as if we ran from one house to another, enjoying the joyful noise, merriment and treats of the season with people we loved. All the way to Manitowoc, Mom, Dad and I would tune in the car radio to Christmas music, changing channels as needed to reach a new station when the previous one became filled with static. Singing, humming and laughing while listening to Christmas music made our three-hour trip seem much shorter. As Larry and I sang along with Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Andy Williams and Burl Ives, I cherished these new moments made with him. And, at the same time, I recalled lovely memories of decades ago when listening to Christmas music on the car radio with people I loved meant everything to this little girl. May you have beautiful Christmas memories to remember and a day today filled with making new memories with those you love. Merry Christmas.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Our church hosts a free community dinner each Christmas. It's a delicious meal. It’s a celebration of Christmas in the peaceful, beautiful space that we call our church. It’s an invitation to one and all looking to join together in breaking bread with others on the holiday. Hopefully, each person who partakes in the dinner will feel the love that went into preparing it by the scores of volunteers. This year, once again, I spent part of my Christmas Eve day helping prepare the dinner. There were relish trays to assemble and place settings for 200 people to set out on long, decorated tables. There were turkeys to roast, hams to bake, potatoes to mash and salads to prepare. I had "new" assignments this year of preparing sweet potatoes, slicing dinner rolls, preparing some of the rolls for take-out containers, and slicing pies. The church's kitchen had the heavenly commingled smells of roasted turkey, sage dressing and cranberries popping on the stovetop. Larry and I will go to Christmas Eve service at church tonight and probably drive around to look at Christmas lights once again and then snuggle up to watch some old Christmas movie on television until our eyelids get too heavy. May the blessings of this holiday be abundant in your life. May you remember with joy those loved ones no longer with you and, at the same time, give greetings and big hugs and kisses to those you love who are in your midst. And may you have a heart that is light and filled with gratitude, for the gifts of the spirit are present and lasting. ‘Wishing you a merry Christmas --
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Larry and I have owned our condo for a decade as of this week. It's hard to believe that 10 years have gone by since we plunged into the big decision to purchase our home. At the time, we thought it would give us so much room that we wouldn't ever use all of the 2,300 square feet of space. However, we have quickly filled the space and find ourselves living fully in every inch of it. Owning our condo and residing in our condo association have proven to have been great decisions, for we love our home and we have wonderful neighbors who make our association a true neighborhood. At the holidays as we reflect on our many blessings, I am grateful for our home and for the wonderful, caring people who make our living space "home sweet home."
Saturday, December 22, 2012
I really love to sing and at this time of year when Christmas music is playing in stores, on the radio, at church and just about anywhere you go, it's nice to be able to hum or sing along with Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Harry Connick, Jr., Steve Lawrence and the gang. With my cold dragging on for so long, I've not only had a husky speaking voice, my singing voice has been in its basement range at best. Gratefully, my singing voice is coming back and I've been able to carol and sing and hum along with Bing to my heart's content. Whether we're great singers or just singers in the shower, isn't it lovely to have a song on your lips and one in your heart? And what better time to be able to sing joyfully than at Christmas when there are so many great pieces of secular and sacred music? Whether it's "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" or "O Holy Night," now is the time to sing with gladness and Joy to the World.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Today marks the first day of winter, the longest night, the winter solstice. To celebrate and acknowledge this special day, I propose to Larry that we take a ride and look at holiday lights. The Christmas light displays are particularly stunning this year, especially with the new snow, so it would seem only fitting that we view them on this longest night of the year. By tomorrow, we'll start the slow return to increased daylight. But for now, I'll appreciate and embrace the darkness, the quiet, the time for reflection and an evening of seeing all that is glittering and gold and beautiful in the Christmas light displays of our community.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
We mark this last day of fall with a blizzard. And while the snow storm is inconveniently timed for many things, including holiday shopping, travel and parties, I have found it to be an early Christmas gift. Sadly, it seems that only during times of bad weather or illness do I let myself -- guilt-free -- be quiet, move slowly and stop my activity completely to curl up in a chair to read and nap. I have been craving one of those days and today has been it. I heard some of my colleagues at work talk about their anticipated day home during the storm making snowmen, baking cookies, wrapping Christmas presents and spending time over hot cocoa with their children. Larry and I listened to Christmas music on the radio, ate a leisurely lunch and enjoyed hanging out together for an entire, uninterrupted day. I also got in some serious reading time with a 1930s-era, Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery by the great Dorothy L. Sayers. Time with Larry, a good book, a cozy chair with an inviting quilt made by my dear friend Kitty, and a view of the storm outside my window while "The First Noel" played on the radio. I had nowhere to go and nothing on my to-do list. I couldn't have asked for more today.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Sauk County Historical Society in Baraboo has outdone itself with this year's Edwardian Christmas Celebration. This season's theme, My Favorite Things, takes the lyrics from the familiar song to new heights. Each of the historical society's 12 Christmas trees is decorated using a line from the song. The society's Van Orden Mansion is magnificent with the tree-decorating talents of 12 sets of gifted artists. The "Silver White Winters That Melt Into Spring" tree is an elaborate changing of seasons, with the top of the tree brimming in snow and ice and the bottom a cascade of spring flowers. There are trees decorated in "Warm Woolen Mittens," "Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with String," "Snowflakes That Stay on My Nose and Eyelashes" and even "Raindrops on Roses," an exquisite display done in white roses and rose petals. I truly can't decide which tree is my favorite, for they are all filled with...you guessed it, my favorite things.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
I am about to become a published book author for the first time in my life. To say that I am overjoyed is an understatement. Yesterday, the book's designer and I took a road trip to the printer a couple of hours away so we could perform a press check to ensure that the published book would look as we had envisioned it on the computer screen. I have been given a most rare gift by my employer: Earlier this year, I was given the budget and complete artistic license to research, write and edit and select the images for this book, which will commemorate our community's 90 years of local health care facilities and services and the people who have delivered and continue to deliver exceptional, compassionate health care. Over a 14-month period, beginning last month, our community is celebrating momentous anniversaries of our three major local health care facilities: St. Mary's Ringling Hospital/Manor and Convent (90 years as of November 2012), St. Clare Hospital (50 years as of June 2013) and St. Clare Meadows Care Center (40 years as of December 2013). While it has involved many hours of my free time, this book has been a labor of love. I am grateful to have been entrusted with such a project. Soon, 2,500 copies of the book will arrive at St. Clare Hospital. None will be sold. The project was designed so that all of the books will be given away. I believe that we pave our future by understanding and respecting our past. Hopefully, this new book will contribute to that perspective.
