Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silly Puppy

I wrote the following clip years ago as part of a novel that now sits in a box in the closet. Yes, I should polish it up and send it out, but that's another story. Anyway, in this clip, Libby is dealing with grief and family conflicts. She begins working with a neighbor, an older woman named Oliver (her last name, but she said her friends call her Oliver, so that's what she wants Libby to call her). Libby helps her around the house and with her home business, after Oliver has an accident.

At that time, I had not experienced a dog with separation anxiety. I made up what I thought a silly, confused dog would do when it was alone and worried. Well, since then, we adopted a dog with these struggles, my parents adopted a dog with challenges, and recently our son and a friend of mine both adopted dogs with these issues. Being left alone is traumatic for them. I guess it is common in shelter, rescue dogs, who have been abandoned for whatever reasons.

Have you dealt with these problem dogs? I asked our vet, and he said, "Give them time and security." Well, that isn't easy if you have to go somewhere and leave them alone. Even for a quick trip out, a short time alone, they panic and do crazy things. One solution I have heard is go for daily walks. The exercise is beneficial on many levels (for the person, too), and they return to the familiar security of their new home. Afraid I am not consistent on this one - this is one of my goals for 2016. Do you know of other, successful ways to deal with separation anxiety?


Oliver, seeing Libby struggle to keep back the tears, asked if she could tell her a little story.

"Of course," said Libby.

"Once upon a time," Oliver chuckled, and Libby had to smile at the silly beginning. "A young dog came to live with a young family. He worked hard at learning what was expected of him, and found that it was really quite easy to do what he was told. Except for one thing. When they left him alone, he became very unhappy, and very forgetful. He forgot that he wasn't supposed to drink out of the toilet, and he wasn't supposed to chew up the towels (they were so much fun to pull off the rods and rip to shreds), and he wasn't supposed to drag the newspaper all over the house. When his people got home, he tried to show them how glad and relieved he was that they were back, but all they did was scold and punish him. So, he became more afraid of times they would leave him. Not the best doggie logic," Oliver said in digression, "But a dog can't be expected to understand everything."

"Back to the story. One day they left him and didn't come back. Not at his dinner time, not when it got dark, and not when it was bedtime. He ripped up two towels and pulled the rest off the wall. He spread newspaper all the way down the hall. Which came in handy when he needed to do his business. He drank half the toilet water and drooled all the way onto the hall rug. But the newspaper absorbed some of it. He was so bored he took a nap." Libby laughed, picturing the dog's antics through the house.

"He became more afraid, the longer his people were gone. He became more forgetful, and forgot he wasn't supposed to howl in the house. The howling made him feel better. At least it wasn't so quiet anymore. When he stopped howling, it was fearfully quiet, so he howled some more."

Oliver paused, while the sound of the fearful quiet settled around them. "Now, dogs don't think in words, I guess, but they seem to sometimes. He wondered where his people were, and why they didn't come home to him. Maybe they were afraid of the mess they'd find when they got here? No, that couldn't be it. Maybe they got lost? Maybe they needed directions to get back? He howled louder so they could hear him and find their way home."

Libby laughed out loud. The silly dog filled her with a vivid picture of intensity and confusion and loneliness. "Oh, Oliver, what does he do? What does he figure out?"

"Well, using typical doggie logic," Oliver grinned back at her, "He decided to try to get out of the house. Not to escape or leave, of course, but to go and find his people and help them get home. Get home to him, to his house."

"He jumped at the front door, which was locked and secure. He scratched and dug at the back door, and pushed at the little door he usually used to get to the yard, but the flap was tightly shut and wouldn't budge. He wandered around the house, wondering what to do next. A cool breeze rustled across his ears. A window must be open, but where? He ran upstairs to the little girls' room. The window. It was open."

"He jumped onto the bed, and found he could reach the windowsill with his paws and look out. Hmmm. A long way down."

Libby laughed again the the dog's thoughts anticking at the window.

Oliver continued, "This story is fun. It keeps growing, but I'd better get to the point."

"You've made me laugh and cry because it is so funny. It feels good to have tears, and not because I'm so unhappy. Thanks. I needed that," said Libby.

"Then, mission accomplished. I'll stop now."

"No, no! You have to tell me what that crazy dog does next. You have to."

"As he is looking down the street, lights come around the corner. Of course, they attract his attention, and he watches them. They get closer to his house, and slow down, and then the lights stop in front of his house. He can't see the car from his window, but he hears a familiar voice, then several familiar voices, and realizes it is his people."

"Does he think to run out of the room, down the hall, and to the front door? No. He tries and tries to get out the window, to jump out and go see them. He begins barking and howling, desperate to get to his people. But he can't do it."

"Since he is so busy barking, he doesn't hear the children come down the hall. Suddenly their voices are right behind him, telling him to stop the ruckus and get off the bed. Another rule he'd forgotten."

"He leaps at them, knocking them over and expressing his enthusiasm and joy with all the wiggles and waggles he can muster. The children laugh and tumble with him. When the parents come to the room, it is to remind them it is late and to get ready for bed. He tries to greet them in the same manner, but it isn't received as eagerly."

"The mom lets him out the back door, but now he doesn't want to go. He wants to stay with them, inside. She boots him out, though, he takes care of business and runs back in through the doggie door to greet them all with fresh enthusiasm."

"In his doggie understanding, he just hadn't been able to see that with patience, they would have come home, that it wasn't all his antics that brought them back. All he knew was, that now they were home and he was happy again."

