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2022

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY

NOVEMBER 27, 2022

Our family spent Thanksgiving at a favorite place in West Virginia.  We were thankful for the beautiful surroundings, wonderful food, extreme activities, and leisure time.  Especially the leisure time.

 

Most of all we were thankful we could be together.  Ours is a lively group, no lack of conversation. We rarely talk about the weather.  We talk about each other’s lives

 

One asked those gathered around the table ‘what do you like most about your job?’  Not a single answer included making big money, although some are well rewarded.  The answers centered on ‘helping’ – helping young children learn; helping clients balance the emotional and financial aspects of a significant purchase; helping artists find their marketing voice; helping clients back to health.  The obvious joy came from helping others.  As Matriarch of the clan, I admit to being a wee bit proud.

 

Next came a question both difficult and profound “If you thought this might be the last time you’d see someone, what would you say to them?”  The question was just to think about.  We couldn’t resist answering.  Answers ranged from share a good memory, thank them for something they’d done, ask their advice.  I recalled my Irish father’s parting words as I left England in 1951.  Back then when moving to a new country, you didn’t know if you’d ever again see those you were leaving behind.  My father said “Noli Temere” which in Gaelic means, “don’t be afraid.”  Thinking back ‘don’t be afraid’ was more encouraging than “be careful.” 

 

Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock. Where we’ve been, what we’re doing, what gives us joy, where we’re going. What and who we’re thankful for.   It’s a perfect time to answer the question ‘what would I say?’ and share it now with those you are remembering.

 

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IT'S WHAT YOU SEE

NOVEMBER 14, 2022

IT’S WHAT YOU SEE

 

Sunday morning, I had the luxury of reading the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, including the magazine.  It had the usual mix of good, bad, and really bad news, along with some well written and thought-provoking editorials.

 

The magazine portion was devoted to fashion.  I wondered why the models look so glum.  Blank stares. Superior looks. Bored expressions. No smiles. No joy.  No delight in showing off the outrageously priced clothes they are wearing.  Benefit of the doubt -- Those skimpy and complicated outfits don’t appear too comfy.

 

Later in the day I visited the mall and observed the people shopping and roaming.  Most wore comfortable looking clothes.  And yet, smiles and eye contact were sparse.  Even in line for ice-cream, no smiles of anticipation.  I did get a hopeful happy smile from an infant being pushed along in her stroller by an iPhone-engrossed adult.

 

We usually smile when we see friends.  It’s instinctive. Why not when we see the harried store assistant? The musician providing sidewalk entertainment?  The server who messed up our order.  Are our smiles reserved just for friends?  Thoreau said, ‘It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see.’  Perhaps if we could see more people as potential friends we’d smile more.

 

We don’t need the wide ear to ear smile. We can’t always be jovial.  Just turning up our lips when we see people is enough, it says ‘I’m glad to see you.’  It makes us both feel better. 

 

As for the models? A nice fat hamburger, along with the smile might help. The rest of us – as the old saying goes … remember, your face after 40 is your own fault. 

 

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THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2022

 

This has been a busy and inspiring month.  Celebrations, loss of friends, being with and hearing from longtime friends, meeting new friends.   At every turn the spotlight, both sad and spectacular, has been on the importance of friends.

 

At one celebration a young friend asked, ‘what keeps you well and happy?’  Without hesitation my answer was staying connected to friends. My family are my best friends.  Other friends are the family I chose, or who chose me.

 

Another gathering was to thank special individuals for giving their time and skills, expecting nothing in return.  When thanked, their response was that’s what friends are for.

 

Yet another heart-warming event was to honor those with unique challenges; and those who make their lives better.  The life givers said … they walked into our hearts and are part of us.

 

Milestone birthdays with no presents needed.  Just showing up or sending a friendly hello saying, "I’m here for you.” 

 

It’s interesting how friends pass our friendship test.  Eleanor Roosevelt said, there are many people who walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart.  What she didn’t say is that these footprints will not make your heart heavy.  These footprints create a footpath to real friends. The faux friends -- what’s in it for me, when it’s convenient friends -- never make it onto the path.

 

Can you believe there is  a National Friendship Day? How silly. Friendships are not built in a day. Strong friendships need time and nourishment to grow. Let's hear it for hot biscuits and coffee, afternoon tea and scones, a glass of wine on the porch -- doesn't take much, it's the company that counts. The telling of tales, the catching up, the being there.

 

My wise mother who, the older I get, the more I seem to quote her told us that to have a friend you must be a friend.  Wiser words were never spoken. That’s all we need to know and remember. 

 

 

# # #

THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR

OCTOBER 18, 2022

I’ve just returned from a beautiful gathering.  Women and men of all ages and backgrounds.  We were together to honor and congratulate a special woman, a special friend.

 

No one crept out early. No one wanted to leave.  Everyone wanted this brief period of joy, pride, and togetherness to continue.  And when we did leave most of us were smiling, filled with gratitude for friends old and new, young, and older.

 

We shared memories, happy and sad occasions since we’d last talked.  Promised to stay more closely in touch.  Laughed at the old ‘do you remember?’ stories.  Commiserated about how quickly people seem to take umbrage.  Gasped at how old our children are.  No politics.  No Covid. No mean words.  No pity parties.  Just friends enjoying friends.

 

It made me wonder why we don’t create more opportunities to be together.  We’ve all figured out by now (surely) it is not the food on the table, it’s not whether we’ve dusted, or remembered flowers – it’s the friends around the table that matter. It’s the memories we make and share.

 

And so – I emailed four friends before the glow receded; and said … I’m having a get-together for colleagues on the 25th; there will be lots of leftovers – why don’t we get together on the 26th and polish them off?  Just like that.  If there are no leftovers, we’ll bring in pizza.  It’s about friends.

 

My mother was the friend of all friends.  The milkman, the mailman, the dustbin men, the breadman, even the rag and bone man – come on in, have a cup of tea, rest a while. How’s your family?  Nine kids, surrounded by laundry – but always time for a friend.  As the saying goes -- A friend in need is a friend indeed – and that she was.

