Spring rebirth offers ongoing gifts, life lessons

Day by Day
Spring rebirth offers ongoing gifts, life lessons
By LIZ THOMPSON
ThisWeekNews
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“Baby, it’s cold outside” is an appropriate phrase, whether sung with the familiar tune or spoken, from December till early spring in Ohio.

By now, and definitely by February, we are ready for sunshine and weather warm enough to step outside wearing only a light jacket. Of course, the joke goes, in central Ohio, if we wait 10 minutes the weather changes.

Squirrel and bird nests, which were once hidden in green foliage of spring and summer, are visible in winter-barren trees,

Nature always has fascinated and soothed me. One poem I wrote years ago called Winter Branches speaks to this topic. In part, it reads:

The branches of the winter tree, wave in the wind, alone and free, reaching up towards the sky, the foreground of sunsets, orange to the eye.

Each tiny branch can be easily seen, for the leaves of cover have fallen and died. The tree seems to have lost any real purpose, naked and cold and seemingly worthless.

But the sap is waiting for the warmth of the sun, to rush through the branches to bring life to what seems done. Then once again all the leaves will grow, and the tree will survive, as it has since long ago.

Regeneration in nature is a true miracle. Springtime teems with new life but in winter, I see hidden hope because I know the sap is running inside the trees and roots underground are waiting to sprout, showing new growth.

Several years ago, we had a sunflower, which we never planted, grow more than 6 feet tall in our garden. Thank you birds.

The next year, we had a long row of sunflowers looking for all their worth like a neatly planted garden of flowers. But we never planted any of them either.
They had multiplied themselves with the help of more of our feathered friends, dropping seed along their flight.

The next two years, not a single sunflower. Then they came back with a mighty force, giving me plenty of cutting to do so we could walk along the sidewalk.

I laughed when I bought a bag of wildflower seeds and saw sunflowers listed. When I planted those in another spot than our volunteer sunflowers, sunflowers did appear with different varieties I’d never seen.

Who knows what we’ll see come spring, but the anticipation is fun.
I was watching an episode of Growing a Greener World (growingagreenerworld.com) on WOSU (Columbus, Ohio) about this topic. A horticulturalist and propagator was showing how to generate new growth by starting new plants from cuttings. She said that plants’ and trees’ only missions are to propagate with a need to duplicate as a matter of survival.

She used the oak tree dropping “buckets full” of acorns to make new trees as an example. Our small but healthy oak tree did that very thing this year for the first time. Thankfully, squirrels collected them for us.

Most years, I save seeds from my zinnias and marigold flowers. The seeds from last year, once blooming, looked different this summer. In addition to growing taller than me, some of the zinnias were multiple colors, with colors, like pink, I’d never seen before. Some had large flowers while others were almost tiny but packed with vibrant color.

Then I learned that when seeds are saved and sown from hybrid plants, the plants grown from those seeds tend to revert to the original plants. A little confusing but the result was remarkable and lovely.

We are already planning our garden for this year. Seed catalogs will soon be here and as the snow blows and wind howls, we will map out what and where to plant. We’ll set up our mini-greenhouse in the basement and start tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. It makes the possibility of spring seem closer and expectations an ongoing gift.

The idea of regeneration gives the bleak winter, with hidden treasures waiting for spring sunshine to reveal new growth, more promise. Once the winter season is behind us, we are renewed and ready to get planting.

I think we need times to wait for fresh purpose to stir within us.

The branches of the winter tree set an example for you and me. When all purpose seems to be gone, we can remember the seemingly barren tree.

It knows that soon the spring will come and winter’s cold harshness will be done. We must persist, as the lonely tree, and wait for new life to set us free.Sunflowers

Advertisements

Holidays allow time to reflect, reexamine life

Holidays allow time to reflect, reexamine life
Liz Thompson
This Week News
December 4, 2014

What time is it? Our most natural reaction, when we hear this question, is to glance at our watch or clock.

