What is Spring?

What is that? A Patch of green!

This spring the upper Midwest languished in browns, blacks, and slate landscapes underneath piles of grimy snow with grey skies blanketing overhead. Meanwhile, the South was vibrant in green expanses of fields and brilliant bursts of blooms of every hue. Pinks. Yellows. Fuchsias. Lavenders. Blues. Chartreuses. And, the sun!

All were simply amazing and so welcome to winter-weary eyes and bodies.

Here are a few reflections from our recent journey into the emerging spring.

  • Farm fields were dotted with John Deeres tiling up the soil. Such a part of Iowa’s economy.
  • Emerald green lawns almost blinded us the first few times we spotted them.
  • Mississippi has one of the most beautiful welcome centers I have ever seen. A southern feel, magnolias in bloom, kindly attendants, refreshments for visitors.
  • Tucked in the emerging forest greens were dogwoods and wisteria. I remember Mrs. (Lady Bird) Johnson’s lilting Texas description of wisteria – one of her favorites – when I interviewed her many years ago about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
  • Down along waterways, in between piney forests and rolling hills, were miles and miles of raised roads above flood waters sloughing off the upper Midwest’s frozen landscape inundating the south with a toxic mess.
  • Foods are fantastic! Skip the chains and take in the local flavors. Real gumbo, etouffee, plates of mudbugs, beans and rice, baking powder biscuits and Southern cornbread. Sweet tea is popular with some. And, for me, Chicory coffee, again!  Yeah!!!
  • Hobbling around in a boot was made easier as kindly folks opened doors, hauled around my materials and took my arm walking.
  • Veriditas Council encountered movie makers at the Solomon Episcopal Conference Center. Fun characters in costume. Diligent technicians constructing sets. Safety crews on call – just in case. Lights. Tractor-trailers….An experience. And rain, naturally.
  • Our motel and café stops in tiny towns. OK accommodations and friendly folks.  Then, the casino stop along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, MS. Efficient, non-engaging.  But the view of the flooding river was great.  Barges laboring upstream and almost flying downstream in the rising waters. Navigating the shoals and bridges. What skill.
  • Following the Mississippi Mound Trail and stopping at some of the noted mound sites. Last year the archeologist at Effigy Mounds estimated that most mounds built by indigenous people across the country had been destroyed. So, seeing the signs marking existing mounds in the South was rewarding.
  • Did you know that Kermit the Frog was “hatched” in Leland Mississippi? We detoured to see the remains of Windsor Ruins – an elaborate plantation home with only pillars standing. The story is that a careless guest dropped cigar ashes in a construction site in the home. Well, that guest is not popular! Moral of the story is to keep guests and hot coals away from flammable materials. A group of Michigan high schoolers on a mission trip stopped by with us and took in the ruins and a group photo. Then, we turned back to the main road because the smaller road near The River was under water.
  • Vicksburg, Mississippi, was a turning point of the Civil War. We drove the loop past monuments to regiments and men on both sides of the conflict. Upon entering the visitor center, I felt the anguish from a siege of more than 150 years ago.  It was overwhelming.  So, right in the middle of the visitor center, I paused, spread out my hands and held space, inviting the lost souls to release and find their way to a safe place beyond this world. This experience has happened before – encountering lost souls and inviting them to pass through the veil completely. While I do not know if they chose to go, I do know that after a time, peacefulness began to flow in. “When will we ever learn?” We do have options besides anger and anguish. “In the end, only kindness matters.” (Jewel)
  • The sunrises and sunsets were delightful. The air was balmy. So, we retreated back north into winter. Now, we are in spring green, too, and our plants popping up.  Vultures nesting next door. Songbirds calling. It’s coming. Spring.

2018 Gratitudes – Why They Matter

What a tumultuous year!  Politics, weather extremes, human-created disasters, changes in work, working through elder matters, untimely deaths. Wow. One could be overwhelmed and, using an old New England phrase, think, “The world is going to H— in a Handbasket.”

Yet, when we shift the lens of our thinking and move into gratitude, we begin to appreciate small pleasures and successes and help others move into more positive places, so they contribute to gratitude and the healing of ourselves, communities and the world.

So, here is a random selection from my 2018 Gratitude Jar. Many gratitudes came from others helping me the many times Rich was East helping his folks.

1-1 Walked the labyrinth two times and at the full moon in the evening.

1-19 Facebook Live we talked about catalogs and treats for the hens.

2-4 Working with Rich on Hoover Hatchery blog on chicken folklore.

3-25 We met a couple on Cedar Lake Train who feed birds and noticed eagles.

4-27 Jenn helped me remember how to print PDF of Essential Ed.

5-8 Dinner with the Ogden/Muchmore.

5-9 Voted.

5-24 A and D engaged!

6-25 Paige at Verizon helped with a discount.

