Day 148: Read and Reflect on Caged Bird Poem

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Maya Angelou left her earthly body behind today, at the age of 86. She also left behind a great body of work including seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry and a list of plays, movies and television shows spanning 50 years. Her story, of starting at the bottom of the heap, as she described her early life, and learning to thrive, has inspired so many.

Today, listening to the news of her death, I heard part of her famous poem, “Caged Bird” and was moved to tears. I realized, first of all, that although I’ve heard snippets of the poem, I’ve never read the whole thing. And secondly, I was impacted by the words that I heard because my symbol for this year of moving beyond is the uncaged bird. Not a caged bird. Not just a bird. But a bird that has escaped her cage and taken flight, soaring higher and higher, reveling in her freedom. For my first today, I read Dr. Angelou’s poem and reflected on it.

Here is the complete poem:

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps on the back of the wind

and floats downstream till the current ends

and dips his wings in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage

can seldom see through his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with fearful trill

of the things unknown but longed for still

and his tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still

 and his tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

What a beautiful poem. It is hard for me to believe I’ve never read it before now, and yet, this was the perfect time, during my journey, to become aware of it. The uncaged bird has been a significant and powerful symbol for me. I know why the caged bird sings also. She longs for freedom, and yet, limited in her ability to fly, bound by fear, she remains caged. I realized several years ago, as I felt myself caged by limitations and fears, that I was the one who built my own cage, bar by bar. I was the one who placed myself within this small, cramped space and yet longed for something more. Fortunately for me, and for all of us, the door to that cage is unlocked. It only required a desire strong enough to test the door for me to gain my freedom. Finding my own voice, opening my throat to sing, was the beginning of my exhilarating flight.

I love the poem’s imagery of the bird daring to claim the sky and naming the sky as his own. The expansiveness of the sky is unlimited, open, full of the breezes of opportunity and abundance. I, too, love being there, soaring, stretching, becoming all that I am meant to be. It takes courage from within to step out into the unknown and leave a cage that feels safe and familiar, no matter how confining. It’s scary to take that leap of faith that hurls you into the air, where you must fly or plummet. I have not regretted those steps or that leap. Nor would I return to my cage. I have grown too much. I would no longer fit within those constricting bars. For that, I am grateful.

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Day 147: Restore Vintage Chairs

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Last year, as my sister Debbie and her family prepared to move into a new home, I was gifted with two old wooden chairs that my grandfather owned, and supposedly built. The chairs were wobbly and needed some repairs. Debbie had used them in her pool area, with plants plopped on the seats so no one would risk sitting on them. I was thrilled to receive them and had visions of them in my backyard garden.

Today, my first was to restore these two chairs, in the hopes of making them usable again rather than decorative. What a satisfying project it turned out to be! Greg supervised my work and stepped in a couple of times to show me how to use a tool. But for the most part, he allowed me to do the work. Like many people, I can competently use a hammer and screw driver. But when it comes to using power tools, or a hand saw, I’ve gladly stepped aside to allow someone else, anyone else, to use those more intimidating tools.

I started by assessing the chairs and determining what needed to be done, with Greg’s help. Both chairs had been repaired in the past, and we smiled over some of those repairs. There were many small tacks to remove and on the lighter colored chair, at least 6 layers of fabric on the seat, all rotted. The lighter chair also had missing dowel rods in the back and some cracked and split pieces that needed glued, repaired or replaced. Looking it over,  I didn’t think it could be made usable. That was okay. It could be a decorative chair in the garden and hold a pot of flowers. The red chair was in much better condition although it needed tightening up and minor repair work. I was confident this chair could be usable again.

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The chairs had the same frame style, but the seats and backs were very different. Whether they were always that way, or whether multiple repairs had gradually changed their appearances, I didn’t know. My paternal grandfather died when I was 5 years old. I have warm memories of sitting on his lap and tipping my head back to watch him laugh and talk. I’d reach up to touch the stubble that always seemed present on his chin. He loved to make things and tinker with cars and I enjoyed playing in his large workshop, my imagination running wild as I poked through containers of nails, bolts and assorted gadgets. We called him Poopaw. The day he passed away, Poopaw had a premonition of his impending death, and visited all his children and grandchildren, either in person or by phone. Shortly after his round of visits was completed, he had a massive heart attack and died.

