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Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

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

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Planned Serendipity?

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful father, Joseph Culotta, who passed away on August 1, 2016.

Blog Post #43

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ser·en·dip·i·ty

ˌserənˈdipədē/

noun

 1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 My First Blog Post EVER!

There are certain serendipitous scenarios that you just can’t set up in advance, no matter how much scheming you do, nor how badly you want things to turn out exactly as you imagine them. In fact, to “set up,” scheme, or plan anything is the antithesis of serendipity, because serendipity, by definition, involves chance.

 

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My father, Joseph Culotta, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class, United States Naval Air,           1942-1946

My father, the late Joseph Culotta, served as a naval photographer in World War II. He attended the Naval Training School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida where he labored to memorize all that was required for his area of expertise.  He developed a strong habit of memorization starting at an early age. (See blog post #2 “The True Measure of a Man.”) While stationed at the Naval Air Station in Bermuda, he spent much of his free time in the library memorizing poetry.

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After the war ended, my father (“Daddy”) went on a road trip with friends. Evening approached, and one of the other passengers—looking for an opportunity to show-off—pointed out the setting sun off in the western sky and asked if any of the other fellows in the car (including my father) knew what “refraction” was. At first, Daddy acted as if he didn’t know anything about it (his photography training eagerly churning in the back of his mind). Just as the other guy opened his mouth to enlighten everyone about refraction as it related to the setting sun, word-for-word Daddy interjected the following. “Oh.…you mean ‘the deflection of a ray of light upon entering a transparent medium at an oblique angle, or bending of light when passing from one medium to another of different density?’” He recited this (as he later did countless times throughout his lifetime) with the same uninterrupted, rote speed and tonal quality characteristic of something entirely ingrained in one’s memory.

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Daddy’s notes on Refraction from his photo school journal .

The man was so surprised by Daddy’s impromptu recitation he begged to know how my father did that! When Daddy explained he had memorized that definition while in Naval Photography School, the man decided he wanted to choose the definition of a word to memorize so he could pull that on someone else. The man chose “viscosity” as his word. My father told us later that he thought the circumstances were too unusual for a similar opportunity to arise like that again. He felt that his traveling companion would be disappointed in his scheme, because you couldn’t hope to plan for that kind of serendipitous stunt. Happily, for my father the stars had aligned and he had taken advantage of that unique set of circumstances.

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Daddy in his convertible after the war

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It is this unique set of circumstances to which I refer when I said that you cannot set-up in advance certain scenarios—no matter how much scheming you do. I believe there’s truth in the phrase, “The best laid plans … often go awry!” (Robert Burns)

Many years ago, my family of seven (my husband, Brad, our five children, and I) were on a road trip together with my sister, Karen, and her six children.  We drove two vehicles, one of which was a truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer, and the other, a large van with three rows of benches and two front seats. The eleven children took turns riding in the cab of the truck with Brad, but mostly the two eldest children (my daughter, Thalia, and my sister’s daughter, Bridey) claimed that privilege. The rest of us were crammed in Karen’s big blue van, appropriately named “Big Uggs.”

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A small portion of the family piling into “Big Uggs”

One of the stops on our trip was the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. My sister had been there before, and had a vivid memory of rounding a bend and seeing those magnificent mountains suddenly appear before her eyes. Completely moved by that experience, she wanted to recreate the same inspirational effect for the children (and for me). To add to the effect, we chose to play music that would build and climax at the precise moment when the mountains appeared like a vision before our eyes. (Just the way it always happens in the movies.) The main theme in the soundtrack to the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was our music of choice. (I should probably add that this was during the days prior to compact discs, MP3 players, or Bluetooth connections. Cassette tapes had to be re-wound or fast-forwarded—like a video tape—to find the desired location. Unless you had a counter on your machine, you had no idea where to stop the tape to find the song you wanted.)

 

There we were, driving along, following a map, (no GPS in those days, either), and as we approached a bend in the road at the approximate location we thought the mountain range would appear, we’d call out to the children to “Look!” Quickly we rewound the tape,—the  violins building in crescendo to a fever pitch, the French horns ready to signal,—and as we rounded the bend…..nothing. No mountains. Just more road and more of the same scenery on both sides of the road. “Quick! Stop the tape!” one of us would call out. We rewound again, preparing for the next bend in the road —the correct bend.