6-27 Savannah helped again with household chores and sanding the chairs.  A really hot time and we did it!

7-2 Taught with Mary Pathways at KCC.

8-22 Judy S. talked with students for KPACE.

9-1 Edith and Tami at Illuminations labyrinth walk.

10-4 Ellen’s hospitality for Veriditas Council.

second week October travel to Nebraska and South Dakota and meeting the “real Deal”ranchers.

11-27 DJ at the photo shop made great postcards for Winding Pathways.

12-7 Norma and I had a wonderful talk after class.

12-13 Helped Rachel at PCI.

12-26 Walked North End labyrinth in Denville.

I enjoyed this walk down memory lane as I browsed the gratitude notes and remembered the positives of 2018.

What’s the benefit? We infuse ourselves with a large DOSE of optimism and improve our health and that of those around us.

Dopamine, the “chemical of reward”, flows into us when we have accomplished a task and been kind to others.  For me, completing tasks I especially do not want to do has always proved to be helpful. Then, I write these on the gratitude papers and slip them into my jar!  It’s best when I do the task first. Then, it is off my mind and I am really pleased. Good habit to develop.

Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that parents especially feel toward children, is released by gentle and caring touch. My work with Reiki, Healing Touch Spiritual Ministries and facilitating programs creates connections and stronger bonds among us.

Serotonin the neurotransmitter that counters depression is often stimulated by sunshine, thinking positively, and eating foods high in tryptophan. Pineapple, eggs, cheese, Tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds, and, of course, turkey!

Endorphins produced in the central nervous system help regulate pain. They can help us push through a difficult physical task. Some form of daily movement helps us be more cheerful.  Walking the labyrinth daily since late 2018 has benefitted me. Grounding. Centering. Naming specific gratitudes as I walk. Appreciating the changes in the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.

Laughter Online University has a great outlook on the neurotransmitters and hormones that help lift us up. Then, we lift up others.  We create this better world most long for and which is badly needed.

So, let’s go positively into 2019!

2018 Labyrinth Pilgrimages

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
(Fiddler on the Roof)

As 2018 draws to a close and different cultures celebrate traditions near and dear to their hearts, I take pause and reflect on this year of walking labyrinths daily.

When I began walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth late December 2017, I didn’t realize I would commit to walking each day. Sunrise. Sunset. Wind. Rain. Snow. Cold. Hot. Still. In happiness. Sadness. Anger. Calm. Just because. With intention. With others. By myself. Content with nature. Content with self. In Gratitude.

In April when I attended Veriditas Council at Stony Point in NY state, one of the members, Chris Farrow-Noble gave me a book she had written and published on her year-long journey of walking labyrinths. The synchronicity of intent!  So, I began reading her daily entries on the same day I would walk a labyrinth. And, feelings often walked hand-in-hand.

Later in the year, I had re-affirmed that a way to success is to scaffold a new habit on an existing habit. I have a habit of writing a gratitude on a sticky note and putting it in a jar on the kitchen counter. Out in the open where I pass several times a day.  So, I simply started jotting a date and a comment on sticky notes and stacked them beside the jar.

Now, I have started scaffolding my fitness log on top of these two positive habits.

Once I thought about the labyrinths, I have walked this year I added them up. An incredible 32 different labyrinths throughout the year.  Most outside. Some canvas. Others cloth. A few wooden lap ones.

 

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
(Fiddler on the Roof)

As 2018 draws to a close and different cultures celebratetraditions near and dear to their hearts, I take pause and reflect on this year of walking labyrinths daily.

When I began walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth late December2017, I didn’t realize I would commit to walking each day. Sunrise. Sunset. Wind. Rain. Snow. Cold. Hot. Still. In happiness. Sadness. Anger. Calm. Just because. With intention. With others. By myself. Content with nature. Contentwith self. Extending positive energy into the Universe to be received where itcan be accepted. In Gratitude.

More recently, as the year closes, I simply enjoy the walk and listen to the sounds. Take in the sights. Become aware of the air around me– the fresh smell of the north wind, wood smoke from the chimney, acrid smell of the recent burn off of the labyrinth. Oh, and the southeast breeze wafting up the “odorless” sewer plant! The texture of the ground underfoot- squishy after a downpour, soft grass, crunchy ice, iron hard dirt, brittle burned stalks of grasses and forbs.

Coincidentally, I learned in April at the Veriditas Council at Stony Point in NY state, that one of the members, Chris Farrow-Noble, had also walked for a year and gave me a signed book she had written and published on her year-long journey of walking labyrinths. The synchronicity of intent!  So, I began reading her daily entries on the same day I would walk a labyrinth. And, feelings often walked hand-in-hand.

