Monday, December 31, 2007

The Therapy Dog

Chloe the golden retriever is an employee of our hospital, ID badge and all. She lives and works on the adolescent unit, offering kindness to the kids with depression and calming others. She seems to know instinctively when someone is in need of a fuzzy nuzzling or an understanding look. Here she is with Julie, one of our MHTs. We all worked together today. I can tell Chloe, "Come here. You have some work to do," and she will reluctantly get up from her sprawled position in the middle of the activity, amble over to a new child and put him at ease. Chloe took classes to become a registered therapy dog when she was a pup. What a natural she has been! Sweet and sensitive. But when she sees a stranger coming to the front door, she will bark in her deepest and most fiercely protective voice. It that mild-mannered Chloe? She has a few favorite people - the ones who bring her treats - and gets excited when they come in to work. Since she is an employee of the entire hospital system and not just our area, she gets called upon to visit patients in other areas who are sad or lonely or maybe just missing their own dogs. Chloe is about seven years old now, and we can tell she too gets burned out on her job at times. But she has such good work ethic, and duty is always calling. She is probably our most faithful employee.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Taking Time to Listen Within

Topics to write about have not been coming easily lately, and I know why. Not enough consistent quiet time. It is hard to frame our thoughts when there are demands placed on our time or when there is a steady stream of unfiltered noise around us. That just makes us tend to react rather than reflect. In proportion of course, those aren't bad things at all. In fact they can be quite good and add structure and definition to our lives. However, a serious attempt at writing requires quiet or solitude. Since I am obviously not that serious, and if I had to choose one over the other, I would prefer the activity. But listening as the mental notes fall into place and then writing them is best done when there is quiet. Cold Mountain is a beautifully written novel and - I think - should be required reading for an American Literature class. What exquisite metaphors! I remember reading an interview Charles Frazier gave in which he said something like he forced solitude on himself in order to finish the book. I look at that sort of solitude as a sacrifice that real writers make in order to produce their best.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

All Is Calm

This may be my next favorite part of the Christmas season, right after being with family and the Christmas Eve service at church. These year end days following the activity feel calm and peaceful, restful and hushed. Now the Christmas tree can be enjoyed as it sparkles and gives the house a holiday glow. I find myself mesmerized by it. The ornaments that were earlier hung in haste are now subject to individual contemplation and admiration as they dance amid the lights. There are leftover goodies and edible gifts of the season to be savored. Anxiety is a thing of the past. Dark comes early. The nights are long and and sleep comes easier. There is a feeling of satisfaction, of making it through another Christmas and another year. The season of restorative lull has begun.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No Blog Today

There will be no blogging today. My brain is still on its post Christmas hiatus along with its companion, my body.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A One of a Kind Christmas Gift

Here is an original art Christmas gift from my creative, well-traveled brother. The photographs needed explanation since I had neither seen nor heard of them before. They are art deco styled lifeguard stations in Miami. I really like the entire picture, the interesting photos and the black frame, but most of all, I like the way he made something special that he knew I would enjoy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Come and Gone

Yesterday with sixteen of us here together, we had some jolly old Christmas fun. There's nothing greater than to be with the ones we love. The traditions, gifts, good food, and merriment provide a fine backdrop for keeping up with each other. Life is always changing and moving along. Not only are we grown ups a year older, but through attrition or addition, the composition of the family often changes from year to year. An addition this year is Chip whom Lisa brought for us to meet before their wedding next month. Chip has been serving the country in Iraq for the past year. Our youngest is adorable John who has so much enjoyment of life. "Mmmm...I like egg nog," he said enthusiastically when trying it for the first time. But...rather than struggle for the right words to say how much I love everyone who blessed my home yesterday and my life continually, and how much I appreciate each ones individuality and how wonderful they all are, I will just leave it at that. Another Christmas Day has come and gone, etched forever as a memory.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th' unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, December 24, 2007

Almond Butter Cookies

These are the very best cookies. This recipe for Nut-Edged Butter Slices was ripped from a newspaper years ago and now it will forever be online. In the picture, they are the ones between the trail of fudge and the cookies with the sprinkled green sugar. And really, they are just fabulous.

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond flavoring
1 and 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds, toasted
3 tablespoons sugar
1 slightly beaten egg white

Cream butter and the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat in yolk, milk, and flavorings. Sift dry ingredients together and gradually add to creamed mixture. On wax paper, roll dough into a log (or two logs). Chill an hour. Combine almonds and the 3 tablespoons of sugar. Roll dough log in egg white and then in almond mixture. Cut in slices. Bake at 350 til done.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Savior Is Born

As I listen to the mix of Christmas songs playing on the radio, I think of the singers whose familiar voices are bringing the noels and tidings of joy. We know a little about some of them. The silky voice of Karen Carpenter is heard in her dreamy Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and other favorites. Tragically she deluded herself about her appearance and health and died while she was in her early thirties. There's Elvis. We can all sing at least the first lines of his Blue Christmas and can pick out his distinctive sexy voice on any song within a few notes. But Elvis had his problems, too, one of which was a prescription drug addiction that sadly destroyed him. And there is no one who tops Bing Crosby's original rendition of White Christmas, but after his death, he was accused of being a cold and abusive father. These gifted yet troubled famous people sort of represent us all. We are all deeply flawed. That is why we need the Savior whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mama's Annual Christmas Visit

Mama was my mother's mother and my wonderful grandmother. I have always felt truly blessed to have been the granddaughter of this marvelous woman who radiated joy and left a legacy of abiding faith. She lived to be eighty-eight, passing away on Thanksgiving of 1978. A couple of weeks after her death, one of my children brought home an art project he made at school using a textile cone, paper mache, glue, paint, tinsel and cotton - an angel for the top of the Christmas tree. It was incredible! "That looks just like Mama!" I exclaimed. Ever since then, Mama, the tree topper angel, has presided over the snowmen, nutcrackers, glass balls, and the treasured ornaments on every tree we have had. She is a little worn yet still brings joy after almost thirty years and is my most beloved part of the tree. Here she is resting in the branches before being placed in her position of honor.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Upside and Downside of Christmas

During the year, friends and co-workers tell me how laid back and calm I am. And it's true - that is until December the first. Then I start thinking of all that I want to do and everything that must be accomplished - by me - and I get overwhelmed. My poor brain stops processing normally and takes on a life of its own and controls my rational mind. And my thinking affects my body. I overeat, my eyes twitch, and sometimes my heart pounds way too fast. But enough about me. There are always people worse off. Yesterday I worked as a nurse in the hospital. Many of the patients will be staying through Christmas. Some will be glad to stay there to have a warm shelter and people to be with. They do not have homes where they are loved or wanted. (Why that is is another story.) And some are too sick to leave. Many years ago, we kept a seemingly nice, attractive gray-haired male patient through the Christmas and New Year holidays, but he was quite paranoid and rarely spoke. Why did he need to be there? Safety. It was said that he wanted to kill himself and his wife. He went through the motions of being hospitalized as his intent must have continued to brew in his disturbed head. He stayed til mid-January. Within a few days after his discharge, he made the news for carrying out his plan. Some patients have experienced loss of loved ones during the year and feel guilty or angry or extreme grief or want to join the deceased. Another hospital story had a happier ending. There are times when things just work out well. Two depressed patients, one who used to play piano and one who used to sing were both patients on the unit where there was an old upright piano. With encouragement from staff (me), they got together and played and sang Christmas carols. As they did, they became happier as they remembered good times past when they participated in church choirs and such. There is so much emotion tied up in Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Redirected Greeting

