Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Milepost Day

My oldest granddaughter passed her driver's test this morning and has been duly added to her parents' insurance. She will be driving, probably later today, in the car without one of us in the car with her for the first time.

And once again, we let her go a little more, let her fly a little higher.

We revel in the early first steps, crawling, walking. But even then, we have consequences. There's the trail of debris through the house as we hunt down the new walker. And other life lessons. When this same granddaughter was three something, she giggled and encouraged her little sister to walk just like the rest of us. Right up until same little sister could reach her big sister's previously inviolate crayons on the table.

"Hey!," she yelled, as much shocked as indignant, "she's getting in my stuff!"

By now, she sometimes raids her sister's stuff. So it goes.

I hope she remembers her first drive alone. I don't. I remember the weeks immediately after, but not that solo drive.

I remember her daddy, when he was seven, riding his bike to school the first time. I watched him pedal madly up the drive in his Cub Scout uniform, backpack in place, brown lunch sack swinging from his hand on the handlebars. It was a country town, lightly traveled road, a mile from the school. And my heart was in my throat. And he thrived.

I lived in a small town, too, but surrounded by mountains. My father was upset when he learned I had driven the old family car up and down a 40-degree incline on a mountain road--with cliffs on part of it--one day as part of a summer job I held. He had been meaning to repair the brakes. No problem, I assured him, I just put the car in a lower gear.

And so it goes.

No wonder the thought of guardian angels persists as we see ourselves, and our young ones, survive certain catastrophes over and over again. Catastrophes that, after all, never happen. Maturation and growth automatically opens us to greater risk.

Tonight, we have a family dinner of the bunch of us to celebrate the birthdays of two of us. New beginnings for them, and new beginnings for the new driver among us.

Anticipation of the year ahead and good food. Lots of love. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ruminations on a Single Snowy Day in Texas

Winter came late to North Texas this season.

Outside my windows, the streets and grass are white, the trees and bushes gilded with clinging snowflakes. We don't get the pretty ones with six points and endless variation. We get pinches of sizes ranging from scarcely visible to penny-sized,cottony fluffy stuff. It is falling rapidly, but the flakes are small enough now that, after three hours, we have maybe three inches.

We had sleet and freezing rain Monday and Tuesday, truly nasty stuff. The coverage was scant--although branches limned in crystal clear ice are rather pretty. Schools were closed then, because temperatures and wind were in the 20s, and the scarcity of such storms means our supplies of street protection are limited because of the expense. Better if people stay home a day or two.

Today, the snow came early. We were preparing for a noonish event. I had planned to go out for a few hours and went into my bedroom at 8:40 a.m. to dress. No precip at all. I came out 20 minutes later to find a full cover of white over the landscape, streets included. The cottony-sized snowflakes were falling heavily and rapidly.

I called to my destination and was told I was not needed, to stay home. So I have. I have spent a lot of time at my windows watching the birds. They have hit my sunflower seeds and millet like a high school football team finding a lone 7-11 convenience store open on their way home after the game. Much gobbling, shoving, intimidation.

I have put out food three times in three hours and will wait until later in the day for more. I don't know what has happened to the blue jays here; I never see them any more. I have had many cardinals, mockingbirds, and I don't know what the sparrow-looking bird is with a flash of pale green on the chest, many juncos, who look so round all puffed out. White-winged doves are actually fairly gracious about sharing. Late in the morning, however, a gang of starlings found the cache. I sighed. They were aggressive, numerous, and allowed no other birds in, even the cardinals, who seem to feel pretty entitled most of the time. I love their choreography together in the air; they must be fed. Today, I would even be gracious to the grackles, but none came.

The dogs loved it, not wanting to come in. Later inside, Brody wanted to play, chasing his tail and pouncing, dancing around the living room scattering the rugs. Gracie was intrigued, but highly concerned that it was a trick so he could swoop in and get her rawhide chew. (She considers it perfectly acceptable if she does the same, and if he tries to retrieve, she gives her bully bark you can hear three houses away.) Brody HAD his own chew, but she was not enticed. His exuberant dancing made me laugh.

