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Butterfly Dreams

We all have times when inspiration ignites. At five a.m. this morning I felt the burning desire to write a post. In my in-between state of wakefulness, with my head still on the pillow I wondered…Why have I only posted one time this month?

I did a little mind traveling, remembering the events of the past three weeks. The words floated through my imagination in the form of a poem.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the broken dryer

and the mountains of laundry

that made it difficult to walk through the bedroom

after our anniversary hiatus to the Florida Keys.

Maybe…

it was the weeds in my garden

their ugly heads raised in defiance

and gnarly fists fastened

around the marigold stems

gasping for air

Maybe…

Maybe it was the hurricane which by-passed my state

but demanded my attention

with weather channel theatrics.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the sick dog

and the never ending schedule of medication

which made him pee on the floor.

Maybe…

Dear readers,

Inspiration is as fragile and illusive as a butterfly. The flutter of the butterfly’s wings can be heard any time of the day or night. (Some writers keep paper and pencil on their nightstands.) I know I’ve been all over the map with my posts this summer. I’ve learned I cannot force my writing into a schedule. That’s the beauty of creativity.

Have You Hugged Your Hound Today?

September 8 is National Hug Your Hound Day.

The past month has been a challenge for us. Our beagle, Buddy, started limping on three legs. His lameness required a visit to a vet neurologist. At first we wondered if he might be having another episode with degenerative disk disease, but an MRI showed he did not have a significant level of spinal pressure to warrant another surgery. Whew! We were glad to hear that information.

The neurologist prescribed prednisone and crate rest for four weeks. Buddy likes his bed, which we’ve placed in a small pen in our family room. So that’s where he’s been confined for the past three weeks. The treatment is working. Lately, when we’ve taken him out to do his “business” he hasn’t limped anymore.

During this time of strict rest, I really missed petting and hugging Buddy. I missed having him under foot whenever I cooked a meal. I missed long walks with him around the neighborhood. I can watch him sleep and hear him breathing over there in his pen, but life just isn’t the same. One more week to go.

I’ve learned how much I need my dog. Did you know owning a dog has lots of benefits for people? Here are a few:

  • Improved heart health (studies have linked owning a dog with lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol)
  • Increased exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Improved social life (talking to neighbors who walk their dogs)
  • Reduced stress (spending a few minutes with your dog lowers anxiety)
  • Greater meaning and purpose to life.
  • Less depression
  • Prevention of allergies in children
  • Reduce doctor visits (especially among senior citizens)

Wow! Doesn’t this list inspire you to give your four legged friend a hug? Or if you don’t have the pleasure of owning a dog, you might consider the idea.

National Hug Your Hound Day is about observing the world from your dog’s point of view.

I share Buddy’s point of view in my book, Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street. The story follows his recovery from paralysis caused by a herniated disk in 2013. I appreciate this endorsement from our veterinarian, who helped us get through Buddy’s medical challenges.

“Buddy teaches us how to keep perspective and maintain a positive outlook on life no matter what the situation may be.” —Enrique G. Duprey, DVM

This post is for all of you dog lovers who continue to invest in the health of your pets. If they could speak human and thank you, they would! Dogs love unconditionally and inspire us to be better people. How has your dog enriched your life? Leave a comment.

When You’re Stuck in the Cone of Uncertainty

Like many Floridians, I am waiting and watching to see where Hurricane Dorian might make landfall. At the moment the storm could come onshore anywhere on the east coast between Jacksonville and Miami. Some weather forecasters call this the cone of uncertainty.

Sometimes I think the days prior to a hurricane are worse than the storm itself. Every storm season the same scenario unfolds. People do a lot of panic buying this time of year. We all rush to buy bottled water, batteries, and non-perishable food items. The grocery stores are crowded with anxious people wearing confused expressions. Hmm…don’t we still have a few cans of beans from last year, or have they expired?

After I moved to Orlando in 1989, I kept all of my supplies in a box for the purpose of always being ready. Over the years my supplies have dwindled, but I still have an emergency cooking kit complete with sterno. In thirty years, I’ve experienced four significant storms. Not a bad record. I’ve never had to light up my emergency kit.

So everyone wonders…how bad will it get? Is this our year for the “big one,” or is Dorian going to have a deadly effect on some other community? No one wishes trouble on residents of another state, but everyone breathes a sigh of relief if their hometown manages to escape the worst.

