Why We Need Symbols

Why We Need Symbols

In 2005, I was given the opportunity to help write a book that I thought would be way beyond my interests. I was wrong. I said “yes” and with my friend, James Wagenvoord, we wrote and edited MIAMI INK: Marked for Greatness. The book echoed the television show that explored not only the lives of the artists, but more importantly those of the customers who came into their shop in South Beach Miami. Each person wanted a tattoo for a particular reason: remembering. When they looked at the tattoo and proudly wore it, they were remembering a loved one, a choice, an event. The tattoo was a symbol. Sonya, the mother of a child who had died, asked Kat Von De to create a tattoo of her daughter holding a pet alligator. One man wanted his wife’s face and name on his back, because “she has my back.”


Isaac Fitzgerald, who got his first tattoo when an encouraging teacher offered it as a reward, has published “Knives and Ink”–knives, because the people in his book are chefs. I’ve noticed that many chefs boast tattoos, and his book focuses on the narrative or story behind each of those tattoos. For Chef Soliel Ho, who has a paddy crab on her chest, the crab is the food that sustained rice farmers in Viet Nam where she was born and raised. She states: “It’s important to me to remember where I came from and the humble food that still sustains and satisfies people everywhere.”


Of course a basic symbol many of us wear is a ring–engagement, wedding, promised–or one we purchased ourselves to remember a place we visited or because it reminds us of someone we love. The symbol can be very tangential, “My mother had a stone like this. It’s gone, but now this ring with the same stone will remind me of her.”

Symbols have been with humans forever. They communicate important aspects of our lives: the country we live in and the religion we follow. We communicate that through clothing, flags, medals, headwear. Adornments on our bodies offer symbols of our place in society, our wealth or education, position or life work. Various peoples throughout the centuries have chosen to wear their hair or adorn their skin to communicate place or station, power or caste and definitely heritage.


Skin color and all its shades have made we humans colorful and various–melanin is the reason. Melanin is a dark brown to black pigment that occurs in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is responsible for causing skin to tan or darken when exposed to sunlight. The closer people on earth live to the equator, the darker their skin. Melanin protects skin from burning and wrinkling and often from skin cancers.

In past centuries, women living in more northern areas chose to stay out of the sun. Tanned skin indicated a lower station, a person who worked in the fields or walked long roadways to get to their place of employment. Many decades later tanned skin came into vogue and was viewed as a sign of health. Self-tanning products and tanning beds were all the rage. We now know that tanning beds and unprotected skin can lead to burns and skin cancer. Thus for most skin types it’s better to purchase sunblock and a sun hat. Let’s face it, we humans are changeable, but in the last analysis we would be much better off if we saw skin color as symbolic only of the fascinating and numerous peoples who live on our earth.


Symbols are quick and easy. From drawings on cave walls to emojis, we humans are eager to communicate how we feel, where we live, how we live, where we are headed. In a recent article, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee defines symbolic consciousness: a way of working with symbols that allows their meaning and energy into our consciousness. It is like a key that is needed to unlock the real potential, the energy of a symbol. He sees the Internet as a symbol with very positive potential.For example, if we are attentive to the symbolic dimension of the Internet, we will find that it conveys a promise of a new model of global consciousness, an interconnectedness whose organic nature reflects the organic nature of life.

That’s a positive view, one that might arise if we could all find interconnectedness in our goals, if we could all set aside fears and make plans to walk together into the future. The economic needs of people never seem to even out. Some have much more money than others and often those that do simply crave more. So when various people in the United States look at the American Flag or the Statue of Liberty, what they see and what they feel and what that symbol communicates can be vastly different.


When people are afraid, they often hide behind the shield of a symbol. During the stress and nastiness of this past presidential election, the focus was often on making one candidate or the other a SYMBOL of something, something evil or bade. NASTY WOMAN. BASKET OF DEPLORABLES.

Both candidates were guilty. But one candidate did a deserve to himself as a man and to all women: he ran against a woman trying to uphold male dominance, to make women a symbol of inferior brains, lack of proper behavior, lack of strength and character, and who are not capable of making their own healthcare choices. He also applied that to handicapped people, people of color and people not like him.

I’ll end with the words of Rebecca Solnit, taken from her article in the Guardian: Don’t Call Clinton a Weak Candidate, It Took Decades of Scheming to Beat Her:

I know that if Clinton had been elected there would not be terrified and weeping people of color all over the country, small children too afraid to go to school, a shocking spike in hate crimes, high-school students with smashed dreams marching in cities across the country. I deplore some of Hillary Clinton’s past actions and alignments and disagreed with plenty of her 2016 positions. I hoped to be fighting her for the next four years. But I recognize the profound differences between her and Trump on race, gender, immigration and climate, and her extraordinary strength, tenacity and courage in facing and nearly overcoming an astonishing array of obstacles to win the popular vote. Which reminds us that Trump has no mandate and sets before us some of the forces arrayed against us. Rebecca Soling          

Women are and will always be Symbols of Strength. 

Thanks to THE WRITES OF WOMEN for compiling amazing essays.

Photo: 3D Tattoo Design

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Aging and Its Special Gifts

A card that echoes a shared past.

