The Reluctant Seer

093a Baker 1980

10th Grade


I recently wrote about synesthesia – and since it is mostly my friends and family that read this blog, I wasn’t surprised that those of you who responded were curious and entertained by the idea.  Some of you had heard of the idea before and for some of you it was a new concept.

Someone commented about people seeing auras.  Now, I have to admit, that I had never connected the two before.  But I decide on the spur of the moment, when I responded to the comment, to admit, that yes, I also see auras.  And I committed to writing about that sometime soon.  So, here we are. I hope you’re still entertained and curious instead of horrified or praying for my soul.

You can imagine, that if I’ve rarely talked about synesthesia before, I have practically never spoken of auras.  If you know me, you know that I am quite rational and practical.  Why I, of all people, should have something as extraneous and other-dimensional as synesthesia or seeing auras, I have no idea.  I guess maybe to help me – and maybe some of you – be open to the idea that there are other dimensions than what we rationale people can readily touch and see.

Just to be clear – I hate incense. I have no use for crystals. I have never seen a psychic or had my fortune read. I am a Presbyterian. I have an MBA degree. I live a very structured, time-managed life in suburbia. I am not your typical aura-seeing, pyschic-reading, crystal ball-consulting, long hair-flowing, tie-die-wearing new age follower. (Wow – lots of stereotypes there, huh?!)

I first learned about auras in 10th grade geometry class.  Yes, geometry!  There was a substitute teacher that day – and she pretty much fit the stereotype I outlined above.  She evidently didn’t know much about geometry, so she skipped the day’s lesson and spoke of other topics – most of which I don’t remember.  But then she started talking about auras.  She said little children can usually see auras but that at some point along the way, people are told that they “can’t” see them and they start believing that and no longer see them.  I immediately knew exactly what she meant.  I saw auras but had never for one second distinguished them as separate from a person.  I had never named it, or discussed it.  But I definitely saw a ring of light around people and had never once paid attention to it or thought about it consciously.

I was vaguely curious about it, but even then, thought it was just too far out there to think too much about.  I don’t remember discussing it with anyone at that point, although I have told a few people this story over the years.

Once I read briefly in a book about auras but didn’t get too far as the whole topic just made me uncomfortable.  Really, you should try it.  Google “auras” and you’ll see what I mean.  Every site is just a little too new agey for me.  I want someone as reasonable as I am to research and write about it so I can understand it without all the new age babble.

In the little bit I read years ago, I learned that almost everyone has a clear layer around them, then a yellow one, and then other colors from there.  Maybe I just have a mild form of aura seeing, as I don’t see beyond the clear and yellow layers.  And yes, they are alway there.  But I hardly ever consciously think about it.  Now and then, they’ll pop out at me when I am watching a particularly energetic speaker or sitting across from a friend at dinner.  But most of the time, I don’t think about it.

So, are auras the energy our bodies give off?  Maybe.  Do the colors change as moods or health change?  Maybe.  I believe any of this is possible.  I am actually a very open minded person (in spite of how this post may sound), but like so many people, I need it translated into a language I can understand – even though the evidence is right in front of my eyes.  Literally.

I was going to do a little new research on auras for this post, but I couldn’t get past all the new-age sites.  Except for one piece – taken from the Skeptic’s Dictionary.  You can read the entire piece, but here’s the excerpt that I found most interesting:

In the October 2004 issue of Cognitive Neuropsychology (vol. 21 no. 7), Dr. Jamie Ward of University College London’s Psychology Department “documented a woman known as GW who could see colors like purple and blue in response to people she knew or their names when read to her,” a condition known as emotion-color synesthesia.

Synaesthesia is a condition found in 1 in 2000 people in which stimulation of one sense produces a response in one or more of the other senses. For example, people with synaesthesia may experience shapes with tastes or smells with sounds. It is thought to originate in the brain and some scientists believe it might be caused by a cross-wiring in the brain, for example between centres involved in emotional processing and smell perception. Synaesthesia is known to run in families.

Dr. Ward writes:

The ability of some people to see the coloured auras of others has held an important place in folklore and mysticism throughout the ages. Although many people claiming to have such powers could be charlatans, it is also conceivable that others are born with a gift of synaesthesia.GW does not believe she has mystical powers and has no interest in the occult, but it is not hard to imagine how, in a different age or culture, such an interpretation could arise.Rather than assuming that people give off auras or energy fields that can only be detected by rigged cameras or trained seers, we need only assume that the phenomenon of synaesthesia is taking place.

Some synesthetes perceive numbers or letters as having colors or days of the week as possessing personalities. A rare form of synaesthesia was discovered by Dr Melissa Saenz of the California Institute of Technology: people who hear sounds, such as tapping, beeping, or whirring, when they see things move or flash.

Thus, perhaps some cases of seeing auras can be explained by synesthesia rather than assuming that auras are energies given off by chakras or signs of delusion or fraud.

 So– we are back where we started.  Maybe there is a connection between my synesthesia and seeing auras!  Can you believe that I had never connected them before?  I think that it is because synesthesia seems rational (believe it or not! and at least they documented it on NPR!) and auras so out of the ordinary.

