Thursday, July 31, 2008

Worth It?

The neighbor's daughter came "home" recently to her mother. I made so bold as to ask if she was being abused or if the man was fooling around, drinking, drugging, or otherwise behaving like an idiot. No, he was working full time and providing for his family. His two little ones were well cared for and loved. But the daughter was young and had never had time to "just be me."

Oh drat! Did I miss that stage of life somewhere? Was there ever a time when I wasn't me?

Two children later is a little bit late to be dissatisfied with being a mother. Now, I will admit to wondering about my sanity when our children were teenagers. They seemed to question it quite a bit, too. Hmmm.

Honestly, when did people stop taking any personal responsibility for their lives and for the lives of the little ones that they bring into this old world? Who started the rumor that we had to be deliriously happy to be able to stay married.

My parents celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary today. That is commitment--perseverance, stubbornness, or something pretty awesome. Our 40 years is pretty unusual today when most people just prefer to live together. Good grief! No license, no responsibility? I don't think so! Anytime children are involved, we have to make their lives worth the effort to make a family. Real life takes responsibility. The shake and bake world of movie stars, rock idols, and other sparkling little twits is not real life. Real life requires self-sacrifice and outgoing concern, not self-centered pouting and conceit. If our lives and the lives of this next generation are to have value, we must make life together worth it for the entire family.

One of these days our grandchildren will be looking for the right ones to marry. I hope that they learn that it IS worth working for to have a good marriage--and that they learn that lesson BEFORE they have children.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Old Friend

He has lived here for thirteen years—not long in some ways. He hasn’t ever learned to drive the truck, but the passenger seat has his imprint on it. He really prefers the windows down, but he doesn’t complain. He really likes the drive through at McDonalds and at the bank because he enjoys flirting with the girls. Typical male!

When the grandchildren learned to drive the lawn tractor, he would ride in the trailer behind them and give his advice about their driving. The children seldom paid any attention to his views, however.

He is a friendly sort, but he has his limits. Not many people would be silly enough to try to argue with him. When he rides shotgun in the truck, it is HIS truck. I guess we all tend to be a little territorial.

We love this guy. But sometimes we have to do what is best for our friends even when it makes our hearts ache.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Mexican Woman

She came from Mexico when she was eleven years old. She taught herself English and helped others to learn as well. She is married now and has a child and another on the way. But this weekend she had to talk to the immigration authorities to see if she could stay in the United States.

She’s twenty-three now and is learning how to be a medical assistant so that she will have a good income in the future. It is not easy, but she is persistent and refuses to give up her dream. She will be a good American citizen.

Her husband paid for the insurance for his wife and child. The child’s birth was covered by health and hospitalization insurance. The county hospital did not have to charge another birth up to welfare or to indigent services. Her next child will also be delivered by the same doctor, and that doctor will be well paid.

Her children will become well-educated citizens of this country. They will contribute back their skills and their taxable income in return for living here as Americans.

In the same room sits a little mother whose first child was delivered up to welfare and whose next child will cost the taxpayer even more because he will need special care. This woman was born, raised, and educated in America. She is white, unmarried, and unemployed—unemployable even. Perhaps she will finish her education—perhaps not. Her children will not have a father. In fact, the young man will demand a paternity test and do his best to avoid child support payments. Their ongoing saga will cost the taxpayer through the court system and probably through domestic violence.

No one in this country—or any other—wants to see criminals coming across the border. And that apparently happens each day. I cannot go into Mexico and live there without all kinds of proof that I am a good citizen and not intending to work in that country beyond what the government allows. They would not put me on a bus and take me back to the border and tell me to vamoose. They would put me in a jail cell and attempt to extort money from my relatives to get me back home.

Not that I plan to have any more children, but a child of mine born in Mexico would not be a citizen of that country—period. So, let’s see now: don’t live, work, or have your babies in Mexico. In fact, if you cross the border, be sure you know someone to get you BACK across in one piece.

Is it any wonder that our country still looks like a decent place to live to people in Mexico? Now if we could all just learn to speak English . . .

Monday, July 28, 2008

Old Age and Sissies

Not too long ago the years didn’t matter much. We watched the children grow up and leave. Then we watched the grandchildren arrive one by one. Then we began to see our older relatives and some older friends leave this old world. Somehow it didn’t seem we fit the old age picture just yet.

