Tuesday, September 17, 2019

THE RISE OF FALL – Cures For Autumn-itis

This time of year has always proven a bit depressing for me. It’s like that mix of low-grade depression and dread one experiences on a Sunday afternoon when a nice weekend’s winding down and another work week looms. I call it Sunday-itis.

Multiply that melancholy and stretch it out over a couple of months, and that’s what I feel each time another summer winds down and five or six months of cold, dark, colorless days descend on our spirits here in the Northland.

But hey, when you get lemons don’t get all sour, right? Make lemonade.

         These are the bluest skies of the year.

So here, without much effort at all, are a few of the wonders of fall which, if I put my mind to it, might help me ease the transition:

LEAVES - As you may know, fallen autumn leaves have recently become the medium of my irrepressible creative bent. (See my work at Shades of Autumn) I look forward to getting out there during those precious few days between when the most desirable leaves drop and when they begin to deteriorate, and collecting those amazing little splashes of color, form and texture.

ACORNS - I love walking through the piles of them that accumulate on the sidewalks around our oak-filled neighborhood. The drier the better. I go out of my way to step along the edges of the sidewalk where the thickest piles provide the most satisfying crunch.

HORSE CHESTNUTS - Popped from their prickly casings, the nuts litter the grass. If you get to them before the squirrels do, pick one up. They’re one of the most aesthetically pleasing objects in Nature. The rich, reddish-brown color—yes, that color is actually called “chestnut”—the silky-smooth texture of the surface; the rounded shapes; even the pleasant heft of one in the hand make them ideal worry stones.

FUNGI - Autumn, especially one following a very wet summer like the one we’ve had here in east-central Minnesota, is prime time for various kinds of fungus. Most of the annual flowers may be history, but these fascinating growths have their own elfin charm and earthy aroma. (I have not hunted for morels, but I should.)


GEESE - On late fall nights, I keep my ears open for what may sound like a crowd of people chattering in the distance. If I look up, I might see the hundred-strong "V" of migrating geese, two thousand feet up, dimly lit against the blackness by ambient earthlight.

WOOD SMOKE - In summer, smoke means a campfire, or someone’s roasting wienies or browning marshmallows for s'mores. In fall, whiffs of smoke smell different somehow. These cooler nights, fire’s heat is for more than cooking. Soon it moves indoors, convening folks round hearth and stove.

THE AIR - Summer air, especially during the dog days of July and August, can feel like a damp blanket. It wraps around you, encloses you—along with a cloud of mosquitoes. Come Fall, though, the blanket lifts, the mozzies expire, and the cooler, drier air does nice things to smells, sounds, and even one’s point of view. These are the bluest skies of the year.

APPLES - The difference between a fresh-picked fall apple and one bought any other time of year is like the difference between rich, freshly-extracted espresso and instant. The balance of sweet and tart, the crisp texture, even the weight of the fruit tells you it’s fresh, bursting with juice. Thank goodness I only have to wait a couple of months after the decline of my other seasonal favorite: nectarines.

SMELLS - In fall the bright, impetuous scents of summer give way to more muted, thoughtful smells: dry leaves, decaying vegetation, fungi and molds, perhaps a savory stew or apple pie steaming in the kitchen.

Which of autumn’s wonders help ease the loss of summer’s long, luxuriant days for you?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

DREAMS IN HINDSIGHT – Magic of Imagining

This morning I was standing in our kitchen, pouring cereal into a bowl. Light streamed in through the generous windows at either end of our modest townhouse, highlighting our decor’s vibrant colors.

I picked up the remote and, from across the house, tuned the stereo to my favorite jazz station.

     There would be music, HD music, not just
     in one room, but filling the entire first level.

As I’m wont to do occasionally, I stepped back mentally, lifting my attention from the fruit I was about to peel to a more universal perspective. And it suddenly became quite clear: in that moment I was living out a very specific dream I’d had some 13 years ago.
Back then, we lived a fine little two-bedroom home in a fine little St. Paul neighborhood. Of course, it had windows on every side, but, typically for the period, the layout was broken up into distinct rooms, limiting one’s sight lines and the flow of light through the interior.

