Friday, November 16, 2018

Have a Nice Day - Inspiration Series Pt 3

Another short piece.  Just in time for Thanksgiving season, this little story was published in 2013 as part of Gratitude Prayers, an anthology compiled by June Cotner.

You can find parts 1 and 2 of the Slices Inspiration Series at the following links:

Saved from the Flames - Inspiration Series Pt 1
Reaching Out, Taking a Risk - Inspiration Series Pt 2

Have a Nice Day

I never knew his name.  In my mind he was "The Parking Lot Man."  Each time I went to my dance class and parked in the pay lot, I saw the attendant, an older man, sitting in the pay booth.  He worked at least eight hours a day doing what, to me, looked like a boring job—collecting fees and raising and lowering the exit bar; however, he seemed to enjoy his work, always giving me a big smile when I drove up, and sending me off with "Have a nice day."

I was taking a lot of classes that year, hoping to improve my technique, but as a person coming to dance later in life, I found the classes harder than I thought.  Most of my classmates were at least ten years younger, and some had been training since they were three years old.  At the time I had a lot of health issues as well as ongoing back problems.  Not a day went by when I didn't leave the studios feeling old, exhausted, discouraged and mediocre.  

But my spirits were always lifted by the Parking Lot Man.  Sometimes when there was street parking available, I'd park in his lot anyway because I looked forward to his smile and greeting.

One morning I came to class early and saw him pushing himself around in the parking lot in a wheelchair.  I guess I'd noticed he used a wheelchair, but usually he was sitting in the booth and I'd only seen him from the waist up.  I drove into the lot and he waved, smiling, and then went back to cheerfully picking up bits of trash.  I marveled at how swiftly he moved around the edges of the lot, turning his chair expertly across the lined asphalt and how much pride he took in his work, even down to the smallest details.

When I got out of my car, I almost dropped my dance shoes.  He had no legs.  

That day I went to class on my own two legs, grateful for my bundle of limitations, and had a very nice day enjoying what I knew I was supposed to do.

Current reflections:  

Two years after this piece was published I had the privilege of performing in Arts Access Chautauqua, a mixed abilities dance concert with fellow choreographer and friend Mike Cohn who uses a walker as well as wheelchair as part of his choreography.  I enjoy seeing the talent of those with physical limitations.  

I still take dance classes and some of my classmates are now about 20-30 years younger.

I will never underestimate the power of a pleasant greeting or a kind word. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Reaching Out, Taking a Risk - Inspiration Series Pt 2

Here's part 2 of the Slices Inspiration Series, an experimental set of blogs arranged by topic.  You can find part 1 here:

This story happens during the same time in my life as part 1.  I tried publishing it years ago, but there were very few places for this style of writing.

It's been interesting to re-read what I wrote as my younger self.  I leaned more toward tech writing rather than creative writing, and my temperament was also a bit sweeter.  Read: more innocent, slightly less cynical, less jaded and not as bold.  But in reality, the core of who I am and what I believe has not changed much.

In this story I've changed the names of the people involved, but I believe if I were to talk to them today, I don't think they'd mind if they were recognized.  Please enjoy this slightly updated version.

Reaching Out, Taking a Risk

"How could he do this to me?" a woman's voice yelled from across the driveway.

I looked up from my magazine.  I was sitting out on our deck on a warm spring day.  The cry had come from my neighbor's open window.

Just then a man ran out of the house, jumped into his car and drove off.  The woman yelled again, screamed and began to moan.

I didn't know what to do.  I was newly married, living in a new neighborhood, and rather shy in new situations.  I had seen my neighbor come and go, waved to her a few times, but we really hadn't formally met each other yet, and now was not the best time to introduce myself.  But I just couldn't sit by and let her cry.

After several long minutes I walked over to her house.  I rang the doorbell and an older woman and a boy, about 8 years old, answered the door.

"Excuse me," I said, feeling kinda shaky.  "Um, I live across the way and I heard someone... crying over here.  Is there anything I can do to help?"

