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RFSleepingNymph


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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

RFSleepingNymph

“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

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

Einstein quote1


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The Volunteer

Blog Post #41

mojave desert

Mojave Desert

This year, our otherwise fruitful garden looks more like the Mojave Desert. After much deliberating, my husband, Brad, chose not to plant his favored vegetable garden because of the amount of water it would require during a time of serious drought. Reluctantly, he sacrificed his annual indulgence of thick, red, juicy slices of homegrown garden tomatoes to go on his homemade bread spread with a generous layer of homemade basil pesto. We still have the bread and pesto, but let’s face it—eating a grocery store tomato is like biting into a bar of soap. I was sad when he told me his plans, because I know how he looks forward to this summer delicacy each year, often eating his healthy, tomato-y treat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all in the same day!

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A few months ago, our grandson, Max, came to do some yardwork and weed the neglected garden plot. As I was showing him what he needed to pull-up, we found a small tomato plant had pushed its way up through the soil and was competing with the weeds for sun and for the gentle showers that were the gift of Kind Providence throughout the winter and spring. I put a stake in the ground next to the little volunteer tomato plant to identify it, and told Max to pull up everything but the tomato. I was excited to show it to Brad when he got home from work!  However, it’s hard to beat “Nature’s Son” when it comes to anything having to do with the natural world. He had spotted it long before I did.

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Hobble Creek Canyon, Springville, Utah

I’m not sure why I thought I could see it first. Eons ago, when we were dating, Brad would be driving up Hobble Creek Canyon in Utah at forty miles per hour, and would point to a mountainside from here to the North Pole, exclaiming, “See those deer on the side hill?” I’d strain my eyes in the general direction he pointed. I saw the mountain all right; I saw trees in abundance, but no deer. Squinting like an utterly bewildered four-year-old intently focused on the night sky at the end of her dad’s pointed finger as she tried to locate Cassiopeia, I’d say with frustration, “WHERE?”  To which he’d once again point in the general direction of Lake Erie and cry, “Those little white things—on the side hill!” “NO! I don’t see them!” I’d cry, desperate, now.  “There!” he’d announce with greater intensity and heightened pitch. Again, I’d stare wild-eyed at the mountain looking for the white things, with one eye wandering (like ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody) toward the road—since someone needed to look at it. Finally, after whizzing by that blur of mountainside, he’d back up the Ford Bronco and pull to the side of the road.

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Old Ford Bronco similar to the one Brad drove

After ten more minutes of straining, at last, I could see the teeny-tiny, spots that were deer way off in the distance, their little white tails sticking up in alarm—as if they knew Mr. Telescope Eyes had caught them in the act of bathing. I marveled each time this happened. (I came to realize his eyes were sharp enough and trained enough to spy those bitty camouflaged specks of deer on the mountain while watching the road at the same time. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it dozens and dozens of times.)

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Lone mule deer on side hill. Imagine trying to locate this deer with the state of Vermont between you and the mountainside.

And I thought he hadn’t seen the little tomato plant….

The Volunteer

 

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The Volunteer

 

As I washed dishes, I watched the little tomato plant from the kitchen window. Moved by its courageous efforts, I went out to admire its deepening red fruit. It stood there, alone, but triumphant in that deserted garden—a monument to the strength and tenacity of a lone, little seed. The thing that most touched me was that this little plant had volunteered. It hadn’t been carefully coddled as a seedling, nor had it been transplanted like a start from a nursery. Someone else had not made the decision. It had sprung up of its own accord, against the odds, amidst neglect, and among weeds that were strangers and competitors of all it required to thrive. Not only did the little tomato plant forge onward and upward, alone in the world, it spread its leaves out and gathered in the rays of the sun, amassing strength and power to benefit its fledgling roots, asking nothing of anyone, and defying naysayers. That would be enough to admire, but that’s not all. This little volunteer is producing fruit. I counted twenty-eight tomatoes in various stages of development on its branches last evening. It volunteered in order to bless others—in a sense, the ultimate sacrifice: to give its life for its friends.

