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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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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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“A Story Stuck in My Mouth”

 

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Blog Post #45

I have a sweet, precocious, six-year-old friend named Violet whose natural exuberance and keen mind often make it difficult for her to refrain from talking. While sitting next to her in church on Sunday, during the administration of the Sacrament when it is especially expedient that those in attendance are quiet and reverent, Violet continued to chatter away in a whisper I could almost comprehend, but not quite. I leaned over, put my arm around her small, but capable shoulders, and whispered for her to save what she wanted to tell me until later. At first, she nodded her head in assent, perfectly understanding the expectation. Then, after sitting quietly for perhaps fifteen seconds, she looked at me with that wonderful candor that children of her honest temperament possess, and quietly exclaimed, “I have a story stuck in my mouth!”

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And so she always does, and those wonderful stories easily glide from her articulate tongue to those with willing – and I suppose for some, not so willing – ears. I love Violet’s intelligence, I love Violet’s vivacity, and I love Violet’s stories.

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I find that, like Violet, I also have stories that are stuck, but not so much in my mouth as stuck in my brain. Being of a more taciturn nature, and with less ready wit than Violet has, I prefer to tap out my stories on a keyboard where, for me, thoughts flow more easily than they do when I must trip over the large, lumpy obstacle in my mouth.  (I am referring to my clumsy tongue, but I am forced to acknowledge that my foot is often just as great an impediment to articulate speech as is  my tongue).

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Just as it is difficult for Violet to rein-in the marvelous things that spill out of her mouth from her brilliant mind, it is equally difficult for me, without an easy gift of gab, or a particularly brilliant mind, to rein-in a desire to write. Each morning, I get up with a long list of to dos that I know I must attend to. While I’m scrubbing the toilet or picking up groceries, I feel an itchy sort of urgency to drop all of it and run with carefree abandon to my drafting table and begin typing away. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I do (even when the main feature playing on the screen of my mind is blank)! It doesn’t matter that I can say nothing in a million words. What matters is the need, the desire, the setting free of those things that are stuck within my mind and heart, begging for expression.

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Writing is a means of liberating those of my thoughts that haven’t the ability to take any kind of intelligible form in any other way. If I try to speak them, they come out in a terrible jumble. I am constantly apologizing for saying things wrong. Or I stand, mute, on the sidelines hoping silence will serve my companions and me better. Or I speak, and let the “fool” out.

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It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

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Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. – Plato

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Stuck-y-ness may apply to other things, too. Instead of stories, perhaps songs and poetry are stuck within sore and bleeding hearts. Maybe movement, dance, or athletic prowess is stuck in petrified or disabled limbs. Maybe the desire to see the world is stuck in a nine-to-five workweek, or a tight pocketbook.  Maybe a love of numbers, technological wizardry, social awareness, education, or countless other interests become stuck inside hesitant spirits. Maybe a burgeoning desire to make lasting friendships is stuck in a heart that doesn’t recognize its own self-worth. Or maybe hope and faith are stuck deep within a fear of the unknown.

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Maybe you know what’s stuck inside you, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think that when you un-stick what’s inside of you there won’t be anyone who will value your offering. Maybe you feel it’s too soon, or too late to try.

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I’ve always had a story stuck in my mind. I didn’t always know it, though. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I woke up to the fact that I had always had stories begging to come out. At a young age, I made books. Lots of books. I wrote mysteries, children’s stories and poetry, and illustrated every page. (In fact, most of the artwork I’ve created during my life has been illustration work – telling stories with pictures.) As a teen, I continued to make books…hand-bound books filled with pictures, and an outpouring of the tender feelings I had for my family and friends. One would think the production of books, making hard-bound, cloth-covered bindings, sewing in the pages with needle and thread, and filling them with illustrated stories would be a big enough hint to realize that writing and stories were important to me.  Not so. It took half a century before I figured out that writing had always been, and still is, for me, the satisfying channel of expression connecting my secret harbor of thoughts to the open sea of communication with others.

