Anyone Can Learn Anything

Featured

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.”

Featured

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?

Featured

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. 

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. 

girls

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

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!!

IMG_4303

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

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’

 

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.

IMG_5415

Fireworks on the Lake

The Poems of My Life

(I am hoping that it is fine arts month, cause the topic is POETRY!  Holy Cow! Here we go . . .)

The poems of my life is a short list.

Not because I haven’t read, studied, been exposed, ran across, pondered, discussed, and/or analyzed many.  For, like most folks, my life has introduced me to a litany of great poets, young old, male, female, American, non-American . . . .  just lots.

But the poems of my life is still a short list.

My youth was filled with all types of poetry from the iambic tetrameter of “I will not eat green eggs and ham, I will not eat them sam-I-am” to the simple ditties of “hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.”  I laughed, smiled, and repeated as my mother, god-rest-her-soul, spent countless hours sharing with me the likes of Dr. Seuss and other fan-favorite authors who created easy to read and understand poetry for children.

Moreover, I grew up during the “you will read the classics” era.  Before I even came close to reaching high school, my education had exposed me to The Raven, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Road Not Taken, and Oh Captain! My Captain.  Once in secondary school, the list grew much longer and included much more complex and perplexing selections – Daddy, Dream Deferred, Howl, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mending Wall, Still I Rise, The Waste Land, and Who Am I.   And college offered a steady stream of poetry that was mystifying, sometimes mortifying, always mysterious, and was light years beyond my cognitive abilities – Leaves of Grass, Beowulf, and any Shakespearean Sonnet.

It would have seemed logical that as my exposure to poetry grew, so to would the poems of my life.  The more I knew, the more I would appreciate the art form.  The more I read, the more I would understand and honor.  The more I listened, the more I would value and appreciate.

But, that is not so.

The more I poetry on my plate, the more I realize the less I know.

Poetry is a tricky art.  It harnesses the power of words in a unique and indescribable way.  It becomes personal – immediately. It resonates deep within.  It moves.  It enlightens.  It changes. It lasts.  It stupefies.  It means something tomorrow that it did not mean yesterday or today. It solves.  It comforts.  It tends to the mind.

My list includes two poems that I have committed completely to memory, one with easy rhythmic stanzas and one that – at one time in my life – was set to music, which helped me to remember even the challenging lines.  Both lend me direction whenever needed. They are my fall back poems, my refuge and rescue lines.  They can find my peace within.

My list also includes the traditional, Irish/Gaelic Blessing which is written in a plethora of places for a plethora of reasons.  It may be commercially overused, but I don’t care.  It jagged edges fits into my puzzle, so it’s on my list:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of her hand.

Please note – I take natural license with a couple of words here and there, but that’s the great thing about poetry.  It must become your own to be your own.

The end of my list includes an epic poem from Mother Teresa, a work of Shel Silverstein, a selection from Dylan Thomas, and an excerpt from Gwendolyn Brooks.  The very final piece on my list is the Peace Prayer of St. Francis – another much used poem that just seems to say it all to me.

So, there it is. Eight selections.  I hope the poems of my life grows in the future, that the respective meanings change over time, that they become more powerful and meaningful with each reading, and that “the ears of my ears awake and the eyes of my eyes are opened.”

Your list?

img_0180
Sometimes even four oranges can be just a little poetic.

The Art

I have been fairly quiet on the “share my opinion front” lately.  Not because I haven’t don’t have strong and valid opinions. But, I have been quiet.

I have been quiet mostly because I am heartbroken.

Not because of who is or is not the President of the United States, or because of Cabinet choices, or because of border walls, or because of Supreme Court nominees.

I am just heartbroken.

I have spent a good portion of my life in school. From grade school to graduate school and beyond, I attended school for a long time.  I finished classes I liked and classes I didn’t like.  I sat through courses that seemed to fit within my world and courses that – at the time – I thought did nothing but take my tuition money without giving me back anything.  I wrote papers on assigned topics that – at the time – I raced through and completed with little joy and more angry annoyance.  I participated in group projects that – at the time – seemed to be nothing more than a waste of good daylight.  I was quite sure – at the time – that I was often learning little to nothing, just moving towards that golden finish line.

And throughout umpteen years of classes – on subjects I enjoyed and subjects I didn’t enjoy – one of the most important lessons embedded in each course – unbeknownst to me – was a particular art, a foundational concept, a core value that I prize and value now.

School isn’t the only place where the practice of teaching of this art can be found.  In fact, school is only one of the places where it occurs.  But, for me – a person who thought college was more of an avocation than a temporary stop – it was one of my primary sources.

Looking back, I can see that I was being exposed to the art of collaboration.

I was learning how to play well and get along with others.

There were many times that I was quite unsuccessful.  I didn’t like someone in my group, or I didn’t finish my work on time and didn’t like the consequences, or I thought the method of teaching and learning was trite.

I often behaved badly and made some very basic mistakes.  With each new class and each new professor, I was offered the opportunity to try again and again.  And gradually as I practiced the art of collaboration, I learned how to navigate different types of circumstances more successfully than when I started.

My heart is broken because I think I am witnessing the denigration of the art of collaboration.

Each and every day, there are countless opportunities for people all over this nation and any nation to come together, open their minds and their hearts, and work together for the greater good.

The United States has resources available to create the best collaboration activities we have ever experienced.   We have great minds.  We have the ways and means to collect those great minds.  We have communication tools that can bring in top-notch research.  We have technology to beat the band.

We have both opportunity and need.  We have problems looming.  We must find solutions and find them soon.

Instead, I have witnessed too many attempts to spoil and squash the art of collaboration.  I listen to heavy duty name-calling. I watch grown-up pouting. I see stubborn streaks.  There is bullying occurring from every direction.  No one is listening and everyone is talking too much!  There are language violations, research violations, manner violations, and decorum violations. Instead of fighting for what’s right, good, and just, we are fighting each other.

And then there is violence.  I am brought to tears by the wave of violence happening in my country.

I have promised myself that my job is to participate.  I will not sit on the sideline.  I will not wait and see.  I will be a person who is a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

But I am asking myself to utlize all that was taught to me by those who walked before me.

I will listen to understand the best parts of the viewpoints of others.

I will research and read to fully acquaint myself with the topic at hand.

I will speak politely, professionally, and honestly.

I won’t hide my thoughts and ideas, but I will present them with the highest level of civility and manners possible.

I will recognize that there is more than one right answer and that sometimes, my way will not be selected as the current path.

I will acknowledge that there are individuals who are way more intelligent than me.

I will seek to find the goodness in others, for it is there.

I will remain hopeful, even when my heart is breaking.

I will not support violence.  Ever.

16143593_10100549739145352_3270825019241925183_o

Thank you to my young daughter who created this sign.