Monday, May 30, 2016

Cleaning the Refrigerator

I don't know what came over me Saturday, but for some reason, I felt compelled to clean out the refrigerator. Usually when such a ridiculous compulsion seizes me, I either take a nap or eat ice cream until the urge passes. But with the long holiday weekend and the rain keeping me indoors, I was running out of distractions.

Since I keep an open box of baking soda on each shelf to absorb odors, the chore could have waited another month or two, but procrastination is such an unattractive quality. Don't you agree?  Also, I absolutely love cleaning the refrigerator. It's one of my favorite household chores because of the hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. I get to remove soggy lettuce and limp celery from the vegetable drawer and a couple slices of something from the meat drawer that smell like dead rat . . . or dead turkey, to be precise. If I wait long enough between cleanings, I might even find a fuzzy, green science project in the back corner that defies identification.

I grew up on a farm in central New York. At an early age, I learned that, when you lived in the country, you went to the grocery store no more often than once a month with a list as long as an elephant's trunk. It didn't matter that half of the items would expire long before the next shopping trip. One had to "stock up." Absolutely nothing was allowed to "go to waste."  If the cheese grew moldy, you cut off the mold and made Welsh rarebit. If the bread went stale, you had French toast for breakfast. If the milk passed its expiration date, you made Italian sour cream cake. Rotting fruit was baked into pies or cobblers. Everything else went into the deep freezer in preparation for the inevitable long winter storm.

So, you see, it's hard for me to break with the traditions of childhood. Sometimes I forget the market is only two miles away in any given direction. I can buy fresh produce every day if I choose to. In that case, perhaps I don't need the refrigerator. If I don't use it, it won't get dirty. If it's not dirty, I won't need to clean it. Right? And think of all the money I'll save on baking soda.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Writer's Bum

For an author, only one condition is worse than writer's block. Writer's bum! Writer's bum is the condition which results from our habit of sitting for six-hour stretches at a time. It is far more serious than the "freshman fifteen" or the "pregnancy twenty-five (fifty, in my case)."  Typically, such plights are temporary, and affect the young who still have elastic skin and a metabolism. When one already suffers from middle-age spread, a case of writer's bum can be lethal.

Whether an author spends hour-after-hour seated at a desk or in a big, upholstered chair with an ottoman (like I do) or sprawled on the sofa with a laptop, she risks being afflicted with writer's bum. The condition manifests in a sore tailbone, achy legs that stiffen upon standing, tight hamstrings, jiggly thighs, and a gluteus maximus the size of a barn . . . probably a red barn, but I've never actually checked. If she also spends time sitting on a piano bench (like I do), the condition can render one, well . . . fat. There's just no polite way to describe it.

So, is there a cure for writer's bum? I suppose one could write less and play the piano less, but I refuse to follow such an extreme course of action. One could also eat less, but that doesn't sound like any fun at all. Liposuction might be a viable option if it weren't so painful and expensive.

A writer's only recourse, it seems, is to exercise more. No problem! I'm sure I can walk four miles a day instead of two. Maybe I could add a spinning class a couple times a week, and dig out those free weights I haven't seen since January . . . of 2002. Yes, it should be easy to increase my exercise. I'll just park as far away from any destination as possible, and always opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. Whenever I'm talking on the phone, watching TV, cooking or performing my morning ablution, I'll march in place. There! I have a plan. I'll get started on it as soon as I finish this blog . . . and one or two more chapters of my latest novel . . . and that Chopin prelude I've always wanted to learn. Oh, look at the time! Off to bed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fear Versus Peace

The world is a frightening place. I wonder how anyone can face waking to a new dawn on this planet without acknowledging God's presence and trusting God's promises. God is the only constant in an ever-changing world. He is the same "yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8)," and He is as near as our own breath.   

God created a perfect world for His children to enjoy, and God created each human uniquely, but perfectly in His image. Often our ego (the great deceiver) convinces us we are too sophisticated, logical, scientific or intelligent to believe such seemingly simple concepts.  

I'm convinced that in each of us God placed a hunger that can be satisfied only through companionship with Him. But there are other forces at work making us fearful and trying to steal our joy and our awareness of God's loving presence. Sin and evil have wounded our hearts and our world. All of creation is now flawed, uncertain and in disarray.  It would be easy to throw up our collective hands and say, "It's no use! I give up!"  
Why do we insist upon struggling through life on our own? Why do we see dependence upon our loving Creator as weakness?  Why do we feel helpless and hopeless in the face of life's challenges? When living presents us with its inevitable change and loss, why do we blame God?  

