Is Your Life Going According to Plan? Do You See Misfortune, Luck or the Hand of God?

The chief security against fruitless aguish of impatience, must arise from frequent reflections on the wisdom and goodness of the God of nature, in whose hands are riches and poverty, honour and disgrace, pleasure and pain and life and death. A settled conviction of the tendency of everything to our good, and of the possibility of turning miseries into happiness, by receiving them rightly, will incline us to bless the name of the Lord, whether he gives or takes away.” Samuel Johnson

Have you ever found yourself able with the passage of time to see a loss or setback as a greater gain? Comment below.

Appreciating Our Differences

Editor’s note (This is a slightly revised version of one of the most popular blogs from 2015. Hope you enjoy)

Image courtesy of NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_329.html

Here we are; 7.2 billion of us spinning on this big rock in the middle of infinite space. That’s 7.2 billion quirky ways of living life.

Each of us with our individual preferences in food, music, politics, religion, the clothes we wear.

Your preferences, when different from mine, irritate and annoy me.

Sometimes our differences of opinion lead to bombs and bullets. It leads to people who are trying to eat dinner or listen to music dying.

It’s hard to understand, confusing and frightening to think that differences of preference lead to bombs and bullets. I don’t like this.  I don’t like this one bit.

I want to make my Thanksgiving grocery list not worried about gunfire, millions of innocents displaced, or angry men exercising power in the most brutal way possible….by cheating someone else out of their life.

My Preferences

My preference is for peace and brotherly love.

I’d want to cling to my preferences. I’ve spent a lifetime collecting, curating, fine tuning so that I know I prefer a gin to vodka martini. I enjoy the hit of sauteed onion and herbs of provenance and loath dill. I prefer chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream.

I prefer my own bed at 9:15 p.m. to any gala, concert or party, even on a Saturday night. I prefer the company of people I know and love to strangers unless they’ve got a French or Scottish accent.

Maybe this list of silly preferences takes too lightly the differences in our beliefs about what the God to whom we pray requires of each of us?

I cling to a belief in one  God who speaks many languages and accepts many beliefs, but insists on one thing: that we love each other. Loving each other, if you ask me, precludes bullets and bombs as a way to convince someone that your faith or ideas are correct.

I  understand rage, frustration, exasperation with the way the world works.  The world feels like it is coming apart at its seams.  Don’t we want to keep the world spinning in one piece? Who told us the world should spin according to our preference, that’s the question?

 

It’s exhausting trying to get the whole word to twirl the way I think it should twirl.  Not only is it exhausting, but after giving it my very best effort for over 50 years, it isn’t working. Nobody is paying attention.

I’ve decided to give up on my preferences…..ow, even writing that hurts.  It’s hard to give up what I want, what I believe in my heart is right.

The Practice

So I’m going to practice first.  I’m going to practice on this maple tree in my yard.

I love maples just as I love my children, family, Prince Charming, friends and neighbors.

Except this maple has issues, as do my children, family, Prince Charming, friends and neighbors.

The leaves on this maple change late and they only change to yellow.  Our neighbor’s maples change to give a good six weeks of color as they shift from a gorgeous gold (deeper and richer than this pathetic yellow) flushing to crimson.

The Neighbor’s maple

Our maple is planted too near the power lines. Every few years the power company comes by with saws and lops off half the tree, ruining its symmetry.

Accepting Things As They Are

Year after year the maple insists on being what it is–a yellow, late changing, lop-sided tree.  Both life circumstances and its nature make it what it is. I’ve been asking myself  is it easier to change the maple or my thoughts?
What might happen if I shifted my thoughts to appreciation for its deep, summer shade, its interesting bark, the way it cleans the air and gives me oxygen to breathe?
What if, in practicing to accept the world as it presents itself in the maple, I learned to accept my children, family, Prince Charming, friends and neighbors–colorful, independent-minded, lop-sided, kooky characters all?
What if I stopped trying to fix the world and everyone in it to suit myself? I’m practicing.  I’m practicing accepting the maple.
What are you practicing accepting? Leave a comment.

How to Hardwire Your Brain for Happiness

Fall Glory
How I love this time of year.

It’s easy to find contentment with life in October. This time of year is like a custom order for happiness.