I remember when I turned 30 and I was stunned by the concept. 30–was it possible!! My husband and I were already blessed with one child and hoping for another. Our day to day lives proceeded and before we knew it, we had our second daughter, had moved to a different house, were making new friends. What a good life! And then I woke up one morning and I was 42 and we had our son and I went back to school and my husband’s career kept expanding. Were we looking at our very lives??  Or were we living them. The latter. Because as life takes you down the pathway that you are kind of in control of–something else is happening. You are aging. Sometimes you realize it–a glance in the mirror, the death of someone your age, a disappointment. It causes reflection, which as we age becomes a gift.

The Gift of Aging–I’m Still Here 

I just had a birthday. I am healthy and pursing goals. I can look back on my gifted life and I can look forward. Certainly there’s more behind me than in front of me–yet a person in their twenties might hope it’s the opposite (more ahead than behind) but as mortals we never know.

Each day we could awaken and celebrate a gift. Wow, what would that look like?

  • My backache is gone
  • I don’t have a doctor’s appointment today, LOL
  • My daughter is going to call
  • I’m going to see my grandchildren
  • My husband and I have planned a hike
  • We’re picking up our friends from Chicago at the airport

There could be many more–I have time to read; I’m excited about the writing I did today; my hydrangea is finally blooming.

Slow It Down 

Life is blessed with the big and the little. And as we age, some of these things take on the importance that they should have always had. Because we now can examine each day with care, focus on the gifts of living, realize that the loss of a hectic life means time to take it in slowly and not in a hurried rush.

Friday I had a birthday. It didn’t end in a zero, but those years come around soon enough. Here are some of the precious and meaningful gifts I received.

  • My daughter in Boston sent me the collage above, reminding me that when she and her sister were little, we would make cards by cutting pictures out of magazines. The lovely gift echoed a memory that brings back cherished times. Thanks, Carrie.
  • My brother and his wife gave this gardener the gift of plants that will thrive, I hope, on my patio. Aging and Its Special Gifts








  • My son called me, cheered me on, sent me two songs he is working on. Love you, Andrew.
  • My younger daughter hosted a lovely day with all the family who are living in California. We celebrated at a dinner where we watched the sun drop into the ocean. A perfect ending–or was it another beginning? Thanks, Christie.

    Aging and Its Special Gifts

    After each sunset, we hope for a sun rise.







And there were gifts:

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Wow, she knows me so well.








Brennan, my grandson, created a book for me, Brennan’s Kitchen Secrets. I’m sharing only one page of this cookbook. Who knows, one day it might be copyrighted.

Aging and Its Special Gifts

One of Brennan’s recipes.

My granddaughter made me a bracelet and my other grandson presented the gifts at the party–he makes a perfect host.

There were phone calls and birthday cards in the mail and gift cards online and a couple from Chicago who always gift me with the Happy Birthday song off-key–of course. What would I do without these treasures?

They are the things about my life that I cherish and always will–my family, my friends, their presents of love and hugs and kind words; their creativity and out-of-the-norm gifts. My husband and I need them in our lives. I guess you could say that these are the gifts that aging brings. Not so bad after all. A toast to that!!

Aging and Its Special Gifts

Aging and Its Special Gifts

The art of a granddaughter’s love.

Discovering What’s On My Desk!

Discovering What's On My Desk!

It’s a new year, time to look through things I’ve saved on my desk–information that I want my readers to have. So under the overall banner of health, here are a few goodies for 2016.


Did you know that the scent of rosemary may improve memory and that basil leaves can reduce swelling from a sprain? Of course if you have ever done any gardening, you know that it’s vital to your health–you use muscles and tendons of your body through lifting, raking, digging, lugging bags of dirt around and you are up and down constantly. At the beginning of the gardening season you’ll be using muscles you might not know you have as they shout back at you after a long day working the soil. But it is a truly rewarding activity and the National Gardening Association states that nearly 35% of U.S. households grow some food at home or in a community garden.

Gardening reduces stress; ecotherapists believe that even working a small patch in your backyard provides benefits–you are in touch with the earth regularly, you are making a physical and mental connection with that which supports humanity.

Herbs can be started from seed and indoors in a sunny window, then moved outside when the weather is right. Read catalogues or speak to a specialist where you buy your garden flowers. Herbalist Nancy Smithers suggests growing the following herbs and adding to that list: lavender, garlic, onion and parsley.

  • basil: has anti-inflammatory properties, good source of Vitamin A and magnesium; a study done in India states that basil can help diabetics manage blood sugar levels; Note: any new element in your diet could cause an allergic reaction;
  • mint: relaxes smooth muscle of the stomach and intestines, peppermint squelches pain, gas and constipation; it is rich in antioxidants, maganese, copper and vitamin C; peppermint tea is soothing when you have cold; peppermint oil spread on the forehead 3 times in 30 minutes can reduce tension headaches. But if you have GERD, avoid as it relaxes the muscles of the esophagus and could make your problems worse.
  • rosemary: research says the mere smell of rosemary can improve cognition and short term memory; rosemary oil can improve your mood and reduce anxiety; a days worth of Vitamin A is packed into 100 grams of fresh rosemary and it’s rich in fiber, vitamins C and B6, calcium and iron. If pregnant avoid using oils from herbs, but culinary use is okay.
  • tarragon: use fresh, before the oils dry; French tarragon has the most flavor; the volatile oil eugenol gives tarragon a pain-numbing action and it has been used for toothaches; studies are being done to see if it helps with diabetes.
  • thyme: traditionally used as an antiseptic, it contains an oil that is used in mouthwashes. In Germany thyme tea is approved for use in treating upper respiratory infections like bronchitis and whooping cough. Find recipes for making thyme tea; antibacterial affect of thyme can tame acne. Fresh thyme is a good source of vitamins, C&A, iron and maganese.

