Boiling a Frog

As I mentioned recently, I've been reading Organizing for the Spirit by Sunny Schlenger. It doesn't relate to organizing as much as it relates to quality of life in general. One example in particular caught my attention. I had heard it before, but needed to hear it again:

It's so easy to become habituated to the pace of our lives. We get used to the ever-increasing speed of things and think this is the way life has to be. But you may recall the story of the frog and the boiling water. If you put a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will, of course, jump out. The frog is not an idiot, and the water is too darn hot for it to stay in there. But if you put a frog into a pan of cool water and turn up the heat gradually, the frog will boil to death, because he gets used to the water becoming gradually hotter and isn't aware that he's getting cooked until it's too late.

Ms. Schlenger continues: "There's a lesson here. Not until we get out of our pan for a minute do we realize what it's been costing us just to stay in that place." She is referring in part to getting out of one's routine and stepping back for breaks and new perspective, but, as usual, I interpret her words through my personal filter - my experience and my situation. To me, that statement and story speaks of acquisition and our ever-expanding lifestyles.

Folks our age were taught that to "make it" in the world required work, yes - but the evidence of having "made it" was things - clothes, cars, houses, private schools for your kids (then prestigious universities), a great career where you are constantly moving up, and the latest technology like cool cell phones and wide-screen TVs. We start out in this mindset. After all, our parents wanted us to live better off than they did. So we get a bigger house with more bathrooms, more expensive cars and clothes. It really adds up, and it does so gradually. Unlike the lottery winners who go to town with lavish spending the day after their check comes, an upwardly mobile lifestyle sneaks up on us. And like the frog, we don't even realize it until it's almost too late. We wake up one day, look around, and exclaim, "Where did all this STUFF come from?!" From years of buying and accumulating. From spending money we did have, and some we didn't have (ah, credit cards!).

Some of our generation's acquisitions would be almost laughable if we took time to think about it. Expensive clothes that are out of fashion in a year or two. Technology that's outdated in, say, a week or two! The latest in small appliances and gadgets that cost more to repair than to throw away.

In my case, I can add clothes patterns I never sewed, and cross-stitch patterns I never started. I can even count the little things, like shampoo bottles that I quit using before they were empty. I'm sure you have your own list. We are certainly an acquisition society as well as a wasteful society.

What I'm saying is that it's easy to get complacent about acquisition. Some things, like the aforementioned schools, may end up as an investment and pay off one day. Other things are clearly just spending mistakes because we were caught up in the moment. And suddenly, we wonder why the cold water has turned so hot that we have no energy to jump out.

I guess we really end up in those Mastercard ads. We take a good look at our lifestyle and all our "things" that cost money. Then we realize how much money we spent on those things. "New dress: $100. New car: $18,000. Dinner out for 5: $60." But thank goodness it doesn't end there. "Wonderful children and precious grandchildren, devoted spouse, loving sister, selfless elderly mother in good health, legacy of a remarkable father: Priceless."

When we learn it's the priceless things that are the most important, we have arrived.

Family in Motion

More magazine is a publication directly focusing on women over 40. I have a subscription, but for some unknown reason yesterday I visited their web site. One thing caught my eye.
"Survey for Empty Nest Moms. Social psychologist Carin Rubenstein is writing a book on how women feel about their children leaving home. If your children are over age 18, click to respond to her survey."

How intriguing! Well, since I fit the parameters, I took the survey.

My first problem was deciding on a definition of a child having "left home." Is that when she goes to college? Gets married? When does one exactly "leave home"? My children left home gradually. Once they started college, they still kept our house as home base, but their visits were fewer and less extended. For a few years, they came here for the summer. Then they moved out of the dorm into apartments. Marriage finally made the whole thing official. It's not just one day we're the 4 of us, then the next day we're 3, then the next day, 2. It was a process. We could see our lives changing. Heck, we expected our lives to change. Kids grow up and leave home. It's the way of nature; it's the way of the world. Thank goodness it does happen gradually, though. It helps the poor parents to make emotional peace with the idea.

College was certainly step one. Because the university our children attended is only an hour away, it didn't feel so much as if they were leaving home. And thanks to cell phones and e-mails, and - yes - Internet chat, we stayed in frequent contact. We kept their rooms in the house just as they left them. Our house was still their house; after all, one can't really consider a dorm room "home." They kept their house keys so they could come by if we weren't here. They were still dependents on our income tax. Yes, the umbilical cord was still intact.

