Words pack a wallop

February 28, 2009 | My Jottings

I’ve said before that while growing up, my favorite thing in the whole world was to swim. I grew up in Southern California, and many families there had built-in swimming pools in their back yards, but my family didn’t have one until I was a teen. During the early years of my life I had to wait to be invited to a friend’s house to swim.

One hot summer day when I was about ten years old, a neighborhood friend named Jackie invited me and my good friend Christy over to enjoy her pool. We did back dives and front flips off the diving board, we turned pale and wrinkled from the chlorinated water, we coughed from the mixture of smog in the air and bleach in our lungs, but I didn’t care – to me it was all a magical concoction of what made a perfect day.

After a couple of hours of fun, I noticed Jackie whispering to Christy, and later found out that she had invited Christy to spend the night at her house, excluding me. I was hurt, but I went home thankful I had been able to swim. Several days later when I was invited to Jackie’s house again, I decided to be bold and ask her why she had asked Christy to spend the night and not me too. Jackie wasn’t an unkind girl, but she was serious and rather forthright for her age. I saw her wince as she considered what to answer me, and these were the words she spoke:  “Julie, you’re dull.”

If ever a word packed a wallop, that one did. Deep inside I thought it might be true – I knew I wasn’t one of those exciting little girls who had swarms of people around her all the time – but I had never heard someone describe me as dull, and as that word reverberated in my head, I began to think of ways to liven myself up, ways to become more exciting or entertaining. I thought I was going to have to tap dance, juggle or tightrope walk in order to keep people from thinking I was dull.

But somehow over the years God kept me from truly attempting to change my personality. He brought other people into my life who liked me the ho-hum way that I was. Nevertheless, that word packed a wallop in my young heart and soul and occasionally I fought the thought that I had to entertain people in order to interest them. When I had matured a bit I was able to let go of that false way of thinking. Lucky for all of my friends that each time we’re together they haven’t been subjected to waving pompoms, trick roller skating, or quickly constructed balloon animals. When I began to understand more about who I am in Christ, the word “dull” gradually lost its power and I could look upon that memory of Jackie with a smile.

Proverbs 18:21 says:  “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

This is a strong verse, but I have seen firsthand how my own words have walloped others, and I have cried bitter tears over careless things that have slipped out of my mouth. I am sick and tired of bringing death with my words, and want to bring life. Even when a negative report is called for, I know it can be brought with words of life.

I read that the average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. Are you 50 years old? Quite possibly, you’ve spent ten years talking. If all our words were put into print, the result would be this:  a single day’s words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year’s time the average person’s words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each. Among all those words there are bound to be some spoken in anger, carelessness, or haste, just the very situations Proverbs cautions us against. Someone wrote, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

James 3:2-6: We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

A contemporary example of the tongue being a destroying fire and a deadly poison, is Adolf Hitler. I read that for every word in Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, (which means “My Struggle”) 125 people died during World War II. One hundred twenty-five deaths for every one word. Speech can be a matter of life and death.

In my family during my youth, I saw and experienced the damage that an untamed tongue can inflict on people. There were also many kind, encouraging and life-giving words spoken in our home, but somehow the negative words always seem to pack the biggest wallops, don’t they?

My friend Jackie uttered those walloping words to me over 40 years ago, and I still remember them, but they no longer have any power over me and don’t hurt a bit. In fact, I’m inclined to agree with her. But I don’t feel that need to be someone other than who the Lord created me to be. If I’m not the most sparkling, sanguine person in the room, I’m okay with that. Fuddy-dud works for me. I honestly don’t feel the need to juggle or tap dance or liven myself up anymore. :)

These days I’m learning to hearken to the powerful words of Someone Else, and He’s not telling me that I’m dull. (Okay, He’s not telling me I’m scintillating either). His words do pack a great wallop, but for my good and for His glory.

He is telling me that I’m loved with an everlasting love. He’s telling me I’m worth dying for. He’s telling me I need His discipline in my life. He’s telling me I can find all I need at His feet, and that I will never find a friend like Him. He’s telling me that my careless words and many other sins give me a desperate need for a Savior. He’s telling me that He is that Savior.

Could you believe that He’s telling you the very same things?

Truly one of the hardest things in life for me, is to not blurt out a complaint, a worry, or an observation that might be too harsh for the hearer. But I am thankful for opportunities to change.

