Natural Sponges are a Gift from the Sea

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One of my favorite places to visit is the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Often we go there just for the food. We love to order lamb at a Greek restaurant and get dessert afterward at one of their delightful and scrumptious bakeries. We also like the ambiance of the shops and the sound of sea water slapping the bobbing boats. Mixed with the smells of florals and food is the hint of sea salt in the air.

If you’re game, you can go out on a sponge boat and watch them bring up a net full, or you can stroll down the sidewalk and choose a sponge from the many varieties and sizes available. The most popular sponge is the natural yellow (shown above). This type is firm and “very absorbent with a dense cell structure that facilitates exfoliation while bathing and showering.” They are also durable and long lasting.

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Then there is the “premium wool” sponge that is the softest, most reliable and absorbent sponge available. Premium wool sponges are firm and close packed. The natural “sea grass” sponge is less expensive and normally used in cleaning or in arts and crafts work, such as faux, etc..

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People should be more like sponges:

  • Dependable. Just as a sponge soaks up the water and moisture around it, we should thirst for knowledge and absorb the good things of the earth that have already been discovered and written about. It’s alarming that many people in our nation and around the world do not read. They are trapped by ignorance and afraid to wander far from their birthplace. Most have never read the Bible and remain in spiritual darkness.

    There are those who lack the faith or even a belief in God and refuse to study His word. Yet the evidences from eye-witnesses and historians from the past have documented and testified of God’s existence and His life upon the earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

    What if scholars and curious minds had refused to read Newton’s words or to benefit from Pasteur’s discoveries and Plato’s wisdom, would we have had the building blocks and the foundation to build civilizations, produce products, and benefit from the conveniences and inventions that we enjoy today? Why then do some people avoid the benefits of God’s perfect wisdom and treat His word and His wisdom with such contempt and disregard?

  • Enduring. Sponges are useful. They have a function, and they are efficient. They have a purpose in life. They were meant to assist and to serve. They perform that service just by being themselves. They are well-designed and last a long time. They’re not quitters. We can learn something from them about being content with who we are. Like a sponge, we can make ourselves useful to others and to society. We can outlast our grievances. We can creatively change our state of mind to conform to changing circumstances. We can soak up knowledge and share it with others.
  • Purposeful. Sponges know how to “get down and dirty.” They’re not opposed to hard work and their compositional make-up never tires. They have what it takes when the going gets rough. They’re not wimpy. They are tough.

    We should keep our own minds open and porous to receive ideas and information. We can become tireless advocates for truth and right. We can be purveyors of good will and, when necessary, sop up the sorrow and pain of others through assistance and a listening ear. We can soothe the wounded soul and washout the heartache of neglect and ignorance. We can soak up hurts and bathe the broken hearted with our own tears. We can learn a lot from the sponge.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

“Broken” mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

If you would like to learn more about sponges, go to:

Gulf Coast Sponges

Whet Your Palate with Foods from the Present and Memories from the Past

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My Danish grandfather had several pigs that were kept in a pen near the back garden. If it was “pig slopping” time, I was there. The snorts and squeals of the pigs as they gulped down their food made me giggle. The smell of the mash mixed with whatever leftovers were available from the house, garden or dairy barn seemed intoxicating. Those pigs really knew how to scarf down a meal.

Feral Pig

Feral Pig

When people “feed their faces” or “chow down” on foods they love, I’m always reminded of those blubbery fat hogs. One of mankind’s favorite pastimes is eating. A phrase spoken around the world in many different languages is: “What’s for dinner?” When my children were still toddlers they would crowd around my legs and ask “Time for eat?” They were not only hungry. They wanted it now!

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“The Cook” 11×14 acrylic on canvas

Sometimes I stressed out about what to feed them. I wanted to provide something nutritious that they would enjoy, and I needed to stay within my budget. I didn’t want an anxiety attack every time I had to prepare a meal.

Solution: “The menu Plan.” I literally planned out a full month of assorted meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now I had something to work from when I went shopping. I didn’t have to worry about food because I knew exactly what we were going to eat and when. I knew the ingredients were waiting somewhere in the cupboards, the freezer or refrigerator because I’d purchased them myself.

