Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Shoe Shine Philosophy

The shoe shine chair is no longer a place to visit in our city.  Men sat there and talked business or exchanged pleasantries for years.  They nearly always left more than the price of their shoe shine with the proprietor.  But a shine for a teenager with a dime was guaranteed to shine just as well for that dime as it did for the businessman’s dollar.

A man by the name of Robert Engstrom once said that employees are those who build a business.  His son, Bob Engstrom kept that philosophy to the point that his employees had one year of guaranteed employment even after he sold his business to another company.  That guarantee was part of the sales agreement.

The Engstroms believed that if they took good care of their employees, the employees would take good care of business.  Customers who trusted the employees’ honesty would come back again and again and would recommend the company to others.  Reputation—of a company or product—is everything when people spend their money.  Get one dissatisfied customer out there among those who use the same services and suddenly a company’s reputation is on the line.  If the customer is known to be a cheat, it might not matter what he/she said.  But people listen, just the same.  And they wonder, and they watch the bottom line and the service department closely.

I never got a shoe shine by that man downtown.  Only men did that sort of thing.  But I could see that he certainly did a good job.  He was quite a businessman.  But he is gone now.

It was the death of downtown that took away the business for the shoe shine man.  Malls don’t let men put down a box and offer services for a dime or a dollar.  No, rent a kiosk for $2,000 a month or more and see how much a shoe shine would have to cost.

Very few individuals own a business which does not require assistants unless it might be someone like Cari Guidry of Healing Hands.  Individuals have made her business do well because she does a good job.

No, most businesses require multiple employees.  Managing employees takes tact, honesty, and wisdom.  But if a manager or owner will take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the business.  Bob Engstrom proved his theory.  Business owners would be wise to emulate his philosophy.  That philosophy is not a “FIX” for problems.  It is a gold standard for future worth.

Ignore honesty and decent standards of quality; ignore the value of good employees; ignore the actual needs of the customers or overcharge for services:  these are the elements in a formula for failure.  Business owners beware!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Horses Cause Wars!

A few years ago an older friend who loved history repeated his theory that horses caused all wars. Since some people seem to think that religion, politics, economics, or football playoffs cause wars, I will repeat Bob Cole’s theory for the benefit of those who might not have ever met this remarkable man.

In the beginning men walked. Some learned to walk faster and some even learned to run. Why is altogether another subject, but suffice it to say that men have a tendency to travel in one manner or another. The man who gets to a location before another man seems to believe that all he beholds belongs to him alone. Therefore, the first man at a location has an advantage over the man who stays in the walking mode.

Men discovered that horses could be utilized for something other than fresh meat. Burden carriers were perhaps the first order, but eventually men began to realize that the horse provided swift travel—or at least much swifter and longer lasting transport than a man’s feet. Then a horse also provided an advantage other than speed. The sheer mass of the animals was intimidating and useful in battle. Men began to utilize the strength and speed of these wonderful animals to overcome intruders.

Tribes or families of men were strengthened by the number of horses available to them. But the horses required pasturage—which meant that men needed more space to call their own. Therefore, men found a reason—because of their horses’ needs—to fight off any who would claim lands around them and to search out MORE lands for the increased number of horses. Before long, everyone wanted horses and the battles were on!

Each land has been conquered by horses. Two horse spans were the criteria for wealth and wagons. Our roads were made to match—along with the railroads and the tunnels for the trains. The cars and the trains are simply an extension of the horses.

Now, for what it is worth, my beliefs will not change what has become known as the “nature” of man. But blaming religion, nationalistic or ethnic persuasions, technology, economic instability, or natural disasters won’t change how man thinks. Set any man upon a hill and see if he does not feel that all he surveys belongs to him. And truly it does. What we see becomes “ours” within our own range of feeling and sense of rightness. What traveler familiar with acres of wheat fields will not somehow rebel when they “suddenly” become fields of houses and roads?