 

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A second volunteer

As I walked back toward the house with my camera in hand, pondering the little tomato plant, I noticed another volunteer. Bedecked in brightly colored regalia, it called to me to notice its offering—that of beauty and cheer. I smiled as I crouched down to take its picture. Living up to its name, little Johnny Jump-up had done just that. I realize some consider this little viola a weed because it springs up readily all over the place and with very little assistance. I see it as one of those volunteers who, tiny as it is, spreads its exuberance and optimism in the least likely places—growing just as well in topsoil as in cracks in the cement. I welcome its offering and praise its purple badge of courage for forging ahead –smiling in the face of the danger presented by its location in the sidewalk.

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I walked through the rest of the yard and was surprised to discover other characters who had long been there, but whose alter egos I hadn’t discovered before.

The Encroacher

 

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The Encroacher

All along the walls of our backyard are encroachers—vines that began growing in someone else’s yard, then gradually, stealthily, snuck-up on ours. They have now climbed and spread their leafy tentacles over the wall. Repeatedly we’ve cut them back, but without regard for our wishes, they continue to march over the wall like another wave of infantry ready for combat on the field of battle. They are determined, and ruthless, weakening the fence on the east until it has taken to leaning, and creeping onto and over the ground on the south. They care not for what we think, or what we want. I resent their pushiness. It’s not as if they’re volunteers—springing up from the ground from a forgotten seed like our little tomato.  No, they’re well-established old-timers—“The Good Ol’ Boys” of the plant world—who, with their cronies, push their network of intolerant “plantism” into our yard where they’re completely unwanted.

The Fighters

 

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The Fighters

In the yard, there’s an old, cement fountain bowl that my father made four decades ago, but cast aside because it wasn’t perfectly round in shape. (I say cast aside, not threw away. There’s a difference. My parents were of the depression era mindset that you don’t throw things away.) In time, my mother filled that old fountain with dirt and planted it with succulent plants and cacti. It sat for years in the corner of the yard on the kitchen side.

When Brad and I moved home a decade after my mother’s passing, I relegated the failing fountain succulent planter to the opposite end of the yard, filled it with fresh dirt and planted it with a variety of pretty flowers and greenery. It looked beautiful that first season, but the drought and heat took their toll and all of the plants died. I thought.

I found that each spring, drought or not, up pop these lovely little purple dwarf flowers  (Nierembergia Caerula) in a corner of the ring. They pay no heed to their location on the nether side of the yard, near the basketball court where they’re bound to get pounded at times, and where water comes in small increments—especially in that old cement bowl. They stand up shouting for respect—respect for their resilience, for their determination to survive, and for their beauty. And deservedly so. They’ve fought root and stem for their right to survive and I applaud their perseverance and admire their beauty!

The Pleasers

 

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The Pleaser

My artichoke plants have really worked hard to please. It isn’t their fault that they were planted in the middle of an ant metropolis, or that they were planted just when we were learning how expensive water is in our community, or how serious the drought had become. And it certainly isn’t their fault that their husbandmen were inexperienced with artichokes and did not know how to take better care of them so their fruit would be moist and tender. They have given their all to produce. They’ve grown to enormous proportions, producing more than twenty artichokes on a single plant. They are amazing! Unfortunately, they are tough to eat, even when picked young. Artichokes can be a labor-intensive dish to prepare (the way my mother taught me is labor intensive, but delicious). After trying to cultivate, harvest and prepare them several years in a row, I have now retired our artichoke plants.

But they are Pleasers. Brad cuts them down to the ground, and they immediately begin growing back with large and flourishing leaves. Soon more artichokes appear. I look at them and sigh. Right now, with the dynamics of our lives, I don’t have the time, energy or patience to wrestle with those tough, spiky, ant-beridden buds only to be disappointed by their toughness. Being the pleasers they are, they don’t give up there. No! After growing to the size of softballs, the buds open up their pointed petals, and begin to produce the most beautiful, soft to the touch, lavender flowers related to the thistle family. Showy? Yes! Worth the wait? Absolutely! They found a way to please—if not epicuriously, then by appealing to one’s sense of mystery, beauty and art.

The Old Stalwart

 

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The Old Stalwart

Walking back toward the house, I stopped and contemplated the great, old Peruvian Peppertree casting its cooling shade umbrella-like over the patio. For close to fifty years it has stood firm and immovable, enduring years of plenty, and years of neglect (during which time my elderly father mourned the loss of my mother), as well as undergoing hefty pruning over the decades. The Old Stalwart created a beautiful canopy for our eldest daughter’s wedding reception twenty years ago, and now, protects my father’s great-grandchildren who play under its branches from the searing rays of the sun. With quiet dignity, it stands apart, a giant beacon of hope, strength, and endurance.  It is both mighty, and serene. It is friend, and grandfather, and it is beautiful to me—like an old friend.

