Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

Dusting Off the Ashes

My return to normalcy has been slow and steady. Oh, sure – some days it seems like New Year’s Day was just a week or so ago (and, just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the “new” year of 2016!), but when I try to reflect on the past twelve months, my life blurs into one mad rush of “what-the-hell-just-happened-and-how-did-I-survive-it” scenario. We all go through times like this: long, drawn out seasons of challenge and change and confusion.

Such times are difficult, but necessary. When in the midst of these arduous passages, I often wonder if I will ever come out again on the other side. Time slows to a sloth-like progression, and daily responsibilities loom like treacherous storm clouds on the horizon. Despair casts its net, and I fight it with all I’ve got, trying to avoid being tripped up and dragged down. “Hang in there just ONE…MORE…DAY,” becomes my daily mantra, while my constant friends, hope & faith, try to remind me that this trailblazing, uphill climb is leading somewhere worthwhile. Each day takes me further and further afield, and I grow weary trying to find my own way back to where I’d like to be. What frustrates me the most in these situations is that I feel like I was listening, that God had made His plan very clear to me, and His guiding hand had gone before me. But the place I ended up didn’t seem all that great, and God was suddenly, suspiciously, quiet. I’ve been here before, but still, I always have to remind myself…often – this is where trust comes in to play. Trust is often referred to as “faith in action.” With genuine trust, people are able to get up every day and do what needs to be done, and those whose paths intersect with them do not see a lost soul – they see a person carrying their own particular cross, who acts with compassion, empathy, good humor, and hope, spreading the light of faith, in spite of the trials. I believe that I was able to do this. From the things that I shared, close friends and family knew that I was going through a difficult time, but I tried hard to give my best to those I served each and every day. (To keep this honest, however, I must confess that while I was hanging out at home, I was sometimes crabby, I played a lot of games on my Ipad, and I slept more than usual, with my cat on my lap. And creative pursuits, like blog writing and crafting, were stored on a dark shelf in the dungeon.)

Fast forward now to New Year’s 2017. Exactly how I got here is a fuzzy mix of images, but at least I have arrived safely, and the storm clouds that tormented me for months are now but a distant memory. My hard fought battle with uncertainty and anxiety has been won, and I’ve come to a land of quiet joy and peaceful beauty. I recognize this country, because…I’ve been here before as well. It is the place I stumble upon when I have won the fight, when I have refused to give up. Upon arriving in such surroundings, it always seems much too bright. I blink my eyes, wandering around in a daze, trying to get my bearings. Sometimes, quite honestly, it takes a while to realize that I am in a better setting. The transition from feeling bewildered and alone is difficult to shake off – I’ve gotten used to it, and am not sure that I want to let it go, just yet. Slowly, the sun warms my bones and sharpens my senses. I look back to the west, into the valley through which I have labored, and I am struck by the rugged beauty of it all. I am able to recollect the gifts I received, and the accomplishments I made, while stumbling down the path that was laid out for me. I can gaze from afar upon my completed course, and see the good mixed in with the bad, and the memories of the journey come back to me.

I made two job changes during the past year, first, with an agency that provided me with training for Home Health Aid certification. I had to sit in a classroom and take notes, and study for tests, and pass hands-on clinical testing, and I am proud to say that I triumphed. My new boss even hinted that I was the best of the class. I know for a fact that I was the only one who aced the final exam…100%!! (At the age of 56, these kinds of accomplishments take on new meaning.) At that point, I thought that this agency was going to be the place I retired from. Imagine my vexation when the illogical scheduling procedures, coupled with the two-hour shifts scheduled all over town, soon began to wear me to a frazzle…and, I was stuck there for 6 months, because of the training agreement. Right in the midst of this unwelcome revelation, my dearest, most beloved client died. She had been doing pretty well, then started with some virus-like symptoms, went into the hospital for a few days, and suffered a massive stroke on the day she was supposed to be sent home. She passed away about 2 weeks after that. The gift that I received through that was knowing that I had brought some spiritual rest to the end of her days, by finding a wonderful young priest to come and visit with her a few times. I was even asked to do a reading at her funeral Mass, which was a great honor and privilege. Shortly after that trauma, I had a horrifying clash with a neighbor, who stood in my yard screaming, over and over again, right in my face, that I was “foul,” and spitting on my face as he screamed like a crazy man. This was not the first time we have been verbally attacked by these neighbors, but it was, by far, the worst. This time, though, his extended family was there for a party and witnessed the whole thing. I believe that they were shockingly appalled by his behavior (and, gave him a good talking-to!). Things have been much improved since that clash, and, even though I suffered terribly after that attack, I can see the good that it has wrought. It was around this time that I also got hired (through a friend’s recommendation) by a handicapped woman needing another PCA (personal care assistant). She does direct hire, and offered me 50% more per hour than I was making through the agency, and gave me set hours. I worked for her and continued with the agency until I thought I would drop, and then left the agency almost exactly six months after my first day of work. That was a difficult, but absolutely necessary step in my “recovery.” The final stab of the difficult journey was the loss of my sweet little Albert, my most favorite-of-all-time-kitty. He had actually become very sick earlier in the year, while I was on the edge of depression, but he had rallied to stay with me for several more months. He got me through the toughest days, and then it was time for him to go. He went quickly, suddenly becoming very weak and dying within a few days of that. It still breaks my heart to think of him, I miss him so!

