When I was little, growing up in South Carolina, WIS-TV in Columbia produced a number of local shows, many of them for children. In the afternoon, we watched “The Jolly Jim Show,” where Jolly Jim continually battled with The Evil JP Sidewinder in all sorts of scenarios. It was marvelous. On Saturday night, however, at midnight, which took a huge amount of effort to stay awake, the channel presented “The Gravedigger,” who looked a great deal like JP Sidewinder without a beard. The Gravedigger would introduce the old time horror movies, like “Them,” with giant ants, or “Night of the Lupus” with giant bunny rabbits, or the classics like “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and more. Some might call them more “horrible” than “horror,” but we watched with black and white fascination as the corny plots unfolded, which always ended with the handsome hero and the beautiful girl able to conquer whatever otherworldly, or strange or evil things might be working to overthrow the world. The images I went to bed with were never scary – actually, more campy than anything.
Fast forward to my college years. One Saturday evening, a big group of us decided we would go and see a new horror movie showing at the theater. Please note: I was functioning under the mindset of these kinds of movies would appear to be like the ones I watched when I was a kid. Boy, was I wrong… I won’t even go into the plot of the movie, just to tell you it was truly horrifying. Sadistic, violent, brutal, nothing left to the imagination. After about 1/3 of the movie, I sat with my head down, eyes closed and ears plugged, just to get through the thing. It truly was more evil than anything I had witnessed in my life. Apparently between the 60s and the 70s a huge change had occurred in the making of horror films. They became terror movies, with the worst imagination given the freedom to become portrayed on the big screen.
As we all left the theater – shell shocked as it were – everyone was quiet. I finally asked why they all stayed and watched the horrible thing. They answered that they were waiting for ME to leave! Somehow, I was the unofficial canary in the mine when it came to terrible things like that. I have to say that for weeks following, I still had trouble going to sleep in a dark room. It truly did affect my bearing and my ability to see the world as something good.
Now, maybe that’s just part of growing up, and experiencing things at college that you never would if you were home. It’s kind of “prodigal son” stuff, where you need to go away for a time, and go through the icky things so you can indeed come home. I’ve come to reject that, however – I truly do NOT believe that it is at all necessary, or even preferred to have to experience such terrible images or anything like that. It doesn’t grow us up, and it doesn’t mature us. It’s just bad stuff that reasonable people should never accidentally place themselves before, or ever have to endure.
So, today is Halloween. As I’ve written before, this was always a fun, and candy-induced episode, as October got us ready for Thanksgiving, and the turning of weeks to Christmas. Sure, we dressed up as lots of things. My brother Ray was good at using “monster makeup,” and turning our faces from cute little white kids into scary visions in the night. Sort of. One time we found the directions on how to make someone look like a mummy. We took cotton balls, all stretched out, and dipped them in Karo syrup, and applied them to (my) face. I don’t know if you can imagine the feeling of cotton balls and drippy syrup, but once it was all applied, they then took gruesome green tempera paint, and painted the cotton balls. A bit of dark makeup around the eyes, and then wrapped up in strips of white sheets, and I looked like I came straight out of Egypt. Of course, I never wore that to go trick or treating – I had the typical struggle with “strip slip,” as a few steps would send the wrappings southward. With only wearing underwear, it was an occupational hazard.
But we always had fun, and anticipated a fun and safe time. We always got more candy than we could eat, and had an evening of stories and episodes about how someone’s paper bag dragged too long on the asphalt, and ended up tearing a hole, or how somebody slipped and fell on the damp yards as we hurried from one house to another. And when we went to bed, it was with joy and laughter, and a full tummy.
Much of that still happens each Halloween. It’s not the sinister, evil, demon-infested dark celebration that some would intend it to be. It’s a fun time of dressing up and asking your neighbors for some sweets. However, it does appear around the edges that we are sliding toward the horrible in many places. Younger and younger children, especially boys, are captivated by simply terrible masks and outfits, as though there are no real boundaries on how gruesome or bad you can look. With a hundred channels to tune into, instead of the two or three we had, it’s pretty easy to find images that no one should see, especially our children. Every time we desensitize, or validate horrible and gruesome, we steal part of our kids’ childhood and innocence. I fear for what might happen in the generation to follow.
So my hope this evening is for the “good” Halloween fun, and not the horrible one. That will only happen when mature and loving adults act intentionally to shut down the terrible part, and save our young ones – and ourselves – from things we can’t unsee, or can’t unhear, or can’t unexperience, so that part of our joyful life disappears. Let’s do better. Let’s intentionally live for the highest, instead of the worst. Happy Halloween, and be safe…
Word for the Day: garrulous. You’ve probably heard this word before, but it is one we rarely use. Pronounced GAIR-uh-lus. It is a quality of a person, or perhaps a particular trait. The word comes of course from Latin, garrire, which means “to chatter.” Say the Latin out loud, and it sounds like a word that never ends. I like the definition of “chatter.” It reminds me of the black birds roosting in our spruce trees each late spring. After a while, you just want them to shut up! I remember often as a superintendent of a district, how when I attended a meeting – and I attended thousands of them – more often than not, someone with a garrulous tendency would corner me, and basically tell me everything they knew, and every story about their life they could remember. If somehow they would have been the least bit interesting, I would survive, but that rarely the case.
Garrulous means giving oneself over to rambling, or excessive talk. Where a few words would work, a thousand are inserted instead. It’s the eyes-glazed-over, looking around for an escape hatch, or being unsuccessful in extracting yourself from the prison cell of someone’s opinion. I respect you and your opinion, but now it’s time to shush. Please – just shush…
Well, right around noon, the whole family – all four of us – are going to Hu Hot. For those of you still not acquainted with Hu Hot, it’s a restaurant chain devoted to tasty, fresh cooked, Asian-esque food. Meat, noodles, vegetables, sauces – things you pick out yourself and put in your bowl, and then hand to the guy who stands around a massive super-hot round flat grill, who then fries you choice all up and hands it back to you on a plate. Of particular note, of course, are the sauces, which range from very mild, non-spicy all the way up to burn-your-mouth, make your eyeballs sweat spicy heat. It’s a wonderful experience, with Cheri taking the Norwegian route of a couple of ladles full of gentle sauces, and the other three of us seeking to burn the entire gastrointestinal system to the ground. Oh, and you can go back as often as you want! We probably won’t make plans to fix any supper tonight, I would guess. I also need to bring along a cloth handkerchief to wipe my brow and my eyes. It takes quite the discipline to not touch anywhere on my face after I start eating. You learn after terrible mistakes.
Please note that they have been vigorous in keeping things CoVid free, with hand sanitizers stationed every two feet, and tables spread way out from each other, and of course, the requirement of wearing a mask when you aren’t shoving the food in your mouth. It’s just too irresistible to forego.
Now the reason we are going to Hu Hot is to bribe ourselves. Prior to eating, the four of us are going to undertake our civic responsibility and vote. Yes, I know that Election Day is really next Tuesday, but everyone is off from work, and it just works better to vote early. Who am I voting for, you ask? One thing I am absolutely certain of is that I’m not going to tell you. I’ve never been one to put political signs on my lawn, outside of one year when our church treasurer was running for city council. That was a gimme. Oh, and I also put up signs to ask folks to vote to shut down the video lottery industry, which is a terrible and destructive blight on any community. So I guess I have done some of that in the past, but I prefer these days not to get into verbal fistfights (or the other kind as well!) over which candidate best deserves to serve as an elected official. I’m just going to vote, and then go pick out the sauces I want to have on my food.