In that house, at that time, someone working in the kitchen might have turned on a table radio, or maybe an iPod, but the stereo was like two rooms away. So, without decent, space-filling music, without a real color concept for the decorating, with all the surfaces kind of old and grimy, that kitchen seemed all but lifeless.

But I could dream…and I did. I remember standing in front of that old kitchen sink one day and imagining the home I’d someday find. I pictured a bright, open space with one living area flowing seamlessly into the next; walls painted the kinds of colors Mexicans use to such delicious effect; art enlivening every unhindered vista.

There would be music, of course, HD music, not just in one room, but filling the entire first level. I wouldn’t have to walk into a different room to turn it on; it would be right there at my fingertips.

Believe it or not, I could even smell the clean, herbal scent of the liquid hand soap I’d have in the kitchen in that ideal place.

        It’s easy to take for granted that whatever
        we want we won’t want for long.

Well, here I was, this erstwhile feast of imagination now spread out for real right in front of me. I love it! Not just that I’d had that moment of envisioning all those years ago, but that I remembered it now so clearly.

It’s too easy—especially for those of us fortunate enough never to have experienced much need—to simply take for granted that whatever we want we won’t want for long. Somehow, it usually just shows up.

But we should acknowledge the power of a universal consciousness—we might call it God, Creator, Great Spirit, Jehovah, Allah, Brahama…whatever—to make that happen. Privileged or not, when we earnestly put our hopes, our intentions, out there and entrust them to the Universe—and are sufficiently open to actually noticing its response—they are indeed most often fulfilled.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

AUTHENTIC, AUSCHMENTIC – When Being Yourself Is Just an Excuse for Being A Jerk

(As a Nature-and-wonder writer, I find most of my inspiration in the natural world. But I must continually remind myself that I am, that all of us homo sapiens are, also part of that world of wonder. We are animals…and at times we act like it. Often in ways that are most admirable, but also at times when we should know better.
The inspiration for this post is the heartache someone I know is experiencing over her estrangement from a very dear friend—one who’s suddenly decided that being kind and considerate is not who she is.)

“Authentic” has taken on a new definition. It used to mean real, without pretense, the genuine article. It had nothing to do with permission or entitlement, aspects today’s meaning seems to have acquired in spades.

Who knows, maybe it’s like the word “truth” in this, the Trump era; it means whatever you want it to mean. Or maybe it’s just some lazy psychiatrists’ attempts to make their patients feel better, even though not a single person the patient knows will actually be the better for it—nor will the patient for that matter.

No, authentic does not mean you can accept a friend’s invitation and then show up with a few of your own friends. It doesn’t allow you to make plans with someone and then just go ahead and do it on your own without telling them. It doesn’t forgive you for failing to communicate.

Do you think you can just do anything you want to, or say anything you damn well please, and then expect everyone else to just suck it up and say “Well, I guess that’s just so-and-so being authentic; that’s just who she is.”?

I don't think so. That’s not the way a thoughtful society works. It’s not the way true friendships work. Nor is it a behavior most of the world’s faith traditions would condone. Not when your “authenticity” comes at the expense of another’s—or a family’s, or a community’s.

       By acting in ways that put others out, by
       saying things that hurt, do you think that’s
       who you really are?

I guess I should be more understanding, since being “authentic” takes on some of the characteristics of an addiction. There’s this little voice somewhere inside that tells you No, you shouldn’t say or do that! But then, denying those better instincts, you do it anyway. That's just the real you, you  rationalize.

I have no problem with folks trying their best to be true to their principles, but c'mon, don’t conflate that with permission to act out your character flaws.

Rarely, a brave friend or loved one will give you some honest feedback. But you’ve become very good at making sure such honesty comes at a price. Sadly, they usually find it’s not worth the effort. They just get used to it and absorb the impact of having to accommodate you.

