Sunflower, Ray of Sunshine

450px_Sunflower_2007The sunflower is my flower. I love many flowers of course, but sunflowers and I have a special connection. Bright and cheery and energetic, they and I share several personality traits. Flowers don’t have a personality in the literal sense of course – and yet, somehow, they kinda do. Seems to me that sunflowers, if they could talk, would say things like “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Good morning, sun! Good morning, birds! Happy day!” Don’t you think so? Standing tall, drinking in the sunshine, cheering all who see them – if I were a flower, I’d be a sunflower.

I remember the first time I saw sunflowers up close. My best friend’s mother planted a few rows of them in her vegetable garden. I was only about 3½ feet tall and they seemed huge. We’d play in and around them; had a grand old time. It was especially fun to play tag amongst the tall green stems. I tried to play “Jack and the beanstalk” once – the poor sunflower didn’t survive. I was in pretty hot water for that particular escapade. It was still a lot of fun.

Now I have sunflower wallpaper on my laptop. Lots of sunflower wallpapers. Each one always makes me smile. They’re so happy, that I can’t help being happy too. It’s hard to frown when a sunflower is smiling at you. Sunflowers not only look like a small sun, they also turn to face the sun (which is called heliotropism). Perhaps they are attracted to sunlight because of their own cheery disposition. Or perhaps it’s the sunshine that makes them so cheerful. Either way, sunflowers are both beautiful and happy; and they make people happy too. People have all kinds of goals and dreams, and so do I, but what I want more than anything is to be like the sunflower. To be a ray of sunshine wherever I go.

Library Lil and Bookworm Bill

Library LilI bet you think all librarians are mousy little old ladies. Hair rolled up in a bun. Beady eyes peering out at you over the tops of those funny half-glasses. An index finger permanently attached to lips mouthing “Shhh.” Bet you never heard about Library Lil.

Of course, before she was a librarian, Lil was an ordinary little girl. Who always had a book in her hand. From the bathtub to the soccer field, wherever you found Lil, you were bound to find a book. By the time she was 8, she’d read every children’s book at the local library. So she started on encyclopedias. She’d check out a whole set at once. That’s how she got to be so strong – she’d walk down the street with Volume A in one hand and B through Z in the other.

So no one was surprised when she grew up and became a librarian in a nearby town. There was just one itty-bitty problem: the people of Chesterville weren’t readers. They were TV addicts. Now Lil hated TV. In her mind, it was “right up there with poison ivy and mosquitoes.” She got her chance to make a change when a storm knocked the power out for 2 weeks. By the time they had electricity back on, the townsfolk had been completely won over from TV to books. This suits Lil and everyone else just fine – until Bust-‘em-up Bill and his motorcycle gang ride into town.

In the ordinary course of things, Bill and Lil would never have met. But as it happens, Bill is fond of watching pro wrestling on Tuesday nights. And when he finds out that Lil is the reason he can’t find a TV to watch his favorite program – well, let’s just say that sparks are about to fly. A showdown between a librarian and a motorcycle gang – it would seem that the outcome is easy to predict. But to do so is to underestimate our plucky heroine. Bill and his boys have finally met their match – and maybe Library Lil has too.

Chestry Oak, Symbol of Hope

Chestry OakThe Chestry Oak is, in my opinion, the best piece of children’s literature – ever. Written and illustrated by Kate Seredy in 1948, this book has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – not so. This book uses words to create a masterpiece of ageless truths and ideals. Honor, courage, pride, the strength and resilience of the human spirit, boundless love, and, above all, unbreakable hope. Very few books are either beautiful or powerful enough to leap off the page, grab a reader by the collar, and hold him spellbound to the last line. The Chestry Oak is such a book. At once soul-stirringly powerful and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, this is fiction at its finest. Great literature changes us on the inside, changes us for the better. We need more boys, girls, men, and women like the little Hungarian prince.

