Monday, May 23, 2011

Casual Shorts for Tennis & Skating

Taped to the side of a long, clear-plastic storage box was a 2-inch strip of yellow lined theme paper, cut perfectly straight along the bottom. With a faded blue marker, my dad had neatly printed in italic capitals: CASUAL SHORTS FOR TENNIS & SKATING.  My heart caught in my throat as I peeled Dad’s note off the box before displaying books in it for my garage sale. I’ll reuse the box but I don’t have the heart to discard the note.

Tennis and roller skating were my uber-athletic Dad’s retirement passions. Now he scoots along nursing home hallways on a tall silver walker with, ironically, day-glow yellow tennis balls steadying two of the walker legs. He doesn’t recognize his Senior Olympics tennis trophies. Whether he is in the mood nowadays to watch professional tennis on TV is iffy; used-to-be, he wouldn’t miss a tournament. Not so long ago, names like Roger Federer and Venus and Serena Williams sailed through the air in my parents’ TV den like blistering baseline backhands. And I have countless memories of Dad teaching me tennis when I was 11, Dad signing me up for private lessons, Dad and Mom playing mixed doubles, Dad inviting me to various tennis events throughout my life. Now I doubt he could even follow a tennis game on TV.

I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around this yet. Though difficult and sad, the natural, gradual physical decline of aging is easier to watch than the unnatural, gradual mental decline of Alzheimer’s. A future blog post focused on my 90-year-old mom’s sharp mind but failing body might reverse this assessment, I realize. The whole scene is just so sad. I feel like I’m standing onshore while the two dearest people in the world float out to sea in a dinghy with no oars. I cannot swim out to tow their dinghy back; I cannot toss oars to them; I have no choice but to watch as they toss toward the horizon on this trip they’ve so courageously embarked on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Yesterday my gym time coincided with recess for a class of 9- or 10-year-olds at the grade school. From my treadmill looking out on the playground, I saw girls in a group seemingly rehearsing something from some paper scripts and tying a long, fringed aqua scarf around a tree branch. The boys were right square in front of the gym window, so I got to watch a lively game of kickball. 

What I noticed most was that every boy—I mean, every boy—jumped up and down whenever he wasn’t running bases. Waiting for his turn behind the kicker, Backward-Baseball-Cap bounced on both feet. Boing, boing, boing. Manning third base, New-York-Athletics-T-Shirt sprang on both feet. Boing, boing, boing. When Green-Bay-Packers-Armband scored, he blazed across home plate, leaped up, ran a few steps up a tree trunk, and landed in more boing-boing-boinging. Meanwhile, boys cheering each runner from the sidelines were airborne most of the time as well. In addition to bouncing, the boys smiled huge smiles as they played. Their smiles reminded me of those “pudding face” Jell-O commercials on TV. These kids obviously took great pleasure in this game.

Though I’m not above boinging, I don’t often do it. (Too bad, I suppose.) :-) And though I’m not very good at wordplay, I take great pleasure in others’ skill at it. This week’s Sunday Trib crossword puzzle by Merle Baker contained some fun ones. For example, one clue was: Defeating actor Romano. The answer was: bestingray. (Besting Ray, or best stingray—get it? It took me a while to catch on). Another clue was: Where Gracie Allen was often filmed. Answer: besideburns. How about: Put on lots of rings? Answer: bedeckhand. I may not be boinging, but I have a mild case of pudding-face. I still haven’t gotten: Make light of composer Wagner. I have only _E__TT__R_C__R_. Oh wait, of course: belittlerichard. Oh, I feel a boing coming on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chalk Art

I had a great time hosting a Mother’s Day party this year. The mothers—my mom and one of my sisters—felt honored, and that was my goal. I’d prettied the dining room with profusions of flowers on every flat surface. Crystal water and wine glasses sparkled on cloth table cloths, and bright pink, springy, flowery napkins brightened the table. My sister’s kids and their spouses enlivened the party with unbridled youthful energy. It was definitely a fun party!

Later, however, watching a video of the afternoon, I was dismayed to see a grumpy expression on my face. How could that be? I’d had such a good time; how could it not show on my face? There was the video though—proof positive. I know I smiled and laughed and goofed around. The video just didn’t catch those moments. But video proof forced me to admit, I’d also been overly task-focused during the party. For example, I’d chosen to hand-wash the crystal glasses at the kitchen sink, with my back to my guests. When my mom said later, “Gee I wish you’d worked the jigsaw puzzle with us,” I assured her I’d had my ear tuned to their conversation and had interjected remarks a few times. Really, Jane, that’s being “with us”? Although I felt no resentment about not being helped, hindsight called to mind Jesus’ busting Martha for not choosing the better thing, just sitting with Him. Thankfully, I wasted only about 20 minutes of a four-hour party, but next time, I’m going to let the dishes sit.