Also, you might be interested in this book: The Allergy Fighting Garden: Stop Allergies and Asthma with Smart Landscaping by Tom Ogren.



Whether a male child will be circumcised is definitely the choice of the child’s parents. Though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend and promote the health benefits of this “elective” medical procedure, the decision belongs to the parents and religious, cultural and individual preferences can affect it.

Dr. Megan Chen, MD affiliated with UCLA in Santa Monica, CA. states that parents should be counseled on potential benefits and risks. Benefits: reductions in both urinary tract infections (UTI’s) and sexually transmissible viral infections; circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV transmission through heterosexual sex only.

Risks? In some cases, circumcised boys are more prone to meatal stenosis, a condition in which the opening for urine to leave the body is constricted. Newborn circumcision has a 0.5 percent risk of complications–commonly those being minor bleeding and pain. Uncircumcised males have a 5% chance of needing circumcision later in life because of health problems related to infections of the glans and foreskin, or retraction problems with the foreskin. Dr. Jennifer Singer, a pediatric urologist with UCLA, states that parents should be counseled by a physician before their choice is made. They should be able to ask questions so they will have knowledge of the true benefits and risks.


Battle fatigue, shell shock, these were the terms used in previous wars to classify what we now call and know to be PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. The definition–PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

The Leahy-Friedman National PTSD Brain Bank is a major advancement in the fight against PTSD. Dr. Friedman explains: Although we have learned a great deal about abnormalities in brain structure and function from brain imaging research, there is no substitute for looking at the neurons themselves. Understanding the cellular and circuit contributions to abnormal brain activity in PTSD is critical in the search for potential biomarkers of susceptibility, illness and treatment response and for developing new treatments targeting the conditions at the cellular level. The National PTSD Brain Bank’s findings should help pave the way for new approaches to diagnosis and treatment of individuals with PTSD.

Veterans are optimistic. Jim Doyle spent 1969 in Vietnam and subsequently struggled with PTSD for15 years. “PTSD is real. It’s not somebody trying to scam the system.” He is hoping that the brain bank means that the next generation of soldiers won’t need to wage a second battle when they come back home. Doyle’s comment refers to finding the condition at the cellular level: “That way, the next guy in the next war won’t have to go through years of fighting himself, and everyone around him, because he’s not sure what’s going on inside his own head.”


  1. I choose to communicate truth.
  2. I choose the reality of life.
  3. I choose to heal, NOT hurt.
  4. I choose education over ignorance.
  5. I choose the Power of Peace.
  6. I Choose to Love God (or Good) and see God (or Good) in all Humanity.
  7. I choose to seek the Soul in all things.
  8. I choose to link to the World of Inspiration.
  9. I choose the Principle of Sharing.
  10. I choose to become a co-creator in life and live it more abundantly.

So while you are decluttering, check out the things on YOUR desk. You might find something interesting too. P.S. I am still having some commenting issues related to my being notified. Please comment; I will find your comment and respond. Thank you for reading Boomer Highway.   Beth

Thanks to: UCLAHEALTH.org, LA TIMES, TIME MAGAZINE, The Creative Group

Photo from Pinterest: MakeIt-LoveIt.com

Making Change

Making Change

Pumpkins on the porch.

Change resides within us. We are protoplasm in constant change. And yet simply meditating on the word we often have mixed feelings–a child growing taller, a baby learning to walk, a college student finally passing that worrisome class, a new job, a new house, marriage–change, a moving forward. But the other side of the change-coin can be connected to loss. Change doesn’t always have to be about death, but it is about the need for adjustment, for possibly “seeing” our lives in a light not as bright and exciting as youth, but possibly a softer, calmer light. But we are all constantly, though at different rates, making change.

As a young reader, in my tweens, my mother suggested that I read a book by Jan Struther, an English author. The book, MRS MINIVER, began as a series of columns published in THE TIMES London, which were later collected into a book. Many of you will recognize its title because of a film of the same name released in 1942 in the middle of World War II and the Battle of Britain. I liked the film, found it moving as it portrays how an English family faces change during the war, including their experience of Dunkirk.

But I loved the book. And many autumns I went to the shelf in the Walker Branch Library in Chicago, where I knew I would find it–it’s tangerine cover always waiting for me, as if no one else ever checked out this book.

The following quote gives you a taste of what I was drawn to:

“Mrs. Miniver suddenly understood why she was enjoying the forties so much better than she had enjoyed the thirties: it was the difference between August and October, between the heaviness of late summer and the sparkle of early autumn, between the ending of an old phase and the beginning of a fresh one.”

That section went on to praise autumn as the beginning of the year. Many of you might feel as Mrs. Miniver and I do–that autumn IS the beginning. As a teacher and as a student, the ability to wear sweaters, have a pile of freshly purchased notebooks in my arms and to walk through leaves that crunched under my feet into halls of learning–was the beginning. Not January 1st.

