Monday, December 30, 2013

Goals, Not Resolutions

Resolutions. They're like making a hand-print in concrete. Once done, we treat them as if they can't be changed. I say we should toss out the whole notion along with the dead Christmas tree. 

But goals, if they're smart , (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) can keep you on track to achieve what's important to you. And you can reset them and tweak them without the guilt that goes with resolutions.

I know it's practically January 1st  but there's no law that says you can't put goals in place anytime you like. First, however, you should evaluate the previous year.  Here are some great questions from Lisa McKay (a blogger and author) to help you do that. For example, Number 5, "What were the two biggest sources of joy and refreshment in your life this year?" Certainly you want to include more of those.

Number 11, "What were some ways you disappointed yourself this year?" stirs me up to self-examination. 

Being an Eeyore type of personality, I convince myself there's no point in trying to write. "That unfinished manuscript is blather!"  Futile to practice the violin. "I'm worse now than I was forty years ago." 

George Eliot said "Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure." 

my grandson learns about striving
I didn't persevere; I piddled. It's much easier to wish than to strive. 

This year's goals will be limited to the ones that stir my heart into action. Some old ones will be resurrected but reshaped. 

I appreciate your encouragement. Ask me if I'm keeping apace with the interim milestones. Remind me to keep the target in my sight. 

 I'm happy to do the same for you.

Best wishes for 2014. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sprigs: Merry Christmas from the garden

My kitchen smells like ham and onions. Green beans simmer in the pot with them, and cozy up to cubed potatoes for our Christmas Eve dinner. 

When I pulled the beans out of the freezer I noted the date, June 24, 2013. Six months ago today I harvested and froze those beans. 

In another six months I plan to be picking more. 

Merry Christmas from the garden!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cups for Claire

A week ago in Colorado a shooter fired on a fellow student and then killed himself. Arapahoe High School is very near our daughter's house, and our grandson's  elementary school went into lockdown.  We were glued to our iPads for news, and the district phoned several times with sketchy updates.

Last Sunday, we drove by Arapahoe High School on our way home from church. The news crews were skeletal and posted across the street. The school parking lot was nearly cleared out. Flowers and stuffed animals lay in a loose pile on the sidewalk. And above them, someone had stuffed the fence's metal diamonds with plastic cups, so that they spelled out "Pray 4 Claire". 

I'd been praying for her and her family, that God would pour down comfort on them.  I didn't want to imagine the damage done by a shot gun blast to the head, and doubted that she could possibly recover to any semblance of her smiling photo. 

When I mentioned the cups to my daughter, she reminded me that physicians had called her healing from a brain injury miraculous. She said she prayed likewise for Claire. 

To me, the cups in the fence represent faith. I imagine the person who placed them there saying a prayer as she shoved each one into place. I hope the day comes when the cups come out because Claire doesn't need the prayers anymore. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Twenty years ago I found a picture book, The Table Where the Rich People Sit. It's one of my favorites. 

Growing up just outside of San Francisco in the '60's, I wanted to be a hippie. I embraced the idea of living with less, and being content. The book, written for young people but appreciated by adults, shares those ideals. 

The pen and color wash illustrations are minimal in detail.  The limited hues hint at the spare sand and hill desert setting.

Mountain Girl, the adolescent narrator, calls a family meeting to discuss their poverty. As an example she points to their scratched, hand-crafted, repurposed dining table, proof they aren't rich.

So her parents introduce her to their unconventional economy.

"We don't just take our pay in cash, you know. We have a special plan so we get paid in sunsets, too" her mother says. And they start the bookkeeping with a credit of $20,000.

They add generous amounts for dad's pleasure of working where he can sing. They get a bonus for the unique color of a cactus bloom, the presence of day-loving and nocturnal birds. Finally they add the value Mountain Girl brings to their lives, including her list-making abilities. At a whopping one million dollars, she brings the family assets up to $4,055,000. 

When she considers her ledger, all on the plus side, it doesn't seem important to add the actual cash they earn. "I suggest it shouldn't even be on a list or our kind of riches."

When I first read this wonderful book I laughed out loud. I had two Mountain Girls at home who complained about our one-car status and having to use public transportation. They thought our decision to not spend money on a TV was ridiculous, while I counted the hours of reading aloud to them as pure gold.

