MUSINGS ON TIME – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Recently I’ve been more aware of the passage of time in several different ways. Since quarantine began, every morning when I look in the mirror and start brushing my teeth, I think, “I remember yesterday morning when I did the exact same thing. Here we go again, another day.”

I also think of the classic scenes in the movie “All That Jazz when the actor playing Bob Fosse looks in the mirror every morning, does “Jazz Hands” and says, “It’s showtime!” as he takes his morning dose of heavy drugs to get through the day.

These aren’t deep, philosophical moments for me, they are more like a passing recognition of the passage of time.

Oddly enough, my diet has also made me more aware of time. I just lost over ten pounds on the Jenny Craig Diet (which I highly recommend) and one of the features I like about the program is that you’re supposed to eat something roughly every three hours. That way you’re never starving and your metabolic rate stays at a steady level throughout the day. Because of this, I look at my watch frequently to mark off three-hour intervals with a snack or a meal.

When I’m busy and occupied, the time flies by and I often miss my three-hour mark. But when I’m restless or bored, the time crawls by and I end up counting down the minutes. I’ve always known that “time flies when you’re having fun”, but I never documented it so graphically and consistently.

Something else happened recently that made me think about the passage of time. I reconnected on Facebook with a former au pair from Germany, Heike, who lived with my family for two years between 1987 and 1989. She was 24-26, I was 38-40, my son was 7-9 and my daughter was 2-4 years old. Heike and I stayed in touch till around 1994 before losing touch completely.

Once we found each other again on Facebook, we immediately talked on the phone for an hour and a half, catching up on whole lifetimes. She’s now 56 and has grown kids. But we have so much in common and we still have such a strong connection, that it felt like almost no time had passed since we had been embedded in each other’s lives.

Some connections are deeper than others and can survive both time and distance. Heike and I are going to stay in touch through phone, text, and Zoom and we’ll meet up in person once people can travel again (she lives near Seattle, Washington). We’re both excited to be back in each other’s lives again, this time as co-equal friends, not employer and employee – although there was always an underlying friendship between us.

Our lives were at very different stages in the 1980s but now we both have adult children and long-term marriages. And several of my best friends today are her age, 14 years or more my junior. My parents were 26 years apart in age so age differences don’t mean much to me.

I’ve increased my awareness of hours, days, and decades in interesting ways. I think being in quarantine has warped many people’s perceptions of time. It’s a running joke that no one knows the date or the day of the week anymore; the days just blur together into an amorphous blob. Maybe that’s why I’m more sensitive to time – it’s just another side effect of the Coronavirus pandemic.

SUMMER FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about old friends; people who knew you when you were a lot younger and who shared a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore. That got me thinking. Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away?

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.

What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

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But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years. Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state more than 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer, and had gotten together regularly over the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six or eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

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I think friendships like these end because of some odd combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re not thrown together. You have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that won’t happen.

Also, people are busy. Between work, family, and other friends, time is at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list,’ you lose. The common ‘bond’ was what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have a personal bond or you forge a new one that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

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I have to admit, I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But, I don’t lose sleep over it either. I’ve learned making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Like romantic relationships, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed, lasted, and enrich my life today.

Now that we have encountered a world with a plague we never imagined possible, I suspect there will be more losses of friends and groups of friends. There will be people who don’t want to go out. I have heard that is beginning to happen to people my age in other places. I’m hoping we are not among them.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS – Rich Paschall

A Return to France, by Rich Paschall

When you have been to Paris, you will likely hope that you can return someday. It is just a little sprinkle of magic that the city puts upon tourists and part-timers. There are no cities in America with old neighborhoods that somehow retain their special ambiance like the ones in the City of Lights.  I had been to Paris before. Recently we returned again.

Now for a little moment of truth. Since my ultimate destination was Strasbourg, I would have been tempted to go via Frankfurt as I had done the year before. However, my young friends wished to go to Paris. One had been there with me before. For the other, it was a new adventure. How could I say no?

Return to Paris

When traveling there are a number of sites you can use to book your airline tickets. It is wise to shop around. The old rules about when to buy just do not apply anymore. Airlines are using sophisticated algorithms to price tickets.  Prices are not changing every Tuesday as the old advice believed. Now they can change daily, even more often in some cases.

