Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Like Trees. by Patresa Hartman

I like trees.

I like to look at them and touch them and think about how the rings in their trunks tell their years. I like to imagine the roots of them growing highways and back roads through the deep deep deep of the dirt beneath my feet. I like it when the roots stretch out and poke up through the grass as if a scuba diver has snorkeled up for air.

I think trees look like people doing handstands and kartwheels, upside down, shoelaces dangling. Other times, I think trees look like chorus line dancers, raising arms into high vees and kicking, toes pointed. I once had an idea to do a whole series of photographs of people standing next to trees, mimicking their poses. But I decided it would not be obvious to enough people and would require too much explaining. Sometimes, if you explain a thing, it goes away to stand defeated on a shelf with all the other explained things.

I think if trees were people they would do a lot of handstands and kartwheels. They would dance often and explain little. They would speak in riddles and jokes, use their hands a lot and make funny faces to emphasize their points. But they wouldn't get too riled up about having points, so maybe they would just make funny faces for the heck of it. My guess is that trees are pretty content to just be and grow and observe. I do imagine the one in my front yard looks in through the picture window from time to time and wishes I would not take myself quite so seriously.

It wraps its roots around our water and sewage pipes sometimes, sends our water and waste back where it came from -- our basement. Although, it might be making a point about mucking up its underside with our junk, I think really our tree just likes to mess with us. It is there in the front lawn, doing handstands and waving its toes at the birds, and it needles us to crack smiles. It is the ornery grandpa putting rubber spiders in the cookie jar.

But when it is not the giggling prankster, it stretches its leafy arms out wide as wide, creating a canopy of cool, when all the rest of the yard bakes. It is the green and the brown so nicely swathed against the blue of the sky and crisscrossing black telephone wires. It is crooks and knobs solid and staggered for climbers, and it is the loveliest chemical free painting framed within the trimmed window of the front room, committed to pose even when I am not looking.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Too Tired to Think by Angie Ledbetter

Boy, what a day I had. Twelve hours of working the football jamboree! Can I tell ya? It's no fun to work over a hot fryer or grill cooking food when it's about 200 degrees outside and so muggy you're breathing wet air. Having an internal thermostat that tends to run on Warm anyway, added to a stadium filled with teenagers, and you get sweat dripping in your eyes.

Selling raffle tickets wasn't too bad, and when I cut up 6 bags of onions into thin rings to grill for burgers, at least I was sitting down. That our home team lost in the very last seconds of the game after running the first kickoff back for a touchdown in the first play was deflating for all the moms and dad who'd been out there working since noon.

Even with the loss and the running sweat and my onion-smelling hands, there are still things I'm grateful for, like working with great and generous people. We've made as many preps for hovering Hurricane Gustav as we can, the little school band of about 15 kids which one of my sons plays in did a valiant job with the Star Spangled Banner, and I got to take a break to go serve and eat supper with the men at one of our local shelters...always a great pick-me-upper! The 30 or so guys there loved the food and enjoyed visiting with us over dinner.

It's past midnight and my bed is crying for me. Please excuse any typos or bad sentence structure. Too tired to edit. I'm grateful for the coolness of my house and that I now get to go to sleep. Simple things, but things which many people do not have. (The shelter guys sleep on hard cots or bunks!) I will keep the many Gulf Coast evacuees traveling north and west away from the eye of the storm in thought and prayer tomorrow as our main Interstate switches to contraflow. It's just too hard to think of another Katrina coming toward us on the exact date of "her" third anniversary.
I'm grateful we have supplies and the means to flee should it become necessary.

Good night.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Indie Booksellers by Kat Magendie

I am sitting in a little independent bookstore in Waynesville, North Carolina: Osondu Booksellers, owned by Margaret Osondu. This isn’t a commercial for Margaret, although I gladly tout to the four-thousand winds her bookstore, and Margaret herself, whenever I have the chance. Instead this post is about our independent booksellers, and how I want to see them not only stick around, but to succeed, and succeed in a big way. Sure, the Big Guys have their charms, but it’s as if they are like the Good Looking Man in the room, the one who winks at you, whose suit fits perfectly without a pucker or a wrinkle, whose hair is fashioned in the latest cut, and who knows he owns the room; he’s also the one who doesn’t have time to say much more than a, “Hello! Okay, busy busy busy, have to run now, call me! Or rather, have my people call your people and we’ll have lunch.” We all know lunch isn’t going to come, unless it’s with his representative.

Ah, but the Independent bookseller! I come in Osondu’s and most days Margaret is here. She’s here not only because she owns the business, but because she loves books, she loves reading, she loves this community. She’s the woman in the room who smiles warmly, comes to you and says, “How are you?” and really wants to know how you are. She says, “Hey, such and so book is in; I know how you love to read so and so.” The bookstore is small and warm and inviting, with chairs in the back to sip tea while working or reading or just laughing—just what is happening as I type: I am working, another table of women is having a bite to eat with tea or coffee, and up front, Margaret is helping a customer with his book choices.

Most days, when our mountain weather is fine (and most of the time it is!) the front door is open, letting in a soft breeze, and as people walk by, they can peep in and see me working, see the women talking and laughing, see the books lining the shelves, smell teas, coffees, cookies, brownies. Even when Margaret is not here, she has chosen staff who offer up a smile and warm greeting every time I come in here. This is the face of the indie booksellers. Please, let’s support them. Let’s patronize them and keep them here. Let’s have gratitude for them. They are the strong bones of the community. And this writer will one day be proud to have her books sitting on the shelves of these locally owned bookstores!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

September Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

Summer is drawing to a close here at the shore. The ocean is still warm and inviting and I would like that to linger, though I know it cannot. This is the time of year when the tourists no longer throng the beaches and restaurants. We shift back to being a sleepy beachside community. The economy needs the tourists, I understand that, and people need vacations so they flock here to have a good time. During the season I enjoy seeing the happy families enjoy the boardwalk and waves. And I appreciate how lucky I am to be here at the ocean all year round. I also appreciate how most people who live and visit here do take care of the place and keep it special for all.

There is another side to being grateful at this time of year. It's is not the usual way to be grateful, but I have to admit I am thankful when the disrespectful folks, the ones who grate like sand in your bathing suit, disappear. There is a local derogatory term for these tourists: “benny”. Some say that comes from Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York, the places most likely to visit this area of the Jersey shore. These are the people who leave behind plastic bottles and litter when there are trash cans right on the beach, and the people who play their radios too loud, who bring large coolers with lots of illegal alcohol, who kick sand onto you when they pass, and most dangerously, the ones who are oblivious to the fact that they and their children must swim in lifeguarded areas or risk drowning in a riptide. I found a seagull chomping on a condom one morning.

