At the US Post Office

Reposted from an untitled draft, dated 2017

—– A scam was in process. At least, what I saw and heard pointed in that direction. The man was elderly, wearing old pants with a partially open mid-seam and frayed hem held up by a safety pin. He spoke loudly, probably due to a hearing deficit, and all of us waiting in line could hear. “I just won two million dollars. They told me to send this in by Tuesday.” He seemed to enjoy sharing the news. For sure, he got my attention.

The clerk I’ve known for years, a veteran employee at our tiny post office that sits sandwiched between a boutique dress shop and a cozy coffee nook. She calmly followed his instructions. Certified mail. He needed to fill out a form. Did he want to receive notification that his mail had been received? It seemed likely that he was sending money in order to receive his so-called prize. Recent reports of fraud had involved a similar situation.

I considered congratulating the gentleman and then asking if his children knew of his good fortune. We could have chatted and maybe, just maybe, I could have helped to prevent …… At least it was a noble thought. No, it was not my business. I convinced myself that the mail clerk, who has had years of experience, would pick up on the clues and try to do something, if indeed it were a scam.

Is she able, by law, to question what someone is sending in the US mail? If I were his daughter wouldn’t I be grateful if a well-intended stranger were to ask a few questions? Could anything I say avert an incident such as loss of money to a scam artist? Probably not. I held my tongue. Perhaps the clerk already knew something and would set his letter aside for investigation. My mind was racing……had I devised a conspiracy theory?

The gal in front of me was fidgeting with her phone the entire time. I don’t think she even noticed the man. The young lady behind me was pregnant and attending to a toddler and a stack of boxes at her feet. She had other things on her mind. I decided to quietly wait my turn and then make a nonchalant comment to the clerk about the lucky lottery winner.

“Do you think that gentleman actually won the lottery?” I blurted out. Not so subtle after all. She shook her head in dismay, while counting out my stamps, and replied. It turned out that she and her colleague have been trying to figure this out for some time. His sister died and left him money. Someone knows about it, she said with certainty. The man comes in frequently with the same announcement of having won a large sum of money and needing to send off a letter to confirm it. He lives in his home with a disabled son. Hm…….my concern was not unwarranted.

I don’t need to know if this particular elderly man was being taken advantage of, but my Saturday morning jaunt to the post office highlighted an increasing problem. Americans live longer today than in any past age. They may suffer from declining physical or mental health and need assistance, yet they have the right to age in their homes and try to care for themselves. For many, in fact, there is no other option. They live alone or with an elderly spouse or even perhaps with a special needs adult child. They may not see or care that their clothes are ripped or hems are hanging loose, but they manage. They want to remain independent and make their own decisions. They are incredibly vulnerable.

The gentleman moved away from the counter and walked slowly toward the door, a bit shaky and cautious with each step. Then he turned and called back to the clerk, “See you next time.” And he left. —–

The kayak glided gently…..

…. by cattails and wildflowers as I quietly dipped into the water, one side, then the other. I stayed near the shoreline, to slip in among tree branches that bow over the water and observe the habitat and vegetation. It was shady there … and cozy. 

Shrubs and wildflowers in shades of blue and purple, saplings along with knobby old specimens, floating logs, and an occasional upturned tree with its massive root system exposed provided a fascinating “shore-scape.”

There were birds to observe, even a snake hanging from a tree limb. Turtles sunbathed on protruding rocks and then slipped away into the dark water. Families of ducks drifted along, all in a row following their mother. From the lake-side trail a dog barked.

It was a hot sunny day during the pandemic and the state park was more crowded than usual. In the normally deserted cove, I found people secretly tucked in along the shore line among bushes and trees. They had hiked with lawn chairs to find a perfect spot by the water and take in the beautiful vistas across the lake. One sturdy-looking man sat alone with an open cooler by his chair and cell phone in his hand. I could hear his business meeting going on as I slipped by. Around the bend two women sat on a little outcropping of flat rocks in the shallow water, absorbed in chatter about kids and mothers.