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When there were leftovers, I’d incorporate them into the menu. Two big hits were omelets and fried rice. Both used miscellaneous meats or vegetables in small quantities that could be folded into an omelet with cheese or stir-fried into rice. Hidden veggies were eaten with added bacon bits or ham to sweeten the pot.

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Cooking became an art form. I fashioned make-ahead meals and blended together the makings for cookies, cakes, and muffins. All I needed to do was add egg, oil, and milk and the rest was already done. I look back now and I wonder how I found the time or energy. I was a volunteer, I worked as a free-lance writer, and I had a large family. I think one reason may have been “lack of fear.”

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There was a time when parents didn’t have to hover over their children and worry that they might be snatched out from under them by some pervert or kidnapper. My parents certainly never had to worry about me. I roamed the neighborhood and played outside for hours exploring the world I lived in. I rode my bicycle home when I was hungry. My mother knew my haunts and she knew whom to call. I never felt restricted or tied down. I seldom felt afraid.

Food no longer seems to call us back home. We can buy it almost anywhere. In fact, more people eat out than ever before. They either eat fast food or buy take out and eat at home watching T.V. Our society eats on the run and does far too much snacking. Nutrition sometimes gets lost in the balance.

When my kids were still in college, I’d get a phone call asking for a recipe they remembered. Today they have their own recipes and children of their own. Even holidays don’t involve the time and effort they used to. Store-bought items take the place of the time-consuming hot rolls of the past. Potatoes and gravy are now prepared for you. Even a “home-cooked” turkey can be purchased from your supermarket.

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Although the traditions of the past come in a new form, and busy working mothers don’t have the time to prepare a full spread; people still enjoy sharing food and laughter with those they love. Ordinary food will always taste better in good company. Perhaps that’s what those snorting pigs were trying to tell me so long ago” “Bon Appetite!  Let the good times roll – oink, oink!”

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Let the Healing Begin; Ways to Beat the Odds

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Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

The body is a miraculous organ that under normal circumstances functions to heal itself if injured. When attacked either by accident, bacteria or virus, through our own carelessness or that of someone else’s the body’s defenses (the immune system) kick in. Even if they don’t, modern medicine is there to take over the job and provide much needed support.

An emotional injury is quite another matter. Our very heart and soul are under siege. The mind is fooled into thinking it’s our fault either through manipulation, abuse, or false accusations. Confusion sets in. We can’t process the pain. Did we cause it? Did we say or do something wrong? Are we unlovable? Are the things the other person said about us true?

The internal pain goes deeper than we ever thought possible. So deep that some people who experience an emotional injury feel actual physical pain like a knife piercing their heart or a feeling that  life and breath are being squeezed out of them in a spasm of muscular pressure. There have been occurrences of people dying from a broken heart or who have had a nervous breakdown as a result of suffering emotional trauma similar to the PTS syndrome veterans experience in war time.

Tickles from God

“Tickles from God” acrylic on canvas

Such tragedies happen because we are human. How do you deal with reality when your whole being is swirling around in a surreal world of physical and emotional pain? How do you get off the Merry-Go-Round that keeps replaying the past? You look for answers, but there are none. If you replay the memory again, perhaps you’ll find a reason to make this nightmare stop or go away? Like an old-fashioned record, you’re stuck reliving the pain again and again.

This is the time to reach out for help. Friends may offer sympathy; but they have none of the skills needed to help you, or to ensure that you make a safe transition to wellness. A psychologist or psychiatrist may help you understand what has happened and guide you to a better place, but the work of healing is still yours.

Falling on your knees in prayer can help you feel the power and love of God. This action alone will give you strength to do the hard work. Trying to heal without God is like covering an open wound with a dirty rag. It’s like burying your sorrows in a dark room, curled up in a ball, and hoping that you’ll recover. The saving, healing grace of Jesus Christ must be received in openness and light.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on canvas

Doctor’s may heal your mind and your body, but only God can heal the jagged wounds of the heart. Spiritual pain needs a Savior. Sins of all kinds need a Redeemer to give you hope and remind you that you’re not alone. He is “worthy to be praised,” and he can heal you of your broken heart just as he did mine.

