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“The Art of Transformation”

Blog Post #28

*Dear Friends, I am pleased to share this article written for a recent issue of The Mogul Muse Magazine, of which I am currently Writer-in-Residence.

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“You can fly, but that cocoon has to go!” – Mary Ellen Edmunds

There is a word feared and avoided more than most in the English language. It threatens, it cajoles, it looms, it surprises. It induces stress and heightens anxiety. It is both menacing and nurturing. Innocent in its intentions, it is the standard-bearer of growth. In most cases, innocuous, it can brighten one’s perspective, act as a harbinger of hope, and create anticipation and excitement, yet in the same breath, it may grip one with fear. What is this simple word? It is change.

Why does change create so many diverse and emotionally charged reactions? I believe, by its very nature, it suggests the unknown. Let’s face it—the unknown can be unnerving. Especially when change creates unknowns in things close to one’s heart—one’s being, one’s thinking, one’s relationships, or one’s way of life.

Change is like that. In a moment, the Unknown may rear its precipitous head, and normal life goes topsy-turvy—a layoff, an accident, a death. But in all fairness, change doesn’t necessarily denote something bad. It can also bring happy surprises. A new baby, for example—one moment, in mother’s womb, the next, cuddled and adored by the whole family. (The household still turned upside down, but the repercussions are, for the most part, positive.)

Here are a few possible examples of positive change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

Now, consider if you will, a few possible examples of negative change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

The power of change as a force for good or ill depends largely on how we choose to view it.

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Interestingly, it is the nature of change to be unsettling, even in the best of times. Clinging to the apron strings of any kind of major change are tinier seeds of change that potentially produce positive or negative results, or both. A new job may bring better pay, but longer hours and more stress. A wedding brings blissful joys at the same time generating expenses, difficult decisions, and perhaps stirring up familial issues. A new home may mean a fresh start, more room, or better location, but it may also mean leaving an old home, changing schools, and leaving friends behind. A move is, at best, stressful, but may open up a variety of new opportunities.

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Like foxtails that work their way into the fabric of life, tiny seeds of change riding on the backs of greater changes poke and prickle until one takes notice. For example, an injury may carry with it foxtails of fear and uncertainty about one’s future, as well as cockleburs of faith and determination. The injured may choose complete debilitation by cultivating the seeds of fear, or he or she may choose nurturing faith over despair, engendering newfound strengths and the ability to inspire others. In choosing to nurture the good or the bad seed, a transformation will occur. Plucking out the annoyance, while planting and nourishing the good seeds of change, will over time, transform those seedlings as they grow into good fruit. Neglecting potentially good seed, while allowing bad seeds to fester, will eventually cause bitterness and further tribulation.

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‘Change” may, at first, appear to be the ‘bad guy.’

Changing oneself is the most disconcerting transformation of all. Purposely seeking to change aspects of oneself may mean recognizing an inherent quality that is unhealthy, destructive, or unworthy. On the other hand, it may mean cultivating positive attributes that are underdeveloped. In purposeful transformation, change may itself appear to be “the bad guy” (it’s difficult, it nags, it’s demanding). But after effecting change, “the good guy” emerges (it got easier, I no longer need reminders, I triumphed). The fruit of change then appears and validates with improved health, healthier relationships, increased gifts and talents, peace, hope, and shared joy.

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The fruit of ‘change’ has the power to convert ‘bad’ into ‘good’

Some seek change for the wrong reasons, such as to fit someone else’s standard or ideal of beauty, or to feel a part of a group, cult, or clique. While it may be advantages to conform to higher standards of morality and appearance related to a worthy institution or belief system, to seek to lower one’s true nature for the sake of popularity or acceptance is self-deceptive and may very well be self-destructive.

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A classic example of transformation is represented by the life cycle of a butterfly. At first, a caterpillar eats and eats and eats, preparing for the pending change of circumstance. Once it builds its chrysalis, it fearlessly faces the unknown—it doesn’t know exactly what it will become, or what the process of “becoming” will be like, but it is committed to fulfilling its mission. Consequently, it is bound-up in a tight spot of its own making for a while. I suspect it is cramped and uncomfortable, and endures growing pains during the process of transformation. At last, it emerges, a new being, with a new demeanor and wardrobe, and a new means of transportation. No longer will the caterpillar be forced to creep and crawl, but will now have wings to flit and flutter about the garden.

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Does the butterfly fret and stew over the chrysalis? Does it drag it along wherever it goes? Does it cling to its old ways of doing things, crawling instead of flying? The answer is an emphatic NO!

Indeed, the butterfly embraces the change in its entirety. It moves forward with a sense of mission and purpose. It is fulfilling the measure of its creation, and by so doing has and gives joy.

Transformation may be rooted in our thinking and belief systems. If we believe change is good, or that we can or should change for the better, then we stand a better chance of effecting positive results. If we believe there’s no point to change, and that we can’t change, we will essentially remain stagnant.

Consider the following two versions of a wonderful fable of transformation, each having a different result.

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1 – The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken:

A baby eagle became orphaned. He glided down to the ground from his nest but was not yet able to fly. A man picked him up. The man took him to a farmer and said, “This is a special kind of barnyard chicken that will grow up big.” The farmer said, “Don’t look like no barnyard chicken to me.” “Oh yes, it is. You will be glad to own it.” The farmer took the baby eagle and placed it with his chickens.

The baby eagle learned to imitate the chickens. He could scratch the ground for grubs and worms too. He grew up thinking he was a chicken.

Then one day an eagle flew over the barnyard. The eagle looked up and wondered, “What kind of animal is that? How graceful, powerful, and free it is.” Then he asked another chicken, “What is that?” The chicken replied, “Oh, that is an eagle. But don’t worry yourself about that. You will never be able to fly like that.”

And the eagle went back to scratching the ground. He continued to behave like the chicken he thought he was. Finally he died, never knowing the grand life that could have been his.     

My First Blog Post EVER! 2 – Fable of the Eagle and the Chicken:

When an eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.

A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.