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Each time I walk through the yard—even though relentlessly affected by drought, or maybe because of it—I see our garden in a new way. Mother Nature’s creations are not wimpy, or cowering, but endure with a strength and resilience that demand respect and inspire awe.

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Stopping once more to gaze with admiration at The Volunteer, I am flooded with gratitude to that little tomato plant. I wonder if the seedlings from which it sprang have infused within their DNA the hours of tender-loving nurturing and care Brad gave their parent plants, and are returning the favor in kind. I think Brad will relish every single bite of those precious few tomatoes this year, and they will be the sweetest, most precious ever because they were freely offered!

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“Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

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Einstein Quote

The True Measure of a Man

End Piece

© June 3, 2016

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

Claremont sidewalk crack


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Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #40

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

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Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

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The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

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Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

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These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

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I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

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Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

Cynthy Doghouse

Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

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The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

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A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

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Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

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One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

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The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

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The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

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Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

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I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

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We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

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Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

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At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

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A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

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Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

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Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

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Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

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My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

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“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

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“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

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“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

End Piece

© May 28, 2016

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

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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

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Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

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A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

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The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

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It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

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This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

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The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

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Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

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Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

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

 

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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

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I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

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As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

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These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

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I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

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Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

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Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

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One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

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A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

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

 

einsteinsarc


2 Comments

Relativity-ly Speaking

Blog Post #37

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Einstein had his Theory of Relativity, and I have *mine.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: E=mc2

(Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light squared)

My Theory of Relativity: A=pt2

(Age = perception multiplied by the speed of time squared)

*Disclaimer: There is nothing scientific about my theory of relativity. Any similarities to science, math, or physics is completely coincidental. The ideas and philosophies represented in this post are those of the author and are not to be confused or mistaken with anything legitimate.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I began developing my Theory of Relativity when I was in 2nd grade. During the course of my second grade year, I underwent eye surgery as well as contracting an infectious virus, causing me to miss quite a bit of school. It was during that school year, at the tender age of seven, that I began to perceive a change in Time.

Up until second grade, Time moved at a snail’s pace; to my mind, there was no Time to be reckoned with. Life was an endless stream of fun, family and investigation—everything was new. I was young, carefree, and full of energy. I had loving, caring parents who provided a safe and happy environment and life, and school hadn’t yet become a stressor for me (that came later). Worries were essentially non-existent.

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Then I got sick. I remember how miserable I felt even though it was well over half a century ago. I couldn’t go to school, or play outside. I didn’t feel like eating, and was so tired—the kind of tired where your head feels like a balloon full of lead. After running its course, the illness passed, but not without making an indelible mark on my perception about life. I had come to understand that being sick meant that during the Time in which I was ill I couldn’t do the fun things that I normally liked to do.

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The eye operation meant an overnight hospital stay. I remember my parents giving me a beautiful, light blue, quilted robe with lacy ruffles as a gift. They said good-night (good-bye) just before bedtime, and went home. (In those days, anxious parents couldn’t stay all night in the hospital with their frightened children.) There I was, almost alone in a dark room, standing in a cage (perhaps it was a large crib) where they must have hoped to keep me from wandering about, looking across what appeared to be a vast, dark wasteland of a hospital room to where a toddler was crying uncontrollably in his cage. I don’t remember shedding a tear myself. It was all so surreal. I do remember lying down in that cage and having a hard time falling asleep with the incessant bawling—not that I could blame the poor little guy. I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I remembered was waking up and not being able to see. Once the surgery was completed, the doctor had covered my eyes with patches to protect them while they healed. These I wore for a week.  I was too young to be frightened by blindness, and trusted my parents implicitly, so in many ways, the experience of surgery was an extension of childhood investigation, and I might add, fun. In a way, it was sort of an adventure to have patches—to experience the world without sight. As usual, all my needs were met by my attentive mother, and I found I could still draw on my Etch-a-Sketch and “watch” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” on T.V. even though I couldn’t actually “see” them. The process of healing lasted two or three weeks, and then I was back to life as usual–school, playing, and just being a seven-year-old kid with a story to tell about what it was like to be sightless for a week.

