letters

I love writing letters. Nobody does anymore though, because of email, cell phones. I have two or three friends who write but infrequently. My letters are not erudite or profound. I love receiving letters and answer by return mail.

I admire authors who write entirely through letters. Introspective, expressive words on paper. I am basically socially inept and do better if I write my thoughts. What I put on paper makes more sense than anything I say. I have no idea why it is easier to organize thoughts that way rather than verbally or why I find it easier.

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I love writing paper, note cards. I have way more than I will likely ever use and I keep buying it. Maybe I can decorate the walls with it. Like those old fashioned roses that used to clutter old wallpaper. When I was growing up we lived in an old drafty farmhouse with 12-foot ceilings, my room was covered from floor to ceiling with these roses. My mother, trying desperately to change me from a lonely tomboy to make me a frilly little girl bought me a little pink wastebasket with dancing white poodles painted on it sparkling with rhinestones. She had my room painted a soft pink and adorned the 6-foot tall windows with filmy sheer curtain panels. I truly missed those roses.

Ironic that I love writing letters now. As a child I was terrible at writing thank-you notes. My godmother taught me a very important lesson about gratitude. She had sent me a pretty scarab bracelet for my birthday and I th.jpgpromised my mother I would write her promptly. I did not and soon after I received a note from her. She said as I had not taken the trouble to thank her for her gift either I had not liked it or was simply ungrateful. Lesson learned. It is always important to let someone know that I appreciate their thoughtfulness.

I never received another gift from my godmother.

Things are way more casual now. Even my family only occasionally acknowledge receipt of gifts so I not only do not know that they received it, I have no idea if they liked it. It’s tempting to take the page from Aunt Adelaide’s book and write a shaken finger letter but I keep thinking how times have changed. It’s rare to find gratitude anywhere, or humility. I suppose expecting to see that is old-fashioned, or too demanding, or takes the fun out of giving gifts (and now there’s re-gifting!).

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When did it become uncool to be grateful? Is it the sense of entitlement so many have adopted either from a fear of losing whatever standard of living they have become accustomed to, or because so much is available to so many for so little? And we assume it will always be like this?

I don’t have any answers. Maybe I’m not really looking for answers. It is sad though. When people are grateful there is a sense of appreciation not just for the gift but for the thoughts of the giver. And a sense of joy about the recipient.

I still like to give presents. I can’t help it. I do know without doubt rescue dogs Lily and Lulu are always happily surprised to find an unexpected treat or toy.

And so grateful.

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favorite quotes: Day 2 of 3

3-day Quote Challenge, continued

“To thine own self be true….. ”      –Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3: William Shakespeare

I don’t think there is much of anything more basic than this. I know my growing-up years were complete turbulence. I was the first-born of 3, the screw-up, not a mistake so much as mistake-maker. I learned everything the hard way. Sometimes those lessons took more than one pass. Eventually I learned in order to not keep everybody mad I could do and say funny stuff. Make them laugh, usually at me. This worked as long as I didn’t look too hard on the inside. Because people pleasers sometimes make others happy, or avert the argument or throw the barbs off. But even if we do, our lives, while doing all this performing are so hollow inside.

So this was my truth for years. My valley of darkness. It became such a conditioned activity I had no idea that it was within my power to stop. But just like Dorothy I had the power all along.

Just stop. I didn’t even need those ruby slippers to get back “home”.

It made a lot of people angry. I was called all sorts of horrid things– cold, selfish, thoughtless. And those words hurt. But then I remembered they were as much talking about themselves as they were about me.

It took practice. My valley of darkness became a valley of decision…. up until then I did my best at second-guessing, perceiving feelings, fortune-telling outcomes. I doubted, restructured, doubted again.
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Basically unanchored, so other-focused I had no perspective of my own.

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6 NKJV)

And here I began to find my real truth. For someone who’d become so strong-willed, independent, self-reliant it took a long time and many losses. A marriage ended, parents passed away, yet one Constant helped me, each day, each moment become stronger,th.jpg more discerning, more faithful. He has never disappointed me. He always hears  my prayers. He has proven Himself true over and over. And I know without doubt that He is the only way, truth, life. (John 14:6)

I am nowhere close to finished. But without losing compassion, empathy or kindness my perspective has strengthened and become more realistic, more self-controlled. I take more time to listen. Life is less frenetic. Yes, I am much older now but wisdom is far more valuable.And thankfully more available. Or at least wisdom’s voice is clearer.

 

interludes

I have lived with daylight savings time all my life and have never gotten used to it. By the time it goes back to standard time I have simply learned to go from day to day with one less hours’ sleep.

I really don’t like it.

I can remember my father returning home Fridays after his week’s commute to New York setting his watch because the time was different there in summer. You’d have thought I’d have more interesting memories than watching my father set his watch, but I doted on him. Since he was gone every week he was the magic parent. He was not home enough to be ordinary so I’d carefully watch and listen to everything about him.

Except when I had ponies.

I never caught the tennis bug or the golf bug or the tanning bug. So summers, except when I had a good book to read or went to a friends’ house or a movie, weren’t too exciting. Oh, I loved the freedom like any kid. No school, no early mornings, I went barefoot and wore shorts and t-shirts every day. But the summers of the ponies were transportive.

I learned about these ponies from a neighborhood friend. Mr. Robinson had all these ponies and he rented them, if a family had an appropriate place to care for them, enough yard, a place for shelter. Our house where I grew up had a detached 2-car garage. We only used one side for a car, the other side housed the lawn mower and various other dusty items that kind of blended into the grey-brown of the inside of the garage. Next to that was an old but sturdy chicken coop, complete with surrounding small fence. It was fine, Mr. Robinson said. So he brought  my first rented pony named Claudia, a couple of bales of hay and a bridle. No saddle, just bareback.

I found some other neighborhood girls who rented ponies at the same time and we rode all over the place. These ponies weren’t shod so we were careful to keep them on the grass. This was true freedom.

So every summer for I guess 5 or 6 years one or two weeks I rented one of these ponies. I never met one I didn’t like, or more to the point, that did not like me. Ponies can be mean little creatures if they take a dislike to you. My brother came to the elementary school playground across from our house where we all mostly rode. It was about 4 acres of wide open space. He wanted to try riding, he said. I slid off and handed him the reins. He looked at me. So we walked the pony over to the concrete picnic tables where he could give himself a leg up. On he went. Something about this the pony did not like.

Off went the pony. Fast. And off went my brother, right in the dirt. I probably should have given him a few tips on how to ride but I figured he’d watched us enough and figured it out. He hadn’t, on top of which he’d had the wind knocked out of him. So I had to stop first and make sure he’d be ok.

The thing about ponies is when they start running if nobody’s riding they don’t stop. So having the assurance my brother would live and somehow not find a way to get Mom after me for his injuries, gritting my teeth I took off. Last I’d seen she rounded the side of the school to the front of the building. Right after that would be a street. Not a highly traveled one, but still.

I pumped around to the front of the school to find her there on the lawn, calmly grazing. So relieved I nearly cried, I slowly walked up so as not to spook her off again and gently picked up her reins. Crisis averted.

There were 4 or 5 of those ponies that were my favorites… Claudia was the first, Vera (she shared more than one summer with us), a little strawberry roan named Peaches… Peaches I got two weeks one year, for the price of one. Mr. Robinson liked the way we cared for those ponies, and she’d gained a little weight…

Fun times.

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understanding

Some weeks are long. Like this one. It started when the newspapers didn’t show up. I only get them on weekends. I get 2 different subscriptions. Neither arrived.

Then a notice saying one of my important tax forms would be reissued, corrected. So if I’d already filed 2016 taxes (I hadn’t) I’d have to amend them.

Then my brother and his wife decide to exclude half the family from our annual week at the beach. That was tough to swallow.

Then a kitchen cabinet door fell off its hinges. Just fell. I opened it and it came right off in my hands. So I took one of the hinges to replace them to the hardware store but it is the wrong hinge.

Then a rose thorn I’d unknowingly stepped on (I have pretty tough and calloused feet from years of walking barefoot) decided it would become infected. That took some work to find and remove.

