Uniform

Whew! The home stretch is in sight — 6 letters left, 5 after today.


U is for Uniform, as in the one I wear to work.

I don’t think that I ever imagined myself saying this, but I like wearing a uniform to work. It saves me time.

Every morning a series of alarms keep me on track — the first to make sure I’m awake, then to give me time to journal, to read, to ponder, and to get ready for work. I report to work at 5 AM — so my first alarm goes off at 3:30 AM. [I just did some extensive research (i.e. – a quick google) to find out what time dairy farmers get up in the morning. 4 AM. Yes, I’m up before the dairy farmer.]

The least amount of time each morning goes to getting ready for work. It’s a done deal — a black shirt and stone-colored pants. I spend a minute or so trying to mask the circles under my eyes and less than 30 seconds “fixing” my hair. (My hair is hopeless. It can’t be fixed.)

It was cold yesterday morning. I wore my black hoodie that is embroidered with my organization’s logo.

And my stone-colored pants.

Usually I wear a black polo (embroidered with my organization’s logo) and stone-colored pants.

The other day I went for a walk on my break — wearing my black polo and stone-colored pants — and caught my toe on the uneven sidewalk. I fell all the way down.

Alllllll the waaaaay dooooooown. I could see the whole thing happening in slow motion.

I broke the fall with my hands (which are still bruised and painful) and skidded my right side into the soft grass and dirt beside the sidewalk. The mud ground in to the pants. Fortunately, the scrapes on my knees didn’t bleed through. Stone-colored pants don’t hide blood very well.

I turned around and walked the mile or so back to the gym.

Because we wear uniforms, we have a bag in the back room full of black shirts and stone-colored pants from employees who have moved on. I dug through it and found a pair of pants that would work.

Not my style, of course. A wide-leg pant. A little too long. But, hey, no mud from a fall.

So, I like uniforms.

I like not having to put too much brain power into the what-should-I-wear question.

I like that we (co-workers) share with each other.

I really like my black hoodie.


I don’t like feeling used — but that’s probably not a story for a blog.

You know what I mean, though. The insincerity of being stepped on by another person.

Nope. Not for me.

Tidying

To say that I like tidying might not be totally true, but I definitely get some satisfaction from it.

I’m a cluttered person. I have a hard time throwing things away — especially things that may someday be useful — which is pretty much everything. I mean, I may need that receipt to return something. I may sometime be looking for that random screw that I picked up on the kitchen floor because I finally figured out what it went to.

I may need a black pen that barely writes because that’s better than a pen that doesn’t write. I guess I could throw away the pen that doesn’t write anymore.

And that free temporary tattoo that I picked up somewhere? Surely someone will want that.

What about candles in glass jars? Is that recycling? Or garbage? Or is there one last light and fragrance I can get from it?

You see my problem.

I tidied yesterday. I threw away so many old shopping lists and store receipts. I gathered the loose change from all the different places I had emptied my pockets and put it into a jar. I threw away a bunch of random notes from work and other reminders for myself.

I shelved books. All my Thomas Merton books are in a row, as well as Howard Thurman, Brian Doyle, and John Steinbeck. The Gaelic books and the books on Scotland have their own corner. I have somehow ended up with three copies of 100 Selected Poems by e.e.cummings. I suppose I could get rid of two, but I love that book so much that I would want them to go to good homes.

Uncluttered, semi-ordered bookshelves

I found so many quotes I had written down on slips of paper. Here are a few:

  • Henry Nouwen: In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.
  • Nothing changes if nothing changes. — from a counseling session. My counselor told me to write this one down.
  • Face the worst. Discover the best.
  • Montaigne: The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.
  • Thomas Merton: Every moment is rich in happiness.

I saved all the quotes. I even had quotes from television shows. Seriously. What kind of person does that?

I suppose I like tidying after all.

I just don’t like throwing things away. What if someday I need that thing?


On a side note, two Gaelic words that I keep getting mixed up are the word for tidying (sgioblachadh) and the word for writing (sgrìobhadh). It’s the “sg” at the beginning and “dh” at the end and the rest of the too-many-letters in the middle.

