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Hot Rod (or How we Roll)

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Blog Post # 48

Yesterday evening, my husband, Brad, and I were waiting at a streetlight, next to a low-riding, black hot rod – one that epitomizes the standard for such a car. It was long, sleek, and low, with a flattened square-ish cab-like roof and chartreuse hubcaps. Scrawled on the upper back portion of the roof were the words, “This is how I roll.” A man of immense proportions had squeezed into the driver’s seat, bulging out the windows like leavened dough, appearing to be cramped beyond comfort. He revved his engine like a NASCAR driver, clearly impatient to go.artflow_201701181402.png

We were astonished when, after waiting only a few seconds, the hot rod streaked into the intersection, and rocketed through the red light at lightning speed, leaving a blast of engine noise in its wake. A car in opposing traffic had already begun to make a left turn, and (fortunately) moved slowly enough to prevent a collision—completing its turn just after the hot rod exited the intersection. We looked at each other in stunned silence, then wondered aloud what madness had possessed the man behind the wheel of the hot rod! (Maybe all sense squeezed out of the driver by the snug quarters he was wedged into, or maybe he was experiencing some kind of brain-cramp.)

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Do you see how big the driver of this hot rod is? The one we saw looked just like that (but this isn’t him).

Soon, the light changed, and we lumbered up the street at a crawl compared to what we had just witnessed. When we approached the next light, and were about to turn into our destination, we noticed the hot rod stuck behind a car at the intersection just ahead of us. As we entered a restaurant, we heard the unmistakable roar of the hot rod’s engine as it zoomed around the corner and up the adjacent street.

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I wonder…what motivates someone to do something so insane? He might have caused serious injury or death to himself or others—and for what? 50 yards of street? To be first? A lack of patience or self-control? Showing-off? … I have no idea! (To be fair – to give him the benefit of the doubt – there is the possibility that in anticipation of the light changing, he thought it already had.) However, whether or not it was intentional, he took that intersection blindly and at tremendous speed.

Here’s the truth. For all his speed-demon antics, he was still forced to wait at that next light, and had gained no advantage over all the other drivers who had waited for the previous light—those who had obeyed the laws, and exercised patience and self-control.

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I wonder if, after his apparent mistake, or, in any case, his recklessness, that guy gloated over his supposed machismo, or conversely, if he felt even the least bit small, sheepish or sorry? If his recklessness shrank to fit into the size of the cab, at least that would be something. Whatever the case, he proved “how he rolled,” and let those in the world around him determine for themselves exactly what that meant.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was not impressed by his brazen show of bravado. Instead, I was stunned by his ostentatious demonstration of thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, and foolishness.

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Each of us is a walking, talking – yes, even driving – example of “how we roll.” Whatever persona we hope to exude, others will see what is inherently and obviously part of our character through our words and actions. If we don’t want to send mixed signals, we must be absolutely true to ourselves. And if we want our persona to match any ideals of good character, we must also be true to the truth and light that burns deep within our hearts – the light of truth given to all human beings, reigning in an unsullied conscience.

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Flawed as I am, I hope that “how I roll” may be consistent with my most valued knowledge and precious beliefs—that I might “walk my talk” with purity of purpose, with real intent, with generosity, tolerance, patience, optimism, gentleness, kindness, and love. A tall order, I know, but that is how I would like “to roll.”

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Ha! Perhaps a whole different scenario would have occurred at the streetlight if the man in the hot rod was of a mind to write this expression on the back of his cab: “Merrily We Roll Along!” 

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End Piece

©January 17, 2017

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

 


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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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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.


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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!

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© May 19, 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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Recipe for Life

Blog Post #32

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As an infant, I was like the ingredients for a recipe—scattered at random on the table…waiting….just waiting. Although I was only an incongruous assortment of parts and pieces, all the parts and pieces were there, present—watching, waiting, trying to make sense of all The Maker was busily preparing. A work surface and bowl, measuring spoons, measuring cups, a mixer, preheated oven—all necessary tools were gathered together in preparation and anticipation of the recipe and warmth of environment that would contribute to the future me.11970903451034121896johnny_automatic_baking_ingredients.svg.med

Meanwhile, the ingredients that were me were collected into a grocery bag of infancy. I sensed my individual parts all gathered together, but they were still in a state of disconnect. All properties of mind and body, all inclinations, talents, ideals and feelings coexisted, but didn’t have an understanding of the unity and inclusion they might one day enjoy.

