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Are You a Hugger?

If your answer is “YES,” I’m sure the past ten months have been difficult. Social distancing has made hugging a no-no.

I didn’t realize how much I miss hugging until I heard January 21 is National Hugging Day. Maybe that’s the problem in America lately. We need more love.

I hope you have someone within your circle of relationships you feel comfortable hugging. Did you know wrapping your arms around someone for twenty seconds releases a feel good hormone called oxytocin? Oxytocin is beneficial to our mental and physical health.

Hugging helps us by:

  • improving our sleep
  • reducing pain
  • reducing stress
  • lowering blood pressure
  • lowering the risk of heart disease
  • easing anxiety

In addition, people who enjoy more affectionate relationships are less likely to get sick!

Granted, many of us might not feel comfortable with a twenty second hug. (Personally, I’ve never timed my hugs.) A twenty second hug seems more appropriate for close relationships. At a time when handshakes are off limits, hugging anyone outside of our immediate family could be a social faux-pas.

Embracing our family members is important during these troubled and lonely times. When children see their parents embrace, they feel safe and secure. When children and teens receive hugs from their parents, they feel loved. Hugs encourage us in the midst of challenges, bolster our self esteem, and communicate support when words seem empty.

How many hugs a day do you give? How many do you receive? Virginia Satir was a pioneer in family therapy. She believed you can never receive too many hugs and families suffer when physical touch is absent from our interaction.

This is a short post about a simple action. Hugging is free and our supply is unlimited.

Have you hugged your loved ones today?

Thanks to Donna and Geren Baird for modeling the art of hugging.

The Captive

Wet flurries drift downward

commanded by the pull

of unyielding earth

intercepted

the lacy flakes can go no farther.

In quiet submission

snowfall blankets each backyard

painting the world a wintry white.

Giggles break the silence.

The spotless snow…

trampled and squeezed,

rolled into a boulder—commissioned to support a body

pierced with two sticks

each limb raised skyward to flag down help.

Nearing completion, the frozen man

tries to ‘keep his head’ in this desperate situation.

There, above the false smile and carrot nose,

two pleading eyes

look for the sun’s redemption

and the day when all things become new.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021. A new year when we finally escape the captivity of the Coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, I am like the snowman in this poem. Held captive by forces beyond my control. I look to Jesus for redemption and the day when we will all be free.

The Business Side of Writing

Perseverance is the theme of 2020

I’ve met many people who write. Some have unfinished projects hidden away in the closets of their mind. When they speak about writing, they tilt their heads to one side with an expression of longing. Then they usually let out a sigh, snap out of their fantasy, and don’t elaborate much. I always wonder what made them give up on their dream. Did the pursuit of publication seem too difficult?

Writing demands bold perseverance. In order to succeed you must finish your manuscript. The next step is convincing an editor your book should be published. Once your book is released, the glory of being an “author” slowly diminishes. Now you begin the hard work of eternal marketing. As long as your book is print, you’re married to it. It’s a “till death do we part” kind of relationship.

Most writers are not salespersons. Once I heard something from a seasoned author. “If you don’t promote your book, no one else will.” His words stuck with me and have prompted me to strike up conversations about my work with strangers. Anytime Buddy (my beagle) is with me these conversations become easier. Whenever we take a walk folks ask me about his red boots. (The best thing about being an author is being an author who writes stories about her dog.)

Buddy and I love meeting people. For the past ten months all of our public appearances were cancelled due to the pandemic. Until now.

I’m excited to announce I will be selling and signing copies of Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street and my latest release, Return to Blueberry Street at the Conway Community Market.

Location: Conway United Methodist Church 3401 South Conway Road Orlando FL 32812

The outdoor market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Come out and meet us! And if you wonder who I am under my face mask, you can take a look at my headshot on the back cover of my books.

“A book that can be enjoyed by all ages, this story is filled with life lessons, character tests, and love.”—Amazon reviewer

“Buddy engages readers on a new adventure, while teaching many of life’s important lessons. A great complement to any classroom.”—Amazon reviewer

* If you do not live in the Orlando area, or are unable to attend our book signing, click here to purchase.

