Tree of Life

Yesterday, we said good-bye to a tree. “Sounds silly”, you say? Well, this tree was a hundred years old, and carries with its years many memories and emotions. It was a Maiden Blush apple tree that I have known for forty years. When I moved in next door to Ada Warren, she brought over an apple pie that she made from the fruit of this tree. There is still a watercolor in her desk drawer that I did of the tree for her birthday. Her grandson is now my hubby. He made countless pints of apple sauce with his grandmother, and then did the same with his parents while they lived in this house. He has perfected the art of making apple pie which I admit is better than mine. All the neighbors have used the apples for their favorite recipes too. And we made sauce together this year without sugar. We take it to the ailing, assured of its medicinal power. Many bugs and birds have made a home in the tree, until it grew hollow and lost its original limbs. It was held up by a crutch these last few years and was very weary. Some of the good wood will be modeled into a keepsake while the bark and roots were sent over the bank to blend in with the ivy and the mulch. The front yard looks terribly empty now. Uncle Terry and Aunt Dori watched with us as we said, “Thank you”, to the tree for all its bounty and blessing. Then we feasted together on the penultimate pie from the tree’s last crop. The last one remains tucked in the freezer. Good-byes are so difficult when they represent the last time together to enjoy one another. People, pets, and even trees provide comfort and care that we desperately need. Good-bye leads to transitions and changes in the way we feel. Life can be very lonely when we lose something we cherish. Some things can be replaced, but not people. Each person is unique and valuable in some way. So, how do we manage after loss? Happy remembrance is the first step. Continuing in the footsteps of our loved ones who made a positive difference is another way. Connecting with someone who can help in the areas where we are weak may be a good idea. And here comes my favorite: lean into the Lord for spiritual strength.
There will be more sauce and pie from the two baby trees that were grafted from the grandma tree. Thank you to mama Cordell for thinking ahead. The tree does represent all the love our parents and grandparents poured into us. We hope for many opportunities to pass this love to the next generations. Our children are the apples of our eye, but there is enough love for anyone who needs some. Come over if you want a piece of the pie.

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L is for the way you look at me…

Yesterday, I got out of bed later than usual after staying up late to see Tony Bennett in concert. He is ninety years old and he performed with panache for ninety minutes. He has lost his sostenuto when belting out the end notes, but the audience loved him and gave a standing ovation several times throughout the show. He told his story of love, heart ache and loneliness through musical poetry and standards that we all know. With his music still in my head, I performed my normal morning routine without keeping an eye on the clock. I suddenly remembered that I had a meeting at church, but was unsure what time it started. I sent a text to my friends and ran up the stairs to change. A text came back that I had to be there at 9:30. It was already 9:00, so I threw on the clothes that I wore the day before, and slapped on some lipstick and blush. I think I brushed my teeth, I don’t remember. Then I ran down the stairs to jump in my car and hustle off to church. It is usually a fifteen minute journey which includes parking and hiking to the entrance. Somehow, I made it with enough time to order a smoothie and get up the stairs to the Bible study before it started. This was a new record for me. I confess that I skipped taking a shower until later in the day. Hubby and I both like to take a morning shower everyday to feel fresh and energized. It felt a bit bizarre to skip it, but I am reminded of an article in a European magazine that talked about American’s obsession with washing their bodies and clothing. We wear something once, and put it through the washing machine, and the dryer beats the threads until the lint catcher is filled. Our body is soaped, rinsed, moisturized, and perfumed until its true scent is unrecognizable. Thanks to marketing and our mothers, we feel we must go through these machinations in order to be socially acceptable. We might repel others with our sweat stains and earthy odors, but we are always loved by God, who has washed us cleaner than snow through Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins. That is the most amazing act of redemption. Well, I did shampoo and shave this morning in hope of presenting myself in the best light possible. Even when we are not in the spotlight like Tony, we are to be a light that shines for others. I can’t imagine life at ninety. When I get there, I hope to remember the words to my favorite songs and to step in time with the music. Now, what time am I supposed to be where? Oh yes, “Leaving on a jet plane” to reunite with my hubby. IMG_0526