Anxiety hangs over most people in my town. I feel sorry for those who have to continue to perform their normal routines while they are under the cone of uncertainty. On the other hand, maybe the best way to deal with the stress is to concentrate on something else.

I ask myself, why do I feel anxious? The answer is always the same…because I have no control over what might happen in the future. Then I’m reminded, do I ever have control? When the weather is calm, do I have control? I act like the cone of uncertainty is something new, but don’t I always live under a cone of uncertainty?

Once again my spirit is convicted. Everyday I make plans for tomorrow, or next week, or next month, assuming everything will be the same. How foolish of me to forget, ultimately God is in control.

Proverbs 19:21 reads “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Right now I’m taking a deep breath, and leaving tomorrow to HIm.

The Balance-Happiness Debate

Balanced Rock is a great example of equilibrium in nature. The boulder looks like it could fall at any moment, and someday erosion will force it to topple. Until then, it stands as a scenic wonder located in Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. Balanced Rock required perfect geologic and weather conditions to achieve its balance. In the same way, people often go to great lengths to achieve balance in their lives. We try to balance our finances, our diets, and the never ending work-play struggle. But is balance ever possible? And beyond that, is balance necessary to our happiness?

I’ve thought a lot about balance lately. After my foot surgery five weeks ago, my activities drastically changed. My doctor ordered me to not put any weight on the ball of my left foot for three weeks. I used a walker and managed to balance on my right foot to walk to the bathroom. I spent most of my days and nights on the sofa.

Resting was difficult. I’m not by any means a “couch potato.” At first I dreaded so much inactivity. Then I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this time of recovery brought me. How often have I wished for more time to pursue my passions? I passed the hours by reading, writing, and praying. I was completely out of balance, yet completely happy.

Our desire for balance comes from our desire to control our lives.

Are you a time management freak? We all have twenty-four hours in our day, and follow some kind of routine. We can make plans, but interruptions arise, throwing us off balance. These interruptions remind us we don’t have control of our time after all. I admire people who can go with the flow of events. They are usually calmer, happier people.

Instead of desiring balance, identify personal priorities.

Do you exhaust yourself trying to balance your own needs and the needs of others? Narrow your demands on yourself and your time. Pray and make a list of your priorities. God knows you. He knows your abilities, and he knows the needs of those in your sphere of influence. Before you commit to anything new, evaluate it according to your priorities. Be accepting of what you can and cannot do. Be accepting of other people and their priorities. You will be a lot happier.

Re-think the social media energy drain.

When I made a list of my priorities, I reflected upon the amount of time I spend on social media sites. I realized I have an addiction. Any time I have a few spare minutes at my disposal, I start logging onto facebook, twitter, or instagram. Beginning writers are told they must increase their online presence in order to succeed. Spending time interacting on social media is a never ending cycle that always demands more energy. Energy that might be better spent in face to face relationships.

Respect life’s seasons.

Nature’s four seasons were created for the purpose of growth and rest. All of us have seasons in our life when we are more focused on one goal or another. It’s important to recognize when one season ends and a new one begins. Each season brings new opportunities for growth, outwardly and inwardly. When we relax and submit to God’s will for the season we’re in, all striving ceases. For writers, there are times of creativity, and other times to seek inspiration. You might feel like you’re out of balance, but you’re right where you need to be.

The Book of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom about life and balance.

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man can eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” —King Solomon

What are your thoughts on balance and happiness? Does happiness depend upon achieving balance? Leave a comment.

When Airline Travel Goes Wrong

We thought we had it made. With boarding passes in hand and luggage stowed, Herb and I relaxed at the Orlando (MCO) airport in plenty of time to board our flight. The sunny skies confirmed we had good weather for flying. Our itinerary included traveling to Newark, New Jersey from Orlando. Once in Newark, we would embark on a night flight to London.

Herb thought of everything. He even reserved seats with extra leg space on the flight to London to ensure our comfort. We planned to sleep on the plane and arrive rested and ready to see a few sights in London before meeting our Viking tour group.

Then we heard an announcement. “The three p.m. flight to Newark is delayed. Liberty International is closed due to storms. Stay tuned for more information.” An hour went by. I tried to occupy my mind with a crossword puzzle. The four p.m. announcement repeated the same information.

Herb began to pace the airport like a caged tiger. “Looks like we’re going to miss our connection to London.” I continued to focus on my crossword puzzle and hope for the best.

