Friday, April 29, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

I finally finished reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Parts of it are tough, uncomfortable reads, but mostly it took me so long because I wanted to savor it, absorb it, appreciate each word.

Have you clicked on the tab above, "A Counting of One Thousand Gifts"?  I update it often, as I create my own personal list of one thousand moments that cause me to pause, stop, pay attention, to be aware of the many, many blessings in the little things of daily life. As I look back over the list, four hundred so far, it is a happy list, full of memories, richness, heart lessons, joy, progress, surrounded by family and home.

When we lived in Central California, our house was part of a horse ranch.  Our access drive wound between open fields of horses and cows.  Especially in the spring when the wild mustard plants splashed their sunny yellow spots across the hills, our house became hidden, secreted away behind the tall mustard plants,  surrounded in our own little secret garden.  We could walk down the driveway in a narrow path walled by yellow, the mustard taller than the horse's heads.

I would think of the verse, "Therefore He was saying, 'What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree; and the birds of the air nested in its branches.'" Luke 13:18-19

Here, now, there are splatters of yellow across our dusty hills, a reminder to me of the hope and blessings, the touches of the Lord surrounding us.

As she so aptly describes in the book, life is not always beautiful or comfortable or easy.  Far from it.  But, even in the rocky times, the seeds of hope and beauty, peace and rest are there, if we take the time to look.

This is a book I will re-read many times as I continue on my own journey- list of one thousand gifts.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Muscle Memory

Did you know that a lasso has memory?  Huh?  An inanimate rope couldn't have a memory.  On Tuesday, I wrote a little about our son's new lasso.  He is having a lot of fun with it, developing his skills, and  I'm learning that it is not just a piece of rope. The lasso is a tool that needs special care and careful use. After each session, he untwists it, then coils the lasso into exactly the same shape and ties it with plastic twisties to hold it there.  A new rope must be shown how to behave, and once learned, it will remember and go back to its "proper" shape.

As he prepares to throw he sizes the loop, brings it up over his head, moves it in a circular motion and tosses it toward the target. The rope knows how to make the curves, smoothly, untangled. Sometimes he has to stretch the rope into its full length and put pressure on it to remove any kinks or unbalanced spots. Then, coil it again and let it rest.
Can you see the analogies?  Our actions, repeated, repeated, become ingrained and cut a deep groove, or rut, and we become set in our ways. Sometimes we need untangling.  De-kinking.  Be sure you have dug the rut that you want to be in.

This morning, in our exercise session (we started a new series this week, I'll write about it another time), we were stretching and she mentioned muscle memory.  I perked up - oh, I know about that, just like a lasso. Of course, it's the other way around, but here again, is a lesson.  Our muscles, moved properly, consistently, repeatedly, carefully, will learn their proper shape and hold to their correct form.  It takes work, over and over again, practice and more practice, until it becomes instinctive and smooth and you couldn't imagine it any other way. It becomes natural, the norm, a good kind of rut to be in.
I googled muscle memory and found there is a debate (isn't there always?) as to whether the muscle memory is a brain function or if the memory is actually within the muscle itself, but the point remains the same.  A repeated action becomes intuitive, routine, easier.  A fast typist doesn't have to think through the location of each letter and the movement to reach that key. Their fingers just "know."  An excellent knitter can continue knitting without looking because her fingers "remember" the motions.  An athlete practices their routines or techniques hundreds and thousands and thousands of times until each move is "memorized."

We can set the patterns, the habits of our lives by making little changes, consistently, over and over and over- it is a choice.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two More Short Stories

Two more short stories have been posted on WordsbyMo.  The first, CAUGHT! was written for a writing class I did, the second, BULLIES, was written mostly on our recent trip: at the airport, thoughts jotted down in the car, or sitting on a low rock wall while our granddaughter showed off her new no-training-wheels bike riding skills.

So, I have this problem.  I love to hold a book in my hands, to feel the pages, crisp or soft, to thumb through, either backwards to re-read a section, or forwards to jump ahead, to close the book with a bookmark in place, ready for the next time I pick it up, to run my finger along the edge of the page as I read.  The problem?  This digital age we live in.  Kindle. Nook. E-books on the i-phone. Downloads. On-line classes with all the textbooks on the computer screen. I am out of my realm, and don't even know what I'm talking about, though I have kids who study on-line every day (yes, I hear some of you laughing at me). 
But, as an author with a manuscript nearly ready to seek publishing, the traditional methods of getting a book published have fuzzy lines. Actually, this blog came out of an interest in understanding the e-world of books. I have downloaded short books and read them on my computer (motivational, informational type books).  The short stories I write are informally published and read on the blog - by the way, how do you like reading them on the computer, does it work for you?
This is more about questions than answers.  Research, figuring out how to fit what I do, what I write, into the resources available. Being willing to learn and grow and change and gain new skills.
It would make sense to move toward having digital books. They wouldn't need dusting or shelf space, and it would definitely be a step toward traveling lighter.  In this case, though, it is not a step I am eager to make.
I am not opposed to publishing an e-book, if that's the way people will read what I write. But, if you're going to give me a book, I still prefer the actual hard copy, with real pages I can touch and thumb through.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Practice, Practice, Practice

A new animal inhabits our back yard.

