Seeing the Simple

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I didn’t count, but I’m guessing we were 20+ in total.  We had pulled tables together and snatched chairs from elsewhere until there were seats for all.  It was Friday, and Friday meant lunch.  The location was always the same and could only be described as the area’s finest local dive – great food, great fun, great atmosphere all in one. It had a local flare with beer well before noon, free help-your-self popcorn, and fun over-portioned monthly specials on the menu.     

We had been there many Fridays before. It was our end of the week landing place after hours of a common court sport.  Our group could easily be described as a rag-tag bunch of folks, but that would be using by-gone language.  In today’s lingo, we were an inclusive, open, accepting conglomeration of people accidentally brought together by a common interest.

At first, this Friday seemed to be no different than those of the past.  We arrived sporadically and sat randomly next to whoever had arrived moments prior.  We ordered drinks and lunch with little to no change in what we may have ordered the previous Friday.  

We talked about who may have won or lost a match, the comical antics that may have occurred while at the gym, the person whose skills were off-the-chart great for that day, and other various sundries found in common friendly banter.  Normally, I would have described the moment as talking about lots of stuff and nonsense with style!

But this particular Friday was a bit different.

In the midst of all the stuff and nonsense, as we laughed and chatted, Dave leaned across the tabled and said to me, “We’re lucky, aren’t we!” I looked at him and at first said the usual, “Yes we are!”  But he continued.  He talked about looking forward to lunches just like this one, to valuing friendships like those we had at this table of 20.  To knowing that this was something unusual . . . special.

Those sitting nearby stopped and listened.  He actually didn’t say that much, but what he said was all the right words.  He said what everyone else knew and thought. He mentioned in less than a paragraph that it was of value to him to have a circle of friends who ate lunch most Fridays together.  Where the conversation was simple and the laughter was easy.  Where the food was cheap, but the friendship priceless.  

The moment ended and we went on with our lunch.  But an hour later, as I was in my car heading back to my home, I must admit that I was given pause by my friend Dave, who had simply and succinctly described something that I am still not sure that I can put into words. 

There are times in my world – and in everybody’s world – when the living is hard.  Life can be a bit challenging at times with problems that may or may not have solutions.  My realistic side knows that not everything is always bright lights and daisies. 

Yet, when I really think about it, life can also be pretty doggone simple. It can be and often is.  I just have to look carefully for the moments when life is at its best.  I have to be willing to see what is right before my eyes that might be glorious.  I have to stop and take notice when the world is spinning in the right tempo in the right direction with just enough sass to make it fun.  

All too often, I fail to stop and smell the roses of the world.  I either speed through it, going a thousand miles per hour on some quest of mine or I simply am totally unaware of that which is happening around me.  

Regardless of reason, I was gently reminded by Dave and my 19+ other lunch partners that I need to look up more and see the simple.  Seeing the simple creates a huge path for me towards all that is positive, all that is creative, all that is fun.   

Here’s hoping that everyone finds their Friday lunch group and sees the simple.  

Something about Squirrels that seem so simple to me.

Anyone Can Learn Anything

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Just recently I had cause to think about one of my favorite thoughts that I had long since tucked in the back of my brain. I had heard this particular statement in my past life from two different, but very noteworthy sources, both of whom I still admire and follow today. And throughout my early life, I had kept this idea more prominent in myself than of recent times.

But due to many lucky moments in my current world, I was brought back to it and am so glad to have circled the wagons around it again.

The first time I heard this expression, I was much younger and most likely much wiser than I am today. I was in the heart of my educational journey, off to the races in seeking ways to help students learn. I was seeking knowledge from all corners of my life and there I sat in the middle of a large conference auditorium for an opening day symposium targeting what I thought was a very intricate, important, and tantamount subject for all learners – that of . . . . innovation. The conference itself was called Innovations. The subject was Innovation. I was ready to rock and roll forward into an area of learning that I believed, and still believe, fuels everything new and exciting. Innovation. (Yet, today, I am not sure that the conference process I used to approach that subject was the best and brightest idea. A topic for a different post.)

I had my pen at the ready, to take notes like a fiend. I was sitting in the line of sight of the speaker, so I would not be distracted by the comings and goings of the crowd. I was alert, awake, and enthusiastic – because I knew what I heard was going to be, well, innovative. Game on!

The speaker walked on stage to a cursory round of applause. He carried a few notes and, of great interest to me, a guitar. As the crowd settled in, he began to strum and play and sing. Interspersed between the music, he would stop and chat a bit. He mentioned that he was going to tell us a few secrets about innovation and students and how to create opportunities for students to be innovative.

Again, game on for me.

And then he matter-of-factly stated his first rule. To my surprise, it did not seem or feel so overwhelmingly earthshaking in terms of enlightenment on innovation. It seemed a bit simple . . . or generic . . . or pedestrian. At the time.

