Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year

I remember New Year's celebrations.  New Year's means a new page, a new endeavor, a new chance.  This is the time to get a new grip on the rope and set your mind to hang on for the ride--maybe even take the driver's seat.

When my kids were little, my yearly plans started with January 1.  We planned for the new garden, the end of the school year, and summer vacation.  After vacation we started planning for the beginning of school, the autumn events and Christmas. 

My mother planted the New Year traditions.  She enjoyed the mistletoe, the black eyed peas, the Happy New Year greetings to strangers, and sometimes a party. 

Christmas is a culmination, but New Year's is a beginning.  What will this year hold?  She told me about Janus who had two faces--one looking at the past and the other at the future.  She celebrated the baby New Year who was being born and the Old Man Time who was retiring.

This year I am looking at the New Year as a chance to finish some things and invest in new ones.  I will try to plan better this time.  (I always say that.)  I'll make better resolutions.  I will be a better Christian, writer, mother, person.  And if I don't succeed, I'll have another chance next year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Am Thankful for People

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Visiting with my children has become one of the supreme joys of my life.  I like to see these people I raised and loved when they were little who have now become capable and successful adults. 

One of the most challenging parts of this endeavor is to get to know this adult child I have known since before he or she was born.  It was a terrible shock to me the first time I learned my child was not an extension of me.  Now I have come to be thankful for that phenomena.  In addition to finding that they are individuals with thoughts and emotions that may be significantly different from mine, they have also changed and matured over the years.  Periodically, I find new vistas in their personalities that I had not seen before blessing me in my daily contacts

This was a truly wonderful Thanksgiving.  In addition to enjoying my daughter, I got to share thoughts and opinions with my son-in-law and their two lovely children. 

This has reminded me that the most wonderful blessing God has given me is people.  As I have said before, many of these people are my children.  I have learned from them and grown through my interactions with them.  But there are other people in this life who have been part of that blessing, too.  Some of them are blessing me in my daily contacts with them, and some are blessing me in the memories I have of them.

Holidays are wonderful times to remember the blessings of all those people who have blessed my life.  I hope for you, memories of wonderful people, too.  This is a good time to make new memories and add people to your list of blessings. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

100 words: Prejudice

Bias and prejudice are like the dust bunnies and dead flies that congregate behind the furniture. Those attitudes that you don't recognize as a part of your world view corrupt your clean house and create a subtle invasion of unpleasant presence until one day a friend comes by and drops a pen behind the sofa. In her attempt to retrieve it, she finds your secret store of hidden filth. Embarrassment! You failed to clean there. Your friend requests a donation for drug rehab, and as you write the check, you make a note to clean the drug bunnies from your attitude.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Do We Learn Forgiveness?

I've been reading Spiritual Evolution by George Vaillant.  It is very enlightening.  The chapter I am reading now focuses on forgiveness.  He lists the physical benefits for individuals of forgiveness like reducing anxiety, blood pressure, stress on the nervous system, and peace of mind.  He also reports the benefits of forgiveness for countries or societies or civilizations.  Can we really ever live without the specter of war hanging over us? 

On a personal note, we can stop the pain that injustice from family, friends, or co-workers causes by forgiving them.  Forgiving is not always easy, and it helps to understand what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Forgiveness does NOT:
  1. Accept wrong acts--A friend who says something hurtful does not need to suffer the same insult to "show her how it feels," but she may need to be told the extent of the damage her words have caused.  There is a critical difference between being angry at an insult and taking vengence.
  2. Forget wrong acts--Forgiveness is a learning experience.  We should not forget that bad things happened but learn how to prevent them from recurring.
  3. Accept injustice--Forgiveness is not accepting injustice to "keep peace."  Battered wives who accept pain and insult continue the injustice and are never have a chance to forgive.
  4. Remove past pain--Forgiveness does not remove the pain suffered in the past, but it can prevent it from continuing.  Forgiveness removes the gnawing anger at a past insult that continues to destroy present communication.
  5. Excuse the wrongs--Forgiveness does not excuse the wrong, but it gives a chance for the relationship and the behavior to change.  No excuse makes it O.K. to hurt others.
  6. Accept repetition of wrong act--Forgiveness does not give license for bad behavior to continue. 
Forgiveness is a mature life skill.  Children and youth often forgive because a parent is forcing them .  The child who faces this issue may find forgiveness very difficult and perhaps fail to understand the principle.  Children are more prone to tit-for-tat retaliation than forgiveness.  Maturity cures some kinds of unforgiveness.

Sometimes forgiveness is a product of empathy--when you understand the needs and feelings of the person who offended you, forgiveness is almost automatic. 

Jesus demonstrated many of the principles of forgiveness in his ministry and practice.  A woman taken in the act of sin was brought to him by the upstanding men of the town wanting him to pronounce judgment on her.  Only the righteous could accuse her, but none of them past that test.  His forgiveness was implied when he said he did not condemn her, but there was more to it than that.  With the forgiveness came the obligation to sin no more. 

In the prayer he taught his disciples there is this petition: Forgive us our trepasses as we forgive those who trepass against us.  Forgiveness is intended to be passed around.  We forgive each other.  When he was dying on the cross, he forgave those who participated saying, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." Being stupid is sometimes cause for forgiveness, but understanding more makes you responsible for more.  Forgiveness is a mature response.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mothers Still Have Hope

I visited with my son yesterday.  I guess it was good.  On some level it was painful and humiliating.  I'll explain.  He is in prison.  That is difficult no matter how positive the reason for my visit.  The grounds are manicured.  The chain-link fences are immaculate.  The inmates are courteous.  The officers are curt and business-like.

