Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas is Coming...

I really like to prepare for Christmas--in the spirit of Advent, not the spirit of self indulgence.  Advent is preparation, a season of preparing for the arrival of the Christ child.  Preparing one's heart for the miracle, which is far more important than preparing for celebration of the holiday with family and friends.  I've barely had time for either this year, though.

As of today, the manger scene is up...we put it in a different place this year, moving the console table from behind the sofa to a central wall in the living room.  And I finally did something I've thought about for years: I hung the big gold star from the ceiling by a gold thread.  I like it.  I found the star years ago at some hand-craft-y kind of place and I've kept it with the manger pieces, usually setting it out nearby.  I'm glad it's finally hanging.
Looking at the first photo, it seems cold and distant somehow. Maybe these show it better:

This last photo was taken after my son did a little rearranging. As he moved the animals around, he told me that the camel and donkey couldn't see the baby Jesus (so he positioned each of the animals with a clear veiw of Jesus).  Just another reason I love him so much!

We also have a Christmas tree and have put it up, but no lights or decorations yet.  At least we have that fresh evergreen smell in the house.  We're definitely decorating it on Wednesday, so it will be ready in time for Santa.
As I was "fluffing" out the branches and getting ready to start the lights, I found this tiny, sweet little bird's nest hidden near the top of the tree. (I'm standing on the stepstool to take the picture below.) I would never have seen it if I hadn't felt it first. Makes it seem all the more natural and outdoorsy.  Do you save something like that after the season?
That's what we have as of December 21.  But, although I haven't been able to spend a lot of time decorating for Christmas, I am prepared.  Advent is nearly over and the anticipation is in my heart. What's important to me is to be and show and appreciate, not to do and stress over and achieve Christmas.  These last couple of Christmases I've really learned a lot about that, so the outward preparations are far more balanced and enjoyable than ever. 
Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Xmas

You must watch the clip to appreciate the title!
While I've been too busy to write (and really do any Christmas preparation...what happened to that basic "rule" that the office "slows down" in December? It's gone, at least around here) someone has been observing and writing quite well. Below is a clip from The Colbert Report that struck me. If you aren't familiar, Stephen Colbert uses a pseudo-ultra conservative talk show host persona as his schtik on Comedy Central (network). Hope to be able to post some in the next few days.

Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> March to Keep Fear Alive

 Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Scent of the Missing

by Susannah Charleson

This is the enthralling story of a woman who brings a bright and rambunctious puppy into her life to become a search and rescue dog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


When I caught up on my blog reading yesterday it was good to see how many of my fellow bloggers had posted on Thanksgiving and what they were thankful for. So, although late, here are my Thanksgiving thoughts.

Ok, so I've been staring at the screen not knowing what to write. My first impulses were to list my son and his successes, my husband and our relationship, my siblings and our families, our grandchildren, my job, my church, the cats, our health....our many material things, our ability to travel...the beauty of nature around us, this country.....but then came the doubts. I am deeply thankful for all of these things, definitely, but...

I'm not sure I "believe in" Thanksgiving so much...that's the problem. Of course I believe in thanking God for our very lives and all of the blessings he gives us, it's not that. But one day per year? And all of the trouble and strife we go through to prepare and/or attend a huge feast? And the thanking comes when, at the prayer before we dive into the food? To be sure, I absolutely love getting together with family members and visiting and catching up and renewing our relationships...which seems to happen only over the holidays anymore. (I think I'm seeing a problem here.)

Typically we would travel to visit relatives on my side or host a feast here, for hubby's side of the family, but this year was different. Our Dear Aunt has passed (and those relatives went to visit their other family members), it was my son's year with his father, and we wanted to put our thankfulness into action by helping others.

This year we volunteered for Meals on Wheels and delivered Thanksgiving meals to homebound seniors. Thanks to the exceptionally well-run program, it was so easy to join in and help. The program worked like a well-oiled machine: we were signed in, given information, picked up the hot Thanksgiving meal with accompaniments, received the cleverly packaged meal for Friday (to go in the 'fridge) and were out on the road in no time. The people who run the program were cheerful, helpful--just all-around great.

I didn't know what to expect, either from the people or myself. I've been reading about motivation for serving in various ministries, and of course the GHMP I attended addressed such issues as well. One thing I knew was that feeling self-satisfied or being self-congratulatory ("aren't we great for volunteering on the holiday") was wrong. I was sure such motives were not my reason for being there. As always, God was there with a lesson.

The first two deliveries were to people who lived in trailers from the 1970's, people who were hit hard by life, from what I could observe. They accepted their meals with no ceremony and barely a word. Our hearty "Happy Thanksgiving!" had been met with little response.

It was then, after these two deliveries, that it struck me that I must have been hoping to get some worldly thanks. My motives were not so pure as I had hoped. The lesson hit hard. Despite my desire to serve unselfishly and my awareness of worldly motives, they were still there. Our remaining deliveries were quite different, and we met some dear folks who were warm and talkative, but the lesson remains. I'm sure certain other facets of that lesson will be revealed over time as well.

We finished our deliveries in the cold rain, came home and put a beautiful turkey breast in the oven. Together, we made cranberries, apple and pumpkin pies, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cole slaw and corn. It was a time of togetherness and a time to reflect. I called my son and had a nice talk with him; for that I was also thankful.

So, I guess I've gone a bit far afield of where I began this post. I am thankful for what God has given me, but should that thankfulness perhaps translate into more action? Are we truly grateful or do we maybe feel, just a little bit, as though we've "earned" it? How do we express our thankfulness, and how often? Is once a year enough?
Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another Big Milestone

This morning marked another big milepost in the life of a person.  My son, 16 and a half years old, left the house on the first morning of his first "real" job.  I don't know if I mentioned that this past summer he tried to get a job in the nearby beach resort community, but the economy was so bad that adults and college students had already flooded the market.  (The newspaper reported that most of the summer positions for teens had been taken by adults who would normally have been working full time elsewhere, and college students who previously would have "moved on" had returned to their beach jobs due to lack of work elsewhere.  Like the rest of the economy, this was the worst summer employment market in many years.)

Anyway, this morning was a big morning.  He's working "in retail" at a major brand name footwear/sports clothing outlet.  He was SO excited when he got the job!  He texted me as soon as he left the interview and I called him right back; I heard triumph in his voice as he told me about the interview, and he answered "Great!" when I asked him how it felt to be a working man.
This morning he was up bright and early, ready to go.  I got up to see him off, and he was enthusiastic about starting.  I felt like I should have been taking his picture, like that morning not so long ago when he got on the bus for his first day of kindergarten.  He laughed when I mentioned it.

Now, as I finish this post, he has returned from his first day, still happy.  He did well and I'm quite proud.  He has an easy way with people and described to me how he approached customers and talked and joked with them, helped them out and suggested socks and hats.  I think he has a knack for sales!

The boss is apparently quite happy with him and his "sales percentage" was surprisingly good, particularly for his first day. Since I've never worked in retail, I didn't know quite what that meant but after he explained it to me I was impressed! (It has to do with the number of items each customer buys.) He's also already "advanced" from being temporary Black Friday help to being "seasonal" which means he will continue to work through Christmas or New Years' I think. (He's not sure what it means exactly.) However, this son of mine has already set his sights on becoming permanent; he intends to do such a good job that they'll never lay him off.  Go him!

It's hard to say precisely what about this makes me so happy...his enthusiasm, his change from teen-lie-on-the-couch to good worker, his determination to do not just "ok" but excellently well, his new independence, his maturity, his obvious "people" skills, or all of the above, but I am just thrilled with him. Hope you can forgive me for bragging so much!! 

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Robber Bride

by Margaret Atwood 

A novel that explores how darkness can slip in unnoticed, disguised as something completely different and then grow slowly in place, fully entwining itself, until it's too late.

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Report

I'm back from my conference, the Global Health Missions Conference (GHMC). If asked to sum it up in a word, I think I'd have to use "overwhelming."  I've never seen such a church, such a great group of people, or met so many people serving in health missions.  I have a lot of "digesting" of information to do, as well as thinking and preparing.  I fully expect to write more on that later.

For now, here are some photos I took of the event.  One reason I was overwhelmed was the sheer hugeness of the church that held the conference.  These first two pictures are of the Atrium in the church; the first is from the third floor balcony overlooking the gathering space.
This next picture is a view of the opposite end of the atrium; the elevators are in the vertical spans, to each side of the banner, with the escalators next to the stairs and between the pillars.  The photo above was taken from the upper left, where the brightest light is.   
Below is the worship center.  Yes, that is a "jumbotron" with screens all around.  The ground level held many more than the reported 2500 participants at this conference....and then there were two balcony levels above that, which were reached by the elevators or escalators to the second and third floors.  (In this shot, a wonderful African woman who is a surgical resident with the final plenary speaker's program in Kenya tells her story.)
Below is the Worship Center end of the Southeast Christian Church (the hosts of the conference.)  The massive space with the jumbotron is at the center of this building, with halls and classrooms around the perimeter.

And next is the fellowship hall end of the church....in here, there were two whole floors full of exhibitors...about 70 per floor.  The center section (by the pillars, if you can see them) is the three story Atrium (indoor views above.)

Finally,  below is a big cork board map of the world.  Throughout the conference, there were push pins right next to it, with an invitation to add your color coded pin to the places you were going to learn about, pray for, support, and go to.  It was really wonderful to see all of the push pins all over the world by the end of the conference. This photo was taken following the final session, and I think the young people in the picture were headed out to the field in the near future. I put my pins in on Guatemala.

