Friday, February 29, 2008

Almost Spring by Barbara Quinn

The days are growing longer, the sun is stronger and in spite of the fact that winter is still around trying to hold my attention with rude blasts of cold and ice, I know that these are desperate attempts, all sound and fury with very little to back them up. Already spring goods are on the shelves. The floral displays in the supermarket and the arrangements in the stores feature bunnies, and eggs, bright purples and oranges. There are stone frogs and mushrooms waiting for a garden home. I’ll be planting an herb garden again this year, and I’m looking forward to stashing the winter coat and pulling out the pale green spring jacket.

I’m grateful for the cycle of seasons, each one seductive, luring you in and charming you for a few weeks and then fading away. How good it is to be seduced again by the same seasonal familiar lover. Fall wraps around you like a warm blanket, all warm and toasty, dressed in soothing oranges and brown. Winter’s icy breath and chilly arms aren’t easy for me to warm up to, but I’m content to sit and listen and watch while winter does its thing. Spring’s fragrances and bursts of color are ever-changing and bursting with intensity, inciting an outdoor frenzy that arouses all the senses. Summer is my favorite time of year: lush, green and abundant, inviting lazy days basking in its sunny arms. It’s nice to have the variety and comforting to have future seasons to look forward to.

The earth will soon be ripe and ready for planting. My two peach trees will bud and the crocuses will poke their heads above ground. I’ll be outside more, welcoming spring’s arms of hope and promise. Bye, bye February!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Dedicated by Angie Ledbetter

A great man has passed on this week. Fr. Joe was 93 and lived his entire life in service of his church, congregation, and two campuses' worth of students and staff he dearly loved. Daily, no matter the weather, I'd see him shuffling around the large Pre-K through senior high campuses where I work. Even when he felt bad or his old feet were hurting, he never failed to make the journey. He did it every day, he told me, "To pray for all the kids here. Ya know...some of them don't have anyone else praying for them."


Fr. Joe's many kindnesses and selfless actions were admirable and memorable. I asked my fifth and sixth grade students to write a little something about this dear priest yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of thought and work they put into their papers. Many mentioned how much Father meant to their lives; his sense of humor; his love of football; but most often, how they just knew he was continuing to pray for them from heaven. What a fine tribute to a man with a servant's heart!


I work with several dedicated teachers and school staff personnel. Among my closest friends are those who give a great deal of time to volunteering, giving to others, and working for causes that move them. My father, President of Istrouma High School's Class of 55, maintains contact with all his classmates and helps organize reunions, get-togethers, and now city-wide 50s functions with other high schools' alums. These, and several more I haven't mentioned, inspire me to watch over the organizations, groups, beliefs, and people I believe in. They role model for me (and others) the importance of being truly dedicated, because none of these people see the fruits of their labors or rewards of their tireless work.


But, like Fr. Joe, their legacies and stories will live on long after their passing. Just ask anyone who had the good fortune of knowing or working with them. I extend my gratitude to these people who stay the course and continue their work long after most people have folded up their tents and gone home. Bravo and amen to you!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Where's the Magic? by Kat Magendie

Yesterday, I awoke and thought, “Hey, today’s my birthday.” But, by time I shuffled to the coffee pot, I’d gone on to other thoughts—what I needed to do that day: edits, writing, emails, rehearsals. Too much to do. I sighed, poured a cup. There, on the counter, I spotted a gift and card. Ah, presents! That’s always a nice reminder that it’s a special day. After opening my gift, finishing my coffee, and taking my mountain walk, I let Birthday slip away. Sure, at times I’d suddenly think, “Oh yeah! Today’s my birthday.” But where was the magic?

When I was a kid, I anticipated my birthday weeks before it arrived. And, on that day, I’d wait in giddy anticipation of my present and my cake. The wait for evening was excruciating. One birthday stands out—the year my mother decorated my cake like a scene from Cinderella, but a Cinderella that fit me, not a tall sparkly blond. On top of thick pink icing sat a carriage, a beautiful dark-haired doll, and my favorite Black Stallion horse to lead the charge. It was the most beautiful cake I’d ever seen. I stared at it, as kids will do, with that sense of magic and joy and happiness…mine mine mine! It was all for me. And second best to the cake and present, my four brothers had to take a back seat to Me. When did I let that magic slip away?

That afternoon, as I headed to Canton Middle School, where once a week I visit the kids in their after-school program, my thoughts were on things I’d left unfinished. I felt stressed and hurried, most decidedly un-birthday-like. The only reminders of birthday were the cupcakes I’d made for the kids. Ah, but those kids, unbeknownst to me, knew it was my birthday. And they were ready. When I entered the room, they sang out Happy Birthday to Kat. They’d decorated the room with balloons, and had made a large card, signed and decorated with sparkles and bright colors. Some had decorated balloons and shyly handed them to me to take home. I looked around the room, the surprise; I am sure, evident on my face. Those kids made my birthday feel like Birthday, like the special day birthdays should be. There’s my magic. Right there. When I left the school with my gifts from the kids, I was grinning like a fool. Happy Birthday to Me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Internet by Nannette Croce

Recently, I was contacted by someone who read an old book review of mine on Amazon. We’ve continued a correspondence on our common interest, late 19th century American History. In his most recent email my cyberfriend expressed something I’ve felt for a long time.

Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

It is common these days for older writers, as well as many others, to condemn the Internet for a decline in reading among young adults. The Internet does have its drawbacks, but while the last half of the 20th century––most of which I lived through––brought any number of new technologies into our homes, I can’t think of anything, including TV, that rocked my world like the personal computer and the Internet.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as ten years ago book reviews were the purview of the elite. There was no venue for the average reader to express opinions.

My interest in late 19th century history would have dwindled, like my interest in other periods before, along with the limited number of books available in my local bookstores and libraries. I now have access, not just to every new book on the subject, but out of print books as well. I’ve read the original letters of General Sherman archived online, viewed old photos from the Library of Congress and used historical maps to assist my understanding of a battle.