Dan’l Boone just wanted elbow room, but I sit my horse on this old hill and see MY world from his strong back. Between his ears and over his flying mane, I claim this land as mine! Yes, we know what causes wars—it’s the horses.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From U2s to Google Earth Maps

Many years ago the United States felt the need to be able to SEE what some of the rest of the world did not want us to see. Today the National Archives allows computer access to some of the photos that brought our nation to the brink of war. Moscow and Cuba look pretty stark in black and white, but apparently those who interpreted the differences in pictures could tell when the missiles in Cuba had been taken down or pointed a different direction. Those same archives may include pictures of a very sober President Kennedy who had the responsibility for playing poker with the biggest stakes of all.

Today Google Earth maps are available over much of the earth. Weather maps and even topographical maps reveal much of the effects of man’s “advances.” The satellite pictures over Spain and Italy reveal the multitude of green houses that reflect light back into the atmosphere. Another satellite reveals slabs of ice sliding into the Arctic Ocean. From the International Space Station, smoke from California etches out the latest environmental disaster in living color.

The oldest grandson studied the Civil War last year and one of our gifts to him was a book of maps of the various battlegrounds. That book included photocopies of the actual maps available to the generals at the time of the battles—and then the actual topographical maps of the areas as they were in reality. The differences were astounding. Obviously the battles might have had entirely different outcomes had the maps of the time been accurate. But that brings up a curious thought. What if another nation were to consider invasion of this—or any—nation today?

Despite satellite photography and infrared or heat mapping capabilities, are there areas of America that are hidden from view? From East to West Coasts and from Canada to Mexico, great highways cross our nation for easy access. If the generals of the Civil War were to see the maps of today and consider their options, how would they proceed? If national security depended on the American people today as defenders of their states, would they even consider the lay of the land, or would they look toward the skies? After watching the wars in Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq on TV, perhaps no nation will need worry too much about topographical maps because we know that even a mountain cannot provide a sufficient bomb shelter.

Our ability to watch wars on TV has given us a false sense of security perhaps. It seems that as long as we are watching, then perhaps we are not really involved. But we need to remember that maps are no longer a deciding factor in wars today. And whatever happens in a small nation across the oceans WILL affect all the continents on that same globe. Pray for peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Whichever Way the Wind Blows

A plumber came to re-light my dad's hot water heater--before they discovered that a heating unit was fried--and as he blew into the front door of the house he responded to Dad's question about the volume of the wind outside: "The wind's blowin' so hard that there's white caps on the commode, Mr. P!"

Well, the wind is blowing like that again today.  Oldest grandson shot his new B-B gun and the B-B came back to hit his hand.  Now normally that would be considered a richochet, but Paw Paw told him that the wind was blowing so hard that it threw the B-B back at him.  

A bit ago I heard a strange sound outside.  When I looked outside, three dogs were trying to bark and the wind was blowing their barks right back at them.  Poor critters.  They were so confused. That was not the end of the confusion; the lake looked funny--well, funnier than usual.  It was broken into sections and folded back over itself so that the ducks and cranes would fall plum off one side and down another before bobbing up and falling all over again.  It could make a person seasick just watching those poor birds.

The only thing that makes this weather tolerable is the warmth of the wind blowing in from Amarillo.  Someone up there must have been talking up a storm for us to get all this warm air.  But whichever way the wind blows today, tomorrow will be different for sure.  This is, after all, Texas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Personal Calendar

Back when the school calendar mattered to me, my personal calendar somehow had three or four defining dates: the day school was over; the day school started; Christmas; the day school restarted; the day school was out for summer again.

Now that made complete sense to me and to the hundreds of school age children who had to live by that calendar. We got clothes before school started; we got clothes for Christmas; we had to make our shoes last until school ended and try not to bust out of anything else we wore until we could go barefoot and run around in patched clothes.

After the children left home, I thought we could forget about the school calendar--except that I began teaching. Whoops! Here we go again with the school calendar.

Then the grandchildren started school and we began to schedule everything around when they could come visit with us. Oh the wonders of the school calendar and three-day breaks for teachers' in-service days!