Closer to college graduation, we could see that that cord was becoming a little wobbly. It was love, of course. The beginning of the end of our family unit. After all, they were adults now, and they were thinking about their futures. Rachel was doing student teaching, coming off a broken engagement, when she met the man who was to become her husband. It wasn't long before his house became more of a home to her than our house. Her marriage in 2002 cinched the deal. One child had definitely left home. One umbilical cord had been severed.

Well, OK, we still had Matt. But we knew it was inevitable that he would leave, too. I think Ed sensed it first. Ed would shed a few tears every time Matt came home. Everything reminded him of Matt. Every tool that he couldn't find, he blamed Matt for losing it. (Do you remember Alvin and the Chipmunks? It was just like yelling "AAAALVIN!") But he would never stay upset for long. He would just sigh. It was little things like that.

Then it happened. Matt too fell in love. The times he spent here in this house meant his body was here, but his heart and mind were with Sarah. Engagement and marriage followed. Leaving his wedding , I remember thinking, "We're really empty-nesters now."

The More magazine quiz wanted me to describe how I felt when the kids "left home." Was I anxious? Sad and depressed? Relieved? Joyful? Unfortunately, they didn't have a choice marked "all of these." We went through every emotion during the gradual change in our family unit. We were anxious about their futures, we were sad that they had grown up and would miss them being around, we were relieved that they had turned out to be well-adjusted, functioning adults, and we were so happy they had found true love and married people that we respect and love, too. All the above.

I didn't have to give up being a parent. I didn't look around after the house was empty and say, "Who am I?" or have some kind of identity crisis. Because my love for my children transcends time and distance. I know they are cared for by their spouses, and I know they are building their own families. It is as it should be. I gave each kid the pre-marriage lecture about the fact that their loyalties were now primarily to their new spouse first.

Rest assured, their spirits are still here in this house. Especially when Ed can't find his drill.

Why, indeed?

I must have a special affinity for adverbs. Asking the "why, when, where, how?" has led me to read exclusively nonfiction. While everyone around me discusses the latest popular novel, I am plodding through books like Organizing for the Spirit.

My late friend Bernie used to say, "I don't have to read romance novels. My life is a romance novel!" Maybe that's why I don't need to read a lot of fiction. My life has been a novel in itself!

Caroline, my precious little granddaughter who will soon turn 3, has entered the "why?" stage. It can be frustrating for the grown-ups, but she entertains us so well that one can't help but be amused. Yesterday I sat with her at Borders while her mom and her baby sister Charlotte shopped for books. Caroline and I sat down on the step and read one book after another. When it was time to go, I told her I would buy her one $4 book. She narrowed it down to a Lazytown book (from one of her favorite TV shows) and a Thomas the Train book. She finally decided on Thomas the Train and we paid for the book and continued on our way.

Last night I got a call from Caroline.
"Grammy," she said, "did you take the Lazytown book home to your house?" (She is well aware that we keep at least 40 books here for her to enjoy while she is visiting us.)
"No, honey," I replied. "I didn't buy that book."
"Why didn't you buy the book?"
At this point, I settled back in my chair. "Remember, you said you wanted Thomas the Train?" I reminded her.
Caroline paused for only a second. "But why didn't you buy the Lazytown book?"
I chose the simplest and truest answer. "Because I didn't have the money."
"Why didn't you have the money?"
Oh, let me count the ways...the plumber, the electrician, the doctor, the oil company...
"Because I had to spend money on other things."
I was surprised that that answer seemed to satisfy her.

I ask myself "why?" every time I have a weird dream. Like last night. Ed got up early this morning and at 8:00 I shuffled into the living room in my nightgown and well-worn housecoat. I threw myself into the nearest chair. "I had a nightmare," I said dejectedly.
Ed was tending the fire, but turned and asked, "Oh? About what?"
"It was about a horrible grammatical error that I made in a letter."
Ed predictably rolled his eyes. "Oooh," he said, "that would terrify me too!"

It was a horrible nightmare. I dreamt that I had written an important letter (to whom, I don't recall) and after it was sent, I realized that, instead of typing "friend of theirs," I had typed "friend of theres's." Ouch. It's hard for me to type it like that right now. It stings my eyes; it weakens my fingers. Then in the dream, when I realized my horrid and completely unforgivable mistake, I typed another letter to clarify that I hadn't meant to type "theres's" and that I knew better than that, and then I begged the recipient to find the original letter and burn it, shred it, or similarly destroy it so that no traces of my temporary insanity would remain. I woke up in a cold sweat.

