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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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(Please, don’t let my) Dreams Come True!

Edward Burne

 “Sleeping Beauty” by Edward Burne-Jones1871

Blog Post #49

I have cuckoo dreams. My nighttime line-up makes Monty Python look like the archetype of sanity and normalcy.

I write down many of my nighttime dreams for two reasons:

  1. I have been told there is hidden meaning in the symbolic nature of my dreams
  2. Such silliness is good for a laugh

My son-in-law, Erik, is my “Dream Interpreter Extraordinaire.” He is quite expert at recognizing and deciphering what he says are obvious metaphorical representations of my psyche. I often approach him with some of my dreams over Sunday dinner, and am always surprised at the accuracy of his interpretations, because they really do ring true with the things I have been feeling—the stresses and issues I have been dealing with. And perhaps that is the point of my dreams, but that doesn’t make them any less weird.

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In my youthful days, the dreams I most remember were recurring dreams associated with illness. When a headache or fever came on, so did one of the recurring nightmarish dreams.

But my dreams took a marked turn for the comedic worse after I married and began to have children. My first memorable episode involved a transparent stomach with bicycle handles sticking out of it. (And the dreams only got worse.)

Here are summaries of a few others:

In my dreams….

… I was alone on a beach, arms outstretched, with an alligator clamped down on the fingers of each of my hands, their bodies dangling down to my sides.

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… I was swinging by my heels from the rigging on the mast of a yacht (and enjoying it).

… I was Elspeth, the fairy Godmother of all.

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… I was standing in the middle of a box-shaped room that had no windows or doors, but that was full of floating peas. I didn’t dare move or the peas would go up my sleeves, or in my shoes, or into my nose, or in my mouth….

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… I was playing a small role as a maid in a play in which I, first, picked up a pile of stapled receipts that Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet were motioning for me to take offstage, next I flew with flair down a zip cord glider, then, (as inconspicuously as possible), I picked up bushels of tiny lemons that had rolled onto the stage.

… I was riding a brake-less bicycle down a steep hill in San Francisco, and was shocked to see—independently hanging in the center of a hole in the sky—the roots and part of the trunk of a gargantuan tree (the top of which rose through the clouds out of view).

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A sketch made in the middle of the night to remember the bizarre dream of a tree emerging through a hole in the sky

… I was trying to get off a modern, streamlined, ship, fatefully named “The Titanic.”

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One of my dreams even had a commercial break!  The commercial was of a cartoonish female skunk paddling the leaf/nut boat she was sitting in. The skunk’s name, I knew, was “Sally Rushkin.” I was certain she was a character from 1950s TV, and I was delighted to see her appear on the TV screen of my dream. I awoke from the dream during the middle of the night, and got up to draw a picture of Sally Rushkin, so I could look her up in the morning. I was completely surprised to discover there was no such character as Sally Rushkin in existence!

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Sally Rushkin  —  middle-of-the-night sketch 

These are just a few of the volumes of dreams I remember having dreamed over my lifetime. I often wonder about those I’ve forgotten. I suspect that, in this case, forgetting was a good thing.

It’s interesting that we live in an era when the stuff “dreams” are made of—princesses, superheroes, pirates, magical creatures, aliens, futuristic space, shires, ball-parks in corn fields, and make-believe worlds that children and adults alike get lost in are present in all but every waking hour of our lives. Images from these kinds of dreams are worn on costumes, T-shirts, tennis shoes, and backpacks, and appear in a wide variety of merchandise. You can’t escape this stuff—from cereal boxes to phone cases, from nightgowns to music lyrics, at theme parks, in films, and on the pages of storybooks—people, places and things attributed to the fantastic world of dreams are everywhere.

The phrase “dreams come true” has become commonplace, characterized as a happy idea, filled with immeasurable promise of fairy dust, adventure, and the Force.

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But when I look at MY dreams, I am struck by the contradiction. I don’t want my dreams to come true. Honestly, I don’t! It’s enough to experience such surreal, terrifying, silly, nonsensical, weird, abstract foolishness while sleeping at night! So often, it’s a blessing and a relief to wake up before the dream (or sometimes, nightmare) ends. If, in fact, my dreams are a metaphorical representation of some truth about my life that my subconscious mind is trying to let go of, to solve, or to find some resolution for, then I certainly don’t want to face those kinds of issues in such bizarre ways during my waking hours, too!

