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

Blog Post # 42 

RFSleepingNymph

“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

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

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

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

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

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

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

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

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

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

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plato

 

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

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

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

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

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

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

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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

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Escargot or Babbaluci

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

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A Snail’s Trails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Helix aspersa

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

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

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

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

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

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

 


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In Search of a More Normal “Normal”

Blog Post #36

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nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

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

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What do you consider to be “normal?”

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

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

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

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Example:

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

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

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A Normal Life

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

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

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

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

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

More Normal Behavior

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

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

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

“That is NOT normal thinking!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Serious Business” by Charles Dana Gibson

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

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A Normal Person

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

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Karen and me—a long time ago

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

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

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

Normal Things

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

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

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

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

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Bathsheba Smith

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

 

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

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

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

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

Is this normal?

You be the judge.

End Piece

© February 24, 2016

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

 

 


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“The Art of Transformation”

Blog Post #28

*Dear Friends, I am pleased to share this article written for a recent issue of The Mogul Muse Magazine, of which I am currently Writer-in-Residence.

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“You can fly, but that cocoon has to go!” – Mary Ellen Edmunds

There is a word feared and avoided more than most in the English language. It threatens, it cajoles, it looms, it surprises. It induces stress and heightens anxiety. It is both menacing and nurturing. Innocent in its intentions, it is the standard-bearer of growth. In most cases, innocuous, it can brighten one’s perspective, act as a harbinger of hope, and create anticipation and excitement, yet in the same breath, it may grip one with fear. What is this simple word? It is change.

Why does change create so many diverse and emotionally charged reactions? I believe, by its very nature, it suggests the unknown. Let’s face it—the unknown can be unnerving. Especially when change creates unknowns in things close to one’s heart—one’s being, one’s thinking, one’s relationships, or one’s way of life.

Change is like that. In a moment, the Unknown may rear its precipitous head, and normal life goes topsy-turvy—a layoff, an accident, a death. But in all fairness, change doesn’t necessarily denote something bad. It can also bring happy surprises. A new baby, for example—one moment, in mother’s womb, the next, cuddled and adored by the whole family. (The household still turned upside down, but the repercussions are, for the most part, positive.)

Here are a few possible examples of positive change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

Now, consider if you will, a few possible examples of negative change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

The power of change as a force for good or ill depends largely on how we choose to view it.

Change Apron

Interestingly, it is the nature of change to be unsettling, even in the best of times. Clinging to the apron strings of any kind of major change are tinier seeds of change that potentially produce positive or negative results, or both. A new job may bring better pay, but longer hours and more stress. A wedding brings blissful joys at the same time generating expenses, difficult decisions, and perhaps stirring up familial issues. A new home may mean a fresh start, more room, or better location, but it may also mean leaving an old home, changing schools, and leaving friends behind. A move is, at best, stressful, but may open up a variety of new opportunities.

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Like foxtails that work their way into the fabric of life, tiny seeds of change riding on the backs of greater changes poke and prickle until one takes notice. For example, an injury may carry with it foxtails of fear and uncertainty about one’s future, as well as cockleburs of faith and determination. The injured may choose complete debilitation by cultivating the seeds of fear, or he or she may choose nurturing faith over despair, engendering newfound strengths and the ability to inspire others. In choosing to nurture the good or the bad seed, a transformation will occur. Plucking out the annoyance, while planting and nourishing the good seeds of change, will over time, transform those seedlings as they grow into good fruit. Neglecting potentially good seed, while allowing bad seeds to fester, will eventually cause bitterness and further tribulation.

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‘Change” may, at first, appear to be the ‘bad guy.’

Changing oneself is the most disconcerting transformation of all. Purposely seeking to change aspects of oneself may mean recognizing an inherent quality that is unhealthy, destructive, or unworthy. On the other hand, it may mean cultivating positive attributes that are underdeveloped. In purposeful transformation, change may itself appear to be “the bad guy” (it’s difficult, it nags, it’s demanding). But after effecting change, “the good guy” emerges (it got easier, I no longer need reminders, I triumphed). The fruit of change then appears and validates with improved health, healthier relationships, increased gifts and talents, peace, hope, and shared joy.

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The fruit of ‘change’ has the power to convert ‘bad’ into ‘good’

Some seek change for the wrong reasons, such as to fit someone else’s standard or ideal of beauty, or to feel a part of a group, cult, or clique. While it may be advantages to conform to higher standards of morality and appearance related to a worthy institution or belief system, to seek to lower one’s true nature for the sake of popularity or acceptance is self-deceptive and may very well be self-destructive.

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A classic example of transformation is represented by the life cycle of a butterfly. At first, a caterpillar eats and eats and eats, preparing for the pending change of circumstance. Once it builds its chrysalis, it fearlessly faces the unknown—it doesn’t know exactly what it will become, or what the process of “becoming” will be like, but it is committed to fulfilling its mission. Consequently, it is bound-up in a tight spot of its own making for a while. I suspect it is cramped and uncomfortable, and endures growing pains during the process of transformation. At last, it emerges, a new being, with a new demeanor and wardrobe, and a new means of transportation. No longer will the caterpillar be forced to creep and crawl, but will now have wings to flit and flutter about the garden.