I like the cooler, drier days of October. The sun gets up later each day.  Every morning I rise before the sun,giving me a chance for a moral victory.

I wash my face, brush my teeth, make the bed, pour the first delicious cup of hot coffee. I appreciate my own industriousness and good cheer.

So far today, all goes according to plan. I’m spared, so far, dealing with my own or other’s limitations, quirks, shortcomings.

Relishing

Fall's Porch
The perfect spot for a morning cup of coffee.

The hot cup of coffee warms my cool hands. The brown, pungent smell of coffee is especially inviting as I step onto the back screened porch to catch the crisp morning air. The sun’s rays light up the technicolor world around me. The orange, burnt umber, crimson, naples yellows of the trees and bushes slowly emerge from the dark grip of night. The slow, gray dawn eases into another brilliant blue day. I drink it in. All is well.

Here the trouble starts. I move from liking this moment, relishing this moment to wanting this moment to continue…forever.

Just now as I put the cup to my lips, enjoying the warm dampness of coffee steam and the earthy early morning smells I cherished this moment. In the next second I cling to this blissful mood.

Clinging

Falling fall leaves
Relishing falling fall leaves

I move from liking and savoring to attaching to these feelings. I crave more of these moments.

As soon as I start clinging to this moment, it disappears. The sun breaks the horizon, a cold breeze makes me shiver and cools the coffee.

When we slip from enjoying to grasping we’ve slipped from abundance to scarcity.What we focus on is where our head and heart stay.

Fall Bounty
Sengun brought me a bag of locally grown, organic apples. They taste wonderful in a bowl of oatmeal, or just plain!

Our Choice

A Beautiful Fall Day
Along the Iowa River

That cool wind on the porch cooling my coffee, making me shiver presents me with a choice. Do I bang into the house irritated that my lovely moment passed. Or do I walk calmly into the kitchen, top off the cup with hot coffee, enjoy the warmth of the cozy kitchen, listening to the sound of my beloved coming downstairs for his coffee and a kiss?

Do I cling to the moment passed, or move into the next moment noticing the grace it holds?

Want to read more about the differences between liking and wanting? Check out the book Hardwiring Happiness, the New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

What will you spend time enjoying today?  Leave a note in the comments below.

  • Fall Glory
    How I love this time of year.

How to Grow Amazing Japanese Anemone in the Fall Shade Garden

Fall Leaves
Warm, sunny afternoon. But where is the color?

These days when we wonder if the craziness exists in the mind of a long gunman or our civilization, it’s good to ponder the wonder of the Japanese Anemone.

So far fall here at Bee Cottage is a dud. The falling leaves are dry, brown, desiccated. We’ve had no significant rain since early July. September was the sixth driest month on record.

No Color Here
The calendar may say October, but Mother Nature still thinks its fall!

Despite the drought, the Japanese Anemone bloom prolifically. These lovely Anemone came to my garden by accident.

When Prince Charming and I moved in, the yard looked like your typical suburban blank slate with a slab of concrete out the back door.

back-yard patio with white wicker chairs
Bee Cottage’s back yard today

 

 

I envisioned turning this house into Bee Cottage. I beg, borrowed and stole (only occasionally) plants and seeds where ever I could get them.

Happy Spot

A Bed of Japanese Anemone
This is a tough spot to grow anything. There is lots of shade and it is a low spot in the yard, making it wet and mucky.

Bee Cottage’s yard and future garden faced challenges. This spot by the shed was awful. A patch of gooey mud where even the weeds refused to grow. Dense shade from Oaks, Maples and pines kept the sunlight out. It’s the lowest spot in the garden, making it a muddy, wet mess.

Our first fall here, I asked David, our occasional gardener, to plant Anemone in this awful muck.

In the spring the pretty petite alpine Anemone sprouted with their lovely pink and white flowers.

Spring Anemone
Spring Anemone. Photo Courtesy http://www.rosecottageplants.co.uk/anemone/c33

Pleased with the progress, I celebrated.

In late July, these big, burly guys showed up. What in the heck were they?

Mystery Plant
What are these?!

My gardening philosophy is to leave anything alone I don’t recognize until it declares itself friend or foe.  I’ll admit it was hard to keep from pulling these big guys out. I left them alone to see what they would do.

