Paper, Paper, Everywhere!

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I am staring at a pile of assorted documents, and I’m confused. Am I supposed to read and retain the information in this 29-page Important Notice Pertaining to Changes in Your Homeowner’s Policy? Am I really required to hold onto the fifth 10-page Claims Report I’ve received from my health insurer this month? Or the eight pages of mumbo jumbo stapled to the prescription I’ve been taking for the past twenty years? I mean, is someone monitoring me? (There is that little camera lens implanted in the frame of my computer screen . . . )

In last week’s mail, I got a 22-page Summary Plan Description from the Star Tribune Media Company. I worked for the Strib for seven years in the early 90s. I get a whopping $38.15 monthly pension from them now. It hardly seems worth the ink and postage to provide all this material to ‘lil ol’ me, since I can’t decipher it anyway. (Not absolutely sure, but I’m thinking it may be written in Hungarian?)

Yes, I know. I enthusiastically chose to return to the land of 10,000 government regulations; the reach of this State’s intrusion into the lives of its citizenry is numbing to contemplate. And yes, I know. This degree of oversight generates miles of Required Disclosures for the brave corporations who choose to wade through it all. But even techno-idiot that I am, I check my email daily. Think of the savings in paper pulp and postage if all this stuff at least got delivered to me electronically instead.

But apparently that’s not an option. So the same government that nags us incessantly about conserving natural resources also issues so many mandates that businesses have to sacrifice a tree branch or two issuing the requisite Important Notices. Ironic, isn’t it?

The seeds for all this ranting were sowed in my brain last March. You can thank the IRS for planting them. That’s probably all you can thank the IRS for, but—another subject, another day.

Not having done taxes for a while, I was horrified when I sat down to report the October 2018 sale of my Texas house. I have a college education. I read a lot, with a good level of comprehension. I do much of my communicating using the written word. But the “written words” in those hundreds of pages of Federal Income Tax Instructions might as well have been Sanskrit.

What does this mammoth agency have against the simple declarative sentence? I asked the cat. (He doesn’t know either, by the way.)

With infuriating frequency, form 1040A directed me to supplemental booklets, appended worksheets, and related schedules. Each time, I reached out to a patient acquaintance who deals with this institutional insanity regularly. She doesn’t speak governmentese, but she understands it. Without her, I would have been sunk.

I would love to spout on a bit longer about this, but today’s mail included an 11-page questionnaire to fill out before I see a new doctor next week. Based on previous experience, I’d better get started on it now.

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September 13, 2019 at 11:57 pm 1 comment

Two-Way Blessings

keyboard and mouse

I’ve been hovering in emotional limbo lately. Mildly depressed about navigating the summer holidays solo. Disappointed in myself for shrinking from new challenges. Bored with my routine.

On Monday I wrote across the top of my journal page: Fresh start. New ‘tude. Return to the basics. Morning devotions, lunch dates, confronting the to-do list.

I have a number of extraordinary people in my life who propel me over these bumps in the road. Most often they don’t realize what’s going on. They just happen to excel at this friendship thing. But I can’t expect even these pros to read my mind. Or my mood.

So, this morning I push myself off the couch after breakfast. (Yes, I confess to eating all my meals sprawled across the living room sofa, talking back to the television—the single girl’s version of table conversation.)

Next, I resist punching the dismiss button when the cell phone buzzes a reminder of my first self-assigned task of the day right in the middle of a really good crossword puzzle.

And then I pray. This is something I did continuously while hyperventilating my way through the worst twenty months of my life a while back. Comfortable and secure these days, I tend to recite a few formulaic lines of gratitude, then roll ahead. But this morning I focus. Dear Lord, Help me to be a blessing to someone today.

Whoosh, that lovely thought takes flight the first time somebody cuts me off in traffic. Idiot. Oops. And once my body is parked at the public library’s computer, I grumble under my breath about the irksome noise level. Oops, again.

Eventually I get lost in internet research and forget to be disgruntled. When the burka-clad young woman beside me encourages her son to keep his voice down, I smile to myself. And as I stand to leave, I am pleased when she asks, “Excuse me, but could you look at this sentence and tell me if it is too wordy?”

