For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

From the looks of the social media sites on the internet today, it would seem that a preponderance of people share the notion that their dad is (or was) the greatest one of all. If you subscribe to the belief that we are all Children of God, then we can each have the idea that our Father is supreme over all, and be right! When it comes to human fathers, though, not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and that’s a sad thing.

Before the era of training wheels and child helmets–say around 1959 or so, my dad jogged alongside a little blue Schwinn bicycle, simultaneously bending over at an awkward angle to the side to steady the vehicle and the tenuous rider (my brother) as he learned to achieve balance while coasting or pedaling. Over the next several years, he repeated this process as my sister and I each became old enough to graduate from the tricycle. He also built and demonstrated stilts, rigged a makeshift swing out of a sanded board, a rope and a pulley in the garage, taught us how to play ping pong, pool, chess, and word games, and helped us memorize poetry.  He played the guitar or mandolin for sing-alongs, got us all started on learning piano as children, and even now, at almost 88 years old, is teaching the complex Classic Finger-style 5-string banjo method that he knows to my sister.

My siblings and I have always known that our dad is super smart, and that any new subject that truly interests him will be read about, studied, and analyzed until Daddy has a firm understanding of the matter. Among many other talents, he can sketch, paint signs and pictures, began learning German in his 60s, and can tell a joke better than anyone I know. A lifelong willing student, these past two months he’s been learning things that he might well have hoped he would never need to know:  those various duties that go along with living alone. It’s been hard, and he’s grieving, but he is trying, and it shows.

Daddy, I am so proud of you. Just remember, you weathered the challenge of raising me. That should mean you can do anything!  Happy Father’s Day!

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Unwanted Gifts

Unwanted Gifts

Now that the holiday hiatus is truly over, the pool of memories from which to dip for writing subjects has refilled, although the Midwest weather this weekend has it rather frozen-over at the top.  Having pick-axed my way through the surface (that means downloading photos from my iPhone to my computer), I will start this year with the subject of Unwanted Gifts.

Part of the peril of living in a rural setting–and having a house that is almost 100 years old–is the intrusion of various forms of wildlife when the temperatures outside become frigid.  Spiders hide out in my upstairs bathroom.  Mice leave their calling cards in the potholder drawer of my kitchen.  Snakes slither their way up the drainage pipe end from the ditch by the road into my basement.  None of them are invited, nor welcomed.

IMG_2450One morning about a month ago, I found my Roomba stopped dead in the middle of the living room.  Programmed to run daily in the early morning hours, the little sweeper is usually done with his task and back on the charger base by the time I wake up.  If he stalls and shuts down, it is typically because he got hung up on a floor register, or his dustbin got full, but this was not the case that day.  Picking up Roomba and turning him belly-up, I saw something wrapped around the paddle wheel that sweeps debris into the device.  Sheesh, that looks like a snakeskin, I thought.  Indeed, it was, and what’s worse, the snake was still in it.  My best guess was that one of the cats had found the little rat snake in the basement, played with the thing until the snake went belly-up, then brought the prize upstairs to leave in a highly visible area where I could not fail to find it come morning, like somewhere between the stairwell and the coffee pot.  “See what I brought you?  I am a fierce protector!” Roomba had simply foiled the surprise by trying to do his job.  No cats were praised.  IMG_2453

 

This week, as I was on the phone in my office, a stramash broke out in the living room.  It sounded as though Bindi the Very Good Dog had turned wrong-side-out as she scrambled her way out of a previously peaceful nap on the couch, only to stand in the doorway and stare at me with a look that  spoke volumes.  Thanks to the convenience of cordless phones, I was able to investigate, whereupon the party to whom I was speaking was treated to something unprintable, also spoken at volume.  Another rat snake, this one in a heap on the floor, mostly dead.  But as Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride:  “Mostly dead is also partly alive”, which was apparently as unacceptable to Bindi as it was to me.  Tripod Jack the ornery cat was perched on the kitty tree by the window, pretending with great nonchalance to watch the birds outside at the feeder.  I hadn’t actually seen him bring the repulsive reptile up from the basement and drop it onto the sleeping dog, so I couldn’t officially blame him for the episode, but once again, no cats were praised.

Today, no snakes.  No spiders, no mice, and no major upsets in the household.  There’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, and the wind chill is brutal. But the sun was out, and I managed to bundle up and get to the barn, where the chickens were thankful for some kitchen scraps, and for fresh grain in their feeders. They rewarded me for my efforts with several nice big, brown eggs.  Upon my return to the warmth of the house, I rewarded myself with a bit of that St Louis specialty, Gooey Butter Cake, which I had been hoarding in the deep freeze since Christmas, when it arrived courtesy of my wonderful Daddy & Mother.  THIS was NOT an unwanted gift.  This brought back my attitude of gratitude. This, with a cup of fresh coffee, made all seem well with the world.  And no cats were blamed.

