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. 🙂

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!

To Every Thing

He was always there . . .

He was always there.  Winter, spring, summer, fall. There he was.  As a child, I would see him each week, and though we never chatted or discussed it, I suppose he would have seen me each week as well.  Always wearing a brown three-piece suit.  Always had a hat.  Always happy.

He sat on the St. Joseph side while my family and I sat on the Mother Mary side.  Both of us walked halfway down the aisle every Sunday and scooted into a pew that was nearly a dozen shy of the front of the church.  In essence, we were ‘peripheral parallel pew partners’.  Always.

Oddly enough, the week, the month, the year did not matter.  From the earliest that I can remember to the time that Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Washington in Florissant closed, he was always there.  If I was in town for a visit and attended the 10:00am Sunday mass, he was there.  It didn’t matter how many people were with me or what the occasion.  If it was Sunday at 10:00am, I would lean forward in my pew, peer down the row, and there he was.  Always.

His name eludes me, but his personality does not.  He seemed to be a man of great faith, a man with a great smile, a man with friendly eyes and a confident step.  He also seemed to be a man who valued consistency, at least on Sunday.

________________

Consistency is an interesting concept, and at moments, has some type of attraction for me.  Call it a routine.  Call it a habit. Call it a custom or a tradition.  Regardless of the term, there is something about things that are the same over and over that catches my attention. 

However, consistency has its detractors.  Just ask Mr. Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright, who contends that “(c)onsistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”  There are many different buckets that I placed myself into, but I shudder when I think about being plunked down into the unimaginative one.  Not a place I want to exactly go.

Still, I like waking up at the same time everyday, hopping out of bed and knowing that the first fifteen minutes of my morning are going to be spend exactly like the first fifteen minutes of yesterday’s morning.  In fact, the first sixty minutes of my day is highly, highly consistent. And that most unimaginative time seems to give me a wondrous opportunity to think and ponder and dream, often times bringing that which isn’t mundane out of the mundane.

Per Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  Thus, I claim that consistency has a greater purpose than what Mr. Wilde concludes. 

Take parenting.  I often link good parenting with consistency.  It seems like a natural partnership.  I can readily recall my children having been justifiably angry with me for being wrong as a parent and making related missteps because I was wrong as a parent, but they were never mad or disappointed with me for being consistent as a parent.  Case in point: they may not have liked the food I prepared for dinner week in and week out (I have never claimed to be a great cook – sorry gang), but they seemed rather appreciative that some sort of meal would show up on the same table at the same time with the same characters in the same seats each night. 

On the flip side, I relish the moments that are truly inconsistent, the times that I have no idea exactly what is going to happen next, and am aware of that feeling in my stomach that tells me that something very unknown is happening.  Mary Poppins, in Mary Poppins Returns, says is best when she leads the Banks children into a mystical and magical moment, and states, rather firmly, “We’re on the brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with too many questions.” Consistency is being damned at this juncture, sent away, chided, and left behind.  All jets are set to go, and imagination takes over.

And again, to every thing, there is a season.

I honestly hope, in the deep recesses of my heart, that I understand the difference between the beneficial consistency and the non-beneficial consistency, and  know when to use the appropriate bucket.  Certainly the turn of a new year gives me plenty of opportunity to work on it.

And if there is ever a moment, when my childhood church reverts from its current status as an offsite location for a regional university back to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, and I show up at 10:00am on a Sunday, I know exactly who I will see on the St. Joseph side of the aisle! 

img_6343

It’s a tradition for my daughter and I to consistently stand on the same side when being photographed. Just sayin’

 

What Happened to That Girl?

It was Tuesday.  At 11:00am. In my kitchen.  I was standing over the sink, lamenting the countless water spots that littered my stainless steel sink.  With absolutely no hesitation, I reached under that sink, pulled out my Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish plus two fresh reusable, recyclable dishrags and began to earnestly polish that puppy.  In no time, the sink was more shiny than glitter in the sun.  Job finished . . .But then my eyes caught something else . . .  those pesky streaks stretched across an otherwise clean and uncluttered countertop. I began to pull out the homemade vinegar/water spray bottle solution and more dishrags, when I just stopped.  I just froze.  I stood.  I stared.

