Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter ode

We are just settling into winter in East Tennessee and approaching the end of 2009.  I was prompted, for no particular reason, to ponder the personality of winter and my mind inevitably switched into ode details.  Shall I share with you the beauty of my home?

Knoxville is a small city, nestled in the midst of the Tennessee Valley in the eastern portion of Tennessee.  If you are a native, then you will know that we don't say eastern Tennesee.  No, instead, it is East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee.  My side of the state is a wide range of terrain, with this small area of Knoxville encompassing gentle rolling hills, ridges, lakes and rivers.  Knoxville itself spreads out in a surprisingly large sprawl, not contained to the downtown area.  Indeed, travel to any direction north, south, east or west and you will find unexpectedly large sections of the city, with each direction possessing a unique personality. 

The majestic, spiritual Great Smoky Mountains are within a 90 minute drive from Knoxville.  It is there where you will find vistas that will reach deeply into your heart, speaking to you with a voice as old as time.  Our mountains are ancient here, worn to softer peaks over the vastness of imagined memory, yet no less impressive for the softer peaks displayed.  Wreathed in drifting, mysterious smoky mists, they patiently count the march of ages.  I can only imagine the history they have witnessed as the inexorable effects of weather, rain, earthquakes (yes, we get earthquakes here) and erosion softened the Smoky Mountains from brash, young, ragged peaks like the Rocky Mountains to their present stately mien. There is a healing energy in these mountains that the Native Americans recognized and respected, born of healing quartz mineral deposits, sandstone and limestone which purify the mountain water that feeds into all the lakes and rivers.

Early American settlers came this way, many of them being Scots and Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine and poverty.  They stopped here, deciding to "bide a wee" and eventually put down roots in an area that many said looked very similar to the gentle rolling hills of their mother Ireland and Scotland.  Much of our dialect, if you listen closely, reflects the lyrical flow of those settlers' original accents.  Scottish jigs became the template for modern country music, speaking with hearty fiddles, banjos, dulcimers and sounding out either brisk, happy tunes, or mournful, wailing sad ballads that tear at the heart of the listener.

Winter here in the Valley is quiet.  The lakes and rivers rarely freeze over and we celebrate the periodic snows we receive.  It is a peaceful time, the land slumbering, preparing sleeping trees and flower bulbs to burst forth with true glory in the coming spring months.

The people of East Tennessee are much like you will find in any southern small town.  Yes, there can be an insular attitude, but there are also ready smiles, welcoming nods to complete strangers and waves of Thank You's on the narrow backroads where "first come, first serve" rules the right of way.  It is still commonplace, when a funeral procession is on a road or highway, for people to pull onto the shoulder of the road, step from their cars and place a respectful hand over their heart until the procession passes by.  Here and there, you will still find the occasional small country store, or a Tastee Freeze drive-in restaurant run by one large family.  Even during winter months, these little remnants of the 1950's still thrive and do a brisk business. 

January 2010 approaches and we will settle more deeply into the full breadth of winter.  Perhaps we will be gifted with one or two good snows that will shut down schools, allow everyone to play outside with the kids, make snowcream and take quiet walks in the fields and woods, enjoying the white frosty beauty cloaking the trees.  Planning will already be underway for the spring celebration of the Dogwood Arts Festival that will usher in the inevitable explosion of life. 

For now, we rest in cold shades of greys, stark browns of trees stripped of their mantle of leaves, and breathe in crisp mountain washed air carrying the occasional tang of evergreen trees.  East Tennesse in the depths of winter is a magical place, steeped in a markedly slower, gentler rhythm than you will find in a larger, more bustling city. Spring will arrive, but only after the full depth of winter has kissed the mountains and valleys with frosty, misty salute. I write this from the warmth of a cozy townhouse, feeling embraced by the quiet tenor of the winter season of my Tennessee home. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Small jobs

I just ran across a quote that is very timely for where I am in my life these days.  It is as follows:
"Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones tend to take care of themselves."  Dale Carnegie  1888 - 1955, Writer & Speaker
I have spent the past 18 months, along with much of the rest of the world, adapting to the sharp downturn in the economy and the resultant lull in my freelance technical writing work.  I spent large chunks of time doing "all the right things" with very little, if any, return on time investment.  I spent more time feeling worried, flat out scared, irritable and a whole slew of other adjectives.  Now, however, I can see very clearly that there has been deep purpose to this past year and a-half of more quiet moments.  I have said, repeatedly, to close friends that I am now aware this slower time has been one of incubating for me.  Incubating new ideas, revamping old dreams, creating new dreams, and opening up to the infinite possibilities that I could never dream of on my own.

In order to not feel completely useless and as though my brain would melt out of my ears from sheer inactivity, I began to do a lot of pro bono work for friends.  A bit of copy here, a marketing tagline there, a brochure or newsletter....anything to keep my mind active and continue to have examples of current work for my resume and portfolio.  As the above quote indicates, this type of activity, done with a glad heart and sincere work ethic, will eventually produce some unexpected and surprising results!

I would never have dreamed, two years ago, that I would create a personal blog that would begin to amass a loyal group of followers.  I would never have dreamed that in an ancillary move, I would become partners with a blogging friend to create an online group in  Facebook for bloggers that would be embraced so enthusiastically around the world.  Yet both of these things have come to pass.  As a result of all the small jobs I have opened up to doing, I am being blessed with some of the most interesting connections. 

I am still in that incubating process, still working on my creative process, still envisioning dreams and hopes in such a way that will continue to open up the world in ways that I, as yet, cannot even fathom manifesting.  I believe that I am on the right path, though, and I know this because of the sheer joy with which I am greeting each new day, each new connection, friendship and experience.  I haven't quite identified the exact direction my path will take, and that's okay.  For now, I recognize that I am moving in the correct direction.  I am embracing those small jobs with a smile on my face, knowing that they are a stepping stone of sorts which will move me forward to that new, bright future.  Half the fun of all of this is the unknown and all the delightful surprises that keep manifesting!

For now, this is more than plenty for me to accept on my personal plate.  Good things are coming, I can feel that as genuine truth.  I will continue to accept those small jobs with intentional good will and a sense of grace.  Mr. Carnegie's above quote made me smile when I read it and that's when I felt that old familiar sense telling me, once again, a blog was in the making!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Delving deeply

You know that old saying, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"?  I've heard it attributed to many people, so am not going to bother with crediting here.  It's the concept that I'm focusing on, more than tracking down who said it first.

I began blogging in September 2009, and thus opened up a whole new world for myself.  I've been a writer my whole life, and began actually making a living with writing nine years ago.  I enjoy the writing process as it applies to virtually any and all applications.  It shouldn't have surprised me, in light of this, how much blogging would sink into my very soul and fill me with such joy, but it was a bit of a surprise.  A happy one, most definitely, but still a surprise.  With blogging, I don't have to answer to a client's demands - I write what, when, where and how I choose, on any topic that pleases me.  My focus is wide ranging and the more I write, the more topics and categories I find of interest. 

Most recently, I wrote a blog post about the very common occurrence of grief, sadness and depression during the holidays.  It turns out that that article was very positively received, which I wasn't sure whether to expect originally.  The fact that it was embraced so immediately and fostered so many wonderful follow up comments has encouraged me to begin thinking more deeply about where and how to apply my writing skills.  One dear friend even mentioned liking the fact that I've chosen to write about some of the more difficult topics, the ones that aren't always so pretty or pleasant to contemplate.  This friend (her name is Jane) went on to compliment the approach and treatment I used in that particular blog post, which prompted me to begin pondering.  If you've read any of my blog over the months, you'll know that that's all it takes to get my brain spinning and thus...a blog will be born. 

For the most part, the overall tone of my blog is uplifting and positive.  I feel that those things can be accomplished even while writing about topics that might not always be the most flashy or entertaining to read about.  There is value in writing about challenging subjects because it gives others a bit of a spiritual nod, a written word that places a consoling invisible hand on their shoulder and lets them know that they're not alone in how they're feeling.  I'm learning that perhaps I have a gift in this regard, to write in a therapeutic approach and manner, and it is one I want to pursue, delve more deeply into and hone.

The title of this blog is Healing Morning, and I am bemused and quite happy with the fact that as I continue to grow as a writer/blogger, this title continues to be appropriate.  Yes, I have always been a writer, this is absolute truth.  My healing abilities, which I began to consciously nurture at an equally early age, are quite clearly entertwined with my writing.  One is never very far from the other.

As a writer and a healer, what a fascinating ongoing journey I'm experiencing...this process of continually being greeted by heretofore slumbering facets of my various abilities.  So much is happening with my writing as a result of venturing into the world of blogging - relationships, opportunities, business ventures and partnerships - things which I would honestly never have even thought to dream of for myself, yet they are showering down into my life in such abundance that at times, I admit, my head spins. 

