COLD WEATHER

I love cold weather.

Sometimes in the middle of the heat of Summer, I feel

like I’m not really alive, or at least not really awake, because I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for the cooler weather to kick in. Summer is something I mostly endure, with the hope that it will soon be over, and we will enter again into the full glory of Autumn and Winter.

I guess you could say I’m a “reverse-bear,” hibernating during the Summer, and fully awake once the temperatures drop below 70. I say I love cold weather, but to that I add a caveat: I’m a Southern girl, having lived my entire adult life in Florida, except for these last eleven years, when I’ve lived in Alabama. So, when I talk about “cold,” I don’t employ the same definition as…oh…say…someone from Maine. To my way of thinking, an optimum temperature would be anything between 35 and 65 degrees. I can tolerate temperatures 10-15 degrees colder or hotter, but would prefer not to. My personal Camelot would enjoy temps between 35-65 degrees at least 80% of the time.

And what about snow? I love snow! Well…a little bit of snow. My understanding is that the national average is about 25 inches per year. Way too much for me! That much snow in any given year would surely quickly lose its appeal. As I’ve been trying to identify the perfect retirement location, I look for a place that generally enjoys between 1-6 inches of snow per year.

Okay. I know what you’re saying: what a Weather Wimp! And I freely admit it. I’m a Weather Wimp—big time! One of my main reasons for wanting to move out of Tuscaloosa is to get out of Tornado County (or at least get out of the capital city of Tornado County: Deep South.) But of course, I don’t want to move into the path of any oncoming hurricanes either, or live under the constant dread of earthquakes or volcanoes. And my Dry Eye rules out pretty much all of the Southwest.

So I say I’m a Weather Wimp, but can you blame me? Nobody wants any of those conditions. It’s just that I put weather very high up on my list when trying to identify my Camelot criteria.

In Camelot, there would be a good deal of time during which it would be appropriate to wear flannel shirts and boots with heavy, comfy socks. In Camelot it’s okay if clouds sometimes cover the sun, if the wind blows (but not too hard), and it’s even okay if it rains. In fact, I quite enjoy all that weather. In moderation. I actually love a thunderstorm, as long as the weather radio isn’t frantically beeping and warning of approaching tornadoes!

So, right now, in the middle of Autumn, only days away from the first day of Winter, with an unseasonably early dusting of snow today, it’s all good, it’s all glorious, as far as I’m concerned! Inside my boots I’m wearing two pairs of comfy socks, and a flannel shirt over my long-sleeved shirt is just enough to make me feel the weather is absolutely perfect.

I’m alive, and awake, and living in Camelot.

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THANKFUL

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so of course we are in the season where is it so natural to stop and think about the many things we have to be thankful. A couple of days ago I put together a list and was surprised to see how much simply thinking and writing about these many blessings caused my spirit to soar. So I decided to commit most of them to posterity, here on this website. I’ve eliminated a few, because they are just too personal, or unimportant, or would require too much explanation. Also, I don’t like to tempt fate or induce karma by engaging in what some might call “bragging.” But I think the blessings that follow are representative of most of what is good in my life at this time.

WHAT I’M THANKFUL FOR

  • I am alive and relatively healthy.
  • My spiritual life, my salvation for eternity
  • Russ
  • My kids
  • Dad has a support system in his old age
  • Mom went to Heaven, so did Marianne
  • My job, my paycheck, and Russ’ too
  • The Free Press
  • Even though the USA is not going through some troubles, it’s still one of the best places in the world to live
  • Amazon, which easily makes my life better
  • Squee is hanging in there, glad we were able to identify his problem and there is an easy solution
  • I am thankful that superstitions are not valid
  • That Russ is willing to move in our retirement
  • That Russ and I think so much alike and get along so well
  • My recent weight loss, which makes me a healthier person who looks and feels better
  • Pleasant weather, especially now in Fall and Winter
  • My clothes, which make me feel good, and which I mostly like
  • That my natural hair color came in nicely
  • That spiders don’t fly
  • Publix, especially for the BOGOs
  • So many good restaurants in the Tuscaloosa area
  • That Russ also enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles
  • My ability to enjoy all kinds of music
  • For all my “Favorite Bands,” but especially for my new Favorite Band, MercyMe
  • For the internet, when it can be a source of information and inspiration
  • For topical magnesium
  • For eggs being a healthy food
  • For tea being healthy and enjoyable
  • For James living with Dad
  • For Terry being willing to take on so much responsibility with Dad
  • That we have not yet been plunged into nuclear war
  • For not being colorblind
  • For all my limbs
  • For my comfy bed
  • For our comfy house
  • For technology that allows us to play music, watch movies and TV shows
  • For all the basics we tend to take for granted, like freedom, electricity, and clean water
  • For Marvel movies
  • For my personal sense of style and my place in the world, which does not make me a slave to convention
  • Healing Music, and my headband headphones
  • My cell phone, which enables me to stay in touch with my kids and Dad
  • Thanksgiving, and other holidays, which give a break from routine and foster holiday spirit
  • Having identified Athens GA as a nearly perfect retirement location
  • I’ve reconciled myself with maybe never having any grandchildren
  • Flannel
  • Socks, especially thick ones
  • Soft serve ice cream
  • Our new car
  • For having discovered the Japanese Art of Tidying Up, which helps me get my physical world under control
  • For C.S. Lewis
  • For pleasant scents, and especially for the wax melter
  • That hibiscus tea, which I conveniently enjoy, helps keep blood pressure under control
  • That all the appliances in the house have slowly been replaced, and the only major home expense we are probably looking at for the future is a new roof
  • That I was able to reconnect with the Whimsies from my childhood
  • That none of the cats I’ve guardianed during my life have ever been cats “from hell”
  • Though I do better when I don’t eat gluten, I’m thankful that I don’t have Celiac’s disease
  • The football team in our town almost always does VERY well

