Happy Birthday, Matthew!

When we decided to create a simpler, more peaceful life, one of our goals was to make a list of priorities and learn how to maintain them. At the top of the list was “People over Things.” And our most important people are family, so that is why this year (as you may have noticed), on birthdays of our wonderful family members, I am posting a little entry celebrating what they mean to us.

On March 28, 1983, I gave birth to a blond-haired, blue-eyed baby boy. As mentioned back a couple of months ago, had he been a girl, his name would have been Sarah Elizabeth, but he was indeed a boy, and we named him Matthew Ensley, Matthew meaning “gift from God,” and Ensley after my late father. Matt was born into life with a big sister about 5 years older, but he took it in stride. In fact, he took everything in stride. Nothing ever seemed to bother him. He was creative, generous, imaginative, intelligent, loving, and spiritual.

He was also....well, different. Unless you think dressing up in a 3-piece suit with a valise in your hand is the right way to go to kindergarten, then yes, you might agree he was a little strange - in a good way, of course.

Here are two entries from a series of letters I wrote to him when he was growing up:
You are 3 years old now. It’s spring and you love to play out in the dirt with a spoon under the sprinkler. In fact, Sunday we looked around and found you naked in the front yard. We asked why you took your shorts off, and you said,”Because I want to sprinkle my whole body!”
I have decided to work with you on your alphabet recognition. We studied a workbook the other day which showed various letters and pictures of things that start with each letter. We were studying the letter V. It showed a picture of a violin. I asked you if you recognized it, and you said, “Guitar.” I reminded you that you had seen a boy at church play a violin and I pantomimed someone playing a violin. You repeated the word “violin” and seemed to have understood our little lesson. The next day you were humming away at the same time you were pantomiming the violin just as I had showed you. I was so pleased you seemed interested, but I want to see if you remembered the word violin. So I said, “Matt, that’s great! Now what are you playing?” You smiled broadly and replied, “Joy To the World!”

When Matthew turned 5, he did an extraordinary act. To this day, it amazes us when we think about it. He had fallen when he was 4 and chipped a front tooth, and at that time, the dentist wanted to watch it for signs of infection. For a long time, nothing happened, but then it got darker than the rest of Matt’s teeth, and the dentist indicated that the gum around it was tender. Finally, the dentist said that either the tooth should be pulled or a pulpectomy be done (similar to a root canal). He said the reason baby teeth fall out is that as the child gets older, the roots of those teeth decrease until finally, when the roots disappear, the teeth have nothing to keep them adhered, so they detach. Actually physically pulling one of these baby teeth before the root has dissolved is an arduous, painful process, because the root is still long. We had just decided to have the tooth in question pulled when one night Matt fell at church and busted his lip, also hitting that tooth. The gum line around the tooth started to bleed, and we were getting worried. We took him to the dentist, and the tooth was pulled. It took 2 shots of Novocain to numb the area sufficiently. Matt never cried, not even once!

As amazing as that was, what followed was totally unexpected. The night before the painful procedure, I heard Matt talking to his big sister about wanting to share his Tooth Fairy money with her, no matter how much it was. Of course, after hearing this, Ed and I needed to up the ante, and after all the pain Matt was going to be enduring, we figured he deserved at least $3, so the Tooth Fairy ended up giving him $6. Sure enough, the next morning, Matt gave Rachel $3.

The whole thing just floored us. To think that a 5-year-old little boy would give half the Tooth Fairy money to his sister was hard to believe anyway. But to know that he had gone through so much pain, so bravely, at the dentist’s office and still felt like sharing the reward was incredible. To this day, we repeat this story with awe and wonder.

Because that’s really the story of Matthew. He has an innate sense of compassion, affection, forgiveness, and grace. When you combine that with a hilarious sense of humor, first-rate intelligence and creativity, an eye for detail and a yearn for perfection in his work, then and only then can you see the complexities of our Matthew. He has entertained me when I had had a bad day, encouraged me when I was down, advised me when I didn’t know what to do, taught me patiently about computers, asked for advice when he thought I could give him some input, and grimaces but gives in when we tell embarrassing stories about his childhood. (See, Matt, in honor of your birthday, I’m not even posting the “I just pass gas” story!)

