Saturday, September 29, 2018

September Scavenger Hunt

I'm participating in a swap on Swap-Bot during September where I need to find and photograph five items as part of a scavenger hunt. Below are the items and my photos:

1 - Something inside something else

During late-September and early-October the milkweed plants become filled with seeds. Eventually, the pods dry and crack open; and the tear-dropped shaped seeds that are attached to bright-white fluff are prodded out by the wind and carried off to a new place.

Since the girls were young, we open the pods and spread the seeds, letting the wind carry them where they want. I am happy to see many more milkweed plants in the ditches and in the pastures of our property.

We saw quite a few monarchs this year, too, so the effort is paying off in attracting them to our farm.

2 - Something in a package or grouping of 3

I'm taking a pottery class and am learning some new techniques which I've never done before. Below are three different plates of varying sizes that I made.

The pattern on the first one is rolled onto a slab of clay; and the other two are rubber stamps that are pressed into clay.

A container or wood block is pushed into the center of the pieces that are resting on a thick piece of foam. This creates the shape.

Depending on the size of the container or wood block as well as how hard you press, it will determine how high the sides are.

The largest piece is dipped in two different colors of glaze; and the two smaller pieces are dipped in one color of glaze.

3 - Something other than your car that has 4 wheels

Our car is the first vehicle in a line of vehicles spanning the length of our driveway (minus the area where the dumpster is still located as we continue the clean-up and rebuilding after the fire).

The three trucks all belong to the local electric company which is doing work on the garage and barn as well as re-positioning the electric lines that go into our home.

There were multiple electricians here that were doing different aspects of the jobs. Collectively, it is a big project.

4 - Something that floats

This is a flower that was floating in a beautiful water fountain where my daughter had her outdoor senior photos taken. We lucked out in terms of weather - it was in the mid-50s and partly cloudy.

After taking some photos inside at the photographer's studio, we went to a lovely park that had multiple flower gardens, water fountains, a gazebo, hedges, benches, and evergreen sculptures.

5 - Something polka-dotted

This was a bit more challenging to find. We don't have polka-dotted items in our home, so I had to go to Wal-Mart and see if they had bolts of polka-dotted fabric. Sure enough, there was a wide variety of colors and polka-dot sizes.

As I looked at the colors, I was thinking that the combination of polka-dotted fabric would make a cute quilt for a girl. Sophia and Olivia are a bit too old now for this type of fabric, but they would have liked it when they were younger (though Olivia would have liked reds and blues).


This was a fun challenge and certainly made me look around my home, yard, and a store to find everything!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Spend the Day with Me - Saturday, September 15th

On Swap-Bot, I am doing a swap called "Spend the Day with Me" in which participants take photos of how they spent a day. So, I brought my camera along to document how I spent Saturday, September 15th.

After doing the normal tasks in the morning - like letting the dogs out; feeding the dogs and cats; eating breakfast; and getting ready - Sophia, Olivia, and I left for a full day of errands and activities.

The first stop was dropping Olivia off at gymnastics. She moved up a level this Fall and her lessons are two hours now.

Then I dropped off Sophia at the YMCA where she could work out and take a shower.

It was time for many quick stops to do errands: the post office (to mail a grant proposal for a quilt retreat/service activities we want to do in February 2019), a bank (to pay the mortgage and to change my mortgage statements from being online to being sent to me), another bank (to withdraw some money for an upcoming trip), the feed store (to get grain for the horses), and the library (to get a book about ceramics and wheel-thrown pottery).

I picked up Sophia and took her to Starbucks where she got a free rewards drink.

We picked up Olivia from gymnastics and then headed to a home that my sister is looking at purchasing. I'm excited because she is only 20 minutes from us now! This home has everything she is looking for in terms of everything being on one floor (except the mechanicals and a bonus walk-out level) and her design/style tastes.

After listening to the inspection report for about 40 minutes with my sister, brother, my sister's Realtor (Sherri), and the girls, we headed to Mall of America to get some clothes and shoes.

