Mabel and Gus (maybe it’s a duck)

For several years two mallard ducks have come to my bird feeders each Spring for early morning or pre-dusk meals.  It took a while to learn their names, but this year – finally – Mabel and Gus!  When I see them under the feeders, I feel ridiculously happy.  Gus will usually keep watch while Mabel enthusiastically scoops up mixed feed the sparrows and squirrels have scattered.  Eventually Gus will eat but he and Mabel are cautious and likely to lift off for no reason apparent to me. After they eat, they head over to the street to see if there is any water in the gutters – the past few days there has been plenty.

Last year I noticed that Mabel tends to determine how long the visits last – at some point she would walk away from the feeders and shake her head vigorously.  Gus would quickly move toward her and shake his head in the same fashion.  Next, both would shake their heads in unison and suddenly take flight (I observed this many times last Spring).  I looked for information about duck communication on the Internet, but came up empty on the subject.  Whatever it means, it is sure nice to have them back!

(The pink flamingo is an extra that my neighbor included at the feeder.  Mabel seemed puzzled by but interested in it).  Please excuse the poor photo quality – it’s hard to get pics of skittish ducks using a phone camera from inside a house through a window screen.

The Hands that Hold Us

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The hands that held us are gone.

Hands that gently washed, dressed and fed lots of sweet babies.

Hands that held us, provided occasional righteous stings to little bottoms, applauded our triumphs and gave us a needed push.

Hands that cooled fevered brows and held back hair from the faces of children needing to give back their meals.

Hands that held “The Hobbit” in one hand, a white mug full of coffee with cream in the other, while keeping a passel of offspring— scattered across the living room floor cuddled in blankets— in Tolkien’s thrall.

Hands that kneaded dough for countless loaves – delivering warm slices of hearty bread soaked in butter to hungry mouths.

Hands that worked away from home – gone for days at a time – to financially support us.

Hands using chalk on a big blackboard to explain math or religious teaching – each equally mysterious.

Hands that knit afghans, washed a million diapers, ironed sheets and sometimes even boxer shorts.

Hands that quietly traced a cross on our foreheads at bedtime.

Hands used to shepherd children through the world’s challenges – crossing streets, maneuvering through crowds, learning to drive a manual transmission.

Hands that could tap out the rhythm to a recognizable tune on the table top.

Hands that signed permission slips and co-signed promissory notes – with trust and trepidation.

Hands that let go when we were ready to take steps – big and small – on our own.

Hands that waved to us … on our first day of school, from the audience during a dancing competition, as we left home to find our fortunes.

Hands that pulled us in close for a reassuring hug …when we were young… and, perhaps more importantly, when we were older.

Hands that grasped our own – squeezing when words were no longer possible – to say “Thank you!”, “I love you.” and “Goodbye”.

Four hands are gone, turned to ashes too soon.

Four hands that produced 16 more

…hands to hold us when they were gone.


It was a dark and stormy night…

(Originally posted on on 12/11/2010 – edited for this posting)


                                                  Charles Schulz

The winds shrieked like a woman who has just learned her beloved is a germy cheat. The forecast had called for flurries, but looking at the white-out conditions from the dining room window, she was pretty sure someone on the “storm team” should be fired – or worse.  It felt decadent to be so cozy and warm, snuggled into the too-big sweater that was pulled out for all manner of occasions calling for comfort – feeling punky, getting over a heartbreak, not wanting to pay the gas bill for frivolously turning the thermostat to 68 degrees.  The slipper socks with the faux leather soles purchased at Kohl’s were a nod to her mother who used to knit slipper-socks rather like them for her to wear in cold weather. Sipping  a cup of hot cocoa  she looked around the dining room – at the papers scattered across the table, bills, to-do lists, requests for donations to find a cure for cancer, feed the hungry, stop violence, run crooked politicians out of office, etc….  Did anything ever really get done?  No matter how much she tried to keep this all in check, it seemed to multiply two-fold for each thing she actually got done.  Very discouraging.  She picked up one of the marshmallows sitting next to the cup of hot cocoa and popped it in her mouth.

A sharp rap on the front door brought her out the chair she was sitting in at the end of the table – one of the chair arms bit into her thigh as she moved toward the door.  She couldn’t imagine who it could be at this hour. She glanced up at the wall clock and saw it was only 7:30 p.m.  Reaching for the door handle, she was startled by a second hard rap on the door. She stepped back from the door, absentmindedly rubbing the sore spot on her leg.  There were windows in the door with glass that let in the light but distorted the view of what or who was on either side of it.  She hadn’t turned on the porch light when it started getting dark, but she could see there was someone or something very large standing on the other side.  The third knock was hard enough to rattle the glass and she finally just grabbed the doorknob and pulled open the door to find a large man holding a shovel and looking cold and miserable.