We are so blessed to have Matt in our lives. We have always been so proud of him, and I am honored that he got so much of his computer training by crashing our various computers in days gone by, as this means we have contributed greatly to his technological career.

Happy 25th birthday to our son! We love you!

Versatile Kate

Seventeen years ago this week, I decided it was time to join the video revolution and buy a video recorder. I remember the day well. My brother-in-law was a professional videographer for a Memphis TV station, so I dragged him along to a store near the hospital, where he graciously helped me choose the perfect camera for my purpose. And what was that purpose? The birth of a very special lady - my older niece, Kate.

So I got to record her first diaper change by her Daddy, and then someone else took a video of Kate in my arms as I sat in a rocking chair in the hospital room. It's strange to hold a new baby and wonder what the future holds. We always immediately try to figure out which relative the baby looks like, and as child get older, what personality she will exhibit. But there in that Memphis hospital room 17 years ago, all I could think of was this precious bundle in my arms, the first child of my only sibling, born into a close, loving family. All I could think of was what a lucky baby she was, and what a lucky aunt I was.

The years have flown by. Kate is now a beautiful young adult, just as comfortable on a soccer field as she is playing the piano - and also comfortable being a camp counselor and being active in her church, and yes, her skills extend all the way to cleaning out the dog kennel where she works part-time! Unfortunately, we already had started moving around in the ministry by the time Kate was born, so I didn't get to be there as often as I would have wished. Every time we visit Memphis again, we are amazed at the talented, intelligent, charming young woman she has become.

That baby now is touring college campuses to make her higher education choice. That VHS video is old now in technological years. But every once in a while, I get it out and reminisce about the beginning of what I know will be a remarkable life. We are so proud of you, Kate! Happy birthday!

Planting, planting, planting!

My sister's Mother-In-Law gave me some seeds that she brought back from Riga, Latvia. I've been really excited about seeing how they grow, and I started them last week. I'm not sure how they will do down here in the South, Riga has a very different climate, but I love a good experiment. Here they are about 2 weeks after planting:

My neice planted some sunflower seeds last year, and they came up as MAMMOTH sunflowers. My girls have been totally excited about the prospect of big sunflowers again. A few weeks ago, one of their teachers did a project with seeds, and some of the kids got sunflower seeds. I was glad one was mine! Here are her 2 sunflower plants today.

I'm doing a correspondance course with Susun Weed called "Green Allies". I chose Red Clover for my ally, and I have started some seeds in a small bed in my yard.

Day One:

Day Seven:

And I'm planning a mint garden this year. Peppermint, Spearmint, and Lemon Balm. I got my seeds yesterday from Horizon, and I'll be starting those this weekend.

One Hour

Ah, Daylight Saving Time - the annual spring ritual when the United States government flexes its muscles to display its power over the solar system. Not to be outdone by God, who in Genesis separated the dark from the light, and not to be outdone by Joshua, who asked God to make the sun stand still, the federal government proclaims the dark to move to the morning, and the light to move to the evening, and it is Good. Or is it?

To accomplish this, the government has to take a major step. It has to “steal” one hour from our lives every spring. One minute it’s 2 a.m., and then next minute it’s 3 a.m. - just like that - and a full hour is gone, vanished, at the direction of the Feds. What might you have accomplished in that hour? It was an hour of unlimited possibilities - disappearing in an instant! At first glance, this seems immoral. But not to worry, they say. The government is just “borrowing” that hour from you. You will get that hour back in the fall, and it all balances out. So it all makes sense. Or does it?