Now we drive down the highway and excuse the silly driving of someone by noticing that it is a grandma or grandpa driving. Well, guess what! Who do we think is driving our truck or car? Some proud grandparents we are! But we are still not quite old, just older. We aren’t some silly teenagers or one of those soccer moms or baseball park pops. But when did the distance to the back of the stores get so long?

Don’t we still hold the door open for older folks or ladies with two children in tow? Oh, but that young man held the door for me today and smiled. Somehow I don’t think he was flirting. Sigh.

Just when did we get old? Was some moment set there to unfold just at the right time to tell us that we couldn’t claim youth as an excuse any longer? And how are we supposed to continue to do the things “normal” people do if we suddenly find ourselves older, weaker, slower, and otherwise easily befuddled?

No, old age is definitely not for sissies. We have to earn those grey hairs with courage and persistence. Like learning to walk as a child, getting older takes a certain kind of practice to develop that delicate balance between proud independence and common sense. But at least we can still drive!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Our Journey

A friend of mine spoke before an audience today. One of the things she said was: Each generation has its own faith journey.

Now I have made up my mind to avoid sex, religion, or politics in this blog simply because I know my parents will read it. I wouldn’t want them to be too shocked at this stage in their lives. But I do believe that they live their lives by faith.

Years ago my grandfather bought Mom a new car so that she could haul the grandparents around in air-conditioned comfort. Mom and Dad are still driving that old Chevy. Her name is “Old Hope So.” Whenever they get in that car, they pray that they will get where they are going and back again. That is faith. But I bought them a cell phone for practical purposes.

My great-great grandmother rode a horse from Traskwood, Arkansas, to San Antonio, Texas, to bring her husband home after he had an accident while making shoes for the Confederate Army. Not only did that take faith, it took pure courage. I suspect that she carried a gun.

Today a stable investment in government bonds can lose over $140,000 in a year and a half. Faith in anything connected to the economy is a false hope. Yet we have to have faith that our economy will recover enough for people to be able to make a living. Somehow I don’t see sticking money in quart jars in the cellar as any answer to economic woes.

Our nation once believed in progress, expansion, the work ethic, and honesty as the standard of national conduct. We had faith in our destiny and in our fellow man. We shared a faith in the Creator and understood allusions made to scripture. The Baptist nodded their heads at the Methodists, and the Church of Christ spoke to the members of the Assembly of God. Everyone knew who was Catholic.

Today we teach cultural awareness, social tip toeing, and other forms of altered awareness of others’ beliefs. Political correctness is akin to social acceptance. And if you believe that, Arizona has some ocean front property for sale!

Our generation has much to offer in the way of social adjustments. Mixed race marriages, or children born who have “baby daddy” and “baby mama” instead of parents, mixed or bisexual relationships, or same sex relationships, mixed and blended families where mama’s aunt is her sister-in-law—oh, we have faith in ourselves. But our journey has been undertaken without a map—without a faith-based understanding. God help us!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Spirit of Dance

Since e-mails quite often include inspirational messages and stories, a blog seems the perfect place to share such stories. And so, this is the story of the spirit of dance:

In a Chinese modern dance competition, a very unique couple won one of the top prizes. The lady, in her 30's, was a dancer who had trained since she was a little girl. Later in life, she lost her entire left arm in an accident and fell into a state of depression for a few years. Someone then asked her to coach a children's dancing group. From that point on, she realized that she could not forget dancing. She still loved to dance and wanted to dance again. So, she started to do some of her old routines, but, having lost her arm, she had also lost her balance. It took a while before she could even make simple turns and spins without falling.

Then she heard of a man in his 20s who had lost a leg in an accident. He had also fallen into the usual denial, depression and anger type of emotional roller coaster. But, she determined to find him (seemingly he was from a different Province) and persuade him to dance with her. He had never danced, and to "dance with one leg... are you joking with me? No way!" But, she didn't give up, and he reluctantly agreed thinking, "I have nothing else to do anyway."

She started to teach him dancing 101. The two broke up a few times because he had no concept of using muscle, how to control his body, and knew none of the basic things about dancing. When she became frustrated and lost patience with him, he would walk out. Eventually, they came back together and started training seriously. They hired a choreographer to design routines for them. She would fly high (held by him) with both arms (a sleeve for an arm) flying in the air. He could bend horizontally supported by one leg with her leaning on him, etc.

