Category Archives: Inspiration

Stories that help us feel or do.

Palette Of Possibilities ©

A Story by Pauline Hosie

paletteAs my train pulled out of the station, the happy faces of my daughter and sister disappeared from view. Momentarily I held their images in my mind. The beauty of the rising sun drew me into the present, as it caressed the sharp edges of tall buildings, gently nudging the sleepy city into wakefulness. Buildings came briefly into view, and then rushed past as a blur. Within minutes Melbourne became a memory.

A flickering palette of yellows and reds danced through my compartment as the sun exposed more of its potential light. The small brown table situated in front of me beckoned me to write. Not yet … time to enjoy the spectacular morning sun. Totally captivated by the artistry of the sun, the world before my eyes woke to another day. Suburb after suburb painted with sunlight.

An hour into the journey, distant farmhouses, horses and cows waited for shadows to melt into light. A kangaroo watched as the train glided by. Breakfast dishes were being collected when the announcement was made. “There is a tree across the track; we will have to stop at Seymour.” A few passengers muttered in frustration. Ten minutes later we pull into Seymour. Resigned to a short wait, most passengers remain seated. Half an hour later another announcement.

“We apologise for the relay, but removing the tree will take longer than expected. Buses will be organised to take you back to Sydney.” Moans from unhappy passengers, as one by one we file onto the platform. An hour later, disgruntled groups huddle to complain. Further down the platform I notice a small group of people gathered around a lady sitting on a small stool. Deciding to investigate I am amazed to discover the woman is painting two passengers as they chat.

palette“Are you a professional artist,” I ask? “ Yes. I Am.” the lady replied. “Rather than sit in the carriage, while my son is asleep, I decided to make the most of the stop. It has been a challenging trip. My family and I were booked on a flight back to Brisbane, but my son who has Aspergers Syndrome, refused to catch the plan. Travelling by train was our best option, but changing onto a bus will distress him terribly, he dislikes social interaction. We really need to get back to Brisbane.” She continued, “Our home may be flooded with all the rain we have experienced in Queensland.”

Wow! I thought of all the train passengers this lady has the most reason to be upset by the ongoing delay, yet here she was painting a beautiful picture of two passengers who had made the most of the stop by getting to know each other. So impressed was the elderly women with her portrait that she bought the painting from the Brisbane artist.

The buses appeared at 2PM that meant we would arrive in Sydney after midnight. As I boarded my bus, I noticed the blonde artist beside a tall teenage boy, whose face was shielded by a hood. What an inspiration she was ~ creating a palette of possibilities from what most passengers saw as a nuisance in their life.

photos courtesy Pauline Hosie

Act 2 ©

A Story by Jill Kay

BOBBblog_Act2 by donna&andrewMy grandparents met in 3rd grade.  My parents met in 5th grade.  By the time I graduated from college I felt like an old maid.  I wanted to get married, have kids and raise the “perfect” family – like my parents and my grandparents before them.

When I finally met my future husband, we had what is called a “cute meet.”  Visiting our respectful friends at a beach house one summer weekend, he asked if he could trade his lounge chair for my raft.  The rest was history…2 children, a dream house in the suburbs, a dog, and the white picket fence.

I loved my family.  I loved being a wife and mother.  I loved our life.

Apparently my husband didn’t.  I’ll never forget the words he said the day my world would change forever… “I wasn’t where I said I was last night”.

End of Act 1.

He could have hit me with a sledgehammer and it wouldn’t have been as painful – the wind was knocked out of me.  And, with it, went all my confidence and self-esteem.  I was an empty shell of a person. Eventually I managed to pull it together for my children.

I was ready for my Act 2

Divorced a year later, I moved to another state for a fresh start. It turned out to be a great move (no pun intended).  Next, I needed to go back to work.  I looked for something I could do from home.

At this time, my father was working with a woman who recently started a side business with a company called Arbonne.  She told him how within six months she was making a significant income. My father’s response to her: “Call my daughter”.  My father’s email to me: “This sounds too good to be true…”

But what if it wasn’t?  I was hesitant to get excited, but my wheels started turning with the possibilities of this opportunity.  That night, after speaking with her (even though I knew nothing about the industry and had never heard of the company), I jumped right in. And boy, am I glad I did!

