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I have a soft spot for…..

If anyone has known more than five minutes they know I have a soft spot for dogs. It doesn’t take any time at all to get me talking about my current pup, Lizzie.

My soft spot, Lizzie

My soft spot, Lizzie

Another couple of animals I go “awww” for when I see them are meerkats and otters. If it isn’t otters splashing around or showing off their babes then I can’t help but smile when a social mob of meerkats are checking out their latest curiosity.

Meerkats checking things out.

Meerkats checking things out.

 

Awww, love baby otters.

Awww, love baby otters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a soft spot for tacos. Yum, I take them anyway I can I find them. Breakfast tacos, lunch tacos. Homemade, Taco Bell or any local taco shack will work. I can eat those babies anytime.

And I have a soft spot for a good morning cuppa Joe. I take my black, thank you very much. I never was into sugary coffees. I save my sugary moments for other things like my soft spot for Rocky Road ice cream.

Without a soft spot for something life isn’t balanced. That’s me soft spot all over the place! Ha!

My Name Is…..

When I was in college I had an assignment to describe my family, my tribe. What my professor wanted from me was to tell her my ethnicity, my religion, my culture and family. It seems to be important these days to be defined by your culture. But when I was in college I no longer had children at home. And my family is so diverse in all these areas it was almost difficult and complex to bring this assignment down to what she wanted. So I decided to start from where I was and am. Me.

My “name”.  I was born as Amanda Jane Edwards. As I began to travel through life I was known as “Mandy” to my peers and Amanda to my various school teachers. At one time in grade school my teacher called me “Armanda” and I was just too shy and timid to tell her that wasn’t my name. So that fell to my mother to do.

Growing with my sisters as "Mandy"

Growing with my sisters as “Mandy” (in the back, red tee)

As I grew I became “Mom”. Or more directly MoQ and MoM. This stands for Mom of Q and Mom of Micah. By then I had changed back to using my given name “Amanda”. But still when you are a parent there is a period when you are only known someone’s mom and identified as Q’s mom or Micah’s mom. I do like the endearing name some have given me as “mother of Q”. It makes me feel a part of where I am now in life.

My Mom of Q and Mom of Micah tee.

My Mom of Q and Mom of Micah tee.

 

Beginning my travels as Mom.

Beginning my travels as Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because I have continued to use my birth name instead of a married name that is traditional when married sometimes people address my husband as “Mr. Edwards”. He is not Mr. Edwards and that really confuses Americans who expect married women to take their husband’s name. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was welcomed and normal when I lived in Europe.

Why did I decide to keep my birth name? Because, you see, I am proud of my personal heritage. It is many generations of Americans who have lived with the name “Edwards”. I am proud of that. I like my name. The whole name is very simple, non-complex and direct. Easy to spell, easy for people to remember and a reminder of who I am and where I came from.

Many people still know me as “Mandy”. Which is fine. I don’t mind they use it. It has a certain familiarity from years of long terms relationships with friends and family. Many times people get me confused with my daughter because I named her Amanda. Both Amanda and Jane are family names. I like tradition so that is why I named my daughter a family name.

Who I am now.

Who I am now. And so today and forever my name is Amanda Jane Edwards.

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10 things that make say, WHAT A RIDE!

This year I am thankful for so many things. Anyone can look back in regret about things that happened in the past. You can find plenty. Or look at some things that truly made a difference. Here are a few things that shaped my happy memories.

I am glad I was in choir in high school.  I was lucky to be in a high school that helped me develop good memories. I still keep in touch with old school chums and which still makes a difference. As a child I would skip down the sidewalk singing at the top of my lungs. In high school I got to make the effort to enjoy and learn how to sing correctly. To this day I love singing. My grandkids tell me that “mom” has learned the same happy way of singing around her house. Nice.

Having my son and my daughter.  These two are the all time highlights of my life. Through my life I have had the pleasure of watching them change, mature and become adults. Some days I will be doing something with either my son or my daughter, look at them and momentarily pause. Wow, I think, that is my kid. How amazing. Yep, I can truly say, what a ride to be a mom.

