Pack Up….and Smile


duffle-bag-copyPack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.
Don’t let your joy and laughter hit a snag
Smile boys, that’s the style
What’s the use of worrying
It never was worth while
So, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.

 

Last week, was Thanksgiving and the closing on the first house we have ever owned. book-boxes-copyThe week before that family came from all over to celebrate my husband’s retirement after 45 years in the ministry, so finally we have begun to pack in earnest.  Perhaps with a little luck, we will actually even finish before the moving van pulls away from the manse.

Doug used to have a nightmare that recurred on Saturday nights that he would get to the pulpit on Sunday and wouldn’t have done or would have lost his sermon. Occasionally, it was that he had forgotten his pants and hoped no one would notice since he was wearing his minister’s robe! (Believe me, they would have!)

wrapped-pictures-copyMy latest nightmare is that the moving truck is pulling up and nothing is packed…or we are only half-packed. (Great motivation to get up in the morning and pack like a fiend!)

We moved to Edenton just a little more than 9 years ago, so how could I forget how awful packing really is? The only good news is that I no longer feel the need to exercise. Bending, lifting, and toting boxes of books, kitchen items, china, paintings, and miscellaneous do-dads are aerobic enough! I went to the doctor today and I had lost 4 lbs!

packing-stuff-copyAnd as for reading and pretty much writing (except for  a break in the evening before bed), my mental challenges right now are about how to encircle precious breakables with bubble wrap and get them in a box well enough that they are not reduced to shards of glass when they arrive at our new home…some so precious we are transporting them ourselves, just to be sure!

We came here from a house we’d lived in for 28 years. I thought we had really gotten rid of so many things then, but a few have hung on. The largest hanger ons in our lives have always been books. Doug got rid of many when we moved, but we still moved 100 boxes to Edenton. Thankfully, our Clerk of Session was a librarian, and he and another church member turned an unused room at church into a library for Doug – with wonderful hardwood book shelves. More thankfully still, while again Doug has given many professional books away to some young men about to go off to seminary, the church offered to keep Doug’s library and grant him visiting privileges!

book-box-copy

But we have collected quite a lot of books at old bookstores in Cape Cod over the years, Journeys Through Bookland, old Harvard Classics, Collected works of Dickens and Shakespeare, American Heritage editions of most of the great must-read classics of English and American literature, 5 large bookcases full. So, while our paperbacks will go to the used book store, plenty will still go to our new home!

The hardest things to weed through are what my grandmother called cacko (chat-sko) or cacki (chat-ski), the little mementoes that connect to memories of people and places I have loved. I pick up a piece and before I can weigh out if it should stay or go I am off on a walk down memory lane, making it really hard to let any go. Hardest of all for me are items from my childhood, things that started as my mother’s treasures.

tape-gun-copyEven the twins suffered from this dilemma when I asked them to sort through the toys I began collecting when they were babies….they got very sentimental about quite a lot of them…and we kept all of those…a whole bin, in fact.

So long story short, this has to be a short post since I need to get back to work! Not much time for nostalgia or blogging. As quick as I can, I need to get back to sorting the real treasures from the “send to the Habitat for Humanity Restore” items, and still get as much packed into the old kit bag as possible.

whipping-mixer-copyNow, if I only I could decide if the hand-cranked beater my mom always used to make whipped cream has to come with me to the new house…such an odd little treasure. When I was a child we would take turns cranking and cranking the handle, listening to the crazy metallic whirring, competing to see who could turn it the fastest  until we bent the handle , and…savoring the strawberry shortcake all the more for the work….

….what do you think…maybe there’s just a little more room in our kit bag for memories and a few more smiles?

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Cast Iron Wisdom – On Seasoning and Giving Thanks


gourds-and-pumpkins-copyTomorrow, I will sit at a Thanksgiving Table at our son’s house. As usual, before I do, I will think about the year and of all the things for which I am grateful. As you know, the ending of this year has been one of mounting intensity not only for our country, but for Doug and me as we arrived at his retirement. So this year, I will ask God’s protection and blessing for America, and I will give thanks for all Doug’s years of ministry, for all the churches and people he has touched, and for all of the ways they have touched and cared for us.

turkey-with-wordsI know I will pause in gratitude for the new home that we closed on this week, making it  our very own, and remember Kris Cuddy, our agent,  and Trione, our finance manager, who gracefully turned a dream into a reality, and I will feel a few thrills of excitement over all that awaits: moving and then decorating, gardening and inhabiting Shady Stroll Lane (best name for a retirement street ever!) turning it into Nana and Boppa’s house.

Then, as always, I will spare a moment for all those who went before, without whom this Thanksgiving and all the ones that have led to it, could not have happened. As they used to say in a TV show from my childhood, most of all I will “Remember Mama.”

mother-and-child-hands-copyWe all take in our mother’s everyday teachings: “Don’t touch, HOT….Watch where you’re walking – I tended not to…Pick up after yourself…You turned it on, so turn it off…Always be polite, say please and thank you…Don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.” I know you remember all those basics your mother taught you, critically needed to get on in the world…or famously the things you had to have learned by kindergarten.

My mother certainly taught me those things, but so much else as well. I have shared some of her wisdom sayings in past posts, because over the years more and more of her wisdom has become real to me.

mark-twain-copyMany of my mom’s lessons to me were apparent at the time. Others required life experience to understand.  Over the years, something she said would sit far back in my mind until just the right moment and then pop back into awareness when life handed me a reason to see the wisdom of her words.

