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Recipe for Life

Blog Post #32

loaf-of-bread-wheat

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.

 

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©  October 5, 2014

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


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A Wonderful Life (or, When the Best Laid Plans Take a Detour)

Blog Post # 16

George Bailey (James Stewart) “It’s a Wonderful Life”


Sometimes, I feel a little like George Bailey, the main character in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. George had big dreams for his future, but a series of life events and personal choices thwarted his well-laid plans time after time. The comparison between George Bailey and my life ends there. I have never considered jumping off a bridge, nor have I had an angel step in to show me what life would be like without me. But I can relate to the detours he experienced.

When I was a little girl, I had a long list of professional aspirations that I rattled off mechanically when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up: ballerina, artist, pianist, singer, cartoonist, seamstress, interior decorator/home designer, and more. I had no qualms about pursuing all of these careers at the same time; wasn’t that normal?
“Harmony” by Bessie Pease Gutman
Somewhere, in the more secure alcoves of my heart, I also knew I would be a homemaker: a wife and mother. I never thought to include marriage in my perfunctory list. I took for granted the idea that home and family would always be a part of my life, so I thought about it as much as I thought about my heart beating. It never occurred to me that there might be detours.
“Love is Blind” by Bessie Pease Gutman

Years passed. School days flew by. One by one, I discarded some of my former career choices, relegating them to mere hobbies and interests—even disinterests. I zeroed in on an artistic target. This made sense, and felt right since almost every waking moment of my youth and young adulthood was spent with a pencil in hand. Drawing was akin to breathing—an almost involuntary reflex of life.


“A Girl Writing” by Henriette Brown

During elementary and junior high school, I loved  everything Charlie Brown and Peanuts. I even wrote a personal letter to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz, feeling honored to receive a personal letter of encouragement in return. I narrowed my view to becoming a cartoonist, and set to work creating comic strips. At last, after acknowledging that I wasn’t the least bit funny, I discarded the idea of becoming the next Charles Schultz.

Growing into my high school years, my interest reached to include Walt Disney, a man I had always admired, and whose imagination and creativity I revered. Reading biographies of his life, studying books on The Art of Animation, and creating an animated film for a high school project, I settled on a career as an animator. When the time came, I was hard-pressed to find a college offering courses in animation. (Today, there are many schools well equipped to prepare future animators, but when I was college age, they were rare and expensive.) With youthful energy and optimism, I did the next best thing: I started working toward an art major, figuring I could work my way up from the bottom rungs of the professional animation ladder.
Again, plans changed when I met Mr. Right  (Brad), and married after completing my second year of college. Suddenly, the career that had always stood in the wings took front and center stage: I became a wife and after a year of work, a mother. (I worked that year in a hospital of all places! Off the charts when it came to where I wanted to be).
Over a period of ten years, we accumulated five little chicks in our brood. Mother Hen was now nestled into her coop and happy to be there. Difficult as it might be for a hen to hold a pencil in her feathers, hold a pencil I did! I kept drawing and imagining I might have a career as an illustrator on the side. Anyone who has been a full-time mother of five little ones knows it requires every minute of a 24-hour day.  I was content to draw pictures for my family and for church responsibilities. I made home school materials, games, toys, posters, flyers, programs, and a multitude of greeting cards and drawings that were routinely given away.


When my husband was recovering from a serious neck injury, I found part-time work from home illustrating a children’s phonetic reading series that included illustrations for over seventy-two individual books! At last, I thought, I am fulfilling my career goal as an illustrator. At first, the work was fun. The creative juices flowed freely and I spent the wee hours of the morning drawing and inking book after book while my children slept and my husband worked the night shift. It wasn’t long before the work became repetitious and tedious. The small paycheck I garnered did little to alleviate the monotony of the job. There was a sense of satisfaction in helping our little family financially, and I was doing what I thought I wanted to do—a combination of illustration and cartooning.
 

A few of the Phonetic Readers I illustrated in the early 1990s

Hindsight truly brings clarity, and with that illustration work, I realized how monotonous working as an animator—the Old-School kind, repeatedly drawing by hand the same images over and over with only small increments of change—would have been. I was grateful I had not become an animator, for I certainly would have been on the low rungs of perpetual boredom and the professional ladder.    
Teaching a cartooning class 

With some of my students

When our children grew older, I took a job at an elementary school working with special needs children. Bringing to the school setting the knowledge I had gleaned through homeschooling, and work as an associate of an educational consultant, I found multiple opportunities to use my pencil to create art. Part of my time at school was spent working one-on-one with students. The remainder was spent writing curriculum, visually modifying materials, turning our classroom into The Big Woods, or a time machine, making theme-related costumes for the kids in our class, creating large wall murals and props, teaching an extra-curricular cartooning art class, and making the library across the hall into a magical castle. It wasn’t exactly what I had dreamed of, but I did manage to serve as an artist, seamstress, interior decorator, and, oddly enough, even as a writer, all rolled into one.