We were going to use low-cost passes for the trip, but with two weeks to go, I decided it was too risky. I purchased round trip tickets for a direct flight from Chicago to Paris.  I used Skybooker.com. I also had a comparable offer from ASAP Tickets. Airlines are willing to discount if they feel they can not sell 80 percent of the seats. Empty seats are lost revenue. The plane is going anyway so they want to get what they can. Our flight had a few empty seats.

When we arrived at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris we took the train from the airport station to Gare du Nord in the city. The train does leave from the airport, but trust me. It is a LONG walk to the train once you get your luggage.

Gare du Nord

For the convenience of our brief stop in Paris, we took a hotel near the train station. This meant we could walk to the hotel once we arrived. If you plan it well, you can also be near another major station, Gare de l’Est. This is important for the next part of the adventure.

If your stay in Paris is brief, where would you go? My friends felt there was only one stop for a night in Paris. We headed to a nearby Metro station and took the train to the Eifel Tower. We found a nearby plaza and the view that many picture takers had located before. You have certainly seen such pictures, but it is a much grander site when you take it in with your own eyes.

Eifel Tower

We were present for one of the sparkling light displays that you can see at night. That was something they did not have the first time I was in Paris. In fact, many things had changed. Now the streets are filled with sidewalk vendors trying to sell a variety of trinkets. Most of them have miniature (and cheap) Eifel Towers. Some even light up. They must be selling well for so many vendors to be lining the streets on a rather cool evening.

The other surprise was the plaza where the Tower is located. When I was there about 15 years earlier, the plaza was open. Now it is closed off by what I would take to be bulletproof glass. There are limited entrances where you will go through metal detectors to go in. I guess that is a sign of the times.

We Also Have Strasbourg

After a night in Paris, it was a short walk to Gare de l’Est for a trip to Strasbourg. I purchased and printed our Rail Europe tickets before we left Chicago. The nonstop train is popular and we did not want to get shut out. If you avoid going in the height of Rush Hour, you can get your tickets for a few euros less.

Gare de Strasbourg

In front of the train station is the tram stop. From there you can go just about anywhere in the city. Our next stop was actually the suburb of Illkirch right alongside the city to the southwest.  In Illkirch we made our first ever arrangements at an Airbnb. Our host met us at the train station so we would not get lost on a very short trip to the apartment. The large apartment had two nice bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a modern kitchen and a large living room. Apartment City in Strasbourg would have been more expensive for a small place and for a hotel… Well, let’s just say this was the best choice. We bought provisions at the nearby supermarket and hosted our own wine and cheese party. My friend from Selestat, France joined use for a mini-vacation in the city.

If the Eiffel Tower is the must-see stop in Paris, the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is the place in Alsace. We took the tram back to the closest stop at Place Kleber and wandered over to the magnificent Cathedral.

Place Kleber

When you have reached the plaza, you just have to look up and around to find the cathedral. Then you head off in that direction. If you look behind me to the left, you may spot the statue of French Revolutionary war hero Jean-Baptiste Kléber. Few may realize that he is actually buried below the statue. Well not all of him, his heart is in an urn in a chapel in Paris.  Seriously.

We also visited the neighborhood known as Petite France. Here you will find buildings preserved from the 16th and 17th centuries. Previously it was a neighborhood filled with tanners and millers and other trades of the era. Now it is home to restaurants, shops, and well-restored homes. This historic area of the city has been designated a World Heritage Site.

Petite France

As I have explained before, the reason for travel is to enjoy adventures with friends. It is also to visit with friends. In this case, it was both. For the tenth year in a row, I visited my friend in France. We have been on many adventures together here, in France and other countries. We always believe there will be another adventure soon.

French feast

In case you missed the reference at the beginning:

See also: “A France Vacation,” Sunday Night Blog, rjptalk.wordpress.com, March 8, 2020.
The Grand Est Region“, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, October 20,2019.
Alsace Adventure,” SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, January 6, 2019.
April Love or April Fool?” SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, April 7, 2019.

HELLO, WE’RE HERE! – Rich Paschall

Now What? by Rich Paschall

What do you do when friends come to visit?  Do you plan a nice dinner?  Do you stay in and cook or do you go out?  Do you plan some activities or do you go for spontaneity? Do you bring out old photo albums or run pictures on a computer or even on your television?  There are a lot of things you can do if it is just for a day.