Or you simply find someone new, be it friend, or counselor, or clergy person, who won’t mind enabling your weakness. Meanwhile, you just keep putting your “authenticity” — translation: needs—first, while imposing on, even hurting, people who should be able to expect more of you.

Do you really think that kind of denial has anything at all
to do with authenticity?

By acting in ways that put others out, by saying things that hurt, do you think
that’s who you really are? Or are you just demanding the right to be mean, angry
or thoughtless?

You really want to be authentic? Open your eyes. Try being more self-aware. Think. Find a way to move beyond whatever pains, problems and privileges in your life you've been nurturing instead of dealing with and moving past. Start acting like a friend, not to mention a member of a kind, cooperative society.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

THE SHAPE OF BREATH – Finding Form In the Abstract

I used to think of my breathing, if I was even aware of it, as a simple, one-dimensional, in-and-out exercise. Inhale…stop. Exhale…stop. And so on.

That is, until I started meditating. In meditation, relaxing completely and centering one’s presence are all about breathing. I picture each inhalation filling me, body and soul, with light, with the good, positive, healing energy of a beneficent cosmos; each exhalation, ridding me of darkness and any negative vibe.

As I visualized my breathing, I realized I was seeing my lungs as a pump. And instead of the back-and-forth cycle of those hand-held bicycle pumps we used as kids, it’s an elliptical one oriented at right angles to the plane of my chest. Half of it is actually outside my body; the other half, inside.

The in-breaths rise up and toward me, releasing their fresh, healthful air at the top of their arc; the out-breaths recede from my face and then fall away, releasing their tainted air at the bottom.

The key difference is that the motion of my virtual pump never stops, nor starts. Like a ski lift chair, the baffle swings seamlessly around a hub at each end of its cycle, in continuous motion.

  Like one big, blurry Möbius strip, consciousness
  moves from one reality to its flip side without ever
  crossing an edge.

So what actions or thoughts in your life have shapes? Are there times when your reasoning, instead of the back-and-forth, either-or kind, becomes more circular? Are key decisions or changes kind of like old RFD routes, meeting at crossroads with stop signs? Or are they more fluid, with paths merging like they do at freeway on- and off-ramps or rotaries?

How about your spirit? If you could step back and see its expression as your higher power might, would that have shape? Are your spiritual thoughts simply linear, intellectual tellings? Or might they, by entertaining more askings, spread into forms with width and breadth?

The world’s religions celebrate many shapes: the circle, revered by many faiths, including Paganism; the triangle of the Celtic or Christian trinity; the yin-yang form in Chinese mythology. Are these just symbols like so many corporate logos? Or do they have something to do with how those beliefs actually work?

I believe in the interconnectedness of all things. What I do here and now affects everything, everyone, everywhere, for all time…and vice versa. And this belief can take on many profiles.

Depending on my state of mind—and sometimes on the number of tequilas I’ve imbibed—it might be a massive, shape-shifting amoeba-like blob; or a shape of shapes, perhaps overlapping like those on a schematic diagram to create new shapes; or one where the spaces between the shapes take on shapes of their own. It could even be like one big Möbius strip, with consciousness able to move from one reality to its flip side without ever crossing an edge.

Have I overwhelmed you with abstraction? Sorry, I guess it’s just the way this curious, helplessly creative mind works. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter in the least what shapes your breaths or thoughts take on. Though for me imagining those forms helps me appreciate concepts that would otherwise be just elusive, blurry abstractions.

What’s important is that we are at least open to seeing our consciousness, our beliefs, in fresh, new ways where each encounter we have with them is a breath of fresh air.

Friday, July 12, 2019

FAWN AND GAMES – An Extraordinary Nature Connection

On a scale of one to ten, yesterday on the beautiful #StCroixRiver was an eleven. One reason, experiencing another of my occasional transcendent connections with animals—this time with this precious fawn.