In the competition, as you will see, they dance beautifully and they legitimately won the competition. Ingenious how they incorporate the >crutch into the routine! View a most magnificent and touching performance below. It is living proof that strong human spirit can conquer any physical limitations!

Click on:

‘Nuff said.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Zebras and Giraffes

Texans ride horses. It’s just a fact of life in this part of the country. No four-wheeler can go where a horse can go and have the cow sense to put a stubborn old cow where she needs to be quite as well as a good cow pony. Despite all the modern changes to ranching, a cowboy on his horse is still the best way to round ‘em up and get ‘em loaded.

Recently someone wrote about how some Africans feel about giraffes and maybe zebras as well—pretty useless except as tourist attractions. Granted, the giraffe looks as if it were a horse planned by a committee, but they don’t do much grazing on the ground. If they could live in Texas, I can see them being useful in some of the brush country. The cougars would be about the only real threat to them unless the feral hogs developed a taste for longnecks.

Some years ago a few ranchers imported a whole herd of camels to clean out the brush in their pastures. Now whether the brush was affected or not, traffic definitely slowed down along those stretches of highway where the camels grazed. Every kid has probably asked to stop at least once along Highway 287 to feed the camels. And yes, they will eat Cheetos and almost anything else offered to them. As far as I know, the Highway Patrol never had much luck stopping speeders along a stretch where there were camels.

A zebra looks just a bit like a cross between an Appaloosa Ranger and a good mule. But apparently these animals are not ridden or in any other way made to conform to the demands of men. That is a truly curious thing to me. Pecos Bill would have harnessed them and driven them four in hand. Anyone who has ever seen a Brahman bull or buffalo saddled would quickly realize that it was done for show rather than comfort, so maybe that is the problem with our striped friends from Africa. They are just too showy! Ahem.

The Africans seem to believe that they have to keep the “exotic” animals to keep tourists coming. We have some exotics in Texas. They are called mesquite trees. Doggoned if I have ever seen any in a zoo!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Those Word Games

Someone asked me a question that had something to do with the name or origin of the English alphabet. That research led to a chart that showed how often each letter is used in our language. The most frequently used letters: E T A O I N S H R.

Many students will eventually complain about the difficulty of spelling, speaking, or learning something about the English language. Just imagine if our language had only those nine letters. The word RICH goes right out the door. Now SON would be there, but where would our language be without that word that rhymes with “witch”? HITCH, right. Obviously no one could be “-arrie” without the “m” and the “d.” Our entire social structure might come entirely unglued without the letter “c.” SCHOOL would be totally out of the question unless someone could afford to buy up a few “c’s” and “L’s.”

Now how about the printed letters as opposed to the cursive? The postal service has machines that can scan and read cursive now. But someone must make a living off the many letter addresses that have to be “read” by a real person. Somewhere along the line when public schools stopped stressing any kind of penmanship, our nation became addicted to typing rather than writing. Children enter pre-K and kindergarten and start using computers. And some of those children have cell phones with text capabilities by the time they are in second grade.

Ah, but if our language were restricted to E T A O I N S H R, our children would have to give up text messaging or start using pictures. Leave out the letter “u” and see how much text can be sent. But come to think of it, they already leave out the letter “o.” ‘Hwru?’ Oh boy.

At least writing and speaking English is not quite as complicated as something from the land of the Welsh. English simply does not have enough “w’s” and “L’s” to get the job done. We can spell Waxahachie, but please save us from Llangollen!

And should anyone think that spelling doesn’t matter, just check out the blog of Carla Beard:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Good Book

Back when summer lasted forever and a day was hours long, a good book was my best friend. Only once was I foolish enough to tell Mom that I was bored. That was the day I learned to iron and dust. Oh boy!

The little county library had one entire section about animals and especially horse stories. Before I was ten, I had read them all. Then the librarian steered me toward some historical fiction. Who would have thought that dead people could be so interesting? Biographies and autobiographies were next. Once in a while something would catch my eye in the new releases. The librarian always seemed to know whether or not I should be reading that “kind” of book. I learned about how the Romans built roads and why those roads were so important. I also learned that most wars were based on two or three basic reasons: greed for either land or something on the land, power or some kind of control, and religion. It wasn’t until I was in college that two of my professors explained and I began to understand that, no matter how they are fought—bows and arrows, scimitars and shields, or tanks and planes—wars are essentially based on what one nation or people want that belongs to another.

