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In Praise of the Lone Lantana

Behold the primeval forest

enduring the tests of time

sheltered under towering oaks

Life survives.

Defended by vast armies

of raised palmetto swords

shielded by a green stockade

Life grows.

A confident lantana

performs a solo act

arrayed in pink and yellow

Life creates.

As if on cue, a butterfly

flutters across the scene

to sip the sweet fresh nectar

Life thrives.

Lacy ferns sing anthems

in time with steady rain

in praise of the lone lantana,

Life rejoices.

Patience is a Virtue

Hello friends,

How are you getting along this week? Have you counted the days since our National Emergency began? That’s right. Forty-five days. Many of us have been quarantined in our homes for most of those days. I can’t believe I’m still here looking at the same four walls. Herb suggested we change the pictures in the living room in order to see some new scenery.

It hasn’t been all bad. I have plenty to do. Remember the song, “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers?

“Countin’ flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all
Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo
Now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do.”

I sing that song to myself sometimes…but I haven’t started smoking and I don’t think this would be a good time to start.

Now, back to the subject of waiting. We’re all waiting for our stay-at-home orders to be lifted. I dream about going shopping, visiting friends, and worshipping with my church. (in person!)

But we might have to wait longer. So I try not to dream too much. That’s like inviting Mr. Discontent to come into your house and take residence. No thanks.

Waiting doesn’t mean you’re inactive. Instead you’re harnessing your mind, will, and emotions to work for you within the boundaries of your circumstances. Each day I try to do the following:

Accept the reality there is nothing I can do to change my circumstances.

Pray for the emotional strength to endure until my circumstances change.

Determine to use this time as productively as I can.

On March 13, I didn’t believe I could endure spending six weeks in my home. Although it seems like I’m stuck in time, something is happening. Even if my circumstances don’t appear to be changing, I’m different. I’m learning patience.

“Indeed, this life is a test. It is a test of many things – of our convictions and priorities, our faith and our faithfulness, our patience and our resilience, and in the end, our ultimate desires.” —Sheri L. Dew

Today I remembered a baby cardinal which was trapped in our courtyard a couple years ago. Its little wings were too small and weak to lift its pudgy body any higher than the patio table.

After several failed attempts to fly, the mama cardinal coached the baby higher. First it flew from the ground to the table, then from the table to the top of the garage door. Finally, it took off into the wide blue sky.

“Here I go!”

Re-opening America will be like that. Little by little we will find our way forward and enjoy all the wonderful freedoms we used to know. We will fly!

Until then, keep counting those flowers everyone.

Still Waters

Are you tired of sitting at home because of COVID-19? Are you ready to travel somewhere, anywhere?

Come with me on a journey. Although I’ve lived in my neighborhood for sixteen years, I didn’t really become acquainted with this pond until last week.

Beautiful, isn’t it? This view is very near my front door. On previous occasions, I was usually too busy to notice. Maybe I was walking Buddy, or riding my bike. Maybe I was getting the mail. I have to say, COVID-19 has forced me to pause and consider my immediate surroundings.

Our local stay-at-home order permits walking outdoors, but I wanted to keep my walk short (since I am recovering from a back injury). I discovered it takes twenty minutes to circle the pond. So let’s get started.

These bald cypress knees aren’t always visible. During the summer rainy season the roots of the tree are under water.

White ibis photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

The shallow water provides an ideal feeding ground for the white ibis. These birds use their long beaks to probe the soft mud in search of insects.

white egret

This spring the water is so low, little islands are rising. They make me think of continents pushing up out of the ocean. The islands attract snapping turtles who are eager to warm themselves in the sun. Soon after I took this photo, the egret perched itself upon the sandy mound to scan the water for its next meal.

This is the view from the western end of the pond. There have been years when the water recedes even more and the island becomes a land bridge.

Here is one of my favorite views. Standing in this spot I feel like I could be on a trail in some remote area, away from the confines of our Orlando neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my desire to walk closer to the water resulted in disaster. I picked up some dog poo-lution on my shoe. Lucky for you, a virtual trip doesn’t include this hazard of the trail.

