Creating a Catalyst

Etty Hillesum wrote a note on a post card and threw it off the train. It was November 30th, 1943. Not long after that she was murdered at Auschwitz. Her writings would later become known around the world.

How interested would you be to read a post card sent to you from a friend? Now, what if that post card had been lost in the mail service for 50 years and that friend had passed away? How would you feel if the person who wrote you had become well known? Elinor Roosevelt wrote a newspaper column called My Day. Her grandson thought all kids read about their grandma in the newspaper.

All of us don’t have news columns, but we can write things for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. Leaving them a keyhole perspective of our lives through a written time capsule that tells of our love, loss, and struggles can help them connect to their ancestors.

And who knows –maybe the things you write will become of interest to someone long after you’re gone. Not many of us take the time to write anymore. Writing a letter or journaling about everyday life may seem a waste of time.

I recently came across a tiny yellow and white box that would change my perspective on writing about the mundane everyday things we sometimes take for granted. This box had been forgotten. It contained letters that belonged to my aunt and uncle. My aunt died years ago and when my uncle recently passed away   All their belongings were shipped to me. It took months to sort through and decide what to do with everything.

I often think of them when I see the painting, ring, and cheese slicer that once belonged to them. Their tiny yellow and white box filled with letters of all kinds opened a whole new perspective for me. The oldest was from my aunt’s third-grade pen pal living in Germany. Another was a letter from someone sending news that their brother had been killed in WWII. The most precious letters to me were the love letters from my uncle to my aunt. I had never known the depth of his warmth and tenderness until I met that loving man in those letters.

For most of my life I’ve journaled. Writing has given me a chance to reflect on what is important to me. Unfortunately, I am not a saver. So, most of my history is gone. However, I’ve decided that I’m going to hold on to some of my writing and put it in a tiny yellow and white box.

You don’t have to write a newspaper column. However, you could start keeping a journal, send a letter, or leave a note for your loved ones to read many years from now. It’s never too late to open a keyhole view of who you are deep inside. You never know who you’ll touch.

I’d like to hear your comments and stories. If you could receive a letter from the past, who would you want it to be from? If you have enjoyed and find value in my blogs, please follow me and share it with others. http://www.leannembenson.com

Drenched With Care

Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who have served our country. And a day to relax! However, my husband and I had some work to do before we could relax. We still hadn’t cleaned up our old boat for the summer. It had been in the water for two weeks. But we’d been too busy to clean it and do the maintenance. Honestly, I was kind ‘a glad, not to work on it. Because it had been unseasonably cold here in Minnesota. Not the kind of weather you’d want to spend near the water.

And so, that Memorial Day morning, my husband and I decided before we went out on the river, we’d spend a few hours working on the boat. We got up early, had breakfast, packed a lunch, and some cleaning supplies, before heading to the marina. It was a leisurely drive. Looking out the window, at the winding road and the Mississippi river shoreline, I sipped my second cup of coffee. When we pulled into the marina, that was the extent of my relaxation.

The early morning sun was warm even though the breeze was still a bit nippy. I put on my raincoat, rubber gloves, and Crocs, then grabbed the pressure washer hose and began washing the boat. It didn’t take long before I was drenched from the over-spray. It was hard work. But I remember thinking, “Once we’re anchored in one of the scenic bays off the main channel of the river, this hard work would all be worth it.”

When I turned off the pressure washer, I realized the marina was filling up with people and thought, “Aah, looks like we’re done just in time!” I took the lunches from the fridge and sat on the aft deck. It was great chatting with all our boat neighbors as they passed by. It was almost a little hard to believe, there was some normalcy to our lives again. I don’t know why, but we hadn’t spent much time on our boat during isolation last year. Maybe that’s what made the day that much more special.

Well, we decided to invite a few friends that don’t get out on the river too often. When they told us their daughter would be meeting them in a few minutes, we opened the invitation to her as well. Little did I realize the kind of adventure we’d find. It was a shorter trip than we’d imagined.

A mile upriver, the port engine started sputtering. With guests on board, we decided it would be best to turn back. The engine kept running just long enough to get us off the main channel of the mighty Mississippi. But as soon as we were out of the strong river current, it died. Just as I turned the key to restart it, the starboard engine died. Both engines had failed. Our 1976 ignition systems were both being fussy today. Being that my husband understands engines better than I do, he took over the helm station, while I went out to flag another boater for help.

Like many activities, boating brings people together. Have you ever noticed, where there’s a commonality in a group, it brings camaraderie? I have to say, “Thank goodness for the willingness of boaters to help fellow boaters.”