Oliver stopped the story with a flourish of her hand, like closing the pages of a book. Libby smiled, her mind absorbed in the story and mercifully distracted for awhile from her own panic and frustration at life's frightening twists and turns.

our silly puppy

Friday, December 4, 2015

What I Learned in November

Our son and I read through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, in November. I wanted the reading to be slow and comfortable and lacking the guilt of previous years. "Oh no, we are three days behind, we have to hustle." We used a different Jesse Tree book for many years. Last year, I bought The Greatest Gift, also by Ann Voskamp, to read, myself, and this year, we bought Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Highly recommended (both of them!). Beautiful drawings. Unwrapping has a large print format, kid-friendly, colorful, and full of thought-provoking insights and stretch-your-thinking challenges. The ornaments can be purchased or printed off her website. I tried to pick a favorite quote. No such thing. Here is a thought, from page 106:

"When we love in little ways, the big things unexpectedly begin to happen (they won't be expecting that!). In little places, through unexpected people, the story is unfolding and unwrapping all around you and in you, the light overtaking the dark. And it's like you can see the new Kingdom bursting in right now - how all the lit up trees and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The story that is happening is better than the greatest fairy tale ever told - because it's all true."

In November, I read Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle, as a devotional book. As a Christian, she writes about the dilemma of creating Christian art. What defines art as Christian? Does it matter? Her conclusion, as she weaves her powerful words about faith and work (for her, writing, but it applies to any creative pursuit), is that whatever we do, our faith will show through, will influence what we do. She compares work and prayer, that both require discipline, listening, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Again, attempting to pick a favorite quote - not happening.

"Once the child has learned to read alone, and can pick up a book without illustrations, he must become a creator, imagining the setting of the story, visualizing the characters, seeing facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voices. The author and the reader 'know' each other; they meet on the bridge of words."

Seth Godin writes a blog about business and creativity. This month, he wrote,

"The most important lesson is this: If you spend too much time looking for your next big break, you'll be stealing your opportunity to do your best work. Which is the most important break of all."

We had a white Thanksgiving. The snow fell, quiet and calm. I love the quiet of a snowfall - the stillness, the gentle hush that covers and changes the landscape with a cozy uniform of white.

One of our girls made Texas Roadhouse Loaded Sweet Potatoes. Oh my. They say on their website, "...we have trouble deciding whether or not to categorize it as a side item or a dessert." Yes!

Bake sweet potato in oven at 425 for 35 to 45 minutes until tender. (Obviously, make more than one)
Remove at once and prick with fork to let steam out - be careful, steam will be very hot.
Cut a 1 1/2 inch cross in the center of each potato.
Using oven mitts open the potato by pushing the ends toward the center until filling starts to push through the cut.
Place 1/2 the marshmallows into the sweet potato (a small handful)
Pour 2 oz of your favorite store brand caramel sauce over the marshmallows (or use recipe below)
Place the rest of the marshmallows over the caramel sauce (another small handful)
Put the potato back in the oven on an oven safe pan. Broil.
Let cook another minute or two, keeping careful watch.
Remove from oven when marshmallows start to brown.
Serve as soon as possible.

Honey Caramel Sauce
4 tbsp butter
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c honey
In a saucepan add butter and whisk in brown sugar; do not boil. Add honey and continue stirring fro approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
Thanksgiving sunflowers, now wilted. Very van Gogh.

After Thanksgiving, we decorated for Christmas, the snow falling, our favorite Christmas music playing - delightful!

 Emily Freeman (this post is linked with hers) quotes Dallas Willard,
"Relentlessly eliminate hurry from [your] life."
I allowed these words to filter through my days in November, and they are a prominent goal for December, also.  A process, not always an achievement, but words worthy of attention and focus as we move into these next weeks of Christmas and on into the New Year. Whatever you do, hurry is not necessary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Very Little

To write a short story, is, for me, a lesson in traveling light. Condense. Refine. Edit. Simplify. Clarify my thinking. Ask - what exactly am I trying to say? Limit the words. Especially for short shorts, a short story limited to five hundred words: how to incorporate protagonist, conflict, climax, and a satisfying resolution in few words.

Working within a framework, within a given, limited space provides form and structure, like an architect designing a tiny house, including all the necessary elements, excluding anything unnecessary.

Process. Practice. Patience - to write, refine, edit, and do it again, over and over.

Every word matters.

Here is my next five hundred word short story. Not perfection, for the learning process, for practice.

Very Little

Interesting things happen in grocery stores. Anywhere, actually, where people are, interesting things happen.

Brandy and I went to the store for two loaves of bread, chunky peanut butter and bananas. We giggled and talked about something silly - I don't remember what.

An older man walked past us. I thought he looked grumpy. Even that made me giggle. Some days everything is funny. This was one of those days.

Brandy said, "A loaf of bread. Mom didn't say what kind, and I have no idea. Shelves, thirty feet long, five shelves tall, six feet high. We could feed two whole schools with all this bread. Shandia, what do I get?"

"What looks familiar?" I asked Brandy. "What does she usually buy?

"Whole-wheat, I guess. This looks familiar. Yeah, this looks good."

Three little girls ran around us. One grabbed Brandy's jeans, to hide behind her. We giggled, they giggled.

Their mom scolded, "Really, girls, can't you behave? Leave her alone. Isn't it enough you smacked into that man?"

"It's okay," said Brandy. "She's just having fun."

"All day long she's just having fun. Nothing serious, ever, for her," the mom complained.

We couldn't help giggling. Brandy squatted down to be eye level with the girl, who gave her a sheepish grin. "You are mischievous, aren't you?" Brandy said. "I think you have a pretty smile, and, I think you should listen to your mom."

The girl glanced up at her mom. The other girls drew closer, drawn by Brandy's friendliness.

"Do you know what my mom tells me?" Brandy asked them.

The three shook their heads.

"'It's good to laugh,' in fact, she quotes some famous guy, 'The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.' And she quotes another famous guy: 'Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.' So, listen to your mom. She knows what she is talking about. Okay?"

Brandy held up her hand, and high-fived them.

"Not bad," I told Brandy. "You quoted a poet and a Roman Emperor to three cute little girls who probably didn't understand a word you said."

"Nonsense," said Brandy. "They understood perfectly. It will give them something to think about while they look at bread and pickles and bags of apples."

