Thief of Hearts

20150213_205509 When Matthew was born and for a couple years subsequently we wrote a lot about his struggle through 3 heart surgeries. Here’s a snapshot of Matthew now, after he came to stay with me last night. We took him to a Mardi Gras parade in Orange Beach, AL – which is as tame as parades get and so perfect for kids (and snow birds, apparently!).

This little guy is so awesome. He walked around waving, smiling and announcing “Happy Mardi Gras!” to everyone he passed. To the ladies he’d announce: “Happy Valentine’s Day!” Then at one point he looked me right in the eyes and said: “You are special!” After a positive reaction from me he added this to his repertoire for others.

It was fascinating to watch as people just melted before him, in the presence of his big smile and endless exuberance. It was a bit like watching a crowd do “the wave” as we walked down the street. People standing, staring, lost in thought, concern and worries about whatever, waiting for a parade to pass before them and throw some trinkets. Then out of nowhere comes this sweet little voice, drifting into their ears spreading well-wishes and you could watch it move, like it was a tangible thing – recognition of something different, heads turning as they seek to identify the source, involuntary smiles lighting up their faces as they are pulled unwittingly into “the now” by this gregarious 4 year old. Without time to think about it, they do their best to engage him, not realizing what they want is to hold on to this feeling, this moment, when this little guy reached into their heart and effortlessly squeezed a little love from it, and then replaced it with pure joy, the joy that is simply – being human, and seeing in that sweet face, all the goodness that is in you reflected right back for you to clearly see.

For a kid born with half a heart, he certainly has mastered the art of stealing them from others everywhere he goes. On this day of love, it’s worth noting the half of his heart that functions is bigger and more full than most of ours with both sides functioning. We are so blessed to have this child in our lives. Matthew – YOU, my little buddy, are SPECIAL! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Blowing Away The Cobwebs

Orange Beach SunriseNothing like a 2 year writing hiatus, while MFN sits and collects some dust and a few cobwebs. Since the blog has emerged in conversation recently and seems to keep coming up I’ve found myself writing in my head again. This is where posts are born. I’m humming along, doing my thing (biking, kayaking, cooking, cleaning, showering, etc.) and suddenly words are being formed in my head and I’m forced to stop what I’m doing and capture them (or not, and allow them to vanish).

This hasn’t happened much the last couple years, as I’ve been in major transition. If you read my last post you know old Leon found me while I was looking at a house for sale on the Alabama gulf coast. Subsequently, I found a lovely home in one of my favorite little towns on Pleasure Island, about 30 miles from my encounter with Mr. N-U-L-L.

I bought said home and left Knoxville (and yes, the good man I married, from whom I’m happy to say I had the most amicable parting in the history of divorce – a testament to two people who truly loved each other but just weren’t compatible for the long haul), and spent the last couple years settling into my new city, which likes to refer to itself as “A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem” (though I don’t think we have the monopoly on that description).

It’s been an interesting couple of years, filled with some of the highest highs and the lowest lows I’ve experienced thus far in my life. Oddly the biggest extreme between hitting the low and subsequently reaching the high was amazingly short. I attribute this to a number of things, not the least of which was finally asking for help when I needed it. To that end I’d be remiss not to give a shout out to my dear friend Wendy, who heard that request and responded in spades.  As did many others (all of whom I hope will forgive my omitting their names here – you know who you are and I love and thank you all).

Additionally, finding a fun, amazing, eclectic and very accepting group of locals has been like discovering an oasis in the desert. Not to knock Knoxville, because I know many people are happy there, but in 7 years I’m not sure I managed to accumulate more than 5 or 6 people I’d call “friends.” Here on the island, however, it’s like I’ve always known these people. Is that the island mindset, or is it that people who would make the choice many others only talk or dream about (moving to the beach) are just more likely to be MY kind of people?

