Friday, January 12, 2018

All the Pieces


All the Pieces                    

By John W. Vander Velden

 

Life is not like putting together a scrapbook.  It’s not like filling a photo album either.  You see life doesn’t give us the ability to pick and choose what things we would like to include in our days.  No, life is more like a jig saw puzzle still in the box.  It is for us to take all the pieces and fit them together…
It takes all the pieces to complete a puzzle.  When all the pieces are arranged in their proper places we can see the whole picture.  In the winter of 1962 we returned to Indiana.  We found a puzzle in the house, left behind by those that had lived there before us.  I like puzzles…then.  But my childhood puzzles had just a few large pieces and could be put together in a matter of minutes.  I remember the box, an image of a basket weaver surrounded by perhaps fifty examples of his work.  It must have contained 500 or more pieces, a challenge for any ten year old.  But worse, not all the pieces interlocked.  Many just butted against its neighbor with a wavy edge that matched no other.
I remember working for days, and as in all puzzles the more I assembled the easier it became.  But what “burst my bubble” was that three pieces were missing.  Now in the grand scheme of things what are three pieces out of 500?  Nada. I mean there was enough to see the whole of it.  But those three pieces left a hole…an incompleteness…
Perhaps I should have been pleased that I had found the “right” place for the 497 pieces.  That I had used my determination to finish a difficult task.  But in my mind it was not finished.  Those three missing pieces made completion impossible.  I never worked that puzzle again.  In truth, I have done very little puzzle work since the early months of 1962.
It seems to me that life is like a box of puzzle pieces.  And we are not allowed to pick and choose which pieces we will place on the table of our life.  The pieces that are sunny days and happy times are mixed in with other pieces we would choose to avoid.  But it takes all the pieces to finish the thing we call life.  It takes the dark days as well as the bright.  It takes the difficult times as well as the easy.  It takes sadness to contrast with the happy parts of our living.
So on those days when I face frightening dark painful times, times of illness, times of loss, all those days I would wish I could place in the box and forget, I will do my best to remember that I cannot.  For life takes all of the pieces…and I must go on.  (470 Words)  1-8-2018

 

 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Looking Forward


Looking Forward

By John W. Vander Velden

It’s early January and it seems a time when we wonder about the year in our wake.  First we are astonishment how the days have flown passed, and deposited us here in another year.  As we look back, we question our actions, wondering if we did our best last year.  There are times that stand out in our memory.  Happy moments and disappointing ones as well.
The calendar has rolled over and it is fitting that we examine these things.  How else can we hope not to fall into the same pitfalls that ripped us up last year…or the years before?  Those lessons were hard learned, but in learning…well, we grow. 
But we must not dwell only on the dark days, feeling that they foretell a bleakness before us.  No!  Now is the time for optimism.  A time to see that, overall, sunny days are ahead.  Yes, they may be blended with overcast days of rain or snow, but we need to look forward to the sunshine.  Cherish the special hours and days, and use them to fuel us when things are harder.
Winnie the Poo’s friend Eeyore stood in his “gloomy spot” swallowed by a darkness he carried with him, and we loved him for it.  But it would be an unpleasant life if we all shared his view.
So looking forward, I see possibilities.  I expect failures, but remain steadfast that those failures are but stepping stones that lead to successes.  I try to be optimistic.  It is not an easy thing, for it seems simpler to brace ourselves for lesser circumstances.  But optimism gives me hope, and hope gives me energy, and energy will be needed every day, as I march onward.  So I look forward and cast the blankets aside I might wish to hide beneath, stepping out into another day…another year.  I hope you will look forward too….   