And at that moment . . . the light when on and time seemed to be moving backwards.  It was as if the bulb not only was turned on, but had somehow maxed out its ability to shed one more ounce of  light.  There I was, in the kitchen, holding my Weiman’s, at age 61 and 1/2, looking at a glistening kitchen, recognizing that I had successfully and honestly turned into my mother.  I was Izzy.  It finally happened.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my mother, God rest her soul.  She was everything to me.  A great, great mother.  A great mother.  And I miss her dearly. And Isabelle Washford Greiner spent a large chunk of her life . . . in the kitchen.

The kitchen happened to be in the center of my childhood house, and was on the small side.  In that crazy tiny kitchen, she cooked up a storm in there, clinking and clambering those pots and pans until she produced a meal.  And as the family finished eating, Isabelle would be cleaning that kitchen with the gusto of a race horse in first place headed for the finish line. Tidy in and tidy out, morning, noon, and night, each and every day.   And now, I was doing the very same thing, in much the same way, as my mom had long ago done.  Holy transformation, Batman!

Really – as a youngster, no one accused me of being neat and tidy.  In fact, I was just the opposite.  My clothes never saw a closet they liked.  My bedroom floor was too littered with junk, trash, and other assorted sundries to ever be seen.  Pencils, pens, paper, books, dishes, laundry, etc. were piled high. I am sure that even bugs detested the quality of life in my room and scampered away. But, I was one happy camper there.

My mother’s kitchen was perfection.  My room was beyond a catastrophic failure.

And all I could think was . . .What happened to that girl?

I looked at my kitchen at that moment and began to think way more deeply than I expected.

What happened to that girl who was so sure that she could solve poverty . . . eliminate hunger . . . end war?  What happened to that girl who protested for change . . .participated in every sit-in in the near metro vicinity . . . fought for social justice.  What happened to that girl who listened to hard rock music full blast, wore clothes that represented the meaning of the 70s, jumped off cliffs, slid down mountains, and in general approached life by taking risks without ever thinking about potential consequences?

What happened to that girl?

Never in my wildest dreams in my youth did I ever think I would own a kitchen, let alone have one with granite, stainless steel, hardwood, and recycled crown moulding. I had no idea that I would be married for forty years, have four children, and spend a lifetime working in education. I had no idea that  there would be so many twists and turns to my life and that there would be so many choices to make in so such a short amount of time.

What happened to this girl was the same thing that happened to my mom.

We grew up.

And in growing up, we both learned similar lessons in very different generations.

I have learned that world change comes slow.  I may want it to be faster than the speed of lightening and more powerful than a locomotive, but it still comes slow.  I have learned that fights worth fighting won’t fall off my radar.  I’m still out there doing my part for poverty, hunger, and war.  I’m just not as dramatic or over-the-top about it.

I have learned that there are ways to protest beyond carrying a handprinted sign and marching through the streets, that sometimes what we don’t say or do is much more powerful than too many words and too much action.  I have learned to love more than one category of music and one type of apparel.  Luke Bryan and flannel shirts are my friends.

And finally, I have learned that it is very important for all of us to continue to take risks, every day . . . in every way. Growing up doesn’t mean settling. Not at all. Today, I may be unable to jump off roofs or ride a bike with no hands or backflip off the trampoline into the swimming pool, but I can still be a risk-taker.

We can step forward even when it is uncomfortable.  We can work for those who can’t work for themselves.  We can walk on the edge of life and feel that wind on our backs.  And we can spend everyday anxiously anticipating the next adventure that lurks around the corner.

My phrase can’t be “What happened to that girl?”  It must be “The ride of her life is going to happen to that girl.”  Let the crazy fun continue.

deb hutti

Waving on the ride of my life

 

 

This Life is the Best Life Ever

He turned to me and smiled.  It was a flash of a moment.  A quick grin.  In total, it probably lasted less than a second, and when it happened, I really didn’t think too much of it.  But, it was the same smile – the same welcome – the same hello – the same moment of family affection – that we have shared over the past 50+ years.

