The bells, and the Nicholas Effect

 A monument of bells exists on the side of Highway 1 in Bodega Bay, having been erected there 19 years ago. If life were fair, this tower wouldn’t exist. If it weren’t for two robbers who took the life of a 7-year-old Bodega Bay boy, we’d never know the Children’s Bell Tower.

On Oct. 1, 1994, the Green family were vacationing in Italy. They were all in the family’s rented car when two robbers mistook them for jewelers. The robbers chased them down, shooting into the backseat. 7-year-old Nicholas Green was shot in the head as he slept in the backseat with his 4-year-old sister, Eleanor. The bullet destroyed Nicholas’ brain, and he was declared clinically dead.

“His life was wasted,” his father, Reginald Green, told reporters in Italy. But he also said that Nicholas had a very strong heart. So the family offered their son’s heart, along with other organs, to people who needed them.

His heart went to a 14-year-old Roman boy.

His liver went to a 19-year-old Sicilian woman.

His kidneys were given to a 14-year-old Puglia girl and an 11-year-old Sicilian boy.

And three others received his pancreas and corneas, as well.

Out of death and despair, life was created. A community was formed. One little boy and a grieving family changed the course of 7 human beings, their families and friends, and two nations, along with the world who watched this family’s selfless act of love with awe.

The Green family had a choice. They could have dwelled in their despair, angry that their precious son was taken from them so violently, angry at the nation in which their son was taken. I’m sure they felt these emotions. The story could have stopped there. But it didn’t. The family decided their son’s untimely death wouldn’t be in vain. His life was treated as a holy sacrifice, an offering to 7 other families who were in need. If it weren’t for the death of Nicholas Green, at least 5 of those recipients may not be alive today. And because of the generosity of the Green family, Nicholas Green lives on in these 7 individuals.

This was only the beginning of the story. At the time of Nicholas’ death, organ donation in Italy was the lowest among European countries. After his death, organ donation significantly increased in Italy, as well as around the world. Today, organ donation has tripled in Italy, and Nicholas Green’s name is associated with this change. The movement is known as “The Nicholas Effect,” referring not only to organ donation, but to anything good that emerges from tragedy.

It was in 1996 when the Children’s Bell Tower was unveiled in Bodega Bay, located behind the Bodega Bay Community Center and garden. The tower holds more than 140 bells, all donated by individuals, families, schools, and churches to honor Nicholas Green and his family. In the center is a large bell that holds the name of Nicholas Green, along with the names of the 7 people who received his organs. This bell was created and donated by Fonderia Pontifica, the oldest bell manufacturer in the world, and blessed by Pope John Paul II. And the bells were assembled by sculptor Bruce Hassan of San Francisco, who said he placed each bell on the sculpture as if they were his children.

This last week, I took a soul retreat to clear my head and find answers to some very real issues that have been plaguing me for months (see the story at Soul Retreat part 1, and Soul Retreat part 2). I had created a plan that included visiting the ocean as part of my soul retreat. On the way out to the coast, I turned my head at exactly the right time as I passed by the bell tower, seeing it set back from the highway. I knew the story behind the tower, but had never stopped. I’d always wanted to, but you know how it is when you live in the same area as something wonderful – you take it for granted.

Following the ocean portion of my soul retreat, I headed back down the coast to find something to eat. But as I came upon the bell tower once again, I made a split second decision to stop. I parked my car and walked the pathway toward the tower. I stopped to read the plaque set near the monument, then continued to the tower.

Once there, this is what I experienced.

There was no heavy breeze when I got there, but the bells still offered delicate rings with each light gust of wind. I stood in awe, drinking in the soft clanging of bells, and the heavy horns that sounded in the distance. I breathed in and out, standing on Holy Ground as I meditated on the beauty that came out of tragedy…the Nicholas Effect.

The other day, my husband left a statement on the chalkboard in our kitchen: “Life is what you make of it.” At this moment, I cannot think of any statement that is more true.

*Information about Nicholas Green and The Nicholas Effect found at The Press Democrat, The NY Times, Wikipedia and nicholasgreen.org. Find out more with the book, The Nicholas Effect: A Boy’s Gift to the World, written by Reg Green, Nicholas Green’s father.

Here are a few photos of the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay, and surrounding monuments.

