Tag Archives: life

Dreams Never Die

My body suddenly grew warmer as I felt a wave of positive energy coming towards me.  I glanced up to see an elderly woman approaching my table at the mini-fair that the Psychic Research Society of Kansas City was presenting on Thursday, July 26, 2018.  The woman must have been in her late 70s or early 80s, I assumed, as she sat down in the chair opposite me and introduced herself as Kate.  I smiled and shook her hand as I gave her my name.  Then we began the session.  I offered Kate the card deck to shuffle, and then instructed her to intuitively pick three cards that she believed would best represent her current life and personality.  As I slowly turned over each card and gave my impressions, Kate responded with joyful insights, especially when I suggested that she should start keeping a journal.

“Oh,” Kate exclaimed, “I love to write.  Just last year, I finished writing a book.  It all just seemed to come to me in one rush.  Guess what it’s about, Jamie.  Guess what it’s about!”  But before I could even respond, she leaned towards me and said, “Space ships, Jamie.  I wrote about spaceships!”

“That’s wonderful, Kate,” I responded enthusiastically.

And then Kate excitedly told me, “And I’m finishing a poetry book now.  Yes, I’m writing a book of poetry.”

“That’s so wonderful for you, Kate,” I smiled.  “Even according to the cards you are very talented and have amazing insight.  This is a great time for you to be creative.”

“Yes,” Kate agreed, “my family told me I should try getting my writing published when I was 91-years-old, but I didn’t feel right about it.  Then, at 92, I said no again.  At 93, I started to think about it.  Now, several years later, I decided it was time.”

I stared at Kate for a moment and didn’t say a word.  I was absolutely stunned.  Did she honestly just say that it was now time…several years after she turned 93?  I wondered just how old this woman was but didn’t want to appear impolite by asking.  And besides, I suddenly realized that age didn’t make any difference anyway.

Okay…but I still have to admit, I was in total awe of this amazing woman with the incredibly bright, sparkly eyes.

After talking for a few more minutes, Kate gracefully stood up from the table and said, “I think this moment should end in a hug.”

“I definitely agree, Kate,” I answered as I got up and we shared a deep, loving hug.  Kate walked away from my table then, and I continued reading the cards for several more clients.

When the fair ended at nine o’clock, I was putting away my cards and cleaning up my table when I once more felt a wonderful sense of energy surrounding me.  I looked up to find Kate approaching me again.  “I think you and I really made the best and most solid connection tonight,” she said as she giggled happily.

This statement made me smile.  I was happy to know that this beautiful, awesome, ninety-something-year -old woman felt connected to me.  I put my arms around her, and we once more hugged closely before saying good night.

On the drive home, I thought about all of the amazing people I had read for over the last three years.  I have had people break down in tears in front of me.  I have connected them with family members.  I have heard their most intimate dreams.  I have tried to calm their deepest fears.  And they, too, have taught me how to love and how to feel more connected to souls, God, and the universe.

And now, lovely Kate had taught me to never stop dreaming, never stop setting goals, to always take each day as a true treasure, to always connect with others and love deeply, and to never ever give up on living.

To write poetry and publish your first book in your 90s…Wow…Just how cool is that…

 

Advertisements

Best Medicine

Over the last few weeks, our Shih Tzu, Starburst, is happy to see me every time I come home.  She runs to the door, trips around my feet, jumps back in an attack pose, leaps forward again, and then dances back.  “Oh, my gosh,” I laugh as I watch her, “you’re full of piss and vinegar today!”  And I swear she smiles at me as she wags her long, furry tail so hard that her hindquarters actually bounce off the ground several times.

After this greeting, Starburst usually runs ahead of me down the hallway.  She knows my routine.  She waits for me by my bedroom as she continues to run around in circles.  When I open the door, she runs inside the room and stays with me for the rest of the afternoon.  In fact, she doesn’t leave my side for hours.  On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, we sit together, snacking on cheese crackers, while watching American Idol on Hulu.  (She is rooting for Gabby; I’m cheering on Cade.)  She only leaves me when the show ends, the Cheese Nips are gone, and she wants to go back into the living room to her bed for a while.