In fact, I love, yes, LOVE, the stable, predictable, routine of my life. I love the absolute assurance that zombies will not arise in apocalyptic rebellion, that I won’t awake to find spacecraft the size of Rhode Island hovering in the sky over my house, that flying dragons aren’t going to torch our neighborhood, that the stairs I climb aren’t going to, suddenly, move or change direction of their own accord, and that there aren’t ogres, orcs or other horrible demons lurking in our National Parks, or skirting the freeways we frequently travel! Surely, in real life, mankind has already assumed the roles, or created the equal, to most of these nightmares. I don’t wish for my cuckoo dreams to come true, and add to the craziness, and for that matter, I don’t wish for anyone else’s dreams (or nightmares) either!

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I have loved the dream of a dream as much as anyone! I have wished on stars, and at wishing wells. I have hoped for fairy tale endings, and for magical moments in my life. I will always have a tender spot in my heart for the idea of magic and fairy tales. But I prefer they remain in the “dream world” of storybooks and imagination, and not become part of my reality.

We should take great care in what we wish for, because sometimes what we wish for we get.

As I was contemplating my kooky dreams this morning, I felt immense gratitude for true “magic,” which is not nearly as enchantingly magical in imagination as it is in real life.

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My newest granddaughter. A sweet miracle.

My tiny, new granddaughter is a miracle of creation. Wondering about the sphere she left behind to come to earth, the intricate beauty of her tiny little fingers and toes, her beating heart, downy soft skin, the scent of newness in the small of her neck, her spirit awakening to earth life and the immediate and unconditional love of family—are these not magical?

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My granddaughter and her newborn son. Heaven on earth.

Walking a shady wooded area with my eldest daughter, the sunshine beating down from high in the heavens, warming our hearts and our shoulders from the chill in the air, birds dipping and soaring overhead, the bright blue blossoms off the side of the path that had sprung into existence, bringing us joy—are these not wonders and mysteries?

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Walking a peaceful trail at Oak Glen with my daughter, Thalia

The laughter of children, the hugs and greatness of their love, the joy beaming from their faces, the potential brimming in their souls—are these not dreams that have come true, or are worthy of coming true?

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Our son, Jesse, and his twin daughters.  Unbounded Joy!

Even though I love Disney movies, when I think about the lyrics from Disney’s original animated movie “Cinderella”…

“A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep…”

…I hope with all my heart that those words will never be true of the vast majority of my nighttime dreams!

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“Dreamers” by Albert Joseph Moore

The hopes, dreams, and aspirations of my waking, daylight hours are much more charming, enduring, worthwhile, real, and hopeful than anything I’ve experienced in my sleep. Born of beauty, knowledge, joy, and a clear vision of life, and brightened by the promise of Eternal Truths and Saving Grace, my “dreams” for the future and beyond subdue and trample those less worthily conjured by a reckless imagination at night.

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Baby Blue Eyes – the delightful  blossoms we spied just off our path

I choose to place my hope and dreams in promises such as this:

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”

1 Corinthians 2:9

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End Piece

©April 7, 2017

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


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Untangled

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

Blog Post #47

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

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

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

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

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

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

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

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

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

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

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

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the pattern.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

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

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Planting Apples Trees (A Veteran’s Day Offering)

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Blog Post #46

On this Veteran’s Day I ask the question: What is greatness?

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When I think about what makes someone great, I can’t help but think about planting apple trees. *John Chapman, AKA “Johnny Appleseed,”was the son of a Minuteman who fought at the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill. Chapman spent a lifetime planting and cultivating a tart variety of apples, called “spitters,” (because that’s what you’d do if you bit into one), but which made good cider. He purchased lands to homestead, planted fifty acres of trees on a parcel, then sold the land to settlers throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. His travels took him over 100,000 square miles of wilderness, and by the time he died, he owned 1200 acres. Avid in his Swedenborg faith, he remained unmarried and chaste throughout his life, and was an advocate for all animal life.

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Apple Cultivars “Spitters”

It wasn’t in the planting of trees, or the harvesting of apples, his unusual rustic garb, or his travels that made Johnny Appleseed great. I believe his greatness was in his unselfish labors, in planting something good for others to enjoy at some future time (rather than hoarding the fruits of his effort for himself). The backbreaking work of clearing land, preparing, planting, and cultivating fruit-bearing trees was not a passive hobby. It required sweat and toil. It was a labor of love and a selfless sacrifice. That’s why I think of his planting of apple trees as greatness. When someone plants an apple tree, knowing they will not benefit from its shade, fruit, or beauty, that’s selflessness, and selflessness for the good of others is greatness.

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Those who serve our country know what it means to give selfless service. They often sacrifice family, health, convenience, personal time, and the fruits they may have planted in their homeland of America, leaving a bounty of the blessings of preserved freedoms for those at home to enjoy while they labor on foreign soil.

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My father, Joe Culotta, is at front left.

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My Uncle Albert Mascari is standing 4th from the left

My father’s generation—the World War II generation— was truly great. Most of their generation understood and strived to live lives of decency, courage, self-sacrifice, self-mastery, and fortitude. They laid their lives on the line for the good of their families and others, for the good of their nation, and for the good of the world. Many, like my father, stepped forward and volunteered to serve before the draft. They saw a need and rose to the occasion without coercion or intimidation. They gave all for their beliefs, and for a love of liberty, and they did it without complaining or whining.  They were a willing and hard-working generation, and they did so honestly and with humility.  Sure, there are those who bucked this standard, but they were comparatively few.

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My mother, Veneta Mascari, was asked by Henrite Product Corporation to join the war effort working as a draftswoman in 1944

Those of that generation who remained at home were great, too. They worked for the USO, and stocked the garners of liberty with their offerings, doing what they could: newspaper drives, rubber drives, sewing, cooking, entertaining troops, and giving what they had to give. My mother wrote to servicemen, and worked as a draftswoman for the war effort. These folks had love of country branded in their hearts, and that patriotism appeared in their music, movies, conversations, billboards, and by their home fires.

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Yes, there were evil folks in that generation, too. Yes, there were those who were lazy, self-serving and contemptible, and no, I’m not suggesting that their generation alone cornered the market on that which was great. There are many great men and women from generations prior to theirs, as well as after, and also today. There is much good in the world today.  While we are bombarded with the notion that society, in general, is tipping the scale in a direction away from decency and selflessness toward incivility and self-gratification, and there does appear to be more concern about who is “wrong” than what is right….And though the banks of meaningful conversation are overrun by a glib texting of words and tweets, and an inability to listen to or value what is precious to another, or to find the common ground that unites us as a people, and as members of humanity….And even if much of what we see and hear casts the pendulum as swinging away from civility…. Even though it is possible, even probable, that all of this is rooted in truth, I look around at my neighborhood, and am grateful to see an overwhelmingly quiet, industrious, respectful and generous body of people. These are good people who care about each other, and perform quiet acts of service for neighbors – neighbors they didn’t choose, but have embraced.

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We have neighbors who took the trouble to build a counter on which they freely give away lemons and limes in season.We have neighbors who bring us delicious persimmons, peaches, and plums – sharing their bounty with others. We have neighbors who create marvelous light displays for others to enjoy during the holidays. We have neighbors who overwhelmed us with their kindness when death reached our doors. We have neighbors who anonymously leave flowers, notes, and gifts on our doorstep. We have neighbors who take in our mail, and return our garbage cans without our asking. We have neighbors who are decent, kind and serve others. We have “great” neighbors; we have “Johnny Appleseed” sorts of neighbors. I hope we may be found in every way equal to our neighbors in these selfless acts of  goodness.

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9-11 “Tribute in Light” Memorial

We are all the same, really. From my perspective, 9-11 gave proof of that. When 9-11 happened, for a small moment in time, the people of America laid aside personal biases and agendas, and became one in charity and in patriotism – linking arms, hearts, and minds to comfort the downtrodden, provide aide to the suffering, and preserve what was most dear to us all.  For a moment, we as a unified nation assumed the attributes of the greatest generation.  In most scenarios, we saw others the way we saw ourselves – vulnerable, hopeful, and in many ways, equal. We cared about each other because someone from without was threatening our way of life and our very lives in a very real and tangible way.

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Abraham Lincoln

In Abraham Lincoln’s famous Address, which he delivered to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” he said these words:

“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

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Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1846

During the 1858 Senatorial campaign, Lincoln also said:

“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”

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Believed to be the last known surviving apple tree planted in Nova, Ohio by John Chapman 

It’s not too late to plant apple trees instead of “the seeds of despotism” for the next generation…to leave a positive legacy for our children – for our posterity – of hope that feeds the body and soul with the fruit of goodness, kindness, truthfulness, respect, tolerance, faith, and love. It’s not too late to live for others.