Even in a frightening, uncertain world there is good news. The good news is that we don't need to be bound by the constraints of earthly life or threatened by the evil that surrounds us. Jesus told His disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:13)." 

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Frog, Perhaps?

Since the first grade, I've known I wanted to be a teacher, but I also knew I wanted to be a wife and mother, a singer, a conductor, a writer, and of course, a princess. I have been all those people--well, all except a princess, that is. The beauty of writing is that I can still be a princess . . . on paper.  I can fashion characters who are realistic or fanciful according to my whim. Writers like Tolkein or Rowling create entire worlds, kingdoms, and creatures, bringing them to life through mere words on paper. Shakespeare and Steinbeck hold the power to reduce even the most stoic reader to tears simply by manipulating language. The creative process has no bounds.

Most writers, it seems, are introverts. We are most comfortable inside our own heads. Even we who do not begin to measure up to the great masters can spend hour after hour alone with our thoughts and stories. If you dare interrupt a writer of fiction, you had better have a very good reason or expect to encounter a glassy stare or a full-blown fit of temper. Fiction transports the writer to an alternate plane of awareness. Thus, when the creative juices are flowing, an interruption can feel like being struck on the head with a heavy object.

My husband has learned that, unless the house is on fire or he has discovered a nest of rats in our kitchen, he had best leave me alone while I'm writing. Not only could an interruption incur my immediate wrath, but it could cause him to show up on the pages of my next novel . . . portrayed in a most unattractive light.      

Saturday, May 14, 2016

No Pets!

I'm one of a handful of earthlings who doesn't adore animals, especially the furry, cuddly kind.  Before you judge me too harshly, you should know that I grew up on a farm where I was allergic to all the animals and the crops that fed them. Dogs and cats were considered outdoor animals and never allowed in the house. Furthermore, we shared a hundred-year-old farmhouse with numerous families of mice that skittered between the walls at night. As a child, I would quake in my bed with the covers pulled snugly about me until sleep could no longer be avoided.

My children, like most--I've learned from teaching hundreds of children--entered the world loving animals, especially the furry, cuddly kind.  Oh, bother!  As soon as they were able to speak, they begged for pets.  I allowed parakeets and baby ducks at Easter, but absolutely drew the line at cats or dogs.  At the age of five or six, my daughter informed me most adamantly, "When I grow up I'm going to have as many animals as I want, maybe a million, zillion and you won't be able to stop me 'cause I'll be a grown-up."  Aside: She has three horses and six or seven dogs--I can't keep up with her ever-expanding menagerie--plus rabbits and who knows what else?

Well, I held out for eleven triumphant years, finally acquiescing to getting a dog when our youngest turned twelve.  According to my husband (the turn-coat), "pets are an important part of childhood and help children learn responsibility."  Of course, it was I who learned to be responsible by feeding, grooming, bathing, walking and training the dog.

At first, Blaze was to be an outside dog . . . how else would I give in to the twelve-year conspiracy against me?   My husband even erected a fence around the back yard and built a heated dog house for the creature. Finally we brought home a frisky puppy from the Humane Society.  We named him Blaze because of the blaze of white fur on his chest, and the kids enjoyed running and playing with him in the back yard.  Soon Blaze had wormed himself into the family room for an hour each evening to join us by the warm fireplace. But of course, he had to go back outside to sleep.

Before I realized what had happened, Blaze's heated doghouse had been abandoned and he had firmly established himself as a full-fledged member of our family.  Okay, I know what you're thinking, but, in my defense, Blaze was actually a human disguised in a luxurious chestnut coat with languid brown eyes, the charisma of a rock star and the intelligence of a genius.  He obediently refrained from climbing on the furniture, going upstairs or entering the formal living room and he hardly ever barked.  He could perform all manner of parlor tricks and understood every word we spoke to him.

Thirteen years later, it was I who held the old guy on my lap as my husband and I took him to the vet for our final "farewell," tears streaming down both of our faces.  By then our kids were grown and had pets--and children--of their own.  I'll never have another pet, not because furry animals make me sneeze, wheeze and itch (and they do), but because no pet, however cuddly, intelligent or obedient could ever measure up to Blaze, the dog I didn't want.    

