As a writer and poet I am daily looking for inspiration. Sometimes, inspiration comes in those unexpected moments of seeing a perfectly rounded drop of dew making a prism on a flower petal. You may only catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye as you are rushing out the door to a high pressure meeting. It is the Creator’s way of saying slow down, savor the moment, I am here, I am with you. You are loved beyond measure. You walk in my favor.
At other times, inspiration comes tethered to a tiny fragment of conversation overheard in the corner of your favorite coffee shop as you are hovering over a frothy pumpkin latte. At such a time, you frantically search your pockets for any scrap of paper to scribble down and capture the perfection of the phasing before it escapes you and disappears as quickly as the steam suspended over your latte.
Finally, inspiration arrives like a freight train, that knocks you down and takes your breath away merely by the percussion of it. Like the drenched hiker who took the inspiring photo I posted, while he was plodding up a trail. He rounded a corner at the pristine moment in time when a rainbow was once again proclaiming its covenant, relentlessly brilliant against the backdrop of granite crags.
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If you are questioning the best use of your time in what may be the Big Blizzard of 2021, I found some interesting answers. Aside from keeping warm and cozy by a crackling fire in the evening we may have to choose between randomly searching the television or un-shelving a book. The following research may sway you.
Only 6 minutes of reading reduces stress by 68 per cent according to researchers at Sussex University. Reading beat out other relaxing activities, including listening to music, having a spot of tea, and taking a walk. In addition to calming the nerves, reading increases focus and concentration. Alzheimer is 2.5x less likely to appear in people who read while watching TV was seen as a risk factor. A long term study in Japan of 276 children found that the more hours of TV watched, the lower the verbal and reasoning skills became. Marked changes in developing young brains occurred coupled with more aggressive behavior. These negative effects were shown regardless of gender or economic background.
Television is designed to be passive. You just sit back and watch everything unfold without effort on your part.
Television is fast moving. You are less likely to stop and reflect.
Many popular program scripts use short simple sentences of 4th grade level.
Watching television only requires short bursts of concentration that result in poor focus and lower IQ.
Provides mental stimulation that slows down memory loss.
Readers have to concentrate on what is being said and think through concepts in a book.
We are forced to use our imagination to fill in the gaps.
Increases vocabulary which translates to better writing skills.
Apparently, a study from Emory University even found reading novels created heightened connectivity in the brain which made you smarter over time, more interesting, and attractive!
In search of inspiration for a writing assignment I found myself on a road that is seldom traveled these days. The assignment was to write a poem about a school. In my search, I encountered a gray haired old man with his grandson. The old man pointed with a brown, weathered hand to go a little further down the road as a look of nostalgia crossed his face. “You can’t miss it!” he said. Although, I drove past it twice. Finally, I found a new, expensive looking road sign by the road that paid homage to a school that was long past its glory, hidden in a tangle of overgrown trees and weeds. I wondered what the ideals and world experiences had been for the children who had attended this school. As they had learned the 3 R’s and read stories of bravery, God, and patriotism, children across the sea were being taught something quite different. Little did they know that they were headed for a clash of ideas that became WWII.
Greene Township School (1925-1967)
The pride of Greene Township in 1924, Made sturdy and tall with brick and varnished oak, Freshly washed faces, young with hope, Chant with hands on their hearts, The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, Heads bowed in morning prayer, Reading stories intertwined, with honor and valor, It will serve them well. For brown- shirted boys and Frauleins across the ocean, Are chanting too. As yet the Nazi war machine is only a dream, The Sleeping Giant not yet awakened, Pearl Harbor yet holds ships on a tranquil sea. Today these stoic bricks testify of their courage, While weeds and scrub trees work to forget. But, a memory lives on, in the hearts of their children.
If you listen to media at all, you know that stress is a killer. It is detrimental to our health and psyche. Stress opens the door to diseases that can shorten our lives. Our Creator wants us to consider the lily. Metaphorically speaking, the lily doesn’t worry! It is grounded, provided for and nourished by the soil. It is refreshed by the rain and rejoices in the sun that its Creator lavishes upon it. It has a glorious appearance that it grew into with no particular striving or toil of its own, yet the end result is glorious!
There are benefits to taking a more lighthearted approach to life. Trust that if you jump a net will be there to catch you. Michael Powell states in his book, How to Boost Your Brain, that laughter really is good medicine. Not only does laughter reduce stress, boost your immune system, improve your relationships, and give you a sense of well-being. It can actually grow brain cells and increase your life expectancy.
Surprisingly, according to the Michigan Neurosurgical Institute the body really can’t tell the difference between a fake side- splitting laugh and a real one. The body still takes this cue to release dopamine (the feel good chemical) and grow your hippocampus (that part of our brain we need to grow to prevent dementia). Dr. Avery Jackson, in his book The God Prescription states that as an added benefit when laughter is coupled with just 30 minutes of walking or other form of exercise, pain levels are reduced comparable to taking a pill.
The next time you have a flat tire, pray no one is looking, then laugh good and loud at the whole situation that is trying to steal your joy, before you roll up your sleeves.
(Please Note: This was previously posted under the title “Consider the Lily; Laugh and Move.”)
When a bowl or treasured object falls and breaks into pieces, the human tendency is to throw it away angrily coupled with a tinge of hopelessness. Regret and self- condemnation soon attach itself to each shattered shard as it gets tossed into the trash. It is now worthless and without value. Sometimes, we feel it is the same way about our negative life experiences.
Yet, there is an alternative, consider “the art of the precious scars.” It is a Japanese practice that highlights and enhances each break. Thus, adding value and beauty to each broken piece. It is called Kinsugi, literally, golden (“kin”) and repair (“sugi”) The Japanese art teaches that broken vessels are not something to hide [in shame] but, rather to display in pride. Repaired with gold, the flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which only adds to its beauty.