Throughout the day’s activities, I probably saw that same smile a hundred different times. . . when we loaded into the boat . . . when we jumped into the lake . . . when we prepared to eat . . .when we ate . . . when we cleaned . . . when we sat and talked . . .  when we drank . . . when we reloaded into the boat . . . when we watched fireworks.

I can honestly say that I can only recall a fraction of our topics of conversation.  We talked a lot, about a lot of great subjects.  But if pressed, I must admit that the specific details are more than a little bit blurry to me.  The smile, however, is etched clear as a bell in my mind.

And that is fascinating to me.

I find it interesting to think about what I retain in my memory and what I don’t.  It is a filing system that I have never really understood.  I have memories and the ability to remember, but I have no idea how it all comes together.

That part’s a blur.

I think I have a solid ability to memorize, which means I can actively place something in storage and bring it to the forefront when necessary.  That part isn’t random. It is intentional. Sooooooo comforting to know that the memory part of my mind is not just a vast wasteland!

I also have memories that are linked to sounds and smells and sights and tastes and touches.  Drinking lemonade brings out memories of my grandfather.  Carole King songs take me back to 8th grade backyard camp outs.  If I smell suntan lotion, I am time-warped back to every Florida vacation I ever took as a child.

My interest isn’t in the fact that there are sensory associations to my memory.  Moreover, I would like to know why these particular associations.  What clicked in my brain to forever link various everyday items with happenings in my past.

All I can say is  – interesting!

In addition, I have taken my fair share of general education courses targeting the memory topic. Somewhere in my educational background is a stream of knowledge on this very issue. I spent credit hours and clock hours of time reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers, and taking tests to expand my mind about what memories are.  The good news is that I can recall taking those classes.  The bad news is that the exact content is a little vague . . . until and unless I read my college notes as a refresher or I utilize that Scholar-Google for a little assistance.  My memory on memory is less than memorable.

I am the type of person who tends to have an imbalance in terms of positive/negative memories.  Like everyone else, I have had my fair share of not so pleasant circumstances in my life, but I only really remember the glass half full times.  Bad moments, hard moments, sad moments are in that great big filing system in the sky, but happy, crazy-funny, joyous moments are the easiest for me to recall.   I assume it is like that for everyone.  I know it is for me.

The 2018 July 4th weekend brought all kinds of moments into my life.

I will remember the outline of young Brooke sailing towards us on the paddle board in the dim of the early evening on the lake.

I will remember the laughter of Max and Cosi as they were pulled behind a slow-moving boat.

I will always see the gentle hand of Craig as he kindly moved a rope back and forth to ensure the safety of several young charges being towed behind the boat.

Without any trouble at all, I will hear the chatter coming from the cousin table – a group of nine lake-logged guys and gals, boys and girls whose ages ranged from 6 to 39 – as they sat outside together eating, talking, laughing, and bonding. And the chatter coming from the adult table – same activity a mere few feet away from the first group.

With all of these memories, I cannot recall any of the details sandwiched in between the moments. Many hours passed, so I know a lot more actually happened.  But I can barely recall exactly what we ate.  I have no idea what everyone was wearing, and I am quite sure I can’t remember who arrived first or departed last.

What I will remember of these times is much more stark and simple.

My daughter’s twinkling eyes . . .  my sister-in-law’s laugh . . .  my brother’s hug . . .  my cousin, Carl’s smile.

This life is the best life ever.

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Fireworks on the Lake

What’s In Your Wallet?

My husband is a very consistent type of guy. And for his four children plus me who know him well, we all know that he carries an odd conglomeration of whatnot everyday. All of the items fit comfortably within the corners of his pants pockets, and each of the them is practical as the day is long. None are overly expensive, and yet together they create more interest than he ever expected.

I, too, have a short list of items that I always carry. My grouping, however, is nowhere near as compact as his. In fact, mine can’t fit in a pocket and are instead kept in a dingy, yet rugged, ziplock bag, plopped in whatever purse I’m using. Mine aren’t near as purposeful and I am very uncertain about the message they generate. Still, I carry them.