He said is a bright brief voice that the first rule in setting up innovative learning opportunities for students is to make sure that everyone believed that anyone can learn anything, given the right circumstances. And he repeated that phrase time after time after time. Anyone can learn anything. Anyone. Anything. He mentioned that the term anyone included everyone including me. He mentioned that anything included everything that I could ever imagine. And more.

Anyone can learn anything, given the right circumstances.

I jotted it down frantically. I didn’t want to miss anything. He spoke passionately about this idea and said that even though he was moving on to another thought, if I only took away one idea, anyone can learn anything should be it.

Fast forward to a few months later, and I was working on a project that needed a tool. And as with most projects, it needed a tool but had to be cheap to free. As luck would have it, there was someone in the world who had the brilliant idea to create just that tool . . . for free. And as I investigated the tool source, I was more than a bit awe struck. Not just by the versatility and usefulness of the tool, but by the philosophy behind it. It was a philosophy I had heard before and recently. It was a phrase that I had heard and perhaps had not listen to as well as I should before and recently. The spin was a little different, but the essence was the same.

Anyone can learn anything if given the right tools. Anyone can learn anything. Anyone. Anything.

I had now heard that phrase twice in a short time frame. My only flaw was my failure to listen as well as I could the first time and run with that idea.

Though it has been quite a few years since that moment, I recall stopping what I was doing and shamefully shaking my head. At that moment, I knew that the quicker I recognized that anyone can learn anything given the right circumstances or the right tools, the faster I could become a more useful and helpful part of the world.

It took me a long time to take those words to heart for myself. There have been many times that my response when facing something new, challenging, difficult, unknown, seemingly impossible, or foolishly difficult has been to think that I am not smart enough, strong enough, wise enough, cunning enough (the list goes on an on here) to succeed. But then I harken back to those words.

Anyone can learn anything.

And I start looking for the the right circumstances and the right tools and once again, game on!

My early attempts at anything new, daunting, different, ridiculously challenging, whole-heartedly off my comfort chart sometimes have led to grand scale failures. Make that have often led to grand scale failures. But with each attempt, I learn something and nudge myself closer to my end goal. I am a learner who has been told that I can learn anything. What fun! And the more I focus on knowing that I can learn anything, the smaller the great big world of ours becomes.

Without a doubt, I believe that one of the greatest lessons out there for future generations is to become confident in knowing that they are best part of the anyone who can learn anything. My job for them is to help develop all the right circumstances and the best tools.

Game on.

I’m working on a colorful quilt that is above my ability. But anyone can learn anything, so onward I go.

“Please sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

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It’s really no secret. It’s just not.

My family knows it.  Most of my friends know it. Mainly because I’ve talked about my trials and tribulations with it.  They know it’s one of my continual, enduring quests. A path that has not yet ended.  It’s always been on my to-do board. Always. And, of course, I have had more losses than wins with it, but the quest continues regardless of failures.  

I guess what keeps me going is the thought that my plan might actually work. It just might. 

Ever since I was a youngster, I have never thought that twenty-four hours was enough time in the day.  For some reason, my get-er-done list has always been longer than my available time.    Every morning for years, I start my day like a rocket heading to the moon.  I look at my list and I’m off to the races.  And every evening, the list is exactly the same length, with what seems like two new items replacing the one item I may have completed. 

I have tried rising earlier and staying up later. And though I did seem to have more time for awhile, eventually I ended up being too tired to complete anything successfully, happily, or coherently.

So after much pondering, I concocted one of the most glorious, crazy-funny plans to combat the dilemma of not having enough time in the day that I have ever concocted.  This plan is the type that has kept me way too engaged in activities that could have been considered monotonous or boring, but now I consider them whole-heartedly challenging.  

I call it my find-the-time plan.  And I have, indeed, found new, additional time with it.  In fact, one day I found nearly fifteen new minutes.  I recall spending those new minutes as if I were on the greatest of all holidays.  They were fleeting minutes, but they were fun.  I supposed it was just the idea that I nearly met the quest . . . of finding more time in a day.

How you may ask?

Well, the plan actually has two parts.  The first part is simple.  Well, it sounds simple.  Let’s double well that. Well, it is simple until and unless something goes wrong during execution, then it actually causes a loss of time.  But, in its origin, it is simple.  

Just do the ordinary faster!  Just do the ordinary . . . a lot faster!  

For many years, I made my son the same breakfast each morning.  Three eggs, scrambled.  Two pieces of bacon.  Two pieces of toast, buttered.  For the first few years, that particular breakfast took me ten to fifteen minutes to prepare.  I’d get to the kitchen, waltz around, get out the food, prepare it, dilly dally a bit, clean up a bit, and voila, it was fifteen minutes later.  

But as I started my find-the-time quest, I found that I could actually sail through this breakfast much, much faster.  Think Martha Stewart meets Usain Bolt. I learned to race to the kitchen,  crack those eggs while feeding the bread into the toaster. I flung bacon into the microwave, lathered butter on bread, supersonic scrambled those eggs, and tossed everything on a plate in record times. I found time that I had previously lost.  I was actually so amazed that I found this time that I really didn’t use the time I found too well. 

