Another man’s treasure…

one man's treasure...

She was born Lydia Myrene Henderson. She was my grandmother.
And, in all my life, I’ve never known anyone who appreciated a bargain any more than she did. She lived in a constant state of believing that some object she picked up somewhere would eventually be recognized by one and all as immensely valuable and quite possible The Greatest Thing in the History of Time and Space.
She is the reason I smiled this week when Rae Gremillion, director of community development at the Hospice of Acadiana, called. Gremillion told me a story about a big find at their upcoming Hospice Garage Sale, scheduled for 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 22 at the Hospice of Acadiana offices at 2600 Johnston Street.
Hospice of Acadiana has been accepting antiques, glassware, artwork, household goods and unusual treasures from throughout the community. They will continue accepting decorative items through Nov. 14 and furniture until Nov. 21.
Just from the general description of the event, my grandmother would not have been able to sleep in anticipation of such a feast of items up for grabs for pennies on the dollar. However, there was much more to the story than just the allure of rooms full of one man’s potential treasure. Gremillion connected me with Cheryl Cockrell of Cheryl Cockrell Estate Sales who Hospice asked to help price the items for the Nov. 22 sale.
“Man, was I surprised when I was walking around and right smack in the middle of the coffee cups was this pre-1930 Steuben blue Aurene Tumble up pitcher. It’s worth hundreds of dollars and was sitting on the .25 table!” Cockrell explained to me.
After some research, I learned that Steuben Glass, founded in 1903, created some of the most iconic glass pieces of the Twentieth Century.
According to Collectors Weekly, “When collectors think of Steuben glass, two distinct styles come to mind. The first was pioneered by Steuben co-founder Frederick Carder in 1903. As Steuben’s chief designer, Carder created a new form of iridescent glass called Aurene. Unlike Tiffany’s dense and dark Favrile line of iridescent glass, which was introduced in 1894, Carder’s Aurene pieces were luminous and lustrous, seeming to radiate more light than they absorbed. So distinctive was Aurene from Favrile that Steuben was granted a patent on the technique in 1904, the year after the company’s founding. That did not stop Tiffany from filing a lawsuit against Steuben….”
But Steuben prevailed, and the company’s early years were devoted to making Aurene glass, with blue being one of the most popular colors. The little Tumble Up pitcher was donated anonymously by someone here in the Acadiana region. Perhaps they knew its value and perhaps they didn’t. Cockrell has placed the item on eBay. Bidding ends Tuesday, and profits will go to benefit Hospice of Acadiana.
“I saw many more fabulous items including real oil paintings, a French tapestry, an Asian inlaid table, two old John Deere children’s tractors, Magnalite, a huge collection of 1960’s Swanky Swig juice glasses and many more vintage finds,” Cockrell said. “This event will be a virtual treasure hunt, and I encourage people to get out there and dig through the rooms and rooms of things.”
Despite some misconceptions that Hospice of Acadiana is an umbrella organization for all area hospices, it is not. It is a non-profit dedicated to enabling persons with life-threatening conditions to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Their mission is to emphasize quality rather than length of life. They also help people deal with grief.
According to Gremillion, thus far in 2014, Hospice of Acadiana has given more than 600 days of care to indigent patients. Their Center for Loss and Transition has served 280 patients this year, with a total of 1,000 client visits. More than 1,700 people have participated in educational programming, and 25 campers, ages 7 through 11, participate in Camp Brave Hearts two-day camp for grieving children.
Twenty physicians and 375 community volunteers have donated more than 5,350 hours of time to Hospice and the people the organization serves.
The only thing that could make this event more fun for me would be if my grandmother were alive to go with me!
For more information about Hospice of Acadiana and their upcoming garage sale, call 337-232-1234 or go to www.hospiceacadiana.com.