Today I am not taking the time to blog. My creative juices are being directed elsewhere. as to have something posted on this day, I am going to plagiarize from a bulk Christmas greeting email I received from one of my favorite Christian singers, Kathy Troccoli. I was first introduced to her in the nineties via a song she wrote and sang called Go Light Your World. It began, "There is a candle in every soul, some brightly burning, some dark and cold..." And it proceeded to encourage us to take our candles and "seek out the hopeless..." and light the candles in others. Kathy has a nice alto voice and was a rock/pop singer at one time. Today I will quote from her Christmas email.
--- "I once bought my kids a set of batteries with a note on it that said toys not included." Bernard Manning
--- "God goes to those who have time to hear him, and so on this cloudless night, he went to simple shepherds." Max Lucado
--- "In the hustle and bustle of the season, let us remember that He longs for us to stop and listen. As God revealed himself to those shepherds, know that He still comes close to those open to seek Him and hear Him. He loves you so." Kathy Troccoli

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Memories

Christmas may be the most planned for and celebrated day of the year. There is the big build up, the festivities, the traditions, the special people, the feelings. So as a result, each year when another Christmas rolls around, we tend to remember other Christmases that we have had, and each one seems to have its own defining moment. "I remember the Christmas when" . . . Santa brought a special doll. Our first bike. The first Christmas for a new baby. Being an angel in the church play. Snow, rain or unseasonably warm weather. Unusual circumstances. A rare family gathering. Christmas can also serve as a milestone in our lives. As we take time to look, we can see the changes the previous 365 days have brought. And the year before, and as far back as our memories allow. Some recollections may be bittersweet or housed in an innocence that is found only in children, and others may be tied up in fun. of the joys of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Music

When Christmas music starts playing on the radio, I am first hit with twinges of anxiety. Oh no!! It only reminds me of all that I have to do! I change stations and try to avoid facing my daunting and undone tasks. But as I inch along, fa-la-las and glorias and melodies about sleighbells creep in to my head, and I find that I am catching the Christmas spirit. Not one to do things the 22nd, I will have all of my Christmas CDs out and playing my favorites over and over. I will want to satiate myself with the glorious and familiar songs of the season. I will listen to an assortment of songs that we all know, sung or played in various styles, and of course Messiah and Young Messiah. The tree, imparting a fresh evergreen scent to the living room but as yet undecorated, will be trimmed tomorrow while the music plays. In a few days while the cookies are baking, songs of Christmas will waft through the kitchen along with the bouquet of butter, vanilla and cinnamon. Ah yes...that is how it is every year once the anxiety has passed. Christmas music is a powerful motivator.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas the Holy Day

In Lenox Square in Atlanta this weekend, I don't think I saw a single store sign with the frightful word Christmas in it. Lots of "holidays" but no Christmas. There, secularism seems to have done away with the word Christmas, and along with it, Christmas spirit. Yes, Virginia, the spirit of kindness, consideration and good will toward others was not detectable on that busy Saturday evening so close to Christmas. I have always enjoyed that anticipatory time before Christmas when a greeting or a farewell of "Merry Christmas!" would warm my heart. It can't be said without an element of joy. The bland and generic "Happy Holidays" just doesn't have the same jingle to it. But hmmm... I thought about it. Holiday means Holy Day. I realized that it could be a good reminder for me and for all of us Christians, that Christmas, even though it has been secularized, minimized, and commercialized, is in fact a Holy Day for us as we remember the holy significance of the day Jesus was born. So when I see the word "holiday" as a substitute for Christmas, I will think of the Holy Family and the Holy Child. And when I am wished a happy holiday, I will wish back a Merry Christmas. Maybe it will do its small part toward contributing to some Christmas spirit.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Born Son

I wasn't too far past my twentieth birthday when my first son was born. He was loved way ahead of time and very wanted. But that year on December 15 when the doctor said he wanted to induce the next day, reality slapped me in the face and I exclaimed in fear, "I'm not mature enough to be a mother!" But my boy and and I survived together without too many mishaps. I often refer to his childhood as "when we were growing up." A child will do that to you. Make you grow up whether you think you are ready or not. Now he is more than 2/3 my age!
A couple of years ago I saw him in a different light, as a man I respected. Our family has Christmas Eve tradition. After opening family gifts, the youngest reader reads the Christmas story from Luke in a large old Bible. On that night, there were no children. We were a small group of adults, but Trip was the youngest among us and volunteered to follow tradition and read to us the story of the Mary, the swaddled babe, Bethlehem, the angels, the star, and the shepherds. How many years had it been since he had the honor! It was one of life's tender moments. This is his blogsite. He is passing along wisdom, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thumbprint Cookies

These are cookies that my mother made at Christmas. It is not an unusual recipe, but they are delicious and and rich and special to me. This picture does not do justice to my mother's perfect ones.

1 and 1/4 stick of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg, separated
1 and 2/3 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
jam or jelly

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolk and mix well. Blend in flour and lemon rind. Form the dough in a long roll about the diameter of a fifty cent piece. The dough at this point may need to chill a bit. Cut into slices. Make a thumbprint in the center of each cookie. Brush with the unbeaten egg white and dip in sugar. Put a dab of jam in the thumbprint. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Makes about thirty cookies. Also can freeze the roll and take it out to slice and bake when ready.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Writing and Wellness

Tomorrow I will be attending a writing conference in Atlanta. It is a terrible time of year to have such a thing, but since it is right up my alley, I decided to go. This is the web address for it.
It is not geared toward making me a better writer, something I could use, but it should help me to help others. I have written off and on during my life, but for the past ten years, it has been almost daily. Sometimes there is a moment I want to capture. Other times I want to write about a meaningful event to leave as history for my grandchildren. And then sometimes writing is a way to identify what I am experiencing. That, I agree, can lead to wellness, body and mind working together. It helps that I love to play with words and combine the ones that distinctly and succinctly express my thoughts. Words are like puzzle pieces that when arranged in certain ways invoke tears, laughter, awareness, the whole realm of emotion and wonder. Many years ago when I was going through a difficult time, I felt the need to write. I knew there was a poem that lay somewhere inside that must come out. I worked and worked on it. Finally it was birthed - six lines - but they said what I felt. What a relief. Often patients share a poem with me. However it is written, I know it expresses something deep to them, just like mine did to me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Diverse Brains

In our pre-conference yesterday, the students and I got into a conversation about different types of learning. I guess it started by something I often say...that just as we are all different on the outside and recognizable by our various appearances, we are also different on the inside. That includes the way our brains work. One of the students said she has dyslexia and can't spell well, and though she can work math problems, she often comes up with the wrong answer. One thinks in pictures and gets frustrated by writing, feeling that she cannot say everything she sees. Another is an auditory learner. As a child she couldn't do homework, and now at thirty-two does not take notes but makes high grades on tests. These differences are considered a "handicap" even though all of them went through much testing that ultimately determined that they are intelligent and actually "gifted." But they had difficult years within rigid school systems until they figured out for themselves how they can learn best. It is a mystery to me why a civilized America cannot implement more diverse and creative ways of educating children. In a perfect world . . .

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Group Behaviors

Today was my last day of being with students until a couple of weeks into the next year. I teach students who are close to finishing their Associate Degree in Nursing in the clinical setting, i.e. usually a hospital. My job is to reinforce classroom teaching with the real thing. I hope too that they will expand their ability to be compassionate as their knowledge of the human experience broadens. I have five to seven students at a time, and they are with me only from two to six days. Yes, it sounds kind of confusing and crazy, but nursing is a crazy field. They might as well learn early on! But it is interesting how each group of students takes on its own personality. They may be involved, talkative, shy, or can't wait to get the heck out of there. I have taken several sociology courses, but only one teaching course during my "formal education," but I guess this is what a real teacher might find to be true, also. Recently I had a group of students who seemed not to care if they learned anything or not. But on the day when the least interested of them called in sick, I noticed the dynamics of the group changed a bit for the good. I also had a group who was able to attend something that I considered to be an interesting learning opportunity. When it was over and the patients had all left, the "leader" who must have been a teacher at heart asked them if they had any questions. Nope. None. No questions. Apparently they got it all. (I will have to make a point of studying how and why the groups vary.) The young women I had today should turn out to be fine nurses. They were bright and curious. A teacher's delight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Return on Helping

