Barbara H. McNeely

Author & Publisher

Category: Barbara 101

Who is Magic DeeJay?

Who Is Magic DeeJay?

Who Is Magic DeeJay?

In my book, Lessons of an Opening Heart, I talk about Magic DeeJay. I thought that it would be obvious what I was talking about from the context. But even my husband didn’t quite get it. And my editor, Jan, thought I must be talking about an internet radio station. I decided it was better to just describe him as “the music I hear in my head” in the book and write in more detail here. Much of what I write here is taken from a speech I gave in Toastmasters in February of 2017.

I have always loved music, from as far back as I can remember. I got my first radio – a transistor radio – before I was ten. I listened to that radio as often as possible, sometimes listening with it under my pillow when I went to bed. I remember when The Beatles were in their first concert in Houston and I stayed up late listening as the radio played the playlist from the concert. I knew the words to every song on the radio in those days. And I have been adding lyrics and melodies to my collection in my head ever since. Sometimes it’s surprising that I have room for any important information up there.

Years ago I realized that I could readily access a song just by hearing a word or phrase. If someone mentions a day of the week or a city, I just might come up with a song or two that mentions them. Sometimes, I’ll just come up with a partial lyric with no idea what the song is. Other times, things will get a little confused. Like the time we were driving from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Fe and I was singing “Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?” My husband pointed out that the song was actually about San Jose! Oops, but isn’t that interesting? My favorite is the city of Walla Walla, which is mentioned in a song. If you remember the song The Witch Doctor then you might recall this line: Oo Ee Oo Ah Ah Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang!

It was following my open-heart surgery that I began calling this talent “Magic DeeJay.” In the week before surgery, while I was running around getting ‘ready’ for surgery, the words of Gloria Gaynor were running through my head – “I Will Survive.” It was on replay for four days. The night before surgery was when I first really started thinking about what was going to happen. But the song in my head was by Elton John – “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

It was November of 2015 that I realized that my talent extended beyond lyrics. Part of recovery from surgery included cardiac rehab – a program of monitored workouts. Three times a week for twelve weeks I went to cardiac rehab. At the end of those twelve weeks, they have what they call graduation. No real ceremony, but you do get a nice certificate. And so, on the morning of November 4th of 2015, Magic DeeJay was playing “Pomp & Circumstance” in my head.

In the Spring of 2016, I decided that the one year anniversary called for a celebration. It was, in a sense, a birthday for me. But my husband and his friend would be in Africa on that date. (And our anniversary, I might add.) So I planned to have Sunday brunch with a friend on May 22nd. I even gave myself permission to over-indulge in food since on the same day the year before, I was not allowed to eat anything. And when I woke up that Sunday morning, Kool & the Gang were singing Celebration.

And that is how I decided that there must be a Magic DeeJay working in my subconscious. And almost always, Magic DeeJay is playing a song in my head.

I have since learned that other people have similar talents. So tell me, do you have songs playing in your head?

Escape To Bella Green

Bella Green Bed & Breakfast

Bella Green Bed & Breakfast

It is 6:55AM on Friday. It is raining and 53 degrees here in Pipe Creek, Texas. I’m warm and dry in the tiny house. I’m packing up this morning and heading home after a lovely little retreat here at Bella Green Bed & Breakfast. A lovely little B&B owned by Karen & Mike Goins. I have had quiet time to write, delicious food, and interesting conversations.

The tiny house I stayed in at Bella Green.

The tiny house I stayed in at Bella Green.

A back view of the tiny house at Bella Green.

A back view of the tiny house at Bella Green.

I planned this getaway months ago, not knowing at first where I was going. I just wanted to recharge. And I’ve had a lovely time. Very few decisions that I had to make. Did I want breakfast on the deck or the screened porch?

I also have avoided all the election hype. At first, I thought I could go home without knowing the outcome. And I went to bed on Tuesday night feeling very relaxed. Usually it is an anxious night, made more so by all of the media hype. But, you know what? The outcome is the same whether I stay up and stress about it or not. And all that stress just before bed is not good for me. Nor is it good for anyone else.