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“John Chapman: He lived for others.” 1774-1845  (What a great epithet!)

“Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1858 Senatorial campaign)

End Piece

© November 11, 2016

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


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Tribute – For Karen

This post is in memory of my dear sister, Karen, who passed away on November 25, 2015. Today would have been her 64th birthday.

Blog Post #44

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My beautiful sister, Karen

I wanted so badly to write a special, light, uplifting, and even humorous post for what would be my sister Karen’s birthday, but my brain appears to be in a creative vacuum. Nothing’s coming. One of the last times I saw Karen, she said, “Cynthy, why don’t you write about the funny things that have happened to us…” I have touched lightly on them – albeit indirectly – as part of other blog posts (see “The Day Off,” and “Home School Daze”) but I haven’t devoted an entire post to our silly exploits, and for good reason. How do you squeeze sixty years of tender, laughable, serious, yet ridiculously splendid fun into one blog post? How do you condense gallons of life’s shared experiences and communal thought into a pint-sized tub of impressions and words? How do you turn an epic novel into a pamphlet? Each time I try to write something, I find myself trying to sort a plethora of emotions and events into categories that overlap and snag like woolen sweaters with Velcro. It isn’t a nice clean process. It is fraught with every imaginable detour.

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Karen sent this picture to me a year ago. The statue is of Princesses Luise and Friederike of Prussia by Johann Gottfried Schadow…Sisters.

I need to do a little backtracking now, so the rest of what I write will make some kind of sense.

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Karen and me. I’m the baby. See how happy I am? I had a sister who loved me – and liked me!

On a particular day, a long time ago, my mother insisted it was time for me to clean my closet. I remember sitting on the floor by the open closet, surveying the enormous landfill of an obstacle before me. My mother came in, and sat down beside me on the floor. (My mother rarely sat on the floor.) My courage bolstered by my mother’s presence, we faced the formidable confusion and jam-packed neglect that was my closet together. We opened boxes and scrapbooks, discovering mementos that tugged on our heartstrings. We sat at the closet’s threshold for the better part of the day, reminiscing about each item, each moment, each memory—and cleaning the closet. The closet was an all-day job—not because there was so much to fold, sort, organize and get rid of, but because it took all day to relive each memory to the fullest. At the end of the process, I had a tidy, organized closet.  I still had a box or two filled with wonderful mementos that we’d placed back on the top shelf—pushed to the back—to visit again during the next cleaning, but more importantly, every time I opened the closet after that, I was reminded of my dear mother—the time she spent with me that day, creating memories. I loved cleaning my closet…when my mother helped me, that is. It isn’t as much fun to sort through one’s past alone. But sometimes, it’s not only necessary, it’s the only option.

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Karen and me in 1955–I was one, and Karen, three.

I have, lately, been spending a good deal of time in my former bedroom—the one of my youth,—which was converted into an office for my father decades ago, after I had married and moved away. Just last week, I opened that same closet with the intent of going through things and cleaning it out. In my mind’s eye, I felt myself sitting on the floor with my mother as we had over fifty years ago. Perhaps she was there in spirit with me. I’d like to think so. But whether or not she was, this time, I had to face the closet alone.

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Christmas 1957. Our mother is holding our brother, Craig. 

Karen passed away this past November, and my father followed her home to God on August 1st. The house feels strangely quiet and vacant. My husband and I still live in it, but it seems like an eternity since Daddy was here. Everywhere I look, I am reminded of my past, of my family, of a joyful childhood, and of loved ones now departed. Oddly enough, I am also reminded that we have a future before us, and I wonder what it will hold.

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I had always imagined going through the house with Karen when my father returned Home. I imagined us reminiscing about things, cherishing the memories, and just being together—much like going through the closet with my mother. My brother, Craig, spent a wonderful two weeks with me after Daddy died, initiating the process of going through stuff, but it flew by all too quickly. His present circumstances won’t allow him to return for a long time. So the bulk of the burden has fallen – like a heavy brick – on me. Thankfully, my wonderful, forbearing husband, Brad, is anxious and willing to help, but as amazing as he is, he can’t do what Karen would have done. Although he listens benevolently, he can’t bring to mind, or reminisce, about my early childhood, nor is he in a position to comprehend the deeply ingrained meaning of apparently meaningless things. He does well at sympathizing with the tender emotion surrounding these virtually indescribable treasures of memory discovered in an old button, or a stained handkerchief, but only Karen was in a position to fully understand their significance, and the enigmatic layers of meaning and memory embedded within. Even Craig, though only three years younger than I, and often a part of both of his sister’s schemes and amusements, was never quite as entrenched in many of our guarded sisterly mysteries.