So that's the initial report.  I have a lot to read, a lot to learn, and some choices to make, but I am very glad to have gone to such an intense and educational conference!

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Step Toward a Goal

I'm really getting excited now...later this week I'm flying down to Kentucky to go to the Global Missions Health Conference

Early this year I identified a new goal in my book "Direction toward the goal of a better life" (this is a 3-ring binder in which I have a set of heavy plastic tabbed dividers on which I put post-it notes.  On the star-shaped notes, I have written my carefully considered "I Want" statements; on some colored squares surrounding the stars, I have written actions I need to do to help fulfill that goal. The book exists to try to help me focus on what I believe will make my life more meaningful and fulfilling and help to keep me swimming forward instead of treading water.)  The goal I added reads "I want to make a real difference in service to others." and, on the same star, "I want to step out in faith."

One of the nearby blue squares states "Monitor and look for opportunities to do medical missions abroad." So, I had done a number of searches on the internet for information on Medical Missions, read a number of groups' websites, and even found a clearinghouse where various groups sought medical people to go on mission trips.  I spoke with my own ministers and Sunday School teacher and read information about their suggested leads.  Then, several months ago I learned about the GMHC, which seems like a really good step in the right direction.

The GMHC (an annual event since 1996) looks to be huge, educational, inspirational, and well organized.  They have brought in over 160 exhibitors and several dozen speakers for this year, and in recent years there have been more than two thousand attendees.  The breakout sessions cover all sorts of health issues, practical concerns, cultural and ethical aspects of medical missions at home and overseas.  The sessions look so great I've only been able to narrow them down to about 2-3 choices per session...and I can only be in one place at a time!  What's more, most of the sessions I'm interested in offer continuing education credits for nurses, too...I take that as a sign of the quality and usefulness of the material, since I know what is required by nursing boards to be able to offer those credits. 

Even though I'll be traveling down and back in 3 days, I also see it as a break; I'm going by myself, so I will have time alone to think, breathe, and relax some.  It seems like a good time to re-think priorities, find inspiration and step out in faith.

I am looking forward to learning a lot, meeting some people with the same interests, learning about groups that need help, and maybe making plans to travel on a mission relatively soon.  I expect that it will be an inspiring trip!  

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Keep the Faith

Boy, has it been rough around here lately!  For about one minute things were set on an even keel.  My teenage son was happy, and happy with me, life was busy as always but riding along as normal.  It's amazing to me how things can all just change from different directions all at once.

First, the boy started having some trouble with his grades...just a little...maybe he was distracted by his first love.  She's a lovely and beautiful young lady, and they were always happy together.  Then, something happened and they were no longer "together."  (That's how they say it these days--awfully mature, it seems to me.)  He was unhappy and ended up getting into a bit of trouble...I think it was because he was not himself. He's always been such a good boy.  Now we've been talking about how couples communicate effectively in relationships.  Again, so mature. They're still spending time together but not "together" as a couple...I don't know what that means exactly.   

Then, a friend looses a job...the floor in my laundry room sinks down (!!)....then politics comes between family members...then illnesses around here...but you know what?  It's going to be ok.  My faith has been tested to its limits in the past, and by those tests it has grown very strong.  I'm glad for that.  God is good.

So I'm going to rest and feel better soon, support my son and begin sifting through all of the possible college choices, get my trusted contractor to fix the laundry room floor (it's an add-on structure and he says it wasn't built with joist hangers for the floor boards so they have simply fallen apart. Geez!!!), help everyone I can where ever I can, appreciate my loved ones, and keep the faith.

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It Takes Me Back

Did you ever hear a certain sound and have a memory come flooding back to you?  The other day it happened to me at work--taking me way back...

Several years ago, I was on a business trip somewhere...Florida, I think, or maybe Louisiana.  I had taken an evening flight, run into delays, had quite a drive from the airport, and had finally checked into my hotel well after midnight.  Luckily, my depositions began about mid-morning and I had arranged to stay very near them, allowing me to get ready without early morning rushing.  

It felt great being in the south during the cold months at home and the sun was brightly shining, so I threw the drapes open for some light (I hate dark hotel rooms) and sat in the sun with some coffee while I reviewed my notes.  The view wasn't much; I was several floors up but all around were just ranch houses and a couple of shops.

The time came to get ready and the shower was fine.  I dried off and pulled my clothes out of my suitcase--they needed the touch of an iron, so I set up the ironing board next to the only apparent outlet--by the table next to the window. (How is it that hotel rooms never have any convenient outlets?)  By this time, I had to get going, but had just enough time. While the iron warmed, I dried my hair....then, emerging from the bathroom--not a stitch on--I heard something.

It was like KA-CLUNK-SH.   KA-CLUNK-SH.  Then nothing.  It wasn't metallic, but a heavy, clumping sound. It sounded like it was right outside my window.  Of course with the curtains wide open, I could see nothing was there.  I froze.  

Then I heard it again, closer:  KA-CLUNK-SH, KA-CLUNK-SH.   I was bewildered...I'm on the 5th floor of a hotel; what could possibly be right outside my window? 

Then I saw it.  It WAS right outside my window.  I began to see the shadow of a window washer, dangling immediately to the right of my window, reaching toward it as he squeege'd the window next door. 

What to do?  I needed to quickly iron my suit, dress and leave or I'd be late...and everything I needed to wear was right in front of the window, by the ironing board.  What a ridiculous situation.  As I heard the next KA-CLUNK-SHH, I scuttled across the room and pressed my back to the bit of wall which wasn't window.  Seeing his shadow fall on my floor as he dangled immediately outside, I realized that the noise was made by some kind of suction-cup-like devices on his feet as he walked on the windows outside. 

Surely this was a scene from some sit-com, right?  I'm hiding against the wall, naked as a jaybird, while a strange man dangles on a rope right outside my 5th floor window?  

Hiding there, pressed against the wall, it took me a moment to gather my wits.  Then, realizing he couldn't see me against the wall, I reached for the curtain and tiptoed it across.  As I ironed my suit, I was cursing the management for not warning us about window washers.  But by the time I got to the depos, it made quite a story.

So yesterday at work, I'm about to sit down at my desk and I hear KA-CLUNK-SH... I giggled all day remembering.

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Beck Again

Ok, he "got" me again.  I try to just ignore the mush which eminates from his mouth, but someone pointed this video clip out to me and I "bit."  Glenn Beck is now attempting to convince his audience that the idea of separation of church and state in the United States is somehow linked to the "USSR Constitution."  By this he probably means the 1936 Constitution of the USSR, adopted in December of that year, since their 1977 Constitution re-sections their fundamental law into different Articles.  Here's what Beck said on air, on July 19 of this year:

"Freedom of worship. Do not confuse the freedom of religion with the freedom of worship. Barack Obama has said in his Cairo speech freedom of worship, and he has been taking to the use of that phrase over freedom of religion. There is a huge difference. Freedom of religion is what we have here, but let me show you Article 124 from the USSR Constitution, Soviet. In order to --remember how free the Soviet Union was, right? We know how, "Oh, Christians, do anything you want to. Jews, Jews, they love you!" Article 124: In order to ensure citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the USSR is separated from the state. Separation of church and state. And the school from the church. So the church and the state are separate and the school from the church, article 124. Now, we don't have that in any of our documents, but it's weird how the progressives insist that there is a separation of church and state, exactly the way there was in the Soviet Union, and a separation of God in all of our schools, just like there was in the Soviet Union."  Glenn Beck, July 19, 2010

First, the entire text of the Cairo speech is available here.  Not once did the President say "freedom of worship" as Beck claims. You can read the entire text (it was a very good speech) or you can use the shortcut of searching the text by using "Edit" and "Find on this page" on the menu.  Mr. Obama discusses freedom of religion in the "fifth" issue.  Among the things he said was "People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul"  and "Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together."

However, beyond Beck's completely made up claim that there was some nefarious linguistic trick at work here, (another lie to enrage his followers) his underlying argument is also outlandish.  First, we should read the relevant portions of the two Constitutions.

Here is a translation of that portion of the Constitution of the USSR of 1936:  "ARTICLE 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens."  Interesting...it specifies that antireligious propaganda is protected as well.

And here is the relevant portion of the U.S. Constitution, Amendment I, (1791):  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I agree that the language of our Consitution is not as simple and straightforward as the USSR's--perhaps because ours is considerably older.  But isn't that first phrase a statement that there can't be any laws which serve to establish a religion?  The Congress (the "state" in general terms) is not permitted to establish or endorse a religion.  A state religion or church is forbidden; athesim is just as acceptable as Christianity or Islam.  It's sometimes called the "establishment clause."

The very next clause forbids the congress from making any law which prohibits the people from freely "exercising" their chosen religion. (The "free exercise" clause.)  Exercise of religion can mean worship services, prayer, foods or fasting, clothing or attire, or refraining from certain activities.  Of course limits do apply, like we don't allow human sacrifice or illegal substance use in the practices of religions.  With those exceptions, in the first two clauses of the First Amendment, the Constitution ensures freedom of religion for U.S. citizens.  Should be familiar stuff for citizens.

But Beck, in insisting that there is no separation between church and state, completely misses (or ignores) several basic concepts. 

He makes a point about the schools.  First, we must keep in mind that compulsory attendance at school is a much more recent concept than our Constitution.  Some states had some weak compulsory attendance laws as early as 1864, but the legal authority to mandate school attendance was not recognized until 1901. Some states did not require schooling until as late as 1915. 

