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Caught Being Good

He wore biking shorts and a tight shirt, like serious bikers wear.  He walked slowly toward the Cane Creek Park picnic shelter where I and fifteen other book club members sat, and then he stopped about ten feet away from us.  I called out, “Can we help you?”

            He nodded, pointed toward the parked cars, and asked, “Are any of you ladies driving that white Honda?”  My friend raised her hand and said, “I am.” 

            “Well, ma’am, I’m sorry, but I accidentally ran into the front fender.  It’s a very small dent.  Will you come look at it with me?”  the man said.  All sixteen women groaned and my friend walked toward her car.  We watched as he pointed to a front fender and she rubbed her hand on it.  They talked, but we couldn’t hear them.

            When she rejoined the circle, my friend said, “I couldn’t even see it, but he says there’s small dent and he’ll fix it.  My husband would probably see it, but I don’t.”  Isn’t that the way with cars and men? Men see things women don’t.

            As the club meeting continued, I was seated where I watched the man squat beside the fender and use his hands and a cloth.  After 15 minutes he approached us again, and because my friend was speaking at the club podium, I walked with him to her car.

            “I did my best to fix it.  I don’t think anyone will notice,” he said.  I ran my fingers over the fender where he pointed and it was smooth. 

            “I can’t feel anything. How’d you do that?”  I asked.

            “I’ve fixed a lot of dents and scratches on cars for friends.  It’s not hard if you’re careful,” he said and wiped the fender with a cloth he held in his hand.

            “That was really kind.  Thank you,” I said.

            “Well, ma’am, my bike hit that fender and fixing it was the right thing to do,” he said.  “Please tell your friend over there I’m really sorry and appreciate that she wasn’t upset.”

            After the meeting, all of us checked out the fender and no one could see or feel a dent, and the paint color was all the same.

            This man had been caught.  Caught being good. 

            Years ago, when I taught in an elementary school, during an April faculty meeting the principal passed out sheets of paper labeled ‘I was Caught Being Good.’ 

            “When you see a student doing something kind, something helpful, something good, fill in his or her name on this form and write the good deed,” she told us.  The timing was perfect.  At the end of the school year, kids were a bit squirrely and teachers were weary.  

            Students were excited and happy when they were complimented for being good.  Everyone wanted to be caught, and teachers’ spirits were lifted as we looked for students who did good deeds.

            Who can you catch this week?  Tell them they’ve been caught. Both of you will feel good.

Is Gossip Good or Bad?

           “This might be gossip, but did you hear…..?”  Those words spilled from of my mouth as my friend and I sat on her living room couch.  I repeated what I’d been told about a mutual friend, someone we’d both known many years.

            My friend and I had heard slightly different versions of what had happened and after a few minutes of conversation, we agreed the how didn’t matter, the outcome was the same. And we both wished the outcome had been different. We wished our friend was happy and healthy, not as she is and we talked about how we could help her family.

            Gossip brings people together and creates community.  Yet, most people think gossip is unkind and malicious, but, originally, gossip carried a positive meaning.

            The origin of gossip is the Old English word godsibb.  A word composed of God and the adjective sibb, meaning a relative, anyone who was kin.  It also referred to someone who was a sponsor, a spiritual support, a godfather or godmother to a person being baptized.

            A reliable source stated that during pre-historic times talk among friends and family, was a way to find suitable mates and encouraged stronger friendship and alliances. The word godsibb came to mean talking about others who weren’t present, as well as sharing recent happenings, thoughts and opinions. 

            Writings from the 1300s show that gobsibb was often used to identify women friends who were present at a birth.  A child’s birth was a social event and friends spent hours talking among themselves and giving moral support to the mother during her labor.

            Anthropologists say that gossip was a bonding agent to women in societies where they were granted little power.  

             It’s not known exactly how gossip took on a negative connotation and how the word became associated with women, but through centuries, that’s what happened. So much so, that when we women talk about anyone and anything, we’re labeled as gossips.  When men talk, it’s called networking or lobbying.   