Normally, we don't go shopping at the Mall of America. However, there are a limited number of stores in our rural area, so sometimes having a wider variety of stores is necessary.

We parked on a new floor and area and came in through Sears which carries Lands End clothes. Perfect! Because I wear cardigans almost every day and Lands End carries the most comfortable ones, I was able to stock up on them. Got a couple black ones (typically what I wear), a navy one, and - because the girls insisted: lilac.

Onto the other end of the shopping spectrum with a stop at Nordstroms for Sophia. She had to get some items for wearing under her Chinese dress for her senior photos. Talk about service in that department! I was impressed with how the employees work with each of the customers to find exactly what they need.

As we walked by one area, there were people working on sculptures made from cans of food. We found out that it is called Canstruction which is a national nonprofit committed to ending hunger.

This year marked its 13th year at Mall of America; and Canstruction - according to the Mall of America's website - was doing a "unique design/build competition showcasing colossal sculptures built from thousands of ordinary cans of food.

"Highlighting the creativity and compassion of top local architectural and engineering firms, these astounding structures are helping to change the world– by lifting the spirits of those in need, by raising public awareness, and most importantly, by collecting millions of pounds of food for Second Harvest Heartland."

While we were watching them build the sculptures, we could hear the laughter and screams from the rides in the center part of Mall of America.

We stopped for a quick refresher at Orange Julius and then onto Maurice's for a couple more pieces for Sophia's senior photos (a top and jacket) and a pair of jeans for me. The only options were mid- and high-rise jeans.

Having already been through one era of high-rise/Mom jeans, there was no way in the world I was going to try a pair on again.

This is not me...but an example of the dreaded high-rise jeggings. 
(This image came from an insecure website, 
so I'm not going to link to it.)

Where were the low-rise jeans? Apparently they don't carry them anymore. I was shocked...and distraught. What should I do?

I decided I'd try the mid-rise jeans and jeggings. The sales person asked what size I wore. I had no idea. I'm not into shopping or clothes like I used to be. She picked out small and medium for me. What? I thought I once wore extra-large jeans?

To make a long story short, after trying on about a dozen pairs of jeans and jeggings, I settled on  medium/short jeggings. The waistband is tight which - multiple sales people said - has to be tight so they stay up. They loosen up as you wear them, so if they start out loose then they will fall down. Well, we don't want that to happen.

So, although they aren't my ideal style due to the higher waist, I was really happy to see that my size has gone down. When I first started wearing clothes at Maurices many years ago, I was an extra-large. About a year or so ago, I went down to a large. Now, I'm in a medium which is encouraging and reflects a change in eating habits (significantly more vegetables and fruit; less carbohydrates; slightly more protein; and rarely a Diet Coke - compared to 2-4 pops a day at one time).

As a side note: when I came home and looked online, I found out that Maurices still makes low-rise jeans. The Mall of America just doesn't carry them. So, I'm going to return the jeans and get a low-rise pair in the right size.

After that, we made one more stop for shoes at DSW. There are rows upon rows of shoes at discounted prices.

Of course, the girls always enjoy trying on the impractical super-high-heel shoes that they would never wear.

After much looking, Sophia found a pair of black shoes with gold trim for her red Chinese dress. They will look nice with the dress and her headdress.

Olivia found a pair of high-top Converse canvas sneakers to wear instead of her black boots and sandals. She was happy that they had her size (which is a rather small women's size).

By the time we were done, it was well almost 5:20 p.m. By the time we would get home and make dinner, it would be in the 7:00 hour. So, we decided to stop and pick up a pizza and cheese bread for dinner.

We had not eaten a "normal" meal since breakfast (lunch was relatively-healthy snack food we ate in the car), so having a hot dinner was good. We all didn't realize how hungry we were!

After dinner, I walked out to see the delivery that had come while we were gone. It's the siding for the back of the house. This will replace the siding that was warped due to the fire back on May 5th. The window also was delivered and is in the garage.

