Do you hear what I hear?

Dear Gentle Penguin,

The year of talking with Absolem and the Fawn of the Wood is quickly disappearing, but as it goes, I see it was also (appropriately) the year of Darkness. Not in the depressing sense, but in the sense of balancing the previous year of Lightening.

Whereas in 2017 my youngest and I experienced 24-hour sun and other light phenomenon, in 2018, I find many of my highlights were centered in darkness. For example, I helped start a state chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association in my spot of Earth (and was subsequently appointed to the board). I took my nieces and nephews to a dark sky park to witness the Milky Way galaxy with their own eyes. I helped with research on the importance of darkness to human health (ps, it’s SUPER important!) And I celebrated the Winter Solstice…the longest night of the year.

And in the process of discovering that 2018 was really the year of Darkness (not in the depressing sense), I realized I need to change the emphasis of 2019.

I already dedicated 2019 as the year of Natural Health, but the darkness taught me that there’s something more urgent that needs my attention—listening.

It’s a well-known fact that when one sense is dampened (for instance, the sense of sight) another sense is enhanced (or we’re more attentive to another sense…like hearing). In the darkness, I realized I connect DEEPLY with my sense of sound. Possibly even more than I ever do with seeing.

That said, when I was recently on vacation with my youngest, she was frequently frustrated with me because I wasn’t listening to her. I really wasn’t. And that disappointed me (in myself).

So while I will still be studying Natural Health in 2019, I am dedicating myself to developing better Listening skills—one part personal development, two parts deepening my connection to the world and people around me, and hopefully discovering new magic in the symphony of sounds all around.

I hope to hear from you too.

With my love at the end of the Year of Darkness,


Kaffeeklatsch am Wochenende

May I tell you a secret? I hated coffee until about three years ago. It’s true!

As a child, I grew up loving the smell of coffee, but not the taste. Then I went to Bosnia Herzegovina and was invited by some of the women there for coffee. Bosnian Coffee is a big deal, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I went. I was a bit taken aback when I learned Bosnian Coffee is so dark and thick you can literally chew it. But I drank it.

Which meant I was invited to more Bosnian Coffees with women there. And when I left, they gave me my own Bosnian Coffee set.

So what is a Bosnian Coffee? Well, it’s basically a mindfulness practice. You pay close attention to making the coffee (otherwise it boils over and burns, making a mess and a stink), then you serve it in tiny cups that are meant to last through an hour-long conversation with the people you’re absolutely dedicated to focusing exclusively on during that hour…or while you relax reading a fashion magazine of a fictional book.

I was homesick for that practice immediately upon returning home. So I began making my own Bosnian Coffee in the afternoons.

Now, I love coffee.

Unfortunately, it’s become more of a beverage than a mindfulness practice these days. So, when I was recently on the Greek island of Ikaria studying natural health, and the older lady who lived next door invited me to coffee, I quickly forgot all my Greek language skills and just clapped my hands like a child while hopping up and down and shaking my head yes.

Martika is her name, and she doesn’t speak much English. Since my Greek is limited, my friend and hostess came along…and so did several other women.

It will probably be one the biggest highlights of my life (certainly of my year). Why? Because it was what my grandmother used to call Kaffeeklatsch am Wochenende, which translates to something like “Coffee gossip on the weekend.”

What does one gossip about with an elderly Greek lady on a remote island over coffee? Well, pretty much the same things I talked to Bosnian, Serbian and Herzegovinian women about. And what I talk about with my friends in my little spot of Earth…

…Weather. Children. Family. Health. Sex. Work. Other people. Politics. Fashion. And how life is changing.

Gentle Penguin, do you know the story of how coffee took over the world? It was introduced to mass society as a way to make factory workers who were used to drinking alcohol (because water wasn’t safe to drink) more productive.

Do you know why I love coffee? Because it gives me an excuse to slow down and remember I’m not a machine—and there’s more to life than productivity.

I love coffee because it creates connections.

Connection is one of the most (if not THE most) important keys to wellth.

