The List (in Three Parts)

THE LIST (in three parts)   

When I announced my decision to retire from a thirty-five+ year career in public service a few years ago, I got lots of questions about my future plans. Curiosity about how I would spend my retirement was so boundless that I decided to make a list for my inquirers: One Hundred Things I Want to Do When I Retire. For the most part my plans were simple: ditch the makeup and hairspray, make baskets, wear pj’s all day, donate about ninety percent of my clothing to Goodwill, take the back roads. So many things. I dashed off my list in a flash.

Part I: “What Will You Do?”

The question I was asked most often almost always came with its own answer attached: “What will you do in retirement—travel?” Most everyone, it seemed, assumed I’d become a full-time tourist. Apparently, that’s what people expect of retirees. Indeed, it’s what lots of Silvers do. I know folks who, in between their many domestic treks, make two, three, or more overseas trips each year.

But travel, outside of more frequent visits to our children and their families, was not on my agenda. My interests were much closer to home. Rather, they were at home.

Simplicity. In a world that was claiming too much of me, simple was all I wanted. I looked forward to not having an alarm clock blare me awake before daylight, to going barefoot all day, to reading in the hammock. I wanted to take things a bit more slowly and to live more simply. All these things were on my list, too.

When a long-distance friend asked the inevitable question and I answered that I wanted to get back to the simple life we’d begun here so many years ago, I could hear her almost choking on her coffee as she spluttered, “I’ve heard about that life of yours, and it’s anything but simple!” She was right, of course. Hand building our house while we lived without running water, toilet facilities, kitchen appliances, or heat had been anything but simple, at least in the sense of being easy or even uncomplicated. But it was straightforward; it was a return to the basics. That’s what I meant.

Building our house all by ourselves

I wanted to learn some of the old ways, to learn or relearn some fundamental life skills, to feel real. I wanted to live more intentionally, to lead a more conscious life, to be under the influence of nature, to tread lightly. I wanted to live more sustainably and move more towards self-reliance. I wanted to know, for instance, that if I lost power for  six months, I’d be able to cope. I wanted to eat real food, food I grow and prepare myself rather than something that comes in a box.

A day’s garden haul

I wanted to live in the present. I wanted to unclench my jaws.

Simple? Maybe not. Basic? Real? Most definitely. Have I succeeded? Well, like most things, finding my way to a new lifestyle is a process. I think I’m well on my way and I feel more content every day.

Maybe it really is about traveling. Getting back to basics is a journey, after all.

(Stay tuned for Part II of The List next week.)

Best Moment

“What’s the best moment of your day?”

I had to think about this question for awhile. Not all days are the same, of course, and my answer on one day might be different from another. So, on the day this question was posed to me, I tried thinking on the events of that day, then the day before, and finally of a generic, “average” day. As I mulled over the question, I still couldn’t land on a single best moment. It’s a dilemma I’m happy to live with. Yet, I still wanted to attempt to answer the question. I decided to go the route of a more or less chronology-based stream of consciousness and this hodgepodge is what I came up with.

The best moment of my day is when . . .

a ray of sun shining onto my face wakes me and birdsongs welcome the day

I eat a breakfast of eggs from the happy chickens who live just down the road

the cacophonous chatter of crows during their morning “coffee klatch” interrupts the still of my morning

I sip a cup of honeyed herbal tea while I let my mind organize my day

on a summer morning, I check on the latest thing to pop up in the vegetable garden—or later in the season, when I harvest what I’ll eat that evening or preserve for a chilly winter day

a couple of hours of dedicated writing time come my way

the all-day deck antics of squirrels and chipmunks capture my attention as they battle each other’s wits over food intended for birds

in warm months, I take a twilight walk listening to the quiet, watching the synchronicity of fireflies as they light up our woods, and catching whiffs of honeysuckle, lemon balm, ferns, and freshly mowed grass

on a clear, crisp wintry evening, I gaze at the star-studded sky and maybe catch a meteor streaking across the sky