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Does the butterfly fret and stew over the chrysalis? Does it drag it along wherever it goes? Does it cling to its old ways of doing things, crawling instead of flying? The answer is an emphatic NO!

Indeed, the butterfly embraces the change in its entirety. It moves forward with a sense of mission and purpose. It is fulfilling the measure of its creation, and by so doing has and gives joy.

Transformation may be rooted in our thinking and belief systems. If we believe change is good, or that we can or should change for the better, then we stand a better chance of effecting positive results. If we believe there’s no point to change, and that we can’t change, we will essentially remain stagnant.

Consider the following two versions of a wonderful fable of transformation, each having a different result.

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1 – The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken:

A baby eagle became orphaned. He glided down to the ground from his nest but was not yet able to fly. A man picked him up. The man took him to a farmer and said, “This is a special kind of barnyard chicken that will grow up big.” The farmer said, “Don’t look like no barnyard chicken to me.” “Oh yes, it is. You will be glad to own it.” The farmer took the baby eagle and placed it with his chickens.

The baby eagle learned to imitate the chickens. He could scratch the ground for grubs and worms too. He grew up thinking he was a chicken.

Then one day an eagle flew over the barnyard. The eagle looked up and wondered, “What kind of animal is that? How graceful, powerful, and free it is.” Then he asked another chicken, “What is that?” The chicken replied, “Oh, that is an eagle. But don’t worry yourself about that. You will never be able to fly like that.”

And the eagle went back to scratching the ground. He continued to behave like the chicken he thought he was. Finally he died, never knowing the grand life that could have been his.     

My First Blog Post EVER! 2 – Fable of the Eagle and the Chicken:

When an eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.

A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.

The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he “pretended” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. “I told you it was a chicken,” he said.

The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the chicken coop. He jumped from the man’s arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.

Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, “It is a chicken.”

The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: “Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.

Both stories are from Walk Tall, You’re A Daughter Of God, by Jamie Glenn

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Truly, you are not caterpillars. You are not chickens. Figuratively speaking, you are butterflies and eagles. Embrace worthy transformation….

Fly!