This can serve as a beautiful example of how to handle traumatic events in our own lives. Kinsugi is the essence of resilience. We become stronger. It makes each person more unique and valuable. It is the “art of the precious scars.” Consider this in your quiet time when you feel broken. Your Creator will give a new, more beautiful purpose to your pain.
As we begin to look with hope toward the new year and formulate resolutions as to how we might grow in a positive way, research shows that a good habit can be established in 21 days. A bad habit can be eradicated in the same amount of time. In other words, you are only 21 days away from an inspired future.
Interestingly, experts say the best way to spot counterfeit currency is not to study the markings of a worthless imitation, but to imprint the image of the authentic bill in your brain. With this example in mind, I started to wonder how the habits of successful people compared to the habits of unsuccessful ones. The following list is what I found. Perhaps you can incorporate these successful habits into your lifestyle in the coming year. Remember that “Best friends are there for every new beginning”.
One of the rituals I do that speaks of the Christmas season to my heart is when I take down one of my favorite tea sets from my china cabinet. I have other china sets that are ornate and gilded in gold that belonged to generations past. But, this one is decorated simply with holly leaves so in my mind it is reserved for the winter. It isn’t a family heir loom, it is just a set that I had admired for a long time and then one day I stepped out and purchased it for the pure joy of it! It reflects my taste because it has the beauty of function and simplicity. As the years pass, it brings back fond memories of sipping my favorite tea (Teavana white chocolate peppermint or DAVIDsTEA Candy Cane Crush) by the warmth of a crackling fireplace while being transported to another era though the pages of a well-written Gothic novel. At other times, this tea set brings back remembrance of lively conversations in a room filled with laughter as I served tea and holiday treats to others.
Be inspired to create some new traditions along with treasured possessions that reflect your own very special memories. Merry Christmas!
(Note: Originally posted under the title “Create Your Own Christmas Traditions.”)
Hundreds of shooting stars will burst across the night sky this week before the heavenly phenomenon when Saturn and Jupiter “kiss” on December 21, creating the first Christmas Star in 800 years. At midnight on December 21, the two stars will look like they have become one.
The occurrence of the Christmas Star is so rare that astronomers say it won’t be seen again for 60 years, making it a once in a lifetime event for star gazers and lovers.
Look up and be inspired and awestruck by the wonder of Creation.
Everyone at one time is inspired by some inexplicable desire to move forward. It may be to a new location or a new life choice. The destination that is calling you is uncertain and the outcome is unknown. You only have a piece of the puzzle. Or as James Alexander Thom, author of Follow the River and Red Heart once stated: “We only know our part of the river [in life], we can’t see the larger continuum.” There may be many distractions along the way, but to reach the destination we were created for we must have courage to follow the inner promptings of the Spirit, our Heart Song.
A gray gander flying point,
eyes the yellow Harvest Moon,
suspicious even of,
of the sparkling water below,
night’s reflection on a black pond.
Reassured instead by the
true North Star,
and a call of its own heart song,
that sings —
of the distant South.
(Note: This poem appeared on Shari Wagner's Poet Laureate Website. Reposted upon reader request.)
While searching for inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner I came across the book An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving written by Louisa May Alcott, the author of the classic novel, Little Women. Reportedly, Ms. Alcott liked a certain dessert so much that she named her house after it, The Apple Slump House. The apple slump was at one time one of the most popular desserts in America and certainly deserves a second look! According to legend, slump got its name because of the way the apples and dough slumped down in the pan as they baked together. Perhaps if it had a better name we would still have it as a staple around Thanksgiving tables today. The name of this dessert depended on where it was baked. Cooks in Massachusetts called it a “slump”, while those further north knew it as the equally unappetizing name “grunt”.
Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump
4-6 tart apples (3 cups sliced)
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour (can substitute gluten-free baking flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cups sugar
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup milk
½ cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core and slice apples. Lightly grease the inside of a 1 ½ quart baking dish (I used an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish) with butter. Put the sliced apples into the dish. In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and stir to mix. Bake the apples uncovered until they are soft, about 20 minutes.
While the apples are baking, stir together into a bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and white sugar. Mix into this mixture the egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir gently. Spread this mixture over the apples and continue baking until the top is light brown and crusty (about 20 to 30 minutes). Ms. Alcott served whipped cream over her slump, but I also liked it warm with milk or cream. Enjoy!
It’s difficult to be inspired if you feel lethargic. When the energy drink and coffee combo weren’t working for me, I had the good fortune to discover a family farm in the bottom lands of meandering Sugar Creek that was my solution. My vegetables go directly from garden to table. Every week I buy a box of produce so fresh that although, they have passed through a sprinkling of the garden hose, there is still a trace of rich black dirt clinging to roots and crevices. It’s seasonal, I am assured a variety of six vegetable, but, I’m still learning the ways of the garden so I can only vaguely anticipate which ones. Each time I heave the wax-coated box onto my kitchen counter and pop the lid it’s like a mysterious surprise!
The following is the result of my latest culinary adventure. I used the taste-and-toss into the stockpot method here, so I will give you the ingredient list as a guide. Quantities vary. ( Palette spoiler alert! Apparently, you have to have a specific gene to enjoy the taste of cilantro. If it tastes like something akin to soap, you don’t have that gene. So feel free to omit.)
Roasted Chicken Tortilla Soup: Roasted chicken, cage-free chicken broth, shredded kale, celery or Napa cabbage and black beans. Top with pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced avocado, fresh chopped cilantro, corn chips, and a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!