He looked a bit comical wrapped up like the mummy against the weather. “Can I …. ?” She could almost see the words being ripped out of the air by the punishing gusts of wind.  Huh?  “Can I shovel your walk?’ he said gruffly looking a little annoyed.  Is he kidding?  The blizzard was keeping most of the snow pressed nicely against the side of her house, the side of the car, the sides of everything.  The walk was surprisingly clear. The cold was cutting through her sweater and she wanted to slam the door to keep the house at it’s normal constant 64 degrees.  What was this guy thinking?  She started to say “Thanks, but no” when she noticed that in the space of time she had taken to determine she didn’t need this guys services, he had adjusted his stance and was now poised, shovel over his head appearing to look straight through her.  She yelped a pathetic sound and ducked, at the same time trying to shove the door closed with her slipper-shod foot, as she saw him begin to bring  the shovel down rapidly toward her head.  There was a thunderous sound as the shovel hit it’s mark….

She jumped almost out of her skin as the shovel crashed down on a spot just to the left of where she was standing. She tried to swear at the mummy man, but it was hard to get even a word past her pounding heart currently lodged in her throat.  On the floor, under the blade of the shovel, was a small, spreading pool of what looked like blood – very grisly.  Looking up the handle of the shovel, up past the big hands that held it and the arms the hands were attached to, she locked eyes with the would-be sidewalk clearer. He looked expectant – perhaps waiting for a thank you.  With comically raised eyebrows she asked, without words, what the heck had just happened.  He raised the shovel off the floor and dunked it into the snow at the side of the porch.

Just inside the door there was now a puddle of goo and unidentifiable material.  What was it?  The man no longer appeared menacing and was standing looking at the floor too.  Her lips pulled back in disgust, she slowly bent down to get a better look.  Her knees crackled as she got down to a squat and she had to put a hand on the door jamb to steady herself.  Peering at the floor she suddenly burst out laughing.   The victim of the shovel attack was the toy she had bought for her cat a while back.  It was a big rat on wheels – wheels hidden so that when the thing moved across the floor it had an eerie life-like quality.  It had scared the cat and he would only deign the interact with it long enough to knock it away from him – which he must have done tonight in the midst of the goings on at the front door, sending the toy boldly into the line of fire and to it’s doom. The unexpected guest at her door had acted the hero.

Now looking at the carnage, she became aware that the still spreading puddle was some sort of dark, thickish fluid filling in the toy that made it all soft and rodenty  She laughed again. Her laughter appeared to have an impact on the man on the porch.  He looked perturbed and unappreciated.  She stood up, crackling and popping,  explained her mirth and thanked him for his gallantry.  His face, previously pinched with irritation, broke into a warm smile and he let out a great gust of laughter that was quickly cut off by another intense blast of wintry air. After a moment’s consideration, she invited him to step inside for a cup of hot cocoa and to warm up a bit before continuing his evening.  He accepted and as she started toward the kitchen to get something to clean up the mess, she rubbed the sore spot on her thigh, turned briefly and said, “Leave the shovel outside!”



Calvin and Hobbes “Starry Wonder” – b. Watterson

When was the last time you got up in the middle of the night to go outside and  look at the stars, dug into dirt with your hands and let worms squirm through your fingers, watched a baby discover her hands or listened to Beethoven’s 6th symphony?

Do you ever marvel at all you accomplish from the time your feet hit the floor in the morning until you tuck them back under covers at day’s end?

Does the constant beating of your heart, the involuntary, unconscious work of your lungs, your flawless ability to (usually) stay on your feet when walking ever make you stop in awe? Are you astounded by the people around you – each person a unique universe with likes, difficulties, talents, scourges, facing the world each day just like you?

If not, why not?

The wonders of the world exist in every thought, every choice, every interaction – in your home, in your head, and outside your front door.

Some sites of wonder: (Please click on them – they are worth it)

Hubble Telescope gallery

Georg Solti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra 5th movement of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony

Louie Schwartzberg – Happiness Revealed

TED presentation: Wings of Life

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

embarrassed (2)Will I ever NOT be plagued by the involuntary “flush” response embarrassment causes?  More importantly, will I ever stop being embarrassed about taking up space in the world?  Incredibly and positively, “I’m sorry!” is no longer my most common utterance in any given 24-hour period.  I’m the kid in school who, when asked to go up to the board to solve a problem, would darn near expire making my way up there – face beet red, sweat beading my brow, the roar of several oceans deafening me to any teacher instructions (but not to other kids in the class saying “Oh my gosh.  Look how red she is!”.) Being praised would evoke a similar heart thudding, perspiring blush – not because I was unhappy with the recognition – I just didn’t want anyone to think I was calling attention to myself.

I was shocked to discover in my youth that I could even be intensely embarrassed by/around my family who, I am pretty sure, love me and think I’m a good egg.  One afternoon when I was about 8 years old, my older brother (whose attention and approval I craved and whose good opinion I still hope for) laid some new knowledge on me and one of my little sisters.   He told us that the phrase “cut the cheese” was another way of referring to “breaking wind”. As we didn’t have a TV and were strongly encouraged to use our God-given imagination and intellect, of course my sister and I found this information revelatory, delightfully wicked and hilarious.