(316 Words)  1-3-2018

Friday, December 29, 2017

To Journey Via a Keyboard


A Journey Via a Keyboard                 
By John W. Vander Velden
 
Being a storyteller and a writer are not EXACTLY the same thing.  I am a storyteller that at times uses words to share that story.  Or a storyteller that writes.
But I have a problem.  You see I never understood the mechanics of language…completely.  I tell my writing friends that grammar is a foreign language.  Perhaps it is in my upbringing.  Perhaps, during my more malleable years, I didn’t give it sufficient effort.  Perhaps the papers returned drenched in red ink closed the door.  Who knows?  And at this point it doesn’t matter.
When I shed the fear of rules I did not understand.  When the stories within me screamed to be released, unbound from the chains of the fear of failing.  Then I began in earnest.  That would have been in 2000.
I wrote my first story, “Tree in the Meadow”, out of a need to tell that story.  I wrote accepting that I would have to hire others to clean it up, to correct the thousands of mistakes in grammar I knew I would make. 
I shared the first draft of that yet unpublished story with a trusted friend.  I was told that “it showed talent”.  That was enough to put the keyboard in gear.
So I began 411 Apple Street and the nearly seven year journey to the completion of the first draft.  Work’s demands changed in 2007 and pages progressed more swiftly.  I fell into a rhythm.  A book draft from September till March, a short story perhaps in the spring, some revising during the summer.  A large quantity of work came out of those five years. 
Then I felt I had a body of work sufficient that publication began to seem a possibility.  Things began to change.  Building an internet presence became another task to learn.  Blogging…. I knew very little of blogging when I set up my blog in March of 2012.  What I learned was it takes time…lots of time.  And often I wonder if it is time well spent.  How many times I considered ending Ramblings…Essays and Such…and yet each week I post another short.  Ramblings is a literary blog, if that makes any sense.  For nearly six years, week in and week out, I post an essay or what I call a micro-story.  Typically under 500 words.  There are more than 300 in the archive.
Rambling’s following is, even after all this time, a small number, but has grown in the last year.  Again I wonder of the value taken from other writing projects.  But I have learned a great deal from blogging.  I have learned how to distill to the core, to simplify a concept to a small enough bite size piece that can be covered sufficiently in a few paragraphs.  In other words to be concise.
Another side effect that has come from the experience is the volume of material written.  I have assembled forty some into a small book called Glimpses from the Window of My World which I have given as gifts.  Nearly each month my local paper prints one of my blog posts.  More than 50 have found their way into the Plymouth Pilot News and in that way I have reached many more than my weekly jaunt in cyber-land.
I have crossed 500 words and so I will, my friends, squeeze the closing.  Storytelling.  Now I stand on a new threshold.  My book Misty Creek will soon be published.  I consider the book a success just by reaching this point. 
There are other stories.  If God gives me a chance, I will tell those as well.  But each day, I will strive to be the storyteller I am.  It is my hope you will come along for the ride.
(624 Words)         12-15-2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Snow


Snow                                 

By John W. Vander Velden

                       

All around color dulled the day dimmed by thick sky.  Even midday the sun can not be seen as we   The wind biting cold as we hide flesh beneath gloves, scarf and coat.  Suddenly a small bit of white visible, sailing the breeze.  Can it be?  For surely there must be a first…the first flake…like no other.  The leader for many follow.  The heavy sky laden, unloading its burden as all around the white flies.  At last the flakes reach their destination.  Soon many join their brothers covering the drab world with pure whiteness.  Soft they stack.  Time passes as they form art…drifting into soft depth shaped by the winds will.  So all around the world is changed…before our very eyes.  The drab now gone replaced by the untainted…such is the power of snow!!!

move more out of obligation than joy.

 

(143 Words)                1-10-2012

 

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Christmas Letter





December 5, 2017

As the year winds down, time comes to consider what 2017 has been.  It is also a time to reach out to friends and family, those we only hear from once a year, and those that come in and out more frequently.
Where to begin?  The winters in Northern Indiana are certainly not the worse, weather-wise, to be found, but offer challenges none the less.  Last winter was not unusual.  But we have learned to deal with the snow, and the cold.  Having somewhere warm to hide is always good, and a furnace with plugged heat exchanger meant that for a few days things were cooler.  It only reminds how many things we take for granted.