What if friends and family are coming for more than a day?  A few days of guests may take a little more planning.  Maybe you want to both eat at home and go out.  Maybe you want to take your visitors around to meet other family and friends.  Maybe this is the opportunity for a lot of conversation that has been missing in your friendship in recent years.  But what if they come for a few weeks?  Yes, weeks!

When I was small, perhaps 6 years old, I recall visiting Tennessee with my grandparents or other family members.  My grandparents were from Tennessee but they spent the late 1940’s to mid 1960s in Chicago.  There were plenty of relatives in the small town and rural areas for us to visit, so we made the rounds whenever we arrived, staying here and there.  Since I was the little kid from the north, these friends and relatives of my grandparents enjoyed entertaining me when I first arrived.  That probably wore off quickly.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm

We stayed with people I do not recall and, since I was little, the details are a bit sketchy.  I had no idea that decades later I would be interested in these vague memories.  I do recall that sitting around the living room, or front porch if the weather was nice, and telling old stories was a popular pastime.

“Well, how ya’ll doin?  I guess it’s downright cold from where you come from.”

“No, it is hot there too.  It’s July!”

“I swear you are the spittin’ image of Robert Lee at that age.”

My father’s middle name was Lee.  I guess I heard plenty of stories of my father when he was my age, although “my age” seemed to take in his entire childhood.

Most of these visits included my grandfather or some other relative telling how my father got that scar on his chin.  It seems that he was not much more than a toddler when he ran into a barbed wire fence chasing after my grandfather.

“He was told to stay put there at the house but he wanted to help out in the field like everyone else.”  I could not see my father as a farmer, at any age.

Sitting around telling stories is a trait of a lot of families.  It is a happy thing to do when family and friends get together.  In a rural area, it might just pass as the most exciting thing you could do anyway.

I do recall that I must have been the entertainment sometimes as the southern folks took the city boy around the house or farm.  One time some adults had finally convinced me that I should walk across a field to pet a cow.  Never mind the fact that I was just a tot and the cow was, well…, a cow.

I headed out  across the field, a bit scared I am sure, but determined to pet the cow.  When I got near the cow, he took off in another direction.  I guess he was just as afraid of the little city boy as I was of him.  Anyway, he wanted nothing to do with me.  There are some more amusing farm animal stories but, fortunately, I can not think of anyone still alive to tell them.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

After my grandparents retired I was old enough to get put on the train in Chicago and collected from the train in Fulton, Kentucky.  It was the nearest stop to my grandparents in Tennessee.  Yes, we went around and visited relatives and friends.  I could now participate in some story telling.  I was still told I looked like Robert Lee, which I was always to take as a complement.  In my grandparents’ retirement years, there was not much more to do.

“You can walk right down there to the Dairy Queen and get yourself an ice cream cone.  If you go down there after dark, you can hear that bug zapper getting something every minute or two.”  Now that’s entertainment!

Robert Lee’s boy

When my grandmother passed away at some point in her 90s, we returned to Tennessee for another round of family visits.  My father and I attended some family reunions in other years.  One time it was at a Baptist church, the next time it was at the John Deere dealer.  It seems the John Deere dealer had the largest room in the area, bigger than the church.  We didn’t need any farm equipment, but it was interesting to see.

Even decades later, our visiting routine was to travel around and see relatives, mostly without advance warning.  We were always welcome, however.  Once my father and his brother, my uncle, tried to remember how to get to someone’s house using landmarks from when they were kids.  The amazing thing is there was little movement of families and we always found our way around.

On one trip my father wondered if old Aunt Ella was still alive.  She would have to be in her 90s and we were not confident we would find the small town well off any highway, much less Aunt Ella.  When we spotted a mailbox with our last name, we went up to the house where an old woman sat on the porch.  My aging father had not seen her in decades.

“Well, I guess you don’t know who I am,” my father started out.

“Why, you’re Yancy’s boy, Robert Lee,” she declared without missing a beat. “And you must be Robert Lee’s boy,” she said to me.  I must have been in my 40s by then.  We sat around and talked, as was the custom.

