Saying Goodbye to James

I lost a dear friend this past week, someone I have known for most of my life. If his sudden illness and death saddened me, and it did, deeply so, I know his sweet wife and two sons are experiencing his loss at a heartbreaking level. 

My thoughts have not strayed far from James and his precious family. Memories have surfaced. I met him when I was a young teen in Noel, MO. He was married to Patti, the older sister of Shelley, one of my best friends. James and Greg grew up together. After Greg and I married, we would hang out with James and Patti. These familiar people became more than just Shelley’s relatives…they became my friends too. 


While we lived in Noel, our lives were interconnected, as so often happens in small towns. James captured my family in portraits and he was the photographer at my wedding. He owned and operated the Ozark Theater in Noel, one of my favorite hangouts. I took care of Anthony, James and Patti’s first son, for a short time when he was two, before my own firstborn arrived. 

James and I enjoyed discussing movies and literature and writing. We shared an appreciation for sci-fi and fantasy fiction. “I’ll write a book someday,” James always added. 



Even after Greg and I moved to Joplin, we stayed in touch with the Carrolls. James and Patti’s family grew, with the arrival of their second son, Ryan. They trekked to Joplin or we stopped by to see them in Noel, not as often as we would have liked, but enough to keep the bonds of friendship strong. 

James became a mail carrier and later mayor of Noel. Always one to give of himself to his community, he continually sought ways to improve his town and help people live better lives. 



At his memorial service this morning, I heard words such as “wonderful”, “thoughtful” and “courteous” used to describe James. And those words were certainly true about this kind hearted man. I never saw James without a smile brightening his face. He had a great sense of humor. He was gracious with a gentle soul. And, he had this spark that lit up his eyes. 

I just this week realized what that ever present spark signified. It was the fire of creativity shining out through his eyes. That word was strongly connected to James this morning and I wholeheartedly agree. James lived a wonderfully creative life. 



From his photography days to drawing and painting to performing plays to building forts for his sons, James expressed his artistic side through a variety of mediums. This talented man fearlessly explored his creativity and had fun playing with it. 

And that book he intended to write? He did it. Several years ago I was both honored and excited when he presented me with a copy of SARREN. Full of magic and adventures, love and battles, SARREN is an epic fantasy novel with a strong heroine as the central character. 


I’ve been slowly re-reading James’ book this week and I am enchanted by the story once again. And beyond that, I am connecting with my friend and knowing him at a deeper level as I discover more about James through his beautiful writing. 

I hold in my hands James’ creativity, birthed into reality through his writing. I am inspired by him to make manifest my own creative ideas. I see, too, that the Alan Rickman quote I so love, “If only life could be a little more tender, and art a little more robust” was lived out in James’ life. He cared for people and put actions with his desire to create a better world. And he offered his creative gifts to the world as well. His contributions are timeless, and far reaching. His life will continue to impact and touch others, in ever expanding ripples. 

He has impacted me. His book SARREN will rest on my writing desk, in my studio, a visual reminder of what is possible, of what a creative life can bring forth. As I move into a new year, with a focus on making life a little more tender and art a little more robust, I will draw inspiration from my friend James. 

Saying thank you seems so inadequate. However, I am so very grateful, James, for your life…and your art. 

Movie Review: Rogue One

This afternoon I at last had the opportunity to see the latest installment in the Star Wars saga…Rogue One. Family members Linda and Roy, long time Star Wars fans like me, accompanied me. And while Rogue One is the newest movie in this long running franchise, the story takes place chronologically after Episode III The Revenge of the Sith and prior to the events in Episode IV A New Hope


Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn,  Spencer Wilding and Riz Ahmed, and features the voice of James Earl Jones. The sci-fi/adventure was directed by Gareth Edwards. The film is rated PG-13, for extended scenes of violence and intense action, and has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes. 

Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mikkelsen), the reluctant designer of the Death Star for the Imperial Galactic Empire. Separated from her father when she was very young, Jyn grows up to become the unlikely leader of a group of resistance fighters in the Rebel Alliance. 

