Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thankless! Is It Ever Too Late to Say Thank You?

“How are you?” reads the e-mail subject line. Uh, oh. How am I? I’m thankless. Rude. Ungrateful. Lacking in etiquette. I imagine Emily Post’s great-granddaughter and Miss Manners wagging a finger in my face and admonishing me: “You never sent a thank-you note.”
I forgot. A long time ago, I forgot. More than a year ago, I forgot. But, oh, I have been reminded recently.
* * * * *
Judy, my good friend Gaye’s mom, is a talented watercolorist. The last time I visited her was December 2009. At that time, Judy showed me several matted watercolor paintings that went unsold at her recent show. “Pick one,” she said.
“Huh? I can’t do that.”
Judy assured me she was serious, so I looked closer. My choice came down to two favorites—a landscape abundant with pink-hued flowers or a solitary rooster. I’m a fool for flowers. Few things make me happier than a day in a garden, mine or anyone else’s. Something about the rooster caught my fancy, though, perhaps the cobalt blue in his tail feathers—or the look in his eye. The primary colors in the painting also woke me up from my usual preference for pastels.
I thanked Judy and brought my treasured rooster home. I clipped a coupon from the next Sunday’s Michael’s ad, purchased a frame, framed my rooster, and hung him in my dining room.
The rooster’s colors are so striking that several people have noticed him and complimented the painting. One person likes it so much she keeps trying to steal it. My daughter’s boyfriend has rooster décor in his kitchen and she has decided my rooster should move across town where he would fit in. She pointed out that the rooster’s black frame doesn’t match the oak color of the other frames in the dining room. I am decorating-challenged, so I don’t care if it matches!
I firmly stated: “Gaye’s mom gave me this painting, I love it, and you’re not getting it!”
Oops. I then realized, yes, I love it, but I never sent Judy a thank-you note for it. Arrghh! What a clod! What an ungrateful clod I am! Judy’s recent e-mail was a coincidence because the rooster and lack of my thank-you note have been heavy on my conscience. Her e-mail was cheery. She simply wanted to catch up on life, but I feel too guilty to answer it until I send a thank-you note.
I hate it when I lapse in the social graces. I try, I really do, but often when it comes to the sin of omissions, I’m far too often guilty as charged.
Advice columns always direct people to send those thank-you notes, no matter how tardy they may be.
Although my style in this case is rather unconventional, here is my thank-you note to Judy:

Dear Judy,
       Thank you so much for the rooster painting. I hung it in my dining room where I see it several times each day and the bright colors always bring a smile to my face. I just love it!
     Please forgive my tardiness in thanking you. I can assure you I have enjoyed the painting every day for the last 18 months.

P.S. Chelsea is not taking it!
    * * * * *
Have you forgotten to thank someone? It’s never too late. Thank that person today!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Walking—and Falling—Wounded

By Christine Clark
SEAL, that’s an animal that swims in the ocean? Wrong. Until about six years ago, that definition of SEALs was the only one I knew. My military-oriented son taught me different. Navy SEALs are a group of Special Forces soldiers, very, very Special Forces. Somalia pirates and the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden put the SEALs on the front page of every newspaper in the United States and on every news Web site for weeks.
The glory heaped on the SEALs has not gone unnoticed by those who would steal the honor of being a SEAL. The real SEALs have a group that has revealed more than 35,000 phonies. Steve Waterman, a retired Navy diver, stated, “There were about 500 SEALs…in Vietnam, and I’ve met all 20,000 of them.”
I knew the man I recently saw in a consignment shop near Daytona Beach was not one of the fake SEALs. A working man, he looked as if he had done some hard labor that Saturday. He was in the store to pick up some furniture for his fiancée. He wore a SEAL cap and had SEAL tattoos on both arms. “He’s a SEAL,” my son Paul said. We watched the SEAL out of the corners of our eyes and decided to just leave him alone. It’s only been a few weeks since the Bin Laden raid and we figured he was probably inundated with people talking about it. He did his service, and we felt he was entitled to shop in peace on a Saturday afternoon.
When I left the store, I stopped to chat with his fiancée while the SEAL and his son carried furniture to a waiting truck. I told her we wanted to thank him, but were reluctant. She said he doesn’t mind talking, often does speaking engagements, and that sharing his experiences helps him work through many of them. He served our country for 20 years and has been retired for 10 years. She told a story of him running during a battle, and wondering why his leg felt odd. He looked down and realized he had been shot in the foot. I noticed that he limped a bit as he walked to the store between loads and figured that was why.
We asked her to please give him our sincere thanks for serving our country. She said she would. I could tell she is so proud of him.
As we drove out of the parking lot, I happened to glance back, and saw that he had fallen onto the sidewalk near the truck. His fiancée and her son were next to him. We could tell he was not seriously injured so we went on our way. I caught a glance at his face and, to me, he looked embarrassed, like it wasn’t okay to fall. I don’t regret not stopping because it was obvious our presence would have been invasive.
The look on his face haunts me. I wish he and any others who have served us and served us so well, would never feel what I saw on his face. I believe it is okay for him and for thousand of others like him to fall, because without them, who knows how far our country and our very lives might have fallen?
Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day. It really is not just about beaches and barbecues. Thank a soldier not only that day, but every day.

