My Faith In Humanity Restored Through Ballet (Stories Of The Camp Fire)

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Last night I had the privilege of attending the ballet and what an evening it was! Sure, the story was slightly delayed for the season but out of the ashes the most famous ballet in the world arose in all its glory, tradition, and pageantry in a borrowed theatre here in Northern California. And the story of how this production came to be is perhaps better than the beloved Nutcracker itself… because in this story my faith in humanity was restored.

Now I am not a huge fan of ballet. I don’t often attend performances.  Since I am a writer, I am a lover of words, and without those sometimes my attention strays making ballet somewhat problematic. Needless to say, attending what I thought was going to be an “amateur” performance; I suspected the night might be filled with pokes and prods to keep me awake. Was I ever wrong.

Last night I discovered the Northern California Ballet. Since 1983 it has been producing full-length classic ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. Besides production, the studio has also taught hundreds of children dance skills that have led some to professional dance careers. It is a mighty place full of hope, dreams, and plain old hard work. There are no slackers, slouches or amateurs here!

As the holiday season was fast approaching Northern California Ballet was rehearsing their version of The Nutcracker when disaster hit. On November 9, 2018 the Camp Fire swooped through the town of Paradise killing 85 and wiping out the majority of this close-knit community. It goes on record as the deadliest fire in California history. But that is just the beginning of the horror. In addition to all the lives lost, almost 14,000 homes went up in smoke and so did the studio and storage shed belonging to the Northern California Ballet. With such a fast-moving fire no one had time to save anything. NOTHING. The kids no longer had clothes, school supplies, or a warm bed. They no longer had the comfort nor the routine of dance. Gone were their ballet costumes and their dreams of dancing on stage…or so they thought. Yet, when hardship and devastating circumstances arise somehow folks find the strength to fight back and find a way to turn tragedy into triumph which is exactly what Northern California Ballet did. And last night it showed. The dancers were talented, elegant and polished. They danced with real joy radiating from their faces. The world was their oyster and they were the pearls.

How did they accomplish so much in so little time? Just plain dedication and hard work. But an even more important ingredient was the global ballet community in general. As it turns out companies from all over the world donated costumes, backdrops and props. The Eugene Ballet Company, dancer Angela V Carter’s costumes from Ballet New England’s productions, and both large and small studios from Iowa to Florida found ways to give to their sister in need while volunteers sewed and stitched late into the night. And so, a vital community resource went from a studio of smoke and ashes to an on-stage performance in just a little over two months. Now that is what I call dedication. I also call it a miracle.

In addition to the dance itself music was provided by a live orchestra hiding out in the orchestra pit. These musicians were also from Paradise and many had lost their homes in the fire and their precious instruments as well. Yet, somehow they managed to come together (borrowed instruments and all) and play magnificently. Watching a ballet performed to live music instead of tape is an honor these days and I felt blessed to do so.

By coincidence I went to Paradise last week. It was my first trip up there since the fire. The devastation is immense. Unless you have survived living in a war zone you have probably never seen anything like it. It is shocking. It is horrific. It is incredibly sad.

 

Yet, after tonight’s performance by Northern California Ballet, I have hope for this world. People are amazing. Their resilience astounds me. Their fight to rise again gives me hope. Kids who dedicate themselves to their craft no matter what are inspiring. And the generosity of an arts community to their sister in need are exactly the kinds of acts of compassion and love that the world needs to see.

So fear not and have hope. There are heroes walking amongst us and tonight they were all on stage at The Nutcracker for the world to see. I wish you could see them too.

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Please visit the Northern California Ballet site to learn more. http://www.northerncaliforniaballet.com/?page_id=33

Also, they could use your financial help. Here is their GO FUND ME page. I hope you will give generously.

https://www.gofundme.com/small-ballet-studio-destroyed-in-paradise-fire?member=&utm_source=sendgrid&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=contacts-v2-invite-to-donate

 

Gone Forever…Happy Birthday Mom

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Today would have been my mother’s 84th birthday. She only lived to celebrate her 50th.

For years I was sure that I would not live to see my 50th birthday (we had the same freckles, you know). I spent my 50th year in mild fear, fairly certain I would not live to celebrate my 51st or see my children reach adulthood. After I reached my 51st birthday plus one day, I calmed down. It was if making that milestone lifted most of my fears about dying young. I was relieved and it showed.