 

Thanks Linda, my friend, for bringing all of us together today. That’s what friends are for.

 

# # #

PROBLEM SOLVING

OCTOBER 3, 2022

My friends and I enjoy discussing things we have little chance of changing. Sounds like such a waste, but not really.  We always seem to learn something. The latest chat was about finger pointing, losing sight of the problem.  In other words, attacking the person and not the problem.

 

And yes, the discussion was prompted by political advertising.  However, politics is not for the Grasshopper, so we’ll not dwell on that scene.

 

We each had examples of how the words we use affect us. One woman recalled an error she made on her first job.  Her report person said this would never have happened if YOU had paid more attention.  Probably true, but the mistake was made.  How much better, how much more productive, if the supervisor had said Let’s take another look and see what went wrong.

 

Another recalled a proposal she had written.  Her manager read it and harshly remanded This is WRONG, can’t you ever get anything right?  Would the results have improved had the supervisor said Does this look right to you?  Allowing the writer to relook and relearn.

 

We had the attack by gossip example.  We’re getting a new neighbor.  Another neighbor says – “I was surprised to hear that she…”  Anything starting with those words is rarely flattering.  Gloria Vanderbilt might have said “if you have nothing good to say come sit by me,” but gossip usually makes us wary of the gossiper. It never solves anything.

 

Why do people do this to each other?  Turf protection? You need to remember I’m smarter, better informed, and superior to you. Lack of confidence on the part of the attacker? I don’t know the solution either, but you’ll be talking the fall.

 

Whatever the reason, we five agreed that focusing on the problem, sharing the good or bad outcome, and avoiding personal attacks along the way is an ideal route to the best results.

 

If you see errors in this musing, just kindly ask - Did you mean to say this, Joan?

 

# # #

HOW WILL YOU BE REMEMBERED

SEPTEMBER 19, 2022

 

This morning I watched the funeral celebration for Queen Elizabeth II.  The pageantry, the history, the dignity was magnificent.  And yet, with all of that  - what created the emotional outpouring from British and world citizens alike was how she is remembered.  She was the people's Queen.  She is remembered with love and gratitude.

 

One speaker said, “We can honor her memory by following her example.” The examples included kindness, hope, civility, service, loyalty, and duty.  Another speaker said she followed the age-old challenge; ‘render to no one evil for evil.’  It occurred to me if more of our leaders practiced just one of these attributes, many of today’s grim problems would be softened or solved.

 

I grew up in England and was 13 when WWII ended.  At that age not a lot got my attention, except sports and staying alive.  My sister Eileen, however, was old enough to join the Women’s Land Army (WLA) and served during the same period as then Princess Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Her description of Queen Elizabeth was decency and dignity.

 

My sister Kathleen was presented two Churchill Medals by Queen Elizabeth, in Buckingham Palace; the first in 1974, the second 50 years later in 2014.  Her words for the Queen were kindness, graciousness and gratitude.

 

I was living in Chicago when Elizabeth became Queen in 1952; and stood on the sidewalk in Chicago in June 1953 watching her Coronation through a shop window.  Not many televisions in those days.

 

It’s been quite a journey for Her Majesty.  Yet never once has she veered from her promise to the British people which was ‘throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.’

 

What a life. What a woman. What a legacy. What an example.

 

How will you be remembered?

 

# # #

 

TELL ME A STORY

AUGUST 26, 2022

Have you noticed family story telling times - around the dinner table, the fire, even in the automobile are disappearing?  Such a shame.  How will we learn, remember and pass down the family legends? How can we really know our ancestors?  Their biographies don't tell us who they were. Their stories make them come alive.

 

For a fee there is an online company to which family members can send their questions for grandmother, granddad,  mom and dad, or whoever is the giftee.  The company forwards the question to the indivdual .  The individual writes a response to the questions.  The company saves all the questions and answers, unedited; and compiles them into a booklet at year's end.   An easy solution to recording our history?  Yes. What's missing is our ability to capture the emotions, the face and feelings that belong with the words.

 

There IS another solution.  How about having  a memories meal or two, or three, or more?   Questions not yet answered get asked:  What was it like growing up in a family of nine kids? What are they doing now? How did you and granddad meet? Do you remember your grandparents? What were they like? What did they do for a living? You will never run out of questions. And the one answering the questions? Well, who doesn't like talking about themselves - and reaching back to include the people and places that made them who they are?

 

Forget those little cards people pass around at dinner parties to 'start' a conversation.  Each family has stories we tell over and over. No matter how many times they are told they make us laugh or cry. One of our family favorites, retold for more than seven decades is of our brother. Jim dramatically enters the small room; wearing a scruffy jacket, three cornered hat, and chest covered with as many medals and braids as he could find.  Standing with a military air, his hand thrust proudly inside his jacket he announced: I AM NAP-A-LON.  Just saying the word nap-a-lon in our family brings the memory into full focus.  We watch and see stories of Napolean, and we think of Jim.

 

There are so many questions I wish I had asked.  So many gaps in the little book of memories.  I have a lot of facts.  Facts are not  stories.  My father passed away  more than 60 years ago - and yet, when I repeat certain stories, there he is - Irish eyes smiling - and relishing the retelling of special times we shared.  Such a gift.

 

Take time to ask questions.  If the questions and answers are written and in person, even better. Whether the answers are sad, happy, unexpected, or quite amazing - I promise; you will be glad you asked the questions.  

 

Question: What's holding us back? 

 

# # #

FIGURE IT OUT

AUGUST 6, 2022

 

 

We were taught to try to solve a problem ourselves before asking for help. Remember the bosses (and parents) of bygone years? Don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a solution.  Perhaps that’s why the current tendency to immediately ask “who is going to take care of this?” concerns me.

 

Some suggest I have become a curmudgeon. Others suggest I have it all wrong.  Asking for help first is easier and faster, they say.  Our sons recall the stock answer when they had a problem was, “And what do you plan to do about it?”  “What would you do if we weren’t here?”  Maybe I was a curmudgeon in training.

