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There’s More Summer Living

At the end of May, my 11-year-old Grand wrote ‘Summer Schedule’ in big letters on her family’s laundry room chalkboard. Louise had erased her family’s plan of sport practices, music lessons, and dance classes, and she wrote three short sentences.

Stay in bed to your heart’s content.

Swim to Mom’s content.

And read to your brain’s content.

Every time I’ve seen Louise’s schedule I’ve hummed two songs that I first heard as a child. Summertime and In the Good Old Summertime. We weren’t a singing family, but I learned a few lines from Summertime that I’d sing and Dad whistled.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.

It’s the first line that stuck in my head. This lullaby was written in 1935 for Porgy and Bess, a play about troubled people in Charleston who played hard, fell in love, and for whom life wasn’t easy. I didn’t know that story when I was young; I just liked that the livin’ was easy.

I remember only part of the beginning verse, about holding hands, from In the Good Old Summertime. We didn’t sing it as it was written in 1902 and recorded by many artists through the years, up to 1965 by Nat King Cole.

In the good old summertime
In the good old summertime
Strolling through a shady lane
With your baby mine
You hold her hand and she holds yours
And that’s a very good sign
That she’s your tootsey-wootsey

In the good, old summertime.

Mom and Dad sang, or actually chanted, a version that went something like, “I’ll hold your hand and you hold mine and that’s a very good sign. That we’re having fun in the good, ole summertime.” Or sometimes we’d dine in the good ole summertime. Or we wondered what time it was in the good old summertime.

So now that school bells are ringing what happens to Louise’s Summer Schedule? Stay in bed, swim, read. Even though the summer season includes August and most of September, when school begins, summer seems to end. Like many children, my Grand isn’t ready for a school schedule to squelch summer time. And I’m not either.

There’s still a lot of summer living. There are long days for walks in the woods, along a stream, and downtown to the ice cream store. There’s time for more backyard playing and cookouts. More fresh homegrown yellow squash to fry, more juicy red tomatoes to slice, more green beans to snap, more watermelon to slurp. More lake sunsets and boat rides. More front porch rocking.

Although Louise and her siblings are back in school, her Summer Schedule is still on the wall. Her mom said, “I just can’t give it up.”  Who wants to give up good old summertime when the living is easy? Not me. Nor my Grands. Nor their mother.

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One Solitary Sundflower

Daughter posted a picture on Facebook of one sunflower plant beside a utility pole. Right in the middle of town. Inches from the sidewalk. A five-foot tall plant growing from a palm-size area of soil surrounded by asphalt. One beautiful bright yellow plate size flower. An unexpected sight.

So unexpected that Daughter’s 9 year-old daughter, Ruth, shouted from the back seat of their van as they drove past it, “Whoa, look at that flower!” A few days later, my Grand pointed it out to me. “Look, Gran, just one flower. It’s pretty, it’s it?”

This flower, this plant, intrigues me in many ways. I think of the huge fields of sunflowers that I saw while driving across Kansas six years ago. Bright yellow blossoms covered the prairie from the interstate highway to the horizon. Such a contrast: millions of blossoms and one single flower.

Sunflowers have been around a long time and are valued for practicality and beauty. Evidence of sunflowers has been uncovered at archeological sites as far back as 3,000 B. C. They were first cultivated by the Southwestern Native Americans and have become valuable as medicine, fiber, seeds, and oils. Early European settlers sent seeds back to Europe where the sunflower became popular in cottage gardens and then Van Gogh’s paintings in the 1880s gave this flower prestige.

Sunflowers adapt to soil from sand to clay and tolerate dry to medium moist soils as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged, which is why the one time I tried to grow sunflowers they drowned and died. They are remarkably tough and grow best in full sun. Yet, this solitary sunflower grows in a low place where rainwater pools, and it stands on a tree-lined street.

Daughter and I talked about this plant. There are many questions we’d like to ask it. Are you lonely being the only one in a sea of asphalt? Were you planted on purpose? Or did a stray seed make its way into that tiny crack of dirt between the utility pole and street? Are you struggling to live? Do you know you preach to us?