My granddaughter visited our class as Laura Ingalls 

Wall in our classroom

Adjacent schoolroom wall
Education, curriculum development and writing had never once entered my mind when I was planning my list of careers as a child, yet they became the trifold center of my semi-professional life. Like George Bailey, a series of life events and personal choices dropped me into those waters, and I swam with the current.
George Bailey taking on his father’s Building and Loan Business


Sometimes, the things we think we want are completely inconsistent with our true inner compass. The choices we make, even when they appear to be thrust upon us, are still our own choices. As difficult as it was, George Bailey made the decision to take over his father’s position at the Building and Loan office. While I had touted becoming an animator for a decade, there was certainly no coercion involved when I chose to get married instead. I chose to have children, to home school, and to take a job at the elementary school. As I seized these new opportunities, I always found ways to assert my personal gifts, and develop my interests.  I didn’t abandon the things I loved and wanted to do, I just adjusted the hats I wore when doing them, and added new interests, new horizons, new understanding, and potential skills along the way.

Through these detours, I learned I was capable of new, enjoyable and interesting things; things that were true to my inner compass. Things I had never before considered. One of the things I discovered as a result was how much I loved to write.

Hindsight is a great crystal ball. Reflecting on my past, I have been astounded at all the overlooked, misunderstood indicators in my life that pointed to writing as something I would enjoy! As a child, I spent part of my summer writing a newspaper that included crossword puzzles, recipes and stories. Over the years, I wrote, illustrated and bound many small books with hand-stitched pages for fun, and as gifts for  family members. When ten years old or so, I wrote little chapter books we now drag out every decade or two for a good laugh. One was a Nancy Drew knock-off, the others original inventions. I took copious notes all through school, and enjoyed writing poetry, and creative writing assignments. I wielded my pencil without connecting the dots that writing was as enjoyable and important to me as drawing. Strange, how I could be so blind to my own preferences.  
 

A few childhood attempts at writing

And the point of writing all this is…..? The truth is, I didn’t set out to write any of this. I sat down in front of a blank page and gave my hands permission to start typing–just for fun. And they did. For me, writing presents those rare moments when I don’t feel I have to meticulously plan everything out. 



I seldom know exactly what I’m going to write about. It’s often a surprise–full of detours. Often, topics I’ve dutifully outlined in advance struggle for a permanent position on the page. Instead of flowing, they almost immediately clog in a P-trap of muddied, stale, over-ripe thoughts and ideas. But those times when words flow out like pure waters from a pristine spring—fresh, clear, and illuminating–make writing an adventure and a joy! I discover things about myself, and things about others. I discover things I know, and things I didn’t know I knew. I discover hidden things, too—metaphors and analogies about life that develop word by word, like Polaroid snapshots.  
 

Polaroid camera and undeveloped picture


It’s good to have a plan. It’s good to aspire to worthy goals.  I believe these principles and try to live by them. It can also be good to allow for a change of plans—to see opportunities, tendencies, and desires less rigidly. Sticking to Plan A may just turn out to be a dead end, where Plan B, or C may lead to multiple doors opening to broader growth, unforeseen talents, and increased joy. Sometimes those doors are thrust upon us, and sometimes we can’t see where the door will lead. Some doors we may bolt shut because we’re too proud to admit that a door that’s different from the one of our choosing might be better. There’s always a choice involved. That choice may be as small as opening the door and walking through it, which brings us back to George Bailey.
George Bailey’s plans


George Bailey had plans—big plans! He also had choices. Compassion drove his decisions, the consequences of which sometimes caused him frustration and even despair.  But the detours he encountered also further developed and refined the goodness of his character, leading to a bevy of faithful family and friends. An illuminating door was opened—to see life without him in it—and with that epiphany, every door that led to life–regardless of pitfalls and setbacks, no matter how far from his plans—looked good to him.
 

The angel Clarence gives George a chance to see life without him in it

Like George Bailey, I began early on making plans. Big plans. My life has been full of twists and turns, and like George Bailey, around every corner there have been choices—hard choices. I have to say that, although I’m not at all where I once thought I would be, I’m so glad I’m where I am. I suspect the plans I have—that we have (Brad and I)—may detour again—in fact, we’re riding a detour right now that has brought countless joys and blessings.
Thanks, George Bailey, for reminding us that though life may not turn out as we planned, it really is a wonderful life.
© August 16, 2014