The older man turned toward us, a loaf of bread in his hand. "Please, excuse me. I overheard you. My grandmother had that plaque on her wall, 'Very little is needed to make a happy life.' She loved that, she always had it to remind her. Sometimes she didn't have much, but she was happy." He smiled, "Thank you for reminding me of her."

Brandy and I thanked him, then went to find the peanut butter.  I told her, "Even a very little encounter with someone is interesting. Because people are interesting, and they do interesting things."

"And every day has a reason to smile," said Brandy. We giggled.

(In case you are wondering, the quotes are from e.e. cummings and Marcus Aurelius)

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Messy Thanksgiving

This short story is a re-post from three years ago


Sandy finished the Thanksgiving grocery shopping in the pet department, piling two ten pound bags of peanuts on the already overloaded grocery cart. She smiled. No one would be able to guess what I am going to do with these, she thought.

At home, she organized the food, checked off her lists. This Thanksgiving dinner for eighteen would appear effortless. But, of course, it wasn’t. The work happened now, before. She had separate lists, all organized and thought out, what preparations needed to be made in what order. Some of the family would be arriving late Wednesday night and she wanted to be ready, then.

With the wood floors swept, the furniture moved back against the walls, she turned her dining room table at an angle, assembled the two folding tables and pushed them end to end at an angle across her dining room and living room.

At three o’clock the stake bed truck pulled up out front. She met the two delivery guys at the door.

“Where do you want these bales, ma’am?”

“In here, by these tables.”

“Inside the house, ma’am?” His eyebrows disappeared under the hair hanging over his forehead.

“Yes, they will be the seats for our Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Inside. Really? You know these straw bales are dusty, dirty, messy, right?”

Sandy laughed. “Of course. Yes, bring them in here, please, four on this side, four on the other side. Thank you.”

“Okay, whatever you say. It’s your house.” The tough delivery guys looked at each other and shrugged.

As the bales were moved, wisps of straw floated around.
“Sorry, ma’am.”

“No problem, that’s exactly what I want. Messy.”

“My wife would have a fit.”

Sandy laughed again. She wanted an unusual, a casual atmosphere. Unique. A memory. And they didn’t know about the peanut shells, broken open, scattered around. She felt like a giddy girl planning a surprise party for a special friend. A party where everyone has a good time and laughter echoes off the walls accompanied by the music of happy talk. Okay, she thought, maybe I am dreaming and being unrealistic. We haven’t had a peaceful family get together in quite awhile. Someone takes offense, someone irritates someone else, criticism flares. But, it is worth a try. I will do my part, and hope.

Everything would be white or canvas or gold. Enough color, just in the food. And the people.  The gold colored straw looked pretty scattered across the wood floor.  She pulled more pieces off the bales and scattered them around. Then, she covered the bales with canvas drop cloths, their edges tucked in underneath. They would be heavy enough to prevent straw poking seated bottoms. Another couple of longer drop cloths covered the tables, hanging down the sides. Gold spray painted gourds were placed randomly on the table.

 Oh, napkins. She forgot to buy white cloth napkins. Well, on Wednesday, when she picked up the flowers, she could go to the store and get the nicer, heavy, white paper ones. They would do. She added them to the list.


When Sandy walked down the hall into the living room Tuesday morning, she wondered what her husband, Jim would think of their house. He was away on a business trip until Wednesday afternoon. By then, she would have it all set up and messy beautiful. Her email invitations said, “Boots and jeans.” But would they imagine just how casual she meant it to be?  The floor needed more peanut shells, just like at their favorite pizza restaurant. In fact, she thought, that is where they should go for dinner Wednesday night. She would take Jim out to dinner. Get a few more ideas. Her son and his wife and the grandkiddos wouldn’t get in until late. She and Jim would have plenty of time to relax over dinner, talk about his trip, and enjoy some time together before the long weekend.

After her coffee and oatmeal, she spread the three lists out on the island, leaned on her elbows, her shirt sleeves rolled up, chin cupped in her hands. One list for what would bake in the oven. One for food that would be prepared and stored in the refrigerator.  One for menus, with added ideas for meals the rest of the weekend using leftovers. The tasks were already in order, prioritized by length of prep time and use of the oven. Normally she wasn’t quite so OCD, but she wanted this Thanksgiving to be easy breezy.  Certain people conflicts in the family had lightened up over the past year and she wanted, desperately, to be sure they stayed that way. But, not to worry. For now, start the pie crusts and mix the pumpkin bread. Turn on the oven.

Between tasks, waiting for the timer to ding, Sandy worked on the table. At each place setting she set out white plates. For place cards, she marked peanuts with a dark brown Sharpie, the letters of each person’s name. If the letters didn’t come out quite right, she smashed the shells and threw them on the floor. It wasn’t easy. She tried to make them fancy, ornate with swirly lines and flourishes. The bumpy shells were not a good writing surface, but she wanted to keep the theme. She decided that messy looked just as good, and it was better to fit each name on one peanut if she could. She experimented. Greg. Kendra. David. The longest name was Jessica. That took two peanuts. As she practiced and improved, the crunched, empty peanut shells deepened on the floor.

All day, the dishes rotated from island to sink full of soapy water and back again. Pie crusts baked. Pumpkin and cranberry breads ready to go in next. Sweet potatoes cooked, mixed, plopped into the baking pan, refrigerated until Thursday. Broccoli steamed, cheese sauce mixed, refrigerated in its glass baking pan. Water boiled, jello mixed with fruit, half of it chilled, then the other layer added and chilled. One by one, the items checked off her list. She wiped up flour and spills and splatters, then made more as she worked.

For a late lunch, she made a sandwich and sat in the big chair tucked into the corner to admire her decorations, absorb the yummy smells. Bake the pies, almost done. She relaxed, imagined the room full of happy, comfortable people. To her, this work, this weekend, was about reaching across the distance that was measured in more than miles.