Blue heron photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

As we near our starting point, we are delighted by the stately blue heron. During moments like these, I realize how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful place. My walks have provided me the opportunity to thank God for his love and care, even during this time of despair.

I’m reminded of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside the still waters,

He restores my soul.

I hope our journey around the pond has helped you relax a little. True, the pandemic has taken much from our lives. I trust that in this season of loss, something will be gained. My walks around the pond have inspired me to remember how God still provides for each of us.

Have you experienced God’s provision during this season of loss? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Lessons from a National Emergency Part 2

“A major disruption has occurred in our lives.”

By now you might be tired of reading anything related to our war with the coronavirus. Can anything be said that hasn’t already been said? I’m asking myself the same question as I sit down to write today.

When I walk outside the sky is still blue, birds are tweeting, flowers are blooming. The sunshine warms me. Somehow it seems like a perfectly normal spring day. It’s as if nature didn’t get the message. Doesn’t the natural world know the shadow of death is upon us?

When I wrote my last post I shared my initial reaction to our national emergency. We’ve all experienced many more setbacks since then. As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, more businesses, churches, and schools close their doors. Opportunities for socialization and recreation have diminished. Like many of you I’ve felt trapped in my home. It’s a good thing I like my husband or this could really be bad.

Herb and I enjoying another evening at home.

I commend the health professionals who risk their lives to fight the pandemic on the front lines. Those of us complying with local stay-at-home orders also play an important role. Social isolation holds back the enemy’s advances. But isolation does have a negative impact on our emotions. Every day we must put on our armor to stand against the anxiety which assaults our minds.

I think by now most of us realize a major disruption has occurred in our lives. We have changed. Maybe we don’t trust people as much as we used to. Last week my level of distress had actually escalated to the point I’ve had trouble focusing. Is this the “fog”of war?

Then I read an email from Dr. Valerie Allen, author of the self- help book, Beyond the Inkblots: Confusion to Harmony. A trained psychologist, Dr. Allen shared tips in her email for coping with the anxiety associated with the pandemic. Here are some suggestions:

Keep reaching out to people. Commit to at least one phone call, email, or text a day. Share your concerns and feelings with people you trust.

Engage in physical activity. Take a walk, ride a bike, lift soup cans if you are stuck indoors.

Develop your Creativity. Cook a new dish made from ingredients you have in your pantry. Write in a journal. Take an online class. Read about a topic you’ve always wanted to know more about.

Increase your level of spirituality. Watch live streaming videos of worship services. Pray. Engage in Bible study.

Tackle a Project. Clean out a closet. Organize your photos. Reorganize your kitchen cabinets.

I’d like to add a tip of my own to this list:

Make a Positive Statement. Encourage others by sharing something up-lifting. Post positive quotes on social media. Hang up Christmas lights in your window to send a message of encouragement to your neighbors.

Our daughter and son in law hung these lights on their apartment balcony.

Christmas lights send a message of hope. Leave a comment and share how you’ve received encouragement during these dark times.

Lessons from a National Emergency (Part One)

What have you learned about yourself over the past week? There’s nothing like a good old fashioned global pandemic to show us what we’re made of. Americans have been fortunate to escape the wars and epidemics which may have affected the rest of world. But this is different. As many have already said, we are all weathering Covoid-19 together.

It’s hard to feel a sense of “community “when you’re told you need to stay home to protect yourself from a disease capable of killing you or members of your family. Although I have not been “quarantined,” I’ve felt lonely, fearful, and exhausted this week. I’m sixty-six years old, my husband is sixty-nine, and my mother is eighty-six with an “underlying health condition.” My decision to practice “social distancing” has been for my own and my family’s protection.

I’m exhausted from trying to ensure we have enough food and supplies to last at least two weeks. When I encountered empty shelves at my local Publix I became anxious. Why? Because we’ve always had enough, in fact we’ve always had more than enough. I’m not a fan of hoarding, especially if my behavior keeps others from getting what they need. Fortunately, I managed to purchase what was necessary, and made substitutions where I could.

The image of my newly planted flowerbed is my effort to gain control in a world that’s gone out of control. Even the Florida State Parks have closed their campgrounds for two months. If I’m going to be expected to stay home, at least I’ll have something pretty to view.

