When I sat down to write my usual Thursday post, I wasn’t sure what to say because this seemed like a very ordinary day. I got up, worked half the day in my home office with my husband also working from home on the other side of the room, took a break and went to buy groceries, got some exercise on the rowing machine in the basement, took a shower, and finished my workday as usual.

Then it occurred to me that this ordinary day looked magical if I just took the time to notice. Working from home with my husband to keep me company is nice and mellow, buying groceries in a well-stocked supermarket means that I am blessed with abundance, and the rowing machine makes it easier to stay healthy and fit. Worth writing about, after all!

Word-art with a cloud of words like "magical" and "inspire."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

July 18, 2021 · 2 comments · Categories: Stories

This is the third story in a series. Click here to read all parts from the beginning.

To all appearances, the Transylvanian forest had returned to normal immediately after the dragon’s departure. Birds chirped peacefully, branches stirred in a gentle summer breeze, and the sound of water steadily flowing nearby would’ve been soothing if I hadn’t known the road was flooded ahead. And if the flickering square of sky that the Romanian woman had called a sorcerers’ portal hadn’t still been parked, ominously, right above my head.

I looked around for the woman, but she was long gone already. For just a moment, I caught a glimpse of her bright dress and shawl through the trees, moving a lot faster than I’d have thought possible for an old lady with a walking stick. That set off my mental alarm bells, but I had no time to act. Only a fraction of a second later, I heard a shout from Shay, who was standing a few paces away.

“Chris, watch out!”

A huge shadow fell over me. Of course, my first thought was that the dragon had swooped back down through the portal and that I was about to be roasted, since I’d taken off the headgear of my fire suit. But no, the shadow was mostly round, not dragon-shaped.

The shape reaching toward me resolved into a giant hand, apparently connected to an arm on the other side of the portal. Its dull grayish-brown surface looked like stone rather than flesh. Before I could run away or do anything halfway sensible, the hand grabbed me firmly and lifted me through the portal into the sky.

Except that it wasn’t sky on the other side—it was water. And it was clear enough to see that I was just above the rocky bottom of a lake or bay. For an instant, the green forest flickered beneath me, and then it winked out as the portal closed. There was nothing besides rock under me now.

The hand raised me smoothly through the water and then deposited me, gasping for air, on what looked like the top of a granite boulder forming part of the lakeshore. When I looked down, though, I realized it wasn’t a boulder. The outline of a stone troll was clearly visible in the water, and the hand that had captured me was now resting on the bottom of the lake. I was standing on the troll’s head, under a dark and gloomy sky, with jagged mountains behind me and cliff dwellings cut into the rock.

Image of a stone troll crouched on the bottom of a lake.

(Image credit: Philip A. Benyola, Jr.)

And it was HOT. Wouldn’t you think a lakeshore with low, heavy clouds would have a cool breeze? Well, maybe that would’ve been true back home in Tennessee; but this sweltering, stagnant air felt like it came straight out of the gates of hell. It even smelled faintly of sulfur, which meant that there had to be dragons not far away.

I didn’t see any dragons close by, though, which was about all that had gone right today. My fire suit, with the headgear unfastened, was now full of icky lake water. Taking the suit off to shake it out, I kept careful watch for dragons or other potential perils. There didn’t seem to be anything alive nearby, except a few clumps of straggly brownish grass pushing up through cracks in the rock. When I looked more closely, I realized that the cracks were wrinkles in the skin of the troll’s head and that there were ridges running through the granite like veins. The grass was hair growing out of the troll’s mostly bald dome.

My fire suit already was almost dry in the unnaturally hot air, as were the rumpled business-casual shirt and pants I’d been wearing underneath it. That didn’t leave me feeling much better. I stomped savagely on the nearest clump of grass and then yanked it up by the roots. Although I would’ve liked to say this was a brave, calculated plan to provoke the troll into throwing me back where I’d come from, it was nothing of the sort. I just hadn’t thought about the much more likely possibility of the troll smacking me like a bug.

What actually happened, of course, was nothing at all. The troll never moved. Smelly ichor dripped from the twisted roots of the grass clump I was holding, and in disgust, I threw it as far as I could into the lake. There wasn’t even a ripple in the still water when it sank. Everything around me, including the troll’s massive figure in the water, looked and felt dead.