Friday, May 13, 2016

God Cares

I used to walk around with so much stuff from the past in my head that I couldn't focus on the here-and-now. Incessantly, the swirling, buzzing, random thoughts would distract from conversations and tasks. Journaling helped me organize the clutter my head, one thought at a time--one day at a time.

While I used to pour my memories, longings and musings onto the pages of a diary, now I write on virtual paper, using a keyboard. The process, while different in execution, is still effective in helping me live better in the present. It's like removing clutter from a room. Once the extraneous stuff is cleared away, it ceases to distract the eye, making the space, itself, visible. Not until the When the noise of my thoughts is reduced, can chaos be replaced by calm.

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God." Ironically, being still requires active participation. I've learned that to be still in God's presence, I must get quiet, breathe deeply, and let go of tension and worry to create space in my head. Then and only then am I able to replace my thoughts with God's thoughts. So, writing in a journal prepares my mind to be still by clearing the cobwebs and calming the crazies.

I guess you could say it is a form of meditation. I write whatever thoughts come to mind without regard to structure, spelling, grammar or punctuation. I don't attempt to edit or rewrite until I'm finished. In this way my thoughts flow onto the page quickly before I forget them and authentically before I have the chance to evaluate their literary worth. 

I view journaling as a form of prayer. It helps me identify the concerns that are foremost in my mind and on my heart, so I can bring them to God who cares. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Finding Purpose

I think every human wants to know that his or her life has a purpose and that s/he is fulfilling that purpose.  A life lived in vain is a life lived in pain.  We wake up.  We go to work (or school).  We come home.  We go to bed.  Sometime within that twenty-four hour period we pay bills and rush to appointments, games and the grocery store.  On a good day, we find time to interact with family members or connect with a friend, but what is the ultimate purpose of a life lived on earth?

I spent fifteen years of my adult life in relentless physical pain, all while trying to raise a family and sustain a career.  Feeling useless and hopeless, I reached a point of wanting to end my life.  Life was not worth living. I wondered how my existence could have any purpose.  I had so many unfulfilled dreams, yet I could barely get up each morning and put one foot in front of the other.  But they were my dreams, not God's plans for me.  After many years of struggle just to exist, I surrendered everything--all the pain and all the dreams--to God.  I surrendered my will to God's will for me.  Ultimately, I asked for just five worthwhile years.  Lo and behold!  Since I uttered that desperate prayer, God has given me twenty wonderful, fulfilling years.

What is life's purpose?  Each person must seek the answer for himself or herself.  As for me, I've discovered that my life's purpose is to serve and glorify God.  Since accepting that purpose, my life has become worth living. That's not to say it is easy or pain-free or without mistakes.  There are challenges, sorrows and frustrations.  As my body ages, there will be more physical pain.  There will be loss and grief.  But I can face it all with courage because I know God is leading me and walking through it all with me.  In finding God's purpose, I have received life's most sought-after gift. Peace.  


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Breaking Cycles

I think we learn to love others the way we have been loved.  If we have been smothered by an emotionally needy parent, we become clingy and needy ourselves.  If we were raised by a distant, unresponsive parent, we may find it difficult to express love.  Sometimes the signals are confusing.  If children are told "I love you," but are treated with harsh words or even abuse, they grow into adults who equate that negative behavior with love.

In my religious education, I remember learning that the Greek language contains six words meaning "love." I was able to recall three of them, but had to consult the internet for the other three. Eros refers to sexual love, philia is the love of a deep friendship, ludus is playful love, pragma is the term for longstanding love, philautia is love of self and agape is the Greek term meaning love for everyone. What a practical, specific language!

It occurs to me that whatever the type of love, if behavior doesn't match the word, the word becomes meaningless.  If I say, "I love you" to a friend, but never call, write or visit, I may be perfectly sincere in my feeling of philia, but how can my friend trust this declaration of love without actions to back it up?   If a parent says, "I love you" to a child but constantly berates or even hits him or her, how can that child grow up with a healthy sense of what pragma entails?  Chances are the child will, instead, become an adult who has difficulty trusting, expressing or even understanding true love.