"That's very kind of you," said the woman.  "It's my daughter, Sara.  She just ended a relationship that  should have ended a long time ago."

"Yeah, that's for sure," said the boy.

I didn't want to pry, so I gave Sara's mother my phone number.  "If she needs anything or if just wants to talk to someone, have her give me a call."

"Thank you," she said.  "It would be nice if Sara had a friend."

Over the next few days I saw Sara's ex-boyfriend drive up to the house.  He tried the door, but she must have changed the locks because he couldn't get in.  He left, and I never saw him after that.

A few weeks went by and I kept thinking about Sara.  I prayed for her, but she didn't call me.  She was older, a single mom, so I figured she was probably busy working and taking her son to school or Little League.  A few times she asked me to water her geraniums when she was gone for the weekend, and she returned the favor and watered our plants when we were on vacation.

One summer evening when my husband was away, I was eating supper on the deck and decided if Sara came home before I finished eating, I'd call her and ask her if she wanted to go for a walk.  Five minutes later she drove up and I gave her a call.

We walked to the park while her son, Brian, rode his bike along with us.  Among other things, she told me about Brian's father who had left when Brian was only a baby.  Sara also had another college-aged son by different man who had also left her.  Most recently she had been dating, but none of the relationships seemed to last.

"I never seem to meet the good ones," she said.

"Do you belong to a church?"  I asked, surprised because I'm not a person who is usually comfortable talking about my faith.  "Maybe you could meet people there," I said.

"I haven't been to church in a while," she admitted.  "I know I should go.  Especially when Brian keeps asking me questions about God that I don't know how to answer."

We didn't talk much more about personal stuff, but watched a movie together and had a very good time that evening.  I didn't see her much over the next few seasons, but sometime the following spring I was looking out the window and saw another car parked in her driveway.  Soon she came out followed by a nice-looking man.

Maybe it's her brother, I thought.

They kissed.

Ok, maybe not.

They carried a picnic basket and cooler out to the car and drove away.

Of course, over the next couple of weeks, I found myself peeking out the window every time I heard a car outside.

"You're just like one of those little old ladies who spy on their neighbors," my husband said.

Maybe.  Oh, but it was so compelling!  Like watching a silent movie.  It's amazing how much you can learn about a situation, but I was also worried about Sara, hoping she wouldn't get hurt again.   So, they'd come and go, and one day the man brought a boy and a girl with him.  Maybe he's divorced and these are his kids.  He rang the doorbell, and while he waited, he started picking up loose rocks and twigs from the yard.  He seems very conscientious.  Could be a nice guy.  When Sara came out, his son and her son started racing each other across the lawn while they got ready for what looked like another picnic.

About a month later the two boys rang my doorbell.  "This is Adam," said Brian.  "And we're going to be brothers!"

"Really?  That's great!" I said, at the same time thinking, That was fast.  Should I be concerned?

A few weeks later I received an invitation to her wedding.  What?  She's getting married now?

When I called to accept the invitation, Sara told me that she and David had been working at the hospital for three years--she as a nurse and he as an orderly.  David's wife had died of cancer a year earlier.  I listened with amazement as my neighbor who "hadn't been to church in a while," told me that God had brought them together.

Frankly, I had a lot of doubts.  Often, when people find out that I'm a church-goer, they mention God because they think it's something I want to hear.  I had so many questions and concerns, but again, I didn't want to pry.

The wedding was held at a small friendly church that David regularly attended.  At the reception we sat with another couple, David's neighbors, and the pastor who had married them.  They spoke of David's strong faith and what a wonderful man he was.  They also mentioned David's wife who had been only thirty-two years old when she died, how he had grieved so much, how they were all glad when he had found Sara.

After David and Sara raised their glasses in the traditional toast, Sara stood.  She thanked everyone for coming and said that we all represented those who had been special in their lives in one way or another.  I looked around.  Less than seventy-five people sat in that room, and I felt humbled to be among her family and close friends.

