On cars and frustration

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…How to Be a Cat…

I live toward the north of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. In November, right before our first bad cold snap, a couple, probably mid-40s, moved in across from me, both working as long-term contractors at a local military industry. Native Floridians, they’ve looked at me pitifully more than once and asked, “So… March?” and I’ve consistently replied, “Well… April, really.”

The other day, I suggested they buy a bag of salt. Today, when it was very obvious the two-wheel drive pickup wasn’t going anywhere, I suggested they put a little of that salt down in front of the wheels. She said, “Yeah, I guess we’re gonna have to,” he did as suggested… and away they went. I suspect they wouldn’t have thought of it, because when I called over, they’d already turned the motor off. I’ve made other such suggestions as I’ve seen them struggling with something. I’ve lived up here all my life; they’re still learning how to be Northerners in winter.

Now, formal education is a wonderful thing, but the little, everyday information that makes our lives easier… or makes them work at all… isn’t often found in books. At home, Mom taught my brother and me how to keep house; Dad taught us how to fix one. Dad also taught us to drive, and believe me, I’ve had reason to bless them for their wisdom and foresight many times in the last however many years.

Since I left my parents’ home, I’ve added to my knowledge. Little things: how to remove garlic from your hands (salt); how to cut the heat if something is too spicy (sugar); how to tell the content of an unlabeled piece of fabric (burn a few threads). Big things, too; friends sharing their hard-earned experience to save me from having the same experience (many are best when had second-hand, to be honest).

So… how do we all learn the really important little things? And what’s up with my title?

Well… years ago, I read an excerpt from a book titled “Jennie,” by Paul Gallico. The excerpt was called “Jennie’s Lessons to Peter on How to Be a Cat.” I fell in love with and identified with the story, because my young mind realized that my parents were, in essence, teaching me “how to be a cat.” In the years since, when I’ve received or shared everyday wisdom, that phrase has often popped into my mind; I’ve even chuckled and said it out loud as I’ve moved on.

It’s how we humans really learn, and have learned for millennia. Not a huge, world-changing idea, except for one important thing I want you to think about…

You have knowledge to share. And it’s important that you do so.

Oh, yes, I heard that… and yes, you do. Everyone does… and we need to pass on what we know, or it may be lost forever. Worse… someone may have to suffer to learn it again! So just say it, show it, do it. Let someone else see or hear you. You may never know you’ve taught someone something new… but never doubt that you have.

Because that’s how we all learn… to be human.

Happy New Year… of course!

So… Happy New Year!
It’s a new year to those who keep the Gregorian calendar (how big our world has gotten, that we think about things like that!). 2015… wow. I made it. Hot stuff!

For 2015, I wish you joy and prosperity, old friends and new, love and good times, and wonderful things and places to explore. I wish you new delights and old comforts, great music and great food, quiet times and big celebrations. And most of all, I wish you life… not as a challenge or a tragedy, but as a green, growing path into your future. May it be all that you want and dream, and a few (delightful) things you hadn’t thought of yet.

Thanks for being here… thanks for being my readers. I look forward to reading your ‘stuff’ and seeing your comments on my ‘stuff.’ And be careful out there the next couple of days, okay? Yeah, I will too.


“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”  Margaret Thatcher

If I told you you’d have to wait for this post, would you be patient?

“Oh, c’mon! Gimme my soundbite!”

Well, you’ve actually waited a couple of months; that’s how long this has been rolling around my brain. See how easy it was for you to be patient? You didn’t even know.

Growing up, I heard many excuses, many myths about patience. I was taught that patience was a divine gift… some people just had it, others just didn’t. Sometimes you inherited it (“…just like your father…”). And if you hadn’t been blessed with it, you could only acquire it by practice. Translation: by enduring frustration and hard times. “Never pray for patience,” advised an old family friend, “because God will give you tough situations to teach it to you!”

But I’ve had some experience now, and I know something. All of that is wrong.
Because patience is nothing more… nothing less… than a choice.

Being patient doesn’t mean being passive or compliant or weak… or gifted. It doesn’t mean the Goodness Fairy whacked you at birth with her Wand of Divine Wisdom. It also doesn’t mean an absence of inner frustration or of a sense of urgency. It doesn’t mean the little person in your brain isn’t screaming insanely while banging his or her head on the table.

