the lessons of pain…

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Cactus blossom

I’ve been absent from blogging for a couple of weeks. Sometimes Life just needs to act itself out. And then suddenly everything jumps back in its own box and things are a bit controlled again. Sort of.

I’ve been seeing a new man. A physical therapist. After over a year of undiagnosed difficulties in my hip and groin and trying a myriad of things from personal trainer to chiropractor and masseuse, the problem gradually worsened. Had I listened to the small voice in my head which said ‘go to the physical therapist’, I would have saved myself some money and some angst. But sometimes we just can’t get out of our own way. I’m not sure if I was afraid of what the problem might be, or if I knew it involved work to fix it and I really didn’t want more work in my life. Whatever.

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spent Cactus blossom

I read all the time. I always have a book on the go. In recent years I have posted the list of books I’ve read throughout the year. This year I thought I would do it differently. I thought I would write a post only about the books I really loved. The list is short. *Spoiler alert* I’m about to reveal one of the three books now, so the list just got shorter for that future post.

The book is one of those rare finds I wish I could discover all over again. It is like reading a very long letter from your best friend–that is, if your best friend is brutally honest and a very good writer. The book reveals a difficult past and how the author set about changing the results of that past. It is so honest and confronting and insightful and beautifully written, it is almost hard to believe.

The book is called Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle-Melton.

I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, should you decide to read her memoir. But I want to make you aware, in case you want a good book for the eventual downtime you might have after Christmas is over.

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ivy in tree in South Australia

After a life filled with running away from her pain and hiding in sex, booze and dysfunction, Glennon had one of a number of crises that started to heal her. She writes about the pain of sitting in a ‘hot yoga’ class, because she didn’t know where else to go. The instructor asked around the room ‘what were the intentions of each participant?’ When it was her turn, aware that she had made a terrible mistake coming to hot yoga when her hot emotions were at a peak, she squeezed out the words ‘my intention is just to stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here’. She didn’t want to run away from the pain any more. Those words stuck with me. Several times this week I have been challenged by things I did not want to deal with. Glennon’s words hovered in my ear,  and were transformed by my brain into shorthand that I understood–‘stay on the mat’.

Sometimes, staying with things is hard. But the pain in our lives is there to teach us. To run away means you miss that lesson. This week the Universe has quietly bestowed upon me lessons I have been running from for some time. They were not nearly as painful once I decided to ‘stay on the mat’ and feel what they had to show me. The malfunction of my hip is enormously improved. I learned that expertise and efficiency are no match for humanity and energy. I was reminded that the Universe is, in equal portions, brutal and compassionate. And I learned that staying on the mat doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

Light Chaser, out.

5 questions to ponder…

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Sarah, from The Practical Mystic , wrote a thought provoking post a couple of days ago. She often inspires me and I have responded to her, with a post that answers the questions she asked. Would you like to do the same? I don’t usually structure my blog this way, but thought it might be fun. You can write your answer to one or all of these questions and post it in the comments section below, or create an entire post including a link back to my post, and then leave your link in the comments section of this blog, so that others can find you. We might get to know each other a little better. Or you can do none of the above and just enjoy reading.

What is your favourite childhood memory?

When I was about 8 years old, my Dad saw that I was trying to draw a lady’s face. He was in his work clothes, either going to or coming from the farm but he sat down and showed me how to draw a face. He didn’t know how to draw, but he knew more than I did. Mum and I were always close and I have many memories of her patiently passing along many skills. Dad worked long hours and didn’t often have time to give to us, one-on-one, so this memory stands out for me, and I return to it often.

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remembering…

How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?

I like how I am now. (just as well isn’t it?) It happens I am 63. Despite the vagaries of an ageing body, I love how I feel mentally and spiritually at this stage in my life. The whole of my life has led me to now.

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?

In the words of Elmer Fudd, ‘Be bwave widdoe wabbit’                                                                            (spell checker is going nuts…)

What is your favourite quote?

Quote from poet Antonio Machado

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Honey Bee on native daisy, Olive Pink Botanic Garden

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamt—marvellous error!—

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

What is your current 3 word memoir?

Surrender to yourself.

i am an immigrant…

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I am from a lineage of immigrants. My paternal Grandfather migrated from Italy to the USA, early in the 1900’s. I have seen his name etched into the wall of names at Ellis Island. My maternal Great Great Grandparents migrated from Germany. My husband’s Great Grandparents also came from Germany. My husband and I migrated to Australia and are both citizens of this country. If you go back far enough, all of us have relatives from somewhere else.