This morning I woke to find my heart still beating and my lungs drawing breath. That must mean there’s still hope. Like David did, I’m asking the Lord to daily create a clean heart in me, so that the words that are produced there are life-giving words. I want my words to bring warmth and life to my husband, to my children and grandchildren, to my friends, and even to the stranger who crosses my path. I want to speak words that flow out and bring to others encouragement and truth, light and hope. Words that pack a wonderful wallop, and are remembered for years afterward, because they brought life…

What are you searching for?

February 26, 2009 | My Jottings

I have several more serious blog posts I’m working on, but am just not in the mood today. So for fun, I thought I’d share something more lighthearted.

On my blog I have a feature that allows me to see what words people are using when they go to Google.com (or other search engines) and are looking for (or accidentally happening upon) my blog. I looked at it today and it made me laugh.

Most people reach this blog by simply typing www.JustJulieB.com into their browser field. Others tell me they have it bookmarked. I have bookmarked several good blogs that I love to read as well (take a look at some of them, listed directly to the left of this paragraph). Some people are still using Google to visit this site, and that’s just fine if it works for you.

But it’s clear that some people visit my blog completely by accident because they’ve typed in random words at Google, obviously looking for something much different than what they find when they click on any Google link to JustJulieB.

Here are some recent examples of the words people have used in Google searches, that inadvertently led them to this blog:

“German house” – I did write about living in Germany, but I’ll bet this wasn’t what that person was looking for.

“Schnauzer cold weather nasal” – well, Edith the Schnauzer does make a lot of nasally sounds when she’s sleeping, and we are having a snowstorm today, so cold weather does apply…

“Authentic Muesli” – I did post my favorite Muesli recipe a while back so hopefully they weren’t too disappointed when they found my version…

“Trees” - can you imagine anyone doing a generic search on a subject so broad as “trees” and ending up on this blog? :)

Bleach scent addictions- oh dear, this person was looking for help I can’t give them…

“Old age personality changes” – well, that one certainly rings a bell with me, but I’m not sure they found the geriatric/psychological help they were seeking…

“Just Jazzy Julie” - this is most definitely not the right Julie site for that person – to my knowledge, “jazzy” isn’t something I have ever been called…

Big Picture Person Definition” – did this person hear a friend say, “I’m more of a big picture person” and turned to Google when she couldn’t find help in Webster’s? :)

“What does Jesus mean to you?” – they’re getting warmer – that is certainly something I’d write about and ask my readers to share about…

“Purple and orange sea slug” – this is one that many Google searches have sent my way recently – there must be an assigned paper that whole classrooms are doing on nudibranchs this week…

“Just Julie Entertainment” – yes, this is the company I will be founding soon, in keeping with my entertaining, energetic and overly optimistic personality…

“Do you have a life verse?” – one of the most common searches people use and end up on this site. Well, I’ll ask again – do you have a life verse? :)

“Lord of the Rings Bilbo flips out” - this made me laugh out loud. Who knows what the person searching Google thought when they accidentally happened upon this blog post at my site?

I don’t know what anyone else is searching for today, but I’m searching high and low for signs of God’s help and activity in my life and in the lives of those I love.

I’m not looking for it on Google, though…

Feelin’ lousy

February 21, 2009 | My Jottings

Several months ago I received a disconcerting phone call. It was from the supervisor of one of the people we care for and have regular contact with, and she wanted me to know that T. had possibly been exposed to head lice. **Groan** Someone at T.’s work had lice, and that person’s coat had hung on the coat rack next to T.’s coat. So they just wanted us to know, so we could be aware. Because their coats had touched. Possibly.

Well, that was enough for me, and my mind went into overdrive. As soon as T. came home, I sat her down and started checking her hair and scalp. Mind you, I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly, but I thought if I looked closely enough I’d be able to see either A) little eggs, or B) a tiny live louse or two having a heyday. I didn’t find anything, but then again I wasn’t sure what to look for, so of course I went online and did some research. (A word of caution: if you like to sleep well at night, don’t go online and look at large magnified photographs of lice and their eggs.)

The more I looked, the more unnerved I became. We can’t get lice, not with all the people we have in our house! I checked everyone’s scalp and hair, looking for any sign of eggs. I checked pillows and blankets. I pored over hats and collars. Every little piece of dry skin, every flake of dandruff, each speck of lint on pillows I found, was scrutinized. Then I looked at more pictures online, but I still wasn’t certain I knew how to identify what I was looking for.