I know it was unusual for my young self to be so interested in the thoughts of the main character who really was Jan Struther, an English woman living and writing about a life so totally different from my own. Here is another quote from her book:

“It’s as important to marry the right life as it is the right person.”

Certainly, that idea lodged in my unconscious too, as I was determined that my high school sweetheart, who I have been happily married to for 45 years, and I would see before us a shared life. And as as we dated we talked about what that life would look like, we planned.

In rereading sections of Mrs. Miniver after so many years, I find some of my own mid-life thoughts. Maybe that’s because I have arrived at an experience of life similar to the place she inhabited when she wrote the book. Life is change. Mid-life worries reside in my character Emily in my short story, MAKING CHANGE. Emily relates:

The Medical Center was hyper with people, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, others being rolled back and forth on gurneys by attendants in bright green scrubs. I watched them going in and out of an elevator that I knew could suck me up into the center of the building and hide me away in some surgical suite. I thought about how warm the dishwater would feel if I were home cleaning up. I imagined the invigorating whip of wet wind that would surround me as I raked leaves in the rain. But I sat.

For a while I tried to trick my mind, pretend I was younger and pregnant, waiting for a checkup. But the game was just that. Going to the doctor’s had meant reading maternity magazines in the waiting area and then getting the news in a pink or blue examining room that my weight was good and the baby was developing nicely. Now the magazines I picked up advised about sunscreen to prevent skin cancers, diets and exercise to ward off weight gain and its companion, diabetes…”

But after a meeting with an old friend who is struggling in ways that Emily never foresaw, Emily makes a promise to herself, to embrace her life.  After a phone call with her husband, she reflects. “We talked. We shared words of love for one another—easily and openly. When we hung up, I found my mind singing Why me Why me—an invigorating question, not a complaining one. Why me to be so lucky to have all that I did have? Why me to now be eager for the future, no matter what it brought?”

Jan Struther wrote that though she enjoyed holidays, she was always relieved when they were over. She writes that the feeling was perhaps:  “…the measure of Mrs. Miniver’s  peculiar happiness—…Her normal life pleased her so well that she was half afraid to step out of its frame in case one day she should find herself unable to get back.”

I love that–the belief in the framework of one’s life. It does go back to accepting and balancing the concept of change. When autumn comes and the leaves fall and the pumpkins go on the porch or firewood is ordered–there is change, but familiar change, the very steady tick and tock of life, comforting and reassuring.

We must embrace it and honor it. And we must do what we can to help others who experience massive change that tears at the heart and soul of their normal living–helping with and accepting the illness of a loved one; being there for a friend who is recently divorced or has lost their home. However life proceeds, change will be part of it. Being able to go with the flow, to find a “measure of peculiar happiness” to be “eager for the future no matter what it brought” will see us through today and into tomorrow. Happy Autumn.

To read all of MAKING CHANGE, check out my collection of stories: A Mother’s Time Capsule. Available here. 

Making Change

Emily wanted to rake leaves in the rain.

Photos, thanks to: Ciao Newport Beach www.opiekunki.aterima.pl


Beyond the Tooth-Brushing Routine

Beyond the Tooth-Brushing Routine

You wouldn’t even guess that this garden doesn’t need that much water.

What immediately comes to your mind when you hear the word water?

  • a cold drink

  • a hot shower

  • a dip in a pool

  • that you are thirsty and need to hydrate

  • that your body is around 75% water

  • your vegetable garden

  • that your area needs rain

Or maybe you think storms, flooding, hurricanes. No mater what the word water triggers in your brain, it is an absolutely essential and invaluable resource, one that with global warming and climate change we must honor and use wisely. And in our daily lives right now, it is no longer just about not running the water while brushing your teeth.

I now live in California and thus my care-free days of watching storm after storm plow through the plains of Iowa are over. And when growing up in Chicago, we would look at Lake Michigan and never fear that it would dry up and we wouldn’t have water. California and other states out west are a different story. In California, it hardly ever rains, though we are hoping for an El Nino that could bring lots of rain via the ocean. FINGERS CROSSED. In the meantime, it won’t hurt anyone living in the U.S. to consider conserving water.

Truly the ability to turn on the tap and get clean fresh water is something we have all taken for granted. Now conserving or reusing water is becoming as important as recycling.

A friend from Chicago was recently visiting and stepped up to wash the dishes. A wonderful gesture, but habits die hard and the water was flowing. I had to kindly stop the process, as conserving water is now part of how I do things. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but I am getting there.