My mother died of lung cancer. She never smoked a day in her life. I just had genetic testing down which showed I was at a greater risk of lung cancer. Same with my oldest daughter. And while it is a little disconcerting I am glad to know about this increased risk so I can do the things that are necessary to watch for any early signs that may come along. Lung cancer is cruel and I will do what I need to in order to try and beat the odds of ever having it.

My mom died young. Besides all the wisdom I missed out on it still saddens me that she never knew my husband nor seven out of her eight grandchildren. She never had the opportunity to be the mother of the bride at both of her daughter’s weddings. We never shared adult stories nor did we get to explore what an adult relationship between the two of us would look like. I wonder what she would have said about how I have lived my life and what advice she would have given me concerning my marriage. I wish I knew. I would give just about everything I own to find out. Funny how her opinion is still so important.

When I see mothers and daughters at odds with each other it saddens me. I wish they could understand that there is a hole that opens up in your heart when you no longer have a mother to shop with, eat with, or share stories with. Thirty four years later the missing still hurts. Thirty four years gone and I still wish i could call her and have a few heart-to-hearts. I wish I could smell her perfume and see her in that green dress again. I would love to hear her sing and play the piano for my family. Just once.

Those of you with moms still on earth… try to be kind. Treat them well. It is hard being a mom and trying to live up to all the expectations society puts on mothers…having: perfect kids, pies, hair, gorgeous body, happy husband, no wrinkles, Able to: cook, change her own oil, keep a household running and looking magazine cover ready at all times, be a sex pot and a taxicab driver… all at the same time.

Most of all call your mom…today. You never know for sure if you will ever see her again. Treat her as if you won’t.

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Batman And Other Fine Creatures

Sometimes, when we least expect it, something happens that forever changes the dynamics of your family. In our case, it appears to be Batman.

On Halloween, son #3 was outside trying to hand out candy to the local youth. Since we recently moved here we went all out to ensure we could meet local demands and based the quantity of candy needed on our old neighborhood numbers. We bought 600 pieces. This was a mistake of epic proportions.

We had ONE trick-or-treater. ONE. This, of course, means that I must personally consume the other 599 pieces within one week in order to ensure that said candy does not expire. At this point I will need to eat 300 pieces tomorrow and 299 the next day. But who is complaining? According to my calculations to burn off this amount of candy I will need to stay at the gym until the last of my still-in-the-nesters reach 18…and that is another four years. Good luck, Dad! It’s my turn to stare at the buns now!

Anyway, besides the lone costumed candy kid, there was one more creature that hit our driveway on Halloween night. As related by son #3, he decided it was time to take a look around after hearing strange noises as he sat waiting for the other 599 children to show up at our door. Imagining spooks, grim reapers, and the like out for his head; son #3 was pleasantly surprised to find this creature of the night which was immediately brought inside and cuddled.

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According to the vet he is 5 weeks old and very healthy for a wild kitten. He weighed in at 15.5 ounces and his vocal cords are very busy. Due to all of his “talking” there has been a divide in our home as one contingent wants to name his Chairman Meow while the other insists that Batman be his moniker due to the pointy ears and the fact he is nearly all black. But this isn’t the only issue facing our young feline friend.

I have always believed that you are either a cat person or a dog one. I grew up with cats but when I was old enough to have a home of my own; canines became my companion of choice. But then this cat shows up completely unannounced and uninvited. For our boxer mix this cat is a menace and because of his DNA he likes to chase and kill small rodents. It is obvious that he considers Batman is of that ilk (small rodent) and his proudest moment would to be to serve Batman up on a platter as a nice tasty dinner for his human friends. Obviously, perspective is everything.

The other hurdle we have to overcome is Paul’s previously severe allergy to cats. Thus far, it appears that the weekly allergy shots for seven years are paying off. There are no itchy red eyes, swollen faces or sneezing going on here.

So for now, like it or not, it appears that Batman is here to stay. Doors are now shut to keep dog from cat and cat from kid. Earplugs are worn to keep us from hearing Chairman Meow’s views on everything under the sun. So while this cat issue remains up in the air for now one thing no longer is. Next year I am making everyone stay indoors on Halloween.