Monday, December 17, 2012
One of the most joyful things for me about the Christmas season is our church's annual pageant performed by the children and youth. Yesterday was such a pageant. The talented kids, inspired, mentored and coached by gifted adults, told the Biblical Christmas story through Scripture, song, poetry, narration and acting. Everyone involved did a wonderful job. The packed church was filled with proud parents and grandparents, many of whom had digital still and video cameras in hand. Those of us in the back pews craned our necks to make sure that we didn't miss any of the action, especially among the youngest and shortest of the pageant's stars. There were tiny, little girls dressed as angels, complete with garland halos (at least one little angel was caught yawning during the performance). There were little boys dressed as precious little sheep. Each knew his line well ("baa"). Slightly taller boys adorned long black and gray beards to be shepherds and even taller boys carried gold-wrapped boxes and silver vessels as the three kings. Mary and Joseph were reverent and the angel Gabriel was portrayed with elegance. No single performer outshone the other. They performed as an ensemble and together, told the Christmas story with eloquence. I thank them for sharing their abundant talents to tell us once again that important story of Love.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
This past week has been one marked with sadness, loss and tragedy. In addition to our own family's loss of my mother-in-law, two people I know each lost a parent/parent-in-law. Then, a chance conversation with an old friend revealed that his family has endured great sadness and upset over the past year. On another chance occasion, another old friend told me about his past year of surgeries and his return to work only recently after a prolonged recuperation. Then, the terrible tragedy struck in Connecticut, resulting in such tremendous loss that there are barely words to express the horror. We assuredly cling to our faith in difficult times, but I realized that music has also had a place of healing in my life over the past week. Upon our return from his mother's memorial service, Larry and I attended a concert performed by the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County campus and community choir. Truly, I felt we experienced a jubilant musical gift. Then, last evening, we attended a concert performed by Grammy award-winning vocalist Darlene Koldenhoven and the Sauk Prairie Youth Choir. As a booking agent, Larry represents Ms. Koldenhoven who performs, teaches and composes. Her vocal range spans some five octaves, all of which she artfully used in last evening's performance. Her concert, comprised of familiar holiday selections and music she had written, featured common themes of peace, unity, harmony and love. In both concerts over the last few days, the healing notes of music washed over me. My heavy heart for our loss and the losses and sorrows of others was lifted in songs of joy, love and peace. May we carry such songs in our hearts and translate them into peaceful words and loving actions every day.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Have you noticed the beautiful sunrises lately? A couple of weeks before my mother-in-law passed away, she sent Larry and me a most lovely note on a very pretty Dayspring notecard. I will cherish that note from her for the rest of my days. The cover of the card features a quote from a minister named Max Lucado that begins "Next time a sunrise steals your breath...." I must admit that sunrises frequently take my breath away and those I've been enjoying of late have been particularly spectacular. I don't know if it has to do with the starkness of a winter sky, but the early morning horizon has been radiant with color and vibrancy. I recently read this prayer: "Thank you, God, for this morning as I watched the blazing sun through a wintry sky." My body is still on Daylight Saving Time, so I tend to rise early and get myself ready for work earlier than normal. In so doing, I have this great opportunity morning after morning to see the blazing sun rise through the wintry sky. What a wonderful way to start my day.
Friday, December 14, 2012
I really don't know how to dress these days. One week, it's cold with a biting wind and I know that winter's on its way. The next week, the temperatures soar into the stratosphere and it feels as if we're experiencing that rare treat called a January thaw. Two years ago, we had blizzards and this year, we have 60-degree December days. This year, it's a little hard to get into the ol' holiday spirit, sing Christmas carols, drag out the holiday jewelry and drive around to look at holiday lights when you don't need a coat and could even have the windows rolled down as you drive around to see the lights. I call the weather crazy, but truthfully, I find the weather patterns disturbing. Severe heat, severe drought, severe rains and severe storms seem to plague our land these days. I pray for a little equilibrium once again and for December in Wisconsin to act, well, like December.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
My Saturday had been busy and I was running close to the wire, but I knew I had to stop everything before 5:00 p.m. and sit myself down in front of the television, for the best of the Andy Williams Christmas television specials was airing on PBS. I've seen the show perhaps half a dozen times, but I just couldn't miss it, especially since this would be the first Christmas since Andy had passed away. Usually when I see this particular TV special, I sing along with Andy, with him and his brothers, and with the Osmonds. But, alas, this year, my cold had total control of my vocal cords and all that would come out was a whisper or a husky croaking sound that didn't even faintly resemble my singing voice. So, I plunked myself down in the big leather easy chair and tapped my feet on the ottoman to the beat of Andy's lovely renditions of one great Christmas classic after another and I kept my mouth shut. Oh, how I loved Andy's smooth tones, and when he sang with his brothers, the harmonic blend was as smooth as butter. Andy's Christmas specials taught us that our relationships with family (or friends who feel like family) are precious and that we need to make memories with them as much as possible for current enjoyment and future joyful reflection. Sleep in heavenly peace, Andy.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Perhaps it's from my having worked in tourism for such a long time, but I tend to pay close attention to the customer service I receive. On our recent trip to Larry's mother's memorial service in Des Moines, I was impressed to see the signs noting that we were arriving in Iowa. Their message: "The People of Iowa Welcome You." Rather than the normal sign stating, "(Name of State Here) Welcomes You," in Iowa, the people of that state welcomed us. It felt personal and sincere. At our hotel, our breakfast server wore a shirt that said "I am (Name of Hotel Here)." I liked that message because it meant that customer service was so integral to this hotel's operations that its employees felt as if their service was representative of the hotel, that they cared enough to give their best to provide that lasting memory to customers because the employees were the hotel. Then, at dinner, we encountered supreme customer service. The waitstaff catered to our every need, anticipating anything that we might even consider wanting. When customer service is treated as being of such primary importance, an exceptional, memorable experience is created for the customer. This customer was very happy.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
My lovely mother-in-law, Marcia (but known to all as Marty), passed away on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Her memorial service was in her hometown two days ago. Marty learned that she had end-stage cancer over a year ago. Her medical team was doubtful that she would live much beyond Christmas that year. But, Marty was one of strong faith and a peaceful spirit. Her time on Earth was not to end at Christmas, nor on Valentine's Day, Easter, 4th of July or Labor Day, not even on Thanksgiving. Marty lived for over a year after that initial, dire diagnosis. Although we didn't live in the same town or the same state, my husband Larry and I found that we became closer and closer to her throughout those remaining 14 months. Our weekly telephone calls gave us opportunities to laugh and cry together and to say everything that was on our minds and in our hearts. By the time our last conversation was completed on Thanksgiving, nothing had been left unsaid. Marty shared her wisdom about living and her grace in dying with us, and many "I love yous" were said, week after week. I will really miss Marty, for she was a wonderful lady with an equally wonderful sense of humor. I am so grateful to have had her in my life. I love you, Marty. I miss you.
Monday, December 10, 2012
From childhood on, one of my favorite occasions at my church is what we call the Hanging of the Greens, the day (or evening) when we decorate the church for Christmas. From childhood all the way through my 40s, we decorated the church's Sunday School rooms and Sanctuary on the evening of the first Sunday in Advent. It'd all start with a potluck dinner, followed by decorating, then gathering in the Sanctuary to hear a story, sing carols and enjoy the beautifully lit Christmas tree. In recent years, we've revised our Hanging of the Greens celebration a few times and this year was no exception. The event was done during the 9AM Sunday School hour of the first Sunday in Advent. It was a merry mix of children, youth and adults putting up lights and ornaments on trees and affixing evergreen wreaths with silver bows to the railings of our Sanctuary's balcony. Everything was very festive and it was fun to watch the multiple generations working side by side to make the church lovely and bright for the holidays. Somewhere in all of the merriment, I was once again a little girl, feeling the excitement of seeing our church transformed. A beautiful sight to behold no matter what my age.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
I'd been overdoing for quite some time and knew that eventually it would catch up with me. That's when I leave myself most vulnerable to colds, flus and other nasties. On the Friday following Thanksgiving, a bug finally caught up with me and really zapped me. I was laid out flat for a few days and even had to come home early from work three days in a row just to sleep and cough and wheeze. Despite the annoyance and inconvenience of it all, the great thing about catching a cold is the permission I finally give myself to stop my scheduled activities, tuck myself in, lounge in my pjs, nap and read. It'd been weeks since I'd sat down long enough to savor a good book and I was feeling withdrawals. My cold gave me the chance to read not one, not two, but three murder mysteries and it was a delicious treat. After 1 1/2 weeks, the worst of my cold's symptoms are starting to subside, but cold or not, the delight of being able to curl up with a book and nap is staying a priority.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
While savoring a sneak preview of the Sauk County Historical Society's many beautiful and elaborately decorated Christmas trees a week ago, we landed in David SaLoutos' spectacular display of Christmas from the 1960s and 70s. Everyone appropriately oohed and aahed at the magnificence of the room's many decorations (including two Christmas trees and Christmas LP records that I can recall playing on our hi-fi at home when I was a child). A highlight of the display was an old, black and white Zenith television that still worked and to which was hooked a DVD player to show snippets of 1960s and 1970s Christmas television specials from the King family, Bing Crosby and others. Considering that nowadays nearly every household has a flat-screen television and every individual has a host of other fancy electronics on his person, the thing that held the audience captivated the longest was staring into the old Zenith television, watching black and white renditions of old-time Christmas specials. Sometimes, the oldies are goodies.