  1. Preparing and Cooking Food. It’s amazing how much water we use during this process. When cleaning vegetables, set a strainer over another container to catch the water–and don’t have the tap running full-blast, use a brush to scrub instead of the pressure of the water to do the cleaning. The saved water can be used in your garden or to water your house plants.
  2. Make sure you have a low-flow faucet (1.5 gallons per minute) so that you aren’t running water and money down the drain.
  3. Don’t use water to defrost foods, but think ahead and defrost in your refrigerator.
  4. When boiling pasta, potatoes, veggies, just cover the food with water. You will save water and the fuel necessary to heat an amount that is not necessary. Plus more nutrients will stay in your vegetables and not be thrown away with the water. After your meal, when this water has cooled, use it again in your garden.
  5. The Cleanup. Energy-efficient dishwashers are the best way to wash dishes. However, not everything can go in the machine–so first, load it up. Then turn on the faucet is get hot water flowing (dish washers work faster if they start with hot water) but save that hot water in a tub or large cooking pan and after adding soap wash up those items that can’t go in the dishwasher. Don’t just let the water run. Turn on only when you need to rinse. You’ll get used to this process and find yourself turning off the tap after each rinse. IT DOES BECOME A HABIT.
  6. Other Kitchen Tips. Compost food scraps or have a medium-size garbage basket with a liner for your after-meal cleanup. Garbage disposals might be going away, as they require lots of water to flush and prevent clogging.
  7. Buy a container and keep water in your fridge so you don’t have to run the tap to cool water down. And don’t buy bottled water, which requires water in the manufacturing process not to mention filling up landfills.
  8. If you spill ice cubes on your floor, you can always put them in your plants or collect and toss in your garden.
  9. Showers, Sinks, Toilets, Hoses: To heat up shower water, collect the cool and again save for other purposes. Use low-flow shower heads and limit your time in the shower as each minute of showering is 5-7 gallons of water.
  10. When washing your car, use a hose that allows you to turn the water on and off–don’t let it just run into the street.
  11. When possible, purchase high-efficiency toilets. They use 1.28 or less gallons of water per flush. Using these could cut indoor water use by as much as 20%. Older toilets use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush. And don’t use a toilet for a wastebasket. Have one right there in the bathroom, instead!
  12. If your water bill is high, have a plumber check for water leaks.
  13. Install faucet aerators. Older faucets use between 3 and 7 gallons per minute. Low-flow faucet aerators use no more than 1.5 gallons of water per minute. The aerators can be attached to most existing faucets.
  14. Install drip irrigation instead of using sprinklers that waste water because of evaporation. And depending on the zone you live in, replace water sucking plants with drought-tolerant.
  15. Create a new mantra; CAPTURE THE WATER! and discover how many ways you can do this.

I am sure there are many more ways to save water. We learn as we go. When in July we Californians were treated to two days of wonderful rain, I went out and bought a new plastic garbage can to place under a gutter and also to store pots and buckets of water saved from showering, washing veggies etc. Rain barrels are a great investment if your house can accommodate one.

I do remember the years of brushing my teeth and just watching that water go down the drain. Those days are long gone. You don’t need to live in the western states to realize that saving water is part of our future. So get in the habit and share ways that you save.

Photo: Thanks to gardenista.com


When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

My friend Joan knows me all too well. After visiting my home in California, she sent me a gift, a coffee table book by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti entitled, NOVEL INTERIORS. It’s a gorgeous book with captions from well-loved novels and photos of interiors and exteriors that illustrate the feeling, the mood of the literature–for decorating is art, writing is art and they combine. Excited about this book, I took some of the literary excerpts from it and illustrated them for this post.

The photos are part of a collection that I have created over the years, tearing from my favorite magazines the rooms and gardens that I absolutely love. So I hope you enjoy the combination of words and pictures. Maybe they will inspire you as they do me.

“Don’t let us make it tidy,” said Mary anxiously. “It wouldn’t be a secret garden if it was tidy.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, THE SECRET GARDEN

When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

A lovely secret garden.













“The people whom she had hitherto known just put what they had or could get into their homes, old things, and new things, side by side with each other.” Flora Thompson, LARK RISE TO CANDELFORD

When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

Color, shapes, comfort, sunshine all side by side.














“She has the idea that one night in your house would give her pleasure and do her good…Being one of those imaginative girls, the presence of all our books and furniture soothes her.” E.M. Forster, HOWARDS END

When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

I could sink into that chair and never leave, book in hand.

“Jo hurried to this quiet place, and curling herself up in the easy chair, devoured poetry, romance, history, travels, and pictures like a regular bookworm.” Louisa May Alcott, LITTLE WOMEN

When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

A cozy corner, sunshine and books!!













“If people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling.” Jane Austen. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

When Novels Speak to Your Decorating

Simplicity but with warmth and color.














“Nothing matched anything else. Everything was of an exotic brilliance that took away the breath. ‘Not the room of a lady,’ thought Miss Pettigrew.” Winifred Watson, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY

Nothing matched anything else. Everything was of an exotic brilliance that took away the breath. 'Not the room of a lady,' thought Miss Pettigrew." Winifred Watson, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY

Bold, bright and wonderful.












“It struck me that the seasons sometimes gain by being brought into the house, just as they gain by being brought into painting, and into poetry.” Willa Cather, THE PROFESSOR’S HOUSE

When Novels Speak To Your Decorating

Nature in art and from the garden.














“Picking up the cushions…that Mary had desposed so carefully, she threw them back on to the chairs and the couches. That made all the difference; the room came alive at once.” Katherine Mansfield, “BLISS”

When Novels Speak To Your Decorating

A gorgeous collection of pillows and cushions.











“I’m glad you appreciate my sofa,”replied Mme. Verdurin, “and I warn you that if you expect ever to see another like it you may as well abandon the idea at once.” Marcel Proust, SWANN’S WAY

When Novels Speak To Your Decorating

I would think the Mademoiselle would love this sofa.












Photos from Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Books, Mary Engelbreit Home Companion and Anthropologie. HAPPY DECORATING, HAPPY READING.