What a Load

Last week, I lifted a box of books and the bottom fell out. The books lay on the dirty garage floor like a pile of lifeless rubble after a a demolition. No one saw it happen, so this cliche event that gathers volumes chuckles at the movies, did not feel funny to me at the time. My nephew, Alan, came to help us load the moving truck a couple days latter, and did the same thing with another overloaded box of books- we all laughed out loud. Slapstick is more merry with an audience, so writing about the dumb stuff in life turns the tragic into something joyful. The majority of the books were transferred to smaller file folder boxes with better bottoms. They made their journey To Tampa and now await the perils of Hurricane Irma. Bethany is taking her doggies and her best friend, Ashley, to Gainesville for a safer haven today. She has sorted through nearly one hundred books. I donated over one hundred to the library in Ashtabula before the truck loaded. Our family has done a fair amount of reading which exercises the brain. It certainly has been a work out for the body as well when we box and carry them everywhere we move. Among the boxes were several bibles. My first bible from eight grade confirmation, a huge family bible given as a wedding gift, and a bible that got tossed because of mouse damage (I hope they read it and all go to heaven). These books are good for the spirit. So books do offer a spirit, soul, and body enrichment that I highly recommend. Our first grandchild will be rich in reading material that we hope she enjoys as much as our children did. Technology is a tempting diversion from reading, so there will be new challenges. I am sure most of the books will be on-line in the future. This will save us the physical exertion and comical mishaps. If the flood waters come and saturate the books, we will have to depend on oral storytelling, unless the insurance coverage includes a new library. We wish all our children safe passage next week. Ours sons-in- law Matt and Lewis will be at the zoo protecting the animals. Maybe they could take some books and read bedtime stories to the restless beasts. And mama Jane James will be bravely helping the birthing mothers at the hospital in Miami. Will the girls be named Irma? We pray dear Lord for your protection of all the Volunteers and First Responders who will save lives and help the living piece their lives back together. Theirs is a heavy load to bear. If the bottom does fall out with the torrents of rain and the destructive winds; help us find ways to rebuild with better bottoms. The storms and evacuations are a reminder that lives are more precious than anything we collect and store. If you are watching the storm advance, as I am, and packing up to leave; keep your load light. May the joy of the Lord be with you where ever you are.

Spice It Up

Yesterday, I tried to spice things up. My tuna and green pea salad needed some pepper. I feel certain there was a jokester who rigged the pepper grinder, because one twist of the bottom, and the shaker fell apart with the contents pouring over my peas. I was not going to waste this salad and throw it out- that is against my nature, especially when hungry. I tried to carefully dump the pepper corns into the sink and then pick out the ones stuck in the tuna. While finally eating my salad, I got an occasional chunk of pepper stuck in my tooth. There are consequences to adding too much spice. I am guessing that this conjures up scenarios in relationships. How do you keep a marriage interesting, or a friendship from being boring with out a little zest? Many foods we eat are flavorless- like meat. A little salt or savory herbs are necessary to add some flavor. In a marriage it is crucial to have some common interests and share them on date nights. Daily routines can spice it up with time set aside for non distracted conversation. You know that means to unplug from all electronics. When hubby and I talk about finances, it can be like adding red hot sauce, so it is important to dilute that with a little humor. “What do you mean we went past our budget this month? Okay, I will sell my yacht and furs, and stick to meals from a can for a week.” Spicing it up in the bedroom is way too personal for me to write about, but I am acknowledging the importance because I know most of you were thinking about it too. Friendships need a little flavor but never drama. Gossip is akin to dumping cayenne pepper into a recipe. It ruins it completely. A great tragedy, in my opinion, is a boring worship service. I feel certain that millennials have left churches because their purpose became bland. It was a huge step for us to seek a church that spices it up with contemporary music, and sermons that challenge us to serve others in new ways. We have found just what we needed and it is refreshing to worship in a place that is bursting with people and opportunities to connect and serve together. I hope you find the right spice in your life. There are so many to choose from. There is no reason to ever be bored when there are many ways to connect. Relish your quiet time as well, to pray and seek the Lord. Today, I shall be careful with my thyme and seek sage advice about those finances.IMG_1885

This Is Jeopardy!