How to take a soul retreat, part 2

The other day I took time away from everything to come back to center and find the answers to some very serious dilemmas in my life that have been plaguing me. I called it my soul retreat, as it was time I had set aside to get back in touch with my soul.

The Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay

My biggest takeaways from this experience were to BREATHE and LOOK AROUND—as in, take advantage of every free moment in my life to just do NOTHING. You can read more about that in part 1.

Before I left for this personal retreat, I had to have a game plan. So I mapped out a course.

The first thing I did was to decide WHAT I would be addressing. I think that was probably the most important part of this whole exercise. If I didn’t know the WHAT, I wouldn’t have been able to find the answers I was seeking. I know that sounds so basic, but sometimes we don’t know what it is that’s bringing us down in our lives. By identifying these problem areas, I am being very clear on what I hope to accomplish.

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The gazebo at Walnut Park in Petaluma.

Next, I chose different places where I would be tackling each issue. For me, there were three things I wanted to address. So I chose three different places I would be traveling to throughout the day. My biggest rule about these places were that they couldn’t be at home. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to relax. So I chose places that spoke to me with each issue, places that would bring me a sense of peace as I tackled each issue.

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My new favorite spot in Petaluma, the boat dock with a view of the bridge in the Turning Basin. Expect my new novel to be written here….

Third, I armed myself with wisdom. For me, that meant finding scripture that addressed the very issue I was struggling with. For you, it could mean a few inspirational quotes, a poem, a passage from a book…anything that speaks to you, and is about the particular issue you’re facing. I recommend that you find at least three pieces of wisdom for each dilemma you hope to tackle.

Finally, I created a schedule. I don’t mean a timed schedule—there was no way for me to know how long each issue would take. But I mean WHAT I would be doing to address each issue. Here’s what that looked like for me:

  • Arrive at destination.
  • Be still.
  • Read wisdom and meditate on the words.
  • Pray/focus on wisdom and the issue at hand.
  • Be still, remain open for answers.
  • Journal.
  • Prayer of gratitude.
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A bench at the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay. Expect more on this in a future post. The place is really amazing.

Here’s the funny thing about the wisdom I chose before I set out on my journey. When I chose it, I knew that it spoke to me. But I didn’t know how it would speak to me in the moment I would be meditating on it. As I focused on each passage I chose, there were certain words or ideas that would ignite inside of me, almost as if a light bulb went off. The words I chose in the morning ended up holding a brand new meaning as I meditated on them, offering me new insight into the dilemma I was facing.

I ended each session journaling what I had experienced, as well as offering a prayer of gratitude for the answer I had received. Journaling was an important aspect of this process, as it helped me to formulate what I had just experienced, and to ensure I wouldn’t forget. As for gratitude, we should always be grateful when God/the Universe meets us where we are and provides us with a path.

When I was done with my three issues, I came back home. The kids were already home from school, so I said my quick hellos. Then I locked myself in my bedroom for an hour, with a note to not bother me until that hour was up. I did a half hour of yoga, and then I took out my journal for the final time to record my takeaways from the day.

And I’ll repeat those takeaways here: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND.

Before I end, here are a few things you will want to bring with you when preparing for your own soul retreat:

  • Kleenex! Tears are cleansing. :-)
  • A journal
  • A plan
    • What you want to address
    • Schedule of events
    • Destination(s)
  • Food and water (don’t let thirst or hunger get in your way of connecting with your soul)
  • A blanket or chair, or something comfy to sit on
  • Inspirational music
  • An open mind

If you decide to gift yourself with a soul retreat, I hope you’ll share your experience with me. Not the whole thing—that’s between your soul and God/the Universe. But let me know if it helped you to reach the answers you were seeking.

{{{Peace}}

How to take a soul retreat, part 1

Yesterday, I took the day off of everything to come back to center and seek answers to the path I need to take in some very perplexing areas of my life. I called it my soul retreat, as it was my chance to reconnect with my soul in ways I hadn’t been able to for months.

Let me start out by saying that the day was a success. I accomplished everything I had hoped I would, and received some very clear answers to my dilemmas, offering me a sense of peace. I won’t share all of these here, as they are very personal. But I do want to share some of my experience. Because this is kind of long, this post has been broken into two parts.

