Category Archives: Essay

Creative Juice #279

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Creative Juice #279

Lots of quilts and artwork.

The Ultimate Summer Day

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I went for a walk the other day a little after noon. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a light hoodie, and sandals. I live in the Phoenix area, and the temperature was in the mid-60s.

(But earlier in the morning, when I took the dog out, in my PJs and terry robe, the temperature was about 40 degrees. I know, I’m spoiled. I suffer when the temp dips down below 50.)

I came home from my walk, took a shower, and dressed in denim bermudas and a long-sleeve shirt.

I don’t like any weather that involves raking or shoveling. Winter is enjoyable here, but I really like summer better, even in the desert; though in the 100+ degree heat, I’d prefer to be in the pool if I have to be outside.

Sea and sky

My ideal summer day is based on the ones I experienced as a 15-year-old growing up in New Jersey. The sky would be blue, the sun warm, the temperature in the mid-to-upper 80s (though with the typical 85% humidity, it would be much less comfortable than Arizona dry heat), and I would be at the beach. I’d have a cooler with me, with cold soda and sandwiches and snacks. I’d have no responsibilities for the day—no job to go to, no meals to prepare, no appointments upcoming, no pressing deadlines to meet. And I’d have a friend with me, preferably one of the opposite sex.

When our kids were little and we still lived in New Jersey, but closer to the Pennsylvania border rather than near the Atlantic shore, we might drive half an hour to a lake to have a change of pace from the backyard pool. But my ideal day still included sun and water.

When we moved to Arizona, we bought another house with a pool, because we knew it would play a big part in our summers. A lot of people don’t like having pools, because they see the upkeep as tedious and expensive. But we had five kids. Going on a one-week vacation during the summer would cost us more than the price of a year’s worth of pool chemicals. And really, if you invest in a good pool vacuum, maintenance only takes maybe an hour or less a week. When the kids were young, we were in the pool every day. The kids’ birthday parties were always pool parties (except for Andy’s—he was born in December).

Now, with our kids all grown, we are not in the pool every day from April through October. Greg’s not been in the pool in years. I average about a dozen dips per summer, though every time I go in, I wonder why I don’t do it every day.

Only six more months till summer.

I can’t wait.

Creative Juice #274

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Creative Juice #274

This week’s offerings are heavy on writing advice, but you don’t have to be a writer to love the first two articles.

What I’m Thankful For

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What I’m Thankful For

Thankfulness should be a continual state. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18 HCSB).” Even when circumstances are less than ideal, thanking God for them puts us in the exact right position, where we are able to walk with God and are accessible to all the blessings He wants to give us.

As we approach our national festival of Thanksgiving, it’s customary to give thanks for all the good things that have happened since last year. Here is the top of my list:

  • My husband is still with me. In March 2020 Greg had a surgery that didn’t go well. He survived, though life is a daily struggle for him. I thank God for each day that we are together.
  • Even though Covid-19 is still with us, infections are down, due to vaccination.
  • My daughter is getting married next month. (She was supposed to have a wedding last fall, but, you know, Covid.)
  • My son, whose job disappeared when the pandemic started, has a new job.
  • We’ve reconnected with Greg’s brother and his wife.
  • We have lots of people to send Christmas cards to.
  • We have a great team of health professionals taking care of us.
  • I enjoyed swimming this past summer.
  • I’m having fun making quilts.
  • We’ve been able to go to church a few times when Greg’s strength has allowed for it.

A few years ago I started a gratitude journal after reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. A lot of my entries are repetitive—thanks for tasks being completed, lost items found, good news from our children. Nevertheless, I think gratitude journaling is a productive discipline. There’s so much disturbing news in our world—shootings, cars running down parade-watchers, political discord, extreme weather, people trampled to death at concerts—that it’s easy to become cynical and depressed. Let’s balance the bad by celebrating the good things in our lives.

Now it’s your turn. Think of three things you’re thankful for, and share them in the comments below. Or if you’ve posted about them in your social media or blog, shoot us a link so we can rejoice with you.

Wishing You a Quiet Halloween

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“What kind of Halloween candy are you buying?” Greg asked me.

“None.”

“What? We’re not giving out candy this year?”

“Nope.”

Greg is disappointed, but you know what? For many years he’s spent Halloween night watching television, and the responsibility of answering the door has been all mine. He’s not missing out on anything. (Except eating Halloween candy, which neither of should be doing anyway.)

Not that giving out candy is such a strenuous job around here. There are no children living in our cul-de-sac anymore, and the last few years we’ve had fewer than a dozen trick-or-treaters.

Last year I turned off the porch light, but I don’t think anyone came out. We were on a Covid upswing at the time.

This year we’re on a downswing, but in our county as many as 2000 people a day are still coming down with Covid, about the same as last year. However, many people have gone back to doing “normal” things.

Greg thinks I’m being overcautious because I insist that we stay at home by ourselves.

I think I’m being totally reasonable. The other day I found out that one of our long-time acquaintances, a woman who works at our local supermarket, lost her husband to Covid six weeks ago. They both got sick, but he didn’t survive.