Rather than being overwhelmed, I'm opening up with my full heart and enjoying each new moment.  Where all of this will lead, I have no idea.  Currently, I'm in the midst of a new project with my partner Marty, with Authentic Blogger on Facebook that is remarkable to me on a personal level.  When I dream, I am never afraid to dream large.  However, I honestly don't think it would have ever occurred to me to imagine such a reality as the one encompassed by Authentic Blogger and the resulting response it is getting in the Facebook and blogging world.  So, who knows what the next thing will be?  All I can say is that life is giving me quite a ride, with all of it tying into my love of writing. 

There is always a purpose at hand in our lives - perfect order, Divinely guided, if we but choose to pay attention and live consciously.  I am noting, with gratitude and enjoyment, how so many things are falling into place in this regard in my life.  The immediate impulse is to label it, corral it, and perhaps start to attempt to take control.  I'm resisting that impulse and just letting it be - not the easiest thing to do, let me tell you!  This is not to say I'm sitting meekly back, waiting on life to unfold with no energy or input on my part.  To the contrary - I doubt anyone could ever describe me as meek!  I am putting a great deal of energy into this whole process. 

As Universal Law so beautifully presents to us, and is also mentioned in many Holy Scriptures...the Bible, the Torah, the Talmud, Buddhist tenets....putting conscious and joyful energy into something you truly love, with sincere intent and request, produces an eventual return of energy tenfold or greater.  I feel myself standing on a high precipice, with whipping winds of change approaching....all the by-product of this delving more deeply that I have been working on so assiduously most of my life.  I am curious, a year from now, where I shall stand, looking back on this month of December 2009 that has been so full of new chapters, friendships and discoveries.  So, yes, life has been happening in the most delightful fashion while I've also had focus in many other directions. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I am writing this post at the end of a very long, tiring day that began with a business conference call at 4:50 am.  It seems that I've been running in about 80+ different directions since, and I admit to being pretty much wiped out.  Yet here I sit, at my computer, driven to write a blog post.  Today marks a new, exciting venture between myself and my friend, Marty, as we plunged headlong into creating a Facebook blogging group page.  Let me just say that prior to the two of us embarking upon this somewhat insane project together, I already had a genuine respect and affection for Marty.  Now that we're wading through pools of varying depths and currents with this blogging thing, I am developing new reasons to appreciate the presence of this friendship.  In addition, via this group venture on Facebook, both Marty and I are being blessed with new connections, new friends, new ideas....new all sorts of things.

I've laughed reading so many new blogs, I've cried as well.  I've been inspired by most of them, confused by a few, challenged to broaden my present parameters of belief and overall, enriched by every person with whom I've interacted via Authentic Blogger on FB.  It is an exhilarating experience thus far and I'm quite aware of how I'm being pushed to grow and expand my personal horizons. 

I have had several new followers do what I love the most, and that is, first - truly READ my blog posts.  Second - they've gone the extra step to post comments on those blog posts, giving me valuable feedback on my thoughts and words.  This was one of the biggest reasons for me to partner with Marty to create Authentic Blogger - I really wanted to attract the attention of people who engage in an authentic manner in the blogging world.  It appears that through our combined efforts and positive energy, both Marty and I are reaping blessings and benefits.  I'm truly enjoying this new experience, despite being a bit drained from all the extra focus and energy output.  It will take a while for us to adapt to the extra demands on our time, but I think I can speak for both of us when I say we're enjoying the heck out of the whole process!

So, my title for this blog is Connections.  That's what I accomplished a lot of today...connections with new blogger friends.  A deeper connection with an existing friend which is proving to be one of my strongest blessings this year of my life.  Connecting with myself in a business aspect that is exhilarating with the challenges and sheer fun of conquering a new vista - always one of my favorite things to experience.  Finally, sitting back and recognizing how all of these connections are clearly paving a new path leading to an as yet unknown future.  That's exciting, satisfying and fulfilling.  Circles within circles, entertwining and literally vibrating new energy.  Today has been a truly happy day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Authentic Blogger - birth of an idea

I am happy to report that a close friend and I have just created a new Facebook group called Authentic Blogger.  This is a community we have established for all bloggers, worldwide, to have an open forum for discussion, sharing information and tips on promotion, marketing and building awareness of each individul blog site. 

Our Mission Statement is simple - we want our name, Authentic Blogger, to say it all.  Write, create and promote topics in your blog that resonate strongly with you.  Follow blogs that speak to you personally and interest you.  Do not cave in to the mindless "if you follow me, I'll follow you" concept that is rampant in the blogging world.  Support your fellow bloggers/writers/artists by posting sincere, thoughtful comments on their blog site when a specific post truly captures your attention and imagination.

We hope to grow our community to a global level with lively, exciting interaction taking place on our Facebook wall and discussion boards.  We anticipate that we will grow and change over time, and we look forward to that growth process.  We welcome suggestions from all our future readers and hope that our group will provide you with hours of enjoyment.  Please take a moment to visit our group page.  If you're a blogger, please join our group and then post your site's URL on our wall.  We hope you will also take time to tell all your blogger friends about us.  Helping us to grow awareness and membership with our group will also help every member to garner attention and interest for their unique blog site.

This is an exciting new venture for us and we believe that there are no boundaries or limits with this concept.  Both Marty (my partner and fellow officer) and I will work hard to make this a unique, worthwhile group for all bloggers, writers, artists and creative people in general to participate in.  We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One wish

photo: www.alabamacrowns.com
There is a time honored question that is asked of beauty pageant contestants the world over, and it is, "If you had just one wish that could be instantaneously granted, what would that wish be?" The equally time honored, tired, plastic answer is generally in the "world peace, feed all the hungry children" category. Those two wishes have merit, of a certainty. We need peace and an end to hunger in this world, without a doubt. I, however, was always determined to plumb the depths and possibilities of that question more thoroughly.

My answer to this question, because yes, I put in some years in the southern pageant system, was as follows:

"I would grant each person the ability to see themselves through the eyes of five other people. Two of these people would be those who love you. Two would be those who do NOT love you, and might even dislike you. And the final person would be a complete stranger who never laid eyes on you prior to the wish being granted."

Why this wish, do you ask? Give this concept some thought for a moment. We each have a very clear mental picture of how we present ourselves to the world. We also are quite aware that that presentation has a strong percentage of subterfuge and false confidence; a mask, as it were, that we use to camouflage the "real" person we are. The world is a busy, bustling place and it makes very little sense for each of us to be rushing hither and yon, with our hearts dangling on our sleeves and all of our vulnerabilities blazing for the masses to see. Therefore, we adopt those social masks in order to cope with various situations, various people, events and circumstances.

We show our authentic selves to those closest to us, to those with whom we feel the most safe and secure. While we are all definitely guilty of perhaps relying too heavily on those social masks in times when they are not necessary, it is something we learn from such an early age that it becomes the norm for us. We allow a select few into our inner circle and those few are able to see us for who we really are, as much as we choose to reveal.

Therefore, the wish being granted to see how others view us, I feel, would be a gift beyond measure. It would be, quite likely, a harsh lesson to absorb in many ways. Even those who love us don't always perceive us in charitable light 100% of the time. Conversely, those who dislike us or do not love us even the slightest, might see us in a more positive, philosophical and accepting light than those who love us the most deeply. There is constant judgment in all of us. We glance around at people and quickly categorize, pigeonhole and label.  

  • They're smart.
  • They're rich.
  • They're slender.
  • They're so happy.
  • They're dressed well.
  • They're in love.
  • They're successful.
  • They have it all. 
All the while we are applying these labels and judgments with abandon, we are neglecting the vital component of actually taking time to learn about those around us.  Those labels apply only to the surface mask we all wear in a public setting.  Inside, we all have insecurities, doubts, fears.

This whole concept has circled around in my mind for years. I know how I tend to present myself to the world, and for the most part, I feel that this is an accurate depiction of who I truly am. I am also quite aware that I hold back certain, very elemental aspects of my personality from the world at large, preferring to keep those delicate, more tender parts of who I am from the cold, harsh eyes of the world. Those who care to probe more deeply will learn of those facets of who I am, and perhaps will be surprised at what they learn of me. Those who rush heedlessly forward will accept the more mundane, slightly surface version of who they have decided I am. We all do this, and there is no fault to apply to anyone for such behavior. It takes a great deal of time, effort and sincere energy to get that close to someone else, and it would not be feasible for us to accomplish it with millions. I do say that it is possible to achieve on a smaller scale, though.

Have you ever been out in public, perhaps at a mall where the glass storefronts tend to reflect the images of the passersby? Years ago, I was walking into such an establishment that had that section of double doors, with a small lobby in between to buffer the outside elements at the entrance way. A truly lovely, stylish woman was approaching me from inside and I remember glancing at her, struck by how happy, confident and kind she looked. She had a sparkle in her eyes and she was smiling. She was dressed beautifully and put together in a manner that all women glance at and mentally nod, recognizing understated elegance.

I admit that in that sweeping glance that lasted perhaps 20 seconds from me, I compared the two of us and found myself lacking. She was so much more....everything...than I could manage myself. Moments later, I pulled open the first set of doors, expecting to see her walking out but she had disappeared. This puzzled me, because I knew I hadn't imagined seeing her approach. I glanced around, frowning and then it hit me - I had witnessed my own reflection approaching in the store front's glass door reflection. This was one of those moments of epiphany for me.