Cleaning and the Spark of Joy

Downsizing to a New Home? Think Delightful, Not Depressing

Cleaning, joyful? There is a connection says Marie Kondo, whose New York Times best seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up provides those of us who want to declutter with a method she has tested and believes in. I agree with Kondo on many of her basic principles: life is more enjoyable when it is not full of clutter. That applies to your home, your office and your car.


And like Kondo, who at the age of five found herself tidying her parents’ house, I was straightening rugs at the age of two and have always enjoyed cleaning and organizing over grocery shopping and cooking. My blog post, The Art of Cleaning with Some Zen Help, recommends that cleaning involve the five senses, that it increase love for your rooms and that to make it even more fun you should collect found or purchased items to ADD to your decor once the dusting and vacuuming is done. Plus if you can involve your partner in the process, research shows that men who help with cleaning have more and better sex. (Apologies to my male readers if you already are the chief housekeeper.)


But back to Marie Kondo. When she was fifteen, she read every book she could find on organizing cabinets, shelving, drawers. Then she began to apply some of these concepts, gradually perfecting a process of tidying up that is the message of her book. She calls herself A FANATIC ORGANIZER, but whether you follow all of her ideas or just sample some, the basic KONMARI METHOD is well worth considering.


Here is the first principle which Kondo shared on a recent You Tube:

TIDY IN ONE SHOT AS QUICKLY AND COMPLETELY AS POSSIBLE. But beware. You will need time to do this, because Kondo suggests that if it’s clothing you are working with or books–that you take every article of clothing, every book, and pile it all in one location. This helps you realize how much clutter you have in your life. Underlying her principle of sorting is that once you have divested yourself of things that you really don’t care about, there is less to wash and iron, or in case of objects–dust and store. Less becomes more.

Once you have categorized everything and it is all in piles, you sort. Some you keep some you don’t. But here’s where according to Kondo, the method is magical. You touch each item and wait for it to communicate to you. How does your body feel when holding this item? Do you feel down–your entire body responding negatively to this item? Or DOES IT SPARK JOY? That’s the key. If it sparks joy, it’s a keeper. And Kondo acknowledges that you might be skeptical. But she believes in her method saying IT WORKS. Try it! 

Still skeptical? This next part of Kondo’s process makes some sense to me, because as you apply the above technique, you will learn how your body responds. And in order to learn that, Kondo provides the order in which she suggests you sort and toss. (it’s below) Follow this order and you are more likely to respond to the DOES IT SPARK JOY concept.

Technique   Order Of Tidying

Clothes first; Books second; Documents third; Miscellaneous items fourth and

finally Mementos.

Why mementos last? Because over time your body will learn how to respond to an item, and in her mind, clothing and books won’t immediately spark joy. But as you learn about how you are responding, when you get to mementos, like a photo of your grandmother–you will understand what the spark of joy is. You will feel it. That part makes sense to me, except that I am probably in love with some of my books too. But Kondo states that mementos stop you from organizing. You can’t work quickly when sorting them, because you are taken back in time with a photo or souvenir or a work of art. I agree again. I wrote about that last week in my blog post Adjusting to New Developments–What Photos Mean to Us.


There definitely is a little fanaticism involved in Kondo’s work. I cannot fold a contour sheet to save my life. I know Martha Stewart can, but mine always ends up in a messy bunch that I somehow shove to the back of the linen closet. Not Kondo. She has methods for folding many clothing and household items. Check out visuals here: KONMARI METHOD on Pinterest. 


Kondo’s book has arrived at the right time. A recent article in TIME MAGAZINE, Are You on the Verge of a Clutter Crisis, addressed again the issue of over-buying, that many of us have too much stuff, that garages and basements are crowded with things we will never use again and that an over-abundance of clutter just adds stress to our lives.

Even before I made a major move from a four bedroom, two car garage, basement and roomy shed house to a smaller footprint, I always had a large cardboard box in my basement for household items to be given away. Then four to five times a year I made a trip to the Disabled American Vets and donated my items. I made lists and deducted my offerings at tax time. It worked for everybody, but especially me–it kept the clutter down. My daughter Carrie told me about Kondo’s book. She’s intrigued and using some of her organizing principles. So I just had to share with you. After our move, I’ve done all the downsizing I need to do for quite a while, but I’m going to keep that “spark of joy” in mind!!

Cleaning and the Spark of Joy

How Marie Kondo organizes a drawer.

Thanks to Marie Kondo and Google Images  


Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

A house in Huntington, Indiana by Peggy Brown

Picture One: The Translucent Home of Memory

Early in our marriage my husband and I purchased an original watercolor by artist, Peggy Brown. It’s an imaginative rendition of a home in soft blues and greys with tall barren trees surrounding it. The house has a turret similar to the old Victorian-style home my husband was raised in. And amazingly, the artist was from Huntsville, Indiana, the home of my maternal grandfather. When you look at it you can visualize the movement of hearts within. It’s filled with light and thus with dreaming. All these things made it logical that the painting spoke to us and that’s why we wanted to take it home. For 18 years it held a place of honor in our living room. In this house it is now in our bedroom, still a treasure, still able to evoke dreamy thoughts though its colors have faded.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Nana’s Gift, The Girl with the Basket of Grapes