I was there to witness his graduation from a 6-month faith based program that focused on life skills.   He relished the good news that he had been accepted into a Christian halfway house upon release.

He reminded me that his birthday is next week.  He will be 52.  No, this is not some juvenile misstep.  This has been a lifelong pattern of behavior.  He enjoys the benefits he accumulates while pushing the boundaries of society.  His defense is consistent--I never hurt anybody.  He always repents and acts penitent, but somehow the message has never gotten to the control center of his being.  I pray that this time it has.  I always pray for that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Is New This Year

LaubBlätter10Image via WikipediaFall is my favorite season of the year, and it is becomming my favorite season of life.  It's funny how personal experience changes your perspective.  I always thought that retirement and getting older meant slowing down and entertaining grandchildren, but there is more to it than that.  All these elements I've mentioned may be there, but my life and my needs and my interests don't follow those rules.

Now in the Autumn of my years, I see all the books I wanted to read and all trips I wanted to take still waiting to be experienced.  Well, guess what?  I can do some of those things I didn't have time or money for before.  No, I'll never swim the English Channel or climb Mt. Everest, but I never wanted to anyway.  I wanted to write and walk in the woods. I do those things now.  I wanted to tell my grandchildren about their ancestors and I have.  I still do. 

I have celebrated weddings and births and grieved at deaths and failures, but mostly in my Autumn Years, I am learning there is much to accomplish and I am crowding all the experiences in, and it enriches my days and my life.  I write to people I love.  I walk in the rain, well, not much; but I do stand on the porch and inhale the fragrance.

I find I'm doing things for people--no reason, just 'cause I can.  I take out the neighbor's garbage and do errands for her.  I take a friend to church because she can no longer drive.  I take my daughter to Bible study because I want her to have the joy of learning the deeper things.

There is a negative side to this:  I become impatient with younger people who don't see the benefits of Autumn.  They see it as an end rather than a season of fruit-bearing.  They even cut short the harvest and fail to follow through with planning for the next season.  There is Winter and rest and a new Spring coming.
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Things I Learned from Stories

Family watching television, c. 1958Image via Wikipedia My mother loved stories, fiction, romance, and adventure.  She read a lot, and she and my father read to each other in the evenings.  Remember, this was a long time ago and there was no TV.  She passed that love of stories on to me.

I learned most of my morals from the heroes and heroines I read about in stories.  I learned about history from stories.  I enjoyed romance and adventure from stories.  And I learned that real life is the best story.  The memories and the way I remember and reclaim them provide endless entertainment.  The older I get the more urgent it is that I understand the things that have happened to me. 

To shape them into fictional stories is fun.  I get to analyze the characters and reshape the events to suit my fancy.  Sometimes I get to put a different end to a story or a different beginning. 

Some of the stories stay in my file cabinet as history.  They become part of the family legacy I enjoy writing or telling, and grandchildren benefit from them, too.  Some of those stories are guesswork--I may put my own interpretation on the reason for a move or why a couple got married.  Sometimes what was happening in politics or medicine or weather is significant.  Was there an epidemic?  Did a new frontier become available for the pioneer?  Was there a drought?

Stories are everywhere.  Some are true and some are fiction, but they all carry an element of experience and mystery.  Try out your stories.  Tell them, and write them, and enjoy them.  Enrich your life with stories from your life.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

George Vaillant Corrects My Memories

Lovers WalkImage by ~~Tone~~ via Flickr I enjoy remembering my mother and father and the other members of my extended family.  I have stories I want to write about them.  I do have a problem though.  The stories seem to get better as I age.  Reading George Vaillant's book has given me a reason why and alerted me to a truth I didn't want to believe. 

We tend to reinvent out lives and memories to make them easier to accept and live with.  The studies Vaillant based his research on prove that.  The studies that took data at the time of the event may reveal a very painful and deprived childhood, but when the subject is interviewed at 50 or 60, he may tell of a loving and supportive family.  The subject is not lying or even confabulating; he has made the story tolerable.  He may pick details that conform to his view of his life. 

So it is with me.  I remember many events with a sort of a lovely, misty haze and the aroma of spring flowers or autumn leaves burning.  I associate great romance with my parents, partly because of the difference in their ages.  When I was old enough to understand that fifteen years is a considerable time, I thought both of them made a sacrifice for the sake of love.  When she died at 38, I was confronted with the tradgedy. 

Now I have shaped my memories to bless my life in ways I could not have anticipated when they were happening.  My mother was a pretty strict disciplinarian, but I remember her loving me without
cause or excuse.  I was not precocious, smart, or beautiful, but she thought I was.  My father was far more wise and wonderful that I thought at the time.  He was a romantic and clever with words, but I was too dense to know it.  Now I remember.

I don't really care whether my memories are accurate.  I care that they bless me.  I won't analyze them or find fault with them, even though sometimes they aren't pleasant.  Sadness deserves to be rememered to, and hard times, and bitter words, and spankings.  Even with these realities, the misty haze is still hanging in the air and my childhood is still charmed.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Even Ceres Needed Rain

agriculture • atopImage by origamidon via Flickr My Latin name is now my official nickname, at least to all my blogging buddies.  I must take this seriously.  Ceres was the goddess of agriculture in Ancient Rome who blessed the grain harvest.  I think perhaps in Rome the grain was harvested in the spring.  Maybe it was planted in the spring. Her day is April 19, but since I am facing autumn, I am using Ceres to symbolize the gathering of crops and my reflections of harvest and all things autumnal.