As she was sliding the last pie shell full of liquid pumpkin on to the rack, her hand slipped, the pie tilted and spilled on the hot oven floor. It sizzled and smoked. Quickly, she set the pie on the counter and reached over to shut off the oven. That would have to cool before she could clean it out, then reheat it. She didn’t want the smell of burned pie overpowering the other wonderful aromas and interfere with baking the turkey Thanksgiving morning. She left the oven door open to cool faster. Well, it won’t take that long, she thought. She checked over her lists again. Almost done.  Not too bad, only one major mess to repair, then finish cleaning up the kitchen.

The cat came down the hall and stepped into the living room. She stopped and sat, looking around at the changes, unsure. She decided it was safe, took a few steps into the room. A peanut shell crunched under her foot. With the foot held in mid-air, she froze, like a dog at point, then turned and ran back to the bedroom. Sandy laughed at her. We won’t have to worry about her coming out here, she thought.


By noon, she felt ready. Almost. A few more tasks on her list, but everything was under control. She had cleaned the bathrooms, made up the guest beds, and swept off the porch, trimming some of the chrysanthemums that still bloomed. The day was cold and cloudy. At least I don’t have to sweep and wash the floors, she thought. She wiped down the front of the refrigerator and the stove and ran a dust cloth over the glass table top next to the couch. She looked forward to seeing the six grandkiddos all together. They hadn’t seen Greg’s twins since June. David, Becky and their two boys lived ten minutes away and they visited often. Jack and Kendra, with their two, Jessica and Ken, lived an hour away, not too far. Greg would be arriving tonight, the others in the morning. A houseful of noisy fun. She liked that.

Three o’clock. One last check of the lists. All crossed off. One trip out. She would stop at the florist to pick up the white osteospermum spoon daisies she ordered. And run into the grocery store to pick up the large white napkins she forgot to buy on Monday. She would tie them into a roll with a piece of twine. Easy and simple.

Later, as she stepped in the door, out of the pouring rain, arms full of flowers and a grocery bag, the phone rang. She set the things down on the table. Dropped her wet coat on a chair.



“Hi Greg. I thought you would be on the road by now.”

“Mom. I am sorry. We are not coming.”

Silence. “You are kidding, right?”

“No, Mom, we are not coming.”

Silence. “Do I get an explanation?”

Greg answered in short, nervous, quick bursts. “Janet decided she wanted to have her own Thanksgiving. You know, in her own home, now that we have moved to this house, she changed her mind, said she wouldn’t come, wanted to stay home, keep the kids here, with her, on her time off from work, for the holiday.”

“Well, that is reasonable, except last minute. What can I say? Is this about not getting along with Kendra?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe, you know how they are together. She just said she wanted her own Thanksgiving. Mom, try to understand. I know you will understand. Please don’t be upset at me, or her.”

“I will really miss seeing the twins. I’m sure they have grown since we saw them last.” Sandy sighed. She tried to smile, at least with her words, but it was hard. Seemed these conflicts, lately, made family gatherings like walking on egg shells, afraid to offend, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid, just afraid. She had wanted this to be different. And she thought it would be. Filled with laughter and fun and relaxed. Oh well, what could she do? Holidays could be messy. “Greg,” she said, “Say hello to the twins from me, and Janet, too, and have a wonderful holiday.” She didn’t mean it to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way, a little bit.
“You, too, Mom. Say hi to Dad for me.”

Sandy hung up the phone. She sat in the chair at the head of the table, looked down the length at the plates, already set, the golden gourds, the pile of flowers she had dumped at the other end. Four empty places. Should she rearrange? Wallow in disappointment? No, she thought, I’ll get the flowers in vases and water. No point in letting this ruin it for me, or for anyone else.

Outside, the rain pelted the windows and the wind whipped the tree limbs. Darkness fell early, the storm clouds wrapping a dark thick blanket over the sky. Again, the phone rang. Sandy looked at it, not wanting to answer. She heard her own voice, the cheerful message on the machine. Then, Jim’s voice.

“Sandy. Guess you are out shopping or something last minute. Our flight has been delayed…”

She grabbed the phone, interrupting his message. “Jim, I am here, sorry.”

“Oh, good, glad you are home. This storm is interfering with flights. I hope Greg will be fine on the road.”

“They are not coming. I’ll tell you later. When do you think you will get in?”

“They said about a two hour delay. I will call you when we board.”

“Okay. I want to take you out to dinner, to the pizza restaurant. I will meet you there, after you land.”

“Sounds good. I’ll call you, soon, I hope.”

“Be careful.”

Someone knocked on the front door. Oh, now who could that be, thought Sandy. She opened the door and saw her neighbor, an older woman she rarely talked to. “Evelyn, come in.” She helped her take off her wet coat.

“I am so sorry to bother you. I know you are very busy.” Evelyn looked at the table. “That is, ah, interesting. Straw bales and peanuts?  Rustic. But the table is pretty. I am so sorry to bother you,” she said again.

“That’s okay. My husband just called to say he would be late. Come sit down.”

“Well, we just had a big tree branch fall on the back of our house. Broke through the patio cover, broke two windows on the back side.”

“Oh, I am sorry. Where is Fred, is he okay?”

“Yes, we were in the living room. I wondered if you have some tarp or something we can put up over the windows. Not too much rain is coming in, but the wind is bad. And the cold.”

“I think so, I will go look in the garage.” She stood up. “Evelyn. I just had a great idea. Our son and his family called to say they are not coming. We have extra beds, all made up, and room at the table, ready. Will you and Fred stay here tonight, and join us for Thanksgiving tomorrow?”

“We couldn’t impose on you like that, don’t be silly.”

“It is not silly at all. Like I said, I have the beds all made, the places for you at the table. It will be much warmer here until you can get the windows fixed. Jim can help you, but with the holiday weekend, it may be a few days before they get fixed. Please, stay with us. That is, if you don’t mind a casual meal. And our kids and grandchildren. I thought the straw bales and peanuts would be fun, for a change. Comfortable.”

