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?

 

Solo Journey: Dream Destination

In last week’s blog post, I told about how a Literary Agent set me on a Solo Journey of Indie Publishing. I knew my dream destination—publication of my memoir, but I felt hesitant to take the first step forward. Like when I approach my yearly solo journeys– the destination is determined but there is uncertainty with how to start. Before each journey, I feel resistance to crossing the threshold of the safety of the known in order to enter the unknown world.

 With my yearly pilgrimages, I’ve developed a pattern of asking the question, “Where should I go this year, God?” and then wait to see what comes forth. After that, it works best to take some action, even though it might not follow a logical order—just move forward on the path and the clues for what to do next will appear. After meeting with the Literary Agent, I took a couple of weeks to consider things and then decided to hire the professional editor that I met at the conference.

When she sent back my manuscript with her remarks, she started her email with, “Don’t be overwhelmed with all these comments. It’s a lot and more than anyone can handle at once. Just work your way through them one at a time.” She was right; I’d never received editorial notes for 210 pages at one time. At first I said to myself, “I can’t do this.” Her edits came the day we were leaving for the beach. I’d deal with them when we returned.

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Forgetting the edits at Emerald Isle, N.C.

I took the next month to make the needed changes. As an Indie Author, I was the boss and would set my own pace.  Like traveling solo, I had no one else to answer to, no need to negotiate how to approach the journey. Doing the rewrites for my memoir was a big task. There were days I’d say to myself, “Keep your butt in this chair and stick with it.” I’d look out my window and see other people enjoying summer and it felt like I was being forced inside to do my homework. But then I’d remember that I chose this and was intentionally moving forward on the path toward my dream.

Further down that path, it was time to hire a cover design artist. Several people at the conference recommended the company 99designs. You submit your request in the form of starting a contest with their international artist community. After you write your brief telling about your story and give details that will help a designer, you wait for proposals to come in. You have a narrow window of time for giving them feedback, asking for preliminary changes, and deciding on the finalists. I wasn’t sure about the process but it was the best option that I had.

The proposals I received in the first twenty-four hours were disappointing. I wondered if using that company was a mistake. There are times on my trips when I feel uncertain, and at times, foolish, afraid that I’m going to make a mistake, especially when it comes to time and money. But after forty-eight hours, I received two proposals that were much closer to what I had in mind. Over that week, I went back-and-forth with an artist in Madrid. With the time difference between Spain and the East Coast of the U.S., I had to pay close attention to the ticking clock of the contest. There were moments I felt uncomfortable with making such an important decision, since a book jacket helps to show your story and to attract readers. But like working through those edits, I’d think about the options, pray, take a walk and sort through the pros and cons. I called on several people who’ve read my book to weigh in on the proposed jacket.

The main issue came with the image of the woman on the cover—the one depicting me at forty-five sitting by Oak Creek in Sedona. After I’d had the artist change the image several times, I still felt hesitant but couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

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I went to bed knowing I had to give the final okay by the following day. I woke up at 3:30 and the woman’s image– sitting on the rock looking at the water, came to mind. Staring at my alarm clock, it occurred to me what was wrong.

Her hair has to look like post-chemo hair, I thought. The woman’s long hair was what I wished I had back then, but was far from the short, curly locks that grew in after treatment. I couldn’t offend my readers, who like me, didn’t take hair for granted after losing it.

I got out of bed and sent an email to the designer. It would be 8:30 in Madrid and she may have time to make the change while I went back to sleep.

Later that morning, I checked for the artist’s response and felt pleased with her new image, the figure with enough hair to show a woman’s silhouette but not the long hair with a flip that didn’t ring true for my story.

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A portion of the cover of my memoir, He Heard My Voice

My solo journey to my dream destination has taken me on a path through edits, and cover designs and other discoveries. There are more challenges ahead. Like my yearly pilgrimages, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, uncertain of how to walk each section but depending on God and the people in my path to help me.

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How About You?

What is the Dream Destination for your Solo Journey?

What obstacles or challenges might you encounter?

What supports do you have to help you walk through each section of your journey?

 

Share Your Cancer Story

“Come on in and join the party!” my friend Mary, the birthday ‘girl’ and host, welcomed me. She was in the midst of checking the beverage coolers, taking care of her guests.

It was Saturday night and I was ready for a break from my growing lists of tasks: next steps in publishing my memoir, household chores crying out from neglect, charts to review for my part-time research nurse job. Going to my friend’s party was a welcomed relief.