There are people who actually believe that Daylight Saving Time can really “save” daylight and move it around, and undoubtedly these people have superior intellect, so to them I present this intriguing question: What happens to the people who die between the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in the spring and the end of Daylight Saving Time in the fall? Through no fault of their own, those unfortunate souls have really been thrown into a predicament. They’ve lost an hour of their lives - never to get it back! In their case, that hour has not been borrowed - it has been stolen!

Here’s an idea: What if we filed a class action suit against the United States government on behalf of all those people whose hour was stolen - yes, stolen - in the spring, people who died before the government could return to them their rightful 60 minutes? Surely their families must be compensated. What price can one put on an hour of life - the most precious of commodities? A lawsuit like this asking for exorbitant damages could bankrupt the whole country! And no doubt in this litigious nation, there are more than a few lawyers who will line up eagerly to prosecute such a case.

I just love logical reasoning - and then there's the other kind. Maybe the government will think twice before ever instituting such a law in the future. When will we ever learn that you just can’t fool Mother Nature?

Spring Planting!

Spring has just about sprung here in the Deep South, and I'm so excited to get my garden going! Last year, my sister and I started out first garden. My father tilled up an area next to his gardens in his *big* field and was our expert "go to man" for gardening. At first he acted all cool about it, like it was just my sister and I's garden- he'd call and tell us we needed to come water it or weed it or whatnot. But as the season progressed, he got as excited as we did. He called it "our" garden (as in ALL of us ;)) and rode his lawnmower down EVERY day to look things over, pull any random weeds, and when it came time for harvest, to pick ripe vegetables. Our cup runneth over in yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes.

But my father's passion was the Green Beans. He made a HUGE production every year when his beans were ready and canned thousands of cans of them over the years. "PawPaw's Green Beans" were always a family favorite. Last year, it was our year for him to teach us the ins out outs of canning.

Just before the big bean harvest and canning, my father died.

So my garden this year is very important to me in so many ways. I believe in sustainability, and I've been working towards it as much as I can with my family. Growing our own food is a huge part of that. I believe in organics, but the price makes it somewhat difficult for my tiny budget. I think a garden is an excellent learning tool for children. But this year, most of all, I want to honor my Dad.

Last weekend, my sister tilled up one of his little beds, and we planted spinach, onions, and lettuce.

I'm going to get a little philosophical here, but here goes.... I believe that when you die your spirit joins the great everything. The everything in all of us. And because my father was so into his gardening, I think a lot of his energy is still in that soil. So for me, it HAS to be cultivated.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

This week I want to share part of a newspaper article that I have been saving for a few weeks. It is written by Jeff Opdyke, who covers personal finance for the Wall Street Journal.
He and his wife, Amy, moved back to South Louisiana, where they both grew up, but are considering moving again, and in the article he is ruminating over the reasons why things didn’t turn out as planned back “home.” The article's title is "There's No Place Like Home. Including Home."
...Then there’s the biggest reason: Home isn’t what it used to be.

People regularly dream of returning to the place where they grew up, where memories of family and friends are strongest, where they came of age. Or they dream of returning to that place where they first made it on their own - where they had their first job, where they first met their future spouse.
What we’ve learned over the past three years, though, is that home isn’t really about the place. It’s about a time. And for many people, going home again is an impossible quest to return to a life forged as a kid or a teen or a young adult. It is like one of those dreams where everything looks familiar, but nothing seems right.
...Amy also imagined our Louisiana life would be slower, because that’s how life was when she was here last, or when we visited. But, of course, our life - and the lives of our friends - are different than they were 20 years ago...Our older relatives need our help. To state the obvious: Life is different in your 30s and 40s than it was in your teens and 20s, no matter where you live.
“The Baton Rouge I left is a different world from what we have returned to,” Amy says...Perhaps most unsettling to Amy is that she envisioned our kids would know the childhood she and I had growing up in Baton Rouge, when we could ride our bikes all over the city or hang out in the street after dark playing with friends.
“That was really naive,” she says.... “I don’t know what I was thinking. We can’t let our son ride his bike around town like we did, and there’s no way I’m letting him run around the streets after dark with his friends.”