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This is what we expected to see around the bend: The Snake River with the Grand Tetons in the background.

And another bend soon came! Again, we called to the children, the tape went on—violins building toward the magnificent view. And….nothing. We repeated this scenario perhaps a half-dozen times or more. We heard those violins brace themselves for the climax over and over again (we became quite intuitive as to when to stop rewinding the tape at the perfect place).

Finally, after rounding every bend, the Tetons appeared way off in the distance, like piles of small, jagged rocks, gradually growing larger as we bridged the miles that spanned the distance between us. It was as opposite an experience from that imagined as possible. We let the rest of the tape play out. After the second or third “Look!” the children had tuned us out anyway.

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Although I can’t remember now, this is probably more like what we saw (which, granted, is still absolutely MAGNIFICENT!)

At last, Karen concluded that her initial introduction to the Tetons must have come from a different direction or perhaps from a different road (possibly because she had flown into the area and had arrived in a shuttle). We had to resign ourselves to having made a valiant attempt on behalf of our children—all of whom sat obliviously happy in the back seats (drawing, laughing, talking, singing, and playing together) totally unaware of our desire for them  to regard, with breathless anticipation, the experience we had attempted to orchestrate…that never happened.

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What we envisioned seeing (even though it was long before sunset).

 

Countless are the times I’ve tried to rehearse exactly the right thing to say or do only to have it completely backfire on me. I might lay the blame on my inability to predict the reactions of others, my ignorance of human nature, or my failure to be poised for action at the moment when the stars align.  As I ponder this enigma, I think it all boils down to the idea that you simply can’t plan for unique events that appear like bursts of serendipity sent down from above.

However, I do believe it is completely possible for one to plan and create moments that are special—that are beautiful, touching, emotionally charged (in a good way), and that may be remembered for a lifetime. It takes thought, planning, effort, presence, and a smattering of joy to create an enchanting moment, be it a dinner with friends, a wedding or birthday celebration, a community event, or even more beautiful–a special moment with a child.

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Still, I think you cannot re-create, or manufacture, unique moments that first occur as serendipitous, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. When the stars align, when the heavens open, and when your life preparation unites with the moment, that’s the time to be grateful you were at the right place at the right time.

One more thought….which may shoot down the entire premise of this post.  As I think about that little scheme we set-up during our trip to the Tetons, it was, in its own way, a serendipitous event. We didn’t achieve the desired result, but our bumbling attempt to create a stirring, unforgettable moment was, in many respects, achieved.  The outcome was, in its own right, something we’ve remembered and laughed about for years on end. And isn’t that, in itself a unique little bit of serendipity?

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This photo shows a few members of our family rafting on the Snake River together. The others are in the part of the raft you can’t see.  (That’s me in the back on the left.) You can see the Tetons in the background. 

I’ll leave you to sort this all out. Obviously, I haven’t succeeded.

I sincerely hope you are able to find serendipitous joy when your schemes to create or recreate some wonderful event turn out differently than you had, at first, hoped. If you were chasing rainbows, and found one that was upside down …. well, what could be more serendipitous than discovering a giant smile in the sky?

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An upside-down rainbow (circumzenithal arc)

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© September 6, 2016

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


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The Volunteer

Blog Post #41

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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.


6 Comments

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. 

Claremont view from living room window Craig bike 1964

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.

Cynthy in front of house on Maryhurst 1964

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.)

 

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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.

Sheryl's going away party 1970 Linda Guay, Cynthy and Sheryl

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.

Sheryl in front of house on Maryhurst

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.

Cynthy & Sheryl in the Koncsol's old backyard on Maryhurst 7-04

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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“Dwell in Possibility”

 (It has been months since I’ve posted, and I find I must write—something…anything! So here goes…)

Blog Post #35

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I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

pos·si·bil·i·ty

ˌpäsəˈbilədē/

noun

  1. a thing that may happen or be the case.
  • ” the state or fact of being likely or possible; likelihood.
  • “a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I have always associated Possibility with positive things—with the hope for better things waiting just around the corner. However, it occurs to me that Possibility also has a negative or dark side to it. A prophet of old once said, *“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” It makes sense, then, that Possibility, like “The Force,” has both a good side and a dark side.