Then consider who runs the schools, in a country where children are required by law to exercise their right to an education.  Lots of people run schools. There are private schools, home schools, religious schools,  schools for the arts...but most kids end up going to PUBLIC schools.  The non-public schools can teach religion until they are blue in the face.

But public schools are run by the government.  Requirements of children in public schools are requirements of the state--for example, consider the age requirements, the immunization requirements, physical examinations....or certain infractions of rules which result in expulsion.  These rules have the force of law, as do most rules enforced by public schools. So, if we were to allow our public schools, which our children are required to attend, to lead our children in Christian prayer, that would be the state establishing religion.  It would also be preventing the freedom of exercise (or to not exercise) religion to those who are not Christian.  What's so hard to get about that?

Ok, I feel better now. 

Anyone else want to weigh in?

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Every morning I'm at home, I drive my son to school (about 2 miles away).  These days he actually does the driving to the school and I drive back home without him.

This morning as I re-entered our development, I passed the woman who just moved into the house on the corner closest to mine.  A frail, elderly woman had been living there for years, and then a month or so ago she and her visiting nurse and meals-on-wheels no longer appeared.  Next, new stakes at the property corners showed that the property had been surveyed and then I saw evidence that the garage had been cleaned out.  Now toys are in the yard.  This is the first I have seen the woman and preschooler headed out in the morning.

As I drove the last quarter mile home I looked at each house on my street and mentally surveyed the ones I was familiar with on the adjacent properties.   A handful are owned by retired widows and two or three are retired couples.  Every single other house save one is empty all day as the parents of the children in the homes are working every day.  I guess that's the way it is these days, but how lonely it must be compared to the neighborhoods of a few decades ago. 

I certainly wish I had more time to just be at home with family.  Maybe my new neighbor feels that way too.  I see she's one of "us"--out at work all day.  I wonder if that one stay-at-home mom, now that her kids are both in school, notices how empty the neighborhood is during the days.  I imagine the widows and elderly couples notice it more.  The home is "the heart of the family" some say...I wonder if these lonely houses feel that way.  

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Changing Again

I've been off for a while. Mostly, it's because I just didn't feel this blog was going anywhere. (Even though I've been collecting photos and stories...a black widow spider from my garden, freezing serrano and cubanelle peppers, butterfly photography...but...no motivation to post them.) 

I was also cast into doubt one day when I showed a friend the blog and her first impression was "Boy, that's BUSY!"  So maybe it was too "busy;" it's not really meant to be an artsy space per se.  I also wondered if it was taking too long to load after I realized that at one time I had 4 "feed" followers and that decreased to 1.  Hence the revamped, simplified look I created last night.  (By "created" I mean I selected a new template and tweaked the colors and layout a little bit.)

In addition, after over a year, I was/am discouraged by the minimal readership--although I am so happy with my new friends who follow me--and I am reaching into different areas generally to try to impact the world. It makes sense to me right now to spend more time in the "real" world looking for "it" than in the virtual world.

I recently saw the following Edmund Burke quote: "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."  It has become one of my many goals to not be this person, meaning, I need to get out there and DO more, where ever I can.  If I have time between working on my big goals, I'll try to post some more--which will probably increase when the weather gets bad.  Until then, keep striding toward your own goals!

Have a comment? Advice? Random observation? I'd love to hear it. Click "COMMENTS" just below.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Microlending through Kiva

Here's a quickie update on one of my pet projects: the link on the right margin is to Kiva, a microlending broker that connects people who want to help others out of poverty by loaning funds to help improve an entrepeneur's chances of success.  I was introduced to Kiva through their work in Guatemala, the homeland of a very special member of my family. (You can see her pictures in some of my other posts.)  Recently, some of my loan repayments came through, so I used those proceeds and added some more to loan to another Guatemalan woman. Here's her bio from Kiva:

Ana Andrea Juarez Curruchich                     
Location: San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenango, Guatemala
Activity: Food
$1,150 Loan Request
$375 Raised So Far
$775 Still Needed 
Loan Use: To invest in her activity.
Currency Exchange Loss: Possible

"Andrea is 57 year-old trader working in the municipal market of San Martín Jilotepeque. She sells meals there every day, and at home she breeds pigs. The loan she is requesting will be used to buy pigs, animal feed and maize. She dreams of increasing her meals sales and to have a vending stall, as right now she sells her products in the square of the municipal market. She is thankful to FAPE and KIVA for the support they are providing, as this will help her making her dreams come true."  (This is typical of the bios on Kiva.)

I see honesty, patience, endurance, and a lifetime of hard work in her face.  True beauty.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Giving advice, taking advice.  It's a funny thing.  I tread lightly around the subject--since if you give someone advice and it's wrong (and they follow it), that's not good. And if you take someone else's ill-considered advice, you could end up worse off than you were before. 