Covid is still killing people. More than 736,000 dead in the USA alone. I don’t take that lightly. Of that number, less than 0.1% have been children. An insignificant number? Not to the 700 families who are mourning.

If I still had kids, I’d buy them lots of candy and let them wear their costumes at home and play silly games and take lots of pictures. You parents do what you think is best, but I’m wishing you a quiet Halloween.

Remember When We Thought 2021 Would Surely Be Better than 2020?

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Boy, were we wrong. It only took 6 days to show us what a train wreck 2021 could be. The attack on our Capitol was a historical low point for American democracy.

Covid-19 continues to rage, and nurses are dropping out of the profession because they are burned out. It doesn’t help that most of the patients that they are seeing are ones who chose not to take the most important step to protect themselves from contracting the disease—getting the free vaccine. People with other health issues are having to wait because Covid patients are using up all the resources including hospital beds, ICUs, and oxygen. That doesn’t seem fair.

In my neck of the woods, schools reopened six weeks ago, and soon they’ll resume all over the country. But are they safe? At least 1000 schools in 35 states have already closed due to Covid outbreaks. I don’t understand how people can be against students being required to wear masks. Yes, it’s not ideal for learning, but neither is illness. How many children will die before parents take the threat of disease seriously? I’m so glad that Greg and I are retired. I would resign if I were still teaching. In fact, that’s what many teachers are doing.

After twenty years, the United States military is out of Afghanistan, and it’s a disaster. I was one of the people who thought it was a good idea to go in, and a good idea to get out. Arguably, there may never have been the possibility of a positive outcome, but it still hurts to see the Taliban take over and ISIS pop out of their hidey hole.

Wildfires and floods continue to devastate our country and the world. Hurricanes pound the Caribbean and the southern and eastern US. Homes, businesses, and countrysides destroyed.

Passengers are beating up flight attendants. Flying hasn’t been fun for a long time, but now it’s a total nightmare.

We all want things to get back to normal, but we’re pushing it, and that doesn’t work. I bet that the combination of Labor Day get-togethers and school openings cause another spike in new Covid cases.

One thing that impressed me in March of 2020 was the outpouring of help that I witnessed in my community and throughout the country. While some people are continuing to be there for others, I now see a general lack of willingness on the part of many to be inconvenienced for one more second. That makes me want to just stay in my bubble, away from the barbaric hordes of rights-demanders.

I’m longing for 2021 to be over. Surely 2022 has to be better than this, right?

The Truth

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The Truth

Speak the truth.

That’s easier said than done.

It’s hard to speak truth if you don’t want to argue, don’t wish to offend, don’t care to defend yourself.

It’s also hard to speak truth if you don’t know what the truth actually is.

Sometimes, when you dig, you find out what you thought was true actually isn’t.

We make assumptions based on our own experiences.

But not everyone has the same experiences I do.

When we make generalizations based on our own experiences, we are not speaking for everyone; we can only speak for ourselves.

That reminds me of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. We ought to hesitate to make pronouncements until we understand the whole picture.

Sometimes I think we speak at our own peril. There are concepts I’ve believed so devoutly, that I’ve shared widely, that I no longer believe. How do I take my words back, these beliefs that I professed, sure that I knew whereof I spoke?

How can I prevent myself from speaking words I will later learn aren’t true?

It would be better to be mute.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

The older I grow, the more opportunities I’ve had to speak with people who think differently than me and who challenge what I believe. And the more I process, the more my beliefs don’t stand up to deep scrutiny.

I think we oversimplify the complexity we ponder. We try to tame it, to get our minds around it. The universe is big. God is big. Our experience is small, too small to be definitive. If we live and learn, we add to our knowledge base, and we must abandon the beliefs we once held as true but now recognize as wrong, or at least limited, incomplete. Growth requires change. A changed mind is a growing mind.

The truth is out there.

Creative Juice #251

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Creative Juice #251

A lot of beauty in today’s articles, curated especially for you.

  • Do you like Irish step dancing?
  • If you read my post about the Sirens, you know I love to sleep.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing. And lots of links, if you enjoy going down rabbit holes.
  • I may have included these father of the bride photos in a previous edition of Creative Juice. You know what? They’re so beautiful, you should see them again.
  • Beautiful fruit photography.
  • Read your children some books about kindness and talk about how to make a difference in the lives of the people around you.
  • I’d never heard of Sonny Curtis, even though I’m familiar with two of his most famous songs; but I love his daughter’s essay about him.
  • Would you believe there are 800 pairs of herons living in Amsterdam? Maybe because of the canals. . .
  • Ingenious and useful creations from toilet paper rolls.
  • A mom’s June sketchbook pages.
  • I love this Instagrammer’s ICAD cards.
  • How a quilter pieced a 60-piece block perfectly!

Dad Memories

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Dad Memories

Father’s Day is coming up, and some memories of my dad are surfacing.

