When Life Gives You Lemons

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These days it feels as though the heavens have dumped truckloads of lemons all over the world. I somehow think that we are well beyond the concept of making lemonade from the preponderance of tangy citrus that has rained down on our lives. I’d like to propose a different take on the old saw that when life gives us lemons we ought to make lemonade. My idea is to use every single part of those yellow orbs, not just the juice, to make the world a better place. 

I would begin by saving the seeds, planting them and growing new little plants that will hopefully thrive and one day bear fruit. I’d use the juice for supplying that little bit of tang that changes food from ordinary to delicious. Finally I’d save the peel to give zest to baked good or to bring a clean aroma into my home. A lemon provides so much more than lemonade. We can clean with it, cook with it, use it to bring highlights into our hair.

So it is with every challenge that we face in life. At first our difficulties feel overwhelming, as though we have been bombarded by troubles that we cannot possibly overcome. It’s perfectly normal and even good to allow ourselves time to grieve, be angry, withdraw into ourselves, rest. At some point, though, we have to reenter society, carry on, but not necessarily the way we once did. Hardships often convince us to make changes in our lives, to ponder how best to move forward perhaps in different ways. Sometimes from the worst of times, we evolve as stronger, better versions of ourselves. 

It’s important that we learn to adjust to the trials we must all face. We don’t have to pretend that we are content with loss or hurt, but we ultimately have to find ways to channel our emotions into constructive ways of continuing to be part of the world. At first we may only have the energy to set aside the lemons that have rained on us. Later we may be able to make a glass of lemonade to quench our thirst for a return to normalcy, happiness. At that moment it is important to be good to ourselves, but we cannot simply move on as though nothing has happened. We should never try to ignore the trauma we have endured. Faking joy can be destructive. We can’t just pretend and hope that we will feel better.

After a time the world itself will call on us to return to a semblance of productivity. It will be difficult. It will feel as though everyone around us is a mirage and we are caught in a place of horror from which we may never escape. That is when we need to plant those lemon seeds and have as much patience with them as we should have with ourselves. With the proper care one day they will sprout just as we will feel as though we have finally emerged from the fog and been reborn into life. 

Some of those seeds will make new plants and others may never propagate. The same will be true of our feelings. There will be days when we feels as though we are back to our old selves and ready to conquer anything. There will be times when we slip back into sorrow and wonder if we ever again will be quite the same. Such is the nature of overcoming the troubles that have befallen us. 

Eventually we will notice the delightful aroma of the lemon peel just as we will begin to enjoy the pleasures around us. We will genuinely laugh and feel the zest of happiness. Life tastes good once again. We know that those lemons have changed us and somehow even made us better, stronger, perhaps more compassionate toward others who have their own load of lemons falling from the sky. 

These are trying times. We humans have been bombarded by illness, death, attacks from nature, violence, political unrest, uncertainty at every turn. We seem to be literally tripping over lemons. We want to smash them, sweep them from our paths, throw them away, ban them from existence. Instead we have to find healthy, constructive ways of dealing with them, using them to make ourselves and others better. 

The best of times are those when we are kind to ourselves and then share that kindness with others. We can use those lemons to quench the thirst and enhance the joy of ourselves and those around us. We can turn the lemon challenge into inventive ways of living that benefit the world around us. The alternative is to allow our troubles to waste and rot into a toxic stew.

Take time with the lemons that befall you. Don’t try to rush the process of dealing with them. You don’t need to make lemonade right away. Have patience and be willing to try different things and one day you will finally feel better. 


Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones

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October is coming and with it are ghosts and goblins and witches and scary skeletons. Not that any of those things cause me to be frightened. I don’t believe in the first three and when I see a skeleton I think of doctors, hospitals, science. It’s fascinating to see the structure of our bones that protect our organs and allow us to move about when joined with muscles and ligaments. I’ll never quite understand why the bones of human anatomy are part of the lore of monsters and horror. 