Somewhere in the background of my memory are school closings for cotton picking, pecan crops, and other necessary tasks that required the assistance of the family's children. My personal calendar never included those breaks, but at least school openings used to consider the vagaries of the weather. Children cooped up in a hot building was not conducive to intellectual stimulation, so school was released at the end of May and began sometime in September. However, ask any older teacher what it is like to have 40 to 60 little bodies steaming in a warm room in the wintertime, and it is easy to understand how really cold weather could be just as difficult as very hot weather for classrooms.

One of these days our schools will not be part of our calendars because technology will enable parents to have children educated at home without a live teacher. The children may lose all sense of having a personal calendar; no last day of school will tantalize them with its closeness. But while they may lose the sense of anticipation of the beginning or ending of classes--and socialization that comes of being crammed into a room with umpteen other children--they will also have the advantage of learning at their own pace. No cotton pickin' duties will call them away from their studies or pecans roll away from their fingers. They will just have to create their own personal calendars based on their own needs. Those calendars may really create havoc on grandparents, but it may be the best havoc that ever came our way. Grandkids and grandparents rule!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas on the Ranch

I didn't write this little 'pome' and its author was listed as anonymous when it came to me. But I certainly like the attitude, whoever originated it.

'Twas the night before Christmas & out on the ranch
The pond was froze over & so was the branch.
The snow was piled up belly-deep to a mule.
The kids were all home on vacation from school,
And happier young folks you never did see-
Just all sprawled around a-watchin' TV.

Then suddenly, some time around 8 o'clock,
There came a surprise that gave them a shock!
The power went off, the TV went dead!
When Grandpa came in from out in the shed
With an armload of wood, the house was all dark.
"Just what I expected," they heard him remark.
"Them power line wires must be down from the snow.
Seems sorter like times on the ranch long ago."

"I'll hunt up some candles," said Mom. "With their light,
And the fireplace, I reckon we'll make out all right."
The teen-agers all seemed enveloped in gloom.
Then Grandpa came back from a trip to his room,
Uncased his old fiddle & started to play
That old Christmas song about bells on a sleigh.
Mom started to sing, & 1st thing they knew
Both Pop & the kids were all singing it, too.
They sang Christmas carols, they sang "Holy Night,"
Their eyes all a-shine in the ruddy firelight.
They played some charades Mom recalled from her youth,
And Pop read a passage from God's Book of Truth.

They stayed up till midnight-and, would you believe,
The youngsters agreed 'twas a fine Christmas Eve.
Grandpa rose early, some time before dawn;
And when the kids wakened, the power was on.
"The power company sure got the line repaired quick,"
Said Grandpa - & no one suspected his trick.
Last night, for the sake of some old-fashioned fun,
He had pulled the main switch - the old Son-of-a-Gun!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside!

The children of the family “furnished” our household with animals over the years.  Currently a dog of indecent ancestry and a Norwegian Forest cat dominate the premises.  We won’t discuss the Boston Terrier and Labrador incident, but Harley B was the result.  He isn’t really “our” dog; we are dog sitting for the youngest son.  The fluffy grey cat with hairy paws was the result of the compassion of the youngest son; he was a rescue—the cat, not the son.

Harley isn’t prepared to stay outside in this cold weather.  Yes, he has a dog house, but he also has the terrier coat—too light for outdoors in Texas winters.  Oliver Twisted is supposed to be a house cat—at least, we tell him he belongs in the house.  But both animals are convinced that they need to be as close to us as possible right now.  They seem to think we need our laps warmed or feet cuddled.

The dream I had about a motor boat was a direct result of having a sneaky cat curled and purring around my head one night, but normally we really don’t want our animals in our bed.  However, whether animals are kept in crates or in a separate room from the rest of the family, most pets should not be out in this cold.  It is just too severe.  Fresh water in a pan or bowl—unconnected to the toilet—plenty of food, and their own bed (or couch, or chair, or top shelves of a bookcase—depending on your cats’ tastes) are about the least we can furnish our pets right now.

The only lovely thing about winter—other than the lack of mosquitoes—is the fact that we know spring is next.  Spring brings its own problems--shedding, more heartworm meds, hairballs, and wild dances in the mint beds---but at least the animals can sleep outside when the weather is warmer.  Everyone else may be looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s.  I am looking forward to having a certain cold nose a warmer shade of pink.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just for Fun!