            A 2019 study reported by BBC.com found that workers, men and women, gossip about 52 minutes a day.  Most conversations weren’t positive or negative, but neutral.  Gossip helps workers realize shared values and experiences and bring workers closer.  Office workers might call this ‘water cooler talk’; teachers call it ‘playground talk.’ The study concluded that gossip is a good thing.

            By Webster’s definition, gossip is talk about other people, sometimes involving details that are not confirmed as truth.  The word gossip does make us think of people who maliciously talk about people and like to spread rumors, but when a conversation about other people isn’t harmful and mean, it is good.  

            I wish the Old English word godsibb had survived through the centuries. With all its negative connotations, no one wants to be labeled a gossip.  But calling someone a gobsibb -wouldn’t that be a compliment?

            When my friend and I talked about our friend, was that good or bad?  It was good, and maybe I should have said, “This is godsibb.  Did you hear…..?”

Squelching Smadness

Quinn was upset.  As six-year-old girls can be, she was a bit hysterical.  Crying.  Wailing.  Lying on the floor.  Quinn’s mother checked her daughter quickly, determined she wasn’t injured, and hugged her.  “Are you sad or mad?” the mom asked.

            Between sobs, Quinn said, “I’m smad.”  She sniffed, then said, “I’m sad and mad.”  Quinn was unhappy and angry.  When her grandmother shared this story, Quinn’s reason for being upset wasn’t remembered.  That a young child could describe her feelings was remembered. 

            Smad.  What perfect word.  Sad and mad tangled and meshed together.  A big snarly mess.  Right now, I’m smad about several happening going on in world. 

            Recent natural disasters have been devastating. In Haiti, over 2, 200 people died, about 300 are still missing, and 53,000 homes were destroyed by an earthquake.  A flood in Waverly, just 160 miles west of Cookeville, took twenty people’s lives and destroyed 270 homes.  Devastation caused by Hurricane Ida is still being evaluated. Did these disasters bring memories of the tornado that struck here in March, 2020? 

            The news from Afganistan is heart-breaking.  Senseless deaths and violence.  Death always hurts – people loved every person who died and they grieve. 

            After being vaccinated for Covid 19 and family and friends receiving vaccines, I had hoped that this virus would lose its grip on our daily lives.  Now, the delta variant is on a rampage and while the vaccine should prevent serious illness for me, how I wish my young grandchildren were vaccinated.  I wish everyone were vaccinated and would wear masks.

            One day in 2006, while eating lunch in the teacher lounge with young teacher friends, they talked about Facebook and encouraged me to set up an account.  Since then, I’ve used social media and liked connecting with former students and long-time friends, and I post this column on Facebook. 

            But now I’m smad because I see Facebook posts that are intended to tear down people and/or create conflict.  Those posts are sometimes questions. I’m smad that people write words that hurt and purposely cause disagreements to divide people.

            I could wallow in smadness.  Be sad and mad all day long, every day, but I don’t want to live that way.  My best antidote to smadness is counting blessings – literally numbering and writing blessings in a lined spiral bound notebook.  It’s a morning habit I began several years ago after reading One Thousand Gifts, an inspirational book, by Ann Voskamp. 

            Voskamp was challenged by a friend to list 1000 gifts so she took pencil in hand, and while caring for her five children and doing chores alongside her husband on their working farm, she wrote.  As I write blessings, words of thanksgiving, smadness is pushed aside. 

            When I heard Quinn’s coined word, I knew I’d take it as my own.  It’s okay to be smad.  It’s not okay to stay smad. For me listing joys, even something as simple as a yellow finch snatching seeds from my birdfeeder, helps squelch being smad.

When Children Leave Home

            My friend Celeste is sad.  Life at her house isn’t the same. It’s not loud and messy. No homework or junk on the kitchen table. Instead, it’s bare and clean. No stuff on the steps to carry upstairs.  And she can park her car in the garage. Her house is too quiet, and she’s counting the days until her son’s fall break.

            Celeste’s youngest child packed his bags and moved from home to a college dormitory.  She was quick to tell me that she is really good and she trusts God through this season of life, but she thinks no one prepares parents for this chapter of parenthood.