SEAL stands for Sea, Air, and Land. The first Navy SEAL teams formed in 1942 during World War II in Ft. Pierce, Florida, just south of where I live. To find out more about the SEALs, the Navy has a site you can visit: http://www.navy.com/navy/careers/special-operations/seals/?campaign=search_Reprise/Google/SEAL+Navy/+navy+seals&sid=navy+seals.
If you want to know more about the history of the SEALs, Ft. Pierce, Florida, has the only, and very cool, I might add, Navy SEAL Museum in the United States (http://www.navysealmuseum.com). The most fun I’ve had in years has been at the annual Veteran’s Day Muster at the Museum in Ft. Pierce.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Casualties of Not Paying Attention

Take Time to Not Pick the Poppies
By Christine Clark
Missed deadlines, late payments (ergo, higher payments), food gone bad in the fridge, missed connections, hurt feelings, near-misses in traffic, a simple cold that morphs into bronchitis or, worse, pneumonia. All are casualties of not paying attention.
My latest casualty of not paying attention is the poppy plant I yanked out of the ground last night while I was “weeding.”  This poppy was perfect. Its sweet face greeted me early Mother’s Day morning.  I shared the first sublime bloom on my Facebook page and watched the comment boxes fill with oohs and ahhs. It was a thing of beauty. It still is a thing of beauty, but it’s in a vase rather than in the ground. Poppies rarely survive transplanting, but I put what was left of the plant and the bloom in water and it perked up. The other buds likely will not bloom. Poppies are annuals, so it had a limited lifespan and bloom time, but I wanted to watch that bloom time and enjoy it.

From perfect...
A moment of carelessness—not paying attention—means that lifespan is even more limited.
Fresh vegetables in my fridge also have a limited lifespan, and I must pay attention and eat them before they are compost material.
People and relationships should take top priority in life, note the should. When I don’t pay attention, important relationships get second, third, fourth, or later billing. Casualties of hurt feelings, misunderstanding, and disagreements often follow.
Spacing out, thinking, looking at landscapes I envy, planning what is next on my to-do list—all while driving—mean I am not paying attention. I have had several near-misses in traffic.
Common colds become uncommon when I don’t pay attention, stop, rest, and care for myself. I’ve had pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections—often they got worse simply because I didn’t pay attention to what my body was telling me.
Today, my message to myself is: slow down, do not pick the poppies, watch where I’m going, give my primary relationships the attention they deserve, take care of myself. These things deserve my attention, lest they become casualties.
...to plucked

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lust for Stuff Use It, Enjoy It—You Never Know When You Might Lose It!

