Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today is Thanksgiving 2009 and I sit at my computer to share my thoughts about the day. East Tennessee is experiencing the most glorious weather today with blue skies, light breezes and fluffy clouds scudding across the sky. I often gaze about me, regardless of any specific holiday, and marvel at the beauty that surrounds me. We are nestled at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the terrain is gentle, rolling hills, dramatic ridges, many lakes and rivers, mist wreathed mountains in the distance and the verdant glory of the Tennessee Valley. I have lived several other places in my life, but I always find myself returning my home. Southern hospitality and friendliness, soft cadence of liquid vowels in our speech, savory southern cuisine, rich history and old-fashioned manners still exist in a manner unique to this region. Family is here, friends are as well, and memories abound to create what I consider to be an ideal place to live.

This past year has been a challenging one, for me on a personal basis, as well as for our country and for the world at large. Yet, despite personal challenges, this year has also been one of deep and intimate discovery and growth. It was this year that I began the next level of my writing career and embraced some new genres, with one of them being blogging. I count the blogging process as one of the most unexpected, delightful changes in my life. I am growing as a writer and a creative spirit in areas that I hadn't anticipated and that makes the experience all the richer. I am finding that my writing is reaching out to people around the world and sparking conversation, laughter, growth and a desire to delve deeper into areas that inspire.

I have made conscious shifts and adjustments on a personal level that have opened up my life, once again, in ways that I could never have predicted. Friendships both old and new are flourishing and family connections continue to be that golden, happy energy in my life. I am blessed beyond measure, I find, on this lovely November afternoon. Yes, there is sadness in the world, tragedies exist and injustices happen. Today, however, I choose to focus on the blindingly sharp clarity that surrounds me and write my appreciation in the most glowing words possible.

I feel a profound sense of happiness today and I am aware that that is, in part, a result of the people with whom I surround myself. It is also a culmination of hopes, dreams and desires that I have chosen to hone and tweak until I have created a wide open path for myself to walk. Life is, indeed, good and I am fortunate to be here, this day, this hour, with these people and experiences.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Artistic hands

The holidays are upon us, and they bring to mind memories of childhood. I am aware that I write about my family a great deal. I guess this is natural, as they gave me my firm foundation in life. As children, we were fortunate to live next door to my maternal grandparents. My Grandfather was a farmer who raised tobacco in East Tennessee. He had a barn and an old smokehouse where for much of my childhood, he continued the old ways of doing things. His mother and sister, my Great-Grandmother and Great Aunt, raised flowers to sell downtown on Market Square Mall and that was the reason they all were so talented at making things with their hands. The winter months had to be supplemented with sales of something, and that something was holiday decorations, wreaths and dried flowers.

When the holidays approached, sometime after the first few frosts had hit, it was time to make Christmas wreaths. My Grandpa was a master at this. He would go into the woods to cut grapevines for the base of the wreaths, evergreens such as hemlock (although they called it cedar), boxwood and pine branches, holly leaves and berries, and gather pinecones for various decorations. Mistletoe would be shot out of the tops of trees after all the winds had stripped the branches bare. This was always an opportunity for small grandchildren to tag along and chatter his head off as he gathered everything into big burlap bags.

Bags and bags of greenery would be carried back to the barn, set out on tables and the work would begin. Grapevines would be cut and wound into circles for the base of the wreaths. Strong baling twine would be used to secure everything to the grapevine bases. My task, because my hands were too small to pull the twine tightly enough, was to pull small swatches of evergreens from the branches and hand them to my Grandpa as he built the wreaths.

He would have buckets of water set out that he would pour metalic paint - gold, silver, bronze - onto the surface. Pinecones would be tied to twigs with string and dipped down into the water, emerging gilded by the metallic paint, then hung over a handy nail on the wall of the barn to dry. The same would be done at times with twigs of holly leaves and berries, wild grass seed pods and pine cones. I always loved that particular part of the whole process, watching the dark brown pine cones disappear into the water and come out shiny silver or gold.

