Getting His Whiff On

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Ah!  The smell of spring in the air.  When you ecstatically throw open the window to the light and enjoy the first warm breezes marking the change of seasons.

The sun is shining, the snow is reduced to patches dotting the landscape, the first tiny snowdrop flowers appear in the garden bed and – hard as it tries – winter cannot hold sway over the days to come.

Just a month ago I would take Sylvester out and hold his leash in one hand, balance the recycling bin on top of the garbage can with the other (as I dragged it all to the curb) and tuck the days mail under my chin.  All in an effort to do everything in one trip.

Sub-zero weather calls for creative maneuvering.

But today it’s going to be 65 degrees, so I hook up the mutt and we take countless jaunts up and down the street.  In fact, I purposely find reasons to pop outside.  I’m behind on the housework – but Sylvester and I have to get the mail first.  I seriously need to do my filing so I can complete my taxes – which I will get to right after I take down that winter wreath adorning the carport.

Sylvester and I make so many trips outside that he doesn’t even find any more bushes he wants to mark.

If only the outside looked as nice as the warm sunshine feels.

Instead, I see garbage and mud.  So much soggy ground and mud that my desire to get out in those garden beds and clean up the rotting, winter-dead foliage is impossible to fulfill.  I’ll have to wait until the thawing ground is firm enough.

And the garbage, uncovered from beneath the snow!  Where does all this trash come from?  Plastic bags trapped under bare bushes, water bottles in the middle of the lawn, an unbelievable number of old newspapers… delivered by someone with equally unbelievable aim.

It’s all incredibly ugly.

I feel like I live in a dump, but the neighbor’s lawns don’t look any better and I’m not inclined to wage war with the mud, so I try to ignore the way it looks and concentrate instead on enjoying the newfound warmth.

There’s still a chill if you stay out too long, so these jaunts are fleeting, and I retreat back inside, where I leave the door open and slip up the pane of glass on the storm door, the breeze flowing in through the screen.

As the day continues to heat up, another first sign of spring comes wafting through the house.

Sylvester is thrilled.  It’s clear he thinks this is even better than when I grew kumquats (The Kumquat Thief).  He runs to the door and presses his nose against the screen, audibly sniffing in huge breaths.

Getting his whiff on.

Sylvester’s eyes are shut tight in ecstasy.  His jowls shake in excitement.  And as I run around the house, slamming the window’s shut, I remember what else is out there, soft and gooey, waiting for me to clean it up… a winter’s worth of Syl’s potty breaks, augmented by the corresponding mounds left by neighboring canines.

Ah.  The scent of spring.


Butterworth Is Not Just For Pancakes

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Hubby and I were driving home one day, the light of dusk darkening what had proved to be a stressful day.  My old knee injury was bothering me, so at one point I was waiting in the car while Hubby ran into a store.  I pushed the radio button and started flipping through channels.

I like most styles of music but for a car ride I usually settle on soft rock, classic rock, or country.  Occasionally, I listen to classical, but the problem with classical in the car is the road noise when you drive.  Classical music tends to have very soft sections and very loud sections, all in the same piece.  So you’re bumping along down the road, can’t hardly hear it, and turn up the volume until you do.  All’s well until suddenly the brass section comes blaring in with a forte, and it just about blows you out of the car!  Which is why I tend to keep my classical listening outside of our vehicle.

This particular day, while Hubby was in the store, I couldn’t find one song I wanted to listen to.  Except, there was a particularly nice piece by Claude Debussy playing on WFMT.  So I let it play… and by time Hubby came out the Debussy had ended and a narrator was discussing pre-WW1 music.

It was the tail end of a two-day program highlighting music before the Great War came along and changed the face of composing.  As we drove home, the narrator gave a summary of his playlist and introduced the musical piece he was ending the program with.  It struck me funny, because the musician’s name made me think of the fancy skirted bottle of maple syrup fame.

It was an English composer, George Butterworth, who has little music to show for himself as he really had only gotten started before the war broke out and he joined the British Army.  Before he was deployed, he destroyed many of his musical compositions himself, fearful he wouldn’t return from the war and have the chance to revise them to his satisfaction before someone else heard them.

I think it’s safe to say he must’ve been a perfectionist.

Some of his music, however, had been previously published and he had already gained a reputation as an important musician.  It was generally felt that he would’ve become one of England’s finest composers if he hadn’t died in the war (he was only 31).

