Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year! Here's a recipe for you

Zannie's Black-Eyed Pea Dip

PREP TIME:
10 Minutes
DIFFICULTY:
Easy
COOK TIME:
30 Minutes
SERVINGS:
12 Servings
  • 1 can (14-ounce) Can Black-eyed Peas
  • 1/4 whole Onion, Chopped Fine
  • 1/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 8 slices Jarred Jalapenos
  • 1 cup Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons Salsa
  •  Hot Sauce, to taste
  •  Salt And Black Pepper To Taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain black-eyed peas and partially mash, leaving some whole.

Add all other ingredients, stirring to combine. 

Spread into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. 

Serve with tortilla chips!

*Note: if you have them available, you can use the canned black-eyed peas and jalapenos (they're canned together.) If you do

This is a recipe Pioneer Woman shared five years ago on her blog.  Cliff hates black-eyed peas, but he absolutely loves this dip.  We are back into eating properly and dropping the pounds (we've each lost five pounds since last Saturday thanks to a daily intake of only 1,200 calories), but I'm going to make this and we'll dip with celery and carrots.  I know I could substitute low-fat cheese and low-fat or non-fat sour cream, but I like real food, thank you very much.  I'd rather have the real thing and simply eat less of it.  We are very motivated to lose the fat.    

My four young pullets have started laying.  I still have three older hens who are taking their winter break from laying:  Mama Hen, who has raised chicks for me the last two years; Chickie, the ugly Araucania who was a lone house chick the first part of her life; and a white hen the neighbors gave me.  We had about a month with no eggs between the time the old hens stopped laying and the pullets started.  I mentioned to Cliff the high cost of groceries and he said, "Well, we have our eggs."  

"Don't kid yourself," I told him.  "It costs more to feed this flock that it would to buy eggs at the store."  

I like having chickens around.  There may come a day when I don't.  I think I have Grace the cow sold, along with the two Holstein calves.  I will keep her calf, Luna, and I still have Hope, the soon-to-be yearling heifer.  

(I don't know why the font changes at this point in this entry.)

Here is something I find peculiar:  I have found Mama Hen, the old settin' hen who isn't laying right now, sitting in the nest over the eggs others have laid a couple of times, singing happily to herself.  I reach under her and retrieve the eggs, and she continues to sing to me; she obviously isn't broody.  I guess she is walking down memory lane, thinking of the good old days when she was incubating eggs for me.  I've never seen other hens in molt do this.  I just take my eggs from under her and go on about my business.  

I'm reading a lot, as is usual for both Cliff and me during wintertime, especially since we don't have Cora much in bad weather.  I recently downloaded three Kindle books from the library, and yesterday got an e-mail notice that I have two actual books waiting for me to pick up.  This is what happens when you put books on hold and wait in line:  Sometimes several of them are ready at once.  Once I get the books, I always have the chance of renewing them online, so if they're worth reading I will probably get them read.  

I've always loved to read, and I recall many of my first books:  "Little Black Sambo", "The Little Engine That Could", and other Little Golden Books that weren't so famous.  I also recall my very first big books with chapters.  I had several of the Bobbsey Twin series.  I absolutely couldn't get enough of them!  "The Bobbsey Twins at Home", at the farm, at the beach, flying in an airplane.... I was in the second grade, I believe, when I discovered the wonderful world of "chapter books".  Somebody, I think my teacher Mrs. Eighmy, gave me "Heidi" for Christmas.  I had to struggle through that one.  I loved the parts where Heidi was in the mountains with the goats and Grandfather, eating cheese, but when she wandered elsewhere I'd stop reading until a day when I was bored.  Then I'd take it up again.  I read it through at least twice, but it was never an easy read for me.  However, there was no television, few kids around to play with, and no siblings at home.  So I read.  I think one reason so few kids read these days is that there's so much else around to grab their attention.  I remember "Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales", given to me another Christmas by my sister.  I might have been in the third grade then.  I absolutely loved that book and read my favorite stories over and over again.  

I recall two books I received when I was seven years old spending several days in the hospital hooked up to I.V. and puking (they never knew what was wrong with me, I just mysteriously got better).  One was "Cookie"... I found an old copy of that online a few years back and purchased it... and the other was about going to a county fair.  I actually remember the first line of that one:  "I went to the fair, oh, the grand county fair with so much to do and to see everywhere...".  I've never been able to find that one online.  

Anyhow, books have always been a huge part of my life.  Thank God for books!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Changes

We don't like changes, do we?  Everything is going along at an even keel and suddenly something changes.  It messes up our status quo, and we don't like it.  

When this happens to me, I have my moments of feeling sorry for myself.  Then I realize life is all about changes, about giving up things when the time is right.  You have to accept the fact that hanging on to things or people only stops the flow of good things to come.  I've seen that life flows past rapidly and dishes up surprises, good and bad; but if I just let go, I know it will all be what's best for me.  It always has been, so why would that change now?  

The best example, one I always come back to, is the time I got jilted by a boyfriend I was totally in love with.  He had even mentioned marriage.  I was devastated.  Life wasn't worth living.

But that started me on the path that led me to Cliff, who has been the best friend, lover, companion, and protector I could have ever found.  He is the one who has lived "this country life" with me all these years.  I don't know who else in the world would have meshed his goals and desires with mine as much as he has.  Getting dumped was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I spend thirty minutes meditating every morning; the whole purpose is to not think, just breathe, and when I'm done I feel a great vitality.  This morning, thoughts wouldn't stop coming despite my best efforts to shoo them away, but they were good and wise thoughts, so I accept that.  The "change" thing kept coming to mind, and my mantra became "let go".  In this process, during my highly "unsuccessful" meditation time, a lot of things came together for me.  

I decided to let go of the Christmas tree for this season.  It has served its purpose for this year and is shedding needles rapidly.  

I am letting go of a few things that are bad for my body and mind.  