Today I remembered a benevolent Christmas gesture a co-worker and I did a few years ago while we were working in the psych part of the ER. I don't know why this guy was with us but it doesn't really matter. He was there and in need. He kept calling family members and trying to get someone to come pick him up, but they were all impoverished. Even a twenty dollar bus ticket was out of the question. So my co-worker and I combined what money we had with us, and not surprisingly, it was enough for the ride to Columbia for Christmas. I had already brought him a jacket and pair of my husband's unworn shoes because he needed them, and he was - with gratitude - on his way. We were pleased with ourselves. Our helping him helped us. When I was a new nurse I learned this truism from one of the doctors. "When we nurture others, we nurture ourselves." At what I call "my day job," we have a clothes closet. Granted, not all patients come in needy but many do. Psychiatric illnesses seem to hit the poor and uneducated the most. They have had more tragedies and do not have the mental skills to cope. We, the staff, keep the closet stocked with our no longer needed clothes, and then we have them when a patient is in need. We just bypass Goodwill and give directly. Then when I see a patient proudly walking around in one of my husband's shirts, the ones with one stain that he won't wear anymore, I am entertained, but I also have a sense of pleasure. Being a nurse provides opportunities to make observable differences in people's lives in ways besides what we have been trained to do. And we are nurtured as a byproduct.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Goat Cheese Pizza

Lately I have been working on getting pizza dough, hence crust, right. An inspiration was a new cast iron griddle that makes a great pizza pan. Here is one of my current faves. I do not measure so the amounts are a guess. This makes a 10" pizza.
But first, a note about the ingredients: I use a vacuumed packed instant yeast that I bought at Sam's and keep wrapped in the freezer. The flour needs to be a good bread flour. Just like any other recipe, the finished product is only as good as the ingredients.
Pizza Crust: In a bowl place about 1-2 cups of flour, about a scant teaspoon of yeast, a good shake of salt (Kosher seems to give the best results), and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Mix. Add about a half cup or so of very warm tap water. Stir with a spoon til you can feel the yeast at work. Add some more flour til the dough comes together and isn't sticky. The you can pour it onto a floured surface and knead while adding in a little more flour. This will take 3-5 minutes. Ball it up. Pour a little olive oil in the bowl and swish it aroung so it will cover the sides. Place the ball of dough in the bowl so the oil covers the bottom and then turn it over, oily side up. Cover and let rise in a warm place til double. About an hour.
Meanwhile: You can chop or slice what you want to put on it. Definitely thinly sliced roma tomatoes, red onion, maybe some peppers and mushrooms of your choice, and set aside. Tonight I used some finely sliced zucchini and it did well. I have found that less is better. It is a more delicate pizza and tastes better with fewer seasonings and toppings. Preheat the oven to a high setting, say 425.
Finishing: When the dough has risen, punch it down and let it rest a couple of minutes. Then take it out and start spreading the dough on a greased sheet or a great little cast iron griddle (can't toss and do the Italian thing) giving it an edge. Then I spread on a little olive oil and sprinkle on some Italian seasoning or any mixture thereof and some Parmesan cheese. Tonight I baked it about 5 minutes before putting the toppings on. (Still experimenting.) After the veggie toppings, crumble some good goat cheese on top. Bake til the golden brown shade of your choice.
Enjoying: Slice. Tonight I made some traditional pizza dipping sauce, too. Serve with the adult beverage of your choice. It was all quite deliziosa.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spaghetti Day

It was spaghetti day at my house in remembrance of my daddy's birthday and his life. Daddy was always complimentary about any meal, but he especially loved spaghetti and could eat a whopping amount at one sitting. That and mashed potatoes. Lucky Daddy. He got the thin genes to go along with his good appetite. If a dinner didn't turn out well he would still eat with gusto, but with his signature broad smile and good humor, we might hear him comment, "It'll keep a man alive." When the meal was a really good one, and with his built in sense of comedic timing, he might jest, "I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight." The family still rarely eats together without a chuckle provoking quote from Daddy. I guess it is a way of still having him with us. The image I carry of him now is more from my childhood than my adulthood, a young and handsome, fun-loving daddy who made a buddy of his only daughter by reading long stories to me, riding to the beach in his convertible, sharing a crossword puzzle, painting, or horseback riding. After I became a nurse, he would inquire, "Tell me about your most interesting patient." He was accepting and gentle of heart. He showed interest in me and what I did, but really, he was interested in all people. When he died, it was his distinctive innate wit that people remembered the most. It was not in telling a boring or bawdy joke or a laugh at someone else's expense. Instead Daddy had a light-hearted take on life, and his curious observations came through in his conversations and comments. I will always miss my daddy, my best buddy, but I think he would be pleased that we still honor him every December ninth with a nice dish of spaghetti.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas Online Fun

I have had a hysterically fun time with thanks to OfficeMax and my lifelong friend Marthanna who sent it to me. I clicked and after it loaded, Marthanna and John, dressed in little elf costumes, were wiggling away to the sounds of Jingle Bells. I watched several times with much laughter! If I hadn't known them, I wouldn't have seen such humor in it. So the better you know the elves, the funnier it is. Of course, I had to try it, too. Since we just had our Thanksgiving get together, I had new pictures of my four sons, the right number of elves, and plugged their faces into the program. With only the company of my dog and cats late at night, I cracked up at the dancing elves brothers. I don't remember this program from last year, but apparently elfyourself has been wildly successful getting 200 unique visitors per second. Even did it myself! Have a little fun this Christmas! And yes...I really am that small.

Friday, December 7, 2007


How wonderful to be able to celebrate! How wonderful to have people who care enough about you to feel that you, your accomplishments or milestones are worth celebrating. Congratulations! You have done a lot of right things! It is no small matter coming to these celebratory transitional places in our lives. We must prepare well to arrive at each new beginning. Every day requires doing our best and keeping up loving relationships. Otherwise, who will want to honor us when the time comes? I have been to two celebrations this week for people who are successfully moving from one stage to another along their life journeys. A fortieth birthday - about halfway through life is a big milestone. A retirement party - the celebration of a co-worker who has put his heart and soul into helping others and is very loved. A graduation. A fiftieth wedding anniversary. The birth of a new baby. All reasons to celebrate. We will soon be celebrating the birth of our Savior who lived his life in preparation and service, and then gave his life for us. Gifts and joy will be a part of the worldwide Christmas celebrations, and we are all invited! At the point where I am now with my family, beautiful grandchildren, some blessedly quiet times, friends both gold and silver, I feel that each day is one I can celebrate by myself in my own heart. But I hope I can also manage to live and love well enough so that others can feel that I have lived a life worth celebrating.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Cows I Mentioned

One facility where I teach clinicals is away from the noise and bustle of the big city of Greenville and across the street from a small farm where young cattle graze and socialize with each other. What a pretty scene on a misty morning, and I always wish for my camera and a good shot. As I near the parking lot, I look for them on the left. Some mornings their heads are down nibbling at the grass but other times, like yesterday, they are not out. Maybe it is too cold and their owner keeps them in somewhere. I don't know. I don't know a thing about cows except they have expressive eyes and seem to just take life as it comes. But I did pack my camera yesterday and when I got off mid-afternoon, they were out. I walked up to take some pictures. I have pulled my car over to take pictures of cows before, and have been amused. They will stop what they are doing and edge up to greet me in a curious but friendly manner. "And how can I help you?" their behavior seems to say. These black ones were a little standoffish or maybe feigning indifference, and seemed less interested in least when I was using my camera. But when I walked off, they mooed loudly among themselves. "Mooo...whooo was that?" Here is a picture of two that reminded me of Ferdinand, one of my favorite books from childhood. These two seem just as content with their big tree as Ferdinand the bull did with his.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Community of Bloggers