Next week the tourists will be gone for the season. So will the lifeguards. I will swim wherever I wish without shrill lifeguard whistles piercing the air. The ocean's rumble and gulls cawing will be the predominant sound. I will go back to my favorite restaurants even on weekends, and chat with the staff again. The pace will slow everywhere. The underlying hint of fall with its cooler air and rustling leaves heralds the passing of another season. September is still warm and lovely, and oh so empty here at the shore. And for that I am slightly sad, but oh so grateful!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Delivery by Patresa Hartman

I started to write my gratitude post earlier today. I started to write something deep and profound. I started to write something deep and profound while sitting in the developmental reading class I teach at the community college -- while waiting for my beautiful and interesting students (who come from all over and bring all things and always always always remind me that there is much more to every story) to finish their reading placement test. And that we are all stories. That is the post I started to write.

But then class ended and I moved through my schedule to the next thing. And then that thing ended and I moved to the next. And there were several more Nexts, and I moved through all of them wearing brand new shoes that are purple. The purpleness of them made me happy in the store, so happy; but despite their happy-inducing purpleness, they are new and therefore unfamiliar with the contours of my feet and the length and rhythm of my stride. And so they hurt very much and a lot.

And although I eventually landed home, there was more to do, as my sweet dog cannot walk herself. But wouldn't that be nice? If she could, I mean. Wouldn't that be something if I could open the front door and say, "Do a few laps around the neighborhood. Stay on the sidewalk, would you, Dear? And look both ways. Here is a bag for your poop." But she cannot because she is brimming with Wild and has not forgotten her wolf roots like the rest of us.

But it turned out to be a good thing. We walked, she and I, connected by woven leash. My tired energy and my headache buzzed down the fabric line while her So Much Joy energy buzzed up, and together we balanced. I told her how perfect she was, and I meant it.

Back in my kitchen there was food to worry over. I just cannot tell you how tired the thought of it made me. Of pulling open refrigerator doors and cabinet doors and pantry doors, of lifting plates and cups and forks and cutting things and running water. I cannot explain to you the weariness of turning on burners or even pushing microwave buttons. The effort to peel an orange would break me for certain. This body of mine, please understand, is still my summer body, not yet transitioned to all these Nexts stacked shoulder to shoulder.

And so now, as every single thing that makes up me is aching and yawning, the thing in the world I am most grateful for, at this exact moment in time and place, in the world, of all things hurtling through the galaxy, is sweet and sour chicken from Taste of China's friendly delivery man.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vaporizing the Mullygrubs by Angie Ledbetter

Ug. You know how some mornings you get up and just feel sluggish and oogie? Today was one of those days. And it didn't help that my sleep last night was frequently interrupted by my spouse (a.k.a. Snorelax) and then the old dog scratching on my bedroom door at 6:00 a.m. for I-don't-know-what. I guess she was alerting me that two of my teens were getting ready for school. (They finally get to an age to dress and drive themselves...yet the dog still alerts the Momma!)

It's gray and misty outside too, with the tail end of a tropical storm passing by our area on its way back out to the Gulf, and hopefully a quiet death. I've got a list of TO DO chores I don'twanna, but haffta. Oh, and to add insult to injury, I am out of cream for my coffee! In general, it's just one of those days I'd rather be in sunny Mexico, up on Kat's mountain, beside a lake with silvery waves shimmering, anywhere but here.

Okay, I think, on the way to a nearby convenience store for the cream, how can I make this day better and find something that rings the gratitude bell? Praying helps, and so does counting the blessings I tucked under my pillow before going to sleep last night. Not cussing rude drivers on my trip down the street makes me feel better. Thinking of good stuff to come this week and listening to a funny morning radio show also dispels some of the yuck from my morning. But what else can I do to tip the scales of apathy and dark mood toward the sunnier side?

Ah, I know! See that young guy getting the clerk to scan various breakfast items? The eggy burrito...$2.99, then he's back with a package of muffins...$1.78. Finally, a giant cheese-egg-bacon biscuit...$2.26. He tugs at his baseball cap, shuffles his flip flops and counts out the change in his hand again, just barely in my peripheral view. I sneak the big biscuit combo to the register with me, ask the clerk if this is the item the guy in the cap last price checked. She gives me a nod and a smile as she rings it up with my cream purchase. We exchange a wink as she puts the biscuit in a small brown bag and folds it nicely. Nonchalantly, I hand the bag to the guy on my way out and say, "Good morning," without any fanfare. "Thanks," he mumbles, confused and maybe a little shocked.

His old jeep is parked right next to mine by the door. His face is beautiful as the smile widens beneath his Nike cap. "Hey, THANKS!" he shouts. He pockets his change, jumps into the open-sided vehicle, and salutes me with two fingers to his cap's bill as I back out.

NOW my day is much better. I love this life. Love spontaneity and the opportunities each day presents. They are unlimited...just as our capacity for turning things around listening to our hearts' and crazy minds' promptings.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Unsilence of Silence by Kat Magendie

I stop what I’m doing and listen. The cove at Killian’s Knob is exceptionally quiet this coming evening. And by “quiet” I do not mean a vacuum of silence; I am not sure that exists, except maybe in some far and away space. There is always sound, even in the silence. People will say how quiet it is here in the mountains, or in the country, but really, the quiet can be quite loud. A kind of “loud” I love, though; one without the sounds of the city that pierce the ear and the psyche.

Here on the mountain, the silence is punctuated by nature sounds. Birds, squirrels, the rushing creek, the sound of leaves waving in the wind (or in the winter, the limbs rub together and it sounds like a whale’s cry), crickets, cicadas, critters sneaking in the wooded areas, and in late summer, the deafening sound of tree frogs. Just now, there is a quick and intense buzz. I turn to the window and look. It is a hummingbird at the feeder. I am amazed at how loud its wings sound, how I can hear him hover out at the feeder on my porch from inside my little log house. He feeds, flies away, then returns and feeds again, his long beak sipping at the sweet red nectar we provide.

Then, a piercing cry punctuates, another answers. A hawk! Two! They’ve been calling out and answering each other for days now, right here in our cove. I think they must be nesting near us this year. I feel honored, filled with a gratitude I will not express because to express it will be to cheapen it. Sometimes I have no words; it is only This Right Now.

A red squirrel is staring at me, has been watching me as I type, and then as I stop and stare. She chews her sunflower seeds, unmindful of the hawk, unmindful of the hummingbird buzzing back and forth, unmindful of my interest. We are all making our silent mountain noise. My dog breathes. I click click on the laptop. The buzzing. The shrieking calls. The chewing of seed. The cricket fiddling. The water rushing. The wind rustling blown leaves.

I am grateful for this “silent” cove. That perfect stillness that isn’t still at all. This, that just Is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Garden of Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

Perennial flowers are the backbone of my garden. Outside my window, the Black-eyed Susan’s wave in the breeze. Beside them sit clumps of golden Day Lilies that bloom for months without any care. The Sedum is starting to blossom and change color. In fall it will become a deep red. My Mums are already in full flower, their wine and orange colored blossoms bright in the August sun. The purple and white Asters will be in the next round of flowering plants. I love watching the perennials cycle through the growing season. In spring there are a few Crocuses that the deer leave behind. The deer eat all the Tulips, and most of the Daffodils too, so I’ve let them disappear from the garden. Summer and fall are when the perennials are most abundant. In dead of winter there’s Holly with its red berries.

If a perennial survives a wintering over, it’s meant to be a part of my landscape. I prefer to find plants that belong in my soil, plants that stay here, like me, and soak in the same sun, air, and water that I do year after year. We’re fellow travelers, baking in August, hunkering down in the winter. Plus, it’s a lot easier to tend perennials. Plant them once and you’re set. Don’t get me wrong. Annuals are pretty, and I love seeing them in my neighbors’ yards. How can you not be drawn to the bright colors of the Hibiscus, Impatiens, or Begonias? But it’s my old friends the perennials for me.

When I walk to my mailbox I pass purple Spiderwort that I transplanted here from my last home almost ten years ago. Every summer and fall when it blooms I remember the large patch of Spiderwort at my previous house. It’s not a very popular plant, but I like its ambling disarray of leaves and small flowers. It crops up every year and shouts look at me. And I am happy to oblige. There are Hostas too, with their long green leaves and purple flowers on long stalks. And blue Hydrangeas that droop heavily from their bushes. I’m grateful to perennials for coloring my landscape and keeping me company year after year.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hours Partitioned by Patresa Hartman

I am grateful for time, but with only one eye open, and my teeth are most certainly clenched. For I wish to live timeless, limitless, rootless. I wish to free float and mingle eye-level with birds and hang gliders. I wish to hang glide without the cumbersome apparatus.

The notion is romantic to me, and I have always been particularly susceptible to romantic notions. Not the candle-light, hand-holding kind, but the impressionistic watercolor kind. The barefoot kind. The tall reeds and endless sky kind. I want to be whimsy on legs that barely touch ground. I want to fit nicely within the mold labeled Free Spirit.

It's childish; I know this. I do not like responsibility; "You," I say to whomever dares to impose order, "are not the boss of me." Then I limp home with twigs in my hair, pretending to be royalty and ridiculously dressed.

But as I grow farther from childhood, I understand that time is good to me. It is spinach -- canned nemesis when I was six, nine, and eleven; now appreciated fresh sautee'd with pine nuts at thirty-four.

There is never enough; there is too much; there is exactly and precisely the correct amount. I shake my fist at you, Time, because you are always right, and it is infuriating.

An educator, I am saying goodbye to summer and its three months of delicious aimlessness. I will set my alarm on Monday, and my body will reaccustom to jarring Awake-Right-Now-ness. The hours of wander are waning, and I mourn.

But I understand -- teeth clenched, allow me to remind -- that it is a worthwhile transition. When I pull the twigs out of my hair and let go of childish notions of who I want to be, I have come to understand what I am. I do better with structure, with increments of hours partitioned between to-do lists. I feel safer; I create more; I beat myself up less; and the kitchen is always cleaner. With too much time on my hands, I sink into stupors and waste.

Time, as all wise grandmothers, understands the need for boundaries. Cry as forlorn summer-loving children might, she remains steadfast, unconditional to provide exactly for our needs when all we do is want want want.

*Find an audio recording of this post, read by the author, at the bottom of the page in Rose & Thorn's podcast.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Mug Love by Angie Ledbetter

{Photo by Angie Ledbetter}

Bad Ode to Yon Vessels

Oh, coffee mugs, coffee mugs, I love you.
Without you here, what would I do?

*Smile* and good morning to all you coffee or tea drinkers. If you have a collection of favored mugs like I do, you'll understand this post. If not, just come along for the ride anyway.

I love each of my mugs for different reasons, but like my children, I love them all equally. Let me introduce you to my seven favorites: Senorita is the cup with the fish handles my daughter brought home from her senior cruise to Cozumel in appreciation for helping with her trip. Muscle Gal comes from one of my sons' trips to a Boy Scout National Jamboree to NY. He said it reminded him of me -- "Mom, it's a little cracked from the journey, but still got good life in it." (How's that for a teenage boy's attempt at symbolism?!) At least the chip doesn't come near my mouth as I swill my coffee!

Now, Big Gulp (the green upside down mug) I love because I rescued him from the trash heap at the end of a garage sale. What a bargain at just .10! Atop him sits The Black Lion. I treated myself to this beautiful, shiny treasure at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans while attending the Pen-to-Press Writers Conference. Next is Choo-Choo, the cup I purchased to commemorate a trip taken a decade ago to Colorado when we visited the Silverton-Durango coal-powered train. I love that cup because it's so unique; when hot liquids are poured inside, the blackened windows of the depot open to reveal several train engines. Then they go dark again when the liquid cools.

The big one to the right with all the faces of literary masters? That's B&N, named for the bookstore chain where I found it. I love it for obvious reasons including its depths and ability to limit my trips back to the coffee pot. Last but not least is The Graveyard. The place we all finally wind up. It reminds me to carpe diem, encourages me to keep writing, and represents an actual friend's book -- Deborah Leblanc's Grave Intent.

Before you call me a complete nut, think about this: each of my "mugs" is completely different in size, shape and description, yet provides me with key elements for healthy survival -- gifts from their interiors! These gifts for which I am daily filled with gratitude are good memories, inspiration, comfort, continuity, and the essence of all that is good in my world.

Yeah, you guessed it, the mugs are just like my dearest flesh and blood friends! And as trite as my Ode and the following saying are, they are nonetheless true: My cup runneth over. And to my compadres: I love your mugs, inside and out!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Out with the old and in with the new? Or, not... by Kat Magendie

I am typing on a brand new laptop. It has Windows Vista. It has a wider screen. It has fancy schmancy goobledoos on it that I haven't figured out yet. And funny, but it costs almost the same as the laptop I bought about six years ago, but with much better graphics, and more of those diddlebobbs and such...laptops, like other electronics, have become more affordable with more Stuff to figure out. I certainly am grateful for that.

Beside this Brand New Laptop sits my old laptop. It looks rather forlorn. It looks old and used and dusty. The missing o key sad. The screen dull and flat. Everything about the old laptop now looks dated and, well, a bit...shall I dare say it? Ugly. The new laptop is spiffy and clean and bright and full of hope and promise! I told the Dell representative, "It's like I have an old granny laptop." He answered, "Yup, you have the George Burns and we're sending you the Brad Pitt." We had a good laugh over that, but now, looking at that old faithful laptop, I feel a bit sad--not much mind you, as I know I needed to upgrade, but metaphorically sad.

I can't help but think of when we put "old things" away for "new things." And sometimes that happens to people. You can read above at the things I said about my old Dell and apply them to people as they age. Me included. It gives me a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling, thinking that way: personifying the inanimate object, and then further, applying it to Me.

