Counting Blessings…

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This is Holy Week, and I am trying especially hard to be spiritually mindful.  I haven’t exactly lived a charmed life, but I have always had much for which to be grateful, and I have always recognized that I am fortunate in many, many ways.  I am an optimist.  Remember, that’s my super-power.

So getting to the point, I have begun the habit of making sure I recognize ten things each day that I have considered to be blessings.  I began this some months ago, and I have realized that some days this habit has come more easily than others. 

I have thanked God for my sisters, living parents, my brothers, all family members, my faith, the Holy Eucharist, and my church community. I have been grateful for a good night’s sleep, a hot cup of coffee, my little dog and my kitty, a shower, my warm coat, a new pair of shoes, nice clothes, and the rain.  I have been grateful for my good mattress, clean sheets, a good television and a good PBS show to watch, NPR radio, and sufficient funds to pay my bills.  I have counted staying upright, yoga classes, friends on the other side of the Earth, travel opportunities, clean teeth, warm pajamas, my red stove in the winter, and a nice supper with a glass of wine as daily blessings.

I’ve told myself, when I felt as if I were searching, that it was ridiculous.  If I couldn’t easily think of ten things as blessings, then I wasn’t being very grateful.  So I kept going…good health, a nice car, a tutoring child, a good hair day, a darling house, a nice yard, a good neighborhood, wonderful neighbors and friends, my book club, the women who invited me to play cards and schedule the meetings on days I can come, my BFF who calls me every Friday on her way home from school, my Saturday morning coffee/faith group, and good books to read, my peaceful single life, flowers that bloom and birds that sing, and even more I can’t remember right now.

THEN, last Sunday, I saw a documentary movie about women in Nepal.  Hoo-boy.  All of my gratitudes are of the First World type.  So, this week, Holy Week, I have been grateful for windows and doors in my home, a wood-not-dirt floor, a flush toilet (and thank you, very much for Thomas Crapper, who invented it),  a refrigerator, an automatic washer and dryer inside my house, hot and cold running water, shoes period, food and plenty of it, an inside gas stove to cook such food by just flipping a knob, clean air, fresh water, a sink inside in which to wash dishes, soap and shampoo, American citizenship, toothbrushes, feet to walk and hands to work and eyes to see and ears to hear and lips to talk.  A good clear mind is also a remarkable blessing.

Yes, I am showered with blessings of all magnitudes.  Being able to count ten a day is another blessing, too.

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My tiny house, as view through my blooming Dogwood, blessings for sure.

Don’t Forget to Pay the Taxis…

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When my brother was getting married twenty-seven years ago, I was teaching first grade.  I thought it would be a good idea…and it was…to give him and his soon-to-be-wife the gift of wisdom…6 year-old wisdom, that is.  I asked my kids to write to these prompts…”What makes a good husband?” and “What makes a good wife?”  I took their writings, put them into construction-paper-covered “books,”  and gave them to the bride and groom.

One child wrote that a good husband would not forget to pay the “taxis.”  We figured out from the text that some dad had not paid taxes, and it had made an impression on his kid.  I know how that kid felt.  When I was very young, and learning about taxes, I asked my mother how they worked.  She explained that a citizen had to file every year.  I asked what happened if a citizen didn’t file, and Mom said, “They go to jail.”  I then said, “Have you filed?”  Mom said, “No.”  I lived for years expecting Mom to answer the door to the IRS agents, who had come to take her away for not filing.

Let me tell you, I have Tax Anxiety, and the mom conversation is not the only reason.  My former spouse failed to claim the sale and loss of an entire apartment complex, which put both of us in a terrible tax-owing hundreds-of thousands-of-dollars situation,  Really.  It took us very many years to come out of that one, and I was NOT unscathed. 