I was paddling silently up a narrow slough (I’ve learned to do it without so much as the sound of water dripping off of my paddle.) when I felt a presence. I looked up and there was this face peering at me from the grassy bank no more than 30 yards away.

My heart raced; my spirit calmed. I voiced a silent reassurance: Oh, you beautiful little spirit. Please know that I adore you, that I would never harm you. Please just let me behold you.

At first, the animal did what wild animals should do; it turned and leapt up the steep slope. Oh well, I thought, it will warn its mother of this odd floating thing with eyes it had seen in the water, and they will stay away.

My soliloquy turned from welcome to a farewell, a blessing: May the deer flies and ticks leave you alone; may you find lots of leafy twigs and plump acorns to eat; may you find a mate and live a good, long deer life.

    Had my presence turned this creature just a 
    little tame? Or had I turned just a little wild?

Suddenly, the tall grass parted and there was the fawn again, edging tentatively back down the bank. I couldn’t believe how close it came. Somehow, I told myself, it must have sensed my psychic efforts to communicate.

For several minutes it grazed calmly, looking up at me now and then without concern.

By now, I’d reached down slowly for my camera. As I raised it to my eye, the animal bolted once again. But this time, it dashed just ten yards along the bank, stopped and dashed right back again. It stood there, mouth open as if about to say something. I swear the little thing was posing for me.

Like a puppy eager to play, it repeated the little game several times. Finally, perhaps summoned by its mother, the fawn turned, bounded up the bank and was gone.

And so was I. The beauty of the moment had left me breathless. I just sat there, immersed in the wonder of it, in gratitude for this gift of being able, now and then, to connect this way with such sweet, utterly enchanting fellow beings.

As I basked in it all, I asked myself what had just happened. Had my presence at all changed this creature—perhaps turning it just a little tame? A little too tame? Or had I turned just a little wild?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

MY BAD – Taking the Rap for Hope

The last month or so here has been laden with what seems like more than its share of death and dying. I’ve lost a former hospice patient and dear friend (He “graduated” from the program five years ago.) and a member of my 40-years-and-running men’s group. Another, current hospice patient is fading. And my long-time shrink has cancer.

What if the outcome I pray for is different from that being invoked by the patient?

When someone—especially a loved one—is facing a scary diagnosis, naturally I want to do something. I guess we all do.

So, besides the usual nuts-and-bolts support—visiting, offering respite to the care-givers, perhaps dropping off a nice pie or casserole, I put my fondest wishes for the person out there into the Universe to assimilate and perhaps factor into its next rendering of The Big Picture.

In other words, I pray. But for what, exactly? Do I pray for the dying person’s ability to gracefully let go of life and pass away in peace and comfort? Or do I pray for them to beat the odds, kick cancer’s ass and get back to a normal life? It’s a real dilemma. And what if the outcome I’m praying for is different from that being invoked by the patient?

Well, for the hospice patients I volunteer with, the answer’s usually easy. Typically, they’ve lived good, long lives, suffer any number of discomforts and indignities, and in many cases are quite ready to die. It’s when the patient’s younger— chronologically and/or in their attitude—that I’m conflicted.

Right now I’m channeling all the positive energy I can marshal into the prospects of the man who’s been my “behavioral health” counselor (I’ll call him Bob). For the past five-plus years Bob’s been the only person in my life whose time I’ve felt I could commandeer to just sit there and listen to my personal problems. He’s helped me cope and hope and grow into a better man.

A couple of months ago, the day after my last appointment with him, Bob had a sudden seizure. Next day, they operated on his brain and confirmed the worst: glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. He was admitted to hospice.

Maybe it’s not typical of such patient-provider relationships, but I love Bob. Though I’m sure any reciprocity on his part has been unintentional, let’s say we’ve come to know each other pretty well. He’s a kind, gentle, compassionate man.

And now, though I want desperately to see him and help him as a friend and supporter, a veil of confidentiality imposed by his employer separates me not just from offering that help, but from even the most basic information about his condition or whereabouts.

