Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Most Romantic Thing

Photo Mendocino

A couple we know commemorated their 40+ years of marriage with a big outdoor party. Their property is a plot of land in the woods near the coast in Northern California. They operate a small retreat center, and have had their share of ups and downs over the years. But on that day, they were truly able to celebrate their lives together.

One of their guests said to the man, “That’s a long time to be married and still be in love with each other. What’s your secret?”

Every now and then, I encounter a question-and-answer moment that seems to make time stand still. This was one of those moments. But the answer surprised me.

“A common vision,” he said.

That’s not the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

I’ve often thought that marriage is a lot like holding hands in a crowded mall. At first it’s delightful. But there’s so much to see and do. I slow down to read this on the left and she speeds up to have a look at that on the right, and all these people keep trying to get between us . . . You quickly decide that it’s easier to just let go and be two. That way, each of you can wander free, or maybe go separate ways altogether, and plan to meet up later to eat.

But when you both agree that walking hand in hand is what you really want to do, it changes everything. You get to share his intriguing read and her fascinating find together. And it’s a blast to discover how deftly you can navigate a crowd when you’re truly one.

That unity, that common vision, makes it possible to become and remain as one. And after 40+ years of life, that is the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.

With this post, I’m completing my first year of the Loving Her Beautiful blog. Thank you so much for reading – and Happy New Year!

The retreat center mentioned above is Antioch Ranch in Mendocino, California.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

“God Bless Us, Everyone”

Photo courtesy of Clip Art

One of my favorite Christmastime treats is the music. Year after year, I listen to the same delightful songs and passionate melodies and never tire of them. Each one is like a single holiday cookie set on a plate filled with cookies, inviting you to indulge in yet another magical piece of the season. I play a little piano, but only a very little. I often think how wondrous it must be to just sit down and create beautiful music off the top of your head, especially for others to hear, and especially at this time of year.

My most favorite Christmastime treat is what the season does to us.

Among my family’s social circle during my high school years was a man who could be truly obnoxious, even in the eyes of a teenager. He was frequently loud and crass, and I remember the looks on the other grown-ups’ faces as they tried not to let his behavior annoy or offend them. He once sang an impromptu song at a party that shocked us. Nearly three decades later, the memory still makes me cringe.

But then one Christmastime, my dad told us that this man had nowhere to go for the big day. Somehow, even with a girlfriend, three children and plenty of social contacts, he was going to be all alone for Christmas. So my dad, who years later still referred to the man as a barbarian, announced, “I’ve invited him for Christmas, and he’s coming.” I’m happy to report that at that moment, the spirit of the season arose in me. I was horrified at the man’s predicament, and adamant that he should absolutely join with us, come what may . . .

All of Christmas day, my thoughts bounced between certainty that we’d done the right thing, and concern about how many ways he might do the wrong thing. When he arrived, he was all smiles and graciousness, as he could always be. Throughout the afternoon, he was jovial and witty, and appropriate. Then the end of the evening drew near, and he shocked us again.

He sat down at our piano and began to play.
Beautiful, lyrical music.
Christmas music.
Off the top of his head.

It is indeed more blessed to give than to receive. But perhaps that’s because in giving our best to others, they give and we receive their best in return. And in that moment, Tiny Tim’s prayer is answered, because God truly blesses us, everyone.

May you and yours be filled to overflowing with all the wonders and joys of the season.
Blessings,
BILL

Thursday, December 4, 2008

There’s No Place Like Home

“Be it ever so humble . . .”

Ours is. It frequently evokes phrases like, “If only we had one more bedroom” and “It looks like they didn’t invent storage until after 1952.” The plumbing often rattles behind the scenes at night like a tone-deaf symphony. The kitchen counters are routinely cleared of everything, but over time, one or two items appear, and then they seem to breed or invite a few friends over, or both, until sure enough: oy.

But as we continue to talk about our house, our comments become more about our home. We start saying things like, “But boy, in the spring for just a few minutes at dusk, when the last of the sun’s rays just glow through those curtains . . .” and “Remember our first Christmas tree, right over in that corner . . . ” and of course, coming home from anywhere, walking in the door, setting everything down in the most familiar of surroundings, and happily sighing, “Ahh.”

What I’ve realized is that a home is a lot like a relationship. A relationship is not insufficient because one of you never does this and the other one never does that. Nor is it a treasure because one of you makes $150K a year or can really keep up with the laundry. It’s a treasure because of the moments, like the time he sang you to sleep when you were sick, and the time she held you and stroked your forehead when you finally broke down, and that night you laughed so hard together you thought you’d stop breathing. The real value of a home, much like a relationship, is not what it brings to your life, but the life it brings to you.

No matter how flawed the partners, it’s those moments that make a relationship. And no matter how humble the house, it’s those memories that make it a home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Thanksgiving Surprise



“And a Snoopy sleeping bag.”

On my 9th birthday, that was what I wanted most of all. The bright red one in the Sears catalog, with an outline of Snoopy lying on his doghouse, wearing a big smile.

“OK!” my parents agreed.

But when my birthday came, my sleeping bag did not come with it.

“We’re so sorry,” they said, “but sometimes mail order items come much later than we hope.”

I tried not to be too sad. After all, I had a fun party and lots of other gifts. And Halloween was only a week away. So I tried to forget about Snoopy and the sleeping bag.

But the next day, and the day after, and the day after that, I couldn’t help but sag at the shoulders when no belated gift arrived for me.

Before I knew it, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving had arrived. The four-day break was about to begin, and we four children chattered excitedly about how we wanted to spend them, starting with what we couldn’t wait to see on the table at tomorrow’s feast. A ring of the doorbell took my mom away from the commotion momentarily. When she returned, she carried a large UPS box. “It’s for you,” she told me with a smile. Since the few weeks had passed like eons of time to my 9 year old memory, I couldn’t imagine what it might be. But when I opened the box, everything came back to me in a great rush of red. I yanked it out, my forgotten but beloved sleeping bag, bigger than I’d realized and just as red as its picture in the catalog. And there on the front, bigger than life-size and smiling as if he was at last as happy as I was, lay Snoopy on his doghouse.

“Can I sleep in it tonight?” I squealed.

“Of course,” my parents said. “How would you all like to have a slumber party in the family room?”

I was never so happy to go to bed in all my life.

And the next morning we awoke to the sounds and smells of a delicious Thanksgiving feast. But before getting up, I lay in my sleeping bag for a moment on my back, perfectly content, like my old pal Snoopy, and smiled.

After 35 years of wonderful Thanksgiving holidays, that memory is still the most delicious one of all.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, feasts . . . and plenty of smiles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bare Feet


I recently discovered something about women that was new to me: their famous affection for shoes does not require that they always wear them. Sandra at Miss Fluffy Ruffles wrote a post showing and telling her delight with all things froo-froo and frilly, then suddenly shifted gears to say that she equally enjoys being barefoot. One of her readers, Connie at Living Beautifully, offered a comment on Sandra’s post with the same paradoxical passion: a fondness for fancy, but at any given moment she too is unshod and loving it.

Recently, Nancy and I were reminiscing about friends from our college choir. “What was the name of the girl with the short hair? I think she was an alto.”

“Hmm,” I mused, unable to picture her, “was she kind of tall?”

“No, about my height. You know, dark hair, nice smile.”

“Don’t remember,” I shrugged, then suddenly recalled one young lady with a unique trait that she displayed year round, indoors and out: “You mean the barefoot one?”

“That’s her,” Nancy stated.

And despite our own cold hardwood floors, I know Nancy’s up when I hear the soft pad-padding that can only be made by bare feet. I’ll frequently arrive home from work to see her busy-day shoes off to one side of the entry, and hear the same pad-padding coming to greet me.

I’m intrigued by this discovery for one reason: I have total wuss feet. With shoes on, I can run around non-stop from dawn to dusk, on hardwood or concrete, with no issues. I can even dance for 8 straight hours (at least I could 25 years ago in college). But these days, a barefoot walk from the front door to the bedroom closet for my slippers renders my feet cold as ice and aching with agony. I can practically hear them asking, “It was such a good day. What did we do to deserve this?”

