Skinhead?

I didn’t recognize the lady who was power walking through my neighborhood this morning but then I don’t know everyone who lives in my community. It’s the way of things thanks to busy lives and iPhones and Internet.

In a job I worked years ago there was an awesome edgy girl name Shannon who had her hair styled in a sort-of Dorothy Hammil look but with an undercut that wasn’t yet trending. Her look was ahead of her time and we worked in a fairly conservative environment. Shannon would tell us that her haircut brought out strong reactions in people. Strangers in the market would sneer behind her back. Once a guy in line behind her, clearly agitated with her statement hair, bumped her hard with his cart. It was not an accident. It was intentional and she cognitively and physically felt his angry disapproval.

Shannon worked as a pastoral assistant and was not a skinhead or punk rocker as others misjudged.

Back to the walking lady in my neighborhood. What made her worth a second look was her completely shaved head beneath her baseball cap. My heart instantly told me that this look was not evidence of a right wing militia group but that of a woman who was very likely dealing with the big C and on the survivor side of chemotherapy.

You just never know where someone is coming from by their look but how quickly we judge others based on our own life experiences, media exposure, etc.

Life and death walk hand and hand with each other. Some of us gravitate toward the life and some towards the dark. There is beauty in both if you believe that death is not an end. The fragile and beautiful flowerhead of the dill plant pictured here is side by side with its dried seed head counterpart. The seeds of the one having now died can live again. Lowered down beneath its airy cousin into the darkness—laid to rest, if you will, until the wonder of being buried causes new life to once again spring forth. Just because we can’t see what’s happening in the dark doesn’t mean a powerful Life force is not at work bringing once-dead things to life. At times its a waiting game and at other times we need to power-walk the thing back to life. The lady did.

Pouring Out

There are some extremely hard working women at the university who start their shift at 4:00 am each day. They hustle, they sweat, they make the offices in the executive suites sparkle and keep the rolls of “important papers” stocked across campus. About the same time of morning that I’m sipping my first cup of coffee they are donning purple latex gloves to clean up after the executives, administration, faculty, staff, and students who have left their mark on the offices and hallowed halls of education.

It dawned on me recently that there are way too many cast-off items stored in my garage, being in perfectly good condition but no longer of use to me and no longer bringing me joy. The items were destined for donation anyway. Why not cut out the thrift-shop middleman and gift them directly to these particular women behind the scenes?

So while gathering up several items, there in a box of mismatched tea cups I found a lone salt shaker. She had been cute in the 90’s but now the ceramic bunny shaker was out of fashion. Ms. Bunny no longer brought me joy. I picked her up for closer examination and she felt so light in weight. The big trashcan being nearby I decided it would be best to shake out any remaining grains of twenty-something year old salt that might have clung to her insides. What happened next surprised me. Salt came pouring out in a steady four foot stream as I held Ms. Bunny over the open mouth of the trashcan. And I do mean pouring out. It was so unexpected and she was so full of it.

• • •

Sometimes, when you least expect it, something just comes pouring out. Have you ever experienced that? Like a flood of tears during a dorky Hallmark greeting card commercial or an angry rant at a silver haired grandpa who swooped in on that perfect parking spot, or an emotional torrent of unintelligible baby talk when you meet your neighbor’s newborn infant (or adorable French bulldog) for the first time.

Stuff is in us that we’re unaware of. In a blink, when the conditions are just right whatever they may be, the contents of our heart and soul may come pouring out unexpectedly. The next time that happens take a moment to self-examine. Where the heck did that come from? is a good place to start. Perhaps you’ll discover that you’re still silently mourning the passing of someone and have never really dealt with the severing loss. Perhaps you’ll find you’ve covered over real life experiences that made you feel “less than“ which now translates to experiencing the “loss“ of a parking space as a travesty instead of a missed opportunity. Self examination can be quite a revealing diagnostic and when done with a healthy mindset will help you discover what makes you tick and what makes you unique among all others. Inventory of the personal “stuff” inside your heart is even more important than taking inventory of the “stuff“ in your garage or storage unit. Some dusty old mismatched things need to be given away, some need to be revisited and cleaned up and, mark my words, at some point some things will come pouring out.

Assume the Position

Gone From My Sight

A hand operated espresso maker was given to me about twenty years ago. The maker, AllClad, has been producing top-quality cookware for years. This particular item was somewhat of a one-off and they no longer make it. I’ve never seen another one like it, not even on eBay as a matter of fact. This makes it all the more precious to me. It has a standard portafilter like a fine Italian made commercial espresso machine has but runs without electricity, using the pressure of human hands to force the boiling water through a single shot of finely ground coffee beans.

