Monday, January 30, 2012

I Feel Your Pain....Empathy - a curse or a blessing

I think all of us have heard the phrase "I feel your pain", but do we really feel the pain of another person?  I think as humans, we all feel some sort of feelings for people who are suffering from grief or from hardships of any kind.  And I think that some of us feel it more than others, but I'm not sure why we're wired that way.  

There's sympathy and there's empathy and they are often confused by their similarity of meaning.  I think of sympathy as an emotional response to the feeling of others - as in feeling sorry for or pity for that person.  But to me, empathy means putting myself to some extent in that person's place and feeling the same emotions, although they may not be as great as the person who is experiencing the grief or hardships. Sympathy is feeling for another person.  Empathy is feeling with another person.

I think my "empathy button" is set on too high of a setting.  Sometimes my feelings of empathy seem so great that I'm almost disfunctional.   When a tragedy strikes someone I know, I find myself putting myself in their shoes.  Therein lies my problem and I'm sure the problem of others as well.

As I woke up on  the morning after our friend passed away in December, I imagined how his wife was feeling waking up to an empty bed with the stark realization that there would never be another night spent with the one she loved.  As I pick up my hubby's shoes from the living room floor, I think of her living room floor - bare - where she would long to find his shoes just shed.  I think of her going by his closet of clothes he will never wear, sorting through his papers and personal items - and I feel her pain.  I truly feel her pain and I sometimes cry with her even though she doesn't know.

And it's not just about people I know.  I read a news story about a child with cancer, or starving, undernourished babies and I put myself in the mother's place - and I feel their pain to the bottom of my bones.  I don't want to feel this intensity and I don't want to feel their pain.  It's overwhelming at times.  In reading recently about the subject of feeling other people's pain, I find that I am not alone.  I guess I am what one psychologist called a "natural empath" (see link).  He suggests that it is necessary to have boundaries in order to prevent the pain of others from crossing that unseen barrier and becoming our own - and it needs to be accomplished without becoming cold, callous, or withdrawn.  He also suggests that the pain of the other may have reactivated some unresolved pain or conflict in our own life.  It very well could be.

I've been told that it's good to be empathetic and a big comfort to the person who is suffering.  I know I've done my share of lending a sympathetic ear and an empathetic heart to my friends from time to time.   But sometimes I wonder - is it a blessing.... or is it a curse?

Before you start thinking I am totally morose, I must add - I can also feel the joy.  When someone laughs, I can laugh.  When there's good news, I rejoice.  I can share the good just as well as I can feel the bad.  Maybe that makes me a little more....normal.

Do you have an overly sensitive "empathy button"?  Does it consume you or become a problem in your day to day life?  I would love to hear from others like myself. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Shabby Chic Vintage Valentine's Day Vignette

The first printed Valentine's Day cards made in the United States appeared around 1840.  By the middle of the 19th century and through the 20th century,  hearts and roses, Cupid with his bow and arrow were very popular to give to that special someone.  Luckily for collectors, many of these old Valentine's Cards were saved and can be found in relatively good condition even though they were made of paper and some over 100 years old.  In fact, the colors on the cards are usually still vivid and bright - I suppose because they have been stored away from light for all these years.

I remember fondly the Valentine's Days of my youth.  In the days leading up to Valentine's Day, our teacher would have us decorate shoe boxes that we brought from home to collect the cards we received.  And of course, you had to bring enough cards for the whole class so that you wouldn't leave anyone out and hurt their feelings.

Today, I created a little Valentine vignette using some of the cards that I've purchased here and thereed over the years to make my own little collection.  I have a small box full of them.   I tend to do most of my special occasion decorating in my dining room because I usually have a tablescape of some sort to go along with it.  I haven't finished the tablescape yet, but I wanted to share the little scene on my vintage marble-top buffet in one little corner of the room.

I took an vintage accordian style fold-up 72 inch ruler and spread it out to display my cards in

These are my little kissing cupid angels sitting on a box with a ruby & diamond heart pendant necklace that came out of my jewelry box.

I love these old lace cards - this one I believe is from the 1950's or slightly earlier

This old framed cross-stitch piece is from the late 1800's.

My antique oak marble top buffet.  Excuse the lamp cords showing through at the bottom.

I have a wide range of years - from Victorian romantic to 1950's cutsies.

If you move the little tab on this one, the horses head bobs up and down

This is an early 1900's postcard
This typewriter one dates itself, doesn't it?
I'll eventually get my tablescape done, but just wanted to show off my card collection first.  Do you still send your Sweetheart a Valentine's Day card or do you do e-cards?  Save those paper cards - they will be called vintage someday.