Doing the ordinary faster works great if there are no errors.  But the days that I burnt the toast, dropped the eggs, or flung the bacon on the floor by mistake actually took me more time to clean up and repair the damage than had I just leisurely made breakfast. 

So on to part two which is more failsafe, usually.

The second part to the plan is comically fun almost all of the time.  All I have to do is . . .double up.  Just double up on the regular and ordinary. Doing two unique things simultaneously saves a boatload of time . . . which fits so well in the find-the-time quest.

During find-the-time quest part two, I have learned to brush my teeth and make my bed . . . at the same time, a two minute save.  I have figured out how to dry my hair with two hair dryers instead of one, cutting a ten minute chore into five.  I clean my car while filling my gas tank. I think lots of us do this one!  Another two minute save.  When I take my shoes off, I make sure I am standing in my closet.  I only save a few seconds, but it’s still a save.  

I have dozens of double up wins and I also have a few double up losses.  If I lose, I give myself kudos for the attempt. 

My favorite moments are the times that I keep track of the double up minutes saved and it add up to nearly a half hour. What a bonus world to have thirty additional minutes in my day.  It’s magical. 

My find-the-time quest clearly is more trivial than earth shattering.  It’s definitely a personal day game that keeps my life in the groove.  

Yet, as trivial as it is, I have learned a great deal from it.  

I have learned that anything can be joyful. Really, just anything can be. Brush my teeth, make my bed, fun.  Scramble eggs at the speed of light, fling bacon frantically, fun.  Fritter away found time, fun.  

Such a simple quest has taught me that the mundane is only so if I let it be that way.   How I frame my life is how my life will be.  With a little effort, the ordinary, the normal, the usual becomes anything but. 

I pray this quest never ends!

Found a few minutes to be outside today. 🙂

Did Someone Say Annie Oakley?

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Fifty-five years plus later, and I still smile when I think about that jingle. Just that tiny little jingle  No matter how loud the outdoor noise on top of the indoor noise would be, whether windows opened or windows closed, I could still hear that little jingle. A unique sound.  The sleigh bell sound.  That jingle.

It’s not like that jingle was heard often in my world.  In fact, it might have been at most twice a year. Mid-summer?  Early fall? My memory well eludes me in the timing area.  From ages 5 to ten, I may have been lucky to hear it a total of ten times. But its sound is still clear to me. The sleigh bell sound. That jingle.       

If I heard that jingle after dinner, there was no need for action.  At that time of day, I was up against my dad, who had been hard at work, had now arrived at home, and was either engaged in some routine suburban house chore or sitting in his designated chair reading the newspaper and watching television.  Either way, he would have a great big do not disturb look all over his face.  

If I heard that jingle near breakfast time, I was at battle with my mom who spent each morning, all morning, cleaning, cooking, and tending to me and the rest of the siblings.  And I knew that there was no stopping a stay-at-home mom on a mission towards home life perfection. A lost cause. 

But, if I heard that jingle in the afternoon, on a calm day, with no over-arching schedule, I was in luck.  For with no barriers like church or school or chores, and if the tenor of the house was on the happy positive side rather than the trouble’s brewing side, my chance of answering the jingle’s call was, . . . well . . . probable. 

That unique sound, that sleigh bell sound, that jingle was ever-so-connected to what I fondly call . . . the pony man. 

From the eyes of a youngster, the pony man was a guy and his horse who trotted down my street every so often.  The horse pulled a small cart full of pony props (hats, boots, spurs, bandanas, big buckle belts, chaps, and more) and as the pony man and his steed clopped along, the bells on the pony’s bridle would jingle.  Hearing the jingle, I knew that I only had a few moments to convince my mom to pay the pony man enough money so that I could ride that horse.

The pony man didn’t say much to hawk his services.  He didn’t have to.  If I heard the jingle, ran outside, saw the horse, had the money, I could go for a ride.  Simple.  And every so often, my mom was agreeable.  Horse and cart would stop on my suburban front lawn and pony rides would ensue.  What felt like a full afternoon of pony-riding was probably much closer to less than thirty minutes.  But what a great thirty minutes.  

To any child not yet into double digit ages, pony riding down the street on a summer afternoon was a glorious event.  I became a rough and tumble, adventurous horse woman for just a few minutes.  It gave me the opportunity to live what I may have only read about in books.  I was learning how to live the dream on horseback in my front yard.

Years later, my mother and I spoke fondly about the pony man.  And she shared with me more of the realistic side of the pony man, a guy very hard on his luck, who needed a way to earn some money.  He used the resources he had available to him to the benefit of all.  He may or may not have had a bit of trouble with the law, as my mother would say.  A traditional career at that point was a hurdle too difficult to overcome.