Daughter-in-law called on her way home after her office closed to tell me they would pick my granddaughters up from school today, "of course."
I appreciated the call. It's the wisest thing. And I paused, just a minute, to remember.I used to drive 40 miles each way in snow and sleet, park six blocks from the office, and never missed most days. I played in it, and hot chocolate just isn't the same when you haven't gotten good and cold first, Wind chill currently is about 10, just two days after we hit the 60s briefly. Such go many winters in North Texas.

It is not to be envied, our lack of snow or sleet or freezing rain up till now. It may mean our drought will continue for the fourth year. Heard the other night that the Dallas-Fort Worth part of North Texas has gotten more rain than the rest of the state. Our lakes are 68 percent full. Lakes--and all but one in the whole, huge state of Texas are man-made--are at 38 percent elsewhere. This is the drinking, farming, irrigation water. We have no rivers. And every day, several hundred more people move here. Scary.

Today, for me, isn't a day to dwell beyond what is. I am fortunate to have warmth and shelter.

I have soup on the stove, chicken in the oven. A pretty view, and the weatherman has promised it won't last more than 2-3 days. A predicted high of 70 by Tuesday.

Sometimes, indeed, change is good.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The New Physics of Predetermination

I was listening to an interview with the author of a new Broadway play, "Constellations", which involves the concept of "multiverses". The audience must understand the concept in order to understand the play. Multiverses are concurrent universes. The interesting thing is, the interview was on a science show on PBS.

I recently had a transcendent moment for a couple of hours after two Nova shows on physics and string theory when I almost grasped the concepts. I'm back to my simplistic understanding of quantum physics as being related to if you put down a bowl of cat food, the cat will come, and if a bowl of dog food, the dog will come. (I think I also understood something about somebody's cat and a box, but that's gone now, too.)

Well, the theory has gone far beyond me. A growing number of physicists seem to believe theory shows a strong possibility of multiple universes.
A number of these same physicists apparently think these different universes are really the same universe, but with different outcomes. And that free choice, a prized attribute of humans, doesn't exist.

And that sort of blows my mind. I will have to learn more about this.

It sure would make a crazier universe than anyone expected.

So far as I understand, theism plays no part in these theories. It is all based on theoretical equations. And the snippet I heard may actually be as unrelated to actual physics as the cat and the cat food. But it is terribly interesting.

I'm imagining a universe where the asteroid missed the earth and dinosaurs still exist. People have not evolved yet. I would not be writing there.
And aliens might not be from far off galaxies, but alternate universes. At the least, it could be the greatest jolt to fiction since the popularity of the apocalypse. Literal space travel, from one universe to another. Maybe that's what worm holes could be....You wouldn't need time travel. You would just go to the universe where humans are in a different century. Or decade. Whatever. And you and yourself COULD both exist at the same time, because you would belong to different universes.

Great fun to think about.

I do believe in global warming. I doubt in my lifetime any physicist will come up with enough evidence to convince me that my sorry end is a predetermined when, where and how. What's the fun in that?

As I mentioned, all of these ideas came out of a discussion with the author of a new Broadway play. I just hope his plot is not obscured by all the discussion about the underlying theses. Or maybe that will be a good thing. Predetermined, so to speak.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ignoring the why when bad things happen

I've started three times today, and will work on the first two later. They need more thinking and more time.

I am not sure, but the only thing I really see that separates us from animals is one question:

Why?

Well, and the fact that animals have instincts where humans do not--and as we evolved, when did THAT creep in?
Humans don't believe they don't have instincts. I hear people talk about human instincts all the time.

We have a lot of fantasies we live by.

Watching my dog post-surgery for 29 days with a hood around his neck, I finally got it.
The fist couple of days, in pain, his eyes when he looked at me showed pain. He felt pain. He was trying to cope with this new reality. I don't think now, looking over it, that he ever wondered why? He was just sad and hurting.

His incision is almost invisible now, and he feels so good. He does remember the vet's office as a place he is not willing to go quite so much as before, but just a month later, that resistance is fading.

