Thursday, June 15, 2017


It’s getting cramped in here… 
the nest we call America.

For the past few weeks from my dining room window, I have witnessed one of natures finest miracles.  Reproduction - up close and personal.  With great excitement, I peered at an unsuspecting mother robin tend her nest with tender care.  Each tiny and delicate bird, cloaked in velvet down, popped its head out of a carefully crafted nest in search of food.  As instinct dictates, their noisy and over-scaled beaks stretched forth with insistence that they each be heard and fed.

With each new dawn there was a marked and rapid change as eyes opened, their oversized beaks became more proportioned and down became feathers. Within a two week period, they were developed enough to leave the nest and doting care of their mother.  At one point, four - almost grown birds in a single nest made for a pretty tight squeeze.  When one bird moved the others were jostled around as each movement required a necessary accommodation by the other equally cramped birds.

My DSLR was left on my table for those two weeks as I stealthily stole as many action shots as were allowed by a suspicious mother.  Aside from the miracle of birth itself, was the miracle that these four birds somehow managed in a tight space taking turns being fed.  In two short weeks they all grew to a level of independence and were gone.

My husband and I recently saw the Broadway play Hamilton which stirred in me a remembrance of principles that passionately resulted in the creation of this great country.  As is depicted in the play, American politics from the beginning, have not been easy nor completely conciliatory.  However, there were some truths that emerged from the collective efforts of those founding fathers and many others who have given time, effort and their own lives to make our country work.  One of the great truths that emerged was that of unity.

The correlation between my two week bird observation and the current state of American politics seems fairly profound.  Sometimes, it feels mighty cramped and not much room for us in the grand scheme of democracy.  However, I am reminded of the words from a song written by one of the Founding Fathers John Dickinson called “The Liberty Song.”  It was first published in the  Boston Gazette in July 1768 and a portion of the lyrics are familiar to us all…  

“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!  By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” 

Patrick Henry, also one of the founding fathers, through passionately clasped hands and a steady and unwavering stance repeated these words,

Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter.  United we stand, divided we fall.  Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our essence hangs.

It was through a truly united faction that these UNITED States won independence against a much stronger and better organized Great Britain.  Many have written about the miraculous defeat of that great power and it is fairly undisputed how our scrappy, underfed and ill troops could pull off such a defeat without divine intervention. 

United we stand, divided we fall.  What have we forgotten about those words of power and strength?  There were converging ideas, differing opinions, cultures and traditions coming together then as there are now.  Hungry and noisy beaks are open with necks outstretched as each group demands their fair share, then and now.  We needed to be reminded during the inception of this great nation that we all win when we unite together, and without that united front we all fail.  With that failure comes vulnerability, bitterness, hatred and in many cases death.

Abraham Lincoln centered his speech in 1858 when running against Stephen Douglas on the analogy of a “house divided” in illustrating the need for a universal decision as related to slavery.  We all know the human toll of that division calling for a civil war.

There is room for everyone in the nest.  We might feel cramped, have our feathers ruffled and may even feel that we are not getting our share of worms.  However, we can make it work.  We can stand united in cause, in spite of our differences, as we search for common ground.  

It was not easy in the beginning and we have a great deal of history that suggests it has not been easy along the way, but there are plenty of examples to prove that it is possible.  

Eleanor Roosevelt sums it up quite nicely and her message could not be more on point than it is now, 

Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer!  We must not let that happen here.

The ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop uses a phrase that is similarly repeated in the Greek version of the New Testament in Mark 3:25,

 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

My plea is not meant to remain silent or even to agree, my plea is to seek common ground as we wrestle for solutions to difficult problems.  My plea is to do so with civility and respect with a confidence that there will be a forum for difference without persecution and disrespect.  If all the collective energy that is being used currently for faultfinding and division were channeled into solutions, there is not a problem we could not tackle.

Our necks are collectively outstretched for survival.  May we all try a little harder to wrestle together to keep everyone in this remarkable nest that has withstood the test of time, the storms of man and nature and the multiple battles fought and won. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Under Renovation

My temptation is to be officially closed for renovation until further notice.  The beginning of 2017 has proved necessary to implement my own personal renovation or shakedown.  A renovation is the act of modernizing, overhauling, revamping or updating.   A shakedown, for all practical purposes, is the intent to test a new system under different operating conditions.