The day started out with a drive to the coast. I set my drive to the soundtrack of Sigur Ros, one of my favorite bands for getting out of my head and immersing myself in the task at hand. Usually, it’s my writing music. Today, it was my transition from a too-busy life, to time with my spirit.

I was battling two overwhelming emotions on this drive: fear and hope. I was hopeful that I would find the answers I was looking for, and looking forward to this time I’d set aside to seek them. But I was fearful that I wouldn’t find the answers. Even more, I was afraid I would find the answers, but they wouldn’t be ones I was happy with.

There were tears on the drive, and it took almost the whole Sigur Ros album to get there. I found the exact portion of the coastline I’d envisioned, and pulled into a parking spot that faced the ocean. Then I let the album finish out as I stared out at the ocean, losing myself to the vastness of the sea.

When ready, I came out of the car and found a spot on a picnic bench. I brought with me a box of Kleenex (which I had to buy on the way there since I’d forgotten!), and my journal. Then, as I watched the waves crash against the rocks below, I began my soul retreat.

Throughout the day, I felt myself being told two things: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND. These were the central answers to the dilemmas I brought to the table. Take a deep breath in and let it out slow. Pause.  Take a moment. Open your eyes. Look at your surroundings. Breathe.

Most of my stress has been the result of extreme busy-ness. In my life, I have many hats I wear throughout the day, and it’s hard to not feel pulled in all directions. But that busy-ness isn’t necessarily caused by those different hats in my life, it’s really about what I do with the time in between.

Let me ask you, what do you do when you’re bored? How about when you have a moment when nothing is being asked of you? How about when you’re waiting for dinner to be done simmering? What do you do the moment you wake up, or right before you go to bed?

For me, I reach for my phone. I check my email. I peruse Facebook. I check my book stats. I watch interesting videos. I play a game. I do anything that will keep me from doing nothing. I remove myself from being where I’m at, and place myself in dozens of different places via my phone in a matter of minutes.

This is true for many of us. And in doing this, we’ve lost the ability to just sit and breathe, and to be aware of our surroundings. We’ve forgotten how to see the world around us. Maybe it’s because life is unpredictable. We can’t control what happens to us in the real world. We can’t control the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the boredom, the fear. But when we’re immersed in a little 2”X3” screen, we can control everything we watch, feel, and experience. We make ourselves feel better through a heartwarming video. We share a moving article and feel like activists. We comment on a friend’s Facebook status and feel as if we’ve socialized.

But we’re not living in the moment. Me. I have not been living in the moment. I’m not allowing myself time to breathe and take in my surroundings. I’m filling my pockets of free time with moments of busy-ness instead of taking a deep breath in and letting it out slow.

Breathe. Take a look around. Be where you’re at. Such concepts…

See part 2 here.

Taking a soul retreat

It’s the first time in a long time that I’m not working on a specific project. I finished my latest editing job, and there’s nothing specific I need to be working on for my book – at least not until I get my cover. It’s a strange feeling. I don’t know what to do with myself.

This morning, I set my alarm for 6, as usual. I like getting up early before work because it allows me a pocket of “me time” between waking up and getting ready for work. Usually I spend that time editing other people’s manuscripts or working on my own WIP. But since I had no specific project, I figured I’d find something to bide my time in that early hour.

Here’s what I could have been doing in the hour and a half of extra time:

  • An hour of yoga
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Planning my book launch
  • Plotting my next book
  • Re-reading my Come Here, Cupcake manuscript
  • Writing my first chapter of CHC 2
  • Planning this year’s NaNoWriMo story
  • Reading a book for liesure
  • Create marketing goals for CHC
  • Write a poem
  • Update my Facebook covers
  • Plan out my work day

Here’s what I did:

  • Perused Facebook on my phone

At least I only did that for 45 minutes. But what a waste! Now I’m making up for it through journaling. :-)

I’m taking tomorrow off work just to have a day of rest, when I can get back to center. But if I don’t come into it with a game plan, I’m bound to spend it playing on my phone and surfing Facebook. I will come back to work unrested, and the day will have been a waste.

The biggest purpose of tomorrow is to make personal time with God through meditation and prayer. I have a particular burden in my life that I need help lifting, and I haven’t paused long enough to hear what God wants me to do with it. This time alone is also about becoming more in touch with my own soul, whether it be through writing poetry, reading a book that helps me gain perspective, writing a short story for no one’s eyes but mine…

Here’s what tomorrow is NOT about: Finishing must-do projects, editing other people’s work, stressing about my writing path, thinking about my job, guilt, perusing Facebook.