I won't let go of the past.  I will take out my precious memories like the jewels that they are, caress them and enjoy them, then put them away again so that they don't take my focus off today and the surprises it might bring.  

See what wonderful things happen when you meditate?  It's going to be a good day.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

I love corny old poems

Years ago I happened upon an old, raggedy "Best-Loved Poems" book my mom had no doubt picked up at a garage sale.  Pages were gone and it had no cover.  Little notes were written in the margins.  Mother told me to take it if I wanted it, and I perused it every once in awhile.  I think I finally tossed it in the trash during our last move; it seemed as though I hadn't looked through it in quite a while, and besides, you can find any poem you want on the Internet.  

The other day I decided I missed that old book and checked abebooks.com to see if they had a used copy of that book in good shape.  This, after seeing it would cost me $20 if I ordered it from Amazon.  Indeed, there were many like-new copies on Abe books for under $4, including shipping.




Mother loved poems, and many of the her favorites are in this book.  Ones like "If", by Rudyard Kipling:  "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you..."

You probably know that one.  

This morning I was thumbing through my new book and found a couple of poems I don't recall ever reading, both by the same author, Will Carleton.  One's sad, but still made me smile.  The other one made me laugh out loud.  They're long poems, and in some places the rhythm of the lines sort of goes astray; but I thoroughly enjoyed them.  I won't copy and paste them to this entry, but I will give you the links if you'd like to read them.  

"Over the Hill to the Poor House" can be read HERE.  While I was looking online for the words to the poem I learned there was a silent movie made in 1920 based on this poem.  

I was reminded while reading the "poor house" poem that my mom once made some joking remarks when I was small about how we were "headed for the poor house".  I thought she was serious and asked her what it was like in the poor house, and wondered if there were kids there to play with.  I was scared!  I liked living in a house where nobody lived but me and my parents.  

The other poem from the same author, the one that made me laugh out loud and that I read to Cliff once he was out of bed, is "The Doctor's Story".  You'll find it HERE.  

To give you an idea how long ago these were written, Mr. Carleton died in 1912, the year my mother was born.

boring stuff

Originally I planned to get our eating back on track starting January 1, but yesterday the time had come.  Cliff is never ready, but he wants to get back to a reasonable weight, so he is glad to be dragged along, and claims that's the only way he can manage to lose weight.  

When I stepped on the scale, it was worse than I thought!  Isn't it funny how I stay off the scales in order to deceive myself?  Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand... "if I don't know how much I've gained, then I haven't gained much."

I dredged up my old Sparkpeople.com account, which brings up another question:  Why did I stop entering my weight on Sparkpeople?  I can understand why I stopped entering all my food, because that gets tiresome once I've reached my goal.  But entering my weight, say, once a week, would have been simple.  Weighing regularly, even daily, is what kept us honest over the years of successfully eating properly, for two and three years at a time.  Obviously we didn't want to be honest with ourselves.  

Enough for that.  Notice that I never use the four-letter "D" word, which would create the illusion that this is a temporary thing.  

I am having some success at weaning myself off Facebook... so far, so good.  I still check for status updates several times a day, but I don't get hooked into reading every single thing; I miss a lot, because Cliff will ask if I saw certain things family members put on; most of the time, the answer is no.  And I try not to follow those trails into silly games and memes and news items that end up taking precious minutes from my life.  I now leave the Ipad at home when we go someplace, unless my Amazon Echo grocery list is needed.  Then I just leave it in the airplane mode, which leaves me without Internet.  If you are a Facebook friend reading this, let me warn you that if you put something on that you really, really want me to see, either tag me or private message me.  Also, for quite some time I've had my settings so that nobody could post to my timeline.  I have changed that setting so you can post things to my timeline now. 

I've come to realize that the Internet as a whole isn't a problem to me, it's just Facebook.  Before Facebook, it was the old chat room.  This is something that started in 1998, and I have just now, at the end of 2015, decided to put a rein on it.  Go me!  

The Internet as a whole is like having a vast library at my fingertips.  There's hardly any question I need to ask to which I can't find an answer.  Thanks to the World Wide Web, I have Sparkpeople to help control my eating habits.  Any news about this world of ours can be instantly accessed.  I learn what books might be worth my while to read.  I still have blogs I love that are like having a visit with next-door neighbors.  I'm keeping every bit of that.  

As long as I control Facebook, I'm good, and I believe I'm well on my way.



Friday, December 25, 2015

A strange, yet peaceful, Christmas day

There weren't any family plans for today, so Cliff and I made our own.  We had a turkey dinner in mind, but none on the table.  I did an Internet search and found out the only two local eateries that are open on Christmas seemed to be McDonald's and Denny's.

We went to Denny's, and it was very crowded.  All the waitresses, though, seemed to be in a holiday mood.  Surprisingly, the turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy were delicious.  So were the desserts... pecan pie for me and strawberry cheesecake for Cliff.  We came on home for coffee, because this is the only place we can get decent coffee.  And then we found stuff to watch, right after we gave the cows a new bale of hay.

An episode of "NYPD Blue", the seventh season.  "The Christmas Story" (you'll shoot your eye out).  We watched "It's a Wonderful Life" yesterday, so this afternoon we went on to "Christine".

I don't usually care for scary movies, but there is always a place in my heart for "The Shining" and "Christine".

Oh my goodness!  I forgot what a wonderful sound those classic cars made.  Never mind the fact that Christine killed Arnie, the kid who loved her.  

Earlier today Cliff mentioned something he was interested in buying, but he thought the price was a little high.  Merry Christmas to Cliff, because since he was cautious about spending that much money, I told him I'd pay for it out of the general household fund.  That fund, by the way, mostly comes from his income... but since I have it designated as household fund, that makes it mine to dole out.  

This morning this thought passed through my mind:  "It feels like just another day."

And then common sense answered, "Hey, you have another day!  You won the lottery!"

It's been a good one.

