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There is no such thing as the Queen’s English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares! (Mark Twain)

A wet snow falls as a man outside the post office asks about our day.

My husband smiles and answers, “Fair to middlin.”

“You know where that expression came from?” the man says.

We don’t. I have never thought about it because it isn’t an expression I would likely use. However, the gentleman’s friendliness intrigues me. Mother Nature is in one of her icier moods. He doesn’t seem to care.

“I’m a country boy.” He grins displaying a huge gap where at least five teeth are missing.

I guessed he has a southern background by his accent.

“Well,” he begins at a slow, mellow pace, as if this were a gentle April afternoon. He must peg us as city folk because he gives a full explanation about where the bacon is found on the pig, the loins, the better cuts versus the less choice. “The middlin is up from the end, not the best quality. It’s still mighty fine though, the part that’s not bad at all. So, fair to middlin is good stuff. Makes up a great breakfast.”

I am not a big meat fan, but I listen anyway. No thanks to slaughter stories.

We wish him a fair to middlin day, better if possible, and move on. The next day I ask Google. The pig story does not appear. It is neither verified nor proven untrue.

The Urban Dictionary refers to the phrase as a term coming from the deep south. It describes cotton that fits the definition but lacks quality.

Later I find a closer explanation to this man’s tale. In America somewhere in the mid 1800’s fair to middling, often pronounced without the g, referred to the quality of livestock. The term did mean better than average.

Perhaps the friendly grown-up country boy with the optimistic, good-enough definition comes with another point of view. One that morphed over time. And gave him strength to ignore bitter circumstances, like ice and snow.

Today I walk in sun that has quickly melted the white. Same month. Same city. The cold continues. For now. Today is all I can experience.

The historian tells only part of any one story, and it contains bias. The future is made up of speculation.

Now, I celebrate the gift of life.

 

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If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. (James Herriot)

My friend is holding back her dog Hosea as I enter her house for a meeting. Hosea knew I was arriving as soon as I parked my car across the street. I am his playmate. At one time I would not have considered petting a dog or cat—not unless I wanted to wheeze, sneeze, or itch.

Sometimes I envy Bobby, another friend’s dog. Bobby is a gentle giant. He has a head the size of the average bear and a heart that is even larger. Time to play, time to play, his tail announces. And I wish I could translate dog barks.

Hahvey and Oui, my sister’s cats, have different personalities. Hahvey greets and expects the first pet. Oui waits it out and makes sure each human is safe first. Yet, the two felines understand one another. They rule the house, exactly as cat-rule demands.

As I’ve gained years my allergies have changed. Furs carry less of a threat. Atmospheric conditions? Well, they will cause even larger problems, for everyone, eventually. My days of allergic reaction are only a fraction of what global instability will eventually trigger. The atmosphere can’t hold much more carbon dioxide.

The animal world didn’t create the imbalance. It didn’t leak oil into the ocean or pollute the air.

Perhaps I focus on animal intelligence because human intelligence has been less responsible. Global warming. Yes, it exists.

In the time the earth has left, I choose to fight for what can be done to extend her life, and at the same time to love with the simplicity of the pets we know. The two can be compatible. And, hopefully worthwhile.

 

Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.
(Erich Fromm)

Human animals think too much—without questioning the truth of their source. Unfortunately, we upright-moving creatures are born with ego and an overdose of certainty, based on experience in a tiny section of the world.

I wrote this poem more years ago than I recall. My granddaughter was a toddler. She is now in fifth grade. A ballerina. Grade-A student, She also happens to be significantly taller than I am.

These verses are based on an incident that occurred at the Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. My beautiful girl may have grown up, but she chooses her friends based upon inner qualities, not incidental skin tone. I am proud of who she has grown to be.

Naked Baby Dolls

 

Child-proof dolls

with painted black hair

and eyes forever open

 

lie on the floor

of the toddler room.

Figures identical, except for

 

brown or peach plastic bodies,

the dolls are naked.

The children don’t care.

 

Bare babies and honesty

fit the simple ambience

of parallel play.

 

I watch as each doll

passes from child to floor,

and back again. The brown babies

 

get picked first.

My toddler granddaughter pouts

as another child grabs

 

the dark doll she had been cuddling.

I try to hand her the paler version.

Her frown deepens. On the rug

 

the dolls that wait

look anemic, pale.

I think about human skin shades

 

from ivory to licorice, and mentally

list a larger number of darker tones.

Nutmeg, cinnamon, chestnut, bronze

 

chocolate, mahogany, coffee, umber.

Strange that at this age

the little people choose the toy

 

with the richer complexion.

Yet only a few of the children

resemble darker hues. The toddlers’ choices

 

contradict the prejudiced

adult majority. Someday I pray

these children see beyond the exterior.

 

The dolls wear a paint layer

thin enough to be chipped off.

Their differences can be altered with a brush stroke.

 

People share diverse histories

and cultures, but living hearts beat

a common rhythm.

 

May we grow

together

as one human race.

 

(This poem has been published in the anthology, FOR A BETTER WORLD and in the online magazine PIKER PRESS.)