            I think she’s right.  Who prepares parents for an empty nest?  Bookstores’ shelves are filled with information about caring for babies. There is advice for dealing with the Terrible Twos and Middle-Schoolers and Defiant Teens, and school counselors help high school students and their parents apply to colleges and seek scholarships.  But who gives support to the parents when their children leave home?   

            I remember the days when Daughter and Son moved from home to college and my feelings were a garbled sad and happy mess. I’m not a counselor or a family relationships expert so my thoughts are based on experience.

            Empty nest syndrome is real.  Parents grieve. We spend eighteen years raising children and when they no longer sleep at our houses every night and eat most meals at our tables, we are sad.  We miss them and their busy lives: practices, ball games, recitals, last-minute changes of plans, friends visiting.  Suddenly, our houses are much too quiet.  

            So, Celeste, as you adjust to a new chapter in your family’s life, it’s okay to have a few lonely times, and then celebrate that you’ve done your job well.

            Successful parents give children wings – the confidence to leave home.  Be like the mother bird when she pushes her young out of the nest and watches him fly.  She flaps her wings as if in applause and chirps and sings like a standing ovation.  Celebrate that your son has become independent to move away and that he is continuing his education.

            This is a time to look back at the days before you were a parent. Reconnect with friends, maybe those who were your high school or college friends.  Spend time with people you haven’t had to time to be with.  Take your mother and aunt to lunch or visit a neighbor who you hardly know.  

            Try something new.  Do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have time.  Learn a new skill or take a college class yourself.  Help out at your favorite local charity.

            Celeste, relish this time as your son becomes a young adult. He’ll be home to visit and expect his favorite meals and put his stuff on the kitchen table and park in your garage space. And, believe it or not, there will be a time when he leaves and you’ll enjoy quiet and calm.

Welcome Back, Hummers!

I heard a low rumbling noise.  A short high-pitched squeak.  A barely audible rattle. Was he back?  I put my book down and looked.  I couldn’t see him anywhere.  While sitting comfortably on my front-porch white wicker rocker as the sun went down, I began reading again.

            I realized a something flashed a few feet in front of me and saw a bird perched on my hummingbird feeder.  “Oh no,” I thought, “don’t drink it.  That sugar water may be spoiled.”  The hummingbird turned his head side-to-side as if rejecting the cloudy liquid inside the plastic feeder.

            If we could’ve had a conversation, I’d asked, “Where’ve you been?”  He flitted off rattling, and squeaking.  Did he say that he’d be back and he’d like fresh sugar water?      

            I prepared fresh food for Mr. Ruby Throated Hummingbird.  One part white sugar dissolved in four parts warm water.  I washed two feeders, one for our front porch and one hanging on a shepherd’s hook in the back yard, and filled them.  Sure enough, Mr. Hummingbird and a friend came for breakfast and supper.  And the next day and the next.

            Where have my birds been all summer? I hung feeders the first of April because I’ve been told ‘scouts’ come early to identify good feeding spots.  By mid-April, I’d seen several and expected, like past years, to watch hummers all summer, but a month later they were none in sight.

            I didn’t give up.  Through the spring and into summer, I emptied and rinsed and refilled the feeders regularly.  But when Mr. Hummingbird showed up in mid-July, those feeders held week-old water. Hot weather demands almost daily cleaning and refills.

            Hummingbirds are now coming to my two feeders.  The general rule to know how many use a feeder is to count the most birds you see at one time and multiply by ten.  I doubt twenty hummers are feeding; I’m happy to see two. 

            One friend said she’s seen hummers at her house all summer and as many as seven at one time, but most friends said they haven’t seen any until recently. Birdfeederhub.com offers reasons. 

            Maybe our hummers have been eating flower nectar or choosing more protein, and less carbohydrates.  While nesting, the female gathers gnats, spiders, fruit flies, mosquitoes, and aphids for herself and her young and then returns to feeders after the babies leave the nest.  

            As I watch these tiny birds dart, I’m amazed.  Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards because their wings rotate 180º in all directions.  An adult weighs about 1/8 ounce, the same as a nickel.  A hummer’s nest is the size of a half dollar, and its white eggs are the size of jelly beans.             Hummingbirds are the smallest migrating bird, and usually travel alone, not in a flock, up to 500 miles. When these little wonders of nature go to Central America in October, I’ll store their feeders until next April and they can come back wherever they want.  Rumbling and squeaking and rattling.