What I can say for certain is that I have a TON of observations and stories to share from my short time here. Many days it feels like I opened up a fantastic novel and, rather than reading from the outside, physically wandered into the middle and became part of it, “Neverending Story” style.

So here is my “housecleaning” blog post… dusting off the cobwebs and shining her up again. Here’s me, rolling up the sleeves and blowing off the fingertips as I put them to keyboard and begin to let the thoughts once again take shape somewhere besides my journal (and my “Dear Wendy Diaries” – but that’s another story).

Twenty Miles From Somewhere

FtMorganStar“DO YOU LIVE HERE??” were the words yelled in my direction the day I met Leon Null (N-U-L-L as he spelled it out for me). Leon was making his way over to the house where I was descending the back stairs as I began to explain that I was sent by my realtor to look around.

“Well they’s lots of people stealin’ stuff ‘round here all the time,” Leon sneers, still making me up and down, deciding if I’m a good or bad guy, as I stand there in my running shorts with my dog on her leash. He clearly already knew I didn’t live there.

The temperatures fell precipitously yesterday as massive storms pushed a cold front through the island so although it’s a gorgeous sunny day it’s cooler and Leon has donned his winter best for today’s excursion.

Wearing a flannel cap with ear muffs resembling something Elmer Fudd might wear on his “wabbit hunting” expedition, Leon decides I pose no threat and seizes the opportunity at a captive audience for as long as I last. Continue reading “Twenty Miles From Somewhere”

Travel Writing

travel a lot. I don’t write experiences down enough but I experience them over and over as I see new places. One of the really cool aspects of travel for me is watching how the topography changes, or experiencing something unique that anchors the experience to that place. As the shrubs and the trees and the slopes of the earth change, the elements give you tokens with which to associate new memories.

For example, I cannot see a picture of a moose now without remembering the large moose we ran into (almost literally!) on our trail hike on Mt. Alyeska in Alaska. A brown bear to remind me of the one I saw in Whistler while riding a tram to the top of the mountain for a business conference reception. A whale breaking the plane of water in its feeding to remind me of the pod we saw off the coast of Hawaii as the sun was setting. A Sandhill crane reminding me of the group of four that landed in the front yard at our condo in Orlando, and one nearly came in the front door (to the utter delight of my niece and nephews).

A shooting star always takes me back to the night I spent lying in an open field at 14,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies when a meteor shower we hadn’t expected created a magnificent parade in the sky. I was 19, working on a dude ranch and thought there could be nothing greater in this world. At 38 I’m not convinced now that I was wrong about that.

It is the experience of a place that we carry with us – the little anchors that crawl into our hearts and take up residence, warming their respective corners. They lie and wait, popping up as our senses take in new experiences that funnel through our existing neural pathways and weave our past into our present, connecting our experiences before snuggling back into our heart spaces to await our next adventure.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” 
~St. Augustine

The Latest GOP Rules

Along with friends and family I attended Ron Paul’s “We Are The Future” rally in Tampa Sunday, August 26th. Like any Ron Paul event, we learned a lot and I want to share a lot of it. However, this morning I read this article about Ron Paul delegates mounting a floor fight over the new (last minute) GOP rules. Just wanted to share the article with a couple of comments.

First, we heard a lot Sunday about all the last minute “make up the rules as we go along” the GOP has done to try to prevent the type of success and momentum Ron Paul has garnered in spite of all the obstacles. It’s bad enough they regularly bend/break their own rules, now they blatantly change-as-they-go to suit their agenda, without shame. Never mind it’s in direct opposition to the true purpose of the RNC.

The new GOP rules would bind delegates to the outcome of presidential primaries and caucuses. Presidential candidates would be able to choose which delegates represent them at the convention. However, in a concession to activists agreed to on Monday, the candidates would have to consult with state parties in selecting the delegates.

Currently, state parties choose national delegates, usually at state and congressional district conventions.