Ideas about life, about political, social and worldly philosophy, about rearing children, faith, and charitable feelings (as well as ‘non’) were uncertain—vague in a clueless void of infant ignorance and bliss. I simply “was,” somewhat recklessly advancing day by day without a strong rudder for direction, except that which I daily encountered in the hearthstone of family.

Baking

Then The Maker took of my individual ingredients and began combining them in the bowl of youth and accountability—stirring them together, measuring and blending the various parts. This stirring caused changes to take place—sometimes extreme discomfort and awkwardness, sometimes elation and wonder—but always testing to see if the parts would blend and coalesce, or if they were spoiled and rotten, and in need of discarding.

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I remember this part of my development. I remember that most of what I think, and feel, and am today was present at that genesis time of combining the ingredients and stirring them together. Those thoughts and feelings, those impressions and tendencies, were vague and blurry in those early times—much as the difficulty one has in identifying separate ingredients when stirred together. Though the salt was still salt, and the egg, still egg, the process of combining and mixing them together created some ambiguity. Questions about who and what I was arose, as did distress, embarrassment and a little confusion. (All these—perfectly natural and useful in influencing and blending the ingredients—caused some consternation due to their changing forms and functions.) Still, I must admit, there was a measureable certainty about some things,—e.g. 4 tablespoons of devotion to family, 1 cup of faith in God, 3 teaspoons of honesty—the immutable values inherent to my soul.

Power of expression developed incrementally during this period of change—raw and unrefined as it was—adding to the discomfort and blurriness of the early times.

As new challenges, trials, and experiences helped define, refine and mobilize all the separate ingredients that were “Cynthy” by stirring, they began to swirl, glob together, and turn into something more substantial. Though not hardened or solid by any means, the reception of new truths and experiences, inspired by the process of stirring, caused the proper blending of the ingredients, becoming decidedly firmer—taking on mass, shape and resolve.

The Maker continued the process by thoroughly kneading the ball of dough– working it over to reshape and refine it. When at last the dough was soft and pliable, blended and glutinous, The Maker gently laid it in a baking pan and put it in the oven. The oven had been pre-heated to just the right temperature to bake the loaf without overcooking or burning it. It was hot in the oven, and I felt the intensity of the heat as trials and tests did their work of melding, further refining, and shaping my loaf.

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Exposed to heat, my individual parts blended into a unified whole. Whether they became good, or whether they became distasteful was entirely up to me—to the choices I made. Did I discard the rotten, spoiled parts? Did I keep only the fresh and sweet ingredients? Did I allow The Maker adequate time to knead and let me rise, to allow the gluten to provide elasticity, shape and texture that would strengthen me? Or did I stiffen and rebel, deflating the leaven, creating a tough, dense consistency?

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As I baked in the oven of adversity, all former choices came to a head. All thoughts, ideas, philosophies, values, and qualities formed and bonded into a solid loaf, a united whole—for good or for evil. (One or the other—it couldn’t be both. Either the loaf would be good, or it would be bad. It was that simple.)

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Now, out of the oven, I have been allowed time to set and cool, merging all the ingredients and heightening their flavor—the further refinement of The Golden Years. When others taste of the warmth and wholesome loaf that is me, will they find me delicious or bitter? They may add sweet honey, or slather on peach preserves, savory melted cheese, or other things to bring out and enhance the plain and wholesome goodness that is, hopefully, there. (Or perhaps to cover salt that has lost its savor. They may discard the whole loaf, declaring it bad.) The Maker may decide I need reheating—another warming through—to further soften and make delectable.bread_and_butter_clip_art_thumb

If I have chosen well, the recipe of life will have created a loaf, the sum of its parts being greater than each individual ingredient—a delicious, healthy, pleasing whole that others may enjoy, while partaking of the aroma, and the sweetness and goodness thereof.  And I will enjoy the satisfaction of having filled and blessed the needs and wants of others, while fulfilling my mission and eternal destiny as a follower of the true Bread of Life.