The quiet gloom of the barn was peaceful and frosty cold in the early winter days. My brother and sister usually grew bored with the wreath making process in a short period of time, and would escape to play in the fields. I tended to stay there for hours on end, just sitting quietly, watching as the wreaths grew from such simple, humble beginnings into full, glossy, fragrant works of art. Chatter was not encouraged too much once we got back to the barn, but from what I remember, my Grandpa did enjoy the small jewels of wisdom that would come from my child's mind when I was "helping" him make those wreaths.

To this day, I can close my eyes and picture the ground floor of the barn and those work tables full of winter greenery. My Grandpa's hands were huge to my little girl's eyes and strong and tough enough to handle the prickly evergreens and holly branches with a deftness that to this day amazes me. He would work quickly, pulling that tough twine tight to bind the greenery to the grapevine hoops, scattering the decorative pinecones and berries in random patterns. Sometimes he would create something on a whim, such as a wreath made entirely out of straw. His eye for proportion and texture would serve him well as an artist today, I am sure.

For me, as a small child, what mattered most was getting the chance to just be with him and experience this important part of the holidays. The earthy scents of the barn would be spiked with the sharp, clear, tangy tones of the evergreen clippings. The chemical smell of the metallic paints would also punctuate the air. Yet above all of this was the absolute stillness of being out in the country on a winter morning. The winds whispering through the open barn doors, birds singing, squirrels chattering in the trees, the sounds of distant trains, and the occasional conversation shared between a three year old little girl and a Grandpa in his work overalls, who to that little girl, could work magic with his hands.

Years later, my Mom and I tried our hand at making some Christmas wreaths and I was astonished at how challenging a task it truly is. Our results were pretty, but tended to shed some greenery here and there where we failed to pull the twine tightly enough.

It is an art that is becoming fully mechanized these days, the making of wreaths. I find that to be a bit of a shame. There were occasional years when lots of family would visit around Christmas and we would all sit around and make wreaths; this was always a wonderful thing, full of the typical laughter that occurs when family comes together. The fact is, making holiday wreaths isn't for the faint of heart - it requires dexterity, long hours of labor, strong hands and an exacting eye for placement of greenery. I can understand why they are now being mass produced. While the ones I've made would never stand up to my Grandfather's critique, I do retain the knowledge of what I consider to be a noble art.

When I do attempt to make wreaths on my own, it is always with the memories of watching my Grandpa flowing through my mind, reminding me of simpler times spent in the barn, watching a true artist at work. He would scoff at being called such a title, but this is what I see as a strong truth. I think he enjoyed in a very deep manner the beauty he produced and the enjoyment his wreaths gave to so many. He would have called himself a simple farmer, and he was that very thing. My mind also saw him as a man with artistic hands, capable of producing beautiful works of art each holiday season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Belief and transparency

When I began the process of blogging, I had no idea how it would grab hold of my whole Spirit and become such a joyful experience. I have always written, have always held the intent to achieve certain goals with my writing and have been quietly putting those steps in place over time. Blogging sort of fell into my lap unexpectedly and has proved to be an outlet for creativity in a manner that is unique for me. Here, I do not have to please any specific client, adhere to any other schedule or format than the timeframe and template I choose for my blog page, and even those can be tweaked at will. Blogging, therefore, is one step removed, for me, from journaling. Where journaling is my innermost private thoughts written in longhand in artist's sketchbooks, blogging is almost as personal a creative process, written on the computer screen.

That very fact has become a learning process all its own. It starts out relatively simple. You start writing and you post a blog. Then you tell friends about it. At some point, you stumble across ways to promote your blog and you begin to amass people who follow your blog. That's when the realization begins to settle in that, as a result, blogging makes you transparent. By that, I mean that your thoughts are out there for the world to see, via the internet, with the stroke of a key. Hence, what began as just another writing exercise takes on new meaning. People post comments and send emails, replying to a given blog with positive or negative statements. You, as the author of the blog, learn from these comments and you grow as a writer. And you accept that you have chosen to continue to embrace this path of relative transparency. I think a quote by one of my favorite Sages addresses this concept quite well:

"When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."

