Steps Toward the Goal: New Routines

We’re now 19 days into 2019 and I’m trying to implement steps that will help me reach my goal: publishing my memoir. In last week’s post, I said that I needed to work ‘smarter’ because I can’t work any harder. I found two television shows that I’ve hung onto over the years that have partially been background noise and also have me watching to see how the writers progress the story line. (Well, actually that sounds better than it is; the two shows are soap operas and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I watch them!)

When I looked at both more closely, the 90 minute shows take more of my energy than first appears; my mind has to keep up with when they come on since I’ve chosen not to record them; after each show I’m processing what happened, whether I think the writers did a good job with that episode and images that linger of scenes and situations. (I’m also saying, “That’s stupid. He was just married to her sister last year!”)

That 90 minutes+ could have been spent distraction-free, working on my list of tasks to produce the memoir, doing just one thing at the time. Since I took those two shows out of my daily schedule last Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about routines.

Years ago, I went through treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. At that time, I was working as a Research Coordinator with clinical trials—or pharmaceutical research. When I finished the 6 rounds of chemo and it was time to schedule the 32 radiation treatments, I was overwhelmed.

“How am I going to do that and go to work every day?” I asked myself. I knew I could take time off to rest as needed, but I really wanted and needed to maintain my job. Considering my energy level and the daily work flow at our office, I decided I would request the first radiation appointment of the day—the 8:15 slot. While that seemed to be the best, I had enough trouble making it to my office by 8:30 so how would I manage to get to UNC Hospital fifteen minutes earlier, every day for over 6 weeks?

Thinking about the days ahead, adding radiation treatments to my already full schedule, it came to me: Make it more normal by making it routine.

 I would have to get up earlier in order to still have time for my morning walk, at least as long as I felt up to it. Walking at sunrise had been my practice and was the favorite part of my day; I wouldn’t give that up.

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Morning Walk

I had to make sure that my clothes were ready and my lunch was packed the night before—just like we’d tried to have our sons do over the years of school mornings. But still, I dreaded driving the 10 miles to the UNC parking lot to my space marked “Radiation Oncology Patient.” I hated being reminded of cancer every morning, unlike my chemo every third week that gave me a break from any announcement of being a cancer patient.

What if I pair the bitter with the sweet, I thought, remembering that practice I started during the numerous medical visits early on in the cancer process; after something bitter– like a procedure I’d give myself something sweet– like a shopping trip.

If I got to my appointment 15 minutes earlier, I could write while waiting, using the time when I felt the best to work on a new short story. I’d bring my mug of coffee and savor those minutes instead of thinking about what was in front of me.

I followed through with my new routine and when I was pulling out of my drive, I added music to make me feel better.  I put a contemporary Christian CD in the player, Hymns of Worship and Praise. My favorite portion of the road crossed over Jordan Lake, and when I reached the section where I could see the broadest expanse of water, my favorite song, “God of Wonders” played. Looking out over the beauty of boats in morning fog, I felt lifted up above my circumstances and empowered for the day ahead.

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January on Jordan Lake

Making that my daily routine for those 32 days helped me to cope with the treatments and the cumulative fatigue.

That was eighteen years ago and I still remember that following that routine made the experience feel more familiar. Now, as I think of ways to streamline how I use my time, I see a way to apply what I learned during those radiation treatments. Instead of having to set a new wake-up time each weekday morning depending on whether I’m going to my UNC job, keeping my grandson, or writing, I’ll stick with one. If I go with the earliest time that I need for babysitting, I won’t have to think about it each night and it’ll be easier for my body to adjust.

And on those dark mornings driving to my grandson’s house, I’ll have the sweet reward when I arrive of holding him in those cuddly footed pajamas while I fix myself a second cup of French Roast.

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How About You?

How are you progressing toward your 2019 goal?

Are there changes in your routine that could open up time to work on your goal?

Steps Toward the Goal: Cutting Clutter

Two weeks ago, in my post “Looking Back Looking Forward,” I invited readers to join me in considering our successes and mistakes of 2018 and our goal for 2019. I shared my goal of Indie publishing my memoir, He Heard My Voice. I asked the following question and gave my answer:

What do I/you need to reach your goal?