And then I saw the war in Vietnam. Who could possibly want anything from that place? We certainly didn’t need anything from that little country. Yet family members and people I had known for years were shipped over there to fight. No one I knew who came back could tell me one thing that had been accomplished by our being there.

Forty years later I have read a few books about that “conflict” or police action or whatever they want to call that slaughter. Yes, I know. More men died in one Civil War battle than died in the entire time we were in Vietnam. But the Civil War at least belonged to us. It was our stupidities and biases we were fighting. But what did we accomplish in Vietnam? Did we build anything? Did we leave people in that country thinking that we were basically good ole boys/girls?

Someone sent a PowerPoint presentation to my e-mail address the other day that showed the progression of the Nazis through Europe. Then it showed the battle lines and the slow recovery of the countries from both the Russian and the Western fronts. I know what that war was all about. No, I wasn’t there and have only read about what we did and why. But I think about England as being an ancestral home. Bavaria was the land of some of my forbearers. But it didn’t matter then any more than it does now. WWI or WWII weren’t civil wars (what an oxymoron). Those wars were barefaced aggression against peaceful nations.

Back when life was simple and a day spent reading a good book was better than just about anything, I could never have hoped to learn anything helpful to others from simply reading. But now I wonder if the book has been written—much less read—that can help us understand or prevent another war. How much research could be done toward using algae or scrub brush mesquite to produce fuel by simply trading in a few billion dollars worth of bombs and other ordnance?

And if the military feels that they must use live pigs for testing their firearms, let them come to Archer County and clean out the feral hogs. Haven’t they ever heard of that saying, “two birds with one stone”? Someday someone like Larry McMurtry will write a book more interesting than Lonesome Dove about how Texas contributed the targets and the terrain for the best military operation known to warfare. I can see the book now: Pork and Barrels—the Story of a Modern Military Menace. Ok, so it is only funny to me….

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Can anyone imagine what it must be like to be a soldier in a desert or any other hot place? I know—the soldiers sign up for this stuff. In fact, our neighbor’s oldest son thought it was the neatest thing in the world to be turned loose with a rifle and all the ammunition he could use. He made it back alive, but I don’t think they have any deer left in Iraq.

One of my husband’s friends came by tonight. I KNOW he is not a Native American Indian, but the guy is so sunburned and brown that all he needs is a bow and arrow. The war paint would probably be Caterpillar yellow if he wore any. He is a diesel mechanic who owns his own business. And his field truck does not have any air conditioning except a 255—or maybe that is a 455 since his truck has four windows and he drives about 55 miles per hour. His wife has even developed a beautiful tan by going with him and handing him tools or running the hoist in that heat.

Last summer I saw a man welding on top of a big metal platform out in the heat. Somehow they had rigged a shade for him by putting plywood sheets in a frame above him, but cutting, welding, and summer time heat would just be about enough to fry someone. In that man’s case, I can see him being dehydrated or baked even in his makeshift shaded place. Shaking head . . .

Down in the Gulf a storm in brewing. Each year I worry about those folks and their hurricanes. But truth be told, those hurricanes are the only source of relief for this bodacious heat. We get rain when they get flooded. We get cool breezes when they get blown all over South Texas and right up into Louisiana. It may not be fair, but that’s just how it is.

If the scientists could ever figure out how to lead those hurricanes around like beasts being herded around a cage, we could send one over to the Gulf near Iraq. Then maybe our soldiers could have a nice breeze and a break in the heat. Until then, we certainly have a good training area right here in Texas for the conditions over there. Sand, heat, wind! Again Texas has its good points.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A List

I made a list the other night of things that I love. My mate was the first thing that came to my mind and I wondered if that love really shows. I put the smell of rain on the same list. I guess it doesn’t take much to make me happy. But I wasn’t comparing any of the things on the list or putting them in any sort of order. After all, coffee and the wind were on that list, too. Yes, that’s right—the wind. A coffee addict would understand the coffee, but who would understand the wind?