Emerald Earrings: Loved, Worn, and Lost 

By Christine Clark
Emeralds are one of the world’s priciest, most beautiful gems. I know. I had two of them. Colombia was a one-time business-trip destination of my former husband, and emerald earrings were my prize for tending the home fires and three children for two weeks in his absence. As I opened the velvet-lined box, I thought, “Emeralds! Oh, my, these are too nice to wear. I’ll save them for special occasions. I don’t want to lose them.” However, my days consisted of slogging through diapers, crayons and other art-related supplies, laundry, cooking, and house cleaning. Life in a tiny New England town with no family or friends close by meant that special occasions were rare. However, the earrings definitely caught my fancy (lust for stuff), and as I gazed at them, I decided to put them on and wear them—every day. I wanted to enjoy them, and I did! I wore them for years. Every time a mirror reflected the twinkle of the bright green jewels, I was pleased. Early on, I was afraid I might lose them, but I didn’t let fear stop me from wearing them.
A single emerald earring, once perched on my earlobe, is hiding in the Market Basket parking lot in Westford, Massachusetts and has been for several years. One icy day, I got out of the car, grabbed my coat, and flung my arms into it. I felt the coat collar snag my ear. I reached up, and my emerald earring was gone. I searched the area, yet failed to find it. Disappointment and sadness overwhelmed me initially, and I felt a huge loss. I processed the idea of no longer having both earrings for a few minutes, however, and my next thoughts were, “I enjoyed that earring every day for years. Better that I wore it as I loved it rather than have it sit in a box on my dresser.”
I wore mismatched earrings from that point because I continued enjoying my single emerald. Years later, someone gave me matching studs, the emerald went into a jewelry box, and hasn’t been worn since. I searched for it early today and cannot find it.
Gold jewelry and most fine jewelry are one of my lust items. I know the environmental and social implications, so I never buy it. Gifts are received with pleasure (and only a tiny guilty conscience). Gold hoops dangle from my ear lobes, and gold filigree studs sit above the hoops. I love my earrings; they never come off. I also have gold bracelets that I love. I don’t wear them daily, but I put them on every time I go out—even to run errands.
Lust for gold jewelry aside, I wouldn’t be panicked should I lose my favorites. However, I don’t wear anything that isn’t a favorite. Other pieces sit unworn except for rare occasions, so I ask myself, “Why keep it if I don’t wear it? Why not give it to someone who will?” Some women do change their jewelry to fit their wardrobes or occasions. I don’t. I am not so attached to gold jewelry that I would go out and buy it. But I won’t turn down a gift of it and what I already own I want to keep—and that might be wrong. I’m undecided. Tackling my lust for shiny gold stuff will be difficult. I know why the sparkle of gems and sheen of gold have caught the eyes (and lust) of people for centuries. I’m now examining my lust for gold jewelry—and I don’t really have a lot of it—but if I’m going to keep it, I should wear it and enjoy it, as I did my emerald earrings.

Is lust for expensive, valuable things like silver and gold (and emeralds) different from lust for stuff such as dishes, linens, tools, CDs, electronics? Or is it all stuff?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Criminal Minds Versus Chamomile Tea

Criminal Minds Is Robbing Me of Sleep

By Christine Clark
Criminal Minds is keeping me awake. This morning was another 5 a.m. wake-up, and bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I struggle to focus. It’s not easy on six hours of sleep, or five, or fewer, as has been my experience the last week or two.
I blame Criminal Minds, but it’s really my own fault. I love the show. That love surprises my family, because I usually shy away from anything blood, guts, and gore. (Confession: I have watched Dexter, but not having premium TV channels keeps that in check. And Dexter truly is another story.) Vampire movies, books, and television shows don’t interest me. Whether it’s mosquitoes, fleas, anything, human or not, if it wants to drink my blood, I avoid it—in life, in books, and on-screen. My son begs me to watch war movies with him, and when I give in, most of my time in front of the screen is spent curled in a ball on the sofa, a pillow covering my face and eyes, my muffled voice calling through the fabric, “Tell me when this part’s over!”
Criminal Minds, too, has pillow-over-my-face scenes, but that doesn’t make me turn the dial to off. I like the show’s psychological aspect, which makes sense because the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit is the show’s focus. My workload has been intense for about six weeks, and when I turn off the computer at 8 p.m. or later, I don’t want to think about commas, and semi-colons, and passive structure. Criminal Minds takes me away.
The problem is, I just started watching the show about six months ago and it’s been on TV for years. A&E and ION run episodes every evening and even have marathons. I have a lot of catching up to do, and it’s easy when the show is on for several hours. I also have a slight addiction to it, and I’ve been giving into that addiction.
I don’t know why I wake up an hour or two before the sun, but I do, and I usually can’t get back to sleep. My days are usually too busy for naps. Criminal Minds complicates my sleep cycle when I watch until 11 p.m. and wake at 5, or earlier, and sleep walk through the day, fueled by caffeine, more caffeine, and chocolate.
Last night, the clock said 11:06 when I turned off the TV. When I woke early again today, I decided it’s time for a change. I need a bedtime routine—one that does not include Criminal Minds.
Tonight, I will have a cup of calming chamomile tea before bed. I will go to bed early—9:30—and I won’t watch Criminal Minds, not tonight. I also will read something soothing, perhaps Bailey White’s Sleeping at the Starlight Motel, or J. California Cooper’s Some Soul to Keep, and I will not eat chocolate later than 6 p.m. After I catch up on my sleep, I might reconsider Criminal Minds, but with restrictions. I will watch only one episode and then turn the TV off, but I will try to avoid such shows at night. I might watch one on a dreary Sunday afternoon, when I want to turn off the world as I know it.
The importance of sleep rings true for me as I struggle zombie-like through this morning. My sleep routine will put me back on track. I can begin my days on a clear note, ready to face the world, and accomplish the many things I want to each day. I know the bedtime routine is probably the most important routine of the day, because it sets the stage for the next day and for my life.