What did I do during this retreat? I worked on the book I mentioned in my last post. A lot. I had a lot of notes that I condensed to one list. And I am something like 90% done with the first draft. So I’m pretty sure I can beat my deadline of November 16th. That will be a huge accomplishment. The first book I have ever written!

The screened porch at Bella Green. This is where I did most of my writing.

The screened porch at Bella Green. This is where I did most of my writing.

Today I will ease back into reality. I’ll have breakfast here at Bella Green, then load up the car. I’m going to take the scenic route home. Laundry awaits me at home. But so do my cats, Ronnie and Nancy. And of course, my hubby.

It is now 4:25PM as I get ready to hit the publish button. The last few miles of my trip involved lots of traffic, of course. And it was back to the usual things – unloading the car and doing the laundry. That was after I said hello to my cats! But, I have yet to hear any news or radio or commercials!

As I reflect on the week, I come back knowing that I can focus when I put my mind to it. Sometimes while I was gone I turned off the internet so I could concentrate. I think I’ll try that more often now that I’m back!

Window Art at Bella Green. For some reason, it reminded me of a Stephen King book.

Window Art at Bella Green. For some reason, it reminded me of a Stephen King book.

Sunset at Bella Green.

Sunset at Bella Green.

A building at Bella Green with a nice message: Jeremiah 29:11

A building at Bella Green with a nice message: Jeremiah 29:11

Happy weekend!

How To Create Stress

Waking Angels - Listen

Actually, this picture, Listen, is by Karen Reines at Waking Angels is part of a solution to reduce stress, not create it.

Are you stressed out? Do you create stress for yourself? Are you feeling the pressure of getting things done? Wondering how you’ll get it all done?

Stop and think for a minute.

How much of that stress is real?

How many of those deadlines are your own creation?

Why are you stressed? Do you fear what might happen if you don’t accomplish things?

What is there really to worry about?

How often do you automatically start stressing about something as soon as it is planned? If you’re having house guests, do you immediately begin worrying about getting your house ready? If you’re planning a trip, do you start worrying about all the details the minute you decide to go?

I recently figured out that roughly 99.5% of the stress in my life is totally my own creation. Let me explain how I figured it out.

Recently, my husband went on a trip to Africa. That’s a long way to go. The trip was a year in the planning and lasted just over 3 weeks. I watched him scrambling to get things ready. The 2 weeks before the trip he was very much absorbed in getting all the last details ready. I sat back and watched, all the time thinking I was glad it wasn’t me that was stressing about the trip.

I had my own plans for the time he was gone. I had a lofty list of goals: clean the house, turn the upstairs alcove into a reading/music area, do some serious decluttering, redecorate in the bedroom. All while getting out on my own and with girl friends.

Perhaps you’re already seeing what I finally had to come to terms with. I was setting myself up for failure by trying to do too much.

I started out on track, until I added to the list by having a retreat at my house. Retreats On The Go was a wonderful time, but it involved getting much of my house clean in just a few days. At the same time that I was cleaning, I had a few other things going on. So the stress was already building. Towards the end of that first full week, as the retreat approached, I had to reprioritize my cleaning plan. I was not going to do the ‘top-to-bottom’ cleaning of that much house in that amount of time. Stress that had built up began to dissipate for a bit. By Friday afternoon, I was able to relax.

The second weekend was perfect. It involved retreats and celebration that I’ve talked about before. I had ordered a new comforter and shams for our bedroom. It arrived that weekend too.

The second week was when the pressure began to mount. The list of things I had to do was growing. I went shopping two days that week to find the perfect pillows and picture for the bedroom. The first trip resulted in a migraine from a shop full of scented candles. That migraine wasn’t too terrible, but it’s effects lingered.

I decided that I would make the pillows, knowing it would be faster and less leg work than shopping for days and days. I used to be a marathon shopper but no longer have that patience.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I just added to my list – making pillows.