Who Inspires You?

I first noticed him about two years ago.  A heavyset young guy walked briskly past my house in the middle of the day.  He wore a long sleeve black shirt and dark shorts and he walked the loop around the neighborhood a few times, but I didn’t recognize him as a neighbor. Not many days later as I ate lunch, he walked past again, wearing the same clothes.

            After several months, his walk became a slow jog and he jogged past our house, not around the neighborhood loop, about midday. During the winter months, he wore a black knitted cap and traded his shorts for long dark colored pants.  Monday thru Friday, he jogged past and I wondered what was his story.  Some warm days, I’d eat lunch on my front porch and could have yelled to him, but he was focused on the street and I hated to intrude. 

            Now, his jogging has turned to running and he isn’t heavyset – he’s almost slim.  His black shirt is faded, but the knitted cap looks the same.  On a sunny winter day, as I walked the neighborhood loop for exercise, he ran near me so I called out to him. “I’m impressed that you run every day.  Do you have two minutes to talk?” I asked.

             He stopped and said, “Thanks,” and I realized he wasn’t as young as I had thought, maybe almost 40? After introducing myself, he told me his name which sounded familiar.  Thinking he might have been one of my children’s classmates, I asked where he went to school.  He attended Capshaw Elementary and graduated from high school in a neighboring county.  When I said that I’d taught at Capshaw, he told me that didn’t remember all his teachers and they probably didn’t remember him, but most people remembered his twin sister.

            I asked what inspires him to run every day.  “I’ve got a five-year-old son and I want to keep up with him.  I thought I’d just walk during my lunch hour,” he said and he explained that he works less than a half mile from my neighborhood. “Then I speeded up a little. It’s surprising what your body can do.  I never expected to run,” he said. 

            “That must be your lucky running shirt,” I said.  He laughed and said, “Yeah, I take these clothes to work and put them on to run, and I take them home to wash every night.”

            I searched through Capshaw Elementary School yearbooks and found brother and sister, 6th graders in 1992 -1993.  Neither were in my homeroom class, but I remember two twelve-year-old kids who smiled often and were well-behaved, hard-working students.             Now when I see him run, I silently cheer him on.  This runner’s determination to keep up with his son inspires me to keep moving, keep exercising. Maybe my body will surprise me. And my brief chat with him reminds me that my path often crosses with good people and taking just a few minutes to talk can be a blessing.

When Kids Draw

Erin posted a picture on Facebook of her two-year-old daughter’s drawing, a lop-sided circle with lines crossed where Azalea’s marker began and stopped.  Erin wrote, “I spy a heart.  This is the first intentional shape that I’ve noticed Azalea draw, and I couldn’t be prouder.” 

            If Azalea is like my Grands, she’ll soon be drawing circle people.  Micah was almost four when he drew my portrait.  Using an orange marker, my Grand drew a lop-sided circle with three small dots in the center and a short, straight line under the dots.  He drew four lines that began inside the circle and extended far outside it.  The dots were my nose and eyes; the line under it was my mouth. Two lines beginning near the eyes were arms and two lines pointing down were legs.  A scribble at the circle’s top was hair, and dots immediately above the arm lines were ears.

            Micah was 5 ½ when he drew a picture of himself, his Pop, and me, and we were the same height in his drawing . We had circle heads with oval eyes and upturned one-line mouths.  Atop our heads, he portrayed hair perfectly: spirals for his curly hair, straight lines for mine, and none for Pop.  He drew stick people with one long line for our bodies and crossing lines half-way down the body for arms and very short inverted letter v’sfor legs. We’re holding hands, and I’m holding a heart-shaped balloon – one that flies, my Grand told me.  

            On another page, Micah drew several faces and he asked, “Gran, which one do you like best?”  I asked him to explain each face.  Most expressed an emotion: anger, surprise, happy, sad, disappointed.  One face yelled, really loud, and one was nothing, just there.  We talked about what might have happened to cause someone to have each face.  Micah gave some serious and some silly explanations.  Then he insisted I choose my favorite, and when I chose the smiling person, he said, “I knew you’d like it best.”