Later in the year, I had re-affirmed that a way to success is to scaffold a new habit on an existing habit. I have a habit of writing a gratitude on a sticky note and putting it in a jar on the kitchen counter. Out in the open where I pass several times a day. So, I simply started jotting a date and a comment on sticky notes and stacked them beside the jar.

Now, I have started scaffolding my fitness log on top of these two positive habits.

Once I thought about the labyrinths I have walked this year I added them up. An incredible 32 different labyrinths throughout the year.  One about every eleven days. Most outside. Some canvas. Others cloth. A few wooden lap ones.  And on rare occasions when I was flying and not at all in locations to use a cloth, lap or physical labyrinth, I used the palm technique of tracing a three-circuit labyrinth on my hands.  It tickles!

My thoughts are not deep or profound.  It’s just been a good journey.

Labyrinths Around the Twin Cities

                                    Around the Midwest

Hearing Aids Help Enjoy Wildlife

A tiny migrating warbler changed my life.  As I sat on my back deck a few springs ago a tiny bird landed on a twig about ten feet in front of me. I could see it singing but couldn’t hear a thing.

Military Training and Hearing Loss

My hearing loss probably started as an Army trainee in the late ‘60s guiding 50 caliber shells into a machine gun. Every time the gun spit a bullet downrange a massive blast of noise and pressure hit my skull. In later years I spent hours running chainsaws, vacuum cleaners, and lawn mowers. All to the detriment of my hearing.

Hearing loss is an insidious stealthy condition. It crept up on me so slowly and gradually that I never noticed it. My wife certainly knew something was going on as I increasingly asked her, and everyone else, to repeat sentences. Conversation in restaurants became challenging and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, became my constant companion. Night and day my ears never stop buzzing.

Call to Action

Dr. Jennifer Reekers

Fitting hearing aids is a process and building a relationship

Seeing, but not hearing, the warbler spurred me to call Dr. Jennifer Reekers at Heartland Hearing Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Soon I was sitting opposite her in a hearing test booth that confirmed what I already Low-frequency sounds were easy to distinguish but my ability to detect other sounds dropped as high frequency increased.  Dr. Reekers shared good news. Thanks to modern technology she could improve my ability to hear and reduce the pesky tinnitus.

Shortly after receiving my new hearing aids I hiked a six-mile trail to Hanging Rock overlook at Effigy Mounds National Monument. Along the trail, I was serenaded by warblers and Orioles. In a moist trailside valley nature’s most beautiful sound brought me joy.  It was the first time I’d heard a wood thrush since my hearing declined.

Everyday Sources of Hearing Loss

Millions of Americans suffer hearing loss, often caused by loud noise exposure.   Although most people realize that gunshots and fireworks can cause hearing problems, few recognize that exposure to common everyday lower intensity noise causes gradual hearing loss.  Vacuum cleaners, blenders, coffee grinders, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and the dreadfully loud hand dryers in public restrooms can contribute to a permanent hearing loss.   Damage is cumulative.

Prevention!

Solutions exist! The best, by far, is to prevent hearing loss by protecting the ears from loud noise. Inexpensive muffs and plugs mute the scream of vacuum cleaners and power tools. I keep a pair by every noisy machine and always put them on before pushing the start button. Rather than allowing a restroom hand dryer I keep a clean handkerchief in my pocket and use it to dry my hands. Parents should be especially careful to protect their children’s hearing by choosing quiet toys over shrill ones and making sure kids wear muffs when exposed to noise.

Ironically enjoying music can contribute to hearing loss. Many concerts are at such a high decibel level that even short exposure can lead to lifelong hearing problems.   Fortunately, devices are available from audiologists that reduce the volume of noise entering the ear while retaining sound quality. They enable enjoyable safe listening.

Technology to the Rescue

By the time I recognized my hearing loss, it was too late to prevent it, but the hearing aids restored my ability to distinguish sounds. I will probably always have tinnitus, but technology has diminished its impact. These days I’m careful to muffle loud noise to avoid further damaging my hearing.

Thanks to Dr. Reekers my hearing aids help me enjoy conversation, birds, music, and more of life’s delightful sounds. I encourage everyone to protect their hearing from loud noise and to seek the help of an audiologist to improve their ability to distinguish sounds.

Man with binoculars

Birding again is a joy with hearing aids, thanks to Heartland Hearing

FIREFLIES RETURN TO DELIGHT FAMILY

“It was amazing! Gorgeous!  Fireflies danced over our prairie most of the summer, and they weren’t here when it was a mowed lawn,” said Katie Hill with much enthusiasm

She and her husband Tim are restoring an island of ecological health just three miles from downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. First Avenue is one of the busiest urban streets in Iowa, constantly filled with cars, motorcycles, and trucks. A bald eagle flying over the road would look down at an urbanized landscape – except for five acres of verdant beauty just a few feet east of the Avenue. The oasis is nestled between suburban developments, a high-rise condominium, and a senior residence complex.