It does seem odd that we have added a third category of voting options – there was always voting on the first Tuesday in November, and then, if you were gone to Europe or something, you could request an absentee ballot and vote that way. But this relatively “new” path of “early” voting is a little screwy to me. I don’t want to vote on Tuesday, so I’ll vote today. Four states, including two that surround North Dakota began their “early voting” on September 18! I guess that’s ok, but it sure seems a long time for ballots to just sit around, waiting to be counted 46 days later. Oh, and now they have mail-in ballots, where you just get sent an official ballot to fill out, and just mail it back from the convenience of your own living room. Or, as some fear, ballot-s, which could tend to skew election results. My hope in all of this is that the American sense of fair play follows through, and the result is the one that truly the citizenry had intended.
I remember a few years ago watching the news as it reported voting in different countries, especially in the Middle East, where after someone voted, they dipped their left index finger into a blue/purple dye, which both proved they had voted, and also meant they couldn’t go back and vote a second time. It’s a bit more of a commitment than wearing a “I voted” sticker. I also read where in some countries, militant groups beat up persons who did NOT have dye on their finger, meaning they hadn’t voted. That would encourage a turnout. Of course, there were also the Taliban, who would send out warnings that anyone found with a blue finger would have that finger cut off. A far different method of voter suppression.
Given those options, to simply walk in freely to a voting booth, make your selection, and then go eat Asian food is a pretty nice benefit of living in a long-standing democracy. So – go vote, and then go eat, and then realize whatever happens next Tuesday is your fault…
Word for the day: refulgent. Pronounced reh-FOAL-jent. It’s actually a very pretty word, and has a wonderful definition. It comes from Latin, beginning with the re, which means “back to,” and fulgere, the word for “to shine.” Have you ever walked into a room – maybe a ball room – that was filled with chandeliers, and the entire room seemed to shine and be aglow with light? Or the first time you turn on your Christmas tree, and see the beautiful light reflected in the room? You witnessed a refulgent experience, which means to shine brilliantly, or to flash back toward you. We have a physical reaction when we see something refulgent, even if it is the reflection of light in the eyes of someone we love. Nice word.
I am not a “morning” person. Actually, I’ve never really been a fan of even talking about the early bird catching the worm. I like the phrase better of “the second mouse gets the cheese.” Think about it. I’ve said for years that I really like to get up at the crack of noon. The truth is, when I look at my sleep patterns, it’s easy to see that my REM sleep, where the dreams happen, occurs most of the time after 3am, and extends through 7am. It almost hurts physically when I have to awaken and move around and get up during that time.
“Why then would you do that?” you ask. Good question. Yes, I am now retired, and not tied to a work schedule, and especially with the pandemic, there is really no where to go. However, God with a bit of a divine comedy, managed to put me in a lifelong love with a gal who is very much an early riser. She is asleep by 9pm for sure each night, but she will get up raring to go at about 4:30 or 5:00am. Let me say that although it works for her, that is about the worst thing imaginable. The only time I want to get up that early is if I am going on a long trip and want to get two or three hours in before breakfast. Otherwise, please don’t do that to me. Please. Please…
One thing that did happen in the weeks before I retired, that has continued until today, is my taking on the job of being chauffeur for Cheri. I drive her to work, and pick her up from work, so that if it is raining or snowing or too hot or too cold, the car is perfectly at the right temperature and all she has to do after a long day is to sit back and enjoy the ride. What a nice husband she has, right? Here’s the catch: my dear wife doesn’t start work at 9am, or even at 8am. Since she starts seeing patients at 8am (most of the other providers get to work at 7:45), Cheri likes to be in her office by about 7:15. I’m not sure what she does, since she has already been up for more than two hours doing charts and getting her schedule all worked up, but that means I drive her right around 7am. That means I need to get up at least to sort of wake up, and have a cup of coffee. That means I get up at 6am. Granted, she only works four days/week, so I do get to stay in bed for three of the days, but it still makes early days.
Now – let’s lay on top of that horrible activity the fact that it is now October, and at the end of the month, very far away from the Autumnal equinox, when there is supposedly the same amount of daylight and dark. We are screaming toward the winter solstice, and it is even now dark at 6am. Not dawn, not “breaking of the morning,” with slivers of the first rays of the sun making its way into the world. No – it is just stinking dark. Add to that the reality that most every day we have in October up north is a cloudy day, and it is DARK dark in the bleak pre-dawn hours.
You may sense a slight tinge of complaint in my writing. You would be correct again. It seems to me that “dark” is God’s way of saying “Go back to sleep – your day has yet to begin…” In fact, you could say that getting up while it is still dark is an offense to God’s care for us. God wants us to sleep, don’t you think? I mean, when we ask someone how they slept the night before, and they answer that they didn’t sleep well at all, that’s something to be pitied and feel bad about for the person. How would it sound to ask the same question, and have someone answer, “Oh – I slept great, but the alarm I set made me get up two hours before I wanted to arise, and cut the guts out of my dreaming time, so now my whole sense of bearing is a bit wonky…”
There is, however, one beautiful shining ray of hope in this dark, dreary time of late October. In three days, a lovely and joyful event occurs, at least for us in the United States. We will say goodbye and good riddance to Daylight Savings Time, and finally return to the “standard” time, the way God intends it to be. (I like to think God is supportive of the things I really love, like corn and sleeping in…) Anyway, on Sunday morning, we wonderfully and mysteriously gain an entire hour in the middle of the night, as we “fall back” on November 1st, the first Sunday of November. That means that the 6am wake up on Monday morning, will feel like a 7am wake up, as the daylight savings 6am gets pushed back to 5am, deep in the middle of my REM sleep. See how wonderful that is?
As great and good as that is, there are two unfortunate consequences. One, is that the daylight that exists at 6PM each day, as the sun finally sets, will be actually 5pm. That’s pretty early for sunset, and indeed, by the time the day light is at it shortest in December, we will see nighttime begin at about 4:30pm. One thing to realize, living up north, however, is that since the daytime highs are beginning to sit at about 30 degrees, no one is going to enjoy relaxing on the back patio, wrapped up in parkas and blankets. We move into indoor time, and so it doesn’t matter how dark it is late afternoon. Just turn on another light. The other consequence, however, is that Cheri will start falling asleep, not at 9pm, but closer to 7:45 or 8pm. This will also mean she will still get up very early, which is not a great thing.
And so the world continues on its rotation and revolution, with or without our input. I suppose part of living intentionally in the world is learning how, eventually to live that way within the confines and structures that we find ourselves in. Even if sometimes they seem to pinch our style or our comfort in the world, most of them are not horrible or evil. They just are. And just as it really does no good to shout at the sun to rise earlier or stay up later, it seems like more of our good energy could be spent living hopefully and joyfully, and lovingly in this world. So I get up at 6am. There’s still time for a nap this afternoon….
Word for the day: caterwise. Pronounced CAT-ur-wise. It became a word meaning the same, but believed to have come from another source. It came from the French, quatre, which means “four,” and later was substituted for cater, as it stood for the four dots on a die, or the card in the card deck. As it became a verb (not the one that means to supply food for), it came to mean moving along a diagonal line from one corner of the “four” to the other corner. If you walk diagonally, you are actually walking caterwise.
Now, if you place something diagonally from something else, it is also caterwise, or cater-ways from the first piece. Later it came to be known as “cater-cornered” and then as the original French was lost, people thought it referred to felines somehow, and so they called it “kitty-corner,” or catty-corner. Going on a little further, when something is “catawampus,” it also means out of line, or cockeyed, but usually with a negative connotation. Things can be kitty-corner, but not catawampus. Get it straight…
When you grow up on an Air Force Base, much of your life is lived differently than the “civilians.” We had regulations about how long our lawn could grow, and what time boys in the neighborhood needed to go inside so as not to disrupt everyone else’s sleep. We carried ID cards, which allowed us to have access to the different stores without having to be with one of our parents. Ten years’ old was a rite of passage! We could go to the BX or the Commissary, or even the other smaller stores on base, by just flashing our ID.