Yesterday, I watched Jeopardy with four members of my family. Hubby and I usually watch the PBS News Hour or Business Report, which can be rather dry. It was scintillating to switch to the show my parents used to watch everyday. All five of us were shouting out answers before the contestants. Lewis knew the Science questions, Amanda knew the Medical, Alan knew that a bullet holder on a soldier is called a bandolier, and Hubby knew so many random questions that it astounded us. He has vast knowledge in many areas. I had a few proud moments of guessing correctly, and we all knew the final Jeopardy question. “What is Avant-Garde?” The moments of brilliance are easy from the arm chair. I certainly don’t think I would be able to spew forth the answers quickly enough under pressure as a contestant in front of a camera. I would be making faces and clowning around. I would not know how much to risk when wagering. The Daily Double is the chance to wager all the points and catch up to others without the them clicking to answer. Few people take the opportunity to double their points, concerned they could lose them all if they don’t know the answer. Hubby says we have the Daily Double in our daily lives. When there is conflict or questions to be answered we should bet everything on Jesus. It is a sure winner. I love his analogy. If we depend on our own wit or believe we can manage without the love of God, it puts us in jeopardy. I truly want to play a game of life with all the skills that are necessary, and accept all help I can get. We are not on earth to to be isolated. The arm chair and ottoman are a comfy place to be while watching pseudo life on the TV. There is so much more that we can enjoy when we leave the chair, the comfort zone, and the false knowledge that we have all the answers. Substitute time with family and friends whenever possible to do things that are enriching and helpful. Play the sport instead of watching one, sing with a group in public instead of listening to the Voice, team up to clean up in the garden or the parks instead of cleaning out your inbox. Take a walk, get on your bike, get creative and invite me. I need to get away from the screen more often during the day. Facebook is losing its fascination because I need more face to face. A little quiz show can be nice interlude to make sure our memory bank still works, as long as we don’t for get the wonderful world outdoors. A mammal that has two or three toes and moves slowly in the rainforests of Brazil: “What is a sloth?” You got that right.IMG_0430

The Aroma of Love

Last week, I knocked a bottle of my hubby’s Acqua di Gio aftershave off the shelf. It landed on the hard surface of our bathroom scale and broke into pieces. Naturally, my first thought was, “How do I save the fluid so it does not go to waste.” I imagined the bathroom would smell quite nice for a long time to come, but I did not want to throw all the contents in the garbage. I carefully removed the glass, still considering a method of mopping the liquid up with towels that I could preserve and put in every room. It would then seem as if my hubby was present where ever I went in the house. My daughters once took comfort in driving their daddy’s car because it smelled like him, with the aftershave lingering on the steering wheel. That must have also reminded them of his prayer that they drive safely. The presence of God is much the same; a sweet aroma that reminds us that He is with us. He desires for us to make good choices and to be protected by His love. When I take a walk and smell the lush fragrance of flowers and trees, I am thankful for the marvelous creation and truly feel the presence of God. Oddly, the smells at the zoo invoke the same feeling as I watch the animals and marvel at the beauty of every creature. I wish I had the same love for spiders, ants, and roaches who have a short lifespan in my house. Our sense of smell connects us with memories, alerts us to dangers, and delights us in so many ways. Many of us think of our grandmothers every holiday when we smell a turkey roasting. I do not eat turkey anymore, but still love the aroma. Many of us run from the room when the odiferous and noisy after effects hit from overeating. It is not just the men in the family that find flatulence to be funny. I prefer aftershave. This may become less popular as men give up the razor and sport more facial hair. I have given up my favorite perfume so I will stop attracting mosquitoes and bees. Luckily, there are essential oils that are delightful and ward off bugs. I know the effects of a perfumed house will not last long. I am thankful that the presence of God is everlasting. He is described as an ancient one that has glowing hair and a flowing beard. I have replaced my childhood vision with the sweet smell of all that is kind, good, gentle, faithful, peaceful, joyful, loving, patient and true. We cannot always cover up the stinky, but we can clean up and focus on the fresh scent that is so pleasing. Right now my garbage can is the best smelling part of the house. When that dissipates, I will look forward to when hubby returns home, and follow him around the house. He loves that he can lead me by the nose.IMG_0349

