Thursday, March 26, 2020

The IMPORTANT factor



Every human on the planet has a need to know that they are significant, that they have value, that they are important.  Peoples’ need, it seems to me, can be calculated in degrees. Some have it big, very big.

No one likes it when they feel that what they do doesn’t matter, that it no longer has value. These feelings pop up when someone loses a job, is furloughed, and is sentenced to staying at home with no job to do.

A high-level business consultant, lounging in pajamas on a Thursday morning, might wonder if there will be a place for a business consultant among companies simply trying to survive. “Whoa,” this person may think. “There won’t be a market for my services. The world isn’t going to notice if I never go back to my job.”

A Disney executive may wake up to the realization that his or her job is no longer important. A world struggling to recover from a long-term virus scare probably won’t be seeking out a high-priced opportunity for the family to hobnob with Mickey Mouse. The executive’s importance meter may take a dive.

On the other hand, those who clean, deliver, transport, harvest, cook and serve other basic human needs may feel more important than ever. They see a world waking up to the fact that they are needed, something they’ve always known but that has not often been acknowledged. They see a world at risk of collapsing without the services they provide. Their importance meter goes up.

We all know people whose need to feel important is wildly out of control. We wonder about how they manage to surround themselves with people dedicated to boosting that person’s outsized importance factor, often disregarding facts.

 Is it possible that COVID-19 may have arisen for a reason?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Remembering Hope

After a long debilitating illness, my dear friend, Hope Cassiday, died this third week in March 2020. There will be no service for a while because of a pandemic sweeping across the country. But when there is a service, it will be huge because Hope more than lived up to her name. She touched so many lives, serving brain-injured people in her own community, and raising funds to meet urgent health and education needs  through a Simple Supper fundraiser she founded. Simple Supper survives to this day.

As I think about Hope, I am suddenly reminded of another March day, in 2006. A fierce wind, bare trees, dust swirls and scruffy pale grass greeted Marcia Benfica and her five-year-old son, Ruy when they arrived in Colorado, invited by Hope to speak at the Simple Supper fundraiser in Greeley.

I came to know Marcia when I was in Mozambique. I was a failure when she tried to teach me Portuguese, but we became good friends, translating African folk tales into English. She took me to a Mozambican wedding where I was the only white person. We laughed when one of her friends asked her why, since I was American and no doubt wealthy, wasn’t I better dressed?

Marcia is African, but firmly planted in three worlds: rural Mozambique where she grew up, Maputo, the capital of her country where she attended university and earned a degree in languages, and in Lansing, Michigan where she cleaned motel rooms, became proficient in English, and gave birth to her son while her husband earned a graduate degree in 2000. In 2005 they returned to Michigan so that her husband could complete his PhD.

Meanwhile, Hope had committed the Simple Supper funds raised in 2006 to help in completing a kindergarten in Mozambique. I realized that Marcia would be the perfect spokesperson to add authenticity to the project. 

“Of course, I’ll come,” she said. “But what is this fundraising—what does it mean?”

I was thrilled and told her that if she would speak about the importance of education to Mozambicans and the extreme shortage of kindergartens in her country, that would be enough.

She spoke so eloquently that no one at the Simple Supper could have questioned the need or her sincerity. Nearly $7,000 was raised in a single night and the dollars continued to trickle in later, making the goal of $8,000 a reality.

Despite fickle March weather, Marcia and Ruy had a week to remember in Colorado. They visited Rocky Mountain National Park, the capitol in Denver, took a tour of Cheyenne, saw a puppet show, and went to a pizza birthday party.

“Oh no, its too cold,” Marcia pleaded when I suggested a late night dip in my hot tub. 

“Just try it,” I insisted.”

Little Ruy slipped in clutching his inflatable crocodile and Marcia followed, gingerly at first. 

“Soft water,” Ruy said, swishing his hands across the bubbling surface. Sinking into the deliciously warm water became a nightly ritual for the rest of the week.

Marcia went back to Michigan with a collection of recipes, measuring cups and spoons, and Ruy went home with a couple of books, a few marbles and a collection of dinosaurs given to him by new friends who learned that he loved them.

When they departed, there were only tiny buds on the trees, no leaves but small sprouts of green were emerging from the winter-brown grass. A cold wind blew but Spring was around the corner.

Back in Mozambique, fall, the dry season was on its way. By winter, a new school would be complete and would soon be filled with small children taking their first steps into a wider world.

