That’s the Way the Ball Bounces

(A collaborative effort of Ryan Dex and Aunt Mary Sue.)

“Dylan, come in, please.  I need you to do something for me,” his mom said through the screen on the sliding glass door to the backyard. 

Dylan was practicing his soccer moves for the next day.  It would be the last game in the regular season.  Dylan played center-midfield in his summer league, and the team was counting on him to help secure a spot in the playoffs.

“Dylan, I need you to watch your sister Abby and her friends Cami and Mia for a couple of hours.  I have a Zoom conference call for work this morning.  Why don’t you take them to the park?” 

“Why can’t Zoey do it?  They like her better than me, and besides, what do I know about girls?”

“You have two sisters, one older and one younger.  You know more than you think.  Besides, Zoey has to work at the animal shelter today.”

“Why can’t the girls stay home and play in the yard?  You can keep an eye on them from the office window?”

“You’re fourteen, and I need you to help out now and then.  You can practice your soccer moves and watch the girls at the same time.  Remember, they are only seven. Keep your eye on them and make sure they stay together.  I will pick you up after my call, no later than noon.”

“Can I take Buck with me?”

“You’ll have your hands full, watching three girls.  Buck would have to stay on his leash, and that would drive him crazy.  Besides, I could use the company while everyone is gone.  Buck stays with me.”

Dylan rolled his eyes, tucked his soccer ball under his arm, and grabbed his cell phone.  “Let’s go, girls.”

Abby, Cami, and Mia followed Dylan the five blocks to the park, giggling and whispering all the way.  Cami and Mia had a crush on Dylan.  He had grown taller over the summer and was tanned from fishing and swimming in the lake behind his house.

“He’s so cute,” Mia said to Cami. 

“Mm Mm,” was all Cami could say. 

“Get real!” Abby said out of the side of her mouth.

I look like a mother duck and her ducklings. Maybe I can pretend they aren’t with me, Dylan thought, trying to ignore the girls. 

Once they reached the park, the girls went straight to the swings.  Each girl tried to swing higher than the other two. 

Mia leaned back.  “Look at that cloud.  What do you see?  I see a poodle.”

Abby and Cami agreed, heads back, their feet pointed toward the sky.

Dylan sat in the shade under a tree and played Among Us on his phone.  He looked up now and then to make sure the girls were still in sight.  He thought about Buck.  Buck would love it here.  Maybe I can bring him next time.

The girls moved to the climbing wall and jungle gym area.  Dylan put his phone in his pocket and followed them.  This is a disaster waiting to happen, he thought. 

Dylan started practicing tricks with his soccer ball splitting his attention, making sure he knew where all three girls were at all times.  He was super close to learning how to do the V-pull. 

Dylan’s phone beeped.  One of his friends sent him a text.  We need U at practice.  Why are U at the kiddie park???

Exactly, Dylan thought, then he heard his mom’s voice in his head.

“You are the big brother.  I am trusting you to keep an eye on the girls.  It’s a big responsibility. I’m counting on you.” 

Maybe I can do both?

Dylan looked around to see if he recognized a mom or an adult to watch the girls while he joined his team.  Not finding anyone, he wondered if he could convince the girls to watch the soccer game so he could keep an eye on all three and practice.

It took a little convincing and some whining from the girls, but Dylan talked them into watching one 20-minute period then back to the playground.

Fifteen minutes into the period, Dylan noticed one of the girls missing from the sidelines.  He signaled his coach to replace him and asked Abby where Mia went. 

“She got bored.  I think she wanted to go back to the climbing wall.”

Dylan’s heart dropped as all of the bad things that could happen ran through his head. He grabbed Abby and Cami by the hand and ran across the park to the playground.

“Slow down.  We can’t run that fast,” Abby shouted.

As the climbing wall came into view, Dylan slowed down.  He saw Mia sitting at the bottom of the wall rubbing her knee.  Dylan was relieved to see Mia but worried about what happened to her.

Out of breath, he yelled, “Stay right there, Mia.”