Once I had my plate of food and was looking for a place to sit, Mary said, “Connie, I want you to meet someone who just finished our Expressive Writing Group.”

Mary had developed that group for the Waverly Survivor Clinic. We first met while participating on the planning committee to establish supports for our survivors’ community. I’d received chemo for breast cancer in their treatment area.

“This is Kay. She just completed the program,” Mary told me, then turned toward Kay. “Connie was in my first group two years ago.”

We sat across from each other on the couch. She was younger than me, mid-forties, and was stylishly dressed and wore a fedora atop her curly, dark hair. I’ve always liked fedoras, and admired women with the confidence to wear them, especially since I’ve never been a hat person. She asked me about my experience with the group, but then she was interested in my cancer story.

“It’s been eighteen years, now,” I told her. “I was shocked when they told me I had breast cancer, since I don’t have a family history of the disease.”

She’d heard the same statistic as me, that 70% of those diagnosed do not have a family history. I told her mine was discovered on a routine mammogram, the word routine always giving me pause since that day when I ran out for that mammogram during my lunch break.

“Yeah, mine was triple-negative and I wanted Dr. Graham to do everything possible to get rid of the cancer,” I told her. “I was forty-five and my sons were in 9thand 10thgrade. As a mother, after my first concern of, “Am I going to live?” my next priority was being there for my boys.”

She told me hers was triple-negative, too, and that she’d finished treatment just a little over a year ago. I knew that her memories and her fears were fresh.

She asked me about my course of treatment. We’d had a similar path but the steps were in a different order.

“Those appointments get easier over time,” I told her, remembering how anxious I was post-treatment, out from under the frequent visits and protective watch of my oncologist.

“It’s so good to talk to you, to hear that you’re an eighteen-year survivor,” she said.

Her comment reminded me of an experience at my surgeon’s office the week I found out I had breast cancer. Sitting and waiting for my appointment for him to explain the pathology report and answer my panicky questions, I overheard a woman talking about her breast cancer to the receptionist.

“I can’t believe it’s been eight years,” the receptionist said to the woman. “You really look good.”

She’s lived for eight years, I marveled. While I was a nurse, I’d never worked in oncology and never read about breast cancer. My recent experience of losing a high school classmate from that disease was my point of reference. Overhearing that conversation settled me down, and often played in my head over the months of treatment.

Now, Kay was telling me the same thing—that my story of being an eighteen-year survivor had given her hope. It reminded me that I needed to be available to share my story, when the other person was wanting to hear it. I remembered times when I didn’t want to talk about cancer, I wanted to forget about it—at least for a while. As a survivor, I needed to let the other person lead with what they wanted at that moment.

We finished our dinner and Mary led us out to the garage where The String Beings band was playing. Guests sat in lawn chairs listening to the relaxing Saturday night music, talking with the band members between songs. I spotted Dr. Graham, the first time I’d seen him outside the office, looking all ‘regular’ in a casual shirt, pants, and athletic shoes, without that long white lab coat.

Kay and I found seats near the band and continued our conversation. She showed me some of her family pictures, and pointed out her pre-chemo, straight hair. Her Mama Pride radiated when she shared the picture of her son. What a beautiful family that had been there for her during her treatment.

We talked and talked until the band played their last song.

Leaving Mary’s party, I felt full and happy. I’d encouraged a fellow survivor and in the process, made a new friend. I’d been reminded how important it is to share our cancer story, that though I want to move on and leave that behind me, there are people in my path who need Hope.

How About You?

What is your story that could provide someone with hope?

How does it impact them when you share your story? How does it impact you?

(Sorry, Friends. My photos are not loading today–after many tries! So frustrating. Will try to post them in the future)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come Ride with Me

I’ve always been fascinated by trains. When I was a girl, there was a freight train that crossed through our farm. Sometimes it transported logs, and most of the time, we didn’t know what was carried in those boxcars. When I was in first grade, Mama and we three daughters boarded the train in our hometown of Sanford and rode an hour to Raleigh where Daddy met us. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the capitol city must have been festive with Christmas decorations. Our family ate at the S & W Cafeteria, taking the escalator up to the balcony, to look out over the place where Mama had once worked with her girlfriends.

Our parents wanted us to have the experience of riding on a train like they had. During WWII, Daddy would have ridden while in the army– in the U.S. and in Europe. Mama and her cousin, Yvonne joined other nineteen-year-old women, boarding their sleeper car in Fayetteville, North Carolina and traveling through the night to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That was where they learned skills to work as civil service employees at Pope Air Force Base.

After our trip to Raleigh, I was curious about the passengers when we waited at the crossing for a train. Where were they going ? Who awaited them at their destination? What adventures would they have there?  Seeing those travelers, forward-facing through the afternoon sun’s slant on the locomotive’s windows, I wanted to pack my suitcase and head out on a train.

Several years ago, I did that when I took my solo journey to Vermont by way of Amtrak. It would take about seventeen hours by train to travel the almost 750 miles from my home in North Carolina to my destination in Vermont. It was time to ride the rails.

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I was glad to let someone else do the driving after my long road trip the previous summer to Michigan. I didn’t have to pay attention to the route and I couldn’t get lost. On that Friday, I sat in the packed cabin with a little league team heading to D.C. for a Washington Nationals’ baseball game and families going there for a reunion–some of them wearing their t-shirts with their family name. It was a long ride and while I’d been north on I-95 to New York City and caught glimpses of communities and farmland, I hadn’t been by rail. From the train’s vantage point, I saw back alleyways with graffiti and the industries and lower income houses that were built along the tracks.

When the  Carolinian stopped at Penn Station in NYC, I got off to spend the weekend with my son, Ross. On Monday morning, I continued on by Amtrak to White River Junction, Vermont. Hostelling International had rooms in the historic Hotel Coolidge, built in 1879 as lodging for train travelers in the town that was a rail hub.

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While the trip on Amtrak gave me more of an appreciation for train travel, with the gentle rocking and muffled sound of the whistle giving warning as we approached, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d expected it to feel more like an adventure but most of the time the scenes outside my window were familiar and those forward-facing seats felt too tight and blocked my view of the cabin. I had some brief conversations with those sitting nearby, but most were sleeping or otherwise engaged on their phones or laptops. I knew I hadn’t booked a luxury train ride, but I thought it would have more of the allure that I’d felt when I was a girl.

Last September I had my first chance to ride trains in Europe. My husband and I took the Eurail from Paris to London. It was an enjoyable high speed ride at our table seat with interesting conversation with the travelers across the aisles. Because we were seeing the French and then the English countryside for the first time, it felt like that adventure I’d been yearning for when I took the Amtrak.

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After our days in London, we continued on to Edinburgh, Scotland– again by train but not with the luxury of a table and this time with a fussy child and inattentive parents sitting behind us.

After a days of touring, my husband and I parted in Edinburgh for him to return to the States and for me to go on my solo journey to Iona in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I felt like I had as a girl; I was on a trip of discovery. How I’d looked forward to visiting Scotland, homeland of my ancestors, and how I felt the anticipation build for my week with the Iona Community at The Abbey. What would it be like in our international group exploring the theme, “The Pilgrimage of Life”?

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I sat at a table seat and was joined by a Scottish couple across from me. They were so friendly and the man was eager to help, telling me about towns as we passed, suggesting places I should visit. A passenger across the aisle joined in our conversation, and when he learned I was going on a spiritual pilgrimage to Iona, he told me he was an Elder in his Presbyterian church in Glasgow. He wished me well when he got off near his hiking site.

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I took a video through the train window, not knowing how it would turn out since I’m not that experienced at video. But now, when I look at it, I’m transported to the inside of that Scotrail car, watching with fascination as I try to take in all I can of beautiful Scotland.

Come ride with me. Feel the steady rocking of the train as we speed along the hillside through the fresh morning air. Catch glimpses of the amazing countryside from inside that lively cabin with friendly passengers.

May this ride on a train transport you back to something you longed for in childhood and have realized as an adult.

 

How About You?

Did you have a fascination for trains or some other mode of travel as a child?

What was your experience of that when you were young and over the years?

If you’ve never gotten to explore that fascination, how could you do that now?

 

Happy Cancerversary!

Cancerversary is a ‘milestone defined by you’ according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship #cancerversary.  That’s what June 22 is when I celebrate my survivorship from triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed in 2000. While my situation was cancer, your life-changing event may have been divorce, sobriety, or some other thing that irrevocably altered your life. Each of us has a unique journey and I hope that you can look back on the twists and turns in yours as I share those from mine.