If he had wondered why, he wouldn't have come confidently to me for comfort and petting. His behavior would have changed as he tried to convince me not to hurt him again. He remained constant, consistently himself. That's admirable, I think.

When you take "why" out of your consciousness, the life you lead changes tremendously. " Why" leads to a lot of misunderstandings. "Why" leads to wars, and a cure for polio, and mass killings and better crop rotation. "Why", in fact, is the most dangerous question in human intellect.

If I were a better story-teller, I could weave a story about a curious woman who just had to open a box she wasn't supposed to open. But she was already infected with curiosity and wanting to know why.

Curiosity doesn't have to be about why. It can be about what's there? how does it work? where is it? Contrary to chainsaw massacre movie scenarios, survival can be aided by curiosity.

Be careful with that why question. It is seldom, if ever, answered simply. Misunderstanding the answer has caused a world of hurt through the eons.

But my silly dog doesn't ask why. If he worries, I don't see it. He doesn't anticipate bad times. If they come, he deals. When bad times end, he's happy. Actually, during the bad times he still found pleasure and some happiness.

He doesn't wonder why things worked out that way.

Silly old dog. He isn't smart. But he sure is wise.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Living with the 4 a.m. Wake Up Call

I have never awakened at four in the morning expecting my thoughts to cheer and entertain me. Never once said to myself, "Oh, good! I have waked up to have some lovely, happy thoughts." Nope.

Saturday night, I had one of those episodes where I wake at 4 a.m., pretty alert, and start thinking. Sleep is not going to come again for awhile. Sometimes, before I go back to sleep, and I usually do, I will set the alarm so I will get up when I intended, if necessary.

If I have a strenuous, hectic day ahead, not so bad. I may review my planning, tweak the routine somewhat, add things I forgot or move some task in my mind to another day. If I am anxious, I will meditate and/or pray about it. Often, I read for awhile.

This time was one of those life reviews when, at 4 a.m., my mind taps me on the shoulder and says, "Listen,you jerk, you need to wake up and think about this. I am so disappointed in you." I guess you could say that sometimes, in the dark of night, I am awakened by my hauntings.

Saturday night's waking, I know, was initially prickled by something I said I would do in two weeks and now it has been three. Which led to remembering other promises fulfilled slowly or not at all, and then the promises I should have made but never did. And at 4 a.m., for me, there are no excuses.

I don't know if these hauntings have made me a better person; certainly I will absolutely fulfill the delayed promise that woke me this time. I realize every one of us have had troubles, imperfections we struggle with, but I am sure--at 4 in the morning--that you have done better with yours.

It's just that I intended to do so much more and so much better.

I remember I was shocked when I turned 30. Thirty! Time was actually passing so much faster than I thought and I still hadn't done....x or y, or even z.

I am proud of the times when I have been relatively fearless, and so regretful for times I wasn't. I am more than 70 now, and I thought I would have grown up a long time ago, but I have learned life doesn't work that way. I see persons my age who seem finished. Content. Pleased. I enjoy them, but I still have so far to go. If every life is a kind of mountain we climb, I expected to have been so much further along the hillside by now. No summit in sight. (In site also works.)

I thought I knew a lot about love, and acceptance, and listening. I did know some. I've learned a lot more in the last year.

Philosophically, some one asked me recently, "Who are the people in your life you cannot forgive?"

That is a tough question. Everyone I have ever known personally I can, and have, forgiven. Faceless terrorists, greedy conscience-less capitalists who will harm the very earth as well as people...that's harder. That is more about causes.

The one person I have not yet been able to forgive is myself. So many hours and days wasted. So much more I could have done. Even better books I could have read and learned from. That time can't be changed or altered. It is past. Which is why the serenity prayer begins,"Give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change." It's hard to do.

The paradox is, I waste more energy better spent on the present and future if I fight the past.

So I will continue to struggle, and work to stop struggling and just do what comes next, and accept myself. No Pulitzer. No best-seller. No world tour for the kids, or trip to New Zealand and Australia for me...will I ever get to Boston, even? I'll never marry brilliantly, or hire a chauffer for my old age. I regret that I took the work I loved to do instead of being responsible enough to take at least one of the work opportunities that would have left me, now, with more money. And I sigh. If I don't want to do something, I am awfully bad at it. And that is self-indulgent.

