I found this photograph of my great-great-grandparents.
Is it great, or what?!
It makes me laugh and also want to suck a lemon.
Salty like hot dogs (and tears). Sweet like marmalade (and life).
I found this photograph of my great-great-grandparents.
Is it great, or what?!
It makes me laugh and also want to suck a lemon.
First, let me just say HOLY COW!! WRITING ONLY 23 WORDS IS A CHALLENGE!!
There. Got that off my chest!
I was thinking about Sabbaths and how we need to take breaks — regular breaks — from hard things. There’s discipline and then there are nutso compulsions. I work at a gym, so I see a lot of those people who are very disciplined about their training, but I also see people who compulsively overtrain to a point where it’s pretty unhealthy.
Writing 23 words is not unhealthy. It’s hard, though! But I decided that I would be disciplined about it six days a week and on the seventh I would blather. Uncontrollably blather. And use Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness (SoCS) writing prompt as my excuse.
Today’s prompt: “out of the box.” This isn’t really an out of the box story, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind so I’m going to run with it.
Over the last few weeks I have found myself.
I know that sounds ridiculously pop-psychology 1980s, but when you’ve lost yourself and found yourself again, it’s kind of amazing.
For my regular readers, remember when I wrote this post: What’s Your Goal? I was incredibly frustrated by someone trying to help me by asking me about my goals. I was too lost in the darkness of a deep forest of I-don’t-know-what to even understand that question.
Fast forward to maybe two weeks ago.
No wait — in the intervening time — about 9 months — I took on some new duties with my job. I’m helping bring some senior programming to the facility where I work. To do that, I’ve been working with a woman who has been running a senior program at another location. This past Thursday, January 5, was the big day of inviting seniors in for an Open House.
Like I said, leading up to it, I’ve been meeting regularly with a woman who has been doing this job elsewhere. We’ve discussed rooms to hold events and places to store materials. We’ve discussed personnel to be involved and practical safety issues for the population we’ll be working with. It’s all been so good.
Then the lightbulb went on a couple weeks ago. I was talking to one of my daughters about it, about a few ideas I had. Specifically, I said, “We should have a ‘Bird’ month of programming. We could have one of the artists lead an art project involving birds. We could maybe build some birdhouses, We could have someone speak on backyard birding and ways to attract birds.”
I was on a roll and getting excited as the ideas started to flow. “We could go out birding. We could get out the badminton nets if people wanted to hit the birdie back and forth.”
“Mom,” my daughter said, “this is what you do.”
And she was so right. I’m an idea person.
That free flow of ideas had been so stuffed in for so long, for so many reasons.
Not everyone likes idea people. One of the people I work with is an idea-shutter-downer. “Stay in your lane,” she said to me when I made suggestions.
Truly I have been clogged.
Out of the box may not be the right term for what I’m feeling.
Maybe out of the dark forest. Or out of a hole.
I feel alive again. The Open House was a HUGE success.
What’s my goal? To use my unique giftedness to serve other people. I LOVE doing that. Now I have an outlet for it with the senior programs where I work.
[a momentary pause before I finish my alphabet challenge]
The other day I got a call from a friend that I hadn’t heard from in a while.
“I’m gong to visit my brother and thought I would reach out to some of my friends while I was driving,” she said.
I was so honored. We hadn’t talked in a long time. At one point we were going to try going for walks together wherever we were and talk on the phone, but it only happened once or twice before it fell by the wayside.
Life has a way of pulling us away from the very best of ideas.
The truth is I need more perseverance, more stick-to-itiveness, in my own life.
The other night I was so frustrated with my job that I went for a walk afterwards and mentally drafted my resignation letter. I thought through the commitments I had made there and when would be an appropriate time for me to give as my last day. I came up with a plan and was heading home to write the letter when I made a quick stop at the grocery store.
After I had picked up my bananas and bread, I headed to the checkout. Lately I’ve been using the self-checkout because I am peopled out by the end of the day, but I recognized one of the check-out people and went straight to her line. It was not the shortest or the fastest, but she was someone I knew from my job at the gym.
During the summer, she and her friend had been part of the early morning crowd. I loved the way they spurred each other on, sometimes only coming because the other was expecting them. M and D were both from Cuba and worked in housekeeping at a large hotel in town.
One day in the fall, M didn’t come, but D did. “Where’s M?” I asked.