One of the important cultural directives each year would be published about the middle of October. It was the annual Halloween Trick or Treat regulation. Basically, it was a reminder that on Halloween, participants were allowed to trick or treat from 1800 – 2000 hours. (That’s 6pm-8pm for your civvies…) We were not to run down the streets, and to watch for cars, and to be mindful of the decorative belongings at each house. Dad would just tell us, “Remember who you are.” We would spend hours drawing maps of the neighborhood, and then developing the best strategy for getting to as many houses as possible, without having to backtrack and lose time. Of course, along with that came the important reminder we gave each other, to knock or ring the doorbell once, and count to 30, and if no one answered, we would run to the next house. We couldn’t waste time with only 120 minutes.
Of course, with that small window, we needed to completely cover our neighborhood, and not be lured into going to the neighborhoods too far away, which always had the rumor of “someone” handing out miniature rolls of Lifesavers, if you could believe that!
After the two hours, we would congregate in the living room, and sort out the candy, which was always way more than we could ever eat – but we did so anyway. I won’t go into the bargaining we made with our little sisters, to encourage them to give up their best stuff, in exchange for gumballs or Charleston Chews. That’s a story of another day.
Needless to say, the regulations were made to keep us safe, and to keep the neighborhood from devolving into a candy riot zone. We always had fun, and I have to say I miss that time, and was never able to fully re-live it as I took my own sons around at different Halloweens. In fact, I still recall the shock of hearing my own flesh and blood descendants saying, after we had gone about a half hour of trick or treating one year, that they were tired, and they had… enough candy. Who were they, and what had they done with my children! No amount of encouragement or urging could keep them from just going inside, and being done for the night, with all sorts of homes untouched, and candy unharvested. It was rough, I must say.
All that brings us to this year. You perhaps as well are caught up in the community discussions of Halloween, given the scariest specter of CoVid looming over the cities. All sorts of announcements and recommendations and warnings have come from the mayor’s office and various health organizations about the deadly trick or treating consequences. Isn’t it interesting that no one is really mentioning the razor blades or pins in the candy this year? It’s more of what they fear will be handed out WITH the candy.
Enter the Meadow Creek homeowner association. It’s not really an HOA, although it is asked that everyone kick in $50/year to cover the cost of plants and flowers at the front of the development, and a pizza night or a free ice cream truck evening. Most of the time, we live in simple freedom, with the occasional email reminder to folks to make sure they pick up after their dogs, and for the kids to watch for cars as they play roller skate hockey in the street.
This year, however, has been different. The email was sent to all residents from the “leadership council.” These folks are somehow elected because no one else has either the time nor the inclination to use up energy trying to “lead” the neighborhood. It would be kind of like our five spruce trees in the back yard trying to lead the clematis and the hydrangea plants… The email, carefully written, but you have to wonder if it were well thought out, attempted to recommend/regulate the comings and goings of trick or treating on the Meadow Creek Circle.
“Following CDC recommendations…” the email laid out what the “leaders” agreed would be the safest method for gathering candy. First, they took a page book from the Air Force, and tried to limit the time frame for trick or treating. However, their plan, for a Saturday Halloween, was to hold it from 4pm-6pm. We won’t change over to standard time until Sunday, so that meant the entire trick or treating time was to occur in daylight. Now that’s scary, right?
Next, they presented various ways to distribute the candy. “Use a long pole with a basket on the end,” “tie up the treats in small bundles, and set them on a table ten feet away from you, and invite the children to pick up one – and only one – bundle.” “Create a fun system to transfer the candy.” “open your garage, and toss candy to the kids.” The email ended up with the “leaders” stating how they hoped to keep our community safe, and pandemic free (say that to the kids who are playing street hockey…).
When I read the email the first time, my respond was, “Oh, this should be fun!” And sure enough, within a few hours and over the next few days, what appeared to be the libertarian response to what they perceived to be the socialist dictum set the emails on fire. “We don’t need any more top-down commands on how we are to live our lives!” “I’ve never heard of such a stupid set of recommendations!” “We are going to hand out candy the way we always have – these children need a break from everything that’s going on in our world!” “Mind your own business!” Kind of goes to show how fragile our community really is.
Actually, I think the email, and the responses, better goes to show how filled with anxiety our lives are right now. First, to have to tell your neighbors how to structure something as traditional and low-tech as handing out candy reveals a pretty strong need to control. Second, to even have to respond out loud to the email betrays a reactive, and anxious mind. It’s sort of why people are speeding way faster than normal down city streets. No one is going to tell him/her what they can or cannot do, even if they have to wear masks.
So, the great 2020 Trick or Treat Wars continues, as more and more folks pile on to reactively respond to a reactively anxious email. I would simply suggest, if you are socially distanced enough, that you take a deep breath, and not accidentally do or say things that don’t build up the neighborhood, just as they don’t build up the body of Christ.
When we are able to stop – even for a moment, and catch our breath, and wipe off the feeling of the mask on our faces, perhaps we can remember that everyone is just doing the best they can, even when it seems to not be either helpful or hopeful. When we are intentional, we can do things are indeed are both helping and hope-spreading, which is a powerful form of love.
And if you have any of those little Lifesavers…
Word for the Day: labefaction or labefactation. Pronounced lub-uh-FAK-shun. It’s a passively powerful word. It means “a weakening, or decaying,” or “a coming apart, or falling into ruin.” Of course it’s Latin, from two words, labi, meaning “fall,” and facere, “to make.” Labefaction doesn’t occur when you set off dynamite in a building, or when you use a battering ram to knock down the castle door. It’s happens when, over the course of years, decades, and even centuries, something that once was so strong and standing powerful, simply weakens, or the rain melts the old mortar, or time itself lends it hand to slowly and surely have something fall to ruin, to come apart, to be destroyed, not by an invader, but by the fact of its own finiteness. It happens with structures, it happens with societies and governments, and it even happens with relationships, if the structure is not cared for and treated to help it remain standing. Every divorce is a labefaction of some sort.
Nine days ago I reported that one of my teeth decided to get a divorce. At least, the back half of the tooth filed for an amicable separation from the front half. Since then, I have had the privilege of going to the dentist two times, and I have another one scheduled for next week.
Here is a list of things I’d rather do that go to the dentist:
Everything, except maybe going to the doctor.
I know it seems like a short list, but I decided not to waste a lot of space on the web site. As I mentioned before, it’s not that I hate the dentist – in fact, I was able to become reacquainted with the dentist who gave me my second crown, nearly 28 years ago. He’s a great guy, and incredibly skilled and competent. It’s just that, as I mentioned, God placed within me a powerful gag reflex, which I am sure was put there to keep all sorts of hands and fingers and devices out of my mouth. I can swallow fine, even lots of pills at the same time, but if you start (and I hope you never do!) messing around with the back of my mouth, then by gum, I’m going to gag.
My first trip last week was basically to see what the damage was. Sort of like taking your car to the body shop after the accident. They won’t fix it that day, but they can order the parts. After taking a small x-ray (gag), and poking around with a little poking thing (gag), and drying the tooth with blasts of air (gag), all the while standing me on my head in the rocket ship chair, which makes blood rush to my head (gag), the dentist announced that I had broken a tooth. I have to admit I was shocked by his diagnosis.
He then laid out the particulars of what needed to happen next. The good thing was, I broke the back of the tooth, which meant the middle and front, where ol’ Mr. Tooth Nerve is located, was fully protected and undamaged. That was my only good news of that day. Ahead, I could look forward to numbing with huge needles, grinding, shaping, digital picture taking and getting a temporary cap (sort of like borrowing your brother’s hat, hoping that he doesn’t have lice), while waiting for the “permanent” cap – remember when they used to call those things in your mouth “permanent” teeth?