Further down the shoreline a dad was busy showing his young son how to cast a fishing line. Luckily, I avoided getting tangled in their line. Two women in kayaks passed by at a distance and, surprisingly, their conversation carried over the water, clear as a bell. One had a new boyfriend, a nice man, she said, and she hoped this one would work out. I decided to turn away to explore the bulrushes.

Of course, there were other sounds on the lake on this bright summer day. Groups of teenagers had rented paddle-boards and were laughing and falling into the water. How good it was to see them having fun during such a challenging summer! On land, handsome young men wearing prize-winning tans and masks moved about the concession stand area, matching up customers with rental boats and handing out life preservers.

Then there were the old-timer fishermen, some on land, some in small boats. silently threading worms onto hooks and casting into the deep water.  They appeared to be serious about their sport, though I didn’t see any fish dangling on lines. Like many things in life, the value of fishing may be largely found in the effort, rather than the result.

The lake was especially beautiful and peaceful on that hot August day.  I vowed to return soon and headed toward the sandy beach for the final balancing act of getting out of the craft without tipping. Accomplished!

What followed was robust work—dragging the kayak up a slope and getting it on top of the car. And then, just after the last shove to get the kayak onto the roof rack, a young woman appeared and said, “You look fit, but is there anything I can do to help you?”  How sweet of her.  “I think I’ve got it! But thanks so much!” was my reply, and we both smiled.

 

To market, to market, to buy a fat …..

This is a tough one. They were sweet and docile lambs, without specific names because they had been designated as the ones to go to market. You see, my brave granddaughter is raising a flock of sheep, and in the process is learning both the joys and sacrifices of farm life.

For months she’s been arriving at the barn by 7 AM to feed and nurture her flock, clean out their pens, give them fresh water, and play with them, and then again in the afternoon. Every day. She’s learned to take temperatures and give medicines and to help her dad deliver babies, which arrived en masse from the Finn mothers who are known to be prolific. Some survived, others didn’t. That was an experience for all of us, especially for a fifteen-year-old young woman!

Then it was time for the summer market auction. As it turned out, raising farm animals was a costly undertaking, with feed to purchase, as well as milk supplements for the babies who were competing with their siblings for mama’s milk. Plus, there were  occasional visits from the veterinarian. Part of the arrangement from the onset had been to learn management and business skills and that meant…….sending two of the animals to market.

The auction was a quite an event! The young 4H members groomed their animals and  accompanied them in the show where they competed for ribbons. The next day they bravely escorted them onto the floor again for the sale and …. let them go.

It breaks my heart to think of it now, a few hours later, but also fills me with wonder and respect for the farm families of our communities. What they do is hard work that requires commitment, strength of character, and resilience. I applaud them all!

Post script – I also want to share the positive atmosphere and sense of caring among those at the auction

  • one farm family for another
  • friends who offered generous bids to support the effort
  • those who made a purchase and then gave the animal back and donated the funds or turned the animal over for resale, supplying the tables of hungry families in the community
  • those who took the animal home to their farms
  • the many volunteers who worked at the auction
  • and, most of all, the young people who made it all possible — emerging leaders in our communities. Without a doubt, we can count on them to do amazing things in the future!

Heat Wave

It’s mid-summer and the weatherman warns of excessive heat on the East Coast. As political ads begin to fill the airways, we’re still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, something that’s changed our lives drastically in the past five months.

Notable to me is the great divide that marks our lives. In a phone conversation with a new acquaintance I can tell in the 1st conversation which TV news he is watching, just by the way he speaks of the many riots occurring in our cities. Another friend banters away on FB about peaceful protests in our cities.

A kindly older man in my neighborhood walks daily, always with a stretchy mask covering most of his face and neck, while others stroll along in groups, wearing no masks, laughing and shouting. A lady enters the grocery store and cleans hands and grocery cart handle with the sanitizing cloth provided at the door. Up and down the aisles, she fastidiously cleans her hands again after touching each item.

Several shoppers follow the arrows and 6-feet markers diligently while others move around as usual with no attention to social distancing. A tall food rep in jeans and t-shirt stacks shelves with pretzels wearing a small mask that has slid off his nose. He certainly doesn’t understand the reason for masks or, if he does, isn’t taking it seriously. I find his exposed nose repulsive and quickly side step the situation and head for the cashier.