"My life has been very difficult," she said, "and now with a blended family it won't be simple, but I'm grateful to God for bringing David into my life.  David is my soul mate."

I wept as I witnessed Sara's changed life, but the biggest change was in me.  I was so afraid that day when I first rang her doorbell, but I'm glad I did.  It gave me a chance to be a friend, share someone else's joy, and see my prayers answered.

Hopefully, it also paved the way for me to take bigger risks in the future.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Saved from the Flames - Inspiration Series Pt 1

Welcome to the Slices Inspiration Series.  Over the next month I'll be experimenting with different topics and themes that I'll post as a set of 3-5 blogs followed by a short break in between.  Other topics may include humor, nostalgia, struggles, day trips, gratitude, food and recipes, writing tips, dance musings, cat tales, public speaking, and coaching observations.

I welcome your suggestions for other topics.  Feel free to post your ideas in the comments section below.  Thank you!

Saved from the Flames was the original title for a short essay aka More Than the Birds published online through a devotional called Web Women Connect.  Although the website is no longer available, you can access some of their older posts through the Facebook page at this link.  Below is my "bloggified" version of the events.

Saved from the Flames

Several (close to 20) years ago at our previous house, a pair of cardinals, gray and red, started making a nest in the light fixture just outside our front door.  We didn't think the nest would be a problem, but one night, we left the light on as usual, and the next morning all that remained was the charred outer frame of the lamp.  Obviously the nest had caught fire.

As I look at the picture now, I wonder if the small dark tuft in the top part was the remains of their nest.  On the ground below (not pictured) was a puddle of melted plastic mixed with pieces of broken glass.  I was happy that I didn't see any dead birds, but birds are smart; they know when to flee even if it means leaving the home that they've worked so hard to build and establish.

But notice the warped siding behind the lamp--buckled, all the way up to the overhanging roof.  It wasn't just a small fire; we had torch burning outside our door during the night!  Needless to say, the birds never came back.

Some would say we were lucky that our house didn't burn down, but I really believe that God was watching over us.  He protected us and saved us from the flames.  As the verse says, "What is the price of five sparrows?  A couple of pennies?  Yet God does not forget a single one of them.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7)

As I reflect on this piece many years later, I realize we live in a different world and there is the larger picture--that not everyone survives a fire, a hurricane, an arsonist's activities or a terrorist attack.  So, this is my prayer:

I thank God that He protected us from that unseen disaster so long ago and that I am here today to talk about it.  I also pray for those who have experienced traumatic and horrific circumstances and have lost their homes or loved ones.  I ask, Lord, that you would restore them both inside and out, give them hope and provide the resources that they need.  Help them to know that they are precious to you, and even though we don't understand your plan or why you allow things to happen, we ask that the survivors are able to go forward knowing that your presence is with them.

In the name of Jesus, amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Embracing Messiness

Welcome to the relaunch of my blog!  Though the name is the same as it was when I started back in 2012, the new description is slightly different:

Slices of life, glimpses of Truth, insights and creative connections.

Ok, maybe this seems more vague and open-ended than the previous description about finding connections between art, faith, food and other fun things in the Twin Cities, but for the moment, the new one fits.  I've written a lot of entries for public consumption about dance concerts, destinations, restaurants, and events, and I'll probably continue to do that, but my new focus is about my own stuff.

About Embracing Messiness:  Once upon a time I had a single career path—to be a writer.  Along with that came the whole writing and publishing business—editing, revising, critique groups, submitting work, going to conferences, pitching, creating a platform, developing a marketing plan and social media outlets.

Then came dance.  What started out as a hobby and form of exercise turned into a ministry, and then as I stepped out of faith-based environments, I found the lively Twin Cities dance community, lots of technique classes, performances, choreography and more social media.

After I got my graduate degree I started coaching and I loved it a lot.  Grammar, spelling, punctuation for English speakers, and then moving on to teaching English language learners from many different  countries who needed pronunciation, conversation skills and help with a occasional thesis or dissertation.  Also, with a few clients I frequently take on the role of life skills mentor which I have found very rewarding.

