After 60, a time to begin

Terry Petersen, grandmother and writer

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AFTER 60, A TIME TO BEGIN: NEW SKILLS, FRESH INFORMATION, A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

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Saturday, May 19

Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep. (Felix Frankfurter)

(photo by Jay Petersen 5/18/12)


     Jay gestures to me to stop as we begin our third trail at the Cincinnati Nature Center on Friday. Then he points into the grass where a fawn rests. Is he okay? Neither one of us knows. And why is he so close to the trail where people pass by all day long? We return to the Nature Center to notify a naturalist, or at least ask if someone knows about it.

     Sheila, an astronomer who works with the center, answers before I finish stating my concern. "Oh, you mean the deer? The mother is off grazing. She tells the baby to stay where he is until she comes back. We have had people carry the deer here, and we tell them to put the baby back where they found it!"

     "Deer aren't like mother birds?" I ask.

     I learn that while undomesticated animals don't generally feed from a human's hands, our smell isn't as powerful as the old wives' tales tell us. A mother bird does not shun its young after a human touches it. She advises putting a fallen baby bird on grass in a plastic container with holes in the bottom. Then Sheila says to place the container into the lower branches of the tree. Mama will return and fetch her baby.

     I suppose that as long as the Cincinnati Nature Center remains hunter-free territory a deer can be this open. However, I am concerned about any mother who is this casual with her infant, four-legged or two. No answer to this one. Apparently this deer mama is trusting.

     We continue or trek. The baby opens his eyes, then closes them as people gather to watch him do nothing more than wink occasionally, a celebrity at less than a week old--at least that seems to be the consensus among his admirers. One man says, "He looks like he was born today." Jay takes several pictures. The moment is savored, then saved. My birthday gift. The memory of a newborn who has no notion where his life will turn. Actually, this beautiful spotted creation could be a she. Can't tell.

     When Jay and I return to the visitor center I learn that a member of the staff has a picture of the deer on his camera. In his photo our little fellow is wedged between two trees. Jay and I recall those trees on the opposite side of the path where we found the fawn.

     When I was born May 18, sixty-six years ago, my mother cried because I looked so ugly. She couldn't believe there was nothing critically wrong with me. There was a hole in the umbilical cord, and at four pounds seven ounces I was undernourished. My head was the size of an orange. And I was not pink and pretty. Before she could bond with me, before she could touch a single finger, I was whisked away to the nursery for ten days to be fattened enough to come home. Perhaps in the nursery a night nurse or two stopped by, like people along my life's trail, and saw that I would become a lovely child. Don't know. It's speculation.

     In the meantime I say goodbye to this beautiful natural creation. I don't touch him, however. As much as I would like to. It feels invasive. Instead I think what an incredible child this deer is and wish us both a happy birthday.

Thursday, May 17

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. (John Anthony Ciardi)


     Technology has been presenting more questions than answers lately. I have a vague notion of what a system migration is. How-it-works is another matter. My e-mail has been having frequent "strokes," although they have been leveling out lately. I can't tell whether improvement is on the way or residual damage is continuing to do harm. Of course this migration has been taking a loooong time. I want to suggest flying instead of crawling, but don't think sarcasm would get me anywhere. I do know that I have learned a thing or two about the quirks of my little Asus. Perhaps if this knowledge continues I could reach the expertise of the average seven-year-old child in a mere seven years!

     Plant the seeds. Ask the questions. Discover. Actually I found out that I know more than I thought I did. I handled more of the tech calls than my husband did. Several years ago I would have been quivering in fear thinking, Help, my life is in this computer! It still is. Even more of my life is held within the 0s and 1s that make up the innards of my laptop. Oh, that doesn't mean I don't have a panic level. It doesn't surface as readily as it once did, however. Not sure when that assurance was planted. Not sure when my husband started asking me how to copy and paste, or when I took charge of updates. I have a lot to learn yet. Obviously. If I didn't, the new web page would be up and running by now. I would have my Christmas stories published as an e-book. And, my nephew Alan wouldn't be considering putting my number on call block.

     Planting seeds. The analogy can go anywhere.

Tuesday, May 15

Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay then it's not the end. (Paolo Coelho)

 


    I may never know exactly what happened to my web site. It may have been accidentally closed. Not by me. Webs reopened it. At least that was the last e-mail I got from them. The temporarily malfunctioning notation no longer appears. I'm open for business, at least temporarily. Actually, I've known for some time that I've needed to make a change. Crisis or opportunity? It's all in the translation. The transition, however, will need to wait until my tech guru is available.

     In the meantime someone amazing fills my mind, and I need to relay a story she told. I never really knew Debbie. All I heard was that she was a terrific person. This past weekend she was in town for a family graduation. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her. That time blessed me, and those blessings linger.

     Debbie and I share two common interests: she is an artist who works in metal and she works in the medical field--as a trauma nurse. In minutes I felt like I had known her for years. One story touched me. The emergency room sees miracles, but it also sees tragedy. A loss is stressful for the team. Debbie chose to release that stress by volunteering to hold and rock "crack" babies. The motion soothed both volunteer and infant. Unfortunately, authorities deemed it dangerous for a nurse working among a broad sectrum of sick folk, to cuddle infants. A sad move for both.

