Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Treasured Christmas Memories

We all remember Christmas' past.  Treasured memories.  My first guitar was such an unbelievably awesome gift that carries with me today.  And another - a little reel to reel tape recorder that sparked the career path I have followed.  How very magical!  How very magical that the giver would not know at the time what spark they had started!!!
I'm not certain but believe both those treasured gifts were second hand and found at great sacrifice and with special care.  It's the special care that is most treasured by me.  "Santa" could not know where they would carry me.  They have both carried me far.  Those two Christmas mornings stand out.  I still play guitar so many years later.  My career is all about recording messages.
Two others also stand out.  My little brother , age 4, must have been with Santa along the way.  He could not hold a secret and told me I got a typewriter for Christmas.  Much to my surprise, on Christmas morning, there was no typewriter.  It was actually a cash register and my very own corner store.  And he got cardboard building blocks from which we could build a fort.
And that was the last Christmas we had with our mother, December 25 1965.
I cannot imagine how hard the following Christmas was for my father.  But I do remember the Christmas.  We all got ski's.  They had little springs to go around our boots.  Dad took us out and we tested them right away.  Skied on them many times.  And the neighbor across the road gave Mikey a barrel full of monkey's and me pic up sticks.  I remember it still.
So the moral of story is - none of us knows how important a gift may be.  None of us knows if it may be the last.  Follow your heart and do the best you can with what you have.
It is important.  It is meaningful.  It matters. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Sweetest Gifts

There are no greater gifts than simply taking time to be happily together - in person, on the phone, on skype - time.  The gift of time can take other forms - gifts specially made by hand with heartfelt attention.
We make special effort at Christmas to share time together and seek just the right gifts.  Our imaginations come alive.  This year I'm so happy to be surrounded by many people who spend all year with a spirit of Christmas.  They give their time freely and look for opportunity to create joy.  It's a focus of their lives.
These people look for opportunity to make a difference, to do acts of kindness - sometimes large and sometimes small.
You might be thinking that's easy for people whose lives are good.  "I have blah, blah, blah going on.  I need to focus on my family first."
In each of my "doer" friends lives there are struggles.  Some are caring for aging parents or struggling children.  Some have suffered loss.  They face financial struggles.  They still find opportunity to help strangers and friends alike.  It makes them happier people and very lovely to spend time around.  I want to be more like them.  And it just keeps growing.
The acts of kindness may be simple and seemingly small gestures like offering to carry a stranger's bag to the car at the store.  Running to the store for a friend who has posted a stressed out message on facebook about not having what they need to bake cookies.  Painting rocks of inspiration for unknown people to find.  Making sure a young woman has a dress to wear for the prom.
It requires awareness.  Seeing.  Seeking.  Acting.
For me it's a spiritual awakening.  I have a tendency to be very self contained and introspective to a point that I can miss things happening around me where I could make a difference.  We have to train ourselves to see opportunities of all kinds.  If we are only aware of our own troubles and needs, we can't see anything else.  We will miss opportunity to create and feel joy.
It makes a difference in the lives of everyone involved, most especially our own.  Everyone grows happier and it's contagious.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A greater Love

I've written a few times about our dog Tobey.  He was about a year old when we got him.  As you can see from this picture, he is an absolutely beautiful Sheltie.  He's posing with his best friend Molly Mutt Paws.
We don't know all the details of his young life but he was pretty scared of the world when we met.  Molly is the reason he came to live with me.  Friends were trying to help him find a quiet, permanent home and brought him to me.  But he met Molly first and immediately fell in love with her, much to the astonishment of my friends.  They had not seen him connect with anyone - even another dog. 
He may not have been so certain about me.  He ran away the first day and I had a very hard time running through the streets of Franklin trying to get him before he got into serious trouble.  For months he was afraid to enter the door to come back in the house and had to run exactly five circles around the yard before he had the courage to dart through.
Eventually I learned that he felt safe with four things - Molly - on the couch - on the bed - and on a leash.  After he grew to trust me, the best way to introduce him to new people was to put him on a leash; even in the house.  If we are connected, he feels safe.
I can measure great progress with Tobey.  We are so lucky to have great friends.  Now, as Front Porch Folk gather at the house to play music, little Tobey eventually wonders down on his own and timidly works his way around to his musical friends.  They have patiently searched for ways to connect with Tobey and it has added meaning to all our lives.
And what is Molly Mutt Paws story?  Not so very different from Tobey's.  She was a stray waiting adoption at the Humane Society - 9 months old.  She too had a hard time connecting.  Many times when I first had her she ran away.  She was afraid of children to the point she cowered.  Today she is Miss Socialite and cannot get enough attention.  That is due to neighbor children, my nephews, family and friends, a trainer and agility training helping her.
I never understood why Molly was so fearful in those early days.  Then, after having her some years, I recently discovered, she had been shot and still has pellets in her leg.  She too had troubled days.
It took a village of people to help these two furry friends live happier lives.  We could not take away the traumas they once suffered.  It could not be just me alone.  It has taken a broader love and compassion than I alone could offer.
To me, they represent the greater work we must all share for humankind.  We cannot raise our children in isolation.  We cannot grow in isolation.  It takes a strong community - a broader love and compassion to make a real difference.
Let me be part of that kind of change!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where is the religious freedom line?


If you wonder why I scoff at the argument of religious freedom needing protected over gay rights, see what is happening in Uganda.  Religious freedom is no excuse for hate. 
Well, you may say, it's not the US, it's Uganda.
Evangelists from the United States are fueling the passage of this bill.  Killing gay people is at the heart of the religious argument.  The "Kill the gays" bill is popular in Uganda and will likely pass in the Parliament.
During the Chick-fil a controversy, I had friends and family arguing that outrage at the CEO's comments was violating the man's religious freedom.  Some argued that gay rights needed to put on the ballot to determine the outcome.  They could not understand why I felt it was not a ballot issue and further that I didn't think religiously back hate should be protected.
OK folks.  Where do you stand on Uganda? Are you on the side of the religious freedom for US evangelists backing a bill to kill and imprison LGBT people?  Because it's popular in Uganda, do you feel it should be the law?
Who's funding the US evangelists who are going to Uganda and supporting this bill?  Are you?  How about money from Chick fil A?
If this bill passes, LGBT people will be imprisoned and killed.  Further, anyone who knows a person who is LGBT and does not report it, can also face criminal charges.
If you were in Uganda today, where would you stand?  You are in the United States.  Where do you stand?  How deep does your hate go?  How much are you willing to support someone's hate?  Will you help them kill for it?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Acts of Kindness

Sometimes I need reminded of the ripple effect of Acts of Kindness.  Small acts of kindness can have great meaning.
Last night I wasn't much in the spirit of rock painting at Christmas past.   With Rock on Oil City, we go to many local events encouraging young and old to paint rocks and sprinkle them around the city to bring a smile to the finder.  After you do something for a while it's easy to become numb to the reason it all started and the meaning it may have to the people participating. 
I must admit that I tried to escape rock painting at Christmas Past.  It's crowded.  Lots of kids excited to see Santa....
Out of the blur of faces and mingling paint, real people with heart felt stories reminded me that the simple opportunity to paint a rock at Christmas Past has greater meaning.  And we may not know how meaningful it is.
A young mother with two little girls came to paint rocks.  They were there last year and their Daddy painted rocks with them.  Through tears the young mom said their daddy died unexpectedly just a few weeks ago.  Through her pain, she brought the girls to Christmas Past to continue a family tradition.  And part of that meant painting rocks like they did with Daddy last year.
Several families expressed that they were looking forward to rock painting again.  One dad said they put their painted rocks on the mantel where they stay all year.  Hopefully, last year's rocks will now be planted out in the community for someone to find and smile.
A new friend helped this year and in the course of the evening expressed how sharing these experiences with us has changed her outlook on life.  It's turned what could have been a bleak Christmas into one filled with renewed joy.
If I had been successful in escaping rock painting at Christmas Past, I would not know how many people would have been disappointed.  How important is painting a rock?
Of course it is not about the rock painting at all.  It's about spreading kindness and creating memories.
Simple kindness has a ripple effect that lifts people up.  No act of kindness is small and inconsequential.   We may not learn about how it is rippling out but it is. 
I'm thankful to be reminded.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It's purpose is simple, non-controversial, and has been saved from mass commercialization.  We get together with friends and family - share a great meal - and are reminded to be thankful.  Now that's a great ritual!
I've tried to make thankfulness a part of every day - to have a thankful heart - an attitude of gratitude.  Over the past several years it has gotten easier and easier to the point that it is generally a habit.  Now I am challenging myself to lead with gratitude in conflict and disappointment.  I'm not quite sure what that means or what it will look like but I know in conflict and disappointment, I'm not thankful.
It doesn't mean not acknowledging conflict and disappointment, it just means a different attitude while in it.
There is often another person on the other end of conflict and disappointment.  So, I'm thinking that the place is start is to remain mindful of what you can appreciate about the other person and even appreciate how the conflict or disappointment comes about.
I don't know how this challenge will play out but it seems like a new approach that will be meaningful.  So, while I give thanks this year for all that the past year has brought, I'm thankful for new challenges for the coming year.
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Makers and Takers