My father passed away 4 years ago after fighting valiantly against pancreatic cancer. I can’t ask him questions either about the chairs. I can only preserve them and enjoy them. I think Dad and Poopaw would be surprised and delighted that I did most of the restoration myself. Today I used a hammer and a pry bar, which were no biggies. But I also learned to use a hand saw, bar clamps and wood glue, a compressor and nail gun, and a speed square. The compressor and nail gun, noisy but very efficient, has always scared me! The thought of putting a nail through my own hand has caused me to avoid it. I did great though.

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The red chair simply needed reinforcement with wood glue and a few nails. It became very sturdy and usable again quickly. I like the chippy paint and the uneven boards across the back and the seat. The lighter colored chair was more challenging. I put new dowel rods in the back, and glued cracked and broken sections and then reinforced those areas with nails. After removing layer after layer of material from the seat, I had a clean frame but no seat to sit upon. I went looking for inspiration and found it in my own backyard. Lath work that had been removed from the upstairs after the tornado was piled on the picnic table. Greg had saved it for making birdhouses. Looking at it, I knew I’d found the perfect material for the chair seat. It was even faded to a nice gray tone, which matched the chair. I sawed those narrow boards to the correct length and attached them to the framework.  I was thrilled with the results. The chair that I thought was beyond repair became sturdy and ready for use.

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Both chairs are now in my meditation area. I don’t want to paint them. I don’t want to make them look like new again. I appreciate the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi…beauty in imperfection.  The chippy paint, the uneven boards, the faded glory, even the repairs present a beauty and grace of their own. My grandfather loved these chairs. My dad loved them as well. My sister loved them and cared for them and passed them on to me.  I love these chairs. They have a new home in my garden and I will enjoy using them. And perhaps, occasionally, I’ll feel the warmth of my grandfather’s or father’s smile, and know they are near and pleased to see that the chairs are still being cherished.

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Day 146: Summer Vignette in Vintage Suitcase

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It may have been raining outside, but inside, I was creating a bit of summer for my first! I have a lovely, slightly battered vintage suitcase. It most likely was an inexpensive purchase. The exterior has heavy cardboard covered with thick, textured paper and metal edging. That paper covering is scratched and rubbed off in several places. The interior is covered in a thin beige and silvery blue paper that has faded to a delicate hue.

I love this suitcase. I like to imagine the journeys it has taken in its many years. It came to me by way of Greg’s family and someday I’ll pass it on to one of our children or grandchildren. For years it has sat in a closet, a container for old family photographs of the Moore Family. Recently I withdrew the suitcase from its hiding place, sorted through the photos and stored them in a plastic bin. I wanted to display the suitcase.

Today, perched atop my dresser in the bedroom, the open suitcase became the backdrop for a summer vignette. I love creating these little slices of life. A table top, a shelf, and now this suitcase, all become blank canvases that welcome my creativity. I get an image in my mind of what I want the completed vignette to look like and then I search for the right items to create that look.

I had purchased summery looking pitchers and containers recently at Michael’s, all on sale. I gathered those, a pile of vintage linens, and an assortment of greenery, a candle wreath, a candle and speckled eggs and laid them all out on the bed. I also had an adorable paper garland that I had purchased at The Fancy Flamingo Flea Market. It is made of old pages from a hymnal. Already, a theme was growing in my mind.

The vignette came together quickly. I love summer whites, so allowing the black suitcase with its faded interior paper to provide most of the color, I selected mostly white pieces and linens. The speckled eggs in the mesh container added additional color along with the greens and yellows of the candle ring. Stepping back, I liked where I was headed….but I needed something else. Then the perfect piece came to mind. I had the painting Greg had bought me at Cooper’s with the wonderful Rumi quote: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” The muted greens, golds and hint of rust worked well with my other items. And the quote seemed so fitting.