A few days ago I took the little stainless steel basket out of the portafilter handle to give it a deep clean. After carefully drying it and giving the chrome a good polish I reassembled it much to my own dismay. The two pieces did not fit back together as they used to. The little basket snaps tightly inside the handle and now it was so much looser – not right – too loose to whack the perfect puck of compressed used grounds out. ARRRRG! What on earth had I done? Did some missing piece go down the drain while cleaning it? It wasn’t likely I could find a replacement part. I’ve used it carefully the last couple of days but it’s just not the same as before. But this morning, upon closer inspection, I found the missing piece! I’m pretty sure I heard an angelic choir rejoicing somewhere (in my mind?) as I spied the slender aluminum ring that had merely dropped out of position and, thank God, was still there in the bottom of the filter basket!

Oh my head is filled with analogies and allegories and all that business when I think of what I saw in the bottom of that coffee stained, 20-year-old, joy-bringing device! But here’s where I’m going to go with it for now. The small ring of metal, being the diameter of a paper clip, had slipped out of position within the filter basket that housed it. It was “technically” in the very near proximity of where it was designed to be. Literally. It was designed for a very specific purpose and if not used for that purpose it had NO purpose. But it was in the general area that it needed to be in just not in the exact location it was designed to be in. Can I preach? If you are already feeling something well up like a lump in your throat or a heart swelling or a little mind going numb on you then this is for you.

There is a divine purpose for you and you need to get into alignment with it. Not near it. In it. There was an imperceptible groove that had been manufactured into the inside of the portafilter. That was the sweet spot for that paper clip-like circle of metal. It was designed to go there. It fit there. It made the whole piece of heavenly espresso dreams equipment operate properly. It wasn’t as important that it wasn’t made of the most durable or flashy material, it was designed for a very specific purpose and a very specific place had been designed for it to be in.

PAUSE AND THINK ABOUT THAT!

Get where you need to be to fulfill your purpose. Its between you and your Maker to sort out the details but it’s up to the preachers in your life to nudge you, yay, swift kick you in that direction.

Assume the position. You were designed for it.

Scrapped

The finishing touch on the lobby I just redecorated was to add a couple of custom made lumbar pillows to the two small black club chairs. The fabric I found was already marked down since there were only a few yards left on the roll. I waited patiently while the two clerks cutting fabric took their time finishing something they were working on together. The lead clerk spoke to me a couple of times throughout their process and thanked me for my patience and said she would be right with me. And that polite clerk made it well worth the wait. When she measured and cut the fabric I needed for the pillows she showed her appreciation for my patience by further slashing the price of the fabric! If I’d been thinking more clearly (instead of being giddy with joy at the added discount) I would have purchased all of the remaining fabric on the spot. Like Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music” I could have made cute summer outfits for all of the seven von Trapp family children with that discounted and awesome upholstery fabric.

But I didn’t buy it all as I should have. And, after finishing the new covers for the pillows, all that was left was a scrap – not even enough for the front side of one couch pillow – maybe enough for a pin cushion or two (ask your great grandmother what those are). All that was left was a scrap.

What can be done when all that is left is a scrap . . . of your plans, of your dreams, of your hopes,

of your job, of your health, of your family, of your dignity? Do you look at the scrap and say “Its not enough. It will not work. It will not cover. Whether the fault lies in our own lack of proper planning or a shortage of materials or resources, lack is lack. But what CAN be done with a scrap? Let it lie, because its not enough to do what we had in mind, or maximize every available inch of that scrap with every ounce of energy we can muster?

There are stellar real life examples of folks who grabbed their scrap and ran with it. They’ve fought disease, poverty, ignorance and all with a scrap clenched in their fist. They have one thing in common and that thing is hope. They are the folks that look at the scrap and see potential. They see more than what currently exists. They somehow see and dream in a future tense when you and I see nothing but a not-enough, won’t-cover-it scrap. Hope expands and enlarges the smalls of today. The high hopes of these folks for better health or finances or position come with a determination and willingness to fight for what they dream of and start with what is there.

Multiplication doesn’t belong only to the few and the visionary who accomplish their impossible dreams. Sometimes it starts with only a small loaf and a couple of little fish—or even just a scrap.

Go Solo!

Grandma Cary was a resourceful woman having been raised on a Kansas farmstead with countless brothers (a.k.a. farm hands) where mastering the art of making something useful out of every scrap at hand was essential. She married a boy from the nearest farm a couple of miles away. They eventually became a couple and built a happy though hard life together. They moved out to Californee via Colorado and lived the rest of their lives there. Grandpa became a crane operator and helped to construct many freeway overpasses in Southern California. He smoked a whole lot of cigarettes and cigars back in that day and it led to the emphysema that took his life. He was larger than life until the daily effects of tobacco smoke in his lungs took him down. He was a good man, a hard working man and yet its not clear if he made it through the pearly gates on his final day. He was hard on grandma and wouldn’t let her go to church. Things he cried out as he passed from life on this earth to the next gave the impression that there were no rivers of life where he was heading. Though I do hope I see him again one fine day . . .