All those pillows needed to be done by the time my husband got back. Yes, more stress. BUT, who decided that schedule?

In the end, five of the pillows were completed on time.

I also ordered a picture from an artist friend. I figured I had ordered it too late to get here in time, but decided I would just have to live with that.

Did I mention rain? Much of Texas got rain the entire time my husband was gone. And that’s on top of rain we had earlier. My husband flew out of Houston’s airport so I had to drive him there. Because of flooding, we had to go a different route to get to his friend’s house. So I was watching the weather in Houston the week he was to return. Because… I needed to drive over there again to pick him up.

The rains came. The flooded road in Houston that had reopened was closed again. And still the rains came. So that entire week, as I’m stressing to get things done, I’m also stressing about the prospect of driving 200 miles in rain and possible flooding.

Did I mention I don’t like to drive in the rain?

So that’s a lot of stress. Brought on by my own worries and fears. And in the end I realized it was only stress because of my own expectations for myself.

Here’s another reason I shouldn’t have stressed so much:

My husband was due to land in Houston on Thursday night and spend the night at his friend’s house. And I would drive to Houson on Friday. It was raining so much in Houston that his plane was rerouted to Dallas. The airline cancelled the rest of the flight. So he decided to rent a car in Dallas and drive to San Antonio. So, no trip to Houston for me. AND, the picture I ordered got here in time and was personally delivered and hung BEFORE he got home.

Here is the final product of my work. As you can see, it is definitely a stress-reducing bedroom:

Stress Free Bedroom

Stress Free Bedroom

I read recently that we will judge others by their actions yet we judge ourselves by our intentions. So true! Lesson learned! Actually a few of them:

  1. Be gentler on myself. Don’t set expectations so high that you set yourself up for stress and failure.
  2. Practice mindfulness.
  3. Trust that everything will get done at its right time
  4. Don’t ever worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Trust that they will work out.

I’m definitely a work in progress and am grateful for the lessons learned during my husband’s trip!

Why does Tip Top taste so good?

Why does Tip Top taste so good

Why does Tip Top taste so good? I shall reveal the answer to this question.

Subtitle: Why we ate Italian Wednesday night.

The Tip Top Cafe is a San Antonio landmark and has been in business since 1938. I ate there only occasionally since their original location isn’t near me. I think the last time I ate there was in 2000 or 2001. (It was in that pre-chronic migraine phase of my life. In the days when MSG had no impact on me, at least not that I was aware of.) Last April, they opened a second location that is not too far from where we live. Finally, Wednesday night, we decided to give it a try.

After ordering iced tea (unsweetened), I began looking at the menu. I see that most dishes come with a salad. This always puts me on alert because I know that salad dressings are one of those foods that frequently contains MSG. I usually ask if they make their dressing in house and if they say yes then I know I’m okay, most likely.

For some reason, my ‘spidey senses’ were on high alert. I asked if they made their salad dressings in house. Our waitress said yes but somehow that wasn’t good enough for me. So I explained that I have to avoid MSG because it triggers migraines. She suggested I talk with the manager.

I explained to the manager what I needed to know. She informed me that all of their foods contain MSG. They boil everything in water with MSG in it. Yikes, so there’s nothing here that I can safely eat.

I politely told her that we would simply pay for our tea and then leave. She understood and said we didn’t need to pay for the tea. We left a dollar on the table for our waitress and left.

So now you know why that chicken fried steak from Tip Top tastes so good. It’s all that MSG they put in it.

We went down the street to an Italian restaurant. It was sad because I remember Tip Top’s food being so good. But I am thankful for those ’spidey senses’ that told me to ask a few more questions!

Speaking of MSG, I found something interesting while reading Sally Fallon Morrel’s book Nourishing Broth. Before MSG’s flavor-enhancing properties were discovered, many of our foods were made with bone broth or stock. Bone broth is made by simmering bones along with veggies and seasonings. The result is a broth that is rich, flavorful, and very nutritious. With the entry of MSG onto the food scene, food preparation could be done without bone broth by using MSG in its place. It drastically changed the food industry. MSG is cheap and easily obtainable and so the use of bone broth went by the wayside. One day, I would like to do a study to see if the rise in the per capita incidence of osteoarthritis correlates with the introduction of MSG.