 

 

 

Who Are You And What Do You Stand For?

I could write something profound and meaningful about the question of who are you and what do you stand for. Always an important question in my book but one I will leave for others to debate. Today, I want to ask you the questions in regards to art. Precisely, designing your own coat of arms.

Several weeks ago I wrote about how my therapist has been encouraging me to paint. I am not good at it but I am finding that it is getting those “after his affair/almost divorce” feelings exposed in a way that is finally helping me to examine them and let them go. Who knew?

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This week I decided to take on a new project. I am designing my own coat of arms. I was inspired to do so, believe it or not, because of Meghan Markel and her now husband, Prince Harry. Seems that when they married they needed to have a coat of arms designed for their household. A big task to say the least. It is said that Meghan took great pains to make sure that emblem represented who she is and where she came from. As such, California figured predominately. First, she incorporated the state’s flower, the California poppy. In addition, the blue background on the shield represents the Pacific Ocean and the yellow rays across it come from “The Sunshine State” logo.  She also acknowledged her own power of communication through the open beak of the song bird and the quill.

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In designing my own pennon, I have looked hard at myself. Who am I? What do I believe? What do I love? What represents my authentic self? And for the past week I have been designing my crest.  I am not ready to share yet but I will share with you some of the symbolism that I have incorporated.

  1. The first thing you would notice on my coat of arms is the Phoenix rising which signifies that I have arisen from the flames a winner having beaten life’s challenges and defeating the hard times. It is a concrete symbol of my rebirth as a person, female, wife and mother. Around the neck of the Phoenix is a heart with a number in the center which is meaningful to me.
  2. Instead of a traditional crest I have used an open book with symbols of what I believe contained within the pages. This works because I am an open book and share openly and freely. I also love to read and write.
  3. Within the pages of the book is the earth meaning I am a traveler and a person who sees all people as being in and on this planet together. There is also a musical note…self explanatory. The scale of justice sits high upon the crest because of my believe that we are the same and therefore the scales should be balanced for all equally. A pen representing my writing career also has its place. A symbol of Korea is also represented since the country has played such a major role in my life. And there is a very large ? showing that I am a seeker as well as a person who questions everything.

Needless to say, designing this coat of arms has been an interesting process. It has helped me clarify some things and made me look hard at what I value. Further, I have tried to approach this design as my 26th Grandfather must have approached his. Seven hundred years later his crest still stands embedded within the doorway outside of his castle reminding all that enter what his life stood for. I want my coat of arms to be the same… a testament to my great-grandchildren of just who I was and what I stood for.

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My 26th Great Grandfather’s Coat Of Arms At Craigmillar Castle

Self-Improvement

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Several weeks ago an older woman walked up to me and told me that she really liked how I talked to my son. I was shocked because I did not feel that I had done a good enough job to merit that type of praise. In fact, as I often do, I felt as though I had “kind-of-sort-of failed” in my response.

Later as I reflected on the moment I thought, ” Why, if a stranger can be so kind to me, then why is it so difficult for me to be kind to myself? Why do I seem to negate recognizing the good that I do each day? Why is it I always feel the need to do better?”

As I have contemplated this the last several weeks I have realized that I often end my day examining those things that I feel I have failed or done a less than spectacular job at according to some invisible standards I hold for myself. And so, I have been contemplating and asking myself: where did these standards even come from and what makes me give them the validation that they so often don’t deserve?

In response to this, I have begun a nightly ritual in an effort to change this part of my life. Upon laying down in bed at night, I hug myself tight, and make a mental list of all the things I did right that day and if I am in doubt about one of them I give myself a win anyway. At the end of this recap I am write down the improvements I have seen in myself as a way to encourage myself as I take this journey through life. I give myself the chance to see the positive through a lens of critical assessment that I have lived with for a very long time. At times, It has been difficult to see positive change because I am so used to being harsh with myself, but little by little, even though I may fall short of my “invisible standards;” I am finding instances in which I deserve my own pat on the back even though I have not behaved perfectly. And I find, that when I wake in the morning I seem to be much more optimistic than I had previously been.