Mad at himself for not following his Mom’s instructions, Dylan tried not to yell at Mia for running off on her own.  He knew it would be his fault if anything happened to the girls. 

Some big brother I am.

Mia looked up at Dylan, “It’s just a little scrape from one of the rocks on the wall.”

“It’s almost noon.  Try something a little tamer till mom picks us up.”

The girls went back to the swings.

Dylan’s phone beeped again, “On my way, see U soon.”

“Mom is on the way.  Who’s ready for lunch?”

When Dylan’s mom arrived, she noticed his team practicing on the soccer field.

“Do you want to join your friends for the end of practice?”

Dylan slipped into the front seat of the SUV, “No, I’m good.”

After lunch, Dylan put his soccer net up in the back yard. “Are you girls interested in playing three-on-one?”

Dad’s Cane

Have you ever given something away then experienced feelings of deep regret?  When that happened to me recently, I was reminded of a quote often attributed to Mother Teresa.

A couple of weeks ago, when I returned home from my morning walk, my neighbor John and I engaged in a conversation about walking outdoors.  John is in his nineties and is concerned about his balance and falling.  His four-pronged cane, while stable, gets in the way while walking.  Think about it.  Most people using a four-pronged cane are moving at a crawl.  When walking for exercise, a one-legged cane is more appropriate.

I offered to let John use a cane that I have been hanging onto since the 1990s.  It’s been tucked away in a closet collecting dust.  Why not give it a new life and lend it to someone who needs it?

I remember buying the cane in New York City while on a consulting job.  My father was recovering from a knee replacement.  He wouldn’t use the cane given to him at the hospital.  I thought he might use a stylish cane that didn’t shout, “Old person walking here.”

I found a fancy haberdashery in mid-town New York.  The store interior was lined with hats, humidors, blotters, pen sets, brief-cases, canes, and items that you would find in executive suites.  The cane I chose is made of fine wood with a silver handle.  It is not your average rehabilitation cane.  It says, “Man of sophistication walking here.”

Dad’s Cane

Satisfied with my choice, I returned home with a gift I hoped would keep my dad a little safer.  The cane was way too long for him; my dad was not a tall man.  No worries.  My brother was visiting and was able to cut a few inches off the bottom.  It was just the right size.

I doubt my dad ever used the cane.  Eventually, my mother used it after her knee replacement surgery.  My dad’s sister used it when she needed it.  Then it came back to me.  I’ve moved it several times to my various homes.  Every time I see it, I remember the story and think of my dad.

Now I was offering Dad’s cane to John.  John is several inches taller than my dad.  I knew right away that the cane would be too short for him.  But he looked at it and said,

“My son-in-law can fix anything.  I’m sure he can find a way to make the cane longer.  Can I pay you for it?”

At that point, my heart was in my throat.  It suddenly dawned on me; I was giving away more than a cane.  The cane evoked an emotional reaction I associated with my dad.

“No, you can’t pay me for it, but if you decide not to use it, I would like it back.”

The rest of the day, I was sorrowful about giving up the cane.  I felt I had lost something of value.  By the end of the day, I remembered that the cane is just a thing.  It was serving the purpose it was made for, keeping someone safe.  I remembered the generous and giving spirit of my dad.  I remembered that I could not give away my memories; memories are mine to keep.

I’m no Mother Teresa, not even close.  I try to live a life of service. I write checks to various charities.  I volunteer my time.  I didn’t fully understand what it meant to give until it hurt until I offered a stick of wood to someone I barely knew.

After a day of mourning, I didn’t think much about it.  A week later, John was at my door returning the cane.  He and his son-in-law realized that altering the cane wasn’t the best solution.  John did find he liked the style of the handle. It made the cane more stable than round-handle canes.  John shopped online, found a cane with the style handle he wanted, and ordered one suitable for his height. 

Once again, Dad’s cane did the job it was meant to do.  It taught me the meaning of true love, give until it hurts.