I noticed that one of the roses has a couple of flowers on it. Despite the heat (92 degrees and humidity in the 70s), it is doing well. Found a Japanese beetle, though, which is not good. It was starting to destroy the leaves on the roses. Had to put an end to that or else it would completely strip all the leaves from the roses and move onto another bush or tree and do the same thing.

After dinner, I helped Sophia type her application for being a 4-H county ambassador. Normally she would do the typing, but she broke her third finger on her right hand on Friday morning.

Her finger got stuck in a metal opening in Bailey (the horse's) halter/lead line, and when the farrier was here and Sophia was holding the line, Bailey jerked her head up abruptly and Sophia's finger twister and the bone broke.

Right now, her finger is "buddy taped" to the fourth finger to provide support until she can see a hand specialist this upcoming week.

This is what her hand looks like - you can see the diagonal line on her third finger - just where the bone is broken.

There is quite a bit of bruising on the third finger. It is at a slight angle too compared to the other finger (though it's not as obvious in the photo below as it is in real life). This may pose an issue since she plays the harp and piano. We'll have to see how the orthopedist can better line up her finger this week.

In the evening, I caught up on reading the paper.

There was an interesting article about how the state parks are collecting prairie seeds with the help of the public. There are quite a few sessions coming up where people can help collect the seeds which are then planted to expand the prairies.

I had the t.v. on for a while, but ended up falling asleep with it on. Woke up around 10:15 and turned it off. Ended up going to bed I was so tired.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day - History, Projects, and Food

It's hard to believe that Labor Day has already passed. Where did the summer go?

I was looking on Pinterest and found a bit of history about Labor Day. The pin led to Cross Cards, and had a quick background on the holiday.

This past weekend was focused on getting some writing projects done; reading and taking notes from library books that I've had for a while; coordinating a planting project for our local community; finishing doing the syllabi for homeschooling courses I'm overseeing for the girls; helping Sophia set up her schedule for her three PSEO courses and courses at the homeschool co-op; and making food for the upcoming few days. 

Our annual tradition is to go out for a treat at Dairy Queen which we did again this year, after seeing "Crazy Rich Asians" at the local movie theater. This is the last Labor Day that Sophia will be living at home. Next year, she will be college. We are now entering the phase of "This is the last..." It's a bittersweet time as we watch Sophia get ready for her next phase of life at college; and yet sad as we realize that our time of having both the girls living together with us is coming to a close. 

Now to focus on the memories we are creating and traditions we are enjoying:

Planting Project for the Community

I was asked by the City Administrator if I could get some volunteers for planting two large gardens that mark the intersection that is at the central point of our city. On Saturday, September 1st, Sophia, Olivia, and I - along with 9 other volunteers planted a variety of perennials and bushes, watered them, and then put down mulch. 

It was a lot of hard work, yet we are happy we had an opportunity to plant these gardens that our neighbors, community, and visitors alike can enjoy.

There is fruit on some of the bushes. Supposedly they are edible.

Here are the volunteers (minus two teens who left after about an hour of work since the younger one wasn't feeling well in the heat).

This is what the garden on the southwest side of the intersection looks like.

This is another view.

Olivia concentrated on planting perennials.

Sophia planted both bushes and perennials.

Here we are again by the finished garden.

This garden is on the southeast side of the intersection.

The is another view of the garden.

Needless to say, after working for three hours in the upper-70s and low-80s, we were ready to come home and enjoy the air-conditioning and get cleaned up.

Making Food

I used the new salsa maker that Paige got at the State Fair. We had one a long time ago, but from overuse, it finally broke. He got one as a surprise on Friday. Today, I made lots of food since prepping some of the ingredients took a fraction of the time with the salsa maker. 

First, I made four batches of salsa using tomatoes that were given to me from one of the volunteers who helped with the gardens on Saturday. I used onions and a jalapeno from the farmers market; and garlic from a friend who is a farmer. 

Next, I used up a zucchini to make spice bread.