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 I consider the eighteen years since my diagnosis and think about the path my life has taken.  I remember that as we approached 2000, there was a lot of Y2K hype that was focused on computer issues, and by some, was generalized to other areas. But as my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, later said, for our family it lived up to the hype.  In January of that year, my father-in-law, who’d already been homebound on a ventilator for almost ten years, was diagnosed with cancer that originated in his lungs and had spread to his bones. He died on March 28thon his 71stbirthday. Then on June 22cnd, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was followed by eight months of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation– lasting through the rest of 2000 to the end of February 2001.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast for writers that asked what your goals are for the next decade. Back in 2000, I wasn’t looking ahead to the next decade, but rather trying to get to the one-year mark, the two-year mark, and especially the five-year mark that was the big milestone with my subtype of breast cancer. Now, when I think of the decade that followed my diagnosis, it’s interesting that the story of those years is told in my memoir. At this eighteen year cancerversary, I’m preparing it for my editor.

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Our family when I’d just finished treatment and still had short hair

Those ten years include walking that cancer treatment path while navigating the toxic job at The Research Company. Ultimately, that included being fired from my job and the accompanying shame and anger that goes with it. God’s grace was evident as I took the steps to return to working as a school nurse at McDougle Middle. There I developed friendships that I continue to enjoy to this day. I was able to use my gifts and experiences from working as a psychiatric nurse to help students struggling with mental health issues. That trail led me to becoming a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid that resulted in being a co-leader with Cindy. She told me about a part-time job as a research nurse with UNC Outpatient Psychiatry– just enough work for my post-retirement from the schools last March.

That decade included going through the mid-life challenges of raising children, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with dementia, and trying to find my life when my nest emptied. Part of what I found was the extraordinary of taking yearly solo journeys, that became spiritual pilgrimages. In those ten years, I took seven journeys that included places like Jekyll Island, Georgia and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Accounts of all those journeys woven into my everyday life are all contained in my memoir, that I didn’t know I would write when I was diagnosed that June 22, 2000.

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First journey to Sedona became a template for 13 more

Beyond that decade, I’ve had eight more years that have continued to open up the world to me while pulling me into what is essential. My life has followed the course that is unique for me, as I continued with seven more journeys and entered my ‘senior years’ and now I’ve added the joy of being a grandmother.  How rich my life has been, how grateful I feel for God’s blessings and the way they have shown up through the people and places in my path.

I remember when I was reeling in the shock of my diagnosis, sitting in the waiting room for my appointment with the surgeon just days after the radiologist looked at that mammography film. Restless with anxiety, I listened as a woman talked to the receptionist.

“Yeah, it’s been eight years now since my surgery,” the woman told the receptionist.

“That’s great,” she responded. “You’re doing so well.”

She’s lived for eight years, I thought, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just by overhearing that conversation I felt hope, the first time I ever heard about someone’s cancerversaryand didn’t even know there was such a thing.

My hope for you this day, is that something that I’ve shared will bring you a wave of relief. I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I hope that you can look ahead, to what you want for the next decade– or the next year, or two years, or five years.

Your road will be unique– the way that is right for you. My prayer is that God will bless you as you take each step forward. As I say on Twitter #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back.

If your challenge is cancer, I invite you to read my recent invited post on the SHARE site entitled 5 Tips for Getting Through Cancer https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2018/06/breast-cancer-stories/

Blessings to you!

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How About You?

What is your _______versary? What was that pivotal event in your life?

How do you look back on the time since that event and the path your life has followed?

How can you celebrate your _________versary?

 

 

A Father’s Care

I’ve thought a lot about a father’s care over the past six weeks as I’ve watched my son, Brooks become a father. You can see the joy, the weight, the responsibility, the wonder of his new role as he tenderly cares for his baby boy. From the time Brooks knew they were going to be parents, I listened to how he considered decisions in light of what would be best for his family, what a child would need– a father’s protection and provision coming forth from within.

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My son caring for his son

My son learned about being a father from his Dad, my husband, David always a rock of support for his sons.  David didn’t run away from infant care, or terrible twos, or late-night fevers, or problems with getting the boys to complete their homework. He worked hard to provide for all of us so that we could have a good life.  And David had seen that same behavior in his father– hard working to support his wife and three sons.

Likewise, I saw how my Daddy cared for Mama and we three daughters.  He worked long hours on our farm and in other jobs to provide for us. He was the best to bring special treats like ice cream when we were sick and to complement us in our Easter outfits, when we played the piano, or baked him his favorite cake. I was devastated when we lost him to a heart attack when he was just 57. I was 22 and suddenly without the care of my father.

