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Archive for March, 2015

The most effective way to do it, is to do it. (Amelia Earhart)

My gas stove has forgotten how to be a stove. The burners refuse to light without being prodded with a lit kitchen match. The broiler gave up years ago. The oven remains at room temperature at any setting below two hundred degrees. Any other heat setting varies according to the whim of the oven.

Somehow, I have managed.

However, the appliance finally proves its inadequacy as I try to make a double batch of chocolate cake—from scratch, of course—and fill the entire, unevenly heated space with both round layers and cupcakes. This is not a good plan. The oven rebels and burns ten out of twenty-four cupcakes. Seven are singed and need to have their white papers removed and surgery performed on their bottoms. Seven more survive. The layers bake. In less than perfect form. They resemble a small hill after a mudslide, complete with bumps.

Unfortunately, the cupcakes are for a party tomorrow afternoon and the layers are for my best friend’s birthday the day after. There is little time to start this process over. I decide to fill in the angled layer with ice cream—after Jay tests one of the cakes. The recipe passes, even if its final appearance won’t make the cover of any cooking magazine, except perhaps the satirical version.

Nevertheless, I have won the war. The old stove is now in the queue for junk parts. Jay promises me a new one. The old stove responds by letting me turn on a burner without a match. Too late, old stove, too late.

By today’s standard my stove is beyond its prime, thirteen, elderly in dog years. It lived a good life. I wipe off the counter-top for the last time.

I get a new stove, a Samsung. With a convection oven. The fan helps food to cook evenly. I watch my turkey bake. Sure, I could start with something small, like cookies. But neither Jay nor I need them, and there isn’t a special occasion for sharing a dessert today.

New stove and I don’t know one another yet. But we will. Okay, the anthropomorphic language is metaphorical. I really did not talk to either stove as if it were a member of my family. And don’t worry. I got no reply.

However, I am grateful that new stove arrived today, and I look forward to a long, happy relationship with my appliance. My cooking is a form of gift for my family and friends. After all they are the reason why I enjoy creating in the kitchen.

May the people I love remain nourished. And blessed.

new oven

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Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Ella pulls toys from the shelf. She hands me a soft baby doll and then takes picture flash cards out of the box. She holds up the cards for the doll to learn the words. I provide the voice for the toy.

An hour ago our granddaughter had a fever. She kept my iPad close to her but she didn’t seem to be able to focus. No video or game could take away her discomfort. One dose of children’s acetaminophen brings her back to play, to smiles, to an interest in her favorite foods.

I want my precious girl to be well now. I can’t yank infection from her system with wishes. Antipyretics are temporary. She sees the doctor today. My husband and I wait for those moments of shared happiness, that grin that says: I’m a fighter. Down syndrome hasn’t thrown me. An illness won’t either.

Not that she could say that with grownup words. Ella has her difficult moments, but her version of a crabby day isn’t easily noticed because it doesn’t resemble another child’s I-want-it-my-way tantrum. She doesn’t demand. Her first words when she arrived at the house this morning were, “I’m sick.” Yet, poor-me isn’t in her, and her statement did not appear with a pout or whine. She mentioned it as fact.

Now as her temperature eases down toward normal, her natural happiness reappears and her ability to capture joy alights upon me. It settles into my being, at least for a while.

On most days I have a difficult time sitting still to watch more than one television show, even if the program happens to be riveting. My agenda calls me to write, clean, do laundry—even scrub a toilet. Yet, I can sit next to my granddaughter for hours while my neurotic need for action remains on hold.

Her small frame lies curled in my lap and I massage her back with as light a touch as I can manage. The fever has returned. She turns toward me and smiles. The butterfly has landed, and I don’t want it to fly away. Ever.

***

Ella’s mommy calls after Ella’s appointment. She has a virus and a sinus infection. Nothing dire. I am grateful…I am grateful…I am grateful…

Photo by photographer, Sue Wilke

butterfly on green background, Sue Wilke

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I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen. (A.A. Milne)

When my oldest granddaughter was born, eleven years ago today, I was overjoyed. Of course she was the most beautiful baby in the world with big round, observant eyes and her mother’s dark hair. Naturally I was expected to ooh and ah about my grandchild. All babies are wonderful even if they arrive premature, huge, with wild hair or none at all, with or without disabilities. The newborn with more wrinkles than an English bulldog, a perfect clone to a ninety-year-old relative, is a gift.

However, our Kate was incredible from day one. Her bright eyes predicted her future. She would become charismatic and gentle, a natural in social situations, as well as Grandma’s teacher about life and gratitude.

Kate’s parents had child care lined up for when Mommy went back to work. However, I had learned from my mother-in-law how deep a grandparent-grandchild relationship can become. And I wanted that gift. Since I worked part-time Kate and I were together on Fridays.

I was grateful that I did not need to watch my first granddaughter grow from a distance. My computer room became a computer/toy room and it housed balls, cars, and puzzles. Stuffed animals took on human roles. Bears and bunnies ate whatever cook-Kate pretended to prepare for them. We had adventures and read picture books together.

Friday was Toddler Story Time at the library. Kate loved it. In fact, when she refused to leave one day, and then ran away from me and fell, her barrette sliced the back of her head. She recovered from the several-stitches-that-followed long before I did.

Now, Kate sees the places in other people that need stitches—not the kind that can be repaired with a surgical needle and thread. She is the girl who defends the other kids when they are taunted by bullies, the person the child with autism trusts. Kate does not see disability. She sees the person.