For over a month I have challenged myself to blog daily and have met my far. I think one thing it is doing is sharpening my observational powers. Days are filled with experiences, achievements, interactions, responsibilities, and so forth, and having this blog makes me more aware of the limitless topics to comment on and write about. I see cows grazing in the morning mist, a disinterested student, an anxious patient, a political debate, my chipper half blind dog, a leftover turkey carcass and envision some sort of story. If only I had the capacity - time and knowledge - to find it and tell it well! Another enjoyment is being a part of the blogging community. There are a million or so others out there who feel compelled to share a part of their lives with anyone in the world who happens to land on their blog! Whatever we are saying, it is definite that we, a group of hack writers, amateur photographers and philosophers, all want a voice. I signed up for one of the services that shows who in the world happened to land on my blog, and was excited to know there was a visitor from faraway Turkey. Now that was cool... It is almost inspirational to read other people's blogs, no matter the content, and I have enjoyed regularly working on my own. Now if only I could be as committed to a diet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Simply Splendid Seasons

Say what you want about South Carolina, but Greenville has some fine weather. First of all, the seasons are well-defined but not extreme. We ease into winter after a colorful, crisp fall. Some tenacious leaves are still hanging on today.* Then cold weather visits for a spell usually blessing us with a couple of nice fluffy snows that know not to stick around too long. Before you know it, daffodils signal for spring that gracefully dances in bringing its lush greens and beautiful blooming things. And summer has just the right amount of hot southern days. When I think of what I like best about Greenville, I first say...the clean air and the weather. Late this afternoon, the only time I could go today, I headed out to shop. While slowly moving along in the heavy traffic, I was treated to a breathtaking evening sky as it headed toward sunset. A panorama of blue colors streaked with shades of pinks and and sprinkled with a few tufts of cream and silver clouds. A camera couldn't have captured it. Later as I left with my bags, the merry little lights that trimmed the stores helped light the dark night as I walked to my car in the December chill. And a nice warm sweater was all I needed. What a nice evening to be in Greenville, South Carolina.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Rush to Christmas

This perfect and elegant Christmas tree was already up in the ice skating rink at the Galleria in Houston when I was there before Thanksgiving. Typical. We Americans have gotten used to rushing Christmas. The old traditions had Santa Claus bringing the tree on Christmas Eve after the children were asleep and leaving stockings filled with goodies. The twelve days of Christmas that we sing about began on Christmas Eve and lasted til January sixth. Not that we have to hold on to the old ways, but the commercial ones have entrenched into our culture, and have changed many family traditions. It now seems to be the norm to put a tree up around Thanksgiving. I don't get it. A whole month or more of Christmas in the house sounds a little too stimulating to me. And besides, the first couple of weeks of December have their own charm as winter settles in. However, I suppose I don't have to get it. If a month of Christmas decorations in the home really brings the joy and peace that Christmas celebrates, so be it. As usual my tree will not be up until the calendar has crossed off many more days, but it will be enjoyed as much.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Seacoast Church

I made it back today...finally.
We were members of a nice church here for several years and visited many churches of different denominations, but none seemed to be a good fit. Then in October 06, enticed by an 11 o'clock service - so many churches start early now - we visited Seacoast. I immediately picked up a comfortable arty vibe. The busy corner "cafe" that served coffee and doughnuts sported a well-written welcome sign. I just knew that this was a place where I could be my fidgety self, and it would be OK. The message came to us via a huge screen. The band had a happy rock and roll sound and was loud. Just the way I like it! The male singer had a marvelous soulful voice with a good range. I turned to my husband and said, "He's really good." A few weeks later, our pastor made the announcement that this good singer was headed for Hollywood. He was Chris Sligh of AI fame. Music has always been my favorite part of church, and I have at times missed the old hymns, though not as much as I would have thought. Seacoast is a non-traditional concept and has campuses in different locations. Ours does not have its own building at present - it shares its spot with a school - but when the body gathers, it feels like church. I see Seacoast as bringing church into the 21st century. I very much love the old churches, but time moves along like an everflowing river and brings about the need for change.
A couple of months ago my husband asked, "Do you realize we are the oldest people there?"
I said, "I hadn't noticed."
Check out

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Work Is Not Life

Most of us are getting paid to know and perform a fairly specific job probably for a company or large business - that is unless we are living off of other people's income or the government or are successful, daring entrepreneurs ourselves. Some workers perform repetitive tasks, make decisions about money or spend the bulk of their time in some form of communication. The occupation - some prefer to call it a profession - of nursing requires its own set of knowledge and skills with each practice area adding its own specific requirements. And so it should be with psychiatric nursing...but that is another blog. However, when I clock out and walk through the hospital door, my brain puts aside my "for pay" persona and duties. I am not a psych nurse twenty-four hours a day. Just as an accountant may have his or her spouse handle the family finances and the chef may have a bowl of cold cereal for supper, my relationships with family and friends are not the same as with my co-workers or my patients. At least I hope not! I am not involved with discussions on psychotropic medications or pathological behaviors, and I don't use the metric system either! It took a few career years for experience to be the best teacher, but now I am hardwired to be a psych nurse. I guess that is just how the brain works. The wiring turns on when I arrive at work. Long before I became a nurse, if I met a psychiatrist or a therapist, I wondered...can he tell what I'm thinking? Now I can say no to that question, unless they are getting paid to figure you out or listen and help. However if there is some glaring psychiatric problem, they (we) can't help but notice. But unless it's work, they (we) keep it to ourselves.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Divine Intervention

It was strangely quiet and dark when I woke up this morning. There was no hum from the heat and the digital clock sat there dark and purposeless, in stony silence, its annoying red numbers vanished. The cats were curled around my legs and we were all more than cold. Soon we reasoned the electricity must have gone off about five a.m. hmmm...Maybe there would be no hot water, no stove, no computer. How lovely! It would be a good excuse to settle back under the covers. After all, I had been waiting for my day of rest to arrive. And a lovely morning of rest it was, that is until I started craving my usual cup of something hot to drink. It was an indecent hour to get up by the time I finally did. I stretched and put on enough makeup so as not to scare anyone, and looking for electric lights shining through neighboring windows, I drove to the nearest Starbucks. "One tall hot green tea, please." The cheery girlish voice offered me three kinds and I chose the green ginger. It was tasty and stayed piping hot through the bank drive thru and to Costco for gas ($2.77). When I got back home - confound it ! - I saw that Duke Energy had responsibly been on the job. But I do appreciate the restful morning.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Nursing Art

I like to tell my students the best thing to give to your patients is yourself. It is not about giving time - time can be in short supply during a shift - but more about how we use the time we do have. It is in the way we use our eyes and the tone of our voice, the intensity with which we listen, nods of our heads, and words of reassurance; basically letting them know we care. Yesterday we talked about "unconditional positive regard," a term Carl Rogers gets credit for. I believe it lays a foundation for the nurse-patient relationship by eliminating judgment and offers an unstated confidence in our patients, helping them to recover from whatever is ailing them, mental or physical. It is always good to have someone to believe in you! Sure there are people we see over and over again because they have learned how to manipulate the health care system, who do not take care of themselves, and we are tempted to criticize. Why can't they be perfect like us, we ask. But much of our work is the personal philosophies and attitudes that people read in us and not simply tasks. When we work to develop unconditional positive regard and are able give it to our patients, we sometimes give it to ourselves, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mixed Nuts

Those who read and watch the news - please don't forget the entertainment section - are aware of people who are suspected of committing crimes or have extreme opinions or who seem to be going bonkers. They are fodder for attention grabbing headlines and conversation even among strangers. What were they thinking, our inquisitive minds want to know! My nursing students, who today were finishing their psych nursing rotation, and I had a discussion about these newsmakers and tried to identify the various psychiatric disorders they possibly have. We talked about antisocial personality (at one time called psychopath), exhibitionism (a paraphilia), bipolar type 1, depression, borderline personality disorder, pedophilia, narcissism, suicidal gestures, gender identity disturbances and anorexia nervosa. Even though the label of the mental illness or problem isn't mentioned, the symptoms make the news especially when well known people exhibit them. And no doubt to the delight of the competing networks. I have noticed that there is not a big a focus when a celebrity has a medical illness - say a urinary tract infection - but let one of them act out psychiatrically and the world knows about it. Common folk and celebrities alike suffer from problems with their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, but the average person is more likely to get help. People who care notice something is wrong and may try to intervene. And charming average Joe turns out to be a wife killer and will eventually get his due. But pity the poor rich celebrities. They have too many people who rely on the income they generate, and they are less likely to be honestly confronted and as a result, treated. Psychiatry. It is all around us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweet pleasures

It starts every year before Halloween. Bags of chocolates all decked out in seasonal dress woo me at store entrances. I resist for a while - I have trained myself to wait until October 30 - but then I succumb. Deliciously. be one of those people who calmly says, "I don't care for sweets," or "I like chocolate but it doesn't like me." That must be both wonderful and horrible. But the Christmas shopping season has officially begun and the relentless, gaudy advertising flyers are out. Responding to a beguiling ad for Hershey Kisses in Sunday's paper that claimed "assorted varieties, buy one get one free," I whipped into CVS on my way home from work yesterday. How nice it would be to have some in my candy jar or to creatively add them to an edible gift, I reasoned. So I bought bags of kisses that were called candy cane, peanut butter, cherry cordials, and mint truffle. I could hardly wait until I got home to see which would be my favorite. I cut a bag open and the aroma of mint excited my senses. I shook one into my hand, peeled off the shiny green foil and stripped the kiss of its last shred of decency. Exposed at last, I popped the luscious little candy in my mouth. Life is short. Eat chocolate.

Monday, November 26, 2007


The intriguing word psychiatry is more and more often being with replaced with the insipid term behavioral health. Why I ask! Does it have a more warm and fuzzy ring to it and conjure up fewer pictures of crazed maniacs being chained to walls? I am guessing it is not a way of presenting a kinder, gentler image to the public, but has something to do with money. It is, after all, part of the medical business. It is only a guess. I am not a decision maker and wasn't consulted on the matter. I just know I don't like it. Behavior is only a piece, a result of thoughts, experiences, feelings. I have loved psychiatry. Psychiatry was the first big word I learned to spell. As I got a little older, I used to look it up and read and reread about it in the old Collier's Encyclopedias we had at home. The brain was also a fascination. It was mysterious, not like the heart that you could see at work, but a convoluted mass of gray grooves that just sat there underneath the skull, directing all of man's thoughts and movements. Psychology was much less compelling, I thought. From my parents I learned to find all people interesting. Thanks to a series of misadventures in my life, and perhaps destiny, I ended up working in psychiatry - as a nurse. It is enough for me. I aspire to no greater employment except perhaps to share my experiences on what I have learned about life. Although there have been more frustrations than hairs on my head - and not with the patients - I have persevered. There have been enough personally incredible moments to keep me in psychiatry.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Day of Rest

A day of rest. What a lovely promise the words hold. How needed. A day to refresh the body, soul and mind. But I ask - when will it ever come? Or even a day to catch up on housework at my leisure? I appreciate the way my dog keeps the kitchen floor licked clean, but really, it must be mopped. Towels must be washed, leftovers in the fridge must be disposed of, leaves tracked inside must be vacuumed, and my addled brain must normalize. It won't be today. I am a nurse and it is a workday. It won't be tomorrow. I will be with my students in the clinical area. And so it goes. My only option will be to have some hours within each day for down time or home duty time, and maybe by the next weekend, I will be rejuvenated. That is not God's plan for his children, though. Out of his love for us and because he knows how we function best, he directed us to have a day of quietude and spiritual reflection each week. A day of rest and renewal. But that's another thing we have messed up. I find that like everything else, God is right. It is about every seven days that I really need a time out, and twenty-four hours is more effective than a few snatched here and there. But I am a flawed human and rationalize my errant ways, to my loss. Such is life.

Chez Grandmommy

Now that I have lived for a while and have transitioned through to the grandmother stage, I want to play my role well. Part of that is letting my home be a comfortable, welcoming, accepting, even adventurous place for the grandchildren when they are here. For my little Thanksgiving visitors, I prepared by having some kid areas where I put some interesting things for them to discover, but really children are just curious about anything in what the older generation has accumulated. I thought my grandmothers' homes were the coolest places. When I was a child, my daddy's parents lived a thousand miles away, but we did make the trip through the mountains, over the rivers and through the woods to get there every year or two. I loved exploring their big, airy house with the cool dark cellar and the transom windows, and I now realize Gram probably had as much joy in this southern granddaughter's explorations as I did. Because of the distance, I didn't get to spend much time with her as we children grow up much too soon, but the older I get, it seems the more glimpses my mind shows me of her - the way she made gravy, the twinkle in her blue eyes. I hope my grandchildren will carry some happy memories of my home into the future with them. The memories and the family continuity can be something of a comfort.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Passing Love Along

The house is quieter now with most of the family gone, but the echoes of chatter and laughter will linger for a while, at least as long as there is a toy Volkswagen inhabiting a forgotten corner. Still here are three grandchildren from one family who are sleeping over so their mom and dad can have a night out to celebrate their wedding anniversary. John - yesterday in a pile of leaves - was peaceful as I lay with him, and he warbled along with my lullabies. Finally he turned on his side and his sleep breaths started. One...two...three good ones. He is not yet three and is the only one to shorten my name to the more grown up sounding Grandmom. Jacob was charged with getting his five year old sister - the pretty tree hugger - settled and to sleep. He read to her as she snuggled with her Daddy's forty year old teddy bear and sailed into the Land of Nod. Then we two headed to the kitchen for cocoa and biscotti and some funny family stories. Jacob and I crack each other up! Next week, we will all return to our stage of life roles, but for now we are together, these precious children who carry a little piece of me, and their grandmommy who loves them. What are grandchildren and families for if not to share life with and to love. Love is what makes life worthwhile.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The prep is key

It is still dark out. I set the alarm for 6:30 to get the big ol' turkey in the oven, but I was up way before that. That is just the way it is when my children gather and I have lots to do. It is the excitement of it all that stirs my brain to rise and go. The work shouldn't be too bad today because I did so much to get ready yesterday. The good china has been cleaned and inspected, the vegetables have been washed, the centerpiece in on the table, and so on. Now it is just assembling, letting the oven do its thing, and serving. (Oh yes...and then that darned cleaning up.) Preparation. It is the the most essential thing we do, and it affects every aspect of our lives. Today it is only Thanksgiving dinner but tomorrow, who knows what it may be, and how I deal with it depends on how I have prepared myself. Like the commercial says, life comes at you fast, and we need to be prepared! Education may be the most obvious preparation. It leads to a career that funds our living. But everyday we, through our thoughts and experiences, are preparing for the future, for what the next day brings, whether we are aware of it or not. If do not take care of our bodies, we will not have the stamina when we need it. If we plan to tend our relationships and then fail to do so, they will dissolve. If we don't put into our minds the tools for making wise decisions, we fall. Preparation, usually unwitting, is behind every automatic response. It is what structures our lives. This Thanksgiving dinner has been prepared for long before this week. Into it went reading cookbooks and following recipes, learning from others, trial and error, and making messes. It doesn't just happen!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Prep Day

It is the morning of Thanksgiving Eve and it will be a busy - no, frantic - day. But tomorrow will be extremely special because we will all be together. All of my children - biological, those aquired through marriage, and the next generation - will be here cramming together in the roasted turkey and ginger scented kitchen, then sharing the bird and traditional side dishes around the tables. Not one to do things too early, I will get in my cooking groove soon. When we are all safely gathered in, I must take time out from my scullery maid duties to gaze upon, admire, and appreciate each child while they are here - and as they are in the moment. I will fuss at myself if I don't, if I get too involved with the tasks of the day. Yes, there is much to be done between now and when Thanksgiving is over tomorrow night, but thinking thankful thoughts will keep me in the right frame of mind. Besides knowing that God loves and cares for me, I am thankful and blessed to have a family that enjoys being together, and am also blessed that I can still put on a Thanksgiving spread.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Next to a crossword puzzle you can sink your teeth into, the best flight companion is a good book, and I took one along. It was not a romance novel though the subject was somewhat of a romanticist, nor a juicy tell-all autobiography, but an excellent biography titled Einstein. Author Walter Isaacson has so finely crafted the story that even I not only got the feel of who the man was and how he reasoned but also the gist of the science that held Albert Einstein's fascination and commitment from childhood. Isaacson explained that contrary to myth, Einstein was a fine student, and though he talked a little later than most children, even his early words reflected curiosity, imagination, and acute observations. Here are a few of Einstein's quotations that I liked.
  • Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
  • It is important to foster individuality, for only individuality can produce new ideas.
  • How an intelligent man can subscribe to a (political) party, I find a complete mystery.
  • One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Au revoir

