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An American Hero – Introducing Justin Bloyd

What are you called to do today? Will you accept the call? Or will you refuse?

There are a million excuses to turn away from the voice within.

  • It makes no logical sense.
  • It will be too hard, maybe even impossible.
  • Who am I to think that I might be able to do that!
  • It’s not the right time.
  • What if I fail?
  • What will my friends and family think?
  • It would change my life.

Conversely, the list of reasons to embrace the desires of your soul is much shorter yet far more compelling.

  • It is my fate.
  • It is my destiny.
  • It is what I am meant to do.

Sleepless in Mentor is the story of one man that was brave enough to take the call. Meet Justin Bloyd.

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It was March 2020, and the United States was shutting down in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Like so many others, Justin Bloyd of RB Sigma was at home, out of work, bored, and binge-watching Netflix. Justin hoped that the virus would quickly pass and that life would resume as normal.

As fate would have it, Justin’s life was about to change in ways he had never imagined.  Justin began receiving calls from people he had worked with within the health care industry. All shared the same concern. Their regular suppliers could not provide enough PPE’s to keep their staff safe. Could Justin help locate supplies? Yes, of course, Justin replied, having no idea how that singular yes would lead to the formation of a medical supply company that employs over 70 people, manufactures masks, and purchases and distributes PPE’s worldwide.

Justin is a consultant that teaches the proven business principles of Lean and Six Sigma to manufacturing companies, health care organizations, and even teachers and students in the Ohio Public Schools. Both systems promote service excellence, efficiency, effective communication, safety, risk management, and much more. The learning process is hands-on and requires all participants to participate in data collection and analysis and implement new approaches based on the findings.

Justin had solid relationships with both the State of Ohio and several healthcare organizations before the pandemic. Additionally, they were aware that Justin had worked with many companies, from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, to market new products. Justin’s understanding of supply chain sourcing was a critical factor in creating successful results for the companies he represented. Both the State of Ohio and the healthcare organizations within were betting on Justin’s past success to help them through their current crisis.

Initially, Justin was asked only to help locate products.  Shortly after that, however, it became clear that someone would also need to warehouse and distribute the supplies. Justin believed the task would be much more challenging to pull off but agreed to take on the role in light of the urgency of the situation. Purchase orders from the State of Ohio and other organizations began to pour in, giving Justin the working capital he needed to get his new business started.

Justin admits that the endeavor was incredibly stressful. Once people became aware of Justin’s new venture, the phone never quit ringing. Others were in desperate need of supplies as well. Justin was committed to helping everyone he could.

There was much to be done quickly. Justin worked around the clock, only stopping to rest on the floor under his desk briefly from time to time. Justin needed more sleep but was often too tired to drive home. The solution was to park his camper behind the building that is now RB Sigma’s home office.

Justin was able to locate and procure over three million PPE’s from China. That was the easy part. Merchandise was transported by truck or train from all corners of the nation to an airport in the Northeast. The timing of the receipt of goods was critical. Customs required that all the items be present within seven days of the arrival of the aircraft. Additionally, the Chinese government required a landing permit that was difficult to obtain. Once, in China, there was only a short window of time to load inventory and depart.

If one could go from point A to point B without hiccups, importing goods from China would be easy. But, the current political climate between the United States and China is tense. As a result, the government of China changes policies daily. Justin recalls that there were roadblocks and setbacks every step of the way. Occasionally Justin thought the task was too hard and felt like giving up. But, he had committed, and he would see it through.

Procuring PPE was just one of Justin’s tasks during the early part of the operation. He needed to locate a building, work with twenty contractors to gut and retrofit it for mask manufacturing, purchase mask-making equipment made in Michigan, find a warehouse to store merchandise and supplies, and hire 38 employees. Additionally, Justin met nearly daily with his attorney to set up his business and work with a web design firm to completely rework his website.

Almost one month after Justin agreed to help, the second-largest cargo plane in the world filled with PPE’s landed in Cleveland. Since then, RB Sigma has grown significantly. RB Sigma has over 70 employees, maintains an online and walk-in store, manufactures various masks, and supplies PPE’s to over 290 med centers and prison systems across the United States. They have also shipped health kits to employees returning to work in over thirty countries.

Justin ended reliance upon products made in China as quickly as possible. Justin has since purchased or manufactured all the PPE’s needed from companies within the United States, except for gloves. Gloves are currently only manufactured in China and South Korea.

Justin credits his team for making the venture successful. Justin hired people he could trust with proven track records within manufacturing, warehousing, management, marketing, and more. Team members include family members, a few long-time friends, and many business associates he has worked with throughout his career.

Justin is both motivated and inspired by family. He honors his grandfather, Robert Bloyd, by using his initials as depicted on the family cattle brand as the company logo. Justin’s grandfather served in WWII. Robert Bloyd’s job was to bring ammunition to the troops on the frontline in Iwo Jima and the Guadalcanal. Justin likens his role now to that of his grandfather’s. Though it is a different kind of war, Justin believes he is doing his part by bringing PPE’s to front line workers.

There are many words I could use to describe Justin Bloyd. Humble, generous, kind, a hard worker, a man of vision, a family man, a good friend, driven, and committed, are just a few. Justin’s word for himself, though, is lucky. Because of that, Justin believes it is essential to share his good fortune with others in need. Justin donated the workforce and transportation needed to deliver over 70,000 PPE’s to the Minneapolis Police and Fire Departments after their buildings were burned down by rioters reacting to the death of George Floyd. Additionally, he donated 400,000 masks to ensure every poll worker’s safety in the state of Ohio.

Justin Bloyd is an American hero. He was called to action during an unprecedented time in our history. He accepted the call and, as a result, delivered more than was asked or expected. No doubt, Justin’s contributions have saved countless people from contracting or dying from Covid-19.  Most people will never meet or know the man behind their mask, but if they did, I believe that, like me, they would not be able to find the words to express the depth of their gratitude. Thank you, Justin.

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What are you called to do today?

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Forsaken – Introducing Dody

Death & Dying During COVID

Hold my hand, she said, her eyes pleading with mine. Please, she repeated, hold my hand when I go. I do not want to die alone.

Nearly ten years ago, I kept my promise and held my mother’s hand tightly as she passed from this world into the next. Five hours later, I did the same for my father. Witnesses were present. A hospice nurse and a few friends and family showered my folks with love and compassion during their last hours. They were not alone.

Afterward, more friends and family arrived. They brought food, embraced me, and helped me to get to the next step. There was a funeral, and more people came. Ken, a childhood neighbor, led the service, weaving in humorous and heartfelt tales about my parents. There was a lot of laughter, some tears, and immeasurable love in the room. I was not alone.

Alone.

The word echoes in my mind as I write. I pause and feel its gravity. When my parents died, they and I were surrounded, enfolded, and lifted in love. And still, I felt alone.

Imagine the countless number of people who died alone in hospitals and long term care facilities this year due to safety precautions related to COVID-19. While healthcare workers have done their best to fill the gap, it is not the same. How many people were denied the ability to keep their promise to hold their beloveds’ hands as they left this world?

Consider the unbearable grief of the forsaken. They waited from a distance as their loved ones passed. And, afterward, they were unable to gather to support one another or attend funerals or memorials. Those left behind have suffered in isolation. They are, indeed, alone.

Dody, a hospice bereavement counselor, volunteered to share her thoughts and experience related to death, dying, and serving those left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dody first speaks about the five steps of grief, as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage of grief must be experienced for closure to occur. The steps are not static and can be experienced multiple times before acceptance occurs.

Dody points out that during the COVID-19, pandemic grief has been further complicated as both the dying and survivor experience feelings of abandonment. In Florida, where Dody resides, visitation to patients in hospitals and nursing homes has been severely restricted or disallowed since March.

Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life are the first step toward healing. Dody explains these events are severely delayed or not happening. There are several reasons. Government restrictions currently disallow funeral homes from conducting services, and crematoriums have a large backlog. Additionally, family and friends’ are often unable to gather due to travel restrictions and quarantine protocols.

As a result, the survivor’s grief is greater than anything Dody has seen in all her years as a bereavement counselor. Never have the bereaved felt so isolated.

Dody believes her role as a bereavement counselor is to be a supportive presence for her clients. She helps the bereaved accept the reality of loss with tools designed to assess clients’ most urgent needs. Each client is encouraged to keep a journal. Additionally, Dody listens. Most of Dody’s counseling sessions are currently held online via Zoom.

Dody feels that it is an essential part of the healing process to maintain a bond with the deceased. She encourages anyone who has lost a loved one to continue to celebrate holiday traditions, make a dish or meal that your loved one enjoyed preparing, or anything else that might sustain the bond.

Dody’s beloved father died three years ago this month. Among Dody’s most cherished memories of her father is that he was always singing and dancing. Music is healing for Dody. Dancing in the Sky, by Dani and Lizzy, is a song that brings her comfort and keeps her father alive in her heart.

Thank you, Dody, for participating in A Time to Heal!

For your work with hospice, I applaud you. It cannot be easy, and I suspect there are days that the emotional burden becomes unbearable. Yet, you continue. The gift you give to those in your care is immeasurable. In this blog post, you have given voice to those grieving in isolation. I hope and pray that in some small way, they feel heard and lifted.

Follow the link to Listen to Dancing In Heaven By Dani and Lizzie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR4T0av0o40

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 3, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Illegal To Be Me – Introducing Siena

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Siena heard one message loud and clear. Mexicans are criminals, drug addicts, and rapists. A wall would be built to keep America safe. But, the message 11-year-old Siena received, was that as a Mexican American, she was not safe. As a result, Siena is working toward awareness and social change. She is a member of the Sunrise Movement. The organization seeks to remove the oppressive and unsustainable systems to create a just future. 

The Sunrise Movement is an army of young people that organize and fight for justice for all. What does that look like? They seek to do the following:

  • End the oppression of all people: women, the poor, people of color, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Support local candidates that will help win justice for all.
  • Create awareness related to systems that support oppression; the government and our policing system are two examples.
  • Focus on creating good jobs that pay a living wage, provide health benefits, and stop climate change.
  • Campaign for government grants or funding for college education.
  • Fight for fair housing and public housing to resolve housing inequities.

Siena feels most strongly about racism and defunding the police. Siena explained that people are either actively racist, passively racist, or actively anti-racist. She feels we must stand up to any person or organization that espouses racist principles and practices. How? Through educating people through communication and dismantling the systems that do not work.

Siena feels the current policing system is antequated and based on colonialism and slavery. The system was meant to protect capital, not people. She expresses her concern that not all people experience the police in the same way. While some people feel safe with police interactions, there are large numbers of people that do not. Siena supports changes that would shift revenues from policing to mental health and other emergency services that a police officer is not required. For example, domestic disputes could be resolved by a social worker. 

Siena feels strongly that we must work together to make the world just. 

For more information on the Sunrise Movement go to: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/,

NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. This material’s unauthorized use or duplication without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Whole World – Introducing Pastor Sarah

A little over a year ago, my partner and I stumbled upon a wedding that was about to begin on the shore of Lake Michigan at Little Sable Point Lighthouse. The wedding coordinator was making sure everything and everyone was in place. The pre-wedding music was fun, and many of the wedding guests and beachgoers ran joyfully through the sand. The atmosphere was magical! With a wink and nod to one another, my partner and I chose to stay for the service.

It was one of the best weddings I have ever attended. I was moved to the point of tears several times during the ceremony. The officiant was a middle-aged woman dressed in a white robe. She was as radiant as the bride, and it was clear that the joining of the young man and woman as husband and wife brought her great joy.

As the pastor began to speak, she pointed to the Lighthouse and reminded us of Matthew 5:14-16
“You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your Light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

She then told the couple that each of them is a Light and that their union would create a brighter Light, and with the support of family, even more brilliant. And, lastly, with the help of the church, they would become no less than a beacon of Light. Pastor Sarah followed up by singing This Little Light of Mine.

At that moment, I knew that the pastor was an extraordinary person and that I needed to find out where she served. My search led me to Trinity Lutheran Church in New Era. The unexpected joy of a spontaneous trip to the beach, and the decision to crash a wedding have changed my life significantly. It ended a 15-year hiatus from church, healed a tremendous amount of church hurt, and led to a great friendship with the woman I now know as Pastor Sarah.

Pastor Sarah was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1961, during immense social upheaval. Her father, a Lutheran Pastor, was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Her family commonly discussed issues related to race, equality, and human rights around the dinner table. Sarah began attending marches, peaceful protests, and rallies with her father by the time she was five years old.

In the spring of 1967, Pastor Sarah, at the age of 6, had an experience that she feels solidified her commitment to work toward equality and to end racism. She was leaving school, and the safety guard shouted in agitation, “They are coming, they are coming.” She asked: “Who is coming.” The boy replied: “The niggers are coming, the niggers.” Sarah knew this was not a word that should be used and sensed that there was big trouble to come.

Trouble did come. The decision to bus black students to achieve racial balance within communities was met with resistance and anger. Unrest continued, and by mid-summer, the issues of civil rights had become so heated that riots occurred. And, at school that fall, young Sarah watched as black students were beaten and bullied. Sarah was outspoken and fought hard to make a stand against the abuse and discrimination of her classmates. For this, she was often ostracized by her peers and had few friends. Eventually, many of Sarah’s classmates did support her efforts, but it took several years.

Sarah’s interest in ending racism continued. In high school, she sought out classes taught by the one and only black teacher. She learned much from him and her black classmates. As time passed, it became clear that one day she would go to the seminary and then serve as a pastor with a focus on social justice.

Pastor Sarah continued to immerse herself in black culture after high school. She moved to Oakland, California, where she lived in a black community for several years. It was during her time in Oakland that Pastor Sarah states that she gained a very brief glimpse at what it feels like to be a minority or “the other.” She admits that there is still no way for a white woman to know what it is to be black in America.

Pastor Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, where she studied English, Political Science, and Religion. While there, she sought out black mentors and advisors to help her understand issues of race more deeply. Additionally, Pastor Sarah received her Master of Theology Degree from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Upon receiving her Master’s degree, Pastor Sarah fully believed she would work in an urban community. That expectation was not met. As it turns out, Reverend Sarah Samuelson served in small farm communities in West Michigan until finding her permanent home at Trinity Lutheran Church of New Era. Regardless of city or country, Pastor Sarah remains a passionate voice for equality. Her sermons are filled with compassion, understanding, and encouragement to put aside personal bias, judgment, and prejudice, and to love one another as Jesus demonstrated.

I asked Pastor Sarah about her role as a pastor, racism, and healing. Here is a bit of what she said.

Role As A Pastor
Pastor Sarah feels she is to love her parishioners right where they are, no matter what they believe. Then, to gently guide them to live more Christlike.

On Racism
Loss is the fear that fuels racism. Power can be lost. But the loss of special status, and our history, and the way we define ourselves may be more significant. Pastor Sarah shares two stories to clarify her thoughts. First, as a child, her mother often told her that they were proud Swedes and special to be a Swede. In second grade, the teacher asked that each student stand and share their nationality with the others. Sarah could barely wait for her turn and shook with anticipation. She knew that upon sharing, the others would see that she was incredibly special due to her heritage. When it was her turn, she shouted, “I am a Swede.” No one reacted. Sarah was confused. Did they not know she was special? Or, could her mother have lied to her? At that moment, she lost her story, her history, her special status.

Second, Pastor Sarah points to the cemetery next to the church. The cemetery is a part of the story and identity of Trinity Lutheran. Twenty-two families started this church. Those buried in the cemetery are often mentioned as the saints on the hill from which we came. It is a unique and marvelous story. But it is not the end of the story. The congregation has grown beyond the original 22 families, and everyone is welcome to attend. The story is the beginning, but it is not the end.
Today she knows that we all long to feel special, but that God loves us all the same.

On Healing
Where are we going, Pastor Sarah asks? We are going to the same place where we will all be together. We can look backward or forward. Looking forward, we need to get over our issues of race. How? By imitating the Kingdom of God here on Earth.

Pastor Sarah, you are a Light. I have heard you quote not only the Bible but also bits of poetry here and there. I will end this post with wise words from Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the Light gets in.” Thank you for lovingly helping us find and heal our cracks.

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon beginning September 1, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Be The Light

In my dreams, I dance! I dance with the practiced perfection and beauty of the most skilled ballerina. I am grace in motion. In reality, I stumble and fumble awkwardly, and the only joy my disjointed movements produce is from comic relief.

In my dreams, I sing! My voice is like that of the angels. It is pitch-perfect and capable of reaching the highest of highs and lowest of lows. But, in actuality, my voice falters, wavers madly off-key, and forgotten lyrics turn into an odd monotonous hum. My cats don’t mind. People though! That’s a different story.

In my dreams, the world is at peace. There are no wars, what makes us different is honored and respected, and our children grow up knowing they are loved and safe. Unfortunately, as the days unfold, the Utopia that I dream of appears to slip farther and farther away. None-the-less, I will not give up my dream.

The path to peace is complex and has many components. I believe one of them is gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion of the heart and the quality of being thankful or appreciative. Can something as simple as gratitude change the world? I believe it can. It has been scientifically proven that the practice of gratitude improves physical and mental health, increases empathy, reduces aggression, and opens doors to new relationships. In other words, it makes one feel better, experience more joy, be kinder to others, and make more friends. Gratitude changes everything.

Yet, how does one connect with gratitude during such a tumultuous time? Our country is more divided than ever. We are at war with one another over politics, religion, race, and so much more. Our angst, heightened by the COVID-19 Pandemic, serves to add fuel to the fire that was already burning.  We are hurting, angry, confused, and grieving. Given the gravity of the issues we face, gratitude may even feel frivolous, or like a luxury we cannot afford.

Gratitude is not foolish or inconsequential. It may be the only thing that can bring brightness to an otherwise dark day. It will bring you joy and has the capability of healing your heart. To begin practicing gratitude, take a break from negativity. Let the news be the news, twitter be twitter, and Facebook be Facebook. It will be there when you return. Then, focus on something in or around your home that brings you joy. Take a walk and find beauty in nature! If that doesn’t work, consider calling a friend to tell them you love them, write a letter, pray, meditate, or begin a gratitude journal. Say thank you!

There are many avenues to peace. Gratitude is only one possibility. We all possess talents that can be used for good or not. We are living during a pivotal time in our country. This moment! Right now! Presently! We, the people, must act. We must use this time of unrest to create a better nation and world. What can you do to be part of the change? I challenge every one of you to think of and put into action practices that will create positive changes in the world.

In my dreams, the world is at peace.

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 “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

____ L.R. Knost

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Author’s Note:

Please consider participating in The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo (that’s me). The goal of the Gratitude Project is to promote better living through gratitude and to unite diverse populations through our shared experience of gratitude. Volunteer to have your photo taken while you ponder gratitude, and share a gratitude word or story. Images and stories will be published on social media, art exhibits, and more. Participation is anonymous unless the participant gives express permission. For more information go to gratitudebylakehouse.com or contact me at gail@lakehousephoto.com

Song of The Post: This Is My Wish/Let There Be Peace On Earth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hajBdDM2qdg

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

My Dirty Little Secret – Nature Knows

I have a confession. I lied. It was unintentional, but still, I lied.

I am a storyteller. I observe, gather information, and translate. Sometimes when I do not have all the facts, I make up “stuff” to fill in the blanks. Is that lying? Or, is it just an attempt to make sense out of an unknown thing. Perhaps it is just an exercise to entertain my busy brain. No matter, as time passes, the stories I tell myself become more intricate, and fact and fiction begin to blur. Soon, I am confident that my story is infallible and entirely correct. That is until one of the square building blocks turns into a circle, and the whole tale crumbles.

The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have taught me more than I could possibly share. Humility is a common theme, and so it is in this case. It has become apparent that I misreported a few of the facts. I contemplated never sharing the truth out of pride or embarrassment. But, honesty and integrity won.

It all began with Lydia. Lydia was one of my best friends. I am solid in what I know about her. She loved me. She was a fierce protector of her colts, and the lake, and a faithful mate to Roger, and then, Bud. When Lydia was injured in the spring of 2019, she lost her status as the matriarch of the lake, could no longer produce offspring, rear her brood of colts, or be a mate to Bud.  She had lost everything that had defined her as a crane, except for me. Her gift to me was to allow me to see her frailty. Her vulnerability deepened our relationship. I lost her at the end of the season, but she lives on in my heart.

Lydia’s last surviving colt was not a typical crane. Crystal was born without fear. Baby cranes should be afraid of humans, but she would wonder about my feet so much at times that I feared I might step on her. She possessed a level of athleticism and grace that I had never seen in another crane, and I often thought of Crystal as a ballerina. She loved to ham it up for the camera and me. Crystal warmed my heart. Lydia and I were both so very proud of her.

When the cranes returned in 2019, I was shocked that Crystal was allowed to linger in the nesting area. In the past, I observed Bud and Lydia turn their backs toward the colts born the previous year. The message was clear; You are no longer welcome here. Bud and Lydia mated, as usual, eggs were laid, and everything seemed normal, except that Crystal was always around. When Lydia was injured and then disappeared, Crystal stepped in as mate to Bud and shared the responsibility of lying on eggs and even attempted to raise colts that were not hers. I was very proud.

This year I was delighted to welcome back Bud and Crystal. But, Bud seemed smaller, and I was concerned about his health. As time went on, I began to wonder if the bird was, indeed, Bud. Mostly, the bird seemed like Bud. But, one day, as I peered out the window, I noticed the cranes doing their special spring mating dance. Oh my. Oh, dear. Nope. No, indeed! My mind refused to process what it was seeing. My square building block became a circle, and the story I had told myself of Crystal fell apart. Crystal and Bud were not mates last summer, but companions. The new bird is not Bud, and the old bird is the same, but not Crystal.

Thus, I humbly introduce you to the Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse; Patriarch Billy Crystal and his mate Rosebud.


Song of The Post: I Heard it Through the Grapevine By Marvin Gay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hajBdDM2qdg

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Grace & Gratitude

Yesterday I was mad. Not just a little heated up, but over the top angry. And, the fact that I could not put my anger in its right place made me furious. Didn’t my anger know I had important things to do! 2020 is the year of Gratitude, and I have articles to write, plans to make, people to meet, photos to capture, and stories to gather. And didn’t my anger know that I am a woman of peace and love? My mission, no matter how lofty it seems, is to make this world a better place by uniting people with different ideas and belief systems.

The irony is that I was upset with an organization that has different ideas and belief system than my own.  Yes, please, let me have that anger with a large helping of humility. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I glanced in the mirror and did not like what I saw. I want to say that I took the high road, let go of my anger, and continued my journey to spread peace and love to all the nations. But I felt I justified in my rage. I was right, and they were wrong. I recounted all the years of feeling discounted, rejected, and judged by this group. No, despite the image in the mirror, I held onto my anger. After all, I earned the right to feel this way.

I spent my entire day wondering how I, an angry woman, could move forward with The Gratitude Project. How could I launch a project to encourage the building of bridges between communities when, in this circumstance, I was refusing to place the first plank or hammer the first nail?  Late in the evening, I found the answer. In an attempt to do something positive, I began to look at photographs that I had taken in the fall. Perhaps I could edit  a few images. The first picture I saw brought tears to my eyes and I felt a knowing in my heart. I was humbled for the second time of the day.

The photo was of a Maple Tree. I have always thought if love were a tree, it would be a Maple. They are big, tall, strong, and have branches that extend slightly upturned like arms to hold children just right when they climb upon them. The light honey-brown wood is stunning and often used in home construction. If that is not enough, they even feed us with their sugary sap. 

The Maple tree reminded me that we are all one. As I studied the image, I noticed first, the trunk, then branches, smaller branches, and finally the leaves. Each had a unique shape, color, and texture. The tree was magnificently complex and beautiful. My mind shifted and I began to think of the trunk of the tree as God, the branches as nations of people, breaking off into smaller and smaller groups, and finally, the leaves as individuals. Again, I thought, we are all one.

How is it then that my anger could possibly be justified? By withholding my love, forgiveness, and compassion from any group, I, in turn, withhold it from myself. I have been building and maintaining this wall of anger for over thirty years. Sadly, I only recently realized that it is not impacting the group that caused me pain. Instead, it has hurt the people I love the most and me. For that, I am truly sorry. 

So, to answer the question, how will I, an angry woman, go forward with The Gratitude Project? I will deconstruct the wall. It will take time. It will take practice. And, it will take an abundance of Grace and Gratitude.

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Authors Note: Would you or your organization (e.g., community group, retreat) like to participate in The Gratitude Project?  Please feel free to contact me at Gail@Lakehousecc.com.

Song of the Post: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) By BYU Noteworthy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

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Instagram – Lakehouse Photo & Living At The Lakehouse – https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

Photography: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

2019© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Whispering Pines Amish Grocery

 On September 16th 2013, the Amish owned and operated general store in my community caught fire and burned beyond repair. Though I was working in a town two hours away, I was made aware of the tragedy almost immediately. Friends texted first to report smoke, then fire and finally that the store would be a total loss. The news left me feeling off balance, and I found it difficult to concentrate for the remainder of the training. I was deeply saddened and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness.

The drive home was excruciating. I was anxious and overcome with the desire to help my neighbors. But what could I do for the Amish? I would not be allowed to help the men and it would not be my place to stand with the women. When I finally arrived at the store the light of day was beginning to fade. I watched as the Amish men, faces drawn and clearly fatigued from the long difficult day, sort and remove debris. The Amish women gathered around makeshift tables, chatted with one another, and served the hungry workers from the multitude of covered dishes.

I lingered along the side of the road for some time. As tendrils of smoke continued to rise from the wreckage, and horses and buggies splashed through the muddied parking lot, I was, as I often am, awestruck by the Amish community. The Amish have held onto values that are often forgotten or inconvenient in our busy modern world. My most cherished is that they understand that a neighbor is more than just someone that lives next door. They, as a community, are committed to one another. They help each other, and occasionally, their non Amish neighbors, in both good times and bad. But, my, how they shine in the darkest moments!

Sometimes memory fades, but I believe I will always remember a day in late February of 2011. It was cold, dreary, and snow was lightly falling. It was the end of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. I sat at the old formica table in the kitchen at my folks’ house, still numb, baffled, and bewildered by the events of the previous week. My friend, Cindy, had come from New York as soon as she heard the news that both of my parents had passed away on the same day. She was sitting next to me addressing envelopes, as I wrote personal messages of thanks to all the people whom had so generously sent plants, flowers and gifts of money in memory of my mother and father.

As we worked quietly, I became aware of the sound of many footsteps crunching on the new fallen snow on the deck. My brother, Cindy, and I went to the front door and were astonished to find thirty-five Amish children of various ages and three of their teachers. Their heavy black woolen coats, hats, and mittens were flecked with pure white snowflakes, and their faces were flushed red from winter cold air made even colder by the 2 mile ride from the school house on the open horse drawn wagon. We listened as one of the teachers explained that the children had been discussing what had happened to my parents, and how they wanted to do something to help. Their wish was that we might find comfort and hope in two songs they had chosen to sing for us.

Clouds of moisture danced about the faces of the children as warm breath met frigid air. Their voices rose and broke the silence of this wintry day, and, in doing so, shattered the wall that I had begun to build about my heart. I was completely rapt by the cold, snow dampened faces of living angels, singing off key. There are no words to describe how deeply and profoundly touched I was by this selfless act. These children did not know me, yet they understood my loss. They came as neighbors to lend a hand in a time of great pain and sorrow expecting nothing in return. They did, indeed, bring comfort that day and perhaps, for all the days of my life.

I owe my Amish neighbors a debt of gratitude that I may never be able to repay. I could do nothing to help when the store burned down. But, I will keep looking, and listening, and watching. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will have the opportunity to be a good neighbor, to bring hope on a hopeless day, or give comfort when none can be found.

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Thanks to Carmel Steffen for Editorial Assistance

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to

Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Migration – Spring Is On Its Way

 

Spring Is On Its Way

Spring Is On Its Way

This morning as I was waking, I heard the Blue Jays chattering outside my window. Their conversation was markedly different than it was just a few short days ago. I lingered under the covers for some time savoring the moment. After all, the noisy birds were announcing such good news. They were celebrating the end of a relentless winter, and proclaiming that spring would soon arrive.

