Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blooming in September

We woke up to a delightful, totally unexpected surprise yesterday morning...the wisteria in our backyard was in bloom for the second time this year...on the first day of autumn!  It blossomed at the usual time this spring, gracing us with its fragrant purple promise, but I've never known it to bloom in September. We had a long drought this summer.  Perhaps the stress of the season of dryness caused it to go dormant and the rains of the past few weeks awakened it.  I don't know.  But the perfume of fresh cut wisteria in September is very special.

I wonder if there's a message in this...I'm thinking maybe there is.  At least for me.  Am I in my own autumn?  I don't know.  If God gives me a normal life span, I probably am.  I had a wonderful spring and summer.  All the predictable things happened and a few that nobody could have foreseen.  But the signs of autumn have begun.  As the leaves change, so do I.  My hair isn't blond anymore.  My skin isn't smooth and unlined.  I'm at the end of a career I never expected to have - I'll retire before the snow flies this year. 

Will I bloom in this season of autumn?  I hope so.  Will I be a sweet perfume to those around me?  I'll try.  May I take as my purpose what it says in the Bible...

The older women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.  That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children.  To  be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.  Titus 2:3-5

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Observations on Buffet Restaurants

My husband Bob was a good sport today and took me to my favorite buffet-style restaurant for lunch.  I say he is a good sport because he really doesn't care for the place, but I love their old fashioned pot roast and vast array of overcooked vegetables...just the way I like them.  Oh, and their macaroni and die for.  He carefully divided his plate into fourths with the only foods he considers 'safe' at a buffet...a baked potato, cole slaw, raw pineapple  and, for some unknown reason, tuna salad.  I, on the other hand, ran from station to station with no thought of food borne illness, piling  my plate dangerously high with everything that looked good or reminded me of Mama's cooking.

Once we settled in, we ate and watched people.  Such an interesting Saturday crowd.  A woman at the table behind us had bright pink hair.  I wonder how she got it that color.  The man at the table next to us kept urging his family to go back for more...he'd 'paid $51 for this meal' and, by golly, they were going to get their money's worth.  I believe, from casual observation, that they did.  One woman, about my age, came back to her table with chocolate dipped strawberries on sticks...she gave one to her husband and this struck me as very romantic, in spite of the fact that Bob feels the communal chocolate fountain is probably a veritable hotbed of ptomaine.    

A couple of older gentlemen sat at different tables, heads bowed in determined solitude as they ate their meals.  In a smaller community, they would have probably sat together, perhaps at one long table, sharing news and gossip, flirting harmlessly with their waitress.  They always make me sad, these old men of the small city.  They seldom smile, avoid eye contact and leave quietly when they are finished.  Women alone often bring a book to read if they are solitary types, or make casual comments to other diners, starting mini-conversations, if they are more outgoing.  But the old men just eat.

Then, just when I thought we were finished, my knight in shining armour excused himself, reappearing a couple of minutes later with a plate of brownies and lemon tarts, smiling hugely, his eyes on me alone.  There are a few moments in life that make us feel truly special...this was one of them for me.  The next time he tracks mud across my clean floor or annoys me by channel surfing during the commercials, may I remember with gratitude and love the sparkle in his eye as we shared that plate of sweets.  And may it be many years before either of us must go to the buffet alone.     


Friday, August 17, 2012

My Cast Iron Skillet

I read somewhere that an antique is anything that is over fifty years old.  What a shock to realize that my cast iron skillet qualifies...and that I bought it new.  It was the very first thing I put into the hope chest Mom and Dad gave me for my sixteenth birthday and one of the few things that still survives today.

It is a '10 1/2 inch chicken fryer' with no brand name on it that I can find.  It must not have cost much, because I bought it with my babysitting money...fifty cents an hour back then.  I don't even know where I got it.  Probably the dime store on San Mateo in Albuquerque...that's where most of my treasures came from in those days.  If I'd known then that I'd still be using it fifty years later, I'd have paid more attention.  It had a glass lid at one time - long since broken.  I do remember what prompted the purchase though.  I saw a picture in an Ideals magazine of a red and white checked tablecloth set with Blue Willow dishes, a cast iron skillet full of stew sitting in the middle.  It seemed so absolutely perfect that it became my vision for the future.  I imagined a hungry husband sniffing appreciatively as he came through the door at night.  I saw several children gathered around the table, waiting for their plates to be filled.  And I, of course, was the smiling star of the whole thing in my shirtwaist dress and ruffled apron, carrying that skillet filled with savory stew to the table.