Okay, on the eve of the Iron Bowl, I know I’m tempting fate with that last one, but even if we should lose, Alabama will still remain, overall, one of the very best college teams, and we have been for almost a decade now. Nothing can erase that.

Posted in Beauty, Food, Health, Home, In My 1960's, Life Happens, Puzzles, Spirit, Style | Leave a comment

NO EXTRA PIECES

Russ and I finished this puzzle last night, and as you can see, the theme is baking—specifically, Betty Crocker! So the first thing I have to say about this puzzle experience is that I was both surprised and relieved that looking at all these baking mixes and cakes and other goodies did not make me excessively hungry while doing the puzzle. We generally do the puzzle after dinner, so I’m not hungry to start off with, and I think the other reason is that when you’re doing a puzzle, your focus is so super-concentrated. You’re not looking at cake, you’re looking at yellow that’s shaded with brown, and a different shade of brown on top, and maybe a line of red or green on the side. So, that saved me. We’ve previously done a puzzle of candy, and another of donuts, and I had the same experience: puzzles do not make me hungry.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about.

When we got down to the end, and only had two pieces left, we placed one, and then…what??? We could not see another open space for the last piece, so we ran our hands over the puzzle up and down, back and forth, and still could not find where the final piece was supposed to go! I was beginning to think the puzzle manufacturer was playing a practical joke on us. How could we be done with this puzzle, and there was still one piece left?

Well, eventually, as I moved from one end of the puzzle to the other, I discovered that right in the very middle, there was indeed an open space. The final piece was almost completely brown, and the table beneath the puzzle is completely brown, so we were not able to easily see it, and strangely we also had not been able to feel it. But there it was! Open space, final piece….no extra pieces in this puzzle.

Later on, as I was thinking about what an incredibly weird experience it would have been to finish a puzzle, and yet still have one piece left, something important occurred to me. In a previous post, I had compared the whole of our lives to a tapestry: if we look at it from the bottom, it’s a mess. When we die and go to Heaven, as we look down on the finished product of our life, the completed tapestry, we’ll finally be able to see that the mess was really making something quite beautiful, and quite complete.

In a similar way, life is like a jigsaw puzzle. While we’re in the middle of doing it, we only have a partial view, and we may not believe that every piece is going to eventually find its exact right place, so that in the end we will see a complete and beautiful picture. While we’re in the middle of the process of putting this all together, it feels quite incomplete, and jumbled, and maybe even confusing. How many times have you done a puzzle and been looking for one particular piece, and ended up saying, “I’m convinced this piece is missing!” but then, when it is all said and done, the piece shows up and is placed, and the finished product ends up being complete and beautiful? Obviously it was there all along, but for some unknown reason, you were not always able to find it and see it and place it where it belonged.

God is the puzzle manufacturer. Our lives are a puzzle. We put our puzzle together one piece at a time, and in the end, every piece gets placed, and we have a finished product. And it’s beautiful. And there are no extra pieces. Everything that goes into our puzzle has a reason for being there, and in the end all these pieces interlock together to form a whole.

Our puzzle manufacturer is not going to play a joke on us, not going to give us some random extra piece to vex us at the end of it all. Everything is there for a purpose, and the purpose is to make something beautiful. And when our beautiful puzzle is completed, we will no longer be puzzled at all about what the purpose of any of it has been.

Yes, I got all this..from doing a puzzle.

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NEW MUSIC

The other night after I put my first item on my Bucket List, Russ pointed out that I had a category with nothing in it: Try Something New. I guess when I created the category, my thought is that I would probably fill it with descriptions of all kinds of new and delicious foods I’ve never tried before (because, amazingly, even as long as I’ve been alive, it turns out there are tons of foods I have not yet tried). But before I could think of even one new food I’ve tried recently, a better idea struck me. Like a bolt of lightning. The simplest and truest example of some of my most enjoyable new experiences, something that is so much more defining for me than even food, is Music. Specifically, my love of discovering New Music.

First, a bit of background: I’m an amateur musician, having learned to play the violin when I was ten, and I’ve also dabbled on guitar and piano, but with much less impressive results. But my interest in music does not spring from playing it so much as merely listening. If there were such a job as a Professional Music Listener, I would be immensely qualified, and first in line at the employment agency. Of course no such job exists, but one of the things I love about my desk job is that most of the time I’ve got Windows Media Player going, providing everything from Strauss waltzes to Steam Powered Giraffe. In fact, I’ve often said there are only two types of music I don’t like: Rap, and Country. But under the right circumstances, if a bit of either is combined with any other musical genre, I will make an exception.