I have engaged in stimulating correspondence with people who share my interests whom I would never have met in my suburban community. My writing has reached people in many different parts of the world, and I number among my closest friends people I’ve never met face to face, like the special women with whom I am sharing this Year of Gratitude

Monday, February 25, 2008

Manatee Therapy by Barbara Quinn

I was lucky to escape New York's winter for a few days. I visited Anna Maria Island, near Sarasota, on Florida’s west coast, in aptly named Manatee County home to many of the creatures. The beach was a short walk from my friend’s house, through a grove of banyan trees. The air was clean and soft, the sand silvery bright and so hard-packed that sneakers were the best thing to wear for walking. I didn’t sink into the sand. Rather, I crunched along the shell-filled surface.

Dozens of pelicans flew overhead and then dive-bombed straight down to the turquoise water to catch fish. The shells on the beach were tiny and pastel-colored, reminding me of the sunsets which were muted grays, pinks and blues. Apparently sharks like to feed offshore at sunset so I avoided swimming then and was happy to watch the dolphins cavort. Last year, an egret visited the house in the morning. He moved slowly, stalking insects, his white body in stark contrast to the greenery. A neighbor told me he’s partial to hot dogs. Maybe that diet did him in since he didn’t appear this year.

I enjoyed watching all the different wildlife: the lizards, the green parrots, the cormorants, ibis, herons, and most of all the manatees. I saw several of the huge, brown critters hanging out in local canals. These gentle, endangered creatures know how to live. They are herbivores who eat pounds of grasses in deep cool waters and then seek out the sunny shallow canals where they hang out near the surface to get warm, their brown bodies looking like stones rising out of the water. They’re big and lazy and staring at them makes you slow down too. I had no trouble making like a manatee, eating my fill of grouper and local fish instead of grass, and then lying down on the beach in the sun. It’s time to hit the treadmill before I am mistaken for a manatee.

The manatees are onto something. There’s nothing like plopping down someplace and watching what’s happening around you, especially when the place is warm and sunny. The worries and troubles of daily life slip away. Now that I’m home in winter I lie in bed at night and remember what it was like to sun myself on the beach. And instead of counting sheep I count manatees.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Unthinkable by Angie Ledbetter

Your doctor has given you the worst possible news: you have a fatal disease and a dire prognosis for life expectancy. Your fears are overwhelming. Already, you feel sick and “less than” your former self. How will you spend your remaining time?

Someone dear to me is facing these same questions, and I’ve already lost a few loved ones to cancer. So I ask myself from time to time, How would you handle it? What would you do with the rest of your life?

It’s not a subject anyone wants to think about, but what if you were forced to? I wonder if I would be strong and live with courage and hope? Or would I give up and mourn the loss of extra days? I can’t say for sure, but I hope I’d take the higher path, the harder road.

The thought of an untimely death makes me value each day on this earth even more. I try to fully live out each moment...no matter if it is from inside a concession stand doing school team volunteering, or visiting with someone I love. I try every day to let those whom I love know it. I force myself not to grouse over inconveniences or negative events. I want to see the goodness every day has to offer, and mark it by my noticing. I am grateful for early morning alarms ringing, and I am thankful each night when I put my head on a soft feather pillow.

A friend sent me a true story which helped cement my gratitude for life. I hope you enjoy it too, then pass it on to those you care about. Randy Pausch has pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live. He is a popular professor at Carnegie Mellon University. His message is taken from his “final lecture” to beloved students. Pausch has three young children and an unbelievably heroic attitude. His appearance on Oprah has been downloaded over a million times, so just maybe his words are being heard: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8577255250907450469

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pool Ladies, by Kat Magendie

Recently, I bought a pass to the gym to get that extra resistance training I’d been craving. During my warm-up, I walk a treadmill that faces the pool. It is there that I watch them—the Pool Ladies. They all look to be in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. Without self-consciousness, they promenade the length of the pool, heads held high, their multi-colored bathing suits modest, but still exposing all the flesh that bathing suits will expose. Then, one by one, they enter the pool, down the concrete steps, wade through the water in a ragged single file, and begin their water aerobics.

They are as graceful as dancers in their purpose. I imagine aches and pains and stiffness are forgotten as the water cradles them, holds them buoyant. Their lower bodies waver in the water, strong legs that have carried them through their years; and their upper bodies sway, chests that hold hearts that loved or broke, arms that carried babies or burdens, hands that stroked fevered brows or clapped with happiness or held palms together for wishes they never knew would come true, and perhaps some never did.

I watch them with envy. I want to project myself down in the water with them. I want to be a part of the Pool Ladies. Then I do imagine myself with them. I am wearing a bright red bathing suit, one I found at JC Penny’s on sale for twenty-nine ninety-nine. We are chatting and laughing and telling our stories. But, once we are down those stairs, once our dance begins, there is silence, only the sound of water gently lapping against our bodies disturbs the solemnity of the moment.

Finally, the Pool Ladies exit the water, chatting again like birds on a fence. Their faces are animated, full of high color. One by one, they disappear from my view. I miss them. I slow the treadmill and step off, make my way to the weight room. I hope to see one of the Pool Ladies, but, if I did, what would I say? They know all the secrets I am to find out, and those secrets are not mine to have, not yet. Then I know—“Thank you for reminding me what I have to look forward to.” That’s what I’d say to the Pool Ladies.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Envy by Nannette Croce

Yes, I feel envy sometimes. There’s the “useful” envy that I’m not ashamed to admit. As when a new writer makes it into the New Yorker the first time out. That envy leads me to analyze the author’s writing and work at improving my own. Then there’s the “shallow” envy I hate to admit. What I feel about the woman at the gym, five years my senior, who doesn’t look good for her age. She looks good for any age with her tight figure and high cheek bones.

Truthfully, envy may be too strong a word, because, unlike when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t switch places with anyone anymore, not even a movie star or supermodel. With age I’ve learned that every life has its drawbacks.

In our teens it’s hard to sympathize with someone who needs to look absolutely perfect at all times. Most teens spend too much time trying to achieve perfection anyway. Why waste sympathy on someone who’s 90% there when she wakes up in the morning.

Envy is like a photograph. Everyone’s life looks better from afar than it does close up.