Lastly, I dug through the box of old photos, looking for one that I remembered seeing, of Greg’s parents, Bob and Leta Moore, at the beach. Looking oh so young and happy, frolicking in the surf at the beach, this was such a perfect picture to complete the scene. This suitcase came to me through them. The garland with its folded hymnal banners made me think of Leta, who played the piano beautifully every Sunday at church.

Just as the vignette captures a bit of “summer”, so this snapshot captured a moment in the early summer of their lives.  Their fall and winter years must have seemed so far away at that time. I like looking at that picture and seeing their bright, shining faces. Leta journeyed through her fall years and left us far too soon. Bob, at 93, is very much in the winter of his life. He still has that mischievous smile even though he is so weary.  I look forward to showing him a picture of the decorated suitcase. I can already hear him snort as he laughs and mutters something about those young whippersnappers who didn’t know what they were doing. Ah, but they did so many things right, that young couple, not the least of which was to live and love well, and pass on that legacy to their children and grandchildren.

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Day 145: Sketching Outside

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Years ago, I sketched often. I mostly drew from photographs or illustrations in books and especially enjoyed drawing animals. All three of my children are artistic, and much better artists than I am. Some of my favorite family memories are of all of us sitting around the table, drawing, and then showing off our work to each other.

I’m not sure when I stopped drawing. As the kids grew up and got busy with other activities, I grabbed my sketch pad and pencils less and less often. Several years ago, I purchased new pencils and a fat sketching notebook and dabbled a little. I was disappointed with the results. I had these images in my head of what I wanted to capture but I seemed to have lost the ability to bring it to paper. I put the materials away in the closet and there they have stayed….until today.

For my first, I uncovered my drawing supplies and sat in my garden, intent on enjoying the scratch of pencil on paper, capturing light and shadow and withholding criticism. Some things have to be relearned, or at least, reawakened. What a perfect time, during this year of moving beyond, to do so with my artistic ability. My recent forays into artistic expression at Local Color Art Gallery and RSVPaint have helped to stir that desire to awaken to my creative side again.

It was beautiful and serene, sitting in the meditation area in the garden, art supplies nearby, cat curled up on my lap, a fresh breeze keeping me cool. I didn’t want to focus on technique or capturing an exact image so much as I wanted to enjoy the process and pay attention to the way the light and shadow created form. Appreciating the riot of colors in the garden, I made a mental note to pick up a good set of colored pencils. For today, I’d be sketching in black and white.

I settled first on one of the large rocks in the Japanese garden. With a variety of colors, angles and planes, it made a perfect study of light and shadow. Although I’m sure I chewed on my lip a couple of times, this was not about the outcome so much as the practice. Drawing for me became a meditation, bringing my focus to one object, sketching slowly, enjoying the moment. The rest of the world slipped away.

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Next I drew the Japanese Maple, my hand moving more quickly, capturing the trees slender truck and branches easily. The leaves could have involved a lot of detail work, but I just wanted to get the general shape of the tree and again, pay attention to the contrast between light and dark. As I was completing the maple the rumble of thunder drew my eyes up and to the west. Dark clouds had piled up as I sketched. It was time to leave the peace of the garden and head indoors. The rain began minutes later.

I really enjoyed this experience of sketching outdoors for the first time, capturing what was before me by focusing on contrast. This will be an ongoing practice, a deliberate, intentional habit of sketching. I have images in my head, after all, that I want to draw. I’ll continue to develop my ability until I can transfer them to paper.

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Day 144: Girls Outing to Andy’s Custard

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My planned first for today didn’t involve family or food. However, when the day shifted and an opportunity presented itself for me to get together with my granddaughter, Aubrey, sister Linda, and her granddaughter, London, I seized it. Aubrey, 5 years old, and London, 4 years old, adore each other and treat each other more like sisters than second cousins. Aubrey misses London, and vice versa, when too much times passes without a play date.

We had a fun lunch at Chuck E Cheese. The girls chowed down on pizza, played games and danced with the mouse, Mr. Cheese himself. Since we’ve all eaten at this place many times, I considered dancing with him also, as a first. But that didn’t seem appropriate somehow.

