Dinner Invitation

I read a query on one of the genealogy message boards I read, asking the question "if you could have a dinner party with any of your ancestors, whom would you invite?" Now, that's an interesting question!

My ancestors came to America at many different times, from my own Mom who was an adult when she immigrated, to an ancestor before the Revolution. I would ask each immigrant ancestor to my dinner party, to learn from them what dream they sought in the new country. I would love to know how they made such a momentous decision, and I would love to hear them discuss with eachother the experience and compare notes. Obviously, at my imaginary dinner party, everyone speaks English. Ha!

I would like to talk to that stepmother, generations ago, who was so loving to so many children who were not her own. I would love to hear someone tell me what this nation looked like, back when it was still wild country. And wouldn't it be interesting if they could see what followed in this land, partly for their efforts.

A good part of the conversation would have to revolve around the Civil War veterans, because I'm a history buff. I'd have to ask that great-great-grandfather why he concealed his religion and race, and did he lie about being a war veteran, as some people thought?

It would be a treat to meet the girl my grandmother once was. I would ask them all to tell me about life in the old country, and life in the new world. Tell me, ancestors from France, did you really know Marie Antoinette?

Why did you choose The United States, and not South America, Australia, or the next province over from home? What exactly were you getting away from, and running toward?

Was America what you expected? How so, or how not? What became of your brothers and sisters? I know some of them came over with you. What about the ones you left behind? How did your parents feel when you lit out for a place so very far away? Did you have trouble with the language, and with making a living? Did it look very different from what you had known at home? How long did it take before this felt like home to you?

If somewhere in that branchy tree there is a Native American, I'd sure like to talk to you. Was there a slaveholder, or a slave? Come have dinner with us. I have questions. I'm curious about the rest of you, too. When did you choose to follow a new faith, and why? Did you like your neighbors? Was it a nice town?

My grandfather was a participant in the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike. (Read about it, it's interesting.) Grandpa, tell me about that experience? Did you guess at the time how important to history that strike would become? The same grandfather was 13 years old when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, and lived to see a man walk on the moon. What did you think of the astounding changes in the world that happened during your lifetime?

On a more personal note, what were your fondest wishes for the generations to come? Are you pleased with our progress, or are you worried about our path? Did you ever guess that your progeny would become so many, and so far-flung across the nation?

What would you like to tell me about who you are, what you accomplished in your life, and what you didn't? What do you want me to know about you, and what would you rather I never found out?

A Little White Lie

For most of my life I have been disdainful (in a nice way, of course!) of "sheeple"...you know.... those folks who happily believe whatever they are told, follow the herd and just generally live a life of mental absence. I recently discovered that I have a streak of sheeple in me, too.

My soldier boy called home on the Friday after Thanksgiving and we enjoyed a nice long talk. Somewhere in the conversation, he said that things had been very quiet (as far as hostilities went). I replied that even if he were in a very 'hot' spot, he wouldn't tell me, anyway. And he quietly agreed, sounding somewhat surprised that I was smart enough to have figured that out.

We hung up and I went happily about my day, content in the notion that my darling firstborn was safe and not getting shot at..... and then it hit me. In this particular situation, I wanted to be a sheeple. I wanted to believe him when he told me nothing much was happening. He might be telling a white lie to avoid worrying me, and I am willing to accept the lie. Even when his voice tells me that maybe things are a little different than he's saying. I'll swallow that white lie, hook, line, sinker, boat and MOTOR. I wonder if he tells his Dad or brother something else, but I don't ask. I am comfortable in my ignorance.

So I decided that for the time being, I will be a sheeple about the subject. I can't change it, I have no power to protect him, so I'll look the other way. And I'll look heavenward and hope that The One who can protect him will do it. I'll believe whatever he tells me, without scrutiny, and sleep peacefully every night.

Or maybe I'll start tomorrow.

A Mirror And A Magnifying Glass

My Grandma used to tell me that everybody came equipped with a mirror and a magnifying glass. Metaphorically speaking, of course. It is up to us to figure out when to use which--or both. Sometimes I think we get confused about the mirror. I think we forget to use the mirror we are meant to use, and instead use television, books or other people's lives as the image we want for our own.

I am susceptible to this, I must confess. And I am usually too chicken to use the magnifying glass and the mirror at the same time. It isn't comfortable to look at myself that closely. I read about something in a book, or I see it in a movie, and I wonder to myself why my own --whatever-- isn't like that. My own marriage, my own home, whatever. Even a happy person can feel dissatisfied. I admit that sometimes I feel like I am working way too hard to be this broke. It's all too easy to forget to be grateful that I have a good-paying job (that I like,even!!), that I'm not really so broke. Allocating money to other things doesn't mean we're broke. It's just a matter of priorities. But I still want a new dress for the company Christmas party.

So, I polished up the mirror and I cleaned the magnifying glass. The first thing I am trying to do is take a good long look at myself. Stop being a child, I tell myself. Delayed gratification is something you should have mastered by now! Appreciate all the blessings in your life! Be grateful that you never get the laundry whipped: at least you have clothes to wear. Be thankful for the elk meat in your freezer. Hungry people wouldn't be tired of it. (OK, there IS a small voice in my head saying that if they had been eating it for 24 years, they MIGHT be sick of it. And they wouldn't be hungry.)

I am going to stop using the magnifying glass on my sweet husband, and instead use it on myself. I can be a better wife. The magnifying glass is coming out a little more often when I am tempted to buy something. I'll keep it in my hand all day at work and pay closer attention to detail.

This is going to be quite a struggle. I think, just to ease myself into this new self-examination, at first........... I won't wear my glasses while I look.

More Words

The last post explored the comedy, flavor and color of our use of language. I failed to mention something very important! The emotion of our words.

My younger son is a big fan of the cartoon "Family Guy". He does a great impression of the way Stewie calls for Lois when Lois is distracted: "mom. mommie. mom. mOm. MOMMIE MOM" . What's more, my son thinks this is the most amusing way to get my attention lately. It is pretty entertaining; he has Stewie's voice down pat.

I admit it's silly, but I get a kick out of 6'3" guy calling me Mommie. It's more than that, though. There is some deep recess of my heart that is warmed by one of my children, calling me "Mom". I can hear 50 other kids use the word "mom" in a day, but when it's my child (however much a child they are NOT), calling me by the name that only they can, it tugs at me. My husband will tell one of the boys to 'ask mom', but the name doesn't feel the same as when my own child says it. That might be because if hubby says to ask me, I probably don't want to deal with it, either.

There is great power in some of the words we use, and in who uses them. Some words make you feel warm and comfortable just by their sound. The right words can make your soul feel warm and soothed, the same way holding a cup of fragrant tea can warm your hands and smell so good, too. Sometimes just saying the name of person about whom you feel strong emotion can bring all of that emotion to the surface.

A lot of couples use code words to express deep emotions--private words in public places. We had code words and phrases when our boys were smaller. One of my favorites came out of their grandpa's saying (pardon the grammar), "You got one kid, you got a whole kid. You got two kids, you got half a kid. You got three kids, you got no (expletive) kids at all."

All parents and teachers across the planet know this is a fact: children's behavior deteriorates in direct proportion to the number of children in the group. Three kids together will do things that one child alone would never dare. Grandpa knew that and expressed it in his usual barnyard kind of way. It was the birth of a code-phrase. When our boys had friends over and pandemonium was building, we would tell them "If you got one kid, you got a whole kid." We didn't have to finish the saying. They knew we meant that they were behaving like monsters and were about to be scolded in front of their friends--a fate of unbridled horror.

I especially like to consider the emotional response of ordinary words. I love to hear "I'm home.", and I love to say it, too. Remember a small voice saying, "Mommie, look!"? Since I have boys, that one was often a phrase to terrify me. As in "Mommie, look! No hands!" or "Mommie, look what I found! Can I keep it?"

One of the most mundane phrases is one of my favorites: "What's for dinner?". At least, I like to hear it when I do actually have a plan for dinner. Our soldier boy and his friends were talking about what they planned to do when the went on leave. The guys were talking about going to Las Vegas, or San Diego or New York City. My son said, "The heck with that. I just want to go home and eat my momma's cooking!" Those were sweet words to hear.

The day will come, some distance yet I hope, when a small voice will call me "Grandma". I'm not ready for that day to arrive in the very near future, but I am looking forward to. I think that will reach a place in my heart that is unique to that someday grandchild.

What's your word? Vacation? Friday? Superbowl? Think hard, now...you're looking for a word that reaches right down into your soul and makes you feel wonderful. What is the word? Grandpa? Pizza? Disneyland?

The Family Language



What are some of the words your children used, either made-up or mispronounced, that have made it into your family language? I know a lot of families who eat Ba-skeddi and meatballs pretty often. We have a couple in our house: noo-doos, because my youngest son loved noodles. And there's okie-meals, because my older son liked oatmeal. The years go by and the children aren't children anymore, but once in a while my son will still ask for parmesan noodoos with dinner.

If your family speaks English as a second language, you probably get a lot of first-language words sprinkling your English conversations. I noticed as my Holland Grandma aged, more and more Dutch crept into her speech. And she never did use the English pronoun, "I". She always referred to herself as "ik". There was something very charming about it. My Mom has a problem with migraine heddecks. She gets them often, and takes what she calls a "silly pill" for her heddecks. Silly pills render her unavailable for conversation for a few hours at least.

Then you get the family members who mispronounce words well into adulthood. My hubby's Grandpa once visited Hawallayah. You know? The place with the white sands and palm trees and flower leis? Hawallayah. A beloved aunt is very good at this business of making up words that are similar to real words. Flustrated, orienated, and Meeyanite are all her words. There are quite a few Meeyanites in the community where they have a summer house. Meeyanites have some things in common with the Amish, but are a bit less strict, I think?