Agape is the one love that we can always trust because agape is of God. It is the perfect, unconditional love from a perfect, loving higher power. Agape love never fails and it never ends. It is unmerited and eternal. We cannot earn it and we cannot be separated from it. Agape is a free gift to be received, cherished and returned.  It is easier to trust God's agape once we break the cycle of our past experiences with love that did not match in word and deed.   When we can finally feel and practice genuine philautia (love of self), we can insist that others treat us with philia--matching their words and actions. Then and only then will our hearts be open to receiving agape love.          

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day

I don't know who invented Mother's Day--other than Hallmark--but, as a mother, I must admit I thoroughly enjoy being showered with cards, flowers, phone calls and pampering.  In fact, I wouldn't mind celebrating three or four Mother's Days a year.  Mother's Day is especially significant for my mom and me because I was born on Mother's Day and the two holidays coincide every seven years.  But there are women for whom Mother's Day brings only painful memories and sorrow.  

A dear friend of mine wasn't able to bear children.  She and her husband love children, but their lost dream of having a family left them disappointed and heartbroken.  Another friend suffered multiple miscarriages before finally having a healthy child.  I know a young woman who carried her first baby to term, only to experience the unimaginable anguish of stillbirth.  Others who have lost a beloved child or a cherished mother dread the day that many of us find so special.  They wish they could stay in bed with the covers pulled over their heads until the day passes.  They long for tomorrow when they will no longer have to smile and respond with with an empty "thank you" as their fellow worshiper or restaurant server wishes them a Happy Mother's Day.

I am so grateful for my children and my grandchildren.  My world lights up when I see them or talk to them, especially on Mother's Day.  On Mother's Day we moms forget about the labor pains, sleepless nights, dirty diapers, toddler tantrums, fevers, sprains, stains and teenage angst. We recall only the good times.  My heart hurts for the many women who would give anything to share in--or relive--every experience of motherhood, diapers, tantrums and all.        

Monday, May 2, 2016

"They get on the walls"

Words are living, breathing entities.  Words hold the power to heal or destroy, to build up or tear down. For that reason, the speaker or writer must choose with care.  Dr. Maya Angelou, one of the greatest people of our century--of any century--believed that words, once spoken "get on the walls."  I remember the first time I heard her say this and it had such an impact on my thinking that I recorded her actual quote in my journal: 

"Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.”  

Every human being has said or written words they wish they could take back. I know I have. A harsh word spoken in the heat of the moment, a patronizing compliment uttered out of manipulation rather than sincerity, a complaint or criticism arising from one's own pathetic insecurity.  These words need not be spoken because they do not make the world a better place.  

If I am to be a writer, I must remember to choose my words carefully, for my words will outlive me. "They get on the walls."   

Sunday, May 1, 2016


I'm starting another diet today.  Let's see!  That makes approximately 7,892 diets in my lifetime, give or take one or two.  I've tried pills, shakes, protein bars, low carbohydrate, counting calories, counting points, weighing, not weighing, counseling, meetings . . . and yes, I've tried to fake myself out by calling it a "live-it" instead of a "diet."  You see, I want to lose weight.  I want to be slim, trim and healthy, but here's the rub . . . I don't want to eat less.  When I eat less I feel deprived and tired.  I feel like I'm starving and all I can think about is EATING.  Of course, when I overeat, I feel bloated, uncomfortable, ashamed and worthless . . . but somehow those temporary sensations are worth it. Because I love food.  So, there you have it!

I think some people's brains are wired to eat uncontrollably.  I'm sure mine is.  I picture a cookie-monster-like creature that lives inside my head, constantly barraging my grey matter with lies:

"You know you want that piece of cake and it's not that big.  Go ahead and have a second helping. You can walk it off tomorrow.  Yes, broiled would be better, but fried tastes so good!  So what if you just had dinner.  A bedtime snack will help you sleep better."  

I have "fought the good fight," given it "the old college try," "battled my demons" again and again.  I have lost the same twenty pounds more times than I can count.  My closet has more sizes than the clothing department at Target. I don't think I can put myself through the agony of dieting--and failing--again.

But today is a new day!  It's a good day to check my attitude, adjust my thinking, forget my past failures and look to the future. I can do anything for one day at a time, right?

Yes! I can do this! I'll start first thing tomorrow!