 

Oh, we wanted to help.  We would have relished it.   Why didn’t we?  Because we believed solving someone’s problems before they try their own solution robs them of a learning opportunity.  It diminishes their self -confidence.  It teaches them to rely on someone else.  They become dependent, instead of independent.  They must be able to take care of themselves.

 

Our startup year in business, we had no money, no equity, no real experience.  Yet, we believed the bank should or would lend us money.  It didn’t happen. And that was a good thing.  We learned a lot from that banker who turned us down.   He made us face business reality.

 

Preventing someone from trying to solve their own problems is like not allowing them to learn.  Failing is learning. Success is learning.  Both spur us to help others help themselves.

 

Give a person a fish … you know the rest of the story.

 

Gone fishing …

 

# # #

EVERYDAY EULOGIES

JULY 22, 2022

This past week I attended a celebration of the life of a wonderful man.  In their eulogies friends and family praised his accomplishments.  Well-deserved accolades from speakers and guests filled the air.  It was a heart-warming celebration for a man who meant so much to so many.

 

Eulogy is described by Webster as A speech or words in praise of a person, or what that person has done, a term of endearment.

 

Guests, family, friends took time to share hugs. They remembered good times. It was a celebration of many lives.  It included everyday eulogies among and about friends. The outpouring of affection was genuine and contagious. Smiles of appreciation were all around.  And, this same scenario plays out at most celebrations where we honor deceased loved ones. Why does this euphoric feeling of fellowship fade so quickly?

 

 

Why do we hesitate to tell friends and family why we appreciate them? Why do we seldom acknowledge their gifts of time and talent?  Why are we so stingy or shy with encouragement? Why do we wait until we are just part of a chorus?

 

Many of us in the ‘mature’ stiff upper lip and don’t be a softy generation still have difficulty being gushy. People must earn praise.  They don’t get it for doing what they’re supposed to do. We wouldn’t want any big heads is or was our philosophy.

 

Many of our younger generations consider praising others unnecessary.  They maintain the friend or family member KNOWS how they feel. Theirs is the age-old actions speak louder than words philosophy.  Each generation is different, thank goodness.

 

I asked a friend to consider these big WHY's.  She responded -- it’s not the praise, not the award, not the congratulations – it is the VALIDATION. Acknowledgement that what we are doing or have done is the right thing, that it matters.  It encourages us to do more, try harder.

 

All the more reason to practice everyday eulogies. To inspire others to keep doing what deserves our gratitude and admiration.

 

I have a lot of catching up to do.

 

# # #

SELF MADE

JUNE 30, 2022

There’s a Forbes magazine women’s group named ‘Self Made.’   Complete with caps, t-shirts, and other outwardly visible products proclaiming its members as self-made.  If asked to join, which is unlikely, I’d have to refuse.  I have never met, and probably will never meet, anyone who acquired health, happiness, or success without help from someone else.

 

Forbes proudly lists America’s richest self-made women.  I’m also proud of these women.  However, chances are if you asked any one of them who helped them along the way their lists would be long.  The old saying ‘everybody needs somebody’ is true – unless you are a hermit dedicated to isolation.

 

Webster’s definition of self-made: People who have become successful and rich through their own efforts, especially if they started life without money, education, or high social status

 

Debating the dictionary is one of my favorite pastimes.  In this case I disagree one must be rich to be successful.  Success is not measured by your financial assets.  Real success is measured by the effect of the personal treasures you share – among them time, help, hope.

 

Who helped you along the way; and what did they do?  I could fill pages with those who helped me. The parents who said NO without apology.  The teacher who encouraged your potential.  The friend who listened.  The spouse or partner who cheered you on.  The wise ones who made mistakes become lessons.  The banker who took a chance on you.  (Yes, they do exist.)  The help we receive, sometimes without recognizing it as help, is what motivates us to both succeed - and pay it forward.

 

Education, hard work, resilience, skills, attitude are all important attributes.  The most important ingredients for success appear to be the combination of people who have entered our lives at just the right time.

 

Without apology to Forbes. Self-Made is a myth.

 

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WASTE NOT

JUNE 19, 2022

It all started with a piece of salmon.   There it was carefully placed in a carton.  What do you plan to do with this salmon mother?  It was going to be lunch.  How long ago was lunch planned?  Couple of days ago.  That means it will never see the lunch table. Such a waste. I know how you hate waste.

 

And thus began the waste not want not stories. T-shirts no longer fit to appear in public, cut into pieces for so-soft dust rags. Aluminum foil rinsed and carefully folded for future use.  Rubber bands rolled into a ball for - well you never know. Coffee cans to hold nails that will never again see the light of day. The list is long for  waste nothing people.

 

What then in this world of abundance is worth saving?  Certainly, things someone else can actually use. Maybe one or two things we think we’ll need (but rarely do).  Definitely rainy-day cash.  Journals for your memories.  Books with special inscriptions.  Photo albums (real not digital).  And saving time for dreaming.

 

Does this mean my friends and I are ready to give up our quirky waste not habits?  Heaven forbid.  We never know when we might need an old piece of aluminum foil.

 

Remember the question:   If your home was on fire, what would you try to save?  The answers through time have been – my dog, my cat, my pictures – never once did I hear ‘that piece of salmon I have in the refrigerator.’

 

Tempus Fugit. Make memories.

 

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MEMORY LANE IS OK TO VISIT

JUNE 11, 2022

 

My Brother and niece who live in Lancashire visited recently. Lancashire is a county with its own dialect. Some would say its own language.  It was fun hearing words and phrases from my growing up years.  No matter how long we are away, hearing our hometown dialect brings back all kinds of memories. 

 

Not everyone, even in the rest of England, can easily translate some Lancashire sayings.  One that amuses friends is the statement.  Oh, they live next door but two from me.  Translation – but for the two houses in-between they would live right next door.

