"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Invitation

The boys hopped off their bicycles at the corner. Propped on kickstands, the bikes stood like trusty steeds by the watering trough awaiting their riders. One boy fastened his helmet to the handlebars while the other wore his. They strode to the door and entered the Starbucks store. I squinted at the activity from a nearby table on the patio.

Despite it being December, I sat outside the café in shirtsleeves, enjoying the sun shining into my eyes. I tried to write but pages of my notebook flapped like crows in the escalating wind.  I watched the bicycles and traffic and passersby with an increasing sense of urgency: Where are the boys? When are they coming out? The bicycle rims glowed and taunted me.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free. © JustHavingFun

I grew up in cities—not particularly dangerous ones—places where you had to be on the lookout because bad things could happen. Even from an early age I knew if I left my bicycle unattended it might not be there later. I had a chain. I had a lock. I had a quick-release hub for the front wheel. One simply did not leave the bike unattended. To do that would be an invitation for a thief to steal my most prized possession! Why didn’t the boys chain their bikes?

The wind whipped my pages faster and blew over one of the bicycles. Another patio-sitter jumped up and righted it. I cranked my head toward the store. Where were the boys? A nod to the rescuer and I returned to my pages.

I’m a mother. My mothering powers expand and include all within my gaze… and beyond. My mom-sense hackles were bristling. Another gust toppled the same bicycle. The rescuer rose again, righted it, and I gave her a wan smile. Since I couldn’t write, I capped my pen and went inside.

“The wind knocked over your bicycle,” I informed two boys about 13-years old. One wore a helmet and the other was finishing a latte. The boys thanked me, and one went to peek outside. When he returned I turned my mom-powers on him. “Let me ask you a question. I write a blog and I’m curious: how come you didn’t padlock your bikes?”

Their innocence made me smile. “This place is so safe,” the blond one said. “You don’t have to worry about theft.” True, we were in a modern shopping village development, but I wouldn’t believe it. “I live down there,” the helmeted one nodded toward the gated community a quarter mile down the road. “Nobody ever bothers our stuff.” I nodded and listened without judgment. They felt unassailable. They excitedly told me about a Ravens football player they saw while biking to the coffee shop. All was normal in their world.

So precious. So fresh.

We were not so far from the dangerous, crime-ravaged city but we could have been in a different country. Less than 5 miles away houses sit abandoned and the poor abound. Storefronts hide behind barred windows and people meander on mean streets.  Here however, a boy drank coffee in the afternoon with his friend while their bicycles waited on the sidewalk. This verdant, safe suburb we sat in nestles behind an invisible, invincible curtain. These youths were wrapped in a butterscotch coating of safety and security.

You never know who you’ll encounter in a coffee shop. We chatted a bit, the mom-powered lady and the youths too candid to catch the irony of the situation. I bade them goodbye and pondered upon an upbringing so charming and charmed near Charm City. Though I ventured into the suburbs I couldn’t leave the city in me behind.

Cling

Link to the daily prompt

Cling peaches

Don’t cry little fleshlings as you are destined for greatness:
No longer to cleave to that hard, unmoving pit inside your sunny heart.
Slide around my bowl, float in the spoon, and submit to my teeth

Cling wrap

Who would have known you’d stay faithful
when others failed their trials? When the task became urgent
you succeeded in keeping together the good
and excluding the bad. Alas you are expendable and flimsy,
your success being your downfall.

Cling on (sorry!)

furrowed brow and coarse glances
alien guttural growls of a foreign race
an enemy turned ally, warriors
united against a common enemy

Static cling

A spark, a shock, a cat winding around my calves, you
Plaster skirts to hose in an unflattering way. Dry air? Feet dragged across nylon
Rugs? I beg you reveal your origin. Clothes dryer inheritance? Evidence:
Socks hide in sleeves and wrinkles create hills and valleys
Like landscape artifacts as seen from space across my contorted torso.

Now picture this…

Joe Klingon walks across the room and flicks a metal switch. Zap! Static electricity shocks him! His dessert, a small packet jacketed in cling wrap — held against his uniform blouse (which was oddly bunched up from static cling) — jumps from his hand and flies across the room spreading the sunny yellow cling peaches to the carpet. He ironically roared, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!”(1)

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1. Translation: “Today is a good day to die.” See: http://www.babylon-software.com/definition/Heghlu’meH_QaQ_jajvam/English. (Retrieved 12 January 2017.)