~ Winnie the Pooh

This, then, is where I come to the "belief" part of the title of this blog. When I sit down to write a blog, it is 100% of the time because I've had a conversation with someone, read something, heard a song, looked at, or experienced something beautiful and my mind will not leave me alone until I get the words written. I never know how any given blog post will be received by the people who read it. In fact, when friends who follow my blog tell me they read a post, or that they follow my blog faithfully, it still has the power to shock me a bit. Perhaps all creative people have that reaction, not really truly believing in their own talent. This is another indelible lesson that blogging is teaching me - to believe in my own talent.

I have learned over a lifetime of writing, that for me, it is best to just write it out and not critique it too harshly in one sitting. Walk away from it and return the following day, see how it reads from a fresh perspective - this is my normal process. When I adhere to that formula, I am usually quite pleased with what I have created. There are, however, quite often moments when I think that a blog post, or an article I've written just doesn't really hit the note for which I was striving. The final draft doesn't seem to flow freely along with the melody in my mind. Again, I have learned to ignore those doubts, tweak the final draft to the best of my ability and post it. I am finding that a very large number of the posts I have wrestled with a niggling sense of doubt about, in fact, turn out to be the ones that people post the most comments about. Postive comments, at that.

One friend, in email conversation mentioned that (paraphrased here), " felt at the time that it deserved the focus and attention to write it out. I believe that means it should live."

This was in response to my self-doubts and wondering if I had written something too similar to a recent post and if I should delete the post I felt to be of duplicate content.

Another very dear friend and fellow blogger commented on my most recent post, entitled Musical Thoughts with glowing remarks that completely smoothed out those ever present niggling doubts I had had about that post. For a few long moments, I contemplated just not posting that blog entry, for fear that my concept was bit too outlandish for most people to relate to. I was beyond pleased when this friend wrote such positive comments and indicated that I had made an impact in the way he viewed writing. For me as a writer, that is the ultimate compliment and one that I will treasure. It tells me that if I stay in that calm, quiet assurance I have when I am writing, and trust myself and my instincts, the words will flow and will have that impact I am seeking to impart.

There are moments when I write a blog that everything sparkles, the planets all align and the words flow effortlessly, with the final result just making my heart sigh in pleasure. Those moments are more rare than some might expect. Writing is definitely hard work, full of inner struggles, frustrations and tons of doubt, I have found.

So, for me, belief, transparency and Pooh's comments about "Things suddenly not being so Thingish when other people get a look at them" have coalesced into a surprisingly comfortable combination. Indeed, those "Thingish Things" do change when others read them and I find that to be one of the most rewarding aspects of writing, blogging, etc. My own decision to believe in my writing ability and take the next logical step into the transparent world of blogging has opened up a panorama of Thingish Things. While I still struggle occasionally with typical moments of doubt, the greater and stronger result is that I am discovering new depths, layers and dimensions of writing and blogging. Consequently, I am receiving confirmation that perhaps I am making a difference to a small number of people in the process. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that someone has read my stuff and enjoyed the experience. It doesn't get much better than that, so, here's to continuing to embrace belief and transparency.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Musical thoughts

Last night I was reading about Einstein. I've always found him to be a fascinating character, as much for his personality, humor and quirky observations as for his scientific achievements. According to his contemporaries, he was a bit of an odd bird in many ways, which seems to highlight the warm side of his nature that much more. Perhaps, though, I am extrapolating - only those close to him could say if the man was warm-natured. I will say this much; Einstein provides a great deal of inspiration and contemplation for me on a wide range of topics. Today's inspiration comes back to one that I draw from

"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music...I draw most joy in life out of music." ~ Albert Einstein

I found it fascinating to read that particular passage. Hmm, I thought, another soul who thinks (or thought when he was living) the way that I do, and it turns out to be Einstein. Go figure. I am in no way equating my mindset to that of a scientific genius. In fact, I find the comparison and similarity to be rather unusual. I've noted in a past blog my own particular absorption with music and lyrics. This is something I have always experienced and for a good many years, I just assumed everyone else viewed the world in a similar manner. When I found this to be untrue, I admit to being a bit stunned. Confused might be a better word. I just wasn't prepared to learn that, no, most people don't get caught up in the layers of music and the tiny shifts in wording and lyrics the way that I do. I'm not kidding - this was a revelation to me, around the age of eleven. Over time, I also discovered that people like me, who relate strongly to music, often seem to have a strong eye for gradations of color. I would love to know the genetic reasoning behind those traits seeming to co-exist. Little things like this just rivet my attention.

