How Should I Explain the Demise of the Hummingbird?

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Years of research and an untold amount of money has been spent, over the decades, to explain the extinction of the dinosaurs. Was it a volcano?  Meteor?  Extreme climate change? It would have been so helpful if one of those cave-dudes, who once rode a dinosaur to his job at the rock quarry, would have taken the time to record the reason for the end of the reign of those magnificent monsters. He could have, so easily, enlightened us and saved us all these years of expensive, inconclusive research.

My husband and I have a hummingbird feeder on the patio outside of our bedroom. We love to wake up in the morning and watch the hummingbirds buzz around the feeder madly defending what they consider to be their own.  My husband has assumed the responsibility of cleaning and filling  the feeder. One morning, as he was standing on the patio, enjoying the cool quiet of the morning, one of our hummers buzzed the side of his head, then zipped around for just a second, to meet him face to face. My husband was mesmerized. And that’s when he realized that the hummingbird feeder was empty. Was this little feathered creature reminding him he had neglected his responsibility? Who knows… but it appears that was the case as it now happens whenever that feeder is empty.

Several weeks ago as I was having lunch with friends, I shared the hummingbird story. I guess I thought our close encounter with the hummingbird represented a special, unique experience. Not the case. Every single person there had a similar tale to communicate. They shared stories of hummingbirds buzzing kitchen windows,  hovering around people swimming in pools and pestering gardeners pruning bushes. Our experience was anything but unique.

Then it dawned on me! Either natural selection will provide the humans of the future with a brave, in-your-face hummingbird who bangs his long beak into sliding glass doors and windows and pecks human heads as a reminder that its dinner time. Or these beautiful little creatures will totally lose their ability to recognize a real flower and identify real nectar having relied on the store-bought hummingbird feeder, for so long. As I see it, it’s just a matter of time, even if it is a millennium, before the hummingbird is extinct. That means it’s only a matter of time before children dress as hummingbirds for Halloween, can pronounce every species of hummingbird regardless of the number of syllables, and a movie is created about a park inhabited by genetically recreated hummingbirds that run fly amuck.

I’d like to do the thoughtful thing for those future generations and save them the agony of all that extensive research. But, my dilemma is in deciding which story to choose to leave as the explanation. I think a hole in the ozone story might be an appropriate explanation. It’s dramatic and has all the pieces necessary for a future full length feature film.  The meteor theory might be plausible again. Who knows how much damage might really have occurred by meteors, by then. Or maybe I should go with the truth and explain they died from a type of amore. They were simply loved to death. It would be a charming legacy and not a bad way to go.

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Mickey’s Joy

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In her book, Living a Beautiful Life, Alexandra Stoddard states…”Creating daily rituals – making daily tasks into times of enrichment through planning and special personal details- is a way to live a richer, more satisfying life.”

My mother designed her life to be filled with meaningful rituals. Those personal rituals became as much a part of who my mom was as her genuine appreciation for life and  her nickname, Mickey.

My father was in the Air Force and so my parents moved around more than most young couples. To say my mother was a people person is a serious understatement so you might imagine how difficult it was for her to repeatedly say good-bye to friends. Those were the days when long distance phone calls were quite expensive and e-mails were nonexistent. So, to stay in touch, my mother took up the task of letter writing. That undertaking (she would have never called it a task) became her letter writing ritual.

This writing ritual began before I was born. By the time I was old enough to really comprehend the level of her of commitment, she had been writing for over twenty years. It took two address books to hold all of her friend’s addresses and a small date book to keep track of the daily correspondence.

Each day, she would find time to sit, coffee in hand, surrounded by her stationary, note cards, and fancy address labels, and write to those people who meant so much to her. She sent joyful wishes, notes of sympathy, thoughts of encouragement, and holiday greetings. If an occasion had meaning for a friend, it had meaning for my mom and she sent her thoughts in a card. She relied on her Birthday Book to make sure no one’s special days were overlooked but she had spent so many years and so much time acknowledging those special days, that many of them were imbedded in her memory.