Best.  Decision.  Ever.

JBOBBblog_Act 2_ArbonneI initially started my business for financial reasons but it has given me so much more – I now wear an Invisible Cloak of Empowerment:  when I look in the mirror I see a strong, confident woman.  And, everyone else does, too.

I am happier now than I’ve ever been.  I love my family of 3, I have a wonderful boyfriend, and I love what I do.   And, if I can turn back time and someone should ask me to trade their lounge chair for my raft, I’d still smile, and say “sure”.

Dad, thank you for asking Linda to call me.  Kids, thanks for being my biggest cheerleaders (and yes, Rebecca, you can join my Arbonne business when you’re 18).

And, to everyone reading this, you’re welcome to join me too.  Jump in just like I did….the water is very warm!

photo courtesy  donna&andrew

 

Things We Keep ©

Conversations With A Stranger 

A Story by Steven Benjamin

So, there I was, relaxing in the waiting area of the ticket office.  The bus ride was fairly unspectacular, only a tad cold during the night because, as the Sleepliner’s attendant put it: “there’s something wrong with heating system”.  It was late last year, and I’d left an overcast drizzly Cape Town and stepped into the warm sunshine of the nation’s ‘official’ capital.  My ‘contact’ texted me that my hotel shuttle was running on Africa time, prompting me to partake in that age old art of observing people.

I then started chatting with the janitor mopping the floor around me – he was from Zimbabwe.  We then got distracted when a couple moved toward the head of the ticket line – I took them to be Brazilian.  Their negotiations with the clerk soon became a heated debate.  Suddenly, a flurry of activity ensued.  A LOAD of luggage was brought in and placed at our feet.  Lawrence and I exchange looks.  The couple then separated temporarily; the gentleman negotiating with an official outside, whilst the woman continued her quest inside.  From their body language I gathered they weren’t married, tending more toward good friends or distant familial relatives – like he was only there to drop her off.  Also, some unobtrusive eavesdropping led me to reassess my ‘Brazilian’ theory.

Some more remonstrations later, with the administrators sorting through the balls-up, the lady finally had a chance to relax, a few seats away from me as it happened – the seats and floor between us were taken up by all of her eleven large suitcases.

The problem was, she’d booked these suitcases to be transported to Cape Town, only, the price had been inflated once the Bus people discovered she wouldn’t be accompanying the bags… effectively using the bus as a postal service.

Frustrated she took a moment to breath.  Eyeing the bags and then her, I smiled, kept cool, and after giving her a second to chill, I suavely opened with this line: “Is this your whole life?”

She managed a half smile, “Almost; half of it’s clothes and toys for my two kids.”

We started chatting until eventually arriving at the inevitable question, “Where are you from?”

She smiled coyly, tilting her head to one side. “Where do you think?”

Here I had to think.  Through clenched jaws and narrowed eyes I analysed the Atlas in my mind, “Um, somewhere in the Middle East.”

She smiled, suggesting she was impressed, “… Iraq.”

Divorced years ago, she’d relocated her family to South Africa, and was presently relocating again, though that too would be short lived as a job in Europe had opened up.  She wished to stay though, vowing to return as she enjoyed the warm weather and equally warm people.

I was left thinking about the things we keep in life, places we go, people we see, and mostly the people we love.  Materially our lives come down to a dozen or so suitcases, if that.  A few friends experienced this first hand, immigrating to New Zealand – their entire life boiled down to a half filled storage unit – materially anyway.

Back to the lady though, whom I will forever remember with affection… her strength and beauty so richly interwoven, evident even amidst needless frustration on a hot afternoon; she could still smile and engage in an enlightening conversation with a total stranger.

Just before my shuttle arrived, her baggage problems were sorted.  We said our farewells, but not before introducing ourselves:

She said her name was Arwen, like the Middle Earth princess, only she was from the Middle East.