Among all of this, life goes on, and though things are good right now, the past few years or so have held many challenges—loved ones dealing with health issues, a sibling's decline and passing, and a few controversies involving some formerly beloved institutions—foundational rugs getting pulled out from under me and many others which left a lot of bruises, skinned knees and trust issues.

On a more positive note, I recently met with an artistic career coach, Laura Holway, who gave me some great advice and insights.  Instead of calling myself a writer, a dancer or a coach, she suggested I call myself a creative person who does many things.  Ultimately my goals are to communicate what I know, create community and help others reach their true potential.

My plan:  Take small steps.  Continue doing what works.  Let go of what doesn't.

I've never been one to have a coordinated dinner table with matching napkin rings, napkins, plates and centerpieces.  And often I find out that my friends and family members who do have lovely dinner sets have other parts of of their lives that are unruly, unwieldy and yes, rather embarrassing.

Eventually I'll be setting up a website that acts as an index or an "umbrella" to the different slices of what I do.  The colors of the website will probably match my blog, my business cards and my LinkedIn site, but will the fonts or the themes be the same?  I don't know.

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there dealing with this sort of thing.  So, for what it's worth, here is my slice of advice:  Embrace your mess, and let God bless it!  God can not be put into a box, and since we are created in God's image, then maybe we don't belong there either.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

New Food Finds, Part 2

More coffee, food and smoothies, coming right up!

Anelace Coffee

Almond milk latté
I've been enjoying this coffee shop on Central Ave. in NE Mpls. mostly for it's atmosphere and artist presentation of their drinks.  They have a small selection of pastries (no gluten free), but golly, I love the large space with wood floors and high ceilings—a nice place to hang out and write.

Rather quiet this particular day.
Other days can be a rather hopping place.

Lamb Vindaloo, rice, Goan Shrimp Curry (yum!)

Gorkha Palace

This has been a great go-to place.  Savory Nepali, Indian and Tibetan food.  They also have a stand at the farmer's market where I sometimes buy curried vegetable rice or ghee.  There are several allergy-free options on the menu and the staff are very helpful at finding options for those with limited diets.  I've had their soup and biriyani as well as some of their appetizers and curry dishes.

Griddle Cakes and Nutty Espresso
(cashew, banana, espresso, dates, cinnamon, almond milk)

There are very few places in the Cities that have gluten, dairy, egg and soy free pancakes.  My top three:  French Meadow (blueberry corn cakes), Seward Café (righteous cakes), and Agra-Culture.  We found Agra-Culture while enjoying a staycation a few years ago, and it has become one of our favorites for both breakfast and other meals.  They also have great juices and smoothies!  Four locations now - Edina (50th & France), Uptown, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (limited menu), and the new one in Highland Park, St. Paul.

breakfast bowl (with eggs), The Refresher - watermelon,
pineapple, ginger

Kale side salad

New Grocery Items

Ever since I discovered my soy allergy, it's been a challenge finding alternatives even to some of my gluten and dairy free options.  Breakfasts are probably the most difficult, but I'm always happy to see new products continually becoming available.

Enjoy Life - (soy free chocolate)
Forager cashew yogurt, Kite Hill almond yogurt,
Heidi Ho - dairy free cream cheese
Ian's French toast
Bobo's - oat bars
Great for travel and quick breakfasts!
Created by a mother-daughter team.
Ok, maybe not for breakfast!
Mochi wrapped coconut ice cream

Feel free to post in the comments if you know of any other restaurants or food items that might be helpful for those of us who have limited diets.  Cheers and happy eating!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Food Finds, Part 1

Some of these are new and some I've been collecting for a while, but these are places that I've included in my current list of go-to options for my dietary limitations (gluten, dairy, egg and soy intolerances).  Hopefully you or someone you know will find them useful.