I had, in effect, been granted a silent moment of viewing myself through the eyes of a stranger. The reflection I witnessed, through the trick of mirrored effect, showed me a woman that I quickly glanced at, judged and labeled. I will never forget that moment, for it gave me a 100% authentic example of not only how I present myself in public, but also in how others might glance at me and apply a random label. Happily, my instant judgment produced a positive label.

I learned that I walk with confidence and an assured demeanor. This honestly astonished me to recognize, as inside, I am like everyone else....a mass of contradictory thoughts, doubts and yearnings to be more, better, happier, etc. The woman I witnessed that day, however, appeared to "have it all" and projected a sense of happiness that was attractive to witness. I am not telling this story to blow my own horn, although it may read that way. I am telling it because I wanted to highlight the fact that we rarely are granted a moment such as that one, to see ourselves through different eyes.

In granting the above wish, my intent would be for all of us to pause a bit more often and truly see one another with more clear vision, purpose and intent. Recognize that that other person might be struggling. Notice that the social mask of confidence might hide insecurities that would stun you, and reach out with an encouraging hand or kind word. We are days away from Christmas and this is the time of year where genuine care, kindness, fellowship and embracing our fellow man is encouraged more than ever. If you see a happy person, take a moment to comment on that! There is no harm in repeating the obvious and acknowledging to that person that they simply look happy - smiles will be the result and that's never a bad thing. Conversation could be sparked and a friendship might evolve. You just never know, and you never will, unless you pause and make the effort to delve beneath the social masks we present.

The above wish isn't one that can truly be granted, as none of us are capable of jumping into another person's body and viewing ourselves through their eyes. We can ask, though, what overall impression we give. We can be willing to listen and hear the answer, and learn strong lessons from the results. If we hear negatives and unpleasant things, we can choose to change those behaviors and grow from the experience. If we hear positives and pleasant things, we can congratulate ourselves that we are doing much better than we would have imagined, and continue to strive for higher goals.

This one wish would be a novel thing to experience with long lasting, spiritual repercussions, I think. Definitely something to ponder....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Subverting ego

I want to talk about something that will strikes nerves in all of us. Subverting ego. Another word for it is compromise. For many of you, reading the word compromise probably elicits an instantaneous, visceral response. An inner shudder, dread, irritation, frustration, a dogged, militant digging in of stubborn heels, an instant need to avoid and avert, or an outright instinct to flee from the whole situation at hand. We are taught (it is to be hoped) from childhood to play fairly, to share, be kind, tolerant and understanding, to have respect, ethics, morals and firm convictions. From that early age, those lessons are either absorbed and embraced or they are tossed aside in the rush to succeed, gather wealth and worldly recognition. In this sometimes aggressive rushing forward process, we forget who we are.

Usually, by the time we reach our mid- to late 20's, we recognize as adults that all of life is about some form of compromise. Every relationship that exists on this planet involves this concept; relationships with business and professional colleagues, with friends, with family members, with romantic partnerships, with nature, with artistic muse, with education, with health....the list is endless and all of these require learning to compromise.

The intrinsic, guttural response for many is initially to fight and win at all costs when presented with a difficult situation. Many do barrel in and greet life with this approach, heedless of the chaos, pain and destruction left strewn behind them. There seems to be an innate fear that by choosing to compromise, this indicates weakness.

I posit to you that a willingness to compromise is perhaps the better example of strength. 

It is true that alone, we can accomplish a great deal. It is a stronger truth that by joining with others, we can accomplish so much more. The kicker here is that by joining forces with others...in business, in marriage, in friendship....we have to learn the art of compromise.

  • "But my way is best."  
  • "I am always right." 
  • "I don't need any help." 
  •  "I want what I want now!"  

Do any of these sound familiar to you? We are all guilty of those moments. It is just human nature. At times, all of those statements are valid ones. Well, maybe not the "always right" one, because that's a physical and energetic impossibility in this world for any one person to "always" achieve.

The art of compromise requires each of us to do the oftentimes incredibly difficult inner work of subverting our ego. This can be a painful process, admittedly. Few of us embrace change on such a personal level with great enthusiasm, because it means looking at ourselves with clear eyes and ruthless honesty, admitting to flaws, failings and things that aren't necessarily very attractive about our behavior patterns. The good news is, none of us are perfect and we all have those less than pretty inner workings. Our job as individuals, I believe, is to operate on a conscious level each day, and recognize those moments that are presented to us to change, evolve and become better versions of ourselves. Compromise is almost an inevitable step in this process.

I am not one who marches through life with an aggressive tilt to my chin. My approach is calmer, more peaceful and thoughtful. Does this approach always serve me well? For the most part, yes. I can admit, however, that there are definitely times where a more aggressive approach is necessary and this is a lesson that I have learned, processed and absorbed over the years.

It is important to note that a calm, kind spirit does not indicate any degree of passivity or lack of strength. 

When the situation calls for it, I can present a harder demeanor and accomplish what I set out to do. The delicate balancing act is to do this with personal integrity and kindness, and that is the tricky part we all wrestle with on a daily basis. In order for me to learn this particular lesson and gain this valuable life tool, I had to compromise and be willing to change in an elemental manner. For many, the converse is true; that aggressive approach is second nature, and for them, the compromise and painful learning process is to embrace a softer, kinder application of energy.

The beauty of this whole concept is that through compromise, through subverting ego, we learn that by joining together with others for various purposes, we become more than would be managed alone. Compromise produces complement. My love of words rears its head and I feel the need to list the definition of these two words:

Main Entry: 1 com·pro·mise
Pronunciation: \ˈkäm-prə-ˌmīz\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, mutual promise to abide by an arbiter's decision, from Anglo-French compromisse, from Latin compromissum, from neuter of compromissus, past participle of compromittere to promise mutually, from com- + promittere to promise
Date: 15th century
1 a : settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions b : something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things

Main Entry: 1 com·ple·ment
Pronunciation: \ˈkäm-plə-mənt\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin complementum, from complēre to fill up, complete, from com- + plēre to fill — more at full
Date: 14th century
1 a : something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect b : the quantity, number, or assortment required to make a thing complete

So, to paraphrase..."blending qualities of two different things..." "...required to make a thing complete." I find absolute beauty in the marriage of these two thoughts. For those of us who have fallen in love, the merging of these two concepts make perfect sense, for we become a much brighter, more shining, aspiring version of ourselves through loving another.

The jarring, perhaps amusing fact to point out is that just beyond the first rosy glow of love comes the prosaic, mundane rolling forth of life that requires....once again, compromise. 

Subverting of personal ego then becomes necessary; subverting our own immediate wants, wishes and needs, subverting ego in order to create a happy and workable balance with that other person.

Yes, we can be happy alone. Yes, we can achieve success in business by ourselves, to a degree. The simple, inescapable truth remains that this planet is full of people and operates on the concept of personal interaction with others. Therefore, compromise and subverting of ego is an inevitable part of life. Friendship, companionship and family cannot exist in an isolated state for any of us; this is simply not possible. I find on a personal level that when someone close to me challenges me, or pushes me to adapt and change, ultimately the changes and refining of myself that occur enrich my life. I find more satisfaction in the particular area that was highlighted, and also find the relationships involved in producing those changes become stronger and more resilient.

A better, brighter, stronger version of who You are capable of becoming; this is the end product of subverting ego and considering the other side with a genuine desire and enthusiasm. It cannot be stressed enough - compromise produces complement.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Featured blog award

Coffee With Marty Featured Blog Author Award

Hey everyone, I have very happy news to impart. My friend Marty, who is an exceptional blogger in his own right, has started a neat new idea to draw more attention to bloggers. He has created a Fan Page on Facebook for his own blog, Coffee With Marty and is doing a weekly featured blog author award. He chose Healing Morning, as the charter featured blog, which as you all know, is me! Taking things one step further, he highlighted my December 7, 2009 blog, "Peaceful Thoughts" for his readers. He has some very nice words to say about my blog and writing style, so please take a moment to click on the link to pull up his Fan Page with featured blog author award info posted. If you're interested in becoming part of his community, give him a yell on his personal Facebook page or on the Fan Page. With luck and a lot of reader enthusiasm, this concept will grow quickly and become a prestigious award in the blogging world! I can already say that being the first featured blog author has garnered interest in my blog and I have new followers, so this idea is already a success.

For me, it is a nod to my heartfelt thoughts and hard work that goes into each and every blog post that I write. Writing is both a vocation and an avocation for me; I do it for work and it also feeds my Soul. Therefore, when a group of people recognize the work that I'm doing, that lets me know that yes, I'm on the right path!

Thank you, Marty, for dreaming up this idea! I always tend to dream big with ideas like this and I can envision a future where Marty is the head of a prestigious online e-zine that features interesting blogs in all sorts of categories worldwide. In this future, I predict that people will clamor to get their blogs listed on Marty's site to get exposure for their writing. Here's hoping that it grows into a wildly popular concept for us all!

