Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap of Faith

'Tis Leap Day, that strange extra day that rolls around on the calendar once every four years, creating a February 29.  I know someone who was born on Leap Day and has, consequently, only celebrated her real birthday once every four years.  She claims to be only a fraction of her chronological age, as a result. A friend wrote recently, "Turn around, live in the moment, and believe."  I believe that miraculous things can happen on this extra day of the year.  It's like a bonus -- another day to start fresh, turning our perspective around so that we can embrace the joy of the day and believe that good prevails.  Perhaps my viewpoint is just a leap of faith, but I choose to think that Leap Day is a great reminder that each day is a bonus, another opportunity to do right, feel grateful and start anew.  Happy Leap Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just a Softy

A friend told me recently that she felt (in positive ways) that I was a Pollyanna because I saw the good in the world around me.  I replied that I feared I was simply naive.  But my friend pressed on, assuring me that we need to be reminded of the positive things in life.  I read recently that we shouldn't let the world make us hard, that we should "be soft."  I am and always have been a softy.  I cry at television commercials and even engage in what I call anticipatory weeping before the end of happy movies I've seen a million times.  It's easy in this day and age to become hardened and even bitter, but if we allow circumstances to steal our softness, how will we ever truly know love and feel joy? Corporate America would likely tell you otherwise, but I think it's OK to cry (and laugh) easily and be soft, vulnerable and thin-skinned.  I've decided that I'm going to embrace and celebrate my soft and optimistic side, as my friend suggested, for in so doing, the world will be a more positive and sweet place for me and maybe for those around me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

10% to 50%

It's amazing what little we know about people we see every day.  I have a colleague at work whose artistic talents were not known to most of us until a few months ago.  One day, I saw an exhibit of her beautiful scenic paintings on display in our facility's art gallery and I was in awe.  In that nonchalant way of truly talented people, she said that she worked with metal and sculpture but had decided to spend her vacation learning how to paint.  What resulted were lovely works that captivated her co-workers' and others' attention as they walked through the public hallway that also serves as gallery.  She told me recently, in her quiet way, that she feels that humans should devote 10% to 50% of their time pursuing those things that feed their souls.  Could I read, sing, take walks or write this blog for up to 50% of my time?  Maybe. Possibly. Time has a way of passing quickly when you are passionate about whatever it is you're doing.  Hence, the term "pastime."  We pass much of our time working to keep food on the table.  It seems only right to pass a portion of the rest of our time feeding our souls.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Courting Simplicity, Combatting Stress

I've been hearing and reading quite a bit lately about a possible correlation between stress and health/illness. I guess that correlation could be what experts sometimes refer to as dis-ease when referring to disease -- a state when a person is in a state other than ease. To be true to oneself, to slow down with celebration instead of guilt are so counter to today's culture that we sometimes feel like lesser human beings when we allow ourselves time to be (hence the name of this blog). Courting simplicity and embracing it are a necessary component of my quality of life. Winter can provide such a time. It is during winter when I slow down, stay home, curl up and renew. This year's mild winter, quickly giving way to spring, has rarely afforded me such an "excuse" to sit still and hibernate. So, it's up to me to create little pockets of "winter" every week just to enjoy the quiet. In so doing, I will consciously court simplicity and combat stress, and possibly reduce dis-ease in my life.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Garden Chatter

Attending the Garden Expo in Madison recently filled my head with garden chatter.  For days, I kept replaying all of the great things I'd learned from the many excellent speakers.  One of the seminar presenters, Mark Dwyer of Rotary Gardens, noted how vital it is that we know where our vegetables come from. We live among generations today that are sadly not as close to the land as our forebears were. Hence, we don't always know where our food has come from. Or if we do, we see that it has likely traveled many miles or is so processed that it wouldn't even be recognizable as food by previous generations.  I heard a child, in all sincerity, one time refer to flavored chips as vegetables. The young boy had obviously had very little exposure to eating vegetables, let alone fresh bounty that came from a nearby garden, so he truly thought that the chips he ate were vegetables. When we tend to a garden, harvest the bounty, can it, freeze it, prepare it, taste it, buy it from a farmer's market, we know our food and from whence it came.  The recent difficult economy has driven many people to try their hand at gardening.  School gardens and community gardens are sprouting up.  Canning is becoming more popular once again.  It would be my wish that every person would have access to high-quality, locally grown produce to nourish their bodies.  Now that would be something to chatter about.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Marvelous Minds

