Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Holidays Page 1 of 13

Four composite images from the post show eight “New Year Dragon” works of art, four each by featured fantasy artists Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, plus a total of eight book covers – four coloring books for adults by Rachael Mayo and four children’s books by Randal Spangler, all with a dragon theme.

My New Year Dragon Project

In February I devoted two blog posts and 16 different social media posts to a “New Year Dragon Project” display of dragon-themed artwork. When I discovered that this Chinese New Year’s animal was the Dragon, I immediately thought about all the amazing artists I know, who paint or sculpt – and indeed, specialize – in dragons. But for the sake of my sanity I settled on only four, whom I know well enough to anticipate they’d be willing to work with me on this project.

New Year Dragon Ladies

I decided to focus the first blog post of the Project on my two New Year Dragon Ladies I asked each to share four pieces and permission to reproduce them on social media and this blog post. All artwork is © by the artist, as noted on the imagery.

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in this article arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by Theresa Mather and Rachael Mayo.” Clockwise from top center the artworks are: “ “Chasing Wisdom,” “Celestial Dance,” “Heart of the Storm,” and “The Astronomer,” all by Mather. “Opal Paradigm, “Emerald Unity,” “Deep Rising 11,” and “Dragon Dance 6,” by Mayo.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Ladies” post. All artwork is © Theresa Mather or © Rachael Mayo, as noted on the individual compositions.

Practically the very first person I thought of for my New Year Dragon Project was Theresa Mather. I have rarely gone into a science fiction convention art show in the last two decades without a chance to see her latest work.

It also wasn’t hard to decide that Rachael Mayo would be my other featured New Year Dragon Lady. She may classify herself as an amateur at sf art shows, but she is an amateur in the most honorable sense of the word, a master who does the work for the love of it more than to make a living. She knows her craft through and through.

New Year Dragon Gentlemen

I conceived the two posts of the New Year Dragon Project to be a sort of “progressive art show.” The New Year Dragon Gentlemen post provided the second half. The “rest of the story,” if you will.

These posts were considerably longer on art than on words, but when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you’ll enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

This is a square image with the eight artworks featured in Jan’s blog post arranged around a middle where it says, “NEW YEAR DRAGONS by David Lee Pancake and Randal Spangler.” Clockwise from upper left, the artworks are: “Eldar’s Secret,” by Spangler; “S’mine” and “Scrapper,” by Pancake; “The Literate Dragon,” by Spangler; “Solstice,” by Pancake; “A Gathering of Dragons” and “Devouring a Good Book,” by Spangler; and “Stormwind,” by Pancake.
Here’s the artwork celebrated in my “New Year Dragon Gentlemen” post. All artwork is © David Lee Pancake or © Randal Spangler, as noted on the individual compositions.

I’ve enjoyed David Lee Pancake’s wonderful resin sculptures for more than a decade. I love his artistry, his originality (check out his Vent Dragons for one notable example!), and his willingness to “go there.” I’m pleased for a chance to bring some of his work more attention. I hope you’ll be intrigued, and explore his website more fully.

And there was never any universe in which Randal Spangler would not have been one of my choices for New Year Dragon Gentlemen. He’s one of my husband’s closest friends. And over the years he and I have not only been friends but also business partners on several ventures. He’s the next-best-thing to family. Give yourself a little while to peruse his extensive galleries, and I think you’ll find his completely different, far more playful take on dragons has an enduring appeal.

This square design shows the covers of Randal Spangler’s four books (current count in Feb. 2024) on a variegated background. Clockwise from upper left: “Counting With the Draglings,” the newest title; “The Draglings Coloring Book,” “The Draglings Bedtime Story,” and “D is for Draglings.” All artwork is © by Randal Spangler. Covers are courtesy of Spangler’s website and (in the case of the coloring book) Amazon.
Please reference the links in the text below for purchasing information.

Books by New Year Dragon Project Artists

We normally don’t think of artists as also being authors (yes, that’s me talking, the exception that illustrates the rule). Two of our New Year Dragon Project artists also push against that expectation, although in less “text-dense” ways.

As I note in the linked blog posts, both Rachael Mayo and Randal Spangler also have books to their name. Rachel has created four coloring books for adults, working with Kaleidoscopia. Randy has a coloring book, but also a growing line of children’s books. He just produced a third children’s title, which is now available through his website.

This square image shows the covers of Rachael Mayo’s four dragon and fantasy art coloring books, each featuring 52 images and designed to be used by people of all ages. They are: Top row L-R, “Dragon Adventure” and “Dragon Adventure 2.” Second row, L-R, “Dragon Adventures 3, Dragons and Friends,” and “Dragon Adventures 4, Fantasy Drawings to Color.” All were published by Kaleidoscopia Coloring books, and all are available on Amazon. All artwork © Rachael Mayo.
Rachael’s four (to date: 2/28/24) coloring books are full of her wonderful art. Follow the links from her Amazon Author Page to find links to more information of purchase.

What did you think of the New Year Dragon Project?

These two posts were considerably longer on art than on words. But when the pictures are worth a thousand each, there should be little more to say. I hope you enjoy these gorgeous pieces!

And please leave me comments.

Do you like this “progressive art show” idea? Would you like to see more artists profiled on my blog posts in this way, perhaps as a “curated just for Artdog Adventures” kind of group show?

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, even though I’m now too busy to write lots of individual posts. I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog for Weird Sisters Publishing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do for now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention, the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live and solve crimes on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Theresa Mather, Rachael Mayo, David Lee Pancake, and Randal Spangler, who provided all the artwork used in this digest post, the two longer “Weird Blog” posts, and the social media posts that were coordinated with this project. All of the artwork in this post is © by the artist listed in each copyright notice. See links in the text above for the book cover sources.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity

Kwanzaa begins with Unity. Is there any value that should resonate more with all of us? Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African American strengths and values. I’m not Black, so I can’t presume to speak for Black people (other than as an ally against racism).

But no American of any ethnic background can afford to spurn the idea that unity is a paramount value, and sadly lacking in the USA right now. In this historical moment, all of us could afford to learn a few things from our Black neighbors and friends.

I don’t believe I did justice to the first day of Kwanzaa, back in 2017 when I wrote my first post about it. I squeezed it in between two other “holiday thoughts,” about the day after Christmas and Boxing Day. Both have their place, but Kwanzaa deserves to stand alone.

This square image is dominated by a red rectangle showing a black, green, yellow, and red design flanked by the words, “The seven principles: Umoja: Unity. To maintain unity in Family, community, nation, and culture.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins with Unity and so Should We

If you think about it, unity is what brought us together as a nation in the first place: unity against outside tyranny. We were perpetuating our own egregious tyranny over the enslaved Africans whose labor our white ancestors stole to build a lot of the young country. But at the same time the founders (apparently unironically) set forth principles of equity and justice.

The very foundations of this country were uniquely well-adapted to building a multicultural nationality. Emphasizing freedom, equality, and justice for everyone under the law was radical stuff in the 18th Century.

And it’s still radical stuff today. We set ourselves up “from the get-go” for a lot of trying and falling short. We are a multicultural republic, stitched together both by force and by choice. And we are perpetually certain to come up against opposing views competing for space and dominance.

The background of this square image is a charcoal drawing of four hands and forearms in a roughly square alignment, where each hand grasps the wrist of the person to their right. Superimposed over the drawing, it says, “’Unity is Strength, Division is Weakness.’ – Swahili Proverb.”
Courtesy of United We Stand on Facebook. See Credits below.

But Beginning is Not Enough

If you look at the whole principle as outlined in Jeffrey St. Clair’s design, the idea is “to maintain unity in family, community, nation and culture.” That’s no small feat. And it’s definitely not something we can do alone. That takes commitment. It takes grit, it takes communication, and it takes a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated, like-minded people.

Kwanza begins with Unity, but it continues with six other principles that ground and support and make unity happen. This holiday celebrates strong Black people living in a vibrant culture – but no single segment of our multicultural republic can flourish without a broader unity.

Here in the USA we’ve managed to let ourselves be drawn into warring camps, to the extent that we’re in serious danger of losing it all. Can the “democratic experiment” we started almost 250 years ago survive? Not without Umoja. And not without Black people, White people, Native people, immigrants from all different communities and everybody else in this country joining together in our own self-defense.

This is a dark red square image with a length of woven Kente cloth across the bottom. At the top it says “@SanCophaLeague,” Then “Black Unity is key. ‘Get organized and you will compel the world to respect you.’ -Marcus Garvey.” In the lower left, just above the cloth band, it says, “Facebook.com/SanCophaLeague.”
Courtesy of SanCophaLeague. See Credits below.

Kwanzaa Begins With Unity, but the Series Continues

I have spent a lot of time this week going back though my old series of Kwanzaa articles and updating them for today’s standards. 2017 was 6 years ago, which is an eon or so on the Internet. Now they’re ready for mobile devices, and I’ve tried to optimize them other ways, as well as expand them into fuller explorations of the topic. Along the way, I’ve also worked to improve the illustrations in both quality and relevance.

So please take a look at the rest of the series in their new format! Take them in order, or skip around if one or another takes your fancy: See Self-Determination on Day Two, followed by Working Together and Investing Wisely. From there, explore Empowerment through Purpose, and Creative Healing. Appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day Kwanzaa Ends with Faith to Take that Step . . . whatever you determine those steps should be in the coming year.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair, via LinkedIn’s Slide Share for today’s Umoja: Unity design. I really loved the “Unity is Strength” quote-image from United We Stand on Facebook, and I also loved how the quote coordinated with my topic today. It was a little harder to track down the SanCophaLeague’s exact image, which I first found on Pinterest. I figure it’s got to come from them since their name is all over it, but even Tineye Reverse Image Search didn’t turn it up. In any case, Thank you!