That article struck a chord with me. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s with the perfect childhood. Our mother still lives in the same house in which my sister and I grew up - with the exact same phone number I learned to memorize as a little girl. Now I live in Maine, but I get to go back to Memphis every couple of years or so, and every time reinforces in my mind how change is inevitable in life, not always for the better, and that, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again.”

I now stand on that porch on Josephine Street and look next door at an overgrown empty lot, which used to hold the house where the Danny Whitley (my first crush) and his annoying little brother, Chuck, used to live. Our backyard, which used to be so full of green grass and shady trees and a clothesline full of billowing sheets just right for a makeshift tent, is now just dirt, thanks to the destruction of a series of energetic dogs through the years. Some of the trees have been cut down because of age or disease. It’s impossible to explain to my kids or grandkids that in that corner of the front yard was the old mimosa tree, and on one side of the driveway grew the honeysuckle bushes and and on the other side next to the house grew the lovely rosebushes, our first stop on Mother’s Day, where we each picked a fresh red rosebud to wear to church. There was the sidewalk where we played hopscotch and roller-skated, over there was the area we played impromptu “softball” or badminton games, back there was the place our family cat was buried. Inside the house are more memories. This is the window someone always had to climb in when our parents accidently locked the family out of the house. Over there is where the piano stood; over here is where Santa used to leave his stash. And look - that tiny bathroom! Can you imagine a house with one bathroom?! For four people?! How did we ever manage?

Now Memphis is a high-crime city and Mother lives in that house by herself, where she has been burglarized and robbed and has to be home before dark.

It’s not just the familiar places and things, of course. The most gut-wrenching reality is that our loved ones are either going fast or are already gone. Our dad has been dead since 1980 (age 64) but I still tear up when I think that never again will I see him crouched in the front yard battling with the crabgrass, or sitting at the dining room table working on his stamp collection, or getting excited about seeing the latest batch of home movies, or checking our arithmetic homework, or getting out the AAA book to plan our annual family vacation. When I visit Memphis, I won’t get to see our grandfather, Paw-Paw, throw his cane up in the air and catch it. I won’t ever again get to listen to Aunt Bessie tell her story about her dog with his eye...well, I won’t go into that here. Never again will the five cousins get together and have fun, now that the youngest, Mike, passed away last year. My best friend, Bernie, died at age 49, so no more duets for us. Never mind that our childhood church burned down years ago - the people with whom we have forged friendships and shared our lives there are leaving us every year. Our mother’s best friend (and therefore a close family friend to us all our lives) has been hospitalized for several weeks and may never get to return to her house to live independently. The only neighbor on Josephine Street left from “the old days” is now mentally impaired, and our mom has become almost like a caretaker for her. Mother, who avoids talking about death at all times, even mentioned she is going to more and more funerals these days.

As much as I cry and long for those lost times and people and places, I can’t wish that time had stopped at a certain point. If I were 10 years old again, there wouldn’t be an Ed or Rachel or Matthew or Caroline or Charlotte in my life. There wouldn’t be a Sarah to make me weep with her generosity or a Chris to make me laugh with his stories. My sister and I have done what we were supposed to do - grow up and forge new lives. Life has never been so sweet and yet so full of loss. Yes, I can’t really go home. But home is in my heart, with its beloved buildings and pets and games, and most of all, the people I love, both here and gone, who have made my time on earth rich and sweet. Life will always carry its dual offering of celebration and grief. The inability to feel the loss would come with a heavy price - the inability to remember the happiness. And that’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

An article by my BFF ;)

Herbal Teas for Better Health by Leanne Holcomb

Herbal teas, as well as being pleasurable to drink, can be used as a preventative measure. If drunk regularly, they can help to tone and balance the body. The transition to herbal tea (from your regular caffeinated tea or coffee) can be gradual. Lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, apple mint, and peppermint all make incredibly delicious teas and also add lovely flavor to otherwise less than pleasant herbal preparations. Try to drink 3 cups of herbal tea every day, after meals (to prevent interference with gastric juices and hinder proper digestion). Sweeten your herbal tea with honey or sugar if you like. A slice of lemon or orange is another tasty addition. Here are a few common herbs for tea preparations, with associated indications.