There are a multitude of holidays to consider and plan for.  Cooler weather is re-energizing me, and all the people around me are engaged in various activities.  I walked to church this morning feeling the cooler breeze and noting the shorter days.  There is so much to enjoy and anticipate in autumn.  But this autumn is different. 

The summer was so hot and dry many trees are dead or in shock.  They have lost their leaves without any autumn splash.  Pastures are empty because farmers could not feed stock and sold them instead.  No rolls of hay grace the meadows because no rain fell.  Creeks and rivers are slow flowing and muddy with dry banks and desolate islands.  Lakes have dried up and fishermen can't get a boat in the water at the dock.

I look for autumn rains.  I pray for autumn rains.  I think of the beauty of Robert Frost's "dark days of autumn rain" with nostalgia.  Even people who do not love a rainy day would welcome one now.  The cold splatter on the pavement, the dreary sky, the hunched and hurrying shoppers are sights I value and yearn to see again.

I miss the rain.  I know I am a nicer person when it rains.  I have confidence it will rain again.  I hope it is soon.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keres or Ceres?

Do you know why you see Keres on my blog URL?  Well, it's a long story.  About four years ago I began my Latin career with a class at the university, and one of the requirements was that each student had to adopt a Latin name.  I couldn't come up with anything I liked so I just took the first one I could remember-Claudia.  In my fourth semester, I decided to change my name to Keres or Ceres. 

Ceres was the goddess of grain.  I make bread, so I thought this was appropriate.  The professor said that I could spell it either way because in Latin the K and the C are pronounced the same. 

Well... now I find that Keres does indeed refer to mythical beings, but spelled with a K, they are goddesses or spirits or violent death in Greek mythology.  In Latin and spelled with a C, Ceres is the benevolent goddess of harvest.  Since I would like to be associated with benevolent behavior, I have tried to change the names associated with my various blogs.  Please forgive me if I have made a mess of it.

My mother had studied mythology, and she often told me stories that included these myths.  I certainly don't worship at their shrines, but I do believe we must understand the myths and meanings that names and places carry.  Now that I have sorted out some of these meanings, I want to enjoy them.  Ceres with a C, and her name is the basis for cereal--good and wholesome--and we celebrate bread!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blogging --What Can I Say?

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas EakinsImage via Wikipedia Blogging is just too much fun!  I have a new blog.  Everybody is welcome to come over and check it out.  the title is Keres Tells a Story at www.kerestellsastory.blogspot.com .  This is not actually a new story.  I wrote it some time a ago.  It is a little nostalgic--no drug wars, just one bootlegger.

I hope I can discharge this writing demon by using these blogs.  Writing is like a necessity of life for some of us.  We want to record everything and make it all understandable to other people, to find the germ of an idea in the words or the feelings.  We do it in different and unique ways, but we idenify with each other--we have the antennae out searching for others who have a story or an idea.  Some people are readers who connect with writers, but some are writers who reflect it with another story--like sunlight bouncing off mirrors.

If you read my blogs, you may be assured that I appreciate it.  If you hear my stories I hope they touch you, or thrill you, or sadden you.  I hope you are moved or enlightened or challenged.  And if you, too, are a writer, I hope the feelings, and thoughts, and meanings reflect everywhere.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Creativity for Old Folks

I finished reading The Mature Mind by Gene Cohen, and it offers great encouragment to the maturing individual.  I was very excited that older people have great abilities they have yet to tap.  By older, I mean fifty and above.  At least that's what Cohen meant.  People who are sixty five have reached a new stage in development.  Even at eighty the brain and the thinking ability are still sharp and active. 

One problem with our society seems to be a mistaken view of old age.  In our concern for people who suffer with disease or dementia, we have assumed that all of us are destined for the mental wastebasket.  Get over that idea.  There are many people in your circle of acquaintances that are old but still mentally alert.  They will benefit from activities that are challenging and exciting.

Include your older family members in games, discussions, and activities that give them stimulation.  They will benefit from it and you will learn from them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Liebster Blog Award

One of the blogs I read on a regular basis is Why I Wake Up Every Day authored by Unikorna.  She has been kind and gracious to me, and now she had presented me with an award.  It is the Liebster Award which is intended to spread bloggerly love.
I have linked to Unikorna's blog and now I get to pass on the love to others who inspire me or whose work I enjoy.  The award is meant for blogs with less than 200 followers.  I am struggling here because I don't follow many blogs--maybe that's my problem.  I don't subscribe to the idea that if I follow them they'll be obligated to follow me.  I drop in and sample things I don't follow, but to follow somebody means something more than just putting their names on a list.  Recommending a blog for an award is more meaningful to me than just adding them to a list.

Crazy Creative Magazine authored by Hannah is good.  It is always funny and it always has heart.  I nominate this blog for a Liebster Award.

Aprons in the Kitchen written by Becky is nominated for the Liebster Award.  This one is just because I love her.  She is my daughter.  It thrills me when one of my children shows talent, especially in an area that I love.  Besides being my daughter, she is a very good writer.

 Laugh With Us Blog is the product of the busy mind and life of Esther.  She shares her family stories and joy.  She is my third nominee.