So, he made his way up and down nearby streets seeking business much like the ice cream truck, milk truck, and dry cleaner van did. For a small cost,  he would entertain and enchant riders and provide parents with a wonderful photo op. His costs – nominal.  His customer base – phenomenal.  It was a win-win for everyone involved.  

Fast forward to today’s world and I am not sure that the pony man would be as welcomed or as revered.  

As naive as I like to believe myself to be, I have acquired a level of fear of the unknown that isn’t always healthy or useful.  I wonder whether I would openly welcome a strange man walking a horse down my street to stop at my yard.  I wonder if I would willingly place my child or my grandchildren on the back of a pony and watch them trot off gleefully. 

Would I graciously pay the pony man too much money for his service, knowing that he may have a past that prevents him from obtaining a job elsewhere?  Would I step up or shy away? 

Something as simple as the pony man memory has given me pause.  I have thought dearly about my line of demarcation. How do I make the call to be trustful, to live the good life of a naive yet savvy resident, to be understanding of the hardships and trials of others while maintaining what Robert Frost may have called good fences?  I want so badly for there to be a rule book that I can thumb through that gives me an explicit code on situations like the pony man.  

But there is not.  

Oddly enough, a couple days ago, I saw a man riding a horse at the end of my street – something of an oddity in my neck of the woods, but not totally surprising. I was secretly hoping it was a pony man, but unfortunately, I knew both the owner and the horse.  And there was no sleigh bells. No jingle.  

But if there had been, I’m pretty sure that I would have an updated pony man photo.  At least I hope I would. 

My Earth, My God

(In my world, life generally passes merrily along. Regardless of daily quandaries and world hardships, I tend to wake up each morning and wonder what joy and excitement will happen in my day, each and every day. I seek and I always find that which is magnificent, that which fills life with the positive. But the world is in a state of unique and perplexing challenge. Change is afoot. Big significant change. The momentum of change has been powerful, and thus, I respectfully share the poetry of my heart. Deb)

The Dogwoods in bloom – inspiration.

I felt the earth breathe. 

The chattering, the clamoring, the bellowing, the nash,

The pondering, the frittering, the parting, the dash.

The centering, the calling, the crying, the fell,

The sinking, the rising, the mourning, the beheld.

I felt the earth breathe.

Her gentle hand took mine with ease.

I felt her heart, 

I felt her breathe.

I heard the earth sigh.

The starting without finish; oft taking without give.

The anger without sorrow, no relent, no forgive.

The hallow of the voices, a shift of time, of weight.

The sound of sounds in echo, oft too much, oft too late.

I heard the earth sigh.

Her wide heart rested by my side.

I heard her call.

I heard her sigh.

I saw the earth stand.

The tumbling, the swirling, the falling, the fight.

The shifting, the mumbling, the clawing, the might.

The timing, the movement, the hoping, the wait.

The drumming, the driving, the impatience, our fate.

I saw the earth stand.

Her strong will holding all my land.

I saw her move.

I saw her stand.

I felt the earth breathe.

The guiding, the patience, her staring, her gaze.

The knowledge, her sharing, her waiting, all days

The wisdom, her acceptance, her caring, so blue

The challenge, her mapping, heading forward, heading true.

I felt the earth breathe.

Her sigh so strong, her stance so free.

I felt the earth breathe.

And it was for me.

200 Duquette Lane

October 29th, 2011 at 200 Duquette Lane was an interesting date.

My father was sitting in the kitchen dressed in what can be described as his everyday wear – a favorite pair of very old khakis half cinched by a favorite old, slightly fraying black belt, topped off with a mostly intact Fruit-of-the-Loom white t-shirt. It wasn’t exactly company wear, nor was it pajamas. It was everyday wear. The kind where he knew company was coming, but there was no need for his clothes to make a big deal about it.

He was perched in his kitchen chair, pen in hand where he had both finished the Jumble correctly, found all the words in the Word-search, and written my mother’s name a thousand times a thousand times down the margin of the previous day’s newspaper. His half filled cup of coffee and his no-frills AM clock radio were the only other items on the table.

He was waiting. He was in it for the long haul, for the duration. If he was tired, it was unknown to the rest of the world. Looking back on it, I think his goal was to make it look like all normal eighty year old dads would be doing the exact same thing, sitting in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, finishing word puzzles and writing his wife’s name, waiting patiently. Going to bed wasn’t even on his radar.

Nearing Duquette Lane, I reminded my daughter that no matter how excited we might be, it was late and Pop may be asleep. We needed to temper our over the top behavior quickly and appropriately. Our lifetime experience could wait until the morning to share. It was time for us to be polite, think of others and pull out our best manners. After all, there was no need to wake him up. Everything could wait.

Turning onto the street, everything looked as it should with houses buttoned up dark and tight for the evening. The only light shining at the beginning of the lane came from our car’s two headlight beams. Everything else was pitch black. Every house up and down the entire street blended calmly and wisely into the dark evening sky. That is every house except for 200 Duquette Lane which was, of course, our destination.