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.

Valentines and Love

By Jan S. Gephardt

Valentines and love are pretty inextricably bound together in our contemporary culture. But that connection wasn’t always understood in the same way. This post is part of a series of looks at holidays that have periodically appeared on “Artdog Adventures” and “The Weird Blog.” It will go live the day after Valentine’s Day, so it seems like a good time to consider the holiday.

Contemporary practices bear little relation to the third-century saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Its origin may lie in a few lines of poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer. Others link the traditions to the Roman festival of Lupercalia or the troubadours of the late Middle Ages.

Troubadours sang songs about love. But many marriages among the upper classes of that period were matches made for political advantage. Marriages usually were arranged between powerful families when the girls, and often also the boys, were small children. If love had anything to do with it, it was a side benefit, developing later.

However (and however many times) it began, the February 14 date became linked in North European cultural imaginations with a celebration of mate-finding. Observations persisted and evolved through the unfolding centuries. Valentines and love became more firmly linked as time went on.

A colored etching made in 1870 envisioned a wedding by two young teens in the later Middle Ages. The bridegroom wears a fur-trimmed red tunic with a light colored cloak. The bride wears a light gray gown with a dark yellow cloak. Three brown-robed monks attend the ceremony (one officiating), while a crowd of others looks on.
A Victorian (1870) etching of a Medieval marriage in a stone cathedral between two, very young people. (See credits below).

What Kind of Love is This?

That Valentine’s Day ideal of marital love – or at least of couples’ love –became more firmly linked in the last three centuries or so. During the Victorian era the tradition of making poems and cards for a loved one (or “vinegar Valentines” designed as put-downs) flourished.

By the time I finished high school in 1972, Valentines and (always heterosexual) love had long since been permanently linked with romance and marriage. But meanwhile the institution of marriage went through a lot of turmoil and cultural change. At my high school in a small town, “catching a husband” by getting pregnant was still a thing. Until a Planned Parenthood came to a nearby city, girls had to ask their parents to get them a prescription if they wanted to use “The Pill.” I don’t know of anyone who had the guts to ask.

The linkage of love and marriage that we were fed by popular culture when I was growing up held that once you were married, you’d found your “happily ever after.” Marriage was supposedly the magic key to “legal sex” and a happy life. But the institution was far from a straightforward thing when, for many of us, the legal line between partner and property (or at least second-class citizenship) remained blurry.

And then several waves of our parents’ marriages started coming apart at the seams after the divorce laws changed. The economy changed, too, and within a decade more and more women were commonly expected to work outside the home.

Top: “open” and “closed” views of an 1863 Civil War Valentine. The tent’s flaps open to reveal a soldier composing a love letter while envisioning his beloved. Bottom: A German card from around 1900 opens into a 3-dimensional train. Photos from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, via the New York Times.
As a paper sculptor, I had a grand time looking at these early 3D Valentines. (See credits below).

Valentines and Love and Spending Money

I finished college, taught for a couple of years, and then married my longtime boyfriend. By then it had become the “new reality” that a middle-class family needed two incomes to make ends meet. The income from the “wife’s job” somewhat made up for the fact that all salaries were falling ever-farther behind the cost of living.

But now we needed an ever-growing number of appliances and gadgets to help make up for not having a full-time stay-at-home person to cook, clean, and supply child care. A woman couldn’t do all of that the way her mother had, and also work full-time (the husband, help with housework? What??). Working Americans became ever more voracious consumers of nearly everything, from ready-made clothing to microwave ovens. Corollary to that evolution, Valentines Day became ever more expensive. Our contemporary focus on buying expensive gifts for our loved one has roots planted firmly in the United States (you’re welcome, World).

It’s become one of our biggest shopping days. Valentine’s Day spending in the US hit $23.9 billion (yes, that’s billion-with-a-B) in 2022. Every year we see articles on how to have a heartfelt Valentine’s Day without spending lots of money, but for many of us, Valentines and love mean spending big bucks, whether we have them or not.

Clockwise from upper left: An arrangement of roses, hydrangeas, and tulips form a backdrop for the words “Valentine’s Day Special;” a heart-shaped box’s lid, which is printed with the words, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” is offset to show a glimpse of the chocolates inside; a jewelry marketer inserted a woman’s diamond-studded engagement and wedding ring into the petals of a red rose; and a restaurant offers a “2023 Valentine’s Dinner” special.
There are so many ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day! Here are four favorites. (See credits below).

Whose Love “Counts”?

Up till now, we’ve focused on North European and American ideas about Valentines and love that are pretty exclusively heterosexual (And middle-class. And white). But there are billions of people in this world, and Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class heterosexuals make up only a tiny fraction of them. As Valentine’s Day has become more widely celebrated through the world, it has expanded well beyond its original expressions.

Singles who feel left out and demoralized by the holiday live among us. There’s a variety of healthy ways to cope with feelings of being left out, left behind, or erased on Valentine’s Day. Among them are celebrations of familial love, deep friendship, pet love, and more.

But there’s another whole rainbow of love in this world that in my opinion deserves equal treatment, both on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year. Included in their ranks are some of the most amazing, creative, wonderful people I know – and some of the most admirable examples of long-term commitment. Yet they aren’t feeling any love at all from certain conservative legislatures in my country (or from certain governments in others). I mean, of course, the whole range of what we call the LGBTQIA+ community. When we’re talking about Valentines and love, a narrow paradigm that’s stuck in Northern Hemisphere, white, middle-class, heterosexual love falls far too short.

On a black background, three symbolic couple outlines are colored with an underlay of the colors of the Pride Flag. The couple on the left is 2 women, the one in the middle is a man and a woman, and the one on the right is 2 men. Image from tenor.com.
If we’re going to celebrate love, let’s include all the love! (See credits below).

Love is More than Valentines

When all is said and done, Valentine’s Day is only one day. It’s an annual opportunity to think about and value all the love that’s in your life. A day to reach out and express your love for others. And to receive love from them as well.

Too much focus on how much you spend, what gift(s) you were (or were not) given, or how someone made you feel rejected, is a warning that your perspective needs work. But working on your perspective is a worthy use of your time on Valentine’s Day.

Because self-reflection is a form of self-care. Dare I say it, of self-love. And until your core self is secure in the knowledge that you are a person of value who deserves love (which you are, and you do), you can’t truly love anyone else. So start with healthy self-love – then look outward.

Otherwise, any external show of Valentines and love just rings hollow.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the 19th century visualization of the medieval wedding. A scan by Laura Valentine of the book Aunt Louisa’s Nursery Favourite yielded the engraving, created 1 January 1870.

Thanks also to my friend, the author Rob Chilson, who called my attention to the New York Times article that featured the 19th century Valentines. The article discusses a collection from the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. It yielded the two 3D Valentine pictures.

I owe thanks to four different sources for the montage of ways to spend money on Valentine’s Day: Freshest Flowers of Haddon Heights, NJ for their “Valentine’s Day Special” graphic. Wilson Candies of Jeanette, PA, for the photo of their “Valentine’s Day” 8oz. Milk Chocolate Variety Heart Box. The Dallas Morning News for the photo from Blue Nile. It shows a Blue Nile Studio French Pavé Asscher-Cut diamond eternity ring in platinum with a Bella Vaughan for Blue Nile Grandeur Cushion Halo diamond engagement ring in platinum. And finally North Corner Haven restaurant in Lancaster, SC for their Valentine’s Dinner promo.

The “Love is Love” image is a screen-grab of an animated GIF available from Tenor. Thanks also to them!

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights among a drift of sparkly red confetti.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

By Jan S. Gephardt

I hope you’ll enjoy something a little different for today’s blog post, Berwyn’s Solstice Story. This post goes live on the exact day of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere where this blog, Artdog Studio, and Weird Sisters Publishing are based. So it seemed an appropriate time to share it.

This excerpt comes near the end of A Bone to Pick, the second novel of my science fiction mystery XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. It is ©2021-22 by Jan S. Gephardt (aka: Me), so please don’t borrow it without attribution or claim it as your own work! Fair warning: I have edited it slightly from the book version in a few places. I did it to make a few references clearer and take out a couple of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.

The viewpoint character is the Trilogy’s protagonist, Rex Dieter-Nell. He is an XK9, an uplifted (human-level intelligence) police dog. He, his Pack of nine other XK9s, and their human (detective) partners live on a large space station in another star system from ours, several hundred years in the future. It’s their job to track down the mass murderers who blew up a ship that had been docked in their jurisdiction’s part of the Rana Station space docks.

XK9 Pack portrait “Head Shot” illustrations for Razor, Shady, and Rex – the three XK9s in this story. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.
I don’t (yet) have appropriate portraits to share of the three humans who play a part in this scene. The three XK9s in this sequence are (L-R): Razor, Shady, and Rex. Artwork ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk.

Setting the Scene

This excerpt takes place in the specialized clinic that fulfills the Pack members’ health care needs. At this point in the story, we’ve had some wounded in action. I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I hope you’ll enjoy Berwyn’s Solstice Story:

The retreat room was small, narrow, and pretty much maxed out, once three humans and three XK9s had squeezed themselves inside. Humans Berwyn, Shiv, and Liz all smiled a greeting, while Razor wagged his tail.

“Rex. Shady. Wow,” Berwyn said. “Would you like to observe the Solstice with us?”

“We came to wait with you,” Rex said.

“Then please join us. I was explaining to the others . . . What do you know about Solstice?”

“It is an astronomical phenomenon observable on many planets,” Rex said. “If there are seasonal variations in the length of daylight and darkness, then the longest and shortest days are solstices, and the days which are divided equally between darkness and light are equinoxes.”