I recently read about a gentleman who is not only a gifted musician and college professor, but also a Harvard-trained mathematician, an avid bicyclist, a computing innovator, and a husband and father.  It got me to thinking again about our amazing, mysterious and marvelous brains that can facilitate such diverse talents in a single individual.  We may have dominant characteristics to our ways of thinking -- the rational left brain vs. the artistic right brain -- but that gentleman I read about certainly demonstrates that both sides can be cultivated and celebrated for their abilities and that the traits of the two hemispheres of our brains can co-exist very nicely. One need not give up one side of the brain's gifts for the other or pursue one dominant interest to the detriment of the others.  Somehow, through the magnificence of our minds, we can sort of have it all.  In other words, we can celebrate being of one mind, so to speak. We can enjoy many diverse vocations and avocations throughout our lives.  And as we allow ourselves to seek out those new adventures of the mind, the more we become whole beings.  Simply marvelous!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sage Words

While attending seminars and programs at Wisconsin Public Television's Garden Expo recently, I learned a lot about plants, planting methods and planting conditions.  But I also heard some wise words from the various speakers that touched aspects of my life other than gardening:  1) People tend to react to "big and ugly" in unfavorable ways.  True.  Sometimes big comes without ugly and vice versa, but when the two are perceived to be together, it's pretty easy to react unfavorably.  2) Make time more valuable.  True again.  How often do we read that we should work smarter, not harder, to use our time more wisely and to do those things that are the most important?   3) The intelligent tinkerer saves all of the pieces.  This quote, attributed to Aldo Leopold, is true yet again.  Environmentally, materially, intellectually and emotionally, when we have all of the pieces, the complete picture comes into view more clearly.  And often we can see that every piece has its place.  So, although I may have gone to the Garden Expo to learn about basil, rosemary and sage, the truth is I walked away with much more.  I left with some sage advice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Song in Your Heart

Lawrence Welk always used to end his television program, inviting the audience to keep a song in their hearts. A recent item floating around on Facebook made me think about Mr. Welk. The Facebook item features an artist's illustration of left-brain characteristics vs. right-brain. The left brain is portrayed in black and gray as being the place for linear, rational, evidence-based thinking, while the right brain is creative, splashed with color, the place where passion resides. If it weren't for those right-brain thinkers who bring us beauty, how could we ever keep -- let alone find -- a song in our hearts? In this day when science, math and technology are applauded, where do the arts and humanities fit in? I would recommend that we strike a balance, for if we have all science and math or all arts and humanities, our lives will be greatly lacking. Striking a balance between those left and right sides of our brains is important to our quality of life and makes us more well-rounded individuals. So, let's applaud, support and embrace the arts and the artistic sides of ourselves, knowing that doing so makes life just that much more beautiful.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I caught a couple of episodes recently of a popular television program where two men scout the country, looking for treasures they can buy from one party and sell to another at a profit.  I also saw an episode not too long ago of a program where an appraiser helps families auction off some of their belongings so they can use the money to purchase a big-screen TV, fix up a kitchen, add a backyard patio, etc.  In both programs, people are showcased who have many belongings and collections and are asked to part with them.  I am fascinated by the fact that, many times, these people struggle to part with the items.  They take on such significance, such emotional and sentimental importance, that the people have great difficulty making the decision to sell them.  I am not a very materialistic person.  I don't require a lot around me to make me happy.  In fact, I'm much happier owning very little.  I cling to very few belongings, mainly photographs.  I'm an anti-hoarder so I suppose that could put me in the minority.  I'd make the boring subject of a reality TV show.  We've come a long way since the days of the settlers who traveled light for long distances with only the items they could place in a suitcase or carry on horseback or load into a horse-drawn wagon.  Today, we have collections, gadgets, techy gizmos, closets bursting with clothes (even in sizes we can no longer wear) and what I believe the professionals would call ephemera to adorn, and oftentimes complicate, our lives.  I wonder where the fine line is between owning things and having them own you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cultivating Happiness