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Besides improved vision, one monumental thing had changed from this experience: my sense of Time. My second grade year dragged by. It was the longest year of my life, and I recognized it as such even at that tender age. I began to mark Time from that year on, and noticed that each subsequent year began to speed up a little bit more than the last.

In my theory, I propose that Age is equal to perception multiplied by the speed of time squared. (Please see disclaimer at the beginning of this post.) I confess that while my theory is not scientific, it is the opposite—a whim. Still, it rings true for me, even though it follows no logical thread. According to my theory of relativity, aging depends on my perception of things relative to the speed of time. In other words, the older I get, the faster time speeds by, and/or the speed of time shapes my perceptions about my age.

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Interestingly enough, perceptions (including memories) of my childhood have remained intact and vivid during each passing year of my life. However, perceptions during the years following second grade, have shifted like tectonic plates with the passage of Time. The more distance between 2nd grade and the current year, the more the shift, sometimes causing quaking and trembling in my perceptions—especially regarding details, such as what I believe I said to my husband, and what I’m sure he said to me.

The following is an example of how age (A) is equal to (=) perception (p) multiplied by time squared (t2). At a young age, maybe around three years old (A), I became (=) acutely desirous (p) of being two years older (t2) than the age I currently was. (*For your own sanity, please do not try to force my variables into a true equation.) This was probably due to my sister being two years my senior, giving her privileges, which I, as the younger sister, had to wait for. I remember crying at the bus stop as Karen boarded the school bus bound for kindergarten. I desperately wanted to go with her, and I couldn’t understand why I had to wait. No amount of sobbing swayed my mother, who simply scolded me for my tantrum and marched me back home. Wishing to be two years older became more intense as the years passed, which accounts for *time squared. (*Mathematicians and physicists out there, I know this is all sheer folly—please humor me.)

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The inverse was also true. As the younger sister by two years, I had the opportunity of observing my older sister, and those behaviors and consequences I wished to avoid. A very valuable asset and one I exploited to my gain.

There is yet another interesting corollary to perception as it relates to Age and Time, that is, how I perceived those who were older than I was. If I was thirteen, a fifteen-year-old was strictly out of my league in every aspect of life. (I now attribute this incorrect perception to the public school system, which unwittingly forces most children into an unrealistic environment—boxing them into a classroom with thirty other students of the same approximate age and developmental issues for about twelve years of their lives. This short-sighted and preposterous arrangement prepares children for an environment they will rarely, if ever, experience later in life. During adulthood, you would be hard-pressed to find yourself (it would seem unnatural to find yourself) among peers of your exact age group on a daily basis. In fact, most people spend the majority of their lives in family units composed of a variety of ages and temperaments,—the ultimate seedbed for learning—not in a setting as unnatural as that of a public school classroom.)

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When I attended my first year of college, I was eighteen, but my roommate (who was seventeen—having graduated high school a year early) soon after became friends with a girl of twenty-one! Imagine it!—she was friends with a co-ed four years her senior! (This is where my theory of relativity really became obvious to me.) I was in awe of this twenty-one-year-old. To my mind, she was light years beyond me in wisdom, experience, and dignity just by virtue of her three extra years of advanced age—I assumed this without really knowing her.

By my second semester of college, a shift in perspective had already begun to occur. I had become used to sharing the classroom, the campus, the dormitory, and the dining hall with a multiplicity of ages, but it wasn’t until this particular girl—my roommate’s friend—shared a class with me, that I realized the fallacy of my perception about age creating such a huge superiority gulf. On the first day of class during the second semester, we students looked around the room sizing each other up, and because this girl and I had a common friend, we recognized and gravitated to one another, sitting next to each other the remainder of that course. This was when I discovered that she was every bit as childish as I was! We doodled little frogs and cartoon-y characters with text bubbles full of nonsense all over each other’s and our own notepaper, quietly giggling at our silliness. We had so much fun! It was a great class to begin with, but it was all the more enjoyable for me when I realized that “twenty-one” was not the sage old age I thought it was, and that I could have fun and be silly even when I, too, reached the landmark maturity of twenty-one.