Naturellement, Westins are known for their heavenly beds. They have perfectly determined the right mattress, pillows, linens and covers to make their clients sleep well, and that after all is generally why one stays at a hotel. And I love their "hydrating cream" (i.e. hand lotion) that has a wonderfully relaxing - possibly - lavender scent. But I think they took their elegant, somewhat Asian look too far. Too many medium neutrals can look depressing, someone needs to tell them. On the other hand, it is not stimulating, like dusk, and may prepare weary souls for the pleasurable beds. We left our packed bags at the concierge desk and walked into the Galleria mall in search of food. During the summer when I was there, the line at la Madeleine was so long that I went elsewhere. Today we waited and it was worth it. For my petit dejeuner, I chose egg crepe champignon because I liked the name. He got the French country breakfast. We shared a to die for cinnamon apple pastry that was drizzled with caramel icing. Great with my French coffee. We did not know when our next meal would be and ate heartily. Gee...I wish we had a la Madeleine around here. After walking once again past upscale shops with names such as Montblanc, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Burberry and spending a few unnecessary bucks ourselves, we picked up the bags and got a taxi to the airport. It was almost uneventful from there on. I suggest if you have a first class seat, try not to make it 1C, the one that is closest to the bathroom on a 747, or else have a book to hold in front of your face as if you are reading intensely. Some unpleasant odors may waft your way. Here is a picture of clouds and sky from high above the earth.

The Opening Party

The Westin Galleria and the new Del Frisco's are both a part of the Galleria, a huge mall in downtown Houston, so we just had to walk through the mall to get to the party. Nice since it was raining. It was in high gear when we got there about nine o'clock with the six piece band playing rock and roll upstairs and attractive couples dancing and holding their glasses high. Food and drink were the main attractions. Oh...and breasts. They're not just for Hollywood anymore. Servers were walking about the crowd with trays of various luscious hors d'oeuvres. I was first offered and took steak tartare on a bread crisp. Normally I would feel like a barbarian if I ate raw mammal, but I hadn't had a thing since the pecan pie that I had at work at noon. Hunger can change your values. In the wine room downstairs was a great assortment of cheeses and fruits, and in the main dining room were piles of very jumbo shrimp for the taking. Upstairs were ice sculptures, desserts in and out of chocolate shells, bars, and a dinner buffet whose meats bragged beef tenderloin and lobster tails. The chateau mashed potatoes with cayenne was my favorite. I figure "chateau," kind of homey, like mama makes but spiced up a bit. I'm a potato kind of girl. There were young women in black cocktail dresses posing as guests who offered to take your dirty dishes to the kitchen. I don't know...but when I am at work, I have to wear a name tag so I won't be mistaken for a patient. Chef Thomas said there were thirty cooks preparing the food and over one hundred servers. Now that's a serious restaurant opening! This Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House is almost identical to the one in NYC. Not only does it have marvelous food and a wine room, but interesting art, and not just one but two majestic iron handrails that go to (and from) the mezzanine. Before we left, my husband proudly toured me through the still busy, stainless steel maze of a kitchen. By that time, there weren't many guests left and the workers were packed in there, piling up their plates with leftovers. What a scene! Check it out!

Houston - Getting there

It had been a calm day at work when about 1:15 in the afternoon my husband telephoned. "Dru called. He said pack your wife and come to Houston." Saturday night was the opening party of the new Del Frisco's that they had both worked very hard on. To go meant we had to catch a plane from Atlanta that would leave at 5:30. My co-workers let me leave. I hate to miss a party. It is in my genes. So I made arrangements for my dog, dashed home, had a shot of BarleyMax, threw my best party outfit in the bag along with minimal other necessities, and we headed down I85. My husband used the skills he taught at the police academy in the high speed chase class and I held my breath and prayed. Even with all we had to do once we got there, we figured we made it in time! Atlanta's Hartsfield is enormous and of course, a pain. We got the tickets, didn't check bags because of the time crunch, got through the checkpoints, took the speeding bullet to the concourse, and breathlessly arrived at the gate. "You can't board. All the seats are taken. It is a sold out flight." We were two minutes late so they sold our seats! Even I - I was pumped - argued with this AirTran employee whose name tag was lost in the folds of her body, but neither she nor her supervisor who never made eye contact, let us on. I figure it is like trying to second guess a losing basketball game. Every play or every second contributes to the final outcome. We decided to see if there was another flight. Yes...on Continental. We retraced out steps and started back at square one. A compassionate woman at the ticket counter quickly assisted us to get tickets and we went through the process again with one addition. When we got to the place where we had to place our stuff in the dishpan and send it through x-ray on the right and walk through the poles where they look for box cutters and underwire in bras on the left, we were told, "You have been selected..." For a split second my natural optimism thought it was a good thing, but then I realized...prepare to be groped. Just another thing to slow us down. Whew...We got to the gate in time. The uniformed guy taking the tickets, said, "I'm sorry but this flight is full." Then the jokester laughed. I had been giddy for awhile by that time. The flight turned out to be ahead of schedule and after a $60 taxi ride from Bush to The Westin Galleria and fixing up, we were only fashionably late. As if anyone noticed. Moral of the story: Keep your sense of humor. You never know when you will need it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What I Learned About Love One Day

When you are a home health nurse, you don't know what you may find on the first visit. But this experience was one I wanted to remember and I jotted the essence of it when I came home. It was, in fact, what inspired me to start writing some of my nursing stories. The home was in an older part of town, a red brick two story, and one that looked as if the occupants had lived there for a long time, that little children had once played in the yard before growing to adulthood and leaving home. The husband greeted me at the door. Soon I felt the love. When I walked in, she was lying in a hospital bed in the living room, old and bedridden, rigid and staring, with Parkinson's disease. But he saw his wife differently. When he talked with her and looked at her, his eyes were filled with a connection that can be defined only as true love. He talked to me of their years together, and how he, still fit and healthy, must now tend to her physical needs. He spoke to and about her as if she were still the girl he fell in love with. Then I saw it. The young girl was still somewhere inside that almost unresponsive body, and I realized that we are indelibly and forever imprinted when love strikes us. That is how our minds see that person from then on. The imprint forms the basis of our relationship. And that is what I learned about love that day.


