Puttering

I think puttering is grossly underrated.

Puttering is

relaxing,

productive,

engaging,

mind-freeing.

Children spends years puttering. Exploring, tinkering, experimenting, finding out what works, what fits and what doesn’t, engrossed with no result in mind until the next thing comes along to tug their curiosity elsewhere, just bumping along through life…

Adults don’t seem to approach things that way. They usually have a goal in mind. They don’t putter much, but I think that perhaps they should putter more.

Puttering involves no commitment, just a smigen of interest. You can hover on the fringes and shuffle around out there for awhile before sidling into something with nothing but vagaries, foggy notions, and seeing where it leads you. And because you expect practically nothing, the results are rarely displeasing.

I think that there’s a quite a bit of puttering involved in teaching. You start with a little of this, a dose of that, a portion of this, and then see what sticks. It’s never exact and it’s never the same. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to come up with an iron-clad recipe for success. Certainly, intuition is a huge part of it; it’s not good to be strictly by the book when dealing with actual human beings, especially small ones. Somehow it seems to come out just right every time.

In retrospect, I think our whole house was decorated by puttering. There never was a goal, or vision. A thrift shop chair, and estate sale rug, an antique vase, a big mirror from a brownstone sale in the city. Just a little of this and a little of that thrown together over time.

It’s been that way with our garden, too. It started with a small parcel of grass and a donation of remnant bluestone from my sister’s place, and it just evolved from there, through the years. A rock wall over there, a trellis here, some hammock swings and few fruit trees to add something nice and attract more critters.

Puttering is deceiving in the most agreeable way possible. If there is something enormous to be done, puttering is the easiest way to think about it – if you want to think about it at all. There are those who don’t want to think about things of this magnitude, and that’s when this notion of easy proximity is perfect. It comes in handy because it is so non-threatening; it lets you come in sideways through the back door instead of head on.

When you putter, you just dabble on the fringes – that’s all. Just fish around and see what happens. Maybe you’ll start with one easy swipe, one stitch, one stroke, one shovelful, one bolt, one note, one push, and then suddenly there’s a chance and Whoosh! and –

to your great surprise – you may arrive at something that sounds like…

“Oh, my! I finished the room!”

“Holy Cow! I have a scarf!”

“Wow! I made a painting!”

“OMG. It’s a flower patch!”

“Well, whattaya know!? I got it started.”

“I played the whole song!”

“They passed!”

The next time you are daunted by a task – haunted by a task,

don’t don’t dive in head first,

and don’t think about what you wish to happen. Just loiter around the edges and poke one part, tinker one portion.

If the spirit moves, things might loosen and begin to flow and you might just slide your way through the whole darn thing despite you best efforts not to, and you will have done something really terrific.

But that was never the goal.

Nope,

it never was.

Puttering is its own reward.

Why Worry?

I hate to admit it, but most of the things that Wemberly worried about are things that I worry about, too.

What if a tree falls on our house?

What about the crack in the wall?

What if no one comes to my party?

Empathy for Wemberly in Kevin Henkes’s charming Wemberly Worried, had me wondering if I worry too much. Well, that’s not true. I worried that I was worrying too much. Truthfully, I never considered myself to be a flagrant doubter, but Wemberly and I seem to have a lot in common. In pausing over this vexing dis-ease, I thought of another tangential book that has merit in addressing this preoccupation. In her book, Loving What Is, Byron Katie asks the reader to think seriously about what life would be like without nagging predictions and conjured dread.

“How would your life be without that worry?” she proposes. Much improved, I imagine.

She further advises the reader to recognize that thoughts are not reality, they are just, well… thoughts. Which begets the next question:

“What makes you think your thoughts are true?”

Hmmmm…. two very good questions:

How would your life be without those malevolent musings?

and

What makes you think that your thoughts are true?