As a result, my “slippers” are really not at all. They’re actually an old pair of Ecco’s that served long ago as my Good Shoes. Back then, their famous sole support was attractive. Today, it’s vital.

I don’t understand the logic behind (or under) so-called slippers. How can anyone be expected to walk around on a piece of cardboard and not have cold, achy feet?

I’ve tried to just go barefoot anyway, to get over it, to be a man. I’ll kick off my Ecco’s and carry on with my day. But after a while, I find myself cranky and irritable, feeling that somehow the whole world has turned sour on me, like a black cloud that slowly sneaks over you until it’s darkened the whole sky. Then I realize the truth. It’s not the world, it’s me: I’ve been barefoot for nearly 10 minutes.

I did run around barefoot as a kid. It was different then, but not much. I could race through the grass with the best of them, feeling my toes digging into the soft turf, getting traction like a mountain lion on the attack. But as soon as we hit pavement or that one neighbor’s lawn full of overgrown prickly weeds, I’d switch into the humiliating Tippy-toe Tango. I’d transform from a smooth sprinter into a gawky marionette being worked by a novice, who quickly gives up on attempts at finesse and just shakes the thing.

But somehow, living from indoor shoes to outdoor shoes and back again makes me feel like I’m missing out on something. It seems to me that those who are barefoot enjoy a unique experience of simplicity and carefree-ness, a liberating sense of tossing it all aside for a while, that I don’t. Then I realize that I can. Since reading that blog post the other day, I’ve decided I want to try once again to go barefoot. Maybe I’ll find that I get used to it, like first jumping into a cold swimming pool. After the initial misery, you adjust, and then you wonder why you didn’t get in sooner. Or perhaps my feet will still be cold and achy, but I’ll discover that, like with camping in the woods, the unpleasantries are more than made up for by the experience.

So I’m going to kick off my shoes and give it another shot. I’m going to jump into that pool, head off into the woods, live a little.

With my faithful Ecco’s waiting by the door, just in case.

(A special thanks to my dear barefoot beauty for my new blog banner. I hope you all like it. [I love it!])

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes

I don’t remember having a lot of them when I was young, but I sure remember having them.

They were soft and delicate, so you always handled them gently. Not just to keep pieces from falling to the ground (the 10-second rule never seemed classy enough for chocolate cupcakes), but somehow they made you become careful, like the rambunctious kid who’s suddenly transformed when he’s handed a puppy.

They were spongy and moist, so although they were never messy, they always left just enough of themselves behind so that you could get one last taste by licking your fingers.

Years after year, I chose for my birthday cake a Baskin-Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream creation, my absolute favorite. In junior high, I developed a long-lasting crush on a packaged gingerbread mix. Later, I fell in love with fresh banana bread, and my mom’s cranberry nutbread. And to this day every Christmas, I indulge in a two or three day blissfest with an old family friend’s annual date bread.

But when my wife made chocolate cupcakes last week, everything changed. It was like the leading man suddenly discovering that he’s in love with his childhood friend, who’s always been overshadowed by more glamorous competition, but who’s always had a special and overlooked place in his heart. It takes just one last special moment to realize it. Everything else then takes a distant second place, and life will never be the same. The first thought is always, What have I been missing? But somehow the future becomes that much sweeter because now your really know.

There was something so deliciously familiar about her chocolate cupcakes, so much like childhood, so comforting. I’ve heard it said that smells can spring up a well of memories from decades ago, either good ones or bad. By the time I got home from work, the baking smells were gone. But that first bite flooded me with memories, and they were all wonderful:
Birthdays, whether my own or someone else’s. It didn’t matter, as long as there were chocolate cupcakes.
Halloween, because the chocolate color goes so well with orange.
Christmas, because there’s never so much to put on them as there is at Christmas.

There’s always the temptation to try to make a good thing better, so we often went crazy with whipped cream and tubed frostings, and sprinkles and candies, and even red hots. But you’d only do red hots once. Chocolate cupcakes may go with everything, but not everything goes with chocolate cupcakes.

I ate one of my wife’s chocolate cupcakes with thick chocolate frosting (even guys know there’s no such thing as too much chocolate). It swirled and gathered and pointed upward like a bouffant, threatening to topple. It was divine. Then I had one with just a few artistic lines of colored frosting (I was trying to be Carolyn Quartermaine on cake). It looked like . . . well, whatever, but boy, was it tasty.

But at last I had one “plain,” if such a creation can be described this way. No one describes a perfect piece of fruit as plain. I rediscovered a lost love, and I may never put anything on a chocolate cupcake again.

They don’t look like much. In their muffin paper, they’re half invisible, and when you take them out, they almost look worse, like a cat that’s just walked through tummy-high water. But they fit in your hand perfectly, and in your mouth even better. And then you taste them.

They’re also so much fun to make. Whether batter from a bowl or Betty Crocker from a box, they’re quick and easy – we could make them ourselves as kids – and just a bit messy so, once again, you have to – you get to – lick your fingers. And who can honestly say they never disobeyed and dipped their finger in for one good swig? Only those of us who dipped in twice.

But ultimately, they’re more than just fun and delicious. They make us feel like kids again. They take us back to birthday parties festooned with themed paper tablecloths and twisted crepe paper streamers. With matching cups and plates and napkins set for pint-sized company, and the pointy hats with those under-chin stretchy strings that only the most secure and loving dads would wear, that were always catching on the streamers. The elaborate and obligatory cake was always well received, since it presented the glowing candles to be blown out and wished upon. But off to the side on their own pedestal plate, as if waiting for the final and most celebrated grand entrance, were the chocolate cupcakes.

And unlike the lone cake, they always came in a group, like a bunch of your favorite friends or family gathering to celebrate something special with you. What could be more perfect?

The best things in life are definitely not things. But if they were, they just might be chocolate cupcakes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman (Part 1)

“I hate waiting.” ~ Inigo Montoya, Spanish swordsman extraordinaire, The Princess Bride

I hate waiting, too. But I didn’t realize how much until this week.

Friday of the week prior, I ordered an item from an online store, to be delivered to my office. “It’ll go out Monday, so you should have it by the end of next week,” the phone rep told me. I was OK with that, and when it arrived on Wednesday instead, I was thrilled. Two days later, also a Friday, I ordered another item from the same store. This item was extremely special. “By the end of next week,” the phone rep repeated. Next Wednesday will be perfect, I smiled to myself.

Next Wednesday came, but the package didn’t.

No problem, I thought. Tomorrow’s my birthday, so that’s even better.

On Thursday my birthday came, but without my package.

OK, they did tell me Friday. I got lucky last week.

On Friday I waited all day with an expectant smile that was never cast upon my package. I was forced to wait the weekend.

“I really hate it,” I heartily agreed with Mr. Montoya.

By the next Thursday, after I checked my office mail slot for the 48th time, my calm demeanor was tossed out like junk mail. While others pace, I stomped. While they fret, I fussed and fumed like a worn-out steam engine about to blow. Where is it, where is it?! I hollered over and over inside my head. But when I became Gollum and topped off my silent rantings with a shriek of, “My Preciousssssss!” I knew I’d lost it completely.

And as of this last Friday, my package is still not here.

What’s in this package? What’s this thing that’s transformed me from a man of dignity into a mouse of desolation?

Sorry, you’ll just have to wait . . .

Monday, October 27, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

My wife creates exquisite paper shoes.
I have a pair of shoes I wear for outdoor work. Like a beat-up truck or an old hound dog, they’ve been around a while. I refer to them as durable and faithful. My wife calls them a disgrace.

In their defense, these never-say-die troopers are probably 10 years old. They began as spiffy new Rockport office shoes. After a couple of years, they retired into casual wear. Finally, in their twilight years, when most shoes would have laced their last, they rose to the occasion and became the Work Shoes.

They’ve been stepped on and scratched and crushed and bent all out of shape helping me move our home six or seven times. They protected my feet while I scraped 50-year-old petrified carpet pad from the floors of our first house. And they’ve kept the grime and the thorns and the bugs from tormenting my toes while I pulled weeds and dug holes and planted flowers a thousand different times. They’ve helped me stomp through rivers and shovel mountains of nitrolized sawdust around my property. At the end of a long hard work day, they’ve endured countless poundings to dislodge the dirt clods, and umpteen hosings off to remove what was left. They’ve spent endless hot hours drying in the sun, and many a long lonely night out in the cold. But like the Every Ready battery, they keep going and going . . . and they’re always there for me. Much to my wife’s chagrin.