I need to remain steadfast and focused, balancing my life and cutting out any clutter that gets in the way of reaching this goal.

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A New Year’s Eve on the Carolina coast

Now, almost two weeks into the new year, I’m focusing on how to cut out clutter and ways that relates to balancing my life—all in service of reaching my goal.

Over the years, I’ve mostly thought of clutter as physical things that litter my surroundings. As a self-diagnosed ADHD adult, I can easily create this litter from papers, bills, correspondence, the things of daily life and my creative pursuits. But as I’ve gotten older, I see clutter also as non-physical things like excessive noise, overly scheduled time, stored emotional hurts, unreasonable standards, and ways of doing things that are no longer useful. My new definition of clutter is:

Clutter is anything that takes up space in my mind, my emotions, or my physical surroundings and drains energy from me.

What areas of clutter do I need to cut in order to have more energy to focus on my goal?

I need every source of energy possible to do all the tasks that are required to independently publish my book. As I wrote about in the post “Not What I Expected,”I didn’t know that when I would be in the process of publishing my book I would also be taking care of my grandson and maintaining my part-time research nurse job. I need to work smarter because I don’t think I can work any harder. That means being very intentional about how I spend my time.

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My grandson, Baker

I’ve identified several areas that I can cut out.

First of all, there’s unnecessary stimuli that is both auditory and visual and keeps my mind engaged, working at a continual level. I watch some television shows out of habit, and while I half watch them, my brain does engage. I often multi-task and half-watch while writing, cooking or folding clothes—not fully focused on any one task. My friend since first grade, Donna, recently told me that now that she’s older, she’s decided she’s just going to do one thing at the time. How much cleaner that is than trying to juggle multiple things.

I remember that when I was a school nurse and had students return after concussions, they had strict guidelines on having periods of rest for their brains in order for them to heal from their injury. Sometimes my mind requires rest from overstimulation so that when I need to focus on what matters like my book, then I’ll have the reserves available.

Secondly, some of the clutter in my life is sticking to old patterns of doing things that no longer serve me. I used to feel like I had to personally respond to needs in my community in the same fashion as my mother. For example, if there was someone who was sick, she would take that person a homemade meal. Now, I have to realize that times have changed and I have to look closely at the decisions I make. It may be enough to send a card or a gift certificate to a restaurant, in order to balance my life, my precious time.

A third area of clutter is the lingering perfectionist ideas that are rigid and keep me bound to old ways of thinking. When I keep my grandson, Baker, I think of all the things he’s learning now that he’s 8 months old. I want the days with “Grammy”to be rich in helping him to grow and develop. But I realize that I don’t have to be reading to him the best books for children all the time. He is nurtured by hearing my voice reading anything, by our time together, and watching me valuing books.

Yesterday, when thinking about an upcoming recording session for my audio book, I practiced reading to Baker while he ate his teething crackers. I think he was just as entertained as when I read Winnie the Pooh!

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Listening to Grammy read from her memoir

These are my first steps in 2019 toward cutting clutter from my life so I can work smarter to publish my book. Each step is made in faith that I’m moving closer toward balancing my life and accomplishing the work I feel God has given me to do.

Blessings to You in the week ahead as you step closer to your goal.

Referenced Posts:

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Not What I Expected

 

How About You?

What is the clutter in your life?

How do you see it impacting your goals?

What steps can you take now to cut the clutter?

 

Step Forward in 2019

Over the past year since I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve often used the hashtag #stepforwardfromcancer. That phrase came to me when I was planning a group for breast cancer survivors. I was using my Life Coaching knowledge to help those participants move toward a better place in their lives. When I remembered back to my treatment, I thought of how the meaning of ‘stepping forward’ was relative to where I was in the process. (You could substitute another illness, #stepforwardfrom_____ if it stopped you in your tracks and changed your life).