Later in the evening, she scratches on my closed door and waits for me to let her into my room again.  She stretches out on the floor by my feet while I work on the computer.  Later, she will slap at my legs with her shaggy, blond paws until I finally pick her up and cuddle her close.  She stays snuggled on my lap for the rest of the evening.  “Time for bed,” I’ll whisper to her as I try to pry her up off my lap.  But Starburst will suddenly become very heavy for such a small dog.  Her resistance to leaving me is apparent as she lets her body go limp and sluggish as she tries to oppose my efforts to remove her from my lap.  I finally stand up and carry her across the room.  I sit her down in the hallway and she stands outside my bedroom staring at me while I wish her a good night and close the door.  I wonder about her behavior as I lie down in bed.  I’m not sure why Starburst has become so attached to me, but it ‘s not just the Shih Tzu.  Lately, the cat has been acting strangely, too.

Zoey, my sister-in-law’s cat, has never liked me since the day I moved in three years ago.  She did not hesitate to let me know that this was her house, and I was invading her space.  She would nip at me, scratch me, or totally ignore me.  All of my efforts to make friends had failed miserably.  But over the last several weeks, Zoey stays in the same room with me.  She sits next to me on the couch.  She lets me scratch her shiny black head.  She lets me run my fingers down her long sleek back.  I can’t help but wonder why the cat is suddenly nice to me.

At first, I thought that the animals’ behavior was cute.  Now, I am worried that it is one of those “pets know when their owners are about to die” kind of things.  I tell myself that technically these animals are not my pets (they belong to my sister-in-law), and yet I am still overwhelmed by their kindness, especially right now when I can use unconditional love the most.

My health has become my biggest concern.  Tumors and cysts are common in my family, so I haven’t been surprised that tumors have been diagnosed throughout my body lately.  I have had this problem before.  Over the years, I have had ruptured ovarian cysts, breast cysts, fibroid and benign tumors in my uterus, an enlarged right ovary, precancerous tumors and polyps in my digestive track.  And now, just a few weeks ago, my dentist discovered a bloody tumor in one of my teeth.  Over the last few weeks, I have been stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed.  Yet, every time, I come home, there’s Starburst bouncing around happy to see me, and Zoey allowing me to be in the same room with her.  And I know, I just know, everything is going to be okay.  Pets just instinctively seem to know when there is a problem and can offer amazing unconditional love and kindness, which, of course, is always the best medicine!

Solstice Surprise

Recently, two of my friends, Rebecca and Cindy, invited me to go with them on a day trip to Weston, Missouri, on Sunday, April 15, 2018.  I had never been to this small town before and excitedly looked forward to the adventure.  I had envisioned a beautiful, bright spring day with a warm sun and cool breezes as my friends and I strolled around the antique shops and visited the wineries of Weston.

But that’s not exactly how the day unfolded.

On the 15th of April, I awoke around 9:00 am and quickly showered and dressed.  I told my family good bye and stepped outside to wait for my friends to pick me up.  Oh, my gosh!  What was going on?

The cold air wrapped around me and caused a shiver to shake my body as white, wet particles floated in the air in front of my face.  Oh, my gosh, is that snow!?  Yes, it was snowing!

But how was that possible?  The seasons were supposed to change weeks ago on March 21.  However, spring had been a horrible tease only showing her face on a few random occasions since the solstice.  The season was playing drama games with the Midwest…and I had heard that she wasn’t being too kind to the northeast coast either.  But maybe it wasn’t spring’s fault.  Maybe winter was a cranky old woman who was refusing to allow spring to make her debut.  I contemplated the past winter season of 2017 and 2018.  The weather had been much colder than expected.  The freezing Artic air drifting over the plains caused temperatures to dip below the zero degree mark many times.  It had been colder than I had ever remembered.  And several ice storms in the last six weeks made travel difficult.