“I noticed. Wondered why you were doing that. Most people get all fancy.”

“I will get the tarp, then we’ll go over and ask Fred to come. Please, I want you to come. I know Jim won’t mind. He will be glad to help you fix the tarp when he gets home. Oh.”

“What is it?” asked Evelyn.

“Well, we were going to go out to dinner. I was going to meet him after his plane landed.”

“I have a chili in the crock pot at home. Fred and I could still eat that, and come here after you and Jim get home. I would appreciate it, being able to stay here. It will be cold at our house with that wind and the damp. You are very kind.”

“Actually, it helps me not feel so disappointed that our son isn’t coming. I am glad you can stay with us. Very glad. You can see we have plenty of room for you.” Sandy pointed at the table.

“We will be honored. I wasn’t going to fix anything this year. Too much work for just us. Our kids are all busy, or too far away. We will enjoy being with you, being with your family. Much better than sitting by ourselves. Thank you.”

The scattered straw and peanut shells are evidence of my messy life, but even the messes are worth celebrating and sharing, Sandy thought.  I will accept this. An opportunity to help a neighbor, maybe gain a friend. I can enjoy what we have, use what we have, and share Thanksgiving, thankfully, with family and friends.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March In Review

Joining here with Emily Freeman, Chatting At the Sky, and others, to share as we glance in the rear view mirror and prepare to move ahead into April, equipped with all we learned in March.

March Lessons:

1. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, (great book), wrote on his blog a phrase I love.

                                                          mise en place

Love the sound of that (even though I won't pretend to say it with a French accent). It is a French term chefs would use for everything in place, all ingredients in order and tools prepared and ready to create a delicious masterpiece. He writes..."For writers, I think it is equally important to have your workspace organized and ready to go, nothing in your way."

Actually, I can quickly find just about anything on my desk, even if it does look a mess, there is some order to the piles and it drives me crazy when I can't find something. But I love this phrase - wrote it on an index card to lean against the lamp as a reminder to create order, to think ahead of the tools I'll need, to be prepared. To work toward mise en place.

I know enough of myself, though, to know I do need to just start. Not wait until everything is perfectly in line - it is a goal - but the balance is to do something, to write, even in my messy place (the English mispronunciation).

2. Another blogger and author, Melissa Michaels of The Inspired Room, wrote of her definition of style. It is a style I can understand without worrying about color wheels or texture or whatever. Real life.

"When  I talk about style, I'm thinking about my authentic style of living at home, not how stylish I am (or am not!)...I don't need all the latest rules...I just need to learn to be more in touch with how my surroundings impact my life."

"My home is a reflection of who I am because I'm happy to be surrounded by stuff that matters to me and I can say good-bye to stuff that doesn't. What that means is: I have to continually refine my home to let go of the stuff I don't need, the stuff that distracts me, and embrace the things that inspire."

What inspires me?
clean, uncluttered, uncrowded spaces
to know where everything is (even if it is in a pile)

She adds, "Creating an authentic home is a matter of personal reflection and the determination to make progress in letting go, as much as it is about what to add in."

I realized something. It may look like I collect books. What I am really collecting is words. I want to save them, savor them, remember them, and re-read them. More on this in #6.

3. Books I read this month:
Plain Simple Useful, by Terence Conran
Pottery Barn's Complete Book of the Home
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons
Propagation Basics, by Steven Bradley
In January and February, I read all fiction. The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the first four Harry Potter books. It felt good this month to go back to all non-fiction, but I will mix it up a bit, for next month.

4. Thursday is my final class for the Colorado Master Gardener course. It has been so much fun to meet one day a week with like-minded plant lovers, to learn just how much we didn't know and still don't know about plants. Lugging our textbook around has built up muscle to prepare for the soon-to-be-here gardening season.

I am not a scientific thinker. Quick impressions and emotional response are more my speed. However, it has been fascinating to dig into the whys of plant growth, plant health, and plant identification.

At our mountain cabin, I recognized the trees are not all identical pine trees. I was able to use the identification key (like a computer flow chart) to discover we have three different types of conifers: Ponderosa Pine, Pinon Pine, and Rocky Mountain Juniper. Now, I see the trees in a completely different way, and around town I can recognize the variety of trees. Once the shrubs green up, I'll be able to identify and learn more about them, too.

On a Nasa website, they say, "Anyone can think like a scientist."
Science is . . .
  • Observing the world.
  • Watching and listening
  • Observing and recording.
Science is curiosity in thoughtful action about the world and how it behaves.
Anyone can have an idea about how nature works. Some people think their idea is correct because "it seems right" or "it makes sense." But for a scientist (who could be you!), this is not enough. A scientist will test the idea in the real world. An idea that predicts how the world works is called a hypothesis.
Hmmm. Is my hypothesis correct?
If an idea, or hypothesis, correctly predicts how something will behave, we call it a theory. If an idea explains all the facts, or evidence, that we have found, we also call it a theory.

I came across this looking up something for my son's schoolwork.
It helps me realize I apply science in more ways than I thought, giving me a new appreciation for science and learning.
Pay Attention.
Curiosity in thoughtful action.

5. I have written before of the benefits of aloe in treating burns. Do have an aloe plant in your kitchen? You should. The aloe plant I had before died, probably from overwatering. Three burns in three weeks convinced me I needed another plant.

Yes, I did. I grabbed a cookie tray fresh out of the oven. I can explain what I did, each step in slow motion - I can't explain the logic of it. Oh, it hurt. Six blisters on five fingers, my whole palm red and shiny. I split open a long aloe leaf, soaking my fingers in the cool, slimy juices. Over and over, wiping the fluid across my palm and fingers, gently rubbing it in. For an hour or so.

Our son, the day before, made some aloe jelly, a project from a Junior Master Gardener lesson book we are working through. The juice, scraped out of one leaf, mixed with hand lotion, kept in the refrigerator. I applied it to my palm and fingers several times during the evening.