So, for Bob, it’s come down to praying. But I’m facing that give-up or give-‘em-hell dilemma. What if what I’m praying for isn’t what he’s praying for? What if he’s decided to commit himself fully to dying with grace?

          I picture every single cancer cell in
          his body as turning a bright, Day-Glo
          red, no longer able to hide.


I thought about it for several days, simply wishing him peace and comfort. And then it hit me. So what if I wish for a recovery he can no longer envision? Could that be any worse than cheering for an athlete who’s resigned to losing a race, or for that matter any underdog who doesn’t believe they can beat the odds?

So I’ve taken part of my daily meditation—the one visualizing my own body as healthy and pain free—and turned that biofeedback toward Bob. Maybe I’ll call it tele-biofeedback.

I picture every single cancer cell in his body as turning a bright, Day-Glo red, no longer able to hide from his body’s natural defenses and the search-and-destroy raids of chemo drugs. I see all those pinpoints of red getting zapped, darkening to burgundy, then dark gray, and finally blowing away as so much lifeless ash.

There’s a chance I’ll never, ever know what happens to Bob. But whatever it is, at least I’ll know I did my best by him. I think that’s what I would want from my friends and loved ones. Cheer for me even if I cannot cheer for myself. Even if it turned out to be an outcome I couldn’t have, I think I’d forgive them for their misplaced hope. Wouldn’t you?

And Bob? What if he just happens to end up among the five percent of patients who survive this cancer…do you think he’ll blame me?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Star-Struck Skies

Fireflies wink across a sweaty field,
somewhere beyond absorbed in deep woods.
And then I see it: these myriad points of light 

are but reflections, as if off rippling waters, 
of star-struck skies above.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Looking Back on my First Craft Show

Wow! What an incredible—and exhausting—experience! Last weekend I showed my Shades of Autumn (leaf-covered lampshades) for the very first time at what's arguably the best craft show of them all, the American Craft Show.

I have new respect for my fellow artisans, not just for the near perfection of their craft, but also for the amount of organization and sheer work it takes to display it so elegantly. Many of them take on several of these shows a year.

 What I hope for is some good ol' word-of-mouth.

It takes a toll on an introvert like me having to be up and "out there" for a total of 27 hours over three-and-a-half days. But the rewards made it all well worthwhile: humbling praise from visitors; camaraderie with fellow exhibitors; practice with my "elevator pitch," and a few important lessons learned for future exhibitions.

Actual sales? Fewer than I'd hoped for, but exactly what I'd expected. Several visitors promised to send me their lamp dimensions for custom orders. And I'm told exhibitors are often contacted by folks who simply needed some time and inspiration before buying.

As for the future, I'd be honored to be asked back to the ACC show next year. And I'll consider other exhibitions—possible shows attracting vacation home and cabin owners. And I'll make sure my on-line presence gains some prominence.

Of course, as an introvert - both in person and virtually - what I really hope for is some good ol' word-of-mouth. And that's where you come in...

Thanks! (And if you'd like to learn more about my new occupation and see examples of my work check out my website: Shades of Autumn.)


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Craft Show Update

Well, it's finally here; the American Craft Council's St. Paul show is this weekend. After five months of intensive work — collecting and processing leaves; producing a range of lampshades to display; creating and producing my Shades of Autumn graphics and collateral material; and designing and outfitting my booth — I think I'm ready to let go and truly enjoy this amazing experience.

If you're in the Twin Cities Metro, I hope you'll come and enjoy all the extraordinary crafts at this awesome show. And while you're there stop by my booth to say hello and see what I've been up to all this time.


Regular show dates are Apr. 5-7 (Friday through Sunday), with a special preview event the evening of Thurs., Apr. 4.

As friends of an exhibitor, you can get half-price tickets here: (This promo includes only pre-show on-line purchases and will not be honored at RiverCentre, the event venue, once the show starts.)

EVENTBRIGHT   Use promotional code MSP2019GUEST