Why are they changing the rules? Fear of Ron Paul, as clearly summarized by a delegate. But regardless of who you support, what’s happening here is they are killing your voice… negating your vote in the process. To explain: the new rule is creating a “winner take all” in every state. So if Candidate A wins 51% support from state votes and Candidate B wins 49% support, Candidate A takes all delegates from that state. Nearly half the population just lost their vote.

“It’s going to shut us out of the process,” said Oregon delegate Larry Ericksen, a Paul backer compelled by state rules to vote for Romney at the convention. “We deserve a voice in the process.”

Next, per his statement below, Schriefer is a dreamer. After attending the (11,000 seat sold out) rally Sunday I assure you, Romney has not earned and will not have the support of Paul’s supporters. For all you Obama supporters, rest easy, I see no possible way Romney can win the election. Regardless of who you support, if you’re not outraged at the hijacking of what was once a democratic process, you’re not paying attention.

“In terms of unity, we are a big party. We have people with different opposing viewpoints. I don’t think this is a particularly divisive point of view,” Schriefer told reporters Monday. “The one thing we know is we’re all united in defeating Barack Obama and at the end of the day, I guarantee you on Thursday as we walk out of this convention we will be 100 percent united behind MR and defeating Barack Obama for the good of the country.”

Spoken like a man who realizes he has current control of the party and knows that if his control waivers the GOP will simply change the rules to correct. This is not the path to unity OR liberty.

“If you seek truth you will not seek victory by dishonorable means, and if you find truth you become invincible”

Thoughts On Music and Life

On a recent trip to Tucson I stayed in a home which had a baby grand piano. It also had no television so I was inspired to find some sheet music and dust off my pianist fingers and see what I could remember from ten years of grade school lessons. One beautiful thing about learning to read music is that you never forget how. You don’t have to be Mozart but if you know how to decipher the notes on the page in front of you then, with patience and practice, you can play most anything.

I experimented with music from a variety of levels until I found the one where I was comfortable. At this level I could mostly play through the pieces without a lot of stops and starts and sound reasonably decent pretty quickly. I included a couple of pieces from levels just above this as well, to keep engaged and challenged. My right brain started dancing with joy as I found myself getting lost in the music, so focused on what I was doing that I was unaware of time (and was late for work a couple of mornings because I was having too much fun).

This morning I was playing a piece that seemed relatively easy except for this darned part in the middle that I kept stumbling on. I forced myself to hang on those few bars and bang out each hand individually and then together over and over until I could play without mistake. For a piece that seemed easy this took a painstakingly long time but the minute it all came together a giant smile crept over my face and I realized now the piece was complete and my effort had created a moment of perfection.

It occurred to me that life is like this. We each have areas we struggle and it would be easier to skip over those places and just focus on the parts of us that we feel really good about already. But until and unless we place a deep emphasis on those areas that need work and do the work persistently until we get it right, we live like beautiful masterpieces that have a hole somewhere in the middle.

Ego stroking and validation feel good in the moment, as does being praised for playing “most of” a song right but as the artist you know that troublesome section will nag at you and no amount of adoration can replace the satisfaction of getting it right so that the entire piece flows off the fingertips.

Organic Garden Slug Control

Last year we had the “accidental vegetables” when the compost soil we used for plants in the back yard suddenly sprouted tomatoes, squash and other goodies. While it was a total surprise and I’d never grown veggies before R and I decided to research, care for them and harvest the fruit to eat, which we did.

This year I decided since it went so well before I should try planting some vegetables on purpose. In March I picked up several packets of organic seeds and soil and planted a variety of tomatoes (my favorite), basil and cilantro in pots on the deck. My organic gardener friend (and teacher), Jessie, also gave me seeds for cucumber, tromboncino squash, spinach and another tomato variety. Since all of these are vining vegetables I can create one long row and run them up a trellis together.

Last weekend we dug up our section and created the garden. I transplanted the tomatoes and cucumbers, all of which were looking great in pots. I planted the squash and spinach seeds and covered them with clear plastic lids to keep the birds from transplanting them, something the birds in my yard love to do.