I am always in awe of the human body. It is amazing how all of the parts work together when they are healthy and in alignment. I have a particular affinity to bones because mine are afflicted with the disease of osteoporosis which makes them weaker and more likely to break. I’ve been fighting for decades to keep them from deteriorating and my success has been limited. It is within the construction of my bones that my greatest fear lies. I worry that one day they will force me into a state of immobility. I dread the idea of being wheelchair bound like three of my aunts ultimately became. 

I am jealous of those who stand tall and whose skeletons are rock solid. Mine is thin and riddled with holes. Now there is a noticeable bow on my back and I worry that I may break a hip or fracture my spine, things that happened to my aunts over time. LIke me they were active incredibly healthy women save for the silent disease eating away at their bones, making them thin and weak. They did not have the knowledge of osteoporosis that I have. Nor did they have the kind of medications that I have used to both grow bones and slow down their process of deterioration. In that regard I know that I am quite fortunate, but still my imagination sometimes runs wild and it is like being in a horror movie to watch my spine becoming disfigured. 

I suppose that we all enjoy being independent, able to live as though we are forever young. I like to walk and used to like to run. I have no fear of climbing ladders or hiking up a mountain, and yet over time I have had to forego so many of the activities of my youth. I suppose that this is the inevitable march of time for each of us. Still, I suspect that many are like me in still being able to vividly recall dressing up for Halloween as a little witch or perhaps tossing a sheet over the head to be a ghost. Somehow in spite of the decades that pass we have moments when we feel as though we are still eight or nine years old. We close our eyes and suddenly we are kids again running joyfully and innocently from house to house with paper bags filled with candy treats. Oh, how nice it was to be so innocent and unaware of the the many challenges that we would one day face!

When I see a skeleton that is supposed to belong in a house of horrors I can only smile. It is almost a happy object for me. I have visions of a chorus line of skeletons dancing in unison. Their ghoulish grins delight me. They are fun, not frightening. Best of all they are whole and healthy and interesting. Each part serves a very specific purpose that allows us to perform tasks that make us unique among living things, particularly our hands. 

Those phalanges are glorious. With them we create and we build. They help us make music and draw. We write with them and set our words and our stories in stone. We join them together in embraces and prayer. There is a magnificence in the simplicity and potential of our hands. To me they are the most beautiful aspect of our bodies even when they are wrinkled and careworn. Obviously they are more complex than just a collection of bones, but it is from that foundational structure that some of our most creative abilities flow. The hands along with our minds allow us to demonstrate the compassion of our hearts. What could be less scary?

Halloween comes the night before All Souls Day. While it seems to be a creepy celebration of the dead to me it is really about life. Done right it is fun and a way of acknowledging that none of us are immortal but all of us delight in having fun. On Halloween we laugh at our fear of death and turn that worry into a true focus on living our best lives. We face our mortality squarely in the eyes and decide to make it a matter of joy. We seize the day, enjoy the moment, thumb our noses at the seeming shortness of life. That makes those skeletons interesting, not scary at all. 

Dreams of the Sea

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I am drawn to the ocean especially when it is wild and stormy. I imagine sailing to distant ports and exotic islands. I think of myself standing on the deck of a ship with the wind burning my cheeks and whipping my hair into a frenzy. The smell of the sea fills my nostrils and I can almost feel the spirit of whalers and fishermen who once worked along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. I am fascinated by their stories and the beauty of the waters on which they plied their trade. 

My reality is far different. Even in calm waters I become seasick and rather than standing tall in the breeze I am instead bent over the side of the craft losing whatever food and fluid is in my body. I am seized with a debilitating nausea and my head aches with a desire to get back to land as soon as possible. I need to plant my feet on solid ground or I feel as though I am going to die. Just thinking about those moments makes me dizzy. 