So walking rescue dogs Lily and Lulu this afternoon, a thought came to me. A memory really… my dad lived the remainder of his days in a tiny southern town because my mother had liked the name– Clover. Guess Dad though it would be good to live in Clover. Anyway some years ago before I began my odyssey of searching for the perfect job and still lived relatively nearby, one weekend I drove over to visit Dad. He had a caretaker at that time who told me he’d gone shopping down at the Food Lion that afternoon so I drove over there.

I wandered the aisles figuring I’d find him and there he was, in the canned goods, eyeglasses propped above raised eyebrows as he carefully read the contents of a can of green beans or corn or some such. I started down the aisle toward Dad and just then, eyebrows still raised he looked up over that can and his whole face brightened into such happiness it made me so glad I’d thought to visit that day.

I can’t visit him now, he passed away 11 years ago next month. But that memory erased all the little nagging challenges from this week. Someone who is so glad that you are alive can truly make all the difficult, unhappy, awkward, or mean things just vanish.

And I began to see things differently. I came out from under that cloud and saw so much good. My two dogs are healthy, I basically have all I need or want, I am healthy, my son is happy and in a job he likes, spring is almost here and flowers are beginning to burst out in vibrant color here and there. Camellias, azaleas, daffodils, hyacinths, Bradford pears, saucer magnolias. Nothing ever stays the same but it sure does wonders to have a memory like that when things are a little bumpy.

Dad loved to make things better. Just talking to him helped. Sometimes he’d tamp down a smoking pipe and slowly send tendrils of sweet smoke, like thoughts, in the air. He could absorb and process almost anything. He stopped at whining, laziness, self-pity or meanness. But anything else he could help you through it. And he didn’t fix it for you. He made you think, look at the thing from all sides until you came to a good solution. He might have to prod or help a little with a suggestion or two, but he always left you thinking it was your idea.

So, all in all, I guess things are pretty good.

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The most wonderful time of the year

It almost spoils it when Christmas stuff starts showing up in stores and people’s front yards the first of November– those funny one-dimensional wooden deer with red bows or wreaths around their necks, and the blooming cactus, baby Norfolk Island pines, amaryllis, poinsettias and decorations all over the stores. Usually the funny, larger-than-life snow globes don’t appear till later, or the inflatable carousels that even play music.

But it doesn’t quite ruin it really, not for me.

Maybe my brain tunes it all out. Maybe I just don’t process it as present-day. Maybe I pass it through a “by-gone” filter so as not to spoil the sweet joy of the advent of a time so timeless that it truly does stay in my heart all year (well, most of the year). Or maybe I realize that’s just how some people open up to what is happening in an over-the-top kind of way.

Since I was a little girl I have loved this time of year and not for presents. People always seemed kinder, happier. People looked forward to something, something they were excited about celebrating. As if something so long-awaited, something that would make everything better, brighter was going to happen. And many of us were anticipating the same thing but even if we weren’t there was an inescapable aura that touched everybody.

My family would have Christmas Eve dinner. One year we piled in the car not only to go see all the houses decorated with lights and candles and wreaths but stopped to visit friends and wish them joy. Then we’d go to our church’s Christmas Eve service.

This was the best part, for me. Almost better than Christmas morning which nearly always got lost in the tinsel, wrappings and bows.

This was the moment. This was the excitement, the anticipation of something so wonderful, so vibrant and alive with hope and love that I have never forgotten how it felt. Singing out those beautiful carols, listening to the lovely prayers, the soft glow of candles and the ageless Bible story of the miraculous birth, a story that never got old.

No matter where my family lived, no matter what we were going through. Something about Christmas transcended our ills, our arguments, our differences, our angers, our disappointments. And more often than not after Christmas day we found we had moved on beyond whatever it was that had got us hung up, stuck.

There was a beauty that touched each one of us. We no longer saw or felt whatever ugliness had our pride reared up in self-righteous rightness against someone or something. It was gone. Disappeared. Vanished. Vanquished in the beauty of Something far greater than anything we harbored.

Advent. The coming of something. The brink of a moment. The event that does not end, is always coming, has never gotten old. Every year.