When you receive a Liebster Award you are supposed to nominate 3-5 other people to enjoy this honor.  Link back to the one who nominated you then to your nominees.  I doubt that this will make you instantly famous, but like everybody says, "It's an honor just to be nominated."  If you read my blog, check out these people and see what I like about them.
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Carol is My Fifth Child

Carol is my fifth child.  When she was little, her Care Bear was Grumpy and she identified with Eeyore.  It became a joke.  Carol always saw the gloomy side.

She married John who was quite caustic.  Maybe her gloom protected her from his acidic personality.  When she was 23, she was diagnosed with RA.  Her baby was three months old.  John died seven months ago.  Now she is 45, totally disabled, and lives with me.  You would think that Grumpy Bear and Eeyore would define her personality.  At least they seem to fit the situation.

Now let's view her through a different lens.  When her pain is intense, she wants medication and alone time.  She doesn't complain or gripe.  She likes to have the Golden Girls or I Love Lucy on TV--nothing too loud but always funny. 

For more active viewing, she likes game shows and food shows.  Jeopardy is her favorite.   She is a good player.  She is very quick on responses and knowledgeable about questions.  She claims she doesn't like school, but she knows a lot of facts about history, biology, and current events, and she is very analytical.  Basketball and Tennis are her favorite sports.  She is knowledgeable about the players and coaches.  She was thrilled when the Mavericks won the NBA title.  She was upset when she slept through one of Roger Federer's games.
She also likes more demanding plots like stories of intrigue and mysteries with red herrings, and of course, a good love story.  Since her activities are severely restricted, TV occupies the majority of her day.   She will engage in a lively discussion of foolish behavior of celebrities, and she has little patience with the commentators who exploit them.

Difficulties with sitting on pews restricts her involvement in church activities. When she goes to church, she likes a preacher who deals with the Bible passage and gets serious about why we came. Even though it may be painful, she does not enjoy the light and easy kind of worship.

Over the years many caretakers have commented on her resilient spirit and attitude.  She is always ready to try a new course of treatment even though none of them has provided much relief.  Don't let anyone tell you that artificial joints don't hurt--Carol will argue!  Phantom limb pain is real pain even though the limb isn't there.  She is able to joke about these things.  

In a strange and paradoxical way her limitations and scars, rather than limiting her growth as a person, have revealed the spirit within as generous and joyous.  I am constantly supported by her infectous optimism--optimism that knows that pain is real, bad things happen, and we go on anyway.  God has blessed me to allow me to carry some of her burden.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Don't Believe What You Have Heard About Old Dogs

Cover of "The Mature Mind: The Positive P...Cover via Amazon
I'm reading Gene D. Cohen's book THE MATURE MIND, and it is wonderfully illuminating.  Cohen was a psychiatrist and a gerontologist, and he says things in the book that are truly amazing.  He says that as we reach more advanced ages, there are some changes in the brain that complement the aging process.  Previously I thought that when you got past eighteen your brain might learn new material, but it was finished developing.  From nineteen it was in a state of decline in the number of neurons.

Cohen says that there is research that shows that new neurons are still being created.  Fantastic!  The neurons don't take the place of those we have lost.  They do not restore memories or reclaim lost skills:  They are new neurons.  They have to be programmed with new information.  You can and should teach an old dog new tricks.

Cohen also points out a shift in brain processing indicated by scans of the amygdala that reveal a shift in how memory works in the older brain.  In the younger brain the left side of amygdala is more prominent on the scan, but in the older brain both sides are equally active.  This seems to indicate that memory is a more sensual experience for older person including spatial and logical components as well as narrative and visual ones.

Getting old is something that we all look forward to.  Let's anticipate it with joy and hope, rather than dread and fear.  What will these new brain cells and the new functions allow you to do?
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aging and How to Do It

Elders from TurkeyImage via Wikipedia
I write a lot about aging.  I think our society and our media should understand the importance of this stage of life.  The elderly and the retired are not a novelty.  They represent the consequence of accomplishing old age.  It is an accomplishment. There is an added benefit to society in having people who have acquired the wisdom that comes with getting old.  Old people have stories to tell and skills to teach.  It is inappropriate to pat them tenderly on the head and ignore their efforts and accomplishments. 

Aging often represents loss of vitality and function in the media.  We usually discount retired people as not engaged in the activities of life.  We refer to their battles as "back in the day."  I am campaigning in this blog and other places that I write to revise the attitude toward old age.  A lot of information on the Internet and in print is directed toward the children or care-takers of the elderly.  Society tends to treat them as stubborn children. 

I am convinced that old people are pretty savvy.  I am old.  I like it.  I know what I want, but I often defer my wishes for the sake of others.  Don't dismiss my sacrifice because you don't think I know or understand.  I do.  I made the gesture gladly, but it was a sacrifice.  It's O.K. to thank me.

Old people who are healthy and do not have a debilitating disease should not be discussed as if they were inadequate or absent by doctors, care-takers, or relatives.  When my husband visited the doctor, he ofter asked me after the visit what the doctor had said.  I was glad to tell him what I understood, but it made me mad too when the doctor talked to me instead of him.  I thought the doctor had an obligation to make the patient understand what he was saying.   