I’ve always been a great fan of the reputed quote of Mark Twain’s, “When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could barely stand to be around him, but when I was twenty-one I was surprised how much he had learned in seven years.”

I never thought my mother was ignorant…or the virtual swear word in my family, “stupid.”  If you acted ‘just plain stupid’, you were in trouble, for that was almost unforgivable….as in “How could you do something like that, are you stupid?” Stupid equalled ill-mannered and poorly brought up, making ill-considered, irresponsible choices or acting in ways that embarrassed or brought shame to the family.  (To clarify, this was not a condition of intelligence – It was a choice of behavior.) My mother was never stupid. I tried not to be.

But sometimes, I thought I was smarter than she was. I thought I had learned more, or that times had changed rendering some piece of advice no longer relevant.  Now that was ignorant. My mother’s wisdom has stood the test of time.

teflon-frying-panWhen I was 21, I still hadn’t quite reached Twain’s maturity. So, when Doug and I were getting married, I wanted all the latest in my registry of desired wedding presents including….Teflon pans. They were new!  They were non-stick!  I got them. I scratched them. I replaced them over the years, more than once. I gave some to my mom.  She liked them. She sometimes used them…she rarely scratched them.

eggs-in-cast-iron-pan-copyBut one of my mom’s treasures was an old cast iron skillet.  She always made the eggs or pancakes we had for special weekend breakfasts in it. It was the one pan my sister and I were never allowed to wash when we did the dishes.  Mom would carefully wipe it out and put it away.  When I asked why, she said that if we washed it we would ruin its “seasoning.”

That was a piece of wisdom lost on me – I had teflon! New improved, scratched replaced…so new again. She had that old cast iron skillet, seasoned over time, until the day she died.

large-teflon-pan-copyWhen we cleared out her apartment, I took it home. I’m not sure why, but perhaps because I could picture her making meals in it when I was a child. I kept it. And the old skillet sat in the cupboard untouched for years. After all, I still had teflon.

Well, segue ahead. Ten years after my mom died, cast iron pans began to appear in recipes. As they say, everything old becomes new again, and cast iron wisdom began to reappear.

cast-iron-pans-copyI don’t know how long it took for me to finally learn it, to get out the pan, read up on “seasoning,” and learn to care for it.  My mother’s was an old wisdom even when she was young, I had to get older to get it.

You see, she invested in something made to last a lifetime if it was cared for, something that acquired character as it was seasoned by meals and memories. Something meant to be passed on.

I had foolishly fallen in love with the new and momentary, the designed to be replaced, instead of what was designed to endure.

toad-in-a-hole-casts-iron-copyNow, you know I always use these examples from my life as the basis for lessons – today’s is seasoning: Just like mom’s pan, character is created by endurance, by the life experiences we get through, by the choices we make. The polishing of ourselves, like the surface of my mother’s skillet, happens as we are worn to a shiny patina by living our values, sharing our lives with integrity with those with whom we live and work and, I believe, by reaching out to those in need, (or, to stretch the analogy a bit…by feeding others from our pans.)

rusty-pans-copyThe corollary is that if we don’t care for ourselves as well as others, if we make the pragmatic choice because it is expeditious, or would bring a quick reward, or we want to get revenge, or thumb our nose at others, or only serve ourselves, if we contravene our values, we erode. We create pits in our purpose. We rust. We become of no earthly use.

As a social worker, it was easy to live these values in my job, as a pastor’s wife I did that in my church, and as a wife and mother, in my home. We all have these opportunities.

My mother worked for the air force. She could be as gruff as any of the military guys she worked with, but she had a heart and a passion for caring for the people she encountered. She didn’t need to be a social worker to create a patina of kindness as silky as the butter in her pan. burgers-in-cast-iron-skillet-copyShe “mothered” and brought home airmen away from their families, and was the very best and caring friend, and she believed in her children’s abilities, backing up that belief by working to assure we had college money in an era when mothers didn’t work. Her cast iron enduring wisdom is my foundation.

Teflon, the non-stick, slick surface may last for a while – like a candidacy where nothing the candidate said, no many how egregious it was, stuck, but white nationalism cannot succeed forever in a country ever more diverse. And at our roots, our country is grounded on solid values and they will pop up again and again and keep reasserting themselves.

thanksgiving-bounty-banner-copySo for me, this Thanksgiving I am going to give thanks for the things that sustain us, the love of family, the heritage of wisdom, and try to keep polishing my character. Cared for, cast iron will endure forever.

 

 

 

 

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Roller Coaster Ride


“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day-to-day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”  Viktor E. Frankl

“The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.'”  Max Lucado

sunset-roller-coasterGetting over the election overshadowed much of last week for me. Usually, I am a news junkie.  I couldn’t watch the end of it. It felt like watching some terrible unexpected accident unfold.  The odd thing is I often have voted for a candidate who didn’t win, but I had never been this depressed and distressed. I felt like there was a sinking pit in my stomach, the same feeling I have often gotten on a roller coaster as it drops precipitously.

the-comet-copyWhen I was a child, we used to visit family in Buffalo and then cross the Peace Bridge to go to Crystal Beach in Canada. We’d swim at the beach and go to the amusement park there. It was rudimentary by Disney standards, but it had a fantastic roller coaster.  The Comet, reconstructed in 1947 from the 1927 Cyclone, was and still is   considered by many as one of the all-time world’s best roller coasters.

the-comets-first-hill-wikipedia-copyOnly the big kids got to ride it. Year after year I waited to grow, and the excitement built until finally my cousin, Paula, and I were tall enough to reach the height limit. I still remember the build up as the cars slowly moved up the slope of first hill leading to the first peak. We were tipped backward, getting more and more scared and then, the 87 foot drop.