Dear Reader, I leave you with this quote…

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath

Remembering “The Good Old Days”

“When we face challenges, human nature makes us think we were happier in the past.”

Now that I’m a senior citizen, I tend to do what seniors have always done. We romanticize the past. We say things like:

“The good old days were better than now.” I wish I could go back to the eighties.” (or seventies, or sixties)

“I wish I looked like I did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. I used to be much thinner.”

“In my younger days I was a champion __________.” (Fill in the blank with any sport you want.)

I have to admit, so many changes have happened in 2020, I’m beginning to consider the year 2019 part of the good old days. Was it just last year I took a Viking River Cruise in France? Now the experience seems like a dream.

I don’t think 2020 will ever qualify as a candidate for the good old days. Will we have fond memories of wearing masks, social distancing, and cancellations? I doubt it. When we face challenges in the present, human nature makes us think we were happier in the past.

For years I’ve turned to Scripture to begin my day. Sometimes I underline verses which stand out to me. Once in awhile I write the date next to the verse. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is speaking to me personally and saying “Hey Debbie, you need to remember this.”

On July 8, 2012 I underlined this verse. “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these? For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Ecclesiastes 8:3

So why did the author (possibly Solomon) think it unwise to romanticize the past? Was it because romanticizing the past breeds greater dissatisfaction with the present?

Paul the apostle wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.” Philippians 4:12

How? The next verse tells his secret. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” v. 13

When we are weak, Christ is strong. When we are unable, Christ is able to sustain us. When we focus on the past, we miss the joy which can still be found today. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our own thoughts. Nothing, not even a pandemic, can separate us from Christ’s love. And he is waiting for us to seek him in prayer.

At last, 2020 is coming to an end. Will 2021 be just as challenging? I want to remember 2020 as the year I found contentment in spite of my circumstances.

Dear Reader, thank you for your time and attention. I would love to dialogue with you regarding your sentiments about this year. Has 2020 taught you something about yourself? Leave a comment.

Doing Life in Suwannee

Quench your thirst for tranquility with a trip to the Suwannee River.

Do you feel guilty whenever you do nothing? If you are honest with yourself, the answer is probably yes. Even when we take a vacation, we can crowd our itinerary with too many places to see and things to do.

A four night camping trip to Suwannee River State Park in Florida gave me the opportunity to saturate my mind with nature. Each morning as I wrote in my journal, I marveled at the delicate streams of sunlight through the leafy trees. Herb named our campsite “Tranquility Base.”

Hanging out with Buddy at our campsite.

Most of the time we relaxed in front of our trailer. On this trip we limited ourselves to one hike each day. Herb and I made this decision because we forgot our doggy backpack. (Hmm.. could Herb have forgotten the backpack on purpose, since he is the one who shoulders all of Buddy’s weight?) Because our beagle has degenerative disk disease, we limit his hikes to one mile. We planned our days with Buddy’s needs in mind. After all, at Suwannee no one is in a hurry.

Posing with Buddy at the Suwannee River trailhead.

If you are looking for a place to get away from it all, this is the park you should visit. Located at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, the state park is less than a three hour drive north of Orlando.

The confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers.

The Suwannee stretches from southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico for two hundred forty-six miles. The waterway has always been important to Florida history. The pioneer town of Columbus, was founded here in 1841. At that time steamboats traveled up and down the river carrying passengers and freight. Lumber companies utilized the current to move their logs downstream to market. At its peak in the late 1800’s more than five hundred people lived in the area.

Today, all that remains of Columbus is the cemetery, one of Florida’s oldest.

Columbus cemetery.

Herb and I paused to read some of the tombstones. Many of the pioneers died at a young age, probably due to a lack of medical care. The cemetery is accessed by foot on the Sandhill Trail, which meanders through wildflowers and longleaf pines.

Herb and Buddy on the Sandhill Trail.

We explored a different type of landscape on the Suwannee River Trail. The riverbank provided beautiful views through the cypress trees. A word of caution, I saw poison ivy along the sides of the trail. Fortunately, we circumvented disaster.

Cypress knees along the Suwannee.

Private outfitters rent kayaks, or you can launch your own inside the park. The Department of Florida State Parks operates five river camps, spaced about ten miles apart for those who wish to kayak for a few days. The camps can be reserved in advance and they are free. Sorry Buddy, no dogs allowed. Sigh.

The remnants of Balanced Rock.

The Suwannee Trail continues along the riverbank to the site of Balanced Rock, which sadly lost its balance and collapsed years before we arrived. A limestone tower once stood twenty feet tall, but only the base remains. Since I don’t encounter very many rocks in Florida, I snapped a photo.

After our daily hike, we returned to our campsite for an afternoon of reading in our lounge chairs. At one point I looked up from my book to see something shimmering between two trees in the sunlight. “Wow! Look at that beautiful spider web.” Herb rushed to get his camera and focused on the web and the inhabitant thereof.

A golden orb spider is a member of the nephilia genus of archnids. Golden orbs can spin webs strong enough to catch birds.

The golden orb spider not only spins giant webs, but the yellow color of the silk attracts bees during sunny hours. When a shadow falls upon the web, it becomes camouflaged into the surrounding foliage, and ensnares other insects. I also learned the spider can adjust the amount of pigment in their silk and change the intensity of the color of the thread. Nature’s artist at work. I’m not really afraid of spiders unless they start moving. Why is that?

Every evening we talked around the campfire and delighted in the nightly show performed by various celebrity stars. You know, the celestial kind.

Oh, by the way, the park also rents cabins for those of you who may not want to camp. What are you waiting for? The beautiful Suwannee River is calling you to quench your thirst for tranquility.

Lime Sink Run

As I reflect on our four days in Suwannee, I realize “doing nothing” is good for something, after all.

An Imperfect Vessel

Maybe a broken pot serves an important purpose.

Excuse me, where is the gardener at a time like this? Isn’t it time to repot these plants? Haven’t they outgrown their broken container?

I snapped this photo on one of my recent walks in Leu Gardens. The scene is an affront to my desire for perfection. At first glance, one might consider the pot and its contents, ugly. Yet, the succulents continue to thrive.

I wondered how a cactus could survive in a subtropical climate like ours. After all, Leu Gardens is located in Orlando, Florida. This year we received 52 inches of rain. Doesn’t a cactus need to live in a desert?

Water aside, Florida has much in common with the deserts of the southwest. Both have sandy soil and receive lots of sunlight. Our average number of days with sunshine is 236. Roughly 2/3 of our year is sunny. Sounds like a great place for a cactus, except for the frequent rainstorms.

Let’s get back to the broken clay pot. Although one side seems to be missing, maybe the broken pot serves an important purpose. Since cactus plants will not grow well in standing water, did the gardener intend to use this imperfect vessel? If the water has a way to drain, a mini-desert environment has been created. This imperfect vessel could be just what these plants need.

Maybe this was part of some greater plan. The gardener actually planned to use a broken pot. Or maybe he broke it on purpose.

The more I think about it I realize I could apply this visual to our world. We are the like the cactus, trying to thrive in a broken vessel. The clay pot with one side missing represents loss. So far the year 2020 has taken lives, marriages, and income from many people. Often we wonder, where is the gardener? Has he forgotten about us? Why doesn’t he redeem all we have lost?

We hope science can save us. We expect our government officials to rescue us from the losses of this year. Still, we wait. But there is one greater than science or government. One who will wipe every tear from our eyes. The gardener will return and great will be our joy. He will make all things new!

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in our salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

Dear reader, I am hoping the days ahead bring joy and prosperity to your house. Never give up on the gardener. He knows what he his doing. Trust him.

Music Makes My World Go Round

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

How important is music to you? My passion for listening to music began with the purchase of my first record. In 1964 I scraped money together from my small weekly allowance to buy the Beatles 45, “Please, Please, Me.” I listened to it over and over and practically wore it out.

