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.”

IMG_0146

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.

IMG_1538

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?

 

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.

affection-baseball-boy-1481358

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.

IMG_2498

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.

fullsizeoutput_875

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.

IMG_2503

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.

fullsizeoutput_928

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.

fullsizeoutput_1007

(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.

seagull-2394636_1920

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?

Hope and a Future

A new chapter in our lives began six years ago when Mama went to live at Parkview Retirement Village in Sanford, our hometown. That day when we three sisters took Mama and faced the reality that we could no longer keep her safely in her home, was one of the most difficult days of my life. But God gave me the hope I needed when I spotted a verse of Scripture tacked to the bulletin board, Jeremiah 29:11(NIV):

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the time, I was surprised by the verse being posted in a residence for elderly people with health problems, a place where they’d spend their last days. How could there be hope or a future in that place of decline?

Over those first months, Mama adapted to her new community. Always enjoying the company of others, she reached her hand out to touch fellow residents in greeting when she passed in her wheelchair. She offered some of her food to the women sitting next to her at meals. Staff loved Mama’s sweet smile and how she often laughed after saying something that wasn’t understandable to others, but seemed to be humorous—a tale she would have told back when her words were more intelligible.

IMG_1196

Mama at Parkview watching Bobby Flay

 I came to realize that six fellow classmates from my high school, were all experiencing this same phase of life with their mothers. We’d see each other, sometimes bringing in fresh laundry, or in the dining room coaxing them to eat, or pushing them in their wheelchairs. We jokingly said we could have a high school reunion at Parkview.

Mama and I got to know most of their mothers. We’d stop our stroll down the hall  and visit in their rooms. I learned that Beth’s mother had been a math teacher and Darrell’s had been in a canasta group in her neighborhood. Visits with Sue’s mom, Joanne were always entertaining as she told us about raising and training dogs. She had a special love for Golden Retrievers, and while Joanne couldn’t remember many things, she could list the names of the five Goldens’ she’d had over the years. When my Madison was living, it was a special joy to take her to visit Joanne who asked me once to let her keep Madison, saying, “You know I’d take good care of her.”

IMG_1158

Madison visiting at Parkview

My classmate, Randall, visited his mother on the locked Memory Unit of Parkview then went by to visit his best friend, and our classmate, Bragg’s mother, Pauline.

Back when we were growing up, I would have called her Mrs. Cox. But since meeting her as an adult, befriending her at this point in life, Mama and I know her as Pauline. What I didn’t realize until our visits, was that Pauline and my father were in the same first grade class, in the same school as Bragg and me. I remember the first time she told me about knowing Daddy.

“In our first-grade class he sat in a row to the side of mine. He was nice looking and quiet,” she said. I could imagine our classroom in that school building with the high ceilings and creaky wooden floors, the clanking of the radiators in the winter.

Pauline and Daddy were born in 1920, and now as she approaches her 98thbirthday, I’m amazed at how well she’s doing, at her memory of past and recent events. Pauline’s very kind towards Mama and listens when she tries to add to the conversation.

On one occasion, we happened to visit Pauline when Bragg was there. How good it was to see him, the first time since our thirty-fifth high school reunion. He hadn’t changed much since we were teens, appearing healthy and doing well.

Back in May when Mama and I went to see Pauline, she was disappointed that Bragg couldn’t visit her for Mother’s Day because he wasn’t feeling well.

Then on a Saturday in mid-June, she told us she had bad news.

“Bragg has thyroid cancer. They took him immediately to surgery and have started chemo,” she said. “It makes him really sick.”

We sat there in her room, quiet, Mama watching Pauline as she sat in her chair in shock and disbelief.

“I wanted to go see him but he says he’s too sick. He wants me to wait until he’s feeling and looking better.”

I could only imagine how hard it was for her to not be able to see her son, her mother urge to comfort her boy being thwarted. She said Randall had researched thyroid cancer and it seemed to be very treatable.