97bb6635c0317d74ff72b7761d791047It amazes me that Violet, at the tender age of six, is already cognizant of the stories stuck in her mouth that she longs to express, and it further amazes me that she is eloquent enough to relate that desire to others.

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Certainly, it is important to learn appropriate times and places to give expression to one’s innate desires; a worship service is probably not the best time to tell one’s stories. It’s important for children, as well as adults, to learn socially acceptable behavior, courtesy, reverence, respect, and self-mastery. Even so, perhaps you may learn, as have I, a lesson from Violet. It is important to know in one’s heart, as Violet does, that one has a gift that aches for expression, to acknowledge that gift, and to discover how to set it free at such times and such places as will most benefit oneself and others.

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We may be profoundly instructed from “…the mouth of babes” (if we will only listen).

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This is Violet. I love Violet.

My dear little friend, Violet, please keep telling me your stories. I’m listening.

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End Piece

© November 1, 2016

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

*All of the beautiful pictures included in this post, save the one of Violet, are public domain images, most of which originated in, or are covers from children’s storybooks.


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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.

Hobble Creek

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. 

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Riding bikes in the neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

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

Claremont sidewalk crack

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

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

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

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

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

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

 

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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.

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At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

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

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

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

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A quick visit at the airport

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

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.

1034 Maryhurst Drive 1960s2

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….

Craig ca1970

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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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Quercus_robur Oak

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

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

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

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Southern California Orange Grove

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

sycamore leaf

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

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

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A lone and unique Oak tree

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

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

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

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

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

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

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

 


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Nearly Perfect

Blog Post # 21


Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.


    A woman approached a bouquet of silk flowers, investigating it closely. She zeroed in on the only rose, reaching to touch the petals and whispered, “Is it real?” Judging from the other flowers in the bouquet, I shook my head, and told her I didn’t think it was. Drawing back her finger, she remarked confidently, “It’s fake, but the rose looked real—it isn’t perfect.”
    This silk rose was unlike some—made with small imperfections. Reproductions of nature are sometimes created in perfect symmetry and form: a dead giveaway that the reproduction is a fake since things in the natural world tend to have blemishes and inconsistencies. At first glance, a rose may appear perfect, but even the most perfectly formed rose is, upon closer examination, likely asymmetrical, or may have a spot of brown, or a gimpy petal.

    It is in these little departures from perfection that we see the true beauty of the rose. Each rose, though coming from an abundant proliferation of rose bushes around the globe, bares its own individual distinctions and, if I may, flaws. I wonder if all roses were identical in shape and arrangement—clones of one paragon of perfection—would we find them boring or monotonous? (Well, probably not.) But even “flawed” roses are perfectly beautiful.


    The same is true of other things. When electronic keyboards became popular many years ago, I occasionally had the displeasure of playing one. The older, economical models had the action of a toy piano, and the tone of a toy accordion. Many of the keyboards were only half the size of an eighty-eight key acoustic piano. Try playing Wagner’s Wedding March for a bride on such an instrument (I know–I had to do it once), and you’ll find the results as laughable and embarrassing as if the Olympic Fanfare and Theme were played on Kazoos. 

    Early Electronic Keyboard
    Kazoo

    Recent electronic and digital instruments have improved on those early models. They come with headsets, improved hammer action, full-sized keyboards, and a variety of sound options. But there’s one thing these modern instruments lack—flaws in performance sound and delivery. Digital tones can be beautiful, functional, and astonishingly versatile, but without the small distinctions and inconsistencies in tonal quality created by the vibration of strings and the resonance of a wooden sounding board the sound they create is manufactured and flawlessly, monotonously consistent.  By nature of their design, acoustic instruments have distinctive character that makes their reverberations unique and moving.