My parents came to the United States as German immigrants a few months before I was born. Dad was a trained baker, but he didn’t earn very much the first few years in the US. To make ends meet, he took a second job as a groundskeeper for a couple who owned a large property. One day while he mowed long grass, he accidentally ran over a rabbit’s nest, killing the mother rabbit and most of the babies. One baby was unharmed; he put it in a box and brought it home for me. I named him Thomas.

Wild bunnies do not make good pets. Thomas jumped out of the box and hid behind the sofa, leaving “presents” on the floor. The next morning, Dad said we had to release Thomas back into the wild. He took Thomas out to the backyard and let him go. I watched him hop away while I cried my eyes out.

When I was little, our old family car died, and it sat in the driveway for a time. Dad called it my “play car,” and I would sit behind the steering wheel and pretend I was driving. I loved it. For a while. Then I kind of forgot about it. One day a tow truck came to take it away. I cried. I thought my dad had it towed because I wasn’t playing in it anymore.

I think I was in first grade when our class read a story in our Weekly Readers about a child who made a clown doll, and we were all given the assignment of making a doll like the one in the story. Well, guess what? Six-year-olds have no idea how to sew a clown doll. I think every child who “completed” the assignment brought in a parent-made doll. At my house, for some reason, my dad decided to make mine. He didn’t follow the sketchy directions in the story (but no one’s parents did—every clown doll looked completely different). Dad repurposed an old blue striped curtain to sew the clown’s body. He stuffed it with dried beans.

Dad, June 2009
Dad, June 2009

Dad didn’t share his feelings with us much when we were growing up, unless he was displeased with us—then he made sure we knew our bad behavior was unacceptable. I remember when I was a teenager, I accused him of not loving me. He was bewildered. He said, “Don’t I work hard every day so that you have a roof over your head and food on your plate?” To him, his love was evident; he didn’t need to state the obvious.

But after he had a stroke in 2000, whenever we spoke, he always always said “I love you.”

When my mother passed away in 2004, my brother and I helped plan her Requiem Mass. Bill gave the remembrance; I did the scripture readings. Afterward, Dad told us how proud of us he was. I don’t remember him ever saying that when I was growing up. (I don’t know if he never said it, or if I just can’t remember.)

My brother Bill took care of my parents from at least 2000 on. Dad survived his stroke, but had a slow decline after my mother died. Late in 2013, he was hospitalized. Bill kept him company. He knew the end was near, and he was determined that Dad would not die alone. Two days after Christmas, he left Dad’s room for a couple of minutes, and when he returned, Dad had passed away. It was almost as though Dad waited for Bill to leave before he departed this earth.

If your dad is still with you this Father’s Day, please give him an extra hug for me.

Stifle your Inner Pessimist

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Merriam-Webster defines pessimism as “an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome.” We all have our moments when we view our glasses as half-empty, but when people are plagued by pessimism, frankly, they’re no fun to be around.

Often, people become pessimistic when they are under stress. Losing a loved one or a job, or experiencing a crisis such as a fire, an accident, or an illness can color your outlook with gloom.

But pessimism harms you:

  • By stealing your joy when something good happens, because you anticipate everything that could go wrong (yes, she agreed to go out with me, but when she finds out I earn minimum wage, she’ll dump me for someone richer)
  • By preventing you from making positive changes in your life, because you fear you’ll fail (I could apply for a promotion, but if I don’t get it, everyone will think I’m a loser)
  • By highlighting other people’s worst qualities, which will destroy your trust
  • By giving you a negative attitude about life, causing anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments like insomnia and high blood pressure, which can weaken you and make you susceptible to disease

Though a pessimistic attitude is harmful, there are times when a moderate amount of pessimism is useful:

  • When you’re contemplating an investment, you’re more likely to scrutinize it to be sure it’s a solid opportunity for you
  • When someone phones you with a deal that’s too good to be true, you’re less likely to fall for a scam
  • When someone you know to be unreliable makes a promise, you won’t count on them, so you’ll create a backup plan; or you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they keep their word
  • When you’re asked to take on a responsibility that you know is out of your skill set, you’ll find it easier to decline

Nevertheless, too much pessimism will affect you negatively. It’s important to change your mindset to allow for positivity. Some strategies to try:

  • When something you anticipate being problematic actually goes smoother than you expected, celebrate it! Say out loud, “That went better than I thought it would.” Analyze what went right—the customer service representative knew just how to handle your concern (be sure to thank him); the miscalculation you made was caught and corrected before it had a chance to affect anything; the work product you thought was too ordinary turned out to be exactly what the client was hoping for. Then file your success in your memory bank to refer to when you’re in a similar situation.
  • If you suspect your friends are avoiding you, do a little honest introspection. When you get together, do you vent your frustrations? Talk about all your problems? Shoot down possible solutions? Try this little experiment. Call one of your friends, and ask him something about his life. How was his vacation? What did he do, who did he see? Listen, and resist the impulse to steer the conversation onto a negative topic. Instead, ask more questions about your friend’s experiences.
  • When you have to do something you’re worried about, instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, imagine what the best possible outcomes would look like. Is there something you could do to prepare for a good result? Maybe wear an outfit that makes you feel more professional? Do a little research or review policies? Tape an affirmation over your desk?