Crepe & Spoon

Located in NE Minneapolis, this is a vegan ice cream place with dairy inclusive alternatives.  During the summer I've been going here about once a week (at least).  The cones are not gluten free so I get a scoop in a cup.  (UPDATE:  Crepe & Spoon now has gluten free waffle cones!)  They do have gluten free crepes but I have not tried them yet.  The "ice cream" is made from coconut, almonds and cashews, so you have to be mindful of the calorie content.  But hey, if desserts are rare, you might as well enjoy them when you can!  So far I've liked every flavor that I've sampled - pistachio, piña colada, peanut butter and jelly, and a coconut lemon sorbet.  Most of their flavors with chocolate contain soy lecithin, but I have a soy-free friend who often cheats for the honor of chocolate.  Since I was feeling gut-healthy over the weekend, I decided to try the flavor called Banana and Friends - banana, chocolate, peanut butter and walnuts.  Really good stuff!  (UPDATE:  Banana and Friends is NOT gluten free.  I didn't feel like asking at the time, but found out later that this flavor contains Oreo cookie pieces.  I didn't have much trouble, but for those who are extremely sensitive, please proceed with caution.)
My all-time favorite though, is UBE - made from Japanese sweet potato.  Lovely color, not very sweet, and exquisite taste which is hard to describe - mostly nutty, but you'll have to try it for yourself.  

UBE flavor

Sift Gluten-Free Bakery

I've been waiting for this one for a long time.  Every so often Sift would have a booth at the Farmer's Market and my favorite was their cinnamon rolls which are GF, vegan and soy free.  In November they opened their store front in the South Minneapolis Northrop neighborhood on the corner of 46th and Bloomington Ave.  There's a nice CityPages article here.

I got here late in the day when there were fewer options available, but I bought a cupcake (contains eggs and some soy) and a GF vegan banana chocolate chip muffin.

Just before I left I found the focaccia - a soft but filling bread option to go with soups and spaghetti (You only need a few slices).  Oops, I ate half of it before I thought to take the picture.

So this is probably plenty to chew on for today.  More to come in future posts!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Deck Garden Ponderings

For the past few years I didn't get the chance to talk about my science projects umm...deck garden. So, along with my pre-garden ponderings for this year, I'll do a short recap of 2016 and 2017.

Just for the record, my plants from last year and the year before were sort of last minute.  I had a bag of potting soil and some empty containers and I made up a garden from whatever I could find among my stashes of seeds and from my spice cupboard.  I also bought a few yellow tomato plants and one that had lasted throughout the winter, and took a piece of another and stuffed it in the dirt. (I also planted a mango pit, an avocado pit, a peach pit, some lemon seeds, and milkweed, but nothing happened.)  As I now look back at the pictures, I realize I had a rather prolific set of stuff.

Deck Garden 2016

Mustard from seed 2017
Okra (just one) 2017

My wintered tomato plant from two years ago produced a lot of tomatoes, but the early ones developed blossom end rot.  So then I started adding plant food to the soil and then they were ok.  (Every time I see the bag of plant food, I want to sing Italian opera.)


This year I decided to get an early start—something about the never-ending winter in Minnesota this year.  I planted some garlic and onions that had gone to root.  The onions are coming up nicely and I have hope for the garlic.  The previous year I harvested one bulb that I was proud of. (Not sure if it was edible, though.)

Garlic 2017

From seed packets I planted tomatoes, basil, endive, borage, and Florence fennel.  From my seeds and spices I planted black peppercorns, anise, poppy, clove, saffron, sesame, coriander, mustard, dill and more fennel.  I'm happy to say that they've all sprouted.  Time will tell.  I've had success in previous years with mustard and fennel, but coriander can be very temperamental. 

garlic (round), basil, tomato
endive, borage
spices and seeds


Fennel from 2016

My latest addition is a daisy plant - one of the centerpieces from a friend's wedding shower.  This is called Osteospermum - a type of daisy that is open both day and night.

What's next? Most likely another tomato plant.  I also thought about going through my extensive tea collection to see if there are any possibilities there. Happy Spring, everyone!