I spy mountain valleys shrouded by a sea of clouds

the nighttime calls of owls seep into my consciousness

the early springtime sounds of wood frogs and spring peepers shatter the otherwise quiet of my bedroom—all night long

that “clown of the forest,” the nuthatch, utters its almost cackling sound, strongest on an autumn day

I’m graced with the giggles and confidences of grandchildren

the season’s first wild daisy shows itself in our meadow  

the warmth and comfort of a snuggle under the covers overtake me upon waking and again as I fall asleep

And for all that, the truly sweetest moments of any day come from those spontaneous embraces anywhere, anytime as my sweetheart and I sway ever so slightly—almost the way young lovers move to a slow dance at the prom—for no particular reason and for minutes on end.

What a lucky duck I am! With all these best moments, I’m reminded of the lyrics from one of my favorite hymns, “How can I keep from singing?” Indeed!

What about you? Are there favorite moments in your days?

Mealtime Dilemma

In a poetry workshop last year, we were challenged to write a poem using the Triolet form: an eight line poem wherein the first line is repeated in lines four and seven, the second line is repeated in line eight, lines three and five rhyme with line one, and line six rhymes with line two. Got it?

You can guess what my inspiration was.

MEALTIME DILEMMA

How do you feed a grandchild

when you’re vegetarian and she’s not?

Try a new food and she goes wild–

how do you feed a grandchild?

My recipes are sorted and filed

but things she likes I’ve not got.

How do you feed a grandchild

when you’re vegetarian and she’s not?

 

 

The Queen of Her Destiny

Queen of Her DestinyDenmark_crown

This meme popped up on my computer the other day: “One day she finally grasped that unexpected things were always going to happen in life. And with that, she realized the only control she had was how she chose to handle them. So, she made the decision to survive using courage, humor, and grace. She was the Queen of her own life and the choice was hers.”

It brought to mind a news feature I’d heard not long before: a discussion with a principal in a school full of students who have faced the kinds of challenges that might do most of us in. Unsurprisingly, some of those students are troubled. This wise principal takes those students in hand and tells them how sorry she is that they’ve had to deal with such horrible life circumstances.

Then she says, “I can’t do anything about that,” and goes on to challenge them to shift their focus from what has happened to them in the past—what they, too, can do nothing about. She tells them she’s there to help them figure out what they’re going to do about things now. And to stand alongside them to help them get where they want to go.

I think that’s so wise. I’ve seen far too many “Woe is me” people. Their obsession with the bad things that have come their way has paralyzed them to the point that they’re unable to make a single decision, to take one positive step forward.

I know it’s hard. I’m not here to suggest anything to the contrary. But what that principal says is true. What the meme says is true. Paying these words heed is the only way to crawl out of despair and into the future.

Seek the light and grab hold. Be the queen—or king—of your destiny.

Photo attribution: By Ikiwaner (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Little Deeds, Big Impact

Little Deeds, Big Impact

Some occupations will get you daily thanks for doing a good job. Many more rarely result in expressions of appreciation. Sanitation workers, for instance. Custodians. Government professionals who collect taxes, process unemployment benefits, and so on.

Teachers rarely get a “Thank you” from their students, either. And if they do, it may be years later. It’s hard to stay positive, to believe you’re accomplishing something important when it’s not acknowledged by the very people on whom you focus your professional passion.

But I’m here to tell you that your influence spreads like ripples in a pond when skipping stones. Whether it’s positive or negative. Whether it’s part of your job or a kindness to a stranger. It may be something truly magnanimous or seemingly insignificant. And it may make a difference in ways you’d never imagine. Let me give you some random (and in no way equal) real-life examples.

The first is a story about Fred. Fred came into our family by marriage to a cousin more than forty years ago. In all that time, I’d never met him. But I heard a lot about him over the years from my mom. She’d heard about him from her sister, his mother-in-law. Sometimes, she was in his presence and picked up a bit of his philosophy in person. A long time ago, she shared a tidbit with me. Fred held a strong position on the use of brand names as generic, she said. You know, the way people used to refer to all refrigerators as Frigidaires. Unless you’re of a certain age, you may not remember that example, but what about Kleenex for tissue?