 

the-comets-historic-landmark-sign-copyWe shrieked, we shut our eyes, terrified, fighting the tears the wind speeding past brought to them. Up and down and round corners that made you feel you would fly off the rails, the Comet never failed to bring the feeling that the bottom was dropping out beneath us and the world was about to end. We thought we would surely die and felt the thrill of surviving afterwards.

(In its honor, let me just say it was so good and so notorious it still exists to this day.)

wild-mouse-sign-copyYears later, Crystal Beach unveiled The Wild Mouse.  It was a Coaster of sorts. It had quick fast turns and small but quick up and down hills.

wild-mouse-car-wikipedia-copyInstead of long cars holding pairs in rows, the Mouse had cars seating four. It had plenty of g-forces, but what I remember the most was bumping my knees on the bars and slamming into Paula, and her into me, hard, as we were shaken and twisted in this wild ride.

I only rode it once.

Last week, after the long build up of a bumpy, brutal campaign, the bottom dropped out for me in the election. I was left shaken and afraid. The Wild Mouse had won.

hands-surrounding-family-copyYet, the week ended with a wonderful celebration.  On Saturday, there was a different kind of mounting excitement as family started to gather. Doug’s brothers flew in, and next my cousins, and finally Doug’s former intern, Michaela, arrived from New York with her sister. We all joined some local friends for a dinner at a local restaurant. We joked and laughed, toasts were given, and we recounted family stories.

 

church-sign-copySunday, after 45 years of ministry, Doug held his last service at the Edenton Presbyterian Church and retired. Following the service was a celebration dinner and then a “This is Your Life” program filled with humor and laughter.

There were letters from colleagues lauding his ministry with tenderness and touching recollection, and speeches including one by our daughter that I will never forget. The end of last week’s ride was filled with shared love and yes…surrounded by family and friends…it was filled with grace.

cross-copyThat afternoon, for a few hours, our grandchildren got to know family who last saw them as infants or small children.  Then, Doug’s brothers left to meet their flights home and our kids left for Raleigh and work. Sunday night, my cousins,  Michaela and her sister sat around our dining room table with us continuing the laughter and the denouement of this special occasion. Monday, after meeting for coffee, our cousins left for New York. Today, Michaela and Gabriella will leave.  Luckily, this has been the gentlest of slopes, and our twin grandchildren, Ella and Grey, who are on a school track out, remain to ease any bumps of re-entry into ordinary valley time.

our-house-copyNext weekend will bring another peak experience, Sunday, the final walk through at the house we are buying, and next Monday will be our closing. We will then own the first home that is really ours.

You see, life is a roller coaster ride.  So, even though some roller coasters are bumpier than other, and we are not sure where the next ride will take us, we are still ready to go. Why? Because cushioned by the love of family and friends, we know the ride will be often so sweet that even during times when we experience slams in life that bang us up, it is worth it.sunset-roller-coaster

Grace is always waiting at the end of the line.

 

 

 

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The Day After America’s Brexit


connected“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”
― Winston S. Churchill

“United we stand, divided we fall.” Aesop

“With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us bind up the nation’s wounds, and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves…”   Abraham Lincoln

presidential-election-copyI wrote a post the day before the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump thinking Hillary would win. This is not exactly that post. Though those were the quotes I was using, and I still believe them.

I said in it I would post it Wednesday, today, regardless of the victor, but though I have edited it, and fear it will be more difficult with the candidate who won, my feelings are the same.

This has been the ugliest election I have ever witnessed and it has done damage to individuals and institutions from the Democratic National Committee, to the Republican Party, to the FBI. And now, America has chosen an angry isolationist who has made promises no man can keep. Maybe he will remove regulations and some mining jobs will return, but just as innovation led to assembly lines, technology has led to automation. Cheap labor will remain overseas. And the only jobs left in manufacturing will be for those who go out and get advanced technical training.

Backbreaking jobs may always exist but they won’t make the kind of money they used to. Even if that is what those who elected him think Trump meant. The world has moved on and looking backward will not change anything. But we do have to move on, and we have to find a way to move forward together.

america-in-red-white-blue-starsYet, I am not writing this to point fingers, to parse out words or faults, to endorse or defame any candidate. I am writing this to make the same plea I wanted to make two days ago.

Like the phoenix, please help America rise above the ashes of this election.

I guess the hows have slightly changed but basically remain. How can we do this:

  • by encouraging the victor to reach out to the loser’s party…and by doing that ourselves.
  • by choosing to no longer demonize either candidates or party.
  • by accepting that there needs to be respect and attention to the losing party’s issues.
  • by everyone acknowledging that the fight is over,  but the governing remains.
  • by understanding that governing means the opposite of to the victor goes the spoils – so that for the best outcomes, the winning party does not get everything they want, and the losing party gets some of what they desire  (That has not been the GOP position when Obama was in office and they have opposed everything. I pray they will be magnanimous and the Democrats do not take on their attitude.)
  • by choosing to work together to find fairness,
  • by finding ways to address issues together through compromise

unityAnd America we have to hold our representatives to that standard. They work for us, the collective us, for our nation, for the best interests of our country which is best served when we work collaboratively, when we seek the common ground upon which we were founded.