Just for today, just for fun…how often does a day come and go and leaves that sense of accomplishment or pride in a job well done or even leaves the memory of the smiles or laughter created? Years ago my work schedule allowed only the Christmas break for surgery. At one of the local stores we found a Christmas nightshirt with striped stockings. On the shirt a straggly Santa sat astride one of the reindeer while making the comment, “Ho, ho, whatever.” The nurses got the idea and laughed with me.

With so many people out of jobs, it may be difficult for some to feel much of a sense of accomplishment. Not everyone gets a charge out of super neat closets or a tool box as clean as a lunch box. So….how do we ‘accomplish’ something? What about the things we all put off until ‘someday’ when we have time? Here it comes…..ORGANIZE your world!

Separate the family pictures so each child can have a copy. Give an album to each child as a present or as a happy surprise. Don’t forget to label so that the next generation will have a clue when memories fade.

Get those files in the filing cabinet whittled down to the necessary. Pitch what is out of date or otherwise useless. LABEL each file and put them in alphabetical order—remember? A, B, C…?

Oh look! The bookcases are full to overflowing. [Disregard the tacky comments from the collector of Mustang Magazine!] We’ve already given away the Encyclopedia Britannica in favor of Google, so don’t say we are afraid to give away books! Dictionaries do change, but just how many are necessary? And about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales….in ‘ye olde English’ already!

Does everyone have a junk cabinet? Where else would one keep the shoe polish, duct tape, extra batteries, furniture polish, flea shampoo, and an extension cord or two? Maybe just a good cleaning and stacking would make this one look/feel better.

A friend suggested that we invite someone over to "inspect" the cabinets and under the sink just so we could feel our chests swell with pride. Now that sounds like a good party opener! A house cleaning party--but at MY house first! Fang can have friends over to help him clean tools and stack paint cans. The friends have to help get rid of stuff, however. My friend says that her guy just restacks stuff and won't throw things away. SO...we have a deal; she throws away MY stuff and I throw away HER stuff and neither of us takes home any more 'good stuff' to add to our collections. How much trouble could that possibly cause? Can you see this big evil grin?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good Help Is Hard to Find

Jerry gets up at 5:30 on the mornings that he goes to work; he said that he hoped to get off tonight by 7:30 if nothing came up.  Alice zipped up and down the halls all day today and took a deep breath long enough to smile and tell me that her home is in Vernon.  Joyce and I talked about how things have changed in nursing and how much she appreciated working with Alice.

These three people and the many techs and specialists who work together have been taking care of MIL.  Each time one shift goes off, another comes on to take over her care.  Tomorrow it may be Mary, Jody, and Jo Ann, but their names will be on the board opposite MIL’s bed.  The board is nice, but all of the employees are good to tell MIL who they are each time they talk to her.

Today was busy with surgery and the post op procedures for more than one patient.  But every time one of the crew stepped into the room, that person stayed long enough to take care of whatever needed to be done.  With fifteen patients to care for, it is a wonder they stayed calm and could even remember to take a deep breath.  But their attitude was never flustered or frustrated.

Andy came today and while he replaced a connection on a piece of equipment, he asked if there were any changes or improvements that could be made to their service.  Why change a good thing?  Alice was organized and did whatever needed to be done.  Joyce never rushed when she worked with MIL and was as gentle as if Joy were the only patient she had.  Jerry knew exactly how to talk to MIL and make her happy even when he changed the oxygen tubes that she was fighting.

Yes, good help is hard to find, but apparently URHCS has found some of the best.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken Soup and Biscuits

Some people just have to have a certain food or drink during a sickness.  Maybe it is an Americanism to want chicken soup, but today I ordered chicken soup for MIL for the THIRD time.  She never remembers if she has eaten or not, so I suppose she won’t get tired of something like chicken soup.  But she did tell me that she knows that anything she raises is going to taste good.  It’s been nearly thirty years since leaving the farm, raising her chickens, milking the cows, and fattening out a steer for beef.  But I assured her that her chicken soup would always be good.

