A Little Free Library with a Lesson for Us All

You know, I talk a lot about assuming good intentions and treating others as you’d like to be treated (or as they let you know THEY would like to be treated). What’s GREAT is when I see this in action. Today I share a story from someone I’ve always admired. We can learn from her.

Susan is someone I went to grad school with back in good old Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She actually got a job and used her linguistics Ph.D., which I admire greatly. She now lives somewhere else out in the great Midwest in the United States. I’m obscuring some details, since they’re irrelevant.

My friend’s Little Free Library in Taylor, Texas.

Well, as a lover of words, reading, and books, Susan started a Little Free Library outside her home. These are such great community builders, and I’ve always admired my friends, like Cindy in Taylor, who maintain them. Anita and I used to always walk by one when we lived in the casita, and we’d see what new books had turned up. The idea is you can take a book or two, and then leave a book you’re finished with for someone else to enjoy. They’re always decorated to look cute, and many places make zoning exceptions for them.

Everything is gone.

Well, over at Susan’s library, something went amiss. Four times in a week, someone had come by and totally cleaned out all the books. After replacing them three times, Susan was considering taking it down.

You can just imagine what went through her head or the heads of her friends. How rude of someone to do that! What has this world come to? No wonder we can’t have nice things! It just takes one creepy person to ruin a nice thing for everyone else! And such. These are probably the things that ran through MY head.

Susan’s a good person, though, and she thought hard about what to do about the thefts. Rather than write an angry note or take the library down, she thought about what might cause someone to be so desperate as to steal free books. And, bless her, she did a much kinder thing:

Yes, at the suggestion of an old friend of hers (also, obviously a good person), Susan filled her library with non-perishable food items. If the book thief was hungry, she was happy to help. Not only that, but she wrote a note, which I will quote below, leaving out specifics:

Hi!

Are you the person who has been taking all the books from this Little Free Library? Have you been selling the books because you need money? Are you hungry or hurting?

We’d really like it if you would leave the books for readers to read and exchange, but if you are hurting, perhaps we can help. Please take any or all of these groceries if you need them.

But a Little Free Library is not a food pantry—there are, however, food pantries in town you could turn to:

[Lists nearby pantries]

If it’s not just hunger, but other kinds of hurt, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Wishing you the best,

The [location] Free Library Steward.”

Now, THAT is what I call assuming good intent and treating others like you’d wish to be treated. Rather than taking her toys in a huff, she reached out with empathy to someone who must be hurting or dealing with some pretty big issues. Rather than assuming it was just some mean library hater, she assumed her visitor could use a friendly word or a helping hand.

I’m taking this lesson to heart, and I hope you do, too. We can all try to be a little more like my role model, Susan. I’m very grateful to her for sharing this story.

Fascinating Feedback (and Lack Thereof)

Yesterday, I dared to propose that it is a good idea to work on not demonizing “the other side” so much. I keep proposing that, and it’s never very popular, but I’ll keep doing it, because from what I’ve read and experienced, everyone thinks their side makes sense. That, coupled with the fact that most actual people are in the middle, not on the radical ends of the spectrum, makes me think we could find common ground AND still keep our personal beliefs.

Sometimes seeing things from a higher perspective is uncomfortable and not fun.

I wondered what kind of response I’d get (if any), and who I’d hear from. To my surprise, the first people who responded on my Facebook post were two of my conservative friends. Now, as Lee pointed out, conservative friends I still have on Facebook are either relatives or people I enjoy having rational discussions with. And sure enough, they posted rational thoughts that I enjoyed and learned from.

My second surprise was, given that I have a poop-load of liberal friends, some of whom are extra-extra liberal, I initially didn’t hear a peep out of them on Facebook, either in agreement or disagreement. But, whew, I did eventually get the kind of feedback I’d hoped for, from all sides, in private messages, email, and other media. I’d like to share a few wise words, which I’ll keep anonymous but colorful.