When I was old enough to babysit for the neighbors, I saved my fifty cents an hour salary to afford albums. One of my early purchases was “Disraeli Gears” by Cream. What an amazing album cover! Cream blended rock, blues, and jazz into a unique sound. The group consisted of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton. This powerful trio created a blueprint for every super group to follow including Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

The sixties brought forth a renaissance in music. Every month a new group surfaced. Each group seemed to build upon the creativity of others. In my opinion, this golden age of music has not been replicated since.

Like most teenagers I spent hours in my bedroom listening to music. It seemed like I was doing nothing but there was a lot of dreaming going on in there. For you see, music gives flight to the imagination.

In my post, True Confessions of a Memory Hoarder, I shared how difficult it is for me to give up my record collection. Guess what? My problem is solved. I’ve discovered Spotify! Granted, I might be late to the party, but I’m thrilled that the party waited for me.

Herb and I learned about Spotify from our adult children. Think about it. Every song ever recorded can be downloaded to your phone, and for a small monthly fee, you can listen anytime you want. Spotify enables you to create your own playlists of your favorite songs. You can make a high energy playlist for exercising, or a slower mix for times of relaxation.

When it comes to music, we all have our likes and dislikes. Spotify has organized the hits from each decade. Scrolling through the sixties list helped me remember songs I liked on the radio but never purchased. How could I ever forget “Spooky” by the Classics IV?

Herb and I enjoy playing our own version of “Name that Tune.” One of us will play the beginning of a song and the other person must identify the title and artist. (Fortunately, we both grew up listening to the same music.) Often we talk about what was happening in our lives at the time. “Radar Love” was popular the year we met at Lum’s Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.” However, we did not consider it “our song.” That honor was reserved for Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

I always wanted to be a song writer. I think my love for poetry really began by listening to music. Remember the lyrics to “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel?

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there.

She once was a true love of mine.

In addition to inspiring and entertaining us, music offers a refuge from the hardships of life. Work songs like “Sixteen Tons” break the monotony of manual labor through a repetitive rhythm. Blues songs like “The Thrill is Gone” empathize with those in despair from a lost love. Hymns like “Amazing Grace” lift our spirits to worship God and deepen our faith. Music is a vehicle for the expression of every human emotion.

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite musical artists. How has music made your world go round?

The Benefits of Being Still

Morning walks are great. The reflection of the bridge in the water demonstrates simple beauty created in stillness. In this post I want to explore how science and faith complement each other.

First, what causes a mirror image?

Reflection happens when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, the light will bounce back at the same angle it hits the surface. The Latin root, reflectere refers to bending back. We see a mirror image.

The word reflection also means careful consideration or meditation. When I reflect, I allow my mind to think before I act. I hold my tongue before speaking. I seek wisdom before deciding which path to take.

Stillness is essential to receiving wisdom. Job was a man of God who experienced many trials. When trouble abounds, as it did in Job’s life, his friend told him to “Stop and consider the wonders of God.” (Job 36:14) NIV

When we pause long enough to see the wonders of God around us, we get a new perspective on our troubles. We stand face to face with someone bigger than ourselves, our creator. It’s only when we see ourselves in relation to him that we can be free from our misperceptions. God is God and I am not. The water reflects the bridge. It is not the bridge.

Who or what does your life reflect today?

A Little Encouragement Can Go a Long Way

I think everyone can agree 2020 has been tough. Has the pandemic erased your hopes and shattered your dreams? The economic slowdown has affected most of us, including writers. If you feel discouraged, consider the negative voices affecting the way you think about yourself and your work.

What messages influence your thoughts? If we listen to the news media we might wonder if our circumstances will ever change. Will the pandemic last for years? Will we ever be able to make public appearances again? If you’re like me, you can’t even think about scheduling any future events.

