HowTo

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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PepperPorn: Still at it!

Posted on July 27, 2011. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy |

  This month, (on July 27) I celebrate my fourth Bloggiversary. Four years is not a lot of time in the scheme of things, but it’s a fair amount for online life. I’ve read quite a few comments from long-time bloggers recently, and I thought I’d consider them and how they may apply to continued blogging adventures.

When I first started blogging in 2007, most of the bloggers I encountered were very active; posting nearly every day. Perhaps I met them because I was very active too; it makes sense that if one is engaged with others, even through a personal, individual activity like blogging, that those participating would become familiar with each other.

It becomes a community like any other. Wary of, but friendly to newcomers, we have a history with each other. There are bloggers “older” than I that have tolerated my company, :) while I have welcomed newcomers, with, I hope, grace. Some of the “oldies” have remained while others have faded away, never to be heard from again. I realize I don’t want to be one of the “faders”! (although I have been giving a fair impression of one lately).

There is a peculiar thing with online families. They each develop their unique language and nuance, even though bloggers, for the most part, are writing to a general public, and closed references would be considered rude. Many of the bloggers I’ve known for several years don’t post as much as they used to. I am one of those as well, but I’ve found myself suffering from blogginess (loneliness for blogging). So, instead of retiring on my fourth bloggiversary, I’m looking into ways to “spice up the blog”, thus changing it enough that it becomes exciting again. I want to capture that ‘new-blog-smell’ sense of excitement I used to have, when the blog was young and carefree. Well, young, anyway. I do put things I care about here. In connecting again with my reactions to my caring, I hope to produce *PepperPorn for years to come.

* Title Explanation one: ;) For those of you with a sensitive nature, the title of my blog post today contains a typographical error. I meant to write “Peppercorn”, which, as you know, is the “fruit” or “berry” of the pepper plant, the part which, when dried, is then ground into a potent spice. Somehow, my finger slipped and the “c” became a “P” in the aforementioned title. Why would I call a post celebrating my blog anniversary “peppercorn”? Who knows? If you’ve read this far, I’ll just say that perhaps, to start fresh in my new blog year, I wanted to attract those who appreciate fine cuisine, and placing a spice in the title would help me accomplish that. This is not true, however. If you are sensitive about the “real” title, stop reading now, and thank you for reading my blog for 0-4 years! :)
 
“We are thus assisted by natural objects in the expression of particular meanings. But how great a language to convey such pepper-corn informations!” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
(Emerson muses that language may be more than a mere tool to signify objects. It might indeed transcend utility and embody in itself unheard-of regions of significance.) – The Columbia World of Quotations
 
OK, so, if you are STILL reading, this means you can take it! You HAD been warned! Read the next Explanation at your own risk!
 
* Title Explanation two: :D Actually (and don’t tell the people that aren’t reading this!) it wasn’t a typo at all! My finger didn’t slip; the use of the word PepperPorn was fully intentional! The truth is, after four years, I really felt the need to spice up my blog. It had been feeling a bit hum-drum; so much so, that I’d been staying away from it myself. I came close to letting my four year bloggiversary pass without any acknowledgement whatsoever. But then, I remembered how helpful has been for me to have this place where I express my thoughts, to commune with like others, and to take pleasure and share the pain of real people’s lives, expressed in pixels.
So here is the definition of “pepper”-the-verb I want to use for this explanation:  a. to season with or as if with pepper b. to sprinkle or cover c. to pelt with or as if with shot or missiles. (I’m hoping that, by injecting a bit of pepper into my posts, I will in fact recapture their flavour.)
 
“Such epithets, like pepper,
Give zest to what you write;
And, if you strew them sparely,
They whet the appetite:
But if you lay them on too thick,
You spoil the matter quite!” – Lewis Carroll
 
So much for the word “PEPPER”. We still have the problem of “PORN”.
 
 
Porn” an abbreviation of “Pornography” from Greek pornographos  writing of harlots, from pornē  a harlot + graphein  to write]
 
(So, I must just have referred to myself as a “harlot” here! And lest you think harlots are “only” women, or really, defined by their common usage, so to speak, read on…perhaps I am merely a buffoon!)
 