The first time I went for a sail was with a friend who actually lived on her craft. She invited me to come along with her for a ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We were going to cruise around Galveston Bay, a brief journey to give me a taste of the life of a sailor. She brought along another member of the crew to assist her in maneuvering the sails to get the best advantage of the wind. It was exciting watching the two of them doing their work and I could not help but of notice how happy they were as they went through processes that had become second nature to them. 

Initially I was having as much fun as they were. The weather was picture perfect with an indigo sky and a brilliant sun. I watched fish jumping along the side of our craft and raised my head to follow the flight of sea birds. Passersby waved as though we were the best of friends. I found myself wondering how I might learn the techniques and maybe even invest in my own sailboat one day. Then, for no apparent reason a nausea began to spread throughout my body while I attempted to hide my affliction from the hardy sailors who were with me. My ruse was fine until I was no longer able to hold the noxious barf that had risen up my throat and into my mouth. I ran the the side and hurled my guts out with total embarrassment.

My friend and her companion attempted to be understanding. They suggested that my reaction was that of a first timer unaccustomed to the rocking motion that had set the fluid in my ears listing from fore to aft. They insisted that now that my body had released the poison I would soon feel better and I would never again have such a reaction. Sadly, they were wrong. Not long after I was heaving over the side again and becoming more and more miserable by the minute. Finally I had to beg them to return to the shore. 

I stepped onto the dock humiliated and sorrowful. I knew that I was not going to sail the seas. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to attempt traveling on a gigantic cruise ship. The very thought made my head spin. I would not step foot on a sea going vessel again for years until I took one of my grandsons on a whale watching adventure in Boston Harbor. We had not been out to sea for long before he was turning pale and complaining of feeling sick. Soon enough both he and I had joined a group of landlubbers gathered starboard as though in anticipation of a big heave ho of unified vomiting. We smiled weakly at the whales that crossed our paths and wished that we might share the enthusiasm of the other passengers who were not afflicted with sickness. We literally prayed that the captain would return to land sooner rather than later. 

I don’t just get that sick feeling when I am sailing. It also happens in a car. I have to sit in the front seat and keep cool and never attempt to read. If I’m stuffed in the back of a van on a long trip I must bring along a paper bag in case I reach a point of spilling my guts and revealing that motion is my enemy. It is a flaw in my physical being that I despise. 

I’ll never be an astronaut and sail among the stars. I don’t know why I am like I am but I find myself wondering if either my grandmother or grandfather suffered from my malady when they crossed the ocean in a steamship that brought them to America. I’d like to think that the genetic flaw that prevents me from enjoying the lure of the sea did not also make that passage difficult for them. Perhaps instead it came from the other side of my family, from some quirk of DNA that makes me susceptible to such things.

Not long ago I rode successfully on a ship from Seattle, Washington to British Columbia, Canada. My doctor had provided me with a mysterious patch that I placed on my arm. Miraculously I made the journey without even a hint of illness and even got brave enough to eat a little snack. Of course the craft was large and stable and the water was still, but maybe I have found a way to fulfill my dreams of sailing. Sadly, for now I worry that being on a ship with hundreds of strangers might lead to a case of Covid, so I won’t be testing my theory anytime soon. 

For now I simply imagine how glorious it might be to travel by sea. Maybe books and films will be the only way I ever accomplish such a feat, and perhaps that is for the best. The reality of life at sea is not as glamorous as I would like it to be. Fighting the storms and doldrums and even modern day pirates is real, and then there is that darn seasickness that tells me to keep my feet firmly planted on solid ground.    

The Superheroes Among Us

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My grandmother used to store a stack of comic books at her home for the times when her grandchildren came to visit. Since my mother thought that such things were a frivolous waste of time and resources, I often found myself skimming the pages of those graphic stories with great interest. When I was a child I thrilled to the adventures of Superman in glorious shades of black and white on television and even laughed at Mighty Mouse, a little cartoon character who often came to save the day in operatic glory. Eventually the pulp superheroes of my youth were transformed into larger-than-life characters on the silver screen, sporting incredible powers and superhuman devotions to justice. 