That evening, I started to itch. Badly. I scratched my head a little and tried to put thoughts of lice from my mind. That worked for seven minutes and then the itching grew in intensity and finally just became constant. I tried to look at my scalp by holding a hand mirror and standing close to another mirror, but I am “visually challenged” and couldn’t see anything but my own hair. By the time I went to bed I was certain that I, myself, had a massive and teeming lice infestation and soon the whole house would have to be tented and fumigated by a pest control agency. (As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.) I was almost in tears. I had Michael look carefully to see what he could find, but he couldn’t see anything either. I slept fitfully that night and woke up just as itchy the next morning.

There were only three options, as I saw it. One was to panic and assume there were now billions of lice in every nook and cranny of our house, and head to the drug store to buy a case of nerve-toxic delousing liquid, and treat every person in our house immediately. Option Two was to try to use mind over matter, restrain myself from gouging and violently scraping my now-tender scalp, speak firmly and authoritatively to myself and say, “Julie, there are no lice here. Get a hold of yourself!  T. doesn’t have lice, her coat doesn’t have lice, you don’t have lice, no one else in this house has lice, and you can relax now and move on.” Option Three was to call my friend Carey.

I remembered that a few years ago, Carey’s young son had gotten lice. They found out that he got them by putting on a hat that had just been on someone else’s head who had lice. Now, everyone knows that lice like to pay social calls to the nicest and cleanest of people. Having head lice doesn’t mean that someone hasn’t washed their hair, kept their house spic and span, or made personal hygiene a top priority. Usually a lice infestation means that a person was in the wrong place at the right time, as in the case of Carey’s son. To the person who has lice, this is small comfort.

Well, Carey did everything a good mother would do. She treated her son right away with the lice-and-nit-killing shampoo, and then compulsively went through his hair with a nit-comb sixteen times a day for the next three weeks. She checked her husband, her other children, and herself. She found a couple of nits in her own hair, so then treated herself. She didn’t rest until she was certain the last louse and/or nit was dead and gone from her home. It wasn’t a fun time, and I remember feeling so sorry for what Carey and her family were going through.

But now because of her experience, in my estimation Carey was a Certified Lice Expert. The next morning I called and told her about the phone call from T.’s supervisor. Carey patiently explained to me what I should be looking for, how the nits were not white and round, but were slightly elongated and like teeny, tiny beige grains of rice stuck to the hair follicles. I got off the phone and searched again, but every microscopic light-colored fleck in my house now looked like a louse egg to me. My head was so itchy and I was growing more miserable by the minute. I finally called Carey back and asked her in a voice of quiet desperation, “Carey, can I just come over and have you look at my head to see if I have lice?”

“Of course you can!” she soothed, so I grabbed the car keys, waved to Michael and headed out. In the time it took for me to drive to Carey’s house, she had gathered and set up all the essential tools for detecting whether or not I was a lousy friend, and was waiting for me at the front door when I arrived.

She had this huge magnifying glass with a bright light attached to it, she had a chair set up under the light, and she had the nit-comb in hand, which she had needed for her son years before. I sat down in the chair and braced myself. Carey was a Certified Lice Expert, and in a few minutes I would find out if The Bugs of Doom had taken up residence on my scalp, and therefore my pillows, car, carpets, beds, house, yard and neighborhood. Carey parted my hair and peered closely. She parted it again and again and examined every part of my scalp, methodically and gently. And may I add, compassionately, because she knew what kind of a dither I had worked myself into. At one point she said, “Oh, Julie, you’ve actually scratched some raw spots on your head.” I thought to myself, blood and scabs I can deal with; lice I cannot.

After about twenty minutes of careful examination, Carey straightened up and announced that I did not have head lice. What relief! What a burden lifted! I could resume my life now, and I thanked Carey profusely for being the kind of friend who would drop everything to dig through a friend’s hair to hunt for blood-thirsty insects.

It took over a day for my nerve endings to get the message that it wasn’t necessary to itch anymore. Even though my mind was at ease, I found it interesting that it took some time for my body to follow. I checked everyone in our household again and never found anything, thank God. And I was amazed at the power of suggestion, how just a hint of the possibility of something brought real symptoms.