 

A phrase with more depth:  Our Marie got a scholarship.  Not just ‘Marie’ – OUR Marie.  She is one of our family.  We are responsible for her, and she for us.  Take note - She is ours.

 

You’ll hear: Arnold was really chuffed.  Lancashire: He was puffed up with pride. North Carolina: He was bursting his buttons.

 

During a rare heatwave Lancashire natives will say:  I’m sweating cobs, it’s cracking flags out there: Sweating cobs (large globules of sweat).  Flags means pavement.   In the South we’d say. It’s hot as Hades - you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.

 

Hearing the familiar dialect brought back hilarious and horrible memories of neighbors, juvenile misdeeds, and proud family accomplishments.  It allowed me to wallow momentarily in the good and interesting life I’ve been fortunate to live.  Maybe even recall a few still applicable lessons I can share with grandchildren.

 

My early days in the South caused a different dialect challenge. Running a little late for lunch (too many streets with the same name, and none on a grid) I hear:  Where you at? J’eat yet?  Notchet? Whyncha join us?  I loved it. It was like learning a new language.

 

Why share such trivia? Perhaps to emphasize the value in remembering where we came from. Good memories. Bad memories. Blurred memories.  People, places and things that made us who we are.  Refresher courses balance our lives.

 

Take that trip down memory lane.  Do not take up residence there.

 

Ta-rah (Lancashire for goodbye)

 

# # #

MENTION THE GOOD STUFF

JUNE 5, 2022

My nieces and I share frequent emails across the pond. Recently I received one that gave me reasons to think about what and how I communicate.

 

Here is part of Lorraine’s message:

It isn't often I get thanked just for being me. I think we, most of us, go through life doing the best we can but too often it is our faults that are highlighted.  All too easy for us to forget to mention the good stuff!

 

She continued: I recently reconnected with several school friends and was amazed by their memories of me.  Rather comforting to hear I existed outside my everyday life if that makes sense.  It makes us realize it is important to share, to keep hold of the fragile threads that connect us with people who have touched our lives.

 

How true. How steadying. How seemingly difficult to comment on the good stuff.

 

Maybe, just for today, I will forget to mention the open cabinet doors and thank the ‘culprit’ for putting away the dishes. Perhaps I will not frown when my friend is late picking me up and thank them for such a generous gesture.  Heck, I might even tell the carwash youngster what a great job he did, even though he didn’t clean out the cup holder.  Keep doing these things, and – with luck - it becomes a habit to mention the good stuff. What a refreshing thought.

 

Think about it: Once we chase out trivial annoyances that consume so much of our brain; it’s miraculous how much that remains is good stuff.  Mention the good stuff.

 

Thanks Lorraine, I’m working on it.

 

# # #

YES, but ...

MAY 15, 2022

We all know them.  Sometimes we are them.  The joy killers.  They kill the joy of a compliment.

 

You’ve seen and heard it.  “Your son did a great job with the laundry.”  Yes, but – I had to refold all the clothes.  “Wasn’t that a grand party at Sue’s?”  Yes, but – there was nothing for vegetarians.  “What a beautiful new home.” Yes, but – it needs a lot of work.  “Your presentation today was excellent.” Yes, but – I forgot the great opening I planned.  And the list goes on.  It’s a conundrum.

 

When my mother heard the words ‘yes, but’ she stopped the next words being uttered by saying “No but’s about it … you heard the message.”  Usually followed by “I am tired of all the ifs, ands or buts. Get on with it.”  It didn’t cure us.  It did make us think.

 

Why do we sabotage ourselves and the one giving the compliment? Greater minds have pondered this question.  The answers given are we don’t believe the person being complimented – ourselves or another – is worthy of the praise. We listen for errors instead of information. We believe our ‘but’ adds worth or clarity.

 

What to do?  Let’s rerun: Your son did a great job … “He sure did. Saved me a lot of time.” Grand party at Sue’s. “Indeed. It was good to see all our friends.”  Beautiful new home.  “Thank you. We feel very fortunate.”  Excellent presentation.  “Thank you. That means a lot.”

 

Give it a try … no ifs, ands or buts.  Sometimes all we need as a response is a simple ‘Thank you.”

 

Thanks Mom.

 

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A LITTLE BIT EXTRA

MAY 8, 2022

I read somewhere that millions of people go to bed hungry every night.  Not hungry for food.  Hungry for appreciation, a smile, a kind word, to be noticed, a sincere ‘well done.’

 

We all need that proverbial pat on the back once in a while.  No matter where it comes from.  If you are a Wordle fan like me and a million others – I’ll bet you nod and smile when the words Excellent, Splendid, or Awesome pop up.   What would be the point if no one acknowledged your genius for getting the right word in two or three attempts? Would you quit? Probably.

 

Why then are we so stingy with our appreciation and praise? A generous monetary tip is appreciated. It's soon spent.  Generous words go right to the heart amd stay there.  They make our day. We sleep well.

 

We lavish praise on children and pets for their efforts.  Eating with a spoon –- Big smile. Clap for Susie.  Fetching the ball – clever dog.  We do it without thinking.  It’s second nature.  Why and when does it stop? Why don’t we widen the circle?

 

The word 'thank you' is a good word.  It's even better when words are added that are special to the person being thanked.  The parking attendant who unjams your credit card. Thank you. I’m glad you were here to rescue me.  The checkout person.  You are really quick.  How do you do that? Thank you.  Acknowledging their skills means you noticed.

 

Some years ago, I took my grandsons to Chipotle.  The person bussing tables was doing a great job. What do you notice, I asked my grandsons? He’s working hard was the response. Why don’t you thank him, so he knows you noticed?  They did. And they pooled their enormous resources so they could leave ‘a bit extra.’

 

It’s that little bit extra that is often missing.  And it’s that little bit extra we miss.  The extra bit that tells us you really noticed.  It’s not just a courtesy ‘thank you’ – it’s ‘I noticed what you did, and it was good’ kind of thank you.