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path up Mt Constitution overlooking Puget Sound, Washington State

In the early days when decisions needed to be made about my cancer treatment, a step forward could be making a choice that gave me more control: whether to take an aggressive approach, what location I’d go to for my infusions, what time each day to have my radiation appointment. When I was further along and feeling the impact of treatment, stepping forward could be pushing myself a little harder to get out of bed and walk outside. Sometimes it was choosing to participate in activities in spite of my nausea, taking my aide of a ‘nausea cocktail’ of cranberry juice and Diet Sprite on crushed ice. And once I was done with treatment, stepping forward was about moving toward the things that I’d put on hold, trying to let go of the fear of the cancer returning in order to enjoy life.

Sometimes with my hashtag I’ll go further and add #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back. While a physical illness is an obvious block to moving forward in the way we’d planned, sometimes the things that hold us back are not visible. For me one of those things is feeling inadequate, doubting myself. I’ve experienced this in various areas of my life, but the one that comes to mind that I’ve learned most about over the years is having the confidence to take solo journeys.

Taking solo journeys started by accident when I had that serendipitous trip to Sedona, Arizona in spring of 2001—right after I finished my 8 months of cancer treatment. I had the chance to travel for a few days between 2 business trips out West—but I had to do that alone. At first, I thought, “How can I go by myself to an unfamiliar place so far away?” That seemed like something other women might have the confidence to do, but not me. Taking those first awkward steps was rewarded by discovering the freedom of time alone without the distractions of fellow travelers. For me, it was a time of spiritual renewal in the presence of God, and eventually, after years of journeys, helped me to discover more of myself.

Each year when I approached planning that journey, I dealt with some level of doubt: Why are you going to that destination instead of another? How are you going to fit in with that group of people? Will you have the physical ability to carry out your plan?

What I’ve found is that those voices of doubt sound pretty familiar over time. They pick on the same vulnerable spots where they know they’ll get a reaction out of me, those areas of pride that will quickly defend themselves when they’re accused. By taking risks and not letting that thing hold you back, whatever it is for you, the more times you do it anyway, the more routine, the less of a hold it has on you.

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At the top of Mt Constitution, Washington State

So now, as we’re into the first week of 2019, I hope that you can start this new year by stepping forward from whatever has had a grip on you, whether it’s a physical illness or an emotional thorn in your side that keeps you from living the life you desire. Each small step leads to another to make the journey down your path the best it can be.

 Blessings to You!

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What about You?

Are there physical or emotional things that you need to #stepforwardfrom in 2019?

What first step will you take? Are there supports that would help you?

Related Post

Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey

 

 

 

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

We’re in that period of the year that feels like suspended time, hanging between the current year and approaching the new one, taking those uncertain steps toward the future. The constant t.v. and radio reminders of the year in review—whether it’s political changes, deaths of famous people, sports records– keep us focused on what feels like a blur that happened too fast to take in, leaving me asking, “What day is it? What year is it?”

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Searching heron on Gulf Coast of Florida #solojourney2018

When I steady myself and look back at 2018, one of my new activities was becoming a Podcast listener. Less than two years ago, when my coworker told me about a podcast he produced, I thought that’s for ‘younger people’ the Gen Xers like my coworker, or the younger, Millennials. But once I got hooked on the true-crime podcast, “Up and Vanished,” I was in. When I decided after my writing conference in May to go Indie with publishing my memoir, a friend recommended podcasts focused on non-traditional publishing. Now, at the end of the year, I listen to many and consider that content as part of my self-education in publishing. I am one of ‘them’ who listens regularly to podcasts.

Last week on my fifty-minute drive home from visiting Mama at the nursing home, I heard an episode by Christina Canters, a business and communications coach out of Australia. In her show, “Stand Out Get Noticed,” she was looking at what she’d accomplished in 2018, what mistakes she’d made and how she learned from them, and what her goals are for 2019. Besides her lovely Aussie accent and feeling connected to her international community, it helped to hear someone else’s perspective of how to sort through the past and prepare for the future.

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Since listening to her podcast three days ago, I’ve been going through the areas she covered, thinking about my life. Join me as I tell you what I came up with and consider these questions for yourself—Reflective Questions coming during the post instead of at the end.

What did I/you accomplish in 2018?

For me, the thing I accomplished was completion of my memoir. At first, incorporating the professional edits and corrections felt like more than I could do. When I received my 210 pages marked with track changes from my developmental editor, I thought, “How in the world am I going to go back (after so many times of rewriting already) and make all those changes?”

I had to step back for a few days to build up my energy and resolve for that task. There was no way but through. Like I do with all my writing, I prayed that God would give me what I needed to complete the task. There were ‘people in my path’ to support me along the way.

What were the mistakes I/you made in 2018 and how did I/you learn from them?

Well, this one would take a while to cover, more than the usual word count for my posts! Of course some of the mistakes were private ones, usually ways I came up short in relationships—that ongoing thread of life of learning through each interaction and making corrections as you go. But as far as my writing business, I made the mistake of focusing on increasing social media numbers with Twitter when I should have been more focused on my email subscriber list. I know this won’t make sense to those who aren’t working on ‘building a platform’ as they say an author should do—especially before that book is published.

My action was based on the direction of a Literary Agent that I was hoping to get a contract with that ultimately didn’t work out. While I have received benefits from engaging on Twitter, I listened closely when one podcaster said she had 10K Twitter followers and that had made minimal impact on her book discoverability and sales. Now I’m working on following the advice of Indie publishing podcasters for engaging in what is best for me.

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What is my/your goal for 2019 and what will you need to reach that goal?

Well, I guess mine’s pretty obvious—publish my memoir, He Heard My Voice: A Midlife Mom’s Journey through Cancer and Stress and Her Unexpected Arrival at Healing and Wholeness. I know that subtitle is a mouthful, but it really does describe the content of the book and was the gracious gift of that Literary Agent from Denver. I wrote about him in the post, “Unless You’re Famous.” I have been working on this book for around ten years and have been praying about the timing for publication. I do believe the time is now and my prayer is for it to be published in Spring of 2019.

What do I/you need to reach your goal?

I need to remain steadfast and focused, balancing my life and cutting out any clutter that gets in the way of reaching this goal. But I can’t do it alone; I need you. My readers help me by keeping me going when I want to stop. They encourage me to stay the course with their prayers and their comments that let me know my writing has made a difference in their lives. My readers help when they tell others about my writing and they discover me.

When I make public my goal I’m taking a risk and if I don’t reach it, I could feel embarrassed, like I’m a failure. But by letting you know that I need your help to realize my goal, I feel that I have a team of support.

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Bike ride at Coquina Beach, March 2018

How about you? Are you willing to let others know your goal and ask them for their support? Will you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that you can count on them to be on your team?

My prayer for you as you are suspended in this transition time between 2018 and 2019, is that you are listening to the desires of your heart, making a goal that is truly what you want to accomplish, and asking others for what you need.

May you look back on 2018 with gratefulness and humility and look forward to 2019 with hope and fullness of heart, knowing that you will have what you need to accomplish your goal.

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Gulf Coast Sunrise #solojourneyFlorida

 

Referenced Post

Unless You’re Famous

All is Calm

It’s just two days until Christmas. This year will be quieter than past years, since our dinner will be postponed until our son and his family return from spending the holiday with his in-laws. We used to have gatherings with larger numbers of  relatives, but now we’re in that phase of life where our children have married and cousins have new traditions and shorter visits due to their adult work schedules that replaced long college breaks.

Besides the decrease in the numbers of gatherings, I haven’t baked a single Christmas confection since the adults in the family are on diets and our seven-month-old grandson isn’t eating cookies—not yet. There’s no need to keep working to perfect Christmas—the foods, the decorations, the magical memories because we’ve all moved on to a different place. Part of me feels like something’s missing, but a bigger part of me says, “This is the quieter holiday you’ve been wanting.”

There are still things to be done but I don’t feel the push to keep doing more. What I want this year is time for quiet. This reminds me that my favorite Christmas carol is “Silent Night.” I think the focus on a quiet night in a stable has a settling effect on me, partially because of my childhood growing up on a farm.  I love the “all is calm all is bright” because so many times in the past the hype and intensity of holiday preparations have worn me down and I didn’t feel calm.