      I heard this story on Mother's Day. A gift I plan to remember. For a long, long time.

Saturday, May 12

It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them. (Man Ray)

 


     I found a backdoor into my web page and feel like I had to break into my own house. Amazing. Unfortunately I'm not sure I will be able to find my way back into the maze that brought me to this familiar forum. If this isn't the last entry it could be among the last. I don't believe in giving up, however. My fellow writing companion, known in the blog world as Catherine Castle, is helping me to create another website. On this page there will be a much easier means to leave comments.

     Moreover, I would sure love it if you would subscribe. That way you won't have to look for an entry. It will come to you.

     Oh, I can't say Webs has been awful. I've learned how to put down my thoughts when I had very little time to do it.

     Peace, love, joy, to all.

Monday, May 7

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage. (Maya Angelou)


     I had to read the Facebook post twice before I believed it, and even then I figured the news had to be about someone else: Eric Hauck, the guitar teacher I loved who moved to Kansas to accept a position as music pastor in a church in Kansas, had a freak accident. He fell while ziplining and broke his back and neck. He is in a brace, yet will not have surgery for six weeks. I am stunned.

     I am not surprised, however, that he is maintaining a positive attitude. In fact on the Facebook page he shares with his wife Britt, JibJab style pics of Eric in a neck brace are posted where he boxes and skydives. Eric's sense of humor remains intact. 

     Eric encouraged the music in my soul to surface. I remember my second or third lesson--don't recall for sure. I wrote a song called the "Extraordinary Ordinary" in the key of C. Sure I knew where the chords were supposed to be, but my F chord, was more of a thud, a fuh-sound I called the fuh-chord. The words were fine and Eric could figure out what the song was supposed to sound like. He laughed. I guess he thought I had the Christian version of chutzpah. My fingers are short and they already had some arthritis. Instead of telling me it was a tad early to be composing songs, he encouraged me.

    Of course then I didn't know he had already toured with John Michael Talbot and Rich Mullins. Eric is who he is; he doesn't brag. When I knew him he had a foot-long beard, earring, tattoo--and a message on his van that announced how long he had been married to his wife. Okay, one clarification about the bragging. He is a family man, and there is no doubt that Eric loves Britt with every ounce of his being. 

     When Eric announced that he was moving to Kansas I supported his move. Inside my soul I wanted to keep him in Cincinnati. Kansas could just as well be China. Can't hop in the car and stop by to say hello. 

     I can send this message now: Eric, your positive energy is reaching miles east. The least I can do is write this blog and request prayer from all I know for the healing of your body. Who knows? I wrote the "Extraordinary Ordinary" about everyday miracles, and didn't even know you were one of them. Thanks, buddy.

Sunday, May 6

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. (John Muir)


 

     Saturday evening May 4. Four friends stand in the street and watch the moon, called the mega moon because it appears fourteen percent larger since it is closer to earth than usual. The friends get out of the street when a car comes down the street, then return to watch the round ball in the sky. They don't talk much about meteorology, however. They talk about their own connections here on earth, the places that brought them together.

     These four folk, two couples, have known one another for over forty years. Their sons, grew up believing they were related. The wives laugh about their last get-together with mutual friends. For Linda's birthday, Terry and Jay bought several gifts for her, including a sweater bought at such a bargain price, that Terry purchased one in a different color for herself. The two women wore them to that last larger gathering. Only one other person noticed. Tonight they celebrate Terry's birthday early. Linda got herself an identical shirt to match one of Terry's gifts. They will wear their sister-shirts at the next larger group gathering--a sign of their closeness. Perhaps to some it could appear adolescent for women in their sixties to dress alike. Linda and Terry don't care. These friends have stood together through joy and tragedy. They know one another's secrets as well as they know the insides of their own closets and refrigerators.

     "Beautiful isn't it?" one of the four says, bringing our attention back to the bright ball in the heavens.

     "Not as large as I thought it would be though," says one of the men."

      Soon the foursome retreat indoors for birthday cake and a poor rendition of "happy birthday," conducted by Terry, the guest of honor, who laughs but doesn't join in.

     In a few hours the moon has moved to a different position, a tad higher. It doesn't look as exciting anymore. Although really, just the fact that it exists is a wonder. Actually, friends that can be counted on are as incredible as sun, moon, or star.

     Tom and Linda, we are grateful to have you as friends. Maybe the mega moon isn't as grand as our friendship. It appears only when it is close to the earth. You appear when life is gracious--and when it isn't.

Friday, May 5

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. (John Lubbock)


     Eight-year-old Kate runs the piglet race today for the Down Syndrome Association. I look outside every few minutes and pray that the rain holds out. A few drops of drizzle would be okay, but electrical theatrics can wait until later. Much later! Not that I have any control over the universe. Nevertheless, I send my love out into it. Thinking about my grandchildren makes me happy. On a deep level. I would love to be at that race. Wonder if my knees could handle thirteen miles. However, I have other plans for today. It's the first Saturday of the month. Hamilton Writers Guild day.

    I facilitate. This does not mean I am the leader. Many of our members are far more published than I am. The facilitator simply keeps the meeting running. This frees me to be who I am. A writer? Definitely! A know-it-all? Hardly.

