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.

Front Porch Friendships

What comes to mind when you think of a front porch? A swing? A rocking chair? An old dog asleep with one eye open? I think of relaxing conversations, sweet tea, and laughter.

For the first time in my life, I live in a house with a front porch. In this coronavirus climate, a front porch is a great place to meet your neighbors and develop relationships. People can stop by for chat and not feel like they’re intruding on your space or time. After all, you must want to talk or you wouldn’t be sitting on the porch, right?

Like most people in my age group, I’ve felt quite isolated during the past four months. My church conducts services on line and my book club meets through Zoom. Even my Wordweavers’ meetings are conducted through Zoom. I’m thankful for technology, but when I have an actual face to face conversation with a person, I feel happier.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer

Pause and think about the friends you have made over the years who rekindled your inner spirit. Friends encourage us to keep going through the hard times. Here are some of the benefits of friendship:

*Friends increase your sense of belonging and purpose.

*Boost your happiness and reduce your stress.

*Improve your self confidence and self worth.

*Help you cope with personal trauma.

*Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Of course developing and maintaining a friendship requires effort. I’ve had access to a front porch for three weeks and I must admit, I think I’ve sat out there three times. But each time I’ve venture onto the porch, someone always stops by to talk. And I know the investment of my time is worth it.

People need other people, now more than ever.

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”
– Zig Ziglar

Dear Reader, I hope my post has encouraged you to reach out to those around you. Until next time…

When Does a House Become a Home?

Welcome back, readers. I apologize for my absence from cyberspace. During the month of June, Herb and I immersed ourselves in the process of downsizing to move to a new location. Under the best conditions, moving is emotionally and physically exhausting. Add ninety degree temperatures and moving becomes unbearable. Now that we have settled in our new home, I’ve rewarded myself with a nap every afternoon.

Yes, piece by piece we dismantled the old homestead and carried all the things which passed the “keep test” to our new digs. As each picture came down and each knick-knack packed, the old place lost its charm. And when Two Men In A Truck came to carry the furniture out, the empty shell no longer seemed like the same home we’ve known for the past sixteen years.

I highly recommend Two Men and a Truck to anyone making a move. The team carefully handled our belongings and listened to our requests. They also wore face masks in compliance with local Covid-19 mandates.

We were ready to go. Perhaps it was the impact of the pandemic that encouraged us to let go of our sentimental feelings. After all, when you’ve been staring at the same four walls for months on end with no opportunities for travel, you get a little stir-crazy.

Buddy whined the first two nights, but eventually he acclimated to his new environment. Beagles are happy if they can continue to eat, and Buddy never missed a meal. Since we were doing most of the moving ourselves, we involved him in the process by allowing him to supervise.

Once everything was out of the old location, it took awhile to determine how to utilize the space in each room. Even though I thought I’d downsized, I sorted and gave away more clothes when I couldn’t squeeze another item into our closet.

After a few days our family became more comfortable in our new home. We hung a few pictures and placed potted plants on the front porch. During my youth, it always took awhile to break in a pair of new jeans. When you brought them home from the store the fabric felt stiff. After washing and wearing them a few times the jeans softened. In the same way a house becomes a home by living within the space.

“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” —Cecelia Ahern

A home is made by the people who live there and the love they share. Home is where the heart is. May you be happy in yours.

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.

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?”

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.