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Lost

So (a really long time ago) I used to be a librarian at a library branch in a very bad part of town in Jacksonville, Florida. I loved being a librarian, did not love being written up for warning children against playing swordfights with small chairs while jumping on library tables because their parents did not like the way I warned them. Like, what part of “Please do not hit each other with those chairs” is inappropriate??

Nor did I particularly care for greeting one of my favorite (calmer) patrons, noticing a cast on his arm and when I asked him what happened being told “I got shot.”

No, this was not a choice part of town and I only lasted there a couple of years.

Anyway, one of my coworkers who had worked there forever and whom I really admired for her unflappable attitude had this sign over her desk–

“I have gone out to look for myself. If I come back before I return please hold me until I get here.”

I found this gratifying and still find it so, having many days where I still feel this way.

But being lost in being on my own is not a problem. So why do married people feel as though single people need to not be alone? Having experienced a not-so-good marriage does not nullify the fact for me that I do know there are wonderful marriages, more or less relationships in which the two people complement each other, trust, nurture and support each other, can laugh at themselves and each other without offending anybody, where they have each other’s back, and all the other elements that apply to a happy marriage or coupledom.

I have no doubt that these exist. I have observed them. Then why, when I am more than 30 years into being single and clearly happy with my life is it important to change things up? If it isn’t broken, as they say. Yet often well-meaning (married) people will insist I meet someone that they know, someone I just have to meet.

So while I appreciate others’ interest in my well-being I have a kind of a pact with God. If He wants me to have a new dimension to my life in the way of a male counterpart He will make it brilliantly clear to me. Otherwise no thanks. My own efforts years ago fell far short. He knows me. He knows sometimes I have to be hit over the head to be made to see.

Though I’d not want to be like the proverbial drowning man who rebuffed  a person on a crane, then in a rowboat, then a helicopter and finally drowned. Finding himself in Heaven he asks God, “I trusted You to help me, what happened?” God replies, “Well, I sent a crane, a rowboat and a helicopter…. “

 

Anxiety, and a few questions

So this is probably not a word anyone wants assaulting their new year’s peace, promise and hope of new beginnings, fresh starts and better lives.

But what is it about the human mind. I know it isn’t about being undisciplined (or is it?) because some of the most orderly, organized and straight-forward individuals I have ever known worried about something. Small worries or not, it altered their equilibrium to greater or lesser degrees.

We wake in the night, still in a groggy fog, and gradually that thought that woke us crystallizes: did I lock the front door? did I put the quarterly tax payments in the mail last week? the doctor’s appointment, the strange noise under the car hood, the child(ren), still out and it is after 2 a.m.

Is this just our humanness, the nagging worry that shoulders out all other thoughts, the inferno that rages, hissing every dousing attempt at calmness we throw at it? I do not necessarily mean those nay-sayers either, individuals who cannot see anything good but brood on what’s wrong with everything, convinced that they are doing everyone else a favor.

It takes a great deal of strength to rein in these inner harbingers. Some have this ability innately. Wonderful! Others have to work a bit harder at it. Others with friends struggling with psychoses worry about their own worrying.

It’s been said that high intelligence is alarmingly close to insanity. It’s also been said that love and hate, in their extremes, are passion directed for or against someone or something, and that each is reflected in a deep love. I am not a psychiatrist. I do not pretend to understand all of this. I do know that when a pervasive thought, clear or vague begins to surface and is preceded with that aura of doom or gloom I turn to thoughts of grace. These fretful emergings have no true place in my mind. Not unless they are reminders of something I’ve needed to do, in which case they are duly noted, acted upon and subsequently disappear. There are so many persons and things over which I have no control. Just myself, for the most part. I can try to understand these others, and make my own needs and preferences known as well as there being empirical standards that are, regardless of what anyone else may or may not want or think. If they are not met or honored it is time to summon up my faith and move on. Or is it possible, by being part of it, to help it to change? And to what lesser or greater degree a part?

Maybe I’ll just take my Christmas decorations down, even if it isn’t yet 12th night.

Matthew 6:25; 6:33, 34; Luke 10:38-42

No remorse

And thank You God for that. I have moved a few times where immediately I regretted the house I chose, West Palm and Miami being such places and the last house another but it kind of grew on me. I loved its long, sloping back yard and the nearby greenway.

