Archive for December, 2009

Rediscovering Fun

“Have a good time.”

Four plain words having multiple layers of meaning. These were the last four words spoken to me by my father before he died.

One Sunday I, my cousin, and my aunt went to visit my father in the nursing home. When we got to his room he was complaining that he couldn’t catch his breath. My father was not a complainer, so we knew his condition was bad. We pleaded with the attendants in the nursing home to call the doctor, but all they said was “he’s alright. The doctor will be in in the morning.” No one even came into his room to see if he really was “alright.” So, now my father was agitated and so were we. There was nothing more that we could do.

As we were leaving and saying goodbye, my father looked at me and angrily said “have a good time.” But, an interesting thing. When I looked into his eyes, his eyes showed no anger.

I knew then what my father was truly saying in those four little words. He was telling me that he knew he was dying. He knew that the last few years were difficult, that I had to live for him rather than living a life of my own. But, now it was time for me to live. The work was over. Now it was my time to “have a good time.”

“Have a good time.”

Easier said than done. When you put your life on hold for so long, when your life is consumed with taking care of a sick loved one and taking care of a household, when these things happen when you’re in your mid-to-late teens and early 20s, you forget what having a good time means.

The last time I had a good time I was in my early teens. When my father died I was in my early twenties. I was no longer a child. I had to rediscover joy, rediscover what interested me. This rediscovery is an ongoing process. I’m currently in my late 30s and I’m still trying to figure out what having a good time means, what activities I consider fun.

But, maybe I’m just hung up on the word “fun”. I certainly have activities that I enjoy: reading, watching old movies, taking walks in the park, visiting museums, seeing plays, playing board games, just to name a few. But do I have fun when I do these things?

Perhaps my definition of fun has to expand from “playful, often boisterous action”1, which characterizes fun in childhood, to “what provides amusement or enjoyment”1, which characterizes (at least for me) fun in adulthood.

1Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, 2005.