Forecasts, full moon, and zen thoughts

For some time recently, the weather-guessers have predicted rain for most of the days in the next two weeks.  The forecast was a downer for me, thinking about winter rains at a time when I'm always stricken with Seasonal Affective Disorder at its worst.  No, I've never been professionally diagnosed, but if it walks like a duck....

Meanwhile, Facebook prognosticators have been eagerly looking forward to a rare Christmas Day full moon, which of course wouldn't be seen around here, thanks to torrents of rain.  

So far it's only rained on one day this week, a scant two-tenths of an inch.  In fact, a couple of those days for which precipitation was predicted have been bright, sunny, and unseasonably warm.  So much for the weather guys, although I freely admit that they are more accurate than they were in the past.  Also, I realize that it's hard to pin down a forecast for the Midwest.  Storms often split around Kansas City, or head off to the north or south altogether.  

Yesterday Cora's mom was off work for Christmas Eve, so the two of them loaded up a couple of mares and went to ride with a friend.  That's how nice the weather was.  When they brought the horses back after noon, Cora wanted to come and say hello to Cliff and me; within five minutes she had dumped out her sizable tub of Legos and decided she wasn't going home.  I offered to give her some lunch and a nap here, if her mom didn't mind.  Cora and mom were all for it, so I made her a cheese-and-butter sandwich and when she had finished with it, went to lay down with her.  That's when it hit her that she really was going to have a nap, so there was a little protesting, but she was asleep within 10 minutes, and slept for over an hour.

After she woke up we played more, and along in the evening her dad came to pick her up.  Before they left I went out to shut the chickens into their house and, heading back to the house, I saw that big, perfect, round moon just popping out on the eastern horizon; I hadn't given it much thought because, you know, we weren't supposed to be able to see it due to clouds and rain.  Cora's dad had her coat on her ready to go, so I fetched her out to a spot where she could look at the moon.  It's the first chance she's had to gaze at the moon with me, since she is always here during daylight hours.  The timing was fortuitous, because within an hour clouds covered the moon, and it's still hidden this morning.  

I was glad to witness a little miracle with Cora, one of many we've shared that I take for granted.  For instance, the time she helped me dig potatoes.  I'd sink the potato fork in the ground and bring up potatoes, and she would excitedly pick them up and put them in a bucket.  I found it interesting that she preferred the tiniest, most useless potatoes to pick up first, ones that I personally would have left.  She seemed to enjoy the baby potatoes best, enjoying their "cuteness", so I left her alone.  (The thought just occurred to me, I hope God enjoys the most useless humans as much as Cora does the tiny taters.)

Stay with me now.

Being an introvert, I tend to "zone out" around people, gazing off in the distance and withdrawing into my own thoughts.  It isn't a thing I plan to do, it just happens, and I only think about the fact that I've done it later, when it's over.  I'm worse at this, the older I get.  

Reading a poem in the book "Zen Prayers for Repairing Your Life" this morning, this verse stood out to me:  


I open myself
to genuine contact
with each person
I meet and
to treating them
with utmost respect
and genuine responsiveness

By the way, I don't consider these "zen prayers" as prayers at all, but "positive affirmations".  Buddhists, for the most part, aren't even believers in a deity.  I'm not a Buddhist, just so you know.  

I read the words over several times and realized how opposite that would be from my zoning out ritual.  I probably even do it with Cliff, more than I realize, and he has to live with me.  Then I thought to myself, "The only person I pay that much attention to is Cora; she can hardly take a breath without my watching in awe."  

Wouldn't it be nice if, today, I would pay attention to others the way I do to Cora?  

It's probably not going to happen, but I'll think about it.  I happened to read this in a Psalm a while ago:  "May my meditation be sweet to Him."  

It sort of goes with my thoughts, don't you think?


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dreaming about Colorado

This morning I was daydreaming about the train trip we plan to take to the Grand Canyon, hoping it would be everything I've hoped for.  I expect it will be.  Then somehow my mind wandered to Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods.  

If you visit Garden of the Gods during the peak daytime hours, it's so crowded that it's uncomfortable to be there.  However, the year my daughter's family went to Colorado with us, she and I rose early, before dawn, and the two of us found there is a way to beat the crowds and see the place at its most beautiful.  Rachel is not by preference an early riser, so this was something she did for me.  

A couple of years later, Cliff and I visited Colorado during the recuperative period after his open heart surgery.  He, like his daughter, prefers to sleep until the day has fully begun, but I talked him in to getting out of bed early enough to see the Garden of the Gods as it ought to be viewed.  We went for a nice walk and fully enjoyed the brightness of the formations as the sun lit them up.

  
Well, with Colorado on my mind and with the realization that we will be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary in 2016, I remembered a website where you can search for places to rent that are more like home than a motel, and for the first time in years, typed VRBO into the browser.  I narrowed my search for places in central Colorado that rent for under $125 a night and was amazed at the wonderful choices.  There are reviews that people have done after staying at these places, so you get an idea as to how desirable it really is.  
If we go to Colorado, we may never stay at a motel again.  There's one I especially liked half an hour from Durango:  Click HERE.  I can only imagine what it would be like to wake up in this cabin and step out on the screened-in porch with a cup of coffee.  It's on a working sheep ranch, and the reviews are great.  It has a full kitchen, which I much prefer to eating out all the time.  

There are many places within Colorado Springs with great reviews, for unbelievable reasonable prices.  And one I really liked in Leadville, but Cliff has trouble breathing there, so that's probably out.

OK.  Back to dreaming about the Grand Canyon.  But wouldn't it be fun to be in Colorado on our actual anniversary, June 14?  

What say you, Cliff?  (He isn't awake as I create the blog entry.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Interesting stuff I read after posting the last blog entry

I seem to be reading two or three books at once lately.  I put library books on hold, sometimes waiting in line behind twenty other people before my turn with a book comes, then two or three of them are suddenly available at once.  I am STILL putting "Harry Truman", written by his daughter, on the back burner simply because I own that book, while I only get the library books for a limited time.  I've had two library books to read this week:  John Grisham's "Rogue Lawyer", which I read in three days' time, and "The Oregon Trail", in which a couple of brothers decide to get a team of mules and a wagon and follow, as nearly as possible, the old Oregon Trail.  