I really wanted the oral reading of this book to be part of our Thanksgiving tradition. Sadly, it didn't catch on.  Perhaps this year, as we scrunch husbands, four kids and a baby around the table, I'll try again. I want us to always be mindful that we are blessed beyond reckoning, but still it's good to count those blessings.

I pray you will cherish your time together next week as you sit at the table with the rich people. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oreo Turkey Cookies

Here's a fun cookie craft to do with the grandkids while you're waiting for the turkey to cook, or afterwards when they get tired of watching football.  Follow the link to the recipe.

I suggest you use frosting, I tried to hold everything together with peanut butter, and well--you can see ours don't look like theirs! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Make a pumpkin vase for Thanksgiving

My grandchildren enjoyed creating this table decoration. 

First they scraped out all of the seeds. We cleaned and roasted them. 
They really were delicious.

Then, we walked through the neighborhood clipping little pieces of greenery and dried grass to add to the flowers. (It's okay, we didn't go into anyone's private yard.)

Finally we put a jar inside the pumpkin filled it water and created our floral arrangement! It lasted for three weeks.

The Betther Homes and Gardens website has some lovely ideas.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

1,000th Gift

My list of blessings numbered 999.  I decided to hold open the space for number 1000 in case God should surprise me.

 For eighteen months I chronicled all sorts of these little gifts: the colors in the sky, the cardinal feeding his young with the oats my husband put out for him each morning, the powerful sweet scent from the miniature holly flowers, the ordinary and treasured kindness of my husband. Nothing miraculous. No big deal. 

me and Marina 9 years ago!
That very night, with a decidedly ungrateful attitude, I participated in the church's trunk-or-treat project. A feminine voice called "Mrs. Glover!" from across the room. In a second a former student captured me in a robust hug. 

Oh, I really liked this spunky and cheerful girl.  She'd grown into a determined and lovely woman. Her darling 4 year old batman watched us.  She bent over to his level and said, "This is my teacher!" His eyes grew two sizes, and he turned to announce this amazing news to the nearest person.

We updated each other. I got more hugs. I commiserated about a difficulty she had shared via Facebook, but was now thankfully resolved. We promised to get together soon. 

It was a welcome and unexpected reunion. It reminded me of a bible verse. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father..." James 1:17 

At home I paused before writing of our visit and thought--why quit?  Marina's generous affection finished off the first thousand gifts, and started the second.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Halloween P.S.

I saw a trick-or-treater in leggings, a mini-dress, a vest, and a thin piece of lace wrapped around her fore head with a feather dangling above her ear.   "What are you supposed to be?" I asked. 

"A hippie." 

I laughed. She didn't look like any hippie I'd seen hanging around San Francisco in the 60's. 

Then I asked my grand-daughter (age 6) what costume she'd worn for Halloween. 

"I was a flower child. My dress had flowers and peace signs."

Oh, my, the vestments of my generation have become artifacts to another.

What we were is now a costume.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thursday we celebrate the strangest of American holidays—Halloween. 

For years I tried to ignore or reinvent it, which the Christian church attempted since they first met the Celts and their Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The festival of spirits loose on the earth was entirely too popular though, and All Saints Day didn’t catch on as a replacement.

As adult converts to Christianity, we were fanatics. So we planned alternatives to ghouls, witches, and Freddie Kruger. We hosted Noah’s Ark parties at church, and the kid dressed like animals. We didn’t let our kids go trick or treating. (They still grumble about it.) 

Then I became an elementary school teacher. There was just no way to ignore October 31st.  I wanted to keep the sense of fun, but temper the hoopla with some redeeming shred of learning. I found a book that delighted the kids, and still had some intrinsic value in a well-told story and lovely water-colors. 

The Witch's Hand, written by Brit Peter Utton, is imaginative, full of striking images, puns and enough thrill to keep kids (ages 6-9) hooked.  Son George sees a “horrible, brown, crinkly thing” on his father’s bulletin board and wants to know its origin. The dad hesitates, “no, I can’t tell you - it’s too scary.” But of course he recounts how the witch tried to kidnap sleeping George. Mummy (it’s England, remember) battles the witch and rescues her husband and son. The surprise ending diffuses any remaining fright and adds humor. 