Now I see how women living in the tabloid spotlight are required to maintain tank-top figures even during pregnancy. And we've certainly learned that being a prince or princess or queen hardly gives one a pass on misery. Bill Gates worries about Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs worries about Bill Gates.

If only life were like that old McDonald's commercial––"have it your way." I'll have the high cheek bones but hold the philandering husband and obnoxious kid. It's not. Now when I feel the nibble of envy I think of all the wonderful things I have that the other person may not.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All the Tea in China by Barbara Quinn

I’m a tea drinker. My morning brew is hearty Irish since it has a nice caffeine kick. I’m grumpy in the morning, a slow starter. But once my tea has warmed me, and the fog of sleep dissipates, I become conversational and eventually pleasant, though my husband might say it’s more like noon before I’m truly civil. He too is grateful for my tea habit.

When it’s cold, I’ll brew a cup of green tea to get me through the chilly afternoon. In the summer I make pitchers of herbal teas to serve iced. In the evening, no matter the season, I finish off my meal with a pot of herbal or decaf tea. No more caffeine in the evenings for me. Decaf espresso ends some of my meals, iced coffee in the summer is a great pick-me-up, and no dinner is complete without wine, but tea is my most frequent beverage companion.

When I travel, I take a tiny immersion coil to heat my water. Any tea drinker will tell you that the coffee pots in hotel rooms make an awful cup of tea. Though I miss the tea my proper teapot makes, the coil heats the water in a minute or two providing a decent cup.

I use lemon, not milk or cream. When I was backpacking through Italy as a college student I became friendly with a young Roman fellow who was the concierge at my pensione. He quit his job to travel with me and our innocent romance turned to friendship. In the mornings he brought me tea in a white bowl with a large slice of lemon floating on top. That round slice looked like the Italian sun floating in my cup. I added a little sugar and was hooked by the tangy and sweet taste. Ever since then, I’ve drunk my tea with lemon.

Each morning when I float a slice of lemon in my cup, fond memories rise up. That slice of sunshine gives my eyes and brain something familiar to focus on, something that’s not blinking, or ringing or asking incessant questions. My tea with lemon waits to charm me, bring me pleasure, and propel me forward into my day. There is joy and comfort in familiar rituals and habits, even in something as simple as enjoying a cup of tea.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Terrific Teachers by Angie Ledbetter

“Modern cynics and skeptics...see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Teachers – where would we be without them? Working with special education students for the last three years, and now with “regular” ed. teaching Religion, I can say I’ve never met a bunch of harder working people. To teach, at least in my state of Louisiana, is a labor of love. Not a single person in this field is putting in 8 hour days (and then sometimes 4 or 5 more at home) for the fabulous paycheck. Teachers plant ideas, knowledge, and love of learning into fertile minds every day, and strive to keep things interesting in the classroom. I won’t mention the “unfertile” minds these masters of the schoolhouse have to deal with, because this is supposed to be uplifting and positive. *smile*

From Pre-K to college, it is teachers who keep kids’ brains from becoming totally absorbed with all things video and digital. Without teachers, I wonder if there would be continued book sells. Who else teaches our kids the importance of reading and literature? Who else does so much for so little? Teachers rarely get to see the fruits of their labor, and when they do, it is decades before a grown student returns to express his/her thanks for a job well done.

With increased incidents of horrifying campus killings, teachers should be earning hazardous pay instead of barely-above-poverty-level wages. And at least in my area, the three month summer is a distant memory. We don’t get out until mid- or late May and return on August 4th!

So, today I salute teachers, tutors, mentors, and all who impart knowledge to others, and do a great job...for the love of teaching. THANK YOU!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Come Rock With Me, by Kathryn Magendie

We are sitting together on my porch, you and I. A fat wind pushes against us, our hair tickles across our brows. We appreciate. Sun is out, and Old Moon is waiting. The bright birth of day easily changes to the deep illumination of the night. For Moon shines mystery even at daylight. We rock, pushing off with our right foot. To the left, a cardinal eats from the feeder. To the right, the little red squirrel chatters. We talk about our dreams, those of sleep, and those of our lives. We talk of regret, and old loves and old lives and wants and we talk of loves lost and lost loves. The air is easy between us, our hearts beat, and it is the rhythm of life.

Close your eyes, still your mind, take in a deep breath, and be. You can hear my breath sounds. We are connected by the earth. Listen to the creek sing. Feel the burst of wind. Smell the rich earth, the dark soil. To the ground we will return; we will feed and then be fed upon, symbiotic nourishing. Open your eyes. You can see my brown eyes deep and dark and as mysterious as the moon. I ask, Are you happy? Are you well? You say, Better than those, I am grateful.

The tree's boned branches sway. And there, beyond, mountain, forest, sky. The rock ancient and solid waits for our feet to stand upon it, where the ancestors stood, see what they saw, feel the wind they felt, enjoy the warmth of the sun as they did, cry and love and laugh waiting for Old Moon, just as they did. We rock; you and I, and we forget the things that once made us cry. We rock, and we forget the trails upon trails upon roads upon roads that we have walked with our head down, looking at our feet. Today, we look up. Today we see all. And every tear that we've ever shed runs into an ocean, and that ocean ebbs and flows and it is beautiful, for our pain has its own beauty, even if we can't always see this. We rock; there is nothing to take away and nothing else to give; there is nothing else but us and the wind and the mountains and the coming Old Moon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Case Against Pollyanna by Nannette Croce

These days if you call someone a Pollyanna, it’s not a good thing. Someone who insists on highlighting the good in even the darkest situations grates on people’s nerves.

As I recall from the Disney movie starring Hayley Mills, whenever anyone complained, Pollyanna responded with, “We should be glad though.” The story was meant to be a lesson in positive thinking. So how did the meaning get so turned around?

The truth is, Pollyannas don’t make very good friends, because friends don’t stop friends from venting.

Encouraging a good whine may seem strange in the context of A Year of Gratitude, but it’s one thing to look within ourselves to find what is good in our lives and encourage others to do the same. It’s another to shut down a friend’s healthy vent by reminding her she should be grateful to have kids, a spouse, parents or siblings still living, a job.

Venting may not solve problems, but as the term suggests, an escape valve for pent up frustrations helps us soldier on in circumstances we cannot or would not change, like caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dealing with the stresses of single parenthood.

I am grateful for my friends, both the ones I know in the real world and the ones I know only in my cyber-world, who allow me to vent from time to time, empathizing even when they cannot sympathize. I try to express my gratitude by returning the favor.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What The World Needs Now by Barbara Quinn

I’m grateful for this earth we live on. Every breath we take, every vista we view, is part of an amazingly complex system. I’m glad that more and more people are starting to realize how fragile this system is. When I saw a video of polar bears drowning in the Arctic due to too much of their habitat melting, I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen. It was horrifying. From where I sit, it seems that in one generation global warming has accelerated at a far more rapid pace than anyone ever imagined.

I’m grateful to have seen the shift toward acceptance of the fact that we do have a global warming problem. We have a problem, and we are capable of figuring out solutions to ensure the lives of future generations. Willie Nelson’s biodiesel (called BioWillie) is finally gaining some attention. There are hybrid cars, solar power, wave action, and wind power. Hydrogen fuel cells are starting to appear. We have a long way to go, but there’s no reason to believe that we can’t succeed. Hey, I don’t want my car to smell like French-fry oil, but I’ll accept that if that’s what it takes. Buy stock in that Little Tree car air-freshener company!

I’m also grateful that we have a dialog with China. Without China adopting some environmental rules, this mission to save the planet cannot succeed.

Here’s to the great science minds. You are what the world needs now. May your solutions spread throughout the world as quickly as you can think them up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Burdens & Stress by Angie Ledbetter

Burdens and stress are some of the bigger pieces of baggage most of us tote around on a daily basis. Sometimes we drag them like stones behind us, sometimes we’re able to shoulder them like a light backpack, and other times, we remember to put them down for a bit and just rest. The good thing about stress, obligations, responsibilities and worries is that they make us stronger people. They help us grow muscles where none previously existed. But we must also remember to get away from our baggage so it doesn’t become our whole identity or reason for living.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend sent me one of those rare Internet folklore emails that actually makes good sense. I don’t know who the author is, but it read something like this:

Whatever burdens you're carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Don't pick them up again until after you've rested a while. Here are a few ways to deal with life’s burdens:

*Keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
*Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.
*If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.
*If you lend someone $20 and never see them again, it was worth it.
*It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply being kind to others.
*Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.
*Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.
*Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.
*The second mouse gets the cheese.
*When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.
*Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.
*We could learn a lot from crayons...some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.
*A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Slip Sliding, by Kathryn Magendie

It's pitch black. I’ve inched my way from Waynesville to my little town, and I'm at the point I've dreaded since I left rehearsals for Bat Boy the Musical. Earlier, when I drove to Hart Theater, I knew better, but this is my first theater play and I didn’t want to let the other actors down. “Foolish!” I say to the night sky. “Foolish!” I say to the road that leads up to my house. I sit in my Subaru, the engine’s rumble doesn’t cover the creek’s cry—the only sounds to the mountain night. Fear curls itself into my insides and comes out of my pores in heated waves. For I am afraid that under the thin layer of snow is a thin layer of ice. Early morning, the temperatures were relatively high for February, but as the day went by, temperatures dropped, and by evening, it was below freezing. There’d been a few flakes of snow, but nothing major—but the roads were wet, and…well…did I say I knew better?

I take a deep breath and inch up the incline, another stupid mistake, and no sooner am I at its sharp point than my wheels begin a slow dreamy spin and then I am sliding backwards, into the pitchy night, sliding towards…towards—what is behind me? I can't remember how far of a dropoff, and…what else is back there? I know not to push my brakes—even though that's what my heart screams for me to do; instead, I turn my steering wheel and hope for the best. My face burns with anxiety, my body tenses, ready to plummet into darkness, into…where? Where? Blackness. Trees? A dropoff of how far? Rocks? Where where am I going?

The car suddenly stops. I take deep breaths, put my Subaru into park, pull up the emergency brake, open the window and gulp air. Cautiously, I open the car door and step into the cold dark night—my left rear tire is against a grouping of rocks. The mountain saved me. There’s nothing to do but leave the car and trek up the road to my house—I call Roger and he says, "I'm coming." And he did. We walk in the cold, up up the incline, and, finally, back into the warmth of my log house. I feel strangely exhilarated, and can’t quit babbling. Despite the terror I felt as I slid backwards in that slow dreamy slide, I wouldn’t live anywhere else—this mountain is my home; this mountain requires my respect, and this night the mountain reminded me my lesson. Respect nature. Respect the mountain. I walk onto our porch, and to the cold dark air I whisper, “Thank you for saving me…” The creek laughs. The night smiles. The mountain cradles. I go back inside.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Un-Sunny Valentine by Nannette Croce

Valentine’s Day. My expectations for this holiday were unrealistically heightened in first grade when Alan Green dumped most of his Valentine cards, including the special heart addressed to our teacher, into my mailbox. Ever since I’ve awaited an equally romantic display and come up short.

In the years between first grade and my senior year of high school I never had a boyfriend around Valentine’s Day. The boy I dated my senior year was too anti-establishment to buy into such a commercial holiday.

Until senior year of college the only Valentines I received came from my Mom––something no one wants past the age of ten. Then I was surprised with chocolates and a romantic card, not from the love of my life, a foreign student who didn’t know from Valentine’s Day, but from the guy I’d considered a “good friend” since freshman year. And no, I didn’t end up marrying him. It ruined our friendship and the rest of my senior year. (You were expecting maybe Jane Austen?)

Today my husband and I are going out to a little place that serves high tea on fine china. That is very Jane Austen, but I didn’t wait for an invitation or drop flirtatious hints on a man so calendar-challenged he once asked me the date for our annual Christmas Eve party. I invited him, and he rearranged important meetings to fit it in. We’ll enjoy the novelty of spending time together on a weekday afternoon. He may or may not remember a card, but he’s sure to buy me a little something from the gift shop on the way out.

I could pine for another Alan Green-type Valentine’s Day or I could appreciate the unique way my current man shows his love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream by Barbara Quinn

It’s good to be alive. And it’s good to be able to sleep.

When I was young I could sack out for 12 or 14 hours. Nothing woke me. Fire engines clanged, sirens sounded. I slept anywhere on anything. I still can drop off while waiting at a doctor’s office. And I’ve dozed in the dentist chair while waiting for the X-rays to develop. But more and more often I’m finding steady sleep at night to be an elusive acquaintance.

There are nights when I drop off without a problem only to wake a few hours later. Sometimes it's to heed nature, others to jot down a solution to a writing problem. Some nights I fall back asleep immediately. But then there are nights where it’s 3 am and I'm wide awake. I’ve learned to accept the oddities of my sleep habits. Usually after a couple of sleep deprived nights, my body crashes and I sleep well. I read an article that said that this notion that we need 8 straight hours of sleep is simply that, a notion. When there were fires to tend in the middle of the night, and animals to ward off, who could afford to sleep so long?

I’ve taken over the counter meds like Unisom, and Benadryl (which is the active ingredient in things like Tylenol PM). And I’ve tried Ambien and Ambien CR. I didn’t suffer any side effects, didn’t find myself vacuuming or covered in flour from a middle of the night baking spree. Nor did I sleep-drive. But I don’t like the idea of taking anything for too long. So I tough it out most of the time.

Like everything else, as I’ve aged my sleep has changed. I’m grateful for the peaceful sleep that does descend. And luckily, when it arrives, I still dream great dreams in bright color. Who needs TV?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wanna Swap? by Angie Ledbetter

It was a typical weekend full of “do this” and “do that” things. Let’s see...Friday started off with the awful 5:30 alarm clock. (Which reminds me, why am I always in the best sleep right when the alarm rings?) After morning carpool, I had 9 hours of working a school fundraiser. Next, my sister and I set up for a surprise 70th birthday party for our wonderful mom, and started early Saturday morning getting the final preps done. Afterward, there was clean-up to do and then home to my blessed bed. Sunday, I had “kid stuff” to do and a baseball parents meeting. Did I mention my house is still decorated for Christmas and the tree is still up? My carport looks like a bomb went off in it.

This morning, the alarm started my treadmill all over again and I started to throw a minor hissy fit when I saw all the clutter and chores gone undone all weekend by the kids (and myself). This led to thoughts of what other people must do on their weekends. My mind, selfish critter that it is, immediately conjured up all sorts of restful, fun, and relaxing events they're pursuing: movies, a weekend getaway, leisurely napping, dining out with friends, playing board games or poker...oh, the list was endless. Then I stopped to really think. Do others really, truly spend their weekends in idyllic ways? Probably not. Definitely not those with kids.

More than likely, they’re doing the same kind of things I am. They caught up on chores that slid by during the busy work week; they visited sick or elderly relatives and friends; they grocery shopped; they moved a parent into assisted living; they pined for loved ones out of town; they attended long days of school baseball or basketball games; they helped an ill friend; they worked a weekend job; they dealt with chronic pains or new ailments; they cleaned the yard. Maybe a few did get a shot at some real R&R for a change, but so do I.

In reality, there’s not a single person I’d change lives with. And that fact should shut my whiny, unappreciative brain up for a day or two!

Celebrating Self by Shellie R. Warren

Isn’t it weird (and a little sad) how you don’t really make the time to think about what you are thankful for or appreciative of until Thanksgiving rolls around or you meet someone like Angie Ledbetter who just flat out asks you?

A couple of days ago, she told me about this wonderful project she was doing with some writer friends, but I must admit, when she offered me the invitation to submit a rant, rave or two, it took me a second to even come up with something type-worthy.

Not that I am spoiled or anything, but to be honest with you, I have spent so much time focusing on “wanting more” that I haven’t really thought about “what I have” in quite some time. The irony of this blog platform is that without my initially realizing it, I’ve discovered that it’s actually an answer to one of my prayer requests and goals for the New Year: to celebrate myself, personally and professionally.

When it comes to writing, I am now celebrating my eighth year as a professional writer. Now, if you have this same claim to fame (being a writer for a living, I mean), then you know it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Even today---literally today---I’m trying to figure out how to pay my Internet bill so I can send off my invoices to get paid for some of the articles I did months ago; ones that, had the money come in on time, hustling for cash wouldn’t be an issue at this second---literally this second.

But yet, when I think about the years of my life before 2000: years of being in school and not knowing what the heck to do; years of working in Corporate America and hating every minute of it; years of not knowing what my purpose in life was or what my personality and talents were meant to accomplish, these past eight years---house-sitting with cars about as old as I am and all---have been some of the greatest times of my life.

Writing is not paying the bills as much as I would like (yet), but I can say that I am a full-time freelancer, and because I spend a lot of my writing time putting, as my mother would say, “emotional throw-up” on paper, as a survivor of sexual abuse, assault, promiscuity, abortion and just plain ole’ confusion and depression, it has saved me a mint in therapy, and so yes, for that, I am mighty thankful.

But what it has also done is given me a voice in this world---maybe for this time, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. When it’s right, I will be heard. How do I know? A best-selling author by the name of Alice Randall once told me that we write because we're destined to. It may not be for this generation. Someone may find something you scribbled on a napkin 50 years ago, but when they find it, that’s when it is supposed to be read, processed, heard.

I think that is what I am most thankful for. That of all of the gifts God has to give to his children, he entrusted me with the gift of writing. Even when I doubted, he believed that I had a voice that needed to be heard. Thanks to this blog, now and who knows, maybe even 50 years into my future.

