Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Maybe it is the season, the cold of winter, or the short days, but I have been thinking that this is not where I would have expected to be at this age and stage. This isn't the life I had planned.

Not unlike anyone else, I had hoped for things that have not materialized.  People disappoint us, people hurt us, people leave us. Our expectations crumble and topple. We lose money, we lose friends, we lose our hair, we lose our glasses and our keys, and we lose connection with what we had fancied our lives might have been. 

What do we gain?  Perhaps patience, serenity, confidence, and the knowledge that we don't have to be the best and greatest in the world afterall.  We no longer have to torture ourselves with self importance. Not everything seems possible anymore.  But that is okay.  The good news is that the script can be tossed away.  And for me, this year the script will be tossed away.  I intend on making myself comfortable, comfortable in my own skin, and I will wait.  Wait to see where I am being guided.  Perhaps then by being unflappable and unpreturbed, the things I am missing in my life will materialize.

This new year begins with a winter blue moon. As I contemplate the things I have not achieved, the people I have lost, and the dreams that have evaporated, I am going to do some things that some would consider wild and crazy, at least for me.  Maybe I will have ice cream for breakfast, ride with the top down in the cold, listen to Joe Cocker sing "Unchain my Heart", ride a motor cycle, dance and sing and generally let people think I've have lost it!  I will live the life I have been blessed with!

As I listen to Joe Cocker's raspy throaty voice belt out, "You Can Leave Your Hat On" I say a prayer for my friend that died a little over a week ago, for the lady down the street with Alzheimer's that can't find her way home from the mail box, for the soldiers who face horrific nightmares and flashbacks, for my friend's dogs Morgan and Maggie who are in  their later years struggling daily for quality of life, for a little boy in the hospital, and for a special friend whose beautiful words literally take my breath away, and for you who find yourself reading this on New Year's Eve and for those of you who believe.


"At the end of the day faith is a funny thing. It turns up when you don't really expect it. It's like one day you realize that the fairy tale may be slightly different than you dreamed. The castle, well, it may not be a castle. And it's not so important happy ever after, just that its happy right now. See once in a while, once in a blue moon, people will surprise you , and once in a while people may even take your breath away.”

~ Meredith Grey


Sometimes little graces come abruptly, unexpected, and unannounced.  And then sometimes in an envelope that was delivered to the wrong address.

Little graces for me can be as uncomplex and simple as a soldier's child taking me by the index finger and leading me to see the miracle of a bug crawling and struggling with a piece of a leaf over a log, or a phone call from a friend I haven't been able to get off of my mind and never out of my heart, or watching as my dogs race out the back door to encounter sleet for the first time and stand in wonderment. Or watching them 'stand vigil,' as they sleep curled in tight little circles, sighing once in a while, as they surround my office chair where I sit writing, working, or pondering. And then a late night call from a friend who simply missed the sound of my voice, offering starlight and sweet dreams and little graces.

And there are times when graces come and perch softly on our shoulders until we wake up and notice them.  It is in these times that you realize that this is a gift that has been sent to you and perhaps been there patiently waiting for a long, long time. It is because you weren't expecting it that it appears to be an awakening, an awakening to life, to changes, to experiences and sometimes to love or sometimes to the reality of a country on the other side of the planet.

My neighbor called yesterday afternoon to tell me the post man had put an envelope addressed to me in her box by mistake (not uncommon for this post man).  I took a  break, put on a coat and went outside to meet her as we gave our dogs a reprieve from the boredom of a cold rainy winter day 'stuck' inside. 

She handed me an envelope with "Hallmark" on the back flap and an APO return address.  I anticipated another of 'my' soldiers sending a thank you note for the boxes of Pockets of Peace books ( ) we had sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a holiday morale boost.  But instead the envelope contained a 'little grace.'

As I pulled the card out of the envelope, a check dropped to the ground.  I stooped to pick it up and and stood with my neighbor as I read the card aloud.

"Dear Good People from PFH (Penny's from Heaven),
I am writing to contribute a small donation for my great aunt Marianne who lives in Orlando and do to illness is unable to see.  Many times dogs are just as good as medicine for the heart.  Take care and keep up the good work.
Lorna A."

This my friends is a 'little grace.' 

A soldier in combat sending us a fifteen dollar check in honor of her aunt, because she 'gets it.' 

She 'understands' and for me at that moment, at that time, the cords of my life untangled and I felt blessed. 

God Bless Lorna and God Bless our Troops

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Sometimes we are turned inside out. We want to run kicking and screaming from the insanity of it all. We want to regain some kind of control. And sometimes there doesn't seem to be any way to do that.

It seems unreasonable, unbearable. We all have choices and sometimes the best choice is to not make a choice. Choices can injure us, unhinge us, they can move us forward, or they can stop us cold in our tracks and consume us.

As this year ends I am struck by the choices I have made this past year. Some of them caused me unthinkable pain and others unapproachable joy. Do they balance each other? Are they supposed to? I made friends, lost friends and love, and learned lessons, mostly the hard way. Will the new year be any different? Probably not. After all we are human and this is life.

Then a friend reminds me of the lives I have been blessed to touch - some known but most not. The series of Pockets of Peace ( ) books that I authored and that were distributed through my foundation to thousands of our soldiers who are struggling moment to moment to find hope, faith, inspiration, motivation, honesty, strength, love and courage so that we have the freedom to make choices.

Our lives come with a story attached. And our choices become memories - some good, some painful and some joyful. But they all stitch us together into who we are.

This next year we will love people, lose people, cry, laugh, dance and rage out as we face the daily practicalities of this life. We will once again reinvent ourselves and once again learn to forgive ourselves.

This is it. The rest will be but a memory.
Listen for that still small voice whispering, "You can do it."
Say the 'sappy' stuff, love with all your heart, cry, hold hands, laugh, hug, scream, yell, sing, dance, and pray.


Live with purpose and passion and meaning and mission and with a little wild abandon. With no forgiveness withheld and no anger held within.

Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman

~Live Like You Were Dying~

Monday, December 28, 2009


A friend sent me a tee shirt, on the front it reads, “Wag More, Bark Less.”

These four little words seem to say it all. It isn’t about our to-do lists and getting everything crammed in every day. It isn’t about our cell phones, our laptop, or our BlackBerry. It is however about prioritizing what truly is important to us and being faithful to these choices no matter what.

Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) advocates a ‘not-to-do list.’ What a concept! Just as we have to make a conscious decision to be courageous, we must make a similar decision to enjoy this life we have been given no matter the circumstances.

As he said, “There is a price tag on every decision you make in life, even those that seem insignificant. Every time you give a minute of your life to anything, you’re giving part of your life away.” That is a powerful message.

My dogs have taught me to rejoice in the sheer bliss of relaxation and being unapologetically unproductive. Well okay, at least once in a while. Have you noticed how dogs seem to take great pleasure in the simple fact that they are alive?

The best part is that while we are ‘hanging out’ with our animal friends, we don’t have to be clever, talkative, or witty. We just simply have to ‘be.’ Having that permission allows us to relax. They seem to have a sensitive and intuitive ability to sense if we are happy, sad, want to play, or be left alone. With our pets we are able to be ourselves. And they seem to mirror it back to us. Whatever our mood or the circumstances, they have the ability to be more keenly aware than we will ever understand.

These same characteristics and traits often are infinitely reassuring and comforting to patients, providing a place where patients can feel safe to reveal themselves.

I have seen it over and over again. Patients see the dogs and immediately begin talking to them. Who is on the other end of the leash is unimportant. This is as it should be. For in this time and place of intentional healing, having a friend visit that doesn’t look at them with sympathy, judgment, or requirements is pretty remarkable.

Sometimes healing might just begin with putting ‘take a nap’ and ‘snuggle the dog’ at the top of your to-do list.

“A faithful friend is the medicine of life.”



Peace, the dictionary says, "absence of war or other hostilities, an agreement or a treaty to end hostilities, freedom from quarrels and disagreements, public security and order, and inner contentment, serenity, free from strife, in a state of tranquility, serene, to sustain law and order" and my personal favorite, 'to be silent!'

The past week has held anything but silence. The background music of Jingle Bell Rock and I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus as you shop for milk and eggs in a supermarket intent on selling you much more, the noise of full of people hurrying to do as much possible in as little time as possible, the joyous din of holiday parties, laughter, glasses clinking, fireplaces crackling, and children screaming in anticipation of Santa's arrival.

There was little 'peace on earth' as I sent off 60+ boxes of my Pockets of Peace books to our deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and thought of their families serving at home. I remembered being an Army wife years ago, alone at home with a baby, while my husband was in Korea. It was a sad and bleak time.

In a holiday state of mind or environment, it is difficult to weather the noise. It becomes contagious as you watch everyone scurrying about to meet the deadline of December 25th. You find yourself suddenly doing the same thing, hurrying to find that perfect gift, or happiness.

But now it is a new week, with a new year approaching. And it is apparent, to me at least, too much noise shifts our attention from what is truly important.

The early morning hours before daybreak are where and when I find peace. It is where I remember who I am. As I write, aware of my breath, I let the cares of the day strip away, I find a peace that will accompany me on another day's journey. It is a time when I find my sanctuary.

For me, if each day does not begin like this, how do I deal with the insanity of it all?

There is a certain sadness in winter, if you choose to look at it that way. Or I say there is a certain peace - a welcome pause - before the world once again breaks into bloom. Winter for me is a place, and a space, I want to hold onto. I find a quieting of my soul and body and great comfort in the simplicity and quiet of this time of year.

Have you ever noticed there are those who choose to never find peace in their lives, always surrounded by tasks, to do lists, chaos, duty, self-imposed busyness? The television is turned on the second they enter their home, a phone or ipod is always attached to their ear. 'Living lives of quiet desperation,' they have a space inside that is empty and can only be superficially filled with busyness and 'stuff'.

It is by turning inward that you find who you are. You might be surprised to find you are not just mother, wife, executive, father, grandparent, doctor, nurse, friend, neighbor, etc. Try it...let me know what you find out.

Our inner selves can be reduced to rubble and we are of no use to anyone if we don't find the peace of knowing who we are. As my friend Terry Hershey ( says, "...finding time to let our souls catch up with our bodies." Sometimes it is a painful and exhausting plunge when we look inside. Sometimes it is complicated, and then sometimes we just might find a joyful spirit that wants to come out and play.

Take a moment each day, savor the fragrance of honey, the soft eyes of child, the look of love in complete stranger's eyes, read poetry (my favorite - Mary Oliver) reflect on those times when you felt at peace, feel the winter chill in your cheeks, touch the cold nose of your dog, smell a flower, awaken all of your senses, look in the mirror and into your soul, find yourself. Then quietly observe Mother Nature sleeping - preparing, preparing.

There are times when our souls sustain damage beyond repair and comprehension, it is in those times that we need to find that place inside where peace lives.

"Everyday brings a choice to practice stress or to practice peace."

~Joan Borysenko~

Sunday, December 27, 2009


We wait for Christmas and some even wait for it to be over. Then there is that tremendous disappointment or even letdown when it is over.

Why is it we have such difficulty embracing the ordinary moments that come and go virtually unnoticed? A Sunday like today.....jammies till noon...fragrant lavendar scones with blueberries and white chocolate chips and a mug of hot Latin Amerian coffee....snuggling in a red hand crocheted blanket my daughter made me for off the top of my desk in preparation for a new week, new year....doing laundry with lavendar scented soap...watching my dogs roll around on their backs in the grass under a vibrant clear blue sky grateful for the moment...thoughts that make me smile softly of a friend far away....taking a deep breath and being grateful for simply being alive.

The loss of a dear friend on Thursday brought it all too close. Why do we postpone enjoying the small fleeting pleasures that pass our way and are ours for the taking? Sometimes something as simple as not losing my car keys is a special moment, a bubble bath, or reading a book start to finish curled up with Gracie's head on my lap, and realizing that this is the moment...the only moment we have for certain.

Sometimes we take these moments for granted and don't even think of them. Yesterday at the Warrior Family Support Center, the day after Christmas, I made 50 + omelets for our wounded warriors and their families, while other volunteers made 'good ole' biscuits and sausage gravy, pancakes, burritos and scrambled eggs and hashbrowns.

Many of our soldiers were in wheel chairs, some with the all too recognizable look of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and some with little kids cranky and hungry. But all of them (without exception) were grateful. They would go into the dining room after filling their plates and soon they would find their way back to the kitchen, full of the smells of breakfast and home, to say thank you! No one prompted them, no one forced them, they were simply thankful.

For me, hearing 'thank you' was instant joy, an unexpected effervescence. These moments are way beyond the alarm going off at 5:00 am and driving 45 minutes to cook breakfast.

Sometimes we just have to 'put up' with 'stuff' to find those things that shower us with joy and bring us peace.

"Feeling blue is never an excuse for passing on a chance to feel joy!"

~Veronique Vienne~

Friday, December 25, 2009


... .....and the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?
~Dr. Seuss~

Thursday, December 24, 2009


This Christmas as you sit around your Christmas tree opening gifts, try to remember our soldiers distributing gifts of toys and clothes to the children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Your contribution to Penny's From Heaven Foundation's OPERATION PUPPY LOVE will allow us to send our soldiers these toys to distribute in a vast humanitarian mission.
If anyone isn't a believer of the good this can do, please visit and read the letter from a soldier on the Operation Puppy Love page. Lives were saved because of one single stuffed rabbit given to a little girl by a soldier. This is a story of the true meaning of Christmas!
Please join us in this effort. If you have no toys, we do accept PAYPAL now and we will purchase them for you. New toys will be replacing old ones in your homes after Santa comes. Share some meaningful time with your child and tell them there are children in this world who have never had a stuffed toy and have them help you box up their gently loved stuffed animals and send to us. We in turn will send on to the chaplains in the most remote areas of these countries. A lesson will be taught and observed by your children, and a little person in a war zone will have something to snuggle - most likely for the first time.
God Bless each of you and thank you or your support of our soldiers. Keep them in your prayers tonight, on Christmas Eve, as they stand guard over us all.
Making a difference one person at a time!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Two days before Christmas and I was checking my email to find out if I had been naughty or nice. And what to my wondering eyes appeared but epistles of encouragement from far and near!

If I am sick of my old job, I can ‘be a cop,’ I can find my soul mate ‘instantly,’ time is running out for my 10,000.00 scholarship, if I act now I can get “60,000,00 worth of land in Costa Rica for only 25,000.00,” I can get a ‘condom sampler pack’ so I can “be safe not sorry,” I can become a mystery shopper or a preacher simply by filling out an application on line, I won a “free drill set,” and thank goodness, I received a congratulatory letter telling me “I did it,” and best of all some caring soul asking “are you happy!”

I know that there was money in it for them and I know they didn’t really care whether or not I was happy, but it sure got me to thinking. Am I really happy?

The thesaurus says “content, glad, joyful, blissful, exultant, ecstatic, delighted, cheery, jovial, and on cloud nine.” It also tells me I can search for ‘happy’ in ‘all reference books or all research sites.’ All this does is make the question more difficult. Hum! Search for happy!

As I face this question head on, I know I find intense happiness in my friends. One of whom just two days ago brought me to tears when she looked deeply into my soul and asked, “Patsy, you do so much for so many other people, writing another four books, running three bed and breakfasts, speaking engagements, and the list goes on. You have very little, if any, time for yourself, are you okay? Are you okay?”

I looked at her, through tears welling up in my eyes, in disbelief. I told her, “I can’t remember the last time anyone ever asked me if I was okay.” I had never thought about it. Again am I okay…am I happy?

My daughter makes me happy, because she is happy. Music makes me happy, pensive, melancholy, joyful, and sometimes it can make me want to dance. Ice cream makes me happy, a lick on my hand from one of my dogs is consoling and comforting, the smell of the earth after a rain makes me happy, and dark chocolate sure makes me happy, as does putting on jammies and climbing into clean sheets. But is my question answered? Is my soul happy? Is anyone truly happy?

Thinking more about it, I never ever once imagined I would be who or where I am today. My friends are full of retirement plans, tender moments with rosy cheeked grandbabies, travel plans “just the two of them” after surviving the empty nest thing, and composing the last dance and the last part of their lives.

Often I see them look at me with wonder and amazement. I speak of traveling alone, book tours, phone interviews, national radio shows, television interviews, newspaper articles all on my passion. I have been invited to speak to serial killers, rapists, and child abusers in the New Mexico State Prison. I tell my friends and they nervously laugh, not knowing what to say. What did I expect them to do?

Everyday I ask myself if I am more compassionate and wiser than the day before. Every day, well almost everyday, I wake and am excited about what will come from that day. I know without a doubt that something wonderful will happen. I know that I am blessed, and I know that I have been chosen. I know that this passion was given to me to share. I’m not where I thought I would be…with a husband in a home somewhere in the country surrounded by trees, flowers, streams, grandbabies and love.

But I am where I am supposed to be and who I am supposed to be. I fought my way here and at last feel I have arrived. A very dear friend wrote me the other day and told me, “I’ve very amazed at your vitality and inner resolve – what a gift to the world.” Funny I never thought of it that way. I want to believe his words. I am honored he said them.

So yes I guess the answer has to be I am happy and content for the most part. There are things I am sad about and would change. In the midst of promoting my passion, sometimes an enormous bout of loneliness jumps in and reminds me that I am alone.

Then there are times when life gives us what we pray for, and then we find we can’t quite reach the gold ring after all. It is there, it is beautiful, and you fall in love with it. But it isn’t really yours after all. A reminder that, no matter what, we aren’t really ever in control, are we? So we grab the joy, the love, the chocolate, the passion, the dance, and the moments when we can. We embrace them for just being there for the time they are. And we try to not be sad when they are gone.

Rabbi Irwin Kula in Yearnings, Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, tells us that the messiness of life is the sacred stuff that keeps us growing. Our ever present yearning for meaning and purpose, for love and happiness, to make sense of it all, defines our spiritual path and ultimately leads us to wonderful opportunities and discoveries. Kula says, “If you’ve never had dirty dishes in the sink, you’ve probably never had a home cooked meal.”

Life can be messy and imperfect! We are all looking for answers. This constant craving can become a path to blessings and grace if we open our hearts.

Sometimes the depth of our desires can never be realized, but maybe sometimes they can. If we embrace our lives, the ones we have been given, with the paths we know we have been selected to take, and we accept the messiness of life then maybe, just maybe, we can fully understand this magnificient project called life.

May you be blessed with peace. Merry Christmas!



Two days before Christmas a friend has died. Eight months ago he had a stroke and was hospitalized for almost the entire time.

Mac and I worked together for 30 years – photo shoots, food styling, cooking, eating, sampling wine and laughing, as I always waited on him to fuss at my ‘funky’ electric outlets. He would always bring me carne guisada breakfast tacos because he knew how much I loved them. And he would make special trips to find the homemade pralines that we would share after a 'shoot'. I called him the ‘home wrecker’ because of all the lights, cameras, furniture displaced, floors covered with food, Christmas glitter, and Easter grass. He patiently worked and walked around my dogs sleeping underfoot on the kitchen floor.

We were a team. The newspaper loved our work. We each complimented the other. I respected him and visa versa. He photographed my Penny for the cover of Penny's From Heaven Stories of Healing and covers for books yet to be written.

Together, shivering in the cold, we shot summer picnics in the backyard, and in August we built a blazing fire in the fireplace for Christmas photographs. He was patient, kind and a great father to his step children. He loved old comedians, Jimmy Durante, Fibber Magee and Molly, and Louis Armstrong, fine wine and good food.

Everything I learned about photography I learned from him. He helped me pick out a new camera. I would email Mac, my teacher, my photographs and without question he always said my photographs were as good as his and that I needed no more lessons. “You have the eye.” He especially loved the photo of the dog I had taken under the patio table in the shadows and sunlight. He would mention this photo each time I visited with him in the hospital.

Mac’s work was exemplary. Through the camera lens he was able to capture moments, moods and life. He taught me about all three.

He was extraordinary, when in the prime of his life he was struck, paralyzed, and slowly gave up. He was only 57.

Kelsie and I, and another therapy dog team of Karen and Chase, visited him frequently in the hospital. He would always smile at the dogs and call them from across the room. He always would smile, no matter the pain, with a twinkle in his eye. He always said he was doing ‘fine’ whenever I asked. But I knew he wasn’t.

Once he asked me to bring him a ‘double meat, double cheese, no mustard, and lots of jalapenos burger and a chocolate malt from What a Burger. He ate three bites.

My friend is gone. I will miss him.

Today my memories are suspended.

Rest well my friend. How I wish you were unloading your camera equipment and walking in my back door with carne guisada tacos to once again 'trash' my kitchen. You will live on in my heart and my work and my photographs. You were a great teacher, photographer, and human being.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today in 1858, the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini was born. Puccini, best known for his operas La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, lives on in the hearts of the world.

As I write this morning, Luciano Pavorotti is in the background singing Turnadot. My heart is weaping to the music. I close my eyes and feel an emotion that is often at the surface, yet sometimes deeply buried to escape feeling anything at all.

What Puccini gave the world is a gift beyond words. You only have to inhale and his music is absorbed into your soul and your feelings will break to the surface whether you want them to or not.

"Sleep in heavenly peace."

"...there's nothing so sensible as sensual inundation...the only way to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it into the body first, like small wild plums."

~Mary Oliver~ American Primitive


Sometimes life begins at the front door with a kiss and a whisper. It is then that your soul once again finds its home and everything lost is found again - if only for a moment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Say "Thy will be done."
Then listen.
This is a hard one.
Sometimes we feel pinned to the ground.


Yesterday morning I was fighting depression…’tis the season you know! And a pity party seemed inevitable. You must know about these. We all have them once in a while. And as usual, I tried to tell myself to get up and get on with the business of living. For me being alone during this time of year is unpleasant at best. So I try to fill my days and hours with giving, giving of myself, my dogs, my talents to others. This helps.

Later this particular morning a switch was flipped inside somewhere. It was as simple as touching the cheek of a little baby with my index finger. She was wearing a shiny spangley pink Santa hat with a white pompom dangling over one eye. With a background of a choir singing Christmas hymns to our wounded soldiers, eating breakfast under the watchful eye of volunteer Saturday morning cooks at the Warrior Family Support Center at BAMC (Brook Army Medical Center,) I watched the baby’s little eyes sparkle on the eve of her first Christmas. I felt the satin in her cheeks. I felt an enormous promise of potential, of love, of life, of failures and successes and broken hearts and giving and taking. But mostly I heard the music.

Kelsie and I made our way across the huge living area to see the source of this inspiration and sensual pleasure. We found the choir gathered just inside the dining area off of the kitchen. They seemed to be unnoticed, except by the children. A soldier sat ostensibly mesmerized by the songs, no doubt a bit of culture shock, having just returned a couple of weeks earlier from a war zone in the desert in a land far away. As he watched the choir, he also watched his toddler. This little girl, still in diapers, was dancing and twirling and clapping, all by herself in the middle of the floor. As they began singing Silent Night, she tried to dance faster and faster, urging the choir to sing another more joyous song. But no matter, she danced to her own music, still twirling and bouncing with hands and arms flailing in the air. I recalled Friedrich Nietzsche's quote, "Without music life would be a mistake."

I returned focus to Kelsie to find she was surrounded by no less than five children sitting and petting her most respectfully. If one could not reach her, the other would shift positions making it a little easier for them to get to her. You need to understand that these soldier’s children belong to all the soldiers. The wives take care of other wives children and the children take care of the younger ones belonging to other families. It is a comradeship like none other I have ever seen. If one had what was perceived as too much time with Kelsie, another would respectfully indicate they needed to share. What lessons to be learned. Taking care of one another! A simple concept, but oh so often forgotten.

So this Christmas let go of the pity party and become a child again. There are a lot of people out there that need someone to care about them, love them, and let them know they have not been forgotten. For after all, isn’t that what we all need? Someone to love us, care for us and help us fly when we have forgotten how.

I hope you twirl and clap and let the music reach and repair your emotions. This Christmas, I hope you dance!
"Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having in spirit, become a child again at Christmas time.”
~Laura Ingalls Wilder~
"In music one must think with the heart and feel with the brain."
~George Szell~
"Music finds its way where the rays of the sun cannot penetrate."
~Soren Kierkegaard~

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Never let it be said that there aren't nice people left on this earth. I am here as a witness that there are alot of them.

About a hundred plus Texas Patriot Riders (Riding Hard/Standing Tall) road three hours from Katy, Texas to San Antonio on their Harleys to bring Santa and gifts to the children of our wounded warriors, as part of their mission to assist the wounded on the homefront.

The roar of the motorcycles, as they approached the Warrior Family Support Center at Brook Army Medical Center, couldn't diminish the children's screams of joy and delight when they were told that 'Santa is here!' The first Harley was pulling Santa's sleigh and the entourage was accompanied by a semi-truck packed from floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of gifts for children of all ages. Children who have made great sacrifices and in many cases have had to grow up far too quickly.

The Texas Patriot Riders have worked hard to bring donations to the children whose mom's and/or dad's have been seriously wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. They were kind, courteous, professional and stood tall and proud, as they unloaded the boxes and took them to place under the huge Christmas tree inside the WFSC. The children lined the pathway waiting to go visit with Santa as they hung onto the arms of their parents wheelchairs or crutches or legs.

But not all of the TPR's missions are as happy. These generous, kind, and compassionate Americans are often a 'rolling tribute of honor and respect' with American flags flying, to accompany the remains of soldiers killed in action to their final resting places. They support the wives and mothers of fallen soldiers. They stand tall and silent on a flag line. They attend funeral services for soldiers they have never met because they are Americans.

This was a Christmas like no other I have ever seen. This one is what Christmas is all about. Taking care of each other, loving each other, and loving and caring for people we have never met because they put their lives on the line for us, people they don't know either.

This is because we are Americans.

The Texas Patriot Riders are a non-profit organization. Their Mission Statement tells us everything we need to know about who they are and what they stand for:

Mission Statement...
The Patriot Guard Riders is a diverse amalgamation of riders from across the nation. We have one thing in common besides motorcycles. We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America's freedom and security. If you share this respect, please join us.

We don't care what you ride, what your political views are, or whether you're a "hawk" or a "dove". It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn't matter where you're from or what your income is. You don't even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect.

Our main mission is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family. Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives.
Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities.
Shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors. We accomplish the later through strictly legal and non-violent means.

We divide our support into two different types of missions...
Providing Honor and respect for the defenders of our freedoms that paid the ultimate price (a Soldier, Veteran, or First responder)
Active duty soldiers, Wounded Warriors, or Veterans that have a special need via our HOTH (Help on the Homefront) Program.

These are good people! They do what they do because they are Americans!
They are truly extraordinary, as they show the greatest respect with every act of kindness. We could all learn lessons from them.

Friday, December 18, 2009


"You give, someone receives. Consider the magic in that transaction. Tangible, emotional, or spiritual, your gift goes beyond the moment!

~Jan Bethancourt~

I had a phone call late yesterday afternoon from a young woman that is a volunteer with our Penny's From Heaven Foundation therapy dog program. As a new volunteer she had selected one of the most difficult venues in which to volunteer - a children's advocacy center - where her French Bull dog, Petunia, offers a nonjudgmental ear to children speaking with law enforcement about being sexually abused or witnessing abuse.

Their first case was a three year old little boy who had had unspeakable things done to him. My friend was outraged, overwhelmed, and after the first visit wanted to quit. I counseled her and told her this was a voluntary position and that she could remove herself from it, and that she did not have to continue.

But this Texas gal dug her boots in and stuck to it. The child would have nothing to do or nothing to say to the counselor. To everyone's surprise, he would talk solely to Petunia. And it was what he ended up telling Petunia that got his parents imprisoned for 10 years.

It was miraculous. It was a gift that went far beyond the moment! It was the mere presence of "Toonie" that allowed this child to tell a little dog the horrors he had endured. Law enforcement asked the questions and then grace entered the picture. This little boy was about to be returned to his parents until he met a therapy dog that was on her first visit after being certified.

Now my friend will go back with Petunia and try to repair the intense damage to this little boy, who now lives safely with his grandma. Petunia was his salvation. My friend knew in her heart that this is what she had to do, regardless of how it was impacting her. She trusted her instincts and found the power to effect change in the world around her. She is a hero because of the choice she made to stick to it. It was far from easy for her, because sometimes the lump in your throat comes with tears attached. And for her and her little began at the end of her comfort zone.

God bless my precious volunteer and God bless Petunia for bringing a Merry Christmas to a very special little boy, whose Christmas gift this year will be a life free from fear.
As Dorothy Thompson said, "Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." This little boy can now begin to live.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We all need one. One best friend who we know will always be there for us no matter how we behave, or how we feel. There is nothing greater.
A little boy in NY turned in an essay to his teacher about the meaning of friendship.
My dog means somebody nice and quiet to be with.
He does not say DO, like my mother.
He does not say DON'T, like my father.
He does not say STOP, like my big brother.
My dog Spot and I just sit quietly together,
and I like him and he likes me,
(and that's why he's my best friend.)
"One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives." -- Euripides (408 B.C.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Standing beyond my back fence on the other side of the street are five vibrant Bradford Pear trees. They are dressed in vivacious gold, yellow, burgundy and orange. Ten days before Christmas, I seem to find them far more profound in their beauty and appeal than all the Christmas lights and trees in the neighborhood. In the early morning light, their branches sway gently and gracefully like a ballerina, a song, or a whisper. When first light hits them, I am witness to the reason for the season, for in this predawn quiet I seem to almost sense celestial voices.

For a few moments, thoughts are suspended and I pause. I breathe. I feel gratitude. Hundreds of cars in this city of over a million people pass beneath the beauty and shelter of these trees every day. I wonder if anyone even notices them.

Across the street from my home is a maple tree whose leaves have all dropped after the first freeze. The tree is now resting, pausing until spring, when it once again will come to life and provide daily inspiration, at least to me. The homeowners complain about the leaves. I wonder if they have ever seen what I see in that tree.

In Fredericksburg, there is a cypress tree that must be over a hundred years old. Each time I drive in and out of town, it welcomes me, intrigues me, and tells me goodbye. Once it most likely provided shelter for a farm house, a place for children of German descent to climb and imagine unknown worlds, or protect families from the intense summer heat or Indians.

Today this tree bears witness to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple yellow satin ribbons tired around its immense trunk.

Somewhere above the clouds all of this is orchestrated, as the seasons pass.

This morning as I inhale freshly brewed Latin American coffee, the earth is quiet and the trees are at rest.

“From the mud grows the lotus.”
Buddhist Saying

Monday, December 14, 2009


I went to Fredericksburg, Texas this past weekend with a friend.

We ate fine food at August E's and The Nest. We sampled spirited liquor-filled dark chocolates made in the style of the European Master Chocolatiers at Chocolat. I chose Hazelnut liqueur filled and my friend bourbon filled. If you haven't had the joy before, you place the entire thing in your mouth, bite down, close your eyes and savor the delectable liquid. You sigh with surprise and pleasure and then the SMILE.

The purpose of this spontaneous trip (if indeed we needed a purpose other than visiting my bed and breakfast) was to enjoy the beautifully decorated German streets and attend the Candlelight Tour to see some of Fredericksburg's best-known historic structures decorated in late 19th century holiday style. It was a breath of cold, crisp fresh air and a step back in time. The White Oak Schoolhouse, the original Sunday Houses and log cabins and the Arhelger Bathhouse where weary, dusty travelers frequently stopped for a haircut, shave and a hot sudsy bath, and the Kammlah Homestead (the oldest house in Fredericksburg,) all gave a feeling of what the spirit of the season is all about...or should be! Silent Night was sung under the South Texas stars by a children's choir and I do believe for a few moments I could feel Christmas in my heart.

Candles were lit in antique mason jars like fireflies along the pathways, fireplaces were cracking and trees decorated with cranberries and popcorn strung by the children. Carolers were strolling between the houses, and we found ourselves transported back to a time when Christmas wasn't all about who got the most presents or long laborious lines at department stores and exhausting traffic jams. Christmas was about love. And on this beautiful night, Christmas was once again about love.

Sunday noon a visit to Luckenbach was inevitable! A very different step back in time. Here we mingled with dozens of 'Harley' drivers with their leather jackets, had a beer, listened to a little pickin', and realized quickly why 'Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach.' And for the finale, I kissed 'Shotgun' a genuine Texas Longhorn (that is with four legs - not two) and took lots and lots of pictures.

It is also here in Luckenbach that you find the ATM machine in the outhouse! Nowhere else but Texas! Roosters wandered around our feet, as the roar of the Harleys approaching seemed quite natural to these feathered friends. A little dog named 'Honey' posed for pictures with her heavily bearded owner while weekday lawyers, doctors, and such seemed to find escape and a very different venue for Christmas carols deep in the heart of Texas.

I won't forget the memories made this weekend and the lessons learned. The first - be spontaneous! I learned to allow special times to take form on their own and I learned that if you plan too precisely you open the possibility for disappointment. And more importantly, you miss the moment and you just might miss what Christmas is all about.

Jan Bethencourt says it perfectly, "Change is inevitable. Accept the old and embrace the new. Blend the two and that is you." This December weekend, somewhere in the Hill Country of South Texas between an old German Settlement and Luckenbach (population 3), I found me.

With a lump in my throat I decided it wasn't necessary to wait for another piece of chocolat or a shooting star to make a wish.
We'll see if it comes true.

Friday, December 11, 2009


U.S. Army Spc. Leo Leroy gets a kiss from Regina Leroy and a bow-wow welcome from dogs Yoshi and Bruiser at a homecoming ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 28, 2009. Leroy, assigned to E Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, returned after a year in Qayarrah in northern Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sharla Lewis (Photo by U.S. Army)
"Ain't a soul on this entire earth ain't got a burden to carry he don't ain't alone in that...but you been carryin' this one long enough...time to go on...lay it down..."
~The Legend of Bagger Vance~
Steven Pressfield


Only undertake what you can do in an excellent fashion. There are no prizes for average performance.

- Brian Tracy

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Over the years I have been witness to an overabundance of emotions from patients, clients, and soldiers alike. Anger, tears, depression, fear, hatred, denial - you name it. But the most frequent emotions are acceptance and courage.

At first this surprised me, but no longer. It is the norm. I have tried to figure out where some people get this courage and some don't ever find it. Perhaps it is that a few people get stuck in the "why" did it happen, "why" me, "why" not someone else. When this happens then the healing gets stuck as well. None of us have the answer to why. And at some point in recovery, it simply doesn't matter. What does matter is getting unstuck and looking toward the future one day, one step at a time.

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

Christopher Robin To Pooh

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


"The gifts that one receives for giving are so immeasurable that it is almost an injustice to accept them."

Rod McKuen

This morning I worked with Kelsie at the rehab hospital, this afternoon with children at-risk at an elementary school and after that a visit with our wounded warriors. Each opportunity presented me an extraordinary gift. Tonight I am exhausted, but find myself floating somewhere above the clouds.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom."
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Women Who Run with the Wolves


I never knew this young man, but a friend of mine was his best friend.
Pfc. John D. Amos loved the beach, sitting by a campfire and he loved his family. Some day he wanted to be a police officer. A suicide car bomber detonated two artillery shells in April, 2004 and John was killed in action in Iraq. Today there are soldiers alive because of the courageous actions of John Amos.
His best friend misses him and struggles with the loss every day.
Thank you John - for being a best friend - for being on this earth - and for giving your life for people you never knew. Thank you for coming into my life years after your death. I will not forget you and I will not forget what you gave.
"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again."
Richard Bach

Monday, December 7, 2009



Somewhere between staying stuck, where you suddenly find you no longer belong, to a forward motion you have no control over, you are no longer the same person. Your dreams have altered, your outlook, your heart, your soul appear to belong to someone else – not you.

You don’t want to hurt those that once consumed your life, but change is inevitable. You know the new direction is the only way, yet you buck against it like crazy.

You want someone to listen. You are afraid of the direction that change will carry you, yet somehow oddly exhilarated at its potential. Then you run and hide from it and find yourself miserable, as you continue to peak back out at what could be.

Because in actuality, there is no other way and no other choice. You are being reborn because of circumstances whether an illness, stroke, cancer, PTSD or divorce. It all makes a difference and it all makes you different. You’re like the butterfly.

Hostile places and faces will stay a part of you and your life and forward motion will be built around them. Your days will be full of joys and sorrows, successes and failures. Finding what is true in your heart will lead you to your passion and your purpose and what joy it is if they happen to be the same thing. You have to let go of your story to move on.

I felt the warmth of the bracelet on Jason's wrist and ran my fingers across the inscription, telling of a man whose life was ended way too soon in Kirkuk, Iraq. I gave Jason a hug and a kiss goodbye, and I got in the car and cried for a life that is no more for a young man I never knew. And at that moment I knew I had to do the same thing, cry for a life that is no more and move on. Jason may not know it or understand, but we are woven together. We need to both wake up and know that life with its pain and grief and sorrow and sadness isn’t something you want to miss or pass up. There is a moment when fear and dreams collide and as my friend, Terry Hershey says, “Life isn’t about what you say yes to, it is about what you say no to.”

Perhaps I can be a role model for Jason and help him see the mystery of how to do what I too am struggling to do. I will not let him down. As Susan Peabody says, “I really don’t remember much of what you said. I just remember that you kept coming back. It’s not the message that saves people – it’s the love.”

Jason feels guilty about hurting others and this has become a burden and an obstacle. Step one, he needs to forgive himself. Accept he isn’t perfect and he too is broken. This is necessary for change to happen. He needs to surrender his pain and move on. So do I. We need to feel the fear and do it anyway!!

“Change is a natural process that we must not interrupt by clinging to our familiar routine…for it is by changing that I get closer to being the person God always meant me to be.”
~Susan Peabody~ The Art of Changing



December 7, 2009. Sixty eight years ago the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Today we remember. Or at least some of us remember.

I don’t understand.

It is 6:00 am and I stare at my computer screen and the piles of paperwork, bills, mail, things unfinished that surround it, all reminders that I need to focus on something besides ‘writing’. But the American flag that came off of a uniform of a young man serving in Iraq grabs my focus, and throws me off kilter.

Last night a phone call made me all too keenly aware that the normal reaction to terrible things is to banish them from our consciousness. Some things are too terrible for words. So then why would I want to write them and put them into words for somebody to read – when nobody wants to read them? I think - why would I want to breathe?

I write to find out who I am. I write to find out what I feel. I write to inspire to motivate. I write so nobody will forget. I write to remember. It is an expenditure of energy to write and to weave ones thoughts into words. Sometimes it is exhausting.

Yes, perhaps what happened in Hawaii sixty-eight years ago remains unspeakable. And yes our young men today, at this very minute, are fighting and dying in countries called Iraq and Afghanistan and the stories are sad and sometimes torturous. But they are true. You can’t change reality. We need to remember. We need to hear and accept responsibility for these young men and women who give all.

Are you sick of hearing it? Do you try to sweep it under the carpet like so many dust bunnies - out of sight out of mind? What if they felt like that about this country and about our freedom? Not thinking about the things that happen, does not spare us. Goodness knows, if we hear about them or the people caught in the aftermath of these things, we hurt. And goodness knows we can’t hurt.

You don’t need to read what I write, but you do need to remember what they gave and what they still give so that you have the freedom to select what you want to read and what you want to discard from your life, if it requires you feel.

How do you move sad mountains? Sometimes we can’t and sometimes we have to have compassion and empathy and love and caring. Sometimes we are better people because we feel another’s pain.

How terribly sad and lonely it must be to be any other way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Sometimes I find myself thinking of words as living things. But sometimes there are no words. Sometimes words just get in the way. Sometimes you just have to feel it in your heart.
Both with shiny golden hair, little Rowan and Cindy, a Penny's From Heaven Foundation therapy dog, are woven together in a place and time we shall never understand. It is a place to simply stand back, observe, and watch as the love is unleashed.
God Bless you Cindy and God Bless Rowan.
"Much of life can never be explained, but only witnessed."
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

Saturday, December 5, 2009



Yesterday people were rushing to the supermarket to get ‘supplies’, food, firewood, and goodness knows what else that they might need for the projected ‘snow’ that was to hit San Antonio. It was innately humorous. Those of us from colder climates wonder why people wear earmuffs and down jackets when the temperature reaches a low of 65 degrees. With snow forecast, goodness, it is as if the end of the world is approaching. I hear “I didn’t move to San Antonio for snow,” or “I should have been a bear and then I could hibernate.”

Okay, so I am the one driving to the Warrior Family Support Center on a 32 degree Saturday morning to make omelets for wounded soldiers – with my window down and the sunroof open! It clears my head, it helps me focus, and, truth be known, I definitely enjoy the looks of people wondering ‘what in the world is wrong with her.’

