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Like a window into my soul, I suppose a visitor (welcomed or otherwise) might be able to glean quite a bit about this home’s inhabitants by exploring my work space – from either the jumbled mess covering the not-quite-large-enough desk or the cluttered hodgepodge of receipts, lists, newspaper clippings, notes and photos tacked up on the bulletin board – that I use in our home office (aka My Sanctuary).

The baskets sitting on top of the desk unit store all manner of keepsakes and mementos gathered over the years. Some of their especially prized contents include every card, every note, every material witness to the history of our relationship that Bill and I have exchanged over the years. One regret I have is that there are very few photos of the early days of our courtship and marriage, practically nothing in fact. Those were the days of BD: Before Digital. Word to the Wise: Keep snapping those pics. Years from now you will be so glad you did.

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The Desiderata, a wonderful piece of prose, has been a favorite of mine for years, since I first heard in a song on the radio when I was a teen-ager. Our family used to do a gag gift exchange each Christmas. No one wanted this particular book filled with photos to accompany each of the verses. I was surprised that everyone else treated it with disdain. No matter! I gladly snapped it up and enjoy looking through it from time to time.

These photo gallery items, a small sampling of what’s on display in my little work alcove, are described as follows:

  • My son’s ID card when he served as a volunteer in North Carolina while in grad school makes me smile. Wesley read to the children patients in the hospital there and I never learned of this until he was hospitalized himself some years later and we found this in his wallet, which he then gave to me. That he never tooted his own horn while volunteering is in alignment with my own views of good deeds: they should be done anonymously and not ever for the bravos and pats on the backs they might elicit from others. Doing good should be your own reward. Learning this about my son made me proud.
  • A local theatre group performed a rousing rendition of Rocky Horror several years ago. ‘Nuff said!
  • One of my early ‘hunting’ trophies when we bought our first SLR.  These pumpkins at harvest time begged to be photographed.
  • The Sunflower Pottery postcard, tacked up here because of its interesting design, also serves to provide the contact information for a Christmas gift my sister Molly gave me last year.  (Bob & Connie:  you’re welcome!)
  • On my recommendation, Bill read The Winds of War when we were first married.  (Great book!)  Just like me when I first read this in my early 20’s, he was interested in knowing the geographical makeup of Europe and printed this map, partially obscured by a ‘silly shot’ taken one year at Thanksgiving, a 2008 Obama campaign pin and a diagram of our basement’s dimensions.
  • I picked up this little plaster red & white, laced-up ‘sneaker’ paperweight at an art fair one summer for one dollar.  Grade-school kids made and painted them for a school fundraiser.  Now how can you resist something like that?
  • An elderly neighbor crafted this wooden catch-all when Wesley and I lived in an upstairs apartment in a tiny burg located in north central Iowa.  It holds a two-dollar bill, a small pink box labeled My Tooth (not mine but Wesley’s), the tiny armband that he wore in the hospital after he was born, the tassels from when I graduated from Iowa State University in 1995 and assorted coins, foreign and domestic.
  • This wooden keychain was a gift from my first boss after graduating from college.  Carrie brought this back from one of her many trips (I believe this is from India).  Carrie, no longer my supervisor but now instead a dear friend, was the first woman I’d ever heard of to travel the world on her own.  What a novel idea!  At the time her husband had no interest in going with her but eventually (and happily!) he succumbed to her requests to join her on her travels.
  • Two items of note in this last photo.  The news clipping documents Bill’s first hole-in-one.  It happened on a golf outing to celebrate his 40th birthday.  Not too shabby of a gift to self, eh?  The other is a photo from my ID card when I was a student at Iowa State University.  I was 36 years old here, just starting my junior year after completing the preparatory work at a local community college.  Being a non-traditional student in a university setting was beyond anything I’d ever imagined when I first quit my job to enroll in a drafting program three years earlier.  Very good times indeed.  (And how about that ‘big hair!)

Reflecting on what I see here before me has provided a thought-provoking trek down memory lane.  I imagine home offices everywhere (perhaps yours?) are similarly appointed.  What’s in your sanctuary?

 

The quiet and solitude of Mackinac Island – especially in the fall – lures folks from all walks of life to come enjoy the peaceful atmosphere made possible for one incredible, wonderful reason: no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. Horse-drawn carriages and people on bicycles, rented by any one of half a dozen or more vendors, can be seen everywhere you turn. This group of Amish sightseers, with the men in their dark suits and the women in long skirts, were happily touring the streets of the main thoroughfare.