Over the years, I’ve attended many Christmas programs, worship services, and cantatas.  Of all of them, the one that had the most lasting impression was the simplest. It was back when our sons were very young and we were trying to manage the busyness of the holiday while working in our professions. Our small Presbyterian church had a mid-week vesper-type service. The contemporary building had lots of windows that provided a great view of nature during Sunday morning worship but were a blackout of darkness on a December night.

We sat with little inside light and one lone, dark blue candle burning — the focal point of the altar. We sang a few quiet carols to the simple accompaniment of the piano, which was in sharp contrast to the continuous playing of Christmas songs on the radio. The minister gave a homily about our season of Epiphany—waiting with an expectant heart. Inside that room, gathered in that drafty church, the glitzy lights and holiday fanfare of shiny reds and greens that screamed out Christmas was far away. We sat together and watched the flicker of that dark blue candle. I left feeling settled and strengthened, ready to disregard the overstimulation of the holiday and follow the call into the long, hibernating nights of winter.

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This year, when our family is not gathered like before at Christmas, I hope to draw into the silence of a blue candle, experience the calm, and breathe in deeply the quiet of the winter night. I want to exhale any trapped expectations from bygone holidays and accept with joy what is.

Whether you’re like me and having a more quiet, slimmed-down holiday or you’re in the bustle of many celebrations, may you take the time to feel the warmth of the flame of that blue candle, calling you to calm and making your Spirit bright.

Peace and Blessings to You All.

 

How About You?

How have your holidays changed over the years?

What are the things you miss? What are the new opportunities afforded by having time opened in your holiday schedule?

Three Great Gifts

One of the surprises for me of Going Social are the connections I’ve made with people and organizations around the world. After one of my post concerning my journey with breast cancer, an organization in the United Kingdom, Cancer Care Parcel messaged me and invited me to do a guest blog post. Looking at their site, I saw they offered a service for people wanting to buy just the right present for someone going through treatment. Cancer Care Parcel provided a community of support beyond the gifts they were selling. What a great service.

In thinking about what I’d write for them, I considered all the gifts I was given over my eight months of cancer treatment that is now eighteen years ago. How could I represent so many kindnesses in one blog post?

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After pondering this for a while, it came down to three types of gifts that represented the whole: the gift of time and being present during a difficult day, permission and the means to purchase myself a gift, written words in cards that were just enough hope for the moment.

I hope you’ll read about those specific gifts at the link posted below, and spend some time browsing the resources of Cancer Care Parcel. Perhaps it will help you with what to get someone special on your list.

Also, please know that my readers are a gift to me, providing support and encouragement that keeps me writing, that keeps me crafting stories.

Blessings to all of you at this special time of year.

https://cancercareparcel.co.uk/breast-cancer-suhrvivor-gifts/

 

How About You?

What are some of the gifts you’ve received that made an impact on your life?

Who needs a gift from you at this difficult time in their life?

Related Blog post

Surprised by #GoingSocial

 

 

 

Family Ties: Someone’s Favorite

I’ve been decorating my home for Christmas and I keep finding special things that remind me of my Aunt Polly: an engraved ornament, my blue porcelain angels, woodland birds. On Saturday evenings when my husband and I watch movies, I work on my crewel embroidery pillow and remember how she taught me the stitches when I was a senior in high school. Later she gave me the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and wrote in her artful script, “To Connie Riddle with lots, and lots of Love.”

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Polly in our farmhouse kitchen around 1966

While Polly never told me I was her favorite, as every child hopes they are, I always felt a connection to her because she ‘got me’ and I ‘got her.’ Her attention toward me made me feel special– a great thing when you’re growing up and going through the ups-and-downs of figuring out who you are. How reinforcing to feel that you have someone’s favor.

When I was a girl, Polly told me about visiting the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I felt like I was there when she described the snow-capped mountains and the open space. I’d seen those vistas in Westerns and imagined myself as one of those cowgirls riding a horse. Years later, as a ‘girl’ of  fifty-six, I took my solo journey to Wyoming chasing that dream that had started with Polly. I rode a huge horse named Tequila on a trail ride in the Grand Teton National Park. How I felt Polly’s spirit with me in that place.