Basil Leaves: Soothing cleansing, diarrhea, poor digestion.

Calendula: Indigestion, skin troubles.

Catnip Leaves: Headaches, restlessness, period pains, hyperactive children.

Chamomile Flowers*: Headaches, nervousness, & indigestion.

Chickweed*: Coughs, colds, weight problems.

Dandelion Leaves & Root*: Liver & kidney troubles, fluid retention, constipation.

Elder Flower: Chills, fever.

Fenugreek Seeds*: Cleansing, soothing, excess catarrh, increase breast milk supply.

Lavender Flowers*: Headache, nervousness.

Lemon Balm Leaves: Headache, insomnia, melancholy.

Lemon Grass: Skin troubles, high in vitamin A.

Mullein Flowers*: Coughs, inflammation.

Nettle Leaf*: Kidney trouble, fluid retention.

Oatstraw*: Dry, brittle hair & nails, excessive mucus.

Peppermint*: Flatulence, nausea, stomach cramps.

Plantain*: Colds, diarrhea.

Red Clover Flowers: Nervousness, cleanser, whooping cough.

Red Raspberry Leaves*: Profuse menstruation, great for pregnant and/or lactating mothers.

Rosehips*: Coughs, colds.

Rosemary: Circulation, nervousness, depression, headache.

Sage: Fevers, tonic, sore throat.

Thyme: Colds, indigestion.

Valerian*: Tension, headache, insomnia.

Yarrow: Colds, indigestion, fevers.

Basic herbal tea preparation instructions:
1 T. dried herbs
½ pint water
Place herb(s) into a non-reactive metal or enamel pot with a lid. Bring water to a boil; turn off the heat and pour the water over the herb(s). Cover the pot and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a non-aluminum strainer. Herbal tea may be enjoyed fresh and warm or chilled. Honey, lemon, or milk can be added, although milk tends to mask the delicate flavors. Refrigerated unused tea to prevent spoilage.

There are no definite rules for combining herbs in a tea mixture. Taste is a major priority! Aromatic herbs such as peppermint, fennel, mint, ginger, lemon balm and lemon verbena will all enhance the flavor of a bland tea such as oatstraw, or a bitter tea such as valerian (valerian has a VERY strong odor which is unpleasant to some).

*Considered safe in moderation for pregnancy and lactation. Always consult your professional herbalist or naturopath before consuming any herbs while pregnant.

This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to prescribe, diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. It should not substitute the advice or recommendations of your physician or health professional, nor should it replace prescription medications without proper supervision. You are encouraged to seek professional medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, naturopath or local professional herbalist, especially if you are pregnant, lactating, have a medical condition, or are taking prescription medication.

For more information about natural health/home/beauty/parenting, herbs, moon gardening and how to easily and inexpensively convert your household to eco-friendly, non-disposable cloth, visit Leanne and Melissa at http://www.herbaluna.com.

Article Source: Lady Pens

Still blowing bubbles...

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s political season. You can hardly turn on the TV without seeing another debate or press conference. Even if I hate everything a given candidate stands for, there’s something about a press conference that still arouses a little sympathy from me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to submit your life, opinions, record, intelligence or lack thereof, wisdom or lack thereof, to the press and therefore the public, willing (usually) to answer whatever questions that are submitted to you. All eyes are on you, every nuance in your speech is analyzed, every facial expression is scrutinized. If it’s an honest debate or press conference, you never know what embarrassing question is lurking around the next corner. You realize that a great many people are cheering you on, but maybe even more people are hoping you fall flat on your face, make some kind of grave gaffe, or be otherwise humiliated. It must be a very tough situation.