Young mothers are nearly hysterical in their online conversations re: home schooling curricula, hybrid models, or simply returning to a normal in-person school schedule like the good old days.

COVID relief should include tax benefits for certain people or COVID relief is strictly about victims of the economic shut-down. The police force should be reformed or defunded, depending on your side in this polarizing conflict. It goes on…and I’m sure you’re surrounded by it also.

How sad that we can’t cross the divide and tackle the common enemy together, a pandemic that is unprecedented in our time. We could commit to joining forces in dialog and creative effort, to practicing safety precautions prescribed by experts, and to providing quality care to all who are sick and vulnerable. Surely then we would gain the upper hand in this challenge.

Indeed, we’re having a heat wave in more ways than one!

Daffodils

It’s a “growing edge,” that place where something new emerges from an uncertain, frightening time. I see it all around me……..

    • strangers smile or nod, walking on the opposite side of the street
    • the kind car mechanic understands social distancing and offers to come by and pick up my car so he can check a funny noise ….. “to make sure it’s safe,” he says
    • sparkling lime-colored grass appears in little tufts along the sidewalk
    • friendly volunteers at the hospital donation center cheerfully fetch bags of homemade face masks from popped trunks and offer another kit ….. like efficient masked worker bees directing cars, checking off items, in essence operating a grass roots supply chain for the needed PPE’s
    • a long-distant friend sends a beautiful e-card
    • teachers spend hours adapting curriculum to online education and jump into a new kind of teaching with enthusiasm and energy
    • brave folks keep us supplied at grocery stores and pharmacies
    • friends text to ask how things are going and send links to online libraries, Mah Jongg sites, and Zoom book groups
    • parents meet the challenges of quarantine by nurturing a sense of family unity, while growing new capacity for problem-solving and patience
    • creative church leaders share daily devotions, online prayer services, and even Holy Communion
    • musicians post vocal and instrumental renditions that touch our hearts, making us laugh, smile, or cry
    • FB friends amuse and arouse us, offering welcome company in this time of isolation
    • daily reports remind us: this is a time for deeper faith, and somehow we know that God will not abandon us and some day we will look back and say with conviction that “God was with us”

A growing edge indeed!

The sweet daffodils that grace my sunny garden patch were beaten down recently by heavy rain and hail, their delicate blossoms seemingly smashed into the mulch. They raised themselves upright the next day and are bobbing again happily in the sunshine, just as pretty as ever! Now that’s a lesson for us!

Be safe and well!

                                        “If God is for us, who can be against us?”   ~  Romans 8: 31

 

 

 

 

Opportunities

One week has passed since the turning point. Schools have been shuttered, malls and  restaurants locked up except for food take-out, social distancing the common practice. A trip to the bank was needed, so I wore gloves when touching the cylinder that magically gets sucked into nowhere at the drive-through. An ordinary errand … but not ordinary at all. Folks understand and expect this strange new way of interacting, except perhaps the spring breakers still crowding the beaches of Florida.

A new reality is setting in. One elderly neighbor has pneumonia, and her mystery care giver slips into the driveway each day wearing a protective mask. News reports remind us nonstop of the threat of the COVID 19 pandemic. Each day is different from the one before.  Self-quarantined folks rely on texts and phone calls to stay connected. Church leaders send devotional messages that provide hope and comfort.

Looking for opportunities in the uncertainty, I’m compiling a bank of encouraging changes, ways of doing things differently that may improve our way of life. Here are a few observations;