Both my husband and this friend agreed that polarization is profitable:

“There’s a lot of money being spent from both extremes to convince the people in the middle who are getting along and helping one another — making things work, that there are more people working against them than working for them.”

A couple of people privately said to me that they hesitate to consider moderating their approach, because it might mean saying you agree with them or giving up your beliefs. This friend was sharing a link to some additional useful content that helped them (sorry it’s behind a paywall), and then shared a perspective that sounded all too familiar to me.

 “I think for myself, what scares me, is that if I move to the middle, if I try to find common ground, that I endorse all the things that have been so shocking and repugnant. I don’t have to list them here, after the last four years we know them well. But this program [link above], filled with wise, revolutionary activists, helped me to understand that there is a BIG difference between looking for common ground and listening and accepting what is unacceptable. I’m going to buy it, so i can go over it again, in my own time. Not only are the ideas helpful, it amplifies voices that I don’t hear often enough and that I don’t know well, but want to learn more about. I’m embarrassed to say that only Van Jones was really known to me. Anyway, I recommend this. I’ve always fought against the Hillbilly Elegy mindset and I’m not advocating a glorification of the rural racism, ignorance and misogyny I grew up with in the Adirondacks. I stand very firmly against those things. But when I dehumanize people without understanding their complexity and see them as trash, then to paraphrase Van Jones, my trash becomes Nazi or QAnon treasure. We will never get anywhere with hate and divisiveness. Brene Brown says much the same. We want to shame and hate-because we are very angry about what we see and for VERY good reason. We should be angry. As Brene says, it would be great if shame did work, because we could then shame the ever loving shit out of some folks. But it never, ever works to change behavior, more’s the pity. Folks have to change on their own and feel their own shame. It’s such a challenge to hold people accountable, without dehumanizing and shaming. But, it can be done, I hope.”

Yes, oh yes. This is why I want to keep caring about everyone! Things are complex, and turning them into black and white doesn’t solve complex problems.

Another friend admitted that the other side’s claims scare them, enough so that my blog post also scared them. I totally get that. I have a feeling a LOT of the people who didn’t say anything were in this camp. Most of my friends probably are. I can’t deny that some of the things I learn are scary to me. I just have to note that some of the things I believe scare others. Sad.

I wonder if my all-American liver and onions dinner would scare many of my friends?

One of the wisest people I know concurred with me, which helped me feel like I’m not some kind of fool:

“…unless we respect the right of others to hold a conflicting opinion and can be comfortable discussing them with each other we will never achieve the peace we say we want to have.”

And thoughtful local friend echoed the above:

“…my standard is that if you can’t argue your opponent’s side then you don’t know what you really believe. Not enough people seek the ‘true’ or facts but just believe so much fake, half truth junk. And sad is the fact that too many have lost sight that we can all love each other and be friends, yet still live on different political spectrums. But alas, we have to try to squash and kill anyone and everyone that is not of the same like mind as ‘we’ are.”

 Here’s one more, from a blog reader commenting on my desire to be on the team with people willing to look at the big picture (check out his entire comment on my post from yesterday for a helpful, if sorta sad, UK perspective):

“I think the team in question is Centrism, rational, liberal but also skeptical and factual. It’s a devastating gap in politics on both sides of the Atlantic right now.”

Yes. When you are advocating for being in the center, it does NOT mean believing in nothing and it does not mean accepting everything each side maintains as true. Let’s work toward keeping rationality, skepticism, and factuality in mind, even if we come from a conservative viewpoint, and maybe we’ll find goals we can agree on.

How the last few months have left me. How about you?

Thanks

I really appreciate everyone who was brave enough to share their thoughts on a controversial issue. I’d love to learn more from you all. If you take the time to read this, I respect your opinion! This is how we build community.

Fog Magic

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of sun peek out from under the clouds. I got a few photos of the sun as it slipped through the gap and disappeared behind the trees.

The sun right in the little gap between the clouds and the ridge.

Then I noticed the mist. I could actually see fog forming behind our house, above the pond, and across the field. I knew we were in a valley, and guessed it was probably clear on top of the hill where the cemetery is.