“She’s packing and repacking her suitcase with food because she’s going to visit her family in Cuba,” D told me. “She wants to fit as much in as she can but she can’t go over the weight limit.”
“When does she leave?” I asked.
“In the middle of next week,” D said, “but she gets very anxious about her trips so that’s why she didn’t come this morning.”
All week I would ask D how M was doing. She was anxious. The next week, the day before she was to leave, when I asked D, she said, “Everything has changed. M heard from immigration and can apply to bring her children back with her.”
To make a long story short, M came back to Cooperstown with her children several weeks later. Despite hurricanes and glitches with visas, they made their way through the process incredibly quickly. I met her daughter in October, a beautiful girl who didn’t yet know any English.
That night that I was ready to quit my job and had stopped at the store, I saw M working the checkout line, her second job to make ends meet. She looked exhausted, but she brightened when she saw me.
“How are you?” I asked as she was scanning the groceries of the person ahead of me.
“So tired,” she replied.
“How are the kids doing?” I asked.
“We went to the gym Saturday and went ….” I could see her searching for the word. She paused and made an arm movement to show me.
“Pickleball? Racquetball?” I guessed. Pickleball is so popular these days that my mind immediately went there.
She shook her head and did the gesture again.
“I think it’s bowling,” said the woman ahead me.
M nodded vigorously. “Yes! We had so much fun. We want to do it again!”
When it was my turn, we talked a few minutes. It was so nice to hear her enthusiasm for having her family together. “Next week I take my citizenship exam,” she said. “That would be so wonderful to be a citizen.”
I wished her well and went home with a lighter spirit.
My petty complaints about my job seemed just that — petty — in comparison with all that M had gone through and was still going through.
I told a co-worker the next day, “M saved my job. Seeing her last night put everything in perspective.”
I’ve made a list of people that I see at work for whom I am thankful. M is near the top of that list.
She’s teaching me about perseverance, hard work, and joy.
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.
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.
I do not like rude people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Warning: Long, rambling, and probably pointless)
Yesterday, I talked with a friend who had been a guidance counselor. I had asked his advice regarding one of my kids who needed a little direction.
“What’s your goal?” he asked.
I answered with the goal I have for the child in question.
“No,” he said. “That’s your goal for your child. I want to know your goal for Sally.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Just think about it,” he said, and waited about 2.5 seconds before he moved on. But he circled back to that question a couple more times.
“This feels like a guess-what-I’m-thinking question,” I said one of the times.
“What are you looking for?” I asked another of the times.
In the end, I felt incredibly frustrated.
What’s my goal? Sheesh. (I wrote that just before bed last night, still trying to process the whole conversation. Then I wrote about another 250 words expressing the same sentiment.)
…What are we even talking about? Are you asking about my goal as a parent — which has been my primary job for the past 38 years? Are you asking about my goal at the gym? Or at the house where I still have a thousand things to do? Is it my goal for today? This week? This month? This year?…
To be kind? To be a lifelong learner? To love my family?
What’s my goal? Seriously? I don’t know.
This is going to make me crazy.
I walked to the post office this morning. It’s about two and a half miles there. I thought and thought and thought while I walked.
Karl once told me that one of the doctors he works with has three goals for every day: to learn something, to teach something, and to laugh. I wish I was clever enough to come up with three succinct goals like that. Even if I had, I don’t think it would answer the question being asked by my friend.
Anyway, my three would be something like to listen, to see, and to be kind.
Again, I’m sure it’s not what he was looking for.
I copied another Thomas Merton quote into my journal the other day. “Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting as if your true identity were to be hard wax, the seal will fall upon you and crush you. You will not be able to take your true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.”
Merton was talking about sealing wax and the way it will crumble if it’s not adequately prepared for the stamp. Mary had just sealed a bunch of envelopes with wax. In fact, that’s what I had walked to the post office to mail. The seals were beautiful because the wax had been melted and was ready to receive the imprint.
But to say that preparing my heart for God’s imprint on it is my goal doesn’t sound right either. Plus, I don’t think it’s what my friend was asking.
Walking is such good therapy, especially walking on a country road, where the deer bound off into the woods when they see me coming and the ducks fly out the giant puddle in the cornfield in groups of 6 or 8 quacking and complaining at the inconvenience of my passing. A deer skeleton lay in the ditch. Last week, it had probably been covered with snow. A small collection of broken car parts were strewn about the ditch a little further down the road. A lone Lexus symbol at least told me what kind of car it had been. I wondered if the deer and the car parts came from the same mishap.