Every other musical genre is fair game, but I would have to say my heart belongs to Rock & Roll. Or maybe Pop. Or, more exactly, Alternative. Alternative Rock…or Alternative Pop? I’m not always good with labels. As one of my favorite bands, Blue October, puts it on my of my favorite songs, Inner Glow:

Call it rock, or pop, or Bach, or–f**k!
Goddamn! Where did we go wrong?
Now there’s a category for every song

But I think my love of music began with Pop, Summer of 1969, when I was eleven years old and discovered… RADIO! Amazing! Turn it on, and there are all the same great songs, over and over again, which become favorites simply through repetition.

I particularly recall Sugar, by “The Archies,” (not a real band, apparently, just a group of studio musicians providing voice talent for a cartoon), and Lay Lady Lay, by the great Bob Dylan. I ask you, could there be two songs any more different? But I loved them both. I suppose this is where my eclectic taste in music began to take form. And remember, at this time I’m also learning violin, so I’m slowly being introduced to Classical music. Also, my family owns an 8-track, and what I mostly remember about that are the show tunes, from the likes of Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof. All in all, I had a pretty diverse musical education. I was like a baby learning a language, absorbing it all in absolute glee! Not to mention, I was actually in the Glee Club at school around this time, where we sang not only The Battle Hymn of the Republic, but also the theme from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And of course, I can never forget all the fabulous boy bands: Beatles, Monkees, Cowsills. Music was not only good for the soul, it was also a doorway to Romance.

I won’t go into detail about how my musical tastes have evolved through the decades (that would be a very long story), but let’s fast-forward to the early 2000’s. I’m a big fan of the X-Files TV show, and some time after seeing the first movie, while in my local library, I find the soundtrack and bring it home. Blown away! So many good songs! In particular, I love the dark, sad sound of One More Murder by the strangely-named Better Than Ezra (“Hey, have you heard that new band, Ezra? Yea, but this band is BETTER Than Ezra!”) From there, somehow (I don’t remember exactly how), I begin to collect and listen to all the music of Better Than Ezra. I now have my first official experience of Discovering New Music, and BTE is now officially My Favorite New Band.

Until the next one comes along. Who was it? I don’t precisely recall the order, but since then, there have been many. To name a few: the aforementioned Blue October, Placebo, Stereophonics, OK Go, the Decemberists, the Bravery, Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boy (wpreviously mentioned in an earlier post), and let’s not forget Abney Park. And We the Kings, also previously featured.

Each, in turn, has been, at one timeor another, “My Favorite Band,” and all continue to be among my favorite bands, probably for the rest of my life. And at any time, any of these bands may easily float back up to the #1 position. Because, as much as I love discovering New Music, I’m also always happy to go back to the old favorites, and in fact, another thing I’m often fond of saying is “The best music is the music I’m listening to RIGHT NOW.”

So how did I discover all these bands (and others I haven’t even listed here)? Sometimes by paying attention to movie or TV soundtracks, and sometimes quite by accident. But sometimes it’s not accidental at all. My kids know the kind of music I like, and some bands have come to me by way of their recommendation. I distinctly remember Joey leading me to Blue October, and Mary suggested Placebo. Mary and I also share an interest in steampunk, so I know for certain she told me about Abney Park. But I remember stumbling upon Steam Powered Giraffe on my own, and giving her a heads up about their unique sound and “schtick.”

Sometimes, one band leads to another band. Once you’ve been introduced to Fall Out Boy on You Tube, you’re only a few clicks away from Panic at the Disco. And if you like Radiohead, why not try Muse?

My point here is that I live in a world full of music, much of which is still out there to be discovered. So every day, and every moment, is full of the possibility of Discovering New Music in one way or another. I only need to keep my ears open.

Now, having said all this, sadly, one area of my life in which music is sorely lacking is in my Christian walk. In the past, I tuned into (and still love) Glad, and certain songs by the 80’s Christian rock band Petra, and of course everything by the quiet, folksy Chris Rice, but in general, for me, a lot of Christian music tends to sound…hokey. Boring. Predictable. Way too “church-y.”

But then…

Okay, once again, a little background: In July, Russ and I bought a new car, and it came with three free months of Sirius XM, and an offer for another six months for $20. No-brainer. So we are now up to our eyeballs (or should I say “eardrums”?) in new and creative samplings of some very highly specialized channels. In general, we tend to stick to news and sports, but Russ has found a 1970’s music channel, I’ve saved the New Wave 80’s, and also some classical Jazz. But just the other day, I decided to try one of the “Christian” offerings.

I was not surprised that most of it ended up as forgettable background music for me. Disappointed, but not surprised, that I was not terribly impressed. Until yesterday morning, when I wasn’t really paying that close attention at all, but slowly the music pierced my consciousness and I found myself thinking, “Hey! These guys are GOOD!”

The band was Building 429, the song was We Won’t Be Shaken. Not bad. I came into my office, turned on my computer, then You Tube, and found the song and played it again. At this point I’m thinking “Eureka! I’ve actually found some Christian music I like!”