This morning after doing the preceding blog entry, I went back to reading "The Oregon Trail".  It's funny how life presents appropriate things at just the right time.  This is something I just have to share because of the connection to my own thoughts this morning, and if I don't do it now it won't get done.  

A covered wagon, in this day and age, draws a lot of attention, and the brothers in this book often found that word of mouth had let folks along the way know they were coming.  Families would be waiting outside their homes with children, offering the men sandwiches, and the mules, carrots or apples.  The author says, "I began to notice something interesting about the families.  At several homes, the parents, or the people who appeared to be the parents, weren't the right age.  They were in their late fifties or early sixties, sometimes even older, and the children called them 'Mom-mom' or 'Pappy.'  There seemed to be a lot of grandparents caring for their grandchildren out here in Kansas."

Finally Mr. Buck asked a man if the kids with him were his grandchildren.  "Right, they're our grandchildren," he said.  "You're going to see a lot of families like ours out here, and anywhere in the Midwest.  It's meth."

That man told the story of how his son and his girlfriend went down the wrong path, and how he and his wife went to court to get custody of the kids.  Now here's the part that stood out to me:

"It completely changed our lives, but we're actually real happy to be raising children again," the man said.  

The gentleman decided against retiring from his job, but his wife retired early.  She had worked all through the childhood of her own kids, regretted it, and wanted someone home every day when her grandchildren returned on the school bus.  

Here's my favorite quote:  "I wish every couple had a chance to do this," he said.  "You do a lot better job raising your grandkids than you did with your kids, and we're too busy to be lonely."

So obviously, we're not the only old folks to have these feelings of "changed lives" after getting to spend regular time with a child.

The joy a child can bring

When our kids were small, Cliff and I were young and foolish and had no idea how quickly life passes by, or how fast children grow up.  We loved and enjoyed our two babies, of course, but we were far too worried about what other people might think of them:  After all, we had seen our share of bratty kids, and we certainly didn't intend to raise little monsters.  Years later after they were grown I wished I had taken more time to just enjoy them and not worried about what anybody thought.  Infancy is so brief!  The toddler years are over in a heartbeat!  Oh, if only...

And then, years later, Cora appeared in our lives.  If she cried, I held her or rocked her.  Once she was old enough to want us to play with her, all she has had to do is ask.  Cliff and I are both "stove up" (an expression my parents used to use) with arthritis, so it is no easy task for either of us to get down in the floor to play with the Little People and their house, school bus, and barns, or with toddler-sized Legos.  But if we aren't doing something urgent the moment Cora asks, we get down there and play.  Getting up is even harder... there is much rolling around on the floor to get into a proper position, accompanied with moaning and groanings.  And yet, when she pats the floor with her hand and says "Pay wis me," we are right back down there.

And it's worth every bit of it.  

Because the child's dad works construction, we don't have her nearly as much in winter, but never a week goes by that she doesn't spend a day with us, because we beg for her (no charge, of course... we would probably pay them, if that were the only way we could see her).

Cora is our chance, possibly our last chance, to just rejoice and revel in a kid's childhood.  Every hug is a gift, and she is very free with her hugs.  

Yesterday I was thinking how appropriate it is that Jesus appeared as a baby.  No wonder angels sang at His birth.  Every time Cora's smiling face appears at our door, I am happy enough to break into song!  

Would we do this again, take on an infant to babysit?  As long as we have Cora around, no.  One child at a time is enough for me.  But once she leaves our care, if my health didn't fail me, I would certainly be willing to try it again if I were given the chance, and I'm fairly certain Cliff would agree.  Besides, we have all these toys!  Who would play with them if there's no kid around?  

I've found that having Cora in our lives has been the best thing about our retirement.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advice to Donna, from the Sermon on the Mount

I've been reading through the Sermon on the Mount the last few mornings.  It's all so very familiar to me that I would normally have read it all in one day, thought to myself how nice it is, realized my toes were stepped on a lot, and moved on quickly.

But as I mentioned in another entry, I recently discovered The Message version of the Bible, so after I read a passage in the New King James Bible, I check to see how this modern version translates it.  There is something about certain verses of the Bible, no matter what translation, that will bring your faults to light if you are paying any attention.  But this radical new (to me) version really makes me take a second look.  Here is the passage I read this morning, first from the KJV and then from the Message:

KJV:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
And now from the Message:

A Simple Guide for Behavior

1-5 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

So I wrote a poem to myself about this:

ADVICE TO MYSELF
Donna Wood
December 18, 2015

Matthew seven, one through five
In this translation comes alive
It takes me down a notch or two:
And brings my failures into view.

It's not so much a public thing,
My self-deceit and censuring,
But private thoughts, in light of day,
Still show in things I do or say.

Oh wretched person that is me,
Abandon your hypocrisy!
Look at yourself and take a pause
When you would judge another's flaws.

There's good to see in everyone.
Just look for that, and then be done.
I now submit a nobler cause:
See to your own defects and flaws.


My childishly worded poems aren't Shakespeare, I'm aware.  But they are totally "me".  So take me as I am.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I'll be home for Christmas

"Favorite" songs have a way of being exchanged for new ones as time goes by, and so it is with my favorite Christmas song.  One year, "O Holy Night" held the honor.  Other years, Silent Night or "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  Even "Little Drummer Boy" has been my favorite a time or two.  The one that seems to settle into the place of honor this year is "I'll Be Home For Christmas" as sung by Bing Crosby.  