When I finished my story of deepest shame, I could swear Ed was laughing.

So again I ask myself why my subconscious would torture me so. I think it relates to the house-selling situation - as I assume everything does these days. I think I feel helpless in so many facets of my life during this time of uncertainty that I want to stand on the only solid ground I have - my punctuation, spelling, and grammar. To lose that would be to lose my identity, in a way. It is something I can control, and by gum, I will control it!

OK, so it's not your usual run-of-the-mill nightmare. Welcome to my world.


While I was a model student, my husband Ed was quite the opposite. While I excitedly anticipated report card time, Ed was apathetic. He claims he wasn't even smart enough to dread it. (When he was in seminary, he was finally diagnosed with a form of dyslexia; too bad his teachers didn't know about it, because that explains a lot.)

Anyway, Ed kept enough of his report cards to entertain me and the kids. His teachers would write comments on each report card, and one comment appeared consistently: Eddie is not working up to his potential. We laugh about it now, but I imagine comments like that can work two ways - they can give you hope that you can do better, or they can discourage you from ever trying, knowing that you will never quite get there. Unfortunately, little Eddie ended up with the latter attitude.

I keep hoping someone will see the potential in this house. It's an old house, not without flaw by any means, and there is not a perfectly straight patch of floor in the whole place. But it has stood the test of time and, as someone once said, it has "good bones." Some people will come in here and say it needs too much work. Others see the potential.

I wish, for instance, we had been able to refinish the old wood parquet floors. I imagine they would have looked brilliant! But alas, we are not experienced floor refinishers, and there are some tasks we just can't tackle. (After all, Ed finally hung those kitchen cabinet doors - what more can we expect?) So there are two possible attitudes: "Oh, those floors need to be refinished. What a burden! What work! What money!" or.... "Oh, those floors should be refinished. Can you imagine their beauty when we do that? They don't make floors like that anymore!"

How do you sell a house's potential? How can we convince prospective buyers that we have improved the house since we bought it, and now it's time for someone else to leave their mark? I have this recurring vision that if each owner of the house makes improvements, this Grand Old Victorian Lady will one day reach her potential.

This time of year is a hard season to sell a house in Maine, even though it is officially the most productive house-selling season. The temperatures are still cold, the ground is still frozen (until it thaws, hence Mud Season). The trees which in summer block sometimes unappealing views of neighboring houses are now bare. With no green grass, everything is brown. The daffodils and other flowers that Ed has planted in the last few years are still dormant.

Autumn brings color and beauty to our part of the world, and in the dead of winter, we have a smooth blanket of snow covering all the yard. Summer is filled with soft breezes, mild temps, and endless blossoms. But now....sheesh!

I want someone to come for a showing who can look at the yard and see it with "summer" eyes. Someone who can see the potential for landscaping and gardens, and a yard and porch just made for hammocks and lawn chairs. I want someone to fall in love with the house as we did, someone who senses its history and presence, who understands that old houses have character and charm, and that these things make up for the extra time, money, and energy needed to care for them. I want them to understand that we are ready to pass on to them a most precious possession, full of memories and life and love. And I want them most of all to see its potential, and unlike little Eddie, realize that they have the power to bring "potential" into existence.


"How long after you are gone will we realize the ripples you left in the pool of life?"
Such is a paraphrase of a quote I saw on the obituary page of our local newspaper this week. I would like to have had the direct quote, but alas, we have already taken our recycling in.

A Google search along the same lines led me to this quote:
"Man is but a pebble, thrown into the pool of life. A splash, a bubble, and it vanishes. But the ripple that it causes grows wider and wider 'till it reaches the far bank." (Sir Thomas More)

As I have posted before, I read the obits regularly. In the past, I lived in cities where newspapers were published daily; here, it is weekly. That is unfortunate, because there have been several occasions where an acquaintance of ours has died and had their funeral before we even heard anything about it. Still, I guess my interest in the obituaries stems from being a pastor's wife and the experiences thereof, as well as my advancing age of 51.

Death is universal, but customs and traditions surrounding it can be quite different, depending on where you live. Up here in Maine, if you die in the winter, you may have a funeral but you won't be buried until the spring, because that is when the ground thaws. Talk about closure - can you imagine having to deal with someone's death in early winter and not being able to have the graveside service until months later? That might be why cremations are a popular choice here.