So I started working, pulling open all my usual programs, and the music continues to play in the background. Now it’s a new song, a really cool song, and I’m thinking it’s still Building 429, but when I go back to You Tube, I find out I’m listening to MercyMe. So I watch the video as I listen to their song Flawless, and if you take the time to watch and listen as I did yesterday morning, you will see here the perfect marriage of Music and the Christian message:

So there you have it. It is always exciting to Discover New Music. Some discoveries are more exciting than others. And the most amazing thing of all is that there is NO END to the music, or the discoveries, or the excitement. This is one of the very best things about the world we live in.

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FIRST ITEM IN THE BUCKET

I’m familiar with the concept of a Bucket List, but whenever I try to think up things to put on my own personal Bucket List, I usually end up stumped. There are some things I might like to do someday, and other things I wouldn’t mind experiencing, but very few possibilities fit the criteria of “I MUST do this before I die.”

There are two reasons I can think of for why I am not able to compose a Bucket List. One is that I am not at all an adventurous person. I don’t long for sky-diving or world travel; my Bucket List is more likely to include a good book I’ve always wanted to read. Boring…right?

The second reason is that I’m a relatively happy person. Except when I go into a funk thinking about nuclear war—which you have to admit is a perfectly normal reaction to the possibility of nuclear war.) I’ve led a relatively blessed and stress-free life, I’m happily married, have two great kids, and enjoy a personal relationship with the God of the Universe. What more could I ask for?

But all this leads to a question: do I not ask for more because I really do not require or desire it, or do I somehow feel it would be unseemly for one who has so much to ask for more? After all, I don’t want to be greedy.

But having said all that, composing Bucket Lists is a perfectly acceptable activity these days, so I’ve decided to join the crowd and give it a go. And here’s what’s precipitated all this:

My 20-something son Joey recently broke up with his girlfriend, and newly-single, he’s entertaining the idea of living in a camper to save money. It’s just him and the dog, and I don’t think he’s accumulated a tremendous amount of possessions (some guitars and speakers, gaming system, TV…), so this is an idea that seems to make sense, since a buddy will let him park the camper in his oversized yard in a semi-rural area of central Florida. Joey’s still getting his ducks in a row and looking for the right camper, and he’s shown me a few on Craigslist that might fit the bill.

Now that I know where to go on Craigslist to see campers, I look almost every day, and I have to admit that what I see sparks my interest. There’s something so appealing about trimming down to the bare minimum, letting go of all the excess baggage. What is important? What is merely frivolous? What is frivolous…yet important? I think you would find out pretty fast, living in a camper.

Not only that, but the mobility! Imagine being able to travel all over, if you wanted to, seeing the entire country. Following the seasons, the attractions, following festivals or sports teams, going wherever your whims might take you.

So I’m putting this one on my Bucket List. Not only because the idea appeals to me now, but because it takes me back to when I was a teenager and had a dream of traveling the country living out of a VW van. I never did that, and truth be told, I never would want to do that now. Not a van! But maybe a well-equipped Airstream…?

I don’t know how long I would want to do this. I don’t see that it would become a permanent way of life. It would be just one adventure to be had…by someone who is otherwise not really so interested in adventures. Maybe a month would be enough before I would be ready to “return to reality.” Maybe a year. Maybe longer?

There is one issue though about this being on my Bucket List. I’ve talked with Russ several times about possibly doing something like this in our retirement, and it’s clear this is NOT on his Bucket List, not even close! He might be willing to do this with me, for a short time. But I doubt I could get him to make a bigger commitment than a month or so. But a month might be long enough to get this out of my system…and crossed off my Bucket List!

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THE DARK AND NOT SO DISTANT CLOUD

As a teenager, I traveled from Florida to New York to spend a Summer with my Aunt Barbara. I specifically recall that during that trip, Barbara and I had a conversation in which she explained that the Bible predicted an increase in earthquake activity as a foreshadower of the End Times. (In Matthew 24:7, Jesus said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.”)

During the last 50 to 100 years, Barbara reported, more earthquake activity had been recorded than in all of recorded history before that time. Since earthquakes were increasing, she contended, surely the End Times were nigh.

Now, of course, it should have occurred to my teenage self to ask the obvious question: could it just be that in the last 50 to 100 years civilization has gotten so much better about recognizing and recording earthquake activity? But I didn’t stop to logically think this out, because my instinct kicked in…and I began to worry.

Now, I’ve always been a Worrier. I lack the gene that makes one able to recall and tell jokes, but my Worrier Gene is strong and dominant. At times it has served me well, because it’s easy for me to imagine the worst that could possibly happen, and I am motivated to prepare for the worst, perhaps moreso than the average person. I believe I have averted many a disaster in this way.

For instance, when my children were little and learning to climb, every morning I would take the couch cushions off the couch and lay them on the floor, so that when the kids climbed the couch, if they fell, they fell into the cushions and did not hurt themselves. I am proud to report we had no juvenile broken bones in our house…until Mary and Joey were about 12 and 13, and went walking around the neighborhood on their own, and Joey stole Mary’s hat, and ran, and she chased him, and tripped over some ornamental rocks and landed hands first on the concrete, fracturing both wrists. She had two casts for several weeks, but thankfully her young bones healed in record time, which was good, because helping her wash her waist-length hair in the sink every few days was not the easiest thing in the world to do.