His list is simple – a freshly laundered handkerchief for him and for sharing, a few dollars to buy him out of any monetary jam, a scrap of paper with an early morning minted ‘to-do’ list, and a pen. My list is a little more harebrained and non-sequitur-ish.  In no particular order, I carry a pocket-sized copy of the constitution of the United States, my first communion prayer book, a full rosary & a bracelet rosary, and one $2.00 bill.

If I sneeze or if someone else sneezes, I have no immediate particular solution. I’m like a dog chasing its tail, looking round and round for tissue somewhere, somehow.  I have witnessed my husband, on the other hand, reach into his pocket, pull out a crisply folded handkerchief, and use it for the save. In his line of work with patients, I am sure it is more than comforting to have him – without fail – carry an immediate solution to a potential germ crisis.

On the flip side of this coin, I may not be able to circumvent the common household sneeze, but I am able to quickly read the list of names of the Supreme Court justices in order – which happens to be part of the pocket constitution addendum, page 87, seventh edition. I can give guidance on the amendments, offer “Fascinating Facts about Six Founding Fathers,” and help if someone gets stuck reciting the Declaration of Independence. My mini-book is filled to the brim with great stuff to solve all constitutional crises.

However, if traveling on tollways or tipping valets or purchasing a food cart meal, it’s my husband who carries the right stuff. He’s absolutely correct that cash can quickly circumvents calamities. It just does. Need a five, he has a five. Need a ten, he has a ten. Need a twenty, he’s got it. He has all denominations and all combinations of cash and coins too.

He’s always cash rich and I’m always cash poor. Except when it comes to the two dollar bill. That’s my strength. Twenty dollars may cover costs, but a two dollar bill always buys a smile. The two dollar bill buys little, is used little, and is worth little.  But, it’s fun – which I believe is its sole circulation purpose.  No other paper denomination has such crazy-funny power.  And spending a twenty dollar bill is easy, but carrying and spending ten two dollar bills takes a little more courage and thought.  Just try it.  It’s not as simple as it sounds.

Moving on, having possessed my Saint Joseph Children’s Missal since 1964, it is showing severe signs of age. The spine is taped.  The pages are tilted.  And the cover is worn. But, the gentle message inside has the ability to keep me grounded. It’s not a matter of me reading it at a moment of need, just a matter of me being reminded that the world is still in front of me, that I have a group standing with me, and that there is nothing that is impossible when my God is with me.

Likewise is that little ‘to-do’ list that my husband carries. Threaded among the bullet points that remind him to run past the bank or pick up some grocery item are notes that remind him to follow his dreams, to think big and broad, to care for others, and to see the glass half full, not half empty. I only wish I had the fortitude to create and carry such a daily list. He’s got it. I don’t. Nuf’ said.

Then there’s his pen. The purpose of the pen is writing – and the majority of the time that’s what he does with it. But, I have seen him use it to pry things open, to clip something together, and to wedge something apart. He thinks he’s MacGyver.  Always has.  He sees a pen as a tool that happens to contain a little ink. Clogged sink – use the pen. Barefoot and a bug needs to be killed – use a pen. Burgers flaming out of control and spatula is missing – use a pen. There is no problem that the pen can’t solve with a little thought and ingenuity.  In the future, I am hoping to film his uses of the pen to create what I think would be one of the most viral YouTube videos this side of the Mississippi.

Me – my skills with a pen are limited to only those that include paper and writing. If I’m in need of an inventive solution to a difficult problem, I go for the rosary every time. In the short term, the pen might be more successful, but in the long run, the rosary – whole or decade version – may be the best choice.

In the end, the items that we collectively carry are only purposeful to us as individuals. He can’t use my rosary to pray his way out of a sudden sneeze and his handkerchief won’t help me understand the Bill of Rights.

I only hope that my tattered and nearly torn ziplock bag remains in tact for a few more decades. I gotta lot of trouble to explore and I may need its contents.

And I might add a pen for the just in case moments.

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Need a pen?  Or a two dollar bill?  Just ask us.

