Hey, ‘lil pumpkin!

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere…

As my paternal grandfather would say, “Hey, ‘lil pumpkin!”  His booming voice and hearty laugh still linger and while I have few memories of him, the ones I do have are strong, especially this time of year.  He grew up on a Texas farm, so planting was in his DNA. As a youngster, I remember growing pumpkins with my Pop Sam (Sr.) in his backyard. Although I’ve seen similar variations of it through the years, it was my grandfather, Pop Sam, who first shared with me the life advice from a pumpkin’s point of view:

Be well-ROUNDED.  ROLL with it. Grow a THICK skin. Enjoy the SONshine. CARVE out your goals. Stand out in your FIELD. Always PATCH things up. Be grateful for the HARVEST. Learn when to hold onto the VINE and when to let go. Add SPICE to your life…and always dream BIG!

Each October, he found something spiritual in the ritual of preparing a pumpkin/Jack-o-Lantern for each Halloween (something my dad did with his granddaughters as well!). From washing off the dirt and opening the pumpkin up to scooping out the inside “goop” to carve on a smiling face, he felt the pumpkin represented each of us in our unique ways. He reminded me how important it is to fill others with a warm, glowing light. He told me,“we all need to occasionally wash off the dirt in our lives and open ourselves up on occasion to scoop out the yucky seeds of doubt, greed, and more so our own inner light can shine better.” While I seriously wonder what he would say about our world today, I’m grateful for these seeds of sage wisdom and practical advice deep in my memory bank. May you and yours enJOY the harvest season and find gentle ways to shine your own light into our world…and may the glow be with you always!

What would Jane say?

As quirky as this may sound, the pandemic has provided unusual opportunities during the past several months for helping me cope with my anxiety in a variety of ways, a key one being my reading choices. Jane Austen and her body of work resurfaced in my world. While some consider her novels simple romantic escapism at the core, each novel, in fact, has much to say about perseverance and empathy. Reading them again at this point in my life surrounded in current events, experiences, sorrows, JOYs, and more to draw upon, her writing offers unexpected consolations. Looking beyond the preoccupation with love and romance (my 15-year-old self), and a layer of steel with a second layer of resilience is formed in her stories…and reading each novel again inspired me onward this past year.

Why should Jane’s novels be suited to our pandemic era? On one level, they seem to offer the perfect romantic escapism (similar to Bridgerton without the steam scenes). Dig deeper in her writing and you find she offers unexpected consolations. Her own life was a lesson in forbearance. She published six novels in a seven-year span and died at the age of 41 with unpublished pieces. Jane understood firsthand and lived most of her life with constant financial insecurity. As a woman with limited choices during England’s Regency time period, she felt trapped and surrounded by family friction and the constant overcrowding of psychological stress, even though she and her characters continued to “crack on” as expected. Austen showed families as imperfect, just like hers and ours. Her works spotlighted the reality behind the closed front doors of daily life.

Jane’s journey to actual publication was its own lesson in resilience and grit. With multiple rejections and fake promises, she carried forth. Her novel heroines reflected Jane’s own stoic perseverance and strength of character; self pity was not an option. Her characters emotionally grew during their challenging journeys, thus inspiring us during this time of uncertainty as we continue to re-evaluate what really matters. Characters adapted with a growth mindset, something our society in general must continue to pursue if we hope to survive. Life was, and still is, a constant process of change, of adapting to challenges, and accepting, while hopefully learning, from mistakes. Failure brought success…may it be so for us!

Personally, I think of Jane as a friend. She has been a part of my life well over a half century. Her particular kind of narration allows an intimate reading experience where I relax and find comfort in each of her novels. In fact, her works provide such emotional solace, I better understand why my father-in-law (who fought in WWII) read Jane on the front lines to his fellow soldiers. He told me, “If it was calming for the trench fighters in WWI and Prime Minister Churchill, it’s better for me.” My Granny B first introduced me to Jane. She claimed Austen’s works were read orally to her by her grandmother during the Pandemic of 1918.