 

 

It gets really tricky giving advice. The older I get, the less advice I give. ( Anne Heche.)

My father taught me to consider the source. I find that easier now than I could as a teenager, before I knew who I was. Strange that I recall being berated because my eyebrows weren’t penciled dark enough. My hair was the color of spun gold, with eyebrows that disappeared into a fair, freckled face.

The advice-giver. Why are there so many of them? And why do they have voices that match the average street preacher?

And—does it need to bother me?

My brother-in-law has an MD. When he said I was losing weight too quickly after surgery and was risking metabolic damage, I listened. Advertisement come-ons could be another matter. An invitation to skydive because it jump starts adrenaline? Probably not.

What is the best and worst advice someone has ever given you? My dad’s fits somewhere at the top. Any advice that told me I shouldn’t try because I wasn’t good enough. Definitely. In the don’t-think-so category.

 

 


Uncontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracle there are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. (James Baldwin.)

Three hospital visits today. One man has improved. We talked without looking at the clock. And celebrated his recovery, even though it hadn’t yet appeared. The other two persons suffered far more. My husband and I stayed long enough to offer love in the form of an out-loud prayer. I told our friends we were there because we cared and would leave for the same reason. To allow them rest. A sweet, other-folks-care rest.

Not long ago I recall waking from a dream into a fully-lit hospital room. Into a strange half-consciousness. Now, I watch and remember those moments.

You are loved. You are loved. You are an unprecedented miracle.

And yet the pain in my own gut has not completely disappeared. Some things no one wants to share. Not completely.

Rain continues. Steady. Cold. It floods. It cries and creates huge puddles. The yard can’t soak up any more water.

No one season lasts forever. No one greeting falls the same upon every set of ears. May warmth arrive with fresh blessings

The wisest mind has something yet to learn. (George Santayana)

 I’m trying to understand that nitty-gritty inside place most people have experienced but don’t define. Oh, I suspect vague words come up: tired, not-up-to-it, lack of energy. A glass of water waits on the TV stand four steps away and yet it takes me fifteen minutes to rise and grab it.

I’m referring to lost, static moments of staring into space. Not in a depressive way, more in a state of physical weakness. Recovery takes time.

Imagination. Come on. I know you are in there. Let’s play a simple game. How many gratitude connections can I celebrate in this room? From this beige square of couch.

First, I see a photo of my grandson. He raked leaves in our driveway before the predicted snow, but he had wanted me with him. He is eager to help but only seven-years old. He set up a chair in the garage and asked if I needed a blanket, too. My shoulders may have needed one; my heart did not. And the warmth lingers.

Among a stack of magazines are gifts. My brother sends me a subscription to the New Yorker. A long-time friend blesses me with Guideposts. Food for the mind. Food for the spirit. This same spiritual friend sends quotes I save and use often in my blogs.

My son scrubbed the rug and daughter-in-law helped with organization too heavy for me until my stitches heal. Steve and Cece’s love appears fresh, spontaneous. It remains in the air.

A sunburst. It doesn’t last long. They never do. However, it reminds me that aches don’t remain forever either. I haven’t reached a state of wisdom to be grateful for pain yet. I am up, with more strength than expected.

 

 

I can be pretty dense about my own basic needs, when my focus is getting through the many small tasks of a day’s work and a day’s caretaking. (Lydia Millet)

I suspect that if I still were smoking, drinking, or using chocolate as a dietary staple, my New Year’s self-promise would be a rhetorical question. The word resolution has developed a seasonal flavor, worn-out by February, lost before the first green of spring. I’m trying a side door.

A spiritual group that has kept me reasonably sane for the past forty plus years, has developed a new approach to the New Year’s Resolution. We each choose a word that represents something in our everyday lives that needs development, improvement, or downright realignment.

The name of our group, as the illustration suggests, is Apple. When we named ourselves, our bellies resembled the round fruit. We were in our fertile stage of life. (Fertile now refers to composting.)

Yet life continues to call for change no matter how much we age. Development. New seeds within our understanding. How can we become better individuals? Never perfect. Perfection remains a definition in the dictionary, like utopia. After all, we choose only one area of change. Encompassed within one word.

The word—It must:

  1. Express a need that appears often enough to set a person back as often as daily.
  2. Be intrinsic to our own flaws, not someone else’s.
  3. Yet, not allow self-loathing.
  4. And include a sense of humor and forgiveness.
  5. The same word can be repeated the next year.
  6. Provided effort is honest.

Examples of words are: judgmental attitude, self-criticism, resentment…

The next question is how can we take a notion and act on it? Lifelong bad habits don’t disappear with a decision. They take observation, study, sometimes even outside help. Therefore, we listen to one another’s experience. And make minor thought moves, followed by small actions.

For now, I try to get through the day. So much to do and no doctor’s okay to do it. No, I can’t choose patience. That asks too much. Then again, maybe patience is a side effect of any journey’s choice. As unavoidable as conflict, pain, and another sunrise.

Peace upon all, and a blessed year all the way through.

 

 

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