I'm joining Tablescape Thursday over at Between Naps on the Porch.  Run on over and see the beautiful tablescapes shown there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Blog Tips and Observations from a fairly Newbie Blogger

Blogs are time consuming little buggers - both writing them and reading them.  I've been blogging for a little over a year now, and I must admit, there hasn't been a single time that I've thought about discontinuing my blog.  I enjoy it too much.  I have to admit that it's sort of a heady experience when you start gaining a few followers.  You think, "Hey, someone actually wants to read what I'm writing".  But then you come down a notch when you realize that sometimes people will follow your blog just so you will follow theirs.  I think we all have our favorites.  I follow about 90 blogs, but I only read a dozen or so on a regular basis.  I would love to read them all - every day, but I would be reading 24/7 if I did.  Along the way, in both reading and writing, I've made some interesting observations. Here they are:
  • More women blog than men, especially those "over 50" bloggers.  In that age group, it's probably a mixture of reasons.  A lot of 60 plus men are content to learn no more about computers than they have to know to get by in their jobs and in the world.  Men of that age group also tend to use the "hunt and peck" method of keyboarding, whereas, most women over fifty have either taken keyboarding or typing courses for work purposes.  I'm speaking from experience here.  Example:  My hubby.  But I've found men bloggers to be fun and interesting, for example, Mike, over at Our Little Meadow makes me smile every time I read his posts.

  • More women are blog followers than men.  I think women are just naturally more curious and more eager to connect with people who have the same interests as we do.
I've also recently given a lot of thought to trying to improve my blog and thought I would share just a few things I've learned.
  • How do you get people to read your blogs.  From the blogs I've read, it seems like I keep reading the ones who write about things they know and love.  If you write about something you're passionate about or something that you have a talent for, there will be readers who will follow you.  I love reading human interest blogs, DIY blogs, decorating blogs, farm life blogs, and also blogs about other cultures in other countries.  It's sort of like writing a book - if you write what you know and write it well, you will have readers.  I've also found that linking one of your posts to someone's blog who has lots of followers will attract readers.  Susan, over at Between Naps on the Porch, has a terrific blog on decorating and tablescaping and she has hundreds of followers.  On Mondays and Thursdays, she has a project specific blog that she invites fellow bloggers to link their related subject blogs to hers.  When I've linked my meager efforts of tablescaping to her blog, I've had hundreds of "hits" each time.

  • How to create blogs that get in the google searches:  Blog sites have statistics to help you see where your readers are coming from.  Some of mine come from family and friends, some come from fellow blog followers, but many come from Google searches.  Last Spring, I was so surprised when I saw that I was having hundreds of visitors to my blog each day.  That was puzzling since at that time I was a relatively new blogger on the block.  I had written about the royal wedding and the Disney princess comparison of the clothes worn by the wedding party.  I Googled "royal wedding, Disney Princess Comparison" and lo and behold, my blog was on the first page of the Google search lists.  Since that time, I've had more views of that blog than any other I've done.  If you want to pull in readers that way, write about current trends that are in the news that people are naturally curious about.  Here's that blog post, by the way.

  • Organize your blog for easy reading.  You can have more than one blog and I do - simply because I write about different subjects.  My main blog is Life Happens, which is really more or less human interest items.  I have a blog about my flea market adventures, but recently found that if I had simply created tabs in my main blog and organized it a little better, you would be able to click on the "flea market adventures"  tab at the top of the page and see only those stories.   It's time consuming to do more than one blog, and attracting readers to more than one blog is tiresome. 

  • To pimp or not to pimp your blog and why it can turn off readers:  I know that every blog reader and writer is different.  Some love to what I call "clutter" up their blogs with links, calendars, sparkly gidgets, etc.  I've experimented with all those things too trying to improve the appearance of my blog.  But I'm one of these people who has Attention Deficit Disorder and too many things on a page confuse me and they cause me to not pay attention to the real blog material.  I find myself overwhelmed - like in a candy store that has so many flavors that you can't pick just one.  Most of this stuff isn’t making our blogs any quicker, easier to use, or even prettier. Most of it is simply clutter.

  • Photos:  I love photos in blogs.  Photos tell a story that sometimes words can't express.  People who read your blog and find you interesting also want to see the things you're talking about.   There's a reason for the old saying "A picture is worth a thousand words".