In 2004, I worked in an elementary school in Arizona where students took turns each morning announcing the date, time, daily lunch menu and special events over the intercom from the principal’s office. One day, when the students looked at the clock on the wall, they couldn’t read the time so the principal told them.

The clock they could not read was analog; the “old fashioned” clock with “hands” most of us older than 30 used learning to read time.

Staff learned of this situation when the principal visited each classroom. When she saw all clocks were digital, analog clocks were ordered for the entire school.

The principal realized it’s a digital age, but she knew the importance of knowing how to read clocks both ways.

We use time to mark most things in our lives. The song, Turn! Turn! Turn! , written by Pete Seeger in the 1950s, during a relatively stable time in our country, was made popular in our more turbulent 1960s when recorded (on vinyl, not digital) by The Byrds. It’s all about the value of time. Based on the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 the lyrics tell us:

“To everything – turn, turn, turn, There is a season – turn, turn, turn, And a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die, A time to plant, a time to reap, A time to kill, a time to heal, A time to laugh, a time to weep.

A time to build up, a time to break down, A time to dance, a time to mourn, A time to cast away stones, A time to gather stones together.

A time of love, a time of hate, A time of war, a time of peace, A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

A time to gain, a time to lose, A time to rend, a time to sew, A time for love, a time for hate, A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late!”

Are you singing or humming along? I listened to it online and sang along, remembering and being amazed Bible verses were made popular in the mainstream music industry.

Last month began what advertisers call the countdown to Christmas, marking shopping days left. I prefer to dwell on the purpose we celebrate on December 25 which leads into the time for celebrating the end and start of another year gone by. Often we take this time to reflect and reexamine our lives, maybe making a resolution to stop something unhealthy and become more healthful-minded. The latter might happen as a result of indulging too much in the good food everywhere we turn, including our own kitchens, especially with the sweets we love during this time.

We might resolve to exercise more, lose that extra weight, volunteer, study harder, spend more time with family or friends and more.

Whatever we resolve, or not, it is a time to start fresh with a new year. We see depictions of Old Man Time with a flowing beard passing the New Year to a baby representing the new months ahead. He ages fast, eh?

When I look back at my 6-plus decades, I wish I had been more present in the moments and not always pushing for the future. I see our grandchildren growing taller, smarter, and more talented than us (thanks be to God), and hope they will learn from our experiences and be more aware of the everyday blessings surrounding them.

My 92-year old mother has the right idea. She says this year she is reversing her age making her a mere 29. She said she can do this every decade for the first four years meaning I’m only 36 this year. Ah, to have this experience and a more youthful physique. How often have you heard or said, “If I knew then what I know now…”

My wise mother comes in again to tell me that as we age we have more time to reflect yet time seems to move much faster. “When we’re young, we are raising families and working just trying to get it all done each day before collapsing into slumber (unless we have a sleepless baby).”

Whether you read digital or analog clocks matters not. It’s how you spend the time that counts.

 

 

Thanksgiving reminds us to let go, forgive

Day by day
Thanksgiving reminds us to let go, forgive
By LIZ THOMPSON
November 4, 2014
ThisWeekNews.com

When we think of slow baking, we might get our Crock-Pot ready for the sweet smells of cooking low and slow. The fragrance of soup, meats and even desserts will fill our home, if we are fortunate enough to have the pot and ingredients.

With Thanksgiving happening this month, we are thinking of what to cook and who to cook for. Many will give of themselves to serve meals at shelters or churches; giving back to their community for those less fortunate. God bless them all with clean motives of love abounding.

The word forbearance was used in my daily devotion recently and I checked the dictionary to make sure I had the right definition. Basically, it is a byproduct of love and means to have patience when provoked; being willing to put up with people’s actions and inactions — to let things go and to forgive.

No one says it’s easy but it is possible.

In the book Lee: The Last Years, by Charles Bracelen Flood, a story about Robert E. Lee illustrates my thoughts. After the end of the Civil War, Lee visited a woman in Kentucky who showed him the remains of what was once a grand, old tree. It had been destroyed by federal artillery fire.