I grew up in small-town-middle-America. There were a few migrants in the town, but not many, and they had their share of haters. There were virtually no people of colour in the town. There were bigots, racial, religious and other, and I heard their comments all my life. Even in my own home. Even now I still hear them when we visit. I hear them where I live now, too. Bigotry is a pastime in which we all participate, at some point.

Bigotry, and its fear and intolerance, is the opposite of compassion.

In light of the political unrest of the moment, Ailsa from Where’s My Backpack, has written a stunning poem and requested us to create, or do, something ‘Great’ this week or in coming weeks, instead of her usual photo theme. She inspired us to do something that will add positive energy to the conversation the world is having. Hit the reset button, as she says. Only in our participation do we have a chance to make a positive contribution, even if it is a very small thing. Great journeys always start with one small step.

I had no photograph anyway, my tiny story is one about feeling…

The day after the US election results made Donald Trump President-elect, I had my 6 monthly appointment at the eye clinic here in Alice Springs. It is a world class eye clinic, tucked away in a none too salubrious setting. We have excellent care, however, because so many of the Indigenous people have glaucoma, which, incidentally, is what I have. An appointment usually takes a couple of hours, including waiting time in between the various exams, drops, scans and consultations. There are always a number of Indigenous people waiting as well. Many of them are elderly and very, very sad to see. Clearly, glaucoma is not their only health issue.

This week I sat quietly, waiting for drops to open my pupils for a retinal scan. Sometimes I closed my eyes to simply relax and remind myself how lucky I am to live in a place where excellent care is available, and in a time when glaucoma is not necessarily a sentence to blindness. I didn’t want to bow my head into my phone or a magazine, I just wanted to sit quietly and ‘be’.

There was an elderly, Indigenous woman who hobbled out from an exam room. She had no one assisting her and she had no walking stick. She unsteadily and slowly made her way to the seat across from me, to await the next stage of her examination. Soon it was her turn for a scan and the nurse called her into the room. I heard a small groan as she got up and she paused, uncertain of her balance. Then came another small groan of uncertainty, ‘I hope I can make it’. I know the sound of a person with hip problems, from personal experience. Without thinking, I hopped up and offered my arm to steady her. Without hesitation and with a flicker of smile, she leaned on me, immediately relieved . Surprisingly, the others around us looked up and smiled too; one Indigenous gentleman had a tiny nod and smile, with a glint of moisture in his eye…perhaps just his eye drops glistening, but still… It was a moment of pure human to human compassion that I want always to remember.

For a moment, it didn’t matter that she was from a lineage of the first Australians, and I was a migrant from far away. We were humans, touching and showing kindness. That was what mattered.

That is always what matters.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”                                                                                       -Ralph Waldo Emerson

the ‘failed’ cobweb…

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Sometimes we overlook the obvious. I was reading a blog recently and the author had added an Instagram ‘widget’ to the bottom of her blog page. But SHE was smart enough to tell her readers about it. Not me. I added it about a year ago, during my 365 photo project, but don’t recall telling you about it. Silly me. Those of you who are not on Instagram can check my blog any time to see the latest photo I’ve posted to IG, if you so wish. I often use the same photos to illustrate my blog posts, but not always…so it may be of interest to you to check now and then. You’ll need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, passed the comments, to see it.img_2647

One of the more recent photos I’ve posted on IG was a little gift I discovered one morning while sweeping the leaves from our breezeway. It was the most charming little collection of local objects, delivered right to my front door (literally) by the prevailing winds.

The red bits of fluff are from the Callistemon, or bottlebrush trees, that have been flowering. The Eucalyptus leaves, are, of course, very prevalent in our area. The large feather is from one of the small honey eating birds that frequent the garden, and the small green feather is from a Port Lincoln Parrot. The other bits of fluff and seeds are from various native grasses and lilies that we have in the garden…and all of it collected by an opportunistic cobweb, probably a failure if it was intended for insects, but a definite success for a photographer.

Regardless of your political interests, I hope you are having a good week.

(Instagram: @amosthemagicdog)

Cook’s Edit: Pasta and Beans with Kale

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Original recipe: Pasta e Fagioli with Escarole

For most of this year I have been trying to imagine a ‘category’ in which to gather the occasional food posts I write. Recently, as I was making and photographing this delicious soup, and realising how many changes I had made to the original recipe, it suddenly occurred to me… Cook’s edit. Most of us can relate to this. I think I’m not alone in viewing recipes as ‘suggestions’ and feeling within my rights to make changes to suit my diet or my tastes, not to mention availability of ingredients. I’m reluctant to make changes to cake or pie recipes, however, because the quantities and ingredients are closely aligned with the chemical reaction that lifts them and makes the texture so important.

However.

With ‘Pasta e Fagioli with Escarole’, I was not precious. 

The original recipe sounded perfectly fine but for dietary and procurement reasons I needed to make changes. Though I know what it is, I have never even seen anything labeled ‘escarole’ here in our groceries, so that was not an option either. But I have a couple of Tuscan kale plants in my herb garden and those leaves substituted nicely. My resident soup connoisseur pronounced it ‘beautiful’. I’ll take that, all day long!

I wholeheartedly encourage you to view the original recipe above, and make your own changes if need be, or you can use my version and tweak it as well. Cook’s edit.

One of the things I like best about this soup is that you don’t need meat stock to make it, or any stock at all, since it creates its own with the herbs and vegetables. Often I want to make soup and have run out of my freezer supply of stock, and don’t have time to make any. Since I can’t eat onion or garlic, water as a soup base can be pretty plain, but not this one.

Pasta e Fagioli with Kale

2 x 400 tins cannellini beans – soaked (navy beans, fagioli etc)

1 Parmesan rind* (about 2 ounces), plus shaved Parmesan for serving

2 medium carrots, scrubbed, halved crosswise and then halved lengthwise

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topped with cheese, ready to serve

2 celery stalks, halved crosswise

6 sprigs of parsley

1 sprig rosemary

2 bay leaves

2 dried chillies

sea salt, freshly ground pepper

~3 T olive oil

1/2 a large fennel bulb chopped into smallish chunks, plus the stem pieces trimmed

1 x 400g tin organic tomatoes in juice, unsalted if possible

3/4 C dry white wine (yes, this is necessary)

~1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

~1 tsp fennel seed

2oz dried pasta, I used good quality 100% spelt noodles

~ 8-10 leaves Tuscan kale – tear the leaves from the hardest part of the stem as it often doesn’t break down easily, and just use the leafy parts (as I said, the original recipe calls for escarole, which I never see in the grocery here, and Tuscan kale is growing in my garden so I used that)

I cannot eat beans of any kind without first soaking them. It aids in their digestion (and reduces the wind factor) so 24 hours before starting the soup, I put the two cans of rinsed beans into a jug with water to let them soak.

To make the soup stock put the parmesan, carrots, celery, parsley, rosemary, bay leaves, chilies  and don’t forget to use the stem pieces from your fennel bulb, as well as a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper into a soup pot. Add just enough water to cover the veggies, about 6-8 cups, or thereabouts. Simmer, covered, on low for about an hour. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another hour.

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sautéed fennel, to replace onion

In a frying pan, place the oil and the fennel and sauté until there is a bit of colour on the fennel. Add the tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Add the 3/4C wine and simmer until most of the liquid is gone again.

Remove the cheese rind, vegetables and herbs that have steeped in the stock. Add the fennel and tomato mixture to the stock, and also the drained, pre-soaked beans, and the kale, cut into pieces that will be easy to get onto a spoon. At this stage add the red chilli flakes and the fennel seed. The soup needs these seasonings to make up for the lack of garlic and onion, so even if you only use small amounts, you probably need to use at least a little, or something in place of them that you prefer. Taste the broth and if needed (which it probably will) another pinch of salt and a few more grinds of pepper. Simmer for another 30 minutes and taste again for salt and pepper.

Add whatever pasta you are using, or omit it if you don’t want to use it. Follow the package directions for time to cook, I cooked my spelt noodles for about 14-15 minutes. The pasta certainly made the soup less runny, but only slightly. If you wanted to you could simmer the soup with the lid off and reduce the liquid that way, or start with less water initially.

Serve the soup with freshly grated parmesan over it, fresh bread if you eat it, or nothing at all.

(* Parmesan rind – When I finish my Parmesan cheese I save the rinds in the cheese drawer in the fridge, then add them to soup for flavour. I’ve recently discovered a recipe called Parmesan broth, which I intend investigating as soon as I have some rinds saved again…which means eating a lot of parmesan cheese first—nasty job but someone has to do it)

a small thing…

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img_2195A lovely Spotted Turtle Dove has captivated my attention. It visited our courtyard each morning most of the winter. For much of that time our spa cover had water in it and a variety of birds came for a bath and a drink. It is a dry land we inhabit here, and semi-permanent water is something animals remember.

When the weather warmed my husband thought the water in the top of the cover would attract mosquitoes so he emptied it. Turtle Dove came two mornings in a row and walked around on the dry cover, as if looking for something…a water-y something, perhaps. There was something so heart rending about watching it walk around and search, occasionally pecking at small bits of leaf or dirt where water used to be.

Then one day it didn’t come. Animals quickly adapt to reality, and move on. If only we could let things go as easily!

I told my husband I was going to arrange a sort of bird bath from an old plastic plant bowl and fill it and see if the dove would return. For the first day after I filled the bowl, the only living thing that visited were a couple of dragon flies. Several times a day I would look out my kitchen window for signs of little Turtle Dove. On the third day, my effort was rewarded; little Turtle Dove returned and drank from the bowl. It has come every day since. The Spotted Turtle Dove visits regularly, walking through the herb garden looking for small insects and seeds.

“I know you are not welcomed in many places*, but you are welcome in my garden, little dove.”

img_2617And now, a pair of native Crested Pigeons frequent the courtyard, dipping their beaks into the water bowl and playing chase with each other. I’ve seen them cuddling up side by side in the shade of the patio, as well. The male occasionally fans his tail feathers, peacock style, to impress his lady love, and she seems to tolerate his behaviour in a nonchalant way. Ladies, we can be so hard to please.

The enjoyment of my winged guests, who come and go at will, reminds me to be grateful for little things…

“In the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic.” —Henry Beston

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Crested Pigeon couple

(*The Spotted Turtle Dove is unkindly referred to as an ‘STD’ among bird enthusiasts, because it is not a native species. It was imported from China in about 1860.)

I created this series of images just for this blog piece. Sometimes it is fun to be a bit arty with images, and since my iPhone photos of birds are average at best, the editing helps make the images more interesting (I think).

Travel theme: Hills

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I often take photos for Instagram or EyeEm, but for some reason I don’t end up using them on the blog. This morning when I read Ailsa’s travel theme of ‘hills’ I wanted to play along and share some recent photos that you may not have seen, or maybe won’t mind too much seeing again, in a larger format.

This place is so beautiful, and especially so in the early morning light when all of these photos were taken. It is truly soul stirring every time I see the beauty of the light on this land.

Here, where the sky and land are so expansive, it is hard to appreciate one without the other.

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The hill, the tree, the moon and the sky

 

This very unusual cloud formed one morning, over the hills, and then in a few minutes was gone again. The hills often seem to influence cloud formation, so while this may seem like a cloud photo, it is also about the hills.

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dramatic cloud above the hills

 

It seems impossible to me to take a scene of the surrounding ranges for granted when the light is so insistent that you pay attention. On this particular cloudy morning, there was a hole in the cloud behind me, and through it came this tract of light in front of me, lasting only a short while, as if to say ‘look at me’.

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dramatic morning light on the hills

 

Sometimes the landscape speaks to me of olde world landscapes painted by the masters, and I can’t resist editing them to match my fantasy. The hills don’t really need me to intercede, of course, they are beautiful just as they are.

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morning light on the hill, edited using DistressedFX app

Thank you for viewing ‘my hills’ in Central Australia. If you would like to see more hills from around the world, click on over to Ailsa’s page where more beauty awaits you.

 

the outer kingdom and inner dominion…

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It seems a month or so ago when I wrote there was change in the wind, I was correct. The change in the wind has not altogether been the weather. True, we have had an extended winter/spring, but the changes were also born from inner need, and a rash decision…

Our weather here in Alice has been like no one local can recall. We have been here 25 years and it is certainly different than we have experienced. When I started writing this, a few days ago the morning temperature was 3C. Yesterday at the same time, it was 20C. In anyone’s book that is quite a variance. The miraculous result of our ongoing winter/early spring weather is that both the domestic gardens and the bush have made huge strides in recovering from last summer’s plague of giant grasshoppers and heat, followed by the early winter hail storm that pretty well finished things off. That Mother Nature, you can’t beat her and you can’t figure her out!

While the outer kingdom has been busily regenerating, my inner dominion has been a little volcanic. I made a couple of habit decisions a month or so ago. I first decided to start meditating again. To do that I needed to modify my morning routine. For approximately the first three hours I am up, starting at about 4.45am, I am doing self-nurturing things. I begin with meditating for however long the urge moves me, sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes as long as 50 minutes. I then go for a 40 minute walk. I don’t time it, but I have two routes and they both take about that long because that is how much my body will tolerate and still have energy left for other activities as the day progresses.