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Darth Possibility sometimes sneaks up from behind, or lies hidden around a corner, waiting to startle or take you by surprise (e.g. a loved one discovers he or she has cancer). Sometimes, Darth Possibility lurks in the shadows of time, and surreptitiously tosses a banana peel in your path causing you to slip and fall (e.g. an unexpected job loss). Sometimes, Darth Possibility stealthily eases through the backstage door, and waits in the wings. Then, disregarding any cues, descends on center stage, villain-like, upstaging all other bewildered actors, playing a loudly dramatic role, then swiftly exits, flourishing its black cape for effect (e.g. the untimely death of a loved one). Darth Possibility likes to throw around its weight, employing other often ill-mannered cohorts from The Dark Side: Probability, Risk, and Consequence, to deal their hands into the game called Life.

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When things seem their blackest, Darth Possibility’s kin, Possibility Skywalker, appears and opens a portal to hope. I have noticed that Possibility Skywalker is so powerful that even the tiniest pinprick of the light he carries within him can obliterate the fear of the Dark Side. But one must carry the light saber of faith to ward off Darth Possibility’s depressing influence. Possibility Skywalker is like a bright shoulder angel reminding you that you can get through whatever comes. He whispers that there are always opportunities for learning and growth buried within each trial, and urges you on a quest to seek out the beauty and joy amidst the difficult. He fans the flame of courage in the face of affliction, and shows you that you may rise up and conquer fear and despair. He spreads a feast on your table, encouraging you to taste a variety of flavors, rather than remain in a rut of mediocrity and melancholy.

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When you step out your door and encounter the unknown faces of Possibility, pay attention—you may be surprised to hear birds singing,  to see white puffy clouds floating by, and flowers blooming abundantly around you—as if the whole world is oblivious to the hard things that are happening in your world. How many battles have taken place on a meadow where birds sang, and the sun shone brightly–where men fought, lost in a mindset of war, while carefree birds dipped and soared around the melee?

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When death is at the door, both Darth Possibility and Possibility Skywalker rest comfortably on a porch swing nearby, waiting. Good can come from even the very throes of death itself. In a very real sense, that which we embrace–the dark side or the light side of Possibility–depends very largely on our own choices, and what we decide to do when that moment of reckoning comes.

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Recently, my father was staying in a rehab center after breaking his femur, and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by Darth Possibility. I walked out of the door to head home for lunch, and was stunned at the brightness and beauty of that winter day! Surely, those twittering birds didn’t understand that my father was feeling despondent about his situation inside that building I had just exited. Those happy children and adults laughing and playing at the park nearby, whose voices wafted to me on the winds of hope, had to be unaware of my mental, physical, and emotional fatigue, or else they wouldn’t have had the nerve to engage in such activity! Or were they really the many faces of Possibility Skywalker coming to save the day? The looming question was: Would I allow myself to be rescued, or would I choose to wallow in the oppressive grip of Darth Possibility? The tall Palms lining the drive of the nursing home stood stately and firm; their rustling fronds professed that nothing had changed. Not really. “Life goes on. Joy continues all around. Stand firm, and wait on the Lord,” they whispered. “In His time, all will be resolved. Look up and be of good cheer.” I could choose to partake of that joy, no matter what other turmoil may be churning within or around me, or I could choose to ignore that joy—relegating it to a shelf marked “someday” or “never.” That the joy was always there, I have no doubt. That I had but to embrace it, and allow it to soothe my aching heart was entirely up to me.

I chose Joy.

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I have discovered that Possibility Skywalker may at any moment rush in and save the day. Just when you may think all is lost, new and transcendent light obliterates the darkness and wonderful new Possibilities appear, if we’ll let them! We always have the freedom to choose which side we will indulge, or with whom we will ally ourselves.

We all “dwell in Possibility.” Which side do you choose ?