Berwyn’s smile held a trace of sadness. “You sound like Cinnamon, when I first explained it to her.”

“We all attended the same planetary astronomy class,” Shady said.

“Well, let me tell you about the way my Family observes the Solstice.” He gestured toward a low table in the center of the room. Someone had placed a lighted, mostly-burned candle on it, next to a tall, new, unburned one.

Both appeared to be the same brownish-dark-gray tone to Rex. Humans probably saw them as one of the colors XK9s couldn’t distinguish, such as red or green. Between them, a small case pad ticked a silent countdown.

“The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. The words appear against a black background. At lower left, a single red candle burns in a darkened environment sprinkled with small red holiday lights  among a drift of sparkly red confetti.
Candle image is courtesy of Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice.” Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Berwyn’s Solstice Story

“My Family follows an ancient tradition that observed these variations on Mother Earth and found spiritual meaning in them. The shortest day—the longest darkness—takes place in a cold season there, when everything lies fallow. In the earliest ages, it was a time of privation, often of hunger, of death. A sort of nadir for the year.” Berwyn stared at the flickering candle flame for a moment. “This year, I’ve been able to very personally relate.”

“Oh, man, I hear you!” Liz’s eyes brimmed with tears. She reached over to squeeze Berwyn’s shoulder. Shiv clasped Berwyn’s hand. He did not speak, but he looked almost as haggard as Berwyn and Liz.

Rex’s throat tightened. Having almost lost his partner Charlie just a few weeks ago, he thought he understood some of what they must feel. Shady nuzzled him.

“But at the end of every ‘longest dark,’ the light begins to return,” Berwyn said. “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.”

He looked at Liz, Razor and Rex. “We will heal and grow stronger.”

He met Shady’s eyes. “We will rise again to new heights.”

He turned to Shiv. “Unexpected new things may . . . may dare to take root.” The fearful hope in both men’s faces and scent factors filled Rex’s heart with empathic, joyful yearning and set Shady’s tail to thumping.

Berwyn drew in a breath. “Oh. It’s already later than I thought. In my Family, it’s our tradition to extinguish the old year’s candle at 23:50, which is .… now.” He blew out the candle.

“We extinguish the old year’s candle . . . Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in “A Bone to Pick” ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. Smoke from a blown-out red candle at lower left drifts upward and to the right on a black background.
Candle photo by Vit Krajicek/123rf. Words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Darkness

The Retreat room went pitch dark.

“Our tradition is to banish distractions, sit in silence, and let our minds find a centering peace.”

No one answered. Six hearts beat quietly, although at different rhythms. Six presences breathed in and out. Rex noted that more than one ran a breathing pattern of the sort he’d learned from Charlie. Liz shifted in her seat. An itch prickled along his right shoulder blade. He lifted a hind paw to scratch it, then refrained. Stilled himself. The itch burned a moment or two longer, then died.

They abided in silence.

Gradually, their breathing fell into a common rhythm. Their heartbeats slowly synchronized, too. The humans couldn’t consciously hear it, but somehow they also attuned.

A deep calmness and peace fell over Rex. A sense of oneness with his companions, and of resting after strife. He abided in the moment, content.

Soft bells chimed. They grew louder, a building carillon. They crescendoed into joyous, triumphant peals. The bells seemed to say, Darkness is banished. Light will prevail. Things will get better! Rejoice!

The sound broke over him, balm for his heart. Light and hope for his mind and spirit.

A scratch and a flare of flame. Sharp bite of burning struck his nose. Berwyn lit the new candle, then touched his case pad. The bells faded out. “Nadir has passed. The light is returning.”

On a black background, the words read: “It starts at that very moment when darkness and cold seem to conquer the world. The light comes back. The warmth begins to grow. New hope rises up, and the faith that things will get better.” – From “Berwyn’s Solstice Story,” in A Bone to Pick ©2021 by Jan S. Gephardt. At right, a tall new red taper candle burns in darkness.
The taper candle image is courtesy of Stone Candles. The words & design are ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt.

Nadir has Passed

“The light is returning,” Shiv murmured.

Berwyn straightened. “The light is returning, indeed.” He sat back with a sigh and a smile. “Thank you. Thank you, all of you. I thought I’d be doing this alone.” His dark eyes glistened with excess moisture.

Shiv shook his head. Gave Berwyn’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Not alone. Not tonight.”

“I know I needed to be here,” Liz said. “Thank you. Thank you for sharing this with us.”

Razor dipped his head. “Very much. That was amazing.”

Berwyn’s gaze swept the room. “Solstice blessings abound.”

I sincerely hope you enjoyed Berwyn’s Solstice Story. If it has sparked your interest in learning more about the series, click this link. For more about A Bone to Pick, click the link in the title.

If you’d like to read more short fiction about the XK9s and their people, you might enjoy a FREE subscription to my monthly Newsletter. Signing up for the Newsletter also scores you a FREE ebook copy of my prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear. In case you’re wondering – no, the Trilogy’s not done yet, and yes – I’m writing as fast as I can! Bone of Contention is scheduled for publication in September 2023.

Two visualizations of “A Bone to Pick” by Jan S. Gephardt: at left the ebook cover is shown on a tablet. At right “A Bone to Pick” is visualized as a fat trade paperback. Below the two pictures a line of type reads: “Cover art ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.
This story is an excerpt ©2021-2022 by Jan S. Gephardt from her novel A Bone to Pick. It’s the second book of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The cover artwork is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.

IMAGE CREDITS

I have a lot of people to thank for the images in this post. First of all to my dear friend and frequent illustration source, Lucy A. Synk, I want to lift up a hearty “thank you!” If you’d like to see more of her amazing artwork, check out her website and her Facebook page!

Likewise, I want to thank another longtime friend, Jody A. Lee, who does such a stellar job on the cover art for the “Bones” Trilogy. That’s her work on A Bone to Pick. You also might enjoy her website, Facebook page, and (while there’s still a Twitter) her Twitter feed.

The other sources are considerably more varied. I’ve credited them in the cutlines under the pictures, but here’s a rundown, for the record. Much gratitude to Paula Onysko’s blog post “Light a Candle Ritual for Winter Solstice,” for the candle photo used in the first candle picture with the opening quote from Berwyn’s Solstice Story. You also might enjoy reading Paula’s suggestions for a different kind of solstice candle ritual.

Deepest thanks to Vit Krajicek and 123rf for the evocative photo of the smoke from the blown-out candle in the second from that sequence. And I also thank Stone Candles for their photo of one of their beautiful red taper candles, used in the third candle-with-quote image. I deeply appreciate all!

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy

Gratitude isn’t only for one day

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. As I noted in my last post, it’s supposed to be a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. My purpose today is to make the point that gratitude isn’t only for one day a year. It’s better understood as a lifestyle.

It’s my lived experience that when one looks at the world with gratefulness, it’s easier to see the blessings that fill our lives. Even when our lives are hard. Maybe especially when they’re hard. And yes, this marks me as an optimist by nature.

I recognize that pessimists have an important place in the grand scheme of things. They do seem naturally better-suited for some essential roles in society. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily fun or easy to go through life as one. And it doesn’t mean that the pessimists in the world don’t need us optimists around. If they’ll accept it, we can give them necessary balance when they start going totally sour on everything (as is their natural bent).

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw
Balance in life and human society requires both! (Many thanks to Quotefancy).

Are We Wise Enough to See It?

An important part of bringing that balance into one’s perspective is a key awareness. NO human is a totally “self-made” person. That “self-made” poppycock is a self-aggrandizing fallacy. It flies in the face of human nature because we are a social species. Our primary survival mechanism is gathering into interdependent groups. All of us, no matter how independent-minded and  contrary, must depend on others in many ways and for many things.

Maybe our families bestowed riches, education, and advantage on us. Or maybe they did just the opposite. Whatever our history and personal level of success, we all have received favor and grace somewhere along the line from someone. From society’s basic infrastructure, if nothing else! If we are wise enough, we recognize that.

And if we recognize it, honesty demands that we be grateful for it. Gratitude isn’t a show of weakness – it’s an acknowledgement that our species’ greatest survival skill is active in our lives. That’s why I contend that gratitude isn’t only for one day (for instance, Thanksgiving. Or perhaps the day after Christmas. Or some moment when we can’t escape the obligation to write a thank-you note). Gratitude isn’t only for one season. It isn’t only for one year, or any other finite period. Properly understood, it’s perpetual.

"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Maybe not a law of nature, but certainly a law of human psychology. (Courtesy of Wow4u).

Seven Days of Gratitude

Back in 2017 I wrote a series of seven blog posts in a row. I posted one right after another on seven successive days. They were my response to a self-challenge to think about the things I was most grateful for. Now, as I just pointed out, if gratitude isn’t only for one day – and it isn’t only for seven.

But that exercise provided a learning experience. Several patterns of thought emerged. Had I pushed the experiment further, I’m sure I would have discovered more. But even though I clearly had lots more time to write blog posts back then, there were limits.

What themes did I choose for my Seven Days of Gratitude? They covered quite a range, from the personal to the broadly institutional. Considering them from that perspective, let’s take a quick look. Are these things you would have chosen?

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” — Brian Tracy
Don’t just take my word for it. The lives of the grateful are richer in every way. (Thanks again, Quotefancy!)

Gratitude for Personal Things

As I said, some of the things I was (and am) thankful for were personal. Take for instance my family (that was Day Two’s topic). Cliché, much? Yes, “I’m grateful for my family” is basic elementary-school essay fodder, but that doesn’t rob it of validity for many of us. Some people’s families are real-life horror shows, but most of us regard our near kin more kindly. How do you feel about yours?

Another important point of gratitude for me was the companion animals in my life. In genuine ways they also are family. Pack is Family, after all! Even though I didn’t bring them up as a topic till Day Six, they are an active force that makes my life better. This blog is so pet-friendly, that won’t surprise you. Since pet-related posts often get more traffic, if you’re reading this post you probably feel much the same!

One “gratitude topic” that isn’t in the lineup of “usual suspect” clichés was another deeply personal one. I expressed gratitude for my callings. That is, for the things I do well and that give my life meaning and purpose. I believe that each of us comes into the world with a unique suite of abilities and predispositions. When we find ways to develop and express those “best things” in our lives, everyone in our lives benefits in some way. It is a supremely satisfying “fit,” even when it’s also a lot of work. What are your callings? How do you express them?

This montage consists of three quote-images. The one on the left says, “Gratitude: Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless. Your health is wealth. Your time is gold.” – One Bite Wisdom. The middle one reads, “I am thankful for my pets because they complete my family.” – Anonymous. The one on the right says, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia.
How do these things work in your life? Do you see them as blessings? (See credits below).

Gratitude for Broader-Based Gifts: Food Security

Gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for one “level” of blessings. When I looked beyond my personal existence, I found yet more things to be grateful for. I’m privileged to be able to claim some of them. Take food security, for instance!

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in September that more than one in five Americans has experienced food insecurity this year. One in five! In the country that is the richest nation in the world! And speaking of “in the world,” we’ve got a global food crisis on our hands. So, if food insecurity is not one of your clear and pressing worries, you have a very great deal to be thankful for!

Those of us blessed with food security should lift up a hearty “thank you!” And then why not look into Charity Navigator’s excellent guide to giving opportunities that fight hunger? But for a few twists of fate, we could be among those on the “hungry” side of the line!

“Before you eat food or drink water, look at what you’re about to eat or drink and feel love and gratitude. Make sure your conversations are positive when you are sitting down to a meal.” — Rhonda Byrne
An excellent place to start! But don’t stop there. (Quotefancy comes through for me again!).

Yet more Societal Gifts: Peace

Number Three on my 2017 list was Peace. Yes, we’ve all seen the clichés and memes about “whirled peas” and beauty pageant candidates claiming they’re all in for world peace. But gratitude isn’t only for one day, and it isn’t only for my small part of the world. Anytime we feel blasé about peace, we need to remember what’s actually going on in the world.

What would Somali farmers say about peace in their part of the world? How would Palestinian or Syrian children (whether refugees or not) feel, if they could grow up in peaceful neighborhoods? Or schoolgirls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan? How would Rohingya refugees feel about the ability to live quietly in peace? Or, of course, the Ukrainian people spending this winter huddling in what’s left of their cold, dark homes?

And let us not forget violence in our own country. The murder rate in my hometown of Kansas City is nothing short of blood-drenched, although (for now) my little neighborhood is relatively quiet. We “only” hear gunfire once in a while (last night, for example), and usually a fair number of blocks away. No, I don’t take peace for granted at all, and neither should anybody! You bet I’m grateful!

“My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.” — Anton Chekhov
Freedom from violence makes all our dreams more possible. (What would I do without you, Quotefancy?)

But Wait! There’s More!

The last two items on my “Grateful” list deserve at least one separate blog post, so I’ll mention them only as a preview of future (and a reminder of past) posts. Kind of an “alpha and omega” for my thank-you roundup, the very first item on my list was freedom of religion, a topic I’ve already written about several times, including in my 2020 series on the First Amendment, and in a 2019 post about violence against places of worship.

The “omega,” but far from the least important on my list? Gratitude for the arts. I’m a writer and artist. My career history includes work as an art and writing teacher, a graphic designer, a journalist, and an art agent, among other arts-related work. I come from an artistic family (for one, my sister and publishing partner is the Director of Concert Operations for The Dallas Winds, as followers of this blog may recall).

My whole LIFE has been about, and suffused with, the arts. They have not only sustained me as the source of my most meaningful work, however. The amazing thing about the arts is that they can touch any human life with a near-miraculous gift of grace. They have lifted our spirits in times of dire darkness, helped us find meaning, and opened untold wonder for untold numbers of people. So I’d be pretty darned ungrateful to leave them off of my list!

The quote on the left says, "Religious freedom should work two ways: we should be free to practice the religion of our choice, but we must also be free from having someone else's religion practiced on us." — John Irving. The one on the right says, "Art gives its vision to beauty not always recognized. And it surrenders freely -- whatever power it possesses to every sincere soul that seeks it. But above all else--it presents us with the gift of ourselves." — Aberjhani
Gratitude for these blessings brings richness and joy to our lives. (Double thanks to PictureQuotes; see credits below).

So, then. That’s my list. And while gratitude isn’t only for one day, it also isn’t only for one person’s list. What’s on yours? Can you find seven things to be grateful for? Share in the comments if you wish. But more important by far is to recognize them. Cherish them. And do your best to spread the gratitude you feel into the world around you.

IMAGE CREDITS

And now for more gratitude! First of all WOW, Quotefancy! This blog post wouldn’t be the same without my access to your trove of image-quotes. See the individual credit lines in the captions for the four different, but highly appropriate, quotations from this resource. Thank you very much! I also owe a double debt of gratitude to PictureQuotes for the two images used in the final montage. They provided both John Irving’s words on religious freedom and those of Aberjhani on art.

To the rest of my image sources, I also am grateful to you! Many thanks to Wow4u, for the Oprah Winfrey quote-image. And three hearty “thank you!” shout-outs to One Bite Wisdom on Pinterest, Quotesgram, and Biblereasons. I loved being able to find the component quotes that I used to build the three-part personal gratitude montage. I appreciate all of you!

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family, representing a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma, through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.

A Genuine American Thanksgiving

By Jan S. Gephardt

Here in the United States, it’s time for another celebration of our national Thanksgiving holiday. Today is supposedly a time to reflect upon the blessings in our lives and be grateful. But if you want the honest truth, that’s not what most Americans do. Forget Norman Rockwell. What does a Genuine American Thanksgiving look like today?

Americans being Americans, the holiday’s origins and purpose, as well as myths surrounding its traditions, are pretty murky. Digging deeply into its actually-rather-convoluted history Is dangerous if you have staked your identity on idealistic innocence and self-serving myths.

This detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Freedom from want” painting shows Grandma setting a beautifully-roasted turkey into place at the head of a bountiful Thanksgiving table. A smiling and happy white family represents a wide variety of ages from the patriarch next to Grandma through a range of adults and children, down to a little blonde girl of about six.
Here’s a detail from Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943, one of four in the artist’s “Four Freedoms” Series. I can’t help noticing how predominantly white everything is, from the tablecloth and plates through the people. (Image courtesy of Artsper Magazine).

A little Thanksgiving Mythology

No, I’m not going to launch into a history lesson. Others have been there before me, including the article I cited above. As for me, I was stuffed full of all the traditional myths when I went to elementary school in Rolla, Missouri in the 1960s. The Pilgrims and the Indians. The happy story about two groups of unlike people coming together over shared bounty. All of it.

I made “handprint turkeys” and cut out Pilgrim hats from construction paper. I participated in a Thanksgiving play, for which my mother was supposed to make me an “Indian squaw” costume (on a day’s notice). I believe I probably had checked off all the cliché-boxes of “Genuine American Thanksgiving Mythology for Entitled Little White Kids” before I hit the ripe old age of nine.

But when I look at the holiday from any point of view other than one of white privilege, it’s easy to see that BS for what it really is. The holiday’s evolution is a triumph of that evergreen-and-currently-faddish American pastime, promoting “revisionist” (more properly “negationist”) history. I would like to hope that by now most of us understand whitewashing the past like that is an extremely problematical aspect of the holiday.

I would like to hope that, but I know better. Because that whole mythology is still an “inerrant truth” of a Genuine American Thanksgiving for a frightening number of white folks.

Above a black-and-white version of Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ white supremacist painting, “The First Thanksgiving, 1621” are the words, “Thanksgiving is a special time to remember all the things we have.” Below it, the words continue: “And forget about the genocide that was committed to get it.”
The painting parodied in this meme is Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ The First Thanksgiving, 1621. It was painted in 1912 during an era of rising white supremacy. Many thanks to Reddit for the image.

Genuine American Thanksgiving Food Hypocrisy

We Americans famously subvert the meaning of what we’re supposed to be celebrating on Thanksgiving. Even in my own family, people often seem to feel that the idea of actually talking about what we’re thankful for as a part of grace before the meal is somehow too “cutesy” or “cringy.” Perhaps these normally-liberal people think it would be “virtue signaling”? Whatever, the few times I’ve tried to entertain the thought I’ve been shot down (and not only by the kids when they were teenagers).

Instead, we (as a family and also as a nation) have often turned our Genuine American Thanksgiving into a festival of gluttony. When feelings will be hurt if everyone doesn’t try at least a little bit of everything, the pressure is on. It’s reasonable to enjoy a chance to eat well at what is essentially a harvest festival. What part of “party” doesn’t mean eating special foods, drinking festive drinks, and making merry? But in our appearance-obsessed culture being fat is a sin (or at least considered to be in very bad taste).

Unfortunately, the definition of “fat” is in the highly critical eye of the beholder . . . who will then feel free to judge harshly, no matter how much they themselves weigh. Guilt trips lie in wait like hidden landmines for many of us throughout our Genuine American Thanksgiving. And on into the rest of the holiday season, too.

This image is a composite of two memes. One speaks to the issue of fattening side dishes: a picture of a beautifully-staged lasagna with one piece cut out, and the words “If you don’t eat Lasagna on Thanksgiving, you are not Celebrating Properly.” The other shows an enormous table piled high with food. At the top it says: “My Mom:” (indicating all the food). Underneath the picture it says, “Me: But there’s only gonna be 4 people coming.”
Excess is a Thanksgiving tradition, it seems – at least, for those who can afford it. (See credits below).