The next day the pain was gone, the reddness gone, the blisters flat and soft, not raised or raw. Two days later, the two worst blisters were flat, brownish spots, the rest, gone. Amazing, especially as two of the previous burns were still ugly red lines.

Do you have an aloe? I will try very hard not to overwater this one. And, I will try not to burn myself (I do try not to, really!). I seem to have a knack for this - best to keep an aloe handy.

6. Paper. Pen. Pocket.
In "Becoming Jane", the movie biography of Jane Austen, she hears a phrase she likes, pulls a paper and pen out of the pocket in her apron, sits down on a nearby bench and jots it down. The grumpy lady asks, "What is she doing?" The young man, who understands her, answers that she is writing down words, or something like that, I don't remember exactly. Jane Austen was a collector of words, and she was smart enough to write them down immediately. I assume I will remember them later, but rarely do. I learned I do need to carry pen and paper, tucked in a pocket so they are always close at hand, available and ready to jot down a thought or a phrase or that perfect line. To collect those words.

That line she jots down makes it into Pride and Prejudice, "Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it..."
I love how the words she collected became the classic story.

Being a word collector, I collect quotes, thoughts, word images, stories, characters told in words. Why be a word collector? Because they are thoughts of people past and present - thoughts in tangible (sort of) form. Like being able to grab and hold a thought. Which I can't do, and which is why I write down the words. And collect them.

7. Our daughter shared with me a phrase she heard,
                                      THE EINSTEIN HOUR

That time of day when you are at your best, sharpest, most productive, most clear thinking. Plan for that time, use it for your best work. Right now, for me, that is 8 to 9 am. I mark that out on my planner pages and use that time to write. It helps me to have that hour set aside. Ideally, I would like to write much longer than that, but an hour done is far better than just intentions, and for me, real progress. The specific time may change as life changes, but think about when you are at your best. Pay attention to that productive time - use it for your best - it may mean reading with children, walking, cleaning - find your Einstein Hour and use it wisely. What is your Einstein Hour?

So, March accomplished.
April ahead.
Wonder what lessons April will offer?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Martina's Cornbread

New cookbooks are fun to browse and explore. Some recipes work, and some - well, they are not put in the repeat category. This new cookbook, by Martina McBride, Around the Table, gives an interesting insight into her family life, her home, her style, and, of course, how she cooks. The focus of the cookbook is on hospitality, on the events and occasions and just-because times she welcomes others into her home. Each section has decorating ideas, music playlists (of course - what else would you expect from a musician?), menus, recipes, gorgeous photos, and practical tips for welcoming others into your home and life. And we have several new recipes that are definite repeats.

Her recipe for cornbread has become a frequent staple here. I cut it in half, this is a party sized batch.

Cornbread With Green Chiles And Pepper Jack Cheese

5 tbsp unsalted, melted butter
2 tbsp butter for greasing the pan
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 c milk
4 large eggs
2/3 c vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
3 c all purpose flour
1 c ground yellow cornmeal
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 4oz can diced green chiles
1 c shredded pepper jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease a 13 x 9 baking pan with 2 tbsp butter.

Combine the buttermilk, milk, eggs, oil and melted butter in a large bowl. Combine the flour, cornmeal, 2/3 c of sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Add buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Stir in the green chiles and the pepper jack cheese. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. (She sprinkles an additional 2 tbsp sugar over the batter - I omit this).

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

We're serving ours tonight with chicken enchiladas, Confetti Rice (also from her book) and salad.

This is my favorite of her songs. I have posted it before, but I think it is worth hearing again. And again. "Do It Anyway." A great theme song.

(Guess this cuts off just before the end - sorry. It's still worth the listen, just keep singing it in your head)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Windshield Goals

We have reached the end of February. Do you look at your New Year goals like this? Something you wrote down two months ago, part of the New Year planning, and now they are behind you. Unaccomplished. History. Looking backward instead of forward.

Donald Miller, on his Storyline blog, wrote a week long series, "Start Life Over." In the introductory post, he writes about the value of change, and he quotes two friends of his who own a successful restaurant. They said, "Life should be viewed similarly to how we look through the windshield of a car...the windshield is much larger than the rearview mirror."  Don adds, "Keep looking forward. Know where you are going and steer the car toward something new and exciting. And you can't do that if you're always looking in the rear view mirror."

I realized how often I think of my goals with a backwards thought. Guess that didn't work. What was I thinking? So much for that unrealistic time-frame. All those unfriendly failure words spoken in my head. But, instead, if I see them as Windshield Goals, the perspective changes. I am looking ahead, out the windshield, the road in front of me rather than behind. Any smart driver will tell you this is a much better way to drive - look through the windshield rather than the rear view mirror. Good driving involves a glance in the rear view mirror, but the attention is focused - forward. Of course, we say. But do we live that way?

Each day, on my daily list, I write my three main Windshield Goals as a reminder that I can take steps today toward them. Not big things, just little steps. And it moves me toward them, rather than seeing them disappear into the past, faded in the rear view mirror. The skill of resilience has its foundation in this, this ability to focus forward rather than on events of the past. How to navigate the next turn, the upcoming curve in the road? Focus ahead. Pay attention.

Sometimes, Windshield Goals can look like this. Blurred. Low visibility. Confused. Wish you were somewhere else. I took this photo last May. On the way home from a beautiful spring mountain drive, we encountered a surprise storm. Unexpected. Sudden. But we made it home, following the lines on the road, slowly, one mile at a time.

What if we looked at our goals as something in front of us? Ahead.
Forward looking.
Forward living.
Not full of regret or that sinking feeling, failed again.
Hope. Possibility. Do-able.
Try again.

Forward living. 
A much better choice.

This post is linked with Emily Freeman and Chatting At the Sky,
What We Learned in February.