Crying, the woman looked for Lee to condemn the Northerners or sympathize with her loss. His response: “Cut it down, dear Madam, and forget it.”

When I asked my friend Suzanne if she thought writing about forbearance while thinking of giving thanks this month, in particular, made sense, she didn’t hesitate. “Being able to forgive is one of the best gifts God has given us,” she said. “So yes, we need to be thankful about all things, including our learning to let things go.”

Lack of communication or poor communication can break down even the smallest family or corporation. Add to that a lack of patience and walls go up that create divisions that are hard to break down or through. Offenses are exaggerated to the point where we might even forget how it all began.

“A (fly’s) egg becomes as huge as ever was laid by an ostrich,” Charles Spurgeon said about offenses magnified out of proportion.

I’ve been there, done that — seen that. It takes someone saying something to break through that wall of conflict and wave a white flag; call it quits and start again.

On the lighter side, Erma Bombeck wrote with humor on living, through her years. Near the end of her life, she was asked what she would do differently if she had a chance to live her life again. Many famous quotes came from her answers: burning that fancy pink candle instead of letting it collect dust, not worrying about grass stains and playing with her children more, but the following quote relates to my writing today:

“There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”

We need to decide whether to let our annoyances slow bake or let them go. It’s hard to be thankful when our hearts and minds are busy being angry. And you might already know it takes more muscles to frown than to smile; not just the baring teeth smile but the true smile that reaches the eyes.

Smiling is only an indication of being open to forgiving, forgetting (at least not bringing up old hurts repeatedly) and being willing to “cut it down.”
This month, we think more about what we are thankful for because of the national holiday. It’s a good reminder to be thankful year-round.

I look at the birds at our feeder and realize how hard they must work for daily food and I become more thankful.

Physical things such as food, clothing and shelter are temporary and shifting.
The long-term, year-round list for me includes family, friends, memories, and acts of love and forgiveness I have experienced in my life. There isn’t paper enough to write it all down.

Jan Karon wrote in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.” Sounds right to me.

But check that Crock-Pot to make sure your food doesn’t burn. You likely have hungry people to feed.

Music unlocks many emotions

Day by day
Music unlocks many emotions
By LIZ THOMPSON
ThisWeekNews.com
Tuesday October 7, 2014

When I was invited to a hymn sing at an assisted living home, I asked, “What hymns are you singing?” and was thrilled with the answer.

The list included what I call old, familiar songs such as Amazing Grace, When We All Get to Heaven, Love Lifted Me and a childhood favorite, This Little Light of Mine.

I was also glad I would be sitting with the residents and not leading the singing. My singing voice went south in my mid-40s when I was almost deaf, a condition that happened gradually since childhood.

Music and singing was my fervent hobby, and I often led singing at such places while playing my guitar. I had missed it and realized this particular day that, in part, I had been missing the contact with people who love visitors and music.

After two successful cochlear implants, I had hoped for restoration of my ability to grasp music, but it didn’t quite happen as I hoped.

I can understand most vocalists’ words — if they actually enunciate and sing, not what appears to be screaming into a microphone — but new music melodies are like a foreign language and quite flat.

Am I sad about that? At first I was, but my restored ability to understand speech and sounds with clarity superseded any sadness. Going from deaf to understanding about 95 percent is nothing to sniff at and I’m thankful beyond measure.

Back to music.

To my joy, 40-plus years of music are stored in my brain, and heart I believe, as music memory. If I see the words and get the first note of a song, or have the music to read, I get it and can sing.

My voice is no longer one for performing but I don’t mind singing at home or in groups. When my grandchildren were small, nothing stopped me from singing to them as I know I was sung to by my mother and grandmothers.

I can still hear the beat so my foot taps, hands clap and my soul is soothed.

Remember the show Name That Tune? Often I knew the tunes in two to five notes. So you can understand my music memory is full of good songs such as hymns, music from the 1930s (thanks to my parents) through the early 1990s that includes folk songs, show tunes, camp songs, pop, big band, songs I composed and more.
It’s a true blessing and I’m glad my brain has a lot of good information stored for easy access when needed. I don’t even need to select an app to get at it. I only need to think of a song or hear a familiar tune.

