No Sacrifice

Consider the silver maple in early spring.

Still barren of leaves for weeks to come and wanting nutrition since fall, it draws from scarce reserves to manifest thousands of seeds in fantastic propeller pods. Only after this epic act does it make leaves for it’s own sustenance.

Contemplate the Emperor Penguin.

Fasting for an entire season, he shelters a single egg-then-chick on foot for three months, taking on weather and relentless hunger, vigilant that the egg not roll to icy ground and certain demise.

Next, ponder the mom who assures the family that she doesn’t really care for pie, not because she doesn’t like pie, but because there are eight portions, and nine people around the table each evening.

And there is the dad who right now is driving cross country through the night to ransom his daughter from harm’s way.

Flora and fauna –

doing what they do:

sprouting seeds in a surge of effort,

shouldering snowstorms,

skipping desserts for a generation of dinners,

or

driving all night after working all day.

Heroic acts?

Perhaps,

but they are mostly

routine devotions

of parenthood

happening every moment

without hestitation or fanfare.

Investing in more than oneself

is participating

in

a promise

beyond measure.

And what you get in return?

Oh, so worth it.

Cc’d

a-BUN-dance

A hotdog once affirmed my faith in a benevolent universe.

Living with a houseful of apartment-mates offers two options for quarantine diversion: reclusive bedroom hobbies or stepping out into nature. The second pick is readily available to any intrepid soul on a cold Montana day such as this one.

Having already invested large amounts of time in hobby-ish pursuits, my daughter and her co-quarantining roomate opted for a midday hike. Surely this would break the monotony of their cloister until test results were conclusive in one way or the other. The bracing air would enliven lethargy, and spirits would lift.

Even so, the possibility of a hike didn’t seem that enticing – they had done that several times already – yet it was the only choice, save the dwindling amusement they could muster in their boxy confine.

So, out it was.

They hiked on – the crunch and fluff of layered snow underfoot metrinomed their progress through the long silences of their thoughts.

“Hey – wait! What is that?” the lead one stopped, pointing across barren whiteness.

The other lifted her head from her footing to look up.

“Ummmm, (squinting) – I have no idea what that is…..”

“Well, it’s coming this way.”

“Yeah – I see it! But what is it?”

Side by side, in ensuing quietness, they watched.

A beige-ish oblong parcel of considerable size was bumping and dancing its way across the void, reducing the measure between it and them with every rush of wind.

They stood their tracks, mezmerized.

Frigid blasts continued to buffet the bulbous billow, bouncing it erratically off icy sheen. It was a roiling tumble of tan, rust, and yellow, coming at them – full tilt.

By now, their brains were busy trying to label to the frenetic object, but the obvious tag derived from visual cues was instantly rejected as being ridiculous given their location and circumstance.

But, no!

It wasn’t wrong!

The wayward object was confirmed to be exactly what it appeared to be as it careened past them in one mighty gust.

“IT’S A HOT DOG!” shouted the two in unison, immediately taking off after it, their real or imagined infirmities sloughed off in that instant.

Lunging forward in nearly knee-deep, the duo set to chase, pressing after the rollicking inflatable, desperate not to loose this spectacular gift.

A fervent last-ditch-dive by one of them neatly landed the great American meal to rest under their heaving bodies, draped and gasping across beef and bun – complete with condiments.

Did they hoist the sizeable sausage overhead in triumphant portage?

Did they take turns pulling each other on its heft, skittering across snowy expanse in joyful tow?

I’m not sure.

But resoundingly freed of boredom, theirs was a triumphant return home to be sure.

And though the quarantine continued, it was of a different flavor after Frankie blew into their lives. He was the willing subject of jokes, puns, countless retellings, journal entires of the most unusual sort, TikTok videos, and still remains the best downhill launch on a snowy embankment with friends.

If ever you’re in doubt whether the universe delivers to those in need, think of the remarkable appearance of Frankie the Frozen Frankfurter, who saved two good friends from despair and boredom of the most mundane sort.

And don’t merely believe that your prayers will be answered – dare to relish the thought of it.

Heartfelt

now that

“It is finished'”

I go back to that night

in the upper rooom

and fade away the others

to freeze-frame

just you two

companions of old.