We must resist polarization and not be controlled by it.  By running to extremes, we may hold the other side in check, but all sides lose. It is only by meeting in the middle, by finding compromises, that there can be a win – win for all. And that is the way America has been governed except in the worst parts of our history.

lincoln-statueI listened on Tuesday to the Diane Rehm’s show and heard them describe the country as being as divided as it was just before the Civil War. Tribal and racial politics and a tribal media are dividing us into a white America and a minority America, into differences by gender, by class, by race, by wealth, by country of origin (though other than native Americans all of us come from elsewhere), by rural versus urban dwellers, by education level, by older versus millennial concerns. And with those differences, have come grievances.  But we are one America and we can one be strong if we do not let ourselves be divided, if we choose to stand up not just for self but for all. America, at heart, has always believed that we rise together. but we need to see that belief actualized with no one left behind.  And we cannot insist that benefitting the rich always benefits the poor…it has been demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t.

What we need is for both sides to believe the country needs to be governed and the framers of our Constitution created a shared government that worked together – certainly with some checks and balances – but not a government that refuses to work, committed only to thwarting the other side or reversing anything its predecessor achieved,

lincoln-memorialMy view is we need our president to heal these divides. That is an immense problem and even a Lincoln might have struggled if he had lived.  Unfortunately, neither candidate was or is a Lincoln. We need one.

But WE are still the Land of Lincoln. WE are Americans first before we are Republicans or Democrats. WE are the people and if we insist that America works, it will.

What will that take?  A commitment to LISTEN to each other. To hear the concerns that underlie the positions. To really attend to and value those needs. To find the ones that WE share.  We clearly have some. We all want America to be strong. We all want America to remain a place of opportunity including for the blue-collar formerly middle class workers whose jobs in manufacturing, in mining, have been lost, and the struggling underclass. While we have always had “millionaires,” we have never had an oligarchy. We have always seen America as a land of opportunity…for everyone. WE need to make that true.

statue-of-libertyWe need to listen to business concerns and make the American economy strong AND see that there are workers at the bottom who are still struggling though the economy and the Stock Market have returned to the pre-2008 levels. We need to solve health care for everyone. We are a nation of immigrants and we need to decide how we respond to the humanitarian refugee crisis while still keeping ourselves safe from terrorism. We also need to realize we are not the boss of the world, but that the world does rely on us. As John F. Kennedy quoted, “From those to whom much has been given, much is required.”  [Luke 12]  If we are going to remain great, we need to use that greatness for good.

We have to stop being EITHER OR and return to a BOTH AND concept of governing and loving in the world.

flag-copyAnd VOTERS that can happen if we come together and if we insist Congress and the President come together, if we insist Gridlock is over and Democrats and Republicans can and must work together.

If you are reading this on Wednesday November 9th, or later, I ask you on this day to commit to America coming together again as One Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all and insist whoever leads us at any time in our future,  they lead us in that direction.

 

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The Job Belongs to the Person Who Sees It


peg-figuresThere is a story you’ve heard before about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody and a job that was recognized but left undone since everybody thought someone else would do it.  That story is actually a shortened version of a poem by Charles Osgood, the former host of CBS News Sunday Morning, who often conveyed wisdom through a poem:

responsibilityA Poem About Responsibility

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?

Anybody could have told you that everybody knew
That this was something somebody surely had to do.
Nobody was unwilling; anybody had the ability.
But nobody believed that it was their responsibility.

It seemed to be a job that anybody could have done,
If anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since everybody recognised that anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that somebody would.

But nobody told anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And nobody took it on himself to actually follow through,
And do what everybody thought that somebody would do.

When what everybody needed did not get done at all,
Everybody complained that somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And everybody looked around for somebody to blame.

Somebody ought to have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.

Charles Osgood

My mother loved Osgood’s wise folksy wisdom.  This story was one of her favorites.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I helped lead a team of social workers to assist first responders at the World Trade Center Ground Zero Site in the early days after the disaster. I have written about my experience in an earlier post. (See:  In the Ashes of My Brothers.)

jobsFor this post, however, I want to focus on the motto, almost a mantra, I developed as a result of my experience there:  “The job belongs to the person who sees it.”

It is, perhaps, a shorter form of Osgood’s wisdom or perhaps a corollary.

You see, I learned in New York that some serious jobs require attention that haven’t necessarily been “assigned” to us, and might not even be what we set out to do. I also discovered that when you do see something that needs to be done, it is way too easy to say, “Somebody needs to do something about ‘____’ (that –  fill in the blank)” or “someone else will fix that.”  In all likelihood, those statements precede nothing being done and a problem going unaddressed.

lightbulbAn explanation: At the time I went to New York, I was the most experienced clinical person on the team I helped organize and train. I thought my clinical experience was what I would draw on while I was there. But, though I did use my clinical skills, and an important job to done was in helping the first responders cope with the loss and horror they were experiencing, I found myself seeing other things as well that needed my attention and organizational skills. It was like having two sets of ideas, and seeing needs others didn’t.

visionFirst, I came upon Leia, a woman living  near Ground Zero, who had set up a relief station on a fallen girder. She desperately wanted to remain to “help the guys,”(guys in this case included women). However, as security tightened, she had no sponsoring organization to register her to continue her work. She was afraid to leave to get some sleep because once outside the perimeter, she would not be able to re-enter. She needed help, and the First Responders needed the nearby access to hydration and supplies.