In the churning of thoughts about all these things — the deer, the ducks, the skeleton, the Lexus, the hawk circling over the field, the winter’s worth of garbage now revealed in the ditches — I kept circling back to the question: What is my goal?
Career goals for a stay-at-home mom are not a thing. Some days feel like survival. Some days feel like you won the lottery.
When my oldest son was born, what was my goal? To see him grow up, become independent, productive, happy. To help him discover what he loves and what he’s passionate about. In the late ’90s, he loved computers and knew he wanted to do something related to them. We had dial-up internet and I told him that if he wanted time on the internet, he would have to get up at 6 AM because I didn’t want him tying up the phone line all day. Doggone if he didn’t get up at 6 every morning so he could have his hour on the internet. Now it’s his livelihood.
For each of the kids, that has been the puzzle. I would watch them and ask them, “What do you love?” Two have gone into nursing. One works in the realm of outdoor recreation. Three are currently in college or graduate school. One is still figuring it all out.
I feel immense gratitude at the fact that most of them have found their way.
I love talking to them all on adult levels. I love when they call me. Or come visit. I love family Zoom calls and game nights.
I think my goal, maybe, has always been to have adult children who still love me in spite of the thousand mistakes I have made as a parent, to have children who are settled and happy with the choices they have made with their lives, to have children who still occasionally want my advice, to have children who share their lives with me.
I’ll try that goal on my friend and see if it works.
I doubt it.
Five years ago for Lent, I carried a rabbit in my pocket as a tool for mindfulness. I wanted to remember that people are often smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. I know, I know — this may not make much sense to you unless you followed my Lenten journey in 2017. If you want to read about it, here’s a semi-explanatory post from that year: Tuga and Aleluja.
Tuga is the Bosnian word for sorrow. Aleluja is the Bosnian word for — can you guess? — Allelujah.
This year I have two more little rabbits. Meet Dòchas and Bròn.
Dòchas is the Scottish Gaelic word for hope. Bròn is the Gaelic word for grief. I gave them last names, too. Dòchas a-Maireach and Bròn an-Diugh. Hope Tomorrow and Grief Today.
I carry them both in my pocket — separate pockets, of course.
For this Lenten season, I want to become friends with Bròn. Bròn an-diugh. (Pronunciation — and I may not have this totally correct — Bròn is like our word “brawn” but you need to roll that “r” a little. An-diugh sounds like on-jew, because the “di-” in Gaelic is our soft “g” sound as in giraffe, and the -gh at the end is silent.) Grief today.
I listened to a woman last week go into a long tirade full of conspiracy misinformation. She had told me weeks before that wearing a mask was the equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Another gym member had started the whole confrontation by shouting at me about the masks — “This is BULLSH-T! This is BULLSH-T!” After the Nazi comment, I had turned and walked away from the desk.
Later that same day I put a check-in note on the woman’s membership — that if she checked in again, I wanted to speak to her. She finally came back on Friday — and I spoke to her a little and listened to her a lot. She has such deep fears and hurts.
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
While she was talking, I reached in my pocket and held Bròn. I don’t know if hers was grief or just unhappiness at our world today. She needed to talk, though.
And I listened.
At the end of her diatribe, she extended her hand across the counter. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “It was so nice to meet you,” she said.
“What just happened?” my co-worker asked after the woman had headed to the pool. She had been sitting there listening to the whole thing.
“I’m not sure,” I told her.
But I stuck my hand in my other pocket — and there was Dòchas, hope.
Yesterday at work, a little boy wandered in front of the desk and finally stopped to ask if he could borrow a pencil.
(Months ago I brought in a small stash of Blackwing pencils which are the greatest pencils ever made and I wanted to have them on hand for moments like this. “Where did these cool pencils come from?” some of my co-workers asked, but I’ve never fessed up.)
“I have to write a sentence using the word ‘pact’,” the boy told me.
“Pat?” I asked. I had trouble hearing him.
“Pact,” he replied.
“Like you packed your bag?” I asked.
“No. Pact. P-A-C-T,” he said. “It means agreement.”
“What grade are you in?” I asked.
“Third,” he replied, and hurried off to write his sentence.
I turned to my co-worker. “That’s not a 3rd-grade word. I didn’t learn that word until I don’t know when.”
She laughed at my irritation.