     "Okay," I admit. "I have a problem. I have read about different ways of editing, but I want to know what works for you." I get several suggestions: Read it out loud. Set the work aside for awhile. Separate yourself from the content. Start at the back and read toward the front. Write a synopsis for each chapter on index cards for reference.

     These suggestions are better than my first thought when I realized that the story I'm writing now had become a major jigsaw puzzle: Okay, Terry, you're 95% of the way finished; turn around and start over!

     I write down the suggestions. Then, after the meeting, one of the members thanks me for leading the meeting. I'd say I was the one who was blessed.

     So far the rain is staying at a low ebb. I pray that my granddaughter's internal sunshine keeps the drops away as she runs--and I continue to type.

Thursday, May 3

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives, who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best. (Philip James Bailey)


 

     Kate takes paper from my printer and says, "Let's write a book."

     "Okay, first we have to decide what the book is going to be about."

     The fact that we have about twenty minutes before I need to take my granddaughter to school doesn't phase her. Impossible is only a minor hurdle. "Let's do a book for Rebe."

     "Then maybe it should be about Rebe," I suggest.

     Kate smiles, but I gather from the look on her face she doesn't think her sister's four years worth of life experience is enough for a chapter book.

     "Well then, Rebe can be the main character." I'm thinking about Rebe chasing dinosaurs or hunting down dragons. Definitely not biographical."

     "How about a coloring book?" Kate says smiling.

     This sounds more feasible, especially considering the fact that we now have ten minutes before leaving for school. This is Kate's project, bound with uneven staples and a lot of enthusiasm. By the time we are ready to leave, my dining room table has been taken over by crayons, scissors, paper clippings and two semi-completed pages. 

     Kate is happy with our project, as small as this start may be. She will remember it. I had better put it away in a safe place--far away from the recycling bin. Sure, this eight-year-old girl is capable of asking for favors for herself. However, most of the time she thinks of someone else first--at least in my presence.

     I want to grow up to be just like my oldest granddaughter.

Sunday, April 29

Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste. (Charlotte Brontë:

 

     On my way home from visiting my father in the nursing home I decide to stop at the grocery store to get steaks to celebrate Jay's homecoming tomorrow. In the checkout lane I'm putting my few items on the belt when I see a crisp dollar on the floor. The man in front of me is holding a handful of bills. It seems apparent to me that the money is his. Sure, the thought strikes me to pocket it, but I don't need the money, and it seems obvious that it was recently dropped.

     "Excuse me, sir. I think you dropped this."

     He pauses a second, perhaps counting the bills in his hand. Don't know because he doesn't physically check them. "Well, thank you. I was just fumbling with my wallet."

     I am in the quick-serve line so it doesn't take long for me to pay for my small purchase. The gentleman is still standing there. "You are a good person. I can feel it around you. There is something about you."

     I smile. This is a deep compliment. "My grandchildren think so." I hope I haven't limited his observation. I am not accustomed to praise on this level.

     He leaves the store with his packages, and I am left with an unexpected extraordinary gift on an ordinary Sunday afternoon. He got his dollar back. I discovered that I may be shorter in height than I was ten years ago, but my spirit can expand in any direction it desires. 

Saturday, April 28

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. (Soren Kierkegaard)


     I haven't known Dave long, and I could have met his wife at the New Jerusalem reunion. Don't remember. There were a hundred people at that gathering. I've seen her name many times, and I expected to continue to see it. Then Dave announced the unimaginable: His wife didn't wake up this morning. He will announce funeral arrangements later.

     No matter how many times I read those words, they don't change, as much as I want them to.

     My own house is silent right now. This is by choice, however. No television. No radio. The wash is finished. Not even any music. The thunderstorms have passed, at least for awhile. My Jay is out of town for the weekend. Combination business and family getaway. Amazing how he wasn't halfway to St. Louis before I wanted to tell him something. Trivial, yes. Doesn't matter. It's the presence of the other that is important in a relationship. Sure his constant jabbering interrupts my concentration. Nevertheless, without it, I feel like a bee without a stinger or honey.  I thought of "Old Friends," the Simon and Garfunkel song, when I slept on my side of the bed last night. I could have sprawled across the king-sized surface, lay diagonally. But, it felt invasive.

     Ah yes, the storms have subsided. I planned to visit my brother in the hospital today, but there have been too many electrical theatrics in the sky. I talk to my brother on the phone. He sounds good, and may even go home by Monday. I tell a story on myself about a shirt I'm painting for Kate's Down Syndrome walk next weekend. "It's supposed to be a half-sun for the Ella's Allies logo, but it looks something like a taco."

     It sounds like he is trying not to laugh and break his stitches. Then the phone disconnects. Can't do anything about cell service or electrical storms. I can be grateful that I lost contact while laughing, not complaining. Fortunately, the taco is turning back into a sun with enough paint and patience.

     I am glad to have this time alone to think, to see time as a whole. I judge my day by how much I have achieved. Got to clear the parameters, find the sun behind the clouds and the paint, and celebrate. Perhaps even take a nap now and then before that long run.

     May Dave and his family find peace because even the greatest of saints understand and feel loss--perhaps more deeply than the common folk. They know what a gift life is.