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Remembering Polly’s descripton of the Tetons and feeling her presence

My memories of Polly are strong, especially during the Christmas season. Last year, I was feeling the same way and wrote a post, Polly’s Gift. I’d love for you to read it and get to know more about her.  I’ll end this post early in hopes that you’ll read on about Polly and her painting that hangs on the wall in my kitchen every December.

Polly’s Gift

 

How About You?

Is there a family member or another person who has treated you as if you’re a favorite?

What were things they did that communicated that you had a special bond?

How did their favor on you impact your life?

Do you have that type of relationship with a  niece or nephew or some other person?

 

Taking Time to Play

For the past ten years, I’ve spent Veteran’s Day hiking with my favorite living veteran, my cousin, Danny. He’s eleven years older than me, so when I was young and we had our big family gatherings at our Grandma Smith’s, we didn’t hang out. I thought of him like an older brother. Since I only had two sisters, I’d always wanted a brother, especially one who could pave the way for me and help me understand life from a male perspective.

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photo from Nov 2017

When I was a girl, I loved for Danny to stop by our house on his way to Grandma’s. He had a great sense of humor and teased his younger cousins. I loved hearing him talk about being stationed on the USS Cacapon docked in California and serving areas of the South Pacific.

For our Veteran’s Day treks, we go to Raven Rock State Park that’s just a few miles from where Grandma lived. We choose a trail and hike for a while, then stop along the path, lean against our walking sticks and ponder some new tidbit of discovery. These conversations have given me a greater understanding of my family history since Danny’s been around longer than me.

This year we had to postpone our hike for two weeks. During that time of delay, it seemed the list of things I needed to do for my part-time job, for Indie publishing my memoir, and to manage my new role of taking care of my grandson on Wednesdays and Fridays, increased. Before this year’s hike, I felt ambivalent about taking an entire day off when I had so much to do.

But I wasn’t ambivalent about the importance of those hikes in building my relationship with Danny.

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As I considered what I should do, it was as if that still small voice of God, my inner guide said to me, “Just go and enjoy the day.”

It’ll all work out, I told myself. Honor what you know is important.

It was sunny and cold last Tuesday morning when I drove down that country road to the park. We met at 10:15 and took a new trail, knowing that the hurricane in September probably damaged our more familiar path by the Cape Fear River that bordered the park. Since it wasn’t a holiday, there were few hikers. We passed the Superintendent who told us about the extensive damage to the walkways and stairs in the direction we were headed.

Changing our plan, we ended up hiking to an overlook with a spectacular view of the river, one we’d never been to in all our years of hiking. While we were standing there, two men who appeared to be in their thirties, joined us. They were cousins, too and when I said we had a yearly Veteran’s Day hike, one told us he’d served in the Army. When Danny said he’d served in the Navy in the late sixties and had been to many countries in the South Pacific, the other guy told us he was part Filipino. I listened as they shared experiences of towns they’d visted and foods they’d tried, new discoveries for me of Danny’s time in the service.

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Overlook of the Cape Fear River, Central North Carolina

On my yearly solo journeys, I pray each morning that God will “bless me and the people in my path.” Our conversation with those people in our path in that place of beauty, was a highlight of our walk.

We finished hiking and Danny pulled out his charcoal grill and the food he packed for our lunch. This is always nice for me, being taken care of for a while. All I do is bring a bag of carrots–that’s what he assigns me. I watched him stack the coals, squirt them with lighter fluid, and then fan the coals until they were ashen. Sitting near the grill there was just enough warmth to offset the chill of the breeze and the sun moving further behind the trees. We ate our grilled turkey keilbasa, cornbread, and heated sauerkraut and talked of memories of our favorite Christmas foods at Grandma’s.

Stuffed from our meal, because the grilled cornbread with cheese and poppy seeds was too hard for me to resist, I helped him pack his van then hugged my cousin goodbye. I drove back down that country road feeling satisfied that we’d made it to another Veteran’s Day hike, and thought we should go twice a year since we’re both getting older and once just doesn’t seem often enough.

Later, I listened to an Indie publishing podcast at The Creative Penn from an October show. An Irish author and creative coach, Orna Ross, shared a statement that touched a chord with me:

“The creative process completely relies on rest and play; it is not about endless work.”