I've been rather sad lately, and it's all about change. Some change is exhilarating while some is disconcerting at best.  I've been surrounded by a shroud of the grayness that comes with not wanting to accept change.  So when I heard a gardening expert say that happy plants make productive plants, I took it as a personal wake-up call.  I realized that the expert's statement was true of people, as well as plants.  When people (and plants) are happy, they are often at their most productive.  Such productivity can make change more manageable, positive, even empowering.  The cultivation of one's happiness rests within them, not with external forces.  Realizing that made all of the difference in my outlook and lifted the cloud of sadness.  As with the evolving seasons, change is inevitable.  Sometimes we instigate the change and at other times it is instigated for us.  The ability to cultivate happiness, however, is unchanging because it resides in me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fleur de Lis

Last evening, Larry and I had the pleasure of hearing a gifted classical pianist in concert.  His hands appeared to move effortlessly across the entire keyboard. And his profound memory was able to retain the complexities of each lengthy musical piece.  From Brahms to Bach to Beethoven, the audience was transported through time and music to a place of serenity and sheer happiness.  For the past few days as I anticipated the concert, I was transported through time in a different way to my childhood and my elementary school friend Debbie.  Debbie and her family moved to our community when we were about eight years old.  She took both piano and organ lessons.  I hadn't known anyone at that stage of my life who was taking music lessons, let alone on two different types of keyboards.  Debbie took her music seriously and was well-practiced.  When I would go to her house to play, she would ultimately include a little piano and/or organ concert into our time together.  Unwittingly, she cultivated my interest in classical music and transformed my interest in music, in general.  I did not play an instrument; I was a singer.  So to hear Debbie's beautiful piano music was captivating to me, even as a little girl.  I recall asking her to play "Fleur de Lis" over and over and over again.  To this day, when I hear that lovely composition, I think fondly of Debbie and thank her for bringing the gift of classical music to my life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Marking Time

A jeweler friend of mine told me a couple of years ago when repairing my wristwatch that watches are being replaced by cell phones, which was affecting the watch repair part of his business.  Who needs to wear their timepiece on their wrists when they can just as easily look at their phones?  Wearing a watch may be a generational kind of thing anymore.  It's true -- I don't see as many people wearing them as I used to.  Yet, we live with even more time constraints in our lives than ever before.  I saw a panel of speakers recently -- each of whom looked as if they came into adulthood in the 1970s, like me -- and they were all, except one, wearing a wristwatch.  I take my wristwatch off when I come home and enjoy not being tied to the time throughout the evenings and weekends, but if I am heading somewhere, especially to work, I feel lost without my watch.  Back in the days before cell phones, I recall having the battery die on my watch at a most inopportune time.  A kind soul loaned me her watch and even had the battery replaced in mine so I could carry on with my work, which required paying attention to increments of time.  How times (pardon the pun!) have changed!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

The weather's been topsy-turvy of late.  After a few days of bone-chilling, raw weather, the temperatures have rebounded to the mid-40s and the sun has shone brightly each day.  Perhaps it was because of the frigid temperatures of just a few days ago, but this latest warm-up appears to have warmed up everyone and everything.  In just one day, I witnessed multiple signs of spring:  The earth had that spring scent to it, as if the soil was waking up.  Two rather dazed and lethargic wasps were lazily warming themselves on sidewalks.  A storekeeper propped open the front door of his shop to let in the fresh air.  A woman was seated in a lawn chair in her front yard with a book in her lap.  A little, pot-bellied chimney was nearby, burning brightly to ward off any chill.  Winter-stained cars were being run through the car wash. The runners and walkers (both the two-legged human and four-legged canine varieties) came out in large numbers.  Spring is indeed in the air -- even if we know that it's one month premature -- and everyone is soaking it up with gratitude!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sharing Sorrow