Often newly married couples are given the advice not to go to bed mad at each other because it leaves a sour taste in your mouth the next morning. The same could be said of ourselves. Going to bed with negative thoughts begets negativity in the morning. So try noticing your good points and successes throughout the day and run through the list before retiring for the night. You might just find you sleep sounder and wake up feeling refreshed.

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What Is Right With Me

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So often in life we concentrate on what is wrong with us – the things we cannot do, our shortcomings and our foibles. We examine our “issues” so often that we can recite them in our sleep and as the list grows sometimes it feels like there is so much “wrong” that we don’t know what we can possibly do to change what we have told ourselves is “fact.” So what if today, we changed things up a bit and decided to concentrate on all that is “right” with us. How would that influence our beliefs about ourselves and make a “so-so” day into one that shines and puts little skip in our steps.

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Here is my list for today in no particular order. I would love to see yours in the comments section.

  1. I am a good researcher. I find things others can’t.
  2. I am a good friend. I can keep a secret better than anyone.
  3. I am interested in others lives and enjoy being attentive to their experiences.
  4. I am interesting. I have a breadth of knowledge about many things and I try to keep up with current events.
  5. I am a fierce Momma Bear and advocate for my children and march on in my efforts when others would have given up.
  6. I fight for the things that I love.
  7. Family is important to me and I try to make sure that those I love know that they are valued and loved by me.
  8. I love to travel, meet people, and learn from my experiences.
  9. If a puzzle needs to be solved I am your gal.
  10. I am not afraid to walk up to a person and start a conversation.
  11. I am fun and do the unexpected like take photos of my friends who could not attend our group event, blow their pictures up, staple them to sticks, and carry them through the city with me photographing them at places like the CHEERS BAR in Boston.
  12. I am smart.
  13. I recognize and honor my intuitiveness.
  14. I work hard when something needs to be done.
  15. For the most part I am content with what I have and have no need to “keep up with the Joneses.”
  16. I know how much that I really don’t know.
  17. I am compassionate with loved ones and strangers.
  18. I am a good writer.
  19. I try to stay in touch with others and send cards and letters to others so that they know that they are on my mind.
  20. I work hard at preserving my family history so that my family can learn from our past.
  21. I am able to self-hypnotize so that I can quickly relax and get to a peaceful state of mind.
  22. When I do get down in spirit I work hard to lighten the load so I can return to a place of happiness.
  23. I do small things for myself (like a warm candle-lit bath) on a regular basis.
  24. I read on a regular basis.
  25. I exercise often.
  26. I am a seeker
  27. I sing well.
  28. Integrity is important to me. I try hard to be fair and honest.

Hopefully after making this list you too will see that there is so much good in and around you that when things become challenging you can whip out your list and give yourself a boost to face the coming day. We all have our gifts which need to be acknowledged and celebrated far more often than we do. In remembering what is good about ourselves we can offer it to others or wrap those things around our own selves like a blanket on a cold rainy day. For knowing ourselves gives us the ability to live freely so that what we do aligns with who we are. Amen!

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Beets And Betty Davis Eyes

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BEETS

Several years ago, in preparation for an upcoming trip to Scotland, I started working ernestly on our family trees and found we are related to many Kings and Queens from France, England, the Netherlands, etc. Needless to say this has provoked many interesting conversations around our house.
Andre: Beets? Beets? You know I don’t like beets.
Me: You are going to have to try them. They will taste great.
Andre: I know what happened to the kings in our family
Me: What
Andre: Their mothers fed them beets
Me: Eating beets has never killed anyone
Andre: Want to make a bet? I bet if you analyzed their stomach contents you would find beets.
Me: Why Do you think that?
Andre: Anything can be hidden in beets
(Not to be outdone) Paul: Yeah the color hides everything
Andre: I am sure they were poisoned with beets
Me: Doubtful. Who would want to poison them?
Andre: Their mothers
Me: WHATTTTTTTTT?  Mothers would not poison their children.
Andre: Oh yes they would
Me: Come on, Andre. You are letting your imagination run away with you
Why would a mother do that?
Andre: Because they want the power.
Me: What?
Andre: Women didn’t have power and they wanted it. It’s been that way through history. Mothers always want to find a way to control their children. You can’t deny it can you?! And beets were the way to power.
Me: You will still be eating your beets.
Andre: Drats. I thought this little history lesson would change my history with beets.
Me: No way, dude.

