reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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better. [two artists tuesday]

if you are wondering which type of heater is warmer – the standing-propane or the pyramid-propane – we would have to answer specific to one experience where we were surrounded by both. though i don’t believe the standing-propane was functioning 100%, the pyramid-propane on our end of the table seemed much warmer. nevertheless, we would likely purchase the more highly-rated standing propane. i guess. visually, this pyramid is kind of like watching a fireplace, so there is that to consider as well.

the windchill dropped to about 17 degrees in the courtyard, yet, there we sat, with big blankets and glasses of wine, between the two heaters. we weren’t the only al fresco table in the outdoor space of this restaurant just north of chicago. another table of patrons was also doing the safe-thing and had gathered outside to dine together post-holiday.

we were there with our son and that in itself kept me warm. it was time to celebrate and we had bags of gifts for him to open. i cannot tell you – though i suspect i needn’t try as this is a universal feeling – what it felt like to hug him when he walked through the back door to join us. it had been kind of a long while and i was kind of giddy. wine and soup and good food, even dessert, and hours later we parted. glenn – the maître d’ – held his hand over his heart on our way out; i did the same. these times. “strange times call for strange measures,” i texted a friend. we three laughed together at the-table-in-the-snow-shoveled-courtyard about how indeed strange. and i was inordinately grateful.

these strange times continue and continue, it seems. here we are – rapidly approaching two years of this pandemic affecting our behaviors, our actions, our plans, our health, our travel, our work, our safety and security, our relationships, our out-and-aboutness-in-the-world. we have been vaccinated and vaccinated and boosted. we have worn masks – better and better and better ones – everywhere, even when barely anyone else has. we have distanced and isolated and avoided crowds. we have gone through a lot of hand sanitizer.

and yet.

as the new variant explodes around the world, we watch various stories play out. the tennis player – a gigantic role model – who refuses to get vaccinated, expects to play in the international arena, receives an exemption from a locale but not from the country of australia – has a hissy fit. i suppose i wonder why he, a breather-of-breath-in-and-out-the-same-way-you-or-i-breathe, feels he is above doing what-is-best-for-the-world. for that matter, i wonder why anyone feels that way. truly. a moot point at this juncture. it is two years – years – now.

in the meanwhile, we do the best we can. we are missing a lot. we know that. there is a precious great-nephew i have not yet met. there are indoor/in-the-car/in-restaurants/at-our-home/at-their-homes/up-close-and-personal moments we are not sharing with others we love, with others who make our personal world what it is. most of our spare time has been outside or alone. we wonder how and when this will change.

i write “better” on our flying wish paper, crumple it up, uncrumple the crumpled, shape it into a cylinder and light it. the wish for “better” flies off to come true, tiny bits of ash floating.

*****

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be a duck. [merely-a-thought monday]

“mama said there’ll be days like this; there’ll be days like this mama said.” (“mama said”, the shirelles, written by luther dixon and willie denson, 1961)

there are days in which i remind myself, time and again, over and over and over, blah-de-blah-de-blah, as i learned years ago from a cheery 95 year-old woman on an interview, to not take anything personally. this requires evolving. big evolving.

it does not come naturally to me to not take things personally. it is waaaay over on the other side of the taking-things spectrum from where i am. but, i am inching my way, crawling, scraping, babystepping my way in that general direction. ever-evolving, i intend to get there. some.day.

i suspect that, on the day that i arrive, i will find a light heart, laughter always at the ready, dancing feet, unconditional forgiveness of self and others, grace for mistakes or choices made, full nights’ sleeps, anticipation of continued bliss in the land of not-taking-it-personally. umbrage will fall like rain on duck’s feathers and the seesaw will stay level, a fulcrum of balance.

for, as any perusal through social media will remind us, we are not walking in shoes other than our own. memes as prodding cover photos or profile pictures or insta’d wisdombits or tweeted tweets, we are reminded “you never know what someone is going through. be kind. always.” yup.yup.