Friday, December 7, 2012
A recent work excursion with a friend took us on a country road to a nearby community. The view was splendid, but it got even more splendid as we looked out onto what had been a cornfield a few months ago. Now, the corn was gone, the ground was quiet and the earth exposed. And on that exposed earth were probably 100 or more sandhill cranes. They were everywhere we looked. I craned my neck in all directions, including up at the sky where some of the cranes were in flight. These elegant birds were likely taking a bit of a rest en route elsewhere for the winter. How wonderful it was to be able to get a glimpse of that beautiful, breathtaking sight.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
It seems that everywhere I turn lately I learn something else fascinating about the people of Denmark. In the documentary "Happy," I learned that Danes are considered to be the happiest people on the planet. They have universal health care and free access to college, among the things to make them happy. But it's the way they live, the way they socialize that make them happy people. They tend to live multi-generationally, not necessarily among family, but among others who become like family. A couple of days later, I saw a PBS program that described Danes as living in an economy that fosters upward mobility. In fact, according to the TV program, Danes are considered the most upwardly mobile people in the world. After learning these tidbits, I became so fascinated by the Danes that I searched the Internet, landing at denmark.dk, the "official website of Denmark." There, I learned that they are so committed to a green, sustainable society that over 20% of Denmark's energy comes from renewable sources and they have a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. They are known for commuting on two wheels, instead of four, relying on bicycles as a regular mode of transportation. Their commitment to work-life balance is something to emulate -- something for me to learn...now.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
We didn't send Christmas cards last year. Mom had passed away just three months earlier and I just didn't feel like writing to everyone after having just sent thank-you notes to the same people at the time of Mom's death. This year, I contemplated whether I was in the mood to send out cards again and decided that I was ready to jump into it. But this year, the cards would be in the form of a letter decorated with snowflakes. As I wrote and edited and edited and edited our Christmas letter, I thought of the words by Mark Twain that I had read in a recent American Profile supplement to our local newspaper: "To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement." I'm not sure if I chose the right words or put them in the right place, but I was actually happy to write those Christmas letters once again. Now I open our mailbox each day with anticipation and joy, wondering what Christmas cards and letters we'll receive.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The times, they are a changin'. On that traditional of days, Thanksgiving, I thought I'd catch a little bit of the Thanksgiving Day parades on television. I always loved watching the parades on TV, from a child on. Perhaps it was the time I chose to watch, but most of what I saw on two different networks had to do with celebrity interviews and watching snippets of Broadway musicals performed on the street. Occasionally, I remembered I was tuned in to a parade when I saw a big balloon or a band or a float, but they seemed to be incidental to the on-camera festivities. Harrumph. I finally turned the channel and landed, of all places, on one featuring Looney Tunes cartoons. I settled there for a moment, trying to find something that allowed me to feel like a kid again. Harrumph. Alas, Looney Tunes cartoons have changed, too. Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and all of the others carried the latest in cell phones, talked about changing batteries on smoke detectors, and discussed what made for a healthy meal. This old lady finally turned off the television and took a walk outside where the dark cloud over my head dissipated with every breath of fresh air.
Monday, December 3, 2012
I love to look at holiday light displays. Thanks to my amazing good fortune of landing an office next to a healing garden, I see beauty outside of my window all year long. At this time of year, however, the garden glows with thousands of lights, mainly in royal blue and white. The entire garden is awash in beautiful, little lights, including the three love light trees that are lit with bulbs that have been sponsored by people from the community to honor and remember loved ones. Nearly any holiday light display pales for me in comparison to what I get to see outside of my window every early morning and late afternoon for weeks to come. The lights will officially turn on this evening as part of the St. Clare Hospital Auxiliary's Festival of Love & Light, a meaningful time for anyone, but especially for those who are looking for a safe place in which to shed some tears when remembering someone they love. As I look out onto the healing garden in weeks to come, I will pray for all of the people who are remembered with a light in the garden. Lights of love burn forever in our hearts.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
While at a party recently, Larry told a hilarious story about his newspaper delivery days of his youth. On one of his early-morning deliveries, he came upon a man sitting on his porch, clipping the hairs in his nose. In a gruff voice, the old gentleman warned Larry that he would someday have to do that, too. Larry, the young lad, shuddered at the horror of having hair growing in places you didn't want it. Now, like most men of a certain age, he's clipping hairs. I recall when my mom started tweezing a few stray chin hairs. Like Larry-the-boy, Keri-the-girl couldn't imagine having to tweeze chin hairs. It just couldn't be. Now, amazingly, I find my own stray hairs. Such hair-raising realities are but another rite of passage, another gift of the years to join the gray hair, the bifocals and the wrinkles. I'm armed with my tweezers, but grateful to have gotten this far in the journey.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
My mom loved to work with her hands and she always made lovely items -- potpourri and cinnamony sachets, counted-cross stitch creations, little pillows bearing one-word messages like Love, Joy and Peace. She even made many of her own clothes and many of mine when I was a child. Some of my all-time favorites among her creations were red felt cardinals the size of the real bird. Mom decorated the Christmas tree with them and she gave them away as gifts. Each was hand sewn with perfectly even, little stitches. This year, the cardinals that Mom had given me are adorning a large twig wreath in our living room. Like the real bird, these cardinals are bringing loveliness and cheer to our December, just as Mom brought loveliness and cheer to all who had the blessing of knowing her.
Friday, November 30, 2012
I'm a fan of Christmas movies, no matter how improbable, no matter how formulaic. Christmas movies and programs began playing on television before Thanksgiving this year and I started tuning in. As a child, I loved the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated specials of the 1960s. I'd sit in my little black rocking chair in our cozy living room perched in front of our black and white television. I'd rock to the likes of Fred Astaire recounting the story of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," Jimmy Durante singing about "Frosty the Snowman" and Burl Ives singing "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold" in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." These great Rankin-Bass Christmas TV classics are still being aired and will air over the next month. Even though I no longer have my little black rocking chair, I will be tuning in, singing along with Fred, Jimmy and Burl.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
A friend told me that she heard someone say on public radio recently that time is how we measure change. For one who is slow to accept change -- unless I create the change myself, that statement resonated all the way to my roots. When we measure time, I believe that we truly are measuring the constant evolution of life and its circumstances and consequences. How else can we quantify and perhaps even make sense or bring meaning to the change that is happening within us and all around us all of the time? Upon further reflection, how is it that as we grow older, time has a way of slipping by at a faster pace? It can't just be that change is happening faster. There must be some element of change in how we perceive time as the years of our lives pass by. I can remember my dad saying that once the 4th of July had arrived, it wouldn't be long before Labor Day would be here. As a child, I couldn't conceive what he was talking about, for summer felt endless. Now that I'm an adult, it's amazing how quickly those endless summer days fly by once the 4th of July arrives! As I think about time these days, more than ever I need time to be, for it is in those slower, more intentional moments that time becomes a precious commodity and change manageable.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Lately, parents of several of my friends and peers have been experiencing health changes or have passed away. When you arrive in your 50s, such changes seem to represent a rite of passage for which most of us are ill-prepared. In such difficult or perplexing times since my beloved mom passed away last year, I've found that I increasingly turn to the words of her favorite author, Gladys Taber, to find answers and solace. So I did upon learning that my very good friend's father had passed away recently. In Stillmeadow Calendar, I found these words to hopefully console her: "I reflect that nothing really ends, but grows into something new." I believe this is true in life and in our love for others, including perhaps especially those we have loved so much who have passed away. If nothing really ends, but grows into something new, then my love and gratitude for my parents never ends, nor the memories I had with them or the realization that I am who I am because of them. If I re-direct my thoughts and perspectives, the sorrow stings less and almost takes on a sweetness. Nothing really great, really beautiful, really special ever ends. We carry it always in our hearts.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I heard some disappointing and disturbing news from several local people that our community's recent Black Friday post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping was disrupted by rude, desperate people grabbing, pulling and displaying all kinds of rude behavior, all in the pursuit of purchasing gifts to give others for the holidays. Now what does that say about the spirit of the season? You always see television news stories about bad shopping behavior on Black Friday, but since when has it arrived in our little bucolic Baraboo? Bah, humbug. In my viewpoint, there's no excuse, no room for pushing and shoving on Black Friday or otherwise. 'Tis the season to bring out the best sides of ourselves and to have a grateful, generous and kind heart. Let there be peace on Earth and in the shopping aisle.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The landscape is quieter at this time of year than a few months ago, but there is still plenty of singing to go around. Just recently, I heard chickadees in conversation, making the characteristic call from which they get their name. That lovely sound was a joyful noise to cut through the other sounds of my day. There is much to sing about every day, but as we approach Christmas, it seems that music becomes even more important to me. I love the music of Christmas, whether secular or sacred. Give me a good dose of "Caroling, Caroling" along with "Angels We Have Heard on High," and, for me, all is "Joy to the World."