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BETTY DAVIS EYES

The things your kids share with you in the car.
Andre: I think it would be awesome to be able to read someone’s mind.
Me: Why is that
Andre: Because you could do all sorts of wonderful things for them like buy them the puppy they have always wanted.
Me: Andre, you are the one who wants a puppy
Andre: I’m just saying…you know there would be one time when it wouldn’t be so good to know what someone is thinking.
Me: When would that be?
Andre: When they are sitting on the toilet going to the bathroom. I mean the things that go through your mind when you are on the toilet…well they are just not things you want others to know
Me: Is that why you spend 30 minutes at a time in the bathroom?
Andre: Might be

 

Middle Age Sweat

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In the past six weeks I joined a gym and while exercising is not at the top of my “fun things to do” list, it is slowly getting bearable. I try to do at least two miles on the elliptical and then at least a 1/2 hour of weights five days a week. I also hired a personal trainer who I meet with once a week to give me ideas of new things to try with my various medical issues that make exercising a little more challenging. And while I have lost a bit of body fat already I have to confess that this exercise thing is really not my cup of tea. Why? Because of sweat.

I HATE sweat. For most of my life my body has refused to sweat no matter how hard I worked it and frankly; I liked that. IMHO, sweaty people are gross. While B would have sweat pouring down his face and dripping in his eyes during the most mundane of household projects; I would look and smell like I had just stepped out of the shower. But not any more. Recently I have discovered that with old age comes sweat. Not the menopausal “TURN DOWN THE AIR CONDITIONING” kind of sweat but the honest to goodness stinky sweat that antiperspirant companies make a mint off of. Frankly, I hate it. These days doing two miles on elliptical makes my hair sweat and my eyelashes too. YUCK! To me that water is far worse than exploding diarrhea oozing out of a baby’s diaper!

These days when this nearing 60 body works out; I look like a linebacker with sweat under my arms, dribbling down my back, and sloshing between my boobs. When I sit on the seat of the quad weight machine, a sweat line from my butt appears with two flabby cheek imprints on said seat, which requires me to have to position myself in such a way that allows me to quickly grab the disinfectant to spray down the seat before anyone notices. I almost killed myself doing this maneuver several times and today I almost took out a line of jazzercisers who were prancing around near by. For me, avoiding sweat at all costs is almost as dangerous as raising my heart rate to my target zone.

I don’t see what is so special about sweat. I know a lot of men who equate sweat as akin to having sex…it is something to strive for at all costs. Yet, I have always avoided it to the point of refusing to watch those movie love scenes where the bed sheets end up looking like a swimming pool. I mean, who wants to slide around on someone else’s recently released bodily toxins anyway? Not me. And further, since the government always wants to get into our business, shouldn’t OSHA have some sort of fact sheet posted in all bedrooms so consumers know what environmental hazards we are being exposed to when sweaty skin to skin contact occurs? Shouldn’t the EPA be instructing us whether to use bleach or plain old soap after being sweat contaminated?

As you can tell, sweat is a subject that gets me all hot and bothered. It also almost deters me from grunting, running, and lifting on a daily basis. But I have hope that I can cure this aversion because today when I was gyming; I met a sweaty woman who has lost over 100 pounds. Her story was inspiring and awesome. And as the sweat soaked through her bra and down her back as she was telling me about how she lost that weight she said, “it’s no sweat off my back to come in and work out everyday. It’s really just fat off my middle.”

“Wow,” I thought. “What a strong and amazing woman…such a great attitude. She really has it all together.”

And then she stuck out her hand to shake mine. I swear that I almost broke out in a sweat at the thought of her sweaty palm touching mine.

“Oh what the hell,” I admonished myself. “Time to stop sweating the small stuff.”

And with that, I stuck out my hand and clasped hers in mine, upon which which we both quickly wiped our hands on our towels and started laughing at the near mirror images of distaste written all over our faces .

“I hate sweat,” she said.

“Me too,” I answered.

