Friday, October 31, 2008
I was looking over some pictures from last month's family reunion when I realized that while taking pictures, I had captured a shot of a ghost. Yes, a ghost! I didn't realize it at first, but as I enlarged the digital picture I saw it clear as day!
During the reunion I moved about the lodge, taking candid shots of family as they socialized. Then Uncle Aubrey gave me a glance and tilted his head, the way he does when he is giving a warning. He had all ready told me he didn't want me posting pictures of him on the Internet. The nod was just a friendly reminder. This time, though, the look reminded me of something else. I didn't have time to think about Uncle Aubrey, though. Cousins wanted to leave the lodge to look at my grandmother's property, the place where we spent many pleasant summer vacations. My grandmother died about 30 years ago and walking around her on property always invited floods of childhood memories.
I was multitasking the day I discovered the ghost. I was arranging decorative pumpkins between family photographs on the mantle of the fireplace as I downloaded pictures from my camera onto the computer. As I dusted the only picture I have of my beloved grandmother, I saw it, a familiar expression, the slight tilt of the head that I had seen just a few weeks before. I held the ancient 11o photograph (before the days of the 35 mm cameras) next to my digital picture of my uncle. There it was, the same expression. They both cut their eyes and furrowed their brow the same way.
Yes, the familiar expressions and gestures that were once my grandmother's were passed on to her son. My grandmother lives on.
One way we conquer death is through the memories and expressions that are imprinted on those who love us. The stories that are passed on-- traits and customs that bind us together give new life to those who lived before. We can choose to leave a legacy of generosity, courage, tenacity, or one of failure, poverty, or fear.
There is some comfort that someday, perhaps after I am long gone from this world, that a grandchild might look into the eyes of my own son and see something of me in him.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I have put together a list of things we can do to keep our pets safe. I found many of these suggestions from Partnership of Animal Welfare and from the ASPCA.
1. It is best not to leave your pet outside on Halloween--even in your own backyard. Masks make ordinary people bolder than they would be otherwise. There are people who tease, injure, steal, or kill animals on Halloween.
2. Trick-or-Treat candy or gum, especially sugarless gum, can be dangerous for pets. Chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Candy wrappers that children drop everywhere, are a choking hazard.
3. Be careful that your pet doesn't bump into or attack a lit jack-o-lantern.
4. Trick-or-Treaters in strange costumes test even the best dogs. You don't want your dog frightening Trick-or-Treaters or running into the streets. It is best to put a dog or cat into a room away from the front door or in a crate.
I will put Taz in her crate and throw a blanket over all but the front door. She will feel like she is burrowed in a little cave. This seems to soothe her when she gets agitated.
5. Here is a controversial one. Unless your pet really enjoys dressing up, don't put him in a costume. The animal could become frustrated and aggressive.
If you put your pet in a costume, make sure it is flame retardant, doesn't have parts that can be swallowed, or is too constricting. Make sure the pet's vision isn't blocked. That could make the pet frustrated and cause him to bite or scratch.
How will I spend the holiday? Our church had its Fall Carnival Sunday so I will celebrate the 31 by watching a spooky movie and handing out candy. If there's nothing good on TV, I have a copy of the B & W classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. I will enjoy some popcorn and left over-candy. Hopefully the Trick-or-Treaters will go home early and the dogs can join us in the den--but they only get dog biscuits.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
My son, 24, just ate one cookie and went back for a second. That's a good sign. I don't like iced cookies but will add the recipe for the frosting anyway.
I have had this recipe for ages. I think it come from either the Angel Food website or Cooks.com. Both are great sites. This is an interesting cookie, not overly sweet.
3/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. cooked, mashed carrots
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsb. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla or lemon juice.
Mix together butter, sugar, carrots, and eggs. Sift together the dry ingredients. I'm lazy so I just used self-rising flour and left off the salt and baking powder. Add either the vanilla or the lemon juice to the mixture. Drop by the teaspoonful on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 or 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
juice of one orange (strained)
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
I am thinking about trying this recipe again, but substituting the cooked carrots with dried cranberry (cran-raisins). I think that would make a nice holiday cookie.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
For allergy suffers, the scents of the season may be troublesome--especially the smell of ragweed and decaying leaves. On the positive side, there is also the smell of traditional autumn foods; pumpkin bread, cranberry and apple crisps, and a multitude of cookies and pies.
Hmmm, I guess smells and tastes can go together. --Because its traditional, I love all things to do with pumpkins and cranberries during October and November. I'm dying to try some new recipes. One is for Ginger Pumpkin Soup and another is for Butternut Squash Soup. If they are good, I will have to share them with you.