Daughter says, “We see you standing there so strong and lovely. You make a difference by bringing beauty into the mundane of driving down our street to get somewhere in life. You remind us to look for lovely. You stand, and sometimes, that is enough.”

I see strength and determination. Against all odds, you survived. You stand proud, but not nearly as tall as the towering utility pole that brushes your petals. You grew where planted: not in a cottage or backyard garden, not among friends in Kansas, but on a small town city street.

Elaine, age 7, was with me in my van when we past this flower and she said, “Gran, have you seen the sunflower? It shouldn’t grow there, but it does.”

“It’s persistent and determined,” I said.

“Per what? What does that mean?”

Sunflower, do you know the lessons you teach? The inspiration you share?

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Pass-through Window

IMG_5255Husband restated my request. “You want the screen taken off the front window by the kitchen table? You mean left off?”

“Yes. Left off. Without a screen, it’ll be a pass-through from the kitchen to the front porch table,” I explained. “And I wish we had a small table or storage something right under the window on the porch. Something to set things on from the kitchen. The kids and I will love it.”

I appreciate Husband. He’s a do-it, get-it-done person. Within days, he’d taken the screen off and ordered the perfect flip-top, storage stool. White to match the front porch wicker chairs and table. So most mornings, I raise the kitchen window, set my breakfast tray on the stool, put the window down, pick up my morning quiet time books and writing notebook, and walk out the front door. The pass-through saves me about 100 steps, because I don’t make two trips from the kitchen to the porch. But I’m really not lazy, it’s the convenience I like, and the fewer steps I take carrying coffee the less chance I have of spilling it.

One day last summer, when I raised the pass-through window to set Dean’s and my afternoon snacks on the stool, my six-year-old Grand’s eyes opened wide. “I’m setting our snacks on the porch. We can go out the front door and they’ll be there,” I said.

“Or we could go out the window,” said Dean. He stood by the open window with his head outside. “Can I, Gran?”

My Grand climbed out the pass-through, back into the house, and out again. With a grin of someone who had done something he thought he wouldn’t be allowed to do, he said, “That’s cool, Gran.” He hurriedly ate his snack so he could climb back inside the house.

Another day, while Lou, Ruth, and I put vanilla wafers and lemonade on a tray for afternoon ‘tea,’ Lou asked, “Can we eat on the front porch, Gran?”

“I’ll go outside, Lou, and you hand me stuff,” eight-year-old Ruth told Lou, age 6.

“And then I’ll climb out,” said Lou.

“Don’t hand me everything,” said Ruth. “I’ll come back in and hand something to you.” Ruth ran to the front porch and took a glass of lemonade from Lou. Lou climbed out the pass- through. Ruth ran inside through the front door, through the dining room, to the kitchen and handed one thing to Lou and then she climbed out. They took turns inside and outside until the cookies, drinks, and napkins were all on the front porch table.

After we finished eating, Lou said, “Can we climb back in the window?” The girls decided climbing in wasn’t as much fun as climbing out.

The novelty of climbing out and in the pass-through window has worn off and now, a year later, my Grands rarely climb out, but they still think it’s cool to set things outside and not have to carry them through the house and out the door. So do I.

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What’s in Your Wallet?

Elaine, age 6, watched as I searched inside my clutch wallet for money. I finally found $2.13 in bills and coins to pay the clerk. As we walked out of the store, Elaine asked, “What’s all that stuff in your wallet?”

I chuckled and said, “Stuff I need.” And my Grand asked, “For what?” For what, indeed.

Later I thought of Elaine’s questions and two other wallets came to mind. My mom’s and a college girlfriend’s. I stuck Mom’s billfold in my purse when she was admitted to the hospital April 1991. After her death a few days later, I kept it, just as she’d used it. Inside were the necessary things you find in everyone’s billfold: driver’s license, insurance cards, cash. And a few other things: her social security card, emergency contacts, and high school graduation pictures of my brother and me, although both photos had been made more than three decades earlier, and a picture of Mom and Dad. I cried sentimental tears that Mom had kept these pictures.

About ten years ago while travelling with a college girlfriend, I convinced her that her billfold was too big. No wonder she couldn’t find anything and her purse was so heavy. She didn’t need to carry every store discount card and notes from past shopping trips. Together we shopped for a smaller wallet and cleaned out her oversized one. Now, I laugh that my billfold looks like my friend’s did. Full of too much stuff.