As the girls used up their tokens, we discussed what we could all do, for my first today, that could involve the girls. We decided as we were leaving Chuck E Cheese to go to Andy’s for frozen custard. The little girls weren’t sure if they had eaten there before. Linda and I knew we had been there, and  frozen custard isn’t on my list of acceptable foods, but off we went.

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As we arrived in the parking lot, the girls recognized Andy’s. Everyone was agreeable to trying something new that they had not eaten before. London and Aubrey got children’s sundaes with rainbow sprinkles, Linda tried a new vanilla – chocolate concrete and I had Andy’s special for the month of May, a strawberry shortcake sundae. I did get the smallest size available!

The four of us had fun trying new treats. We chatted as we ate and snapped pictures to post with my blog and to capture a visual reminder of our special outing. The girls got to play at Linda’s house afterwards. These young ladies know how to get all the joy and fun possible out of spending time together. Watching them, listening to their animated conversations, clapping as they danced from their hearts, brought the assurance that all was well in my world. Children are wonderful teachers, showing by example how to live in the moment and find the happiness and perfection there. Thank you, Aubrey and London.

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Day 143: Godzilla 2014

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After an emotional week, with the tornado anniversary, I wanted today’s first to be light and fun. My sister Linda and I originally intended to take a line dancing lesson this evening. We showed up, but no one else did! I took that as a very strong sign to redirect. So we checked movie listings and times and headed to the theater with the intention of seeing the new X-Men movie. When we arrived at the theater, and saw the number of cars in the parking lot, we considered the fact that the X-Men movie just released today and since we only had a few minutes before the movie started, and we agreed we didn’t want to sit on the front row in the theater, we opted instead for Godzilla.

It was a good decision for a light hearted, fun first. The movie had great special effects, and a decent story line. We enjoyed it and had a wonderful time discussing it afterwards. The movie stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen and was directed by Garth Edwards. It is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.

Without giving away too much of the movie, Godzilla is more than a film about a mega monster on a rampage. In fact, Godzilla may not be the “bad guy” in this movie at all! It is a movie with several themes running through it including man’s negative effect on nature, the fragility of family relationships and allowing balance in nature to be maintained in the way it is meant to be. There is nothing very deep or powerful here. It is intended as a fun film and a remake of the original Godzilla movie.

And that is why I wanted to see this new version. I grew up watching the old Godzilla movies, with the Japanese actors and the English voice overs that never quite matched up with the lips moving. As a kid, I didn’t care about that. I just enjoyed seeing this massive, if somewhat clumsy, monster scare people. I was most familiar with the 1962 version, but I watched them all, including Mothra vs Godzilla. I’m pretty sure I owned a Godzilla figurine.

This latest remake was reminiscent of the Mothra vs Godzilla movie as it features Mothra type creatures that Godzilla does battle with. The Japanese element is there, although thankfully, there were no voice overs or lips moving without words. Maybe it was just our audience, but the first few times Ken Watanabe’s character said the name “Godzilla”, there were giggles and outright laughter. I confess Linda and I were among those who chuckled.

I’m glad we ended up here. I needed to smile and laugh and remember a childhood favorite. And hanging out for a couple of hours with the world’s most famous monster was like running into a friend that I hadn’t seen since kindergarten. It was fun to catch up, remember a few stories and be amazed at how much time has passed since last we met.

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Godzilla, 1962

Day 142: Butterfly Garden and Overlook Dedication

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May 22, 2011. It is a day Joplin, MO residents will not forget. Cannot forget.  Ask anyone who lived in this city on that day what they were doing at 5:30 on that Sunday afternoon, and they can immediately tell you. I was taking shelter in a closet under the stairs, with Greg. As we stepped inside that cramped space, the first 2X4 board came crashing through a window. The next few minutes were surreal. We first stood, then crouched, as the sounds of breaking glass, splintering wood, crashing debris and that unbelievable roar of fury assailed our ears. Briefly, I calmly considered that these were to be my last moments as the house shook and groaned and then began to lift upwards.