Last night I fell asleep to sweet welcome sound of falling rain. We in the upstate of South Carolina have been in a drought but certainly nothing like Georgia's. On the news this morning I heard of the prayer service that Georgia's Governor Perdue led specifically to plea for rain. This is certainly not an original idea. The Bible has several stories of praying for rain and praying for no rain, and what about those American Indians and their rain dances that we learned about in elementary school. So why not collectively pray for rain! Maybe the Georgia capital prayer story would not have made the news in a positive way if no rain had followed within 48 hours, but, seems the prayers were answered. And a nice rain it was, too. I appreciate even the small amount of news coverage it received. Too often news stories are from a small and fragmented edge and whose intentions seem to be to antagonize and stir up gossip and dissent. I prefer not to label those folks as being on a particular political or social wing, but I see them as not grounded in the truth. That in turn causes them to be confused and lost, which then makes them vulnerable to believe anything, at least for a season. But this is a story from the grounded side. The Bible tells us that "the fervent prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective." Now that is good news!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Honoring the Seasons

Many of us have nine to five type jobs, rising, working and bedding ritualistically. It is what we expect to do as good employees and what the companies expect of us. Since we depend on our paychecks, we follow like good soldiers of the American workforce. No matter the season, we do the same things over and over, and in the summer, get treated to a vacation, a break from the routine. No matter the time, daylight saving or standard, the pesky alarm interrupts our dreams, and soon we leave for work whether on a sunny morning or in the dark, in snow, rain, heat or gloom of night. We follow regimentedly, robotically. I have long felt that one of the many reasons there is so much "depression" - the dissatisfaction sort - in our culture is that we don't honor the seasons. We don't adapt our lifestyles for the seasons. We fail to take time to look beyond at the backdrop of everchanging nature in our focused and duty filled lives and recognize how seasons influence our lives. But we are all affected by climate change, air pressure, hours of sunlight, ions in the atmosphere, rough winds, the feel of rain, the fresh greens of spring, and the grays of winter. Sometimes our obligations to work, to home, and to what we consider to be our basic needs become all we believe we can do, and changes that the seasons bring may become nuisances when they interfere with our routines. I have no way to control how business does business. If for example I recommended that on a lovely day our bosses tell us, "Go enjoy!" they probably wouldn't do it, even if it would make the employees happier. Most of us can't choose to picnic on a summer day rather than show up for work, but I suggest we use some of our thinking time to honor the seasons themselves and breathe out a few aahhs as we do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feelings Make the Difference

We have probably all received emails that end something like " . . .but you always remember how they made you feel." It's true. We remember the feelings related to the event even more than the event itself. We might think for example...I felt lonely, proud, left out, happy or scared about a childhood experience. Some homes are - as we say - healthier, and they are places where children feel loved and valued for who they are, and they are free to talk about not only what is going on but also their feelings, without fear of judgment. As a result, they are taught to deal with their problems and related feelings as they present themselves, and tend to become more mentally and emotionally stable adults. Others grow up in chaotic, restrictive, or abusive environments, and are not allowed to have their own feelings. However the feelings are still there but the child learns to repress them. This causes emotional and physical difficulties, anxiety, depression, irritability and stomach problems to name a few. Early on in my work, I learned the importance of feelings, first identifying them, and then letting them have a voice, a huge part of healing the psyche. I am a fan of Candace Pert who brought to us the science behind emotions. We are learning more and more about the brain! In a class today I learned that if our mind decides something is no longer needed - generally some little thing - the brain will "dump" it after about five days. What is the deciding factor in whether it gets dumped? "The emotional value attached to the memory is what makes the difference in dumped or stored memories." (Quoted from Joseph Carver, PhD.) So when the doctor asks, "How did this make you feel?" there is a reason for it. Don't smirk. Think about it. It may lead to better health.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Veterans

A day to remember veterans. I am the daughter of a WWll veteran. Daddy was in Army intelligence and spent most of his time on a ship that traveled between America and the North Africa - Mediterranean area, at least I think so. In later years, he worked on his "book," a collection of his remembrances from "The War." The VA served him well as he aged, and he liked to sit and chat with other "old soldiers." I am the wife of a "Vietnam era" Army veteran, a real life GI Joe. The memories fight not to erupt and he is never free of them, but I think the Army remains his main love. I am the mother of an Army soldier. Trip was gung-ho at eighteen when he started Army Reserves but relieved to get out when he finished his six years af active duty. Finishing Ranger training was a big deal. We were proudly sitting in the stands that cold sunny day, and as the line of graduates, as an arc on the horizon, moved toward us, I suspected that it was Trip on the far end, the tallest of the men who were fit enough to finish the course. As he came closer, heart aflutter, I could tell for sure. Gaunt and hyperalert he was, as I pinned on his Ranger pin. I am the mother of a sailor who was in Desert Storm. This first war in the mideast was alarming to us Americans, but for Peter, it was an adventure. "If I die, I die," he wrote me. Thankfully they all made it home alive, but for some mothers, wives, and daughters, their men didn't. Today I thank you, my men and others, for serving the American military and the American people. The picture is of a Veterans Cemetery in St. Augustine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

St. Augustine Snapshot

St. Augustine, Florida is a charming city and everyone should plan a long visit there at least once. This wasn't one of those trips however, but a work duty for my husband with me for company, and we had only quick stopover before heading back. But there were lots of other tourists even on this second weekend of November, and why not, the weather was great. We had done the sightseeing thing there several times before and didn't feel obliged to repeat it. After is America's oldest city and it hasn't changed that much. The Old Jail and the Fountain of Youth still stand. We stayed in the Comfort Suites Downtown. I don't know what it may have been if it had a previous life, but it was well kept and comfy and believe it or not, right near Ripley's. We enjoyed drinks from Smoothie King late Saturday afternoon that were so filling that we later considered them supper. Mine was a delicious pomegranate smoothie. This morning after breakfasting in the lobby, we rode around a bit. St. Augustine is a sunny place, probably even in bad weather. Many of the Spanish inspired buildings and homes are painted some shade of yellow from light creams to butterscotch to various ochres and even a lemony color. I love yellow. There was a Veteran's Day ceremony going on at the Castillo de San Marco and across the street, boats in the harbor. After admiring the old city, we got on A1A - by the ocean - to Jacksonville before taking the interstate home. Here's a shot from today - clouds in a blue sky and boats on the water.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Salvia elegans

Conditions must have been right for the pineapple sage to bloom so nicely this fall. It is close to four feet tall, almost as wide and is full of slender rich red flowers. An internet source claims that it is the top flower for attracting hummingbirds though I haven't seen them. A sweet pineapple aroma is emitted when the mature leaves are crushed. Even before I had heard of aromatherapy, I liked it so much that I once planted one in a small hospital garden for the patients to enjoy. Here is my lovely late bloomer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Part of "depersonalizing" my home for the real estate market was sending my cookbooks off to storage. Yesterday I unpacked them and saw them with a different eye. There is a reason these few have survived the many purges. They are distinguished by the memories they hold. I have my mother's old Rumford Cookbook, the one she used when she started life as a bride, that has recipes written in her pretty youthful script on the inside covers. The long, floppy Fleischman's I ordered from the company in the mid seventies and became the foundation of my love of bread baking and the Redbook Cookbook of the same era that had all the cooking knowledge I could handle at the time were keepers. So is the batter stained Our Best Recipes by Southern Living that I used every time I made a batch of congo squares. I am still proud of the chunky little cookbook by Charlotte United Way workers that my mother illustrated and the two recipe collections for fund raisers that I worked on so diligently. Regretfully I gave away my first Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a must know text that I studied during my first year of motherhood as if I were preparing for a quiz. My most recent purchase does not yet have a place in my heart. It is still just a slick book with pretty pictures, but I thought I should update my shrinking collection. I find that I don't need cookbooks much anymore since I have had the basics down for many years. I am competent enough to experiment and come up with something pretty darned good, often the blending the old and the new, appreciating the healthy changes our increasingly small planet has made on our diets. But these treasured cookbooks are a part of my history and looking over them brings happy memories.