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I've been really enjoying the posts that my Facebook friends have been publishing throughout November where they have been listing, one by one, the things for which they have to be grateful. I've read about volunteer pursuits, families, nature, good food and more. I think there is real power in making the decision to give thanks for one thing every single day. And when you commit to broadcasting it to others, those expressions of thanks become even more tangible. I thank my Facebook friends for inspiring me to see this month of Thanksgiving as one daily blessing after another.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Lately, I've been receiving amazing messages in surprising ways. Each has to do with living life to its fullest as we receive it. After singing with my church choir in a public concert a few weeks ago, a portion of the lyrics and melody continued to play over and over again in my head. It took me a good week to realize that the lyrics weren't a nuisance, but rather, held an important message for my life: "Step by step you'll lead me and I will follow you all of my days." I tend to project forward, but these lyrics have helped keep me grounded in today. My wonderful husband also held words of wisdom for me a couple of days ago. I heard him say over the phone to a loved one that none of us knows what we're doing, but we do our best as we go along; life's an experiment; and when you learn to discern what you can and can't control, life gets easy. Then, while talking with a dear friend, I heard her say about the sudden illness of a young relative that such experiences remind us to live in the moment. I am grateful for these subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that life is indeed a gift and if we live with intention, moving step by step with gratitude, letting go of our worries, life gets easy.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Our pastor and her husband showed a movie after worship service a couple of Sundays ago, a documentary called "Happy." The movie features interviews with people from around the globe as they define what happiness means in their lives. Laced with other interviews with researchers, the documentary reminds us that it isn't what we own, it isn't what we do for a living, it isn't the trappings of our society's definition of success that make you happy. Happiness is attainable simply by looking at our lives through a lens of gratitude. Taking care of oneself. Finding meaning as you work to make the world a better place. Having deep, lasting relationships with family and/or friends. Many of the people in the film who described themselves as happy had very few personal belongings. Some of them lived, in fact, in what I would normally describe as poverty. Yet, these same people who I would describe as outwardly poor saw their lives to be inwardly rich. Even those who had had something precious taken away from them or abandoned a former lifestyle of comfort and wealth saw happiness in their newfound lives. I hadn't realized quite how much I needed to see that movie in order to bring balance and perspective into my life. Being happy. What a concept.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Today is Thanksgiving, that refreshingly non-commercial holiday when people gather at the table to give thanks. The November 11, 2012 edition of Parade magazine featured a beautifully written "Views" column by author Anne Lamott about counting our blessings, what she called "holy moments of gratitude." I particularly liked her description of some familiar words of grace said at many a table before dinner: "a polite thank-you note to God, the silky magnetic energy of gratitude." In this world of frenzied competition and gimme-more-right-now, today is a fine reminder that there is something lovely and centering about simply saying thank-you for what you have -- be it family, your health, a home, a job, a meal, a friend, a smile from a stranger, whatever. There is much for which to be thankful, as the familiar hymn says, with hearts and hands and voices.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Today would've been my father's birthday. He was born November 21, 1918. He passed away in 1984, so it has been a long time since I sang "Happy Birthday" to him. On Sunday, November 11, our church observed Veteran's Day. I felt as if Dad was very close that morning. He had been born the same November as the first Veteran's Day was observed. He was a World War II veteran himself. That same Sunday service, we also happened to sing his favorite hymn, "Just As I Am." I managed to get through the first two of the three verses we were asked to sing, but by the third verse, my voice was cracking. Soon, my singing voice was silenced and tears of remembrance flowed down my cheeks instead. After nearly 25 years since his death, it's amazing how much I still miss him. I will spend today recalling so many happy memories and celebrating my good fortune of having such a wonderful man to call Dad. Tomorrow, as we sit at the Thanksgiving table, Larry and I will have a slice of pie, Dad's favorite dessert. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I've been trying to adjust once again to the time change, when all around me is darkness. My internal clock continues to get me up early, so I've been going into work at 7:00 a.m. instead of the normal 8:00. By the time I leave work at 5:00 p.m., all is dark again. My weeknight walks have been curtailed for a few months until daylight returns. At this time of year, I try my hardest to adjust to exercising indoors, but it is so hard. As someone said recently, exercising outdoors is so much more fun. The time flies (is even non-existent, in fact). When I exercise indoors, I have one eye to the clock all the while, hoping that my exercise time will be over soon. There is nothing like getting your heart pumping while being out in nature, filling your lungs with fresh air. For now, though, it's time to head inside.
Monday, November 19, 2012
I wish I were a photographer and had a camera at the ready when I see cute things, like the sight I saw recently. While on my weekend morning walk, I strolled past a house that still had a decent-looking jack-o-lantern on the front steps. The triangular eyes hadn't sunk yet and the smile was still broad and jolly. A chickadee seemed to think it was enticing, too, for it popped right into the mouth of the jack-o-lantern. Then, it darted up to one of the eyes and peered out. Shortly, it moved down to the nose where it sat there for a bit. Finally, it flitted down to sit on the lip of the pumpkin's smiling mouth. Soon, it departed. That was one of the cutest things I'd seen in a while.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
It's that strange time of year when you can drive or walk in any neighborhood and see outdoor decorations for three holidays at the same time. So it was on my early-morning walk one recent Saturday when I encountered three houses in one block -- one decorated for Halloween, the next for Thanksgiving and the next for Christmas. Then, a few blocks away, I discovered one house with a little bit of all three holidays in one: jack-o-lanterns on the porch, pilgrim decals in the front windows, and Christmas ornaments tucked into evergreens in window boxes. As Andy Williams used to sing, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!" Or make that, the most confusing.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Larry and I had the fun opportunity to be invited to a surprise retirement party for a friend recently. It's been a season of surprises, for we had just attended a surprise birthday party for another friend a few weeks earlier. As with the last party, there was heightened anticipation as we awaited the arrival of the guest of honor. As one would expect, our friend had a look of confusion, then delight, as he realized that everyone shouting "Surprise!" was looking at him. The guest of honor is not one to like the spotlight to shine on him, so there was a bit of embarrassment mixed with the confusion and delight. However, his remarks during the presentation were heartfelt and the crowd happy to be able to share in his special moment. As I looked around at the assembled audience, I thought of how we draw people into our lives all along the way. Each relationship helps form the people we become. As each of those relationships unfolds, every day becomes a "Surprise!"