 

I got the wordle word my third attempt today. And wordle popped up and said IMPRESSIVE!  Wow.  I'll be back tomorrow.

 

That little bit extra makes a difference.

 

# # #

 

YOUTH, HOPE.

MAY 2, 2022

May 1st was Youth Sunday at our Church.  Young people greeting us as we arrived.  Thanking us as we left.  Dozens of young people –handling in their own style every facet of the service.  They changed the format, changed the timbre of the voices, changed the fashion, changed the music - and most likely changed a lot of less than youthful minds.

 

Their theme for this Youth Sunday was PEACE.  The prayers, music, reflections, and mini sermons all performed and created by these young people certainly made us think about youth and peace.  In a different way.

 

One of the speakers said she had never known a time of peace.  It made her sad. She asked, “How can we change that?”  A graduating senior said because of his coach he developed peace of mind by learning patience.  He learned you can’t always be the star, sharing wins the game. Another young man talked about what peace could look like.  It starts, he said, by just being kind to people. By admitting that perhaps you and your team are not always right.

 

 The operative words from each speaker were: Listen. Learn. Share. Act. Faith. Kindness. Loyalty. Knowledge. Justice…and probably a few more I missed. 

 

Our congregation listened to these youthful speakers with awe.  Even clapped in a Presbyterian church.  Big smiles helped us recognize the parents, grandparents, and family members.  You have every reason to be proud. Keep smiling.

 

The sincerity of these young people is a gift.  A gift of hope.  They help us recall Nelson Mandela’s words: It always seems impossible until it’s done.  Or Madame Curie’s challenge: Don’t look at what has been done. Look at what still needs to be done.

 

I believe our young people are up to the challenges. Keep the faith.

 

Peace.

BREATHING SPACE

APRIL 26, 2022

Today, April 26, 2022, is Frederick Law Olmstead’s 200th birthday.This remarkable man was responsible for designing 100 public parks, in addition to scores of livable neighborhoods and private gardens. He left an amazing legacy of natural beauty. What would he think if could see what we  are doing with our remaining precious land?

 

Olmsted’s first glimpse at what a park can be was in 1850 in Birkenhead, Lancashire.  My home county.  My sister lived in Birkenhead. Visits to the Park were frequent – especially during and following WWII.  The Park offered respite, moments of quiet, fresh air, a chance to run, play.  It was the Magic Kingdom of our youth.

 

Throughout the boroughs of London there are 3,000 public parks of different sizes. When rebuilding after the war, people wanted places of calm, close to their restored homes and shops. Parks were their answer.

 

In the 1960’s I revisited Birkenhead Park with our two young sons.  Just as  I had - they threw pebbles across the pond, marveled at the swans, ran like the wind, and picnicked in the grass. A Park will always be magic.  The perfect prescription for what ails us. Our place to breathe.

 

Parks need not cover vast acres.  A small oasis with trees, water, neighborly benches, lighting, and a cover to shield us from the rain is all we need.  Would developers be willing to create such neighborhood spaces, instead of filling every inch with concrete and structures? And with structures reaching ever skyward – blocking the sun from neighbors.  I believe many would.  They too are friends, neighbors, moms, dads.

 

We’re doing better with trails.  Trails are excellent, but they are not parks.  On a trail you keep moving.  In a park you stop, relax, breathe.

 

The New York Times created a special anniversary section devoted to Olmsted. They referred to him as a landscape architect, social reformer, and believer in public parks as a democratic idea.  They also noted that the young nation Olmsted served might be unrecognizable to him today, except for the rituals preserved and encouraged by his own creations. The rituals of slowing down, wondering at nature, sharing a picnic, reading a book, breathing,

 

What magical birthday gift could we offer a man whose legacy and gifts to us transcend centuries?  Maybe more small parks?  More green spaces where future generations can learn to breathe?  What a gift that would be.

 

Happy Birthday and thank you Frederick Law Olmsted.

 

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FOCUS: ATTENTION MANAGEMENT

APRIL 21, 2022

 

Have you noticed the ability to FOCUS is second nature to some? For others focus seems impossible to achieve.  There are times those who are usually highly focused temporarily lose that ability.

 

An article in the WSJ quoted the late Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard.  He said “It’s amazing how easy life becomes when you realize your job is not to deal with what might have been – but what IS.” 

 

Mr. Bogle wasn’t suggesting we forget the past, wipe out bad memories and mistakes.  He’s saying we cannot undo what has happened.  Right now is our priority. Think about it.  We are erratically juggling five things.  There’s an emergency, our child gets hurt – immediately we are laser focused on the emergency. We are in the ‘what is’ zone. The other five things drop from our radar.

 

Why does it take an emergency for most of us to focus?  One of my favorite authors, Adam Grant, says it’s because we have been trained to focus on time management – getting the most done in the least amount of time. He says a better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter.  Attention management, he adds, is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.

 

Consider Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.  His mind and days were filled with handshakes, meetings, and policies.  Then a critical emergency.  His mind is now focused on one thing - his country.  In his words: We know what we are protecting: the country, the land, the future of our children.  What is

 

Yes, you say – but we still need to get things done in a timely fashion.  Interesting news:  Recent studies, according to Adam Grant, show attention management works.  When we are doing something for the right reason, at the right time, in the right place – we tend to work more efficiently and enthusiastically.

 

Makes sense to me. 

 

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AT LEAST GIVE IT A TRY

APRIL 3, 2022

Lynne Hinton is a minister, and an author. She spoke at her friend Sally’s celebration of life. Her words eloquently captured the amazing woman we were celebrating.  And, she left those of us who were part of the celebration with a roadmap for life if we are willing to give it a try. I have Lynne’s permission to share her words.

 

Remembering Sally, who along with her many talents was a potter, Lynne began -- A potter understands that for a plate, a cup or saucer to be turned and molded, the clay has to be soft. If it’s hard or has become too cold very little shaping can take place.  You need malleable clay - moist, moveable, unfixed. If the vessel has hardened, it must be broken to be reshaped.