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© September 18, 2015

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


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Decisions! Decisions!

Blog Post #19


Decisions! Decisions! I am, at times, stricken by critically insignificant decisions (such as which shirt to wear with one of two pairs of jeans, or where to go for lunch.) These kinds of decisions weary my poor brain with their indifference.

I can guess what you’re thinking. You may think I’m being ridiculous; that I’m exaggerating. You may think I’m talking a few grains of salt, not the Great Salt Lake. These are just little  things. Not realdecisions. Not weighty, hefty matters. These are minuscule choices. Not worth mentioning.

Grains of Salt
Great Salt Lake

I think it’s the relentlessness of these little decisions—these lurking-around-every-corner-to-nag-and-exacerbate kinds of decisions—that encumber and exhaust my brain cells with unwanted clutter.

Neurons

First thing in the morning—every morning—I face an enormous decision-making obstacle: what to wear. I stand before my open closet, morning light pouring through the window casting a good-humored beam on the drowsy articles of clothing that never awake from their insurmountable sleep of death–the result of hanging in my closet. I stare vacantly at the drooping scene. When nothing screams, “I am amazing! Wear me!” I walk two steps to my dresser and open the drawers.  Again, vacant staring. Like watching the spoiler for the same mystery show every morning, there’s no need to wonder about the outcome, I know there will be no surprises in store for me. And even though I’ve repeated the same combinations of shirts and pants for decades, oddly enough, I still deliberate over what to wear with what. After wasting ten minutes, staring blankly, I finally put something on, and stand before the hall mirror. Yup. Same old, same old. Odder still is the fact that, one day, the same old thing looks okay, while the next day it looks horrible. I always think the things in my closet and drawers will transform into crisp, new, attractive, nice-fitting, flattering fashion statements while I sleep.  No wonder I am reluctant to face this decision each morning. 


Let me point out that there are other equally perplexing insignificant decisions that plague wishy-washy people like me during a typical day. For example, after many hours of resolute labor, sewing like the busy little mice in “The Tailor of Gloucester,” my daughter and I make a trip to the post office to ship orders to her customers (my daughter sews for a living—I sometimes help). 



From “The Tailor of Gloucester” by Beatrix Potter


When the order is in the mail, and on its way, our minds cry out to click up our heels, but our bodies are so weak with hunger from working through lunchtime we’re too withered to do it. Like limp and tired little herbs in need of a bit of refreshment to revive our droopiness, we drag our faint and weary selves to the little sandwich shop across the barren seedbed of the street for some nourishment.



The café is a tiny place, cluttered with pictures, handbills, flyers, and information on every wall.  Still famished and lacking mental dexterity, I find myself consumed by the information thrust at me on every side. Waiting behind the counter are voraciously happy, peppy, friendly people poised to take our order with pencil and pad, who offer a cheerful and encouraging greeting. Absentmindedly, I look up at the menu which is posted above said prodigiously peppy people—and find a mass of words that, for all their familiarity, might as well be written in Greek. Certainly, I recognize the words, but in my current state of weary confusion and inertness, they read more like an eye chart in an optometrist’s office.

  
From a 10th-century manuscript of Thucydides
Eye Chart in Greek

“May I take your order?” says the perky waiter to Cait and me. “What would you like?” I think to myself, “I’d like someone to simplify the menu for my famished neurons which are teetering on the brink of that shaky kind of hunger and mindless thinking born of going too long without eating. Will someone just circle in red the item that most appeals to me?” After standing aside letting other decisive people go ahead with their orders, I mull over the menu as if I were deciphering hieroglyphics in the Book of the Dead. 