I recently visited a cousin and her family whom I admire very much.  We don't see one another often and it's always a pleasure as we discuss philosophies and issues.  Something she said this last time has really resonated with me.  She and her husband have been very successful yet they live very modestly.  In speaking of their success and choosing a more humble lifestyle she said, "Yes, we have done very well.  We worked hard but we also recognize that we were very lucky."
I would call them context driven.  They are very aware of their place in a much larger world and a longer time span.  They have not grown egocentric with success.
When they consider the struggles of others, they begin with the perspective "There but for the Grace of God, go I,"  rather than, "If they worked hard like I did, they wouldn't be there."
Anyone I know who has been successful can name people who encouraged, mentored and supported them along the way.  People don't succeed in a bubble - all on their own without any outside support.
Being in a country that tries to nurture success through a variety of public efforts is a huge part of the equation.  Those public efforts have evolved over time.
Our public education system is, to me,  the most important and significant of all of our country's public efforts. 
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the
whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not
 be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded
by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the
people themselves."  John Adams, 1785
John Adam's vision did not become a reality until long after he was gone.  Widespread access to 12 years of public education did not become standard until the early 1900's.  Today we accept the mandate to educate our children - that they must attend some form of education program for a certain period of time.
An educated population is one cornerstone of a healthy society - a healthy economy - and the best hope for spring boarding personal success.  If you want fewer "takers" in our nation - invest in good education and community programs that include mentoring.  People need to understand what it takes to succeed and they need to develop the skills required to succeed.  Most important; they need someone to tell them that they can. 
I refuse to believe that anyone wants to be poor.
Our schools are only one part of the equation.
Young people typically don't understand long term paths.  It's especially difficult for children of poverty to understand a path different from their family.  Their parents will naturally teach them - by example - the methods they have used to survive.  They may have a greater level of expectation for themselves but someone has to show them how.
Some years ago I had taken a young man in as his family thought he needed to get away from the community of friends that were taking him down a wrong road.  And their family was struggling to keep afloat.  At 15, he was certain he knew a lot about life.  While he was living with me, I got a new job that was a great step for me - career wise and financially.  He said, "Wow, you really fell into that one."  His eyes glared over as I explained how the company perceived that I matched their needs because of my military experience, four year degree, and a good work history that related to my career path.  It was all outside of his family experience and he did not know me through those times.  It was as though I was talking a foreign language.
People living in poverty or on the edge of poverty know the language of poverty.  You can call them whatever you like.  You can pull the rug out from under them by slashing "taker" programs.  I believe there will be some very undesirable outcomes to that.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Some untreated diseases spread just as easily between poor and wealthy people.   But if you really want to do something - become a mentor for some young people.  If you see yourself as successful and a shining example of what people should do - then become a shining example and help people understand a path to a better way.  That requires an on-going personal commitment and personal relationships that won't work if you consider the individuals unworthy.
MAKE a better society don't just TAKE for yourself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Big Apple

On the heels of Hurricane Sandy, it was bitter sweet to be in NYC and attend the Customer Engagement Technology World conference at Javits Convention Center.  For CETW, attendance was understandably down but it was a good show.  At the convention center and while out and about, we heard many stories.  Times Square was buzzing and seemed even more cheerful than I remember from any previous visit.  People were back to work but as we asked how the storm affected them and their families, many reported that power was still out at home.  And then each one said, "but we're doing ok."
I can see each of their faces - the waiter, the street vendors, the guides...  They seemed grateful to have been asked while displaying grace and resilience.  Not one voice was bitter or critical.  Wednesday night the Northeaster hit while a friend drove us all around the city.  The financial district was the most eerie.  Several inches of snow covered cars and made the streets slippery but most striking was seeing building after building completely dark.  Dozens of work crews with trucks and generators attached to work lights lined the blocks.  I'm sure that scene is repeated in larger circles throughout the surrounding areas.
And yet, those that could, were back to work.  They seemed happy to be working even knowing they were going home to a cold, dark place.  Work offered a sense of normalcy.  It represented hope, survival and resilience.  In difficult times, that is often what we need to help us get to the other side.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life is Good!

One night on PBS I heard a psychologist say that if you are struggling to find your passion as an adult, you should look to your childhood years - about age 12.  The things that captivated you then are the things you should be paying attention to now.
Wow.  Most everything interested me then.  About that time I followed Dad as he was building onto the house and loved using every tool he would allow me to try.  I carried a little reel to reel tape recorder and loved creating novelty shows with my siblings as the cast.  I directed a play I had written at school.  I discovered the guitar.  A neighbor and I fixed up the tennis court behind the school so we could play.  I rarely walked in the woods;  I had to run the paths.  It was about then that the fire phone was installed in our house with Dad as the chief of the local volunteer department and we had to know what to do when it rang.  We were encouraged to volunteer to raise money for the heart association and the cancer society.  I loved camping with the family and all the extended family gatherings.
So, it is no wonder today that I love tinkering in my little workshop making cigar box guitars or mending instruments.  I have a job I love where I help people use technology to create and distribute their messages.  I believe in volunteering and giving.  I love getting outdoors - maybe not running the paths any more - but out.  I love sharing life with people who share those passions.
I don't know if age 12 is a magic number but what that psychologist said has stuck with me.  Look to a time when your worries were few and your passions were clear.  Then make your worries few and your passions clear.  Surround yourself with those who support and encourage just that.
And I add a thank you to those who do - you know who you are.   Life is good!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Religious Freedom

I've always thought that religious freedom was an individual thing.  It's a personal choice and that I should have the freedom to make my choices freely but also free of imposing my specific practices on anyone else.
The whole religious freedom issue gets turned all back assward a lot.  It seems to me people want to make it a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be.
For example, Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in blood transfusions.  I actually endured a number of Bible studies with some nice Jehovah Witness women, whom I drove crazy.  As it was described to me, this issue is due to the soul being in the blood.  So, following this logic, your soul would become mixed up with someone elses.  Actually, that is an interesting concept to me because I believe all our cells carry some memory of our ancestors.  So, they may have some actual basis in fact.
But, believing strongly in this, should they be seeking legislation to ban blood transfusions?
Anyone who is not a Jehovah's Witness will say, "of course not."
So, if they try to seek such legislation who's religious freedom is at risk?  Is it yours or theirs?
Most rational people would say no such legislation is needed because, as individuals, they have the right to refuse a blood transfusion if they feel that is right.  A blood transfusion will be offered to them in the hospital if a doctor feels that is medically necessary.  Is the availability of - the offer of - a blood transfusion, interfering with their religious freedom?
I knew a man who was letting his wife die as she lay bleeding after childbirth.  His Jehovah Witness belief would not allow him to sign approval for a blood transfusion to save her life.  She gained consciousness enough to sign herself.  Their relationship never recovered.
Having all medical options available is not interference with religious freedom.  We are each - personally accountable for our choices.  We should be free to make our choices.  That is religious freedom.
Long ago in Sunday School I asked if God knows all things, knows what's going to happen,  and loves us all so much - why doesn't he just tell us what to do?  I heard a lot of talk about free will and God wanting us to make choices because we want to make those choices.  And if we make mistakes, we grow stronger.
There seems to be a lot of pre-1950's thinking about a lot of things with religion and religious freedom as the argument.
We should not be talking about contraception with teens because God doesn't want them having sex.
If a woman gets pregnant under any circumstances, including rape, God wants them to have that baby.
God wants just one man and one woman to be married.
And all of the things above need to be governed by some form of legislation.
Then why is any medical choice acceptable?  If someone gets sick with any disease, why not argue that it's all God's will and there should be no human intervention?
So it's kind of odd to me.  Man needs to legislate what God wants in order to force people to adhere to man's perception of what God wants.  But God doesn't rule with that same heavy handed approach.
I guess some men believe God isn't doing things right so they need to intercede.
Hmmm.  I wonder who has it right - Man or God?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Our collaborative experiment: Front Porch Folk