Instead of feeling a failure, instead of those sinking regrests,
I can move forward.
For me, this is a huge lesson.

As Don said in his post, these paradigm shifts can change the way we view our lives, and the way we live our lives.

Green light ahead, GO!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wonder Quotes

Most of us have probably wasted five or ten minutes on Pinterest, right?


Well, if you have another five or ten minutes to spend browsing around, try Brainy Quotes. A bit more intellectual or philosophical perhaps, than Pinterest, but still a fun way to sink a few minutes. A way to get inside the heads of some interesting people.

On a recent stroll, I found these two quotes on my one-word for the year, Wonder:

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

                                                                                                        -G.K. Chesterton

"Wonder is the basis of worship."

                                                                                                        -Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Other People's Tumbleweeds

A new garden friend and I sat on the bench, chatting. About plants, of course. She maintains a large xeriscape garden and wished she could keep up with her planned chores rather than cleaning up other people's tumbleweeds, filling up the dumpster each week with the huge, bulky, prickly weeds that blow into her garden.

This one, around the front corner of our house is bigger around than I can reach. And if I did, I'd be full of prickers. I tried to take the photo with my hand holding the base for a size comparison, but I couldn't reach out that far without getting prickers stuck in my sweatshirt. They are too big for a trash can and have to be smashed down or clipped into smaller chunks, or some gardeners burn them down. Last year was a record breaking year for tumbleweeds, the second worst on record, here. I saw a huge one, caught by a gust of wind, blow completely over our roof. Some days the roads are full of them bouncing down the street. Avoiding them with the car is pointless. This year looks to be similar.

I wish I could assure you that in my yard, all the tumbleweeds came from somewhere else. Nope. Sorry. On the sides of the two back sheds, I didn't finish pulling them up last summer and fall. So, I am guilty. Some of those tumbling bundles of prickles are from my yard. If you don't pull them out when they are small, they seem to grow overnight into behemoth monsters, unapproachable and threatening. Don't touch me or you'll get hurt! Leather gloves are a necessity.

Under a cover of snow, they don't look so unfriendly. But they're lurking, waiting for a dry, warm breeze.

Even if you live in an area without these monsters, we all deal with other people's tumbleweeds. Other people's mistakes, messes, hurts, neglect, misunderstandings, spreading their prickers, poking us as we walk through our days. Dealing with problems when they are small is best, but not always possible. Some days it is enough to pull our own weed problems without having to deal with other people's also. But, reality is, it is not always our choice. They are there, tumbling along in front of us.

The answer? Clean up what we can. Be patient. Tackle them one at a time. Be prepared. Know that the seeds are being scattered with every breeze blowing them around. If this one is cleaned up, there will be others sprouting.

Does this all sound depressing? Hopeless? It helps me to know that, as in a garden and learning to take better care of my plants, there are many life lessons intertwined. Weeding is critical. Watering is vital. Neither of those tasks is done once. Over and over and over. Again and again. Daily effort. Life is full of small daily tasks, rinse and repeat. Once in awhile one of our guys tries the line, "But I'll just have to do it again tomorrow. Why not wait till then?" And my response, "Yup, and since the food will just get eaten and the dishes will just get dirty, I might as well wait till tomorrow, or even the day after that to cook, right?" Which of course, doesn't happen.

Other people's tumbleweeds. One at a time. Small steps. Solved, Cared for. And the life and the garden become beautiful and rich.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Best Buds

I do have something more serious I could write about.
But maybe you need a chuckle today?

I have these two face pots, and like to give them amusing (to me, anyway) names by what is growing in them at the moment.
Spike Jones
Do you know Spike Jones?
A musician from the 1940's and 50's, his group put a silly twist on whatever serious music they played.
Tchaikovsky or current hits, nothing was beyond their creative interpretation.
In the days before computer generated sounds, they added cowbells, gun shots, whistles, played tunes on air pumps, rearranged their instrument pieces, banged sticks on window shutters, or whatever it took to make the sounds they wanted. His early 50's TV show is full of the slapstick humor of that day. Nonsense, yes, light-hearted fun.
You-Tube has some of his music clips, if you want to watch.
My little Spike Jones even matches his checkered outfits.
You'll have to watch some of the clips to appreciate his style.


This is Cynthia. I planted these hyacinth bulbs last November, and tucked them away on a dark shelf in the garage, chillin'. After the leaves poked up, I brought them inside to keep in a low light corner for a week or so until the blooms began to form. Now in a sunnier spot, their fragrance and blooms perk up our winter landscape, making it smell like spring even if there is still snow on the ground.

                                                             Spike and Cynthia                                                                   
                                                                  Best Buds

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Touched by Scenes of Wonder

Have you read the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S.Lewis? Highly recommended.

This morning, watching the sunrise, I thought of the lines from the first book, The Magician's Nephew. Polly and Digory (old Professor Kirk in the other stories) watch as the great lion, Aslan, sings the sky and the stars into being.

"The eastern sky changed from white to pink and pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose...You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up."

I am grateful for these moments of wonder, the glimpse of the spectacular.

A little later, here, the ordinary gray skies glowed, illuminated from the sun, hidden behind.

 In the story, there are three others watching with Polly and Digory. One becomes a king, one becomes the influence of evil in the new world, and one just goes back to his selfish, narrow-minded ways. Polly and Digory go on to other adventures, but mostly, on to many ordinary gray days in their ordinary homes and lives.

The ordinary days, touched by scenes of wonder, don't seem so ordinary after all, do they?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Full of [ ]

Don't worry, this is G rated.

I wonder what my one-word should be for 2015?

What should 2015 be full of?

What one word best defines my goals-plans-hopes-dreams-attitudes toward this year?

I thought, perhaps, Edit. An on-going theme and process, part of learning to Travel Lighter through the maze of my days.

Or, perhaps, Listen. To listen - and hear, really hear - those around me, to listen quietly for the Lord's voice, to say to life, "I am listening."