David and I married just eight months after my father died. I was grateful to David’s father, ‘DB’ for welcoming me as a daughter– one he’d never had. For the next 22 years, we were close and I depended on his fatherly support. I really missed that when 3 months after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and could have benefitted from his concern, knowing I had a father watching out for me. I certainly trusted in God my Father during that time, but it would have been nice to have that from an earthly father. I missed the practical way DB had of showing his love, his signature parting instruction to his sons to “check your oil,” the way he said I’m thinking about your safety on the road, without saying it directly. A father’s care that’s a tangible love with an extra twenty dollars pressed into your hand or groceries loaded into the back of your car.

I appreciate what feels like fatherly care– even when it hasn’t come from Daddy or DB. I’ve received that type of support from people in my path on my solo journeys. One of those experiences came the first time I camped.

In July of 2015, I took my first trip by train.  I boarded the Amtrak in Durham and rode to Penn Station in New York, stayed over the weekend with my son, Ross, then continued on to White River Junction, Vermont. There I stayed in a hostel room located in Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel. After a couple of nights, I rented a car and drove to the western side of Vermont to camp at Button Bay State Park on Lake Champlain. I’d stayed in a state park cabin before and hoped I could do that in Vermont.  But they only had a cabin available for one night.  If I wanted to stay for three as I’d planned, the second two nights would be in a lean-to.

I was a bit skeptical, never having camped in a lean-to and wondering how I’d be able to take enough gear– since I would only have my backpack and a small suitcase. Around the time I was planning my trip, I met a woman from that area and she assured me I’d be fine without a tent.

The State Park was on a beautiful point of land overlooking the lake.  If you walked down the road to the west you could see the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the distance.

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Button Bay State Park, Vermont

The first night when I stayed in the cabin, there was a  family from Massachusetts at the site next to mine.  They appeared to have a well-established camp site with tents like satellites around their cabin, bikes for the children, and a table for their Coleman stove and cooking supplies.

They watched from their campfire as I unloaded my backpack, suitcase, bedding, and bag of Vermont cheese and apples. Later, they came over and spoke, seeming curious that I was a woman traveling alone.  I told them how I’d made my reservations too late to get the cabin but for one night. They’d been coming for a week every summer since the father was a boy, maybe around forty years. The mother asked me where I would spend the other nights. I told her I’d move to the lean-to sites.

“You gotta tent?” the man asked me.

“No. Just bedding and a floor cushion. A woman I met from near here camps and said that should be adequate,” I said, trying to sound confident.

He looked at me, like he was studying my response, then said, “Those mosquitoes will eat you up. I’ve got one you can use.”

He went to the back of his van and pulled out the tent that he said he’d had since he was nine.  I thanked him and told him I’d return it the morning I left.

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My Lean-To with the stranger’s tent

I managed to rig the tent inside the lean-to using rocks to prop up the poles since I couldn’t anchor them with stakes in the ground.  I just did manage to crawl in and zip up the tent without everything collapsing in on me.  I heard a couple of mosquitoes buzzing and got them out before I fell to sleep reading by flashlight and listening to the groups nearby talking or singing around their campfires. It felt familiar to be camping again after all the years our sons had been in Boy Scouts.

The next morning when I went to the bathhouse, the counter was dotted with what looked to be hundreds of tiny mosquitoes.  I shook my head in amazement.  He was right, I thought, and was thankful for the stranger in my path. He’d made my stay at Button Bay pleasant and had reminded me of how wonderful it is to receive fatherly care.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain

https://www.vtstateparks.com/buttonbay.html

How About You?

What are the special memories you have of your father’s care?

What other people have provided that for you?  How have you provided that type of support to others?

 

Daily Bread at Tibbett’s Point

It was June and I was celebrating being a 10-year Breast Cancer Survivor, a decade since I’d heard the words, “You have cancer.”  I wanted to take my summer journey to a special place, the seventh solo trip that had turned into yearly pilgrimages.  Thumbing through a resource book for hostels in the U.S., I found the perfect place, described as a location with the most beautiful sunsets: Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel. Located in Cape Vincent, New York, where the St. Lawrence River flowed into Lake Ontario, the hostel was in the former lighthouse keeper’s house.

