A Reading Story Chapter One

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I decided to write for a few entries about my reading life, and I found this hilarious photo among my collection. Here we are camping in the Oregon woods, and my parents have put my potty chair on the ground for me to use. I have no idea if they dug a little hole too! I thought that was a pretty creative way to go camping and do potty training at the same time. And they have handed me a book to pass the time.

I learned to read on my own at a very early age. Somehow linking those squiggles to meaning came naturally to me. That same ability exists in some of my family members and is completely absent in others. But it wasn’t anything I had to work at, and I have no idea how it happened.

I faced a real problem when I entered first grade and the teacher was handed the task of teaching 25 kids how to read. We used the Dick and Jane primers, and during reading time that was the only material available to me. Not only are the Dick and Jane books totally stupid, they are very short and I would finish the entire one in a couple of minutes. All around me kids were on page one sounding out J-a-n-e. I hadn’t learned to read using phonics, and the pace made me extremely restless. Finally, out of desperation, Mrs. Brandt let me go in the back of the classroom and listen to records very very quietly.

Here’s kudos to a teacher who recognized a little girl Withering Away With Dick and Jane.

Living With Animals

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Little did I know when I met this goat as a 5 year old that I would eventually end up with a goat of my own. When I was a young nursing mother, a student who was grateful for my teaching, gave me a milk goat. That year seems in my memory to be endlessly about milking, either by my baby or by me! I learned to make goat cheese and goat yogurt and drink goat milk. Sadly, that goat was attacked by a pack of wild dogs and didn’t survive, despite the best vet care and home nursing. But I was heartsick when she died since we had formed a genuine bond over our milk supplies.

Animals have always been part of my life, and we currently have a female Australian Shepherd, acquired near Easter, named Grace. She fends off the mailman and threatens the U.P.S. driver with her fierce barking. But while she keeps strangers away, she is totally welcoming to anyone we invite into the house. She loves ice cubes and comes running when I open the freezer door, hoping I will drop one.

I thought about getting a puppy a few months ago, and I swear Grace read my mind. She suddenly became very attentive, following me around the house and resting at my feet. I certainly got the message that she was convinced that I only needed one dog–her. So no puppy for the time being.

I don’t know if Donald Trump has a dog, so I am waiting to see. Animals have a calming effect on us, and it seems to me that he often needs to calm down.

 

Gym Friends

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When I was little, all the kids in the neighborhood were boys, so boys were my playmates. Now that I am going to the gym twice a week for training in strength and balance, I am surrounded by a diverse assortment of other friends. This morning I looked around at us all doing different routines–some on big balls, some heaving little balls into the wall, one man bending forward with a stick behind him to keep his spine aligned, one young man jumping up and off a stool–and realized we all looked crazy! I remarked to the young woman next to me that if someone walked in they would think we were nuts.

It’s great to have friends around me when I go to the gym. These aren’t close friends, more like acquaintances, but we encourage each other in our progress, whether fast or slow. The age range is wonderful from 18 to 86 among the people I interact with. Most of us are working programs to strengthen our muscles. Right now no one is obsessed with losing weight, which makes it a very comfortable atmosphere for the wide range of bodies going through their exercises.

I have stopped comparing myself to anyone else at the gym. I have come instead to truly appreciate the people who are committed to their health, as am I. Most of us have torn this or that and have to baby this or that. But we work around whatever body part is protesting any given week and keep coming.

Sometimes when I am there, I remember playing with Dude, Skipper, Jack and Jim in the early 1950’s. I was active and happy to be climbing, swinging, and running. It is wonderful to have some of that joy returning these many years later in my local gym.

Honoring Reverend King Jr.

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There is deep dissonance in the United States between the celebration today of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and this week’s inauguration of our President-elect. King preached the power of non-violence, hope, compassion, truth and unity. Our President-elect promotes himself¬† by denigrating others. He seems to admire bullies and uses violent words to attack anyone who disagrees with him.

Many people remain unaware that King was an adamant opponent of the war in Viet Nam, and many speculate that it was this stand that most troubled the military establishment. At any rate, he truly believed the Gospel, and it was his faith in Christ that gave him the strength to speak truth to power even as it cost him his life.