The book my mom used to record birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

What had started as a simple way to stay in touch with long distance friends had turned into a personal and unique way of reminding friends, near and far, of their importance in her life. And in doing that, it had also allowed her to live a part of her life,everyday, dedicated to one of the values she held closest to her heart, the value of friendship. It’s no wonder that it brought her such joy.

Now, It’s Your Turn! (part 3 of 3)

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I guess that I am a bit of a hypocrite. I stood in front of a classroom of children for years and said, “Of course, you can write poetry.” I’m in the midst of writing a post encouraging you to write poetry, but asked if I write poems, I’d answer with an empathic….NO.  When I think about verse, I think of classical poetry even though I enjoy and appreciate many of its other forms.

Poetry is powerful. It has the ability to inspire, console, enrage, or entertain.  What I am encouraging you to do is to try your hand at writing poetry for the purpose of personalizing a special event. My skills are limited to an ability to identify words that rhyme and a competence in using the thesaurus. My poetry is typically silly but it can still entertain. I believe that if you are a poet, you have a unique gift. I also believe that, even if you think you have no specific poetry writing skills, the desire to create something unique and meaningful will be your strongest asset.

Let your creativity flow as you follow these guidelines.

Choose the subject that you would like to write about. What special event are you hoping to celebrate?   wedding? birth of a child? graduation?

Poetry 101 would stress the importance of identifying line lengths, line breaks, rhythm, etc. I take the easy way out and choose a well-known poem or verse that is easily recognized.  I use it as a template and just substitute my own words. (Of course, you can’t legally publish a poem written this way but I assume that you are doing this for personal use only.)

Identify the specific events/ thoughts that you want to include in your poem. Keep them in sequential order. A poem on an upcoming wedding might include a stanza on how the couple met. A poem on the birth of a child might include how mom and dad chose the baby’s name.

Start to write down your thoughts as they come into  your head. (I like to go back and edit after I have the basic form but you may wish to do a little editing as you go.)

Rhyme is a great poetic device. I strongly recommend that you use it. Arrange your lines (sentences) so that basic words fall at the end of a line.  For example, instead of writing… Today is your graduation… try –   Your graduation day is here. Both sentences have the same number of word parts or syllables but rhyming with “here” will be a lot easier than rhyming with “graduation.”

Choose interesting words. Rely on a thesaurus. It doesn’t matter if it’s hardback or synonym.com

Your poem will most likely be on a specific subject. Try not to over use the common words associated with that subject. Don’t over use “graduation”. Try substituting related words or made-up phrases like “cap and gown day”. Get creative.

Save the most heart-felt message for the end of your poem.  Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. Sincerity is very powerful.

Edit your poem. Read it out loud. You’ll be able to hear the rhythm of your lines and determine if the words you have chosen really match what you want to express. Sometimes it helps to put your writing aside and come back to it.

When it comes time to share your poem, identify how you want it presented. Are you comfortable reading it out loud in front of others? It’s a great way to control your rhythm and put emphasis on the words and phrases that are most important to you. Perhaps you are most comfortable writing out your poem and presenting it privately.

Remember that a gift that comes from the heart can never be the wrong color or size. Your poem will be a unique and loving gift.

Twas the Night Before Golfing (part 2 of 3)

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This was a poem written to celebrate a summer spent with friends on a golf course.

Twas the night before golfing,

And all through the town,

The Travis Team was preparing

For their first golfing round.

They pulled out their bags,

Some even had carts.

And they filled them with things…

Those official golf parts.

The irons and the woods,

A ball and a tee,

The idea of golfing

Gave them such glee.

Eager to sleep,

They crawled into their beds,

And visions of tee-offs,

Fogged up their heads.

And then the next day,

They awoke from their sleep,

And scheduled their hours.

A 5 o’clock tee-off to keep.

Away to th Birch Hills,

They flew like a flash.

Their arrival that day,

Was less than a smash.

The golf course was busy,

The team made it worse.

They cheered and they shouted,

Some old golfers did curse.

And when Travis teed off,

Those old golfers, it’s said,

Watched the hooks and the slices,

Then exclaimed…”Wish we were dead”.