Table for Two – Chapter 12

T-Squared Energy Connections

Endings and Beginnings

Stuart and Sara – May 1975

“Stuart, I think we should have a bar-b-que at the farm Memorial Day weekend?  All our friends want to see us while we’re home.  We can catch up with a lot of people in a short amount of time. What do you think?”

“We don’t have a lot of time to pull that off, Sara.”

“We’re right here at Table for Two.  I’ll talk to Carol about catering side dishes and desserts.  When I spoke to Tom last week, he mentioned he has a hog ready for roasting and is looking for an opportunity to fire up the pit.  Gram and Gramps are always up for a party.  If the weather is bad, we can move to the barn.”

“Tell me about this dream job at the University of Michigan, Stuart.”

“I am joining the Department of Human Genetics to study the effect of environmental pollutants on human genetics. My initial assignment is to study the effects of atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. The university negotiated with the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration to become a U.S. laboratory.  I’m excited to get started.  I will miss Hartsburg and the weather here.  What’s happening with you, Sara?”

“I told you I was promoted to assistant director of the Equestrian Assisted Therapy Center at Gull Lake. I will still be in Michigan.  When I go back, I will move into the carriage house.  The Center converted it into apartments for management staff.  I love the commute; out the front door, turn right, and hop on the golf cart.  Did I tell you staff is furnished with golf carts to get around the property?  I won’t be spending as much time with clients, which makes me sad. I will be learning a lot more about running the business.”

“I think Sunday is the best day for the bar-b-que.  What do you think, Stuart?”

“Sounds great.  After you clear it with your grandparents, I’ll talk to Tom.  Do we need a headcount for Carol?”

“I will talk to her.  We can make our best guess based on the usual crowd.  I’m sure Carol will let us put a notice on the counter inside to let people know about it.  I’ll talk to my family and call Irma.  She is the best word-of-mouth advertiser in town.  You tell your friends and family, and that should cover everyone.”

Dean and Tom – June 1975

Dean drove out to Tom’s farm.  The winding dirt road always had a calming effect on Dean.  Trees lining the path formed a canopy of shade and provided a crayon box of greens too numerous to count.  Dean stopped his truck when the barn came into view.  He took in the vista and a deep breath.  The air smelled cleaner, at least until the farm smells wafted in. 

Tom waved from the barnyard as Dean drove up and parked next to Tom’s truck.

“Welcome back.  How’s that AG degree coming?” Tom shook Dean’s hand.

“It’s coming along.  I wish I could speed it up.  Studying agriculture in the classroom isn’t as satisfying as putting in a good day’s work.  How is the arm working out?”

“I’m getting used to it.  I still have to think about how to do things.  I am grateful to have this prosthetic.  Your dad and I are working on designs for different uses.  What looks good isn’t always efficient, especially for farm work.”

“Are you going to see Carol while in town, Dean?  At the bar-b-que over Memorial Day weekend, It looked like you two are getting serious.”

“I thought I might take her to see Jaws.  I’ve heard it is quite a thriller.  We’ll see if she is still talking to me after that.”

“I still can’t get over Daniel’s horse Secretariat winning the Triple Crown.  It saved the Tweedy farm.  I wonder what Daniel will do with his share of the winnings.”

“Rumor has it, he plans to invest in something locally.  I’m sure he’ll tell us when he is ready.  What is on our task list today, Tom.”

“There are fences to be mended in the north pasture.  That’s a good place to start.”

Dean and Tom worked side-by-side to repair the fenceline.  They had a rhythm when working together that didn’t demand verbal communication;  each man knew his role. The stillness and silence enabled the two to get lost in their own thoughts.

On the ride back to the barn, Dean asked Tom, “Now that the Vietnam War is over, I wonder how the guys coming home are adapting?  Hartsburg has been a great place to re-enter society.  I can’t say the same about elsewhere.  The protests are over, but people are not kind if they know you served in the military.  I can’t wait to finish classes and graduate.  That’s why I’m taking summer courses.  The sooner I can join you, the happier I will be.”