I type right onto this "new post" instead of onto Word Doc, since I haven't downloaded all the programs yet, and since I haven't tried Word in Vista yet, and since I'm feeling around to see what all this thing will do...maybe it'll talk to me, tell me how glad it is I gave it a home (there I go again!). And as I type, I wonder if I'm making any errors, for typing directly onto blogspot, there isn't a spellchecker. I'm feeling reckless! My new laptop is giving me permission to do all manner of things! I am young again, just like my new laptop!

And again, I glance over at old faithful. A little slow. A little beat up. A little dusty and used. I was going to give her away (her? oh oh...) but, suddenly I think, "Why not keep it? Why, we could use as I back up computer!" And it's as if I can feel the old laptop beside the new laptop give a little sigh of still has a home. It's full of my writing. It's got my fingerprints on it. It may have something important on it I need to find later on. Yes. Of course.

I am feeling generous. I am feeling like the lord of Old Laptop Land, where I make decisions about what will stay and what will go: It stays. There. I am feeling gratitude for old things, and for new things, and that I can keep something old around as long as it has long as it hums when I press "on." Ah.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gratitude is Blowin' in the Wind by Barbara Quinn

Bob Dylan played Asbury Park’s Convention Hall this past week, and I was lucky to see this national treasure perform. Convention Hall is a small venue that holds 6000: a couple of thousand in seats, and a few thousand more standing on the floor. It’s where Springsteen often rehearses for his tours. (In fact, I heard that Bruce and his wife Patty Scialfa were there watching, and so was Patti Smith.) Even with a muddy sound system, the concert was still an amazing exploration of Dylan and his music.

Bob’s in his sixties, but he’s still rocking hard. His band was tight and enjoying themselves. Dylan was covered in a long frock coat, with a huge hat pulled down on his head. It was all about the music for him, not about the fans or audience. He stood sideways at his keyboard, not facing the crowd, legs spread, leaning into the instrument. Besides keyboard he played sonorous harmonica. After a few songs he faced the crowd and gave a small wave, and one time a curtsey.

He may be best known for his folk tunes, but at heart he's a rocker. He started out playing rock, moved to folk, plugged in at the Newport Jazz Festival, and has never looked back. His seventeen song set was hard rock, with some jazzy spots, and not not one folk tune in the mix. There were a number of new songs. The old standards have gone through the musical blender of his brain and have come out in completely new versions. It’s as if he’s bored with his old stuff and won’t play anything nostalgic. I can understand that. He wants to live in the present, wants to play what’s calling to him now, not what used to call to him.

So It Ain’t Me Babe, and Tangled Up in Blue were strangely old and new at the same time. For an encore there was Like a Rolling Stone, Thunder on the Mountain, and an almost unrecognizable Blowin’ in the Wind. How can you not feel great hearing him do those songs?

Sure many of them were not what they used to be. But neither are any of us. Thanks, Bob. I’m grateful for you and your music. Keep on rockin’!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bug and Birds and Bookends by Patresa Hartman

I love the bookends of my day -- a still morning and buzzing night. I feel so pulled to morph with the earth, let the tides of my sloshy insides become the tides of the sloshly planet juices, leave the windows open, the curtains open, everything open and open and open. I like to sleep with the moon in view, although I've heard this makes wild women crazy. I am grateful for the crazy. I love the communion I feel when I am just waking and again when I am edging toward sleep.

I have my routines, of course. Although I think of them less as routines (habitual behaviors, like tics) and more as rhythms. My morning rhythm is timed to the sky brightening through the picture window in the living room, is textured by the smooth fiber of my red chair, smells like dark coffee, feels like newsprint. My evening rhythm is syncopated against a cricket chorus (They are sopranos and tenors.), a plane overhead, the television my husband watches, my neighbors clinking bottles and chortling through screened windows. Every bedtime comes with a soundtrack.

I am grateful for transition, particularly when it's gradual. I cannot wake and run, cannot run then sleep, and so I try to model myself after the dawn and the dusk, no hurry to show the peak of my color, but to revel in every subtle hue in between. I love a good journey. I want no rush.

There have been phases of my life during which time I got no cushion. There was little time to sit in the morning, and even less time to descrendo into night. Every day felt like lurching. My temper was quick, my emotions unpredictable, my soul exhausted. And so I think it must not be natural for us to begin and to end at sprints. I am grateful for the bugs and birds who teach me to step gently in and gently out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Words & Color by Angie Ledbetter

I know it's hard to read the words I've culled from a textbook page to form a visual poem, but just the colors and design are pretty interesting in themselves, dontcha think? Lately, I've become consumed with this new-to-me-poetry/art-form. Sometimes called Visual Poetry (VizPo), Concrete Poetry, Treated Text, Manipulated Books, Book Art, and Poetry Art, it's a great way to spend time away from the world and normal routines, and I encourage you to see what it's all about. (I don't have a single ounce of artistic "ability," so good thing it's not a requirement.)
Why am I writing about it today? You know how it is when you run across a great bargain, a cafe that makes the best cup of coffee you've ever had, new love with someone really fantastic (not that these examples are in order of importance), a fresh market that sells the most awesome tomatoes, a little known book, a fantastic piece of music...something that really amazes you and pushes your gratitude button? You just want to share it with anyone who might be interested in your own little personal discovery or unearthing of a nifty little nugget.
And while we're on the subject of words, I hope my sister-in-law won't mind me borrowing a few lines from an email she sent just now after taking a walk. She'd read a beautiful poem on some aspect of Monet's work and life, and her note was infused with images of simple beauty and wistfulness, so again, I wanted to share:
Sigh. Isn't poetry beautiful?
And art?
And earth?

Now that's why we have all these words and colors and combinations of the two surrounding us -- Inspiration! And I'm grateful every day for that gift.

{Visual Poetry by Angie Ledbetter}

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Morning by Kat Magendie

Good Morning World. An August morning sun has risen over the mountain ridge, sending what someone once told me is “God’s Fingers” touching here, there, here, and over there; this late-summer morning, I do not question her God or a god, for as I blink away sleep and see the morning unfold from outside my windows, I have to consider a creator of such beauty—and if one does not exist, I will never know it at the end, so at what cost is it to wonder and dream and contemplate Bigger things than I? My friend would laugh at me and nod in her knowing way.

This Sun casting its light and warmth out over the mountains and into my bedroom compels one to look directly into its center for long and longer, but one can not, lest one become blinded by it. Sun does not allow for long stares because it is greater than the eye can hold. Even looking too intently at a photo of the August morning sun glares the eye, causes one to look away before its imprint is forever cast in shadow behind the eyelids, leaving images of orange-red burned into retinas. The atmosphere and distance filters so that I will feel its warmth without the raging boil, what a grand plan, or trick of accident? Who am I to decide this perfect morning?

Old Moon is just out of sight but is surely there, waiting for the evening come. But I will not get ahead of myself as I often do; first there is the great day, the great and beautiful and come what may day. The trees wave, sounds of leaves against each other. I’ll let the day before me stretch out, let the sleep of night drift off in the wind. Last night’s rain droplets still fall from tree limbs onto the earth where it sinks into the heavy dark soil, much needed after the long time dry: the earth has a way of replenishing, but not always on our schedule. Life is not a schedule, but a series of surprises and events that interrupt the schedules we create.