I have seen people flounder in unbelief. God throws them a life line, and they ignore it because they do not recognize his voice. They have turned away from him so often that he has become a stranger. They do not trust what they have not seen. They do not listen to one in whom they do not believe.

Instead they trust in people, humans like themselves with weaknesses, lusts and desires. They read what so-called experts have written or said as if it were gospel. They trust in the arm of flesh because it is all they know. God’s Word is mocked and treated like myth or legend. In their heart of hearts they are devoid of truth and without a light in a dark world.

Healing is a process; one that takes time and effort. There are no easy fixes or magic solutions. Some people try to find comfort in a bottle, or a needle or other physical gratification. But they are never satisfied, never filled. Their hunger creates a vacuum that sucks the life out of everything and everyone they touch.

The “Bread of Life” satisfies that deep hunger and begins the healing. The new life that follows brings peace and contentment. There is no other way. Jesus is the “well-spring” of life and his healing is permanent and eternal.

Why have I used this message in my “The Art of Living” blog?” Because in my own personal life my faith is as basic to my survival as food, water and shelter. My faith is vital to my overall satisfaction and happiness; A life void of faith is a life not worth living. (See my other blog: “Witness Spoken Here”)

Link  http://www.witness-spokenhere.com

What Drives you to Distraction?

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How could you not look at this adorable face!

How could you not look at this adorable face!

Some things grab your attention more than others. The point at which you lose yourself may be different from mine. What slows you down and causes you to linger may depend on your ability or inability to focus on the task at hand. Whatever it is that beguiles you, deadlines are forgotten and appointments fade into obscurity. Once your thought process is disrupted, you’re hooked. You become like a cobra entranced by the magic flute swaying before your eyes.

This morning, my husband and I were shopping in “Fresh Market.” Similar to “Whole Foods,” Fresh Market is intoxicating; the brands and packaging alone could amuse me for hours. The sights and smells get my digestive juices flowing. The color of freshness awakens my taste buds. You simply cannot leave this store empty-handed.

My husband was content with a bottle of sparkling cider and some blueberries. I roamed the store hungering to buy. I could entertain myself for hours here savoring the samples, the freebies, and admiring the steaks and seafood I can’t afford. I vowed to come back alone so I could do just that!

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on 16×20 canvas

My husband is a purposeful shopper. He doesn’t care to browse and admire. He knows what he wants and he goes in for the kill every time. We were in and out of there in 15 minutes leaving me feeling deflated and unfulfilled. Food is an all-consuming diversion, especially if you’re hungry.

You already know what a time sucker technology can be. Hours are consumed responding to comments and photos on Facebook, Pinterest, Trumblr and Instagram. As soon as you’ve mastered one program, there’s another one out there that promises even bigger results in accumulating friends and fans.

Many of these sites snag you in and then begin charging for their services. You play awhile. You stay awhile. And then they chew you up and spit you out!

My nephew, Kirk's family.

My nephew, Kirk’s, family.

Your friends and family can be a distraction unless they know the ground rules. Keep certain hours for yourself. No texting. No emails or phone calls. Nothing except what leads you to your desired goals. Reward your family and friends with shared time in the off hours. Respect their requests as well. Use their strength and yours to stay on target.

Television with its encroaching advertisements and enticing lead-ins pounces on your attention span like a rat catcher. You settle back for only a second, but once your rear-end sinks into that soft sofa you’re doomed. It’s obviously much more fun to watch a movie than buckle down to write or paint on an unresolved canvas.

Needy pets can spin circles at your feet and remind you of your neglect. By the time you play fetch or walk around the block, you’ve lost the thrust of your passion. Anything that weakens your drive paralyzes your mind. Writer’s and Painter’s block are real. They happen when you allow distractions to take over most of your day.

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“Bella Belissimo” 16×20 acrylic on canvas SOLD (prints available)

Demanding spouses can break your focus in one fell swoop!  Their interruptions and need for companionship can throw cold water on a hot idea. Wherever you are, and however you live, staying focused is a constant battle. You can either give in and lose your momentum, or you can set the ground rules and abide by them so others will take you seriously.