Around my office there is a group of women who eat lunch together and talk in the kitchen. One in particular constantly gives out advice (this is the same person whose husband is studying for the ministry and I debated briefly about evolution and the age of the earth.  She's in the 6000 years old camp.) Her advice is quick and sure--"you can't let him do that"--"you've got to put a stop to that..."  Uninvolved in their conversation, sometimes I chuckle to myself, thinking that if life were that easy, we'd all be in fine fettle.  I can't understand how she can judge a person's problems, solve them, and feel capable of giving out advice in under five minutes.

I only give advice if I'm quite sure of the subject, and I often do a little research "just to be sure." And even then I'm reluctant to suggest what another person should do, and only give advice if absolutely necessary.  And as for taking advice--I'm generally too hard-headed to know what's good for me--and surely too much so to think that other people might know it--so that's another tricky subject. 

I will add that I have learned that if my dear, honest, intelligent husband (who doles out advice to me the way I do to others--rarely and carefully) actually asks "would you like my advice?" I do two things: (1) begin re-thinking through what I'm about to do, and (2) say yes and listen.  My nature is to not want to take advice, but I have learned over the years that if my husband speaks up, he always has a point, always has my best interests at heart, and, more often than not, he's about to stop me from doing something I will probably later regret.  So even if I really don't want to, I take his advice.  And, time after time, year after year, I look back and know he's been right.

What brings this up?  A friend of mine sends out a daily message (I've mentioned it here once before) which usually contains a daily inspirational thought from a "motivational expert." Not one to get all excited about motivational experts, I usually skim over it.  But yesterday's message contained this:

"If you were someone else, what advice would you give yourself? If you could step back from being you, and look objectively at what you're doing and how you're living, what changes would you recommend?

It's easy to imagine the straightforward advice you'd give to someone else, because you don't have to follow that advice. Now imagine applying that same level of honesty and objectivity to your own situation."

It made me think. Is there any simple advice I should give myself? What have I been missing that I might simply have known all along?  Am I too close to the situation to see the forest?  Has my connection to my own journey made me less than honest in my self-evaluation? (I accept loss of objectivity, it's the nature of the self.) But, should I try to step back and be objective?  What would I tell myself if I did?

Perhaps to take some steps out into the direction or directions I might want to move. To not let fear stop me from moving forward. To believe, trust, have faith.  To get the stuff done that I know must be done in order to move forward.  To listen to that little voice which might be hinting at opportunities yet to be seized.  To look for feelings inside myself, learn to identify them and see where they lead.

What about you? Any advice?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My State Fair, Part III

At the far corner of the Fair, the antique farm equipment organization displayed some of their best pieces.  I loved the bright colors, the beautiful lines, the link to our agrarian past. 

Have you ever heard of an Oliver tractor?  This is a 1950 model "66."  Oliver began as the Oliver Chilled Plow Works in 1857; James Oliver merged his company with the Hart-Parr Company (which made tractors beginning in 1900) and two others in 1929.  The last Oliver green tractor was made in 1976.
I heard several young people exclaim "It looks like a tank!"  while I was getting the shot below.  It is a 1931 McCormick Deering "Trac TracTor."  Cyrus McCormick created his harvester in 1831 and patented it in 1834.  In 1873 William Deering began competing with McCormick with his version of the harvester.  Their companies and three others merged in 1902 under the hand of J.P. Morgan, and International Harvester was born.  The last International Harvester tractor was built in 1985. 

Here's an Allis Chalmers tractor. They made farm equipment in the United States from 1914 until 1985.
Here's an angle with a few of the tractors; love the bright colors. 
Below is a beautiful red and yellow Massey Harris, from a Canadian manufacturer that began making mechanical tractors in 1847, moved to Toronto in 1879 as Massey Mfg. Co., continued as Massey Harris in 1891, and then became Massey Ferguson in 1958.  I didn't photograph the plaque with this tractor's year, unfortunately.
A very old John Deere; a 1930 "D" model.
Next is an old John Deere seeder/planter on a period tractor.
Last is an Oliver seeder/planter.  The colors are striking! 
It was a nice walk through history...and the beautiful shapes and bright colors activated my artistic side a bit.  While I was there, two young guys (maybe 17-20 years old) walked through; one bragged to the other about his family's tractor and blew the "oooo-ga" horn for the kids.  I loved the fact that these young guys were so involved in farming--it gives me hope.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My State Fair, Part II

As a would-be farm girl growing up, I have always loved farm animals--at lest in theory. Other than chickens, I've never had any, but most of my childhood friends did, and were active in 4-H. (For those who may not know, 4-H is a great program with its roots in the late 1890's farming communities in the U.S. It developed with the assistance of the U.S Agricultural Extension Service and grew up with the creation of the Cooperative Extension System in rural counties to become a nationwide program of hands-on learning, in local clubs, for rural youth.  Early on, corn growing contests and then cattle and swine shows were hallmarks. Soon after, canning, sewing, and other home arts were subjects which girls learned in 4-H. 