  • The planet is healthier they say, already! Fewer cars are on the roads, lower level of emissions, cleaner air….it sounds like a pretty picture.
  • A mother of teens reports the atmosphere in her home is calmer than before without all the deadlines and places kids have to be. Dinnertime has become a leisurely family event. She wonders about the myriad of activities we build into our children’s lives.
  • A friend decided to clean her windows on a recent sunny day while sequestered in her house, bringing more brightness inside.  On my list too!
  • Another friend is removing 5 layers of paint from a porch rail—a job she has been putting off.
  • On my daily solitary walks I see families in backyards playing ball together and kids walking with their parents.
  • My grandson cooked an entire dinner for his family and his sister has taken up pie baking.
  • Gardens are being prepared for summer — with happy thoughts of a more carefree time. My indoor collection of sixteen cherry tomato plants and one lush basil pot is thriving at the window. Black-eyed Susan vines are next!
  • A friend is making coffee tables in his barn workshop, in case the outdoor farm market, his livelihood, is not able to open for business.
  • A Facebook acquaintance posts “I’m cooking real meals! Never realized how much fun that could be.”
  • My neighbor worries that she’s gaining weight. “All I do is cook…eggplant parmesan, meatballs, … and then I eat.”
  • A young mother is planning family movie nights, a time for putting down individual devices and sharing a screen together, along with popcorn.
  • Another young mother who normally falls back on fast food restaurants on busy days discovered she could create several meals from one chicken. Her entrees sound delicious: roasted chicken with veggies and taco salad with shredded chicken.
  • A teacher / coach who’s designing and delivering instruction at home wonders how the face of education will look in the future. He finds joy in his hobby—running in the great outdoors.

These seem like healthy, happy pursuits. Perhaps our busy schedules have failed us and it’s time to rediscover the joys of simply being in our homes and gardens.

While practicing vigilance to safeguard families and communities, let’s see the opportunities for positive change, little bright spots that warm our hearts and promise a better future. This is my prayer for you, your loved ones, and all those I hold close.

Feel free to share the bright spots in your days in a reply below, so that we can lift each other up.

“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

 

Shortage in the Ice Cream Aisle

There was evidently a run on mint chocolate chip ice cream! I’d heard about the toilet paper race and didn’t even enter that aisle. It was to be a quick trip to the store, with efforts to stay away from people. I did speak with the lady in the meat section, only to learn there was nothing left in the butcher’s stash behind the mysterious swinging doors. Quickly gathering up a ham from the bin, I headed for the dairy section. A few containers of milk, one carton of eggs, and a supply of cottage cheese lined the shelves. And then, on to the ice cream aisle before I’d escape to outside air and the safe haven of my car.

Creamy green mint sprinkled with chunks of dark chocolate…hm….I could already see it melting and dripping down the sides of a cone.  There were at least eight brands of ice cream and a decent number of options on the shelves, but not one mint chocolate chip remained.  Wanting to move along to the cash register, I hastily selected a runner up—butter pecan—and found the quickest line. Alas, the young man at the register was scratching his nose. Oops…I slipped over to another line and gladly paid for my few items and got away.

Life will probably not be the same when we get beyond this virus. I’ll use my own clean stylus when signing the screen for a credit card purchase, and avoid picking up a pen that hundreds have used before me. A friend decided to wipe down each grocery item with a mild bleach solution, after they had been hand-delivered from the food market. Sterile wipes will be in the car in case I find myself at a fancy restaurant with valet parking—not likely in the near future. However, my steering wheel could use a good wipe-down right now.  I’ll never stop hugging my grandkids, but if anyone is ill, we’ll use a hand gesture from the heart. Or at least try.

Little do we know all that will change, but I suspect education/schools will not be the same. Travel, a beloved activity of so many Americans, will be affected. Cultural events in concert halls and theaters are at risk, along with countless business venues such as restaurants and shops,….

Sad and unexpected as the current health crisis is, we can try to see it as an opportunity. A closer sense of community may grow out of the dismay and uncertainty, as we support each other at a distance. Families will begin to spend more time together playing board games, watching movies, cooking, just talking. Church leaders will invent new ways to connect with their flocks, and teachers will reinvent their skills and curricula to reach students with online instruction.

As for me, I’m quilting and have challenged myself to create a new quilt top each day. My blog, asleep for several months, will be a venue for communicating. Thanks for reading this, by the way. A friend texted to say she’s watching movies and cleaning windows. Another is binging on cross word puzzles to keep her mind stimulated.

Dear reader, I hope you’re taking care of yourself, staying at a distance until this passes, finishing an old project or two, reading a good book, and eating ice cream. If you happen to have mint chocolate chip in the freezer, please enjoy a spoonful for me!

 

 

 

 

Holy Saturday morn

Rain storms during the night have left the Earth green and heavy with moisture.