So, I went back to the dentist yesterday. Realize that all of this is happening with he pandemic, so it’s not like you can simply waltz into the waiting room, sit for a while and read Highlights magazine, and then mosey to a back room full of what I consider to be descendants of Inquisition torture devices, all laid out on the tray. Nope – now I have to call from my car, and then sit and wait until the coast is clear to come to the front door. I’m glad I didn’t have to know the secret knock, or the code (like “the starlings have flown at midnight”) – they did let me in, and then took my temperature, even though I told them I was pure and unspoiled, and then they gave me a squirt of hand sanitizer – for why, I don’t know.
Back in the room, I got to take my mask off, since they can’t do much with it on. I then was strapped in for the ride, and they began to go to work. I do wish that perhaps God had put Velcro or zippers on each side of my cheeks, so the dentist could simply open it up all the way, flop the top of my head back and do the work without having to say, “Now, try to keep your little tiny mouth open up wide enough so I can stick five different items in there, including a squirt gun and water sucking device.”
Because this is a family column, I’m not going to go into the details of my hour and a half. You can imagine it. I can say that I was glad there were no video cameras to take pictures of all the ways a human mouth can be manipulated, with cotton (gag), cardboard (gag), plastic lip spreaders (gag), and drills and grinders. The good news was that the Novocain was very effective. And everybody was pretty nice, although I have to say they still got me a couple of times, when, with most of a toolbox in my mouth, I was asked questions, like “How are you doing?” or “How does that feel?” I’ve actually been speaking in full sentences since I was 2 ½, but I found myself only being able to answer something like, “Gaa, wagahaga, o – kaa,” as I worked to keep my tongue from being stabbed by an implement.
By 3:30, it was over, and I walked out with less of me and more of the world of metal than when I came in. In a week, they will have my new crown – not a gold one, like the others, but a porcelain one, apparently so that if someone decides to stick their eye inside my mouth at some point in the future, and looks up to the back of the left upper ring of teeth, it will look “natural.” I also think gold costs too much these days. My only task now is to teach myself to eat on the right side of my mouth only, which is a nice challenge, since I always favor the left side.
I am grateful to have had someone skilled and patient and intentional in the work of repairing an old guy’s mouth. Back in the Old West days, I’m sure they would have just filled me with whiskey, and taken a pair of pliers and yanked the thing. I don’t think I would have liked that.
We do live in amazing times. The ability to heal and to re-create, and to do so with relatively little pain or hardship is remarkable. I know that people still hurt and die, and in my life, I’ve experienced at least part of that in varying stages of hurting, and close to dying. However, going back the “good old days” when none of the new marvelous technology existed is a non-starter, for sure.
So, with taking daily pills, wearing reading glasses and chewing with teeth that I didn’t start this life with, I’m not quite on my way to becoming a six-million dollar man, but I am walking my way through year 64 with as much hope and health and happiness as I can muster. I do pray that God will let me do so with an intentional heart, and a commitment to living each day better than the one before, and wasting nothing, even in retirement. I pray the same for you as well, and I hope your teeth are doing fine as well.
Word for the day: vertiginous. Pronounced ver-TIJ-uh-nus. It’s not a very used word, but it’s cousin has found some notoriety – “vertigo,” probably courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock and crazy camera angles. From the Latin, vertere, meaning “to turn,” we quickly find the word moves from turning to revolving, or spinning, or even whirling, which results in dizziness. “The Teacup ride at Disneyland left me a bit vertiginous.”
What is interesting is that the word, “dizzy,” which by and large we use today to mean off-kilter or unable to balance, originally came from the Old English dysig which actually means, “foolish, or stupid.” A dizzy person acted like a fool, and only later in the 1500s did it come to mean someone who could not balance, either physically or mentally. Vertiginous is a classier word, I think, and imagine if you could say to your relative at Christmas, “You know, I’ve always thought you to be fairly vertiginous…” and let the comment go…
Just an update – I know I have talked before about jigsaw puzzles, but I do need to announce that Cheri and I may very well be on track to put together the largest number of jigsaw puzzles (in the category of 500 or 1000 piece) built this year. Well, let me settle down the profound talk a little bit… I think we have probably put together more jigsaw puzzles this year than WE have ever put together. That may not be quite as world-shaking as was hinted in the first sentence, but it’s still a bunch of puzzles. Our closet is quickly getting filled with the finished products. As well, we have a stack of about seven or eight unopened, including some that will be reserved for Christmas. We finished the one with all the crayons this weekend, and started the pretty one that has a view of Central Park.
Most of our puzzles come from Springbok Puzzles of Kansas City, MO. Now, we have tried others, but most of them has “loose” pieces. That is, Cheri and I follow the technique of building a portion of the large puzzle directly in front of each of us, and then when it appears we have a large chunk (I think that is an official term in the jigsaw puzzle world), we will move it inside the border that we built when we first sorted the pieces, trying to find the flat edge pieces. If you have a puzzle with loose pieces, and you try to follow our technique, as soon as you lift the chunk to move it over the edge, it falls apart. You have to either put a card under the chunk, or worse yet, break the border and shove the chunk through the opening. I don’t want to get too technical here – it’s not that kind of column – but I can tell you we have had some hair-raising experiences as we have attempted chunk transportation. Springbok is know for making puzzles that are thick enough and hold together tightly enough to move without incident. Yes, you could call that an unpaid endorsement, but if the folks at Springbok want to pony up with a little thank-you gift, I wouldn’t object. I mean, we have bought a LOT of puzzles from them.
One thing that has happened, however, is that Springbok has offered, if you spend a certain amount of money, is that they will send you a “mystery” puzzle at no charge! How fun, you say – they are going to send me a puzzle I hadn’t picked out, and won’t discover until I open the box. Perhaps it’s unique or old, or especially beautiful – it will be fun to discover it nestled among the other puzzles that we did select. Perhaps you thought that, or even said that.
You would then join us in being totally wrong. When they say “mystery,” they do not mean a puzzle that is only known when we open the shipping carton. No. They mean that on top of the three or four puzzles you ordered from them, they throw a sealed plastic bag with either 500 or 1000 pieces in it. The mystery is that you have no idea what the stupid puzzle looks like – the theme, the setting, the picture – nothing. All you have are pieces that have no logical or practical order to them, and no way to find out until you try to start putting it together.
We received our mystery puzzle in our last shipment from the good folks at Springbok. I can almost hear their cackling and laughing as they tossed the bag of pieces in the box. “That’ll teach those upstarts in the Cross family, to think they have any real skill in putting together our puzzles!” When we got the bag, we tossed it in the corner of the office with all other yet-to-be assembled puzzles. However, my timing in ordering puzzles was a bit off, and we found that the only puzzle we had in the pile at one point was indeed our mystery bag. “How hard could this be?” we said as we tried to convince each other in a naïve, innocent manner.
Let me say that when someone offers you a “free” gift, you should always be suspicious. First of all, in my language training, I have yet to find a gift that is NOT free. A gift by its nature is something that is given, not purchased. You can say, “This item comes to you as no extra charge,” but the fact is, if you don’t buy something first – like other puzzles – you aren’t going to get the “free gift.” So, start being more precise in your offers, folks! Also, it’s become part of my belief system that anything given to me on top of what I have purchased is not going to be worth more than what I have paid for. The old saying, “to boot” as in “and he threw in the car polishing rag to boot,” originally was from the Old English “bat” which meant something useful or something additional. Someone tosses in something to boot to try to seal a deal, by offering something not expected or even asked for.