The song was written the year before I was born, to honor homesick soldiers across the sea in battle.  With that in mind, there have been times it felt like a sad song to me as I pictured my uncle and my brother-in-law on the battlefield.  This year, though, I play it and think of a different one of my many childhood homes each time, along with the homes of relatives back then, and I'm transported to a carefree time in my life:  Sometimes in my imagination I visit Guss (Nodaway), Iowa.  I see my sister and brother, with their families, gathered around the tree; and we're all opening presents.  I remember some of the gifts I got, even that long ago, and the anxious wait for Christmas morning to see what Santa Clause brought.   

Other times the song takes me to Eagleville, Missouri.  It's Christmas vacation and my friend Maria Lynn Holcomb and I are spending the night at Grandma's.  There was snow on the ground.  Maria's family for some reason didn't have a Christmas tree, and she and I decided to go out in Grandma's pasture and cut one for her family.  Those scrub cedar trees are notoriously sticky and dry, but her parents dutifully set up the little tree and decorated it when she got it home.   

I recall the Stevens clan gathering at Grandma's little house, crammed in there until you could hardly have squeezed in one more person.  The family drew names for gift-giving some years, but Grandma always had a gift for every grandchild, usually a pair of socks and a candy bar, wrapped together.  It doesn't sound like much, but Grandma didn't have much income.  Just something called "old age pension".  


Then I see us at our house in Harlem, an unincorporated part of Kansas City.  That's the first place I remember my mom making the fruitcake that was to become one of my favorite holiday foods.  I didn't know at the time that it was called "Mystery Fruitcake" in the magazines where the recipe appeared.  I only knew it as "Mother's Fruitcake".

After that, Christmas lost a lot of its magic, although sometimes I'd get brief glimpses of the old Christmas spirit.  My children came along and once more Santa made an appearance on the scene.  All those times were so fleeting, looking back.

I know it isn't good to live in the past, but I think it's OK during this season.  So I'm going to play "I'll Be Home For Christmas" one more time.  I think I'll transport myself back to Iowa again, when Daddy and Mama did the worrying, scrimping and saving, and all I had to do was enjoy life.  No wonder I thought we were rich.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wintertime reading

I purchase very few books, either eBooks or real ones with paper pages.  The library satisfies most of my reading needs, now that it's possible to check out books for the Kindle or Nook from my easy chair at home.  Sometimes I will see a current book recommended that can only be found at the library in real-book form... as a matter of fact, I have one waiting for me now.  "The Oregon Trail: a New American Journey", a New York Times best seller.  We'll pick it up today.  
For some reason I decided that Margaret Truman's book about her father, Harry Truman, was worth paying for and bought the Kindle edition.  Thanks to the fact that Amazon lets Cliff read any book I purchase, we are both in the process of reading it on our devices.  Cliff is a lot farther along than I for the simple reason that I keep getting notice that one or another of the books I put on hold at the library is waiting for me.  Library books, of course, have to be read in a certain amount of time, so I take a break from the Truman biography to read them.  

We are both loving everything about the Truman book, and learning a lot, too.  The events during Harry Truman's presidency happened during our childhood, so neither of us knew much about that time in history.  The only thing I remember about Harry Truman from my childhood is that my parents didn't like him (staunch Republicans, you know) and that they had a poor opinion of Margaret's singing.

What I love best about the book are the many excerpts from letters Harry wrote during his life, and he must have written thousands.  You can't possibly read them without seeing the true nature of the man.  I've seen him describe national events to his mother and sister, to his wife and daughter, that put a whole different perspective on things than what history books would give.

I especially enjoy seeing the way he loved and interacted with his family in the letters.  He talks about himself in the third person when he writes to his daughter, calling her "sistie" and saying things like, "your old dad misses you", teasing her for not writing back to him and asking if her arm is broken.  

I've always been interested in Missouri's favorite son.  This book lets me get acquainted with him in a way I would never have thought possible.  I don't see how anyone could read the book and not love the man.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spending the winter in Texas

No, Cliff and I aren't going anywhere for the winter.  It's a discussion we got into this morning.  Yesterday a local Facebook friend messaged me from their winter home in Texas to tell me she and her husband have gotten a bigger place to stay down there, and will be renting out their little park model for three months.  I asked her how much those things rent for and she said they're getting over $1,300 monthly for theirs.

I found this rather astonishing, considering the park models I've seen are pretty cramped-up little places, about the size of a medium-sized RV.  My sister just sold her Texas place last winter, a roomy double-wide in like-new condition, for a very reasonable price, so I couldn't imagine paying so much rent; you'd be better off buying something, which I suppose is why my friend and her husband did just that.  

I mentioned to Cliff that I might go down there for a month  if I could afford it, but that would be long enough for me.  

"Why is that?" Cliff asked.  

"Because this is home!  I don't like to stay away from home that long."  

"I don't see why anybody wants to go down there anyhow, except to get away from cold weather," he said.  

I'm pretty sure I understand it, and I gave him my thoughts on the subject.  When you are staying in one of those parks, you are with a group of like-minded folks, all of them retired with plenty of time on their hands.  My sister (and her husband, before he died) got together often to play cards with neighbors.  When my aunt and uncle wintered in Texas, Uncle Lloyd like to shoot pool.  

There are jam sessions at every park, and my sister and her husband usually went to at least one of those weekly; you could have attended one every night, at different parks, if you so wished.    

Dances, swimming, exercise classes... there is always something to do.  

But it all involve being sociable, and I'm not.  I think if Cliff had hooked up with a wife who was more of a mixer, he would do better at social activities, since he really is a people person at heart.

However, he hates playing cards, dominoes, and other games that require sitting at a table.  I enjoy playing cards, but I'm so bad at it that nobody wants me for a partner.  The reason I'm no good at it is that, since it's only a game, I can't see the big deal about who wins and loses, so I don't try very hard.  Yeah, who wants somebody like me for a partner?  And if it's a card game where you aren't playing with partners, it's pretty boring to have somebody involved that's as lacking in talent as I am.  