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That’s right. I needed to spend the day with Danny to honor our relationship, but also to have a day of play. I’d been working hard and I was in danger of my life becoming unbalanced. I remembered my solo journey to Jekyll Island where I felt I’d been drawn to relearn to play. My life had become out of balance back then when I was fifty, and now I was dealing with the same issue at sixty-three: different factors but the same issue.

It seems I keep needing this reminder to balance my work and play. And now my seven-month-old grandson can give me lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays as he discovers the world through play, and bears witness to the benefits with his smile and cackles of laughter.

 

Resource:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2018/10/26/self-publishing-3-0-and-how-to-build-success-as-an-indie-author-with-orna-ross/

How about You?

How could you increase your time playing to balance your life?

What are things that you would like to do? Can you schedule those in the week and month ahead?

 

Being Present: Stay in Touch

Years ago, when I was writing part of the eulogy for my father-in-law’s funeral service, I asked for each of the five grandsons to share a special memory of their ‘PaPa’.  My younger son, Ross told me that his Papa was a really good listener. His example to support this was that when he told his grandfather about a trip to the store to buy a baseball, his PaPa took the ball Ross had purchased and held it, moving it around in his hands and examining the surface. Ross believed his PaPa wanted to understand what his grandson valued by taking it in and experiencing it in the only way he could. Since PaPa was bedridden, he was not able to go outside and throw the ball with his grandson, but he could give his undivided attention by listening and touching the baseball.

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While it was a simple example from an eighth-grade boy, it impressed me that by that act my son made the judgement that his PaPa was a really good listener. He was totally absorbed in what my son was telling him with his ears and his hands. I’ve thought of how many times I’ve looked at something without taking the time and effort to engage it with my hands, my sense of touch to experience something more fully.

Now I watch my six-month old grandson as he discovers the world. He’s not content to just look at things; he fully engages by touching each thing multiple times, trying to figure out what it is. When he touches the metal tile on the wall, he fans his fingers back and forth across the surface, examining the raised areas, learning by experience that it feels different from the wooden handrail by the stairs. And on flat surfaces like the table, he slaps his hands down hard, perhaps liking the sound, feeling the power of his own force.

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I copy him and close my eyes and touch the same surfaces, wondering what it feels like when you’re at the beginning of life. By the time you’re sixty-three, you know the uses for the objects, how they’re constructed, and have childhood memories associated with each: sliding down the wood bannister of our farmhouse, the coolness of the surface of our Formica kitchen table, opening the tin vents on the side of our tobacco barn and being stung by wasps.

Last year when I traveled to Iona, Scotland, I wanted to totally engage my senses. I touched things in my path to increase my memory of that pilgrimage. I rubbed my hand across the ancient carvings in the oldest tall cross at Iona Abbey, MacLean’s Cross. Now, when I close my eyes and think of being there, I remember the rough texture and feel that ever-present breeze on my face.

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When we hiked into the hills near the Abbey, I picked a piece of heather, and felt the scratchiness of the plant while enjoying the visual beauty of the small bloom. I made sure to put my hands in the cold water of Iona Sound, feeling the sugar-soft sand and searching for a special rock to take home.

Now that winter is approaching, I think of how important the texture of fabric is to feeling warm when the temperatures drops. I look forward to wearing my corduroy coat and remembering how much I liked that fabric as a child. I think of the ways the touch of fabric brings comfort, like the fleece throws that volunteers have made for Mama and others at Parkview, and prayer shawls knitted for survivors going through cancer treatment. Those warm coverlets of care have a way of making you feel grounded.

I think of how my grandson is re-teaching his ‘Grammy’ the importance of touch for engaging more fully with the world. It’s not enough to look at something and keep going. Now I need to slow down, be in the moment, and ‘Stay in Touch’ with what is around me to be fully engaged in life.

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How About You?

How can you slow down and be present through the use of touch?

What objects have you rediscovered by taking the time to fully engage with them?

 

 

 

 

Celebrating a Life

Today I’m remembering a solo journey I took back in 2009 to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My desire was to visit the place that had been significant for my mother. She and her  cousin, Yvonne traveled there by train when they were both nineteen to prepare for work in WWII as civil servants.