So I say that, like the velveteen rabbit, they’ve transformed from a simple pair of shoes into beloved companions, worthy of honor and respect.

My wife says that, like Old Yeller, they’ve gone bad and need to be put out of their misery. Or at least hers.

Outrageous, I say. Just as the exquisite appearance of her paper shoes reflect the pinnacle of high class and artistic elegance, so the Work Shoes reflect the classic attributes of dedication, hard work and self sacrifice.

Besides, after 13 straight hours, I bet they’re a lot more comfortable than heels.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Candelabra

The word itself is delightful, conjuring up images of romantic Italy and exotic Spain.

In my mind, it’s always the center of a peaceful night time scene, where friends share favorite old stories, and lovers share just-between-us dreams.

In my home, it gently slows my pace, and I discover that I no longer talk, but only whisper.

Like a midnight snowfall, it gently quiets the world and makes time stand still.

One evening my wife hosted my parents for dinner. To our finest tableware, flower bouquets, and simple music, she added a special touch. My father sensed something was different. Tea lights flickered on tabletops, votives glowed behind colored glass, and a simple candelabra illuminated the ceiling. His eyes grew wide as he realized there was no electric light. “It’s beautiful,” he told us. Nearly 10 years later, that memory still makes us smile. With his recent passing, that memory is one of our most treasured.

Last Christmas, my wife greeted my gift with tears of delight: a pair of matching candelabras. For our new home someday, I promised. She’s already put them up.

A lighted candelabra always blends my memories of what has been with my dreams of what’s to come. It reminds me of who I’m from and who I’m with, of what I’ve been given and what I have now. In my busy scattered moments, it quietly catches my eye and reminds me of who I am.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Five Phrases You’ll Never Hear from a Guy

I’ve been gathering these for a while, and I now have a small collection.
I think you’ll agree – and I hope you’ll enjoy:

#5: “I need chocolate.”
(courtesy of Ms. Everywoman)

The quintessential female phrase. It always makes me wonder what women did before this divine delectable was discovered . . .




#4: “I may have to do one wall in turquoise.”
(courtesy of my wife)

I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to this one.




#3: “Now, you TELL me I didn’t need these!”
(courtesy of my wife)

I suppose you might hear this from a guy – but not for these:




#2: “I challenged myself to incorporate more yellow into my life.”
(courtesy of Teresa at Maggie Grace Creates)

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself.




And finally:

#1: “When I woke up, I knew it was one of those days when I just had to wear cotton.”
(courtesy of our dear friend Denise Michel)

This is the one that started it all. When I heard it, I knew it was one of those days when I just had to start writing these down.

Thank you, ladies! Just when we start to think we’ve got you figured out . . . never mind.
Have a great day!
BILL

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Behind Every Great Man

BOULDER DAY!


It was Boulder Day, the day the local landscaping company was delivering boulders. Two of them, for backyard décor. I’m not sure what the land-clearing pioneers of the West would have thought of this, but there we were.

The “we” was four of us: Nancy and I, our (female) landscaper, and the (male) Boulder Delivery Guy (BDG). Being a professional BDG (and a really big one), he had no trouble sliding a dolly under Boulder #1 and rolling it toward our main gate.

That’s where the fun began.

“Do you think we should use the side gate?” Nancy asked. The hinges on the side gate are all messed up, and it’s transformed into a support structure for some kind of giant shrub. So naturally I said, “No, no, no, too much hassle. This’ll work fine.”

I was wrong. Boulder #1 was too wide to fit through the main gate, from every angle – and believe me, we tried them all. So the BDG rolled Boulder #1 back to the front yard and all the way around the house to the side gate.

After some serious wrenching and a lot of comments like, “That’s OK, we can paint that,” the gate was open and the BDG rolled on through. BANG! Well, almost through. The boulder was too wide. Again.

“Let’s stand it up on the dolly,” the BDG suggested. Seemed logical to me.

For some reason, Nancy had another idea. “Why don’t we try turning it around and rolling it through this way?” she offered.

“No, no, no, too much hassle. This’ll work fine,” both of us (males) agreed.

We bent down to lift together.
“OK, on my mark,” said the BDG confidently.
“Aye, aye,” I replied confidently.
“You know,” the (female) landscaper said, “I really think Nancy’s suggestion – ”
“Nope,” we (males) cut her off. “We got it.”

The BDG took a deep breath. I followed suit.
“OK, lift!” he said, and we put all our (male) strength into it.
“Lift!” he said again.
“I am!” I replied.
But the boulder didn’t. It just stood there, like one of those cosmic meteorites of the same size, that the museum docents tell us weigh 2 gazillion pounds.
Now I believe them.

“You know, if we try turning it around and rolling it – ” Nancy tried again.
“Nope, won’t work,” we (males) insisted, as we strategized our next attack.
“Yeah,” the landscaper tried, “I’m sure Nancy’s way is right – ”
“No,” we assured her. “It won’t.”

So we tried our ways about 6 more times, digging new grooves into the ground, shaving new grooves into the gate, etc. – all without success. Boulder #1 was still outside the gate.
Time elapsed: an hour.

Finally, we (males) were too pooped to push. As we stood off to the side panting and nursing our blisters, the ladies bent over, turned the boulder around, and rolled it . . . through the gate. I almost asked, “Why didn’t you suggest that?” but fortunately I was too tired.
Time elapsed: 75 seconds.

Undaunted, the BDG went back to the truck for Boulder #2. It was even bigger and more misshapen. At the gate, we two men tried again, unsuccessfully, for about 3 minutes.

“You know,” Nancy began, “I really think – ” but I cut her off immediately.

“Yes, yes!” I said, “Great idea! Whatever it is, it’s a great idea.”

“Well, see,” the BDG began, “that’s not gonna work because – ” so I cut HIM off.

“Yeah, that’s gonna work fine. Let’s go, ladies,” I insisted.

The BDG consented, and working together this time, Boulder #2 entered the Promised Land.
Time elapsed (including the BDG’s attempt at sabotage): 48 seconds.

Someone once said, “Behind every great man stands a woman . . . rolling her eyes.”

I don’t doubt it a bit. But today, they’re also rolling boulders.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Tisket, A Tasket, Just Not Another Basket!


My wife is the Queen of Storage. I’ll walk out of a room full of items in our tiny house as she sighs, “Where am I gonna put all this stuff?” Moments later I’ll return and everything’s gone.

I have no idea where some of it goes. I leave large vases on the back room counter because there’s just nowhere to put them. I come back later and they’ve disappeared without a trace. I’ll search every cabinet high and low, twice, with no luck. Then I’ll bring home flowers, and Nancy will say, “Oh, yea!” step into the back room, and return seconds later with three large vases in hand.

“Where the heck were those?” I demand.
“In the cabinet,” she says.

Right. The hidden, secret spy false-wall cabinet built by moonshiners during the Prohibition, I suppose. It’s like turning your back on David Copperfield at Ellis Island, then looking back and *poof!* the Statue of Liberty is gone. Then your turn around once more, and it’s back again.

But my wife can do it with everything.
Well, almost everything.

There is one item she hasn’t conquered, one trick she has yet to master. The ultimate disappearing trick of them all: the Mystery of the Vanishing Wicker Baskets.

If you have even one, you can imagine. If you have several, you know my pain:

They can’t go on the shelf cuz they’re just too tall.
They can’t go in the cabinet cuz they’re wider than the wall.
Forget about the closet cuz the door won’t close.
Can’t hang them from the ceiling cuz they’ll smack you in the nose.

And you can’t get rid of any of them, because this one was expensive, and that one was a gift, and we actually used the brown one once about six years ago.

“Just put them in the garage,” comes the voice of wisdom.

Ah, yes, the Room of Impossibly Shaped Items, where the lawn mower and the bikes and the 16-foot tall, 200-pound patio umbrella all dwell in lonely, motionless silence.

