Thursday, October 28, 2010

Promises Kept, Some Broken

Whenever I see polka-dots I think of ice cream, and the promise of fun. I was imagining they were colorful dots but I think they were actually pink and brown. I guess it all gets mish-moshed in my memory with the Wonder Bread logo. Of course I am referring to the Baskin-Robbins of my childhood and the thrill it was back then to get such a treat--an ice cream on a sugar cone. I guess it must have been with my Grandma June. She has always been, in herself, a promise of fun.

She is a sparkling woman. Ever since I can remember she has had white hair, attractively arranged, always classically well-dressed, usually in pastels. She is normally tan, and in great shape. She is in her 90's now, a tiny woman, but her presence fills the room wherever she goes. Her high soft voice is always always cheerful and melodic. She is of course a smiler, and her blue eyes actually do twinkle. Full of life, but calm, Grandma June is a picture of grace in the womanly sense.

She was a light in my murky childhood. She really taught me about hospitality. Her home was a constant haven, stocked with things kids love. There were toys and beautiful storybooks, and an outstanding array of breakfast cereals. We had wonderful meals there. Lunch might be cream of mushroom soup (which she taught me how to make--from a can), with a sandwich on our choice of breads, including pumpernickel, laden with scrumptious fixings from the "delicatessen," as she called it. There was an old fashioned kitchen in her basement, complete with a wringer for clothes washing, and an ancient fridge that was stocked with ice-cold glass bottles of RC cola.

This blog was supposed to be about how ice cream never really does live up to its suggestion of transporting me to some happy-land; and about how flowers (like ice cream and polka-dots, attractive and engaging) really are the fulfillment of their own promise. I also wanted to say that rarely do I meet a floral pattern I don't like. Birds, flowers, butterflies remind me of Grandma June--colorful and exciting and beautiful and welcoming.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Art of Art

In my family there are many artists. My grandma Lou was a great (not famous) painter, and so is my Aunt Deedee though she keeps it a secret. My cousin Lindy can paint your socks off, as can my son Tim, my cousin Adam, etc. There are others, of course. I am an artist, too. I say this not because I'm very good, but it is more a frame of mind.

I'm glad that on both sides of my family people have always been art-minded. I'm glad because I know what I need to do sometimes. There are times when I just have to "do art." It doesn't have to be painting for me. My mother and father are both musicians, and really my first love (in doing the arts) is playing the piano. But it might be painting, or drawing, or writing, or photographing, or cooking, or sewing(!), or even dancing. And none of those things has to be done especially well, at the time, I just have to do them. I have to get something out, something deep inside that won't come out any other way.

For me it can also work just listening to music, in which case I guess the listening is the doing. Or reading poetry, though I don't do that much anymore. Even a really good movie can work. It's as though the artist is expressing something I truly "get" and my heart can fly with, or drown with, or whatever. What an ecstatic feeling--to be understood. How funny that you might not really be understanding the same things at all.

But it just goes to show you that art is on a level beyond the frame of communication wherein it is set. Today my four-year-old asked me what a "soul" is. Well, I didn't have time to answer him right then, which was a relief--I won't lie. But then he asked, "Is it the part that can love God?" And, not to get into a theological debate Watchman Nee-style over the dividing of the soul and spirit, I simply said, "yes." This little guy is an artist too... and so is God.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Time is it?

I don't wear a watch or have a real cell-phone. So, wherever I go, I have to ask people what time it is. I recently had to ask a guy what day it was. Sometimes, just for a second, I don't know what season we're in. Like, when I see colorful flags in the schoolyard behind my house I think, "Is it field days again?" Then I pause, and think, "No, no, it's fall, not spring." And I gather from one of the neighborhood kids that the school has been having some sort of physical fitness challenge. He thought it sounded fun until he found out it was actually just a fun name for torture.

Field days at school were always an enigma to me. Suddenly, with no apparent warning, we were all outside the whole day participating in activities I didn't understand or know how to do. I wonder if the other kids felt as out of place as I did. And as for the physical fitness challenges, they were sprung on us just as cruelly. My family, on all sides, is as un-ripped as they come. My son, who is in the Army, has bemoaned the fact that he can work out like crazy and never ever get a muscular physique like his best friend seems to be born with. Not that we're not strong--you'd just never guess it from looking at us. Well, I mean, if by strong you're not talking chin-ups.