The second boat that came by was willing to tow our poor old boat back to it’s slip. As we drifted along, I couldn’t imagine what our friend’s daughter was thinking she got herself into. There was a nagging going on in the back of my mind, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to take passengers along on our maiden voyage this season.” However, that weight of embarrassment, began to fade when I notice the crowd standing on the dock. Even the owner of the marina, was among those waiting to help grab a line and pull us into our slip.

There was never a time when I felt unsafe. And I guess, our passengers didn’t mind our wild adventure. Because they all said they had a great time! So, the embarrassment was only my pride and ego talking. I reminded myself of the old saying, “What others think of you, is really none of your business.” And in this instance, I wasn’t even right about what they were thinking. Because our passengers obviously didn’t think poorly of me or my husband. And from the look of all the people on the dock waiting to help, they weren’t thinking negatively of us either. Our little blunder had shown me just how blessed we are to have so many people that care. When all was said and done, it really had been a wonderful day on the river.

I’d love to hear your comments and stories about a trip that didn’t turn out quite like you planned. Also, if you have enjoyed and found value here, please follow me and share it with others. http://www.leannembenson.com

I Can Never Reject You

Just recently, one of the hangers on our bathroom mirror broke off. Hoping to buy the same hangers so that I could replace just the one broken hanger and not all six of them, I decided to take a picture of it rather than rely on memory. I got my phone and held it up to one of the hangers that was still intact. But just as I held the phone up it turned off. I double-clicked on it again to open the camera and it turned off again. I began to get frustrated. I double-clicked a third time, only to see myself. I quickly swished my hand over the screen to remove it from selfie mode, but to no avail. Swishing my hand across the screen again, I scolded the darn phone and threatened to get a new one. Then I began to laugh. There was nothing wrong with my phone. Repeatedly it showed me a selfie and then my reflection in the mirror just like I had actually asked of it.

Do you remember the old riddle, “You can touch me, but I can’t touch you back. You can see me, but I only reflect you and can never reject you. Who am I?” The answer is a mirror. Well, now we not only have mirrors we also have our phones with cameras to show us what we look like and to capture each moment.

Be it through words or pictures, I think we are all storytellers. And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, does that mean everyone is creating their memoir? And why would anyone spend painstaking hours every day plunking out words on a keyboard?

Maybe it’s because sometimes those reflections from a mirror or selfie snapshot can be deceptive and even detrimental. Now, I’ve never fallen off a cliff trying to get a great selfie, but I have been deceived by a mirror or selfie more than once.

Instead of relying on mirrors or pictures I’ve come to rely on close friends to help me see who I am. They are friends that accept all of my angles and imperfections, not just the good parts. They are willing to collect all the “snapshots” of me and with the gentlest of words help me see what I cannot. I do the same for them. We are figuring out how to navigate our unpredictable lives together. We know each other’s history and have perspective; You don’t get that from a phone or picture. Those photos are vignettes, not memoirs that give you perspective. The perspective comes through the plunking on a keyboard of each carefully crafted word and sentence.

I’m no longer upset with my phone (read between the lines, my aptitude with technology). However, I’m ready to ditch it, along with all the zoom meetings, social media apps, and my mirror. I’m ready for some real facetime and hugs! I’d love to hear your comments and stories about your reflections. Also, if you have enjoyed and found value here, please follow me and share it with others. www.leannembenson.com

When Your Mug Sticks to The Table

This is such a good analogy for writing. Have you ever tried to write a letter, a poem, or a short story and the words get stagnant, or all jumbled up in your head? It’s like a mug that gets stuck to the table.

That is exactly what happened to me a few mornings ago. Delicious milk froth dripped down the side and onto the bottom of my coffee mug. After taking a few sips I wiped the side of my mug and set it on the edge of a hexagonal ceramic tile built into the middle of a small table that stood beside my chair. I began to write. I eagerly jotted down a few thoughts that came to me the previous night. Well, maybe it was more than just a few ideas that came to mind.

Before I continue, I must tell you, this was my second cup of coffee that morning; my second cup is always neglected. If there were ever a study conducted on health issues from reheated coffee, I would be a great candidate. The coffee in my second cup is more likely to evaporate than be consumed.

Anyway, I digress. I Continued to write until all the ideas in my head were a jumbled mess in my computer before I reached to pick up the mug. It didn’t budge. It had stuck to the table. I gave it a little tap. It didn’t move. So, I tapped it with more force. Still nothing. That’s when I hit it hard with the palm of my hand. Coffee went flying all over the table and all over the floor. The mug was still glued firmly to the table. Cleaning coffee off the table and floor gave me a moment to think. I poured a tiny bit of hot water around the base of the mug.  When I grabbed the handle, the mug came off the table with ease.