Family at Thanksgiving

It’s no surprise that Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season can present serious mental health challenges. Traditionally, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes with a heaping side-helping of stress.

In many American families, Thanksgiving is one of only a few times each year that relatives may see each other. Family members who may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from each other don’t have many face-to-face opportunities. But on Thanksgiving they often brave modern air travel, snarled traffic, cataclysmic weather events, and more, simply to get there.

Then they crowd around one table (or perhaps the “adults’ table” and the “kids’ table”) in a cramped, overheated place to eat mass quantities of food. Long-haul travelers may be time-pressured and jet-lagged. The cook/cooks are probably exhausted and high-strung from the pressure of fixing all the fancy stuff so it’s ready and at peak tastiness on time. The smaller kids are probably off-schedule, wound up, and sugar-fueled by treats and snacks.

This image is a composite of three memes. The first on the left is split into a top and bottom picture. The top picture shows the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” on a rampage, bellowing in the rain. The words on it say: “Mom getting ready for Thanksgiving.” In the lower picture we see the T-Rex toy from “Toy Story,” smiling in front of a wallpaper design of fluffy clouds in blue sky. The words on it say: “Mom when people arrive.” In the second meme, a child screams in fear when seven green parrots land on their red hoodie. The caption says, “Me at Thanksgiving with my family.” Around the screaming child are the questions: “What are you doing with your life?” “Did you gain weight?” “You’re drinking? It’s 11 a.m.” “When are you getting married?” “Are you even dating anyone?” and “Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?”
The third image shows a sketch of a young person looking at their smartphone. Above the drawing, it reads, “Happy Thanksgiving to someone checking their phone in the bathroom to escape their family.”
The memes are funny because the pressures are real. (See credits below).

A few Words about Exchanging Words

Emotions are already topsy-turvy, so now it’s time to talk to each other, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong, after that setup? But what can you say? What can you ask? This part can end badly, depending on one’s mental preparation. Expectations of older relatives, based on standards from their youth, may not mesh well with the lived experiences of younger ones. Sibling rivalries and other past disagreements can surface under the stress. Boundaries can get trampled. Tastes may clash. Understandings often fail.

My own family has not been immune to this. For what seemed arbitrary reasons, the younger girl-children of two successive generations fell into disfavor with certain elder relatives. My sister G. S. Norwood endured that treatment when we were in our teens. And a different elder relative inflicted it on my daughter (and on me, the female in-law) in the following generation. Bottom line: you can’t always stop such treatment, but eventually we found ways to work around it.

This composite image consists of two memes. The first uses a Facebook background of laughing yellow emojis with “heart eyes.” It says, “Make sure to bring up politics at Thanksgiving this month to save on Christmas gifts.” The other is a Glenn McCoy cartoon. In the foreground a Native woman and two Pilgrim women clean up the remains of a meal and the dirty dishes. In the background, Native men and Pilgrim men are lined up for a football scrimmage. One of the women speaks to the others, saying “I hope this doesn’t become a 
tradition.”
Politics and football (and mountains of dirty dishes): for many of us, they are inescapable essentials of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. (See credits below).

Politics and Football

In addition to intergenerational strife, Americans today have an incredibly divided political landscape to navigate. Every couple of years, a Genuine American Thanksgiving comes later in the same month as a major election (if you think the mid-terms aren’t “major” you have not been paying attention!). But in recent years a political system that for all practical purposes makes us choose “either or” between two parties has divided us deeply.

That’s not a problem if everyone in the family agrees on the basic tenets of one party. However, that’s rarely the case. What can we do if someone we love is “on the other side”? Psychologists urge us to remember that there are ways to bridge the gap, if both sides are willing to engage.

And if all else fails, perhaps there’s football. Many families have a strong collegiate or NFL football team affiliation. If all else fails, they still can unite over love of their team, or at least love of the sport. Football has become a cherished Thanksgiving tradition in many households. It can even transcend politics – especially if people are looking for “something else, please!” to talk about.

But what if there still remain a few undiscussed aggressions to work off? Why not get rid of them with an informal family scrimmage in the front or back yard during breaks? It’s exercise in the fresh air, and that can’t be bad. It won’t work for all families, but it works for some.

This photo shows a densely-packed crowd on Black Friday. Its caption says, “Black Friday: People trampling over each other for cheap goods mere hours after being thankful for what they already have.”
Best wishes and good success to us all, this Christmas season! (Many thanks for the meme, Bustle!)

Christmas Songs Before Thanksgiving?

Oh, great. Yet another Genuine American Thanksgiving “political” divide! There are those who live all year in eager anticipation of seasonal Christmas music. They seemingly just can’t wait for the chestnuts to start roasting on the open fire. They probably feel secret delight that “even stoplights” to blink a bright red and green. And they yearn to pretend that their snowman is Parson Brown. The rest of us would willingly end them if they start that sh*t as early as Halloween.

But after Thanksgiving, it’s a different story (or a lost cause, depending on how you see it). Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season begins about the minute Thanksgiving ends. Never mind that the day after Thanksgiving is by law Native American Heritage Day (as if Thanksgiving itself weren’t enough of an ethnic insult). But more importantly, everybody knows it’s Black Friday.

Make no mistake about it, from an economic standpoint, the Christmas shopping season is huge for American businesses. Time to break out the jingle bells and go “ho-ho-ho” all the way to the shopping mall (or wherever, depending on what buying opportunity best floats your boat). I’m more of a Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday kind of girl, myself, but some people live for the joy of the Black Friday hunt.

You be you, whatever your plan. That, too, is an important part of a Genuine American Thanksgiving. 😊

IMAGE CREDITS:

Once again, I want to thank Artsper Magazine for the history and detail image for Norman Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, Freedom from want, 1943. Deepest appreciation to Reddit for the meme that lampoons Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ 1912 painting, The First Thanksgiving, 1621. Many thanks for the memes about Thanksgiving food to “Hardcore Italians” on Facebook, and “Bored Panda.”

I appreciate Nate ‘Patchy’ Adams @NateAdams741 on Twitter for the “Mom T-Rex” meme, “Bored Panda” and “tasteslikesarcasm,” @tasteslikesarc on Twitter for the “Family Questions” meme, and Some EE Cards for the “Phone in the Bathroom” image. Thanks yet again to Bored Panda for the Facebook-themed politics meme, and to the wonderful Glenn McCoy (in this case via Reddit) for the “Tradition” cartoon. And finally, thank you to “Bustle” for the Black Friday meme.

“One kind word can change someone’s day, year, life.” – Theravive

The Power of Kindness

By Jan S. Gephardt

Our society consistently overlooks the potential of a hugely powerful force that each of us holds within our basic nature. We overlook it – but we also too frequently discount it, disparage it, or make active choices to shut it out. What is this superpower that each of us could grasp but all too often spurn? It’s the power of kindness.

Uh-huh. You see what you did there? If you’re like many of us, your reaction was an underwhelmed, “Oh. Is that all?” Kindness isn’t popularly considered to be sexy (although I can’t recommend it highly enough for intimate connections!). It isn’t loud or flashy. It isn’t normally considered exciting, daring, or edgy, although I could make a case that it’s outrageously daring in today’s world.

November 13 was World Kindness Day, originated 25 years ago by the World Kindness Movement. But from where I sit, the world seemed to pay it little heed. We in the US were too taken up with “who will prevail in the elections?” Or maybe the focus centered on the battle to re-take Kherson. Some of us never lifted our head up to see beyond our own struggles, yearnings, or rivalries.

That’s all too often how we act. We elbow kindness aside with an attitude of “yeah, right, whatever. Weak!” But if we do that, we’re wrong. Kindness, at its base, is rooted in love. And although we may see our world as harsh and loveless (it all too often is), there are few things more powerful in human life than love – the source that fuels the power of kindness.

In honor of World Kindness Day, author Jan S. Gephardt writes about the power of kindness to be a source of positive change.
Many thanks for this image, AZ Quotes!

The Power of Kindness to Friends

Each of us needs to stop from time to time and ask: What kind of friend am I? Am I the kind of friend I would want to have in my life? Some of us display a regrettable tendency to seek out only people who we think can do things for us. We may be attracted to folks who are funny or popular, but we only stick around as long as they entertain us or give us something.

A person whose strategy is essentially to collect lots of acquaintances but withhold their real self is a fool to think they have lots of friends. What they have are lots of acquaintances with few meaningful attachments. Those relationships are transactional at their root and easily severed. Our overall well-being depends on the quality of our friendships (the depth, much more than the number). But many of us fail to regularly nurture those connections with regular attention, love, and empathy. We fail to remember the power of kindness.

Deep, lasting friendships require time and attention. Sometimes we need to step up and do more giving than receiving, while other times we must let down our guard and dare to show a vulnerability. A while back my sister wrote a blog post about “Stuff that Works.” That is, things in our lives that are dependable and durable. Her post mainly discussed things, but as friends our most rewarding role is to be an essential part of the “stuff that works” in the lives of our friends. The power of kindness runs bedrock-deep in the best and most meaningful friendships.

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.” — Sophocles
Much gratitude for this quote-image, Quotefancy!

The Power of Kindness to Strangers

We meet many strangers – and we tend to make snap evaluations. Our assumptions tend to “otherize” strangers. It’s the same process we use when we mentally divide ourselves against “enemies.” But how often do we see them as individuals in need of kindness? A smile, a helping hand with dropped things, a little kindness when you realize someone is struggling—that can make a person’s day. It’s a good practice to look at others and try to really see them. That requires not being totally self absorbed, which is the first step to unlocking the power of kindness.