That’s what a mystery puzzle is, until you get one, and open it up, and try to put it together. Our puzzle building usually happens on weekends, so we began the mystery on a Friday.
We pretty well figured out the theme when we saw about 1000 tiny pictures of dogs – mostly bulldogs – and some cats, all in poses, with many of them wearing hats, or sitting in odd things, like watermelons or surfboards or the like. Just a hint: when you are putting together a mystery, you have to start with only colors, since you have no idea really what you are assembling. You also have no idea what is on your right, or left or above or below, because you have no picture to give you perspective.
We started slow. And continued slow, although eventually we were able to put even a few different pictures together. Then, somehow, my shrewd and inventive partner went online, and typed in something like, “Jigsaw puzzle with dogs and cats” and up popped a number of picture of said puzzles – including the one that had the same sort of framed border and lots of little pictures, and she ran off a copy, which gave us at least a fighting chance to put it together.
It was a long weekend, because even with the picture, it was so small you couldn’t make out detail, and it was a picture of the finished puzzle and so it was full of ridges and such where the pieces came together. Frankly, it gave me a pretty good headache.
We did finally get the thing mostly put together. I will confess that we punted putting the blue border with bones all over it around the main part of the puzzle. That would have required just having to fit piece by piece in shape, and not in color, and by that time we were ready to almost call it quits. So, we marked the 90% completed mystery as a victory, and busted it back up again, and deposited it in a two-gallon Ziploc bag for future torture.
Then it was that sin crept in. Cheri decided to give the puzzle to her sister. Without the picture. And making sure the pieces were completely separated. We aren’t proud of that action… we actually we kind of are pretty pleased with ourselves, because we know two things will happen – one, it will be just as hard for them to put together as it was for us; and two, Cheri’s sister is incapable of just giving up and letting the thing go. There is something delicious about offering that kind of gift to your siblings…
So, a word about mysteries. First, as you take on a mystery, you have to be satisfied that there is no plan, no picture, no “what’s next.” You have to realize that there will be far more questions than clues, and far more frustrations, especially at the beginning, until your “eyes” get accustomed to the dark. You will try an enormous number of pieces in the beginning, trying to get something to fit together. And you will more often than not fail in that work.
To find your way through a mystery, whether that’s a jigsaw puzzle, or trying to find the truth about something in your life that seems foggy or ill-defined, you must make use of some important tools. First, you have to have patience. Walking through murky, unknown places cannot be as part of a footrace. Coming to understand something means taking the time for it to be revealed, or at least partially seen. Second, you have to have perseverance. If you are just going to quit halfway in, then don’t start. Some mysteries will not tolerate only being partially solved. Third, depending on the type of mystery you are up against, it may take a good deal of adaptive courage – the willingness to be flexible, to try something that might fail, to change when the change is needed and to even take a turn, and move in a different direction if that will help move things forward.
Of course, the most important thing about solving a mystery is to decide that you want to do so in the first place. If you are looking at that bag of puzzle pieces in your life, and you are shaking your head over the prospect of dumping them out on the table, then don’t do it – you just make a mess that someone will have to clean up. Only intentionally mess up your life if you have the bearing and the belief that the mess will bring forth something far better than what exists now.
All of us are on journeys in our lives. When we pause for a moment and ask the question, “Why?” it will lead us on paths we might not have chosen. As I have said before, “why” is the last question answered, but it may need to be the first one asked. Our search for meaning in our lives and in our future and our past means that “why” when asked intentionally and thoughtfully, and responsibly, may be the best and most important mystery you might ever solve. Just don’t leave love behind. That is perhaps our greatest tool, because it allows us to imagine, and to forgive and to find serenity when nothing else can be found.
Word for the day: A four for one set: flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict. All having emphasis on the first syllable. These are long-used legal terms for shipwrecks of sorts. What’s fun is finding how each one differs from the other. “Flotsam” is the term used to describe something that falls overboard from a ship. From the French flota, it means “to float.” Flotsam is an accidental loss, like a barrel of rum rolling off the main deck. “Jetsam” and “lagan” are two words that start out the same, but deviate from each other. Both of them are different from flotsam, in that they are things intentionally thrown overboard, not accidentally lost. “Jetsam” comes from the Old French getaison, which of course you know as “a throwing.” We get the word “jettison” and it is the simple object being tossed. In the Old Testament story, Jonah is “jetsam,” intentionally tossed to quell the storm. “Lagan” is also something tossed over intentionally, but the word arises out of the Latin phrase lagamaris, or “law of the sea.” When a ship risked being swamped or was too heavy, lagan would be thrown, but the difference was that it would have been tied to a buoy, so it could be recovered later – hence, the law. So, instead of your barrel of rum accidentally rolling off the ship, you might throw one over, and attach a float to it, in order to retrieve it later. If someone else were to do so, they would have to return it, or be arrested as a scavenger thief.
That leaves us with “derelict.” We hear of someone being charged with “dereliction of duty,” or we call someone a “derelict,” who just lives on the street, but the word is nautical. It comes from the Latin derelictus, but also de-re-linquere, which means “to leave back from.” The combined word means “solitary” or “deserted.” After an incident when things either fell overboard or were tossed over, if you were to go scuba diving, and were to find items on the ocean floor, without a buoy, they would be “derelict,” and good for the taking, since they in all sense had been deserted, left behind from the ship.
If you are going to be thrown overboard, make sure they understand the difference between lagan and derelict.
“244, 245…” So, I am living, as we all are, in a pandemic, pseudo-quarantined, stay away from others for the most part season. On top of that, it snowed again last night (what’s new?), and it is kind of cold out there. This all adds up to a very convenient excuse to evolve into the epitome of coach potatoes, or computer spuds, as they are called nowadays. Where I live, all outdoor work and play – unless you play hockey – is done until about next April 16th. This means our world has collapsed, and we have the tendency to have another cup of coffee, and why not have another donut to go along with it, and to plan our days basically on what we will eat at the next meal. Add to that the very real activity that Cheri participates in when she is home and bored, and our kitchen quickly becomes a blend of King Arthur, Betty Crocker and the Keebler Elves, with breads and goodies – and thousands of cookies (ooo – the salt caramel ones are especially good!) pouring out of the workshop.
This is not good. Actually during the spring and summer while locked down, I lost a few pounds, and was feeling good about that. With the weather change, and not being creative enough to find something active to do, I fear that I will be matched up with the grizzly bears in Alaska, where every fall, there is a contest to vote on which bear we think is the fattest one going into hibernation.. This year, a bear nicknamed “747,” due to its wide-body appearance, won the “Fat Bear” championship. I do not wish to become even an honorable mention, so it was time to rewire the brain.
In June, for our anniversary, we decided to help our physical fitness a bit by giving each other “Fitbits,” little electronic gizmos we wear on our wrists, which tell us how long and how well we slept, what our heart rate is, how much time we spent exercising, and going up and down steps, and especially, how many steps in general we have taken each day.
I know that all the experts says we need to walk 10,000 steps a day, but I have decided not to become a slave to their maniacal emphasis. I do get in between 4500 and 6500 per day, and could probably get more in, if I didn’t have so much computer time I need to put in, and jigsaw puzzle building to get done – and the donuts… what the Fitbit does have on it, is the ability to set a little alarm, that buzzes your wrist, and politely tells you to get off your big, fat… comfort, and walk a little bit, for crying out loud.
