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The Bradfords

This has been an unusually wet winter.  I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at the weather app on my iPhone and the forecast has been cloudy or rainy for all 10 days in the forecast.   Oh, we have had a pretty day here and there, but no long stretches of sunshine and cloudless skies.  Until now.  And now that we are finally having pretty days with warm weather and lots of sunshine, I find myself working the graveyard shift from midnight to 7:00 AM.  I work in the healthcare IT industry and I am very fortunate to be able to work from home.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I went into the office.  Right now, we are in the midst of a very large project that requires around the clock support for our healthcare providers.  It has been a rather difficult adjustment for me too.  I have no problem staying up and staying focused.  Quite the opposite.  I have trouble going to sleep and staying asleep for more than 4 hours.  Since this project started, I shower and go to bed at the end of my shift, and I am usually asleep by 7:30 am or 8:00 am.  But every day, without fail, I wake up sometime between 11:00 am and noon.  Curiously enough, I have found that 3 to 4 hours of sleep immediately after my shift and then 2 to 3 hours of sleep before my shift have been enough to keep me going.  But I digress, so let me return to the weather.  Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday, so I had to run out and buy him a card and a gift.  Since I started these odd hours, I have only ventured out to feed and water my chickens in the morning and to go to the gym for a quick workout in the evening.  But today, I had to go shopping so I ventured out, initially heading west to Seneca, and then changing my mind mid-course and turning around and heading east to Easley.  I ended up going to Academy Sports.  My brother, a teacher, retires this year and he has purchased a bass boat to while away his hours in retirement.  I intend to while away a few hours with him myself.  Anyhow, I went to Academy Sports and got some things for his boat that he did not have. 

Fishing

As I was driving along highway 123, I noticed two things: The litter along the highway is really piling up and the Bradford pear trees are blooming.  The litter is related to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the schedules of prison work crews that keep our roads clean.  I say give them a mask and send them back out there, but that is another story.  The Bradford pears are the subject of this post and what I want to talk about.  I remember when those trees became popular.  Every house either had them in their yard or lining their driveway.  They were beautifully shaped trees with pretty leaves in the summer and thousands of brilliant white blossoms in the spring.  However, down through the years they have lost their popularity for several reasons.  Although the blossoms are pretty, they have a horrible aroma and although the trees were very uniform in shape, they were also very prone to breaking in ice and wind storms.  Lastly, the trees are an invasive species that will spread to neighboring fields and completely take over if left unchecked.

Invasive Bradford Pear

So, why am I writing about Bradford pear trees?  Because every time I see them blooming it takes me back to March 19, 1991 – the day our first child was born.  We had parked our car in the parking lot at Easley Baptist Hospital and I remember the day was sunny, the sky was a deep, rich, cloudless blue, and I remember pausing for just a second to admire the striking contrast of the white Bradford pear blossoms against that impossibly blue sky.  It was a moment in time that is forever etched into my memory and when I see a Bradford pear tree blooming, I recall that particular moment and all the excitement and wonderful emotions I was experiencing as I gazed up at that tree.  It is funny how things can trigger a memory.  Maybe the smell of play dough or finger paint calls up some fond childhood memory in elementary school.  Maybe a curtain stirring in the breeze or clothes hanging on a line calls up some pleasant memory of home.  Maybe a song on the radio calls up a romantic evening with your husband or wife, or maybe even a long lost sweetheart from your past.  These occurrences are like mini time machines.

Christmas Kiss

So why is this post about something as common and mundane as Bradford pear trees?  When I see them blooming, they lift my spirits and renew my hope for good things in the coming year.  They cause me to pause and reflect on the good fortunes of the past and to look eagerly forward to the good fortunes of the future. They take me to an “in-between time” where the memories that lay behind are sweet and the dreams that lay before me are even sweeter.  They fill me with an unexplainable happiness and, well… they make me smile. 

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  ~ Ghandhi

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These are a Few of My Favorite Things

When you were a child, what were your favorite toys?  Sometimes, I will get on Pinterest and totally lose track of time browsing through vintage/retro pictures of all kinds of stuff, but for some reason my favorite thing to browse is toys.  From the little green plastic soldiers and the plastic cowboys and Indians (that came in a wide assortment of colors) to the G.I. Joe action figures (not dolls!) by Hasbro and the Best of the West collection by Marx, and from Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels by Mattel to a wide assortment of bright yellow Tonka Toys, there was never a dull moment in my sandbox.

Sandbox Toys

Sometimes I would spend hours with the Tonka Toys, excavating, dozing, scraping, and reshaping the lay of the land.  I would carve out valleys, raise up mountains, and lay down roads in the sand.  When I finished, I removed my Tonka Toys and set up an epic battle between the plastic cowboys and Indians.  Once all the figures were in place, I would get my Red Ryder BB gun and start picking off the bad guys.  Sometimes I was an Indian, sometimes I was a cowboy, but every time, I was on the winning side.

GI Joe action figures were another one of my favorite toys.  I had two of the GI Joe dolls (pictured below).  I had a footlocker to keep their gear in and I had a Jeep with a trailer that had a search light mounted in it.  Those two soldiers and I went on many missions together. 

