Saturday, July 4, 2020

...we mutually pledge to each other... by Liz Flaherty

Today is the Fourth of July. It's always been a favorite day, full of family celebrations and parades and awe-inspiring fireworks. It's been a reminder of patriotism, of lives lost, and of sacrifices made. Of the amazing glory of our comparatively young country.

Do I still feel this way? Not so much. There is no place right now for those who tread the middle ground, which leaves many of us longing for the way things used to be. If I'm honest about it, I'll admit they weren't really that way even then. I guess we were just a lot politer about it.

There are things, though, that still feel the same. My husband, my brother, our son, and our grandson have all served--or still serve--in the military. I am proud of their service, proud of them, and proud of others who have answered that call. There is no limit to the love and gratitude I feel. When I watched my husband give our grandson (who now outranks him) his first salute as an officer, I re-understood the meaning of having one's heart swell with pride.

I remember, though, don't you? During Vietnam Era when people spat on soldiers? When they called them baby-killers. When the government tried to deny the damage that had been done to our own by Agent Orange and by the greed that led much of the war. So, no, not always better. I not only worry about my grandson having to fight in wars not of his generation's making, but of his own countrymen treating him badly when he is at home.

I love the flag and I'll always stand for the anthem. But I'm happy the USA is still a place where it's your choice whether you stand or kneel or go on watching television when it plays. While I think burning the flag, emblazoning a political figure's face all over it, or making it into a shirt is disgusting, you are free to do so.

And, oh, yes...protesters burned it "back then," too. There was a lot of noise about making it a constitutional amendment that outlawed burning it. But they didn't really do much about the reason for the protests. And the only amendments most people honor are the ones they deem the most important. The First one is big to me, but many people are perfectly willing to ditch it in a heartbeat as long as the Second one remains untouched.

So many people are angry. That includes me. We all feel betrayed by more people and more things than I can begin to name or understand. The Fourth of July holiday and all it's stood for for all these 244 years is just having the crap beat out of it, isn't it? 

I'm a sucker for patriotic songs. I remember most of the words to the ones we learned as kids and cop to having cold chills whenever I hear "God Bless the USA." Especially that one piece of a line in it: "...the flag still stands for freedom..."

It does, as it has for that 244 years, but if it's not standing for everybody's freedom, well, we have a really long way to go as a country, don't we?

Happy 4th of July, USA, and everybody in it. Have a good week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Joy Comes in the Morning by Liz Flaherty

I'm sitting here this morning, late in getting this blog up, and looking out at the wet morning. It rained last night--stormed, really--so this morning everything looks all washed and vibrant. My feet got wet when I put out suet cakes this morning.

I feed the birds. Not a lot, but some. I put out suet, thistle seed, hummingbird nectar, and, this summer, lots of orange halves for the orioles. Did I say "Not a lot" just a second ago? Wrong. I reflect sometimes that we could become birdseed-poor if I don't get over the need to make empty containers full.

Right now, I'm looking out at the suet cake hanging from the clothesline pole. It's being swarmed by a flock of birds that are sort of brown and nondescript and cheerful. They're chattering and talking and eating.

I don't know what they are. When I try to look them up, they look like a whole bunch of other brown birds. And yet different. I still wonder exactly what species they are, but I don't really care that much. They're fun to watch and listen to.

The orioles, cardinals, redheaded woodpeckers, goldfinches, and bluebirds are fun to watch just because of their colors. I like their song, too, but mostly it's their brilliant colors that attract me.

I'm entertained by the territorial and pugnacious hummingbirds, annoyed by starlings and grackles, and pretty much enthralled by the whole aviary community.

Birds are messy. There is seed all over the place from suet and feed blocks. They have terrible bathroom habits. They haven't heard the part about gluttony being one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

And they give pleasure every day. Every single day. They share music and joy and sometimes they make me laugh. One of my favorite Bible verses is the one from Psalms that says "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." It almost always does for me, and the birds help that along. I'm grateful.

Wishing you joy. Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

"...out with the crowd..."

This post is old--really old--but I haven't used it for a couple of years, so I hope its reappearance will be forgiven. This summer, as we know, is vastly different from any most of us remember, but down the road a piece, the baseball fields are busy again. There are lots of cars there. Lots of people. Lots of interaction. I hope and pray everyone is safe and being as careful as they can. And I'm thankful to open my car window and hear those voices, those special voices of summer. 
***
In the town closest to us--Denver, Indiana; population in the area of 500--there are two fields in the town park. Players range from knee-high to adult-size and the parking lot is always full-to-bursting. Kids are on the playground and conversations going on in the picnic pavilion. People are lined up for candy, drinks, and popcorn at the concession stand or up the street just a little piece, for ice cream, sandwiches, or pizza at D'Angelo's

There are a lot of things that epitomize rural and small-town living, and some of those things are hard to deal with. Conveniences are...well...inconvenient. The politics can be polarizing. We worry a lot about our public schools because they're small and they're in the cross-hairs of the guns of change. 