Draw a line on a piece of paper and it may or may not be something creative.  Add a lot of connecting lines and colors and it's more likely to turn into something special.  Of course, it all depends upon how it comes together.
Music is like that.  One voice - one instrument alone can be creative.  When a collection of voices and instruments come together just right - it's something very special.
For many, many years I've sung old songs that were most appreciated in nursing homes.  Through the years, I shared the music with friends who were marginally enthusiastic.  Who knew I just needed new friends!
About a year and a half ago, Front Porch Folk was born singing on Holly's front porch.  It started as a singalong time with Mary Beth and her grandchildren.  Then Deacon and Sue, Eve and Holly's parents joined in.  We began collecting fun instruments and more people came - each picking up something - little percussion instruments like an egg shaker, strum sticks, a washboard, dulcimer's, ukulele's....  Kathy joined and quickly fell in love with the upright bass.  Gail first came to sing and soon had her own strum stick and dulcimer.  Tasana - our only professional musician brought his kora and bellefon.  Then Ronda who pretends to be singing, found that she too can play an instrument or two.  We've had as many as 18 people on the porch - all together for our own pleasure - music therapy.
"Let's play at the nursing home" led to requests to play for other events.  We were all a little stunned when Holly booked us to play at Oil City's Jolly July 3rd. I can't name all the events we've done over the summer.  But I won't soon forget last night - the Hee Haw show at the Barrow Civic theatre.
I've never performed on a stage like that.  We were in the company of very talented local performers.  At the matinee my knee was shaking and in both songs I forgot the words - even with the words right in front of me.  That's like drawing and one of the lines just runs off the paper.  That's the great challenge of singing in a group.  Everyone needs to come together in just the right way.  We did ok with it, but I knew I had better to give.
The night performance was nearly sold out.  I'm happy to say I actually looked at the words on the page and sung them all.  So did the rest of the group!  With the spotlights on a stage like that, you can only see the first few rows so it's hard to know how you are connecting with the audience. When we sang a verse of "This little light of mine" and saw 30 or so people sprinkled around the audience waving cell phones, it was just like looking across the room at the nursing home and seeing people smiling and singing along.
I just love Front Porch Folk and the experiences we are sharing - from our pot luck dinner porch nights - to the nursing home - to events large and small.  I love the harmonies and layers of music.  I love how it feels to be in the company of these friends no matter where we are playing together.
With so many of us, you never know exactly who will be at a Front Porch Folk singing occasion.  I love that too.  Though I must admit that on certain songs I really miss the special things each person adds if they cannot make it.
Front Porch Folk is a collaborative, creative musical experiment.  Who knows where it will lead us and how long it will last.  I hope somehow it carries on as a tradition, passed on to many long after we are gone.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ogga Bogga Wogga - decision making

My freshman year in college I experienced dorm life with an amazing group of young women on the second floor of High Rise II at Slippery Rock University.  Toward the end of that year a group of us piled into one room, as we often did, and had a deep philosophical discussion about why we all handled situations so differently.
There were several women we noted were always happy, got along with everyone, never bowed to the porcelain god, and seemed always to be center of the funniest things we did.  They had created a non-sanctioned sorority, Ogga Bogga Wogga, that poked fun at the rights of passage of sanctioned sororities and fraternities.  The right of passage for new members included carrying a large bag of items everywhere you went and if a person asked about the bag, you had to pull all items out - explain their purpose - and wear some of them oddly.
We talked about our life experiences leading up to college life - religious, school and home.  The woman who were less wild and crazy - most able to deal with all - had not been raised under dictum.  They had been mentored in decision making.  They considered consequences, had both short and long term goals, and valued the advice of an elder network.  While the wildest of us felt we were breaking free, they felt free and confident.  They did not fear consequences, but rather measured them and based decisions upon leading toward desired outcomes - short term AND longterm.
Making good choices is the most important skill of all.  Why is it so hard for some of us to learn?

Monday, October 8, 2012

We all choose the path we walk.  Sometimes we simply choose not to walk at all because the fork in the road is too difficult a choice.  Choosing to do nothing is a choice too.
Sometimes we find ourselves right in the middle of a battlefield that we did not create.  It's the reason I have often thought I'd be quite content to live a hermit's life.  I don't like battlefields at all.  I struggle with understanding the the need for diplomacy, neutrality and advocacy.  Where do I need to be in any given situation?
Sooner or later we all find ourselves standing in the crossfire between people we care about.  When 2 parties have irreconcilable differences, and we are somehow involved with them, we are affected somehow - some way.  It can be a family dispute, divorce, friendship struggles - we are all suffer collateral damage.  We are forced into choices.
Earlier today as I thought about it, it seemed there were three choices.  A rational person does not want to be standing in the cross fire.  Walk behind the one firing line - the other firing line or head for the bunker.  But there are other choices.
I'm reminded that the most noble and the best for everyone is the path of diplomacy.  Encourage all parties to come to the table and reach an acceptable agreement.  Stop the war and stop it before shots are fired.  If shots have already been fired - look for avenues for a truce.  Stop the WAR!  No one wins a war.  Yes, someone comes out on top, but there is always damage that cannot be undone.
The other choice is neutrality - try to walk both sides of the firing line - pretend there is no war going on.  Read about Switzerland and the WWII legacy to understand where that leads.  The sharks will take advantage of you and you'll be holding things you never intended to hold leaving you as more of an accomplice than a neutral party.
So I'm thinkin' you gotta stand for something.  Take your time.  Look carefully.  Those who love war will keep on it.  They will care little about the collateral damage.  And typically they are defending a position they created for themselves.  It is a needless fight. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembering a favorite aunt

As a little girl I sat beside my mother as she wrote letters to Aunt Dorothy in California - her big sister.  Mommy must have told me stories but I don't really remember any.  I just imagined her as a movie star and drew a picture of how I thought she might look. 
In the summer of '67, a year after my mother died, we traveled west and stopped to see her.  The instant I saw her I said, "you look just like my mommy" and she did.  Her eyes, her nose, the way she moved and the quiet way she spoke.  Through the years she wrote, nearly always sent Dates for Christmas and she moved from place to place with her husband Gordon, that I never met - even during that visit.
Each time she moved, Grandma made certain I knew and encouraged me to write.  I did.  Somehow, without saying outright, Grandma let me know that Aunt Dorothy struggled somehow with life.  About 20 years passed, Grandma was gone and I learned that Aunt Dorothy had come back to Pennsylvania close to home.  This time, she somehow found me living across the state.
We wrote and I sent audio recordings of stories for her about my travels.  Soon, I too moved closer to home and we planned to meet at the group home she now made home.  I sat waiting for her to come out not knowing what she now looked like.  A little grey haired woman passed.  'Aunt Dorothy' I wondered, but no - she passed on by.  And then she emerged with a huge smile and dancing brown eyes.  "Who do I look like now?" she asked.  It took my breath away and I could not stop tears.  "You look just like Grandma," I said.  As we hugged, I knew I was holding Mommy and Grandma all at once.
She pulled out the picture I had drawn of her so many years before.  "I didn't wear glasses." she laughed.  And she said she played my audio recordings over and over for everyone.
Over the next few years we spent precious but too little time together.  She did indeed struggle with life.  She helped me understand some things and left too soon.  I miss her but often know she remains with me.  I look a lot like her and Mommy and Grandma.  I talk a lot like them and hope I walk a lot like them.  I don't struggle with life in exactly the same way Aunt Dorothy did, but I believe I understand the heart of life's questions that tortured her.  She was a gentle soul in a not so gentle world.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


What I would like to see more in the world around us is diplomacy.  The communication skills required to act toward resolution or prevention of conflict are the most important skills anyone can possess.  Those skills are tact, empathy, careful persuasion, honesty, credibility and active listening - just to name a few.
We need those skills in our personal relationships.  We need those skills in our community.  We need those skills in our world.
If we are surrounded by family and friends who are strong in those skills, it has a profound effect on our lives.  There aren't enough people who are able and willing to step into a situation with diplomatic intent.  And even less people who are willing to listen to diplomatic reasoning.
I guess it's just human nature to want total support and sympathy for our side of a conflict.  We want someone to justify our hurt.  At that moment we are most vulnerable to influence toward actions based on our hurt.  All too often the person beside us fans the flames.
I want a diplomat beside me in those times.  I want a diplomat on the other side as well.  If you have not experienced a situation where diplomatic friends help resolve a conflict, you are not as lucky as I.  It changes more than just that one particular moment.
Diplomatic friends carefully step up and say - "Hey - we care about you both and this hurts all of us.  Let's get this worked out."  They are focused on the bigger picture and the interconnected relationships. 
It's very effective because the next time there is potential conflict, you think about more than yourself.  You see the faces of the people who care about you and remember the pain your conflicts cause them.
If instead, you are surrounded by people who do nothing when you are in pain or encourage actions that raise the level of conflict, you need new friends.
Give me a diplomat.  I want to develop those kinds of skills.  If we could all develop those skills, there would be less divorce, less need of courts, and less war.  Wouldn't that be nice!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Neutral Navigation