“Bragg has always taken such good care of himself. He thinks he’ll be better in a few weeks,” she said, “And he probably will. I just have to wait.”

She talked about him as a child, how they’d always been close, planting the garden together, playing games when he was home from school on sick days.  She remembered he’d worn a fashionable-for-the-seventies, plaid tuxedo jacket to our prom. I was amazed that Pauline could still recall the name of the girl who was his date.

The next time we visited her, we joined Randall, and Pauline’s daughter and son-in-law.

“Come on in,” Pauline greeted us, seeing my hesitance to interrupt. “I always love seeing y’all.”

After we settled in, positioning Mama in the wheelchair so she was part of the circle, I sat on the side of Pauline’s bed next to Randall, and he told us that they’d just been getting an update on Bragg.

“He says he wants to go to hospice now, Connie. They’ve done all they can do,” Pauline said, then shook her head and continued. “Sometimes we just have to hope and pray.”

We sat together and tried to rally our hope, commenting that his physicians at Duke did  amazing work, that Bragg was getting the best care possible. It was a difficult conversation, but we were all together in that place, providing a community of tenderness at a tough time.

The next week I made a point of inviting another classmate, Donna, to join us for our visit with Pauline. Donna had been Bragg’s girlfriend from first until fifth grade. Pauline had often mentioned she’d like to see Donna. For a short while, Pauline was distracted from her worry by talking about Bragg and Donna’s elementary courtship. Randall joined us that night for our visit and for a little while we got to escape the sadness of Bragg’s illness and tell funny stories of childhood.

IMG_2125

Friends since First Grade– Connie, Randall, Donna

The next day, Randall called me to tell me Bragg had gone into a coma. Soon after that, Bragg died. It was hard to believe our classmate was gone.

I felt badly for Pauline’s pain. While it was wonderful that at ninety-seven she had an amazing mental ability, the down side of that was she was fully aware of losing her son. When Mama’s brother had died a year ago, she was spared the suffering of that, the only bright spot of dementia.

The next time we visited Pauline, after we hugged she said, “I just can’t believe it. The doctor said there are three types of thyroid cancer and he had the bad kind.”

She talked about the one visit they had while he was at the hospice facility, when he appeared to be improving. But soon, she returned to her better memories.

“I just have to remember all the good times. He was a wonderful son.”

IMG_2129

Visiting with Pauline

I think back to the Jeremiah verse and the memories of the past six years since bringing Mama to Parkview. Her future and our future since that time has been filled with lots of interactions in her new community. It has helped me to know my classmates through getting to know their mothers, as we’ve shared this phase of life while we’ve become seniors ourselves.

We have had a ‘high school reunion’ while we’ve provided each other support and dealt with the realities of aging, of losses, expected and unexpected.

 

How about You?

How have you helped to provide hope for someone in your community?

How has that experience impacted your life?

 

Sit With Me for a While

That morning I headed out from the hostel on my bike, passing by the picnic table where Ruth was sitting in the sun.

“Sit with me for a while, Connie,” Ruth said from her perch.

I leaned the bike against the table and sat down. Ruth was eighty-three, a Canadian staying at the hostel while her apartment was being renovated. She’d told us when we talked around the kitchen table that she’d started staying in hostels during the fifties. She’d done a lot of traveling over the years since she’d never had children and was divorced.

“Nice day for you to ride your bike,” she said. “I used to love to ride but I can’t since I had my knee replacement. Lots of things change when you get old.”

fullsizeoutput_461

She’d hung the sheets on the clothesline, and the steady breeze that was constant off the St. Lawrence River that flowed in front of the Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel, whipped the sheets. We watched as if waiting for them to dry. Then Ruth continued.

“I got some sad news today. My friend died. She suffered with Alzheimer’s,” Ruth said, and shook her head, looking down at the grass. “You just don’t know how things are going to go when you get to this point in life. At least you have children.”