The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he “pretended” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. “I told you it was a chicken,” he said.

The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the chicken coop. He jumped from the man’s arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.

Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, “It is a chicken.”

The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: “Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.

Both stories are from Walk Tall, You’re A Daughter Of God, by Jamie Glenn

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Truly, you are not caterpillars. You are not chickens. Figuratively speaking, you are butterflies and eagles. Embrace worthy transformation….

Fly!

What if I fly

~~~~~~~~~~~

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© May 22, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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Duet

Blog Post # 27 

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I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!

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Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.

When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.

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My mother during her college days

It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!

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My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…

When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.

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After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)

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Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.

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Amanda with my mother.

When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.

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My son and his wife playing piano together.

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They really get into it!

When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.

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Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!

I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music. Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.

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My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.

There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.

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Caity and Brad

I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.

The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.

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My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.

There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.

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 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.

It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.

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Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.

Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.

Amanda and Grandma playing the piano together, 1997?

Some of the family enjoying a duet.

But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?

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When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!

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From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

© May 6, 2015


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It’s About Time

Blog Post #26 

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(*Originally written March 29, 2015)

Last night, I discovered I had allowed my domain account to expire. This means that my blog disappeared. I called my excellent blog savvy daughter for help (she helped me set it up in the beginning) and through her instruction got the domain reinstated. However, this morning, when I checked my blog, it was still gone. Feeling a little panicked, I called my daughter again. She began the task of trying to get my blog platform back on track.

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My daughter has a busy life, and already spends a great deal of time dealing with internet/computer issues. I felt terrible taking up so much of her time trying to fix my problem. I might have sidestepped this puddle of problems if I had had more foresight. It bothers me to think of the time she has been wasting on my account.

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In contemplating this, I began to think about Time, and why I hate to see Time wasted. What is time, anyway? It is something elusive and intangible, and yet can be such a taskmaster. It drives us out of bed in the morning, dictates meals, events, chores, and other activities, commands punctuality, but begs for relaxation, and may even wake us from a sound sleep in the middle of the night worrying about meeting its demands later on.

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We willingly submit to Time’s regimentation, too. By choice, we invite Time to control our very existence in offensive ways. For example, we set clocks—sometimes, right next to our heads—to blast annoyingly loud and obnoxious sounds at ridiculous hours to startle us out of bed. We wear Time as jewelry, or as part of our clothing ensemble, to carry its nagging influence with us every waking hour. We even place large timepieces in conspicuous places in every venue we visit to remind us who, or more aptly, what is in charge. For it is Time that people rush to meet, check on to stay within obscure but rigid bounds, and that tells us when we can take a break. We are literal slaves to Time.

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So what is Time? It’s one of the most difficult things to define and capture. It has no substance, no shape, no mass, nor profile. It cannot be visualized except by how it relates to things that happen during its reign. A timeline depicts key events occurring during Time’s tenure, but it does little to help us understand the true nature of Time itself, except to point out that it exists—you guessed it!—throughout the span of TIME! Yes, for millennia, mankind has bowed to its strict dictatorship, without ever catching hold of what it is.

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Interestingly enough, for all the things Time isn’t, there is one thing Time is: Time is measureable. We can calculate how much we need, how much we’ve used, how much is left, and how long till we press the “reset” button to have another chunk of Time to use or waste as we see fit.

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For me, it is a rare and precious commodity. I have been known to hoard it. I have often wished for more of it, but it is extremely stingy and precise. It gives the same to everyone—be they king, peasant, homemaker, or businessman. It matters not where on the globe you live, or how rich or poor you are. It treats all people—young and old—with the same tacit economy. Either you adhere to its dictates, or you live the life of a vegetable. Ha! Even a vegetable bows to Time—for vegetables grow and change and decay, and growth and change of any kind need Time in order to occur.

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What of wasting Time? I detest the thought of it. What do you consider wasted time? I have a long list of things that fit into that category. Some of the things I might consider a waste of Time, you might find valuable and high on your list of worthy uses of Time. It is a personal thing. It can be hard to define. On any given day, something you once considered a total waste of Time may become of great value, and on another day, it may be the opposite. Through the lens of Time, things can become distorted, or possibly, more distinct and accurate. Priorities shift, bow, and adjust to Time’s influence.