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How to (and how not to) build a relationship

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 2.39.42 PMEver been in or observed a relationship that didn’t seem quite right, but you couldn’t put your finger on what it was that was wrong? Ever wondered if you should stay in the relationship you’re in, but you’re not sure where to look for clues?
When we’re honest, these thoughts have crossed all of our minds at one point or the other. There are so many factors to consider in making the decision to keep on keeping on in a relationship or knowing that it’s time to call it quits.
I recently read a single sentence that I believe sums up the bulk of what to base a relationship decision upon: A healthy relationship is one where two independent people just make a deal that they will help make the other person the best version of him or herself possible. (I would like to attribute it to someone specific, but alas my Internet searches all come up empty.)
The first big truth of that sentence lies in the words “two independent people.” If the people involved in a relationship rely too much on the other (or anyone else, for that matter), chances are high that the relationship will never be completely healthy. Last week, in an interview for his new book, Gene Simmons, front man for KISS (and not someone I usually go to for advice), made a great point about the importance of girls and women establishing independence and financial security before getting into a serious relationship. In my book, he’s right.
My husband and I are approaching our 21st wedding anniversary. If I had to identify what has made our relationship work through the years, the key lies in the fact that I know that he does what he can to make me the best version of myself. In all likelihood, he’s probably better at this than I am. Through the years, I hope I have learned from his example and that I contribute to him being a better person. At this point, I’m probably better at doing so that I was when I was younger.
When I look back at various relationships I was in before we married, I’m able to pinpoint the reason most of them didn’t work to the fact that one of us wanted the other to be something that he or she envisioned rather than the best version of ourselves that we could be. That mistake is a red flag in any relationship and happens far too often in young love. Sometimes those relationships keep going, leaving both in a Sisyphean struggle. Finally, one partner pushes the other across a Rubicon, and the relationship is over.
This truth applies beyond romantic relationships and includes friendships and other familial relationships, as well.
Granted, every relationship can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between keeping on keeping on and keeping on when the effort is futile. Asking the simple question: Has this person made a deal to do his or her best to make that person the best version of him or herself?
Knowing at what point in a relationship to ask the question can be tricky, but if you’re wondering if the time has come to ask it, then the time probably is nigh. The answer is usually obvious.

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Take ‘The 100 Item Challenge’

Take 'The 100 Item Challenge'Take The 100 Item Challenge

In the midst of our lives full of such excess, imagining that people we pass on the streets and sidewalks of our community are hungry is difficult to imagine. However, the truth is that hunger is a real thing — even right here in Acadiana.
Julie Lafleur, the new executive director at FoodNet: The Greater Acadiana Food Bank, says she has seen the face of the hungry in Acadiana. Lafleur says she sees families with young children and the elderly who have been able to provide for all of their needs until now.
“Often, these are people who don’t know what to do,” Lafleur said. “We get calls from family members, neighbors, friends and caretakers asking help for their elderly family members, friends and clients because they have little food in their homes.”
FoodNet has several major food drives on the near horizon. For example, the Rotary Club Election Day food drive set Nov. 4 will collect food at the election polls. The KLFY TV-10/FoodNet “Food for Families” food drive will be Dec. 2 at the Cajundome and is in partnership with 17 other food pantries in the Acadiana region from Mamou to Morgan City.
Lafleur said she and her staff are so grateful for the upcoming food drives. There’s only one problem. FoodNet’s shelves are almost empty now.
Literally. There is very little food left to feed the hungry between now and the upcoming food drives.
I spoke with Lafleur last week. (In full disclosure, we go to the same church.) I asked her what foods FoodNet could use most. She quickly rattled off a list of ten items. We talked a little more and developed what we are calling “The 100 Item Challenge.”
I am challenging you as an individual, as a Sunday School teacher, as a classroom teacher, as a book club member, as a Scout leader or member, as a civic club member – whoever you are, to be a part of “The 100 Item Challenge.”
It’s a matter of buying, gathering or collecting ten items or the ten things the food banks need most. Here’s your shopping list:
10 cans of tuna
10 cans of any other kind of meat
10 “meals in a can” — chili, beef stew, chunky soup, etc.
10 cornbread mixes
10 packs of pasta
10 cans of tomato sauce
10 jars of peanut butter
10 containers of oatmeal
10 containers of grits
10 “meals in a box” — Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, noodle dinner mix, etc.
I did some shopping and have priced the full list at about $150 (my exact total was $143.98). Of course, that depends on where you shop and the size of the items you buy. If you’d prefer to go in with a friend or neighbor to gather the items, please do. The point is, FoodNet needs the groceries now – before the big upcoming food drives.
You can drop off the food between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon on Monday through Fridays. Lafleur and the staff are also there at other times, but you should call 337-232-FOOD to check on exact times. Find the FoodNet offices and shelves at 217 Surrey Street here in Lafayette. Learn more about them on the web at www.foodnetacadiana.org. If you know of another food bank closer to you, I’m certain they could use your donations as well.
Take The 100 Item Challenge, and send me a picture of you and your FoodNet groceries.