“I’m looking forward to that day too.  Next on our list is cleaning the water troughs.”

Gladys and Jerry -October 1975

“Jerry, will you stop at the store for diapers and formula on the way home?  I can’t believe how much of this stuff we go through with two babies.”

Gladys hung up the phone and picked up Cara. “What are you fussing about, little one?  You’re clean and fed.  Maybe some tummy time is what you need.”

Gladys lay Cara on the quilt Aunt Irma made.  The design featured a map of the world.  A big star marked Cara’s hometown in Vietnam; another marked her new home, Hartsburg. Cara arrived from Vietnam as part of Operation Babylift.  Toward the end of the Vietnam War, children thought to be orphans were air-lifted to countries around the world.  Cara and Alysa, the first daughter Gladys and Jerry adopted, were born one month apart. 

Jerry arrived home with diapers and formula in hand.  “Have you given any more thought on how to celebrate the girls’ birthdays.”

“As much as I want to raise them as twins, I think they deserve their own birthday parties.  However, since they will never remember their first birthday, we may be able to get by with one celebration this year.  What do you think?”

“I agree.  This house is a bit small for a party.  I’ll stop by Tale for Two tomorrow to see what dates are available.”

“Cara means precious jewel in Vietnamese, and Alysa is Greek for princess.  I’ll get Aunt Irma working on a theme that includes both.  Let’s keep the guest list small.”

“That might be tough, Gladys.  The people of Hartsburg feel they have adopted the girls, and we are the caretakers.  Good luck with keeping it small.”

“Maybe the townspeople would like to plan and pay for the party.  That could be their gift to the girls.  We have enough toys and clothes to open a store.”

Jerry met with Carol to book Table for Two for the birthday party.  Carol offered to work with Irma to plan the celebration.  On Saturday, November first, the town of Hartsburg gathered to celebrate with two of its youngest citizens:  Cara and Alysa Taylor.

T-Squared – In astrological charts, the t-square configuration is a dynamic pattern that links and inter-locks energies. It can be seen in the major events, challenges, and themes that are encountered in life.

The Survey Says

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The idea is to write every day and reach a word-count goal. By the end of the month, the writer has the first draft of a novel. I don’t believe a novel is the best genre form me. I don’t use or need enough descriptive words to add the details a novel provides the reader.  However, I would like to use the structure of NaNoWriMo as the motivation to write something.

I am looking for a project for NaNoWriMo, November 2020.  I have narrowed it down to four possibilities.  I would like to hear from the people who actually read my posts.  

Loose Change

Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters collect at the bottom of a purse, in the cup holder in the car, in a pants pocket, or in a jar on the dresser.  Loose change doesn’t mean much until we need it.  There’s the penny used to avoid breaking a twenty or the coin collection that pays for a vacation.  Loose change collects and eventually turns into something meaningful. 

COVID-19 has required all of us to make changes.  We may be working from home for the first time, learning how to Zoom for meetings, deciding between various school formats, trying out new exercise routines, missing celebrations of milestones, changing vaction plans, craving human contact, and finding new ways to entertain ourselves.  

Change can be hard, especially if it is forced on us.  I personally thrive on change and will create a new path just because I can.  Even for me, with no end in sight for this pandemic, I am ready for change.

If we could go back to the way things used to be, would we?  For me, the answer is, “Not entirely.”  But that is a different blog post.

Our children are missing their freshman year of college, senior year of high school, first day of kindergarten, school dances, sporting events, debate team, music, theater, all of the extra-curricular activities and milestones that seem so important at that time of life. 

Rather than mourn what is missing, why not take this opportunity thrust upon us to increase our tolerance and appreciation for change? 

What if we could teach our children that change is a gift?  It can be uncomfortable and loose, like the change rattling around in a jar.  It is also an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things, problem-solving, creating a new path to follow. 

Small changes can lead to bigger changes. Being able to adapt and change are skills that will last a lifetime and make our futures more interesting than we can imagine.

What if we begin by changing the meaning of COVID?