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An ever-changing spectrum of activities spins round us on a daily basis—one eternal round of things to be done that take up a tidbit of Time here, a boatload of Time there—taking more Time or less Time than is adequate or desired. Even things done routinely may be categorized as requiring more of our precious Time than is truly needed. Take, for example, dishes, meal preparation, and laundry. They make their appearances in a routine fashion—day after day—to the point of becoming a burden or a nuisance to many. They hover there in the vacuum of Time while we try to wish them away. Thinking about them may take more Time than actually doing them, making Time deceitfully cunning at stealing away Time from the unwary, or more especially, from the Procrastinator. (A Procrastinator is Time’s evil twin incarnate.) If we “time” how long it really takes to clean a meal’s worth of dishes, we may find it only takes a matter of minutes, whereas the Time spent dreading and thinking about the chore may eat up hours.  

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Wasting Time can be a stress inducer. It can cause an otherwise sane person to have bouts of temporary insanity. An example of this it when one wakes up with a list of  pertinent “to dos,” but fills the early morning hours sitting at the computer dillydallying with social media, instead of effectively knocking off things on the list. Another example might be when one gets sidetracked by a box of old school memorabilia when one intended to clean the closet in which said memorabilia was found. By chance, one looks up at the (ever nagging, blatantly scolding) clock, and notices hours have passed, and that in thirteen short minutes one is supposed to be showered, dressed, and out the door for an important engagement! One suddenly moves from a state of relaxed euphoria to a panic-stricken maniac! Suddenly, everyone and everything in one’s way is at fault, and an obstacle to one’s top priority—being On Time!

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This is not one of my time wasting issues. I learned my lesson about wasting time in that manner a long, long time ago.  I trifle more with Time at a different level. I try to outsmart it. I lie in bed of a morning, after watching the clock every hour on the hour to make sure I don’t oversleep, and bargain with Time: “If you will give me fifteen minutes more to sleep, I will make it up later on by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier.”    Or “If you will make this hour that I need to get ready for company go by at a slower pace, I won’t complain about the slow hour spent in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.” (Only sometimes, I still complain.)

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Ah, such are the lengths some of us go to try to manipulate Time, all the while knowing, deep down, that Time is staunchly unwavering. It is as constant and consistent as the rising of the sun. And aren’t we grateful for that? For how would it be if we couldn’t depend on the very seconds, minutes and hours of life to mark out their space exactly as they do? We would be like a child at the beach, ever chasing the waves lapping the shore—in and out, back and forth—never exactly knowing which wave will overlap another, pulling and tugging and catching our toes unaware, ever knocking down the sandcastle plans of our lives.

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For Time, all are “created equal,” and this is a blessing. No one can gain the advantage over another by having less or more of it, or of moving within it more quickly, or more slowly. No one can travel back in time, or into the future. It is fortunate, indeed, that no one can tamper with time, wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people and creating immeasurable chaos. Time is an “equal opportunity employer,”—how we choose to use the Time given us is what matters. Those who squander it will never be able to make up for that which they lose.  Those who respect it, using it carefully, prayerfully, and wisely will be able to look back on their Time without regret.

How I wish I had taken the time to keep my blog domain up to date. I currently wouldn’t be suspended in time—waiting to post this to my blog. It is a lesson well learned. I grew up with the saying:  A stitch in time saves nine. I have supposed this meant that if one made the required stitch when a hole first appears in a garment, one would save nine extra back-pedaling stitches to repair a larger hole. (Sadly, I have experience with this.) I would like to translate this saying as meaning: taking appropriate action at the appropriate Time will save nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or maybe nine years.

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This has long been a favorite poem of mine. It is taken from a Time marker—a sundial—at Wells College, and was penned by Henry Van Dyke.  I share it with you as a last, profoundly accurate statement on Time:

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The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,–
The NOW on which the shadow stands. ”

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*I am happy to report that all issues with my blog are now resolved, thanks to my very capable daughter, Thalia.

You may have noticed the new platform for, and format of my blog. A little change now and then can be a good thing.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

End Piece

© April 9, 2015


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Middles

Blog Post # 25

All stories have a beginning, middle and end, including each of our personal stories. Most of us spend most of our lives in the middle of our stories. Few remember the beginning, and the end is a mysterious, ambiguous question mark quivering, mirage-like, somewhere in the future. 
 
 
I believe there’s a lot to be said for “the middle”—and, generally, I think we take middles for granted.
 
 
 The famous Tolkien understood the importance of the middle, creating the setting for his epic tale of Hobbits, elves and men in Middle Earth


Map of Middle Earth as it appeared in earliest editions of Tolkien’s books

An entire period in history is named for the middleThe Middle Ages
 
Middle Ages (Image: Public Domain)
 
Even historical time is marked from the middle—when Jesus Christ was born—and is counted forward or backward from that point. 
Jesus Christ–born in the Meridian of Time
So you see, middles are significant.
Other prominent middles you may be familiar with are:
Middle of the road
Middle ground
Being in the middle of things
Caught in the middle
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of something
Middle Aged
Middle Life (shortened to Mid-Life)
Middle Class
Meeting in the middle
Middle man
Middle of the night
Middle finger
Around the middle (referring to the tummy area)
Middle school
Middle roll or slice of bread (This is probably not important to anyone, but me. Everyone in our family knows how much I love the middle roll for its softness and lack of crusty edges. They have been very respectful of this preference, and always save at least one middle roll for me as they come out of the oven.)
 
You may agree that some of these middles have more positive connotations than others, but where would we be if there weren’t some kind of middle to things? We’d always be on the dangling “ends.” I submit that there is an aspect of safety and comfort to be had in the middle.