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Karen and me. Playing dress-ups. 1957. 

It is a well-known fact that the best-laid plans don’t turn out as you expect. And that’s partly why it’s so hard, today, to write about Karen.

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“Sisters in the Vineyard” by Kirk Richards (Karen also shared this picture with me because it reminded her of us.)

Karen was my only sister by birth. We were alike in so many ways—including our looks—people often mistook us for twins. Indeed, we felt we knew what it was to be twins. For the longest time, I saw myself as an appendage of Karen—right down to choosing the same silverware pattern when I got married (even though I didn’t particularly like it!). Both of us could finish the other’s sentences. We had like interests, tastes, and opinions on many things. For the better part of our lives, we were not only sisters, but closest, dearest confidantes and friends in the truest sense.

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On the boat to Catalina with Craig, our mother, Karen and me (I was about 15 – 1969)

After living in close proximity to each other for many years, and sharing family life so intimately that our children felt like siblings, LIFE took our family a great distance away in pursuit of better employment. During that separation of fourteen years—though we did our best to see each other as often as time and circumstance would permit—it seemed we went a great deal of time with less contact than was normal for us. LIFE changes altered Karen’s circumstances and thinking on certain matters during those years, as well. We were both busy with families of teenagers that made traveling for visits more difficult than when our children were young, but we remained decidedly close in those essential things of the heart.

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Karen’s birthday, 1973.

The fourteen-year mark of living so far away brought significant changes to Brad and me—an empty nest, and an aging father.  We rented our home, stored our belongings, quit our jobs, and determined to move home for Daddy. Not only would we be with Daddy in the childhood watering hole where the entire family habitually liked to herd, but we would be in close proximity to Karen again. I was thrilled! But as with most thrills, it was short-lived.

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Karen and me (left) giving our dog a bath. About 1973.

Wouldn’t you know…just after we moved in with Daddy, Karen remarried and moved out-of-state. Her life became a whirlwind of accumulated frequent flyer miles. She and her new husband, Steve, (a pilot) were always on the go. Sometimes, Daddy’s home was on the list of destinations, but much of the time, it wasn’t possible. Karen had a large and newly blended family to nurture and visit. On those rare occasions that we were together, we crammed in our hurried visits between her endless computer work, and visits with Daddy, then off they’d zoom to see other family and friends. The travels Brad and I made were limited due to our situation with Daddy, so I relied heavily on those visits Karen made to satisfy my longings. Dreams of talking and laughing into the wee hours, musical jam sessions, wandering botanical gardens and Disneyland together, and a wide berth of creative pursuits were mostly shoved into a dusty old box and pushed back onto the top shelf of the overstuffed closet of my heart until the time would arrive when we could retrieve it and savor each cherished moment together. I envisioned dusting it off in the future, and pulling it out—like a wonderful Christmas gift filled with endless pleasure and insurmountable joy.

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Karen and me during our home schooling days. About 1992.

As years passed, and visits proved too infrequent for my hungry heart, I revised my plan. As soon as Brad and I had seen Daddy safely return to his heavenly home—I would be in a position to spend more time with Karen, to make trips to her house for more lengthy visits, and to do all the things I had longed to do with her for years (that I had thought we’d be able to do while I was living with Daddy). We would have time to pick up where we had left off so many years earlier. We were still both fairly young. Things would work out.

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Craig, our mother, me, and Karen. 1990s.

Ha! But LIFE doesn’t consult the poor future-planner, even when her plans are worthy and good. No, LIFE likes to throw curve balls that are impossible to see coming, and that are even harder to hit…and that’s just what happened.

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Me (left) and Karen. August 2006. 

Karen became ill, and retired to her home three states away where few saw her, including family. During the two years of her illness, we enjoyed only a couple short visits together in her home (when I had stolen away small parcels of time from brief trips to visit our children living in the same state as Karen). By the time Karen became completely home bound, Daddy’s needs had also escalated, requiring twenty-four hour care, which left no room for Brad and me to both travel together. Stalemate.

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Me, Craig and Karen. 2007.