So, anyway, here I am now, after a blessed Christmas visit with my growing family, all settled into a new, happy place (which will be purr-fect when I find a new feline friend to sit on my lap), with a lovely, but challenging, job (that I might not have been confident enough to accept without the HHA training experience). My new client (who shares a birth year with me) is also my newest best friend. We enjoy our time together tremendously, even on the difficult days. I have learned a great deal, and become a stronger person in many ways. All I’m hoping for now is a quiet year, with no “traveling.” I’m hoping that you’ll hear from me regularly once again. Growth and challenge are good things, but, let’s face it – too much of a good thing can drive a person batty!

Grandma’s drops of coffee soup wisdom

I know that many of you are forming an unfair opinion of me from my previous posts. You are thinking to yourselves, “This is one, crazy lady whose blog has no theme or usefulness, and I am wasting my time here.” However, I have a depth to me, which I have not yet shared with my faithful readers. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two. Some of these little pearls of wisdom might come in handy for a few of you, so I thought it would be very kind and unselfish of me to share these hard won nuggets. Since I do, sometimes, consider myself kind and unselfish, I felt obligated to offer this compilation of lessons learned, from many years of experience, for your perusal.

Lesson 1 – Always smell things before you taste them. This is a very useful and necessary piece of information. Unbeknownst to many of the unschooled amongst us, our taste and olfactory nerves work in conjunction with one another. Chances are, if the smell of something makes you gag, then the taste of it will make you vomit. Smell any questionable food items before tasting, and if you feel the slightest queasiness from the odor, toss it in the trash. Or, if you don’t tell PETA, you can feed it to the dogs.

Lesson 2 – Never smell things that you pick up off of the floor. This wise advice is closely related to #1. I have a habit of smelling anything that I can’t categorize. This is not a good habit to get into. There are strange and gross things in this world, and many of them live on the surface of the earth, or on the floor of your home. If you reach down to pick up an unnamable item, simply wrap said item in a tissue, and toss it in the trash. You are not a scientist. Classifying every object you encounter in your daily life is simply not necessary.

Lesson 3 – Always check the toilet paper supply before the release of any bodily wastes. I know this is a rather taboo subject, but it is something that we must, as a society, be willing to talk about. Too many people find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing a wipe when a wipe is inaccessible. Sometimes, if you are in your own bathroom, or in the bathroom at a friend’s house, you can rummage around in the cupboard and find emergency back-up, however, do not fail to follow this friendly forewarning when visiting a public restroom.

Lesson 4 – Never send anyone under the age of 20 years old to look for something in storage (i. e., in a food pantry, in the attic, in a cupboard, on shelves in the basement, etc). Anyone under this age of wisdom has not yet assimilated the concept of searching for items. If the thing they are looking for happens to be behind or under another item, they will never locate the item. They will search for a very long time, while you are, perhaps, stirring the pot, anxiously awaiting the needed ingredient. You will then have to find someone to take over the stirring, so that you can go rescue the searcher, who is standing there in a daze, staring at the shelves. You will move one can aside, which will reveal the jar of sauce that has eluded your unschooled detective. Invariably, the thwarted searcher will say, “I didn’t know it would be hidden behind something!”

Lesson 5 – Never, ever let yourself believe that grocery shopping can be taken care of in one trip per week. You will ask the entire family, several times as you are laboring over your shopping list, if there is anything that anyone needs. They will invariably say, “No.” You will take your cell phone with you, just in case they think of something while you are at the store. As soon as you get home from your big, weekly marketing excursion, and pack everything away where no one under 20 can find it, someone will say, “Did you get toothpaste (or tissues, or saltines, or quick oats, or whatever it happens to be that they have suddenly remembered that they can’t live without)? You will stop by the store on your way home from work the next day, and then the following day, you will run back again for an essential recipe ingredient that you forgot to put on your list, and so it will go, until you are stopping by the market three or four days a week, and everyone who works there will know you by name, and think that you are cuckoo.

Lesson 6 – Buying clothes in a smaller size to encourage yourself to lose weight will not work. You might think that those cute, little shorts and the skimpy tank top will be like a carrot in front of your nose, leading you on to a successful diet and exercise plan that will get you in great shape for the summer. It seems like it could be a beguiling incentive, however, the only good thing that can come of such a gamble is a nice, generous donation of brand new, never worn clothing to the local Goodwill. In addition to the donation, you will also have to hit the shops again, to get some clothing that actually fits. Save yourself some time and money – buy stretchy clothes.

Lesson 7 – (Standard Mom advice) Don’t let people get on your nerves, and try not to worry (about stuff that probably won’t turn out as bad as you think it will, anyway). Don’t take things personally. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. It never hurts to ask. Laugh a lot, be goofy, have fun. Thank God for the gift of every day, and leave things in God’s hands.

Lesson 8 – (Ending on a serious note) The only thing that really leads to true happiness in this life is relationships. Family, friends, work associates, classmates, the folks who work at the grocery store or your doctor’s office – these are the souls you can impact on a daily basis with your love and kindness and compassion and good humor. God brings these people into your daily life, and how you act towards them can truly make an impact on them, for good or for ill. Choose to love, choose to care, choose to be kind, choose to compliment and encourage and pray for those in need – these are the greatest gifts we have to offer to our little part of the world each day, and the sharing of these gifts will bless us in ways we cannot begin to grasp. We will feel happier, and we will leave those in our wake feeling happier, but these simple gifts of love and kindness will splash and ripple out into eternity, and have astounding and lasting effects we may never know.

Lesson 9 – Don’t imagine you can grasp all these staggering life lessons in one reading, because, honestly, you have to be old to be this wise.