Friday, April 27

I write magical realism because most of us need to get a little distance from our lives to see them as they really are.  (Athol Dickson)


      A boy with hair that turns into fire that doesn't burn, a multicolored tree with birds that change colors to match the leaves and branches, good versus evil. Not the stuff I thought I would ever explore! And yet I am working on a middle-grade chapter book. I don't think children will have any trouble believing any of it. Adults? Well, they see with concrete expectations.

     I have had all day to work on my magical realism book, but haven't opened the document once. It is resting until I am ready to tackle it again--with a child's eyes. Oh sure, the story has one-hundred-seventy-five thousand too many ands and buts. Moreover, it rambles in places. Not like a kid in a toy store, more like toys thrown in boxes--scattered.

     So I clean the house today. Mindless work. While my characters tell me what they want to do and why. Quiet voices, yet clear, as laundry spins and dust disappears, temporarily anyway. 

     Athol Dickson's fiction may not be written for young folk, but his thoughts about magical realism struck me enough to quote them here:

     "Fantasy stories convey truth without needing to be grounded in the reality of this world. They have holistic, logical systems and realities that affect every aspect of their separate universes. They can describe things that never were and never will be on the earth, without direct attachments to the readers’ everyday existence, while human and universal truths come through. On the other hand, magical realism by definition remains tethered to the “real” workings of this universe. I believe sometimes just a touch of the magical can make a story more applicable to a reader’s everyday existence than it would be otherwise."

      Got to turn my nit-picky internal editor off, the one that says, "This line is going to get cut to shreds. Got to rewrite it," and go back to the reason why I am doing this. No, I have no expectation of finding a place next to C.S. Lewis or Athol Dickson. All I want to do is find truth and goodness in a story and let it loose. Somehow.

Thursday, April 26

The world is a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed. (Oscar Wilde)


 

     Tuesday evening and I feel desperately unprepared even though I have gone over my songs often enough that my husband probably sighed every time I got out the guitar. On some unconscious level, he probably has my repertoire memorized. Shows shouldn't occur when little brothers just had surgery, or when life has been throwing challenges. But they do. Can't do much about that. Besides, my heart really is in these songs. All I have to do is let it out once the sound equipment gets set up.

     My husband announces to neighbors where we are going as I stash my supplies in the back seat. From across the street Jasmine, my six-year-old friend, tells me I look pretty. I smile. Little folk say what they think. As I get my guitar settled in a position where it won't fall, I hear the little girl's voice right behind me. She has come with a good luck hug.

     Funny how something so simple works. The audience likes my performance. More important, some of my other concerns become right-sized. Amazing. A few grownup friends follow up with hugs. They congratulate me on my performance, but the action reaches deeper, and tells me that tomorrow, when real life shows up again with all its lovelies and trials, I will be ready for both. Got to keep passing on those hugs and smiles. They are a lot more powerful than they appear to be.

Monday, April 23

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. (Anais Nin)


     My brother had surgery today; I'm waiting for the phone to ring. My son Greg already called to see if I heard anything. Not yet. Oh, I'm not sending negative vibes, but this is a pretty cool brother--Actually, all my brothers are great in one way or another. Perhaps his immediate family is too busy attending to him. That would certainly be more important.

     In the meantime I consider how health affects life. Wasn't that long ago I thought my heart was giving me grief. It's not. Probably stress. Or something else. Can't say. I am sorely tempted to take my book and chuck it out the window. It has lots of problems to resolve. Don't know how long it will take me to untangle them. But, I believe in the central tale, in the purpose for telling it. Nope, think I'll take one step at a time. Hang other folks' expectations and live my own dream.

     The brother who is probably out of surgery now, once recorded a song for me. He wasn't that well when he did it. But he helped me every technical step of the way--out of love for his sister. To every believer in prayer, please send some healing energy to Tom. Add an angel or two and throw in some humor--as soon as the stitches heal, that is. In the meantime, just send a smile or two with your prayers. They will do.

     Yes! Just got the call. He is in the recovery room now. All prayer channels open!

Sunday, April 22

When you see people going to church and becoming smaller instead of larger, you have every reason to question whether the practices or sermons or sacraments or liturgies are opening them to an authentic God experience. (Richard Rohr)


     Someone I haven't seen for a long time is at church this morning. She was invited to speak and I am thrilled to see her. But I don't know how powerful Terri's gift is going to be until she has spoken for several minutes. She speaks about the beauty of song. Sure, I know about that--sort of. But she brings a new twist to it, a power beyond harmony and chord changes. In fact, Terri talks about a capella chants, sung--to heal. She belongs to a group that brings song to people who are sick. A few people at a time are sent to sing to someone.

     The notion sounds nice, but I don't appreciate the significance until Terri puts it into practice. She teaches a simple chant about sending light, hope, and love into a person. We begin with requests for people and put those thoughts into an open space in the center. Don't know what coaxes me, but I offer prayer for someone who drives me up-the-wall-and-down-again. Okay, it's a trite expression, but universally understood. Thought I might as well be honest, although I don't offer any more than a first name. No reason for telling the whole who-did-what-story.

     Then we begin with eye contact, if we can tolerate it, and sing to each person in the circle. Strange. It is more difficult to receive than to give. By the time the circle has been completed we all know we are blessed, have always been blessed.

     Finally we sing to the names we left in the center space. Easier now with an open heart. Oh, not one moment of reality has changed. But, I am just a little more prepared to deal with it.

