Wednesday, December 26, 2018

You're Invited to 19 in 2019!!

How long is your "project to-do list"?

Perhaps your list is a mile long, filled with tasks such as clean out the garage, digitalize the family photos, work through your yarn stash and finish all of those as-yet-undone projects, read the Bible in one year, grow our own vegetables this summer and can enough to get through next winter, and read the entire Kinsey Milhone series.

Perhaps, though, you're like me. Perhaps your list isn't so terribly long, but it's still a bit overwhelming for one reason or another.

Last Wednesday ("It's the Most Intimidating Time of the Year") I promised I'd share an opportunity with you, so here it is. You are cordially invited to join my Facebook group "19 in 2019"!

This group will not "coordinate" with my blog posts; it is an entirely separate entity, and I hope you will check it out and join us.

So what is 19 in 2019?

First, it is NOT another to-do list or obligation or chore.

Instead, it is a group of individuals who want to make some changes in 2019, but they want to do so in a place where people support & encourage each other and in a way that is fun and free of stress and judgment.

I've done this before -- in 2016 and 2017 -- and we had so much fun, but with all that was going on in my life in 2018, I just didn't get it going again. I missed it and decided to make it a priority again this year. 

Here's how it works.

First of all, there are no rules. The following are guidelines for you to adapt and mold to fit your own situation and personality.

Each participant will choose 12 "challenges" -- one for each month. They can be things you want to do (ex: take a 15-minute walk every day), things you want to stop doing (spending hours each day mindlessly surfing the net), or things you want to change (eat 4 vegetables a day instead of the 2 you currently eat).

You will also choose 6 "treats" -- one for every 2 months (Jan/Feb; March/April; etc). The "size" of the treats is unimportant; examples include a Saturday spent in your pajamas with a great novel and snacks, a massage, buying that scrumptious yarn you've had your eye on, etc.

Some people tie the "treat" to the challenges, but I don't do that. I give myself the treat whether or not I complete the challenges for those 2 months. You also don't have to wait until the 2 months are over; treat yourself when you need or want to!

Finally, choose 1 larger, more challenging task to complete before the year ends. One person painted their entire house (inside), and I really need to digitalize 28 years worth of photos and memorabilia!

Some people choose all 12 challenges and the 6 treats at the beginning of the year and make no alterations; others choose them at the beginning but make adjustments; other people just wing it and set the challenges and treats as they go along. Remember, do what you want -- there are no rules!

A few "maintenance" details you need to know.
1. The group is a closed group, meaning anyone who searches FB can find the group and request to join, but non-members cannot see what is being posted.

2. I will be moderating as closely as possible, checking in at least twice each day; I will remove and block anyone who doesn't play nicely. :)

3. I will be opening threads every month and every 2 months so you can share your challenges and treats.

4. I will be posting encouragement, funny memes, etc., at least once a day almost every day. My goal is to share something uplifting every single day, but I know that sometimes life doesn't go along with our plans, so I'm going to do the best I can and extend grace to myself when I don't meet my goal.

So there you have it! I hope you'll head over to Facebook 19 in 2019 Group and join the group. I'll be opening the January challenge and January/February treats and 2019 mega-challenge threads on Saturday!

Before you go, please share any questions or comments via a comment. I love to hear from you :)

Friday, December 21, 2018

With (FMF)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "with" takes me.

I don't know about you, but all too often I allow my mind to scurry and scramble around, formulating a whiny list of all my "withouts". I'm without the firm, toned upper arms I used to take for granted. I'm without minor aches and pains.  

Perhaps you know what I mean. Perhaps there have been a few "without" thoughts circling the edges of your mind. Maybe even establishing a permanent seat front and center. 

But as 2018 nears its end, I have the opportunity to focus on all my "withs". 

So what and who have been with me these past 12 months?

I've been blessed by the presence of so many things.

My new home in a safer neighborhood, appliances and machinery and electronics that make my life so much easier, a more open schedule now that I've retired, health insurance at a great rate, good reports from the doctor after checkups and the like, an absolutely delightful retirement party thrown by my son & daughter, a working fireplace (oh, how I love it), great books -- fiction and nonfiction, clarity of thought, creativity . . .

I've been graced by the presence -- face-to-face and electronically -- of so many people. 

My son and daughter, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, coworkers and student and (for the most part) their parents, supportive/encouraging/intriguing/challenging/funny Facebook friends, a fantastic handy-man, Bible Study Fellowship ladies,  some very new lady friends at the church I've been visiting regularly . . .

Ironically, writing this post about my "withs" is aggravating me just a bit. 

I want to write and write and write . . . my cup overflows.

What and who are with you? I hope you'll share a few things via a comment. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

It's that Most Intimidating Time of the Year!

Andy Williams (yes, that Andy Williams -- the sweater-loving crooner) wrote the words we all know and even sing but too often don't really live.

Ask 100 people to describe in just one word their own December and Christmas season and you'll undoubtedly hear words like: rushed, chaotic, stressful, busy, and demanding. Very few, if any people, will say, as Mr. Williams sang, that it's "wonderful".

(photo courtesy of Pinterest)
So many of us are busy shopping and buying and ordering and wrapping; grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning; and rushing to and fro picking up last-minute necessities, attending parties and programs, and simply hustling and bustling through this season of the year.

Even if we pause now and then to soak in the beauty and wonder of this most-precious season, those moments are all-too rare and fleeting for many of us.

So when you read the next paragraph, you might be tempted to stop reading, to say "I don't have time right now to think about that!"  But give me just a few minutes of your very-busy day; I believe I have something to offer that just might help you as we approach Christmas and, just  seven days later, a new year.

