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Loot from the seminar.

At an MS seminar today, I sauntered jauntily (is there any other way to saunter? Not for this lady!) through tables of vendors giving away freebies in exchange for my listening to them talk about their wares. “We’re the only company in the state with (insert unintelligible acronym here) certification!” said a representative of one company. “Not everyone can say that!” I shook my head and offered my own acronym: “TTFN” (Ta Ta for Now!)

I did enjoy the candy in the shape of internal organs that the MS Center of a local hospital was giving out. I’m sure this goes without saying, but nothing says “noms” like chocolate brains!

After a zombie-like chocolate feeding frenzy, it’s official: I now only have half a brain.

As I was walking past the tables, I thought, Hmph. They’ve all got an agenda. They’re just trying to sell me something! Of course they were. That’s their job. Besides, I’ve got an agenda, too: I want free stuff. Specifically, I was looking for free bags for the ladies in my round-loom knitting group to carry their yarn and materials.

Eventually, I was able to unclench my attitude long enough to listen to the shpiels with an open mind. As it turns out, there were a couple of products that might benefit me. 

It’s only fitting that we should each get something out of our interactions. It’s not wrong to earn a living by selling things, nor is it wrong to be skeptical when something sounds too good to be true. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle, there’s a chance to be kind to each other and listen, whether it be to a sales rep or those of a different religion or political party. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye to hear each other from the heart.

December 21 — that’s the day winter officially begins. Yet, somehow (and I can’t be the only one!), I’m already tired of it. If it’s not winter yet, then why is it so cold? Why are we beset with snow and wind and slush and gray skies? Calendars and almanacs may be useful, but they can’t tell us how we feel. Only we know that. And in this Advent, this time of waiting, I am feeling ready for something new. Something wonderful. (P.S. A thank-you to my good friend Marilyn Rausch for the term “hyacinth of the soul”!)

In this winter by another name,
this still-point of seasons,
in trees stripped clean,
in a sky black with grackles,
ground as hard as haters’ hearts:

I am waiting for a hyacinth of the soul:
something fragrant and unexpected.

Something’s coming
with a gift already purchased,
bought in blood, so long ago.
I have only to hold it in my hands
to know it. It feels like the sun,
wobbling weak as a new calf,
standing. Sniffing springtime.
May the light find us ready
to stand awhile and bask.

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. 

“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.

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.

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!

down-angle photography of sunlight piercing through leavesThis morning, I tried a meditation app on my phone called HeadSpace, and, as I sat in my kitchen, listening to the instructor’s voice speaking in a calm cadence, I did find myself breathing easier. 

With the sunlight streaming in, it was peaceful. Just perfect for a moment of centering before the busy day begins. 

Toward the end of the meditation, the instructor guides you to become aware of your surroundings. As I looked around, I realized that the sunlight was like a spotlight. It looked so pretty as it shone on my plant. So shimmery on the pictures on the fridge. So lovely on the schmutz on the floor. Wait. What? Schmutz on the floor? I just swept the other day! But that was at night, using the kitchen light. Meditation over! Must sweep.

I decided it was a metaphor for the meditation. If you can’t see it, you can’t sweep it away. Anxiety, lack of sleep, full schedule… addressing whatever it is that led to needing a moment on pause is the real work. 

So I got more than I bargained for from my jaunt into the world of meditation. I feel like I cleared the decks of my psyche for the time being, but now I’ve got a lot of cleaning on my to-do list! It also gave me time to think about deeper issues in my life that need attention. I think it’ll be worth the effort in both cases. As the old saying goes: clean home, clear mind!

On my local newscast last night, the anchor seemed to be delivering the news in a way designed to stress out the audience. It was one awful story after another, with no break in the tension.

Even the weatherman was all hyped up, warning us about the impending cold front. Not blizzard, mind you. Cold front. Sheesh. All I really needed to know was: sweater or coat? 

Does everything have to be turned into a crisis? “Far from being better informed, heavy newswatchers can become miscalibrated,” according to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. “They worry more about crime, even when rates are falling.”

Just once, I’d like to hear, “This just in: there are good things going on in the world and we’d like to focus on them.”

I’d love to see a news show about people extending compassion, like Karla Denny, who took over an animal shelter in Taft, Texas, with a nearly 100% kill rate and brought it down to zero percent, finding homes for 565 dogs and cats. 

Or the customers at an Alabama Waffle House who pitched in to help an employee who was working the overnight shift alone.

Then there’s the 14-year-old girl who noticed her mother struggling with blind spots while driving, so she invented a way to virtually eliminate them. 

There are always good things happening in the world, but you might not know it from what you see on the news. Give yourself a break from negativity, and focus on the good today. 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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