We also have a dear family member who does not believe in silent letters. Sword is pronounced using all five letters. Some people leave letters out of one word, only to save it and add it to another word. Like those folks back east, who pahk the cah in the garage because it's a good idea-r.

I read somewhere recently that the sounds we use to pause, ah, um, er....are cultural. Other languages have different audible pauses. I never thought of that! How interesting. I thought "um" was universal. Then there is the nonsense word that means "nothing". I might say, thingamabob or whatchamacallit. My Mom's word for that is .... hold on to yourself.... "dingus". Yes. Dingus.

Since I am the youngest child, my distracted mother has actually introduced me to people as "Dingus". Larry McMurtry used that same word in a very different way in his book "Lonesome Dove." A stampede started just as one of the cowboys had stepped off his horse to pee. He didn't even have time to button up before he had to be back in the saddle. The trail crew was teasing him for having to ride with his dingus flopping. And this is the word my Mother uses, to this day, to mean a fleegiemawhatzus. Or whatsername, the youngest of her brood, whose name escapes her.

Words are such interesting things. I well remember an English class I had in high school. This is a true story. The teacher was lecturing about word connotation, and how the same words used by a different person or at a different time can impart a very different meaning. At that moment, our school principal Mr. B walked in the door and said in his powerful voice, "What are you talking about in here? Makin' it in the bathtub?"

No surprise that the class exploded in laughter. So the principal dropped off the book he was bringing to our teacher, and left, wondering what was so dang funny. The teacher, also laughing, told us how that was a perfect example of connotation. "Making it in the bathtub" in Mr. B's generation referred to making bootleg gin in the bathtub. It had nothing to do with the "making it" anywhere(!) that we had in mind. He also said that the phrase "making it in the bathtub" had become a catchall in that generation for doing anything you ought not. I suppose that part worked for both interpretations of the phrase?

In later years, I was neighbors and friends with a kind woman who had lost her hearing when she was two years old. I knew a little American Sign Language, and was taking a class at the college to learn more. We would walk and talk and she helped me learn much faster than signing to myself in the mirror would have done. She was constantly amazed by American English idioms. Amazed enough that she bought a book about them.

I had never stopped to think about our idioms before, but thanks to her, I had my eyes opened. A couple times a week she would ask me what some phrase meant. I'll be there with bells on. Do that again and I'll give you what-for. Over a barrel, under wraps, a smile for an umbrella and a dog day afternoon. You can think of a bazillion, too. Most of her questions for me were about the idioms and slang words that they don't print in those books. Some of them, I had to go home and ask my husband, and then try not to blush when I explained as best I could. Thank God I don't blush.

One interesting thing about learning sign language was about signing what you mean, and not the words exactly. Like the word "turn". You can turn around, turn up, turn over, turn over a new leaf, turn red and turn someone down, all before you turn in for the night. I didn't retain much of the language, but I did retain the habit of looking at my own words from that point of view.

It's a more interesting world because of the flavor of our words. The words we use tell others so very much about us. I have always contended, especially with my children, that the use of profanity decreases the perceived intelligence of the user by several points for each vulgar word used. I am not so foolish as to think that my young men don't cuss, but they know when to turn it off.

I like to hear someone speak when they use words which convey their thoughts clearly, colorfully, and creatively. I enjoy accents, all types, as long as they are not so thick that I can not understand the person. I was once a stickler for grammar and punctuation, but years pass and when I'm writing for pleasure, I get lazy about such things. Spelling still matters to me, though.

My children have good vocabularies. They use language well. They include a few foreign words in their speech, but mostly just names of foods. My son's letters home are wonderful. He tells a story very well. It's all because we have a national language with a rich heritage and family language with an equally rich heritage. Expressed in words....our words.

Grandma's Advice

My Grandma was the wisest person in the world. She lived through trials and tribulations that would leave most people broken, and came out of them smiling. She knew more about building joy in her life than most of us will ever learn. She knew about love, strength, tenacity, tenderness and tolerance. Some of her wisdom was passed on her little sayings, but most of it came by her example.

No one in our family would ever dream of getting married until we had Grandma's approval on the fiance. Not that she would pitch a fit--just the opposite, in fact. We all valued her insight and wisdom, though and every one of us made the trip to have our intendeds meet Grandma. I don't believe Grandma ever said much out loud, but her eyes and her smile told us. If Grandma liked you, you were alright.

One of her sayings was that marriage is like two stones rubbing together. Gradually, you wear eachother smooth. The little bumps that once caused friction would, in time, fade away. She also said that marriage is not a 50-50 deal. Her math worked this way: each spouse was to give 100%, and each received 100% in return. What constituted 100% would be more at some times and less at others. Each person's needs would wax and wane, too. She promised that if we each gave 100%, it would work out even in the end.

My Grandmother stayed very present in her life, through difficult times and calm seas alike. She was always learning, always interested and curious about the world around her. I believe that is one reason that she stayed sharp until the end. Even when she was confined to her chair or her bed, she somehow never became a couch potato. Her body didn't work very well, but her mind was as agile as could be.

I think that her ability to stay present in her life, living fully invested in every day, was a key to all good things. I am sure that is part of why her marriage was such a success. I think it is how she overcame the tragedies in her life, and how she stayed so amazingly "with it". She was never bitter and never dwelled on the past. She was more interested in the moment.

She was not what you might call a typical old granny. At 6 feet tall, she was no dainty lady. As a younger woman she had been strong, capable, a little stubborn with an amazingly undaunted will. She worked hard, loved deeply, laughed a lot and enjoyed everything.

Her ability to weather the storm, keep a positive attitude, and live according to her own lights is an inspiration to me every day. She's been gone for many years now. Whenever I feel like my patience is running low, or like my life is too complicated, I think of Grandma. I visit her in my thoughts and in my heart often. In some inexplicable way, she is still teaching me.

Envy vs. Admiration

Yesterday, a dear friend said that she wanted to be just like me when she grows up. I, on the other hand, find myself striving to be more like her in a lot of ways.

Her sweet compliment was prompted by a batch of bagels. I had never made bagels before and thought I would try my hand at it. They aren't as pretty as the ones in the bakery, but they aren't half bad. My friend seems to really like my cooking and admires it often. To me, it's no big deal.

This is the same friend I wrote about previously, the one who knows how to give. I admire her sweet demeanor--I tend to be a little too salty sometimes. Most of the time. She is patient and understanding where I get in a hurry and far too opinionated. Now how does a bagel compare to that?

It's interesting to me how we admire in others those traits they aren't even aware of. And how the things we take for granted in ourselves can be a wonder to our loved ones. I guess it isn't all that different from how all the curly-haired girls wish their hair were straight and all the straight-haired girls wish for curls.

I don't think that admiring special qualities in others means I don't like myself. When I go shopping with my husband I might point out a great dress or a cute pair of shoes. That doesn't mean I hate the clothes I have... And if he turns his head at a pretty woman, it doesn't mean he's ready to kick me to the curb. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about my friends is that they DO have qualities I admire and respect. Part of the reason I love my husband, aside from him being so dang lovable, is that he has some wonderful traits I appreciate in him.

My dear ones have some amazing assets and I wish I could absorb all those assets for myself. Intelligence, a sweet disposition, high energy, organization, beautiful long hair, patience, diplomacy, great penmanship, charm, artistic talent, a fine singing voice, great skin, social grace, perfect teeth, an aptitude for math.......it's a long list.

Maybe, just maybe, being close to such wonderful people will improve me by osmosis?

Napoleonic Dreams

We had a dozen or so laying hens in a coop. These were all standard-size laying hens…several Aracaunas, a few Plymouth Barred Rocks, one Buff Orpington and a couple of Rhode Island Reds. The chicken coop was situated in such a way as to allow our vigilant Australian Cattle Dog to patrol all the way around the chicken yard.

One morning, a rooster showed up. He was the smallest bantam rooster I’ve ever seen. I don’t think he was much more than a quarter of the size of the hens. We called him Napoleon. The poor little guy ran laps around the chicken yard, looking for a way in.

It reminded of an old movie I had seen, where the explorer peers into the valley and sees a tribe of Amazon women. Half the movie was about this explorer guy trying to get to the women. He was certain that a man would be very welcome.

Napoleon spent several days anxiously trying to get to the Amazon Chickens. Back and forth in front of the fence he ran, only to roost in a tree each night, alone and unloved.

And then one day, he was inside the fence. Oh, what a happy rooster was he. He focused his attention on the Buff Orpington. She stood out in that crowd. She was a blonde, don’t you know.
He was on top of her back, riding her around the yard. She was feeding and scratching as hens will do. Napoleon was on her back having a mighty fine time, tail wiggling, as roosters will do.

Except he was nowhere near where he needed to be to accomplish anything. He was just getting a piggy-back ride and taking care of himself at the same time. Buff couldn’t have cared less.

Being a normal rooster, he visited all the hens this way. If he ever …ah… succeeded, we never saw it. He just hopped on and did his thing without interrupting what the hen was doing at all.

I’m pretty sure there is a lesson of some profundity in this story. I can’t figure out what it is, though. I think it has something to do with not being equal to the task at hand? Rising to the level of one’s incompetence? Or just that if you’re going to dream, dream big? I don’t know.

Happily, one day several weeks later, a bantam hen showed up. She was still larger than our little Napoleon, but a much more manageable size. Their chicks were adorable. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, too.