When I stepped out of the battered house, all I saw was ruin and rubble and brokenness. It is a sight seared into my brain. Thankfully, we were unhurt. Our family members were unhurt, although my mother’s house was also hit and my daughter and son-in-law lost their house and vehicles, riding out the storm a block from their home in the car. Joplin was changed. We were changed.

Much progress and healing has taken place since that day. We came together as a community, rolled up our sleeves, literally, and began to rebuild with the help of thousands and thousands of volunteers. We moved through our days, experiencing daily reminders of what had happened, and journeyed onward. On this, our third anniversary, we collectively remembered, and grew thoughtful, emotions rising with surprising strength.

For my first today, as I reflected on my journey and the city’s, I attended a very special dedication for a very special place, the Butterfly Garden and Overlook, located in the northeast corner of Cunningham Park. This park, located at 26th and Maiden Lane, took a direct hit May 22. It was completely destroyed. Work began the next day, clearing debris and cleaning it up. Located across the street from what was St. Johns Hospital, many consider this area ground zero. As the park was restored, it became a memorial park with a children’s reflection pool in honor of the lost children who would never play here again. There is a memorial wall with the names of the 161 victims of the tornado, a memorial fountain, a tribute to the volunteers, new playground areas for the kids, including a Boom Town play area built by Extreme Home Makeover while they were in Joplin, and 161 trees, one for each person lost.

It is very fitting that as we heal, a sacred space for doing so has been included in Cunningham Park. This beautiful addition is a collaborative project between the TKF Foundation, who believes in the restorative power of nature, Drury University, Springfield, MO, Joplin Parks & Recreation, Cornell University, US Forest Service, MO Dept of Conservation, Walmart Foundation, Forest ReLeaf of MO, Great River Assoc. and TILL Design. Sitting in front of this amazing space during the dedication, listening to representatives from the different organizations speak, my eyes filled with tears.

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According to the program provided during the dedication, the Butterfly Garden and Overlook is an open space, sacred place for individuals to work through their grief over what was lost, whether a person or an object such as a home. The garden is set up to flow through four phases. “Accepting the Reality of the Loss” begins as visitors pass through the front door of the lost home. The path winds through the site, allowing for “Processing the Pain of Grief”. Benches are set up as points of reflection, including a bench with a journal beneath it so that visitors can write about their loss and “Adjust to a World Without What Was Lost”.

The steel outlines of the three homes represent all homes erased during the storm and storyboards placed through the first structure educate on the destruction, acts of heroism, survival and the miracle of the human spirit. “We Move On But Do Not Forget” completes the phases. The butterfly attracting flowers create a unifying circle within the garden. The waterwall has 38 segments that represent the minutes the tornado was on the ground. A void at minute 7 marks the moment the park was struck.

I was very moved as I strolled around the beautiful space, crowded with other visitors and yet still peaceful and serene. This quote by David Willard is on one of the fountains in the garden: “The biggest and most disastrous moments in a person’s life can be the most defining of a person’s character and a person’s heart.” I would say that is true of a city also. It is true of Joplin.  I am grateful for the organizations that have brought this idea into existence and for the promise of restoration that it offers. I will return here often to think, to write, and to allow my own memories to heal.

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Day 141: After the Storm: Joplin’s Lost Heritage

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This week being the anniversary of Joplin’s 2011 tornado, there have been several memorial and storm related events offered. Today’s first, After the Storm: Joplin’s Lost Heritage, a presentation offered at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, highlighted an aspect of loss, as a result of the tornado, that I had not thought about before.

Created and presented by Leslie Simpson, director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, this 15 minute overview of the historic losses within the stricken area of Joplin was informative and very well done. I live and work and shop in the tornado zone. I know firsthand how the neighborhoods have changed. What I didn’t realize is that important pieces of Joplin’s heritage are gone, destroyed in 32 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.