Picture Two: Nana’s Gift

This picture has an amazing story connected with it and it’s my maternal grandmother’s story. When Nana was married in 1909, a friend of hers named Lena, presented her with a watercolor of a woman wearing a bright gold sash and holding a basket of grapes. The subject matter was rather odd for the 1900s in Chicago, but my grandmother proudly hung it in her home. Years later, Lena came to tea. She gazed at the picture on the wall, telling Nana that the real reason for her visit was that she had come for the picture. She said it was the best painting she had ever done and she wanted it back. Nana said no—it was a gift and it would stay a gift. Thus it hung in Nana’s home until she died, moved with my aunts to a new Chicago address and when they died it came to me. A real treasure. It hangs beside two water colors that Nana painted when she was in her late teens.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

A World For Our Children

Picture Three: Two Girls and a Boy

My friend Gay Lynn sent me a card with a rendering of a painting by artist Steve Hanks. I was entranced immediately because it shows a boy and two girls sitting on a pier over the water. The boy is blonde like my son, the girls appearing to be the ages of my two daughters. Again, the art draws you in and you can almost hear the water rippling when the children move their sticks. A bird is singing somewhere and the sun feels so good on their cotton tee shirts. I framed the small card-size and later found a bigger version that I also framed. I dreamed of buying the original art, but never have—though Steve Hanks remains a favorite.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

The Sea Hath Its Pearls

Picture Four: The Sea Hath Its Pearls

Art can call out to you from very unusual places and I found this at a store that has since gone out of business. It’s a reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, women often being the subject matter. I was in a decade of my life when I wasn’t totally sure of my path. Our daughters were gone to university, our son was busy with school and band. Maybe I felt like the woman on the beach, searching the water and the sand for a shell, a stone, some token that might whisper the future.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

I felt this picture calling out to me.

Picture Five: Back to My Childhood Home

This final picture I purchased in Des Moines, Iowa. Again it’s a reproduction and I know nothing about the artist or its title. I was wandering a department store and found myself looking at art. When this picture of a home in autumn, the feathery trees, a reflecting pond and geese came into view, I had a physical feeling, a rush of remembrance. Of course I stopped. I had never seen this painting before, so what was I feeling. It didn’t take long to figure it out. Above the fireplace in our home in Chicago hung a picture of a house, a picture my brothers and I loved. (It’s the one thing my brother Bill wanted and so it’s hanging in his home.) I probably looked at that picture every day of my young life. Its colors and composition implanted on my brain feelings of warmth and security, peace and comfort. And though the composition of this department store painting was different, it echoed those feelings. It spoke to me. I purchased it happily.

Of course most of us have on our walls and tables iconic framed photos of our family members. They truly are the pictures that reveal the dreams of the heart. When I see photos of my children young, not so young and grown into wonderful adulthood I feel joy and gratitude. When I look at my grandchildren, I’m just about as happy as I can be. Photos of my parents and my husband’s parents are absolute treasures, as our photos of our younger selves. Do you have a favorite picture hanging in your home? No matter where it came from or who the artist is the value is in your perception–and the story of how it came to be yours, the story of some little dream that it holds–that makes it a perfect jewel, a memorable treasure.

 Thanks to John Havey and Google Images

P.S. My brother sent me a photo of THE ENGLISH COTTAGE that hung over our fireplace in my childhood home. Here it is.

Pictures on Your Walls, Dreams in Your Heart

Your Life Could Use “Addition by Subtraction”

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Addition by subtraction. What does that mean? For Shola, founder of the Positivity Solution it could mean walking away from a toxic relationship. You subtract that person and your life immediately has added benefits. For Dr. Roxanne B. Sukol, who blogs at Your Health is on Your Plate, addition by subtraction means removing certain foods from your diet to improve your overall health. It’s a great concept that can be applied to many elements in our lives. Let’s explore a few examples.

1. Paints. Everyone has cracked open a can of paint to redo a wall or brighten up furniture. The walls of homes built before 1978 were often covered in lead-based paints. Public health departments are still offering lead testing for people living in these older buildings and in many states if lead paint is found in the home of a child under the age of six, the health department covers the rehab of the building.

Addition by subtraction when purchasing paints means selecting those with no VOCs or volatile organic compounds. These solvents frequently added to paint are released during the drying process often causing acute symptoms like headaches and dizziness. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that some VOCs are suspected carcinogens.

Currently the federal government caps the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paint and 380 g/l for low luster and semigloss. But you can find paints made by manufacturers using even more stringent limits—50 g/l for all finishes—set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. These paints include: Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care, and Glidden Evermore.

Harley Farms recently began offering milk paint which has no VOCs and is all natural as you can see from the ingredients: calcium carbonate, flax seed oil, water, milk protein (casein), goat milk soap, pigment and salt. The producers state it is gentle on the environment and creates a suede-like finish. If you drip some on your hands, it’s so non-caustic you could lick it right off and there’s no need for gloves or a mask. Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan is another good choice, very low in VOC’s, and considered a “kind” paint with virtually no odor.

2. Speaking of paint, one of the main things we consider when purchasing a car is its color—we buy a color we like. But using the addition by subtraction concept, we might need to consider safety before good looks. Peter Bohr in his piece Hue and Me researched the safety of autos in regards to color.