I honor him today by refusing to succumb to despair in the face of open hostility and contempt for many of the values I hold dear. I don’t know what I may be asked to do in the years ahead to combat the ugliness now dancing in the open. But, as we sang in church yesterday, “Here am I Lord, I come to do Your will.” That seems to me to be the best way to honor Reverend King.

Hospitality

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I used to think that hospitality involved dinner parties, such was my limited understanding of the concept. So I thought that I didn’t show hospitality since I didn’t like dinner parties. Then a couple of months ago a fellow parishioner told me what a hospitable presence I was at church. Normally I would have brushed off this comment thinking about hospitable in the old way. But I decided that she was observing something I was oblivious to.

I actually resorted to the dictionary(we know I am a retired English professor after all) to find out the broader definition of the word. I learned that it had a much broader meaning, suggesting a welcoming attitude, especially to the stranger. It turns out that the woman at church was accurately describing my outgoing behavior at church where my husband is the head greeter and usher at our Mass.

We came to Catholicism from a large Protestant church where we were expected to greet one another and get to know one another. We even wore name tags to facilitate the fellowship. I didn’t realize that Catholics in New England often didn’t know the names of the people around them. So naturally I kept introducing myself to whoever sat down near me. By and large people were very glad to connect; they just weren’t used to it. So I was being hospitable without realizing it!

In the photo above, my beloved cousin Susan is welcoming me into her dollhouse play set. She is introducing me to the little stove and how it “cooks”.¬† I do the same on Sundays, welcoming new attendees and showing them around our sanctuary. May we all greet the newcomer, stranger or foreigner with such tender hospitality as Susan is showing me.

 

Stretched

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Stretching can feel wonderful when you first wake up and, like a cat, reach out with your arms and legs to get them moving. Gentle stretching can warm up your muscles before a workout, and gentle stretching can help you cool down later. But there are times when stretching is not so terrific. I think these are times when, instead of stretching yourself, situations stretch you.

Two years ago, after an early heavy wet 12 inch snow blanketed the trees which still hadn’t lost their leaves, the electricity went out for many days. We lost power for 7 days; others lost it for longer. There had been no warning, so I was not prepared for this sudden change in life. I was really being stretched, and I had no interest in the experience! The power company couldn’t say when the power would be back, and so we waited with everyone else while the crews worked tirelessly cutting branches and replacing wires.

So yes I was grumpy and cold since we live in New England and our gas furnace needs electricity to start. But two great experiences showed me that other people can really help when I am stretched beyond my limits. A dear friend had electricity(it was very sporadic across the state) and I went over to her house to thaw out and grump. She restored my mood significantly. Then our church let everyone know that it was open and warm. We were all invited to come plug in our electronic devices and enjoy a spaghetti dinner prepared for us by volunteers.

We went to church and found ourselves surrounded by 200 others, including the residents of a group home for the mentally challenged who were actually camped out at the church. As we sat and laughed and ate warm food, our ipods and phones were being recharged. So were we. It turns out sharing the struggle makes it endurable. I try to remember that when new situations stretch me “out of shape.”

Ordinary Time

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In the Catholic church, the season of Christmas has just ended and we enter into “ordinary time.” On Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, singing the last of the Christmas songs until next year. Now we are back to regular vestments, the creche is put away, the poinsettias have all gone to homes, and we settle into the rhythm of the liturgical year between now and the beginning of Lent on March 1.

Although in the Church “ordinary time” refers to the numbering of weeks, I prefer to ponder the more general use of the word. I think “ordinary” is underrated. Most of our life is “ordinary”: working, cooking, eating, cleaning, caring for children and elders,visiting, praying, and sleeping. Ordinary life is full and rich, how we spend most of our days. It isn’t particularly exciting, and I think that is what makes it precious. We aren’t meant to be jubilant, ecstatic, thrilled and dazzled most of the time, despite advertising’s depictions of life. I don’t sing as I do laundry, nor does my family grin with abundant gratitude over spaghetti. Instead, there is a steady, often predictable movement in family life.

I breathe a sigh of relief when the Church enters into “ordinary time” again. No special prayers, no special music, just the calming hour of prayer and the Eucharist, surrounded by “regular” people who faithfully gather on another Sunday.