Seems she is applying for a job. The prospective employer has given her suggestions for improving her cover letter. Confident that I can help, I gently critique the weaknesses of the paragraph in question: passive voice; repeated terminology; unnecessary qualifiers. I suggest some cuts and we work together to tweak the word choices. Ultimately, I come up with the perfect action verb to energize her closing lines. She is delighted. I am delighted. We giggle in celebration and do a virtual high five in victory.

I wish her the best, and float out of the library feeling every bit as blessed as this person I’d been led to assist. Back in my vehicle, wrapped in wonder, I think about how a mean gesture rains harm on both parties and a giving gesture does the opposite. But if she hadn’t asked . . .

And Who orchestrated all of this? The One who does read minds and moods. The One with the power to counterbalance our “oops” moments. That One.

June 27, 2019 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

Impact Has Lost Its Impact

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I heard someone use the word affect on the 6:00 news last night. I almost fell out of my recliner. Not an easy trick.

I’d been preparing to post an R.I.P. blog piece about the sad demise of many valuable verbs, of which affect is one. Other M.I.A. action words include influence, improve, change, shape, enhance, magnify, involve, sway, disrupt, disturb. The list could go on.

The point is that all of these perfectly lovely, clearly descriptive verbs have incrementally been replaced over the past few decades by a single, often jarringly misapplied, word, the aforementioned impact.

Typing i-m-p-a-c-t into your thesaurus window on MS Word won’t yield any equivalent predicates. Impact is denoted as a noun only, equivalent to such other nouns as crash, collision, shock, bang, blow, force, contact, brunt, impression.

My personal definition carries a distinct mental image of a force-driven object colliding with a more stationary one and leaving a dent. Think fender-bender. So I checked out Merriam Webster to see if that revered old lady of references agrees with me or with common usage, then held my breath as I read:

1a : to fix firmly by or as if by packing or wedging
b : to press together
2a : to have a direct effect or impact on : impinge on
b : to strike forcefully also : to cause to strike forcefully

Here, they do allow its use as a verb. But as you can see, it’s a verb with a highly specific meaning. Like, the sort of action that might very well have a subject leaving a dent in its object.

Journalist and former NBC News correspondent Edwin Newman forewarned of a budding problem with impact back in 1974. His fascinating book, Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English?, critiques the decline and abuse of the English language in great detail.

I’ll admit that my past experience as a nursing home aide figures in to my  alertness to this particular verbal corruption; in the medical context, being impacted describes a decidedly undesirable condition. But I am mostly driven by a reverence for language. How in the world did we ever develop this bizarre compulsion to apply the term to every action which can be shown to have a result? On anything. Or anyone.

I blame the Lazy Language Lemmings in the “professional” media, following the leader in the latest Conga line of regrettable trends. But just maybe, if a few of us can raise awareness, we can stem the tide. Redirect the drift. Even make a small dent in this large problem.*

*I was tempted to close with the too-obvious, If we take notice, band together, and champion the cause, surely we can impact this situation. But then I would have had to set fire to my keyboard. And burning plastic creates such a stench.

June 11, 2019 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

Curmudgeon’s Corner

grumpy baby photo-1527631120902-378417754324That title might not suggest a cozy little nook into which you would eagerly nestle, but I like the sound of it. I’m a fan of alliteration, for one thing. I’m an even bigger fan of venting—because the less brazen of the world can always use one more boldly opinionated blogger to be their voice, right? Anyway, that’s what I always tell myself as I prepare to bestow unsolicited observations on life’s little annoyances.

So what’s the gripe du jour? I’m not quite sure what to call the phenomenon, so I’ll describe it, hoping to inspire a series of “ah, yes” responses. (I’d hate to think I was the only pooper at this party.)

There’s a trend lately of companies employing eleven-year-old girls to hawk everything from financial advice to real estate to computer apps to migraine medication. Take notice, the next time you’re listening to the radio during a too-slow commute or vegetating in front of the television on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s a thing. Really. At least that’s how it sounds.

So I ask myself, what genius market analyst concluded that consumers are more likely to buy this, that, and the other thing, if said thing is being touted by a female who sounds like a little girl? Is that tiny, high-pitched voice thought to be less intimidating? More trustworthy? More credible? Surely it doesn’t convey authority or wisdom. I would hope those attributes still belong to mature individuals who have lived a bit and learned a bit, who have tried and tested the world.