Each hour, from 9am to 6pm, your little electronic fitness expert tells you that you need to put in 250 steps. That’s not a lot of steps, and many hours in the day it’s easily accomplished. However, when I am involved in writing for an extended period of time, the only things that are active are my fingers. Now, the Fitbit gives you time to accomplish your exercise task, but if you have not put in the 250 by ten minutes before the next hour, the buzz hits, and the little screen lights up and says that you have 25 more steps to go, or 105 steps, or… boy, do I hate it when it says I have 250 steps to walk in the next 10 minutes, or I am an utter failure. That means two things: one, I have managed not to walk ONE step in a full hour, and two, I have to shuffle all around the house to get the 250 in. Now, let me just say something that is inherently unfair. Cheri is 10 inches shorter than I am, and her legs, though cute, are short as well. Added to that the fact that the woman never stops moving, it means that she can easily get her steps in with far less territory needing to be walked. I on the other hand can go down and back in a hallway in about 15-20 steps. That would mean I have to go up and down the hallway a good 13 times, in ten minutes to get the steps in. AND, I should say, because I count my steps while I am walking, that the so-called electronic fitness expert is a really poor counter of steps. I will put in way over 250, and then look at the screen, and it says I have about 76 more to go. Sheesh.
So every hour during my waking day, I have to get those steps in. Granted, I know that the total number of steps being pushed on me is only 2250, which is embarrassingly low. However, when you are going to take a nap, you have to time it so you have just finished the steps before the hour strikes, and then be awake in time to cram in 250 before the next hour starts. Heaven forbid, you might be sleepy at, say, 1:30. Before you can take a lovely nap, you have to pay the steps piper. And, heaven also help you if you have to drive somewhere, and you get in the car, pull out of the driveway, and the screen tells you that you have 127 steps to walk in the next ten minutes. There are just some times when I don’t feel like parking the car, and walking around it 25 times in front of God and everyone.
Seriously though, it is a good, and simply way to at least put some movement into my day. And it’s not a terrible burden, and it does remind me of how easy it is to become sedentary as donut crumbs fall into my beard. By the way, I’ve grown a beard, and I can tell you it is quite the platinum blonde color – almost white, you might say… but it does encourage, and push a little and then it rewards me with a little puny light up screen that shows a figure with upstretched arms, victorious in going an entire 250 steps. How exciting. What motivation.
All of us need something to invite or encourage or even push us to do more and be more. Even over achievers need to be encouraged to be more thoughtful, and less reactive, and to find ways not to have to be a type-a personality all the time. It really never hurts to have someone – or something – tell us that we can do it, whatever it is, and we can strive toward a higher goal. I wonder what would happen if we took that same device, modified it, and it would give us the signal each hour to take time to be holy. Take time to be quiet and still before God, and listen to both what blessing God has given to us, and what we are being called to do next. To take time to pray, and not in asking for a checklist of items to be delivered like a bag of groceries, but simply being in the presence of the One who makes all things, and holds our hand even through pandemic times.
What would happen if we had a device that, perhaps hourly, would poke us to share an act of love – whether that’s a note or an email or a phone call, or bringing a plate of those great cookies to a neighbor, or whatever we might imagine that act of love to be? Maybe forgiveness, or asking to be forgiven. Every hour, your wrist would buzz, and remind you to love one another.
You see, being intentional means we think about those things at the front of our minds – we are looking for those opportunities, and we happy to do so on a regular, constant basis. We mean to do so, and find joy when those acts occur, and we are able to better tune our ears and our eyes to see where we might change the world – a little – in the next hour. Something to think about.
Well, my wrist just buzzed. Off to get those 162 steps in. And maybe share some love at the same time…
Word for the day: purlieu. Pronounced PURR-lyoo. I had never heard this word used in this sense before, but it was in my crossword puzzle today, so I thought I would share.
I’ve always understood “purlieu” to be the area of land that came up against a royal forest, but I did some study to find out why it is so. In the Middle Ages, the royals were always greedy to swallow up land that wasn’t theirs and to call it so. If you were to obtain a piece of land next to royal property (or anyone else), one of the important things you would do would be to take a walk around the entire perimeter of the property and make measurements and claims in front of witnesses. Therefore, when the property would later come under dispute, you still would have some claim to at least part of the property. The land in dispute would be solved by common use, but remain in your ownership. It would be called the “purlieu.”
It comes from the Latin perumbulare, which means simply “to walk the perimeter, or to walk around” Per = around, ambulare = to walk. (An ambulance is a mobile medical vehicle). It moved to the French, purlieu, where it is found today.
So, actually, the word has broadened in meaning to mean “neighborhood,” or the outlying area. A purlieu is a hangout, or a meeting place on a regular basis. So, if you can get down to where you have coffee with your friends, remind them of what a nice purlieu you all have.
You know you are in trouble, dream-wise, when you start your sleep with a former bishop included in the dream. And he’s no longer living. I really don’t know if my mind is still working to process my former career, or whether the CoVid junk creates a warped story in my subconscious, but the dumb dreams continue. Now, I wear a Fitbit, which tells me every morning that I am really getting some good sleep – even some nights over 8 hours – and I truly don’t wake up that often, at least in terms of being 63 and all. And by “wake up,” I don’t have to go to the room down the hall or anything like that… it’s just that when I am asleep, the dreams are what my youngest son would call, “really messed up.”
Take last night. Please. As I can recall, the dream started with me being at yet another conference of some sort. Everyone was of course meeting in small groups to do something pretty important, and that meant I couldn’t find my room. I went down hall after hall, and pretty soon, the rooms no longer had numbers on them, and most all the doors were closed. Who does that? Anyway, after wandering forever, it seemed, and then asking numbers of persons where my room was, and being laughed at, or ignored or being told they feel sorry for me, I finally walked by one room with the door partly open, and there, for some reason, were the people I was supposed to meet with.
As I mentioned, the bishop was there. All things considered, he looked pretty good. The group was passing around a very large paper bag with pieces of other paper in it. Everyone needed to take a piece of paper, and then lead the group in the discussion that was written on it. Except no one was doing that. They would take a piece of paper, pass the bag along, and then just continue the conversation they were having. This was not arranged well.
Finally, someone said, “Well, we really need to talk about (we’ll call him “Archie”) Archie’s wife! I looked over to the person who is actually in real life one of my good friends, and he had his head hanging down, looking completely depressed. “What’s the problem with his wife?” I asked innocently. The room glared at me as if I beaten a small animal or something. “Of course you have heard about Ivan!” they spat out at me. Now, I don’t even know an Ivan, and the only thing I could imagine is that somehow Ivan, and Archie’s wife were “familiar.” Finally, someone explained that Ivan was a big (or maybe “pig” – I wasn’t sure) farmer in Iowa, and she announced she was planning to leave Archie to go live with the big/pig farmer. In Iowa.
Except, after that, no one talked about it anymore, and Archie remained distraught that after so many years, his beloved would be wooed away by either cash or pork. The confusing conversations continued for a while more, and then it was announced that the conference was getting back together in the big room that was somewhere else, and I didn’t know where that was either. I got up to walk out with everyone, when I was told – maybe by the no-longer-living bishop – that I had to have one more conversation before I could leave the room. Sitting beside me were a couple of other pastors that I sort of knew, but couldn’t recognize. I began the conversation.
“So, I bought some frozen pot pies,” I said, “ and what I think I’ll do is thaw them a bit, and take off the top crusts, and the scoop out the innards, and then take the bottom crust, and connect them to each other, and make a big crust that goes on the bottom of the pan.” As soon as I began to talk, the pastors started nodding, as if they knew exactly what I was going to do, and that it didn’t seem to be unique at all.