Solo Act

Solo Act

I’ve been preparing for this pandemic my whole life.  It’s mid-July, about four months in with no end in sight. I am in the age bracket that is encouraged to stay home because we are more vulnerable.  I don’t go much further than the grocery and library.  I’m able to get my hair trimmed monthly.  Occasionally my friend Lola and I will run an errand and then drive to “wherever” and back just to feel like we are going somewhere.  I swim most days.  I talk to Lola daily (our wellness check) and keep in touch with others.  

My Solo Act looks something like this:

Cars:  buying, maintaining, filling with gas, insuring, renewing tags, washing, vacuuming, and selling.  Dealing with auto dealers is easier than it was in previous decades when a salesman actually made a point of showing me how the mirror on the backside of the visor lit up so I could see better to put on my makeup (while driving.)  I hope he enjoyed seeing my backside as I walked to my old car and drove down the street to the next car dealer and bought a new one.  On May 1st, I turned in my leased car and bought a newer version of the same car.  In ten weeks, I have put a whopping 500 miles on it and just filled the tank for the second time.  

Homes:  buying and selling or leasing, maintaining, insuring, renovating.  I made money buying and selling houses.  It wasn’t the motivating factor, but it sure helped build a nest egg.

Moving:  packing, storing, unpacking, upsizing, downsizing, changing my home address on credit cards, banks, etc.  I have done this nineteen times and learned that most of the stuff we move around is just stuff.  Most can be replaced or lived without.  I’m probably not done moving yet but have nothing is in the works.

Food:  planning a menu, making a list, shopping, putting away, and cooking for one.  Cooking for one is the challenge.  I don’t have to please anyone else, but I either eat the same thing several days in a row or freeze some to throw out after freezer burn sets in.  A friend and I have enjoyed take out a few times, but we haven’t been to a sit-down restaurant in over four months.  I wear my mask when shopping but am amazed at how many people don’t believe it helps, don’t care, or think to care for the welfare of others somehow infringes on their rights. 

Vacations and Travel:  deciding where, when, what, planning, travelling solo, paying a premium to travel solo.  I would like to be more adventurous in this area.  But right now, no one wants to see Americans coming and will turn us away at the border.  (Interesting turn of events.)  Living in Florida, one of the top three states on COVID charts, no one should want to see any of us travelling domestically.  I’ll stay home, it’s safer for you.

Entertainment:  reading, knitting, swimming, walking, and yoga are all solo activities so I’m good there.  I’m not able to see movies on the big screen with friends because theaters are not open.  I can binge on all sorts of shows via my smart TV, and have.

Companionship:  except for that time I lived with a roommate in New York City, I have lived on my own, a solo act responsible for all aspects of life, never able to say, “Honey, will you please stop at the store and pick up…, or take care of…, or argh, the washer stopped in mid-cycle…”  I know there is the other side of cohabiting: “Put the seat down, put your socks in the hamper, I just need some space so go outside and fix something…” 

There are advantages to living alone.  I never have to check-in, ask for an opinion, compromise, or consider another person.  There are disadvantages to living alone.  There is no one to share the ups and downs of life, no one to talk to, ask for an opinion, no one to take care of you when you’re sick, no one to touch you the way a partner touches you.  This is not a pity party.  I would rather be alone than in a ‘bad relationship’, and I’ve had my share of those.  (No, this is not a tell-all.)

Pandemic Life:  all of the above have prepared me to isolate and “stay at home” during the pandemic.  That and being an introverted homebody comfortable with the silence of being a solo act.

I recognize that this life of mine would not have been possible without the support of parents, family, friends, and colleagues along the way.  Thank you one and all for putting up with my quirks.

Growing Pains

Personal growth can be painful.  It requires a new perspective.  Ten days into 2020 I am coming face-to-face with over four decades of behaviors and choices that have dominated my life on many levels.  It is time to reset expectations.  I am purposely not identifying a specific aspect of my life that is changing because growth will most likely have a ripple effect.  At least that is my wish.