If I apply these to the vexations I share with Wemberly, I note that I would enjoy storms more if I didn’t worry about a tree falling on our house (especially since it probably won’t happen as we got them trimmed last month). Further, if I weren’t preoccupied with the crack on our front porch, I would fully immerse in the delight of that outdoor room (and we can patch the crack when the weather warms up). Finally, if I stop supposing people might not having a good time at our gatherings (they always do), I wouldn’t get stressed out during the preparations.

For additional consideration, I recently came across a tiny book dedicated to giving up worry called Give Up Worry for Lent! by Gary Zimak.

Ahhh! The perfect solution! I thought.

I bought the book, and pledged immediately to use it to stop my disquiet for forty days and beyond – once and for all. This little paper-bound healer claims that following its prescription will lead to a worry-free life. Naturally, I was all in and vowed to read the brief reflections and follow the proposals each day.

Thirty-some-odd days in, I am startled to say that the suggestions are actually taking hold. I am fretting less and have devoted at least some of that formerly-occupied psychic space to loftier pursuits.

Two great pointers from the book are especially helpful. The first is:

Fear and worry are entirely different things. Fear is a natural, protective emotion; worry is the conscious choice to routinely ruminate in negative possibilities.

The second suggestion is to estimate how much time each day is currently devoted to worry, (One hour? Two? Three? Five?) and pledge to use that time differently. I am deliberately choosing to think about a higher being, spring planting, a new sewing project, a current book, the next blog, summer vacation, solving a puzzle… You get the idea.

Little by little these reassuring suggestions are affecting my outlook – and perhaps even my health.

“Your blood pressure is beautiful!” the nurse exclaimed yesterday at my doctor appointment.

“One twenty over seventy-eight. Best one I’ve seen all day!” she confirmed.

I smiled with pride.

No worry, I thought.

It’s working.

The Hello, Goodbye Porch

Norton Juster is probably best known for his iconic classic, The Phantom Toolbooth, but I delight in a lesser-known work of his called The Hello, Goodbye Window. Illustrated by Chris Raschka, this enchanting picture book captures the wonderment of a child visiting her grandparents’ home for a routine sleepover. For her, it never gets old. Everything about their ordinary house is magical in her eyes, most especially the window aside the front door, which is the Hello, Goodbye window. It is in just the right place for comings and goings, silly-faced reflections, and star gazing at night with Grandpa.

I often think about that story and that window, and though we don’t have a window like that of our own, I will venture to say that we have something even better. Ours is a hello, goodbye porch, right at the front of the house where you need it, just like in the book.

Our porch has two old round tables on it, bracketed by rickety chairs in which we sit for meals, games, and shared time around flickering candlelight on warm summer nights. The big, overstuffed armchair that we couldn’t bear to part with for its comfort sits to the left of the front door. Sure, it made it to the curb on junk day, but then somehow found its way back up to the porch in a moment of weakness. To fold into it, slinging your legs over one arm and setting your back against the other is to find a perfectly adequate clamshell to read in.

In my favorite season, the perimeter of the porch is dripping with hanging plants – a leafy screen for us and convenient, sprawling nesting pots for familiar house wrens. Weathered wind chimes accompany cricket symphonies over late night banter, and the yellow glow from living room windows tints the evenings with golden hue.

But truthfully, it matters not the season for what has become the truest purpose of the porch because it really is a hello, goodbye porch. You’ll find us out there each day, waving good-bye to tail lights drifting away, down the street – carrying one off to college, then another on a cross country adventure, and another for a weekend getaway, or maybe just to work for the day.

At coming home time, we’re mostly out there too, waiting on the front steps for someone whose arrival makes it feel like home again. With a porch like ours, you know you’ll be missed when you are gone, and welcomed home when you come back. It reminds us that you never really know when the last time may be, so you ought to make it count while you can. That’s when a misty eye or a wavering smile or a wordless wave come in handy and mean an awful lot.

It’s just a part of our house, but it lets us know that someone is already missing you and will be waiting there, when you cross the threshold to home.

Life Lines

Why not

weave just as your life is –

a tapestry that is you.

You can do that with art,

and you can do it with life, too.

It is not that hard.

Choose that which grounds you to be there first –

earth, love, identity, spirit.