I relay all this to point out how, with matters that are under my control, my worrying has proved a loyal friend. But in matters that are beyond my control (like the End Times, whether by earthquake, or any other means), I find my worrying has very little influence over events. But I worry all the same.

We now live in a world that is more dangerous than anything I can recall in my lifetime. Not to say that the world has not been more dangerous, only that if it was, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to be consumed with Worry about it. But now I am paying attention, and I do so to my own detriment, because there are things going on in the world that might indeed spell the end of civilization as we know it. What I mean is, we should ALL be worried. And guess what? For the vast majority of us, these things are completely out of our control.

Mostly I’m talking about the current situation with North Korea. This has been on the periphery of my consciousness for many years now, in a way that has made me worry, “Someday this may become a real problem.”

Well, that day is here. In my humble opinion, if this matter is not handled properly, we could all be looking at the large-scale disaster of WWIII. And I’m not the only “worrier” who thinks so.

Actually, here in Alabama, Russ and I are probably unlikely to be a direct target, but Mary lives just outside Seattle, and Joey and the rest of my family live in or near the Fort Lauderdale/Miami metropolis, and either of those locations are high on the risk list. And now we hear that North Korea may have an H-bomb. How much more dangerous does that make them? How much more should we worry?

Nobody wants nuclear war. Duh. But somehow things like this can happen. I don’t know what the likelihood might be (as in, “Alabama has an 87% chance of beating Auburn in the Iron Bowl.”), but I know it’s enough to make not only me, but also lots of other intelligent people take up the mantle of Worry.

Now, here’s the thing: when you’re worrying about nuclear war, everything else tends to shrink in significance. For instance: what’s the use of exercising and eating right to stay healthy and live long, if you’re never going to have a chance to live long, because you’re going to be annihilated in a nuclear explosion? Why am I saving money for retirement, if I’m never going to reach retirement age? Why do I even bother waking up and going to work every day?

Maybe I go to work because I have such a beautiful and comfortable office. Here is a picture of my office:

As you can see, I’ve decorated for Fall, with sunflowers and scarecrows and amber twinkle lights. It took a little time and effort to put this all together. And why did I do it? Why did I bother? Because despite the fact that the world could be destroyed in a nuclear explosion, I believe WE HAVE TO CARRY ON as if everything is normal. If we let the fear of the possibility that the world might come to an end prevent us from living our lives, then in some way, or world already has come to an end.

Forty years later, Barbara’s dire 1970’s prediction that “the end is near” has not yet amounted to anything. In fact, NONE of the dire predictions of any number of sooth-sayers over the last forty years have yet to amount to anything. Kahoutek’s Comet, Y2K, the Mayan Calendar…not to mention how many times the same religious fanatic keeps predicting the end of the world, then saying the math was wrong, but now he’s got it right, so really, this time, for sure, it’s happening, mark my words!

Honestly. Why do we keep listening to this stuff?

But this North Korea business is a little different. It’s not random. It’s not fantasy. There is a clear and present danger. But I’ve decided I have to stop listening to it, have to stop paying so much attention to it. It may happen, it may not. But the world will come to an end at the time that God has pre-ordained. There’s nothing we can do about it. At least, there’s nothing I can do about it, at least not directly.

So I’m trying not to pay undue attention to it, trying not to let it cloud my thinking. I decorate my office for Fall, I go shopping for an outfit to wear for Christmas. I wake up and go to work, cook dinner, wash clothes, do dishes, read books, listen to music. I do jigsaw puzzles, and every now and then write a post for my blog. I try to continue with all the things I need to do and want to do, and try to do it all without thinking about the dark cloud that is hanging over all our heads. And a lot of the time, if I focus on the task before me, I can block out the knowledge of that cloud. At least temporarily. But not all the time.

I know where I’m going when I die. I’m looking forward to meeting Jesus in Heaven. But at the same time…I don’t want to go there too soon. I want to get all I can out of this life before I move on to the next. And I certainly don’t want me, or Russ, or any member of my family, or in fact anyone in the world, to die a horrible death for no apparent good reason. What a waste. What a horrible, stupid waste. That dark cloud of impending doom hangs over my head these days on a constant basis, and all I can do is try very hard not to look up at it.

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A PUZZLE FOR DAD

As previously mentioned, I caught the “Puzzle Bug” from my parents. So, when it comes time to give gifts to Dad, who already has everything he needs, a puzzle seems like a good choice. In years past, he and Mom would do 1,000 piece puzzles on a regular basis, but as Dad slows down, I notice 500 and 300 piece puzzles are more likely nowadays.

In recent years, Mom developed a system for making puzzles even easier! After putting together a puzzle the first time, Mom would put it back in the box in two or three bags, labeled “Top,” “Bottom,” and sometimes “Middle.” This way, the next time the puzzle came to the table, it feels more like they’re doing two or three puzzles, each of significantly less pieces.

This is what Dad has gotten used to, so for Christmas this year (don’t tell him!) we’re going to give him this puzzle:

It’s 5000 pieces, but as you can see, Russ and I have already done it. But I’ve put it away in three plastic bags, labeled “Top,” “Bottom,” and “Middle.” I know it’s not really kosher to give a “used” puzzle as a gift, but in this case, I think Dad will appreciate the effort we’ve gone through to re-create the puzzle experience Mom worked out.