Bits + Pieces = Happiness

My Grandmother's words (in the header of this blog) have been very much on my mind this week. I've been thinking about the ingredients in my own happiness; the variety is pretty profound.

Happiness, joy and contentment for me are very nearly like my cooking: different every time I make it. I don't cook with recipes often. Usually, I just cook from inspiration. Same deal on building my own happiness. I use what I have lying around and see what I get. So let's talk about today....what did I throw in the pot today to cook up a batch of happiness?

I received an email from our soldier boy yesterday. He's well, and so far he's safe. That makes up a lot of this particular batch of happiness. Our younger son is in California with a friend and his family. He's having a ball, I'm sure. I like to see my kids enjoying themselves, so that adds something to the pot, too. Plus my honey is home safe and sound from an adventure trip up north.

I really like my job. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you ever had a job you detested, you would understand. I've had jobs that made me want to call in sick every day. I never could do that, but it was tempting. I am grateful for a challenging job with terrific colleagues and an awesome boss. I am fortunate to have a job that is never monotonous. And the pay ain't half bad, either.

Every morning, I get out of bed without any assistance. I don't need help to take care of myself, my family or my home. I feel terrific. I'm not underweight anymore, neither am I overweight. I can eat pretty much anything I want without worry. That's a biggie. My vision isn't remarkably good, but it isn't remarkably bad, either. I have a comfortable home, a fun car, a healthy family, a reasonably good dog, a pantry full of food (and a freezer full, too). We aren't wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we aren't poor, either.

God gave me the gift of ability. No, I'm not one of those disgusting people who is good at everything I try. But I can learn, and I enjoy learning, so whatever I need to accomplish in life, I can usually find a way. It may take me many attempts, but I get there.

I can read. Thank God, and thanks to my big sister for teaching me. I often wonder how people with literacy problems get through this complicated life. How do they go anyplace new, order off a menu, buy anything, deal with the government or help their children with their homework? How do they get a better job, know they're being paid fairly, or enjoy a trashy magazine? And since I only read and speak English, I'll thank all the men and women who kept that safe for me and you: the American military.

My beloved Grandmothers lived long enough that I got to know them well, and they had the time to have an impact on my life. My Dad lived long enough to get close enough to my oldest son, at least, and have an impact on his life.

I found the warm fuzzy blanket of exactly the right weight to put on my bed. It's the best sleeping weather we get all year, and a heavy, cozy blanket makes that perfect.

Not only do my husband and I love each other, we like each other, too. It's amazing how important that is, and how much more fun life is because of it.

Autumn Mornings

Early this morning my dog let me know that we had company. She's an outside dog, and she wasn't barking, but she is very vocal even without barking. And she was obviously agitated. So I dragged my bottom out of bed and went to look.

A herd of javelina were milling around under the pinon pine tree in the front yard. If you've ever seen javelina just being javelina, you know how amusing they are. They have very poor vision, I am told, but a keen sense of smell. And they have 'don't give a damn' attitude. They didn't care one little bit that I was standing there in my fuzzy robe watching them. They didn't care that my dog was in the back yard having quiet fits.

People have started using their wood stoves and fireplaces again in the mornings, so there's a smell of wood smoke in the air. The sun was not up yet, but the sky was a pretty pink.

I love the cool of autumn. Even though it's such an effort to make myself get out of bed, I love being awake early. The bull elk are done bugling around here, but you can still hear the cow elk calling to each other. Watching the sky pink up while I sip coffee is a treat.

Since I was up early, and since my work buddies are all coming over for dinner tonight, I made a buttermilk pie. The smell in my kitchen this early morning was pure heaven: coffee brewing, pie baking, and the bit of cool smoky air that came in as I stood with the door open watching the javelina.

Of course, then my usual day started. Shower and dress....try to pry a sleepy-headed teenager out of bed. Hurry out the door, feeling like I'm running late even when I'm on time. But for a little while this morning, I had the time to really enjoy an autumn morning.

My Mom's Belgian Endive


Do you know what Belgian endive is? Most of the time when I see them in a recipe, they're used in a salad, or as a base for a hors d'ouevres. Well, foodies, take note! If you like veggies in general, and cabbage or brussels sprouts in particular, you ought to try endive my Momma's way. And remember I made no promises about fat or calories or....
(allow two endive per person as a side-dish) Choose similarly-sized endive, as white and crisp as you can find.
Preheat oven to 400. Trim the brown ends and any discolored leaves from the endive. Steam or parboil the whole endives for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Roll each endive in heavy cream (melted butter works, too) and then in a mixture of seasoned dry breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and pepper. Lay coated endive in a baking dish. Sprinkle more of the crumb mixture over the top and drizzle with left over cream or butter. Bake at 400 until brown and fragrant and tender. They keep their shape very well, and look beautiful as a side dish for a fancy dinner.
I can eat myself absolutely sick on these things, and have. I hope you'll try them; maybe you'll enjoy them, too. They're also good sprinkled with a few crispy bacon bits on top. By the way, if I'm in a hurry, jonesing for endive, sometimes I cheat. Slice them into pieces, crosswise. Saute in melted butter (start the solid bits of the ends a while before you throw in the leaf pieces) When they're almost finished, sprinkle them with the bread crumb mixture right in the pan and crisp it up that way. Not as pretty by mighty tasty.

What Ever Happened to Time Out?

I think we need to reinstitute the practice of time-outs and tantrum corners...except now they should be for adults. Time out never worked all that well for my children. But I bet it would be very effective for some of the adults I know.

A tantrum corner would wonderful, too. Do you remember these? A corner of the classroom where you could go if you just HAD to have a tantrum? I want one of those for adults and I get to be the first one to use it. It should be soft and padded, sound-proof and without windows. If someone needs to melt down, they should be able to do it in private.

Ah, think of the uses of a tantrum corner! Mothers working both inside and outside the home could use one. Sometimes, a good old-fashioned tantrum would make you feel so much better! There are days when if I could just go into a quiet corner and throw myself on the floor, I could face the rest of the day with a happier disposition.

Now that I think about it, nap time would be nice, too. Imagine having an hour every afternoon where you are REQUIRED to rest. Maybe we could hire sweet grandmotherly ladies to come in and pat our backs gently while we rested? They might even sing softly to us.

I especially want to revisit the ideas of our formative years: be polite, use indoor voices, play well together (ahhhh......remember recess?), share, say your prayers, try your hardest. Yes, I just told you how old I must be, because we sang Christmas songs in my school and said our prayers and the pledge of allegiance, too.

How much better we would all behave if there was a chance that our Momma might be waiting at home, and she would know what we'd been up to all day. If Daddy still could make us go out and cut a willow switch and wait for him at the wood shed, would we "straighten up and act right?"

More than anything else, would it make a bad day a little brighter if we knew that Mom or Grandma would have cookies and milk on the table for us, at the end of the day? She'd be there to ask us how our day went, and she'd listen like she really cared?

Naming a Baby

My cousin's daughter has been blessed with a new baby. My mind has been on her family these last weeks for a couple of reasons. For one thing, my oldest baby is half a world away, serving his country. The contrast between her life and mine is intriguing. She is in the years when protecting her children means car seats, outlet covers and holding hands to cross the street. I'm still struggling to let go enough to put my baby's safety in God's hands and trust Him with my son.

The other thing that is skittering around in my tired brain is her beautiful baby's name. They named him after his Great-Great-Grandfather (that would be my grandpa). It's a strong, old-fashioned, old world kind of name and I LOVE it. I love the idea of bringing an old name back into the family. I love the idea that maybe, just maybe, that may also bring back some of the special qualities of my grandpa. My grandma would have been so very pleased. I can hear her saying his name, with her Holland accent, and I can imagine her happiness.

I wonder very much about names. How much does a name influence who we become in life? I don't know very many people with old-fashioned names that grew up to become Emos. (is that how you spell that?) Maybe we treat someone named Mary different than someone name LeTinosha, and so they grow up differently? Maybe there are some innate instructions that come with a name--some mysterious directions on how to grow up?

Who would I be if I had a different name? If I were named Sarah, would I be more soft and sweet? If I were named Helga, would I be stronger and more stubborn? (I'm not at all sure it's possible for me to be more stubborn than I am.) My first name is old, and a little haughty. It's a name that might belong to a librarian. My middle name is more sweet and delicate. My second middle name is melifluous and musical and once belonged to a child martyr. I put those together and what do I get? A bookish, tender-hearted poet? Well that isn't exactly me. Maybe if I mix up the qualities....someone who likes to read and listen to music, who tends toward cynicism? That could be me. Part of me, anyway. I don't know. It's a riddle.

And who will this newest member of the extended family be? Of course I realize that I don't get a vote, being only a second cousin, once removed. (Or something like that.) But if I had a vote, what would I hope for? I'll hope he has his great-great-grandpa's sense of humor, his courage and his tenacity. Maybe he'll have his great-great-grandma's enduring grace and patience. I'll hope he has his great-grandma's wisdom, strength and compassion and his great-grandpa's work ethic, and his joy for life. I'll hope for his grandpa's tender heart and his love for the outdoors. I'll hope he gets his grandma's generosity and caring ways.

I suppose, that as much as anything else, the name we carry through life is a comment about our roots. An old family name nourishes the deepest roots. Our parents teach us about love, discipline, faith, expectations, honor and values. The name they choose for us tells us about what they hope for us, and expect of us, where we come from and where we are going.

My Own Imagination

Most days, having a well-developed imagination is just the status quo for me. It's not always something you want people to know. For instance, the guys I used to work with found out that I make a vivid mental picture when something is described. It was great fun for them to try to put disgusting or revolting pictures in my brain....especially when they learned dislodging the image isn't easy. Incidentally, it isn't good if a bunch of construction workers discover you don't blush....but that's another subject.