But the team would not cry,

They would never give up.

Someone was bound,

To get that ball in the cup.

So good ole Judy got up,

At the crack of the day,

To call for a tee-time,

It was always that way.

The team came back every week,

Few ever did roam,

This golf course was starting,

To feel just like home.

When what to their wondering

Eyes did appear,

But Marshall in hs cart,

And his rule book in gear.

He said, “You broke this rule and that rule,

And that rule and this”.

How you’re playing this game,

Is really amiss”.

The team was quite shocked,

And a little offende.

So, to talk to Mike,

Judy was sended.

The team they were worried,

Would be golfing no more,

But Mike, he saved them.

He’s done that before.

Then it’s said that their game,

It really improved.

Maybe all of that fuss,

Got their swings in the groove.

Well, Marshall he visited,

Each time the gals played,

And honked when he left,

At the end of his days.

And except for the time,

Mike made Jude read the door,

They didn’t have problems,

Too much anymore.

Then the summer it ended,

No weekly golf for awhile,

But the team would remember,

Those days with a smile.

Some people treat life,

Like old golfers, I fear,

Instead of giggles and cheering,

They meet life with a sneer.

But teachers know better,

Than anyone will,

You need laughs and encouragement,

To improve a skill.

Using Poetry to Personalize Your Celebration (part 1of 3)

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It was June and my teaching buddies and I were looking forward to vacation but lamenting the fact that we never seemed to do a good job of getting together over the summer. Someone suggested that we schedule a round of golf every week and whoever was in town could just show up. The idea met with unanimous approval which was pretty amazing considering there were ten people voting and only a couple of us had ever actually held a golf club.

We decided we would find a small, local golf course and we would play late in the afternoon so our amateur skills would offend as few people, as possible. Birch Hills Golf Course, a small executive course near the school, turned out to be our summer playground for golfing and we became acquainted with Mike, the golf pro, on our first visit. Judy had called ahead to set a tee-time and explain our situation before the first time we actually played a round of golf.

At first, Mike was the consummate professional explaining exactly what the club offered in classes, equipment, and support. However, it didn’t take him long to realize this group of golfers was more interested in the color of their tees and who would drive the golf cart than in signing up for classes to improve their putting.

The rules, for the course, were painted on a wooden sign that hung on the outside of the door to the pro shop and were quite obvious. Teachers are basically  “compliant children” so Mike didn’t need to worry too much about us breaking the rules. We did sometimes giggle a little too loud, allow ourselves an inordinate amount of do-overs, or stop too many times to take photos. Our golf game might have been a bit unorthodox and we might have bent a few rules but we never broke any rules that could result in anyone getting hurt and we were never disrespectful of the more skilled serious players. The Marshall, who drove around in his little cart watching for infractions, disliked the fact that we would sometimes bunch together and make a six-some. He would always drive up to the group and exclaim…”Ladies, the rules state that you golf in groups of 4.”  He must have complained, back at the pro shop, because once Mike made Judy walk outside and reread the rules posted on the door. But before the end of the summer Marshall had become our “best friend” and would purposely go out of his way to stop by and say hi whenever his shift was ending just as we arrived.

As the dog days of summer drew to a close, we faced the beginning of a new school year and the ending of those regularly scheduled golf games. Our weekly tee-offs had provided us with fun, friendship and a modicum of exercise. No one wanted to see them come to an end. We decided to stretch out our time together and end our summer routine with our own personally created Sports Award Banquet. We chose categories of awards  where we would recognize each other for the unique strengths we each brought to the game or the growth that we all demonstrated. It would be the culminating activity after a summer of fun and new learning. We made reservations at a local restaurant, invited Mike to join us, and set out to create voting ballots for those awards.

I wanted to add my own special touch to the evening so I decided to create a poem that retold our golfing story. It was never my intention to write a “literary work of distinctive style and rhythm.” Instead, I wanted to remind the group of the adventures we had shared on the golf course and I wanted to make them laugh. My lack of poetry writing skills would insure my poem was never mistaken for high-level prose and setting it to the rhythm and rhyme of a well-known Christmas poem would guarantee its silliness. (There is something intrinsically funny about rewriting a well-known poem using totally unrelated words.)