One more factoid from Nourishing Broth: MSG has been used in laboratory animals to induce obesity! I guess it’s good that us humans aren’t laboratory animals, right?

By the way, in case you’re wondering what else I’ve been up to: I have resurrected by jewelry-making skills and started a new line of jewelry at Barbara’s Hearts. Have a look when you have a minute.

This is my husband, Dick.

You Don’t Know Jack Crevalle

This is me and Jack Crevalle

This is me and Jack Crevalle

I turned 60 last month. I’m still not sure I believe it, but the numbers check out every time, so it must be true. Birthdays in our house are always celebrated, especially the ‘milestone’ ones. So when my hubby, Dick, asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday I thought about it for a while before answering. For my 30th birthday, my sister, Conni, and her took me to the Magic Time Machine here in San Antonio. It’s entertaining, and the food was good. It’s a place to go at least once. On my 40th birthday, my now husband then boyfriend, took me to Pasta Lomonte’s (now Lomonte’s Italian Restaurant and Bar) in Houston. He surprised my though with a group of friends that met us there. By my 50th, we were living in San Antonio. Still, I loved Lomonte’s and said I wanted to go back. So we did.

But 60? I didn’t want to repeat and it wasn’t so much about the restaurant as the total experience. So, I suggested Port Aransas. And that’s what we did, we spent 5 days in Port Aransas. I also stipulated that we had to go out on a boat. And so, while most of the world went to work that Monday morning, we got up early to meet our fishing guide – Ron Matson.

We met Ron Matson at 7 AM for our fishing trip. Ron told us the three rules:

  1. Always put your rod in a holder, never lay it down on the boat. Someone could get hurt.
  2. Always take your trash back with you.
  3. Have fun!

We take off to an area Ron knows. He’s been fishing these parts since 2000. And was a fishing guide in the Florida Keys before that.

The water is only a few feet deep. I’m amazed at all Ron sees just by looking at the water. He sees below in a way I can’t. He sees the different looks to the top of the water. He tells us there’s a school of fish here, a dolphin there. Of course, he’s been looking at water for who knows how long.

We fish and fish. A couple of pin fish are caught by Ron. He saves them, cuts them up and uses them for bait. One small redfish is also caught, but he’s under sized and back in the water he goes.

This is my husband, Dick.

This is my husband, Dick.

We move to another area that Ron has been watching. He is pointing out the ‘holes’ in the water. These are clear areas without weeds. The fish will feed there b/c they can see better. Dick finally catches a red fish that’s just at the limit. He goes in the live bait area because it has water that is circulated – so the fish can get oxygen.

While we’re there, Ron points out the island we’re near. He tells us it is covered with rattlesnakes. Then he’s telling us stories of them swimming to the boats and even getting on. But Ron is ever watching and likely would have prevented it if there had been one near us. Which there wasn’t.

Sometimes, when the fish weren't biting, I watched the clouds.

Sometimes, when the fish weren’t biting, I watched the clouds.

Too soon, it’s time to head back from our half-day fishing excursion. Ron stops at one point because he can see a school of fish. And the sea gulls flying over head. So he stops and tells us to be ready to cast off as soon as he stops. We do this and move a few times before I actually get my line in the water at the right place and the right time. And lo and behold, there’s a fish on the line! A big one, at that. Bigger and stronger than anything I’ve ever caught. (I haven’t fished that much, but I have caught redfish big enough to eat.)

The fish, I’ll call him Jack, goes under the boat. He goes to the other side of the boat. He goes back. All the while Ron is telling me what to do. “Reel it down,” he says. “Give it a tug then reel it down.”

Alas, this was my best dolphin shot. I saw a lot of them, just never had the camera ready at the right time.

Alas, this was my best dolphin shot. I saw a lot of them, just never had the camera ready at the right time.