Gift from Nature

This sugar maple is in its glory now. It is not mine. I have graceful maples but they do not become resplendent like this beauty. Even better, it is in my neighbor's front yard so I get a full view of it each fall right out of my front window. If I were handed a beautifully wrapped present and inside was something I really wanted, I could not enjoy it any more than this gift that nature blesses me with each year through these kind people. I used to have roses bushes planted close to the street in the hopes that passersby and playing children would stop to sniff and break off a few for their own pleasure. I didn't leave a sign that said "Free Roses," but I hoped the proximity to the road was a sign that they were welcome to pick and to enjoy. Sometimes gifts are given with flair and drama but other times they are subtle and seemingly unintentional. I suspect my neighbors know how much their tree dresses up our little cul-de-sac, but in case they don't, I think I will call and thank them for the gift.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tomato Farmer

This is the first birthday remembrance since I started this daily blog. My second sensational son and as close as I could get to a namesake, Stuart made his entrance on Planet Earth forty-one years ago this afternoon. I gave up my diary when I married at nineteen and regret not recording the cute things my babies did, the milestones, and the feelings that went with being a mother, but memories are there anyway and here is one for Stuart. We moved to Spartanburg when he was four and lived in a neighborhood with a back yard full of gangly pines and no good summer garden spot, so I hoed and prepared a place at the side of the house. My drive to have a garden was no doubt something I learned from my daddy who loved the fruit trees and various veggies that he planted and nurtured, including of course tomatoes. In this side yard garden the different varieties of tomatoes thrived. An early rising, retired neighbor across the street observed that Stuart - at four and five - was "like an old farmer" because each morning he saw him checking the tomatoes, and I add, he did so with love. Some smaller varieties were used as ammunition in cherry tomato fights with his brothers, but we had plenty of big ones left for all to enjoy. Now Stuart has been a tomato "farmer" for many summers, even ordering heirloom seeds and growing them from scratch. The seasons have been disappointing or rewarding, just like the rest of life, but still Stuart carries on a long family tradition as well as commendably carrying my favorite name.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


There it was again. The misuse of an English word. A word that once was reserved for a male who displayed certain admirable characteristics. Someone was being interviewed on a television news show and used the word "gentleman" in reference to a criminal. Oh? Did a well bred, well mannered man adopt a criminal lifestyle? And if he did, wouldn't he have lost his gentleman status? At work I get reports on new admissions, homeless drug addicts, that begin, "This gentleman..." When did the meaning of gentleman change to include any form of the male species? What is wrong with calling a man a man? Or a fellow? Or a guy? Is this entropy of our mother tongue or is this falsely polite term due to that American euphemistic blunder, political correctness? It was in the sixties that the lyrics "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" were musically and culturally in vogue. Being called a man was a good thing. Language and politics, culture and times change, and sometimes I am dragged along, kicking and screaming.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Veggie zuppa du jour

The season changes bring different at home cuisines. One food to enjoy in the fall and winter is vegetable soup. My life as a cook has produced many steaming savory pots, no two alike. Yesterday's version was uncomplicated and yummy. My mother made delicious vegetable soup, and I find that it is hard to produce a pot of vegetable soup that is not incredibly tasty to the soul as well as the body. This is the way it went.

I sauteed til soft a thinly sliced white onion, diced celery, and minced fresh garlic in some good organic olive oil. Before the garlic browned, I added about two cups of water and a large Knorr beef boullion cube. (The vegetable boullion could be used to make it vegetarian.) I peeled and sliced carrots and put them in next. While that was coming to a boil, I peeled and cubed two potatoes and put them in the pot, then added some frozen green beans. I washed and prepped some fresh parsley and spinach, and in went the green. Last I added about a cup or so of tomato juice. It simmered about 10 minutes longer and was ready to enjoy. More seasoning wasn't really necessary for my taste. It was just about the quickest vegetable soup du jour ever!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thankful Thinking

One of the most eye opening experiences of being a nurse is seeing how people live and have lived their lives. We care for newborn babies and witness how their mothers respond to them. We wonder what their lives will be. We see people struggling with mental and physical problems throughout the life span and then, people close to entering the next dimension through what we call death. There is no way to predict what a life will turn out to be. We humans have no control over who our parents were or the genes we have been dealt. However we do have control over a few attitudes that make a huge difference in the quality of our lives even if the opposite has been modeled for us. Gratitude is one attitude of choice. Romans 12 addresses being changed by the renewal of our minds. Making an effort to renew and change our thinking for the good, to abandon attitudes that put us in an unhappy state, is one way to help our own life span be a better one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A full moon of fish

I think this is an interesting picture. Last month I saw a few people fishing on the south end of Wrightsville Beach and stopped to watch them and admire their catches as I walked along. I took the liberty of snapping this picture right into one of their buckets. Can you see the bait fish and the freshly caught flounder - golden tail extended - that almost jumped out right after the click of the camera?

Friday, November 2, 2007

The new old house

After the house had been on the market for almost six months and had been visited by about sixty sightseers, there were still no offers. Was it that undesirable? I didn't think so. In fact I always found it to be a house of character and quite livable. But I took the hint and re-evaluated the situation. We decided that it would work just fine to stay here after all. When the house is on the market, it doesn't feel like your own. Now we are happily settling back into our new old house and doing some of the things we had planned to do when we moved into the new house in Winston-Salem that never was. I am restarting magazine subscriptions, buying new spices, and the promise of a big new television will soon be realized. I am cluttering instead of decluttering and actually living in instead of visiting this place that has sheltered me for ten years. It is good to be home.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eight legged pets

I am not too crazy about Halloween anymore, but I have always been captivated by the spider, a creature that becomes more prominent in late October and whose threatening caricatures decorate many a Halloween activity. But the real spider is an amazing little animal, spinning beautiful webs and then scurrying around them. My favorite is the writing spider and her progeny that grace my perennial lantana near the mailbox like an old friend who comes to visit each summer. And this morning when I let my dog out, there was a huge classic web, beautifully strung in the corner near my back door with some sort of brown spider near the center who seemed to be startled by my unexpected appearance. Boo backatcha! I will respectfully leave it alone however as spiders are obviously intelligent enough to respond to my curiosity. I say let Mother Nature handle it. Soon the web will get stringy, the spider will abandon it, and it will go away on its own. Later today however, when dark has just settled in, I may pull out my new Canon SD 1000 and snap a picture for my spider photo collection. Reader beware!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It really isn't hallowed

In between the time our jack o'lantern was smashed on the street and when the psych hospital where I was working was forced to overstaff because of cult behaviors by the patients that I lost interest in Halloween. In a time far away, children of appropriate ages would dress up as gypsies, pirates, ghosts, freckle-faced country bumpkins, and whatever other characters might be conceived from their parents closets and imaginations and carry their grocery bags to nearby homes. Friendly neighbors responded to surprise greetings of "Trick or treat!" by dropping candies or an occasional apple in bags that would hopefully survive the night. What excitement when those bags of candy were later dumped on the table at home. What joy to run their hands through their plunder and sort through the various chocolates, suckers, peanut chews, tiny bags of candy corn, bubble gum, and fruit flavored goodies and choosing favorites or those too irresistible to save for later. What stomach aches followed! Yes, Halloween lost its appeal when the creep factor became bigger than the fun factor. When I realized that it isn't all about a little ghoulishness or dressing up and getting candy, and that is in fact for some a celebration of the dark side, I decided it really didn't have to be a special day for me. When the Halloween paraphernalia hits the stores, I pass right by all the scary orange and black displays with nary a penny spent. But when that night comes, and I think of the old days and want to see the costumed children and their sweet little faces, I will give in and dash to the store for candy, that is if I am at home and not out tending the mentally ill, and by darn, I enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We are all just people

For a while as our children grow into adulthood, it may be that we see them - and that they see us - one dimensionally. I was the mother, authoritative and protective, at times overwhelmed with the resposibility of nurturing these boys to manhood, and discipling in a hopefully loving manner. They were the seedlings, sons of hope and promise. We spent years seeing each other as mother and child. But the child eventually becomes who he is meant to be, young mother continues becoming who she is meant to be, and the relationship calls for readjustments, with both breaking out of that one dimensional view and seeing each other as actual multi-dimensional human beings.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, "Your children are not your own. They are life's longing for itself . . . You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fitting In

The woman in front of me in the check out line at Publix this afternoon was griping to the cashier about being stuck here in South Carolina thanks to her ex-husband. I could tell by her accent she was from a New England state often known for its former presidents and high taxes. When it was my turn to check out, I offered a joyfully smug comment, " . . . glad to be a Southerner." The sweet, young southern cashier replied, "Why would anybody want to live there anyway!"

Why indeed! It is about home. It is not about which is better, the north or south, Virginia or California. It is about what we know. We long to be where we are at home and comfortable, where we are understood and where we fit in to the culture. Home. It is a matter of the heart, learned from parents, schools and playmates, defining who we are. I wouldn't expect the shopper to act as if she likes it here. That would be too southern!