So far here is my list of seven lessons I’ve learned about myself from this emergency.

I don’t like feeling out of control.

I am spoiled.

I hate having my plans cancelled.

Disease is scary.

I take “the good life” for granted.

What I think is necessary, might not be necessary.

I don’t like limitations placed upon how I can choose to spend my day.

As the next two weeks unfold, I hope I can adjust to my new life. I hope I can see the hand of God in the midst of the storm. There is no way I can come through this without being changed, and I pray it’s a change for the better.

Sometimes it helps to remember those people who have lived before us. This morning I thought about Anne Frank, who hid in the Secret Annex for two years along with her Jewish family. She spent her time writing about her thoughts and feelings. Her diary helped her make sense of her situation.

When I think of Anne and the suffering she experienced, I realize what a “spoiled baby” I am. This is a time like no other time. It could be an opportunity for me to grow up. (even at my age)

I entitled this post part one, stay tuned for more lessons as they unfold. How has the pandemic affected your life? Leave a comment.

Accepting The Risks of Life

Life is full of risks. Fortunately disaster seldom happens, or we would never travel in a car or fly in a plane. We would never eat out because restaurant food might give us salmonella. We would stay in our homes with the doors locked and the blinds pulled down.

I take a risk whenever I hike through a forest. I’m allergic to poison ivy. I developed an allergy to this evil plant in my teens. My symptoms? A blistery itchy rash that drives me crazy, especially in the middle of the night!

Throughout my adult years my allergic reactions worsened, usually requiring one or two trips to a doctor for doses of steroids in order to get over it.  The only preventative advice the doctors ever give me is “stay away from poison ivy.” They always smile after they say it.  I think what they really mean is,”Good luck with that.”

According to the  American Academy of Dermatology, eighty-five percent of the U. S. population is allergic to poison ivy.  I guess I’m in good company. The above link offers more specific details about how to identify the plant.

Over the years I’ve become more adept at avoiding poison ivy by walking in the middle of any trail. I usually stay on the look-out. Remember the old saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.” However, my last adventure included scrambling over boulders in Shenandoah National Park.  Scrambling involves using your hands and feet to move vertically. When I grabbed hold of a rock to steady my balance, I touched a strange vine.

IMG_5859

Let’s put it this way, I was between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to keep myself from breaking a leg. Touching the weird vine was a total accident. A day later I was symptomatic.

Although I always wear long sleeves and pants when I hike, I’ve learned that the oil (urushiol) of the plant clings to your clothes and shoes. Have you ever tried to change your clothes without touching them? It’s not an easy process.

By the way, urushiol can also cling to a dog’s fur. Buddy wasn’t with me on this trip, so I can’t blame the family dog for my irritation.

Every time I hike in the woods or take a camping trip I put myself in danger. So far I haven’t decided to stop being “mother nature’s child.” The trails are too inviting, the trees too alluring.  At this point I’ve decided to accept the risks that go with my choices.

As I write this I’m sure many people are struggling with making decisions about their spring break and summer vacations. The coronavirus appears to be more deadly than poison ivy. Maybe spending time in the wilderness and away from crowds is the right vacation for you this year. Accept the risks that go with your choices. At least you can’t spread poison ivy to other people.

Here are a some links to my previous posts about amazing places to visit in America. Pikes Peak, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon. (If you hesitate to fly, there’s always the option of driving.)

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” —Helen Keller

Reading: Just Do It!

People who can read, should.

Are you a reader? Do you enjoy losing yourself in a book? This week is Read Across America Week. Teachers all across the country are shining a light on the benefits of reading.

REMEMBER WHEN READING WAS FUN ?

When I was a child I loved to read or hear others read. Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss was one of our family favorites. My mother read the book to us so often, my brothers and I memorized most of the lines.

In elementary school I enjoyed the Boxcar Children. Author Gertrude Warren amazed me with her tale of four orphans surviving on their own in an abandoned boxcar. I admired their ingenuity and the way they cared for one another.