After a while I get the hang of what is going on. I’m basically pulling in the slack; otherwise we could be there all day. At one point the line almost gets hung up on the boat but Ron sets it free. He and I are both holding the rod at that point. I’m almost ready to give him the rod. It is both scary and awesome at the same time. But then I know that I am going to be the one to bring in this baby.

Eventually, it works. All the line is in and I guide the fish to the net Ron is holding. Then he talks about the picture. I’ve seen Ron’s pics. The fisherman is holding the catch. So that would be me. Huh? Hold a live fish? And a big one at that? And, did I mention he was a fighter?

“Hold it under the belly,” Ron says. “It will calm the fish.” So I do. It’s good size. Dick said it might weigh 10 pounds. Ron takes a couple of pics and then I throw him back in the water. I think it was kind of a belly flop. But that fish did not hang around. He was long gone in a heartbeat.

A lighthouse in Port Aransas.

A lighthouse in Port Aransas.

I’m told it is a Jack Crevalle. Which I think is a funny name for a type of fish. They’re not really good for eating. So, he gets to live on and tell his friends his side of that story.

Don’t believe me? Below is the article that Ron wrote for The Rockford Pilot.

Ron Matson article in Rockport Pilot - page 1

Ron Matson article in Rockport Pilot – page 1

Ron Matson article in Rockport Pilot - page 2

Ron Matson article in Rockport Pilot – page 2

Conni 1953 - 2001

If I’m Ever in a Coma

Conni  1953 - 2001

Conni 1953 – 2001

Macabre topic? Maybe, but also a serious one. I’ve thought about this for 13 years now. In fact, 13 years ago this week. Conni’s last week on the planet.

My sister was finally diagnosed with lung cancer in January of 2001. She had been sick for some time but the doctors missed it for quite a while. Apparently, it was very advanced when she got the diagnosis. In August of 2001 she was hospitalized due to various complications. During that last hospitalization they determined that the cancer had metastasized to her bones. Hospice was the recommendation; with the doctor giving her about 6 weeks.

It was a very rough time for family. On Thursday, August 16, we brought my dad to Conni’s hospital room because she wanted to tell him herself what was going on. Dad will always insist that she said 6 days, not 6 weeks.

Arrangements were made, the house rearranged, and the hospital bed & equipment were moved into the home Conni shared with her husband, Ed, and their 5 cats. By Tuesday of the next week, her condition had worsened to the point that they put her into a drug-induced coma.

Conni’s house had an open area for living room, dining area, and kitchen. It was small though; her house was well under 1500 square feet. The dining table was gone and the couch was in the dining area. Both my other sisters were there, in and out. Someone was there round-the-clock by then. And the television was always on, at least while I was there. To a news channel, probably CNN.

I’m not a big TV watcher. I despise waiting rooms that have TVs blaring. If you’re there for a while you hear the same news stories over and over and over. (Hey, doctors: maybe you should rethink that TV as it serves as a reminder of how long we are waiting!) Plus, I had a stress-induced migraine by then. The TV news was not helping. But, alas, I was outnumbered.

Music, at least for me, is a great cure for stress. And music was what I really needed during this time.

What about Conni? What could she hear? How was it affecting her last moments on earth? She was in a coma, but what do we really know about what she could hear? Could she hear the conversations? Could she hear the news? Who knows what it is really like when someone is in a coma?

We may never have that answer, but I think we should assume that people can still hear what is going on around them. After all, we know that even plants are affected by words and music. So why not people in comas?

One of my all time favorite songs is “Come Home to the Sea” by Mannheim Steamroller. * For me there is something very soothing and relaxing about that song. My husband and I spent the summer of 2000 moving from Houston to San Antonio. It truly did take all Summer too. But that’s another story. During that time, most of my music was in Houston while I was working in SA. I remember one trip to Houston where I took some time out of all our ‘busy-ness’ and put that song on and just listened. It was exactly what I needed.