We process all kinds of information every day via the internet, TV, newspaper and stories people tell us.  We take it in, put it in categories in our minds and move on.  Most of what we read and hear does not have a big emotional impact especially if it doesn't involve us directly.  We believe it or not and move on.
Sometimes we act on what we learn.  Early this week I read about an otter that attacked a man on the river near my house.  It reminded me that I got a post card from the vet that Molly Mutt was due for her rabies shot.  And I acted. 
We act on other things we hear.  Our interest in spending time with friends, family or organizations shifts with what we hear.  We process the information - decide if it is credible and act accordingly.
Unless the information is emotionally charged, we do that without a lot of drama, and just ride the closest current.
When the information is emotionally charged, the current is much more swift and our reactions to it are generally more deeply entrenched.  Once we have processed the information we first heard, it's very difficult to process conflicting information.  That's especially true if we like to think of ourselves as impartial.
With some humor I can look back at situations in recent years when I have encountered someone who brought up a conflict and when I started to react to their comment, they quickly stopped me.  "I can see both sides," they would say or "I don't want to get involved".  What humors me is knowing they had listened extensively to one side of the story.   Their comment told me, "I already have an opinion and don't want to hear what you have to say." 
We are all so very connected.  It's nearly impossible to remain neutral about much of anything.  We may try to act impartial but in our minds, we have formed opinions about everything we know.  Sooner or later we will do or say something based on that opinion.
I learned to keep several layers of separation.  Neutral parties are used by the cunning.  We are so interconnected that proximity alone is a message.  The current is stronger closest to the source.  You have to swim much harder if you intend to stay in place and not get swept into it.

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Teddy Bear Story

I was stationed in Sondrestrom Greenland as an Armed Forces Radio and Television (AFRTS) broadcaster in 1979.  It was like being thrown on an island for a year with 1000 people - 800 of which spoke a different language.  Only 10% of the population were women.  When the series MASH came out later, I could really identify with many of the situations and characters on the show, especially Klinger.
Military bearing was pretty lax.  We weren't required to be in uniform, didn't salute and usually called officers by their first names.  What are they going to do to you - send you to Greenland?
We could make one phone call a week back to the states via MARS - Military Affiliated Radio Station - which was routed through McConnell AFB in Kansas.  From there it was a collect call so you didn't just call anyone.  And it wasn't always the best connection.  There was no Internet and of course, no cell phones.
Besides a few USO shows, a gym, a theatre, a bowling alley, the club and our own shenanigans, AFRTS was the main entertainment.  We actually broadcast the shaving of someones head when they lost a bet.  Radio broadcasted 24 hours a day and we did about 12 hours of television broadcasting each day.  I was first assigned the night shift doing a 3 hour radio show in the wee hours, a few hours of canned shows and then the wake up show 6-8. 
"Big Jim's Country Hour" followed, hosted by Colonel Gallaway with his long deep Texas drawl.  He was like everyone's favorite Uncle with a great sense of humor and calm manner.  Greenland was his last assignment before retiring.
We had to drive across the fjord and 3 miles up a dirt road to the station which sat overlooking a beautiful, deep, clear glacier lake.  The only other building up there was the Danish row club which was, of course, inactive most of the year.
The landscape was rather barren - glacier cut and tundra.  At the time, the longest paved road in all of Greenland led from Sondrestom base to the port.  Nine miles with a speed limit of 35 mph.  A runway split the American side and the Danish side.  The only civilian air carrier there, even today, comes from Denmark.  The nearest town was 4 hours by plane and I'm not sure how long it would take on dogsled.  I saw a few but didn't think to ask.
When I arrived in Greenland in October the days were already growing short.  By Christmas, there was almost no sunlight at all.  Besides a few evergreens flown in for the Holidays, the only tree around was in a pot in the backyard of the Danish Royal Air Force Commander's residence.  These were dreary days, a long way from home.
Then I heard that someone before my time had been sent back to the states on psychiatric evaluation.  That set my mind in motion and I hatched a plan.  I began to carry my Teddy Bear - Little O-Veee - everywhere I went.  At the dinning hall, I collect meals for us both and scolded her for not eating.  'There are hungry children in Greenland...' I said.  We danced together at the NCO club where many ordered her favorite drink - Fuzzy bears.  She did not drink them and they lined the table.  I took her to the radio station and put her in a chair with a mic - morning after morning - she refused to speak.  People began driving up to the station to look into the window to see if she was really sitting there.  I was VERY serious about Little O-Vee.  She was always with me and often scolded for making me look foolish.
After a month or so I received notice to report to the Commander - Colonel Gallaway's office.  I happily polished my shoes, dusted off my dress blues, put Little O-Vee under my arm and promptly reported in - for both of us, of course. 
With his long Texas drawl, Big Jim said, "Linda, I really want to thank you for what you have done for moral in the last month.  This time last year, there were 4 attempted suicides and this year there were none.  I think it is directly attributable to you and that bear.  I'm recommending you for the Air Force Commendation Medal."
And sure enough, he did.  At my next assignment in Torrejon, Spain, my Commander pinned me with one of the highest peace time honors.  When he read the citation, Little O-Vee was not mentioned.  Later that day, I pinned her with medal and she has been wearing it ever since.

Friday, August 24, 2012

That space

I like the shelves dusted and the floors swept,
But you will remember me with my feet in the water,
Staring at the stars.

I like the dishes done and in place
But you will remember me wondering about life.
The place for every one.

I like the pruning, mowing and weeding,
But you will remember me seeking the simpler life,
That place of harmony.

I like the laundry done and folded neatly.
But you will remember me asking where it all belongs.
The space for you and me

The space for everyone.

Change the world - with you!

One thing that can keep me up at night is trying to figure out why someone has behaved outside of what I would expect them to behave.  More specifically, outside of how I thought their values would lead them to behave.  More specifically, why would they hurt a friend?
Luckily I don't loose much sleep these days as I don't spend time with people whom I know intentionally  hurt people.  But once in a while one slips in.  I analyze and try to understand why they have done what they have done.  Nearly always these words surface:  "desperate people, do desperate things".
I believe everything we do has a motive - both good and bad.  Those motives may be simple.  I'm hungry - I eat.  The motive is to not feel hungry.  The motive may be complex.  I befriend someone I really don't care for because they serve another purpose that is equally as complex.
I really struggle to understand complexities in motives.  It's the undoing of relationships - societies, international relations...   Complexity of motives is the failing of the human race.  The more complex anything becomes, the more difficult it becomes to manage.  As the complexity builds, justifications get deeper and deeper - adding more layers of complexity.  Everything and everyone surrounding it spirals in the whirlpool the complexity has created.
My personal and spiritual goals are to keep life simple. I'm learning - perhaps slowly - that the requirement is to deal with issues before they become complex.  Face the difficult issues before they grow too large.  Most importantly - be in touch with my own motives in all I do.  Then assess what my motives are in relationship with those affected. 
We do not live on islands where our decisions only impact us.  Everything we do - everything we think - everything we say - is part of something much larger than we know.  We need to act responsibly, think responsibly and speak responsibly with a deep understanding that we are all connected in exquisite ways.  That is how we change the world.  One act - one thought - one word at a time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Higher Ground

When I first started writing this blog 3 years ago, a friend said it would be a kind of journal.  And the first few posts were about a trip out west for work - what it was like to work underground in a mine.  Since then my posts have more often been about general thoughts at the moment; sometimes specific to events, sometimes not.
Mindful that it is my public face, I've tried to be careful while sometimes venting about issues that concern me.  Sometimes people close to me were well aware and grew concerned about the tone.  I'm glad they noticed and value their insights.
I check the stats on this blog and am often surprised to see someone read a post from long ago.  My first thought is 'uh oh, what was that post about'?.  In re-reading it, there's no cause for alarm.  While it may not speak of a certain event, it does act as a journal for me and jogs the memory of events happening that inspired the writing.
I've tried keeping personal journals at times in my life.  Re-reading them much later, I hated what I had written.  They were too raw and emotionally charged.  With time and perspective, my views about events softened or changed entirely.  I burned most of them.
Blogging works much better for me.  I'm mindful that whatever I write could be seen by anyone.  It still serves as a sort of journal, but it keeps me on higher ground.  It's the higher ground I want to apply to all parts of my life.  I want my thoughts, actions and words to always be mindful that they could be known by anyone and I would not regret them.
The measure is not what everyone else thinks but rather that I will still agree with myself in what I thought, acted on and said as years pass and I gain greater understanding and perspective.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