I only hoped that I wasn’t about to end up stone troll dead, too.

When I woke up this morning, I felt calmer than I’d been in a long time. Nothing had changed much since yesterday, but I felt more peaceful anyway, as if my own perspective had somehow shifted overnight. Whatever concerns I’d had were farther away, distant enough that they no longer felt threatening but were just little specks in my internal landscape, without much emotional content. I began the day feeling as if I had made more space to invite happiness into my life.

Word-art that says "Let peace begin with me."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

While I was driving to the supermarket this morning, I heard Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” and it brought back memories of jumping rope on the playground at recess while listening to that song on someone’s cassette player. So, because I was in a retro kind of mood today, this image seemed just right for Nurturing Thursday. I hope it gives you a smile too!

Word-art that says "Love, peace, joy."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

July 8, 2021 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Although I’m feeling much more relaxed because of taking vacation this week, all of that unscheduled time has been provoking what-comes-next thoughts. Everybody seems to be having them now, according to a news article I came across, which reported on a survey that found 95 percent of workers were thinking about quitting and 92 percent might change careers. Burnout was cited as the main reason.

The survey came from a jobs website, so it’s obviously a skewed sample and the real numbers are lower. Also, just thinking about doing something different does not necessarily mean that a person will take the leap and actually do it. The U.S. Department of Labor has calculated the number of quits for May 2021 at 3.6 million, which is down from April’s record high of 4 million, though still much higher than in past years.

I took a short break from writing this post to bring in a package from the porch, addressed to my husband. He opened it to find an unexpected gift from his employer—a little toy helicopter to commemorate the successful launch of the project he has been working on. Once upon a time, I used to get small gifts like that too. After a while, it started to feel like ancient history, and seeing them on my desk felt demotivating because management plainly didn’t care enough about the workers to ever do it again. So I boxed them up and put them in the basement.

Since then I still haven’t found an intuitive sense of direction. As my fictional 76-year-old future self Kass pointed out in an imaginary chat on this blog last summer, that turned out to be fortunate because most people who changed careers two years ago ended up in very different circumstances than what they expected. Now that the world feels like it’s settling down into a more recognizable pattern, I feel that my subconscious mind ought to be able to sift through the details and come up with something meaningful.

So I decided to take a virtual stroll down to the stream where I’d found Kass casting a net for symbolic images last year. The low water was murky and full of lily pads, and at first I didn’t see her.

Photo of a lake with lily pads.

(Image credit: James St. John)

After I went a little farther upstream, around a wide bend, I spotted Kass standing knee-deep in the water. She had on wading boots and some kind of drab uniform, and the curly hair under her cap had been dyed a darker shade of brown since I last saw her. A gloved hand carefully tucked away a test tube into a backpack.

“I’m taking microbial samples,” Kass explained, in response to my curious look. “The river of time needs regular monitoring, you know, just like any other body of water does. Can’t have it getting polluted with all kinds of random garbage, can we? And didn’t you have a few thoughts about going back to college to study biochemistry?”

“Not that seriously. And the last time I was here, you said this was the stream of consciousness.”

Kass shrugged. “It’s whatever it needs to be.”

A fly bit my right arm and zoomed mockingly away before I could smack it. The failed attempt left me off balance, and I took a step backward into squishy, smelly muck in which the geese had left their calling cards.

“I’m really not seeing myself in this job you’ve got.” Scowling at my future self, I scratched my arm while wiping off an icky shoe in the grass as best I could.

“That’s what imaginary scenarios like this are for, you know—narrowing down the possibilities. If this one won’t suit, how about I’m happily retired and living in a beachfront cottage in Aruba with the money you saved, snapping my fingers at the cabana boy to bring me another margarita.” Kass raised a hand before frowning slightly and dropping her arm again. “Except that you never learned how to snap your fingers properly, which is a bit annoying; and that margarita is much more likely to be delivered by a cabana robot. Workers are hard to come by in the future economy, what with the low birthrates.”

“Retirement never had much appeal to me anyway. Sitting around for decades with nothing productive to do sounds like it would be awfully boring and unhealthy.”

