Dinner Talk

By the time Stan Ellis was finished mucking out the stalls, he was exhausted even though he’d been doing it for the past nine years. As an eight-year-old, when he first came to live with his grandparents, he hated the smell of the horses’ droppings, the texture of the straw, and working in the shadowy barn. Because he’d been born in the city, he knew nothing about ranch life and hadn’t planned on every living on one. But when his parents died, he’d had no choice.

His school day was followed by a hour and a half of band practice, something he’d recently added after Grandpa Ellis convinced him he needed an elective for college admissions. He’d picked up his grandpa’s old saxophone, and after watching a few YouTube videos, was soon playing elementary songs.

Band wasn’t too hard. It was marching and playing that exhausted him mentally and physically.

It was after four by the time he got home, then cleaning stalls for an hour before he could tackle homework. All of it added up to a lot of work.

Stan thoroughly washed his hands then made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He pulled out his homework and began studying for a Physics test the next day. Just as he finished reviewing the assigned chapter his seventy-year old grandpa came in. He brought the outside in with him which Stan now found endearing.

“We’re having spaghetti tonight. Is that okay?” Grandpa asked as he pulled a pot and lid out of the cabinet.

“Sounds great. Can we have a salad too?”

“If you make it.”

Stan pulled lettuce, radishes, and cheese out of the refrigerator. He took a tomato off the counter and fetched bacon bits from the pantry. “So, are you going to give me the money or not?”

“Can you explain it to me again?”  Grandpa dumped a handful of noodles into a pan of boiling water and then wiped his hands on his jeans.

“The money’s due tomorrow or I can’t go to Disneyland.”

“Why’re you going there?”

“I’ve explained it several times.” Stan finished assembling the salad, set it on the table, and then flopped into a hand-hewn chair. “I’ve missed every deadline so far. I’m surprised my teacher’s still letting me go.”

Grandpa stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “Let’s see. What extra jobs have you done to earn money?”

Stan sighed and ran his hands over his lanky brown hair. “I dug the weeds out of the pony pens and I trimmed the bushes along the drive.”

“That’s part of your job,” Grandpa said.

“According to that line of reasoning, then anything I do around here is my job,” Stan said. “Look, Grandpa, I really want to go. I’ve got to pay the full amount tomorrow or I’m out.”

Grandpa slipped a loaf of French bread out of its wrapper and laid it on the cutting board. He picked up a knife and sliced off four hefty pieces. “Explain again the reason for the trip.”

“The band’s marching in the Main Street Parade and performing on the stage in Tomorrowland.” Stan leaned his chin on his hands and looked at his grandfather with sparkling eyes. “I want to go.”

After popping open a jar of sauce and pouring it into a pan, Grandpa sat at the table.  “How much are we talking about?”

“We’re flying, so that’s about $300. No hotel costs because we’re staying in a high school gym. They’re feeding us breakfast and dinner. Admission to the park is about $100. The only other cost is for my lunch.”

“So about $500?”

Stan shrugged. “Yeah.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.” Grandpa walked over to the stove, poured a little oil into the water with the noodles and then stirred the now simmering sauce.

“You sold a foal last week to Mr. Newton for a thousand dollars.”

“I paid bills with that money.  We owe Smith’s Hay and Feed over two thousand and Bill’s been asking for his money since he fixed the truck.”

“But everyone else is going.” Stan flopped his head down on his crossed arms.

“Set the table.  We’ll be eating in about five minutes.”

Stan shuffled to the cabinet, and with exaggerated effort got down two plates and glasses.  With an audible sigh, he set them on the canvas placemats that were always on the table.

Grandpa strained the water from the noodles and then dropped in a slice of butter.  He tossed the noodles, poured in the sauce, and carried the pan over to the table.  “Let’s talk.”

Stan scooped a mound of spaghetti onto his plate and sprinkled on a heavy layer of Parmesan cheese.  “It’s during Spring Break so I won’t miss any school. You filled out the permission form that had all the details. I even left a copy for you to keep  My plane ticket’s been bought.  I can’t back out now.”

“I can’t recall filling out any form.”

“Well, you did.”

“What was I doing when you handed it to me?”

“Washing dishes.  You told me to put the form on the table.  You filled it out and handed it to me.”

“I’d never have signed if I knew how much money was involved.  You can’t go.  I’m sorry.”

Leaving behind his dirty dishes, Stan took the stirs two steps at a time up to his room.  When he slammed the door he knew it would shake the whole house, a violation of the rules, but he didn’t care.

After using a napkin to wipe off his mouth, then refolding it and placing it next to his placement, Grandpa cleaned the kitchen. Like always, he then went into the front room to sit and smoke his pipe, but before lighting up, he unlocked the small safe embedded in the wall behind his desk and pulled out a rubber-banded wad of money.  He carefully counted out the bills.  He locked the safe and went upstairs.

