Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Silhouettes and Sun

So busy lately that I have barely had time to breath, but today, while I was in the middle of a full day of parent meetings that are all about solving problems.......I sat and gazed at the Santa Monica sunset picture I took a couple of weeks ago and it's still making my heart skip a beat . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scissors and Trees

I've always wanted a bonsai tree. I became fascinated with them in Japan and every time I see one, I ask myself why I haven't tried to grow one yet.  When the kids were younger, Greg and I tried to buy one at a local nursery.  We walked out empty handed because the greenhouse gardener convinced us that we would pay a lot of money for it and then proceed to take it home and kill it.  If the movie Julia and Julia had been out at that time,  I'm sure Greg would have started singing, "Bonsai Killer, Bonsai Killer, Bonsai Killer" to me.

Last Saturday we drove to Pasadena to visit the Huntington Library.  Sounds like a boring day until you realize that the library houses an amazing art collection and catalogs every plant imaginable in their botanical garden.  I could write a couple of weeks worth of blogs on the sites that put me into a state of awe but the Bonsai Garden sent me to the moon.  I know nothing about this art except that the people who tenderly and artfully grew these little trees did not go to the same gardener that we went to when they were learning about Bonsai.  There were some very small traditionally sized bonsais but the majority in the collection were about 18 - 24 inches high.  They were exhibited outside in an amazing little Japanese garden area, surrounded by bamboo fencing.  Here are some pictures of our favorites!

Entering the Bonsai Garden.
Bonsai collection with sunlight coming through the rice paper background.
Bald Cyprus Bonsai - Greg's favorite
Another Bald Cyprus
Cork Bonsai - How many wine corks would this tree produce?
Aren't these just amazing!  I'd still like to buy one of those cute little pairs of pruning scissors and take a class in Bonsai.

Here are some facts about Bonsai for those who are interested:

  • Bonsai is an ancient art form that originated in China more than 1000 years ago.
  • Bonsai art manipulates a natural tree to create an ornamental 'majestic' small tree by trimming, pruning, wiring, and grafting.
  • Originally, a bonsai tree was considered a symbol of wealth but evolved as a symbol of peace and balance in nature. 
" The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, 
and then dead timber.  
The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky."
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

"If you want to be happy for a a year, plant a garden;
If you want to be happy for life, plant a tree."
English proverb

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birthdays, Gertrude Stein, and Nelle Sampson

Melinda Ruth with mom, dad, and Fritze in Nelle and Ruth's backyard.

Fifty-seven years ago today, I was named after Ruth Bobe - a woman who was never a biological mother but who cared for countless children at work as a teacher and at home as a friend.  My father and his siblings were six of the lucky recipients of her care, nurturing, and guidance.  She lived her life with a maiden aunt named Nelle Sampson who pitched in to help my grandmother,  Alberta Wyant, with her often times wild brood.  In every sense of the word, Ruth and Nelle were as much parents to my dad as his mom and dad were.  I doubt that my grandmother ever heard the quote, "it takes a village," but she lived it when it came to raising her children.   She would probably be surprised that today's world ever doubted it's truth.

When I was in my twenties, Nelle was well into her late eighties/early nineties and one afternoon when we were talking, I asked her how it felt to be her age.  I have never forgotten her exact words.  I can see her in my mind and hear her wobbly and thin voice as she said, "Oh I shock myself everyday when I look in the mirror.  I look in the mirror and I see this old wrinkled face and I ask the mirror who she is.  Inside, I still feel like I'm a teenage girl tending to my little flock of ducks."  Nelle then proceeded to go off topic and tell me about each of her ducks, what they were named and about how she cared for them. 

I think I've never forgotten Nelle's story because like Nelle, birthdays don't seem to extinguish the younger version of myself.  I feel the same, but I don't feel the same; it's a very complex feeling.  And yet occasionally when I look in the mirror, I have a little shock wave, nothing yet to the extent that Nelle was describing, but I know that if I'm blessed with years, that major earthquake shock in the mirror will come.  