 

One of the many things I admired about my friend, she continued, was that she never wanted her spirit to become dry and brittle, like old clay.   She always said, I can do better. I’ll give it a try.

 

Sally actively worked on being a person of love and integrity. That is a decision we must make every day. To choose life and love, forgiveness and kindness over death and indifference, pettiness, and resentment.

 

Wherever we are, we hear her voice saying, Come, get out of your comfortable seat. Move out of that resignation of watching from the sidelines. Step out of your old and boring existence.  Don’t be afraid to try.  Don’t let your heart harden and your spirit become dry.

 

Don’t choose the small life. Don’t waste your time being jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude. Keep your heart open.

 

All I can add is Wow. What a challenge.  Are we up to it?

 

At least give it a try.

 

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BIRD BY BIRD

MARCH 29, 2022

It’s happened to me.  It’s happened to you.  Days when our must-do list runneth over. Places to go. Things to do. Deadlines to meet.  We stew in a morass of indecision.  Everything is, or seems to be, important. Where to start?

 

This is where I was recently. Then I remembered Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, printed 25 years ago.  She gave it this title because some years earlier her then 10-year-old brother was trying to write a report on birds. Like all reports from procrastinators, it was due the next day.  He was overwhelmed and immobilized by the hugeness of the task.  Then his grandfather sat down beside him. He put his arm around his shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”

 

Visualizing a grandfather with his arm around his grandson, and hearing the words ‘bird by bird,’ is calming.  It helps get your birds and must-dos in a row. Helps prioritize.  Probably shrinks the list of things you thought important or the birds worth writing about.  It works.

 

Following the bird-by-bird method not only whittled down my list. When scrutinized more calmly, it was obvious six of the ten items could be handled by someone else.  Six down, only four to go.

 

I recommend the Bird-by-Bird method – and highly recommend the book.

 

Enjoy.

 

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YOUR THOUGHTS AND SAYINGS

MARCH 21, 2022

 

My thoughts today are endlessly about Ukraine.  Most likely, yours also.  It’s hard to imagine, and even harder to write down our troubling and troubled reactions to this nightmare.

 

Instead of dwelling on these dark days, it seems like a good time to share some thoughts and sayings you’ve shared with me.  Take our minds, even briefly, in other directions. 

 

Some of the thoughts and quotes are in response to Grasshopper musings; others – just because.  Here are ten that resonate, with thanks to the senders:

 

1.    What would you do if you were not afraid?

 

2.    How about a reverse bucket list? Take something out instead of adding to it.

 

3.    Don’t add to someone else’s burdens.

 

4.    Unlearning requires humility – admitting you were wrong yesterday.

 

5.    Our younger generation needs aspiration. Our older generation needs affirmation.

 

6.    Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better. (Dr Seuss)

 

7.    Everyone needs beauty as well as bread. (John Muir)

 

8.    Sometimes getting a grip on your problems means knowing when to let go.

 

9.    Humans are more important than hardware.

 

10.   No yelling.

 

All these sayings, unlike wars, make perfect sense.  I've already checked off number 2.

 

Share your thoughts, and I'll pass them along.

 

 

 

Peace.

 

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LEARNING

MARCH 13, 2022

LEARNING.

 

There’s a sign in my office that says There has been a remarkable increase in the things I know nothing about.

 

Today’s New York Times magazine confirmed that message. The special section was devoted to Music.  Specifically, today’s music.  The magazine had 62 pages.  I recognized one name, and none of the songs.  A failing grade. Again.

 

Parade also devoted today’s section to music.  The front cover sang out “1972 – the year’s most unforgettable songs.”  Yes! Helen Reddy. Roberta Flack. The O’Jays. Bette Midler. Johnny Nash. Familiar names singing familiar tunes.  I’m singing along. Back on the plus side.

 

Another message I’ve saved says: The world belongs to the learners. The learned will wake up one day in a world that no longer exists.  Time to update this message.  I try to be a learner. And still, the world as I knew it no longer exists.

 

Many of us are lifelong learners.  What do we need to learn or unlearn?  Apart from updates for our hobbies and health? What do we need to practice, remember, keep learning?  It’s not the technology, the newest songs, the best wines, the 100 places to visit before we die.  There’s Google and our more knowledgeable friends to help us out there

 

Perhaps our curriculum should include learning how to appreciate. Learning how to share, be less critical, be grateful, care.  Obsolescence in these arenas is not optional if not just life as we know it , but life itself is to become livable for the all the world’s people.

 

Still a long way to go.  We’re closing the gap. Keep learning.

 

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Follow Up - That's what I do.

MARCH 6, 2022

THAT'S WHAT I DO

MARCH 6, 2022

Recently, while grieving over Ukraine and its people, I was reminded of the story of the frog and the scorpion.

 

You’ll recall the frog and the scorpion met at the edge of the river.  The scorpion asked the frog if he could ride on his back across the river. The frog said – but you might sting me, and I’ll die.  Scorpion replied but I cannot swim. If you drown, we will both die. Off they go across the river. Before they reach the shore, the frog feels a sting. What happened? Why did you do that? The scorpion replied, I’m a scorpion – I sting. That’s what I do.

 

A leopard can’t change its spots. A scorpion can’t change its sting.  It’s their nature.  Humans have a different makeup.  We can become better or worse.   We can change our destiny.  Some choose not to.  Why?  We recognize the symptoms and possible cures. Perhaps the problem seems too difficult.  Maybe we’ve let wounds fester until they appear impossible to heal.

 

Poor Richards Almanac gives us a simple analogy: For want of a nail the shoe was lost.  For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost.  For want of a rider the battle was lost.  For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.  And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

 

Like all diseases and injustices, the sooner a malignancy, no matter how small, is recognized and acknowledged  the better the likelihood of a good outcome.  It’s never too late.

 

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EMPATHY

FEBRUARY 28, 2022

What A Week this has been.  Up. Down. Smile. Frown. Horror. Hope.

