Sparkle and shine

One of my favorite ways to avoid actually shopping at Christmastime is to wander around stores, pretending to be shopping, but instead just enjoying the sparkly displays.

Most are way too over the top and garish for me to do anything but gape in a sort of childlike wonder. Bubble lights! Penguins! Glittery stuff! Fake snow!

My tastes for home are much simpler, but by God I’ve got tons of decorations! Each year a different bunch of boxes is hauled down from the attic and I feel as if I’ve never seen most of it before because it’s been so many years since I last used whatever is in that particular box.

I have a particular weakness for glass ornaments and try very hard to avert my eyes and avoid displays like this one! A store around the corner from me has a wall solid with nothing but glass tree ornaments in every conceivable shape and size… animals, lighthouses, flowers, birds, insects…

I only looked long enough to find a sweet little shorebird; a group that is poorly represtented among the bird ornaments on my tree. That was my excuse for buying it at least.


Today wasn’t entirely wasted on ogling; I did manage to buy a few gifts. Not many, but it’s a start at least.

How many shopping days left?

On being productive

Some of my clients make it really difficult to be compassionate, but I try to remind myself that I may be the one person they can expect it from with any sort of consistency.

My coworkers would likely say that it isn’t necessarily in my job description and that oftentimes, compassion makes my job more difficult than it need be and our stated goal of self-sufficiency for our clients less likely.

I guess, maybe, they believe that being nice gets in the way of helping people.

My idea is that helping takes many forms… some social workers do it best by being curt and all-business and never showing a bit of their own humanity with clients. That doesn’t work so well for me, as I’m not such a good pretender.

Anyway… I often feel as if I spend an inordinate amount of my workday talking to people.

Okay… that’s probably an outright lie.


My internal editor stops me, sometimes, to remind me that there are a few people who read this blog who actually know me and who’ll recognize a lie that I try to pass along to all of you invisible internet friends.


I spend a lot of time listening to people. I don’t generally have the chance to say very much at all. Clients like to yell at me a lot. I don’t so much like that; in fact it makes me really uncomfortable and trembly with pent-up smart aleck responses to their hostility. But still I try to really listen to them. Listen to whatever it is that is at the root of their anger or their hurt or their fear. They’re not upset with me, usually, directly, but instead it’s their way of venting with someone who they imagine can change things for them, help them, maybe make things better.

It’s my job, somedays, just to let them yell.

They’re not all like this, thank heavens. Some clients are just looking for reassurance, or support, or someone to share their hard-won victories with. I listen to those clients, too, and celebrate with them.

This really isn’t productive though, right? It does nothing to reduce the piles of paper that always threaten to engulf me. There’s no visible product to present to my boss at the end of the day.

I guess for me a productive day looks much the same as any other. I wake up happy and I accomplish something, hopefully. But I can’t ever feel really satisfied unless there’s a sense that I’ve contributed in some small way to someone else’s welfare. I feel most grateful when given the opportunity to share a moment with someone – to listen in a way someone hasn’t been listened to before or to tell a story that gets someone thinking differently. Then I feel productive and as if the day’s been worth living.

That moment came for me today, after being screamed at by various others, from a client with mental health issues. He’s taken to calling me every couple days to check in and usually I just “yes” my way through any conversation with him in order to get back to the important paperwork in front of me. Today, though, I stopped to really listen and to appreciate the blessing of a client who wanted nothing from me, had no complaint or pressing need, but instead just wanted to say hello and to tell me about his day.

I think we all need help at one time or another and need to be able to depend on compassion from others, be it frazzled social workers or strangers, even. Compassion feels good, helps us, and makes the world a nicer place, somehow.

Even when it gives me a headache and makes me want to put my head in the oven.


These pics, from a less *productive* moment during my day in the field yesterday; from in and around the delapidated casino on the boardwalk at Asbury Park.

Picture-taking is another productive thing I do for myself most days; a chance to see and feel without much thought or concern for the end product.

December views

There’s no stories today, no new birds or epiphanies; just this slightly snowy scene from the garden center down the street.

I was at the beach in short-sleeves just yesterday!

The snow didn’t stick, as I imagine the cold won’t. It doesn’t seem to get and stay cold until February anymore. Weird.

I’m thinking of giving everyone I love flowers for Christmas this year. You know those impossibly beautiful things that just exude sunshine and happy thoughts? The ones that I always appreciate so much but then forget to take care of?


Keeping Christmas

Just passing this along today:

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas Day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…

To forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you;

To ignore what the world owes you and to think what you owe the world;

To put your rights in the background, your duties in the middle distance and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

To see that men and women are just as real as you are and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

To own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing…

To stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;

To remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;

To stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

To bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;

To try to understand what your loved ones really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

To trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;

To make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open.

Are you willing…

To believe that love is the strongest thing in the world;
stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death;

And that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

–Henry Van Dyke

Days like this

A great horned owl is demanding answers outside my window and the stars lean close enough to touch; everything says dark December, but my heart. There the sun is warm and the skies are blue. There might even be happy swallows chattering somewhere off in the distance.