While we talked about chickens, I reminded her of how wonderful I always thought her chicken and dumplings tasted.  She made the dumplings with her biscuit recipe—a recipe I was never able to duplicate.  Then I told her about my first attempt at making biscuits after Fang and I married.  He really TRIED to eat one, but I had to throw them out to the dog.  The dog couldn’t hack them either apparently because we saw her bury them in the flower bed out front.  Years later when we decided to dig up the flower bed, we found those biscuits only slightly worse for the wear than a rock.  Even the earthworms wouldn’t try them!

As I was feeding my MIL today she looked up at me and said, “I hope I never have to return this favor for you.”  She meant that she hoped that I never needed that kind of help.  But she has already done it.  When our youngest child was just a little critter, he nearly fell off the bed and I caught him.  I knew it hurt my arm and back, but the next morning I thought I was really messed up when it hurt to move or breathe.  Dr. Schaffner told us that I had torn some kind of muscle and had to lie flat of my back for ten days to give it a rest while taking muscle relaxants.  I had no idea how I was going to take care of my family and lie down at the same time.  Fang said not to worry and called his mom.  She came and took care of everything.  She even taught Little Boy the story of the Three Little Pigs.  I heard that story at least 15 times a day.  I finally had to ask MIL to teach him another story, but the new story still had the huff and puffs in it because he liked those and the chinney chin chins.

Oh, it doesn’t matter if the chicken soup comes out of a can and if the biscuits never saw real cow’s butter, but I wish MIL could understand how much The Three Little Pigs meant to me then and still does when I think of the love she gave us.  Maybe that is what we are looking for in that soup can—the loving care of our mothers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How Quickly Life Changes

Tonight we left the local hospital where Fang's mom is lying in Buck's traction.  Her situation reminds us of just how quickly life can change.  Five years ago she was still working as a nurse; now she has lived in a nursing home for two years.  Just recently we noticed that she didn't call us by name, so we would call out each other's name to help her.  Oh, she knows us, but the names don't always come out for her.  This is just part of the slow slide into the human mind that comes to some of us if we are around long enough.

Even with double pneumonia and a broken hip, today she picked back at the doctors and nurses.  That is part of her charm.  One doctor from some Eastern European country came in and asked her how she was.  She got out, "Fine as frog's hair" before she ran out of air.  The little nurse with him tried to explain to him that it was an expression.  I just shook my head and told her that the man obviously didn't speak Texan.

Senile dementia is difficult for everyone involved.  So much of the time, MIL makes perfectly good sense.  Then she woke up from a short little nap (induced by the morphine, no doubt) and tried to explain to her nurse that she really appreciated the recipe that she made for her.  Hers was better than anyone else's recipe.  Blank looks on our faces and just nodding our heads and smiling.

Then I dared to appreciate a compliment she gave to me when she told the doctor that "This is my daughter-in-law and she has been such a blessing."  I really do hope that is how she feels.  

Our hospital is busy around the clock.  It makes one wonder how the staff ever gets it all done.  And it also makes me wonder how older people can get the care that they are going to need without family with them.  A lady across the hall had no one with her.  She cried most of the night according to my sister-in-law.  I would never want that to happen to MIL.  But nurses can't stand there and soothe and talk to the patients until they are quiet and comfortable.  MIL KNEW we were there, and it was as comforting to us to be there for her as it was to her to HAVE us there.

Life is too precious to throw it away or to decide it is not worth the bother.  Young or old, we all have something to offer others.  MIL still has a smart mouth---the nurse asked, "How are you feeling?"  Her answer, "With my fingers!"  That was worth a smile.  