The Fine Wine Dine

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t.  All I can say is that the evening stood out.  It was a first among equals night. It was one of those moments . . . a moment that as it happens everyone knows that it is destined to become a memory.

Ten of us had gathered.  All of us were friends.  Each of us had a strong connection to one or more of us. Yet none of us were childhood friends with all of us.  Our interests were diverse – nature, health, the spirit, the spirits, enterprise, numbers, learning, teaching – with a lot of some and a little of others.   We met at twilight – the time of magic between daylight and darkness on a cool crisp mid-winter evening.

Those hosting had planned and prepared and welcomed the rest upon arrival.  Though all of us had seen each other over the past couple of months, our greetings were as if we had not. Handshakes, hugs, kisses, pats-on-the-back, smiles – it was a tete-a-tete for ten that started the evening out perfectly. Again, I can’t explain why, but from the moment our feet crossed the threshold of the door, the aura of the making of a memory began.

Our intent was simple – food and wine and conversation followed by more food and more wine and more conversation.  The emphasis here should be, in particular, on the conversation about the wine, of which there was a great deal, for nine of us were learning from the one of us who was a master in that area.

For this year’s fine wine dine, the table setting included numerous wine glasses which to me looked like birds on a wire – straight, dainty, orderly and whimsical.  In addition, each setting included two black goblets, mysterious in both color and shape.  The first four wine flights to be served at the table had been pre-poured.  So all was ready.

However, like most gatherings, our first moments were spent in the kitchen.  We stood, and mingled, and chatted.  We listened and learned about recent trials and tribulations that occurred in our lives.  We watched as those cooking finalized the meal with brief finishing touches.  We were served our first wine flight coupled with a much appreciated antipasto.  Most importantly, we were pausing our busy lives for something beyond the ordinary. Worked stopped.  Fun ensued.

As we moved out of the kitchen, we soon learned much more about the mysterious black goblets.  Regardless of our viticulture ability – (me, a mere novice) – we were to identify each of the goblet’s contents without the ability to see it.  A better name for this portion of the evening might be the fine blind wine dine, a puzzling, curious challenge that had nine of us laughing on edge.

And laughter kept coming, from beginning to end.  We laughed at our ability or inability as hopeful wine connoisseurs.  We laughed at ourselves, at each other, at our futures, at our days gone by, at everything and anything.  At times, we laughed until we cried. We just laughed.  For hours.  For fun.  With friends.

Hours later, as we all departed, we seemed reluctant to cross over that threshold and head in the opposite direction.  If I had thought about my thoughts at that time, I probably was thinking about my luck – to be with a group of friends for a moment of fun on that mid-winter’s night.

I can’t explain why.  I really can’t, but I am going to try.

Like everyone else, there are twenty-four hours in my day and seven days in my week.  Of those twenty-four hours and seven days, the moments that I can recall are few and far between.  I remember the spectacular – the weddings, the graduations, the holidays, the birthdays, the anniversaries.  I remember the somber – the deaths, the funerals, the illnesses.  Most of my memories revolve around my family who are the individuals with whom I share hours upon hours upon hours of my time.   My mother, God rest her soul, has been gone for many years; yet, I can still hear her calling my name from the days of my childhood.

And somewhere in those memories now sits something a little bit different . . . unusual . . . unique.  It doesn’t involve the spectacular or the somber or my family.  It isn’t something of tradition or tragedy.  It isn’t marked by a date on the calendar or tied to a sibling, an aunt, an uncle or my parents.

It is a moment in my life that I spent with friends, good friends, doing something rather ordinary in an extraordinary way – eating, drinking, laughing, talking – personified.  The exact stories we told and why we laughed . . . I am not sure of it now.  I think it was all funny, but . . . then . . . it could have been the wine speaking.

What I am a little more sure about is the value of good friends.  I may not know my wines (to even the basest level of knowing the difference between red or white wine when placed in a black goblet), but I do know that friends are treasures beyond words.

Lesson learned. Enough said.