The clouds are getting lower, and you can see mist forming right above the ground over on the left.

Right after I went inside, Lee came back from the office and said he was scared to death driving along the creek bottom to get to our house. The fog had gotten so dense that he could not see the road. A while later, Chris came back from a trip to Rockdale with the same report. Deep, deep fog.

You can guess from this photo, looking toward our house from Pamela’s property, that it was darn foggy down at the creek.

About that time, Pamela texted me, “Are you living in a cloud?” I said I sure was, and she told me she’d sat behind her house and just watched the fog creep higher and higher from where I lived to the hill where she lived. This is what it looked like from her house as it came up.

Here comes the fog!

Here are two pictures of roughly the same view from her house, one taken on Thursday when I was there, and the other from last night, both around sunset.

After Pamela sent me her photos, I started seeing more and more of them in my Facebook feed. Cindy Travis, who lives to the southeast of us, shared these beautiful images from her ranch.

Another Master Naturalist friend, Phyllis, shared what the fog looked like from her vantage point. Another beautiful sight!

Foggy mystery, from Phyllis Shuffield.

Later on, I found some amazing images from another Master Naturalist friend, Larry Kocian.

This one, from when the fog was really deep, is spooky, but full of beauty.

He was on a bike ride through the fog right at sunset and really got some great images (he’s quite a skilled photographer). Here is how Larry described it:

…[T]his was taken at sunset on the Country Club golf course across the street from where I live. The fog started on the pond and it grew rapidly and enveloped the entire golf course, making it look like a Halloween theme setting. But then it felt like being in the clouds, experiencing absolute peace and happiness.

Me and my little girl Clarice, (in this photo), rode our bikes into this growing fog bank. It was a great nature experience, being at the right place, at the right time, under the right weather conditions.

There was 100s of birds (unknown species) all over this acreage, enjoying the fresh water from the rains earlier in the day. Also the saturated atmosphere here at the surface, the fog, was very refreshing. It was like refreshing lotion going into the skin. This fog hid everything on the acreage, except for these trees, making them look like they were floating in the clouds. And as you can see, the sidewalk the leads to the pond way down the way disappears into the clouds. We were floating in the clouds, enjoying this unique moment in Nature.

Thanks to Larry for sharing the photos and description! You almost feel like you were there, right along with him and Clarice. And here’s a special treat: he made a video of riding through the fog.

Well, if that doesn’t convince you that our planet is worth taking care of, I don’t know what will. Evenings like this are rare, but the memories will serve as a balm to our senses for a long time. No pandemic can take that away from us!

Once more, our Master Naturalist buddies made sure to preserve these memories. I’m grateful to Pamela, Phyllis, Cindy, and Larry for sharing with all of us, along with my dear friend, Martha.

The Tender Warriors — Our Hope

I don’t usually reblog or repost things from other people. But this article From Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper today hit so close to home that it nearly burst my heart. So, today she’s the guest blogger. I hope that linking to the original makes this more okay.

She writes of the divine feminine, which I’ve always associated with our interconnectedness with each other and nature. She writes of tenderness, a trait we see less often these days. She provides hope for the future.

I don’t know about you, but I need it right now. I pretty much shut down yesterday and ditched my commitments. I had to breathe. These words support and uplift me. (I will link to the original when I can find it).

My activity level yesterday.

Maria Shriver is my age, and has seen a lot in her privileged life. To read her thoughts is comforting!


I’ve Been Thinking…


Not too long ago, a friend suggested I write down the definition, values, and characteristics of the “divine feminine.” He said it would be a “good exercise” for me moving forward.

“Mhmm, OK,” I thought.

I sat down to give it a try and ended up staring at the paper for a long time. I wrote something and erased it, and I tried again and again. Nothing really felt right to me.

Then last Sunday in this newsletter, I wrote my essay about courage and tenderness. The response I got was overwhelming, from both men and women.