Winter just would not end.  Even Easter, on April 1, had been a cold, gray, snowy day.  Now, the flakes of winter snow, like Mother Nature’s dandruff, floated around me for a moment before I quickly turned around and ran back into the house.  The cold air chased after me until I finally slammed the front door shut.  I stood in the living room and looked out of the large picture window as the flakes continued to dance on the air.  I didn’t venture back outside until I saw Cindy’s car pull into the driveway.  Then I ran out into the cold air once more, and shivered as I yanked open the car door and crawled into the backseat.  We were finally on our way to Weston on this winter (but should have been spring!) day.

It was about a 45-minute drive to Weston, and I still had a hard time getting warm even though we had stopped along the way for cups of hot coffee.  After Cindy parallel parked in front of the pink and white building of the Weston Winery Company, I hesitated before getting out of the car.  The snow had grown heavier and wetter, and I had to admit that I was a little annoyed that we didn’t have a bright spring day to enjoy.  But there was nothing we could do about it.  As I took a deep breath and stepped out into the cold, Cindy was suddenly standing beside me as she said, “Well, now that we are out of the car, I can give you a proper hug.”  And soon, her arms were around me and we held each other close.  Rebecca and I shared a hug as well and, suddenly, I didn’t feel so cold anymore.

My friends and I walked down the street with snowflakes falling all around us as we talked and window-shopped, and I soon forgot all about the winter weather.  Even with the harsh winter conditions, I was still enjoying a fun, relaxing day with good friends.

After shopping around for a while, we finally decided to stop for lunch in a small, rustic upstairs café of one of the antique stores.  I sat in the wooden chair closest to the large window.  As I chatted and laughed with my friends, I stared out the window and watched all of the people walking down the main street as snow fell like white glitter around them.  I felt so warm and peaceful that as we left the restaurant and walked back down the street to the car, I realized that it had been a perfect day.  I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a winter day so much.  Yeah, I love winter.

But then, just one week after that cold day in Weston, Missouri, I was sitting with my friend, Chandra, on a black, iron bench next to Wyandotte County Lake.  We sipped iced coffees and watched the ducks and geese chase each other around the muddy bank.  We were enjoying a warm, 70-degree day with gentle cool breezes and bright sunshine.  Chandra and I spent the afternoon talking, laughing, and enjoying a glorious spring day.

And I suddenly realized that it really doesn’t matter if it rains, snows, or thunders; it doesn’t matter if the temperature is 35 degrees or 70 degrees?  The weather doesn’t matter; I felt blessed with good friends, happy days, great moments, and surprising solstices that will create amazing memories.  Every season I have the privilege to enjoy is an amazing gift, and I am eternally grateful.

The Magic of Uluru

Oh my gosh!  It was so cold!  I stood in the early morning air and pulled my old, comfortable, black sweater tighter around me.  I was, needless to say, completely unprepared and underdressed for this experience.  But then again, that just seems to be the way I operate.  I usually get so excited about an event, I don’t always think things through or plan as effectively as I should.  This morning was no exception.  I was freezing…and yet at the same time, I couldn’t stop smiling!  This moment…this dark, bone-chilling moment…was the culmination of a dream come true.

I had arrived in Alice Springs, Australia, on Friday, September 02, 2017.  I had dreamed for years of seeing Ayers Rock.  I have always been an earth person.  I know that some people (some people?) may think I’m a little crazy, but I swear I can look at mountains, hills, and boulders, and actually see them moving.  I don’t just mean blades of grass ruffled by wind or leaves on trees tussling with the breeze.  I can sit for hours and watch the earth breath as it inhales and exhales in slow modulations.  There is a pulse to the earth that seems to vibrate with my own soul.  I can find absolute beauty in rock formations and believe I am glimpsing the universe when I stare into the fissures  and fractures of stone.  Maybe that’s why I love crystals and keep a collection of amethyst, quartz, jasper, and pyrite with me at all times.  When I can touch the crystals, I can feel the vibration of the earth even when I am trapped in my home or at work.  I can find God in a small pebble, in a grain of sand.  So, of course, Ayer’s Rock was always a place that I fantasized about visiting someday, and now that dream was being fulfilled.