S. Dawn Sievers

Author, Healing Morning blog

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Circle of Friends Award

I received this award from a good friend, fellow blogger and reader of my blog, Marty, which was a pleasant surprise. Along with this award, I'm suppose to list 5 things I like to do:

1. Spend time with family and friends.

2. Go hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

3. Read, study, research and learn

4. Write, whether it be in blog format, or working on various manuscripts meant for future publication, or in my personal journal, writing is intrinsic to my nature and gives me absolute joy!

5. Volunteer with local hospice groups when time permits.

I dedicate this same award to all my readers, out of sincere gratitude and thanks to you each time you take a moment out of your day to read my words. I appreciate each and every single one of you! Pass this award on to those who make a difference in your life.

~ Dawn, aka Healing Morning

Peaceful thoughts

It is morning in East Tennessee and outside my window the world is wreathed in typical winter fog, with the grass and trees tipped in frost. This year winter has been a bit sluggish in arriving, but this past week ushered in true cold temperatures that seem to be here to stay. The fog drifting dreamily about the landscape, combined with the cold temperatures evoke a quiet sense of peace.

That word, peace, has been cropping up in my mind quite a bit recently. It is a presence that I find palapable in my life, those moments of peace. They occur unexpectedly and delight the senses with the moment of surprise. Other times, peace will seep slowly and surely into my bones, surrounding me like a warm blanket. The method of delivery varies, but the end result is that I am reminded that there is order and a sense of logic in this world which applies to all of us. Admittedly, we are living in a world full of distractions, chaos, strife and most days it is a challenge just to survive traffic, work and family issues. Small wonder, then, that we forget to take those moments to experience what is so readily available to soothe our Souls.

One of my friends provides an outlet for me with her photography. She is a gentle, loving spirit who sees the world with such different eyes. Whenever she posts a new set of photos on her Facebook page, I always take time to pull them up because I am confident she will have snapped a shot of something that will just "click" with me on a very elemental level. I also make it a point to tell her when something she has said, done or photographed made a difference in my life; I think that is another important thing we overlook due to daily stressors. We forget to reach out and acknowledge the beauty that those we care for bring into our lives. Friendship in general is a blessing to all of us that we should remember to nurture, cultivate and appreciate.

Another source of peace for me is nature, looking about me to witness the continually unfolding drama of the Tennessee Valley. It is truly breathtaking here, regardless of the season. Finding time to walk in the woods, go up to the mountains, or visit one of the numerous rivers or lakes in the area and just sit quietly allows me to soak in the sense of peace that is unique in nature. I always come away feeling a motherly source of love - as though the earth recognizes one of her children taking a moment to check in with her.

I could go on with an impressive list of experiences from which I draw a sense of peace. They are unique to me, so I won't go into exhaustive detail. I think the important thought here is to take time in your day to access that place of quiet for yourself. It is there, just waiting to be tapped into. Some small moment is fluttering in your line of sight, waiting to inspire you, make you laugh, make you cry, soothe you, uplift you, encourage you. If you take a moment to honor that presence, you might be surprised at how the rest of your day, or your week will open up and flourish with success, satisfaction and happiness. Like begets like, after all. Embracing peace and allowing it to become a thriving daily presence for yourself means that it will begin to compound itself and you will recognize it more and more surrounding you. This thought is not specific just to the concept of peace - it applies to anything that you would desire to have more of in your life. Laughter, happiness, success...they can all become a focal point if you open your heart up to recognizing them in their purest form. I think that starting this practice with recognizing and welcoming peace is a good place to begin, as peace opens doors to so much that is beautiful and desirable.

Enjoy your day, my friends. Peace be unto you!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snow cream

Photo:  www.atbmedia.com
How many of you are familiar with the term "snow cream"? I live in East Tennessee and when it snows enough, we have always made snow cream. Because of this, I automatically assumed that everyone made this wintertime treat around the country, if not around the world. It turns out that I was wrong. Over the years, in conversations with various friends around the country, I have mentioned snow cream and received blank stares in return. The oddest thing to me is that the states that get the most snowfall seem to be the ones that have never heard of snow cream! I am finding that it may be specific to the southern region, the phenomenon of snow cream. I have heard it called slightly different titles, from our snow cream, to snowflake ice cream, to snow ice cream, depending on the area.

So, what is snow cream? It is a simple dessert, very similar to soft serve ice cream, made with snow as the base rather than mixing up wet ingredients and putting them into a machine to spin and freeze. At the end of this blog, I will include my Mom's very basic, easy recipe for everyone to give it a whirl.

We had a very light dusting of snow in my hometown of Knoxville the other day, which is obviously what prompted this blog entry. I also have a few friends who requested more info on the snow cream phenomenon, so here we are.

Snow cream is a very easy thing to create, but there are a couple of logical rules to abide by. Most peoples' first thought is going to be that snow isn't safe to eat with all the air pollution we experience. Not true. As long as you wait approximately two hours into the snow fall, then snow is safe to consume. That two hour time span allows the falling snow to clean the air of impurities, leaving the snow at the surface remarkably clean and pure. Beyond that, to anyone who is concerned about snow cream containing pollutants from the air, consider that we breathe that same air daily without the benefit of the snow falling and filtering. In that regard, I think that eating snow cream once a year, if you're lucky enough to live in an area that gets sufficient snow, isn't that big a hazard to our health. The happy benefits much outweigh any risks. Obviously, collect your snow from areas that have not been disturbed by man or animal, scooping from the first few inches of the surface deposit.

You're going to need two to three times as much snow as you would first imagine to create a good amount of snow cream - think of two or three large sized bowls such as you would use for big batches of popcorn, mounded up and packed firmly. Snow melts upon contact with wet ingredients of the snow cream base, so you'll have to sort of eyeball the process until you reach a good consistency. Once you've created your first batch of snow cream, I can predict with a fairly accurate degree of confidence that you'll be hooked!

I have the most fond childhood memories of collecting snow with my Mom, brother and sister for snow cream and then eating bowls and bowls of it in the warmth of the house. It has a clean flavor from the snow that is unlike any premium, gourmet ice cream that you'll ever taste. Beyond that, it is such a simple joy to share with family and friends, bringing everyone together in fellowship and shared laughter. Eating a sweet winter treat is guaranteed to promote laughter and happy memories.

Another Facebook friend mentioned a childhood tradition of pouring hot maple syrup or hot blackstrap molasses into snow to make a chewy sweet treat. We did this one as well. My Mom used her large cast iron skillet, packed with snow and would drizzle hot maple syrup or molasses into swirls in the snow. The hot, sugary liquid meeting the cold snow would transform the syrup into a slightly crystalized, chewy consistency that we would scoop and twirl around popsicle sticks or forks and consume. Something about snow just encourages those simple pleasures, it seems!

Here is my Mom's recipe to make enough for approximately 5-6 cups of snow cream:

4 eggs
2 cups canned/evaporated milk
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1 tsp of Vanilla
1 very large bowl of mounded, packed snow

Directions: mix sugar and eggs until sugar is well blended, then add milk and vanilla, stir to combine. Add large bowl of snow, stirring and mixing until you have a fluffy, creamy consistency.

The type of snow that you get in your area will also dictate how much snow you will need per batch. I.e., dry, light snow will dissolve more rapidly than heavy, wet snow. You'll be able to quickly see if you need to add more snow to thicken the end product. Just tailor it to your needs; each batch will vary slightly in the amount of snow required.

The above sugar amount may seem like a lot for a yield of only 5-6 cups of snow cream, but remember that snow is watery and will dilute the cream base, requiring that extra sugar for flavor. You can double or triple the cream base to make a larger batch of snow cream. For those concerned about consuming raw eggs, it is up to you to decide if you and your family and friends fall into any health risk groups and omit that ingredient. I imagine you could use egg substitute products in place of the raw eggs, or just leave the eggs out entirely. I have pulled up snow cream recipes online that don't include eggs at all in the cream base; this is just the method my Mom has always used and the one that I prefer.

This is the most basic recipe. If you Google the words "snow cream" you will find a plethora of variations, using sweetened, condensed milk, various flavors, add-ins such as cookies, candy bits, chocolate, etc. You are only limited by your imagination. Another helpful suggestion is that snow cream, like any ice cream, freezes well. We used to make triple batches when a big snow would hit the area and freeze it. It freezes a bit harder than regular ice cream, so zapping it in the microwave to soften or letting sit out for about 15 minutes helps to make it more easily scoopable. Another fun suggestion is to make snow cream popsicles by scooping the mixture into popsicle molds and freezing. They're delicious and have a wonderful creamy consistency similar to a Dreamsicle.

If you do try snow cream for the first time, or if you're experiencing it after many years, please take a moment to post a comment below. I love hearing input and feedback from my readers. This particular blog is another joyful memory to share and I'm sure it will give many of you a new happy tradition to create each year for your family and friends. Enjoy this new approach to snow and enjoy making snow cream!