What is your bedtime routine? Do you have one? Does something like Criminal Minds keep you awake? How have you successfully overcome addictions to certain TV shows that you know do not benefit you or your life?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Pages of My Life  

By Christine Clark

In my children’s first-morning, every-morning view of me, I am seated in my bentwood rocking chair or propped up by mounds of pillows in my bed. My Georgia O’Keefe coffee table art book will be on my lap as a writing surface for my spiral-bound notebook. My notebook will be open, and I will be writing cursive in real, black ink with my Waterman fountain pen.
I have journaled almost daily as long as I can remember. At age ten, I wrote in diaries with miniature padlocks and keys. A snap on a strap closed the book and the tiniest key locked the pages away from snooping siblings. Of course, any enterprising sibling could have used a bobby pin as I often did when said key got lost. Sometimes I climbed a tree, diary and pen in hand, and imagined I was Jo March from Little Women, as I filled the pages with my hopes and dreams. I felt glamorous and romantic perched in a tree pondering life. Somewhere in an attic box labeled “Memorabilia,” those diaries await snooping children and grandchildren. I imagine the keys have long disappeared and the locks rusted into oblivion. The pages might not be readable after decades of must and moisture, but they began my life of journaling.
In my late teens, I switched to notebook paper. I wanted to write more than diary pages could contain. In my twenties and thirties, I began writing in spiral-bound notebooks. As Natalie Goldberg advised in Writing Down the Bones (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Down-Bones-Freeing-Writer), at the beginning of each school year, I stocked up on cheap, colorful notebooks with Tweety Bird, flowers, and fairies on the covers. Amy Brown’s fairy notebooks were a favorite for several years, but Hot Topic was the only store that sold them and often the too-loud, too-harsh music stopped me before I could walk through the door. In my forties, following Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way (http://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-Julia-Cameron), I got down to the bare bones of writing morning pages in plain, college-ruled, five-subject notebooks. Most have an abundance of pages, so I can fit several months’ worth of longing, complaining, fears, and folly into each book.

Monday, I filled the final page in a Five-Star Mead notebook. I began journaling in that notebook Monday, May 24, 2010, at 5:55 a.m., so it took almost a year to fill it. Tuesday, May 10, 2011, I opened the pages of a new notebook. A blank journal page inspires me, wakes me up, says it’s time to do and be. A blank journal inspires me even more. Years of experience tell me that I will write hopes, dreams, fears, accomplishments, failures, disillusions, and enlightenment in those pages. Until I’ve written in my journal, I don’t feel like my day has started, so as soon as I have my first cup of coffee, I will sit, pen in hand and write.
I first write the day of the week, the date, and the time. I then write a few inspirational sayings that either are original or quotes from favorite authors.  These days, I write three:
Be future self. (Original, but inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits: http://zenhabits.net.)
“Real artists ship.” ~ Steve Jobs via Seth Godin (http://www.sethgodin.com/sg)
Exceed Expectations! (Original, this one pushes me to exceed my own expectations.)
Gratitude is next. Without fail, I write five things for which I am grateful. Some days, it’s difficult to come up with something of great importance, so I look within again for importance: I’m grateful for rain, sunshine, my family, or a long talk with someone I love. Sometimes I am even grateful for my friends on Facebook. Often, I am grateful that I kept quiet about something, that I held my temper, that I paid a bill, that I exercised, or ate well.
After gratitude, I begin writing. Some days, I simply note the things that irritate me… too much dog hair on the carpet, a mouthy kid, a messy kitchen, or an overflowing laundry hamper. Some days, I gossip because I must believe my journal is a safe place to vent or there is no point in keeping one. Other days, I begin writing about something or someone that moves me or inspires me. At that point, I usually move to another notebook, because I have begun a story that I want to share.
Journaling is one of the few things I have done continuously for the last 40 years. It is who I am. It is a part of who my children know as Mom. I know that tomorrow when I wake up, I will write the day, the date, the time, what inspires me, and what I am grateful for. This process carries me through each day and into the rest of my life. I am grateful for my journal, and that will be number one on tomorrow’s gratitude list.

