Waiting in the car while my husband picked up some painting supplies at Home Depot last night, I was glad for the small Canon PowerShot I purchased a few months back to leave in the car so I’d be able to snap scenes like this whenever I happened upon them. Nothing award-winning by any means but I do so love me a good sunset!

Special shout out to Julie, my blogging buddy from New Zealand. This one’s for you! 🙂

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What should we do today?

Hmmm. I don’t know. I guess the bathroom could use a good cleaning. We still need to cut down those tall grasses out back and stow away the patio chairs. Oh. And we talked about doing a ‘cook-a-thon’ to stock the freezer with casserole goodies so we won’t have to keep eating out so much during the week.

Uh-huh.

Yeah, okay. I’ll draw up a grocery list. [She pulls out a scratch pad and pen, starts putting together a shopping list.]

Hey. Want to run to Starbucks, read the paper, ‘lax a bit before we start in?

Sounds like a plan. Let me shower first.

OK. I’ll just finish up some work-work while you’re doing that.

Oh. I think I’ll check my blogging stats real quick first… [She scrolls through her Facebook feed, responds to a few posts, accepts a Friend request – looks through his recent activity and photos – laughs at a few posted videos, jumps to her blog stats (sigh – nothing), pulls up her Reader to see what’s new, laughs at some funny photos, Likes a few of them, punches in a couple of witty comments to others, realizes she was going to take a shower, heads to the bathroom.]

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That felt good. Now I am clean and you are dirty. [They both laugh at this long-shared joke.]

So. Do we really want to do this – get started on painting the living room?

Sure. I think it would look better than that contractor-white that’s up there now. [She offers to help as he starts pulling the furniture away from the main wall and removes all the photo frames, the ones he took such time and painstaking effort to put up there in the first place. He then takes measurements to calculate how much primer and paint they’ll need.]

No. Just stay the heck out of my way. [Again they laugh at yet another shared joke. Whether it’s him preparing a meal or doing something of a technical or mechanical nature or anything requiring brute strength, that’s his standard, light-hearted response.]

Remember, we need to stop at Target for my Rx. Then we can get painting supplies and stop at Starbucks for an hour or two.

I’d kind of like to find a place to watch the football game at 2:30.

Right. Well, let’s run our chores first, hang out at Starbucks for a bit and then go to that sports bar across from the mall to watch the game.

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Another disappointing game. Well, there’s always basketball!

I think I’ll stop at Home Depot for a few more paint supplies that I should have picked up earlier today. [She waits in the car and snaps several photos of the gorgeous sunset sky, all lit up in shades of pink, rose, blue and turquoise.]

The wind has died down and it’s not really that cold right now. I’ll get my walk in when we get home.

Yeah, I’ll burn that master copy of Becky’s wedding video while you’re doing that.

Perfect! And maybe a little House of Cards later tonight?

[He sits in the recliner to listen to the post-game show while she checks her blog stats (much better!). Half an hour goes by, then an hour. She’s still sitting there, working on a new idea for her next post, he’s nodded off and fallen asleep. She decides it’s probably a little too chilly now for her walk and besides, she still needs to run to the store to get those groceries they forgot to pick up earlier.]

[And so it goes…]

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Quiet contemplation at Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park…

Even when we met others on the trail, being there was a glorious exercise in solitude. A heady combination of beauty and grandeur – perfect for searching the soul and reassessing one’s priorities.

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The winding, hilly path from the main, north entrance of the park to the back entrance to the south and east covers almost three miles and as such, is the perfect course to train for 10k runs or, if one is a little less ambitious, overall fitness goals like improved stamina and a slimmer waistline.

While I’d actually once run entrance to entrance (and back again) with a girlfriend, I normally preferred to simply walk this somewhat challenging route instead. Either way, it provided me with an effective workout and besides, I always loved the peaceful, quiet setting surrounded by thick woods, native flora, birds, squirrels and other wildlife that called this place home. I recall once seeing a doe resting in the shadows along a hiking path and being surprised by a garter snake underfoot at the bottom of a steep trail as well as wild turkeys that quietly emerged from the deep woods totally unaware of my presence as I hiked. My son and I enjoyed stumbling across puffball mushrooms and the occasional morel and we also took great delight in small discoveries such as the three small stone bridges built along one of the trails. And every trip to Pilot Knob State Park required we make the steep climb to the tower with its stellar view of the surrounding countryside.

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Some thirty years later I’m struck by the realization that if only I had continued with those daily treks, where my hour long hikes led me up and down a variety of paths and horse trails throughout the park, I might be in pretty fantastic physical shape right now. Our recent trip to Colorado (where my husband and I experienced true elevation!) reminded me of those tranquil moments that my son and I both enjoyed with so much satisfaction. When my legs were weary and my spirit even more so, I would utter the mantra I’ve used my entire adult life: one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward. And so too, I must look toward possibilities of what I can and might and WILL do rather than nurturing regrets and grievances over what I have failed to accomplish or to dwell on mistakes that I’ve made.