There was nothing I could say, no cheerful remark that would change anything.

This was the exact situation that I knew that I, like many people, avoided because of not knowing what to say. It’s hard to witness someone’s pain and not be able to do anything. We want to fix things and sometimes we can’t.

We sat there in silence. Being present was what I could offer.

Eventually she changed the subject, moving to something brighter.

“Where are you going on your next journey?” she asked.

“I’m not sure, Ruth. But like you, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it by the time I’m leaving New York, catching my flight back to North Carolina.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement.

“You should get to Europe. They have some fabulous hostels there,” she said. “Go before it’s too late. I’ve stayed in hostels in many countries, but now those days are over.”

 

fullsizeoutput_464

Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse, Cape Vincent, New York

I’ve thought of that conversation many times over the years. I was glad that I had those moments with Ruth, even though it was hard to listen to her pain, to the reality she presented about the passage of time.

I think of my discomfort in situations where I fear that I will have no way to fix the situation. But now, as I consider this, it assumes that it’s about me, about my ability to make something happen. It takes control away from that person and gives it to me.

They don’t need me to control the situation. What is needed from me is to be presnt. To sit with them for a while. The presence of another person, in itself, reassuring, that they are not physically alone, even though they may be alone in their situation.

I don’t need to say anything. Many times I’ve overvalued words and undervalued supportive silence. Whether it’s a person in my path during my solo journey, like Ruth, or visiting with my mother at the nursing home, or listening to a friend share a struggle, sitting with someone and being completely available to them is invaluable.

I will always be glad I accepted Ruth’s invitation to, “Sit with me for a while.”

fullsizeoutput_b9c

How About You?

How do you deal with listening to difficult topics?

How can you be present for someone who needs you?

 

 

 

Tobacco Barn Morning

These mornings when I rise before six and walk, it reminds me of late July days as a child on our North Carolina farm. Mama would wake us when it was still dark to get ready and eat breakfast before we went to work in tobacco either on our farm or for one of our neighbors in our rural community. Part of me hated getting up so early, and part of me was excited, wondering who would be working that day—perhaps one of the girls in my class at school or a good-looking teenage boy.

When I was eleven, the summer after fifth grade, I became one of the paid handers,which were  girls or women who gathered several of the tobacco leaves by the stems, and handed them to the loopers. They took the hands and with cotton twine that was threaded to a wooden tobacco stick, they’d wrap the bundled hands and slide them to the end of the stick, going back and forth between the two handers that were stationed with each looper. Most of the time there were four loopers placed around the trailer loaded with the green leaves that had been picked or primed, as we called it in central NC, by the teenage boys and men that did the back-breaking work in the field.

IMG_0484

Participating in the demonstration of handing tobacco last September at Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

The community of barning tobacco was always interesting to me. There was such a variety of people, some you knew and others you didn’t. That was during the sixties, and while there were racial tensions going on around the country and in our town, whites and blacks worked side-by-side in tobacco. During those days of needing to fill the barn with the 500 sticks that would be cured, we were all laborers, no matter our color. While we returned home to different circumstances and faced different realities, for those hours we were a group working toward a common goal.

IMG_0503

One full stick of handed tobacco, Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

I loved listening to the women talk about the latest news, or gossip. Some of them spun lively stories with more personal details than I would ever hear at home from Mama or Daddy. Sometimes the teenage girls would show up with their hair in curlers, most saying they had a date that night. How they made me want to grow up!

Sometimes there would be a pause in the chatter, only to be interrupted by a shriek when one of the handers picked up a leaf with a hornworm, those tobacco worms with chunky green bodies and a red horn on their tailend. They would be camouflaged in the bed of green and were difficult to pull off once they wrapped around your finger.

More menacing than the hornworms, were the occasional black snakes that the primers put in the trailer just to hear the women screaming at the barn. They were always proud of their trick when they came in from the field later to congregate at the barn, smiling and asking, “How’d you like that present we sent you from the field?”