He kneels before you

as a servant

holding your muddied foot in

cleansing hands:

it is

a final act of intimacy

between friends.

Can you meet His gaze?

Is your heart fleeting

as the silver

you will pocket tonight?

Or

in that single flutter

do you

desperately wish

too late

to reverse history

and undo

your fatal choice?

Judas –

what were you thinking?

.

Assiduos Alphabets?

Years ago, our fifth grade son was assigned a social studies project called “A to Z with Abraham Lincoln.”

Let’s just say it nearly killed both of us.

As evidenced by this writing, the trauma is still with me.

In a final expungment of that scar, here is a mellifluous memory replacement that was conversely uneventful in the making:

A to Z with Verbs

Arch your back to float on water.

Bend at the knees when picking up heavy objects.

Carry burdens lightly.

Defend someone who needs your voice.

Examine your actions in hopes of improvement.

Find something good in every person.

Get outside.

Honor yourself by finding a bit of comfort in each day.

Invest in others.

Joke around a bit.

Keep attachments to a minimum.

Love what is.

Make something that wasn’t there before.

Nibble a cookie now and then.

Open your heart to another perspective.

Put others before you.

Quell gossip.

Revel in today.

Sit in the sun.

Talk less and listen more.

Unbind your narrow views.

Value people.

Weep when you need to.

X-ray through to see vulnerability beneath toughness.

Yield more often.

Zip it, if it’s not nice and smile when Zooming.

You Are My Story

Do you ever think about the cubic feet in which you spend your time?

Sometimes I think about the space that I occupy the most, and feel fortunate, indeed.

My frequent dwelling space is the footprint of our little house: a subterranian level (the basement), a ground floor, and a second floor. I’m not counting the attic because I hardly go up there.

Within this tri-level space is a nook which is our bedroom and its ante-room. I would consider these two portions my hub, and that little niche pictured is my place of all places.

All of my best things are there, and many of them you know.

The prism that I told you about hangs in the window behind the chair, throwing rainbow orbs around the room most mornings – best time of day.

Just to the right of the crystal hangs the epic hawk-in-flight photo that was gifted to us by my youngest sister, and under that remarkable rendering is the cache of yarn that connects me to my other sister, who helps me crochet. My sisters are in this space.

And there you see the bison portrait from Bryce Canyon – best animal ever, and I told you all about that, too. Well, then there’s the gothic window frame strung with lights because – if you think like me – home is church, too. Next is the great-grandmother spider plant, started from a sprout given to me by the art teacher at our school, long ago.

Beside the plant is the zen fountain – sculpted of burnished copper and resplendent with aqua dragonflies. It offers a babbling brook in sight and sound, right here in this room. My colleagues at school endowed me with this peace.

And of course there are books supporting all of that.

I ask you –

is there anything better than a bookcase full of books?

Well that’s a whole tale on its own right there.

So, back to the gold chair which is the worn out one that sat in the corner of my parent’s livingroom way back when, and then saw some time in my oldest brother’s home too, before it found its way to us. Sure it’s threadbare and softened with time, but when you tilt back with a good read, you’re cradled as in a hammock hung from a big old tree.

So that’s all the stuff in this airy alcove.

But there is one thing more:

you are here, too.

You have been here all along.

Can the way you have touched my life be separated from who I am and how I experience things?

It cannot be.

You are part of me, too.

You are my story.

And we all know –

there is nothing better

than a good story.

Serenity Now

My husband is the oldest sibling in his family and I am, too.

He is a full-time teacher – likewise for me.

He stayed home on day shift with our kids for seven years while I continued to teach. After school, I came home to night shift for those years while he worked nights.

What I am getting at is that we are both used to being in charge of people, we are both good at being in charge, and we probably are most comfortable in that role. All important qualifications for two teachers.

One might say that we are Two Head Chefs.

The problem is – we are married.

To each other.

Over the past twenty-nine years, this has lead to many “trials” and almost as many solutions – as one might imagine.

Eventually, we’ve congenially concluded that there are some things that we are better off not doing together if we want to preserve our union.

Let’s put these items in The Serenity Now! bracket.