A moment leaps to mind: British TV anchor Tom Bradby interviewed Meghan Markle in 2019. Perhaps tuned in with the fine-honed empathy that helps an interviewer bring out the unexpected, he asked how she was doing. “Thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m OK,” she replied. She’s rich. She’s famous. But she also was still a newlywed, a brand-new mother, and she had been the brunt of brutal, unrelenting, public criticism. In short, wealth and fame didn’t shield her. She most definitely was not okay.

Do we routinely thank people who perform services for us? The checkout clerk, the UPS guy, the people who pick up your trash, or any of a hundred others: Sure, they’re just doing their job. But they’re doing it faithfully, delivering good service for low pay and few perks. In a world where nearly everyone is rude, impatient and entitled, just doing that every day takes courage. We never know what our appreciation and kindness might mean to someone else. But we do know that everyone needs the power of kindness in their lives.

“One kind word can change someone’s day, year, life.” – Theravive
Many thanks to Theravive @theravive on Twitter.

The Power of Kindness to Ourselves

Who’s the one person we most often find ourselves criticizing, sniping at with snide remarks, or berating mercilessly? For all too many of us, that’s the bulk of our self-talk. What kind of inner life is buoyed up by such reflections? We may think we’re exhorting ourselves to greater accomplishments . . . but all too often we’re tearing ourselves down by mindlessly repeating cruel things others have said to us in vulnerable moments.

Occasionally a friend will say something self-destructive of that type. My response is always, “Don’t you talk to my good friend like that!”

And no. That is NOT “going too easy” on ourselves. No matter who told us that, they were dead wrong. Destructive, unkind and ugly self-talk can be the most destructive of all. We – ALL of us –need kindness. That goes double for our tender inner selves. Rule of thumb: if it’s not something you would say to a good friend whom you respect and cherish, then don’t say it to yourself!

We must learn to re-script those inner messages until they are affirmations of strength. That’s the only real way to free ourselves from crippling doubt. Only then can we give ourselves license to achieve greater things. The power of kindness is never a weakness.

“So why is self-compassion a more effective motivator than self-criticism? Because its driving force is love, not fear.” – Kristin Neff

Many thanks for this quote-image to Patricia Morgan’s Solutions for Resilience (pro tip: the article it came from is well worth reading, too!).

What if We Made Every Day Our “World Kindness Day”?

I hope by now I’ve made my point that the power of kindness can be transformative. It can make the world a better place. Not everywhere at once, maybe. Whether or not we treat those around us with kindness, we’re not going to convince Vladimir Putin to do the right thing. But we will at least be helping to make our own corner of the world a better place.

Showing kindness is a habit of mind. Imagine what could happen if more of us cultivated it! What kind of a world would it be if all of us made patience and compassion a practice? What if we always thanked people when they gave good service? And what if we asked them please, rather than demanding things?

When we’re online, what if we all chose the power of kindness? We would check the facts behind outrageous assertions. We would think twice before we typed in a hateful or disparaging comment. I’ve found that when I consistently delete, hide, or report nasty comments on my feed, my online world is gentler and kinder. Isn’t that a better environment to be surrounded by?

I’ firmly convinced. If enough of us demonstrate empathy and kindness foremost in our lives, then the power of kindness really will change the world.

IMAGE CREDITS

Kindness and fair play demand that we give credit where it’s due! Therefore, I wish to thank AZ Quotes, Quotefancy, Theravive, and Patricia Morgan’s Solutions for Resilience for the quote-images that added such beauty and wisdom to this week’s post!

Seven photos illustrate Juneteenth celebrations in Texas during the period around 1900-1913.

Juneteenth

By G. S. Norwood

This past weekend America celebrated a new federal holiday called Juneteenth. It has been a holiday—official and unofficial—in Texas for a long time, and those celebrations have slowly spread to other states across our nation, but June 19, 2022, was only the second time the whole country had the opportunity to celebrate the day when human enslavement was finally banished from our shores. Which seems like an excellent thing to celebrate, don’t you think?

A Bit of Juneteenth History

Juneteenth commemorates the day that United States Army General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston Bay with 4,000 mostly Black troops and an official declaration that slavery had been abolished. Black Americans were forever free. He arrived two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Travel was slow in the United States back then. Communication even slower. The pinheaded white supremacist plantation owners of Texas knew about emancipation, but refused to share the news with the people they held in slavery. White Texans had sided with the Confederacy because they enjoyed great financial benefits from using enforced, unpaid labor. And—still licking their wounds from their defeat in the Civil War—they just simply didn’t wanna give Black people their freedom.

You think today’s Trumpist Republicans are sore losers? Post-Civil War Confederates could have taught them a thing or two about the adamant refusal to accept reality. But once General Granger brought the news to Texas, Black people didn’t look back.

A detail from the Galveston Daily News issue of June 21, 1865 published General Granger’s General Order Number 3, which opens with the line, “The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
When General Granger came to town, the cat was out of the bag. (KVUE).

Community Celebrations

Not that the White power elite of Texas allowed the Black community to celebrate publicly. At least not to begin with. The celebrations started small, within family groups and the small freedmen communities the popped up all across the Lone Star State.

People would gather in parks and churches, in their own back yards or neighborhoods, and do what every American does when celebrating significant events. They brought food and music and friends. They ate and danced and flirted with the people who took their fancy. Reconnected to families, shared stories, and ate some more.

By the mid-twentieth century the celebrations became more widespread and more open. In 1980, the White establishment in the Texas legislature bowed to the inevitable, and made Juneteenth an official state holiday. I first heard of Juneteenth when I moved to Texas in 1985. Within a few years I began to hear of Juneteenth celebrations in Kansas City, St. Louis, and other cities around the country with significant Black populations.

Seven photos illustrate Juneteenth celebrations in Texas during the period around 1900-1913. See the “Image Credits” section for details and identifications.
Seven historic photos from the 1900-1913 period in Texas reflect the variety of early Texas Juneteenth celebrations. (See credits below).

Opal Lee

But the slow spread of Juneteenth celebrations wasn’t enough for Opal Lee, a teacher, historian, philanthropist, and community activist from Fort Worth, Texas. Ms. Lee had already spent many years raising her family, founding a local food bank, and advocating for civil rights. But she felt she ought to do more. So she decided to take a walk.

Specifically, she decided to walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D. C.—a distance of about 1400 miles—to draw attention to the importance of Juneteenth not only to Black Americans, but to ALL Americans. She made that walk in 2.5 mile increments, symbolizing the two and half years between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the day the news finally reached Texas. All along the way she gathered supporters, and signatures on a petition to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Five photos capture moments from Opal Lee’s multi-year campaign to get Juneteenth recognized as a Federal holiday. She succeeded in 2021, when the bill to create the holiday passed Congress and President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 17.
Years of effort for a moment of triumph – and a lasting legacy. (See credits below).

America’s Original Sin

Juneteenth is, after all, the day our nation redeemed the soul it sold in compromises over slavery when our Founding Fathers—all a bunch of White landowners—put together our nation’s Constitution.

Those Founding Fathers got an awful lot of stuff right when they wrote the Constitution. There’s a reason why it’s used as a template for other state and national constitutions all around the world. But they got the whole issue of human enslavement all wrong. Some of them, including George Washington, knew it at the time, although Washington only freed his slaves upon his death. The slaveholding landowners of the southern states and the slave traders of the north refused to budge, however.

Afraid they would lose the whole national experiment in democratic rule before it ever got off the ground, the founders caved. They sold the soul of our nation to form our nation. I guess they figured they’d be able to sort it all out at some later date.

A lithographic print based on a Junius Brutus Stearns painting shows a wheat harvest in progress at Mt. Vernon. Enslaved African-Americans labor in the background, while white children play in the lower left corner and George Washington is portrayed talking with another white man in the lower right.
This lithograph ca. 1853, The Life of George Washington: The Farmer is based on a painting by Junius Brutus Stearns. (See credits below).

Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom for All

Maybe 2022 is a bit later than even the founders figured on, but here we are, still sorting out our nation’s attitudes toward race, and determining for the next generation whether we really mean all those lofty promises about freedom and equality for all. Opal Lee, now 95, believes the adoption of Juneteenth as a national holiday is a step in the right direction. “Juneteenth is freedom, but we are not free until all of us are free,” Lee said this past Saturday, as she stepped out on yet another 2.5-mile walk. “There’s still work to be done.”

Lee recommends five ways to mark this new-to-White-folks holiday: reflection on our shared history; joyful celebration of the progress we’ve made; respect for the wisdom of our elders through the sharing of their stories; a “jamboree of feasting and fellowship”; and inclusion.

“No matter who you are,” Lee said, “Juneteenth is a unifier that represents freedom.”

A Black man in a red cap with black sunglasses, a pale yellow beard, and a T-shirt emblazoned, “free-ish, Juneteenth Since 1865,” takes the mic during a performance.
In one of a whole collection of wonderful photos from the 2022 Juneteenth celebrations by CNN, Carlton Anderson performs in a Spartanburg SC spoken word event, 6/17/2022. (See credits below).

Editor’s Note

If you enjoyed this post about Juneteenth, you might also enjoy some of G.’s other posts about Texas history and culture. In posts related to her stories Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, you might enjoy her music-history posts The Legend of Robert Johnson and Deep Ellum Blues, the Song.

She and her sister Jan S. Gephardt co-wrote Whose History? But for G’s solo dives into Texas history and culture, see Layers of History and a Darn Good Dog, A Bowl of Red, and Lady Bird and the Wildflowers. For a look at unfolding “contemporary history” and culture in Texas, see Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster, What are They Thinking? And Is Texas Crazy? We think you’ll come away both enlightened and entertained.