IMG_0541

Before tractors, mules pulled sleds through the tobacco fields.

The day of work seemed to stretch on forever with the increasing heat and humidity. Between ‘growing pains’ and the umpteen hands of tobacco to fill the barn, I often went home with my arms aching. Mama would rub them with alcohol. I don’t know if it helped, but I think it did, just having Mama to acknowledge my pain and validate it with her care. Now, I chuckle when I see clips on the news about child labor laws being enforced. When you were the child of a farmer, there were no child labor laws, only the understood need for everyone to help.

And there was also a sense of pride that you were contributing, even as a fifth grader. We saw the barn full of the sticks that we’d filled by our steadfast handing of one bundle at the time. We knew that there was no stopping, no quitting the job until it was done. I think those summer days of working hard taught me life lessons of not giving up, of working with others toward a common goal.

That summer when I was eleven, I wrote in my diary that I earned a total of $55.00, paid in cash at the end of each week by the farmer. I used the money to buy school clothes, an adequate amount in 1966. How proud I felt when I went shopping with my own money.

Now, in this new world that we live in, I’m glad I had the experience of the tobacco barn community, the rich memories and lessons of a hard day’s work, the feeling of excitement and possibility when I walk in the cool of the morning.

 

IMG_2151

3-D Mural by Chris Dalton in Sanford, N.C., my hometown.

Yearly Hornwood and Harvest Festival at Duke Homestead

http://dukehomestead.org/harvest-and-hornworm-festival.php

 

How About You?

What special childhood memories do you have of summer?

What aspects of those days do you still carry with you?

 

 

 

 

The Carousel of Time

We drive down the road on a sunny July afternoon, through the broad expanse of eastern North Carolina farmland on our way to the beach. This has been a yearly trek for most of our lives, from the time when we were children, to the years we carried our two sons when they were children, and now to have our first summer beach time with our eleven-week-old grandson. My husband, David plays a CD of Joni Mitchell songs, and the chorus plays for “The Circle Game” with the words, “we’re captive on the carousel of time.”

The tune was familiar to me but not the words– never one that followed her music. I listened closely.

We arrive to Emerald Isle and join our son, Brooks, his wife, Emily, and our grandson, Baker Hayes.

IMG_2163

We miss our younger son, Ross who couldn’t get away this year. Many of our trips in the past were in August, after our sons finished internships or summer jobs and before I returned for the new year in my middle school. But since I’ve retired from that nursing position, I no longer feel that weighted dread of having to go back to the intensive wind-up for the fall semester.

Often our time at the beach reminded me of New Year’s, looking back since our last summer’s stay; all that had happened in our family’s life; all that had been accomplished and all that had not; looking ahead to what was possible before the next year’s beach trip.

This year there’s a shift as we give our son’s family the downstairs master bedroom so they can spread out with the baby. I’m anxious to hold my grandson, to see how he’s grown since our last visit several weeks ago. He holds his head with great muscle tone when I pick him up and feel the pounds he’s gained. How fast he’s changing! They had taken him to the beach before we arrived to put his feet in the salt water. He pulled them back, like the water was too cool and he wondered why his parents were subjecting him to that.

IMG_4978

After he’s fed, I walk him about and jostle him up and down trying to ease him into sleep, which he fights, wanting not to miss anything, I suppose. I think of Joni Mitchell’s song, the “painted ponies going up and down” and imagine how he’ll love a carousel when he’s a little older– my active little grandson.

Maybe the outside air will help, I think, and walk him onto the back porch. Every summer this has been the place I sit to read and drink coffee, whether it’s my morning devotional, my beach novel, or my non-fiction workbook on finding my way in mid-life. Now with the next generation in my arms, it’s a place to distract him from his fretfulness, a new memory in this space.