Hubby and I pulled up in our driveway and turned off the car engine just as Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, began to play on the radio.

I haven’t the words to tell you how truly peaceful and calming this pastoral rhapsody was.  From the very first notes, lovely images of a sunny, summer day in the English countryside came to mind.  We both just sat there, mesmerized by some of the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.

It could be that the contrast between a stressful day and the salve of the music was so vivid.  Or it could be that I don’t often hear a piece written in the Dorian scale (also called Russian minor).  Either way, it was an unexpected blessing I won’t soon forget.

It also made me sad, thinking of his destroyed compositions.  What beauty have we been deprived of in Butterworth’s quest for perfection?  And I wonder… what gifts do each of us have that we purposely squelch, because we are embarrassed by not meeting our internalized standards?  Who could we have helped with our ‘meager offerings’?

I went online and found a YouTube recording of the whole rhapsody, performed in 1944 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra (Stokowski conducting).  I listen to it now, from time to time.

What if it wasn’t a co-incidence that my knee was bothering me that day?  Or that Hubby wanted to stop at that store?  And maybe Debussy was playing at that time to act as the proverbial dangling carrot, drawing me to that station at just that moment.  (Doubtless the good Lord knows how I feel about impressionistic music.)

I realize not everyone thinks everything happens for a reason.  And maybe it doesn’t.  But be it luck or blessing, isn’t it amazing when you get exactly what you need, exactly when you need it?  Perhaps someday, when we are in heaven, we will all have the opportunity to hear Mr. Butterworth’s destroyed works.  I like to think that heaven will include concerts by our favorite musicians.  Heavenly music the likes of which are heard nowhere here on earth.

If you are having a stressful day, or you just need a reminder of summer, I highly recommend you listen to Butterworth’s music too.  I hope it will be a blessing to you as well.

 

 

Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands.   Psalm 66:1

 

… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.   Ephesians 5:19


Traditions Of Love

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Valentine’s Day elicits strong feelings in people – positive and negative.  There’s the V-Day haters (who’ve had bad relationships or feel pressure because they aren’t currently in a relationship), and the V-Day lovers, (who go about annoying all the haters by declaring how wonderful love is).

I confess, I’m in the lover group, and I live with a romantic man (Mr. Romantic), so there’s no ignoring V-Day even if I wanted to.  Which I don’t.  So sue me.  I believe in love.

Nevertheless, I haven’t always been happy in love, nor have all my relationships been good.  Some have been pretty darn awful, and I’ve put in my time feeling irritated with the whole February 14th “rubbing my nose in it” day!

Plus, as I’ve said before, I think our modern Valentine’s Day is harder than ever on couples (see Love Is Harder Online).

But all that aside…  does anyone even know how this red-filled, expensive card, long-stemmed roses, dinner out, pressure to express our love event even started?

According to the “experts” (whatever that means), apparently not!

Ask most people and they’ll tell you it’s because of Saint Valentine.  But did you know there was more than one Saint Valentine?  I sure didn’t.  Until I looked it up.  No one seems 100% certain which saint it was.  Not to mention that the stories of how it all started are just that… legends… about priests performing forbidden weddings, doing miraculous healings, and spreading the gospel of Christ.

Then there’s the folk traditions and various customs that link Saint Valentine’s with the advent of spring.  One earth-type version has Saint Valentine doing something mystical with the roots of plants, and causing the season’s new growth.

They weren’t all priests either… there’s a ‘Jack’ Valentine that left sweet treats for children at their back doors.  Not sure why he did this, but apparently the kids were scared of him.

My favorite story is that Valentine’s day is when the birds sing songs of love to each other, pick their forever mates and get married.  S-tweet!

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in lots of countries around the world, by lots of different names with lots of different legends and stories.

It’s not all just about romantic love either.

In fact, romance didn’t seem to be the main focus in most of the origins surrounding the celebrations.  Even now, not every country relates the day with romance.

Some interesting facts, according to Wikipedia:

Estonia and Finland translate Valentine’s Day into “Friends Day”.  It’s about showing your friends how much you appreciate them.  In Iran, it’s a festival that combines a celebration of the earth with love towards mothers and wives.

