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Hope

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“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson   The other day I tried to resuscitate a dead plant with hope. My husband and son were convinced the plant, which suffered frost bite, was hopeless. Still something in me wouldn’t let this little plant go without a fight. After a month of nurturing, the plant surprised us all and made a comeback. When I thought it over, I realized I never gave up hope because I was reared in it. In fact, Emily Dickinson’s version of hope was played out at our house day after day at the kitchen table. My father would ask my sister, Pam, every morning if she wanted orange juice. And, every morning Pam would say without fail, “No thanks, Dad.” Finally, after years of what Pam considered a senseless offer, she said, “Dad, why do you keep asking me if I want orange juice when I tell you no every day?” My Dad smiled, showing the crease of his laugh lines, and said: “I thought you might change your mind.” My Dad was the most hopeful human being I have ever known. He was invincible in his hopefulness. Some people thought my father suffered from “blind hope.” I have a soft spot for him because I, myself, have been accused of having “blind hope.” But after giving it careful thought, I don’t believe hope can be anything but blind. Hope cannot be confined to logic. Hope is unlimited and expansive, but most of all unstoppable. I love my father for showing me this version of hope, for trying to serve what I now call “optimistic orange juice” to my sister every morning. Funny thing about hope. The dauntless version yields surprising results. My sister Pam, now and again, drinks orange juice, and my little plant decided to give life another...

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The Rains

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When the sky would turn gray and swallow the afternoon sun, my mother would coax us out to the screened in porch. She’d huddle us together, cover us with blankets and a kiss. Then she’d have us listen to the tap dance of the rain on the roof. I loved it that no one else in our neighborhood was sitting in screened-in porches during storms. The sensible had raced inside at the first sound of thunder. But not my tribe, led by my medicine woman mother who would teach us the most profound lessons about nature. I loved it that she could see the adventure in stormy weather when most people feared it. I relished in my mother’s warmth and playfulness. I loved the coziness of these blanketed affairs and the celebration of Mother Nature who was busy nourishing our yard, giving our gardens and our apple tree a good drink. To this day I feel my mother in my bones at the first sign of a storm moving in with mist on the mountain outside my house. I smile knowing she is with me in spirit, even when she’s miles away. The rains showed my mother in her finest hour; she was brilliant at showing us unbridled adventure in the simplest of things. When I watched the movie “Midnight in Paris” and Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) was dying to walk in the rain, I thought of my mother. She would have loved to walk in the rain for hours in Paris; she would adore the city of light in gray. Like music performed by an orchestra, a storm has movements – the light showers, the downpour, the thunder. When I was a little girl I cherished our porch ritual because we got a chance to witness my mother’s free spirit. She refused to be afraid of storms, and she refused for us to be afraid of them either. Instead, she taught us to stare down fear with...

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SPEAK UP: VOTE

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Every election day, I’m wistful. It bothers me that our forefathers risked their lives to create this democracy of ours, and yet so many people refuse to show up at the polls. A Washington Post story reveals that in 2012, the most recent time Americans voted for president, about 67 percent of the country’s registered voters cast a ballot. That’s compared to 68 percent in Canada and 80 percent in France, according to data compiled by the International Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance. I’m well aware of the fact that our post-modern version of democracy is imperfect, loud and even ridiculous at times. But I vote regardless, knowing it’s a right and a privilege. I keep in mind that African Americans couldn’t vote before the 15th Amendment was ratified. Before the 19th Amendment was approved, women couldn’t vote. Making our voices heard has always been something we’ve fought for. Why be silent now? After researching election practices, I’ve developed “pragmatic compassion” for many who don’t vote. Here are the reasons: According to the Washington Post story: “More than 20 states have voter-identification laws — rules requiring registered voters to supply specific forms of identification at polling sites before they can cast a ballot. To obtain such identification, voters may be required to visit state-run agencies during times when they are scheduled to work – and sometimes fees are involved in order to obtain identification. Political scientists estimate this could affect millions of voters in 2016, the majority of whom are expected to be voters of color.” The article also explains that voting resources are typically based on past voting practices, with wealthier locations having the edge. This means longer lines are likely in poorer neighborhoods, and this can be problematic for those who work for minimum wage. They may even fear losing their jobs. It’s clear we still have to fight to make our voices heard at the polls. Knowing what we’re up against, this is no time to be...