I put down landscape paper to keep weeds at bay and watered everything carefully (“milk for the babies,” as Jessie would say). The next morning I headed down the steps to see how my precious little life forms were doing. I was shocked to find the baby leaves of the cucumber plants nearly eaten through and slugs milling about my garden happily. I “eliminated” 3 slugs on the spot and then called Jessie for advice.

She recommended beer, which most gardeners know already. I took tiny plastic cups, buried them in the soil up to the top and filled each one with cheap beer (I’ll admit walking out of Walgreen’s with a 12-pack of The Beast was actually a bit embarrassing). The second morning I counted 23 slugs in my traps. They were working! But so many slugs!

The third morning I had 27 slugs and counting (there were still some milling about which I “helped” into the beer traps). On this day I began to think the price of the beer to maintain this garden might be more than the price of buying some local organic veggies throughout the season!

Fourth morning: only about 8 slugs in traps and 2 that needed help getting there, and my cucumber finally looked like it was starting to grow again. Then Jessie sent me this link to a variety of natural methods to control slugs, including copper strips and using a simple board to attract them by day. This article also mentions a product my mother-in-law recommended we try for our carpenter bee problem (a story for another post), diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth (Also known as “Insect Dust”) is the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It lacerates soft-bodied pests, causing them to dehydrate. A powdery granular material, it can be sprinkled around garden beds or individual plants, and can be mixed with water to make a foliar spray.

In addition to the Beneficial Nematodes I wrote about for my all natural gnat infestation solution, this insect dust may become another staple in this house.

Of course what I didn’t account for is that my slug traps would come under attack by the Bad Dog. Last night it occurred to me that Tinny was taking way too long on her last potty break for the night and it dawned on me why as I stepped outside and yelled for her. Sure enough, she came slinking up the deck stairs reaking of beer and fertilizer. Now… how to control for the largest garden pest yet?!

Who’s Afraid of Ron Paul?

That’s really not the best question, as it turns out. The “who” is easy to answer. If you can read inflammatory words about Ron Paul and not smell the fear from the establishment at his grass roots popularity, do some research. Ask one question: Why? Why are they trying so hard to make him look bad? Keeping you misinformed is in the best interest of those currently making up the rules in this country – those that left so many people without homes or jobs, as they bailed themselves out. Look beyond what they are trying to sell you and dare to ask what they have to gain by doing so.

Why did the Republican Jewish Coalition ban Ron Paul from their debate? (Hint: it has almost nothing to do with his thoughts on Israel.)

Well, I’m neither Republican nor Jewish nor a member of a Coalition, so the immediate event is not my call (though I do believe that dissonance is more illuminating than seven-part harmony). That said, this seems to me more of an attempt to draw boundaries around acceptable policy discourse than any active concern that President Dr. Ron Paul would be actively anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. The fact that he is a political outlier on an effectively bipartisan U.S. foreign policy that has become increasingly expensive and unpopular strikes me as a count in favor, not against.


An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Ron Paul 2012

Though media is ignoring Ron Paul to the greatest extent possible, this message cannot be silenced in a society where communication and information is available at our fingertips. In a world where Twitter can make the difference in the Iranian elections and social media can unite people from all backgrounds and beliefs, an “idea whose time has come cannot be stopped by any army or any government.” This is that time.

(BTW – it was announced today that Ron Paul won the California straw poll. Are people waking up across America? They are indeed.)

Life Beyond Biltmore in Asheville, NC

Most people know the one place you have to visit in Asheville, NC is the Biltmore Estate. Indeed, with 8,000 beautiful acres, a luxurious inn, winery and a 250-room French château built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, Biltmore is a must see. But once you’ve seen Biltmore, is it worth returning to Asheville for another visit?

Here are just a few reasons why we believe the answer is a resounding: yes! Continue reading “Life Beyond Biltmore in Asheville, NC”