Send photos or contact Jan Risher at jan@janrisher.com.

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Mission: Methodical

10417658_10152346528702175_2566990752977945619_nOctober is the sweetest month, with days so perfect that my heart can’t help but sing. For the past five years, my October has been even better because in the second weekend of the month I’ve attended a retreat for women. It’s not the typical quiet retreat. It’s a retreat for spirituality and creativity.
One of my favorite aspects of the weekend is the Art Room — a room chock full of material, lace, needles and thread, felt, old stamps, sequins, wallpaper samples, hot glue guns and anything other item someone may have wanted once upon a time for a craft, that may or may not have ever happened.
Among other planned programming, the retreat encourages every participant to spend as much time in the Art Room as she wants. Everyone is welcome to make whatever she would like — or nothing. Each year, the organizers also encourage each participant to try her hand at one particular piece.
This year’s suggested piece was a small, nondescript gray drawstring bag. We were encouraged to decorate it in any way we wanted and create a prayer bag, to place names or issues of prayer. Sometimes, I’ve resisted the annual project and preferred to do my own thing. This year, I decided to dive into the project with my whole heart and do my best to create something beautiful.
I have an inexplicable love for buttons, and the Art Room had several cigar boxes full of buttons. I decided to see if I could find enough buttons of enough colors to create a graduated spectrum to cover the soon-to-be prayer bag.
Roy G Biv is my friend. I started looking for red buttons, worked my way to orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Having the time and space to sit and pick up button after button to find just the right shade was a thing of beauty, in and of itself. Sitting there surrounded by gracious women, who took as much joy in my buttons as I did (or at least seemed to) and eager to help me find another orange or green button, was also a joy.
Once I had all my buttons selected and carefully in place on my bag, I picked it up and slid them off into a pile. The women around me were crestfallen. They couldn’t believe I had abandoned the project. I explained that the buttons had to come off for me to begin the process of sewing each one on. Several of them looked at me in disbelief.
“You’re going to sew all of those buttons on?” one asked.
“Aren’t you going to hot glue them in place?” asked another.
And there was a chorus of consent for this idea.
Certainly, hot gluing 142 buttons in place makes for a more efficient idea, but one yielding results that aren’t nearly as elegant. Plus, I’ve metaphorically hot glued a whole lot in my life. I’ve avoided the tedium of doing the same task over and over, in favor of efficiency.
I’m not trying to reinvent who I am. However, I am trying to create a better version of myself. For a variety of reasons, I decided that committing myself to a mass button sewing project was one way to reinforce the new discipline I’m trying to cultivate in myself.
Certainly, I couldn’t have found a more encouraging environment to do so. With every button I sewed, graduating from one color of the rainbow to the next, women would share their admiration for my simple little project. Once I finished the yellow buttons and started on the green band, I was sitting at a table with two other women. I said, “Ladies, I really need a few more green buttons.”
One of them looked up and said, “Well, I’ve got a bag full of buttons in the trunk of my car, sorted by color.”
“Now you tell me!” I exclaimed as she and I made our way to her car. The first basket of buttons I pulled was full of green buttons. My friend was happy to share.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
Just as the weekend was ending, I sewed on my last violet button, and my button rainbow was complete. The process of this simple project provided immense satisfaction, and what better metaphor to adorn a prayer bag than a rainbow?