I can tell you one thing for certain - throwing the topic out for discussion can spark some deeply interesting conversations. I have a close girlfriend who thinks, daydreams, breathes in mathematical equations. That absolutely captivates me, simply because my brain doesn't work with linear logic the way that her brain does. To her, I daresay, mathematics is a form of equational poetry. It has a cadence that makes sense to her, and that makes her heart sing. I have a cousin who thinks, daydreams and breathes all things mechanically related. He can listen to a car motor and his ear picks up some infinitesimal nuance that the rest of us are deaf to hearing. His hands are as delicate and talented as any brain surgeons as he works on restoring classic cars and the finished projects are dazzling to the senses.

I guess that I can sum this post up by saying that we all have our own unique Einstein-ian musical thoughts. It manifests differently, and beautifully in each of us, specific to the harmony of our individual spirits. While music definitely is the primary manner in which my own thoughts drift and flow, I'm not musically gifted in regard to playing a musical instrument or singing. Therefore, my thoughts eventually translate into words. Putting words on paper is my tangible application of musical thoughts. It delights me to create with words, splashing them with mad fervor at times, brushing them lightly and softly as a sigh at other moments. All the while, during my creative moments, in my mind are my own Einstein-ian musical thoughts.

I admit to wondering how Einstein might regard this blog, sparked by what may have been some random comment he made in passing. Would he find it interesting? Would he nod in companionable understanding? Would he shake his head in doubt that I missed his point entirely? Of course it doesn't really matter, but those thoughts flit about in my writer's mind and I enjoy the various scenarios. I just know that once I read the above quote last night, the thoughts began to swarm in my head, much like the lyrics of a song that demands to not be forgotten. I knew that a blog was the inevitable result and here I am, finishing up. I, too, live my daydreams in music....and I translate them into a reality and my own personal symphony, of words. I count myself fortunate that the result always makes me happy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This is an ode to....sundried tomatoes and green apples. Why, you ask? Because I love them both, is my reply.

Sundried tomatoes....they bring to mind long, endless sultry summer days. The early morning spent gathering plump, small, sweet tomatoes to cut and lay out on mesh screens, bared to the ruthless rays of the summer light. Small hands venturing a swift touch to ascertain whether the ruby flesh has yet reached that perfect chewy consistency for a stolen snack. Adult hands swatting us away to play in the fields as screens are patiently tended, flipped, and moved to follow the sun's path over the course of the lazy, slow day. Cheesecloths are used to discourage insects and opportunistic bees, although the occasional foray by curious birds happens here and there.

The scent redolent of summer, tangy, causing mouths to water in expectation of a tart explosion of sensation on the tongue. Rich, dark red as they dry, the tomatoes taking on a curious leathery texture, rattling dryly as they are packed into bags for storage. In the winter months, pulled out to produce flavorful meals, sauces and condiments. Rehydrated, the heady bouquet of summer fills the kitchen and brings back memories of summers long past.


Summer wanes and fall brings fruit to the small wizened green apple trees in the fields. More harvesting, preparation and plump fruit layed out on drying screens. Fat, lazy bees buzz about the crisp white flesh of the small apples, the drone soporific and soothing. Bright green notes of flavor hover over the screens, pushing appetites beyond bearing and lightening the drying screens in a surreptitious manner known to all small children. What better forbidden treat than fresh cut, slowly drying apples, fragrant and warm from the sun? I can close my eyes and bring to mind those days, when I was barely tall enough to reach up to the drying screens set on wooden sawhorses in my Aunt Carrie's backyard.

Gentle again, those memories of childhood, as they scroll fluidly through my mind's eye. Fruit dried in the most old fashioned manner producing treats throughout the rest of the year, both savory and sweet delights. Winter kitchens filled with zesty, robust tomato fragrance, followed by rich, tongue-tingling, spicy-sweet apple pies and fritters. Flaky buttery pastries melting in the mouth, eyes closed in rapturous enjoyment. All produced with humble mesh screens, wooden sawhorses, judicious exposure to the warm summer sun and time spent with family. What better reason to wax rhapsodic in this small, personal ode to the fruits and labors of distant childhood memories.