Harlot: early 13c., “vagabond,” from O.Fr. herlot, arlot “vagabond, tramp” (usually male in M.E. and O.Fr.), with forms in O.Prov. (arlot), O.Sp. arlote), and It. (arlotto), of unknown origin. Used in both positive and pejorative senses by Chaucer; applied to jesters, buffoons, jugglers, later to actors. Sense of “prostitute” probably had developed by 14c. but reinforced by use as euphemism for “strumpet, whore” in 16c. translations of the Bible. The word may be Gmc., with an original sense of “camp follower,” if the first element is hari “army,” as some suspect.   (from the Online Etymology Dictionary)
 

P.S. I must admit I owe some inspiration for my title to a commenter on a blog friend’s floral pictures. The commenter referred to his “flower porn”, and I’ve never been the same since. Dave posts a lot of gardening pictures; he has lovely vegetables as well.

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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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Three Spikes and You’re Sprout!

Posted on July 6, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Games, HowTo, Musings, Travel |

Subtitle: “Muse’s Tips for a Peaceful Summer*

I’ll get to the title and what it means in a second, but first! Here is tip #1
1. Do not wash a duvet cover in the same load as your socks!
I own two socks (from two different pair, of course) that I fear I won’t see again until winter (or what passes for that in the desert). In the summer, I don’t use the thick fluffy duvet, or its cover, so I launder and fold away the latter to keep safely stored through the hot months that make all us desert dwellers think we’ll never be cool again, but somehow winter does eventually come and we say: “Gosh it’s cold; wish I didn’t have to wear three pair of socks!” Honestly, I searched in all the corners and pockets of the duvet and pillowcases and such…but I guess these socks are not summer socks. I’ll put their mates with the duvet, and with luck we’ll all reunite in the winter.

2. Do not have three spikes on your Desert Spoon!
…it gets unwanted attention from the neighbors, and, perhaps from international reporters. This is not so much a tip as a warning. After all, you can’t really tell your plants how to grow, can you? Perhaps it would be better put: “If your main water line breaks in the spring, expect anomalies in the summer!+
I have written about my trials and tribulations with this ubiquitous shrub before (here and amazingly enough, again here.) I swore I would not do this…but, seriously, the Spoon near my kitchen window was getting so big it was about to push through and become my roommate, so I succumbed and had it trimmed up on the bottom. Yet another landscaper told me it would be more trouble to take that plant out, than to do that. Oh well.  It, in spite of the intrusive trimming, it has one spike. This is normal. Having TWO spikes is unusual, but common. Due to (I’m guessing) the large amount of water the huge, center, non-trimmed Spoon got during my pipe-bursting incident, I was not surprised to see it put up two building-high spikes. But, just in the last week or so, I see that a third spike has emerged! Do you know how rare this is? This is the only other one I’ve EVER seen! (photo credit: about-garden.com)    Perhaps we are easily amused here in the desert, or soft-headed from temperatures exceeding 105F (41C) each day, but I do see the neighbors stopping and pointing! Really!

3. When celebrating the American holiday “Independence Day”, decide ahead of time whether you want “natural” or “human-made” fireworks. Again, this will be only partially under your control. Quite recently, on the just-passed 4th of July, after enjoying various contributed foods and watching a spectacular sunset, it began to thunder. And rain. And loud non-nature-made booms ensued. And the sky lit up with spectacular lightning, while also hosting the colourful sparkles of created light this holiday is known for. Being out of doors, and a little damp, and a little anxious about the lightning, I nonetheless enjoyed this rare spectacle of nature and human creativity.  (This particular firework looks a bit like an exploding Desert Spoon, doesn’t it? hmmm :) )

Perhaps I’ll have other tips as the summer moves hotly along. We’ll stick with just these three for now. Happy Hot Days, for those experiencing them :D

* The actual title of this piece is a word play on a rule in American Baseball: “Three Strikes and You’re Out!” For those that DON’T know: A ball is thrown at a person holding a big stick in her/his hands. If the person fails to hit the ball with the stick (and therefore doesn’t get to run around in a square) three times in a row (or three “strikes”) they are “out”, which means they don’t get to play anymore. Until the next time.
I’m not really that much of a baseball fan, I prefer the sport of American Football (which is not “real” football, or soccer) but went to a lot of baseball games as a youth.
Why did I go? cuz my friends were going. Isn’t that why we do a lot of things? Should we give some thought to our motivations? …nah!
For more on the difference between American Football and American Baseball, see this video, which explains it kindly and sensibly (not really, but it’s funny as heck!)

