Love Needs Memories

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Quinn’s grandpa, my loving husband, Bruce

 

My grandfather was an enterprising, intelligent, successful, and moral man. But Alzheimer’s disease stole all of that when he was only in his mid-sixties.

Once, he took his grandchildren down to the San Francisco financial district and gave us lessons about business and banks (all age appropriate) and people, and manners, and proper deportment. He took us on trips to the ocean, even though he was allergic to the sun, to the zoo, and Golden Gate park, and rowed us on Stowe Lake, and treated us to tea and cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden.

 

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Oh how I loved Granddaddy. He also played duets on the piano with my uncle Harold and sang funny songs from another era. He was a good provider, president of his import/export company, a loving husband, and a good gardener.

But Alzheimer’s gradually robbed him of an articulate tongue, of recent memories, and how to do simple things.

I remember visiting my grandparents when I was about fourteen. One night, my grandmother had put Granddaddy in the other bedroom in a twin bed. He was too restless to sleep in the same bed with Grandmommy. I was sleeping in the other twin bed. Granddaddy kept waking up yelling, “Help, help!”

i got up and tried to soothe him. “What wrong, Granddaddy?” He looked scared, and my grandfather had never been scared of anything.

He finally came to full consciousness and said, “It’s nothing. Don’t listen to me. Go back to sleep.”

Eventually my grandmother had to put him in a nursing home. We went to visit him but he didn’t remember us. Didn’t remember that he ever loved us or that he had done so many grandfatherly things with us. All of that was gone.

The last time I visited him, he was very close to death, was in a hospital, and didn’t have a mind. His emaciated body and sunken eyes shocked me. I think he only weighed about 80 pounds. My granddaddy had once been a robust 170 pounds on an average five foot nine frame.

Mercifully, pneumonia took him. I had just turned sixteen. My aunt June, the wonderful singer, tearfully sang for his funeral.

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A recent memory of a drive with my honey on the Cascade Loop and Diablo Lake

I thought, how terrible to lose your memories. When that happens, you don’t remember that you loved someone, and you don’t know that that woman or man standing over your bed loves you.

Being loved and loving others is the most important thing in the world. But if you don’t have any memories of that person or all that you’ve meant to each other, then you don’t love.

Nearly fifty years later, I’m thinking about my love for Jesus. How grateful I am to have memories of all that He’s done for me, His lovingkindness, faithfulness, His provision, His protection. If I lost those memories of all the times He’s revealed Himself to me, would I still love Him?

Psalm 103 says:

“Let all that I am praise the Lord;

may I never forget the good things He does for me.

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.

He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

He fills my life with good things;

my youth is renewed like the eagles.

 

How grateful I am that I can still remember all these things. I’ve learned not to take memory for granted because I’ve seen how quickly it can be stolen by disease. Yet even though we forget, God will never forget us, or that we are held in His mighty hand. What a comfort!

 

The Problem With Happiness

It’s a funny thing about amusement parks. They should be just about the happiest places on earth.

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But, as anyone who’s ever gone to Disneyland or Disney World, or Great Adventure, or LegoLand, or any other amusement park, there are gallons of tears shed by little tykes at these places.

Why?

I think it has to do with expectations.

Never mind that just being able to get through the entrance gates is a gift: a huge sacrifice for most middle-income parents or grandparents or from whomever is paying the entrance fee. (We shelled out 500 dollars the other day for Bruce and I, our daughter, and our two granddaughters. Not including parking fees and food and souvenirs.)

But kids don’t consider that kind of thing. They’re looking forward to rides and rides and rides, and snacks, and prizes and souvenirs and toys, and on and on.

So  the child enters through those noisy, crowded gates, heart aflutter, stomach buzzing, feet twitching to get to the first ride, any ride, jes-gimme-a-ride ride.

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The line is long for that first ride. It’s not the best ride, but at least it’s the nearest one to the entrance gate. All the other parents are thinking the same thing. So we inch along, slower than the proverbial snail.

At last the moment comes. We crawl into the kid-sized seats and pull the lap bar down firm against our middle-aged paunches.

The ride lasts about ten seconds. I see the look of surprised disappointment on my granddaughter’s face. That’s it? That’s what we waited half an hour for. One loop around, one scream, one dip, and we’re done?