We don't want our parents--or anyone--to hurt, but even pain can't totally take away a personality.  That indomitable spirit has value to show us life's worth--even when it changes so quickly and drastically.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gone to the Dogs

Our neighbors’ granddaughter is coming home tonight from the Children’s Hospital in Dallas.  The young aunt and uncle are responsible for doing a ‘thorough’ cleaning of the house in preparation for her arrival.  “No pets” was apparently one of the major rules sent home by the doctors.  That means the dogs have to go; the birds have to go; and the snake…well, the uncle thinks that he may get to keep his snake if the child doesn’t handle it.  I never would have thought of a snake as being a relatively clean creature.  Go figure.
It is so easy to think that we are all relatively safe from viruses or their bad effects until something slaps us in the face.  This child came home from daycare with a virus that shut down her kidneys.  Now she will be on dialysis.  Her mother and grandmother have trained to do the procedure at home, but this is a very active little girl—or at least she was active.
However wonderful new procedures may be that allow us to live more freely, we seem just as susceptible to sicknesses as did any of our forefathers.  In fact, we may be exposed to a multitude of viruses simply because of technology.  While I would never suggest that we all take up pen and paper rather than a keyboard, I do believe that sharing a keyboard, a telephone receiver, or any office machine can easily put us in contact with tough little germs.  And think of the surfaces that come in contact with our children!
No one wants to be obsessive about cleanliness, but it may be time for us to rethink germ control whether it is at home, in the office, in a hospital, or in a daycare center.  Some of the vegetables that are not easily cleaned with water are now irradiated to kill germs before they are even shipped to stores.  Where is the entrepreneur who will give us a simple device to use to kill viruses?  Our moms used hot soapy water, sunshine, bleach, and scrubbed us until we yelled calf rope.  But we can’t do that to a keyboard.  Here is a need.  Are any inventors available?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dirty Dogs, Messy Kids, and Just Some Men

Living on the lake, our dogs quickly became experts at finding the nastiest dead fish or other species of stinking critter when the children took them on their daily exploration trips. The children finally gave up watching out for dead things because the dog(s) were permanently banned from the house. In all probability, if they could have managed a club house big enough for all three or four or more children, the kids would have been willing to stay outside as well. It wasn’t that they minded taking baths and cleaning up, it was just SO much fun to get totally yucky dirty and come home and rinse off under the water hose. If they got chilled, they all piled in the big tub for a warm bath—clothes and all. Sitting here shaking my head and remembering a room full of kids and towels everywhere.

Over the years the children brought home a couple of ducks that had been wounded and needed attention. Fang wasn’t too appreciative when he came home tired from work and found a duck in the bathtub, but that beat the big fish that he had to kill and clean because Mom didn’t ‘do’ fish. But the day he came home and found Ma Bell in the bathroom just about frosted his flakes. The kids were concerned that someone’s rabbit was loose and the neighbor’s dogs were chasing it. We caught the rabbit, and she dropped her first baby right on the doorstep. Before she was through, she had produced six bunnies and had stripped all the plastic off the telephone cord—thus the name Ma Bell. At least the number of little rabbits was handy—one for each hand for three children.

Our grandchildren visit for a week at a time and always manage to get impossibly dirty—even the little girl. They roast wieners, climb trees, dig in the dirt, and paint anything that isn’t moving. The boys always look for geckos or lizards in the summer time, and little girl wants to paint pretty pictures or decorate things—glue, glitter, polish, shiny things, and tiny beads. But whatever Fang is doing, even if it involves grease and grime, ALL the grandchildren want to be a part of it.

Which brings us to the real kids: men—at least SOME men—just love to get dirty. Just like a pile of dirt is an open invitation to little boys, something with a motor and a little grease calls to some men like the sirens of the fabled seas. Anything that requires a big shiny wrench or one of those things that says ‘impact’ has an irresistible lure to it. A few hundred pounds of torque means something to some men. And if the tool can make a humongous amount of noise, so much the better.

Fang took a course under Dr. Phil Plubell and learned how to take apart and put together a computer. In fact, he even built a new computer for me. Now he is working on a laptop and a remote system that is way beyond my understanding of computers. But when the weather is pretty, the grass will begin to grow and give him an excuse to go outside and play with his big tractor. He will dig a few holes, topple a tree or two, and spread an acre of gravel or two. Then he will have to ‘service’ the tractor. That means he gets to get greasy, grungy dirty, and as happy as a man can get. And frankly, that must be the best kind of man because those boys grew up to be good men, and they are just like him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Raising Teenagers

One lady we know used to go around town telling other people how to raise their children; and some people actually thought that she was some sort of expert.  But she had no children; she was a teacher.  Somehow being a teacher is not quite the same as being a parent.  The two are not necessarily interchangeable.