My parents went to Illinois back when the oil fields there needed men in the late forties. Mother has described that part of the country to me from her perspective: lush greenness, spectacular flowers, and no wind whipping you first one way and then the other. Boring….How could they stand it? To leave goat head stickers, prickly pear cactus, searing heat, and constant wind—why would they ever want to leave such paradise? They even thought that they could make a living in that part of the country. So much for what thought did.

The parents came back from their little Yankee adventure with another child and nary a nickel to their names. But they came home to Texas to stay for good. And whether or not it was always great, at least Texas was good for them and their family. People here knew them and cared about them. And some things just feel right about Texas—the wind being one of those things.

I used to wake up very early in the mornings on the weekends and take my horse out for a quick ride. In the fall the mists would hover around the ground and we were almost invisible to anyone from a distance. Then one morning we went for a run in the fog and I heard something different near us. A sudden breeze broke the mists and a pickup was nearly on us before I could turn the filly. Had that breeze not blown just at that moment . . . I have thought about it a few times since then. There simply was no wind that morning. But then there was. Maybe I have a good reason to love the wind—and its Maker.

I don’t expect that wind, coffee, or even the smell of rain will ever be a major part of my caring concern in this life. But when I sit on the porch with my mate and watch the storm clouds bringing in wind and rain, I feel more loved for the glory of those gifts that are wrapped around me in spirit. Nope, some things just can’t be listed when we are thankful for the real gifts. Who would understand?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Whirring away in the background is the refrigerated air conditioner which makes life, if not possible, at least more likely. Don’t misread that word—that’s likely, not lively. Summertime in Texas is not for the faint hearted. We have our jokes about the trees learning to whistle for the dogs because of the dry weather, but nothing you can say about the heat is all that funny. Yes, in the summertime a seat belt buckle can brand a person’s body. And breaking down on the highway during the summer is grounds for calling out the Highway Patrol.

So, what’s so great about summer in Texas? Well, besides the lakes and the fishing and boating and water skiing and the fireworks and—oh, the usual summer stuff. . .

But summer has a redeeming quality that balances out the mosquitoes and the dad gummed love bugs. If we get just a bit of rain and the tractor stays in good working order, we can plant a fall garden. The summer gardens in nearby Charlie and Thornberry grow some of the best produce ever to please a palate; but a fall garden is a thing of delight. Planted out back where the dogs chase the rabbits, we can have cucumbers and squash until first frost. By then the turnips will have taken a good growth and be snuggled down to do their best to tempt us.

After the garden produce, just about the best thing summer promises is a change of weather in the fall. Apples and pears begin to come off and the children start going back to school. But better than fruit and a quiet house is the cooler weather, the crisp mornings that make the horses kick up their heels, and the frost lined leaves that cling to the branches. Even coffee tastes better in the fall.

Summertime used to be good for hours of reading. But the hiss and whirr of air conditioning have a tendency to make me sleepy. Or maybe it is just my age. If I were still young, maybe planting a spring garden would have made more sense than spending 82 cents per cucumber this summer. It’s not like I would have had to can all those cukes into dill pickles the way I did years ago. And instead of tomato sauce, an excess of tomatoes would just mean the grandchildren would have had more ammunition for a tomato fight.

Yes, I suppose summer is a pretty good part of life. It means the grandchildren can come for visits; the dogs can be bathed outside; the birds can raise their young; and iced tea can have fresh mint leaves from the yard. I guess the seasons are about right. No sense complaining—fall is on the way.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does Size Matter?

Our oldest son found a little life form in a creek bed in Clay County. Apparently it had lost a wing sometime during its stay in the nest because there is no sign of injury where the wing should be, just no wing. It has to have been fed on the ground by its parents for it to have survived and for it to have had the strength to hum that little left wing when it was handed to me.

The grandson looked up how to feed hummingbirds on the Internet. In case you are wondering, sugar water is not a sufficient source of nutrients for the little critters. The article suggested mashing up fruit flies and mixing that in with the sugar water. Oh boy. And the little one needs to be fed several times in each hour. Rolling eyes and being thankful that I am a human and not a bird parent. So, a little gravy off the dog food (hoping all the while that there is not too much salt or something of that nature in the mix) has now been added to a cup of nectar and a medicine dropper inserted in the cage so the little one can drink at will. Yet each time I return to check to see if it needs to be fed or moved, the little thing has gone to “high ground.” High ground, in this case, is just the fold of a soft paper towel that is lying on the bottom of a cage. The cage, by the way, is to protect the bird from the curious cat.