200 Duquette Lane was glowing. Porch lights on. Living room lights on. Dining room, bed room, garage lights on. And for those who know me and my family, the ever present indoor Christmas lights around the ceiling of the living room, dining room, family room and kitchen all on. My daughter looked at me and I looked at her, and at that moment we knew that the adventure that we had assumed had ended had actually not yet begun.

Forgetting decorum, we stormed into that house and it was easy to do because neither the screen door nor the front door had been locked, another sign that crazy fun was going to ensue.

And there in the kitchen at 200 Duquette Lane at 2:00am on October 29th, 2011 sat my dad in his everyday wear, with his newspaper and pen and coffee and clock radio.

His first words at that moment were few but they still make me smile, “Well, whatdidya think?”

My daughter and I both began babbling. Blah blah blah blah Pujols. Blah Blah Blah David Freese. Blah Blah Blah Yadi. Blah Blah Blah Allen Craig. Clydesdales, Confetti, Fireworks. People. Cardinals, Cardinals, Cardinals! We could not stop talking and he could not stop listening. I can’t remember if he asked any questions at all. I can only remember that we rehashed each and every play for each and every inning without stop. At one point, he asked us if we wanted a beer and though it would have been odd for him to ask me that question on any other day, on this day, it seemed appropriate, and we obliged. By that time, he had turned that radio on and we were now rehashing the game with the experts at KMOX, comparing their version to our version.

We did arrive at 200 Duquette bearing a gift. We had purchased several of the World Series Daily, an immediate newspaper publication available the moment the game ends from makeshift newspaper stands in front of the stadium exits. He read it. We read it. And by 4:00am, the three of us had officially decided that we all agreed with the Daily’s version of the events. And as we finished our beer and my dad clicked off the clock radio, we knew the adventure was soon coming to a close.

In the morning, my dad, my daughter and I went to his breakfast hangout and continued our conversation. When we returned to 200 Duquette Lane, I noticed that though all other lights had been switched off, the indoor ceiling Christmas lights were shining bright.

Looking back, I can see that my daughter and I did have a great adventure by going to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series won by the St. Louis Cardinals. But the greatest adventure of all was created by an 80 year old man who had the sense to click on the indoor Christmas lights, sit at his kitchen table and patiently wait for hours and hours just to have a conversation with his daughter and granddaughter. I’ve said it before – my dad and my mom were masters not at the extraordinary, but at doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.

If someone asks me today the play by play at that ball game, I can’t remember. I don’t know who pitched, who homered, who played or didn’t play. I know the Cardinals won, but the rest is one big blur. But, if they ask me what my father was wearing, where he was sitting, what he was doing, and what lights were on, I can describe that in minute detail.

Somethings are worth remembering.

You’re On Your Honor

Those were the words. One simple statement.  Five little words. Spoken quickly and directly.  First a brief hug, followed by a look that recognized that adventure was going to abound, then some kind of glare that probably meant I was going to be missed, and finally just as my foot would reach for the first step towards leaving, he would lay it down . . . “You’re on your honor.”

My mind would have been filled with the promise of high jinx, with plans of spending time not so wisely, in the greatest of crazy-funny ways, with hopes of avoiding all rules and breaking those that accidentally cropped up.  And then he would add, “You’re on your honor.”   

He didn’t tell me to behave.  He didn’t tell me to make good choices.  There was no lecture and reminders of rules and such. He went for something  subtle and crafty.  He went for the big picture, using tiny words that I could easily remember.

You’re on your honor.

Honor wasn’t foreign term to me.  In fact, it was something that had been a part of my culture starting at a very early age. First, growing up in a large Catholic family, lots of time was spent talking about whether or not I honored my father and mother enough or in the right way. Like most kids, I was amazingly imperfect and caused my fair share of ruckuses. So, the term honor popped up regularly.

After all, honoring thy mother and father was and still is one of the big ten. I must ashamedly admit that it was one of my favorite venial sins to report in my weekly confession sin list because A) most likely I had done something to dishonor my parents within the past seven days, and  B) reporting that sin was better than reporting some of the other nine. At one point in my life, I distinctly remember a moment when my father looked at my heap  o’trash-  (with freedom at the heart) – filled bedroom and quizzically asked me, “Is that how you honor your mother? Clothes everywhere, bed not made, school work – dishes – and trash on the floor.  I’d say this is the definition of total dishonor, young lady.”   

The term honor also popped up at my childhood home when it was our family’s turn to house the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The OLF statue made its rounds throughout the entire OLF parish.  As the parish was quite large, the statue made its way to my family home  only once every few years.  But when it did, my mother was a force in teaching me what it meant to honor the life of Our Lady of Fatima.  We read her biography, said appropriate prayers, talked about why she should be honored, cleaned and polished the statue, and in general acted honorably for the period of time that it resided with us.  It was natural for me to equate the term honor with the term respect.