Even though challenged with every passing year and season of life, my flawed perception has remained with me; I still view age as a relative thing. When I was a young mother in my twenties, the thirties seemed ancient. Indeed, thirty-nine (or for some twenty-nine) has been the place where many people stop the “aging” clock, refusing to admit to any age above that. Year after year, when asked their age, these people refuse to acknowledge themselves as any more than 39. (Jack Benny comes to mind—he was forever 39. If you are my age, you will know who Jack Benny was. If you are from a younger generation—sorry. It’s one of those advantages of advanced age, to know about and gloat over things those younger than you were unfortunate enough to miss out on—things such as The Great Depression, roller skates with keys, garter belts, corded telephones, and 45s.)

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Hint: The perpetual 39 year-old

As I approached forty, and recognized that I was old enough to be mother to the youngsters of twenty whom I often hosted in my home, turning forty sounded like putting one foot in the grave. To my mind—to my eternal spirit—I was always looking out of eighteen-year-old eyes (that is, from the inside out), and each numerical age I reached was someone else’s bad idea of flimflam (for clearly, I was perpetually “in spirit” the eternal age of eighteen inside—that was my perception). Note: My outward appearance does not necessarily agree with my eternal “inside” age.

Then, fifty came, and most recently, sixty (by the way, I missed The Great Depression, the Revolutionary War, and the age of dinosaurs, though my grandchildren might challenge that). I have friends in every age bracket—age is immaterial when it comes to finding worth in others—and is very instructive as to differences in perception about time and age. With a ninety-three-year-old father, here’s what I’ve discovered: seventy-five is the new “thirty.” It’s all relative.

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For a 93-year-old like my father, age is a badge of distinction—of longevity few live to reach. A 93-year-old perceives the speed of time as being akin to the time spent on a merry-go-round that goes faster with each rotation. You get on, orbit the circumference a few times enduring the usual ups and downs, and then anticipate jumping off your horse, which might throw you at any time. Life is a blink when you’re 90, and often a blur—but things do tend to appear blurry when traveling at great speeds.

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As I mentioned earlier, time began to speed up for me in second grade. During each subsequent year, time has picked up momentum. Although reason tells me this is due to my flawed perception, I think it must also be due to age. With every passing year, I become a year older. (Yes, I know,—brilliant deduction—nothing profound here, folks.) The more years gathered into the garner of time, the faster time passes. Age is the fireman stoking the steam locomotive’s boiler with more and more coal, making Time’s train move on at an ever and ever increasing rate. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) At any rate, Perception stands on the ground next to the tracks and watches the train fly by, saying “Whoa! Did you see how fast that train blew by?”

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Where once there were long, lazy days of summer, summer days now run into fall, fall into winter, winter into years, and years into lifetimes. Deadlines, responsibilities, calendar events, reminders, commitments, activities, and endless checklists of to dos tip one side of the scale, while the other holds the inevitability of time running out. The scale is rarely balanced. It is all relative. Relative to one’s own age, and time, and maybe even one’s own perceptions.

 

“Time is too slow for those who wait,

 too swift for those who fear,

too long for those who grieve,

too short for those who rejoice,

but for those who love, time is eternity.”

 – Henry Van Dyke

 In light of the relativity of age, time and perception, I would like to repeat the last line in the Van Dyke quotation above:

“For those who love, time is eternity.”

Amen to that.

End Piece

© April 21, 2016

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

 

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2 Comments

In Search of a More Normal “Normal”

Blog Post #36

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nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

1.conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

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What do you consider to be “normal?”

People talk of leading a “normal life,” or wanting someone they know to behave in a more “normal way.” Who hasn’t heard someone say, “I’m just a normal person,” or “I just want (or like) to do normal things?”

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I think it’s possible to explain normalcy to a point, but I think there’s a fine line separating what one person thinks is normal from what another person thinks. Maybe not even a fine line—maybe a giant firebreak sort of line, that won’t allow one person’s normal to leap over and infringe on, or burn, someone else’s normal.

This question of normalcy often arises early in a marriage. When Brad and I were first married over forty years ago, it was clear that what was normal to Brad was certainly not normal to me!