If it lives through the night and Sunday, we will try to contact a bird sanctuary on Monday. I vaguely remember reading about a “bird lady” in our local paper. Shaking head and wondering how anyone can take care of more than a few baby birds, much less something no bigger than the end of my thumb.

We have all seen someone who has had a severe physical or mental handicap who has gone on to live a useful life. Recently a dog was shown on the Web that had only its two back legs and yet got around pretty well despite its lack of two extra legs. Then there was the young mother who had no arms and was taking care of her baby with her feet. Amazing! Yet we can see these folks and that dog with just a glance. This little bit of fluff with a long tongue just barely shows up. Even so, holding it in my hand and feeling the life pulsing there creates a sense of awe almost as special as when we first held that son who brought home yet another little creature. How could we not love them—child and creature alike?

Friday, July 18, 2008


Viewpoint or perspective is partially created through experience and partially created through what we read or see in media. Whether positive, negative, or indifferent that viewpoint still has to sift its way through moods and circumstances. Experience includes what happens to those around us and how they react to their circumstances. A friend lost her breasts to cancer. Then she wore prostheses instead of having implants. One night she returned from the bedroom and told her husband that she had injured herself seriously. Concerned, he asked what had happened. She told him that she had dropped her boob on the floor and stepped on it. I am still laughing.

My father drives an old Ford truck that he calls “Budweiser” because it had a “Bud” can in it when we took it to him. He says he can’t drive it right now because it is in mourning. It just can’t accept that Budweiser has sold out to a foreign company. Besides, it has just enough gasoline in it to get to the filling station to get more motion lotion. He is driving a little personal scooter down to the post office every day or so to get his mail. The scooter is slow and maybe not as dignified as sitting up in the cab of a truck, but it gets the job done.

Mother invented a new kind of doughnut that she deep fries and Dad calls them “hooters.” The parents had no idea why their children and grandchildren were laughing about the “hooters.” We explained. Then Mom created a new kind of cookie roll and Dad called them “poopers.” Rolling eyes . . .Don’t ask.

Somehow it always seems to help us along in life if we can bend our viewpoint to the funny side—some called it warped, but I think of warped in a good way. No matter how bad things can get—and let’s face it, things can get pretty bleak—calling things something other than what it is can make life a little easier to accept. A wreck on the Harley was a failed attempt to straighten out a California highway; a horrendous hail storm was an opportunity to fill up cups for a cool root beer for the kids; a long drought is a good excuse for planting cactus.

We need some humor in this life almost as much as we need love. No, I can’t see the evening news person making jokes about the economy or the weatherman giggling when the heat index reaches 110 degrees. But I can tell you about the guinea hens that froze in the trees back in ’85 and then thawed in the trash cans where we pitched them. I would have felt sorry for the man who opened the lid and nearly fell over when they flew out, but I was too busy falling over laughing. Yes, the pipes froze that year and water went everywhere when it thawed, but I still just remember the frozen guineas and the man who opened the trashcan. That’s perspective.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simple Things

Some things are just so simple that no one even thinks of them as an answer to even the simplest problem. Did a mosquito dine on your arm or leg? Swipe a little vinegar on it and the itch goes away. Did you have a rash that itches like a thousand fire ants attacked? Vinegar to the rescue!

Sometimes we just don’t stop to think about problems from a face-on perspective. We are so accustomed to being told that “chigger-rid” or “scratch-ex” are the answer to our problems that we have forgotten that grandmother or great-grandmother had to deal with the same critters in their day—without the “advantages” of modern products. One of the advantages of modern products is that they are sold as the answer to certain problems. That means we buy those particular products expecting certain results. Who in the world would consider one of the ingredients of a salad dressing for relief of the itch of a dry rash?

Have you seen a child play with wooden blocks lately? Probably not. Most “blocks” today are plastic cubes or something brightly colored and soft. They don’t really stack very well and don’t allow a child to learn to balance them because they either are too soft or have some way of attaching to other blocks that has nothing to do with balance or placement. Somehow that feels like pushing a child to dance before it learns to crawl.

