Monday, December 30, 2019

2020 Coffee Mug

"In the bleak mid-winter/ frosty wind made moan … " goes a popular song written by Christina Rossetti and set to music by Gustav Holst. It has been in my head as an earwig the last few weeks.
Here is mid-winter at my house.

Mid-winter is where we are right now, all we who reside on the northern half of planet Earth. In the U.S., we're just finishing up a time of festivities: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Ramadan/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa, and now New Year's Eve.
It's a time that inspires sitting quietly, clasping hot drinks in chilled hands, and wondering about the the future. I mentioned in last week's post that we have a wood stove in our home which we put into service this time of year. As I write this post, I sit beside it. The fire was started, not with newspapers, but with wrapping paper ripped apart joyfully the day before. Logs crackle and pop like random snare drum strikes, and the fire burns reassuringly with a low sustained bass tone.
I am a planner, so this time of year I decide what to tackle in the coming year. Rather than wait and wonder what will happen, I plan what to improve. It's the whole New Year's Resolutions routine. However, I have discovered that focusing on one improvement throughout the year means my resolution is more likely to be achieved.
And to help remind me of the one promise to myself, I adopt a coffee cup for the year.
Here are some past years' cups:
This is the first mug I ever chose. We had bought some land and were in the process of setting up a trailer there, complete with electricity and running water -- all that modern stuff. I was frustrated by the delays. This picture, with its Victorian house and holly garland on the fence, reassured me every day. We moved to our new home in November of that year.
I chose this mug the year I was going to finish editing my romance novel and get it published. That never happened, but it seemed I had a closer relationship with my husband by the end of that year. Hmm.

This mug was adopted the year I had a very stressful job and I was worried about the health of my heart. I had read that joy keeps hearts healthy, so I found this joyful heart cup to encourage laughter and gratitude in my life. In the autumn, we hired an assistant for me -- and her name was Joy. No kidding!
I love the act of choosing a cup for the year. It's a personal message to myself every day.
This year I have a writing goal I want to accomplish, but I don't know how it would look on  a cup. My goal is that every month I will create the basis of a story: storyboard with index cards, scene outlines, or first draft. Which story I work on and what action doesn't matter, just that I do this work on one of my stories every month. I've already planned for January: the scene outlines for The Fort Detroit Treasure, the third story in my Constitutional Convention Kids Mysteries series. I am curious and excited to see what I work on the other months of 2020.
But right now, how do I translate this plan for the year onto a coffee cup? Maybe a calendar cup? Something about "working drafts", maybe with the picture of a draft horse?
I am open to suggestions!
If you got a mug for your goal this year, what would it be?
Happy Bleak Mid-Winter and happy coffee mug shopping to you all!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Home Fires and Heart Fires

Outside temperature at my house yesterday: -25, warming up to -17.
It's cold here. Mighty cold!
So, as we do every winter when the arctic cold arrives, we started using our wood stove.
Sometimes I surprise people with my adeptness at starting fires and keeping them going. Maybe I look like a city gal. Anyway, what does that say about me, that I am a good fire starter? It says that every winter I work with fire.
I start fires with crunched newspapers, kindling, and matches. My spouse uses newspaper laid out flat, fuel oil, and matches. His fires start more consistently than mine. But I like the idea of kindling: little pieces of wood being used for a bigger purpose.
Once a fire is started, it requires tending.
This is a windy place, so most days, wind creates a strong draft, sucking on the wood in the stove. On these days, the wood burns quickly so new pieces must be added frequently.
Other days, the air outside is still, barely moving. These are more challenging days because there is very little draft for the stove. A fire just doesn't catch. No matter how much kindling or newspaper … no fire. More logs certainly don't help under these circumstances.
If I try to start a fire and put in too many logs, and then try to take a log out, it would probably be smoldering. Translate: dangerous. Where would I put a smoldering log outside the woodstove? It could burn any surface I set it on.
Even on a safe surface, there would be smoke filling up the house, setting off all the fire alarms, requiring that we open the windows. Then neighbors would see smoke billowing out of our house and call the fire department. Then firemen, in full, heavy gear, would drive up in noisy, alarming firetrucks and discover there was just a smoldering log in my house. Then they would put it back in the wood stove. Problem solved.
So best to keep the barely starting fire inside the stove.
Whether there is wind for a draft or not, fires require attention.
As the fire burns throughout the day, it must be fed more wood.
I have learned that most wood stoves do best with three logs burning at a time.
One log, by itself, either burns down quickly without providing much heat, or it doesn't burn at all.
Two logs provide more heat and will burn against each other merrily. Usually, however, they just smolder where they touch. I start my fires with two logs because I want room in the stove for kindling and newspaper. Once a fire is started, I add more logs.