Have any of you had an experience with auras? Willing to share?  Enlighten me?  Open my mind a bit?

There are multiple morals to my story – maybe some I don’t fully understand yet.  But at the very least – remember to ask your kids about what they learned from the substitute teacher last week.  You might be surprised what they tell you.



Happy Birthday, Valentine

Evelyn Farnham 1908

My Grandmother – Evelyn Farnham McMillan – in 1908

(You need to click on this picture to really see it.  She was a beautiful baby!)

In the midst of today’s activities – 4th grade basketball games, a quick glance through an antique store, cleaning the kitchen, switching the laundry I have been thinking of my grandmother, Evelyn. Today would have been her 107th birthday. Lucky for us, she was with us until just 3.5 years ago. For the 23 years leading up to her death, we always went to eastern Washington to visit her on her birthday. That was our Valentine tradition. I find myself a little lost on Valentine’s Day, without grandma. She embraced having a Valentine’s birthday and loved the color red. It was always fun to find red jewelry, sweaters, potholders or dish towels for her birthday gift. She was sure to be thrilled with anything red or chocolate.

I will write more about her in future posts, but couldn’t resist the chance to make note of today. Since I’m doing this at the last minute and don’t have time to write much, I am going to share the words that I shared at her memorial service (ice cream sundaes in the church basement – she would have approved!) on September 10, 2011, as  way to tell you about her on this anniversary of her birth.

I have so many memories of my grandmother, enough to write a book. But today I thought I would talk specifically about her love of food.

She especially loved to use food as a way to love us.

I will always remember the smell of dinner cooking when we would arrive at her house after traveling for hours. Spaghetti or chicken casserole. The house smelled great. Every morning, the house smelled like fresh coffee. That smell is the smell of everything being right in the world. 

And best of all, there was always a chocolate cake for dessert and cookies in the cookie jar.

Everything she ever served tasted great. But she didn’t like spending time in the kitchen, and was quick to adopt any time saving convenience that came along. Over the years her favorite recipes often included cream of mushroom soup, or onion soup mix, or Cool Whip, or Jello or cake mix.  She prepared food far in advance and always made it look very easy to put a meal on the table. 

Dinner and lunch were always full meals, served promptly at a set table. Except Sunday nights when she said we were on our own. But even then she would tell us about all the leftovers we could be eating and worry that we didn’t get enough. 

She spent every meal urging everyone to eat more and to clean-up the dishes of food.  We all always left the table stuffed. 

When we would leave to travel home after a weekend visit, she would always make us a lunch. She would have some leftover chicken for sandwiches and cookies she had hidden in the freezer.

While my brothers and cousins and I were growing-up, Aunt Joy, grandma’s sister, would always send a box of Sees candies at Christmas.  After the dishes were done, grandma would pass around the box so we could all have a piece. This was such a treat. 

Another treat was the little boxes of sugary cereal that grandma always had on hand when my brothers and I visited when we were little. We knew we weren’t at home any more when we got these!

When we traveled to the Oregon desert in the 1970’s for a number of summers, Grandma always packed the cupboards and icebox of the camper with all the food we would need to eat like kings while camped in the middle of the sage brush. The most anticipated treat of the week was the strawberry shortcake at the end, when the ice in the icebox would have melted, and the frozen strawberries would be softening. Grandma would break-out the little sponge cakes and the cool whip and we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Strawberry shortcake was Grandad’s favorite and I’m sure she served it especially for him.

As I got older and came to visit my grandmother as an adult, we often had “happy hour” before dinner, with a little wine and cheese and crackers. Grandma would always sit back and claim, “I’m just not mad at anyone.”

Speaking of wine, Grandma only liked the really sweet kinds like Chablis or White Zinfandel. She didn’t understand how rest of us could drink the really “sour” stuff (by which I mean pretty normal wine). If we had something we remarked that we liked, she would ask to taste it, but then would make an awful face, and seem surprised all over again that she just didn’t like it.   

Thanksgiving was the meal to end all meals.  Since she was always worried about being on time, (it had to be served at 1 pm ) she got up earlier every year to put the turkey in the roaster and every year it was done earlier than the last. But it was never late! And she worried every year if it was getting over-done, but it was always great. In more recent years we have all played a part in putting the meal together, but we continue to follow the menu she served for 70 years. 

Grandma loved food, but she loved all of us even more. And by cooking for us, and feeding us, she showed us just how much. 

I wanted to close today by sharing with you her secrets for chocolate cake. As I mentioned before, she always used a mix and they were always the best. She claimed there were two things that made them that way. First, always take the cake of the oven five minutes earlier than the directions say. Secondly, after it is cooled, freeze the cake for a day or two before you serve it. Both these things help keep the cake especially moist.   And of course, serve it with love and know that there’s no such thing as being too full for dessert.  

Evelyn 90th Bday 1998

On her 90th birthday


Happy Birthday, Grandma.  A lot of us are missing you today.


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