“Doing the same work forever, without trying out other possibilities because it seems too hard to pick one, wouldn’t be ideal either.” Kass took a few steps and came up on the shore, her boots dripping. “It’s best not to judge. Everyone in the modern world is struggling with the same issue—so much change, so many decision points—how can we have any idea where we’re going? My advice, at this point, isn’t so much about picking careers, but simply about discovering what the world has to offer. You’ll know what makes you happy when you come across it. And, be sure to set aside enough time for minding the river’s health.”

Every time my daughter comes home for a visit and brings her dogs, as she did two weeks ago, I’m reminded of how much we can learn from our furry friends. As humans, we tend to get stuck in our own heads and overcomplicate everything. But, often things are a lot simpler than we make them out to be.

Word-art with "dog lessons for people."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

June 26, 2021 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

The killdeer nest by the boathouse, which I wrote about earlier this month, has unfortunately gotten its eggs eaten again. The birds only try twice per year, so they have moved on to wherever they go when it’s not nesting season. I’m hoping that their destination is somewhere peaceful, like the landscape shown in this image that I put on my art display this morning:

Michigan river landscape with flowers and trees

(Image credit: Andy Thomas)

When I went rowing with my husband on Wednesday, we planned to do two 1K sprints in our double and then just paddle around and enjoy the river afterward. Boat traffic is supposed to keep to the right, so when we turned around after our first sprint, we crossed the river to stay on our proper side. We’d almost reached the end of our second sprint, getting up pretty good speed, when a quad (4-person sculling boat) wandered very far left of center and collided with us.

The quad wasn’t going very fast, thankfully; but we were, and one of the aluminum riggers on the quad struck my husband with enough force to snap the rigger clean off. He wasn’t seriously injured, just bruised—which was very fortunate, considering how hard the impact was. We also were lucky that our double was not damaged. Of course, the quad will be out of commission until a new rigger can be delivered.

Although my husband was still sore on Friday, we went rowing after work anyway, planning to just go slowly. When we took our boat down to the river, we heard a loud commotion going on with some mallards near the shore. A male duck was on his back in the water, moving his legs feebly. (With mallards, gender is obvious because the males have green heads.)

Another duck, very agitated, was quacking loudly and flapping all around. At first glance, I thought perhaps two male ducks had been fighting and the one on his back had gotten the worst of it. After we had rowed a lap, however, I looked more closely and saw that the quacking duck had a brown head and was therefore female. The duck lying on his back was no longer moving, but just floated there like—well, a dead duck.

By the time we rowed another lap, the carcass had floated into the weeds by the shore, and the female duck was no longer quacking or flapping. Instead, the poor thing was perched motionless on a nearby rock, silently grieving for her mate.

I found myself thinking that any day when our family members are still in the world with us, it’s a good day.

Do you ever have a week when you feel a need to be reminded of what matters? This is what I felt like I needed for this Nurturing Thursday:

"Love is patient..." word art

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I haven’t spent much time online recently because my husband and I have been rowing more, now that we’re training to compete in actual on-the-water races instead of last year’s virtual races on rowing machines. The virtual races gave us something to do when there wasn’t much else going on; but of course, road trips to real races are a lot more fun.

And our daughter, who lives in the Cleveland area, has come home to visit after a year of not traveling anywhere. Life is starting to feel like we’re setting out on a great adventure again!

Word-art that says "Let the adventure begin."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

June 17, 2021 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I mentioned in the comments to my post last Thursday that at the rowing club, a pair of killdeer make their nest every year on the gravel path between the boathouse and the dock. Whoever is first to notice the nest puts a traffic cone beside it, to make sure nobody steps on the eggs. The boathouse is located on parkland that is full of wildlife, however, and some small predator always eats the eggs before they can hatch.

The eggs got eaten again in early June, but the birds are valiantly trying once more. Their new nest is much closer to the boathouse. Probably because the gravel is thicker there, I’m guessing, and not because the predators are fewer. I took a photo that shows how the eggs match the gravel and are almost invisible.

Killdeer nest in gravel with two eggs.

It looks like an uncomfortable place to sit—but to each their own, I suppose. Everyone is hoping the birds will have better luck with the eggs this time!