How you Roast Marshmallows says a lot about you!

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Group Fun Roasting Marshmallows!

Whoever thought that roasting and eating marshmallows was a simple proposition has missed the point. While watching my friends, I decided there definitely are styles and preferences when it comes to this almost lost art. See what it may tell others about you.

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The golden brown marshmallow.

Do you roast your marshmallow a light golden tan and then take pleasure in putting the whole mallow into your mouth and sinking down on the sweet warm center? That puts you in the sensual category. You want to cut to the chase and get down to business as soon as possible. Once you get what you want, you savor each perfect creamy bite.

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Yum — the succulent center!

Or do you fancy a crisp outer covering with a tinge of black? Do you delight in the crust and pull it carefully off the barely warm ball that still clings to the roasting stick? And while you devour that first crunchy mouthful, do you carefully turn the mini-mallow over the fire until it, too, turns dark and crispy? Then you pop its succulent remains into your mouth while grabbing a second marshmallow and repeating the same procedure all over again.

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The crunchy black outer covering.

If this describes your style, you love the process even more than the finished product. You are fun-loving and adventurous. You like being around people and are usually willing to wait for gratification and pleasure. You like to get involved and tackle life’s challenges with zest.

The third type of roaster has distaste for anything sticky or messy. Cautiously they pierce their mallow (or wiener as the case may be) with a stick and then proceed to wipe their chalky fingers on the nearest item available; usually their partner’s pants or on someone else’s shirt.

They stab at the fire a few times trying to find the perfect “hot spot;” and in the process, drop their mallow (or wiener) into the fire where they snatch it back just in time, but not before it’s partially covered in ash. Is this you?

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You’re obviously not a rugged wilderness person. When you finally get your mallow roasted, you seldom want to eat it. But give you a snack from the Ritz or hordevores on a toothpick and you’re happy as a clam. Better yet, give you a dish of crème brû∙lée and a spoon and you’re all smiles.

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But he’s sooo cute!

You’re a high flyer that disdains the lowly practice of roasting marshmallows or wieners. You’re willing to give it a half-hearted attempt and simply go along to get along.

There may be other roasting styles and personality types I’ve missed. If you have a unique story to tell, I’d love to hear it!

The Food we eat — The Risks we take

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A valley between crests of the Wasatch Mountains

A valley between crests of the Wasatch Mountains

We were on vacation. A family camping trip with cousins and relatives we hadn’t seen in years. The children were ecstatic. The majestic Wasatch Mountains overshadowed our camp and sheltered us from harm. Stalwart pines kept watch and whispered windswept secrets in our ears. Their natural scent recalled holidays past and surrounded us with rustic earthy pleasure.

The morning before we broke camp, we dined on scrambled eggs and bacon, topped off with fresh squeezed orange juice. We were bloated with pioneer spirit. Our family, eastern city dwellers, had weathered the ruggedness as well as our western “rellies,” or so we thought. In less than 24 hours, all five of us had plunged into the depths of despair.

Our family was laid flat by what we thought was influenza. We were barfing and “trotting” and there was blood showing up in both. Eventually we discovered that we had been poisoned by Salmonella. The orange juice had encouraged the bacteria’s swift growth and surge through our bodies.

Apparently the farm families were used to eating cracked eggs that were not well refrigerated. Not one of them had gotten sick. It was we “city folk” who had fallen prey. That experience has made me an even greater waster than I was before. Now if something looks dry, has an odd color or smell – out it goes! No ifs, ands, or buts.

My watercolor version of that Wasatch Mountain valley

Watercolor on silk; my version of that Wasatch Mountain valley

Food is a basic necessity. We should not only work to keep it clean and safe, but we should ensure that it is always under our control.

What happens when governments gain too much power? They obtain a strangle hold over goods and natural resources. When governments control the food supply, they can choke off rebellion and use the people as puppets and slaves to do their bidding. On the pretext that they’re here to protect the consumer, the citizenry, they take over more and more industries and services in their grab for dominance

Some third world countries and old regimes have already done this increasing the turmoil and unrest that already existed. Citizens are forced into bread lines with other desperate people fighting for their basic necessities only to find that the food is gone by the time they get to the head of the queue.

Once, they could have stopped this savagery, but they didn’t. When they still had the power as citizens and voters, they shrugged their shoulders and let it happen. Helplessness set in. Compliance became submission. Now instead of the government serving the people, the people are property of the state. Their privacy rights were swallowed up first by the greedy and powerful. Next came freedom of expression followed by freedom of choice.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

“Broken” mixed media on canvas; SOLD, but prints available.

Even in our own country the government is trying to enforce guidelines for eating because Americans are too fat and can’t do it themselves. The government, already the largest landowner, is now buying up businesses that compete with their own purposes and agendas. Regulations are responsible for spiking food prices and sending the cost of other commodities soaring.

We don’t need the government to be our “Big Brother,” or father or mother. The job of politicians is to govern not parent. We still hear our own parents whispering in our ears: “Did you brush your teeth? Have you said your prayers? What did you eat for breakfast?”  Why would we want a powerful group of strangers in the White House to repeat these same old refrains?

Of course, none of us want salmonella or E. coli. With our tax dollars, governments do a pretty good job of keeping our foods clean and safe. But when they start dictating what foods we should eat and forcing us to conform to unlegislated regulations, we have the makings of a tyranny.

Every responsibility we forsake as a family, community or state ends up under government control. So next time you sink your teeth into that luscious hamburger, ask yourself: “Do I want to allow the government to choose whether I have a pickle on my hamburger or ketchup or mayonnaise? Do I want the government to tell me how much food I’m allowed to buy at the grocery store and then define for me what I can purchase?”

"Fish Market" acrylic on canvas

“Fish Market” acrylic on canvas

The Brazilian Pepper Tree Saga

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Berry Picking Time 16 x 20 oil on canvas

Berry Picking Time 16 x 20 oil on canvas

The Brazilian-pepper tree, alias Christmas-berry tree or Florida Holly, is an attractive shrub that sprouts red berries part of the year, grows tall, and spreads wide. When I first moved to Florida, I enjoyed watching the wide variety of birds that fluttered in their branches. So when the landscape crew attacked them with machetes and axes, I was enraged. Had we come to this in our obsession for perfectly trimmed hedges and weed free lawns, I thought?

Yes, I would later acknowledge, the Brazilian-pepper bushes were beginning to take over the hedgerow, and their absence meant that I could now see the field behind where cows grazed with cattle egret; but what about the birds? Hadn’t the pepper’s branches been food and refuge for the brown thrashers, the cardinals, the northern bobwhites and robins, the local mocking birds?

Before I launched into assault mode, I did some reading and investigating; turns out, that attractive Brazilian pepper is considered “one of the worst exotic pest plants” in the State of Florida. Wouldn’t you know!

Brought here from Brazil in the 1800s, the plant was used as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and shiny green leaves. Deceivingly charming, the plant is part of the poison ivy, oak and sumac family that many people are allergic to. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine and can irritate the skin, nose and lungs. No wonder my allergies had flared up in Florida.

Birds also become drunk from eating the fermented berries and may harm themselves by flying into windows or oncoming traffic. Migrating birds are especially vulnerable as they devour the tempting red berries to restore body fat.

Why is the plant so prolific? Bingo: “the pepper grows well in poor soil and shade,” and spreads wildly when the conditions for growth are optimum – plenty of sunshine, plenty of rain. Birds and raccoons find the berries delicious and spread the seeds through their guano and scat.

How is that a threat to Florida?

  • The pepper tree shades out native plants
  • The pepper destroys foraging areas for herons, egrets and other water birds
  • The pepper’s roots get so thoroughly tangled up with mangrove roots that it’s impossible to uproot them

The beautiful Brazilian-pepper is on Florida’s “do not plant” list, and its “sale is against the law.” And I thought it was a harmless shrub; if looks could kill.

Today I smile as I walk past the hedgerow. Young leaves are sprouting, filling in naked branches replenished by sun and space. The peppers are sprawled out behind them; roots exposed, leaves withering, on their last gasp. Sadly, a few yards south, a fence with a stand of pepper trees grows rampant; the property of another developer who will eventually face the removal of this encroaching invader.