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I don’t know a time when I’ve felt such calm and contentment as when my husband and I rode the perimeter path around the island. Occasionally we’d pass (or be passed by!) other bicyclists and every person we encountered had a smile on his or her face.

Mackinac Island is an utterly amazing place! Highly, highly recommended. This is one place I would return to in a heartbeat.

Great post. Makes for some compelling reading given the world we live in today.

Dart-Throwing Chimp

Early this morning, I got up, made some coffee, sat down at my desk, and opened Twitter to read the news and pass some time before I had to leave for a conference. One of the first things I saw in my timeline was a still from a video of what was described in the tweet as an ISIS fighter executing a group of Syrian soldiers. The soldiers lay on their stomachs in the dirt, mostly undressed, hands on their heads. They were arranged in a tightly packed row, arms and legs sometimes overlapping. The apparent killer stood midway down the row, his gun pointed down, smoke coming from its barrel.

That experience led me to this pair of tweets:

tweet 1

tweet 2

If you don’t use Twitter, you probably don’t know that, starting in 2013, Twitter tweaked its software so that photos and other images embedded in tweets would automatically appear in users’ timelines. Before that change, you had to…

View original post 981 more words

This chap sure has a way with words
Prose and thought
Our heart’s desire.

All for naught,
For technology fans the flames.
Controversy that is sure
To feed the fire?

OK. Longfellow, I’m not. Still though I thought this was worth a share…

dnobrienpoetry

An over educated twit,
An algorithm he has writ
To analyze poetic Lit
And sort the good stuff from the shit.

No, this is not a silly joke;
I’m not aware that he’s a soak.
He’s just a poor misguided bloke
Who got in with some dodgy folk.

In coding up his little app
This un-poetic confused chap
Post modern brains set out to tap,
But all he got was free verse sap

From pros at universities,
Where each with everyone agrees;
Where rhyme and reason no one sees
And all are paid quite handsome fees.

He reasoned these guys write the best
So used their methods for his test.
No matter how their words were messed
These must be better than the rest.

‘Twas engineering in reverse:
These poets on the public purse
Told him theirs was the proper verse;
All other styles – well they were worse.

He…

View original post 165 more words

Blanche Dubois proclaimed, in A Streetcar Named Desire, that she had ‘always relied on the kindness of strangers’. I don’t pretend to understand this film, mostly because the first and only time I ever watched it I was in my early 20’s. Note to Self: Add this to my Netflix ‘to watch’ list. That said, this particular line of dialogue has always struck a chord with me. My gut reaction to Blanche’s social situation and how she dealt with her world was one of dismay and annoyance. Was she someone with so little self-esteem that she milked sympathy from others and used her helplessness to her advantage rather than finding (or being able to?) garner strength from within?

Regardless of whether my read on this film hits the mark (and I’ll be the first to admit that it most likely does not) I still maintain that there do seem to be people, sadly the majority of whom appear to be women, who enjoy playing the victim. Truth be told I’ve probably played this role myself at times especially early in my adult life, coming off a hasty marriage and subsequent divorce at a very young age which left me as a single parent and not a clue what I wanted to do with my life. Because I, apparently much like Blanche, had so little self-confidence and was sorely, SORELY lacking in self-esteem, I made many poor choices but never had the wherewithal to question my own contributions to the sad state of affairs that was my life.

Wow. Methinks this might turn into something I hadn’t quite had in mind when I started out…

And so I plodded along making mistakes left and right, friendless and rudderless indeed. My own family was, I’m certain, frustrated and annoyed with my antics (to say the least) and I felt so very alone. If not for my son, the only real joy of my life during that dark, dark time, I may have been (additional) fodder for the gossips wagging their tongues at water coolers and on the production line in the factory where I worked.

The real turning point for me was when I decided to quit my job to enroll in the drafting program at our local community college. I was a Bill of Material coordinator and, having worked closely with the engineering group at our company, I thought drafting might be a good fit for me. I was mistaken but wouldn’t discover that until a few months later. In any case, as a non-traditional student and single parent I was able to qualify for student aid and earned several scholarships along the way. My first class, taken in the summer, was an intermediate algebra class. When I received a ‘D’ on my first exam I was despondent and certain that I’d (yet again) made a colossal error in judgment in quitting my job and embarking on such silliness as thinking I could actually go to ‘college’. However, I was encouraged to take advantage of the tutoring services that were offered and that little nugget of advice made all the difference in the world.