 
An emergency run to Chicago to help Nick and his stranded Jeep reminded us that our vehicles, all of them, were getting old.  Or do you say mature.  Our Malibu, the newest, had 120K, while Nick’s Jeep had more than 180K.  Had hoped to postpone an auto purchase until Nick graduated, the university has its own financial thirst, but “the best laid plan of mice and men” fell to the wayside.  In any case a Jeep Renegade came to our garage.  Jackie named “her” Pearl.  No argument from the “peanut gallery”.  Winter…four wheel drive…seems like a match to me.
But a new vehicle was not the biggest change of the year.  For after all it was the first year I didn’t put in a crop.  Retired is too large a word for the change.  I am in transition from farming to something else…it won’t be leisure to be sure.  But though I’m still busy the biggest change is that the stress level.  So it’s raining…big deal.  That kinda’ thing.  But it also offers me more flexibility.  So we pushed back our spring escape into April.
A road trip to the Florida Panhandle, a first.  If you live in Indiana, the Panhandle is the closest Florida.  And in early April the weather can be delightful.  The sugar white beaches and emerald water at Fort Walton Beach must be  more than seen…a sensory experience that is beyond words.
 
Our week was filled with sunny days and warm breezes and hectic times.  We managed to see a few lighthouses…no surprise there…an aircraft museum…while reserving time for shopping, walking on the beach, and experiencing things beyond our everyday normal.
In May Nick finished his fifth co-op rotation at Zimmer-BioMet.  It has been a learning experience to say the least.  Dealing with real life situations helped him understand better the world he would enter.  But the semester breaks from classes made dialing in those skills more difficult.  The summer began his race to graduation.  Three sessions back to back, the longest straight through at PU will strain him but the end of the tunnel is in sight.  And there is an end of that chapter or a beginning of the next.  In October he accepted a position at Altec in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.  So next summer he will be leaving his home state and starting his own career, his parents proud but sad that he goes so far afield.
With repairing storm damage and mowing yards, plural, and all the ordinary things of summer, kept us hopping.  Yet between it all we made our way north to the great U.P. of Michigan.  Our last trip across the great bridge left us yearning.  And so we went to see a part of the Upper Peninsula we had not seen before, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Of course our trip included lighthouses.  We saw six new ones.  At least they were new to us.  The weather was fantastic for hiking, shopping, the boat ride among the rocks, and lighthouse climbing.
 
In October I was able to share with Jackie a place I’d experienced three years before when I attended a writing conference in central Ohio.  A five day escape to Yellow Springs and the surrounding area a getaway we will remember.  Walking was a big part of that trip.  Hiking in Clifton Gorge, Glenn Helen, and John Byran State Park, walking miles each day of up and down over rocks and streams filled our days.

But life is more than vacations, even great vacations.  Jackie is on her third year as a pharmacist at Martin’s Supermarket in Plymouth.  Like all jobs there are good days and…well…others.  She enjoys the people she works with and the patients that have come to her for years.  But her life is more than the hours in the pharmacy and she enjoys her flowerbeds, shopping and long walks. 
Nick nears the end of the semester and will look forward to a couple of weeks of slower pace.  January begins the final months of his Purdue career and so we look forward to graduation in May.  He works hard at his studies and the long hours have taken their toll.  But a few days should recharge the batteries and fuel the race toward the end.
Though I have turned the “farm” reins over to my nephew Justin, I remain as I said before busy.  Among the things that keep me occupied is my writing.  Even now I anxiously await the proof of Misty Creek the first of my novels to be published.  I expect it to be available after the first of the year.  
So you see that the Vander Veldens of Marshall County remain busy in many ways.  But we are not so busy to forget all the people that make up our lives.  Those nearby and others scattered around the globe.  We take this time to remember YOU! And to say to each of you, may Christmas be the special time it can be.  That you feel GOD’s love each day.  That you recognize the blessing that come.  That love always exists in your heart and your home.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas, and that GOD gives you good things for 2018.
 


The Vander Veldens…Jackie, John, and Nicholas too!!! 
 