I pray that she and her family are well, wherever they find themselves.

(Note: she told me where she was headed, but I thought that on the off chance she was on the run, I would at least conceal her ultimate destination.)

photos courtesy greebile and charlie phillips

You can see more of Steven Benjamin’s writings at http://stevenbenjamin.weebly.com/blog

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Why I Write ©

Why Steven Benjamin writes

writeI could start by telling you my name and its meaning, or to go into the history of the ancient tribe of Benjamin – the smallest one in Israel, once exiled and almost wiped out.  Then again I could go into their subsequent sea voyages, the links to Spain and the Spanish Armada, or perhaps the routes across the Atlantic taking portions of the tribe’s descendants to places within Latin America or St Helena Island, and thence the African shores.

Of course I could just tell you tales of my extended family; including an unsolved murder, and then enforced divisions under apartheid.  I could tell you how two tragic events over forty years ago resulted in my two grandmothers bumping into each other in a hospital corridor, an event that formed part of what brought two families together…

I could tell of the discreet and strange conversation my father had with my mother – before they got married – a conversation that largely defined their marriage.  Then there were the two times I recall seeing my father cry – for two very different reasons.

I could tell you of how I, as a young boy along with my sisters, was insulated from many terrible things… it’s why I’m privileged to say I have no sad story to tell involving apartheid as the main villain.  I do remember my country’s first democratic elections though, in 1994.  My eldest sister was put in charge of us while my parents went to vote – they stood in line in the rain for a few hours, but came home smiling and laughing.

I remember the humped road, a favourite amongst my siblings and me. It’s one of the roads between my grandparent’s old houses.  Many years ago, before my time, it was just a series of sand dunes, until they laid a stretch of tarmac over them; you know, encroaching suburbia.

writeAll four of us crammed into the back seat, when we were all still small enough to fit.  My dad would accelerate every time we hit each dip, and then cruise over the tops of the “humps”.  We’d get that funny feeling in our tummy, “butterflies” – my mom used to call it; the first and the last humps were always the best … And that car: leather seats, digital dashboard interface, 2.8 Litre straight six, fuel injection, cruise control – my father’s dream car – and yes, it drove like a dream… that car, it was simply ahead of its time, a 1986 model… like me, except, I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong era, well, sometimes…

I come from a storied past… so writing comes naturally and I’ve realized I won’t be able to live without it, no matter what other job I take on, in fact, everything else will merely feed my urge and inspiration.  I tend to look at the world like that – what experience can be gained, what can be used as material… sometimes I need to remind myself:  “Just relax. Live a little!”  I’ll get time for that, later.  Right now though, I’m in the phase of ‘sowing seeds’ …

photos by alancleaver and dhwright

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Quiet Escape ©

A quiet moment with Shinazy

It’s quiet.  The first winter storm just passed but the sky holds onto its grey while the redwood needles pretend that the raindrops continue to fall.  I’m in Butano, a coastal mountain hamlet, only minutes away from San Francisco.  There’s no sense of civilization here.  No motor sounds, no whirr of industry or consumption.

quietThe rain has stopped long enough for the worms and bugs to wiggle onto the bed of decomposing brown and green.  On the edge of my vision a flutter of wings – birds seeing their evening meal.  They scurry to swallow before their neighbor.  It looks like dancing; some wild choreographed stomping of tiny Irish River Dancers.

In this dense forest a crow or black bird or raven sounds the coming of Goliath.  On cue the tiny dancers stop, heads still until some unspoken note signals them to zoom away.  How is it that there are no head-on collisions?  The damp ground is now empty.

I hear it coming, breaking the quiet – the caw loudens.  Like the landing of a jet fighter the crow is on the ground, a centennial guarding the nude dirt.  But he must hear something my human ears do not because he suddenly starts to drill holes.  Is he finding the retreating bugs and worms?

The false tree rain stops and now the branches are light enough for the breeze to move them, a new sound to pause the silence.  I can actually hear the tones the difference leaves make as they rustle against each other.