Once I realized that drafting wasn’t for me I did, at the same time, realize that I had a knack for math. Who knew? In high school I took the easiest courses I could to satisfy the mathematics requirements for graduation. With the help of tutors and a strong motivation to succeed, I eventually moved on to take the required courses for a degree in mathematics. I even became a math tutor myself and was designated the honor of Outstanding Math Sophomore. (Fun Fact: My husband, a natural whiz at most everything but especially in math whereas I had to work my tail off to get good grades, was also bestowed the honor at the same time. Both our photos hung on the bulletin board outside the math office where we often studied together. Remembering that makes me smile).

Ultimately I switched my major to Management Information Services and Bill and I both transferred to Iowa State University to finish our studies and obtain our degrees.

This single decision, to quit my job and go to school at the age of 34, a decision my then-boss tried to talk me out of as he thought I was making a grave mistake, was the best, the most important thing I ever did to improve my lot in life. Where I was once overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, success in school gave me a lifetime allotment of self-confidence. Going to college significantly boosted my earning power as well and, best of all, I met my husband in the process.

I’m a little easier on myself now than I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s. How to separate youthful indiscretions from soul-wrenching errors in judgment, it’s hard to say. Through it all, my son – who deserved better than what he got – to this day sees me as his hero. I can now reminisce about the truly good times we did have together and how I did do right by him in many, many ways. He tells others about the wonderful memories we shared together, how we went camping and spelunking and how he enjoyed and has such an appreciation for the music I loved while he was growing up and our love of movies and yes – film dialogue, to come a bit full circle here.

A few years ago someone, in what I perceived as an attempt to excuse her behavior and poor choices in life, lamented that she was ‘a victim’. She seemed almost to revel in it and I recall thinking of the words Blanche uttered in that famous film. It was, perhaps, then that a seed was planted and I realized I never wanted anyone to perceive me in that way, if ever they did, ever again.

Strength of purpose, clarity of self, motivation to succeed and the drive to challenge oneself are more empowering than the fruits of any stranger’s kindness could ever bestow. Sometimes, though, I do forget these things for myself. Being human I occasionally allow myself to wallow in self-pity but it is an ugly blanket with which to cover oneself and thankfully the mood eventually passes.

While I was taking that first summer math class I befriended another non-traditional student who planned to pursue a degree in engineering. We chatted one day not long after the class first began and she told me she was struck by my self-confidence that very first day and commented on how self-assured I appeared to her.  She said I seemed to ‘have it all together’.  I was dumbfounded. Surely she was referring to someone else. I cannot begin to convey how heady it was to hear someone tell me that. But I tucked it away and reflected on her words many times as I navigated the course of academia to arrive at that amazing day when I received my degree. What I take from that now and wish all to know and consider is that we are often more capable than we realize. It’s scary to try something new. It takes courage to step outside our comfort zones. I am, however, a firm and true believer that the effort is often worth it in the end – even if, nay, especially if the end result is a stronger, more self-assured YOU in the process.

Opening day of Iowa State football was gorgeous – sunny blue skies, slight breeze and warm temps. I love the carnival-like atmosphere of tailgating with the sights, sounds and wonderful aromas, friendly laughter and big-screen TV’s set up for watching the game in the parking lot for those folks without tickets. People-watching at its finest!

Too bad that the game, which started out so promising with a 14-0 lead early on, ended the way it did. Our beloved Cyclones lost 34-14. Ouch! Here’s hoping for better days ahead.

Once again our Iowa weather this year is unusual. We had a bitterly cold winter and come spring, multitudes of Iowans discovered lost shrubs, sickly trees and normally hardy Knock-out Roses that were down for the count. Now, in the month of August, that time of year where I am sick to death of all the heat and humidity and weary of the huge water bills we’ve been paying all summer to water our grass (which, for all our efforts, still manages to look brown and spent), our fair state has been deluged with rain, rain and more rain. In just the past week and a half our little rain gauge has measured out more than five inches of precipitation. Our lawn is as lush and green as it was in June and mowing the lawn demands ever more of our time.

At bedtime last night the rains began yet again – an almost nightly exercise now for about two weeks (or so it seems!) — accompanied by fairly strong winds and plenty of thunder and lightning. During the storm flashes I looked out at the fairway the runs alongside our property and yet again it looked like a small river. Today, the sand traps bear witness to the side effects of all that rainfall.