  • Help new bloggers.  If a new blogger comments on one of my blogs, I go out of my way to read his/ her blog and post comments.  If it's good content, I'll provide links to his / her blogs so other's will follow the link and read it.  I appreciate all who did that for me when I began blogging.  That's how I acquired some of my followers.

  • Followers:  I'm not in any contest to gain followers, but it does thrill me when I see that someone new has started following my blog.  A nice thing for seasoned bloggers to do is to try following a newbie blogger occasionally, just to give them a boost.  I know that our blog rolls can get overloaded with blogs that we follow, but we don't have to read all of them every time someone posts. 

  • Comments:  All bloggers want feedback on what they're posting.  If you don't get any comments, you think that no-one likes what you had to say.  When people take the time to comment, I try to do a follow up comment to show that I appreciate what they have to say.  It takes time to read blogs and comment.  But a comment means a lot to a blogger, so pay back your fellow commentors!

  • Be kind and be positive.  No one wants to hear rants and raves when they're reading blogs.  They want to read pleasant experiences.  And no-one wants ugly comments.  It hurts feelings.  Of course, there are some exceptions.  Some blogs are designed for letting off steam.  There are readers for those kinds of blogs too - just stay true to who you are and what type of image you want to project. 
And don't quit blogging!  We, your readers, are disappointed when we no longer see posts from those bloggers we have come to know and love.

In the one short year I've been blogging, I've learned a lot.   I am still learning every day and still experimenting with my blog subjects.  I don't have a lot of followers, but I enjoy and appreciate the ones I have.  If you have any pointers you would like to share, please do so in your comments.  We should never quit learning.  There's always room for improvement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The power of a voice

One of my Facebook friends lost her mother to cancer on the day after Christmas this year.  She posted today about how she keeps listening to her voicemail  messages so she can just hear her Mom's voice one more time.  I know how she feels.  When my brother passed away last year, I would continue to call his house, just to hear his recorded greeting.  It somehow made me feel he was still there.  I was disappointed when I called the last time and it was no longer there.

A voice is a powerful thing.   It can inflect love and compassion or it can evoke fear and frustration.  It can even be flat and monotone barely conveying any emotion at all.  A parent's voice can calm a crying baby or it can scold a wayward child.  It can be uplifting with praise, or show the bitterness of disappointment.

Your first declaration of love coming from the voice of a girlfriend or boyfriend has the power to send tingles down your spine.  Come on, admit it - you know it does.  And isn't it sweet to be told, "I love you" in the sweet little voice of a child - whether it be your own or a grandchild? 

What about that phone call from a long lost friend or relative?  Voice recognition -  I've got those calls and realized, "I would know that voice anywhere".   And have you ever lost your voice to laryngitis?  You don't realize how much you need to talk until you can't.  My youngest daughter almost lost her voice permanently when her larynx was crushed in a car accident when she was in her teens.  Thanks to a skilled physician who spent several hours delicately fusing together those tiny bones, you would never know it now.  The real adversity was that she lost her beautiful singing voice, but the voice she acquired is the voice I know and love.

Voices from your past fade after a while, but just the slightest little thing can bring them back.  I'm sure everyone has remnants of a long lost voice singing somewhere in their soul.  I hope the voices in your head and in your past are as pleasant as mine.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Racism Today - Do we have our Blinders on?

My parents farm land consisted of only about fifty acres of pasture and fields during my growing up years.  The two old mules, Kate and Mary, had outlived their usefulness during my Dad's last years of farming.  He had turned them out to pasture to live out the rest of their lives in leisure.  They had done their share of work on the farm and had earned retirement.  Being the last of seven children, I was not privilege to being behind the plow of either of them.  That was left up to the older ones, and by the time I was old enough to work on the farm, the tractor was in use much more often than the mules.

I do remember once asking my father why he had put blinders on old Kate as he was working the small patch out next to the highway.   He explained to me that mules were easily distracted and often skittish.  If they couldn't see what was going on around them, they were perfectly content to just keep plodding along the rows, not getting off the beaten path.

Too often, we get complacent in our own little worlds.  The blinders we choose to wear prevent us from seeing the truth - the truth about racism in the world, in our country and in our neighborhoods.  I am a white middle class American born during the baby boomer years of the late 1940's.  I have never been turned away from a restaurant or had to use the back door of an establishment because of my skin color.  My speech patterns and my language have never been the topic of snide jokes.  I've never been told, "You should just go back to where you came from".