Prizes, such as trips to Chicago for the best in category cattle or pigs, motivated participation and learning.  In 1922, an Iowa girls Canning Club won a national competition and a trip to France, where they gave demonstrations.  My own 4-H participation focused on sewing, needle arts and nature/conservation.  This has turned into quite a tangent, as I enjoyed learning about the history of 4-H just now.  You can read more about 4-H at their website, here, or on the national headquarters (USDA) website, here.)

Ok, back from tangent.  So of course I visited all of the animals at the fair.  First were the sheep.  Most had had their final baths before competition and were dressed like they were headed to a Klan meeting. I wish I had had a video camera to show you a young man giving his big sheep her bath...they were both all full of suds and she was NOT cooperating very well. 
These adorable rams (I don't think they would want me calling them "adorable"--any young man would object) were trying to scrape the hoods off their heads.  Luckily they don't have wear them except right before judging.  The one came right over when I said "hey pretty boy" a couple of times.  I guess he gets called that at home!
Right next door were the swine.  This big girl was taking a rest after her trip in from the farm.  (I believe she is a mixed breed, as she doesn't match any of the standard breeds listed.)

I can identify these two: here, a Hampshire greets the Duroc-Jersey in the next pen...nose to nose, lots of snuffling and snorting involved.  I spared you any shots of the "boar" (males) full-length....I don't think anyone wants to look at an extra-large-grapefruit-sized scrotum stuck on the back end of a pig!
In the next pavilion, some of my favorites: the cattle. Here's a beautiful Holstein (spotted) and I believe the others are Belted Galloway (the cow lying down has a fuller white belt than the standing calf.)
Here's a scene that made me happy on all sorts of levels. These sisters had just arrived with their Holsteins and together, they were giving the big mamma her bath before settling her down in the show area. Joking and laughing as sisters do, they clearly were comfortable with the animals and were having fun.

One more from the cattle department: the world famous black Angus, among the best beef cattle around.  This family had several young bulls there to show.
And the last pavilion I visited (only last because the poultry was scheduled to come in beginning on Friday) was the one housing the goats.  I'm no goat expert; never even been a real fan of goats, but the brown and tan mother and baby were absolutely adorable together although hard to photograph because they kept moving around.  The first two photos show Pygmy goats.
These two gals were just cute, both needing to eat at the same time. I think they may be Turkish Angora goats, recently shorn. They looked like they had a fresh haircut, and I have searched for any other type which looks like them, to no avail.  (The fair rules only indicate that "all breeds" are shown together, so that wasn't helpful, either.)  There were also Boer goats, but I couldn't get a good photo of them.
Without the Poultry (which is really "big" around here), I can hardly say my livestock photos are complete, but I'm just not that broken up over its incompleteness to go back to the fair just to see the chickens. 

Stay tuned for my final installment, which does not include any photos of the "midway" or amusement rides.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My State Fair, Part I

My bout of nostalgia ended up taking me to the State Fair which opened yesterday.  In a larger state, this would be like a county fair.  Here, we have only 3 counties so we have a statewide fair.  It has all the same things I remember from the old county fair from my youth, plus some of the more modern draws which have been added over time.  Early in the evening, the Citizens Hose Band of Smyrna (a volunteer fire company band) played some Sousa marches.
I ducked into the nearest exhibit hall (air conditioned to some extent) to see what there was to see.  (And to get out of the 92 degree heat and 50-55% humidity after my long walk from the parking fields.)

I love the home arts (as regular readers must already know), so this was the best place for me to begin.
So many quilts and crocheted, knitted and other sewn items to see! The colors were vivid, and more than anything else, I marveled at how diverse the works were--some classic, some bright and modern, some traditional designs and some highly creative new designs!  (clicking on the photos should give a much enlarged version).

Behind the crocheted flag, there are dozens of scarves, sweaters, and many hand sewn quilts in traditional patterns as well.
Moving toward the back of the exhibit hall, I toured the traditional displays from competitions in the Farm, Fruit & Apiary and Garden Vegetable Departments.  Here are: Best 8 Ears of Corn, Any Variety; Biggest 8 Ears of Corn, Any Variety; Best 5 Ears Old Fashion Indian Corn, Best gallon jar Yellow Corn, Shelled, and more.  (Love the categories, which have probably been unchanged for ages.)
Here are a few apiary entries: at center, comb honey in frames (jars of honey and the purified wax were on the end.)    Above the frames are quart jars of various seeds, such as several types of clover.  The upper right shows a back view of some huge sunflower heads, which were at least 20 inches across. On the bottom are peaches, plums and nuts.
I love this next shot just for the colors.  These are the Garden Vegetable Department's tomato varieties--red, green, and yellow classes.

Below are the yellow squash and a glimpse of some of the peppers (hot banana peppers are just above the squash.)