Lamp shining brightly

A couple of friends of mine are going through some challenges. One lost a beloved family member; another was just having a really crummy personal day. The quote below came to mind for both of them and prompted me to write my own thoughts:

"Perhaps it will seem to you that the sunshine is brighter and that everything has a new charm. At least, I believe this is always the result of a deep love. And it is a beautiful thing. And I believe people who think love prevents one from thinking clearly are wrong; for then one thinks very clearly and is more active than before. And love is something eternal - the aspect may change, but not the essence. There is the same difference in a person before and after he is in love as there is in an unlighted lamp and one that is burning. The lamp was there and it was a good lamp, but now it is shedding light too, and that is its real function. And love makes one calmer about many things, and in that way, one is more fit for one's work."
~ Vincent Van Gogh

I have always found this quote to be startlingly beautiful. The concept captures so many different applications of how we, as humans, love. It also narrows the reader's focus to a still, silent thought, a moment to ponder love and how it illumines each Soul.

We all have those unpleasant days - at times they can go beyond the span of a day - where nothing feels good. Nothing seems to fit, colors are muted and sounds are muffled. We twist and turn, searching for something outside of ourselves to mitigate this dimming effect. At times, something outward does do the trick. There are moments which require only a change in scenery, or the company of a good friend to lift our mood and banish the gloom. For the moments that extend beyond those quick fixes, Van Gogh's quote sometimes comes to mind for me.

For those who have suffered the recent loss of a deeply loved one, the process of grief is an individual one. Each of us must walk that particular path alone, moving through the various stages until acceptance finally is met. Love from those still here can certainly prove to be a lifeline which we all grasp hold of. There will be, without a doubt, days of darkness to navigate in solitude. Days where your heart is sore with loss and nothing seems capable of soothing. Again, I come back to Van Gogh's quote.

Love is a fickle creature, of a certainty. It is also that which lifts us, transports us to joyous bliss, fills us up with fizzing delight, warms us with a soft, lambent inner glow. We can be pitched into the depths of despair by love, left sprawled on the floor, completely undone and broken. That light...that lamp which Van Gogh identifies as the analogy and symbol of is always there. It may require effort on our part at times to light, or to shelter from whipping winds of change. I daresay we should consider ourselves dutiful stewards of our individual lamps. Without constant care, the lamp can grow dull, can become depleted of sufficient fuel to shine brightly in the darkness.

It is perhaps very simplistic to claim that printing a quote from long ago might have the power to lift the hearts of those reading this blog post. A friend having a challenging day might not feel like being coaxed into a better mood by Van Gogh's perspective. The friend in the midst of fresh, sharp grief and the loss of a loved one might not have the energy to even think about reading a blog post. Others dealing with their own challenges may brush this off as just another blog post full of self-indulgent optimism, hearts and flowers and those inevitable rose-colored glasses that this writer insists on wearing. All of the above have merit. I cannot claim to have miraculous answers or solutions for those who are in the midst of their own personal struggles.

What I can do, however, is reach out in my own personal fashion. I can share the quote above in the sure knowledge that, if it touched my heart and continues to have value for me, most likely it will touch others and inspire. I think that Van Gogh's words are beautiful, full of hope, that they communicate a wish for those reading the words to have courage and believe in the fact that love is eternal.

"...the aspect may change, but not the essence."

We forget, often, in the midst of our personal moments of crisis, that love is an eternal constant. It truly is the most powerful emotion in existence and can banish a crummy day in the twinkling of an eye. Soothing broken hearts obviously requires much more time and effort, but the eternal nature of this emotion, coupled with the healing application of time, is again that one endless constant. How fortunate we are, then, that brilliant minds took time to write personal thoughts for us to read hundreds of years later; to be encouraged, to be inspired, to be gently wrapped in the words of love and brought through those maelstrom moments to calmer shores.