I used a cabbage, several carrots, and an onion to make coleslaw. Miracle Whip, vinegar, and sugar along with Watkins Coleslaw Seasoning made the dressing. It tastes like coleslaw you get at KFC except with more flavor.

Also chopped up green peppers and put them in 1/2 cup packages to use during the winter. This saves a lot of money. The 12 cups of green peppers that I froze (24 packets total) were only $5...compared to $1+ per green pepper I would have paid during the winter.

Crazy Rich Asians

The girls had wanted to see "Crazy Rich Asians" since it came out. 

So, on Labor Day we went to see it as a family. It was fantastic! It was very funny...though touching and sad in other parts. There was a lot that brought back good memories of our trips to China. I think we also learned more about Chinese culture and family expectations.  

Dairy Queen

As we do each year, we go to Dairy Queen on Labor Day...the last day before we officially start homeschooling. 

Paige had a chocolate malt, I had a small vanilla cone with crunch topping, Olivia had a small Oreo Blizzard, and Sophia had a small caramel sundae. 

We had a good Labor Day weekend this year. I hope to continue to put a lot of effort into these "last" holidays this year so that we can all look back and have good memories of this pivotal year. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Priority List - Book Review/Notes

Somehow I came across The Priority List - A Teacher's Final Quest to Discover Life's Greatest Lessons by David Menasche. The book is a English teacher's story about his battle with brain cancer that ultimately stole his vision, memory, mobility, and ability to teach in a classroom.

He decided after six years to end his treatments and make life his classroom. He turned to Facebook with a plan to journey across the United States by bus and train using his red-tipped cane to guide him throughout various cities and experiences.

His goal was to learn firsthand how his students - now adults - were faring in life. He wanted to know if he had made a difference.

Within 48 hours of posting his goal on Facebook, former students in more than 50 cities replied with offers of support and shelter. The Priority List chronicles some of the visits and the author's reflections.

Although I enjoyed the book, it took a while to get into the main focus of the story. I would have enjoyed reading more of the letters from the students which were written after they graduated and knew about Menasche's health struggles.

Some of the parts of the book I found interesting include:

- I had high expectations for my kids, but no higher than the expectations I had for myself.
- "The liar's punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else." (George Bernard Shaw)
- A priority list is a list of things or people that are important to you.
"They say when you are missing someone that they are probably feeling the same, but I don't think it's possible for you to miss me as much as I'm missing you right now." (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
- When you really know you're going to die, when you're prepared for death, that's when you learn how to live. It's a bittersweet lesson. Just when you learn how to live, you die. But there's so much beauty in it. All of a sudden, the sun in the sky is a reason to rejoice, flowers come alive, a gentle breeze on your face feels almost spiritual. Who you are is defined no longer by what you do but by what you give and how you love. To me, that felt like a good death.
- "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway to see it through no matter what." (To Kill a Mockingbird)
- It's the teacher's job to make the kids care enough to want to do well....I just put things out there and did my best to make it interesting enough that you wanted to learn more. A good teacher isn't about the content. It's far more important that you get the idea across - that you express it in such a way that it makes sense to your students.
- "The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that outlasts it." (William James, philosopher)
- Live a life of purpose and continue to pass on such inspiration to those who need it most.

He had recommended two books that he enjoyed growing up: On the Road and A Confederacy of Dunces.

Menasche included the Priority List in his book (which is noted below). I've included it as a reference.

Artistic Expression

He would have his class rank the words. Think about how you rate the words as an adult and how you would have rated these items while in high school.

Are you living in a way that reflects your priorities? If not, where can you make changes?

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Listening

Continuing on with the Spiritual Practices A to Z, I'm now at "L" which is Listening.

Spiritual Practice: Listening
Enhances: Discernment
Balances/Counters: Disregard for others

The Basic Practice

One spiritual practice is often associated with others. Listening involves attention, being present, and hospitality, and it is a component of devotion, nurturing, and wonder.

Listening enables us to tune in to others and our inner voices of intuition and conscience. It is how we know we are part of the natural, technological, and media worlds all around us.

Squirrel nibbling on a pinecone at the Grand Canyon.

However, it takes practice to be a good listener. Start by listening like a baby does upon encountering a sound for the first time. Then listen like a child, noticing music, rhythm, and the variety of noises. Next, tune in to the messages coming to you from all directions and multiple levels of experience.

Why This Practice May Be For You

There is no greater way to show our regard for our friends, family, and associates than to truly listen to them. A "listening heart," as this attitude is called, leads to deeper relationships and a greater sense of self. This kind of communication isn't limited to human interactions. Listen to an animal, the waves on the beach, or the noise of a city neighborhood, and you will come to a greater appreciation of your place in the universe.

Scooby watching and listening to me.

Conversely, an inability or unwillingness to listen is a symptom of self-centeredness. It signals that we are focused on ourselves, not interested in participating in what is going on around us. It can also indicate an obliviousness to our own best interests which may be trying to make themselves known through our inner voices.


The greatest wisdom is listening
to the guidance of the heart.
— Kabir Helminski in The Knowing Heart

My parents listening to me when we were visiting my dad 
in the nursing home. 

For listening is the act of entering the skin of the other and wearing it for a time as if it were our own. Listening is the gateway to understanding.
— David Spangler in Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent


I read the book Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. In it, he talks about his pilgrimage toward selfhood and vocation. For him, the heart of the journey involves both listening and discernment. There was a poem that I found intriguing that opened the first chapter:

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Some of the key points I want to remember include:
- From the poem above: "Ask me whether what I have done is my life." These words remind me of moments when it is clear - if I have eyes to see - that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden life the river beneath the ice. And in the spirit of the poet, I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?

Olivia trimming a bowl.

- Trying to live someone else's life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail - and may even do great damage.
- We listen for guidance everywhere except from within.
- A poem from May Sarton:

Now I become myself
It's taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces...

- I grew strong enough to discard the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet - someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.
- It comes from a voice "in here" calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth.
- I am gathering my observations in a letter. When my granddaughter reaches her late teens or early twenties, I will make sure that my letter finds its way to her, with a preface something like this: "Here is a sketch of who you were from your earliest days in the world. It is not a definitive picture - only you can draw that. But it was sketched by a person who loves you very much. Perhaps these notes will help you do sooner something your grandfather did only later: remember who you were when you first arrived and reclaim the gift of true self."

Sophia playing the harp.

- We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then - if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss - we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.
- From the beginning, our lives lay down clues to selfhood and vocation, though the clues may be hard to decode.
- The deepest vocational question is not "What ought I to do with my life?" It is the more elemental and demanding "Who am I? What is my nature?"

The girls and me many years ago.

- Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter's hands, telling her what it can and cannot do - and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly.

Olivia making a vase in pottery class.

- Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.
- If we are unfaithful to true self, we will extract a price from others. We will make promises we cannot keep, build houses from flimsy stuff, conjure dreams that devolve into nightmares, and other people will suffer -- if we are unfaithful to true self.
- Rosa Parks decided, "I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the trust that I hold deeply on the inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be."
- If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and myself for a while. But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences. I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship - and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to this particular 'good.' When I try to do something that is not in my nature or the nature of the relationship, way will close behind me.

Sophia giving a presentation about Egypt at a 4-H club I once led.

- Dorothy Day said, "Do not give to the poor expecting to get their gratitude so that you can feel good about yourself. If you do, your giving will be thin and short-lived, and that is not what the poor need; it will only impoverish them further. Give only if you have something you must give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.
- We are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another. But community cuts both ways, when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.
- Burnout: trying to give what I do not possess - the ultimate in giving too little. Burnout is a state of emptiness, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.
-  Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around - which puts the door behind us - and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept up from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.