Wipe Out

Yesterday, I used a whole canister of Clorox wipes. Today when I put my glasses on, I realized that I did not get things completely clean, and I have started round two. No, I am not a neat freak. I am cleaning all the items that were in storage for five years, that will finally be shipped to our children. The mice were having a party in there and making little nests from the children’s books. Mice are cute, but they do not clean up after themselves! Every Rubbermade lid was scrubbed down and every stick of furniture polished. Several children’s books that were in cardboard boxes are now history and will decorate the landfill. Who knew mice liked to read the classics? They didn’t touch “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie”. Seems ironic or maybe that was respectful. I did spread around the dreaded mothballs to chase the mice away. Now I cannot get rid of that smell from my sinuses and memory. All clothing is being washed in hot water and toys are being given a bath. I found my fifty year old dolls, so I am feeling sentimental, but I will sell them to collectors who will hopefully treat them with more attention. I honestly regret having a basement, attic or storage unit where things lay forgotten and neglected. Take Heed Millennials, live simply and don’t fall prey to the market that wants you to buy new stuff every year. Where have all the phones and old computers gone? Next to the used disposable diapers I suppose; where they will morph into smelly transformer zombie monsters. So, how can I twist this obsession with storage, cleaning, and doom into a positive message? Maybe it is simply to be quick to share what is no longer being used. Do not save it for the future, because no one wants the broken and tattered stuff that smells like mouse and mold. Antiques and collectibles are not very popular with millennials, so give them things they really need now instead of expecting them to prize a family heirloom that will not fit in their home in twenty years. Saving for the future might be better in the form of healthcare insurance and retirement funds. Now for the spiritual aspect: moth, rust and mice will corrupt your treasures on earth, so consider the treasure of eternal life in heaven. Treasure your friends and family. Appreciate all they do for you. Store your happy memories in your mind instead of a hundred albums, videos, picture frames and digital cloud space. No one will know what to do with all your scrapbooks. Eliminate the bad memories to make space for more good ones. Eliminate the storage rooms to make more room for dinner guests and sleepovers. And now for a non sequitur: get outside and breathe the fresh air every beautiful day. We were not created to hole up in our man caves and she sheds. I am now going to take a bike ride to air out, and sit in the Harbor Perk for a bit, to fill my olfactory with the fragrance of fresh ground coffee beans.Those Clorox wipes have wiped me out. IMG_0332

Mooseburger Clown Camp

Last week, I went to Mooseburger Clown Camp in Buffalo, Minnesota. It was five days of fun organized by former Ringling Bros./Barnum and Bailey Circus clowns. There were seventy-five students and twenty-five instructors and staff. Half the students were alumni, including a few that have returned more than ten times. Never before have I heard so many men talking about their makeup, or women talking about their size fifteen shoe. Never before have I had to choose between workshops on puppetry, ukulele, and juggling. Yes, I learned to juggle scarves- I am a failure at the balls and bowling pins. Camp was a gift from my family who are all supportive of my Bumper T Caring Clown ministry. My goal was to learn something new and to expand my skills to “clowning with a message,” which can be used for presentations at schools or library programs. There were workshops on illusions, using music and song, face painting and balloon twisting. I attended everything that was music and dance related, including the morning wiggles and giggles. I never made it to the 9:45pm offerings- the youngsters always filled me in the next day. Age range was seventeen to eighty something. Many of the students are volunteers like me, but most of them clown professionally for parties, events and presentations. Professor Flutterbuster is a full time doctor who does school science shows for fun. He was the coach for the gag my group did in the final show. I was the clown with the biggest pants hiding a fifteen foot banner that unfurls to say THE END. Of course my pants fall down and I have to pull them back up after I reveal my polka dot bloomers underneath. Hubby drove me to Camp and was there for our final All Star Show. You can ask him to see a video. In retrospect, the most incredible aspect of camp was that every person there was NICE all the time. Five days of positivity, compliments, encouragement and pleasant repartee beats the pants off a wellness center. Actually, camp was at a Catholic retreat on Buffalo Lake. Imagine pictures of clown faces hanging under portraits of Mary and Jesus. I did not hear one complaint or difficult discussion the whole week. Perhaps everyone needs a clown in the family to lighten the burden that is part of daily life. I was transformed by the kindness and the new rainbow wig that makes me look twenty years younger. The red nose that originated with the happy man who took a little nip too often is now a symbol of the people who bring joy and laughter to those who could use a lift. There may be farce and mishaps when clowns are around, but guffaws spill out to gladden the heart. So much silliness sucked me into an adventure that taught me to take life a little less seriously. Kindness is kin to love and the most important part of each day. If you like to clown around and want to make it your mission to manufacture laughter, let’s double up our efforts. For those of you who are afraid of clowns, I have a suggestion. If a mob of clowns attacks you, go for the juggler. Funny isn’t it?