What do you do when relatives come calling?  Do you ever go to visit old family and friends?  Go to restaurants? Visit museums, famous landmarks, local hot spots?  Have actual conversations?

AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

BUT ANYONE COULD DO IT … Marilyn Armstrong

We all have friends who do stuff we can’t do.

They make a perfect pie crust and the filling is great, too. They build and refinish their furniture. They tune the car and rewire the basement on Saturday afternoon and still have time to make dinner for company.

You love them, with just a hint of hate because they can do it all and you can barely drag yourself out of bed, brush your hair, and have coffee before mid-afternoon.

They do a little painting, a bit of carving. Frame their own pictures. Repair anything that breaks. They are never worried about anything because they know exactly what to do.

apple pie

These are the woman who breezily raises two children after dad leaves while working full-time and never do they seem overwhelmed or even tired. The men build corporations, sell them, build another one — and don’t know why you can’t do the same.

It’s so easy.

They throw great dinner parties and the food is delicious. The dishes match or are charmingly casual yet coördinated to look casual in a fashion magazine sort of way. But you know they are supposed to look that way and no matter how hard you try, your version of “casual” just looks … well … casual.

Because that look takes work and an “eye.” It’s an art form.

stove and kitchen counter

When you ask about that wonderful pie crust, they say “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bit of butter and flour. A bit of sugar. Cut everything up with a couple of butter knives, roll it out, and there you are.” If you are lucky, you get a demonstration and it does look easy.

You go home, get all the ingredients together and give it a try. Which results in an unusable lump of muck which ultimately, you toss in the trash.

After which you buy a pie crust or better yet, buy the whole pie. Because it isn’t so easy. Not for you, anyway.

Modest, humble people who do brilliant stuff about which they are completely offhand. They seem baffled why you would think any of it is a big deal. Apparently, it isn’t. To them.

To you, it would be a minor miracle if you could accomplish one little piece of it. Yet they will always say “But it’s so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Anyone except me. I can’t do it.

THE COMMUNITY EVENT – Rich Paschall

Do You Have The Time? by Rich Paschall

There are plenty of community organizations that will grab your time, if only you let them. They want you for a variety of tasks and the really organized organizers will stalk you if they think you will volunteer for something. They want you to stuff envelopes, sell tickets, make phone calls, sit at booths and sell things. They will have you directing traffic, ushering people, handing out programs. You can go to meetings, answer email, talk on the phone, spend hours of your precious time in pursuit of the organizational mission, whatever that might be.

But what if you do not have the time for this? After all, if you are part of a family crew, you may have to drive little Johnny or Suzy to soccer practice, karate lessons, football practice, baseball practice, cheerleading practice, dance class, piano lessons, drum and bugle corps, or basketball games. If they are young, it is pre-school or grade school or daycare or after school care. If they are older it is still sports, music, dances, proms, band, drama, speech and please, drop them at the corner so no one knows their mommy is still driving them around.

Of course, there are all the adult requirements too.  There are weddings and showers, wakes, and funerals. As we get older, there are more of the latter. There are dances and parties we don’t want to attend and family events for which you must make your famous __________ (insert dish name here). It all keeps us so very busy. How dare these “organizers” presume to prevail upon our valuable time?

Yet, these various events to which you are driving the beloved little ones (or not-so-little ones) are probably staffed by volunteers. Adults and a handful of older kids are taking tickets, selling refreshments, selling t-shirts, directing people around events. They are running for ice, and pop and cups and napkins. They are getting mustard and ketchup. They are making emergency runs to Costco or Sam’s Club so they do not run out of water or buns or napkins. In other words, they are making everything possible that you and little Johnny and Suzy are attending.

As a staff member at a community organization for a few years, and for a private school a few others, I know what it is like to have to run events, dependent on volunteers who may or may not show up. Fortunately, most are dedicated and in their places when the time comes.

Yes, that's me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

Yes, that’s me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

While some organizations pressure the parents of the children who participate to volunteer, many others are reliant on the goodwill of neighbors and friends.  Though many do not realize it, the events they attend throughout the year might not be there if there were no volunteers. In fact, some community organizations die for lack of volunteer spirit. A founder of one community organization here said many decades after the organization he began was up and running, that perhaps it should die if the community was not willing to come forward and support it. They, in fact, gave up some large events for lack of volunteers.

