Gimme a Sign

Gimme a Sign

During college I worked part-time at the university library, mostly at the circulation desk and the adjacent reserved reference book counter. It was probably the least amount of stress I would ever experience at a job, and it helped me meet some interesting people. One young lady was very bright, but had limited verbal skills because of her deafness. One day I saw her at one of the upstairs library tables, surrounded by books and documents. When asked if she was working on a research paper, she replied that she was studying for a big test. Drawing on my limited knowledge of American Sign Language, I gestured to the materials before her, then touched the tip of my index finger to my right temple while asking “Do you know it?” Her face lit up and she smiled broadly, recognizing my attempt to communicate in the way that she knew best: a combination of lip-reading and signing. While I was sad to have to explain that I actually knew very little sign language, the mere fact that I had tried seemed to mean the world to her, and any time thereafter when I was working and she exited or entered, she always threw a smile and a wave my way.

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I were looking through old photographs he’d scanned into his computer, including the one featured in this post. Mr. Owen Parkey lived on a farm near the small town where my parents grew up. With a 1940 population of 243, the number of people in town on Saturdays was substantially higher as the farm families all rolled in to do their weekly shopping, trading, and visiting. The feed store, the meat locker, the barber shop, the hardware, the grocery, and both taverns were abuzz with conversation. For Owen Parkey, however, there were usually only two guys in town with whom he could “talk”:  the men who would become my dad and my grandpa. Owen and his sister were both born deaf, and had gone to a special school to learn sign language. At the shops, he would present his list for purchases, written in perfect penmanship. But in Charlie May’s radio and TV shop, he could pass a bit of his perpetually quiet time in animated conversation, hands and fingers flying through the rapid movements that made up the letters, words and phrases that he knew. As my future father began hanging out more and more with his future father-in-law, he quickly picked up on signing, and joined the party. Decades later, he still smiles at the memory of the those pleasant encounters, and recalls Mr. Parkey as one of the nicest guys he ever knew.

The story reminded me of a video I’d seen recently, and with a quick YouTube search, I was able to play it for Daddy. Here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otUJzNtRPhw, and it’s called The Most Emotional Surprise of the Year. (Warning, have your hanky handy!) It made me cry. It made me grateful that I can hear. It made me appreciate the efforts of my Grandpa Charlie, and of my dad.  It made me want to learn sign language. It made me want to be a better person; to be more understanding and accommodating to folks less fortunate. It made me feel. And it made me wish I could hug Mr. Parkey.

photo credit Howard Weilmuenster

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Sunday of last weekend being Father’s Day, I had to brag on my Daddy just a little. He claimed it was overdone, but I assure you, it was the mere Tip of the Iceberg, as they say. But in an effort to keep myself out of trouble, this week we’ll focus not on my dad, but on his neighbors. Oh boy, does he have great neighbors!

My parents watched their house as it was being built in 1955. Several blocks of similar-style homes were erected in those post-war years, and young families full of Baby Boomer children filled the suburbs. But as the kids grew up and went off to college or work, and moved in to their own homes, it seemed the ol’ neighborhood wasn’t as fun. Housewives didn’t visit over the back fence while hanging out the laundry to dry, because they were almost all gone to work now, or had the luxury of electric clothes dryers, or both. There weren’t as many school-aged kids on the block, or maybe it was just that, with their own offspring grown and gone, my parents had fewer connections with youngsters. It seemed a bit of a blue time.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes if you stick around an area long enough, you’re blessed to see things turn around for the better. My dad might be one of the few original residents on his block now, but some really fantastic people have moved in around him. And a few houses down, Leah and Forrest Hall have opened their front lawn–and their hearts–to create an area of welcome. Following the example of Kristin Schnell (http://www.kristinschell.com/the-turquoise-table/ )they set up a picnic table parallel to the street, delivered invitations to their neighbors, and are fostering a feeling of community every week with a bag of bagels, coffee and conversation, and smiles all around. Everyone is welcome. Ideas are exchanged, family news is shared, and an aura of peace prevails. It’s a ministry of sorts, and one of the best kind, in my opinion, as it involves reaching out to those in one’s immediate vicinity. For while it’s perfectly fine to write a check to provide aid to people half-way around the world, there is something true about the old adage that “charity starts at home”. In this case, it’s an offering of self; of time, of friendship, and of acceptance.