We can believe...and know, for it is true, that our lamp shines brightly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Age old dichotomy

So, I was chatting with a friend via email earlier today, about the various and sundry basic differences between the sexes. A guy friend, to be specific. Somehow, in the midst of several other topics, we got off on a tangent of the differences between men and women. You all have probably at least heard of that book, the one that throws out Mars vs. Venus mentality. While at times, I think that concept is somewhat simplistic in approach, it cannot be denied that there is truth there.

I had been venting in an email earlier in the week, and this friend did what had to be a very difficult thing for him, which was that he just listened. He wrote back that it definitely was his nature to automatically "fix things" but that he understood that, sometimes, women really do just want men to listen. How about that, ladies....a man who really does recognize that simple truth! He admitted that he "got it" but also admitted that his knee-jerk tendency is always going to be to just jump right in and fix the situation in a typically manly fashion. I'm joking at bit at the expense of all men, of course. They could shoot right back with their own pithy comments on our typically female tendencies.

The whole spark for this conversation was that this guy friend really, really (no, REALLY) likes to fix things. It's just his nature. My nature is that I like to really, really (no, REALLY) analyze things. While I was replying via email, my mind drifted back to a conversation that I had had with a group of girlfriends, probably a good twenty years ago. It was about the silly things we all do when home alone that we would rarely admit to anyone.

For example, I still am not that comfortable letting a hand or foot dangle off the side of the mattress in the middle of the night because, well, the Thing That Lives Under The Bed could grab me. I've always wondered, honestly, do men think these things? Or even worry about them? Or is it just a female tendency? And if men don't think or worry about such things, what are their quiet little secrets that they'd simply die before admitting to us?

Getting back to the subject of men vs. women, yes, it probably doesn't make sense that we females do want to vent to you men, but we don't necessarily want you to fix things - we want you to listen. I'm repeating that concept, because it tends to make men just sort of stop and stare with a puzzled expression, or perhaps scratch your head a bit.

"'Just listen, she says,'" you echo. "No killing, or conquering necessary. Hmmph. Go figure."

We know you probably don't get exactly why we want that, because you're much more comfortable with fixing the issue at hand. Fixing means action is involved and that's a comfortable spot for men. Listening involves, well, listening and not blasting testosterone.

I.e., in your most reasonable, manly tone, you much prefer to say to us, "Just show me what to aim at so I can kill it for you and we can go eat dinner."

I went on to say that, conversely, we females don't get how, when there's a creepy noise outside, you men automatically leap out of bed, grab the nearest bashing-their-brains-out tool at hand, and go OUTSIDE to investigate. We women know that that's what the bed linens are for - to pull over your head and wait until the creepy noise goes away. However, this practical attitude changes somewhat if you're going to leave us alone, in the dark, in the bedroom while you go stalk the creepy noise.

In that case, we suddenly become a big fan of your manly qualities, leap from the bed and plaster ourselves to your heels as you stalk that creepy noise. That way, we're assured of the fact that we won't die in that darkened bedroom all alone while you're OUTSIDE, investigating. This is when it immediately makes perfect sense to suddenly embrace the logic of the opposite sex. Women recognize that the person left in the darkened bedroom, or living room, etc., in any B-grade horror movie is the one that dies first, and usually, most hideously. Men are more concerned with bashing something a good lick or two so they can come back inside, dust their hands off and fall into bed to sleep the sleep of a job well done.

Personally, I'd love to have that approach at times, because it is direct, to the point and it seems so simple and efficient. Is that my nature? Of course not! Being the analytical type that I am, I prefer to poke at the situation, circle around it, maybe shift it a few inches over to that side, then maybe push it right back where it started, then have a cup of hot tea while I think about it from another angle. This would drive most self-respecting manly men quietly out of their minds, I realize. Not to mention the fact that if it were one of those B-grade horror movies, I'd have already gotten my head and my hand lopped off when I poked at the issue to begin with.

This is how my writer's imagination takes hold of a tiny thread of thought and just dives in with creative enthusiasm. I can't help it. Questions start to swim in my brain, demanding answers.