IMAGE CREDITS

We have a lot of people to thank and acknowledge for the imagery that illustrates this post. Many thanks, first of all, to KVUE in Austin, TX. They provided the detail from the Galveston Daily News issue of June 21, 1865. It published General Granger’s General Order Number Three. The other two single images have somewhat more complicated stories.

The Life of George Washington: The Farmer is a colored lithograph created around 1853 by a French lithographer named Régnier and printed by the Parisian printer Lemercier. Enslaved African-Americans labor in the background, while white children play in the lower left corner. George Washington is portrayed talking with another white man in the lower right. It is based on a painting, Washington as a Farmer at Mount Vernon. The painting is part of the“Washington Series,” (1847-1856) by the American painter Junius Brutus Stearns. The image is available via Wikimedia Commons.

One photo from a CNN gallery of wonderful pictures captured during the 2022 Juneteenth celebrations shows a man named Carlton Anderson as he participates in a spoken word event in Spartanburg, SC. CNN credited the photo to Alex Hicks Jr. of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, via the USA Today Network. This one especially caught our art director’s fancy, but the entire collection is well worth a look.

The Early Juneteenth Celebrations

Both montages were assembled and composed by Jan S. Gephardt. When it comes to the historical Juneteenth photos, there is a massive wealth of absolutely wonderful photos. Early Texas celebrations took a variety of expressions. There are especially delightful collections from Austin in 1900 and the Houston/Corpus Christi area in 1913. Public Domain Review is one source for far more wonderful images than we could portray here. You may remember Jan and the Homecoming Mums last February. She faced a similar temptation when it came to the decorated Juneteenth carriages and wagons.

The early Juneteenth photo montage centers on a Grace Murray Stephenson photo of a band that played in Eastwoods Park in Austin, TX, ca. 1900. Others by Stephenson, also apparently were taken at the same event. Clockwise from lower right: a group of Civil War re-enactors; children enjoying refreshments, a picnic table under a canopy, and elders who had formerly been enslaved.

The two sepia-tinged photos of decorated carriages come from two different libraries. At upper left, a photo by George McCuiston shows Daniel N. Leathers Sr. in Corpus Christi TX. The photo comes from the SMU Libraries. A note on the Public Domain Review page (scroll down) tells more about Leathers. “Born in North Carolina in 1855, [he] moved to Corpus Christi and became a successful merchant and was involved in state politics. A public housing development in Corpus Christi named in his honor was destroyed in 2017 to make way for the Harbor Bridge.”

In the lower right, a photo by Schlueter of Houston shows Martha Yates Jones and Pinkie Yates. “The Snow Balls of the Flower Parade, 1908,” posed in their decorated carriage. That one came from the Houston Public Library.

Opal Lee

Opal Lee’s montage opened a similar cornucopia of photo possibilities. Clockwise from lower left, Opal Lee speaks about Juneteenth at Ft. Worth City Hall in 2015. She leads a triumphant crowd on the first Federal holiday of Juneteenth, in Ft. Worth in 2021. Lee is the subject of a montage by MarketWatch in the upper right. Below at right, see part of a 2020 Juneteenth walk in Ft. Worth. Below at center, President Biden hands Lee a pen he used to sign the Juneteenth Federal Holiday into law, on 6/17/2021 in Washington DC. Vice President Kamala Harris stands beside her. Many thanks to all, and happy Juneteenth!

Three scenic views of the stone buildings, water features, and native plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

By G. S. Norwood

It’s March in Texas, and that means wildflowers — specifically bluebonnets. For the next two weeks, roadsides and fields will be covered with our beloved state flower, a hardy lupine that loves rocky soil and early spring sunshine.

Fields of bluebonnets cover the hills of the Texas Hill Country, often peppered with clumps of Indian Paintbrush. People take pictures of themselves, their sweethearts, their babies, and their pets in bluebonnet pastures. Senior citizens who take up painting as a post-retirement hobby love to paint bluebonnet-filled landscapes.

Why are there so many bluebonnets along Texas roadsides? We all credit Lady Bird Johnson and her advocacy of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. But should we? It’s Women’s History Month, so let’s take a closer look.

Two photos of bluebonnet meadows at sunset.
A beautiful Texas sunset provides just the right colors to complement a gorgeous bluebonnet vista. (See credits below).

Lady Bird Johnson

Claudia Alta Taylor was born in the tiny east Texas town of Karnack in 1912, and soon gained the nickname Lady Bird. In 1934 the quiet, diminutive Lady Bird married the very tall, very loud, very ambitious Lyndon Baines Johnson, and a new political power couple was born.

Johnson ruled the United States Senate years before he was named John F. Kennedy’s Vice President. When Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, Johnson was sworn in as President on the plane back to D. C. and Lady Bird became the First Lady of the land.

Elegant, glamorous Jacqueline Kennedy was a hard act to follow when it came to setting the style for the rest of the country, so Lady Bird didn’t bother. Instead, she turned her energy toward something no prior First Lady—including the outspoken Eleanor Roosevelt—had done. She went back to the House and Senate, where Lyndon had wielded so much power, and directly lobbied for the passage of legislation she cared deeply about.

Five black-and-white photos from LBJ’s term as president give a glimpse Lady Bird’s active involvement with government.
Clockwise from top left: The signing of the Highway Beautification Act. LBJ hands Lady Bird one of the signing pens. Lady Bird addresses a conference in May 1965 before the bill was passed. She and Lyndon work with staff on a project in the Oval Office. Lady Bird on the phone at home with Lyndon. (See credits below).

The Highway Beautification Act

As an only child, growing up in rural Texas, Lady Bird had come to love the natural beauty of her native state. On the campaign trail for her husband, she began to see civilization encroaching on that natural beauty in the form of junkyards, billboards, and other roadside eyesores. Prior legislation that set loose, industry-policed guidelines for highway development, was set to expire in 1965. Lady Bird led the campaign for a more complete and permanent solution.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 pushed roadside development back 660 feet from the edge of the road on U.S. and Interstate highways. It mandated fences to hide junkyards and other ugly roadside businesses; set limits on the size and type of billboards allowed along highways; and urged the use of native plants at the highway’s edge. D. C. powerbrokers called it “Lady Bird’s Bill.” Once it passed, Lady Bird became a doggedly persistent advocate for wildflowers and native plants—along the highways, and anywhere else they could be grown in the name of beauty and utility.

Two photos illustrate examples of the visual clutter that used to line US highways and obstruct travelers’ ability to see anything else. Two more photos illustrate contemporary roadsides with wildflowers and more open vistas.
The contrast isn’t always this extreme, but it’s easy to see how profoundly “Lady Bird’s Bill” changed the view once it became law. (See credits below).

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

The Texas Department of Transportation—TxDOT to those of us who know and love it—has been using wildflowers along roadsides for more than 100 years. In 1917, when the policy was to completely clear all roadsides as new roads were built, TxDOT officials noticed that wildflowers and other native plants were the first to reestablish themselves in the cleared areas. These plants helped stabilize the soil, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife. They also required less mowing and watering than other plants, reducing costs. In 1937, after TxDOT hired its first landscape architect, promoting wildflower growth along roadsides became department policy.

Today TxDOT nurtures more than 5,000 species of wildflowers and native grasses along Texas roadways. The department buys and sows 30,000 pounds of wildflower seeds every year. Roadside mowing is prohibited in areas where wildflowers grow, until after the flowers go to seed.

Perhaps Lady Bird’s love of roadside wildflowers grew out of her familiarity with the results of TxDOT’s policy. She certainly would have seen many Texas roads as she and Lyndon campaigned across the state. Maybe her love of bluebonnets spurred her to work so hard for the Highway Beautification Act. Wherever that initial seed came from, it continued to flower after Lady Bird and Lyndon left Washington and returned to Texas.

Two photos show the multiple species and colors of Texas wildflowers.
Texas wildflowers aren’t only about bluebonnets. TxDOT nurtures more than 5,000 species of wildflowers and native grasses along Texas roadways. (See credits below).

The Wildflower Center

Once back on native soil, Lady Bird teamed up with her friend, the actress Helen Hayes, to create the National Wildflower Research Center, headquartered in Austin. “The founding of the National Wildflower Research Center was my way of repaying some of the debt for the delight and sustenance Nature has given me all my life,” Lady Bird said.

While research was important, many people wanted to see wildflowers in garden settings, learn more about how to use them in their own landscape plans, and to simply have a place where they could enjoy a natural setting surrounded by native plants. The research center acquired more land and renamed itself in honor of its founder and greatest cheerleader.

Today, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sits on 237 acres of land just outside Austin. Not only is it the official botanic garden of Texas. It has become part of the University of Texas-Austin, allowing the important research on creating sustainable ecosystems with native plants to continue. Open to the public, it allows tourists, garden enthusiasts, and scientists to happily wander the botanic gardens and snap up bluebonnet earrings, books on creating home gardens, and other souvenirs.

Three scenic views of the stone buildings, water features, and native plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
The buildings and plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center reflect and honor the local native Texas climate. (See credits below).

Just do it!

Has all of this made you hungry for a taste of the great outdoors? There are lots of ways you can enjoy Lady Bird’s beloved wildflowers. TxDOT has a wonderful online brochure with pictures of dozens of native Texas wildflowers you can scroll through. The Wildflower Center is open to the public, but you must purchase tickets in advance.

Better yet, here in Texas, there are many chapters of the Native Plant Society of Texas. Every spring and fall, during planting season, local chapters host native plant sales, so you can bring the wildflower beauty home to your own garden. Native plants aren’t just a Texas thing, though. Other states and nations have native plant advocates too. Find them online or go to your nearest garden center to see if they sell native plants.