 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Payin' Attention


Payin’ Attention           

By John W. Vander Velden

 

I spent some time talking to a person who told me that among his duties at work he was responsible for tasks he had no “official” training.  His co-workers asked how he knew those skills.  His response was he had worked with others and had paid attention.  I knew a man that became a foreman, getting the promotion over others simply because he paid attention.  He understood and could repair each machine on the line when others that had worked far longer couldn’t.  He had taken the effort to observe and to learn.
We live in a world that at times believes that all knowledge must come from the classroom or other places set up for teaching.  And much learning comes from those institutions.  But the problem is when we ignore the fact that so much training comes to us from the “school of hard knocks”. 
Life is happening all around us and the choice is ours.  Do we observe and learn or just slide by.  When I consider all the different things I have been asked to do, I remember the times when I learned on the fly.  When I took the things I knew, whether I learned them in the classroom or on the job, and built new knowledge to get the task done and in the process gained another skill.  Which is not to say that I didn’t make mistakes.  Sometime our fear of making mistakes keeps us from trying and not trying the greatest failure of all.  If we really pay attention then mistakes are just another learning tool.  But we must not only have the courage to try…knowing that at times we will fail, but we must objectively look at our failings so we do not repeat them.  That mean also admitting our weakness and failings, building strength through repetition…steps forward and steps back and steps forward again.
As for me I see my life changing, the things I must do take a different set of skills than past’s duties.  But I have not cast off the things I know, the things I have learned, the things years in the “mud and blood” of realities have taught me.  No, I give nothing away while gaining new abilities.  The years of farming are behind me, but they are not lost.  Memories of tasks such as repairing a feeder in subzero weather, of welding up jigs to pull together parts to be reassembled, of framing up walls, of plumbing and electrical jobs beyond number, these are skills I have not lost.   So as I sit more at the keyboard, I remember and I continue payin’ attention….   

(440 Words)                  12-12-2017

Friday, December 8, 2017

Who Am I?


Who Am I?               


By John W. Vander Velden

 

Who am I?  I expect that many reach the point in their lives when they ask those three words.  Perhaps there are those who consider such introspective quests as foolish.  And there may be some just too busy to take the time.
I have these last years allowed that question to cross my mind from time to time.  It has nothing to do with my genealogy.  I don’t need “Ancestry.com” to verify my genes.  I have volumes that lay out my family tree.  Rather I approach the question with what have I done with the material my forefathers and mothers have given me.
It may be silly, but I think each of us should consider who we have become…what we are…now.  The list of things that I have been, is long.  Son, husband, father, employee, employer, and a thousand other “personal descriptions”.  Surely three score plus years sufficient time to gather such notations. And even now I have several things that I do my best to juggle.  Some of these things others might call titles…I just consider them part of who I am. 
I feel that a person needs to be connected to the world around them.  Not necessarily the great big globe of the world, but their community…their family and friends and others.  Work creates a circle of people, and when one retires that circle can shrink.  Not that mine has.  So I am connected…deeply connected, and partly because it is who I am.
So who am I…really?  I look in the mirror and see a face with a few more wrinkles, hair that has changed color and I ask myself.  Uncertain that I am qualified to answer and wonder who might be.  That thought does not hang in the air long for I understand that only GOD knows the compete answer.  It should be enough…but it isn’t.  No, if I believe I am on the road toward perfection, I need to be continually improving.  Ouch!
GOD will accept me as I am…but who am I?  I am but a man trying my best to do my best…and failing…often.  Perfection….Hmmm… If I am truly on that road then perfection is beyond the horizon or at least around many bends far out of sight.  For I am just human, striving for things, that are at this point, out of my reach, but knowing I need to reach anyway.
I care.  I care about a great many things.  Some might say I care too much.  It is not a point I will argue.  Caring has its price, at time that price is high, but it has its rewards as well.  Surely I am disappointed…regularly.  Surely loss strikes me as hard as others.  But I cannot imagine going through life and NOT caring.  You see it is part of who I am.  Blended within that caring is a faith that promotes…caring.  For GOD loved the world….  Should I not try to love as well?
So I find myself in a mixed up world looking for answers, and knowing that world does not understand me…really.  That within the who I am, I know a few answers…a few important answers.  Among them is, that there is a purpose even for someone like me.  That GOD placed me here for a reason…a reason I may be unable to fathom at this time, but a reason all the same.  Knowing these things and just a basic knowledge of my own personality helps me shape the direction I push myself.  I may think I am creating the person John V. is becoming, but I know better.  For I understand that I am the clay in the artist’s hand, being formed by my GOD into who I am.

(626 Words)         6-20-2017