“That is what we need!” people wrote to me. “That’s who I want to be!” My friend Elizabeth suggested I even curate a new conference called “Courage and Tenderness: The New Hero’s Journey.” Others wrote that they had never contemplated tenderness in the public space, but that they were open to it, even hungry for it. (An old video of Joe Biden resurfaced this week that visualized what I’m talking about.)

As I read all the responses from readers like you, I allowed myself to be touched by the words. I allowed myself to receive your kindness and gratitude for the idea, which wasn’t really my idea at all. It was the Pope’s! But, perhaps I presented it in a different way, maybe even a feminine way.

Several people also responded to the paragraph I wrote about bestowing tenderness on my tough mother. People told me those lines really took them aback. I’ve thought a lot about that in the days since. The truth is, I have spent many years trying to understand the towering warrior that was my mother. My quest has, in turn, helped me to better understand myself.

Better understanding myself is not why I wanted to understand her, but it is the gift I got from delving deep into my mother’s drive, restlessness, rage, pain, and determination. I learned a lot from seeking to understand the way she wielded power in the halls of Congress, in her extended family, and in my own immediate family with my father, my brothers, and myself as her only daughter. I could write forever about my mother, from whom I learned feminism, although I’m not sure the word itself resonated with her. But the concept of women being equal to men sure did.

But today I want to focus on the description of the hero or heroine’s journey at this moment in our collective journey. It is, in its own way, the realization of the divine feminine. Women of my mother’s generation were not seen or valued, much less understood. If they had an idea, they were passed over or silenced. If they wanted to compete, they had to be a warrior 24/7. They had to bury their tenderness and femininity and show they could out-men the men. And even then, they were often invisible to the people around them.

Thanks to so many women of my mother’s generation and my own since then, we have paved a way. Today, many young women are brave enough to step out and speak up without giving it a second thought.

Women today, like the men of today, have the opportunity to lead in a more evolved and humanistic manner than those of generation’s past. In fact, they must if we want to survive. Yes, survive. You see, I believe that our collective humanity is on the line right now, and that it will take tenderness and courage, coupled with the divine feminine to resurrect us all.

Today in our midst, there are record numbers of cases of anxiety, depression, suicide, abuse, and addiction. People report being bullied. Millions are desperately lonely and feeling anything but “seen or understood,” much less “included or valued.” It is time to reimagine the way we walk and talk in the world, as well as how we lead in our homes and places of business. It’s time to shift the old power balances that still exist around us, because it simply doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore.

It is time for the tender warrior: courageous in thought, word, and deed. The tender warrior is vulnerable in action. Compassionate in speech. Fully alive and fully realized. The tender warrior uses their eyes to see what is, not what the deluded mind says what is. The stories we tell ourselves and others are critical to moving forward in a realistic way. They are critical to know what needs reframing and reforming.

The tender warrior is an empathetic storyteller, one who is courageous enough to tell the story of where we are with honesty. Their mission is not to scare us, but to reassure us that the future we imagine is, in fact, possible for all of us. (Just look at New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her handling of the pandemic in her country.) They use a new language. They use words that we can collectively embrace, not hurriedly shove down our throats.

So, who is this tender warrior? Well, you can be one. Yep, that’s right. Each and every one of us can be a tender warrior. To become one requires a tender heart and a courageous spirit. It requires a commitment to compassion, empathy, and the journey ahead. Everywhere I look, tenderness is needed these days. Everyone I know can soften under its expression. Even the toughest of the tough.

I know this because I was one of those tough people for years. I felt I had to be tough to survive the family I was born into and the profession I chose. And yet, when tenderness touched my armor, the walls came tumbling down. Imagine that power. Imagine knowing that you have it to bestow on another. Think about that and let it sink in.

I pray we can jointly commit to stop the bullying in our public square. It’s ruining lives and damaging psyches. Expressions of hate demean us all and destroy the very fabric of our humanity. Racism. Sexism. Ageism. Any “ism,” really. Let’s put them to bed once and for all. They are beneath us. It’s time.

People are tired. People are scared. Who hasn’t had enough? A good friend told me that after watching the news the other night, she turned off the TV and wept. She said, “I can no longer tolerate the meanness. It’s destroying us all.” I said to her what I’ll say to you, “It will get better.” It will get better because the majority of us want it to get better. Now me must work to make it so.

There is light ahead, this I know to be true. There is a new energy coming our way. So, let’s each open ourselves to it. Let’s open ourselves to being tender, fellow warriors. Be tender and embrace the divine feminine that exists in you. Do not be afraid of what’s feminine, regardless of your gender. It is healing. It is nurturing. It is soft and vulnerable, and yet it is so strong and courageous. In its magnificence, it can mirror to another person their magnificence. It can show them their own divinity, which in turn will allow them to fly. How extraordinary is that?

It turns out that I know exactly the definition, values, and characteristics of the divine feminine. Now, will you join me in living them?

Love,
Maria

PRAYER OF THE WEEK

Dear God, please let us all be brave enough to embrace the divine feminine that lives within us. May we all be tender and courageous and reimagine how we show up in the world. Amen.


Thank you for reading! It’s worth subscribing to her newsletter for more like this.

Goodbye from the ranch.

Black Weenie Dog Unsure about Cameron, TX

by Vlassic Bruns Kendall

Hi, I’m Vlassic, like the picke company, only with an extra s. I am a small, black dog. I travel a lot, now that Suna goes back to Austin more often. I like it in Austin, mostly. I get to hang out with Pickle the chiweenie, play with Anita, and snuggle lots and lots with Suna.

Snuggling makes me very happy.

I have some friends and enemies in Austin, but mostly friends. Last week a dog kept yapping at me until her human took her away. And for some reason, my old buddy, Percy, was mad at me much of the week. But, we sniffed butts and had a nice walk last night. I love walking in Austin. Suna and Anita pick up my poop, so I try to go as much as I can.

This morning, I got to go for a car ride (yay) and we ended up at this place in Cameron, where some of my family are, plus some nice people like Meghan and Jenecia, who give me treats and pet me. It’s a little weird here, but I have toys and a water dish, which helps a lot. Plus, I get to visit and “help” people work!

I’m having a meeting.

Suna took me for a walk today, and that convinced me I do NOT like Cameron. Everywhere I turned there were more dogs barking and running up to me. The first few were behind fences or attached to something that saved me. Whew.

I like the sidewalk, because there are no grass burs. And look, Suna picked up my poop, like she was in Austin or something!

But, a giant dog (Suna says a medium-sized old, sweet dog) came rushing out of a garage and barked LOUD. Suna screamed. She was embarrassed, she told the old human who came running out. In the end, I liked that dog fine, and we sniffed butts. Suna says she has no pictures because she was so busy protecting me. Thanks, Suna!

Parts of the walk were good, like I found a dead thing to sniff, and lots of places to pee.

MMM. Dead thing.

But, danger is everywhere! There were all sorts of grass burs on the sidewalk where the vacant lot had been mowed. I had to stop and remove them, but then, yay! I got to eat them. They are tasty snacks, actually.

Then ANOTHER dog came after me. Suna knew this one would be there, so she talked to it. He wagged his tail, barked a little, and went home. Suna saved me again!

By the time I got home I was exhausted. I tried to regain my strength by eating stuff out of the trash can, but she emptied it.

No luck with the trash can. I’ll just lay down.

Suna felt sorry for me, so she found a nice blankie for me to snuggle up in while she works.

I’m comfy and cozy now!

I’ll just take a nap now, and hope Suna takes me back to the ranch, where my other human, Jim, likes to hang out with me, and where I can run free with the other dogs, even bad ole Penney, who I actually like, now. And my chickens! And all those cute calves. I think I’ll dream of chasing them. Bye!

Do I Have a Right to Say Anything on This Subject?

Hey, Suna, what subject might that be, I hear the chorus asking. Well, that subject is sort of two things, but both ways of thinking about the world that sadden me, because they eliminate so much potential people AND they are self perpetuating: the poverty mindset and entitlement.

Mandi is celebrating a birthday. She looks like someone who’s doing good.

My friend Mandi has loads of personal experience in this area, and I’m happy to let her speak. She spent much of her life in a “poverty mindset” when it came to finances, especially, and she’s seen what people who feel they are entitled to a good living just because they exist. Check out these three posts she wrote over where she blogs, our Hermit Haus Redevelopment site:

In her first post, Mandi shared this:

As I have pointed out before, I am not super wealthy person. I am overcoming the poverty mindset myself. I read a great article, found here that states, “38% of American households making $40,000-$100,000 per year could not cover $400 for an emergency without going into debt.”

Hermit Haus Redevelopment blog, December 5, 2020

Scary, huh? She doesn’t want to be one of those people anymore.

Continue reading “Do I Have a Right to Say Anything on This Subject?”

Festive Nestivus to All Fellow Hermits

I was taking the day off from blogging, but when I read this post on the Sweatpants and Coffee blog, I had to share this wonderful new holiday, which I’m apparently celebrating today! I’m already in the mood, as my Snapchat picture shows.

Santa after Christmas.

I love the idea of a celebration of introversion. By sitting here on the balcony, drinking coffee, and watching the marauding band of feral cats go back and forth. I’m properly celebrating this Holy Day.

We’re not a gang, we’re a club. (SNL quote from long ago).

According to the creator of Nestivus, Nanea Hoffman, this defines the holiday:

Brilliant! From the blog linked above.

She suggests we cuddle in blankets, pet your animals or squeeze something soft, and communicate in our preferred introvert method, avoiding eye contact, if desired. Ahh.

A vulture just flew by so close I could count its feathers. There are titmice, chickadees, and cardinals in the trees (when the cats are elsewhere), and the child in the next building has stopped hysterically squeaking a toy and yelling , “Here kitty kitty!”

Mrs Cardinal is quietly chirping in the bushes in this photo I made nice and cozy for the Nestivus celebrations.

Mrs. Cardinal and I are both relieved. Festive Nestivus to you, unless you are out in a crowd celebrating Boxing Day, the extrovert alternative.

Guest Blogger: Are You Ever Safe from Snakes? No.

by Mandi Shuffield
Sarge, 9 years old. He will let his boys do anything they want to him. They seem to love putting things on his head…

The weather is finally cooling off here in Central Texas! I see a lot of folks are catching up on yard work and home improvements. I know the contractors I ‘ve talked to are sure happy about not sweating to death just from stepping out of their houses! But does this mean that we should be lured into believing that the venomous snakes are not active right now? It does not!

I have seen people share a post that gives the seasons that snakes are not out at this time of year. In my experience of almost 38 years, I’d say ignore that and pretend that even when there is ice on the ground, you could find a snake.

Just be vigilant, and then you won’t have to retrain yourself this spring. Don’t get lulled into security because some zoologist somewhere says they are “less likely” to be active. That’s the key phrase there, “less likely.” That doesn’t mean there is a 0% chance of finding them. That’s especially true if you’re moving leaves, debris, or climbing under a house where it is probably sort of warm.

Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Are You Ever Safe from Snakes? No.”

Guest Post: The Baby Magnolia

By Bonnie Roberts

Today I’m sharing a story my friend Bonnie shared when I asked for what brings people joy. I loved it so much that I want to share it with you all. Here’s her little tree’s story:


I recently planted a native Sweet bay magnolia, along with some other native plants in my yard. It is still a sweet, tiny tree. I did not expect to see blossoms this year, so was thrilled to see it has a couple of buds.

This flower has been working on opening for the past week. We have had a cold, rainy month in Maryland.

The slow, patient opening of this flower has made me stop and appreciate that we need to allow ourselves to take the time necessary in order to accomplish things. Be kind and patient with your self and your grief.

Sweet bay magnolia working on a blossom.