Eventually, all the bad news from the media begins to influence the way we think about ourselves. The voice of our inner critic grows louder. It is the voice which brings to mind our past failures and limitations. And if we compare ourselves to others who appear to be more successful, we hinder our own progress because we no longer feel like trying. I never thought the launch of my second children’s book would take place during such challenging times.

Return to Blueberry Street follows Buddy the beagle into a new adventure. When a porch pirate steals his dog treats, Buddy decides to organize a dog crime watch to catch the bandit.

But Buddy has a critic. A Doberman with an attitude bullies him at the dog park. Blitz constantly makes fun of Buddy because he can’t run with the big dogs. How could a loser in red booties like Buddy ever catch the bandit? The little beagle starts to doubt himself and considers giving up.

Buddy’s friend Max tells him, “Don’t worry, with your nose and my feet, we’ll catch the bandit.” Max didn’t ignore Buddy’s weakness. He knew Buddy couldn’t run because of a previous injury. But he recognized Buddy’s amazing sense of smell and encouraged him to not give up. Then Max came alongside to help.

Everyone has limitations. Personally, I started writing late in life. I don’t have a background in business and I struggle with marketing and technology. Everyday I must choose whether or not I will listen to the naysayers who tell me I’m doomed and the inner critic who tells me to quit.

My hope arises when I remember all the people in my life who are like Max. People who encourage me to utilize my strengths and never give up. People who read this blog, and share my posts. And once again I open my laptop and begin to write.

Think about this scripture: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Maybe the Apostle Paul knew when hope is absent, love can lift us up and help us fulfill the calling upon our lives. If you find yourself in a dark place today, think about all of people God placed in your life to encourage you and give you hope. Remember why you started writing in the first place and reconnect with your creativity. A little encouragement can go a long way.

Join Buddy as he learns about the power of friendship in my second book.

Return to Blueberry Street is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. Click here to purchase.

(Ha! I had to get that last line in somewhere.)

A Bevy of Bad Birthdays

Have you been one of the lucky ones to commemorate your birthday during the pandemic? Actually the way things are going, you might have the opportunity.

When Florida was under lockdown restrictions last spring, I felt sorry for those people whose birthdays were affected. Families felt desperate to do something special for their loved ones and began organizing drive-by celebrations. Friends waved, screamed, and honked as they drove past the home of the birthday boy or girl. Sigh…I wondered if these short-lived celebrations left the recipients feeling even more alone as they watched every car disappear from view?

I remember thinking, “Surely the pandemic will end by the time my birthday comes around in June. My birthday will be awesome.”

WRONG! Three days before my birthday, two family members tested positive for Covid-19. I spent my birthday in quarantine waiting to see if I would exhibit any symptoms. Fortunately, I was in the clear, and my family members recovered. Herb surprised me with a cake and candles, but guests were out of the question.

Fast forward to Herb’s birthday in August. We planned a family party, which is normal for us and I bought a cake mix. Then I realized, “I’d better make cupcakes because Herb will blow out the candles. I can’t serve cake to everyone after he breathes on it.”

So I did. I also gave everyone personal bottles of hand sanitizer and masks for party favors. How’s that for a pandemic birthday?

Did you ever wonder how our birthday traditions came about? Here’s the scoop.

Birthday cakes were first made in Germany during the Middle Ages as part of a child’s celebration known as Kinderfest. A candle was placed on the cake to represent the “light of life.”

Over time, people began adding one more candle to the top of the cake to represent a person’s age. We were all told to blow them out and make a wish.

Since everyone is more fearful of Covid-19 spreading, here’s a little known bit of information. A study by Clemson University in 2017 discovered blowing out your candles increases bacteria by 1400%. (Actually, this isn’t a huge problem unless the birthday boy is ill.) But in the year of the Covid, nothing is sacred.

Yum! More cake anyone? Don’t be surprised if birthday cakes will be next on the list for a Covid-conversion. I expect to see a shortage of cupcake papers in my local grocery soon. I honestly feel like the world will never be the same again.

How many candles fit on a single cupcake? Just look on the bright side. This year you can extinguish the flame of your candle in one breath—and no one will know your age.