I, personally, don’t take tax time lightly.  My first year of doing taxes on my own, I had everything I thought I was supposed to have ready by February first.  As time has gone by, I have reverted to my basic pattern of procrastination. I angst from January 31, when all W-2s are expected to arrive, until I finally get all papers, medical-interest-charity-tax-paid, and any-other-deductible proof figured and ready to give to my preparer.  She is wonderful, and I actually pray for and thank God for her every single year around the end of January through April 15.

All this to say, the six year-old kid was right, and I am again astounded at the wisdom of children.  That kid knew what I’ve known since I was young, too…don’t forget to pay the taxis.  Oh, and the taxes, too.

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Aging “Gracefully”…

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Get it?  Grace and Frankie began their third season on Netflix, and the antics of Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomiln (Frankie) bring to mind my own recent experiences and awarenesses of my age, on a much less dramatic scale.  Hoo-boy. 

I never dreamed, when I reached the state of adulthood, and that was just last week, that I would feel the tiny steps of aging.  They have crept up on me.  I still see that 35-year old looking back at me in the mirror.  Teaching kept me young, and even when subbing in the Kindergarten, when a child asked me how old I was, and I responded truthfully, she replied, “Mrs. Horton, I didn’t know you were so TALL!”  I could laugh, knowing what she really meant didn’t matter.

My first thoughts about my becoming older were when my teeth began to regularly collect bits of tiny lingering food.  Pepper flakes, broccoli buds, lettuce and spinach bits reminded me of that old Ellen DeGenres commercial where she faced off with a dog and told her “friend” she/he had a fleck imbedded between his/her teeth.  I now carry floss thingies and toothpicks.  I swish.  Eeeww.

Then there are the issues of night driving (halos), the stomach grumblings (embarrassing), the creaky joints (uncomfortable), and need for quiet (what?) that strike me.  After teaching for 38 years, when did it matter that there was a lot of background noise?  I ask you!  And being distracted…I sat right through a green light the other day… I stopped for red, which went to green, which returned to red.  No one was behind me.  I suppose I was counting on the toot of a horn to schooch me on. 

Not so humorous is the falling factor.  I have, as my Aussie dear-one says, “fallen over” four times in the last twelve months…right on the street.  I’m walking and then down on the ground…it is a hard place to find myself, and not very nice.  It is demoralizing, embarrassing, and gives me pause to consider what is awaiting me as time marches on.  That, and I can’t hear my alarm in the morning.  Thank you, loud rock and roll music, lawn mowers, and lots of little children, predominant in my youth.  It’s a youth that is becoming a fond memory.  At least what I remember of it.

Grace and Frankie…I feel as if I’m more like the character, Grace, facing all the situations of aging, but I wish I handled things more like Frankie’s character.  The two women in the show are facing more pronounced aging needs than I, but that is just good writing and television.

My life would make bad television.  My aging issues are way more commonplace and mundane, and by the way, why did I come in this room?  What was that word I was trying to think of?  And where are my keys?  I think they must be near my phone, wherever that is.

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A few of my favorite things.

Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven…

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You can’t get to heaven on roller skates.  I’ve known that song since I was four.  My mom would sing the front line, and I would repeat the back line in the black ’52 Chevy salesman’s coupe that was the very first car I remember, as the two of us would drive up from Indianapolis to Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  We were going to visit Grandma, and the singing would keep Mom awake for the two-and-a-half car trip through a litany of small towns on the state roads before President Eisenhower began the Interstate system.

Our travel repertoire included several World War II classics.  Mom would sing White Cliffs of Dover, and the line, “Jimmy will go to sleep…in his own little room, again,” would become, “Debby will go to sleep…”  It was my first history lesson, and history became my favorite study in school.  The upbeat WW II tune we’d sing was “Doe-see Doats.”  Years later, I sang both to school kids and my grandkids, who would say I knew a song for and about “everything!”

Mom taught me some college songs, sorority, and fraternity songs that I’ll bet not that many little girls knew. I sang Engine Bells and Whistles, Slew-foot Sue, and a song about the Tri-Delts, belting them out over the sound of the wind in the rolled-down windows before car air conditioning.  I did not share those songs with the kids in my life.