Knitting Competition

Time to tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Time to Tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Knitting is not a competition. We don’t have to declare we are only crocheters or only knitters. We love creating and the magic synthesis that happens with a few clever, small repetitive motions of our hands and a bit of colored string. Never mind that the string, also part of our obsession, can be lusciously dyed wool or friendly, serviceable acrylic.

Mikey from The Crochet Crowd recently sat knitting in an airport. He’s a novice knitter and remarked upon the comments he received. He also mused upon the differences between knitting and crochet and, while he’s quite skilled at crochet, it doesn’t flow naturally into knitting. He needs to practice.

Knitting disciplines me and allows me to focus in on details that get me into a flow state. I’ve started this lacy shawl project with a lightweight yarn on slippery metal needles. Never having done lace nor shawls, I jumped right in. The pattern uses a starting technique called a garter-stitch tab… for which I became an “instant expert” by watching YouTube videos. Yeah, right. Stitches slid and loops grew at a frantic rate. I started the first row at least 5 times, then read the pattern again. I made novice mistakes, but I finally got one row on the needles.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave... er, knit.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave… er, knit.

I did this in public—well, in a circle of a few knitters—on a dark Sunday night. The others steadily added length to their projects as I diddled and “tinked” (i.e. ripped out stitches, “knit” backwards). But I persevered. After finally getting the base row done, I read on and started Row 1.

I think I figured it out and finally had a small swatch of about 5 rows. But why wasn’t it clear what the pattern was supposed to be? Why couldn’t I “read” the stitches? I still had two stupid stitch markers dangling because I didn’t read the pattern right. I handily did the repeat before the ever important k1 center stitch (highlighted in yellow) because I knew better – you always do the repeat between *s first. I didn’t process the instructions the first, second, or third time. Like walking into a room looking for your glasses when they are on your head, I couldn’t process the evidence until I did it over and again.

shawl-1-instructions

Parsing the Instructions.

The process became my own personal competition, not against myself, but for myself so I could improve my skills. Someone who can read music simply doesn’t just sit down at the piano to play Chopin. There’s practice involved, familiarity with the piece. The work needs to sound melodic and not a mess of clashing dissonant chords.

Sometimes my knitting doesn’t flow naturally. That’s OK; it’s a process. The trip is the fun part. I know what I need to do: start over. Armed with my color-coded instructions which I painfully parsed, I shall restart this shawl. I’m anticipating the magic synthesis that happens when wool comes together with time. And eventually I’ll have a lovely shawl to wear or gift with love.

Open Letter to NPR

I listen to NPR programming throughout the day and am struck how there has been little mention, if any, of the fires consuming Israel for the past week. Certainly this maelstrom has not been mentioned at the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria, however, has been reported in that brief time. On the Middle East section of your website, as of this writing on 29 November, the latest story is dated 24 November: “Tens Of Thousands Evacuate As Wildfires Rage In Haifa, Israel” presented on All Things Considered, elapsed time 2 minutes 59 seconds.

The “Fire Intifada” wrecked thousands of lives. A warped, desperate culture of violence spawned this destructive and terrifying activity. NPR apparently chooses to report on Israel only when it can point a critical finger at Israelis. NPR serves as the battlefield for this image war, but NPR chooses the rules.

beit-meir-fires-credit-jerusalem-post-courtesy-israel-police

Beit Meir fires. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, courtesy of Israel Police.

There have been many more fires since that time. Residents from the small town of Beit Meir, 9 miles from Jerusalem off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, were evacuated in the middle of the night. To be fair, apparently a flare fired by Israeli border guard troops set off the fire during while they chased suspicious individuals. But what were those people doing there? Fire engorged the sole entrance of the town.  Over 100 families, and dozens of boys residing at the yeshiva, fled in the pre-dawn hours.

Footage of arson, West Bank. Credit- Israel Nature and Parks Authority.jpg

(Video) Footage of arson, West Bank. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post, Courtesy of Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Indeed, arson is the cause of some of Israel’s fires, the so-called “Arson Intifada.” At least 35 suspects have been arrested on suspicion of arson this past week, and there is video evidence of an arsonist setting fire in the northwestern Etzion region. To date, over 100,000 people have been displaced—innocent civilians—and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.