     This is what church is for me. We don't claim sainthood. We don't call participation in a Sunday service all there is to being whole. Men and women share equal roles. And we are always learning something new. 

     Thanks, Terri. May each day's light fill you. May each night's darkness bring you rest. And love whisper always through your soul. Sing in any key. I'm sending you my version now . . .

photo by Karen Salmansohn. See NOTSALMON.COM for "self-help for people who wouldn't be caught dead doing self-help."

Saturday, April 21

Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. (Isak Dinesen)


 

     I am angry. It is easy to talk to my mate about it because I am not angry at him. He is handling a current situation well--and he is affected more than I am. In one way, this isn't all bad; It points out how much I love my husband, and how much it bothers me when someone does something to him that appears insane from my perspective. Oh, this is no life or death situation. Maybe it's timing, and someplace in hindsight I will see the pattern. Hard to see a hurricane's path from inside the storm.

     Those "wise" answers that appear in advice columns make me wonder sometimes. Sure, they sound right-on sometimes, but how much of the story do they tell? Are the facts, facts?

     I get the opportunity to see the person who irritates me. It is not the time to speak. Too public. And I am not sure words would help. This individual is kind to me, unaware. I sigh. Life is not simple except in principle. I have met people I suspect Mother Teresa would want to kick down the stairs. Well, I don't think she would actually have done it. . .

     "Still talking to myself about this," I tell my husband. At least he knows I'm not a kick-people-down-the-stairs kind of individual. The insanity will end. Eventually. Until the next round. Gonna learn the tricks of the human animal one of these days.

Friday, April 20

Each moment is a place you've never been. (Mark Strand)


 

     Aqua zumba? Okay, I'll try it, as long as there are no underwater cameras. It's a new class with a new instructor, young, agile, and fresh. Tiffany sweats from the side of the pool. I pretend to have her style, but I understand the complexities of the moves about as well as this blue jay understands the inner workings of this camera. Tiffany doesn't say a word. She points to an arm, leg, or direction, and expects us to follow her lead. Something like walking into a calculus class with second-grade math skills--and no one cares!

     I look around and see bodies in all shapes, ages denied or hidden in the action. A snake-like move of the arms, a rhythmic bending of the leg. If I were in the car and this music appeared on the radio, I would turn it off before the second measure. Not my style. But in the water I dance to the drum beat and concentrate on left, right, back, forward, turn all the way around. Enjoy one hour. Live in it. My heart tests came back fine. I am permitted exercise again. Don't know what happened or why, but right now, movement clears my mind and water heals my soul.

     Okay, so I won't be auditioning for any dance teams in the near or far future. Let the moments click away and bring what they have to offer.

Wednesday, April 18

Your children will see what you're all about by what you live rather than what you say. (Wayne Dyer)


      Ella knocks over a cup of coffee that I left on the floor.

     I react rather than think. "Ella!"

     Her lip quivers and tears follow. It's not her fault. Her careless grandmother left the cup, almost full, on the floor. Oh sure, I thought I left it on the table, but intentions don't count. I gather her in my arms and tell her it wasn't her fault. "That was a bad thing to do, Mawmaw," I say, smacking my own arm." She looks confused, understandably. Within minutes she is blowing me kisses again, and I know why I am in love with this beautiful child.

     It's Wednesday, grandchildren day. The house gets a workout over and beyond the black-coffee incident. So do I. But the work after they leave is worth it. I'm on my hands and knees with a scrub brush when the doorbell rings. One of Kate's friends has arrived--even though this young girl knows our granddaughter has left. The little girl looks forlorn. At that moment the phone rings.

     As I answer it the girl enters the house and wanders to the back porch. Okay, what now? I am not about to evict a lonely child because my hands and knees are full of cleaning fluid. Fortunately the phone call is brief. I wash my hands and meet her.

     I sit on the step between the kitchen and porch and take her hands into mine. "Okay, what do you need?"

     "I don't have anyone to play with."

     I stifle a sigh. Perhaps I should stop what I am doing and play. But I am sixty-five, actually one month shy of sixty-six, and this could be a bad precedent--especially for a woman with one too many candles lit already.

     "Tell you what. We have way too many toys." This is true, even if it is a bribe. "Come on into the toy room. Pick something out and take it home." I pray she doesn't choose Rebe's Barney, and we enter the toy sanctuary. She finds a Play-Doh accessory. Our girls haven't played with it in months. I give her a can of Play-Doh, too. And I am grateful when she agrees to go home. I have enough energy left to finish cleaning, eat dinner and go to bed.

     "You really need something though, you can come back," I say.

     And I pray to know what to say and do when that happens.

Monday, April 16

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. (Arthur Schopenhauer)


     Can't fault another person's religious enthusiasm--especially if it changes that individual's life for the better. However, my heart sank when I saw a photo included in someone's Internet praise gallery that doesn't fit a loving attitude: I will not learn a foreign language to benefit illegal aliens.   

     I don't want to start a debate. They get nowhere. Technically, if first-arrived is the rule, the Native Americans should move the Capital from Washington to the Reservations, but that is as out-of-the-box as politics going lily-white. United States history does not hold the copyright on corrupt government. Nero did not win a good-guy award. This is the point: The Hispanic folk have not asked anyone to learn their language. Why be defensive? And why be defensive in the name of an all-loving God?