For me, writing is a way of tidying my mind, so I kind of like the similarity between the two words. Funny, isn’t it?

Serpents

I have COVID. Blech. But I’m looking at it as my opportunity to finish this silly alphabet thing.


S is for Serpents, as in Taking Up Serpents, which is a one-act opera that I saw this summer. It was my favorite of all the operas I saw.

I went to three shows at the Glimmerglass Festival this summer, my first time ever going there.

Glimmerglass Opera Theatre

First, I saw The Sound of Music, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is musical theater, not opera. It was amazing.

Next I saw their Double Bill, two one-act operas: Taking Up Serpents and Holy Ground. I’ll get back to this one.

Last I saw Carmen. Their live orchestra playing that prelude?! Amazing. I was in love — until the story started. Then I was confused, irritated, more confused, and, like, what-the-heck-is-going-on. At intermission, I asked my daughter who was working at the opera if it was supposed to be a comedy. She laughed and said, no, that it’s supposed to be a tragedy. The tragic part was how shallow and insipid the characters were. I wanted Don Josè to get a backbone and show a little moral fortitude. I wanted Escamillo to be more than a pretty boy who strutted across the stage in his bullfighter outfit. Maybe I’m not an opera person.

But maybe I am.

I saw Serpents twice. The first time I was quite taken aback but also awed. The second time, I took copious notes. The lyrics were full of imagery that drew me in — singing about moths being attracted to the light in the opening song. My scribbled notes won’t do it justice, but here’s part of what Kayla sang:

This parking lot’s a graveyard…
Same moths are drunk again on lamplight…
They know not what they do, Lord…
They keep going round and round and round…
A calling to be drawn like that to something you can never touch…
They’re longing for the light.

Kayla’s longing became a theme.

Light. Mystery. Brokenness. All were themes in a heavy opera that spoke volumes to me.

I like love Serpents.


In case you’re wondering about Holy Ground, I think it was meant to be a counterpoint to Serpents. I can’t really comment much on it. The music was amazing. The costumes were amazing. The story was, hmm, I don’t know. I closed my eyes to enjoy the music and fell asleep the first time I went to the show. The second time, I didn’t even stay.


On to what I don’t like that begins with S. I don’t like being sick. See paragraph #1.

Ugh

Ranunculus

Helen’s bridal bouquet

Helen’s bouquet was lovely, wasn’t it? I don’t know the names of all the flowers in it — roses (obviously), lily-of-the-valley (a nod to my mother — that was what she carried in her bridal bouquet), and ranunculus (that peachy-colored one that is dead center). I feel like I should know the names of the purple ones and the white ones but I don’t. (Anyone?)

Ranunculus is one of my favorite flowers. I first remember buying a few stems at the Farmers’ Market for my ikebana pot and delighting as they opened from small round balls to those amazing delicate layers-upon-layers of petals.

In the ikebana vase
Another ikebana arrangement

I bought fresh stems on every visit to the Farmers’ Market in my year of ranunculus-discovery. Until they ran out.

“Not even one last bud?” I asked, trying not sound whiny.

“No. Their season is past,” replied the woman at the stand, and I went away sad.

The next year I purchased them early and often.

Ranunculus. What an ugly name for such a lovely flower. It sounds clunky and awkward, not delicate and beautiful. The name derives from Latin for “little frog.” I don’t see the similarity.

A little frog that I photographed on a walk.

I do not like rude people.

Questions

I have a thousand questions.

Maybe more.

I think I’ve always been this way, too. I have two distinct memories of my mother expressing her frustration to me regarding all my questions.

One was when she was pregnant with my youngest brother and a button flew off her housecoat. I don’t remember the actual question I asked, but I do remember her response — “It’s because of the baby!” I suppose I should I have known that but I didn’t. Maybe I had already asked her 653 questions about her growing belly or maybe she had already tried to tell me 653 times about this new member of the family who would be arriving soon. In any event, it all became real when the button flew off her housecoat.