Then add all that is you and soar upward.

Find patterns and

feel rhythm:

Inhale exhale

laugh cry

work play

give receive

rejoice mourn

lose and gain.

Over – under

over – under

over – under.

Put yourself into it:

swatches of an old skirt,

bark from the woodpile,

yarn from his scarf,

a gifted rock,

garden twine from the garage,

patching from your jeans,

and certainly pages from your favorite story.

They are you

woven together

as the fabric

of your life.

These Arms

Yoga philosophy encourages the practitioner to regard oneself with love and compassion – in the present moment-as is. Not when ten pounds lighter or ten pounds stronger, but today. Now. Conversely, marketing crusaders aspire to have us mired in a morass of deficits: not tall enough, not light enough, not smooth enough, not strong enough, not young enough, not them enough.

Age and wisdom, and a philosophy that views life from a perspective of abundance rather than want, all persuade me to cultivate gratitude instead.

Consider arms, for instance. Mine are just average arms, but these are really good arms. They can move in almost every direction at will and have conveniently grown in proportion to the rest of my body for a lifetime. They can immobilize themselves when strained, and heal themselves when lacerated.

They have never broken or cracked under pressure, and have never needed a replacement part. They have lifted, pushed, and pulled thousands of pounds so far. They have climbed trees, opened doors, lifted boxes, rocked babies, swum laps, moved furniture, cooked meals, cleaned houses, stacked books, pulled weeds, hung curtains, and paddled canoes.

My arms have been getting the job done for sixty-two years now.

I can’t think of a machine that is as versatile or lasts this long without maintenance. Can you?

It’s pretty amazing when you consider it that way, right?

I think so, too.

If I sense a descent toward depreciation of self in mind or heart, I have only to look down at my somewhat seasoned, still-as-strong-as-ever arms and I shake it off. I smooth a bit of lotion on them for good measure, and stride out the door in gratitude.

Hey! Have I told you about my legs?

Egghead

My husband runs circles around me in the kitchen. However, there is one culinary area in which I far surpass him, and that is because I have a secret weapon that he does not possess.

I have a built in egg timer in my brain.

I make a perfect hard-boiled egg every time.

No timer needed.

No attention needed.

Just right.

BAM!

Here is my recipe:

Put an egg in a pot.

Fill the pot with water to cover the egg.

Turn on the burner and bring the water to a slow boil, then shut the burner off.

Now, just let the egg sit there, relaxing in the hot water. Do whatever else you need to do in the kitchen at this time.

When a thought of the egg pops into your head again, that means the egg is done.

Run it under cool water until cool enough to handle, then peel and eat.

Presto!

You’ve done it again!

Another perfect egg.

Musicality

Listening to music while driving is one of my favorite things to do. I’m a regular accompanist for Adele, Frank Sinatra, Pure Prairie League, Norah Jones, Journey, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Marshall Tucker, Dylan LaBlanc, Neil Young, and The Indigo Girls. To me we sound pretty good together, but what do I know?

During one of these mobile mini-concerts, I realized that the songs on my playlist were time – travel conduits, instantly zooming me back to great memories of moments in time. Conjuring up a connection to a person, group of people, or peak experience turns a mundane errand like running to the grocery store – into time well spent.

Music does all that. It never fails to lift me up.

Here are some personally notable melodies, in loose chronological order:

You Are My Sunshine, Bicycle Built for Two, Sparrow in the Treetop, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Erie Canal, and more…(My parents) – random and countless long car rides in the station wagon

Best of My Love (The Eagles) – silk-screening in junior high print shop

China Grove (The Doobie Brothers) – marching onto the field with the twirling squad for my first home football game

California Girls and Don’t Worry, Baby (The Beach Boys) – hometown summer carnivals

How Deep is Your Love? (The BeeGees) – making deliveries on my brothers’ paper route with my sister

Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty) – zipping down the parkway to the Jersey shore with high school girlfriends

Rosalita (Springsteen) – dancing on a rooftop in Morgantown, WV

Into the Night (Benny Mardones) – late night walks home from Sunnyside

Brown-eyed Girl (Van Morrison) – singing with friends in the back of a pick-up truck on a dirt road in rural Abaco, Bahamas

Already Gone (The Eagles) – Kawagama Lake camping trip with with friends, northern Ontario

You’re Just to Good to Be True (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) – dancing with my husband on our wedding day

Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison) – winter solstice celebrations with neighbors

Just One Look (Linda Ronstadt) – kitchen clean-up dance at Lake Placid with lifetime friends.