And one more thing: the reason I chose this particular puzzle is because all his life Dad was an auto mechanic (one of the best!) so I feel like he’ll appreciate the garage and car theme, with all the oil cans and signs, and license plates. Also, the whole image has a sort of nostalgic 1950’s feel, doesn’t it?

(For myself, to make sure I enjoyed doing this puzzle, as I almost always do, I made sure there was a CAT in there somewhere!)

Posted in Others, Puzzles | 2 Comments

IN THE KITCHEN WITH MARY


Look at this haul of fresh food! No, I didn’t hit the local Farmer’s Market. My daughter Mary did. She lives just outside Seattle, and is a big aficionado of going to local markets and getting all kinds of fresh foods. Unlike her mother, Mary LOVES to cook! She’s always texting me photos of her latest creations.

For instance, here’s what she had for breakfast this morning. Soup! Yes, I said soup, and yes, I said breakfast. Take a look:

This is what she writes: “I’m having soup for breakfast again! Chickpea miso with fresh forage chanterelle mushrooms.” I don’t even know what half that stuff is. But it sure does look yummy, doesn’t it? I’m a big fan of soup, and the scallions definitely appeal to me! This soup looks so rich, and really, who says you can’t have soup for breakfast? Why not?

I’ve often told Mary she needs to start a website called “In the Kitchen with Mary,” but she claims she doesn’t have time and is not willing to put in the effort. Too bad, because such a website would be not only beautiful, but also healthy and inspirational.

Side note: Interestingly, I’ve just discovered that QVC has a feature called “In the Kitchen with Mary,” but that’s absolutely beside the point, because 25 years ago Mary and I made a short film for her kindergarten class called “In the Kitchen with Mary,” that absolutely pre-dates anything QVC has done. And by the way, it’s my intention to find a way to add that ancient video to this website. I just have to figure out how to do it…

But, getting back on track, even though Mary will not post her food pics, every now and then I’ll make the effort to share some of her beautiful food photos, since I am so proud of her creativity, and commitment to healthy eating.

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ACCESSING MY INNER TEEN, PART 2: BOY BANDS

Last time I talked about how knowing that God is in control connects me to who I was as a teenager, but I also mentioned another major aspect of my teenage self that is 180 degrees removed from my spiritual side. And here it is: boys. More specifically: Boy Bands.

First, a little background: as a teenager, I was 100% what was then called a “teenybopper,” but is nowadays known as a “Fan Girl.” I had my favorite actors, singers and “Boy Bands,” decades before the term was ever coined. Bobby Sherman really got the ball rolling, followed closely by the Monkees. It would be difficult to count how many celebrity crushes I’ve had through the decades. I tend to get obsessed for a certain period of time, then move on to something (or someone) else. Whereas my teens were dominated by Bobby Sherman, the Monkees, the Cowsills and John Denver, as an adult, my tastes have been quite different. (Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman, Harrison Ford). More mature, you might say.

Sort of. Sometimes. Because, despite everything, somehow I always come back to the Boy Band.

Not in the same way, though. As a teenybopper, I dreamed of actually KNOWING my stars, somehow becoming involved with them, having a personal relationship. Now that I’m much older and happily married, I’m content to simply relax and enjoy the music, the personas, and everything I perceive they stand for.

And what do they stand for? Youth. Freedom. Rebellion against the status quo. Individuality. Creativity. I could go on, but you get the idea.

About five years ago, (when I’m well into my fifties), I accidentally ran into Fall Out Boy. I was on You Tube, listening to some other bands (I don’t even remember who), and suggestions on the right side of the screen led me from one band to another, and thus I discovered Fallout Boy. YEARS after everyone else. That’s me. Always late to the party. A Late Bloomer. But being a Late Bloomer has its advantages, because by the time I get there, there’s so much existing material, so may videos and songs, so many CD’s! And I don’t have to worry about whether or not this band is going to “make it,” because they already have, and there’s a ton of stuff for me to enjoy about them.

But it all started here:

This was the first video I saw of Fall Out Boy. From the early images of a bunch of boys jumping around with guitars, I was hooked. Then you move fully into this fanciful tale that involves a very unpretentious girl who dresses like I would (if I were much younger and much thinner), and I knew I had arrived in a world that was so much different than the world I live in.

Not because the love interest has antlers, but because these boys are musicians, and they live in a world where music and creativity are their lifestream, and they can dress however they want, and don’t have “real jobs” that require them waking up with an alarm clock. I know this is the exception and not the norm, and in so many ways it’s not the “real world,” but therein lies the attraction. It’s a pleasant fantasy about what it means to be young and talented and creative and full of hope for the future.

You see, at some point in life, you realize that the dreams you had where you were younger about what you planned to do with your life are no longer valid because you’re no longer young, and there’s not as much “future” ahead of you as there once was, those same opportunities are no longer as available. It’s a depressing realization when it first happens, but after a while you adjust to your new reality, and you’re willing to live the life that is set before you, which may not include being a famous musician, or best-selling author, or award-winning movie director. But you’re okay with that, because now you have a husband who loves you, and a cozy little house, a job that’s not awful, and a relative degree of good healthy and security. So, what more could you ask for?