It's been one of those times lately when several people I know have been passing away.  People from my childhood.  People from my work life.  People who are dear ones of friends.  The sadness, sorrow and, in some cases, devastation of those remaining have made me think about the human experience and how an integral part of being human is the need to reach out and to be reached out to in order to truly live -- and sometimes just survive.  I've been pondering the many benefits of living in my hometown, in a small town where nearly everyone knows everyone else and histories together are long and deep.  While at the funeral home to observe one family's loss, I found myself in conversations with those in the visitation line with me who have been experiencing their own losses, often unbeknownst to me.  I found my own griefs coming to the surface once again and it was easy to relive the memories.  There would've been a time when I would have wanted to run away from such feelings but, as I get older, I realize that empathy comes from our own grief and being able to share others' sorrow with them.  The human experience, although often ordinary, reveals extraordinary moments of clarity about the essence of life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Green Dreams

My good friend Kitty -- a Master Gardener -- and I defied the frigid, early-morning temperatures recently and drove an hour to take in the annual Garden Expo sponsored by Wisconsin Public Television in Madison.  She and I make this annual trek to fulfill our green dreams -- those dreams about sunny days, warmed soil, earthworms, open garden centers, and lush, green living things.  By mid-February, we robust and resilient Wisconsinites have taken just about enough of winter and need to think spring, if only for a day.  The expo's seminars broaden our thinking and the heavenly scents of growing plants in the exhibition hall are nearly intoxicating.  People wander the huge exhibition hall aisles, lugging around lawn ornaments, rakes, gardening books, seed packets and bunches of pussy willows.  People stand around some of the exhibits, contemplating the possibly hefty purchase of a new mower, retaining wall or water feature. Despite the burdens in their arms and the potential dents to their pocketbooks, they never seem tired or discouraged.  It's just too good to be thinking spring!  So, although it'll be months before we have real, honest-to-goodness dirt under our fingernails again, the Garden Expo satisfied our green dreams for now.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Queen of Hearts

I got my husband a quirky Valentine featuring Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts on the cover.  The inside of the card was blank, which gave me all kinds of opportunity to write a silly Queen of Hearts-theme message to my beloved.  On this Valentine's Day, I think about hearts and how often I know I wear mine on my sleeve, how much I lead by my heart (as well as my head), how often I've felt as if I've suffered from a broken heart, and how much I care about the health of my physical heart (as well as my husband's).  To celebrate the day, I attempted to replicate the heart trees that Mom used to make when I was a child.  A clear canning jar filled with curly willow is now trimmed with red construction paper hearts traced with a pencil and a cookie cutter.  The arrangement graces our dining room table, making me smile every time I pass by it.  So, although I don't believe I bear many of the traits of Lewis Carroll's "Off with her head!" character, if just for today, I'll call myself a Queen of Hearts.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

By Any Other Name

While watching a rerun of the hilarious British comedy "Keeping Up Appearances" on PBS recently, I got to thinking about the show's characters -- four sisters: Hyacinth, Rose, Daisy and Violet -- and about the resurgence of lovely, old-fashioned women's first names.  I had a beloved "Auntie Vi" as a child who rarely went by her given name of Violet, yet it was so lovely.  My grandparents had a next-door neighbor named Madeline whose first name intrigued me as a kid -- I thought it was mysterious and aristocratic, although Madeline herself was always pleasant and more than tolerant of five-year-old me.  My great-grandmother was named Ella.  Our neighbor was named Elsie and her aunt was named Emma.  For years, I associated those beautiful names with women of a certain age.  But today, those charmers have returned with youthful exuberance.  I now know a Madeline, an Emma and three Ellas.  I know a Grace or two -- all little or young girls.  It warms my heart to see such exquisite first names from the past being brought back to life by the likes of rosy-cheeked little girls and tall, slender teenagers.  Today's girls could just as easily be called by a name that ends in an "i" (such as mine and many others from my era), but I love how they are bringing new meaning and acceptance to first names of days gone by.  Wouldn't Great-Grandma Ella be pleased?!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rushing Waters