But these ball fields on sunny summer days, where "everybody knows your name" and, when it comes right down to it, everyone has everyone else's back--these are the essence of this life we've chosen here in North Central Nowhere. 

In baseball, there' s always the next day. - Ryne Sandberg


They're back.

I don’t mean spring flowers or myriad shades of green or much-needed rain or too much wind, though they’re here, too. I’m talking about the boys and girls of summer who dot baseball diamonds and softball fields like the brightest flowers of all.


They all wear caps and they all chew massive wads of gum or something worse. They swing their bats around above their heads and scuff up the dirt at the bases so they can get their uniform pants good and dirty. Then they slide into base a few times to grind that dirt in so that it doesn’t ever come completely out. That’s what they’re supposed to do; they’re ballplayers.


The players’ parents sit in the stands. They eat popcorn and swig on Coca Cola and talk to each other about what they should be doing but can’t because Johnny has a game tonight and Jimmy has a game tomorrow night and Lucy plays on Friday nights and Sundays. They really get tired of sitting at baseball games, they tell each other, but wait a minute! Johnny’s up to bat. The conversation changes, gets louder and more urgent. Good swing. Just get a piece of it. You can do it. Good eye, Johnny. It’s okay, just do the best you can


But parents do more than talk at ballgames. They knit, do paperwork, fall asleep in their cars if the day’s started too early and gone on too long. They work in the concession stand and hand out ice packs and free drinks after the game. They dig into their pockets when a kid really wants a Blow Pop but only has a nickel. Then they go home and wash uniforms and talk about how glad they’ll be when it’s all over for the year and they’ll have time to do what the really should have been doing all along.


One summer, when my two sons were playing on separate leagues, I logged the number of baseball games I attended. Forty-two. That was 42 afternoons and evenings I could never get back. Good heavens, I had kids in baseball for 13 years. How many games was that?


To be honest, I do have some regrets about the raising of my kids. I’m sorry I worried about how they wore their hair, that they wore high-tops with dress pants, that their rooms weren’t clean. I’m sorry for the times I was unfair, the times I defended them when I shouldn’t have and didn’t when I should. I wish I’d been a smarter parent and a better example. I regret opportunities missed: when I should have shut up and listened or when I should have said encouraging words instead of their cruel opposite.


But I don’t regret any of those 42 evenings and afternoons a year sitting at baseball games. Buying hot dogs and nachos for the family and calling it supper. Washing uniforms and handing them back to the kids before they were completely dry because it was time to leave for the next game. Talking and laughing with other parents and working in the concession stand when I’d already spent eight hours on my feet that day. I’ve never once been sorry for calling Good eye, Just get a piece of it, Good job.


Life stays rich when your kids are grown. You get to do things you haven’t done in far too long. You can make travel arrangements for two, buy milk and bread once a week, and cook dinner with the surety no one’s going to say, “I don’t like that,” and eat Cheerios instead. You can call your car your own, do laundry a couple of times a week instead of every day, and go for weeks on end without yelling, “turn that thing down,” even once. You don’t have to share your makeup, the bathroom, or your clothes. You can spend money on yourself without lying awake suffering from guilt. No doubt about it; it’s nice.


But sometimes it’s too quiet. Sometimes there’s too much alone time. Sometimes you’d like to sit on bleachers and yell Good swing, Just do your best. Because those are words you never regret saying and your kids always need to hear.


And because when it’s over, when the fat lady of parenthood sings, neither baseball nor summer are ever the same again.


Enjoy every minute.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Facebook, Connection, and the Truth

I spend too much time on Facebook. I know I'm not alone in this. I like it a lot...I may be alone in that...and I like keeping up with people I might not see or hear from otherwise. I love videos of cats and babies and wonderful music. I went to church on Facebook Live for weeks and belong to groups who are interested in the same things I am. I have a personal page and an author page of my own. I don't get my news from there, but I get a lot of how people feel about--and interpret--the news.