Next, we head for the merry-go-round. That line is pretty long, too. I don’t go on this ride because I want to grab a few photos of the kids as they round the bend. The photos don’t come out too well, but at least the kids enjoyed the three go arounds.

Now they’re asking for a snack, so we head on over to the Asian food. We pay way too much, and the kids hardly touch their food. This is where I hear a kid whining about not being able to ride the roller coaster. A younger child is wailing because he didn’t get whatever. I didn’t want to eavesdrop.

We wait in the long line—there’s always a line— at the rest room. As we exit, I hear two other young kids crying.

My granddaughter is nervous about our next ride. It looks scary. I tell her “no worries ’cause we’re all strapped in and it doesn’t even go that high.”

The line for that ride wasn’t too awfully long maybe because one had to be at least three feet tall to ride. And we didn’t even have to go all the way to the top if we didn’t want to because we are the ones controlling the rope attached to the gears. Why didn’t we go higher up? my granddaughter asks afterward. Because you kept telling me to stop pulling us higher. You don’t like heights. But, after not getting killed on this particular ride, she’s a bit disappointed we didn’t risk going all the way to the top.

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I saw one dad try to get into a particular ride with a way-too-small child. After waiting for half an hour, he got turned away. But I didn’t feel too sorry for him. There was this bar at the entrance that said your child had to be at least this tall, but he must have thought the rule didn’t apply for him and for his child.

The weather is warm and this seems to make kids tired and cranky.

The smaller kids who still need to be wheeled around in strollers are complaining about being strapped into a hot seat. About ninety percent of them—the ones who aren’t asleep—are screaming for freedom.

The mothers have that harassed look you see when they’re about ten seconds away from going postal. They’re annoyed with the dads who aren’t helping with the screamer, even though the dads are carrying the camera, the diaper bag, with one kid on their shoulders and one in tow. (Is everybody happy?)

 

The ride workers have their instruction voices down cold. They’ve said their lines at least 16 billion times this season. They have smile lines etched into their faces like marionettes. I find myself simultaneously laughing and smarting at the thought of their daily grind. They remind me of the elves in Santa’s line in the movies, The Christmas Story.

What a happy place!

Mostly, Bruce and I enjoyed our seven hours of wait-lines and short rides and hot sun and cranky kids. Actually, our grandkids did amazingly well, considering the crowds and lines and exorbitant prices in the stores. I didn’t hear complaints. And I’m pleased with them. I hope they mature to the point that they don’t take the gift of attending an expensive amusement park for granted. I hope they got home and remembered to thank Mom and Dad for giving them such a great vacation instead of simply assuming it’s their due.

I thought a lot about this during those seven hours. How visiting an amusement park illustrates our human condition. We want to be happy, and happy all the time. We have expectations of pleasing ourselves 100 percent of the time. We forget about all the good things we’re getting or have gotten because of that one thing we didn’t get.

Why do we do that? I do that, and I hate than about myself. Each day I need to remind myself that life is not an amusement park. It may have amusement park moments, but these moments are only a part of our individual time-lines.

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I think the happy experience of the amusement park is happiest for those whose daily lives teach them that the expectation of constant happiness is simply not realistic, or even healthy. That this particular happy moment is a gift from God, a joyful handing over to His child a slice in time as a delectable and rare treat to be savored. And then, pleasing God by turning around and saying, “Wow, thanks, Lord. That was fun.”

 

 

 

Lessons From a Paraglider

Bruce and I went for a hike last Saturday at the Blanchard. Forest Block. I really enjoy this hike. It’s about seven miles round trip: just right for a morning’s outing. The trail starts out like this.

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I love how the trees stretch and lean toward each other like they’re whispering secrets about the hikers who pass underneath.

Even though this hike is a there and back type—I usually like loops because I don’t like seeing the same thing twice on a hike—this one has a delightful reward: the Sound and the San Juan Islands.

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At the overlook, Bruce and I snacked on trail mix and I snapped a few photos. Right about when we had decided to head on back, a guy and a gal showed up with some colorful cloths bundles and began to unroll it on a gravelly pad just below where we sat.

Aha, they’re going to paraglide. I got my camera ready to grab their images as they floated off.

But, my gosh, they took the longest time preparing for their flight. A couple of other folks showed up, and by their questions to the flying duo, I could tell they knew something about the sport, themselves.

