Friday, December 15, 2017

A Recipe for Happy Memories

     Have you ever smelled a particular scent, heard a particular song or tasted a particular food and, as a result, a flood of memories fills your head and heart? So it is at this time of year when I smell the scent of evergreens and cinnamon sticks, sing Christmas carols, hear church bells on a winter night and taste Christmas cookies, candies and treats. 
     So it is, also, when I pull out my late mom's recipe box filled with cookie recipes from Christmases of days gone by. The memories hidden inside that unassuming, yet precious box envelop me like a warm comforter.
     As I reminisced over Mom's recipe box this year, I found myself carefully lifting out recipe cards that are faded and stained from years of use. I read recipes for Aunt Mae's sugar cookies, our good friend Betty's biscotti, Aunt Alice's date macaroons, our dear friend Barb's seven-layer cookies, Grandma Carrie's fruit cookies, Aunt Ellie's sugar cookies and Mom's dream bars. Each recipe was written carefully in the baker's penmanship on a plain, lined 3" x 5" index card. 
     I got swept away just thinking of these special women in my life.
     Soon, my memories took me back to Christmas days of my childhood, when my parents and I would drive the three hours across the state to Grandma and Grandpa's home. We'd enter their home through the kitchen where I'd immediately spy a huge stack of large coffee cans in the corner. Each can would be filled with a different variety of Christmas cookie. They might be peanut crunches, gum drop cookies, lemon snowballs, pinwheel cookies or bourbon balls. They would all be delicious because Grandma was a wonderful baker, but my favorites were always the Russian tea cakes -- a shortbread-type of cookie made primarily of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, flour, salt and chopped nuts, rolled into balls or crescents and then smothered, while still warm, in another round of powdered sugar.
     If I was a lucky girl, I'd receive new pajamas for Christmas from Grandpa and Grandma. If I was a really lucky girl, I'd get a small container of my very own Russian tea cakes, too.
     I'm admittedly not the baker I once was. We rarely eat very much refined sugar anymore. But I can't part with that recipe box. It sits idle in the kitchen drawer for most of the year, but when December rolls around, I feel urged to look inside at its precious contents, holding each recipe card, studying the ingredients and directions through faded handwriting and cooking stains, and thinking back to Christmases past when coffee cans of cookies was one of the most spectacular holiday sights for a little girl.

Note: Check back here on January 1, 2018 when something new for the new year will be unveiled at "Time to Be"!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Give Yourself the Sacred Gift of Time to Be

     I have been writing this blog since October of 2011. I called it Time to Be because during that chapter in my life, I came to understand that I needed time each day for silence, for space, for centering, for reflection and for renewal in order to benefit my well-being. My energies were pretty well depleted at that time because I was still working my way through the profound grief of the passing of my beloved mother, as well as a lengthy recovery from a serious and debilitating illness. 
     The name of my blog came from the writings of my late mother's favorite author and one of mine, as well, Gladys Taber: "We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite, time to be."
     At this time of year as the holidays roll around and our calendars seem to roll out of control with the chaos of myriad seasonal activities, obligations and expenses, I believe that the precious gift of giving ourselves time to be is even more vital. It is in that sacred time and space, I believe, where we can fully experience this season for its beauty, its goodness, its joy and its awe -- not the contrived expectations and rushing around that we've come to identify with December. 
     When we give ourselves the gift of time to be, we give ourselves permission to stop for a while and allow hope and love to envelop us.
     We don't need to succumb to the pressures of racing through a holiday season of decorating, partying, baking, shopping, and merriment magnified. In fact, for many, this isn't a jolly season anyway. Sorrow and loss do not take a holiday, and often our griefs feel more intense at this time of year. If you're in a place of sadness, now is the time to be gentle with yourself. Listen to the wisdom of your inner being and respond with self-kindness.
     The bottom line: Consider carving out sacred time this month to be silent, to let go of your burdens and to breathe in peace. Feel the light and love that are with you today and always. Make time to reach the infinite. Make time to be.