Finally at five p.m. the staff started boarding procedures. The plane taxied out of the gate. Then the captain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry—Newark is not allowing any planes to land. The storm has gotten worse. We will need to go back to the gate. I promise to update you in an hour.”

So we sat. And we sat. True to his word, at six-thirty the captain told us nothing changed. People were starting to panic. Word had spread there were two dogs stowed in the baggage section of the plane. In ninety-degree heat with no water, how would the animals survive?

Soon the captain announced anyone who wanted to exit to plane, could do so. Someone was going to take the dogs out of the hold and give them water. Whew! The passengers cheered.

We remained in our seats. At this point I didn’t want to be left behind if the plane departed. I also didn’t want to join the number of passengers who might delay our flight any longer with their goings and comings. I began to regret my decision when the person next to me returned with a pizza. The protein bar I ate a couple of hours ago couldn’t compete with the aroma. My stomach churned from hunger and anxiety.

Finally, at eight p.m. we were cleared for Newark. Herb and I knew we were doomed. What would happen when we arrived? Our future hung in the balance.

Finally at eleven p.m. we landed in Newark. We rushed to our connecting gate, only to discover our flight to London took off about fifteen minutes prior to our arrival. We were told to go to customer service to find out what to do next.

Tired and disappointed, we joined the line with other disgruntled customers. When our turn came, we pleaded our case to the attendant behind the desk. After checking her computer she said, “Well, it looks like you might be able to fly stand-by to London first thing in the morning at eight o’clock. You will need to board at seven. “

“What do we do until then?” Herb asked.

“You can take a taxi to a hotel for the night. But you will need to collect your luggage from baggage claim and recheck it in the morning.” she responded.

Herb and I moved away from the counter to discuss our options. We got back in line until it was our turn to speak to the attendant again.

“We’ve decided to stay here. We don’t want to be late in case we can board the early flight. Do you have any pillows or blankets?” Herb asked.

The attendant stepped into a side closet and returned with two blankets. (The same super thin kind they give out on planes.) She didn’t produce any pillows.

Herb decided to buy a neck pillow from a self-serve vendor. We took the blankets and our carry-on luggage to the only piece of carpeted floor we could find. A few other wretched souls were curled up across from us.

“Goodnight, Herb.” I tried to get comfortable by resting my head on top of my purse. It didn’t work. Sleep eluded me. Blame it on the glaring ceiling lights. Blame it on the incessant droning of airport “techno” music. Blame it on the guy talking on the phone a few feet away. On top of all this, I couldn’t get warm. Every time I looked at Herb his eyes were closed and I thought I better stay quiet.

About five a.m. the activity in the airport picked up. A stream of passengers with early flights rolled by our “bedroom.” Herb and I picked up our blankets and stumbled off to find coffee and breakfast.

After breakfast, we checked in with the receptionist at our new gate and took our seats in the waiting area. Finally after another hour of anxious waiting our names were called! We had seats on the next flight to London. Is this what it might feel like when God looks in his “book of names” for entry to heaven? We were elated.

Eight more hours of flying and a five hour time difference put us at London Heathrow airport around eight p.m. Twenty-seven hours had passed from when we set foot in the Orlando airport. We made it, but of course our luggage did not. This was a perfect example of what can go wrong, did go wrong.

What did this experience teach me? What are the lessons I learned?

“Traveling is brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and lose sight of the familiar comforts of home. You are constantly off balance.” —James Michner.

This quote rings true with me. Traveling can be brutal. No matter how carefully a person plans, forces beyond his control can change everything. Do you agree? Leave a comment. I also welcome any travel tips you may want to offer.

Tribute to Claude Monet

Every day you create, you touch something beyond yourself.

How much effort are you willing to put forth to pursue your artistic vision? Would you move to a new location? Divert a stream? Build a pond? Plant a garden? The founder of impressionism, Claude Monet did all of these things to create an environment for painting.

Most creatives find places to go for inspiration, few construct that place. This summer I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, located west of Paris. Monet came to Giverny in 1883 where he lived and painted until his death in 1926. Alongside his property, he had a pond built taking water from a branch of the Epte River, a tributary of the Seine. His famous “Water Lilies” paintings were inspired by this pond. Click the link to view.

A view of the Lily Pond with the Japanese bridge in the distance.