Usually, it is a fine thing to have a good imagination. I can come up with ideas without a lot of trouble. It adds a little extra oomph to my cooking. Sometimes I think it helps me tell a story fairly well, because I can paint a picture in words for those people who don't make their own imagery. But I have to tell you, the day your son goes off to war is the day to have your imagination euthanized.

I don't watch blood-and-guts movies because I don't need those pictures in my head. I certainly don't need that sort of thing invading my dreams. Dreams? Ha. You have to be able to sleep to have dreams.

I picture our young man, sweating under a 70-pound pack, in full gear, under the hot Iraqi sun. Will he be alright? Will he stay well, and come home again with all of his parts present? I hope he comes home safe, to look back on this experience and feel good about it. I am glad he won't come home to the kind of thing that faced the Vietnam vets. They suffered a shameful injustice. Troops come home to a supportive America now, paid for by the ones who came before. I would say thanks to them for that, but words are too small.

Maybe I would feel better if I had ever been where he is going. I doubt it. I do know I will rest easier when he is back on American soil. My mind tells me to put him in God's hands and stop worrying. My heart feels like putting him in God's hands is the same as completely letting go of him, which I'm not ready to do. So I split the difference and ask God to protect them all. (That's cheating, isn't it?) I pray to Mary (surely another mother understands!) to watch over him and bring him home safely. I ask his guardian angel to be especially vigilant. I ask his Grandpa in heaven to keep an eye on him. One thing about being a Catholic, you have no shortage of ones to pray to. If I go many more nights as a neurotic insomniac, I'm going to start praying for Tylenol PM.

Fabric of Life

Our son is leaving for Iraq in four days. If you have a loved one in the military you will understand what a wrenching thing this is. Pride and worry and concern and faith are all wrapped up in one big mess. As it always seems to be with turning points in life, I find myself especially aware of the fabric of my life--and the little threads that make it up.

There's a new member in the extended family: my cousin's daughter and her husband were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. Rumor has it that he was named after my grandfather. That's a long thread, running strong and sweetly through our hearts. That grandpa was dearly loved and truly a treasure of a man. I hope that bringing his name back into the family will bring some of his unique qualities back to us, too.

I think of my dad, and how proud he would have been to see this most cherished grandson in his uniform. Our son was named after my dad and my husband's dad. How convenient that both men had the same name! My dad and my son had a very special connection. Even though Dad hated the army in a lot of ways, he would have been busting with pride now.

Looking at it through the lens of the day, I can see that my life is rich in many ways. I have family to love, a happy home, an interesting family history making interesting roots, a promise of fascinating events ahead and small, simple joys in abundance. I also have enough problems to take none of that for granted, enough worry to remember to put things in God's hands, and enough rain to make the sunshine doubly welcome.

A Matter of Semantics

Someone asked me if I pray often. As a Catholic, I suppose I am accustomed to thinking of prayer as a formal thing. I will admit I do not say the Lord's Prayer often. I do pray the rosary, but mostly in times of deep personal turmoil or great anguish. So in the traditional Catholic sense of the word, no. I don't pray often. There is another point of view, though. I talk to God quite a bit.

I don't make appointments to talk to my mother, and I don't wait for Sunday to talk to God. No day passes that I don't express an appreciation for something, request guidance, ask Him to protect someone or ask a question of God. Is that praying? I think it is. I feel closest to Him when I think of Him as a parent. My dad wouldn't have wanted me to talk to him using only a script. He would want real conversations, about real things that mattered to me or to him.

In the same way that I want my children to come to me with their joys and their sorrows, I try to make sure I let God in on the good stuff, too. I try to notice the blessings, admire His handiwork, and bitch as little as possible. I am not afraid to run to Him like a frightened child when I need to. I just don't want to forget to present Him, every once in while, with a fistful of wildflowers....roots and all.

Make no mistake about it: there is certainly a place for traditional prayers in my life. At those times when my worry or fear or pain is so great, my own words escape me. Those dreadful times of anguish that the only thing my brain can do is scream or bawl, words I memorized as a child come to me by rote and at least let me channel that scream into a cry for help.

No, I don't pray often. That doesn't mean we don't talk frequently.

Dreams

We have a dream. Yes, I have my own dreams, and he has his. But we also have a dream together. If you are a married couple and don't have a dream together, you really ought to run right out and get one. Having a shared dream to talk about, plan for, work towards and see grow....it's something very special.

Buying our first home brought us together in a sense of responsible adulthood. Having our children joined us as parents, a united front trying to make sure that we were always one jump ahead of the little guys. Losing loved ones brought us together in yet another way. Shared pain has a way of doing that. Sickness added another measure of bond, showing us for the first time how much we needed each other.

Having a common dream adds a whole new level to that marital bond. For one thing, we ALWAYS have something to talk about! Let me caution you, though....if you're both passionate about the dream, those talks can get a little warm sometimes. But weather the storm...it's worth it. If you fight about money, start working on that dream. It helps to put all your spending into perspective.

You will learn to compromise at a whole new level. Clearly, you will both have somewhat different visions of that dream. Finding a way to incorporate both visions into the whole is an excellent exercise in giving and taking. And creatively compromising, at that.

Young couples, pay attention! Talk about your dreams. Find one that the two of you can share. Nurture it, talk about it and work towards. You'll never be sorry.

Painting My Nails Red

One of my colleagues has a lot of fruit trees. She was kind enough to let my family pick the plums and peaches--she lives alone and isn't going to use them.

Four grocery bags of each plums and peaches later... I spent a good part of my weekend making jam, plum butter, and freezing the rest. Oh, I also made a plum pie: something I've never tried before. It was pretty good!

I've made a lot of apple butter in my years, but this was my first crack at plum butter. It took longer to cook down than the apples do, but I didn't have to run it through a mill. The plum skins just kind of disappear. The finished product is very much like apple butter, but more tart.

I don't know what variety of plums these are. Their skins are green, but the flesh is a lovely red. The peaches are wonderful: big freestone peaches that were easy to process. Since peach pie is a favorite with my guys, all the peaches were frozen to that end.

Working on that kind of thing makes me very happy. I might be a professional in my work life, but my heart is really at home. I love to bake and cook. Having a dozen jars of jam, and freezer full is something that warms my heart. I miss the days of a big garden and making pickles and....all that good stuff. The fall hunts are coming up, so the freezer will be full of a good variety. We have Montana huckleberries, peaches and plums, deer and elk, a little fish from Mexico, and some breadcrumbs from homemade bread. We're a happy family.

One thing I don't love is the new stove. When we bought the house, it came with one of those smooth-top electric stoves. Never again. I think those must be for people who don't really cook, or else don't mind how their stove top looks. It isn't for me. If I were going to do any canning, I would have to hook up the gas cooker outside. No way would my new stove hold a canning kettle.

I want one of those ranges that has five gas burners and double ovens, but still fits in a regular space. They make them with the smooth top, too. A range is one of the next things we need for our cabin and I was seriously looking at the double-oven smooth top. Wow am I happy I had a chance to try that out before I committed so much money to one! I would have been kicking myself for years. I would have been doing the canning on the old wood cookstove: a hot proposition this time of year.

If you have ever spent very much time processing apples, peaches, or pears you will understand: I am wearing bright red nail polish. It was the only color I had that was bright enough to cover the brown stain on my nails. I like that. It's a like a little badge of honor.

An Unexpected Outcome

When my mother was a girl in Rotterdam, the Nazis occupied Holland. It was a very bad time for all the Dutch people but especially so for the city people. Rotterdam was and is one of the busiest ports in the world. This, of course, was of great strategic interest to the Nazi leaders.

As the noose tightened around the Dutch people, things got more and more difficult. The people in Rotterdam were hungry. Some of them were actually starving, and my mother was one of these. She was the same age as Anne Frank, if that helps you place the picture in your mind. She was at the age when she should have been growing long, coltish legs and becoming taller than all the boys. But she was starving. My grandparents had to have her smuggled out of the city to live with a farm family--strangers--who had food to share.

So why am I telling you this? Well, something extraordinary came as a result of those tragic days of the war.

My mother never told us to clean our plates. We never heard about starving children in China or Africa or wherever. I don't know if mom turned away from such ideas with a will, or if it just worked out that way. However it happened, mom never made a big issue out of food.

This is pretty profound when you stop and think about it. I would have expect someone who nearly died of starvation to be very strict about food with her children. The only thing mom was strict about was that we were not permitted to say we were starving: "What's for dinner? I'm starving." We could say we were hungry, but mom knew the meaning of 'starving' in a very tangible way. That was a word we didn't get to use.

Mom allowed us to have a few foods we did not like and did not have to eat. We didn't get to abuse the privilege, of course. Considering her experiences, wouldn't you expect her to tell us to eat and be happy with it.

I think my mom turned away from starvation and from the idea of food as an issue, with determination. She must have been very happy that her children didn't have to go through what she did and was just glad she had any choices about food.

Whatever it was, it worked. All of her children have a healthy relationship with food. None of us are overweight. None of us use food as a substitute for other things. We appreciate what we eat, enjoy our food, and go on to other things. We don't use food as a comfort or a drug.

My mom paid a heavy price for her starving time in later years. It interfered with her development and health in some ways that would not be revealed until much later. Her time away from her family in those trying days left a mark on her, too. I am sure that her worry for her family left behind must have been wrenching.