“I’m then going to pour the innards back onto the bottom crust, and mold…” Then they said, “Yeah, yeah – you’re going to put the top crusts on top and then bake it and have a big potpie casserole.” Let’s stop here for a moment, and come up for air. Unfortunately, as the dream progressed, it all made sense to me, and seemed completely logical that I would be discussing making pot pie casserole with some pastors I really didn’t know. Or even just making pot pie casserole, for crying out loud. So I asked them if they had heard about it before, and they again nodded their heads knowingly, and said, “Oh yeah – it’s a big church women’s group recipe. They’ve been doing this for years.” Interesting that I never heard about it. They then said – and this very quickly brought me awake – “Cool Whip.” “What?” “Take a carton of Cool Whip and mix it into the pot pie stuff – it’ll make it nice and creamy.” “And really sweet?” “Yes, but it helps the crust to brown.”
And I woke up. I never found my way back to the conference center, I never got to hold a discussion with my piece of paper, I never got to help Archie figure out what to do with his wife and the big/pig farmer, and I was only left with a recipe of how to make really horrible “pot pie casserole,” I guess.
When you have a dream like that – not a nightmare, but just one that is pretty dumb – you always hope that when you look at the clock, you are moments away from needing to get up. I looked at the clock, and it said, “1:40.” That meant I had about five and a half hours more to sleep. I did get up and went down the hall, but it was to get a glass of water, to rinse the Cool Whip taste out of my mouth.
At least it wasn’t real. I’ve had real life experiences that came close to that one! I do wish however, that – well, that they just would be different dreams. You know, there is a huge world out there that my subconscious could explore. But no. I guess madness is only separated from real life by a few rays of morning sun. As long as I am not having those types of thoughts during my daylight, I guess I’ll be ok.
Life is to be lived, and hopefully enjoyed. Certainly we are given the opportunity to experience a wide range of emotions, situations and the unfolding of the future, whether awake or asleep. I repeat – it’s not what happens to us that matters – it is what we do with what happens to us. For me, the crazy dreams are a chance to make fun of myself, as I guess I have the ability to remember them in pretty good detail. The less I take myself seriously, the more intentional I believe I can be to take other things in my life with a serious approach, and to use the gifts God has given me to change, alter, and bring hope and abundance to wherever I live. I’m not going to fix dumb dreams, but they aren’t real anyway. What I can work on in my waking hours does make all the difference, especially if I begin with prayer, so that the day is focused, not on crazy, but on God. Sweet dreams…
Word for the day: esoteric. Pronounced ess – oh -TERR-ick. It’s a common word, but most folks don’t know what it really means. Some would say it means things that are on the fringe, or that really don’t matter. Those things are not as valued as down-to-earth normal things.
But that’s not really what it means. The word comes from Greek esoterikos, or esotero, which is translated “belonging to an inner circle,” or “to move within, as in almost secret.” When something is esoteric, it really is only understood by an “enlightened” group, and a group of persons who understand the secret held by the participants. We have had secret societies for hundreds of years, and as long as they are “secret” – unlike the Kiwanis or the Lions Club – and you know which ones I may be referring to -- they will find the most valuable part of their group to be the things they hold secret. When I am on the inside, then I can claim that I am one of the few who either deserves to, or has the ability to know something you don’t know. Esoteric – not the nicest word in the book, but important to understand, unless you don’t understand…
So I married a Norwegian farmer’s daughter. Now, Cheri is not the kind that goes around with felt shoes, and dirndl dresses, with hair braided with ribbons (although she would be really cute if she did!). She also doesn’t have small wooden horses all over the house, nor does the smell of lutefisk float through the air. She does, however, love lots of things Scandinavian. She loves tomten – the Christmas gnomes with long beards and stocking caps – and she loves candles and making lefse. We do own a number of heavy blown glass bowls and those types of things.
And she does like subtle and ornamental lighting. A few years ago, in both Fargo and in Rapid City, we discovered Scandinavian stores, filled to the brim with all things Northern European. Sweaters, books, glass, crystal, runners and even food filled the stores. One thing we also found were small, electric lit candelabras, with tiny little bulbs that threw just the right light to walk through the living room on a dark winter’s night. They are actually very pretty, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We bought them all over the course of five years.
Of course, it’s a fact of life that over the passage of time, nothing stays perfect, except for God’s love, and that goes for little, tiny European light bulbs as well. Even though they take hardly any electricity at all, they do on occasion give up the ghost, and just blow out. Most of them take the same or similar size and shape of bulb, and when I was able to locate a source for replacements, I bought a ton of them, and they are stored safely in the middle compartment of our antique secretary, where light bulbs should rest.
However, we do have one candelabra that varies from the others. This one has what is known on the package as “frost drop bulbs,” which look sort of like little flames, except they sit on the top of sturdy thin wires that create a candelabra look. We placed it on a little table near the kitchen, in the dining room, and it gives again just the right light without having to turn on the overhead lights.
Did I tell you about my summer shorts? Well, that’s part of the story. I have two pairs, actually, which are very comfortable, and with the pandemic, were basically all I wore all summer. The only downfall of them, however, is that they have two side pockets, that some rocket scientist decided should have a pleat in each, perhaps to expand as you decide to carry around large oranges or small footballs or something. Well, the trouble with them is that they tend to “pleat out” just as I am walking past a cupboard or dresser, so that the pleat hooks the drawer pulls, and pulls me to a jerking stop. I hate that, but it happens over and over again, and I of course, never learn to walk a little ways away from the dresser. Never.
About a month ago, I was on some sort of mission to get something out of the little pantry that sits just off our dining room, and came around the corner pretty fast and pretty close to the little stand that sits there, with its – you guessed it – little drawer with a drawer pull. Usually when I hit one of those, I’m the one who is stopped short, but this time, the stand was no match. It is light and easily lifted, and can also, I found, be lifted by the hooking of the shorts pleat on the drawer pull. I managed to catch the coffee grinder we have displayed on the stand before it tipped over with everything on it. I never really cared for the frosted glass candy dish that hit the tile floor and became a memory. However, the little candelabra was also perched nicely on the stand, and it took a header to the floor as well. After I swept up the glass mess, hoping I had gotten all the tiny pieces of the candy dish picked up (don’t you hate that, when you know for certain there is one more shard of glass, ready to stab your foot as some point in the future), I then picked up the candelabra, and turned it on, so make sure it worked. It did – mostly. Of the seven little bulbs, four were great little troopers, and marched on. Three, however, did not. I managed to screw them all in again, and two actually lit – one, however, remained quietly dark. No problem – I found the replacements, and quick as can be, had the candelabra up to full light again.
Except, I guess two of the ones that were out actually had mortal wounds, and so this morning, we only had five lights functioning again. No problem – I swooped to the replacements, and found them. Well, the problem is, I found “it.” Only one bulb remained, which left us dark at the top.
Of course, you can’t just go buy tiny ornamental light bulbs at the grocery store, or the hardware store, or really anywhere. I even called the “Bulbs are Us” store, who professed to take care of all my lighting needs. I hate lies. So, it meant I needed to go online and try to find replacements for a bulb with an “E-6” base, a “12 volt” power, and a “.9 watt” output. Please note: .9 watts. Not 30 watt, or 15 watt, but it has be to the magical combination of those three parameters, wrapped up in a cute “frost drop bulb.”
Why is it when you do a search on the internet, it never listens to precisely what you are looking for? I carefully filled in what I needed, and it is as if it heard, “oh – light bulb? Sure – here’s a million to choose from!” And none of them were the right ones. In fact, some were so far off it was embarrassing. I actually did find replacement – at least a picture of it in the “images” section. Unfortunately, it would cost me 4.90 pounds, and even then, they would not ship it from jolly old England. I therefore know they exist somewhere in the world, but I have no idea of how to get them in the US. The hunt continues to find the lights that will bring Christmas joy, instead of a big disappointment because my pants pocket ruined the look.
By the way, if you happen to have any frost drop E6, 12V, .9W bulbs lying around your house, please let me know. Maybe we can make a deal.