Let me explain.  My childhood was spent with two lovely grandmothers.  My paternal grandmother was the most doting, sweet and involved woman a child could hope to call Grandma.  She had us sleep over every Friday night, came to everything we ever did and even had a drawer in her kitchen devoted to our favorite things.  She was named appropriately, Grace.

My maternal grandmother was not nearly as enamored with her role as grandma.  We stayed with her only when she could not quickly think of a reason why we couldn’t.  She found every activity for us to do that required outside play, in spite of mosquitos the size of dogs, and we could only eat dry macaroni in her house.  Yummy!

Interestingly enough, I had a great deal of fondness and admiration for both.  Having said that, I decided long ago that when I had the opportunity to be a grandma, I was going to be Grandma Grace hands down!

There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t get to see or interact with one of my three grandchildren.  They light up the room when they enter, and my soul when they speak.  Whenever I take their tiny hands in mine, I feel like I am in a corner of heaven.

As a grandma, I do ridiculous things I did not do as mother.  I am not sure if that puts me further ahead or further behind, but we have had our share of fun.  We eat popcorn on papa’s side of the bed while watching movies.  We raised quail in the shower because they had to learn to fly if we were going to turn them out into the big harsh world. Our art projects include scissors, pins, glue and “heaven forbid” glitter.

My little grandchildren are just learning to play together and they look forward to the next time they will see each other.  It was all working out for me to live the life that Grandma Grace lived with my sisters and me, until now.  My little sidekick and his brand new baby brother are moving to Michigan.  My little Harper may also be moving to the far end of the valley.  Having contact with them will not be the daily indulgence I am used to - resulting in a course correction or shakedown - a renovation.

Grandma Grace was hands on.  She was not remote Grandma, Skype Grandma or UPS Grandma.  We played dress up in her amazing closet, hide and seek in her haunted basement, giggled at the sight of her girdles in every color and ate marshmallow peanuts after dinner.  She taught me to knit, she helped me sew and bought me a piano so that I could aggravate a string of piano teachers.  

A life different from that is difficult to wrap my head around.  I can’t even talk about it without tearing up just a little.  Of course, most people live away from their families and they seem to manage, so I am sure I will too.

Talents, gifts of expression, and precious time are 
exhausted in swimming against too many tides. 
- James E. Faust

I was recently impressed by an article in The Atlantic.   A theory was tested on the notion that anxiety could be changed to excitement by using three little words - I am excited.  The idea is that both anxiety and excitement are aroused emotions with accelerated heart rates and release of cortisol, the stress regulating hormone.  It is, therefore, much easier to transition from a state of anxiety to one of excitement than to calm body functions taking one from anxiety all the way to calm.

The words “I am excited”  change negative emotions that create a sense of threat or focus on what is wrong with a situation to opportunity, a positive emotion focusing on good things to come.  Some studies suggest improvement in ability increased between 17-22% after merely believing in excitement rather than accepting anxiety.  Sounds almost too simple to be true, but what could it hurt?

Okay then,  I am excited for what lies ahead.  My personal renovation is a shift from having things how I hoped, to having things as they are.  It can’t be changed, nor do I really want it to.  I am equally as excited for my kids opportunity and growth as I am mourning the loss of being Grandma Grace for all my grandkids.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone 
can start today and make a new ending. — Maria Robinson

Each year, I decide on a theme around which my New Year’s resolutions are set.  Obviously, this year must be “Under Renovation.”  At the beginning of a brand new year, I have much to be excited about.   Opportunities before me are countless.  I can and will modernize, revamp and overhaul some of my roles.  Since my operating system has changed, I will quickly test out my adjusted system.  I will take the best of Grandma Grace and Grandma Wilma and send boxes and boxes of marshmallow peanuts (do they still make those?) and dried macaroni. 

I had not even considered the possibility, but does UPS deliver to Houghton, Michigan?

Happy New Year!
May we all be excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.  We are better people because of them - so I have been told.

photo credit: HSD backdrops
USGW archives

link to video from The Atlantic: