Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Reading Club

When I was in grade school, the school library had special summer hours for students to check out books over the long summer break.  This was wonderful for me because the school was only three blocks from my house, while the city library was over three miles and many busy intersections away.

When the kids were little, we always participated in the local library's summer reading club.  They had weekly story time for the little ones who weren't reading yet, and then different age levels and prizes for the older kids.  We went to the library every week, and after we got home, we would all sit down at the dining table with our books, so I could write down all the titles each of us had checked out.  We then posted it on the fridge, so that the following week, we would know how many and which books we needed to search for so we wouldn't have to pay past-due fines.

I knew our local Oldsmar library had a summer reading club, but it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I realized it included an Adult level!  I got to be in the Summer Reading Club again!!

Yesterday, I got a phone call.  I had won a weekly prize in the Summer Reading Club!  Wooohoooo!  As you can see by the photo above, there is a substantial amount of loot here: a coffee mug with the Reading Club theme on it, several book marks, all of which contain flower seeds that will grow when you plant the bookmark in your flowerbed; a very pretty peacock picture frame, and a little gold butterfly bookmark that doesn't get planted in the ground.  Oh!  And coupons for McDonald's cheeseburgers. 


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Dog, Bella

(This is the text for my 2nd Toastmasters speech, which I will be giving in less than 8 hours.  I should be sleeping, but I have to practice now.)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am a storyteller, and today I would like to tell you the story of my dog, Bella.

Bella is a very happy, slightly spoiled, fifty-pound, black lab mutt.  She keeps close watch out the front windows and alerts us to all passing pedestrians, the FedEx guy, the UPS guy, and, of course, the mailman.  She sounds big and fierce and very scary, and we appreciate that.  We believe that were any of us in actual danger, she would rush in to save us.  At least, we hope that she would.  Usually once an intruder/visitor gets past the threshold, she hides behind whomever is handiest.  But we still have hopes.

Bella came into my life several years ago when an on-line friend mentioned the skinny, half-grown pup that was haunting her alleyway. She yearned to play with the children in the backyard, but was so scared of men that she wouldn’t let the dad take the trash out.  I lived alone in a small duplex and had been telling myself that when it was time for me to have a dog, I would know.  When I saw the internet posting, and that the family lived nearby, I decided this must be the sign I had been waiting for.

I picked up dog food, and a couple of doggie bowls at the grocery, and drove over to their house. The mother and I managed to coax/push/pull/carry the nervous, skinny pup into the back of my mini-van.  I took her home, gave her a bath, and then belatedly decided to check the integrity of my back yard fence, as I didn’t want to leave her alone in the house the next day while I was at work, since I had no idea how housetrained she might or might not be.

She was very nervous about being left alone for even a short time, and barked and jumped against the door all the time I was outside.  Bark. Jump. Bark. Jump.  I decided the backyard would probably hold her, and headed back inside, only to find that with all her jumping, she had flipped the deadbolt locked.  It was a French door, so I resigned myself to breaking one of the panes and paying for its replacement.  That’s when I found out that those little windows don’t break nearly as easily as in the movies.  After several unsuccessful attempts, I went to a neighbor’s house and called a locksmith.  Bella was very happy once I was back inside with her.  The locksmith was very happy with his after-hours fee.

Several months later, I moved into an apartment and Bella went to live with my daughter, Janette, where she had a doggie door, a large backyard, and two barking buddies.  It was, indeed, doggie heaven.  And that was where we found out that Bella was not just a barking machine, but a fierce huntress.  Unfortunately for Janette’s peace of mind, this included Bella sharing her trophies with the pack leader, who was, of course, Janette.  She always knew when to expect to find her share of the kill, because Bella would be very excited upon the pack leader’s arrival home, and run back-and-forth, back-and-forth between the front door and wherever the trophy was waiting.  This was usually some lesser portion of a squirrel, and Janette was very glad that the possums and raccoons seemed to be too much trouble for Bella to carry inside.  The animal control number was pinned up on the refrigerator door for when those unfortunate critters needed removal from Bella’s hunting grounds.

Janette taught Bella to sit and patiently wait for doggie treats.  Bella learned on her own to talk in order to be rescued from my granddaughter’s affectionate attentions.  Bella knew that Eva, small as she was, still had higher pack status and so could not be directly corrected.  So, Bella would vocalize her need for rescue when her floor-lounging was interrupted by a toddler using her for a pillow or handy seat.

When I moved to Florida, Bella stayed behind in Texas, but last year she finally made the trip, too.  I worried that she would feel lonely being the only dog, but she seems to think that this is a fine turn of events.  She doesn’t have to eat her food all at once to keep it from going missing later.  She has her own bed that she is never displaced from.  She gets a doggie biscuit every morning.  She never has to jockey for position in the “don’t pet him, pet me” competition.  She has learned how to shake and sit up on her back legs in order to get leather doggie chews.  And she has several big windows across the front of the house to help her monitor all sidewalk trespassers.

She doesn’t seem to miss the doggie door too much, either.  When she wants to go out, she’ll let one of us know.  If her need to go out is dire (official doggie business, bark at encroachers, sit on the lanai and watch the rain), she will use her conversation skills to tell us that it’s very important.  She also has different barks for different applications.  There is the “intruders in adjoining backyards” bark, the “trashmen are taking our stuff away” bark, the “neighborhood doggie gossip update” bark, and then, of course, the “let me in, please” bark.  And when Mother is the only one home, Bella knows to go to the sliding door off the living room to announce herself, because Mother is a bit hard of hearing and can’t hear her from the back of the house.

In the past, Mother has been nervous around larger dogs, but she is quite taken with our Bella.  Bella keeps Mother company during the day, gives a good bluff to passing strangers, and has doubled or tripled Mother’s daily physical activity.  She has also increased my level of activity, as my formerly irregular vacuuming is now a near-daily event in order to keep my home as fur-free as possible, and weekly doggie baths have also been added to my routine.

That’s OK, though, because we love our Bella, and it’s really nice to have a dog around the house again.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rampage Of Appreciation

This comes from listening to the audio book without having the actual book at hand.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rampaging Appreciation

I am currently listening to an audio book by Esther and Jerry Hicks.  It is the second half of "Ask and It Is Given" and talks about different processes for improving your mood and mindset, or as they call it, "raising your vibrational rate".

"Rampaging Appreciation" is along the same lines as the age-old sage advice to count your blessings, or the 12-Step Gratitude List.  Abraham (for whom Esther and Jerry purport to speak) advises that this exercise can be done anyplace and anytime for immediate vibrational boosting, but is most effective when done regularly, in writing.

For your enjoyment, amusement, edification - whatever applies - I offer my first session of Rampaging Appreciation, live, from my office in Oldsmar, Florida.

I love my desk.  It is nice and big with plenty of desktop space for my computer and my bright lamp and all the desktop essentials, leaving plenty of room for writing space for my journaling, too.

I love my bright lamp for when it's raining and I need extra light for my brain.

I love my big Goddess coffee mug.  It holds LOTS of coffee.

I love my mug rugs that I got years ago, handcrafted through Martin Luther Homes.

I love my computer and my flat screen, which helps me have extra room on top of my desk.  I love being able to listen to music on it and watch videos and talk to Josh during the day through IM.  I love having all kinds of photos as my desktop background, currently one of my beautiful granddaughter sitting in the middle of a field of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes

I love my curved keyboard.  

I love my little goddess figure holding a crystal sphere in her lap.

I love my computer speaker system that lets me listen in stereo without having to wear headphones.

I being able to check books out from the library so that I can read and have access to a lot more material than if I had to purchase each item.

I love the pull-outs on either side of my desk so I have plenty of room to spread out when I need it.

I love my big bulletin board, where I can pin upcoming events and maps and papers that I don't want to lose (like the marriage license).

I love my blue water bottle that reminds me to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

I love my Rolodex that I found for $2 at the thrift store.  The base, plus the dividers and all the cards, would have cost me about $40 new at the office supply.

I love air conditioning.

I love my office, which is in the back of the house, far enough away from the front living room that I don't have to listen to the sounds of the Encore Western Channel all day. 

I guess that's enough for now.  I'm feeling pretty darned good.  I suggest everyone give this Rampaging Appreciation stuff a try.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Toastmasters Speech #1 - The Icebreaker

I recently joined the Top of the Morning Toastmasters group. It meets right here in Oldsmar, at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings. I understand your disbelief in the idea of me being anywhere (besides my own bed) voluntarily at 7:30 a.m., but Wednesday is also the day that Mother goes to the senior center, and I have to set my alarm for 6 a.m. to make sure she's up and has coffee before her van arrives. I'm up anyway, so it seemed like a good plan.

And so it has proven to be. This morning I gave my Icebreaker speech, which is the first project in the Competent Communicator's workbook. I have actually done this project before, but that was over two years ago in Kerrville, so I thought I'd just start all over, since I hadn't gotten very far anyway.

The Icebreaker Speech is supposed to be for four to six minutes. I ran through it last night with Steve, who clocked me at a little over five minutes. He cautioned me about being nervous and talking faster than normal, which would speed up my time. This morning, I concentrated on speaking at an even pace, and ended up talking for 8 minutes and 12 seconds. There's a timer's light box that gives the speaker cues on how much time is left depending on what lights are lit. I didn't even notice the light box until all the lights were lit - and I had no idea how long they had been. Oh, well.

I'm including the prepared text of the speech below, but since I didn't practice it as much as I should have, it's not exactly what I said. I missed a couple of things, and added a couple more, but it's basically the same.

One of the things I found very interesting was my opening. I've been trying to figure out who I am and where I am going, outside-world-wise, for the past few years. Maybe this is the answer, and I just have to figure out exactly what that means.

My name is Kay St. John, and I am a story-teller. My friends and loved ones are well-acquainted with the phrases “I have a story about that” and “Do you want the short version or the long version?” The short version will tell you all you need to know, but the long version is usually much more entertaining.

The memories of my childhood and the knowledge of events in my family are stored in my brain as fables, cautionary tales, fairy tales, and bedtime stories. I’d like to share a few of those with you this morning.

When my Papaw, Daddy’s daddy, was a small child, his father was killed in a logging accident. He left a widow with three young children, one still a babe in arms. Her husband’s family members offered to take the older children, as they were old enough to put to work but she would have to figure out something to do with the baby. She thanked them, kept all her children with her, and did laundry for men in the logging camp to support her family. This story taught me that mothers in our family take care of their children.

When Momma and Daddy first married, he was fresh out of the Navy, and worked a small farm as sharecroppers. I grew up hearing about how Daddy had chopped wood for the stove and Momma had used the pump on the porch to draw water to be heated on that wood stove for my sister’s baths when she was a baby. After a few years, Mom and Dad packed up and left Magnolia, Arkansas for Lubbock, Texas, where my brother was born. Mamaw, Daddy’s mother, was very upset and told them they were going to starve to death in Texas. Daddy replied, “What’s the difference? We’re starving to death here.” That story taught me about taking initiative.

After Lubbock, where my brother was born, the family moved to Houston, where I was born. When I was about a year old, Daddy was laid off from his job. He went to Dallas, where he found work, worked for a week to get a paycheck. Mother had packed up the house while he was gone, so when he got off work that Friday, he rented a truck, drove to Houston, they worked all night packing up the truck, and then drove back to Dallas with Daddy driving and Momma, my 14-year-old sister, 7-year-old brother, 1-year-old me, and the dog, all in the cab of the moving truck. When we got to Dallas, to the house Daddy had rented, they unloaded the truck so that it could be returned within the 24-hour rental period, so they wouldn’t have to pay the 2nd day truck rental. This story taught me that sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

With my sister being fourteen years older, I heard many stories about her childhood and adolescence, many of which had to do with her being a normal rebellious teenager – and being vocal about her opinions and intentions. I don’t know that there was much difference in how many times each of us was grounded as a teenager, but I was NEVER grounded for something I had yet to do. The stories of my sister taught me that if I could control anything, I could control what came out of my mouth.

Now I tell my own stories – of how while my children were growing up, I got my bachelor’s degree on the 17-year plan. I attended school and worked part-time, taking college classes in between PTA meetings, piano and swimming lessons, and serving as Lutheran Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teacher, Cub Scout Den Mother, Girl Scout Leader and High School Band Mom. I sewed summer play clothes, Easter dresses, and Halloween costumes. My alter-ego was OmniMom – omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Mom. I loved it.

My degree plan was based on the idea that as I had been reading anthropology, sociology, and psychology for fun, it would be nice to have a piece of paper indicating that I knew a little bit about at least one of these subjects. After only four years at the University of Texas at Dallas, I graduate with a BA in Psychology, with a Sociology minor.

I spent five years working in a small halfway house for people coming out of the psych ward, and then another five years working at a much bigger halfway house for parolees and probationers. My pay was about the same, sometimes a bit less, than I had made as a bookkeeper while I was working my way through college. And after ten years, I was quite ready for a break from direct client contact. I went back to bookkeeping.

A little over three years ago, my long-widowed mother decided she no longer wanted to live by herself way out in East Texas. I had moved from Dallas to Kerrville shortly before that, and we agreed that she would sell her house and move to Kerrville to live with me. I thought I would be getting a roommate, but during the move I realized that she really shouldn’t have been living alone as long as she had, and I had to become accustomed to being a caregiver for my mother. We have both come a long way in our new roles since then.

I also have a great story of how I came to move to Tampa, but it’s a pretty long tale in and of itself, so I will save it for another time, except to say that I will be getting a new name in less than three weeks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Basic Unity Principles

As noted previously, I attended a service at the Unity Church of Palm Harbor yesterday.  I received a visitor packet which included a copy of the Basic Unity Principles, as outlined by Connie Fillmore in her book "Keys to the Kingdom".  I think these principles are the closest thing I've seen to my current belief set.  However, after attending the Lutheran church for almost 20 years, it seems to me that Unity services need more singing.

Basic Unity Principles

1. God is absolute good, everywhere present.

2. Human beings have a spark of divinity within them, and Christ spirit within.  Their very essence is of God, and therefore they are also inherently good.
3. Human beings create their experiences by the activity of their thinking.  Everything in the manifest realm has its beginning in thought.

4. Prayer is creative thinking that heightens the connection with God-Mind and therefore brings forth wisdom, healing, prosperity, and everything good.
5. Knowing and understanding the laws of life, also called Truth, are not enough.  A person must also live the truth that he or she knows.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I went to an unusual writing workshop yesterday. It was given by Janet Conner, author of Writing Down Your Soul: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within  and presented at the Unity Church of Palm Harbor. She gave a short talk at both the morning services and then had the workshop there after a light lunch for attendees.

I had borrowed her book from the library a few weeks ago, after reading a small piece she wrote for the Unity daily meditation magazine "The Daily Word".  She talks about using a form of journaling as a prayerful, meditative practice, carrying on a dialogue with God, something along the lines of Neale Donald Walsch's "Conversations With God".

As I had already read her book, and had actually started the meditative, interactive journaling she describes and promotes, I was a few steps ahead of some of the other participants.  We listened to music designed to put us into a meditative brain-wave state, and what kept popping into my head during our writing session was that I needed to start writing, and specifically that I needed to start blogging again.  I haven't written much of anything here since moving to Tampa, but it looks like I will be soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Since moving to Tampa in Fall 2007, I have yet to be fully, happily employed.

I have worked at a "medspa" where clients came for botox, laser rejuvenation and the like. Every time someone walked through the door, I wanted to hug her (it was usually a her) and tell her that she looked just fine! I also started looking way to closely and worrying way to much about my own signs of aging. It was not a good fit for a feminist social-worker type.

I not-briefly-enough did bookkeeping for a paranoid-schizophrenic who was suspicious of my motives in asking him about the charges on the credit card bill (so I could code them properly for the general ledger entries).

I worked several months at a local bowling alley. It was actually pretty fun, except my number of scheduled hours varied widely so I never knew what my check would look like, and I sometimes had to work as late as 3:00 a.m. Even though I'm a night owl, I'm not THAT much of a night owl.

My last job was at a call center, verifying information for private colleges on people who had expressed an interest in pursuing their education. This sounds great, right? Except that most of the people "expressed their interest" through pop-ups on job boards that they thought were part of the application process, or because they thought they were submitting their information to win a new computer, video game console, Wal-Mart gift card, etc., etc., etc. So what I initially suspected was a phone sales job, but was assured that it wasn't, turned out to be a phone sales job. I did finally get past that, and didn't mind the job so much, as it was only about a mile from the house, but it was less that 30 hours per week - and, oh yeah - I'm not really a sales person. It finally became apparent to both me and my employers that it was unlikely that I would be able to make their expected quotas.

So, here I am, once again job-searching. My panic has been only slightly delayed by my small tax refund. I'm trying something different, though. I've signed up for the volunteer training class this Saturday with Suncoast Hospice. I have applied for a couple of positions with them since I've moved here, but even though I have ten years social service experience, I don't have any specific hospice experience. I thought that it would be a positive use of my time and also might segue into something more.

Tangentially, my son had a singing valentine delivered to his wife by four tuxedo-clad members of Dallas' Vocal Majority, a very talented men's chorus. He sent me a video, and it was wonderful. I've thought about doing something like that from time to time, so I searched for a Tampa women's chorus and found Toast of Tampa, an affiliate of Sweet Adelines International. I went last night as a visitor, was voice-placed as a baritone (upper alto) and paired with a Buddy who, if I pass my audition, will be a mentor to me for the next year or so. It was wonderful to be a in group of over 100 women singing 4-part harmony and really enjoying what they were doing. The director was great, and every person I met there was very nice and very friendly. I believe I have fallen in love.

Oh - and my buddy, Liz? Turns out she's a nurse for Suncoast Hospice.