Shellie R. Warren is a full-time writer in Nashville, TN. When she's not writing an assignment or pitching one, she's getting her non-profit, Butterfly Angel (http://www.butterangel.org/) off of the ground or working on her second and third books, "Make Him Weak in the Knees (in Prayer)" and "Dramaholics." Her memoir, "Inside of Me; Lessons of Lust, Love and Redemption" was released in 2004. For more information go to www.myspace.com/missnosipho.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Lollipop Trail, by Kat Magendie

“It’s almost eight miles, Kat,” he says. The morning is chilly, but the sky is a deep blue, too blue to be atmosphere and must be instead something tangible, touchable, bending in at the pressure of my hands. I hear the bold creek rushing. I shoulder my pack and say, “Let’s do it.” The trail lollipops through the woods—meaning, we start out and end on the “handle” of the lollipop, and make our way around the outside of the “sucker” part. He knows the pain will come. I do, too.

We follow the creek a while, then begin the steep incline. We munch nuts and raisins, and drink enough water. It’s silent save for our breaths. At the end of the steepest climb, my right leg shouts a warning; I ignore it, move on. We round the top of the lollipop and make our way down. The terrain is rougher—the trail narrows, we step over slippery rock, climb over a giant fallen limb laden with green moss. The pain in my right leg is expanding across my lower back and to my left leg, fiery. We come to an ancient tree that reaches forever into the sky, it’s trunk as wide as Texas, and there’s a hollowed out space that I slip into. I stand inside its walls, and make up a story about a woman who hides in a tree so no one can find her, until she wants them to. I reluctantly step out of sanctuary.

Finally, a sign reads: .8 miles to the trailhead. It’s been hours and we’re ready for the wine and cheese we packed. The pain screams loud now. I hold my head high, pretending, so Roger won’t know I’m hurting this bad. But, by time we get to the trailhead, I can no longer hide it; I’m limping, and my lips are pulled in a grimace. It’s another “lil’ piece” before we make it to the bridge that leads back to our car, and by then my limp is much more pronounced, my lips pressed, my teeth gritted. But I don’t care; I’m exhilarated. I hiked the entire lollipop, and it was sweet! Once we're in the car, I turn to Roger, my grimace turned to a grin, the pain shrugged off; the beauty of the day not. I say, “When can we do it again?” Roger just shakes his head and laughs. I laugh, too. No regrets, only gratitude for strength, tenacity, and the beauty of the day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Cozy Cave by Nannette Croce

I’m sure I was meant to be a bear. Every winter I slow down, hole up, and put on some weight around the middle (stored energy for my hibernation?).

Each fall I scurry around, readying my cave–cleaning out cabinets and closets, rearranging furniture–in preparation for holiday entertaining. Come the first warm days of spring, I’m clearing my garden, sweeping walks, trimming vines.

I love going out on summer evenings, wearing simple summer dresses and bare legs, when the sky is still streaked with light, sometimes after 9:00 PM. In the winter I accept invitations or plan to go out for dinner or a movie with my husband. Part of me wants to break the monotony, but when the time comes to leave the fire and change out of my baggy jeans and sweatshirt into pantyhose and heals, my mind starts searching for excuses.

You’d think the perfect remedy would be a trip to some warm spot. I tried that a few years back, but instead of feeling energized, I felt at sixes and sevens before leaving and especially after returning to snow and sweaters and cold dark nights for several more weeks.

So what's to be grateful about?

A few years past the half-century mark I know myself and my cycles well. Confident that my energy and desire for social interaction will increase along with the daylight hours, and even the extra pounds will drop off with summer activity, I no longer fight this phase of my annual cycle. I indulge and enjoy it, throwing on the same old clothes several days in a row, spending afternoons reading in front of the fire, often with a cup of hot chocolate, and engaging in simple contemplation.

The active days of spring will come soon enough. For now I'm cozy in my cave.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Feeling Fine by Barbara Quinn

I’m feeling good as I write this. I’m never going to be twenty or thirty or forty again, and I need to drop a fair number of pounds, but I’m definitely feeling healthy. That feeling of well-being is priceless. I know what it is to be seriously ill, know what it is to care for the seriously ill. Health is a gift I accept with joy.

Like everyone else, I’ve had health issues over the course of my life. I only have half the vision in one eye. I broke various limbs in my youth and and nearly drowned when I fell through ice on a bay as a toddler. A horse threw and trampled me, and I fell off my motorcycle in college. I tore my meniscus and lost my ACL playing basketball and tennis. My thyroid went hyperactive for over a year which meant I woke with racing heart most nights. I’ve had positive pap tests, conical biopsies of the cervix, and suspicious mammograms. MRI's and CAT scans. I had a healthy son, and then had four miscarriages. For a time I lost the use of my right hand till they figured out there was dead tissue obstructing the use of my thumb. I’ve had a bout of Lyme disease. And so on.

I'm lucky that most of the things I’ve suffered were treatable or disappeared on their own. I have friends and relatives who were not so fortunate and I hate that they had to suffer. My illnesses were not life threatening. I had my melodramatic moments where I was sure I wouldn’t make it, but those were short-lived. So in living this normal life, stuff happened. That’s all there is to it. I appreciate my good fortune to be healthy and alive, and I’m thankful for each day that I don't need to visit a doctor or have another test or be painfully prodded in horrid places.

If I can get through the rest of this winter without getting the horrid flu bug that’s circulating, I’ll have even more reason to be grateful!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fat Tuesday, Miss You Already! by Angie Ledbetter

Fat Tuesday has faded into memories of parades, beads, rich foods and great parties. Another Ash Wednesday has come and gone, leaving its mark on my forehead as a reminder to offer up sacrifices, alms and prayers for those in need. Today is only Thursday, and I’ve barely been able to keep from pulling my own hair out. I am grateful for that, however, and thankful I haven’t yet verbally or physically abused anyone else.

You see, I’ve decided to stop smoking AND try to eat healthier too, plus I'm drinking more water instead of half my daily coffee intake. Dealing with deprivation and major changes to the system, you can see why I wouldn’t be the most pleasant person to be around. But at least I haven’t acted on any of my violent fantasies yet, so there’s hope I can make it through the next 38 days of Lent and beyond without failing.

After decades of living the Mardi Gras lifestyle, it’s time to make some permanent healthy changes. Since old habits die hard, I’m trying a lot of distraction tricks with myself. There’s taking a 15-minute catnap, which is a good way to keep myself tightly under the covers until whatever urge(s) pass. Then there’s the let’s-take-a-walk trick. (I’ve only done that once.) A new coloring book and crayons await should I need some deeper type of therapy than cooking to help me through the next hour. TV hasn’t really helped me pass much time or gotten my mind off myself, but warm baths and reading are a nice diversion.