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the value we put on our possessions. What brought this to mind? A few projects that I’ve been working on. In some cases, like the inventorying and pricing of my baseball card collection, I wanted to know the monetary worth. In most other cases, monetary worth was not as important as sentimental, family-historical, or practical value.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier postings, I’ve been going through old papers and possessions from my parents and old papers and possessions of mine. My father’s old army papers and newspaper clippings. Family-historical. My mother’s Bible and a couple of books my parents received when they were preparing to get married in the Catholic Church. Practical mostly, tinged with sentimentality. My mother was Lutheran; I’m Catholic. Her Bible is a good comparative reference. The book about saints, definitely a good reference. I like to read inspiring stories. The other book, mainly a magazine really, is interesting because it’s a magazine from close to 45 years ago. I find it fascinating to see what was important to people back then. These things will be moved out of the box and put on my bookshelf.
My possessions. Well, I’m still going through them. Unfortunately, one sentimental piece I haven’t been able to find. A charm that a friend of mine gave to me when I was confirmed (and had my First Holy Communion) at Easter Vigil in 1996. Of all the invaluable things I could’ve lost, why did I have to lose something valuable to me? But maybe it’s still here somewhere. I still have hope, though diminishing. After all, since then I’ve changed residences 4 times. As a last resort, I could always pray to St. Anthony. He hasn’t failed yet.
As a part of this cleaning-out, I decided to clean out my jewelry box. Now, cleaning-out isn’t really the word for it considering most of my jewelry has been given to me by various people. In a few cases the jewelry was made by a beloved (and multi-talented) aunt of mine, now deceased. Those items that she made carry the most value of any possession that I have.
So, this cleaning-out of my jewelry box was mainly taking an inventory of what I have and thinking about all those who gave these things to me. In this process I came across two rings that I forgot I had. These actually I inherited when my father died. As a kid, they were in my father’s dresser. Occassionally I would look at them and admire them. I don’t think I ever asked where they came from. I think I always assumed that they were my mother’s.
As I grew up, I had no time for looking at rings. Then, when I was boxing up my father’s stuff after he died, I was again introduced to these rings. I put them in my jewelry box and there they sat until November of this year. Still in my practical mindset, I decided that it was time to find out about these rings. Where did they come from? What are they worth? And, more practically, I wanted them sized so that I could wear them. After all, why should they just sit in a box for the rest of my life?
Where did they come from? This was a mystery. They were obviously old rings. Well worn (well-loved, as I like to say). One was small enough in size that it would’ve in all likelihood fit my mother’s finger. The other, however, was way too big to fit. Maybe my grandmother’s? I asked my aunt (my father’s sister). She didn’t know where they came from. Neither were from her side. I asked my mother’s sister. But, it still remained a mystery, though it was not definitive that they didn’t come from my mother’s side of the family. So, I concluded (with at least some certainty) that the larger one must’ve been my grandmother’s.
I took the rings to a jeweler. This was not going to be a simple job. The jeweler confirmed the age of the rings, putting them in my grandmother’s generation. But, one could not be sized, in their opinion, because it was too worn; the other needed extensive work. Unfortunately, the jeweler that I took it to could not do the work, though he did tell me of a place about 50 miles away that could. Now I had to figure out what to do. The one ring that I knew with 99% certainty was my mother’s (sentimental), could not be sized so that I could wear it. The other which I had no history on (sentimental only if it truly was my grandmother’s) I would have to spend a lot of money on so that I could get some wear out of it. And, there was a possibility that what I’d be spending would be more than the ring is worth monetarily. So, I had to ask myself, what value do I place on these? I decided that even if the ring was not my grandmother’s, even if the ring itself wasn’t worth much monetarily, that it would be worth the expensive work if I could get years of wear from the ring (practical).
But, I didn’t want to drive 50 miles to get the work done. Not if I didn’t have to. Basically, I wanted to find a jeweler that had experience dealing with estate jewelry repairs. I enlisted help in my endeavor. Finally, I decided on a local jeweler. It took some time, but both rings are now back in my possession and both, yes both, are sized to fit my ring finger. And, as I had suspected, the monetary worth of the ring was considerably less than what I spent on it. But, I still think that getting the work done was worth the effort.
And, not only from a practical standpoint. Recently I learned the story behind these rings. My father’s sister talked to her son who was very close to my father.
Both of these rings my father bought for my mother. My father was a very generous soul. He liked to make my mother happy and give her nice things. He always bought her nice clothes, and made sure she got her hair done nicely (pampering!). My father was not a rich man, by any means. But he knew women liked pretty jewelry. He couldn’t afford brand new jewelry, so he had to buy used. One ring fit my mother. The other didn’t and he never got around to actually getting that one fixed and sized. So, after knowing the true story on these rings, their sentimentality value just shot up. These rings are symbols of my father’s love for my mother. A symbol of his kind and generous heart.
When we acquire possessions, however we acquire possessions, some have practical value, some have monetary value, and others sentimental value. Sometimes a possession has more than one value. Sometimes possessions we thought were valuable, don’t really have true value. In my quest to lead a simpler life in the New Year, I’m praying God will guide me as I discern which possessions have true worth and which no longer have any value in my life.
Oh, and the picture above? Painted with love by my beloved, multi-talented aunt many years ago.

May all my readers have a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!

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“Spiritual things multiply when divided. Material things diminish when divided.”
— Peter Kreeft

Christ knew this and wanted us to know this so He gave us the Beatitudes.

After listening to this podcast, I suddenly, truly realized what the following mission statement meant: “To live the Good News so joyfully, that we can’t help to proclaim it.”

If you have about an hour I’d recommend listening to this podcast on 4marks.com: Christ’s Concept of Happiness vs World. I suspect that, as I did, you’ll find that you must listen to this talk repeatedly in order to “get” what he is saying on each point. However, helpfully, this site lists the time that each Beatitude explanation starts, so you can split up the lecture into more manageable parts. I do recommend that you listen once to the entire thing first, however.

Now, listening is the easy part. Applying Christ’s prescription for true happiness to our everyday lives is the difficult part.

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In a past blog entry I commented on the very vocal minority that want to keep religious symbols of the holidays off of public land and out of the public schools. You can read that blog post here.

A recent Rasmussen poll confirms that my views expressed on the subject are indeed views held by a majority of Americans:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 76% of adults believe religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah menorahs and Muslim crescents should be allowed on public land. Just 13% disagree, and another 10% are undecided.