So first, my apologies to you dear friend. What’s in my big 8” x 4” clutch organizer with its twelve card slots, zipper compartment, and three divided sections? The card slots are full. An expired museum membership card and insurance card dated 10/16 thru 10/17 to trash. Other cards that are used once a year go in a small zipper pouch in my car. Only two credit cards must stay.

Coins fill the zipper compartment. Pennies multiply. How I wish they’d transform into dollar bills. Just as sure as I clean out all the change, I will need a dime and three pennies to avoid getting back 87 cents in change.

One divided section for bills, one for receipts, and one for other important stuff. Important stuff like a dentist appointment card from 2016, expired restaurant coupons, and a scribbled grocery list – now trashed. And stuff I need: a band-aid, two postage stamps, emergency contact list, a copy of my passport (held over from when I marked the wrong box on my driver’s license renewal form and my driver’s license didn’t have a photo), a card listing a few passwords that regularly escape my mind. And a small plastic cardholder with three photos: one of Husband and two of our children when they were high school students, twenty plus years ago.

So Elaine the stuff in my wallet is important. It’s stuff to for identification, to buy more stuff, emergency stuff, and some sentimental stuff. Just like the stuff in most people’s wallets.

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Collecting: A good hobby?

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 7.45.11 AM‘Surely, collecting is a good hobby.’ With those words I ended a column two weeks ago that was inspired by the current Collecting Cookeville exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum. Friends have told me their adult children don’t appreciate their collections. One daughter refused her mother’s offer of a few of her Hummel figurines. “Mom,” the daughter said, “you like those more that I do. You keep them.” This mother knows a time will come when her only child will donate her treasured collection to a non-profit organization or sell them to add dollars to her son’s college education fund.

I know no one else in my family is particularly fond of clowns. I really like my twenty or so clowns arranged in small groups, which sit among the books on our living room bookshelves. Clowns with notes on the bottom telling who gave them to me and when. A clown depicting an adult reading a book to a child. One holding brightly colored birthday balloons. A clay clown, with a broken foot, that Daughter made.

According to psychologists, we humans are unique in the way we collect items just for the satisfaction of seeking and owning. We’ve done it for thousands of years, since earliest man gave up nomadic life and settled in one place.

Somehow I feel compelled to defend the importance of collecting and I found a blog that gives 8 reasons why collecting things you love is good for your brain. Now who can argue with anything that is good for our brains?

Collecting builds observation skills and organizational skills. We collectors search for details to make choices and look for common characteristics. Collections call for sorting into categories and that can transfer into other tasks, i.e. presenting school assignments and work projects.

Collecting builds knowledge and may lead to a career. A bird collection could inspire the study of habitats, the many species, and the distinct differences among birds. It’s possible a child could become an ornithologist because her mother collected wooden bird carvings. And think about children who collect rocks and are budding geologists. Charles Darwin collected beetles when he was a child and developed a curiosity for all living things. We know him best for his theory of evolution through natural selection presented in 1859.

Collections inspire creativity. Artists often collect things that influence their work. And social connections are made through collections. At model train shows and swaps, people from all walks of life and all ages meet to exhibit and trade train cars. And there are worldwide clubs for philatelists, people who collect postage stamps.

I knew it. Collecting is a good hobby. But I know collections are often valued only by the owner. I don’t expect my children to ever want all my clowns on their bookshelves, but someday they may want one or two. Ones with their names and “Happy Birthday, Mom” on the bottom. Just as a keepsake of something that made me smile and was good for my brain.

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Lost Again?

Ruth, Lou, and David fastened seatbelts and settled in my van one afternoon recently. I said, “While you’re at mine and Pop’s house, please tell me if you see my red glasses.”

“Your what?” said David, age 12.

“My glasses. The ones with red frames.”

“You lost them again, Gran?” asked 10-year-old Lou.

“Not lost. Misplaced.”

“The same ones that Elaine (these Grands’ youngest sister) found in the grass in your yard?” asked Ruth, age 8.

“Yes, and someone found them in the creek one time. Was that you, Ruth?” I said.