Do you journal? Has the practice of journaling added value to your life? Do you want to start a journal? It’s easy. Paper and pen or pencil and a willingness to write are all you need.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Show Me the Gory Won’t Be the End of the Story

Seeing Is Not Always Believing

By Christine Clark

No picture, no belief? Not for me. I believe Bin Ladin is dead, really dead; to paraphrase: “He’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead.”
Naysayers want proof, but I wonder, will there ever be enough proof for such naysayers? Even if a photo is released, in this era of Photoshop and digital imaging, who of those naysayers would believe the photo was not altered? On a dull news day or even one with headlines so bold our eyes become crossed, a conspiracy theory floats around somewhere: we never landed on the moon, JFK’s assassination was a CIA plot, doctors and pharmaceutical companies are too invested in making money from chemo to want a cure for cancer, Big Brother is watching us (that might not be a theory).
The next-up conspiracy theory: Bin Ladin isn’t dead. The CIA has him captive in a secret prison and is... It doesn’t matter. Believers and nonbelievers will always be with us and someone will always be ready to fill in the blanks.
In some ways, however, it is difficult to fathom that no photo will be released, especially in this media age of “everything goes.” Few restrictions guard our eyes, ears, and psyches from the most decadent, most violent, most prurient, most inflammatory words and images. Of course, Americans were not spared such images on September 11, 2001, nor were we spared such images as later videos and photos announced the ruthless murders, often by beheading, of our countrymen and those throughout the world who stood with us against the face of terrorism.
Difficult to fathom it is, but perhaps not as difficult when viewed from another perspective. Perhaps our still-new executive administration is rebelling against the “everything goes” mindset. Releasing photos of a corpse with its skull blown away and brains spattered on what remains does nothing to dignify America. Is it possible that President Obama and his advisors could be ushering in a time of restraint and dignity? I believe yes. It is also possible that they are focusing on national security. Dead though Bin Ladin is, his legacy of hate and violence still lights the fuse of violence throughout the world. Our leaders wisely choose to keep at least one fuse unlit.
The story does not end here, of course. The story would not end if a photo were released. Unfortunately, the story of hate and violence and loathing against the freedom we experience in America will continue, whether or not a photo is released. By not releasing it, we give those who would conquer us one less reason to do so. By not releasing it, we put our country a tier above that foundation of hate and violence that abounds throughout the world. By not releasing the photo, we add at least some dignity and honor to a world that many days sorely lacks it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Dancing in the Streets for Me

By Christine Clark

Osama Bin Ladin and the evil he represented took up way too much time and space in my life. I only hope and pray that the world becomes more free from the evil he personified and the subsequent evil he and those like him spawned throughout the world.

Happy isn’t the correct word to describe my feelings about the death of Osama Bin Ladin. I feel a sense of relief, more like the way I feel when a task has been completed, a big one—a task that took far too long to complete. I also feel myself questioning, “Where do we go from here?”
I don’t know. I don’t have privileged access to situation rooms or to data on covert operations. I leave those responsibilities to those whom I hope will treat such access with the gravity they deserve.
In the meantime, I’m sleepy. Sleepy because I was wakened from a sound sleep late Sunday evening by my Marine-to-be son announcing the death of Bin Ladin. I’m overwrought from reading news and pondering what the next steps in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be. I’m on mental overdrive with concern about our country and retaliation from those who believe their honored leader was felled by the United States.
I’m also embarrassed. In the hours after 9-11, I watched in horror as terrorist supporters danced in their streets and cheered the falling of the towers, and the crushing of the Pentagon, and a plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Those people danced on the graves of our loved ones who perished in the most heinous act of terror ever visited upon our land. Throughout Sunday evening and all day Monday, news videos and photographs of Americans dancing in the streets and cheering and waving flags reminded me of that awful celebration.
I feel a profound sense of relief that the worst terrorist of our time is now unable to torment our country and our fundamental principles of freedom. But I did not want my country’s reaction to mirror those who celebrated on September 11, 2001.
So, no, I’m not dancing in the streets happy. Not yet. I will save that enthusiasm for the day every last American soldier arrives on United States soil from Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. At that time, I will cheer and wave flags and celebrate the freedom we have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.