I even have a picture to help me remember this lesson. Since neighborhood kids have been out in force with buckets of chunky chalk, sidewalk gazing during springtime walks is as entertaining as an art gallery opening (only without box wine and cheese and crackers). To give a chalk-art analogy—on Mother’s Day, I was not the kid crawling around the sidewalk to draw blue flowers and green clouds and wildly asymmetrical rainbows with purple pots of gold—or even a hopscotch grid. I was the kid, apparently a young goal-oriented Martha, marching from goopy bird blob to goopy bird blob and circling each one with white chalk so that each bird blob looked like a target.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Road Signs

A dented silver hubcap, bounced from a pothole, leans against a curb like a tossed coin that couldn’t decide whether to land heads or tails. Nearby, roadside grass—finally green after a long winter—nearly obscures a twisted steel road sign: Speed Limit 45. For weeks now, I’ve noticed black-and-white speed limit rectangles and yellow warning diamonds lying useless beside highways. When snow plows first bumped them out of the ground, they were at least visible, but now grass has nearly buried them. Yesterday driving out of Long Grove, I saw a sign still standing, but spun around so that its gray metal back faced me. After passing it, I craned my neck to read the front: Welcome to Long Grove.

Those signs, meant to protect and lead travelers, leave drivers without protective limits and guidance. Similarly, modern culture has plowed down moral customs that shielded us from becoming lost and destroying ourselves. I offer three recent examples.

When Oprah mentioned that an actress had dropped the F-bomb on the Academy Awards show, Oprah’s audience erupted in cheers and applause. What??? Vulgarity is now praise-worthy? Lady Gaga’s overcoming an American Idol contestant’s objections to Gaga’s advice to “have fun with” an “I’m evil” song lyric was presented as a victory. What??? Are we so desensitized, we have forgotten evil is real—and by the way, bad? In a Friends rerun, Joey got excited to learn Rachel read porn. What??? What kind of “friend” laughs watching a friend self-destruct?

Isaiah 5:20 says: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. Just because society has spun the “Welcome to Diabolical Devastation” sign backward, doesn’t mean we aren’t driving through it. Just because Hollywood tells us everybody does it, doesn’t mean everybody does or that sex outside marriage is on any level healthy or funny. Just because a celebrity condescends toward truth doesn’t make it false. Just because one can get away with offending people doesn’t make him or her a hero.

I’m praying our road signs get resurrected soon.

Monday, May 2, 2011


It’s a four-hibiscus day. But those lovely red blossoms brighten our dining room windowsill. Not that I’m not grateful our hibiscus plant bloomed its little hothouse heart out all winter. But it’s May now, and I’m eager for outdoor things to bloom. I’ve been running outside twice a day and bending down really low to stare at crumbly black dirt—as if that will magically activate X-ray vision to see seedlings beneath the soil. My attempts to see green have been almost fruitless, but now I do have some numbers to report. 

  • ·         Five sugar snap pea seedlings are now up. Their cute little round heads have not uncurled yet, but I can see the backs of their necks.
  • ·         One carrot seedling is up.
  • ·         Two shallots have appeared.
  • ·         Countless lettuce and spinach seedlings have sat right at ground level for weeks. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for. Maybe they’re tired of my staring at them and want me to lead them in a cheer.
  • ·         One grape hyacinth flower bloomed this year in what was a blue sea of blooms last year.

I walk a fine attitude line. If I dwell on the ratio of seedlings to seeds planted—about one or two to 24—I get discouraged. But if I put it out of my mind or blow it off—oh, well—I won’t be a productive gardener. Somewhere in the middle of those extreme attitudes, I will muster up the faith to count the days of normal germination time for each type of seed and go back out there to try again. There’s still time to plant more cool-weather-crop seeds.

My only really exciting statistic is that the romaine lettuce seeds bought at and harvested from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello last summer are almost all up now. That would be 12 seedlings … but who’s counting?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A New Season

Never have I been so happy to flip my wall calendar to a new month. April took a lot out of me. If you’ve read my recent blog posts, you know our family is heartbroken that the time when my dear dad needs nursing home care finally came on April 4. I have my own grief to process; but then my mom and siblings and their kids are all grieving, too, and I want to be a blessing to them. Add to the grief, all the adjustments we need to make. And now my parents live in two different places, and we’re essentially setting up a new home for Dad. Every visit, though wonderful and precious, renews our pain to see his loneliness and confusion. Now that Mom can tend to her own medical needs because the nursing home can feed and keep Dad safe, she’s lamenting how feeble she feels.

So the month of April ushered in a whole new season of life for me and my family. More accurately, the last seven years have meandered it in; this April ushered it to my doorstep, rang the bell, and handed me an engraved invitation to enter a new season of serving my family. Symbolically, in April we spent almost a whole month watching ponderous, gray balls of rain somersaulting across the sky; hearing wind chimes thrashing everyone’s porch posts, winds whining past our windows, and gusts slamming against the house; and being soaked and chilled whenever we were outside due to icy, high winds rendering umbrellas useless. 

The good news is we ate a lot of healthy soups in April, and I kept my glasses cleaner than usual because I had to polish raindrops off them so often. And in the midst of my exhaustion and wondering how I could possibly glorify God by coming alongside anyone else to bring Jesus’ love to them when my heart was in such turmoil itself ~ God led me to another engraved invitation, this one to come to Him:

Psalm 96:6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Spending quiet time with my Lord went from treasure to necessity in April (not that it will stop being a treasure). Interestingly, this morning when I went to put April’s darkness behind me and move into a hopefully brighter May, I saw the May calendar page features this quotation from Saint Augustine:
Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure, there your heart; where your heart, there your happiness.