For one day, I will not be burdened with anything, if I can help it. I will not be a worker, a mother, a wife, an editor, or anything but me. I will spend time with myself and my creator, and just enjoy the miraculous beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will pause and just be.

Final thoughts: Sometimes we make ourselves too busy so that we can avoid our own creative endeavors or life goals. For the most part, this is because we are living in fear…fear of failure, fear of success, fear of screwing up, fear of the unknown….just plain old fear. I’m realizing that I’m slipping into this routine, making myself so busy, I “don’t have time” for my own projects. Are you doing this, too?

P.S. My friend, Molly, just started a new blog that will address getting back in touch with your spirit and doing what moves you. Check her out at her blog, As the Spirit Moves Me.

My not-so-strange addiction

I left the office today on my lunch break, craving something chocolaty, and maybe even a tad bit salty. I had the image of a chocolate pretzel pie on my mind, and an unquenchable hunger inside. But my pants felt too tight as I walked. Just this morning, I found the two pounds I had lost, reclaimed after yesterday’s apple pie and french bread, and the carrot cake from the day before. Two pounds that took me two weeks to lose, packed back on in two days.

Walking in the direction of the cafes and restaurants, I told myself that I didn’t need to find something sweet to snack on. I wasn’t really hungry, just my tastebuds were. What I really needed was a glass of water, maybe even a stroll around downtown to make up for all the sitting I did at my desk job.

No. What I really needed was some chocolate.

I flicked away my good sense and continued in the direction of sinful temptations. The closest place was a deli on the corner. I made a beeline into the market and perused the desserts. Nothing called to me. Then I looked at the convenience foods. Still nothing.

There’s still time, my health-conscious self pleaded. You can still make the right decision and leave the store.

I did leave. But I turned left instead of right, heading straight toward more restaurants.

A man looked at me as I walked, his eyes lingering a few seconds longer than normal. Even happily married, I wondered if he found me attractive…if anyone still found me attractive. There was a time when lingering glances were the norm. I don’t say that to brag. Ok. I totally say that to brag. I was a babe once. I had long hair, a skinny waist, a curvy behind. I was young, with smooth skin and unwrinkled eyes. I’ve never appreciated my looks while I’ve had them, only when they’re in the past. Yeah, I was a babe once. Today, I’m a plump mom past her prime.

But I didn’t miss that man’s eyes on me. Did I still have it? I looked in the reflective glass of the windows I was walking by, and my reflection looked back. My frumpy, saggy, plump reflection. He wasn’t checking me out. He was probably wondering about my health, or whether I was aware that frumpy had never been in fashion.

There’s time to change that, my inner voice whispered. You can turn around and make the healthy decision. You can say no to sugar and go back to eating healthy.

ice creamI heard my inner voice. And I knew she was right. But thing is, I also felt bad about myself. My job has been soul-sucking, my creative life has been lacking, and my time has not felt like my own. Most of all? My pants were still too tight. And while the logical part of me knew that the answer was to turn around and write my feelings, the illogical part of me needed to eat my feelings. So I ignored my inner voice and marched into the nearest gelato joint and ordered the smallest gelato they served. It was probably about a quarter cup. It was also almost $5. Damn. And damn delicious. I left there $5 poorer, carefully eating the frozen concoction before it melted, only half-enjoying it while my guilt simmered underneath.

When done, I set the empty container next to me and grabbed my journal so I could record what just happened and what I was feeling.

Here’s what I felt:

My stomach is spilling over my pants, and I can’t tell if I’m just imagining they’re even tighter after my gelato.

The gelato is gone, and half of me wishes I’d never eaten it, and the other half wishes I had a pizza to go with it.

I’m frustrated that I want to lose weight, but instead keep gaining weight, and I have no one to blame but myself.

I’m angry that I lack the discipline to eat well all the time.

I’m angry that I hate exercising, but that’s the only way I’ll get fit.

Mostly, I don’t know if it’s even worth trying….

It’s true that I feel better when I’m healthy. But getting thin? Who am I fooling? I’m not exactly a spring chicken. I’m not turning heads anymore, regardless of my size. Not that I need to turn heads, I love my husband. But my ego doesn’t seem to realize that.