Take, for example, one of the most prominent middles: The Middle of the Road. When our children, grandchildren, and even a couple of our nieces were learning to drive, my husband, Brad, like Frodo Baggins, fearlessly stepped forward, volunteering to assist the hopeful, naïve drivers in their treacherous journey down backroads and freeways to destroy their “ring” of immobility. I was sometimes a passenger/companion in that fellowship down the road, and I can honestly tell you: the middle of the road is best! We came precariously close to trolls, dragons and orcs poised along the broken white lines separating lanes, and the solid lines on the edges of the roads—knocking an orc off the road here, and a troll off there. Several hair-raising (and hair-graying) incidents stand out in my mind, but I’ll only mention one. Our son was driving our old yellow Suburban along the freeway when a dragon of enormous proportions came up beside us in the form of a semi. 
 
I couldn’t believe there is really a truck painted to look like a dragon!
I had to include this picture I found on Pinterest!
 
Sitting on the passenger’s side of the front seat, (my husband Brad in the middle), I gripped the car door as if brandishing a shield in my defense. At the point when I knew if I stretched my arm out the window I could polish the scales on the dragon’s skin, Brad, meaning to encourage our son to drive ahead of the semi, said, “Move closer.” Of course, our son understood his meaning as “move closer to the truck,” and began sidling across the line towards the dragon in the lane to my right. I was scrunching down into the car floor with fear, at this point, certain if I ventured to stick my fingers a hand’s length out the window, the dragon would have bitten them off at the nub. Brad, as calmly as if he were ordering a cheeseburger and fries, told our son to move forward, not to the side, and our son corrected our route before sheering off my side of the Suburban. Afterwards, our son admitted that he couldn’t understand why his dad would want him to nudge up next to a fire-breathing dragon spanning the dotted line on the perimeter of his lair, but being the obedient son, he followed directions and nearly got us all killed or maimed. It would have been far safer for said “fellowship” to brave the middle of the lane leading to Mordor rather than flirt with danger lurking on the periphery.
 
 
The middle of the road is reliable and trusted for other reasons, as well. Any time you get precariously near the fringe edges of things there are risks lurking in the shadows. It is along the edge that one finds cliffs, soft shoulders, bridge railings, ditches, bodies of water, trees, and granite walls. Guardrails are called “guard” rails for a very good reason. It is their specific mission to prevent the risk of danger or accidents. Reflectors imbedded into some guardrails flash a warning at you that you’re veering off the path of safety into dangerous territory. If you opt not to heed the warning, you may find yourself careening down a cliff, or plunging into a swiftly moving river.
 
See the guy beyond the guardrail?


The middle of the road can apply to smaller, less aggressive thoroughfares, as well. If you’ve ever wandered a path through the woods or meandered down a country lane, you may have noticed the fringes of the path lined with stinging nettle, poison ivy, rocks, branches, downed or standing trees, stumps, or weeds full of foxtails and cockleburs. The well-trampled pathway has fewer hindrances due to excessive use, in most cases making it less hazardous–or perhaps to some, less interesting. (I, personally, have never been one to find interest or entertainment in trifling with risk, but I know some who do.)  
 
There are always exceptions to this rule, as I recall many times finding a less maintained pathway blocked by a fallen log. But stranger than nature causing obstructions are those man creates for himself! Here are two crazy examples:

Ahem….there’s a telephone pole in the middle of the road! 
It would be best not to drive this street on a moonless night.
Either the road should have been rerouted,
or the tree planted elsewhere, whichever came first.
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am not talking about haphazardly trekking over an imagined path across the middle of a perilous and fragile frozen lake, either. Shortcuts over thin ice are what the Foolish or Lazy consider a time-saver, and indeed, that route may insure never having to worry about going the long way around on solid ground again!
 
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am referring to a road built on bedrock: solid, steadfast, and immovable.
 
Wagon ruts in rock — Oregon Trail. (From Wyoming Heritage.org)
 
Other middles that have proven useful are Meeting in the Middle, Finding Middle Ground, and Being in the Middle of Things. I am lumping together these middles because, to my mind, they seem to hold hands and bridge gaps when put together. When I was a child in grade school, I often felt myself on the periphery. If you had asked me where I stood among my peers, I would have probably described myself as part of a circle (the type of circle employed for a game of dodge ball, or Duck, Duck, Goose), or perhaps more fitting, on the outskirts of the circle looking in, not the child in the middle (the chosen one). I was usually one of the last chosen for schoolyard teams, and rarely chosen by the teacher to lead up a team. I wasn’t very athletic, nor was I particularly popular. I was on the shy side, and completely average. I stood in the wings, awkward, and relieved not to be the center of attention. Sometimes I was observant. I learned to see and have compassion for others who were also standing in the wings—who were “different” in the sense of not quite fitting-in.
Duck, Duck, Goose, of course.
 
Over time, I learned a very useful lesson: how to find Middle Ground where people who were “different” (or at least felt they were different) might meet and feel safe as part of a unified whole (something I seldom felt during my elementary and junior high school years). It wasn’t until High School that I began to feel a sense of being a part of a united whole, as I found and honed some of my personal strengths and offered them to my school community in the form of choir and drill team. I didn’t need, or want, to be In the Middle—the center of attention. I was content not to be a drill team captain or co-captain, and not to have the lead in the school musical. I was content as a member of the team, or of the chorus—having the fun without the worry or discomfort of having all eyes on me.

Drill Team back in the day
(That’s me: 
right center front. I’m almost always in the front row
–what can I say? I’m short.)
There were times, however, when I enjoyed being In the Middle of Things, meaning, being a part of the greater good, or the greater whole to achieve something of worth. If you have ever enjoyed the uplifting experience of singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a member of a choir, you may understand the essence of what I’m saying. As a choir member, a drill team member, a member of an orchestra, soccer team, basketball team, dance ensemble, or any such group effort where every individual contributes to enhance the whole, one may experience a sense of synergy—creating something greater than the sum of the individual parts. One needn’t be the center of attention to feel one’s value in creating something beautiful and inspiring. One need only be a participant—a contributing part of the whole. In this way, one is indeed In the Middle of Things while being uniquely individual; a voice unique to oneself, yet blending with the whole—a true sense of unity.  
 
I’m in the front row again, far right of this picture. One voice in the choir–a part of the whole.
(This is from college. I couldn’t find a picture from high school.)