But they weren’t praised, either.  If you know cats, they’re probably plotting something, right this very minute.  IMG_2520Happy New Year!

 

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.

 

O Tannenbaum!

O Tannenbaum!

The following is a reprint of my Christmas holiday post on the Goodreads site from last year.  The sentiment remains! 

Everyone’s been busy with their holiday preparations and celebrations. Christmas is my favorite holiday, without doubt. The carols and cards and candles, the wrapping paper and (more recently) gift bags, garlands and bows and ribbons and wreaths and the spirit of giving, the Cookies!  And let’s not forget the Reason for the Season! But through all the years, almost every Christmas season, one of my favorite activities is decorating the Christmas Tree.

My siblings likely recall a few more fresh trees than I do, from the Boy Scouts’ sale corral on the parking lot at our church when we were young. By the time I’d turned 10 our parents had an artificial tree, which meant no one had to crawl underneath the sappy, pokey branches to put water in the bowl of the stand, and Mother didn’t have to battle so many pine needles in the living room rug. Even better, we could usually sweet-talk Daddy into bringing in the box that held the tree the evening of Thanksgiving, so that the holiday decorating could begin. Most of the year this box was balanced across boards in the open-ceiling area of the garage, so the extraction of it involved at least one ladder, some tricky balancing, and no small amount of dust which inevitably tried to halo Daddy’s head for his trouble, but choked his nostrils and dang-near blinded him instead. The air was blue from it afterward. . . or maybe from the comments it elicited in the process.

Once the box had been wiped off and brought into the house, though, the fun began. Sorting and assembling the branches, shaping them to look just so, disentangling the lights and testing bulbs on the strands that weren’t working, and then the Main Event: the ornaments. These days there’s a tendency toward “theme” trees, where all the decorations are coordinated to appear matching or complementary and quite lovely. Not me; I’m a sentimental traditionalist all the way. Almost no ornament is too shabby from age or humble in its design to pass muster for my tree.

I’ve often said that for only raising one child, we got a heck of a return on our investment: four grandchildren! Yesterday I really hit the jackpot when they helped to move things around to clear out a corner of my living room and put up the nine-foot tree that brushes the ceiling of this old farmhouse. As we opened the boxes and took out particular ornaments they heard the provenance for so many of them: “This one we bought as a souvenir on our first family trip to Colorado to visit Papa’s folks; this one was sent to your mama when she was just a baby; that stocking was mine when I was your age; these were made by your Great-Grandma; those came from the set my parents bought in 1955!” and so on. And yes, there were a few tears when I located the sack that contained a few more, including the last one that Larry had picked out himself, the memory of that occasion clear as a bell. The children and I agreed that Papa would be pleased to see us getting the tree up to enjoy and hanging that ornament while thinking of him.

And so, new memories are formed. My hope is that some day down the line, these precious ones will be decorating their own trees with the families they raise, and will cradle a delicate striped glass bulb or a hand-sewn stuffed felt dove in their hand and maybe relate something about it to their own little ones. If not, at least to see the old familiar bits mixed in with their own newer collections, and feel the family love that they symbolize, along with God’s love for us all. (see John 3:16)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

For one week in October of 2013, I was fortunate to be able to travel–with my particular friend Peggy R.–to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  (That’s “particular” as in the old usage, meaning “very good or close”.  I read it in Patrick O’Brian novels, pertaining to Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, and have been ever after enamored of the phrase.  But I digress).  We found a small local motel that was located smack dab in the middle of everything, so to speak, and walked all over that town.  There are so many historical sites to visit there, and we absorbed as much information (and fresh seafood!) as we could in the time we had.  The impressions are vivid memories, even after more than a year.

I learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower were made up of two groups:  Separatists from the Church of England, who wanted the freedom to worship as they saw fit, and other folks who were simply willing to take a chance on the opportunities the New World might provide.  A group of English merchants helped fund the expedition, with the understanding that the travelers would work hard and (in the future) send back to England things from the colony that could be sold for a handsome profit.  It was a business arrangement, not religious charity.  The two groups were rather suspicious of each other while aboard the Mayflower.  Upon dropping anchor on December 16, 1620, however, in facing the vast wilderness, the reality of just how much effort it was going to take simply to survive sort of kicked in to the consciousness of all parties involved, and they agreed to work together as one community.

Originally they had set out in two ships, but the smaller Speedwell leaked like a sieve (possibly due to the captain’s decision to over-rig her), and after turning back for repairs twice, the decision was made to cram as many people as possible onto the Mayflower, and proceed on their own.  So by the day they arrived here, time and tides had worked against them, Winter was already in full force, and their stores of food were dwindling quickly.  Add to this the scavenging they did in some deserted Indian villages where the former inhabitants had all died of disease shortly before, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Of the 102 passengers transported, only 51 of them were survived that first Winter.  Can you imagine losing half of the population of your tiny group, just when you’re all struggling to build a town?