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Note – During November and December 2015, our family experienced all of the previously mentioned events: my beloved sister discovered she had cancer which took her life in a mere two weeks from the diagnosis, my son-in-law lost his job, and my 92-year-old father fell and broke his femur. Through divine inspiration, I was told to find joy during these difficulties, and I took that counsel to heart. It has made all the difference. I’m happy to report that joy is everywhere, and “everywhen.” Whenever something hard and heartbreaking happens, joy and hope are as probable and possible as depression and despair, if we will choose them. Worry and fear never accomplish anything–they are disabling. Joy and faith, however, are enabling. Since these events took place, we still mourn the loss of my wonderful sister, Karen—we miss her greatly—but we move forward in faith and hope in the atonement of Jesus Christ and in the knowledge that we will be together again. My son-in-law started a new job that promises a fresh start for their whole family, and my father has completed rehab and is home again. He is improving a little each day, and we are finding new manifestations of joy along the way as we walk in the Light of Possibility.

*2 Nephi 2:11

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Copyright February 9, 2016 

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


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Back Door Blessings

Blog Post #31

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Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden, by John W Waterhouse

There are things we all dread: different things for different people, but dreaded things nonetheless. Many of us take preventative measures in an attempt to avoid some of these dreaded things, such as parking the car in a remote part of the shopping center parking lot, installing locks and security devices, making sure there’s plenty of food, water and emergency supplies on hand, and going to great lengths to teach children safety practices. But what about those things we can’t plan for and don’t anticipate? What about those things that sneak in through the back door?Key in Lock

When we were young, my mother left the back door to our house unlocked for our use before and after school. My sister, brother and I were to enter and exit through the back door for everything. For all we knew, the house had a faux front door—just painted on for looks—because we rarely, if ever used it. Neighbor friends were instructed to use the back door for their comings and goings, as well. It was a given: the back door was THE door, the ONLY door we should use.

The kids were not the only ones relegated to the back door—others, also, had the good sense to use it. The milkman always came to the back door. (During the late 50s and early 60s, we had one of those fabled milkmen—wearing a white shirt, cap and slacks, and carrying a wire tote holding glass bottles—who delivered milk once or twice a week.) He always made his deliveries at the back door. I know people, now, who get milk delivered to their doors, but the milkmen of today have the audacity to drop their deliveries in wooden boxes on the front porches of their customers. Bold by yesterday’s standards.

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I don’t want to mislead you about the front door. We did have one— right there in plain sight, smack dab in the middle of our house where you couldn’t miss it. People were known to use it, but ideally, it was reserved for “company.”  Fortunately, we had a large window in the living room to the west of the front door, and two bedroom windows facing the front yard to the east. These were necessary lookout posts, in case some of that “company” made a sneaky appearance at our front door. On more than one occasion, we scrambled about the house like pinballs bouncing off furnishings and each other as we hurriedly picked up and swept the house before an unexpected guest arrived. If “company” entered the “faux” front door, they had to be greeted by the “faux” tidy house. It would have been shocking if they had encountered the mass of creative energy splayed everywhere in true open-air-market/swap-meet fashion. My mother kept a very clean house—right into the obscure corners—but she was hard-pressed to keep up with the three Tasmanian Devils that whirled through every room in expressive, chaotic disorder. Imagine the havoc we might have caused had we been allowed to use the front door on a regular basis? Instead, we tracked our dirt, milk carton moth cages, lizard pets, roller skates (complete with keys), skateboards, skip tapes, jump ropes, club paraphernalia, flies, and an abundance of “stuff” in and out the back door where all was welcome. (Our mother was not just a good sport, she encouraged our creative energy—often winking at the untidiness we left in our wake).

taz-the-tazmanian-devil-spinning-tattooBusinesses and restaurants continue to adhere to the old philosophy of back door users, and they’re wise to do so. They tend to reserve back doors for deliveries, employees and discarding garbage. A restaurant’s clientele would drop-off considerably if patrons had to squeeze by bussers sporting stained and splattered aprons, carrying stinky garbage cans in and out the front door.

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You mustn’t be fooled by the front door paradox! Just because special people—indeed, company—were received at, or entered through the front door, doesn’t mean that all were among those who most benefitted, or blessed, our family, or that they were always those who were most welcome. Salesmen, such as the legendary Fuller Brush Man, solicitors, and other such persons, tracked the neighborhoods of my youth to peddle their wares. They always came to the front door.