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have collected quotes for years and I have several that I love from Gertrude Stein.  Gertrude Stein and Nelle Sampson were both born in the late 19th century.  Their lifestyles couldn't have been lived any farther apart; yet there is one truth they had in common.  Gertrude Stein said very simply, "We are always the same age inside." Nelle knew this too and she passed it on to me. 

Today I'm thankful for the wisdom of the women who came before me and for the blessings I've experienced so far.  As a young girl, I had a bucket list . . . before it was called a bucket list, but at this age it seems more like a blessings list. 

I've been blessed to find the love of my life and kiss him under the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the far away places I dreamed about from Vincennes, Indiana . . .

I dreamed of being a mother . . . . .

Richard Wyant, Brittany, Melinda with twins Ashli & Ty, Cousin Shane Knoy

 . . .and then when I became one, I begged God to let me live long enough to see them into adulthood . . .

Brittany Chenault, Tyson Wyant & Ashli Jansen

If my bucket only held these blessings, it would be enough.  But I've also been blessed enough to have learned to make music . . .

My first musical instrument - a Micky Mouse Club guitar

 . . . and then taught my children to sing . . .

Ashi, Cousin Mandy, and Brittany doing one of their "shows."

play . . .

Ty and Papaw playing marbles.

 . . . and I've shown them how to dance and celebrate with family.

The Wyants:  Terri, Cindy, Michelle, Melinda, Mother of the Bride - Lisa Wyant Arbaugh, and Lisa Wyant

I've made the most of my education . . .

Graduation from Anderson University with little brother, Andy

. . . traveled to almost everyplace I dreamed of as a little girl . . .


. . . and shared the excitement of those new worlds with my grandkids . . .

Logan & Lindsey reenacting the paprikash scene from When Harry Met Sally at the Met in NYC

What blessings will this year's ride on the Ferris wheel bring? 

Coney Island

Thanks for the blessings you have brought me so far in my life!  God is so good.

"Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." 
 ~Mark Twain

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Night-Blooming Jasmine and Mothers

Friday night I walked out of LAX airport and was immediately overwhelmed with the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.  It is without a doubt one of the sweetest smells that has ever invaded my nose.  It is an amazing plant to me.  It takes over the air and it seems that you are walking in an invisible forest of night-blooming jasmine.  You have no idea where this plant is or what it looks like, but you know it's there.  During the day, you forget about it  because it only calls on your senses during the night hours.  As we unloaded my luggage from the car, there it was again, filling the night air around our apartment.  I found myself sticking my head out the screen less windows of our apartment before falling into bed at 3AM Milwaukee time, just so I could take a little bit of it to bed with me.

At 4:30AM California time, my phone started singing Mamma Mia.  This is my mother's ring song.  I tried to ignore it because I thought maybe my mom had just forgotten that we are 3 hours behind her time zone.  But Mamma Mia was insistent and I soon realized that my mama was really trying to get in touch with me regardless of the time zone.  I stumbled around in the dark looking for my phone and when the call finally connected, of course my first question was, "What's wrong?"  My dear blessed guardian angel mother was calling to tell me about the earthquake in Japan and the aftermath of the tsunami.  The morning news in Indiana was reporting that the tsunami was going to hit California and of course my mother's advise was to get in the car and start driving east.

After trying to assure my mother that the ten miles between our apartment and the Santa Monica beach would keep us safe, I decided to go back to bed.  I did say a little prayer that the weather men were overreacting because I don't know how to swim.  About an hour later, the phone started singing Defying Gravity from Wicked, my specially selected ring song for my oldest daughter.  Is this not the most fantastic ring song selection for my daughter who defies gravity everyday with her two sets of twins!  I answered almost immediately because I knew Brittany was calling to give me the tsunami warning too.  This time I decided to get up and again assure another member of my family that we are on high ground and safe.  I went into the living room and opened the window to see if I could get one more whiff of the night-blooming jasmine but dawn was just starting to break and no matter how deeply I breathed, I couldn't catch it's fragrance.  But I knew it was still out there, just waiting for night fall when it would remind me again of it's existence.