Worth the Effort

Under Monet’s direction, a small army of gardeners, planted an exotic collection of weeping willows, bamboo trees, and flowers. He often referred to his garden as his “finest masterpiece.” But Monet wasn’t only interested in the plants around the pond, he obsessed with the pond itself. He studied the effects of light on the water at all times of the day and during every season. He painted 250 oil paintings of water landscapes. Any representation of sky or land is shown as a reflection in these works.

Up close and personal with a water lily.

Not Without Critics

Every cutting edge creative has a few critics, of course. The question is, “Do you allow yourself and your art to be hampered by the opinion of others?” When the local authorities learned that Monet had imported his water lilies from Egypt and South America, they demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the water system. Monet simply ignored them. As time went on, his paintings became more abstract, challenging the conventions of Parisian art in the modern age. This disturbed many patrons who normally commissioned artists to paint realistically. Their comments did not deter Monet from expressing himself.

No Stranger to Hardship

Do you give up when the going gets tough? At the age of 82 Monet discovered he had cataracts. The deterioration of his eyesight terrorized him. Still he continued to paint, determined to create what he saw. He painted the Japanese Bridge in fiery shades of yellow and red. Click here and scroll down to view a painting that expresses the emotions of Monet at this time.

A Bigger Reach

Monet pioneered the idea that artists could express themselves as individuals. Looking back we can appreciate the contribution he made to the art world, changing it forever. No artist can know how their work might be viewed historically. Every day you create you touch something beyond yourself.

In the garden.

Bletchley Park : Britain’s Best Kept Secret

Can you keep a secret? In today’s social media culture, many people can’t. Try to imagine not discussing any information about your work with fellow employees and immediate family members for thirty years.

Welcome back to my D-Day Anniversary Tour. This summer my husband and I took a Viking Cruise which included Normandy, Paris, and London. I was impressed by our time spent at Bletchley Park, located outside of London in Buckinghamshire. The estate was the home of Sir Herbert Leon until 1938. Then it became one of the most important centers of British intelligence during World War Two.

“The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”—Arnold Dahl

The British government purchased the serene fifty-five acre country estate because it afforded privacy and security. Nearby transport links to Oxford and Cambridge connected the estate to academia. Bletchley Park had its own power and water supply which guaranteed safe drinking water at all times.

No one in the surrounding community knew what was really going on at Bletchley. High chain link fences were erected around the perimeter. Neighbors thought it was a lunatic asylum. This impression was reinforced at the local pub, where brilliant and somewhat eccentric codebreakers spoke to each other in Ancient Greek. Ordinary folk who lived around the secret base were baffled by the unusual people in their midst.

Why so Secret?

The mission of Bletchley was to intercept, translate, and decrypt German communications and notify Allied troops of Nazi battle plans. Any breech of information that might get back to the Nazi’s would be disastrous. At the peak of its operation nine thousand employees worked here. All of them were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act of Britain. The penalty for careless talk could warrant imprisonment. Signs like the one posted below encouraged workers to not talk about their work. This pact of secrecy was enforced until the mid 1970’s.

A reminder to the Bletchley workers to not share information.

Of course not all nine thousand employees worked in the beautiful Bletchley mansion. Huts were erected on the property where most of the codebreaking occurred. The huts were dark and hot inside. All windows were covered with black blinds to keep staff from knowing what work was being done inside the neighboring hut. German messages were passed from one hut to another via a makeshift wooden tunnel.

After a ten year restoration project, the huts were opened to the public in 2004. No photographs existed of the buildings. All were restored by volunteers advised by veterans who worked here.

Cracking the Nazi Codes

Nazi communications were written using the Enigma. This machine looked like a typewriter except it substituted one letter for another creating an encrypted message. When an encrypted message was received by another Enigma, the operator would retype the gibberish and decode the actual message. A British mathematician at Bletchley, Alan Turing invented the Bombe, a machine that cracked the encrypted Nazi’s codes, and speeded up the process.

A replica of a Bombe machine.

Several Bombes were located in Hut 11 and were operated by members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service. (WRNS) The women worked eight hour shifts six days a week . Many of them were young, in their late teens and early twenties. The work was noisy as the rows of drums revolved. The smell of hot oil emanated from these machines. The women had little or no understanding of the importance of their work, but knew they had to keep each machine running. The Bombes of Hut 11 enabled the decrypting of three thousand German messages a day. Throughout the war and for years afterwards the women kept their contract of secrecy.

The work performed at Bletchley Park is thought to have shortened the length of the Second World War by two years. Winston Churchill thanked the (WRENS) for “laying the golden eggs without clucking.”