Certainly this maelstrom was not mentioned in the top of the hour news briefs. News about Syria was reported in that short time, so it can’t be an issue of NPR not reporting international news. Furthermore, on 27 November, 4 minutes 40 seconds were dedicated to “Abused Animals Find Refuge In A New Sanctuary In Jordan” on All Things Considered. Sheesh!

Indeed today, Israeli troops at a West Bank checkpoint stopped 3 Palestinians who were trying to start a blaze near Ariel in Central Israel. I consider that to be relevant news.

NPR reported on 3 deaths caused by wildfires near Gatlinburg today. I do not mean to diminish the devastation experienced by those people in the least, nor minimize the suffering and loss of the residents, but that tragedy pales in scope compared to what is happening in Israel—except it is US news.

NPR’s Middle East reporting is so unbalanced. NPR seems to only publish news about alleged Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. With this recent rash of fires, NPR had the opportunity to congratulate the many countries that assisted Israel in fighting the fires—including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, and the US. That was a true gap in coverage.

NPR get your act together. Report news about Israel fairly, because in the end, you shape public opinion.

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No Second Thoughts

As happy as a cat being toweled dry after a bath.

This is how I feel. “Towel Dry” by Christina Welsh, used under CC BY-ND 2.0

How would I describe this presidential election season?

I choose from a whole slew of adjectives at hand to choose from—endless, tiring, shameful, contentious, disgusting, embarrassing, slimy, frightful, and jading to name a few—but irritating fits the bill as well as any. It’s bland enough to go about with your daily business but strong enough to worry at like a hangnail. For in the end, I am convinced that there is not much I can do to avoid the choice between awful and terrible.

I feel twitchy, restless, and apprehensive. Really irritated. So much so that this morning, Election Day, I dare not turn on the radio. I don’t want to hear the pundits. This has been going on too long. The process is broken. The trial balloons started rising in 2014, fer gosh sakes. That’s two years ago! I wish they had popped and never left the ground. I cast them in lead and drown their first-born. I salt their earth and inveigh the wrath of the Heaven against the universe that spawned them.

Figuratively, that is.

Meditation may help soothe me. I will gaze outside my windows, admire the gaily colored leaves adorning the trees, and breathe in (noting the position of my shoulders and rib cage), then breathe out (modulating the velocity of my breath). I will remember my Lamaze training—which I usually conjure during dental work—and go somewhere far away, a pleasant place, where calm and tranquility reign, and the only thing to mar the surface of the lake is the occasional ripple from a gentle breeze. I will cast my mind to far above the clouds, to the Moon perhaps, where eons make a difference, and a footstep on its surface will be evident for centuries to come. Breathe in, blow out, huff puff blow—this baby better be worth it!

I will vote today. My vote won’t count as I’m not in a “swing state” but indeed, I will vote; we’re choosing a mayor here, did you hear? No? Me neither. I listen to public radio and talk shows but there’s not much political news about anyone except the top guy and gal. How do I make an informed decision then?

I hope I won’t have second thoughts about my choices in the election booth years down the road. I hope my country will survive this battle, growing closer together rather than stockpiling worse epithets and stronger artillery for the next bout in 2020 [for which the blasted trial balloons will start to rise even earlier, I suspect].

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

The future as I see it, stormy weather ahead. © Batya7, Just Having Fun

I’m planning to avoid the news until tomorrow morning. I will wake up like any other day, switch on  my computer and walk away to prepare a cup of coffee. After taking my vitamins, I will return to my desk with a cup of hot solace and breathe in the aroma. Breathe in, hold it, then gently let it out.

Pain free

Time Heals Most

I don’t think more reps can help this one.

I want a pain free day. No itches, no strains, no numbness, no aches, no headaches, no bumps, no tingles nor twinges. What an original thought!

I slept funny a few weeks ago and got a “crink” in my neck. It really put a crink in my life; it hurt to move, sit, stand, lie, and worse-type! I felt like such a whiner, but I couldn’t help it.The pain distracted me from my normal enjoyment of simple things like the breezes coming through the open windows and seeing the leaves change color. Pain tossed a thick veil over my sunny disposition and left a miserable, soggy grouch.

