Liz Wolfe | Liz Wolfe
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Growing up in a rural community, I attended a small elementary school, where the school lunch was 35 cents. Every morning my sisters and I took our change to the office where the office assistant would tear off an orange ticket from a large roll and give it to us. The trick was to keep track of the ticket until lunch time when the cafeteria lady would collect them. From there we would pick up a cafeteria tray from the head of the line and make our way slowly down the counter while food was dished out onto real, ceramic plates. We ate our lunches and then took the trays, dishes, and silverware back to the counter to put them into tubs set out for that purpose, splashing them into the slightly murky water.

I’m a singer, and all my life, I’ve wanted to play the guitar so that I could accompany myself. I did pick up a guitar once in a while and try it, but I always hated the pain from the strings cutting into my fingers. Despite people assuring me that I would build up calluses after a while, I never pursued it. I’ve recently begun singing with a bluegrass jam group. When I first joined, everyone in the group played a string instrument except for me. I loved the music, so I was content to just listen if it wasn’t my turn to lead a song. Eventually I came upon a washboard and started bringing it along so that I could have a more active part in the music making. It was fun to play, but still, it didn’t quite fulfill my desire to create music.

My husband Jon’s grandparents lived right around the corner from him while he was growing up, and I was lucky to have met Jon while they were still alive. During the early years of my relationship with Jon, it was a form of entertainment to go to his grandparents’ house and have them show us their collections. This was not your average every day collecting. This was extreme collecting. Salt and pepper shakers. Shot glasses. Drop crystals. Little figurines. Beer mugs. Dolls. China. Linens. You name it, they had it -- or 10 of it.

Personal Growth vs. Transformation The model of “personal growth” has been consistent throughout the “empowerment” age: find out what’s wrong, and fix it. Its proponents work to understand and heal the past to create a different future. The idea is that over time your true and authentic being will emerge and take hold. Progress is slow but steady if the plan is followed consistently. All that’s needed to succeed are understanding and discipline. Over time, heath, wealth, and fulfillment will become part of your life.

People who know me well know I love the Olympics. You might even go so far as to call me a fanatic. Every two years, my usually dormant TV buzzes to life as the opening ceremonies commence, and my family and I gather together each evening to watch. Ordinarily, I’m not a particularly big sports fan. Watching organized sports is limited to when the Steelers are in the Super Bowl (a requirement of any Pittsburgh resident past, present or future).

  The word “like” has invaded our speaking the same way the kudzu has invaded the South. Just listen in on anyone’s conversation on the subway, especially if they’re under 30, and you’ll see what I mean. Just as kudzu does, it wends its way in to the sentence until it blankets it and the original meaning is practically lost. “It’s, like, the best movie I’ve, like, seen, like in a long time. You should go see it, it’ll, like, y’know, blow your mind.” This has recently come to my attention in a more forceful way than before because a friend has asked me to let him know when he is using “like,” “y’know,” “uh,” and other “nonwords” so that he can improve his speaking skills. I decided to take on the same challenge. The list of nonwords and its close cousin, filler words, has proven to be never ending. We’ve since expanded our radar to include “Ok, so,” “know what I mean?” and “does that make sense?”It has become so common place that we become nearly unconscious to it. We often have to ask each other when the offending word even was.

I was grumpy yesterday morning. A few months ago, I spent some time researching camps for my kids. I thought I found a perfect fit at a local YMCA swim camp. Swimming twice a day? Only a few blocks away? Inexpensive!? For just two weeks!? They would have a ball. So far, they hate it. They complain that it’s too much like school, that I didn’t ask them if they wanted to do it before I signed them up, that there’s no free play, that they just want to relax, and on and on. I struggled to get them up and ready for camp, with them resisting the whole way through breakfast and during the walk there. Argh. Besides being disappointed that it didn’t work out as planned, I’m frustrated about how difficult they’re being about it. From my perspective, they’re not even making an effort to like it. Or at least make the best of it.

Back in the days when we were dating, one of the activities Jon and I often did with our friends was go to the movies. This was in the days before buying tickets online became common, and before movie theatres ran multiple screens showing the same movie. At the time, you either went earlier in the day to buy tickets or you took your chances at the box office right before the movie. More often than not, the movie we had all decided on was sold out, forcing us to reconvene as a group to decide what other movie we all wanted to see that was playing at a similar time, and that also wasn't sold out; never an easy task.

Last night, I was sitting in paradise. I was on the front porch of my country house, watching the most spectacular natural light show I’ve ever seen. Hundreds – maybe even thousands – of fireflies were out in force, making the air sparkle. The position of our house is in a valley, and so there is a dark mountain backdrop that accentuates the pinpricks of light even more. If you want to buy a house with a beautiful front view, go there now teamgardner.net to meet their excellent realtor. They will guide you in choosing the right property and help you with paperwork. Even in all my years on the farm, on all those acres, I never saw so many fireflies in one place, so earnestly calling to each other with light. While I was on the porch, it was completely silent except for the drips of gentle rain hitting the leaves. There were no cars, no electric motors, no phones or airplanes – nothing but nature itself to break the silence. It’s too early in the season for crickets and other than the rain there was only a very occasional chirrup from some night bird or chipmunk. It was complete and utter paradise, and exactly what I wanted.

Today, I was feeling in a bit of a funk. I was doing things I typically enjoy, but not getting any satisfaction out of them. (This included planting new flowers in my front window box to replace the last batch of plants that looked great when I put them in but never flowered again after that. What’s up with that?) Then I had a fun, and admittedly slightly silly idea -- I decided to smile for no “reason” whatsoever. I just smiled. And then I kept smiling while people were talking to me, even when they were finished. I smiled as they walked away from my desk. Then I smiled at my computer screen again. I heard my son come home and went upstairs to talk to him with a smile on my face. He was half-way through his dinner but instead of finishing it, he was stretched out over two dining room chairs reading a book. Normally I would sternly tell him to sit up and finish his dinner. Instead, I just smiled at him. I hugged him awkwardly while he was lying there, and he mostly ignored me while he was reading, and then I just smiled as I walked away from him.