When Marcia goes back home, she will visit the school and tell them about Hope and a windblown week she spent in Colorado.




Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

My grandson, Mason Arndt, is a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont. This semester he is enrolled in a political science class in which the professor is quite formal and known for asking hard questions of his students.

My daughter, Jeni Arndt, Mason’s mother, lives in Colorado and serves as state representative for her hometown, Fort Collins.

During a recent session in Mason’s political science class, the professor called on “Mr. Arndt.” Mason perked up.

“Mr. Arndt, can you name the governor of your state?”

“Yessir. That would be Jared Polis.”

“And your senators?”

“Corey Gardner and Michael Bennett.”

“Very good. Now, answer this one. I’ve never had a student get it right. Who is your state representative?”

“That would be Jeni Arndt.”

“Impressive. How is it that you know that?”

“She’s my mom.”

In retrospect, Mason wishes, instead of answering "Jeni Arndt" to the professor’s question, he should have just said “mom.” He did say that his professor has become a bit less formal and now chats with him frequently.

I got such a charge out of this little incident that I had to share it.

 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Keeping a journal

I have been keeping a journal in one form or another since 1949 when I was 13 and in the eighth grade in Seattle, Washington. My first penciled writings were in a little red “Five Year Diary” that came with a lock and key.  Words in the front of the diary read:

Memory is elusive –capture it. The mind is a wonderful machine. It need but be just refreshed and incidents can again be revived in their former clarity. A line each day, whether it be of the weather or of more important substances, will, in time to come, bring back those vague memories, worth remembering, to almost actual reality.

On Jan. 1 my first entry reads: 

Dear Diary,
Last night Doris stayed overnight here and we went on Bill Foster’s paper route at 2 a.m. Was it cold! We got in heck! The roads were so icy we didn’t get to Sunday School. We played in the snow on the toboggan and sled l took John (my three-year-old brother) to Doris’s on the sled and pulled him all the way. When we finally had eaten, Daddy washed my hair and put it up. Was I tired.
#
Jan. 2 Today we stayed in the snow all day even eating lunch outside. We cooked soup and beans over a fire we made in the snow. Outside were Kay and Barbie, Dorothy and Betty, Bill, David and me, Marilyn, Karen and others. Dorothy’s dog got hurt by a car. He was not killed. I saw Don Lewis he has a paper route down by our house, he was sure nice. I like him maybe. Newton St. is slick we have it all pressed down. Today I had more fun than I’ve ever had in the snow – temperature 26.
Selected items from Jan. 3. Today I wore my Brassiere for the first time. Pat did not! Our class gives Miss McDowell a time we are terrible.
And so it goes on…
I have often wondered if I would ever go back and read my journals from the last 70 years. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try and it is a daunting task.  Yet those words I quoted above from my red diary are true. I’ve been blown away by things I had forgotten for so long: names of people I no longer remember, and thoughts and feelings that I do, brought to life by a few scribbled words on a page. 
Maybe by spring, I’ll emerge with a whole new look at my life. Whatever the outcome, I know I have hours and hours of bedtime reading scheduled.






Friday, February 7, 2020

Clean up clear out time.


Happy New Year

It pays to clean off your bulletin board.  Here are a couple of fun things I found:

“She said she usually cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short.”

Small Boy by Norman MacCaig

He picked up a pebble and threw it into the sea.
And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.
He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t just throwing away, nothing else but.
Like a kitten playing, he was practicing for the future when there’ll be so many things he’ll want to throw away if only his fingers will unclench and let them go.

I say amen to both of those!


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Happiness

Happiness

The English document after which the Declaration of Independence is modeled read, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.”  The United States changed it to read “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So, I guess happiness is pretty important.

Happiness often emerges as the result of something we do for someone else, with the goal of bringing them happiness. Is there such a thing as altruism, the completely selfless act of one who has no personal expectations in regard to the outcome of an act? On the other hand, does the motive of the doer matter if the result is to create happiness for someone else?

Can someone create happiness for another?

Do we ever really know what brings us happiness? Sometimes what we think will make us happy does not. Other times we are surprised by happiness when it sneaks up on us.

Chasing happiness, that state in which all is right with us and with our world, is an iffy enterprise given the imperfect nature of life and of human beings.

Still, we can make lists of things we love—that bring us joy—that make us happy. But we must beware that we can’t depend on others to make us happy. We gotta be our own instigators.