I convinced our team to take over the Relief Station Leia had created, and I arranged for her to meet Major Reals, be able to rest at our shelter, and get clearance to become a Salvation Army sponsored volunteer to return.

This took time and phone calls, pulling me away from individual outreach, but the job seemed to need doing. I had met Leia. I saw the good she was doing. I saw she couldn’t keep it up and my mantra began to drum in my ears. I would not be the anybody who failed to do the job because “the job belonged to the person who sees it.”

volunteerIn those early chaotic days, there were so many things that needed to be done. To meet the need for responders working on debris burning between 500 and 1,500 degrees we needed resources from new boots to gloves that were being degraded and consumed. I found those resources, developing a list of people in New York who would bring them to the perimeter. Then, I would get firefighters or police to go with me to pick them up. Later those needs would be met in a better organized less “ad hoc” way. But at the time, the job was there, the need was there, so less time for counseling, more time on the phone and picking up supplies, but the same words in my ears, “The job belongs to the person who sees it.” Somebody needed to do it.

In times like 9/11 priorities are easily and clearly seen, but my mantra has continued. I vowed in New York that if I ever again saw something that really needed doing I would do it, or at least I would get the ball rolling and then find someone who could take it over.  If I saw a need, I decided I owned it, one way or another until someone else did.

puzzle-questionI have had many people tell me they don’t have a calling in life. I usually ask if they have ever felt a need, looked around and seen one: poor children who need tutoring, a homeless man who needs a meal, a letter to the editor that should be written to address a community problem, lonely people in your church or neighborhood who could use a call or a get well or birthday card, senior center programs or hospitals who need volunteers, some immigrants who need furniture, a job, clothing or someone to teach them English, or volunteering to stuff letters for charity appeals, or organize donors, use picture-taking skills, or collect clothes or prom dresses for those who can’t afford them…turn your head and look around. It will be like looking at a puzzle and seeing the missing piece – you! Because the world is filled with some need that only you can see….

And the job belongs to the person who sees it.

 

 

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Things That Go Bump


hands-on-trees“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
~Scottish saying

I was born and did my first trick or treating in Dayton, Ohio where both October 30th and 31st were celebrated. The 30th was Beggars’ Night, and we would go house to house crying, “Beggars’ night, give us a bite.”  The 31st, we’d make a second round…or go to houses we missed the first night for “Trick or Treats.”

trick-or-treaters-copyWhen we moved to Utica, New York when I was in Second Grade, I was surprised to only have one night of treats…but pleased by the popcorn balls and candied or caramel apples that were handed over by our well-known neighbors or the treats shared at a table set up and decorated in their garages. Though the number of houses on our street would expand over the years we lived there, initially we knew every neighbor well….except one, the people who lived directly across the street from our house.

ghostly-headThe Bonitos were ghost people. At least the kids in the neighborhood thought they were. They had no children and were almost never even glimpsed. Mr. Bonito mowed the lawn at dusk and into the dark. Occasionally, we would see the garage door open, and a car pull out…but the Bonitos were as elusive as the fish whose name they carried.

basement-copyMost damning of all, the Bonitos lived in their basement.  At night, there were never lights on in their living room, only faint flickers from their basement windows.

Who knew what they might be doing in the dark! We imagined the worst about that basement. And stories grew up around these neighbors.  It was said they poisoned the dog from the house to their left for daring to run into their yard.

halloween-house-copyOf course, many of us were convinced that any child who ran into that yard to retrieve a ball was risking their life to go get it. Surely, you would be kidnapped and dragged to the basement. It was a sign of courage to even quickly run to the edge of their grass on the border of the street and touch your foot to it and run home. Balls that landed on their yard stayed there.

witchs-house-copyOn Halloween, theirs was the only house with no porch light on. As little children we ran past their house as fast as we could.  Of course, as we grew older and braver, or maybe crueler, the biggest trick and largest dare the “big kids” could face was a challenge to actually run up to their porch and ring the bell and yell Trick or Treat.

Of course, serious bragging rights went to the kid brave enough to stay on the porch waiting, rather than just running in, ringing the bell, and running off just as quickly.

Then, one day I was the big kid.

evil-magicianI remember my heart was thumping in my chest when I ran up their driveway and onto their porch.  I pressed the doorbell and it seemed my heart bumped up into my throat, pounding in my ears. I counted to 20. It was as long as I could stand it, and just as I turned to race away I thought I heard a hushed voice hoarsely cry, “Go away.”

It is fair to say all of us lived in fear of the Bonitos. They were the neighborhood bogeymen.

halloween-pumpkinsOf course, it was a long time later before I began to wonder what it might be like for them to be seen that way, or to wonder if they might even have lived in fear of us.

It was the 50s and the baby boom was in full swing. Our neighborhood was bursting with children. We played kickball in the summer, and even skated on the road  in winter when our street would be coated with ice for a few days after every storm before trucks would arrive to shovel cinders onto it. The neighborhood was filled with children, and we ran in large groups.

halloween-candy-copyWhat must it have been like to be childless in that time? Was that a choice or a terrible disappointment. Did it feel like it excluded them from the life in the neighborhood? Were their lights off to save money, did they use candles only as much as they needed and could afford?  Were they lonely? What if instead of tricks we had brought them treats? Could we have changed their lives by bringing them cookies or by being nice?

devil-copyNow I wonder, were they the bogeymen or were we?