Friday, November 16, 2012
I found myself laughing right out loud the other day while walking into our local public library. As I ascended the steps to the library's front door, a car drove by, windows down (it was unseasonably warm that Saturday), and music blaring. I've come to expect loud music coming from passing automobiles to be some kind of rock music with screeching guitars and drum beats that echo in my ears. This music, however, was Dixieland jazz -- clarinets and all. It was so unexpected that all I could do was to laugh right out loud. I wonder how many others along that car's route were as surprised and delighted as I.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
We had our first snowfall of the season a few days ago. It was one of those rare days when I needed to be on the road for my job. There was no danger on the roadway that day, so I was able to simply enjoy the beauty of the big, fat white flakes falling gently around me. The snow stuck on some road signs and tried to linger on the grass here and there, but for the most part, the snow landed and disappeared. It's funny how the first snowfall brings me such joy. I see it and have visions of being tucked in with a good book or sticking my tongue out to catch flakes as I take a weekend walk. Fast forward to March and my disgust will have grown with each flake as I try to hurry spring along. By then, I'm tired of wearing heavy coats, dragging my boots along and hoping not to lose a glove. I've become bored with winter's chill and long for days of sandals and t-shirts. For now, however, that first snowfall brought about a contentment that the seasons are changing and that a quieter time is near.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
My husband Larry has been called a sage by my good friend Melanie and I do believe she's right. While whining about being exhausted the other evening, Larry stopped me in my tracks and asked if I had joy. I really didn't know how to answer at first, but finally, I said that it was hard to be joyful when so tired. He replied that one must find joy, even in times of exhaustion. I reminded myself that this blog is called Time to Be and that it's meant as a reflection of living in the moment with gentleness, gratitude and joy. Was I practicing what I preach? Not at that moment. But, Larry's carefully crafted message to me stuck and I started to look at my exhaustion with a different perspective. While I don't like being over-tired, I became grateful for being able to do all of the things that I had done to make myself over-tired. I have encountered much serious illness in my adulthood and there have been times when I have questioned whether I would ever be able to do what I used to do. Recently, my exhaustion has come from doing perhaps too much of what I like to do. It's time to simplify my schedule a bit, but I will do so with joy and gratitude, even if I am a little exhausted.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
A man at our church spoke on a recent Sunday about unconditional love. He talked eloquently about his own personal life and the unconditional love he has experienced, beginning with his mother and father who adopted him when he was an infant. He spoke of a young man he had taught, a young man whose life was ended early and tragically. He spoke of the surprising unconditional love that he found in the boy's mother, who was grateful for having had her son at all. She was even forgiving of those who had killed him. The man ended his remarks at that church service, saying that it's important to love unconditionally when it's easy, but it's even more important to do so when it's hard. His words really resonated with me. Do I love unconditionally, even when I'm unhappy with someone or feel that I or someone else has been wronged? Am I as forgiving as the mother who had lost her son? I'm thankful for that special message at church that day and for the work I realize I have to do in order to really love unconditionally, in easy times and in hard.
Monday, November 12, 2012
After months of looking pristine and clean and never being used, our oven is increasingly turned on these days. I started stocking up on winter and root vegetables last month, accumulating acorn squash, brussels sprouts, turnips, parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes. They're all so delicious at this time of year, but they're particularly tasty when roasted. I keep a metal pan just for roasting vegetables and it's been getting a lot of use lately. A little drizzle of olive oil over an array of vegetables makes for a wonderful autumn meal. The act of roasting them brings out flavor and color, so that when you bite into the vegetables, you're getting this amazing, caramelized treat. As the wind blows and the temperatures plummet, there's comfort in turning on the oven once again and enjoying some of the last bounty of the growing season, roasted to delicious perfection.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
My workplace offered customer service training earlier this month. In addition to reminding us of those customer service skills we already knew and teaching us some new ones, we were told the following statistics: You have three seconds -- just three seconds -- to make a first impression. When someone assesses you, 55% is based on your nonverbal communication, 38% your tone of voice and only 7% your actual words. Therefore, a friendly, genuinely smiling countenance goes a long way toward making a good first impression. It made me wonder if people have always assessed one another in just three seconds or if that is a product of our ever-quickening society where we have shorter and shorter attention spans. As I thought about what we learned in that training, I realized that the greatest thing someone can do for another in a first encounter is to be genuinely present to that other person. Call it respect, call it customer service, call it whatever you want, but I call it honoring the other person and that's the right thing.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
I have an acquaintance through Twitter who challenges me at times to consider a particular topic for my blog. Recently, he asked the question: "Stories are powerful, but who has more courage and trust, the story teller or the listener? Or are they entwined in pursuit?" As is always the case, his words made me pause and it took me some time to consider my response. I had posted in this blog recently that I have the blessing of hearing people's stories, often through my work. I see those lovely people as courageous for sharing their stories and I feel privileged to have their trust. But, then, I received my friend's tweet and I started to look at the subject from other directions. I still see the ultimate courage as coming from the story teller, for it isn't easy to open up and share the details of one's life that can be painful, intimate or serious. But I see a different kind of courage coming from the listener. The listener must be open to hearing the story and must live up to the trust the teller has in him/her. Together, the story teller and listener share a sacred moment in our human experience, one that makes stories powerful, wonderful, magical and transcendent.
Friday, November 9, 2012
While engrossed in a fun mystery novel recently, I ran across a word I don't see often anymore: Festooned. I stopped reading for a moment and said the word out loud a few times. Festooned. Isn't it a great word? Festooned. Isn't it a fun word? I'd much rather say festooned than adorned or decorated, as in: The room was festooned with balloons and streamers. Our language used to be more beautiful and diverse, with such lovely words as festooned. I think of Jane Austen and the beautiful language spoken in her books by such characters as Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." Today, in our era of abbreviations and acronyms created in order for us to slam out a quick text or email, I wonder if Elizabeth Bennet would even understand what we're saying. We've lost much of that lovely language. I'm going to make every effort to gather beautiful words and start using them in my everyday discourse. I wonder what would happen if we all made such an attempt. I fear that we'd better get at it before some of our most beautiful words are lost forever.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Do you ever have those times when you see something you haven't seen in a while and then, strangely, you see that same something several times again over a short period? That happened to me recently with lady bugs and wiener dogs. I've grown so used to seeing Asian lady beetles that to see a real, honest-to-goodness lady bug has become an unusual treat. On a recent sunny day, I saw lady bugs everywhere -- one in our home, another clinging to my car and several on the sidewalk as we walked at Devil's Lake. I carried the lady bug in our house outside and placed it gently in the grass. I carefully removed the one on my car and placed it on the ground. While at the lake, I tiptoed around those bright red, little bodies, working hard not to squish them. Just seeing them made me smile. And speaking of smiling, I've always gotten a kick out dachshunds. My maternal grandparents had a dachshund for several years named Peppy. There isn't a time that goes by when I see a dachshund that I don't think of that peppy little pooch. Recently, I saw several "Peppys," all out taking walks, their sleek brown bodies zipping along on short legs, ears flapping merrily. Those cute, little dogs and bright lady bugs made me feel peppy, too. Many reasons to smile!
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Election day is now behind us. Democracy was demonstrated through the power of voting. Some of us are celebrating victories of our preferred candidates today. Others are grieving a difficult loss. No matter which way the election turned out for each of us, I would hope that we will now work together to heal the rifts. We humans are truly much more alike than we are different. These days, however, one would be hard-pressed to see our similarities, given the divisive rhetoric of our politicians, media and even our neighbors and families. What makes me sad is that we tend to focus more on our differences than we do on our commonalities. There is so much more good we can do when we put our differences aside, seek to listen respectfully to each other and then reach out to wade through our differing opinions and ideas to find common solutions and viewpoints. More than ever, this is my prayer.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Larry and I have taken a couple of walks to our local cemetery recently. It's a lovely cemetery, the kind of beautiful resting place that promotes peace for all who enter. We strolled row after row of graves, stopping often to look more closely at the headstones, to read about the people who reside there in perpetuity. Some had too-short lives, while others experienced many years of joys and sorrows. Some were laid to rest many, many years ago, while others were interred there more recently. Some of the Ringling brothers -- of circus fame -- and their families are there, people who lived stupendous, colossal lives and whose last name became synonymous with American entertainment. Most of the people in our cemetery, however, were not-so-famous people who led noble lives. They are all together in our beautiful cemetery, amid the towering pines, the majestic mausoleums and the elegant statuary. May they all rest in peace.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Our downtown farmer's markets ended a week ago. The calendar turned over to November last Thursday. The clocks pushed forward an hour over the weekend. The once-green vegetation is brown or gone. The air has that musky, decaying smell so typical of this time of year. All are signs of the times. In some ways, it feels like a wistful time of year. The warm weather is gone, the flowers have faded, the leaves have left the trees, many of the birds have flown south. But, it's actually a lovely time of year as we move into the quiet, the stillness, the time for moving more slowly, the time to be able to reflect and think. This time of year can be restorative, providing that necessary opportunity to refuel ourselves so we can face the busier pace that spring, summer and fall invite. Bare trees, crisp days, and the end of the growing season may all be signs of the times, but the signs are good and so are the times.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
We are once again plunged into darkness. Today marked the official end of Daylight Savings Time for this year. I now will wake up in darkness and come home from work in darkness. Although daylight has been shrinking for the past few months, as always, this day comes as a surprise to me. I can see why the early native peoples watched the moon and the sun and celebrated the Winter Solstice, grateful for the return of light. Till this year's Winter Solstice takes place next month, I will hunker down in my own hibernating state. There'll be soup to make, books to read and activities planned to prevent cabin fever. Although I'd much prefer the light, now's the time to embrace the darkness and the slowing down that nature invites us all to do.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the opening of St. Mary's Ringling Hospital in our community. This first official hospital in Baraboo was originally a mansion belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Alf T. Ringling, of Ringling Bros. Circus fame. In 1922, Mrs. Adella Ringling decided, with the encouragement of her physician and her priest, to donate her mansion to the Sisters of St. Mary (today the Franciscan Sisters of Mary) in St. Louis. Seven Sisters arrived that year to open the hospital on November 2, 1922, providing a service badly needed in our growing community. The mansion served our residents well for decades, first as a hospital, later as a nursing home and even later as a convent for retired Sisters. The mansion was renovated, added onto and eventually razed for even more construction. Today, the mansion is gone and the additions to it stand empty, but the legacy of Mrs. Adella Ringling and the brave Sisters who turned her spacious home into a wonderful hospital for our community stands stronger than ever. In gratitude to them....