I woke up on Saturday, September 03, at 4 am feeling very excited and very alive even though I had only four hours of sleep the night before.  Although, I knew I was going to be out late on Friday night, I still couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the sunrise over Ayer’s Rock this morning.  I quickly showered, dressed, and then left my hotel room.  My room just happened to be in the back of a resort of small, well-space-out cabins.  I stepped through my doorway into completely obscurity.  I was surprised that the resort didn’t have a lot of outdoor lighting.  In the dark, I made several wrong turns as I tried to navigate the many different paths that lead to theaters, museums, and restaurants.  Eventually, I found my way to the front lobby as several people were already boarding our tour bus.  I don’t know if people were excited or cold but either way everyone was moving around and talking enthusiastically as we climbed aboard the vehicle.  Once we were underway, the driver, a large, sweet, young man, told us the history and legends of Ayer’s Rock, the Maori people, and the outback.  I really loved hearing that the Australian parliament had voted to change the names of treasured monuments back to the original names that were created by the Maori, the native people of Australia.  Ayer’s Rock now only refers to the general area.  The rock itself is known by the native name of Uluru.

Once we arrived at the site, all of the passengers gathered around tables that held large hot water urns, coffee, tea, and cookies.  In the freezing morning air, it felt good to hold a cup of coffee in my cold hands.  I sipped at the hot liquid as our guides encouraged us to fill our pockets with packages of cookies in case we got hungry throughout the day.  Once I refilled my foam cup with coffee and stuffed my pockets with treats, a young female tour guide walked over to me.  “If you are ready, you can go on up to the viewing area.  Just follow the path,” she said.  I stared in the direction the woman pointed.  It was still completely dark!  I couldn’t see anything beyond the generated glow around the snack tables.  The tour guide then pointed as she said, “There…just follow the lights.”  I looked again in the direction she was pointing and noticed small twinkling red and green fairy lights that were positioned on the ground just a few feet apart.  The lights were so small, so subtle, and placed so far apart, I hadn’t noticed them at first.

Now, while the majority of the tour group stayed gathered around the snack table,  I took a deep breath to calm down my racing heart.  I nodded my head, thanked the guide, and then sat off in the darkness, following the blinking lights.  Even though I was stumbling forward on rocky ground in the pitch darkness, I couldn’t help feeling the magic all around me.  I was on sacred ground according to the Maori.  And even though I lost track of the lights and wandered off the trail several times, there was an energy that kept pulling me back in the correct direction again.  It was a long hike up to the viewing area, but with the gentle help of the fairy lights and the energy of the outback, I finally found myself at the bottom of a flight of steps.

I grabbed the rough plank rail and started to climb up to a large wooden platform.  I soon stood on the platform and turned around slowly.  I was surprised to find that Australia was just as beautiful in the dark as it is in the light.  Then, to the south, I noticed a large dark formation rising up in front of me.  Uluru, I sighed as I sensed where the rock resided even though I still couldn’t see it.

Soon, the top of the wooden viewing area grew crowded with other pilgrims.  I smiled as I listened to their excited voices and laughter.  I heard Asian, English, French, Australian, and American accents all around me but I couldn’t see faces, but surprisingly I still felt the companionship and security of being with other people from all over the world.  The darkness, the energy, the stars, the moon, and all of the many people around me made me feel completely connected to the universe in a way I had never imagined before.

I stood there, shivering in the cold air, but did not feel uncomfortable.  Surprisingly, I have never felt more contented anywhere I have ever been, even though I wished I had paid more attention to the environment.  I should have thought more about the weather.  I knew when I planned my Australian trip for late August/early September, the continent would be transitioning from winter into spring.  Also, areas located further north or further south of the equator were cold .  The time of the year and location should have made me aware that there would be a chill in the early mornings,  even though the days would be warm.  But in my excitement of coming to Australia, my sense of direction and knowledge of geography had completely deserted me.  I have always been the type of person who jumped into an experience without planning or thinking it completely through first.