But, those words didn't seem quite right.

Two quotes I recently read stand out in my mind:

"Pay Attention.
Be Astonished.
Tell About It."
                                                   -Mary Oliver

"Step One:
Wonder at Something.
Step Two:
Invite Others to Wonder With You."
                                                      -Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist 

Wonder at something.
The glitter snow falling during Christmas, sun reflected gold in the snowflakes.
Flavors and smells of an Italian meal, baking in the oven.
Puppy squeaking her tennis ball in her mouth, delighted with the noise.
Flour, yeast, water, oil, kneaded and rising under the towel.
Ocean waves, storm clouds breaking at sunset.

Invite others to wonder with you.

 What causes you to wonder?

I looked wonder up in the 1828 Webster Dictionary (a very cool fascimile edition that uses KJV Bible verses and classics to illustrate definitions). It used words like: surprise, astonishment, amazement, miracle, admiration, wondrous. All of these, expressed, point at the wonder of the daily ordinary. Because that is where I live. To pay attention to the difference between expectation and surprised by gifts of wonder.

I finished re-reading Ann Voskamp's one thousand gifts. At the end of writing about her journey, Ann says, "No, I'll never stop the counting, never cease transcribing the ballad of the world, the rhyme of His heart...His presence filling the laundry room, the kitchen, the hospital, the graveyard, the highways and byways and workways and all the blazing starways, His presence filling me. This is what it means to be fully alive."

To be surprised by wonder. Isn't that an oxymoron? Yet, we are surprised. Awed.

Another word in the definition: marvel.
The Marvel comics are revitalized by the movie industry in the Avenger series. Heroes doing wonderful things, doing wonders, saving people, the world, the universe.

What wonder-full things do I do? Fix dinner. Clean the bathrooms. Clean up doggie poo. Plant seeds. Knead the dough. Be patient when it would be "easier" to snap back a comment (sometimes, not always). Understand, learn.

What wonder-full things do you do?

Can we really learn to see the daily ordinary as wonder-full?

Full of wonder?

Would you like to be full of wonder with me this year?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 Then, 2015 Now

2014. A glance in review.

We bought a mountain cabin in May for a really, really good deal. In real estate terms, that translates to Needs Lots of Work. For now, it is a place to go most weekends in the spring, summer and fall (no heat there yet - a bit chilly for winter visits). A fun opportunity for adventure and learning construction for the teen guys and their dad (and me). Eventually, (soon?) it will be a place for family retreats and time together, and our retirement home. We are gutting, adding windows to widen and enjoy the view, re-arranging rooms, replacing old yucky spots, and getting rid of four legged, furry vermin who decided it was their home while it sat empty for years. I'm looking forward to the point when we can begin re-building, rather than tearing apart.

The type of books I read changed after we bought the cabin. I moved toward reading lots of decorating, design type books, looking for the style, ideas to use. My two favorites are Remodelista, A Manual for the Considered Home, and Country Living 500 Kitchen Ideas. Do you like before and after pictures? Me too. But as there aren't any "after" pictures yet, I will spare you the "before" shots. For now. Discovered I gravitate to the scandinavian style - their simplicity and unclutered rooms, full of light. For the new kitchen, I have three requirements: no corner cabinets, a walk-in pantry, and lots of light. What was a long narrow laundry room will be the walk-in pantry off the kitchen, the counter top and cabinets will be along one wall with a center island, and we are adding two large windows along the kitchen-open-to-the-dining room wall for the best view and light. Love it. Look forward to cooking up food for a crowd in that kitchen.

With the focus on decorating and remodeling, I realized something. The point of decorating or design is to ask:
                                           How will we live here?

Not so much how it will look, but will it work for us, how we live:
How will it be convenient? Or practical? Or comforting? Or friendly? Or light-filled? Or pleasant? Or welcoming? Or life-filled (people, pets, plants...). These are the questions that define a personal, realistic decorating style. These are the questions I want to answer in this new place of ours.

Our family welcomed  two new grandsons this year! Little feet to learn to walk in their daddy's steps.

We traveled to California, Oregon and Arizona for family visits. Had the opportunity to take a four generation guys-with-the-same-name photo. Priceless.

A seven month writing hiatus happened. No particular reason, just a pause, a space in blogging and writing. I missed it, the connection with you readers. Let's re-connect.

And now, 2015 has arrived. Shouldn't we be flying cars and eating precisely proportioned pre-planned packaged food for perfect health? 2015 isn't quite as futuristic as I thought it would be. Maybe that is just because I am slow to catch up with all the changes?

2015. Looking ahead, I plan to take a Master Gardener Class this year, something I have wanted to do for a long time. I think this year will be my window to make that happen. Looking forward to that.

We have the first trip of the year scheduled, to fly to Iowa the end of January to visit our family there, celebrate two grankiddos' birthdays and spend time with our son and daughter-in-law. Our travels are all family oriented, one disadvantage of having everyone spread out in six states, but I am grateful for the opportunities to see all of them. Hooray for special airline deals!

Ann Voskamp's, One Thousand Gifts, is a book I will re-read at least once a year. Last year Ann challenged herself to write a fresh gifts list to 1,000 in one month. Thirty-three or so gifts, listed, each day. That challenged me to re-visit my list, set aside during my writing hiatus. My list, counted at that point, would take ten a day to complete one thousand by the end of the year. Not as ambitious as hers, but for me, a good goal. And I did it! Once I started, it was easy to keep going, keep watching, keep paying attention daily to all the details of grace in my day, and to be thankful. My list is in a  small book I keep out on the table or countertop. (The gifts list posted above on the computer page is not current - but I will be updating it soon.) And the gifts of grace, listed daily, go on.

"The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give."
                                                                                                             -Ann Voskamp

This quote, the "quiet song," and "to accept "(welcome), tie together my word-of-the-year for 2013, quiet, and 2014, welcome. My word for 2015? Another post, to come.