Metaphorically and imaginatively take my hand, come with me and we'll forget everything but the mists and wind and trees and rain and, of course the Sun and this waking up Sunday Morning. We’ll be grateful for each other, friends and family and stranger, all.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Gratitude of Hope by Renee Knowles

Gratitude seems like a small gift to return to the universe for all that I have been given. I have a wonderful husband who really “gets” me, a supportive family, a job as a writer that makes me happy to get up every day, and a cozy, warm home that I adore. But for all I’ve been given, I briefly lost sight of the blessings. For a short time all I felt was numb. All I wanted was what I didn’t have.

My husband and I are in the middle of an international adoption. We’ve been in the process for over a year and half and the wait time for placement of a baby was only increasing. It was looking like we would be eligible for AARP before we would receive the wonderful gift of a child that we so desperately sought. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but it was certainly looking like we wouldn’t be parents for several more years.

But when you’re down life has a way of bringing you hope, and we have since decided to adopt from another country in the meantime. Our paperwork for this second adoption is nearly complete, and now we’ve learned that a child will be home with us by the end of the year! Hope has returned, along with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the twists life takes. If we hadn’t had the long wait on our first adoption, we wouldn’t have decided to apply for the second one. We wouldn’t have opened ourselves up to the possibility of having two children, instead of one.

We’ve begun to buy the nursery items and can picture our baby in the bright crib with Noah’s ark bedding. We will finally be a family. How great is that?

So even though it might sound strange, I’m forever grateful for the wait and for having to examine all the possibilities in life. Not only did it teach me about patience (something my husband says I have much too little of J), but it taught me just how much I want to be a mommy. How much I want to be the best parent I can be. And it taught me how to be open to anything.

Sometimes the best things in our lives end up being the ones we don’t plan.

Bio: Renee Hagar is a freelance writer, editor, and fiction author. Writing as Renee Knowles, her debut novel, an erotic chick lit called Going Topless, came out in December 2007 from Siren Publishing. It has received several five-star reviews. She has a new contemporary romance series called Pleasures, Inc. coming soon. For more information, go to

Waves of Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

The ocean is a lovely sea foam color that invites me to jump in. No jelly fish bump my legs, no seaweed wraps around my calves. The warm misty green water with white foam on top is perfect for swimming beyond the gentle waves.

This calmness is welcome after a summer whose rip-tides have been treacherous. A few days ago, the waves were large. I timed the crashing and hurried out to beyond where they break, hoping for a swim. But as soon as I lifted my feet, I was pulled sideways. No matter how hard I swam, the ocean drew me strongly to the left. The current was taking me where it wished, and that was toward a rocky jetty. I recognized the danger, and caught a wave back to the shore where I emerged tired and breathing hard. Catching a wave in was the right thing to do.

Besides, it was a great bodysurf back to the shore. There’s a spot in a wave that is safe and glorious, a place where you can hold your head high while being carried along swiftly, the chaos and turmoil of the roiling ocean just below and behind you, the roar of the surf filling your ears. The ride is over far too quickly. That short exhilarating ride is the nature of bodysurfing and is what I reach for time after time when I go out into the waves. Bodysurfing is about accepting the nature of the wave. You don’t question or think. You feel the power and become a part of the wave. Dive forward too quickly or too late and you are left behind. You learn to lose yourself in the wave. Luckily, there’s always another wave to try to catch.

I need to go through more of life this way:accepting and not fighting, finding that sweet spot and riding it for however short a time, being grateful for the small joys, knowing that if I miss one wave, another will come along. That’s what the waves have taught me. That, and knowing when to cut my losses when there is danger in staying the course. For the knowledge that waves impart, and for those short glorious rides, I am grateful.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mindless Genius by Patresa Hartman

While I am grateful for the plasticity of my brain -- its ability to shape and reshape around new and newly understood information -- I am increasingly impressed with the total genius of my body, itself. My mind, once (falsely) believed to be the infallible captain of my fleshy ship, has swallowed some humility and become a much better listener. My blood and sinew have taken the helm and we are finally getting somewhere.

The microsystems that thrive in the nooks and crannies of my person are enough for jaw dropping awe -- cells multiplying and dividing, neurochemical messages being taxied and ferried by bubbling couriers. That a whole world exists within my knee cap and another in the squishy underside of my chin is totally beyond anything my mind can hold. If I spend too much time attempting to trace my origin -- how in the world all these particles came into formation and regulated such perfect choreography -- my brain bends into a knot and daily function requires calculation. So that part, the cycles and machinery within me, I just accept and say, "Holy Hell. Thanks a lot!" to whomever is listening.

But what I really think is outstanding is the way my body, with its galaxies and supernovas, gives me perfect direction if I only learn to listen. It does not require my thoughts, only requires that I continue to accept data via its senses. If I am paying attention, it will tell me when I am on the right track, when I am on the wrong track, when I need more protein, more water, more fruit, when it needs to run, when it needs to walk. It is a perfect judge of character and knows when someone is up to no good, and when another is to be trusted. My body (my guts, to be specific) once told me to quit a career that didn't suit me. I listened. It was the first time I had accepted mindless advice for a major decision, and my life improved tenfold.

The more I understand the profound intelligence of my biology, and the more I acknowledge its benevolent nature, the more I want to nurture it as a way to say thank you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dishin' in the Kitchen by Angie Ledbetter

I'm leaving in a few minutes for a school meeting, then on to my parents' house where I'm going to prepare a really good recipe with one of my sisters and our mom. I love spending time in the kitchen with family and/or friends. It's a relaxing hobby with something good created for all to share. Old stories invariably come up also, and although you've heard or told them hundreds of times, they're still amusing. It's also nice to catch up on how nieces, nephews or other friends are doing, and just generally being together in unhurried circumstances.

Grateful for these kitchen klatches, I want to share my Chicken Salad recipe with others in the hope that they might have a get-together with utensils and stories mixing up the atmosphere. It's an easy and convenient food to keep in the fridge for a decently healthy snack that's also delicious.

Best Chicken Salad Ever

1 Roasted chicken prepared and sold at grocery store delis (cut into small chunks)
1 Cup Duke's sugar free mayonnaise
1 Cup Craisins
1/2 Cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, whatever)
1 Cup red or green seedless grapes

Ready for the complicated directions? Mix all the ingredients in an air tight container and voila! Great as sandwiches or on crackers. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Changes by Kathryn Magendie

Nothing remains static. The world turns with all our energies both expelled and absorbed from pre-beginning to after-end; we become a part of a greater energy. Everything is pulsating, a part of each other. So how could something so dynamic not change and morph? Even require it. There is The Good Change, and there is The Bad Change, and there are the changes that no one notices until one day they say, “Hey…wait…whatever happened to…” And there is that moment of bemusement, or maybe of loss for what wasn’t even missed until some fluke in the atmosphere caused a flick of the memory-wrist. And then there are the snapshots filed away in drawers, albums, and the parts of the brain made just for remembrance.