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Refuge of last resort

Before my most recent visit to the Superdome amidst One Direction 12-year-old girl teenybopper hullabaloo, the last time I had been there was in the days after Katrina.
Three days after the weary mass of humanity moved out of the Superdome, their refuge of last resort, I was in New Orleans reporting on the deserted city. On that day, the city was a ghost town, and the stinky, broke-down Superdome felt like the ghosts had come to stay.
It wasn’t totally surrounded by water, but the water was still standing on its French Quarter side. With special permission we gave ourselves, we drove right up one of its ramps and met a few others on an external elevated walkway. The stench was overwhelming.
Soldiers were patrolling the massive perimeter. They walked in groups of three, carrying big guns. Like the hands of a clock, they made their way round and round the scarred face of the Superdome. One of the soldier trios had a very distinguishing addition.
A little dog, probably a schnauzer, was marching alongside the soldier in the middle. In a landscape so devoid of life and joy, that little dog was the most startling thing I saw that day.
He was perky. He pranced like a little dog that had been loved so much that he had no real sense of his place in this world.
He alone was hopeful.
I couldn’t help but smile each time that dog and his soldiers marched past. For a week, along with so many others, I had taken in more gruesome stories, sights and haggard faces than I could absorb. Each time the little dog paraded past, for a few seconds, I was able to forget the horrors so many had endured.
Our scraggly group of journalists and aid workers stood conversing, most of us bordering on shellshock. When the soldiers rounded the Dome again, I walked away from our group to speak with them.
They were just back from Iraq and also in a near state of shock. They couldn’t believe they had come home from a war zone and were dealing with a disaster the scale of Katrina.
I asked about the dog.
One soldier said the little dog wouldn’t leave his side. We agreed that the pup had been loved fiercely. We stood in silence, looking at the dog, carefully avoiding any discussion of the awful scene that surely occurred when its human was forced to leave the dog behind at the Superdome.
We all knew someone somewhere was lamenting that dog.
With the soldier’s blessing, I decided to bring the dog home to my daughters. I walked back to the group I was traveling with and told them what I was going to do. One of the people with me, who had spent more time in the Superdome than anyone should have, told me that in good conscience he just couldn’t recommend my taking that dog back to my family. He was worried that the dog might be carrying something that could harm the health of my kids. I understood his concern and wasn’t driving the car. I caved without a fight.
Against my better judgment, I walked away from that puppy. He was blissfully unaware of the direction his life almost took and kept prancing right along with his favorite soldier.
There are so many scenes from Katrina that haunt me still:
There’s the lady I greeted as she got off a bus at the Cajundome. Her face was burned badly, but she didn’t have a clue how it had gotten burned. She had spent three days in her attic and finally busted through her roof. In the chaos, she lost her glasses.
There was another woman at the Cajundome, who had given birth in New Orleans the day Katrina hit. When the hospital was evacuated, the administration failed to tell her where they were taking her baby. With the help of others, we finally found him. She had been looking for three days.
And there were the horrors I’d rather not describe that I saw along Airline Highway as I rode in a boat through Holly Grove with a stranger holding a gun in the air.
Of all the Katrina memories I have, that little dog is the easiest to remember and smile. Through the nine years since, that little dog’s hope has stayed with me. I believe someone rescued him and regret that someone wasn’t me. The remorse I feel about not rescuing him stays with me.
I will never reconcile that regret, and anyone who lived through or witnessed Katrina knows that regret is about a lot more than a dog. My inability to save that puppy is a scratch in the surface of the ways we, as a society, failed.
Every time I see the Superdome, my regret, wrapped up in the package of that dog, catches my heart.
After experiencing 60,000-plus screaming fans inside the Dome hanging on Harry and the rest of his One Direction friends’ every note, Piper, my 12-year-old daughter has a whole different set of feelings related to the Superdome.
As a mother, I pray that all of her and her generation’s Superdomes be filled with music, and may they never regret tiny dogs they were unable to rescue.