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Looking at the map, when I drove from the Buffalo airport to Cape Vincent, I’d travel through the Genesee Valley, an area I’d first learned of through the writings of Henry Nouwen. He was a Catholic theologian and I liked his down-to-earth-way of writing about faith.  He’d stayed at the Abbey at Genesee, living and learning with the monks and wrote about it in the book, The Diary of Genesee.  I decided to take a side-trip off the NY Thruway and go to that same abbey– pick up a copy of the book and loaves of Monk’s Bread to take as a ‘pilgrim’s gift’ to the hostel.

The evening I arrived, I was amazed at my first glimpse of the sun setting over the St. Lawrence River, an orange orb sliding down the back side of the dark blue sky.  People were sitting in Adirondack chairs near the lighthouse, facing west and witnessing together the closing of another day.  I knocked on the office door and was greeted by Bea, the 83-year-old woman who was filling in for the current manager.

After she showed me around, Bea invited me to join her and two other women along with two college-age guests at the kitchen table.  The conversation flowed easily, with folks telling about experiences in different hostels– all solo travelers.

“This is what I love about hostels,” Bea said.  “Everyone sitting around the table like this, sharing all their adventures.”

Later, the two college-age guests left and Bea, Ruth– who was also in her eighties, and Coleen, sixty-three, who was Bea’s friend from down the road, continued talking, including me in their familiar conversation.  I unpacked my food, including the two loaves of Monk’s Bread.

“Here’s something I brought to share with everyone,” I said, and placed the loaves on the table.

Coleen pulled one over and read the ingredients.

“I love cinnamon bread. I don’t often buy it because it’s expensive and I live on a retiree’s income,” she said. “Think I’ll try some now.” She took a slice, bit into it, and smiled.

For the next five days, I made my home at the hostel.  At breakfast and dinner, I enjoyed getting to know Bea, Ruth, and Coleen.  I came to think of them as the ‘Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point’ as their personalities reminded me of the other Golden Girls on the old t.v. sitcom.

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(L to R) Bea, Coleen, Ruth, Me

During the day, I explored the area– writing in a Cape Vincent coffee shop, trekking over to Kingston, Canada, and taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. One evening when I returned from observing the sunset, Coleen and Ruth were sitting at the table. Bea was measuring flour into a bowl.

“Come join us, Connie,” Ruth said.  “We’re watching Bea work.”

“I’m making cookies with my Grandmother’s recipe,” Bea explained. “She never wasted anything.”

“You won’t believe how good they are,” Coleen said, “even with chicken fat.”

Chicken fat?” I asked, thinking I must have misheard.

Coleen smiled, “They really are good.”

We waited around the table, while Bea added sugar and a lot of pumpkin pie spice.  After a thorough mixing, she spooned the dough onto the cookie sheet. Waiting for them to bake, we talked about all we’d done that day and their company felt so familiar to me, like being at my aunt’s table. Ruth put the kettle on for tea.

While the cookies were still warm, Bea placed them on a plate and passed them to me.  The three women waited for my response.

The sweet, cinnamon-based, fall-flavored taste had no hint of chicken fat, that had been completely covered by the spice.

“You’re right. They are good,” I responded, feeling that sweet satisfaction of the warm carbohydrate treats, like what Bea had known from her Grandmother’s cookie jar.

Bea and the other Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point smiled and reached for their cookies.

Of all the places I’d stayed over the decade, I’d had more satisfying meals at that hostel table.  Whether it was eating breakfast with toast made from the Monk’s bread or evening cookies made with chicken fat, sharing food and friendship had been the heart of that kitchen.

Tibbett’s Point had been a great place to celebrate my 10th anniversary as a survivor.  How sweet it was to think of all the memories of special times I’d experienced since that day when my world was turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.

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How about you?

 What milestone in your life deserves a special celebration?

How would you like to celebrate?

 

If It Feels Wrong

When we were children, many of us heard our parents say, “If it feels wrong, don’t do it.”  That was a way to help us judge right from wrong, that internal compass that kept us on the proper course.  Probably those first deciding points were about how we were treating our siblings– at least it was for me.  If I didn’t want to share my candy bar with one of my sisters, then the assumption was ‘being selfish’ would feel wrong and I would give them a piece of my Baby Ruth.  When I was in elementary school and my circle expanded, it applied to telling my piano teacher the truth.  When she’d ask how much  I’d practiced, then my parents assumed that ‘stretching the truth’ would not feel right. Surely, I’d tell Mrs. Godfrey how little I’d practiced, playing outside instead of sitting at our piano.