Tomorrow I will post my poem…Twas The Night Before Golfing. Thank you Clement Clarke Moore.

The Photo In My Header

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Nightclubs like the Hollywood Palladium, The Cocoanut Grove, and The Copacoabana were a huge part of night life in the 1940s.  Even most large hotels had restaurants with their own orchestras. Camera girls meandered through the crowds as the guests danced and dined. These photographs were then available for purchase and would be delivered to your table, in a souvenir folder.

This photograph, of my parents, was taken at the Hotel Claremont in Berkeley, California, in 1949.

My parents really are the inspiration for my blog.  It was their devotion to each other and their commitment to living life to its fullest that prompted the creation of their traditions of celebration. Those celebrations enriched my life, as a child, and have continued to influence me and the design of my own celebrations of life, as an adult. My story begins with them.

“All the Days Get Here Fast”

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The Fourth of July has come and gone and you know what that means. It’s only a matter of days before fall is here. Maybe not officially but before we know it we will be greeted by jack o’ lanterns and black cats as we duck into the stores to escape the summer heat. Every year, as we transition from one holiday to the next, I experience the same feeling. Let’s not hurry life along. It goes fast enough, as it is.

I can remember thinking, as a child, the days moved at a snail’s pace. “Don’t wish your days away,” my mother would warn me as I was lamenting the length of time until my birthday, Christmas, or some other special event. As I got older, and I began to wish I had more time in the day or in the week, to finish whatever project was occupying my mind, I made the assumption that children felt life passed at a much slower pace than most adults do. About 5 years ago, something happened in my third grade classroom, that made me question that assumption.

One of the predictable routines, in an elementary classroom, is the attention given to the calendar. Each morning, I would review the current month, day and year. The concepts of yesterday and tomorrow can be challenging for young children, to say nothing of the idea of months and seasons. To make the concepts more real for them, I would ask them to share something they could remember doing during the previous month as well as something that they were looking forward to for the upcoming month. In addition, I asked for their general reactions to the calendar and images they saw around the current month. One of my shy students was surprisingly anxious to share his thoughts. With much sincerity, he exclaimed, “Mrs. T …all the days get here fast.” There was an immediate reaction of agreement from the rest of the class. His statement was really unexpected and took me by surprise. I was even more surprised when similar feelings were expressed, by other students, in the years that followed.

My conclusion that modern children view life’s speed differently than I did, at their age, isn’t exactly scientifically sound. Perhaps some child had expressed that sentiment before and I hadn’t remembered. Maybe some children always felt that way  but were just hesitant to express it. Possibly, the discussions they heard at home included the topic of time and the students were just parroting their parents’ views. Or maybe…their days do all get here fast… maybe the life of the young child has changed enough, in the last decade, so that their perception of time, has changed.

I’d value your thoughts.

A partial image of a kindergarten calendar wall

There’s a New Blogger in the Classoom

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I’m not much of a risk taker. In fact, there is a magnet on my refrigerator to gently remind me that taking risks can be a good thing. It says…”do one thing every day that scares you” Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt, for the inspiration.

I love to write so when a friend suggested that I start a blog, the first place I went was right to my computer. But it wasn’t to start typing. I needed to check out other people’s blogs, first. (A single quote – no matter how motivating – can’t change a person overnight.) I loved what I found! But, what I loved even more, was being energized by all of the talent that surrounded me. Then it suddenly occured to me that I’d had this feeling before. It was years ago, sitting in an elementary school classroom, as a mid-year enrollee.

There I was, sitting in that third grade classroom, surrounded by students who were already familiar with the rules, the routines, and the procedures. I was still trying to get my bearings when everyone else was immersed in the work at hand. I learned about my classmates, even before I interacted with them, just by observing.