Here I could give you the “social contract” type speech. You know the one.  If you are part of the community, you must give up something in order to reap the benefits of community activities. That something you must give up is your time. I know that is hard to do in this day and age. After all, we must get home to check our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We must look at Instagram and Snapchat. We must check Messenger and Skype. Then there is Pinterest and YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo.

What enriches our lives is what we invest in. If we invest in our community and its events, then we are richer too. The volunteer spirit does not necessarily lead to dull and boring jobs. Instead, it can lead to knowing your neighbors. You could be learning about the organization to which you and your children participate. It can open new avenues to friendship in the community in which you live. It can give you an understanding of what it takes to make a community.

Hillary Clinton famously said “It Takes A Village,” from the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.

In fact, it takes a community, a good community, to raise a child. The only way a community can be good and strong is with the volunteer spirit of its residents. Are you going to give up an occasional Saturday at some event or sports bar to aid your community, or will you just let someone else do it? If you choose the latter, then I remind you of the philanthropist who suggested that it might be better to let a community organization die, if the community was unwilling to support it.

A GRADUAL CONGREGATION – Marilyn Armstrong

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.”

With some fish, it also means collaboration to make baby fish. Or is that conjugation?

But there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Congregationistic? Congruent?

 Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I liked most people, I was much more enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that.

I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was trying to talk.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one was bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted.

What we had previously held in common — work — it was no longer relevant after we all had stopped working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been lucky. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gadabout, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going to places with which they are unfamiliar. Everyone like their own bed.

If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them, especially as your pets get old, too.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we knew and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies.

So let us congregate to our greater enjoyment! Or try, anyhow.

SORRY ABOUT THE FRIENDSHIP THING – Marilyn Armstrong

So, you ask, why can’t we be friends?

There are so many reasons. For one thing, you live on the other side of the world and we don’t even have a bus or a taxi in this town. You know how long it takes to get there by airplane? More than 18 hours … and that’s a direct flight. Oh, wait, there is no direct flight. You’ve got to stop somewhere. Take your pick of continents.

Another reason? You wouldn’t really like me. Count on it.

Photo Garry Armstrong

Even if I like you, more than likely, you won’t return the feeling. I talk too much. My tongue is sharp. If you say dumb things, I will snort derisively. I will not take you seriously if you don’t know any history and don’t read books.

If you take photographs with trash cans in the background, I will not admire them, even if the subject is your beloved grandchild. She/he would look better — I personally guarantee it — without the trash cans. Unless you are making some kind of artistic statement about grandchildren and trash, and I sincerely hope you are not.

I am not everyone’s cuppa tea. Sometimes, I’m not even my own cuppa tea. Actually, I’m not all that fond of tea, except for green tea ordered with Japanese food.

This probably makes me a bad person. Coffee anyone?

GOATS, CATS, AND ROCKING CHAIRS – Marilyn Armstrong

Out yesterday at the farms by the river. Taking pictures. Garry took a bunch too, as did Ben.

We have three views of the same scenes. Using three different cameras.

Ben has the Pen-F and I am SO envious. Garry has my former FZ-300 and I have the new FZ-1000.

These are a few of mine. More to come!

One beautiful cat! They had so many kittens, but we escaped unscathed.

Old Rockers in a barn loft

Ben, the friend

BACK WHEN WE HAD A BIT MORE ENERGY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Energy

As I type this, my friend Ben up from Arizona is snoring softly on the sofa. All three dogs are asleep. Amazingly, I’m NOT asleep … but I don’t seem to sleep much.

Not sleeping is not the same as energy. I have exactly as much as I need to get done what needs getting done. Shopping, a bit of cleaning, dogs, husband … and writing posts.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Okay, and taking a few pictures. Cooking.

But the energy and verve to go into Boston with all that TRAFFIC. Or take long drives. Traveling — airports and journeys? No energy. I get a headache thinking about airports and airplanes.

I might yet have another journey or two in me, but I was really hoping they’d have the transporter ready by now. Sadly, it has not arrived.