From my window I see the blue green of Colorado spruce needles, lime green of new sycamore leaves, deep green of pine trees in the backdrop, and delicate light green of spring grasses in their thick tufts and lush stretches.

Tiny streams have carved pathways on the hilly banks. A burst of wind sways the branches and sends a spray of droplets into the air.

Mounds of fluffy white daffodils bounce in the breeze at the house across the way, nodding approval of the generous watering of the Earth.

From their secret hideouts, birds chatter away, as they happily await the sunshine.

On this Holy Saturday, may we too be filled with hope and wonder as we prepare for the amazing joy of Easter morning.

Learning Curve

Being a digital immigrant, I admit that time, courage, and patience are needed when it comes to trying new technologies. This refers not to using a drone to photograph the family reunion or writing a new computer language. No, by new “technologies” I refer simply to adding color, changing the format, or (when I get really brave) posting pictures or drawings that enhance my writing. So I am experimenting with options. Since the last post ended up mysteriously with no paragraphs  and other unexpected changes, I am committed to working on this, and it will only happen if I play around.
So here we go. Thanks for your patience.

On Music, Life, Faith…

 

It’s springtime and there is music in the air! Lately I’ve been thinking about all that goes into a music performance, specifically that of an orchestra. Of course, there are the musicians who have practiced long hours over many years, purchased expensive instruments, and given up soccer games and chat time and all sorts of life events to attend rehearsals. Indeed, an orchestra requires a conductor, who has studied under the tutelage of other esteemed conductors and passed numerous benchmarks of excellence prior to reaching the podium. This journey has been competitive and demanding.  These are the obvious ingredients of an orchestra—the things we notice when sitting in the audience.

However, music performance requires many behind-the-scene tasks, often unknown to the typical concert-goer. Before each rehearsal and performance, someone must clear the stage of debris and set up chairs. The grand piano and array of percussion instruments must be carefully pushed into place, as well as music stands and microphones. Proper lighting is important so the performers can see their leader and their music.

The list goes on. Backdrops that help direct sound, risers, loud speakers, projectors and screens for special effects, unique devices in the case of live looping……. After the performance all of this must be undone as a courtesy to the next performing group.

Music teachers who attend to the endless details of performance day in our schools deserve a special “shout out” of gratitude. In addition to the above, they teach teamwork and responsibility, explore new compositions, design interesting programs, order and file music, …… AND patiently endure the squawks and squeaks of young learners.

Another lesser-known preparation for performance that occurs behind the scenes is the marking of music. For example, the section leader for the string players normally provides markings in advance of the first rehearsal. This requires skill and time. I just spent forty-five minutes with my coffee and computer, copying tiny symbols from screen to paper, each with an important purpose. Does the bow move upward or downward on this pick-up note? Do we slur four or eight notes together? A typical page of 1st violin music contains as many as twenty-five markings. Is this passage suddenly louder as indicated by the publisher or does the conductor wish to keep the volume at mezzo forte. There is an important pause at the end of bar three. I better pay attention to that. This fast section is best played in the fourth position. Better circle the D #.

Recently, while marking my violin score, I began to think about life. How well prepared am I for the next phase? Have I marked the fast sections and slow in my score, the boisterous and the sublime? Is the fingering written above the notes so that a smooth transition can occur between passages? Are dramatic pauses built into the plan?

Yikes! I am not the least bit prepared if readiness means having every detail in place. In fact, the opposite is true. Spontaneity is a part of my days, and in it I find joy and excitement. Of course, having a plan is important and success is usually related to good organization. However, plans change, other people show up, the music stops and starts again in the middle of the dance. One thing is certain: trust in a loving God makes it possible for me to adapt to the changing rhythms, even sometimes to just take a day at a time. The master plan is not in my hands, to be sure.

So then, how is living life like performing in an orchestra? I can’t imagine an ensemble in which everyone chooses on the spot what dynamic to play, how to finger a passage, or whether or not to extend a note for dramatic effect. This would be chaos. Maybe the analogy is: it’s important in life to set up the stage and anticipate critical landmarks. Beyond that, we simply must trust the conductor.