I've further mellowed over the last thirty years, enough to make spider and eel costumes for my hard-to-please grandson. 

However I am doctrinally skeptical about our church sponsoring a big trunk or treat event. My husband asked if there would be any kids in witch or ghost costumes. (We are after all, twenty first century puritans.) With a touch of Saturday Night Live humor I suggested that he and I could sponsor the pit-of-hell playroom for the little pagans.  

But I think we'll just serve soup.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sprigs: Autumn Decorations Vermont-style

We saw these along the highway in Vermont. This is serious effort to celebrate any season!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sprigs: Glorious Flowers Greet Fall

Glorious color in this late display along Highway 601 in Surry County, NC makes up for the trees. They're only turning brown. 

I saw a car stopped by the side of the road here, and the family had plopped the baby in its car seat in the midst of the flowers for a photo. 
I was sorry I didn't have my camera along to take their picture.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

This time of year the flowers turn brown and the deciduous trees look dead. 

Looks can be deceiving. 

This weekend Bill and I visited a church in one of Chicago's most violent, most drug-infested inner-city neighborhoods.  It's not on the top ten tourist sights.  Instead, it heads the unprinted "don't go there" list.  If you imagine crumbling buildings, trash on the street, and few flourishing businesses, you're right.

But what you could never imagine is the difference one church has made over the last thirty years. 

Sunday we worshiped in the gym used for youth sports. We heard the choir from Hope House, their homeless shelter for men. They provide housing, substance abuse counseling, and job training. We met Fred whom the others call "prof" because he's spent some time in college as well as other less positive places.  He was cheerful and articulate, not what I expected from a guy in recovery. 

Their church's spin-off ministries include health services--birth through geriatrics. A beautiful new facility boasts a top-of-the-line health club. 

They have a legal center. 

Students can join sports, the arts program, and after school tutoring. In a joint effort with the Chicago Botanic Gardens, local kids grow and sell their vegetables from their community garden. 

As well, they created a development company that built numerous homes and helped the area residents buy them. Their sliding-scale apartment building is beautiful.

Statistics and some first impressions would tell you it is a decaying community. It's not. New life, spiritually and physically, thrives here.

Likewise, there are seasons of life where all appears to be in decline. 

I think of a friend's mom, who in spite of her advancing years, was still very much alive. When Dot was  94, and in assisted living, she went to the gym with her daughter. She walked the treadmill at 2 mph for about five minutes. When she had to move into the nursing home this Catholic lady exuberantly sang Baptist hymns with the rest of the residents. She made new friends and encouraged one man to play the piano because he still could! She focused more on what she could do more than what she couldn't.

Lord, may my attitude be as good.

We went to Chicago to visit friends who are in time of difficulty. Family crisis, job loss and ill health have clobbered them. Even though the circumstances look grim they don't believe all is lost, they trust God. 

If you know someone who looks around and sees more ebb than flow, reach out and be the bright spot they need so that "their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love". (Colossians 2:2).

Because looks can be deceiving.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sprigs: Time for Seeds

I love the last harvest of all--the seeds that form on the dying flowers. Plentiful and free, they guarantee plenty of filler in the garden for the following summer. Just remember they won't be true to type. The colors narrow to predominant dark pink in the zinnias. The cosmos keep a little more variety, but you won't find that the two toned reproduce abundantly.

I like the different ways the seeds develop: the tightly packed marigold seeds in little bunches, the cosmos like exploding fireworks, and the zinnia seeds crispy and held together at the center of the bloom.

purple millet

This is my first year for millet. I started it from seed. I won't collect any this fall, but wait and see what they do on their own. The millet is a nice purple until the seeds develop. First they are colorful pinheads, and then they grow shaggy and fall.

cleome and pendants where seeds grow

Cleome may be hard to get started, but they add tall color at the back of a flower bed.

 Zinnia seeds.

 I've had marigolds grow from seeds that were at least three years old.

progression of seed development

What seeds do you keep? Which have been truest to the original plant?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Left Behind

My husband wanders like a puppy tracking fresh scents.  He disappears  while touring, hiking or biking, not to mention shopping. He slips away without saying a word. As soon as I realize he's not beside me my head swivels to catch a glimpse of him. I sidle through the crowd to spot him down an aisle.

