Alone and Lost

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Humankind’s ingenuity is so incredible that getting lost is almost as much a thing of the past as the buggy whip. It’s been at least twenty years since I found myself driving around in a state of frenzy because I had no idea where I was or how to get back on track. Those were the days of big paper maps that folded into glove compartment sized rectangles that waited patiently for use. Back then we always had one for the city, one for the state and one for the entire country. Using them required stopping the car if I was alone, finding the flashlight and hoping that it was fully charged if it was dark, and praying that I would be able to figure out where I was as a starting point for creating my route. It could be a frightening experience especially before cell phones were as common a possession as a bar of soap.

The last time that I was truly lost was back in the late nineteen nineties. I had attended an evening event on the near north side of Houston, an area that was quite unfamiliar to me. I was a Magnet School Coordinator back then an I had set up an information booth at a fair designed to introduce parents to the various programs in the schools around the city of Houston. The math/science offering at my campus was rather popular and so I had been quite busy answering questions from eager parents. I had not really noticed that most of the other coordinators had packed away their tri-boards and pamphlets and headed to their cars. By the time the last parent had left I realized that I was all alone inside the school and I felt a sudden sense of foreboding.

I gathered my things as quickly as possible and rushed to the dark parking lot where my vehicle sat in the shadows. I felt quite uneasy about being all by myself in a place known for a somewhat high crime rate. I ran across the parking lot in a kind of frenzy, looking over my shoulder and dropping some of my things in my hurry. Once I was inside my automobile I locked the doors and finally felt a modicum of safety. I was only mildly comforted by the fact that I thought I knew exactly how to get back home and I found courage in that fact that I had my flip phone in case of an emergency.

It took me no time to realize that I had somehow become turned around and I soon realized that I was wandering aimlessly around the dark neighborhood. When I drove past the same group of men drinking and arguing in their front yard I knew that I was going in circles an that I was lost. I tried to get a view of the Houston skyline because I reasoned that if I followed the lights of the buildings as though they were stars I would ultimately reach a point that I recognized and be on my way back home. Sadly a fog had added to the mystery of the night and shrouded the sky in a miasmic goo.

I was becoming more and more frantic as I saw one unfamiliar street name after another. I felt as though I was replaying the journey of Apocalypse Now in real time. I finally thought to reach for my phone and call my husband, Mike, who had grown up on the north side of Houston. I was near tears when the phone rang again and again making me worry that he had already gone to bed and was sound asleep. After all it was nearing eleven.

Just when I was on the verge of total panic I heard Mike’s voice on the line. I explained my situation and he calmly told me to find a street sign and tell him exactly where I was by looking at the name and number of the first marker I found. He was stunned when I finally gave him the information he needed and wondered aloud how I had gone so astray, but luckily he knew exactly where I was. From that point forward he guided me block by block until I was finally on the interstate highway that I knew quite well.   

I did not know then that one day I would own a smart phone with a personal guide named Siri who would direct me seamlessly even in cities and towns where I had never before been. I did not even dream that my future car would be fitted with a GPS system that would keep me heading in the right direction no matter where I went. Such wonders were still in the future and getting lost was still a frightening experience, especially on a foggy night in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

We have so many wondrous inventions these days that we tend to take them for granted. There are generations who have never had an experience like I did on that night. It is unfathomable to them that one would be lost and without resources for finding the way back home. Reading of Hanzel and Gretel leaving crumbs in the forest as a guide back to civilization is a quaint idea for them, and yet I am from a generation when being lost was a real and scary possibility. If not for my good fortune of having a phone in my car back then I don’t know what might have become of me because all of the places of business where I hoped to get directions were closed for the night. Hopefully I would have eventually encountered a clue that might have led me to my destination or a source of help but I would have no doubt been overtaken by anxiety before that happened.

We like to complain a great deal about how horrific the world has become but I know that our new fears have been counterbalanced by the elimination of old ones. The days of feeling helplessly alone and lost are not as likely as they once were. For that I am deeply grateful.

Another Year Has Passed

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2019 was a fairly typical year in that it had both its ups and its downs. We lost some wonderful family members and friends who will be missed for some time to come and yet we celebrate the impact they had on our lives. I suppose that with the passage of time we will eventually consider only the joy that they brought us rather than the pain of their deaths.

Mike and I took a trip of a lifetime with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We saw the sights of London, York, Bath, Cambridge and the Cotswolds. We laughed our way across the English landscape and grew closer to one another than ever. I realized on our journey that I indeed have the sisters that I always dreamed of having. We shared good times that we will never forget and hopefully we will reunite for more travel in the future.

Mike and I enjoyed two semesters of classes at Rice University from our favorite professor, Dr. Newell Boyd. We learned all the dish about the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, reinforcing the idea that history repeats itself again and again. We humans are a quirky bunch indeed. We are on a waitlist for a trip with him to Scotland this June and I have my fingers crossed that we will get an opportunity to actually go.

We were able to watch our grandson, Eli, compete in the Track and Field Junior Olympics in Sacramento over the summer and steal away for some sightseeing in Napa Valley, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. It was an unexpected journey that was great fun.

Speaking of grandchildren, ours continue with their educations and dreams for the future. We are immensely proud of the people they have become. They are thoughtful and concerned about the world’s problems. They give us great hope for the future,

We celebrated the ninetieth birthdays of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. We should all be as healthy and active as they are. They continue to inspire us and with their optimism and wisdom. They never seem to slow down. They have truly found the secret to a good life,.

A dear cousin celebrated her eightieth birthday as well. She seriously doesn’t look a day over fifty. Somehow the beauty of her soul shines forth in her gorgeous countenance. Her special occasion gave us an excuse to have fun with our cousins and to make plans for more meetings in the coming year.

We ended  2019 with a mega party for one of our nieces that was the event to top all events. The theme was Camelot and to say it was a stunning occasion is an understatement. We enjoyed three days of eating and talking and laughing and recognizing how wonderful family truly is.

I had tea time each week with another niece that became a special highlight of the year. We used my various teapots and flavors of tea along with special cookies that a former student brought me as a gift. I enjoyed those weekly gatherings in which I learned just how much my niece and I are kindred spirits.

Some of our friends and relatives had a very difficult year dealing with major illnesses and losses. It was hard to watch them suffering and feel so helpless to do anything that might change their situations. All we have been able to do is pray for them and let them know the we care,

We had many fun times with friends and neighbors throughout the year. Mardi Gras, time at the beach, fun in the backyard, lunches and dinners spiced up the routine or our lives. Those were great moments when I realized how truly blessed we have always been.

We checked a few more things off of our bucket list like seeing the Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler,  a Game of Thrones concert, and Willie Nelson. Now we look forward to watching Elton John this  summer. We also saw our Astros make it into the World Series and up until the last minutes of the final game we thought that perhaps we might win that match one more time. Maybe we will have an even better baseball year in 2020.

We have learned to roll with whatever each year brings and snatch as much happiness as we can. Life roll on with abandon beginning every January 1. Here’s to the coming year. May it bring you many blessings and few sorrows.



Our Crazy Christmas Eve

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It’s Christmas Eve and I feel as giddy as a child because this evening my big extended family will gather together at my niece’s home to celebrate together. It’s quite a shindig with people traveling from the north, the east and the west to be together as one great big crazy family. It may quite possibly be my most favorite evening of the entire year.

Time was when we gathered at my Grandma Ulrich’s house with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I still can’t believe that all of us fit into her tiny home but we somehow managed to cram inside where the noise and laughter was so loud that it must have been heard in downtown Houston. We feasted on apples and oranges and mixed nuts and old fashioned hard candy while my grandmother reveled in having her whole family around her. I always thought it was the most magical place on earth.

Eventually my grandmother died and one of my bachelor uncles did his best to keep the tradition alive but it was never quite the same and when he too left this earth nobody had the will to host such a party each year. That’s when my brother stepped up to have a celebration at his house for our branch of the clan. On the first occasion he made Rueben sandwiches for everyone and a new way of partying was born. Eventually his daughter took over the reigns as the family grew and grew.

It has long been said that only the bravest of souls dare to attend one of our Christmas Eve parties. It’s a way to determine whether or not prospective brides or grooms will be able to adjust to our wild group. Only the strong survive the noise and the chaos that we think of as great fun. It can be an unnerving experience but once someone proves to have what it takes, they tend to embrace the fun and long to be part of it each year.

We are a very open and loving group. We like anyone and it shows in the diversity of ethnicities, political persuasions, religious convictions, and personalities of the people that we embrace unconditionally. Nobody has to be a certain way for us to love them, but they will have to have a bit of patience with the roar of conversations and laughter.