we each have access to the wisdom of the greatest wise ones. and we each forget. every. single. day. we don’t always think about how our words or actions will arrive on the heart of others, particularly in the moments of delivery, particularly the things that are … heartless. conversely, it, then, is likely that others, in the moments of delivery, were not thinking about how their words or actions would arrive on our hearts. we also know that it is not likely that someone else is laying awake in the middle of the dark night thinking about what they said or did, their words or lack of words. some people are better at letting things sliiiide off. me? i’m still evolving.

in a slew of bitterly cold temperatures, we passed a frozen pond the other day. there were many ducks on it and i wondered aloud if their tiny butts were frozen to the lake. in my best duck voice i implored passersby to “help us, help us. our tiny butts are frozen and we can’t get up!”. but, in my moment of intended comedy, i did not know some important things about ducks: “waterfowl possess remarkable adaptations to survive in cold weather, including dense layers of insulating feathers, counter-current blood flow to reduce heat loss through their feet and legs, behavioral modifications to reduce exposure to the elements, the ability to carry large fat reserves, and perhaps the greatest adaptation of all- migration.” (ducks.org)

“be a duck,” i said to him the other day. sometimes it is necessary. let it all roll off your feathers.

a little research had given me a tiny bit more knowledge: wear more layers. don better boots. reduce exposure to potential yucky stuff. eat and drink merrily without minding the mirror too much. and, if all else fails, move on. be a duck.

mama was right. there are days. ouch.

love oneself enough to be ever-evolving. ever and ever and ever.

ducks know this stuff.

*****

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pointed at wonder. [merely-a-thought monday]

my yashica fx-2 35mm camera went everywhere with me. a prized possession i had gotten for my high school graduation, it opened my vision of the world, the things i looked at. in the days of film and negatives and developing, i was an enthusiastic participant, eating boxes of cornflakes so that i could develop the next roll and the next.

i passed through the minolta auto-exposure-auto-focus phase when my children were young. it was easier to grab the camera and snap a picture of them doing something amazing or indescribably adorable with the auto-camera.

then came the sony tiny-cameras you could slide into your pocket, also easy and accessible. that camera and the minolta and my treasured yashica are still around here somewhere, lenses for the 35mm in a hard-shell briefcase my dad designed with foam fitting around the wide-angle and telephoto choices.

in these days i carry my phone. it is the height of easy and always right there, ready to record a moment. in recent years, i have rediscovered the utter joy of taking photographs, of recording the sun glimmering on dogdog’s fur, of capturing the blossom as it wanes and the curl of the wave and the way the mountains look in a dark sky. a camera pointed at wonder.

“come forth into the light of things. let nature be your teacher.” (william wordsworth – from today’s daily wonder app)

i haven’t opened the “daily wonder” app in a while. i discovered it when we chose and featured the movie “wonder” on island. a single snippet of thought for your day, it is a tiny gift i had forgotten about, often reminding you of the wonder of simply being here.

we carry the not-so-wondrous around in heavy baggage, somewhat unwilling to part with it, feeling as if it somehow defines us. how buoyant we might be without it, how resilient. letting go might yield a smidge of wonder.

one evening, watching “life below zero” one of the intrepid alaskans said, “bring the wonder back in life” and i grabbed my phone to jot it down. as we travel to his memorial service to honor columbus’ life and his earnest grasp on happy-living, intentionally marveling, i know he would immediately agree with the person who said that.

undoubtedly, he would laugh a little and add that the wonder was always there.