Being patient means you have chosen not to let that scream come out.

Patience is the cat in the grass, waiting for the prey to get just a little closer. It’s the athlete waiting for the precise instant to launch the effort. It’s the surfer waiting for the perfect wave, or you waiting for the other driver. It’s choosing to wait for the right moment. You may have patience out of common sense or courtesy, compassion or fear. You may even (as a cat… or Margaret Thatcher) use it as a tool to get what you want. But you’ve still chosen that reaction. You have chosen to be patient.

So free yourself. Be aware. Choose to be patient, or not… and then act on it.

Yeah. It’s that simple.

To Emily (wherever this might find her…)

Psssst. I’m being followed. Followed by a stranger. By someone I’ve never met.

And I’m happy about it. Weird, huh?

Well, see… I have a blog spot. Panther’s Lair, on WordPress. I’ve had it for a couple of months now, and haven’t really done much with it. A couple of posts… nowhere near the daily writing that some folks I know (and follow) do. I’ve been, to be truthful, lazy and rather unproductive these last two months, at least in the wordsmithing arena. I’m not bragging, mind you, but I do try to be honest about these things, with myself and others.

So this morning I sat my lazy and rather unproductive arse down on the bench of worship in front of my computer altar, and opened the site of sacred messages (otherwise known as my email). And there was an email from WordPress, telling me that I now have… a follower. ^^^—JOLT—^^^ A follower, all of my very own. And in fact, a follower who is a person I’ve never met nor heard of until today.


I sat and stared at the email for a minute, really kind of… stunned. In a good way. Then I clicked on the link that took me to her profile, and to my delight, read a self-description that fits, in most ways, many of the (particularly younger) friends I have from Real Life already. I read her description and looked at her picture, and thought, hey… I think I know this person a little already. And she’s elected to read my blog posts. Geez, how cool is that?!

Then it came. The second, much quieter jolt. The not-so-wow thought. So, yeah. What do I have to offer this person? A few random posts? Some writings tossed up on the blog when I’ve “nothing better to do”? The occasional navel-worshipping ramblings of a lazy intellectual ego?

Um. Wow.

And in many ways, this comes into the “be careful what you ask for” category for me. And I’m not going to bore you with the details, but the cosmic newspaper just took a solid swipe at the top of my thick head. (Thank you, Angie.) And I’m going to listen to it, because I don’t want it to get more direct. And because, well… Yeah, I did ask. And I asked because I wanted an answer, and I’d be stupid to ignore it when it came.

So… thank you, Emily. You’ve provided me with both  inspiration that I’ve been lacking for the last few months, and an incentive. And I’m going to do my darnedest to live up to that. I’m not going to promise you a daily blog post, because I’m not stupid (and you probably don’t want one daily). But I am going to promise once a week, and oftener when the tangled web of my brain casts something pearl-like up on the shore of my consciousness.

And if anyone else reading this wants to join in the stalking, well… my followers’ list is wide open. Please feel free… then feel free to hold me to my promise. Whack me upside the head, if necessary. Because lazy and unproductive doesn’t do anyone any good. And this panther would rather not become a hearth rug quite yet.

(My thanks to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel for their assistance in the titling of this post…)

Of Sight and Seasons

We humans are attuned, whether we admit it or not, to nature’s recurring progressions—the regular cycles, long and short, of our world. That bond makes sense of phenomena like jetlag, and the depression that affects people during the diminished light of Winter. Even in a city-bound area with little or no greenery, we pick up the telltales of seasonal change without checking the calendar. It’s often the length of the day that tells us that the year is moving on. We can see the passage of time in the quality of the light.

The visual clues of days and seasons are many and varied in the country. The gradually melting snow as Winter loosens its grip is an obvious one; this year, I took optimistic note of the vegetation slowly emerging around my home site. But the subtle changes—the signs not always available elsewhere—still fascinate me after two years of living amongst fields and pastures and farms. It’s obvious now why those living on and working closely with the land and animals of our farms, must have a different connection, a different perception of nature and her cycles, than those who do not. One cannot—dare not—miss the clues and changes; such awareness is vital to the success of the crops, and the safety of both human and animal. Even just living among farms, it would take the denying of one’s own senses to not see clearly the passage of time.