Cliff might shoot some pool and play horseshoes once in awhile given the opportunity, but he'd get tired of it before long.  I remember one time some friends mentioned playing shuffleboard... Cliff was at a loss as to why anybody would want to play shuffleboard.  

So I guess we'll be spending our winters right here in God's country.  Different strokes for different folks.  It works out well, since we couldn't afford $1,300 a month rent anyhow.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The day I left the IPad home (live in the moment)

In my efforts to disconnect somewhat from Facebook, I've decided to leave the IPad at home unless I'm shopping (my grocery list is on the Echo app); I use the IPad like most folks use their fancy phones, since my actual phone does nothing except send and receive calls.  At our tractor club dinner it seemed a little strange, just sitting there without the IPad to pass the time.  Two mature ladies near me kept checking their phones, and I patted myself on the back for my strength of character (Ha!).

I've been meaning to deliver a miniature fruitcake to a local guy, and wasn't sure how and when we would get together so I could give it to him.  Cliff also had an issue of an antique tractor magazine for the same fellow, so Saturday evening I suggested we just visit the local Methodist Church the man attends and give him these things.  

I've been working on living in the moment, and yesterday was a perfect example of how wonderfully it works.  I tell myself not to expect certain things to happen, but to just watch and notice what comes along and possibly be surprised.  

We went to the little church knowing the group of folks that meet there is not a large one; most of our local churches don't experience huge crowds.  The fruit cake recipient greeted us as we walked inside, Cliff handed him a package, and he informed us he would be giving us some sort of German food in exchange.  Cliff said the description he gave sounded similar to what we call head cheese, which I've never tasted:  Surprise number one of the day:  I get to try a new food. 

We took a seat, wondering whether we were taking a spot on a pew that some of the regulars might be accustomed to occupying, but I told Cliff that didn't matter, nobody would care.  I glanced around noticing about the usual number in the place, just as I expected.  And that's when my expectations were shattered, because suddenly people of all ages began filing in, some of them stopping to hug an older lady whose eyes began to fill with tears.  Surprise number two:  Due to a birthday surprise, there was a much larger group at church than I had anticipated, and some touching moments that warmed my heart.  

When it was time for the Scripture before the sermon, the fellow who stood to read it gave chapter and verse and said, "I'm reading from the Message Bible."  And I then heard a very familiar passage worded in a most radical way.  Now I will confess that the IPad did enter my mind here:  I have the Bible Gateway app on the IPad, which has many versions of the Bible available, and I thought, "I wonder if the Message version is on that app.  I'm going to check that out when I get home."  Surprise number three:  I have a new translation of the Bible that is going to surprise me at times.  The Message version is included on the app, and while I won't be using that for my main Bible reading, it is going to come in handy to use as a comparison.  It's radical, I tell you!

Next the preacher, in the context of his sermon, mentioned a book he's reading that piqued my interest.  On the way out, I asked him the name of the book, which he said he's reading on a Nook.  I got home and checked for it.  The price was $11.99, more than I wanted to pay.  The library didn't have it in any form.  However, Abe Books had a slightly used version for $3.49 including shipping, so I ordered it.  Surprise number four:  I'll have a new, interesting book to read.

My daughter, my grandson's wife, and I had a trip to the city planned for the afternoon.  Our destination promised to be interesting and fun.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as we expected.  But with the IPad at home, I was tuned in to our conversations and we had a lot of laughs at the sort of things that only family members can discuss; we also made a fruitful stop on the way home that made up for the letdown of our original destination.  Surprise number five:  Who cares if the plan didn't work out?  Getting there and getting home made it a fun trip.

So here I sit at the beginning of my day, trying very hard not to have any expectations.  Because I know that if I keep my eyes open, unexpected blessings are liable to come along at any given moment.  Yesterday taught me that.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

The little child within

No matter how old any of us get, I believe the little child we once were still motivates us often.  It's part of our makeup that I believe we should cherish.  My problem is, I have a tendency to let my inner child (the ego) be the boss.  

My inner child loves attention and praise.  She is a large part of the reason I blog, because in many ways my blog is a cry for attention:  Hey, I'm over here, world!  See me?  Hear me?  Tell me how great I am!  This has extended in a large way to Facebook, which is a medium I am trying to get under control without actually leaving it altogether.

When I write something that resonates with a few of you, I get praise.  I have to be careful, though, because the little girl within will take that praise, bundle it up to keep, and think, "Boy, I'm a big deal now!"

Many people can take praise gratefully and move on.  That would be the well-balanced folks of the world who know better than to allow the inner child to rule.  To others, the praise, while sometimes deserved and always gratefully received, is like a drug.

A preacher likes to be told when his sermon has hit the mark.  A teacher loves to hear from a former student who says she changed her life.  My mom made quilts and wrote letters, and basked in the attention it got her.  A good cook enjoys positive feedback on her hard work.

Everybody loves a compliment, but most people take it gratefully and move on to the next sermon, class, quilt, or recipe, motivated by the praise.  My inner child tends to relive that moment of positive feedback over and over in her mind:  "They liked it!  They really liked it!"  

Are any of you still with me?  See, this is what meditation does for me.  Once my mind is clear of the stuff I did yesterday or last year or any time in the past, I see myself as I really am, a spoiled child.  Not a bad child, and not one I am going to send away, just a kid I ought to rein in sometimes.  

Remember the poem I wrote in October, "An Old Man and His Tractor"?  (Click HERE if you missed it.)

I read it at our tractor club Christmas dinner last night.  It was well-received, with everyone laughing at the right moments and applauding enthusiastically at the end.  Last night when I went to bed I found myself going over the words and lines in my head, smiling at how well it had been received, hearing the compliments and applause again.  And that, my friends, is what sparked this whole entry.
  