Galen has built a flaw into the weapon of planetary destruction, and he reaches out to his daughter in hopes of providing a way for the Rebels to in turn destroy the Death Star. Jyn teams up with Rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Luna), who has his own agenda, and his droid with attitude, K-2SO (voiced by Tudyk). 

As the trio moves from base to base, they assemble an eclectic team comprised of a blind warrior familiar with the Force, Chirrut Imwe (Yen), his faithful friend Baze (Jiang), and Bodhi (Ahmed), a former Empire pilot who has defected to the Rebels. 

The Empire, led by Darth Vader (played by Wilding and voiced by Jones) and Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), continues in its ruthless plan to launch the latest weapon against the Alliance. The future of the galaxy rests with Jyn and her small but fierce group of Rebel fighters. 

Rogue One was a great addition to the Star Wars saga. While this first stand alone story introduced a host of new and unfamiliar chatacters, there were plenty of Star Wars devices and several familiar faces to connect this movie with the others, and with the audience. The movie, which was darker, grittier and more war-like than previous films, developed the new characters well, making me appreciate the contributions each one made. 

I especially enjoyed the snarky droid, K-2SO, whose droll comments provides most of the film’s comedic moments, and the blind warrior, Chirrut, who continually reminds his comrades of the Force. “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” 

And as a Star Wars fan, I was thrilled to see once again the ultimate cinematic bad guy, Darth Vader. I am glad James Earl Jones’ distinctive voice is still the voice of Vader. 

Rogue One employs the classic good verses evil plot that is at the core of Star Wars, and yet this is definitely an edgier story. 

Fans will enjoy this latest film. And non fans? Well, this might be a great introduction to the Star Wars universe, and the beginning of a long and loving relationship. 

Let It Go

I love how Facebook shares memories from my past. The pics and posts are snapshots of where I was a year…or two or three…ago. This meme popped up this morning:


This snapshot perfectly describes what I am doing this last week in December as well…letting go of what no longer feeds my soul or serves me. 

The past two days I have tackled a BIG project…cleaning out a closet in my bedroom. It is amazing the amount of stuff that can be crammed into a small space. It was to the point where I feared opening the door! 

I had two goals in mind: get rid of the accumulated clutter…the stuff that no longer feeds my soul…and make the small space function again as a clothes closet. 

Yikes!!

It was out with the old today. I hate to admit that I hauled three large bags of trash out of that tiny closet. Gone are years of left over Christmas paper and crumbled bows, lumpy pillows, old cans of paint and an assortment of odd items I never knew what to do with. 

The closet and then the whole room grew lighter in energy as clutter was cleared away. As I worked, one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, played on the TV/DVD player in the bedroom, an interesting and somehow heart touching counterpoint to the clearing activity I was engaged in. The movie highlights the connectedness of the many characters in the story, while I was busy breaking connections with items that no longer suit me. 


I created great space tonight, room in the closet for fresh new things. In preparation for hanging a closet rod and moving my clothes in from another room, I sorted through a pile of clothing, desiring to release, literally, all that no longer fits me. I was thrilled to discover that due to my recent change to a plant based diet, most of my clothes were too big. After sorting and trying on, the majority of my wardrobe went into bags, ready to be donated to a local organization. 

I am creating physical space for new clothes that fit better, and creative space to determine what I enjoy wearing and what best serves my needs. It will be fun to take my time and only purchase clothes that “ring my bell”, as Aubrey would say, and bring me joy. 

Tomorrow I have games and a stack of old coloring books to sort through, empty picture frames to relocate or donate, and Lord of the   Rings collectibles to make decisions about. The many vintage quilts that I hauled out tonight will be cleaned and I’ll determine how best to display them elsewhere in the house. 

Then the fun begins, as the cleared out closet is put back together and the clothes that I have remaining will be carefully hung in their fresh new space. 

This closet is where Greg and I took shelter when the 2011 EF-5 tornado struck Joplin. That small space sheltered us and protected us  from raging wind and debris. It was the calm in the midst of the storm. That space has since become a catch all, which is hardly appropriate for such a sacred place. 

It feels very good to free it from clutter, while freeing my heart and soul from the pile of objects I no longer want…or need. New space, in my closet and in my life, ushering in fresh possibilities for a new year. Welcome. 