    Piano Sounding Board

    When my daughter was purchasing an acoustic piano, we walked together through the warehouse trying out different instruments. Each piano, including those made by the same company, had a distinct sound, action and quality because each piano was made from a different kind of wood, from a different tree, with slight variations in the wound strings, and so on. Each had a unique identity—a unique voice. These inconsistencies created character. Where one had a bright, full sound, another was subdued or thin, another rich.  It was somewhat like choosing a friend to interact with for years to come. It had to be the right fit. 


    Among book lovers, there is a newer debate of preferences between digital books, audio books, or “real” hardbound or softcover books. I was, at first, skeptical about Kindles when they first came out, holding fast to traditional books. Then, a few years ago, while waiting hours for Jury Duty to begin, I noticed one of my fellow jurors reading on a Kindle. I asked her what she thought of it, and her response was positive. She let me hold it, heft it, and look at the appearance of the writing on the screen. “Humph…,”I thought, “It’s OK, I guess.” But I wasn’t sure I could get used to such a thing. There’s something about holding a real book, the weight, the feel, the sensory experience. Flipping pages. Those things aren’t possible on a digital screen.


    My sister, Karen, and I attended several educational conferences together many years ago. Before each conference we packed up boxes of encyclopedias, reference books, and resource materials with which to work while we were there. We lugged those heavy boxes up and down flights of stairs to and from our room each time we went for the sheer joy and anticipation of what was to come! On more than one occasion, we skipped less appealing activities (such as rafting on the Truckee River, or going on a “field trip” into town) in order to pursue more exciting prospects (such as sitting in our room pouring over encyclopedias while writing curriculum for home school)! A notepad or laptop would have made our lives much simpler and less burdensome in those not so long ago days of the late 80s and early 90s.    


    After considering the many conveniences of a notepad, I invested in one a couple of years after seeing the juror’s Kindle. I have since read many books on a digital screen, and am convinced the technology opportune and valuable. There are advantages to the notepad format. Just as a pianist carries an entire orchestra in a portable digital keyboard, the notepad carries an entire library in a very small, lightweight package. (Not to mention the multiple other uses and apps included in its convenient and compact form.)


    However, after having read several books digitally, I’m convinced that there is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned book to soothe the eyes, and to enjoy a more satisfying, sensory experience with reading. 

    Old Books: Flawed on the outside, but what’s inside remains of value

    A digital screen poses the same problem as the silk rose and the digital piano: no apparent flaws. The well-lit, non-glare screen is bright and easy to read even for a passenger riding in a car at night. (Note: I said “for a passenger,” not for a “driver!”) Pages turn smoothly, and have easy bookmarks. It’s possible to make notes and to highlight words and passages. Perfect. Yes?


     No. Not quite.

    A local church leader recently challenged members in our area to reread the scriptures during the following six months on an inexpensive, paperback copy, and to make marginal notes of impressions and inspiration received during the reading. I dutifully bought said scriptures and began reading and making notes. It has always been my practice to make copious notes, and to record impressions and inspiration while reading the scriptures—even when using my laptop or notepad. However, while reading the paperback text, I discovered something unexpected. I was profoundly impressed with the difference in my experience rereading the bound paper book, instead of the digital screen. 

    Isaiah 7: On my Android


    Subtleties of light and shadow falling on the page, the character of the paper, and the appearance and selection of the words may all be incidental to one’s study. But after reading from a monitor or screen for a period of time, I couldn’t help but notice that these physical elements caused certain words to stand out, catching my eye and my attention, and leading to further thought and sometimes to new understanding. The sensorial experience far exceeded any experience I’ve had staring at a flat, brightly lit screen, and helped me to “listen to” the layers of meaning within the written words, to understand and relate them to my own life in a more personal way. The ease of writing notes and impressions in the margins was not only simpler when done by hand, but it was almost as if the personal inspiration I received became one with the physical book of scripture in my behalf.