When men are all alone for a long weekend, say that their spouse or significant other is on a business trip, do they tend to leave more lights on throughout the house at night? That girlfriend conversation I mentioned from years ago shared some hilarious examples of what women do when their spouse or boyfriend is away for more than one night, and I must point out that many of them had to do with avoiding The Thing That Lives Under The Bed. This made me feel SO much better that I wasn't the only person alive who is leery of that critter!

One anecdote involved a girlfriend taking a running leap to jump into bed from several feet away, thus avoiding walking right up to the mattress and running the risk of getting her ankle grabbed by The Thing. (Apparently, it is Universally recognized by all females that when the guy is home, The Thing isn't as brave about grabbing ankles or a dangling over the mattress hand. Again, it's probably something about testosterone being present.) She went on to tell us that she kept a stack of books on the bedside table to throw at the wall switch to turn off the overhead light, rather than do her running leap in the dark. She also slept right slap in the center of the mattress so that The Thing wouldn't know which side she would jump out of in the morning - and her exit, similar to her entry, was a huge, giant leap that she made certain spanned a good three feet from the edge of the mattress, guaranteeing that her Exit Strategy placed her well beyond the territory of the dreaded Ankle Grab Zone. I hadn't ever thought of that maneuver, but I do remember laughing so hard at the tales admitted to in that conversation that I was crying and my face was cramping up.

It's the eternal debate - men and women really DO approach things differently. I can guarantee that anyone reading this blog is sitting there, sagely and women alike, with myriad scenarios running through their mind that make complete sense to their specific gender, but would mystify the other gender completely. I would also hazard a guess that the biggest percentage of those scenarios are just downright funny if you were to put them into written format. If you're so inclined, after reading this blog, please feel free to share your own Mars vs. Venus anecdotes in the Comments section. I'm always up for hearing more hilarious anecdotes and variations to a theme!

There really isn't a higher-minded, spiritual purpose to this particular post. The friend I was chatting with via email just pointed out to me that I had entertained him with a few brief comments on the subject and suggested it might make for a good blog topic. I agreed, and sat down to write on the topic and this is what I finished with. It is meant to read as a lighthearted, good-natured view of both sexes and how we uniquely approach life. If I made you laugh, then my job was well done and I'm happy. I have laughed multiple times while writing out the memories and the various scenarios. Laughter is healing and joyful, so perhaps that could be considered the spiritual application of this blog entry.

Men and women are intrinsically different with our respective approaches to life, and therein lies that ages old, humor-filled, eternally fascinating, dichotomy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lawn chair circles

How many people are old enough to remember the yearly spring ritual of refurbishing lawn chairs? I'm not quite sure what the correct term would be. I'm speaking of the process of buying new rolls of plastic strips of materials and replacing the seats and backs of all the lawn chairs for the new year. This required patience and skill, because if you didn't get the strips woven and secured tightly enough, the seats of the chairs would sag and tear.

In a brief side note, I am from a very large family. My Mom is one of nine siblings, and our family is unusually close. We were fortunate enough to live next door to my maternal grandparents when I was a child, and this meant that our house was the hub of all visiting activities throughout any given year. Holidays, summer weekends, etc., there always seemed to be someone visiting. This meant that a large number of lawn chairs were necessary to have on hand. They were stored out of the weather for the winter months, but the nature of the materials used to create the seats and backs almost always necessitated a yearly refurbishing session.

A day would be set aside to revamp all the lawn chairs, and scissors, screwdrivers and lots of hands were required. This process usually took a few hours and involved lots of laughter, stories and discussion. The adults would do the measuring and cutting of the plastic webbed strips of material, and the kids would do the weaving, in and out, of the strips. The edges would be folded neatly and a screw would be punched through and secured into the aluminum chair frame, bolting each strip down. Once the newly restored lawn chairs were finished, the inevitable front yard visiting would ensue.