Of course, the story has a happy ending. My mother lived. She was reunited with her family. They lived through the war, scars and all, and came to America. They never faced hunger again. And they went on to instill health, contentment and balance into the next generation.

Monday Morning

There's a promise of autumn in the early morning air. Oh, I know it isn't even the end of August yet, but I feel the autumn sneaking up. There is a touch of fresh coolness in the air in the morning, and an encouraging slant to the sunlight in the afternoon.

Autumn in this part of the Southwest is lovely. We don't enjoy a lot of color change except for trees we landscape with. We do get lots of yellow wildflowers, and an exciting change of temperature. After the long weeks of summer, the cool of the fall air is pure delight. We also get apples ripening, shorter days and soon, the bugles of rutting bull elk.

Pumpkins in our gardens are coloring up nicely now. It's time to pick the peaches and apricots that survived a late-spring cold snap. When I get out of bed in the morning, my fuzzy robe is starting to tempt me. It's still much too warm for a fuzzy robe, but it won't be long now.

I always look forward to sleeping under heavy blankets, my face cool and my body warm. I sleep much better with the weight of a blanket. Sitting out on the porch, wrapped in a warm robe and a blanket, too, with my morning coffee is something else I anticipate happily. Our porch faces west, so the afternoon sun warms it beautifully in the fall.

The cooler autumn temperatures make baking a joy again, and making hot soups and hearty stews becomes a pleasure. After the summer of light salads, I love eating "real food" again. I feel brighter and more energetic and anxious for my time at home.

All of that was promised to me this morning when I went outside and felt a kiss of autumn in the air.

The Fine Art of Giving

I have a dear friend who really knows how to give. Don't get me wrong, she isn't a wealthy philanthropist....she just knows how to give. She makes me think about what it means to be a giving person.

My beloved Dad taught us certain things about giving. An act of charity must not wound the pride of the recipient, for one thing. To do it right, we must find a way to help a person without taking away their dignity. Also, when we do some charitable thing, shut up about it! To go around and crow about something we did is to take away the goodness of the act. And if there is no effort in the giving, then the reward is also going to be small. If giving doesn't require some quality of effort or difficulty, then it is a small gift.

My friend knows all of these and takes it to heart. She throws all of herself into what she does, gives with humility and compassion, and then looks for someone else who needs help instead of announcing to the world what she just did. I admire this very much.

I go to her house and she makes me feel as welcome as the sunrise. She comes to my house and offers her help in such a way as to make me feel like I'm doing HER the favor.

Some people are fine artists, others can sing. Some people set world records in sports and some people have the midas touch. But my friend has what may be the greatest gift of all: she knows how to give.

Grandmas are forever

An email buddy said it made her a little sad to see her granddaughters growing up. She was afraid they'd grow up and not need Grandma anymore. I said "Baloney!" We always need our Grandmas! My own Grandmothers are waiting for me on the other side, now, but I think of them every day. The lessons they taught me were the lessons only a grandmother could give. I cherish their memories. They taught me:

You're never too old to be cool and you're never too young to be wise.

How to cook smelts. Yep. Not everyone can cook smelts, but I can. Thanks, Grandma!

We don't always see the ones we love with clear eyes.

You can be graceful under pressure, sweet when you're in pain, and you can exercise patience, even when you're in a hurry.

Children are beautiful, simply by virtue of being children. Knowing a child is a way to experience the wonder, all over again, through another's eyes.

Be grateful for all that we have. It may not be much by our society's standards, but compared to 99% of the world, we live in the lap of luxury. And be grateful, too, because it can all be gone in a blink.

Keep learning. Keep laughing. That's what will keep you young, no matter how old you get.

Love knows no boundaries. Distance, disappointment and death make no difference.

Thinking about the task ahead can be scarier than just jumping in and doing it.

Rock music isn't all that bad.

Listen to other people. Listen to your own heart. The wisdom of the ages lies somewhere between these two.

God judges us on our actions and our intentions. Shout "I'm a Christian" all you want, but if God can't see it in your heart or in your hands, you're just making wind.

Music from another time

I found an internet radio station that plays, among other things, music from the Civil War era. Isn't it interesting how much is conveyed in music? I can almost feel transported to that other time, to hear the plaintive notes of a violin, so filled with pain and sadness it makes me think of crying. Bright brass bands, playing "Bonnie Blue Flag" brings to mind shining young men, thinking they are going off to an adventure.

That kind of music is about so much more, though. The graceful strings are rich with emotion; love, longing, sadness and loss. I have always loved the strings best. There's a sweetness there that no other instrument can quite touch. The others have their charm, of course. I suppose every heart is reached by something different.

My two sons have vastly different taste in music. I would have expected them, only four years apart, to like the same music. Not so! The older one likes heavy metal...the kind of thing that makes me want to bang my head in the oven door. He will not listen to anything else. The younger son has a wide variety of musical likes. Old rock, new rock, even some classical pieces interest him. He doesn't like Patsy Cline, which concerns me some. I mean, how can you not love Patsy? :-) But he is open to listen to almost anything...at least once.

In a nutshell, that is a perfect description of my two sons. One is strong in his own ways, convinced of the rightness of his own choices and unwilling to consider another path. Usually, he will not have even glanced down another path before choosing. This is a good quality, since he chose an honorable path. I never worried that peer pressure would steer him wrong. He is unsteerable. If he doesn't like something or someone, no glacier could move him. Right or wrong, his choices are his own and he stands up to them that way. I admire that in him.

The younger son is also his own man, so to speak. But, unlike his brother, he wants to know about things before he makes up his mind. He is no follower, and he doesn't give a darn if anyone follows him. He is more of a seeker. He wants to know what something is all about, to sample it and think about it, before he makes a choice. And he can compromise, finding a happy balance between one road and another. I admire that in him.

I like the convictions of one son, the open-mindedness in the other. Strange how two opposing qualities can both be appealing to me. I guess it isn't very different than really liking the music from both ZZ Top and the Civil War?

Mom's Chicken Stock

Our oldest son is home on leave. It is his intention to eat up all the home-cooking foods he loves before he has to go back to army chow. Tied for first place in his list is Chicken and Dumplings and Chicken Tetrazzini. I discovered last night that, in teaching him how to make those, I had failed to teach him my basic chicken stock. I learned it from my Mom, who is an awesome cook, and it is different than the ones in my cookbooks. Thought I'd share. :-)

In a large dutch oven, brown on one side: a cut up whole chicken, thighs or quarters in a little olive oil. Brown it well...you want that carmelized skin on one side. Remove the pieces, now brown a quartered onion (washed but not peeled) on one side. Add 4 or 5 stalks of celery (include leaves), 4 or 5 carrots (washed but not peeled) and several cloves of garlic. Saute all together until you start getting brown edges on the veggies.

Return the chicken to the pot and fill the pot to within a couple inches of full with cold water. Use cold! Simmer until the chicken nearly falls off the bones. It's important to leave the veggies unpeeled and to brown only one side. Brown both sides and it will taste more like gravy. Peel the veggies and you'll have a mild, clear broth, not a good solid STOCK.

On Being Better

I want to be better. Better than myself as I am at this moment. Certainly, better than I have been for the last 40+ years.

It’s a strange thing, and I believe it’s a thing that comes with age, for women. I don’t know about men. Twenty years ago, I looked in the mirror and all I saw was my flaws. “Oh, your nose is too big, your hair is too flat, look at all those zits…” I wasn’t very nice to me.

Now, I look in the mirror and I’m fine with I see on the outside. What happens now is that I am looking more into my heart and soul, and seeing flaws.

I want to be braver. Less judgmental. Less cynical. More loving. I want to be less over-sensitive to anything that sounds like a personal criticism (especially when it comes from my husband.) I want to be more giving, less selfish. More understanding. I should pray more and swear less.

How can I teach myself to be less afraid to be creative? I want to embrace my creative side and not be a scolding mother to myself, telling myself I am wasting time with all this nonsense. Come to think of it, I want to stop being a scolding mother to myself entirely (which would make this post a moot point).

I want to be nicer to the me that feels different, disapproved of, discouraged. I want to convince me that my differences are special, not problematic.

I want to be better at thinking before I speak. I spend entirely too much time with my foot in my mouth. And I want to let myself do nothing once in a while, without guilt.

Voices in a choir

I took a walk the other day, just down the driveway of our vacation home. It's about half a mile that meanders through tall pines, firs, larch and aspens. I was walking with the wife of a good friend. We've known him for many years; his wife is new to us.

We strolled along in the late afternoon. Bracken ferns cover the ground alongside the driveway, shaded by the tall trees. As the breeze moves through the treetops, you can hear the different voices in the choir. The firs have a whispery voice, thanks to their many short needles. Ponderosa pines, tall and long-needled, have more of a swishing voice. Best of all (in my view) are the aspens, whose roundish flat leaves sound almost like they belong in the percussion section of an orchestra.

I mentioned that I liked the different note that aspens add to that music when Mrs. Wife looked at me like I'd lost my mind. She's a city girl. What can I say? Then she listened for a while and realized that the many trees have different sounds, and that it was beautiful to be walking along a quite little path, under a choir of trees.

Vacations Versus Real Life

I just spent two beautiful weeks in my own personal paradise. What a blessing! I live in a lovely little town, with tall trees and beautiful views. But our vacation home....now that's heaven! Gorgeous weather, amazing views, tons of wildlife. And water. Yes, here in the Southwest, we might call it a river, but that doesn't mean it contains water. It only means that it did in the past, and may on occasion, contain water.

But in the Inland Northwest, they have this blue, cool, wet stuff in ALL of the creeks, rivers and lakes. It's amazing. You know what else is amazing? If you leave a bag of bread open for half an hour, it is still bread and not melba toast. But if you leave a bag of chips open, you don't have chips anymore.