Friday, November 2, 2012
I've been told by professional photographers that taking a photo under a gray sky can bring out brighter colors. So I experienced recently. Despite the drizzle, I decided I needed a walk one recent Saturday afternoon. The air was warm, the drizzle cool, the sky gray. As I walked along, every color seemed to pop out. The red trees were redder. The fallen yellow leaves were more yellow. Everything seemed to stand out against the drab backdrop. I was particularly taken by the maple leaves that had fallen to the sidewalk. Their brown veins were much more noticeable than normal, revealing just how intricate they truly are. If I'd had a camera with me, I would've wanted to snap a few pictures to capture the pops of color. Instead, I walked in the drizzle, hoping to capture the beauty through the lens of my memory.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Just like some people I know who seem to always bloom wherever they are planted, some brave flowers around our home have been thriving in the one-day-warm, next-day-cold autumn this year. Nestled in between two crimson burning bushes is a brave, little azalea with two yellow blossoms that popped in October. In Wisconsin, this bush normally blooms in the late spring, but this year, it decided to sprout another round of blossoms in October. The pink, cinnamony-smelling dianthus that had bloomed in June also decided to stage an encore last month. So, for a while, we had this strangely lovely commingling of spring/summer blossoms and fall color. What joy to have had their brave blooming one more time before winter dormancy sets in.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The late American author and journalist Hal Borland was quoted in the October 2012 edition of tasteforlife magazine, a quote that I thought was well suited to the last day of this month: "October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen." As we say goodbye to another October today, I look at the fallen leaves, the few that still cling to the trees (such as those stubborn oaks) and the wider horizon now made visible. The landscape is changing once again, this time to its quieter palette, one that is readying itself for the winter. There was a time when I looked at the end of October with sadness, for I knew that the silent season to come was going to be too cold, too snowy, too long for my tastes. But, this year, I'm looking at it with a new view, perhaps seeing that wider horizon to which Mr. Borland referred. After a busy summer and an oddly even busier autumn, like the landscape, I'm readying myself for a quieter time. In the winter, I can steal a guiltless nap, read good books and stoke my fire with new energy for the more hectic springtime. Farewell, October. Thank you for the blaze of color you provided and for the gift of the wider horizon I see today.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Larry and I attended a costume party last weekend. It'd been ages since we'd last attended a party where the expectation was to come in costume. And what fun it was! When we arrived, we were greeted by a fairy godmother with hair that sparkled with little lights. We encountered Count Dracula, a sorceress, a graduate, a leopard, a clown and a baker. As we moved throughout the house, we met Elvis, Batman, a witch, an old woman, a pirate, a nun and even the Pope! We knew that Larry was going to be making a mad dash home from Madison just in time to arrive at the party a few minutes late, so our costumes had to be as simple as possible. We arrived dressed in black sweaters and black pants. On each of our sweaters was clipped a large button. Larry's button said, "Me" and mine said "My Shadow." Those were our "creative" costumes! But, it didn't matter, for the party was fun no matter how one was dressed or who you decided to be that evening. Everything was decorated to perfection for the season and the holiday, and the food was beyond description for its taste and variety. Our host was gracious and welcoming, and everyone in attendance offered pleasant conversation. What a fun way to put the "boo" in Baraboo, just in time for Halloween!
Monday, October 29, 2012
When Larry and I were out walking in our neighborhood one recent evening, we both turned into kids for just a bit. As we approached block after block of crisp, fallen leaves on the sidewalks, we just had to walk through them, our feet making a swish-swish sound as we did so. Hearing that familiar fall sound took me back to when I was five years old. I would walk from my elementary school to my grandparents' house where Mom and I were staying for the fall until we could join my dad whose work caused him to have to travel nine months of the year. I loved the sound of fall leaves back then and I love it to this day. Ah, the sights -- and the sounds -- of autumn!
Sunday, October 28, 2012
A recent walk at Devil's Lake State Park revealed breathtaking autumn color in the early evening sun. Shining against the east bluff, the sun lit up the pinkish rocks and the vegetation in all its brightness. The scene reminded me of old 35mm color slides that turn color so that everything looks red and pink. That day at Devil's Lake, the rocks were pinker than normal and the reds and russets stood out over all other colors. Others out taking a walk had brought their cameras and, one by one, they asked Larry and me to take pictures of them with beautiful fall color in the background. Digital cameras fortunately prevented me from taking a sour picture. Larry, the better photographer between the two of us, took the camera when a foursome requested a shot of them underneath a brilliantly red maple. I tended to only catch a portion of the tree, while Larry, with his artistic eye and still hand, captured the foursome and the entire beautiful tree. It was an evening cast in a rosy shade for everyone who had the good fortune of being there.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
As I returned to the office after lunch on one of our recent balmy afternoons, I lingered outside a moment, strolling through the garden outside of our hospital. As I looked up, admiring the vivid, sun-soaked colors of the surrounding trees, I saw something I hadn't seen before -- a dirigible floating by. I had to strain as I looked into the sun, shading my eyes with my hand, but I eventually was able to read the name of the national insurance company emblazoned on the side of it, a company often advertised on television. I stood still for a moment, On one of our recent balmy afternoons watching the dirigible float across the sky, wondering what it would be like to be up there, taking in the spectacular countryside all decked out in its autumn best. Despite my busyness, for the remainder of the afternoon, my thoughts periodically floated along, just like the dirigible, celebrating the lovely fall day.
Friday, October 26, 2012
I love living in a clean house, but I'm not real crazy about housecleaning. Larry and I share the duties faithfully every week, but there's one task that doesn't quite make the weekly cut: dusting. Fortunately, we live with a pared-down decor -- albeit minimalist, but comfortable for us. Dusting should only take minutes in our home, not hours, because we don't have many things -- by design -- to collect dust. When I finally took it upon myself to deep-clean one recent Saturday, I was shocked to see just how much dust there was lurking in places I hadn't previously noticed. Thankfully, no one had visited us with the urge to conduct a white-glove test. Now, all's clean, tidy, sparse and dust-free (for now).