Strolling in the yard or sitting on the deck has become enjoyable once again. The sticky air is gone and I have pulled the sweaters out of storage.
There is nothing so relaxing as listening to the slow pattering of rain on a cool autumn morning when you have no place to go. I know I must savor all of this for as long as I can. All too soon the trees will be bare, squirrels will be burrowed and maybe there will be some snow on the ground. Autumn just doesn't last long enough.
Monday, October 20, 2008
One of my favorite ministers to watch on TV is Rev. Sandy Wilson, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. On October 19, 2008, a sermon about the current financial crisis aired on TV. Some of the things Sandy Wilson said truly eased my mind. I thought he gave very wise council. I will not quote Rev. Wilson, or try to summarize his sermon, but I would like to pass on some of his advice about how to get through some of the hard economic times ahead.
1. Anger over those who brought this economic hardship about is useless. It will keep our focus from the things we can control.
2. Worry won't change our financial situation. It won't add a cent to our checkbook and it will only cause us health problems.
3. We must be good stewards over what we have. Whether God give us much or gives us less, we are still responsible to make good financial decisions.
4. We must have a thankful, worshipful heart. God loves us. He may use the limited resources to mold us or our family in ways we can't imagine.
Scriptures used in this sermon are verses we all know. Matthew 6:25-31 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells the people to look at the birds in the air and the lilies in the field. If God cares for them, He will more surely care for His children. I might suggest reading all the way to verse 34. It is a very comforting set of scripture.
It is important for Christians to make wise decisions about our finances, to accept and be thankful to God for what we have, and to reach out and help other Christians whenever we can.
We should also be aware of and try to find resources to help others in our community.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
We have lost track of days. Many of my journal entries, awkwardly scratched upon the scrolls, read, “Today is the same as yesterday.” There seemed to be nothing else to write.
We slowly moved into rocky terrain marked only by occasional shrubbery. Craggy hills dotted the flat ground to the horizon.
Then the sky seemed changed. Very thick, dark clouds hid the stars. Only the great, traveling star shone through the darkness.
Daylight was dreary and the sun could not show through the angry clouds. Absent from the air was the usual hot sting.
“I think we will have a good sleep today,” I mentioned to a guide, longing for a cool restful sleep.
“Sleep,” he spat back at me. “Are you mad?”
I did not understand. The guides had the look of wild terror in their eyes, as they demanded that the caravan move faster and faster--toward higher ground.
I knew we could not pitch tents along the steep sides of the hill so why were we working so hard to get there? The animals were exhausted and we could barely stay awake. Still the guards drove us on. In an amazing amount of time we crossed the flat, rocky terrain and clamored to the safety of the higher hills. What was the danger from which we fled?
Then the storm hit--with raging fury. The winds pounded us--rendering our shelters useless. The rain fell in thick sheets, making it impossible to see across the encampment. What startled us most, however, was the strange sound that, at first, we could not define. This roaring noise was more fearful than the howling wind or exploding thunder.
“Zachariah, its flood water,” Zedekiah read my thoughts. “It would have surely drowned us all.”
Day and night the rain fell. Though drenched, we managed to nap out of complete exhaustion. Then, as fast as the storm began, it receded. The thunder grew fainter and rain became sprinkles.
In time we ventured out of our makeshift shelters and saw for ourselves why our guides had driven us to seek higher grounds. The valley below was no longer desert, but a river. My heart pounded as I watched the powerful waters below. God had delivered us. Our guides had read the signs in the air and pushed us on to safety.
We were forced to rest and wait for the water to run its course. Soon enough, the water would recede.
The transformation of the landscape was almost immediate. In a matter of days we watched the desert change. Grasses became more numerous and seeds that had lain dormant in the sand now were showing life. Bright flowers dotted the landscape.
The wildflowers would not have been notable anywhere else. But their brief life in this wilderness made them all the more beautiful. Like the stars in the heavens, the desert seemed to proclaim God’s glory.It seems impossible to survive here, but God makes it so. It seems that a place this hostile could not be beautiful, but God creates beauty wherever he chooses. God, in his mighty wisdom and power, brought us through the storm to see the glory of the next day.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
In the 1980s there was a national demonstration in the U. S. to bring attention to world hunger. It was called Hands Across America. For younger readers, here’s a link:
For a while talking about world hunger was the big fad. Singers sang about it. Stars mentioned the topic while plugging their latest movie. Then homelessness became the new fad. Later stars hopped onto private jets to talk and sing about saving the environment. Lately the stars have given up the pretense and revel in making a show of gaudy excess. Most seem to have forgotten about the hungry, the homeless, and the environment.