Laugh if you want to, but this is an absolute phenomena to anyone who has lived all or most of their life in arid country. Ginger snaps don't snap anymore. Huh. Who knew? My skin looked better and younger, and the curl in my hair started to show again. It wasn't humid where we were, but neither was it dry. The wonders of a little moisture in the air.

The slower pace and relaxed life of the little town near our vacation home is deeply appealing to me. Now that our cabin is nearly finished, the pull to move there is even stronger. I love the beauty of the place, and the serenity of it. Sitting on my own porch, overlooking the lake and waiting for deer to walk by is what dreams are made of.

My Family Through Someone Else's Eyes

There is nothing in the world that will make you appreciate your own family, and your own life, like seeing those from someone else's point of view.

Our son's friend is coming to visit. He's a nice kid and they've been friends since they were little. He has always enjoyed spending time with us; he is very polite, appreciates everything, and makes me sound like the best cook ever to walk the earth.

This nice boy has a home life that is a disaster. No details are necessary, but I can see why he likes it so much to spend time with us. We are a nice, solid family. He isn't torn between one parent's utter apathy and the other parent's neurotic need to control. At our home, he is treated like our own children: expected to be polite, to get dirty, to eat, to laugh, to clean up after himself somewhat, be nice to the animals and help if the opportunity arises.

I used to wonder if my children realize how fortunate they are, in so many ways. They have two parents (and they both have the same two parents), who are still married and still like eachother and them, too. They get to go to bed each night in a warm bed, in a nice house, with a full tummy and no fear. Mom and Dad will still be there when they wake up, and they will even be sober.

Their parents don't always agree, but they seldom fight, and never with violence. Our children had clean clothes to wear, a school to go to, friends to hang out with and places to go. They have an older generation of relatives to show them there are two kinds of wisdom: their parent's working-for-a-living kind, and a mellower, more patient, more amused older kind of wisdom. Those are both very valuable to who those children will become in their lives.

My children grew up in a way that taught them many important lessons. They know about gardens, livestock, pets, chores, work, building, cars, prayers, birth and death and life and love. Being young, the truth of those lessons will change some with the passing years. What they learned about prayers is one thing today. The same lesson will have new meaning in years to come.

I used to wonder if they really knew. Now, our older son is grown and gone. He knows. He is in a barracks with a bunch of guys who did not have the same blessings, and who did not learn the same lessons. He even told me that he deeply appreciated the gift we gave him: the tools he needed to step into life, ready and able to be a man.

Our younger son's friend, having never enjoyed those things except as a guest in our home, will have to make the gift for himself. His parents don't have it themselves and so, are unable to pass it on. Will seeing the possibility be enough? Will he make for himself the tools he needs to step into life, ready and able to be a man?

Rainy Days and Fridays

It's raining! It started raining yesterday afternoon and has been raining ever since. Sometimes it really pours, sometimes it's just a drizzle, but I love it all.

Maybe you have to live in the southwest to completely appreciate rain. I've had messages all day from, for instance, someone who said she just sat by the window all evening and watched the rain. In some parts of the world you can probably be committed to an asylum for behavior like that. Here, if you say that, you get a sigh of recognition and envy. Ah, yes. To just sit and watch the rain.

One of the things that makes my home region so special is the fact of four mild seasons. Summer is hot, but not unbearably so. In winter we get snow, but not so much that it really brings life to a halt. We have an honest-to-goodness autumn, which I love. The angle of the sunlight is especially beautiful in the fall. I love the whisper of coolness in the air, and the changing colors. Spring is lovely too, of course. We have a lot of varieties of flowering trees that are popular for landscaping around here. Pale pink and purple blossoms softened the view and sweeten the air.

Naturally, today I am thinking about rain. A nice, dreary day is a huge treat here. It would be the perfect day, were I home to enjoy it. Rainy summer days are the days I like to open the windows, get the house shining, and start baking. They aren't the best for making meringue pies, but anyone who lives in a humid climate might wonder why I even note that. Here, it is a rare day that is too humid for meringue. That's a little blessing of its own! The altitude is low enough that eclairs and cream puffs and other egg-risen pastry rise just fine. It is usually dry enough for meringue and warm enough for yeast rising. I think I'm getting hungry. :0)

Outside of the way the dogs smell on a rainy day, I love nearly everything else about it. My hair gets pretty fuzzy, but I can live with that. Lying in bed at night and listening to the falling rain is bliss. Even the way sound carries differently in the rain is a nice change. Having rain on a Friday is nice, too. Fridays are days of anticipation. They are a day to be cheerful and rain on a Friday makes it a softer day.

So, just in case God was feeling a little unappreciated today, I wanted to send the thought out there. Thank you for the rain. It's more than just needed moisture; it's a little summer cooling treat. Good call!

Marriage Vows, Part 2

I have this great notion of how to be the best wife ever. I just wish I could be better at actually doing it.

My guys just love hamburgers. Not me. I could live my whole life and never eat another one. Would you care to guess just how often hamburgers appear on the menu at our house? Yeah, exactly. I come by it honestly, I guess. My mother hated green peas, so if they hadn't served them at school, I would have reached adulthood without ever tasting one. :-)

I married an adrenaline junkie. Yes I did. And I don't even like to stand on a chair. You can well imagine this has led to some rifts. He got me to go on a rollercoaster a couple of years ago. That was the first time for that. I am trying to keep it the last, but he has other ideas. Plus, he wants to skydive. ???? I just can't even wrap my mind around that one.

So I wish I were more adventurous, for him. For myself I don't care. My ideas of adventure are much tamer than his. He likes speed and dizzying heights and thrills. Where can I buy some of that? Maybe just a touch of it? I would like to be able to surprise him with some wild thing to do. To tell the truth, my mind doesn't even imagine in that direction.

All I can say is, that testosterone....it's powerful stuff.

Marriage Vows

I’m one of those abstruse "old-fashioned and yet modern" women. I’m old enough to remember when they still called it “women’s lib”. I work full time in a professional office, and I still bake and sew and clean. My husband is the leader in our home, but I am the one who voted him into office. He is the president of our little domain. I am the cabinet, congress and house of representatives.

Part of that is my upbringing, and part of it is just good common sense. Every team needs a leader and my husband is a natural leader. Besides which, he is intelligent and wise, too. He makes good decisions. Those are good qualities in a leader. I wish we could find a president like that. But that is another subject.

Our wedding vows included promises to love, honor and obey. Yep. We even said “obey”. I guess we are modern enough to have a newer spin on “obey”. In our house, it is more a matter of mutual concession than commands. Whatever it is, it works for us. If he feels uncomfortable with something, I can respect that. On the same note, there are things which may not be inherently wrong but which bother me, so he refrains. That’s a form of obedience.

I talked about honor already, but love...now love is different. When we were first married, I thought I knew about love. I had been watching my parents and I thought that what they had is what love looked like.

Now I know better. Love is a chameleon, and looks different to every pair of eyes. The love my parents had suited them perfectly, but it was theirs and theirs alone. My love for my husband looks different, as does his for me.

One of the things that let me know I was a grown-up in the real world was the day I realized that giving him the demonstrations of love I wanted for myself, well that was not very loving of me. It was like buying him a new sewing machine for his birthday. Gee, thanks. Showing him I loved him would have to be in the language that meant love to him.

Lucky for me, my husband is good about showing his love for me on my terms, as well. I know darn good and well he would really like me to be up having coffee with him at 7:00 on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I do. But when I don’t, he fights the urge to go jump on the bed and ask me if I’m going to sleep all day. I must admit, he is not always able to resist the urge when it hits him, but he tries.

Another thing, and I am not sure if it fits into love or honor, is about not trying to change a person. My mother gave me only two pieces of marital advice. One was: if I was marrying him with the notion of trying to change him, then don’t get married. She said if he was going to change, that was his own growth, his own prerogative and had very little to do with me.

I knew he was an outdoorsman before we married. Even when I would really prefer he stayed home, it isn’t fair for me to try to change the rules after the game has started. Sometimes things I would have like to have done were put off because of some outdoorsy thing he was doing. Most of the time, I just have to remember he was involved in his stuff long before I thought of something else to do. With the exception of the time he was going to go fishing in Mexico when I was 8 months pregnant. There has to be SOME give and take, right?

Like any relationship between two people who are (hopefully) growing and learning, we have to revisit what it means to love, honor and obey from time to time. That's part of the fun. If it was always the same old boring thing, there would be no adventure in it.

Questions for God

About 20 years ago, I heard a sermon which has been making me think ever since. The priest was talking about heaven.

To be truthful, I had only half-listened to a lot of the sermon. I was younger then, and apt to daydream (although I was old enough to know better!) Then he said something that cut through the haze and resonated with me. He said that one of the things that happens when you reach heaven is that you finally have answers to your questions.

That day, I started thinking about what I wanted to ask God. Serious questions, perplexing ones, scientific questions and theological questions. Oh, do I have questions!
  • I get hay fever. Why did You put something that runs like that, upside-down over my mouth?
  • How is it that I should have wrinkles AND zits? Where is the justice in that?
  • Why do You give children to horrible parents, and withhold them from people who would be wonderful parents?
  • Do we really NEED mosquitoes?
  • Why do the very best people seem to have the very worst luck?
  • Do You make teenagers such a trial so that it will be easier to let them go?
  • I never did understand chemistry. Could You explain it, please?
  • And my big question: Does any church out there really have it right? Or do they all have some of the truth? Is anybody completely in the dark?

