Forging ahead in turbulent times

Sometimes the voices of the past are the ones we need most in the present. There is one in particular I revisit when the world goes wobbly. I have dog-eared the pages in the book where this voice resides.

The voice belongs to C.S. Lewis who delivered an address titled “Learning in Wartime.” It was October 1939, and the Brits were engaged in World War II.  Oxford University students were questioning the value and appropriateness of pursuing studies during a time of war.

Lewis was a good one to ask as he was both a scholar and war veteran. He served in World War I, in which his best friend was killed and Lewis himself was severely wounded, recuperated and returned to duty. His response was formed by a melding of time, wisdom and experience.

Many of us are asking the same questions those students asked. Do we simply forge ahead with ordinary lives, engage in work, coffee and conversation with friends, and even plan for pleasures like ballgames and birthday parties against the backdrop of a maternity hospital being bombed and cities now a heap of smoldering rubble in Ukraine?

Is it right to enjoy cheerful daffodils while images of refugees fleeing their homeland flash on the television?

The first thing Lewis did in his address was reframe the matter in a larger perspective. To paraphrase, he said we make decisions and choices all the time against an ominous backdrop of eternity. So how is it we function in the shadow of that enormity, but not under other shadows?

He said ceasing to pursue life because shadows loom, is to admit we have rejected the voice of reason and have made ourselves wide open to the voices of our nerves and mass emotions.

Voices of nerves and mass emotions have become all-too frequent companions these days, most often the product of lingering too long before a computer screen or cable news channels. There is a fine line between being well-informed and so overly informed that you tilt toward incapacitated.

Lewis said if we postpone the quest for knowledge and beauty until the circumstances around us are secure, we would never search.

How many times have you waited for life to return to n

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Trying to get her head and data in the clouds

I have a long history of issues with my cloud. The main problem being that I can’t wrap my head around it. Some people can’t get their heads out of the clouds, I can’t get mine in.

I suffer from the trap of the literal mind. I have to picture things. And not just food or sitting on a shoreline.

Once every week or so my phone tells me it failed to backup because there is not enough cloud storage. Then it prompts me to buy a bigger, better cloud. Why would I buy more of something that I can’t comprehend now?

They want me to buy something I can’t see. What next? A bridge in Jersey? Hey, I wasn’t born yesterday.

Seeing is believing.

If I looked up at the sky and saw a cloud floating by with my name on it, or even just my initials on it, I’d be good. I wouldn’t even care if it were a cirrus, cumulus, stratus or nimbus—although one of those huge anvil clouds would be cool.

It would also be nice to see whose cloud is next to my cloud and if there is any cloud aggression going on. That way I could yell, “Hey! You! Get off of my cloud!” The Rolling Stones were in cyberspace before cyberspace was cool.

It’s the metaphor that is the problem. Yes, I understand that my calendar, documents, photos, emails and many things are in a cloud, but a cloud is . . . puffy. A cloud can evaporate and dissolve into nothingness. Why would I want to store my life in something wispy? A vault or a safe room, maybe; a cloud, no.

I would do better if the message on my phone said, “Your reinforced steel file cabinet in the sky is full and you need a bigger one, so pay up.”

Work stored in a file cabinet is easy to imagine. A file cabinet is tangible, it holds things—lots of things and you can even lock it.

For example, I know where all my tax records are. I know where my supporting receipts and invoices are. They’re upstairs in a two-drawer file cabinet where both drawers are jammed full and completely inaccessible courtesy of a shoe rack.

I may not be able to open the file cabinet, but I know where the file cabinet is. And that’s why the cloud wins. I may not know where my cloud is, but I can access its contents, which I understand are stored on a giant server called a Lexus. Or a Linux. Again, a Lexus I can picture, a Linux I cannot.

I’d be happy with an arrow on a map of the sky marking the Lexus holding my large file cabinet that says, “You are here.”

That I can visualize.



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When being princess for a day turns fowl

This is a story about a chicken. It’s not an earth-shattering story like so many stories these days, particularly that horrific one halfway around the world that occupies our hearts and minds and plays out a hundred different ways when you lie awake in the dark.

This is a quiet story, but we could all use something quiet about now—a diversion of sorts, if just for a moment.