I don't know if it's the last days, do you? I've been reading it a lot, but I don't think it's up to Mark Zuckerberg, especially since he's already proclaimed that Facebook "shouldn't be the arbiter of truth." If it really is the encroaching end of time, what should we do? Personally, I think we should make the most of every day we have. Love each other. Listen. Practice kindness at every opportunity. Give. Seek understanding. Listen a lot and maybe don't talk as much. Be a helper. Laugh every chance we get. Did I mention listen? I think we should do all that even if it's not the last days.

A few friends from high school have posted requests for civil discussion concerning politics. They have invited people who don't agree to join in and say how they feel. These requests haven't included name-calling, untruths, or anything else our mothers would have washed our mouths out for, but time has taught me to keep scrolling if I know we're politically divergent. Because hardly anyone wants to hear opinions that don't mirror their own. (I include myself in that. Sigh.)

I worked the polls on June 2. I'd like to say for the record that many people wore masks, virtually all people were polite, and that there was absolutely no fraud or suppression involved. Also, the food served to poll-workers was excellent. I suggest you volunteer if you don't mind working a really long day for not a lot of money. It also gives you the opportunity to say, "No, they don't" when people post idiotic unfounded criticisms about voting.

I know it's not that way everywhere. Lines are hours long in some places. The numbers of polling places are strategically reduced in some places. Voting is made as difficult as possible in some places and impossible in others. The rest of the country could take a lesson from Macy, Indiana.

Facebook posts remind us of things. They sometimes raise important questions. But not everyone cares if what they post is true or not. If it's hurtful or not. They don't care about the ripple effect. So it's up to us to look things up. And then it's up to us to tell the truth.

Writer Jane Porter says, "...I can't unsee what I've seen...can't forget what I've read." She's right, and it gets harder every day. And yet. One of my favorite and most overused words is connection, and Facebook is still that to me. I still see pictures of nieces and nephews and 2020 graduates, of friends' new grandbabies, of teachers and librarians reading books aloud to children. I see other writers' book covers and reviews and post my own. So I'll stay on Facebook. I'll still spend too much time there--at least until social distancing becomes less...distant. If you're there, I hope you say hello.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Be nice to somebody.




Saturday, June 6, 2020

Happy Places

Nickel Plate Trail
On Wednesday, coming through Denver, we automatically slowed to a crawl at the park where the baseball diamonds are because that's what you do where kids play. Or you should. And this time it was a definite payoff because kids were playing on at least one of those diamonds. There were cars in the parking lot, parents on bleachers. It made me happy, seeing the players out there. It made me happy remembering the time I spent on those bleachers and in that concession stand watching kids be kids.

I've thought, in the few days since, about the term "happy place." It's a popular one now. I have several of them--my office, our kitchen, anywhere our kids and grandkids are, the Nickel Plate, the passenger seat when Duane and I are going somewhere and talking the whole way. It made me wonder about other people's happy places, so I asked. Here are the answers I got. I love that so much happiness came from people and porches.


Becky Shambarger - My back porch, where I can relax.

Denise Smoker - I literally call my front deck, which is outdoors but covered, my happy place. As in don't bug me, I'm going to my happy place to write.

Bruce Clark
Bruce Clark - These days, it's where most of my friends are.
Gary Working - I have photos of my daughter Amber and I long ago making snow angels in upper park.

Pete Jones - Nothing makes you feel better than helping others. This is at a special needs school in Belize. The kids are getting water to take back to their classroom.
Joann Runkle - One of my Happy places!

Cheryl Reavis - My Happy Place: The Tiny Porch I had to lobby three or four decades to get, with my favorite writer cat, Carl, where the mosquitoes cannot get me, AND there are rocking chairs (which I have to share with said cat), AND a ceiling fan.
Carl

Joe DeRozier - My happy place. 
Jeremiah, Joe, April, and Nicole DeRozier


Cassandra Correll - I take after my Dad. He always liked lakes, canals...water. It's calming. I especially like lakes and trees.

Cindy and Kennedy Ridenour
Cindy Sue Ridenour - Anyplace, anytime with my granddaughter.
Cindy Walker - This is my Florida house. It’s my happy place because I can walk everywhere to visit friends, play cards, exercise, have Bible study, share a meal or glass of wine, and just chat or give a hug. Makes my heart happy from the time we arrive in December till April when we leave.


Jay Pritchard - My porch. I start my day here with a coffee and end it here with a
glass of wine. Love to sit and appreciate the gifts we have been provided.

Jane Lorenz - Our garden is always too wet in the spring.  So I plant on our back deck my herbs and some tomatoes. 
Skye Huges - The Oregon Coast. Or any beach, if not there.