My younger sister, Becky, had the ‘night’ shift with Conni during those last few days. And so, on that Thursday, August 23, she called my house at 2:30 in the morning to let us know that Conni was no longer in pain. We tried to go back to sleep, but that wasn’t happening. So we showered and headed to my dad’s house. While my hubby was showering, I was downstairs listening to “Come Home to the Sea” – played it more than once. It took on a new meaning then because Conni’s circle of life was complete and she was going home.

At some point, probably after Conni was gone, I told my husband that I needed to write up specific instructions in the event I was ever in a coma. Those instructions would obviously include no TV near me. Perhaps I need to create a playlist just for that purpose? Or you might just choose any of my existing playlists. Barring that, you could play “Come Home to the Sea” on an endless loop. For variety, you could play the entire Yellowstone album by Mannheim Steamroller. **

Conni and I were close in age – she was 17 months older. We shared a bedroom most of the time that we both lived at home. And though we were complete opposites, we were still close. After 13 years, I still think of her every day.

So this post is for Conni. I’ll find some time today to play some music and think about Conni. The music will likely include “Wish You Were Here” since she loved Pink Floyd. And of course, “Come Home to the Sea.”

I will always miss Conni, but I’m also grateful to have known her.

* Seriously, you should take 5 minutes to go listen to “Come Home to the Sea” and watch the video. The video is lovely. I also have a love dolphins that is much older than the song.

** NO, that is not an affiliate link to Amazon. That would just be wrong here, don’t you think? It does link to AmazonSmile where you can select your charity and 0.5% of eligible purchases you make are given to that charity.

NB: This post marks the official (soft) launch for this blog. I’ve had it up for a while and there are a couple of older posts. They may or may not stay. I debated launching on this date with this piece, because that seems truly macabre, right? But for some reason it just feels right to do so. I’m sure there’s a reason for that and even though it’s a mystery now, it will one day be revealed to me. When it is, I’ll let you know, okay?

Freedom From Facebook!

Taking a Facebook Break!

Taking a Facebook Break!


Poof! She’s gone!

Not really, but I have decided to take a break from Facebook. I’m committed, so far, to the month of July. What brought this on?

For starters, Facebook has consumed too much of my time. I need to devote more time to real people, real relationships, and real work.

But it’s been brewing for a while. Part of it is a dislike for Facebook and their strategies that forced me to check my security settings on a weekly basis. I understand that they’re in it for the money and I don’t have a lot of room to complain about a “free” tool. Reading about Facebook manipulating users’ emotions bothered me, although it’s not so surprising. It was more disturbing to learn in that article that Facebook is also collecting data on what we don’t post. Sounds a lot like Big Brother watching us. Or maybe the NSA?

So, I will have very limited activity for this month of July. I keep some activity because I have a business page on Facebook. I also want to access event information. I have decided to limit my time to 5 minutes a day, always coming in with certain activities in mind.

As for messaging, that’s a different story. I have installed the Facebook Messenger app on my phone and can be reached through Facebook messages. I can also be reached via phone or email. Just sayin’.

Happy New Year!

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

This is the day we’re all “supposed” to make resolutions for the new year. Not happening here. The only one I ever kept was the one to stop with the resolution nonsense. It’s not that I don’t reflect on where I am and where I’m going. I do. It’s not that I don’t set plans and goals for the new year. I do. But I just don’t see the point of resolutions that will make me feel guilty for a week or two and then will be forgotten.

This year, I’ve thought a lot of about things. Where I’m going, what I’m doing, what I’m not doing, what I’m putting off. I’ve watched a number of friends lose friends and loved ones this year. And it reminds me that we are all only here for a short while. And so we should make the most of the time we are here.

That seems to be the message I see everywhere. Yesterday, we went to see “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Totally awesome movie. And it continues that theme.

Some people have chosen words to define their 2014 experience. Others have chosen songs. I’ve decided that I’ll define my 2014 with this: “Carpe Diem!” (“Seize the day” for those that don’t know Latin.)

Happy New Year, everyone!

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