As Lady Russell notes in Persuasion, “Time will explain.” We may not have all the answers or even the questions as this pandemic lingers, but there is hope. There is also a restorative power and slow-down effect in the rhythm of Jane’s words. The core of her writing for me is how she effortlessly comforts as she challenges us onward. She is poignant with her mixture of social satire and epiphanies. She embraces the dark and lonely aspects of life with lightness, gentle humor, and her signature touch. I cannot help by wonder if Jane were sitting next to me drinking a cup of tea what she would share about society and our families today. What, indeed, would Jane say?

Special note: A former professor of mine recently reached out to visit. This is lovingly dedicated to her in gratitude for her continuous wisdom, inspiration, and the challenge to what would Jane say…

Never Forget: 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago today, after my early morning message to our campus and my usual morning walkabout through hallways and classrooms, a relatively peaceful start to another school day commenced.  I made my way back to the front office in time to take a phone call from a parent who happened to be in NYC on business that day.  We visited briefly as he began to share the reason for his call.  During the course of our conversation, the landline crackled, there was a horrific explosive sound, and the call went dead. I attempted to call him back but nothing connected. The front office phones started ringing and all four landlines jammed. I remember a chilling, sinking feeling washing down my body (Granny called them “riggers”); our school was out in the country and something felt completely OFF. Little did we know…

In the course of working through the temporary moment of panic (we had no set protocols back in those days for lockdown or shelter-in-place), I decided to lock all the exterior doors of our campus in order to mitigate outside traffic.  The librarian caught me in the hallways as she wheeled a TV to the office and asked me to join her as we witnessed the second plane crashing into the other tower of the World Trade Center.  Before we could comment, the reporter broke in to share that the Pentagon was on fire and another plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. I alerted and updated teachers in person, asking them not to turn on TV or radio, but to teach and maintain a schedule while keeping email open for updates from me. My assistant principal and counselor stationed themselves at the front door so no one came in or out without ID. The office staff manned the non-stop phone calls and checked out students as parents arrived. Recess was forgotten that day. We got through the school day in a controlled, terrorized fog. Little did we know in those first moments of terror and uncertainty just how much all our lives would completely change.

While still in the midst of a global pandemic, we mark 20 years since this fateful day. Ironically, certain aspects and outcomes of this terrifying time in our history still resonate: All the children who will never see a parent again; all the families who have lost a loved one; all the individuals on the front lines of defense who have sacrificed themselves in order to assist and care for others; all the uncertainty and long-term effects for those who continue to struggle and search for answers… We see you and we hear you; may we never forget!

Likewise, a powerful image of hope emerges:  all those who sprint into action to assist; all the scientists, healthcare workers, front-line workers, researchers, and supporters continuing to work endless shifts for answers and cures; all the educators and parents teaching, working, and keeping the home fires going; all the small business owners investing in their communities while their communities invest in them; all those folks simply acting in supreme kindness day in and day out even in the darkest of moments (just like a complete stranger who made certain that dad in 2001 made it out of that first tower alive and home to an anxious family). We are beyond grateful; may we never forget!

With so much political divide, the constant barrage of ugliness in words and deeds in a 24/7 vortex, the resistance to needed change for centuries-long systemic issues, or, just simply being asked to wear a mask, get tested, or get a vaccine, we all need to STOP for a collective second and just breathe.  Breathe in and breathe out because we can.  Breathe in and breathe out to re-center our own humanity. We have life and so much more. One simple truth continues to prevail no matter our situation: there is always more uniting us than dividing us in this country.  We are still “one Nation, under God, indivisible; with Liberty and Justice for ALL…”  We are not here to BE right; we are here to get it right. We are here to DO the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. I know it; you know it. And on this particular Patriot’s Day, 20 years later (and every day), may we never, ever forget.


“Love is the real force motivating this next chapter of my journey, Bethy…” He spoke the words softly to me as he hugged me up before I left him in his new apartment alone for the first time. We were both being brave and stoic, yet our eyes were watering. We both understood how this next transition ensured his continued care, safety, and quality of life as he lives with Alzheimer’s. The transition is simple, just not easy.