Thus, the last time I saw Karen was the result of heaven-sent (and truly the tenderest of) “tender mercies.” Brad took off work, and stayed with Daddy while I drove across state lines to witness a grandson receive a special ordination, as well as to pay a little visit to my sister, whom, I discovered while there, had been given an unexpected and staggering prognosis of only two to three weeks to live! (She was gone a little over two weeks later.)

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Karen with her husband, Steve, Brad and me, and Daddy. 2009

I guess you could say that I was in a stupor for quite some time afterward—and maybe I still am. I walked out of the hospital that trip knowing it would be the last time I would see my dear soul mate of a sister in this life. (You may wonder how I walked out of the hospital at all? It was one of those miraculous moments when heaven supported me on wings of faith, and a spirit of peace and calm surrounded me.) I knew we would be together again someday, when I, too, pass through the veil that separates mortality from the spirit world. But even the strongest faith doesn’t take away the sting of missing someone in the meantime. I miss her now! I miss her being here. I miss all the things we might have done together. I just plain miss her. Daily, I am reminded of some little thing I want to share with her. I see things I want to laugh with her about – things only she would know and understand.

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Steve and Karen, Brad and me. 2009

Today, I was emptying the dishwasher, putting a cup away in the kitchen cupboard. Standing with the cupboard open—the same cupboard I had taken dishes in and out of since I was a child, I imagined I was holding one of two small vintage drinking glasses with little brown deer printed on the glass that I had found at an antique store in Colorado at least ten years earlier. They were identical to juice glasses we had used as children—now long broken and gone. (Back in the late 1950s, the milkman brought them, filled with cream cheese. After the cheese was consumed, a cute little drinking glass remained. I don’t know why I remember this…I just do.) An overwhelmingly pleasant feeling of nostalgia swept over me when I saw those same inexpensive little glasses in the antique store, so I bought both of the ones they had for sale, thinking how Karen would love seeing them again, too. Years rolled by during which I secretly planned to surprise her by serving her with the little glasses during one of our visits—if only to see the look of happy recognition on her face. I knew they would bring her as much simple pleasure as they had me. All these years they have waited in storage for that ideal moment when I would, once again, be in possession of my own things, and could surprise Karen on one of our future visits.

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This is a picture I found on the internet of the same little cream cheese juice glass we had as children. (I bought two of them at an antique store.) Circa 1950s

It’s a little thing—a teeny thing. But I was so looking forward to sharing them with Karen. Today, as I thought of those silly little glasses, I knew it would never happen, and that there was no one else in the world with whom I could share that simple pleasure and have it mean as much as it would have meant to her. As small and silly as it was, it left a huge hole of loss in my heart, and I wept.

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With Daddy on his 90th birthday. Karen is on the right. 2013

I miss those simple kinds of things the most, I think. Those little, tender, sweet moments that are so ordinary, but that we shared with delight. And there were millions of them. They are doomed to remain boxed up on that closet shelf until I step into the realm of eternity where she now is.

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Ah! How this reminds me of our time together, and our time now gone–music and books and being together. How I miss my dear sister. “When Apples were Golden and Songs were Sweet but Summer had Passed Away” by John Melhuish Studwick

This is not what I wanted or intended to write in memory of Karen’s birthday. But I wanted to write something as a tribute to her, and I do remember her—every single day. For now, this is the best I can do. I’m sure that sometime in the future I’ll feel inspired to share lighthearted funny stories that will flit from my heart and onto the page with carefree abandon just as they were once lived. For now, on the first birthday in which I cannot mail her a card, make a phone call that she would be able to receive, or take her out to lunch, I will tell everyone with my pen, that I love my sister, Karen! Words are cheap, thin and wholly inadequate. They can never convey the extravagantly rich depth of feeling behind them. When I left Karen’s bedside for the last time, I left a significant part of myself there with her—burrowed deep within the innermost pockets of her heart—and that is where she always was, and will always be in mine.

Happy 64th Birthday, Karen. I love you forever.

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End Piece

© September 30, 2016

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

 


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“Dwell in Possibility”

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

Blog Post #35

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I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

pos·si·bil·i·ty

ˌpäsəˈbilədē/

noun

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

My First Blog Post EVER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I chose Joy.

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

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

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

*2 Nephi 2:11

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Copyright February 9, 2016 

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


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Back Door Blessings

Blog Post #31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back Door Blessing – Example #1: Kitchen Fire

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

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

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Back Door Blessing – Example #2: Broken Neck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know I do.

© August 21, 2015

© July 15, 2015

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