The similiarities between those classmates, of years ago, and the writers whose blogs I was now reading were undeniable, for me. There are  bloggers who post about their personal struggles. They write about dissolved relationships and broken dreams. In doing so, they give encouragement and hope to others and they most likely help with their own healing. They remind me of those students who were at ease discussing just about everything. They talked about arguments with their siblings, and their perceived unfairness of their parents. I could never be quite that open with my peers. Too risky. But I admired the kids who did it. They were always well liked…others were so drawn to them…they were like comforters. I sincerely admire the bloggers who have the courage to do it now.

Those writers whose blogs are dedicated to their specific area of expertise brought back strong visions of the athletic types in grammar school. I was never very athletic. Too dangerous! Tetherball was definitely a big deal, at recess, when I was young. I remember one girl, in particular, played amazing tetherball. She could whip her hips and swing that ball, around the pole, putting the ball well beyond anyone’s reach. She held her audience captive. I would have loved to play tetherbal like her but I didn’t want to chance a bloody nose.

Even “Freshly Pressed” brings back images of classroom bulletin boards where teachers put up the best work. I always hoped I would have a paper stapled to the board. But I never wanted Mrs. Sokol to put it right in the midde of the board, put too big of a star on it, or (heaven forbid) ask me to read it aloud to the rest of the class. Way scary!

I understand that Word Press even gives you the option of blocking unkind, unproductive comments. Kind of like that staunch  playground supervisor of years ago. That’s a good thing. Nobody likes a bully.

I’m sure I’m not the newest kid is class anymore. And although I only seem to be able to manage a post once a week, I’m learning.  And it’s not too risky. I’m surrounded by people who write about things that make me laugh, make me cry, bring back memories, and make me want to be a better writer…maybe even a better person. They make supportive, interesting comments on my posts and they are quick to reply back to my comments. Earlier this week, when I was in a bit of a slump and feeling pushed to write more but not knowing how I could accomplish that, a comforting thing happened. Coming East was feeling a slump after taking a little break, from writing, to be with loved ones. Word Nymph was struggling with writer’s block. I love their blogs and if they experience those feelings, from time to time, then I guess I am in the right place. I am in a learning environment, similar to a nurturing classroom, where people support each other just by being there and being honest. It makes me want to keep trying and focus on what I can do and not on the risks of failure. Eleanor Roosevelt would be proud.

Treasure Each Moment

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I recognize that my personal philosophy of life has many of its roots in my childhood. While I wouldn’t even pretend to know when or where most of my philosophical paradigms originated, I feel quite certain that a significant one was crystallized for me in the summer of 1964 when I was not yet ten years old.

On March 27, 1964, Alaska suffered a devastating earthquake. By that summer, numerous magazines were featuring stories about the tragedy. I had already seen a few articles filled with images of derailed trains, collapsed homes, and pavement left with gaping holes. To ease my fears and some youthful curiosity, my mom and I had spent time talking about the tragedies that typically accompany a natural disaster. She had also taken the time to reassure me that earthquakes were atypical for Maryland, which is where we were living at the time.

Soon after this, I came across yet another article related to the earthquake. It was written by a woman whose plans for an Alaskan vacation, with her family, had been interrupted due to the earthquake. The article included a photograph of the woman sitting next to an opened and completely packed suitcase. This was not a story of grim adversity but a story of personal disappointment. I hadn’t suffered any more disappointments than the average 9 1/2 year old, but for some reason that still eludes me, this story weighed heavily on my mind. I recognized it wasn’t as tragic as the stories where people had lost their lives or their homes but it still felt incredibly sad to me.

I loved discussions with my mom. Talking to her was always so comfortable. I use the word comfortable instead of easy because it wasn’t my mom’s style to just tell you what you wanted to hear. She was loving, compassionate, and supportive but she was always honest. Even if the truth might sting. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction to the Alaskan vacation story. She did have sympathy for the family but she wasn’t willing to just let it go at that.