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Over the years, I’ve found that the feeling of ‘wrong’ is sometimes hard to discern.  What my parents were referring to has gotten mixed in with those uncertain feelings produced by anxiety when I try something new. I’m not talking about something new that would hurt someone, but just behavior to move in a new and challenging direction in my life.  While I can mentally evaluate a new venture and see its components rationally, the emotions and the accompanying physical feelings are harder to navigate, especially when I don’t have the advantage of watching someone else go before me.

Sometimes what is unfamiliar can feel wrong because it makes me uncomfortable, raising my anxiety that something bad could happen– so that it feels like getting in trouble as a child for doing something wrong.

Years ago, I took my summer pilgrimage to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.  I’d decided before that trip to hike Mt. Constitution because at its summit you are at the highest point in Puget Sound.  I wanted to experience the view from there.

While I’d read about the park and understood from their website there would be trail maps, when I arrived, that wasn’t the case.  Nor was there a park ranger station with staff to ask about the 2.2-mile hike to the top.  I had one bottle of water and was not prepared with proper hiking gear.  I was also on a very tight schedule because of having to rely on the island bus and ferry system.  I felt uneasy with no map of the trail, no one knowing where I was, and my cell phone probably useless in those remote woods.

I walked a short distance up the trail and stopped to ponder what to do.  I was flooded with emotions– fear that something could happen like spraining my ankle with no one to help or getting lost because there weren’t many blaze markers to guide my way.  The decision had to be made quickly in order to hike to the summit and back in time for the last ferry.

If I went with that lingering guideline, “If it feels wrong, don’t do it,” then I would have returned to the safety of the hostel at Friday Harbor.  I had no idea how hard the hike would be for me since it was rated as ‘difficult’ given the incline. I knew the chances of me returning were slim, and if I walked away, I would probably never see that sight of Puget Sound.

I decided to go forward in spite of feeling scared and uncertain– two emotions that definitely didn’t feel right.  After almost an hour of hiking through the ginormous Douglas fir trees, and areas that looked like a fairytale forest with fallen trees blanketed in moss, I passed other hikers who reassured me.

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Wildflowers along the Mt. Constitution Trail

I made it to the top, climbed up on the overlook tower, and couldn’t believe the expansive scene below with the little islands dotting the sound and snow-capped Mt. Baker.  Thank God I made it to this magnificent place, I thought, and felt rewarded for taking a risk.

Sometimes doing something that’s unfamiliar that creates anxiety, doesn’t pay off like that hike.  But from where I stand now, I’m glad that I’m beginning to distinguish between what feels wrong as gauged by my moral compass versus the discomfort of stepping out into the unknown.  If I’d continued to confuse those feelings, I may never have taken the risks of going on yearly pilgrimages, that unknown that is now familiar.

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How about you?

In what ways have you confused a feeling that’s new for you with one that you may have been warned about?

How would pushing beyond that uncertainty benefit your life?

True Nature

I spotted the girl from across the room.  She was the one, looking unabashedly into the camera, with eyes that are serious, like they’re gazing into your soul.  I was at the Art Cats Gallery in Petoskey, Michigan during my solo journey several summers ago.  The photograph had been applied to a fiber art collage piece created by Michigan artist, Karen Godfrey.

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I knew that I liked mixed media art, but wasn’t sure why that piece drew me.  Later, I realized that the girl reminded me of myself when I was a child.  The pieces of fabric were like those in Mama’s sewing trunk that I used to make doll clothes.  I could see Mama, with a pattern pinned to fabric and the sound of her pinking shears cutting through the layers of cloth and tissue paper.  I’d watch as she skillfully worked to make those pieces into a beautiful whole.

The hand-stitching around the girl’s picture reminded me of how my Aunt Polly taught me to embroider.  Once I got the hang of it, I worked late into the night, watching the Irish blessing kit that I’d bought at the 5 & Dime become my first piece of fiber art.  Unlike the dresses Mama made that were both artistic and functional, my creation was just decorative and brought me delight.

The words in the prayer, “May all beings awaken to their true nature,” reminded me of my love for words in their meaning as well as their form.  I thought of my diary and the plays I penned in sixth grade.

But altogether, the girl’s look and prayer make me ask myself, “Am I living my True Nature now?”