And suddenly I realized I wasn’t the only one…

As I stood in the dark, freezing but happy, a young man approached me.  Out of the shadows, I heard his deep, English accent as he said, “I see you didn’t know it would be cold either.”  I glanced around us and compared all of the bulky, parka-heavy shadows compared to our two lean forms.  I suddenly realized the man was dressed in shorts and a thin t-shirt.  As we watched all of the people moving around us in heavy coats, we laughed and talked for a moment about how unprepared we were for this moment.  Then, slowly, over his right shoulder, I suddenly began to see a soft glow breaking up the darkness.  I stared in the direction of Uluru and watched excitedly as the shadow of the sun slowly began to kiss the huge rock formation.   Uluru began to grow and stood out against the dark sky like a shadow of God.  As the sunrise grew stronger, the rock began to change colors, from black to light brown to golden to red.  I was fascinated by all of the colors that suddenly began to glimmer and sparkle across the surface of the monument.  Uluru continued to shimmer as it breathed slowly in and out.  I could feel the soul of the rock as energy waves radiated out and the formation glowed and change shape in the approaching sunlight.  The visible energy of Uluru resembled ocean waves; it looked like heat rising up off the land; it portrayed an upcoming dream sequence in a movie.  Uluru was natural magic.

As the sun now shined across the outback, I walked down off the platform and followed a trail that lead to a fenced viewing area situated closer to the rock.  I leaned against the fence and stared at Uluru as I watched it breathe, alive and well.  And I knew that despite the cold, despite stumbling around in the dark, I too was alive and well.  And as I watched the energy filling the air around Uluru, I realized that I had been blessed with a dream come true.

And it didn’t matter that I was dressed in a black sweater while most people were wearing parkas.  And I didn’t care that I had tripped and stumbled up the dark path.  It didn’t matter that I was there alone while other people were with friends and family.  Looking at Uluru I realized I had been fortunate to experience a dream come true.  I took a deep breath in and captured the energy of Uluru in my heart and soul and knew that no matter what happened I would be forever bonded to this magnificent land.

And it would be forever a part of me.

 

Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Holiday Gifts!

I really wasn’t trying to be difficult.  I wasn’t trying to be argumentative.  I wasn’t trying to cause stress or anxiety.  Instead, I was being completely honest.  Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I always gave the same truthful answer.

“Nothing,” I always said to all of my friends and family members whenever they asked about Christmas presents.  There honestly wasn’t anything I wanted.  I already had everything I needed to be happy.  I have good food, clean water, safe shelter.  I have books and music.  I have clothes, a job, a car.  I have my five senses—and, many times, a sixth.  According to a lot of people, I have an overabundance of emotions…and they are probably right!  I consistently laugh, cry, and love without boundaries.  I have family, even though I may get on everyone’s nerves sometimes.  I live with three dogs who love me, and a cat that is still on the fence but is slowly getting used to me.  I have friends who may not always be in my life but are always there for me when needed.  I have freedom for adventure and travel.

What more could I possibly want, especially on the holiest day of the year?

As I have gotten older, the traditions of Christmas have changed for me.  For the past several years, I haven’t decorated trees, or put up wreaths and holly, or accepted presents.  I usually like to spend Christmas alone in meditation.  Some people find this unusual but for me it is the best way to honor the Savior without the distraction and stress that usually comes with the holiday.  I enjoy simple pleasures.

For example, I woke up at around 2 am on Christmas morning.  I climbed out of bed and walked into the living room.  I had a strong desire to look out of the big picture window and stare at the dark night sky and gaze at the stars.  But instead of darkness and stars, I find a night white with quietly falling snow.  I sat snuggled up in a blanket on the living room couch as I leaned towards the window and watched the snowflakes magically dancing across the front lawn.  I prayed, meditated, and sang songs Christmas carols to myself.  My mind also kept swirling around the events of the day.  The afternoon of Christmas Eve, 2017, was spent going out to lunch with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.  The day was full of laughter as my brother and nephew tried to “out-funny” each other.  I tried to compete with them, too, but I couldn’t keep up with their quick wits and sly one-liners.  I’m usually laughing too hard at their comedic challenge to think of anything funny to say.  But that’s okay, because I have since become one of the best laughers around.  This afternoon was no different; the event ended again with my brother mockingly yelling to his son, “You’re grounded for being funnier than I am.”  And again, I found myself laughing joyfully before I finally got up from the couch and went back to bed to snuggle warmly and contentedly under the covers.

