Finding pennies…

I visit Trevis Gleason’s FB page and blog just about everyday. Yesterday, Trevis’s post (in the spirit of Thanksgiving) asked: “For what are you most thankful?”

I am truly thankful for many things–too many to list individually on a FB comment. I tried to narrow the list down before I clicked on the “post” button; but even then, the list was still pretty long. I switched perspectives: What is one thing that has made a significant impact on my gratitude for all good things?

Hardly anyone stops to pick up a penny anymore.

Maybe it’s just not worth the physical effort; or perhaps folks don’t believe a penny makes a difference in the spending power or saving value of their pockets and purses.

Nowadays, I always stop to pick up a penny.

It’s not because of its monetary value; instead, I understand it as a gift too valuable to ignore or toss aside. There’s a long story here that justifies my penny-picking-up attitude and actions; but I’ll try to make it short…

In the days immediately following the death of my sweet Daddy in September 2006, I started finding pennies–lots of them. The very first one I found was inside the pocket of a fleece jacket I had given my Dad for Christmas a few years earlier. The day after his funeral, I had pulled the jacket out of a closet and wrapped myself in it. I didn’t really think too much about finding the penny in the pocket of that jacket until the next day when I discovered another one, this time in the toe of my shoe as I slipped it on. I continued to find pennies as the days went by…inside books, inside my mail box, in sweater and coat pockets, and even once inside a folded newspaper. The more I found, the more I started paying attention to the timing and circumstances surrounding the finds.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The first Thanksgiving following Daddy’s death our family gathered at the beach condo that my parents had purchased just a few months before my dad died. Knowing how much my Dad had been looking forward to spending time at the beach, I knew that particular Thanksgiving was going to be a tough one. On the drive down to Cherry Grove, I stopped for fuel at a convenience store and found a penny on the ground. I picked it up and put it in my pocket before continuing my journey.

I was grateful for that penny, yes; however, when I arrived at the condo and discovered another shiny one lying on the mat at the front door, I almost fell to my knees. The only thing that made sense of it all was that my Dad was letting me know that everything was good and as it should be; that although it might be a tough few days for our family, I would be alright; and that he was still there and would be forever.

That’s the abridged version of the story. Trust me, I could go on and on about other pennies I have found since then. A general footnote to the longer version is that the pennies usually come at a time when I need them most. None has increased my monetary wealth; however, every single one has equaled far more than what can be bought or earned in this life. I’ve saved each one I’ve found and kept it close to the heart.

penniesBy now, you can probably understand my “thing” about finding pennies. I’m pretty sure it will continue to be a “thing” for me as long as I live. And while “finding pennies” might be kind of an unusual response to Trevis’s question, “For what are you most thankful?” (e.g. family, friends, home, etc.), it represents my story of how such a simple gift can change the way one views his or her blessings.

This afternoon, I am heading back to Cherry Grove Beach for a few days, grateful to have a special place to reflect on prayers and thanksgivings for family, friends, memories…and yes, pennies.

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The last to let go

Thirteen years ago, I planted a persimmon tree in the back yard in hopes that all the fruit in years to come would fall into a handle-cranked sieve and into a mixing bowl for one of my favorite old-fashioned, old-world Thanksgiving delicacies–persimmon pudding.

I love persimmon pudding.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother Annie (or “Mama Tucker”) and I used to walk down to the edge of the woods where the wild persimmon trees yielded the best Thanksgiving fruit that man and critters (mostly opossums) ever put in their mouths. We’d gather a basket-full and head back to Mama Tucker’s country kitchen where the ripe fruit would be washed, pushed through a sieve, and added to a mixing bowl along with flour, sugar, hand-churned butter, eggs, milk, and spices; then, on into the oven for an hour or so. I used to stand by the oven waiting for that sweet goodness to make it to the Thanksgiving table.

Mama Tucker passed away in the summer of 1972; and as far as I know the wild persimmons at the edge of the woods near her rural farmhouse haven’t been gathered since.

Persimmon trees are one of nature’s contributions to the Thanksgiving table. They produce fruit that is the last of the year to fall. Even after the limbs are bare of autumn leaves, the fruit hangs on (even through a frost or two). It’s as if nature is providing life with a few more weeks of nourishment before the latent winter arrives.