Isn’t that a good analogy for those times when the words get stagnant or all jumbled up in your head?

I have heard it’s not a good idea to eat while you’re writing. So, I sort of broke the first cardinal rule. Another good rule for me should be to stop and go for a walk rather than force my mug until I have a mess when I’m blocked. I did follow one helpful idea about writing by using an actual event that happened. Yes, I really did smack a full cup of coffee. I didn’t even have to embellish or bring in other past experiences to come up with this blog.

One thing I am getting better at is finding the silver lining in every cloud. I have found growing older is great for writers because the vast experiences can be incorporated into a great story. And we are never too old to write!

Young or old, is there something you have been wanting to do but feel stuck? Maybe it’s writing a blog, skydiving, or calling someone on the phone that you haven’t talked to in years, or talking to a group of people about a passion of yours. I’d like to hear your comments. Please feel free to share this blog with others.  http://www.leannembenson.com

 

Could I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?

It was Friday morning and six weeks since the kitchen cupboards were restocked at our house. Living in the country, miles from nowhere and especially during this time of isolation, I seldom plan trips to town. The grocery list was extremely long. I couldn’t believe there was anything NOT on the list. And adding to the length was a list of food shelf items.

I was disappointed to discover the food shelf was closed on Fridays. But because it was only a fifteen-minute ride in comparison to the grocery store being forty-five, I decided to get the items they needed and drop the donations the following week.

Shopping is always an all-day planned event with the grocery store my last stop. Leisurely perusing each store and chatting with others is part of the journey. Talking about products, helping someone reach an item on the shelf, or reading a label for someone makes it more like a social outing than a chore. But shopping these days isn’t what it used to be.

My granddaughter is learning sign language and I’ve learned a few signs: cat, dog, and I have to go potty. But I didn’t find them helpful when trying to interact with the grocery store cashier wearing a mask behind the wall of Plexiglas. So, I wave thanks and shuffled out of the store pushing the overloaded cart.

Early the next morning my husband began making bread. As the flour grinder hummed, turning wheat berries into flour, he continued gathering ingredients. He suddenly stopped when he noticed only a smidgen of crystals in the bottom of the sugar container. It was the only item NOT on my grocery list or on the pantry shelf. Somehow, he managed to make the bread, but used every last grain of sugar.

I was the first one at the door of the food shelf when it opened. Putting on my face mask, I grabbed a cart and waltzed through the door with ten bags of groceries. There in right front of me stood a shelf stocked with bags of sugar. It was so convenient. All I had to do was ask. They wouldn’t mind if I borrowed just one little bag, would they? You have no idea how hard it was for me not to ask if I could borrow a bag of sugar so that I did not have to make another trip to the grocery store. I’m kidding, but the thought struck me funny and so I thought I’d share it with you.

During these times of isolation, we have all had to come up with creative ways to meet our needs by shopping online, ordering take-out dinners, using social media apps to attend meetings and social gatherings.

Thanks to those that may not feel a need to wear a mask, distance themselves, nor make as few trips to the store as possible, but do so out of respect to others that may be vulnerable.

What is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing once things get back to normal? Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Please feel free to share this blog with others.  http://www.leannembenson.com

What Do Chickadees Know?

Our long-awaited spring is officially here with the equinox marking the occasion. However, spring didn’t just appear on March 20th. It’s been sending us many little telltale signs as it inches its way through winter. The length of the day changes rapidly during both spring and fall equinox, reminding me just how quickly the seasons change. There are countless transformations that take place as winter turns into spring. I feel rather fortunate to find the time to stop and daydream about those everyday miracles.

I’ve watched as winter marches strong and straight. And noticed as it seems to slowly lose its brisk pace. At first it’s a small sidestep and then another. Soon, winter’s march takes on a lighter step as it begins to dance with a young innocent spring. The dance begins with a short twist and turn before returning to its angry tempo. Then a sweet little ballet softens the hike. But not long enough. It’s a rumba that wins the dance competition and stops the advance of winter.

Winter lost its sting when a warm misled breeze blew its way into my yard. Glistening cool water trickled through snowbanks and down our driveway as ice crystals melted.  After months of breathing frozen sterile air, it was the smell of wet gravel and moist woodsy soil that made me want to shed my coat and boots. I imagine I’m an inchworm riding over a raging waterfall on a curled up dry leaf as I sail on melting snow.