Got to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. What a ride! California is a not to be missed place to go. From sitting in a café on a pier in Santa Cruz to visiting the Redwood Forest then taking many trips into San Francisco to play. One amazing experience stands out. I knew a woman from Taiwan. Her father came to visit and asked if my family would take him into China Town. It sure was a very amazing experience. When I think of San Francisco I think of the ocean, China Town, the Mark Hotel, the zoo, Ghirardelli Square. Shall I go on? Not when there were so many things to see. I truly left my heart in San Francisco. 

San Francisco at night

San Francisco at night

On to the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas side. This is where my history bug really took a big bite out of me.  I just couldn’t get enough of American/Mexican history when I stood where Santa Ana came through Texas. Dragging my horribly cold grade school children in their winter coats out to experience this was a major highlight. Even if they remember it as a cold, bitter day they now know that mom was over the top in happiness history heaven.

Travels took me to Utah and Florida as well as visiting quite a few other states but the lifetime travel ride was boarding a plane to move to Europe. More specifically that would be Belgium. Talk about a real ride into history. I spent many days just walking through small communes experiencing the culture. Visiting Holland and the famous Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam was pretty special. So much so I went back a second time.

Keukenhof Gardens (Amsterdam)

Keukenhof Gardens (Amsterdam)

And Keukenhof Gardens was where the gardening bug bit. I enrolled in a “master gardener” type class that was offered through the UK and my love of gardening, combined with history was special. Like how the Dutch used tulips in commerce trade. Tulipomania was the rage. So much to learn, so little time to do it in.

I kept busy in Belgium but when it was nearing time to return to the U.S. on my 50th birthday I made the decision to come home and go to college. What a surprise when first I got the birthday present of a lifetime. It was off to Brussels to enjoy the works of Peter Paul Rubens on loan from Vienna. Wow! I mean did I say Wow! I have seen the old masters in books but nothing prepares you for seeing them in their original form in an old city like Brussels. My husband and I ended the day sitting at a small sidewalk café having café au lait and admiring our take home purchases of reproductions of Dutch painters that still hang on my walls. Two of my favorites are Girl with a Pearl Earring (Vermeer) and Tower of Babel (Brueghel).

The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665)

The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665)

Tower of Babel (Rotterdam)

Tower of Babel (Rotterdam)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t think anything could top that until we found a fabulous home out in a small town in Alabama. This was a perfect place to light because I started college to get my degree in American History.  And the south is teeming with history! And I joined the Central Alabama Master Gardeners. Talk about busy! The time just flew by with vacation trips to Texas to visit our kids and grandkids.

Now life has found me in another highlight of my life. Living in Texas close to kids and grandkids.  I get to see them all! ALL THE TIME! And yes, they have to put up with me. We all had to learn each other again but so far so good! So an extension of the highlight of having my own children is, that now I get to see my grandchildren and step grandchildren grow up to be beautiful people. Lucky me.

Life has had some downers, no doubt about that. But there were and are so many ups. I have truly had a good ride so far. Many amazing things of which I only highlight a few here but hey, what a ride!

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A friend I have in solitude

1454785_10151910000913141_1722609764_nI never knew that being alone in solitude could reap so many benefits. I have always had people around me. Having five siblings there was never a time growing up that I can say I was alone. Nor did I care if I was. I did have a forced alone period of four days that I did not handle well when I was about fourteen. After that I was afraid to be alone.

That is, until I understood the difference from being alone and enjoying solitude. It would not be until decades later that I learned the beauty of solitude. Fast forward to 1997. That Fall I left with my husband to live in Belgium. As we drove from the airport for an hour drive south of Brussels I looked out the window at the leafless trees and the gray landscape. It seemed so cold and still compared to the warmth and sun of Florida just hours ago. I felt culture shock smacking me straight on.

We stayed in a hotel for over a month. No family, no friends, just a hotel room. Some days I would venture out to walk because I NEED to be free of walls. But the cold would drive me back inside. Some days I would find very interesting things around me awakening my history bug. But most days it was my hotel room and I. No phone call to a family member or friend. There was no one to just drop in on me when I needed companionship. While my husband adjusted to a new job all day I spent hours with the only friend I had. Me.

We settled into a neighborhood that was handpicked to help me adapt. I had access to the American Women’s Club of Brussels. Which, I promptly volunteered at this club to keep busy. But still there were days when it was just me. Most days. And well, my dogs too. I would spend literally every day, rain or shine taking a walk in the forest with my dogs. For a good solid hour minimum I walked in cold, wet or warmth. But rarely sunny days. Belgium is not known for too many sunny days.