There’s lots of research to back up my bold claim, but I’m headed to coffee with some women I just met at the dark-sky conference. So I’ll leave you with a link to get started, and a recommendation to check it out with a cup of coffee.

Wellth. A quest.

It didn’t take me any time at all to figure out next year’s theme. And I would like you like to join me on my 2019 quest, Gentle Penguin.

2019 is the year of the Quest for Wellth–secrets of a healthy and gratifying life.

I want to be clear about this quest before you sign up, though. It’s not likely to include the “usual suspects.” (But you already knew that about anything I do, right?) And I don’t believe it’s anything you or I or anyone can own.

Rather, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s somethings you or I or anyone can do.

My suspicions are aroused even more when I come across recent news that after looking at almost 500 million people in historic ancestry records, researchers found lifestyle choices are 90 percent responsible for your health and longevity, while genetics only account for 10 percent.

To put it bluntly, HOW you live determines HOW LONG you live.

Now I realize a healthy and gratifying life doesn’t necessarily mean a long life. But it’s a good place to start, because while we’re alive we certainly want to be able to enjoy it. For me, that means reducing the things that make it hard to enjoy living (like being sick) and increasing the things that make it easy to enjoy living (like being well). I mean, it’s hard to marvel at a sunset or a symphony performance of Rachmaninoff or your child’s soccer game when you have a toothache, sciatic pain or a tension headache, let alone something more serious.

That brings me to another point of clarity. I don’t believe my specific answers will be your specific answers for health and gratification. For example, I KNOW bananas gives me heartburn and Rachmaninoff’s music lifts my soul. I also KNOW that’s not true for many people. But, I believe there are general answers that are true for every human, regardless of age, race, gender, size, faith, politics, location and socioeconomic status…like fruit is an important part of a healthy diet and music can affect your mood.

Finding out which fruit and music is best for you—or how any of the truths we find can specifically work for you—is part of the quest.

I have to admit, I’ve been on this quest for most of my life so dedicating 2019 to the quest may seem a bit like cheating, but I believe it’s time to “do” more than “think” about it. After all, “knowing is only half the battle.”

So even though it’s not 2019 yet, I’m headed up into the mountains to consolidate and begin practicing a few things I already believe to be true…and to hunt down the next clue.

Shapes on the horizon

Yesterday, as the sky began to ripen from black to violet, I drove to the airport and saw a row of clouds that looked like mountains behind the city. I spent the entire drive pretending they were as the sky gradually lightened to blue.

Now, I sit in a valley surrounded by mountains as the colors drain out of the sky and lights begin to twinkle on the horizon so that the distant city looks like a star cluster at the foot of the black shapes that had been mountains minutes before.

Perhaps I’m a fool for imagining mountains and stars where there aren’t any. But it’s more interesting to me than tv. And I no longer fear being thought a fool. My many, many, many long conversations with Absolem and the Fawn in the Wood have quite cured me of that, not to mention all the shrinking and growing too.

So I find myself nearing the end of the year and wondering what has happened to me since I made my resolution to spend 2018 shrinking and growing fast and slow and conversing with Absolem and the Fawn in the Wood. Let’s see…

  • Both daughters graduated and entered new phases of adulthood. I panicked not sure what to do since they both want to solve their own problems (mostly) now and my schedule is my own for the first time in my life. Ever.
  • My daughters and I climbed the Mayan pyramids and made chocolate with our bare hands.
  • Friends and I hosted a half dozen ambassadors in my town, as well as a Turkish newspaper editor speaking out about free speech.
  • I attended the School of Life and was peed on by a man on the street.
  • 12 different martial arts masters taught me about Qi and inner peace. Four older Greek women and two younger women taught me about life and love.
  • A Taoist nun and a Taoist master each invited me to participate in separate Taoist Tea Ceremonies.
  • I achieved two belt ranks in Kung Fu and practiced tai chi in four national parks, three countries and twice under the visible Milky Way galaxy.
  • I witnessed the majesty of Yosemite, found true silence in Muir Woods, drove in magical mist on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and climbed a few mountains, including one on a remote Greek island.
  • I met Artemis. I did!
  • I spent an entire morning surrounded by a buffalo herd with my nieces and witnessed the turkey vulture migration after missing it the past two years.
  • I learned about light pollution, Ayurveda, chronobiology, Greek language, acupuncture meridian basics, abyanga, Gua Sha, my natal astrology chart, and found my Ikigai.
  • In five different forests, I made nature art with leaves, moss, rocks and one lovely little fairy garden.
  • I wrote a dozen poems, fewer blog posts, and even fewer fairy tales.
  • I made new friends in Cincinnati, Dayton, Japan, France, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Belize, Israel, Italy, Greece and more friends in Germany.
  • I reconnected with two very dear friends.
  • And I’ve spent the last three months (well two so far, with one more on the books) feeding my wanderlust and growing curiouser and curiouser. (Perhaps in both interpretations)