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Election Stress Syndrome

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Are you feeling the emotional duress of Election Stress Syndrome? This election is proving to be one of the most contentious in modern history. Some people fear our democracy itself is at stake. In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, half of the people (52%) said the election “is a very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives. This anxiety is showing up on both sides of the aisle, with 59% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats saying the election is stressful to them. Luckily there’s an antidote to this stress; we can use gratitude as a balm. Here are three reasons we can feel grateful about this election, even though it feels as though the country – collectively – is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Our 1st Amendment protects freedom of speech. This allows the combustible sparring to play out — women speaking up, the media chronicling stories, the spouting of rebuttals, the threatening of lawsuits, the bantering email condemnation – all of it. Democracy is noisy as a rule, but I prefer the pandemonium of free speech to governments that silence their citizens. A woman I know who lived in Romania before the revolution in 1989 gave me a peek of what Communist rule was like. She told me she could never speak freely and always had to monitor her thoughts. She said no one could make copies of anything or own a typewriter, because the Communist state was determined to prevent any free-flowing ideas. We Americans could not fathom the muzzle of Communism. In light of this, we can be grateful for free speech, even the maelstrom of it. Our Constitution continues to evolve and improve. It encourages us to actively fight for what we deem as right. African Americans couldn’t vote before the 15th Amendment was ratified. Before the 19th Amendment was approved, women couldn’t vote. If we keep in mind that democracy is an evolving government, we can be grateful that it’s at its best when we stay engaged and give it our best fight. We have a history of enduring and overcoming strife. We’ve had struggles as divisive as slavery and The Civil War. In more recent times, we’ve overcome Watergate and a presidential recount. We can be grateful that in America the changing of the guard has never met with a coup d’état. In the weeks ahead, if you find yourself suffering from Election Stress Syndrome, reach for gratitude as your...

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Gratitude for the sea

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I don’t swear so I did not know I was a sailor. But after I began my adventures on the Mediterranean it became clear to me that I had been landlocked for years and the sea is my rightful home. I told my husband we should send for the kids and make a life at sea. I was kidding of course, but there is something about the Mediterranean that is absolutely irresistible. We would sit outside our cabin on the balcony and marvel at our front yard, the undulating water right in front of us that flowed forever. I am in love with the sea and especially Mediterranean with its path to countries, peninsulas and islands, its clustering of cultures, its magic poised and ready to bewitch explorers at port. In Corfu, Greece, the Venetian influence on the buildings, monuments and fountains had a hold on me. I fixed my eyes on them and it was next to impossible to release the view. At the port of Naples we spent the day tracking down the best Neapolitan pizza, a thin crust painted with a layer of tomato sauce. On top you could add countless choices, pizza gone wild with possibility, or simply opt for mozzarella. These pizzas are huge, bigger than you can possibly eat in one sitting. But then you pick up your fork and knife and eat the entire pie, eagerly, without regret. You smile because you know you have just devoured the delicious culture of Naples. The sea will lead you to countless treasures, Venetian architecture and Neapolitan pizza are just two of its trinkets. But the sea itself is magic, as well. The sheer of expanse of the water, the seemingly infinite ripple of it, stays with you, the enduring gift of serenity, long after a sailor is no longer at...

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Carol Hunter’s muse is an age disruptor.

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The bold and audacious muse has coaxed a murder mystery out of the 80-year old. The dauntless author may not ski, golf or dance anymore, but she has penned “Retail Murders.” “When one thing ends, you find something else to do,” Hunter explained. “You try and not let age stop you.” “Retail Murders,” a delicious read, began as a bet. Hunter and her husband Wayne are avid readers who both commented one day that they could write better than the authors they were reading. Hunter told Wayne that they should each write a book to prove it. Soon Hunter was busy playing with her imaginary friends, crafting a plot for them to inhabit, one full of twists and turns. “I love a good murder mystery that keeps your mind thinking,” Hunter said. “Who did it? Why did they do it? What are the consequences to them or their loved ones?” Hunter encourages her fellow retirees to pursue their passions. “You have more time to do things, things like writing for me, that you had to put aside because of family obligations or working full time,” she said. The energetic Hunter has plenty of stamina and shows no signs of slowing down with a series in the offing. Retirement apparently doesn’t sit well with Hunter’s muse.    ...