And then, looking up I see white flags. The last of winter has surrendered. Cirrus cloud horsetails line up across the sky. My heart begins to race. Excitement builds and suddenly I’m in a horse race. I secretly cheer as the gates open. The announcer in my head yells, “And they’re off! Fluffy is in the lead, Puff is close behind . . .” And a children’s story begins for me. Will it ever be written? I don’t know. But it is always fun for me to imagine stories I can share with you.

Sometimes when I’m lying awake in bed, I look out my window. The sky is full of stars. Without the snow to reflect the moonlight it’s much darker out tonight. Another story plot entertains me.

I must admit, the thing that excites me most each spring is hearing a chickadee change from his winter song to that cheery “Spring’s coming” song. The blades of green grass to come benefited from the snowy blanket of protection that is slowly lifted by spring. My garden is now decorated with tiny green Iris shoots. Then a robin bows her head to the flower to be before flying off to a nearby tree. A closer look reveals an expectant branch waiting to give birth to new leaves and flowers. Soon that branch will become home to the bees, orioles, and hummingbirds.

I look forward to more fun little daydreams as I watch spring turn into summer. Honestly, I’m not trying to rush the season by prematurely bringing out the flyswatter. My mother’s reminder not to wish my life away, stays with me. But I see that the warm sun on my windowsills has awakened a pesky house fly.

What signs of spring have you seen? Please share your stories with me. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Feel free to share this blog. http://www.leannembenson.com

I’ve Got It!

Today, it seems everyone over the age of five has a cell phone. But it hasn’t always been that way. Most of us remember those days when one telephone had to be shared among every member of the family. And it was connected to the wall, so you couldn’t take the phone with you to school, the store, or to work. If you were lucky, you had more than one telephone at your house. However, that didn’t mean that you could make numerous calls at the same time. It meant you didn’t have to run a flight of stairs only to be too slow and miss that phone call after all.

We had multiple phones in our house when my children were growing up. I guess, that meant our family was one of the lucky ones. But we still had to share!  It always seemed like a contest between my son and daughter, as to who got to answer the telephone. And each time it rang, they would both run to answer it. Yelling, “I’ve got it!” Whichever one picked up the receiver first got to talk. It was a big deal to them when they were young.

Often my son would be a second slower in answering the phone than his older sister. If he answered the phone in the kitchen after his sister had already picked up the receiver in the basement, he would hear her say, “I’ve got it!” Being taught that eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation was inappropriate and not tolerated, he would quickly hang up! This mad dash to be the first to answer the phone went on for years.

One morning while eating breakfast my son gasped, “I forgot to do my extra credit assignment!” It was a riddle that apparently the students could get help solving. His sister listened to the riddle. Before running out the door for the school bus, she said, “I’ll think about it on my way to school.”

My daughter was in junior high and left the house an hour before her brother. She loved to sit alone and read or draw. So, I really do think she enjoyed contemplating over this riddle on her way to school.

I was getting ready for work and my son was watching television in my bedroom when the phone rang. He reached over to the bedside table, picked up the telephone and said, “Hello?” Then quickly hung up.

I asked him who was on the phone. And he replied, “I don’t know. Morgan said, ‘I got it!’
And so, he quickly hung up.

A few seconds later the phone rang again. And when he answered, his sister was on the other end of the line. She said, “Don’t hang up. I got it! –I got the riddle!”

Miscommunication and bloopers can be rather hilarious. I suppose that’s why America’s Funniest Videos / AFV has been successful for so many years. I think, more than ever we all need to find things to laugh about. So, send me your comments or funny blunders and I will gladly post them. Please feel free to share this blog.

http://www.leannembenson.com

 

Didn’t See It Comin’

News headlines have been bombarding us with that terrible “C” word that ends with -19 for an entire year now. So, I decided to give people a different “C” word to read about — Creativity!

Creativity doesn’t just happen for me. It’s messy! Paint ends up on the floor and on my shirtsleeves. Then I end up walking in it and dragging my sleeve on surfaces around the art room. Before I know it, I’ve got paint just about everywhere. But, if I’m lucky, somewhere in the hours and hours of chaos, something wonderful is created. Like this silly painting of the world dancing with the sun.

I’m just as messy when I write a story. My fingers bounce about the keys. Jumbled words begin to work their way across the screen. Only after all my ideas are spilled across the page, do I begin to sort them out and make sense of it all. I started this story by flipping back through my calendar, looking for inspiration. Well, I did not see it coming! But, after digging through several months and unfurling the mess of events, I was amazed at all the humorous things that had happened. And I ended up having a phenomenally fun time with –Creativity!