Our gift exchange can get rather competitive and certain members of the family are particularly good at knowing how to walk away with the best possible gifts. They possess strategies that win year after year while the rest of us resolve to figure them out in the next round of the game. We take our rules for the sport quite seriously and each year there is someone who wants to change them at the eleventh hour. So far we have prevented such a travesty.

I spend an entire year searching for something that will garner the fancy of the crowd. Some years I have done well. Others I have sensed the disappointment of someone who chooses the Echo Dot that I brought and doesn’t know how to use it. Everyone likes gift cards but there doesn’t seem to be much thought or fun in that so I strive for the unique.

Sometimes I just sit quietly on the couch observing all of the fun. I’ve watched my children and nieces and nephews grow from children to adults with families of their own. We always seem to have a new crop of children to delight us with their Christmas time innocence Our own heads are greying or balding and our skin shows wrinkles of age but somehow we don’t feel old at all on Christmas Eve. We become like kids again.

I keep reading that the family unit is being threatened and that time with extended family is becoming less and less common. I truly hate to hear that because it has been the crazy crew of relatives who have sustained me through all of the uncertainties of my life. On that first Christmas after my father died it was at my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve that I knew I was going to be alright. I felt the outpouring of love all around me and understood that I was part of a group that would never let me and my brothers down. Somehow they never did.

Now my brothers and I are hopefully sending the same message to our children and grandchildren. They are part of a loving group that will always be ready to embrace them. There is no more important knowledge to give our young.

I suppose that I have been very lucky to have a yearly reminder of my good fortune. Not everyone has experienced the joy of being loved by so many. I hope with all of my heart that our tradition continues through the coming years. It is a living example of what the Christmas spirit should be.

Each New Day

new day

I have reveled in my retirement from work, but I still have the urge and the energy to keep myself busy. I try to stay active because I’ve witnessed the times when people that I know became unable to get around like they once did. Admittedly I find it difficult to stay still due to a personality that is always pushing me to continue making a difference in the world. I still operate from a general routine which I swore I would never do once I dropped out of the daily rat race. Some habits are difficult to eliminate.

Nonetheless I enjoy my mornings the most. I used to hate the sound of the alarm clock announcing that I had to get a move on lest I be late for work. Now it is my internal clock and my bladder that push me out of bed in the early morning hours. If I try to catch a few more Zs I end up with a headache and dreams so goofy that they are disturbing, so I just rise and enjoy the quiet when the silence is only broken by the sounds of the birds and people beginning their daily treks. I brew some tea and sit in my front room reading about what happened while I slumbered.

I write five days each week as a kind of meditation. I challenge myself to put the random thoughts that run through my head on paper in a cohesive and meaningful form. It’s an exercise that I so enjoy and one for which I rarely had time in my teaching days. Back then I had to be out of the house by six thirty and then I would spend as much as an hour or more commuting to the campus where I worked. My mind was never ready for such a hurried and raucous start to the day and so I despised every aspect of the early hours. Being forced out of my home without time to sit quietly was horrific. Now I luxuriate in the moments that I have with my thoughts.

I’ve never been able to completely get away from working with young people. I still tutor seven students from nearby and I glory in being able to do so. They delight me with their optimism and honesty. I gain as much from them as they get from me. I find children to be a delightful diversion from the seriousness of the world. They keep me hopeful and challenge my brain to continue working. I look forward to my weekly visits with them and fill in my academic longings with tutoring sessions with my grandchildren.

As I have become older I have found more and more solace in attending church each Sunday. I look forward to my weekly pilgrimage when my heart and soul are filled with a sense of calm simply from being in the house of the Lord along with other people who have become so special to me. I never fail to leave feeling refreshed and somehow a bit more at peace.

I don’t need much to be happy these days. I have begun to take great delight in the most ordinary aspects of life. I now have the time to be more available for the people that I love. I enjoy a wave from a neighbor, a cute photo of someone’s child, a joke that makes me laugh from my belly. I get to read more and watch ridiculous television programs without feeling guilty. I do silly things like dressing up in costume for a party or festival. I don’t want excitement anymore. Serenity is the companion that I cultivate.

I have become more in tune with myself and with the people that I know. I enjoy celebrating their victories, milestones, and happiness. At the same time I don’t shy away from helping them through challenges and losses. I’ve finally learned how to really listen and hear the individuals who mean so much to me. I now have all the time that they may need. It feels wonderful to be able to embrace friendships without the obligations of work pulling me away.