But not the baskets. Their shapes and sizes (and handles!) refuse to cooperate. The first three let you stack them easily on the ledge, so that when you push your luck and set the fourth one on top, they can all leap off and bounce around to the ground together. You’re sure you hear them whisper, “Yee-haw!” and “Kowabunga!” and “Aim for his nose!”

So if anyone can get me in touch with David Copperfield, I’ll send you a gift basket.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Other Ladies of the House

I used to think of my wife and me as masters of our dwelling, and myself as Lord of the Castle.

But the truth is: we are not alone.

Side by side with us dwell The Dress Forms, more properly known as The Other Ladies of the House.

I only recently learned this about them. I had always thought they were just dummies. Then I learned otherwise.

“Where do you want that thing?” I asked one day, as we re-arranged furniture.
“What thing?” my wife inquired.
“That thing in the other room.”
“What thing in the other room?”
“You know, that tall standy thing you put dresses on. The dummy.”
“Oh,” she said, indignantly. “You mean Colette?”
Colette. She has a name? She doesn’t even have a head.



But I have to admit, she does have a presence. I discover it late at night when I walk past her in the dark, and nearly jump out of my skin with fright.
I see it when she’s dressed to impress in the latest garb and accessories my wife has adorned her with.
And I sense it when I stand near her, worn out from a long day of cleaning, and especially from a long day of moving her from place to place. Lifting her from place to place. She weighs a ton, and her stiff, scratchy metal wheels aren’t nice to our wood floors.

So I stand there, sensing her presence, huffing and puffing as we accost each other.
I glare at her in my indignation, trying to make her feel bad for doing nothing to help me.
But she is unimpressed, unphased whatsoever. She simply stands there, proud and tall, disdaining me utterly, then seems to end our standoff with a simple air of “Hmph!”

And I am beaten once again, humbled out of my imagined title of Lord of the Castle and back into Colette’s view of the guy around the house.
So I slink off to take out the trash.

But I have one consolation: she also is not alone. She has some competition:

Meet Della . . .



. . . and this is Marie.



What’s that, Colette dear? You’d like me to move you – that is, lift you – across the room, so you can better watch the sunset? Golly, I’d love to, but I’m afraid I’m otherwise engaged: Della needs a dusting. You’ll just to have to imagine it. Ta!

That’ll show her. Putting on my own airs, I turn my back and saunter away, to go and serve – another dress form?

OK, so who’s the real dummy? You don’t have to answer that . . .

(Sorry for my long absence. Thanks for coming back! ~BILL)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Taa DAAA!

Ah, brilliant!

Thank you all exceedingly. We can't wait to get out and strut. See you all this weekend! I'll respond to you all soon!
Blessings,
BILL


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Parade

Hi ya, Gang!

My dear gal was most insistent that she be properly escorted to this gala event – and who better for that task than yours truly?

And as long as you all are helping her choose just the right Easter Bonnet, perhaps you can help me as well.

I’m stuck on these four:

Here’s a dapper twist on a classic look: an extra bit of tweak on the brim, and that dashing gray . . .




Here’s the reverse of the first, complete with accessories . . .




My wife’s personal favorite for me. (Is she trying to tell me something?)




And of course, The Classic.



By the way, I’ve been told I bear a remarkable resemblance to this man.

Does anybody know who he is?

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I’m Thankful



We walk up to the checkout stand with our cart full of food – and I realize I left the checkbook at home.

“Oops!” I smile sheepishly at my patient wife, and race out the door toward home.

At the edge of the parking lot with her sign, that woman is there again, with her now familiar long scraggly hair, one bad eye, and a nice smile. I’m not sure she knows she’s smiling. Suddenly, I’m a bit annoyed. My dad and I gave you gloves and socks last Christmas, I recall. That was a long time ago. Now I’m really annoyed. Angry, even. Why are you still here?

No, I say to myself, just let it go. You’re not thinking nice. Just let it go.

Well, wait, I say. You’re REALLY angry! What’s that about? Let’s mull this over for a moment.

So I begin to assess the situation critically. Then I notice my car. Or in truth, the car I was driving. A beautiful four-seater, still the nicest car I’ve ever owned. Only, I DIDN’T own it. Some dear friends at church, who’d only known us a short time, showed up at our door the very day I turned our only car into the junk yard – and lent us this one. “But I have no idea when I’ll be able to get my own!” I tried. “No problem,” they smiled. We had it for almost a year.

Then I remember the house we’d lived in just prior to the one that now held my checkbook. Again, we didn’t own it. The two ladies who did were going to be away for several months before moving in. My mom was their realtor, and Nancy and I had just moved in temporarily with my parents as we prepared to settle in the area. The ladies asked my mom, “Do you know anyone who’d like to live in our house while we’re gone – for free?” Did she ever! We were there for four months. It’s still the biggest house we’ve ever lived in.

When I get home for my checkbook, I remember the woman, but not my anger. I grab my checkbook and something else…

I pull back into the parking lot, and walk over to the lady. I hand her a shopping bag, stuffed full of everything I could find that she might be able to eat for a while. “I hope this helps.” She smiles at me, whether or not she knows why. I smile back, and I know exactly why.

Because I’m thankful.

Monday, March 17, 2008

When Irish Eyes are Smiling


HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY



This was one of my Father's favorite Irish Tunes



There's a tear in your eye,
And I'm wondering why,
For it never should be there at all.
With such pow'r in your smile,
Sure a stone you'd beguile,
So there's never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter's
Like some fairy song,
And your eyes twinkle bright as can be;
You should laugh all the while
And all other times smile,
And now, smile a smile for me.

When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.

For your smile is a part
Of the love in your heart,
And it makes even sunshine more bright.
Like the linnet's sweet song,
Crooning all the day long,
Comes your laughter and light.
For the springtime of life
Is the sweetest of all
There is ne'er a real care or regret;
And while springtime is ours
Throughout all of youth's hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.

When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, 'tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay.
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.


My Irish dad loved the fact that he was born on St. Patty's Day. Dad, we're all singing this with you today, along with Happy Birthday. I'm sure the angels are singing with you also -- I wonder if they're wearing green? If not, no pinching!

BILL

Friday, March 14, 2008

All I Really Need to Know About Marriage I Learned from My Chiropractor

You never know where you’ll find life’s wisdom. But for marriage advice, I do know a great source: my friendly neighborhood chiropractor.

I’ve picked up some real gems over the years from a couple of these smart ladies. Here are my favorites:

The Top Three Chiropractic Marriage Tips

Tip #3: Straighten up.
When I deal with my back, I don’t look like a slouch. And when I deal with my stuff, I don’t act like a slouch. My wife digs that.

Tip #2: Learn to give a great massage.
Flowers are always a good idea, but once you’ve learned the basics of the backrub, you’re a keeper.

Tip #1: Let your wife have her way.
“As I watch and listen to clients,” she told us at one visit, “I’ve noticed this: in the happiest marriages, the husband lets the wife have her way.”
After 18 years of marriage, I know she’s right. My wife not only knows what’s best for her, but what’s best for us. When I listen, we succeed. We both dig that.

And I guess that’s what finding life’s wisdom is all about.

Have a great weekend . . .

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall – Part 2

At last (the Husband believes), The Wife – his Wife – has a beautiful, large French Mirror with which to adorn her wall, and further France-ify her room, and check both her hair AND her outfit. Together. At the same time.

But this Mirror will never make it to the wall. Because it’s not about The Mirror: it’s about The Frame.



They arrive home at dinnertime. “Oh, I’m starving,” she says. It’s been a long day. He leans The Mirror against the wall. Clearly, she doesn’t want to deal with it till later.

“No problem,” he replies. “I’ll make dinner tonight.”

“Thank you,” she sighs wearily. The Hunt is always draining. “But could you bring The Mirror in here? Just so I can see it.” He does, then heads for the kitchen. Then:

“Can you bring me the glass cleaner and a rag?” she asks.

“Uh,” he begins, “I thought you said –“

“I just want to clean it up a bit. Just real quick,” she explains.

"OK, sure,” he says, bringing her the items, then heading back for the kitchen, still not clueing in.

“And a screwdriver.”

Now he gets it. It’s no longer dinnertime: it’s Project Night.

