When you won’t know until you try…

“How do you tell for certain that a cantaloupe is ripe?” I once asked my Uncle while restocking the melon display. My Uncle is a fruit and vegetable expert. He is a New England farmer who has grown and sold plants and produce in Pepperell, Massachusetts for decades.

Ripe cantaloupe

When I asked him about the cantaloupe, I was a college student earning tuition money by waiting on customers who frequented the fruit and vegetable stand that my Uncle owns.

 

To that point, in my life, I’d tried a number of techniques to select a ripe melon. I’d tried holding the melon to my ear, knocking my knuckles on the outer rind, and listening for a hollow sound. I’d tried sniffing the end where the stem had once been to see if I could detect a sweet, fruity smell. I’d tried examining the melons to find one with a light-colored oval on the skin—I’d heard a light-colored oval was a sure sign that the melon had ripened in the patch.

None of my methods really worked. Finding a ripe melon took a lucky guess. I wondered if the expert could teach me a more certain way. Continue reading “When you won’t know until you try…”

A secret to moving beyond all that divides us…

Porch swing and woods

The moment Steve claimed he could smell Sycamore trees, I was swinging–ever so slightly so as not to spill my coffee–on a wooden bench swing on the porch of a cabin we had rented during a recent vacation for just the two of us.

Before he spoke, I was sitting alone on the porch, gazing through the woods, past the Virginia Creeper bicycle trail, to Laurel Creek where sunbeams glittered on moving ripples of rushing water. I’d put the book I was reading, still open, in my lap and was half-listening to the ambient sounds around me. Birds chirped. The creek water gurgled. The gravel crunched when the occasional biker pedaled by.

Laurel Creek

From the cabin, Steve came out to the porch and sat down in a chair beside the swing. “Look at that walnut tree.”

Immediately, I was victim and judge. He was guilty. His crime: interrupting my reverie. Continue reading “A secret to moving beyond all that divides us…”

The smallest gift I ever gave…

Do you like to give large or small gifts?

At a public library, I stood in line to check out books not knowing I was about to face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give.

In front of me in line, a young, slim girl lifted an unwieldy stack of children’s picture books up onto the high checkout desk. She smiled as she unzipped a small change purse, pulled out her library card, and handed it up to the librarian. The girl’s mother stood to the side, watched, and nodded approval.

The child self in me envied the girl’s large pile of books. When I was a child, the library I frequented limited the number of books a patron could borrow to five at a time. Probably the girl didn’t even realize her great fortune. Continue reading “The smallest gift I ever gave…”

I can’t time travel, so I’m stuck in the happy-sad…

July 4, 2017 sunset. The setting sun’s brilliance next to the swirling clouds are a vivid picture of the happy-sad.

“Has anyone ever turned in a paper that you considered too long?” a student asked when I mentioned an approximate page length for an assignment.

Oh, yes.

Once, I asked students to define a term from their major area of study. Write two or three pages explaining the term to someone who’s not in your major, I said.

A zealous physics student emailed me a detailed, fourteen-page discourse on time travel. I opened the file, scrolled through the fourteen pages, and postponed grading the paper.

I did not put reading the paper on hold because its length discouraged me. I put the paper on hold because its promise engaged my curiosity. In the introduction, the student declared that time travel is currently possible. I was excited to learn about the possibilities. I saved his pages for last, so I’d have reading to anticipate. (I hear you. You aren’t the first. Others have called me gullible.)

The idea of time travel fascinates me. I have read A Wrinkle in Time, The Time Machine, and Danny Dunn Time Traveler more than once. I watched all the Back to the Future movies. More than once.

I have imagined being able to travel backwards and forwards through time. What time period would I visit? Continue reading “I can’t time travel, so I’m stuck in the happy-sad…”

How to find a purpose that delights you…

According to a recent Washington Post article, the American workforce faces a crisis of meaning. Millions of people report lack of fulfillment in their chosen jobs. They long for vocations that provide meaning and purpose but don’t know how to find them.


Steve and I don’t need any more stuff, but one recent Saturday, we stopped at a yard sale—just to look. We browsed through displays of other people’s castoffs—vintage purses, antique furniture, kitchen gadgets, books and tools.

Steve browses faster than I do. He got a few displays ahead of me.

After a few minutes, I looked for him and noticed he was doing more than browsing. As I watched, he handed some bills across a table to a vendor. And didn’t get any change. He seemed to be spending more than his fair share of the cash he’d pulled from our joint account on our way to the sale. Continue reading “How to find a purpose that delights you…”

What’s in a name?

The daily schedule of the writer’s conference I attended in early June did not coincide with my usual routine and by the time the early morning workshop concluded, the time for my usual second cup of coffee had long passed. I eagerly joined other attendees for a coffee break.

Coffee pots, cream, sugar, pastries and fruit were available on a long table that was set out on the campus lawn under the trees.