Nature is like that. Beautiful, serene and thought provoking. A wondrous cocoon, a place that offers both comfort and protection as well as a harsh landscape that demands respect and must be navigated with care, Mother Earth tugs at something deep within us as nothing else can or does. Sadly, there are too many who have allowed material, superficial ‘realities’ – wants, needs and desires driven by marketing ploys and a 24×7 culture – to negate and minimize and essentially diminish (if not destroy) any recognition of what our planet has to offer.

But for those of us who see and appreciate the beauty all around us, we are forever changed by the possibilities and opportunities to live a pretty heady life of wonder, adventure, peace and joy!

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Watching the marching band perform pre-game today (another cringe-worthy loss – don’t ask), I snapped this photo of their – what DO they call these things: hats? helmets? head gear? – anyway, the Things They Wear On Their Heads – lined up like so many soldiers standing at attention on a brick wall near Alumni Hall. I like the orderly display of these elegantly adorned uniform pieces, each one outfitted in grand fashion with shiny medallion, gold braid and fluffy white plume.

The cadence of drums and clanging of cymbals, the cheers of the crowd and the pep squad routines all help to fire up the faithful before every game. The crowd claps and cheers their enthusiastic approval under a sunny sky that helps to offset the chilly, breezy November air. Our college mascot, on display throughout the huge tailgate lot on flags, banners, party RV’s, stocking caps and jackets, with our school colors of cardinal and gold, provides a colorful backdrop to bag toss games, grilling, canopies and liquid spirits. The carnival atmosphere, steeped in tradition, brings friends and family together for every home game ensuring fond memories for years to come – even when the win-loss record (such as is the case this particular season) is horribly out of balance.

Go Cyclones!

When I was in tenth grade, during the early 70’s – the Jesus Freak era – I belonged to an ecumenical church group. Comprised of young Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and Catholics, we met in each other’s homes and churches, studied both the Old and New Testaments, sang hymns, attended retreats and ‘witnessed’ at prayer meetings and church services, both locally and throughout the state.

This loose-knit circle of friends, bound by a youthful exuberance and our various religious indoctrinations, became known as Corn Flakes. One of the group’s charter members, Cindy, an easy going strawberry blond with a big smile and infectious laugh, commented on the letters CF printed at the top of a variety pack single serving box of Corn Flakes, cheerfully observing that CF also stood for Christian Faith. The name stuck.

All these years later, I still have the paperback Bible (with the words ‘The Way’ colorfully emblazoned on the cover) that I carried with me to prayer meetings and read from each night. Many of the greetings and salutations, scribbled on the blank front and back pages by my fellow Flakes and new friends that I’d met during spiritual forays to other churches, are barely discernible now. Flipping through the pages, I see via the chapter chart that I used then to track my progress of each book in the Bible, that I had successfully completed reading Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Job, Ecclesiastics, Song of Solomon, Jonah, Malachi, most of Ezekiel, parts of Psalms, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1st Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude and the first four chapters of Revelations.

During our weekly prayer meetings, we sat in a circle and sang favorite hymns like Amazing Grace, shared individual stories of faith and offered encouragement to those who struggled to keep on truckin’. Corn Flakes was occasionally invited to sing at church services and we travelled to other communities for weekend retreats to meet with other like-minded young people. Most of this activity was fairly mainstream (relative to my Catholic upbringing) although an outdoor gathering (vivid in my mind even today) of a young woman ‘speaking in tongues’ was a bit unsettling while a weekend retreat at a Baptist church where congregants were encouraged to come forward for a good old fashioned baptismal dunking was both odd and alluring (and yes – I complied with their invitation).

While my beliefs have evolved over time, bearing little or no resemblance to those heady days of Jesus-inspired religious fervor, I have fond memories of my Corn Flake years. Thanks to social media I have continued to maintain ties with many of the wonderful people I spent so much time with during my teenage years. Many of them still carry with them a strong faith and spirituality – two of them, one male and one female, are ministers – while some, like me, have changed their views or at the very least don’t use Facebook as a launching pad to broadcast their beliefs one way or another.

Music is a strong influence at any age but especially so when you are in your teens. I spent hours listening to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar and, to a lesser degree, Godspell. While I now consider myself an agnostic / secular humanist, I am still moved by this music. I believe this has somewhat to do with the emotional attachment of my early efforts to define who I was and what I believed in but mostly because the music is just so incredible. The melodies, vocals, instrumentals, lyrics and the mood of pieces such as Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) can still punch a hole in my gut and bring tears to my eyes. It’s the most powerful song on that album.

After listening for some time to the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar and trying to wrap my head around the mindset of the people who followed Jesus at that time and those who sought his crucifixion, I visited a Lutheran college bookstore in an effort to locate reading material to explain what the culture and social norms were at that time, how people thought back then and why. I remember wanting something non-religious, a secular approach (a phrase, however, that was not part of my vocabulary at that time) – not an explanation of events as depicted in the Bible but something rather that had no self-serving agenda. Basically, just the facts ma’am. I also recall thinking something about this whole Jesus Died on the Cross for Our Sins story just didn’t make sense to me. My then 10th grade mind also found the concept of imposing someone’s religious beliefs on others vis-à-vis the law as just not right. A lot to process when you’re only 15 years old.