“Can I come in?” he said after knocking on Stan’s door.

“Sure.”

Grandpa extended his right hand. “Here’s the money.”

“Really?”  Stan’s face glowed with surprise.

“Yeah.  I was hoping you’d changed your mind and didn’t want to go all the way to California.  You’ve never been that far from the ranch in all these years. But just in case, I put the money aside.  I’m selling this weekend Misty to Steve Carlson.  I’ll use that money to pay off bills.”

“Grandpa you’re the best!”  Stan, even though he was a little too old for hugs, jumped up off his bed and wrapped his arms around his grandfather.

“One thing, though,” Grandpa said as he stepped away.

“Anything. I’ll do whatever you want.” Stan’s eyes gleamed.

“Have fun. Play well. Be careful.”

Stan nodded. “I will. I’ll even find a way to call if you want.”

Grandpa smiled. “That’d be nice. It would make me feel better knowing that you were safe.”

Stan hugged Grandpa again. “There’s supposed to be a pay phone at the school. I’ll call when we get there the first night, call when we get back from Disneyland, then call right before we leave for the airport.”

“Come downstairs. I bought strawberries and shortcake.”

Stan enjoyed his dessert, even though he understood that his grandpa had intended to give him the money all along. All-in-all, it was an excellent dinner.

Feeling Proud

I have never been an arrogant person.

For much of my life I’ve been shy,

Backward

Afraid to exude confidence.

Pride does not come to me willfully.

It sneaks up like a mouse in the night.

It catches me unaware, surmising me

When it calls my name.

Even though I’ve accomplished much in my life,

I seldom take an opportunity to brag.

Instead, when I do speak, I do so quietly

With an unassuming air

Because even I am surprised when

Something goes well.

There have been times when I wanted to shout out,

To proclaim loudly those things that

Fill me with pride,

But I haven’t.

Until recently.

I realize now, at my age,

That I have much to be proud of.

Every day of life fills me with such joy,

Such a feeling of accomplishment

That I want to brag about simply being here

On this earth.

Today I am bragging, just a little,

Because I am alive.

Heavenly Meal

Feed me a soul-satisfying meal

Krispy corn flakes will not seal the deal

 

No rib eye steak with golden fries

No onion blossom to greet my eyes

 

Chicken enchiladas?  Surely not.

Or even hamburgers nice and hot.

 

What I really need comes from afar.

Can’t be retrieved by plane, boat, or car.

 

Please give to me a thoughtful caress

Given simply, without duress

 

Prepare for me a heavenly dish

Designed to nourish every wish

 

Mix in prayers for a peaceful life

Whip forcefully to erase all strife

 

Today I need to stuff in my face

Food that is filled with amazing grace

A Grain of Sand

Nothing more than a grain of sand

one among a cast of millions

arose and accepted the burdensome

yoke of humanity, the drudgery of life,

the pains, torments, tears, and fears

until love entered his heart.

 

Nothing but a tiny grain of sand

now filled with a woman’s love

beaming broader than the sun,

wider than the Milky Way

standing tall, strong, proud, and fearless

with her vision in his mind.

 

Nothing but a proud grain of sand

knelt by her side, making his

wishes known, the dreams of his soul,

the secrets of his heart,

the projects, plans, ideas, and thoughts

searing his vision.

 

Nothing but an exultant grain of sand

stood with his love at the altar

pledging faithful love, devotion,

a lifetime of togetherness,

trials, tribulation, joys, tears

traveling the path of marriage.

 

Nothing but two grains of sand

forged through the world

casting aside the millions to

focus on the other, the others that

they create, the little ones, children,

loins of our loins and loves of our love,

for now and forever. Amen.

Me Time

Even when I was a little kid I understood the value of time spent alone. Family life, for me, seemed confusing and chaotic. I struggled with my place in the dynamics of everyday life. I knew that I was less-than my older brother who was revered by my mother. When my sister was born, now I was less-than both of my siblings.

I loved being by myself. As a small child, it meant being out on the front porch, standing there, do nothing other than watching whatever transpired in the neighborhood. I didn’t play with dolls, probably because the only ones I had were kept stored in my parent’s closet on a high shelf.

I didn’t read yet and no one read to me. I didn’t go to school until kindergarten-age, and only then because my parents thought I was dumb. Interestingly enough, school reinforced that opinion as I was the most backward kid in the class, even through fifth grade.

The one toy that meant the most to me, that allowed me precious “me time” was my mother’s cookie tin of mismatched buttons. I played with them for hours, day after day. I sorted them by size and color, by shape and by how many holes in the center. Then I’d dump them back in the tin and start all over. I spent hours doing this, day after day, all year long.

In the winter I played on the kitchen floor while my mother napped. I the summer I took them outside and sat on the grass. It’s amazing that I am still not sorting buttons today as I found it both comforting and relaxing.