I have enjoyed fantasy, mythology and stories of great courage for as long as I can remember. I suppose that we all imagine an incredible person arriving in the nick of time to save us from life’s evils and tragedies. It’s fun to think that we might overcome the difficulties and challenges of living with the magical entrance of a superhero who has been hiding in our midst. In truth, we don’t really have to invent such characters because they have always been among us, albeit without the ability to fly or climb buildings like a spider. 

The history of humanity is filled with tragic events that bring us to tears, but also balanced with stories of uncommon bravery and compassion. In truth a superhero does not need a cape or an iron suit to make a dramatic difference in the world. The guy who shows up to help a stranded motorist on the side of a road is a hero in every sense of the word. He may drive up in a pickup truck wearing jeans and a t-shirt stained with the dirt and oils of his daily work, using his kindness and skill to change a tire or jump a battery, and then disappear into the night. 

I saw superheroes when hurricane Harvey hit my city. They came in boats and waded through chest high water on foot to rescue folks stranded in their homes. They carried mothers, babies, children, old people to safety and then went back for more victims of the floods. Some of the heroes showed up to shovel mud and muck from inside damaged homes. They took down sodden sheetrock and offered solace and food to complete strangers whose houses had been destroyed. They brought truckloads of supplies to schools and rebuilt structures that had once been so badly damaged that it seemed that they would never again be the same.

For months now I have observed the heroes in our medical community who work tirelessly to save lives. They endure scorn and attacks from villains who falsely and unfairly accuse them of lying about the virus that plagues us all. They come back day after day to brutal conditions and heart wrenching situations being created by false beliefs built on pride and politics and lies. They never give up as they do everything possible to perform miracles one person at a time.

I see our teachers enduring increasingly stressful situations, unsafe conditions, unreasonable expectations. They do their heroic work because they understand all too well that the very foundation of our society is built on destroying the evils of ignorance. They rescue the precious minds of our future from the abyss of illiteracy and an inability to think rationally.

The superheroes among us produce our food even when they might become ill and die from doing so. They deliver the goods and services that we need no matter how much we take them for granted or abuse them with our unwillingness to protect and support them with simple measures like wearing masks in their presence. Ordinary souls are the angels among us, their superpowers are courage, honesty, dedication, compassion. Their stories should be the stuff of books and films. Truth is always better and more fascinating than fiction. 

A superhero dedicated to the city of Houston would drive an ordinary car or truck. This person would be either male or female. The costumes he or she wear would vary depending on the need of the emergency. The gear might feature a pair of scrubs and a stethoscope, work clothes and a hammer, rubber boots and a shovel, comfortable shoes and a book, a uniform from the military or police department or the fire brigade. Such a hero won’t be able to fly without a plane or a helicopter. He/she will only scale buildings with tall ladders or cranes. Eyeglasses won’t be removed, but kept in place for clearer vision. Our hero is not a single character, but a league of great people who step out of the shadows whenever there is a call for help. They are young and old, representative of the diversity that defines our town. The quest for justice and eliminating evil is never ending and so they will appear just when we think that we are doomed. They are ordinary and extraordinary at one and the same time. They live quietly and anonymously among us, but they rise up for us with great regularity, asking for nothing in return. 

There are superheroes on our streets, among our friends, in our families, at the stores where we shop, along the roads where we drive. We never know when they will swoop down to help us, to save us, to protect us. We should honor and cherish them and return their favors whenever we can because we can be superheroes as well.

My Dream Dinner Party

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I enjoy planning big dinner parties for family and friends. I like to deck out my home and use the many designs of china and crockery that I have purchased and inherited over the years. I have my mother’s silver flatware along with a set of handcrafted pewter utensils designed by our best friend’s Norwegian uncle, as well as two sets of stainless that I use everyday. All of the things that I use to entertain have special memories attached to them and it makes me happy to share them with the people that I love. 