But it hasn’t all been painting the roses red.

  • I lost a few friends—one to a military transfer, and two to political differences
  • I fell into a serious pit of despair after my youngest went to University. One I’m just emerging from.
  • I was caught gossiping about someone I was supposed to be encouraging and witnessed how my arrogance and judgmentalness hurt her. She has forgiven me, but I haven’t yet forgiven myself.
  • I became so enraged at my dad when he hurt my Ollie dog IN A DREAM I had! I couldn’t speak civilly to him for almost a week—over a DREAM!!!! (Sorry Dad!)
  • I killed three mice because it freaks me out that they’re in my house, and apparently I asphyxiated a sparrow on the exhaust from my furnace. So I’m clearly not Disney princess material.
  • I cursed at my computer and had a temper tantrum when spell check kept changing my version of spelling asphyxiation to exfoliation!
  • I quit listening to and reading the news when I realized the news was my personal fire swamp filled with anger of unusual size, fire spurts of frustration and lightning sand of depression.
  • My doctor told me I’m perimenopausal. Which explains the teenage-like acne that’s returned.
  • I ate 80 percent of my meals alone (probably 25 percent of which were in my car and 50 percent of which were in front of my computer).
  • I was kicked out of the only tai chi ball class in town because someone complained that I’m not old enough to be at the senior center where they practice.

All-in-all, though, it’s been a year worthy of the adventure stories I so love to intermingle references of in my writing. And there’s still a month and a half left!

Which means I better start thinking about next year’s theme.

What about you, Gentle Penguin? What happened to you this year?

Mounds of Earth

I was at Newgrange atop a prehistoric mound in Ireland seeking history and adventure when I first heard about the Great Serpent Mound.

Two of my traveling companions who had travelled from Australia, literally halfway around the world, to see this ancient site walked with me off the path to gaze upon a magical vista of trees, hills and towns stretching to the Eastern horizon and, eventually, to the sea.  As we walked, they told me they were already planning to go to the Serpent Mound next year.  They had first heard about it at the Egyptian pyramids and then again at Stonehenge.

My interest was piqued.  Who wouldn’t want to see a great serpent sculpted onto a clifftop marking a sacred spot where time and the seasons were celebrated!  That’s when they told me the Great Serpent Mound was in Ohio, literally 90 minutes from the little spot of Earth I have always called home.

I visited it immediately upon my return home.  And then again later that year to celebrate a candlelit sunrise of the winter solstice.  And many times since.

So when my niece and nephew flew in for a family vacation this summer, I was determined to introduce this amazing site to the next generation of my family.

Now road trips are my absolute favorite, but I talked this one up so much so that when we arrived, my nephews seemed unimpressed.  “It’s just a pile of earth,” one said.

“Ah!  But is it?” I answered with mischief in my eyes. “Let’s take a better look.”

We climbed a platform to see the 1,300-foot-long undulating snake spread out ahead of us and to our West.  I immediately felt the energy rise in the air and hoped my nephews did too.

I guess when you’re 12, it’s difficult to feel energy in the air.  Instead, they were distracted by a butterfly that had landed on my niece.  My niece gasped confessing she had always wanted a butterfly to land on her and, here in this place where she could feel energy in the air too, it must be a sign.