Early in American history, parents would ‘exchange’ children or send their children to apprentice under someone who had a desirable or necessary trade.  If a blacksmith was needed and someone had a sturdy teenager who needed to sweat out some of the hormonal influences of his age, the young man was sent to live with or work under a village smithy.  A young girl was sent to learn dressmaking or put to work in a hotel cooking or cleaning.  The young people might not have been terrifically happy about the situation, but the substitute parents had no emotional ties to the young ones and could easily ‘correct’ them without distressing themselves.

At one point when our last two children were entering their teens, I wished for a farmer who had need of a good hand with fence building and wrangling or maybe a camp in need of a teenager who could keep up with about fifteen or twenty little kids.  We didn’t have a horse or a cow for a kid to chase, and the dog couldn’t outlast them, so we had to deal with the roller coaster of living with emotional teenagers.  Remembering back today at how helpless we felt, I can well understand why to some parents Nebraska looks like the perfect place to take teenagers.

Recently an insurance agent related to us his visit to the school where his son was walking down the hall swinging his arms.  The teacher scolded the child for not walking straight and with his hands at his sides.  Sitting here thinking about what constitutes a child, I think that woman was WAY out of line.  The parent told her she was lucky that the boy was walking, much less walking straight and not swinging his arms.  The kid is ADHD—another term for uncontrollably antsy.

Kids NEED physical exercise and a place to vent.  If I had my way, each child would have his or her own donkey by age 8 and a horse by age 12.  And the CHILD would care for and groom the animal before school and ride after school each day for at least an hour.  A donkey teaches balance as no other animal can.  It also can teach patience.  A horse gives a child a companion who can love back and who can give the child some area of life to control.

Horses have become luxury items or liabilities for some families.  But for parents who have teenagers who need someplace to grow up just a little, I would definitely recommend a good horse farm.  Maybe by the time the grandchildren need a horse—probably next year—we will be able to find someone who needs a little wrangler to help care for critters.  Hmm.  Seems like someone in the family has a horse ranch in Pennsylvania.  That is just a bit farther than Nebraska . . .

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Ok, it was that--ok.  As fairy tale/wizard tales go, it was ok.  I don't know what I expected, but after enjoying the Harry Potter books, well . . .The Wizard and the Hopping Pot plus the The Fountain of Fair Fortune were good replacements for almost any fairy tale I remember from my youth.  The Warlock's Hairy Heart had a moral that may not have been exactly what was intended by the author--a woman with a good heart should never associate with a heartless person.  Anyway, the tales are not for small children--but maybe most fairy tales we heard as children weren't all that good for little ones either....a wolf who ate Grandma...a witch who caged children until they were fat enough to eat....Sheesh.  Come to think of it, maybe The Tales of Beedle the Bard are pretty good.

At least the money from the book goes to a good cause.  

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rebel in Blue Jeans

Beverly Stowe McClure wrote a good book--considered a 'YA'--young adult book. Shucks. I haven't been that young in a while, but I still enjoyed the book. It deals with parents separating and other issues that arise in the lives of young people. I would whole-heartedly recommend it as reading material for both the parents and the teens of parents who must face the confusion caused by separations. While I can pray that this never happens to any of our children or grandchildren, the situation is handled realistically and with genuine understanding. When I hand this one over to the oldest grandson to read, we will get another viewpoint. He will recognize the 'good guys' in this story and probably grin at the 'boy humor' in many of the scenes.

I hope that Mrs. McClure continues to handle topics of this nature. Her books will definitely find a place on my book shelves and on my gift list.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Where Never Is Heard

Ok.  The moon and earth and a couple of planets are lined up and dumping out their presence into the atmosphere—and then moving on in the course of the heavens.  And I have to tell you, it is really strange.  Yes, I know; strange things happen every day.  In fact, the best liar around could not make up some of the strange things that really happen to real people in this world.