********

After quickly going through the motions of “cleaning The Mirror,” she flips it over, face down on the carpet, cleaning rag cast aside, glass cleaner pushed under the table, hunger forgotten. She grabs the screwdriver. Like a one-woman pit crew, she deftly works her way around all four sides, prying up rusty nails and old staples. One of them snaps. “Pliers,” she says. “You get the bad ones.” And without breaking stride, she moves to the next fastener, while The Husband, the rookie, has at it.

“No, no, no,” she says immediately, “you’re doing it wrong, you’re gonna lose it.”

“No, I’m not,” he assures her. “I’ve done this a million times. I’m a guy.”

“You’re gonna –“ the pliers slip off, and he nearly knocks her in the teeth.

“– lose it,” she glares.

He hands her the pliers. She pulls out the shard.

In moments, the backing is freed and removed. She picks up The Frame, turning it over and around, eyeing it thoroughly. “Oh, yeah,” she says, “it’s in great shape.”

The Husband picks up the backing.

“You can toss that,” she says, not even looking at it.

“But how will you support the mirror?” he says, still not clueing in.

“The what?”

Now he gets it. The Mirror will never again reflect a human face. It is now referred to only as “the glass.” It will spend eternity in the garage. Or, on trash day, it will . . . (the poor thing: I can’t even say it.)

Meanwhile, back in the house. A few turns around the room, some re-arranged furniture and relocated wall hangings, and The Frame has found a home.

“What do you think?” she asks.

“Gorgeous,” he responds admiringly, once again. “I had my doubts, but you certainly know what you’re doing.”

“I told you,” she reminds him simply, once again. “Oh, I’m starving,” she says.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall: Part 1

This work of art adorns our bedroom wall:




I call it simply, The Print.

As we lay in bed gazing at it, our recurring conversation always goes like this:

NANCY: Is that not gorgeous, or what?

BILL: It’s one of the most beautiful and magical prints I’ve ever seen. Look at the detail in those linens!

NANCY: I was talking about The Frame.

BILL: Oh, that’s right. I forgot.

THE FRAME: Yeah, baby!

THE PRINT: *sigh*


I do feel bad for The Print. But it could be worse: The Print could be a Mirror . . .


The Setting:
A local antique store
The Characters:
The Wife, Nancy “The Artist All the Time” Burns
The Husband, Bill “I Thought You Said They Had Free Snacks Here” Burns
The Prop:
A large framed mirror, referred to as The Hunted
The Situation:
The Hunt

The couple enters the building. The Wife’s smile and friendly greeting to the clerk expertly camouflage the intensity of her mission, while her trained eye immediately assesses all, not missing a single element. If you listen closely, you can just pick up the theme from Mission Impossible.

Meanwhile, The Husband has located and begun leafing through a small scientific booklet from early last century, titled Why Not Eat Bugs? (this really happened).

“Instead of filling our fields with destructive chemicals which wreak destruction upon flora, fauna and animals alike for the purpose of hindering what we call insect pests from devouring our crops, we ought instead to spend our mornings as so many tribal peoples do, strolling through those same crops, picking off the juicy, nutritious, crawling larvae one by one and ingesting them, as we often do with a fresh juicy tomato . . .” (from The Small Scientific Booklet)

Fascinating, The Husband muses. Let’s see: a Starbuck’s Double Chocolate Marble Macchiato grande with Danish, or live worms. Hmm…

Beep beep, beep beep – only moments later, the Wife-Fi Wireless signal sounds in his head, and he immediately kicks in to Back-up Mode.

“I’m on my way,” he says into his wristwatch comlink device. (Or, would, if he had one.)

He finds her in one of the countless tiny stalls in the giant maze of the place. The Hunted is displayed helplessly against a large brown wing-back chair, and has, of course, already been searched and questioned thoroughly. How ever well hidden, nobody escapes The Determinator. Nobody.

The Husband begins the exchange. “What have we got?” he asks, professionally and detachedly.

In her practiced way, perfected on so many other Hunteds, The Wife provides the details.
“Well, it’s a bit ghosted in the upper right, we’ve got some chips on the lower edge, looks like someone scratched it during shipping, a few dings on the corners, that’s to be expected with age, so I’m thinkin’ mid, late 1800s. And it’s definitely French.”

“Uh, huh,” replies The Husband, still professional and detached.

Then The Wife looks up at The Husband, and she is transformed. Her eyes, her face, her voice shine at him. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she breathes.

“Yes,” is all The Husband can say. “You are. I mean, it is, yeah.”

“It’s perfect,” she adds. “I love it.” (Code for: Hunt Successful, Target Secured.)

“Great,” he closes. “Let’s move out.”

And they do, to the register and then to home. At last, The Husband muses contentedly, The Wife – MY Wife – will adorn her wall with the beautiful large French mirror she’s always wanted.

He smiles. Mission accomplished, he thinks.

But he’s wrong . . .

More next time!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Dad

This past Thursday, February 28th, my Dad passed away peacefully at home from complications due to Parkinson’s disease.

Thank you so much to all of you who left Nancy and I notes of sympathy, encouragement, and love. I’ll respond to each of you as soon as I can. The responses from all of you, and from so many friends and relatives, was an incredible blessing. Although I can’t begin to imagine how it’s going to feel when I really understand that he’s gone, the comfort that was poured out on us by family and friends gave us the sense of being snuggled up together in a great big, warm blanket. It made all the difference in the world.

As a grown man now myself, there are two primary ideas that I try to live by: care for family, and care for others. I learned those from my Dad.

When I was about 10 years old, my two younger sisters and I auditioned for a local production of Alice in Wonderland. The director had assigned roles to a number of us, handed us scripts, and placed us up on stage to begin reading our parts in turn. My youngest sister stood a little ways off to my right. She was 6 or 7 years old. The rest of the room offstage was filled with the other hopefuls and all of our parents.

Just as the first reader in the scene began speaking, I heard a girl next to my sister ask my sister what role she had. My sister told her, “The 10 of Hearts.” But the girl immediately said, “No, no, I’M the 10 of Hearts.” A chill went through me, and apparently went through my sister as well, and she began to cry, and the reading stopped. I stood there holding my script, ready to perform, frozen, feeling like the whole place was watching us, waiting to see what I was going to do. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there. Then from all the way in the back of the room, I saw someone walking up the center aisle toward us: it was my Dad. He calmly came up on stage, gently picked up my sister in his arms, carried her offstage all the way to the back of the room, and sat down with her. I was in complete turmoil, but as my Dad turned back toward us, I saw his face. There was no turmoil, or embarrassment or anything. He just held my still-crying sister, and waited for the audition to continue as if everything was just fine. I had had no idea what to do, but my Dad knew exactly what to do, and he did it perfectly. And at that moment, my Dad became my hero.

During those same years, our family and a number of friends spent two weeks every summer at Lake Michigan. One afternoon, a bunch of us kids were playing together, when another kid, a stranger, came up to us. He was short, with too many freckles, and bright curly red hair. For some reason, I, as the oldest, decided “we” didn’t like him, so I snubbed him and led my little group away, leaving him all by himself, and promptly forgot all about him.

But a day or so later, all of us kids were playing in the lake with my uncle and my Dad, and that kid showed up again. He was just standing around, annoying me once more. But then my Dad saw him. And without a moment’s hesitation, and without consulting ME, he smiled at the kid and said, “Would you like to play with us?” Of course, the kid burst into a big grin, nodded his head and came running in to join us. I was frozen once again, but this time with the full realization of what a complete jerk I had been. I still remember exactly where I was standing in that lake, with the cold water up to my knees, feeling like the Grinch who stole Christmas, standing with his Grinch feet ice-cold in the snow, when he realized what a complete jerk HE had been. And something inside me said, I will never do that again. From now on, I’m going to be just like my Dad.

Everyday, I try to live up to that promise. And everyday, I try to be faithful to that legacy of care for family and care for others, just like my Dad taught me.

That you so much, Dad, for all you were, and all we are because of you. We will love and miss you forever.

BILL JR.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What We Really Want – Part 3

There is a simple way that each of us can offer others something invaluable: we can describe for them how they were invaluable to us. In other words, we can write them a Thank You Story.