Valentine’s Day is illegal in Saudi Arabia, because it’s seen as a distinctly Christian holiday, not sanctioned by Islam.  The ban has created a black market there for V-Day shop items, like roses.

The countries that spend the most on Valentine’s Day are China, South Korea, and Singapore.

Sadly, much of the local customs and origins of V-Day are being lost around the world, as the westernized, commercialized version of Valentine’s Day spreads and trumps a lot of the original celebrations.  Still, it’s clear that Valentine’s Day is not just about romantic love.

It’s about LOVE, period.  Religious love.  Love of nature.  Love of family and friends.

Just LOVE.

I definitely think that’s something to celebrate!


It’s Coming… Again!

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Am I talking about Valentine’s Day?  Or Jack Benny’s birthday?  Well, yes, those are just around the corner too.   But what I’m here to relay is information on the second annual Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, which runs daily from February 14th through March 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you missed reading my orchid post last year, highlighting some of the interesting sexual propagation strategies of the orchid, click here to read and see pictures, then go to the show and discover more of the interesting orchid patterns yourself.

(Hint):  Guys – taking your lady to see the more than 10,000 orchids at CBG would be a great Valentine’s day outing.  Plus, if you go to the preview opening on the evening of Friday, February 13th, there are also cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a jazz ensemble playing.  Each weekend they also have orchids for sale.  Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. also feature various music performances.

Hubby and I must have attended last year’s show on one of those special days (just by luck), because I remember being serenaded by a string quartet while we viewed the orchids.

Tickets cost $8 each for members, or $10 for non-members.  Be aware that if you are not a CBG member you will also pay for parking ($25 dollars at the gate or $20 online advance parking, CBG members get free parking).

Here’s the website for more information and to pay your parking online:  http://www.chicagobotanic.org/orchid.

And just to whet your appetite, here are a couple more of the pictures Hubby and I took from last year’s show.

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Causing Trouble

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What is it about gossip that draws us in?  I recently got caught up in the gossip mill myself, and I’m still kicking myself over it.

I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know better.  Gossip and bad behavior, apparently, has no age limit.

It’s not just me.  I know that.  We all run on gossip.  Some of it is “real” news and it helps us.  But much of it is just plain hearsay.  Information regurgitated from one source to the next.  Or – worse – we filter what we hear through our own imperfect prejudices and experiences.  Like a huge game of Telephone.  (In case you’re not familiar with the party game of Telephone, click here for how it’s played.  It’s a classic example of how differently we all interpret what we hear others say.)

Not to blame everything on the internet but, while it’s improved communication, it’s also done a too-good job of improving our gossip skills.  We’re more addicted to gossip than ever.

Someone posts a copy of an unflattering letter they received from their mother-in-law.  Or an embarrassing photo makes it online, taken at a wedding.  A mother, angry with the way her child was treated, makes a public statement.

Case in point:  Remember the guy that made a video of destroying his daughters computer?  As a way of punishment for what she’d posted?  These things go viral because we all love to gossip.  We can actually get very worked up over events and comments that don’t even concern us!

It’s not all bad.  Gossip, I mean.  We learn a great deal from these things.  Avoid future mistakes, do good things for ourselves and others, etc.  Laws are created and securities tightened as a result of gossip.  Plus, some of those things are funny, light-hearted, and make our days brighter and more joyful.

We can’t stop gossip either.  It’s in our nature.  We’re always curious about what the other person is doing.

Nor is it just a human trait.  We’re not the only ones.  Take any dog into a room that holds 10 people and one other canine, and what do the dogs do?  They make a beeline for each other.  They may not even get along (and then you have a dogfight!), but the gist is… dogs are just as curious about other dogs as people are curious about other people.

Why is that?  Did God design His creatures this way as a protection for us?  Is it an instinctive urge to band together?  Safety in numbers?

Whatever.  I’ll leave that to the professionals to theorize over.  The main thing that disturbs me today, as I write this, is how destructively gossip can be used.  Like those fighting dogs, we all have an opinion on someone else’s business and, sometimes, we just can’t stop ourselves from putting our two cents in.

That’s what I did.  I caused trouble.  I stirred the pot.  I opened my mouth and let my lower brain rule my behavior before my good sense kicked in.

The damn thing is, once you sink to that reptilian-brain level of behavior, you can’t go backwards and undo the words.  Like water passing under the bridge, it’s already gone.