Packing and stacking of belongings, arranging and organizing of spaces, laying out and labeling everything (thank you, H!) culminated in a smooth and successful move for Daddy into assisted living. Our coast-to-coast little family answered the call and gathered together for a few days to ensure all went well for everyone involved in this next transition. Pop relished in the attention, feeling the support, encouragement, and love in making this decision and then getting him settled properly, because, you know, we have requirements. 🙂

For the second time in my life, we travel this familiar path with a parent. Dad’s journey with this relentless disease is entirely different from mom’s journey. His progression and various turning points often pass quietly, yet we find ways to negotiate the transitions as they naturally occur. While we may have doubts at times, he literally continues to walk (with his cane) into the situation like it’s a sales meeting…and yes, he still works an entire room of strangers that way (just ask the men’s group leader). Another huge blessing is Daddy continues to maintain his amazing sense of humor, and this will carry him well in his new surrounding. He’s a natural talker and if he doesn’t know you or cannot remember your name, he just fakes it, says something funny, and invites your participation and input. His gift of gab and storytelling are present no matter the setting. In fact, I’ve been warned he’ll likely be the voted in as “mayor” before we know it. 🙂

Because we’ve been straight-forward and realistic about this overwhelming situation, it has helped all of us roll up our sleeves and get messy with the details when necessary. We’ve had the tough conversations about his finances, his health expectations, his final wishes, and more. He makes it clear what he expects. As he likes to say, “I haven’t forgotten; I just can’t remember…so when I forget, thank you for remembering for me.” We have his plan and will work his plan each step of the way, just as he clearly expects of us.

Alzheimer’s may be taking away the vibrancy of Daddy’s mind, but for now, we take it a step at a time with expert assistance as a new part of his team.  Make no mistake, his heart and soul continue to hold what his mind cannot. He reminds us in unique ways how some things in life cannot be fixed, but are shouldered with love, help, and strength of others. In his unique way he teaches us how to covet each day, each memory, each opportunity as he holds on, and in turn, lets go. It’s showing up and paying attention in the moment while not being wedded to the outcome.

Our home is quiet as I wander on his side of the house today. I am weary from the buried anxiety and stress of these last few years. I’m “feeling all the feels” as my daughter says. There is also profound relief from the controlling need to serve as “benevolent overlord major general” and daily cruise director. (I did this for 34 years before “retiring”). As I told a sweet friend yesterday, I am simply excited to just be my daddy’s daughter during this next chapter of his journey…and I venture to guess, he simply is too.

Like most of life, this transition is simple, just not easy. I lean into my faith, hope, and love. And just as daddy observed, love IS the most powerful force of motivation moving us onward during each transition of his journey…it really is simple, just not easy, my friends. May you be blessed and be a blessing to others.

Dogwood Trees

dogwood3As we walk the woods, the dogwood trees are emerging cautiously with their subtle blooms. I am reminded once again of the story my Granny B shared each spring, usually around Easter:

There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this.  In His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering, he said to it: “Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. It shall be slender and bent and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross…two long and two short petals. On the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember…”

This story had a huge impact on her throughout her lifetime as evidenced in her writings. The following poem, penned by her in 1934, was her version of the story:

In Jesus’ time a dogwood grew to a stately size and a lovely hue; 

Strong and firm its branches interwoven and for the cross of Christ, its timber was chosen. 

Seeing the distress at this use of wood, Jesus made His promise still holding good: 

“Never again shall the dogwood grow, so large enough to be used just so…

Slim and twisted it shall be, with blossoms like the cross for all to see;

As blood stains the petals marked in brown, and the blossom’s center with the thorny crown. 

All who see it will remember Me, crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree. 

Cherished and protected this tree shall be; a reminder to all of My agony.”

When Granny moved from her beloved Tennessee to Texas in 1955, she brought a clipping of a beautiful dogwood tree for replanting in her new yard as a powerful reminder each spring of the legend, and of His grace in our lives.  Happy Easter, friends…be blessed and be a blessing to others. 🙂

Dear Mrs. Cleary,

It goes without saying, but I will, how much your body of work affected my literary world and eventually my life’s work since that first day I picked up Henry Huggins to read with daddy. He took my sis and me to the public library one Saturday morning while momma was rehearsing a cantata and asked the librarian where he might find a quiet place to introduce us to his favorite childhood friend, Henry. She led our little trio to the treasured area where all of your books in print at that time (1968) were shelved and displayed in all their glory next to your picture. My eyes grew large looking at this collection of treasures. REAL “chapter” books (I was five, so this was BIG)! Daddy sat at the little table and read Chapter One softly to whet our appetite…this daddy of mine who traveled for a living but spent Saturdays with his two girls reading in a library and drawing a little crowd in the process. I was allowed to check out two books that morning, a first for me and my library card. Henry, Beezus, Ribsy, and Ramona became my new literary friends, taking me on adventures, talking like I did with my own friends, and so much more. Ralph S. Mouse from The Mouse and the Motorcycle helped me through my own illness a couple of years later, and instead of momma giving me medicine, I imagined Ralph delivering the pills on his motorcycle while I slept. Ramona The Pest (a minor character before then) finally stepped into the spotlight that year on her own as a curious, enthusiastic, disruptive and unruly heroine of children’s literature on level with Jo March, Harriet the Spy, and other untidy gals who balked at the status quo. I may…or may not…have received a consequence for squeezing and decorating my own bathroom sink with an entire new tube of toothpaste (all in the context of experimentation, mind you), but then my sister decided she would paint the walls with it. Oh the stories, the drama, and the fun of your true life-like children in real-world situations and play… You, and your books, were and will always remain a remarkable influence in my literary world…and we even made an “A” on a college research paper or two together.

In my classroom, your books were often read-aloud choices where we paused a few moments each day to gather as a group and simply enjoy the gift of storytelling. Your books allowed many of my students to experience more simple joys, pleasures, challenges, and triumphs of childhood, no matter the time or place. Most of the students I had the honor of teaching for several years came from backgrounds very different than the neighborhood children and stories you shared, yet they identified and relished in the real childhood elements of life. Your stories demonstrated hope while giving a voice to the hearts of my students. Your soft, genuine, and respectful way with language and childhood conversations, even on the toughest adult issues like money, divorce, and loss, presented an opportunity for us to talk about ways to grow into our greatness with respect, compassion, and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. You took the ordinary and added that little something “extra” for the ultimate experience or remarkable adventure. You challenged our critical thinking by showing us how problem solving (and I’m not talking calculus here) is really our life’s work. Most gratefully though, you helped me demonstrate to my learners how reading is pleasurable and “not just something that teachers make you do in school.”

I will miss your voice, your wisdom, and your words in the writing world. As Leigh Botts observes in Dear Mr. Henshaw,I feel sad and whole lot better at the same time…” knowing your library of characters, problems, solutions, conversations, and words of love and hope in 42 books with over 85 million copies printed in 29 languages leaves us a legacy of stories to savor for generations to come. As you yourself once observed: “I think children like to find themselves in my books because the emotions of children I write are universal.” Dearest Mrs. Cleary…yes, and thank you.

Dose of Hope

She spoke the required phrases, asked the critical questions, and verified the risks and consequences of what I was about to do.  She looked directly into the eyes of my masked face and smiled while clarifying one more time, “Are you ready to do this? It’s finally your turn now!” I’ve been through childbirth, surgeries, countless medical procedures, chemotherapy, and too many pokes and prods to count, but this was somehow different. This was working to save not only my life, but those around me. This was barely out of a research lab with rapid trial studies. This was being injected into my body with the intention of starting an immune response war. This was my first physical dose of hope.

An emotional release from the past year rippled through my entire body as she prepped my arm for the injection. I thought about my grandmother who lost her mom during the 1918 pandemic and carried a homemade cloth covering for her mouth and nose in her pocketbook until the day she died. I flashed-back to the time I lined up with my first grade class in the school gym for my first polio cube (something us “boomers” understand and never take for granted).  I remembered my friends and family infected and forever affected by the virus and the outcomes in this past year.  I pondered the vast interruptions of daily lives and how everything was stirred-up the world-over. I reflected on the millions of lives lost around the world to something few saw coming and the families still grieving. I considered my overwhelming gratitude for the remarkable amount of collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem solving in the past year being injected into my muscle, and the tears flowed in relief and hope. As my nurse attached the bandage, she wept with me.