When I awoke again on Christmas morning, I carefully drove my car across the dusting of snow on the side streets to the local Quiktrip.  I parked in a narrow space at the far end of the small lot.  I grabbed my purse and climbed out of my vehicle.  As I walked toward s the entrance, I noticed a young woman holding the door open for several people who walked into the convenient store.  Her back was towards me so all I could see was her long, dark blond hair that flowed over the collar and down the back of her black and white checked winter coat.  I approached the woman and circled around in front of her to get to the door.  I reached out my hand to take the door from her, but she pulled back away from me before swinging her hand towards the entrance.

“No, please, go ahead,” the woman said to me as I now saw her sweet face and beautiful, big smile.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I said to her.  But then I stopped and smiled at her as something my brother, Tony, always said to me.  Whenever I refused gifts or tried to be defiantly independent, Tony would tell me, “Don’t deny other people the right to be good to you.”  So, now, I smiled at this young woman and realized that she was giving me a gift.  Kindness, the willingness to do simple things for other people, is a dying art lately.  So, now, I looked at this woman and said, “That’s very sweet of you.  Thank you so much.”

As I walked through the door the woman held open for me, she happily shouted out, “Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you.  You, too,” I said back as I stepped into the warmth of the crowded store.  I couldn’t help laughing as I looked around at the other patrons.  Everyone was wrapped up in a heavy coat to ward off the winter chill.  And yet, underneath the coats, everyone was wearing cozy, colorful, flannel pajamas or tattered, comfortable sweats.  I have found my people, I thought with a laugh.  I, too, had just slipped on an old jacket over my sweats before leaving the house.  I love people best at their natural quirkiness.  I love people who are just as comfortable walking around in nightwear as they are in business suits.  And, of course, today was a day like no other as everyone politely dodged around each other as they whispered, “Excuse me,” “No, you first,” and “Merry Christmas.”  I listened to the joyful, happy voices as I paid for my coffee and walked back out to my car.

I spent the rest of Christmas day in quiet contemplation.  I was feeling blissful and at peace, just the way Christmas is supposed to be.

So, see, there wasn’t anything I needed for Christmas.  But I had received the best gifts of all: laughter, kindness, peace…and once again, I had received from God and the Savior the perfect Christmas holiday!

 

 

 

August 21, 2017

I had asked my family and friends not to have any celebrations on Monday, August 21, 2017.  Because everyone had listened to me and honored my request, I woke up that morning suddenly realizing that it was now completely up to me to make it a great day.  So to begin with, I decided to take myself out to breakfast.  I quickly got up and dressed and left my home.

As I drove to the local Taco Bell (okay, yes…I’m a fast food/diner kind of girl!), I was abruptly stopped by a traffic light on State Avenue.  As I waited for the light to change, a sudden movement to my right caught my attention.  I now focused on a large, chunky, young boy walking down the street.  The boy was about 13- or 14-years-old and dressed in blue jeans with a black t-shirt.  The long bangs of his black, curly hair brushed against the silver wire frames of his glasses.  A tattered, brown backpack was strapped across his broad shoulders.  I watched as the young teen pumped his right arm wildly into the air.  I couldn’t hear any music, but the punching of the boy’s fist and the quick banging of his head gave the impression that he was listening to rock or heavy metal music.  Oh, my gosh, I thought, this was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen!  This young boy was dancing down the sidewalk next to the busy avenue without any care of who was watching or what anyone might think!  I knew then that that kid had a lot more courage than I ever had.  And I prayed that someday I would be that free, too.

I carried the image of the boy in my mind as I parked my car and walked across the lot to the entrance of Taco Bell.  Suddenly, the glass door pushed open and a middle-aged man in a torn white t-shirt and glasses walked out.  His sparse dark strands of hair were tousled across the bald areas of his head as he stepped to the side and held the door open for me.  “Thank you,” I told him to which he quickly responded, “You’re welcome.”  Then he enthusiastically shouted, “God bless you!  God bless you!”  I stopped for a moment and smiled.  I don’t know who the man was or what special powers he may possess but I suddenly felt immensely blessed as I ate my breakfast and contemplated the rest of my day.