Part of clearing my head was the realization that there is absolutely nothing that would stop me from doing what I do! To work with five other dedicated volunteers, in perfect synchronicity at the Warrior Family Support Center on Saturday mornings, is an honor and a privilege. To serve a hot home cooked breakfast to our wounded warriors and their familes, feeds my soul.

Today I met Jason. I instantly recognized him by the look on his face. He had faced war head on and returned home with the invisible wound of PTSD. For him, coming home was just the beginning of the war.

On this day, he cooked, he cleaned, he was attentive, he was friendly, handsome, strong, dedicated, and yet his face carried a sadness that was unmistakable. Somehow as we talked, I felt he had opened his heart to me, so wide that I slipped inside without even knowing my feet had left the earth. Meeting him was one of those moments when words are meaningless, one of those moments that erases everything and makes you want to find a way to open a door into a place that is hopeful for him.

Much of life can never be explained and what Jason endured, and will always, can’t either. It was obvious that he is wise beyond his twenty five years on this earth. We sat in front of the crackling fire place and he talked to me and I listened. He understood that I ‘get it.’ I felt great pride and honor, in what I perceived as his comfort and trust in talking to me.

He is motivational, inspirational and courageous. And I feel sure that for him courage is sometimes holding on a minute longer. But he also is able to realize that it is risky to go out on a limb, but to do otherwise he knows he will never find the fruit. His courage and greatness was revealed in the stories he shared with me. All were legendary and all held sacrifices. His stories are not simply war stories but lessons in character, patriotism and devoted love of country.

For his friends that didn’t make it home, he now feeds breakfast to the wounded that did. For him, home is where his story will rebuild itself. He will face the all too rough edges of life and his story will reveal his path.

Today it didn’t snow in San Antonio, but I found a beacon of light and the pristine brilliance of snow in a soldier. A soldier who offers roses for those who pause to listen and learn of his purpose. He has returned from war and entered a new world. But Jason will not be its prisoner.
He will find a way to be sustained through grief, loss and change. And hopefully his heart will find its home. And perhaps, just perhaps his doubts and fears will require of him an offering of hope to others.
For both of us there really is only one question, “How can I help?”

Friday, December 4, 2009


Sometimes the words come easily, sometimes they are stuck somewhere between strangulation and suffocation. Sometimes they are fluid and generous. Tonight they are stuffed in between Puccini’s Tourandot’s agonizing pain and welcome surrender.

This morning I was preparing to visit wounded soldiers after having one of those moments. You know the ones that come flailing straight toward you and say ‘Hey you, pay attention.’ It all began with little Gracie.

Gracie has a myriad of stuffed toys, some with squeakers and some that have been eviscerated. For some reason, known only to this little dog, the ones with the squeakers apparently don’t measure up. The ones I refer to as ‘road kill,’ with no stuffing or squeaker, are ignored and ready for the trash can. But there is always that one, left intact, that is her favorite.

Being a favorite is an onerous responsibility especially for a stuffed toy. It is also the same for me. It is the first thing she seeks in the morning and the last in the evening. Everything in between is sheer folly and a full time occupation for her. Sometimes she will hide it and forget where, sometimes she knows where it is but pretends she doesn’t, sometimes she falls asleep with her chin resting on it, and then sometimes there are rampant trips up and down the stairs in search of it. And certainly no self respecting PBGV would ever consider going outside without his or her saber tail raised and favorite toy in mouth!

This particular morning I was running a little behind after having gotten up early to read about half of a friend’s book that had just hit the book stands three days before. The book, entitled The Power of Pause, Becoming More by Doing Less, tells me to ‘pause to be surprised, to let the cares of the day be carried away, and to let my soul catch up with my body.” You see I adore this man that wrote the book, but can’t find it in me to tell him that lately just finding my shoes is challenge enough for one day. Running late I set the book aside and search for my shoes. Gracie knows full well she will soon be summoned to her crate, with or without her toy. You can sense the trauma in the air.

As she continued to search I sat to lace my found shoes and suddenly took a deep, deep breath and leaned back to just watch her. I wanted to cherish the moment, as the book had told me, everything else could wait.

It suddenly became clear that I have been experiencing the same feelings as Gracie. I instantly knew how she felt. Sometimes you love something or someone so much that if you don’t know where they are or how they are, nothing else seems to matter. You can’t find them. Your life is altered. You expected they would always be there for you, always be your rock, always love you back and always be your hero. Then suddenly they disappear or are taken from you. You feel unstable, wobbly, and unhinged.

I watched this little blind dog race through the house, almost meeting herself coming and going, as she searched with all of her being for this one thing that makes her feel safe and comforted and complete. For both of us something is not right without knowing the answer as to where or how it is, or if it is even close by.

For Gracie, well she felt lost without it. I knew how she felt. It just feels wrong. If only you could just nuzzle the source of your passion, the world would be right again and joy would return.

I sat back and continued to read a few more pages in the book. Author and friend Terry Hershey says, “…some of us – no, all of us – break. Maybe from boredom, or lack of passion, or illusion of familiarity, or loss of childlikeness, or fatigue of spirit, or cruelty, or despair.” And then I turned the page and read, “At one time I believed in grace – but now I have seen it. It wasn’t where I expected to find it. I have found grace where I found God, and I found God in the pressure points of life. The grace appeared in my brokenness, messiness, and confusion.” He says to let your life heal, not by denying the pain, but by acknowledging it and keeping your heart open. I want to tell him this hurts and makes you want to hit something…but then I realize he knows.

And it was precisely at this moment that I heard the most welcome sound ever – the sound of the squeaker in the toy. Gracie bounded down the stairs with the squeaking toy in her mouth and raced to her crate with the greatest most unbridled joy I had ever witnessed. As I walked out the door she was on her side cradling the toy with great tenderness.

I had never been more envious.
Copyright, Patsy Swendson, 2009