I have this snapshot shouting loud. It comes uncalled and unbidden, but it comes. It is winter, and the snow is falling, blanketing an already white-washed world. The backdrop is sepia-toned, shades of black and white with that tinge of old-timey photograph brown. I am dressed warm, and by my side are my husband and my two dogs. We’re on the Muse Trail, Level Two. I have my camera and I’ve set it to video and as I turn 360 degrees, I say, “Isn’t this lovely? Isn’t this the best life ever? Don’t you wish you were me?” My dogs, off their leashes, run in the snow, their paws kicking up sprays of snow and arcs of ice that hover for just a moment before falling back down to earth; some catch prisms—I know; I saw. The branches are laden with snow and some hang heavy, ready to smack a head and sent showers of cold upon them—I know; I was showered. We walk in the most perfect silence ever: you know the silence? The one that muffles footsteps, but makes bird calls ring so clear through the air that you hear it in perfect pitch. I have that snapshot because there have been changes come since that Perfect Day. Changes that make the memory one I am grateful for, even as I wish for all of it back, Human that I am. Yet, would the memory stand in such sharp gorgeous relief if the changes had not altered it beyond repair? No. I’d have taken it for granted, knowing I could have that feeling over and over again. That Perfect Day has become one I feel the most profound sense of gratitude for—I know; I was there before the changes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Knock on Wood by Barbara Quinn

When my husband and I sit down to dinner at night, we eat in our kitchen with all its modern trappings. There’s an indoor grill and pretty pendent lighting. Large windows look out to a deck and woods beyond. The double ovens come in very handy at the holidays.

In the middle of this new kitchen sits an old oak table and four chairs. I've never seen another set like it. It is the heart of my kitchen. I’ve been eating at that table since I was a child. My parents bought the table after WW2. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t eat at that table. It moved with my family from our two bedroom apartment in the Bronx to our three bedroom one bath ranch in Yonkers, where when I went to college it was replaced by a larger table, and was relegated to the basement for extra seating at the holidays. For some reason my parents painted the lovely oak white and green. That poor table.

After I married, the table and its four chairs came to me. My husband and I worked hard for weeks stripping off the paint and restoring the wood, then staining it dark. We grew to know every inch of that table with its carvings of flowers on the sides, and its self-storing leaf that pops up when you pull on the ends. There’s one spot that we didn’t finish quite right, and I’ve grown to love that imperfection. Each sturdy chair has three elongated 0’s that make up the seat backs. The seats themselves are fabric and I’ve covered them with dozens of different patterns over the years. All it takes is a staple gun and I have four new chairs.

Many nights when I sit down to eat, the parade of the past moves by: my brother and myself as kids, my son and his friends playing, my dog roaming beneath looking for treats, the guinea pigs racing round its legs. It’s good to have something solid like this in my life, something that anchors me to more than the daily routines of life, something that shares the tears and joys. I am thankful for all the time I’ve spent at my old table and glad that my family still gathers in the kitchen on the holidays and surrounds it. Life goes on. My kitchen smells of home and safety. And I am grateful.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Plasticity by Patresa Hartman.

Two things are rocking my socks today: 1) The early hint of a new realization; and 2) the plasticity of my brain.

This weekend I learned of a man with a spirit as big as a child's who built a house that's basement was reachable by slide instead of staircase. The father of three and a National Guardsman, he designed and built the house himself, completing all but the final cosmetics before being called to duty. Before he left for Iraq, he told his family that he had built a secret room into the house, and they were to find it. They looked and looked, making game of the search (which distracted them temporarily from their missing), but did not find the secret room until the man returned and unlocked the hidden door.

The weekend proved very educational, because I also learned that a man I have known for thirty-four years was someone completely different. Actually, that's not correct. I learned that I have only known him in one dimension -- one that was cold and concrete, all steel and pathology. But something has shifted.

Either I have evolved, vision sharpened, or he has evolved, sharpness softened. As I am seeing him now, sturdy frame failing and the bulk of his life strung behind him as a wake, he is multi-layered. There is love where I believed there to be none (oddly manifested, nontraditionally directed, but present, nonetheless). And even the concept of love has gone watery and subjective.

I am obsessing over these two stories, which I believe are the same -- the man with the secret room, and the man with the secret self -- and it's exciting. I feel like I am on the verge of understanding something big and important -- something about evolution and self and love and cruelty and the way boundaries are liquid.

And that brings me to the plasticity of my brain. I am so grateful for all the things I do not know or understand, because the discovery (even when it is only an almost-discovery) is exhilarating. I love that my mind maps are still willing to disassemble and reconfigure. I cherish the easy evolution of us, when we are willing to flow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Sunday Funnies by Angie Ledbetter

I'm not particularly happy today, being it's the weekend and my husband's alarm clock (which he forgot to turn off last night) woke me at 6:30...again. He's not a light sleeper like me, so when I nudged him to deactivate the alarm, he didn't even fully wake up. Not so with me. So I'm up hours earlier than I had to be and looking for something that inspires gratitude and thankfulness. Grrrrrr!
There are many things on my TBTF (To Be Thankful For) list: the nice supper we shared with friends last night at a little country restaurant beside the Mississippi River levee; my kids are all doing great for the moment; my mom's health is holding steady; my stepdaughter and family are coming back to Ft. Polk in Louisiana soon; the Rose & Thorn Literary e-zine is growing and looking great; and the weather's not its usual sweltering self today. Oh, and I have my literary masters coffee cup filled to the brim with hot delicious coffee. *And here's a wave to Oren and Cathy's son Kyle, who receives his Eagle Scout award today! (See you at the ceremony.)*
If you can't find similar items on your TBTF list today, there's always the Sunday paper cartoon strips to perk a grouchy, sleepy person up. Enjoy one of my favorites -- Scott Adams' Dilbert: http://http//

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Moody Monster VS Beauty Monster, by Kat Magendie

While walking around Lake Junaluska, my brain swirled and clicked, moaned and groaned under the weight of its thoughts and worries. The mountain air is cooler than it’s been over the last two weeks, and a breeze blew insistent against my face as I trudged the walk path around the Lake. The ducks, geese, and swans floated serenely, their mirror images upside down. I tried to look ahead and around, instead of down at my slapping feet on the pavement, for there are many beautiful things to enjoy on this in-the-valley walk: giant hibiscus flowers, surrounding mountains, the lake and birds themselves, pretty little cottages, old-barked trees—one of them a huge willow tree, one of my favorites. But, I found no joy, and instead clung stubbornly to my mood. Sometimes, I do feel stubborn about it, letting the moody monster in with a shrug, as if to say, “Yeah, come on in moody monster. Do what you will,” and the moody monster pushes out words such as: joy, laughing, smiling, and replaces them with words such as: cranky, sad, frowning.