Throughout my childhood, Mama told stories of their adventures in Harrisburg. It was the first time those two farm girls had been outside of North Carolina. They returned to work at Pope Air Base, living on site and enjoying the lively community that included handsome soldiers. It was quite a change from rural Harnett County.

Before I left on my trip to Harrisburg, I took Mama to see Yvonne. At that time, they were both still living in their homes. We sat at Yvonne’s dining table and shared a meal of chicken and biscuits and I told them about my plan.

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Yvonne Gilchrist Casto (sitting) and Mama, Mary Smith Rosser

While Yvonne had more physical problems than Mama, Yvonne was mentally sharp. Mama was in the early phase of dementia and understood that I was going to Harrisburg, but had a hard time recalling the specifics of living there. I felt an urgency to go then because I wanted her to be able to enjoy some of what I discovered while she could still savor those memories with Yvonne.

“We lived on McClay street. I hope you can find the house where we rented a room from the Flutes,” Yvonne told me.

Later, she shared one of their familiar stories. She was a clever prankster and often seemed to be the ‘set-up’ person while Mama took the bait. They were a real duo.

When I arrived in Harrisburg, I took pictures along the path by the Susquehanna River, remembering what an impression it made on Mama that frigid January day when they arrived. Mama would often say, “That river was frozen solid.” It would have been a real contrast to their partially-frozen farm pond in central North Carolina, which she would have be warned to stay away from when she was a girl.

While I walked along the streets abutting McClay and visited the Capitol where they’d had their photo taken, I imagined Mama and Yvonne, nineteen years old, the young women in the photo coming to life.

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(L to R) Yvonne, their new friend, Mary Willis, and Mama, Mary Rosser at PA Capitol 1943

I tried but couldn’t find the training site. When I returned with my pictures, they listened in rapt attention as I told them what I saw and ways the city had changed since 1943.

Mama and Yvonne remained close over the years. We often said they were more like sisters and best friends than merely cousins.

How they loved each other’s company, able to finish each other’s stories from their time together as young women starting out in the world. After the war ended and they finished working at Pope Field, they went to Kansas City, Missouri to work for the airlines. While there, Yvonne met her husband, Bill and eventually moved with him to California.

Years later, we received the tragic news that Bill had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea/Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic disorder (https://hdsa.org/what-is-hd/). He lost his job as a NASA contractor due to the  changes in his functioning caused by the break down of nerve cells in his brain. Yvonne and Bill, along with their six-year-old daughter, Kim moved back to North Carolina. Mama was heartbroken for Yvonne and was supportive of her through the eighteen years of Bill’s decline and eventual long-term care and then death. During that time, Yvonne was there for Mama when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack.

As widows, they’d often visit each other and take trips to see friends and family that lived both nearby and faraway. They enjoyed each other’s company, often telling their stories from Harrisburg and Pope Field like a well-rehearsed tag team. We enjoyed watching them.

Eventually Yvonne’s diabetes and other physical problems, and Mama’s dementia led to both of them going to live in nursing centers. As long as they were able, we still tried to take them to see one another. When they were no longer able to visit, Yvonne would ask Kim about Mama, and Mama would smile when we’d tell her news of Yvonne. They were separated but we felt their spirits remained together.

Today I remember Yvonne because tomorrow I will attend her memorial service. She passed away last week in her nursing home thirty miles from Mama’s. Yvonne had just turned 95 on November 1st, catching up with her cousin who’d turned 95 in July.

For Mama and Yvonne, their strong cousin bond, shared adventures as young women, and support for one another, lasted a lifetime.

What a testament of  kinship, friendship, and loyalty pursurvering through the good and difficult times of life. What a priviledge to have learned from watching them.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yvonne. Mama doesn’t know that her cousin is no longer living. She is spared from that grief by her dementia, so we daughters will go in Mama’s stead, supporting Kim, our cousin, as we honor the life of her incredible mother.

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How About You?

Have you ever made a journey to discover more about a person you loved?

What did you learn about that person?  What did you learn about yourself?