 

The horror of what is happening in Ukraine. The hope as determination for justice rises.

 

It’s been said the further away the problem the less we can empathize.  That was before immediate and close-up virtual images.  They are 5,000 miles away, yet we now see ourselves, our neighbors, our families in the fearful and courageous faces.  I was 13 when WWII ended. When I see the families huddled underground hearing the sirens overhead, I know what they are thinking.  My empathy is at gut level. It never leaves. Down in the shelters they are asking why is this happening?

 

Why indeed? Is it Greed, Power, Ruthlessness, a lack of appreciation for human life?  It’s all those things. How did we get here? Is it a result of me-me-and only me thinking?

 

More than a year ago, one of my favorite writers, Adam Grant said: “In our daily lives too many of us favor the comfort of conviction rather then the discomfort of doubt.  We like opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard.  We see disagreement as a threat to our ego, rather than an opportunity to learn.  We surround ourselves with people who agree with us, when we should gravitate to those who challenge our thought process.”

 

Our hope now is that world leaders will develop a united empathy.  Begin to value human life as they do a strong economy.   See disagreements as opportunities to learn.

 

As it says in Alexander Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’ -- Hope Springs Eternal.

 

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COURAGE

FEBRUARY 21, 2022

Perhaps it’s hearing the stories of courageous Olympic athletes. Perhaps witnessing close to home examples. Whatever the reason - lately I’ve been thinking a lot about courage.

 

Are we born with courage? What is this invisible gift we admire? If we’re born with it, why does it evaporate in some and not in others?

 

The dictionary defines courage as: the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

 

How then do we explain the courage of a small child? A child who, supposedly, has not reached the age of reason. My brother’s great granddaughter Isabella had a liver transplant when she was 18-months old. Her family bolstered her recovery with love.  She is now a three-year-old miracle. Or, as she would say – three and a half.

 

At two years she would identify, separate, and under a watchful eye administer her own medications. She somehow grasped the challenge she faced.  At age three years she stood before her kindergarten class, described her operation, and answered questions.

 

Isabella seems to understand the importance of life. In a local park recently, she witnessed a youngster being loudly scolded. The child was banished to a bench. The parents stood a short distance away.  Isabella first stood directly in front of the punished child. Did not say a word.  She then did the same thing with the parents.  Just a long questioning look.

 

How did she know that sometimes words are not necessary?  Was her message – life is too short for anger and hurt?  Where did she get such courage?

 

Examples of courage are everywhere. Just look and listen. As a three-and-a-half-year-old instinctively knew … words are not always necessary.  It’s being there to look right at the situation. To silently say you understand.  To relearn. Perhaps there is another way to tackle a perceived problem.

 

Courage has many faces. It knows no age, race, education, or gender.  It can surface at any time.  It can disappear if it’s not nurtured. It’s something most of us admire.

 

Words from Amanda Gorman’s poem are an excellent reminder:  For there is always light, if we are brave enough to see it, if we are brave enough to BE it.  Her edited message: Have courage. Have the moral and mental strength to persevere.

 

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AS TIME GOES BY

FEBRUARY 14, 2022

Today is Valentine’s Day.  I’m a fan of the PBS series ‘As Time Goes By.’ The lyrics to You must remember this remind me to remember the happy moments in life. Never fails.

 

If you are a certain age you must remember this:  Receiving a billet-doux, with the initials s.w.a.l.k. on the envelope’s flap.  If you are a male on the receiving end, there might be a whiff of perfume.  Youngsters - a billet-doux is a love letter. The initials mean ‘sealed with a loving kiss.’

 

The card’s inside verses always delightful.  A dreamy young woman or man -hearts surrounding them.  The message: It’s a lonesome old town when you’re not around.  Simple. Loving. Sincere. Not suggestive. Not smarmy.  The illustration and words bring a smile of agreement.  Confession: I still have some of those cards, dated in the 50’s. They still bring a smile.

 

Our sons said I was too wrapped up in reality.  True.  Then I shared my ‘old’ cards with them.  Their image changed to romantic realist.  Heart leads, head confirms, shoulders take on the challenge, hands go to work. Their interpretation - they go to work.

 

There’s mystery behind the origin of Valentine’s Day. Who cares? It is a day devoted to love.  Bring out the old cards.  Freshen the good and fun memories.  Share the moments.  Enjoy Valentine’s Day. No matter its origin – it is meant to be a day for giving and receiving love.

 

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SCRUPLES

FEBRUARY 6, 2022

Today’s church sermon was titled Ruthless Goodness.  Sounds like a contradiction.

 

Goodness – morally good or virtuous. Being kind.  Ruthless – lacking compassion or pity. Do whatever it takes.

 

How we approach life depends on our scruples. Our values.  What we believe. They are imprinted in our psyche at a young age. We're told we can change, and having an early reference for both is helpful.

 

During WWII there was a prisoner of war camp close to our home.  When the men were outside; passersby would shout scornful words and threats at them.  Our mother cautioned: Do not let me ever see you doing that.  Each of those boys is some mother’s son.  She taught ruthless goodness.  We failed many of the lessons; but some important ones stuck.

 

Our minister recalled the Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson story.  What can happen when one person ignores the abusive masses, and follows his or her scruples?  We know the end to the Robinson-Reese story. Or how the continuing story began.

 

Scruples derives from the Latin word scrupulus (Latin spelling) a small sharp stone. We know a sharp stone is abrasive. Especially if the stone is in our shoe. We ask is the stone the real cause of our discomfort?  Or do we perceive what we are planning is morally wrong? Is it a reminder to step tenderly?  To walk lightly? To listen to our gut - our second brain, and where scruples are formed.

 

Today we think of scruples as a moral compass.  We need them at every junction in life. They force us to question intended actions. Think of the potential effects. Reverse if we need to.  Go ahead if they give us the all-clear.

 

Scruples.  Something to think about.

 

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WHAT'S IT WORTH

FEBRUARY 1, 2022

 

 

The Charlotte Ledger recently featured a store selling costly bling for pets. Years ago, I would have rolled my eyes. Clucked my tongue. Questioned where the world was headed.