The Purest Form of Friendship

I couldn’t locate the source, however I love this quote:

“Writing letters is the purest form of friendship we humans can possibly express. We capture ourselves in a moment, and then we give that moment away to someone else.” 

I totally understood that sentiment today, as I completed the 12 Days of Letter Writing, a project created by the group More Love Letters. The goal was to write encouraging, uplifting letters to 14 strangers who are currently struggling in their journeys. 


I appreciated this opportunity to participate in such a soulful project. I wasn’t sure how the experience would be, writing to people I don’t know who are facing life challenges. Of the 14 letter recipients, three are children, two have serious medical issues and the rest have all recently lost a loved one. 

I did not need to be concerned about how the letter writing would go. 

As I read each person’s story, shared by the friend or family member who nominated them to receive love letters, my heart was stirred. The words flowed easily onto the note cards I purchased, along with compassion. I didn’t know these people, but I am familiar with their journeys. I’ve walked the same paths. With each person, I found a strong point of connection, and from that place of empathy, I could express sincere love and encouragement. 


In that moment, as I focused on the person I was writing to, I reached out to touch them with my words, my heart, my spirit. There was no expectation about how the recipients would respond or react to the letters…just a flow of loving energy going out. There was, indeed, a purity captured within that moment of writing, a sense of transcending relationships and challenges, time and distance. 

There was love, formed into words, flowing with the ink onto the card. As I sealed each envelope, I sealed the emotion of that moment within the card as well. And I prayed blessings, peace and hope over each missive before sending them on this afternoon. 

There won’t be any replies. Yet my heart is full and I have been blessed already in return. I’m cheering these beautiful souls onward and upward. From Joplin, Missouri to these dear ones across the US and Canada, I have sent them a part of my heart. And I have so fallen in love with each one. 

In Search of a Christmas Drink

A couple of years ago, I rediscovered the seasonal drink eggnog. My mom used to fix the non alcoholic version when I was a child. During my year of having daily new experiences, I sampled an eggnog with a splash of rum for the first time. Topped with a sprinkle each of cinnamon and nutmeg, these nightly cups of eggnog with just a hint of rum became a favorite holiday drink. 

This year, since I no longer consume dairy products or sugar, I knew eggnog was out. I accepted that I wouldn’t be drinking it, mentally shrugged, and moved on. Truthfully, I didn’t miss it…until I discovered that Silk makes an almond milk nog, dairy free, with minimal sugar. 

The search for Silk Almond Nog began. 

Alas, it was not to be. Searching every store in my city, I could only locate Silk Soy Nog. Soy is on my “no” list. I accepted once again that I would not be drinking eggnog…or even almond nog…this Christmas. 


This is where the story takes a beautiful turn…where the Divine intervened. Others may have a difficult time believing that God cares about what I have to drink. I believe! Experience teaches me every aspect of my life matters. 

The desire beneath my desire for eggnog was simple. What I really wanted was a soothing, warming drink on cold winter evenings, after a full day…a drink to sip and unwind with. Hot tea is my standard evening drink. However, this time of year, I longed for something more festive. 

“Here you go,” whispered the Divine

On Christmas Eve morning, I happened to see a post from Anthony William in my Facebook newsfeed. It was a recipe for Spiced Apple Cider. It caught my attention immediately. A hot drink…a hot healthy drink, offered by the man I credit for inspiring me to begin my healing journey. 


Tonight, a pot of spiced apple cider simmered on the stove while I cleaned the kitchen. The aroma was wonderful, drawing me frequently to the bubbling pot to inhale deeply. This. This is what I had been looking for, a savory warm drink to sip on. And the cider is full of health benefits as well. 

Anthony writes, “Apple cider is a great digestive aid and is very soothing to the digestive tract, sipped before or after a meal. It also helps to reduce stress damage and keep the body energized and active. Cloves and ginger are especially good for warding off respiratory ailments and any cold or flu symptoms. They also help relieve headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, tension, & nerve pain. Cinnamon is very good for reducing inflammation in the body, making it helpful for people with autoimmune disorders such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Cinnamon also has the amazing ability to stop yeast infections, candida, and menstrual cramps. Star anise is highly beneficial in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism, back pain, shingles, herpes, halitosis, and sinus infections. It is also commonly used as a digestive aid and can help to relieve gas, constipation, cramping, bloating, heartburn, and indigestion.”