I have identified the following steps to create change in my life.  They are in no particular order.  They may occur simultaneously or sporadically.  There is no scientific study or research behind them.  This is my process. 

Step One:  recognizing the pattern

Step Two:  admitting the pattern is unhealthy

Step Three:  understanding the rationale behind the pattern

Step Four:  visualizing more positive patterns

Step Five:  taking steps to leave the past in the past and not repeat it

Step Six:  healing the issue behind the old pattern at the root

Step Seven:  identifying a desired outcome of change

Step Eight:  allowing new thoughts and beliefs to take over

Step Nine:  cracking open my heart to receive

Step Ten:  proceeding to live a life of joy

The Possibilities are Endless

2019 was unusual for me.  Normally an intuitive decision maker, I decided to leave the canvas blank and take my time figuring out next steps.  I was torn between my life in Michigan friends, family, work, community connections and the Florida sunshine and friends.  So why not have both?  I bought a condo in Saginaw to augment my condo in Florida. My canvas now looks like this:

What’s in store for 2020? 

I am enjoying the Florida sun.  Mornings may be a bit chilly in my neck of the woods (high 30’s – to low 50’s), but the sun comes out every day and the temperatures range from the high 60’s to the low 80’s. 

I picked up new glasses with a slightly new prescription on January 2nd.  And that inspired a metaphor for this year: 

A fresh look at the possibilities. 

I have a loose plan for the year:  some time in Florida and some time in Michigan.  When I will transition from one to the other is up in the air.  Meanwhile, I am enjoying catching up and spending time with my Florida friends. 

Bring it on 2020!

Blank Canvas

It took a while to come up with my “word of the year.”  In fact, one word would not do.  I have chosen “BLANK CANVAS” as my phrase for 2019.  I have both short-term and longer-term plans for the future.  Then recently I was faced with a decision that could change those plans, I began to wonder what else might be possible.

A blank canvas is filled with possibility.  Possibility can be both exhilarating terrifying.  The thing about blank canvases is you can always get another. There is no shortage of canvases.  And no matter what choice you make, you can always choose again with a new blank canvas. We have all the colors, brushes, and materials to create our own beautiful masterpiece.

Let the painting begin…

Everything You Do…

Everything You Do…

I met a man at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago…no, this is not going where your mind just went.  It’s a story about how everything you do, good or bad, has a ripple effect.  You may never know the consequences of your actions.  Please read on, it’s a story about kindness.

In conversation with the man I met,  Brian, I was telling a story about my dad.  There was a time when my father had to account for every nickel of his paycheck, literally every nickel.

Every day my dad drove a fellow teacher to work and home again.  She was not able to drive so she paid dad five dollars a week for his kindness.  Considering it was the 1960’s, five dollars covered gas for the car and then some.  He would have done it just because it was the right thing to do.  

My dad taught in what would be considered an “inner city” school.  Many of the kids in dad’s fifth-grade class arrived at school without having breakfast.  They may have gone to bed without dinner.  When the milk cart came to his classroom, dad made sure every child had a five-cent carton of milk to start the day.

“I know your dad,” Brian said as I finished the story.

Brian was a student teacher in dad’s classroom fifty-something years ago and observed this act of kindness play out every day.  It turns out Brian grew up in a dysfunctional family.  Witnessing an adult display this small act of kindness, buying a carton of milk for a child, gave Brian an example of a compassionate adult and role model for life.

Brian added that for fifty-something years he has been telling the story of this kind teacher and how it influenced his own life in a positive way.  But Brian did not remember the man’s name.  To be sure Brian was talking about my dad, I shared a story about a learning tool my dad built for his class to learn the state capitals.  Yes, it was the same man.

Was it a coincidence that Brian and I met that night?  I don’t think so.  Brian has the name of the man who made a positive impact on him so long ago.  For me, it confirms what I already know about my father, he was a kind man.  Every child who received a carton of milk felt the impact of that nickel and so did everyone who observed the act of kindness.

Everything you do…