A recent weekend walk along the river that bisects our community revealed hints of spring.  Instead of the breathless stillness I associate with winter, there was birdsong, squirrel chatter and the movement of water -- sometimes a slow lapping against the rocks and at other times rushing rapids.  Larry and I were not alone in our enjoyment of this natural space in the heart of our community.  We encountered kids, adults, couples, singles, families and pets.  Who could sit inside on such a stunning day?  I had "planned" that day for quiet time.  I had accumulated a little stack of books for the occasion.  I'd selected a dinner recipe to stoke our fires.  I was daydreaming about a lingering afternoon nap.  But, instead, Mother Nature gave us a brilliant, sunny, 50-degree February Wisconsin day, and all I wanted to do was be out in it.  Periodically throughout, I must admit, I longed for it to turn overcast, perhaps with a little added spitting of snow, just to permit me to sit idle.  But it was not to be.  Like the rushing waters along the river walk, I was pulled into movement.  I'll be idle another day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Flowers of the Heart

I wasn't really in the mood to do any shopping that day but something drew me to our local St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on a recent Saturday morning.  I browsed all of the aisles and finally decided before exiting the store to look at a shoebox of Valentines.  I hadn't been thinking about buying any Valentines there but, still, I was drawn to the box.  It was strange.  I didn't just go through them once.  I felt compelled to look through them a second time.  It was during that second time that I discovered two identical Valentine postcards featuring two identical handwritten greetings -- in my late mom's handwriting.  I could barely contain myself.  I miss my mom so much and it was as if she was reaching out to me through those Valentines.  I bought both of the postcards, saving one for myself and sending the other to my aunt and uncle, my mom's sister and brother-in-law.  The postcards feature a delicate pastel design of a heart-shaped floral wreath.  Mom wrote her message to coincide with the card's design:  "Warm thoughts and wishes are flowers of the heart.  May you have a lovely Valentine's Day!"  I'm not sure if Mom recycled the cards back to the thrift store or if I was the one responsible for having done so when Larry and I cleaned out her apartment 1 1/2 years ago.  All I know is that their discovery on that recent Saturday morning was such an unexpected and precious find.  Truly, flowers of the heart from my wonderful, unforgettable mom.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jack Frost

With a stealthy arrival and departure, Jack Frost visited our community recently, leaving an absolutely magnificent layer of hoarfrost behind on the landscape.  Set against a dense and overcast sky, each evergreen was tipped with white, while the frost literally clung to every surface of the deciduous trees' branches.  I happened to be in the car, seeking a shortcut back to my office, when I encountered this frosty fairyland.  Instead of getting back to work faster, I felt myself slowing down, taking in the beauty all around me.  Classical music playing on my car radio seemed to have been tuned to my surroundings, creating an enchanting, albeit brief, visual and aural departure from my everyday world.  There are so many unexpected pleasures in life when we're open to them.  I was grateful to have had such a gift handed to me during my attempt at hurrying that morning.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Recently, I posted to this blog that I enjoyed being serenaded by a chorus of what I believe are sparrows in some arbor vitae evergreen shrubs near the side entrance to the building in which I work. Now that we're approaching spring, I leave work once again while it is still daylight.  In so doing, I pass by the same arbor vitae on my way out as I do coming in each morning.  When it was dark as I exited, all was quiet in the shrubs.  But now that there is still at least a trickle of daylight as I leave, the feathered choir secreted in the evergreens is singing to me on my way out, providing me with chirpy music as bookends to my workday.  What a great way to begin and end my day -- with the happy chirps of probably a score of little birds.  They may just be chattering with each other, cautioning their neighbors that a human approaches, or possibly even chastising me for being around.  It doesn't really matter, for their voices still sound happy to me!  It's as if the little chorus sings "Good morning!" and "Good evening!" just for my pleasure.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Last Dance