     Strange. I may not be quick to judge people who have have climbed a difficult road--the disabled, the low-income, the ones who look and act differently. However, the people who know-it-all, the judges of all mankind. these are the folk that test my patience. And I ask the loving God who appears in all shapes and forms, all over the world, to help and forgive me.

Sunday, April 15

It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities. (Eric Hoffer)


     Saturday. The Mad Anthony Writers Conference. I sit and listen as writers speak. This is my day to learn. Sure I know how to put a sentence together, but I would never say, "I know everything." The next moment could prove me wrong. Besides, this is a great comaraderie time. Many of the same people come back in April for this event.

     I had a horrible headache during the night. Who would have known that listening to writers talk about writing would have been the antidote? Moreover, I feel unprepared this year. The advice of published authors says: Be prepared to tell your novel's story in one sentence. Uh huh. I can do that with my children's book, but not with the novel I finished and set aside. Oh sure, it has a beginning, middle, and end. But the one-sentence approach sounds as interesting as stale bologna on day-old white bread. And the tale isn't boring.

     Then presenter Nathan Singer says it is more difficult to easily relay the theme of a low-concept novel. Oh, so that's it. A high-concept story has a clear plot. Spy and mystery movies fit into this category. Stories that focus on thought processes, low-concept, have several themes, and need a more complex approach. Moreover, each reader can have a different response. 

     I feel somewhat vindicated. Nevertheless, I suspect something is missing in my manuscript. A literary agent helps me with this in an unexpected way. There is one historical gap--in one of my themes. No one else has ever noticed this. She gives me an idea about how to find that piece of information.

    More work. That's okay. Although I won't be adding much to the older manuscript for awhile. I need to finish what I have started first.

     Mr. Einstein may be right. But I also suspect that few folk in the world understand the whole of anything. Almost every aspect of life asks for a process of learning.

Friday, April 13

Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts. (Leo Rosten, author, 1908-1997)

     All right! My EKG is normal, but I'm not sure I am--whatever normal is. I won't admit that I take on more than I can handle. Nevertheless, my doctor looks concerned. I decide to take a different approach. 

     I point to the paper gown. "Well, at least this isn't hard to figure out. My own father wanted me to take a mechanical aptitude test to see how low I would get."

     He grins. The response I want.

     "When I was sixteen, my mother called home and told me to take the ironing board down. It was in the living room. People were coming over. Unfortunately, I didn't know about the little thingies on the side. I took the screws out. It took Dad three days to get them back in. He reminded me of the incident just a couple of weeks ago. Forty-nine years later."

     My doctor laughs. Doesn't mean he is going to let me get by on a sense of humor. But, hey, I tried. Guess, I need to stop lighting my candle at both ends, then wondering where to set it down.

     No, the photo isn't mine. I'm allergic to animals. Perhaps I should write a book called: "Mechanical Thinking for Worse-Than-Dummies." By the way, my son Steve helped me with the mysterious can opener. I can now work it all by myself. I am proud of small achievements.

Thursday, April 12


    Rebe squirms in my lap, moves to the floor, sits in a chair, then comes back to my lap. Her big sister Kate is rehearsing for the big second-grade show, and Rebe and I have come for the preview. I bounce her a bit, kiss her on the cheek, and sing quietly in her ear. My soprano isn't her style; she would rather hear Justin Beeber. But she puts up with it in the name of attention.

     I look to the woman on my right and smile. She, too, is a grandmother. She points out her grandson--top row in the middle. I like this woman. She is natural, and makes me feel more at ease with an antsy four-year-old. She knows my Kate and tells me how much she cares for her.

     "She is friends with my grandson. He has some handicaps. But that doesn't matter to Kate. He is her friend."

     I smile, observing my eight-year-old granddaughter on the opposite side of the stage. Intent, she watches the music director. Kate is also friends with two other children with disabilities, both in wheelchairs. One doesn't speak. Kate has learned sign language to communicate. I revel in her enthusiasm. Perhaps I can learn from it.

    Saad Ghosn read the poem I wrote for her that will be in "For a Better World 2012" on WVXU this past week. He sent me the link:

http://198.234.121.108/aroundcincinnati/040812_SaadGhosn.mp3. While I was pleased, only a few folk seemed to care. It took me awhile to shake that off--and be like my granddaughter. After all I wrote the poem to be selfless like her. Ironic. Oh, I am sure that life will test our little girl, just like it tests everyone. But I pray that her core beauty remains intact. I will cheer for her all the way.

Tuesday, April 10


     "This is for you," Jane says as she hands me a tiny Buddha statue. "For luck."

     Of course I'm not the one who is moving to Virginia. She is. Nevertheless, this small statue reminds me of all the laughter that fills our dining room right now. Jay has offered to do the dishes. He washes, dries them and puts them away. I feel blessed. My son Greg, Jane, and I smile because Jay sings as he works: "You'll never walk alone." Not the best rendition, but from the heart. Can't fault that.

     Greg has a natural wit, and he shares it. We are at ease with one another. Sure, we share our love for writing, but don't stay there. Life is too full, and humor pervades every aspect if it is permitted inside. If Jane minds that I tell grandchildren stories, she doesn't complain. I try to keep my enthusiasm controlled. After all, too many superlatives lose their power after awhile.