So the roots of my eventual religious evolution coincided with my formative years while I was actively involved with an ecumenical church group. I actually find this incredibly amazing given that this examination of doctrine, of what I’d been taught in church – the belief system that was shared not only by my Corn Flake friends but my family, my peers, my community – was something that I questioned as a teen-ager without any of the influences we see today in the era of Instant Everything: news, information, social media, cable news, TV, movies and print journalism. On my own, of my own volition, I began to formulate ideas – ideas for which I felt guilty and not a little uneasy. Ideas that I tried to shout down in my mind with the mantras I’d been raised to know and regard as Truth.

The day would come though, in my late 40’s / early 50’s, when I would finally embrace that which I had tried to obscure from my very own consciousness for so long. What finally nudged me to accept that my views, my current beliefs, these ideas that had been running in the background of my mind for all these years – that all of this was valid and had merit – was after I read The DaVinci Code. While I understood the ‘fictionality’ of this runaway bestseller (not a terribly well written book, mind you), it got me thinking and wondering and it awakened in me all those doubts and questions from so many years ago.

I began to read books and watch documentaries about Christianity and Judaism and the history of these (and other) religions. My bookshelves are filled with books that I’ve read by religious scholars and both current and former ministers – some who were admittedly a bit militant whereas others were, like me, genuinely questioning all that they had been raised to believe was Right and True and Real.

What I found was not so much answers to my questions – in fact, I found very few for I believe there are many questions for which no one really knows the answers or the Truth (although they are quite adamant in believing and professing that they do) – but instead I discovered along the way others (many others, more and more all the time) who share my religious world view and more importantly, because of this, I felt liberated. I no longer felt that even though what I believed (or rather what I did not believe) was based on very honest and genuine ideas and views, I didn’t have to (nor did / do I!) feel guilty or uneasy for thinking that way. This alone was a tremendous relief.

I don’t expect my ‘religiously inclined’ family and friends to understand let alone accept where I’ve arrived at today in my Adventures in Free Thinking. And I won’t be surprised to discover that I may lose some Facebook friends or followers on my blog for making these views known. I would, however, ask those who know me and wish to comment, that you do so respectfully just as I will endeavor to return the favor in a respectful and forthright manner.

And for all my Corn Flake buddies out there, keep on truckin’!

 

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Cock your hat – angles are attitudes. ~ Frank Sinatra

How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about. ~ Philip Treacy

A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in. ~ Frederick the Great

A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life.  Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.  ~ P.J. O’Rourke

I can wear a hat or take it off, but either way it’s a conversation piece. ~ Hedda Hopper

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is. ~ Erma Bombeck

 

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My 20s and 30s – and a sizeable chunk of my 40s – were spent allocating far too many hours, days, weeks (and more) agonizing over matters of little import, wasting precious time, energy and mojo fixated on imperfections, minutia and Other People’s Business which only served to diminish my own standing with self.

It should be easy, intuitive even, to recognize that the less stressful path to peace of mind is best pursued not from forceful, hand-wringing, futile attempts to guide events toward a self-determined outcome but rather in accepting and responding to life’s outrageously misfortunate slings and arrows with as much dignity and resolve as we are able to muster.

Don’t like how something has turned out, unfolding in directions that are out of alignment with your own wants, needs and desires? Adapt and / or find your own way, your own path, your own happiness, your own destiny. Stop lamenting over what is and wailing (to any who will lend an ear) about how life done did you wrong.

And yet, this is difficult to do. Certainly, it’s challenging enough if one is circumspect and so able to analyze a bump in the road with calm, steely resolve but damn near impossible once you find yourself already tightly coiled (guilty as charged!) within a maelstrom of anxiety and emotions, frustration and annoyance.

A few years ago, I set a goal for myself (continuously renewed!) to try to live more in the moment, to tackle life as it comes with a quieter strength, with grace and good humor while actively seeking to live more delightfully, giving myself up to all that is good and real and lovely much as a child sees and interacts with the world. Listening to children’s laughter, watching their sense of wonder and curiosity, seeing them play with such freedom and abandon, gently reminds us of the innocence and joy we knew (or were entitled to know) when we were young.

Living delightfully – thrilling to the sight of a hawk perched on a fence post or soaring overhead, observing a lone egret, legs akimbo, standing in a marshy field, smiling at the recognition of a cardinal’s call, laughing at a shared private joke with a loved one, savoring a special meal surrounded by family and friends, enjoying the crackle and roar of a blazing fire, resting peacefully in quiet solitude after a hectic day – these experiences and others that provide immense satisfaction and peace are the lifeblood of our existence. If we don’t appreciate, cherish and relish these nuggets of happiness, we do ourselves a great disservice. I don’t know that anything is sadder than to observe someone who is merely plodding through life without enthusiasm, without gaiety, knowing no festivity or frolic, one whose life is anything but filled with comfort or warmth or cheer.

For me, I choose to live delightfully. Because otherwise, really, what is the point?