Olivia doing gymnastics.
She was able to start doing this because we had more time 
after I stopped being the leader of a 4-H club.
It opened up doors for Olivia to learn a new sport in 2017 (gymnastics) 
as well as get her firearms license in 2018 and 
begin doing Shooting Sports (trap shooting and .22 target practice).

- The anxiety that kept me pounding on closed doors, almost prevented me from seeing the secret hidden in plain sight: I was already standing on the ground of my new life, ready to take the next step on my journey, if only I would turn around and see the landscape that lay before me.
- Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection - it deprives one of the relatedness that is the lifeline of every living being.
- Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection, not just between people but between one's mind and one's feelings. To be reminded of that disconnection may only deepen one's despair.
Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection, not only between people, and between mind and heart, but between one's self-image and the public mask.
- I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do. If you are also here, doing what you do, then you also exercise leadership of some sort.

The girls with their leadership project they oversaw in 2017; and
that Sophia built upon in 2018.
The One Stop Donation Drop has been done on a large scale twice and 
smaller scale three times from November 2015-present.

- We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well - places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As stand in one of the those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.
- My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around.

Picture of a leaf in autumn that Olivia took.

- In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time - how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface, it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.
- the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.

A picture of a leaf in winter under ice.

- The gift of life, which seemed to be withdrawn in winter, has been given once again, and nature, rather than hoarding it, gives it all away.
- Daily I am astonished at how readily I believe that something I need is in short supply. If I hoard possessions, it is because I believe that there are not enough to go around. If I struggle with others over power, it is because I believe that power is limited. If I become jealous in relationships, it is because I believe that when you get too much love, I will be shortchanged.
- The irony, often tragic, is that by embracing the scarcity assumption, we create the very scarcities we fear. If I hoard material goods, others will have too little and I will never have enough. If I fight my way up the ladder of power, others will be defeated and I will never feel secure. If I get jealous of someone I love, I am likely to drive that person away.
- In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store.


I watched the movie Contact that is directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The movie description is: "She's known it since she was a young girl, when she would magically connect with distant voices on her father's shortwave radio. She's known it since college, when she chose the search for intelligent extraterrestrial messages as her discipline. She's known it since she bargained for just hours a week of satellite time to sweep the heavens for evidence. And she knows it every time she stares at the countless stars dappling the infinite night sky... Something is out there."


Paul Winter and his associates create music to combat what ecophilosopher Thomas Berry calls human autism — our inability to listen to any voices other than those of our own kind.

On Earth: Voices of a Planet and Wolf Eyes: A Retrospective, Winter on soprano sax is joined by Paul Halley on keyboards, David Darling and Eugene Friesen on cello, and other musicians in tributes to the old growth forests, rain forests, oceans, and other remaining natural habitats of the planet.

The oak tree in our northwest pasture.

However, the most important collaborators on these song poems are the recorded wildlife: spotted owl, elephant, Weddell seal, musician wren from the Amazon, Australian lyrebird, European blackbird, bottlenose dolphin, orca whale, and timber wolf.

I listened to "Sea Song" on Winter's website which was relaxing...very peaceful. I didn't hear any animal sounds, though, which was disappointing. Perhaps in some of the other pieces they are louder or a more significant part of the song.


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Calling of Saint Matthew depicts the spiritual practice of listening. Levi, the tax collector who will be named Matthew, is seated at a table with four assistants when Jesus appears in the room and summons him with a simple gesture of his hand.

Levi's face is illuminated with light from the doorway, but it is a different kind of attention that he responds to.

Calls and messages, some of them nonverbal, are always coming to us from all directions. The challenge is to recognize the important ones, which may only be possible when we have learned how to listen.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

• Putting on headphones is a cue for me to practice listening.

• Noticing how an animal pricks up its ears at the slightest sound, I am reminded to keep my ears open to the world around me.

Aspen listening.

• Whenever I tell a story to a friend and sense that s/he is not really attending to it, I vow to be a better listener. (I also will wrap up the story so as to relieve the person of having to listen to something they don't want to listen to for whatever reason.)