     Two of our guys volunteer at an equestrian center two or three days a week, mucking out stalls, doing odd jobs, working with the horses.  One of the boys loves to rope.  He goes with the couple that runs the local ranch to another ranch once or twice a month where they ride horses and rope cows with four legs and a tail - the whole rodeo chutes and arena set-up.  Very cool.  He always comes home excited and

     He received a new lasso for his birthday, and since we can't have a real cow running around our city back yard, we bought him a plastic cow head to practice his roping skills.


Some days he can loop the rope, sling it, and drop it over the cow horns with a plunk.  Other days, he tries and tries and loops and tosses, with miss after miss.  Frustration.  But, he keeps trying, knowing that sooner or later, the rope will hit its mark.

As with any skill in life, the key is practice, practice, practice.  Repeat and repeat.  Keep trying, keep on keeping on.  Over and over and over.  Then, again and again. Don't give up.

I'm grateful he enjoys this effort, and is learning a valuable lesson: that a skill like this takes hours and hours of work and repeated practice. And especially, that the work can be fun.

Write the words in the notebook.
Run the fingers up and down the piano keys.
Type the letters onto the keyboard and hit enter.
Toss the ball, swing the bat.
Loop the rope, flick the wrist, and throw.  And if it doesn't catch the cow's horns, or make sense, or sound good, or hit a home run, try again.
Practice, practice, practice.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Our Traditional Easter Dessert

After our Easter dinner outside on my parent's patio, our traditional Easter dessert is a quick, easy, colorful recipe. My sister-in-law fixed it for us the first year we were married, almost thirty-six years ago.  Since then, we have had it every year, with a chocolate pie added in to include the necessary chocolate.
Yogurt Pie
3 oz package of jello (match the yogurt flavor)
yogurt container (to match the jello flavor)
8 oz cool-whip
pie crust (graham cracker or traditional -which we prefer)
In a medium size bowl, dissolve jello powder in 3 tbsp boiling water.  Fold in yogurt, then add the cool whip and fold gently until mixed.  Pour in a prepared pie crust, refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
We like strawberry, lemon, lime, blueberry, or peach.
A sugar-free option is to use sugar-free jello, plain yogurt, and sugar-free cool-whip.  We do this with the lemon flavor.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On This Good Friday

This is my compost bin.

We throw in our junk, waste food, vegetable and fruit discards, paper scraps, the stuff nobody wants.

Stir it all up into an ugly, messy pile, left to rot away in the dark.

Decay, wormy, deterioration, decomposition, disintegration, destruction, death.

From the death, the mess, the waste, springs LIFE.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Lambs

On our drive through Illinois, we passed, on the right side of the highway, a red hand-lettered sign, "Easter Lambs."
           EASTER LAMBS         
  Ahead, on the left side of the road, beyond one of the many small farms that dot the Midwest, was a field full of lambs.  Maybe one hundred of them, close together in a small field. They were lying down, strolling around, nosing each other, curled up in little balls, sitting, waiting.  Did they know what they were waiting for?

            The field will soon be empty.

"The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'"         John 1:29

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Airport Imaginings

     I enjoy eavesdropping on people's conversations in the airport waiting room.  In the generally close quarters, it is not hard to do, and many of them are not shy about their phone conversations or dialogue with someone in a nearby seat. One I overheard on this trip was a businessman on his phone who said he was "rotting at the gate for a few hours."  I had to chuckle.  I like the airport waits.  Just people watching entertains me, and I always have enough with me to read and write for hours, appreciating the uninterrupted time (unless I get distracted by the activity around me).
     Perhaps it is the writer in me, creating characters and scenes, but I love to wonder why that person is like s/he is.  What is their "backstory," their history that has affected who they are today?  If I was writing their story, what would it be?
     Obviously, for the sake of personal privacy, I don't have pictures of these people, but imagine them with me:

One very large, wide man, lost in his headphones, eyes closed, hiding, secluded, isolated from the world around him. Something in his life has caused him to shut out the world. Hope I don't have to sit next to him (I didn't).

A businessman, blue dress shirt and dark tie, loosely knotted, laptop out, typing out a report on today's appointments, making notes for tomorrow's accounts in another city, pausing to gaze out the window and wonder how his family is doing at home.

The black man in the olive green "Hawaii" hat and a gray beard looks like he has long blond hair, but as he adjusts in his seat, I see it is the hair of the gal behind him, lined up just right with my view.  He looks better with his own hair. His papers are spread in his lap, he sorts through them, reading and re-reading.  Is he headed for a job interview, or preparing a presentation to a business?