Maybe that should be the lesson to take from Halloween. It can absolutely be innocent fun when children dress up and seek treats.  And that is all it generally is. But it can become serious business to begin demonizing others, just like Halloween can stop being fun when tricks begin being played, candy poisoned, houses egged, car windows soaped, toilet paper webbed on bushes or even rolls of it set aflame.

In this time, as we approach an election that has specialized in demonization I find myself thinking about this lesson from the Bonitos. It is a reminder to me to beware of seeing demons in difference, to befriend neighbors, to reach out to those who are isolated and alone, to make fair assessments and judgements based on facts. And yes, to add a prayer or two that we all be delivered us from things that go bump…even when that bumping is in our own chests.

Note:  I have added a link of this blog to a linked blogging site sponsored by Stevie Turner a blogging friend from England… tap on this link to view a number of posts, including her, and add a link to your blog if you’d like.  InLinkz

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If at first…. Waiting for Just Right


perserving-flower‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again.”   –   W.E. Hickson (1803 – 1870) English educational writer

Well, of course, we only remember the last two lines if we remember this verse at all. My mother often used it as a life lesson that she abbreviated to, “If at first…” letting me fill in the rest when I faced challenges or failures. She always said it with a wry smile.

I have had innumerable experiences that have reinforced this lesson. But as they say, it’s the things we learn and re-learn that are often the most important.

My great house adventure is the latest reminder.  Now, it is not at all the kind of obstacle that many have overcome, or that I have overcome in the past. But obstacles come in all sizes…and the lesson is still there.

First, a quick context [regular readers can skip this paragraph 🙂 : Doug and I are retiring and buying the first house we have ever personally owned.  As a minister, Doug has been provided with homes/parsonages or, in Presbyterian language, manses, our entire married life. So, I had only a vague understanding of the elements of what is involved in real estate, house shopping, negotiation and arriving at a contract, due diligence periods, home inspections and the whole mortgage process.

As I wrote last week, on our very first day of looking at houses, I thought we had found the perfect house. I thought we had hit a home run basically first time up to bat.  But boom we hit a wall. Despite amazing efforts by our agent, Kris Cuddy, the deal would not come together and we had to walk away. Another life lesson reminder.

think positive poster copySo, back to the drawing board!  I am a researcher by nature and I can tell you I think I have now looked on-line at every house in the area near Raleigh we were interested in. I checked for our basic criteria:  we wanted a first floor master, and slightly less critical a fence or at least a fencible yard. That was must have. I hoped for a few could choose from that I could love. I looked at hundreds of houses. Some were too big, some were too small, some only had second floor masters, some had a first floor and a second floor master. I started to feel like Goldilocks on steroids.

I had a phone app that pinged every time a new house in our price range was listed. I kept lists, contrasted features: this house a great kitchen, that house a nice yard and fence, bonus rooms. tile floors versus linoleum, hardwood versus laminate! Just right in houses is a lot more complex than rocking chairs, porridge, and not too soft beds!

Our agent has been a trooper through it all with me. Last week, Kris and I looked at eight houses and we found two favorites…just right in two different ways. Not perfect, but close and I could imagine us living in either of them. I thought my brain might explode.

So, Kris took me back for another look at the first house that created that sense…and we hit a glitch, but she drove me through the neighborhood. I loved the house, many of the features, but when we left to go directly to our son’s house, OnStar told us 45 minutes. This was the first time we hadn’t stopped at other houses on the way. 45 Minutes. Rationally it seeped in, and I realized the distance from our kids eliminated all my second guessing. It was just right in size, but it was too far.

our-house-copy…and then there one….THE one.

It didn’t have a bonus room, but it had a Wow factor, a big fenced yard, and so many features that are perfect now and for the future. It is 25 minutes from our family. After talking to Doug, we agree to make an offer.  It felt in that moment and still feels right now, just right.

And this time, everything has been so smooth…not exactly easy – lots of signing and signing and signing and getting every form in order, but clearly moving forward for us and the seller.  I’m no longer obsessively looking on Zillow every time my phone pings…I’m even sleeping well again.

There are many parts of this adventure still to come.  Doug’s retirement event is looming with lots of family traveling and descending on our house right while we pack up. But our home, our very first home, our forever home is waiting.

So, this Goldilocks can settle there in her own bed…no bears at the door! Well, there is the closing but with the best real estate agent to fight off any potential bears who try to rear their hoary heads then, no one will eat us! (Once again, moving to Raleigh call Kris Cuddy!)

So, my life lesson reminder is a composite one this week. If at first you don’t succeed, try again…until it is just right!  And if you keep trying, and you work hard at it…it will be.

 

 

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Moving On


house-for-sale“It’s time to say goodbye, but…I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.”  Ernie Harwell

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Seneca

For years, I told the women in my Domestic Violence Support group and other people I worked with that, if despite all your efforts trying to make something work, (especially with little done by the other person), and it’s still not working, it is time to move on.  Who knew that rule applied to more than relationships?

similar-to-the-house-we-liked-copyThough we are first time homebuyers, I still knew housing offers didn’t always work. I had all the general concepts and a great real estate agent (any Raleigh folks looking to move, let me just say Kris Cuddy). And on our first outing, she showed me a house and I thought it was love at first sight. We talked and made an offer.  (It looked something like the one to the right.)