Each day this week, some discouraging words filtered over the Internet or the TV to add to the already bleak economic outlook.  The people who try to sell scrap metal can’t even sell metal because no end products are being sold.  Not only is recycling not paying—neither is producing nice big cars, according to the Big Three in Detroit.  Those who don’t have jobs don’t buy anything beyond basic necessities.  When no one buys products, businesses lay off or let employees go—no matter the consequences.

Just to add a note of ironic humor—one company decided to lay off several thousand workers—both full-time and part-time employees.  The company also intended to adjust the wages downward of all remaining employees.  Only one glitch changed their plans:  the computers which needed to be adjusted for the financial changes only ‘spoke’ COBALT—and the only employees who were capable of ‘speaking’ that language had already been laid off.

Americans are caught between possibilities and pragmatics.  Technology advances daily, yet more and more families lose the ability to touch the possible while dealing with the realistic.  No handouts of dairy products, peanut butter, and beans can make enough difference for those who want to work and can’t find a job.  Men, and some women, identify themselves with their work.  How is an unemployed America going to recognize itself?

Yes, things are strange when one’s child figuratively puts his hand on the parent’s shoulder and says, “God has always provided—not just for our needs, but even for some of the ‘wants.’  Just be patient.  It will be ok.”

Oh, for such an encouraging word for all those who have lost their jobs!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oh Pioneers!

No cowboy and Indian wars loom over the horizon.  The cavalry has gone off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So where are the pioneers?  Oh, they are just over in the next county—or down the street.  But don’t look for men with rifles and women with long skirts.  Instead, look for those brave souls who are seeking a way to fight stagflation, recession, depression, and general lack of confidence in a ‘standard’ way of life.  But that does not mean that they lack for enemies other than attitude.  Hand held to eyes to shade the glare from all the ‘super stars,’ prize athletes, politicians, and ‘trumped’ up billion or millionaires…

No bank robbers with masked faces staked out accounts this past year, but the one-armed bandit down at the gas station still did a pretty good job of depleting the budget.  And no one wore a mask at the checkout counters scanning the groceries.  So the new pioneers have their battle lines drawn; but what weapons will prevail against doubt, dismay, and double digit inflation?

The Great Depression of the 30s found the pioneers of the economic battlefront making do or doing without.  But most of them had never heard of credit—much less a credit card.  Today’s pioneer goes to battle carrying the burden of past excesses.  Now the jobless who carry credit card debt have no choices left—housing, transportation, food—just the essentials of life—these are no longer choices.

Years ago and several generations back, the backwoods cabin in Jack County had a rock cistern for water and a rock trail hewn down the side of the mountain to level ground.  A mule, a rifle, a fireplace, and a bit of luck with the wildlife provided sustenance.    Each of those pioneers was a ‘small business owner.’  Somehow those pioneers survived to invest in the county co-op.

In New York City, Dallas, or in Wichita Falls, a mule, a rifle, and a fireplace might not help anyone survive today.  But, like those early pioneers, we still need to feel it is worth our while to invest in our community—investing by building homes, buying local products, or raising our families here.  Most are willing to work for that investment—when work is available.   Even a pioneer needs a plow, a hammer, a way to connect with community.  All over our country we need those tools; they are called jobs.  Hooray for the ‘small’ business pioneer who can provide even one more job!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Floor Wax, Yeast Breads, and Mother’s Soup

Memories spark up like static electricity when certain smells and colder weather hit at the same time.  Mother always waxed the hardwood floors with Johnson paste wax before the holidays.  She always baked fresh breads, but it smelled better when the weather was cold.  And then she made soup.  Cold weather and Mother’s soup were meant for each other like ducks and shotguns were made for hunters.

Years ago when our house was full of young things and all their shoes, boots, and clumps of icy gloves, we would have a pot of soup and I would remember home.  And when I baked fresh bread, we always had to have two loaves without any heels left because each child and a husband thought that was the best part of a loaf.  And I remembered home.

Will the coffee and freshly flipped pancakes be the smells that awaken memories for our little ones?  Maybe it will be furniture polish.  Whatever sparks their memories, we can always hope that those memories will bring them home again.