When he brought the pencil back, I asked him what sentence he wrote.
“My brother and I found a pact,” he said confidently. “It means we found an agreement.” I like that he felt the need to explain it to me.
A pact, to me, is a more abstract kind of agreement and a 3rd-grader lives in a concrete world. In his 8 year old mind, he found a tangible something with his brother. He probably packed it in a pack. I wondered what his teacher would think of the sentence.
But this is supposed to be about generosity, the prompt for the day.
Generosity is also an abstract idea. I can’t pick up in my hands and hold a generosity.
I was thinking, instead, of coining a new phrase for a group. You know, like, a pride of lions or a murder of crows — except it would be a people group. A generosity of sons.
I have five sons, all of whom are now amazing men. It’s a marvel. A gift that I don’t deserve. A generosity.
My father used to tell me that I was the richest person he knew, and then he would add, laughing, “And maybe someday you’ll have money.”
To fill you in on what my sons are doing, I’ll give you a few clues, like one of those logic-grid puzzles. Two are still in school. Three are gainfully employed. One owns his own company. One lives in Canada. One lives in Florida. Three live in New York state. Three are married. Two have children. I”m proud of every single one of them.
Maybe in a future letter, I’ll tell you more details.
But I did want to say, in closing, that the very first person I think of and associate with the word generosity is you. You are such an amazingly generous person. You could win prizes for it if someone gave out prizes — but you’d probably give your prize away if I know you.
And I’m so glad that I do know you.
I have a full-time job with benefits for the first time since 1984.
Gosh, it sounds funny to even write that. As a stay-at-home mom and then a caregiver to my dad, I’ve worked full-time forever.
And I’ve had great benefits. The kind “real” employers can’t possibly offer.
But that’s probably a post for another day.
I have a full-time job.
A little over a year ago, I started working at the front desk at the same sports facility where I’ve worked many years in aquatics. Part-time, of course.
It is so much fun. I look forward to going to work every day.
When a woman retired in June, my boss asked if I wanted to come on full-time.
“Um, letmethinkaboutthat-no,” I said, all too quickly, clearly not thinking about it, because, seriously, I haven’t worked full-time outside the home in 37 years.
They hired someone else who left within a few months for a better job.
I mean, really, who wants to be part-hostess, part-policeman, part-retail sales clerk, part-telephone operator, part-let-me-help-you-with-_________(fill in the blank)?
Yesterday I was reminded all over again why I love this job.
One of the perks is paid work-out time. Yep, I get paid to go swimming if things are quiet. Yesterday I took advantage of that.
As I was changing back into my work clothes after a swim and a shower, I heard a woman crying. We were the only two people in the locker room. She was sitting on a bench in the shower area, her head in her hands, weeping.
“Are you okay?” I asked. (Dumb question — clearly she was not.)
“No,” she said, looking up at me.
“Can I do anything for you?” I asked.
“No,” she said, and she proceeded to tell me her story. Her husband was very sick. He was waiting to be transferred to a hospital in New York City. The helicopter had been arranged but then the weather didn’t cooperate. The bed that was being held for him in New York was given up. Then the helicopter was able to fly but there was no bed for him. Then there was a bed and a helicopter but his condition had deteriorated so that he needed a procedure to stabilize him. “He’s in the OR now,” she said, “and I just walked down here to take a shower and clear my head.”
“I’ll pray for you,” I said, but it sounded trite. I think she needed a hug.
“I’d hug you,” I said, “but it would be weird. I mean, you’re wearing just a towel, and social-distancing, and all that.”
She looked down at her towel and laughed. “You’re right.”
“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you? Have you eaten today?” I asked again.
“No, no. I’m fine. I need to get going back to the hospital,” she said.
So I left her and went back to work.
At the front desk.
Suddenly, I remembered something in my bag. I ran to my staff locker and found it — a new little journal and a good pen.
When she came out, I handed her these two items.
“I know this seems weird,” I said, “but I want you to have these. While you’re sitting and waiting, write your feelings. It may help. Or write down the times and places you need to remember. Or scribble angrily. It’s okay. Putting it down on paper may help.”
She took them and thanked me. I thought she was going to cry again.
The front desk phone rang and I hurried back to answer it.
While talking on the phone, I watched the woman pull on her coat and her pom-pom hat. She waved as she walked out the door.
In that moment I knew why I love this job so much — it’s because I get to meet people like her.