*****

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agnes, mom, dad and dogdog. [d.r. thursday]

“whenever i feel afraid i hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect i’m afraid.” the tune from the king and i has gone through my head more than once in my life. the feel-good song you carry with you can make a difference (this is directed to our jaded babycat).

we have watched national geographic’s life below zero for a few years now. it’s not hard to develop “relationship” with the people on the show, especially now, in times of pandemic when you see few others. the hailstone family is based in noorvik, alaska. it’s brutally cold, removed and not an easy place to live. agnes hailstone, the 40-something matriarch, has a can-do attitude. the striking thing about this family is their positivity. what they are like off-screen is of question, but on-screen they are encouraging, supportive of each other, never undercut what the other is doing, and always have a more positive zeal than i ever could muster out on the negative-temperatured tundra in dim light and a freezing-wind stormy day on a snowmobile going 40mph for miles and miles across a frozen lake in search of a fish or maybe two from a tiny augured ice hole. “you can do things happy or sad or mad,” agnes said on a recent show, “but it’s best to just do things happy.” she adapts to new challenges, weird-stuff-that-happens, and seasonally-repeating obstacles as they arise and has passed her can-do-ness on to her children, her grandchildren, her spouse. she doesn’t give up. she is pretty heroic in my book. she must have bobby mcferrin humming in her head, “don’t worry. be happy.”

it’s impossible to not dance when you hear black eyed peas’ “i gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night”. it’s not likely you can resist with james brown’s “i feel good” or john denver’s “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happeeee.” it’s without question that “here comes the sun, dootin doo doo” easily elicits you singing along the famous line “and i say, it’s all right!”

but what about in the quiet? what about when all is silent, when all lyrics have slipped from your ready grasp, when you can’t think of a song to save your life, as the expression goes? then what? what do you draw from?

i suppose that’s the reason my sweet momma started the day by saying “good morning, merry sunshine.” or why my sweet dad would look at things that were challenging and simply say, “well, how do you like them apples?” after living lives full of challenge and the roller coaster of emotional heave-hoes, they chose to greet the world in each of their experiences with positivity. hearing my dad’s whistling told me everything i needed to know – they were ok in the world, no matter what. they chose it.

agnes hailstone and my mom and dad would like each other. and dogdog. dogdog too.

*****

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the reins. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

my nine-year-old hands held the reins loosely. i was riding lucky, a big bay horse at the stable. it was the day we would take our horses out on the trail. i had hoped to ride mardigras, a stunning black horse with a white star tucked under its forelock. but lucky it was.

we rode out of the paddock and turned uphill toward the woods. nose-tail-nose-tail-nose-tail we rode silently, leather saddles squeaking under our tiny bodies. into the woods, our instructor let us separate out a bit, a little less interstate-traffic-jam-like, and we could each breathe a bit, enjoying the freedom of no fencing with our horses. lucky tossed his head and i bent down from my english riding posture to hug on his neck, running my hands under his mane. it was a beautiful day and i could think of nothing better to hold in my hands than the reins of a horse.

eventually we turned back toward the barn.

and in that moment, lucky pulled hard. the reins i had draped around my hands, thumbs properly placed, were wrenched from me. and lucky ran.

no one had told me ahead of time that lucky really loved the return trip to the barn. no one had mentioned that lucky, when turned downhill, would likely take his head, would likely run. no one had suggested that i pay closer attention to the reins when we were back-to-the-barn-bound.

i had never galloped before, but i was treated to lucky’s fastest gait going downhill. holding on with my knees as hard as i could i wished there was a western pommel i could grasp. i was at the mercy of this horse and he was having no mercy.

the barn came into view and lucky screeched to a stop. in the fluid move of a great white lipizzan, lucky reared up onto his hind legs and threw me to the ground. a defining moment indeed, hitting the ground. lucky, dragging his reins behind him, swaggered to the feed trough next to the barn and began to eat.

my instructor was soon at my side. she stood me up, checked me over, gave me a hug and walked me to another horse, giving me a quick peptalk on the way. she held out her hands linked together, gently but firmly asked me to place my foot into her shoe-up and immediately got me on another horse. overcome it.

and that brings me to today, a day i wish i could sit astride a horse and ride off into the woods.

nevertheless, i remember the words of sue aikens, “this will define me or i will overcome it,” and i, horse or no horse, take the reins in the middle of no-mercy and firmly hold them in my hands.