Eighty-three percent (83%) believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays. This figure includes 47% who think the schools should celebrate all religious holidays….

The United States of America is a democracy. Inherent in democratic principles is “majority rule.” If on the local level, the majority of citizens believe that religious holiday displays on city property and in their public schools is OK with them, then I think that those few advocating otherwise should not get their day in court.

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This weekend my husband and I kicked off the holiday season by going to see A Christmas Carol. No, not the animated, Jim Carrey version. The 1938 version with Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart.

The Redford Theater celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. Opening in 1928, it has been in continuous operation ever since. It’s one of only two theaters in the metro Detroit area that still has its original theater organ. The other is the Fox Theater.

Going to the Redford is always a pleasurable experience and one doesn’t just go to see a movie. A half hour before the featured film, a volunteer from the Motor City Theatre Organ Society plays the organ. He or she also plays during Intermission. This day, the young woman was playing mostly Christmas tunes.

During the Christmas season, the lighted Christmas tree is beautiful and model train buffs can get a glimpse of a working model train set up by the stage. This year is was put together by the boy scouts from a local Presbyterian church. The theater itself is also something to see with its restored1 Japanese motif and starry “sky”. And, for those of you who like real butter on your popcorn, you won’t be disappointed.

I’d definitely recommend going to the Redford Theater for an enjoyable day or evening out. Before this weekend, my husband and I hadn’t been there in a few years. But, earlier this year as I was perusing the movie listings one Friday evening, I saw the listing for “My Fair Lady” at the Redford. Unfortunately, by the time I saw the listing it was too late for us to go. Then and there we vowed to keep up with the movie schedule.

We’re planning on going back in April to see “Singin’ in the Rain.”

For more about the Redford Theater, click the title of this post and explore the website.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering how was the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol…very charming. It’s now my favorite version.

Full disclosure: I’m in no way affiliated with the Redford Theater. I’m just an old movie fan that enjoys patronizing this particular movie house.

1According to the Redford Theater website: “During WWII much the Japanese-style decoration was removed, painted over or covered up.”

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Recently I’ve started keeping a To Do list to keep myself organized and to motivate myself to do all the little tasks that need doing. This seems to be working, I think. I’ve certainly crossed off quite a few things that I’ve been putting off for some time. But, it seems that when I cross one thing off the list, there are 4 or 5 things to add.

For example, as I wrote about in a blog post a while back, one thing on my To Do list was to go through my old boxes of stuff and decide what to keep, what to throw, etc. Sounds simple enough. Start with one box, go through it, check that box off the To Do list. I did that with the first box, a box of my Mom’s and Dad’s stuff. Then I started cleaning out another box and found that some of the stuff from that box should’ve gone into the first box. It should’ve been scrapbooked. So, I have to add another item to my To Do list (or uncross the original item).

Then, I went through box #2 completely. Check that off. But, after a while of thinking about what I kept, I realized that maybe I should have a second go at it and maybe some of the things that I kept really, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important. So, I’m not really done with box #2 either.

Then there’s the elusive “Catch up on reading.” Does anyone really “catch up on reading?” I suppose if all I had to read were books, I would. But, there are always (at least 3 days a week here in Detroit, anyway) new editions of the newspaper coming. In addition: a weekly newspaper, a weekly magazine, two monthly magazines, and then the one weekly magazine that my husband gets and I thought I’d have no interest in (not!). Could I do without all this, yes. But, on the other hand, I like to read all of these things. When I cancelled my subscription to my magazines and newspaper I missed them, so I reordered. Now the pile of unread novels on my bookshelf is being neglected.

I’m not really complaining. The things on my To Do list are not unpleasant (I’ve left out things like housework). But, what I’ve found while going through the list and checking things off is that (1) it does motivate me to get things done and (2) it forces me to think about what truly does bring me joy.

The ultimate goal of this To Do list is to get done all the things that are distracting me from things that I enjoy doing. And, if some of the recurring items on the list are distractions, how can I eliminate them for good so that I can spend more time doing enjoyable activities?

So far, the only conclusion I’ve reached is that I have to let some of my reading material’s subscriptions expire so that I can have more time to curl up with a good book.

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