I’d like to hear about things you’ve done during this time of isolation and if you ran into any situations that you “did not see coming.” Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Please feel free to share this blog.

http://www.leannembenson.com

Don’t Like the Taste but Love the Sayings

Years ago, it was rather common to have Valentine’s Day parties in school. Among the many festivities, students would give cards with silly little sayings to classmates. I recently read a story where a teacher had taken that old tradition and expounded on it. She gave students an assignment to send Valentine cards to their classmates. These cards were not to be filled with silly sayings nor were they to be about love. Every student was to think of something nice to say about each of their classmates. They were then asked to write and send them that short note of encouragement.

We often think of Valentine’s Day as a day only for lovers. But I’ve always used the 14th of February to show love to all the special people in my life. I would make heart cookies for my kids, say something nice to a coworker or classmate, and do something nice for friends.

It has been years since I made those heart shaped cookies. I decided that this year, I would buy cookies for our local food shelf. For the last few months now, I have been calling Kris, our local food shelf director on my way to the grocery store and asking her what food items the shelves are lacking.

Ketchup is always on the list. There are many other food items that are deemed unnecessary and are not subsidized. I guess, ketchup is not a necessity. But I certainly wouldn’t want to eat a hotdog without ketchup or mustard. And I can’t imagine, never having cookies or anything sweet. So, along with all the other items on Kris’s list this month, I bought a couple cases of cookies.

Donating cookies is not going to change the world. In fact, I believe giving those cookies did more for me than it did for the food shelf customers. During this time of isolation and other times when I have felt down, encouraging words or a tiny gift from others has been the most helpful to me. So, I decided to turn that thought around.

For years I have given to the food shelves. But I became so wrapped up in self isolation this year that I have done little more than write a few checks. I had forgotten to take notice of people that might be down on their luck. But I’m back! And I’ll continue giving not only when it’s convenient or easy for me, but when they need it. …like Ketchup!

Is there something someone did for you that made Valentine’s Day more than just another day? Please share your stories with me. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Feel free to share this blog.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

http://www.leannembenson.com

Where Do You Setup Your Easel?

With only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, twelve musical notes, and three primary colors, is there anything left to create? Think about it! How many combinations can we create before all the new concepts to write, sing, or paint are used up?

This past year has given me the opportunity to work on that equation. I wrote down stories I have never told, and painted things I might never have expressed as well as a few other projects that may never have been finished. At times it felt as though my fingers had a mind of their own as they flew over the keyboard or danced across the canvas with a paintbrush. Sometimes I make a mess of a project and need to start over. There are those pieces that seem to have a mind of their own as they grow into something different and more beautiful than I imagined. I’ve even found the courage to post many of my stories along with my artwork in previous blogs.

It is exciting to hear there are so many people starting to paint, draw, sculpt, knit, write memoirs, fictional stories, or poetry for the first time in their lives. Now, maybe you’re not going to be able to take your easel and paints to the train station, at the break of day, to create that soft array of colored smoke as it billows out of the train’s smokestack, like Monet painted. But to conjure up images from our armchairs might be a place to start.

It is not the amount of detail or beautiful colors in Picasso’s paintings that make his work so great. But rather the way he captured scenes like no one had before. His paintings beg us to think about the grotesqueness of war. I can’t imagine he would have been able to paint those honest, raw feelings if it were not for the fact that he had lived through those awful conditions.

I am rather certain that many of the first pieces that Monet and Picasso painted were not great. But after a few thousand works, they came up with some “keepers”. How might Picasso or Monet have expressed this past year in a painting? None of us need to be as artistic as they were, nor do I think, it’s mandatory to be good at drawing or spelling. What I do think is important, is that everyone has an opportunity to paint, sculpt, or tell their story in their own way.

Let your bad thoughts go into a project. Savor the good times by showing it in your artwork.  Your story and mine, might not be as glamorous nor beautifully written as stories by Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. But to people we know, our stories might possibly mean more. And who knows, just maybe, one of those items you create, will be around long after you’re gone.

This year is jam-packed with fresh new possibilities. Open a jar of “creativity” and taste some new flavors. With only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, twelve notes, and three primary colors, is there anything left to create? The only thing that limits that equation for me — is me.

Please feel free to share this blog. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. So, tell me how you are finding ways to express yourself, and I will post them.

http://www.leannembenson.com