But those are days of the past, we may say - and this is today.  Today?  Today, how many people of different races do we know that can say, "I have never been turned down for a job because of my skin color"?   How many do we know that can say, "I have never had a racial slur slung my way"?  And most importantly, how many people of a different race have we taken the trouble to get to know - I mean truly know.... know so well that we can see what's going on in their lives without our blinders on?  

It's hard not to wear blinders.  They're safe, they're comfortable, they keep us from being skittish.  They keep us plodding along on the same beaten path, not taking a step to the right or to the left. 

Today we celebrate the life of  Dr. Martin Luther King who did more for racial relations in our country than anyone before him or since him.  One of my favorite speeches by Dr. King was one that he delivered in Washington, DC in April of 1968, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution".  Here is an excerpt from that speech that speaks volumes about the ongoing social issues in our world.

"I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled "Rip Van Winkle." The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.
When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington—and looking at the picture he was amazed—he was completely lost. He knew not who he was.
And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history—and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution."

Have we fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle?  Have our blinders prevented us from developing the attitudes and the mental responses of working for equality.  I would like to think that Dr. King would be pleased to step into the world today and see what a difference his peaceful revolution made .  Maybe he would even be pleased to see a black President in the White House.   But only when the  skin color of the President in the White House is not an issue will we live in a world that Dr. King could be proud of - a world that is color blind.

Beverly Diehl's Writing in Flow blogpost invited us to be a part of her Martin Luther King BlogFest.  See what others are writing by visiting her blog.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

There's no such thing as a bad day at the market, but........

It was a brisk, but sunny morning.  I always go prepared for the weather and today was no exception.  I had two layers of clothing, a nice warm scarf for my neck, wool socks, a wool hat and my down jacket.  I was warm and comfy.  But see how my day turned out here.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Recipe for Key Lime Cake

I had some requests for the Key Lime Cake recipe I showed in this post, so here it is:


1 box lemon cake mix
1 1/3 c. vegetable oil*
4 eggs
One 3oz. package of lime flavored gelatin mix
3/4 c. orange juice
3 tsp. fresh lime juice

Mix all together and pour into a 13x9 pan

Bake according to instructions on cake box.

1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
One 8oz. package cream cheese
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 1/2 c. confectioners sugar

In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese til fluffy...add the lime juice and beat together, then add the confectioners sugar and beat.  Spread on cake.

Note:  I’ve found that ½ lime equals about 3 tsp lime juice, so one whole lime should be all you need to make the cake and the frosting.

*1 1/3 c vegetable oil seems like a lot, but the addition of the lime flavored jello would make the cake too dry without the added oil. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bargain shopping - Flea Market Junky

Check out my new Flea Market Junky blog.  I've devoted a separate blog to bargain shopping.  Click here for the link.

Here's a teaser!

Dessert - after the feast

Today is January the 7th - Christmas is officially over as the Maji rounded out their visit to the Christ Child.  The Epiphany Feast that I wrote about here was enjoyed by all.  The menu changed slightly though - it turned into more of a Southern Feast after I started a big pot of crock-pot beans yesterday.  Laura, Chris and Jake joined us at our table with Country Fried Steak, baked sweet potatoes, pinto beans and cornbread.

Jake said a sweet prayer before our meal thanking God for His many blessings and asking His comfort for Nadir and her family.  Nadir is our daughter's exchange student from Spain that I pictured in this post.  Her mother lost her long battle with cancer on Wednesday and Nadir will be flying back home to be with her family for a few days.  Poor baby - she's only sixteen and her mother has had cancer since Nadir was ten years old.  My heart goes out to her!

We did top off our delicious feast last night with dessert - Key Lime Cake!  Here you go!  Have a slice.....

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Epiphany Feast Tablescape - Celebrating the coming of the Magi

According to Wikipedia, Epiphany, meaning "vision of God", which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. For many Christians, the day commemorates the coming of the Magi, the Wise Men who followed the star to witness for themselves the child called Jesus.

I'm not much of a "tablescaper".  I love to see the elaborate tablescapes that people create, but have never had much of a talent creating my own.  I do love a pretty table though, so I'll keep trying to set one.  My tablescape today reflects the theme of the Epiphany.  I've done the entire table with a "silver and gold" color scheme.  My centerpiece is the manger scene at the time that the wisemen visited.  I had planned to do a New Year's Eve tablescape using some magnolia leaves that are sprayed gold, but as I was scrounging around trying to find silver and gold things, my eyes fell on the lovely Lenox Wise Men that I had on my shelf and I had my own epiphany!  And here it is.....