Back in 2000, I started thinking about those autumn persimmon trees and decided to plant one of my own. I imagined gathering the fruit, following the old recipe, and dishing up the delicacy just like Mama used to do. I’ve watched my tree grow from a 4-foot high sapling to about 15 feet now, year after year waiting for the fruit to appear. And finally after thirteen years now, my tree has yielded a little fruit–not enough for the recipe, but still enough to confirm that I did, in fact, plant a real persimmon tree.

The air was a little chilly this morning as I walked my dog. Our usual route is to exit the back door, walk along the edge of the yard and down to the lake, then back up to where the persimmon tree stands. We’ve been taking this daily route ever since I noticed (with glee!) the very first little green ball of fruit that appeared way back at the the beginning of summer. It’s been interesting to see the 3 dozen or so fruit balls plump and turn from summer green to deep autumn orange these past few months.

This morning, the leaves have all fallen off; but the fruit still hangs on strong. They will be the last to fall in the nature cycle of my backyard. Although I won’t be gathering any persimmons for a Thanksgiving pudding this coming week, I am harvesting a bit of inspiration…


Be the last to let go. Hang on when all else has fallen.

In time, all things come to fruition–even if in small amounts and after many years.

Be thankful for the Divine plan that surrounds every aspect of life on this earth, for the place and purpose of all living things, and the promise of things to come in the circles and cycles of faith.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Posted in closer to home

Great Horned Owl

Living on the very fringe of the North Carolina Sandhills Game Land, it isn’t unusual for nightfall to deliver sounds and shadows of a different world. I especially notice it when a full moon provides a backlight above and behind the tall pines in my back yard. It can look like a storybook image in which characters are represented by shadows and the dialogue is always whispered. It may not be the kind of scene that would be appeal to everyone; but to this country girl, it is a comforting (even mesmerizing) sight. I’ve lived here for 20 years; and I still have to stop whatever I’m doing, turn out the lights and soak in the image for at least a moment or two.

Nightfall brought a visitor to my back yard yesterday: a Great Horned Owl. He (or maybe “she”) isn’t a new visitor. I’ve seen him many times before and frequently hear his “ho-ho-ho-hoo-hooo” during the night. The average lifespan of a Great Horned Owl is 5 to 15 years; but I think this particular owl is probably the “one” that I’ve seen and heard ever since I’ve lived here because his flight and resting patterns haven’t changed over the years.

He is a magnificent creature.

He flies across the cove from a vacant forested lot into my backyard and perches on the limbs of the pine closest to the edge of the lake. His flight shadow is massive. It can break the fullness of the rising moonlight with a swooping canopy of darkness. You just can’t not notice it if you’re lucky to be around when he flies into the yard.

And I could sit for hours looking at his silhouette against the moonlight.

Great Horned Owls are symbols of many myths and legends in Native American culture; my owl, however, isn’t. To me, he represents the closest tangible border of wildlife meeting my human world. I can ignore the squirrels taking run of the place, the chatter of the beavers down at the water, and the irritating yelps and barking of the coyotes at night. But the owl’s presence demands more respect; mainly because I feel like a visitor in his territory rather than he in mine.

There will never be a dialogue between me and this Great Horned Owl. Unlike the power of myth and legend, the un-relationship I have with the owl is entirely from a distance and out of respect for his nature and habitat.

A part of me knows that if I approach him, he will flee; and maybe forever.
I don’t want that.

owlLast night was the Beaver Full Moon phase–
another significant symbol of the Native Americans representing a time to begin the winter settling process, both outwardly and inwardly…to pay attention to the changing seasons and start preparing for shorter days and longer nights.

For the owl in the yard, the light of the Beaver Full Moon was nature’s call for good nocturnal hunting (and I hope he nabbed all those tasty squirrels!). For me, it was a call of a different nature: A call to pay more attention to the times and places where nature, humanity, and God in his Heaven have a connection to each other without saying a word.

I am more than satisfied with that kind of awesome silence. Come the next full moon, I hope the shadow of the Great Horned Owl flies again.

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5:35 and a wake-up call

4:22 a.m.
My feet start shuffling beneath the covers, struggling to move the rest of me towards the bathroom at the end of the hall. Returning to bed, I look at the clock. I am thankful to have a couple more hours before it’s time to get up and stay up in order to get ready for a choral workshop at St. David’s.