In Search of Universal Truth

Our views on spirituality and how to practice our beliefs are so deeply personal.  An assignment for my intercultural communication class years ago had an impact on me that I carry still.  In studying the Japanese culture of the day, I learned that it was bad manners to ask about a person's religious beliefs.
What they believe to be bad manners is an expectation in our western churches.  We should not only ask but work to convert anyone who doesn't believe the same thing.  I can see how this western approach to such things can be hugely offensive.
As I considered how different the Japanese culture's approach is, I recalled my bold encounters with friends who did not believe the same as I.  Suddenly I felt myself in the shoes of my high school friend who was an atheist and my earlier college friend who was Jewish.  As I relived the words I had spoken to them, I felt embarrassed for my rudeness.
The focus on proclamation and conversion provides excuse to poke one another in the eye.  We can never find internal peace, harmony and wisdom with an external spiritual focus.  Understanding God, I believe, is in discovering universal truths.  The devil is in the details.  God is the bigger picture - the connectedness of all events and all things.  The perfect cycles of life.  The never ending spirit.  The continuation of all that ever has been and ever will be.
I failed to understand that my atheist friend and my Jewish friend had much to teach me.  I missed an opportunity.  Our western religious teachers have taught us to fear hearing those messages.  I believed I must try to make them like me. No wonder people think we are getting further and further away from God.  God is everywhere.  In all people.  In all things.
God is universal truth which means if it is from God, everyone and every thing is lifted to a better state.  The picture is bigger, interwoven and interconnected in ways that are far beyond our comprehension.  Our detailed beliefs are small crumbs that are sometimes quite spoiled and should be left as fertilizer for growth.  We sometimes hold those crumbs so tightly that they stunt our growth.
The greatest gift I have had this year is from friends with vastly different spiritual beliefs who have taught me not to fear them.  One universal truth I am certain about is that our spiritual journey cannot be fear driven.
I now look at all people and all things as interconnected and marvel in those thoughts.  How do I apply those understandings to the things I do every day?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's the problem with "One Nation Under God"?

It's difficult for some people to understand the distrust of saying "One Nation Under God".  I believe in God.  My definition of God and interpretation of the "will of God" doesn't need a flag.
The problem with "One Nation Under God" is which interpretation of God we are under?  Of course, if it's mine, I'm fine with that.  If it's yours, you are fine with that.
But what if it's the interpretation of God that is prompting followers to protest the deaths of fallen US Soldiers?
Or if it's the interpretation of the Pastor who believes God wants all lesbian and gay people rounded up and put in concentration camps to die?
What if it's the interpretation of God held by those who preach hatred for Muslims - and Jews - and different races?
What if it's the interpretation of God that's now driving legislators to strip away women's rights to choose what happens to their own bodies?
There is no single, universally accepted, interpretation of God.
When we hold a position on an issue and base our position on the Authority of GOD - there will be no middle ground.  There will be no attempt to see a different perspective.  On "God's Authority" it's all right to loose compassion and hurt anyone who won't fall in line.  All long range and intellectual discussion goes out the window.
I would love to believe that we could have a country driven by one universal truth - a unified belief in a greater power - and that belief would drive us to make sound decisions for our people and the world around us.
Unfortunately, we are probably further away from that possibility now than the forefathers were when they founded this nation.  And there were deep divides then.  I recently wrote about an article I read about the drafting of the US Constitution.  One of the debated issues was how to count slaves.  SLAVES.  Abhorrent thought to me.  In those days, many slave owners found ways to justify their positions using the Bible.
So, if you get upset with the backlash about "One Nation Under God", please take a deep breath and consider why.  Many people see danger in those words.  The danger is that there will be no room for their personal belief system and their personal freedoms.  If the backlash upsets you, that is understandable too.  You fear your patriotism, belief system, and personal freedoms are under attack.  That is their fear as well.  Have compassion.  Seek understanding.  Seek balance.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lessons from 1787 - The Constitutional Convention

I believe we live in a most remarkable country - The United States.  While we may be suffering a great divide in politics and struggling to enact solutions to problems - even unable to agree what the problems really are - it is a great country.
I find it interesting to look back in our history to try to gain perspective about what is happening today.  Curiosity about the political current during the drafting of the constitution led me to the National Archives where I discovered this article, http://archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_history.html.  That summer in 1787 brought together a group of men who were vastly different in their views concerning this young nation's governance.  They put their lives on hold and stayed in Philadelphia for months on end until the convention reached it's conclusion - The first draft of the United States Constitution.  And at the end - in the final vote - despite all their differences, name calling, differing philosophies - that draft passed by unanimous vote.
The work did not end there.  This draft had to go before every state legislature for ratification.  That draft had no Bill of Rights.  States demanded those amendments.
Prior to the Constitution's passage, we had a loose confederation of states acting largely autonomously.  The federal government had little power and little money.  It's interesting to see what the issues were at the time that led these men to come together.  Massive inflation - $100 for a pound of tea - debtors imprisoned, people loosing family farms due to excessive taxation....
What I find remarkable is the determination to create a solution.  They argued and fought, debated, with name calling and maneuvering but they did not stop working toward a solution.  They didn't end the process and walk away.  They listened to each other - not always patiently - but they listened throughout the entire process and concerns from each side were considered and added.
At the end of the day, we wound up with a Constitution that wasn't perfect (it's been carefully amended over time) but it has served us well for more than 200 years.  To me, one big message about the process was that there was great effort to balance power - between the branches of federal government, between the federal government and states and between these institutions and individual rights.  There has been a tug of war ever since with a pushing and pulling of power.
In 1787, there was much concern about the emergence of an aristocracy.  Some even thought it would be necessary to create order.  Instead these leaders created a Republic. I believe they could not have created a successful government if they had not incorporated a fully collective input.  Balance cannot come from one perspective.
My concern for this country now is about balance and polarization.  No matter what side of issues you may stand, we need to hear each other.  And we need to stay with one another long enough to come up with collective solutions.  It's easy to do nothing and blame someone else for it.  It's easy to look at what someone else has done and criticize it.  The greatest things - the things that will stand the test of time - are those things we create together.  It takes much more work, but it's worth it.

Friday, June 29, 2012


  In a Democracy we often believe the most important thing is to vote.  That is important.  But even more important is to be informed - to vote according to the best information we can gain.  It is even more important in this day and age to research and be informed than ever before.  We have grown accustomed to 90 second snippets and slick ads driving many of our daily decisions.  Even though we know better, we oddly accept that most of what we see and hear is true.  Most of these 90 second snippets and slick ads are designed to appeal to our emotions because we more quickly act on impulse and emotion.  Once we have an emotional reaction to something, we rarely dig deeper.

DIG DEEPER folks!  Our Democracy - our society depends on it.  If you find yourself repeating emotion filled one liners, they have you where they want you.  You won't research and decide based on reality, you are hooked on the one liners.

"Obamacare"!  Do you repeat that term?  They gottcha.  Have you read the Affordable Care Act?  Can you tell me what part you don't like?

Are you against your children being allowed to stay on your health care plan until age 26?
Do you believe insurers should be able to deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition?
Do you believe it is wise for insurers to provide preventative health care screenings free of charge?
Do you believe insurers should be able to have a cap on the amount of health care benefits they provide over your lifetime?
Do you believe health care insurers should be able to spend as much money as they like on things other than providing health care to those they ensure?
Are you against tax incentives for small businesses to provide health insurance?

Have you read the Affordable Care Act?

Maybe you are against the mandate to get healthcare insurance.  Healthcare Insurers demanded that.  Why?  Because if our goal is to provide more affordable health care, we cannot just insure the sick and vurnerable.  We need a broader pool.  The cost has to be spread out or those insured will pay more and more.

Do you know what the punishment is if you don't get insured next year?  A whopping $95 in 2013.
If you don't think you will need any medical care in 2013, opt out - pay the $95.  The rest of us will hope you are right, that you don't need medical care.  Someone will have to pay for it if you cannot.