Finally, we believe we have found the ultimate toy—no batteries required. Mud. Just plain dirt out in the garden mixes well with a garden hose and a child. Mud piles on things, slugs things, paints things, and makes wonderful gushy feeling footprints on things. No one gripes about mud outside in the garden—even the dogs can help dig the holes for more dirt. Rinse off the child, roll up the hose, and let the sun dry up the puddles. Yeppers, the perfect toy—for summertime, at least.

Too bad we can’t apply the vinegar and mud solutions to other situations.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Connect the Dots

7/14/08: Happiness is what greases the wheels of life. It's also what opens the floodgates, marshals the forces, commands the elements, raises the sun, aligns the stars, beats your heart, heals what hurts, turns the page, makes new friends, finds true love, calls the shots, waves the wand, connects the dots, feeds your mind, frees your soul, rocks the world, and pays compound interest. Yeah, so easy to forget. [Courtesy of Mike Dooley ©]

A sweet young woman named Ellen sent this quote to me. Two things about it struck me: first, happiness “pays compound interest.” True happiness comes from love in my estimation. And love definitely “pays compound interest.”

An instructor we watch every day keeps such a happy attitude that everyone enjoys being around her. And her loving concern shows every time she listens to one of the students. But she is “zany” happy, too. The students know that they will have fun in her class if for no other reason than because she will tell them about something she did as a young person that was just over the top—something totally un-teacher like.

Something special resides within that zany teacher. A deeper happiness comes out that does not depend on circumstances; it is the principal—what she—and we—can bank on beyond the vagaries of stocks, bonds, and interest rates. And all she needs to do is be aware of needs—those of her family and those of others. Her “pocketbook” is so deep that she will never be bankrupt, never have to borrow or go without. She has an unlimited wealth. And all she has to do is continue to give.

Ok, the second part of the quote matters: it is “so easy to forget.” I’ve seen our favorite teacher cry and cringe and have deep sorrow lately. Does that mean she has an overdrawn account? Did she stop giving and can no longer collect her dues? No, she can still feel pain and still feel frustration even though her happiness has been covered over by a bleakness that is not of her making. She hasn’t forgotten her happiness. She merely has to be quiet and wait and listen for the “still quiet voice” to renew her spirit of happiness. No loud voice will thunder down from a mountain top. No bush is likely to burn on the hillside. No prophet will knock on her door. I suspect that a day will dawn when she will wake up happier than ever. She will again carry her wand around the classes and spread her energy and love with just as much enthusiasm as she has ever shown.

I wonder if she will dress as Alice in Wonderland again this Halloween. Hmm. I wonder if I can get a great big hat to go with my pocket watch and go as the Mad Hatter. Oh, I am late; I am late for a VERY important date! I have to go to my BANK and fill my pockets, my mind, and my heart.

Besides, I need to sharpen my pencil so I can connect all the dots.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Energy Options

My friend Phil tells me that certain things are simply too controversial to discuss: computer operating systems, Ford versus Chevy, music styles—not just sex, religion, and politics. But one subject concerns me right now that he didn’t mention: anger. Each time I listen to an argument or even a heated discussion about some subject such as what constitutes a marriage, why we need to drill for oil, or how should we allocate foreign aid, I can’t stop wondering why everyone keeps getting angry.

Yes, I have opinions. But anger takes energy—even excessive energy. Too bad we can’t harness the energy in all the world’s anger and use it for something constructive like generating electricity. That would probably give an unfair advantage to the Middle East. Well, come to think of it, I have noticed that some of those sports types have an excessive amount of anger demonstrated out there when they charge at each other over some kind of ball. Put a cap on some of those football games and just capture that energy—voilá—light up the stadium for free.

Just recently I have seen some people I felt really needed a few sessions in anger management. Getting angry can’t be good for a person. And that anger is going to rub off on others as well. One fellow said it really made him angry that the water had been turned off because of the water leak in the main line. Now that is some REALLY productive emotion! Whooptee big do! So others should just walk around him on tiptoes because he was angered by a water leak and the inconvenience of having the water turned off?

And then there was the man who could not accept the fact that someone could get sick or have a sick child and was unable to perform for him—another totally unnecessary inconvenience to that man. No doubt the person or the person’s child became ill just to irritate the man!

