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.

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May 17, 2019 at 9:23 pm 1 comment

Don’t Be a Dumb Bee

 

bee-pexels-photo-395241

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

sunset hands love woman

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

Mapnesia

map maps american book

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

I suffer from a condition I call Geographic Dyslexia. Very seldom can I tell you whether I’m driving north, south, east, or west on a given route. The day after I had moved into it, I couldn’t make my way back to my own townhouse after running a close-to-home errand. Had to flag down the UPS guy and ask him to guide me home. (I know this sounds crazy, I blurted, but I just moved in, and I am in a panic, and they all look alike, and blah, blah, blah.)

Granted, there are dozens of identical clusters of these structures in my new neighborhood, but still. Talk about humiliating.
After trying in vain to get the hang of the mapping device on my ancient smart phone, I rationalized that the phone’s battery isn’t that reliable, anyway. So for Christmas, I bought myself a Garmin GPS. Best $80.00 investment I ever made.
I now venture out with confidence. No more declining invitations because I’m afraid I’ll never make it to my destination. No more staying in after dark because it’s oh-so-much more terrifying getting lost at nighttime than in broad daylight. No more tears as I berate myself for being so dumb, dumb, dumb. This feeling of freedom from Fear of Driving is a wonderful thing indeed.
Okay, okay: In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that—although I regularly and vocally declare my love for the voice that now guides me—I have actually gotten lost twice since I started plugging this little miracle machine into my car’s idle cigarette lighter socket.
The first time, the wrong destination address got entered. (I should have double-checked it.)
The second time, I was trekking clear across town to Bloomington, City of No Through-Streets Whatsoever. Not Garmin’s fault, this. I blame the blasted roundabouts. A pox on the pretentious city planners who decided these quaint approaches to traffic control would serve drivers well in a country 75 times the size of England, their birthplace!

I say they should show a bit more respect for the directionally challenged, don’t you think?

January 10, 2019 at 5:56 pm 3 comments

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Bulletin Board
My office bulletin board hosts photos of happy people celebrating joyful occasions. It also displays several snippets of wisdom:

•Act as if it were impossible to fail.
•Pray First!
•Philippians 4:6-8 (“Be anxious for nothing . . . whatever things are true . . . noble . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of good report . . . meditate on these things.”)

These tend to be fairly effective reminders, since they are right there—in my face each morning—as I settle in at my desk. Based on what feels like a pressing need for focus, I may soon tack up a few more helpful prompts.

In her book 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life, Joyce Meyer devotes two sequential chapters to “Don’t Worry about Tomorrow” and “Let Go of What Lies Behind.” If I follow her advice, that leaves me smack dab in the middle of today. I gave this obvious conclusion considerable thought and ended up feeling more lost than found.

Like many of us, I worry. I know I should turn it all over. That I should trust the Lord to sustain me through the future—fog, thunderstorm, or sunshine. And I know the only thing worrying accomplishes is to distract me from those things I can do something about. Ditto for my habit of revisiting past events.

So, why is the simple act of living fully in today’s possibilities so difficult for some of us?

Ms. Meyer revisits this subject in Chapter 74: “Tackle Each Day as It Comes.” Here, she quotes Sir William Osler, “Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your wildest ambition.” And Acts 25:16, “Therefore I always . . . discipline myself to have a clear conscience, void of offense toward God and toward men.”

I thwack myself on the forehead. Well, duh.

Of course it offends God when we waste the coin of life or squander our emotions. Maybe I can’t regulate each little worry that creeps into my mind, or every thought that wanders to the “should haves” of my past. But I can certainly shoo away unproductive musings the second I become aware of them.

This leaves me with a new perspective. I can waste time and energy nursing unfounded fears for the future or punishing myself with remorse over missed opportunities I can never recapture. Or I can adopt as a realistic goal the daily discipline of mind and body, with those chapter 74 quotes in mind.

Reasoning with myself hasn’t effectively motivated me. But an awareness that I disappoint my Creator, this lights a fire in my belly.

Another compelling incentive is a more peaceful heart and mind. With God’s guidance and my commitment to ushering out unproductive thoughts, maybe I can avoid looking back on today and wishing I’d spent more time doing and less time stewing.

#########

Now there’s a quaint saying to post on my bulletin board. What does your office wall look like?

March 26, 2018 at 10:53 pm 2 comments

An Unblessed Day??

CLC Church in Togo.jpg

I say it to people often. Have a blessed day. Particularly on special occasions, as if blessings are somehow meant for birthdays and anniversaries.

I got to thinking the other day about how every day is blessed—regardless of the calendar date. I wake up in a sturdy structure, protected from the weather. Walk my dog in a safe area, surrounded by good-hearted neighbors. Open my cupboard or refrigerator to a selection of nourishing options.

We lost water supply to my subdivision not long ago. That’s the second time in six months that we’ve suffered this inconvenience. Of course, “suffer” is entirely the wrong word. Clean water piped in on demand is just another one of those luxuries I’ve come to expect as a citizen of a developed and (fairly) well-run society.

Yet medical care, police protection, emergency assistance, and a never-interrupted supply of fresh food available within a few minutes’ drive are all blessings virtually unknown in some parts of the world.

And the very word “blessing” is certainly infused with meaning. Online dictionaries define it as a thing conducive to happiness or welfare. Technically correct from the effect end of things. But they leave inquiries into the origin of those good and helpful things unexplored.

People of faith understand that all blessings flow from God’s good grace. Nothing pious about that, since the rains fall on believers and nonbelievers alike, and the crops feed all who either harvest or purchase them. Any lack of shared blessings falls to man’s inadequacy, not the Creator’s.

I heard a radio commentator explain it once: There are plenty of resources to go around. It’s mankind’s greed, corruption, and lack of empathy that cause shortages of universal “happiness and welfare.” The filthy rich autocrat siphoning off aid funds while his subjects starve; the self-centered, jet-setting celebrity, quick to lecture others but slow to redistribute their own wealth; me, settling complacently into preserving what I have for fear of future unmet needs.

But my conscience whispers additional reminders . . .

-One more day passes in which my inoculation protects me against influenza.

-Each Sunday, I worship in a soundly-built church building—much more aesthetically pleasing and secure than the humble structure where my brethren in Tongo gather. (See photo.)

-I wake up, flip a switch, and electricity magically flows into my home, filling the early morning hours with light.

-My furnace pumps out warmth whenever the inside temperature drops below 68 degrees; the air conditioner reverses the process when temps rise above 78.

So, I’m doubling-down today in offering thanks for everyday blessings that I sometimes take for granted and asking for guidance in ways I can serve and share.

How was your day blessed, and what are your favorite channels for sharing?

 

March 3, 2018 at 9:33 pm 3 comments

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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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