Carey and I have laughed about this little episode in our friendship, the memory of me sitting helpless in her living room while she hovered over me, digging through my hair. Even though it gives me the heebie-jeebies to think about it, I’m grateful for her. I know that she’s the kind of friend I can turn to when I’m really feelin’ lousy.

true-friends

A few days after my scalp had quieted down and things were back to the blessed ordinary, I sent Carey this picture by email to express my appreciation for how she had ministered to me. Oh, we’ve gotten more than a few chuckles out of this photo! (That’s Carey on the left, and I’m the one with the white eye-shadow. I can’t remember who the other two are.)

I told her that it was a photo of the both of us, and I titled it “True Friendship.”   :)

Favorite Teachers

February 19, 2009 | My Jottings

Yesterday and I wrote about a teacher I had in eighth grade who truly made a difference in my life. Now it’s your turn!  You can all be guest bloggers today on Thankful Thursday, and tell your own story.

Who is your favorite teacher and why are you thankful for him/her? What grade did he/she teach? What subject? Where? What did he/she do or say that encouraged you and made a difference in your life? What words did he/she say that are still ringing in your ears? What other details do you remember about that teacher and/or that school year?

It’s easy to leave a comment and you can even choose to be anonymous if you like. Just click on the word “Comment” at the bottom of this post. This will take you to a simple little typing area where you can put in a few words, type your comment and then simply click “Submit Comment.”

Let’s reminisce today,

Mr. Contreras

February 18, 2009 | My Jottings

They are the caterpillar years. Those awkward years between childhood and adulthood when we’re no longer the adorable little kids we once were, and aren’t yet the cool grownups we will be. The caterpillar years are often marked by growth spurts, acne and sudden (or perhaps I should say sullen) personality changes that make parents uneasy. Those years are often pivotal in people’s lives and I know more than one person who remembers the junior high school years as the time they made the choices that steered them toward success or failure in future years.

In the Midwest, children in the caterpillar stage attend what is called Middle School. Where I live now, Middle School used to mean seventh, eighth and ninth grades, then was changed several years ago to include fifth through eighth grades. In Southern California it was called Junior High School, and when I attended, it meant just seventh and eighth grades.

At Traweek Junior High School, I experienced a lot of firsts. It was the first time we moved from classroom to classroom for our different subjects. It was the first time I had a locker. It was the first time we had P.E. (Physical Education) and had to change our clothes for it. It was the first time I went to a school dance. And because several elementary schools fed into this junior high school, it was the first time I was in classes where I didn’t know most of the other kids.

I also remember every single one of my teachers. In Kindergarten, Mrs. Staton played the piano and daily gave us graham crackers and a small carton of milk. I remember that in first grade, Mrs. Weber tsk-tsked at me and gave me a C in Deportment. In second grade Mrs. Lokken taught me to say “Rabbit!” and told my father at parent conferences that I had real potential. He told me, and I thought maybe things would be okay after all. In third grade, one of our fifty weekly spelling words was our pretty teacher’s last name: Giauque. In fourth grade, Mrs. Migdal taught us how to make dioramas to illustrate books we read. In fifth grade, Mrs. Rorex kindly let me wear a pair of her shoes when mine got drenched on the way to school as I walked through the dew-soaked soccer field. In sixth grade Miss Curry taught us about poise by example and Venezuela by text.

In seventh grade, when I wasn’t even aware that over the summer I had turned into a caterpillar, I had several teachers: Mr. Wade, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Rose, Mr. Neely, Mrs. Kiger (who taught P.E. and weighed and measured us all the first week – I was 5’7″ and 95 pounds) and Mr. Boyd. We had left off our beloved hopscotch and turned to hanging in the halls in what we thought were cool clumps. The days of playing foursquare faded into days of figuring out how to wear eye makeup and how to dance to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and look like we’d been born doing it.

By the eighth grade, I knew girls who “went steady” with new boys every couple of weeks, but I was getting taller and ganglier, and I was never one of them. I remember a boy I had a crush on from a distance, and how blissful I thought life would be if he would cast a glance my way. In the wisdom that comes from hindsight I can see that if my prayers had been answered about him, I would probably have ended up a motorcycle mama or at the very least a disillusioned and lonely young woman.

Enter Mr. Fred Contreras. In eighth grade he was my teacher for two classes each day – English and Social Studies. I was surrounded by brilliant students who could do advanced math in their heads and probably went to M.I.T. and are now wearing pocket protectors and working for NASA. I was just a tall, freckled and skinny thirteen year-old who liked swimming and books, in that order. School had largely been a pleasant experience for me and I had done fairly well, but Mr. Contreras was a different kind of teacher, and broadened my little world in a way that still plays out thirty-eight years later.