After my recent column on memory, a reader, Dana, told me about a movie that was, at the time, showing at the Drexel Theatre called, Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory .

To my chagrin, I didn’t move fast enough to attend and it has moved on to another city. Looking on the website, musicandmemory.org, I learned that music has proven to reach people with Alzheimer’s.

Not a surprise. Many memories are locked inside all of us and we need something to turn the key. In the case of music, it often unlocks memories and emotions for me.

When at the hymn sing, a woman in her 90s held up her forefinger and waved it back and forth when we sang This Little Light of Mine. I joined her in the motion and smiled remembering doing that as a child and when I taught my children the song.

Music can bring tears to my eyes from the message or a melancholy memory often marking the passing of time in my life.

After my first implant, my audiologist told me about HOPE Notes. According to the program’s website, http://hope.cochlearamericas.com/listening-tools, it is a “program uniquely developed for cochlear implant and hearing aid users designed to help improve music perception and appreciation using original songs, traditional folk, blues and country styles and some familiar tunes played in unexpected ways.”

Using both visual and auditory cues, it reminded me of how I heard music, and it improved my ability to enjoy it more.

The man who developed the program is a musician with cochlear implants. So often, adversity brings a gift and he shared his gift with others in a similar situation.

Next time you sway to a familiar tune, “count your blessings, name them one by one …”

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

Day by day

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

By LIZ THOMPSON
Wednesday June 18, 2014

What page are you on?

I can tell how much I’m enjoying a book when I don’t want it to end. Slowing down only delays the inevitable; the last page, the final word. Next I’ll be searching for the sequel or another book by this author.

Some people struggle to read and find it hard to study and learn; it can be a real problem to overcome.

But I’m also talking about those who can read fine but don’t want the task. They stop and look to see how many pages they have to read, bemoaning the fact they aren’t close to being finished — wasting time being frustrated instead of enjoying the read. The end will come soon enough.

We do that same thing when we check our watch every few minutes or wish our days away, when we spend time worrying or wanting a bad day to end. We’d be better off by making the most of the moment.

Maybe it’s a human condition where we push forward, in essence, to simply get all the pages turned and the book finished.

As a teen, a reading test showed I was a fast reader, yet my comprehension lagged. Reading fast has served me well in some respects, but proved detrimental when typing what I was reading. By reading so fast, I often skipped entire lines. The same proved true when playing the piano while reading the music.

In time, I learned to pace myself for accuracy in typing and playing music. As a result, my comprehension improved and I enjoyed more what I was reading or playing.

Our personal life is a unique book, one I believe is written by God. Not one book, or life, is identical. That’s remarkable. We need to listen and watch thoughtfully as each page is turned, knowing the end will eventually happen.

In May, we were camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On our campsite, we had a screened room but we kept the front open during the day.

A yellow butterfly was darting frantically in this room, seeking an exit. I tried to help it out with my hands and hoped it would alight on my cane when upheld, to no avail. It was almost painful to watch as it hit the top and sides, coming so close to the exit and starting its mad path over again.

Finally, it escaped. We sighed with relief. Two days later it happened again, and I was able to use my hands to ease it to freedom. The flutter of its wings was both a thrill and a warning.

I found my heart rate was up after it flew away, and it reminded me how we sometimes spend a lot of time flying around seeking freedom, often refusing help. We see children acting much like the butterfly until they realize accepting help and guidance is good.

Life lessons are a gift.

I’m reminded of the final page analogy when someone dies and I attend the funeral, memorial service or wake. In April and May, I attended four such events, although in the same time frame six people I knew left this life: three friends, a brother-in-law, a neighbor who was also a friend, and the pastor who performed our wedding ceremony many years ago.

In retrospect, we think of these lives and their legacy.

I believe it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. That would be like saying all the best books, poems and the like have been written. Why should we try to write anything?

I refer to other writers who inspire me; I don’t stop writing, thinking it doesn’t measure up, although I often choose to toss writings or completely rework them.