Oh yeah, you could ask to every now and then dip your toes in the optimism of Youth by listening to music and watching videos by young people who remind you of who you once were, or who at least approximate the type of person you always hoped you might be.

And the fact that you still feel a connection to that person you always hoped you might be (even though you now know you never will be) assures you that on a very deep level, that young, free, optimistic, creative person is STILL IN THERE, still at the very core of who you are and who, really, you always will be. And any day that you can connect to the core of who you really are, that’s a good day.

So that’s my Fall Out Boy story. And after that, I became quite enamored of Panic! At the Disco, and then OK GO. So much music, and so many muses! And now, something new. Again, I’m not sure exactly how, but I’ve discovered the band We the Kings.

And if you know me, it’s very easy to figure out why I’m so attracted to them. I mean, besides all that creative, optimistic, artistic stuff I’ve already discussed. In addition to their music, which is sort of early 2000’s pop-rock, take a good look at these guys and you’ll notice a lot of…HAIR.

I’m obsessed with guys with hair, the more hair the better. I think this began way back when I was about seven years old and the Beatles first came on to the scene. Of course, the Beatles were the original “mop tops,” they made it cool for guys to have long hair. Their hairstyles became one of their defining characteristics, what set them apart from all the traditional, acceptable, mainstream bands that came before them. Back in the 1960’s, if you were a girl who liked the Beatles, you were sending a clear message to society that the status quo was not for you. You were not interested in hooking up with the clean-cut captain of the football team, or dating some fraternity brother. You were a REBEL who saw yourself traveling a less traditional path.

It’s kind of amazing that I can trace this all the way back to the Beatles, when I was only seven years old. It’s also amazing that this was probably the one time in my life when I was NOT a Late Bloomer! When it came to the Beatles, and Boy Bands, and teenybopperism, I was a maverick, ahead of the curve!

If you’ve been alive long enough, you remember the first time the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. A historic moment, I certainly remember! Glued to the TV, I promised myself that before I died, I would see the Beatles in concert someday. (I never did.) But at that point, I’d seen the footage of crazed fan-girls screaming and swooning as the Beatles performed on stage. And I wanted to participate in that hysteria.

I remember my mother wondering “How can they even hear the music, with all that screaming going on?” But I think Mom was missing the point. It wasn’t about the music. At least not primarily about the music. It was about the BOYS, and the hair, and the chance to step outside the mundane and connect to something bigger than you, something that seemed to transcend reality, something that represented the freedom of the spirit, and creativity, and optimism, and hope that we too might someday find and date and marry a CUTE boy with LONG HAIR.

I don’t know if at the tender age of seven I actually experienced those particular thoughts and dreams, but I feel certain they were there, on some subconscious level, deep in my heart.

Now, here’s the irony in all this. My first husband actually was a musician, a drummer for a local heavy metal rock band, and at times his hair was more long than short. But music and hair did not assure the happy marriage I dreamed of. Now I’m married to Russ, who last wore his hair over his ears as a senior in high school, and whose interest in music stops at about that same time: the 1970’s. But I couldn’t imagine being more happily married.

Which makes me wonder about my childhood and teenage fascination with long-haired musicians. Might this be one of those cases of “Be careful what you wish for”?

Or might it be that I’ve had it right all along: that Boy Bands are the stuff of fantasy, and should remain so, far off in the distance, the inspiration for a dream that is never going to come true. Maybe the reason why they seem to be part of some alternate reality is because they ARE part of an alternate reality. They are the embodiment of youth, and art, and creativity. Picasso said: “Art is a life that makes us realize the truth.” In some way, the world they inhabit is a lie. But that lie makes us realize that at the heart of everything, we are always more than we seem to be.

So, in the end I’m thinking, maybe it’s okay to live with one foot planted firmly in reality, and wiggle the toes of the other foot in that magical world where cute boys in quick-paced musical romps play out the silly shenanigans that make you feel good, and young and alive, just enough to remind you that your Inner Teen is never dead. She’s only sleeping. But she’ll always gladly wake up to gaze at the long-haired boys and listen to their music.

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ACCESSING MY INNER TEEN, PART I: GOD IS IN CONTROL

Life sucks. Right? Stuff happens, and it’s not always good stuff. We all get bumped, bruised and jaded along the way. It’s part of getting older. It’s part of being alive. I’m no exception. Sometimes I look at who I am now, and it makes me sad that I’ve lost so much of the innocence and optimism I had when I was younger. Six decades is a long time, and during that time, I have to admit, I’ve changed. And not always for the better.

But even though I know I’ve lost so much along the way, at the same time I’m keenly aware that deep down, at my core, that optimistic teenager I once was has not been completely eradicated from my personality. She may not be as vital, healthy and strong as she once was, but at certain quiet moments, my gut tells me she’s still in there somewhere. Buried deep down. Not dead. Just sleeping.

There are actually two very distinct ways I know my Inner Teen hasn’t been completely suffocated, two aspects of my life that still allow me to occasionally glimpse and access that unscathed person I once was. But these two areas of my life are so completely different from each other, that I don’t feel it’s appropriate to deal with them both in one post. So I’ll talk about the first, and most important aspect first, and save dessert for another day.