    Isaiah 7: My scriptures

    All this was not possible to the same degree on a digital screen. Why? Because of the absence of flaws. The irregularities in the printed text, the wrinkling pages, the layout on the page, the play of light all influenced how I saw and felt the words. I didn’t just read, I poured over the words. I studied, I reviewed, I basked, I feasted. My fingers could rest on the paper without accidentally turning the page or inadvertently causing some other kind of action to happen. The feel of the thin paper was a tangible connection to the written word.

    And what of the flaws in people? We all know they exist, and sometimes we aren’t particularly thrilled about those others may have, not to mention our own . Once, when I was bemoaning the behavior of my children, Karen shared an insightful comment. “What if, every single day, every one of our kids got up and came in like perfect little grown-up automatons, sitting on the couch without doing or saying anything out of order. Wouldn’t we be shocked if they acted like that? Would we really want it that way?” 



    As I pondered this, I realized that, though challenging at times, their variety of behaviors—good and bad—were extensions of precious personalities; part and parcel of growth, development and becoming. No, I wouldn’t want little automatons any more than I would want them all in comas. I was happy with the little people I loved sharing everyday life with. Hindsight has shown that those seeming flaws were building blocks to some profoundly important traits and gifts, needing time to channel and mature.


    One day, when my oldest child was only four, we lived in a cute little rural community where we spent most of our free time in the garden, and visiting friends. One day, I took my little ones and walked the several blocks to the home of a close friend. As I approached the door, I accidentally heard through apparently thin walls my dear, laughing, seemingly perfect, never-raised-her-voice-above-a-whisper friend yelling at her children! I stopped in my tracks. I certainly wasn’t going to knock on her door at that telling moment, when it would have been impossible for her not to recognize I had heard through the walls. We backed up into the street, waited a respectable length of time, then returned and knocked on the door, cheerfully gained entrance, and had a wonderful visit. The point is, from that day forth, I felt an extra special bond with this friend. She was like me: flawed. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know that she had imperfections. Who doesn’t have them? It was that I hadn’t witnessed them before. Etiquette, good manners, propriety all summoned imperfect, flawed beings such as my friend and me to be on one’s best behavior when in one another’s company. It wasn’t dishonesty; it was decency, respectfulness, politeness. If those walls hadn’t talked that day, I would have missed perspectives I sorely needed—to know I wasn’t alone in my own flawed life; that other “good” people were also flawed, while striving to be better each day. Flaws don’t make a good person bad; they just make them real, and interesting, and familiar. 


    The scriptures teach us to be perfect. Here are just two examples of this commandment:
    James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
    Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
    Flaws are a part of nature, including human nature. We are all flawed, but not hopelessly so. Each soul is on a journey, and walks at a different pace, occupying a different location, along the path. All face obstacles on the path, and must learn to dodge, hop over, climb above, or wade through them. Flaws are among those obstacles and are necessary parts of the journey. Through them, we grow stronger, more humble and teachable, and if we desire it, filled with more faith and hope and trust in God.


    A *wise man once shared the following story:
    When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is. [W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 37]



    How true of us all! Certainly our development not only encounters, but invites flaws and mistakes. When a baby is learning to walk, it falls over and over again. But we wouldn’t say the baby is flawed! We recognize the baby is just young, just learning. We think the baby cute, sweet, and tenacious. We are all like the baby, like the rose. We may sport gray hair and wrinkles, but we are still in process of development and growth. And that’s OK.

    After all, aren’t the rough edges of a rolling stone merely flaws that will wear away in time, producing a refined and polished gem? The flaws, instead of becoming scars, will add depth, interest, and flecks of lasting wisdom and beauty. The very flaws we once despised may become vehicles toward perfecting our natures. 

    Rough Opal
    Polished Opal
    Turquoise: Rough and Polished

    And then, there’s always the rose—in every stage of development…perfectly beautiful, and “perfectly all right as it is.”




    * The wise man who gave the talk entitled “The Authority of Personality, Competence, and Character,” that included this quote, was Marion D. Hanks. The talk can be found at http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1970.

    © November 7, 2014