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Special “back door people”—whom we never referred to as “company”—had a better title: “friend.” In reality, being a “back door user” means you have earned the reputation of “comfortable”—it means we’re comfortable enough with you to let our guard down, to let you see us as we are in our untidiness, to trust you with our true lives. It means real, not faux. Those who came through the back door in my youth were friends and neighbors who shared our toys, our time, and our lives. They were often my mother’s friends, women who sat and chatted at the kitchen table while my mother folded clothes. These people were back door blessings, and remain so today.

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My mother may not have welcomed everything that came through her back door, however. Certainly, we brought in more than our fair share of dirt, let in a multitude of flies, and sometimes wore her out with our endless door-slamming and clamoring in and out, the messes we made, and the arsenal of creative material we carried back and forth through the back door that we needed to pretend with. Perhaps she dreaded what might come through that door, or the persistent knocking, doorbell ringing and petitions of neighbor kids wanting us to come out and play. I don’t remember her finding fault with any of these things (except the flies and door slamming), but sometimes I wonder about the other things….

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We all have things we dread—things that sneak in, like annoying flies, through the back door of opportunity or circumstance. I have experienced some of these kinds of things in my life—things I didn’t want, didn’t anticipate, and, in fact, dreaded. Things that snuck in the back door of my life while I had my hands and attention focused on dishwater. Things like a house fire, a hole in the roof, and a broken neck. They sound horrible, and in many ways are! They can be frightening, can turn one’s life upside down, and may wreak havoc all over the place!

Oddly enough, each may turn out to be a back door blessing. Yes! It’s true! I know, because I have experienced these very back door blessings in my life.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #1: Kitchen Fire

One night, I returned from an evening choir rehearsal to find the inside of our house charred. Structurally, the house was still sound, but the fire had singed much of the kitchen, and the smoke had painted the house with blackened fingers, leaving its smoldering scent behind as a souvenir. After finding family members to be safe and well, I sat on a dining room chair in stupefied amazement. How would we ever clean-up the mess that brief, but effective, fire left in its wake? At that moment, all I could envision was working from morning until night for months on end in an attempt at futility. It was daunting and I was overwhelmed. To my utter surprise, a man appeared through the back door that very night, carrying blessings in his capable hands. Before I arrived home, my husband had already made some phone calls, bringing an army of recruits to arms! Here was a man, sent by our insurance company, specializing in restoring homes after fire damage. Before long, ALL of our belongings—from cans of tomato sauce to mismatched socks—had been packed up, lock, stock and barrel, shipped off to be cleaned, and returned to us after the entire house—save the basement—had been revamped, repainted, re-carpeted, re-floored, reinstalled with new appliances and cabinetry, and essentially, re-everything-ed! I’ll never forget opening the first box of clothing returned to us: sweaters, jeans, and underwear had been cleaned, pressed, neatly folded, wrapped in fresh, white paper, and bound with a golden seal. I nearly cried. It was a beautiful thing.

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“A kitchen fire—a back door blessing?” you ask. You bet!  In fact, so many blessings resulted, I can barely count them! I came home one day to discover kind neighbors had come in through the back door and left a Crock Pot of simmering stew for us. Firemen came with special donations. Our church family offered loving assistance. Our insurance adjuster was of the most generous sort. But greatest of all was the assurance that God was mindful of us, waiting to pour out tender mercies to us in our extremity, and to remind us of what matters most. We were all alive and well, we had our home, we were safe from harm, and gratitude was the only suitable response to this would-be misfortune.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #2: Broken Neck

For much of his life, my husband Brad’s worst fear was breaking his neck, and yet, one sunny morning almost thirty years ago, it happened. Next door. On a trampoline. Witnessed by three of our, then, four children. It was surreal in so many ways. I will spare you the details of that whole ordeal. Summing up, after three months in a halo brace, having a piece of his rib fused to his neck, and adequate healing time, no one would ever know, now, that for a moment, Brad wavered between normal bodily activity and paralysis. The accident barged into the back door of our lives like an unwelcome, loud-mouthed, rudely mannered form of company. It disrupted everything that was normal, and caused untold physical suffering and pain. It caused temporary anxiety, and a looming question mark as to what the future would hold. You may be asking yourself if any back door blessings could possibly come from a broken neck. The miraculous answer? An innumerable amount.