Maybe the logic is based on the same appeal that sells millions of Girl Scout cookies year after year, even to households like mine wherein gluten sensitivity precludes any possibility of actually chowing down on that box of Thin Mints. Cute kid. Must be a worthy organization. Oh heck, give me two boxes.

If anybody out there has another explanation, please share.

And as long as I’m confessing petty grievances, what’s with libraries these days? They used to be quiet zones; places where one could read and ponder, even do some thoughtful composing of blog posts on the public computer terminals.

The librarians at my local branch now seem intent on dispelling their image as stern shushers by being the loudest voices in the room. Not only do they fail to scold the guy delivering oily business promises on his cell phone while plugged into one of those public P.C.s, they actually outshout him. I have watched agog what resembles a stage performance, as they project rather than mute their verbal exchanges with patrons.

Literacy among children is a cause I strongly support. I want youngsters to love books. However, I would like to inform the parents of the screeching gaggles of wee ones whose library visits coincide with mine that a transition from outdoor voices to indoor voices is an admirable skill to teach.

Now, if I could first convince the library staff.

May 17, 2019 at 9:23 pm 1 comment

Don’t Be a Dumb Bee

 

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I’m about to date myself. Just clacking that phrase onto the empty page is weird. Sounds like I’m getting ready to take myself out to dinner and a movie. And truth be told, a lot of my expressions probably reveal my age anyway. I mean, who says and truth be told these days?

But back to the subject, which is Romper Room. This classic children’s television program first hit the airwaves in 1953 and was aimed at teaching preschoolers to be good little citizens—all part of a lost culture not to be found in mainstream children’s programming today. It must have been effective, because certain elements of the program remain engraved in my memory.

There was the changing roster of former teachers—Miss Nancy, Miss Francis, Miss Bonnie—who, surrounded by a gaggle of in-studio tots, peered through a Magic Mirror to “see” and name specific children in the viewing audience. Other daily staples included The Pledge of Allegiance, stories imbued with moral messages, games, exercises, background music from Mr. Music, and milk and cookie time, always preceded by a short table prayer. (Sigh.)

Hovering over these activities was Mr. Do-Bee, a freakishly oversized striped insect who delivered messages with such scintillating lyrics as:

Do be a sidewalk player, Don’t be a street player; Do be a car sitter, Don’t be a car               stander; Do be a plate cleaner, Don’t be a food fussy; Do be a play safe, Don’t be a match toucher.               

Simple but sensible. I know I took this stuff pretty seriously at age four.

Jump ahead to 2019, when a little simple but sensible would be refreshing. I’ll cite two recent examples.

January 12, Layton, Utah. A 17-year-old pulls her beanie cap over her eyes in blind obedience (forgive the pun) to the internet-promoted Bird Box challenge based on the apocalyptic Sandra Bullock thriller about a mysterious force that must not be looked upon at risk of death.

Well, talk about risking death. The girl crashed her pickup truck into another vehicle. Who’d of thunk? Obviously not this teen. Nor the dozens of others who joined the same craze after 22-year-old YouTube celebrity Jake Paul walked across a busy Los Angeles street while blindfolded, because, hey, what could go wrong?

But it’s not only generation z-types modeling insane behavior.

March 10, 2019. A 30-something woman climbs over a safety fence at Arizona’s Wildlife World to take a selfie with the zoo’s resident jaguar. She survived, but this stunt cost her claw gashes to one arm, an ambulance trip to the hospital, and some public disdain.

“When people do not respect the barriers, there’s always a chance there might be a problem,” said a zoo spokesperson. Uh, duh?

Society has always produced daredevils, of course. In the computer age, our ability to interconnect can quickly become either an international stupidity virus or a global object lesson: Don’t be a Dumb Bee. Let’s all hope for less of the former and more of the latter.

April 13, 2019 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

Found Poetry

field of daisies photo-1496483648148-47c686dc86a8

I once took a class on journal writing at The Loft, a local literary hot spot. In this casual coffee house-like setting, Natalie Goldberg–guru to contemporary poets and aspiring writers alike–offered insights into finding inspiration in novel places and everyday experiences.