Finally, my childhood put me in routine contact with honor as all of my gal pals who moved with me from Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes to Seniors during the 1960s/1970s can attest.   For at each gathering, whether it be a weekly meeting, a special activity, an overnight event, or a multiple week long camp, we Girl Scouts would proudly recited the promise which put us in a state of honor at all times:

“On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Girl Scout Laws.”

Through thick and thin, I pledged to do all that . . . on my honor.  This type of honor was still about respect, but it was also about something a little bit more.  We – my girlfriends and I –  were respecting the world and everything that was in it.  We were promising to give it our all to improve what we could, fighting for all that was right.  We were placing trust in each other than whatever the situation, we would behave in a way that brought pride to ourselves as individuals. We did not want, nor did we need anyone standing right behind us to tell us the best way to behave.  We were on our honor to just know what to do and we expected each other to do it. I was being held accountable by no one other than myself.

Hence, when my father told me that I was on my honor, he wanted me to remember that there were rules in the world and that some of them – for sure the big ten – needed to be followed.  There was also a belief when he mentioned those words that I would be able to recognize that there are individuals out in the great beyond that have lived lives that deserve honor. Some people show leadership during times of great hardship.  Some people lead saintly lives that should be remembered and revered.  They have done things that I can only aspire to.  Lastly, being on my honor meant that  I understood and respected the basic rules of society that can lead everyone to the greater good. And that someday there would be no one other than myself to make sure that I led an honorable life.

Currently, I am on my honor. But, I am not exactly on my ordinary honor.  Instead, it feels like I am standing on a tiny ledge on a high mountain in a vast world of what it means to be on my honor.  I know that it is not the time for me to step outside the lines of my honor right now.  It is important for me to look beyond myself in all of my actions.  I have a duty to assess the simplest of actions in order to honor society appropriately.  Honorable and dishonorable actions have so much more consequence today than they did a mere few months ago. 

With so much unknown in the world, I am very thankful. 

I’m thankful that I was sent out to practice being on my honor so many moons ago.  It becomes important when it’s no longer practice. 

Flowers

Nature is always honorable!

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never harm you.” That was her line. That’s what she said and she said it often. She said it when I was a youngster when family and friends hurled names at me. She said it throughout my teenage years when everyone was becoming their better selves but had awkward means of doing so. She said it as I went off to college and heard those who were in roles of authority question my way of life to the point of unsettlement.  And she said it when I asked how to help my own children through some of the exact same circumstances I had faced many years ago in my early life.

It was my mom’s mantra. And it was oft used by her.

My mom wasn’t one to tolerate a “woe is me” attitude. She accepted very little crying or moping about language battles. What could take a lifetime to teach, she said with 13 words.  “Someone called you stupid?  Are you? Well then sticks and stones….”  “Your feelings are hurt because they told you girls can’t do that? Do you believe them? Create new rules. Ignore them. And for goodness sakes, stop you’re crying. Sticks and stones …..”  “Your professor belittled you in front of the class, and you’re thinking the best you can do is whine about it?  Straighten out that skirt and figure it out. Sticks and stones …..”  

For a long period in my life, it seemed like every conversation ending with that phrase.

My mom was a pushover mom in many ways. She was the go to for money and time I needed an extra dollar or two. She was the one to ask for a new dress or shoes or any piece of fashion because that followed her interests. She was the one to reach first when involved in large scale blunders as her punishments were simple compared to my father’s corrective choices.

It was easy street with her in many ways.

But not in the world of word wars. That’s where the tough love program started. She had no intention of allowing me to believe that someone out there could crush me with words. She wanted my skin to be as thick as it needed to be to ensure that word wars had no lasting impact on me.  She was a great support system for me. Like any youngster, I would run home babbling about someone who had said something unkind, unpleasant and sometimes revolting to me …at me …about me. She always listened. She always pondered. She always offered sympathy. And she always let me have that moment that exists between exasperation and sensibility to gain my traction.

But in the end, she gave me the one – two dust off, turned me around, pushed my momentum forward and added, “Sticks and stones…..!”

Looking back, I can tell that it was a part of her scheme to build confidence in me. She knew that the there would be moments and times that I would need to have confidence in my arsenal, and that I would need it at the ready. So she brought on the quick and easy “sticks and stones” speech whenever it fit, which she thought it did in many circumstances. 

Confidence is a tricky thing.  Truth be told, I am not exactly sure where it comes from and how it develops.   I am not certain that I know its exact definition.  And I often wonder if I have enough or have too much.  When I do think about it in a more detailed fashion – which is like now – it becomes one large pondering conundrum and before I know it, I am more confused and seemingly less confident about it than I was moments before.

Bottom line, the only thing that I am confident about confidence is that it is a needed quality.

Which may explain my generally wacky lifestyle.  For, I do believe that confidence grows in positive environments.  I believe the more positive I am in my actions and attitudes, the more I surround myself in positive situations, the more likely my confidence will grow.  I tend to eliminate negative anything from my world intentionally.  The books I read, the television I watch, the music I listen to all brings that which is positive towards me and takes that which is negative away from me. 