And the following songs remind me especially of my kids:

I Am Light (India Arie) – for my daughter, Joy

Bennie and the Jets (Elton John) – for my son, Ben

Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra) – for my son, Luke

There is so much more music both before and after these snapshot memories because to me, the music never ends.

I wonder –

what are the songs you live by?

Wayward Walrus?

We rounded the far end of the field, and walked into the copse of trees at the westerly edge of the expanse, my husband ambling alongside, and the dog snuffling just ahead.

“Um, Hon… is that, um… a walrus, or just a dead tree? My husband queried, pointing ahead. I followed his gaze to a stand of trees in the distance. Nestled in it was a large mass of brown, rising from the ground and glinting with shimmery whiteness on its surface.

“Um…..I…uh…don’t think its a walrus……but I don’t know what it is,” I answered as we slowly advanced toward the hillock, dog in tow. Closing the distance, the identity of knoll became evident. It was a pile of fresh dark soil – presumably for the nearby ballfields – shrouded with a white tarp, remnants of last night’s rain pooling in the folds and glinting in the sun.

“So glad to know its not a wayward walrus in these here parts,” I teased my husband.

“You never know,” he smiled.

Rounding the last corner we headed for home, walking with Ollie

through the first green sparkle of spring.

Blend Schmend!

I have a student who insists on putting either an SC or a DR consonant blend in front of every word ending to make a rhyming word.

Why?

Because he likes the picture on his Consonant Blend chart for the DR blend (a DRAGON) and the picture for the SC blend (a SCORPION). As one might imagine, this tendency is thwarting his ability to generate real rhyming words and grasp how word families work.

For example, for the word ending -ING, his peers generated the rhyming words

BRING, THING, SWING, and STING.

His words were DRING and SCING.

For the word ending -OCK, his peers built the words FLOCK, CROCK, BLOCK, and SHOCK.

His words were DROCK and SCOCK.

This is fine if we ask for nonsense words, but when real words are called for (as they usually are) – nope and nope.

After unsuccessful tries at redirection, today we got creative in our attempt at remediation. After class, my assistant and I covertly altered his Consonant Blend chart. I drew new pictures representing DR and SC, and masterfully glued them on top of the dragon and the scorpion (heh heh). Next, we photocopied the modified paper so the changes were not evident. Finally, we replaced his old chart with the new revised version. Not only is this adaptation likely to curtail his exclusivity with DR and SC, it is sure to give us a chuckle when he discovers that his dragon has horribly morphed into a pink DRESS (ugh!) and his scorpion has transformed into a boring kitchen utensil – a SCOOP!

Of course we’ll be none the wiser.

And somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that once he expands his repertoire a bit, the dragon and the scorpion will magically reappear.

Choosing to See it That Way

The spirit that breathes in all living things confounds explanation.

But don’t think too hard about it

or you may lose it.

We – who are surrounded by life –

can be buoyed by miracles

if we choose

or remember to.

One might see the ordinary as extraordinary

the mundane as miraculous

for things such as these are holy:

the call of a child’s hello crossing the threshold home,

telling stories,

a tree weathering a storm,

a hen atop her eggs,

laughter again at the same old joke,

the wag of the tail,

the burst of a leaf through the wall of a bud,

a seed,

the arrival of wintering wrens back to the yard,

shared bread and banter around the table,

and being held

and loving back.

So,

when you seek holy ground

maybe

look down

because

you are the vessel, too.

Sanctity is everywhere.

Where you stand,

wherever you stand,

is holy ground.