Perhaps the most striking thing about having Mr. Contreras as a teacher during those angst-laden caterpillar years, was that he treated us with respect and without a hint of condescension. Last time I checked, junior high school students were in the running for the most annoying humans on the planet, but an observer in Mr. Contreras’s classroom wouldn’t have gotten that vibe from him. I’m sure each morning he looked out at the blase, pimply-faced, short-skirted group of us and saw an ungainly bunch of caterpillars, but I also think he saw what we could become. He knew we were in transition and these were hard years for many of us. But he also knew we were capable of a lot and that someone needed to ask us to step to the plate. He did, and we stepped up.

His was not a classroom where crowd control was needed. Author Frank McCourt wrote that his first momentous words uttered as a teacher were “Stop throwing sandwiches!” In his whole career as an educator I doubt if Mr. Contreras ever had to issue that command. His serious, quiet manner carried an air of authority that we understood meant we were there to learn.

We read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth (out loud) and Steinbeck, and suddenly Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew seemed like cartoon characters in comparison. I still like the older Nancy Drew books, but back in eighth grade I recall thinking, “Does he expect us to actually get this stuff?” He did expect us to get it, and with his help, we did.

We all sensed that he cared about us as human beings. Our class loved and respected Mr. Contreras so much that when we found out the date of his birthday, we all conspired with his wife Kathy on how to surprise him with a classroom party. Taking donations so we could purchase for him the six-inch thick The Complete Works of Shakespeare was effortless – every student wanted to give. We all signed our names inside the front cover, to convey to him that the way he had treated us and taught us, really meant something. We also learned that he liked the song “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” so gave him a CCR record. We might have been just another class of thirteen year-olds to him, but he was not just another teacher to us.

After many years passed I started teaching my three daughters at home, and I pondered how much books had impacted our lives. I wrote a letter to Mr. Contreras about what a wonderful teacher he had been. I often think nice things about people and fail to tell them; I decided not to go that route with him. Since then we have exchanged e-mails and occasional phone calls, and now that I’m fifty-one I guess I should call him Fred. It doesn’t roll off the tongue easily, because I still think of him as Mr. Contreras.

When my father died in late 2007 my husband and I flew back to California to attend his funeral, and we were so grateful to also be able to have dinner with Fred and his wife Kathy.

We check in with each other now and then, and still talk about what we’re reading. Fred is retired now, is still married to Kathy, and is the father of three grown children. He and Kathy have a granddaughter they delight in. He fights the same disease my husband does – Parkinson’s – and he’s been an encouragement and help in freely sharing about his journey with us.

I don’t think my metamorphosis from those awkward caterpillar years has resulted in me becoming a butterfly – I’m more of a moth sort of woman. I’m not a spectacular specimen and I do a lot of unnecessary and unproductive fluttering around. But I am attracted to light, and spend most of my days wanting to draw close to the One who called Himself the Light of the world.

Once in a while a marvelous teacher steps into our lives. I have had excellent teachers throughout the years, in school buildings and in the school of life, but Fred Contreras is the one who stands out in my memory the most. If you asked him he would probably modestly claim to only have been doing his job, but for me he did more than that. He let us know he cared. He opened a door for us to an amazing world of literature. He looked at us and paid attention when we spoke. He treated us like the people he knew we could be, not the insecure geeks we thought we were. He was a pretty serious man, so when he smiled or laughed we noticed and took it in.

When I graduated from eighth grade at Traweek Junior High School I asked Mr. Contreras to sign my yearbook. In keeping with who he was, he wrote (in strong and beautiful handwriting) a short but sincere and very encouraging note to me, which I cherished and half-dared to believe. He made me feel like I could really succeed at whatever I put my hands to.

There are still things I would like to do before I die, but some days I really doubt that I’ll ever be able to accomplish them. Then I think of Fred. And I can still picture him standing at the front of that Southern California classroom, looking out at all of us and fully expecting us to succeed.

I’m so thankful to be able to share about Mr. Contreras. Everyone should be blessed with a teacher like him.

Of Teeth and Temerity

February 10, 2009 | My Jottings

On a frigid fall night in 1984, I was playing tag in the house with my three young daughters. Daddy was on his way home from a fishing trip. Sharon was seven, Carolyn was five, and Sara was two and a half years old. Soon I sat on the couch to rest and watch them chase each other and giggle. Within seconds our fun turned to near-tragedy when my youngest daughter Sara slipped on the carpet as she rounded a corner, and came crashing down on the edge of the coffee table with nothing to cushion the blow but her front teeth. Blood poured from her mouth and she screamed for me. I quickly looked in her mouth and her four upper front teeth were gone. In just a few seconds her upper lip began to swell.