+ The broken water line did in fact happen to me, and I lived in mud, but with no incoming water, for the better part of a week. Much landscaping and cash later, I have running water, new pipe and a better looking front garden, however the trauma caused the relocation of my favorite lizard, who had been living under the above-referred-to Desert Spoon for several years. :(

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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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“Hi, Atus!”

Posted on February 9, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Games, HowTo, Musings |

 OK, I admit it. I plunked this post into the middle of February even though I didn’t write it until almost the end of April. If I confess that, am I excused?

The reason I did this is I hadn’t posted ANYthing in February, and it was the first month since this blog’s inception that I had not come up with EVEN ONE POST for an entire calendar month. I looked at my blog archives list in my sidebar, “February” was conspicuously missing. Although a short month, it made January and March look lonely.

So this post title is in acknowledgement of what I actually, did, blogwise, in February of 2011. :)

Using the title “Hi, Atus!” (You did know that was my clever destruction of the word “hiatus”, right; to indicate that I’d been away) I thought the least I could do is search for the word or term “atus” and promote the results. I found an acronym for “American Time Use Survey” and also a blogger named “Atus“! Well met, both. Now, I think I need a “random” category for posts if I keep this up…

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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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Her Beans and My Heart ♥

Posted on December 17, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy |

Roasted Sesame Green Beans

Last month, I participated in that American Institution known as “Thanksgiving Day”. For the past couple of years I had attended a potluck dinner, and was assigned to bring vegetables. Although green beans are traditional for this meal, I wanted something different, and consulted my favorite food blogger, whom I’d known for about a year at the time. “Sesame Green Beans” were the result of this consultation, and were the hit of the party two years running.

This year, through a series of events, I was called upon to provide the entire Thanksgiving meal, although for a smaller number of people. I again cooked the green beans, but this year, it was a different experience. The beans were excellent, as always, but I was not able to report that fact to the dear friend who had provided the recipe.

You see, I only knew her through her blog, and through the many emails we’d exchanged over the three years we knew each other. Last year, soon after I reported my latest bean success; I read what was apparently to be her last blog post. She wished her readers a happy Christmas, declared she’d be back in the new year…and was not heard from again.

Most of you know that bloggers come and go. It is a strange medium in some ways; if a person wishes to be anonymous, s/he can usually do so. Casual, hobbiest bloggers don’t owe anyone a thing. They can start to write, gather a following, and decide to stop at any time.

What has amazed me about a couple of the social media outlets I’ve been involved with, is that, over the course of spewing my thoughts, I have made genuine, lasting friendships. I counted this food-blogger among them. She wrote about more than food, but that was her passion, on this particular blog. I’m not much of a cook; never was, but she was easy to talk to about all sorts of things. She was kind to me; commenting on my blog often, and sending me emails when she came across something she knew I’d like.

We started to share more about personal situations. She was a very private person, as am I, so I was honored by her trust.

She doesn’t owe me anything; never did…but…it seems odd to me that after three years of several-times-a month communication, it would cease—for me, and with all who knew her from her blog.

Perhaps she thought she would come back, and somehow, didn’t have the heart for it. Perhaps she didn’t want to write a “goodbye” post, because she felt she’d come back in a bit, and then what would she say?

Some of us who were her friends thought she might have become too ill to post, and we tried to find out more. It appears she is still with us, from the latest reports.

Somewhere along the way, however, I’ve realized that I have been guilty of some of the same behaviors of which I accuse my food-friend. I have not updated my blog very often lately. I’m not entirely sure why, although I have a few good ideas. I tell myself it’s something I can do “tomorrow”, and we all know there is no tomorrow.

I tell myself that I at least answer emails from concerned friends, unlike food-friend who has not. But I haven’t even done that as quickly as I’d like to these days. And there are non-blog friends, and even family members who have not heard from me as much lately.

I’ve gotten some lovely messages from blog friends wondering where I have been! I am humbled; I’m chagrined. A couple inquiries I’ve gotten truly have made me realize how much I was preoccupied with my own issues.