Finally, along the back wall, were shelves and shelves of canned goods.  This is only one of 4-5 tiered units full of canned produce.  These are beets and pickles (shown for my husband, who loves both) and there were rows and rows of canned fresh vegetables, fruits, jellies, jams and preserves.  They're not readily visible, but on every single jar there was a sticker that said "I Have Been Opened," which I thought was a great example to the public in accordance with the Department of Agriculture's home grown food safety program.  

One final shot for this edition: each night of the fair they have featured entertainment in the grandstand, which includes big name country singers and other shows.  For opening night though, it was the Demolition Derby. That says a lot.  This picture says even more.  Although announcements were made that $10 tickets were still plentiful, this is a part of the fence surrounding the track at the grandstand:

Just can't take the "country" out of the boys, I guess--and they're not all boys.

I have two more installments in mind to give you a flavor for the rest of the fair. Y'all come on back now, y'hear?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wildflower Memories

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic these past few days--not something I get too often, as a rule. Maybe it's Summertime; the hot, languid days calling back some feelings from long ago. I want to swim on days like these: to get in a pool and feel the cool water and be refreshed! I could see me floating around on a couple of noodles, just relaxing away!

Before becoming a mom, I also used to go on long bike rides on days like these. It always felt good to have the breeze cool me as I rode. On the lonely back roads I'd watch the butterflies flit silently among the flowers which crowded the edges of the road.

The other day my son and I were back on one of those roads.  The flowers were there, as they always were.

I've loved this pretty little flower for years.  I used to call it "cornflower" in my mind, because in the big big box of Crayola Crayons (what an exciting moment, to open a new big box of crayons--all perfectly pointed, wrappers pristine...with that unmistakable smell!) there was a beautiful shade of blue almost that color called Cornflower.
So I finally learned that my pretty blue flower is actually Chicory.   I never knew!  Many years ago, I had a chocolate milk substitute, made by a friend's mother who was an early naturalist. She used fresh goat's milk, honey, and ground chicory to make a rich and flavorful drink.  It was nothing I was used to, but it tasted pretty good!  Trying chicory has crossed my mind over the years as a result.  If I dig some up and roast it, I'll let you know!

Also on my rides was another common flower I remembered from childhood.  Queen Anne's Lace, a lacy white flower many people probably know.  I remember it because when I pulled it up, the leaves looked and the root smelled like carrots--I could not get over how much it smelled like carrots when I was young.  Now, come to find out that Queen Anne's Lace and the carrots we eat are both  Daucus carota.  I knew they were related! 
I love how the light blue and white flowers sprinkle the edges of the road subtly--not blaring with color--understated, quiet, unnoticed by many who rush down the road.
Another of my favorites is the trumpet vine, or trumpet creeper, which grows wild along the back roads here.  Sometimes you can see a hummingbird visiting the flowers, poking a tiny beak inside for nectar.  I have wanted to grow it at home, but I just read that the vines can cause a rash.  I hadn't heard that before--does anyone have any experience with that?

I'd love to attract hummingbirds, but my sensitive skin would probably not handle an irritant vine.  I need to find that out before trying to grow it. 

Thanks for taking a little walk down memory lane with me!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


As I sit here with ice on my knee (I twisted it while not falling as I turned my opposite ankle...stupid heels), I can finally take a few moments to breathe and reflect on the summer thus far.

This has been a week! I'm glad it's over (we got a defense verdict in our trial, woo hoo! The celebretory Cosmo I'm sipping tastes soooo good.)  And we're well into the Summer already, although it seems like it just began. 

This year I really wanted to have my gardens back, so I made the time in May and June to do the work. (Yet another reason for the few posts.)  I have tomatoes (Roma, Sweet Million cherry, and mystery volunteer heirloom varieties) peppers (Bell, Cubanelle, purple Serrano (in the photo), Serrano del sol, Poblano, and Yellow Banana), many herbs, and for the first time ever, Artichokes. 

Above is a picture of one corner of the herb garden a couple of weeks ago right after I got done weeding it.  The big rosettes of leaves are common mullein, an herb used in the olden days for pulmonary ailments; the white flowered herb is feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) which has long been used for medicinal purposes and more recently has been confirmed in some studies to help prevent migraines; between the rosettes is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), there's a salvia to the upper right, and near the feverfew is some St. John's wort, useful medicinally for relief of depression.

This photo has some tarragon hidden between the lemon balm and black-eyed Susans, but mostly I just love the brilliant yellow of the black-eyed Susans (that's why I let them self-seed and weed around them.)  In the upper right you can just see the orange flowers of "Butterfly weed" (Asclepias tuberosa), another one of my favorite native herbs.

And, more recently, I picked this basket from my garden: bell peppers, serrano peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and the first cherry tomato.

I love being able to pick fresh vegetables from my gardens!!!