And did they deliver?!

Japanese Anemone Up Close
Japanese Anemone give a wonderful POP of color to the fall garden.

History

Anemone means wind flower in Greek. Derived from the Greek anemio or Greek wind gods.

Victorians considered anemone a symbol of forsaken love. Greek tales say Anemones are Aphrodite’s tears over the grave of her dead lover, Adonis. He was killed by the other jealous gods.

Japanese Anemone
They look just like Aphrodites tears

For me this year, they are one bright spot in the garden. While our nation cries our own tears over the graves of so many innocents this week, let’s soak in the peace and beauty of the Japanese Anemone and pray for peace and healing for those suffering.

Three red, fall Maple leaves
Some of the Maples are just beginning to turn color.
  • back-yard patio with white wicker chairs
    We've turned the page to October, but Mother Nature didn't get the memo

Give your Garden Spectacular Fall Color with these Amazing Japanese Anemone

  • back-yard patio with white wicker chairs
    We've turned the page to October, but Mother Nature didn't get the memo

Come along for a breathtaking ride on the lavish Empire Builder

Come along for a breathtaking ride on the lavish Empire Builder.
Prince Charming and the gleaming Empire Builder

So many of you responded to the Facebook posts about riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder out west I thought I’d write about the first leg of our journey.

Go pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in, this is a long post.

Prince Charming grew up riding the rails during the heyday of rail travel in the 1950’s.  He remembers the romance of the observation car, sitting with his father and the other men in business suits smoking cigars and drinking whiskey in the smoking car, falling asleep to the gentle rocking of the train.

As we discussed our plans to travel west for a late summer/early fall trip, we opted for travel by train.  From our home in Iowa, we’d need to catch the train in either Chicago or Minnesota.

Downtown Seattle skyline
Ferry dock downtown Seattle.

It was a two-night train ride to Seattle, our final destination.  The Empire Builder stops makes two stops in Glacier National Park which has long been on our wish list of travel destinations.

Coach or Sleeper?

The wonderful thing about living with Prince Charming is that he’s such a romantic.  However, sometimes his romanticism gets in the way of reality.  He was all for riding the train just as he had as a child: in coach!

Woman boarding train
My romantic notions of train travel

I had a much more romantic (expensive) notion in mind.  I imagined being ensconced in my private car. Cary Grant in the next sleeper, eyeing me as I passed through the swaying, narrow passage.

After our flight to and from Europe in June, it wasn’t hard to convince P.C. that the wisest and most romantic choice for us was the sleeper.  We opted for the “Superliner Roomette”.

Roomette

The Roomette is 3.6 x 6.6. It has two comfortable seats on either side of a large picture window.  The seats fold out to a bed and a bunk lowers from the ceiling.

It looks like this:

Superliner Roomette
Photo courtesy Amtrak https://www.amtrak.com/home

If you wonder if you’d like riding like this. Push two comfortable kitchen chairs together, facing each other. Take a TV tray and put it between you and that’s about how much room you’ll have.

While the description says you have room for two adults and two bags, it’s not true.  There is NO room for luggage. We learned this only after boarding.

On our return trip we will pack a small overnight bag, checking the rest of our luggage. The small bag will sit on the step I’ll use to climb up and down to the bunk.  That’s right.  I’m sleeping in the upper bunk.

I often wonder about the power dynamics in a relationship and what determines who sleeps in the upper or lower bunk.  It was decided that I should sleep in the upper. P.C. claims I’m more agile, need to get up during the night less and am a better sport about inconveniences than he is. I take my compliments where I can get them.

Checking in

Arriving night train
Empire Builder pulling into station at Red Wing, MN

We got on the train around 9 p.m. in Red Wing, MN.  We chose Red Wing because we wouldn’t have to negotiate the St. Paul/Minneapolis traffic and parking cost less. The sign telling us to “register” ourselves and our car with the local police surprised.

The sheriff sent two polite, young officers out to “interview” us.  Where were we going? How long would we be there? Who were we seeing? Relieved when we passed muster, they gave us our free parking pass to a parking area about a block from the station.

“Park under the overhang in case we have a hail storm while you’re gone,” one officer directed us.