I clawed the carpet in hopes of finding the teeth, but to no avail. I grabbed a kitchen towel with ice to apply to her mouth, directed my other two daughters to keep the doors locked and to tell Daddy what had happened, and then I rushed out into the cold Minnesota night to drive Sara to the emergency room a few blocks away.

Inside the hospital Sara was calmer and the bleeding had stopped, but I was heartbroken over her missing teeth. I thought, she is only two! Will other children make fun of her as she grows up without her front teeth? I mentally kicked myself for allowing the girls to run in the house.

After checking in and giving our insurance information, I was told that all the doctors were occupied, so we were encouraged to go to the waiting area where several people were seated. It was a busy night in the ER. I stood against a wall and held Sara on one hip, and she laid her head on my shoulder while we waited.

By then I was composed enough to finally notice what surely everyone else had observed by now. In my panic and haste to locate Sara’s missing teeth and transport her quickly to the hospital, I never thought about my own appearance. Now, in the emergency room of our local hospital, I looked down at myself and blanched.

Not only was I barefoot and without a coat on a very chilly night, but I was dressed in an old, thin, torn nightgown, with nothing on underneath. Being of the buxom variety of female, I realized with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that anyone who had seen me that night had caught an eyeful. I had run out of my house carrying Sara to the car, parked down the street from the ER, and run to the entrance. I had spoken to two receptionists and now I was standing inappropriately dressed in front of several strangers, not to mention that I would soon have to see a physician about my daughter’s missing teeth.

I made a lightning-fast decision right then in the ER waiting area. My daughter was most important. Her health came before my vanity. I would lift my chin, focus on why we were there, and pretend that I was fully dressed. I would not even apologize to the doctor for the way I was (or was not) attired. I would be the Empress in her new clothes and I would not concern myself with what the peasants were thinking.

Thankfully, Sara’s suffering was short and her little teeth were not gone forever. They had been shoved up into her gums, but in time all four of them re-emerged, strong and undamaged.

Today she is a lovely 27-year old with perfectly straight teeth and a captivating smile…

…and the bottom drawer of my dresser is crammed with ankle-length, thick flannel nightgowns.    :)

If I had my druthers…

February 9, 2009 | My Jottings

If I had my druthers…

 

…this would be our village…

 

 

…and this would be the road to our house…

 

 

…and our new friends would come to call…

 

 

…and there would be a little barn on the property filled with these…

 

 

…and at night we would warm ourselves by this…

 

 

…and each morning I’d feel so rested and hopeful that I’d go outside and do this…

spinning

 

…but that’s only if I had my druthers…

Penny and Rob

February 6, 2009 | My Jottings

We have a few toys at our house, stashed in a laundry basket underneath an old oak church pew in our living room, and our grandchildren often head straight for them when they visit. We also have a “grandchildren’s drawer” in our kitchen that I try to keep things in for them. The latest treasures I placed in there were a Slinky, a Lightning McQueen car, a new book, and a stuffed baby bluebird who plays an actual recording of the Eastern Bluebird’s song if you squeeze her, ahem, tail feathers.

One of my oldest granddaughter’s favorite toys is something she picked from the dollar bins right inside the entry at our local Target store – a brightly painted plastic dinosaur she named Penny. Penny is a Pachycephalosaurus, an odd and rarely-heard-of dinosaur whose body is painted various shades of neon green and whose head is painted a dull industrial gray.

I think Penny fits right into our household, because of what kind of dinosaur she is. From the Greek, pachy means thick (remember thick-skinned elephants — pachyderms?) Cephalo means relating to the head. And saurus means lizard. So a Pachycephalosaurus was a thick-headed lizard. And while I have never been called thick-headed, I do recall the word stubborn being bandied about a few times over the years; I think they might be synonyms.

In some places online this dinosaur was actually called a “bonehead” – its skull could be up to twelve inches thick in places, and was used to ram its enemies.

Anyway, I was surprised that six-year old Clara chose the strange Pachycephalosaurus from the dollar bins, and even more surprised at how maternal she acts toward Penny. Right off I wanted to find a way for Clara to remember how to say this polysyllabic word, and as we strolled through Target I finally settled on a method.