One was from a someone whose mother recently passed away. He is young to lose a parent. And yet, in the midst of his grieving, he took the time to inquire how I was, as I had not been on this blog for a while. It shames me to know this, not in a self-deprecating way, but in a self-involved kind of way.

To hep me plead my case, I will say that I’ve spent some time helping a dear friend who has been ill, and attempting to mend fences with family members, particularly one who may not be long for this world. But it doesn’t compensate for neglecting to notice what others have been dealing with. It doesn’t excuse lack of compassion.

I am hard on myself, as we often are. Noticing is an education. Taking action on what one notices becomes the harvest of our being. I am reminded that whenever I am feeling judgemental about someone’s actions, I’d best look within to see if there is some version of those things operating in my experience, and then, with great understanding, forgive us both!

To all those, blogging or not, who have touched my life, I thank you for being my life tutors. Blessings be.

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The other way

Posted on November 23, 2010. Filed under: Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality |

This speaks to me as my life has unfolded lately:

No Other Way
by Martha Smock

Could we but see the pattern of our days,
We should discern how devious were the ways
By which we came to this, the present time,
This place in life; and we should see the climb
Our soul has made up through the years.

We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,
The wastelands of our life, and know
That we could come no other way or grow
Into our good without these steps our feet
Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.

The road of life winds on, and we like travelers go
From turn to turn until we come to know
The truth that life is endless and that we
Forever are inhabitants of all eternity.

So many times I’ve said to myself “why can’t this have happened sooner?; why did it have to happen at all?; if I knew then what I knew now; …etc. etc. etc.

The fact is, even if I knew then what I know now, then would have been a different then, and now a different now. I would not be the person that says: “if only…”. The words you read here would be those of someone else!

I’m not sure why, but this, strangely, gives me comfort.

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Random Confessions

Posted on September 22, 2010. Filed under: Culture, EFT, Games, Health, HowTo, Music, Musings, Philosophy |

This is a time of year I often evaluate aspects of my life. Some do it at Gregorian New Year; others in the Spring…to me, the fall is the best time, the time of the Autumnal New Year. I can look at what I’ve “harvested” over the past few months; evaluate what I want to tuck away for the winter (Don’t chuckle; though I live in the Sonoran Desert, we DO get winter. Or what passes for winter, here, anyway) ;)

Another reason to evaluate in the fall is that it’s a tradition for part of my family. Although I wasn’t raised with this holiday; some of my family members celebrate the Jewish New Year; and I observe my own version of Yom Kippur in a September. I think the fact that I was not brought up in that particular religion makes me more able, objectively, to appreciate some of the ceremonies it has. I have a lot of religious baggage from the religious upbringing I did have; and am still reconciling myself with what was passed to me as truth.

Some random things I’m looking to let go of:

Hair! I’m sure I won’t really do this; but my hair has been bugging me lately. I’m sorely tempted to shave it all off. I’ve always been “into” my hair; it’s sort of long for who I am, and it gets into everything. During the long hot summer we’ve been having here, it’s particularly annoying. I know the more obvious solution is to just cut it short! But I can’t! That would be so un-me. I’d rather just cut it all off, if I’m going to change it…but then I’m afraid I’ll look like an melon or, worse, TweedleDum! (TweedleDee wouldn’t be as bad!) :) So, I’ll probably, as I usually do, just let it grow another inch while I ponder…

Papers! Seriously, is there any reason to keep old bills around any more? They are all accessible and stored online from every institution. I act as if I’m about to be subject to a tax audit of the last 78 years (!) and I’ll be one of those people that rolls in 24 carts of materials to be examined. In looking to clean out and simplify certain aspects of my life; both out of desire and necessity, I’m gingerly going through these old records and shredding away! I hope I feel better afterward.

People! Do you ever see people as baggage? Is that a rude thing to ask? Some of the people who have been in my life don’t quite fit anymore, while others are changing roles or adding to them. This is natural evolution in most cases; but we humans tend to hold on even as we evolve, sometimes. I’ve heard it said that if a relationship isn’t serving you, let it go! Much like you would and old vacuum cleaner that blows dusty air out instead of sucks it in. Some of my relationships are work-related, and I’ve noticed that, in most cases, when the working relationship ends, very often the personal one does too. Most of them need the glue of the common interest and activity to hold them together. There are exceptions, of course. It’s perfectly possible—and I have done—to find a long-term friend in these circumstances, but as I look back, I realize that, out of all the people I felt were extremely important in my day-to-day existence, only a handful have stayed in touch with me, or I with them. I am more guilty of this than most, I think. If someone calls, months after a project, and wants to have lunch, I’ll think “Why?” I may go ahead and have the lunch, but in these cases I’ll feel tongue-tied and awkward, and say things like “So, how’s your life been since we finished producing that art project 1000 balloons as Representative of Modern Angst?”