I think of the dreams I’ve had sitting in the porch chairs and continued pondering as I  walked along the shoreline. Some of them have been realized, others have not, and some are in process– like publishing my memoir. Some of them have changed as I’ve transitioned from mid-life to the beginning of my senior years. I remember the lyrics from the Circle Game song, “there’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams.”

The passing of time is apparent in every memory of summertime at the beach, of family trips to this house. I imagine our grandson over the years before us, how fast they’ll go and I’ll want to, “drag my feet to slow the circles down.”

IMG_2156

Napping with his ‘Papi’ on a rainy afternoon

For now, all I can do is be thankful and enjoy these moments, even when he is fussy and hard to settle, content in the intimacy of this family time. I’ll be present to the circle of life pulling us forward, giving into its pull instead of fighting it, like my grandson fights sleep.

IMG_1779

How About You?

Where are the places you feel the passing of time?

How do you look on the dreams that have been realized and those that haven’t, the ones that have stayed the same and others that have changed?

 

Underpromising: Is that Settling?

A few years ago, I took a course with the Wisdom of the Whole Academy to be a Life Coach. I remember in the early part of the program, they were explaining some of the basic tenets of coaching. When it came to the client setting goals, the guidance was to ‘underpromise,’ to pick the one goal they were most interested in reaching and then  commit to one small action step to take in the week following the session.

When they first explained it, I thought I must not be hearing them correctly. My expectation was that a client would commit to a significant step. This didn’t sit well with me. I thought it sounded like ‘settling,’ doing a mediocre job when weren’t we supposed to be reaching and challenging ourselves?

I learned that the rationale was if it was a small step, not too difficult, the client would achieve success and would be encouraged to continue with another small step until they obtained the goal. Choosing too big of a step often produced failure and discouragement.

Each of us had to partner with a fellow student and practice coaching one another. Over the weeks of my sessions, there was a theme in what my coach summarized and reflected from what I’d said: I often used the word overwhelmed. It seemed to occur when I was talking about my frustration with having multiple goals and not knowing where to start. I had an “Ah Ha!” that there were too many goals and that had been a theme throughout my life with my driven nature. No wonder I had a hard time with the concept of underpromising.

The summer after I finished the course and was certified as a Nurse Coach, I took my solo journey to an artist residency at Artcroft in central Kentucky. In return for the free residency, I’d provide the sweat equity of helping with the farm animals, garden, and provide a community service– like speaking and leading a writing workshop. In between those jobs, my project was to rewrite my memoir. But when I arrived, things were completely different.

IMG_1626

Instead of sharing the house with fellow artists, I would be there the two weeks by myself. The cows had been sold and there was no longer a garden. The library and Chamber of Commerce had no requests for workshops in mid-July, so other than meeting the staff as an ambassador for Artcroft, there were no expectations of me. “Just write,” the Artcroft director told me.

While I was disappointed at first, in the quiet farmhouse with only an upstairs window unit air conditioner, my feelings changed over the two weeks. The sparsely furnished house on a lone road on a hillside of Kentucky, became the perfect time and place to write with great focus. I could not put a load of clothes in the washer, or turn on the television, or even use wi-fi, because there were none of those.

I spent the early morning hours, sitting at the table writing with the door open to the cool air, a rabbit nibbling by the side yard. The quiet was occasionally broken by the sound of a car coming up the road or a cow mooing in the distance. I’d take a break and walk the hilly road that crossed the property and enjoy the lane lined with Queen Anne’s lace and lavender chickory blooms. I took garden clippers and gloves and cut pieces of the bountiful thistle to make a simple arrangement for my kitchen table.

IMG_1680

While I would head out for the latter part of the day to the library to check email or to see a few of the area sites, the majority of my time was spent in that simple farmhouse doing just one thing: writing.

The one thing the director advised me to do. I didn’t have multiple goals, “Just write.” It’s the only time in my life when I’ve ever had two weeks focused on one thing.