Sometimes old people give up.  They don't ask questions.  They don't want to look foolish or be treated as stupid.  So they nod as if they understand.  O.K. this is for the Old Guys and Gals who need answers from doctors, nurses, clerks, waiters, and cabbies:  When you don't understand someone, look them in the eye and speak slowly so they will understand.  State your question simply, and make them repeat it until you are satisfied.  You deserve to be heard and understood.

Getting old involves all of us.  Some of us are on the platform, and some of us are waiting for our turn.   
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Compartmentalize?

summer moodImage by AlicePopkorn via FlickrI hear people talk about the ability of some individuals to compartmentalize, to separate the various facets of their lives into compartments.  There are some benefits.  I learned how to do it when I was working.  On my long drive to work I shifted my mental gears and left the home and family concerns and took up the work concerns until late afternoon when I reversed the process.

For years I did not understand why my husband was so short on the phone when I called him at work.  At work one day I had a sudden epiphany when one of my children called me:  the gear shifting process takes a few minutes.  I couldn't integrate the compartments.

Those separations or compartments were easier to understand than the ones I deal with now.  My situation has changed and so has the need for compartmentalization.  I still think of myself in one compartment as a single or widowed female.  My attitudes and associations are directed toward my needs as a woman alone.

The second compartment in my life includes my housemates.  I invited my daughter and her daughter to move in with me after my son-in-law died suddenly.  Carol, my daughter, is disabled and she requires a lot of assistance.  My granddaughter Sarah attends college and lives with me too.  We have some juggling to accommodate all the needs, and we are not yet a smoothing functioning machine.  Maybe with time and practice that will improve.

My private activities include writing, building and flying kites, making bread, attending church functions, and research for writing and information.  These are a sub-categories because they aren't always compatible.  I research things I don't intend to write about.  I attend church functions I don't enjoy.  In this part of the compartmentalization there is a fluidity that brings some things to prominence and allows other to fade.   Kites and writing may join for a while, and then separate again when the poem is finished.  Making bread and going to church dinners may join hands but not form a permanent bond.  Genealogy got put on the back burner, but it will have a spotlight again.  Some things are fun to share, and some are too personal. 

Compartments are the way I think about my life.  I feel like I am entertaining some kind of schizoid fantasy when I try to sort it out, but it seems to work.  I can accomplish some things almost in secret and others I advertize and shout about.  Together they keep me active and interested and engaged in life.  At my age this is important!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Adult Development

Cover of "Aging Well: Surprising Guidepos...Cover via Amazon
I write a lot about adult development.  When I took the class in college I never imagined how much pleasure the concept would afford me.  I am in the middle of Aging Well by George Vaillant who also wrote Adaptation to Life.  Both books draw on the finding of the very significant Grant Study of the  Harvard  graduates begun the 1942.  Their lives were followed with interviews of them and their families and comments and insights by them from 1942 until now.  Vaillant has included two other studies of longitudinal importance to his database. 

The second set of data comes from the Gluecks' Non-delinquent Controls.  In the book this group is referred to as the Inner City Cohort.  The data come from a group of matched non-delinquent controls for a study of inner city delinquent youth.  The Gluecks last interviewed them in 1960--62.  Vaillant obtained the funds to follow them in 1975, and they have returned biennial questionnaires since then. 

To provide a female component, Vaillant included date from the study by Lewis Terman conducted at Stanford University on gifted children with IQs 135-140 or higher.  In 1987 George Vaillant and his wife Caroline were allowed to re-interview 40 of the surviving women.  This study had not required physical exams and health information suffered from this lack.

In his books George Vaillant does a great deal to allay the fear of old age for me.  He expands and explores the richer and more abundant resources of life in a new environment.  I studied his first book when I was approaching 50, and the study and the book convinced me that to about 65 there was a lot of life to enjoy.  It helped me not dread my "golden years."  Now I'm past 70, and the gold could be viewed as tarnished or fake, but the truth is I still relish life.  Now I'm reading the second book and I've found Gene Cohen, who takes pains to explore stages beyond the Retirement Curtain. 

Vaillant and Cohen both describe stages of development that extend beyond the stage Erik Erikson called Generativity vs. Despair.  Generativity is the time when we seek to pass on the skills it took us a lifetime to refine.  When we have honed a skill, we don't want it to be lost.  Generativity may begin in the 50's and 60's, but then like Kolhberg's Stages of Moral Development, it can progress to a higher, more generalized application.  Vaillant calls it the Keeper of the Meaning.  By the 70's and 80's the family genealogist wants to do more than research; she wants to write and share and relish her family.  She wants to become a historian or write a biography.  If she has not aged well, she may fall into despair and the vast chasm of aged depression.  The task of this stage is care.  We care for one another, but with maturity, we also care for our society and our family and our the world at large.

Erikson's final stage is Integrity vs. Despair.  The task here is wisdom.  Cohen describes a Liberation Phase that may occur in the 60's or early 70's.  In those people who have aged well, there may be a new willingness to take risks and an eagerness to express themselves.  In this stage the older adults seek to mentor other adults, not necessarily young adults, in how to give of themselves, how to give back.  They are mentoring wisdom and how to end well.

I think, and this is a personal opinion, that old people are not so interested in honor or even respect, but they want to know that somebody has taken up their quest, that what they have learned will not be lost.  My mother used to say, "Act your age!"  I hope she would be glad to see how I am responding to the challenges of getting old.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

100 Words: It's Been a While

Barbed tape at a prisonImage via Wikipedia
Steel doors and body searches and razor wire are not part of my daily life anymore, but I went to see him on Saturday.  When I worked in the prison system, those things were a fact of life, but now they are foreign. 