The place: Chestry Valley, Hungary. The time: World War II. The principal players: little Prince Michael, his Nana, and his father, who is also a prince. The Chestry princes go back hundreds of years to a knight who fought with Saint Stephen against the infidels. Sir Michael was tasked with guarding King Stephen as he slept beneath a great oak (the Chestry Oak, as it would come to be known). For his courage and honor in carrying out his task, the King crowned Sir Michael a prince and gave him the little kingdom of Chestry Valley. Some several hundred years later and the princes of Chestry are facing another horde of infidels: the Nazis. Six year old Michael, or Miska as he is affectionately called, does not understand the ins and outs of war, or why the Nazis are living in his father’s castle, or who the man with the funny mustache is. And yet, he understands more than most of the grownups, for he is wise beyond his years.

Raised under the loving care of a nurse, Mari Vitez or “Nana,” Miska has been taught to distinguish right from wrong, courage from cowardice, honor from disgrace, and to always choose the higher path. Young as he is, the seeds of manhood have already been planted deep in his soul and his tender character is already firmly established on the side of good. To him, the only possible explanation for the wicked things the bad men are doing is that they are sick with a dreadful fever and cannot see the world right. That’s actually a pretty accurate way of looking at it. Michael, with the simplicity of a child, shows us all that we make things more complicated than they need to be. He also shows us what it means to stand in the courage of one’s convictions.

This book is a masterpiece for three reasons: 1. Kate Seredy’s impeccable mastery of the English language; 2. a gripping plot; and 3. the coupling of untarnished innocence and profound wisdom in our hero. It is truly a great book; I strongly urge you to read it for yourself.

Knitting – Why I Love It

knitting

Knitting, after reading, is my all-time favorite hobby. I love the click of the needles and the feel of the yarn in my hands. There is something inherently calming in the simple activity of knitting. And there is something immensely gratifying in taking a ball of yarn and 2 sticks and making something beautiful and useful. Knitting soothes my soul in a way few other things do.

Not to say I’m an expert knitter – far from it. Though no longer a beginner, I don’t even look at knitting patterns that are past intermediate skill level. I recently started my first full-size afghan. It is also my first project that includes cable knitting. My prior experience has been limited to small projects such as headbands and baby blankets. My biggest challenge is finding time to knit. As much as I love it, it seems there is always something else to do. Then, too, it’s more of a cold-weather activity. Knitting is the last thing on my mind when I’ve been out working in the heat all day. Although I do not like the cold, it does put one in the mood to knit – and I do love that. Add a little music and maybe a cup of hot tea, and I’m practically in heaven.

One of the reasons I love knitting so much is that my grandma taught me how. I was maybe 8 or so when she put my first pair of needles in my hands. She even created a simple knitting pattern fograndma-knittingr me – which, of course, was super-special. I was knitting something that no one else had ever made. Pretty cool. I did not recognize at the time that there was something else super-special about this experience: she’s not really my grandmother. She’s my step-grandmother. She married my grandpa when I was about 3. Growing up, I had no idea she wasn’t my “real” grandma. I called her grandma, she loved me, and I loved her. What more did we need? Turns out, nothing. She is a remarkably open, generous, loving, beautiful person and she took us and loved us as if we had been her own flesh and blood. And she has, by her example, helped teach me what it means to love – to love knitting, to love life, to love people. And I will always love her for that.

Life, Loss, and Love

lifeSometimes it feels like life don’t fight fair. But when life knocks me down, I have to pick myself up and remember one thing: life’s not a fight, it’s a journey. And while there may be a few fights and struggles along the way, that’s not the point. The point is how we react and grow and develop. And that’s the hard part. It would be so much easier to shake my fist at Heaven and scream out “Why?!?!?!” Or to roll up in a ball in the corner and cry. But you know what? Life goes on, regardless of what I’m going through.