On the whole, it happened just about that way.  Over the years my skillet has cooked everything from French toast to Christmas dinner, survived over twenty moves and fed more company than I can even remember now.  We carried it to family gatherings and church dinners...covered with aluminum foil and wrapped in towels, it kept things perfectly hot in transit. 

Today it cooked a beef roast for me.  The roast, nestled in a bed of carrots and potatoes, looked as lovely as my dream fifty years ago, and tasted just as good.  The scene has changed though.  My husband doesn't come sniffing through the door at night - he's semi-retired and works from home.  The children are grown and scattered across the country.  I haven't worn a shirtwaist in years.  There's only one Blue Willow plate left - it sits atop the kitchen cabinet as a memento, no longer in service.  But that skillet and I...we've gone the distance.  We've partnered in domesticity for half-a-century, and that's saying something!  I had my dreams and my vision - it helped them become a reality. Who could ask for more from a simple cast iron skillet? 

Friday, October 22, 2010

The blessing of the belly laugh.

I've been thinking a lot about laughter today, and how different situations, with different company, evoke different laughs. That's a lot of 'differents' isn't it. That's okay. I'm not talking about grammar...I'm talking about laughter.

There's the polite chuckle at any public meeting when the speaker says something humorous and you can tell by the pause and the expectant look on his face that his notes say 'await laughter here'. You can also tell how many are paying attention by the length of the pause between his remark and the beginning of the chuckle. Suddenly you are part of the group...united by inattention, perhaps, but the sidelong glance of another listener in your proximity says 'he almost caught us dozing there, didn't he', and you bond for that brief moment. I love that!

How about the quickly stifled snicker when someone does something unexpected, like the little hop-skip step when they trip over nothing and then notice that you have observed them. You can't help it - it just slips out and then you are obliged to say something corny like 'gotta watch those speed bumps'. Those snickers are risky...especially when something really cracks you up and you try not to react. Occasionally you can cover it with a fake cough, but that's not reliable. there's an evocative one...especially if you're of the female persuasion. Remember giggling with girlfriends over a private joke? I remember overhearing two very proper school teachers giggling like ten-year-olds over someone who mispronounced a said to the other "Remember him? He's the one who used to pronounce Regina's name with a long I." I loved their delight in sharing this memory, and I love that I can recall that moment and giggle over it myself.

I've noticed over the years that my laughter is no longer as deep and satisfying as it was back when life was less complicated. It starts in my chest and travels up my throat terminating in a perfectly acceptable laugh, but it seldom triggers the endorphins that are so therapeutic. I don't know why. It just doesn't happen.

Last summer I had opportunity to visit old friends at home on their farm. Their property is just down the road from where mine was and we remain best friends. As I sat with them the years fell away. We recalled funny things about friends and neighbors, memories of our children growing up, moments we had shared...and the air sparkled with our shared mirth. For that one afternoon, laughter came from somewhere deep in my belly and erupted in gales...just like it used to. I wiped tears from my eyes and then laughed some more. That day was a gift from God, as are those dear friends. I realized that day that I hadn't lost my belly laugh...I'd just put it into storage beside memories of a gentler time. And that I need to pull it out more often and use it...actively seek the humor in simple everyday things. Share it with my 'newer' friends.

How very beautiful to find something you thought you had lost. May we never take for granted the blessing of the belly laugh.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Portable & High Speed

I'm feeling a bit proud of myself tonight. I'm sitting here in my cozy spot on the couch posting to my blog. How cool is that for someone living in her sixth decade? Pretty cool I guess, but not as cool as the journey it took to get here.