Maybe it was always like that.  It is the reason for being there that changes your view.  It was not the first time I had visited him in a place like that either. 

There was a time when some change in direction, some adjustment, could have altered his course.  It is useless to speculate about it now.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

The Meaning of Words

There are things my mother never told me would thrill me and cause me great wonder and anticipation.  One of them is that I would receive such an absolute thrill from knowing that someone read my words.  I don't have to get paid or published or receive acclaim in the press.  Any indication that my words were read by anyone is highly reinforcing.  They don't even have to like what I said for me to be supremely gratified.

Sometimes I get a whole new take on a subject when someone argues with my ideas.  Sometimes I start a new quest for information when someone brings up an obscure point.  But they read my words!

This whole thing goes back to the importance of words, the power of words.  Words inform, enlighten, enthrall, and mystify us.  Words brings answers to questions and satisfaction to needs.  When the words are placed and shaped into a sentence, I have captured a thought.  The sentence may tell a story or impart great knowledge, but the words came from me.  God created the Universe with a word.  Jesus calmed the storm with a word.  My husband loved me with words.  With words I touch people and share events and create joy.  

The words I hear are powerful too.  The words become an expanding web that encloses and includes people and events and history and art.  I am excited by that vast network of words that relate me to the world.  How can anybody not thrill to the flow and cadence and meaning of words?  What do the words mean?  That is another post!     
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Going to the Dentist

Cover of "A Visit to the Dentist (Little ...Cover of A Visit to the Dentist (Little Bill)I feel sorry for the dentist and all the other people whose service causes pain and discomfort.  Their intent is good, but their practice is uncomfortable.  I often refer to a visit to the dentist as a session with a man in rubber boots and a tool chest in my mouth. 

Of course it's necessary and preventative.  It will prevent or anticipate worse problems later, but the immediate thought today is AAGGGHH!  My mouth will be three sizes too big for the rest of the day.  I already have an ulcer on my gum, and this is likely to increase the pain there.  He may find all sorts of little problems to pick at.

Sometimes humor helps reduce the anxiety of going to the dentist.  In this case, the only thing I have to laugh at is my own anxiety and misery.  Sometimes that's not as funny to me as it is the those who don't have an appointment.  My kids or my friends are laughing at my terror in the presence of this very nice man who is providing services to me.  It seems so foolish.  It is.  Maybe next week I will laugh.  Today I am dreading it.  Don't expect me to laugh!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Summer in a Bog

I took Ecology when I was in college.  It was my lab science course.  I took it as a requirement, but I came to love it as a science.  One of the often cited studies of ecological importance was the work by Katherine Dooris Sharp entitled Summer in a Bog.  In the class I learned the tremendous power the ugly, foreboding bog can hold for development in the ecosystem.  The bog in temperate zones is like the jungle in tropical zones:  Its diverse creatures populate the rest of the landscape with new individuals and new species.  It provides food, water, and protection

A bog does not offer the beautiful grace of a meadow or the serenity of a clean, white beach.  A bog is muddy and the water is thick and smelly.  The tiny creatures that leave delicate trails in the mud may bite or sting, and the ones that buzz and whir around you nose and ears do too.  Vines and bushes make walking treacherous for your shins and face.  You may see tadpoles and frogs, but rarely fish.  Birds move in the trees or above them.

Even when the heat of summer is intense and drought is abroad, the bog is still the last resource for the water-starved deer and wild pig.  The bog is humid and the stench of stale water irritates your nose.  The trees here will still be green when those on the hill are suffering heat stress.  The bog becomes a refuge for all the wildlife. 

Eventually rain blesses the earth and the bog comes alive with new sounds of insects and the rustling of coons and squirrels and birds in the branches.  Grasses come up green from the crusted soil, and even in late summer the bog is fresh and new.  In a few days the murky water and summer heat return, and the bog, renewed, continues its job.

I like the bog.  Even though it is not always beautiful, I have learned to see the beauty in it.  There are boggy times in my life, too.  They are messy with pain and anger, and I am weighed down with heat and my shoes are muddy.  The new life that is born in the bog flourishes in the sunlight.  Like all birth, it is painful and tedious, but it has potential.  We will have to see its maturity to know what that is.

Monday, July 25, 2011

100 Words: Inspiration

I bought new curtains for the computer room to block the afternoon sunlight.  The room gets hot and I don't like the light in my eyes.  They are a woven textile pattern of shades of brown and hang without any style or shape from a plain rod.

I hate them.  They do what I wanted them to, but they confront me with a uninspiring stretch of space.  Shouldn't a writer have  exciting surroundings?  Maybe not.  Maybe my memories or my imagination are the ingredients I need to draw on.  Who would have thought that ugly curtains were the key to inspiration?

Friday, July 22, 2011

100 Words: Pain Is a Wall

She stood carefully, deliberately, slowly, testing the integrity of her feet to hold her.  Her face twisted into a  grimace as she bore her own weight.  I held her arm to steady her and give support, but she pulled away to move toward the bathroom gasping and crying with each halting step.  Finished, she returned to the chair.

Wrapping her ankles didn't seem to help.  She returned the chair to its position for TV and focused on the screen closing me out.  The pain was a wall that she breached rarely except for necessity--pain medication, meals, or bathroom visits. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homemade Rolls for Dinner

Bread rollsImage via Wikipedia Tomorrow I will lead a class in how to make bread.  I love to make bread, and the opportunity to teach others to make it is blessing.