I live ‘a rose-colored glasses, cup half full, sugar is better than salt, a why-not-be-a-little-naive cause it is a key to happy land’ life, everyday.  I even generally steer away from language that is less than positive just to keep myself on track.  Holy cow, holy guacamole, and rats are my go-to terms and they seem to work just fine, for me.  Most mornings, I wake up and make sure that I spend time wondering what the new day is going to bring to me.  I want to start my waking time thinking that something awesome is going to occur.  And it usually does. But that’s me.

I know that confidence and confidence building is individual.

Izzy Jo’s “sticks and stone” certainly does not fit into every situation and it does not work for everyone.  It is one tool that my mother shared with me and it can be effective.  It takes time and effort for all of us to find the right tools and it takes commitment and determination to constantly use those tools.  Creating a positive force field and bouncing out of bed looking for wonderment works for me in terms of maintaining a good confident balance in my life.  I suppose what I hope for others is that everyone finds that which increases the confidence in their lives. 

And during those moments when I fall back on being the best positive self I can be and fail to bound out of bed towards the wonders of the world and lose the confidence I need to weather potential storms, I hope that my family and friends take note, and share with me their tools.

Cause my toolbox is far from full.  The vacancy sign is always flashing, my friends. 

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A 2017 photo, but it’s a photo full of the confident women in my life.

Perfect / Not Perfect

I am not perfect.

In fact, I often believe that I am so far from it and that its target is way too small and the journey is beyond too tough.  Because I make a million mistakes . . . all the time.  And each mistake is bigger and larger and more daunting than the one before it. 

And I don’t seem to learn from my mistakes.  Too many times, I make a mistake, understand the mistake, live another day, and make the same mistake again, repeating the cycle more times that I can count. 

On top of that, it is not easy to personally or publicly admit that I make fantastic, blunderous mistakes. 

Hmmm . . . well, check that. There are some mistakes that are easy to own.  I spent quite a bit of an evening not too long ago ripping out all kinds of mistakes in a quilt that I am building.  I did not see them until I was a long piece down the mistake trail, which meant that not only was I required to spent time undoing what I had wrongly done, but I had hours of time to ponder out the origin, cause, and cure of my errors. And from my boisterous grunts and growls, (meant to alert those within earshot that I was upset), my family knew I was so.

Likewise mistakes with my recent construction project are easy to own.  I am a newbie to building, to using power tools, to measuring, cutting, and hammering pieces of wood together.  My expectations on how perfect I should be are skewed to the lower end.  Thus admitting that I make tons of mistakes is rather easy.  Besides that, construction mistakes are something that are easy to see and difficult to hide.  Admitting them is a matter of course rather than a matter of being honest and forthright.

It is everything else that fits into the box called mistakes that I find hard to admit.  The list of those types of errors is a list that grows day by day.  I fail to be empathetic.  I fail to curb my vocabulary, choosing words that harm way more than words that help.  I fail to complete and keep my promises.  I make mistakes in terms of what I think, gravitating towards thoughts that generate negativity quickly rather than positivity slowly.  I think things, say things, and do things that I shouldn’t.  It can be and is embarrassing.

Recently, after reading some news story about a senseless murder, I thought and said that the perpetrator “should be shot and I’d be happy to do it.” Not only did I think it, I said it. To hell with justice, a fair trial, to wading through facts and fiction, I read a few paragraphs and spouted off as if I was in the know about it. I went directly from non-violent to violent in a flash of a moment. Mistake.

I also had it in my mind that I was smart enough and bright enough to figure out the immigration issue, the next steps with the Mueller Report, climate change, and the workings of social security – generally all by myself. Big mistake.

Finally, I thought that my solutions to everything that was happening within my immediate family, friends, community, tri-county area, state, and the near midwest were spot on correct.  And sharing those solutions was a good to great idea.  Well, big huge mistake.  All wrong. 

While ripping out those quilting mistakes, I had time to think about it.  All of it.

I am not perfect.

Yet, there is much in the world around me that actually is perfect, that has no mistake.

Rain. The Forest. Animals. The Sky. The Ocean. Time. Stars. The Solar System. Math. Plants. Color. Wind. Ice. Mountains. Apples. I could go on and on and on.  And it is actually a great list to generate – a list of everything one considers perfect.

Horses running in a field – perfect.  Light bouncing off a hillside – perfect.  Twenty-four hours in every day, every week, month, year – perfect.  Gravity keeping everything in place – perfect.

I’ll let it be known that I have worked on the perfect/imperfect list many times.  And my result is always a lopsided list, showing me that there is by far more perfect in my world, than imperfect. 

And as much as I would like to add my name to the perfect list, I can not.  In fact, every time I spend time wondering about the perfect/ not perfect list, I have never made the cut. I think I am imperfect by design.  Making mistakes, being well less than perfect creates a great balance in my world. I always have a lot to work on.  I have much to improve.  Much to change. A lot to consider.