At the end of the walk, Beauty Monster had had enough of Moody Monster—and Beauty Monster is much stronger, it seems, that Moody Monster is—for, as I walked what I like to call Roses Row, something happened. On one side of me was the lake, and on the other side was bush after bush after bush of roses—in all the colors you can ever imagine: red, pink, orange, white, yellow, two-tones of red and cream, yellow and orange, pink and white, and more. I slowed my steps and took a deep breath just as the cool wind slapped my forehead—a slap of, “Pay attention to this moment!” And suddenly, I did. It was as if I had nothing else to do in the whole world, nothing to do but walk Roses Row, soft step soft step, my gaze, and my nose, to this rose and that rose, and then turning to the lake where birds fly up and out, where a fish kissed the surface of the water. It was as if all my life was just right then, no five minutes from then, no tomorrow, no next week, next month, next year—only Right Then, the moment and roses and thorns and water and birds and Life. Gratitude is sometimes finding a moment of peace and contentment, even when the Moody Monster comes a-calling.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gratitude for Gas Pain? by Barbara Quinn

Gasoline is over $4 a gallon now. And while it may sound strange, I can find a little to be grateful for in this. The high price has caused us to focus on something we’ve been ignoring for many years: we need to change our spendthrift energy ways before the world runs out of oil. We need to conserve now while we have some time to develop alternative fuel sources.

Sure we can drill offshore and we can mine previously untapped gas fields. But it’s time to diversify. We are the largest consumer of oil. China is a growing economy and they are tapping the world’s supply of oil, the same supply that we are tapping. It’s way past time to work diligently on this problem.

The market is responding to the pain at the pump, and so is the public. I’ve seen articles about grassoline and Willie Nelson’s bio-diesel is becoming more popular. People are investigating wind power, wave power, solar power, and geothermal power. All of these begin looking less exorbitant and more attractive when the price of oil continues its march upward. People are biking and boating to work. I’m walking more and making sure to combine errands to minimize miles in my car. I read an article saying take out the 100 lb. golf clubs from the trunk for better gas mileage.( Gee..That means losing weight is another way to get better gas mileage.) There are fewer cars on the highway when I drive to the shore. And there are a lot of smaller automobiles.

Yes, there’s a down side to this. The price of food and milk is going through the roof because of the added expense of transportation. Anything that requires transport has gone up in price. People have less disposable income and still must pay for medicine and doctor bills, which makes life much more difficult for too many. I noticed even the dollar store is now charging $1.25 for their items. The cost of commuting has skyrocketed. With the public having less to spend, restaurants and entertainment venues are feeling the pain too. Sadly, volunteers can’t afford to drive to their volunteer jobs.

If we can put men in space and on the moon, surely we can solve this energy problem. Encourage your children to work on solutions now. And hey, it’s time to investigate the record profits being recorded by oil companies.

Meanwhile, I’m counting on that personal jet pack I read about the other day. If it gets good mileage, that sure would get me out of my Nissan!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Weather by Patresa Hartman

My grandmother used to keep a calendar recording nothing but the weather -- the high temp, the low temp, precipitation or no precipitation. She tracked the growth patterns of cabbage and beans in the vegetable garden, the tiger lilies around the side of the house, and the arrival and departure of hummingbirds at the sugar water. She would not have called this research; she would have called it paying attention.

To understand the tidal forces of one's environment I think suggests intimacy -- a deep understanding of and appreciation for the way we fit into Things. Appreciation for the many ways we are alive and connected. The key word here is appreciation. In fact, I think my grandmother's weather calendar is a great example of gratitude via attention. What if the first step toward gratitude is simply taking note? It is easy to notice the crummy and crumbling; but how many lovely things do we sidestep, overstep, or under-notice on a daily basis, because we are moving too quickly and living too loudly?

I've been trying to notice more, periodically reminding myself to pause and take inventory -- the vibrant red of my chair, the perfect oval smudge on the picture window, the scent of my neighbor's freshly mowed lawn. I don't want to miss the lilac in bloom in the front yard or the trill of my cat's purr. I would hate to wake one morning unable to recall the taste of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market, because I ate them too quickly to savor.

It's taking practice. Who knew that our senses needed such explicit direction? The world ends daily on the front page of my newspaper, and my inner curmudgeon gets stuck on whine. I don't want to live obliviously, but I also don't want to dismiss the good stuff that is aplenty. I wish to be more like my grandmother, tracking the birds and predicting the cabbage haul. I want to take better interest in weather.

Today: 85 degrees and sunny.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gratitude for Connections by Angie Ledbetter

If you're reading these words today, thank you and I'm grateful for you. I often think of those who are disconnected from others, either by choice or circumstance. How lonely that must be. Being a twin, I've always (and probably always will) preferred working and socializing with others -- being part of a team vs. a more solitary existence. Though I have no problem spending long hours alone, I couldn't do it for weeks on end without becoming lonely.

It gives me a sweet satisfaction to look back over the daisy chain of my friendships and connections. Like my writer's group. A few of us came from a bookstore group about six years ago, then gathered others, then brought in classmates or people we've met along the way. Those friendships have forged a strong interlinking group, and still new folks are being brought into my circle of acquaintances through those members. I met Kat, introduced her to Barb, then Kat brought in Patresa. Deb joined the group and eventually put together an awesome writer's conference. Through my friendship with her, I found myself at her Pen to Press Writer's Retreat and met several awesome authors and many reputable and accessible literary agents. Dear friend Cynthia knew Stephanie and introduced her to the group. Now she's my friend (and a dang funny person and good poet). See how it works?

There's something so neat about the way special people come into your life and then, through them, you are blessed with the friendship of others in an ever-widening circle. It's like that cellphone company commercial -- this chain forms my network. Today and every day, I'm most grateful for friends and friends of friends. They enrich and make my life better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Everything is about Gratitude by Kat Magendie

I was sitting in my comfortable rocker in my bedroom, working at my laptop, when I suddenly stopped and sat still for a moment, inhaling scent I’d just misted on my pillows to prepare for when I snuggle in to read a good book (I have made it a new routine to go to bed early so I can read before I become too sleepy to enjoy it). A soft breeze through the open window cools my face, and the sounds of the evening are quiet and lovely. The birds call quietly their last of the day’s song. Night insects are beginning to buzz and hum, and later when its full dark, the frogs will start their cacophony—I’ve never heard so many loud frogs in my life and at times I curve my pillow around my head to muffle them, but I look forward to them each late summer, all the same.

I look around my bedroom; I like it. I took chances with color and texture. My room looks like fall more than summer, but it fits well here. The warm golden-orangey walls that compliment the log walls, for our loghouse is both log and sheetrock; the cranberry red sheets and velvety red blanket; the chocolate brown duvet cover; the soft furry rugs, the lamps with their shades that give enough reading light, but which also lend a soft golden hue to the room; the ceiling fan turning round and round; the quilts both on the quilt rack, and the one my mom made that is folded at the end of the bed, the black iron bed; the unique table made from tree branches, limbs, and part of a tree trunk; the artwork; the sconces with spicy scented candles inside—all of it together, with all the other touches here and there that give me joy, make this room an oasis.