Now, if I could just figure out how to convey the concept of the Turquoise Table to my birddog Jethro BoneDean and the cats, there’d be peace around this ol’ farmhouse, too.  Oh, Leah . . .?!

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Dedication

Dedication

This is a pre-emptive post.  It’s going up ahead of the actual holiday to which it applies, for two reasons.  Reason one is that almost everyone who might read this will likely be busy on the actual date, and reason two is that sometimes ideas for blog posts just pop into my head at the oddest hours and won’t go away until I get up out of bed and write them.  Hopefully after I finish this and click “Post” my ol’ noodle will slow down enough I can get to sleep.  But here goes.

Like me, many of you are probably thinking September 1st?  How did it get to be September already?!  And coming up here in just a few days is Labor Day weekend, the last big blow-out of the season.  Lots of people will be headed to the lake, or having family and friends over for barbeque, or making one more fast trip somewhere fun with the kids before the Fall Frenzy of football and volleyball and harvest festivals devolve into pumpkins patches and corn mazes and then the next thing you know it’s Christmas already.  Sheesh!

But what is Labor Day all about, really?  It’s not just the last three-day weekend of the summer, and not only one of the biggest sale days of the year at the stores.  It is a day set aside to celebrate US:  the workers of America who keep this star-spangled clock ticking.  And so, along those lines, I’m taking this opportunity to say Thank You . . . (in no particular order of importance):

. . .to the men and women of our Armed Forces and all branches of law enforcement, for all that they do to keep us safe.

. . .to all the educators who do their best to learn us stuff, whether we want to know it or not!

. . .to the janitors, dishwashers, laundry workers, street sweepers, sewage plant personnel and garbage collectors who have the unpleasant task of cleaning up our messes.

. . . to the cooks and waitresses and fast food workers who keep us fed.

. . . to the architects, designers, draftsmen and construction workers who provide us safe shelter with style.

. . . to all of those in the vast field of medicine who struggle to keep us healthy in spite of all we do to sabotage their efforts.

. . . to the geniuses of the electronic universe who keep us plugged in, connected across the airwaves, and entertained.

. . . to the farmers of our nation, for without farmers we’d be hard-pressed for food!

. . . to those who labor in manufacturing of all sorts of things, supplying us with endless luxuries.  We are much more fortunate than most of us realize.

and most especially, to two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.  To Daddy and Mother, for teaching me to read . . . and to write.

Thank you.

Now don’t forget to put away those white shoes.

 

Who Can You Trust?

Who Can You Trust?

. . . or should that read “whom” . . . ?  I always get confused about that.  When I was a teenager, I had a poster on the wall with a photo of a panther lounging idly on the branch of a large tree, gazing directly into the well-focused lens of the camera.  The words printed below him said simply Trust Me”.  The conflict between the text and the image was obvious.  If only real life were so plain!

Lately I’ve been polling people on this subject, trying to gather a consensus of opinions.  The results have been all over the place, ranging from “no eye contact” to “shifty eyes”; from “white shoes on car salesmen” (I think that was from the 70s!) to “people who tell me ‘No Problem!'”; and even “contractors who wear white sunglasses” and “folks that set off my spidey sense”.  One cousin summed it up very nicely with this phrase:  “those whose actions don’t provide evidence to support their words.”

Did you ever see the show called “Lie to Me” on TV from 2009-2011?  It featured a man who was an expert in reading body language who often worked with police in helping to solve crimes.  He would interview a suspect, or sometimes watch a recorded conversation, and provide his opinion about their level of truthfulness.  He had an impressive record for accuracy.  Or as Burt Reynolds’ character said in a movie I saw years ago:  “Boys, I got myself a pretty good bullshit detector, and I can tell when somebody’s peeing on my boots and telling me it’s a rainstorm.”

And me?  Well, I’ve been burned before, more than once, and believe I’ve learned something from each of those experiences.  That’s not to say I can’t or won’t be fooled again, even though I’d rather not.  It’s a delicate balance, this world of social interactions, a dance with steps that can change without warning, mid-tune.  The number of people who are now traveling from their native countries to others keeps growing, and the accompanying cultural differences can offset our original mindsets. That makes for another filter through which we might need to sieve the incoming information before reaching a hypothesis.

