Health

Oh, quail!

Posted on May 1, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Health, Musings, Philosophy |

  I was typing away at my computer keyboard–my most frequent activity–when I heard a loud “BANG!” on the window next to my desk. I first thought a rock (or small meteor?) had somehow managed an unlikely trajectory, but it didn’t have that sharp sound, nor did the glass break; or perhaps a child’s ball was accidentally thrown against my window.

But the immediate neighbors don’t have children. I looked, of course, and on the ground near my window lay a quail on her back, blood on her chest. Her legs twitched for a moment, and then were still.

Oh, quail! How did you come to fly into my window pane? I’d seen the ads on television for a window cleaning product, that got ones windows so clean that birds fly into them and knock themselves out (hah hah!). While the ad didn’t amuse me the first 30 times I saw it; it just seems cruel, now. Besides, my window is not squeaky clean, I have a screen on it, and curtains inside. It’s not as if it looks like empty space.

“I’m going to have to go out there and do something,” I said to myself. “Maybe she’s just stunned.” (but it was a VERY loud bang…and she is bloody…) As I continued to look, I noticed her mate. He strutted nearby, making a curious, anxious chirping sound. And then, he stopped near her body, as if assessing the damage. Was he saying “goodbye”? He gave a little shake and began to walk; then run; then fly. Would I see him again? Their children must be grown, as they were not nearby. Desert Quail mate for life, and I’d seen many pairs nurture their adorable chicks, trying to keep them safe from the many predators here.

Oh, quail! You’ve made your mate a widower. Has he gone off to mourn?

He did not return. Quail are bold birds, and he would not have let the sight of me peering out the window drive him from his mate’s side, if there were a chance she could be helped. I finally went outside. I gently nudged her with a stick. I did not touch her; we’d been warned of several unpleasant diseases from wild animals lately.

I will not bury her. It will be dark in a few hours. I will leave her to a passing coyote–the small ones can get through my iron fence–or a swooping hawk. It is the kindest thing, I think, to let her feed others.

Her eyes are still open. The blood on her chest has already started to dry and congeal. It is 92 degrees out there, but she is in the shade. Hawks like to catch their prey alive, but they will pick up carrion. Coyotes will eat anything, but I haven’t seen a small enough one lately to get through my barrier. Perhaps an owl or a roadrunner will come by.

Tomorrow, if she’s still there, I’ll have to do something respectful.

Oh, quail!

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Is it true before you know about it?

Posted on March 21, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Health, Musings, Philosophy |

ella's pie

Today I received a message from a blog friend. It was concerning another blog friend. It made me realize, once again, how strong and magnificent our community here is, and filled me with regret for not participating for a while. I don’t think regret, on its own, is a bad thing. It gets us—or at least me—to think about priorities. Regrets can stifle our growth, though, if we hold onto them, so I am letting go some of them here.

This message informed me and few others that our blog buddy ellaella had passed away, nearly a year ago. ellaella had a blog called From Scratch: Food Plus Politics for some years. Her writing was witty, terse, and full of recipes! Now, I am no cook, myself, but, ella’s charm, sophistication, and political acumen won me over so that I read her posts about food as well. I got to know her as I have my other blog friends, by exchanging comments on our blogs. We discovered we had much in common, and I developed an affection for her that non-blog people find hard to understand. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t meet in “real life” (whatever THAT is).

As I’ve said in other posts about her, we exchanged emails, and took the dialogue to a more personal level. She was living in a house in New England at the time, with a partner that was becoming increasingly impatient with her health issues. She didn’t like the winters there, and was getting tired of her partner’s attitude, so she decided to move back to Washington D.C., a city that she loved, and where she’d had the bulk of her professional career.

It turns out that the woman I knew for several years, with whom I’d shared life observations and biting humor, had been a broadcast journalist! She never mentioned this on her blog; which was about food; with political commentary mixed in from time to time, as its name suggests. In addition to being a journalist, she was a musician, poet, and, of course, an excellent chef.

I waded through her recipes to get to her wit, and it was well worth the travel. I knew, from vague references, that her health was quite challenged, but didn’t know too many details. ella, like many bloggers, was fiercely independent, and just as fiercely private. She was frugal with what she shared. She got to know and trust people slowly, with small bits of personal information at a time. I can understand this, as I am that way myself. It is my perception that she enjoyed this type of online friendship; that she found it refreshing as she could be thoroughly who she was, without the scrutiny that a public figure such as herself would have, or from a family who had known her forever!

It strikes me, after reading what I just wrote, how many bloggers I’ve come across that would rather not have their family read their blogs. This is a place we can feel safe to express, without the microscopic examination that families can sometimes provide.

Before her blog disappeared over two years ago, ella had posted, and had sent me emails, about how happy she was to be in D.C. again. She had found a lovely townhouse to rent, with a big enough kitchen for all her pots and pans! She hoped to find some work in her former career there (I still didn’t know what that was then). She had been experiencing some medical issues. I didn’t know how severe they were. She wrote of the shopping in her new neighborhood. She knew I didn’t like to cook nearly as much as I liked to eat, but she sent me a message that she had thought of me she she discovered a Trader Joe’s near her, a specialty market we both loved, but she’d not had in her old location.

She’d thought of me! While shopping! And had to let me know! And that was the last I’d heard from her. The final post on her blog was one of holiday wishes, in December of 2009. She said she’d look forward to “seeing” us in 2010. We did not see her in that year.

Several bloggers became concerned about ella as the months passed. They posted comments on her blog, asking her to get in touch. She never commented there again, nor did she answer any of my emails. A former colleague of hers tried to get in touch as well, and he’s the one that let us know that she had serious congenital heart disease. He had not been in touch with her for years, but spoke to her on the phone just once, when ella was seeking to renew her broadcast license.

And now, a year later than that, I have the news that ella passed away in April of last year. This dear person died alone, without family or friends, in a homeless shelter. She did HAVE family, but apparently was too proud to, or perhaps an aspect of her her illness caused her not to get in touch with them. The only reason we know this is because a shelter caseworker had discovered another former colleague’s number on ella’s phone, and called to let him know the sad news. This man had called her too, and emailed, but never got a response.

I was left with wondering how her physical life could have ended this way. She had been a good, lovely, intelligent, charming, talented person, with a successful broadcast career. She had family that cared about her (fortunately, one of her several cousins did claim her body, and make funeral arrangements for the family). She had old friends within a short distance of where she lived. She had us blog friends who certainly could have done something to help; I’m sure of it.

And yet, I only speculate, ella’s health must have deteriorated quickly after her move. She couldn’t find work because of this, and had to give up her townhouse. She (knowing her) probably felt great shame in this, even though some of her friends knew of her predicament, and did not look down on her. They would have been very willing to help.

We’ll never know exactly what was going through ella’s mind towards the end, and as a another blog friend said “It was her own path, and no one could walk it for her.” This does not keep me from feeling sad, and a little more alone, but it is good to share, and at least have the knowledge of her physical fate. It was very hard not to know for these two years.

I think of the “old days” before the internet; before telegraph, telephones, or even reliable mail service. I live in a country of immigrants, and when many of them set off to come here, they would be bidding goodbye to their families for the last time. The only communication was the mail, and a letter could take months to reach their old homes. People would write of a friend or family member’s death, but the recipient might not hear about it for a very long time. In her or his mind, the person was still alive, until getting the news. It did not alleviate the grieving to know that the event had happened, perhaps, last year.

I feel a bit this way now. My dear friend, one I only knew through this blog, has been deceased for nearly a year. That is a fact, but the news is fresh, and I grieve for her. Her absence from the blog and lack of communication for the prior year, I will admit, had angered me a little. Didn’t she know we cared, and had wondered what had happened to her? Was it too much trouble to write to at least ONE of us, so that person could tell the others? Apparently it was. She may have been afraid of saying too little, or too much.

In my disgruntled state, I emotionally withdrew from the world of blogging quite a bit. I was angry. I had invested emotional energy in this person, and I had no recourse when she decided not to respond! I’d always known this was her right, and did not begrudge her that, but I became jaded. Blogging had lost its magic; its glow for me. I note the irony that I reacted to her withdrawal by withdrawing. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one.

Now, I feel differently. With this news, and the ability to communicate about it, I am rejuvenated in my sadness. I realize how precious is every soul I meet and share with, in whichever medium the meeting takes place. I also realize that, should I continue to be blessed with blog friends that care about me, I would not want them to wonder, were I no longer around. I am thinking of ways to ensure this won’t happen, but for now, I don’t intend to disappear!

It’s been good to see you!

R.I.P. ellaella, a.k.a. Donna
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And another holiday leaves its stamp of approval

Posted on December 28, 2011. Filed under: Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy |

 Tweets and Blogs;
Clear the fogs;
Drink the nogs: good cheer.

Resolution;
Constitution;
New solution? New Year.

I wrote the above with reference to my state of mind for the last few months. I haven’t blogged or tweeted much, both activities I used to enjoy. I have always been introspective, but blogging was a way to get my introspection “out”. During times of challenge, though, I tend to go ever MORE inward. My blog, I had thought, was generally uplifting, as I wish to be…but how will this post turn out?

As usual, I enjoyed Halloween very much (in my pagan sort of way) and my American Thanksgiving at the end of November. Then I wanted to skip right to January 2nd. I want this every year! I don’t ever get that wish. ;) This time of year, I hear, primarily, two kinds of comments: “I LOVE Christmas!” (not me) and “I loathe Christmas!” (pretty much me.)  When I really look at both those sentiments, not only do they seem extreme, but they don’t make a lot of sense (to me). After all…what IS this “Christmas” that both kinds of people speak to?