Oh, we had an issue or two. And just like in any relationship, I expected it would take some work. Kris tried really hard to play the “mediator” as I have in many marital counseling situations. But despite her efforts, it kept being impossible, no meeting half-way on their part to build a connection. Relationships take work, but it shouldn’t be like pounding your head into a wall trying to make it fall.

Keeping a firm grip on making things a win win for everyone, Kris kept trying while still protecting Doug and my interests as her first priority. Yesterday, however, after four days of constant resistance on the seller’s agent’s part, it was time close the door on the offer.

Last night, the reminder of every time I repeated, “Time to move on” came back to me. It’s a really good lesson in many life circumstances. Yet, I can’t be a clinical social worker and not say in relationship circumstances using a professional for assistance before you reach the “move on” place can be wise. In real estate, it is absolutely critical.  But we did, and she was one of the best! Hearing how hard Kris worked, Doug and I felt she had tried everything. And we saw it wasn’t going to happen.

welcome-to-our-home copy 2So, this will be an atypically brief post for me and not very refined, because I have to get back to house-hunting. Kris and I will be looking at houses in Raleigh again tomorrow and boy, do I have stuff to do.

I hope this time we can make the new marriage of house and homeowner work, and Kris gets to do the marriage ceremony/closing!  So, for my finger crossing friends…keep some good thoughts for us.  And for my praying people…more prayers are welcome. Onward to new adventures in hunting the home of our future!

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More than Just Words – Words Matter


words-have-power-copy“We are Masters of our unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”                   Winston Churchill

“Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue.”     Joel Osteen

“Words used carelessly, as if they did not matter in any serious way, often allow otherwise well-guarded truths to seep through.”               Douglas Adams                                       The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

thought-bubbleEvery week, I work hard on my posts. Some come in an all encompassing idea, whole, springing almost completely written, Athena like and I sit down, the words flowing, coming to me as if I am taking dictation from an unnamed oracle. Even then, as if each word were the sum total of the rest, worth everything, I tweak a word, finesse a thought, play with other words, re-order them until every single one is a perfect fit.

With other posts, I have a kernel of an idea, but I labor over the words, long and hard. I set the post aside when I get stuck, come back to wrestle it again, eliminate a section, add another, doing major rewrites only to discard them, restoring a sentence from a draft and fighting for every word. Words matter.

pearl-necklace-copyThat is to say, I believe in the power of writing words. I take it seriously. I am someone who never thinks, “It’s just words.”

Words matter. They matter when we string them together into sentences linked in intricate filigree, they are gems, diamond and ruby crusted, in pearl ropes, encased in pages like jewel boxes, beauty beyond price.  Words matter. They matter in pithy droplets of wisdom. They matter in knife thrusts of anger, in epithets of disdain, in razor cuts of shaming,  in repeated soul-crushing bullying. They matter in wedding vows and whispers to children. Words matter.

marry-me-copyYet, the matter with words is they can heal or kill, encourage or defeat, intimidate or elevate, inspire or denigrate. Just simple words can break a heart or make a difference. The right words can change the world.

Over and over, the survivors of abuse in the women’s group I ran told me that they would rather be hit than humiliated, that bruises healed faster than shame.

Napoleon Hill said it this way: “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”

words-of-failure-copyThe matter with words is that they hit harder than a fist and can inflict damage that lasts a lifetime. They can make a person second-guess their every choice, accept that they are worthless, and reduce someone to acquiescence, to accepting that their private selves, their bodies, their very being can be subjected to the whims of another.

One of the loveliest things about writing is that it can be used to teach us a lesson with supreme deftness. It can speak in allegory and allow readers to draw their own inference from what is written by bringing their own views to what they see in what they read. So please add your own context to my words.

This is mine:  Words are my tool, and I prefer using the delicate touch of the finest jeweler rather than using the laborer’s sledgehammer. I wish to wield them with grace instead of to bludgeon. Words matter, so I will only say this: Friday, I heard a man on a tape use words with casually brutality. On Sunday, I heard him excuse them. “It’s just words,” he said, wanting us to think they were only words.

It is never only words.We can not, must not, accept the discussion of unjust, dehumanizing actions toward others as just words, anymore than we can accept the actions they are meant to justify, as if brutality is never brutal, as if words don’t underlie the taking of a life, or the living of a lie.

Words matter…they always matter.

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Shall We Listen to the Mockingbird?


young-mockingbird-in-the-bay-treeWhen I first got to North Carolina, I was invited to dinner at a colleague’s home.  As we sat on her tree-lined patio at dusk, the lilting song of a bird rose over our heads.

In New York, I had heard birdsong at daybreak that made my heart soar on innumerable occasions, but I had never heard a bird sing in the evening. But as day became nightfall that June evening, I was enchanted by a song that was extended, with variations like a symphony, light and delicate, winsome and melancholy, so lovely I was moved as I always am by beautiful music.

mockingbird-in-the-hollyThough there was only one bird, it sounded to me as if this was a song evolving into the songs of a number of different birds sung one after the other.