A memorable character I related to was Anne Shirley, the dramatic imaginative Anne, spelled with an E of course! I felt a connection because like me, she got in trouble for talking too much. I read Anne of Green Gables again as an adult. L.M. Montgomery still delighted me with her beautiful descriptions. A few years ago, I enjoyed posing with “Anne” on a trip to Prince Edward Island.

HOW I LOST MY LOVE OF READING

As a parent, teacher, and now as a new author, I’m still talking to children about the importance of reading. Books contain insight, information, and inspiration. Books help us grow mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Parents and teachers encourage their children to read, but do they read for themselves? If not, what happened?

Sometime during my high school years, I was forced to read for information only. The entertainment value of books decreased. My classes demanded I read in order to pass a test, or write a term paper. This continued throughout college. The joy of reading evaporated like a puddle on hot pavement.

After college I became busy with my teaching career, managing a household, and transporting my children to their activities. I always hoped I would have more time to read without interruption. Sigh. Does reading a lesson plan count?

I remember when elementary schools used to have D.E.A.R. time during the school day. Everybody, including the teacher, was supposed to Drop Everything And Read. It was a sacred time when teachers were supposed to model good reading behavior. That’s a great idea in a perfect world. The reality was much different. It was hard for me to ignore the children and sit with a book when Johnny was writing with a Sharpie on his desk. Well, like many short lived programs, D.E.A.R. was dropped for learning goals and standardized testing. How sad.

Fortunately for me, retirement brought an opportunity to read more. Right now I’m reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Author Kim Michele Richardson tells the story of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the prejudice they encountered during the 1930’s. As someone who is”blue,” Cussy Mary Carter had plenty of reasons to hate white people, but instead responded with love. Cussy worked as a “packhorse librarian.” She carried books to some of the poorest and most remote shacks in Appalachia. The packhorse lending library was sponsored by the WPA of the Roosevelt administration. Cussy’s patrons grew to appreciate her love for books and gave her the name Book Woman. This book made me think about the importance of reading and how I often take it for granted.

START NEW HABITS

I love sitting down with a good book. If you would like to spend more time reading, I’ve come up with five tips.

Read for fifteen minutes every night before you go to bed.

Order books from the public library. Most libraries lend ebooks these days.

Join a book club. You’ll read books you wouldn’t normally read, and make lifelong friends.

Join Book Bub, an online service that emails you daily with reduced prices on Amazon ebooks that suit your interests.

Dedicate one night a week to uninterrupted reading. Stay away from your phone, or better yet, turn it off.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to get busy reading, but keep reading blogs, too! (I think that counts.) What are you reading lately? Leave a comment about a book you’ve enjoyed, or offer a reading tip of your own.

Ode to the Spotted Bananas

A picture of patience

two long-suffering friends

perched upon a pseudo-branch or might it be a stem?

A rash of brownish age spots

proliferate their skin

the green of youth has vanished with their next of kin.

What is to become of them?

What will be their fate?

Crown a bowl of cereal before they’re out-of-date?

They hope to draw the eye

of a casual passerby

if left to age another day they’ll be banana pie.

The Rare Animals of Ochlockonee River State Park

Every time I visit a Florida State Park, I learn something new. While some parks commemorate events in Florida history, other places are well known for their diverse plants and wildlife.

Recently Herb and I drove to the panhandle of Florida towing our little Viking camper behind us. When we pulled up to the Ochlockonee entrance, we were greeted by a smiling volunteer. “You’re going to love this park. Be sure to watch for our white squirrels. You might even see our piebald deer during your visit.” The nice volunteer marked the place where and when we might see the beautiful deer on our park map.

“Thanks.” Herb took the map and we drove off to find our campsite, wondering if we heard her correctly. “White squirrels?” We found our site and busied ourselves setting up camp before sunset.

The next morning we were blessed with good weather and decided to take Buddy, our beagle on a short hike along the river. Herb took hold of Buddy’s leash. “Today is white squirrel hunting day. Buddy should be able to help us find one.”

We hiked a little over a mile, but saw very little wildlife. Even so, the view of the river was gorgeous.

When we returned to the campsite for lunch, I saw something white running on the ground. Is that a cat? I looked closer and saw another furry white animal. “Herb, come quick. “The white squirrels are here.”