My mother and her family always had rolls for dinner and sometimes I got to help.  I could hardly wait when the bread was rising--cook it now!  The house filled with the aroma when the bread was finally in the oven.  That meant dinner was almost ready.  Break the roll open and add butter to melt and fill your mouth with that special taste.  For a real treat add a teaspoon of sugar to melt with the butter.  Oh, heaven!

My teaching others how to make bread came from a friend who asked me to teach her.  I agreed.  She invited eight people to her home and bought the ingredients.  It was a wonderful party.  Everybody made two loaves of bread.  She only had one oven, so getting it all cooked was an exercise in strategy.  It was a wonderful experience.  From that beginning, several ladies from church formed a very loosely organized group.  Anyone was welcome.  We never had more than about 15 at one time. 

We planned for a three hour time frame.  That gave us time to make the dough, let it rise, cook it, and eat lunch.  Even if you never made bread before, you made two loaves and had lunch.  The rule was you got to keep one and give one away.  During the rising time, we learned what the Bible had to say about bread, and we shared and laughed and prayed.

For a year or two we did it pretty often, but when things got busy, we went on to other pursuits.  Each summer the little kids continued to have a day of bread baking.  Even little kids love it.  By the time they have done it a time or two they are very good.  If they can't read yet, they need someone to help with the recipe and the measuring, but they understand the mixing and kneading quickly.

Recently I led a class from another church.  I am always blessed by making bread and by teaching someone else.  You get to vent all your hostilities and anger when you make bread.  You remember the meaning of bread when you are cooking it.  You get to share it with family and friends.  And the taste is God-sent.

For my recipe, click here.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Prayer Blesses Those Who Pray

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...Image via WikipediaCarolyn Bradley and Carolyn Hendrix are friends who have been a part of my prayer life for more than year.  Carolyn H. and I went to Carolyn B. home for our weekly prayer time because Carolyn B.'s husband was incapacitated with injuries from a car wreck.  Jerry had lived with the consequences of the wreck for a over a year, and he still could not stand or walk. 

After a few weeks we asked Jerry if we could pray for him.  He seemed to enjoy our presence and after a week or two of listening to our prayers, he began to pray too.  One day we asked the preacher to meet with us and serve communion.  Jerry was very pleased to share in this service.

Our schedule changed and we began to hold our prayer time at the Church.  We often prayed for Jerry.  About a week ago we went to Carolyn B.'s home since we weren't meeting at the Church during the summer. When we started to pray, Jerry called us and asked us to come to his room for our prayer time. 

Carolyn H. and her husband Joe visited with them on Sunday, but on Monday Jerry was taken by ambulance to the hospital with sepsis and pneumonia.  This is a very grave time, and I continue to pray for Carolyn and Jerry.  I am so glad we went to their home last week to pray.  I am so glad he wanted us to pray in his room and share in God's blessing. 

I hope Jerry was blessed by our prayers for him and with him, but I certainly was.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Going to the Movies

Cropped screenshot of Clark Gable from the tra...Image via WikipediaWe left the house in the evening after supper to walk the block and a half to the theater, Daddy. Momma, and me.  Daddy still wore the suit he had worn to the bank all day.  Momma was dressed nicely, though not elabrately, and I wore ordinarly play clothes.  Though this was not a special event, seeing a movie always held the potential for a rare experience.  There were always the cartoon shorts. 

We waved at friends and neighbors on the way.  I always enjoyed dragging a stick on the picket fence of Dr. Henderson's back yard.  I was not really a graceful child, and Momma fused at me to hold my shoulders back. 

We never owned a car, so there was nothing unusual about walking to town.  It was a pleasant ritual.  Late evening was a time to relax and enjoy mental stimulation, and Jimmy Cagney or Clark Gable, Carol Lombard or Marlene Dietrich were glad to provide it for a price.  An adult ticket was $.35 and a child ticket was $.12.  Counting the 5 cents each for a bag of popcorn, it would have cost almost a dollar for us to go to the movie.  There was a one element I have not accounted for:  Daddy was an accountant, and he kept the books for the theater owner, so she never charged him for going to the movie.  We got a bargain!

It was the late 1930s and early 40s.  The adults looked to the movies to relieve their fear of the Depression or the anxiety of war.  I just enjoyed the fantasy lives I saw.  The small town, backwater existence did not seem dull or lackluster because several times a week I was transported by Hollywood.

Now as I reflect on that time, I see the entrance the movies gave me into stories and music, and I remember that my parents walked with me, and the world was a place of safety and endless delight. 
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Friday, July 1, 2011

My Mother Told Me Stories

Railroad TracksImage by StevenW. via FlickrI loved stories, and my mother told them to me.  Sometimes she would take a traditional story and change it to add excitement and flavor.  When she told me Cinderella, there were two balls.  Cinderella left the first one and did not lose her shoe.  Then, she returned on the second night and her carriage turned to a pumpkin at midnight.

She had studied literature and enjoyed telling me stories from the classics.  I loved them.  She introduced me to Pandora and Achilles.  These were better stories than the fairy tales, but I love stories from her childhood.  They were special because I visited the house and the rooms and the people in them.