“Did they have fun planning for the trip?” she asked. She wasn’t really expecting an answer. She was counting on the fact that I would recall our cherished family planning sessions. My dad would bring home travel brochures and the three of us would huddle around planning just where we would go and what we would see and do. “Did they enjoy the time they spent packing…choosing the clothes they would need for a chilly Alaskan climate?” This time she was counting on the fact that I had always loved my clothes and creating outfits. She knew how much I delighted in every moment spent choosing the perfect bathing suit or pair of sandals to pack for a trip.

She wanted me to recognize that even though the family lost their chance at this Alaskan vacation, the wonderful memories they created while anticipating and preparing for the trip, weren’t lost. If those memories were only of family arguments and frustrating moments, then it would indeed be a sad story.

I eventually understood  what she was trying to teach me. Today is too precious to waste while waiting for tomorrow. That lesson has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I’d like to be able to say that I never waste a moment of today worrying about something that is happening tomorrow….but that simply isn’t true. I forget more times than I’d like to admit. But every time I recognize I’m in a frenzy, caught up in the process of getting through today so I can get to tomorrow, it is the thought of my mom and the image of that packed suitcase, that brings me back to what I know is really important.

Throughout my life, my mother looked for ways to show me that life is a gift and each day is worth celebrating. She was a wonderful teacher. I got the message.

Just Hand Over the Dishes and Nobody Gets Hurt

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I need a Twelve-Step Program for my addiction to dishes. Yes, you read it correctly. I am obsessed with dishes. Not the commemorative type that people buy to remember special occasions or unique places. I can’t seem to own enough dinner plates, salad bowls, 16-piece dinnerware sets.

As my generation was growing up, it was readily accepted that blame for everything unpleasant about yourself be placed on your parents.  As I see it, my mother really is to blame for my out-of-control dish fetish.

We were a little family, just the three of us, but that never stopped my mother from making a big deal about meals. Every night we ate dinner on an artfully set table complete with candles. She owned just one set of everyday dishes but she mixed and matched those basically white dishes with solid black bowls and salad plates, different placemats, and candles. Our table looked remarkably different, each night, even though it was set with essentially the same dinnerware.  

 My father was no help.  Delighting in the dinner atmosphere that she created, he did irrational things to support her. One day, he sanded and painted three inexpensive, wooden, salt and pepper shakers so she would have some additional touches of color on the table.  As you can see, I was doomed from the very beginning.

When you’re a teenager, you don’t really want to be like your parents but I recognized, early on, that I’d be wise to emulate many of my mom’s personal traits.  She loved to spend time with friends, had a definite sense of style, and a genuine ease with entertaining. I never seemed to develop her sense of table style or her genuine ease at entertaining. But I loved my friends and somewhere along the way, I must have decided that I could make up for what I was lacking, in the hostess department, with a substantial collection of dishes. I bet even Perle Mesta, the hostess with the mostess, didn’t own as many dishes as I do.

So, my journey down this road of dish acquisition began. To my first, simple set of white, everyday dishes, I added sets that matched the accent colors in my apartment. From there, I moved to thematic dishes…after all, what says yummy breakfast better than a chicken running across your plate? Eventually, holiday dishes joined the collection. Christmas dishes had become quite popular and were easy to find. I’ll probably have a harder time finding Ground Hog’s Day dishes.

Meanwhile, my friends think I’m crazy. Luckily, they haven’t tried a group intervention. My friend, Judy relentlessly asks me when she will be receiving an invitation for dinner. “Roger and I are so looking forward to coming to dinner,” she’ll exclaim, “we can’t wait to eat from lobster dishes and use those matching lobster crackers.”  I know she’s just taunting me.  And she doesn’t have a clue how long I searched for a set of lobster dishes that coordinated with those red metal lobster pinchers.  Nobody really understands.

 As we head toward Independence Day, I thought it might be appropriate, for a blog on celebrations, to feature a picture of a festively set table highlighting my Fourth of July dishes. Aren’t they just the cutest… with their little pointed stars and subtle red stripes? I’ll be enjoying them for the entire month. Then, I’ll pack them away knowing I won’t see them again for another year. The only thing that will keep me from shedding tears is the fact that the black dishes with the pumpkins will be out in just 92 more days.

Happy 4th of July!