     Our bellies are full. I don't believe in sending guests home needing further nutrition: wild-caught Alaskan salmon, whole-wheat pasta with spicy tomato sauce, corn on the cob, tossed salad, whole-wheat Parmesan-cheese biscuits and vanilla cream pie with melted chocolate swirled through with whipped cream topping.

     Virginia. At least a ten-hour drive. I smile and ask if we can visit. It could happen. Maybe. Not soon. Sometimes laughter needs to be savored long after the moments have passed.

     "See you at the conference this weekend," I say as both of my guests leave. Jane needs to prepare for classes tomorrow, and my son needs to get his girls ready for bed.

     "See you this weekend."

     I don't walk Jane out to her car. Long goodbyes make the laughter fade too quickly.

Friday, April 6

Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit. (Elbert Hubbard)


 


     Ah yes, I get the opportunity to prove my fallibility two days in a row. Sure I plan to go onto the next challenge. But I plan to flash the events across the Internet first.

     Thursday. Exercise class. I set my water bottle on a chair, then go to get my equipment for the session. The bottle seems a tad wobbly, so I lean it against the back and go--just for a few minutes. Wrong decision! The bottle creates a mini lake within seconds. Ack! Ack! Ack! Run to the women's room and get a few thousand paper towels. Now. This is not a Slip-and-Slide class.

     "Excuse me," I say to a woman waiting to dry her hands. "My water bottle and I had a fight with gravity." She smiles. I'm not sure whether or not her smile is a response reserved for children and clumsy old ladies.

      The towels are as effective as a Band-aid would be on a compound fracture. Rella, the instructor, comes to my aid with a more absorbent cotton towel. I am grateful. Another class member comes through with a few more paper towels. The floor is soon clear and dry. Later I manage to make one positive out of the situation: I see the custodian, and show her the wet terry cloth towel: not one speck of dirt on it. I tell her she must do an incredible job of keeping such a large place clean.

     Today I have a doctor's appointment in a location I know only vaguely. Perhaps it is not a good idea to take an alternate route: I end up on the wrong street and I'm not sure how to get where I need to be--in about ten minutes. Okay, I have no other choice but to pull over and call Jay. Calmly. This in itself is amazing. Especially since I need to cross three lanes of traffic with little notice.

     Somehow, the fact that I parked on the opposite side of the hospital, at the wrong building, feels minor. Traveling on foot is much easier. Don't need to maneuver a few tons of metal, just a sixty-five-year-old body and a mind with the sense of direction of an inebriated moth. (Please note: I am, however, completely sober.)

       Okay, the rest of the day, Terry. Stay inside. Focused. No more mishaps. Then again, somebody has to make the know-it-alls feel good about themselves.

Wednesday, April 4

Words differently arranged have different meanings, and meanings differently arranged have a different effect. (Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician, 1623-1662)


     "It's going to be at least another week before I have another chapter ready," I told my critique companions on Monday. I have a strange feeling it is going to be longer.

     My novel feels like a thousand-piece puzzle right now. Oh, I know where I'm going, but the pieces don't fit the way they should. Not yet. And there is no point in sharing what isn't ready when it doesn't even make sense to me yet.

     Moreover, I need to practice my set for the Music Cafe. I've got the twenty-five minutes worked out, but they don't flow as well as they could. Only a few more weeks to go: April 24, 7:30PM at the Fitton Center in Hamilton. But I am exhausted. The fact that I followed an active two-and-one-half-year-old child today has absolutely nothing to do with it. Moreover, I am hosting guests three times in two days this weekend. Don't regret taking that on. But I could use a few more hours in each day.

     Okay. Got it. The artificial deadlines are out the window. At least for now. As long as I am writing every day--and I am--I will know when the thinking ape has thrown enough color together to create a masterpiece. Well, at least enough shape to be worth sharing.

Tuesday, April 3

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. (Philip Pullman)

 


     It's the early 1930's; Bill and his buddy Earl have strayed from the altar boy's picnic and found a cave to explore in Seymour, Indiana. They are too young to know that feeling their way along a pitch-black wall just may not be the brightest idea. The two middle-grade kids disappear for hours as they stumble over rocks, possibly wondering if they will find bats or cave fish. Hard to say. My ninety-one-year-old source doesn't tell me that part of the story. He does say that he suddenly decides that they should not take one more step.

     "Hey, Earl, got a light?"

     Earl does, and Bill lights the path ahead--a huge drop-off, inches in front of them. The two feel their way back, which doesn't turn out to be as easy as the way in. Their feet are soaking wet. They return to the picnic after all the food has been put away. Our altar boys go home hungry, but alive.

    Bill, my father, has told me this story many times. He admits that he never told his mother. I smile, understanding why. This is one of those miracles I cherish. After all, I wouldn't be here, nor would any of my siblings or their families--all because of a moment's intuition and a match. Dad smiles back from his wheelchair, oxygen intact.

     He never thought he would live to be ninety-one. Heck, one summer in a small town in Indiana, he almost didn't make it to age twelve.

     "Gonna share that story," I tell him. And he sits a lot straighter. He knows he is useful at this moment, and that's what we all need sometimes.