So, it's early fall, and the kids were furiously trying to create a leaf pile out of the meager droppings thus far. Only a few skimpy ash, the maples have yet to descend. The boys are still small enough that they had fun backing up about 30 yards and running full speed to jump into a little pile about two and-a-half feet across and one foot high. Brings to mind the old cartoon where the guy is supposed to jump from a ridiculously high ladder into a bucket of water.

Anyway, time. I have said that I read music, and that is mostly true, but I really don't read time very well. That's where the playing-by-ear part comes in. I guess it's the same for my mother, and she's really good. So I get frustrated in trying to teach reading time to my son; and I wonder where that "those who can't do, teach" saying came from. Time is math, and it is fascinating to me but somehow just beyond my mental grasp. There may have been a time when I would have understood time (and some other things) but I think I lost the window.

My eight-year-old son and I are studying World War II. I'm letting him pick the history topics this year and so far it's been Vikings and this. I used to be way too intimidated to even try to learn about such a complicated subject. Fortunately, I have somehow discovered that you actually can learn about these things, piece-by-piece. That a subject like WWII need not always be considered of infinite complexity (well, at least not to get a bit of a grasp of the happenings there.) So far it is coming together interestingly. Strange how we can look back at what was going on, all over the world, over a period of time. It's like having a bird's-eye view, somewhat, of how that war all came together. Duh, I know, but remember I went to public school.

So, to sum all this up: I don't really care what time it is, or I would have a watch. I guess I never much listened to what they were saying in school because I was too busy watching the clock. I now, finally, can love and appreciate fall because I don't have the "time to go back to school" stomachache. I would love to have the brain of my youth now that I know how to actually learn things. I hope all my sons appreciate the time and freedom they have/have had as homeschoolers, but I doubt it. I have now used up all the time I had in avoiding making dinner. Until next time--peace out.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I like to have things wrapped up, and I don't mean presents--or gifts, as they are more commonly called. My family always called them presents, and whatever they are I am a terrible present-wrapper. First of all I never have any wrapping paper around, well except Christmas wrapping, as that is bought easily and cheaply in bulk. Recently I had no choice but to buy some regular wrapping paper (the kind in the greeting card aisle as opposed to the super cheap kind you find at the dollar store) and was amazed at the quality and thickness of the stuff. It was glossy and wonderful. It didn't tear when you folded it. I thought, "Wow."

Another reason I am a bad wrapper is I guess because I am a slob. I secretly feel guilty about many crazy little problems that I have, assuming they occur because I am a lousy housekeeper. What I am referring to is the fact that every time I go to wrap a present, a piece of hair inevitably finds its way stuck to the tape. I mean, gross. Well, that is one aspect of slobbiness, another is the mashed-up-if-not-missing condition of the wrapping accoutrements. Then there is the laziness, and the impatience at the whole wrapping process.

But let's not forget the Ray Rayner factor. No matter how hard I may actually try (which I have, a time or two) it will never ever come out looking like Chauncey's. And believe me, there are plenty of "Chauncey"s around in my family.

For instance, my grandfather Floyd. He used to make these elaborate, really spectacular gift wrappings--complete with things like shimmering wrapping-paper origami birds perched on miniature gold ball ornaments, seated on a nest of garland. And I'm talking the 70's when nobody ever even heard of origami--maybe he invented it. Then I have plenty of sisters-in-law who are great at it. There's Dee, with the latest in earthy textures and raffia ribbons; Anne, with bright popping colors of glossiness and cellophane wonder...and there are plenty of others. Suffice is to say, I might think I was adopted,except for this fact: those are all relatives by marriage. The wrapping-challenged blood runs truly through my veins.

My Dad's idea of gift-wrap is a brown paper sack, and I'm not talking the trendy kind. Whenever he attempts a feat of wrapping, which is hilarious and makes me look like a pro, he always says, "Loki wrapped it." Loki was the dog, and he's been dead a long time. My Mother (by blood), however, prefers large plastic bags--the kind you get at Toys R Us or Target. Or she just has stuff shipped directly. Sometimes she asks me to then wrap the gifts for the kids--thereby establishing the fact that I am more advanced in wrapping skills than her and proving that I was not, in fact, adopted.