But, oh, a rural southern funeral is a class unto itself. Some funerals I attended in the South were moving and poignant. At other times, I felt it could have been done with a little more dignity. I remember grocery shopping in a Tennessee Kroger's once, and as I passed by the floral department I noticed some funeral wreaths on display. One in particular caught my eye. It was a large spray on an easel, and applied to the wreath was a toy plastic telephone with its attached receiver perched above it and the cord winding its way down to the base. And on the red satin ribbon I read: "JESUS CALLED." I kid you not.

The quote with which I began this post, though, made me think. The deceased's family had bought this space on the obituary page to honor their matriarch who died a couple of years ago. They knew that their mother had been a great influence during her life, and they threw the question out there like one of those pebbles skipping across the lake.

"How long after you are gone will we realize the ripples you left in the pool of life?"

I can think of two major questions that haunt most people when they consider their own deaths. (1) What happens now? (2) What effect has my life had on the world?

Ed has always had this comment on his years of ministry: "The people I have come in contact with either love me or hate me. But they will never forget me." He says that whether his presence and teaching generated renewal or anger in his churches, it didn't matter. Those people will be forever changed because their paths crossed with his. He says that with each encounter we have, those involved in the encounter will never be the same because of the encounter. We have shared a part of ourselves.

It would be nice to say that we had great power and influence in the world during our lifetimes. Nonetheless, I have an inkling we have had more power and influence than we realize. Little by little, we sink to the bottom, but our ripples go on and on.

There's nothing like an obituary page to give you something to wrap your brain around.

The Land of Anhedonia

Despite never having been out of the USA except for Canada, I still consider myself a seasoned traveller inside this country. I have spent the last two days watching home movies covering trips to Colorado, Washington, DC, New York City, Florida, Illinois, and everything in between.

There's one area I try to keep out of, though. It's not fun and not exciting. The entrance is free, but you end up paying a big price. I'm talking about the Land of Anhedonia, and it's where I've been for the last three days.

The word anhedonia stems originally from the Greek, and means literally "without pleasure." I have come across many patients in my medical transcription career who lived in this land for some time. Medically, it usually refers to a clinical scenario where the patient finds no pleasure in life, especially in doing things that ordinarily would bring her great pleasure. It is a kind of dark apathy, where "I don't care" is thought more often than not (along with "Why bother?") and where depression is probably involved in a moderate or heavy manner.

I think it becomes easy to slide into the Land of Anhedonia when several life events collide until something has to give. Be they financial, obligational, familial, situational (such as trying to sell a house, maybe?), the brain just cannot continue to function on a normal level and just tries to shut itself down.

Mozart was once accused of using "too many notes" for the brain to appreciate. Anhedonia is kind of like the response of the brain to "too many notes." It considers its only alternative to be a nearly total shutdown. It's just a coping mechanism.

This past Sunday, I was at work when I felt illness coming on, vis-a-vis a sore throat and malaise, and by Monday morning I approached my supervisor with a request to take the rest of the week off. I initially thought I was becoming physically ill, but I soon realized I was taking a visit to the Land of Anhedonia, and I just prayed it would be a short one.

I stayed in bed for hours at a time, went 24 hours without eating anything, and vacillated between anxiety and apathy. Ed finally made me get out of bed and get dressed. I spent the rest of the time watching the aforementioned home movies. My silly son's impressions got me to laughing again, and soon I could feel I was packing up to leave Anhedonia and get back into life.

I was grateful to friends and family, who tried to convince me that I had stayed away long enough and it was safe to come "home." The best antidote to the Land of Anhedonia, though, is grandchildren. Yep, I firmly believe it. You can't hold them in your arms and not have love envelop you and warm your entire soul.

I was rocking Charlotte today, and instead of anxiety, I had a peaceful calm come over me, and I started softly singing one of my favorite hymns:

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.


Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.


For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.


For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.


For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.

It's good to be back.

The Process Continues

One of the minor annoyances of aging appears when I finally get to sleep in and wake up early anyway. That explains why I am blogging at 4:45 a.m. this morning. My body says "s-l-e-e-p" but my mind says "WAKE UP!"