Having told you that, I will share today's poem.  I have not been sitting down with the intention of writing a poem these past mornings, it just happens.  I don't know if this trend will continue.  I will take it as it comes.  I may not share every poem.  This one was so personal, I almost kept it to myself.  But then I thought I ought to introduce you to the little girl inside me, the one that wishes everybody would love her and flatter her and move to the beat of HER drummer.  I don't apologize for her, she has made me what I am.  I just need to keep her in check if I am to accomplish other things.

A LECTURE TO MY INNER CHILD
Donna Wood 12/13/2015

Go for the limelight.
Enjoy the praise.
Bask in attention
With each golden phrase.
Finally they know you
And what you can do!
You surely showed them
A talent or two!

No! Remain grounded.
Fame's an illusion.
Live in the moment,
Avoid confusion.
Accolades flee
Like a bird on the wing.
Moment by moment
Create a new thing.


Nobody is doing wrong by sharing compliments.  In fact, it's the right thing, it's wonderful.  I appreciate every kind word.  What makes the difference is that I accept the compliments and then move on.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nothing of consequence in this entry

I've been baking today for tonight's tractor club Christmas dinner.  An apple pie is done and there's a Buck Buchanan sweet potato pie in the oven now.  I'll probably take the crock pot with garden-raised sweet corn from the freezer.

Because Cliff has been out of the house a lot and I've kept my hands busy, I've been listening to my Pandora folk station as I work.  Out of the eight Pandora stations I've created, "folk" is the main one I listen to.  Since I started paying a monthly fee to Pandora, they have done a pretty good job of balancing my music so that I get just enough variety, and for the most part, I get what I like to hear.  

"Folk" encompasses a lot of kinds of music, and my tastes take in many of them:  The Negro blues from the 30's and 40's, groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary and others from the folk revival in the 60's, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, John Prine, and the like.  Once in awhile I don't mind a little bluegrass, but today Pandora decided I was going to hear nothing but bluegrass and negro blues.  I'm serious, that's all I was hearing.  Oh, and quite a bit of Doc Watson thrown in, but a lot of his music is close to bluegrass.

So I did a lot of "thumbs-downs" and skipping songs.  At the beginning I was listening to Pandora on the Amazon Echo, so I could do this hands-free by telling it what to do.  However, one is only allowed so many skips and thumbs-downs in a given length of time before Pandora puts a stop to it.  I reached my limit about the time Bill Monroe started singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky". 

No problem.  For some reason, even though I'm using the same Pandora account on all devices, I can go to the television in the bedroom which has a Roku hooked up to it, go to the Pandora app, and skip songs up to my limit again.  Only of course, it isn't hands-free in there.  I had to use my flour-coated hands to skip and give a thumbs-down when necessary.  In spite of the inconvenience involved, before you know it I had reached my limit again, because I was still getting negro blues and bluegrass!  

No problem.  I turned off that TV and headed for the living room.  Directv has Pandora on it, and my skips and thumbs-downs start all over.  Cliff showed up about that time, though, so I turned it off.  I do find it sort of a thrill to think I am fooling Pandora when I get to skip the full amount on every device.  

I believe my music lineup is back to normal now.  One can only hope.

It's rather nice to be pestered with such a minor problem when there are so many major ones going on in the world.  Perhaps Pandora was just doing me a favor, distracting me from the larger issues.

Troubled times

I have gotten back to morning meditation, a time when I allow no thoughts to disturb me and simply listen to my breath entering, then leaving my body.  If a thought occurs I erase it from the blackboard of my mind, or let a gentle ocean wave wash it off the sand and back into the sea.  When I'm done, my mind is clear so I can read something useful:  The sermon on the mount, a Psalm or two, and some of Tai Sheridan's writings.  Then I write some of my thoughts in a spiral notebook and, if I am so moved, I start scribbling the makings of a poem in a different spiral notebook.  I seem to be moved more that way than not, since I've gotten back to basics.  

About the writing:  I have done all my composing and writing on the computer for many years now, so it was very seldom I picked up a pen and actually wrote.  Since I have started writing on paper again, I've realized there is something special about watching the ink form words on a blank sheet, seeing my thoughts take form as I think them.  It's almost magical!  It's like finding an old friend, one I had lost, but now is found!  I am no longer a typist, I am a writer!  Something about the feel of the paper against the side of my hand as I write and the faint whispering sound of the pen making words is pleasurable, much more so than the tap of a keyboard.  Once I have the skeleton of a poem in the notebook, I then take it to the keyboard where it's so much easier to make corrections and move lines around.  

My thoughts in the other spiral notebook, however, shall remain forever written in my rather sloppy handwriting.  

Don't worry folks, I don't intend to turn this into a meditation blog, or even a poem blog, although... I do have a poem from this morning, a rather unsettling one caused by thoughts about things that are going on in our world these days.

TROUBLED TIMES
Donna Wood 12/12/2015

Troubled times unnerve me.
There is no peace of mind.
Terror, terror everywhere.
Small comfort can I find.

Unrest in our homeland
Where we are safe no more.
Invaders move among us here,
Not on some distant shore.

Guns and bombs and terror
The topics of the day.
Pandora's box is open now:
This will not go away.

Shades of gray took over.
There is no black and white,
No solitary answer, and
No certain wrong or right.

Worry profits nothing
I'll soothe my troubled mind
With thoughts of peace and gratitude
To keep my world aligned.


Friday, December 11, 2015

I am blessed

I've lived a charmed life.  Sometimes I'm almost afraid to say that... I want to "knock wood", in case my stating the obvious might bring on disaster.  But I know better.  If the worst (whatever that is) happens tomorrow, it won't negate the good things that have come to me in my life.  The universe owes me nothing.

I have pretty much done as I pleased since the day of my birth and lived to tell about it.  I certainly didn't deserve such a good life; I'm as self-centered and spoiled as they come, and yet I go on living a happy life.  I could tell you about things in the past that seemed bad when they happened, but in the vast scheme of things those events only served to make me appreciate what I had when they were gone.  This knowledge helps me weather storms when they come.