This same type of thing would also occur at my Aunt Carrie's house, which was just down the lane from my grandparent's house. Aunt Carrie's house had a front porch, a porch swing and great big tree in the front yard that was perfect for climbing. Depending on the day, the number of people visiting, and what was going on, we would congregate at Aunt Carrie's front porch where the porch swing, the glider and various cane chairs, benches and rocking chairs existed. If any of the myriad grandkids (approximately 27 of us) grew bored, that big tree would beckon to be climbed, or the front yard would become the staging ground for any number of games. Sometimes, if the occasion was really special, the hand-cranked ice cream maker would be brought out. Rock salt would be poured inside and everyone would take a turn cranking the handle to produce that wonderful ice cream. To my way of thinking, porch swings and rocking chairs just invite people to settle down, sit and visit. Aunt Carrie's porch was always another gathering spot when people visited.

I miss those days. Times have changed so drastically that people don't spend much time joining together on the front lawn or front porch, talking. Television, computers, computer games and all manner of technology seem to have pulled our attention away from socializing face to face. I rarely even see those old fashioned lawn chairs anymore. The new portable fold-out styles seem to be taking over.

I can close my eyes and still see the circle of lawn chairs in my grandparent's front yard. There was a huge Weeping Willow tree that provided a fairytale enclosure beneath its graceful branches. To the right side of the house, my Grandpa grew squash in a small patch. This provided reeds that all my uncles could, with a pocket knife, magically create whistles for all the grandkids to play with. We could also make whistle whips with willow switches - stripping all but the top cluster of leaves off the switch, then swinging the switch in a circle would produce a high pitched whistling sound. There were games to play as the lightning bugs would begin to twinkle in the late evening light. Swing the Statue, Mother, May I?, Red Light-Green Light, Tag, etc. Parents were right there in the lawn chair circle to dole out hugs, kisses and to referee inevitable squabbles and doctor up small hurts. Unless a bone was broken, we were given a kiss and a hug, and sent back to continue to play. A black walnut tree around the side of the yard, along with a small vegetable garden provided ample opportunity to occupy eternally hungry stomachs.

If some of the adults were willing to play with us, that was even better. Uncles would swing us by our hands, or let us walk on their feet, give us piggyback rides, and sometimes play tag or wrestle, or climb Aunt Carrie's big tree. Television was not something we even thought about all that much in those days. The outdoors provided so much to explore, and those front yard lawn chair chats were a daily occurrence. Sometimes they morphed into late night lawn chair chats, where everyone would gather in the front yard to talk and star gaze. The quiet of the country nights, trains echoing softly in the background, crickets and cicadas singing all around, and the sounds of conversation drifting interspersed with many moments of laughter...these are the things I remember so clearly.

For several years, there was a brown rabbit that would creep to the edge of the front yard at my Grandpa's front yard to listen to us talk. We noticed him one late afternoon, just sitting there, listening. The next several days, there he would be, in his same spot. At some point, my Grandpa began leaving scraps of food for the rabbit and he became a daily fixture, sitting quietly at the edge of the yard, listening to the conversations and laughter long after he had nibbled his way through his late afternoon snack. I always found that fascinating, that a wild animal would be drawn to listen to a group of people talking and laughing.

These are memories from my childhood that I treasure. I don't know what brought the yearly ritual of refurbishing the lawn chairs to mind, but it sparked this post. I guess that our childhood always seems to be full of simpler times, memories and experiences, hazed in our minds in that soft, gentle glow of happiness and security. I have always dreamed of having a home in the country like that, perhaps, with luck, to build on our family land. My ideal home would have a front porch, like Aunt Carrie's, with a porch swing, rocking chairs and benches aplenty. Ideally, front porch and/or front yard lawn chair conversations will exist again in the not too distant future.

This is one old fashioned trait that I would like to see a resurgence of, with people actually coming together to socialize, visit and enjoy interacting directly with one another, without a single electronic entertainment device added into the mix. The simple shared pleasure of conversation, fellowship and laughter seems to be a dying art. Conversation, visiting and front yard lawn chair circles brought us together in such a simple manner, yet to my way of thinking, this is one of the reasons our family stayed so tightly bonded. We actually talked to one another, and listened. To this day, we all come together on a yearly basis for one large family reunion that is highly anticipated by all, and there are several smaller reunions that crop up here and there. Perhaps those old fashioned lawn chairs served a greater purpose than any of us realized all those years ago.