That is why I am interested in the Blog Action Day. I have a few suggestions for average people like us who can do something to really help feed the hungry.
A) A community organization like a Sunday School group or Neighborhood Watch group could have a combined yard sale/bake sale and donate all the proceeds to a local mission or homeless shelter. It is a project that costs little money (maybe an advertisement in the newspaper) and you get to spend the day getting to know your neighbors. It is an especially nice project for the autumn or spring.
B) If you belong to a house of worship or community center, you could sponsor an Angel Food pickup point. For more information about Angel Food Ministries, check this link: http://www.angelfoodministries.com/
C) Give a contribution to a reputable charity whether it is a food pantry at your church or a larger organization. I am listing three good ones here.
1. Feed The Children. Consumer groups have found that this group spends most of its money on actual food distribution. This link will lead you to fundraisers you can do for this organization. http://www.feedthechildren.org/site/PageServer?pagename=org_specialprojects
2. Samaritan’s purse. The cool thing about this organization is that you can choose projects you would like to sponsor, like the purchasing of seed corn, chickens, or sponsor the digging of a well. Here’s a link: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/
3. Memphis Union Mission relies on private support and receives no government funding. I once sat with a little girl and her mother as they ate. They told me that without this mission, they didn’t know where they would have gotten their supper. Here is a link: http://www.memphisunionmission.org/
I hope this blog has given you some ideas. Get involved and have some fun, too.
Monday, October 13, 2008
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink . .
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:35a,40b.
October 15 is Blog Action Day. Many bloggers are banding together to discuss ways to fight poverty throughout the world. Links will be available for those who are interested in learning more about alleviating hunger.
I once heard a preacher say that in the U.S.A. we believe in feeding people “real good” at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t think much about the hungry any other time. I don’t believe he was exaggerating either. There is something about autumn and harvest that makes me think about filling my pantry and then working on the local food bank, too.
Every autumn the Boy Scouts send around flyers asking people to put some canned goods or non-perishable food on the front porch on a designated day. Then they can collect a large amount of food without having to waste time knocking on doors.
About once a month I buy a one-pound sack of rice or beans and store it in a box in my closet. When I get the yearly flyer from the Boy Scouts, all I need to do is add a few things from my cabinet to fill a sack with needed vegetables, fruit, or canned meat.
This always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I am encouraging children to become productive members of society and am helping to replenish the food bank.
--But is a once a year enough?
Whether it is the colder weather that reminds us of hungry people in the world or the kindness we feel during the holiday season, we should remember that the hungry are with us year round.
I will have information to help alleviate hunger in my next post.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Who Do We Seek?
The sun was in the evening sky when I awoke. I knew I should try to sleep more, but longed to feel the sunshine on my face.
As I wandered through the campsite I could feel the hot ground through my sandals. The air was dry and I was thirsty. Then I saw 2 of my companions, Malchiah and Zedekiah, sharing a flask of water and some conversation. I welcomed their company.
“Zacheriah! "Come join us,” Zedikiah gestured him to come closer. Malchiah held the water-skin in my direction to offer a drink.
“I suppose I'm not the only one who is restless this evening,” I took the water-skin. After a long refreshing drink, I added, “the land is so vast and lifeless. It is like we are the only people left on Earth.”
“The guides say the terrain will soon change,” Zedekiah replied, then added, “We should all be aware of the danger.”
“Though we have all the authority of our nation and, perhaps, even a divine calling, there are fools who would challenge our authority. We must be shrewd in our dealings with any strangers,” Malchiah warned.
I nodded in agreement. There was a silence as we watched people stir about the campsite. I spoke slowly, almost to myself, “What do you think we will find when we reach the end of our journey?”
“I have wondered about that myself,” Malchiah said, thoughtfully. “There is a king being born, perhaps this very night. How will this child be different from any other? How will we even recognize him?”
“The prophecies will lead us to him,” I spoke to reassure myself.
Malchiah gave and odd grin and said, somewhat sarcastically, “Yes, the prophecies! See where they have gotten us, thus far!”
We stared at him for a moment, stunned. Malchiah quickly added, “Don’t mind me. I am just a little weary of all this traveling.”
Zedekiah gave Malchiah a long stare before he spoke. “I keep wondering what kind of man this child will become. I try to think of what Belteshazzar told our forefathers.”
“In so many ways the prophecies of Beltheshazzar are very obscure. He saw the future in dreams, the warring nations, and cruel leaders brought to justice by a single man. How could that be?” I asked.
Zedekiah interrupted, “Belteshazzar told of the last days of our world and how it will be brought under the control of an evil leader. This king will fight that evil.”