            At age six, Micah used every color in the box to create a stick figure drawing of his Pop.  An orange face, open purple mouth, round blue eyes circled in red.  The body, arms, legs and feet were all different colors.  The head was huge, but the arms and legs lengths were real life proportion to the body. My Grand was proud of his work and said that I would probably want to keep it.  

            I love kids’ drawings.  Simple and expressive.  Studies suggest that one can know a child’s home life, his intelligence, his ability to handle stress, and so much more by looking at his drawings, and that’s probably true.              But here’s my thoughts.  Let kids draw whatever they want, even arms where ears should be.  Let them explain (without criticizing or suggesting changes) what they drew.  And keep a few drawings, like a lop-sided circle that looks like a heart and a picture of Pop.

Finding Joy in a Plant

A tall snake plant sits in the corner of our dining room, and that simple plant makes me happy.  Recent weather forecast for frost signaled the time to bring potted plants indoors.  It felt good, almost soothing, to wipe the dust and grime off the long, narrow, strong leaves.  Partly because when I clean, I want to see a difference and this plant was dirty. But mostly, because it once belonged to my grandmother.

             A tall snake plant in a white pot always set on Grandma and Papa’s front porch.   She called it a mothers-in-law tongue, and her mother gave it to her.  As a kid, I didn’t really like it. The pointed, sharp leaves hurt when I brushed by arm or leg against them and I didn’t think it was pretty.  After Grandma’s death about thirty years ago, my aunt moved the plant to her house and shared two starter plants with me.  Grandma had few material things to pass on so I was really glad to have something that was hers; something she had nurtured.

            Snake plants require little care.  In fact, leave them alone and they grow well.  In the summer, I sat the pots outside and prided myself that the leaves were green and healthy.  When frost threatened, I moved the plants into a garage corner for the winter.  After many weeks, I noticed the tall leaves were limp. So, I set the pots in a bucket and poured water around the soil and left the plants in water all day. In fact, I left them for several days, and the leaves began to turn yellow.  I’d broken the #1 rule about care for snake plants: don’t overwater.

            Root rot killed one plant. Aunt Doris gave me detailed instructions to save the other one and she offered new starter plants, but I was determined to bring my small plant back to life. And I did, and now truly appreciate it as Grandma did hers.  

            The long, narrow, strong leaves earned this plant the name snake plant and prompted other names. Mothers-in-law because we mothers sometimes struggle to hold our tongues.  In Spain, it’s known as Saint George’s sword.  It’s also called viper’s bowstring because the stiff fiber in the leaves are strong. 

            Snake plants are succulent plants and their leaves retain water, similar to a cactus. I finally learned to water mine only when the top few inches of its soil are completely dry and to never pour water on the leaves.  I just learned that snake plants clean the air better than most plants because not only do they give off oxygen, they absorb high amounts of carbon monoxide and filter toxins in the air.  I’m sure Grandma didn’t know her plant helped to keep her healthy. 

            Now, the tallest leaf on my snake plant is about 40”and there are dozens of leaves, so many that it must be divided.  Next spring, I’ll give starter plants to my children.  Who knows how many generations might enjoy a simple snake plant?

So Many Putnam Counties

In this column last week, after praising Library Friends for its support to our public library and encouraging everyone to become a Friends member, I provided a link to Library Friends for Putnam County, Indiana.  The correct URL for our Putnam County Library Friends is https://pclibrary.org/PCL%20Friends.html.  I hope many of you join.

Ten years ago, when my friend Jennie encouraged me to write for publication, she said, “Just look around. Observe. There’s an idea for a story or column in almost everything you see and do.”  She’s right. In fact, my mistake provides two ideas: Putnam County and mistakes.

Do you know nine states have a county named Putnam? Counties in Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, and West Virginia are named for Israel Putnam.  It’s not certain if Putnam County, Ohio is named for Israel or his cousin Rufus, and Putnam County, Florida could be named for Benjamin Putnam, an officer in the first Seminole War and a Florida politician.  And two states, Connecticut and New York, have cities named after Israel Putnam.