I said, “When you go on a trip you need to pack some things, don’t you? You get out your suitcase, and you pack a brush, you pack a nightgown, you pack a pair of shoes, and if you take your dinosaur with you, you “pack-a-SEFF-a-lo-SORE-uss!”  That did it – it created the place in her brain that a word that large could hang on, and she smiled up at me from her seat in the cart and said flawlessly, “Grandma, I’m going to name my Pachycephalosaurus Penny!”

p2051123Penny the thick-headed lizard enjoys a lot of tender loving care when Clara comes for a stay at Grandma’s. Penny gets to take baths in the big whirlpool tub. On top of a heating radiator, Penny stays warm in her own little dinosaur garage that Clara made out of felt, construction paper and copious amounts of packing tape. How appropriate is that? Packing tape for the Pachycephalosaurus.

p2051130

And when it’s bedtime, Clara carefully lays Penny down near her pillow, and covers her with my McIntyre plaid woolen scarf, purchased in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clara croons at Penny and takes great care to make sure she’s comfortable for the night, before turning to her own pile of books she quietly reads before nodding off.

And now for an abrupt segue: we have a winner for this month’s bloggy giveaway!  I so enjoyed reading about your first cars and thank you all for commenting. The seventh person to post a comment was Rob F., and he will receive a gift certificate to amazon.com, where he can purchase anything from books and furniture to kitchen tools and plastic dinosaurs. Maybe Rob will leave another comment soon to tell us all what he bought with his gift certificate. :)

We are finally warming up here in northern Minnesota. It’s supposed to be thirty-seven degrees (above zero) today, and that means no mittens, no hat, no boots, no scarf, no warming up the car before driving.

I’m thinking spring…

Oh, Opel!

February 3, 2009 | My Jottings

In early September of 1973, two things happened. I turned sixteen, and I became a car owner for the first time. My first car was a 1973 Opel station wagon. Back then Opels were sold at Buick dealerships, but made in Germany. You don’t see them anymore, unless you go to foreign countries.

When I turned fourteen, I started working at our local school district office after school and full-time during the summers, and saved my $1.65 per hour paychecks with the intent of buying my first car in two years. I had saved enough for the down payment by my sixteenth birthday, and my dad went and picked it up, driving the brand new car to my house with a huge red ribbon tied around it. I still remember him coming down the street with the basketball-sized bow affixed to the roof of the car, and the ribbons blowing. To say I was excited is rather an understatement.

The cost of my brand new, first car? A whopping $2800. After the down payment, I made monthly car payments of $75 per month for almost three years. 

Here’s a photo of my little blue Opel. It had a 4-speed stick shift and an eight-track tape player with nice speakers. I used to listen to Bread, Chicago, Linda Ronstadt and The Guess Who. I drove it to and from school and work during my junior and senior years in high school. My friends and I drove to the beach a hundred times in my little Opel, and later I even had a California vanity plate for my car that said JULIET. Oh brother. That’s one of many parts of my youth that has caused me to mutter in my middle age, “What was I thinking?”

When I was almost twenty years old, married, with a baby girl and living on Beale AFB in Northern California, I traded in my little blue Opel wagon at a Volkswagen dealership in Sacramento. My husband and I were headed for three years in Germany and we bought another German car — a 1978 VW Rabbit.

Years later when I was back in SoCal, I was driving my green Rabbit one Saturday on the San Diego freeway. One lane over was a light blue Opel wagon that looked identical to the one I had owned. It even had the same dealer’s name on the back license plate holder. It had a dent in the tailgate and looked a little shabby. I knew there was one way I could tell — I pulled closer and glanced over at the passenger dash board to see if a small blemish (from some goofball who touched the lighter against the vinyl years before and slightly melted it) could be seen. It was there. This was my first car, years later, being driven by a strange woman. Many memories, good and bad, came flooding back, and I watched a little wistfully as the car drove on past. I’m pretty sure I actually said aloud, “Ohhhh, Opel…”

So this brings us to the February blog giveaway! What was your first car? Tell us the make, the model, the color and the year. How old were you when you got it? How much did it cost? What did you like and dislike about it? What are some interesting things you could share about your first set of wheels? Inquiring minds want to know.

The seventh person to share a comment on this post will win this month’s bloggy giveaway. I am still deciding what the gift will be, but I promise it will be nice. 

Vrrrooom,

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