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Fangirling

IMG_7429 IMG_7432 I said I wouldn’t do again, but I did.

Thursday afternoon, my husband, 12-year-old daughter, one of her friends and I loaded up the car and drove to New Orleans to see a concert at the Superdome. Years ago, an adventure with a pre-twerking Miley Cyrus at the Cajundome had forced me to proclaim, “No more concerts.” Then there was Taylor Swift. And again, I said, “Never again.”

I kept my word until last week. Going to a One Direction concert at the Superdome is not for the faint of heart, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. My husband, on the other hand, is a man of mercy and was always planning on taking the girls. I’ll confess that I toyed with the notion of selling my ticket. Finally, one of my friends shamed me when she said sending my husband on his own to the Superdome with a crowd of 50,000 mostly screaming pre-teens was grounds for divorce, in her book. Plus, I realized that this could be the last time one of my girls wants to take a trip like this with parents in tow.

A band called Five Seconds of Summer opened for One Direction. Our seats were one section down from the nosebleed, and I knew from the start that this event was not going to be a stroke of acoustical genius. If you didn’t know the words by heart (and fortunately, most everyone there did), you had no shot at understanding what anyone was singing or saying. For the record, the sound of tens of thousand girls screaming does something horrible to one’s auditory system. Fortunately, I brought earplugs, in a lovely shade of purple.

Once the openers finished, we sat for a solid 90 minutes waiting for One Direction. They played dance music like “Put a ring on it” and “Summer Loving” from Grease during the waiting period. Our daughter and her friend danced the whole time. Conversing with anyone was impossible. So I played a word game. My husband and I wrote each other an occasional note.

Finally, the moment arrived, and the five-boy band hit the stage and runway. You’ll be pleased to know that, according to Zane, Harry and Liam, we were their loudest crowd ever. After the concert, my daughter mentioned this thrice with great pride. When it occurred to her that they might say this to every crowd, she didn’t wilt at all, convinced in the honest ways of the boys with long hair. For one of the early songs, the stadium went dark, and thousands of points of light lit up the space like the Milky Way over the ocean. My husband leaned over and yelled, “Back in the day, we did this with lighters. Now, they do it with cell phones. I’m uncertain which habit is worse.”

Other than that, the only spoken sentence that I understood for certain happened during a fluke of sound waves clarity. One of the band members yelled, “This place is absolutely epic.”

In case you’re not in the know about One Direction, they’re mostly from England, with an Irish dude thrown in for good measure. They’re all beautiful boys, and they sing well too. Their lyrics are largely uplifting: “Don’t forget where you belong.” “Don’t let up.” “Live while we’re young.”

When they started playing the song that goes, “You don’t know you’re beautiful — and that’s what makes you beautiful,” the 20-something beside me, whom I didn’t know and hadn’t spoken to (because speaking was impossible), handed me her phone and motioned for me to video the performance. She wanted to dance. So I did. I even cut from the stage to her and her friend dancing – hoping they could see that, in fact, they are rather beautiful.

Truth be told, had it not been for the terrible sound quality, the screaming and the grown woman in front of me who was sporting a sequined bow the size of a young t-rex, going to see One Direction was an enjoyable evening. Even still, I’m thinking One Direction, live and in person, was a once in a lifetime deal.