Other people get banged up and carry on normally it seems. Me, I get a paper cut and I’m in agony. For days. My boo boos grow boo boos and I’m the only one who can kiss them better. Poor me-bring out the sappy violin music.

I’m sure it’s a test from Above. I grew the discipline to say “rats” instead of something stronger. That alone is a gift.

Thankfully miracles do happen and angels in the form of physical therapists guide me to relief. Only compassionate people can be PTs. Yeah it hurts, they affirm, but we’re going to get you moving. Time – and doing plenty of reps – heals all… or most.

Hanging On

bee-in-garden

Last Summer’s Bee Hanging On One of the Last Blossoms

The mood of the day is neutral. A gray sky presses on my brow and the mist of rain glimmers my cheeks. In the garden, sharply contrasting with the home’s red brick facade, brightly hued flowers sway with the weight of accrued raindrops.

All summer long fat bees swarmed and danced around this patch of flowers.They filled the air above the walkway, a slalom to negotiate, their important assignment a mission to avoid disturbing. Yet I found the combination pleasing; the contrast of the pleasant porch, the garden, the suburban lawn around it, and the sunny flowers greeting me pressed my happy button. It spoke to me of an illusory freedom, youthful celebration, and the desire to stretch my limbs in exuberant ways that would (sadly) leave me sore the next morning.  Summer Abundance.jpg

Last summer’s bee clung motionless, a mere shell trapped on the blossom. I could examine it fearlessly because it was defenseless, unable to hurt me with its sting. I didn’t delay its mission, nor did I block its path. Its only purpose was that of an item I could photograph.

Many of us wear facades to show to the public: a smile when feeling gloomy; a chipper attitude; cosmetics to brighten the lips or conceal blemishes; uniforms and masks. Sometimes they are proper, as one should never take out bad feelings on others. We enjoy “good customer service” voices. We are schooled when young to “be nice.” But sometimes, like when the facade comes out and we are trying to bond with our friends and fellow travellers, the false fronts we construct and gay, amusing stories we repeat only serve to distance.

Gray days like today require perseverance. Hanging on like that dead bee requires no effort. Unlike that creature, I’m hanging on by doing small tasks in 5 minutes apiece. I’m accumulating minor activities, like grains of pollen, to abate the clutter of my surroundings and cobwebs in my thoughts. Though the mist outside dews my face, I’m hanging on, hanging on.

Grouchy but Passionate

I’m having a grouchy couple of days.

To divert my attention from the ouchies and aches that distract me from my usual attitude of focusing on happiness, I’m thinking about things that I’m passionate about.

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

The Boys of Summer, 2007 (c) JustHavingFun

First answer that popped into my head: My kids.  Then, … the sound of crickets.

Oh, I have my yarn to knit and crochet, watercolors to smear into new paintings, and my fabric stash to quilt and sew. I have my blog to write, and the entire World Wide Web to feed my curiosity about anything I want to learn. And of course, I have my library card. Maybe I’m not too passionate these days. I expect passion to evoke some wild, urgent feelings, and frankly, my ouchies are the only ones that feel urgent. Sneer. Grumble. Hand me a pain-killer, or find a way to let me sleep through the night.

Paul Hudson wrote in Elite Daily  10 Things That Truly Passionate People Do Differently“:

1. Start their days early.
2. Always have their passions on their mind.
3. Get excited more than the average person.
4. Get pissed off and emotional more than the average person.
5. Willing to risk more and put more on the line.
6. Devote their lives to their dreams.
7. Surround themselves with their work.
8. Can’t help but talk about their projects.
9. Tend to either be pushing ahead full throttle or are completely still.
10. Always think positively about the future.

So I’m reading the list and mentally checking off the Yes/No boxes. It seems to me they’re mostly “no”:

1. Rarely. Night owl. Always was.
2. Nope.
3. Not me. I’m pretty calm.
4. Pissed off? Me? Slow to anger…
5. Not a risk taker. Anymore. Would like to get a motorcycle, however.
6. Last night I dreamed about buying yarn in Iceland.
7. I’m surrounded by … clutter.
8. Got nothing [interesting] to say.
9. Completely still. That’s one I can get into.
10. Think positively about the future. Well, yeah, duh!