A few weeks after the housecoat fiasco

The second time was several years later. On the kitchen counter I had found this interesting looking plastic circle thing. I could spin it and I could see that there were little pills inside. My mother saw me playing with it and snatched it away.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s mine,” she said.

“But what is it?” I persisted.

“It’s so I won’t have any more babies,” she snapped, and she sounded so angry at me and all my questions that I learned to keep most of them to myself. I had a lot more questions about that plastic circular pill dispenser — but those questions wouldn’t be answered for many years.

But questions — I love questions.

I started gathering all the questions in the Bible into my journals.

Reducing a story to questions brings out a poignancy we might miss otherwise. Take these four questions, all asked by Isaac in the same chapter:

  • Who are you, my son?
  • How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?
  • Are you really my son Esau?
  • Who are you?

I’m always working through a section of the Old Testament and a section of the New Testament concurrently — one OT question per day and one NT question per day. The same same few days when I was writing Isaac’s questions, I journaled these questions asked by Jesus in the book of Matthew:

  • Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
  • But who do you say that I am?

The very first question in the book of John is “Who are you?”

So many questions about identity!

When I was reading Howard Thurman’s books and books about Howard Thurman, I found that he had three questions he liked to ask young people. I scribbled them down on a post-it note that I keep handy

  • Who are you? Who are you really? (identity)
  • What are you for? Or, what do you want? (purpose)
  • How will you get it? (means)

Sometimes, in yoga, when I’m trying to relax into long pose, I ponder those questions.

I ask God those questions, too — sometimes about Him, more often about me. Who am I? Who am I really?

God hasn’t snapped at me yet.


Things I like: questions.

Things I don’t like: When people look at me like I just asked the stupidest question on the face of the earth.

People

Dear Kim,

One of the things I’ve learned in recent years is that I like people. I genuinely like people.

I like the varieties they come in. I like the get-my-ducks-in-a-row variety and I like the deadline?-what-deadline? variety. I like the spreadsheet variety, the clutter variety, the same-routine-every-day variety, and the but-we-did-that-yesterday variety. I’ll admit that I struggle more and more with the black-and-white-thinking variety, but I also can’t wrap my mind fully the there-is-no-right-or-wrong-everything-is-on-a-spectrum variety.

One of my sons has been working as a caretaker at a small village park this summer. I’ve been going out to help him occasionally, especially when he has school-related Zoom meetings, but sometimes just to give him a break.

The other day was a Zoom day. I was sitting in front on the Caretaker’s cabin while he was inside discussing philosophy or some such thing. A dad and a little girl came up from the beach and wandered past me a few times.

Finally the dad approached me. “Do you work here?” he asked.

I”m never sure how to answer that. “Um.. kind of?” I said. “I’m the caretaker’s mom.”

“My daughter cut her foot and she needs a bandaid,” he said.

I had her sit at the picnic table so I could take a look. When she took off her pink croc, I couldn’t really see the cut because of all the blood.

“Hold on,” I said, and ran into the cabin to get bandaids, alcohol wipes, and paper towels. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I called to my son as I zoomed in and out, interrupting his Zoom.

I handed the girl a paper towel. “I need you to wipe away some of the blood, so we can see,” I said.

“NoooOOOOooooo,” she cried, sounding remarkably like the coyotes I hear at night.

Her dad then tried.

“NoooooOOOOOOooooooOOOOO! NO-NO-NO-NO-NOOOooooooo!”

I took a few steps back, trying to think how to tackle the problem, when Frank, the red-tailed hawk man, came over.

Frank is a fascinating person. He’s been coming to the park with his current hawk, Bella. He told me that very few hawks live to adulthood in the wild so he captures young hawks, raises them, and then releases them.

“Do you do this for a living?” I asked him when I first met him.

“No, this is my passion,” he replied.

Back to the howling child — “Do you need help?” Frank asked. He saw the bloody foot and said, “Let me get my first aid kit.”

While he went for his supplies, the little girl sat on the bench and cried, the dad tried unsuccessfully to comfort her, and I tended to some other park visitors who needed easier assistance. When I got back to them, Frank was cleaning the cut. The girl’s wails had subsided to sniffles.