Friday, December 4, 2009


I saw on the news last night that East Tennessee might experience snow this weekend. Most adults in this area view such information with trepidation. I, however, am the exact opposite and I get quite excited when snow is heading our way. When I was a child, the weather patterns seemed to produce snow in our area much more frequently than we currently experience. Whether that is due to global warming, or whether it can be attributed to normal cycles of nature doesn't matter. That is not the focus of this blog.

I want to talk about the whole experience of snow. I once watched a science program of some type that explained in minute detail what has to occur in order for snow to fall. While I cannot repeat those intricate steps here for you, what I can tell you is that the scientist being interviewed offered his opinion that as conditions for snow to exist are so exacting, specific and random, snow could come close to being called miraculous in scientific terms. I liked that! To those who enjoy snow, it is always a delight to the senses and a miraculous thing to behold.

For me, specifically, I grew up out in the country with my family's land way up towards the top of a ridge. It is always quiet that far out in the country, very isolated from the noise of the city. We hear the trains running in the distance, but that's about it. When a snow would come, my favorite thing to do was wrap up, grab my camera and go for a walk. Our property spans a fairly large area, with woods and open fields to explore year round. As we all are aware, snow makes any landscape translate into a veritable fairytale for the eyes. Trees become majestic sculptures of ice and snow, branches dusted delicately, or heavily, depending upon the type of snow. Shrubs and bushes transform into belled out antebellum skirts that capture the mind and evoke thoughts of winter balls and romantic waltzes. Drifting mists of smoke from neighboring chimneys sting the eyes, and errant snowflakes dance lazily on errant breezes, sparkling in the dim light.

Beyond all of this is the absolute stillness. This is what always lured me from a warm house to tramp through the woods and fields with my camera....the urge to be in the midst of that very loud sense of quiet. Yes, those words are contradictory, but silence can, indeed, be very loud and profound. Snow brings a hush to the world, where even during the day, the birds tend not to sing or chirp. Thoughts would come to diamond bright moments of clarity for me when walking in a snow covered world. Only the distant sound of train whistles could be detected, as though from a distant land, while I walked, cocooned in a miniature paradise. Upon my eventual return to the house, there would be large pans set out on the back porch with which to gather snow and make snow cream. (The subject of snow cream, my friends, deserves its own blog and I promise to write one in the coming days.)

The stillness, the cold air, the soft crunch of my shoes sinking through the snow, the velvet gray clouds hovering and nearly touching the treetops would shrink my world to a snow cloaked domain. I reveled in the absolute sense of peace I always felt in those moments and would stay outside for hours, snapping photographs, walking, thinking and feeling what I call the most immediate and tangible expression of God's presence. Many seek, and find, that presence in church. For me, it comes in different ways, with the most touching and lasting being those moments outside on a snow dusted ridgetop. I always returned to my Mother's house, transformed inside from those walks in the snow. It isn't something that can truly be put into words, that moment of being held, cupped, in the hand of God. That's how walking in the snow always makes me feel.

I no longer live at home, up on the side of the ridge and my current home isn't surrounded by fields and woods to tramp through when it does snow. I miss the freedom of those days, but nothing keeps me from walking outside during or after a snow hits our area, even if that means all I can do is stand out on my back patio and absorb the sensations. Opening my office window to glance outside, indeed, snow is in the air - I can smell it. And I smile in anticipation of a chance to experience that awesome, gentle quiet once again.....the benediction of snow.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today is Thanksgiving 2009 and I sit at my computer to share my thoughts about the day. East Tennessee is experiencing the most glorious weather today with blue skies, light breezes and fluffy clouds scudding across the sky. I often gaze about me, regardless of any specific holiday, and marvel at the beauty that surrounds me. We are nestled at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the terrain is gentle, rolling hills, dramatic ridges, many lakes and rivers, mist wreathed mountains in the distance and the verdant glory of the Tennessee Valley. I have lived several other places in my life, but I always find myself returning here....to my home. Southern hospitality and friendliness, soft cadence of liquid vowels in our speech, savory southern cuisine, rich history and old-fashioned manners still exist in a manner unique to this region. Family is here, friends are as well, and memories abound to create what I consider to be an ideal place to live.

This past year has been a challenging one, for me on a personal basis, as well as for our country and for the world at large. Yet, despite personal challenges, this year has also been one of deep and intimate discovery and growth. It was this year that I began the next level of my writing career and embraced some new genres, with one of them being blogging. I count the blogging process as one of the most unexpected, delightful changes in my life. I am growing as a writer and a creative spirit in areas that I hadn't anticipated and that makes the experience all the richer. I am finding that my writing is reaching out to people around the world and sparking conversation, laughter, growth and a desire to delve deeper into areas that inspire.

I have made conscious shifts and adjustments on a personal level that have opened up my life, once again, in ways that I could never have predicted. Friendships both old and new are flourishing and family connections continue to be that golden, happy energy in my life. I am blessed beyond measure, I find, on this lovely November afternoon. Yes, there is sadness in the world, tragedies exist and injustices happen. Today, however, I choose to focus on the blindingly sharp clarity that surrounds me and write my appreciation in the most glowing words possible.

I feel a profound sense of happiness today and I am aware that that is, in part, a result of the people with whom I surround myself. It is also a culmination of hopes, dreams and desires that I have chosen to hone and tweak until I have created a wide open path for myself to walk. Life is, indeed, good and I am fortunate to be here, this day, this hour, with these people and experiences.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Artistic hands

The holidays are upon us, and they bring to mind memories of childhood. I am aware that I write about my family a great deal. I guess this is natural, as they gave me my firm foundation in life. As children, we were fortunate to live next door to my maternal grandparents. My Grandfather was a farmer who raised tobacco in East Tennessee. He had a barn and an old smokehouse where for much of my childhood, he continued the old ways of doing things. His mother and sister, my Great-Grandmother and Great Aunt, raised flowers to sell downtown on Market Square Mall and that was the reason they all were so talented at making things with their hands. The winter months had to be supplemented with sales of something, and that something was holiday decorations, wreaths and dried flowers.

When the holidays approached, sometime after the first few frosts had hit, it was time to make Christmas wreaths. My Grandpa was a master at this. He would go into the woods to cut grapevines for the base of the wreaths, evergreens such as hemlock (although they called it cedar), boxwood and pine branches, holly leaves and berries, and gather pinecones for various decorations. Mistletoe would be shot out of the tops of trees after all the winds had stripped the branches bare. This was always an opportunity for small grandchildren to tag along and chatter his head off as he gathered everything into big burlap bags.

Bags and bags of greenery would be carried back to the barn, set out on tables and the work would begin. Grapevines would be cut and wound into circles for the base of the wreaths. Strong baling twine would be used to secure everything to the grapevine bases. My task, because my hands were too small to pull the twine tightly enough, was to pull small swatches of evergreens from the branches and hand them to my Grandpa as he built the wreaths.

He would have buckets of water set out that he would pour metalic paint - gold, silver, bronze - onto the surface. Pinecones would be tied to twigs with string and dipped down into the water, emerging gilded by the metallic paint, then hung over a handy nail on the wall of the barn to dry. The same would be done at times with twigs of holly leaves and berries, wild grass seed pods and pine cones. I always loved that particular part of the whole process, watching the dark brown pine cones disappear into the water and come out shiny silver or gold.

The quiet gloom of the barn was peaceful and frosty cold in the early winter days. My brother and sister usually grew bored with the wreath making process in a short period of time, and would escape to play in the fields. I tended to stay there for hours on end, just sitting quietly, watching as the wreaths grew from such simple, humble beginnings into full, glossy, fragrant works of art. Chatter was not encouraged too much once we got back to the barn, but from what I remember, my Grandpa did enjoy the small jewels of wisdom that would come from my child's mind when I was "helping" him make those wreaths.

To this day, I can close my eyes and picture the ground floor of the barn and those work tables full of winter greenery. My Grandpa's hands were huge to my little girl's eyes and strong and tough enough to handle the prickly evergreens and holly branches with a deftness that to this day amazes me. He would work quickly, pulling that tough twine tight to bind the greenery to the grapevine hoops, scattering the decorative pinecones and berries in random patterns. Sometimes he would create something on a whim, such as a wreath made entirely out of straw. His eye for proportion and texture would serve him well as an artist today, I am sure.

For me, as a small child, what mattered most was getting the chance to just be with him and experience this important part of the holidays. The earthy scents of the barn would be spiked with the sharp, clear, tangy tones of the evergreen clippings. The chemical smell of the metallic paints would also punctuate the air. Yet above all of this was the absolute stillness of being out in the country on a winter morning. The winds whispering through the open barn doors, birds singing, squirrels chattering in the trees, the sounds of distant trains, and the occasional conversation shared between a three year old little girl and a Grandpa in his work overalls, who to that little girl, could work magic with his hands.

Years later, my Mom and I tried our hand at making some Christmas wreaths and I was astonished at how challenging a task it truly is. Our results were pretty, but tended to shed some greenery here and there where we failed to pull the twine tightly enough.

It is an art that is becoming fully mechanized these days, the making of wreaths. I find that to be a bit of a shame. There were occasional years when lots of family would visit around Christmas and we would all sit around and make wreaths; this was always a wonderful thing, full of the typical laughter that occurs when family comes together. The fact is, making holiday wreaths isn't for the faint of heart - it requires dexterity, long hours of labor, strong hands and an exacting eye for placement of greenery. I can understand why they are now being mass produced. While the ones I've made would never stand up to my Grandfather's critique, I do retain the knowledge of what I consider to be a noble art.

When I do attempt to make wreaths on my own, it is always with the memories of watching my Grandpa flowing through my mind, reminding me of simpler times spent in the barn, watching a true artist at work. He would scoff at being called such a title, but this is what I see as a strong truth. I think he enjoyed in a very deep manner the beauty he produced and the enjoyment his wreaths gave to so many. He would have called himself a simple farmer, and he was that very thing. My mind also saw him as a man with artistic hands, capable of producing beautiful works of art each holiday season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Belief and transparency

When I began the process of blogging, I had no idea how it would grab hold of my whole Spirit and become such a joyful experience. I have always written, have always held the intent to achieve certain goals with my writing and have been quietly putting those steps in place over time. Blogging sort of fell into my lap unexpectedly and has proved to be an outlet for creativity in a manner that is unique for me. Here, I do not have to please any specific client, adhere to any other schedule or format than the timeframe and template I choose for my blog page, and even those can be tweaked at will. Blogging, therefore, is one step removed, for me, from journaling. Where journaling is my innermost private thoughts written in longhand in artist's sketchbooks, blogging is almost as personal a creative process, written on the computer screen.

That very fact has become a learning process all its own. It starts out relatively simple. You start writing and you post a blog. Then you tell friends about it. At some point, you stumble across ways to promote your blog and you begin to amass people who follow your blog. That's when the realization begins to settle in that, as a result, blogging makes you transparent. By that, I mean that your thoughts are out there for the world to see, via the internet, with the stroke of a key. Hence, what began as just another writing exercise takes on new meaning. People post comments and send emails, replying to a given blog with positive or negative statements. You, as the author of the blog, learn from these comments and you grow as a writer. And you accept that you have chosen to continue to embrace this path of relative transparency. I think a quote by one of my favorite Sages addresses this concept quite well:

"When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."

~ Winnie the Pooh

This, then, is where I come to the "belief" part of the title of this blog. When I sit down to write a blog, it is 100% of the time because I've had a conversation with someone, read something, heard a song, looked at, or experienced something beautiful and my mind will not leave me alone until I get the words written. I never know how any given blog post will be received by the people who read it. In fact, when friends who follow my blog tell me they read a post, or that they follow my blog faithfully, it still has the power to shock me a bit. Perhaps all creative people have that reaction, not really truly believing in their own talent. This is another indelible lesson that blogging is teaching me - to believe in my own talent.

I have learned over a lifetime of writing, that for me, it is best to just write it out and not critique it too harshly in one sitting. Walk away from it and return the following day, see how it reads from a fresh perspective - this is my normal process. When I adhere to that formula, I am usually quite pleased with what I have created. There are, however, quite often moments when I think that a blog post, or an article I've written just doesn't really hit the note for which I was striving. The final draft doesn't seem to flow freely along with the melody in my mind. Again, I have learned to ignore those doubts, tweak the final draft to the best of my ability and post it. I am finding that a very large number of the posts I have wrestled with a niggling sense of doubt about, in fact, turn out to be the ones that people post the most comments about. Postive comments, at that.

One friend, in email conversation mentioned that (paraphrased here), "...you felt at the time that it deserved the focus and attention to write it out. I believe that means it should live."

This was in response to my self-doubts and wondering if I had written something too similar to a recent post and if I should delete the post I felt to be of duplicate content.

Another very dear friend and fellow blogger commented on my most recent post, entitled Musical Thoughts with glowing remarks that completely smoothed out those ever present niggling doubts I had had about that post. For a few long moments, I contemplated just not posting that blog entry, for fear that my concept was bit too outlandish for most people to relate to. I was beyond pleased when this friend wrote such positive comments and indicated that I had made an impact in the way he viewed writing. For me as a writer, that is the ultimate compliment and one that I will treasure. It tells me that if I stay in that calm, quiet assurance I have when I am writing, and trust myself and my instincts, the words will flow and will have that impact I am seeking to impart.

There are moments when I write a blog that everything sparkles, the planets all align and the words flow effortlessly, with the final result just making my heart sigh in pleasure. Those moments are more rare than some might expect. Writing is definitely hard work, full of inner struggles, frustrations and tons of doubt, I have found.

So, for me, belief, transparency and Pooh's comments about "Things suddenly not being so Thingish when other people get a look at them" have coalesced into a surprisingly comfortable combination. Indeed, those "Thingish Things" do change when others read them and I find that to be one of the most rewarding aspects of writing, blogging, etc. My own decision to believe in my writing ability and take the next logical step into the transparent world of blogging has opened up a panorama of Thingish Things. While I still struggle occasionally with typical moments of doubt, the greater and stronger result is that I am discovering new depths, layers and dimensions of writing and blogging. Consequently, I am receiving confirmation that perhaps I am making a difference to a small number of people in the process. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that someone has read my stuff and enjoyed the experience. It doesn't get much better than that, so, here's to continuing to embrace belief and transparency.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Musical thoughts

Photo: parklandmusicalacademy.com
Last night I was reading about Einstein. I've always found him to be a fascinating character, as much for his personality, humor and quirky observations as for his scientific achievements. According to his contemporaries, he was a bit of an odd bird in many ways, which seems to highlight the warm side of his nature that much more. Perhaps, though, I am extrapolating - only those close to him could say if the man was warm-natured. I will say this much; Einstein provides a great deal of inspiration and contemplation for me on a wide range of topics. Today's inspiration comes back to one that I draw from frequently....music.

"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music...I draw most joy in life out of music." ~ Albert Einstein

I found it fascinating to read that particular passage. Hmm, I thought, another soul who thinks (or thought when he was living) the way that I do, and it turns out to be Einstein. Go figure. I am in no way equating my mindset to that of a scientific genius. In fact, I find the comparison and similarity to be rather unusual. I've noted in a past blog my own particular absorption with music and lyrics. This is something I have always experienced and for a good many years, I just assumed everyone else viewed the world in a similar manner. When I found this to be untrue, I admit to being a bit stunned. Confused might be a better word. I just wasn't prepared to learn that, no, most people don't get caught up in the layers of music and the tiny shifts in wording and lyrics the way that I do. I'm not kidding - this was a revelation to me, around the age of eleven. Over time, I also discovered that people like me, who relate strongly to music, often seem to have a strong eye for gradations of color. I would love to know the genetic reasoning behind those traits seeming to co-exist. Little things like this just rivet my attention.

I can tell you one thing for certain - throwing the topic out for discussion can spark some deeply interesting conversations. I have a close girlfriend who thinks, daydreams, breathes in mathematical equations. That absolutely captivates me, simply because my brain doesn't work with linear logic the way that her brain does. To her, I daresay, mathematics is a form of equational poetry. It has a cadence that makes sense to her, and that makes her heart sing. I have a cousin who thinks, daydreams and breathes all things mechanically related. He can listen to a car motor and his ear picks up some infinitesimal nuance that the rest of us are deaf to hearing. His hands are as delicate and talented as any brain surgeons as he works on restoring classic cars and the finished projects are dazzling to the senses.

I guess that I can sum this post up by saying that we all have our own unique Einstein-ian musical thoughts. It manifests differently, and beautifully in each of us, specific to the harmony of our individual spirits. While music definitely is the primary manner in which my own thoughts drift and flow, I'm not musically gifted in regard to playing a musical instrument or singing. Therefore, my thoughts eventually translate into words. Putting words on paper is my tangible application of musical thoughts. It delights me to create with words, splashing them with mad fervor at times, brushing them lightly and softly as a sigh at other moments. All the while, during my creative moments, in my mind are my own Einstein-ian musical thoughts.

I admit to wondering how Einstein might regard this blog, sparked by what may have been some random comment he made in passing. Would he find it interesting? Would he nod in companionable understanding? Would he shake his head in doubt that I missed his point entirely? Of course it doesn't really matter, but those thoughts flit about in my writer's mind and I enjoy the various scenarios. I just know that once I read the above quote last night, the thoughts began to swarm in my head, much like the lyrics of a song that demands to not be forgotten. I knew that a blog was the inevitable result and here I am, finishing up. I, too, live my daydreams in music....and I translate them into a reality and my own personal symphony, of words. I count myself fortunate that the result always makes me happy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Photo:  www.naturesdry.com
This is an ode to....sundried tomatoes and green apples. Why, you ask? Because I love them both, is my reply.

Sundried tomatoes....they bring to mind long, endless sultry summer days. The early morning spent gathering plump, small, sweet tomatoes to cut and lay out on mesh screens, bared to the ruthless rays of the summer light. Small hands venturing a swift touch to ascertain whether the ruby flesh has yet reached that perfect chewy consistency for a stolen snack. Adult hands swatting us away to play in the fields as screens are patiently tended, flipped, and moved to follow the sun's path over the course of the lazy, slow day. Cheesecloths are used to discourage insects and opportunistic bees, although the occasional foray by curious birds happens here and there.

The scent redolent of summer, tangy, causing mouths to water in expectation of a tart explosion of sensation on the tongue. Rich, dark red as they dry, the tomatoes taking on a curious leathery texture, rattling dryly as they are packed into bags for storage. In the winter months, pulled out to produce flavorful meals, sauces and condiments. Rehydrated, the heady bouquet of summer fills the kitchen and brings back memories of summers long past.

Photo:  www.greenbulk.com/-c-.html

Summer wanes and fall brings fruit to the small wizened green apple trees in the fields. More harvesting, preparation and plump fruit layed out on drying screens. Fat, lazy bees buzz about the crisp white flesh of the small apples, the drone soporific and soothing. Bright green notes of flavor hover over the screens, pushing appetites beyond bearing and lightening the drying screens in a surreptitious manner known to all small children. What better forbidden treat than fresh cut, slowly drying apples, fragrant and warm from the sun? I can close my eyes and bring to mind those days, when I was barely tall enough to reach up to the drying screens set on wooden sawhorses in my Aunt Carrie's backyard.

Gentle again, those memories of childhood, as they scroll fluidly through my mind's eye. Fruit dried in the most old fashioned manner producing treats throughout the rest of the year, both savory and sweet delights. Winter kitchens filled with zesty, robust tomato fragrance, followed by rich, tongue-tingling, spicy-sweet apple pies and fritters. Flaky buttery pastries melting in the mouth, eyes closed in rapturous enjoyment. All produced with humble mesh screens, wooden sawhorses, judicious exposure to the warm summer sun and time spent with family. What better reason to wax rhapsodic in this small, personal ode to the fruits and labors of distant childhood memories.

Lamp shining brightly

A couple of friends of mine are going through some challenges. One lost a beloved family member; another was just having a really crummy personal day. The quote below came to mind for both of them and prompted me to write my own thoughts:

"Perhaps it will seem to you that the sunshine is brighter and that everything has a new charm. At least, I believe this is always the result of a deep love. And it is a beautiful thing. And I believe people who think love prevents one from thinking clearly are wrong; for then one thinks very clearly and is more active than before. And love is something eternal - the aspect may change, but not the essence. There is the same difference in a person before and after he is in love as there is in an unlighted lamp and one that is burning. The lamp was there and it was a good lamp, but now it is shedding light too, and that is its real function. And love makes one calmer about many things, and in that way, one is more fit for one's work."
~ Vincent Van Gogh

I have always found this quote to be startlingly beautiful. The concept captures so many different applications of how we, as humans, love. It also narrows the reader's focus to a still, silent thought, a moment to ponder love and how it illumines each Soul.

We all have those unpleasant days - at times they can go beyond the span of a day - where nothing feels good. Nothing seems to fit, colors are muted and sounds are muffled. We twist and turn, searching for something outside of ourselves to mitigate this dimming effect. At times, something outward does do the trick. There are moments which require only a change in scenery, or the company of a good friend to lift our mood and banish the gloom. For the moments that extend beyond those quick fixes, Van Gogh's quote sometimes comes to mind for me.

For those who have suffered the recent loss of a deeply loved one, the process of grief is an individual one. Each of us must walk that particular path alone, moving through the various stages until acceptance finally is met. Love from those still here can certainly prove to be a lifeline which we all grasp hold of. There will be, without a doubt, days of darkness to navigate in solitude. Days where your heart is sore with loss and nothing seems capable of soothing. Again, I come back to Van Gogh's quote.

Love is a fickle creature, of a certainty. It is also that which lifts us, transports us to joyous bliss, fills us up with fizzing delight, warms us with a soft, lambent inner glow. We can be pitched into the depths of despair by love, left sprawled on the floor, completely undone and broken. That light...that lamp which Van Gogh identifies as the analogy and symbol of love....it is always there. It may require effort on our part at times to light, or to shelter from whipping winds of change. I daresay we should consider ourselves dutiful stewards of our individual lamps. Without constant care, the lamp can grow dull, can become depleted of sufficient fuel to shine brightly in the darkness.

It is perhaps very simplistic to claim that printing a quote from long ago might have the power to lift the hearts of those reading this blog post. A friend having a challenging day might not feel like being coaxed into a better mood by Van Gogh's perspective. The friend in the midst of fresh, sharp grief and the loss of a loved one might not have the energy to even think about reading a blog post. Others dealing with their own challenges may brush this off as just another blog post full of self-indulgent optimism, hearts and flowers and those inevitable rose-colored glasses that this writer insists on wearing. All of the above have merit. I cannot claim to have miraculous answers or solutions for those who are in the midst of their own personal struggles.

What I can do, however, is reach out in my own personal fashion. I can share the quote above in the sure knowledge that, if it touched my heart and continues to have value for me, most likely it will touch others and inspire. I think that Van Gogh's words are beautiful, full of hope, that they communicate a wish for those reading the words to have courage and believe in the fact that love is eternal.

"...the aspect may change, but not the essence."

We forget, often, in the midst of our personal moments of crisis, that love is an eternal constant. It truly is the most powerful emotion in existence and can banish a crummy day in the twinkling of an eye. Soothing broken hearts obviously requires much more time and effort, but the eternal nature of this emotion, coupled with the healing application of time, is again that one endless constant. How fortunate we are, then, that brilliant minds took time to write personal thoughts for us to read hundreds of years later; to be encouraged, to be inspired, to be gently wrapped in the words of love and brought through those maelstrom moments to calmer shores.

We can believe...and know, for it is true, that our lamp shines brightly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Age old dichotomy

Photo:  wojemusic.com
So, I was chatting with a friend via email earlier today, about the various and sundry basic differences between the sexes. A guy friend, to be specific. Somehow, in the midst of several other topics, we got off on a tangent of the differences between men and women. You all have probably at least heard of that book, the one that throws out Mars vs. Venus mentality. While at times, I think that concept is somewhat simplistic in approach, it cannot be denied that there is truth there.

I had been venting in an email earlier in the week, and this friend did what had to be a very difficult thing for him, which was that he just listened. He wrote back that it definitely was his nature to automatically "fix things" but that he understood that, sometimes, women really do just want men to listen. How about that, ladies....a man who really does recognize that simple truth! He admitted that he "got it" but also admitted that his knee-jerk tendency is always going to be to just jump right in and fix the situation in a typically manly fashion. I'm joking at bit at the expense of all men, of course. They could shoot right back with their own pithy comments on our typically female tendencies.

The whole spark for this conversation was that this guy friend really, really (no, REALLY) likes to fix things. It's just his nature. My nature is that I like to really, really (no, REALLY) analyze things. While I was replying via email, my mind drifted back to a conversation that I had had with a group of girlfriends, probably a good twenty years ago. It was about the silly things we all do when home alone that we would rarely admit to anyone.

For example, I still am not that comfortable letting a hand or foot dangle off the side of the mattress in the middle of the night because, well, the Thing That Lives Under The Bed could grab me. I've always wondered, honestly, do men think these things? Or even worry about them? Or is it just a female tendency? And if men don't think or worry about such things, what are their quiet little secrets that they'd simply die before admitting to us?

Getting back to the subject of men vs. women, yes, it probably doesn't make sense that we females do want to vent to you men, but we don't necessarily want you to fix things - we want you to listen. I'm repeating that concept, because it tends to make men just sort of stop and stare with a puzzled expression, or perhaps scratch your head a bit.

"'Just listen, she says,'" you echo. "No killing, or conquering necessary. Hmmph. Go figure."

We know you probably don't get exactly why we want that, because you're much more comfortable with fixing the issue at hand. Fixing means action is involved and that's a comfortable spot for men. Listening involves, well, listening and not blasting testosterone.

I.e., in your most reasonable, manly tone, you much prefer to say to us, "Just show me what to aim at so I can kill it for you and we can go eat dinner."

I went on to say that, conversely, we females don't get how, when there's a creepy noise outside, you men automatically leap out of bed, grab the nearest bashing-their-brains-out tool at hand, and go OUTSIDE to investigate. We women know that that's what the bed linens are for - to pull over your head and wait until the creepy noise goes away. However, this practical attitude changes somewhat if you're going to leave us alone, in the dark, in the bedroom while you go stalk the creepy noise.

In that case, we suddenly become a big fan of your manly qualities, leap from the bed and plaster ourselves to your heels as you stalk that creepy noise. That way, we're assured of the fact that we won't die in that darkened bedroom all alone while you're OUTSIDE, investigating. This is when it immediately makes perfect sense to suddenly embrace the logic of the opposite sex. Women recognize that the person left in the darkened bedroom, or living room, etc., in any B-grade horror movie is the one that dies first, and usually, most hideously. Men are more concerned with bashing something a good lick or two so they can come back inside, dust their hands off and fall into bed to sleep the sleep of a job well done.