I guess my passion is the future. Then I can indulge in all of my interests. Things will be good. My sons are growing into wonderful, caring men and I look forward to seeing how they turn out. In the future there will be freedom from this pain; all the ouchies will go away.  Like Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway line, it is anxiously and happily awaited.

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Happiness is My Choice, 12

Expanded, ballooned, swelled—that’s how my heart behaved when I heard the announcement. Increased, surged, rose—that’s how my joy reacted upon learning the news.

One of my oldest friend’s oldest daughter just got married! I held this child when she was four hours old and now she and her beloved stood under the chuppah/marriage canopy as her parents did before her. I danced and hugged. My heart was full.

Other friends just became grandparents! The first grandchild, a girl, was born to their firstborn whose wedding I was privileged to attend last year. I delighted in the family’s joy at the wedding and blessed the new couple for a long, happy married life. Their well-being became my heart’s desire, their future as precious as that of my own children. Now the joy continues.

So why am I so happy some might wonder. Others might be jealous, blasé, or worse, bitter. I am grateful to have a heart that sings when others encounter happy tidings. Why not be happy for my friends? Their fortune, their gains, the fruition of their dreams does not detract from anything that is due to me. I am not losing anything or threatened.

Quite the contrary. The Creator wants us to be happy so He gives us opportunities to be happy. We need to recognize these opportunities and grab them with gusto! When we are happy with our own lot, the world looks brighter and everyone else’s good fortune rains upon us as well.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

Don’t I deserve happiness? Of course I do! That is the way Man is meant to live. Hashem gives me all I need; my needs will always be met. I know that everything coming to me will be provided… but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My wants are not always in concordance with my needs. I need shelter, clothing, nourishment, health. I have all that. Maybe I also want that vacation trip, a newer car,  relief from bills, and the ability to eat anything I want when I want without consequences. (The former three are within the realm of the possible and the latter is a pipe dream for sure!)

So how do I stand it—no, bask in it—when others around me “get” something and I don’t? Reframe the situation.

Others receive no gifts that are being withheld from me. Others get what they deserve. For whatever reason, I am not destined at this moment to receive that same gift. That doesn’t mean I will never have the new car or the means to go on vacation. I understand that if I do what I need to do in this world to be a kind, moral, and righteous person, I will be showered from Above with all that is coming to me.

Sharing joy in the blessings my friends experience enlivens me and wraps me in the surety that there is a Presence for Good in the universe. It binds me to my people. It creates good will. Sharing someone else’s happiness grows and grows. When we can view the world with eyes focused on the bounty available to us, we can only increase our own happiness and satisfaction with our lives.

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Appreciating Babble

The grass bends due to  the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to

The grass bends due to the unseen wind-a natural force we live with but give no thought to.

The din of background voices here at the Motor Vehicles Administration competes with tinny, piped-in music. Elton John vies with impatient motorists waiting for licenses, exams or registrations, bored children, and a cacophony of mixed languages. Ironically, the crowd would likely relate more to hip hop or urban music, not the current Billy Joel selection from the 1970s. 

I entered the building and confronted a snaking line to the gatekeepers. Having been at MVA before, I knew to bring a well-charged device or reading material. After 30 minutes in line, I reached the counter. The screener, assured I brought the right documents, handed me a slip of paper with a letter and number: G-109. 

Half of the people stare at wall-mounted TV screens which displays which window will serve you when your number is called. The other half gaze at devices in their palms. No one reads. The murmurs swell, a wash of sound. People talk to each other while looking at screens.

 G-93 appeared on the screen, followed by V-521 and J-48.  I have no one to talk to. I feel the sound pooling around me, a palpable presence. An announcement at 4:28 warns people about closing time.  If someone goes outside and his number is called, he will not be allowed back in the building.  Only two minutes of warning, I think?

G-98. J-51. B-765. Is the place emptying any? It seems just as loud, just as full.

Background noise floods us constantly but we don’t notice. We plug in with ear buds to music, podcasts, and radio, but we tune out as much as we tune in. Noise is a force like the wind, unseen but having an effect. 

G-104 has me seated on edge of my seat, jiggling my foot. It’s nearing 5 pm and there’s still an appreciable crowd. Maybe it is quieter; that child who was nattering left. The man behind me holds G-114 I confirmed. We mutter mutual assurances. J-53 approaches window 30. 

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