I probably should start keeping a list. But how would I take it with me?

Other People's Problems

Sometimes, learning about other people's problems can make you hold a magnifying glass to your own life. If you're lucky, maybe looking that close will show you just how blessed you really are.

We all know people who think the grass is greener in someone else's yard. That notion hit home for me when I learned, recently, about someone who went to have a roll in someone else's grass. It looks to me like her own yard is plenty pretty, but she had to go look around.

Happily, I can report that when I look at other people's yards, it only makes my own grass look greener. The choices made by other people encourage me to look at my own choices. And their actions sometimes make me think again about what I promised, before God, close to 24 years ago.

One of those promises was to honor my husband. What does that mean? I thought I knew when I made the promise, but I have since learned that it is more complicated than I first thought.

There's the basic idea of honoring someone: to treat them with respect, to be polite and considerate. Isn't it more than that? I think it is to show my respect and admiration for him, even when he isn't there and certainly when he is. I think it is also to honor him with my time and attention. Some people don't really merit the effort of my attention, truthfully, but my husband always does.

So what does it mean? It means I stop what I'm doing and help him when he asks. I stop the meanderings of my mind and focus my attention on him when he talks to me (no easy feat, that!). It also means I don't button the collar button on his shirt when I hang up his clothes. Momma taught me to button the shirt. He thinks it's a pain to take the hanger down and unbutton the shirt. So I silence my Mom's voice in my head and leave it loose.

I also think about the ways in which my husband honors me. I try to notice what he does for me, man things that women might not pay attention to. He checks the air in my tires, for one thing. He puts the things that I want done higher on his to-do list than what he really thinks they merit. He doesn't tell me how to do things, even though he would like to, unless I really do need help. He only speaks well of me behind my back, and doesn't (usually) join in with the banter about wives.

Maybe, some other day, I'll focus on the things we do for love.

Do Blessings Have Thorns?

A very dear friend of mine is looking for a job today. We met because we both worked for the same company. Things started to change a year ago, and my job was in a vulnerable position. So when I was offered something better, I jumped. Her job, however, should never have been in a vulnerable position. She herself should certainly not have been! She is brilliant, hardworking, productive, a team player and a lot of other valuable things.

Of course I KNOW that this will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for my friend. Still, it hurts now. A single mom with a lot of responsibilites, it must be frightening for her to be unemployed. A great job with awesome pay and opportunities up the wahoo is surely waiting for her. So it's a blessing.

But sometimes, those blessings can really hit hard. What feels like a sledgehammer can turn out to be a blessing. So what do I tell my friend? How do I make the sledgehammer hurt less and let the hidden blessing easier to see?

I don't expect answer to the age-old question. But I sure think about it a lot.

Listening to myself

I am trying very hard to learn to listen to myself a little better--in a lot of ways. To rest when I am tired, and eat when I am hungry...(OK, I don't have much trouble with that one)...or to even just go to the restroom when I need to and not make one last call or finish one last task first.

There's more than that to it, though. I am trying to pay attention to what I am saying, both out loud and to myself, and to keep it positive and constructive. I suppose I am trying to turn off the cynical, sarcastic voice in my head that talks so 'fresh'. Good words and good thoughts can only have a good effect on everything else, right?

**********************

Life as a Dessert Tray

You know those restaurants where someone walks around with a tray of desserts, to tempt you even more than the menu does? Sometimes I think my life is like that.

I wake up in the morning and decide which of the many sweet treats that make up my life are going to be my indulgence that day. I have a lot to choose from. A terrific husband, a grown son and one still at home. A job I like, plus a small business, too. A home that needs me, two dogs, a pot of sweet basil. Oh, and books. Books waiting to be read and a few waiting to be written--one in particular. Friends that know me well, and love me anyway (warts and all). There are recipes waiting to be tried, and foods yet to be tasted.

To be fair, there isn't always much actual choice involved. Sometimes, one thing simply must get all the attention for a time. But even within the scope of my job, I often have great autonomy about which things I will tackle on any given day.

I can decide to cook, or not cook. Write or read or watch TV. Clean or draw pictures in the dust. My choices with my husband are varied. Most of them....well....most of them are nobody's business. :-) Let me just say that we enjoy talking to eachother, and sitting together in silence. We enjoy going places, and staying in. And we just generally enjoy eachother.

If my choices were all negatives...."Oh, let me see. Shall I go have a root canal today, or should I go for a colonoscopy instead?" My outlook would surely be different. I am very blessed. All of my choices are temptations instead of chores.

I am blessed in another way, too. I have just enough thorns on the roses to remind me that roses come at a price. If everything was easy, where would the fun in that be?

A Basic Human Effort

A comment from a friend made me think about something that really makes me happy and contented at a very basic level.

It’s a magical thing when it happens: usually about every other weekend or so. It all starts with a big bowl. Warm water, salt, yeast, a little sweetener, flour and effort results in something that makes the house smell wonderful. It also makes people coming home smile. They know they’re in for something yummy.

Don’t tell me about bread machines. Those are for amateurs. Oh, sure, bread machine bread is tasty, but it’s different! Like frozen pizza can’t really be called pizza, can it? It should have its own food group. Homemade bread is likewise in a class by itself.

There is something deeply satisfying about using my own two hands to turn basic ingredients into something else entirely. It’s about nutrition, sure. But it’s also about simple human ingenuity. Who was the first amazing individual to think of this? Kneading bread dough develops the gluten and changes the character of the end product. This is truly an amazing process. Adding milk or eggs or butter or potatoes....or cheese or herbs or.... the varieties are endless, limited only by my imagination and budget.

When my Dad was very sick with cancer and past the point of worry about nutrition, one thing he could eat was good rye bread and a little red wine. Dad was allergic to corn, and most rye bread uses either cornmeal to dust the pan or even corn syrup to sweeten the dough and feed the yeast.

So I started making Dad’s rye bread. The best recipe I found used water on the kneading board instead of flour. What a mess! Every loaf was like throwing a clay pot. But it made a good, chewy rye bread with tender flavor.

If I stop and think about it, that was a tremendous gift for me. My Dad was dying and I could actually DO something. It wasn’t much, but I felt as if I made his last days just a little more pleasant and bearable. Could I have asked for more? I never tried harder to make excellent bread. I didn’t have stand by helplessly and wish I could think of something he might enjoy eating. That’s huge.

The years of necessity have passed. I can afford to buy fancy bakery breads. Why would I do that? Isn’t it the most human thing of all, to take something and make into something else by the effort of your own two hands, and the knowledge you have acquired?

Quiet Little Gifts

It just so happens that I believe in gifts. I think every one of us gets our share, and it’s up to us to discover them. I lose patience with people who bemoan their lack of talent...especially after a certain age. They are just looking in the wrong places and failing to notice what is right in front of them.

Oh, sure I would love to be able to paint or sing or something artistic like that. That is not where my gifts lie. But I have some gifts that are unique to me. Truthfully, I am hoping to discover some new talents as I age, but if this right here is all I am, I’m content. I’ll continue to learn and grow, even if I don’t discover some untapped pool of genius in myself.

I don’t have any grand, attention-gathering kinds of gifts, but that is a gift from God to me. I don’t like being the center of attention and if I looked and sang like Faith Hill, where would I be? Yeah, I know: wealthy and married to Tim McGraw. But I married a hot hardbody of my own and I have a healthy family, comfortable house, a nice car and a full belly. I’m rich enough.

My talents are the quiet, comfortable kind. I make a mean chicken and dumplings. Overall, outside of a few spectacular failures, I’m a pretty good cook. One of my notable failures involved a tamale-pie creation for which I only had blue cornmeal. I didn’t drain the filling properly and ended up with what looked like a casserole dish of purple dog puke. Happily, that sort of thing is the exception, rather than the rule.

Usually, I am a rock of cheeful, even temper...even in seas of turbulent emotions. You think that isn’t a gift? Think again! Even when all heck is breaking loose, you can usually count on me to be cool headed. If you were trying to antagonize me, then you would not admire this particular talent.

I have a dear friend who possesses a gift I especially admire. She is an absolute ray of sunshine. Just being near her makes you feel warm and accepted and valued. What a wonderful talent to have! A colleague of mine has a completely different talent. She has a laugh that makes you want to laugh, too, even when you don’t know what’s funny. It makes her beautiful in a way that the mirror never sees.

My beloved husband has more talents than I could hope to name. One of his chief talents is the power in his hands. He can make, fix, create, comfort, express....and please, through the gift of his hands. He is artistic. And he is the most intelligent person I have ever known. I don’t say that lightly. I know some pretty smart people, but none rival my own husband.

Our sons inherited some of their parent’s gifts, and added some of their own. They are each brilliant in their own, very different, way. It is an unending pleasure to see them develop as fine, honorable young men, discovering their own unique talents.

Yawning boy

When I look back on my children as babies, I can still see in my mind's eye the way my youngest looked when he yawned. I would hold him in my arms and he would yawn this wide, sideways yawn that was just adorable. His eyelids crinkled up differently than his older brother's had at that age. And still do.

Now, I admit it sounds strange to notice the way his eyelids crinkle. I had never thought of this as being an inheritable trait. When I close my eyes, the lids fold in smooth horizontal lines. My oldest son has the same eyelids. My husband, on the other hand, his eyelids pucker and wrinkle in a tangle when he closes his eyes. Which our younger son inherited from him.

The youngest is a tall teenager now. He resembles not at all the baby he once was. For one thing, he towers over me. At the rate he is going he will exceed my height by a foot in no time. But every once in a while, if I happen to be looking at him at the right moment, he yawns. He yawns crookedly sideways, and his eyelids pucker as he squeezes his eyes closed. And for just a flicker of time, I can see the baby I once held in my arms.