Mother/Daughter love is setting my heart to leap today.  We usually describe it by saying words like unconditional but the descriptor that overwhelms me today is abiding. I am turning 57 next week and my mother's abiding love still never ceases to amaze me.  For 57 years, I have been blessed to experience this amazing love that is enduring, unceasing and not afraid to wake me up at 4:30 in the morning so that I can get to safety.  My mother's abiding love feeds me and gives me strength.  It envelopes me just like the sweet smell of the jasmine and just like the jasmine, I tend to forget about it during my busy day.

After surviving the tsunami scare, Greg took me to see LA Broadway's version of Beauty and the Beast. As we were walking in, there was a mother of twins in front of us.  She was directing her two little blond-haired beauties through the crowd.  They were decked out in their yellow Belle dresses and watching them walk into the theater, I'm sure they felt like little princesses and the most important people in the world, and it was obvious that they were, in the eyes of their mother.  They don't understand yet what a mother's abiding love is all about, but someday, they will.

On the drive home, Greg and I shared some sweet laughter about the tsunami scare and my mother's early morning phone call and were once again surrounded by the sweet fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine.

"The fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind.
But the goodness of a person spreads in all directions."
-Chanakya  (Indian politician, strategist, and writer)
Night-blooming Jasmine.  Scroll down for a great music video.

A little more about abiding . . . while it might seem a little strange to think about Elton John singing a hymn, here's a link to his performance of one of my very favorite hymns, Abide with Me.  The hymn was written by a Scotsman, Henry Francis Lyte, in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis.  He only lived three more weeks after he wrote the hymn.      Elton John singing the hymn "Abide With Me"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cardinal Love is in the Air: Coming soon to a Tree Near You

Every morning at 6AM, my yippy yappy Yorkie wakes me up and I carry him (yes, carry him) downstairs to the backyard for his morning business.  During his potty time, I usually run to the basement to get my Greek yogurt and won-ton soup for the day but for some reason, on Wednesday morning, I decided to sit in the dining room and watch him.

As I sat watching Jasper turn the snow yellow and wake up the neighborhood as if to let them know he had been allowed to live another day, I heard a beautiful birdsong.  It sounded like "cheet-cheet-cheet-pretty-pretty-pretty."  Sitting very calmly amid Jasper's chaos in our lilac tree was a bright red cardinal, singing at the top of his little bird lungs.  I ran outside in my jammies and slippers so I could get a closer look.  He didn't seem concerned that I was there; he just kept singing as if he was homesteading the branch.

Cardinals winter in Wisconsin so I didn't really think this was a sign of spring until a few moments later when a female cardinal flew in to sit next to the singer.   Mister Cardinal's lovely melody got even louder and more pronounced as she landed and soon he made his swift move, hopping a little closer to her on the branch. At one point, their little heads moved toward each other just like in a Disney movie when the birds heads come together to form the shape of a heart.  I know it's sappy, but it's true!  I was completely taken up in this moment of cardinal courtship and the realization that spring is indeed in the air until Jasper decided to become part of the action. Jasper finally realized that I was paying attention to a creature other than him and he began his incessant barking, scaring the lovebirds off.  "Naughty Japper," as sweet Amélie said on Sunday when she realized he ate the head off of her Princess Aurora.  Oh well, it was time to get ready for work anyway . . .but what a lovely way to start the day.  

Later in the day as I was dealing with Facebook bullying at school and realiziing that I have a love you/hate you relationship with Mark what ever his name is that created Facebook, I slipped away for a moment back to the backyard branches and the cardinal love.  I've always heard that cardinals mate for life so I took a break from the nastydom of Facebook and googled.  I found out that cardinals do mate for life - how sweet - ah but the bad news is that a cardinal's life expectancy is only about a year.  Bummer.  I also found out that the brighter a male cardinal is and the louder his voice, the more attractive he is to the female.  He completes her....as Jerry McGuire would say.  And yes, I discovered that my backyard cardinals were indeed doing their spring courting but I as I read, I realized that I had missed the most interesting part of their courtship (no, not bird sex).

Male cardinals woo their sweethearts with their song and their color, much like our males do but they keep them for life by feeding them!  Male cardinals not only bring home the bacon; they fry it up in a pan and then feed it to their sweethearts!   When those beautiful red birds are courting their drab brown soulmates, they find the sunflower seeds, shuck them and then tenderly place the the morsels into her open beak while her wings quiver with anticipation.  Are you listening guys? And then when the children come, he gallantly and tirelessly defends her and her nest and they are faithful to each other until the end of their lives - a true love story for Disney.