Was your weekend anywhere near as nice as mine?

North shore ducks

We did a mini-tour of the coastal ponds of the northern part of my county today for ducks. All the usuals were around, but they seem to have changed ponds since last week. It’s funny how the pond that last week held so many wigeon and coot, this week had mostly hoodies. I still haven’t found any canvasbacks or redheads – maybe it’s still too early or I’m not looking in the best spots.

I’m sharing just this one pic… wigeon are a favorite, mostly for their silly little call.

Tomorrow I hope to find some salt water ducks – mergansers and bufflehead and long-tailed ducks. Maybe that snowy owl finally, too.

Portrait day

Somebody had too much time on their hands today (me!) and well, you know how it is with animals…

Half the fun of pets is the chance to dress them up funny and embarrass them. Luka is pretty good at this all by himself and doesn’t need the little Santa hat to be a goof…

The wheekers were the most cooperative of the lot which is strange considering I hardly ever handle them. There’s something odd about the texture of their fur that gives me the willies…

I know you hardly ever see their photos here, but Xmas is a special occasion, I guess. Note how suspiciously they’re looking at me…

Freckles was just plain pissed off. Silly rabbit! She figures she’s old enough and shouldn’t have to put up with my foolishness any longer. If looks could kill…

Sunshine wasn’t very happy either. What’s with these rabbits? Where’s the Xmas cheer?

Boomer wouldn’t even look at me… poor embarrassed bunny.

Peeper the ferocious tried to disappear into the carpet. She’s bitten me for much lesser offenses than a red hat.

I’m not sure there’s any winners here… anyone have a favorite?


Another meme

Stolen from Lynne. Things I’ve done are in bold.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (actually hiked up a mountain)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang/played a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when youโ€™re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangeloโ€™s David in person
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someoneโ€™s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Made a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Gotten a speeding ticket

Can anyone say sheltered?


Geese police

Most of the coastal ponds I visit for ducks are in the middle of residential neighborhoods… prime neighborhoods within sight of the ocean. I always get a laugh at the canada geese, brant, and coot feeding on those perfectly manicured lawns that sit opposite the most productive ponds. Boy it must really piss those people off to have all that goose crap on their grass and sidewalks!

There’s a price to pay for that nice water view, I guess.

Nevermind the birders wandering around all the time.

Last week I watched this guy from one these houses patrolling his yard with a stick. Back and forth he walked, waving his big stick along the sidewalk, to keep the geese away.

And I think I have too much time on my hands…

This bit of drivel, btw, is my 1000th post. Hm. Think maybe it’s time for me to finally shut up?



Sometimes it feels as if the entire space he carved out in the world has simply closed over.

A coworker the other day noticed the faraway look in my eyes and asked what I was thinking about. “I’m trying to find something in my mind,” I told her. I have this penchant for losing track of stuff and then becoming obsessed with finding whatever it is. Often this necessitates tearing the house or my desk apart.

A couple weeks ago the search was for a handwritten note from my dad; one he’d written years ago to accompany the return of some money I’d loaned him. It wasn’t some thank-you note, mind you, but instead a sort of brief family history. The theme of that history was money, specifically loaned money, and detailed my father’s firmly held belief that what goes around, in terms of generosity, comes around.

Anyway… the details of the note and our family’s financial history are probably too personal to share here, but suffice it to say that I really wanted to find that note and feel the connection to my dad that it represents. I don’t have much else tangible to remember him with. When I first came across the note a couple years ago, I’d probably put it aside for safekeeping and now it’s lost forever.


The other day at work I somehow started thinking about the small gold cross my dad gave me as a little girl. I’d worn it exclusively for years, on a necklace that had been my mom’s. I have even fewer tangible thngs to remember her with, save that necklace and a pair of earrings and her wedding band. I’d been obsessively hunting for that necklace and cross the last couple days and wasn’t able to put my hands on it. I found every other piece of jewerly I own, mind you, but not that simple cross my dad had given me so many years ago.

This put me in a bit of a funk, you know? Granted, my foul mood wasn’t only about that, but oftentimes some seemingly inconsequential thing is the trigger for major crankiness.

The people closest to me must be used to this part of me by now, the part that hangs the *do not disturb* sign on the door and disappears from them without any warning. Those with more open hearts don’t often understand the need of some to draw inward, in self-preservation, when life gets to be too much.

I’ve learned how to take my space when it presses in too closely, even when I can’t physically wander away. Plenty of people don’t understand that about me, don’t understand the secret hiding places I can curl myself into, that you can’t win anything by force with me, that there is no prying me out of my muteness.

I recognize it straight-away when I meet with this trait in others. Often it’s a child, but there’s plenty of people who’ve grown to adulthood processing the world in the same instinctual way I do, people who live everything from a place very deep inside. We recognize each other, somehow, and meet somewhere in the open between backing off and standing by. That’s a sweet spot, I think. A place of acceptance. A place where the things we hold onto and the lengths we hold on is understood and trusted.

(Oh and I finally found my necklace. All is right with the world again.)