For those of us that grew up in western culture, and for many more, as well, there is the religious aspect. I can’t really speak much to that, but, basically the word “Christmas” or “Mass of Christ” is a time of year when Christians believe that the “Christ” (Greek for “anointed”) or “spirit of God” incarnated itself in a specific human, namely Jesus of Nazareth. There are many controversies about the traditional stories, but I won’t get into those here. I think that, though, when very religious people say they “love Christmas”, what they “love” is the celebration of what they see as that historical event, and the hope for the world that the “Christ spirit” will live on in us…peppered by the specific beliefs of their branch of Christianity.
That aside, though…there are many that say “I love Christmas” who mean, really, that they love the spirit of giving and receiving; the bright and colourful decorations in this time of less daylight (in northern time zones), the special music, and the festivals and parties to cheer us. Many of the more religious enjoy those aspects too, but the rituals have taken a secular turn in our culture for many years now, albeit most of the symbols and rituals are of pagan origin.
When I was a child, we spent part of each Christmas eve with my parents best friends. They had cake and coffee and egg nog for us. They had a beautifully decorated tree. They gave us presents! But I’d ask my parents: “Why to they celebrate Christmas when they don’t even go to church?” I found it difficult to reconcile all the different things I’d been told by various “authority” figures.

By the time I reached a tenuous adulthood (I’m still working on that one :)), I had lost most of my beliefs in what I saw as inconsistent fairy stories (I like my fairy stories to be consistent! ;)) and began to loathe the “hype” and commercialism. I did enjoy sharing a special meal with friends or family. I liked all the music, even the overly religious kind, because I believe that songs spring from the heart of the soul, which has no words, but which we humans translate as best as we can.

I came to dislike “expected” gift giving, and gradually weaned my way away from that process. If you know me, and I give you a gift, you will know it’s because I REALLY want to have done so; not because it’s traditional or expected that we “exchange” gifts. (Hmm, “exchanging gifts”. Funny term. Maybe I’ll explore that more later too!) I even have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects. I grew up in a self-employed retail business household. My family’s business, like many others, relied on the Christmas shopping season for a good bit of the yearly income. This “season of gifts” put food in my mouth. On the other hand…behold the sales; the advertising; the endless not-such-great canned music in ALL the stores, even the supermarket? I can promise you that hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” at my local Safeway will NOT get me to buy more carrots!

I am well over all that by December 1st anymore, as for some businesses these days, it starts immediately after Halloween. “Here it comes!” I say to myself “…the long, slow descent into the ‘dark time’”…and I don’t mean the shortening of days, either! I breathe a huge sigh of relief on January 2nd. The world can get back to “normal” then. For another 9 1/2 half months, anyway. :)

I do take steps to make sure I am not alone on particular days during the last two weeks of December. I go to a few parties, concerts, home gatherings and dinners. I’m contrary, I know, but I’ve learned from experience that to sit home alone and grumble makes me feel even worse! Part of my snarkiness has to do with having fewer and fewer family members to interact with. The poem at the end of this piece is not meant to be sad, but to acknowledge that loss is a part of our path through life. I have concentrated lately on being of what assistance I can, to what remains of my family, and that is part of why have not been around the bloggiverse as much, as such things do make me want to withdraw. But I also realize that, in shutting off my expression, I’ve also cut myself off from a source of inspiration and joy, a fascination with the topics we cover, and the events in the lives of bloggers I have come to care about over the years. I didn’t mean to neglect you, and I hope you will forgive me. I expect the coming year will be interesting in many ways. I hope to refocus and renew my own spirit (in my own secular way) and I wish yours all blessings too.

Happy New Year! May it be bright with hope, soft with peace, and vivid with excitement.

Poem: "The Lure" by Muse, written upon learning the news of which I write:
 My sister is dying,
 I'm "X" decades old.
 My parents are long gone;
 It leaves me quite cold.

I have other dear ones
 but no one quite sure.
 My family comes first
 I am told; but no lure.

As I ride through my days
 in this human conveyance,
 the calendar duties
 keep thoughts in abeyance.

In the end; if it ends, then
 I'll find I'm alone.
 Must come to those terms
 with intent to go on.
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Humanity in the Balance

Posted on July 25, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy |

 Picture this: You are walking along a ridge, say, 30 feet above the valley floor. The path is narrow, and, suddenly, as you make a turn you’ve taken many times before, a few stones become dislodged, and you lose your footing. You tumble down the side of the ridge, rolling down the gentle slope.

You would have picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and rejoiced in the fact you weren’t seriously hurt. Except:

There was a large campfire, sheltered from the wind, near the place you landed, and you rolled right into it. The tenders of the fire were away for a short time, and didn’t see your fall at first. You roll right out of the fire pit again, but not before being rather badly burned.

At this point, the fire-builders come back, and the universe splits into several possibilities.

#1: They address you rather rudely, saying “Hey, watch where you’re rolling, you jerk! Can you move? Can you crawl? OK, then, move along; we’re trying to have a meeting here!”

#2: “OMG are you hurt? What happened? Did someone push you? No? Are you sure? We’ve been after the committee to make that path safer up there! Heads are going to roll for this! Let’s start an action group right now! …Oh, did you just moan? Sorry about that, maybe someone will take you to the infirmary”.

#3: “Hello, fellow human. While we take no joy in your pain, we do recognize that you are completely responsible for your circumstances in life. If we can render you immediate assistance we will; on the other hand, we don’t want to ‘enable’ you. Obviously, though, if we leave you here to just, sort of, die or something, that would mess with our own ‘karma’ so tell us what you need, but no whining or playing victim, OK?”

#4: “Oh, no, you are hurt! Let me check for injuries…can someone get the first aid kit? Can you walk? We’ll get you to the infirmary right away. Later, when you’ve had some rest and a chance to recover a bit, we’ll be by to visit to find out what happened, what we can do to help you recover, and, if you’re up to it, assess what to do to prevent future injuries in this area. Really sorry for your pain, but glad you weren’t more seriously hurt. They’ll take care of you now, please just relax and don’t worry.

Now, these are all rather overblown responses, but I think we can see that all of them “could” occur. This sort of situation came to mind recently as I participated in philosophical discussions on the topics of “offence” and “blame”. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer response #4 to any of the others. The first response would not be desired by anyone, but the middle two, #s 2 & 3, are common responses these days, and form philosophical extremes when we talk about social interaction and responsibility.

There is a large school of thought that goes something like this: “You create your own reality (or you are subject to the ‘Law of Attraction’). Therefore, anything you see and experience is because of how you are ‘vibrating’, and nothing I do can change your vibration, only you can. I am somewhat in this camp myself, by the way, even though I’ve just stated the position rather bluntly. Critics of this say it ‘blames the victim’, to which proponents reply that this is, in fact, the case, but they don’t like to use the word “victim”, as we are all really empowered to make changes. If one is feeling like a victim, that’s the time to look deeply within and focus on what is wanted instead.

Another group of thinkers takes the position that society’s ills govern unpleasant circumstances. I suppose they also think that progress in civilisation also contributes to our comfort. “Yes,” they’ll tell us, “we have a large field to play in, and many of our choices will better or our circumstances. But, what about the person that just can’t get ahead because the government has cut their program? Or people who suffer because of prejudice and hatred? If we care at all, we must do what we can for social reform!” I’m a little bit in this camp, too…with the caveat that it does NOT help us to talk and complain endlessly about societal ills. If we feel called to work for a cause, then by all means, let’s do so. A more worthy pursuit is not easily imagined. But keeping our thoughts mired in how awful things are, without either taking some action, or doing our best to focus thoughts elsewhere, is like slowly drowning in a sea of despair.

This is why I liked Universe #4, from the options above. It is a balanced approach. It doesn’t get angry at victims, outraged at injustice, or overwhelmed in trying to fix everything at once. It renders aid where it can, but also uses an incident to examine circumstances and see what can be done, should one choose action.

I think our feelings and emotions are a wonderful guide, if we will just consult them dispassionately (and I realize this is a contradiction in terms!) It’s when we get self-righteous about situations, whether as victims ourselves, or in “fighting for the rights” of those we perceive as victims, that division, angst, and even wars occur. Stepping back and assessing is always a good idea; so is allowing for the possibility that someone else may see a situation differently than ourselves. The only “winning” position is one where everyone, at least, feels heard. That is the least we can do for each other. Also the most.

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The game comes to rest.

Posted on June 29, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, Musings |

 So I play this subtle game. I mean, literally, a game. It’s a puzzle game that lives in the background of my computer and comes to haunt me when I’m trying to write or to get things done.

Of course one cannot “try” to write. I punch at the keys now; I am writing. If I don’t press, or speak, or tell—it is not.

I’m playing it now, I admit. Well, not RIGHT now, RIGHT now I am writing. Or punching. Or pressing. But in a moment, I’ll go back to the game, just hit the tab and I’m in.

“Multitasking” they call it. “Avoiding”, me. Yet in the switching, I find my thoughts, as it requires fewer and different ones.

There! I just did it! Played another round–could you tell?

And went again, as no further inspiration struck, except to tell you I found myself rather clever in writing my process as it happens.

“Too eclectic!” my blog screams at me. “This will NOT appeal to your usual audience!”

My audience, if any remain, has been so generous they might not notice. Patiently waiting as they find me here again. As arrogant as I find that last statement (“waiting”?…as if!) I know my friends are there.

I did it again! I went off to play the game for a bit and came back here, except…I wrote three other pieces first. I got ideas for them, you see, whilst playing the game, making the SIMPLE decisions that free my mind to go elsewhere, as an untethered balloon. But, the balloon travels a solitary path, and bumps and bounces and looks pretty and shiny and fragile and belongs to the child that let the string go.

Sometimes life is forgiving oneself for letting go.

Sometimes it’s OK to find a new string.  

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What constitutes Friendship?

Posted on May 19, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Philosophy |

I held up my end of the bargain. I was where I said I would be, and when. I’m one of the most reliable people I know, except where it matters. I cannot be trusted, yet…I’m completely trustworthy. If I tell you I will get it done, I will; although not always in the most timely fashion.

No speed queen, I. I can work under a deadline; in fact I often do, but I don’t prefer it. Unlike some, I’m not exhilarated or encouraged by the process. Deadlines leave me exhausted, and, kind of, dead.

Recently, I wondered about some people I used to know. I hear from others about how they’ve found old friends on social networking sites. I don’t participate in most of those sites, not because I don’t wish to be found (although I don’t, really), but because I don’t feel “at home” in them. So I websearched some that came to mind, and found one living in the next town!: “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to get in touch with that person? Imagine! They’ve been living within 5 miles of me for several years and I never knew! I must callwriteemailtext pretty soon!” …And I haven’t yet. This was a good friend, back in the day. We had similar interests, had worked together; used to dine and hang out. I know people change over the years, and perhaps my hesitation is fear of knowing that. I’ll admit the other thing; the real reason: For me, friendships are a lot of work! One has to plan to get together; decide where to go and what to do, and then show up and do the things. Other than with a few intimates in my life, it just seems like a lot of trouble. Does that make me a curmudgeon? or just a loner? I know many think I’m so very odd in this way. Other people put any amount of energy into planning parties and social encounters. I don’t mind meeting the occasional friend for a meal, but that’s about the extent of my social creativity :)

I’m one of those “out of sight; out of mind” kind of people, except for those moments when memories come flooding back. Yet…how do I explain a few people who have recently gotten in touch; that I knew years ago; that are not related to me yet seek me out anyway; because they want to; because they feel we still have something to say to each other? Last month, I did meet one of these, for lunch. We’d known each other as we both entered into adulthood; in fact, I was an attendant in her wedding; the only time I have played that role. We had a wonderful visit; one of those conversations that bridges the old relationship with the new understanding. Yet, when she said she’d be in town a few more days, and I ought to come over to her camp for a barbeque, I hesitated, again. This afternoon was just right. To push beyond it; without another period of time gone by first, would not add to our pleasure, I felt.

If I’m not in touch, how do you explain the others seeking? I’ve heard we teach people how to treat us by our actions towards them. I guess my actions are perfect:  Ignore them, most of the time. Be warm and friendly twice a year, or decade, or when I DO see them.

We will both have good memories. Nothing wrong with that!

But I do show up if I’d said I would; barring all disaster. Maybe that’s enough.

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Blessed.

Posted on April 25, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Health, Music, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

 Blessed.

It’s a word.
How does a secular-oriented person reconcile feeling blessed?
But I do.

Blessed. (or Blest): Consecrated.

Consecrate: to make or declare sacred.

Sacred: regarded with reverence

Reverence: a feeling or attitude of deep respect.

Do you see what happens when one tries to go down the semantic road? Of course these are not all the definitions of each word, but they do bring me along a path that is circular; by the time I get to the “deep respect” definition; it describes adequately what I’m feeling.

The word “blessed” tends to be associated with spiritual concepts, but I’m not ready to give it up in secular life. There are times, and situations, when no other word will do.

This time, in my life, is one of those.

Although I have not been writing very much lately for many, many reasons (some of them interesting!) and though I want to share those interesting things with you but somehow have not, I have been blessed by people both on- and off-line, thinking of me and wishing me well.

There have been some occasions to occasion this in recent days. The week just past has been a holiday one for many. Some of my family acknowledged Passover last week, while others of my people celebrated Easter week, culminating in the spring renewal of Easter Sunday.

As I am eclectic spiritually as well as socially, :) my week went something like this: On Tuesday, I experienced a secular passover brunch, featuring my favorite dish of the season, matzah brei. On Saturday, it was, of course ( ;) ) World Tai Chi Day, so I celebrated that by watching wonderful demonstrations of several different forms of Tai Chi at the Chinese Cultural Center, including one I hadn’t seen before using a curved racket and a ball! This was performed by two masters from China who now live here in Arizona. There was good food to be had, and interesting companions. I was surprised how many people do Tai Chi here, and pleased that our local medical community is actively studying it for conditions such as recovery from stroke and heart surgery, and increasing mobility and flexibility in people with arthritis. I know from my own practice that I have better balance and flexibility.

This was all great; and I was having a good weekend, when later that evening I discovered I was being given a surprise birthday party! Orchestrated “behind the scenes” by a dear one, I had no idea; was attending a chat group I help with, and instead of just chatting, we danced, and had cake and champagne! What a lovely unexpected pleasure!

On Sunday I worked; co-facilitating a group. I work at several of these, each scheduled one per month, and the Easter Holiday did not interrupt the schedule. I was curious about the turnout on a holiday that generally has many visiting with family, but we had a very good turnout, and I felt useful to people; always a good thing. :) A potluck dinner followed.

Today is my birthday, and I kept my birthday tradition of brunching here with friends. It was a beautiful spring morning, and the surrounding gardens displayed our desert in bloom. It’s the absolutely best time of year to see desert fauna at it’s best. I was additionally treated to the company of many butterflies as I walked in amongst the splendour.

During the past few days, I’ve received greetings from two cousins I hadn’t communicated with in years, and from two good friends I’ve known since my childhood. I’ve also gotten messages from some blog friends—and this blows my mind and has generated the title of this post—this, after being “absent” from my blog space for quite a while! The fact that I am still thought about and cared for makes my birthday mean more than the passing of another year; it truly is a time of renewal.

Continual happy spring to you!

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Balance in the Spring

Posted on March 21, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Health, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

The wind is howling as is my conscience. A card from a lovely friend reminds me that I have not deposited pixels here on my blog for quite a while. She hopes it’s because I’m having such an amazing time in the rest of my life, that my blog has fallen by the wayside.

That is a nice sentiment—and I thank her for that!—but I wonder… I’ve written some of my best blog posts when my life was full of activity. Lately, things have seemed as if they are closing down.

There are distinct joys in my life; some new windows have opened. But, open windows notwithstanding, I’m still in the same house (literally and figuratively.)

When I first started blogging, the social media site “Facebook” was not as prominent. Many of my blog friends have FB accounts, but I never have had.

I may have lost some of them to it, but they have not lost me.

So why am I lost? I’ve felt inauthentic; disconnected lately. I used to write my truth here; from my heart; from my soul; from my spirit. “My” truth seems elusive, and no one else’s exists!

I could point to “world events”, and indeed they are frightening and uncertain, lately. I have given some little donations to the Red Cross, and I help facilitate a group for people who are disturbed by things. I am disturbed, too.

But, as much as some recent events can make us feel helpless, my recent malaise came along before most of them.

I realize I’m out of balance…that’s the thing!

A friend that’s a coach has a tool she uses; the balance wheel, I think she calls it. She has tried to counsel me using it, but I am stubborn and resistant.

Here it is:

Balance Wheel

Life Wheel - Inner North Coaching

You can rename sections to match the important areas of your life. You may also choose to split one or two sections or add one or two sections of your own. For example, many people prefer to divide “Friends & Family” into two sections.

  1. The center of the wheel is 0, and the outer edge of the wheel as 10. Rank your level of satisfaction with each life area by drawing an arc at the number that represents your level of satisfaction. A 0 means you are not satisfied at all with an area right now; A 10 means everything in that area is absolutely perfect for you right now.
  2. Write the number that the arc represents. For example, if you are 75% satisfied with your career, draw an arc about 3/4 of the way out from the center of the circle in the Career section of the Wheel, and label it 7.5.

As you can see, the task is to rate one’s SATISFACTION in all the areas on the wheel, not necessarily where one feels one does the most good.
However, like many of us, much of my satisfaction comes from at least thinking I’m of some use!
The creator of this wheel also lets us know that we can rename one or more sections…but, I’ve found, through chatting with my friend, and examining the sections, that they are pretty representative for most of us.
Naturally, few if any of us will have a perfectly balanced pie. But it’s a warning sign if, for instance, one has a little sliver of a pie piece for a particular category, and half the pie in another!

I always wonder, with these kinds of graphs, where one puts something like “Spiritual Expression”. Many would say it goes under “Personal Growth”, but that narrows it too much, on the one hand, and jams it in with too many things, on the other.
I prefer to find spiritual expression radiating out from the center point of the chart, as a ninth, but all-encompassing area, as it permeates all else.
(I believe, by the way, that whether one embraces religion, or not, one can engage in spiritual expression. This does not have to involve worship of an outside entity or entities as many imagine, but rather contains that “spark of connection” that keeps us WANTING to be human!)

Many of the “pie pieces” can be expressed through, or at least reported upon, by blogging. I feel I need some work and definition in each of the wedges. I challenge myself (and YOU are a witness) to write about each one, both from a personal viewpoint, and as a universal model in the next few weeks.

If you hadn’t guessed by now…this is my Spring Renewal Project! Several traditions, including some that resonate deeply with me, celebrate a new year, or a start of a new cycle at or about this time.
I am awestruck, once again, at the sight of the huge full moon on this day, and respectful of the natural time known as spring equinox. I want to say “Happy New Year” to those of my blog mates I know are celebrating now:

☼Chinese New Year came quite early this year; starting on Feb. 3…but I always include it in spring renewal as it resides there in my heart.
☼The Spring Equinox is a favorite contemplation, as it’s all about a natural marker in a natural cycle, not about any dogma, or human-imposed beliefs.
☼I respect and honor the Hindu spring festival of colours: Holi, of which I was recently reminded.
☼Persian and Bahai friends celebrate NawRuz, New Year, at this time. This festival predates and informs the next one:
☼My Jewish family members are celebrating Purim, during which Jews are delivered from enemies. Although Jewish New Year is in the fall and not the spring, I like to think of the story from the bible book of Esther as a metaphorical time of renewal as well.
☼Many Muslims celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed at this time, and finally…
☼A bittersweet remembrance of the Spring Festival of Japan; the festival of the Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura, which took place some weeks ago, but one I tend to associate with the dawn of Spring. I won’t go into what Japan has or has not to celebrate right now, but I have been gratified to see the few Cherry trees in my desert neighborhood valiantly bursting into bloom. In my native San Francisco we had hundreds of Cherry Trees, and the festival was a huge city-wide event!

I sometimes long for those days when life was as simple as gazing at a flower. Or so it seemed :)  ☼ Happy New Spring to you! ☼

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When it hits close to home…

Posted on January 8, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Health, Philosophy |

Arizona Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords

It is a sad thing that my first post of a new year involves local tragedy. I use the word “tragedy” advisedly, as many things happen during a lifetime, and looked at from a very broad perspective, are part of the dance of life. Use of the word “dance” here is in no way meant to demean or make light of the real emotions involved. I have been filled with emotion all this day.

I woke up about an hour before the event occurred, with a blinding headache. This is unusual for me, and although I hadn’t been feeling tip-top for some days, I was surprised at this. I also felt a bit wary, as if there were tension in the air.

I made my morning tea and toast, and turned on the computer, as I generally do. I don’t usually look at the news outlets first thing in the morning, but, through my email, I am signed up for local breaking-news-alerts. Sometimes I find the notion almost funny—as there is very little breaking news in southern Arizona, other than occurrences regarding border security with Mexico, which is only an hour’s drive south of me.

I immediately noticed the name in the news, today. Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords, is MY congressperson, I voted for her each of the three times she ran for, and won, her congressional seat. I have heard her speak; she has left phone messages at my home letting me know when she’ll have a townhouse meeting near me. I’m on her email update list, and I follow her on Twitter. In short, although I’m not VERY political, she is the politician I am most in touch with.

Additionally, the shooting incident took place about 8-9 miles from me, in a shopping center I’ve visited frequently, usually while on my way to pick up supplies for a job. I had lunch at a restaurant a few yards away, just two days ago. I picked up some sundry items at the pharmacy next door while there. I had actually planned to attend one of Rep. Giffords town meetings when she came to my town.

As the day unfolded, I heard the incorrect report that the Congresswoman had died of her gunshot wound to the head. Tears streamed down my face. Later, it was reported that she survived her wound, and was recovering well after surgery. Her aide, a judge, and a little girl, among 3 others were not as lucky, and several others remain in critical condition. At this time, I don’t know if I knew any of the victims. It is possible. Tucson, though large in area has a small town feel and is a close-knit community, and as I’ve worked on the periphery of performing arts organizations, I have had occasion to help coordinate events with the mayor of Tucson and other political leaders.

I say this not to name-drop, but to show how much the community works together. This is very personal to us here, and even more stunning as it makes international news. The area where the shooting took place is normally very peaceful and congenial. Everyone knows the intersection and the small businesses surrounding it; it is a crossroads of the northwest part of the vicinity.

Our local news advised us to avoid the area, as the streets were shut down in all four directions. This is a major artery here, and I’ve passed through hundreds of times as my most direct route to get to meetings in central Tucson. I’m scheduled to attend a dinner tonight; I don’t know at this moment if I’ll be able to get there.

Mostly, in addition to those who were killed and injured today, I mourn the loss of freedom of expression. Ms. Giffords has always been known for her friendliness and for really hearing what her constituents have to say. She flies all the way home from Washington to have these meetings regularly. She is a moderate Democrat, and has been considered by some Republicans to be more the old style of Republican than are the current “Tea Party” Republicans.

Tucson is not a hugely important city in the United States; certainly it’s no Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. That something like this could happen so close to home has me rattled. I feel quite safe, or at least as safe as I always did, as the police have the suspect in custody, and it appears to be an isolated incident. But I felt, as I watched the national news coverage of the scene, much as I did when viewing the aftermath of 9/11…although obviously a much less impactful event in the scheme of things, there is a loss of innocence and joy that I and many will now have to work to recapture. My heart and my thoughts go out to all impacted by this and other similar events.

Peace; Salaam; Shalom ♥

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“Christmas”…”Cheer”…?

Posted on December 18, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Music, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

I want to get this down while it’s still fresh in my mind. Today, (and similar days in past Decembers), is one of the more emotionally devastating, yet ultimately satisfying days of my year. I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally, but, I think…in a good way.

I do free-lance administrative work for several arts and cultural organizations. One of them is a chorus I sing in as well. Today, we made our annual “Christmas Caroling” trek. I put that in quotes, as I don’t really know what “Christmas” means…more about that in a minute. I generally grumble and mutter under my breath when the group plans this expedition. Coming up to the time, it seems overly precious and sentimental; not to mention, well, more “religious” than I’m comfortable with. I’m the kind of secularist that, on one level, really doesn’t understand how someone can say something like: “I’m an atheist. But. I really like Christmas!” —what? What does that mean? To me, when I observe the society around me, I can’t define “Christmas” as any one thing. It is a pivotal celebration for some branches of religionists. It’s also associated with Pagan or natural celebrations of solstice; in fact the solstice observances of many cultures have been hijacked by the Christians in order to incorporate already existing holy times into the celebration of their leader’s birth.

The confusing thing to me is that in some countries, Christmas is also a cultural holiday; a time to share gifts and cards, parties and greetings, and perhaps a softer attitude than at other times of the year. Is there something in the darkest time of the year that causes us to slow down and reflect? Something beyond the religiosity of it all?

In times past, I’d tell people I don’t celebrate the holiday, as I’m not a Christian or a Pagan. I’d receive looks ranging from the quizzical to the hostile; from those who’d ask what either of those spiritual paths has to do with it (!) to those who are strictly Christian and don’t like the Pagans or secularists usurping “their” holiday. (Kind of ironic, considering)

So I grumble and complain and say I don’t want to do this “caroling” thing…and yet…I always do. We’re not the kind of carolers that go door-to-door. We visit care facilities such as today’s Alzheimer’s, Hospice, and Chronic Care units. I realize, as I always do, that most of the people who receive the gift of our songs have heard them all their lives, whatever their religious or lack of religious upbringing. These holiday songs are ubiquitous. You’d have to travel somewhere really remote, or never leave your home between November 1st and December 26th to avoid them. This becomes important in the saga of the caroling.

Our first visit was to an Alzheimer’s unit, a nice set of five cottages around a central courtyard. We visited all five cottages. In most, there were a mix of relatively alert, and pretty-much-out-of-it residents, with a few visiting family members thrown in. We never know what kind of reception we are going to get, because with Alzheimer’s patients, the short-term memory is the first to go, and they may not remember their son’s name, for instance, but they sometimes do remember all the words to a Christmas carol. I’ve seen this happen many times. The residents will look around in confusion as we enter their living space. Are they supposed to know who we are? Some of them give us hostile or suspicious looks.

And then: We start to sing. We sing very well, as we are from a semi-professional chorus. Rich, four-part harmony greets the residents as they listen to familiar tunes. Some of them open their eyes, and watch, with rapt expressions. Others keep their eyes closed, but, somehow, mouth the words. Still others wake up, as if from a long sleep, and start to sing along; voices beautiful; moving; emotional.

This is when the magic happens for me. For those few moments, there is no illness; no loss of cognitive function. We all share in these carols we know so well. We sing a mix of purely secular winter songs (Jingle Bells; Frosty the Snowman) Pagan (Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly) to the overtly religious (O Little Town of Bethlehem; Silent Night) and we always end with We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and at that moment, I do; I really do!

As we ended with each group, we went to shake hands with those who were able to do so, and greet them. Two women and one man kissed my hand. :) We were told by their caretakers that they hadn’t seen some of them this animated in a long time. I felt blessed in my ability to share this gift. I was content. It was meaningful. We had another facility, a county nursing home to visit, and then…we had “a thing at the mall”.

“What a contrast”, I thought to myself, “between singing to these lovely folks who can’t get out for a concert, and singing for a lot of mall shoppers trying to get the best deal!”

At the county-run large nursing home facility, I recognized several residents from the prior year. Unlike at the previous venue, there were a variety of ages; many quite young, but profoundly disabled and requiring 24-hour care. The staff member that took us around to three main lounges explained that, although some residents would have their eyes closed, or otherwise appear to “not be all there”, they nevertheless just might be able to take the music into their inner lives. She told us that last year, a resident came out of a coma after we sang! This was the first I’d heard of that. Again, a few audience members sang or mouthed some of the words with us. Others sat still and unblinking with tears running down their cheeks. One man, relatively young, sat with his eyes closed, seemingly oblivious, until, during Jingle Bells, two of the singers actually jingled bells they had brought with them. He opened his eyes and stared and stared at us.

And so, on to the “mall thing”. I will say that, although I don’t frequent malls to begin with, this day is probably the last day I would have chosen to visit any mall. The parking lots, and the mall itself were packed with shoppers, hoping to be inspired just a week before the holiday that causes them to give.

Some, obviously, were enjoying the shopping. Many, however, had “that look” on their faces; the “concentrated; obligatory; let’s get this gift buying over with” sort of expression that makes me question the wisdom of this December Debacle.

I hoped that what we were about to do would ease their pain, if only a little! :)

Inspired by a project born in another state, the Arizona Music Teacher’s Association decided to bring a “Random Act of Culture” to southern Arizona’s busiest mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Fresh from my lunch of hummus and Greek salad, I wandered over to the large rotunda. There was an organ playing Christmas carols; not a terribly unusual thing in a mall in this season. It seemed there were many onlookers lining the railings from the floor above, and as I and my colleagues merged and mingled with the shoppers, we became aware that it was almost time. The organ stopped. And then it started again, at four times its previous volume. A conductor appeared on the landing between the floors. As the organ completed the introduction, several hundred voices, all mixed in with the shoppers, began to sing. Chills ran up my spine. Although under very different circumstances than in my morning activities, I still felt that I and the others “ministered” to these shoppers, perhaps victims of our consumerist culture; perhaps only trying to bring happiness to their families and friends.

As I contemplate my day, I’ve let go of feeling that any one group was more deserving than another. We’re all in this together, doing the best we can. As I was driving home from the mall (after taking 38 minutes just to be able to leave the mall!) I noticed a bumper sticker on the car ahead of me: “Don’t Postpone Joy”. Indeed.

Here is video from the project that inspired ours. We may make the local evening news with our event; if so, I’ll post an update here. We sang the same music as in the video, and received the same spontaneous applause.
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