Beware of Stairs

Yesterday, I went down a flight of rickety wooden stairs behind our house to get to the beach. The water level has eroded the sand and earth away to the point of shifting a concrete base securing the stairs, so the final descent was twisted and broken. I clung to the rail and felt like I was walking in a Escher painting. I knew it was dangerous to ignore the sign at the top that blocked the entry and said, “Under Repair”. I really wanted to get to the bottom to cool my feet in the water, and since there was no other way to get there, I took the risk. You might imagine the next part of the story continues with the stairs breaking away, and I fall and hit sense into my head or float out to the middle of Lake Erie; but nothing happened this time. I cooled my feet, found some beach glass and returned to the top. Why did I take the risk when a bathtub could have given me the same refreshing result? Exploration might have been my primary motive, or maybe there is a little part of me that rebells against authority, convention and caution. Most of my days are logical, methodical, and routine. Everyone needs to break away from those days sometimes in order to experience creative rejuvenation. Today, when I went to visit the staircase to climb down, our wonderful neighbor was making a Herculean effort to repair them by anchoring the bottom with bags of cement. It looks like their efforts will be successful until the water rises again to wash out the sands and stones. The winter icebergs can create enough power to push things around as well. Nature always gets her way. Given time, the earth heals from all that man has manipulated and vegetation grows over every human path and pillar. There may be buildings five hundred years old, but after a thousand years, all we find are ruins that were well buried. Five generations from now everything will be different. This is where I must recognize that God will be the same power and glory forever. We shall face challenges, take risks, and try to control our environment, but there is really nothing we can do to improve what God gives us. Whatever exploration I am on, my focus should be to find those who need love and pour it over them abundantly. Man made materials and machines are always exciting in their advances and seemingly the best way to invest our time and money, but they won’t even last our life time. Our words and stories make a lasting impression, so it is important to use our words wisely and share stories of God’s love and Power. I wish I could find a way to make a hug last and last. No matter how risky, I don’t want to miss a chance to to share the love of God. Go, therefore, into every nation; climb every mountain and ford every stream to complete the task God gives you. Make every exploration and mission a part of a stairway to heaven.IMG_0287

Under Pressure

This week we had a home incident that was not caused by my neglect, miscalculation, or buffoonery. Hubby and I entered the house after a holiday away, and I noticed a wine bottle cork on the floor. At first, I thought it was a large creature like we the ones that greet us in Charleston, but when I picked it up I was glad that it was not. Then hubby walked by and said, “What is this oil on the floor?” We both leaned over to touch it, and then looked around to see what was leaking. “Here is the culprit,” said hubby as he lifted a corkless bottle of Johannesburg Riesling from the wine shelf above the kitchen desk. “What in the world!” I exclaimed. Apparently, the 2007 wine bottle popped the cork under pressure that had been building. Half the contents glugged out on the desk below, being absorbed by a magazine and an old computer. Out came the Swifter to take care of the floor splatters as I contemplated what happens when pressure mounts beyond our limits. Okay, no snickering from the men on this, we all understand your anatomy. Extreme pressure is often caused by deadlines to complete a project or pay the bills. The pressure cooker I remember most in my life has been student performance in my classroom, especially when the superintendent and principal both walk in unannounced. “Please, Oh Lord, may all my children be on task and answer questions brilliantly,” I prayed. Everyday was a challenge; preparing meaningful and exciting lessons, motivating students, and managing the constant behavior issues of twenty to thirty little lives that all wanted my attention and acceptance. I wanted everyday to be perfect, but people just are not. We may all agree that confrontation is an occasion that causes our hearts to race and our emotional gaskets to blow. I will never get used to accusations and anger directed at me. There were a couple times when I confronted my own children and they saw me blow my top. Pressure may form diamonds out of coal, but that takes thousands of years. Who wants to endure a thousand insults in hope of becoming something valuable to others? Most moments that are extremely stressful situations cause a mess at the breaking point. This is never something we should do to another person. It takes more than a swifter to clean up a relationship in ruins. A sticky residue remains in unseen places in the form of mistrust and dislike. It take genuine love to forgive, and a good scrubbing in the way of confession and repentance to have full reconciliation. It must be from both sides with two people or groups. With God and man, the pressure has been released by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. He cleaned up our mess already and has open arms for everyone. If we see pressure mounting between people or political parties, it has to be released like the opening of a carbonated beverage- slowly without shaking. Hubby and I find de- escalating with a bottle of wine can be helpful. It may be ironic that my favorite is champagne. There is skill in opening a bottle under pressure. Don’t pop your top.IMG_0273