This house I feel at home in, well I will as soon as I unpack all these boxes.

The previous owners were the original occupants and the Mr. was formerly with IBM. He kept meticulous, scrupulous records of everything. They maintained from underneath this house to its roof. There was not one grain of sand, no speck of dust when I had the final walk-through before closing.

It’s beautiful.

I am 10 minutes’ drive from the beach. The neighbors have been very kind in a non-invasive way. It seems like a gentle place to live. And there is a walking trail around the perimeter of the neighborhood, with a cool, clear creek running alongside for Lily to splash in.

The floor people and I did a massive cleaning of my former house, top to bottom. Hardwoods, carpet, tile, paint touch-up, scrubbing doors, bathrooms, appliances, windows. Pressure washing driveway, front porch and walkway. It gleamed!

It goes live this Wednesday and I hope sells quickly.

But for now I feel snug as a mug of hot cocoa.

Rescued!

In my life I have mainly fostered orphaned baby birds. I did once have a small litter of feral kittens in my backyard that my border collie herded into a hissing, spitting mass, but I took those to the shelter for adoption. I also once rescued a puppy I found on the side of the road that someone had doused in kerosene (flea remedy? mange??), but my then-husband wouldn’t let me keep her so I bathed her and gave her to a nice lady who fostered her and found her a good home.

So this afternoon my dog Lily and I set out to run a few last-minute errands, the bank, post office. As we crested a hill in the neighborhood I saw a lady off her bicycle, standing on the side of the road cradling something very small. So we stopped.

A tiny, fruzzy, very thin grey kitten. I asked her if she thought she could ride her bike home with the kitten, I could give her a small box. Just as we agreed to this we heard a tiny, faint “>mew!<" close by. We stood by a sewer, looked at each other hoping against hope. We looked down into the shadowy darkness below. Yes, there it was, on a rung on the side of the sewer. A tiny black and white kitten, its mouth as big as the rest of it, mewing for all it was worth. So I sat down on the road by the sewer grate and stuck my arm in. I needed another inch. The other lady (Julie I learned was her name) stuck her arm. Same thing. We tried to fabricate a sling of bungee cords which scared the kitten off the rung, but he jumped back up. Clearly our ingenuity was running thin. Julie offered to ride home for some lovely cat food, about 10 minutes away.

"I live 2 streets over, do you think tuna would work? chicken??" I offered. We decided on tuna and when I returned to the rescue scene a small crowd of young girls and their mom and a friend (with a small and very interested puppy) had gathered. Julie stood, still comforting the tiny grey cat. I leaned over the grate, talking and doing my best mewing to the little one under the grate while Julie got the can of tuna open. She handed me a chunk and the little cat in the sewer practically ate the tip of my finger to get at it, then happily jumped to the bottom, totally out of reach. Uh oh. Hoping he would soon finish and be wanting some more. He did. This time I was ready. As he stretched his tiny legs toward my waiting hand I closed my fingers around him and carefully drew him through the edge of the grate. We bundled him up in a soft cloth bag with his little sibling and Julie happily rode off with the two of them.

It's a great feeling when you have helped something, no matter how small.

Pain

So many levels, degrees, depths of pain… there is something dreadful, like abuse, or comparatively minor like a paper cut. There is pain of surgery, humiliation, misunderstanding, mistake, sadness, abandonment, grief, loss, hopelessness… whenever we have pain we want relief from it. For some it is thought to be found in drinking, drugs– the escape through deviating or anesthetizing whether by prescribed or found means. Eventually though we have to go through this pain. We have to feel it and if we know what it is that’s causing the pain we are lucky. Sometimes we have this nagging– guilt, conscience, vacuous wonderment –that we simply cannot find answer for. When we leave it alone the reason often will surface and we acknowledge it and deal with it. But pain of loss simply must be cushioned with memories of what was. We fill the hole, the void, the emptiness with the remembrance of what was when whatever it is we have lost causes pain. Nature abhors a vacuum.

It has to be filled. So remember the joy, the grace, the love, the contentment… the good that was before the loss of that good created the pain.

Be at peace.