Frank purred his words while he worked. His skill of calming a frightened animal worked with this human child.

I stood back and watched the scene. It was really quite lovely.

Yesterday, when I went to the park, my son had this drawing on his table:

That’s me on the left looking on, and her father on the right doing the same thing. My son had come out of his meeting during the bandaging operation and told her funny stories about how he lost the whole toenail off his big toe at the park when he was a child and the Toenail Fairy (aka my brother) came to visit him, bringing him VHS Muppet shows.

But, you know, people. I remember standing there, watching, and thinking, “I really love people.”

The day before this we had the throw-rocks-at-the-ducks variety of people at the park — and I don’t like that variety.

But Frank makes up for it.

I hope you enjoy the varieties of people in your life today.

Love,
Sally

Onward!

Dear Kim,

Onward to the letter O!

Open — I like open spaces, open people, open doors. In yoga, it’s the classes where we focus on opening up — the shoulders, the chest, the hips — that I feel the tears come.

Opera — I went to my first opera this summer. My daughter Mary is working at the Glimmerglass Opera this summer as an apprentice in Front-of-House. Yes, we have a professional opera company not far from the small rural town where I live.

The Glimmerglass Opera Theater (aka Alice Busch Opera Theater)

Since Mary is there, I started taking a little more interest in the opera people who come into the gym for memberships. “What do you do at the opera?” I would ask as they sat across the desk from me completing the necessaries for membership. They would tell me. I would promptly forget.

One day, I was having just such a conversation when the man asked, “Do you enjoy the opera?”

“Um,” I said, “I’ve never gone. I don’t think it’s my cup of tea.”

“You should go,” he insisted. “Try The Sound of Music.” They do one musical theater production each summer in addition to the operas.

“I’ve seen The Sound of Music so many times,” I replied.

“But you’ve never seen it unmiked and with a full orchestra,” he said.

Sold.

I asked Mary to get me a ticket to the show. I went and loved it.

A few days after my opera visit, I saw the guy at the gym who had talked me into it. “I went to The Sound of Music,” I told him. “I really enjoyed it!”

“What did you like about it?” he asked.

I told him I liked the orchestra. I told him that I thought the young woman who played Liesl was amazing. Then I told him how much I liked the dancing.

“Oh!” he said, bringing his hand up to his heart. “That’s what I do.”

I looked him up. He was, indeed, the chief choreographer.

And it turns out I may actually like opera. I now have tickets to two more shows.

Old — I was going to say that I don’t like growing old — the aches and pains of it — but I really LOVE the older people who come in the gym where I work. Recently, an 84 year old woman joined and she’s been trying all the different classes we offer. “I don’t want to do those old people classes,” she said to me, so she signs up for Spin or Zumba Dance. More than once, I’ve seen her watching people climb the high wall. “I don’t think I’m quite ready for that,” she said the other day, “but maybe next year.” When I’m 84, I want to be like her.

There are so many other O’s that I like: the ocean, orchids, being outdoors, and October, to name a few.

I don’t like overbearing, overly-opinionated, offensive oafs. Enough said.

Thanks always for your encouragement.

Love,
Sally

M and N

Dear Kim,

Thank you so much for your text the other morning. I know that I haven’t responded, but you have no idea how much I need to hear from people like you. People who love me — warts and all.

I really want to try to finish the alphabet thing I started. As much as I WANT to write, writing just doesn’t seem to come. Maybe, I thought, if I write it in a letter to you — a long overdue letter — I’ll actually be able to put some words to the page.

So, here we go —

M

I like Magical places. A few weeks ago, Mary and I got permission to explore the grounds of an old estate house that had been razed decades ago. As we walked around, Mary kept saying, “This is magic. This place is magical.”

Here are a few pictures from that day:

Hmm…what’s sealed up behind that cement?
A well-cap? Or a secret tunnel?
A sundial! Bricked into the earth — but it no longer gets full sun!