I’m not the world’s best cook. I have a few dishes that I use over and over again that seem to please my guests. I long to be like my friend, Linda, who has a thousand and one recipes that are always scrumptious. She seems born to be a master chef, whereas I have to really work at bringing all of the luscious flavors of a meal together. Admittedly I get somewhat anxious about getting all of the moving parts to run in unison, and so tend to be much more like the Biblical Mary than Martha. I’ve never quite learned how to make the whole presentation appear easy and flawless. Something inevitably goes wrong, but my guests don’t seem to mind, so I need to learn how to relax and enjoy the moment. 

I work for weeks designing a menu and gathering the ingredients. I open the table that came from my dear friend, Pat, who passed from this world far too soon. When I learned that her husband was selling it, I had to purchase it because I knew how much she had loved that piece of furniture. I had been with her when she ordered it from an Amish furniture store. I still think of her each time I open it to its full length and set eight chairs around its perimeter. It is a work of art with its gears that slide like silk and its leaves stored so discreetly. It’s finish is perfection and I am so proud to be able to use it in her memory. It has a long history of love, starting with her. She was an exceptional entertainer who seemed to know exactly how to host a flawless extravaganza and still be attentive to every single guest. I learned from her and still find myself being inspired by her. 

I choose my tableware according to the final menu I have chosen or the time of year when the party will take place. I have the china that my father purchased for my mother, a set of Willow Ware from my husband’s Aunt Elsie, delicate blue flowered china that my brother’s gave me as a wedding present, assorted sets from my mother-in-law, some lovely Italian tureens and bowls that my husband gave me for Christmas, and fun pieces that I purchased just because I liked them. My daughter jokes that none of my grandchildren ever need to register for china or everyday dishes because I can supply the lot of them with a lovely set of dinnerware. 

Whenever I plan such an event I think of my grandmother Minnie who cooked for large groups of people at a moment’s notice and never appeared to give such an undertaking a second thought. She was in full command of her kitchen and because she was illiterate she never worked from a cookbook. She new how to quickly change proportions of ingredients to serve two or twenty, and everything came out exactly right. 

My mother was the same way. She loved it when people just dropped by the house and agreed to stay for dinner. She’d go into the kitchen and create miracles with whatever she had. In fact she seemed to revel in the challenge of making memorable meals out of seemingly nothing. She had an almost magical touch when it came to food, and it was only when she grew older that she seemed to struggle to create a feast. 

I have missed my dinner parties. Only two of my grandchildren have come to eat at my home since the pandemic roared its ugly head in the winter of 2020. Otherwise it is only my husband and I who eat together. We try to make dinner time fun and interesting, but more often than not we use paper plates rather than dirtying dishes. We eat on trays while watching some show or movie or instructional video. I find myself longing for those large groups of people laughing around my table and gobbling down my food, but most people that I know are reluctant to break bread together with people outside of their own households. They politely decline invitations, suggesting that we wait until the virus is better controlled, whenever that may be.

I don’t worry about losing any of my freedoms by getting vaccinated or wearing a mask  or even getting tested or being quarantined so that I can have those social contacts again. For a brief time in May and June and July it seemed as though my normal ways of enjoying life had returned. The surge of the delta variant changed all of that and now I wonder how much longer it will be before the people that I know and love will once more feel comfortable attending one of my parties. 

I am ever hopeful that we will learn how to live with Covid 19 and that one day my home will once again be filled with the excited chatter and laughter of people congregating around my table. I won’t fret over all the fancy fanfare if they come. I’d be perfectly willing to toss together some grilled cheese and tomato soup served on my everyday dishes just to get them here again. I won’t require lists or weeks of preparation. I just need to have them in my home again. My dream dinner party no longer revolves around anything but people and I look forward to the time when they come again.