We all became absorbed with the butterfly.

We didn’t hear the gentleman join us on the platform until his spoke.  “Butterflies are a good omen,” he said.  “They represent personal transformation, shifting your focus and perspective if you believe.”

Then he explained that native peoples who lived here around 2000 years ago (or more) built this effigy mound to honor the spirits who watched over the natural world and the passing of time.  The butterfly flitted between him and us as if to punctuate his story.  Then he pulled out a Buddhist singing bowl and we fell silent again as he filled the air with a vibrational energy that made all the hair on my arms and neck stand up as if at full attention.

Even my nephews said they could feel the energy then.

The butterfly re-perched on my niece, and we descended the platform to walk the path around the serpent.  We learned that the serpent’s position filled a cliff created by a meandering, but small river below and the head of the snake marked summer solstice sunset while the undulations marked the sunrise of the winter solstice and both spring and autumn equinoxes.  The singing bowl followed us and more butterflies emerged from the surrounding woods.  The Serpent Mound wasn’t easily photographed so for a change, we all put our phones away and just soaked up the moment, the energy, the sunshine and the history.

On the way back to the car, my niece asked how I found this place (it was rather secluded with few visitors).  I told her.

“Well, I’ve heard of Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Newgrange in school.  So why haven’t I heard about this site?” she asked me.  Truthfully, I don’t know.

That was a month ago, and I can’t stop thinking about that question.  So when I find myself on at another man-made mound surrounded by butterflies, I can’t help but think I should change my perspective.

This mound I’m scaling is actually a dog park built on the side of a landfill.  The air here is filled with heat and humidity under a blazing sun close to sunset.  The path gets steep, and I wonder if people 2000 years from now will hold this site sacred.  I wonder if they will assume the items filling the mound were important, though really it’s current-day trash.  I wonder what our current-day trash will tell people of the future about how we lived and who we are.

I cringe, not liking what I deduce.  Then I reach the top of the mound and notice my dogs racing across the grass with such magnificence that I can only stop, smile and watch.  The moment suddenly feels sacred.  As if to agree, a butterfly lands on my elbow.  I look over at it and see that past it, to the East, there are layers of trees and hills and towns stretching out to the horizon…and eventually the sea.

It reminds me of a vista I once saw at Newgrange.


I think I have spring fever, never mind that it’s nearing the end of summer. Or maybe I’m experiencing a mild case of trauma of eventlessness. Does it count if I don’t fit the typical psychosomatic profile? Perhaps I need to accept it’s a midlife crisis…which is to say it’s no crisis at all.

Regardless, I feel itchy, twitchy and a bit bitchy by the normal normality of things.

So after a string of long days making a long week of work, the dogs and I prepared for our usual Friday night walk at the dog park — until, suddenly, I was driving past it. My heart raged at the tired boredom of the same old say-mold (as I like to think of the saying). Unluckily for me, my logical mind countered swiftly with all sorts of reasons and rationales until I felt like a cyclone was building inside me.

I could feel myself having a temper tantrum all the while my reflection in the rearview mirror remained calm and composed. Just for that, I pouted. Then scowled. Then looked menacing. Then reminded myself I should be looking at the road.

My logical side wanted to know “the plan.” My illogical side didn’t plan to have a plan. Just then, my youngest daughter who is now in college but living at home called to see if I was coming home to have dinner with her. And my low fuel light came on.

Fine. I can take a hint, Universe.

I made the next turn and headed home, also known as “the gilded cage.” I went back to pouting, thinking about how nice it would be to live somewhere near water, or by a dark sky park, or at a desert oasis, or in a tent, or a caravan! You know, somewhere magical.

Instead, I turned down a road I’ve know my entire life in a small city in the middle of the MidWest. I pulled into the garage, let the dogs out and trudged behind them as they gaily went about doing their booty duty. I stomped up the steps to my deck that once reminded me of the bridge on a pirate ship, kicked off my shoes and slumped on the railing while keeping a stink eye on my dogs.

That’s when I noticed my Grandfather Maple tree was sparkling.