So, you’ll notice on the right side of this blog, there’s an icon for “Spirit,” and I’ll make no bones about it: I’m a born-again Christian. I was raised Catholic, went to Mass every Sunday, but somehow always felt I wasn’t completely connected to God. I always wanted to be closer to God, but wasn’t really sure how to do that. Then, when I was 16 or 17, I had a spiritual awakening. God started “throwing Christians in my path,” and through a number of influences, I came to understand what was really meant by “Jesus is the Son of God,” and how that impacted me personally. I was looking for a path, for a personal relationship with God, and I found it. I had been floundering around, looking for the path that would get me going in the direction I wanted to go, and then, suddenly, I was on the Path.

Of course, since that time, I’ve always been a Christian, but I haven’t always been “on the Path.” Like anything else in life, there tend to be times when you do better, and times when you do not as well as you ought. But one thing I’ve always felt certain of, over all these many decades, is that God has not given up on me, He is always, always calling me back to Him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been convinced of this.

These last several years, I’ve felt more connected to God than I had in the several preceding years. To some degree, I put this down to getting older and therefore more inclined to take a look at The Big Picture. And when you look at The Big Picture, the main feature in the picture is God, and the knowledge that though most of my earthly life is now behind me, Eternity looms ahead, and getting closer all the time. So, why not give more attention to where I’m going?

When I’m in communion with God, in prayer or Bible reading, that’s when I feel the troubles of the world fade away and fall off , that’s when I feel most connected to what is most REAL. Incidentally, I probably should have mentioned “worship” as another experience that connects me to God and what is most real, and years ago it did, but truth is, it’s been many years now since I’ve gone to church. Reference the “bumped, bruised, jaded and scathed” comments above, and all I’ll say right now is that’s a whole ’nother topic, for another day. But worship, true worship, is another good way to connect to God, if there aren’t too many other distractions standing in the way.

As a Christian, I know that deep down, when you tear off all these outer layers of stress and noise and commotion, the true nature of the Universe reveals itself as something GOOD, because God is at the center of it all, God is the source of it all, and God is good, and He is in control. I’ll say it again: God is in control!

Sometimes it may not appear that way, especially if you only pay attention to what can be seen on the surface, but if somehow you manage to get past the outer layer, past the superficial, and look intently at The Big Picture, it becomes so clear that there is not only a Design, but also a Designer.

A sidebar, to make my point: a few days ago, our cat, Squee, had a problem with his right ear. Nothing serious, he was just holding it funny, sometimes shaking his head. We couldn’t see any dirt of buggies, but something was not quite right. He’s better now, but while it was happening, Russ and I made a decision to use a little OTC medicine, some pet “Ear Wash” we had left from the last time this happened. In fact, it may be because we used the Ear Wash that his ear got better. Or it may have gotten better on its own. That’s not the point. The point is that for several days, a couple of times a day, I would sneak up and grab him, and gently but firmly hold him, while Russ tried to get ten drops in his ear. All the while he’s shaking his head and struggling to get away. Like most cats, Squee is not a fan of “treatments.” And I’m sure all the while he was wondering, “What have I done wrong? Why are they TORTURING me??”

Obviously, we were not torturing him, not doing this to be mean to him. It was to HELP him. But from his cat-simple vantage point, he couldn’t understand that. I’m reminded of that verse from the Bible, Hebrews 12:11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” We sometimes have human-simple responses to our difficulties, not seeing what God is trying to accomplish in us. We may not UNDERSTAND what’s happening, but that doesn’t negate the fact that God is in control.

I’m reminded also of a metaphor I heard once, long ago, in a sermon, back in the days when I went to church. The preacher described our lives as a tapestry. A beautiful tapestry. But right now, we are on the underside of the tapestry, where the threads and strings are all jumbled together looking like one big mess. When we die and go to Heaven, we’ll be looking down on the tapestry from above, seeing the beautiful design that was being created all along, but which we could never clearly see, until we got the opportunity to look at it from the right vantage point.

One more story, and this is where I really connect all this to my Inner Teen. Because it was indeed when I was a teen, probably 17 in earth years, yet only a year or so in spiritual years, when—and I still have a very intense memory of this—my high school class went on a field trip somewhere-or-other, I don’t remember where, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that I remember sitting on the bus, in the very back, by myself, looking out the window at the world passing by, at the trees and grass, the sky and clouds, but also the buildings and roads, train tracks, whatever, and being overwhelmed by what a huge and beautiful world it was, and how blessed I was to be loved by the Creator and Sustainer of all this. It was just a bus ride, looking out the window at completely ordinary surroundings, and yet it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.

Even now, today, decades later, as jaded and cynical as I sometimes feel I’ve become, I still look back on that moment, and recall it vividly, and experience again the Joy felt by that girl who was me…and who still IS me, on some deep level. That’s my Inner Teen. She’s still in there. I can still connect to her sometimes. In fact, I can connect to her at any time, if I just slow down, take a deep breath, and look inside. All is not lost. Yes, the world sucks. But God doesn’t. And He is in control.

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