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Knock on wood – our basement remains untouched. Dry as a bone and no sign of runoff leaching its way indoors. Our house is situated on higher ground in relation to the golf course and water in our yard travels toward the fairway. In the nine years we’ve lived here we’ve been lucky but we know there are no guarantees especially not when record rainfall such as what we’ve experienced here this past month continues to inundate us with all this moisture.

While the rain was initially welcome – grass was getting brown and a bit crispy after a hot spell just last month and riverbeds were dry – I think I speak for most Iowans when I say I think we’re good now. Mother Nature, you can take your foot off the accelerator and back off a little. Not everyone, though, is ready for the rains to end I suspect. Flocks of geese seem just fine with all that water, some of it still sitting on the fairway late this afternoon.

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Tinier creatures yet lap up all this excess moisture, making a (very) brief appearance on our wooden deck rail this afternoon. Later in the day, after the sun came out for a bit, they were gone, all shriveled up. Still though I found them both fascinating and beautiful – in their own way.

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After all the rain we’ve gotten this month, one can only wonder what fall and winter will bring. Does this indicate another harsh winter with record snowfall to match the precipitation we have received in August? Or is that old gal simply getting it all out of her system and a mild December through March is in store for us? Makes no difference to speculate one way or the other. She’ll do as she pleases and there’s nothing we can do but sit back and mentally prepare for whatever comes our way.

Wait. Was that thunder I just heard – yet again?

Is there anything more exhilarating than golfing on a beautiful fall day and to then encounter some of the magnificent horses that pasture alongside the golf course where we live? If I ever win big at the lottery, a huge spread with a few horses to call my own (AND a personal riding instructor) will certainly be at the top of the list!

I got out of bed earlier than usual this morning and went for a walk before 5:00 AM, the first time I’d done so in far too many months. I enjoy not only getting my exercise out of the way for the day but the solitude and quiet of walking my normal route before first light and being able to see the stars (Orion was especially vivid this morning) all the while getting serenaded by the symphony of sound made by birds roosting in every tree I pass by.

Because I have been sick much of the summer this particular routine is one I simply was not able to enjoy the way that I did this morning. As I reflected on that while I walked I considered the meaning and significance of the routines and rituals we partake of – and are subjected to as well – in our lives.

Webster defines routine as ‘a regular way of doing things in a particular order’. Many people, myself included, take comfort in the familiarity of following a set pattern of activity or methodology. My husband and I take delight in how nice it feels to share certain routines together, even things as mundane as sitting at Starbucks enjoying our hot beverages or watching our favorite programs on TV and Netflix. There is also the attention to detail (okay, this one is more me than Bill) of how the bed is made or dishes are put away or clothes are folded. I actually find ironing, which many people think of as a chore, to be a relaxing activity, a routine that I don’t mind doing at all. Bill and I also appreciate the visual delight and calming effect of sometimes taking a longer route to work – bypassing additional albeit faster travel on the interstate in exchange for a longer route laden with those pesky stoplights simply because it offers us the opportunity to perhaps catch sight of deer or turkey in the woods and fields on the edge of the city. It’s a pleasant routine we both enjoy.

An alternate definition of routine provides an opposing, somewhat gloomy view of the word: A boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way. Images of being forced to sit through Mass each Sunday when we were growing up or waiting in the car for hours while Dad ‘looked at trees’ for the sawmill or having to do the dishes after the noon meal in the summer – always a major production with six kids at home and hired men to feed. None of these things were particularly difficult or painful. They were just dull and monotonous and these activities were routinely required as part and parcel of being a member of my family. Routine used here takes on a negative connotation. And is perhaps why something being described as a ‘ho-hum routine’ gets a bum rap.

One’s perspective or outlook on life can go a long way in determining whether it be the yin or the yang when it comes to that which is routine.

This afternoon at work I stepped up to one of the two sinks in the restroom to wash my hands. Another woman followed suit and remarked that usually she washed her hands in the sink that I was using and wasn’t it odd how we get used to using one thing instead of another and when forced to use something else it feels so different. It got me thinking further that we often follow a set routine and when we waver from it in any way we may feel anxious or tense, out of our element, maybe even uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassed.

Routines can be cherished or loathed. They can provide warm fuzzies or feelings of dread. They can be reassuring or sleep-inducing.

Are there any routines that you find pleasant, that bring you joy and comfort? Or do your routines cause heartburn and angst or feelings of trepidation? Please – do tell!