There are other missions where working together as a dynamic duo works very well.

These items are in The Competent Couple 🙂 bracket.

Here are some examples of each:

Competent Couple:) endeavors are pursuits such as: walking the dog, doing the dishes, painting a room, hosting a party, navigating to a destination (pre-GPS), and pruning fruit trees (this task recently moved from Serenity Now! to Competent Couple:) ranking).

Serenity Now! undertakings are such endeavors as food shopping, cooking, giving the kids unsolicited, off-the-cuff advice while in the same room together, home maintenance repair, and laying out new carpeting.

One might ask-

what is the difference between Competent Couple 🙂 pursuits and Serenity Now! tasks?

Good question!

After careful scrutiny, it becomes obvious that the difference between the two categories is two words:

clear deliniation.

The jobs in the CC column have clear responsibilities that can be separated into sub-tasks that do not overlap.

The jobs in the SN tier have duties that are nebulous and overlapping.

In other words, we rock at things that can be sorted into individual compartments, but we are on thin ice if the job has vague responsibilities that may drift into each other. Sharing some tasks can be dicey, so when we divide and conquer – we are golden.

For instance…

When we paint a room, he does the ceilings and walls with the roller and I tackle the edging and trimwork with a brush. Beautiful.

When we host a get-together, I do the shopping, cleaning, and set-up; he plans the menu and does the cooking. Bada bing!

When pruning fruit trees, he clips, and I hold the ladder. This is a big improvement over last year – don’t ask!

When we do the dishes, one washes and one dries. Presto!

On the other hand…

Food shopping?

Nope. He takes too long and checks too many ingredients.

Cooking?

Nope. I take too long and do things differently.

Home maintenance?

Better off making a phone call.

As our lifetime journey continues, we encounter new things and notice what category they fall into. Maybe as we mellow with age, it will eventually merge into one big list.

But for now, this works just fine.

So, this week we are doing our taxes.

Any guesses?

Radiant

Ping.

Ding.

Clunk.

Hssssss……..

Alarming noises if you are not used to them, but if you are familiar, they are of great reassurance. In fact, it is more disquieting to not hear them.

This is the sound of heat.

It starts in shivery darkness when the house is shrouded in sleep. Perhaps its echo drifts into the fuzzy recesses of your slumber. But if you know the sounds, they don’t wake you because they are part of the everyday noises of home. You might even gauge the time of early morning by them if you happen to be awake already, and the slightest increase in room temperature helps you with that estimate too, without even opening your eyes or rising from bed to look.

“…Well, the heat is on….. it should be nearly time to get up…”

With the pings and dings comes comfortable certitude that the plumbing is working today and we have heat. Ours is a typical steam system dating back to 1931 – the year our house was built. Living here for as long as we have enkindles an appreciation for its appropriately named receptacles; our radiators really do radiate. From the boiler to the kitchen, then upstairs to the hallway and bathroom, through the bedrooms, back downstairs to the living room, diningroom, and returning to the basement – they apportion one beautifully simple system of warmth. There are few things as nice as sitting at the breakfast table on a cold winter morning with your leg against that blessed winter commodity as it rises through the house with the dawning hours.

Today, there was no ping, ding, or hiss.

Hmmmmmm…..

That’s not good.

I better check the boiler.

But then – no.

I know what this is.

It’s okay.

Today is a marker – a delineation of sorts. Today is the first day in five months that the morning house warm enough for the heat to not go on.

Wow.

We’re here again.

We have come around to spring in the northeast, and not only is the new season upon us, but it is starting to feel like spring, and sound that way, too.

Oh sure – there will be a few more percussive mornings yet.

But they will diminish as our days grow long,

and more and more, we’ll turn outside for that contented feeling of

radiant heat.

No pings or dings,

but wonderfully reassuring – just the same.

First Canvas

A senior oak lifts latticework to dusky sky.

A sunflower beams a perfect center circle,

pollen-coated seed tips arranged – just like that.

The conch shell, belies a spiral swirl within,

but not for me to see

or touch,

and the zinnia bobs a circle of stars on its face-

tiny outstretched arms and yellow touching hands.