Was that like what I’d learned about underpromising and with less we could ultimately achieve more?

I still have to remind myself of being kinder, gentler when it comes to goal setting. And when I find myself overwhelmed again, I remember that little house in Kentucky and the quiet lesson learned over that two weeks.

Less really is More.

IMG_1590

How About You?

Do you have a goal that would benefit from taking a smaller first step, of underpromising so that you will have success?

Is there an area of your life where less could be more?

 

Sad Stories along the Road

Not all the stories of the people in my path are humorous or entertaining; there are some that are heavy, racked with pain that is real and truly part of our human experience.  Over the last few days we’ve been alarmed and saddened by the tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and the knowledge that there were other suicides by lesser known people– all leaving a trail of unfathomable grief.

As a nurse working in mental health for fifteen years and school health for twenty, I’ve seen the devastation of death by one’s own hand. I was a trainer for Youth Mental Health First Aid because I wanted to help teachers, educational staff, and others in the community watch for those who showed signs of depression, signs they may be considering suicide.  In the sadness of these recent deaths, we’re reminded of the expanding need for mental health services in our pressure-filled society, and the importance of reaching out to one another in the truth about our struggles, instead of presenting that perfect social media picture of everything being okay.

Hopefully we realize the importance of being present to each person, staying in the moment and being able to stand with them in their pain.  I’m reminded of a chance meeting with a woman in my path during my solo journey back in April of 2013.

IMG_0412

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

 I was spending a few days exploring Colorado Springs before the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference.  After a very scary, and ‘sickening’ trip up Pike’s Peak on the Cog Railway, I spent the next two days in bed with altitude sickness. Thankfully, I’d stayed in a Bed & Breakfast where the staff came to check on me.  The woman who owned the guesthouse, brought me medicine her son took when he visited, since he always had problems with the altitude. My last evening there, I heard a knock at the door.  I was just able to crawl out of bed, put on my robe, and open the door to one of the staff.  She handed me my bedtime chocolate and an extra towel.

“I hear you’ve been having some trouble with the altitude,” she said.  “When I moved here from Kansas, it took me almost 6 months to adjust.”

“Yeah, I thought I would be okay.  I’ve been in Colorado for days, even went up into Rocky Mountain National Park last weekend.  When the cog train reached 11,500 feet, that’s when I lost it, literally!”

fullsizeoutput_1

Inside the cog rail train going up Pike’s Peak

She asked me where I was from, calculating how much I was having to adapt.

“So you’re used to being in North Carolina.  You’d better get back to sea level!” she said and chuckled. “It’s beautiful in the South. I used to have a son that lived in Charleston.  Went there when he was nineteen.”

I was startled by her response.

“What do you mean by ‘used’ to have a son?” I asked.

“He moved across the country, trying to get his life together. We thought he was doing better,” she said, her face changing from the dark cloud that moved in. “But then we got the news that he took an overdose and killed himself.”

We stood there, her in the hall, me in the doorway, trying to take in her sad story.

“It’s been so hard. He was my stepson and I loved him,” she continued. “It’s killing my husband. I don’t think he’ll ever get over losing his boy.”

I told her I was the mother of two sons, and that I was so sorry for their loss. I couldn’t imagine the depth of that pain.

“Suicide is the hardest death, I think.  Such a senseless loss and leaves people behind with so many questions,” I said, wanting to support her, but like everyone, not quite sure what to say.

“Yeah, we knew he had problems. But we never thought he’d do that,” she continued. “It was like a horrible nightmare to go there afterwards for his belongings.”

We talked for a while longer, and eventually she led us back to the present, asking me about the remainder of my trip, interested in my writing conference. Our conversation ended with her wishing me to feel better and me telling her to take care of herself and her husband as they found the strength they needed.

Maybe I’d provided at least a moment of comfort for the grieving woman. She had ministered to me in my physical illness, providing cheer with her unexpected presence after I’d been so isolated. I hope she’d felt some relief to share her story since many times those dealing with a family member’s suicide may keep it to themselves.