 

These days I view costly, even frivolous, items through a different lens.  The lens of economics, creativity, and legacy.

 

Picture our ancestors as penny-pinching conformists.  No Palace of Versailles. No treasures of Tutankhamun. No intricately woven baskets, or beaded broaches. Downton Abbey women wearing sackcloth. No colorful textiles, brocades. No marvels of architecture.  What a drab world this would be.

 

My economic revelation came as an aghast observer of a $20,000 gown.  I was asked: Who made the fabric, the beads, the silk threads, the buttons? Who designed, fitted, sewed, and perfected?  How many people, how many hours to create this regal gown?  The gown had employed many people, was an outlet for their creative gifts. The sellers made money. Artisans retained their skills. The buyers made contributions to assure that future. The economic wheel does another spin.

 

Look closely at simple or exquisite, pottery forms.  Consider what is needed to make and deliver that object: Clay, kiln, wheel, tools, time, labor, breakage, skills, storage.  How can they sell for so little?  How can they part with hand-created treasures?  Potters don’t get rich.  Buyers add a layer of history, inspiration, and beauty to their world.  It’s a win-win. Current enjoyment. The future of our crafts sustained.

 

Would I buy a diamond dog leash, or a $20 thousand gown? No.  Not even at Last Call.  Would I buy a handsome piece of hand thrown pottery?  Yes.  The best I could afford.  Beauty, fun, the future, are all in the eye of the beholder.

 

The real question is:  What’s it worth to you, to the maker, the market, the future? 

 

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THE PIT WILL HYPNOTIZE YOU

JANUARY 24, 2022

Last week I received two unique notes.  Both were from friends.  Both included quotes that made me think.  I like that.

 

One note said, ‘And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.’ How can that be true? There is nothing new under the sun.  Perhaps it means ‘things that have never been done this way. Or appeared this way. Or made you think this way.

 

The second note was a warning: ‘You cannot look into the pit all day. It will hypnotize you and you will fall in.’  True. Easy to understand. Compare it with today’s on-line obsession.

 

Compulsive doom-scrolling is like looking into the pit. We get hypnotized. Waiting to hear that ping. Stay abreast of the doom, gloom, scandals.  Everyone will be talking about them.  We need to know.

 

Race car drivers are warned ‘keep your eyes off the wall.’ Cyclists ‘keep your eyes off the ditch.’   If you don’t that’s where you’ll end up.  Their formula for avoidance. For staying alive:  Focus. Discipline. Awareness.

 

Some call our scrolling addiction emotional roulette.  The next ping might be important. Maybe someone we know. We might miss something. We will. It’s called life.

 

Focus. Discipline. Awareness. Life.  Respond to every ping? Silent mode? We have a choice.

 

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GOLDFISH AND MEMORIES

JANUARY 12, 2022

A few weeks ago, our minister shared a sermon he titled Be a Goldfish.  He included video from the Ted Lasso show.  It was unique. I learned something. Who knew goldfish have memory issues? Why had I never heard of Ted Lasso? It triggered vivid memories of what releasing grudges can do.

 

My mind went back 35 years to Frochheim, Germany. Home to a beautiful young woman our son was marrying there.

 

It was 1987.  WWII had ended 42 years earlier. Many who had experienced that war were still alive. Memories still vivid. Many friends and family from the UK and USA attended the wedding. 

The wedding service was in German.  Our son did not understand a word.  He trusted his new German family.

 

On arrival the luncheon was tense. Several of the bride’s guests arrived wearing German officer’s uniforms.  British guests wore Union Jack lapel pins.  Some still had hidden and obvious battle scars.

 

The bride’s father who, himself, had been conscripted into Hitler's Youth Army, stood for his welcome toast. Fluent in English, he delivered his welcome in both languages. Remembering still gives me chills.

He began: Welcome friends.  Forty-two years ago, many of us in this room were enemies.  TODAY, we gather in and because of LOVE.

 

The tension eased.  Guests smiled. They shook hands. Shared Stories. They danced together. Grudges and hostilities were set aside.  We were reminded our greatest need is love.

Today, 35 years later many wedding guests are still friends.  The bride and groom are still happy.

 

Hopefully never a Goldfish 10-second memory. Memories are what sustain us, the more  the better. Grudges are different.  The fewer we carry, the lighter the load.

 

Here's to happy, safe, and unencumbered travels in this still new year, and beyond.

 

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AULD LANG SYNE REMEMBERED

JANUARY 1, 2022

 

Auld Lang Syne is sung around the world on New Year’s Eve. It’s a tradition.  What does it mean? The correct interpretation is times long past, or more accurately old long since.

 

Circling the table or room, arms around each other, swaying to the music, we sang Auld Lang Syne as soon as we were old enough to be in the room. We tried to wedge between two people we knew in case the ritual hugs or kiss ended the song.

 

Many of us attach the song’s meaning to the lyrics Should auld acquaintance be forgot. Makes sense.  When the page turns to a new year, our minds turn to old friends, memories we shared, missing friends. We focus on the good memories. Doing otherwise would invite misfortune.

 

In our home we paid homage to absent friends by calling their names and asking them to take care of our health and happiness in the coming year.

 

The lyrics We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for the sake of auld lang syne refers to raising your glass or cup to friendship and kindness.  We recall the kindnesses we have received and given. We resolve to do more, do better.

 

When the clock strikes midnight and the old year ends – singing Auld Lang Syne feels refreshing.  Sing with a group; sing alone. Zoom friends and family.  Remembering good times, good friends, good deeds, and good intentions is a perfect way to launch a new year.

 

Plan to create new memories, enjoy friends, share a cup o’ kindness, and – remember the good intentions. New Year’s Eve comes around, without fail, every single year.

 

Here’s to a brand-new year, to peace and understanding, to friends past, present and future. To health and healing. To you and yours

 

To 2022 and beyond.

 

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