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The Mysterious Black Goblets

Don’t Hurry Life

August by birth, Gus in life, my grandfather was an interesting man.  He was only alive and in my life for what seems to me now as a brief pause, a short stay;  but that time period was definitely a most impactful one.

He often described his childhood/boyhood as a time of hardship, a time of great challenge, where he had to use both his brain and his braun to make it through each and every day.  With jobs before and after school, and school not the focused priority that is seen in students and parents of today, I listened to his stories and imagined the life of a youth with more responsibilities than I could ever imagine.

Conversely, he described his manhood as nothing shy of glorious, as a time of great adventure, still using his brain and braun to make it through each and every day, but in a different more creative, fun-filled, devil-may-care way.  I listened intently as he regaled stories of danger, pride, cleverness, handwork, risk, and exciting uncertainty in a world of change. He was fetching in looks and ingenious in nature. And he was unusual . . . in ways difficult to pinpoint, best described by me as a grandfather of many mysteries.  He seemed to often times walk the fence and teeter between that which was pure and good and that which was in a more gray area.

His unwritten biography of today contains a plethora of stories detailing escapades with individuals from shady backgrounds, from moments of both average and dangerous shenanigans, from times of walking on the ethical border and times of not. There were moments told when he escaped death, found fortunes, relied on lopsided handshake agreements, bet against the house and lost, and settled a variety of scores.  With decades having passed since his death, and even more decades having passed since the origin of the most exciting of adventures, I find it difficult to decipher between the actual truth and the fond folklore nature of the memories we share about Grandpa Gus.

Throughout all these cloudy, misty, and foggy memories that now make up the ever-so-exciting version of his life story, however, there is one that is crystal clear for me. It was a quick moment that he and I shared with little fanfare at the time. There was no particular detailed or dramatic buildup before it and very little following. It was a granddad/granddaughter moment that happened on a sunny autumn day following a quiet, uneventful visit between the two of us. I never expected to create a memory at that time, but . . . we did.

From his hospital bed near the end of his time with me, he leaned towards me and told me firmly, “Don’t hurry life, Debbie.”

At that time, I was starting my own adventures and was clearly in a rush to be whoever I was going to be and do whatever I was going to do.  I must have been on a visible mission to get to wherever I was going as quickly as possible, as it was so very obvious to him.  I wanted to work, to play, to find love, raise a family, create my own fortune, and figure out how to walk my own ethical line. I wanted shenanigans and escapades, and excitement and crazy-funny moments  that would eventually create folklore for me.

I had stopped by to see him as I was coming and going from one activity to another.  He, on the other hand, was unable to come and go any longer.  His movements were limited to those of a man reaching the end of his time  – a man who knew he had reached that moment – a man who was no longer rushing, but rather waiting.

And he told me firmly, “Don’t hurry life, Debbie.”

I often think of that moment, the time he uttered such a short and simple phrase – that left me with oh-so-very-much to consider.

Am I always in a hurry?  Do I stop and appreciate the ‘now’ as much as I should?  What life pace is the best?  Who determines the speed and how is it determined? Is there something intrinsically better about the slow over the quick?  And for goodness sakes, how in the heck do I slow life down?

It wasn’t until recently that I think – and I am still not sure, just sayin’ – that I understand a little about what he was trying to tell me.  It is not that I haven’t pondered those words over and over and over for a very long time.  I have.  It is more that I have finally reached a point in my life that they make much more sense to me.

From his hospital bed near the end of his time with me, I held his hand and he mine. His was dark and wrinkled, mine not so.  His grasp was faint and slight, mine not so. I looked at face and he gazed at me with tears wallowing in his eyes. His life was near its end . . . in the home stretch, and I knew he wanted so much to tell me that I needed to enjoy every moment I possibly could throughout my life, that I needed to work to be all that I could be while appreciating everything that would occur in my story, and that I needed to stop and smell the flowers along the way for each step of life is more fabulous than the last.  Finally, he needed to know that I understood him perfectly and permanently.

And in a whispery voice that signaled both age and wisdom, in a barely audible tone, he told me firmly, “Don’t hurry life, Debbie.”

And I understand.

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The Flowers Along The Way