Not quite a week ago, my Mama went home to be with Jesus. We are all devastated of course. She was far too young to be taken from us so soon. I’m still a bit shell-shocked. I’m especially concerned for Daddy and for my baby sister. It’s really, really rough. Even though we knew it would come eventually and even though she had been sick for a while, her death has hit us all really hard. Continuing with the mundane things of everyday life is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. But it’s what she would want, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

I have no regrets for the past. I was blessed to have the world’s most wonderful mama. And I really did have a beautiful relationship with her, especially the past few years. I have many, many sweet memories to cherish. The only regrets I have are for the future. That I will never kiss her good night again. That she won’t attend my wedding or hold my children. That she won’t be there to give me parenting advice or say, “See, I told you that you would understand once you had kids of your own.” That I will never again be able to say, “Let’s go to Mama’s house.” I regret the many more years we should have had together. And yet, it’s not all sorrow. It is tempered with the peace of knowing that she’s in Heaven, but her spirit is also still here with us. And in a way, she will always be with me.

Abundantly Alive Soul

Some people say that I’m shallow, consumed by trivial things. Partly because I am one of the easiest people to shop for in the history of, like, ever. Ask me for gift ideas and I can give you a 5-page list – mostly of items that can be bought for $20 or less. Another reason would be the fact that I am a packrat. Things that have no value to anyone else are special to me. And then, too, I tend to chatter on mindlessly about anything and everything – but seldom about the deep stuff. I don’t open up easily. Very few people have ever bothered to look past my trivial exterior to see the soul beneath.

And yet, the pieces aren’t too hard to put together. I find pleasure in simple things because of my joyfully exuberant personality. I attach value to certain things because they belonged to someone I care about or because they are associated with a treasured memory. I ramble (almost incessantly) because it’s hard to talk about the things that I really care about. Triviality and a certain roughness in my demeanor serve as my armor, a protection against feeling too deeply. And when that doesn’t work, they do a fair job at playing levee and holding in a flood tide of emotions.

But this is not a healthy way to handle deep feelings. Enjoying trivial stuff is good, a natural extension of an abundantly alive soul. But building a wall between my emotions and the world around me – that’s not good. Deep emotions are a blessing, not something to be ashamed of. I admire people who wear their heart on their sleeve – that takes a special brand of courage. The more deeply we love, the more agonizing the pain when that love is betrayed or rejected. And yet, if we turn away from experiencing the good to avoid the bad, are we truly alive?

So this year, I am resolving to work on that. To strip away the tough façade I’ve built for myself and to learn what it means to be truly vulnerable. It’s a scary thought, you know? That others will see the real me, the girl behind the mask. This will no doubt be a process, however. It would be absurd to think that I could drop the mask overnight, but I’m sure enough going to try. Maybe you’d like to join me and be your real self? Be abundantly alive?

alive

New Woman, New Dreams

Last week, I wrote about my dreams being put on hold. I learned something about myself through writing that article. Those old dreams have been on the shelf collecting dust for so long, I had almost forgotten what they were and how much they once meant to me. For me, it has always been easier to push hard or painful things so far back in the closet of my mind that I can almost forget about them. In order to write about those old dreams, I had to pull them down, clean the dust and cobwebs away, and take a good hard look. They and I had to become reacquainted, as it were. And in that process, I realized something.

The girl that put those dreams on the shelf so many years ago is gone. She has vanished, leaving only her memories to remind me of her. I stand here today as a totally different person. I’d like to think a better person than I was then, but certainly a completely changed person. Putting myself back in her shoes and seeing the world through her eyes was not an easy thing to do. For a brief span of time, all her deepest fears and insecurities and longings and dreams became mine again. And I realized that I am glad that I am no longer that girl.

I also realized that as I have changed, so too have my dreams. They have grown and matured right along with me. This period of waiting has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only has it made me a better woman, it has also given me better and more beautiful dreams. So I will not be putting all those old dreams back on the shelf – they are dead and need to be buried. It is time for new dreams, new plans, new purpose. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds.new dreams