So with our lives. We spend time reworking ourselves and tossing out the garbage, so to speak. That’s a good choice.

When I attend memorial services, I try not to compare my life to theirs but I take inspiration from them. Those who volunteered — I might support these causes. Those who had great humor — I might catch myself when I grumble. And those who were humble — I’m reminded to check my ego at the door.

The list goes on.

When I fail to do what is good and true, I look to change that, often thinking of those who were positive influences on me.

Life moves fast enough; no need to push ahead. Turn your life pages slowly and enjoy the read.

 

Kitchen aromas bring memories flooding back

Day by day

Kitchen aromas  bring memories  flooding back
by Liz Thompson
THISWEEKNEWS
Wednesday December 4, 2013

My childhood memories created a love of a lived-in kitchen. My Grandmother Page had a grand home called West Bank Farm on Alum Creek Drive in Columbus.

I loved the smell of her kitchen and the entire house. Even though it was, at one time, on a historical registry of some kind, it has long since met its demise. But the memories of the place are as easy to recall as closing my eyes.

The kitchen was the first room you walked into at this 15-room house. The aroma was a mix of years of canning foods from the garden, homemade applesauce, and her favorite gum; Dentyne. Cinnamon was clearly the winner.

The ceilings were tall and the wooden floors covered with worn Oriental rugs. I loved the sounds as well as the fragrance. It reminded me of stepping inside an old book with its musty smell and great stories to share. Many a night I still fall asleep walking through the house in my mind; seeing the winding staircase, the music room, large screened porch where I looked out at huge trees and wide open land that went on for acres.

Good memories all.

About 30 years ago, we were house hunting. I don’t know why, but when I looked at houses to buy, I always opened every kitchen cupboard and looked in every closet. What was I looking for? I’m still not sure.

We were looking at a house that was a little above our price range but we loved it. When I walked into the kitchen, I was met with a scent that was delicious, for lack of a better word.

As I opened the kitchen cupboard doors, I was met with one aroma after another. Spices. Coffee. Candles. Tea. I’m not sure what it was in total but my senses were in love with this house. There was more than scents we liked about it but today what I remember is that behind each door was a delight for me to enjoy. The kitchen had been loved with home cooking for years and it was obvious to anyone standing in the room.

It reminded me of the farm, on a much smaller scale.

We were disappointed to not be able to buy this lovely home, but we have moved so often, it might have been hard to leave. So it was for the best.

Unconsciously, I think I always wanted our home to have that welcoming aroma, for visitors opening our cupboards to smile in that same way.

Yet even though I didn’t really know what the mix was, in my mind, I remember. But it’s more than an emanating scent that that home held; it had memories stamped into its fabric. I realize that now after years of doing the same in our homes from here to the Southwest and back.

Again, like the farm; memories which are too many to recount here.

We carry our memories with us and at odd times they make it to the surface. The farm experiences are part of my personal fabric and the comfort of these soft pieces make all negative experiences less traumatic. Like a patchwork quilt pieced together one stitch at a time to end up with a complete quilt to treasure.

Christmas was always a time for baking cookies at my childhood home in Westerville. Sugar and molasses cookies, Chinese chews that were so sweet they made your teeth ache — in a good way — and my mom’s famous meringues. How she is able to whip up those stiff cookies that melt in your mouth, is still a mystery to me.

If you were born into a coffee-drinking family and before it was sealed in bags, you must remember the metal tins of coffee. We opened the coffee with the metal “key” used to wind around and pop the lid off. The smell of fresh coffee filled the room.

My mom stored her Christmas cookies in used coffee tins. Now I realize that the lingering coffee aroma made her cookies taste extra delicious, to me.

My granddaughter sent me this email:

I had poured myself a cup of coffee this morning — lots of milk and sweetener — and the very moment I tasted it, I was reminded of you and Pappy! Coffee always reminds me of waking up early at your house and having eggs and bacon and sweet, milky coffee for breakfast. It’s a really fun memory.

And the memories linger.