But I am on Prednisone…have been for a week and a half now and will be on for another week. For anyone who knows this drug as well as I do (along with my fellow MS buddies), getting any decent amount of sleep is a challenge for which there is no solution short of another handful of other kinds of pills; and at 4:22 a.m. it’s too late/early for that.

5:35 a.m.
I give up. The night is over. Now my feet are skipping towards the kitchen to make coffee; my mind, on the other hand, is dragging and cursing the shortness of the night.

I am used to this.

The kitchen is still dark, but a faint yellow glow glimmers through the window over the sink. Looking out, I get another kind of wake-up call…the kind that humbles me and tells me to be a little more thankful for life and breath, for the moments that are ever so brief and beautiful.

Sister Moon and her water-twin at 5:35 a.m.

Sister Moon and her water-twin at 5:35 a.m.

Sister moon-glow and her twin moon-reflection on the water blesses me. Some human on this earth needed to witness and receive the gift at this hour. I’m glad it was me.

Battling an MS flare is the absolute antithesis of a having thankful “moment.” Yesterday was my 13th “diagnostic” anniversary. It is one of those calendar dates that no matter how hard you try to ignore, it holds a banner over every step you take. This year, a flare-up made that date slap me around a little more than usual.

This morning as I begin my 14th year of living with MS, I am reminded that living on this earth is more than a personal battle. It is recognizing that although you might not be happy to be wide awake at 5:35 a.m. there could be a divine purpose in it …even if it is just to be the one person on earth to view the moon’s reflection on the water outside your window; and to be thankful for a gift that could have been given to anyone, but you were the one chosen to receive it.

The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon
(St. Francis of Assisi)

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility
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JFK: The power of memory

November 22, 1963. I was 5 ½ years old.

I was just a little girl, busy with baby dolls and a miniature tea set on that Friday afternoon; that is until my grandfather clicked on a small black and white TV. Hard of hearing, he turned up the volume and inched close to the flickering screen. My grandmother soon joined him. Both were speechless, their gazes completely locked on Walter Cronkite. And somehow I knew without being shushed that this was not a time for a child to interrupt or ask questions.

It’s interesting (amazing, really) how memories are marked and mapped in our brains and consciousness…how they capture and integrate sounds and images with perceptions; and then box them up so tightly and secure. My memory of November 22, 1963 is vivid–all the way down to the lace curtains that hung in the window behind the black and white Motorola, the repeating voice of Walter Cronkite, the permeating smell of my grandparents’ kerosene heater, and the Thumbelina baby doll I clutched for an entire afternoon and night. Perhaps moreover, is the first memory of how sorrow appeared on both familiar and unfamiliar faces at the same time in the frame of my vision; an introductory perception of a universal expression…the brief phrases of soft, quiet words in slow tempo bound by loss and tragedy.

The power of memory is fierce.

Maybe the mind and memory of a 5½ year-old child isn’t significant in the world’s collective remembrance of November 22, 1963; but for me, the memory is heavily weighted. President Kennedy was shot and killed in a big city 1,000 miles away; but, it might as well have taken place in my own small world on the narrow road passing by my grandparents’ rural farmhouse. The power of memory still associates and encapsulates my memories of Kool-Aid tea parties and rocking baby dolls to sleep with shock and confusion: an unforgettable and unshakable introduction to the adult world. 

In deeper retrospect, that specific day in 1963 turned out to be somewhat of a turning point in the history of my life and childhood. I think it was, perhaps, a very premature beginning of the end of innocence on some level and the first definite prompt to pay a little more attention to the world of grown-ups in order to eventually become one myself. 

What I memorized on November 22, 1963 was, and still is, irrevocable.

During the past few weeks, numerous media specials and programs about the death of John F. Kennedy have pulled me a little closer to the Motorola. I’ve watched and listened just as intensely as my grandparents did back in 1963. The conspiracy theories and controversies along with all the trappings of Hollywood-style journalism haven’t been the attraction as I have tuned in to the JFK programs. Instead, I am drawn by the opportunity for my recollection of that afternoon to fall in line with the stories of others and to find a place in the history of our country. Or maybe it is a means of acknowledging that the memory of a 5½ year-old was and still is, indeed, profound.