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Desert Pea near Botanic Garden

During the walk I have begun listening to podcasts. I have immersed myself into a new world and I am learning. What is the saying? When you know better, you do better. And that means change. Listening to people who are able to articulate their inner and outer journey is valuable to me. It has reminded me to trust my inner voice, which is so sweet and persistent, compared to the ‘self talk’, ego voice which is mostly berating and negative. I now realise I hear them as two different voices and it’s important to differentiate. It takes some getting used to. The self talk must change…starting with, the crisis of writing confidence I have also been wrestling with. I have been reminded that all great artists, a category to which I do not, nor do I care to, belong, have confidence issues most of their lives. I know my writing is improving all the time, and I’m satisfied with that. It is the subject matter I have been a bit worried over. What do I possibly have to say? And then…at about the same time I was writing this post, I had one of those shower-epiphanies–you know, when you are showering and allow your mind to wander and suddenly it bestows upon you a revelation.

Cue Hallelujah Chorus.

‘What if I see my writing as snapshots of the ordinary, but light-filled, similar to my photographs?’ I can happily live with that. Time will tell if others can happily read that!

So, “Go away negative self-talk, it’s a new day!

Also part of my new morning routine; I am not writing emails first thing, as I have done previously. I am writing ideas. Some might make it to the blog one day, most won’t. After about an hour of writing I allow myself to check emails and answer them. I have to make exceptions to this practice if there are family things going on with our daughter or with my Mum and close friends/family overseas.

img_2459The new routine was going well, though not easily. But that was to be expected. And then… I tried to fix a ‘little’ computer problem that was a result of upgrading my operating system. As these things often do, the ‘fix’ was waaaaay worse than the original problem. I back up everything, always. I knew I would get it all back together eventually, but did not expect it to take 8 days 22 hours and 42 minutes, but who’s counting? Two days into that process, my left arm developed a strange ‘rash’ that I decided must be eczema. I’ve had problems with this in the past, but nothing as nasty as this one, and I’ve always been able to identify what I had eaten that had caused it so that I could avoid the food in future, or eat in limited quantities. This time my efforts were for naught. Finally after a week with no improvement I went to the doctor. He took one look and said ‘If you hadn’t had the Shingles vaccine three years ago, I would say you have Shingles. It is classic looking for that.‘(That’s why he’s the doctor, ahem.) I had a quick flashback to the nurse who administered the vaccine telling my husband and I, ‘The efficacy of this one is only 80%.’ Whether it is hubris or a case of positive thinking, one does not think they will be in the unfortunate 20%. Still, I consider myself very lucky that my experience was not as bad as that of my Grandmother or my Mother-in-law. I’m sure the vaccine* has helped mitigate the more miserable and serious symptoms. 

I can now go back to eating normally, having eliminated a whole swag of foods from my diet for the passed week, and the rash should be healed in two-four weeks.img_2412

So, my friends, life is never dull. If it is, you aren’t doing it right.

(*If you are over 60, I would recommend getting the Herpes Zoster Vaccine. We had to get a script from our doctor, take it to the chemist who ordered it and then we picked it up and took it to our GP, whose nurse administered it. If you have ever seen anyone with normal to serious Shingles, you would not hesitate to do this. It is a very painful and nasty thing to experience. My own was only minor pain the first few days and lots of itching.)

the opposite of darkness…

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Recently I read a blog post about that time of the day when the sun has dipped below the horizon, but it is not quite dark yet. ‘What is that called?’ the author asked the fellowship who follow her blog. ‘Twilight’ my mind thought softly, and I noticed others said the same. Twilight. Ephemeral word and… state of being and… sky to behold. A memory worthy of shivers, recalling the many twilights, both morning and evening, I have seen.

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Near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Someone volunteered another word– ‘gloaming’. An old English word kept alive by the Scots, to glorify either end of the day. I couldn’t stay awake late enough for a gloaming photo in July, in Scotland, when the sun would barely set before sunrise again. Shivers shoot up my back with fingers extending across my shoulders at recognition of something I want to remember. Is it a piece to the puzzle of the Universe? I always ask this question. I know that it must be, and yet I have no idea the significance. Perhaps it is just the Universe showing us its majesty.

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glowing gloaming at home in Alice

Another contribution offered the French word, ‘le crépuscule’. Wouldn’t you know the French would have a beautiful word too? Again the chills ran up my spine. I found a resource online so that I could be certain of the pronunciation. The Italian word is very similar ‘crepuscolo’ –equally poetic. What a marvel the internet is, when one is enlightened and inspired by it.

It seemed to me this illumination of the Earth’s lower atmosphere fell perfectly into the theme of ‘enlightened,’ inspired by another blogger, Ailsa, who writes about some of the darkness in our world and her efforts to share positivity and love to counter it. See what Ailsa and others have written on the topic here. Join in. Illumination is the opposite of darkness. There is darkness in our world, but we can choose to light the way, if we try. 

Be enlightened.