Alice Blue Gown was the one I begged for the most.  We’d…or at least I…would throw my head back and sing like, well, a crooner.  “In manner of fashion, I’d frown,” just like the girl in her blue gown.  And I asked for, and got an “Alice blue” nightgown, because of that song.  It was years later that I learned that Alice Roosevelt was THE Alice…another link with history.

I miss the singing, the Burma Shave signs, and my mom.  I’m awfully glad I was her co-pilot on those car trips, and I’m glad she taught me so many songs about “everything.”  I’m really glad that I know I can’t get to heaven on roller skates, because my skating days are over, and that is a very good thing all around.

Ambassadors of Healing and Love…

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Last night I attended a dinner downtown.  It is an “event” among a certain group, and I have been to this annual dinner for six years.  It is a huge fund-raising gathering to honor Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charlotte.  There were a lot of people in the past, but this year, a record-breaking 900 Catholics gathered to socialize, eat a lovely dinner, and honor the works of our area’s Catholic Charities and people crucial to its day-to-day operation. IMG_2597.JPG

Here are some numbers…nationally, 9,000,000 people receive services, and you don’t have to be Catholic to be helped.  We don’t ask.  Over 4.6 billion dollars are raised nationally each year to provide food, clothing, housing, counseling, immigration services, safe houses, parent and education support, hope, and love from professionals and volunteers all over the country.  Catholic Charities is the largest faith-based humanitarian organization in the country.  It breaks down the walls of division.

I was surrounded by 900 generous people who are working to reduce poverty in America.  “There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6

I never thought I would be a person who would quote from the Bible, but given my new life, and  the climate of our country today, I am compelled.  I just want to be a good person, and help other people.  I spent my whole life serving children and their families, and I want my life to matter as I continue to transition in my particular season.  I am humbled to be among these ambassadors of healing and love, and I am grateful this love is for anyone. 

Know what?  You may already be a “Partner in Hope.” There are many other humanitarian groups of all faiths or walks of life that do good works all over the country and the world.  Humanitarians are not just Catholics.  I’m sure many of you give hope to those in need in your own community.  If you aren’t involved, find a way…I’m sure there’s someone to help or something you can do.  Be an ambassador of healing and love.  Our country and our world need us.

When the cat’s away…

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What do my pets do when I am gone?  I have often wondered.  Used to be, I would leave my home every time, with the admonishment to my animals, “Don’t play the stereo too loud.”  Really…I didn’t even have a stereo.

I still say, “Don’t play the stereo too loud,” but I expect the dog and cat to just sleep in my absence.  Yesterday, my little dog, Hattie, and I came home to find that more went on in our absence than loud stereo playing.   Definitely, a party had taken place.    

In this case, I was the cat and while I was away, Mr. Beedle Weedleman, my kitty turned “mouse,” had been busy. He had found a ball of yarn, and had “danced” it all over the living room, and into the kitchen.  Evidence points to a good time had by him, and I like to think his dancing song was Who Let the Dogs Out.

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Remember you came from dust…

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Today is Ash Wednesday.  It is the beginning of forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for many Christians around the world, of which I am one.  It can be a time to “give up” something, though Father discouraged one child at the school mass from giving up water.

The children’s mass is always joyful, because we all know what Art Linkletter taught us…kids say the darndest things. There were a few laughs at this one, too.  Our priest gave his homily about Cinderella.  If ever a message was designed for children, this was one of those right up there.  I wondered how long it took him to come up with the analogy, because it was an such excellent one.  The story of a hard life among the ashes, finishing up with a “happily ever after” was compared to our own lives.  We have our earthly struggles and our joys, and ultimately, we have the promise of heaven.

This morning I had the privilege of being among those distributing ashes to the students, staff, and families of my local parish school.  Each pair of eyes looking up at me said, “Be an example of right living.”screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-10-17-48-am

That is my intent.  A blessed and holy Lent to those of you who wish it to be so.

…And to dust you shall return.