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Again, the love and support of friends, family, church family, and virtual strangers was mind-boggling. People are good, and want to help others. I still remember with gratitude the ambulance crew that treated Brad with kit glove delicacy, insuring he suffered no further damage, delivering him to the hospital with extreme care and caution. The neurosurgeon, whose skill and expertise we trusted so implicitly, was a great back door blessing. The act of taking stock of our lives, of reevaluation: what is necessary, what is precious, and what we were blessed to have, but perhaps had not fully appreciated, and of the immense gift of health, all tiptoed in through the back door, unfolding their priceless value to our souls.  In the beauty of a clear, blue-sky morning, God opened the back door of my heart and mind, and intimately visited with me in His still and quiet way. He gave me complete and absolute assurance that He lives, that He knows us as individuals, that He loves us, and that He answers prayers—my prayers. (To be sure, He answers yours, as well.)

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Would I want to revisit Brad’s broken neck, or see it happen to anyone else? I answer an emphatic, “NO!” But each of us has a choice. In such situations, we can either slam the door of opportunity and growth, or we can leave it cracked open enough to let light, faith, hope and knowledge flow in.

One last story—a story as recent as these past few weeks….evidence that these kinds of things can happen anytime, anywhere.

Back Door Blessings – Example #3: A Hole in the Roof

gina halferty/staff, herald news, 7/11/06 A mother raccoon ( far left) and four of her youngsters take a peek out of their storm drain home in Tracy this afternoon.

Brad loves to feed the critters that frequent our yard. He has made the opossums, squirrels, lizards, hummingbirds and other neighborhood “folk” feel so welcome they just clamor to move in with us. (See Blog Post #9 “The Lizard Whisperer: A True Tale) Just a couple of weeks ago, we discovered one of these friendly critters—a member of a family of raccoons living in the drain under the sidewalk nearby—had been busily engaged in clawing away at the aging shingles on our roof in order to set-up housekeeping in our attic. He had succeeded in making a fist-sized hole through the plywood. It was just a matter of time before he would have made his own back door into our home.

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Since we live in my childhood home as caregivers for my 92-year-old father, Brad called my father’s insurance company to inform them of the meticulous work our “neighbor” had been doing for who knows how long. Amazingly enough, the insurance man looked up his records, and with surprised admiration, informed my husband that Daddy had been a member of their company for 54 years and had never made a claim! They waived his insurance deductible during that initial phone call, and set about assessing the damage. Turns out, the raccoon had torn up the entire ridge pole from one end of the house to the other, and had clawed away multiple areas of the roof, including the hole, trying to gain access to our inviting attic. Because of Daddy’s loyalty (and premiums), the insurance company decided to pay for the replacement of the entire roof! (The new roof was completed yesterday, but not without additional back door blessings, such as an errant nail mischievously seeking out a copper pipe flush with the plywood, thereby piercing the copper and causing a waterfall down the siding outside the house, and brownish-red water to leak through the ceiling light fixture in my work room. The back door blessing in this case was that I had not gone on planned errands, and was able to stop the deluge before more serious issues arose.)

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It seems to me, that raccoon deserves a gold medal for a job well done! Had it not been for his noisy antics on the roof late one night, we would not have been alerted to his activity. We might have discovered the fruits of his labors later on, after he’d begun redecorating the attic to suit the needs of his family. Because our uninvited “company” announced himself through the back door, so to speak, when the rains, at last, come to our drought-ridden state, we will sleep in dry comfort beneath a brand new, solid roof. I consider it Providential in every way. Truly a back door blessing.

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Sometimes, when you leave the back door unlocked, comfortable, friendly blessings tiptoe—or bulldoze—in and cozy up at the kitchen table with you. Do you always appreciate these back door blessings, at first? Perhaps not, but if you look a little deeper, and close your eyes to the annoying flies that slip in simultaneously, you’ll find these to be the best sorts of neighbors to keep company with. You’ll come to love and cherish the companionship of back door blessings long after they’ve gone.

I know I do.

© August 21, 2015

© July 15, 2015

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