Incredibly, they hung in there.  They received help from some local Native Americans, and everyone worked hard to make the venture succeed.  The First Thanksgiving was a celebration upon the completion of their first harvest, and an opportunity to show their gratitude.  They celebrated basic survival, and the many blessings of this new land.  They celebrated hope, and freedom.   They celebrated unlikely friendships, and the satisfaction that working together toward achieving common goals can bring.

It seems like the Americans of today could take a lesson from those early Pilgrims.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was one of many blessings.  And I wish for us all, an Attitude of Gratitude.

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Nuts to You!

Nuts to You!

Please don’t take that title as an insult.  It’s really a compliment; let me explain just why.

Fall harvest means many different things to many people, but to most consumers here in middle-America, it’s the season when we start seeing big bins of nuts in the stores.  Usually they’re featured front and center at the head of the produce aisle, right there where God and everybody will be sure to see them.  Nuts in the shells, sorted by type and then mixed, loose in the bin with a big scoop you can use to shovel them into the waiting bags.  Shelled nuts in one-pound bags (or sometimes 12 ounces:  see my earlier post called “Size Matters”).  Almonds, English Walnuts, Peanuts, Hazelnuts (aka Filberts), Brazil Nuts, Pecans . . . probably the only common nuts I don’t find here are the pistachios and the cashews.  Is that because they’re purchased so often during the rest of the year as snacks that the Nut Society doesn’t feel the need to promote them for the holidays?  I don’t know.

While it’s true that bags of shelled nuts are available in the baking aisle year-round, there’s something special about those open bins of nuts in the shell.  It’s probably a tradition thing.  As I was growing up, our family had the ubiquitous Walnut Bowl (complete with varnished bark around the rim!) made from a three-inch slab of wood cut from a log and hollowed most of the way through into an open container for nuts.  It had a little spool in the center with drilled holes to hold the metal nutcracker and picks that helped us open and extract the hidden treasure from within those shells.  From Thanksgiving through New Years, that set was out on the coffee table in the living room, and Mother kept it filled and available for anyone who chose to crack and snack.  It was a treat of a tradition that followed me into adulthood and was carried forward into my own home.  I still smile when I remember Larry telling me (and Lily showing me) how–too small to grasp or squeeze the nutcracker–she had figured out how to use one of the curved-end metal picks to insert very specifically into a strategic spot at the top of the shell of an English Walnut, and then carefully wiggle and lever it just so until the shell popped open in two perfectly boat-shaped halves and the goody was exposed for her to eat.  She was two!

Speaking of boat-shaped halves, who else did the grade school project where they stuffed clay into the open Walnut shells, then stuck a stick mast upright into the clay, upon which was impaled a bowed paper sail with a Spanish cross to mimic the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and floated them in a container of water while learning about Columbus and his discovery of the New World?  Or how about spreading glue on the interior surfaces of those halves and sticking them back together with a loop of yarn or rick-rack coming out of the top, then spray-painting them silver or gold to use as Christmas ornaments?  The possibilities are probably endless.

Nuts are neat.  Whoever figured out that the stuff inside those hard-covered things falling off certain trees were edible deserves a medal.  And from what many reports are saying, they’re good for us.  So believe me, I’m truly wishing you something pleasurable when I say:  “Nuts to You!”

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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Red, White and BOOM!

Red, White and BOOM!

As holidays go, the 4th of July is one of my absolute favorites.  Sometimes there’s BBQ involved, often homemade ice cream comes into play, occasionally a family gathering, or maybe even all three of those at once, which makes for a really fun time.  But of all the Independence Day traditions that abound, it’s the fireworks that truly make it special for me.

All across America last night (and in some places tonight, or even tomorrow night) untold quantities of cash were literally blown up in the sky.  It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we scrimp and save and pinch pennies for most of the year, but come July 4, not only do we collectively set a match to millions, we enjoy it!  How and why this particular tradition began is something I’ll have to research someday.  It’s a good bet, though, that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined how we’d be celebrating their signing of the Declaration of Independence all these years down the road.

My parents were children of the Depression, and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a devoted student of the Dave Ramsey School of Financial Peace.  So it makes no sense whatsoever for me to be so enthralled by the sight of so much money going up in smoke–however colorful–on an annual basis.  But every year, when this little farming community puts out the jars and the coffee cans at local businesses to collect for the Fireworks Fund, we all pull together for the Cause.  The local volunteer fire department donates their time and expertise in planning and executing the show at the city park, where everyone gathers on their blankets and lawn chairs.  The Boy Scouts sell hamburgers, hotdogs and soda pop, there’s kettle corn for sale at another booth, and sometimes snow cones or funnel cakes.  When the daylight diminishes and the announcer introduces the music with our National Anthem, all voices still.  People of all ages are on their feet, hands on their hearts, gazing across the lake toward the command center for the festivities.  And when the final tones of “O’er the Land of the Free . . . and the Home of the Brave!” fade away, the show begins.  We’re captivated.  We’re proud to be Americans.  We’re spoiled rotten by the abundance and the privilege and the money-wasting excesses of our society.  And for that hour, at least, I’m glad of it.