Malchiah shook his head. “I want to know what conditions will surround this child. Do these parents know how important to the world their child is? Will he be born knowing his destiny? If he does--how should we approach him?”
“You are very practical,” I said, with a chuckle. “Perhaps part of our mission is to help confirm for his parents what they already feel in their hearts--that they have a child destine for greatness. They may already realize how important he is to their people--and perhaps--all people.”
Until heard myself actually saying those words, I had not understood the part we might be playing in this mission. From their silence, I saw that my friends had not had not considered this either.
“A man of peace will engage in a war against evil,” Malchiah laughed again at the irony.
“--But the result will be a kingdom of peace and prosperity. Imagine the prosperity the world will know when corruption is put to an end!” Zedekiah did not try to hide his enthusiasm.
The azure sky was giving way to a fiery burst of color as the sun moved into the horizon. The dark hills around us seemed to contrast with the orange sky.The crew was already loading the tents. Supplies were securely fastened to the pack animals. In the distance we heard the howls of the jackals. We would soon resume our quest.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I am one of those people who identifies with my career. A couple of weeks ago I had to meet family at a reunion, humiliated because I was laid off.
Strange things go on inside your head when you're unemployed. Your self-worth disappears like sand, slipping through your fingers. Your interview follows that of a young spunky kid. Then you wait for the call back that never comes. It becomes harder and harder to even apply for the next job.
Last week I got a call-back from a tutoring company where I did some part-time work over the summer. The new job is only part-time, but it feels so good to get up in the morning and know I have a place to work, even if only for a few hours a week.
People have remarked that I appear cheerier, too. I am looking through the classified ads with renewed enthusiasm.
I know that the news reports are gloomy, but my friends, family, and I are praying that all the right connections will be made. They scan the classified ads for me and the personnel boards where they work.
I may not be as spunky as the young kids, but at least now I feel optimistic again.
Monday, October 6, 2008
There is a sense of insecurity in all of this. No matter how much I try to fight it, the what ifs creep into my mind. What if I can't find work? What if I lose my house?
The truth is, the what ifs can become paralyzing. Unfortunately, I have occasionally succumbed to that paralysis, too. The what ifs can impair judgment and prevent positive actions. Negative thinking can prevent you from getting or keeping a new job.
I try to do at least one activity geared toward finding a job each day. Sometimes I feel so discouraged that it takes all that is in me to do this.
It is a constant battle to keep my spirits up. I pray and try to read positive materials. Worship at my church gives me courage to face another week. Until I get a new job I am limiting the amount of time I spend watching the news. It is difficult to keep my spirits up while listening to all the bad things that are going on in the world.
Some days are better than others, but I must believe that there is a job out there for me.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Ecc. 3:1
It was deceptively slow, so slow I didn’t even realize what had happened. My youth simply slipped away and was replace by mature adulthood. I noticed creaky joints when I got out of bed on chilly mornings, but I couldn’t be getting old. Baby boomers don’t age. I mean, the TV says that 65 is the new 50 and 45 is the new . . . you get the idea.
Then I got the awful news. My Aunt Carol had died.
Uncle Clyde and Aunt Carol raised my cousins in Southern CA. When my dad was transferred to the military base at Camp Pendleton CA, I became acquainted with this branch of my family tree.
For the next year my brothers, cousins, and I trekked through the California hills, along beaches, and found adventures around every corner. I felt like one of those early California explorers, discovering new treasures each day.
Now my cousins are all adults with grown children of their own. Time slipped away. It seemed that all our childhood dreams had gotten lost between changing dirty diapers, balancing checkbooks, and driving to soccer practices.
After the funeral I shared some childhood memories with cousins Sherri and Sandy. I reminisced about the time that Cathy and I climbed steep cliffs overlooking the crashing waves along the beach near San Clemente. Needless to say, our parents weren’t amused by our antics.
That’s when it hit me hard. Both dad and Uncle Clyde died years ago. Three of the four adults in that story were gone. Many of my other mentors are deceased. There are less and less people around who remember me as a child.
The thought sent me reeling. Up until this point I looked at aging as another one of life’s adventures, like marriage, and parenthood. Suddenly I had the overwhelming need to grieve the loss of the person I had been.
This melancholy lingered, even after I returned to my classroom responsibilities. Though I love my job, schoolteacher was a far cry from the news journalist or marine biologists I once planned to be. My life had turned out to be—quite ordinary.
For days I listened to a satellite oldies station and tried to resolve the turmoil inside my brain. Oldies! Each song seemed to bring back some youthful memory and I wept at the remembrance of a time when everything was new and anything was possible.