So, what’s your take?  Are there other Red Flags that go up when you’re trying to decide if you can believe someone or not?  Feel free to click the button to Leave a Comment and tell us about it!  And in the meantime, as my Uncle David W. used to say:  “Look a little out!”

Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels

More than once I’ve seen a car with a bumper sticker that says “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. Sound advice, to be sure, and maybe good for a smile, but what if we’re not driving? Do they think our heavenly helpers just get to lounge around on meringue-flavored clouds, admiring their never-need-buffing nails, as long as we mere mortals are not mobilized? Believe me, I’m more of a challenge than that.

How many times have you done something that seemed like the right choice at the moment (or maybe the wrong choice, but you were doing it anyway!), and then afterward considered what the potential outcome could have been, and realized Divine Intervention was probably the only thing that had stood between You and Disaster. How many of us now, as adults, consider what a wonder it is that we actually lived past our teens? Welcome to the “do as I say, not as I did” years! But sadly, being a grown-up doesn’t exempt us from needing a guardian now and then.

I believe God often puts us in a position to act on behalf of those guardians, too. Last weekend, when the serpentine belt on my old Suburban snapped, it just so happened that this occurred one mile away from an exit ramp not far from where my cousin Brian lives, and that he was home and had the tools and the knowledge and ability to replace it, and that the parts store was open at the time.  Out of a 200 mile trip, this was the best possible place for that belt to give way.  (OK, so this is a “driving” example, but it’s the one that’s freshest on my mind!)  Thanks to my cousin, I was back on the highway for home in good time, and none the worse for the experience. Thank you, Brian May!

When have you felt the presence of your Guardian Angel, either celestial or earthly? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Even Angels need a sincere “thank you” now and then!

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A Worldly View

A Worldly View

Last weekend I enjoyed a quick trip to Texas, to visit my sister and her family.  We celebrated Sis’s birthday with homemade ice cream and three–count ’em, three–kinds of cake. We attended a celebration of life memorial service and dinner with the family of my brother-in-law’s very good friend Bill, whose father of the same name left a wonderful legacy of kindness and extreme hospitality.  The next day my sister, nieces and I partook of a bit of pampering at the nail salon.  But amidst all these big events, perhaps the Big Deal of the weekend was the Passport to Culture extravaganza held at Newman Smith High School.  It was Amazing!

Angela Hardy and Lindsey Cullins are teachers and co-sponsor a Human Rights Club.  Months ago, they invited any interested students to participate, and began planning this extraordinary event to showcase what they’d learned as well as what they might have absorbed in their own homes, and to share it with those who came to see.  More than 500 “passports” were issued at the door!  Following some inspiring opening remarks by Human Rights activist, Professor Rick Halperin, we traversed the halls to the school’s cafeteria, where small groups of students had set up forty booths to display and demonstrate snippets of their newfound knowledge and understanding of what life can be like for people in other parts of the world.  Many of them had tasty tidbits of food on offer, made from recipes they had researched from their featured countries, and it was all good!  These ambassadors wore traditional dress pertinent to their booths, and they supplied various types of stamps for our specially made passport booklets to commemorate our visit. If I hadn’t already been bitten by the Travel Bug prior to this event, it’s certain I would have been by the time we left it.  What an inspired way to learn, and what an exciting way for the students, in turn, to become our teachers.  With booths showing cultural aspects of life in Austria, Spain, India, Eritrea, New Zealand, Nepal, Israel, Germany, El Salvador, Brazil, Indonesia and so many other parts of the globe, the room was a wonderful, colorful array of life, providing us with lessons in the best way possible:  they made it fun.

Now, when I read in the news or hear on the radio about events that happen in other countries, instead of thinking “overseas”, and dismissing it as some unknown, unseen part of the world, I’ll have a new perspective.  Maybe I’ll picture a young lady playing the flute, or a young man offering hot mint tea, or hummus and pita bread.  I might remember a lovely lady from Japan, teaching us the basics of Ikebana, the art of flower arranging in her home country. I’ll think of the doe-eyed beauty of those long-lashed adolescents whose family heritage began, perhaps, thousands of miles away, but brought them eventually to Dallas, Texas, to expand the horizons of their teacher’s Auntie from the Midwest. And then I will smile at those memories, and say a prayer for those folks mentioned in the news, because now they feel like my neighbors.