What do you know about Israel Putnam?  He was born in 1715 in Massachusetts and died in 1790 in Connecticut.  As a young man he moved to Pomfret, Connecticut, where he became a prosperous farmer.  He served in the French and Indian War (1754 -63), was captured, and gained the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1759.  Putnam most distinguished himself as a major general in the Continental Army when he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution in 1775.   He deserved recognition across our country.

The next time you go the Putnam County Courthouse stop and read the tall silver sign about Israel Putnam to learn what year our county was established.  All nine Putnam Counties were named between 1807 and 1849.  Tennessee’s wasn’t the first or last.

So, there are nine Putnam Counties and nine Putnam County public libraries and most have a Library Friends webpage.  On my last revision of last week’s column, I cut words to rewrite the last paragraph because I wanted space to include the Friends group webpage link and that’s when I goofed.           

No excuses, just facts, I was tired and wanted to finish quickly.  When I first googled Putnam County Friends, I noticed the headline banner read Florida so I tried again, and I didn’t notice Indiana on the second one.  I copied and pasted and said to myself, “Done!” 

Isn’t that often what happens when we make a mistake?  We’re in a hurry or tired or both.  Then we have choices: fix it, if possible, or hope no one notices.  My mistake was fixed on the Herald-Citizen online edition and corrected in the next printed issue, but I wanted to ‘fix it myself’ as my young Grand says.  Winston Churchill said, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”   It’s true that everyone makes mistakes, and yes, I learned from mine.  And now I’m collecting more stories about mistakes for another column.

Listen to the Children

A mother and son sat on their front porch steps. He rolled his red Matchbox car across the concrete porch while they counted the days until his first day of kindergarten: seven more days.  “Will the corona be gone then?” he asked.

            “I wish, but no, it probably won’t be,” the mom replied.  This young one clutched his car in both hands, lay on the porch, curled into a ball, still and silent. When I heard this story, I wondered what other children were saying and doing so I asked Facebook friends to share.

            A five-year-old girl sat in her mother’s lap and sipped from her drink, but when her mother wrapped her arms to hug, the mother was pushed away.  “Moooomaaa!  Six feet apart!  Remember, the corona?” the girl said.

            “This virus is a trouble maker!” said a four-year-old when he was told that because of the COVID-19 his nursery school had closed.

            My Grand, age six, told me to not touch a spoon he’d just touched.  “Gran, you’ll get the CORONA!”

            Another young one used kitchen tongs to hand her mother something and said, “Now you don’t have to worry about corona virus.” Laster she asked, “Is it always gonna’ be like this?”  She was assured things would change.  This child misses her good friend, but doesn’t want to talk to her on video chat. “It will make me sadder,” she explained.  Her older sister, age eight, wanted to buy a litter picker-upper for $1 to protect herself from touching things. Her mom wasn’t sure this purchase was logical, but since it gave her child peace of mind, it was a good investment. 

            While watching an episode of Peppa, a preschool animated television series, a four-year-old said, “MOM! They’re too close to their friends!”  He was assured it was filmed before March.

            A nine-year-old kid girl said, “We can’t do anything fun with the COVID going around.” 

            A little girl was playing with her dolls.  She set the table for them and served lunch and told her grandmother the names of each of her babies.  Little brother, age four, was drawing with crayons on paper, and he held one finger over his mouth and whispered, “Shhhhh! I’m in a meeting!”  His sister and grandmother continued talking.  Again, brother whispered, but this time more loudly, “Shhhhh!  I’m in a MEETING!”  When asked what kind of meeting, he said, “Drawing!  Shhhhh.”

            The daughter, age 6, of a nurse practitioner reminds her mother to put clean clothes in their garage so after work her mom can change out of her scrubs in the garage and not take the corona in the house.

            A four-year old often asks, “Is the sickness gone yet?  This is taking ages!”

            “Is the quar-um-team over yet?” asked a three-year-old.

.           A pre-school age girl prays, “Dear God, please help all the people get well and the virus go away.”             Will young children remember this pandemic?  Yes.  How they remember it is determined by how we adults respond to their words and actions.  And by what we say and do when we think they aren’t listening and watching.