The young man unrolled the kite-like cloth, smoothed it, checked it. Talked. Answered questions. Studied the area, studied the wind conditions. (Barely a breeze.) I wondered how in the world they could get their gliders up in the air with so little wind.

I couldn’t see the woman. She was hidden from view by some bushes. But the guy stood near the precipice, studying, examining, checking his equipment.

Finally, he suited up: harness, helmet. Checking, checking again. And he seemed to enjoy instructing the onlookers about the sport.

I stood there for a full fifteen minutes, holding my camera up, waiting.

The guy was extraordinarily deliberate and methodical. Like a good thriller, his actions made me tingle with anticipation, whetting my appetite, holding me in suspense. Any second, now. Any second.

I’m sure he had no idea I was watching from uphill, practically jumping up and down in my impatience to see him take off.

He raised his arms, like a frigate bird drying its wings. Yes! Get ready…

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And then…and then…

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Lift off!

Immediately afterward, the guy disappeared from view, and I was concerned he’d  plummeted to the sea.

But a couple of seconds later, he re-emerged:

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Beautiful. Almost makes me want to paraglide.

Almost.

Some takeaways from my fifteen minute observation of the paraglider:

  1. The guy was experienced. He didn’t just think he could paraglide. By his conversation and by the way he handled his equipment, he had done this thing many times.
  2. He took his time, which I think is the mark of a seasoned sportsman.
  3. He was gracious to the people who asked him questions. He had a calm, almost humble, attitude, and he was willing to take the time to explain his method.
  4. He patiently waited to take off until his female partner, with her paragliding stuff, was also ready to take off.

Some good questions for me in my writing life or for you and whatever you aspire to:

  • Am I doing all I can to gain experience and continue building my skills, like this paraglider?
  • Am I kind, and am I able to explain my methods to others?
  • Do I take the time to ensure I’m producing a well-thought out, superior product?
  • Can I work well with others, showing consideration and respect for their individual needs and preferences?

I am so glad I stayed to watch this paragliding man. My photos will remind me to imitate a paraglider whenever I work on another writing project.

 

Love to Write

Whenever I talk about writing, I usually speak first about the glory of words.

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There are words like “tumultuous, ” and “desultory,” “magnanimous, ” and “quotidian.” Cool words. The kind of words you learn in high school English class. Don’t you just want to wrap your mouth around those words and squeeze out every delicious syllable?

I’ve always loved words. I love how they make me feel. I love the way words sweep me away into the writer’s alternative world.

I remember in the fourth grade, once a week we got to march down to the school library and pick out a book. Finally, I got the chance to check out a book I wanted to read, not the boring biographies my mom kept trying to get me to read. I loved books about dogs and wildlife and nature. I took out books on birds and reptiles, sharks, and big cats, and wolves. I also loved poetry, especially Carl Sandburg and Emily Dickenson. I checked out books on art and how to sketch.

I loved those hardbound books with the clear plastic covers. Our teacher would reward us for getting our assignments done by reading to us another chapter of some riveting children’s novel. As she shifted the book from one hand to another, the plastic cover made this wonderful little plastick-y, riffle-y sound. Today, when I hear that plastic sound, it brings me back to fourth grade.

I liked writing book reports, and never found it very challenging. My teacher taught me these elements: Who, what, when, where, why—and sometimes—how.

Writing a book is kind of like writing a book report, only bigger, and way more engaging. “Who” is in a situation? “What’s” the problem? “Why” is he/she struggling with this problem? “When” will she learn what she needs to know to overcome her obstacle? “Where” will she go to discover the answer? “How” will she go about dealing with her obstacle or enemy? How has she changed through this process of growing and struggling?

All good books answer these questions even if the ending solution isn’t what I hoped it would be. Right now I’m in the middle of Chevy Steven’s (suspense writer) “Never Let You Go.” It’s about an abusive, control-freak, ex-husband who’s out to regain his wife, or kill her. Totally engrossing book, if you like to be scared—which I do. And yes, it answers all the “W” questions.

Here are the books I’ve read in the past six weeks.