My first sign of Spring this year was not a robin, but the first field I passed that was turned from its Winter sleep. That happened before the snow was gone; I’m not sure how the farmer knew it was time. The field standing out richly brown against the white sweep of the landscape was a sign of hope for which I’d not looked. The impact on my Winter-weary thoughts was strong—these folks were getting ready to plant; Winter was actually ending. I mentally blessed the farmers as they uncovered a field here and a field there, making their determined statement that there was hope—that Spring was coming. In between fields, the men broke the earth for the home gardens as well, and the women began their preparations there.

I soon began to look for the first growth of planted crops. In many fields, that couldn’t be seen, because many of the farmers here start early crops under covers that stretch the length of each row. But even those made it clear that Winter was ending. The first time I drove past a field with tiny sprouts of corn showing green against the brown, I literally cheered out loud, praising those farmers, and their faith in the passage of time and the change of seasons.

The young crops and the young animals are the signs of Spring here. The farm children as they make their way to school are as well—you can see the transition from boots and hand-drawn sleds to shoes and scooters. Then the animals celebrate their return to the fields and the sun. The horses didn’t surprise me as much as the cows—I didn’t realize until I moved here that a cow can frisk; it’s quite a sight. Watching a foal playing hide-and-seek with the elders of its herd, or lambs playing follow-the-leader under the watchful eyes of their dams, fills you with energy and makes you want to frisk a bit yourself. None of this happens all at once; it’s a gradual growth of relaxation and warmth.

And through it all, the colors change. The white and seared-earth fields become richly brown; then the brown gradually becomes fuzzy, indistinct, overtaken with the astounding variations of green. The asparagus, one of the earliest harbingers in the gardens, goes from sturdy green spears in Spring to a frothy, overgrown laciness in Summer that often stretches to four feet. The corn is six inches, then knee-high, then six feet or more. The protection for the early plantings come off—row covers or hot frames or gallon jugs looking like unlit luminaries—and the green beneath them reaches upwards, burgeoning toward the sun, growing more and more rapidly to spill out of rows with the promise of freshness and abundance.

Each month has its colors, its changes, its crops and harvests. The season moves from the brilliant green of asparagus to the rich green of a corn field to the deep, dark green of cabbage. It’s August—we have peaches and apples now, gold and red; the orange of pumpkins is visible in the fields. The smaller melons and lima beans are almost gone—the plants removed, the ground already smoothed. But sturdy heads of garlic and big, round onions, squash and cucumbers, enormous cabbages and an abundance of tomatoes… all are available to eat or preserve.

The corn has been tall, and some of it is still reaching harvest, because my neighbors plant to extend through the season, but its time is soon—the harvest of the plants themselves has already begun, to store as winter feed for the animals. The summer hay has been cut and recut at least twice. Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli stand tall, and the tobacco is turning golden, field by field. Much of the work is done by hand here, with basic machines to do some of the cutting and pack the silage to store in the barnyards. It takes time to cut and bundle the cornstalks by hand, and by October, it will be too late. The patience of the farmer is no more apparent to me than as he bends and cuts, bends and cuts, then bundles and stacks his corn.

The trees have only begun to drop a few leaves here and there; their color is yet to come. But the fields have changed, as surely as they did in the transition from Winter to Spring to Summer. The greens are more subdued, deeper, and in some places tinted with brown; they are getting close to harvest. The animals are quieter, and graze more thoughtfully than they did a few months ago. Not all of them will be alive come Spring; that is a reality of farm life. There are turkeys in the fields now, and the lambs are almost the size of their elders. The tiny animals that ran and played have grown into adolescence, although there are still younger ones, born in the summer. The children are back in school, for now in bare feet.

And so, as I watch, time moves on. It’s a little sadder to see in some ways than it was earlier in the year, I admit. I don’t look forward as much to the cold and white as I do to the warmth and green. But it’s all a part of the cycle; it moves around us as we ourselves move through the cycles of our lives. The year moves towards its time of rest here in the North; it will be a good time for me to rest, and to reflect. Someday, I’ll not see Spring come in this world, but that needn’t be a depressing thought. Winter always has a Spring, even though its coming may not be evident—even though you have to look hard for the clues. Seeing the farmers turning fields still covered with Winter’s snow reminded me of that. So I’ll join the folks around me now, with thanks for their patient wisdom—I’ll keep my faith, let the Winter come, and patiently watch for the early signs of Spring. Because I know that there will always be a Spring.