I stumbled across an episode of Nova on PBS last night. It was The Miracle of Life, a documentary on human conception, pregnancy, and birth. From the very first time I was pregnant, I happily researched this kind of information. I contemplated everything that was going on inside my body at every minute. I clearly remember one day when I was working at the hospital in Memphis. At the time, I was pregnant with Rachel, and I recall stepping into an elevator and meeting a friend, who asked how I was doing. I replied, "My baby has fingernails now!" Every detail was fascinating to me.

And it still fascinates me. How could it not? Back in 1977-78, I only had library books to devour. Now we have DVDs with movies and photographs which are colorful and vivid and detailed of what is happening to a developing baby.

As actor John Lithgow's narration described the baby's dividing cells, the forming of nerve pathways, the DNA assignments, I was glued to the TV screen. Then he said something that really stuck with me. He described the literal building blocks and design of the developing baby, and mentioned that it was a process that would still continue through the baby's uterine existence and for years to come.

It is so tempting to think of in utero as the development, then the birth as the final event. But instead, in utero is stage 1, and birth is just the beginning. Our cells continue to die and recreate, our brain continues to develop neural pathways and lose others. Heck - every pound of fat we gain requires that our body build another mile of blood vessels! The whole life system is a process, continually regrouping and recreating.

And so is the process of simplifying, downsizing, and recreating our lives. That is one of the fascinating things about life, but it is also the most draining, in my opinion. My busy dad used to say, "...when things lighten up." But I don't think they ever did. It was always something because he was in the process of living. As are we all.

I keep thinking that after selling this house, building the next house, then moving and settling down, things will "lighten up," but deep down I know better. Life will still have its challenges and joys, we will still be struggling to simplify as we recreate our roles in life. The "process" started with me 9 months before September 27, 1954, and I hope it continues for many years to come. As the expression says, "That's life." And what a remarkable journey it is!

The Art of Not Waiting

In my medical transcription profession, I have been introduced (through dictation) to many patients who have had gastric bypass surgery. It's amazing how they can go through that and lose over 100 pounds in a short time. I once read a book that discussed in detail what these people have to go through for the rest of their lives, eating small portions, taking vitamins, suffering some side effects, etc. The book's author wondered if it wouldn't be better if, instead of going through the surgery, the patients just started living as if they had (eating small portions). He said that since they would have to live on small portions the rest of their lives anyway, why not just "bypass" the surgery altogether? Could it be accomplished without the pain? Of course, it's much more complicated than that, but I did think about that this week.

It's been a week of deaths. Teenager deaths. Young adult deaths. Nobody that I know personally, but when you hear about deaths like these, you can't help but suffer emphathetically with the families, no matter what the circumstances.

At an MT web site, Julie posted about a car accident this week in her community that killed several high school seniors. Right after that, I discovered that a young man from Matt's graduating class was killed locally, just a few blocks from my house, when a drunk woman rammed her car into the back of his. The collision was so hard, he ended up in his own back seat.

It was a weird feeling to think that in the wee hours of Saturday morning, while I was asleep, this young man was in the wreck and died at the hospital where I work. Of course, I could be extra-sensitive to this kind of thing, because my brain reacts in unusual ways. For instance, whenever I pass a wedding party coming out of a church, my mind wonders how many people are attending or preparing for funerals somewhere else. And when I pass a funeral procession, I wonder how many people are decorating the church for their wedding or picking out bridesmaid dresses. In fact, when that horrible 9/11 was being broadcast on every channel, I was thinking, "This day will live in infamy, to quote FDR. Yet there are people who are giving birth today, others having 50th wedding anniversaries." I always see the dichotomy - the celebration amidst the grieving, and the weeping amidst the laughter.

The families of those dead young people this week were going along with their daily lives the way we all do - probably without a lot of thought, some vague plans, some hopes and dreams, some irritants, some arguments, and a lot of procrastination. Then their world was turned upside down and changed in an instant. All of a sudden, priorities are revised. Little things that used to bother them are dropped from the radar. The families unite, the community unites, and people begin talking about what's important in life. And the thought goes round, from family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, preachers, neighbors, all who are affected by the deaths - "This has made me wake up and realize..." Each person completes the sentence in a different way, but the acknowledgment is the same from each heart. "...that relationships are what's important in life...." "....that it's time to rearrange my priorities..." "....that we must hug our kids at every opportunity..." "...that the disagreement I had with my spouse/child/parent/friend is so unimportant in the scheme of things..." "....that we need to love fully and completely while we have the chance..."

So that's why I thought about the author's comment on gastric bypass surgery this week. I wish it didn't take tragedies like this to force us to prioritize our lives. I wish we could just do it in the first place.