I made my way to one of the large coffee pots and fully engaged to adjust the spigot to fill my cup with coffee. My focus on pouring that beverage was so intense that most people would be pleased if their brain surgeon used half as much concentration when performing an intricate, high-stakes procedure.

My cup filled, I sidestepped to the cream station, added a splash of half-and-half, stirred, and, anticipating a big gulp, I surfaced from the act of preparing the coffee to find my nose almost touching the nose of a man who was equally intent on getting coffee.

Awkward. Continue reading “What’s in a name?”

Beyond comparing…

Last week, I felt sad and perplexed when the author of a book that I treasure compared herself to other authors and came up lacking.

The author Christina Baker Kline ,who wrote a book that I’ve recently enjoyed titled a piece of the world, spoke at the Princeton Public Library. I was in Princeton for a writer’s conference held at Princeton Seminary and when I discovered that she was speaking at the library, I happily skipped a conference event, so I could attend her outstanding presentation.

During the presentation’s question and answer part, I asked her to talk about her writing process. How did she get that novel written?

She explained that writing a book takes her a long time. Then because she had recently spoken at an event that included John Grisham and Harlan Coben, she compared her writing process to theirs. Wistfully, she said: They write so fast–a book or more a year–I wish I could write as fast as they do.
Continue reading “Beyond comparing…”

When your fear for your kids is greater than your faith…

Sometimes signs are confusing. What does this sign mean?

I scanned the confusing signs on a ski slope directing skiers to trails of apt difficulty. My ski skills are–at best–intermediate. And that designation might be a stretch. I have skied for a lot of years, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent skiing, but my skill level plateaued early. So that day on the slope, I had to be sure to choose a trail that matched my skill level.

I puzzled out the signs’ meaning, made a turn, took a long glide, noticed a very steep dip ahead and stopped quickly.

I was halfway down a hill. The terrain unfolding in front of me demanded expert skiing. I must have read the signs incorrectly. Continue reading “When your fear for your kids is greater than your faith…”

Another look at belonging: remember whose yard you are in…

I guess they don’t want any visitors in this yard…

The best belonging allows us to fit in with others while living true to our value and values. Navigating the ins and outs of belonging takes a little bit of bungling and a lot of courage. I know. Once, I lost a chunk of my tongue while trying to belong on the big kids’ playground.

___________________________________________

Our family lived in Canada when I was young and, as a child, I became accustomed to translating for my parents, especially my mom. I didn’t translate from English into French, but from one variety of English into another.

My parents speak with regional New England accents—my Dad’s from New Hampshire and my mom’s from near Boston. People notice my Mom’s “r’s”, or lack of them. She says words like pak instead of park and pizzer instead of pizza. Sometimes, the Canadians didn’t understand her Bostonian accent.

Often, my friends would hear my mother call my brother Mark and ask, “Why does your mother call your brother Mak?”

Once, I was in a small convenience store with my mom and she asked the proprietor for popcawn. The proprietor said emphatically that the store didn’t carry that item, in fact, he’d never heard of such a thing.

Mom insisted that he had heard of popcawn and proved her point by instructing me, “Tell him what I want.”

He did, in fact, sell popcorn. In a variety of types.

Even though I became accustomed to interpreting my parents words so their messages were not confused, I was puzzled a few years ago, when a friend said to me, that she used my Dad’s words of advice (from last week’s blog) with her sons. “I tell them all the time that Pastor Jack says: Remember whose yard you are in.”

If you read last week’s blog, you may recall the words my dad used to say to remind my brothers of their value (Remember who you are) and be as bewildered my friends interpretation as I was.

How could Dad’s message could be misconstrued and morphed into: Remember whose yard you are in? Continue reading “Another look at belonging: remember whose yard you are in…”

When you feel like you don’t belong…

Dressed to face the cold a few years ago

I was 12-years-old when I first felt a pang of not belonging. I stood on the sidewalk at the corner of Drewry and Valleyview with my back to the wind. My chin dipped deep into a woolen scarf which was tied around my neck. My crossed arms held school books tight against my chest–another layer to keep out the biting cold—and my mittened hands were pressed under my arms in search of warmth.

I waited for the school bus with my friend—for this post, I’ll call her Sally. At the bus stop that morning, I considered Sally my very best friend; even though she was a grade, maybe two, ahead of me in school. We shared seats on the bus. We played marbles in the snow. Every Monday evening, I went to her house to watch “The Partridge Family”.  We spent hours in our fort in the woods paging through a wallpaper sample book discussing which wallpaper pattern we’d like to paste on our fort walls. We both had crushes on the teen idol of the year, Donny Osmond.

That morning on the corner, I chattered away proposing activities to do after school once we finished homework. Maybe we could put on a play and invite neighborhood friends to come watch it.

I was thinking about what the play would be about, who would act in it, and whether we’d serve refreshments when Sally said, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore. You do baby things.”

For a moment, the cold air seemed less gripping than the cold that took hold of my heart. Continue reading “When you feel like you don’t belong…”