Three logs is, in my experience, the perfect number in a wood stove. They rub against each other, keeping each other burning. They fill the stove without being cramped, which means the stove itself heats up and provides that ambient heat we wood stove lovers love so much.
More than three logs at a time can choke off the draft and the fire.
As you can see, wood stove fires require attention. They do not burn continuously by themselves.
When I am tending the fire in my wood stove, I often reflect on tending to people. Like single logs, people don't do well all by themselves. Literally, their hearts wane. Research is showing us that humans require other humans, regular connections, the face-to-face presence of loved ones.
But of course, get two people together and you risk getting sparks, smoldering looks, disagreements.
When a third person enters the mix, for good or bad reasons, much more happens. Often, fiery exchanges happen. And just as often, deep, heart-felt conversation happens.
These moments are healthy for us. We are herd animals, living most of our existence on this planet in tribes. Connecting with other people, face-to-face, like the logs in my stoves, creates a burn, a fire, a warmth. It warms our hearts.
This time of year can have an arctic effect on some people, chilling their bones and hearts.
If you know someone like this, consider ways to pay attention to them: give them a hand-written note, listen without speaking, seek shared humor, share warm cups of drink -- and chocolates.
Our hearts require tending. They require kindling—little appreciations being used for a greater purpose—drafts of fresh air, ideally outside of buildings, and face-to-face time with other people with with as little time limit as possible.
From my wood stove, my heart stove, to yours this wintry season — warmth and cheer.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Firece Optimism Decking the Halls

I'm not gonna lie, I love this time of year for the music. I know the melodies, the words, the sentiment. I enjoy variations on the old standard tunes, but I also love the Bing Crosby versions.
Oh heck, honestly, I love this time of year. I love the cheerfulness, the hopefulness, the optimism. It's the time of year when I am not insulted by someone for being an optimist.
What is it about optimism that gives the impression of placid, passive, non-resistant? An optimistic  person  probably won't stand up for themselves, is gullible, is an easy mark for a scam.
I am optimistic, and I don't have these qualities. I am energetic, active, resistant.
I resist new ideas, such as voting by mail. Maybe I want us to suffer a little, but standing in line to vote seems like a fair sacrifice for the privilege. Plus, I saw neighbors in line and we caught up on the news of ourselves every two years. Nice.
But I often welcome new technology, such as cell phones. Remember when cell phones could take pictures? Wow! Exciting! Now, as we know, they can almost drive our cars. I confess, I'm resistant to that idea.
Though optimistic, I frequently stand up for myself. Especially on behalf of optimism. But also to keep my place in line at the grocery store, to check an order carefully to make sure I received all that I ordered – and to seek satisfaction if not – or to challenge the doctor about taking medicine that I feel uncomfortable about.
Optimism does not mean gullible. I've been scammed a few times in my life, but I try to learn from those incidents so I'll be more careful, more thoughtful, take more time when a terrific offer comes to me.
In fact, though optimistic about today's world, I am well aware of man's unkindness to mankind. Everyone is capable of hurting their loved ones, of stealing, even of killing. In my world view, no one can be trusted completely. Every single person I know, or know of, is capable of betraying me and breaking my heart.
But here is the pathway of optimism: I love people anyway. I develop close friendships, assist acquaintances when they may run off with my help or my cash, and give food to the food bank even though they may be feeding the same challenging family day after day.
I try to do good anyway.
Although my efforts may be useless or even lead to dire consequences, I try.
Every day I try to do good.
The world is better than ever and my tiny efforts will multiply that good.
Being optimistic means being active, forthright, and open-hearted. It ain't easy. Frequently, I am defensive, fiercely protective of my optimism.
But I choose optimism anyway.
Can you tell?  :)))
Also, this time of year, I can hum, or sing loudly, Deck the Halls with Bows of Holly without reproof. Joy!!!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Lost Looks

A recent question on a social media site: What should a man do if the woman he loved got old and lost her looks?