Practice of the Day

Spiritual teaching has always pointed to the fact that everything in creation has a sound, its own unique vibration. As conscious listeners we may perceive more and more of what the universe is saying to us by the simple act of listening. We can learn to appreciate each and every sound.
— Katherine Le Mee in Chant

To Practice This Thought: Focus on the variety of sounds in your environment right now. How many tones can you distinguish?

As I do this on the morning of August 20th, all I can hear are three fans blowing cool air. I need to turn them off to hear anything else.

Now what do I hear?
- Lucy (the cat) purring
- Birds singing in the distance
- Birds chirping in the pine tree
- Scooby (the dog) rustling a bit on the bed
- Quietness and peacefulness
- Literally absence of sound
- Scooby snoring
- Red squirrels chattering at one another in the backyard
- At 7:57 a.m., I am so grateful for how calm and relaxing our home is. I know shortly there will be workers here to start building the garage. Until then, I can listen to the birds, squirrels, and pets.

Aspen playing in the backyard while Scooby explores different smells.

Journal Exercises

• In Who Cares? Simple Ways You Can Reach Out, Marcy Heidish, who has served as a hospital chaplain, describes a useful tool from her training — the "listener's log." She wrote verbatim records of her visits with patients in order to learn how much she actually heard and how helpful her responses were.

Sophia and Dr. Clair after Sophia's surgery.

Log some of your conversations in your journal. Then ask yourself these questions, suggested by Heidish:
- Did you create a receptive atmosphere?
- Did you take over or grow distant?
- When were the moments of breakthrough, connection, and insight?

I didn't do this, but it intrigues me as something to do in the future. These are good questions to keep in mind whenever a person is talking with someone else.

• Make lists to assess how you listen:

- Who I Always Listen To.
- Who I Rarely Listen To.
- Who Listens To Me.
- Who I Want to Listen To Me.

Again, these are interesting thoughts to reflect upon. I would add one more "Who Rarely Listens To Me." This may tie into the last one "Who I Want to Listen To Me."

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

• Describe a favorite sound. What do you associate with it?

One of my favorite sounds is when I come back home and the dogs all start howling in unison to welcome me home. I read that animals howl to guide the ones who have been away hunting back to their home. 

Then, once they see me, they all make different sounds of happiness and excitement. It truly makes me feel like they consider me one of their pack (perhaps the pack leader since they don't do this for anyone else in the family...only if others are with me). 

No other dogs have done this, so it's been so neat to hear this. I really should record them howling because I know that these four together feed off of one another and all howl in unison.

Cooper watching outside for squirrels.

• Share an example of a time when you listened to your body. This could be feedback about an illness, an intuitive hit, or another type of sensation. Did you heed the message?

Most recently, I helped coordinate a local community activity that involved planting perennials and bushes at the intersections of a local highway and county road that runs through town. The city worked with the Department of Transportation to develop a plan and secure the plants I was asked to help secure volunteers.

The volunteers who helped plant two gardens in our community.

We planted two large gardens for three hours in humid weather with temperatures starting in the mid-70s and by 12:30 reaching the low 80s. 

One view of the garden on the southeast corner of the intersection.

It  was hard work, but very rewarding.  

Another view of the garden on the southeast corner of the intersection.

When I came home, I could barely move (thanks to degenerative disk disease). I had to lay down for the balance of the day, take a hot bath to loosen my muscles, and take Ibuprofen  to reduce inflammation. I knew that if I didn't listen to what my body was telling me, that I would be unable to do much - if anything - for the rest of the Labor Day weekend. 

Because I listened to my body, I feel better today (Sunday), and am only slightly sore still. I'm happy that I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and evening, so that I can do other things this weekend.

• Read a story aloud. Notice how your experience of the tale is affected by hearing it.

I have done this in the past when I've read to the girls, and it does make a difference to hear the story aloud. If the story is good and well-written, I tend to take my time, pause more, and try to emphasize what the author is trying to convey. 


These ideas are from the Spirituality and Practice website.