I don’t like mean girls. See, I thought Mean Girls was a movie based on my life in high school back in the mid-seventies. It turns out Mean Girls still exist today. And I work with some.

It’s disheartening to know that some women never outgrow the manipulative back-stabbing ugly behavior of their teenage years. However, I decided last weekend that these are the women who will help me grow into a better me. Every morning I thank God that they are part of my life.

Today I worked with one of them and the only thing she said to me all day was “Where’s the stapler?”

I smile when I think about it. How silly we can be!

N

Okay — N is hard. I was going to say that I like the New Moon because I took this picture when I got to work the other morning. The moon was so crisp and so pointy — all I could think was that it would hurt if I stepped on it. My photo does not do it justice. Plus it was a waning crescent, not a waxing crescent.

the moon

I like Neatness — to a point. I also like a certain amount of mess. I’m not sure why that is.

I like my Neighbors. My brother lives right next door! He’s a good neighbor. I know he’s always willing to help — and he calls to check up on me, which is nice. I also like his neighbor, the one on the other side. I see her at the gym often and she is a delight. I like our neighbor in Greene. She still helps with our lawn care. I liked our neighbors on Brooklyn Ave. I still see one of them at church every week. I liked our neighbors in Cheyenne. I guess we’ve been pretty fortunate in the neighbor department.

I don’t like the News. It is depressing. And yet I read it — multiple times a day. What is wrong with me??!?

SInce I wanted to end in the 500 word range, I’ll end now. Next time I’ll go for O and P. Maybe even Q if I can be succinct. It’s not really my strength, but I can always try.

Thanks again for messaging me.

Love you so much.

Sally

Language

Last week, after a brief amble in the park where my son works I fell asleep on a blanket in the grass. I woke up to this:

The blue skies, the lake, the grass, the daisy just beyond the edge of the blanket.

This week’s SoCS (Stream of Consciousness Saturday) prompt is “amble”, or a word that ends with “–amble”.

One of the first things that came to mind was “preamble” and what a silly word that is if you consider what amble means. An amble is a leisurely walk, but a preamble is not what happens before a leisurely walk. A preamble is an introduction — like the Preamble to the Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” then something about domestic tranquility, common defense and blessings of liberty. Whatever all it says — and my memory is weak here — the preamble is not leisurely. It’s the gritty laying of groundwork for a legal document. What follows the preamble isn’t an amble either. It’s bedrock.

But I love language and that’s my “L” in this pitifully late A-to-Z Challenge.

There are so many avenues to explore in languages. Etymology of words, exceptions to rules, idioms.

You probably already know all of the these, but I’ll throw them in here anyway — If the plural of goose is geese, why isn’t the plural of moose meese? By the same token, mouse becomes mice, louse becomes lice, but house never become hice. Right?

And weird is just a weird word because the i comes before the e and there’s no c involved.

My husband used to work with a woman from Germany. Her husband called her once when she was running late at work and told her that she needed to pick up the pizza for their dinner and step on it. She turned to Bud asked, “Why does he want me to step on the pizza?”

Laurel has been saying the word “Schnikes” for a while. “Is that a real word?” I asked her.

“I think so,” she said, and looked it up. It sounds Yiddish to me, but it came from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Aren’t words fun? Isn’t language fun?

When I was about two years old, we lived in Ethiopia and our housekeeper taught me to count to ten in Italian. When I was in high school, I took French and Latin. When I was in college, I took Latin, Greek, and Italian. A few years after college I took American Sign Language through a community college. Before I went to Croatia and Bosnia, I downloaded an app to learn some Croatian. (We actually got free admission to a museum after I attempted to ask for our tickets in Croatian.)

Now I’m learning Scottish Gaelic. In early May, I hit the 700 consecutive days milestone.

I may not be able to say amble in Gaelic, but I can tell you that I’m walking — Tha mi a’ coiseachd.

I love languages. I love learning. Two good L’s, eh? (<— that’s my Canadian.)


What don’t I like that begins with L? Hmm…. how about liver and onions? My mom used to make it. Not my favorite.


How about you? What do you like that begins with L? What’s something you don’t like?