I could whine that I didn't travel as much as I would have liked, but that was my choosing.  Why?  Because I stayed home most of my adult life and enjoyed my gardens, my babies, other folks' babies, my cows, and the quiet of the countryside:  There isn't much money in any of those enterprises.  I don't complain about my lack of travel because I realize that at any time, if I'd had the gumption to do so, I could have taken driving lessons, gotten a good job, raked in the dough, and traveled anywhere I pleased.  

I don't have a lot of patience for people with the "poor-me" syndrome, those who blame others for the things they lack.  Such folks do, however, serve to remind me not to go down that path, so I suppose I should be thankful for them.

Again this morning I spent time sitting quietly, doing nothing.  Once again, I wrote a poem.


TRUE WEALTH
Donna Wood 12/11/2015


We spend our time acquiring things we think will make life better,
But in the end, each bauble simply serves to forge a fetter
That only draws attention from the very things we need
And robs life of it's meaning, stealing peace and leaving greed.

The wanting and the wishing slowly saps away your life.
The getting and the spending steal your time and bring you strife.
Pin your hopes upon a thing, it's oft the thing that shatters.
All your expectations make you miss what really matters.

Every breath is precious. Every heartbeat is a gift,
Do not feel unsettled when life's sands begin to shift.
The past is gone. The future is a million miles away.
Just give thanks for the seconds that add up to make this day.
  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sitting quietly

I have three or four books on my Kindle written by Tai Sheridan, a Buddhist.  I think perhaps Christians are scared away by the word "Buddhist", but his writings are helpful for anyone.  Here's what he says about meditation in his little book, Buddha in Blue Jeans:  "No belief.  No program.  No dogma.  You do not have to be Buddhist.  You can be of any faith, religion, race, nationality, gender, relationship status, or capacity.  Just sit quietly..."

Thanks to my reading these words this morning, when I stepped out into a breezy, unseasonably warm day with flashlight in hand to feed the cats, I noticed in the east the makings of a beautiful sunrise  It was the sort of view that would normally have sent me for my camera in order to catch the sky at it's most beautiful so I could take pictures and share them on Facebook for my friends to "like".  Because don't we sometimes feel as if the more likes people give our status updates, the more they like us?  This isn't a conscious thought I ever had until just now, but I do believe it's in my psyche someplace.

I did not go after my camera.  Instead, I grabbed a lawn chair, went to the back yard where the lights from the neighbors' yards couldn't distract me and took a seat.  I faced the barely-started sunrise and sat in silence until the light-pinks in the still-dark sky turned to a bright coral, almost red fire that stretched from the northeast to southeast, a large enough area that a camera would never have taken in half the panorama before me.

And then I wrote a poem.


TODAY I WATCHED THE SUN RISE
Donna Wood 12/10/2015

I sat and watched the sun rise as I started on my day,
No IPad at my fingertips to draw my gaze away.
I cherished in my spirit all the grandeur of the sky
And sat in tranquil silence as the minutes drifted by.

I might have taken pictures I could share with all my friends,
But size and scope are hindered by a camera's tiny lens.
I felt the breeze upon my face, my inner calm unbroken.
Some things are better held within and reverenced, unspoken.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Christmas through a child's eyes

We decided a few years ago that having a big Christmas tree in the house was just too much trouble.  I bought a little free-standing, pre-decorated tree about three feet tall, and that was fine for us.  Actually at this point I could do without any tree.  Time goes so fast at our ages that it seems we hardly get the tree set out before it's time to put it away.

But then Cora came into our lives, so last year we went out and cut a tree at our favorite Christmas tree farm.  She was a year-and-a-half old, and was fascinated by the glitter and lights, especially the string of lights that alternates with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.  She wasn't talking well then, but she did try to say "Minnie Mouse" every time she examined those lights.

In all the time we've had with Cora I am almost speechless at the wonder and amazement a little kid has for the things in this world that are nothing special to us.  We see, through her eyes, all the objects and events to which we have become jaded due to over-exposure, and the universe resumes some of its former glory.

After Thanksgiving this year, I debated about getting a tree again; Cliff refused to voice an opinion.  "Whatever you want to do," he would say.

Well, I didn't want the mess.  I really don't like crowding up the living room, taking one chair away to make room, needles all over the floor (if I'm going to have a tree, it will be a real one).  The tree farm where we get our Christmas trees is only open on weekends, and I figured last Sunday was the time to decide one way or another.  Remembering how Cora enjoyed last year's tree, I decided to go for it.  When we got there, I was stunned by how much a real tree costs these days.

I was equally stunned when Cora's mother brought her in Monday morning and I saw the look on that little girl's face.  "What's that, Donna?" she asked, walking, wide-eyed, to the tree.


getting a closer look at Mickey Mouse
With little children, it's all about the lights, isn't it?  I expected, since Cora is a year older than when we had our last Christmas tree, that she would be gentler with it, but her curiosity is actually greater, and she has wanted to pull ornaments off the tree to examine them.  Most of them are cheap, unbreakable baubles, but of course if you yank them off, they lose their little hangers and are useless.  So this week I have explained to her, many times, that she has to be "easy" with things on the tree, and that she can touch, but she shouldn't pull them off.  It's her tree, we only got it because of her.  I want her to be able to enjoy it.  But I'd like to have a few ornaments left at the end of the season, too.  


Last year I bought her a plastic nativity set, hoping it would keep her from trying to play with mine, which was my mother's and is breakable.  The child was a little young to enjoy it then, but yesterday she must have spent at least half an hour under the tree setting her manger scene up so it would be arranged more like mine.  



That little Santa dressed in white has become her best friend lately.  She dances with him and carries him around the house, although I finally drew the line when she wanted to take him with her every time she went to potty.  He's almost as big as she is, and I was afraid she might not make it to the bathroom in time, dragging him along.

Merry Christmas to all my friends, and may you have a child around to open your eyes to the magic of the season and the world.  God bless us every one.