Now that is a good for me drink, with no dairy, sugar or alcohol! I used organic 100% apple juice, not from a concentrate. Instead of fresh ginger, I substituted 1/3 teaspoon of ground ginger. I’ll increase that amount in the next batch. I had the other spices on hand. Star anise can be purchased at health food stores. 

The spiced apple cider was wonderfully satisfying, fragrant and warming, the perfect drink to sip on during this holiday season…and beyond. I am so grateful that I went searching for a healthier nog. I was given something so much better, in every way. 

Christmas 2016

What a beautiful day! This Christmas was different from last year, in that none of my grandchildren were present. All of the children spent the day with their other parents. Today, I missed the kids…and I had a joyful afternoon with my adult children, their spouses, Greg, my mom and my sister. 




My younger daughter Adriel and son-in-law Nate hosted the family in their beautiful home. We had a true smorgasbord for our shared meal, rather than a traditional Christmas dinner. Each of us brought a dish or two. There was taco soup, hash brown casserole, cheesy peas and other tasty offerings. I brought what has become regular fare for me, so my family could sample a variety of plant based sides. Included were seasoned potato wedges and brown rice pasta, served with marinara sauce, homemade hummus, lentil curry with brown rice, and roasted apples and pears, along with pomegranate bark. I loved the lentil curry that I made for the first time, using my slow cooker. 

My Christmas meal today…lentil curry with brown rice. 




After our meal we gathered in the living room, where the kids spent a couple of hours rummaging through boxes of their childhood artwork and flipping through old photo albums. Much laughter filled the room as drawings were revealed and the artist remembered the story behind the art. My children are all talented and creative artists, and my mother’s eyes could see that potential, even in their earliest works! 

My funny son-in-law, Josh. 

Our gracious hosts for the day. 

Six of the most beautiful souls that I have the pleasure of knowing. I am grateful to be their mom and mom-in-law!

I sat back today, watching the adult kids in my family, listening to their easy banter and peals of laughter as they pulled drawings or photos from the boxes. I love hearing my children and grandchildren laugh. I love seeing them interact with each other. It was an incredible time of celebrating together. 

I received special, and unexpected, gifts today, that include coloring books, gift cards, cookbooks and a pressure cooker that I am eager to try out. Greg surprised me with an art print that speaks deeply to my heart and ignites my creativity. Painted by a local artist, who is also a friend of mine, the piece is called “Incandescence” and contains my symbol for 2017 and an old fashioned typewriter, which represents my writing. I am thrilled to own this limited edition print. Hanging in my studio, it will be a daily reminder of the path I am on, and of the invitation I have been given for next year. 

Gratitude fills my heart tonight and overflows. I have so much to be thankful for…health, happiness, wonderful family and friends, and another magical Christmas captured in photos and memory. 

Merry Christmas…and truly, God bless us, everyone. 

Anticipating Christmas

I love waking up on Christmas Eve day, and experiencing the thrill of anticipation. As a child I looked forward to opening gifts and playing with new toys. Now, I lie in bed and savor the delicious anticipation of opening a new day and letting it unfold as it will. And play, of the creative sort, is still an important and meaningful part of my day.  

It has been a full day…full of activities, full of fun, full of preparation, full of joy. Because I still have cooking to do, and it is 10:43 pm, I am sharing the unfolding of my day via photos. 

Beginning the day with fresh celery juice, followed by a breakfast smoothie. It has been vital, during this busy season, to continue to take exceptional care of myself. I am excited to be finishing the year strong, healthy and fit. 

Banana, peach, pineapple, blueberry smoothie. 

After completing grocery and gift shopping today, I worked upstairs gathering up photo albums and boxes of artwork created by my children when they were young. Tomorrow we will enjoy looking through these moments from the past. Above is one of my favorite old family photos, Greg’s great-great grandfather Tuck, in the civil war uniform, and Tuck’s sons Quincy and Roy. 

I finished wrapping the last of the gifts. 