Years ago when visiting Savannah, Georgia, I stopped in the studio of artist Brian MacGregor.  We had an enjoyable conversation about how he used dream journals in his collage art.  I loved his evocative piece, “Lady of the River.”  Now I see that it reminded me of how I wished I’d been in my early twenties –more relaxed, less driven toward my goals and more able to float in a river of possibility.

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I ask myself, “What is my true nature?” and at this latter phase of my life, am I living into that nature.  I think of how who we are emerges over our lifetime.  It shows up in our daydreams and in our night dreams.  Looking back over my sixty-two years, I see themes in the hopes and dreams I’ve recorded in my journals.  All of them are pieces of the collage that is me.

This past New Year’s Eve, my blog post, “Things You Leave Behind” (Dec. 31,’17) focused on letting go of what keeps us from being all we were created to be.  The burden I threw into the Iona Sound was my fear of not being good enough.  My desire was to be less self-conscious and to step out as I felt led– without worrying about making mistakes.

Now, I think that in order to continue on the path of living into my True Nature, that letting go of fear is a necessary step.  To continue to allow my unfolding, even at this point in my life, I need to be able to relax in that freedom that I can have in my sixties that I couldn’t access in my earlier years.

It’s as if that girl is looking into herself as an older woman and saying, “I’m glad you’re finally awakening to the person you’re supposed to be.”

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My collection of collage books

Artists’ websites:

http://www.karengodfrey.net

https://brianmacgregor.net

How about you?

What art form has special relevance for you?

How are you progressing toward realizing more of your True Nature?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Like Me

I watched that ‘hunk of burnin’ love’ from across the crowd.  It had been a fun day, riding my bike around Mackinac Island in northern Michigan and then happening upon the outside summer concert.  I wasn’t content to just watch ‘Elvis,’ I wanted to get up close to him.  As soon as he finished his show, I made my way across the plaza to where he exited the stage.  Motioning to him, I got his attention and asked, “Could I have a picture?”  That’s not like me.

Usually, I would observe at a distance and watch other women do what I was now doing.  But since I was by myself, on my solo journey to Michigan, I had none of those well-perfected signals from my husband that reigned in my spontaneous behavior, or from my sons, since they weren’t there to hold me back with their embarrassment or “Oh, Mom!” exasperation.

Elvis gave me a sideways hug as we posed for the camera.  In that exciting nostalgic moment, I was in ninth grade, catching a dizzying whiff of English Leather and feeling my heart pound when my teenage crush asked me to dance and the newly released,“Suspicious Minds” played.   fullsizeoutput_a

Now when I look at the picture, it always makes me feel more lighthearted and glad that I wasn’t held back from what I wanted to do.  It reminds me of another time when I’d surprised myself with my uninhibited behavior.

It was back when I was just out of cancer treatment and finally able to travel.  I attended a research conference in San Francisco along with my coworker from The Research Company.  There were over 300 attendees in the hotel ballroom where the opening session was held.  Of all the speakers that could kick off that meeting, they had a breast cancer survivor who’d benefitted from clinical trials.  She was there to thank and inspire the crowd before the scientists had their turns.  Sitting in the middle of the large room, I felt like I was on that stage when she told about pulling out gobs of hair after she started chemotherapy.  Her hair was short and wavy like my new, post-cancer hair.  While it was hard to listen, it felt like she was the one person I could identify with.

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Another participant shakes hands with the speaker

When she finished, I made my way across the room to the line of people waiting to speak with her.  I’d never done that before.  I was usually content to be just one in the crowd– but not that day.  When it was my turn, I told her how I’d just finished chemo and was getting used to my new hair, too.

“And you’re a research professional?  That’s wonderful,” she said, and we chatted for a while.

I noticed a man that was standing very close to us and appeared to be eavesdropping.  After we finished and I started to walk away, he stopped me.  He apologized for listening in and said he was a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle.  He asked if I’d mind telling him more about my experience as a cancer survivor who was also a research professional.  When we finished our conversation, he said the article would be in the next day’s paper.

And there it was.  The article pictured above had my quote at the end.  Me, in San Francisco, having the final word.  How did that happen, I thought and laughed to myself.

Now I look at both situations and think that the combination of wanting to connect with the fellow cancer survivor and with Elvis, and not being held back by being afraid I would embarrass myself or someone else, had pushed me to be a bolder person.

Someone Not Like Me.

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View of Lake Huron at Sunset the night I saw ‘Elvis’

How about you?

In what situations have you stepped out of yourself and been bolder than you imagined?

What conditions needed to be present for you to do that?