Read the Affordable Care Act!  http://www.healthcare.gov  It was modeled after the plan Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts.  See what that state has to say about how it has worked. 

If you can make an educated argument against any part of it, please share that.  More importantly, please share what you would do - specifically to solve our health care problems.  And if you aren't aware that we have any - get your head out of the sand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I stand!

I stand with the woman who did not expect to become pregnant.  I stand by her.  I stand by you!
I stand with the woman who was raped.  I stand by her.  I stand by you!
I stand with the woman who was molested by her step daddy.  I stand by her.  I stand by you!
I stand with the woman who found the best option, a man who said he was catholic but chose a vasectomy  so he would not impregnate again.  He lied.  I stand by that woman.
I stand by any woman who is not pregnant by choice.  I stand by her.  I stand by you.
Women do not become pregnant all by themselves.  It's not an isolated incident.
I see no one stepping up to say they will adopt every unexpected, unplanned baby.  Where are you righteous soothsayers?
You want to bare punishment on the woman who is with child?  How did this child happen?  Where are you the next 20 years?
You would de-fund the very program that prevents unplanned pregnancy.  You would de-fund the very programs that help raise a child out of poverty?  You are afraid.  You live in fear.
I stand.
I stand with the woman....
I stand with woman and ask who will cast the first stone....
I stand with you dear woman.  I stand with you!!!!
Government stops at the VAGINA and the UTERUS.  You do not know this woman's story.  It is not a lump of clay.  Hear the story.  Love unconditionally.  Quit assuming you are somehow gifted in knowing the mind of "God".    Because, if you get it, there will be no questions. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Revival

For the first time in my life I have many guitars.  I've played since I was 12 when I was over the top surprised at Christmas to discover a used Kay electric under the tree.  Not too long after, I had my first acoustic...a used Harmony F-hole arch top that I wish I still had.  I played that through college in coffee houses and wherever someone would have me play. 
Then, after basic training and technical training with the Air Force, I landed in Greenland.  I mail ordered a brand new Jumbo Yamaha - shipped direct.  What a thrill when it arrived.  I found Bob who would play along and taught me a lot of Jackson Brown songs.  I carried the Yamaha to Spain and back to the US, playing it for the next decade or so.  Then, I sold the Yamaha to pay for an Oscar Schmidt that played oh so fine. 
My greatest joy has always been to find others who share the love to sing those same old songs.  In the 80's friends made fun of me so I took the old songs to nursing homes and senior centers.  In the late 90's I sat the guitar down when my favorite aunt died and it felt no one would love the old songs the same.  My friend Pete encouraged me again and we began playing on my front porch soon joined by "guitar Dave" who happened by one night.
And then I sold the Oscar Schmidt - not for another guitar but to help fund someone else's pipe dream.  Oddly, that pipe dream gave me opportunity to record on a movie sound track and I had no guitar to play.  I had to borrow the Oscar Schmidt to make the recording.
For the first time in my adult life, I had no guitar.  40 plus years.  I think it sent me off the deep edge.  I started buying guitars.  And then other instruments and another guitar, and other odd instruments and then a bag of stuff and then a sound system and then collecting people to sing and play and then....
And then - I was revived.  Every old song - every vision - every hope.  I am not a gifted guitar player.  I have often kidded that it is a prop and I can only sing if I can hold it.  I love to sing and have since I can remember.  I am not a gifted singer either.  I just love to sing.  I can mostly hold a tune and sometimes remember the words if they are both simple enough.  Every now and then I can even harmonize.  Suddenly I am surrounded by like spirits in a way I would never have imagined.

And now I own a Yamaha guitar, not quite like that first but a fine guitar.  I have a Godin 5th Avenue - not quite like that first Harmony F - hole but it is OH SO FINE.  I have a Jumbo Cumberland that reminds me much of that first Yamaha and two others that serve their purpose when I need them.  I don't really need them all.  But they have been part of my revival.  I suspect several will wind up in the hands of people that are an even bigger part of my revival some day yet seen.
It is about sharing spirit.  It's about understanding that harmony is here for all of us - if we can open up to hear it.  It's about understanding that all our stories have been told over and over again in song.  It's about understanding that the spirit - truth - is not complicated at all. 

Lastly - don't give up the vehicle that reminds you of all that.  Keep one guitar no matter what.  Otherwise you will go off the deep end and start collecting, even if you don't need to.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stand for something!

In small town USA we know who's who.  We know who is most likely to do another wrong, who not to do business with and who can or cannot be trusted.  It can be very tough - politically - and the personal is very political.  How much do we turn a blind eye?  How much do we pretend not to know?  How much do we pretend is not really a big deal?  How much do we accept is a greater good and believe the bad stuff will just go away somehow?  Maybe - just maybe - the person doing harm to one will really do some benefit to ------to something.
So, we do not take a stand.  We do not go against the one we know has hurt so many.  Because maybe.... because.... there isn't enough on record...because they have something......because there is this nice side....because....because...because we cannot.
The Jerry Sandusky trial troubles me.  It troubles me most because it is clear that people who knew something was not right, turned a blind eye.  They did it because they thought a charity he headed was too important.  They did it because they thought a sports program he was associated with was too important.
When we turn a blind eye to behavior that we know in our heart and soul is wrong, we had better step up.  If we do not, we are part of the bad behavior.  We are contributing to the wrong doing.  If we know someone is a danger in any way and we turn a blind eye - we help them hurt the next victim.  It does not matter if it is children or adults - it does not matter if the court has weighed in - you know.  DO something - get the house in order.  Stand for something!  Simply don't support what you know is wrong.
If you cannot say NO - then don't say YES.  Don't support something that is wrong.  Don't say you like something that is going to wind up hurting someone.  In this age of social media, your name as a "like" of something is your stamp of approval.  If you "like" everything in an attempt to be politically correct, your liking something has little sway with me.  I want to know you stand for something.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dogs - Wonderful Creatures

Dogs are such wonderful creatures.  In many ways they are so connected to us and in the best ways - so much their own individual souls.  If not painfully convinced to be otherwise, they are typically content to be where they are.  My mutt paw friends are most fortunate.  They have lots of people who love them and two places they claim as home.  The past few days they have had opportunity to re-claim their "summer house" with a 4 times bigger yard and a couch that's old and they know they can pretend to own.
Fearing their wails when they may miss me, I leave them music as hopeful comfort.  Often I enter the driveway to anxious barking and hope it is only because they heard me near.  Today - there was no barking as I entered - music - but no wild greetings.  I entered - no greetings.  I stood for what seemed to be long moments staring at the two sleeping soundly on the couch.  Tobey - the timid and wild child, was laying on his back with paws sprawled - the last to realize I was there.  I guess the music worked.  They were quite content and relaxed.  I was actually a bit worried when they didn't greet me with great enthusiasm but that quickly came about.
We can learn a lot from them.  Their expectations are low and consistent.  They forgive quickly and easily - and music really does sooth their spirits.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ashes and Dust

A weekend in a rustic cabin is like heaven to me.  It calms me and makes me very introspective - which I tend to be anyway.  Last night I sat on the cabin porch listening to the rain and the stream below and imagined Waldon's Pond.
The idea of Waldon's Pond has always appealed to me.  I wonder as Thoreau did if I could "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Could I last a year in some remote cabin and let the experience teach me?
What I heard in those moments are words I wish I could write to song - ashes to ashes and dust to dust - everything is connected in one way or another.  Each breath we take is shared with another and every other who ever was and ever will be.  There is no beginning and there is no end.  Even if we do nothing, we are part of everything.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  The tree still grows because we once were.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

If not you, then who?

Every one of us has the opportunity to change lives for the better.  It may be quite simple.  A stranger is struggling with pumping gas or short a dollar at the checkout and you step in to help.  It may be small to you but it just changed their day.
These easy things are not so rare.  I love the stories at Christmas about people anonymously paying people's lay-aways off.  Everyone feels good on both sides of that equasion.
And then there are the bigger occasions that require some risk.  You witness someone being abusive and intervene.  You run into a burning building or brave the fire in a burning car to pull someone out.  We call those people heroes.  Not everyone can or will do that.  It requires selflessness and risk.  Those are momentary decisions and most of us hope that we would do the same thing if faced with that situation.  But many of us could not.
And then sometimes we are called to do something that will change many lives.  It will be misunderstood.  It will be attacked.  It will come with risk.  But it is far bigger than you.  And no matter how hard you try to ignore it, you will be reminded from the right - from the left - in front of your feet and before your eyes.  It will not go away. 
So - do you run into the burning building or look around hoping someone else will?  Why does it have to be you?  When the time comes, you know why.  If not you, then who?  Only fear stops you.