I remember having energy — even having a little to spare. Over time and a lot of surgeries and arthritis, it left home without me. I have good days when I get stuff done … and other days when I just can’t get myself in gear. I’m about to get myself in gear, but first, I have to wake up my sleeping friend. He doesn’t have quite as much energy as he used to either.

8/12/2018 – TODAY IS NATIONAL MIDDLE CHILD DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

I was a middle child. I’m not anymore because my older brother died and my younger sister got addicted to everything and disappeared. I’m assuming she is alive since no one has told me otherwise, but I have no actual evidence to that effect.

1963

Middle children have an interesting place in family life. If the family is big, there are lots of middle children so you can have quite a heap of middle children, but in the three-child family, middle children are often communicators. We take messages to the other warring family members.

Mom tells you to tell dad whatever, which you do, then he tells you to tell her something else. You brother confides in you because you are “The One Who Talks.”

It’s a weird role for a kid. It makes you feel important. Everyone counts on you to take and deliver messages. But it’s a fake importance. What you are really doing is helping your dysfunctional family not communicate with each other.

That was the final reason I went to Israel. My marriage was tired and not doing well … and my family had gone from dysfunctional to dangerously dysfunctional. Frighteningly dysfunctional with potentially lethal results. I felt — and I’m sure I was right — that if I didn’t go far away, I would never break the chain of recriminations, threats, lies, prevarications, fear … the whole ugly wrapper.

Not all families are equally dysfunctional, but mine was way beyond standard. Matthew and I survived. I survived better than he did, though he lived a good — if sadly short — life.

He had a great wife and an amazing relationship with her. I’m pretty sure she saved his life. Although I had one really awful marriage, Jeff and I got along well. As a marriage, it faltered, but it was a strong friendship. We were supportive of one another until finally, he died. Even after we divorced, we stayed friends.

I was right. My time in Israel broke that chain of me as the family communicator. Unfortunately, my mother died … and then, there was only my brother, and then Jeff and Matthew died — both much too young.

2012

But then there were new friends. There was the internet.

I communicate again. I don’t see your faces, but I feel you. I worry about you, want to know you are okay. You matter to me. I am not good at virtual relationships. To me, you are real. Distant, I admit, but real.

Stay real. Stay well. Stay safe.

CONGREGATING IN THE SLOW LANE

It turns out, there are a lot of variations of congregate meaning “to get together, join together, group together, party hearty.” With some fish, it also mean joining in union to make baby fish. Or is that conjugate?

But, there is no word which means “someone who congregates.” No congregator. Congregationalist? Do you have to join a group for that?Way back when, in the days when I had energy, enthusiasm, and I genuinely liked most people, I was enthusiastic about “getting together.” I was considered sociable and I almost agreed with that. I was never quite as sociable many thought. I was a party “edge person.” I would look for whoever was standing along at the edges of a party and engage them in conversation. I never like big groups of people in one place because you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone when everyone was there.

I made exceptions when I gave the party because if it was my party, I didn’t expect to engage in conversation. Party giving was more about flitting about and making sure everyone else was having a good time. I gave a few good parties through the decades (generations?), but mostly, I preferred having a friend or two or three — and a great conversation about everything.

Remember conversations that lasted until dawn? We covered philosophy, government, the meaning of life. Travel to the stars, reincarnation and the best books we’d read lately. No one got bored or left out.

Later, people got old. Died. Drifted into a world of their own, moved to senior housing “somewhere near their kids” which was always hundreds of miles from us. Others simply drifted. What we had in common — work was big — it was not relevant when we all had mostly quit working.

Those of us with functional marriages who really liked our partners have been the lucky ones. Singleness is fine when you are active enough to travel and gad about, but these days, it’s an abiding joy to have a partner whose hand you can hold while you watch old movies, cuddled by dogs with cold noses.

We’ve been talking lately about how few friends we have remaining. This isn’t unusual at our age. People leave and don’t come back. Many others don’t like traveling. Or driving any distance. More don’t like going places with which they are not familiar. Everyone like their own bed. If you have pets, it gets increasingly difficult to find someone to take care of them when you aren’t there.

We still have friends. They are old friends. Friends forever. Who knew the people we used to know and share memories of the times through which we’ve lived. Have common political and philosophical beliefs — and hopefully enjoy the same movies!