And I learn from her beautiful spirit, her enthusiasm, her growth. Actually she is about a hair taller than I am now. She shows me the secrets inside the iPad I don’t understand. She explains the rules of girls’ basketball, but doesn’t give me a hard time when my shots don’t come anywhere close to the basket.

Many years ago she asked me how long I would live. Obviously I didn’t have an answer, but I told her that I hoped to dance at her wedding. She bought the answer. For now I simply wish her peace, and joy, and a special kind of mirror—the kind that sees inside to all the beauty that lives within her spirit, budding, blossoming, becoming even more wonderful every day.

Happy Birthday, Kate! I love you.

learning from children  morning coach

 

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When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. (Marcus Aurelius)

I am treading water at the Y on an ordinary Sunday afternoon. I feel amazingly free in the deep end of the pool as I kick and move my arms through the tepid water. There are not many people here today, so I swim back and forth with no direction planned, no agenda, only the idea that this hour or so belongs to me, my husband Jay, and the generosity of the water.

A woman arrives. She leans against the wall. We smile at one another. Within minutes we are talking. She shows me an exercise that is good for back pain. She tucks water weights under her arms and then relaxes, torso straight, legs dangled in the water. She has had serious back surgery—and has been recovering for months.

However, I don’t realize how intense her situation has been until after we have been chatting for a while. She had pain all over her body. The cause had not been easily diagnosed. She had a congenital condition; she was missing a portion of bone, discs, in her back. That section has been rebuilt, a beyond-major task. Yet, pain has not left her life. It remains. She has not succumbed to relying on heavy medications. She keeps going without feeling sorry for herself.

When I think I have been sufficiently impressed she gives me more to absorb. Her grandson, Jonathan, was born with half of a heart. He was not expected to survive. He has had three cardiac surgeries and is now five-years-old. For him to have survived this long has been a miracle. With incredible calm she says that he will eventually need a heart transplant, but that his chances of survival will be greater when he is older.

“If he can make it, so can I,” she says.

I watch and listen so closely I wonder if I have blinked. My youngest granddaughter is scheduled for open heart surgery at the end of April. This woman’s words and attitude travel through the water and give me more than hope. They bring peace. Worry is counterproductive. Gratitude yields more gratitude tinged with joy.

“So, what is your name?” I ask.

“Sue.”

I can remember that one.

She claims to be an ordinary person. In fact, in an e-mail I receive from her later, everyday-woman seems to be her theme. She has three children and five grandchildren. She emphasizes gratitude and offers prayers for folk who suffer greater losses.

We are all both ordinary and unique, flawed, gifted, and human. To think anyone is superior is delusional. I believe that how we approach each day makes the difference. And no one can judge whether an individual is great or not. Even if one moment brings a person success, the next stress offers the chance to grow or to break—as long as the life-game continues.

Night makes day brighter. Winter makes spring sweeter.

Here’s to the privilege of being alive! Cheers. I lift a glass of water, but the beverage isn’t what matters. It’s the attitude of peace that does.

Thanks, Sue! See you at the Y.

not giving up story not over

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All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it. (Miranda July)

Snow falls and covers bushes, grass, streets, and parked cars. My tiny church community cancels services for the third week in a row. We had decided on a Lenten theme, “Be Still and Know I am God,” based on the psalm. That phrase repeats in a song I wrote for my community. My guitar remains in its gig bag; I imagine the instrument telling me it wants to stay in a thermal-underwear environment. The stillness in the verse feels held under snow, the next moment frozen, hidden without discernible answers about what to do next, or the nature of the whole of life. A plow or shovel touches only the surface of the issue.

I find myself wanting to adjust and re-adjust the day’s plans as if they were mismatched place settings at a large table. Since my mother-in-law’s memorial service was yesterday, out-of-town family is visiting. I have a few promised projects to complete. Moreover, my oldest granddaughter has a basketball tournament this afternoon. My growing frenzy lets me know choosing option-all is not going to work, especially with March bursting in like a frosty albino lion.

Pause, I tell myself. Be mindful of what you are doing. I have been working at the computer for a minute or two, and then stopping to do a household chore, talking on the phone, looking for items I don’t need until next week…trimming a sharp-edged fingernail. I behave like a moth following a flashlight with weak batteries.

I think about my mother-in-law, about the impact she made on everyone she met, how she cared about how other people made it through life, day by day, hour by hour. And I decide that perhaps that is the key. How do other people live? What are their stories? If I am involved in caring about someone else, my concerns find edges that take shape, unlike my shaggy, broken fingernail. And so does my writing. Most of the time I discover that other folk and I share the same core feelings. Everyone doesn’t necessarily express them in the same way. But inside the individual, when the self-protection and personal issues are stripped away, identical needs remain.

The day my mother-in-law died I remember feeling a sudden, inexplicable moment of peace. It was followed by the sense that she had a message for me although it did not come in her voice or have any other-world tones. It did appear to be direct, which was her style: You have never been confident, but you will be now. You have the strength you need to succeed. Something good is about to happen and you will be ready for the challenge.

The next day I was offered a book contract for a fictional work. Since this is a new development I will simply reveal that the tale is fantasy about an eleven-year-old boy. The book was written for kids about that age. The premise, however, is universal enough to engage an adult. (At least I hope it will.) Chase, the main character, thinks he isn’t even good enough to be ordinary. Yet, he has gifts he doesn’t know about that include magic. None of those gifts appear at the touch of a magic wand. First, he needs to break a curse…when he has a broken leg and his best-and-only friend was just killed in an accident.*

I’m not sure anyone is ordinary, or that anything great happens without effort.

*further info about publisher and publication to come

early morning view from our back window, my learning center until the snow stops…

contrast plant with snow

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