One of my favorite “middles” is not just being In the Middle of Things, but being In the Middle of Something. This is the story of my life. I am always in the middle of something, or truer still, I am always in the middle of several somethings at once! I laid aside some long-anticipated sewing that I was right in the middle of to sit down and write this post. I am not a slave to writing because, for me, it is simply a thing I do for fun. But writing was calling to me. The thing is—the sewing was also calling to me. Which do I answer first? Whichever calls loudest? No…. I think I answer more to whichever calls to the innermost longings of my heart, provided it doesn’t encroach on other, more important things—necessities, responsibilities, family, or service. One day, it may be sewing. Another day it may be time with my family—this desire accounts for most days. Yet another day, it is writing. Tomorrow, it may be sewing again. Or baking. Or going for a walk with Brad. Or building a puzzle while sitting with my father. Or playing the piano. Or tending to the roses. Or providing service. Or cleaning the house (yes, even cleaning the house calls to me from time to time.)  I could list a dozen or more things that, most of the time, I long to do all of the time. One may find oneself Caught in the Middle of Being in the Middle of (more) Things at once than one can handle at one time. It’s at these times, that I most long to run off to a place alone—In the Middle of Nowhere—where my mind can untangle itself, and quiet the noise, rest, and rejuvenate (this is rarely possible).
 
Two more middles and I’m done. First, being The Middle Child. Certainly, being the middle child has been given a bad rap. When you are the middle child, you are neither the oldest, nor the youngest, both of which are problematic. My own experience as the middle child was instructive, providing plenty of evidence that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this position in the family. The adulation that goes to the oldest, and the privileges that attend the youngest are somehow lost on the middle child. This is not all bad. I had the direct advantage of observing and avoiding the “guinea pigged-ness” of the oldest, while inadvertently also avoiding the privileges of the youngest. My older sister tested the waters, so to speak, and I saw what worked and what didn’t. I understood at a young age what was required to maintain peace and avoid contention through thoughtful observance of her experiences. On the other hand, my little brother was born just close enough on the heels of my third birthday, (the day after, to be exact), to give my parents virtually no time at all to consider spoiling me, and plenty of time for my brother to benefit from being “the only child” once my sister and I left home.  
 
Me, my sister, and my brother. For as long as I can remember,
the heads of my wonderful parents have been missing from this picture. Not sure why.
 
I must add that the home in which I was raised was a completely loving and nurturing environment. I had a virtually ideal childhood. In fact, it was a blessing for me to be in the middle. Among other things, being middle child taught me to save and budget my money, to be self-reliant and self-analytical, and to observe and learn how to have good relations with my parents and with others. (This is not to say that my siblings did not also learn these things. It is only to say that I attribute the speed of learning such lessons to the tutelage of being middle.) 
 
Lastly, I would like to speak from experience about Middle Age—a middle through which I believe I am gradually approaching the exit—or through which I have, in ignorance, already passed. Having turned sixty last year, I recognize that I have been very solidly engaged in Middle Age for many years, and that, although it doesn’t feel like it, I am entering the period know as Old Age. Strange as it may seem, my spirit gazing from the inside of this body out through ever-youthful, sixteen-year-old eyes, has never sensed the aging process. No, not for an instant! Having experienced Middle Age, I think I can safely say it has been, for me, a place of security and comfort.
 
Some of the benefits I’ve experienced during Middle Age are:
  • Being rooted solidly in family and all the accoutrements of a full and fulfilling life with husband, parents, children and grandchildren.
  • Having an understanding of ways I have been, and continue to be a contributing member of society.
  • Enjoying the many gifts of Time.
  • Having intact, faithful connections with friends, near and far, old and new.
  • Feeling at peace and empowered by my beliefs and the strength of my faith in God and Jesus Christ.
  • Continuing in the delightful process of discovering things that bring joy every day.
  • Recognition of all for which I am grateful.
 
The edges of life feel insecure compared to being cemented in the middle: there are questions; there is anticipation; there is the strange, empty sadness of impending or experienced loss; and the ecstatic joy of new beginnings. I look at my ninety-two year-old father, and think that if I have inherited his genes for longevity, I may still have another thirty years—half again the life I have already lived—left in me, and I wonder about that. When viewed from that perspective, I may at this moment, remain fixed in the middle of my Middle Aged years. And yet, I do not know the answer to that any more than my father knows at which moment he will pass into the rest of the eternal realm where he’ll enjoy the companionship of his beloved wife and other family members once again.  I’m okay with this unanswered enigma. Whatever the ending of my story will be, it was the middle that prepared me for what is to come.
 
The Middle of life has given me a sense of Eternity. Of Joy that knows no limits. Of Hope for what lies in the future. Of Faith in a Loving Eternal Father who is mindful of me and wants me to return home to Him. Of Love and Family ties that last forever.  
 
The Middle has strengthened me for the boundless Ends. 

“And thus it was, a Fourth Age of Middle-earth began. And the Fellowship of the Ring, 
though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended.” – J.R.R. Tolkein


From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
 
© March 16, 2015


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Sand

Blog Post #24

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith
 
There’s a new toy in stores these days. What is it, you ask? Why, it’s sand! Yes, that’s right…sand. As in “a loose granular substance…” familiar to most toddlers and preschool children. This new toy has a special, engaging and “smart” sounding  name: *“Waba Fun Kinetic Sand. TM
ki·net·ic
kəˈnedik/
adjective
1.    of, relating to, or resulting from motion.
o   (of a work of art) depending on movement for its effect.
sand
sand/
noun
1.a loose granular substance, typically pale yellowish brown, resulting from the
   erosion of siliceous and other rocks and forming a major constituent of
   beaches, riverbeds, the seabed, and deserts.
  
 
Why call it kinetic sand? The definition of kinetic has to do with movement and motion, attributes that directly relate to this product. Here are its selling points as quoted from Waba Fun Kinetic Sand’sTM ad on Amazon:
   ·       Sand in Motion!
   ·       Great for Developmental skills and Learning Minds!
   ·       Bring the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped
   ·       Won’t Spread all over.
 

I saw this sand in an open display at the checkout counter of an Aaron Brothers store. Of course, I had to touch it and see what was so special about this kind of sand. I have to admit, I didn’t want to stop playing with it. It felt soft, cool and squishy between my fingers. It did clump together as promised and was just fun to squeeze and mold. I was tempted to buy some …but then, I remembered.

 
 
I remembered that the bane of my existence is, in fact, sand!  Not Kinetic Sand, mind you, but sand just the same—the garden variety that you find in the average sandbox, such as the one in our backyard.
Here are the reasons why sand is the bane of my existence:
·           Sand in motion!
·           Great for developmental skills, and learning minds (which is why we always have a sandbox in our backyard)
·           Brings the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped (when wet)
·           Spreads ALL OVER!
I will elaborate.


I’m not sure why, but when I was growing up, a preferred picnic item for family outings was often cold fried chicken. Although, it tastes good, cold chicken is also greasy and messy. Once you’ve handled cold chicken, your hands are irreversibly sticky. Napkins do little to help the situation—leaving small, torn pieces of greasy paper stuck to your fingers. On more than one occasion, my mother packed wonderful picnic lunches that took half the day to prepare. During my early years, many of them included cold chicken legs, thighs, wings, and breasts to devour at the point of starvation after a busy morning playing at the beach.

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Little children know how to make the most of a day at the beach—dodging waves, wading and splashing in the foamy seawater, collecting seashells, building castles and digging holes in the sand. 

by Jessie Wilcox Smith


Inevitably, sand is involved in each of these activities. In fact, there is no avoiding it, even if you want to. Like cold chicken, beach sand has the particular attribute of being sticky. It sticks to your legs and feet, to your hands and arms, between your fingers and toes, and all through your hair and scalp. It clings to your wet swimsuit, or your dry swimsuit. It sticks to your beach towel and lines the bottom, sides and pockets of your tote bag. In other words, it sticks to everything!  

Our grandson wears sand well!

It seems reasonable then, that it would also be on your lunch. And it was. If eating sticky cold chicken wasn’t enough to wreak havoc at a picnic on the lawn, add a little beach sand and you have a perfect combination of sticky and icky. Fried chicken often has a nice crispy crunch, but that is nothing to the crunch of sand in every bite.  I lost my taste for cold fried chicken while on a beach picnic about 55 years ago….and that has definitely stuck!

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

A significant illustration of sand in motion occurred when I was a teen. Occasionally, our family visited friends who had a wonderful beach house in Malibu (which, I only recently learned, was swept away by the weather, erosion and the sea). When my brother, sister and I were young, our friends’ house stood with its toes touching the threshold of the Pacific Ocean and included its own private beach. Karen and I went out in our denim, two-piece swimsuits to sunbathe, while Craig romped and played in the ocean. Anyone who knows anything about swimsuits will know that denim is not the fabric of choice for wading or swimming, being heavy, cumbersome, and having a tendency to sag and stretch out when wet. But these were such cute, nautical-looking suits, we both (“Bobsey Twins” that we were) got the same style. Karen and I mostly refrained from getting wet, since we were “cool” teenagers too concerned about messing up our hair than having fun in the water. (Besides, getting wet meant wrestling with, and trying our utmost to keep on those denim suits.) 

1960s Malibu beach house similar to the one our friends had

We felt self-important and at leisure to lounge about on such a private beach. As time passed, the tide pursued its normal routine: “coming in.” The water gradually sneaked up the beach until it pulled its sneakiest prank of all: invading our dry lounging area. With the lapping of each unsuspecting wave, it deposited about two pounds of sand in each of our suits. We cast aside our “coolness” in an attempt to rid ourselves of the excess scratchy, saggy, weighted burden by dipping our lower halves into the water, but to no avail. Each succeeding dip only deposited more of that loathsome sand. I am grateful we were on a private beach, away from public humiliation and scrutiny. I felt as if I was dragging a dumbbell in my swimsuit bottom, and, no doubt, resembled a baby with a too-full diaper. Removing the sand must have been traumatic to the point of amnesia, for I honestly can’t remember how we got the sand out without creating a trail into the bathroom packed with enough sand to drive a mule train over.

This aptly illustrates bringing the beach indoors, sand clumping when wet, as well as sand in motion. If you get one “benefit,” you get all.

 

Fast-forward several years and you’ll find my husband, Brad, building a sandbox for our young children for the first time.  In those days, when our finances were meager, we purchased the lower grades of sand that had a coarser texture than beach sand.  The children enjoyed hours of digging, playing and even school activities in those early sandboxes. Very little of it came in the house, because of the coarse composition.

A few of our grandchildren in the sandbox
Fast-forward a few more years, and you’ll still find Brad building sandboxes, but for our grandchildren. Finances having improved over the years, Brad decided to get premium-grade beach sand for the latest of these sandboxes. Now we come to the real reason sand is the bane of my existence! Not only do we have thirteen grandchildren—most of whom are still of sandbox playing ages,—but we also have dozens of grandnieces and grandnephews who visit from time to time, who also love to play in the sand. This is all well, and good, except for the beneficial properties of sand mentioned earlier:
·           Sand in motion!
·           Great for developmental skills, and learning minds
·           Brings the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped (when wet)
·           Spreads ALL OVER!

It’s difficult to restrict children from playing in a sandbox when it is great for their development and learning minds. But many have been the times when I have done just that—especially when they want to play in it just after I’ve cleaned and mopped the floors, for, as has been scientifically proven, when a child approaches sand in any form, it magnetically attracts to the child, adhering to every square inch of his or her body and clothes. Then, upon entering a house, it’s as if the magnetic switch automatically shuts down, and the sand all falls off, creating deposits only rivaled by the Nile Delta. 

Buried Princesses
Recently, some of our grandchildren were here for a visit. They spent a good portion of their days playing in the sandbox. One evening, just as the sun was setting, and it was beginning to rain, my granddaughter informed me that she had forgotten to bring in the brand new plastic princess dolls we had given them for Christmas. (Unlike other toys, these could be taken outside, with the stipulation that they come in at the end of the day). “Where are they? Can’t you quickly run out and bring them in before the rain comes down harder?” I asked. Her reply, “They’re in the sandbox. Buried. They all died.” I thought about insisting my granddaughter go after the dolls, but I quickly settled on a different option. Picturing sticky, clumping sand which would most assuredly have been caked on her clothes, shoes and body, I put on my coat with the hood and went out to collect the dead dolls without uttering another word. Digging with a plastic toy rake, I found five of the six interred dolls. (After a month and a half, the sixth still remains at large in her sandy grave.) I still had to deal with sticky, clumping sand, but it was on my shoes and hands, which makes a world of difference.

Missing Princess
During the summer, when some of the children are here, they can disappear for hours at a time in the cool, shady spot on the side of the house where the sandbox is. If I crack the bathroom window open, I can hear them pretending and imagining all sorts of situations only children can conceive of. It’s at those times, that I truly appreciate the benefit of sand.

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Still, if we ever build another sandbox, I’m determined that it is composed of at least 75% gravel.

 

And who knows? I may even break down one of these days and buy some Waba Fun Kinetic SandTM….for me to play with!
 
© February 10, 2015
*This post is not intended as an advertisement for Kinetic Sand, Aaron Brothers, or for Disney My First Mini Princess dolls. Just telling it like it is.


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"Pretending"

Blog Post #22
Harry Potter in his Invisibility Cloak


Have you ever tried to pretend you’re not there?  I have.  It’s a ridiculous thing to do. (Although would-be “flies on the wall,” like me, understand why people do this.)

 

If you aren’t sure of my meaning, perhaps one of the following scenarios illustrating how people sometimes pretend invisibility will trigger understanding:

  • You’re in a classroom setting, and the teacher is staring down students, asking for an answer. You lower your eyes, avoiding eye contact, thereby achieving invisibility. 

  • You’re visiting the home of an acquaintance when a bickering match erupts between the person you are visiting and another family member. You slink toward the door attempting to excuse yourself, but the elephant in the room is blocking your path. You pretend you are part of the wall—not there—until you can make your escape.

 

  • You’re not feeling very sociable while walking down the street. Dog walkers and joggers pass by, but you keep your head down. No eye contact makes you invisible.
Henry Holiday “Dante and Beatrice” 

(notice how Beatrice carefully averts her eyes)

  • You spot a solicitor sitting at a table outside Wal-mart. Rather than walk the direct route to the entrance, you make a huge circuit through the parking lot entering the store behind the solicitor’s table. When you exit, you wait until someone else is exiting and walk behind them so they effectively block you from the view of the solicitor, or, if a blocker is unavailable, you focus your gaze in the distance, planting an expression of intense distraction and extreme urgency on you face, making you, essentially, invisible.

 

 

Young children are quite adept at pretending they’re invisible. When our oldest child was just a toddler, we liked to play Hide-and-Seek with her. This game revealed how superfluous an appendage the rest of her body was to her head since if her head was covered, she was—in her mind—hidden, or rather, invisible. We’d tiptoe into her hiding place to find her entire body from the neck down sticking out from under the hem of curtains, or from under a desk, or from under the bed. I suppose we fed the misleading notion that she was invisible by standing toe-to-toe with her and calling out, “Where is she?” and “I can’t find her anywhere!”


Just as our young daughter thought she was invisible when her head was hidden, so adults seem to have narrowed the range of their invisibility from their heads down to just their eyes. This is evidenced by the illusion the lack of eye contact creates as illustrated in the four examples previously given.

There are occasions when it is impossible to achieve your own sense of invisibility, no matter what you do. For example, if you’ve ever been in the presence of an incessant talker (whom we’ll call “Chatterbox”), there is no escaping his or her vision. Any attempt you make at invisibility is immediately thwarted by Chatterbox’s complete inability to “see” you as another person, or personality, with thoughts and ideas of your own, thus, in a sense, making you invisible.  This may sound contradictory, but it really isn’t. Your attempts to respectfully release yourself from a prolonged discourse by breaking eye contact, appearing distant, uninterested, or downright bored have no effect. Even if you begin walking away, Chatterbox will follow you, never pausing to catch breath. As you get in your car, and start the engine, Chatterbox is not deterred, but walks into the busy street to—not see you off—but talk you off and on your way. Essentially, Chatterbox is the only “visible” person in the world; everyone else is invisible, existing only as a target toward which Chatterbox effusively flings his or her superfluous arsenal of words. (For the record, I know some Chatterboxes and I really like them–they are my friends. But their speech can be overwhelming at times.)

 

 

There were times when I didn’t need to pretend invisibility because, in certain situations, I was, essentially, already invisible. As a teenager, I became well acquainted with this type of invisibility. In classrooms where only “teacher’s pets” or troublemakers were visible, or in settings in which I was the quiet introvert among a group of popular social butterflies, the invisibility issue was driven home in multiple ways. 


But you must not assume this type of invisibility was necessarily unwelcome–at least to me. Quiet personalities can enjoy a certain measure of invisibility, provided they have close friends and family to whom they are visible in positive and worthwhile ways.

 

Harry Potter sneaking about in his invisibility cloak

 One of the motivations for my own pretended invisibility wasn’t so I could sneak about in a secret cloak like Harry Potter, spying on people. Rather, it was to enjoy conversation and interaction without the strain of interacting, which is often wearying, or difficult for more reserved personalities.

 

The idea of being a fly on the wall is terribly appealing to people like me.  It isn’t so I might listen to idle gossip, or be privy to secrets not meant for my ears (types of interaction I try to avoid). No, it’s not that at all. It’s simply because I am clumsy at conversation. It can be stressful and tiring to interact with large groups—draining, in fact. Still, I’ve practiced conversing for years and years, partly out of necessity, and partly because I really do love people, and enjoy getting to know them. To be a true participant in a conversation is more rewarding if both people are present. The truth is, if you put someone like me one-on-one with someone, I have no trouble making conversation. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy delving headlong into a deep and heartfelt exchange. It’s group interaction that I shy away from. I haven’t completed my study of being a good conversationalist, but even with all my efforts, I still find myself wishing to shrink into invisibility at times.

 


 There are occasions where attempting invisibility is useful in sharing joy with others in an anonymous fashion. Our family often employed the Ding-Dong-Ditch method to drop-off goodies to friends. In this method, the driver sits in the darkened, idling car a short distance away, while runners secretly place goodies on the front door step of the homes of friends and neighbors, ring the doorbell, and run back to the car without detection. We’d done this as a family activity so many times over the years, we were quite expert. However, one particular time didn’t follow the typical pattern of success. I was driving our old 1982 yellow Suburban (which is roughly the size of a school bus). The kids got out of the car to Ding-Dong-Ditch the goodies while I quickly pulled around the corner to hide our car in an inconspicuous spot—behind a small parkway tree. It was like trying to hide the Goodyear Blimp behind a toothpick. By the time the kids ran back to the car, the folks receiving the goodies were out of their house and flagging us down! We tried to pretend we were invisible, but there was no fooling them! Anyone remotely acquainted with us could spot that yellow car from dizzying distances. If you ever want to remain incognito, be sure not to drive a conspicuous yellow Suburban. (Either that, or find an airplane hangar to hide behind.)

1982 Yellow Suburban like the one we had. 

The desire to be invisible, in this instance, was a worthy one. Doing good—to “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3)—is a positive occupation. There are, however, attempts at invisibility that are not as admirable.

For example, there was the time my daughter and I had spent a long day working in the heat, and ended the day sweaty, grimy, stinky, and hungry. Normally, I wouldn’t have ventured into a public place on such a day, but we were both famished and fatigued. We stopped at a café to grab a quick bite to eat. Standing in line to order, in a state of exhausted oblivion, I didn’t notice an old acquaintance enter. As we waited to place our order, I casually glanced at the line of people forming behind me and saw the old “friend.” (I put friend in quotation marks because, for all I know, we may possibly no longer be friends. There’s no explaining to someone that you had pretended you weren’t there.) That’s right. I was the invisible woman. The sweaty, stinky, grimy me did not, at that moment, exist. In a sense, it was my version of Hide-and-Seek all over again. If I don’t acknowledge my existence in circumstances such as this, perhaps no one else will. Faulty reasoning, but there you have it. (The fact that the friend, having seen me, did not acknowledge me either made it much easier to rationalize that I was invisible.)

 

You must not assume that because my behavior was beyond ridiculous that I wasn’t aware of just how foolish it was. Nor must you assume that I was Okay with my behavior. I wasn’t. I was, in fact, ashamed of myself. Such behavior was inexcusable. Ludicrous. Pretending invisibility did not make me invisible.  If truth were told, it made me completely transparent. Certainly, anyone in that café could see me plainly. The only one I fooled was myself—thinking I could fake “invisibility” to protect my vanity—without truly protecting it, having obviously been seen. 

I have since repented of this foolish flaw in my nature, and my unfriendly behavior. There is a price to pay for vanity—wanting to be seen as a “put together person” (or at least as a non-stinky person!).  Isn’t it ironic that “wanting to be seen as” (or not to be seen at all), more than likely exposed me as oblivious, unfriendly, vain, and anything but “put together.” So sad, but so true.   

 

My mother used to repeat an old saying, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” (Sir Walter Scott). I don’t think of myself as being a deceptive person. Nor do I intentionally “practice to deceive.”  Deception is contrary to my fundamental beliefs, and is repugnant to me in every way. The day and circumstances just mentioned caught me completely off guard. I strive diligently to be honest. I rejoice in honesty, in light, in truth, and in simplicity. However, —given my beliefs—the irony of the whole charade was not lost on me.  I swallowed a giant café-sized slice of “humble pie” after pondering the true nature of my pretended invisibility.


Dear Readers, now that I have exposed myself to judgment and possibly to ridicule, let me assure you that it has become one of my goals to rid my life of the pretense of invisibility. To rid my life entirely of pretense would be even better. I shudder to think I have been, at any time, guilty of pretending invisibility, but I must admit, I have been guilty.

To pretend is to be fake.  In reflecting on this topic, the word hypocrisy reared its ugly head.

hy·poc·ri·sy
həˈpäkrəsē/
noun: hypocrisy
 
Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend 


Hypocrisy is, essentially, to pretend. What greater hypocrisy is there than to pretend invisibility? To pretend invisibility is to deny existence, which reeks with ingratitude to God, The Giver of Life. As His child–His daughter–there is never a time when pretending invisibility in any uncharitable sense is appropriate or desirable.

I so admire people who are straightforward, respectful, forthright, interesting, interested and real—people who put you at ease and make you want to be visible because you feel trust and security in their presence. I hope to be that way, too—to be plain, honest, interested, respectful, present, and kind in all aspects of life—in other words, to be

visibly real.

 

Being “visibly real,” (according to my definition), has, by its selfless nature, the capacity of making you the best kind of “invisible” you can be as you “lose yourself” in the service of others. 

 

 “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for reading.

© January 24, 2015


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January’s Physics of Writing

Blog Post #22

Fresco: Sappho from Pompeii, about 60 C.E
I haven’t written for a while. Nor have I taken time to notice anything. Only when my mind is alert to subtle (and not so subtle) connections existing in the world around me, am I able to find inspiration to write. Too much stimulation can overwhelm a quiet, introverted spirit (such as mine). What is the result? My mind’s vision narrows, becoming more focused, or blurred; tuning out, instead of taking in. Some stimulation is desirable, of course, but a surge creating too much stimulation, can overpower, perhaps destroy, tender and underdeveloped thoughts, causing my brain’s circuitry to spark and short out. 


It’s the steady stream of routine flowing in and out of every day, intermittently switching-off for restful periods at night, I find most productive. Small sparks of stimulation are welcome, provided they spread themselves over days or weeks.  




Sadly, my brain ground to a dull and listless halt back in about November. Now that the speeding locomotive of holiday commotion has passed, I find myself scrambling to clean up the confusion left in its wake. Gradually, as one day rolls into the next, the dust of confusion settles into a sense of calm and predictability. My train of thoughts begins gathering momentum, chugging into action again. 



Slowly at first, the gears begin to creak and turn. Fueled by the beautiful, bright, warm weather, that—like an old friend—dropped by to sit a spell, my creative engine begins creeping along. Sporadic wanderings outdoors and idle walks through the neighborhood commence anew. I wander the backyard, looking at new growth fresh from winter rains. I touch the earth, prune the rose bushes, and pull up poor, brittle plants that failed to survive my neglect during earlier seasons. I rearrange my workroom, “The Studio,” for the first time in years. I tackle a long overdue project. I’m feeling invigorated, moving more swiftly down the tracks. I blow the whistle to announce the one or two goals I’ve already checked off my list. Pressing forward. Picking up speed. Thoughts are churning into words and images.
“The Thinker,” by Auguste Rodin

Maybe I still have something to write about, after all. I was beginning to doubt. It’s been so long. Like Michelangelo’s sculptures desperately struggling to immerge from the stone, thoughts long imprisoned in that dark, forgotten fold of my brain fight to get out. Writing is the chisel and hammer that will free the captives. I am their Michelangelo. I am the sculptor. A blank page is the marble.
Michelangelo’s “Young Slave” (unfinished sculpture)
Accademia Gallery in Florence


Today is a beginning.
Even if tomorrow doesn’t reveal a masterpiece, it will reveal a little bit of my soul.

I welcome the New Year and I welcome you! 

© January 16, 2015

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