Given my reaction, it is all the more surprising that last night I dreamed I was holding a press conference of some sort - about my life. I was in a church somewhere and had been asked to give some kind of autobiographical lecture, then open myself to questions from the public. I was asked to bring along whatever scrapbooks or pictures or meaningful objects I had that might shed light on my life.

I even had a prop for this press conference. I had brought a toy “smoking” pipe that blew soap bubbles, and I had planned on saying, “I know this is a church, so I’m keeping my act clean,” then blowing a few bubbles. (Well, in my dream I thought it would relax my audience with a few laughs.)

In preparation for this great press conference, I had assembled my scrapbooks, etc., and had started to go over them to choose things of interest. I dreamed that I kept tearing out pages and pages, thinking, “No one would be interested in that.” “What’s so great about that?” “Nope, that’s only meaningful to me.” What had originally looked like a full and eventful life was reduced little by little into not much of anything.

When I awoke, I relived the dream vividly in my mind. I understood the frustration involved, the fear, the self-evaluation, but I couldn’t figure out the significance of the bubble pipe. It wasn’t there just for some kind of soap joke - I knew it had meaning and I wanted to discover it, because I learn a lot from my dreams (maybe more than in my waking moments) and I knew the pipe was the key to the whole thing.

Then I realized what I think my subconscious was trying to say. For 53 years, I’ve blown bubbles with my life. The bubbles have appeared as if by magic; some have taken time and patience to get to a gigantic, incredible size, some have been an average diameter but they may have been able to float through a beam of sunlight and capture just the right rainbow of colors, some have been small but have congregated in a strikingly lovely pattern, some have appeared promising but have popped before they reach potential, and some fizzled right at their initiation and failed to materialize at all. We all are blowing bubbles. When we take that breath and exhale into the pipe, we never know quite sure what will come out. Yet we all keep trying, keep blowing, doing the best we can, enjoying one bubble for its short life before it becomes just a memory, until finally the bottle is empty. Even when it’s officially empty, sometimes we can squeeze out just a final few bubbles. Each bubble is a surprise, each is unique, but each has a fragile, limited life span - and oh, we are certainly aware of that most of all.

Some employees at my hospital are trying to drum up interest for a talent show to bring some fun into this long, snowy, dreary winter. I said I’d sing a couple of arias, so in preparation I brought out my book, “Famous Soprano Arias.” For the first time, I noticed the graphic on the front. It is a full-page peacock, sporting its bright jewel-tone colors of royal blue, gold, and neon green. Then I laughed. That peacock, of course, is a male! Why did they put a male on the cover of arias for females? Did they think no one would notice the discrepancy? We’re so used to female divas in the operatic world showing off their talents that we forget the drab peahen is actually the female of the peacock world, not the dramatic male.

As I look over my life so far, I see these two striking metaphors. I’ve blown all sorts of bubbles with the mixed results described above. There were times I was the flashy, colorful peacock, but most of the time I was the dull, uninspiring peahen. Yes, a lot of it would be boring to most people, but I have to admit that some of it makes me a more interesting person for having experienced it. Take away any of the bubbles, big or little, grand or insignificant, and I would not be the person I am today.

One of the characteristics of humans that sets us apart from our animal friends is our ability to self-evaluate, to try to find meaning in our lives, and the innate desire to make the rest of our lives better, “improved” with each passing year (e.g., the annual New Year’s Resolution lists). Sometimes I worry that I evaluate myself way too much - but then, that very observation is a self-evaluation! Ha ha! I don’t need to hold a press conference to get peppered with questions. I ask the questions myself to myself - and believe me, I don’t spare any feelings. I ask the tough questions, the deep questions, and it can be a grueling process. But I feel somehow I come through the process more aware, less judgmental of others, and more excited about the rest of my life. My bubble bottle may be more empty than full, but I’m thrilled to be able to keep puffing away! And who knows - in a few years, those last bubbles may be the most spectacular of all!