Once Christmas is past, we turn our attention to New Years and to New Years resolutions. I don't know about you, but I quit making New Years resolutions about 10 years ago. I had been horrible at keeping them anyway, I reasoned, so what was the point?

But about 4 years ago, I came to the end of the year feeling unsettled, out of focus, and somewhat rudderless. My mode of living was reactive; I spent the vast majority of my time just going through the motions, responding to outside circumstances without much thought, and as a result, the precious gift of that previous year had not been very productive.

I decided to make some changes, but I knew that a set of lofty resolutions weren't for me, so I came up with a plan. No resolutions, no lofty goals that looked great on paper but were nearly impossible for me to sustain for a long enough period to make any real difference.  A simple and very fun plan.

And then I put it into practice for one year.

It worked! I was more successful some months than others, some days more than others. Overall, though, at the end of that year I looked back with a sense of accomplishment and peace. And yes, it felt wonderful!

Just as importantly, I learned so much that year about a topic that had for the previous 8 or so years become dear to my heart -- reacting positively to a major life change through life redesign.

It's the topic I had planned to write about when I started this blog several years ago. But I wasn't ready several years ago. I had to live through the process myself for several years before I could write about it. As a result, the blog floundered, I wrote in fits and spurts, trying to make it work. And it really didn't.

But that was all part of the process, as I can see now.

So what does that mean? It means I'm ready now. I'm ready to focus on life redesign after a major (positive or negative) life change. I'm committed to sharing with you every Wednesday something that can help you make needed or wanted changes in your life.

I hope you'll join me and be an active participant in my little blog this coming year. I hope you'll subscribe so you don't miss any posts but that you'll come here and share your own thoughts and experiences. I also hope you'll share this post with your friends.

Next Wednesday I'll be sharing an exciting opportunity for you. It won't cost you a single penny, you won't have to download or purchase a single thing, and it involves something designed to help you -- and me -- redesign our lives so that at the end of 2019 each one of us can look back at the previous 12 months and say it really was a wonderful -- and fun and productive -- year.

I do have one little assignment for you. It might take you a minutes; it might take you a bit longer than that. But however much time you invest, I ask that you do it thoughtfully, with deliberation and intention.  Before next Wednesday, write down the answer to the following prompt:

          List, in order, the priorities that you want to guide your daily life.

In other words, don't look back at how you prioritize things now and how you allot your time and resources now. Instead, what are your true priorities, the ones you want to live by.

Once you've come up with your list, I hope you'll share something about it with us via a comment here on the blog. Your list itself may be very private, and I understand that. Perhaps you'd like to share how this little activity went for you (was it harder than you expected? easier?), or perhaps you'd like to share something to help or motivate others who are thinking about their own priorities. Or perhaps you feel comfortable sharing your actual list.

Whatever you feel comfortable sharing, I hope you'll do so through a comment.

And don't forget to check back next Wednesday. I'll share my own list and an exciting announcement!

(photo courtesy of Pinterest)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Still (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited flash mob free write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "still" takes me.

It's been awhile since I've been part of the Five Minute Friday (FMF) group. I'm out of practice, feeling awkward and intimidated by the timer ruthlessly counting down the precious seconds allotted to me. 

I realized as I typed that sentence that it's been awhile since I've been many things: myself, at peace, comfortable in my own skin, healthy, filled with joy . . .

And I realize, too, that for far too long I've been still. 

Oh, I've been moving. Sometimes I've gone through the motions. Other times I've rushed frantically here and there, making rash decisions, working to counteract those rash decisions . . . 

But really, in all the ways that count, I've been still. 

Not moving from my place of mourning, of looking back at what's been lost, of regretting decisions made, of wanting somebody to tell me or show me how to fix things or, better yet, fix them for me. 

Two weeks ago, in one of those moments of rushing around, trying frantically to fix a predicament caused by a decision that seemed so right at the time but turned out to be nothing but a far-from-effective bandaid, I experienced a proverbial thunderbolt realization.

I do not want to continue on the path I am on. 

And so, these past two weeks, I've been still. With a journal and my Bible. With a list of Bible verses on a large sticky-note inside my planner. With a heart that longs for joy and relationship.

I've learned so much. 

And now I'm ready to move, but to first be still.

To pause and be still, to consider where I'm headed (as opposed to where I've been), and to move forward. Productively. Positively, Unalone. 

Today, this entry, is my first step. 

(photo courtesy Pinterest)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

It's mid-October . . . Do You Know What That Means?

The 1/2-way point of October 2018 passed just two days ago.

That means we are half-way through pumpkin spice everything.

We are also just 13 days away from adorable little costume-clad children and pre-teens wearing a football jersey or their mom's housecoat  ringing our doorbells in shy but almost giddy anticipation (on the part of the younger ones) and faux "I'm-actually-too-cool-for this" nonchalance (on the part of the pre-teens).

I despise anything and everything pumpkin spice. As a result, I face the first part of the month in a state of resignation, knowing that social media is going to go pumpkin-spice crazy; that flavors I can normally find in bakeries and coffee shops will temporarily be replaced by pumpkin-spice everything; and  that friends and perfect strangers are going to take it upon themselves to prove to me that pumpkin anything smells and tastes good (their efforts have and always will be futile, so save your breath).

On the other hand, I love trick-or-treaters, so I plod through the pumpkin-spice madness that is early October,  finding solace in the fact that around mid-October, I will begin to see social media posts with pictures of costumed offspring and grandchildren primed for trunk-or-treat outings.

But something else happens at the mid-point of October, something that brings me joy despite the overpowering smell of pumpkin.

It's the knowledge that it's almost NaNoWriMo time!!

NaNoWriMo is, for those of you who have never heard of it, held every November. Starting at 12:01:01 on November 1st, thousands and thousands of (otherwise sane) people all around the world will endeavor to write a novel of at least 50,000 words. They will exist on little sleep and lots of fast food & caffeine; they will eschew their normal activities like eating out with friends, watching TV, and bathing; they will write in the bathroom, while at stop lights, and even call in sick to work or school; and they will, come heck or high water, churn out an average of 1,667 words per day in their quest to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge.

I plan to participate again this year, after taking off last year due to my job and my duties as a class sponsor and, subsequently, supervisor of the concession stand at approximately one billion volleyball, junior high basketball, and high school basketball games. Okay, maybe there weren't a billion games, but almost.

Anyway, not only do I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo 2018 -- I am downright excited at the prospect.

I have the beginnings of a plot in mind and will do some some necessary preliminary research this week. Pre-planning and research is allowed by the rules. Yes, there are rules. This is a civilized endeavor.

Well, I guess I should say it's civilized through, say, November 5. After that, depending on the level of writer's block and resultant stress over the rapidly-approaching deadline of midnight on November 30, the refinements of normal life begin to fade. And truth be told, they're completely thrown to the winds around November 25.

NaNoWriMo is an often maddening  occasionally frustrating but exhilarating experience. Even people who had never dreamed of writing a book until hearing about this novel-writing frenzy and saying, "What the heck -- I'm in!",  can be heard to say after November has passed (and they've eaten an actual meal, taken a shower, and slept for a week) that it was a fantastic experience.

Why don't you join us? If you're even remotely intrigued, don't take my word for it; visit the official site and browse through the resources, discussion groups, etc.

It's less than 2 weeks to NaNoWriMo -- bring it on!

(photo courtesy Pinterest)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Best-Laid Plans and All That

This past spring, once I decided I was going to retire, I began contemplating what I was going to do with all the newly-freed time available to me after the end of May.

I bought a black-and-white marbled composition book -- a long-time, very inexpensive guilty pleasure -- and began filling it with lists and plans and more lists. The basic plan was to relax for a month, recharge after a very busy previous 9 months, and then hit the ground running in July.

Did you notice that I used the word "plan" in those last 2 sentences?
A proverb is a proverb for a reason.

Instead of traveling or decluttering or blogging or writing the next great American novel or doing 99% of the things in my composition book, I was dealing with:

  • the illness and passing of my sweet Norwich Terrier, Dazey
  • the aftermath of an automobile accident in which an arrogant and disrespectful (you should have seen how he yelled at me and treated the police officer!) young man hit me as I was, according to the police report, "legally-operating" my car -- this aftermath involved my having to deal with inefficient and dishonest claim reps (his insurance company), being required to travel to multiple body repair shops and get estimates (his insurance company's no-hassle, we-send-an-adjustor-to-your-home only applies to the insured), etc.
  • listing my house, selling my house, having the deal fall through, immediately accepting another officer, finding a new house, and dealing with all the financial paperwork, inspections, etc. involved in selling one house and purchasing another
  • moving
  • starting a new part-time job
  • assisting my then-newly-engaged daughter begin planning her wedding
Listed there, it doesn't look like much. Believe me, it was.

I've been settled in my new house almost 2 months now (more on that at a later date), the one-semester part-time job is going well, and my car will finally be getting it's much-needed bodywork this week.

And me? I'm eager to begin implementing some of those plans ideas I jotted down in the black-and-white marbled composition book. 

I'll be sharing some of those plans intentions with you next Tuesday. Until then, if you haven't taken the time lately to consider what you really want to do in whatever free time you have or can create, I challenge you to buy your version of a black-and-white marbled composition book and do a little planning strategizing of your own. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Birthday Musings

This past Saturday, July 21, marked 9 years since my husband was told he had stage 4, inoperable cancer. He was only 47; he had exhibited absolutely no symptoms; there was no family history at all; he had just carried, along with my son, a couch up 12 flights of stairs, lifting it over the railing at the 90-degree angle in the stairs mid-way through each flight, for goodness' sake! He couldn't have cancer, and he certainly couldn't be dying!

Because of that horrible news, his birthday "celebration" 4 days later was awkward. His parents invited us over for
bar-b-q, cake, and home-made ice-cream; his brothers and
his sister-in-law joined us. What laughter there was, was forced. There was none of the typical "remember when Steve was 4 and we . . . ".

The proverbial elephant in the room was the ultimate party pooper.

That was the last birthday Steve celebrated.

Today would have been his 57th.

It's hard for me to wrap my head around that. When I picture my husband, I see the supposedly-healthy 47-year-old from prior to his 6-week cancer battle. When I'm feeling particularly strong, I try to picture what he would look like now. What our life would look like now.

But I can only let my mind touch on that for a millisecond. Like a tongue testing the wound left from a just-removed tooth, my mind jerks away almost as soon as I entertain any thoughts of what-was and what-could-have-been.

Oh, I think about the past (probably too often) and talk about it with others when it comes up in conversation, but those thoughts are always very general. When the conversations turn to specific incidents involving Steve, we keep the conversation light.

And when I'm alone every evening, my mind only allows itself to admit that I am, in general, alone and lonely. My subconscious stops me from thinking about the specifics of why. Of who and what I'm missing.

Every year, though, my body somehow remembers. Around July 4th, I notice I'm getting a bit more emotional, a bit more restless. The first year it happened -- the 2nd year after Steve passed away -- I was a bit confused as to what was going on. I mentioned it to a friend, and she said her mother did the same thing each year as certain anniversaries -- of her father's birthday and, later in the year, of his death -- neared. I did a little research and found that medical experts agree that our bodies often recognize the "anniversary" of painful events even if our mind doesn't allow us to openly or directly recognize it. As a result, we react emotionally without recognizing the cause right away.

As July moves on and the temperatures rise outside, the sadness inside me grows as well. I become even more restless. I long for activities and the company of people, particularly my children. During the day, I take walks to get out of the empty house; at night I drive around town or go watch a baseball game in one of the city parks. When I finally go home, I turn on the television and pick up a book. The background noise allows me to pretend I'm in a busy household filled with loved ones; the book allows me to escape that flimsy illusion.

Every year -- and this one is no exception -- I plan to post a really great tribute to Steve on his birthday. Each year I fail. He deserves it, and I feel horrible that I can't yet write it.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that, given the modest, "don't-shine-the-spotlight-on-me" type of man he was, he'd be touched but uncomfortable by such a tribute anyway.

Those who knew him know what a fantastic man, father, husband, son, brother, and friend he was. They don't need to be reminded.

Those who didn't know him . . . well, you can see the man he was in his children, our son and daughter.

Someday I will write that really great tribute to him. Someday my mind will let me move beyond the general and really focus on the specifics.

Today, though, will be a day of long walks and a short drive or two, reading a book, and sorting the spare bedroom in preparation for my move next month. There will be a longer drive to the cemetery and a call to my father-in-law to check on him, and we'll talk a little bit about his son, my husband, the father of our children.

The marking of Steve's birth will not be a cake and ice-cream and presents celebration.

It will be the quiet remembrance of the life of a wonderful man who was with us for far too short a time.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thank You for Asking, Facebook!

"What's on your mind?"

When I first joined the biggest time-sucker of all time Facebook and saw that question, I wasn't quite sure how to respond.

I'm a very literal person, and I am (contrary to a few, albeit infamous spectacular incidents) an instruction follower. If, for example, my boss sends me a memo that instructs me to fill out and return a form within 10 days, I have it filled out, an electronic copy saved, and the original sent to him within the hour.

So when I joined the land of imaginary friends Facebook and was asked what was on my mind, I sat and thought about it for a bit. What should I say? How much should I share? Was it a rhetorical question? Did anybody really want to know? Or was it just a clever ploy to gather information about me that could be used later for nefarious purposes? Nah, nobody is that diabolical, are they?

I don't remember my first Facebook post verbatim, but it took me longer to write than my Masters thesis project. I wrote, deleted, wrote, changed a word here and another there, and deleted it all. I strove for witty, intelligent, nonchalant, and in-the-know . . . and lots of other traits that most often elude me.

Silly me, I asked my husband to read my final draft. He told me it was "fine". Well, I knew full well what that meant. I started over. Finally, my first post was ready for publication; it went something like this:

     What's on my mind is that my kids are going to have a fit when they see I'm on Facebook. 

Yes, I have an undergraduate degree in English and a Masters in Composition, and that's what I came up with!

Nine years later, I rarely even notice the "What's on your mind?" in the little box where I type a post. Today, though, it once again caused me to pause.

What is on my mind?

Why, thank you for asking, Facebook!

I'd like to say that my brain is filled with lofty ideas, plans for philanthropy, and nuggets of wisdom to share with the masses 15 people who faithfully read "like" my posts without fail (thank you!).  In truth, my thoughts usually run more like this:

Am I out of popcorn? Drat, the shrub beds need to be weeded. I bet Vienna is beautiful this time of year. I need to do laundry today. Oh my, look at that beautiful bird at the feeder! I really need to get off this couch and walk -- 10,000 steps today, no matter what. Chocolate ice-cream sounds so good right now. Maybe I'll walk to the store and buy more underwear undergarments lingerie clothes so I don't have to do laundry. Lots of steps + no laundry = win, win. I'm so clever! Do the Cardinals play tonight? 

Of course, I could never post all that. I collect my thoughts and ask myself, what really is "on my mind". And truth be told, the answer is "not much".

After a lifetime of being sure everything depended on me and, as a result, stressing, plotting, planning, overthinking, reliving, predicting, and overanalyzing ad nauseum, I have very little on my mind.

Through trial and lots of error valuable life experience, I've finally learned what far-wiser people have always known. It's not all up to me. Almost nothing is up to me. In fact, all that's up to me is how I react to all the stuff that's happening around me.

So . . . what's on my mind?

I think I'll have a bowl of chocolate ice cream. 


I appreciate Facebook and how it connects me to so many people I would otherwise not be able to communicate with or get to know. Sometimes, though, it is simply too much. Too much strife, too much fake news, too much of too much.  What do you think? And how do you utilize social media without becoming overwhelmed by it all?

(meme courtesy of Pinterest)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Decisions, Decisions

I think I hold the record for the longest time taken to choose a new couch.

If you don't believe me, take my picture to any furniture store in the southeast quarter of the great state of Missouri. Sales associates in every one will no doubt remember me.

On the other hand, I almost purchased a new car without even test-driving it, and I would have if it hadn't been for a salesman who was horrified by the notion!

In the past eight-plus years, I've made snap decisions, appropriately-considered decisions, and ridiculously-overthought decisions. I've made some great decisions, some that have proven to be just fine, and more than a few that I shudder now to think of.

Making decisions is a routine part of life; experts say we make hundreds of them daily without a conscious thought. But making decisions when the fabric of your life has unraveled becomes for many people a seemingly insurmountable task.

Used to discussing options with a spouse or parent, for example, or against the backdrop of a job or based on long-established physical capabilities, making even the smallest decisions after a significant loss can be difficult, even daunting.

Trust me, I know.

I'm the lady who bought a coat, returned it, went back and bought it again, tried to talk a friend into returning it for me, did talk my daughter into returning it, and bought it again. In one week. Yes, it was the same coat.

Through many "opportunities" and lots of trial and error, I've learned that there are eight things that should be done when making a decision.

1. Prayerfully consider the decision facing you and all the options. You're not a religious person? You don't  believe in God? I respect your personal beliefs. But whatever your faith system, employ its practices when making a decision.

2. Know your priorities and make decisions based on those priorities. For example, my #2 priority is my family, more specifically my adult son and daughter and my relationship with them. As a result, as much as I have always wanted to live near the ocean, I've chosen not to relocate and to instead stay here, smack-dab in the middle of this great country, within a four-hour drive of both of them.

3. Ignore the so-called experts. Or at least take their advice with a grain of salt. You may have been told by well-meaning friends or read in highly-recommended texts that you should refrain from making major decisions for at least six months, preferably one year, after a significant loss.  You may not have that option. Even if you do, it may very well not be a wise one. If you are now rattling around in a house far bigger than you need and can afford or physically manage, it may be wise to sell now rather than later, for example.

4. Avail yourself of reputable experts who have nothing to gain from your decision.  No, #4 does not contradict #3. Consult with professionals -- financial advisors, tax professionals, counselors, etc. -- who you respect, who share (or at least understand) your values, and with whom you feel comfortable. Share your circumstances with them and ask for their recommendation(s) regarding the decision you are facing. Then consider, but do not allow yourself to be ruled by, their professional recommendation.

5. Surround yourself with trusted and supportive family and friends who respect you and your values & priorities. People who love you and aren't afraid to speak truth when you need to hear it. Talk over decisions and options with them to the extent that you are comfortable. You don't need to tell them all of your business; share with them as much as you are comfortable. Just as with the experts, consider their input as part of the decision-making process.

6. Use a process that works for you. You might be a pro/con list-maker. Perhaps you, like me, prefer to talk and journal about the decision.

One dear friend blocks out time, turns off her electronic devices, lays down on her bed, and mentally walks through each option, considering her own thoughts and the recommendations of trusted professionals and friends. She imagines the possible outcomes, picturing each one in as vivid detail as possible, considering worst- and best-case scenarios and everything in between. She shared with me that she finds herself almost physically drawing away from some options and eventually drawn to one more than the others.

Another friend walks. As he laces up his sneakers, he very deliberately focuses on something other than the decision facing him. He puts in his earbuds but doesn't turn on any music; rather, he uses them to deter other people talking to him. As he walks he focuses on nothing but what is around him and what he is experiencing and feeling in that moment. He told me that walking helps me clear his mind of clutter, allowing the best answer to become apparent.

7. Once the decision is made, you may want to take baby steps and consider the outcome of each step before proceeding. Don't be afraid to change course slightly or completely as an outcome unfolds (go ahead, return the coat!). On the other hand, you may be a jump-in-the-pool-cannonball-style type of person who prefers to make a decision and then live with it. Whatever your style, do something.

You'll make mistakes. Oh, I can almost guarantee you that you will make lots of them. That brings me to my last lesson learned.

8. Learn from your mistakes without beating yourself up over them or becoming consumed by regret. Mistakes were part of your old life; they will be part of your redesigned life. Face it -- mistakes are inevitable. Make them, deal with them, and get past them as best you can.

Lest you walk away from this post thinking I have the decision-making process down pat and that I never feel like I'm facing Mount Everest when a decision needs to be made, let me assure you that isn't the case. I'm a work in progress. Sometimes I follow these eight steps smoothly and without a misstep. Other times . . . well, let's just say I lose my way a bit before finding my footing.

Oh, about the couch. I eventually found one that I loved (and recently passed on to my daughter when it didn't fit well in my current home). I ended up not buying the car; I wonder if that salesman ever regretted talking me into that test-drive. As for the coat, I kept it and disliked it more every time I wore it. After a few weeks I had it cleaned and then donated it to a gently-used coat drive at work.

What strategies do you find helpful in making decisions? I'd love to hear about them or about your own decision-making experience(s). Join in the community by sharing a comment!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sharing the Hair-Brush Microphone

I've always loved road trips. As a child, I looked forward to our family's annual vacation as much for the long car ride that would take us to our destination as I did the destination itself.

In the weeks and months leading up to the trip, I would envision the journey. It went something like this (cue Beach Boys medley):

Dad and mom in the front seat, heads nodding along to the music. Mom frequently looking back at my sister and I, a gentle smile on her face; my eyes meeting Dad's gentle, smiling eyes in the rearview mirror; Dad and Mom looking at each other lovingly. In the back seat, my sister and I alternating between playing some sort of road game -- license-plate search or road-trip BINGO, perhaps -- and sharing our hairbrush-microphone to sing harmony on "Beach Baby". 

The much-anticipated day would arrive, and off our family would go. It went something like this:

My sister and I stumbling, half-asleep and clutching our pillows, to the car at least an hour later than my dad wanted to leave, my mother grumbling under her breath about Dad's desire to hit the road early and "beat the traffic". Mom requiring 3 trips back into the house to check everything -- lights off, stove and oven off, and so on. Before we even backed out of the driveway, my sister drawing an imaginary line that was not an even division of the back seat (she is four years older than I, so I'm sure you can imagine who got the shorter space) and reminding me that if I crossed it, I would pay. Me crossing the line and getting pinched. More than a few times. Mom puffing away on her cigarette while trying to find a good radio station (cue lots of static) and periodically looking back over the front seat to glare at my sister and I or to try to cajole us into taking a nap. Me trying to get my sister to play some sort of game; she, being too "cool" for me, rebuffing my efforts and burying her nose in a book. 

It wasn't all bad, of course. My sister and I did occasionally share a hair-brush mic, and we played some energetic and laughter-filled games of road-trip BINGO. But the long and short if it is that those vacation car rides only sporadically resembled the idyllic, made-for-Hallmark movie scenes I anticipated.

Sometimes it was my fault the ride didn't go as envisioned. My sister lives about 3 hours away and stopped pinching me over 40 years ago, so I'll admit that sometimes I crossed her imaginary line on purpose. Just to get her attention. I grumbled and complained. To get my mom's attention. And when I got it, and she told me to stop grumbling and complaining, I sighed as only a preteen girl can sigh.

Other times it wasn't my fault. The flat tire just as we pulled onto a long, congested bridge somewhere on the other side of Branson, arriving on the outskirts of Atlanta at the start of rush hour, the air conditioner deciding in the middle of Nevada in the middle of July that it was tired of working and was going to take a break. A long break.

I bet my next month's paycheck that you already know where I'm going with this.

Last week held my birthday, and for the first time in my life, I struggled with it. I turned a number that ends in "0". Other than a few texts, 2 phone calls, and lots of Facebook birthday greetings (and I truly appreciate those texts, calls, and posts!), there was no cake or dinner or anything else to take my mind off that dratted number that ends in "0". Added to the mix is that my birthday fell on the last day of the school year, which was also the last day of my full-time teaching career (long story best saved for another time).

In short, it was an emotional day. I didn't celebrate it; I survived it.

As I sat at home that evening, I had plenty of time to reflect on the journey to come (now you really know where I'm going, right?).

I can clearly see that my journey is not going to be what I envisioned 10 years ago, when I first began to imagine my retirement years.

In some ways, it's my fault. Hasty, fear-driven decisions that can't be undone. Words spoken that can't be retracted.

Other things, though, have been out of my control. Medical diagnoses, the agendas of people leading my place of employment, decisions made by others in my life.

And when the rubber meets the road, the why's really don't matter.

What does matter is my response.

I can act out, grumble and complain, and sigh dramatically.

Or I can look out the window, enjoy the scenery, and simply be thankful for the journey.

I'm working on it. I really am. I'm trying not to grumble or sigh. I'm trying to simply enjoy the ride, hair-brush microphone in hand.

What about you? Is your current journey what you imagined it would be?

I hope you'll join me as I live this redesigned life. More importantly, I hope you'll join in the discussion by sharing your own thoughts via a comment. Let's travel this road together. Sharing the hair-brush microphone, no dividing line on the seat. 

(Photos courtesy of Pinterest)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Guys

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .   Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

My local big box pet supply store cannot by any stretch of the imagination be compared to France. But the French Revolution, or at least the famous opening lines to Dickens' tale about it, came to mind after my weekend trip there (to the pet supply store, not {sigh} to France) to pick up dog food. 

I blithely strolled by the shopping carts queued up in the store's foyer; after all, I was only planning to buy a 30 lb bag, and I can lift and carry one of those fairly easily. 

Long story short, when I got to the far back of the store, where the dog food is located, I found that Dazey's food is now available in a 50 lb bag. Even better, the price is much lower per pound in the larger bag. Just as I started to pick one up, a man who looked to be in his late 20's with two boys about 6 and 8 walked up.

When the man saw what I was about to do, he quickly offered to go get a cart for me; I assured him I could carry the bag. We chatted briefly about our dogs, and I noticed his sons waited patiently until I spoke to them. I asked about their dog, and they eagerly and politely responded. 

I was hoping the man would grab the food he wanted and leave. I didn't want him to see me if I struggled with the bag, but I also didn't want to put him to any trouble. 

He made no move to pick up a bag of food for his own dog. Instead, he hoisted the bag I had been about to pick up from the bottom shelf, turned to his boys, and said, "Come on, guys, we're going to carry this up to the checkout for this nice lady." We walked to the checkout together, he told his sons to get a cart, and he put the bag in the cart for me. I thanked the three of them; he said it was no trouble at all, and he and his boys headed back to the dog food.

I paid for the food and rolled the cart out to my car.

That's when I realized that getting the bag out of the cart was going to be more difficult than just lifting it off the bottom shelf. Because I had to bend over into the cart to get the bag, I couldn't bend with my knees to lift it.

I opened my car door and studied the situation. I tried to lift the bag and had very little luck.

That's when I noticed a man who looked to be 30 or so sitting in the driver's seat of a car about 15' away. He was watching me with amused interest. I turned back to my task.

I considered tipping the cart so that the front rested on the ground, allowing me to pull the 50-pound bag straight out and up. I gave that a try, but when I tipped the cart, it began to roll away from me.

I heard the man laughing.

I ignored him.

I pulled the cart upright again. I considered going back in the store to see if an employee could help me. Just then, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the amused guy was getting out of his car.

"Finally," I thought, "this guy is going to help me."

He didn't. He walked right by, looking straight at me and chuckling. 

That gave me just enough impetus to haul the bag out of the cart and onto the back seat of my car.  

I closed my car and locked it before returning the cart to the store. As I was turning back toward the parking lot, a coworker came out of the shoe store next door. We stood for a few minutes talking, and as we did, the man who had watched me struggle with the bag, who had found my predicament amusing, walked out carrying a very large (at least 30 lb) bag of dog food.

Obviously, he hadn't failed to help me because of he was unable to do so.

My coworker and I finished our conversation, we went to our cars, and I drove home.

As I did, I couldn't help but laugh. Not just about what had happened, but about how I would definitely try to incorporate the story into my novel.

Have you ever had a real-life experience you'd love to see included in a novel? Feel free to share it via a comment!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Plantsing Along

Novel-writers tend to fall into one of two camps.

Some writers have a germ of an idea and simply sit down and start writing. They allow the characters to reveal themselves and the story to unfold. Because they write by the seat of their pants, so to speak, they are referred to as “pantsters”.

“Plotters”, on the other hand, take the germ of an idea and then proceed more methodically, crafting various items such as character biographies so detailed that even the protagonist’s childhood stuffed animal and its name might be listed. Ultimately, they craft an outline that is the framework of their novel; these outlines range from skeletal to extremely detailed.

When I sat down a few weeks ago to get serious about writing my novel, I was stymied.

Am I a plotter or a pantser?

I didn’t feel comfortable just jumping in to my story; I felt I needed some sort of framework. However, I didn’t want to get so bogged down in the planning that I never got to any writing. And yes, I know myself well enough to realize that the avid planner in me is in danger of doing just that.

And so, for the past few weeks, between the work day, work tasks I have to bring home, household responsibilities, and Olympic-watching, I’ve been plantsing.

I began by creating very basic bullet-point biographies of my main characters and a couple of minor ones. Oh, what fun it was to pick out names and even a few life details for these people I’m going to be spending so much time with.

Then I moved on to an outline that is so skeletal as to be almost nonexistent. I incorporated the traditional story arc, but even it is quite bare-bones.

And everything — well, everything except my basic premise and main character — is up for discussion as I move along.

Perhaps there won’t be a visit to see the world’s largest ball of string, and maybe my female protagonist won’t meet George Strait in a men’s room in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hmmm . . .

It’s time for you to join in the discussion. What kind of protagonist would you like to see in a novel? What would you like to see him or her do? 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

One for the Books

Despite the fact that I'm not and never have been Catholic, I've been giving up something for Lent for most of my life.

When I was in grade school, I gave up things like candy, bothering my older sister, and biting my nails. One year during high school I gave up television, and at least one year in college I gave up alcoholic beverages. As an adult, I've given up things like meat, Facebook, and sugar.

This year, as I contemplated what I might give up for Lent, one thing came to my mind right away.

It's something I've never even considered sacrificing, and when it did pop into my head last week, I at first immediately dismissed it as impossible, even ludicrous.

Because to give up books (except for spiritual or work-related purposes) is as unthinkable to me as being asked to give up the use of my right arm!

I've loved books since learning to read at age 4.

For a variety of reasons, they have been, outside of time spent with my children and late-husband, my #1 source of entertainment.

More importantly, books have been my primary way of relaxing, my primary escape from the world.

And in the last 7 or so years, I've turned to them more and more, to the point that I've let other, very important, even crucial things fall by the wayside.

I just realized, as I was typing that last sentence, that this will be my 60th Lent.

I think that calls for a true sacrifice as I replicate in my own small way Christ' 40 days of fasting in the desert and as I prepare for the greatest of all sacrifices that we recognize on Good Friday.

No doubt this will be my most challenging Lent ever.

Hopefully, it will be the most life-changing.

What about you? Are you giving up something for Lent? Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Wrinkles and Time

Last week, when washing my face before going to bed, I was surprised to see that somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, one of my formerly-slight crow's feet had become much more distinct.

It reminded me of the afternoon last summer when I looked at my face in my rearview mirror and, in the bright sunshine, saw a host of wrinkles that I hadn't noticed when looking in my bathroom mirror.

In both of these situations, I was initially disconcerted. Most of the inevitable changes that time has brought to my body are, for the most part, hidden by clothing most of the time.

But these wrinkles? They're right there, smack-dab in front of me every time I wash my face or brush my teeth or just glance into a mirror as I pass by.

I don't like them.

I tried reminding myself of something I've read time and again. That people with dry skin --  hence fewer pimples and other skin issues during adolescence -- are more wrinkle-prone than folks with oily skin, who dealt with skin issues back in their teens. I had blemish-free skin in high school and college, I tell myself, so just appreciate that and don't worry about these silly wrinkles.

In all honesty, telling myself that didn't really help. I still wanted these wrinkles gone!

I noticed that smiling made the eye-wrinkles (aka crow's feet) more pronounced. Research of reputable sources indicate that, indeed, "habitual
expressions such as smiling" is a cause of wrinkles.

I'm happy to say that I smile quite often. Life has given me lots to smile about, lots to laugh about.

So many moments with my late husband, my son and daughter, friends, and students that caused me to smile, to grin, to chuckle, to laugh until I cried.

I don't regret a single smile, a single moment of laughter.

And so, I've come to terms with the laugh lines that accent my eyes.

But what about those darned lines that mark my cheeks?

Those don't come from something as wonderful as smiles and laughter.

No, they come from a childhood spent outdoors, riding my bike and playing hopscotch and "Mother, May I?" with my friends. They come from untold hours spent playing softball with a group of girls that worked hard and had fun doing it. They come from hours spent by the pool with friends, talking about life and boys and dreams. They come from countless hours spent watching my children at swim lessons and softball games and soccer games and baseball games and playing in the park. They come from days spent as a family camping and at amusement parks and beaches and sightseeing.

They reflect the life I have lived. A life spent with some amazingly wonderful people and doing innumerable wonderful things.

And even if the price I must pay now is wrinkles, if I could go back and do it again . . .

I wouldn't change a thing.

What do you see when you look at your face in the mirror? What story does your face tell? Please join in the discussion by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Story Would Your Book Tell?

I stumbled across this image this past week and immediately saved it as my phone's wallpaper and screensaver.