I feel overcome with a sudden gratitude for the life I live here, and even simply for this room, which in all its placing of this and that and the other somehow works to soothe and relax. I rock. I inhale the scents both of the room, and outside the room that come in on the breeze. I listen to the animals and insects. I think of those I love and those I lost and miss. I think of what has been given to me and what has been taken away. I sigh. Everything is about gratitude. Everything.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gratitude Comes in Many Flavors by Barbara Quinn

Overhead the gulls are cawing, and in the distance the waves crash. It’s the height of summer at the shore. When the ocean is stirred up from impending or departing storms, the roar of the waves has a different quality. It’s more of a constant rumble that never dies, and the air has a strong salty smell. On calmer days, there’s a lull between the rhythmic crashes. The ocean is lovely any time of day or night, and people flock to the shore, sitting and staring, and listening to the mesmerizing song of the sea. It really does heal many ills. But it’s more than the sound washing over you that is good for you. The taste of the salt of the ocean is comforting: it’s the amniotic fluid of life itself lingering on the back of your throat.

This town where I live on the shore, Bradley Beach, isn’t a carnival town. There’s an occasional booth selling food, and yesterday I saw a hot dog cart called “Dogs Unleashed.” Beyond a couple of food places, there’s a playground full of kids climbing, running, and shouting, and also The Bradley Beach Club, which is a simple miniature golf course on the boardwalk. The town wisely keeps the attractions to a minimum, and keeps the focus on the ocean.

Late in the afternoon when the sun begins to descend and a little bit of melancholy washes over me, the sand begins to feel scratchy on my skin, and tiredness sets in. At that sad end of a lovely day, one more wonderful summer sound permeates the air: the sound of the ice cream truck. A big white truck slowly rides down the block playing “Turkey in the Straw” and another plays “Oh, Suzanna.” The music is old-fashioned, calliope-like. The kids rush to the street and line up to buy their treats. Their smiles speak of ageless joys. They taste and make their way back home. Everything’s all right.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Great Like Chocolate Cake - Gratitude for Friends by Angie Ledbetter

Remember that old Bill Cosby song he made up while watching the kids one morning while Mom slept in? He didn't know what to make for breakfast, so let them persuade him to serve the chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen counter. All were happy, Dad convincing himself it was a healthy meal choice because it contained eggs, flour, milk, etc. As he and the kids sang the tune -- "Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake!" -- in walks Mom who has one bad conniption fit.

I don't know what made me think of that this morning. Haven't had chocolate cake in a really long time. But the scene of the father singing in the kitchen with his five children until mean old Mom walks in always makes me smile. Life's like that a lot. You're enjoying yourself, thinking you've done something to be proud of, then BLAM, somehow things are spoiled. Your good intentions or hard work have gone awry.

Things sometimes just don't go the way you envision. That's just life. But today I want to toast those people who "eat chocolate cake" with me: my sister-in-law who arrived on my doorstep yesterday with bags of yummy groceries she "just picked up while shopping." A feast of goodies I'd have never purchased from a high end store, like baby artichokes. Who knew those existed? Then there are those who share the crazy ups and downs of the writing life with me, liberally sprinkling encouragement into the cake batter of my words. And the friends who shore you up when you're feeling down or overwhelmed. Also those folks who are true friends of the heart. There are too many to mention in this brief venue, but you know who you are, and I'm grateful to have you in my life.

Here's a little ditty for y'all: "My friends are great! Better than chocolate cake!" Now, if you want to watch that fab 80s Cosby skit, here's a link: http://

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Insignifcant o and YOG Post, by Kat Magendie

Sometimes the little things we take for granted are the things we are most grateful for having after they are gone. That sentence could mean so many things, especially with my grief over losing my best canine friend; however, since I said “little things” and my grief is not by any stretch a “little thing;” that’s your hint I am speaking of something small, very small, quite very insignificantly small. Something tiny and insignificant, but no less annoying in its absence.

What I’m missing is the o key on my laptop keyboard. How like a mouth with a missing tooth my keyboard looks without the o key. Oh, it’s been missing for months, but there was still a tiny rubber protuberance that allowed me to type o’s, and once I was used to it, and learned the exact pressure to allow the o to appear, it was as if I wasn’t missing a thing and I typed happily along all these months.

Until the rubbery knob popped off this morning. As I now type, I have balanced the rubber thingee over the place where the o key was, but alas, it keeps slipping. If it isn’t balanced right, I have to hit the o space repeatedly—not good for one who types quite fast. There is a wireless keyboard in the other room, and I know I’ll have to break down and get it, but geez, I want my o back, or at least the rubbery thingee to stay put.

I wonder what will happen if I take off the rubber knob and try to type without it. Let’s try it! kay I am typing withut the key and as yu can see, we use the much mre than ne would (hey! There it is!) think, we use the o (aha!) in our typing much mre than we realize. Perhaps I shuld nw place the rubbery knob (!!) back upn the spt – There now.

This truly has to be the most pitifully horridly insignficant YOG post I’ve ever written, and in fact, I am quite ashamed of it. However, I so very much miss my o key. The gratitude I have for all the keys on my laptop keyboard wasn’t something I ever thought about, until the missing o. Now, I will put this YOG post out of its misery and *heavy sigh* go hunt up that wireless keyboard (for which I should also be grateful for…)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dolphin Daze Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

There were dolphins leaping in the ocean, right off shore today. A line of them looked like they were playing leap frog out in the surf. I’ve seen them swimming by in the past, their dorsal fins rising up and dipping down in a smooth motion that makes them appear mechanical and reminds me of the metal cutouts of a shooting gallery. Today, there were several pods of dolphins, some following the returning party fishing boats. Every once in a while a dolphin’s snout shot straight up in the air. The creature wriggled its sleek gray body and dove back down, with a flash of white underbelly. I’ve never seen them leap so high.

These are the lazy and hazy days of summer. We’ve been over 90 degrees for a week now inland in NY and New Jersey. But along the ocean where the dolphins frolic, it’s a different story. The humidity may be high, the temperature hovers around 80, and a cool fog has been drifting in, an eerie sight that keeps us on the cooler side. Once the ocean heats up later this month, we will lose the cooling air that comes off it. In the winter the ocean is a warming factor and it’s usually warmer here than inland. And in the summer, it is cooler due to the wind sweeping in off that chilly water.

The water has turned to icy again. It had warmed up for a while and I went swimming a week ago, but when I attempted to go in today my feet cramped with the cold. So it was back to lazing on my beach chair again, and scanning the horizon for more of those leaping dolphins. Why do dolphins leap like that? I have no idea, but my own heart leapt each time I caught sight of one. For that magical vision I am grateful.

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