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Oh, and these, too:

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As well as reading a lot this season, I’m writing, too.  Which brings me to my note to my…

E-newsletter subscribers:

I’m editing and preparing to place a small ebook on my website for my newsletter subscribers. This is a short book based on deleted scenes from my latest release, Haven’s Hope. if you sign up for my newsletter, you will be able to get this novella-length book for free.

Have you ever wondered how your life could have gone another direction if you had simply taken an alternative route to work, or had a random conversation with somebody and it changed your life? These deleted scenes from Haven’s Hope will give you, the reader, a chance to see “might have been” with Haven.

I’ll make another announcement when the file is ready for downloading.

Have a great day. Blessings to you from the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

 

Blackberries: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

 

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The sun is shining this morning. Gloriously so. I knew that even before I opened my eyes because the light penetrated through my eyelids.

A house sparrow perches near my window and sings a long, involved peep, dee, doodly, peep, zee doo-dah, peeply, peep, peep, dee riff. The length of his song makes me breathless, wondering when the tiny bird will come up for air. As a former singer, I wish I had that kind of breath control.

Yay, it’s the season for tulips and daffodils.

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I absolutely love mornings, especially by the sea, and especially when it’s a spring day. But with spring comes the yearly chore begins of inspecting the gardens and deciding what to prune, what to fertilize, what to dig up, what to plant.

Yesterday I spread fertilizer and weed killer on my lawn and wondered why nothing seems to kill the blackberry which has spread from the vacant land behind our house, submarined its way to our unsuspecting lawn, its thorny tentacles emerging  among the blades of grass like horrible zombie fingers from a fresh grave.

Today, I’ll go outside and check to see if there are any more invaders in or around my little patch of grass. Blackberries are like spiders: they’re fine as long as they stay where they belong. In the spider’s case, I talk to them just like this whenever I encounter one: “Okay, spider, just live in the garden and it’ll be live and let live. But if you get it into your spider head to hunt bugs inside my sacred, spider-less abode: you’re dead!”

Same with blackberries. Stay in your patch with all the other blackberry bushes and don’t go thinking—I’m sure blackberry bushes can indeed think—that there are greener pastures, like in my lawn or garden.

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“Die, monster, die!” I growl as I spray and spray and spray weed killer, saturating each thorny length of vine.

I should have been wearing gloves to get this shot:

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A few days later, the blackberry withers, browns, and shrinks back into the earth. But I know it will be back. Blackberries have more lives than cats. I remember my dad doing the annual battle with them back at our home in Lafayette, California. But one year, before my father could poison the vines, my brother, Jay, harvested the berries and we had several week’s worth of blackberry syrup for our pancakes. Wow, was that ever wonderful.

There’s nothing better—in my opinion—than a ripe succulent blackberry. Don’t bother to take them home and wash them. Just blow off the debris and pop that little sucker in your mouth. Heavenly.

But the thorny vines? Oh, the battles I’ve fought, the scars I’ve accrued!

They want blood, they crave human blood. Just like zombies.

And if you think you can merely chop them into submission, you’re wrong. They’ll grow ten more thorny vines to replace the one you amputated. I kind of suspect that if I slept near a blackberry bush, it’d wrap itself around me during the night. That’s how fast they grow.

I wish we had thorn-less blackberry vines. Do they have such a thing? If they did, I’d tear out my lawn and let the blackberry bushes go to town. I’d cut little alley ways vertically and horizontally through the bushes. I’d tenderly nurture the plants-as if they needed it!—and speak to them lovingly, stroke their pretty serrated leaves. I’d plant blackberry bushes in pots and place them on my deck, and show them off to my dinner guests. I’d write poems about how lovely blackberry bushes are, how benign and productive they are, how they serve mankind.

But, alas, the reality of those thorns keep the blackberry vines relegated to the outer limits of my property.

I just hope, that come late July, I get first dibs on the tasty berries. After all, none of my neighbors has had to chop and hack at the blackberries. I’m the one with the battle scars.

Blackberries are a good metaphor for all of nature. You can enjoy them, feast on them, hike near them, even camp near them, but remember, they’re wild!

i’m not going to even try to construct some kind of biblical metaphor with blackberry vines as the evil intruder and how we, as Christians need to be on our guard to keep at bay their intrusion.

Nope. Blackberries have wonderful tasting berries, but they’re intrusive and their thorns are lethal for your unprotected skin. That’s it. Anything else is just plain silly.

 

 

 

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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