Be watching for a "bonus" December blog post on Friday, December 15 at 4:00 p.m. central time.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coming to My Senses With the Eyes of Gratitude

At church today, we sang the lovely, old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth. The second stanza includes the phrase, "For the joy of ear and eye." As we sang those lyrics, I thought of how blessed I am to have the ability to enjoy my life through my senses. 

Last summer, an insect stung my left temple near my eye. While it hurt and a bump quickly formed, it wasn't until the next morning that I really knew the extent of the sting's impact. I awoke to my eye being swollen and discolored and the upper and lower lids precariously close to being completely shut. The swelling had affected my peripheral vision, so I didn't want to risk driving. My husband took me to the various stops that had been on my to-do list that day, including a media interview where, thankfully, I was on the radio and not television.

My eye healed quickly with the help of compresses and antihistamines. The experience, however, left its impact as I contemplated just how precious my eyesight is to me. I take daily walks during the three temperate seasons. Much of the enjoyment of my walk is taking in the sights of nature around me. I enjoy watching the nuances of the changing seasons, from the eruption of early spring wildflowers to the brilliant autumn color. What would I do if I couldn't enjoy that experience because my eyesight had been taken away from me?

Then, a few weeks later, I heard our pastor tell of a woman who lived long ago and who became blind at age eight. Rather than considering her lack of eyesight a detriment, disaster or disability, she found blessing in it and she didn't let it rob her of opportunities to write hymns, give speeches and accomplish much in the 95 years she would eventually live. 

Hearing that story made me come to my senses, so to speak. I was reminded that everything -- even the difficult things -- in our life can be blessings if we choose to see them that way.

Now, as I express among my blessings my gratitude for being able to see, I also am thankful for being able to hear, for my senses of taste and smell, and for my ability to touch, feel and give voice to those blessings.

As we enter into that time of the year when we express our gratitude and love for those around us and bestow them with gifts, I want to remember to be grateful for the everyday things I likely take for granted, such as being able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. And I will strive to find ways to use the miraculous blessings of my five senses to the best of my ability.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sharing the Sacred Gifts of Grace and Wisdom

One recent Sunday, I had the opportunity to sit in the church pew between two women I greatly respect and admire. Both women are elegant, understated, humble, independent, strong and generous. Each is in her 90s.
I knew the moment I sat down in the pew between them that I was about to experience something special. I wanted to remain present for the entire hour and soak up every moment. There were admittedly a few times during the service when I looked over at each of them with awe and appreciation, trying not to stare or look silly. Just being with them made me smile, all the while tears welling up in my eyes.
You see, I have known each of these women for nearly all of my life. They were friends of my late mother's, so the connection to them runs deep. Each of them has survived much during her years. Each has had her share of joys and sorrows, accomplishments and losses. 
Through their life experiences, these amazing women have become resilient and wise. They have become pragmatic and accepting of what comes their way, no matter how challenging or difficult. They radiate serenity and a knowing. Just being with them makes me feel more centered and calm.
I have always enjoyed being with older people, beginning when I was just a little girl of five or six. Whenever we visited my maternal grandparents, I would also spend time with an older couple who were their next-door neighbors. I always walked away from my conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Crawford feeling as if I had been given precious gifts from them--their time, their attention and their wisdom.
In later years, I had the occasion to hear two older gentlemen share their stories. It was a special evening as the two men recounted their adventures. They had me spellbound. Once again, I felt I was in the midst of a sacred moment, one I didn't want to end. It wasn't too long after that evening when both gentlemen became ill and their ability to share their stories diminished.
As I reflect on those special moments with important elders in my life, I realize that I want to enjoy more such moments. I made the decision that day in the church pew to actively schedule more time with those outside of my age group, especially those who are older than I. 
Older people have so much to offer. They should never be dismissed or disregarded. They deserve our respect and attention. The more time we spend with our elders, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the better people we become. 
As I grow older and reflect on the years I hopefully will have in front of me, I will strive to gain the type of grace, wisdom, faith and acceptance that my two lovely friends exemplify. 
As a society, I hope that we will focus not only on youth and its energy and innovative thinking, but also on those who reside at the other end of the age spectrum--those who have knowledge and wisdom to offer us as a result of long lives filled with experience. When I reach across the years to actively engage an older person and hear his or her stories and wise words, I leave the encounter richer. 
Someday, we'll hopefully become those respected elders ourselves and have the opportunity to pass along our own knowledge, wisdom and stories to the next generations. Hopefully, those next generations will feel the richer for the experience, too.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Weeping for the Willow

     The unofficial end of summer is upon us. It's Labor Day weekend and I'm sad. I'm okay with the change of season. I'm sad because my old friend, a large weeping willow tree in a neighboring yard, is gone. 
     Sadly, the tree succumbed to a storm a couple of months ago. Its tall, stately body fell as gracefully as it could, held by the smaller trees around it so as not to crash on a nearby roof. 
     I weep for my old friend, the willow, because it faithfully provided me with signs of the changing seasons. It was particularly hopeful in early spring. The willow, with its lush, curving branches, would be the first to wear that subtle yellow-green shade. I counted on it to show me that spring was coming, even during a late winter snowstorm. 
     We had three large weeping willow trees in our yard when I was growing up. They were messy, with shedding limbs and leaves at inopportune times, but I loved them anyway. There was a grace to those willows. I loved to watch them sway in the breeze, their tender branches moving as if they were dancing. I wanted to call my family's rural property The Willows out of respect to our three lovely trees. I also liked the name because I was just becoming familiar with British cozy murder mysteries and all of the rural estates had names like The Willows.
     Always practical, our willows provided wonderful shade on hot days. Their expansive canopies with long curving branches made for cool, comforting umbrellas under which to sit during our pre-central air conditioning years. 
     They also fed my imagination and became props for my little-girl whims. On one childhood play day, their slender branches were easily snapped off to become long tails when a friend and I decided we wanted to pretend we were horses.
     As I gaze at the landscape today, the trees are still lush, green, and full, but there is a gap that will never be filled in the same way now that the large and lovely weeping willow is gone. I'll have other ways to identify the change of seasons, but the willow will no longer be there in its subtle, stately beauty to reassure me that spring is coming. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Renewing, Refreshing Walking in the Rain

     I love to walk in the rain. A gentle rain offers time for walking in solitude, quiet and reflection. So long as it isn't storming, walking in the rain can be restorative, healing and even enjoyable.
     It's a good thing that my husband Larry and I are drip-dry. On the second of our two walks one summer day, the sky became restless and we encountered a thunderstorm while on a local river walk. We tested our agility and speed, and dashed through the raindrops to the shelter of a building overhang until the storm passed. We stood in the protection of that dry spot for several minutes and watched the sky in all of its magnificence. Neither one of us minded being damp. We knew we'd eventually dry off. There was something lovely about just having to stand still, shoulder to shoulder, and watch for signs from the sky.
     The storm rumbled and moved quickly overhead, with sunny skies rapidly behind it. Once the rain stopped, we set out again to finish our walk. As we headed eastward, the sun touching our shoulders and the birds erupting into song, we breathed in the fresh scents of recent rain and walked toward a rainbow.
     That summer day's experience represented a metaphor for life: We will all encounter storms, some of which will be just gentle rain and others cataclysmic events with hail and lightning. We may choose to move quickly, to seek shelter, to wait it out. At other times, we might get wet. If we look at the storm as a fact of life and choose to live in the moment with gratitude, eventually the storm will pass. When it does, we will once again find the sunshine on our shoulder, the birds singing, the air fresh and new, and a rainbow overhead guiding us on.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ah, July!

     Those of us who live in the northern climes wait for what seems like forever for summer to make its presence known. And now it's here! July has arrived and with it, the long, warm, sunny days we've been dreaming about -- a welcome feeling for those of us who tenaciously hang onto the previous summer's memory and crave July's sunshiny, sultry days, all while we wallow through winter's long, cold, snowy, dark months -- shivering along the way.
     In July, the air is fresh, sweet and warm, bordering on hot. The locally grown produce is delicious and plentiful. There is nothing like a homegrown tomato or watermelon! The sun comes up early in the day and hangs on late into the evening. It's a time for shorts, sandals and sleeveless tops, with the occasional summer-weight sweater just in case the temperatures dip at night.
     July is the month of vacations, whether a week-long road trip or a one-tank getaway just for the day. July is Independence Day picnicking time, county fair cotton candy time, summer splash-in-the-pool time, outdoor concert time, sparkly starry skies time, hang out in the hammock time, garden overflowing time. Who doesn't love the bountiful gifts of July?
     As evidenced by this post, I am one who loves warmth and sunlight. My perfect day would be 75 degrees and sunny, with just a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes away and the skin cool to the touch. Now that July is here, I want to savor every moment of it, breathing it in slowly and spending it judiciously. That means being outdoors as much as possible.
     Each day is a blessing no matter the month of year, but July is a bright month filled with days we'll recall with a longing smile and cherish all winter long. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Listen to the Wind

I was in search of an answer, so I cast my question out into the universe. While taking a walk later that day, the answer came, a mystifying "Listen to the wind." What? Listen to the wind? What did it mean to listen to the wind? Perplexed by this mysterious message, I researched it online and found it was the first phrase in a Native American proverb: "Listen to the wind, it talks. Listen to the silence, it speaks. Listen to your heart, it knows." With each subsequent walk, I started out by saying the proverb and then I intentionally silenced the incessant and often unhelpful chatter in my head. I allowed the wind to talk to me. At about the same time, I started finding heart-shaped stones in my path. I felt as if the Native American proverb's wise words were being directed at me. I was becoming quiet so the silence could speak to me. I was listening to the wind so it could talk to me. I was finding heart stones so I could know what was deep in my own heart. Listening to the wind has become a regular activity ever since that day when I received the message to do so. I haven't talked about it much with others, so it came as a surprise when, recently, our 85-year-old neighbor said she likes to listen to the wind. We were deep in conversation about the magnificent eruption of spring, from the fragrances of the season to the song of the birds to the beauty of the early spring wildflowers blooming in the woods next to her home. As one well attuned to nature's subtleties, my neighbor knows to listen to the wind. It does talk, if we make the time to become calm, silence our internal chatter and put our hearts in a place of attention and intention. Then, and only then, will we hear the wisdom of the wind. Listen. It talks.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's Time to See the Light - In Each Other

     I realize I've been carrying a heavy load of stress over the past months and I'm ready to shed it. You can't live with heavy burdens for too long before they weigh you down miserably. I've been stressing about the increasing divisiveness in our country and our world, with people pitted against each other over race, ideology, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation. I see it played out in news reports. I see it played out in business. I see it played out in families, among friends. I even see it played out in my own church denomination. I am ready to see the light.
     How did we get here to this growing chasm of insecurity, anger, bitterness, judgment, hostility and, with increasing frequency, violence? Where did we get so afraid of our changing world? Surely, change is happening quickly, but with that change is an opportunity for us to change, too. We have the ability to replace our fear with curiosity, our rancor with understanding, our hatred with love, our darkest feelings with the light of kindness.
     We don't live in a sanitized world where we are only with those who are exactly like us. It's impossible. We all have our own experiences and values that form us into the people we are. As much as we might like to live in a 1950's sitcom-kind of world where everything was perfect and squeaky clean, the ending was always happy, Dad came home with his tie and briefcase and Mom was polished wearing her best dress and apron, such is not life. 
     So that means we need to change in order to live in the world that actually exists. I believe we all carry the light of God in us and that we are called to seek out that light in others, never to diminish or suppress it. We are called to look at our differences with new eyes and see instead those things that are common to us. 
     Nothing good comes from a place of profound fear. That is where worry and anger are housed. It is there where the seeds of hatred are sown. It is there where we form a mindset of scarcity. It is there where we see differences instead of commonalities. 
     We are blessed, truly blessed to live in a world that is rich with the complexities of its fabric. The next time I'm heading down a path of judgment toward someone, I intend to stop myself, breathe and then look deeply to find the light in that other person. Only when we allow ourselves to see that light in another and then seek common ground, will that light truly be reflected back to us.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fresh Air

     When you live in a cold-weather climate, there's nothing as lovely as opening windows for the first time in the spring and letting in fresh air. My routine spring tasks include sweeping out the mounds of sand from the garage floor that had accumulated over months of snow, washing winter salt off of the car and putting screens back on casement windows. I practically dance whenever I do these chores, for it means one thing: spring! Warmer weather is on the way. It’s a time of newness.
      It's been our habit in recent years to remove the screens from our home’s windows in the fall, washing them down and storing them for the winter so we can get the most out of the precious daylight streaming through our windows during the long, dark months. Whenever I hear the temperature is supposed to soar into the 60s, I wash the insides of the windows, reinstall the screens and then let in the fresh breezes to release the stale, cooped-up winter air.
      Such activity makes me think of the stale energy that might be cooped up and cluttering my mind and heart.
      A few years ago, I didn’t want to admit I was stuck in a rut. Things were difficult in my life at that time between my own illness and caring for a dying parent. I felt stuck in chaos. In looking back, however, I realize I was indeed stuck in a rut. I was stuck in the mindset of how I thought things should be in my life, not how they actually were.
      Once I identified my true feelings and set into motion some new thoughts, I opened my mind and heart, letting go of the difficult things that weighed me down. That new perspective brought about an acceptance and gratitude that helped me through a tough time. Rather than staying stuck in “what should be,” I found peace in “what was.”
      When I breathe in gratitude and change my way of thinking, it’s as if that old energy dissipates and a new, affirming energy sweeps in to take its place. I grow by gaining new insights. Where I had been stuck, there is now release. The windows of my world become clearer. The salt and sand stuck in the crevices of my old mindset are swept away. That’s one type of cleaning that doesn’t have to wait until spring.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Going with Flow

I had a particularly busy time several months ago when I was over-committed and overdoing. I knew it, but I had made a promise and the dutiful part of me wanted to see my responsibilities through. By the time I was done with my obligations, I was overtired in mind, body and spirit, and it took me quite a while to rebuild my strength and find my groove again. In retrospect, I see that putting myself in such a state was not exercising my best judgment and it took away something that has become a precious commodity to me: Flow. When I'm "going with Flow," I am using my energies wisely. I'm able to get things done with ease. Life is more enjoyable. I am in a happier mood. I feel less stress. I am my better self. It seems so easy, too easy to say Yes, when perhaps the greatest response of self-respect may be saying No. Setting limits for the use of my energies allows me to better utilize those energies and to do something that is satisfying. It also opens up Flow. I saw a tweet not too long ago that read: "Always take care of yourself first." That means setting limits, devoting time each day to self-care, hearing the voice of self-compassion. It means saying No in order to leave room for all of the right Yes things in life. Such self-care is essential, vital to health and well-being. So, with each decision going forward, I will ask myself if saying Yes will help or hamper. It's all about going with Flow. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