About the time I took my first typing class in high school, the bank where my mother worked in Albuquerque decided that computers just might be the wave of the future. She worked nights processing data on those huge, Coke machine sized, reel to reel monsters in a dust proof, climate controlled room. Data processing took up a whole floor, what with the key punch machines, printers, collators, etc. I got my first part-time job there, searching for mistakes that the keypunch operators made and balancing the run-sheets on long, green and white tractor paper that came out of the hideously loud printer. Those early computers used tons of paper and were nothing the general population could even imagine owning. And yet now I sit here with a notebook sized machine, connected to no discernible source of power, sending a message out to anyone in the world who cares to read it.

Pretty cool, but let's go back a little further. That typing class - I remember all of us girls sitting ramrod straight, each in her assigned seat in the rows of old upright manual typewriters. That first week we practiced 'A ; S L D K F J G H' over and over until our fingers cramped. Soon we learned to reach for the keys above and below and worked until we could find the keys without peeking. Then we practiced to build up speed. Women in the workplace weren't really the norm then...we just worked until we married, then our homes became our careers. Had I known what the future held, I'd have paid more attention in that typing class.

I've never been without a typewriter, be it an old Royal upright, an IBM Selectric, or one of those little Brother Word Processors that just had a Word still had to thread your paper into it and print what you had typed, but at least you had the option of correcting it before printing. I didn't get my first real computer until ten years ago. I had notes plastered all over the walls with instructions on how to send an email, connect to the Internet, etc. I didn't learn about 'ctrl, alt., delete' until a friend sent some kind of weird email regarding the high heat of summer that made the picture on the screen appear to 'melt' - I panicked and had no idea how to make it stop. I learned though, and now 'ctrl, alt, delete' and 'ctrl Z' are my best friends. I'm sure there are others I should learn but those two cover most of my anxieties.

Whatever, it's been a long journey to this cozy little afternoon tete a tete with this computer. I still don't have a Blackberry, but I do have a cell phone. Texting isn't for eyes are just too old to read those tiny letters and the abbreviations confuse's like learning a foreign language. I know LOL, but that's about it. I watch the young girls at work texting under their desks where the boss can't see...they go so fast, their fingers fairly fly. I just sit there with my BFF (coworker my own age) and say 'OMG! How do they do that?' Then we go back to discussing our scores on or the latest thing we've done on Farmtown.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Things I've Learned From Cesar Millan

You all know by now that I'm giving a lot of thought to adopting a puppy next spring. In keeping with this, I've been doing some studying up on the subject. This has led to an absolute addiction to The Dog Whisperer show on the National Geographic Channel. Cesar Millan has such a fascinating approach to dog psychology. His opening line is always: "I rehabilitate dogs. I train people." Well, I don't have a dog yet but congratulations Cesar! I am becoming trained.

I first noticed that his psychology was having an effect on me after a particularly stressful day at work. I kept hearing a phrase in my head "Live in the now". Where had that come from? I was driving down the highway toward home and things around me began to come into focus. The leaves were changing color - I'd noticed that, of course - but just look at all the different colors. Beautiful. I will never again see these trees and these colors at this moment...God's wonderful's worth slowing down and savoring. Since then, I've made it a point to notice what's around me, be it nature or people, instead of just traveling from point A to point B. I finally remembered where I'd heard that phrase - Cesar says that dogs don't think about the past or worry about tomorrow...they live in the now. How wonderful is that? There will never be another today...I don't want to miss a moment of it.

On one episode he needed to help a fearful little dog submit to medication. The animal was clearly terrified and acting out in aggression. Cesar's solution? He sat down on the floor next to the dog and waited for him to relax into a calm, submissive state. He didn't come at the dog from above him, as would be instinctive to most of us. He got down on his level and waited. Wow! Can that be applied to life! We are all frequently called upon to diffuse volatile personalities both at work and in our private lives. I've always found that a calm approach works best, but getting down to their level - showing that you understand where they are coming from - has great psychological impact. Isn't this what God did when He sent His Son to us? Everyone needs to be understood, not just patronized. If I can show you that I care about your feelings and will take the time to let you work through them without censure from me, you might just relax and we can work together toward a mutually advantageous end.