Three cheers for the Red, White and BOOM!

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I’m not sure how it works, but can imagine several possible scenarios.  Each of us has a soul, I believe; an internal and eternal being that is unique to every individual.  I speculate these souls take root with conception, as life begins.  But how, exactly, are they matched with the physical form in which they will dwell?  Is it random?  Maybe there’s a big team of angels in Heaven whose sole job is Soul Assignment:  “You, head for Poughkeepsie, you’re up next!” and “Ok, you, I’m sending you to these folks in Wichita, they look really nice.”  It would be a big job.  And what about the people who aren’t so nice, but have kids anyway? It’s not as though we’re required to read a book and pass a test in order to become parents.  Do the souls assigned to the children of Grade-A Jerks get special dispensation ahead of time?  Are they sent specifically to try and help the Jerks change their ways?  Or is it possible that we, in our soul form, look down from the great holding pen in the sky and say “That family.  I want to go there!”  or “See them?  Those are the parents I want.”  I don’t know.  But if that’s the method, then let me just brag a little right here, ’cause then the truth would be that I really know how to pick a mom.

My place in the family was The Baby, as the youngest of three children born to a truly wonderful couple.  Mother told me that she knew she was expecting me within three weeks of my beginning, when something she ate at a New Years Eve party made her stomach stand up and protest in no uncertain terms.  And sure enough, the following September, there I was.  At the hospital, she says, she cried, knowing that this delivery would be her last.  Having always loved children, and being a natural Baby Magnet, Mother treasured each of us kids as if we were more than royalty.  We were expected to mind our manners and do our best, but woe to the hapless person who threatened or harmed one of us at any age:  Mama Bear would appear to defend her cubs!

Mother rocked us and read to us from infancy on, until we could read for ourselves. She cooked and served us three meals a day, which we all ate together at the table on which my computer sits right now.  An excellent seamstress, Mother sewed almost all of our clothes, and did it well.  She packed our lunches for school, was Room Mother for our class parties, baked and decorated our birthday cakes, taught us how to garden, and so many other things, it would take volumes to list them all.  I think I can speak for my siblings as well as myself when I say that she has been our greatest encourager and strongest supporter all of our lives.  For that–and for so much else–I am eternally grateful.

So to my own, and indeed, to all moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day.  May you each feel as blessed as I do.

My beautiful picture

Mommy and Me

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

Several years ago I did something right, and not only purchased, but also planted (!) flower bulbs in the Autumn for something pretty the next Spring.  That may sound like a fairly basic and simple concept to you, but one of my many character flaws is sometimes biting off more than I can chew, so to speak.  The photos on those perennial packages are enticing, though, and it seems like my cousin Jeffrey had inspired me by describing all the bulbs he’d managed to put into the ground a year or two beforehand.  The semi-circular flower bed around my front porch was already installed when we moved in, complete with a native rock border.  Our arrival at the farm in October of 1992 was greeted with a bed full of marigolds, so it wasn’t until early the next summer that we realized there were established poppies in there too.  The idea of something coming up and blooming on its own, year after year, with no effort from me beyond the initial planting was more than I could resist.

Nearest the border I put the crocus bulbs, because those plants are the smallest of the ones I’d chosen for this location, and the first to bloom.  Granted, they sometimes get cut short by snow (and this year a little freezing rain), but even the least little dab of color at the center of those delicate strands of green is welcome by the time winter is coming to a close.  Just behind the crocus, and staggered between in case of overlap, come the hyacinths, then a row of mixed daffodils and jonquils behind them, and various tulips behind those.  As the weeks go marching into Springtime, the colors just keep coming until finally it’s warm enough to start putting in some annual bedding plants among the poppies.  The sway those flowers have over my mood is amazing.  Each and every day I see them, I marvel at what an artist our Creator must be, and what an endless imagination it took to come up with these beauties.

Easter is about resurrection.  As a Christian, tomorrow I celebrate the anniversary of the Greatest Gift of all:  Jesus Christ dying on the cross to buy redemption for our sins, and then raising from the dead and ascending to heaven to give us all the hope of life everlasting.  The flowers from those bulbs symbolize, to me, much the same sort of miracle.  They are signs of hope, rebirth, and renewal . . . the things I am so thankful to have, and the things I wish for each of you.

Happy Easter
Easter Beauty!