I apologized to the person involved.  I gave penance to God.  I’m publicly declaring myself an idiot on my own blog.

But I’m still kicking myself.

Hubby tells me that God has long since forgiven me this sin.  HE knew I was going to do it before I ever did.  This should be a comfort – and in a sense it is – I’m happy to know that in heaven I won’t have to pay for this sin again and again.  But I’m not God.  It’s more difficult for me to forgive myself than for Him to forgive me.  Human arrogance, I suppose, that I expect better of myself than I actually am.

Which takes us to the subject of:  just exactly how do we forgive ourselves from the mistakes we’ve made in our lives?  We all have regrets.  This whole subject of “forgiveness of self” impacts our health, our relationships, our spiritual life, and our happiness.

But, that’s a post for another time.


Why Are Certain Stories Timeless? What Scrooge Can Teach Us About Great Writing

A lovely commentary on redemption and Charles Dicken’s story…

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it…

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Green Appreciation Day

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This post is about green.  Specifically, the color green.  Not money, jealousy, Irish ancestry, government issued cards, or spinach.

It has nothing to do with:

*  the heart chakra,

*  emeralds or jade,

*  Celtic myths,

*  looking nauseous,

*  ecology,

*  ghost slime,

*  the former flag of Libya,

*  stop lights,

*  greener pastures,

*  or unripe tomatoes.

 

This is about the color itself, not the meanings or associations we attach to it.

Green is a beautiful color.  Green makes me happy.  I’m thankful for green.

I once read that the purpose of good-luck pieces, amulets, or talisman’s wasn’t to cast spells on others, so much as it was to have a physical object that helped you to change your own perception from the negative to the positive.  Sort of like having a worry stone in your pocket, that you could rub to help calm you.

Whatever.

The main advice of the article was to use physical props to help you deal with stress.  Find that physical thing which helped you, and set it on your desk at work, hang it in a prominent place on your wall, or carry it with you.

As you can guess, with me it’s the color green.  I have no idea why, but just seeing green brings me joy in a way that no other color does.  And yeah, I’m a gardener, but it’s not a plant thing, it’s something about the color itself.  So sometimes I put a little something green (fabric swatch, ribbon, jelly bean?) in my pocket, so that when I’m feeling stressed I can pull it out and look at it.

I don’t think the green object has magical powers.  (Unless my blood sugar drops.  Then that jelly bean can “magically” take away my hunger!)  Perhaps mystics might say that on some level my body resonates with green’s wavelength or frequency.  Or maybe other people feel this way about their favorite color too, but they just don’t talk about it.  I have no idea.  I just know that green makes me feel good.

This is why I wore a Kelly green wedding dress and had a bright green wedding ring.

It’s why the carpet throughout my home is “seafoam”.  Why the wallpaper is “sage”, the lamps are “avocado”,  and the bath towels are “forest” green.

I have to fight through the green jungle of huge houseplants that fill my office, and if you open my drawers you will find a multitude of green clothes.  (Sadly, I don’t look that good in green, so I end up wearing the blues more often.)

My family knows this “green obsession” about me too.  For my birthday this year, my sisters spent weeks looking at green jewelry.

“Do you think she’ll like the green tourmaline or the green crystals better?”  They shopped and agonized and tried on pair after pair.  It came down to two pairs of earrings – one pair was teardrop shaped and forest green – the other pair of semi-precious peridot, a lighter shade of green.  They showed me both pair but said I could only chose one.  The whole family had bets on which green I’d choose.

So today, when I put on my forest green Swarovski crystal earrings (it was no contest really, they were the “greener” of the two), I decided that November 26th, 2014 should be declared the first annual Green Appreciation Day.  After all, if a clothes store can generate profits by declaring a day every year for families to buy and wear the same colored pajamas (not saying who, you can Google it), then I see no reason I can’t have a Green Appreciation Day.

Maybe it’ll catch on.  Hey, the throwing an orange down the street on New Year’s eve did (another story for another time).

By the way, the earth is approximately 71% water and then there’s that immense blue sky over all.  So I think it’s safe to say that God likes blue.

But he gave us the land to live on.  And it’s predominantly green.  If he wanted us to be blue lovers he’d have given us fins.  So it’s very, very possible (don’t burst my bubble here) that God’s favorite color is green!

Happy Green Appreciation Day everyone.