Texas offers lots of bluebonnet trails that allow you to take a weekend drive through stunning landscape, and maybe take a few of those bluebonnet pictures yourself. Best of all, you can plant some natives in your garden for the birds and the bees. Enjoy the easy care of plants that evolved for your climate, annual rainfall, and critters. And thank Lady Bird Johnson for raising our awareness of the importance of cultivating native plants in our gardens and in our lives.

Pictures of two-lane roads that run past wildflowers that grow in a colorful carpet all the way up to the roads’ edge.
Bluebonnet trails carry cars full of people through flowery vistas. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Weirdness Manager/Art Director Jan S. Gephardt (who assembled and designed all of the montages)  didn’t think one photo would be enough for any of these illustrations, so we have lots of people to thank this week!

Wonderful Wildflowers

The gorgeous bluebonnet vistas come from Dallas Culture Map (the one where the sun shows) and American Legend Homes (cloudier sunset). Many thanks to both! The wildflower “porn” continues near the end of the post. In the montage of two, multi-species, multicolored meadows, one came from Pixels and Ellie Teramoto (bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush). Thanks for the the multi-species close-up to Southern Botanical.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided their logo. They’re also the ultimate source of the photo of their stone entry building. Jan found that via Tour Texas. She found the picture of the predominantly yellow plantings (also from the Center) via CBS Austin. Texas Highways provided the photo of the Center’s “Garden of Yes.” It’s designed for full-bodied fun by families with small children.

Finally, the bluebonnet trails photos come from Southlake Style (upper left) and 101 Highland Lakes and photographer Mark Stracke (lower right). The Comanche Chief News provided the photo in the background. Many thanks to all!

History in the Making

The photos for the “Lady Bird Politics” collection came from a variety of sources. The full-table photo of the signing of the Highway Beautification Act came from Scenic America. LBJ handing one of the signing pens to Lady Bird came from Texas Highways.

Jan was delighted to find the photo of Lady Bird addressing the White House Conference on Natural Beauty May 25, 1965, via FreightWaves. In the Oval Office photo by Yoichi Okamoto comes from the LBJ Library via Vanity Fair. It shows L-R: Juanita Roberts, Lady Bird, Lyndon, Charles Maguire, and Larry Temple. A New York Times review of Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight provided the White House photo of Lady Bird on the phone.

For the “Before the Highway Beautification Act” photos, we thank Scenic America for the photo of a sign-cluttered commercial strip in Texas. Thanks also to the Colorado Virtual Library for a scene from Missouri. That one looks hauntingly familiar to the Weird Sisters. The somewhat idealized “After the Highway Beautification Act” photos came from two other sources. Stokely Outdoor provided the photo with mountains in the background. New Jersey Conservation gave us the rest stop with wildflowers.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

By Jan S. Gephardt

Around my neck of the woods, it’s the season of “holiday cheer.” But frankly, I’m not seeing a whole bunch of bright, sparkly people out and about, having a real good time. That may partly be because (when I go out at all) I tend to hang out with people smart enough to wear masks. I can’t see their smiles, if they are smiling. If they are, that’s nice. But if they aren’t, that’s all right, too. It’s okay to feel what we feel.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I sought out hopeful stories because I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person. I thought that in the midst of “the COVID-19 winter” (I was assuming there would only be one), finding reasons to stay hopeful was a good idea. It still is. And there are still reasons for hope.

But as we crank up for a second COVID-19 winter, I also want to say that it’s okay to feel what we feel. If you’re “merry and bright,” that’s awesome! Congratulations, and don’t let anybody cast aspersions on your joy!

Truth is, however, a lot of us are having trouble getting there, this year. Me included.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.
An uncredited illustration I found on Medpage Today and used in my December 2020 post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.”

Exhaustion

We can be forgiven for feeling exhausted. Especially those among us in the health care sector have carried far more than a fair share of the burdens that never seem to end. My husband worked in an extremely busy lab until his retirement earlier this year, and my daughter recently secured a certification in health care, so I am “closely adjacent” to that overburdened sector.

To the anti-vaccine holdouts across the USA let me just say: Y’all please get vaxxed and boosted so we can end this thing before it ends all of us. And thank you to everyone else who already did take those measures.

Of her job, ICU Housekeeper Andrea says, “One minute you are important enough. The next minute it is like, no you aren’t that important to get the proper equipment, but you are important enough to clean it for the next patient.”
Quote image from Brookings.

Heavy Burdens for All

I’m not sure how teachers continue to cope, either. Between the historically chronic under-resourcing of time, funding, and facilities, combined with the most bizarre teaching environment in living memory, I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the field. Except, kids need to learn and teachers need to teach. God bless you all.

A teacher from Durant, Oklahoma said, “After 33 years, I just retired. I was already frustrated so much regarding public education and the route it was going. Covid just pushed me over the top.” A teacher from Pauls Valley, Oklahoma said, “I’m seriously considering leaving after 21 years because I’m immunocompromised. My passion or my health? I’m struggling to decide if the risk is worth it.”
Both quotes are from an excellent article in the Tulsa World.

A deadly pestilence has spread everywhere, and it’s ravaging the immune-compromised (and the misinformed) among us to a catastrophic degree. Complications from the seemingly-endless pandemic have snarled our supply chains, spiked inflation, and exacerbated food insecurity.

The exhaustion spreads much farther, of course. Maybe you’re a front-line worker living in daily danger just so our grocery shelves stay stocked, our deliveries get made, or our community services keep working. But you don’t have to be one, to be exhausted. Every single one of us carries heavier burdens these days, and it’s okay to feel what we feel.

"Workers on the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed." - David K. Shipler
From AZ Quotes.

Fear and Division

Meanwhile, one of our major political parties in my country has been taken over by death-cultists, insurrectionists, and white supremacists. It used to be a party of community-oriented, business-centric, mostly-responsible old white men. Now it fields “public servants” like the ones in Missouri who are trying to kill as many school children as possible. That is for sure scary.

So are the unmasked (yes, pun intended) efforts to subvert voting rights and election integrity, in service of keeping a dwindling minority in power. So they can . . . force young women to have babies they can’t support, in the name of the party of . . .  personal liberty?

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” - Hannah Arendt
Quote image courtesy of BukRate.

Oh, yes, and so they can provide a continuing drag on efforts to mitigate climate change. In case we weren’t beleaguered enough already, there is always the existential threat posed by climate-driven superstorms. No one can argue that this month’s historic tornadoes and recent hurricane seasons were “normal. Not scary enough? How about extreme drought and ever-longer wildfire seasons? We’ve now got those, too. “Thanks,” climate-change deniers.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
See credits below.

It’s okay to feel what we feel, because our fear is justified. We can’t allow fear to destroy us, but maybe it can motivate us to push harder for necessary changes.

Grief

God help us, we have plenty of reasons to grieve. As I write this, we’ve had 805,112 COVID deaths in the United States, per the CDC, and 5,384,178 from COVID worldwide, as reported by “Worldometers.” By the time you read this there will have been all too many more. Of course, COVID isn’t the only health issue out there that’s killing people.

Among all the other dangers in the world, we’re also murdering each other at an astonishing rate, especially in the United States, where it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to legally drive a car.

And let us not forget the frightful toll of famine throughout the world. Food insecurity is widespread in the USA, but we’re far from the worst-case scenario. We could be living (or struggling to) in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, and more.

More to Grieve than Deaths

Egregious as they are, all the unnecessary “extra” deaths aren’t the only losses to grieve. We could be fleeing widespread violence and climate disaster, only to be penned up in squalid COVID hotspots at an international border. Or subject to slavery, torture, and genocide in “re-education” camps, at the hands of other authoritarian governments, or in failed states.

We may be climate refugees who’ve had to flee our homes. Or we may have been priced out of homes in our communities. We may have lost our beloved small businesses and personal financial resources during the pandemic. Political tensions and other stresses may have torn our families apart. (Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too).

As long as poverty & hunger is prevalent in any continent or country, then the world at large is never safe.” – Oscar Auliq-Ice
Many thanks to QuotesLyfe.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

Is it any surprise our children are struggling with mental health issues? If we’re honest, most of us are. So seriously. It’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, stepping past denial and letting ourselves feel whatever we truly feel is the first step toward healing.

A reader new to this blog could be forgiven for having started to doubt my earlier claim that “I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person.” This post has been pretty much of a downer. But we can’t successfully fight an enemy if we can’t name it, and we can’t overcome an evil if we can’t describe it. Given the misinformation abroad in the world and in our popular media, identifying the sources of our perils accurately is more of a problem than it should be.

We can’t help how we feel. Bug we can help what we do with how we feel. We must have the courage to face our situation, before we can do anything about it. It’s a vital first step. Only then can we can educate ourselves and start to build a stronger future out of the rubble all around us.

So, it’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, it’s more than “okay.” It’s absolutely essential.

IMAGE CREDITS

I used the first illustration last year in my post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I found the uncredited illustration on Medpage Today. And it really bums me out that it’s appropriate again.

The quote image of Andrea the ICU Housekeeper is from the Brookings article, “Essential but Undervalued,” about the forgotten and underpaid front-line health care workers who keep hospitals running. I wanted to include both quotes from Oklahoma teachers. It was very hard to choose from among 20 insightful teacher-quotes in a Tulsa World article from July 2020. Many thanks to AZ Quotes, for the wisdom of David K. Shipler, and to BukRate for the timeless Hannah Arendt quote.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN (I assembled the image-quote). And finally, I’m indebted to QuotesLyfe for the quote from poet, author, and founder of Icetratt Foundation for Social Investments, Oscar Auliq-Ice. Many thanks to all!

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