I began to think about Bud and Lydia, the Sandhill Cranes that nest in my backyard.  I wondered how far they had traveled on their Northward journey, and hoped that they had not experienced any difficulties. I made an attempt to telepathically tell them not to rush home. Though the snow has begun to thaw, it is still deep enough that there will be little food available.

I pondered what wakes an animal from its winter slumber. Or, exactly what tells a bird to leave its warm comfortable winter home in the South?  To travel countless miles, often through brutal weather conditions, only to arrive in the less hospitable North, seems quite absurd. If it were me, I would be tempted to disregard the internal niggling that must occur. I would, without thought, hit the snooze button! I would sleep a little longer, or remain in the warmth of the Southern sun.

It occurred to me then! How often have I ignored my own internal knowing? How many times have I hit the snooze button when something inside has told me to get up, get moving, or start anew? How often did I stay in the comfort of the sunshine, when I knew I was being called to run through the cold rain? Too numerous to count, I am sure.

Spring is nearly here, and I can hardly wait. It is the season that inspires hope and encourages one to dream. It is time to plant seeds, to nurture, and watch them grow. It is the time that we are reminded to listen to our inner knowing, and like the migrating bird, move forward without reason or hesitation.

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Thanks to Carmel Steffen for her editorial skills.

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For more photos consider:  http://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Additional Note: The cranes arrived safely on March 11.

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

Bud & Lydia Meet Thin

© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

My Mother’s Garden

 

Today I raked my mother’s garden.  It was not my intention to rake the entire garden, but the task was one of overwhelming and unexpected joy.  In February of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, and the garden had been sadly neglected ever since.  As I tended to the garden, a flood of memories came to mind.  The clearest though, was that spring of 2010.

That year I bought flat after flat of blooming annuals.  The colors were bold and bright, and I chose varieties that would last all summer.  I wanted to provide my mother with the most stunning garden of her life.  I wanted the beauty to counter the pain and discomfort of her disease.  I wanted to give back something in return for all she had done for me.

As the spring progressed, mom grew tired quickly.  Though I had planned the most stunning garden ever, I was only able to plant about one flat of flowers before my time needed to be spent doing other things for Mom.  The garden was not beautiful.  In fact, it was less than beautiful.  It was not raked, and the flowers that were normally thinned were overcrowded, and, some even died.  I gave away the flats of flowers and let go of the dream of giving mom the perfect garden.  Mom did not seem to mind.  But, I did.

Mom passed away in February of 2011.  That year came and went without a thought of the garden.  Then, spring of 2012 arrived and I was determined to dismantle Mom’s garden.  I even promised any interested friends, co-workers, and neighbors that I would dig and deliver Mother’s beloved perennials.   But I could not.

Again in 2013 I have offered flowers to friends and family.  So today, I began to make Mother’s garden beautiful one last time.  As I raked I thought of how much she loved this garden, and how much I did not.  It is not particularly organized, nor does it follow any of the rules for creating the perfect flower garden.  It is truly a hodge podge of perennials that were added as she received them, with the edges of the garden moving outward into the yard farther and farther.

I was suddenly struck by the whimsy of this haphazardly planted flower garden.  Without a doubt what my mother did best was to control, organize, and manage people, places, and things.  This garden with no clear boundaries had no rules, nor need to be perfect.  Finally I got it!   This was the one place my mother had that did not have to be perfect, as it was beautiful of its own accord, just by being.  All she needed to do was to love it, tend to it a bit, and enjoy the gift of colors and scents, and the birds and butterflies that were attracted to it.

My mother’s garden is beautiful again.  Three years of leaves and branches removed.  Three years of blackberry bushes and small trees that threatened to take over removed.  The soil relieved of its heavy burden can breathe, feel the sun, the rain, heat. and cold.  And like the garden, I too have begun to shed the heaviness, the sadness, and despair.  I, too, can once again feel the sun, the rain, heat, and cold.   I am but one of my mother’s flowers, frequently difficult to control, organize, or manage.  My boundaries are often fluid, and I am not perfect.  But I am a beautiful flower that she loved, tended to, and mostly enjoyed, and I am forever grateful.

My Mother's Garden

Mom and two of the creatures she loved most.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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