I’ve got sugar free gum, menthol cough drops (for the taste), bottles of water, white tea, healthy fruits and veggies to snack on, an interesting book, and gas in my car should I need to get away from temptations. If you have any other tricks of the habit-breaking trade, I’d be most obliged. At this point (day 2 of 40) I can use all the help I can get!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Melancholy, Baby by Kat Magendie

It's a hollow place we go sometimes, don’t you think? There is an indention in the soil, and we curl into the indention where it's safe and comfy—even though we lie about how comfortable it is, since there are pebbles pressing into our skin, there is a chill in the night, and there is dirt under our nails that aggravates. We ignore the lamenting low howl of the wise wolf, calling us back calling us back calling us back, don't we? Because we’re snuggled into our hollowed out space, curled just as we did before birth. The place in the soil upon the earth, in the hollowed out hidden forest, where we pretend how comfortable we are, and alone, don't forget how nice it is to be alone. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Who doesn't like a bit of melancholy from time to time?

Melancholy is an old friend, a good ole chum (unlike depression, that mean spindly spirit of woe). Melancholy won’t fuss at us, and even allows us to eat too much bad food, or drink too much bad liquor, and shut out everyone who is important to us, even our own voices. Our melancholy has a bit of imp to it, an angsty charm, a cute way of winking at us, a way of drawing us into the indention. Funny how one can be flying through the sky, feeling the wind, and some twist of synapses, some bitter pill, some disappointment, and next we find we are falling. Melancholy catches us, then wraps around us its familiar soft blanket.

But wait! Just as we think we will stay huddled forever, melancholy takes its blanket from our shoulders, pulls us up by the hand, gives us that wink, and says, "I've got to go now. Ta ta!" And there we are, rising up from our hollowed space. There we go, the sun on our face, blinking in the light, brushing the dirt from our clothes, trying out a grin, flexing our fingers, pointing our toes, saying "Hey, I'm hungry for life now, give me a big ole plate of it! With a side of hope and a glass of thank you may I please have another." A stretch upward, a glimpse of blue oh so blue sky. A squirrel blinks at us and we laugh. And just like that, the earth turns turns turns and we dance around on the head of a pin.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Nostalgia by Nannette Croce

Why do we idealize the past? The English language even has a specific word for it, nostalgia. To the best of my knowledge there is no similar word for appreciating the present.

TV has long provided a vast wonderland for nostalgia. When I was very young shows like The Roaring Twenties and The Untouchables were popular. The big hit in the 70s was The Waltons, starting in The Great Depression and continuing through WWII. Later that decade it was Happy Days, looking back at the 50s. Then, in the 90s we had That 70s Show, a nostalgic look back at a decade of nostalgia for the 30s and 50s.

Whether culturally or individually, the lens of hindsight brings good memories to the forefront while bad memories fade or disappear. Weren’t the 20s a time of political corruption and psychological trauma from the The War to End All Wars? Wasn’t the Depression when ruined financiers launched themselves from windows and farms out west turned to dust? The 50s were “happy days” for white middle-class American males and their children. Women and minorities fared much worse. And the 70s brought us Watergate, the evacuation of Saigon, and the Iran hostage crisis.

Inherent in nostalgia, that yearning for the past, is the feeling that we didn’t appreciate it near enough. Given the chance for a do-over, we’d enjoy the good and not exaggerate the bad.

But we don’t get do-overs. To vary the song, the present is the "good old days" of the future. Take a moment to think what moments in the present you will feel nostalgia for in the in years to come, from globally to personally. What better way to feel gratitude for what you have right now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere by Barbara Quinn

I am so grateful for my waterbed. After I had my son (who is in his twenties now) I suffered from back pain. I read how a waterbed could relieve the stress on your back and figured why not try it. My husband also had pain and agreed to give it a whirl. We bought one.

Amazingly, within a few days of sleeping on the waterbed my back pain disappeared, and so did my husband’s joint aches. For those who remember the waterbed craze of the seventies (there was a dorm guest room that had one you could reserve. Ewww, very gross) this mattress is a long way from those. Back then, they weren’t heated and rolled more than an ocean liner in a hurricane. My mattress has much “baffling” inside so that there is one wave and then you are supported in every way. No limb ever falls asleep, no matter how contorted you are and I'm a rather contorted sleeper. My head is at an angle, and often a foot dangles off the side to breathe fresh air. In the winter I turn the temperature control up, and in the summer I make it cooler. It’s truly joyful to slip into warm sheets in winter

When we bought our second home at the shore, we went waterbed shopping again. Now there’s an even newer line of waterbeds. The mattresses are exactly like regular mattresses, take regular sheets, have pillow tops, and they too are heated. The bladder of water is inside, sealed by the outer mattress. I love both the beds.

When my son grew up he bought one of his own. He still prefers my older model to the new one. My brother also bought one, his with dual controls for heat. We are a waterbed family. They should do a documentary on us, including the time many years ago when the first one sprung a leak in the middle of the night. Geez, dear, is that you?

The only thing better than sleeping in that waterbed, is lying on it, snuggled next to my husband with my head resting on his chest, his arm wrapped around me. That’s my favorite place on earth.

True, true, bliss.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ah, Spontaneity by Angie Ledbetter

For many years, I was a prisoner of Responsibility and Routine – not the kind of R&R one usually welcomes. Married to a man who worked on the road for the better part of every year, I was pretty hemmed in with three babies at home. When the kids were all finally in school, my days shifted to include part-time odd jobs as well as being the main parent. Still not lots of freedom in the schedule. But now that they are in their late teens and two of them are driving, my days have suddenly loosened a bit.

Having lived under sometimes stifling duties, and spinning my wheels deeply in ruts (not that I’d change those years for anything), the freedom I’m experiencing is heady. For the first time since I was 16, except for the 5 years I was home with babies, I’m not employed outside my home. I flummoxed around at first trying to find a new routine, but with Spontaneity back in my life, I’m loving it.