I did read something recently that may help, and I will start journaling these stark 4 a.m. reviews.

I do know I enjoy my life overall, and that I believe my struggles make me a better human being. I am not hopeful of ever becoming such a good human being, though, that I think I shall ever have a time when my self doesn't tap me wide awake at 4 a.m. in the morning to tell me yet again, "We need to talk. You have really screwed up."

I do hope I get better at looking in a mirror and saying with sincerity, "I'm here for you."

I am glad I am hopeful again. And I regret, yes, that I let myself stop being so for a while.

Helen Hayes was one of the people who said, "It doesn't matter how many times you fall down. It's how many times you get up."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Evolution of Feeding Children in Modern Times

A friend posted 30 photos of cute kids on Facebook yesterday, each with a caption about their picky eating habits.

All were under 5. A few were toddlers. The kid who dumps any food on the floor from his high chair unless said food is in a bowl gets a walk, and so do his parents. It irritates me more when I see parents not teaching toddlers about plates and bowls and consistently placin the food on the high chair tray. We aren't talking mashed potatoes, because said parents probably aren't teaching the kid to use spoons or forks yet, either.

What got me was the caption on a picture of one cutie, "I make my mom make something fresh every time I take one bite." Uh. Really?

You know, you don't see cat skeletons in the trees when they are scared to come down, and hungry children WILL eat.No need to make a fuss. No yelling or tears from the parent. Just...calm.

I have been volunteering with a mid-week program at my church for about five years now where the kids come in, sit six at a table with two adults not their parents, and learn to pass food family style. There are table rules, including taking a bite of everything, not leaving their seats or talking between tables, and not putting their feet on the table. The kids seem surprised. A lot of the adults let them break these rules regularly. These are almost all kids from middle class families.

I've had kids who screwed up their faces as they bravely ate one tiny little bud of broccoli at the beginning of the year who were scarfing down broccoli with cheese sauce by the end of the year. I've seen others who continued to find broccoli a yucky food. But they learn not to comment on it and not discuss the yuckiness with everyone else.

With new children, we ask if they have had family style meals before, and many haven't seen it except at extended family Christmas meals. In those cases, a lot of the time the food is served buffet style and someone else filled their plates. The big change I've seen in five years is the lack of experience even fourth and fifth graders have in serving themselves. Mom or Dad fills the plate and sets it in front of them. They have no concept of passing the food from person to person, no patience in waiting for the dish to reach them. They enjoy the task of getting the food on the spoon and to their plate without spilling. (You never know what skills you might learn in a church.)

And I, who am a basic slob where housekeeping is concerned, bite my tongue at the way the table gets set. My fellow teachers see no reason to make a fuss. It drives me nuts to see the fork and spoon to the right of the plate and the knife to the left, or some other non-standard configuration. I, too, let it go. The point is to talk to each other at the table and enjoy the food. I talk to them about the importance of seeing that everyone at the table has what they want before we all eat. Oh. One reason the kids love to be the server who goes for the food and then clears, I think, is another rule. We can pass the food, but until the server sits and takes a bite, no one can eat.

(I find I do this as well when I am invited to someone's home where the hostess is putting the food on the table. I wait till she sits down with us. I notice more and more that most people simply start eating. I think that's rude.)

A fair number of families still eat together one or more times a week at the table. Still more eat together on the couch in front of a movie on the television. I think that younger children are used to someone else dishing up and simply putting the plate in front of them. I find that five and six-year-olds can do it themselves. Awkwardly, and they usually take too much at first. They learn, We have very little spillage.

In this same five-year period, I am finding it harder to find some implements or foods I have taken for granted all my life. Society's choices are changing. Maybe eating together and passing the food is becoming archaic. I hope not.

Looking beyond your own plate is vital if we live together. It has been an easy tool for fostering harmony and smooth interaction in society, one table at a time.

I will be sorry if we let that vanish. It costs nothing to do. And it can be so pleasant.

And every once in a while, one of us stops to notice if someone else has an empty plate.