There are times when the solution to a problem is very simple. The way to solve it is clear, and the path to doing so is unobstructed, and it’s fixed almost before you know it. Other times, however, it seems like it’s a journey through foreign lands, with more challenges than victories. It’s not helpful when the persons who should have the answers can only say, “I don’t know.” It’s then that I have to remember once again that in the work of living intentionally, I am required to also carry along a good helping of patience, and imagination, and perseverance. I guess that’s the case in any problem-solving experience, and it depends on the problem to determine how much we need to employ those qualities. What’s your problem today? What struggles are you caught up in, that need a better solution than you are finding right now? Know that you are not alone, and that patience is more than a virtue. It is a path. It even shines a tiny light in the darkness, that lets you see, mostly, the way forward. Blessings on you today. Also – when you find your solution, buy a bunch of those whatever you need, just in case you knock the lamp off again sometime…
Word for the Day: vague. Pronounced almost as it is written, with the “gue” making the soft “g” sound, and creating the “a” as a long a. It’s one of our more normal words, and we use it frequently, but may not know from where it comes. It means in English, “lacking clarity, uncertain, unsure.” It comes from the Latin, vagus, which literally means, “wandering, rambling or strolling.” When someone is vague, he or she is all over the map, or not even on a map, and just refuses to be the opposite of the word – clear, concise, fully explained. When someone’s wife asks how the bulbs blew out of a small lamp, perhaps a vague answer is the more workable…
It’s interesting that the word, vague, is found in so many different cultures, looking close to the Latin, but employed by their own language to make that description. Norse is “vakka,” German is “wankon,” and even Old English is “wincian.” Seems like “vague” is part of who we are as humans, sometimes, or maybe not – I don’t know. I’ll get back to you about that. Maybe…
It sounds really old – almost prehistoric – to say I graduated from college 43 years ago. Since I knew I was going to be attending seminary on my way to being ordained as a United Methodist elder, I shot through college in three years, and since I graduated from high school at 17 ½, I was only 20 when I got my bachelor’s degree. For good or ill, I realized my undergraduate major was not going to greatly affect my work in seminary, so instead of picking up a business major, or something like that, I decided I would get a psychology major instead.
That is, until I met Dr. Palanca. Louis Palanca was a short, pure Italian-American who was a self-described “linguistic spy” during World War 2. He ended up working in Italy, and he was able to listen to a suspected spy’s dialect, and determine, when they said they were from a certain area of Italy, whether they were lying, because their dialect didn’t match up to the language they were speaking. After the war, he went back to school and earned his PhD., and somehow ended up teaching at the University of North Dakota. He was part of the Classical Languages department, and taught the Latin classes.
To show how God works, three years before my oldest brother Ray also attended UND for one year, and he would come home at talk about taking Latin, and how he enjoyed it. When I was signing up for classes, I decided to try Latin myself, and after one week, I changed my major intention from psychology to Latin. Now, just to be honest, I can’t speak Latin today, and can barely read it. It’s not a dead language, but you really need to use it in order not to lose it. What Latin did provide me, however, and what has been part of my life for over four decades, is a love of words, and their roots and their origins. We all speak more powerfully and more concise when we are able to sharply hone the use of words in our speech and writing. To say something is “good,” we might mean it is okay, or passable or tolerable or decent or admirable or wholesome, true, noble, decent or any other more descriptive ways of qualifying something. I constantly break words down to discover their origin, and their meaning today. I remember being taught that the name “Amanda,” comes from the root “amare” meaning “to love” and when there is an “nda,” or ndo at the end of the word, it becomes a gerund, so that the name means, “She who must be loved,” or “She who is worthy of love.” How great our language can be!
So I spent three years with Dr. Palanca, taking every course he taught. True to his prediction, as I studied Latin, there grew inside me an internal discipline, as the language taught me order, and the words and their endings showed the subtle strength of an informed choice of noun or adjective – or gerund. Like I said, after so many years, I can no longer converse in the language, but I expect I use it every day, sifting out the meaning of words and their impact. It was a blessing to learn how to use such a tool of communication, and I used it whenever I prepared a sermon or a talk, or communicated in writing, or creating curriculum.
In my last year of college, in addition to the Latin courses, I decided to take a year of Italian, since it was taught by Dr. Palanca. There were actually three Latin majors on campus, and we all decided to take Italian from the “magister.” As rigid and structured as Latin was, Italian was a twice-weekly hour of conversation and stories and laughter, and learning to sing Italian songs, and twice we were invited to Dr. Palanca’s home for a “real” Italian meal. He actually had told his colleagues a few years before that he would be taking the summer off to go back to Italy and find a wife. They laughed at him, until in August, Mrs. Palanca came to Grand Forks to live with him… and boy, could she cook…
I learned some great phrases and their meaning. “Ciao” really is a shortened version of “Io sono il suo schiavo.” It means, “I am your slave.” I learned to say to various girls I dated, “Per te, vita mia, sospira il mio cuore.” “For you, My life, my heart sighs…” The college girls I knew all loved Italian…
I graduated, went on to seminary, and got busy living and doing all I needed to do. However, I never forgot the joy and the fun of Italian. It really is a pretty simple language to speak, and although I have never been there, I hope some day when the pandemic is done to take a trip to Italy, and see the sights and enjoy the culture. So, with retirement, I have been thinking that this might be the season to become reacquainted with the language, to relearn and remember the vocabulary, and knock some of the rust off the linguistic section of my brain.
The process of learning a second language has been utterly transformed with the internet age. 43 years ago, there was a textbook, a workbook with sentences to construct, and a teacher. Nowadays, it’s a matter of logging in, and either repeating out loud what the computer “says,” or typing in or clicking on the right answers, without having to leave your comfy computer chair. I had asked for a subscription to a language learning site for Christmas, when my oldest son, Aaron, pointed me to a no-cost, pretty good learning platform that I could log on to and learn at my speed and even better, for free.
I began the course yesterday. I took the pre-test, and was surprised at what I remembered, and also how little I remembered, but the first lesson was pretty fun, and we will see what today brings. Just like doing crossword puzzles in ink, and keeping a jigsaw puzzle in process on the table, and reading books and articles about things I have never thought about, learning a language forces my brain to open up and find new pathways to problem solve and to remember. As I have said, I want these years to be intentional, not accidental.
I would hope you would find the same urge to keep going. No matter what age you may be, there is always a little bit of rust and dust on parts of the brain that can be challenged and re-formed. A recent article reported that there is a growing “pandemic fatigue,” as more and more persons have grown tired of the hobbies and the meals, and the utter sameness of each day during this time in our world. One way to maintain an integrity to our lives is by constantly challenging ourselves to find new goals, new interests and new questions to follow. We don’t know how this will work out, and winter does become a darker time. This is however the time to prepare ourselves for the new season that someday will arrive. The more intentional we are about focusing on the future, and also, I believe, about prayer, the more abundant life we live now, and the more able we will be to assume that new life as it unfolds before us, perhaps sooner than we thought. So, Ciao for now, and Prego.
Word for the day: lambent. Pronounced simply LAM-bunt, it’s a “nice” word. It comes – of course – from the Latin lambere, which means “to lick.” It’s almost exclusively used to describe flames, that “lick” the surface, or that move about, almost fluttering, touching lightly without searing or burning. It would be gentle flames, radiant, that draws person to watch it for a while. We find a calm and a certain peace when we gaze at lambent flames. The other way it is used, is with language. It describes conversation or speech that is kind, and yet witty. It entertains, but doesn’t go the way of sarcasm or biting critical language. It’s probably best imagined as the language that you would use to talk to a small child. Gentle, entertaining, but gentle. As should most of our conversations go…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.