And after delivering gifts to my younger daughter Adriel and son-in-law Nate, the three of us watched A Christmas Carol. This is a yearly Christmas Eve tradition for Adriel and me. The George C Scott version released in 1984, the year Adriel was born, and we’ve watched it together every year since, with the exception of last year, due to Adriel working Christmas Eve at the hospital. We love this classic story! 

Back home, candles were lit to welcome Christmas and send out Light into the mild night. 

I am creating in the kitchen, while Christmas songs play on my phone. I succesfully made pomegranate bark tonight. I have several more plant based dishes to prepare for tomorrow’s family gathering and smorgasbord at Adriel and Nate’s house. 

Interspersed throughout the day, Christmas messages and texts have flowed in, literally from around the world, warming my heart and amplifying my joy. That tingle of anticipation I awoke with has been the constant undercurrent during my day, as I look forward to spending time with my family tomorrow and sending Christmas greetings to friends and more family. 

There is a musical meaning for the word anticipation, that I love. It is the introduction in a composition of part of a chord that is about to follow in full. What a perfect definition for today…Christmas Eve…as I am experiencing in part what I will fully enjoy tomorrow. 

Happy Christmas Eve…and happy anticipation. 

Christmas Gift Making with Dayan

I finished up the Yaya and grandchild Christmas tradition today with my oldest grandson, Dayan. However, we broke the new tradition of sharing a meal and shopping for family, reverting back to a tradition that Dayan and I practiced for years when he was younger…making Christmas gifts. 


I love that my 17 year old grandson, a senior in high school, asked if instead of shopping we could be creative. Of course, I said yes! Dayan was my only grandchild for years. When he was four, he made the connection between other people having birthdays and celebrating holidays, and giving them gifts. He embraced this idea with the whole of his big little heart, discovering it was as fun to give as to receive, and I began taking him shopping to buy gifts for his family. As our family grew, it became more economical to make gifts together, rather than purchase them. 

Dayan and I have been very creative over the years, and the time spent together making gifts was precious to me. Returning to this practice, after shopping for gifts last year, felt nostalgic and right and brought joy to my heart. 


Today we took a simple idea and duplicated it to create cookie wreaths for his family members. The results were wonderful, and we were quite pleased. We played Christmas songs by Pentatonix as we worked, as we both love this a cappella group. And we had fun as we made batches of cookies, laughing and chatting. 


Our conversations today were quite different from those we had when Dayan was a little boy. This intelligent young man discussed world events with knowledge and competence, sharing with me about recent occurrences around the globe. I appreciated that I could ask him about the refugee crises in Syria and get an in depth answer that helped me to better understand what’s happening in another country. Dayan’s compassion for others and his desire to make a difference in the world were very evident as he spoke. 


I am well aware that Dayan will be headed to college next fall. Knowing he will be venturing out and embarking on his own journey soon creates deep love and pride for my grandson, and a sense that such times together, making things, is coming to an end. 

Or are they?

As if reading my mind, Dayan said he would come home from the university next Christmas, and we would make gifts together to give to family. Yes, I agreed…yes we will. My heart sang! 

Movie Review: Sing

My grandsons Joey and Oliver joined me this afternoon in watching a new release at the movie theater. Neither boy had high energy today, after experiencing a full week, and rather than skating or playing at House of Bounce, they opted to watch a movie. We had seen trailers for Sing and all of us agreed we wanted to check out this animated film. 


Sing features the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Seth McFarlane, Reese Witherspoon, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Garth Jennings and Scarlett Johansson. This newest animation from Illumination was directed by Christophe Lourdelet. The movie is rated PG for some rude humor and has a run time of 1 hour and 48 minutes. 

Buster Moon (McConaughey), an optimistic koala bear, is the owner of a theater that he has loved since he was six years old. His father worked hard so that Buster could purchase the aging building. However, years of lackluster productions has tarnished the theater’s glory and brought Buster to the brink of financial ruin. 


In an attempt to save his crumbling theater, and his crumbling life, Buster stakes all he has on one grand, final show…a singing competition, with a monetary award. Buster’s ancient assistant, Mrs. Crawly (Jennings), inadvertently changes the prize amount from $1,000 to $100,000…and suddenly there’s a long line of eager participants ready to audition. 