This past year of pandemic mayhem with quarantine, anxiety, fear, sadness, loneliness, loss, and so much more, is about to turn a corner, at least for some. While this first shot will not cure everything, it gives a new dose of hope moving forward for my family. I realize how fortunate I am to receive it. I realize everyone cannot or may not choose to take a vaccine. All I control are my personal attitude and effort, and both were celebrating in silent tears of relief through a dose of hope.

Washington Irving said it like this: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…” 

May these unexpected tears of overwhelming relief from this first dose of hope power me onward. May the emotional release and the strength of this first dose begin shifting all the unfamiliar of this collective experience into a new familiar filled in love.  May we all find little ways to help one another move forward, assisting and sharing our burdens and blessings, as we begin to emerge and rebuild on the other side. And for today, may I breathe easier as I nurse this sore arm, be kind to my fighting body and exhausted mind, and thank the angels sent my way to see me through the pandemic wilderness. And may you find and thank your angels too; may you be blessed and be a blessing of love to others, my friends. 🙂

Little things in great Love…

Some days, my greatest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut; not gonna happen today.  Texas…my beloved home state, the place of my birth and raisin,’ where my family roots run deep and wide, and where a piece of my heart forever remains, is in need. Lives have been lost, properties destroyed, homes in every neighborhood in every town have been without basics for nearly a week.  Infrastructure has failed and repair timelines remain unknown.  Basic things like drinking water and warmth are scarce.  As my Grandpa might say about now:“Good gracious sakes’ alive…it’s the largest Texas blue-norther on a team of wild Mustangs chasing a herd of fence-busting Longhorns hell-bent for the open range I’ve ever seen.”     

Texans are hardy folks, y’all; bold, daring, and built sturdy and strong in body and spirit to endure. Their Texas-sized sense of purpose, passion, great pride, and resilience runs fathoms deep.  Whether you hail from the north, south, east, or west of the Great State of Texas, you are a Texan, first and foremost. Texans live tried-and-true by the state motto decreeing us “The Friendly State;” we never meet a stranger. Right now, most Texans are likely plum wore-out.

While the images on national news stories this past week show the profound devastation, loss, and despair, some are finally beginning to focus on those stories of altruistic deeds. Take the iconic Texan, Mattress Mack, opening his doors in Houston once again to anyone seeking shelter and some warmth. Convention centers, sanctuaries, school gyms, and stadiums are shifting from vaccine sites to shelters so Texans have safe, warm places to land.  Texans are driving taco and other food trucks on inches of ice to deliver hot meals and drinking water in communities.  Neighbors are looking after neighbors, checking on each other, huddling up together, and finding creative ways to survive this freakish crisis. The acts of love and kindness grow on and on, but they might need some help and may be too humble or proud to out-right ask for it.

What can we do to help?  In my faith and daily living, I’m called to serve…to do little things with great love. GIVE friends; just give. Give time, money, energy, resources. Give to a TX Mutual Aid fund of your choice working on the ground at this moment. Place local contact information on your social media feed with numbers for those seeking help. Reach out to friends and family in some way to check in and let them know you love them. It’s not much in light of so much disruption, suffering, despair, and more, but it’s something little given in great love. It’s not much when others are cold, exhausted, and hungry, but it’s a place to start. Goodness and grace, happiness and hope, comfort and compassion…these are the warm fuzzies of everyday life. Little things, yes, but given in great big Texas-sized love.

And to my many Texas friends and family members still enduring this storm and processing the task of recovery, please remember no matter what any of us face in life, we can and will endure because we are not alone. Spring and bluebonnets are coming. All y’all keep on your warmest boots and gear, get back on that wild Mustang, and ride like the wind knowing you are not alone!  Be blessed and continue being a blessing to others, y’all. 🙂

How’s the view?

I hung up the phone from a difficult conversation and wanted to scream some not-so-nice words. A text with a picture suddenly appeared. It was my sister on top of a mountain trail (“Look at this view!”); and in an instant, my attitude shifted.