A Thank You Story is more than a thank you card, where we offer gratitude for something someone gave us, such as a wedding gift or a nice dinner.

It’s even more than a note of tribute, where we express appreciation for something someone modeled for us, such as sportsmanship or patience with our mistakes.

A Thank You Story honors someone for who they are, and for how they inspired us to become more than we could ever be without them. It provides someone with a token of proof that they are indeed invaluable to others.

Like a snowflake, every Thank You Story is one of a kind. Since every person is unique, every story about one person making a life-changing impact on another is also unique. A teacher may touch the lives of a thousand children in her career, but they are not simply an orchard of a thousand apple trees. Each child is different, each one is special, and so what she pours into each one, what she gives of herself to each one, is different. Likewise, each Thank You Story is unique, because only the student who lives it can write it. Years later, only that student can offer that teacher the priceless words, “This is how you were invaluable to me.”

This is the value of a Thank You Story. It shows someone indisputable, living evidence of their invaluableness. That makes it one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else. And that means that each of us, by writing a simple letter, can be the bearer of such a gift. And that enables each of us to say of ourselves, I am indeed invaluable to others.

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What We Really Want – Part 2

I believe that what we want more than anything else is to be invaluable to others.

Fortunately, there are so many ways that we can be. Sometimes, it’s what we give to someone. A mentor of mine got up very early every Sunday morning to give me his time and his life wisdom (plus a free breakfast). As a young married man, every meeting was priceless. I moved to another city 10 years ago, but I still quote him constantly.

Sometimes, it’s what we model for someone. At a weekly gathering, I used to wave and offer a group “hello,” then sit. One night, I watched one of the newer members come in. Before sitting, he went around to every person in the room, shook their hand, and spoke with them for a moment before moving to the next person. By the time he was done that night, I vowed that I would never again enter a room without doing the same thing. I was so impressed that I can’t help but be faithful to that vow – even though my natural shyness still begs me to give it up.

Other times, it’s just who we are. An older friend of mine is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen. But he is also the most enjoyable. In every sport or spontaneous game we played, he not only clowned the rest of us into hysterics while running or throwing or batting circles around us, but he always teamed up with the youngest or slowest or least talented, and helped them to make the goal or score the touchdown. Instead of showing off his divine abilities, he used them to enable “the least of these” to be the hero. At 43 years old, I still say to myself, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

Unfortunately, we can’t always make those opportunities happen. Most of the time, they just appear, often without us realizing it. I’ve often thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was some simple way to offer someone something invaluable?”

Good news: there is.

Thank you for reading. More on Monday . . .

What We Really Want – Part 1

“What is it that you want more than anything else?”

When we first hear this question, life’s pressing needs quickly holler out their votes with responses like, More money, or More time, or More of both. We zero in on what we want to have.

But as the question settles below the urgent, we may give responses such as, Travel, or Find a relationship, or Spend more time with family. Our thoughts move toward things we want to do.

But if we wait long enough, the question settles even deeper, down to the center of who we are, where the real answer always only whispers. That answer is about what we want to be. And I believe it says, I want to be invaluable to others.

Thank you for reading. More next time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thank You Story #1

This is the very first Thank You Story I've received so far. It perfectly captures the essence of a Thank You Story. Thank you so much, Alicia!

Dear Carmel,

You took an awkward 6th grade girl who loved to make Barbie clothing, and inspired a seamstress. Sewing lessons at your house on Friday nights gave me the chance to learn the art of sewing, but it was also my place to be happy during the terrible middle school years.

You were my teacher, my friend and my confidant and I thank you for that. I have followed in your footsteps and as I teach others to sew, I feel the joy in my heart.

With love and admiration,

Alicia Pucci
Owner, Sew-it-All
www.sew-it-all.com

This letter will be included in the upcoming collection of Thank You Stories titled I Never Got to Thank You. If you have a Thank You Story you'd like to contribute to the collection, please email it to me at billburnsthanks@yahoo.com
Blessings,
BILL

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Never Got to Thank You


Hello, blogger friends! Thank you so much for visiting. I want to tell you about a writing project I’m working on that I think will interest you. I’m gathering a collection of Thank You Stories. A Thank You Story is a thank you letter written to someone who’s had a life-changing impact on you. The letter tells the story of how your life has developed because of that impact.

I plan to publish the Thank You Stories in a book, titled I Never Got to Thank You. And I would love to include your letters.

I can assure you, this will be one of the easiest things you’ll ever write. First of all, you don’t need to create a story: it’s already written. You’re living it right now. Secondly, it’s not an essay or a work of literature. It’s a personal letter. And everyone can write a letter. A Thank You Story doesn’t show off writing skills, it re-connects one heart to another with a Thank You. It’s about sharing your story, in your words, in your way.

I’d also like to tell you about my real vision for this project. I see this book as the beginning of an on-going effort, called Gathering for Giving. In the book’s final section, I’ll ask our readers to send me their own Thank You Stories. I’ll gather them into themed collections, such as letters to teachers, or neighbors, or strangers. Each collection will then become its own book. And the money raised from each book will be donated to a related organization. For example, the proceeds from a book about crisis counselors would be donated to a network of crisis centers. It seems fitting to me that a collection of Thank You Stories should result in an outpouring of life-changing resources as well as life-changing words.

So please join me! I can’t wait to read your letters. And if you have more than one, feel free to send them all. You can use my email link in the upper right corner, billburnsthanks@yahoo.com.

In addition to my regular Loving Her Beautiful entries, I’ll post actual Thank You Stories and other writings periodically on this page, as well as project updates. So please continue to visit!

Finally, please feel free to send a link from this page to family and close friends, anyone you’re comfortable sharing this project with. And please tell them to feel free to do the same.

Blessings,
BILL

P.S. Remember, your letter is not directed to me: it’s directed to the person who had a life-changing impact on you. And it doesn’t have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. For example, a letter to your 3rd grade gym teacher might read something like this:

“Dear Mrs. Thompson,
You may not remember my name, but I’ll never forget what you did for me . . . and that’s what’s going on in my life now, because of what you did. Thank you so much for believing in me.
With gratitude, Jane Student”

Last of all, be sure to read my previous post, The Visitor, for a look at the impact your Thank You Story can have on someone. Then be sure to look through the posts above this one for sample Stories and other writings . . .
Thank you so much! I look forward to hearing from you soon. ~ BILL

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Visitor

The last of the children’s voices fade as the hands on the oversized clock reach 3:30. Thank goodness, she tries not to think to herself at her desk, putting papers to be graded into her bag. Another Friday over, another week completed, she sighs, as she always does now. She stopped counting the days long ago. But she still wanders slowly through the classroom at the end of each one, picking up the pink glittery pens under Kimberly’s desk and throwing away the broken tooth-marked pencils under Jason’s.

She hears Principal Ackley’s voice in her head as she always does, scolding her for the umpteenth time, “Go home. You’ve done what you came to do today: you’ve poured yourself into people. Now go home and take care of You!” Poured yourself into people. She can’t help thinking it’s her fourth graders who are doing the pouring. In and out of her room so quickly, year after year, nearly oblivious to her it seems, like the tide in her science wall photo.

“Although you can’t see it,” she tells her class every year, “there’s a world of life and wonder in that swirling water, and every single wave is different. You never know what the next one will bring.”

Footsteps approach in the hallway. “I’m too late,” she grumbles, trying to work up a smile as she turns to meet Mr. Ackley’s command. But in the doorway is a young couple. Both are nicely dressed, but the first thing she notices is the man’s shocking red hair. Although short and nicely trimmed, it draws her eye like a magnet. No one could ever forget hair like that, she thinks.

“Miss Rosa?” he asks. It takes her a moment to adjust.
“Um, I was Miss Rosa. I’m Mrs. Thompson now. For about 11 years. 12 years, actually, next month,” she adds, wondering why.

“Oh, right,” says the young man, with an embarrassed smile. “Congratulations,” he adds quickly, looking like he’s said something silly.

“Thank you,” she offers, smiling gently to encourage him to continue despite his bumpy start. One of her many teacher habits, this one from speech assignments.