*****

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tear down, build up. [merely-a-thought monday]

nature of life box

the seasons pass.  we lurch from lush to barren.  we see the fire season lengthening, the arctic ice shelf shrinking, the oceans warming, the atmosphere more potentially lethal.  we see the lack of a bipartisan country, divisiveness poisoning our communities, self-serving rule over a democracy based on equity and compassion.  we are stymied by what we can do, what we can accomplish as individuals and we speak up, at the ready to be buoyed by support or torn down by scorn.  we have traversed the spectrum of built up and trampled.

i hope this season will pass.  that the tearing down will yield a new harvest.  that we will pay attention to our good earth and its physical struggles.  that we will cross the aisle and reach out.  that each of us will count, no matter our ANYthing.  that sensitivity and humanity and fairness will lead our actions.  that we will be kind.  that we will build up.  that this now barren-in-so-many-ways-land will again be lush.  with promise.  for everyone.

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plan ahead. [merely-a-thought monday]

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my poppo would probably have liked chip hailstone.  an as-long-as-i-can-remember subscriber of national geographic, i imagine he would have liked the show ‘life below zero’.  he was good at solving problems, figuring things out, making stuff out of nothing.  his words of wisdom were simple.  “plan ahead,” he would say.   he was a card-holding-club-member-regular-reader of the handyman magazine; he easily could have been a contributing writer.  he would have loved chip hailstone’s comment, “you can make a long piece of wood short, but you can’t make a short piece of wood long.”  ahyup.  it’s in the details.  plan ahead.

we were coffee-sitting around the kitchen table.  it was a late florida morning, years ago now, and coffee break time was an every-day thing.  my dad suddenly got up from his chair and left the room, using his “stick” to get to the bedroom and back.  he returned moments later and started to speak.  “i have something for you, brat,” he started.  “with these years on your own you have learned so much out of necessity.  it’s time for you to have this.  you have earned it.”  he handed me his handyman club membership card and said, “this is yours now.  i’m proud of you.”

it was big news to get this card from my poppo and i didn’t underestimate its import. it would not have made me more gratified to receive a grammy award.  his -my- membership card is in plain view in my studio, reminding me of my dad and his words to me.

we watch ‘life below zero’ episodes and there are simple wisdoms dancing throughout the show.  things i can hear my dad say in his brooklyn accent.  things you think, “well, duh, of course.”  the same things you realize after-the-fact that you should have thought about before-the-fact.  yup, poppo.  plan ahead.

poppo & handyman club

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it’s not a problem. [merely-a-thought monday]

it's not a problem correct aikens box copy

my poppo would likely have agreed with sue aikens.  he was a solution-finder.  i will, right-here-and-now, brag about his ability to fix absolutely anything; he would find a way, even if he had to make it up.  well, mostly because he made it up.

i’m not sure how he learned everything he learned; his knowledge base was incredibly practical.  give him any problem and it became a challenge for him – an undertaking he never-ever thought of as insurmountable…it was simply a solution he hadn’t yet found.  and so, i hear sue aikens (of national geographic’s life below zero fame – living a solitary life out on the arctic, solving problems i will likely never encounter) and i think of my dad, whose list of favorite places on earth included his workbench out in the garage (or in the basement in earlier years when they lived up north.)  he saved every screw and nut and bolt and tool that crossed his path “just in case”.   he was a re-purposer before it was vogue.  and he was an expert at turning cardboard boxes inside out or fashioning a new box from old in order to ship or store any thing.  his rube goldberg fixes were always pretty amusing, but they all worked and i can hear him in my head pondering and strategizing when i look at something-that-needs-fixing.  sue aikens would be proud.  her glass-half-full attitude is pretty amazing, considering the elements she deals with.  she’s pretty black and white about things; a lack of grey is something i can’t really relate to, but maybe that’s why she solves things more easily – she doesn’t get lost in any part of the emotional response to the problem.