Sunday, April 1

April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. (Mark Twain)


     I'm distracted. At the kiss of peace at church this morning I greet several of my friends twice--and don't realize it. Oh, I'm glad enough to see them, once, twice, three-hundred and sixty-six times this 2012, but I forgot my hearing aids, and haven't heard much of what's been said. Moreover, I planned too much for a block of time this afternoon, and I suddenly realize that I haven't called my uncle to tell him my father's room has been changed at the nursing home. Should have done that two days ago. Not hearing lets worries roll out and grow into monsters: Hmmn, maybe that sebaceous cyst is really something worse!

     Darn, Terry, stop it. This is Palm Sunday and you are proving Mark Twain's quote true. You are a gosh-darned fool. And yes, I do watch my language on the Internet. 

     Don't let anyone should all over you. I already know that. Guess "shoulding" all over me isn't any better.

     A baby at the computer. Found this photo passed around on Facebook months ago. Didn't know how I was going to use it. At the time I just thought it was funny. Still do. But now I see it in a metaphorical sense. The computer user writing this entry has short reddish hair, arthritic fingers, and skin that announces well-over-sixty, well-over-sixty! Both infant and I are learning. Every day.

     As long as I'm learning, guess I'm not a complete fool.

Saturday, March 31

Don't be afraid your life will end. Be afraid that it will never begin. (Grace Hansen)

 


     It's an ordinary Saturday afternoon, cool, cloudy, typically late March, and I'm on my way to get Easter gifts for my grandchildren. Nothing deep on my mind, not even the prayer I promised myself when I got behind the wheel. I'm caught in the dailiness of plans, a writing deadline coming up, and a writing conference that is approaching sooner than I realize. Then there's a performance at the Fitton Center in Hamilton at the end of April. I still have some work to do on that.

     Fortunately my peripheral vision is good. A car makes a left from Glenview onto Belmont--toward my '97 Toyota. Not likely he is looking. Am I ever grateful there is plenty of room to swerve and get beyond the driver. Sure, I have the right-of-way. Doesn't matter. My old green vehicle would get smashed in no matter whose fault it is. And me squashed with it.

     Doesn't take long before I forget about the incident, however. I recall that I decided to use private time behind the wheel for deeper thought, to recognize goodness, to see what is blooming both internally and externally.

     Bits of Ornamental Pear float across lawns and streets. Daffodils and tulips bloom. I dismiss fear, at least for awhile, and think about the joy of having grandchildren. Missed lots of writing time this week because they needed me. But it's okay. The time I spent with my little people is more precious than the time I would have spent erasing words later.

     Strange, it's taken until now for an aspect of the near-accident to sneak in. I take Coumadin, a strong blood thinner ever since I had a pulmonary embolism several years ago. A cut that once took less than an hour to heal now takes days. Hmmn. Another reason to be grateful. . . Time to remember my promise to keep focused on the road!

     Thank you, guardian angel!

Thursday, March 29

Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you're just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric. (Pam Brown)


     The day is moving along just fine: my blog topic has been chosen, the rug scrubbed--again, and wash started. My mental to-do list is the length of the average Interstate. I have the day under control--maybe. Then comes the phone call. Little Rebe has been crying all morning. This is not typical for our little girl. Daddy Greg needs me to pick her up at the babysitter until he can get a doctor's appointment for her. He says the last time she acted like this she had an ear infection.

     The blog topic no longer fits and my list gets shredded before it is written.

     Rebe's babysitter tells me she took her to McDonald's, her all-time favorite, several days ago, and she ate little. I feel worry tugging at me and try to squash it. Worry helps nothing.

    

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Coincidence?

Posted on September 12, 2011 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Saturday, September 10

There is always room for coincidence. (Alva Noto)

     I'm on my way to a poetry gathering. I love on Friday evening when I realize the steering in my car feels strange. My stomach doesn't feel that great either; it's been complaining all day. I am trying to drink as much water as I can, but I had a banana for dinner. No fever. Don't know what it is. I decide I will tell Jay about it after the Buddy Walk and Ella's birthday party on Saturday. He has enough to be concerned about with his arthroscopic surgery this week.

     The meeting is as good as ever, but my head decides to revolt as well. I feel my cheeks redden. I want to leave early, but my poem isn't chosen for critique until the meeting is almost over. I ask for a copy of the last poet's poem, then sneak out.

     The drive home with my rebelling head and unstable car becomes longer because a detour appears that wasn't there on the same route to the meeting. Now, however, it is dark and I am driving in unfamiliar territory in a less-than-comfortable neighborhood.

     I make it home, in one piece. I park in the garage. Jay's car was in the driveway. This would not be significant. Ordinarily. When daylight arrived on Saturday, however, Jay saw why my car drove with an attitude. I had a slow leak in my tire that was no longer slow. I had enough air in it to get to a garage. Soon. No more.

     There was no answer at the closest tire center. We planned to pick up Jay's sister for the Buddy Walk. She suggested another shop, just a little farther away. We made it. This suggestion proved more than fortuitous. I had forgotten that I bought my tires there. They were under warranty.

     I don't expect to continue to live a charmed life. I'm not that boring. But, I recognize a blessing when it happens, and I wonder if my guardian angel ever gets paid overtime.

 


Posted on June 7, 2009 at 7:47 AM Comments comments (6)

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