Monday, April 30, 2012


I don't think faith is about our having a greater power watching over us that will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  For me, faith is the belief that we have, at our finger tips, all that we need to accomplish all things - to overcome all odds.
When we believe that some greater power will do it for us, we will fail.  Truth - faith - is in recognizing all that we have been provided and we have been provided all that we need - if we walk in truth and faith.
Our job is to reach out and recognize all that we have been provided.  Gratitude and thankfulness take us to that place.  We count what we have.  We begin to be thankful for what will become.  We see beyond what our eyes see.  We go where that faithful vision takes us.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Blogging on

I've enjoyed blogging for 3 years now.  I'm amazed that pageviews come from all over the world and I seem to have more of a following now in Russia than in the US.  When I notice people are viewing pages I wrote long ago, I quickly look to see what I wrote.  At first I was concerned that maybe I wrote thoughts then that I don't necessarily think pertinent today but that has not been the case.
When I started the blog, a friend said it would be a sort of journal.  It is interesting to go back and realize what was going on in my life at the times I wrote about certain things.  I've shared thoughts on a wide range of topics.  I also realize I've planned to write more about some things and then never did.  I guess those things show I am rather eclectic and I have a short attention span.
I'm happy to hear from people saying they enjoy reading my blogs but I've mostly done it for myself.  I cannot always say what is on my mind but I seem to be able to write it out.  I just like to write.  I would encourage you to write for yourself - if not a blog, a journal of some sort.  Look back from time to time and see where you've been and how far you have come.  Hopefully you can smile at yourself.
To those of you - wherever you are in the world - that keep reading my random thoughts - Thank you and I hope they make you smile.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

To live Fearless

I believe that the root of all evil, all pain, is fear. It's true in any relationship - personal, community, national, international. Trace the source of any harm that you have done to another or that another has done to you and you will find fear as the source. We do not pursue our full potential due to fear. We do not reach out to others due to fear. We hate our enemies due to fear. We fail to speak out for others when they are wronged due to fear. We don't apologize when we should, due to fear. The source of greed is fear. We fail to solve problems out of fear.
Fear is powerful. It invokes strong emotions and can drive anyone to behave and act in ways that are not true to their professed values and beliefs. Fear creates monsters and monstrous people are riddled with fears. When fear drives our lives the monsters grows larger than reality. If we allow our fears to grow, the insatiable monsters need to be fed and we will create situations - real or mythical - to prove our fears.
The only thing more powerful than fear is love. But we act quickly and spontaneously out of fear and slowly and deliberately out of love. Fear is a sprint. Love is a marathon. Fear will flame high and spread fast but Love grows slowly and will overcome in the end. Fear lies. Love is truth.
So how do we overcome fearful influences - lies - greed - all the harmful outcomes driven by fear.
First, we need to recognize and identify our own fears then work to overcome them. Silence our own monsters.
Second, if we understand our own fears, it's easier to recognize when others are speaking and acting out of fear.
Third, train ourselves for a marathon. Love is patient. Love is at peace in knowing the outcome.
Finally, speak from a source of love - patiently, in truth, and deliberately with a steady pace. Don't stop the pace - speak out - but be very careful that love is the source from which you speak and act. Don't feed the fear or fear mongers.
One of the best examples is what happened in Hitler's Germany. He was a very effective orator and was able to create great fear throughout his country targeted at Jews, Homosexuals, disabled people - anyone who wasn't deemed as the perfect race. The fear grew to a monstrous level that resulted in a whole society doing or overlooking horrific things. Fear allowed the horrors to continue for years.
Love worked tirelessly underground. Love saved lives and smuggled thousands from the country so they could give witness to truth. The Danish people stood up - in acts of Love - and said "NO this won't happen here." Those working against Hitler during those most fiery times, shed fear and acted out of love. It had to have felt hopeless but they did not stop. They didn't focus their attention on Hitler, they focused on those who were at risk. Ultimately the world stood up.
When you hear anyone speaking words of fear - personal or political - look for the truth. Dig a little deeper. Tune in to fear trigger tactics. They are all over our political landscape. Those who try to mislead you, politically or personally, will use fear. For the short term people fail to act, act and react much quicker based on fear. Dig deeper. Look carefully at the long term outcomes of acting on the fear path. Find truth and love.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Untouchable girls"

Months ago a friend recommended that I watch the documentary "The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls" and I finally did. It is fantastic!!!
The Topp Twins have been mesmerizing audiences down under in New Zealand for decades. A singing duo with great talent, crazy skit characters, and deep commitments, these women reach people with their humor and charm. The Prime Minister calls them "a national treasure".
Farm girls - they traveled the country in a wagon pulled by a tractor, performing in small towns and packing the house. Their skit characters are homespun, eccentric and became so popular, the twins had their own television series.
Oh - and they happen to be lesbians.

Here are some things I walked away with at the end of the documentary.
1) Develop your talents and share them generously.
2) Don't let anyone define you in a way that is not true to the real you.
3) Never forget where you came from.
4) Deep roots are good. Great humor is even better.
5) Do what you do out of genuine love.

You can watch this documentary instantly on Netflix. "The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls". They will make you laugh while they make you think. I like that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today and Tomorrow

Life is full of peaks and valleys.
Some years ago a good friend said our best hope is for the lows not to be too low and our highs not so high that we can't sustain them.
I learned very young that we are not promised tomorrow. This moment is what we have for sure. We are all reminded of that from time to time. Today I was. And my heart is with two young people who know their mother's time is limited on this earth.
My heart aches for that family. Tomorrow it could be you - it could be me - on the short end - or on the grieving end.
Then I can't help thinking about all the crazy, unnecessary dramas we create for one another and wonder what we would do - if we knew - if we really knew - tomorrow is not promised.
That friend who talked about the highs and lows said something else - she said, put any issue on a scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being death. Where it rates is a good indication of how much energy you should put into it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I think there are three categories of energy - good energy, wasted energy and downright bad energy.
Good energy is when we are creating harmony and joy - lifting one another up. It's when we are acting and speaking in ways that are uplifting to all around us. Our words and actions are unquestionable. We are doing no harm.
Then there is wasted energy. It may not have a bad intent but we cause ourselves or others to expend unnecessary energy. Like when someone needs to remind us to get the minutes done for a meeting that we know we need to do. They had to expend energy that could have been used for something else.
It turns into downright bad energy when our actions or inaction causes others to expend a great deal of energy trying to correct what has been done. We've all been in situations with people where we actually have to try to predict what bad behavior may come next in order to avoid greater problems. This is particularly difficult when it is someone we care deeply about.
In my experience, I began to overlook, excuse and even defend behavior that I would never do. I compromised my own ethics to make room for this person in my life. No amount of talking had any effect in driving toward creation of harmony and good energy. There was simply no understanding of consequences and no empathy regarding the impact on others.
It then became a question of my choices. How far would I go to overlook, excuse and defend these things? It's like slow boiling a lobster. The water gets slowly hotter and you don't realize you're getting cooked. The more cooked you are, the harder it is to jump out of the pan.
Then I asked myself - 'If I knew all that I know about this person but did not have a close relationship with this person - would I be excusing or defending these kinds of behavior?'
When the answer was far beyond no into the absolutely NOT range, I had to make my choices clear. I'm not responsible for what other's say and do. I'm responsible for me.
For me, that means putting my energy toward becoming a better person creating positive energy not draining anyone else in any way. That is a really difficult path, especially if anyone close to you has a different mindset.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mover's and Shakers

I was quite surprised at the Venango Chamber of Commerce annual dinner to join Connie Shull as Volunteers of the Year. It is rather humbling actually. I'm surrounded by people who serve this community. My circle of friends include people who are contributors to multiple organizations. You see their faces at nearly every major non-profit event. They are the doers in this community.
When you see them at those events, working hard to sell raffle tickets or 50/50's or setting up the room ... What you don't see are the countless hours they have contributed before the event to ensure it's success.
They are not whining and saying "why doesn't somebody"... They are the ones saying "I will".
They are running the non-profit organizations and working many hours beyond their meager pay. And while they run their organization with the skills of CEO's, they are champions and volunteers for other organizations.
Our community is full of many very AWESOME movers and shakers with great heart and commitment. Anything I have contributed is solely due to them carrying me along. So much to write about. Our paper should do a column "profiles in volunteerism". There is no shortage of stories to tell in Venango County. A lot of people are Living Big to make a difference.