When the tears stopped and my mind cleared, I went to my computer and talked to people about this melancholy. Others seemed to have dealt with similar “midlife crises.” Most people gave the advice I expected; pray, search scriptures, do charitable works. I still felt empty.
In time, I began to realize that I do have some choices. I can assess my life goals and see if they are realistic and attainable.
Many people testified that, for them, this assessment exercise was a very helpful. Some had outgrown their former goals. When they developed more mature values, new--more satisfying goals emerged. For example, I’m not going to become a marine biologist and I can’t travel on the Calypso with the late Jacque Cousteau.
--But that doesn’t mean I have to give up all my dreams.
Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s. She had to give up embroidery because arthritis made the needlework too painful. When she mixed her first paints Grandma Moses didn’t realize she was about to become famous the world over.
The Bible is filled with stories about God choosing to fulfill His purpose late in a person’s life, from Caleb to Sarah. Age doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem to God as it is to us.
I found a multitude of stories, both historic and contemporary, of people whose lives seemed to begin after they were much older than I. Perhaps once we are freed from changing diapers or driving to soccer practice, we have more time to pursue the things we were once passionate about. Some of our most fulfilling endeavors can be pursued when our obligations to others have been completed.In time my anxiety subsided a bit. What I need to figure out now is—what do I do about those creaky joints on chilly mornings.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I appreciate your indulgences as I have traveled back in time to reflect on the pets I have owned. It was pleasant to meditate about what each pet has taught me.
I realize that the way we think about and treat animals can influence who we are and what we become in life. Those who were taught to treat animals kindly tend to treat people kindly. Studies show that those who are violent, sometimes brutal to people, were often cruel to animals first. That is one important reason to intervene in animal cruelty and animal (dog) fighting cases.
I will probably still write about animals, from time to time. Seeing an animal in the wild is a special treat; a deer in the nearby cotton field, a turtle trying to cross the highway, or the red fox scampering along the banks of the Mississippi River. As it gets cooler, some animals will be harder to spot. There are some wild animals I won’t miss, like the raccoon that thinks he owns our neighborhood. Others will be happily welcomed back next spring, like the hummingbirds that recently abandoned my feeder.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Of all the pets I have, I think Taz is the one that is most like me. She’s not living in the world in which she was born. The world she understand is far away and now she is changed so much she can’t function any longer in her old world.
I was interested in finding a companion for Dixie Belle when I saw her picture on a bulletin board at the veterinarian’s office. There was this brown face with just a bit of white along the nose. What really caught my attention were those big eyes and the coward-down face. I couldn’t get her out of my mind and asked the veterinarian to see the dog.
This animal, about the size of a terrier, acted just as skittish as she looked in the picture. I made three more visits to the animal hospital; alone, with my son, and with Dixie Belle. The brown dog liked Dixie Belle, but was clearly unsure about my son and me.
The little dog spent the last six months in a cage and didn't know what to think about the world outside. Her defense was to frighten away anyone who wanted to adopt her. She had no idea that time at the animal hospital was not without limits.
Moving our new dog from the familiar environment to my backyard inflamed all her insecurities. We decided to name her Taz. Like the Tasmanian devil, she had a fierce growl and went into attack mode whenever we neared her.
Concerned about safety, I went on the Internet to see if anyone had advice. On my favorite message board, a friend sent me links to Internet sites with information about Carolina Dogs, also known as American dingoes. This is a pariah breed of wild American dogs. The pictures on one site were of a pack of dogs that could have been Taz’s brothers and sisters. They all possessed the big pointed ears and patches of white on their chests, paws and tips of their up-turned tails.
Now I understood. I adopted a wild animal that probably wandered into a subdivision the same way a raccoon might. She was separated from her pack and spent the last six months in a world where her instincts were of little help.
Dixie Belle was the key to taming Taz. With ears standing up and alert, Taz observed and later mimicked Dixie’s every activity—especially regarding her interactions with humans. I let Dixie Belle eat from my hand as I hugged and petted her. After six days, Taz timidly approached me, licked my hand and ran to the end of the deck to safely observe my response.
Though Taz has become an affectionate pet, she is still a wild animal who finds humans quite confusing. She often watches her world from a snug spot between the couch arm and a wall, where she feels quite safe.
Sometimes, as I try to figure out the world I live in, I am convinced that I know just how Taz feels. I was raised in one subculture, live in another, and often work in a third. Sometimes I do what I think is right, but everything seems to go wrong. Then I am tempted to find a safe place to hide until things are okay again.
Maybe someday I will understand “office politics” or how “things” work. Yes, Taz and I have a lot in common.