Oh dearie me! Here I am using exclamation points when I eschew anger and its exhibition. Oh well. So just hand me a light bulb and I will see if I can light it up with all this excessive energy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Of Sparrows and Dandelions

Years ago the sparrows chipped and fluttered in every treetop. They cluttered up the birdbath after the “good” birds finished their bathing. We watched for the cardinals and mockingbirds, but the sparrows were just common birds that always lined the trees and flitted around the dog bowls or cleaned up after the cows around the feed troughs. They weren’t anything special.

Sometimes I feel like a sparrow—just a common bird that can be taken for granted. Maybe even a nuisance to some . . .

The starlings and grackles have established themselves as more than a nuisance. They have driven off many of the “good” birds and have destroyed the nests of everything from woodpeckers to cardinals. Even the mockingbirds can be fought off by a menacing grackle. But the sparrows seem to hang on. Tough and enduring little critters, that’s what they are.

Some things I just have to admire: sparrows, petunias that come back year after year, and dandelions that persist in growing and blooming in the most inhospitable places. Maybe it is not so bad to feel like a sparrow after all.

Sunday, July 13, 2008



T. A. already had two children and was heavy with another by the time I met her. Before she was 18 she had had five children. A very intelligent young woman, she passed the GED tests with flying colors after a little preparation work. However, even a GED or high school diploma is not a guarantee of a decent job. She worked as a CNA—certified nurses’ aide—which was about the only job she could do and still take care of her children. But the children got older, and she knew she wanted to go back to school and do something besides bathe bodies and clean rooms. So she happened to choose to go to school where I was teaching at that time—a business college.

After a few fitful starts and sudden disappearances, she finally made it through one of the programs offered by the school. I congratulated her on her completion and told her how proud I felt of her. She then told me something that made me realize why I teach: “I wouldn’t be here today and would never have accomplished anything if you hadn’t drug my sorry butt out of the projects and into your Family Education Program. If I succeed in life, it will be because of you and how much you care.”

It could not have been easy for this young woman to get herself off to school and work a full-time job at the same time. But most of my students have done or are doing that very thing—working, being a parent, and trying to stay up with six classes at the same time. Determination, grit, and perseverance—these characteristics are all totally necessary to these students. Some of them are young, straight out of high school, and some of them are older women who have suddenly found their lives turned upside down by circumstances. In either case, most of them suffer from lack of self-esteem and have no sense of control over their lives.

Someone said that Americans are pampered. Some things are just pretty relative, I suppose. But I would certainly like to see any of the pampered politicians succeed under the circumstances of some of these students. Without the Pell Grant and student loans, it would be totally impossible for these people to gain the skills and knowledge needed to become productive citizens. If we are to continue to have a middle class, these educational opportunities need to be available.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taboo or Tabu?

Taboo or Tabu? Our dictionary gives the meaning of either of these words as “proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable.” And here I sit, scratching my head trying to think of a tabu for our American society that would actually cause outrage.
Still sitting . . .

Oh yes! Murder is still tabu. Well, mostly murder is against the law unless it is justified or if there are extenuating circumstances. Maybe that is not a good choice.

Scratching my head . . .

What is the worst thing I can think of in terms of things that are “prohibited” by our society? I can think of all KINDS of things that we accept that seem somewhat improper to me: Lying is one thing that pretty well disgusts the average person. But then we turn on the television and listen to the lies of advertisers, politicians, the different members of the media, and those in corporate positions or even on Wall Street. Lying is ok apparently, if it is expedient. It sells products and convinces John Q. Public that he can believe the unbelievable.

Maybe the term lie itself needs to be examined to see if, like murder, there are extenuating circumstances or justifications that I somehow missed before. Surely someone thought that breaking vows could not become a type of lie. “A solemn promise” can’t become a lie, can it. Well, now that I think about it, I suppose that depends on who is promising what to whom.

Fidelity, loyalty, honor, (let’s go ahead and leave out chastity) are all just terms in the dictionary. Is the mere absence of these words—or characteristics—a sure sign of a lie? What should I look for to discern between a lie and something that is not a lie? Somehow I suspect that this research is going to take me into the realm of truth, fiction, falsehood. Who knows, maybe I am on the way to laying the groundwork for the great American story—The Rise and Fall of an Honorable People.