GI Joe

But my all-time favorite toys were from the Marx Best of the West collection.  These were hands down the best toys I have ever played with.  They were 11” tall action figures dolls from the old West.  As a matter of fact, the main character in this family of dolls was named Johnny West.  I was very fortunate to have several of the characters along with their horses and every character came with a ton of accessories. 

Best of the West

Why are toys like these so great?  Because to play with them you must use your imagination.  It is as simple as that and it is so very sad that no one makes toys like this anymore.  I think almost all the Best of the West accessories would be considered a choking hazard now, not to mention the political incorrectness of having toy weapons and the cultural appropriation of native Americans.  Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Imagination is something we need to cultivate in our children and playtime is the most fertile soil in which to sow those seeds, nurture them, and watch them grow into a bountiful harvest, because while imagination is cultivated in our youth through play, it is used in our adult lives to overcome many obstacles in both our careers and our personal lives.  Make sure your children play and make sure they have the “right” toys to play with.  And make time to play with them!  It is an investment that will reap many returns for all involved, I promise. 

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”  ~Albert Einstein

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Fishing

Fishing is a sport that has no divides.  It does not matter if you are male or female, two years old or ninety years old, rich, or poor, everyone can enjoy fishing.  Fishermen come in all shapes and sizes too.  There are tall fishermen and short fishermen, fat fishermen and skinny fishermen.  There are red fishermen and white fishermen, yellow fishermen and black fishermen.  There are fishermen of many faiths and religions.  There are fishermen that fish in rivers and creeks, fishermen that fish in ponds and lakes, fishermen that fish in marshes and swamps, and fishermen that fish in oceans and seas.  There are fishermen from the artics to the tropics.  I suppose that anywhere you can wet a hook, there are fishermen to be found nearby.  For some people, fishing is an occupation.  For others, it is a sport.  But for the lucky and most fortunate it is a way to unplug from the world, relax, and commune with God. 

Oftentimes, when I go fishing, I go for none other than the simple pleasure of enjoying God’s grand creation.  Whether I am casting for trout in a mountain stream beneath tall hemlocks in the cool of the morning or popping top water plugs on a small farm pond for bass on a golden afternoon or sitting on the bank of a lake under a blanket of stars, waiting for catfish to swallow the bait, God’s beauty is all around me.  I have even found myself annoyed at times when the fish are biting, so much so that I have reeled in the line and set my rod aside.  How do I commune with God?  The first half of Psalm 46:10 tells us…  “Be still and know that I am God”.

Life is so busy.  So hectic.  So full of stress.  Slow down.  Do not let the good things pass you by. How do you do that, you ask?  Well, first, you must identify the good things.  It is not hard.  They are usually free and found in abundance if you only look for them.  Go get a fishing pole, a can of worms, and find a shady spot on the bank of a small pond.  Wet your hook.  It will come to you and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a few fish.

“I fish to scratch the surface of those mysteries, for nearness to the beautiful, and to reassure myself the world remains.”  ~ Carl Safina

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Orange You Glad it’s Christmas?

Did Old Saint Nicholas leave nuts, peppermint sticks, and oranges in your stocking on Christmas Eve?  Looking back, I used to think that was the strangest gift to leave a kid.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, just knowing Santa had filled those stockings always made it fun and exciting to empty them on Christmas morning, and I loved eating everything in there, but why nuts?  Why oranges?  It just seemed like an odd choice.  I mean, if you’re going to put food in my stocking, then how about some Christmas cookies and fudge?  Come on, Santa!

A Visit From Santa

As I grew older, I reasoned that maybe that’s what my parents got in their stockings when they were kids, so it was part of their Christmas tradition, one that brought them joy and happiness, an experience they wished to share with their children.  My parents were born in 1935 and lived in the rural foothills of South Carolina.  Things like oranges, Brazil nuts, and peppermint sticks were real treats back then.  They were in fact, a rarity.  Think about that and let it sink in.

Checking His List

As I recently called up some of these fond memories, I decided to do a little research, so I consulted professor Google and I discovered that oranges in Christmas stockings is a tradition that lives on even today!  I also discovered a charming little story behind the tradition.

Coke Santa

St. Nicholas was born in what is now present-day Turkey.  He inherited a large sum of money and devoted his life to helping others, and eventually became a bishop.  As the story goes, St. Nicholas heard of a poor man who could not find suitors for his three daughters because he had no money for a dowery.  St. Nicholas visited the poor man one night and tossed three small sacks of gold down the poor man’s chimney.  His daughters had stockings hanging by the fire to dry and the sacks of gold just happened to fall into the stockings.  The oranges left in stockings today are a symbol of the gold that St. Nicholas left in the stockings for those three girls.

Pepsi Santa

It’s a charming story and whether true or not, I’m inclined to believe that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, oranges were a scarce fruit, especially in the north, and with many families stretched thin and financially strapped, finding an orange, a few Brazil nuts, and maybe a peppermint stick in your stocking was a luxurious treat. 

Another Coke Santa

Take stock of what God has blessed you with this Christmas season and be sure to share your good fortune with those in need.  Remember the poor, the sick, and the shut-in.  Remember those that are hurting, those that are lonely, those that are afflicted and suffering.  But most importantly, remember the lost and what Christmas is all about…

Nativity

And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”     ~Linus Van Pelt