Do you believe in magic?

23 Nov

I wish I still believed in Santa. When I was a child, I barely slept on Christmas Eve, which made it difficult for my parents to get all the presents under the tree without me knowing they, not Santa, were the gift-bringers.

After fighting sleep for hours, my excitement growing with each little real or imagined noise in or outside the house, I drifted off for two or three hours. When I awakened, usually about 5:30 a.m., I would run down the hallway to the living room to find toys and wrapped gifts arranged carefully under the tree. One year, there was a little round table and chairs. Another time, a red tricycle. There were Barbie dolls, red cowgirl boots, storybooks and baby Thumbelina.

Magic. Pure, blow-your-mind magic. Every year. But the gifts weren’t the magic — it was the fact that they were there, that they had appeared while I slept, that they came from someplace I could only imagine.

Believing was so easy then. Now it’s harder. Even after I found out there was no Santa, I still believed in magic, in things unseen and unknown. I still do, but I find the belief hardest to hold on to during the time of year when it would seem to be most present.

Here it is the day before Thanksgiving and all I feel is dread for the coming six weeks. I’m not a grinch and it’s not even that I dislike Christmas or the holiday season. But there’s much too much expectation, too much frantic merrymaking, too much food, too much shopping, too much noise, too many versions of “Silent Night” blaring from speakers everywhere I go. Too much, too much, too much. The magic is lost in the cacophony of the season.

Last week, a friend asked me what I want for Christmas. I didn’t know what to say at the time. I stumbled around and said I’d think about it. So I did.

What I want for Christmas is more security and less stress, more time with family and friends, more time to enjoy the old and new things in my life. I would like to live the moment without having to remind myself to do so.

I want some silence and peace and good will. I want people to slow down, see the beauty in their lives, feel gratitude and be mindful of the gifts that can’t be found in any store. Why is everyone in such a rush?

I want simplicity. And magic. Pure magic.

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Today’s resolution, from Simone: Expect treats, but watch the hand that feeds you

14 Nov

Ever the optimist, Simone shares these words from I Ching 25, Innocence (The Unexpected):

“Man has received from heaven a nature innately good, to guide him in all his movements. By devotion to this divine spirit within himself, he attains an unsullied innocence that leads him to do right with instinctive sureness and without any ulterior thought of reward and personal advantage. …

But, Simone warns, temper optimism with realism. A dog knows these things instinctively:

“However, not everything instinctive is nature in this highest sense of the world, but only that which is right and in accord with the will of heaven. Without this quality of rightness, an unreflecting, instinctive way of acting out brings only misfortune.”

Simone at the rose garden, Clinton School of Public Service. Simone notes that the metaphor here is too obvious to mention. (2011/RO)

How ’bout them “pigs sunny side up”?

7 Nov

Sunny side up

Every day, WordPress provides me with a list of the search-engine words and phrases that directed people to my blog. Some make perfect sense while others are cryptic. Some are downright hilarious.

Here is my Top Ten list to date:

1. “campbell’s cream of tarantula soup”

2. “pig sunny side up”

3. “siamese dogs by the tail”

4. “mean pomeranian”

5. “small breed dogs with bare legs”

6. “winsome bluebird”

7. “frogs dead”

8. “shotgun ammo apocalypse amount”

9. “how not to be a fangirl musician”

10. “charley horse in pectoral muscle”

Today’s resolution: A consideration of ethics

7 Nov

A note for those involved in determining the resolution of our nation’s financial situation:

“Manners and moral codes may alter, but not the structures that underlie. Ethics are the invisible scaffolding upon which our actions are built and without which life would be insupportable. Ethical conduct follows an unwritten law that runs in every part of the world, forming a path for all action. Becoming sensitive to its dictates is like acquiring taste, poise, or insight. Its invisible lines run laser-straight from our soul to the object of our consideration.  … Ethics upholds the rights, privileges and identity of every living soul …” — Caitlin Matthews, The Celtic Spirit