I have progressed from those early days it terms of what I enjoy doing in my free time. I love shopping. I can spend an hour easily roaming through stores, buying little to nothing. I am a great sale-shopper and almost never buy something that isn’t discounted.

I love looking at styles, brands, colors. I love trying on clothes, especially now that I have lost a significant amount of weight. I love feeling the fabrics and imaging them against my skin. I can tell by that action alone whether or not I would like something.

I love reading. I mostly read contemporary fiction, but I also branch into fantasy, Young Adult, and on rare occasions when a book is recommended by a friend, nonfiction.

What I love about reading is that it takes you into stories, into characters’ lives, into places where you have probably never gone and never will. It allows you to follow in another’s skin, seeing, feeling, tasting all the things that they experience. It’s an out-of-your world journey. I can spend hours reading.

I love exercising, especially swimming. When I am in the water swimming lap after lap, my entire body relaxes into the feet of water streaming over my body. The ritual of traversing the pool, turning, doing it again and again and again is a special time for me. It is something that I do alone. Well, not entirely as there are other swimmers in the pool, but I am unencumbered by family, by needs, by demands. It is just me.

I get the same rush from the elliptical, the stationary bike, the machines. It is me challenging myself to do more, to be stronger, to last longer. And it gives me time to think, if I want, or I can watch whatever TV program is available.

If I didn’t love writing, I wouldn’t have this blog. There is something calming about putting thoughts into the written word. It gives me an opportunity to analyze where I’ve been and where I’m going. It often gives new perspectives into my past which then form my present and future.

At times, when I am writing fiction, it brings me deep into my character’s life. I get to see what she sees, hear what she hears, feel her emotions. Her confusion as she navigates her world. Her delight when something redeeming occurs. Her perceptions of where she fits in her world. Yes, I can alter those dimensions, and often I do, but I also allow her to take charge of my fingers.

Me Time is important to me. It allows me to pause, evaluate, and reorganize myself. It gives me a sense of peace in what can be, at times, a disorderly world. It reinforces who I was, who I am, who I will become.

I cherish those moments.

I also love being with my family and with friends, but those experiences are different. There you fit into a mold, one that sometimes others have crafted for you. You play the mother, wife, friend game, participating in conversations that sometimes move past your realm of experience. This is where Me Time comes in handy, for when things are out of my control, even in a crowd, I can step back and allow my thoughts to roam free.

My trust in Me Time was formulated when I was quite small. It has sustained me ever since. It is a treasure that I hope everyone shares.

Counting Blessings

Every year at this time we stop to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives. I have been blessed in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all.

Every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed I am grateful to be alive. Not everyone is so lucky. Many senior citizens die in their sleep. Truthfully, that’s how I would like to pass: to go quietly without suffering. I am thrilled to be alive and thank the Lord for every day He gives me.

My husband is my biggest gift. He is my rock. He is always there to support me in whatever endeavor I take on. He has never held me back, even when it meant nights away at college while he stayed home with the kids. As we have aged together, our love and appreciation has solidified. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

I am blessed to have watched my three “kids” grow up to be amazing adults. They are unique in all ways. Each has chosen the path that makes them most comfortable, most happy. They fill me with pride whenever I talk with them or spend time with them or simply think of them. They each chose wonderful people to share their lives with. One a wonderful gift that is! Knowing that they have a special someone to fill their hours and days and weeks.

My faith is solid. It is a constant in my life. It gives me solace when I am weary or worried. I know that the Catholic Church has offered nothing but suffering to survivors, but I believe in the core values of my church. I believe that it will heal. For this I am grateful.

I am lucky to have friends. I don’t see them as often as I would like, but I know they are there. If I needed them, they would come, just as I would go to them. Not everyone is blessed to have good friends. It makes me sad to think of all those who are alone, day after day. I hope that as I age, I don’t become one of them, but one never knows what circumstances lead to loneliness.

I am lucky to have lived in our home for 43 years. I did not have the luxury of living in one place as I grew up. My parents moved quite a bit. Most of the time the moves brought us into bigger and better houses, but not always. We are blessed to live in a good neighborhood, which even though it is changing, is relatively free from crime. I feel safe here, and for that I am grateful.

I have been given a variety of skills that have fulfilled my life over the years. One constant is music. From an early age I was drawn to song. While I sang silently, inside I pictured myself with a microphone belting out the tunes of the day. Now I only sing at church, but it brings me great joy. I hope that I am not too off-tune and that I don’t seriously mess up the words. I am lucky to have my church choir.

Throughout the years I have exercised different skills. For example, as a preschool teacher I led students in song and dance and came up with art and intellectual activities to enrich their lives. Not everyone can do that. It was fun for a while, but as my own kids aged, I grew tired of snotty hands and soggy pants.