An Enthusiastic God Within

I read recently that the word enthusiasm comes from two root words that, combined, mean God Within or Full of God. Learning this bit of information caused me to reflect on a word I have often used and often felt: Enthusiasm. I tend to be a positive person who, when given the opportunity to immerse myself in an experience, will do so with gusto. During those times when I am most enthusiastic, the experience is contagious in that it spills over into other parts of my life and, hopefully, spills over into the lives of others who may be sharing the experience with me. On January 31, I closed a professional chapter in my life that has been filled with its share of enthusiastic moments. As I leave, I reflect with joy on the many times when the group's energy and eagerness have been palpable, its collective hope sincere and its enthusiasm the propellant by which we have moved forward, even when the way seemed uncertain or perhaps tenuous. It has been a period of creativity and joy, strategy and action, truly an exercise in enthusiasm. As I exit this wonderful organization, I take with me lessons of what an eager, hopeful, creative and joyful group of people can accomplish when being enthusiastic together, even when the odds may appear against them. I will hold close the lessons I have learned from our thinking and speaking positively and dreaming expansively, while at the same time, shedding negativity, closing out doubt and forbidding critical, harsh words to be spoken. This professional experience has opened my heart and mind to the vital role of enthusiasm in our lives and because of it, I feel the God Within.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How to Find Joy in Uncertain Times

The transition of U.S. Presidential power that will take place later this week has caused many to be concerned about the changing vision and policies of our country and where they will fit into the new President’s agenda. At times of uncertainty, how do we find joy?

First, turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, stash the electronic devices in a drawer and simply be. Be. Be a human being.

Now, more than ever, we need to reach deep into ourselves to find the good that still rests in each of us and to make every effort to truly see it in others.

When we seek to find the light in another human being, it can’t help but shine back on us.

When we focus on gratitude for the abundance in our lives, it multiplies.

When we reach out with compassion and engage in active listening, we find more similarities between us and fewer differences.

When we clearly identify what we can control, what we can change -- and what we cannot, our energies become more focused and we can take appropriate, positive action.

When we engage in an act of kindness, no matter how small, the world becomes a more loving place.

When we confront our fears, hand wringing and worry dissipate. Our fears become feathers and they float away when they are no longer empowered.

When we adopt a mindfulness practice to rest our minds and souls, our thoughts quiet and we become renewed.

When we spend time in the quiet of a church service, we connect to a higher power and our spirits are fed.

When we exercise and eat in a healthy fashion, we fuel the gift of our bodies.

When we spend time in nature, we discover our connection to something much larger than ourselves and we come away refreshed.

When we volunteer our time for causes that are important to us, we lift up others and ourselves at the same time.

As a three-time cancer survivor and someone who has suffered two benign tumors, one in my brain and another in my spine that caused temporary paralysis and many therapy sessions to learn how to walk again, I understand on a personal, visceral level what uncertainty is. But, I also know hope. I know faith. I know love. I know goodness. I know joy. I know blessing.

When the uncertainties of life feel overwhelming, hang onto hope, look for goodness, count your blessings and use your energies to take constructive action. We’re all in this together.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Good Wishes for the New Year

As the calendar turns over to a new year, it gives me time to pause and reflect on what I would like this fresh, new time to look and feel like. The slate is clean, the opportunities vast. What will we do with them? In a time when news comes to us instantly and constantly, there seems to be a growing trend toward the negative. Such heightened negativity poured into our minds and hearts can only lead to increased stress, anxiety, divisiveness and a focus on lack and our differences. More than ever, I feel the need to focus my energies on joy, abundance, love, hope and kindness. I choose to see the abundance of blessing, rather than becoming drawn into the depths of fear and unhappiness. If each of us were to devote our hours to kind words, happy thoughts, loving gestures and respectful responses, I believe the world would be a more peaceful place and the turmoil and injustices that plague our society and world might be resolved with more creative, communal solutions. Through our differences of opinion and thought, consensus can be reached. However, the more we focus on our differences, the larger the chasm becomes. The less we see hope, the more we create despair. The more we focus on hatred and violence, the less energy we dedicate to lifting each other up. We live in a time of uncertainty, but those times have always been and likely always will be. What we, as individuals, do with today will have a ripple effect on the shaping of our collective tomorrows. May this new year be one of hope and kindness, where extraordinary joy comes from our ordinary moments and our affirmation of each other becomes the norm.