Thoughts! Here are things—and I have heard it said many times that “thoughts are things”–that are a bit harder to deal with, even more so than people. People will eventually go away if I ignore them long enough (I know I sound unsociable, and I sort of am!, but I only do that with people I want to go away), but thoughts! what can one do about thoughts? Really, for me anyway, there are only two ways to clear up the unwanted kind. One is to replace them with better-feeling thoughts, and make some new memories. After some practice, these will become my thoughts. It doesn’t do a lot of good to dwell on the unpleasant ones without some form of relief. This can be anything from vigorous exercise to energy techniques, but best for me is to imagine the kinds of thoughts I’d like to have!—Not to sound too Pollyanna-ish… :)

English! By this I specifically mean the English language used in sacred choral music. A lot of people in the western world play in orchestras or sing in choruses. I have done both for many years. In the “classical” tradition (misnamed, but that’s another post) ;) most—by no means all, but most—of the vocal music consists of interpretations of western Christian liturgy. Many people can just sing those right along for years, regardless of their background or beliefs. In one of the choral groups I work with, there are a surprising number of spiritual persuasions and non-persuasions. I will confess that, for me, it is increasingly difficult to repeat phrases that have no place in my belief system. I could just continue to “suck it up” as I have been doing for years. After all, choral directors and coaches often tell us that part of our “job” singing this music is to be actors, to “sell” it. I do see this as important if accepting a role in a play (and I WAS a missionary, for the Save-A-Soul Mission, in the musical Guys and Dolls–ironic, huh?) but, there are a variety of roles in plays, whereas in traditional western classical music, there is mostly this adulterated religious expression. When these works are sung in Latin or German or French, I at least get some distance from them, even though I still know what every word says. I can more easily step into a “role” if I’m not using the language I speak and think in.

Ideas! You’d think this would have been covered in “Thoughts”, above, but ideas are different from thoughts. An idea is: “Hey maybe I’ll become a circus clown! That’s just what I’ve been needing to spice up my life!” or, “I’ve noticed that when I go into rooms painted Chartreuse I feel peppier! I think I’m going to paint my whole house Chartreuse!” (I never said “ideas” were necessarily “good” or “helpful”.) They are Proclamations rather than mere Thoughts. All of us have probably thought of a product or two from time to time that *does* seem to be a good idea. Some of them languish away on the back burner, while others are brought to the forefront. So I’m ready to let go of the not-as-good ones.

Fix-it Projects! My house seems to need a lot of work at the moment, some of which I can do myself, some not; some of which costs a fair amount of money, and some not. Everything from replacing the carpets to fixing the leak in the garage seems to need doing. The kitchen could use some work. The bathrooms scare me a little. But how to prioritize? Should I do the things that cost the least and that I can do myself first? Or should I make a list of things from most to least urgent and work my way down as best I can? I’m a bit unmotivated and disheartened, but if I want to leave this house for greener pastures, these things must be done. Even if I don’t…I deserve a nice place to live, don’t I? I’ve just thought of a third way to do my list, which brings me finally to…

Lists! I have a love/hate relationship with lists. When I travel, I obsess about them. I put everything I want to pack on a list, from underwear to nail clippers. After all, I’m traveling all the way to…California!, a primitive land where I’m sure they don’t have things like toothpaste, should I forget it, nor could I possibly borrow it from my native Californian sister, whom I will visit–backwards creature that she is! She probably scrubs her teeth with backyard sand! …And then there’s the other kind of list: “Things To Do”. I like to make these lists, but I rarely do what’s on them. My streak of rebelliousness comes out when I’m told to do something, even when I’m the one telling. I don’t really want to “Do” anything. I do often do things, but I’d rather just “Be”. Perhaps I should make a “To Be” list! Yes! I’ll put that on my list of things To Do. :)

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