A globe to hold in the palm of your hand is the stone

of the avocado,

and the cherry leaf

asserts its zigzag edge to all who care to notice,

while

daffodils sway in unison

announcing spring with boisterous bugles.

Nature offers stars and stairs

and spirals and blares

without fanfare.

You might notice and be awed,

by the shapes that nature draws.

Training Tips

Over the years I have trained Ollie to love oatmeal cookies (no raisins, of course).

For breakfast he enjoys bits of buttered English muffins with blackberry jam, or banana bread if we are out of muffins or jam. After all, fruit is important.

Salmon (or tuna) with mayo and pickle relish – sometimes on crispy crackers – is a good lunch, while roast chicken remnants with mushroom risotto is a preferred dinner entre. It hardly bears mentioning that corned beef and potato portions are standard fare on St. Patty’s Day.

In a pinch, he is fine with Progresso’s Chickarina soup as a stand-in lunch or dinner, as am I.

It has been a lot of work expanding his diet, but soooo worth it. It is just so convenient to have a dog that loves all the same foods you do, right up to the Rita’s gelati run on a warm summer night (vanilla soft serve layered with rootbeer ice). It makes life so much easier, and we all enjoy meals and outings together that way.

Of course he eats dog food, too. He would prefer to think of it as a mere supplement, so let’s just leave it at that, okay?

Ollie will be twelve this June, and he is as healthy and active as ever.

I know it’s our diet of fab favorites that is keeping him that way.

Good boy, Ollie.

Four Gifts You’ll Never Want

Imagine you are gifted four boxes. In each one is a present just for you.

Excited?

Well, trust me, you won’t be for long. These are not bestowals you’d want; in fact, you will wish to give every one of them back.

The bad news is, you can only give one back.

Just one.

You will have to deal with the other three as best you can.

So, in a moment – after you take a peek – think carefully about which is the worst of the four for you. The one that elicits the most visceral, punched-in-the-gut feeling is probably the box you need to get rid of.

Are you ready to examine your gifts?

Okay, then:

Box 1 is full of Rejections and Hassles

Box 2? Brimming with Criticism and Ridicule

Box 3 is stuffed with Meaninglessness and Unimportance

Box 4? Laden with Stress and Pain

They are all pretty bad, right?

But, which one is absolutely intolerable?

Please make your rejection decision now.

Your choice of which box to ditch communicates a great deal about what motivates you. It is a valuable glimpse at the preferences and aversions that inform your behavior every day.

Think again about the box you conspire to be rid of.

If you are returning Box 1, Rejections and Hassles are what you prefer to avoid above all. Being accepted and cared for is of prime importance to you. You are represented by a chameleon.

If Box 2 repels you, then Criticism and Ridicule are likely your biggest aversions. Having control and respect are your prime motivators. You are represented by an eagle.

If Box 3 is your poison, Meaninglessness and Unimportance are verboten to you. Appreciation and recognition are what you value most. You are represented by a lion.

If you reject Box 4, avoiding Stress and Pain are your biggest displeasures. Ease and comfort are your primary goals. You are represented by a turtle.

Hmmmmm……

Interesting.

Our faculty and staff recently participated in this TOP CARD activity (designed and complied by Lynn Lott, M.A., M.F.T.) at a school-wide meeting, recognizing that understanding what motivates each other is helpful in building a positive community.

In other words, it is useful to know what animal I am, and what critters surround me.

Of course, these labels are generalizations; we are all composites to varying degrees. And – accurate or not – this exercise illuminates perspectives and orientations that we may be unaware of:

“I say ho-hum to hassles, but whatever you do, please don’t criticize me!”

“Oh, I can handle criticism, but do not diminish my importance!”

“I don’t mind being overlooked in the least, but I cannot tolerate stress!”

I can handle stress – no problem, but please don’t leave me out!”

Behind each of these statements is an individual with a set of hierarchies informing a pattern of behavior.

So, the next time you are confounded or confused by someone’s actions or attitude – be it student, colleague, family, or friend – remind yourself that your pleasure might be their poison, and their toxin might be your elixir.

Knowing that might make all the difference.

Chameleon, turtle, lion, or eagle –

Who are you?