 My china is two different patterns of Rosenthal.  The dinner plate and the saucer are the same pattern but one is in silver and the other is in gold.  The salad plate is the "classic" pattern and has a small band of deep blue outlined in gold.   My goblets are inexpensive tea goblets that I bought several years ago at Belk Department Stores and my champagne stems are all vintage.  I have four of one pattern and two of another - I'm sorry I don't know the pattern names.  And the coffee cups.....well, now, I didn't have cups at all in my Rosenthal patterns.  The Rosenthal china plates were some discontinued pieces that I picked up from a department store closeout and there were no cups.  In the bottom of my china cabinet I found some old Fire King cups in the swirl pattern with gold rims, so I used them.  I probably should have left them off, but they're not too bad.
The Wise Men bringing their gifts to the child Jesus.  Some of my vintage mercury ornaments are in a small bowl atop a silver base.  Silver candlesticks hold gold swirl candles.  All of these things are sitting on a shiny silver platter with gold handles.  It gives sort of a mirrored effect.

The real magnolia leaves are sprayed gold, with some of the green still showing through.

A vintage champagne stem.

Layers of Rosenthal

A side view

A view towards the french doors that lead to the library.  My table runner came from Marshalls.  I used it on my brown tablecloth for my Fall tablescape found here.

The placemats are like lace doilies but are in the shape of a house.

I love how the silver base holding the ornaments picks up the images of the Wise Men.

The baby Jesus and the sheep are from a vintage manger scene made in Italy.

Another vintage crystal stem pattern.

The star of Bethlehem!  These fragile blown glass ornaments are about 80 years old.  I don't store them in my attic anymore because they are getting more and more fragile with time.  I have about fifty of these vintage blown glass ornaments  that I put on my tree each year.
I hope you enjoyed my tablescape.  We plan to have a few friends over for a simple dinner of a steak, baked potato and salad.  We will remember the Epiphany and the star that signaled the birth of a child that would change the world.

For some awesome tablescapes, follow this link to Between Naps on the Porch .

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas - Up, up and away!

I'm glad to have the tree back in the attic, the Christmas china stored, the Snow Village broken down and back in their boxes, and the ornaments in a new compartmentalized storage box!  Everything is neatly organized in my newly cleaned out attic.

One thing I've learned - Taking down Christmas decorations is a lot like childbirth.  You forget the pain until it's time to do it again.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Southern Soul Food - A traditional New Year's Day meal of Black-eyed Peas, greens and cornbread

It's a new day of a new year and here in the Southern parts of the USA, we have a traditional New Year's Day dinner of Black-eyed Peas, greens, pork and cornbread for a little financial good luck for the new year!  We Southerners who grew up eating this typical New Year's Day cuisine don't dare break away from the tradition for fear of a hard, lean year of financial woes.  It's worked so far, we reason, so why mess with a good thing.  We tend to forget that we sometimes suffer some hard lean years anyway, but to our thinking they would have been worse if we had not fattened ourselves up on New Year's Day.
Here's what About.Com has to say about it: “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold.” Pork is a staple of just about every Southern meal, so it’s usually cooked with the black-eyed peas. The pork seems to be there for flavor as opposed to symbolism, but some theorize that because pigs root forward when foraging, the pork represents positive motion."
Now that last statement must have come from a Northerner because I've never heard such a notion - pigs root forward when foraging, huh.... Everyone knows that pigs just like to eat and they'll root forward, sideways or backwards just to get a meal.  But I'm off the subject here.  We Southerners just like to eat our pork. That's all there is to it.
Today I cooked the standard fare and I added a little brown rice. The pork was country side meat or also known as "streak 'o lean".  It's basically bacon, but with more fat than lean. 
So if you want to see a typical Southern New Year's Day plate of food, here it is.  Yum-yum!
From bottom left clockwise:  Brown rice, cornbread, Kale greens sauteed in a little bacon grease, Dixie Black-eyed peas and pork side meat. 
Oh, and I forgot about the Banana Pudding for dessert.  It disappeared before I could make a picture.
This probably won't look appetizing to 99% of my readers, but to us Southerner's it's soul food - fit for a king.
Tomorrow, I'll take the leftovers and make Hoppin' John.  I'll sautee a little onion and garlic, add it to the peas along with the rice and bits of bacon.  Throw in a can of crushed tomatoes and there you have it - a metamorphosis! 
For another delicious Southern recipe, see Susan's Key Lime Pie recipe on Between Naps on the Porch Metamorphosis Monday.