I explore new ideas and challenge myself to remain open minded even when people’s beliefs differ greatly from my own. I have become a defender of the individual right to think about the world from differing points of view. I have lowered my blood pressure considerably by understanding that I don’t need to argue or judge or turn my back on someone just because he/she disagrees with me on matters of politics or religion. To each his own has become the gold standard of my reaction to such things.

My life is quiet, routine, relaxed. I know who I am and I really like myself. I have a group of wonderful friends, a loving spouse and an incredible family. None of us are without our flaws but I love all of us just the same. What more might I want? I go with whatever flux and flow enters my life and find ways to stay content. I look forward to each new day and the possibilities that it brings.

The Voice of the Wind

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The wind speaks to me. It’s voice is often amplified by the chimes in my garden or interpreted by the branches in my trees. I love it’s comforting sound unless it furiously warns me of an impending tornado or hurricane. Then I scurry for cover until the anger passes. Most of the time the wind is gentle or playful reminding me of the many mysteries of nature around me. I share the wind with the birds and other critters who reside in my yard and the forests that I visit on camping trips. It is more relaxing to listen to the wind than streaming a grand work of classical music. The wind is more beautiful than anything that we humans are capable of producing.

The wind tells me that I am but a tiny speck in the vastness of the universe. It plays with my ego by tousling my hair whichever way it pleases. It laughs at my preoccupation with things and worries suggesting that I remember that it has been present at the coronation of kings, the death of great nations, the birth of a tiny child in Bethlehem. It outmatches all of my attempts to extend my life and it does so with beauty and grace. The wind need not boast as I do. It simply is a powerful and influential force on this earth.

I love when the wind caresses my face and whispers comfort to me. It tells me to focus on what is important and shun the fears that sometimes overtake me. Instead like Elsa in Frozen it shows me how to let my anxieties go so that I might be as free as it is. The wind is a truly wonderful counselor that enters my mind and calms the forces that endeavor to distract me from the true beauty of my existence.

Sometimes the wind warns me to stay inside where things are safe and secure. It clangs my wind chimes relentlessly making sounds that remind me of the march of history and the humble role of human attempts to tame and sometimes even destroy the very climate in which both me and the wind live. It sounds angry that my kind has been so cavalier in our ways and our refusal to hear its strident predictions of what may happen if we choose not to consider the symbiotic role of mankind and nature, It rips across my city and leaves my roof in tatters or takes down trees in my yard. It tells me that it will return more and more often to plead with me to be kinder and more frugal in the ways that I use the earth’s resources.

The wind is a voice that tells my soul that there is a higher power, a God who has created a great gift of life that I must always treasure. I cannot take it for granted whether I am holding the dirt of the earth in my hands or interacting with another person. All is sacred and to be cared for. I must not waste my life in the ugliness of envy or anger. I must always be aware of the presence of all that is around me. I was meant to be a caretaker of both people and the earth and that role is not to be taken lightly. I must protect whatever or whomever is being attacked. I must use my time and my talents to bring hope and joy to the world, not hate and destruction.

The wind tells me that it has known all of the people who came before me. It watched as they celebrated life and endured hardships down through the ages. It tells me that I was loved and wished for even before I came to this world. It assures me that it will continue far into the future as long as I teach my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to listen for its voice. I hear it best in the silence when I still the other sounds that abound around me. It has spoken to me at the boulder field on Long’s Peak. I have heard it under the ancient and gigantic trees of Yosemite. It has rattled my little trailer rocking me to sleep next to rivers and lakes. Like a loving mother it seems to always be near just in case I need reassurance that life will go on in spite of the mistakes that I make.

Yes, the wind has a voice and I have learned how to interpret it’s messages. It has been my companion through life, traveling through the changing seasons. I grow older with each passing year and more and more attuned to the importance of being at one with all of my fellow travelers including the wind which has the gift of tongues if only we are willing to listen. In the wind if I am very still I often hear the voice of God and sense the presence of angels guiding me even when I feel very lost. Ours is a lovely relationship, the wind and I.

Pause from whatever you may be doing. Turn off the babbling that so distracts you. Sit for a time and listen. The wind will speak to you and fill your heart with peace and purpose. You will realize your place in the universe and you will know how to proceed.