My most intimate childhood memory box of JFK and his death in 1963 is now wrapped in academics and history lessons that have accumulated over the decades. In 1963, what I knew of President Kennedy was that he was a man with an important name and a pretty wife, and the daddy of a little daughter and son. But fifty years of paying closer attention and growing up has brought about a bit of wisdom and understanding as well as a lot of appreciation for history, humanity, and heroic vision. I expect it’s the same for a lot of other folks, too; others who were youngsters at the time and experienced a similar premature coming-of-age on the day those shots rang out in Dallas.

And I think most of us, if not all, have no immunity or control over that kind of memory when we consider our country’s timeline of challenges and progress; and especially during the times as a nation we have yearned for a model of inspiration and encouragement. 

I was too young in 1963 to grasp more than the black and white images of confusion and the solemn expressions of grief; but in the years that have followed and as a full-grown American, I have come to recognize and appreciate the noble capstone of Kennedy’s inextinguishable legacy:

John F. Kennedy Jr. Funeral. Single.

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” 


Now 55 years old, I am still self-shushed when I recall the death of JFK and its inescapable imprint within my memory; or maybe my quiet thoughts are just paying tribute in some small and child-like way to the great man resting beneath the Eternal Flame.

Posted in closer to home

One step closer to home…

It’s been a very long time since I posted on my blog. It isn’t that I’ve forgotten about it or even abandoned it; and, indeed, my mind has continued to speak and write although those thoughts and words haven’t made it to the page.

I am trying to make a comeback.
It is a difficult process, and one that follows a whole litany of reasons explaining my absence (none of which are anywhere close to meaning anything to my readers – that is if I even have any readers left).

So, where have I been?
Mainly surviving. Trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other without falling off the tightrope for a couple of years. Trying to build a business to support myself, a business that seems to have taken over my time and energy but for which I am thankful for in more ways than one.

For the last few years my words and keyboarding have gone toward projects that keep food on my table and a roof over my head. My “WWW” writing has been related to wine and liquor, different kinds of equipment and professional services, retail and wholesale business, free health clinics, religious and other non-profit organizations – really just about any kind of WWW freelance work I’ve been lucky to get.

I think writing in what I call “WWW” style (especially marketing copy) definitely requires an economy of words. (Consider the average 5-10 seconds visitors view a web page.) When I remember how my words poured out 10 years ago and how they’ve continually and necessarily been downsized to fit my work…well, in all honesty, my creative mindset has been ripped to shreds. And not only that – my reading habits have also shifted more toward poetry and works that require short-term commitments. It is very difficult to pick up a novel in the bookstore that has more than 250 pages!

Tom Blackburn Books

Tom Blackburn Books

But recently a friend of mine published a new novel (in addition to three prior novels that I am ashamed to say I had not read). Needing a long mental massage, I downloaded the Kindle version of his books to read while I was on vacation for a couple of weeks. Page by page, I became inspired; not by just the story alone but by the author and his ability to balance his creative writing with simultaneous careers as a chemist, an accomplished musician, and a successful grants consultant. I realized just how much I missed writing without the WWW restraints.

Maybe it was the combined mental massage, vacation, and reading my friend’s novels that encouraged me to take a step closer to home, to try to go back to where I started a long time ago yet still move ahead through all the WWW work challenges. For now, I want to to reprocess a passion and reclaim at least a little of what once was the core of my writing skills. It’s going to be hard to find the balance between “work” stuff and a renewed passion that goes in the opposite direction. I’m hoping that my blog will act as mediator between the two worlds, at least on a personal level if not a professional one.

There are millions of blogs out there. However, there are only a few that I read and follow regularly, prolific blogs that continue to withstand my test of time and interest. (Thank you Jim Buie, Lady Sharon, and Trevis Gleason, and All Songs Considered). All four are well-written and very different in content, theme, and style. For me, these writers inspire me to take another step.

So please bear with me, friends. I’m probably going to have some awkward and inconsistent content, mainly because I’m not even sure what I’ll be writing about from post to post. But the goal is to just write…word by word…post by post… step by step…

Please be sure to visit Tom Blackburn Books!

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