When I asked what bird it was that was singing, the answer was, “It’s a mockingbird.” And from somewhere I  remembered a few lyrics of a song “Listen to the Mockingbird, Listen to the Mockingbird, the Mockingbird is singing”….wasn’t sure of the next words…

Me, being me, I did a little research to find out that a mockingbird can have a repertoire of over 200 songs, invented and copied from other birds, and that lone males sing the longest and most complex songs.

cardinal-copyWhen Doug moved here, and I got the feeders up, first came sparrows, then warblers, finches, and cardinals, finally mourning doves arrived to peck the ground at the larger sunflower seeds from the feed mix dropped to them by the littler birds.  All, got their turn, all got along, all had their notes and music. And at last, a mockingbird arrived. I was thrilled.

There was the evolving extended song, the pert tail, the flashes of white on the wing.  The mockingbird seemed to listen to my husband whistling and repeated his notes. mockingbird-copyAs soon as Doug came out on the porch, this mockingbird would arrive, flying into one of the nearby trees.  Doug would whistle and the mockingbird reply…a little like dueling, first one and then the other, Doug mimicking the bird, the bird “mocking” him in imitation.  The grandkids began to call him, “Boppa’s bird.” We loved him.

I had a lot to learn about mockingbirds.

mockingbird2-copyThey are among the bullies in the bird world, aggressively territorial.  Gradually, I noticed that when the mockingbird was near, he was always alone. As I watched him, he stayed in the tree nearby, but didn’t go to the feeders. Looking up more information, I learned seeds were not in his diet, and got a suet feeder for him. But when he was around, I finally realized the other birds remained hidden, only chirping a bit from the bushes.

But worse than the other birds just avoiding him, to my chagrin, I saw that if they did try to come to the feeders, and he was anywhere nearby, he would violently drive them off.  Though the other birds wouldn’t eat the bugs, grubs and beetles or fruits favored by mockingbirds, and thus were not competition to his survival, he attacked. Swooping and whirling, he would dive into them, head first, bill extended, over and over until they retreated.

I realized one Mockingbird song was “Mine, mine, mine, get away, get away.”

cardinal-at-the-feeder-copyThe mockingbird chased the other birds,  unwilling to share…anything, even access to food he had no interest in. He wanted the whole habitat all to himself. It was all about him. And my nesting pairs of littler birds, who had come and made their homes in my yard, were kept from the feeders though they posed no risk, simply seeking to feed themselves and their babies.

Initially, it seemed the mockingbird was  powerful. He had dominance and control. He even attracted a mate. Finally, however, the littler birds stood up for themselves, joining together, fighting back, and the mockingbird left, taking his song and his mate with him.

They haven’t been in my yard these last few years…and the other birds have flourished.

aggression-bully-copyNow, thus far, this may seem just a tale of life in my garden…but it came to mind when I read last week’s post by a friend, entitled “Bullies”.  She related stories from her days teaching and as a principal about bullies in her school….and went on to make it an analogy to the current election, having not posted about politics before.  Link to Clare’s post, Bullies

Like her, I had never before specifically addressed individual candidates. But like Clare, I now feel compelled to speak in the face of the horrifying nature of this election. I am not willing to let a bully win, even if all I have to fight him with are my words.

trump-copyDonald Trump is a Mockingbird. He sings varied songs calling out to the scared, to the struggling white, formerly middle class, men in manufacturing and mining, some of his songs mock women, some mock Muslims, the handicapped, Mexicans, immigrants, the communities and neighborhoods where there are a preponderance of African-Americans, recently he mocked Clinton’s stumbling when she was sick, some of his songs resonate with the actively racist.  He sees himself sitting at the edge of night, singing a song of a “great” past, and telling us he is our only possible savior. It is all about him.

trump-strike-sign-copyLike the Mockingbird, he wants to drive out others from “his” territory, keep out the “different,” remove illegal immigrants, keep out refugees, build walls. At one point, he kept African-Americans from renting in his buildings. He has “used” small businesses to feather his nest without paying them, gone bankrupt multiple times thus not paying his debts, hurting his sub-contractors, cheating his employees, and accruing that failure to his own benefit by paying no taxes at all to support the country, or its military, while criticizing how poorly our president has managed things.

He sings songs that are not even really his own, that he thinks people want to hear, “Keep jobs in America, Make companies bring back jobs, Make things in America” while his company makes shirts and ties in Asia and Central America.

truth-lie-copyDonald Trump’s songs are alluring, and he is more than willing to change them…pretend he never sang the notes we all heard him sing. He lies. Not little white lies, but the big profound deceptive hurtful kind that can destroy individuals and undermine a nation. Like a mockingbird, he loves to attack others swooping in on them, “twittering” into the night.

 

think-before-you-voteSo little birds, it’s time to unite. We can’t sit safe on the edges, we can’t just stay in our nests, or let this mockingbird win. We have to defend our country and ourselves, and we have to call out this bird, this candidate, this charlatan for what he is.

We have to talk about this and we have to vote…and though I fear the song may linger, we must act and call out to our neighbors who are mesmerized by Trump, “Don’t listen to the mockingbird.”  The actual end to the line from the Mockingbird song that I couldn’t remember is “The mockingbird is singing o’er her grave.” There’s meaning there.

So, together let us chirp and tweet and sing, write and speak up to encourage others to vote and to join their voices to ours in a morning song, a song of inclusion, a welcoming song, a song of joy.

That is what really makes America strong, and it’s why America has always been great.

 

 

 

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