Once I gave up the wild goose chase and paged him. He didn't respond and a quarter hour later I found him outside on a bench. Now I keep him at my side in Wal-Mart. Actually, now I won't even go to Wal-Mart with him.

Most outings include someone asking "Where's Bill?"  It's become a joke. 

Except for when I find it irritating. When I'm in a hurry, it's aggravating.  And when we travel, his vanishing act is distressing.  We chronicle these events in family lore as the (almost) left behind series. 
They've never been the disaster I direly predict. In fact, most of them are funny. After the fact.      

Once our family vacationed in Hawaii. In Honolulu we rode public buses to Sea World.  As the self-designated tour guide for our family I had  the bus schedule and a paper map to track our transfer points. Returning, we were the first passengers to reboard at Sea World. Bill settled in the back of the empty bus where he claimed he could see better. I told him to keep an eye on us because I feel more secure sitting near the driver. The kids and I sat opposite the center exit door.

photo by martin, flickr 
The bus took on passengers until it was more crowded than a tropical fish tank. People were elbow to hip in the aisles and my two girls and I were jammed into one seat. 

The transfer point loomed. One daughter pulled the yellow cord to indicate a stop. I nudged and prodded the way to the stairs like an ice breaker through a frozen river. Passengers pressed in our wake to fill the space. 

Mexico City, photo from EMBARQ 

The bus stopped. We jumped off but Bill was still inside the bus. As it pulled away he stood on the bottom step, legs spread, hands pressed against the glass. The three of us watched from the sidewalk.

He got off at the next stop and made his way to us before our connecting bus came. 

I was annoyed. Surely, I thought, he’ll pay more attention in the future. The incident didn't worry him. Ramblers are as enchanted with the journey as the destination. 

If you know a straggler, share one of your near misses to include in the Left Behind series. 

* The title is a reference to a series of apocalyptic novels I didn’t read. Apparently Christians are snatched from earth, and the rest are left behind.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sprigs: How to Divide Day Lilies

This week is a how-to. 

If you have day lilies that have grown too thick, this is a good time to divide and replant. I found these directions for storing them over the winter. However, the steps are the same if you just need to thin them. I took pictures in case anyone else was hesitant about being too rough with the rhizome. But I'm convinced you can't easily damage them. 

1. Dig up the clumps.

2. Trim off the tops of the plants.

3. Divide the clumps.

4. Lay them out to dry if you are going to store them. Otherwise, replant.

Mine are now layered with peat moss and stored in an old ice chest.  I hope they come through the winter. 

I'll let you know.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Second Wind

I’m not an athlete, but even I know that if I rest before I get too tired, I get a second wind. 

This is just as true when exercising emotions.  

missed our turn-off, but got close to the Arch!
Recently, my husband and I drove to Missouri upon my father's death. I expected to feel distress, sadness, and anxiety. But apparently I have shallow emotional reserves and time with family quickly drained me. Once spent, I fled to the hotel. 

As a highly introverted person, I best refill when I have time alone. That wasn’t an option yet. 

I persevered through the short trip, ready and relieved to depart. 

Once home I felt like an old helium balloon hovering just above the floor. Over the next days I promised myself no agenda but to nap. We expected out-of-town guests in three days; but, I reckoned, I’d be at least partially reinflated by then. 

However, I’d written down the wrong dates, and the day after our return my friends called and said they were two hours away. Should they stop for dinner first?

I was dismayed, and dreaded what I had formerly anticipated.  My husband reassured me and said a quick prayer while we made up the guest bed. 

Our friends were gracious, insightful, and let us set the pace--old-people slow-motion.

Thank you, Scott and Becki. (Bec on the left, Scott's the photographer) 

By the time we retired the first evening my consternation had faded.   Although still weary, I knew they understood my poverty of spirit. 

Over the next days they shared their emotional energy, and I got a second wind. 

It blew in with their arrival, buoyed me up for the duration of their stay, and I rode it out on the jetstream of their departure.

Anne Lamott says it better than I can:

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we're most sure that love can't conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sprigs: Last Tango

There's not much worth looking at in my gardens this time of the year. 