This old feed store was set up as a bank during Frontier Days at Plainview, Arkansas (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Sustain my world

4 Nov

Just a short thought for today as I’m buried in work, playing catch-up after 10 days 0f vertigo. This sums up perfectly what sustains me — and what I am trying to sustain — at the moment:

“The three immovable and perfect rocks on which the judgments of the world are sustained: the poet, the written word, and nature.” — Irish triad from Senchus Mor

Colorado rocks on the deck rail, 2011 (Photo/RO)

Today’s resolution: Spinning a dizzying low

30 Oct

My world has been spinning for a solid week now as I fight vertigo resulting from labyrinthitis brought on by who knows what. A virus? Upper respiratory infection? Gremlins? BPA in my water bottle? A lack of hops?

I feel like I’m walking on the Titanic  and when I’m stationary, my head’s still a top on a string. So I haven’t been writing and I’m sorely missing it. I feel out of touch with reality, with imagination, with life, with the words that are the tools for my connections and how I keep things sorted. Every word puts something in the right spot, regulates flow of meaning like rings on pistons. Or something like that. As I said, spinning here.

My good news this week is that the venerable NPR radio show for Southern writers, Tales from the South, has accepted my story “Tony’s Gift.” I’ll read it on the Nov. 8 show at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock.

I sent the story in last month as a exercise in moving beyond my comfort zone. I figured if that went well, I would proceed on the next phase of pushing even farther outside the C-Zone. So now I’m out here, thrilled and terrified and hoping I don’t stutter.

Fortunately, I’ll be in the good company of fellow writer Tim Bennett, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more than 20 years.

If you’re inclined, please come to the show and buoy me and Tim with positive vibes, all that good stuff. Tickets can be purchased here.

Now I feel the need to spin off in another direction… the inner ear provides a wild ride. But I know my friend Laura would add a song if she were writing about vertigo, so here you are — U2-Vertigo.

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Creature Feature: Red-knee or pink toe, tarantulas are colorful but not cuddly

25 Oct

Special to the Democrat-Gazette
My son thinks he wants a tarantula for a pet. I don’t know anything about them. Are they hard to take care of? The main thing I want to know is if they bite and are poisonous.

Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula

These hairy arachnids bite and are venomous but the effect on humans is described as similar to the sting of a honeybee. They’re painful but cause complications only in people who are allergic to tarantula venom.

Tarantulas are low-maintenance pets — more of a hobby, really — and interesting to watch, but if your son wants a pet that he can handle frequently or play with, he’ll disappointed.

Spiders aren’t “interactive” pets. They can be picked up or stroked but it’s not recommended, primarily because of the possibility of harming the spider.

The American Tarantula Society  says there are more than 850 species of tarantulas worldwide and you need to be sure of what you’re getting to know how to care for it properly. Most people buy their spiders from online breeders (although some pet stores carry them) so you should be able to get specific care information for the type you choose.

Burrowing tarantulas, for example, will need material in the bottom of their housing (typically a 2-gallon tank or aquarium) that they can dig in. The burrow material (or substrate) should be a peat/vermiculite mix. Trees are the natural habitat of arboreal tarantulas so instead of burrowing material, they need some kind of wood that’s like a tree branch where they can make their tube-like webs.   

The Tarantula’s Burrow  offers a library of information about how to care for several tarantula species, such as the Costa Rican Zebra, Peruvian Pinktoe, Greenbottle Blue, Thailand Black and Mombasan Golden Starburst. There also a trio of Mexican tarantulas — Red-knee, Red-leg and Red-rump. CQ All

You can find more care information at and, which specializes in breeding tarantulas.

The Chilean Rose tarantula (native to Chile, as its name suggests) is one of the most common species kept as pets. It and other “starter” spiders (like the Red-knee and Pinktoe) are burrowers, docile and require little attention.

“Wild” tarantulas — you’ve probably seen at least one creeping around outside — aren’t considered pet quality. Sometimes they’re crawling with parasites or they may have been injured when captured (have lost a leg, for example). In fact, it’s a good idea to check out a tarantula before you buy to make sure it has eight legs and two pedipalps, the arm-like things on the front of the spider’s body.