As I walked and thought I learned what solitude really meant. What a friend it could be and what it would teach me. Solitude is not the same as loneliness. I know loneliness and it can be felt whether you are in the company of others or not. Solitude is when you are in touch with yourself and the silence is rejuvenating. It helps bring out the best in a person. It helps to find out what you want in life, to problem solve and learn patience. It quiets a person down to hear what is really important in life.

I took those tools I learned home with me when I returned to the United States. It didn’t take long to find a place to walk in the forest with my dogs, quietly taking in the solitude. I would sometimes meet people on the trail and find it an intrusion to the quiet. Walking in the forest heals the soul; I would breathe in long deep breaths and feel the relaxation wash over me. And the sun in my face or wind breezing past me. Usually there wasn’t much on my mind during these times, just the quiet. What I find is that solitude cannot be enjoyed if there is agitation on my mind or problems of the world edging in on my emotions. So if you take your demons with you into solitude then it will be loneliness you are experiencing.

Now I live in a place that I cannot find solitude as of yet. There are very few places I can go or be without people or things clamoring in on me. Even as I sit here typing this I hear people outside and a baby crying in the distance trying to pry in on my quiet time. What has been helpful is digging down deep to find the quiet. It cannot be found with friends or family. It cannot be found with the news pushing in on me or social media beckoning my involvement. It can only be found by being in solitude. So I have to “unplug” sometimes for a few days to quiet down again the noise around me.

I was afraid of solitude for a very long time. Most people are. Like Deepak Chopra says it is because “in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions”. It is a scary place even if a person is strong enough to like quiet. You face your dark side to be sure. At first you find out about yourself and some of the things you find out are not pretty. It is not a place to wallow in being wronged or other negatives of the soul. It is a place to quiet the soul “to make the right choices in life”. Then and only then can real peace of mind that excels all mental thought truly be achieved.

I am not a Buddhist or a monk or a nun. Nor am I an ascetic. I am just an average human being just trying to get through the day. But thanks to the lessons of solitude I can unplug and find ways to feel better about life and myself.

Life’s travels so far have been interesting, intimidating, fun, exciting and many other things but I have to say if there is one thing that I treasure most and it was being given the opportunity to learn to love solitude.

 

Today I Miss My Mom

224620_225285707485356_1408734_nThere is someone I miss today….Today I miss my mom. Maybe it is the time of year. Maybe it is old memories. When I saw a tribute to returning soldiers on social media I realized that it was my mom that instilled in me respect for those who serve.

My mom was President of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars that was established in 1914 for as long as I can remember during my childhood. She faithfully participated in this group, took part in parades and all the other things that the ladies do to make our veterans feel they have a safe haven to come back to.

War is never easy for anyone. Everyone suffers during war. Many times the soldier is to blame for the outcome. My mom taught me that soldiers take orders, believe in the American cause and try to do the best job they can under the circumstance.

Wait! I did not nor will I ever say I support war on American soil or any other country. However, historically it is a fact of life. What stuck in my mind, and heart is the responsibility to respect the sacrifice that was offered. The life preciously volunteered to go on foreign soil to protect my life.

Never was this point brought home to me more than when soldiers returned from the unpopular war in Viet Nam to find Americans blaming and disgracing them. It was so unpopular that if I meet someone that served in Viet Nam they immediately hush me because they do not want to be reminded of the situation.

My mom let me know we respected them. They didn’t make the policies. My mom wanted to treat the soldiers, heal up the broken hearted through her services in the Ladies Auxiliary.

There were a ton of things mom and I disagreed about. But some lessons stuck with me. As Veteran’s Day nears I miss my mom. It happens.

 

 

 

 

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Was it gaman?

There she sat. Silent in the sweltering heat of the Deep South. You could see in her eyes exhaustion as the sticky heat fell over her. And I saw something else that was not readily noticed, unless you were watching. It was wisdom. No relief in sight. No air conditioning, no way to clean herself, to brush her teeth, comb her hair or find food. I wondered if she had a place to use a bathroom. Just sitting on a battered aluminum lawn chair in the sweltering heat of the post Katrina hurricane. And yet all around her were angry, brittle people who were intolerant of their circumstances unable to address the discomfort of nature without expressing anger. I saw them jumping in front of the news camera yelling about every atrocity they were suffering.

