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After hearing about the nationwide Romaine lettuce recall due to e. coli contamination, I called the grocery store and asked if the produce I’d bought had been affected.

“No, ma’am, we were told that the Romaine we sold wasn’t part of the recall,” the man said. “That’s a relief,” I said, and hung up.

It was lunchtime, so I decided to have a nice salad. I put the lettuce on the counter. 

Before I sat down to eat, just out of curiosity, I took a look at the CDC’s website to see where the tainted lettuce originated and found out that it was Salinas, California

Where have I seen that name before, I wondered? Oh yeah, it’s listed here on the bag of Romaine on the counter: “Growing Region: Salinas Valley.”

Uh-oh!

I looked back at the CDC’s website again, and found this dire warning: “If the label says ‘grown in Salinas’ (whether alone or with the name of another location), don’t eat it. Throw it away.”

Well then! 

I tossed the lettuce into the trash bin from across the room, gave myself three points for the fade-away jumper (and yelled “nothin’ but net!”), and opened a can of soup instead.

Fact-finding doesn’t end at what you’ve been told by someone with a vested interest, whether it be the grocer, a politician, or the clergy. The second part of the process of finding the truth is to look into it for yourself. 

There is so much good here,
both on and around the table.
Look. Whatever we have today
is bounty because we may not have
it tomorrow. Let us bless one another.
The number of clasped hands matters not;
it is the electricity of love they carry
each to other, love that leaps chasms,
love that lights a path to a doorway
where everyone you know is gathered
and all are glad to see you, even if
this place never appears on this earth.
A blessing on you, on all of you.
Great grows the heart that
knows gratitude for what
is seen; greater, grander
when we envision what could be.

“We have noticed unusual activity on your account,” the email said. “Someone has tried to log into your account from Bulgaria. Please press this link to log in and change your password.”

Hovering over the name of the sender, I could see that this wasn’t an official email. The scammer from Bulgaria had helpfully included a link for me to press so I could protect myself from scammers in Bulgaria!

Schemes such as this one are often diabolically effective. CNBC reported that the “Nigerian Prince” scam alone generated over $700,000 last year. 

It’s always better when a “scammer story” turns out to have a happy ending, like the one involving an email that began, “My name is Joel from Liberia, West Africa. I need some assistance from you.” The man in Ogden, Utah, to whom it was sent responded, “How can I help?” with the intention of distracting Joel from scamming others. These two videos tell the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJZ-tI-OL6A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_W3mdCTvs 

What began as a scam turned into a gift for everyone involved. 

It’s wise to be skeptical, but dear God, please keep us from becoming cynical. Seeing beyond a bad first impression takes an open heart and a belief in second chances. 

Do you know why St. Therese of Lisieux became known as “The Little Flower”? Because she never saw herself as worthy. No, in God’s garden, she argued, she wasn’t a sweet-scented rose or spotless lily… just an insignificant bloom, hardly noticeable. This was a woman who loved God so fervently, it puts the rest of us to shame. So I ask, what the heck kind of flower does that make me?

Or to put it in avian terms…what kind of bird? Does salvation rest in trying to be eagle when one is actually a wren? Or, just maybe, might it lie in being utterly true to who and what you are…whether you soar like a falcon or waddle like a doomed dodo? In the end, I suspect God loves us all, great and small, roses and sweet peas, hawks and canaries.

God sows seed; we bend our necks, peck.
Wren and peacock, sparrow and falcon,
we feed, fight for crumbs, carry morsels
home to nests heavy with fledglings.
Some nests are mud. Others shine
with tinsel and the feathers of other birds.
When comes the time to raise us, send us soaring
into skies, will even the ostrich take with grace
to unknown air? In that moment of miracle, all
can rise, if the seed you eat is deep belief.
Wide-winged, wondrous, the swan will ascend.
The wren, too, shall be lifted, heart thudding,
wing a-quiver, higher even than hope can go.

What I need in my life right now is a traffic jam, the wrong amount charged on my credit card, and a creaky kneecap, said nobody ever.

What I really need is to call customer service to get my bill straightened out. Except that when I do, I’m intercepted by an automated voice asking, “Tell us why you’re calling. To check your balance, press 1. To check your coat, press 2. To be dropped into an endless loop of lost calls, press any key, because we’ve all gone home anyway.”

The disembodied voice is like a bot-bouncer, deciding who earns the privilege of getting through the door to see the important people.

‘You want the Pistons and Widgets Department. Is that right?” she asks gamely.

“No,” I say angrily, repeatedly pressing “0” to no avail. “Representative!”

“Sorry, I didn’t get that. Let’s try again!” Why is she always so cheerful as she denies me access to my own information?!?

While on the phone with the digital gatekeeper, I walk over to a chair in the kitchen to sit down and realize my knee has just made a tiny, crunching sound. What the heck is that? I wonder. The knees don’t actually hurt, they just make a new, time-is-marching-on noise.

Okay. Let’s take a moment to meditate. Take some deep breaths. 

My visiting nurse Janice explained to me recently how to do a cleansing breath. “Smell the roses, blow out the candles,” she told me. Inhale through your nose as if smelling roses, then exhale out the mouth as if blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

Not to add one more thing to your to-do list, but do your Auntie a favor and try a cleansing breath or two. Being in a hurry just leads you to worry. Moments of repose take you from mindlessly stressed to mindfully blessed.