I went out to cut a bouquet and this was it:  wild yellow and blue flowers (yes, I know they're weeds.) 

But they make a flirty pair, more like a tango than a formal waltz.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sprigs: Purple Basil

Add caption
  Purple basil is a staple in my flower beds.
A fellow gardener gave me one plant eleven years ago.

They reseed themselves (too) freely. Now I just pull them up as they begin to form seeds, or when they are in a place I don't want them. 

They smell wonderful, and I sometimes cook with them. 

aromatic basil and chive bouquet

 When summer is waning, they grow large. They make lovely bouquets by themselves, or added to flowers. 

If you want some, I'll share! 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Driving in the Right Hand Lane

Sometimes I'm amazed my husband and I have managed life as well as we have. We're pitifully ignorant of practical things like heating systems, higher finance, and CARS. 

First principle of our auto-owning philosophy: Buy the best car we can afford, service it regularly , and become friends with the mechanic.

Second principle: Drive in the right hand lane until the car dies.  It's much easier to coast onto the shoulder from there, while the car still has some momentum.

It's worked pretty well. Both cars are right at 190,000 miles. (Commercial break--they are both Toyotas.) 

But we recently had a glitch. (So cute!)

Car One had been repaired. We swapped it with Car Two for its regular maintenance. 

 On Sunday morning, we jumped into Car One but it didn't start. What to do? Bill jumped on his bike, rode the two miles to the garage, and retrieved Car Two. 

Third principle: When your only reliable vehicle is a bike, you're in trouble. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sprigs: Spiders set the trip-wire

All of a sudden the spiders are in high gear.  There are so many webs that I feel like the yard has been set with tripwires. Watch where you walk or you'll be wiping silk from your face--or jumping up and down flapping your hands, depending on you feel about spiders.

One recent morning we spotted several "classic" webs shimmering in the fog.

And both  the yard and shrubs hosted many of the shallow "bowl" type webs. 

My favorite sighting, though, was a web strung between two trees about twelve feet apart. The spider had constructed a web horizontally, seven feet off of the ground. It looked like a small trampoline made out of a doily, rising and falling with the slightest puff of air. 

Lots of folks hate spiders, and I'm not fond of them in the house, but they are fascinating in their own habitat. Strong, nimble, excellent craftsmen, and persistent. You can't help but admire their handiwork. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Downsizing: Releasing Dreams

I've thought about it, even discussed it with my husband. But a friend just announced she and her husband are actually going to do it! 

They are "downsizing." 

I understand why her very active, in-his-late-seventies, husband no longer wants to spend so much energy trimming trees, keeping the ivy in check, and chasing the deer away from the hosta. 

I understand the appeal of living in a townhouse development that does the mowing and plans ahead to replace the roof. 

In fact, as our stamina flags we are anticipating our later years . We don't take on new projects, but maintain our home and the garden with the future buyer in mind. 

Do they want to spend 10 plus hours a week weeding and tending flowers and veggies? Maybe not. So I called a landscaper to help us deconstruct some of our beds.  For phase one I chose the space that is currently most neglected.  Bit by bit we are digging out the day lilies to transplant.  Then we'll seed it for lawn. 

Twelve years ago I started with about 50 lilies. Oh my word. Today we split clumps, and split again. And I've already divided those into over 150 viable plants. I still have half of the bed to dig up. 

I wish our retirement fund had multiplied as fast. 

This all comes back to downsizing.  My goal is to have less gardening. But right now, I've multiplied my regular chores immeasurably. 

The lesson, I guess, is that you have to anticipate when you must downsize in order to accomplish it.  And the difficulty is multiplied when you can't let go of  "stuff." 

It's for sale on Etsy!
My mother began downsizing thirty years ago. I remember when boxes from her would arrive in the mail. My daughters quickly learned there wasn't anything any of us wanted. No use for an old Girl Scout Handbook, or the Simplicity and Vogue patterns. (Okay, I lied. I did tie one knot using the handbook's directions. And I saved a few patterns, now wildly out of style and sizes too small.)

What lies behind my reluctance to throw out the patterns? Or rip up a failed landscaping project? Or give away the piano?

I think it means releasing dreams. Some are easily surrendered. I can only relinquish others by declaring them dead and turning my back.