i have to say, though, that i wish i could look at problems in the same positive way as sue.  yes, yes, yes, i know how much we all grow from problems and solving problems and blahblahblah.   it’s the stress of problems i’m talking about…the worry.  there was a prayer yesterday in the bulletin that said, “help us resist the reflex to worry constantly about every single detail of our lives…”  wow.  i double that.  mmm.  make that triple.  it is a reflex.  we know that the moments beyond problems will come.  more than likely we will be on the other side sometime soon, sitting in the middle of the solution and looking back,  shaking our heads at how befuddled and stressed we felt.  but in the meantime….

in the meantime, i would like a collection of some straight-up solutions for the problems that lurk…a (metaphoric) closet full of how-to-do-its or at least how-to-make-it-ups.  oh, and a better attitude about problems.  they are just solutions we haven’t found yet.

uh. yeah.  (eye roll)

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ice pops. [two artists tuesday]

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i know it comes as no surprise to you that we watch the national geographic show ‘life below zero’.  we’ve talked about it before and have even quoted snippets of wisdom from some of the show’s regulars.

in the next day or so it will drop to a “feels like” temperature of -52.  that’s negative fifty-two.  the “actual” temperatures won’t even reach the single digit negative numbers.  now, that’s cold!  and yet, each time the temperature is posted on the screen when we watch ‘life below zero’ it is usually some negative number (which doesn’t include the wind chill.)  then, whichever arctic resident they are following will proceed to go miles to hunt or gather or fish, walking or driving snow machines in bitter winds, dragging behind them sleds upon which they will place their findings.  i think we watch it because it is so far from our own lives.  we love the vistas and can’t really imagine the life.

the whole town was closed today; the school system, the colleges, the city offices.  and we haven’t even gotten to the life-below-zero temperatures yet.  at lunchtime we took a walk and the snow was amazing.  it was quiet and the lakefront was full of ice.  our sedum plants looked like the lemonade ice pops i used to make The Girl and The Boy with the tupperware do-it-yourself-ice-pop-set i’m saving for the possibility of grandchildren.  the snow is everywhere; there are enormous baby-sled piles on the sides of the roads.  icicles abound.  it’s beautiful.  it’s a vision of real old-fashioned winter, a calendar entry on one of those the-year-in-wisconsin calendars, postcard images of this time of hibernation.

and so, in deference to the scope of mother nature’s ability to stop us in our tracks, we plan to limit our outdoor exposure the next few days.  we look outside at all the snow that has already fallen and, expecting more, make sure we have enough basics in the fridge and the cupboards to last, in case we can’t get out.  our little scion rocks, but unplowed roads and extreme cold are not necessarily its gig.

maybe we’ll take a little time and watch some more ‘life below zero’.  by sheer comparison, we’ll realize how easy we have it.  oh! and hey, maybe we’ll make some ice pops.  or not.

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY

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the twain. [merely a thought monday]

lifebelowzeroquotesueaikens

i shudder when i hear the words “…and never the twain shall meet…”(rudyard kipling)  in my head when i read this.  but sue aikens’ words (on life below zero, she is a strong alaska-proof woman living in the arctic) were not a viewpoint on the polarization of our country.  they were merely the way she was describing the ropes she sets outside her buildings so that in the middle of fierce snowstorms she will be able to find her way, despite not being able to see in the swirling snow.

in life – intellectual, emotional, political life – however, there is a middle ground.  but it has become difficult in our current climate to sort to the middle, to not stand firmly on one side or the other of the great divide, a place that grows larger by the day, with an ever-brewing moat of hatred and vitriol, terrifyingly divisive to families, relationships, communities. there is danger on the far sides, danger in stubbornly and feverishly clinging to the left or the right, without considering ramifications, without any compassion, with an unbending dedication to absolutism, with no room or moment for thoughtful consideration, with breakneck righteous reactivity.

in sue aikens’ world, it will save her life to unconditionally sort left or sort right.  in ours, it may destroy us.

read DAVID’S thoughts on this MERELY A THOUGHT MONDAY

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