But not that woman in the lawn chair.

She was old, I would say maybe in her 70s or 80s. She was black. And she was wise. That is what I saw. She had probably seen so many things in her life time that she knew that sitting there conserving her inner resources was the best thing she could do. All around her younger, angry people sallied their inner strength to be angry, threatening and acts with violence. Exhausting what little strength they had.

I am not black. I am not from the Deep South. I do not know what it would be like to have experienced a lifetime in the Deep South. But I do know what it is like to learn from living in the Deep South for ten years on a day to day basis what those around me have experienced. I do know that while living in the south during the aftermath of Katrina what was being done was not jiving with what I saw on the news.For example, I heard that the people were not being cared for. And yet as I went about my daily business I saw donation places set up all over my area. It was normal to see volunteer utility trucks moving southwest from as far away as Ohio or Illinois to aid along with semi trucks loaded with supplies. During the clean up I was flying home from Texas to Alabama. On my plane was a famous actor, Debbie Reynolds. She offered to buy everyone on the plane a drink for the work they were doing with Katrina. I was not one of them going into this area but when I looked around me I realized almost the entire plane were every day people like you and me moving south to help out. No one heard about this. And, what many didn’t hear on the news was that some roads were washed out, impassable so what seemed to some a lack of caring was inability to get through to help.

I even heard from friends in Europe that on their news it was saying how cruel we were to the Katrina victims. How could they know that living so far away? No matter what my husband and I said, about what we saw around us they could not accept it because the news said differently. For the first time in my time life I realized the power of the press. The power to shape in our minds what they want us to hear.

This woman. The woman just sitting there in her lawn chair strikes me even today, years later. The dignity that she displayed silently, if you were watching it said mountains about her. Her dignity shining through, completely different from those yelling and angry. I couldn’t hear what they were saying because their noise was so loud. But I heard her, loud and clear. I heard how she was suffering in the heat. If you have never been in a post hurricane situation in the humid south you have no idea the intensity of heat and humidity that waifs over you. My mind wandered to harsher times when there was no air conditioning in the south, just days like this day that this woman sat through in the lawn chair. When many, those who may have been ancestors, endured under harsh conditions. How lucky we are to have this modern convenience.

Now I see those in the aftermath of Sandy with just the opposite conditions. Cold beyond measure trying to overcome difficulties as the northern winter rests on them like a heavy cloak. Reminded once of again of those in the past with no creature comforts that survived those dreary winters in the Northeast. Their’s is a misery with not enough heat.

Misery beyond measure in a culture that has become accustomed to knowing they can protect themselves against the elements. Until, well they just can’t. That is when you see the mettle of the person. That is when I saw the mettle of that woman in the lawn chair. I admire that even today. I want to be like that, enduring much like that. The Japanese culture has a name for that, they call it gaman. Which is “a Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin which means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”.

I do not see that much in our culture. Enduring in patience and dignity. I think that we believe that seeing those with patience and dignity are demonstrating apathy. But apathy is a state of indifference. I do not think the woman in the lawn chair was indifferent. There were way too many external negatives such as hunger, heat, and lack of hygiene to be apathetic about what was going on. What I do think is, she knew the difference.

This woman. The woman in the lawn chair continues to be a silent lesson to me as I see the anger around me, the news being reported with half truths stirring everyone into a state of agitation. This woman taught me to calm myself so I can hear the truth. Twice this week I have listened to important news. Twice I walked away and realized that what was said was not true and would be treated at truth. I believed it immediately in my emotional state but when I asked myself, do I really see that to know and no, I do not.

Gaman is what this woman in the lawn chair was experiencing. She may not have been a buddhist. In fact, I am absolutely sure she was not. But the experience was the same.

What I know for sure (as Oprah always says) is that anger clouds the mind. That not checking what we see from what we hear makes us sheep following a propaganda engine. And I hope that the next major issue I face people will see me in that lawn chair with dignity and patience. And that my silence will be the best reply to a fool.

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
Michael J. Fox

 

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