We arrived in Red Wing early, planning to have a lovely dinner near the Mississippi River from one of the fine dining establishments downtown.  But waiting for the police to arrive and going through the interview process ate up all of our dinner time.  So we grabbed a quick bite and ate in the train station.

About 30 to 40 minutes prior to the train’s arrival the station fills with passengers. Eight of us waited with the giddy anticipation of adventure.

Waiting to board
P.C. guards the bags on the platform

An older gentleman from Red Wing, I didn’t think to get his name, visits the station daily for the 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. arrivals. He comes to bless those arriving and departing.  He enjoys finding out whether you are going or coming and offers a specific blessing either praising your safe return home or wishing you well on your journey.

The ride

The train moves in with a whoosh, just as you’d imagine.  Two figures stepped off the train and called out our names.  We were introduced to Dorothy, our porter for the next two days.

Dorothy’s been working on Amtrak for 15 years.  She’s efficient, cheerful, and competent.  She had us tucked into our quarters, relieved of our bags and the beds made up within the first half hour. Once nestled in my bunk, Dorothy poked her head in to “strap me in.”

Passengers
Passengers exit train to stretch their legs

That’s right! A bonus of sleeping in the upper bunk is that you are strapped in each night.  The upper bunk sways more, and the train bounces enough to bounce the person sleeping in the upper bunk right out of bed.  The strapped saved me twice once each night on our two-night journey. Comparing notes with my fellow upper bunk travelers, I learned I wasn’t the only one “saved” by Dorothy’s straps.

Amtrak conductor
Amtrak Conductor mingles with passengers at a stop

Amtrak provides the bedding, a small travel pillow, sheets, and a thin wool blanket. If you get cold at night or want more head support bring an extra pillow and blanket or shawl.

Exploring the train

Before we bedded down for the night, we explored the train.  The sleeping cars were sold out.  In fact they put us in the crew car towards the engine. We peeped into the “Superline Bedrooms” as we tried to get our “train legs” exploring the rest of the train.

All sleeper cars have a long privacy curtain and a metal door with a glass window. We found we got better air circulation and adequate privacy during the day by leaving the curtain closed and the door opened.

The bedrooms are much larger, 6.6′ x 7.6′ and include a sink, toilet and shower in the room.  Everyone in the same car shares a toilet, sink and shower in the Roomette.

No matter how luxurious my accommodations I always want just a little more….a little more room, a private bathroom. How I coveted that private bathroom!

Next we walked through the darkened coach cars with people trying to sleep or talking quietly. The privacy and quite of my roomette seemed grand enough.

The dining staff were doing their final clean-up for the night as we walked through.

Amtrak bar car
Celebratory drink in bar car. I know, it looks like a Scandinavian murder mystery. Is P.C. the hero or villain? Definitely the hero of this story.

We found the bar car below the observation car, had a quick celebratory bourbon. And then made our way back to Roomette #19. Our home for the next two nights.

In the middle of the night I got up and crawled in with Prince Charming to warm my feet up and watch the North Dakota fields and the stars pass by the window.

Sunrise in North Dakota
Sunrise in North Dakota

Morning

Morning came and breakfast. Meals are included in the price of the sleeper cars. They fill every table, which guarantees you’ll meet new people. We sat with three different couples (one couple twice) for our two breakfasts, one lunch and dinner on the train.

It’s fun meeting your fellow travelers and exchanging stories. The young couple we met our last breakfast had left families and jobs behind in Indiana for a two-month bike ride from Seattle to Los Angeles!

Eastern Montana
Eastern Montana

You can relax and enjoy the vastness of our country, the changing topography. We dozed, we read, we listened to NPR on the phone.

We spent about an hour in the observation car, but found we liked the privacy and quiet of our little nest back at Roomette #19.

King Station Clock
King Station Clock

Before we knew it, two nights passed and we arrived at the beautiful King Station in downtown Seattle.

Have you ridden a train?  How was YOUR trip?  Tell me about your trip in the comment section below.

Stay-tuned for Part 2: Riding the Rails to Glacier and Home.

  • Sunrise in North Dakota
    Sunrise in North Dakota

Empire Builder: Part One

  • Sunrise in North Dakota
    Sunrise in North Dakota