The sun must be setting.  The sky is still the same pale grey, but the distant trees are black.  And the nothingness approaches.  I can no longer distinguish one redwood from another.  I can only see the autumn colors of the Manzanita that grows near the porch.  Night is coming.  Even the crow is gone.  quiet

I’m here to escape the never-ending din of the city.  I felt my ears and mind were always being assaulted.  I needed to reconnect with nature.  In this quiet I hear … something: my thoughts, time, imaginary sounds.  I only know life with noise, so in this stillness I hear what may not be there.

Evening is settling.

The next storm is coming – new sounds for me to hear while I escape into the quiet.

photo by shinazy and luchilu

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Fog Lift ©

Strolling Through The Mind Of Fog

Experiencing Fog with Jill Cox-Cordova

fogFog.

It topped the lake as though clouds had fallen in it.  Somehow I envisioned the clouds to be whipped cream.  No, I no longer craved it.  Training for a half marathon provoked me to make a lot of healthier choices.

Yet, on this day, fog also seemingly filled my brain.  Nothing seemed clear to me, specifically a decision I needed to make about business.

My feet danced a quick heel-toe, heel-toe as I continued my 6-mile workout in my neighborhood.  Faster!  Heel-toe.  My feet blurred.  I always walked faster than I jogged.

“Average pace [per mile] 13:45,” my app for walking and jogging disturbed my thoughts.

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the sparkling water.

The fog was lifting.  Funny, my mood began to change too.

I noticed which homeowners enjoyed yard work, and which ones loved classic cars.   I realized some people actually used their front porches.  They waved, of course, encouraging me to exercise for them too.

I shifted, as my route takes me down a scenic slope, past a golf course and tennis courts.  I laughed—actually laughed—as a breeze seemingly pushes me down the hill until I’m nearly jogging, I’m going so fast.

I slowed my pace to march in place as four golfers in a cart crossed my path.  They joked with each other about the next hole being fun, but challenging because the majority of them had to yell “fore” to the woman who lived near the hole.  As long as I was in listening distance, I waited to hear that simple word. Their game improved that day.

Just a few more steps and Kennesaw Mountain appeared in my view.  Green trees stretched to the elevation of 1808 feet. Briefly, I imagined myself at its top, my thoughts clear, the fog, now an evaporated memory.

I turned to begin my own mountainous climb home.  This time, I watched the tennis players.  A woman who had to be in her 80’s scores a point and celebrates on the court with a dance.

Soon a small white poodle reminded me to stay on my side of the road.

As I marched up the hardest hill of my workout, it hit me.  I determined the best route to take in my business.  I looked to my left and see the fog is gone from the lake, too.

“Average pace [per mile] 13:10,” my app informed me.

I always enjoy walking to clear my mind of fog.

photo by mike behnken

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The Art of the Letter ©

A letter to you from Will Jones

letterDear Readers,

Remember the thrill of going to the mailbox and finding an unexpected letter from a family member or friend?  Or maybe it was the letter you’d been anticipating for weeks?  Remember actually seeing the mailman approach the house and sprinting to the front door expectantly?  Those were exciting times.  Sadly, the “art of the letter” days are all but over.

No one can deny the convenience of email, texting, skyping or just plain picking up the phone and calling.  But for those of us who have lived through the transition from “snail mail” to high technology, some of the romance of communication has been lost.  Not to the mention loss of personal, family, national and world history that was a by-product of good old fashioned letter writing.  Adams and Jefferson!  Barrett and Browning!  Miller and Nin!

In an old manila envelope I have a collection of letters from the 70’s from a friend in Colorado and my from my brother who was living in Germany.  In a shoe box I have letters received over a period of twenty years from a friend who moved around the country and raised a family during those years.  In another box I have letters from my father, now deceased, an excellent writer with beautiful handwriting.  I know it’s possible to keep a history of emails, but it isn’t the same.  So what am I doing to keep the art of letter writing alive?

My first grandchild, Saskia, was born last February.  I wrote her a letter and mailed it on the first day of spring.  It was a letter about life and what she might expect as she grows up.  Today, the first day of autumn, I wrote her a letter about writing letters and about a gift that her father, my son, gave me ten years ago.  He took his brothers and me backpacking, which reawakened my love of the wilderness, and I’ve gone every year but one since then.

Spring and autumn are my two favorite seasons.  My plan is to write Saskia a letter on the first day of those seasons for the rest of my life.  My hope is she’ll return those letters with letters of her own when she is able and ready.  In that way I hope we will grow and age together and keep the art of letter writing alive in our family for another generation.

Sincerely,

Will Jones

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Hike Half Dome Alone ©

Hike to Half Dome with Shinazy

hike

Last year three of us decided to climb the Half Dome Cables.  We trained and then went online to capture our permits – first come, first get.  We watched the webcam and saw the snow slowly melt, too slow to install the cables – no cables, no climb.  But we decided to hike anyway just to see a record water flow; we wanted to experience everything … but the cables.

During that 12-hour hike, we stopped at every sight.  After catching our breath from the altitude and the beauty, we took pictures of waterfalls, rocks, rainbows, valleys.  We travelled together, encouraging each other to continue, sharing our thoughts as comrades.   All this togetherness enriched our experience.

This year, with a lighter snowfall, the cables were installed on scheduled.  Our luck held, permits from the Lottery arrived and our group swelled to five.

On hike day, as sunrise removed the evening we set boot to trail.  Within 5 minutes the group split, taller Half Dome hikers with longer strides pulled away.  Then my quicker pace had me increasing the distance from the other short-hiker.  Now, I was alone.  I was hiking the same trail as last year, but with only one set of eyes – mine, and this made it a different path.

If asked, I would say I’d never been there.  Last year, Vernal Fall was a fire-hose pounding my black-plastic-garbage-bag poncho.  I knew there were 600 steps carved into the granite cliffside, but I could only ‘see’ them with my feet as I clung to the wet stonewall.  But this year, there was only a modest spray and I could see the steepness and the uneveness and the majesty of each step.

That 2,000-foot climb is rewarded by the flat, hot, and sandy Little Yosemite Valley.  Previously the Merced River roared, drowning all sound.  Now, I could hear birds and I thought I could even hear a squirrel rolling a pinecone.

As I continued, the solitude allowed my mind to see oddities.  In a wide sandy trail why are all the pinecones resting exactly in the middle?  Why do people stay on the sandy path instead of hiking on the firmly packed game trail that runs along side?  And, on and on my mind wandered.

When alone in the forest there’s no sense of time.  One minute I’m blinking my eyes to wake-up and the next I’m blinking because Half Dome just materialized.  Five hours had passed, but no fatigue just excitement.  The goal of this hike was before me; it was time to climb the 45-degree incline of the massive granite slope called Half Dome, and not alone, I had the seed of memories . . . and my camera.

photo by glennwilliams

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Good Time In Bad Traffic ©

In traffic with Len Hodgeman 

Saw A Man Walking Upside Down traffic

OK, I didn’t actually see a man walking upside down yesterday—but this line from a John Mellencamp song did pop into my head during a rather peculiar event that happened to me.

It was a long, hot day.  The air conditioning at my Redwood City office was broken.  I was working against a tight deadline, had an important meeting in San Mateo at 5 pm, and was late getting out of the office and on the road.

The traffic was unbelievably bad.  Twenty minutes later, I had gone two miles and wasn’t even on the freeway yet.  I called my client and told him I’d be late.  No problem, 5:30 or even 5:45 would be OK. 

I finally get to the freeway onramp—I could have crawled faster than I was driving.  I need to go north, but south looks a lot clearer.  I swing onto the freeway and pick up a bit of speed—but in the wrong direction.  I know that.  I’ll get off at Woodside, pick up 280, race north—it’s generally faster—and make the critical meeting.

Wrong.  Woodside is just as bad.  Oh, did I mention that the air conditioning in my car wasn’t working either?  I’m all in a sweat, frustrated, exhausted. 

Let’s try a different tack.  Take El Camino instead. Uh oh …  bad idea.

After an hour on the road, I’m now about a mile from where I started.  I call the client and tell him we need to reschedule.  He’s cool with it.  I’m definitely not cool.  But I resign myself to another hour or so on the road, and continue inching ahead until I reach Belmont.  I’m thinking about pulling into the nearest air-conditioned place and sitting it out.

I pull up to a stoplight.  Wearily, I glance to my left, across three lanes of traffic.

And there on the curb is a young woman, in a light cotton tie-dyed dress—with the telltale white cords of her iPod earphones hanging down from her pageboy haircut.  She was dancing like there was no tomorrow, like she was in the coolest, hippest dance club ever, with fun people and great music, having the time of her life.

She’s smiling and rocking and shaking her groove thing.  Twisting and gyrating and moonwalking to beat the band.  She seemed totally unaware of the heat, the traffic or the bystanders that were keeping their distance.

She was happy.  Joyful.  Blissful.  It just poured out of her, splashing all over the sidewalk, streaming into the street and running up the sides of the cars, washing away people’s hard days and long drives.  Suddenly I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

I laughed again and kept on laughing.  I wanted the long stoplight to stay red.  I didn’t want to leave her.  It was sheer pleasure just being on the same planet with her.  Even as I looked away to make sure the traffic wasn’t moving without me, I could hear my own music rising.  The heat and the traffic no longer mattered. 

These words from an old song slipped gently into my head.

Saw a man walking upside down yesterday.
TV’s on the blink,
Made Galileo look like a boy scout.

Sorry ’bout that, let it all hang out.

I don’t remember the heat or the traffic being that bad the rest of the way?  Maybe it changed, maybe my attitude changed.  Maybe, there are people and situations in life that give us the gift of escaping life for a moment into a totally different space.

Thank you young lady, wherever you are.

photo by vramak

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See Jane run. Run Jane run ©

Run with Shinazy

runAs little kids we all ran.  We ran out the front door.  We ran to hug grandma when she came to visit.  We ran to our bedroom window to watch raindrops stream down freshly cleaned glass.  Then the day came when we thought sauntering was sexier, so we stopped running.  But for some of us another-day came and we started running again, only this time the destination was unimportant.  Instead we did it to reduce stress, to keep our bones strong, to improve our cardiovascular system.

Because we were all children, you would think running as an adult would be a natural activity.  Yes, that would be a reasonable thought to think.  But I am here to tell you … it ain’t so.  I’ve been putting my feet on the ground for 34 years, completing 11 marathons, and I still find it difficult to run after a period of non-running.

I’ve always been active.  In school I was on the track team, hockey team, cross-country team.  So, running out my front door, in my Sears Keds, was a good fit for me.  But do it  consistently … well, I seem to run out of focus. For me, launching running programs requires NASA level effort.

Now, I say ‘programs’ because I’ve started and stopped many times – how many fingers and toes do I have?  There was one year where I started my running program the first of every month – I was unable to get beyond running a few blocks.

Then there was the year of The Back, the day I opened my eyes and was unable to move – it took me 45 minutes to throw my body onto the floor (but, that’s another story.)

Last year, while training to climb the cables at Half Dome, I hiked, and hiked, and hiked.  I was getting strong again and my back was behaving.  I tentatively approached the idea of yet another running program.  Was I healed enough to run?  Hooray!  The answer was ‘Yes”.

How did last year’s running program go?  Well … on an 18-mile hike in the coastal mountains, with the sun peak-a-booing with the fog, I felt invincible.  There I was on a dirt trail, heading down hill and I was overtaken by the desire to run.  Flying I was.  One moment I’m in heaven, the next nanosecond I’m eating dirt: sprained ankle, scraped knees, smashed shoulder, and a bloody nose.  What just happened?  The end of that year’s running program is what happened.

I’ve mostly recovered from that fall and this month I started yet another running program – only this time I’m staying on flat, paved streets.  I decided to duplicate what I did when I started running: 1 mile for a month.  Only then will I know if this program becomes a streak.  And similar to when we were children I can hear myself say, See Shinazy. See Shinazy run. Run, Shinazy, run.

photo by shinazy

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