Thursday, October 25, 2012
I was busy in my office at work one recent afternoon when I heard a tiny girl approaching my doorway singing a song. She walked by, singing all the way, not knowing that I was listening intently and chuckling. We all know children ask "Why?" a lot and even respond to our answers with another round of "Why?", but this little girl had turned that eternal question of children into a song, her very own composition -- with only one note and only one word in the lyrics -- "Why?". She merrily walked down the hallway, singing her one-note song in her high, little voice, "Why? Why? Why? Why?" and didn't even seem to expect an answer. For her, there appeared to simply be joy in singing her song. So, when I get caught up in the "whys" of my life, I just might have to take a cue from that little girl and turn it into my very own song. One note will do.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I can tell it's fall, simply by the song. The birds are back serenading in the arbor vitae in the garden leading to the door I use for entering and exiting the hospital where I work. Last year, I noticed the birds (perhaps sparrows) chirping like crazy from the secluded safety of the arbor vitae. First, I'd hear them in the evening as I left work, but one recent morning, I arrived extra-early at the office and was welcomed by chirp-chirping from the evergreens as I walked by. No matter how stressed I might think I am or how difficult I might perceive the day to have gone, there is nothing like the serenading of the birds as I walk by to alter my mood. What a great way to bookend my workday than to be sung to by an absolutely delightful chorus!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
In Wisconsin, it's tradition to go "out for fish" on Friday nights. Larry and I witnessed some avian diners at Devil's Lake recently who had gone "out for fish," as well. Our first encounter was with a Great Blue Heron. Normally, herons look tall with their long, skinny legs and almost as skinny necks. We stood silent and still, watching the heron fold into itself like an accordion, first its neck curling like a hose, its head ultimately tucked into its body. Then, its legs would fold until it was crouched against the water's edge. All of a sudden, at lightning speed, all of the folded sections of the heron would rapidly unfold and its head would plunge into the water, coming back out with a fish in its mouth. The process was repeated over and over until Larry and I decided it was time to let the heron eat without our watchful eyes. As we ventured back along the south shore path, we encountered a bald eagle flying away from the lake with a fish in its mouth. We were blessed to witness such amazing and majestic sights of beautiful birds going "out for fish."
Monday, October 22, 2012
I tend to be an impatient sort who focuses on waiting for something to happen, rather than living for right now. I should imagine that most of us fall prey to the same thing. But, a recent tweet from someone yanked my thoughts into another perspective. Quoting Eckhardt Tolle from Practicing The Power of Now, the tweet stated, "Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting...snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being." I had been waiting for something recently and dedicating a lot of my thoughts to it. Reading that tweet from the wise Eckhardt Tolle was such a gift. It reminded me that the present moment is what I have and that if I gave up my waiting (and ruminating), I could spend that precious time just being and enjoying it. So ever since that tweet, whenever my mind turns into a waiting room, I simply -- intentionally, though not always so easily -- close the door to it and turn my thoughts to the present.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Larry and I were taking one of our many walks at Devil's Lake State Park one recent Saturday when we came upon a like-new woman's glove that had fallen to the sidewalk. Being the Sherlock Holmes that I am (ha), I deduced that the glove had been dropped by one of the two women walking several paces ahead of us. They were at such a distance that I couldn't very well yell to them, so I started to walk faster. Larry urged me to go ahead and catch up with them and he'd eventually catch up to me. So I ran after the two women. I hadn't run like that in a long time, but I caught up with them and, indeed my dear Watson, the glove did belong to one of them. I then retraced my steps back to Larry and we finished our walk together in happy silence. I couldn't help but be grateful -- really, really grateful -- for that experience of running after those two women, for two years ago, I had an extensive neurosurgery to remove a large benign tumor that had blocked off 95% of a portion of my thoracic spine, smashing my spinal cord into the shape of a smile and rendering me spontaneously paralyzed from about the chest down. With the help of a great medical team, I was healed and I learned how to walk again (it's funny how one can forget how to do something you've done for so long). Two years ago, I was still working at putting one foot in front of the other, mastering the heel-to-toe maneuver of walking. I couldn't even fathom being able to run again, but run I did recently, with a glove in my hand after two strangers, all the while with an incredibly grateful heart. As I say, I take daily walks -- because I can.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
My friend John is a laugher, a hugger, a joyful being who is fully engaged in life and always up to new opportunity. I've learned that he's also a great planner and organizer. When John retired, he decided to create his own retirement plan. No, not the financial kind, although I'm sure John had already addressed that issue. This retirement plan was a plan as to how he would fill the 40 hours per week that had been devoted to his work. His plan was quite meticulous, focusing on all of his desires (what we'd likely call a bucket list today). He wanted to learn basic Spanish, exercise every day, spend more time with family and friends, increase his volunteer hours, among other things. John has been retired for several years. Recently, he reviewed his retirement plan with me and all of the things he had hoped to accomplish during that time. It certainly looks to me as if he is fulfilling his retirement dream, perhaps in large part because he had given attention to planning for it and had committed it to paper. For those of us thinking about what retirement may mean to us someday, developing such a plan would seem to be part of the preparation for a fulfilling next chapter in life.
Friday, October 19, 2012
My late mom's favorite author, Gladys Taber, wrote so eloquently. Reading the "Fall" chapter from Stillmeadow Sampler made me think of something I heard our health system CEO say in remarks to our hospital staff recently. He talked with us about the four traits of good leaders: They have integrity, they work well with others, they hold themselves accountable, and they are lifelong learners. In Stillmeadow Sampler, published in 1959, Gladys Taber commented on the education of our children, hoping that "today's children may benefit as much as possible from the shining glory of acquired knowledge." Fast forward 53 years: Our two-year campus affiliated with the University of Wisconsin is developing a four-year liberal arts bachelor degree that will indeed bring a new era of shining glory of acquired knowledge to the residents of our community and region. Whether it is through formal education, such as what will be offered at our campus, or through other, more independent educational pursuits, there is something exhilarating about learning something new, acquiring that new knowledge that will shape our perspectives and ways of thinking, expose us to new ideas and broaden our horizons of understanding. I'm a firm believer in lifelong learning.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Due to my work, I have many opportunities to hear people's stories. They generously share them, sometimes when they are the most vulnerable and at other times in what feel like ordinary moments. Although the stories may take place in ordinary moments, the stories themselves are far from it. They are powerful, insightful and brimming with the highs and lows of life itself. I have come to realize that each person with whom I interact has the profound ability to teach me something that will positively affect my life going forward. I truly believe in the power of story, for in sharing with others the tales of our lives, we sort out the details in our own minds and, at the same time, we impart wisdom (usually inadvertently) to others. Sharing our stories takes an element of courage and a certain level of trust of the listener. I am grateful to those who share their stories with me, for I am the one who is blessed.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I had the pleasure of hearing a speaker recently who not only motivated his audience, he inspired them to think about their lives and to do something tangible that will make a difference. John O'Leary suffered burns over his entire body as a child, was not expected to live, yet not only lives, he thrives. Today, the happily married father of four from St. Louis shares his message of courage, patience and joy with audiences who walk away completely awestruck and ready to take on the world with gusto and gratitude. One of John's questions of the audience was "What more can I do?" The question was not asked out of hopelessness or exhaustion, but of hope and creativity. I would add, "If not now, when?" How am I being called to serve, to use my passions and talents in service to others? And when I hear the call, will I respond right now? For if not now, when?
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
My good friend Betty is just a couple months short of turning 90. She lives a quiet life these days with her two feline ladies, Kitsy and Claire. I had the pleasure of visiting Betty, Kitsy and Claire one recent afternoon as the late-day sun cascaded into the living room window. Kitsy, an elderly 18 years of age, slept during our entire visit. The more youthful, Claire, however, is always inquisitive of a guest and spent considerable time welcoming me. She has a lovely way of giving you little kitty kisses -- ever so lightly licking your fingertips, rubbing her head against your hand, and gently reaching out with a delicate front paw to touch your lap to see if it's worthy of sitting on. Kitsy came into Betty's life as a stray many years ago. Claire was adopted from the shelter, but needed immediate attention to remove one of her eyes. They are both gray, sleek and quiet ladies and they are wonderful, beloved companions and family for Betty. It was a joy to visit these three special ladies on a lovely autumn afternoon.