Eyes newly opened to focus on my surroundings, I approached my writing differently from then on. Maybe I’m just lazy at heart, but the concept of “found poetry” particularly fascinated me.

Fast-forward a few decades and I have inherited reams of saved papers bequeathed by parents and parents-in-law. This has been both a challenge and a blessing. But I encourage anyone in a similar situation to be on the lookout for creative treasures tucked among the old bank statements and titles to homes long since deserted by your ancestors. Gems from yesteryear often hide among those cracked and yellowed sheets of vellum.

As I peer out my window this early April morning, my view resembles soggy tundra more than a field of daisies. However the following unearthed bit of literary sunshine written by my paternal grandmother over 100 years ago has warmed my day and tickled a smile into place on my winter-wearied face. Hope it does the same for you.

The Heart of Spring by Dorothy Helene Young, May 21, 1916 (Age 16)

The promise of morning is in the spring night
At the edge of the world is a blue gleam of light
On the top of the hill in the rosy hued dawn
Pan pauses a moment – pipes – and is gone

On such a sunny morning when the clouds float soft and high
And the lark’s song is sweet in sounding and the dew is scarcely dry
The marshy lowland’s glimmer and the uplands sweet with rain
Are lying bright and silver in the springtime sun again

Spring shows its garlands wondrously, its fairy breezes sigh
The wood is cool and deep and still where velvet shadows lie
The leaving trees are fresh and green and the sap runs swift and high
“This is the truest life of all” is the heart’s joyous cry

Spring calls to me, “Come back again, thou wanderer to thy mates
Thy destiny is woven in the thread of the three fates”
But though I live at the edge of the road, in a house with an open gate
I am chained here by other ties, thy summons comes too late

April 5, 2019 at 11:11 pm 1 comment

Love in Action

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Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

I’m a tad depressed today—this in spite of the fact that it’s been years since I’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day the way the morning shows suggest it should be celebrated. So, to adjust my mood (and possibly yours?) I’ll share a sweet story.

After a long, dry stretch of grief, betrayal, and loneliness spent in an unfamiliar southern locale, I have been delivered. And when God’s love gushes into the parched places by way of the thoughtful actions of others, gratitude blooms wildly alongside the relief and refreshment.

Having survived that rough patch and returned to my home state of Minnesota, I have a renewed sense of blessedness. I give thanks for this on a daily basis. Still, living in a world where evil parades as good, I remain in need of daily reminders of what is important, what is true, what is beautiful.

Last Saturday, I enjoyed a wonderful series of soul-satisfying events. A service project at church. Lunch with a dear friend. A long afternoon chat with another dear friend. But the highlight of my day was an encounter with people I had never met, in the dining area of a place I seldom frequent.

Mid-morning on that 15-below wind-chill day, I stopped at McDonald’s to warm up with a fifty cent cup of “senior coffee.” When I got to the counter, the coffee rang up at nearly a dollar. Well folks, I’m pretty close with my cash. I also don’t like restaurant coffee nearly as well as my own home-blend of hazelnut-cocoa, which I produce at closer to fifteen cents a cup.

I declined to pay the buck, explaining that I had expected the same senior rate I’d paid at my Texas McDonald’s.

On my way out, I paused at a table close to a young family—Dad, Mom, and their elementary-age son and daughter. Clumsily juggling gloves and scarf, I replaced my wallet, zipped my jacket, dug for my car keys. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small hand extended with a dollar bill in it. Startled, I looked up to see the older child standing there. “For your coffee,” he offered respectfully.

My heart almost stopped. “Oh, God bless you,” I said. “But no, it’s okay. I have the dollar, I’m just cheap. I didn’t want to pay what they were asking. But thank you.” My eyes raised to the father, who was nodding encouragingly, I said, “Thank you so much. That was such a kind gesture.” And I floated out to my vehicle warmed by a rehabilitated faith in the human race.

What an incredible love-your-neighbor lesson to be teaching one’s children. I nominate this dad as Father of the Year.

I have told this story to some who looked back at me pityingly, as if I should be mortified with embarrassment. Maybe. But I don’t see it that way. I see the experience as a gift, a playful little wink from God. He knows what reminders I need and when. And that personalized bit of heavenly attention is simply one more blessing added to the heap.

February 15, 2019 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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