Let's deconstruct this.

First, what does that mean, really, "she lost her looks?" Did her face melt off of her head and sneak away to hide under a bed with dust bunnies or in the attic among antique furniture and cobwebs?
If someone loses their looks, then what exactly do they look like now? A blank slate? A skeleton skin? (Eew.) A punching bag with hair? But what if hair is lost as well?
If someone's looks have been lost, can they be found, like we find lost keys or library cards? If I found these lost looks, who should I report it to? The Lost Looks Lost and Found? The police? Is there a cardboard box, or a file cabinet, or a series of hooks where these lost looks are kept until claimed? And once claimed, what does a person do with them—replace them? Would I be able to tell if someone is wearing their previously lost looks, now re-attached? Would it matter?
Here's the rub: this comment is made about women. Have you ever heard someone bemoan that a man has "lost his looks"? Rarely. Usually men become "distinguished" as their hair turns silver.
This comment about lost looks implies that a woman is no longer young and attractive, but rather is old and ugly, and therefore "lost". Translate = useless.
Truthfully, most of us women who reach this "old and ugly" stage of life, hardly feel lost. We feel found. We've found renewed passion for past talents, freedom from the dictators of make-up and fashion, and security in discovering the delightful, grumpy, honest woman at this far end of life.
All you women out there, take heart. You may one day lose your looks. Men will no longer view you as attractive, sexy, or interesting.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Ok Boomers

A friend of mine told me she was going on a business trip, but she was nervous about it. I asked her why. I assumed she was afraid of the plane trip, or the city, or a presentation she had to make. "Because," she said tensely, "there will be all those Millenials along."

Apparently there are training programs for employers to show them how to work with Gen Xers and now Millenials. These supposedly thoughtful people warn older workers about all the problems they'll face with these difficult youngsters. "They can't write by hand," the trainers warn. "They are slackers with no aspirations, cynical, infantile, distrustful of institutions and impractical."

No wonder my friend was worried!

RANT ALERT: I hate this kind of language: denigrating and stereotyping others. To get a sense of how mean-spirited this is, replace the word Millenials with the word women: "Those women are slackers, cynical, infantile, distrustful of institutions and impractical."

Sound awful? It should! We could use the words "African-Americans", or "Irish" or "Asians", and it would still be name-calling. I call on all employers to avoid these types of "training" programs, and instead search for ways to help people work together rather than fear each other. END OF RANT.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned our new kitten, Lacey, who jumps on our middle-aged tomcat

Gen Xers, Millenials, Gen Yers and Gen Zers; they are all similar to Lacey, young and still learning. We should be giving them support and showing them patience, not beating up on them or – even worse!—calling them names.

Because, at the end of the day, WE were once the kittens in our world; the awkward, rowdy, cursing, badly behaved set. We paid no attention to our elders who had lived through THE Great Depression and THE World War Two. They had a lot of experience (believe me, I heard all about it growing up), and they had plans for all of us born to them. Top of the list: we would appreciate their survival, their hard-fought battles, and do exactly what they wanted us to do with our lives because of their sacrifices.

By now, our generation -- the Baby Boomers they called us because our being born caused a boom in the population after 1945, not because of any big noise we made – is well known for its flippancy, failure to follow rules, and drug use. We protested EVERYTHING. We marched, and signed petitions, and danced in the streets when we were supposed to be in class. We were such terrible youngsters, jumping on and harassing our elders in the same way that Lacey pesters Jones.

And now we are the Joneses of our world; the world-weary and anxious; longing for peace and quiet

As Jones runs away from Lacey to get out of her way, so must we – get out of the way.

It's okay, fellow Boomers, we've done our part; raised this fascinating new generation, set them on their feet to face the world with kindness and confidence. We did a great job!

We ARE okay.