Herb grabbed his camera and took some great pictures. Buddy stayed asleep in his doggy bed. I’m glad he didn’t scare the squirrels away.

Our story doesn’t end here. At dusk we drove our jeep to the pine flatwood area to look for the unusual deer. We waited and waited but had no luck. I rolled down the window and peered out into the thicket. “Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe the volunteer sent us on a snipe hunt.”

On our third day in the park, we left the campground and set out to see the Gulf. As we were driving I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Look!” A large white animal was grazing in the open meadow by the road. “Could that be the deer?”

Herb pulled the car over and got out. I followed along with my binoculars. “I don’t believe it. I’ve never seen such an unusual deer. The animal’s head is brown and its body is white.”

Later I read a park brochure which described the white squirrels and the deer as “piebald.” Although these animals are mostly white, they have some patches of color. This is due to a mutant gene which regulates melanin. The piebald animals are very rare, and are different from albinos since they do not have pink eyes.

This white squirrel has a small patch of gray on the top of his head.

White squirrels and a white deer living in the same park. Wow! Well, at least these animals are safe from hunters as long as they stay in the park. After all, they’ve lost their camouflage.

After enjoying a few days at the park, we started the long drive back to Orlando. “Stop!” I shouted.

Herb slammed on the brakes of the jeep. The piebald deer was only ten feet from the front of our jeep. Once it safely crossed the road, a brown deer followed close behind.

I caught my breath. “Boy, that was a close one. We almost killed the park’s mascot. While the piebald deer is safe from hunters, cars still remain a problem.”

If you are interested in wildlife, check out two of our other Florida trips: Florida manatees and Our Paynes Prairie Campout. Do you enjoy seeing animals in the wild? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Posing with another one of a kind animal.

Love Me, Love My Dog

An example of unconditional love.

Have you ever stopped to think about how many English idioms we use in conversation each day? “Love me, love my dog” is one of these old sayings.

Origin

A medieval French monk, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux immortalized the phrase during one of his sermons. (Wait a minute. Was he the saint that Saint Bernard dogs are named after? No. That was Saint Bernard of Menthon.)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux referred to the phrase when he was speaking about about angels and their love for humanity. Originally, “He who loves me, also loves my dog.” was a common ancient proverb. So the saying originated much earlier than 1100 A.D.

As a person living in 2020, I find it hard to believe dogs once had a negative connotation. In medieval times people did not want to have dogs as pets. Dogs were dirty and carried diseases. Grooming and vaccinations were unheard of. To own a dog was considered a fault. To love someone who had a dog, was to love them unconditionally.

Usage in Modern Times

Over the years the old saying was shortened to “love me, love my dog” and has be taken literally as well as figuratively. Sometimes a child would bring a flea-bitten stray mutt into the house, expecting to be welcomed with open arms. The child was often met with mixed results depending on his mother’s mood at the time.

The literal meaning isn’t as popular now because people love dogs so much, they own more than one. Pets are considered members of the family. People take their pets everywhere. We are quite accustomed to seeing dogs in Florida parks, campgrounds, and on hiking trails. (leashed, of course)

But the figurative meaning of love me, love my dog states an important message for couples. In order for a marriage to succeed, two people need to accept each other as they are— including their wants and needs.

My Personal Story

Given how much I adore Buddy, you might be surprised to learn I never wanted to own a dog. I didn’t want the responsibility of walking a dog, and I certainly didn’t want to pick up after one. I also disliked the idea of any pet getting up on the furniture.

Herb was the one who always wanted a beagle. We had been happily married for over thirty years. Since he was nearing retirement, how could I deprive him of something he needed? “Love me, love my dog?”

When we met Buddy in 2011 my heart melted. Buddy has changed my life. This week I’m visiting schools to speak about Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street and praising this adorable dog.

Everywhere we go, we meet people who love Buddy. He’s become a celebrity in our neighborhood and his presence always helps me sell me more books at local events. Buddy gets more attention for being a dog, than I do for being an author. I’m ready to put a new twist on the old proverb.

“Love my dog, love me?”