He starts again. “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I was in your class 15 years ago. I think it was in the room next door. Anyway, I’m David Simons, and I was a real terror. I was the squirmy one, always spilling glue and getting my sleeves in it, and taking things from other kids and then running around the room to get away from them. You always had to use your Yelling Voice with me, and I spent half my time at the principal’s office. I even kicked you a few times till you told me I’d miss Movie Time on Fridays. But when I did get to be at Movie Times, you always let me put the reel on and run the projector. I kind of lived for Movie Times, even more than recess.”

“I remember,” Mrs. Thompson says, barely above a whisper.

“Anyway,” he continues, “I just wanted to come by and say Hi. I’ve just started my own corporate video production business, sort of doing Movie Days every day. I went to college and everything,” he chuckles, shifting from side to side now, just as he always did when he was excited.

“I majored in communications, and always remembered how you said that presenting a clear idea is like placing stepping stones in the water. Even if you can jump across easily, you have to place the stones one after the other, so that other people can easily follow you across the pond without falling in.”

He pauses. Miss Rosa (she is now Miss Rosa once again) notices the young lady gently lean into him. He looks quickly at her, and takes her hand, as he turns back to his teacher.
“Oh, this is Naomi, my fiancée. We came home for the weekend to announce our engagement to my parents. You’re actually getting to hear it before they are.”

His fiancée smiles and says, “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a fabric designer, and a rather impatient one. So David’s always playfully badgering me with your line from art class, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’”

Miss Rosa stares at her, then quickly reaches to take the young lady’s extended hand.
“It’s very nice to meet you, too,” is all the teacher can say.

“Anyway,” David says, “I just wanted to come by to thank you for putting up with me, and to let you know that all your hard work wasn’t in vain. I’m sorry I was such a handful, and I just wanted to thank you for everything you did. Especially for Movie Times,” he adds.

“You’re welcome. Thank you for coming by.”

“Well, have a nice weekend, thank you again,” he says.

And then he hugs her.

When they part, he takes his fiancée’s hand again. “So nice to meet you,” the young lady says as they walk out.

Nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Thompson thinks, unable to speak. And congratulations.

“Although you can’t see it,” she tells her class every year, “there’s a world of life and wonder in that swirling water, and every single wave is different. You never know what the next one will bring.”

Mr. Ackley comes to the door.

“Well, another week of pouring into people. Now go home and take care of You,” he says firmly. Then he grins, as if he knows a secret. “And have a wonderful weekend.”

Through blurry eyes, Mrs. Thompson smiles back.
“Yes,” she says. “I certainly will.”


* * *

This short story captures the essence of the new creative project I promised to tell you about. The project is called I Never Got to Thank You. I’ll post all the details tomorrow (I promise!), and I’ll tell you how you can participate with me.
Thank you so much for reading!
Blessings,
BILL

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Determinator

I come into the kitchen. It’s bestrewn with items of all sorts.
“Hi, Hon.” (Translation: What are you doing now?)
“I’m making something,” she says, working away intently. “I got this idea I want to try.”
“Ah, I see,” says I. (Translation: Uh, oh . . . )
“I’ll be done in a second,” she adds.
“No problem,” says I. (Translation: Yup: here we go.)




And so the creative venture begins. And it doesn’t stop till it’s finished, till she’s got it just right.

She’s totally untrained for these projects. But she’s determined.
She’s completely unequipped with the necessities. But she’s inventive.
She’s completely unaware of the difficulty involved. But she’s impassioned.

And she never has the time to do any of these things. She just makes the time.
And at the end, she’s always made something beautiful.

“What do you think?” she’ll ask.
“Wow!” says I. (Translation: Wow!)

I’m taking on a new creative venture of my own – I’ll be telling you more about it in the next few days. I’m untrained, unequipped, and in denial about the difficulty. But I have a wonderful inspiration at my side: The Determinator.

Best wishes with your brand new Fete et Fleur Designs Blogge Shoppe, my dear!
It’s another beautiful place for us all to come home to.

“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” ~ Rosalynn Carter

Friday, February 8, 2008

She Can't Not Touch: Part 2

Hi, All!
OK, here it is:


She Can’t Not Touch
(the complete poem By Bill Burns ©)

She can’t not touch, she can’t not touch
My wife, the artist all the time, just can’t not touch
Replanting flowers ’cross our land, re-dooring each old hutch
Don’t even ask about the drapes . . .
She can’t not touch

She can’t not touch, just can’t not touch
That “lovely” from the yard sale hears, “It just needs such and such.
A tweak like this, some color there, that bow’s a little much.
I’ll only change a little…”
’Cause she can’t not touch.

She can’t not touch, she can’t not touch
When angels take her home at last, no doubt their robes she’ll clutch
“I have in mind a re-design – ” then add with cheeks a-flush,
“They’re stunning, but you know me, Lord:
I can’t not touch.”


“She can’t not touch, she just can’t not touch.”
Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park (2): The Lost World

Thursday, February 7, 2008

She Can’t Not Touch

Hello, All!
I’m so sorry for being away from Blogland for so long. Thanks for all the kind (and humorous) responses to my last entries. I promise I’ll respond to each of you personally soon.
I’ve been (happily) working on some urgent writing projects, but they have (unhappily) kept me away for too long.

Here’s the first part of a new piece I’ll complete in the next few days:

She Can’t Not Touch

(a poem by Bill Burns ©)

She can’t not touch, she can’t not touch
My wife, the artist all the time, just can’t not touch
Replanting flowers ’cross our land, re-dooring each old hutch
Don’t even ask about the drapes . . .
She can’t not touch

She can’t not touch, just can’t not touch
That “lovely” from the yard sale hears, “It just needs such and such.
A tweak like this, some color there, that bow’s a little much.
I’ll only change a little…”
’Cause she can’t not touch.

More tomorrow . . .

Friday, February 1, 2008

Where Gentlemen Fear to Tread: Part 3

Now cradling in his arm The Prize, the hand-picked, plastic-wrapped panties, her Prince strode proudly to his true love’s door, wondering only whether she would first throw her arms around him in a passionate embrace, or utter the three little words every prince lives to hear: “You duh MAN!”

And so it was with great bewilderment that he watched the smile melt from her face, and saw her eyes move back and forth from him to the package, and took in her words: “What’s this?”

“Uh, panties?” he tried.

With trembling fingers she pulled apart the sticky flap, Pandora prying open the lid of certain doom, reached inside, and pulled out this:




“No,” she said, and then, “No!” she cried. “These aren’t panties! These are . . . these are big, huge, frumpy UNDERWEAR!” Her tears gushed forth like the rain, and he spoke the one word that leapt into his heart: “Huh?”

* * *

A short time and many words later, her Prince returned from Noble Quest Take 2. For his true love, he brought genuine lace panties.
For himself, he brought a valuable life lesson.

And if he ever figures out what it was, he’ll be sure to post it.

Drawings Courtesy of My Wife

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where Gentlemen Fear to Tread: Part 2

And so, while our heroine flittered off with the other nobles to make final preparations for the big event, Her Prince stepped, for the first time, into the forbidden land of Intimate Apparel . . . looking for panties.



In a moment he was surrounded by the strange, lifeless forms that grew there, a jungle-like morass, it seemed to him, of colors, textures and, uh, shapes. One of the local inhabitants was foraging nearby, but to his relief, paid him no heed.

He stood for a moment, settling, assessing, planning his attack. OK, he thought, confidence returning to his side. I can do this. After all, it’s for her.

But the dark powers that dwelt there had not yet arisen to meet him, and when they did, they were formidable. His breath grew quicker and shorter. His eyes darted to and fro, trying to see clearly and yet not too clearly. Confusion began to close its steely grip on his mind, and Dizziness swept its swirling madness over his senses . . .

But his heart stood fast. The Prize, it whispered. You must find The Prize . . . and then he did. It was there, settled among many others, waiting for him. That’s the one, his heart assured him, that’s the one. It must be, for after all, it was, you know, white.

He reached for it and carefully picked it up, the knight grasping the serpent, and in his hand it felt like . . . well, a lot like any other plastic-wrapped package. He moved as quickly as appeared proper to the check-out stand, paid for the thing, and walked out of that land at last, filling his lungs with the first breath of clean air in many a minute. He was alive, he was unscathed . . . and he had The Prize.