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911 and dauntless hope

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“It’s not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most resilient and responsive to change.” Charles Darwin At the 15–year anniversary of 911, the new skyline of Manhattan is one of hope. One World Trade Center, the tallest building in New York City at 1,776 feet, is a symbol of resilience. A total of 25,000 worked on the tower, a marvel of architecture with its ninety million pounds of steel. It rose from the rubble of Ground Zero. On the day of the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, roughly 3,000 people perished when the twin towers collapsed. Watching the updated “102 Minutes That Changed America” is heart-wrenching as we relive the day. It begins when people are shocked to discover that planes were used as bombs. We see the towers on fire, people falling from the sky, and the panic that enveloped lower Manhattan. But footage from several documentaries also weaves in the heroics of the day – the firemen who risked their lives to spare others, and the ferry boat captains who helped ½ million escape the island. Those heroics have endured, revealing our resilience. The world can see we are dauntless with our new skyline of hope....

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Mother Teresa — a daring model of holiness

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I’ve always considered this passage in “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder to be the most compelling: EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some. As a nice Jewish girl, I knew becoming a saint was out of the question for me. I’ve long joked that I’d have to settle on being a poet. When Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint this week during the canonization ceremony at St. Peter’s Square, I got a closer peek at sainthood. “May she be your model of holiness,” Pope Francis told the crowd of tens of thousands. I’ve concluded that the heart of this “model” is courage. Mother Teresa was willing to do the unthinkable: serve the most vulnerable in society, including those dying of leprosy. In 1950 she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which has homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and yes, leprosy. When the late nun was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she accepted it in1979 “in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Mother Teresa was an intrepid model of holiness. Pope Francis is encouraging us all – regardless of religious affiliation – to be that...

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Arrested for Fraud?

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My mother vows she’s going to be arrested for fraud when she dies. Here’s why. The woman has three birthdays on the books and it seems plenty shifty. There’s an explanation, of course. It’s worth hearing how this clever woman gets away with celebrating a trio of birthdays every year. My mother was born on Aug. 29th at 11 p.m., but the hospital didn’t record her birth until after midnight. That’s why her baby book and birth certificate don’t jive. Later, she found out that social security made a computer error, listing her birthday on Aug. 28th. My mother told the nice woman at the social security office that she really didn’t need another birthday. She already had two. The woman laughed after hearing mom’s story, and told her to stop complaining. Just order three cakes. Most people don’t have a 72-hour birthday, but every year my mom does. My mother is a character, with a roaring good sense of humor. Her favorite one-liner is: Everyone has their idiot-syncracies. She helps me with my writing project, and there is no one better suited. When she helped her late husband, Bill Starr, with his book, Clearing the Bases, he wrote this about her: “A big hug to my wife, Francy, a former English teacher, who can grasp a sentence in mid-flight, rearrange the tenses, remove the qualifiers, reorganize the clauses and hand it back as a finished product before I can say: ‘Hold the English lesson!’” I adore my mom, my editor, my coach. I don’t mind that she’s a crook with too many birthdays on the...

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Luther Burbank’s Wizardry

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If you could travel back in time, here’s a who’s who gathering you wouldn’t want to miss. A 1915 photograph at the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa, CA, chronicles a visit paid to the plant genius by inventor extraordinaire Thomas Edison and industrialists Henry Ford and Harvey S. Firestone. The guest book also reveals Burbank was visited by writer Jack London and Helen Keller, as well as people from Mongolia and Europe. Great minds were not only following the work of Burbank, they were determined to get a peek at his experiments. I recently toured the gardens, and I was taken by the maze of flowering plants. But I was even more impressed by the man who experimented with the same dogged stamina as Edison. Burbank introduced 800 new plant varieties to American growers from 1825 to 1926. The horticulturist of international fame believed my town of Santa Rosa was the “chosen spot” in all the world for growing. This leaves me befuddled because my husband says I have a gift for growing potpourri. But after strolling through Burbank’s gardens there’s hope for this potpourri...

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