Thank you, Newman Smith students (and teachers!) for opening the doors of your school and your knowledge, to the rest of us.  You impressed me in so many ways. You are Leaders!

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Walking Wounded

Walking Wounded

Did you ever read that book titled Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?  It’s been years, but I did.  One of the things it pointed out was how when women voice their concerns about something to other women, they usually receive sympathy, or empathy, or some other word for an emotional response.  Women commiserate.  Men, on the other hand, tend to put on their Mr. Fix-It hats and look for a solution.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just one of the many wonderful ways in which the genders differ.

This week I (finally) went through the process of taking my late husband’s name off the accounts where I bank.  Everything was going just fine until the account manager brought out the papers from ‘way back when . . . the ones that showed Larry’s signature.  His handwriting.  The definite way he dotted the letter “i”.  The controlled curve at the base of the “L”.  So familiar; so painful to see again.  The kind lady at the bank ducked into the supply closet and came back with a box of tissues.  I just wanted to hurry up and get this ordeal over.

At lunch afterward I told the ladies at the table about it.  Bless them:  sympathy all around.  Virtual-if-not-actual hugs.  Support and sad smiles.  Of course they understood!

Three days later I sat between two male co-workers (who are also good friends), waiting for a meeting to start.  “How’s it going?” one of them asked.  I relayed the Bank Debacle.  “I feel like I’ll never be right again, even though it’s been more than three years,” I told them, “like I’m the Walking Wounded.”

“Well, of course you are”, my friend V. said matter-of-factly.  “You shouldn’t expect not to be.”  Friend T. agreed.

“The word you need to emphasize is Walking” he told me.  “Wounded is a given; just remember you’re still Walking.”

Wow.  He was so right.

I’m Still Walking.

As the French say:  Vive la Différence!

Oh Say, Can You See?

Oh Say, Can You See?

No, this is not a post about our flag, although that is a perfectly deserving subject.  Believe it or not, it’s about recycling.  As the photo indicates, I’ll be able to see into my library closet a lot better once all those boxes are hauled to the recycling center.  The mudroom will look a lot tidier without the three huge trash bags of plastic, newspaper, magazine and cardboard items that fill them, as well.  And the trash guy who drives by my place every Friday morning doesn’t have to stop but about half the time, because I recycle so many things that I only have one bag out there to go to the dump about twice a month.  Food scraps get fed to my chickens, or put in a compost heap along with coffee ground, egg shells, dry leaves, grass clippings and no small amount of horse manure.  I guess the environmentalists would love me, along with the earthworms out by my garden spot.  One of these days I’m going to get industrious enough to actually plant a garden, use the compost, and let those little invertebrates return the favor.  In the meantime, there are several cubic feet of extremely fertile soil nearby, just waiting.

Sis and I were talking on the phone this afternoon, about this being a good time of year for cleaning up, clearing out, putting away, recycling and donating.  The Christmas decorations are coming down and being tucked back into their boxes and onto their shelves or attic or closet, or wherever you happen to store the things you only use annually.  Whether you made a New Year’s resolution to declutter your space or not, this seems to be the traditional time to consider it.  New Year, new beginning, all that rot.  So here’s me, cheering you on in the effort.  Recycle centers are popping up all over the place, and many towns are issuing recycle boxes to be taken out to the curb, which can save the municipality thousands on landfill charges and help keep the earth cleaner in the process.  And charities who collect clothing, shoes, linens and other household goods are endless.

So where does the title fit in?  Well, I have to thank Sis for that as well.  She mentioned that the pastor of her church talked about going on a mission trip when there was an optometrist in the group.  They went to a very poor part of the world, where eye doctors were not only spare on the ground, 95% of the people there couldn’t have afforded them, anyway.  The group he was with took along many dozen pairs of previously used eyeglasses that had been donated for reuse, and as the doctor examined each patient’s eyes, considered their needs and supplied them with a pair of glasses from the supply that most closely matched their need, the results were amazing.  To see the expressions on the faces of those folks, the first time they looked through lenses that enabled them to actually see things in focus–in some cases for the first time they could even remember–was a blessing for them all.  I almost cry just imagining this scene.  You see, my vision is far from perfect (something like “off the charts” nearsighted, seems to be the technical term).  So had I been born in one of those villages . . . well, as they say, there but for the Grace of God go I.