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Translating wisdom gained too late

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 12.12.24 PM

More than 30 years ago, a group of church ladies invited my best friend to speak about her experience as a summer missionary abroad to their women’s prayer group. The ladies lived about 30 miles from where my friend and I were in school. She invited me to join her that evening — and I did.
For some reason, the lady who introduced my friend to the group began talking about soap. For reasons lost to time, this woman was on a personal mission to educate others, starting with her prayer group, to the dreadfulness and terrors soap causes the human body. Instead, she was a fan of a particular soap-less cleanser. I had never heard such and was fascinated.
This soap-hater also happened to be a new mother. At one point in her tirade against soap, she mentioned her infant baby boy, and said, “And soap will never touch my son’s body.” (For the record, I believe she was also a new distributor of a cleanser that contained no soap.)
My friend and I were college-aged girls, the youngest in the room. No one else seemed to think this woman was off her rocker in the least, but my friend and I didn’t dare make eye contact. We knew we would lose it if we did. Throughout our drive back that night, we said repeatedly in as dramatic tones as possible, “Soap will never touch my son’s body.”
We still say it to this day, in fact, — and have wondered through the years just how many times soap has touched her son’s body.
I share that story because I have a confession. While it wasn’t about soap, I became that kind of woman for a few years about my first child’s education.
I will own it. I was a crazy person. Much like the soap-abhorring lady who introduced my friend years ago, I thought every decision I made about my child mattered so much. I guess no one can tell women like that, “Hey, cool it. Your son will use soap one day — and he will be OK.” Or “Hey, cool it. Your daughter will not be prepared for her SATs by the time she’s 11 — and she will be OK.”
A young parent I know and love recently agonized over the decision of where to send his three-year-old son to school. He mentioned one option that met the family’s every need, but the school used the same curriculum for both three and four-year-olds. He was concerned about how bored his son would be when he was four.
I heard my years-ago self in his words and voice. I knew I would have had the same concerns. I would have moved heaven and earth for my child to be in what I perceived as the best educational option. I also knew I probably wouldn’t have listened to someone who tried to tell me otherwise.
Intellectually, surely I knew back then that children being in loving, supportive educational environments is just as, if not more, important that the educational latest bells and whistles. Additionally, surely I knew that what happens at home, including reading, play and conversation, makes an even bigger difference than what happens a couple of mornings a week at pre-school.
Even though I knew it, I was chasing something back then, thinking I had to get every aspect just right. In retrospect, I wish I would have chilled out more — and I wish I could share my now realization to lessen the stress of other parents going through similar situations now.
On the other hand, perchance the gift of past-tense awareness is about something bigger. Maybe it’s not about realizing something too late or sharing wisdom with anyone else.
Perhaps it’s an opportunity to use the wisdom gained too late for one situation just in time for another.

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Three Dog Night gets it right

One of the twins who lived in the room next to me my freshman year in college posted a link to Three Dog’s Night Joy to the World on Facebook Thursday. I’m not sure why she did but hearing that song again started a journey.

Back about the time that song came out, Dayna, the girl who lived next door to my grandmother, was three years older than me. She knew all the words. Her older sister may have even had the album. I could tell the words Dayna was singing were cool and, therefore, necessary to learn. So I did.

Any song that starts with the words, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” has got to be a winner. Once the verses and chorus words were in my head and our debate settled over whether or not it was appropriate for me to sing “straight shooting son of a gun,” I have a disconcerting memory of obnoxiously singing said song most everywhere I went for about a year and a half. The lyrics seemed kind of churchy, so I felt like no one around me would mind too much. I belted out, “If I was the king of the world, I’d tell you what I’d do,” and then whispered the next line about throwing “away the cars, and the bars and the wars and I’d make sweet love to you.” I thought in very general terms back then — and knew I had no business singing about bars.

When I watched the video last week, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face remembering the first day I knew those words and ran through Dayna’s backyard singing it to the top of my lungs. I was unsure if it was the first or second pop song I learned by heart. The other being, “Let it Be,” by the Beatles, which my second grade class learned in Mr. McClung’s weekly music lesson around the same time.