This quote caught my eye because I just read a children’s picture book with this theme.  Sky Color by Peter Reynolds is about a young artist.  When her class gets to paint a mural for the school library, they draw the picture together.  Each member of the class selects something to paint.  Marisol, our young artist, will paint the sky but there is no blue paint.  On the way home from school, she observes the sky and returns to class the next day with an out-of-the box plan.  She is going to create a sky that contains the dawn, the dusk, the rain, the night and more. It is a truly inspirational book.

And it has made me think about the limitations that I place on myself and my world.

Our living room is spacious.  Our dining room much less so.  Yet, we lived with that for 17 years only recently putting the dining room table in the living room.  It is now a favorite work place and we eat in there several times a week.  And although the sofa is more than a bit cozy in the dining room, I’ve noticed it attracting a higher number of readers as well.

How often do we do this to ourselves, overlooking possibilities because we only consider the conventional?  Christ ignored common social boundaries.  He ate with a tax collector, taught women and healed on the Sabbath.   I wonder what unconventional things he would do today?

–SueBE

What is it about dogs and cats that we find so cute? The fluffy face? The wild whiskers? The twirly tail? Some of the things my pets used to do would be annoying if done by people.

When my dog, Sheena, wanted attention, she’d fall onto her side on the carpet, tail thudding against the shag. It was my cue that she wanted me to pat her. Being part Border collie, when she wanted noshes, she’d herd us into the kitchen by gently nudging us behind the knees. “Leftover ham patrol,” her body language would say. “Let’s keep it moving.”

If Bill from accounting nudged us all into the break room so we could share our lunch with him (“Is this hummus for anyone?”), it wouldn’t be as sweet!

Now, my cat, KitKat, had been a stray, so he had to get used to our outrageous ways: staying inside the house all night; paying no attention to random dust bunnies he’d capture at 4 AM while running with abandon into our rooms; and not being aware that his bowl was only half-full, when ‘full” is the only acceptable state of a cat’s bowl.

If a person showed up at your house at 4 AM demanding food and running wildly (“Who’s up? Let’s jog!), that would be a job for the local constable!

Don’t we all speak without words in our own way? The lady behind you in line as you scan your groceries, tapping her foot, arms folded. You know she’s in a hurry. The man with a crying infant rushing through the store, looking for teething rings. He’s clearly under stress. 

If only we could be as patient with people as we are with our pets! It’s not always easy to be tolerant of others, but kindness is key.

The Friday before our local election day, one of the candidates showed up at my door with the “insider information” that I’m a mail-in voter and my ballot hadn’t yet been received.

“How do you guys know this, anyway?” I asked him. He said, “I don’t know, they just tell me, and I try not to get involved in the particulars.” I had put my ballot in the mail the day before.

So the powers-that-be know when my vote has been cast.

If they can know this about me, why don’t they know that I’ve contacted public officials to no avail for years about safety issues on my block, such as the lack of water run-off drainage? In the summer, this leads to the formation of a tiny river on the street in front of my house, causing cars to hydroplane. In the winter, it becomes a frozen lake so treacherous, I’ve seen cars spin out and nearly crash.

And why don’t they know that school kids have to walk to the bus stop in the street with cars whizzing by because only half of our block has sidewalks? 

As it turns out, we only had a 23% voter turn-out. If your representatives aren’t representing you, it’s time to turn them out. When it’s time for change, vote.

don't give up. You are not alone, you matter signage on metal fence

A setback is a set-up for a comeback!

It’s always darkest before the dawn!

You’ve got this! 

These are some of my favorite “pleasant platitudes,” although I prefer to call it “staying on message” even when times get tough. Sure, it may seem as if I went to the Cliché Carousel and bought some annoying affirmations in bulk today, but these corny sayings have a kernel of truth. 😉

These are the kinds of things I’d say to the people who are in my heart, but for whatever reason, not often actually in my life. They go “radio silent” or “incommunicado.” Now, mind you, I know they’ve got their reasons. I might not be able to relate to their situation, but it doesn’t make their experience any less valid.

If friends or relatives are facing challenges that they can’t put into words, it’s hard not to think they’re mad at you or (perhaps worse) don’t care about you. Still, you’ve got to consider yourself first and shore up your own soul instead of worrying about them.

Take care of you. Until they share what’s going on, encourage yourself. Keep the faith. Count your blessings. Go to your happy place.

Then when they do finally open up, you’re centered and still. That’s when you can be fully present for them. Till then, focus on the positive and stay true to you. Godspeed, dear hearts!

Apparently, the poet Rumi visited me in a dream. There can be no other explanation for the words that came to me on waking. But that’s how poetry often happens to me. I start with a blank page (or a blank mind) and the words fill in by themselves. The only question left is what to do with them? And the answer — again as usual — is to pass them on to you.

My beloved stands before a door
holding a heart-shaped key. I ask:
What does it open? He smiles.
Whatever it is that you cannot open
any other way — neither with fine
instruments of logic nor brute strength;
that which will not yield to cajolery or
flattery, nor open to sweet words mouthed,
or prying fingers that seek to clench, contain.
That which only the heart can truly fathom.

And then I see it: the heart-shaped hole
in my beloved. Into it, I fit the key and
twist it. There is a whir, as if wind is
flowing through an open doorway,
and I see my beloved as if after
a thousand years of travel.
And we are one, at last.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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