So think about it.  Got any spare pairs of glasses that are no longer a good prescription for you, just taking up space in a drawer or cupboard somewhere?  Maybe your church has a drop box for collecting these.  Your local Lions Club organization would probably have a pickup point available.  Let a part of your cleaning routine assist someone else to see you as their Angel of Blessing, even if they never get to see you in person.  It’s free to you, and priceless to them.

Saints and Sinners

Saints and Sinners

During my recent vacation in Scotland, I saw more stained glass windows than you could jiggle the proverbial broken branch  . . . no, wait.  I can’t use that phrase; it ends in a preposition.  And while my dear editor friend has informed me that this isn’t the Mortal Sin it used to be, I just can’t resolve myself that it is now OK to do so.  But I’m sure you get the drift.

Anyway, these beautiful works of art were found primarily in the churches (or kirks, as they say there), where the featured images were of a religious bent, for obvious reasons.  Many of the  lovely locations were named for various saints:  St Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow, St Andrew’s in Inverness, and the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh.  Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were either castles, kirks, or kilts, all of which are fascinating, though for different reasons.

With today being All Saints’ Day, it seemed like the opportune moment to research the origin of that occasion.  So I did what most highly intellectual and independent-minded Americans do;  I “Googled” it.  (No, they did not pay me to write that, but I’ve no objection should they decide to send a little stipend my way)!  Of the thousands of options at my disposal after striking the “enter” key, one short article summed it up nicely, and the link is here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/10/whats_the_difference_between_h.html  It juxtaposes Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and (as my sister mentioned to me earlier this week) The Day of the Dead.  Contrary to the hairy-scary macabre concept that often comes to mind when we consider these holidays, it began as more of a memorial idea.  People took the opportunity to honor those of their family or community who had gone on to God’s presence (they hoped) during the previous year.  My church still does this the first Sunday in November, and it’s a comforting tradition.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite Saint, canonized or otherwise? Or maybe there’s a Sinner who is heavy on your heart.  If you could light a candle at St Giles and say a short prayer for the repose of one soul, who would it be? Click the link just below the title of this post, or in the box below, share your thoughts, and we’ll pray together.

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Size Matters

Size Matters

Yes, at least to some of us, Size Matters.  But hold on there, it’s not what you think . . . what I’m writing about here tonight is packaging, or rather, what’s inside that packaging.  Specifically, what’s not inside that packaging any more.

As you shop for your household staples, have you noticed the gradual reduction in the sizes of the packages on offer?  Coffee used to come in one pound bags, or three-pound cans.  Now the bags are twelve ounces, and the cans have crept their way down to something ridiculous like two pounds, one-point-nine ounces. Who thinks of these measurements?

It may not show very well in the photo, but the Charmin roll on the right is about half an inch shorter than the one on the left.  And both of them slide back and forth with lots of wiggle room on the spindle, which I guarantee you did not happen three years ago.  The packaging gurus have tried to fool me with “Mega Rolls”, but those don’t fit in the handy storage cylinders in my powder rooms.  Why make a Mega Roll, but then shave width from the sides?

Other items I’ve noticed are bacon (often twelve ounces now, rather than a pound), sugar (went from the standard five-pound sacks to four), and even cake mixes.  For decades we’ve come to rely on an eighteen ounce cake mix.  Now some of those are sixteen-and-a-quarter or even fifteen ounces.  Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

Mother recently shared with me a “Three Ounce Cake Mix Upsizer” recipe:  1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.  Sift these together and store in a sealed container. Add 4-6 tablespoons of this mix to the newfangled skimpy cake mixes to bring them up to par.

My point here is, we shouldn’t have to do that.  Some things just don’t need to change.  Call me an old curmudgeon if you will, but is nothing sacred any more?  Because I would bet money the Oreo cookies they’re selling these days are not as big around as they were when I was a kid.  And Double-Stufs?  Hah.

Ok, it’s your turn.  Leave us a comment with your pet peeve from the grocery aisles.  Not that we can do anything about it, but maybe it’ll help to commiserate!