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Example:

Since I was five years old, it was normal for me to get up and pull the covers up over the pillow, making the bed first thing in the morning. At a young age, I so liked the feeling I got tidying my room that by the time I was a teenager, I often made the bed for my mother, and sometimes my siblings. This practice spilled over into married life. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, I made the bed—provided, of course, that Brad wasn’t it in. Observing this routine for a week or so, Brad told me that it was normal in the home in which he was raised to pull back the covers to air the bed each morning, and he wanted to know why I didn’t do that. Feeling slightly defensive about my family’s normal, I told him that our mother expected us to make our beds first thing, and our sheets always smelled perfectly fine.

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In this case, as in many others, my normal and his normal did not match. It was many months—possibly years—before we came to the realization that even though our ways of doing things were different, this didn’t make one more right than another. We just had different normals. Once we pulled back and aired out these kinds of issues (and there were many), a more normal atmosphere settled in our home.

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A Normal Life

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wish they could lead a “normal life.” Now, what exactly does that mean? The same principle that applies to the normal practices of making a bed or airing it out applies to normal lifestyles. There is a broad spectrum of what many would consider to be “leading a normal life.” For some people it is getting up and working a nine-to-five job every day. For others, it may mean putting in a couple of hours at work and the rest on a boat, or on the golf course. For many, it may mean caring full-time for a home and family. And for still others, it may mean jetting around the world taking pictures for NatGeo.

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So when you say you want to lead a “more normal life” what do you mean? Do you mean you’re so famous, you can’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized, mauled, and paparazzied, and you’d like to go back to pre-fame life and anonymity? (For most of us “normal” people, this isn’t the case.)

Does it mean you don’t want to be accountable to others anymore, and only do what you want to do? (If so, maybe you are an entrepreneurial sort of person and it’s time for a career change.)

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Does it mean you’re tired of a certain type of drudgery? Or you feel trapped in a rut? (A lot of people fall into this category, making it a very normal place to be.)

It seems to me that the desire to lead “a more normal life” means you may desire some kind of a change, and in my estimation, change is never normal in the sense that change, by very definition, is a move away from what has been normal, or typical, or usual—even if that normal may have been undesirable. In this case, leading a more normal life may not be what someone would want. (If you followed this line of reasoning, give yourself a gold star.)

More Normal Behavior

And what of wanting others to behave in a more “normal way?” What does that mean? I’ve observed that it is normal for certain people to pursue a quiet, reserved lifestyle—staying under the radar, and liking it that way. It is also normal for certain other people to seek after the limelight—having a constant need to be noticed, applauded, or even censured—just so long as they are getting attention. And there are many who live a normal existence somewhere in between.

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People who want others to behave in a more normal way are often parents. The people they usually want to behave more normally are often their children. Here are some samples of possible uses of the word “normal” that may set a parent up for trouble:

“Why can’t you wear your hair (or your clothes) like normal people?”

“That is NOT normal thinking!”

“If we could just have a normal conversation….”

“If you would just use a normal tone of voice….”

Normal people don’t do that kind of thing….”

Inherent in each of these phrases is the large and looming misconception about how each individual defines the word “normal.”

Some people use the word “normal” and the phrase “classic example” from time to time to make a point. (I throw the phrase “classic example” in with the word “normal” because they are very much alike. A classic example is another way of saying something is not only “normal,” but “super normal.”  These are go-to words when making comparisons between normal and the way-out notions, behaviors, and characteristics espoused by others.

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The pendulum always seems to swing toward our own ideals when we are considering what is normal and what isn’t. And rightly so. Who out there wants to believe, or possibly admit, that their ideas about things are off-the-wall cuckoo? Or at the very least, abnormal?

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“Serious Business” by Charles Dana Gibson

I have learned that when people talk about things that are normal, not normal, or classic examples, they are frustrated with the changing world around them, and how those changes defy what is near and dear to them. This is a time for compassionate and empathetic listening, not censure—unless, of course, it is one’s own normal that has been challenged. Even then, it is wise to listen and try to understand, because we don’t always see ourselves through normal eyes. Sometimes, we view ourselves through tainted rosy glasses, or the sludge of insecurity or failure—making what we think is normal for us, really something that is not normal at all.

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A Normal Person

I think when people say they’re just a “normal person” they are doing their best to fit their square peg of normalcy into the round hole of what they think others consider normal is. Each individual is just that—individual. Unique. Each has a slightly different way of looking at things than even those closest to them.

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Karen and me—a long time ago

My sister, Karen, and I could finish one another’s sentences. We loved and understood each other: our hopes and dreams, our upbringing, our way of approaching things, and the many tiny little idiosyncrasies we had. BUT we were not one another’s “normal” at all. Normal for Karen was quite different from normal for me. The way she thought about certain aspects of life, the way she planned and lived her days, the clothes she wore, the food she ate, and many other things that were normal for her would have been very uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.

I suppose I’m just being knit-picky, but it seems to me that everybody’s normal depends upon them. And if that’s true, then there is no “true normal”—only a bazillion normals that suit the bazillion different personalities out there, or in other words, everybody’s normal is really something uncommon or rare.

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Still, to be fair, when someone says they want to have a “normal life,” I understand what they’re saying. (I think.) When things have been anything but normal, when life has gone askew, when the world seems topsy-turvy, when every day is different, or the demands of life have become overwhelming, then what some of us long for is to go back to whatever it was we used to do, before we stepped from normal into abnormal. It may also mean that we long to be like everyone else, or what we think everyone else is like, since—as has already been established—everyone else has their own normal, and is therefore not “normal” as Google’s dictionary would have you believe.Over-the-cliff

Normal Things

Normal” things give backbone to daily life. Routine is “normal.” Routine is a gift to someone who’s predictable life went suddenly awry.  Some people thrive on the kind of adventure that involves Indiana Jones situations around every corner—where being on the edge of your seat (or the edge of your last nerve) every single moment of every single day is, well…normal. That’s not for me! I prefer a healthy portion of predictability, sprinkled with spontaneity, and a dash of surprise.

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After recent upheaval, I ached to do normal (for me) things, such as wash a load of clothes, bake cookies, walk around the block, and sleep in my own bed. I dragged a bag of notepaper, books to read, food I liked to nibble on, and a script I was trying to memorize with me to the hospital and then the nursing home where my father was recuperating. I read to my father when he’d let me, and while he dozed or was distracted, I wrote dozens of notes, listened to the script via headphones, and read till my eyes grew tired. If you carry a little bit of normal with you, it helps, but there’s nothing like your own normal in your own space, in your own home, in your own daily routine.

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While he was in the hospital and nursing home, my poor father was in a constant state of abnormal, and it took its toll, causing a bit of disorientation. I could understand this, which is why I spent so much time with him—to bring a little bit of “normal” to his bedside while he was in a state of terrible transition. Now that he’s home, things are definitely more normal, but not quite. We are learning a new normal, and it’s sometimes painful, but a necessary part of life. We are adjusting and adapting until the inevitable time when things will be jostled around again.

What I have concluded by all of this is that once one leaves their traditional normal for any length of time, one can never fully go back. Change is the byword of life. Some little thing will always be different…or perhaps some big thing.

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Bathsheba Smith

The early Mormon pioneers knew much of upheaval and of frequent hankie waves bidding farewell to normalcy in their lives. Constantly forced to move from place to place, frequently driven from their homes and loved ones, they, at last, made their exodus across the plains to create a normal life according to their beliefs in the deserts of Utah. The story is told of one such Mormon pioneer woman, Bathsheba Smith. Her history tells that her husband…*“widened and heightened Bathsheba’s [covered] wagon substantially.” After he did this for her, she then…“carpeted the floor, put four chairs in the center in which to ride, and hung a looking glass, candlestick, and pincushion. Once, while fording a stream, Bathsheba’s awkward wagon threatened to wash downstream. Unruffled, she yelled, “Behold, Noah’s Ark!” 

 

Why would she do this? I think she was doing her best to bring a feeling of permanence and normalcy to their ever-shifting lives by taking a portion of her home—her normal life—with them.

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” Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice” by C.C.A.Christensen (c1865)

I heard the story of Bathsheba Smith forty years ago, and have never forgotten it. Her story is a reminder that you may choose to “bloom where you’re planted,” no matter how abnormal, or stressful, or difficult that may be.

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I think that maybe there is no normal “normal.” Not really. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to make reference to things that are normal, and hope for normal times to come. In spite of the ambiguity of normalcy, I am determined to “bloom where I’m planted” –creating my own sense of “normal” no matter where I am, how difficult it may be, or how abnormal others may think I am.

Is this normal?

You be the judge.

End Piece

© February 24, 2016

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

 

 

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