We have a granddaughter who is one of the sweetest, softest things that ever fell from heaven. That might sound boastful, but it is only by way of contrast that we know she is sweet and soft. Our group as a whole is loud. We play loud, laugh loud and rib one another loud.

But this one is soft. Her voice is soft, her manner is soft and her gaze is soft. Even the hair that tumbles across her face is soft.

She lives in the country in a house her daddy and grandaddy built. She can see the chicken coop from the window in her daddy’s home office. She visits the coop every day.

The chickens flock around her, kicking up dust, cutting in front of her, erratically darting here and there. But one chicken walks a steady path, following the little girl. The two are close, so close that the girl has named the chicken after herself.

And so, Emma the chicken trails Emma the girl as she meanders down a path and ambles up a small rise to a plastic playset.

Sometimes they sit together next to the playhouse or on the slide, Emma the girl with Emma the chicken often nestled in her lap. The two Emmas watch treetops sway in the wind and study clouds floating across the sky.

Little Emma’s face is peaceful. Emma the chicken’s face is well, in my book, a bit too intense with those beady eyes and sudden jerking moves. Yet, once the chicken is in Emma’s lap, the old gal becomes restful, nearly sleeping with her eyes open.

Because you do things for those you love, soft Emma set to work at the kitchen table with yellow construction paper, tape and scissors. The zig zags were not easy to cut. They never are. It takes determination to get them even, particularly on a small scale. As for circumference, Emma the crafter probably doesn’t know what circumference means, but she knew the circle had to be just the right size.

She worked and worked, taping and cutting, cutting and taping, until at last she was satisfied.

She took her gift to Emma the chicken who received it with grace. The bird wore the gold crown and was the princess chicken for one fine day.

Well, not an entire day, but at least until the other chickens began pecking at her crown in fits of jealousy, knocked it from her head and trampled it underfoot. I think I saw that happen at a pageant once.

Nevertheless, Emma the girl was smiling, pleased that Emma the chicken had liked the crown and worn it. And for a brief moment, Emma the chicken didn’t look so intense and high-strung. She looked calm and at peace, as though she was sincerely pleased to be loved.

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Good news, bad news at the grocery store

The good news is that grocery store shelves seemed better stocked these days. The bad news is the little credit card machines at the checkouts that used to say “chip, swipe or tap,” now say, “arm, leg or both.”

The rising cost of food is so bad that one of our girls extended the five-second rule to three days. As a side-benefit, she rarely sweeps anymore.

I find myself studying the grocery circulars like I once studied the stock market. Last week, I hit four different stores to cash in on the specials. I felt good about all the savings until I realized I spent six times on fuel what I saved on food.

We were in Kansas City recently, a city with some of the best grocery stores in the country. We took a cooler and brought home three reasonably-priced beautiful briskets. When we drove to Maine two years ago, we took a cooler and brought back 10-pounds of wild Maine blueberries purchased at a produce stand without the  middleman markup.

Some people run drugs and guns across state lines, we run brisket and blueberries. We all have our priorities.

As a family, we have been playing “The Price is Right” shooting texts back and forth, guessing what someone paid for something at the store. We may rename the game “The Price is Wrong.” None of us seem able to keep up with rising costs.

Nearly all the grands are bacon lovers. On a good day, you can find a pack of bacon for $9. Several of the grands recently asked if I would make some for breakfast. I told them I would. For their birthdays.

The looks on their little faces was heartbreaking. Normally, I would have consoled myself with a piece of chocolate, but who can afford that?

On the bright side, the new weight-loss program is working well.

I keep wondering if costs will rise for streaming the Food Network.

Walmart has said that consumers are aware of rising prices but haven’t changed their behavior yet. Someone needs to tell Walmart it is hard to live without food.

Some of the rising costs are on foods we don’t really need and are better off without. I don’t need Diet Coke and I can live without Diet Coke, but once it becomes forbidden fruit, all I think about is Diet Coke.

I recently saw that you can now place online orders for Girl Scout cookies. I imagine it makes it a lot more convenient to fill out your loan application at the same time. They take that “Be Prepared” business seriously.

My husband said the way I carry on about the price of groceries, it’s a wonder they don’t bring drive-up orders to the car in an armored vehicle. I’m picking up an order tomorrow. I’ll let you know.

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