Monday, February 13, 2012

For Valentine's Day

She was widowed at 50. They had raised 7 children during the depression years and through World War II. Just as the 50's grew to promise of better days, she was alone. Living in a modest little stone house, she went to work at the hardware store to try to make ends meet.
A local man stopped in quite often, stayed and chatted a while, bought light bulbs and took off. He stopped in more and more as a few years passed and always bought light bulbs.
At 55, she married him. And when she moved into his house, opened a closet - It was jam packed full of light bulbs.
She was my Grandma. And he was the grandpa I knew - my Grandpa Charlie. He spoiled my grandma with anything she wanted. They traveled the world together. I loved spending time with them. They teased each other and laughed a lot. They were very competitive Yatzee players and I learned a little bit about being rowdy with them. Most of all, I knew they loved each other. Grandma told me he was her one true friend.
And when he had a stroke that left him mostly paralyzed, she cared for him 24/7 - except her weekly bingo game that he did not want her to give up. They died just 7 days apart. Those who knew them well know that was because they could not bear to be apart. And now forever more, they are not.
In my life, they set the standard for love and loving life. I am thankful to have lived long enough to find my one true friend. If you have not, don't dismay - pay attention to the one buying the light bulbs.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Difference a Year Makes: Rock on Oil City

I love "Rock On Oil City" because it captured the imagination of so many people. Watching people at "Rock on" events has been great fun. If someone tried putting canvas on a table and asked people to paint, they would be intimidated. But ask people to paint rocks, and they are not afraid.
The idea sprung up from a blog Susan Williams, Venango Chamber of Commerce, read about a mom who got her kids to paint rocks and leave them places for people to find. The family had watched a movie that the mom feared would inspire the children to do random graffiti. So, she channeled their creativity.
The first "Rock On Oil City" event was during the Indy Fest on Seneca Street. Then at the 2011 Oil Heritage Festival we set up a booth in Justus Park, brought paints, brought rocks and expected to stay a few hours. Six hours later, young and old were still coming and painting rocks. Many started going down to the river to gather more rocks - bigger rocks - to paint.
Other local artists and enthusiasts coordinated Rock On events at schools, small events and at the local nursing home. Individuals started painting rocks and sprinkling them around town. Area natives who moved away, painted rocks and sent them home to land somewhere in their old home town.
We have no idea how many people are now painting rocks and sprinkling them around to bring smiles to others. I love it because it's such a simple thing. Leave something behind to make someone happy. I love it because it is something anyone can do, anytime. I love it because it fits well with the Art Revitalization theme "Art Inside". It gives people a chance to open up to creativity and it adds a note of kindness without expectation or external reward.
So - Pick up a brush - paint a happy rock - place it out there for someone to find - Rock On Oil City!!! Visit us at Justus Park during Oil Heritage Festival 2012.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Difference a Year can Make: Front Porch Folk

I look back over the last year with amazement at the great things that developed. Again, I say it's about being positive and being around positive people. I'll name them in the order they happened; Front Porch Folk, Rock On Oil City, CASA and a new organization I'll be talking about soon.
In the next few blogs, I'll take some time to talk about each of them and how I feel about being part of those groups. Each means a lot to me but I'm happy to start with Front Porch Folk - a little hobo band that really started on the Front Porch last year.
By the end of the summer as many as 15 of us crowded the porch singing and playing the old songs I have loved since elementary school music class. We started collecting fun, easy and funky little instruments to get everyone involved. Of course, we have moved inside for the winter AND our singalong has gone on the road.
There is something special happening. It's not tight harmony or amazing instrumental riffs. It's just plain fun. We truly care about each other and want to spread a bit of joy around while sharing memories of songs most everyone knows and loves. It's making a huge difference in our lives because we are lifting one another up while we sing and play. Many in our group are playing instruments they never imagined they could.
It's a bridge that crosses boundaries. We are very diverse in our politics, our religious backgrounds, and family relationships. But we all share a loving spirit and strong sense of community.
The songs are a reflection of our souls. And the funny songs lift our spirits. We see each other and care for each other in new ways. Song has created a bond. If you have not joined us, I hope you will. Be ready to sing and play a funny instrument. Our times together are what I believe heaven is all about.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


I am thankful for the sight and sound of a fresh snow.
I am thankful for the warmth of a fire.
I am thankful for the smile of a true friend.
I am thankful for the spirit of singing songs together.
I am thankful for the sweet taste of a home made pie.
I am thankful for the kindness of a stranger.
I am thankful for fond memories.
I am thankful for present times in the company of joyful people.
I am thankful for simplicity.
I am thankful for feeling thankful.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Open UP!

There has been a most wonderous and interesting theme I must accept about my past few years. It is the motto I've seen in front of my old church, the Methodist Church; "Open minds, Open hearts and Open doors". When I first saw that they had adopted that moto, I scoffed. But today, I am not writing in criticism, I am writing in inspiration. This is the motto of a lifetime!
It is the theme of my journey in recent years. I needed my mind opened. It opened my heart. It has opened my door.
Every human being shares this - change is hard! Changing our mindset is difficult. I don't care if you are rich or poor, conservative or liberal, gay or straight, white or black, Christian or Bhuddist - change is hard. We are a product of our experiences. We latch onto what we believe to be true because.... because.... because.... While the world is full of shades of gray, it is much easier to look for black and white.. right and wrong... no in between.
The world is not one way or the other...it is somewhere in the middle. Open your mind and it will open your heart and THAT opens doors. The doors that open are full of JOY. Cross over to that place. Open up - enjoy - let freedom in.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grabbing the Gratitude Attitude

I have so very much to be thankful about. I love walking in that knowledge. Hindsight is always 20/20. I can think of dark times in my life and now know there was much more to be thankful about than to be discouraged about.
We do all get dealt some very difficult blows sometimes. But it is how we choose to think and feel that makes the difference. We do have a choice what WE think and feel about anything. Maybe we cannot control a situation but WE CAN control our own thoughts and feelings.
It takes great effort and discipline sometimes. But we can get to the sunny side of the street if we keep walking and keep seeking gratitude in our own spirit.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Change Negative to Positive

"If you have a problem with a member of your family who is negative, begin by writing a list of all the things you appreciate about that person. Remember to include gratitude to them for giving you a great desire for positivity in your life; because that is a gift they are giving you. As you focus with all of your strength on appreciation, you will not only reduce your exposure to the negativity, but at the same time you will be attracting positive people into your life.

Get yourself on to the appreciation frequency, and the law of attraction can only surround you with people who are in a positive state." Rhonda Byrne.

This message came in my email at a moment that was most meaningful. I would change "your family" to anyone who is negative. For many, many months I have pondered the questions: How do we love our ememies? How do we deal with those who have created negative things in our lives? How do we deal with negative people?

Now it begins to make sense. There is the will of that one negative person and THEN there is the will of that one universal IAM. Call it the will of God, call it the law of attraction - I believe it is one, mysterious, universal law. Negativity repels. It is that end of the magnet that pushes things - people - away.
So, if we let that negativity become part of our perspective - even in relation to that negative person - we repel even the good. We have come in contact with that negative person because we needed to learn something or something around them was a positive thing for us. We need to learn to see it and recognize it and be thankful for it.
We are not alone. We are not isolated. And neither are they. If we can learn to see and appreciate the positive - even about them - they might too.
I have said often - it is about lifting one another up. Can we lift our enemies too? Yes, we can.
Now I have work to do as I let this settle in my heart and soul.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


This blog is nearing 5000 views which makes me introspective. I started the blog in January 2009 as I was setting out on one of many underground excursions. A couple of friends said to write about the experience so I did. Thus, the name Linda Underground. As I watch the blog statistics, just about every week a few people read one of those first posts; "Catching Up", where I describe what it was like working underground in that particular mine.
After that trip, I kept writing. The blog has become an eclectic mix of thoughts that bubble to the surface (from Linda's Underground). The second most viewed post is from December 2010; "Mythomaniacs". I'm not sure where the interest for that one is coming from - near or far - but every week, several people read that one as well.
The one I'm pleased to see continues to have hits is "Make a Difference" from this past October. I'm hoping it inspires all of us to do a little more and be more open to possibilities.
As I consider what I've put out there for the world to see I ask, have I said things that are meaningful? Would I say things differently today? Should I say more or less? Someone is watching. It does matter to me that I make a positive difference in this world.
To those of you who keep reading, thank you. And I thank you to keep me on a positive path.