It’s no secret I enjoy hiking, especially with my sister. We have racked up many miles through our years on foot with some stunning scenery, unique experiences, and funny stories along the way.

As little girls, we hiked with our dad in the summers while on family vacation at the same working ranch in the Rockies of Colorado.  Before each trail hike, we always looked up in awe of the daunting task ahead wondering if our momentum, lungs, and little chicken legs would get us to the top (and, let’s be honest, excited to see what snack daddy would have for us at the top too). Of course, when we reached the top, taking in the view, eating our snack, and basking in our accomplishment, our perspectives grew in greater confidence. Daddy innately understood why we needed to climb a mountain every now and then; it was his quiet way of teaching us about life’s challenges and hardships. When we climbed mountains, we faced hurdles, obstacles, and problems to solve while on the trail using our attitude, effort, and strength.  We experienced first-hand how these same personal super-powers on each mountain hike are ever-present within us as we overcome challenges in everyday life.

2021 so far, at least for me, feels like another ginormous mountain after the year formally known as 2020. The view, to this point in the year, is not so pleasant.  Please understand…I’m grateful to be safe, well (so far), and have the resources to be home to assist and care for my dad full-time while keeping our pod moving forward each day in hope. We keep a routine, wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance (even on walks and hikes), and find simple ways to be kind to our minds.  But after nearly twelve months of quarantine at the High-Risk VanAmVilla (where, like the Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”), this is beginning to wear-and-tear on all of us, y’all! But when we stop a moment, take a deep cleansing breath, and start again with baby steps, we realize we DO have the personal super-powers to keep on climbing.  After all, the mountain, no matter how big it is (and we sometimes swear it’s growing), is no match for our faith and desire to successfully climb it.  Attitude, effort, and personal strength are everything in life (and in climbing mountains). Mountains are meant to be climbed. Diseases are meant to cured (and I’m waiting patiently for my vaccine turn). Wounds are meant to be healed.  Problems are meant to solved.  All are critical learning experiences; some in sorrow and sadness and others in success and JOY. I have to think this pandemic mountain serves a higher purpose in making us stronger, wiser, resilient, grace-filled, and hopeful…physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we often can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we see and climb the mountains in our life. We can look at the mountains as being in the way or as THE WAY to personal growth and success (or as momma would sing to remind me to, “bloom and grow forever”). We always have a choice. We can stand at the bottom overwhelmed and initially defeated, or we can dig down deep in our resourceful well and find the very best way within ourselves to climb onward as we encourage one another. Here’s my hand reaching out to assist and here’s to each of us who are finding clever ways to fearlessly hike the mountains in our paths on this journey. Just know I’m singing and hiking beside you.  Continue to be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. 🙂

Reflection for the new year…

In a few hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for the new year.  WHEW; truly remarkable in light of our collective experiences during 2020.  There is little to say as we continue to synthesize it all while looking forward.  After all, the history of each of us has always been in our stories, and 2020 definitely gave us unique ways of crafting and sharing our stories.  Missing traditional celebrations or beautiful moments with family and friends, not being able to hug and comfort each other in person in times of grief or triumph…these created relentless emotions and something I trust none of us will take for granted ever again.  Personally, I’m a hugger and my inability to physically connect with others through a hug is devastating; ZOOM and FaceTime just don’t do it, y’all (and y’all better get ready for us huggers when it’s safe)!  As my momma would remind me, “no gift, especially a hug, is too small or simple to give or receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.”

The Scottish phrase “auld lang syne” literally means “old long since” or for “old time’s sake.”  After MUCH reflection during 2020, this new year in particular offers sacred opportunities to take the wisdom and experiences of this past year “for old time’s sake” forward as we build on its foundational lessons for a stronger future. The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of our experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.

So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2021 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, encourage one another, forgive with grace, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, share softer answers, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers through your mask with your shining eyes, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, help carry burdens, cherish inner dreams, learn a new skill, be bendable but not breakable, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore options, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward; and hope, my friends, constantly and gratefully prevails in all our daily humanness.

Challenging paths and trails often lead to the most beautiful of places, so may the new year bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love. And as always, may you be blessed and be a blessing, friends.  Happy New Year! 🙂