A mom, her daughter, and her curly tow-headed daughter, talk and laugh together.  Grandma takes the granddaughter off for a walk while mom reads a magazine, then mom takes the daughter while grandma reads the same magazine.  They are off to see the little girl's dad.  Perhaps he is stationed at a base in Colorado Springs, and the wife lives with her mom?  He will be very glad to see his cute little energetic girl.

Two sisters, one with two young kids, the little girl's hair tight in cornrows, beads and barrettes. She is active, happy and likes to sing.  Where are they all headed together?  To visit their brother and his kids, who live in the mountains west of Denver, with lots of space to run and play, unlike their Chicago home?

The young men, fresh out of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center boot camp, dressed in their black wide collared uniforms, white sailor hat in hand, manilla envelope tucked under their arm with the orders to their next assignment, their medical records and information inside, headed for service to our country.  Most of them are serious, walking in pairs, but some are still light-hearted, playing like kids on the moving walkway. Because we have had a son and a daughter come through this same path, I know that they have just been through a very rough eight weeks, and still do not have an easy road ahead of them. They all look so young. On this trip, we saw only young men.  Another trip, the group included young ladies, too, and I remember watching a pair of them attempting to not walk in step, laughing at their inability after weeks of training to walk in step. These young men make me think more of the future, what is in store for each of them, where will they go, who will they meet, what skills will they learn that will influence the rest of their lives?

A mix of suits and ties, uniforms, pajamas and flip-flops, jeans and boots (in Denver add a cowboy hat). Young and old, big and tall, little and cute, energetic and shuffling, lively and glum. Some encumbered with luggage, jackets, purses, shopping bags - or those who have mastered traveling light, a skill I'm afraid I have yet to master.
Everyone has an interesting story; it is fun to think about and imagine each one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Impressive Bird

    Yesterday, at the Chicago Midway Airport on our way home, I saw another contrast between birds and man-made flight machines.  On April 8th, (click on this link to read it) I wrote about the contrast between the tiny sparrows inside the Denver airport and the lumbering jets outside the window.  In Chicago, again, there was a vivid illustration of our meager man-made attempt at imitating the beauty of flight.
     This bird hangs in a multi-story terminal where the escalators drop down or carry passengers up to the next point on their journeys.  Above the upper level, it hangs in mid-flight, a three dimensional pause in motion. The enormous, large paned window behind it makes it appear to have just flown in, arriving to perch on the railing and watch the bustle below. The bright light also made it hard to photograph.
       It is a mobile, suspended on cables from above, made up of hundreds of  three or four inch flight machines: bi-planes, helicopters, hot air balloons, jets, fighters, small planes, hang gliders and more I didn't take the time to notice.  A plaque on the upper level lists each type of flight machine, it's name, information about it, and a small sketch. An illustrated history of man-made flight machines.
     Down the escalators, it soars overhead, majestic and beautiful in its peaceful mid-flight pose, a calm contradiction to the hurry and motion below.  I could imagine a video camera of the scene put on fast forward, the streams of people coming and going, in and out, up and down, while the bird remained still and comfortable and simple, unaffected by the action.  We stopped in our path to admire it and try to catch it on camera, pausing in our hurry, grateful for the still moment, out of the traffic and unfamiliar area and parking structure and elevators and heavy luggage and lines of humanity, just to look and appreciate the artist's view of man's attempts at flight.
    From below, we also saw that the weights suspended below the bird formed a one-dimensional bird shape, wings spread, as if floating gracefully on an updraft of air - I didn't catch a good picture of that.  In the photo below, they are the dark spots below the bird. I can't say how big the bird is, in a large space like that perspective is out of proportion, but I'm guessing thirty feet across?  An impressive work of art.
     The bird's in-motion dignity held a striking difference to the tone of movement it soared peacefully above.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Comfort Tech

One of the items I decided not to bring on this trip was my laptop.  My husband had his, so didn't think I'd need mine, and it left me room for my notebooks and books.  Using his computer, though, put me out of my comfort zone.  His laptop is bigger and fancier (read, more complex) than mine.  It was intimidating to attempt my familiar processes and meet with complications.  Had to ask, "How do I do this?"  What does this mean?"

One of their computer stations
Here in Indiana, we're with our daughter who is studying for her degree in Information Technology with a concentration in Software Engineering.  Way over my head.  She is tech savvy, I am a fledgling.  I was telling her, ok, complaining, about not having my simple little laptop.  She laughed and used the phrase that I needed my "comfort technology."  The familiar, the comforting, the known.

It's good to get out of our comfort zones, to learn to eat new foods, to attempt new adventures and learn new technological skills.  This trip has not been just about seeing new sights, exploring new areas and enjoying family times, but also about advancing new computer skills.  Isn't that what traveling is about?  Opening our minds, expanding our vistas, experiencing new skills and adventures.  Mine may not be riding a camel in Egypt or climbing the Matterhorn in Switzerland.  But, I am content with my adventures and our family times, and it helps me appreciate and look forward to being home with my comfort tech.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Little Hands

Last week, or has it been two weeks already? I took photos of hands at our house.  These are little grandchildren hands, busy and creative and learning, and of course, messy.