Some of the stories I tell are about her.  She loved to read popular novels of the day, but she wanted to share them with my father.  They managed this by reading to each other in the evening.  Sometimes she couldn't stand the suspense and would read a chapter alone.  Then he would have to catch up.  I find it very romantic.  I have two books of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay that they gave each other for Christmas.  Very romantic.

The most romantic and thrilling story she told was about her honeymoon.  She said they rode to Deport, about 5 or 6 miles, on a railroad handcar.  She never gave any details other than a ride in the moonlight.  More romantic.

Years later Daddy dispelled the fantasy.  Their honeymoon consisted of going to dinner at a restaurant with the maid of honor and best man after the wedding.  This isn't the bummer it could have been.  She had that romantic fantasy and shared it with me.  There was romance in her soul and I got to enjoy it.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Give Joy to Others

My mother believed in giving joy to others.  She liked to visit people and share with them.  I loved her hot rolls, and she knew they were really special to me.  When she made them, she always sent a pan or rolls to my my father's cousin who lived two houses away.  I got to take them to her house.  I guess it taught me how much fun it is to give other people joy.

I knocked on the door and waited in excited anticipation for it to open.  She was glad to see me, but then she saw the pan of white balls of dough, and her smile was enhanced with another level of joy.

I still like to make bread like my mother did.  I often give a loaf of bread to a neighbor or friend.  That same joy still registers in their smile, but it blesses me as the giver.

Today I will read to the children at the library for the summer reading program.  I anticipate the same joy in giving them a new experience.  I hope to see their faces light up with new thoughts and ideas.  I will also share with them some kite designs and poems.  I think I will receive more than I give.  I want to be altruistic and bring them joy, but I know from experience that this giving of joy to others is really very fulfilling for the giver.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Mother Taught Me Beauty

passion flower, first thursdayImage by brx0 via FlickrI see beauty in fields and trees and flowers.  My mother taught me to see beauty where ever I happened to be.  Yesterday I discovered that I have a beautiful flower on my fence.  I didn't know what kind of vine it was.  It has large dark green leaves, and it climbs the fence.  Yesterday I finally saw the intricate and delicate blossom of the Passion flower.  I can't believe I just thought it was some nameless green vine.

Earlier I had removed all of last year's growth, but I didn't know what it produced.  Now I have a whole new appreciation of my back yard.  I just moved to this house in April.  This discovery spurs me to regard my yard with admiration.  I may even try to enjoy it more.  I would really like to focus on the lovely purple blooms.  I don't think they do well when picked, so it will be admiration on the fence, but maybe I can sit in the yard in the cool of late afternoon and enjoy the aroma and appearance of nature in my own space.  I think my mother would approve.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

We Hope for Better Things

A hand effected by rheumatoid arthritis.Image via WikipediaCarol, my daughter, is having surgery on her feet to remove rheumatoid nodules that cause walking to be painful.  We've been through this before, but we always hope this time we'll find a medication that will reduce the problem.  So far that hasn't happened.

Carol has suffered a lot.  She has had RA for 22 years since she was 23.  It has been a long hard road.  Her joints have been replaced--knees, hips, and shoulders.  Her wrists were fused.  She lost her right arm because of infection when they tried to replace her elbow.  It has been bad.  Then her husband died in February of this year.

She is tough.  She now lives with me.  We are struggling to get our lives together in a form we can both tolerate.  Carol was a cook in a small, country cafe.  She enjoys watching the cooking shows.  For about five years I owned and operated a small catering business, and she was my meat expert.  We didn't really make any money, but we had a good time.  Now she is still oriented toward food.  She likes to design dishes, choose ingredients, and dictate cooking methods.

When she is planning a dish or thinking about how it should go together, she says she will stir it over low heat, knowing all the time that she is going to tell me how to do it.  In her mind she still has the ability to stir and cut and blend.  I admire her attitude and praise God that she has an interest that sustains her in bad days.

I'm glad she still thinks of herself as active.  I still think I'm young.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Mother's Attitude on Sex

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...Image via WikipediaWhen I was about 6, I asked my mother the meaning of the words on the restroom wall.  She assured me they were not anything I needed to be concerned with.  Nice people did not engage in that behavior or write about it on the wall.

Now that I am all grown up, I find that everybody engages in the behavior and many, additionally, write about it in newspapers and magazines and depict it visually in photos and movies and on TV.  There seems to be no limit to the extremes people will go to for the sake of those words I first learned from the restroom wall.

My mother was right.  Nice people don't devalue sex.  That doesn't mean they don't enjoy it or engage in it.  It means they see it as valuable and meaningful.  Sex has two fundamental functions:  It offers us the method of reproduction, and it strengthens our bond with the person we will raise the child with.  We human beings reproduce ourselves, and we don't need a computer or even instruction to get the job done, but it takes two to do it.  No, I guess it doesn't, but it is so much easier that way.  It really makes much better sense.

Our society has taken this sacred act and made a parody of it.  We can do that, but the cost is high.  We wind up with lots of children who don't have the security of two parents. 

Not every sex act ends with a baby.  Sometimes the pleasure is all there is to it, but if the sex is spread around to all your acquaintances, there is no building of a relationship.  It is the cheapest kind of travesty on the intended purpose.  It is selfish and empty.  Sex in the context of a marriage relationship is used as a symbol of the union of Christ and the Church.  It is the most complete and sacred physical union we can experience.  It is a waste to turn it to casual and carnal uses when it deserves an exalted place.

I am sure that there are contrary opinions, and everyone is welcome to his or her own.  This is mine. 
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