So, for now, I guess that about wraps it up!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


My kids love Popeye. In fact yesterday, at the behest of my youngest son, I finally succumbed to his constant begging that I buy a can of Popeye brand spinach. I told him it would be yecchy, but he really wanted to try it. (Will let you know how that goes.) Anyway, they also love other old-timey heroes such as Daniel Boone. One of their favorite dvd rentals is the old Fess Parker series. I was discussing this with a librarian one day and she was amazed that any kids these days would go for that old black & white stuff. (Actually, those episodes can be somewhat hair-raising.)

I don't remember watching Daniel Boone as a kid, but somehow I knew about him. I know this because when I play a certain Scarlatti Sonata in E Major that my dad used to play when I was little, I recall that I imagined this song was about Daniel Boone. There is the part that sounds like he is confidently marching through the wilderness, Natives looming, then sections interspersed which sound like his wife pleading, slightly protesting, eclipsed again by his determined hunter-like tones...

As we recently read his biography, I found that it really was somewhat that way. He'd leave his family for extended periods, even putting them in harm's way at times. Now, I'm not trying to malign a great American hero. I'm just saying I'm glad we named my youngest Daniel Frederick after my grandfather, whom I had reason to admire, instead of Daniel Boone--which was a consideration in fitting with his older brother, named John Henry. (Actually, though, John Henry was also the name of another grandfather of mine.)

My hero as a kid was Batman, as in Adam West. And my dad. I love to play that Scarlatti sonata on the piano because he played it. In fact, just about all of the music I love most to play on the piano are songs my dad used to play when I was very young. I don't even know what this music would sound like to me apart from the memories I have attached to it. "It" is a weird term to apply to music. Like, do you ever read old writing where the author refers to a child as "it"?

I have to remind myself sometimes that even though I feel old and dried up about ready to blow away, I am someone really important in the eyes, hearts, and minds of my children. They may not have a mother who's young and fresh with her whole life in front of her...but they need to have their possibilities open to them. If Mom or Dad is not invincible they don't necessarily have to know it right now.

I don't tell them what to think, exactly, but I do play those songs I love on the piano, songs my dad played. And I hope they imagine something meaningful to them, something that will somehow sustain them, or surprise them in the days ahead. I hope it is heroic.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I don't believe in luck. "Fate" is just a name for a false god/dess in my book. I don't subscribe to the idea that anything can occur without God's consent. His all-knowingness is so much greater than we can even pretend to begin to imagine. I seriously wonder if that's why some people don't believe in God...because their idea of Him is so small that it can't really make sense.

For instance, many people think that the Bible is just a book written by men. All I can say is that I have been reading it for 15 years and am just now beginning to get a hint of a clue of some of what it's telling me about God. Or rather, what He's telling me about Himself. Although it does seem to say the same things over and over, but you know, I'm thick.

And I know how hard it is to believe some of the things that happened in there. Like Samson killing 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Or Jonah being in the belly of a whale or fish for three days and then coming out alive (resurrected?). Or the virgin birth...You get the idea. There are many inexplicable things recorded there, by our standards. We don't normally encounter the supernatural, which is why it is called that.

But if, for just a moment, you can concede that there is a God who created everything (and I don't know how else all this could have come to be--I mean if you really seriously think about it), then, really, is there anything He can't do?? In His own words: "Is anything too hard for the LORD?"--Genesis 18:14 (in telling Abraham that 90-year-old Sarah would bear a son) or, "Is the LORD's arm too short?"--Numbers 11:23 (in telling Moses that he would provide meat for Israel in the desert--this is after having rescued them from Egypt!)

Furthermore, it is very kind of Him to give us a sense of normalcy, of the "natural," so that we can cope with our surroundings. And so that we can recognize when something or some One is outside of, or rather, beyond what feels usual to us. Truthfully, what feels usual to us is actually quite extraordinary after all, isn't it?