I keep up my hope by seeking the thoughts of others in terms of mistakes, failures, imperfection / perfection.  

Wayne Gretzky – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Henry Ford – “The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing.”

Maya Angelou – “Every mistake is just another lesson.”

Sandra Day O’Connor – “No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.”

I would be a wise woman if I put these types of inspirational thoughts in front of me at all times to remind me that everything is possible, even perfection.  But, as you might expect, I often fail to do so. Thus, the journey continues.

In the meantime, my deepest apologies for all the mistakes I have made today alone, and an advance apology for the mistakes I will make tomorrow.

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Nature always manages to be Perfect!

Ready?

I’m not ready.

I’m sixty-two years old and do consider myself to be smart enough, capable enough, thoughtful enough, but there is still that lingering moment.  That flash of time between the second that my ears hear and my mind revs up into motion. And I think . . .  I’m not ready. I’m just not. 

And I don’t know when I will be. 

I’m hoping it will be when I’m sixty-two and a couple months, which is right around the corner.  Or when the winter turns to spring. Or spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter.  Or I’m thinking it might be when someone taps me on the shoulder in some way and says in a loud firm voice, “You, Deb, are ready.”  But, I know the latter is not what will be happening.  It’s just a wild dream of mine.

My children, four of the biggest blessings in my life and all grown, call me on a regular basis and share with me their life trials and tribulations as happens in most families.  Some chats are routine . . . about the day’s or week’s activities.  Cooking and recipes.  How to chip ice quickly off of a windshield.  Where to buy the best and cheapest phone plans.  Some conversations are slightly more involved. What to do when the roof leaks during a polar vortex.  The best way to volunteer to help the homeless in our community.  How much is enough in a future college fund. (Slightly less than a million and way more than a hundred thousand, I say??????) 

And then there are the big convos, the thinkers, the tête-à-têtes that are truly involved.  What to do when faced with situations that have no clear cut right answer and may in fact have two right answers.  How to handle family dilemmas that are so complex that even deep thought doesn’t reach the crux of the matter.  What to do during moments of great sadness, tremendous illness, or frightening financial hardships.  Those types of most challenging conversations are the ones that often leave me believing that I am not ready. 

You know . . .my mom and my dad always seemed ready. 

I could call them with the most perplexing, disastrous, complex state of affairs and the two of them would always be able to rattle off some piece of advise that spoke to me.  I realize that most of the time my parents just listened and let me prattle on and on until I found my path, but they were good at that part.  In fact, they were great at it. 

House falling down?  Here’s a solution.  Don’t have enough money?  Here’s a plan.  Children are out of control.  How about these ideas.  And on it went from one conversation to the next. My parents were my greatest confidants through it all. 

My parents actually seemed skilled at it.  It was like they had sat on some team sideline, learned a lot, and when it was game time, they were the best first string ever. They never ever let me down that I can remember.  Sadly my parents, God rest their souls, are no longer with me here on earth, my mom being gone much longer than my dad. Both have moved on.  Like most of us, I still think about picking up that telephone and dialing 1-800-helpmeplease, but that is just not the way the world works.

Now in my world, I am not exactly on my own.  In terms of family, I am lucky enough to have three wonderfully wise aunts – Norma, Pat, and Susan, and one equally wonderfully wise uncle – David.  And I have often enough touched base with them and gleaned the words of wisdom I needed to push me forward. They have lived longer than I, seen more than me, and are wickedly smart about what it takes to live a good and caring life.  I know that each of them will happily and willingly avail themselves to me if and when I need them.  As family they have always provided me with a safety net beyond what words can express.  In the end, however, I think it is my time to put my big girl pants on and be ready by myself.  I think?  And in thinking about being at the ready, I’ve concluded that perhaps I will never feel like I am, with the stress on the word feel.  That actually no one does and that is the key.

It has taken me a long time, but I have finally realized that the world is filled with opportunities to doubt, to question myself, to see so many paths and not know exactly which one to take. It is full of moments that challenge me in ways that can thrust me backwards, but usually inch me forward to new and exciting places.  The world has been a great big unknown from the moment that I have launched until this moment, and that is what brings the crazy-fun and adventure into it. 

And I have resources! 

I have the wisest of family members and a bevy of close trusted friends who often offer thoughts and ideas to me and for me.  Plus, there is a world of folks who provide guidance through art, music, literature and beyond, lest I forget the power of a piece of poetry or a song from the 70s or a painting by a world famous artist.   Then there is nature that is a huge door to peaceful, clear moments of thought.  A walk through the snow, a sighting of spring’s first flowers, a sunrise to a sunset, nature never lets me down if I take a moment to look at it.

So it’s done.  I’m not ready.  I’m really not ready, and I have no plans to ever be ready.  At least those are my thoughts for today. 

Onward I go!!

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Nature is always ready with spaces that provide time to ponder away!