Mr. McClung was the local Methodist music minister who taught school music classes a couple days a week. For 1971, in a small town in Mississippi, I now realize that Mr. McClung was rather progressive. At that point, I didn’t give much thought to what he was. He was the teacher and a preacher, of sorts, and that was that. We learned “Let it Be” in class and eventually performed it for the majority of the school and town. I could take you to the exact spot on the stage where I stood when we sang, because as we sang, my 7-year-old self recognized the sounds of my classmates’ voices as being something beautiful. That moment was probably the first spiritual experience I had ever had.

After Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World made me smile this morning. I decided to post my friend’s link to it on my Facebook page and tag three of my second-grade classmates to see if they remembered our long-ago performance of “Let it Be”. Brian Kaskie, now a Catholic priest, was the first to respond. He remembered our performance and Mr. McClung’s introduction of it and its lyrics to our class. Brian says Mr. McClung asked if there were any Catholics in the class. So, he raised his hand, and Mr. McClung then asked if Brian would explain the significance of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith. He wishes he remembered what he said.

Then our friend and classmate, Eric Chancellor, now a pilot wrote, “I remember Mr. McClung. I remember the song. I don’t remember you running and singing. But I can picture it. Something very funny I remember is you, Jan, asking if you could have a bite of Felix Garcia’s Baby Ruth bar, slobbering on it, then him not taking it back. Great way to get a candy bar!”

Thankfully, I don’t remember slobbering over Felix’s Baby Ruth bar and am mortified at the thought. I asked Felix to send his address. When the weather cools, I’d like to repay him a long overdue candy bar. Felix responded with, “Can’t say I remember this incident, but then, the mind has a way of protecting itself from terrible memories. That, plus sometimes disease.” Which is exactly what I was thinking.

Eric’s troubling, but good-natured memory made me wonder what else I did through the years that I couldn’t recall but needed to make amends for. Brian chimed in with, “I’m sure we all have plenty to answer for from our youth! And think about our sins of omission, when we could have done something good and did not!”

We can never repay it all, can we? Whether it’s Baby Ruths from long ago or on a much grander scale, what can we do now? Maybe Three Dog Night provides the answer. Joy to the world. All the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me.

Indeed, we need to live as open as possible — with joyful abandon, taking every opportunity to share happiness, taking care of each other and the world around us.

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Ghostman on first

kickball

Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I am immediately transported to another time and place. Music has done that to me for as long as I remember. But the other day something happened that occurs much less frequently. I heard someone say a single word and I had the same sensation. At the sound of that word, I was a nine-year-old, running bases in my grandmother’s side yard.
The word was “ghostman.”
Unlike the current soccer hoopla the World Cup frenzy has caused, the primary game neighborhood kids and I used to play that involved kicking a ball was kickball.
Friends along the East Coast tell me kickball is cool again. I say, “Again,” like it was actually cool at some point in the past, which may or may not be true. Even so, we played it throughout childhood. Kickball was the game of last resort.
It was, and I presume still is, a flexible game. The bases work — even when they’re haphazardly placed, close together or far apart. The only equipment you really need is a ball. The details of the ball are negotiable.
Do kids today make do when playing outdoor games? Do they even play kickball? Do they know the magic the word ghostman conjures?
The other excellent thing about kickball of yore was that the game could accommodate however many people we had. If we had 15 people, that was great — one team had seven and the other eight. More often, we had fewer players, but we could make that work too.
In fact, many times, I played kickball as a team of one against my childhood friend Dayna — and those are the memories the word ghostman brought to the surface.
When playing with minimal teammates, kickball required certain adaptations, and ghostmen or ghost runners played critical roles in our game. Granted, ghostmen were a heck of a lot better at offence than defense, which meant that winning the toss was critical in a game of one-on-one kickball. With the help of a ghostman or two (or even three, if you played your cards right) the top half of the first inning could last longer than back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island.
For the uninitiated, here are the brass tacks of ghostmen: your first player kicks the ball and runs toward first. If the runner makes it safely and it’s time for the next kicker, the runner on the most advanced base has to yell, “Ghostman on first (or second or third).”
Once that critical sentence was yelled and acknowledged by the other team — then and only then, the player would leave the base (leaving base without the yelling and acknowledgement could result in being tagged out) and go back to home to kick again. With the new kicker in place, the process would repeat. The defense had the opportunity to get either the next runner out at first or a force out for the ghostman at another base. For the record, ghostmen run at the same pace as the real runner. The defensive player simply has to get to base before the real runner makes it to first. If the runner and ghostman both make it to base safely and no one runs home, then a runner has to repeat the process.
Ghostman memories made me wistful. Just the word reminded me of a time when everyone around me knew, respected and operated within the rules. Ghostmen required a degree of honor I miss. They also reminded me of everyone being willing to make a situation work for one and all, regardless of what we had or what we didn’t. And finally, I dream of the days when I could leave my ghostman safe on first, assured he will continue the job. Then I jog back home and start on the next task, knowing ghostman was on my team and would work just as hard as I did.
Go, ghostman, go.