While I was home for lunch yesterday, I ate my food with a great view of the side yard. Since Venise took the blinds and screens off the kitchen windows, we have a clear unobstructed view of nature (which, as I have posted before, I prefer to enjoy from behind a window anyway). I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and finally saw a brown squirrel among the leaves on the ground. I saw her put something in her mouth, then scurry up the nearest tree and jump her way across branches to another tree, wherein she disappeared for a few seconds. Then there she was again, backtracking her same route down to the ground. Ever the nature-ignorant person, I asked Ed to look and tell me what she had in her mouth. He laughed and said she was gathering piles of leaves and taking them up the tree to build a nest.

After I was clear on what I was looking at, the little squirrel began to fascinate me. She could gather an enormous quantity of leaves in her mouth and in her many trips back and forth, I saw only one leaf slip away and float back to the ground.

The irony did not escape me. In my blog, I give a description of Ed and me as "empty nesters," with the kids grown and married and starting families of their own, and "just us" here. That fact again presented itself when we signed a disclosure paper, which in part, gave reasons why we were selling the house. Venise wrote something like, "Their children have grown up and moved out and the house is much, much too big for just the two of them."

"The two of them." Yep, that's us. In my original family, it was the 4 of us - Mom, Dad, sister Joy, and me. Then I got married and again it was the 4 of us - Ed and me, Rachel and Matthew. And now it is the 2 of us. Although we have extended and enlarged the family with additions of Chris and Sarah and Caroline and Charlotte, as well as Joy's family, it still comes down to the 2 of us.

The little squirrel is just starting out for the season, carefully preparing her nest for the little ones to come. And we are at the other end of the spectrum, cleaning out, getting rid of, and other duties befitting our new status of "empty nesters." It reminds me so much of one of the most poignant parts of the Bible:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build...

And the cycle of life continues. And I am so grateful to be a part of it - whatever stage I'm in.

Plate Puzzles

Ed says the older he gets, the more cynical he gets. As for me, I'm getting more easily frustrated by simple, quite stupid things.

One thing that seems to tick me off is trying to decipher confusing vanity license plates. Now I have a personalized plate, myself. I thought long and hard about the meaning of my choice, which ended up being C-HARP. It stands for Celtic harp as opposed to a pedal harp. I realize, of course, that very few people will be able to interpret the "C" for "Celtic." That's OK, and I accept that. The HARP, part, though, is plainly understood. Apparently I play the harp. Some people at first glance thought it said, "C-SHARP," which, of course, is just misreading.

Since I also play piano and organ, as well as transcribe, I initially considered using something akin to KEYBOARD, but that's one too many letters. It would have to be KEBOARD, or KEYBORD, both which would undoubtedly have been understood, but my refusal to have an actual misspelled word on my license plate ruled those one out. Too bad; I thought it was a clever idea.

I also considered something to do with quilts, but a quick check of the State of Maine database showed me the good ones were taken. I'm wasn't going the KWILT route, either.

Ed's license plate is HEALING. People assume he's a doctor, but that's what you get when you make assumptions. He has preached on how the root of "salvation" is "salve," which brings up the healing component. So he uses it spiritually, not physically. At least it's a valid word and spelled correctly.

This morning on our trip to Bangor, I noticed a personalized plate and I could not make out for the life of me what it meant. I can't even remember it exactly so I can include it here, but believe me, I spent a good 10 minutes twisting those letters around to make some kind of sense. Nothing - I got absolutely nothing. That drove me crazy. Here it is 4:30 p.m. and I'm still fuming about it.

It seems to me, if you are going to create a personalized license plate to tell the world something about who you are, or what you do, or what your nickname is, or where you live, or what team you support - it ought to be easily understood. I suppose the owner of the aforementioned plate knew what those letters meant, but I don't think anybody else had a clue.

Ed's theory (cynical as always) is that some people actually pay extra for a vanity plate just so they can put something totally nonsensical on there to drive people like me insane as we try to figure it out.

Please think about this the next time you choose a personalized plate. If I see it and can't make heads or tails of it, you might just ruin an otherwise perfectly good day.

Cleanliness is next to....

...confusion. Our first house showing is tomorrow and we have been cleaning and putting things up all afternoon and evening. Ah, memories - of last year around this time.