“Yes, I think I did! On the bottom,” said Ruth.

“Wait,” said David, “you lost them in the grass and the creek? Why don’t you just wear them all the time like Mom does?”

I explained that I need glasses only to see something close. Not to see at a distance. “Don’t you have other glasses?” asked David.

Yes, I have two pairs I bought at the Dollar Store. “So, can’t you just wear them?” I explained that my red-framed glasses are prescription and made with better glass and I can see best with them and I rattled on about how frustrating it is to misplace them.

My Grands didn’t say a word. It was a case of information overload and it wasn’t my Grands’ problem. I wanted responses. “So, will you please look around for my glasses? I really need them,” I said.

Ruth looked out the van window, seemingly lost in thought. “Gran, I have an idea.” She paused. “Think real hard. Where was the last place you remember having them?” Spoken with inflection of someone who has heard this question many times.

So, later that day after my Grands left, I backtracked my morning steps. Upstairs in the green room where I typed on my laptop computer. In the bathroom. On the kitchen desk. The kitchen table. In the dirty clothesbasket in the laundry room. I pulled out every stinking piece of dirty clothes because I was pretty sure I had pushed my glasses to the top of my head before I put dirty clothes in the washer and took clean ones out of the dryer.

At suppertime, I shared my dilemma with Husband and how David thought I should wear another pair and Ruth’s insightful question. Husband smiled. That smile that meant ‘We’ve been here before.’ “Where have you looked?” he asked. I explained and named every piece of dirty clothes I touched.

After supper, Husband nonchalantly walked from the laundry room and laid my red glasses on the kitchen counter. “What?” I said, “I looked in there! Went through all our stinky clothes. Looked on the floor.”

“Did you look in the trash can?” he asked.

My Grands will laugh when I tell them about Pop’s discovery. And, someday I’m going to write a story from my glasses’s point of view. They’ll scream, “Don’t put me on top of your head. I don’t like falling in grass and creeks and trash cans!”

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Do I Have to?

If parents had a nickel for every time one of our children have said, “Do I have to?” we would be rich. Or at least, have put enough aside to begin retirement.

Parents say, “Eat your green beans.” “Brush your teeth.” “It’s time to go to bed.” “We’ll get up early tomorrow.” Can you hear a chorus of children responding, “Do I have to?” Those four words must be embedded at birth. We teach children to say please and thank you and may I and I’m sorry. Yet, every child, I’ve ever known, from my own to the hundreds that where my students to my Grands have said, “Do I have to?” With the same exact whiny inflection.

And we have identical answers. “Yes, you have to.” After we’ve worn out those words, we switch to nodding our heads and raising our eyebrows. And then comes the stare. The cold still stare that screams, “Yes and now!”

But it’s not just children who seemingly rebel about doing something. So many times we adults utter those same words. I have to go to the grocery store.   (Oh, for a nickel every time I’ve said this!) I have to do laundry. I have to pay bills. I have to get my car serviced. I have to pick up the Grands after their dance classes. I have to. I have to. I have to.

I’m guilty. When I’ve said what I plan to do, I’ve used the word have. But now I’m trying out something different. I read a Guidepost devotional that suggested replacing have with get. “Change one word and you change your attitude,” the Guidepost writer suggested and she elaborated. “Instead of saying ‘I have to do the laundry,’ try ‘I get to do the laundry because I have clothes.’ ”

So I’m trying. Replace have with get.

I get to go to the grocery story because I can choose what I eat.

I get to pay bills because my house has electricity and cable service and I have the money to pay.

I get to have my car serviced because I own a car.

I get to pick up the Grands from classes because I have grandchildren and I want to be with them.

I shared this idea with Husband. He grinned and nodded, and then surprised me the next day when he held our checkbook and his car keys in hand and said, “I get to go to the bank and then to the post office to mail a package.” I laughed and admitted that I wasn’t sure he’d heard me the day before.

Saying that I’m allowed, that I’m not obliged to do something, does make a difference in attitude. I like changing the negative have to the positive get.

Now I wonder if my young Grands will accept this change. I’m going to suggest they say get, instead of have, and I predict their answers in unison. “Do I have to?” But they, too, may surprise me.

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