What if I fly

~~~~~~~~~~~

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© May 22, 2015

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


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Duet

Blog Post # 27 

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I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!

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Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.

When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.

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My mother during her college days

It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!

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My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…

When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.

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After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)

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Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.

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Amanda with my mother.

When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.

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My son and his wife playing piano together.

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They really get into it!

When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.

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Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!

I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music. Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.

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My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.

There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.

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Caity and Brad

I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.

The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.

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My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.

There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.

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 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.

It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.

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Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.

Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.

Amanda and Grandma playing the piano together, 1997?

Some of the family enjoying a duet.

But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?

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When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!

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

© May 6, 2015


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It’s About Time

Blog Post #26 

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(*Originally written March 29, 2015)

Last night, I discovered I had allowed my domain account to expire. This means that my blog disappeared. I called my excellent blog savvy daughter for help (she helped me set it up in the beginning) and through her instruction got the domain reinstated. However, this morning, when I checked my blog, it was still gone. Feeling a little panicked, I called my daughter again. She began the task of trying to get my blog platform back on track.

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My daughter has a busy life, and already spends a great deal of time dealing with internet/computer issues. I felt terrible taking up so much of her time trying to fix my problem. I might have sidestepped this puddle of problems if I had had more foresight. It bothers me to think of the time she has been wasting on my account.

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In contemplating this, I began to think about Time, and why I hate to see Time wasted. What is time, anyway? It is something elusive and intangible, and yet can be such a taskmaster. It drives us out of bed in the morning, dictates meals, events, chores, and other activities, commands punctuality, but begs for relaxation, and may even wake us from a sound sleep in the middle of the night worrying about meeting its demands later on.

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We willingly submit to Time’s regimentation, too. By choice, we invite Time to control our very existence in offensive ways. For example, we set clocks—sometimes, right next to our heads—to blast annoyingly loud and obnoxious sounds at ridiculous hours to startle us out of bed. We wear Time as jewelry, or as part of our clothing ensemble, to carry its nagging influence with us every waking hour. We even place large timepieces in conspicuous places in every venue we visit to remind us who, or more aptly, what is in charge. For it is Time that people rush to meet, check on to stay within obscure but rigid bounds, and that tells us when we can take a break. We are literal slaves to Time.

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So what is Time? It’s one of the most difficult things to define and capture. It has no substance, no shape, no mass, nor profile. It cannot be visualized except by how it relates to things that happen during its reign. A timeline depicts key events occurring during Time’s tenure, but it does little to help us understand the true nature of Time itself, except to point out that it exists—you guessed it!—throughout the span of TIME! Yes, for millennia, mankind has bowed to its strict dictatorship, without ever catching hold of what it is.

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Interestingly enough, for all the things Time isn’t, there is one thing Time is: Time is measureable. We can calculate how much we need, how much we’ve used, how much is left, and how long till we press the “reset” button to have another chunk of Time to use or waste as we see fit.

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For me, it is a rare and precious commodity. I have been known to hoard it. I have often wished for more of it, but it is extremely stingy and precise. It gives the same to everyone—be they king, peasant, homemaker, or businessman. It matters not where on the globe you live, or how rich or poor you are. It treats all people—young and old—with the same tacit economy. Either you adhere to its dictates, or you live the life of a vegetable. Ha! Even a vegetable bows to Time—for vegetables grow and change and decay, and growth and change of any kind need Time in order to occur.

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What of wasting Time? I detest the thought of it. What do you consider wasted time? I have a long list of things that fit into that category. Some of the things I might consider a waste of Time, you might find valuable and high on your list of worthy uses of Time. It is a personal thing. It can be hard to define. On any given day, something you once considered a total waste of Time may become of great value, and on another day, it may be the opposite. Through the lens of Time, things can become distorted, or possibly, more distinct and accurate. Priorities shift, bow, and adjust to Time’s influence.

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An ever-changing spectrum of activities spins round us on a daily basis—one eternal round of things to be done that take up a tidbit of Time here, a boatload of Time there—taking more Time or less Time than is adequate or desired. Even things done routinely may be categorized as requiring more of our precious Time than is truly needed. Take, for example, dishes, meal preparation, and laundry. They make their appearances in a routine fashion—day after day—to the point of becoming a burden or a nuisance to many. They hover there in the vacuum of Time while we try to wish them away. Thinking about them may take more Time than actually doing them, making Time deceitfully cunning at stealing away Time from the unwary, or more especially, from the Procrastinator. (A Procrastinator is Time’s evil twin incarnate.) If we “time” how long it really takes to clean a meal’s worth of dishes, we may find it only takes a matter of minutes, whereas the Time spent dreading and thinking about the chore may eat up hours.  

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Wasting Time can be a stress inducer. It can cause an otherwise sane person to have bouts of temporary insanity. An example of this it when one wakes up with a list of  pertinent “to dos,” but fills the early morning hours sitting at the computer dillydallying with social media, instead of effectively knocking off things on the list. Another example might be when one gets sidetracked by a box of old school memorabilia when one intended to clean the closet in which said memorabilia was found. By chance, one looks up at the (ever nagging, blatantly scolding) clock, and notices hours have passed, and that in thirteen short minutes one is supposed to be showered, dressed, and out the door for an important engagement! One suddenly moves from a state of relaxed euphoria to a panic-stricken maniac! Suddenly, everyone and everything in one’s way is at fault, and an obstacle to one’s top priority—being On Time!

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This is not one of my time wasting issues. I learned my lesson about wasting time in that manner a long, long time ago.  I trifle more with Time at a different level. I try to outsmart it. I lie in bed of a morning, after watching the clock every hour on the hour to make sure I don’t oversleep, and bargain with Time: “If you will give me fifteen minutes more to sleep, I will make it up later on by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier.”    Or “If you will make this hour that I need to get ready for company go by at a slower pace, I won’t complain about the slow hour spent in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.” (Only sometimes, I still complain.)

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Ah, such are the lengths some of us go to try to manipulate Time, all the while knowing, deep down, that Time is staunchly unwavering. It is as constant and consistent as the rising of the sun. And aren’t we grateful for that? For how would it be if we couldn’t depend on the very seconds, minutes and hours of life to mark out their space exactly as they do? We would be like a child at the beach, ever chasing the waves lapping the shore—in and out, back and forth—never exactly knowing which wave will overlap another, pulling and tugging and catching our toes unaware, ever knocking down the sandcastle plans of our lives.

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For Time, all are “created equal,” and this is a blessing. No one can gain the advantage over another by having less or more of it, or of moving within it more quickly, or more slowly. No one can travel back in time, or into the future. It is fortunate, indeed, that no one can tamper with time, wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people and creating immeasurable chaos. Time is an “equal opportunity employer,”—how we choose to use the Time given us is what matters. Those who squander it will never be able to make up for that which they lose.  Those who respect it, using it carefully, prayerfully, and wisely will be able to look back on their Time without regret.

How I wish I had taken the time to keep my blog domain up to date. I currently wouldn’t be suspended in time—waiting to post this to my blog. It is a lesson well learned. I grew up with the saying:  A stitch in time saves nine. I have supposed this meant that if one made the required stitch when a hole first appears in a garment, one would save nine extra back-pedaling stitches to repair a larger hole. (Sadly, I have experience with this.) I would like to translate this saying as meaning: taking appropriate action at the appropriate Time will save nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or maybe nine years.

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This has long been a favorite poem of mine. It is taken from a Time marker—a sundial—at Wells College, and was penned by Henry Van Dyke.  I share it with you as a last, profoundly accurate statement on Time:

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The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,–
The NOW on which the shadow stands. ”

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*I am happy to report that all issues with my blog are now resolved, thanks to my very capable daughter, Thalia.

You may have noticed the new platform for, and format of my blog. A little change now and then can be a good thing.

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

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© April 9, 2015