He was once again, The Hero.

Or so he thought.

More tomorrow . . .

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where Gentlemen Fear to Tread . . . and With Good Reason

La Belle Dame sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee

As a young man engaged, every request for assistance from my true love was yet another opportunity to shine, another chance to be the white knight riding once again to the rescue, and I loved every moment.

Except for the time she asked me to buy panties.

It was the day of her roommate’s wedding. As both a bridesmaid and a roommate, Nancy had spent the previous week or more busily assisting with this task and that, running errands, and serving as emotional support during the occasional moments of high-level bride stress. So she’d had little time to attend to her own To Do list. Looking it over only hours before the big event, she saw one unchecked item: panties. Apparently her dress required some sort of make or model or something that she didn’t have. But the hands on the clock clearly indicated that she would never get them in time herself, and the dark cloud of hosiery horror loomed ominously on the horizon.

But our heroine was undaunted. For just over the freeway, a short phone call away, lived Her Prince.

“Darling,” she cooed into the phone.
“My angel, light of my life,” I bellowed, “how can I be of service? You have only to speak it…” blah, blah, blah.
And the fateful word crossed her lovely lips.
“Panties,” she said.
Pause.
“Panties?” I asked.
“Panties,” she repeated. “But you must be quick, my love, for the carriage leaves at noon. Find something nice, you know, something sweet and feminine. I’m sure you’ll do fine. Ta!” And with a kiss, she was away.
And so was Her Prince. Away, she thought, on a simple errand. But in truth, away to the land he had avoided with fear all the days of his youth, the land of his nightmares, where he must now enter and stay, until he could bring back his true love’s desire. The land of every knight’s deepest dread: the forbidden land of Intimate Apparel.

More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, January 24, 2008

All the World’s a Stage

Photo from Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed


I’ve always loved everything theater-ish:

Cleverly designed set pieces and elaborate or simple costumes

Scripts ransacked with hastily scribbled notes from the director, and sheet music faded from exposure and smelling of lantern oil

And a stage, indoors or out, magnificently set or bare and waiting…

I used to think it was because I wanted to perform, but now I believe there’s more to it. It’s not about pretending to live something that’s not, but about experiencing something that is. It’s not about escaping from the real world to the fantasy world, but about bringing them together. Like life itself, it’s about creating relationships. It’s about experiencing the two worlds side-by-side, tasting them both at the same time. Like biting into a chip covered with spicy salsa and cool sour cream, neither one gets lost or overwhelmed by the other. Instead, they create a whole new experience together that’s even better than either one alone. It’s the blend of contrasts that’s so delicious.

I’m beginning to see that art is the same: it’s about creating new relationships, as Carolyn’s work so brilliantly shows. It’s not about using things to hide from life, but using things to express life in new and creative ways.

I suppose that theater and art reminds us that all the world is indeed a stage, both magnificently set AND bare and waiting . . . for us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Seeing


I’m continuing my study through the book Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed. Over the years, I’ve been taught various tricks for quickly gleaning the most important information from books. The goal is to get as much as you can, as fast as you can. It’s effective for certain topics. But with gorgeous art like this, you’ve just got to stop and stare at the roses.

Yellow Rose Bouquet from Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed

I turned the first blank page in Carolyn’s book to see this photo. “Whoa!” I said. “Now that’s art.” My internal teacher immediately turned to me and said, “And can you tell us WHY?”

After only a moment’s reflection, I was able to answer. “Sure,” I said, “because it appeals to me on two levels. There’s the initial Wow, but I also see that there’s much more to discover. That yellow ribbon is nearly the same color as the petals – that must have been tricky to work out. And that’s not just clear plastic wrapping to keep the wet stems from dripping on the car seat. That looks like . . . Hmm, what's on that paper? Well, there’s that brilliant yellow color again (Oo – hey, Teacher, I’m seeing a theme!), and those streaks of purple are really cool. I would never have thought that would work. But what’s that in the photo? Am I supposed to recognize it? Or, wait – is that yet another level to discover in this piece of art? And when did I begin seeing a bouquet of flowers as art? Interesting. Perhaps there are lots of things our there that I would view as art, if I just took a moment to see more closely?”

I look up to think this over, and I catch the teacher’s eye.
He’s smiling. “Class dismissed,” he says.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Night

The Best of All Ways . . .

When Night stares the two of you in the face with the unspoken glare that means, “Go to bed!”, he’s usually right. Early to bed, early to rise is wise thinking. But there is another side to the Night, the hidden side, which you’re not really supposed to see. Like the revolving panel in the wall that leads to a secret chamber full of intrigue and mystery, if you can overcome the Night’s overbearing manner, you can push on one side of him and he opens . . .

. . . to Lengthen Our Days

Just a peek through the divide reveals another world: the air is either cool and crisp, or warm and musty, with the alluring scent of old world stories or new adventures to discover, and your senses tingle. At this point, you both realize you must either turn back immediately or expect to be gone – and awake – for a long time. Remember, tomorrow I have this and that to do, and you have here and there to go. We really shouldn’t . . . but then with a grin one of you grabs the other’s hand, leaps across the threshold and whispers, Come on!

. . . is to Steal a Few Hours

The adventure begins, revisiting delightful memories (“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen . . . I don’t even LIKE peach cobbler . . . What was he thinking?!”)

or facing dark foes (“It’s not getting any better . . . That’s the only thing left . . . We’re going to have to say something.”)

or discovering new treasures together (“We’ve gotta try that! . . . Who wrote this? . . . Now THAT’S gorgeous!”)

And when at last the magic incantation brings you back (“Oh my gosh, what time is it?!”), you sleep, sometimes aching with laughter, sometimes worn with worry, sometimes brimming with new ideas, but always closer.

. . . from the Night

The Night’s purpose is to restore us, rejuvenate us, re-connect us. But it doesn’t always happen through sleep.

(“The Best of All Ways” quote is from Thomas More)

'The Painters Honeymoon' painted by Fredric, Lord Leighton

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

“So How Was Your First Day of Class?”

My self-directed Design 101 adventure began today. The text book is Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed.

I started looking at the first photos. They’re amazing. But then, like the child visiting the art gallery for the first time, I got distracted by something and wandered off from the group.

Where I wandered was my own house. In the early morning hours, before the day’s tasks awoke to start their demands, I took my own tour through every room, looking at various items and my wife’s layout to see what I thought. I liked it, all of it, and I realized in a whole new way what kindred spirits we are.



I also realized something else: in my misguided efforts to avoid frivolity and live a “full life,” I’ve been bypassing one of the best windows to that life: artistic expression. “We should be pursuing activities, not things,” was my rationale, “activities that involve the outdoors, nature, life,” which we do regularly.” But as I moved from room to room, eyeing all the creations and styles before me, I began to see that in many ways, art IS life. Both involve creating and growing and learning, and most of all, relationships. In my determination to control life to ensure that we focused on the best things, I was actually missing the best things: the unforgettable adventures that only result from waylaid plans, the exhausting laughter that only comes forth in spontaneous moments of goofiness, the magical delights that only present themselves when you take a moment to try something different.

I can’t wait to get back to class, and to the dazzling exhibits in my text book. But I also can’t wait to continue following the path of life that art and creativity will lead to, no longer just glancing quickly at the windows of opportunity, but throwing them open and jumping through.

Monday, January 14, 2008

When the Student is Ready

Years ago, I read a story about a woman whose son was a chemist. She knew absolutely nothing about the subject herself. So she went to the local junior college and took a class, to learn to talk to her son about his passion.

I’ve never forgotten that story. But it has taken me 17 years to apply it.

So I’m beginning a new study program. I call it Design 101. I’m pulling out all my wife’s favorite design books, and little by little, starting to glean. One of my own favorites is Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed. Even when design used to make my eyelids droop, I was dazzled by how powerfully she creates magical, mystical settings, often with only one or two items.

I’ve also begun eyeing elegant websites by many of you, such as Lidy’s French Garden House and Corey’s Tongue in Cheek. I may have a lot to learn, but you all make it look like so much fun. I’m beginning to see how much I’ve been missing.

So for any interested masters out there, the student is ready . . .


Some of My Favorite Carolyn Quartermaine Creations