Exercise, discipline, that order. I don't have much trouble with the affection part of that equation...I love just about everybody. It's the exercise and discipline that give me fits. If I actually had (self) discipline, exercise wouldn't be a problem. Wouldn't that be great! During our years on the farm I got lots of exercise and I've never felt better. I slept well, ate well and all the pieces of life just seemed to fit together better. I'm not on the farm anymore and it definitely takes discipline to exercise. Cesar, I'm going to make conscious effort to improve in this area. I want that bright eyed, bushy tailed feeling back!

The Millan secret to handling all sorts of dog-psychology problems is Calm, Assertive Energy. Cesar can tame the wildest canine in seconds by simply letting it react to his attitude of calm, assertive energy. If you've ever watched the show, you know that this is the cornerstone of his approach. My nature is cowardly...normally I'll go out of my way not to create or participate in a situation that might make me feel helpless or afraid. I'm learning to take a deep breath and visualize myself in control. Positive mental imagery...perhaps that is the human application of calm, assertive energy. Once I visualize myself handling things, I usually find that I can. And when I do this exercise, I find that others involved pick up on my energy and treat me accordingly. In other words, when I lose the 'victim's mentality', I can become a participant in the solution of any situation. Thanks Cesar!

And now it is almost time for The Dog Whisperer to come on. I don't want to miss my weekly psychology session with Cesar so I shall end this posting. Just remember: Live in the day; get plenty of exercise; help others by remaining calm and submissive toward God; and exude calm, assertive energy when the situation calls for it. I'm telling you - the man is a genius!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Remembering Jody

Autumn always makes me think of Jody. She was a delightful little Rat Terrier that owned me for about twelve years and we had a wonderful life together. I discovered her one October when she was only four weeks old at a breeder's farm down in Arkansas and it was love at first sight. She was so tiny - a minute, absolutely fearless ball of energy. We had hogs back then and she somehow managed to befriend the sows. Perhaps they thought she was just another little pig. She never missed a meal with them...snatching kernals of corn from beneath their very snouts. They never once hurt her, but they often flipped her out of the way just like they did their own babies.

She was raised with cats and was quite protective of her feline friends. It was not uncommon to see her 'carrying' one by the scruff of the neck across the yard, even though some of them were bigger than her. Even the toms would just relax and let her do what she wanted - she could be quite bossy. I remember one time in particular a stray beagle came to visit. He was wearing a collar and I was able to contact his owner, but the man was unable to pick him up until after work that evening. Jody spent the entire day keeping her cats corralled on the porch - when one would try to leave, she'd haul it back up. If the beagle approached the porch, she'd chase him back to a spot she chose for him under one of the big shade trees. By late afternoon, she was exhausted, but still worried about her charges. She finally darted around the house into the back yard and came back carrying an old rug. She took it over and offered it to the beagle, who scuffed it around a bit before curling up on it. She then went back and brought one of her toys and gave it to him. Once he was resting on her rug, the toy by his nose, Jody felt she could let the cats off the porch. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

After my children grew up, we sold the farm and moved to a larger community. Jody wasn't very happy in a town home and neither was I, so we moved again, this time out onto a small piece of land in the country. She knew instinctively that she was home just as soon as she got out of the car - that little dog ran around with a smile on her face for weeks. She had the run of the place...only the flower beds were off-limits to her, and she was very good about staying out of them. That is, she was until we met Bob, the man next door.

Bob had been widowed for several years, as had I, and we soon became good friends. Jody wasn't sure if this was a good idea or not and she began a brief campaign to keep us apart. When she saw us chatting over the fence, she'd head for the nearest flower bed and stand in it - legs stiff, a fiercely defiant expression on her little face. Of course I would have to say sternly "Jody! Get out of that flower bed." and that was her goal...she had focused our attention off of each other and onto her. She'd then trot up and look at Bob as if to say "See! Jean is my mother, not yours!" It didn't take long for him to win her over, though. He is an animal lover and, by the time we were married, she was his dog as much as mine.

I've had many dogs over the years, and perhaps I'll have another one soon. I think I'm almost ready to welcome a new puppy. But there's one I'll never forget...autumn always makes me think of Jody.