I have an idea for a new cardinal version of Irving Berlin's hit, Cheek to Cheek.  I think it's destined to be a hit on the Birdland Billboard:

I'm in heaven.

And my heart beats so that I can hardly tweet.

And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dining beak-to-beak.

My mother-in-law, Dort, loved birds, but I think cardinals were her favorite.  When they would come to feed in her bird feeder, she was in heaven; you could see it in her eyes.  One of my favorite Dort memories is sitting with her in the kitchen watching the birds; she sat in her wheelchair and I sat in the chair next to her and we talked.  We rarely left the kitchen during our Iowa visits. There was a perfect view of the birdfeeders out the big picture window in the family room.  My father-in-law had precisely placed the bird feeders in the big tree in the backyard years long before I was in the family.  The state of awe that birdwatching inspires is something the Jansens brought to my life.

I think Dort is the one who told me that cardinals mate for life.  I wonder if that's part of the reason she loved them; she definitely had found her soulmate and stuck with him through thick and thin.  But watching the birds was something she and Marv enjoyed together.  They alerted each other when a new bird came to the feeding site so that they each could bask in the moment together.  They would add commentary about a new bird and they would notice when a bird hadn't visited for a while.  And of course there were the times when Dort would gently or not so gently remind Marv that the birds were out of food and he would dutifully scoot out to the backyard to fill the feeders.  I can't see a cardinal without thinking about Dort and missing her.  Thanks for teaching me to sit in wonder at the birds of the world and thank you (and Marv) for teaching my husband about "cardinal love."  I am the blessed recipient of your life and love together.

This picture of the singing red lover is for my dear sweet mother-in-law who we have missed birdwatching with for the last nearly 10 years. (you have to look closely - it's sort of like Where's Waldo for birds!)

 You have to look closely - it's sort of like Where's Waldo for birds!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Buckets of Tears and Dead Goldfish

Yesterday, I got a frantic phone call from a teacher that there was a crisis in one of our first grade classroom - no heart leaping here, my heart sank right down to my ankles.  The crisis was that a little girl brought her two goldfish for show and tell and one of them, Joe, expired during the day.  The teacher said she had a class full of crying children and she didn't know what to do.  So I had to do a dead goldfish intervention at the end of the day.  Of course, who should I call on but my dear friend Fred Rogers and his book, When a Pet Dies.  Fred always has the answer in difficult situations.

I went into the classroom, armed with my best shot at taking the crisis down a notch and was greeted by tears, just like the teacher said.  The little girl who was the owner of the now dead goldfish was smack dab in the middle of the group - sobbing -  and the children around her were patting her on the back and trying their best to make her feel better. Off to my right, was the floating dead goldfish named Joe with his bowl-mate, Molly swimming around him.  I wondered for a second if Molly was traumatized as well and would she gain any comfort from Fred's story?  I don't really speak Fish . . .

You have to love the raw emotions of kids.  They are just out there for all to see and they don't hold anything back.  They don't know yet about hiding what they feel when they lose something that's dear to them.  They don't know yet that they are not supposed to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  We read Fred's story and in the end, the teacher helped the student scoop Joe out of the bowl with a spoon and we prepared a fish casket for him - an empty pencil box lined with school grade quality Kleenex (this means as rough as a corn cob).  The student's dad came in early and took his daughter home as well as Joe, now prepared for a proper burial. 

As they walked out the door, I felt good about the way we handled Joe's death.  Joe didn't swim back to life and our little student didn't really walk out feeling any better but I know one thing . . . the teacher and I listened to how these kids were feeling and we took it seriously.  Someday, they'll look back and remember the day the goldfish died in first grade and they'll remember that their teacher took the time away from academics and taught them about things that happen in real life.  Rest in peace Joe.

A person's a person, no matter how small.
-- Dr. Seuss

The story is not over though.....at the end of the day today, the teacher came to update me.  Now Molly is dead and tomorrow, I have to go do another dead fish intervention.  She must have died of a broken heart, don't you agree?