I assumed I was imagining it, but the longer I stared, the more I realized it really was sparkling.

Using my phone as a flashlight, I headed into the grass to investigate.

The grass was soft on my bare feet, softer than the carpet in my bedroom. I shone my light on the north side of the tree, and sure enough, the bark sparkled as if it had been spray painted with glitter. I touched it. Not only did I not feel any difference between the areas that glittered and those that didn’t, the sparkles wouldn’t rub off the bark onto my finger.

I traced the sparkles across and around the tree. They covered both grooves and ridges from the trunk bottom to well above where I could reach. I tried to take a picture, but all attempts looked worse than my selfies—I couldn’t do that to my beloved Grandfather Maple so I quit trying to capture it and stared harder hoping it would imprint the image on my brain.

Finally, I called my dad to get his opinion (mine was fairy dust, naturally). He talked a long time about slugs and slug slime, and I learned a lot. (Did you know that slug slime is a liquid crystal that absorbs water?) In the end, I decided to go with my fairy dust theory. That is, until I turned around and started to make my way out of the grass. There, in the slenderest split of clouds where the dark sky peeked through, I watched a shooting star streak by.

I can take a hint, Universe.

Stardust it is.

I turned back to Grandfather Maple and gave him a hug remembering something I read some time ago. “If you live close to a tree or walk past one frequently, there’s a good chance some of the carbon atoms you’ve exhaled were absorbed by the tree and are now part of the wood, embedded in the rings of its trunk.”


Now I know what’s wrong with me. I have wonderlust.

The Milky Way

It would have been easy to ignore the darkness outside while we were gathered in a vacation home with family. It would have been smart to stay inside with swarms of mosquitoes on the other side of the protective walls. It would have been more comfortable on the plush couches and cushions so close to bedtime.

But we went outside anyway.

Clad in long pants and long sleeve shirts, sprayed with DEET and armed with binoculars and star charts, we climbed into my car and headed out into an engulfing darkness.

My niece noted that without street lights, the road looked especially dangerous. Then 10 minutes later, she changed her mind pointing out that she actually felt like she could see better. Suddenly we could see deer everywhere, and seeing them, we could adjust our driving to ensure our safety — and theirs.

We saw raccoons, bats, a frog on the road, and even a fox. All in the darkest darkness.

We talked about how important darkness actually is and the unintended issues of light pollution…including the misconceptions that light provides safety and productivity. (They don’t.)

When we arrived at our star-watching sight, I barely had time to get out of the car before the teenagers had flung themselves to the ground and thrown aside their practical plans to become accountants, nurses and architects in favor of astronomy.

“I had no idea you could see so many stars in the sky!” one of them exclaimed.

“I had no idea you could actually see the Milky Way galaxy!” another shouted.

After a few minutes, we stood and headed to a field not too far off where we would have an unobstructed view of the horizon. Silence fell as everyone perfected their night vision while staring in awe at the sky.

We faced south and found the three planets we had learned to spot earlier that day at the planetarium. We located Scorpio, the Summer Triangle and by default, Lyra, Aquila and Cygnus. We talked about how far (and how much time) the light we were seeing tonight had to travel, and perhaps doing so taught us all that “now” is the most important time.

Then we pointed our binoculars into a fuzzy cloud-like bright spot in the Milky Way to witness the brilliance of another thousand stars that our eyes alone could not discern.

Suddenly a streak of light broke the silence as squeals accompanied a meteor across the sky. Then again. Those who missed one, the other, or both, craned their necks begging the sky to produce another.

We noted that the crisper our night vision became, the more it seemed that a sign about 200 yards away was approaching us. It wasn’t. But the time to leave was.

The teens pleaded for more time; they begged to come back the next night; they made plans to talk to their parents about viewing the upcoming Perseid Meteor shower; they plotted tent-less camping with no curfew; they downloaded apps to help them find dark skies and identify constellations.

They also promised to turn off unneeded lights at home, to put down their technology and get outside at night, and to pay more attention to the sky.

And so perhaps the night will find protection into the next generation…