After healing and adjusting to losing Frances Elton Cary, my grandma began to live again. Grandpa wouldn’t let her have fresh flowers in the house and as I mentioned forget about going to church. She did both those things and joined a senior center and volunteered for the weekly community dance. A funny twist on a singles event was that at this very dance you were literally labeled. Grandma wore that scrap of paper labeled “SOLO“ every time she danced. The married couples weren’t labeled but the single fellas and gals were pinned at the door.

While it wasn’t a label she wore with happy feelings, it was in one regard, a badge of honor. That Grandma of mine taught me a thing or two about flying solo. In her spirit she took on her new life without Frances Elton with pure intention. She helped influence my two sisters and I in our formative years, she volunteered, she found constructive ways to live her life and not in the shadows of grandpa. She soared like a lone eagle in the sky. Sort of like a millennium falcon would soar in a futuristic sky. She wasn’t out there kicking down the doors of any intergalactic cantina but there was a spirit of Han inside her that kept her going.

Props to you grandma. So glad I stumbled upon this reminder of you, hidden in the bottom of that box of costume jewelry you used to wear. Go Solo!

World Traveler

Beautiful Forelle pears lounging at the local Persian market on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. They were so gorgeous how could I not choose a few to enjoy for myself? Throw in a handful of almonds, a slice of sharp white cheddar and freshly made pistachio halvah for dessert . . . anyone care to join me?

At this particular market you can order a kebab lunch of grilled tomato that comes with a chicken koobideh skewer, a handful of fresh mint and basil thrown in AND a generous portion of steaming hot, fresh-from-the-oven sesame flat bread. THAT, my friends, is good eating. They have an elegantish restaurant upstairs above the market but on weekends they create a pop-up cafe right out in front of the store. An experienced grill master hovers over a blazing hot, five foot long open grill, and at his discretion gives his friend’s orders priority. No one else in this little crowd spoke my language—at least not as their native tongue. My Sunday provisions procurement for the week ahead came with a cultural visit worth more than triple the price of the lunch.

Here’s what I realized – I was easily transported to another geographical location with nary a passport or a baggage check. A little like a Startrek/time traveler mash-up in a “beam me up Scotty” sort of manner to whereever the teleporter might take me.

We can be transported to another place in time as if in virtual reality and because of the complexity of mind and spirit we’ve been given we can emerge refreshed and with a renewed perspective. Have you experienced that before? We rejoice over the savings in airfare and hotel fees while avoiding all the dreaded luggage packing, et Cetera. Don’t get me wrong, legit world travel is not to be avoided if you can by any means swing it however . . . one can get away in one’s mind if one remains open to new and varied experiences. New flavors and aromas and languages and customs. Free and spacious thinking just might occur, leading to fresh and hopeful ideas and solutions.

Try it and you might be amazed where it takes you.

Attention to Detail

The starter soup at the Thai restaurant was delicately delicious on its own. My tastebuds told me so and even if my eyes had been closed I would have thought thus. But but I’m glad they were open to observe the fancy cut carrots that played a starring role in said concoction.

Really? An underpaid prep assistant back in the kitchen is cranking these out? And not for a main entree but for the warm-up band to the main act? Awesome! The detail of their work was not lost on me but enhanced my enjoyment of the soup. The green onions floating nearby were no doubt proud to be in their company.

Awaken your eye for the subtle detail. Notice. Details matter even if largely missed by the general public. Details make a defining difference between the every day and the not-so. Details elevate. Go for the detail when you put yourself out there to the world be it a brightly colored bobby-pin or meaningful tie clasp or shoelace pattern or Star Wars pin on your jacket or fancy cut carrot in your soup. •

I once knew (and still do) an educator who, in the earlier phase of his career, wore cream and navy colored leather saddle oxford shoes with a red rubber sole. It was a subtle statement piece but a detail that you remembered and in a way it defined what he was all about. They weren’t polished oxblood leather wingtips, which have an entirely different message, if you know what I mean. It was attention to detail. You knew he cared about the small stuff and that was comforting when you were the mom dropping off your “small stuff “ at the private elementary school he founded. It was his signature at that time in that role and in that point of his career. He was later recognized and honored by Disney as a distinguished leader in education.

What do the details of YOUR life say about YOU? Whether intentional or slapdash they speak. Those details have a language of their own and they tell others (who have eyes to

see and ears to hear) the story of you. Don’t hesitate to tell it.