Leslie focused on three sections of Joplin that were devastated, beginning with the Blendville area. Originally a mining community, Blendville was established in 1876, and was west of our current Main Street, extending to Maiden Lane. Thomas Cunningham owned the residential section, which he divided into lots and sold at low prices to miners. Hundreds of affordable shotgun style homes were built in this area so that miners could purchase them. Cunningham Park was named after Thomas, who donated the land to the city, and was the first park in Joplin. It was heavily wooded at the time with gardens and walking trails. St. John’s hospital was located in this area of town, built over abandoned mine shafts. The tornado wiped out most of the Blendville area, including the hospital and a large portion of the medical community.

The next section Leslie talked about included Schifferdecker’s First Addition, a residential area that began to be developed in 1900. Craftsman style homes and bungalows lined the streets of this neighborhood. The Joplin Globe referred to the area lying south of 20th Street and including Wall, Joplin, and Main Streets as “a beautiful new addition affording the most desirable building property” to be found anywhere in the city. Most of these homes were destroyed or heavily damaged in the storm. Included in this district, and taken out by the tornado, was Irving Elementary School, which has been rebuilt on Maiden Lane.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church was destroyed as well, except for the exterior cross that remained standing after the storm, becoming an icon of hope. The cross remains still.

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Schifferdecker’s Second Addition, which lies south of 20th Street and includes Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky Avenues, was in the second section as well. As the city progressed eastward, in the early 1900’s through the 1930’s, the houses became a mix of Victorians, Colonial Revivals, Tudors and the ever present bungalows. Further east, in the third area shown in the presentation, development progressed from the 1940’s – 70’s. This section covered Grand Avenue to Range Line, and encompassed the Eastmoreland area. The dominant housing style was the ranch house. Churches sprang up in this area in the 60’s, and early commercial development began with the Bel-Aire Shopping Center on the corner of 20th and Range Line.

Several large homes existed in this area, including James Campbell’s estate, which included riding stables and a lake. Dillion’s Grocery Store stood on the spot the lake once occupied. The store is gone, now, along with this section with its eclectic mix of homes. The churches have been rebuilt. Bel-Aire, which was completely destroyed, just recently completed construction on a new center.

Leslie showed a before picture of Kentucky Avenue, lined with trees and houses. All those trees were obliterated as well. This is my neighborhood. These are the streets my children rode their bikes on. I walked my dog past those houses that no longer exist. Rebuilding has flourished in all three of these sections, with new houses and businesses continuing to appear. What I had not considered before today was that with the destruction of these homes and business buildings, historical structures were lost, and will not be recovered. The recently constructed houses look great. Yet they are new. The charm, the character, the architecture are gone, reduced with the structures to rubble, and hauled away.

Thankfully, even as new stories are being told, the old stories remain. And Leslie Simpson had the compassion and ability to capture for us this flow of history that was once evident as one traveled from west Joplin, eastward. I am grateful.

Day 140: Go With the Flow Day

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I had several ideas this morning about what I would do today for a first. As it happened, my first found me, or more accurately, it unfolded for me as the day progressed. I shared during the Keller Williams sales meeting this morning about how doing my year of firsts is teaching me to live more in the flow. When an intended new experience doesn’t quite work out, I’ve learned to keep going and seek another first, and always, another appears for me.

The short talks I share at Keller Williams are lessons that come directly out of my life. The benefit for me is that my own words also remind me of what is true. Speaking about being in the flow created a heightened awareness for me today of how easy it is to balk against what is going on in my life, creating resistance. Thinking about releasing, allowing, moving, letting go of the past, not projecting into the future, being very present in the moment and finding joy there, immediately shifted my day and it became all about flowing. Go With the Flow Day was birthed.

What a beautiful day it was. Clients and requests for information flowed in and connection and information flowed back. Not one, not two, but three unplanned trips to three different garden centers appeared as I flowed, and I found a wonderful selection of plants and flowers. As the day flowed on, there was time for a lunch meeting, house searches online for a new buyer, space to co-create a class via a conference call, and a lovely late afternoon session in the garden planting ornamental grasses.  Never during the day was there a sense of needing to do more than I was doing at that exact moment, or of needing to hurry, fret or multitask.