And so I eat. And I can’t stop eating. I find my comfort, my entertainment, my solace in food. I devour it, can’t get enough of it, make love to it, ogle it, crave it…. When something is tasty around me, I can’t stop thinking about it until it’s in my mouth. I feel like I might even explode until I eat it. Sometimes it even feels like I can’t breathe. It’s worse now that I’m watching what I eat. As soon as I taste any forbidden food, I become like a ravenous animal guarding her prey.

I’m not even joking.

But then, it sits on me, won’t leave me, weighs me down. And we remain that way, a relationship of misery as the cycle goes round and round.

I want to quit. I just don’t know how.

Idols, authors and humble beginnings

Last night, my husband and I went to see the American Idol Live Tour. I admit, it was a total impulse buy when season 14 of American Idol ended earlier this year. But we had become so enamored with a few of these contestants, namely Jax and Clark Beckham, that we just had to see them live. So we bought the tickets and waited for this night to come.

My hubby and I, waiting for the show to start.

My hubby and I, waiting for the show to start.

Sitting in the audience, it was pretty surreal to see these kids (omg, I’m such an old-timer) performing on stage in front of us. I say that because we had seen them from the start of their Idol journey. I remember every one of them from their auditions, when they came in front of the judges with hopes of showing they can do well in the spotlight. I saw greatness in Jax from the very beginning, totally blown away with her undercover talent. And Clark? Man that guy can wail! He has this southern soul thing going on that you just wouldn’t expect from a pretty white guy. I will seriously buy any album he comes out with.

The Idols were definitely more polished than we had seen them on TV. And they were already pretty polished at the end of the Idol season. But you could tell they’d received training on how to connect with the audience, and how to make the most of their time in the spotlight. Each one of them held the audience captive with, not only their voice, but with their personal stories of life before Idol – how they were consumed with a dream they just had to make true. They each shared their humble beginnings, and how, despite the challenges they faced as struggling artists, they refused to give up until their goal was met.

And this is the part I love – the story before the spotlight. Every single person who has reached success has this story. It’s the life they lived before anyone even knew who they were, outside of close family and friends. It’s who they were when they were just like everyone else, living with a dream they hoped would come true.

Whenever I come across an artist I admire, I almost always search out their beginning story. Anne Lamott shares a ton of backstory in her book, Bird by Bird, and I have read that book repeatedly, mostly to connect with the Annie that lived before the NYT Bestseller’s List found her. Liz Gilbert shares how discipline and hard work are vital to getting where you want to be, though aren’t a guarantee to reach success. However, she shares that if we love what we do, we should never throw in the towel. Colleen Hoover shared how she couldn’t even afford trash service at her 1000 SF mobile home several years ago. Now? She is every indie author’s inspiration as she cranks out bestseller after bestseller (and I cannot consume her amazing books fast enough). Sharon Hamilton, who I first knew as a real estate agent in my town and the mom of two of my classmates, is now a successful, bestselling romance author. She’s quite the inspiration for those of us who belong to her writing group. But you know what offers me the most inspiration when it comes to Sharon? The blog posts she wrote before her books became big, when she repeatedly shared her all-consuming dream of finding success with writing, and the few posts she wrote where she admitted her frustrations that it wasn’t coming as fast as she would have liked.

I love these beginning stories, because it’s where I hope I’m at now. The other day, I admitted my frustration at how I seem to be on this hamster wheel of authorship, working my ass off to go nowhere fast. But what if, years from now, that post is just a glimpse at my humble beginnings? What if all the work I’m doing now leads to something huge in just a few years? What if my story of frustration and feelings of defeat end up being an inspiration to the next small time author hoping to make it big?

We’ve all got to start somewhere. And if we truly love and believe in what we’re doing, we won’t give up.

Those Idol kids on the stage, they’ve come a long way from where they once were before American knew their names. And, they have a long way to go if they want to remain in the spotlight. They could be the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. Or, they could slip into the abyss that some Idol stars disappear into. Their success depends on them. But how cool that we got to see their journey from the time they were first discovered.

Here’s a video of Jax killing it on the keyboards. Btw, all photos and video in this blog were taken by my wonderful husband. So if video or photos weren’t allowed at this show, you can talk to him. ;-)