What are the odds that, on that very night, the dinner table would be graced with a big block of cheese on a board?  After prayers were said, Dad said to Mom, “Would you like to cut the cheese?”  My sister and I started giggling uncontrollably, looking at each other knowingly.  When I looked across the table at my brother, his face was impassive.  Laughter was not frowned upon during meals, but usually it was a shared experience.  A reckoning was coming.  My giggling ebbed as I began to panic, mentally running through possible explanations for my lapse in good manners. I couldn’t throw my brother under the bus and certainly could not inform Dad what he really said at the dinner table.  Childhood logic expended, when Dad asked “What’s so funny?”, I took the path of least resistance, blurted “I don’t know.” and started crying.

As my sister and I stood on either side of Dad’s chair at the head of the table doing a halting, “sing-songy” rendition of the phrase  “cut the cheese”, I occasionally looked up through tears of embarrassment to see some of my siblings looking at me with a mixture of enjoyment, sympathy and relief that they were not me. There was a real physical pain associated with that moment; being on the  “outside”, especially relative to family, hurts. This early encounter with semi-public humiliation cemented in me an almost pathological dislike for being the center of attention, good or bad, and heightened my sensitivity to and avoidance of any potential rake lying tines-up in my path.

A large white billboard with the word Oops alerting you to a public mistake, gaffe, blunder or blooper that is causing embarrassment for the wrong person or business

photo by iqoncept

Interspersed with long stretches of blessed invisibility over the years,  I have had my share of awkward moments – spinach in my teeth on a date,  the butt seam of my slacks secretly giving way while I was in public feeling pretty good about myself, crossing my legs in a job interview only to have a  dryer sheet fall out one of my pant legs…  That I survive these catastrophes and continue to leave the house is a testament to the human spirit – sort of.  It may not be the brightest strategy to engage in self-talk that includes phrases like “it can’t get worse that this.” I fear that statement may be proven wrong the next time my vigilance wavers.

Tickled pink!

happy pantherWhy do happiness, silliness and joy seem so elusive?  I know when I’m there and I know when I’m not, but HOW I got there or WHY I can’t get there escapes me.  I love moving through a day and suddenly realizing that I feel like I can do anything, like the ground has some spring to it and wouldn’t hit back if I lost my balance and that I have a big old goofy grin on my mug. Those are the days that, once I am safely snuggled into bed for the night, I think out loud “I should have bought a lottery ticket!”.  Those can’t-lose days are uncommon and thus treasured.   

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There are silly days – days I can’t keep a straight face or hear anything that doesn’t make me raise my eyebrows and then commence to giggling (sadly, even if I am alone).  It’s like constantly being in church and trying not to laugh when something tickles me (which is impossible and usually leads to embarrassing gasping sounds, trying not to shake the entire pew with convulsions of mirth and abrupt departures during less that perfect times to make an exit). Silly makes me happy and I try to be and do more silly in my life.  Hanging around with kids exercises my silly muscles – kids “get” silly and seem inordinately pleased and motivated by a big person’s attention to and appreciation of their efforts.  If you don’t have kids to hang out with, your own or someone else’s, consider picking up any kids books by Dav Pilkey (especially his Dragon books) or Roald Dahl – finely crafted silliness.

Joy sneaks up on my heart – in obvious ways like hearing of the birth of a new baby, especially when it increases the number of my blood relations – and in more subtle ways like sitting quietly with one dear to me just being in the same space together or talking companionably and without rush over a meal we both helped to create.  Joy is opening my front door and seeing a friend of many years who lives far away standing on the doorstep – on Thanksgiving!   It’s the unexpected in the best possible ways.

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Recognizing and being thankful for the good times keeps the tough times in perspective and reminds me that after the rain there is usually sunshine and sometimes even a rainbow!

Is “deflated” a feeling?

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It is such a jarring surprise to be moving through life, daring to feel pretty good – about life, your fellow human beings, yourself (gasp!) – and to suddenly be confronted with someone or a situation that completely throws you for a loop, makes you lose your bearings, knocks the smile clean off your face and takes the wind right out of your sails.  It can be a rude or abrupt salesperson, an aggressive/abusive driver whose gum line you can assess for periodontal disease due to the proximity of his car grill to your backseat, a little kid who (while you think you are wowing her) loudly declares – to a room full of people –  that your breath smells like poop. The crazy thing is that 99% of the time these things wouldn’t even faze you; these are the dragons people slay every day – no big deal.  That’s what makes the sting so intense the other 1% of the time when you are caught up short in an unguarded moment – just being yourself.

More disconcerting is when the “roofing nail in the tire” is someone you regard highly – perhaps love – whose positive opinion of you matters to you – maybe too much.  What do you do with that sense of being emotionally diminished/demolished/decapitated.  It hurts like hell – in the chest – in the gut – in the head –  as you try to parse the possible meaning behind the act while you try not to cry in front of that person and anyone else who may have witnessed the takedown.

I’ve got nothing for this one – no pithy list of things to stanch the bleed.

I think I’m just too sensitive.