It's great to have a clean and shiny house. It's not so great when we want to find something. I can guarantee you it's not where I last put it. It's tucked away somewhere, out of sight, in order to make the house clean and uncluttered. Oh, it's cluttered all right. Just hidden clutter.

The dog bed is rolled up and stuffed in the back of a cedar chest under some hanging clothes in the closet. The shampoo is stuck in a box in another closet. Countless things have been stuck in drawers; they are so accessible for shoving something in. The wall calendar is...let's see, where did I put that?

I think selling houses is for people younger than we are. People still with all their brains, not just part of them. It's hard enough to remember where you put the keys; it's much worse when you've packed keys into boxes. (Yes, our spare house key, which we need to give to the real estate agent, is packed in a box somewhere, so we had to have another one made.)

We are cleaning like the white tornado. You Baby Boomers will remember the white tornado; you younger ones will say, "Huh?" Here's a quote from a computer web site:

AJAX officially stands for Asynchronous Javascript And XML. Of course for me, a baby boomer who grew up watching TV commercials back in the Sixties, AJAX will always be a "white tornado" for cleaning my kitchen floor, or a "white knight on a horse" who would point his lance at people in the park and their clothes would turn magically clean because AJAX was "stronger than dirt."

So tonight we have a shiny clean house ready for showing. We can't find anything, but it certainly looks good. Just don't open any drawers.

Mind Games

When I was in high school and practically lived at the library, I discovered Agatha Christie and her eccentric Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He claimed that his unique ability to solve crimes was due to the health of "ze leetle gray cells" - his brain.

Now that the Baby Boomer generation is close to retirement age, magazines are full of articles on how to prevent the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Part of their advice is to use your brain over and over, in varying ways, to keep the little gray cells active. Things like doing crossword puzzles are OK, I suppose. I get on a tangent sometimes and will do the daily crossword puzzle in the paper for two weeks in a row, then I'll drop it for something else and won't do another for a year. My Aunt June adores crossword puzzles, and she's still mentally going blockbusters.

However, I prefer to personalize my brain activities. What better way than to play around with my memories? It seems that when we Baby Boomers are well into the second half of our lives, we look more to the past and less to the future.

One activity I do with my brain is to try to remember the floor plans of buildings that have meant something to me. Take my home church, Harris Memorial United Methodist Church in Memphis. It burned down a long time ago, but that building (along with the aforementioned library) was our second home for a lot of every week. I go through the annals of my mind and picture each room, each door, each hall, each set of stairs, then try to draw it all out on a piece of paper. Of course, memories are not infallible, and I would really enjoy taking several former Harris Memorial members and having them do this same thing, then comparing the drawings. That would be enlightening! I try to do the same kind of thing with my high school, or the places I have worked. I believe it stimulates the brain very well.

Ever the "method-ist," my second game is a memory game organized under the labels "earth, wind, water, and fire" - the elements. I methodically go through each category and list the memories I associate with it. For example: For earth, I try to remember anything having to do with the ground or dirt, such as sliding on the front lawn on cardboard boxes. For wind, I remember when Joy and I used to play badminton on the front lawn and the wonderful feel of a good hit when the birdie seemed to float through the air forever. Water is pretty easy - I'm sure most of us can think of a lot of memories involving water. One of mine involves the Mississippi River, when Dad would take whoever was willing up to the park on the bluff, to see what he considered the best view of the Mississippi River, bar none. I have Dad in the fire category, too, for all the "wild goose chases" he used to drag us through when he saw a fire engine roaring past.

My third game is to remember things with the senses. I list the smells, tastes, noises, sights, and textures of my life. The smell of fresh-cut grass when our family worked together out in the yard in the summer (and as contrast, the smell of Mrs. Perry's old house with many, many cats). The taste of pot pies, our supper on nights Dad was at a meeting (and as contrast, the taste of milk of magnesia). The sound of our cat Mike jumping on the piano keys when I was trying to practice. The blinding light in my eyes when Dad was filming his home movies. The texture of the sharp jacks and the smooth round ball in my hand at the same time.

So many pleasant memories are from my growing up years, but I have others as an adult. The smell of the ocean up here in Maine. The taste of different brands of chocolate. The first time I heard the beautiful sounds of the Celtic harp. Seeing the kids graduate from high school. "Fondling" the fabric at the quilt store.

It's hard sometime just to ask, "What are the memories of your life?" It's much easier to sort through them using "ze leetle gray cells" and a little methodology. Who knows - it may not ward off dementia - but it certainly is a lot of fun!