Larry and I celebrated my mom's last Valentine's Day a year ago dancing with her at the nursing home where she resided for the last months of her life.  Despite cancer taking over her body, she still had a little zip in her step, enough to kick up her heels with Larry and me as a big band played in the nursing home's large gathering room for their Valentine's Day party.  I have two great pictures from that special night -- one of Mom and me dancing a polka and the other of Mom, Larry and me dancing together with our arms around each other.  Mom loved to dance.  Her parents danced on Saturday nights in their younger years.  My mom and dad didn't follow suit, however.  Dad preferred to watch the dancing from the sidelines.  So, early in their marriage, Mom "danced" instead with their Dalmatian, Jigs, who was so-named because he would stand on his hind legs, place his big front paws on Mom's shoulders and dance a little jig with her to music playing on the television.  Later, I was Mom's partner, placing my little-girl feet on Mom's, dancing to the same program on TV.  We continued to be dance partners throughout the decades, always good for a polka or two or three.  There will never be a time when I hear polka music that I don't think of that very special last Valentine's Day dance with Mom last year, wishing we could have just one more.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where I'm Supposed to Be

I recently read an article that admonished me to stop throwing away my energies, obsessing about a future that may never happen or reflecting about fantasies of the past.  Instead, the author suggested that I see the fulfilling moments right before me.  In so doing, I would validate and honor the here and now, recognizing that I am where I'm supposed to be.  There have been those times in my life when I've been ill or grieving when I couldn't imagine how I could possibly be where I'm supposed to be.  Yet, upon reflection, I've found that those places were indeed where I was intended to be at that time.  For it is from those difficult places that some of my most profound life lessons have come.  Even recently, I encountered that vital message again when I had the opportunity to revisit someplace from my past.  Sometimes, wistfully, I think it might be nice to be back in that place but my recent encounter helped me to realize that I have grown to a new place that is right for me for right now.  All of this reflection takes me back to my late mom's favorite Scripture passage:  "This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24).  Today is a gift.  It's where I'm supposed to be.  I'll be glad in it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sweet Memories

I was an only child, so when special days came along, my dad often included me in his generous gift-giving when remembering my mom.  Such was the case with Valentine's Day.  If Mom received a big heart-shaped box of candy, I received a miniature version.  On Easter, he would give Mom a lovely, big corsage featuring an Easter lily and I would get a smaller, little-girl version.  My dad had such a  compassionate heart.  If he saw a child who appeared to be going without, he wanted to jump right in and get a dress, a doll or something special for her.  Dad wasn't one to cry.  In fact, I don't know if I ever saw Dad cry but he was sensitive and loving.  As I experience my first Valentine's Day with both of my parents gone, the memories of their wonderful lives and their many caring gestures stay vividly alive in me.  I may just have to buy a little heart-shaped box of chocolates and eat them slowly, savoring the taste and the memory of my parents' bigger-than-life influence in my life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Drawing In, Reaching Out

At work, we talk quite a bit about community benefits, an important aspect of Catholic health care.  It's all about reaching out for the common good, to make our corner of the world a healthier place in which to live, especially those who may be vulnerable or poor.  That message speaks deeply to my core and I carry the community benefit mandate seriously.  A recent prayer at my Methodist Church reflected on reaching out.  Rather than being insular, we prayed to know our neighbors.  Rather than focusing on our own problems, we prayed for the ability to open our eyes to those around us who may be suffering, grieving or lonely.  We prayed to fill our lives with people instead of tasks.  We prayed to seek justice rather than to argue issues.  All of this reaching out must be done in balance with reaching within.  And a fine, teetering balance it can be.  Without that balance, as individuals, we have no Sabbath, no quiet time for recharging our batteries.  When my life is not filled with self- or other-induced busyness, it opens up to so much goodness.  Consequently, I get to know myself and my neighbors.  I get the opportunity to take care of me and to be there for others.  It becomes natural to put people before my to-do list. Yet, being human in my gerbil-wheel life, I can easily lose sight of what buoys an otherwise flattened spirit and makes life meaningful.  So, my prayer is for the right balance of drawing in and reaching out so that I can be of the greatest service to others.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Take Heart