Though there have been few scientific studies regarding the issue, one done in 2002 in Spain found that light-colored cars had the edge on not being hit by another car and black cars were the most likely to be involved in an accident. A 2007 study from a university in Australia revealed that white cars had the lowest crash risk, while cars with colors that were low on the visibility index: black, blue, gray, green, red and silver were linked to a higher risk of accidents. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that white may be most visible at night, but not against a snow covered backdrop. And though red cars do stand out during the day, at night they appear black to other drivers.

3. Finally addition by subtraction can definitely apply to our use of medications and subsequently how we dispose of them. In her piece, “Stop! Don’t Flush” Rita Colorito reminds consumers NOT to dispose of unused or outdated medications by flushing them down a toilet or sink. This past practice has allowed drugs to make their way into our drinking water as well as polluting lakes and streams where fish live and wildlife drink. Though what we flush passes through a water treatment plant, most plants are not equipped to clean the water of all pharmaceuticals and even personal care products. Mae Wu, who works at the National Resources Defense Council states that even though the levels in our water are low scientists don’t know what impact they are having on our health. Researchers found oxazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, threatening fish populations as it disturbs their breeding habits. Antibiotics and anti-diabetic drugs have been found in Lake Michigan, a source of water for more than 10 million people. If you can, practice addition by subtraction by decreasing the number of drugs that you take. Remember, antibiotics do not help the common cold as that’s a virus. Plan to contact your local pharmacy concerning how to dispose of unused drugs. You will add to the health of our planet by being smart about the disposal of any medication.

Dr. Sukol stresses the positives of using addition by subtraction: “It’s about discovering that limiting a child’s choices translates into greater contentment. It might seem paradoxical at first, but it’s not. Having too many choices makes things more, not less, stressful…like the time I heard my son’s friend explain how having to put on a uniform every day made getting ready in the morning easier. It’s about taking something away, and discovering that you end up with more. You might even say that you end up the better for it. It’s about eating an apple instead of a cookie and finding that it filled you up and statisfied you with the crunch and the sweetness and the peanut butter you put on it.”

Can you find new ways to practice addition by subtraction?  PLEASE SHARE.

Thanks to Google Image

Your Life Could Use "Addition by Subtraction"

Chalk paint wall and chest by Annie Sloan

Dive Into Nature This Spring

Dive into nature.









Spring brings new life to nature–and thus to the rest of us. After a series of tough winter storms that have blanketed the midwest and east coast, lashed the south with ice storms and caused mudslides in the northwest, everyone is searching for spring. Everyone is eager to dive right in.

But a confession: I have been living in California for almost a year now and therefore did not experience the snow shoveling, frigid temperatures, near car collisions and exhausting commutes that many of you have. But for those of you who did, something is about to come upon you that I will miss–true, amazing, poking then blasting from the earth–spring!

I know many of you are waiting, and you know who you are–so get ready!

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” Mark Twain. And you can’t wait to get outdoors and breathe it in–a perfume that no one can bottle, because it’s in the air and it’s inside you. Funny, I keep thinking of a patch of dirt by my driveway back in Iowa–and I’m picturing these green shoots pushing up from the earth–first crocus, then daffodils, then after a while, beebalm and bluebells.

Dive Into Nature This Spring

Bluebells are native wildflowers.

And by the back deck the hydrangeas will slowly begin to flower and there will be sticks to rake up and leaves to remove, but if I were there, the sun would fall on my shoulders so that I really wouldn’t care.

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood from the Bluebeard’s Egg

 And as the earth warms and the grass begins to green-up, the redbuds bloom and then the magnolias–spring rains will begin and the cycle of the seasons proceed like a well-remembered friend who has finally returned.

Dive Into Nature This Spring

I will miss the hydrangeas by the back deck.

But even though spring might bring weather relief, other life issues might still be there, hanging around, causing pain. In fact the aching beauty of spring might make facing some family problem or an illness or a change in lifestyle even harder to bear. But here is another way to think about it:

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral 

And to share a little bit of advice and/or philosophy Deepak Chopra writes: There is a simple spiritual truth that I believe in deeply: the level of the solution is never found at the level of the problem. Knowing this, you can escape many traps that people fall into. What exists at the level of the problem? Repetitive thinking that gets nowhere. Old conditioning that keeps applying yesterday’s outworn choices. Lots of obsessive thinking and stalled action…But the relevant insight is that you have more than one level of awareness, and at a deeper level there is untapped creativity and insight.  

I read those words and think about digging in the garden or taking a walk in a spring rain as a release. Insight and understanding will be born from a new vision, a new way of looking at and dealing with the problems you still face–whether it’s glorious spring or not. For more help read Chopra’s: The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Things Go Wrong,

And as nature must tolerate freezing temperatures to spring once again into glorious new life, consider practicing David Schnarch PhD‘s Differentiation–the 4th maxim of which is: Tolerate discomfort for growth. It’s not easy, but over time, it works. Here are the other maxims on the list:

1. Clear sense of self in close proximity to important partner.

2. Self-regulate anxiety and self-soothe hurts.

3. Non-reactivity to partner’s anxieties. 

Spring can be a time for rebirth, not only in nature, but in one’s intimate and personal life. So dive right in–I am wishing you warm winds and great peace. 

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” AA Milne 

Do you have a spring ritual to share, something that you can count on to lift your spirits?