My hope for the woman at my door as well as others who are either feeling sad in themselves or from the suicide of a loved one, is that they will get the professional help that’s needed to go beyond the sadness to a place of hope.  May we all support each other, being honest about how we struggle and finding comfort and strength to move forward hand-in-hand down the road that is life.

IMG_0446

Welcoming Guesthouse

 How about You?

(For this post, the Reflective Questions seem to be more personal. At this time, I am no longer a Mental Health Professional and therefore I’m not able to respond to comments that are of a clinical nature.  However, I do encourage my readers to consider these questions and take the needed action to get help for themselves or others.)

Have you ever experienced depression yourself or in someone else?  How were you able to express your feelings to someone else or to listen while they shared with you?

How can you be more honest with others about the things you struggle with?  What type of professional, family/friend, and/or community support might help?

RESOURCES:

National Suicide Hotline. (800) 273-8255

Website with information on depression and suicide prevention–

https://www.samhsa.gov/suicide-prevention

 

 

 

Happy 100th

This is the 100th post since I started my blog with WordPress almost a year ago. When I published the first entry on May 31, 2017, I wasn’t looking ahead at the hours of work involved when I made the commitment to posting twice a week. I had no clue how much effort it would take to create each entry and find the accompanying images– didn’t figure ahead that with 52 weeks in a year that would be 104 posts!  I just jumped in and have learned by doing– the method that’s best for me.

I guess no matter what you do 100 times, you probably get better at it– or at least it’s more familiar.  It helped to make a commitment to regularly producing my posts, the twice-weekly deadlines forcing a new discipline in my writing.  Once I made the announcement that I would publish them on Wednesdays and Sundays, I had to stick with my decision.

anniversary-500967_1920

That was a real challenge when I took last year’s journey.  In Paris, I had problems with my computer and had to use the hotel’s.  The keyboard was different in France, and I struggled with finding the right key– pecking out a word at the time, barely able to complete that post before we had to leave for the train station.

On Iona, the wifi was difficult to access from the Abbey and I had to walk down the road to a hotel lounge.  Instead of getting to explore the island in our free time, I ordered a pot of tea and hurried to write my post before I had to be back for my evening kitchen duty.  But some of that was a labor of love because I wanted to tell you in real time what I was experiencing so you could be with me on that journey.  There were pictures of the stunning beauty of the island that I couldn’t wait to share.

iona-1642075_1280

The shores of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

One of the things I’ve had to let go of in blogging is my perfectionism. At first, I was afraid to make a post without having my writing group take a look. I’m not the best at grammar or punctuation, and I often miss spelling errors. But I couldn’t wait for others and I couldn’t afford an editor. I would do my best and hope that what I have to say, and my desire to inspire and encourage would outweigh my errors. You’ve been gracious as readers to overlook those flaws.

Many of my posts have been from portions of my memoir that is the story of my simultaneous struggle with a toxic job and cancer that’s interrupted by a serendipitous trip to Sedona. That journey-turned-pilgrimage was life-changing and became a template for the six that follow in my memoir and the seven that will be covered in the sequel.  Because I’m working on publishing my book, I need more time for that project.

So, now that I’m fully aware of how much time goes into each post, I need to cut back to a weekly production that will be on Saturdays. I appreciate you all for being supportive readers and will let you know when my memoir’s available.

At times posting twice a week has been easy, other times it’s been hard, but always it’s been rewarding when I hear from you that what I’ve said has resonated with your life. It’s brought me joy when I hear that my words have inspired or encouraged you.

Thanks to everyone for your support for my 100 blog posts.  I’ll talk with you again next Saturday.

IMG_1779

What about you?

What new challenge do you need to jump into?

If you have done that in the past, what did you learn after a significant amount of time about the process and the product of that challenge?