Fortunate child

I get thinking about heroes and role models sometimes, and specifically about the lack of what I consider worthwhile role models – reality stars and sports figures simply don’t fall into the category of “good choice” in that regard for me, for a whole lot of reasons. Yet I believe we all need heroes in our lives, people to shine their light on the path for us.

And I am a fortunate child, because I have one. I was raised by one – a man who looms large and heroically in my memory; a man remembered with love and respect and gratitude by many of the people whose lives he quietly touched, whether daily or occasionally or even just once. That man is my father, dead these nine years, but living in memory for his family and friends.

Daddy never made a big deal about himself, never strutted around like a rooster, but his presence was never unnoticed. It was in his bearing, his attention to people around him and his straight, fearless, responsive gaze. Folks saw him, responded to him, listened to him, and remembered him. And he remembered them – the child, the waitress, the maintenance man, the minister, the baker, the executive. He remembered them, and he treated them alike, just folks, given the decent respect due any human being. He listened to children as though they were people, just think! It was how he treated everyone.

Several years ago a person I’d known since birth, a decorated military hero, sneered, “It’s a shame your father wasn’t a better businessman. Your mother and he would have been better off at the end.” I looked at this arrogant “hero” for a moment, then said, “My father was a man of integrity and honor. He had more of both in his little finger than you have in your whole body. I’d far rather be able to say my father had integrity than that he had a good portfolio. And Daddy would NEVER have spoken about anyone he called friend as you’ve had the poor taste to speak of him today.” The man almost literally crawled away from the contrast I had presented.

You could have bought a million-dollar home from my father on a handshake, he was that honest. You could trust him with your paycheck, your child or your wife, he was that honorable. You could trust him with your life, in fact – but if you threatened those he loved you would find yourself dealing with a stern, implacable lion of a man, as I saw on two occasions when I was threatened with danger. He had the courage and strength of a hero when needed.

My father was a hero. He had honor and integrity and compassion, courage and humor and wisdom. And love, enduring love. He was a throwback to another time – perhaps I am myself, in valuing his teachings so much. But let it be known now and forever – I am a fortunate child. I was raised by a hero. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

Panther Basic 101

First post. Here I am.

It’s helpful to give new acquaintances a quick sketch of my landscape, a climate check, as it were. This was my response to a post by a friend. For reference, I’m a citizen of and live in the United States of America, and a fan of the best of our military. So let’s hop right in.

“My friend – you said we should ‘fervently thank’ any military veteran we meet, because we ‘owe them our freedom.’ While I gladly say thanks to the military folks who defend my freedom and that of my nation, I cannot agree we owe our freedom to our military. And I believe most true patriots in our military agree.

No, we owe our freedom to every citizen brave enough to defend it, whether with words, actions, sacrifices of ANY kind in the name of freedom, protest against abuse in government, resistance against injustice – and yes, picking up a weapon and being willing to kill or die when those ideals are truly under attack, here or abroad. That is what made this nation great – what made it the ‘United’ States.

But soldiers did not write the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. They did not win religious freedom for those who fled persecution in Europe, often by soldiers, for their beliefs. They did not win personal freedom or the vote for women or blacks; in fact, even in our nation soldiers were often used by governments against those trying to gain their rights. It was ‘average’ citizens – men and women; young and old; poor and rich; landowners and shopkeepers, housewives and steel workers – who called for, cried out for, worked for, fought for and won these rights for themselves and their fellows… and for us.

It is time this current thought trend is stopped, because we should honor our military, but not worship it. ALL of us are responsible for defending and maintaining and expanding the freedom of our great nation, and to assign it to just the military is both irresponsible and dangerous. It places an unfair burden on the honest soldier and gives a dangerous amount of power to the unscrupulous. It is against everything our fore-parents believed in and wanted.

For their nation. For themselves. For us.

So don’t complacently tell yourself we owe our freedom to the military. Don’t teach your children that. Tell them instead that the men and women in uniform are there as our nation’s front line, defending her as is the right and duty of every true patriot. Teach them that the best way any of us can honor those brave front line folks… is to stop depending on them to do our jobs, and step up to the plate as adult citizens of the United States of America.

Unless you want the American “Great Experiment” to end as have so many nations and empires throughout history, with all our rights and freedoms – and our nation – gone.