Life is like a river, and I am paddling in my little boat merrily down the stream, until I encounter the rapids of things not going the way I want them to. Then I have choices: I can resist flow and begin paddling upstream in defiance, expending huge amounts of energy while I go nowhere or make very little progress. That wears me out, quickly. Or, I can struggle to shore and camp out there. I’m not exerting the energy but I’ve removed myself from flow and I’m allowing life to move on past me while I live in denial. Being disengaged and watching from the sidelines allows loneliness and bitterness to set up camp with me. Or, I can ride out the rapids and go with the flow. I am moving with the river, my energy in sync with life, open to where the experience will take me. One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that any situation the flow takes me to is temporary. The flow will take me beyond that as well, if I will allow it to.

And Beyond is where I am headed this year. No expectations, no disappointments, no fear. Instead, there is movement, adventure, joy. There is flow.

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Day 139: Dayan’s 15th Birthday

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What a fun first for today, celebrating my oldest grandchild as he turned 15. While celebrating birthdays in my family is not new, during this year of firsts, I acknowledge each milestone birthday and the specialness of each of my family members. Dayan’s birthday, which actually is today, is a big one for him as he is now old enough to get his driver’s permit, a first for him and a first for me….a grandson old enough to begin driving.

From the moment of his birth, Dayan Aaris Reynolds has been creating firsts for me: first grandchild, first grandson, first to call me Yaya, first school programs and band concerts and art competitions, and many first opportunities to see the world afresh through a child’s eyes. When he was a small boy, we began a tradition called “The Adventures of Dayan and Yaya” where we created stories together, each of us contributing a few sentences at a time to the story as we took turns narrating it. We’ve been happily creating adventures ever since.

Dayan was a joyful, loving , bright child who was always quick to laugh or dance or sing. He was a friendly boy who never knew a stranger and was gifted with the ability to see the best in people, in all people, and compliment them in the most sincere way. I have learned so much about life from this amazing child, who is now a young man.

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Dayan, age 1, experiencing bubbles for the first time. He’s been laughing ever since.

A few years ago, when he was about 8 years old, the trolley system came to Joplin. Wanting to experience a trolley ride, Dayan and I stood with a group of people outside the Joplin Public Library, waiting for our turn . As we watched for the trolley, a man moved slowly down the sidewalk, in a wheelchair, toward our group. He was a double amputee, missing both legs from the thighs down. The adults all carefully averted our eyes, out of pity or discomfort. I glanced at Dayan. He was watching the man intently. I thought, “Oh Dayan, don’t say anything…” and tried to distract him, fearful he might ask embarrassing questions. As the man stopped near the edge of the group, Dayan stepped toward him, bowed at the waist, and said in a bright, cheerful voice, “Good day, good sir, how are you?” The man’s face lit up. As he and Dayan had an animated conversation the adults looked at each other sheepishly. While we tried to pretend we didn’t see the man, Dayan not only saw him, he engaged him. When the trolley pulled away, that man energetically wheeled away in his chair, waving to Dayan. I learned a huge lesson that day, one of many from this kid, about really seeing people and recognizing their shining souls.

I continue to watch this young man study people and find the perfect words to draw them out or light up their faces. He doesn’t engage in flattery, he engages hearts and encourages others by pointing out what’s true. I once thought he had encountered a person who could not be encouraged. She was frazzled by a day of running the register at a busy store and her words, demeanor and appearance all suggested she had had a bad day. I didn’t think even Dayan could find anything good to say. How shallow of me! He studied her, while I studied him, hoping he would just let this one pass. I had heard her sharp words to the customer in front of us and I didn’t want her to snap at my grandson. Suddenly Dayan said softly to her, “You have beautiful eyes.” She melted….and her eyes, which were indeed beautiful, once I really looked at her, filled with tears. This dear woman transformed before me, chatting easily with Dayan as he loaded our purchases into the cart. As we left, she told me what an amazing boy he was. I agreed.

And I believe that still. I am proud of him for all his accomplishments, in school and beyond. But even more so, I am grateful for Dayan and for his perspective on life and his compassion toward others and his fearless way of speaking up. I am grateful that I am his Yaya. And I am grateful for the way my heart and life have opened and expanded because of him.

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Birthday dinner at Red, Hot & Blue