It’s a real marketing coup when a brand becomes so iconic that it becomes part of the lexicon—you want a cola type soda and without thinking you ask  for a Coke, you’ll get a Coke instead of a Pepsi or an RC.

It’s not so great, though, if you’re a small business owner like Fred was. It’s hard enough to break into the public’s attention without having a built-in bias all because some multi-national corporation managed to hire a particularly clever PR person. Small businesses need a fair shot. So Fred thought people should say “tissue” or “cola” or “refrigerator.” Period.

Like I said, I’d never met the guy, but I took that lesson to heart. It made sense to me. Overnight, I changed my vocabulary. Never again did I use the word Kleenex unless I was talking specifically about that brand of tissue. I began asking  for “diet soda” in restaurants, which caused me no end of grief. Almost inevitably, my request got this response from the waitstaff: “Is diet Coke (or whatever brand they happened to sell) okay?” They just didn’t get it. But I persisted. When I had business lunches with colleagues, they learned to anticipate the scene and started chuckling at me before the word cola was out of my mouth. They thought I should just give up and go with the flow.

I finally met Fred. Thought I’d tell him how much he’d influenced me even though we’d never before laid eyes on each other. His response was a surprised, “I said that?”. It took his wife, her mother, and my mother simultaneously exclaiming things like, “You sure did,” or “Yes, there was a time . . . ”.

I thought it was hilarious. Decades ago, Fred expressed an opinion. Over the years, his memory of that principle dimmed to the point of nothingness. But someone—me—heard the message loud and clear (even though second-hand). And I not only put it into practice but passed on the sentiment with a kind of missionary zeal.

* * *

Kirk is a friend from way back in college days. After graduation, our families lived in the same town and socialized regularly. Then his family moved to another state. Fate brought us together sporadically and rarely after that. About five years ago, our paths crossed again. It had been more than thirty years since we’d last spent time together. Kirk told the Gnome and me that our names had come up in a sermon he’d recently preached. It had something to do with what he remembered as all our furniture-building back when we were newlyweds—the creativity, necessity mothering invention, that sort of thing.

The Gnome and I looked at each other in bewilderment. We’d sold weaving and macramé items at craft fairs and street festivals for a time in those days, but furniture-building? We were stumped. As we drove home, we puzzled over the discrepancy between Kirk’s memory and ours. Finally, we remembered that when we’d lived in a small World War II-era apartment with one lilliputian closet, we’d built a wardrobe of plywood with pine molding. We painted it a memorable aqua and yellow—it was psychedelic 1969, after all.

That must have been what Kirk remembered. But in his imagination, our one-time building experience had mushroomed. So much so that our “ingenuity” became the substance of a lesson used in a sermon more than four decades later.

* * *

Many years before either of these events, a different kind of moment occurred. I must have been in my early teens the day Mrs. Truluck, a volunteer youth leader in our church, stopped me in the aisle after one Sunday service to compliment me on something she had observed. I don’t remember what exactly, maybe for sitting next to another girl who might otherwise have been ignored. Whatever it was, I didn’t think it was a big deal. However, Mrs. Truluck taking about sixty seconds to tell me she’d noticed was a very big deal. A big deal that’s stayed with me for close to sixty years now.

Mrs. Truluck no doubt knew the importance of offering a pat of congratulations or a word of encouragement to young people. But I’ll bet she fairly quickly forgot that particular exchange. I never did. I learned two important lessons that day. One, that people notice what you do, even things that seem insignificant. I also learned how far a thoughtful comment can go. For the decades since that Sunday afternoon, I’ve tried to make it a point to let people know when I notice the nice things they do.

So, to all the Mrs. Trulucks out there, thank you—you make a difference.

And so do you.  

By Ashashyou (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons