Monday, December 29, 2014

And All Through the House (Dream Save Do, week 12)

Ahhhhh . . . the week after Christmas. Usually, this is a time of calm and quiet in my home. The get-togethers are behind me, as are the "extra" church services, various Christmas concerts and programs, and the general busy-ness of December. I putter around the house, nibbling on whatever Christmas goodies are left, snug in my pajamas, and I spend this time relaxing with good books and cups of hot chocolate and enjoying the house all decked out in its Christmas splendor.

This year, though, things were quite different. My daughter and I celebrated Christmas quietly (we had celebrated a few days earlier with my son, while he was home for 3 days for Christmas), and the next day I began boxing up the Christmas decorations and returning the apartment to its normal "look".

Normally, I don't take down the Christmas decorations until January 6. My mom always waited until then because that's when, in the church, we celebrate the arrival of the Magi and, of course, their giving of gifts to the Christ-child. With January 6, the Christmas season ends.

I'm a traditionalist, and I cling to family traditions like a barnacle, but this year I had a wonderful reason for disregarding such a major one. My daughter decided a month or so ago that she was going to move home, and I needed to make some major changes to the furniture arrangement so there would be room for her things.

Off the tree and into their little boxes went all the ornaments, packed away went all the decorations, and before I knew it, the apartment was back to its pre-day-after Thanksgiving look. Except for one thing. My largest Nativity set is still in place; I just couldn't bring myself to put it away before Epiphany.

Saturday evening, my daughter left to meet friends, and I settled onto the couch with a new book and some goodies to nibble on. I looked around the living room, and I missed the Christmas decorations. I went to bed feeling a bit guilty about my decision to take everything down instead of just squish the tree over into the corner.

Sunday afternoon, a fairly new friend, a wonderful older woman I work with in a volunteer opportunity, shared with me that the coming year is going to be very busy for her. As we talked, I learned that after 40+ years in her present home, she and her husband will be moving in the Fall to a condo in a retirement community. She was quick to explain that the move is purely their choice and that they put their names on the list for a to-be-built condo 3 years ago.

I couldn't help but notice as she talked, that she seemed more resigned than excited about this change, so I asked her how she felt about it. She paused before saying something quite simple yet quite profound.

"No matter what age a person is, change is inevitable. I've found, though, that as we age, change becomes more and more hard to bear. People who resist it or refuse to change become bitter and brittle. Looking ahead, accepting change with grace, and adapting with a positive attitude are the keys to remaining mentally and physically healthy."

She went on to explain that she's accepted the change and is working on looking ahead with a positive attitude. That last part is, she explained, something she has to work on day by day -- sometimes hour by hour.

My older friend is very wise.

My daughter's Ugg boots sit by the door, just a few feet from where the Christmas tree stood. A reason to celebrate!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Adore

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

Adore

Of course, with Christmas less than a week away, my first thought was "O Come Let us Adore Him", a beautiful Christmas hymn.

Adore

It's an interesting word, one I don't hear as often as I used to. Now it's simply "love". We love our dogs, our children, our favorite television show, and on and on.

But adore goes beyond love; it's love seasoned with worshipfulness.

Sometimes my worship -- my adoration -- is somewhat formal. Take church worship, for example. My denomination is known for its very low-key worship style. While I don't know for sure, something tells me we may have been the very last hold-outs against contemporary church services.

My worship style varies much more outside the walls of the church. I sing along quite energetically to the contemporary Christian music on my favorite radio station. I pour my heart out quite expressively in my prayer journal. I laugh out loud in adoration of the beauty in the world around me.

I may be wrong, but I imagine that God doesn't care about the style or outward expression of the adoration.

I believe that instead, God looks at two things. Of course, it's important that I adore the right thing, that I not worship anything or anyone other than God. The sincerity behind the adoration is also key.

And that,

 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Learning to Idle my Motor (Dream Save Do, week 11)

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."  I like this definition of patience shared by Barbara Johnson, one of my favorite authors/humorists.

I will save you the trouble of hunting down my sister, son, daughter, or anyone else who has known me for any length of time and just confess it outright -- until 5 years ago, patience was never my strong suit.

For the first 40+ years of my life, once I determined an idea was a good one, I wanted to act on it right away. It wasn't so much that I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. It was more that I didn't like loose ends, and to me, a project on the table was a loose end. Things would not be neat and tidy again until the project was completed.

This tendency (my sister is wrong -- it was not an obsession!) had more than a few benefits. My husband loved it when I got the urge to rearrange the living room in the middle of the afternoon while he was at work; I'd huff and puff, struggle and strain, but it would be done before he got home that evening. Bosses generally loved it. Given a task, I'd have it done -- and done correctly, I want to add -- right away. No waiting until the deadline for me!

My lack of patience also created problems. Waiting in line or sitting in a traffic jam was torture for me. No matter how calm I might make myself appear on the outside, I was emotionally itchy.

That all changed when my husband passed away. For awhile, of course, I was simply numb. Once the numb wore away, I was left with a very new, healthier perspective on what is and isn't important.

I haven't become a procrastinator by any means, and I still complete assigned tasks and paperwork as quickly as possible; however, I've become more comfortable with allowing things to unfold in their own time.

The concept of patience has been on my mind these past few weeks. Now that I know what I want to do in this next stage of my life, I'm eager to get started. I hear the voice of John Wayne saying, "We're burning daylight", and I begin to feel a bit antsy.

I'm ready. Ready to move from where I am to where I want to be.

The problem is, I don't know where that where will be. I know what lifestyle I want, but not where I will be engaged in that lifestyle.

And so . . . I wait. And I prepare. And I practice patience.

Oh, how I want to load up my car, jump in the front seat, and roar off. Instead, I remain here, my engine idling.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do I Have a Group for You!

Are you a blogger? Do you have a book lurking inside you, just waiting to be written? OR have you already started (or even finished -- if so, I applaud you) a book?

If so, I hope you'll check out this Facebook group, recently started by Trish McClintock McAllister (www.notesonthefridge.com).

I know that Trish shares my hope that this group will grow and become a gathering place of women who share, support, seek and receive advice/hints/tips, etc., as they write. We need a community like this, and we need your participation!

I hope you'll join us. :)

Five Minute Friday: Prepare

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Prepare. What a perfect word for this time in my life, this week, today!

For over a year, I've been meandering through the process of redesigning my life. I've dreamed and imagined. Pored over books and magazines and websites. Dreamed and imagined some more.

I've slowly worked through the process of determining the life I want for this next stage of my life.

Finally -- hallelujah! -- I have a very clear  (albeit somewhat flexible in terms of where) vision of what I want.

In the past month, I've been taking more distinct steps to prepare for that new life. More and more things have departed my home, and my debt-free home fund has grown just a tad with some of those departures. Additionally, I've been applying for jobs in areas of the country I prefer to live in.

I've also been praying. But in all honesty, my requests for guidance and a new job have lacked focus; "direction" and "an open door" -- 2 items that I have prayed for so often that my request has become almost automatic -- the footnotes to a list that includes safety for a friend's son in harm's way, healing and strength for another friend battling cancer, and so many other urgent, heart-felt petitions. And my prayer life in general has been inconsistent.

But just last night, I made the decision to prepare more seriously for change by committing to more focused, more intentional prayer and Bible study.

To that end, I'm taking a 40-day fast from Facebook (other than what I call my "writer page"). For some, that may not be a huge change, but for me, it is. Between the lack of interaction with friends there and with coworkers (the semester ended yesterday), my social life is going to be pretty nonexistent.

But that, I believe, is the point. To cut away the distracting chatter so I can communicate with the One whose voice I really need to hear.

To prepare for what He has in store for me now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's Not the Fruitcake . . .

This incident occurred 25 years ago, and every Christmas since then, I've been reminded of it.

I jerked awake. Fruitcake! I woke up my husband. He was a much better sport about being woken at 2 in the morning than I would have been; instead of fussing, he simply asked what was wrong. I told him that we needed to get a fruitcake. He just looked at me and then reminded me that I didn't like fruitcake and neither did he. But when I explained that it was for my father, he understood.

That afternoon, my parents had arrived from Missouri to spend Christmas with my husband, son, baby daughter, and I in our Texas home. Their arrival had been a shock. Not because we weren't expecting them. What we weren't expecting was my father's appearance.

Dad had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of September. My mom and he had been at our house for Thanksgiving; he'd had several rounds of chemo, but his spirits were great and he'd looked fine. Less than a month later, though, that wasn't the case. When the doorbell had rung that afternoon, and I opened the door, I almost didn't recognize my own father. Both he and my mom had been telling us for weeks that he was doing great, but that obviously wasn't true.

His face was gaunt and his eyes hollow-looking. His once-dark brown skin was gray, and his thick, wavy black hair had been replaced with sparse gray hair that looked dry and coarse.

I remember telling myself to keep smiling as I got Dad and Mom inside and settled, my son chattering at them nonstop the entire time. Mom immediately picked up my 9-month-old daughter from her blanket on the living room floor, and I went to the bedroom to call my husband, who was at work. I started crying as soon as he picked up the phone and told him that if he could, I wanted him to come home.

He didn't ask any questions. He was walking in the house 10 minutes later.

Twelve hours later, when I told him my dad loved fruitcake, he again didn't ask any questions.

He immediately got up and began getting dressed. I asked him where he was going, and when he said he was going to go to the 24-hour Walgreens to see if they had fruitcake, I assured him it could wait until morning. I apologized for waking him up, and he assured me it was okay, that he understood and that he wanted to have it already there when Dad got up the next morning.

Maybe it was because it was 2 a.m. and we weren't thinking clearly, but neither of us thought to call Walgreens to see if they had any fruitcake. Instead, my husband finished getting dressed, slipped out of the house, and went in search of something neither of us could stand.

Well over an hour later, he returned, triumphantly holding a round tin. Walgreens had been sold out (both of us were shocked by that -- that many people like fruitcake?), so he'd gone to several Circle K convenience stores until he found one that had what he was looking for. He put the fruitcake on the kitchen counter, and we both went back to bed.

We had planned to sleep in a bit the next morning, but my son and daughter were up bright and early as usual. Even though they were fairly quiet, my parents heard them, and they joined the four of us. We chatted while I fixed coffee and my husband fried bacon and eggs; I nudged him and pointed with my eyes to the round red and white tin on the counter. He'd done the work; I wanted him to have the honor of offering my dad fruitcake, and he did.

The look on my dad's face was priceless. He was surprised we'd thought of it since, as he said, he knew the rest of us "turned up our noses" at it, and he was obviously very touched that we'd bought it for him. He said that a small piece would be the perfect start to breakfast.

A few minutes later, we were all sitting at the table together. I looked around. My mother, who had tried so hard to shield me from how sick my father was. My son, who absolutely adored his grandfather and was as excited about him being there as he was about Santa arriving in 2 more days. My daughter, who I knew with certainty would have no real memories of her own of the grandfather who cherished her.

My focus, though, was on 2 men -- one at the head of the table, the other to his right.

My dad. The man who had always been my hero. The man who patiently and lovingly encouraged me to try new things, who taught me to play poker and cribbage and all sorts of games and never "played down" to me. The man who I could write pages and pages about and never get it all said. The man who throughout my life gave the me the best gift of all -- his love.

My husband. The man who was a fantastic father to our children. The man who respected and revered my father. The man who got up without complaint at 2 in the morning to drive around town looking for a fruitcake. The man of few words who gave my hero the best gift of all -- his love.

We never again bought a fruitcake. But every December, when I see my first fruitcake of the season, I'm taken back to that day. It wasn't the fruitcake that mattered at all . . . it was the gift of love.

I so wish I could have told this story much better -- its main characters deserve that. I've never shared this story before, and it was harder to do than I thought it would be. Thank you for letting me share it with you. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oops! (Dream Save Do, week 10)

Picture this scene:

A sunny July afternoon in the parking lot of the small (but very nice . . . and free) Alamogordo, NM city zoo. The loving, thoughtful mother starts the car and lets the air conditioner run in an effort to cool the interior before placing her almost-one-year-old son in his car seat. The mother and son sit on a blanket in the shade of an awning, sipping from (respectively) a water bottle and a sippy cup.

The mom checks the car one more time and, finding it nice and cool, places her son in his carseat, hands him his sippy cup, and closes the car door. She smiles at her son and walks around to the driver's side of the car and pulls up on the door handle. Nothing. The door doesn't open.

She reaches in her purse for her keys but then realizes they aren't there. They're dangling from the ignition. Inside the car.

Does she panic? Not at all. She calmly smiles and waves at her son to let him know mommy has everything under control, and then she walks back around to the passenger side again. She pulls up on the handle on the door she closed just a few minutes before, after putting her son in his car seat.

Nothing. That door doesn't open earlier. Her habit of pushing down on the lock before closing the door has come back to bite her.

Does she panic? No, not at all. She tensely smiles at her son to let him know mommy is working on the problem and rushes to check the other doors. Then all of the doors again. Then she panics.

Long story short, on that pre-cell phone afternoon 27 years ago, the mommy -- okay, I admit it, it was me -- called the police from a phone booth just a few feet away from her - car and explained to the police officer what had happened. I also explained that my Air Force Captain husband and possessor of the other car key was deployed who-knew-where, and I needed help.

I was only sniffling a bit when I made the call, but by the time the officer arrived -- bless him, he used his lights and siren to get there sooner -- I was standing at my son's window, sweating profusely and crying, while smiling crazily to convey to my son that everything was okay. The officer didn't lecture me on my incompetence, and throughout the whole ordeal, my son laughed and smiled and drank from his sippy cup there in the nice air-conditioned car while both the officer I sweated profusely and one of us cried.

Eventually, the door was unlocked, the nice police officer went on his way, and I promised my son I would never lock him in the car again. Addled by the heat, I tried to bribe him not to tell his daddy, but then I realized that he only said a handful of words, none of which included "car", "locked", or "inside", so I was off the hook.  (By the way, I confessed within 3 minutes of my husband walking in the door 4 days later)

I'd almost forgotten about that incident. Until last Wednesday.

I decided to clean up the files on my laptop. I opened the "Documents" window and began deleting things I no longer need. I zipped along quite happily, feeling pretty darned good about ridding my life of some electronic clutter.

When I finished, I glanced at the clock and saw I had about 30 minutes until I needed to leave for an appointment. Plenty of time to make a dent in cleaning out my bookmarks folder. Four years of bookmarking pages and sites and blogs had led to over 30 folders with goodness-knows-how-many sites per folder.

I'll be merciful and get right to the point. Somehow, at some point, when I thought I was deleting a folder with 5 sites I visited 3 years ago before a visit to South Carolina, I actually deleted ALL  of my bookmarks.

Yes, you read that right. ALL of my bookmarks.

Bookmarks for tiny house sites that are chock-full of information, sites for scrapbooking ideas I loved, sites for leaving my slothful ways and exercising my way to a whole new me, sites for . . . well, I think you've got the idea.

When I realized what I'd done, I was stunned. I simply sat there and looked at the screen in total disbelief. Suddenly, I recognized that feeling. I flashed back to that day at the zoo, and I remembered how stunned I felt when I realized that I'd locked my son in the car. But this time there was no nice, patient police officer who would race through the streets to my rescue.

I turned off the computer. And I'll admit that I turned in back on and clicked on "Bookmarks" one more time. Just to see if all of my bookmarks would somehow, by some Apple wizadry far beyond my comprehension, reappear. They didn't.

When it dawned on me -- finally -- that over four years' worth of searching for sites, combing through who-knows-how-many, and then amassing a virtual file cabinet of resources was gone, the numbness wore off and feeling returned.

The first to surface was regret, followed by disappointment. Followed by a moment or two of frustration.

And then I made a decision. A simple but very important decision.

I decided to consider my mistake a blessing. I wouldn't have to spend what would surely be hours looking back at every site and, undoubtedly, getting sidetracked by reading and looking at pictures. I wouldn't have to reorganize them into a more streamlined, usable set of bookmark folders.

Instead, I get to start with a clean slate. This time, I'm going to be more discriminating in what I bookmark and more organized (no more folders titled "untitled", "Untitled", and "untitled2").

An oops? Yes. A blessing? Aboslutely!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Here's What I Know About Ferguson

More than a few times these past 3+ months, I've started to comment on a topic that has headlined the news more often than not since August 9. Each time, I've decided not to comment.

You see, for the past 4+ years, I've worked in Ferguson, Missouri.

I wasn't in Ferguson that Saturday afternoon; instead, I was attending a conference in Dallas, Texas.

I'm not a member of the grand jury that has spent untold hours listening to testimony and sifting through evidence in the case.

As a result of those last 2 facts, I am in no position to offer an opinion on what happened that day or what, if any, legal action should be taken now.

Of course, a large number of politicians, activists, ministers and pseudo-ministers, and a wide variety of other folks who were neither on the scene back in August or on the grand jury have been more than happy to do just that. They have spoken with firm conviction, but without any first-hand knowledge of the events.

Their desire to sound off or to be in the limelight has trumped their concern for truth and for the very justice they proclaim to be their primary motivation.

So what do I know about Ferguson? Let me share just a few of the things I've learned about this North St. Louis County community in the 4 1/2 years I've worked there.

1. Beautiful neighborhoods -- old and newer -- abound. Sadly, there are also neighborhoods that are unkempt at best.

2. Admittedly, Ferguson has some problems. Crime is a problem; in fact, it's a significant problem. Other problems are unemployment, struggling public schools, low property values, etc.

3. Ferguson also has many strengths of which its residents can be proud. Thriving old businesses and new businesses, wonderful parks, beautiful churches, etc.

4. Many, many wonderful individuals reside in Ferguson. Individuals who work hard or who are retired after a lifetime of good, hard work. Individuals who reach out to those in need, help their neighbors, and are the very folks any of us would welcome as neighbors and friends.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Ferguson is a community that is like thousands found throughout this country.

What you see on television and in newspapers is not "Ferguson". Instead, it's the Ferguson that has been created by politicians, activists, so-called Christian leaders, random individuals, and those in the media who are bent on using the tragedy of August 9, 2014, to their advantage.

To be seen. To utter the soundbite that is heard ad nauseum around the world.

"Michael Brown" and "justice" are the catchphrases they use to shamelessly promote themselves.

As Ferguson -- and all of the St. Louis area and beyond -- waits anxiously for the grand jury decision, I'm sure these individuals are feeling quite proud of themselves. I'm sure that, even as I write, they are busy posturing and positioning themselves for maximum exposure in the days ahead.

Instead, they should be hanging their heads in shame.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Notice

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

Notice. An interesting word I rarely give much thought to.

What do I notice?

Do I notice when someone around me is hurting ~~ and take action?

Do I notice the small acts of kindness extended by others ~~ and express gratitude?

Do I notice the beauty in the world around me ~~ and say thank you?

Do I notice opportunities to be a positive force ~~ and jump in?

Sometimes I do. All too often, though, I don't.

What am I doing that catches the notice of others?

Do others see me responding to harshness with kindness?

Do they see me working tirelessly to help others just because it's the right thing to do, and not for glory and attention?

Do they notice a warm smile on my face?

Notice. I need to pay notice to so many things.

To the beauty in the world and in those around me.

To my own actions and attitudes.

To opportunities to serve.

But primarily, I need to stop, be silent and still, and take notice of what God has said and is saying to me. That, in a nutshell, is all I really need to take notice of. If I do, everything will fall into its rightful place.

Notice.

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Home, Cozy Home (Dream Save Do, week 9)

IF I believed in reincarnation, I would have to consider the possibility that I was, in a past life, a turtle. Back in my sports-playing days, I was agile, had great aim (in the 3 years I was the starting pitcher for a girls'-league fast pitch softball team, I never lost a game, a fact I still take shameless pride in), and highly competitive. Fast-moving? Not at all.

It's not my lack of speed, though, that best indicates I have Testudinian tendencies. Side note: turtles belong to the Testudine family, a fact I had no knowledge of until just a few minutes ago. 

What truly points to my turtle-like nature is my love for small, cozy living places. While I thoroughly loved the large home we lived in when both my son and daughter lived at home, I was happiest when we were all gathered in the average-sized family room, gathered in front of the fireplace on a couch and love seat that were carefully placed to create what I thought of as a cozy refuge.

When our son left for college, causing my husband and I to sell our large house in town and build a home on 65 rural acres, we decided to downsize significantly. I was ecstatic! Armed with a pencil, eraser, and graph paper, I planned our new home.

A few basic considerations drove every line I drew and every revision I made. The foremost guideline was size. We wanted a house that would fit the empty-nesters we would be in just 2 1/2 years (at the time) but which would accommodate both our son and daughter, plus their families when that day came, for both brief get-togethers and extended visits. The other major considerations were openness, efficient use of space, and energy efficiency.

When all was said and done, we moved from a 2-story home with 1400' sq on each level (and a same-sized unfinished -- except for a bathroom -- basement) to a 2-story home with "only" 960' sq feet on each finished level. I couldn't have been happier.

Since my husband's death, I've moved to a 2-bedroom condo and then, when my new house was completely constructed, a 2-bedroom (with additional office) home of 1264' sq on one level, and now to a 1-bedroom apartment. In each of these last 3 locations, I've had more room than I need, and I've dreamed of finding something smaller.

For a couple of years now, I've flirted with the idea of buying a tiny house or having one built.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, a "tiny house" can mean many things. To some people, it means a home under 400' feet. To others, it means a house that can fit on a trailer and, if desired, moved from one location to another if the need or want arises. To me, a tiny house is a very small home that is either site-built or built on a trailer.

A "Dream House" bookmark group on my laptop holds links to websites that I study carefully every chance I get, my footlocker-turned-coffee table is adorned by 2 fabulous tiny house books, and I've been putting every extra penny I can find in a "mortgage-free home" savings account.

I'm done flirting! I've set some deadlines, and I'm determined to either build or buy a tiny house within the next 12 months. While I like the idea of a site-built home, I'm still about 10 years from retirement and want to be able to move if/when a better job situation presents itself. As a result, my plan is to build a tiny house on a trailer so I can easily relocate.

I shared my plans with my son and my daughter. While "skeptical" may be too strong a word, they both have reservations. That's natural. They both are at a different stage in life -- they are both looking forward to owning their own homes; to accruing things they haven't been able to afford while in college, grad school, med school, and residency; and to starting their own families.

They tease me about my Birkenstock tendencies, and I have to admit that, as much a traditionalist as I am, there's more than a bit of truth in that assessment.

I long for a simpler lifestyle. Evenings spent alone or with friends. A simple meal and a leisurely walk afterward, time spent reading or knitting or scrapbooking on the porch or inside my cozy home. My work time spent earning money not to spend on utilities, rent/house payments, a 300+-station TV package, etc., but to fund experiences -- a white-water rafting trip, a Route 66 road trip, or an extended trip across Canada by rail. A simpler lifestyle that is closer to nature, more organic.

I'm being pretty bold, I believe, in putting this commitment out here on a public forum for anyone who stops by to see. But it's a good kind of bold. An exciting kind of bold.

As I indicated at the beginning of this post, I don't believe in reincarnation; I know with utter certainty that I have never had a past life, much less a past life as a turtle.

I also know that I am ready for a new life, one that fits me, and that includes a home that fits me, Birkenstocks, hand-knitted socks, and all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Joy-filled Decor (Dream Save Do, week 8)

Six days out of seven, I check my email inbox and feel the same disappointment I feel when I check my snail mail mailbox. With most of my non-local family and friends using facebook as their primary method of communication now, I rarely receive personal emails. Instead, my inbox is filled with messages in which the sender is hawking a product or two.

Last week, though, I had a one-out-of seven day; when I logged on to my personal email account I found a message from a favorite cousin, Debbie. And it wasn't just any old message! Right away, she touched my heart by saying that when she read what she was sharing in the message she thought of me. I don't know about you, but when someone says that -- and I know they truly meant it -- I feel honored, yet humbled.

Then I read the rest of the message. The blogger shared a concept I've long embraced and even shared here more than once (get rid of everything you don't love or use). But he said it more succintly. More profoundly. Better.

In short (pardon the pun), Chris Guillebeau summarizes the decorating philosophy espoused by Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. 

Get ready; here it is:              "Discard everything that doesn't 'spark joy'".

I wrote this sentence on my little dry-erase marker board that sits in a prominent place in my apartment:

 

I read that sentence every time I walked through my living/dining area. I found it running through my head at odd moments. And then, I put it into practice on Friday morning by going through my books (again). I pulled all 100+ books from my large entertainment center and sorted them into 3 stacks.

1: Spark joy

2: Do not spark joy

3. Portions spark joy or I haven't had a chance to read this yet

The books in the first stack -- only 45 -- went back on the newly-dusted shelves.

The books in the second stack have already been donated to the local Friends of the Library for the biannual book sale.

The books in the third stack have been subdivided into two more stacks. The first contains books in which I've hilited a sentence here or there. I'm going to skim or read each of those books again, recording in a beautiful leather journal I was given recently the nuggets that inspire me. Of course, I'm organizationally-obsessed -- I'm already thinking of how I'll sort-of divide the book into topics such as organizing, decorating, faith, etc.

What about the second sub-divided stack? Well, I've imposed on myself a deadline of the end of Christmas Break (January something-or-other) to read each of them and, of course, apply the "sparks joy" criteria when finished.

Four days later, I glance over at my entertainment center, devoid of the clutter of books that I had kept out of habit, not out of intentional thought. I like what I see. It makes me smile. It brings me a peaceful kind of joy.

I'm not done. Next up are my clothes, and I can't wait to get started!

If you'd like to read the blog post my cousin shared with me, you'll find it at:          

                    http://chrisguillebeau.com/better-organizational-strategy/

Friday, November 7, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Turn

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "turn". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

 

If this had been the word last week, I don't think I could have written a word, but Kate hit the nail on the head this week.

Why? Because yesterday there came a turn in the road for me. Not a bend. Not a curve. A turn.

Until yesterday, I thought of making some significant adjustments regarding my current position. I dabbled a bit -- updating my resume, collecting one current letter of reference, and talking ad nauseum about my desire for change. A pretty lackadaisical approach to making a significant life change, you'd have to say.

Earlier this week, an incident at work caused me to think it was time to get more serious about a change. I asked for 2 more current letters of reference and contacted a previous supervisor for a 3rd -- bringing my grand total of professional references to 4. I searched my employer's website for a posting of a different position or perhaps the same position at a different location. Nada. I did a quick internet search and found a few intriguing listings. I even began putting together the *actual* application packet.

I didn't respond to even the most intriguing positions.

Yesterday afternoon, though, an incident occurred that caused me to turn emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Mentally, I'm fed up. I'm fed up with my profession, my colleagues, and myself being treated with disrespect. It comes from all angles. From many in the public, from politicians (except when they need our vote or need a great sound bite), from clients, and even from those above us in the food chain.

I'm fed up mentally. I do everything I can and everything that is considered best practice in order to be effective at what I do. I treat others with respect, I do not react to disrespect or aberrant behavior on the part of clients, and I maintain a calm, professional demeanor. Yet, no matter what I do, the outcomes are not what they are at previous places of employment or at most other places that do what we do.

I'm fed up physically. I have been experiencing physical symptoms that are, according to my doctor and other reliable sources, clearly stress-related.

I'm not a quitter.

But I've turned a corner.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Progress (Dream Save Do, week 7)

Now that I have a fairly specific goal as to where I want to go from here, I've been spending my free time taking care of various details that will get me there by setting mini-goals.

Goal: 7 items donated/sold/discarded every week

First, I've begun decluttering . . . again. Although I donated/sold/tossed quite a bit of stuff when I moved to this much-smaller place this past summer, as I contemplate boxing up what I still have and moving again, I'm motivated to get rid of even more. Last week I surpassed my goal by 3 items.

Goal: 10,000 steps every day

On Saturday, I signed up for a month of free membership at the fitness center here in my planned community. When I rented my apartment, I was given a free month's trial as a welcome gift of sorts, and I'd been saving it to use when the weather turned cold. This past Thursday temperatures plummeted -- 82 degrees on Tuesday and in the 30's on Thursday -- so I signed up.  I've logged 10,000 steps every day so far.

Goal: weight training 3 times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday)

I also had planned to work out using a DVD I have, but I discovered that the movers didn't hook up the DVD player after all! I need to take everything off my large entertainment center, move it out from the wall, figure out what wire goes where, move it back agains the wall, and put everything back where it goes. Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to that job, but it has to be done before Wednesday; I don't want to miss another day.

Goal: write a book

The third project began Saturday when  NaNoWriMo 2014 kicked off. Every November, writers from around the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month by attempting to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Of course, the goal is to get just the rough draft written, but several NaNoWriMo novels have made it to the bestseller lists (Water for Elephants is one). To reach 50,000 words, I'll need to average 1,667 per day. So far, I've exceeded that by at least 70 words each day.

Goal: find a new job

The final task was one I had been dreading, so I jumped right in and took care of it early in the week by asking two of my supervisors and one colleague for letters of recommendation. While I wait for those, I'm getting my online application materials prepared so that I can begin applying as soon as I've uploaded their letters.

 

I feel good about what I've accomplished so far, and I'm excited to finally be moving forward, one step at a time. If you have any hints, tips, or suggestions for staying the course, I'd love to hear them!

 

 

 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nutrition, Spirit-Style

I've long been a Max Lucado fan, and I especially appreciate Grace for the Moment, a wonderful little book that packs a punch via a devotion for each day of the year. Yesterday's devotion was one of the many that stood out to me.

The devotion for October 29 begins with Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that I have turned to again and again in the past 5+ years. Knowing that God promised, "I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you" comforts me even when I can't see any good in my current circumstances.

Lucado goes on to tell about a family devotional time in which he put a variety of food options -- fruit, veggies, cookies -- in the center of the table, called his daughters to join him, and gave them each a plate. He explained that every day God "prepares for us a plate of experiences." He then asked his girls to put the food on their plate that represented the type of experiences they preferred to have.

I know I'm supposed to eat a healthy diet, and I've come a long way in that department. But if we're talking about what kind of experiencewe would prefer to have on any given day, I'm with Lucado's daughter Sara. I'm grabbing the cookies!

Of course, God doesn't put just a pile of cookies on our plate day after day after day. As Lucado points out, some days our plate is filled with cookies, some days are filled with cookies, fruit, and veggies, and on some days He fills our plate with veggies. Not even a little cup of dip or Ranch dressing. Just veggies.

I pondered this devotional as I drove to work, during down time at work, and then again as I drove back home. I acknowledged immediately that God -- like an earthly parent -- knows far better than His children what they need in their lives. I'm an English teacher -- I get the metaphor. :)

But almost immediately after I identified the symbolism, I heard a voice asking, "And what do you do when you get that plate of veggies? How do you react?"

And that, to me at least, is the crucial question.

Do I whine and cry and beg for a banana split and pout when it isn't forthcoming -- immediately? I must admit I sometimes do.

Do I pitch a fit and stalk away from the table? Yes, I've done that a time or two in the past five years.

Do I look at what is on other people's plates and envy them their Snickerdoodles? Sadly, I do that sometimes, too.

Do I ignore the veggies that will help me grow and become stronger and fantasize about the scrumptious treats I enjoyed yesterday or hope to have tomorrow? Of course, I have.

Do I look to my Father and thank Him for what He has given me and then enjoy those veggies to the very best of my ability? Not often enough.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Dare

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "long". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

The only dare I can remember ever responding to came from a college friend a weekend that found four of us traveling to her parents' cabin on Kentucky Lake. The dare? To go skinny-dipping off the dock one night under a full moon. I still remember how wonderful the cool lake water felt on my skin and how daring I felt. Me, a nice young Lutheran girl, swimming in the lake in nothing but my birthday suit. How outrageous!

Oh, how I long to dare to do something outrageous now. I am, hopefully, still nice. Definitely, still a Lutheran. My days as a girl more than a few years behind me.

But still. I long to do something outrageous.

To walk away from a situation in which I feel disrespected.

To sell or donate even more of the things I own.

To downsize to an even-cozier home.

To totally change my lifestyle.

The practical little creature sitting on my left shoulder whispers to me. "You need to be responsible. You need to be prepared for retirement, and time is running out. You must have health insurance. And besides, what will people think? Your kids will have you committed!"

But oh how enticing is that adorable imp on perched on my right shoulder, how tempting her words, "Do it. Strip off everything that stifles you. Dive in."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Long

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "long". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set,

 

I have to admit that when I saw this week's word, I almost didn't participate. "Long"? I just didn't have a clue what to write. Where to start.

"Long" can be a verb, of course. What do I long for? More time with my son and daughter, more peace with my work situation, a new job in a new town with a better climate (to me, better is more moderate), a stronger & more personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, a close group of friends to do things with on a regular basis, toned arms (no more bat wings), personal peace.

"Long: can also be an adjective relating to time. What things do I long (sorry, couldn't resist) to be long? Walks on the beach, visits with my children, a healthy lifespan for my children and for myself, talks with close friends, time to write, time away from my job.

How else can "long" be used?  Hmmmm . . .

Oh, it can also be an adjective in respect to the length of something. Hmm . . . oh, I'd love for some of my favorite books with my favorite characters to be longer. I hate to lay them down, to leave my friends on a shelf. My hair. Every time I get it almost to the length I want, it drives me crazy and I impetuously have it cut . . . again. But growing it out is only 1/2 of the issue -- I need to know how to fix it once I get there. lol

Now I know how my students feel when, for a free write session to start off class, I give them a word they struggle with. Will the 5 minutes ever end? Please . . . tick, tock. I long for the timer to

And mercifully, it did . . . the timer buzzed, and I could stop. This was a long (once again, I couldn't resist) 5 minutes for me. :)

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stress -- What's a Gal (or Guy) to do?

"There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full."  Henry Kissinger

I'm right there with you, Henry!

Every time I've turned around the past four weeks, another stressful situation has been there to meet me. Phone calls with news of medical tests, a grim diagnosis, and various procedures for a beloved family member. News broadcasts of angry people reacting with violence. Unexpected travel (and not for pleasure) resulting in an ever-growing to-do list with more than a few "overdue" items. Disconcerting situations at work. And the list goes on.

Until a few years ago, I had three go-to strategies for dealing with stress. One strategy, which I refer to as "hunkering down", found me lying as low as possible, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and simply surviving the situation.

Picture a toddler who is intent on watching television despite his mom's announcement that it's time for a nap. His eyes remain determinedly focused on the TV screen -- "if I don't look at her, I don't have to acknowledge what she's saying, right?" -- while he remains as small and still as possible, hoping mom will forget he's there. That doesn't work for the toddler, and it wasn't an effective strategy for me, either.

My other, equally-ineffective manner of dealing with stress was to let the steam build for a time until an insignificant but irritating event occurred, at which time I would "let off some steam". Nothing major -- I was never a hairbrush thrower or tantrum-pitcher. Instead, I would express frustration to those around me, talking the situation to death until I ran out of steam.

Picture a far-less-destructive, verbal Mount St. Helens, if you will.

Even the oft-recommended strategy of journalling about a stressful situation didn't work well. Instead of being able to release the negativity and stress through writing, I tended to relive the negativity and become even more stressed.

But experience with very personal, intense stress that lay like a thick blanket over every aspect of my life for well over a year taught me that what I was doing didn't work very well. I didn't "toss out the baby with the bathwater", though; instead, I've found ways to alter what I had been doing in order to make them more productive.

First, I now allow myself to "hunker down", but only for a very brief time, and only for the purpose of giving myself time to better understand the stress and its cause(s). I actually give myself a deadline -- sometimes it's just 10 minutes; for more complex situations it may be longer.

For the most part, talking about the negative situation has ceased to be a strategy. The whole point of talking through the situation was interaction with someone else -- their validation (sincere or fake) of the fact that I had every right to be frustrated or upset. Dazey (my Norwich Terrier) failed to provide either the interaction or the validation I found comforting, so I turned to venting on Facebook.

Sharing my frustrations in response to Facebook's "What's on your mind?" was an eye-opener. I realized more than a few times that I had allowed my stress level to rise at a rate disproportionate to the stressor. I also found that seeing my words in black and white made me less willing to put them out there for all the world to see.

Seeing my thoughts in black and white, on a page, has also changed how I utilize the strategy of writing about what is bothering me. Several months ago, I realized that journalling on paper had become less a joy and more a chore and that blogging provided me with both the writing outlet I love and a sense of connection with others that I wanted. As a result, I quit paper journaling.

As with Facebook, I've found I'm very reluctant to vent here. First, while I address negativity and stress here, I choose to focus more on overcoming both and on not letting either overcome and derail me. As with Facebook (again), I find that when I pause long enough to write for others (as opposed to for my eyes only in a journal) I gain perspective. In turn, that perspective stops me from allowing the stressor(s) from gaining a life larger than its own.

I've found other strategies that help. I can't claim credit for the vast majority of them; articles touting the helpfulness of a healthy diet and exercise, pet ownership, and placing strict limits on the amount  media exposure (television and print news in particular) can be found in a variety of professional journals, magazine articles, and self-improvement books.

Doing what I love -- watching sports on television or in person, knitting or scrapbooking, reading, and listening to music, to name a few -- also helps alleviate stress. Attending a knitting class and being surrounded by cheerful women laughing and talking as they knit and purl makes a positive difference as well. Reaching out to someone who is hurting is also beneficial; writing a short personal message on a Hallmark card and sending it to a coworker who is recuperating from knee surgery, for example, brightens my outlook.

Limiting time spent on social media has also removed a significant amount of stress. While I want to be aware of what is going on in the world around me, expressions of outrage, concern, sorrow, and pain in post after post from beloved friends is not healthy for me.

And that, I think is the key. Finding what is -- and what is not -- healthy is essential, because what works for me in reducing stress might actually make your stress level rise. What eases the stress in your life might be totally ineffective or, worse, create more stress for someone else.

It's important, I believe, to be honest with yourself about how you deal with stress. Is what you're doing effective, or is it causing more harm than the original situation? Equally important is being open to strategies you may not have tried and even those that you've utilized unsuccessfully in the past.

I'm making headway in dealing with the stress in my life. Oh, I'm not ready to throw down the gauntlet and challenge life to give me all it's got, but I'm ready to deal with each day -- sometimes each hour -- as it comes.

And this gal is content with doing just that.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finances & Life Decisions -- Righting Some Wrongs

Conventional wisdom in the form of counselors, life coaches, and literature & books on the grieving process asserts that no major life decisions or financial decisions should be made for 12 months -- 6 in extreme cases -- after a divorce, the death of a close loved one, or other significant loss.

Conventional wisdom is wrong.

I'm not a financial planner or whiz of any kind, nor am I a life coach or a counselor. But I've been down this road; I've dealt with two major losses -- the loss of a job and the loss of a spouse -- and I know that many of the "rules" we've heard throughout our lives are not gospel. In fact, in some -- perhaps many -- cases, following those rules will create huge problems; conversely, breaking those rules may be the best thing a person can do.

Let's look at my own situation.

When my husband passed away, 65% of my household income disappeared. Unfortunately, 100% of what had been our expenses were now mine . . . and I had 35% less income to work with. We hadn't been living hand-to-mouth, but my part-time teaching salary simply could not cover all of our monthly financial obligations.

Fortunately, I received a modest lump-sum life insurance payout. Had I listened to conventional wisdom, I would have promptly deposited that check and done nothing with it for a year.

What would have been wrong with that? At the time, 2 of the 4 family cars were not yet paid off. Each of those loans had a percentage rate of approximately 6%. At the time I received the insurance payout, various savings accounts -- even those paying the very best interest rate -- were paying far less than 6% interest. Conventional wisdom dictates that I should have continued paying 6% interes while earning around 2%.

Now, I'm not a mathematician. I'm not even a budding mathematician. But even I could see that earning 2% interest while paying 6% interest *when I had the money to pay off the loan without significantly impacting the balance of total funds* simply didn't make sense.

Similarly, I don't hold a PhD in anything, but I was smart enough to realize that not doing a thing about my employment situation would mean that I would be teaching part-time not only that current school year (my husband passed away in early September) but also the next. And I was smart enough to know that that was not a good idea.

So what did I do?

I ignored conventional wisdom.

But I didn't just run out begin doing things will-nilly.

First, I made a list of monthly expenses and noted what could be immediately eliminated (land-line phone, for example) as well as the outstanding balances on what could be paid off (cars, small credit card balance, etc).

I still didn't make a single financial decision. Instead, I made an appointment with a trusted financial advisor and discussed my entire financial situation with him. I made careful notes of his recommendations, and then I visited a 2nd trusted financial advisor and did the same thing again (without telling the second advisor what the first advisor said).

Then I made decisions that were in line with my own common sense and the advice of both financial advisors (they were 100% in agreement in their recommendations). These decisions allowed me to live within my means -- and without undue financial stress -- until my income changed.

That positive change in income came because four months after my husband passed away I turned my attention to finding a new teaching position. I did the normal job-seeking things -- updated my resume and my reference pool, began haunting appropriate websites, etc -- and had secured a full-time position for the following school year before the current school year ended.

That gave me plenty of time to list and sell our home (another major life decision that could not wait), find a place to live in the city I would be moving to, arrange for the sale of large items I would no longer need or have the room for and for moving, and then get settled in my new home before starting my new job.

For me, waiting an entire year to make any financial or major life decisions would have created significant -- even catastrophic -- problems.

I'm not saying that others -- you, for example -- should do what I did. Perhaps you should wait 6 months, or even a year, before making a big financial or life-altering decision.

What I am saying is that you should ignore the so-called "rules", enlist the advice of appropriate advisors that are trusted, reliable, and credible, and move forward in a manner in which you feel comfortable and that is right for you.

Oh, there's another "rule" I need to address. When I was a young girl, an elderly female relative informed me that a lady never talks publicly about finances and politics.

Yep. She was wrong, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Minute Friday: Reach

I'm very excited again this week to join a talented group of women bloggers in an online, unedited flash mob free write. This week, the word-prompt given to us by our fearless leader Kate Motaung (whose wonderful blog can be found at katemotaung.com) is "reach". My timer is set for 5 minutes; ready, set, 

My hands don't reach out as much as they used to. Rarely do they reach out to pluck a new piece of clothing from a department store rack or to select a new pretty thing to take home and set on a shelf.  Yet I still reach.

My arms. They reach out to hug my son and my daughter. To hold each of them tight for a few precious moments. To convey to them without words how much I love them, how dear they are, how much I treasure their presence in my life.

My eyes. They reach out to seek glimpses of beauty in a world that is all-too-often harsh and discordant. To meet the eyes of someone who is hurting and let them know they are not alone.

My heart. It reaches out for friendship and companionship in a sea of people who are busy rushing from one event to another, from one task to another to-do. To connect with someone in a meaningful way.

My soul. It reaches out in its search for a stronger, deeper relationship with my Maker. To connect in a way that goes beyond hurried prayers in the morning and fallen-asleep-in-the-middle-of-prayers at night. To practice His presence in every moment.

My hands . . . they reach for very little now. But reach? Oh, yes, I still reach.

Monday, August 25, 2014

And on the Subject of Change

About 3 weeks ago, I shared that I was going to be attending Declare, a Christian women's blogging conference, in Dallas. I hoped to learn more about social media (I did) and other aspects of the blogging world, but one issue I hoped to explore further while I was there is the direction of this blog. I was so busy attending various sessions, meeting as many of the wonderful attendees as I could, and digesting the information shared that I didn't really have the opportunity to ponder that or discuss it at any length with anyone and get their feedback.

I wish I could say that in the 2 weeks I've been back I've found time to think about blogging, but instead I've been sidetracked by some less-than-wonderful (to put it mildly) events. The community I work in has been rocked by a tragic event, and a week ago today my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As a result, most of my attention and energy has been focused on family and work.

Now, though, I'm able to turn my attention to writing and to this blog, and as I consider the direction of my writing, I'd love to hear from you, either through a comment in response to this post or through an email (pattimiinch@gmail.com). I hope you'll share with me what you would like to see me focus on as I move forward. In other words, how can I best serve you through this blog? What would you like to see more of? Less of?

I can't wait to see what you have to say!

Also, if you're on Facebook and haven't already done so, I hope you'll "like" and "follow" my page -- Patti Miinch.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Change

I had hoped to have the chance to write yesterday, but life's circumstances caused a change in plans. So here, a day late, are my unedited thoughts on "change".

I've never been a fan of change. Well, I guess I should say I wasn't a fan of change until shortly after I turned 51.

Growing up, I hated change. My life wasn't perfect and my family wasn't perfect, but it was my life -- and my circumstances -- and I knew it, could navigate through it without much thought, and I wanted things to stay just as they were.

When I grew up  and got married, I definitely didn't want things to change. I loved my life and my family. My husband, being married to him. I loved that. And I loved, loved, loved being a mom and having everyone at home. The four of us under one roof at the end of the day. Dinner together at in the dining room almost every evening, kids in and out of the house, school and sports activities -- I loved all of it.

Then my son graduated from college and left. Then my daughter graduated from college and left. Then my husband passed away. I moved to a new city, started a new job, and began a new life.

Now, I long for change. I would embrace it if it walked in the door. (I love lists, so I'll list the changes I long for)

1.  the frequency and length of my son's visits (currently a couple of times a year for a few days at a time)

2. my place of residence -- I'm "fine" with my apartment for the next 9 months or so, but I'm ready to make a change and live elsewhere

3. some/many(?) of my job circumstances and maybe even my career in general

4. my social life -- a close circle of friends and more social activities would be great

Change. I used to dislike and even fear it. But that has changed.

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

There But for the Grace of God . . .

10530740_10154518722090455_6435791578024769791_n

 

It would be wrong of me not to stress the fact that I am not a psychiatrist, counselor, or medical professional of any kind. My views of  depression have been formed from discussions with licensed medical professionals and from reading texts written by credible and reliable health-care practitioners. Please do not mistake my comments as anything other than the thoughts and opinions of a layperson.

When the word went out that the immensely-talented Robin Williams had passed away, social media was filled with videos of hilarious comedy routines, clips of favorite movies or episodes of "Mork & Mindy", and tributes from the famous and not-so-famous. I laughed as I watched until-then forgotten appearances on "The Tonight Show" and favorite scenes from movies such as Good Morning Vietnam; I cried as I read his daughter's tweet, in which she quoted from The Little Prince.

Then came the news that Mr. Williams had committed suicide. With that announcement, the tenor of some comments changed. Some people took it upon themselves to criticize Mr. Williams, to accuse him of being weak or selfish. I wasn't laughing -- or crying -- anymore. Instead, I felt disgusted and appalled by the callousness of those who took it upon themselves to pass judgment in such a manner.

Fast on the heels of, and primarily in response to, those negative reactions came the posts and tweets in which people shared their views on depression. Some of the information was very informative and, from what I know, accurate. Unfortunately, some of it was not.

One Facebook post encapsulated much of what I consider to be inaccurate information, and I couldn't help but think of times over the years that well-meaning (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here) individuals have made similar comments. I'd like to take this opportunity to address a few of the claims made by these individuals.

 

Claim 1: Depression is a "focus on ME, ME, ME" and we must remember that it's not all about me. 

The premise here is that those dealing with depression are egotists; they are self-centered individuals who choose to think only of themselves. First of all, I do not believe that depression is something people choose. Period. Secondly, as I understand it, when a person is depressed, it is as if they are standing with their face in the corner of a room with dark gray or black walls. It is not themselves they are focused on; rather, they can see nothing but the darkness, the gloom, the despair that overwhelms them.

 

Claim 2: Some depression may have a physical cause, and consulting a doctor may be warranted. However, most depressed individuals should: a) remember that other people have had and do "have it worse" than they do and rejoice in their suffering, and b) "buck up" and be thankful for what they have.

There is, as I understand it, a vast difference between "having it worse" and suffering from depression. I've experienced difficult situations. Early in our marriage, my husband and I often had less than $20 left over after bills were paid and very basic groceries purchased, with 30 days until the next paycheck. I've lost both of my parents, and I've dealt with other issues that brought me varying degrees of physical suffering. I reminded myself then that others were going through much worse, and I thanked God for His blessings and for using my circumstances for His purposes. I was suffering, yes. I was sad, yes. But I was not depressed.

Depression is not caused by external circumstances and has nothing to do with how bad a person "has it". Most of us have heard that it is caused by a chemical imbalance, but medical experts explain that it is more complex than that but that the roots of depression are biological. To say that a person who is suffering from depression should just buck up and rejoice is like telling a diabetic to throw away their testing strips and insulin and instead just grab a hymnal and sing a worship song or two.

 

Claim #3: Depression is caused by unconfessed sin; as a result, those suffering from depression need to confess their sin, repent, and mend their ways.

I know a minister who for several years struggled with depression. He shared with me that at first, he tried to cure his depression by practicing his faith even more vigorously. More hours spent reading the Bible, more hours on his knees in prayer, heartfelt and rigorous self-examination followed by sincere confession and repentance, and very deliberate efforts to make appropriate changes and, when warranted, restitution for his sin. He continually gave thanks to God for his mercy and grace.

His depression continued to envelop him; gradually, he became so overwhelmed by what he calls a "spirit-crushing unrelenting oppression" that whispery thoughts of suicide began to lurk at the edges of his consciousness. He shared that with his wife, and she insisted he see a Christian physician. He was evaluated at length, medication was prescribed, and within a month the dark cloud was lifted, and he felt (in his words) "like a normal human being again". I've never forgotten what he shared with me.

 

Sadly, I have far too often forgotten something my grandmother told me when I was about 10 or 11 years old. She cautioned me that whenever I feel the urge to judge someone else, to say that their bad circumstances were their own fault, or to congratulate myself on the fact that I was not like them, I should remember one little phrase. "There but for the grace of God go I."

There but for the grace of God go I.

There but for the grace of God goes each one of us.

Yes, God is full of grace.

And who am I -- who are any of us -- to in turn refuse to show grace to those around us who struggle with depression?

 

If you have any reason to believe that you are afflicted with depression, please consult with a licensed professional that you trust and feel comfortable with. Share with them openly and honestly so that they have all the information they need to provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan. 

Please share your thoughts via a comment here or, if you would prefer, by emailing me at pattimiinch@gmail.com.  Also, I hope you will "Like" my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pattimiinch58) and join in the discussions there. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Begin

Talk about an appropriate word for today, as I join (for the very first time) a wonderful group of ladies who join every Friday create a "virtual writing flash mob" (I love that phrase, Lisa-Jo). For 5 minutes every Friday, these ladies write about a designated word; no worries about revising or editing -- just write. I'm excited to be joining the group and look forward to many more Five Minute Fridays.  By the way, if you're interested in participating, go to  http://lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday/   and Lisa-Jo will tell you everything you need to know. 

My timer is set . . . 

Begin. Talk about a tough one for my first week in FMF (Five Minute Friday). Beginning is not my strong suit. I'm a dreamer and a planner. But begin? And even when I do, I lose interest about 1/2-way through a project.

This translates to my job very clearly. I love planning a new semester, tweaking a class, updating materials and assignments, etc. I even enjoy the first few weeks of the semester. But then, like always, I hit the point where I'm not as enthusiastic. Then I begin again. I begin jotting down notes for the next semester. Yes, I love to begin.

Oh, and exercise and eating better. Same thing. I love the research -- except for the fact that there's so much contradictory advice. I even love to begin. Cleaning out the fridge and pantry, preparing my "accountability calendar" -- I am in my element. Filled with anticipation and . . . what's the word . . . drat, no time to stop. The first couple of weeks go well, and then . . . I tend to fizzle out. I need an accountability partner.

There are things I need to begin . . .

  • viewing all the family videos to determine what's on each tape so I can get them in order and have them converted to DVD

  • going through the small storage unit I rented when I downsized in June, getting rid of everything I can, selling things on ebay, and


Time's up. I just realized that Five Minute Friday is perfect for me. This is one thing I can leave unfinished without repercussions or guilt. I think Five Minute Friday and I are going to get along just fine!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

4 x 4, Patti-Style

I love lists, so an email from the Declare Conference organizers with an invitation  to participate in a 4 x 4 post made my day!

 

4 Things About Me

  • I am very interested in starting a business selling mixed-media word art -- on canvas and on wood.

  • I'm an introvert who loves to be around people.

  • I would love to quit my job and live full-time in a camper, moving on as the mood strikes.

  • I'm a water-person who longs to live either on the beach or on a large lake.


 

4 of My Endearing Quirks

  • When I sneeze, I sound like a cat (according to my family :))

  • I have no fashion sense (I think it's endearing, but I'm pretty sure I often embarrass my daughter :)).

  • I am awfully uncoordinated. Back when Jane Fonda-type aerobics were so popular, everyone would be clapping, stepping, and hopping, but I would be hopping, clapping, and stepping. You should see me in a Rhumba class!

  • I sing with wild abandon, especially to oldies and contemporary Christian music. Well, I think it's endearing; nobody has actually expressed that to me. ;)


 

4 Things About My Blog & Writing

  • I've been spending quite a bit of time lately pondering the direction I want to go with my blog.

  • Two books are rattling around in my head.

  • I love long sentences -- complete with dashes; I also like to use fragments from time to time. Like this!

  • I try to be honest and transparent when I blog, but sometimes that's pretty scary.


 

4 of My Favorite Things

  • They're people, not things, but I can't *not* put  my son and daughter here. Everything and everybody else are a distant, distant 2nd.

  • My favorite food is still-hot chocolate pudding.

  • I love the NFL and watching games on television in my jammies on Monday night, Thursday night, and from noon to bedtime on Sunday.

  • My favorite vacation spot is The Great Smoky Mountains.


What about you? Please respond with the same 4 x 4 about you!

Dallas, Texas, Here I Come!

Well, here I come in 6 days, that is. Early next Wednesday morning I'll tell Dazey good-bye and jump in my little red Prius to make a 10+ hour drive to Dallas to attend the Declare Conference. Three glorious days filled with workshops, meeting other women bloggers, and whatever else comes my way!

I've attended other conferences in the past, but they have all been educators' conferences, so this is new territory for me. I'm very excited about this opportunity to learn more about blogging, to chat with some fantastic bloggers and maybe pick a few brains here and there, and to simply spend time immersed in a culture of Christian women who use the internet and the written word to interact with others.

I'm also a bit nervous. As much as I enjoy a good road trip with the radio turned up and a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade and a few bags of junk food in the passenger seat, 10+ hours on the road isn't my idea of an easy day. But I'll have the conference to look forward to, and that will hopefully make the drive down more enjoyable. The idea of attending by myself and walking into a meeting room filled with women, many of them already acquainted from previous Declare Conferences, is a bit unnerving as well. But I can do this; if I can sling on a backpack and travel on my own by train through Europe for a week, I can do this, right?

I'm also hopeful. If my son doesn't have to work Sunday, we'll be able to spend the day together before I return home on Monday (if he does have to work, I'll drive back to Missouri on Sunday).

A little nervous. A whole lot of excited and hopeful. Not bad. Not bad at all.

What do you have planned for these last few weeks of summer? I hope that whatever it is, it brings you joy and peace. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Keeper of the Flame

Last Friday would have been my husband's 53rd birthday, and for the 5th year in a row, I marked the date with a Facebook post that included a favorite photo. Many Facebook friends share similar posts on the birthdays of a loved one -- usually a parent or grandparent -- who has passed away, so my post wasn't unusual in any way.

What was unusual, for me at least, is that I found a way on my husband's birthday to slip the significance of the date into most of my conversations. It's unusual because I certainly didn't do that when he was alive. I didn't, for example, respond to the grocery store clerk's "How are you today, ma'am?" with "Oh, I'm fine. Just thinking of my husband on his birthday today," as I did last Friday. Wow, talk about overreaching!

But can I confess something? I do the same thing on our anniversary, on the date he was diagnosed with cancer, and on the date he passed away. If you haven't lost a close loved one, you might be questioning my sanity and thinking of leaving this site never to return, but bear with me just a bit longer.

I don't get up on those mornings and decide to slip into every possible conversation that the date is in some way -- good or bad -- special to me. Not at all! The words just slip out, as if on their own. But I know that's not possible; I realize that it's on those days that I slip into one of my many roles, that of "the keeper of the flame".

I became a keeper of the flame long before my husband's passing. I'm the one who brought together both my husband's and my own family traditions to our new family when we married, the one who, when I was only 4 months pregnant with our first child, raised the question of whether or not Santa wraps the gifts he leaves under the tree after we go to bed on Christmas Eve (my Santa wrapped; my husband's did not). It certainly wasn't my husband who put out the special "birthday plate" four times a year. Oh, he loved the traditions, but I was primarily the one who remembered each of our many family traditions and who did everything possible to keep them alive year after year.

I still keep those traditions alive, but now I also do what I can to keep alive my husband's memory. Not with my children, of course. Both of them have told me more than a few times that they think of him every single day, both of them have mementos of their father in their homes, and both have a picture of him on their dresser or nightstand. They each speak of him often, recalling something he said or did. No, I'm not worried about my children forgetting their father. It's the world I'm worried about.

I know it doesn't make sense, that the idea of keeping alive my husband's memory by sharing about him with people who didn't know him to begin with and who will probably forget our conversation within minutes after it ends just isn't logical.

I only know that it's important to me that this wonderful man -- this great husband, father, son, brother, friend, etc. -- never be forgotten. It will happen someday, I know. My future grandchildren will only know him through the stories I and their parents tell them. They will have no stories of their own to tell their own children, and eventually the stories -- his stories -- will cease to be told.

But that's not going to happen yet.

Not while I'm the keeper of the flame.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Only in Hollywood

J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby, Pam, Miss Ellie,  and even Ray and Lucy. If you're over 40 years of age (maybe even younger), as you read those names you probably pictured Larry Hagman sporting an evil grin and a 10-gallon hot or maybe the sultry Victoria Principal clad in a gorgeous designer outfit and sporting flawless hair and make-up.

Most of us remember watching Dallas' March 21st cliff-hanger that brought the 1979-1980 season to an end. In case you didn't see it, JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) was shot and left for dead; because of Hagman's week-to-week contract negotiations, he didn't return to the show until November 21, leaving the show's writers scrambling to write scripts and viewers to wonder for 8 long months, "Who shot JR?"

A few years later, Patrick Duffy, the boyishly-handsome star who played JR's long-suffering younger brother Bobby, decided to leave the show to "pursue other opportunities". Dallas writers killed him off in spectacular fashion, and Duffy exited, leaving viewers stunned and upset. Unable to parlay his performance as Bobby Ewing into a film career or a starring role on another television show, Duffy was ready by the Fall of 1986 to return to Southfork and to sparring with his big brother. The problem was, he -- or Bobby, that is -- was dead and buried and had been mourned for an entire season.  

That didn't stop the producers and writers of Dallas; in the now-famous (or infamous) scene in which Pam wakes up to discover Bobby calmly taking a shower, he was brought back to life. Dallas fans were expected to accept the implausible idea that the entire 1985-1986 season -- 31 episodes in all -- had been a dream. Many viewers did just that, and the show continued to air for 5 more years.

I was not one of those fans; disgusted at what I considered a soap opera-ish stunt, that "shower scene" episode was the last I watched. I couldn't believe that writers and some viewers alike could disregard the fact that if the 1985-1986 season of Dallas had been a dream, so was that same season of Knot's Landing (the Dallas spinoff set in California and built around the lives of a Ewing sibling and his neighbors) in which Bobby's death was mourned. How ridiculous, I thought, that the producers thought it was okay to just erase an entire season's events and expect us to blithely go back to pre-Bobby's-death as if it had never happened.

Over a decade later, however, my righteous indignation forgotten, I've found myself longing for my own "shower scene".

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer  . . .

As he was enduring medical procedures and chemo . . .

In the days and months and years since his passing . . .

How often I've thought, "I want my old life back".

But that's now how it works. Unlike a team of Hollywood writers, the One who writes the scripts of our lives is in complete control, doesn't make mistakes, and has no need of Dallas-style shower scenes. Instead, He walks with us through the difficult days, and He invites us to trust in Him.

Only in Him.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tech Challenges . . . and Their Lessons

Today has been frustrating challenging, to say the least. Some progress was made and some remains to be made . . . I hope!

I began the morning cleaning out my email accounts. That in itself was a bit of a mess. When I first began blogging, I had 3 email accounts, and I had hoped at that time to consolidate them into 2 -- one for my personal correspondence and the other for emails dealing with this blog, writing, etc. Unfortunately, some of the tech "things" I needed for this blog required a specific email provider, and I didn't have an email address with that provider. Easily fixed, right? Well, yes, but then I had 4 email accounts. That was okay. I figured I'd focus on doing what needed to be done to get the blog up and running, and then I'd go back and consolidate the email accounts as best as possible. I'm embarrassed to admit that 15 months later, I still hadn't even begun that task.

Last night -- prompted by a fb conversation with my wonderful tech guy -- I began searching for a email message with some information he needed. I searched high and low, in every email account I could think of, and found nothing. I worked for 3 hours -- until 1 a.m. -- resetting passwords to get into almost-forgotten email accounts. By then, I was too tired to sort through the folders in each of the accounts, so I left that tech house-keeping chore for this morning.

By lunch time, I had cleaned up every email account I knew I had, and I had even listened to 5 or 6 podcasts I've been meaning to listen to. I was feeling quite pleased with what I'd accomplished, but then I realized I still hadn't found that one piece of information my tech expert needed. Drat!

That's when the frustration began. Four hours later, I was ready to throw in the towel. My tech guru has found a solution or two, but I'm not overjoyed with the changes either one brings. It's a long and confusing situation, but either way I go, I'm going to have to switch my URL to one ending in .net . It's one of those "you can do it now, or you can do it later" scenarios. Neither appeals to me.

signed off in a huff took a break to fix supper, and while bumbling around in the kitchen, I realized something . . . and then another thing . . . and then another. Things I already knew, but things I tend to forget because I don't like them. Not one little bit. I'll share them with you, and you can let me know if you share my dislike.

1. I don't always get to have things my way.

2. Life is sometimes complicated.

3. It is often necessary, when trying to straighten something out and make it more simple, to first endure more complications and mess .  If you don't believe me, think back to the last time you cleaned out -- really cleaned out -- a closet or even just a junk drawer.

4. In that "making it more complicated and more messy in order to straighten it out and streamline it" process,  I often confront some not-so-nice things. Today, for example, I was reminded of how snippy I get when I am frustrated because things are not going my way (see #1).

Yes, today was at times frustrating, but there were lessons to be learned . . . and I hope I did just that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loneliness . . . a Different Perspective

The hardest thing for me as a blogger is being transparent in sharing my struggles. Try as I might, it's sometimes hard to get past "what will others think of me?". Today's post is a textbook example of that struggle, so bear with me if I meander a bit or, in my desire to avoid meandering, I'm too blunt. Hmmm . . . it appears I'm procrastinating a bit. Here goes.

The past 2 months have been especially difficult. Perhaps it's because of the letdown after a pretty exciting couple of months -- a semester in England followed by the flurry of activity that came with selling my house and moving to a new apartment. Perhaps it's because my daughter moved into her own apartment (which is completely natural, and I'm happy for her), and it's just me and Dazey here.

Whatever the reason,  I've been enveloped by a new type of pain -- an impenetrable blanket of loneliness. Day after day, I'm reminded of what is missing in my life. Not just my husband specifically, but also what our relationship meant on a daily basis. Having that one person who knew all the back-stories, with whom I could communicate through a look nobody else would even notice, someone who I would bounce ideas off and share my thoughts with. Someone with whom I shared a comfortable and simple, but strong, love and companionship.

While driving to church this morning it occurred to me that perhaps I've moved to a place in which the pain of the loss of my husband as an individual is being joined, maybe even partially supplanted  by, a broader sense of loss.  And maybe this current period of intense loneliness -- sharp and heavy and unrelenting -- might be another stage in the grieving process.

Immediately after that thought came another. If it is true that I'm entering a new stage of grieving, how can I "embrace" it? I'm not referring to holding on to it and wallowing in it. Rather, I'm talking about facing it, dealing with it in a healthy way, and learning and growing as a result.

How does that happen? I'm not really sure. All I know is that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other one day -- even just one hour -- at a time, keep resting on my faith and on God as much as possible, and keep focusing on what I do have instead of what I've lost. Simplistic? Maybe. But right now, simple is all I've got and all I can handle.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Funny

Every home has its good points and its bad and even maybe some ugly, and now that I've lived in my new apartment for 3 weeks, I've identified a few that I thought I'd share.

The Good

* less expense

* less room to store stuff, to clean, etc.

* no fenced back yard = more walks with Dazey  (I'm sure that won't be on the "Good" list when cold weather arrives  lol

* living right in the heart of the community, within a couple hundred yards of the post office, coffee shop, market & other stores, etc.

 

The Not-So-Good (because these things aren't really *bad*)

* flies -- it seems there are always a couple of flies in the apartment

* the dark kitchen without windows (thank goodness I don't spend lots of time in meal preparation)

 

The Ugly 

* I found this just yesterday -- the previous renters left a little pile of doggy doo in the behind one of the floor-length curtains in the bedroom

 

The Funny

* The unit came with a washer & dryer that are "stacked", but not really stacked in the normal sense. The washer is a top-loading and is on bottom, so the dryer is mounted (in brackets) high enough that the washer lid opens about 3/4 of the way. That's not the funny part, though. The dryer is mounted too high for me to reach in, so I have to unload the dryer and hang & fold clothes while standing on the top of a 3-level step-stool. It makes me laugh every time I do laundry, which is not a bad thing at all. :)

 

Monday, July 7, 2014

My View from the Pew

I opened my Facebook page a few weeks ago to find a post in which an acquaintance lambasted people who don't attend church. He referred to them as "lazy" and, if they called themselves a Christian, "hypocritical", and he baldly stated that there are no reasons (other than illness) for missing church. In fact, he declared, any other reason is simply an excuse.

Here is a paraphrase of my reply:

From experience, I have to disagree with the idea that any reason other than illness is an excuse. I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you that after my husband died, I found church the most difficult of all places to return to, even though at the time, I belonged to a wonderful church filled with some of the most loving, supportive people I have ever known. In fact, I often shared with others -- and it was true -- that it was as a member of this congregation that I felt I had, for the first time in my life, found a church "home". Even so, there was more than one Sunday where I could not walk in the doors. At least twice over the next year, I got ready, drove the 15 minutes to church, and sat in the parking lot and cried. Since I've moved up here [to a city about 2 hours from my hometown], I've found church continues to be one of the most difficult places to go. I don't want to go on and on, but you have no idea until you've walked in my shoes how difficult it is to be so very alone in the very place I should find most comforting.

He responded, making it very clear that he felt I, too, was simply making excuses; I gave it one more shot, but he simply blew me off. I didn't want to go on and on, and I didn't want to make his thread all about me, so I let it go. Here, though, is what I wanted to say to him.

Back when I was still attending that wonderful little country church back home, I found it incredibly hard to go back after my husband died. It was a small Methodist congregation that still used a hymnal and sang all of the old hymns I remembered my grandmothers singing around the house and garden when I was growing up. Back then, though, I never noticed how many of them refer to death, to taking your last breath, or to going up yonder to be with the Lord. As a grieving widow barely holding it together, it seemed every hymn was fraught with lines that made me pause, sometimes even gasp lightly, my eyes filling with tears. Nobody noticed, thank goodness. I just kept my head down, staring at the blurred lines on the page and moving my lips noiselessly. 

That church, like the ones I've visited here since my move, was a veritable sea of happy couples and happy families. Oh, there were a few widows or widowers, but they were all quite a bit older than me, and I didn't identify with them. No, I identified with the women who shared a hymnal with their husband, his hand resting on the small of her back as they stood to sing a hymn; the women whose husbands draped their arms around their shoulders during the sermon; the women who looked up at their husband from time to time to share a smile. I'd make myself look away, to focus on the pastor, but then I'd find myself peeking again to get a glimpse of what was mine no longer. And the pain was so strong it was actually physical.

After I moved to the city and began visiting churches. I was amazed at the lack of friendliness. I would arrive early so I had plenty of time to give myself one last pep talk before going inside. I'd remind myself to smile and speak to people, to walk slowly so people had a chance to respond and perhaps even engage me in conversation. I'd get out of the car, walk among others -- couples and families, usually -- chattering away, and enter the church. Of course, the greeter would smile and hand me a bulletin, but not a single one asked if I was a visitor or spoke to me other than a brief greeting, if that. I'd walk slowly to the sanctuary, making eye contact with other people and smiling gently and saying "hello" or "good morning". Most of the time -- and I mean this wholeheartedly, the people I smiled at would briefly glance at me and sort of nod, all the while moving briskly along. The same thing happened after the service ended as well.  

I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was dressed like the other congregants, I looked like I "belonged", but I quickly discovered that a single woman alone is virtually ignored except when the pastor instructs everyone to greet those around them. The people that haven't even made eye contact until then smile, say "welcome" or "good morning" and move on to someone they know. At that point, their smile becomes more animated, more real, and they exchange more sincerely-expressed greetings and chat briefly. I stand, alone and uncomfortable. I walk to where others are standing to greet them; the same thing happens, and I end up returning to my spot, feeling like the outcast kid sitting alone in the junior high cafeteria. 

One Sunday, at a church I had been attending for 3 or 4 months, the pastor walked down the aisle near my seat about 10 minutes before the start of the service, stopped to speak to the couple who sat along the aisle, and then glanced past the empty seat between the wife and I to make full eye contact with me. I smiled and said "good morning"; she nodded once without smiling and walked away. Needless to say, I didn't go back to that church.

It's not just that the people aren't very friendly, though. All of my life -- until my husband's passing -- I attended church with someone; first, as part of the family I was born into, then as half of a couple, and then again as a member of the family made up of my husband, son, daughter, and I. Some widows and widowers say that eating out is difficult, but I've always enjoyed going to a restaurant or fast-food place by myself to people-watch or read while I eat. Church is the one  place I rarely, if ever, attended alone. Perhaps that's why, then, it is in church that I'm particularly aware of my aloneness and my loneliness. Perhaps that's why, then, the loneliness strikes so sharply, so very painfully, on Sunday mornings.

Sadly, too, it is in church among other Christians where I feel the strongest need to "put on a happy face" and not let anyone see that I'm struggling. Everyone else is so darned happy -- I don't want to be a "Debbie Downer". Besides, as my mother always reminded me, people are drawn by smiles, not by sad faces. And she was right. Not only do stern faces shout "Don't approach me", but sad faces also make people uncomfortable. And so, in the very place I should be able to find comfort and support, I act like everything is hunky-dory, that I've got it all together, that I am as happy as can be. 

Ruth Graham wrote an interesting book titled In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart; interestingly, I (as a member of the outreach committee at the church we were attending) read it when it was first published, just before my husband was diagnosed with cancer and before I became one of those broken hearts myself. I remember quite a bit about the book, and I remember that at the end of the book, Graham hadn't found a solution to the problem of feeling so alone and heartbroken while at church. Instead, she offered other strategies for meeting spiritual needs; I've found those strategies helpful, but I still long for a fulfilling church relationship. I'm hopeful that someday, maybe even soon, I'll find a church that is warm and welcoming and in which I don't feel so alone. Until then, I'll keep looking.

Before I close, I'd like to share one more thing I wish I'd said to my Facebook acquaintance.

For the next 4 Sundays, I challenge you to arrive at church about 10 minutes early and not spend that time chatting and laughing with your friends or family. Instead, look around very carefully. Search for someone who is alone. Approach him or her with a welcoming heart and a sincere smile on your face, visit with them, and get to know them a bit. Heck, invite them to sit with your family or, better yet, wave your family over to sit with you and that person. After the service, introduce them to a few people you think they might connect with. So much better than judging and name-calling, don't you think?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on Downsizing . . . Again

The last time I posted, I had transported 3 carloads of scrapbooking supplies to my new apartment. Over the next 10 days, I moved almost everything I owned except for 5 "larger" pieces of furniture -- bed, dining room table, large entertainment center, etc. -- by myself. I had a system; with the back seats folded down, 5 large plastic bins fit in the back of my Prius, so every day I'd pack up all 5 bins, take a load to the new apartment, unpack those bins, and return home for another load. Some days I took 2 loads, and other days I took 3, but I had it all under control . . . or so I thought.

By the 8th day of the move, the upstairs living area was cleared out except for cleaning supplies, 5 small pieces of furniture, and items (some from the spare bedroom and some from the basement) I had been planning to sell on the community Facebook "garage sale" site and on ebay. I had designated the dining room the "ebay" stuff area and the living room the "garage sale" area and had brought the remaining items to those two areas. With each armload of items I sorted, I became a bit more concerned, and by the time I had finished sorting everything, I was verging on full-blown panic. As I looked around at what still needed to be moved, I made a bold -- actually a desparate -- decision. I asked on the community Facebook page if anyone knew of any charitable organization that would come to the house, pack up the items being donated, and remove them . . . all with only a few day's notice. I also contacted a college student in the area who had posted that he and his friend were looking for any kind of odd job such as moving people, etc. Lastly, I rented a small storage unit just a few minutes from my community.

The leader of a church youth group that holds a giant garage sale every summer to finance their group's various mission trips throughout the year responded to my first request. Two days later she and a few youth arrived as scheduled, packed up everything I had planned to sell on the Facebook group, and carted it away. The following day, the 2 college students arrived bright and early and packed up and moved to the storage unit the remaining items. Once that was done, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and focused on cleaning the house and getting it ready for its new owners.

Between cleaning the house and settling into the new apartment and taking care of all the responsibilities that go along with teaching an online class, the next few days were so hectic I barely had time to eat, and I definitely didn't have time to sit back and reflect on the move and what it means long-term. Finally, though, Friday came and with it, closing. And oh, what a closing it was, but that's a topic for another post. :)

That was 10 days ago; ten days in which I've monitored and participated in some lively online discussions with my students, graded their mid-term essays, and loaded onto the computer the last 2 weeks of materials. Ten days in which I've adjusted to my new apartment and the realities of my new location here in the same planned community. Ten days in which I've reflected more deliberately and with more leisure on the change I've made and its consequences.

There are negatives, of course. First, my kitchen is a small galley that is not open to the other rooms, so I can't watch TV when I'm preparing a meal. That's not a huge problem; I pause whatever I'm watching and resume the program when my meal or snack is finished. Since I'm here alone, the old "I don't want to be cut off from the rest of you while I'm fixing a meal" doesn't apply. Another negative is that the large, commercial air-conditioner is loud. Not too loud to be heard over, so again, it's not a significant problem. The largest drawback is that instead of a flower garden and wide & deep front porch separating my front windows from the sidewalk, my windows and front door look directly onto the sidewalk; conversely, anyone walking down the sidewalk is within a few feet of my windows. I live next door to a small playground and just down the block from several adorable stores, so there's some foot traffic on and off many days. I hung white sheers behind the  heavy thermal curtains that came with the apartment, and that helps immensely. Lastly, I have some items in a storage unit and had hoped to avoid that; fortunately, the monthly fee is much less than I expected and all but about 2 items in it can be disposed off within a few months if I really buckle down and work on that. In whole, then, the negatives are manageable and livable -- at least for the next 11 months.

And then there are the positives. First, the move forced me to dispose of a hefty pile of stuff that I had been putting of selling on the Facebook group because 1) the selling process was becoming more tedious as the group grew by leaps and bounds and problems began arising, and 2) I'd already sold the big-ticket items, and my enthusiasm was pretty much shot the further I got into small items that would only bring $2-10. Second, it forced me to throw away lots of stuff that, quite frankly, I'd forgotten I had. Being able to put things in the basement or a spare room produced an "out of sight, out of mind" situation, but packing and moving brought those things to light. Third, I no longer have yard work (mowing, weeding the gardens, etc) to take care. Fourth, no home maintenance responsibilities or costs. Fifth, I no longer have unneeded room, space used for nothing more than to store stuff, much of which I didn't need or really want. That space contributed to the last positive. Sixth, my expenses dropped dramatically. I no longer cool (and eventually, heat) an office and extra bedroom, making my monthly utility bills at least a bit lower; my insurance also lowered -- my renter's insurance is a fraction of the cost of my homeowner's insurance. More importantly, I no longer have a HOA fee, a yearly NID (Neighborhood Improvement District tax, paid for 20 years) nearly equal to the HOA fee, or a yearly real estate bill in a city that has one of the highest tax rates in my state. And, of course, my monthly rent is about 25% less than my house payment was.

In a variety of ways, the positives and even the negatives help pave the way for the next step in my personal Dream Save Do plan. Negatives and all, I'm more than happy that I made this move, that I sold my cute little bungalow and moved to an apartment. And so, the time for reflection is past; it's time to look forward and plan for the next step in reaching my ultimate redesigned life.