And as I walked away, I decided if she could get over her distaste for sweat enough to lose 100 pounds then I could push myself a little harder in the days and weeks to come… right after I get some antiperspirant that I can rub all over my body to minimize all that pent up middle age sweat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare Days

Some days just turn out better than you think they will. B went home with two of the kids while Andre stayed with me. This can be a bit of a challenge because basically Andre likes to be left alone…completely alone. Here we are at the ocean basking in the coolness of the water’s fresh breeze and Andre just wants to stay in his room all day. As a person with autism, finding a spot to feel comfortable is his main priority. Dealing with people and the newness of places and situations are the crux in his craw. I did manage to get him to walk along the cliffs one afternoon but he complained the entire time and made the trip somewhat miserable. He does that when he is doing something he doesn’t want to do…he makes it taxing and a chore in hopes that you will never ask him to do anything like that with you ever again.

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So today, I woke him up and told him we were going to a town about two hours away to take the train. He told me he didn’t want to go on the train but wanted to visit the museum. Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes after the museum closed so instead we went to lunch, walked around town and went into some shops. It really wasn’t his kind of day but on the way home he said, ” I really had a good day with you Mom. Thank you.” Needless to say, I almost fainted for he rarely lets you know if he appreciates something much less tells you he enjoys your company. It was one of those rare moments that is so surprising and lovely that it suddenly feels as if life has picked you up and carried you away to Nirvana. Everything is right with the world and your place in it and after a weekend in which B talked separation, it was such a nice place to be.

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Later this evening I went down to the Lodge. It was one of the situations that you are trying to talk yourself into doing. Should I stay home or leave. Which will it be? The stay at home option almost won out but I eventually, after a heated debate with myself, chose to go to the bar. I took my drink outside to one of the comfy Adirondack chairs and parked myself in it to watch the sun disappear over the ocean while pinks, golds and yellows filled the sky. Flocks of pelicans flew in V formation past the cliffs while Sid the Great Blue Herron strutted his stuff. The temperature was perfect, the scenery divine and I had the place to myself…until a tall good-looking man about my age appeared out of nowhere. As it turned out he was from the local Buddhist temple complex and as we sat and talked I became “enlightened.” I have always strayed to the edge of Buddhist philosophy for years while attending Christian church at the behest of my husband putting my own religious convictions on the back burner. The talk that this gentleman and I had soothed my soul and it felt nice to be appreciated and admired by a nice man again.

Yes, some days take you by surprise. Today was one of those rare and glorious days and it felt just like a day when my garden is in full bloom!

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http://odiyan.org/

 

Rekindle Your Inner Spirit

 

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If you are like me everyday there are a million things to do. The list of things to do seems to get longer by the day. On those days where I am feeling bogged down by life, sometimes I feel a little sorry for Santa and his list of “wants” from all the little girls and boys on this earth. So many expectations, so little time. This is life today.

It is unfortunate that in this age we live in a society that values things over people, success over integrity and being busy over making time for ourselves. It is sad that we live in a world in which taking the time to commune with ourselves is pushed aside for things that are less meaningful and valuable to our spirit and our soul. Way too often we neglect the ” inner being” or “spirit” within us to our own detriment and ignore that place inside to whom we are suppose to go for answers, inspiration, and to just sit with while listening for those things that will bring us a deep sense of happiness. Too often we ask others for advice; trusting their “wisdom” over our own and forgetting to appreciate all that our inner being will share with us if we will just listen. Sadly, we also neglect to feed our inner spirit with those things that delight it.

I have been practicing taking the time to listen to my spirit for nearly a year now. It can be a hard thing to do. But I find when I take the time to commune with myself that often things are revealed to me that are greatly needed which causes my stress level to drop and a sense of peace to inch into those pieces of me that are run down and tired. I also find that I trust myself more because I know that I can count on my spirit to do what is best for me and to provide answers that will comfort and provide reassurance to the parts of my soul that are open and seeking. I find if I listen I discover that I am traveling the path I am meant to be on.

So today do yourself a favor. Make some quiet time for yourself and listen to what your inner spirit is trying to tell you. Then act on it and look for ways throughout the day that answers are put directly in front of you confirming what you have been told. For there is nothing more beautiful in this world than a woman who can trust in her inner being to guide her gently to her true and authentic self.

Amen!

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