Isn’t there some corny saying, song lyric, children’s book, or ad campaign that says, “Free to be me?” (Probably some tag line for a feminine product!) That’s how I’m feeling these days. Spontaneity allows me these and many other gifts:

*More time to create poetry and to work on writing projects.
*Time to take a poetry course and to attend writing conferences.
*Freedom to visit my parents and/or eat lunch with friends.
*The ability to show up at my kids’ school in costume. (And I have many!)
*Time to observe and appreciate the often-missed smaller details of life.
*An occasional nap around freelance assignments.

So, today, and for as long as it lasts, I am truly thankful for all the great things Spontaneity affords me. He’s a much kinder, selfless partner than those evil twins, Responsibility & Routine!

Wanna see how grateful you are? Check out this online quiz: http://www.beliefnet.com/section/quiz/index.asp?sectionID=&surveyID=105

Sunday, February 3, 2008

That Word...by Kat Magendie

“I have scarcely touched the sky and I am made of it.” ~ Antonio Porchia

At first, I didn't want anyone to know it happened. I'd dreaded...ominous piano music…that word. That word had connotations, misconceptions, and email-sent jokes about women losing their femininity, their sexual aura, their beauty, their soft all turned to hard, their smooth all turned wrinkley. The idea behind that word is the reason I feared…drum roll please…Menopause. As I headed into my forties, I nervously listened to the stories, the jokes, the derisive comments. I didn’t want to turn into some wrinkled hag who screamed at everyone and turned my back on my husband night after night after cold-sweated night. In my late forties, I realized I was reaching menopause earlier than I expected—wasn’t I supposed to be going through “The Change” in my late fifties? No. No. No. Yes.

Last year, on my fiftieth birthday, I stood among friends with cake and laughter and celebration of my Milestone Birthday. Full into my menopause, and well, I didn’t care. For, instead of menopause turning me into a snarling razor-toothed fiery breathing slit-tongued a-sexual beast, I became the woman I was Meant to Be—clich├ęd as that sounds. The women I’d admired, who spoke their mind, eyes blazing truths, back straight, power in their step, confident, strong—that is me. I am that woman. Somehow, the hormonal swing swung in my favor. I am no longer a slave to my emotions. And even better, I am no longer a slave to approval seeking. I feel wonderful—inside and out. Better than I have in years, maybe ever. Hot Damn.

To those of you nearing menopause, or to those of you who have years to come before your Change!, I say to you: Embrace it. Learn. Live. Explore and Discover. Yes, there will be hot flashes, yes, there will be body changes; but, I gladly trade these for the newfound dignity and strength and confidence that have ripped through me like fire through ice, melting away inhibitions, fear, and timidity for what is to come next. And, just as wonderful, I don’t look backward as often—it’s all about taking the next step and the next, not over examining, but appreciating--having Gratitude. I feel my power now more than I have at any time in my life—mind-power, sexual-power, intellectual-power…soaring music here…POW(oman)ER!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fear of Gratitude by Nannette Croce

Southern Italians believe in the mal’occhio or as phonetically pronounced in melded immigrant dialect “mal-oi-kia.” When someone gives you a compliment or comments on your good fortune, they purposely or inadvertently give you the mal’occhio, the “evil eye,” with the power to reverse your fortunes, unless the person follows with “God bless you.”

The small horn some Italians wear around the neck wards off the evil eye. Absent that you surreptitiously give the offending person “the horns,” a Texas Longhorns solute pointed outward.

Like knocking on wood or throwing salt over your shoulder, even if you don’t consciously believe a superstition, it plants its seed in your subconscious. On the upside the mal’occhio discourages bad behaviors like bragging and ostentation. On the downside, it makes public expressions of gratitude somewhat risky.

Announcing my good fortune to the world exposes me to the cosmic "evil eye." Safer to bluff like my grandmother did, “Huh, you think I have it so good? Well, let me tell you.”

It's been about five weeks now of counting my blessings to the public. So far no cosmic zap. Maybe it's not people who call attention to their good fortune the evil eye afflicts, but those who don't appreciate what they have or forget about those who have less or, worse, think it's a matter of just desserts.

Maybe, but just in case I think I’ll take that horn out of my jewelry box and start wearing it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I'm Free by Barbara Quinn

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. John F. Kennedy

In Tom Stoppard’s play, Rock and Roll, a character talks about how in his native land he had to apply for permission to move from one part of the country to another. That’s a totally unacceptable idea to residents of the U.S where we have an unfettered right to travel wherever and whenever we wish.

That play made me recall the time my husband lost a textbook and I accompanied him to retrieve it. We arrived at a dark and sprawling old house in the Berkeley hills. The book finder answered the door and invited us in. We said no, but he insisted we enter. Inside, all the curtains were closed, and streams of smiling young people filtered past us into the living room. Though their grins were broad, their eyes were dull, and I felt the urge to scowl and flee. The fellow asked if we would stay for lunch and we declined. Then he told us that we had arrived at a good time. Prior to lunch there was a sing-along. If we joined in, he would return the book right after.

I looked up and saw a portrait of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon on the wall. Ohmigod. We were in a Moonie abode.

We linked arms with the singing, grinning, young people. I pasted a smile on my face, swayed side to side, and belted several choruses of “You are My Sunshine.” Meanwhile I prayed that we would get the book back and leave without being pressured to join the sunny cult. These aren't Jim Jones Kool-Aid afficionados, and this isn't Guyana. At the end of the singing, the group headed to the dining room. We hung back. The book finder again asked us to join him for lunch. When we said no, the young man fetched the book and said we should come back anytime.

I was extremely grateful to see the door open. The sun shone brighter than ever. Oh, sweet air.

I was sensitive to losing my freedom that day, probably because I remembered a wrongful confinement in Mexico by the police. That too turned out fine. Being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want, is a priceless gift that I rarely acknowledge in this land of the free. I am grateful for freedom, and for all who not only protect us, but for those who take part in the political process, because your votes do count toward our future freedom.

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