It appeals to me in part because I am a writer.

But it speaks to me even more because I'm a reader. A reader who sometimes is frustrated by finding the same-old, same-old when I read a dust jacket or blurb.

Oh, I know that the Good Book says (in Ecclesiastes) that "there is no new thing under the sun". Truth be told, there probably is a finite number of   plot lines.

Boy meets girl; fate/someone else intervenes; boy and girl part; love conquers all and boy and girl reunite. Everyone loves a happy ending.

Or, if it's written by one of a couple of current writers who have made a living on same-story, different-name and different-catastrophic illness plots, it's a tear-jerker.

Boy meets girl; boy or girl either has or is soon diagnosed with a terminal disease; said boy or girl passes away.

Then there's the often-tried story line in which boy has girl; boy cheats on girl; girl finds out and leaves boy, retiring to a beach cottage she recently inherited from her aunt; girl meets good-looking widower with small child living in cottage next door . . .

I think you get the idea.

But even though there may be only a certain number of plots, it sure would be nice if so many current writers didn't use almost the exact same elements in their execution!

I want something different. And so, I'm going to write something different!

My book won't have a beach cottage or a handsome new next-door-neighbor. There won't be a book club that meets once a month on Wednesday night. Or a group of sisters meeting at their family
home -- or beach cottage -- one more time before selling it now that their parents have passed on.

My book likely won't be published (the publishing world is a hard one to break into these days), but that's okay. I think Ms Blume is right, and I'm going to heed her words.

I'm going to write the book that I can't find on the shelf.

So . . . what is the book you can't find on the shelf?  The book you'd like to read?

Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts and ideas via a comment below. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One Year: What Would You Do?

What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence?

That subject line in my email inbox made my heart kick up a notch for just a few seconds one day last week. A quick glance at the sender's name, however, informed me that the accompanying message wasn't my current employer offering me the opportunity to take a year off with pay. {sigh}

Even though my budgeted time for dealing with email was limited, I was intrigued. The question was, to some degree, related to the question that has been the focus of my life and of my writing the past several years: "What am I going to do with my new, unexpected life as a widow?"

I was intrigued enough to open the email and read further. I wasn't surprised that the message had numerous links to videos and workshops and resources. Altogether, they comprised a well-constructed and attractive labyrinth of paths, each leading to the proverbial cheese: an 8-part webinar workshop for a "select number of very special people" (presumably including me) who are ready to "discover the secrets of unlimited wealth through passive income".

This email, along with the handful of others that had somehow escaped my spam filters, was deleted.

The question, however, hovered around the periphery of my mind for days.

I knew what the answer was. It was the same answer that I doggedly gave grade-school teachers when asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?"

(Well, there was the one time in 1st or 2nd grade that I cheerfully asserted, "Become a nun!" to the surprise of my non-Catholic pastor, who was visiting my parochial-school classroom. But that's a story for another day.)

What would I do with one year's paid leave of absence?

I would write.

I would stop dabbling and dancing around and saying I'm a writer and playing at writing and attending conferences. Instead, I would write.

A book.

And so . . . I will.

Alas, I won't be taking a year's leave of absence. I won't be closeting myself in a drafty garrett to write, hunched over my laptop; nor will I retire to a beach cottage where the sound of waves pounding the sandy shore provide a soundtrack to hours of writing fueled by oversized mugs of hot Earl Gray tea.

No, I'll be here in my small Southeast Missouri home, writing in bits and snatches as my job and other necessities of life allow.

I hope you'll join me here every Tuesday morning as I sit back with a mug of hot tea (or glass of iced sweet tea once this wretched cold weather is past) and take a break, share how the journey is going, and provide snippets about my work in progress.

I'd love for you to join in the conversation by posting a comment.  What would you do with one year's paid leave of absence? I can't wait to hear your response. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Keepin' It Simple . . . Right?

According to many sociologists, the #1 resolution made by Americans every year is to get into shape.

Judging by the number of folks I saw when I went to the gym today, that observation is true.  By the way, I didn't make a similar resolution. No, I went to the gym because: 1) my bullet-journal calendar indicated it was "strength-conditioning" day; and 2) the gym was open.

But I have made a resolution. Just one. It's a very simple one, a foundational one.

My resolution for 2018 is this:

      To do my best, one day at a time, to live according to my personal beliefs and values.

See? I told you it was simple.

To do my best. . . That doesn't seem too hard, too complex. I'm not expecting perfection, just my best effort.

one day at a time . . .  I don't have to worry about a 12-month plan with quarterly goals and a weekly checklist. Just 24 hours. Actually, only the 17 or so that I'm awake and functioning.

to live according to my personal beliefs and values. Well, I have firmly-established, clearly-defined and quite-basic beliefs and values, so all in all, my resolution is pretty straightforward.


Not exactly.

Go back to that last part. It appears so simple, but . . .

living out my beliefs and values in this less-than-perfect, chaotic, often hostile world will no doubt be difficult at times

living out my beliefs and values when my own selfish nature clamors "me, me, me" will mean intentional and deliberate sacrifice

living out my beliefs and values after (let me be perfectly honest here) far too many years of living otherwise has created some strongly-ingrained thought patterns and behaviors that will need to be overcome

Looking ahead, I know without a doubt that just as I failed to accomplish some of my 2017 goals, there will be moments, even days, in 2018 where I don't living according to my beliefs and values.

I can live with that.

But not trying? I can't live with that.

It's simply not an option.

What about you? Did you make any resolutions for 2018? I hope you'll share (as you feel comfortable, of course) through a comment below your resolutions or goals or plans for 2018. 

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