Katie and Tim bought three and a half acres and a home about 15 years ago. It was convenient to his work at a law office a stone’s throw from their land. “We did the standard expected landscaping of mowing and spraying for about a decade,” she said.

Creating Habitat

Although the yard was large it lacked plant diversity and wildlife. Then came the change.

“We stopped spraying and I took delight when creeping Charlie and dandelions took hold. Many people don’t like them, but creeping Charlie has a gorgeous flower that bumblebees love, and it smells nice. Dandelions are beautiful, and bees love them,” she said. Then she broadcast prairie seed on a low area that had been lawn. After a couple of years big bluestem, Indian grass, and many native flowers appeared. Encouraged by their first prairie the Hill’s planted new ones in formerly mowed and sprayed lawns.   They’ve been helped by David Novak, owner of a small company that helps people restore natural areas.

“We were delighted when lightning bugs appeared over the prairie. They don’t like mowed lawn but love taller plants.  We watch them dance on summer evenings. These beautiful insects completely avoid the mowed lawns of our neighbors,” Tim and Katie remarked.

Early in 2018, the Hills bought about an acre and a half of land adjoining their property   Years before several houses stood on the property but it had been purchased by a developer who planned to build two condominium towers. He razed the houses and built one condo tower but abandoned plans to build the second.

Restoring the Land

As we walked through the area Katie showed us her new prairie plantings in what had once been a lawn while Tim pointed out where the houses had stood. As the years go by the residents of the existing condominium tower will gaze downward during the day on wildflowers dancing in the breeze and butterflies sipping nectar from prairie blooms. As twilight approaches, they’ll enjoy fireflies blinking their tiny lights.

In addition to creating beauty and feeling the joy of making the earth healthier, the Hills are benefiting the community beyond their property. Prairie grasses absorb stormwater that once sheeted off their land and into storm sewers and eventually Cedar Lake. Their land nurtures wildlife as its beauty increases and diversifies.

“We feel good about what we are doing. We are helping nature restore itself in the heart of the city, but it also does one other thing. When we were mowing and spraying it was costing us about $600 a month to maintain the property. Now that’s dropped to about 90 bucks, so we’re saving money,” the Hills explained.

In the process of restoring their land, Tim and Katie Hill are also getting a fulfilling ecological education.

Win!  Win! Win!

“It’s a win, win, win,” smiled Katie. “It’s a win for us saving money. It’s a win for us to have the time to be entertained by the wildlife diversity. And, most importantly, it’s a win for Mother Nature.”

Labyrinths: Walking Meditations

Worship outside of a church comes in many forms.  For the service, several members shared their ways of being mindful and growing spiritually. These included listening to music, engaging in specific meditation times, and singing. My contribution was this short talk on how walking a labyrinth daily has been an important part of 2018.  Since late December 2017, I have walked either the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth or when traveling found a labyrinth to walk, or used a small cloth lap labyrinth and as a last resort, used my palm to mindfully walk a labyrinth.

“Carry On” Lyrics from the American Indie Pop group, FUN.

“If you’re lost and alone

Or you’re sinking like a stone

Carry on.

May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground

Carry on.

Carry on, carry on.”

The lyrics of this song often scroll through my mind as I walk a labyrinth daily. Walking a labyrinth is my meditation.

The song reminds us that none of us is perfect.  We can chew on our faults, making them who we are.  Or we can acknowledge the negatives things like wrong doings, surliness, inconsideration, not listening and then we can choose,

Yes, we have a choice, to acknowledge positives in our lives and work towards them. To make them part of who we really are.

We are Holy Spirits Bound in Human Bodies. Frailly Divine you might say.

Walking a labyrinth daily provides me with this time and space. For me to pause…Ground…Center in the moment…and Mindfully walk with a Grateful Heart.

I give thanks: to the day and the season regardless of the weather; the plants and animals; our home; Rich and our families; our bounty.

I ask for blessings on those in need, trauma, who are far away, with whom I have had disagreements and whose actions I disagree with.

I ask Divine Love that is within me to help me remember to open my heart and mind to grace and compassion.

Walking the labyrinth helps me catch and dispel the grumpiness that sometimes overwhelms me.

Speaking scientifically, by choosing to center in gratitude I change the brainwaves by allowing neurotransmitters to reinforce certain pathways.  Positive pathways. I allow time for resolution of matters as I form habits of gratefulness and positivity.

Spiritually, this allows time and opens space to choose to walk mindfully; to invite in peacefulness that I work to carry through the day.

As I carry on, I remind myself that peace begins with me with the sound of my feet upon the ground.

From Abraham Maslow: “The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.”

From Linda Mikell, Veriditas Council member and skilled labyrinth facilitator, “People tell me time and again that the labyrinth has an aspect of awe and wonder about it.”