Monday, October 15, 2012
It was a blue sort of day recently. I ate blueberries for breakfast, wore blue to work, admired the return of the blue sky after the previous evening's storms, and was drawn to the blue lake at Devil's Lake State Park. While Larry and I enjoyed our evening walk, we saw our familiar friend, the lone Great Blue Heron, standing erect and watchful in the inlet. It was the closest we had ever been to it and its blueness was magnificent. As we walked the final stretch, I looked to the south and saw a tree filled with bluebirds -- darting blue streaks in and out of the tree! A few years ago, we had a large number of bluebirds find their way to the St. Clare Healing Garden. They stayed over for a few days, eating berries in the ornamental trees, before they moved on for the winter. It's no wonder that we refer to the "bluebird of happiness," for what I saw at Devil's Lake that evening made me very, very happy indeed.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
It's as if the St. Clare Healing Garden has been ablaze with zinnias this growing season. Huge swaths of these cheery flowers were planted at the garden's entrances in hot pink, rosy red, brilliant orange, a hint of sunshiny yellow and a random, stray white one tossed into the mix. Early one recent morning, I was reading from Stillmeadow Sampler by Gladys Taber when I came upon a page where the author commented on zinnias: "And now zinnias are in their dazzling colors. They seem to be afire." It was with great relief to have had such a riot of color from our bold and beautiful zinnias for months and months, especially given the desolate, drought-stressed summer. The zinnias will soon fade, replaced by the brilliant colors of fall mums and the more subtle, though equally magnificent, ornamental kale. But, for a summer that was more brown than green, I thank our zinnias for giving us much-appreciated color.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
I don't see a lot of television, but I happened to catch a commercial recently that drew my full attention. The camera panned down a burly, tattooed hand to fingernails being painted with bright polish. As the camera pulled away, a little girl dressed in a fairy princess costume was painting her dad's fingernails in her very feminine, little-girl bedroom. Dad and daughter admired her work, both blowing on the polish to dry. The commercial was an appeal to fathers to be fully present to their children. I loved that commercial. Something so sweet particularly stood out in this season of not-very-sweet political commercials. It was all about what's truly important -- being with the people we love, creating memories in the simplest and perhaps silliest of activities, finding joy just by being together.
Friday, October 12, 2012
It had sprinkled on and off all day long. Yet, at the end of that workday, the raindrops were so sporadic that Larry and I decided to take a walk at Devil's Lake. It was a quiet, gentle evening with few people around, and those who were there were pretty much people we knew from our community. The sky was quiet, too. Gray clouds folded over each other, moving across the sky. The sun managed to peek out now and again, but pretty much failed at its attempts. The wind that had been so brisk throughout the day had died down and it was nearly balmy on our walk. But, then, the sky started to darken. We arrived back at our car just in time for big raindrops to splat on the windshield. Soon, jagged streaks of lightning flashed from left to right across the cadet blue sky, one flash after another after another. We drove into the lightning on our way home, each streak getting more and more dramatic. One flew by with such intensity that it made Larry flinch behind the steering wheel. These were indeed amazing sky lights.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
I love beautiful writing. Sometimes, I encounter it in unexpected places and about unexpected subjects. Such was the case when I sat down with the October 2012 edition of Whole Living Magazine. I always enjoy reading that magazine. When it arrives in the mailbox, my heart beats a little faster with anticipation because Whole Living is always chocked with useful, practical information about living well. In the latest edition, as I was taking in all that the magazine had to offer, I encountered an article about onions by Marisa Robertson-Textor that was so beautifully written that I had to re-read several times. I even read it aloud to myself. Just as onions add wonderful flavor to any dish, so was this article written with flavor. The writer noted the graceful beauty of onions and she did it with grace and beauty through the selection and weaving of her words. How often when I'm drying tears with the back of my sleeve as I slice onions do I think of them as "an inevitable heap of rounded, translucent sweetness"? Ms. Robertson-Textor has mastered the ability to tell a story, a real story that pulls you in about, of all things, onions. Thanks to her, I now know that they're part of the lily family. Thanks to her, I now see onions' concentrically circular design as amazing and beautiful and worth some additional attention when I slice into them. Thanks to her, I'll never look at an onion the same again.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tomorrow will make one year since I started this "Time to Be" blog. On October 11, 2011, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into, but I quickly learned by the end of that month that I wanted to write daily entries. What I've realized during this first-year journey is that everyone has a story to tell -- and they're truly fascinating and enlightening. We all live lives made up of millions of stories. I thank so many people for sharing theirs with me. I've also realized that life is made up of many details and when I write, I pay much keener attention to the details around me. I hear the birds that I might not have heard before. I see the chipmunk scamper, the tree bending in the wind, the sunset that can only be described as breathtaking. I smell the faint scent of flowering trees. In addition to heightening my senses and my observations, writing daily clarifies my thoughts, beliefs and values. I thank everyone who has been following this journey with me. Year #2 of blogging begins tomorrow!
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
I had a delightful conversation with a gentleman recently who is redefining his life after having lost a beloved spouse. He has changed his own life, losing weight, exercising regularly and embracing all that life gives him, despite the sadness he carries not being able to share it all with his life-mate. His is a sunny disposition. Our conversation got me to thinking about the sunny people in my life and how much they contribute to my everyday joy. They're the ones who smile, even when they don't feel like smiling. They're the ones who take a moment to share a pleasantry or happy story. They're the ones who go out of their way to ask about what's new in my life and actually listen to my reply. They're the ones who, even when life gives them lemons, truly make some sunny lemonade. I thank all of those caring and happy people who make even the rainiest day a sunny one for me.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Farm stands brimming with sun-ripened produce. Summer squash giving way to winter varieties. Despite difficulties caused by extreme weather, this year's harvest has been very satisfying. A slow start eventually yielded an abundance of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans and potatoes. Farmer's market vendors talk about this having been a big year for cabbage and broccoli. And the peppers have been as big as a large man's fist. One friend who is an avid gardener has had an extraordinary supply of eggplant. Larry and I have enjoyed every bite of our locally grown produce. Many thanks to all who have done the pickin', for these grateful veggie eaters are grinnin'.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
One of my favorite singers, Andy Williams, passed away recently. Oh, how I loved to hear him sing! From "Can't Get Used to Losing You" to "Music to Watch Girls Go By," I was a faithful fan of that silky-sounding crooner. His Christmas songs, from "Ave Maria" to "Let It Snow," were always impeccably done, his voice never wavering or cracking or hitting a sour note. His was truly a smooth voice out of what appeared to be a casual disposition. The PBS show that has run in recent years, featuring highlights of the Christmas episodes of his popular 1960s TV show, is still one of my all-time favorites. Hearing Andy sing with his equally smooth-sounding brothers was a highlight of those programs. Larry and I were dining at a local supper club on the Friday after Andy Williams' death when the pianist played "Moon River," Andy's signature song. It made me sigh that I never got my chance: Although he was old enough to be my dad, I have fantasized most of my life that I'd get an opportunity to sing on stage with Andy Williams. How I was going to do that, I have no clue, but if I'd ever been given the opportunity, I would have gladly harmonized with him and I think we would have made a grand duo (although Andy may not have thought so!). Now, I'll have to just resort to harmonizing with Andy Williams while watching him on You Tube. Farewell, Andy. I can't get used to losing you.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
My head has a way of cawing at me, just as crows cut through the peace and quiet at Devil's Lake State Park one recent evening. Their cries were jagged and piercing, similar to how I visualize my thoughts and head-chattering slicing jagged streaks through my still center. I will routinely begin my evening walks with my loud head-chatter cutting through the moments. Then, almost miraculously with each step, my mind starts to quiet down and it clears. Soon, I'm settled into my walk, turning it into a moving meditation, keenly aware of my surroundings and at peace with all that is. It's almost as if I need to clear the crows from my head in order to hear that bigger voice that admonishes me to slow my over-busy thoughts, replenish my spirit and renew my energy. The crows and their cawing may try to flood my head, but truly being in the moment -- quietly and intentionally -- gives me back my still center.
Friday, October 5, 2012
One weekend last month, I had a lot on the calendar, so I took my daily walks in the early morning hours instead of early evening. In so doing, I was exposed to the sound of early-morning bird music and the sight of the sky just waking up to a new day. There's something soothing about an evening walk after the day's labors are over, but a morning walk is like a trumpet heralding the start of new opportunities. I realized that if my schedule permitted, I might favor the morning walk over the evening. Yet, both bring satisfaction, especially at this time of year when crisp, sunny mornings give way to warmer mid-day temperatures and then cool evenings. We're not quite into the throes of fall yet and we can likely expect a few more warm days, but with each cool evening and cooler early morning, I realize that we're quickly departing that sliver of days during the year that Gladys Taber and Edwin Way Teale called "farewell summer."