Morning coffee

My husband makes coffee for me every morning. We aren't talking about a particularly demonstrative or romantic man. Even so, when I get out of the shower, there's a cup of sweetened coffee waiting for me.

I am not, by nature, a morning person. I am by necessity. Some people say that taking a shower wakes them up. Not me. I require something stronger than just soap and water to pry my sleepy eyes open.

Is a cup of coffee such a big deal? It is to me. It's more than coffee in a lot of ways. It shows me that my husband loves me, because he sweetens it even though he is opposed to sugar in coffee. I think it is a very thoughtful gesture for him to have it waiting for me.

I am ashamed to admit how long it took me to truly appreciate that. Learning how to see the intentions behind the actions has taken me some years. He has learned, too. It used to be that he would not sweeten the coffee. I always wondered what the point was in bringing it to me, knowing I would just have to go back and add sugar anyway.

That was his attempt to control my terrible, reckless behavior. In time, he learned to quit trying to control something so inconsequential. In other words, he sweetens my coffee, so he has grown. I take sugar in my coffee, so I haven't.

Time and years have taught me that a marriage is made of minutes in the same way a mile is made up of inches. The little incremental things we do every day are as important, in the long run, as the big defining moments of marriage. Yes, it was hugely important for him to be there when our children were born. It is equally important that he spends a couple of seconds in the morning, to stir a spoonful of sugar into a cup of coffee. It all counts.

Crazy

Patsy Cline has been singing to me in my car. The clarity of her voice as she anguishes through “Crazy” is just lovely. If I were going to imagine the voice of an angel, I might think of Alison Krauss (OK, I definitely would think of her.) If it were to be a boy angel (do angels have genders?), I’d think of Vince Gill, or maybe Jim Reeves. But if I were to imagine the voice of Venus, it’d have to be Patsy. That woman knew how to sing passion.

I wonder what I’m doing in MY life to show passion. I don’t have a voice like Patsy’s. I can’t paint or sculpt or act. The things I am passionate about are small—meaningful to me, but not great earth-shaking kinds of things. I think I need to put more effort into letting my passion for even those small things show.

What am I passionate about? My family, certainly. My marriage is one of my top-two priorities. We hit rough patches like anyone else, but I promised to love him and honor him until I die. I'm hoping I live a while yet, so I want to be sure that the years ahead are happy and content for both of us.


It’s a driving force in my life to bring to adulthood healthy, well-rounded, respectful, balanced citizens. I think those four things are key to happy success in life. I am passionate about keeping a comfortably clean home that is a joy to return to, for both my family and for me.

Mostly, my passion is to try to be the best, wisest and happiest person I can be. Every day, I think again about how to do that. I struggle with my flaws, try to forgive myself for them and correct them, and try to see the lessons behind the events in my life.

5-Minute Drive

It's only about 5 minutes from my home to my office. Driving home yesterday, happy it was Friday, I came up over the hill beyond which is my street. From that hill, the view is beautiful. The Mogollon Rim stretches out in panorama, with many hills before it.

That time of day, the sun angles promisingly downward. It's hot this time of year, and the lengthening shadows point the way to the cool of evening. I am so blessed to live in such a pretty place. The trees are tall here, ponderosa pines mostly, and the way they smell, even in summer, is heaven.

I wonder sometimes about the people who live on that hill and have that amazing view. Obviously, the homes were built there to take advantage of the view. Do they stop noticing the beauty after a time, and take it for granted? I hope not. I doubt very much that they do. One of the things about a view of the mountains is how ever-changing they are.

We had a great view when I was a child. Every window of our mountain-top home had something wonderful to look at. Even as a kid, I appreciated the view. I don't care for King Vitamin breakfast cereal anymore, but I have never outgrown the love of a beautiful view.

Living Deliberately

Henry David Thoreau said “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

It’s a notion that occupies me: what does it mean to live deliberately? I have some idea.

I think it’s about being fully present in any given moment, and I am working on being better at that. I’m pretty good about it in regards to food. :-) You won’t usually find me mindlessly stuffing my face, not noticing what I am eating. I love food. I don’t eat huge quantities, but I enjoy what I eat and pay attention to it.

I love to cook. NOT crazy about cleaning up, but sometimes even that can be a satisfying pleasure. But cooking...now that’s fun! It can be creative and expressive. I enjoy the smells, and the beauty of it. Beauty? Sure! The blush on a ripe nectarine, a bunch of glossy green basil, or those perfect little grape tomatoes? Food can be very pretty.

Even having a really good conversation can be a time to live deliberately. I have certain friends who let their passion for a topic show. They become animated and bright with excitement, and I love to talk with them. One of those friends also loves to eat the way I do, and we enjoy sharing a kitchen from time to time. I count her as one of the blessings in my life.

The way I see it, if I put my energy into paying attention to the moment, who I am with and what I am doing, I will be living deliberately. I know that I burn more calories, eat less but enjoy it more and feel better all the way around if I do. Old H.D. Thoreau could only approve.

Three trees

Across the parking lot stands three trees of different kinds. I can see them when I go to use the fax. I'm not good with the varieties of trees, so all I can say is they are deciduous trees, fully leafed out now that it's summer.

It's been a windy year so far and I detest wind. But I love the way these three trees move in the wind. One of them is darker green than the others and when the wind blows across it, it waves in smooth undulations like a green sheet drying on the line.

One tree has many long, skinny leaves lined up on thin branches and it makes the wind look like it's blowing very hard. That tree moves a lot at any little breeze.

The third tree has roundish leaves that are green on one side and nearly gray on the other. It dances in the wind in a way that makes it look like it is shimmering. The branches hardly move, but the leaves twist and shake on their stems.

It is lovely to see these three dancing outside the window. I mind the wind a little less because of them. Part of what makes them so pretty and interesting to me is that, alone, each is really just a tree. But standing together and being different from each other, makes each one beautiful for its difference. They make me think about people I know with some of those same qualities.

Happy Birthday Auntie!

Today is my favorite Auntie's birthday. (Don't tell my other Aunties I said that!) She's 81. Having that remarkable woman in my life has been like having my own personal cheering section. She never criticizes or draws her mouth into that grim, disapproving line the women in my family are so good at (me too). Well, she probably does, but not to me.

Auntie has what I think is the ideal Christian attitude. For her, it isn't about telling others where they fall short. She does the best she knows how with what she has. She works hard at helping other people, sometimes at the expense of her self. She stays cheerful, even under terrible adversity and is never bitter. At least, not out loud. She never uses her faith as a stick to beat someone else with. I love that about her.

In a lot of ways, I want to be just like her. I want to be cheerful and giving. I want to be consistently nice. I want to be strong like she is. The irony is, I don't want a life like hers at all. Growing up during the war years, coming to America and starting all over. Losing her husband too soon, and grinding health problems.

I realize that the adversity in her life is part of what made her the beloved inspiration she is. So how do I get to be that good, without having to suffer that much for it?

Nice to meet you!

My memories of my paternal Grandpa are vague. He was already ill by the time I was old enough to have a memory that would keep. I was a little afraid of him. He was stern and unsmiling and not very approachable. I recall that he could crack a walnut with his bicep. Crunch! That was very impressive to me.

On the other hand, I knew my paternal Grandmother well. She always lived very near us (next door for many years) and I was an adult when she passed away. She had Parkinson’s disease from an early age. She was frail and trembling. Her speech was greatly affected by the disease and only family members could understand her when she spoke. Grandma couldn’t swallow her food very well, and this caused her to drool some. She also hunched with osteoporosis.

The years were not kind to my Grandparents. Their marriage was a disappointment to them both. Their first child (and only daughter) died at birth. They raised six sons through the depression years and hardship made a deep mark upon their lives.

In my recent searches for information on the family tree, I came across photographs of Grandpa and Grandma. They were confirmation portraits, so they would have been 13 or so at the time. They were many years and many miles apart for the portraits but there was a touching similarity.

There stood my gruff, grumpy Grandfather, young and bright-eyed. His brown hair waved back away from his grinning face and he had a look of mischief about him. This was the first time I had ever seen a smile on his face.

Grandma stood tall and unsure in her white dress. Her eyes and hair were dark and soulful in a way that I never would have guessed. Fresh and hopeful, almost ready to step out into life, she stood for her portrait. I could almost see the young dreams that must have been in her head.

The years had not yet taken a toll on these fresh youngsters. The pain and disappointments of life were far away. Wars and depressions and grief were only scary stories.

I could look into their faces and see who they were when their worlds were full of bright promise. I saw children who weren’t very different from my own. I finally met my real Grandparents. And I liked them.

Blessings

Years ago an email crossed my desk about finding blessings. It was about being grateful to have a sinkful of dirty dishes, because that meant you'd enjoyed the blessing of plenty to eat. Be grateful for the mountain of laundry; it means you have plenty of clothing and loved ones to make them dirty. And so on.

The water heater isn't working, but I'm not upset. The water was still warm enough this morning that my shower wasn't a shock. The plumber came over right away. Plus he is someone I have known since high school so I didn't have to stay and keep an eye on him. You always hear about repairmen helping themselves to coffee, beer or panty drawers. My plumber friend would never. He would be welcome to coffee or beer, but my panty drawer is my own business.

I did, however, have to give him the secret password for the dogs. A stranger coming out of the garage might alarm them, so I told him how to pacify them. All you have to say is, "Get the ball!" and you're in the club. Don't tell anyone. I don't want the bad guys to know how to disarm the dogs.