As an elementary school teacher I taught eight different subjects, some better than others. I am lousy at science, so I chose those lessons that I understood and “cheated” on those that I didn’t. I hope that my lack of knowledge of how electricity works never damaged a student!

In high school I became an “expert” in working with special needs students. As time passed, I realized that it was a gift I had been given. Every day I gave thanks for being able to help my students access curriculum that they could never have learned on their own.

I have been blessed to have worked with many kids and adults. Each of them gave me something in return. Each of them touched me in a unique way.

My blessings continue. Today I was able to swim, to drive, to walk, to eat, to socialize. To look out the window and see trees and hear birds and dogs barking. To see people talking and feel happy for them.

I hope that my life will continue to be full of things for which to be grateful. I hope that I never become complacent and assume that the blessings will fall my way. For all these things and countless more, I am grateful.

Fascination with Trees

I can’t recall a time when I was not drawn to trees. They amaze me. Day after day they change. Imagine something that grows taller and wider at such incrementally slow pace that it is invisible to the eye.

They also change with the seasons. Some burst into new life when the sun begins to shine in spring. Tiny green buds sprout forth, signaling the wonders that are to come. Those buds become leaves. All kinds of leaves, in all shapes and sizes and colors.

When I was young I collected leaves. I especially loved the ones that fell from maple trees. Such broad leaves! So green in spring and summer, but when fall arrives they morph into shades from red to orange to brown. I loved them all.

I miss maple trees. They grew in the woods behind our house in Ohio, but not here in California. They had the most amazing seed pods! They were shaped like wings and if you tossed them above your head they would twirl down to the ground. I did this over and over, season after season, never growing tired of the display even into my teen years.

Where we lived in Ohio all trees shed their leaves in the fall and remained bare throughout the cold winters. I understood the winter to be a time of rest, a time to store up energy to be ready to burst into action at the first sign of spring.

So it was for me. In the winter I huddled inside where it was warm, venturing outside only when bundled from head to toe. Even then some days my breath froze on my eyebrows and hair, my teeth chattered and I thought my fingers and toes would crack and fall off.

We moved to California after my ninth grade year. The seasons here are not as differentiated as in Ohio. What we call winter is nothing to people who live in the Midwest, North or East, for there it snows and temps can drop well below freezing. Here I think it’s cold if it is below sixty!

Because our seasons are not as sharply delineated, not all trees go through the autumnal changes. Looking out my window right now, I see some leaves in shades of red, but just as many that are still green. We still have flowers in bloom and low-growing bushes covered with leaves.

In time, all but the fir trees will lose their leaves and be bare. It is a good thing, as even our California trees need to rest, to be still in preparation for the wonderful gifts that are to come.

Trees that produce fruit amaze me. They are so generous, so thoughtful, even when their human caretakers are less then vigilant. Day after day apples and pears and oranges and other wonderful things ripen, all for us. Gifts for us!

Some fruits require a little work to get inside. Some don’t. I tend to love fruit that you can bite into and have your mouth filled with sweetness, the juice spilling out of your mouth and onto your chin. Every time I eat an apple I am thankful that I am blessed with having such a marvelous thing to eat.

When I go walking around my neighborhood and see fruit growing on trees, I want to reach up, pull off just one and take a bite. But I don’t. I don’t know how needy the owners are. Perhaps that apple is their only sustenance of the day. Perhaps the orange is their only access to vitamin C. I would not want to steal that reassure from them. So I walk on.

In our neighborhood there are not as many trees as when we first moved in. Some have died. Some have been taken down by their owners. Some removed by the city because their roots were intruding into the pipes. I miss all those trees, the once grand, sprawling trees that hung out over the road creating a marvelous canopy! So beautiful. Now gone.

We often get to drive through forest on our way north and east and south into the mountains. I love to look at the trees, how magically they grow out of rock and cling to the sides of mountain as if they were meant to be there. When the sun shines on them they are a wonderfully deep green.  They sing with life! And when you get up close enough you can take in their rich aroma, like sticking your head in a cedar chest from long ago.

When they are covered with snow it is a picture straight from Christmas cards. I imagine myself riding on a horse-drawn sleigh under their boughs and having dollops of snow fall on my head as I lean back laughing. I have never done this, but I can place myself in the scene.

When I was young I did not wear glasses. Trees were nothing to me then. They leaned over me, frightening me. I thought each and every one would fall on my head, killing me. In fourth grade my teachers demanded that I get glasses. I remember the bus ride home, looking out the window and seeing that the leaning trees no longer leaned! It was a miracle.

These are the reasons that I love trees. Not only do they defy the passing of time, but they stand tall as a reminder of all that they offer us. Beautiful colors and tasty food. I hope that I will never lose my ability to appreciate the wonderful gift that each tree is.