K

Back at the beginning of June I had this brilliant idea to encourage myself to write — I would do my own A-to-Z Challenge for the month, choosing things I like and don’t like that begin with the letter of the day. Pshaw. Looky here. June is almost over and I’m only up to K. Still I will forge ahead with the goal of completing this before 2022 ends. Today I will tackle K.

I’m also using Linda Hill’s Stream Consciousness writing challenge to further encourage me and to get the job done. This week’s challenge is “product/produce.” She says, “Use one, use them both, use them any way you’d like. Bonus points if you use both. Have fun!”


K was a tough letter for me. I can think of a thousand things that I like that begin with the letter K — my son, Karl, being at the top of the list. I also like kayaks and kangaroos, kids, kindred spirits, and kookaburras. I could go on.

However, because I recently started delving into Kierkegaard, I’m going to use him as my like.

Soren Kierkegaard is fascinating. Utterly fascinating. He’s way over my head, but I feel like a beginner swimmer (I used to teach them) who delights each small success. I put my face in the water! I floated! I’m a long way from actually swimming, but when a tiny bit of understanding lights up my dense gray matter, I am thrilled.

At first, I dug in by trying to read one of his books. I was like a newborn baby trying to eat a steak. It didn’t go very well. So I started listening to podcasts discussing him. I started reading about him.

Since this is stream of consciousness, please forgive me if I don’t get this exactly right — but I heard this Kierkegaard quote, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” And whoever the podcaster was talked about anxiety being that staring into the abyss of too many choices. Whew! Yes!

Another podcaster (or maybe the same one) talked about Kierkegaard’s idea of losing yourself in the infinite — that dizziness of freedom — but also losing yourself in the finite — where you aren’t allowed to be yourself because you’re so busy conforming to prescribed ideas of who others think you should be.

It’s heady, mind-boggling, and I’m loving it.


(Non-Stream-of-Consciousness warning. I wrote this post just writing — true stream of consciousness — but I have a thousand and one misgivings about delving into controversial topics. Please feel free to stop reading here. I won’t be offended. And if abortion is a hot button topic, by all means stop reading. I’m not trying to push anybody’s buttons.)


What don’t I like that begins with K? This was hard. Even things that didn’t make my “like” list — for example, kebabs — didn’t make my dislike list either — I’m kind of neutral on kebabs.

However, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion left me with so many mixed feelings. Please bear with me as I sort them.

I don’t like killing — that’s my K. I don’t like war. I don’t like murder. I don’t like the death penalty. I don’t like abortion.

However, abortion is such a complicated issue. When we reduce it to slogans on t-shirts or on protest signs, we miss that fact.

I know people who have had abortions. A high school friend. One of my freshman college roommates. Another woman who got pregnant in college. The wife of a Bible study leader. Yep — you read that one correctly. She was a diabetic and her kidneys started shutting down. Her husband said, “We can find another way to have a baby, but I can’t get another (fill in the wife’s name).”

I know people who have chosen to carry the baby despite adverse circumstances. The woman who cuts my hair. The daughter of some missionaries.

I know people who have adopted babies carried by unwed mothers.

In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller talks about listening to other people’s stories instead of judging. It’s been years since I read that book, but I remember a part where he set up a confession booth, not to hear other people’s confessions, but to confess his own judgmental-ness.

We’re too programmed with our knee-jerk reactions. I’m too programmed with my own knee-jerk reactions.

I hate killing. I don’t like abortion. But, then, there aren’t too many people who seriously like abortion. The issue is just so much more complicated than that.

If you are 110% pro-life, you need to sit at a table opposite someone who has made that awful decision and listen to their story of their hows and whys. If you are 110% pro-choice, you need to sit at a table opposite someone who has lived with the regret of that decision, or who was forced into that decision by some well-meaning person, and you need to go watch an ultrasound of a 10 week old fetus moving and see its tiny heart beating.

It’s complicated.


I realize that I have not used produce or product once in this post. But, hey, I produced a post! There!

How about you? What’s something you like that begins with K? What’s something you don’t like?