Personally, I'd love to have that approach at times, because it is direct, to the point and it seems so simple and efficient. Is that my nature? Of course not! Being the analytical type that I am, I prefer to poke at the situation, circle around it, maybe shift it a few inches over to that side, then maybe push it right back where it started, then have a cup of hot tea while I think about it from another angle. This would drive most self-respecting manly men quietly out of their minds, I realize. Not to mention the fact that if it were one of those B-grade horror movies, I'd have already gotten my head and my hand lopped off when I poked at the issue to begin with.

This is how my writer's imagination takes hold of a tiny thread of thought and just dives in with creative enthusiasm. I can't help it. Questions start to swim in my brain, demanding answers.

When men are all alone for a long weekend, say that their spouse or significant other is on a business trip, do they tend to leave more lights on throughout the house at night? That girlfriend conversation I mentioned from years ago shared some hilarious examples of what women do when their spouse or boyfriend is away for more than one night, and I must point out that many of them had to do with avoiding The Thing That Lives Under The Bed. This made me feel SO much better that I wasn't the only person alive who is leery of that critter!

One anecdote involved a girlfriend taking a running leap to jump into bed from several feet away, thus avoiding walking right up to the mattress and running the risk of getting her ankle grabbed by The Thing. (Apparently, it is Universally recognized by all females that when the guy is home, The Thing isn't as brave about grabbing ankles or a dangling over the mattress hand. Again, it's probably something about testosterone being present.) She went on to tell us that she kept a stack of books on the bedside table to throw at the wall switch to turn off the overhead light, rather than do her running leap in the dark. She also slept right slap in the center of the mattress so that The Thing wouldn't know which side she would jump out of in the morning - and her exit, similar to her entry, was a huge, giant leap that she made certain spanned a good three feet from the edge of the mattress, guaranteeing that her Exit Strategy placed her well beyond the territory of the dreaded Ankle Grab Zone. I hadn't ever thought of that maneuver, but I do remember laughing so hard at the tales admitted to in that conversation that I was crying and my face was cramping up.

It's the eternal debate - men and women really DO approach things differently. I can guarantee that anyone reading this blog is sitting there, sagely nodding....men and women alike, with myriad scenarios running through their mind that make complete sense to their specific gender, but would mystify the other gender completely. I would also hazard a guess that the biggest percentage of those scenarios are just downright funny if you were to put them into written format. If you're so inclined, after reading this blog, please feel free to share your own Mars vs. Venus anecdotes in the Comments section. I'm always up for hearing more hilarious anecdotes and variations to a theme!

There really isn't a higher-minded, spiritual purpose to this particular post. The friend I was chatting with via email just pointed out to me that I had entertained him with a few brief comments on the subject and suggested it might make for a good blog topic. I agreed, and sat down to write on the topic and this is what I finished with. It is meant to read as a lighthearted, good-natured view of both sexes and how we uniquely approach life. If I made you laugh, then my job was well done and I'm happy. I have laughed multiple times while writing out the memories and the various scenarios. Laughter is healing and joyful, so perhaps that could be considered the spiritual application of this blog entry.

Men and women are intrinsically different with our respective approaches to life, and therein lies that ages old, humor-filled, eternally fascinating, dichotomy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lawn chair circles

How many people are old enough to remember the yearly spring ritual of refurbishing lawn chairs? I'm not quite sure what the correct term would be. I'm speaking of the process of buying new rolls of plastic strips of materials and replacing the seats and backs of all the lawn chairs for the new year. This required patience and skill, because if you didn't get the strips woven and secured tightly enough, the seats of the chairs would sag and tear.

In a brief side note, I am from a very large family. My Mom is one of nine siblings, and our family is unusually close. We were fortunate enough to live next door to my maternal grandparents when I was a child, and this meant that our house was the hub of all visiting activities throughout any given year. Holidays, summer weekends, etc., there always seemed to be someone visiting. This meant that a large number of lawn chairs were necessary to have on hand. They were stored out of the weather for the winter months, but the nature of the materials used to create the seats and backs almost always necessitated a yearly refurbishing session.

A day would be set aside to revamp all the lawn chairs, and scissors, screwdrivers and lots of hands were required. This process usually took a few hours and involved lots of laughter, stories and discussion. The adults would do the measuring and cutting of the plastic webbed strips of material, and the kids would do the weaving, in and out, of the strips. The edges would be folded neatly and a screw would be punched through and secured into the aluminum chair frame, bolting each strip down. Once the newly restored lawn chairs were finished, the inevitable front yard visiting would ensue.

This same type of thing would also occur at my Aunt Carrie's house, which was just down the lane from my grandparent's house. Aunt Carrie's house had a front porch, a porch swing and great big tree in the front yard that was perfect for climbing. Depending on the day, the number of people visiting, and what was going on, we would congregate at Aunt Carrie's front porch where the porch swing, the glider and various cane chairs, benches and rocking chairs existed. If any of the myriad grandkids (approximately 27 of us) grew bored, that big tree would beckon to be climbed, or the front yard would become the staging ground for any number of games. Sometimes, if the occasion was really special, the hand-cranked ice cream maker would be brought out. Rock salt would be poured inside and everyone would take a turn cranking the handle to produce that wonderful ice cream. To my way of thinking, porch swings and rocking chairs just invite people to settle down, sit and visit. Aunt Carrie's porch was always another gathering spot when people visited.

I miss those days. Times have changed so drastically that people don't spend much time joining together on the front lawn or front porch, talking. Television, computers, computer games and all manner of technology seem to have pulled our attention away from socializing face to face. I rarely even see those old fashioned lawn chairs anymore. The new portable fold-out styles seem to be taking over.

I can close my eyes and still see the circle of lawn chairs in my grandparent's front yard. There was a huge Weeping Willow tree that provided a fairytale enclosure beneath its graceful branches. To the right side of the house, my Grandpa grew squash in a small patch. This provided reeds that all my uncles could, with a pocket knife, magically create whistles for all the grandkids to play with. We could also make whistle whips with willow switches - stripping all but the top cluster of leaves off the switch, then swinging the switch in a circle would produce a high pitched whistling sound. There were games to play as the lightning bugs would begin to twinkle in the late evening light. Swing the Statue, Mother, May I?, Red Light-Green Light, Tag, etc. Parents were right there in the lawn chair circle to dole out hugs, kisses and to referee inevitable squabbles and doctor up small hurts. Unless a bone was broken, we were given a kiss and a hug, and sent back to continue to play. A black walnut tree around the side of the yard, along with a small vegetable garden provided ample opportunity to occupy eternally hungry stomachs.

If some of the adults were willing to play with us, that was even better. Uncles would swing us by our hands, or let us walk on their feet, give us piggyback rides, and sometimes play tag or wrestle, or climb Aunt Carrie's big tree. Television was not something we even thought about all that much in those days. The outdoors provided so much to explore, and those front yard lawn chair chats were a daily occurrence. Sometimes they morphed into late night lawn chair chats, where everyone would gather in the front yard to talk and star gaze. The quiet of the country nights, trains echoing softly in the background, crickets and cicadas singing all around, and the sounds of conversation drifting interspersed with many moments of laughter...these are the things I remember so clearly.

For several years, there was a brown rabbit that would creep to the edge of the front yard at my Grandpa's front yard to listen to us talk. We noticed him one late afternoon, just sitting there, listening. The next several days, there he would be, in his same spot. At some point, my Grandpa began leaving scraps of food for the rabbit and he became a daily fixture, sitting quietly at the edge of the yard, listening to the conversations and laughter long after he had nibbled his way through his late afternoon snack. I always found that fascinating, that a wild animal would be drawn to listen to a group of people talking and laughing.

These are memories from my childhood that I treasure. I don't know what brought the yearly ritual of refurbishing the lawn chairs to mind, but it sparked this post. I guess that our childhood always seems to be full of simpler times, memories and experiences, hazed in our minds in that soft, gentle glow of happiness and security. I have always dreamed of having a home in the country like that, perhaps, with luck, to build on our family land. My ideal home would have a front porch, like Aunt Carrie's, with a porch swing, rocking chairs and benches aplenty. Ideally, front porch and/or front yard lawn chair conversations will exist again in the not too distant future.

This is one old fashioned trait that I would like to see a resurgence of, with people actually coming together to socialize, visit and enjoy interacting directly with one another, without a single electronic entertainment device added into the mix. The simple shared pleasure of conversation, fellowship and laughter seems to be a dying art. Conversation, visiting and front yard lawn chair circles brought us together in such a simple manner, yet to my way of thinking, this is one of the reasons our family stayed so tightly bonded. We actually talked to one another, and listened. To this day, we all come together on a yearly basis for one large family reunion that is highly anticipated by all, and there are several smaller reunions that crop up here and there. Perhaps those old fashioned lawn chairs served a greater purpose than any of us realized all those years ago.