Book of the Dead

Finally, I decide on the chicken salad. Yes, the chicken salad.  Then, I must decide if I want a full, or half order. Are we sharing (as we frequently do), or ordering separately? Remarkably, the (still smiling) waiter endures patiently as I think aloud, consulting with Cait about immediate and pressing decisions as we stand, conspicuously taking up precious space, at the ordering counter.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

My daughter, long ago having grown tired of my process of choosing a place to eat, as well as what to eat, turned the entire mass of decision-making over to finicky me. Cait says, “I don’t care where we go. I’ll eat anything. You decide.” I’ve heard this jaded dictum many times before. Ugh. After pleading looks, she helps me decide that we’ll share the chicken salad sandwich. “Is it for here, or to go?” says Mr. Cheerful. Again, pleading looks (not wasted on Mr. Cheerful).  Finally, the waiter decides for us. Sometimes, noting our creased eyebrows and hem hawing around about if we have or haven’t got time, he decides he should make the food to-go. Other times, calmly smiling as we try to read each other’s thoughts, we supply just enough evidence that we’re not quite ready to leave. While they make the food, we discuss whether we should sit inside, or out. It’s only 106-degrees F. outside. The heat should prompt a snap decision, but the imagined charm of sitting at a sidewalk café delays the verdict. When a girl with a computer leaves one of the few little inside tables, we quickly decide to stay inside where it’s cool, and snatch up the spot against the wall with alacrity and a sense of triumph over all other aspiring (and perspiring) customers.  




We’ve repeated this process several times in past weeks, with varying results, but we always go through the same process of decision-making. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I enter that little shop—which I really like!—I patently reenact the same decision-making fiasco. A day or two ago, we again made a delivery and went to get a sandwich. “Mom, do you want chicken salad again?” my daughter probed with a subtle pleading in her voice, (the true meaning of which was: “Must we share chicken salad again?” Whereas I am a creature of taste bud habit, she likes a wider variety of palate pleasing tastes. Sharing with a finicky eater can be boring for the adventurous connoisseur of lunchtime cuisine.) “We don’t have to get chicken salad, Cait,” I said, explaining my apparent dyslexic confusion with the menu. I added, “To hurry things up, I always get the same thing.” (And I like the chicken salad.)  There is often a line behind us, and I don’t want to make people wait eons while I decipher the Rosetta Stone. 

Rosetta Stone

She helped me focus on and order a turkey sandwich—the optimistic waiter sensed a breakthrough at this speedy-er decision. He hastily scribbled “to-go” on our ticket, only to have to change it to “dining-in,” as Cait pointed out during the ensuing at-the-counter-discussion about whether we should stay or take it with us that she had other errands to run before returning home. To his credit, our waiter, Mr. Cheerful, never lost his ever-jovial demeanor. While we consumed our half turkey sandwiches, I struck on a plan—I studied the menu while I ate, and decided in advance on a custom sandwich for our next visit. Yes! I will be ready for the next sandwich order. I will nip the demon decision-making weed in the bud.


But what of all the other critically insignificant decisions that have to be made throughout the day?  Should I put the dark clothes in the wash first, or the white clothes in to soak? Which direction should we go on our walk? Shall we take brownies or chocolate chip cookies to the potluck? (That there’s chocolate requires no decision.)  Walmart or Target? And the most infamously, critically insignificant decision of all: What shall I make for dinner?




Giving credence to things that really don’t matter may give one a false sense of decision-making prowess. (Either that, or make one crazy!) Although I will probably continue to puzzle over menus, chicken salad sandwiches, and my closet, these insignificant things really aren’t worth expending thoughtful energy on, so unrelated to and irrelevant are they when compared with the real, truly significant, heart-wrenching, life-altering decisions we all face from time to time. 



These insignificant kinds of decisions are best summed-up in a few short sentences:

Madonna Lilies

And why take ye thought for raiment? *Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  … For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:28-33)

Madonna of the Lilies by Alfonse Mucha


 And this, my dear friends, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, is truly a good decision, worthy of thought and energy. I know when I do this, all other decisions–great and small–fall into their proper places and I feel peace.

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

©October 5, 2014

*I’ve included a link to a beautiful, peaceful Youtube recording of “Consider the Lilies.” Sit back, relax, and clear your mind as you enjoy this lovely song.