Remains of the Day

Pinterest may have peaked in its popularity but it is still an awesome place to discover how to make a handcrafted travel mug warmer from the re-purposed sleeve of a worn out wool sweater. Or a trendy trivet made from reclaimed wine bottle corks.

Think about how many possessions actually go through our hands over the years of our existence. We possess so much stuff and go through so much stuff and throw out so much stuff that we’re numb to an extended purpose for many of these things. The sweater may have started with some humble yarn but going back to its origins it was once on the woolly back of a real live creature roaming and grazing somewhere on a hillside. The cork from the wine bottle was procured from a tree, living and growing out in the fresh air, sustained by sunshine and nature as God intended.

The roses were a gift from a kind soul who truly cannot afford such an extravagance. They were beautiful in their newly gifted state as tightly bound rose buds and have continued to expand over a week’s time, nearly doubling in size. Their fragrance just as incredible as the vivid colors of their petals, reminiscent of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Coat. Over the course of about seven days their velvety petals began to soften and droop. The color began to change. Their hearty stems hung in there while the stars they supported slipped into retirement. But they are not quite done just yet.

Though often hiding in plain sight there are new ways aplenty to enjoy what is meaningful, useful and colorful after the bloom is off that rose. The petals from the birthday bouquet have a new look on this Friday morning being parted from their stems and now lounging on the crystal cake stand. When they dry they’ll become part of a potpourri mix. If the colors fade to brown they’ll go into the garden as compost, lending their remaining nutrients to those in the earlier stages of growth and development. Oh, don’t you love the full cycle?

Lord, make me aware of the things (and the people) who aren’t done yet—who still have purpose and are not yet ready to be swept into the rubbish bin or cast away. Open my eyes.

Unreal?

We sat in the Thai food restaurant waiting for our server to bring the pad Thai. How pretty and lifelike that rose on our table looked but the colors were really just a little too perfect to be real.

We sampled (then ordered) the delicious iced Thai coffee, not nearly as sweet its Vietnamese cousin and a bit more delicate in flavor. And then the sweetest aroma wafted my way. It had a hint of floral—perhaps it was from the other iced drink we were sampling?

We caught up on what our kids were doing and how our week had gone in simple convo that keeps two friends connected. Then the fragrance came again . . . this time my brain identified its source. The fake rose was real. I had to touch its petals to verify this as if looking at a passport photo to establish true identity. It was real. Just hanging out in a vase filled with just enough water to sustain it through a couple more lunches and dinners. It was stunning!

The story here is a question. Are you being you? The real you in all your glory? Bringing all your natural shadings of color and contrast to the table? Sharing your fragrance much to the delight of those around you? Did anyone ever tell you, out of their own brokenness, that you should dial it back, color inside the lines instead of display the real masterpiece of you . . .

I’m smelling a heavy perfume, as I write this morning, coming from the two dozen rose bouquet that I received for my birthday and its gently reminding me of the not-fake-real rose at the restaurant. And that is the effect that living a true life has on others. A similar fragrance from another source will remind others of you and your kindness, brilliance, unique style, whatever it us that defines you. Your unique essence will be recalled by those whose lives you’ve touched even when you’re not present. Be real and fragrant. And that doesn’t have to mean delicate and fragile. Be the true you at the risk of accusations of being a little unreal. Be creative. Be smart. Be the genuine caring you and share it with everyone in your orbit.

Sweet n Sour

Have you ever thought about this: the fragrance of the little white kumquat blossom is so intensely sweet it’s intoxicating while the fruit itself is so tangy-tart that one bite and you’ve acquired new dimples that your mama didn’t give you.

I never have given this a thought until today.

The nearby strawberry plant in my garden has been bearing little white blossoms as well but these little darlings have no fragrance whatsoever. In a week or so, as if by magic, they turn into the sweetest berries of the deepest crimson. This particular berry plant if mine has been doing this same magic act for the last nine years and I’ve never grown tired of it.

The fragrant produces tart and the aroma-less produces sweet. Did somebody out there get this mixed up? Not likely. Nature presents us with predictability we can count on. The almanacs from days of yore relied on what they could count on – namely the sun, the moon, the tide, and the changing yet ever recycling seasons. Repetition isn’t necessarily boring though, there’s a comfort to be found in the predictable. It’s something you can count on barring unexplained climate change. But wild nature and growing things and especially predictable human beings will at times throw us a curveball here and there keeping us off-balance.

When it’s not the overwhelming, borderline damaging type of off-balance, and when we don’t utterly reject the notion of having one foot slightly off the ground, then we might have been presented with the opportunity of noticing the sweet and the tart.

They exist side-by-side. They seem to take turns on which will produce the other one and that my friends keeps it interesting.

How about this for hump day? Let’s avoid rut-like predictability when feasible and keep an eye and a taste bud out for the sweet, for the fragrant, and for the tart.