It's February, also known to many as Heart Month.  It's that month when we lead with our hearts and express what's in our hearts by giving those we love a special Valentine.  It's also the month when we are reminded to take care of our hearts for our health's sake.  It's disturbing to know that today's children are developing conditions that were once relegated to their elders, conditions that could easily lead to full-blown heart disease as they become adults.  As a little girl, I had no awareness, no concerns about heart disease.  Each February, I was only concerned about giving and receiving Valentines at my school.  My elementary school was an old, two-story building in the center of large grounds that provided wondrous opportunities for recess play.  The classes were all small.  My grade had as few as a dozen children in it some years.  We were all close, so Valentine's Day was very special.  I can vividly remember taking great effort to select just the right paper Valentines for my classmates and then carefully printing messages on them in pencil to each child.  We spent time in class making Valentines for our parents made of red and pink construction paper, paste, small pieces of tissue paper folded over pencil tops to make little flowers, and messages lovingly written -- and often misspelled -- in crayon.  Some years, we even had access to little candy hearts with messages on them to paste onto our Valentines, those heart candies that say "Be Mine" and other sweet things.  My mom used to make a Valentine tree -- a tree branch painted white with her nurse's shoe polish, then decorated with red construction paper hearts.  Those are the kinds of things I would wish for today's children -- a healthy heart and a heart filled with anticipation and joy for the love expressed on Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

In the Wind

Watching the heavy winds outside our kitchen window recently made me think of how the wind represents life.  Sometimes, it's calm.  At other times, one feels the gusts, the moans, the storms.  Larry and I attended a benefit performance recently for a young woman who had been injured while performing a circus aerial act and who was now on the long road to recovery.  With grace and dignity, the girl walked onto the stage on the arm of her brother, each step still somewhat of a labor.  At the end of the show, to a standing ovation, she performed a portion of her aerial act.  As I held my breath and applauded thunderously, I was reminded of my own recovery from a benign tumor diagnosed in my back  1 1/2 years ago. The growth had consumed a portion of my spine, causing me to suddenly become paralyzed.  One of my legs was affected much more than the other and, like the young woman, my gait was such that my affected leg had to be coaxed to cooperate. Both that young woman and I are healing, thanks to modern medicine, the grace of God, and a tenacity that makes us want to be whole again.  The circus aerialist is once again high up in the air.  She and I have experienced some of life-wind's gusts, have learned to go with the flow, and know that while there will be storms, there is also a calm breeze ahead.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spring Fever

Ah!  Fresh air!  We have been enjoying a stretch of unseasonably warm weather lately. So warm that patches of green grass are showing through the light layer of Wisconsin snow.  So warm that people around here may not be hanging their hopes as much on the groundhog seeing or not seeing his shadow today.  The mild temperatures and brilliant sun have been accompanied by wind, the kind of weather we normally experience in March or even April.  Folks actually have a spring in their step.  They've shed their boots, their scarves, their hats, their heavy sweaters, their extra layers, and they've been sporting brighter, springy colors.  Our dull winter pallor has been replaced by a rosy, spring-like glow.  Our collective spirit appears to be higher than normally experienced during the beginning of February.  It's as if we're all "suffering" from a serious dose of spring fever.  As we dance in the warm sun, however, we wary Wisconsinites keep a watch on the sky, worried that the other weather-shoe is going to drop and we'll be blasted with the reality of winter once again.  But, till then, we'll have fun, enjoying this early hint of spring.  It's amazing how reliant we are on Mother Nature for so much, including our moods.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rest, Think, Reflect, Grow

It sounds strange but I actually welcomed the break that a medical procedure gave me a few days ago.  Sometimes, forces outside of our own make us stop for a bit.  What a sad commentary it is that something outside of our own decisions has to make us sit still, if even for a while.  But, alas, in a day when people are consumed with activity practically 24/7 and rarely able to vacation from being wired, a medical procedure can stop you without anyone else being able to interfere with the downtime.  It's as if you finally have a legitimate reason to stop a bit and you can give yourself guilt-free permission to do so.  Although I am already guarded about the ways I spend my time, I used my medical procedure as an opportunity to contemplate.  I heard someone say on a local TV newscast the other night that people need time to rest, think, reflect and grow but we rarely allow ourselves to do so.  I totally agree.  Being so-called unproductive for a short while can be the necessary respite to recharge our batteries so that when we do return to being productive once again, we can do so with vigor and fervor.