And the day just kept getting better.  I returned home to find that the neighbors across the street from our house were out in their front yard.  The three-year-old son was joyfully running around the lawn with his hands raised up in the air as his voice emitted loud shrieks.  The child would run up to his father and then spin around.  He would walk slowly away while screaming, “Monster!  Monster!”  That was the father’s cue to chase after the boy who ran around the yard in wild circles.  Finally, the man grabbed the child and threw him up in the air as both father and son giggled loudly.  Then, the boy was placed on the ground and the whole sequence would start all over again.  I covertly watched the neighbors play for a few minutes before climbing out of my car and walking inside the house.

I spent the majority of the afternoon cleaning my room and tossing away my old files of class notes, bank statements, and receipts.  Today, I felt a compelling need to clean out the old and anticipate the new.  I compulsively worked on this project until it suddenly became too dark to see what I was doing.  I didn’t turn on any lights.  Instead, I got up from my desk and walked into the living room.  I opened the front door and looked outside.  The sky was growing steadily darker and the streetlights all began to glow.  I stepped out onto the porch and looked at all of the neighbors who were standing in their front yards looking up at the sky with plastic and cardboard glasses strapped to their faces.  I didn’t look up.  I knew not to stare at the sun without protection.  I didn’t purchase any glasses and I hadn’t planned to participate in watching the moon cross in front of the sun.  I just wanted to experience the sudden darkness creeping over the Midwest and witness the changes it created in nature.

I just sat on the front porch in the dusk and listened to the crickets beginning to chirp at the early night, even though it was only 1:08 pm on Monday afternoon.  A solid peace overcame me as I contemplated my fascination with the dark heavens.  Some of my best memories are the moments of seeing shooting or falling stars.  I always felt a solid thrill race through me at this phenomenon.  I have seen many shooting stars over the years and they have never failed to elicit an unusual excitement within me.  It’s the unexpectedness of the heavens suddenly moving and displaying an immense, living essence that thrills me.

And that’s how I wanted to experience the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.  I didn’t want to pay for glasses and “plan” to watch.  I wanted the eclipse to ease over me, taking me by surprise as it engulfed me in its unusual occurrence.  I wanted the eclipse to unexpectedly thrill me as if I had just seen a thousand shooting stars.

So, now, I sat in the darkness while taking deep breaths and contemplating the universe.

And then, something unusual happened.  After sitting in the darkness for a few minutes, there was a sudden snap as if a switch had been flicked and light suddenly began to shoot through the black afternoon.  The darkness had been gradual but the light seemed quick.

It made me think of the days when I would sink into a deep depression, an emotion that had the power to weigh me down and pull me under.  The feeling would come over me slowly until I felt trapped and could not find a way back out.  And then, when least expected, hope suddenly surges through me and immediately pushes me back to life in one swift breathless movement.  That’s what the eclipse was like for me.

I sat for a few more minutes as sunlight continued to chase away the night before I finally got up from the front porch and walked back inside the house.  And not a moment too soon.  Suddenly, with the eclipse passed, thunder echoed through the sky and a hard rain fell to the ground.  As lightning sliced the gray clouds, I walked back to my room with our three small dogs running along behind me.  The dogs made me laugh as they tripped over each other as they raced into my room and under the bed.  They pushed and shoved at each other as they battled for safety from the clashing storm.  I snuggled and played with the dogs for a while before shooing them back out of the room.  Only Starburst refused to leave.  She made me feel unconditionally loved as she cuddled up on my lap as I worked at the computer for the rest of the afternoon.

Later that day, dinner consisted of Chinese food and cake with my brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Mary, when they came home for work.  As we easily talked and laughed together, I couldn’t help contemplating what a great day this had been.  And I realized then that as I get older I didn’t need big celebrations or expensive presents or huge crowds of people around me.  I just need peaceful moments, times that enhance my spirit and enliven my soul.  Without a doubt, this day, Monday, August 21, 2017, was one of the best birthdays I have ever had.