What makes me happy? A deep sleep between sun-dried sheets, making a candlelit meals for friends, a long, frosty, early morning run, a movie that tickles my funny bone, “discovering” a new friend, watching a student “get” a math concept, kneading bread and watching it rise, learning something new, solving a dilemma however small, completing a task I didn’t think I could, hot chocolate when nothing else will do, writing something worthwhile, fooling around with gel pens, knowing that my house is temporarily clean, cross country skiing in deep woods, knowing I have accomplished something in a day, being alone, being with people, getting everything on my to do list out of the way, receiving newsy Christmas cards, being part of a special group of college friends, watching the lives of my children and grandchildren as they evolve, and experiencing life--taking it as it comes. (This is a partial list.)

What makes you happy?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Colorado Shoe School

Annabel was finishing up a paint job when there was a minor explosion resulting in dark brown paint dripping down the side of the counter top and onto the floor.

She began to wipe it up when Dan looked over and said, “ Wait a minute. That looks good. Let’s leave it.”

And there it remains to this day, along with another dribble of blue, welcome aspects of the expansive two story studio artists Dan and Annabel share in the village of Bellvue north and west of Fort Collins.

The pair, so obviously two of a kind, live and work together, and following a honeymoon in India, just spent their first Christmas as a married couple.

In their short time in Bellvue, the unusual fence they built in hopes of slowing down  traffic travelling along County Road 23 has become a local landmark. If it had not been for their fen constructed of huge round logs interspersed with kindling-size sticks, I would not have had the pleasure of meeting the couple. A friend let me know about the fence and suggested I might do well to check it out.

But she did not mention the enormous shoe resting on a truck bed in their front yard or the old train car converted into funky sleeping quarters for visitors, the gnomes in the garden or the fact that Annabel and Dan are the founders of the Colorado Shoe School.

And there is no way for this friend to know the story behind these refugees from the world of circus performing, costume design, and entertaining which included juggling and stiltwalking.

Dan is a Denver native who graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in art focused on sculpture and printmaking. Along with his brother, he formed a company that entertained at corporate parties, and in parades. Dan also worked for New Belgium Brewery promoting their Tour De Fat event and sustainability in 15 cities across the country.

He met Annabel, who trained as a dancer, at a corporate Christmas party. At the time, she had her own stiltwalking business and was also working with Cirque du Soleil in costume design flying all over the place in charge of the care and maintenance of shoes for the famous dance company. 

Both of them were ready to leave the entertainment industry and were looking for new challenges. Three years ago, Dan found the house in Bellvue and it seemed a perfect fit. He bought it and set to work building their large multi-use studio using any scrap of lumber or materials he could find.

On a visit to New Zealand to see Annabel’s parents, the pair participated in a five-day workshop on shoemaking, and they were hooked.

“Everyone wears shoes,” Dan says. It seemed to both of them that there just might be enough interest in old-fashioned shoemaking to establish a business.

“It’s not just about making shoes,” Annabel says. “It’s about having fun. It’s playtime. It’s a chance to be wild and crazy, if that is what you choose.”

The Colorado She School offers one, two and five-day workshops conducted in the spacious second-floor studio, flooded with light and filled with fascinating artifacts such as the Singer treadle sewing machine that belonged to Dan’s great grandfather, a shoemaker in Chicago.  It still works and Dan uses it.

Participants who come from a distance are welcome to stay in the old train car Dan bought from a neighbor who found it in Nebraska. Dan converted it into sleeping quarters complete with bathroom and kitchen area, filled with antiques and open to the sky during the warm weather.

Dan, who has always been a builder of things, has an impressive array of tools and equipment in the lower level of the studio. You get the sense that he can build anything, more often than not out of scraps and leftovers. Nothing goes to waste in this place.

Dan and annabel take pride in showing me a pair of shoes, the surface made from a paint-splattered drop cloth – funky and comfy-looking—honest!

Anyone who is interested in investigating the opportunity to take a little time off and emerge with a self-designed pair of shoes and a new outlook for 2020 is welcome to get in touch with Annabel and Dan: write to them at: Annabel@coloradoshoeschool.com

As we parted Dan said, “I feel as if you have heard only half our story.” I felt the same. You can learn more by watching the PBS show, Arts District on January 24 or seeking out the U Tube: “”Living big in a tiny house.” They have also done a radio spot for KUNC.

This story was in North Forty News this week. I liked these people and what they do so much that I wanted to share with you.  See more at Coloradoshoeschool.com