Buster narrows the competition down to a handful of singers: overwhelmed mom Rosita (Witherspoon), who is paired up with the flashy, more outgoing Gunter (Kroll), Mike (McFarlane) the smallest competitor with the big voice, Johnny (Egerton) the soulful teen who is hoping for a better life, Ash (Johansson), the porcupine who is discovering she has the voice and the talent to go solo, and shy Meena (Kelly) who can sing beautifully…when she is alone. 



While each participant has the ability to win the singing competition, each also has struggles to overcome, to best share his or her gift with the world. And although Buster is excited about the talent before him, and the prospect of an amazing show that could revitalize the theater, he resorts to desperate scheming to come up with the prize money. 

Who will win? How will Buster honor what he has promised? Or are there bigger rewards that come as the participants follow their passions…and sing? 


This was an entertaining film with plenty of humor, a great selection of more than 85 songs, and important life lessons. I watched Joey and Oliver occasionally, as they sat with eyes on the huge screen, smiles flitting across their earnest faces. With all the music contained within the movie, I wondered if the boys would enjoy the story. I need not have wondered. They payed close attention, laughing over the funny lines and sight gags, often sitting very straight, on the edge of their seats. 


I deeply appreciate films, animated or live action, where transformation and growth occurs as the characters journey. Sing captures the transformation of its characters as they try and fail, or move past their fears, or discover who they are and what they can do. And captures it very well with a story that flows beautifully. At the end of the movie, the large audience in the theater clapped. 

There is much to like about Sing, not the least of which is that the film is the latest offering from the creators of Despicable Me, and features a clip of the Minions singing about Illumination. This was a great movie to discuss with the boys. I appreciated their insights and thoughts and we had a good chat about what happens when we do the things we love to do. 

Joey, Oliver and I give Sing three thumbs up!

Christmas Shopping with Jonathan

This afternoon I picked up grandson Jonathan for his shopping time with Yaya. We had barely gotten underway, when this sweet boy let me know he wasn’t feeling well. He didn’t want to cancel or postpone our time together. And although he didn’t feel like eating dinner, he was eager to shop for gifts for his family. We continued on to the first shopping stop. 


We had a twenty minute drive to our destination. We chatted about school and his friends. And then this high-tech young man delighted me by telling me about an app he recently downloaded, called Wattpad. This app is a place to read and share stories, for free. Wattpad’s mission is to connect a global community through the power of story. I was intrigued!

Then Jonathan wowed me. He’s already written three chapters of his own story on the app. Called Clash, Jonathan’s story is a fan fiction tale, based on the video game, Clash of Clans. As I drove, Jonathan read the three chapters to me. As a writer, I was extremely impressed with his writing style, his choice of words, and his technique. As a Yaya, I was flooded with pride and love and appreciation for Jonathan. What a goal for a young man, to write and share his story. 

Jonathan told me his class was rewarded, for an accomplishment, with an hour of free time. The children who owned cell phones were even allowed to play on those, if they wanted to. Jonathan chose to write, and edit, and move his story along. That’s a huge choice for such a techy boy, who loves his online games. 

We arrived at our first stop, and Jonathan came up with such great ideas for his family members while we were there, that this store became our only stop. In a short time, we were headed to my house so he could wrap his gift selections. 


Even though he didn’t feel like eating dinner, a cold Icee from Casey’s did sound good to him. And surprisingly, so did a bag of Cheetos. I sincerely hoped Jonathan kept those down, or he would likely never eat another Cheeto again! 


It didn’t take Jonathan long to wrap his purchases. We postponed another project, until he is feeling better. And I will take him out to dinner next week, after Christmas, to make up for no dinner tonight. I appreciate that he listened to his body, and skipped a meal when eating didn’t feel right. He followed his heart though, and completed his shopping, so excited about what he bought for his family that he’s hoping to open presents early! 

I enjoyed our time together, brief as it was, and listening as Jonathan read his creation to me. He’s planning on ten chapters. I downloaded the Wattpad app tonight and followed Jonathan. I’m a big fan of his already.