Other things to know about tarantulas:
■ Different species grow to body lengths ranging 2-12 inches.
■ The largest tarantula in the world is the Burgundy Goliath Bird Eating Spider (native to Guyana), which has a leg span of 12 inches. They’re not recommended for beginner spider enthusiasts.
■ Most eat crickets but larger tarantulas can eat baby mice — or birds, as in the case of the Goliath.
■ Water in a shallow dish should be available at all times.
■ They’re not social so each spider needs its own house.
■ Spiders native to humid climates need to be misted regularly.
■ Humidity and temperature have to be regulated; this differs depending upon the species.
■ Spiders can “bleed” to death if injured; their blood (hemolymph) is pale blue to cloudy clear.
■ Female tarantulas live longer than males. A male might live as long as two years, but a female can live more than 20. Some dealers will guarantee the sex of a spider.
■ Tarantulas grow by molting, shedding the old exoskeleton for a new one. Shedding the old exoskeleton take several hours, then the new one needs several days to harden. The spiders are fragile and easily injured when molting.
■ They aren’t cheap. Prices found online for adult tarantulas range from $29 to $75 each. They’re often sold in lots of three.
■ Young spiders can be kept in small plastic boxes instead of the larger aquariums.

Mating season for tarantulas in the wild starts in July-August and continues through November, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Heritage and Culture.

Tarantulas in Arkansas (we have the Texas brown variety) typically keep to their burrows, but the males venture out during mating season. One may travel as far as a mile to find his perfect hairy-legged girl. So romantic.

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Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Today’s resolution: A little mind dance

20 Oct

There have been times when my imagination has gotten me into trouble or thrown me into an anxious looping frenzy. Mostly, though, imagination has been my salvation. The world of my mind is a bright, brilliantly intense place of dance, color, light and song (yes, there, I can actually sing … and I dance, dance, dance in the music video of my life), and it’s full of imaginative people with the faces of flowers. As you may imagine, I have never needed hallucinogens.

Imagination means I never run out of ideas for articles and stories, and I never tire of interviewing interesting people. I marvel at my life sometimes, amazed that I’ve managed a career that allows me to run with my imagination.

So, today, I share with you another favorite passage from J. Ruth Gendler‘s The Book of Qualities:

“When Imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars.

“Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don’t understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes start to come true.

“Imagination is studying photography now with an eye toward making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex, and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before.”

I very much want to meet Ms. Gendler.

Dancing statues near the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Ark. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Simplicity in time of decrease

18 Oct

Over the past 2 1/2 years, my life has become both simpler and more complex because of the economic downturn — complex because I must be ever more resourceful and creative to earn a living and simpler, too, for the same reason but also because a decrease in fortune requires me to strip my life down to essentials. It’s not always easy or desirable, but I try to make it work. Most days, it does. And it’s good.

This passage from I Ching, or Book of Changes, resonates on this first cold rain of fall as I pass through my time of decrease:

“Decrease does not under all circumstances mean something bad. Increase and decrease come in their own time. What matters here is to understand the time and not to try to cover up poverty with empty pretense. If a time of scanty resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for future undertakings. …

“One must draw on the strength of the inner attitude to compensate for what is lacking in externals; then the power of the content makes up for the simplicity of form.”

Cold rain at Lake No. 1, North Little Rock, (2011/RO)



Today’s resolution: Keep on the sunny side

12 Oct

“In Claude’s landscape all is lovely — all amiable — all is amenity and repose; — the calm sunshine of the heart.” — John Constable, A Course of Lectures to the Royal Institution

If this pig’s name isn’t Claude, it should be. A little snooze in the sunshine looks like a bright idea, doesn’t it? Reminds me, too, that it’s always helpful to look on the sunny side of life. Don’t believe me — listen to Mother Maybelle.

Sunny side up (2009/RO)