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Keep calm and keep on reading

Greer reading on stairsResenting the go-go pace of life does no one any good unless they take action. Through the years, I’ve found a successful combination to a respite from a world that’s going too fast.
First, I start really evaluating the invitations that come my way and say no to a lot more of them. Secondly, I start reading more. Specifically, I try to read at least one book every two weeks. That may be too much reading for some, but the act of reading, in and of itself, forces stillness — regardless of your goal.
In the spirit of inspiring some of you to find a healthier pace of life and do something good for your brain, I’ve put together a list of recommended summer reading.
I polled fellow readers with the question, “If you had to recommend one book that people should read this summer, which one would it be and why?” They reminded me of some great choices to share.
Finding the right book to read can be tricky — especially when you’re recommending for those who don’t read often. The stakes are high stakes. I’ve put two weeks of thought into the following list and hope it helps you to find the right book for you. Finding the right book for others is not a one-size fits all proposition. I’ve evaluated various recommendations and taken the liberty to advise which books might be best for different groups of readers. The best case scenario is that you’ll find more than one that’s right for you.

If you want to feel more connected to the younger crowd and need a lesson in recognizing joy, love and beauty, read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

If you’re needing a bit of adventure in your life and are looking for encouragement in the face of defeat, read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

If you’re looking for a manly read, read Lonesome Dove (women like it too, but men tend to love it). The tale is funny and the characters resonate, because, as my friend Matt Jones says, “all of them, in one form or another, live within you.”

If you prefer non-fiction and you’re interested in gaining insight into our nation’s current immigration struggle, read The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands by Margaret Regan.

If, for whatever reasons, you can’t take a trip this summer and you really want to, read one of the following: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Hawaii or Poland by James Michener or Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Those four books are great summer reads. With intensely wonderful storytelling, each of the lengthy books has the ability to transport you to a different time and place.

If you work at any level in the medical field — or you like non-fiction and are interested in learning about a collision of cultures, read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.

If you’re a fan of Latin American literature or are interested in reading contemporary classics, try One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Nobel Prize winner.

Read Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (and I can’t fully explain my reasoning here, but here goes) if you’re going through a tumultuous time. Maybe it’s because I read the book when I was going through a turbulent time and there was something, in the chaos of the story, that I found comforting and stabilizing.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is an old favorite. If you missed it somewhere along the way or remember enjoying reading it decades ago, it’s worth a re-visit, especially if you’re interested in understanding more about the Chinese culture.

If you’re just looking for a good old-fashioned love story that is beautiful and unstressful to read, try Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

If you’ve read every book on this list and still need a recommendation and like a good “who done it?”, read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. Rowling published the book under a pen name presumably to see how it would do without the force of Harry Potter behind it. With great pacing and character development, the book (which targets adult readers) is a wonderful read. Expect Rowling’s primary sleuth Cormoran Strike to become a force on his own — no wizardry required.

Happy summer and happy reading. Slow down and enjoy it!

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Long Story Short